Guest blog – #SaveLodgeHill by Adrian Thomas

Adrian Thomas is a lifelong birder, editor of The Birds of Sussex, and author of RSPB Gardening for Wildlife. Oh, and he has a day job with the RSPB as a Project Manager, which has included the NoAirport@Cliffe campaign and working with the Environment Agency to create Medmerry, the major managed realignment scheme in West Sussex. He is now leading the #SaveLodgeHill campaign.

 

 

 

 

The fight to #SaveLodgeHill, its Nightingales, and protected places everywhere

Nightingale. Photo: Bill Brooks

Because this is a story with a deadline, I’m going to give it you in a nutshell.

Lodge Hill in Medway, North Kent, is arguably the best place in the UK for Nightingales – 85 singing males at the last BTO estimate full count in 2012.

Nightingale populations nationally are down 90% in the last 50 years, with fewer than 6000 singing males left.

Lodge Hill, a former military training ground, is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), mainly because of the Nightingales but also for rare grasslands and ancient woodlands.

But Medway Council published a proposal on 16 January 2017 to allocate the site for ‘development’ in its Local Plan; although this document has avoided giving numbers, they have previously said they want 5000 houses built there, plus all the associated infrastructure. The public consultation is out now and ends on 6 March. (For all of the Lodge Hill back story about planning applications and call-ins to Government, see here).

If the site is allocated, it would help pave the way for one of the largest destructions of a SSSI ever, and would set a terrible precedent for SSSIs across the country.

So, what normally stops authorities putting a site like Lodge Hill forward for development? Well, here’s what the National Planning Policy Framework says, which sets out the policies that local authorities should follow:

“109. The planning system should contribute to and enhance the natural and local environment by

  • Minimising impacts on biodiversity and providing net gains in biodiversity where possible, contributing to the Government’s commitment to halt the overall decline in biodiversity”
  1. Planning policies should
  • …promote the protection and recovery of priority species populations…”

We’re working with an alliance of conservation groups trying to save Lodge Hill – The Wildlife Trusts (including Kent Wildlife Trust), Butterfly Conservation, Buglife, The Woodland Trust, and at a local level the wonderful Friends of the North Kent Marshes and Medway Countryside Forum. But it’s the combined responses of individuals that will make the difference.

We have a simple online-action for people to sign here that submits a consultation response to the Council – that’s the one minute option.

But if you’ve got 10 minutes, it would really help for people to email Medway Council with a more personal view. You can send an email to futuremedway@medway.gov.uk (or by snail mail to the Planning Policy team, the Planning Service, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR). Please email campaigns@rspb.org.uk to let us know if you’ve submitted your own response this way.

This isn’t about vilifying Medway Council – they were a great ally on the NoAirport@Cliffe campaign and have done good things in the past to support other wildlife sites in the area, including the great marshlands of the Thames Estuary and Medway Estuary. Convincing the Council is more about opening their eyes that Nightingales matter, that protection of our best wildlife sites matters, that there is a strong national planning framework that they should be following, and that there are lots of us that care passionately about it!

So, here’s your four-bullet summary:

  • The site is a SSSI, with a nationally important population of a priority species – the National Planning Policy Framework makes clear the protection sites like this should have.
  • Supporting the development of a SSSI in this way would set a precedent that would undermine SSSIs everywhere.
  • And that having the best site for Nightingales in the country is a stunning natural asset to celebrate, not destroy.
  • In short, Lodge Hill should not be allocated for development.

I hope you will help make the case.

On social media: Please follow #SaveLodgeHill on Twitter and Facebook. Every retweet, share and new account you tag helps us to reach as many people as possible before the consultation closes on 6th March.

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15 Replies to “Guest blog – #SaveLodgeHill by Adrian Thomas”

  1. Lodge Hill is an extraordinary place, and I have written many times on my own blog about its plight. https://anewnatureblog.wordpress.com/?s=lodge+hill.

    Last year, People Need Nature organised an expedition to Lodge Hill for a small group of artists and writers. We wanted them to be inspired by Lodge Hill, its wildlife, its history and create a record of the place, as it was then. You can read about the expedition and some of the pieces of work inspired by it on the People Need Nature blog, here http://peopleneednature.org.uk/category/lodge-hill/

    In 2017 we hope organise more visits of a similar nature, and to put together a short symposium about the Lodge Hill visit and the value of these old military bases, many of which are being sold off for development.

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  2. England's National Planning Policy Framework does indeed have many fine words about protecting biodiversity and other aspects of sustainable development. But they are undermined by other provisions which force fantasy house building targets on local planning authorities. It was created in 2012 at which time the Government believed greenfield development had to be imposed on communities whether they liked it or not and it put an end to brownfield-first policies. It hasn't been changed since and there is little sign of the Government wanting to reform it.
    But if development is ever to become sustainable then the NPPF will have to be reformed and its many weasel words changed.

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  3. Hi Jon

    Wise words!

    My hope is that when you combine the words in NPPF (recognising all its faults, but flag waving about its strengths) with a Consultation from Medway Council that starts with a Vision, the very first sentence of which is "By 2035 Medway will be a leading waterfront University city of 330,200 people, noted for its revitalised urban centres, its stunning natural and historic assets and countryside" (note 'stunning natural assets'!), that it just becomes undeniable that any move to destroy a SSSI full of unbelievable numbers of nightingales just can't sit comfortably - or at all - with the purported sentiment of either.
    .

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  4. I worked extensively in this area and, beyond protecting Lodge Hill, I'd urge that we should be looking at a completely new way of doing things - extensive green landuse around our towns and cities, and this is a great place to start, with a string of green landuses linking up around Gravesend and stretching out onto the Hoo Penninsula, including RSPB & Plantlife reserves, FC and WT Community Woodland, a LA Country Park and a historic parkland landscape under restoration. This is the place to extend the green space as the setting for badly needed ne housing - Lodge Hill must be the green space for housing on adjoining, low biodiversity improved land, not the place for the houses themselves. Following the purchase of Jeskyns Farm by the Government I met Kent County Councillors - and the Environment portfolio holder saw the point almost instantly - pointing to land between Jeskyns & the RSPB estuary side reserve, saying, quite rightly, 'that's the next bit you need !'

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  5. I believe that part of the problem for this site stems from its designation as 'brown-field' land. Although there can now be no excuse for failing to acknowledge the ecological importance of Lodge Hill, there is a wrong-headed attitude amongst planners that development on brown-field sites is an environmentally desirable policy and that it is always preferable to developing green-field sites. This type of thinking completely overlooks the fact that many brown-field sites have developed into outstanding wildlife habitats that are frequently much richer than any green-field site and Lodge Hill is a great example of this. What we need is not a planning system that follows simple rules of thumb that can lead it into gross errors of the kind witnessed with Lodge Hill, but one that treats each site on its merits and gives proper analysis of the likely environmental impacts. Lodge Hill also provides a cautionary example of the shortcomings of the offsetting/compensation approach. The developer's initial proposal to create new woodland in Essex may have looked a sweet deal to the planners but it is most unlikely that the nightingales would have hopped across to this new home and carried on as before.
    Everybody accepts that we need new homes and probably more so in the south east than anywhere else but the provision of these should not be at the expense of driving species towards extinction and decisions that will permanently change the landscape need to be taken with very careful consideration of all the ramifications. An imaginative approach is needed to providing the homes required (including using the large amounts of vacant property in city centres) whilst seeking to preserve what is left of our beleaguered wildlife.

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  6. Adrian, thanks for this and all your work in W. Sx.
    Sent this in by email and post:

    Dear Sir/Madam,
    RE: LODGE HILL’S allocation for development
    Firstly, thank you Medway Council’s for all your excellent environmental work on the Thames and Medway estuaries and other sites in Kent.
    I am, however very surprised and concerned about the above planning allocation.
    As you know, this unique ecological time capsule at Lodge Hill is an SSSI and it has the best population of Nightingales in the UK.
    Your continuing support for this development contravenes the National Planning Policy Framework (ref. Sections 109 & 117) and threatens SSSI’s countrywide.
    I urge you to protect this site for posterity and in the national interest.

    I recognise there is an urgent need for affordable accommodation but building on this site is definitely not right or sensible. Instead, I urge you to seek out low grade arable farmland in the region and build on that. The continued intensive farming of such land generates a significant carbon footprint with little gain for feeding people directly. At the same time there is unlikely to be any significant wildlife value at risk from such a project.
    What could be better than turning some Grade 3 farmland into a series of eco-villages with a strong emphasis on affordable accommodation? If decent gardens and allotments are included as well, a natural balance will begin to be restored to the country in general.
    And of course Lodge Hill will still be there to serve biodiversity, humanity and posterity. In short you will have achieved the best of all worlds.

    Yours faithfully,

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    1. Murray,

      I agree with much of your comment, but surely you mean Grade 4 not Grade 3 or even Grade 3b?

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      1. Ideally, yes, it should be Grade 4. Tried to find soil grade maps for Kent – failed. So tried W. Sussex again and failed. But from memory most of the latter is Grade 3 in the Wealden areas. If Kent is similar then any farmland development is likely to end up on 3.
        Here on the Lower Greensand much Grade 3 land was once heath. It is inherently infertile and requires high levels of NPK for reasonable crops. Why not let some of it go for houses, gardens and allotments?
        As for the recurring complaint about the urban sprawl it’s worth repeating it’s only 10.6% of England’s land surface.
        It appears that we only need to build on another 0.5-1.0% (gardens and green spaces easily included) to solve the current crisis (less if we tackle second homes; land prices; land ownership; the ongoing effects of the Norman conquest; land speculators; brown field/inner city sites etc.)

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  7. I very much hope Lodge Hill can be saved; this government is paying councils £9000 per house that they build on the green belt.At the same time this government tells us that the green belt must be and will be preserved! There are blatent lies being told as is often the way with politicians and I only hope that Lodge Hill can be saved in the face of all this.

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  8. As to the brownfield/greenfield status of Lodge Hill, one should look at the last public inquiry where the inspector accepted the RSPB's argument that it is mostly greenfield (seven-eighths from memory). All too often sites are described as "brownfield" when they are mostly greenfield. Disused aerodromes are a case in point. They were always 90% grassland since they were built.
    One of the so-called "garden villages" is being built on a long disused airfield, most of which was returned to farmland decades ago and thus not fulfilling the NPPF definition of brownfield. But both the local authority and developer are describing it as brownfield.

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    1. Yes, when a site is described as brown field - whether correctly fulfilling the definition or not - it legitimises its development in the eyes of many planners and developers. To my mind the point about Lodge Hill is not whether it is green field or brown field but the fact that it is a site of very high value to nature.

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      1. Well said, the fact is it is SSSI and that should be the end of the matter/arguement.

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  9. Really interesting to read all your comments, thanks - much food for thought and thanks for your support. That overriding message that a new and imaginative way is needed feels very important...and urgent.

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