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  1. ITV Report

Living Land: The fight to maintain our green and pleasant land

  • Watch ITV News Anglia's Kate Prout report

East Anglia has long been known for having a rich, agricultural landscape with a climate perfectly suited to supporting both the local economy and its natural habitats.

But thousands of greenfield in the region are currently earmarked for development. An increased demand for more housing sees the countryside disappearing under concrete and brick.

A greenbelt policy was introduced across the United Kingdom in 1955 to curb an influx of urban growth. There are now 14 separate areas of Green Belt that cover 13% of England; mostly open land and countryside around the largest or most historic towns and cities.

But the only greenbelts areas in this region are around Cambridge and parts of Essex circling London.

An increase in demands for housing continues to threaten local habitats. Credit: ITV Anglia

There are actions being taken to counteract the onslaught of urban development on natural habitats. An old oil and gas refinery in Canvey Island on the Thames Estuary in Essex is just one example of a once brownfield site being being made into a haven for wildlife.

Amongst the skeletal remains of the petrotechnical industry is a thriving nature reserve with more biodiversity per square foot than anywhere else in the country.

Since the Land Trust took over Canvey Wick in 2012, 2000 different species have been allowed to develop.

An old gas refinery in Canvey Island is now home to 2000 different species. Credit: ITV Anglia

"Over the last 50 years its remarkable to see how habitats can be created with careful management. So here we will do limited amounts of scrub clearance to open up areas of wild flowers. We'll also do management of the reeds to make sure they can grow and they're not overtaken by invasive species."

– Lauren Hall Estates Manager, Land Trust
Skeletal remains of an old gas refinery in Canvey Island. Credit: ITV Anglia

Decades of intensive farming, especially since the end of the Second World War in order to feed the landscape has also had an impact on East Anglia's landscape.

Volunteers of the Felbeck Trust help maintain a woodland in North Norfolk. The charity specialises in restoring and preserving land that has been damaged through neglect or intensive farming practices and use of chemicals.

Volunteers of the Felbeck Trust estore and improve the Norfolk countryside for the benefit of wildlife. Credit: ITV Anglia

"Agriculture is the product of our requirement for food, often wider varieties of food and cheap food.

So agriculture delivers what we want as a community in terms of food production. But of course, the process of doing that is damaging to the environment and wildlife.

– Trevor Williams Chair, Felbeck Trust
Natural habitats for many species, including birds, across the region are under threat. Credit: ITV Anglia

Some believe that leaving the EU and therefore the Common Agricultural Policy may provide opportunities to balance the needs of food production in agriculture alongside wildlife.

"One of the problems with the Common Agricultural policy is that is it pays people for land that is in condition for farming. Landowners have an incentive to clear areas for wildlife and not particularly good for farming and make farm land out of that.

That has led to the destruction of a lot of habitat across Europe. It's got to the stage where it's not about protecting our little pockets of wildlife anymore, we need to restore some of those habitats."

– Dr Mark Bowler Wildlife, Ecology & Conservation, University of Suffolk