Move to safeguard Merryshields Quarry badgers at Stocksfield

A COLONY of badgers which has moved into an old quarry could influence long-term excavation plans.

A badger
A badger

A COLONY of badgers which has moved into an old quarry could influence long-term excavation plans.

The badgers have made their home at Merryshields Quarry at Stocksfield, Northumberland, where sand and gravel extraction has been going on since 1948.

No work has been done since 1998, and the badgers have moved in.

Extraction permission is in place until 2042, but now the Northumberland Badger Group is opposing a review of site schedules in an attempt to protect the small colony.

The 1992 Protection of Badgers Act makes it a serious offence to kill, injure or take a badger, or to damage or interfere with a sett without licence from a statutory authority.

And Mervyn Anthony, chairman of the Northumberland Badger Group, said: “These proposals would potentially affect a badger sett and cause disturbance to it.

“They would mean the possible loss of habitat, the possible loss of a sett, which can only be closed down under licence.

“If they are given permission, then they would have to be very careful. We feel the mitigation proposed could be better, and have made an objection.”

Merryshields Quarry lies a kilometre to the east of Stocksfield, and under law, a review of conditions can be carried out every 15 years.

This ensures planning conditions are kept up-to-date and reflect current working and restoration practices.

Seven of the 17.7 hectares of Merryshields have already been worked and restored, leaving the second and third phases to be gone through.

Although market conditions mean the site is lying dormant, site agents want to prepare the final two phases, which would involve the extraction of 85,000 tonnes and 62,000 tonnes over three and two years respectively.

The long-term planning permission granted at the outset means the principle of the development, already established, cannot be challenged.

But the badger group could turn to law to protect the colony, for the 1992 Act lays out detailed measures to safeguard badgers in the UK.

“This covers any person wishing to do a development,” Mr Anthony said. “We are not statutory consultees and therefore do not always get consulted.

“But we do keep our ears to the ground for such cases, and act to protect the badgers where we feel there is a need.

“We have a reasonable population in Northumberland, but we do not reveal exact details of the whereabouts of setts as there is a risk to the badgers from people, especially with badger-baiting.”

A number of locally scarce species of flora have been found on the Merryshields Quarry site and a botanical survey would need to be carried out and a protection scheme drawn up.

But the County Ecologist has raised no objections and planning officers say the proposals “would not have an unacceptable impact on ecology”.

Neighbouring Prudhoe and Broomley and Stocksfield Parish Councils have lodged objections over noise, dust, traffic and road safety issues.

A decision will be made at Northumberland County Council’s Planning and Environment Committee in Morpeth on Tuesday.

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