This blog is a celebration of the nature in the South East and highlights ways you can get involved and explore nature in the region. If you've got news of the South East’s nature that you'd like to share, please contact the RSPB South East office on 01273 775333 or email SERComms@rspb.org.uk
The places we all cherish have this February moved a step closer to safety, thanks to a couple of Government decisions.
These important pockets of land, so vital for nature and recreation or simply tranquil spots where people can meditate on life, are under increasing pressure as we struggle to meet the demands of a growing population.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest [SSSI] are some of the UK’s finest examples of landscapes which support rare and threatened species. You’d think these jewels would be well and truly protected from development.
On Thursday 12 February the Infrastructure Act 2015 received Royal Assent: a complete exclusion on developments for fracking in protected areas is now law! The precise list of protected areas will be defined in secondary regulations by 31 July. It’s expected to include National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and SSSIs.
Having said that, the original decision to ban fracking "within and under" protected areas was overturned the week before. We will work to restore the original definition before July 31. The sensitivity and special features of many SSSIs are more than skin deep. Ecosystems like chalk streams, for example, could be particularly vulnerable to impacts such as water abstraction or pollution. So there is obviously more work to be done here to secure “protected” areas from unsuitable uses.
Friday 13th proved lucky for us, as late in the afternoon, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced they were “calling-in” planning consent granted by Medway Council for 5000 homes (and supporting infrastructure) to be built on a SSSI site at Lodge Hill in Kent.
What this means is that the objection we lodged in partnership with other conservation organisations, backed by more than 12,400 people, has raised sufficient Government concern that they want to examine Medway Council’s decision in detail.
The RSPB’s Director of Conservation, Martin Harper, says: “This is about the future of England’s finest nightingale site. Through an inquiry we hope and expect that this development will be rejected and the future of this Site of Special Scientific Interest and all other SSSI’s in the country will be secured. The important issue of housing allocation in North Kent should proceed without impacting on nationally-important wildlife sites.”
Medway Council’s proposal would destroy 144 hectares of the SSSI, one of the largest losses of a SSSI since the Wildlife and Countryside Act came into force in 1981. The decision is also in direct conflict with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Lodge Hill includes flower-rich grassland and ancient woodland. We don’t yet know exactly what does live on the site. It was a Ministry of Defence base, so access was limited and the surveys that have been conducted were not detailed. We do know that, apart from its sizeable nightingale population, the site is also home to one of England’s rarest butterflies, the Duke of Burgundy. Red shanked carder bee and grizzled skipper butterflies, both also species of conservation concern, have also been recorded at Lodge Hill.