Sunday, 23 March 2014

Lodge Hill Nightingales

The changing distribution of the Nightingale since 1968. Photo by Edmund Fellowes.
(Image from BTO-Above from left to right: Maps from the 1968-72, 1988-91 and 2007-11 Breeding Atlases.)

A few days ago, a friend and fellow wildlife-lover sent me a link to an open development plan case being led by the RSPB, Buglife and Kent Wildlife Trust. It's quite a complicated case but I will summarise for you to give you an idea of why I'm feeling outraged:

-There is a MoD site in Kent called Lodge Hill which was declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) last year, largely because of the significant and highly important nightingale population there. It neighbours a stretch of ancient woodland, also declared SSSI (in 1984) and hosts a variety of habitats including badger setts, bat roosts and a range of breeding birds. (see Kent Wildlife Trust)

-Medway Council has proposed a plan to build up to 5000 houses on the site. An initial proposal was put forward but due to the SSSI declaration, it was withdrawn. A new plan is in progress and awaiting a final decision. 

- Offsetting the population of nightingales to another suitable habitat was suggested as an option but was "proven unfeasible". 

I have hugely simplified the facts here and believe me, there are many more, but I feel these are the most disturbing. I am putting forward my opinion, that of an amateur naturalist with a limited understanding of the broad subject of nature and habitat. Having said that, why should my opinion be less valued than any others? What I am taking away from this is that a site has been officially declared scientifically valuable yet development on the land is still being pushed. Does the term SSSI have no meaning? 

According to the Natural England website, "SSSIs are the country's very best wildlife and geological sites. They include some of our most spectacular and beautiful habitats...It is essential to conserve our remaining natural heritage for both current and future generations...SSSIs are important as they support plants and animals that find it more difficult to survive in the wider countryside."

This to me sums the situation up entirely. Conservation of natural habitats is essential for preserving our native species. Especially a species such as the nightingales, a bird that is on the amber status list and has seen a significant decline in numbers over the past few decades. The majority of the national nightingale population is found in the South East and Lodge Hill supports 1.3% of this. This beautiful and iconic breed of bird needs all the help it can get and disruption of it's habitat will almost certainly have catastrophic effects. 

It's clear that the need for sensitive handling hasn't been overlooked by the parties involved, evident by the suggestions of offsetting and creation of alternative habitats. However, it isn't the nightingales alone that need to be considered, though they are the most important factor; the several species of bat; numbers of newts, lizards, toads and adders; populations of breeding birds; these are all paramount in the sustainability of this habitat and will be impacted by any form of development on this land. What simply needs to be recognised by the council, MoD and developers is that this particular site is NOT a viable option for building. 

It's situations like this that leave me concerned for the future of nature. So many wonderful organisations work tirelessly to fight on nature's behalf but there are always those on the other side who don't seem to care. Who don't seem to recognise that if we don't do everything we can to protect and preserve the species and habitats we have now, we could lose everything. Sorry to sound melodramatic but it's the truth. 

I plan to email Medway Council in regard to this case and I strongly urge you, lovely reader, to do the same. A large impact of public protest would be amazing. Here is the email address to use (thank you, Kate!) and the case is "Lodge Hill, Kent development". 

I'll be interested to see this case develop and will keep you updated.

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