A small colony of nightingales could scupper plans for a major housing development in Medway. This report from Tom Savvides includes interviews with Paul Outwaite from the RSPB and councillor Jane Chitty.
After very careful consideration of all the evidence by Natural England, it became clear that the area is of special interest for grassland, woodland and nightingales, which represent 1.3 per cent of the bird’s national population. It is one of the most important sites for nightingales in the UK. Natural England’s executive board therefore has a legal duty to designate it as a SSSI.
This involves the existing SSSI at Chattenden Woods being extended to incorporate the land at Lodge Hill. Letters of notification have been sent to relevant parties. They will have four months in which to make objections and representations about notification. Any such points which remain unresolved will then be considered by the Natural England Board which has nine months to decide whether to confirm or withdraw the SSSI notification.
– Natural England
This decision does not determine whether or not development can go ahead at the site; this is a matter for the planning system. Natural England will continue to engage with the local planning authority to contribute, as appropriate, to the planning process. In particular, we will consider carefully any proposals for a habitat creation scheme to offset the impacts on the special wildlife of the site, should development proceed.
Medway Council has issued a statement in response to the news that eighty-four nightingales may have scuppered a biggest housing project in the area.
Natural England did not raise any objections until July 2011 despite working with others since the mid 1990s on plans for the development of Lodge Hill. However, we now seem to have the absurd situation of a government agency (Natural England) stopping a government department (the Ministry of Defence) from proceeding with their plans to relinquish their former training grounds, an area where this is believed to be unexploded ordnance. We are deeply unhappy with this decision and will be considering our options.
– Medway Council
We find it astonishing this decision has been taken. This is a government site and is former vacant military land. In addition, it is an area earmarked for development for 18 years, and this would help provide 5,000 local jobs and 5,000 homes, which is important for a growing area like Medway.
– Medway Council
We have worked with Natural England and its predecessors since 1995, as well as other experts, to mitigate the effects such development would have on the around 70 nightingales that live on the site for 12 weeks a year and believed that Lodge Hill would not be declared an SSSI. Nightingales aren’t a protected species, and there are numerous similar habitats within the immediate area, as well as elsewhere in Kent and the south east where they spend three months a year.”
Eighty-four nightingales may have scuppered the biggest housing project in Medway.
For 18 years a new town with 5,000 homes and 5,000 jobs has been earmarked for the former army base at Lodge Hill, near Hoo.
But in a surprise move its wildlife has been given a top protection order - so the scheme's been delayed.
Natural England, a government agency, has made Lodge Hill a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) after a survey found rare nightingales flooded in after the army left, largely protected by the site's 7ft fence.