Key site for endangered nightingales saved from development

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    Planning application for 5,000 houses in Kent is withdrawn following a long campaign but wildlife site remains at risk from future developments

    One of the best sites in England for endangered nightingales will not be covered in 5,000 new houses after a long campaign by environmental charities.

    The planning application to build on the former Ministry of Defence site of Lodge Hill, Kent, has been withdrawn ahead of a public inquiry into the controversial development.

    But the site is still at risk after the local council reacted furiously to the decision and declared it would welcome new applications to build on the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as soon as possible.nightingale2

    More than 12,000 people objected to the application to build on the SSSI, one of the country’s best wildlife sites, which national planning guidelines say can only be destroyed if development is proven to be in the national interest.

    The planning application for 5,000 houses was approved by Medway council in 2014 but the plans were referred to central government and a public inquiry was due to be held in spring next year.

    Conservationists have welcomed the reprieve for Lodge Hill, which is still owned by the Ministry of Defence, but the site is still earmarked for housing under Medway council’s local plan.

    The leader of the Conservative-controlled council, Alan Jarrett, said he was “appalled” at the delay in developing the site and said the “people of Medway” had been “let down” by a succession of agencies.

    He added: “While I am hugely disappointed that the current scheme for Lodge Hill has been withdrawn, I now eagerly await the new plans expected to be put forward by the applicants in the coming months.

    “By 2035 we must build 30,000 new homes to keep up with our expanding population and therefore each and every suitable development site is key.”
    Lodge Hill, North Kent. The UK’s best nightingale site, where Medway council want to build new houses. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian
    Lodge Hill, North Kent. The UK’s best nightingale site, where Medway council want to build new houses. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

    The disused barracks contain ancient woodland and have become a UK stronghold for nightingales, with up to 85 singing males recorded on the site. There are fewer than 5,500 singing males left in the UK, down from more than 60,000 several decades ago.

    Purple emperor butterflies were rediscovered on Lodge Hill this summer, and the site is also known for scores of bat roosts, an exceptional number of slow worms and amphibians, as well as a rare type of grassland.

    Purple emperor butterflies have also been rediscovered at Lodge Hill. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
    Purple emperor butterflies have also been rediscovered at Lodge Hill. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

    “The withdrawal of the plans is a clear sign that the voices of people that love our wildlife have been heard,” said Chris Corrigan, the RSPB’s director for England. “Areas as important as Lodge Hill should be protected and celebrated and not threatened with housing.”

    Greg Hitchcock of Kent Wildlife Trust said he hoped Lodge Hill would be kept in public ownership and wildlife groups could work together with Medway council to create a public reserve with educational potential rather than thousands of new houses.

    “The value of the site is not in development receipts, it’s in the habitats and wildlife,” said Hitchcock, who has campaigned to save Lodge Hill for 10 years.

    “There’s an avalanche of evidence of the benefits that green spaces have for people. We’re going to concentrate on trying to work with Medway council to get a sustainable, positive future for this site.”

    Source: theguardian.com

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