Guest blog – Spurn development decision by Georgia Locock

Georgia is a young naturalist and blogger. She is in her second year of A levels and plans to study zoology at university. Amongst her fascination of all wildlife, she particularly enjoys using trail cameras to capture footage of nocturnal wildlife, birding, campaigning and sharing her fascination of the natural world in the hope of inspiring others to venture outside too. One way she attempts to do this is through her blog.

 

Back in October, I wrote a guest blog for Mark about the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s (YWT) development plans for Spurn National Nature Reserve. This was following them re-submitting their planning application to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council after it was rejected the previous July. Since my guest blog was published, there’s been a tidal surge, a few more rare birds turned up and the YWT’s planning application was approved. This was despite thousands of objections, implications associated with the development and the council’s strong refusal last summer; with 9 – 0 councillors voting against on the grounds of visual impact and flood risk.

The decision has disappointed many. Over 2,800 individuals formally expressed their objection by signing petitions and sending comments to the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, compared with 600 people who supported it. Objections came from across the UK and from a wide range of folk, from birders and general naturalists to casual visitors. All of which are equally attracted to Spurn due to its unique features. From it being one the best mainland sites for the study and observation of birds, to it being one of a few remaining truly wild places in England.

The area now faces changes which could damage these features. The construction site is at the epicentre of bird activity at Spurn. It’s surrounded by valuable scrubs and bushes which provide much needed rest for exhausted migrants, located next door to the canal scrape, overlooks the Humber Estuary mudflats which see hundreds of waders feeding on, and sat on top of a meadow. All of these factors make the area extremely sensitive, along with the obvious fragility of it being located at the coast line. It’s a sorry state of affairs and the future of Spurn, and for all of its wildlife, looks uncertain.

It’s the way that the YWT processed their application and handled this situation that angers and upsets most. Those who objected and have fought against the proposal were clearly passionate and concerned about the plans. The local community suffered the brunt as instead of being consulted from day one, they were told how the development would benefit them, even though they failed to see this, had community funding taken away despite their disapproval (this was given to them by E. ON after the building of their offshore Humber Gateway windfarm) and experienced insults. When the YWT re-submitted their application back in the autumn, only minor changes were made in response to the council’s feedback in a bid to get it approved second time round.

The wealth of knowledge shared by those who live locally to Spurn or visit regularly is astonishingly rich. The Spurn Bird Observatory Trust (a YWT tenant at Spurn) objected to the proposal. They have recorded and monitored wildlife at Spurn, especially birds, daily for 70 years and have experienced its changing face. It is felt by many that this understanding of the area should have been taken into careful consideration.

The dividing line drawn by the YWT between themselves and those who visit and are passionate about the area is very disappointing, and is likely to continue to grow. No one was against improved facilities or attracting new types of visitors to Spurn but there was an overwhelming objection to the location. The YWT really couldn’t have chosen a more inappropriate site at Spurn for such a construction in terms of the disturbance that will be created to the fragile environment and the damage that would be created to the very same landscape that attracts folk to Spurn, contradicting the YWT’s very own intentions. Other options and areas that could have provided equal opportunities for the YWT and visitors were available but discounted.

As the YWT’s initial application was rejected the first time round, they re-submitted a second application. This time, as part of the decision process, both the applicant (the YWT) and the objectors were given the opportunity to give a 30-minute presentation to those councillors who would be voting. Out of those speaking from the YWT was a member of staff who spoke about how the development could contribute to the local economy and tourism. This was a key argument used by the YWT in their campaign but seems at odds with any morals of a conservation body to unnecessarily damage valuable habitat in order to achieve this.

I’ve been getting myself involved with campaigning and conservation matters for a few years now but I’m still fairly new to it all. When I speak out, I’m standing up for the protection of our natural environment and for future generations. Therefore, when I spoke to councillors on behalf of those objecting, along with two others, it felt strange. When involved in campaigns, it is usually alongside such NGOs. However, the tone of concern in my voice when I spoke to councillors could have been mistaken for me talking about the risks our environment faces at the moment. Although the YWT have done positive work in the county, their intent of building a visitor centre on Triangle Field goes against their wildlife and environmental pledges.

When organisations who we support make mistakes we mustn’t be afraid to speak out and tell them. Unfortunately, the YWT didn’t listen, and as a result they have lost a great deal of respect amongst their members and the public. To have seen the very thing I campaign against take over a place which brings me so much happiness, as it does for many others, is deeply troubling. However, in spite of them, Spurn will survive. Enough people care and are concerned about the area to not let any vandalism do lasting damage.

 

 

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14 Replies to “Guest blog – Spurn development decision by Georgia Locock”

  1. I have never liked the YWT despite it being my county trust. It is not just some of their poor management decisions in the past and there have been many, it has been their attitude to members and amateur naturalists that care passionately about places and species special to them whose views have often been dismissed or ridden rough shod over. Spurn is a classic example treated as a cash cow in the past without thought or care now with the demise of the road this has stopped. The trust needed to do something about that, yes we can all agree but this is a typical thing for them and their chief executive Rob Stoneman, it is vandalism of the worst kind , no real consultation or compromise to give them and Spurn what it needed a sad sad decision that from my point of view will never be forgiven.

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    1. Couldn't agree more Paul. I support the Wildlife Trust movement (I am a member of Cumbria and Norfolk WT) and Yorkshire is my county Trust, but resigned my YWT membership over 25 years ago because of various issues.
      No doubt many will wonder what could possibly have happened to change a 9-0 vote against into a 6-3 for, when the almost identical plans were submitted second time around? No doubt many also wonder as to why the YWT representatives at the Planning meeting looked 'so relaxed and smug' throughout?
      As Paul said...'never forgiven'

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  2. I'm torn on this and there are a few salient points missing from the above.

    On the second application the likes of the RSPB, Natural England, the Environment Agency, all withdrew their previous objections. That was critical. Volume of objections is irrelevant in the planning framework, it's not a reason to reject. Given support from all the relevant statutory bodies there will have been no basis for refusal. It would have gone to the SoS, the legal battle would take public money, and ultimately it would still pass. So the local committee had little choice in my view.

    I'd also disagree that Spurn is 'truly wild'. It has had more than a century of development (some of the ruins of which have been reclaimed by nature).

    I don't think there is a 'good' place for the centre, this certainly isn't ideal, but the aim now should be to try work with the Trust because the development is going ahead. I think a lot of the tone of the local objectors in particular has been unhelpful in terms of engaging YWT. The Trust should have risen above that and their attitude has been poor. But I worry people will now translate their objections into 'direct action' and that won't help anybody, let alone the wildlife.

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    1. David - The RSPB, NE and EA supported their original application. Their support was on the conditions that the YWT adapted the mitigation measures they suggested, some being unrealistic. The YWT abused their power to get support. It was very unlikely that the RSPB were not going to as their Vice Chair (Sir John Lawton) happens to be the YWT’s President.

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    2. suggest you get your facts right David. RSPB, NE and EA never objected to the first application. In the half hour presentation many issues were raised where the planning application failed to meet ERYC policies,the ward councillors just chose to ignore them. If you read in detail you will see copious amounts of mitigation measures on both applications. Doesn,t that tell you something about the application. Sad day for wildlife

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      1. My facts are fine, I just rushed the phrasing. The second application is supported because they say they are happy the mitigation considerations have been met (although EA still kept points about the flood risk open). Which will have made a huge difference to the councillors. If you compare the statements the change of tone *is* significant.

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  3. Even worst still Georgia you are likely to be 'Black listed' in your attempts to get a job in conservation! They hate any one who 'rocks the boat' in this pathetic world we live in. May I suggest journalism as another way forward but even there many papers are corrupt and hate to upset the establishment. Or even politics! You have been very brave in your work to protect Spurn but you now see how the establishment works in this fascist country we live in with even the planning system corrupt and taking 'back hands'! May be one day we will get our Good King Richard back and Yorkshire will be great again. Look what it did for Leicester. Well one season only!

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    1. I don't think Georgia has anything to worry about. She is clearly a passionate and remarkable young woman with a great future ahead of her in the world of conservation. She is absolutely right, whatever the rights and wrongs in this case, you should always speak out when you disagree with something the establishment are pushing.

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      1. I agree with Magnus.Georgia just needs to put this behind her,she did all that was possible and it will not affect her future one bit,she has a very bright future and the fact that she put a lot of effort into something she believed in will be looked on favourably in a normally tolerant society and country.
        Just about all conservationists have suffered knockbacks in their careers.

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    2. Speaking as someone who has worked for many years for nature conservation organisations and who regularly recruits, this is nonsense. It would certainly not stop me employing someone. In fact I would see this passion and drive as a huge positive. I can't speak for YWT, but can't help think that Georgia is unlikely to be applying for jobs with them any time soon.

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  4. I was staggered by the arrogance of Sir John Lawton's response to objections first time round and YWT seem to have learnt nothing abo0ut engaging with people as a result. They seem to have drawn out some of the worst features of the conservation lobby - an assumption of superiority to everyone else and a feeling of entitlement because they are on the side of the angels. Having been involved in developing community engagement for over 20 years I'm horrified that lessons learnt (sometimes painfully)in the Forestry Commission have still not filtered through to many conservation organisations.

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  5. A damming indictment of a once respected conservation organisation, remember the days of the Flamborough hedgerow case, the River Derwent navigation case in the High Court?

    Wonder if white elephant tourism income will ever be made public?

    There's hope? Georgia as their new CE? Any seconders?

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  6. Great piece - as was your original that I followed the link back to.

    I fear that this situation is sadly so typical of a body that relies so much on a business model. I have got to know a few people working for my local Dorset Wildlife Trust, and their passion and knowledge is faultless. I also sense frustrations of decisions made that no matter how dressed, are ultimately done so to generate money.
    Hopefully such decisions won't cause individuals to feel forced to look elsewhere for employment, because it is their work that offers so much to the natural environment.

    I've not been to Spurn, perhaps if I can scrape the pennies I should try and do so sooner rather than later.

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