My name is Billie-Jade Thomas and I am the new Political Campaigns Officer here at RSPB Cymru. Having started in my new role at the beginning of January I have now been introduced to all the areas that I will be working on in the coming months. This includes our efforts to save the Gwent Levels from the destructive M4 relief road proposal.
The proposed scheme has faced years of tireless opposition from thousands of individuals and many organisations who are concerned about the damage it will cause to nature. On the other hand, supporters of the plan argue that the expansion would decrease traffic and congestion in and around the Newport area and transform the local economy.
The scheme would cut through no less than four nationally important protected nature sites. These are the home of some incredible species including otters, water voles, bats, dormice and the rare shrill carder bee. It would also destroy the habitat of the first pair of common cranes to breed in Wales for over 400 years.
One of the rarest bumblebee species in the UK, the shrill carder bumble only has five strong populations left, with the Gwent Levels being one of the strongest. The shrill carder bee is also listed as a priority species under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016.
Earlier this week, I had a chance to visit the Newport Wetlands National Nature Reserve and see for myself why people care about the Gwent Levels so much. The thought of another road that will inevitably also become gridlocked in time, tearing through an area that is so special to so many, is truly devastating.
One reason for the spotlight being so firmly on the M4 relief road proposals, and Mark Drakeford’s decision, is the Well-being of Future Generations Act. The recently enacted legislation requires the Government and other public bodies to think about the aspects that contribute to our well-being in an integrated way.
The Act makes clear that one key aspect of well-being is a bio-diverse natural environment. The Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, has argued that this road scheme does not meet the requirements of the Well-being of Future Generations Act; and we wholeheartedly agree!
Research published by the Commissioner also shows how Wales could transform its transport system by investing in public transport, active travel and ensuring delivery of all phases of the South Wales Metro with the £1.4bn currently earmarked for the M4 Black Route.
It is important to remember that it is nature that supplies us with our food, water and air and it is currently in steep decline, with one in fourteen species in Wales at risk of disappearing. We have a responsibility to work together to turn this around so that nature can continue to look after us and future generations.
We should no longer see special wildlife sacrificed for perceived economic gain. If our children and theirs are to experience the beauty of areas such as the Gwent Levels that I have been fortunate enough to, the plans to build this road simply must grind to a halt.
Images in order they appear: Shrill carder bee, common cranes by Nick Upton and water vole by Ben Andrew.
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