A fortnight ago, I was checking the press release we were issuing in response to the latest plans to develop Lodge Hill. In it we referred to the 90% decline in our nightingale population in the last fifty years. I paused on the 90% figure. It didn't seem right. I knew the decline was significant, but for some reason I hadn't equated the nightingale decline to that suffered by turtle dove or willow tit. So, I went on the BTO website - the best place to check bird trend statistics - and this confirmed the 90% decline.
The nightingale population has declined by 90% since 1967.
Unless we take action to protect nightingales on its breeding grounds and work with others on its flyway and wintering grounds, we are going to lose this iconic bird from our countryside. Its evocative song, which adds so much to the avian soundtrack to our spring and summer, will be lost.
So, why on earth are we even contemplating developing the most important site for nightingales in England?
As I have written on eight previous occasions, Lodge HiIl (shown in the image above) in Medway, North Kent is protected as one of our best sites for wildlife - a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) . Normally I get excited if I hear one or two nightingales; in 2012, Lodge Hill had 85 singing males!
Now, Medway Council has just brought out a consultation looking at the overall future of the area in which they state their commitment to want to see the site developed; and we know they want 5000 houses to be built there. If, after the consultation, the Council does indeed put Lodge Hill into its Local Plan, it would help pave the way for one of the largest ever destructions of a protected site in the UK and would put two fingers up to the Governmental ambition to pass on the natural world in a better state to the next generation. I don't think the next generation would thank us for depriving them of nightingales.
We want your help to do two things......yes, to save Lodge Hill and its nightingales...but also to stop a dangerous precedent being set that would threaten all of our protected wildlife sites.
So we're hoping you will tell Medway Council that the nightingales matter and that to allocate it as a site for development would weaken the protection for all our best wildlife sites across England. The Council might think this is a local matter, but threatening such a nationally important site makes it a national matter. We need to #SaveLodgeHill.
Medway Council's consultation runs until 6 March 2017. You can join our campaign here and tell Medway why it must not develop the site. It will take you a minute and it would be great if you could add personal reasons why you want the site to be saved.
We have to change the current mindset that loss in inevitable and short term economic gain always trumps wildlife. And if you need any further motivation to act, remind yourself of the fabulous song of the nightingale here.
Andy Hay's photo of a nightingale (rspb-images.com)
This isn't just about Medway Council. There are two other players: the Government (MOD) who own the land and Land Securities who are marketing it for them. Land Securities like most major property developers are making a big thing about their sustainability credentials - which don't appear to extend to wildlife. Their website is virtually silent on Lodge Hill. But we do know that they have lost one developer who has walked away from what is obviously trouble, and that they have complained about how much they have spent on this planning application. The simple answer is to walk away - or at least modify the application to build solely on the improved land clearly visible in the site map. Whilst the development of the Nightingale land of Lodge Hill is a disastrous prospect for conservation, surely intelligent businesses must realise that going head to head with serious and popular nature conservation is expensive both financially and reputationally.
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