Loyalty is not always a good thing.

nightingale

nightingale copyright Petra Karstedt https://www.flickr.com/photos/insecta62/

Last night on BBC’s Springwatch I learnt why loyalty is not always such a good thing. A nightingale, it turns out, flies from Africa in the spring back to exactly the same bush in England it left from the previous year. No wonder nightingales in our country are doing so badly.

The nightingale currently breeding in the scrub at Bakersfield at the end of my road will be one of the losers next spring. He will fly back to his favourite spot to find that it has been turned into a building site. So, I fear, will many others.

In the current rush to throw up as many houses as possible, in the current rush to sweep away planning restrictions, in the current rush to destroy all brownfield sites many of our countries nightingales will lose their territories.

In this country we have tree preservation orders, protection for trees which are special. Why can’t we have the same thing for the places that are so important for one of our most iconic birds? Why can’t we have nightingale territory preservation orders? Extra protection for the trees which are important to them.

It will never happen of course because we fail to see beyond our anthropocentric world view. Tree preservation orders protect trees which are important to us because they are beautiful to our eye or important for our history. Our first national parks protected landscapes considered to be attractive by the people choosing them.

But what’s good for wildlife is not always what is good for our eye. Scrub is often not beautiful, wet grassland is not beautiful, brownfield is not beautiful. If only we could shift our thinking to protect not just the pretty but the pretty damn important then our countries wildlife and in turn our own lives, would be richer for it.

Advertisements

This is how it is.

scrub removed 3

Scrub removed at Bakersfield – May 2016

Yesterday was a dark day for me. I tried. Anyone who’s ever known me will know that I tried to stop the destruction of the wildlife rich site at the top of my road.

As McCulloch Homes and Bioscan continued to celebrate spring by ripping up scrub from Bakersfield a site filled with breeding birds. I contacted the RSPB and Wildlife Crime Officer. I prowled the site taking photos and video of the destruction and confronted black hearted people claiming to be ecologists.

Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations at the RSPB thought we had a good case. Nightingales and cuckoos, both red listed birds suffering severe declines in this country, were breeding on site, scrub was being pulled up and because birds go to great lengths to hide their nests it was impossible for any ecologists to find them all prior to the digger ripping into them, especially ones from a firm that had concluded that hearing nightingales singing on site in May was not evidence that they were breeding there.

However, we hadn’t factored in the attitude of the police. I was phoned by a wildlife crime officer from Kent police who informed me that Bioscan were a thoroughly respectable firm full of very decent chaps and maybe I should talk to the man overseeing this work and attempt to understand it from his point of view . That, unless I could actually find a nest  of massacred blue tits, he was not prepared to act.

In my mind there are two types of ecologists. Those in the light and those in the dark. Bioscan and their ilk are in the dark. They learn their ecology, they go on their training courses to get their licences and then they sell their souls for developers money. I do not converse with the dark side.

And so no one will be prosecuted for destroying Bakersfield. I cannot produce that nest of decapitated baby birds. I cannot prove their actions were illegal but even if these firms can persuade others that their actions are legal that doesn’t make it moral, that doesn’t make it right.

A nightingale sang and then was destroyed.

Last night I sat in my garden with a friend. We built a fire, watched a shooting star fall overhead and listened to a nightingale sing. It made me unbelievably sad. These moments are what makes life precious and we are destroying them.

The scrub that the nightingale sang in is being ripped up to make way for a inappropriate and unnecessary housing development. Houses sit empty all over this country and we are destroying the places that bring beauty and joy into our lives to make way for developments which only enrich the lives of the, already rich men who champion them.

I will no longer step out of my door in the morning and hear cuckoos. I will no longer sit in my garden at 1am and hear a nightingale sing and this destruction erodes the very things that make life worth living.

I am supposed to follow the party line that the wants of humans have far more value than the needs of the other creatures that live on the planet. I just can’t subscribe to this point of view. Humans are two a penny, nightingales are rare and getting ever rarer as they make way for profit and I care passionately about this and cannot rouse myself to care if people don’t have a mortgage.

This morning I tidy the remains of the fire away and take some comfort in the fact that the blue tits eggs have successfully hatched in my nest box. I can do this. I can make homes for blue tits but all I can do for the nightingale is rage, rage against its destruction.

Listen to a nightingale sing here.

 

Nightingale site destroyed.

250px-Nachtigall_(Luscinia_megarhynchos)-2

As I sit here nightingales and cuckoos are singing at the end of my road in a little patch of scrubby and chalky delight known as Bakersfield. At the same time a digger is ripping the scrub up overseen by an ecologist from a firm called Bioscan.

The ecologist should know better. He does know better. He knows this is wrong.

“Why do you do it?” I ask him when I stop to challenge them over why work has begun on a site when I have a letter from Medway Council’s housing department telling me their will be another public appeal.

“I can’t afford to work for the RSPB,” he says. “They don’t pay enough and, besides my boss has done a nightingale survey.”

Even the digger driver is saddened to see the site go. “This was my playground when I was a lad. Before long all this countryside will go to housing and Rainham will be attached to Sittingbourne. And what about the traffic? It’s going to be gridlock when this development starts.”

“But what can we do?” they both say.

What can we do? What can we do while the blind pursuit of profit for a few is put ahead of the desires of local residents or the wildlife that inhabit this precious site?

What can I do? I wish someone would let me know.

Lodge Hill – If we don’t stop development here then where does it end?

The road to the woods

The road to the woods

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.”

Find out more here

http://www.rspb.org.uk/whatwedo/campaigningfornature/casework/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-317476

Thanks to all the writers

Thanks to everyone who came along on the nature writing workshop, it was great to have so many people and such beautiful weather. I am really looking forward to reading everyone’s work. I think my favourite moment was meeting Susan who was severely deaf but could hear the nightingale song I played as a listening exercise. It was lovely to hear about the memory it evoked of her mother. I should really thank the nightingale too. For those of you who have never heard a nightingale sing then please listen to this clip.