In the heart of Medway, Kent sits the former army camp of Lodge Hill which is currently facing a fierce new battle. The currently disused land is in the perfect area for a regeneration project, surrounded by three growing towns with a young population desperate for housing, facilities and jobs. To meet this demand the proposed regeneration will include three primary schools and a secondary school as well as the creation of 5,000 jobs which will help the area maintain its status as a significant economic area. Medway’s Council Planning Committee approved the development on the 4th September for the 5,000 homes and infrastructure.
There is just one problem with the project, a very large problem which has had conservationists outraged by the prospect of development. The site was designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England last year and is home to one of the most important sites in the country for nightingales. As a result of this Environmental Impact Assessments must be undertaken to determine whether any development would be detrimental to the site.
According to the RSPB and The Guardian, the site has failed the tests which would determine there is no threat of loss of biodiversity to the SSSI. Not only has the abandoned MOD site created a safe haven for wildlife to flourish (partly due to the fences keeping out domestic cats) there is ancient woodland, grasslands and badger setts in the area. It is also a key site for nightingales in this country. Nightingales are long distance migrants, over wintering in Africa yet they are one of the UK’s most treasured birds, possibly due to their use in literature. Unfortunately their population is shrinking rapidly with a 57% decrease recorded between 1995 and 2009. This sharp decrease is possibly due to a loss of suitable breeding habitats, nonetheless sharp decreases in populations are often exceptionally hard to overcome.
Whether development at Lodge Hill Proves to be the death knell for the Nightingale remains to be seen as there are plans afoot create new habitat for the Nightingales in Essex. However it would certainly be destructive to the governments current conservation initiatives. It is clear that Lodge Hill is a highly important site, yet pressure for housing is driving development. If plans go ahead there would be a new precedent of what is acceptable to build on, would a site have to be more important than Lodge Hill to avoid the bulldozers?
It is unclear whether the pressure from the desperate need for housing, the ever-present UKIP threat in the Tory run council or the conservationists will prevail. However this is one of the largest attempts to build on an SSSI and this is what will make this case’s result a landmark whichever way it goes.
For more information follow these links:
RSPB Campaign Page: https://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=13&ea.campaign.id=29359
Nightingales vs 5,000 new homes via The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/25/-sp-nightingales-lodge-hill-sanctuary-conservation-britain
Kent Online Article: http://www.kentonline.co.uk/medway/news/green-light-for-lodge-hill-22970/
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