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It’s corny but it’s true. We sometimes spend so much effort looking at all the environmental trouble in far-flung parts of the world that we forget to look after our own. Here’s a prime example. When The Ranger worked for Basildon District Council in the 1990s they were, as they still are, remarkably positive about conservation and ecology, and managed to combine significant biodiversity work with a strong regeneration effort. People sometimes associate Basildon with poor-quality 1960s development. Well, there is some of that, but not much. There’s also a great deal of very high-quality biodiversity and, in the marshes, almost wilderness for those willing to go and seek it out. It was there The Ranger learnt that, with care, it is sometimes possible to build houses, roads and commercial premises and end up with no net loss of biodiversity… or even produce a gain.
Northern ash field at West Thurrock Marshes
One of the things that The Ranger noticed back then was that some of the finest and most exciting habitats and species were to be found right on top of existing or former industrial sites. He recalls one particular location which was a former caravan site – absolutely covered with old burnt-out cars, asbestos, and flytipping. There were more reptiles on this site than The Ranger can remember seeing anywhere before or since. More recently the importance of the Thames Gateway brownfield land and particularly the marshes has become much more well known, with the Thames Gateway proposals for development drawing attention to these previously obscure locations. Brownfield sites in the Thames estuary have recently been dubbed “England’s rainforests“; because of the large populations of endangered wildlife they support. This is no idle hyperbole. Many of these extraordinary sites could be lost. This is particularly ironic, as it is so unnecessary. Many of them are quite capable of supporting remarkable biodiversity even in the middle of intensive development. Sadly, some of those few areas left to provide this vital resource are under threat, whereas by contrast they should be being integrated into regeneration proposals, to provide real enhancement to the Thames Gateway and add value to the region. Buglife is promoting an online petition against this proposal. The Ranger rarely gets involved in campaigns of this sort, and even more rarely promotes online petitions – in fact, this is the only one he has ever endorsed. That’s how strongly the Ranger feels about it. You are encouraged to read up about it and make your own mind up. If you agree, sign the petition too.