There it was again in my inbox, another request to protest about the plans to build a housing development over one of the most important nightingale sites in the country.
Lodge Hill an area of scrubland next to Chattenden Woods has one of the largest nightingale colonies in the South East. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The woods are lovely; paths lined with the drooping heads of pendulous sedge lead to coppice clearings which ring with woodpeckers drumming in the spring, early purple orchids and silver washed fritillary butterflies can be found along the shady rides but none of this makes it safe.
A Military Of Defence company with the scary Americanised title of ‘Land Securities.’ are proposing the development of 5000 homes on the site as part of the drive to achieve the government’s endless cry for more house building. The development would see most of the SSSI destroyed. Medway Council claim the land is ‘brownfield’ because of its former use as the barracks for The Royal School for Military Engineering but aerial photographs showed a green oasis of scrub, wild flowers and meadows, just the sort of land nightingales love.
Of course the development company claim that all will be well. They can compensate for the loss of the nightingales breeding sites by creating new habitat elsewhere. Anyone who knows anything about either nightingales or mitigation knows that this sort of easily thrown around green wash just doesn’t work. You cannot plant foot high hawthorn in tree tubes and hope the nightingales will find it to their liking.
I protested about this development when I first heard about it many years ago. In the last few years I have protested against it again and again as each new minute change in the planning application appears to mean that all previous protests are thrown out and I need to start afresh. Excuse me for being cynical but do they hope that people will just get tired and go away? How often does one need to say no before they understand that, they can tweak the development all they like, I’m still not going to agree?
Thankfully in the last few weeks there has been a glimmer of hope. The government has decided to ‘call in’ the application, affectively meaning a public inquiry will have to take place before the development can go ahead. Only 1% of planning applications get called in and this one only has because of the huge number of people, like me, who have written and e-mailed again and again to say that all important, no.
Lodge Hill, is not only about Kent it is about all the sites we love and care for. If development were to go ahead here it would be one of the largest losses of a SSSI ever. Please add your voice to the protests over Lodge Hill because if this goes ahead where does it end?
My ex boss, Alan Johnson, RSPB area manager for Kent said it best.
“If development at Lodge Hill goes ahead then we are quite prepared to chain ourselves to the gates to stop it. Because if protection for a place like that goes then it will all fall off a cliff.”
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