The Ventilator

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Birds take on the building lobby: who are you backing?

Matthew Chatfield
Latest posts by Matthew Chatfield (see all)

In the Thames basin it seems that the implications of new building development have at last sunk in. The Independent says:

All plans for new housebuilding have been frozen over a massive area of the Home Counties to protect three species of rare birds in the most remarkable clash yet between environment and development in Britain. Concerns about the welfare of the nightjar, the woodlark and the Dartford warbler have halted schemes for building thousands of homes over an expanse of nearly 300 square miles, stretching from the M25, west of London, almost to Reading.

Dartford Warbler
A Dartford Warbler

The 11 local councils concerned, following legal advice, are now refusing every housing application for the area. Predictably enough, this has caused some anguish in one particular group of people, perhaps one not used to having to justify itself. However, the Ranger could find no reports of the distressed residents of Reading taking to the streets demanding new homes, nor were householders in Crowthorne, Berkshire, chaining themselves to lamp-posts for the right to own cats. in fact, the only complaint to be found online was from a pro-UKIP blog, predictably facing down the eurocrats who forced this cruel legislation on our hard-pressed local, English, councils. So, unable to ride on a wave of popular support, the Thames Valley New Homes coalition has been formed to represent the hard pressed local builders hit by the ban. They have spoken out to explain their concerns – the coalition’s spokesman, Rory Scanlan, said:

It is not an exaggeration to say the freeze is having a devastating effect on their businesses. The turnover of one is down by 40 per cent and he has had to let 40 per cent of his staff go. No one for a moment objects to having controls on building near environmentally sensitive sites, but the issue is English Nature’s interpretation of the regulations…

Building on a heathland
Building on a heathland

One can sympathise with those out of a job. But it can’t be terribly hard to find work building houses in Berkshire. Whereas once gone, ancient heathland habitat is, well, gone. And it won’t come back. This debate is a symptom of a problem that faces the whole of the world, and its almost universal aspirations for economic growth. The problem is this: sustainability. To some people, the term ‘sustainable development’ means ‘continuous development’. They are mistaken. The Dartford Warbler problem in Berkshire is one which shows the real nature of this issue. Sustainable development means this: one day, without a doubt, we’re going to have to stop doing it the way we do now. The only question we must ask ourselves is do we stop before we destroy the natural resources and beauty of our landscape; or can we find a way to regenenerate our economies and environment which does not rely upon unsustainable growth?

Houses built on heathland in Dorset
Houses built on heathland in Dorset. Was it really worth it?

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

7 thoughts on “Birds take on the building lobby: who are you backing?

  • Land in the middle of built up areas away from the heathland around Bisley and Lightwater in Surrey now can not be built on at present. No one wants to build on the Heathland but still Brown Field sites are barred from development due to this darn Warbler.
    Much of the Heathland is used by the military for military manouvres and Bisley Ranges have shooting all the time so no dog walkers use those areas and the birds if they actually exist in the area have decided to nest with constant gunfire and soldiers racing through their habitat.
    English Nature are a joke and are ruining people livings with their building ban.

  • Mrs D Allen

    All the mentioned sites are SSI’s and covered by the 5km madness.
    I would not need planning to take in cats as pets, I could have as many as I like.
    People die in car crashes but you don’t stop the manufacture of cars,
    You find ways to minimize the problem.
    I can honestly say English Nature has done itself no good with this.
    It was once thought of as an environmental / animal loving body to be supported.
    It’s now thought of as the loony eco warrior drunk with the power defending the ridicules policy’s thought up by the over paid suits in Brussells.

  • The Virtual Ranger

    Interesting take on the problem. Of course, not all SSSIs are the same. Some are appropriate for public access, and some are not. Where it’s possible for the public to go onto a nature reserve and not harm its wildlife I think that should be done. But that dosn’t mean it can be done on every single reserve.

    I think also you might be confusing SSSIs with National Nature Reserves (and possibly even with SACs and SPAs) – there are many SSSIs. Most are in private hands and are not open for anyone to walk dogs on them.

    And as for your questions about the cattery and the pets, yes, that is the law. You can’t build a cattery or a housing estate without planning consent, and if your cattery or housing estate will adversely affect a nature reserve then in general, no, you won’t get consent.

  • Mrs D Allen

    This is total madness it could only come from Brussels.

    If English nature have a problem with people walking their dogs on SSi why do they openly encourage people to use SSi’s with new car parks and new accesses?
    What’s to stop me having a cattery right on the SSI ?
    Are the they going to tell adjacent properties how many and what pets they can have?
    I drive over a mile to an SSI because they built a nice car park there ( only usable when the Gypsies are not squatting there of course ) and laid out new paths for dog walkers ! ! ! The SSI nearest to me has no car park.
    Doesn’t that tell you something?

    In fact I drive 20 miles to Arne where they have put in new Car parks and a visitors Hut and a privately run Café. You couldn’t have accessed it before they put the Infrastructure in. ! ! !

    So on one hand they are refusing my building plot application and on the other they are actively encouraging people, holiday makers etc to walk the local and not so local heaths?

    You couldn’t make it up ! ! !

  • We need to protect the ancient heathlands but we also need more housing. What is needed is a sensible approach to the development of new homes. For example in respect of Wisley Common – are people really going to drive from Cobham North to walk their dogs when there is plenty of green open space nearby?? How far do cats travel to prey on birds?

  • I don’t think the English Nature approach has been properly thought through.

    Developers are unable to redevelop existing buildings/sites within large towns such as Woking and Camberley and so are likely to move instead to developing greenfield sites just outside of the 5km SPA planning zone.

    Bearing in mind these new residents are still likely to use the SPA for walking I think it is crazy that we are forcing them to develop on fresh countryside rather than utilise existing development.urban areas. Another example of people who don’t know what they are talking about sticking their noses in and making life worse for everyone.

  • I’m all for protecting the environment, and natural heathland habitats should certainly remain as they are. I also understand how development close to such areas can have an impact on them.

    However English Nature have not been using any common sense in this matter, neither have they been carrying out their responsibilities. They are obliged to assess applications for any possible impact on the SPAs. But they are not doing this, they have engaged a consultancy by the name of Land Use Consultants who are simply entering a postcode into a computer, which spits out a standard rejection letter. No assessment is taking place.

    A minor development, creating a single new dwelling on a quarter acre block, with hundreds of acres of non-SPA recreational and dog-walking land closer to it than the SPA, has been rejected because it is 4.8km from the SPA boundary.

    This is ridiculous – they state that a mitagating factor would be the creation of more attractive alternative land for dog walking closer than the SPA, and yet they have failed to notice that we’re surrounded by it.

    I can’t help thinking that the wrong people are in charge.


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