FOI request (FOIR-457083926)
Cattle grazing - Hastings Country Park (2)
Requested Fri 07 October 2022
Responded Wed 26 October 2022
1. How will the effectiveness (for example, an increase in biodiversity) of the conservation grazing be measured for the Firehills? Please provide any relevant documents.
2. How has the effectiveness of the conservation grazing been measured for Warren Glen? Please provide a copy of the procedures and other relevant documentation, including the results.
3. How will you prioritise the conservation grazing on the Firehills? Please provide any plans for the different placements (using the 'Nofence' system) of the cattle during the time they are grazing on the Firehills this winter (2022/23)?
4. Are there any longitudinal studies mapping the changes in biodiversity and habitat in specific locations within Warren Glen since the cattle have been present? If there are, please provide copies of these studies. Please provide copies of the records of biodiversity and habitat for Warren Glen over the last six years (this would provide the longitudinal information).
5. Please provide copies of the procedures relating to the care of the cattle and ponies, including those for the reporting of an unwell or injured animal.
1. All conservation work at Hastings Country Park Nature Reserve is undertaken through our current Higher Level Stewardship Agreement. The agreement aims to reduce even age gorse, increase heather and diversify cliff top grassland. The effectiveness of grazing at the Firehills will be measured through biological surveys and habitat assessments, whilst working in conjunction with Natural England and local naturalists. The Higher Level Stewardship Agreement is attached in 2 parts.
NOTICE OF REFUSAL
Parts of the Higher Level Stewardship Agreement are commercially sensitive and fall under Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act - Commercially Sensitive Information. Information prejudicing commercial interests - commercial interest relating to an organisations commercial activity and may include trading activity procurement and relationships with third parties.
The exemption afforded by Section 43 is subject to what is known as the 'public interest test'. When applying the test in a particular case a public authority is deciding whether the public interest is better served by non-disclosure than by disclosure.
Although the Freedom of Information Act does not define 'in the public interest' there is a presumption under Freedom of Information that openness is in the public interest. In applying the public interest test a public authority will take into account the distinction that has been often made by courts between things that are in the public interest, and things that merely interest the public. Where applicants have not identified public interest considerations succinctly or accurately, the public authority has a responsibility under the Act to make their own assessment of the public interest considerations in the particular case.
We have identified the following public interest factors that may be seen as encouraging the disclosure of information:
a) accountability of public spending
We consider these factors to be of limited relevance in relation to the information in question.
Public interest factors seen as encouraging non-disclosure are, generally, the exemptions themselves. In consideration of this matter we came to the following conclusions:
a) ensuring that companies are able to compete for business fairly
b) damage to reputation and/or financial interests
In weighing the factors for and against disclosure we have concluded that the likely benefit to the applicant and the wider public of disclosure is outweighed by the likely prejudice caused by such disclosure and that therefore the public interest is better served by non-disclosure.
For the reasons given above we will not be communicating to you the information you have requested.
2. The Higher Level Stewardship Agreement sets out the scope of habitat management throughout the site. The council is in regular dialogue with Natural England to ensure the agreement remains live, up to date and meets changing environmental conditions. It is not a rigid, prescriptive agreement in relation to habitat management. The key measure of success, at present, is the reduction in areas of bracken domination and corresponding increase in areas of open acid grassland. This is not mapped but can be readily seen as a habitat change over time. A key indicator of success for the council is Natural England's continuing support for the management of the site through successive stewardship agreements since 2004, each agreement building on the success of the previous agreement. We are working with Natural England to transition to a new agreement in 2024.
3. Priority will be focused on cliff top grassland and heathland restoration. Because the system is virtual, there is no set plan of where the cattle will be grazing at any one time. Priorities for grazing areas will be set by the council's Countryside Stewardship advisor annually and will be dependent on environmental conditions in any given year, and will include weather and condition of habitat/regrowth and so on.
4. The council has been working with Natural England since 2000. In partnership with Natural England we have been awarded successive countryside stewardship grants to manage the areas formerly known as Fairlight Place Farm and Hastings Country Park. They form the basis for long term management of the nature reserve. We work with nature conservation partners and ecologists to assess habitat and species changes over time in the entire reserve in line with our stewardship agreements. It is proposed that during the life of the next Stewardship Agreement we will work with local naturalists to undertake appropriate ecology assessments and studies in appropriate areas of the Warren Glen. Those studies will identify the biodiversity present and how the area has changed and benefited from grazing. It should be noted Warren Glen is not moving from a valuable habitat to a different valuable habitat, thereby warranting studies to show the difference. We are transitioning from neglected, poor habitats of overgrown gorse and ground dominant bracken (which has little biodiversity in the context of the nature reserve), to more valuable and site relevant habitats of open acid grassland and heather. No information of the type requested is held.
5. Cattle, ponies, and all other livestock are checked by a local farmer/grazier who is experienced in animal welfare. They are further welfare checks at least annually by a vet and more frequently if required or advised by either our grazier or stewardship advisor. If Hastings Borough Council staff have any concerns over welfare, they report directly to the grazier for action. If members of the public report concerns to the council, during work hours or out of hours, our out of hours service or council officers pass the reports directly to the grazier for action.
Freedom of Information