Adrian Thomas, #SaveLodgeHill Campaign Manager, brings us up to date on the threat to the UK's only site protected specially for nightingales, whose numbers have fallen by 91% in the last 40 years.
Last year, 12,500 of you sent letters to Medway Council in Kent asking them not to allocate Lodge Hill, the nation's best site for nightingales, for housing development in their Local Plan. After all, it is meant to be protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the highest national tier of wildlife designation. If it happened to Lodge Hill, it would set the most awful precedent for all our other protected sites around the country.
It came two years after many of you also joined with us to ask the government to 'call in' a planning application for 5,000 houses on the same site, and we're pleased to say the developer finally withdrew that application in September 2017.
Now, in four weeks time, Medway Council will put out the next draft of their Local Plan for public consultation (16 March–11 May 2018), and we think there is a chance that we're going to have to fight for Lodge Hill yet again.
We also know that the new owners of Lodge Hill, the new government agency called Homes England, has said that it is going to put in a revised application for housing there.
So it looks like we may need your help again. If you're not already signed up to hear about our campaigns, please do today at rspb.org.uk/campaignchampions so we can get in touch when the consultation opens.
Sometimes campaigns like this, where we have to stand up time and again, can seem exhausting. But that's where, with your help, we show the grit and determination that we're not going away, we're not weakening.
Already this week there are things happening near to Lodge Hill which are giving us cause for concern. In the New Year, we were alerted to large areas of bushes being removed on Deangate Ridge, the Medway Council-owned golf course next to Lodge Hill SSSI, but the Council maintained that it was routine maintenance.
The Council is within its rights, of course, to undertake management of this kind on its sites outside of the bird breeding season; an offence is only committed when people intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built.
Then, a week ago, the Council announced that it was proposing to close the golf course. Now it is not for the RSPB to say whether or not it should be a golf course; that is for Medway and the local community to decide. However, the site is directly adjacent to Lodge Hill SSSI, so just in case the Council has any development plans in mind, then they will need to take full account of the indirect impacts on the protected site's wildlife. These should not be underestimated.
It is important to say that we have worked with Medway Council over many years on projects that enhance and celebrate the special wildlife and wild places of Medway, and we were pleased to see that their draft vision for their Local Plan last year read, "By 2035, Medway will be a leading waterfront University city of 330,200 people, noted for its revitalised urban centres, and its stunning natural and historic assets, and countryside".
We applauded them for that vision. What is important now is for the Council to show that they do indeed cherish their stunning natural assets, including the best place for nightingales in the county.
Find out more about our campaign to save Lodge Hill at https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/protecting-wildlife-sites-near-you/save-lodge-hill.
And still the RSPB won't say anything about the excessive size of the UK population.
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