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
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”
- 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 email@example.com (or by snail mail to the Planning Policy team, the Planning Service, Medway Council, Gun Wharf, Dock Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 4TR). Please email firstname.lastname@example.org 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.