What’s happening at Lodge Hill?
Last year, nightingales were added to the UK red list of endangered birds for the first time; after the last census revealed there are now fewer than 6,000 singing males in our country, a shocking 90% decline over the past 50 years. Kent has become one of the nightingales’ last remaining strongholds, and in 2013 a site called Lodge Hill and Chattenden Woods became the UK's only site protected specifically for nightingales. Lodge Hill is special because it holds such a large population of our now scarce nightingales.
But this unique and valuable site has long been earmarked by Medway Council for development of up to 5,000 houses, which would completely destroy it. In 2014, a developer submitted an application to build those 5,000 houses. If this development goes ahead, it would undermine the Government’s own tests to prevent damaging development on every other nationally protected area in England (places designated as ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest, or SSSIs) and set a dangerous precedent for harmful activities on our SSSIs in the future.
After several years of opposition from local people and conservation organisations, from September 2014 to early 2015 you helped send more than 12,400 personal letters to the Government asking for a ‘call in’ of Medway Council’s decision to approve the development at Lodge Hill, because of its national importance. And last February, we celebrated the news that the Government would do just that, and that the Secretary of State for housing would decide Lodge Hill’s future after a public inquiry.
But then things went very quiet…
So what’s happened in the last year?
Changes to the developer’s team, requests for updated information and other delays mean that despite us working hard, this inquiry will not take place until 2017! The good news is that we’ve confirmed the RSPB will be one of the parties allowed to present our evidence at the public inquiry. Lodge Hill isn’t only important for nightingales, and throughout our campaigning, we’ve worked alongside other conservation organisations. We’ll therefore be standing alongside Kent Wildlife Trust and Medway Countryside Forum in the inquiry to give all the wildlife that Lodge Hill protects a voice in the proceedings.
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have seen that Rampisham Down in Dorset, another site that could set the same precedent for damage to our nationally protected areas, was called in not long after Lodge Hill. We’re expecting that public inquiry to start much sooner that the Lodge Hill one, in the Autumn this year, and it will examine many of the same issues.
Meanwhile, Lodge Hill’s nightingales have nested, reared their chicks, migrated to Africa for the winter and are returning to Kent once more, where the future of their home still hangs in the balance of the developer and the Council’s ambitions. As the nightingales prepare to return to Africa once more this Autumn, we expect Medway Council to launch a further consultation on their Local Plan for housing. Their last Local Plan was rejected by the Government’s Inspector because they included Lodge Hill, a protected site, as one of the key developments. We fully, but sadly, expect it to be central to this forthcoming draft Local Plan as well.
We’ll need your help in the months ahead to keep fighting for both Lodge Hill’s nightingales and the principles of protection from development from special sites like this.
Enjoy their singing throughout the spring
But for now, our nightingales are returning to mate and nest, and the males are singing their hearts out. By early June they’ll have gone silent, disappearing elusively into the scrubland to rear their chicks. Whilst it lasts, head to Northward Hill, Cliffe Pools and Blean Woods (all in Kent), Minsmere in Suffolk, Highnam Woods in Gloucestershire, Garston Wood in Dorset or Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex or one of these Wildlife Trusts reserves.
Never heard a nightingale sing? Our bird guide includes a recording so you know what to listen out for.
You can ready the full story of our fight to save Lodge Hill over on our Lodge Hill casework page.
Today the European Parliament joined EU Environment Ministers and over half a million of Europeans in speaking up to defend the Nature Directives, the vital laws that protect our nature. (A reminder of why the vote was important for the Nature Directives here and our habitats and wildlife here.)
Over the last 3 weeks you've collectively sent over 16,900 messages to your MEPs, reaching every constituency and party. Thank you for keeping on the pressure! Your letters were personal and heartfelt, and they got noticed.
Thanks to the responses you sent on to us, we had a fair idea ahead of today which way MEPs from each UK party might vote, but by no means enough responses to work out if we had a UK majority, let alone one across the EU.
Well, the result was met with much cheering in the office. Watching the live stream, I just about captured this screenshot of the voting results as they flashed up – as you can see from the sea of green dots, the report passed with a huge majority and support from every EU political group!
There was a debate on the report before this afternoon's vote, which I watched online, thanks to the European Parliament's live streaming service. It was a first for me; I’ve never watched any of the Parliament’s business before and it was clear how much they had already covered on both days whilst I was waiting for the sections I was keen to listen to. After a very long day of similar debates, 16 MEPs from across Europe and the political spectrum took to the floor. The used their short speeches to defend the Natures Directives and call for them to be properly put into practice, not changed. Almost every one also mentioned the huge volume of public support for nature protection, and that's thanks to your efforts this year and last in standing with us to defend nature!
Thank you. Together we’ve secured some really strong political backing for these laws, but the results of the evidence-based review of the Nature Directives are still to be announced. The draft conclusions demonstrated the clear weight of evidence that they work and need to be properly put into practice. We’ll be keeping up the pressure on the European Commission until these laws are safe.
As always, you can find the latest on the campaign at www.rspb.org.uk/DefendNature.
Since May last year, we’ve been campaigning to save the EU Nature Directives – vital laws that protect our most vulnerable wildlife and places – from being weakened as they undergo a review.
Our campaigning is working: we’ve made huge progress and the language being used by UK and European politicians is shifting increasingly away from opening or ‘merging’ (political code for weakening) these crucial laws and towards putting them into practice properly instead. That’s thanks to your support, and that of thousands like you across the rest of Europe.
But we've not won yet. The EU's review of the Nature Directives is still in progress, but for the first time our MEPs have an opportunity to speak up and defend the laws that protect our nature with us. It's time to ask them to officially support the EU Nature Directives.
In the first week of February at their next regular voting session, MEPs will debate and vote on a key report on what still needs to be done to halt and reverse the loss of our wildlife by 2020. The evidence shows clearly that the Nature Directives are our most effective tool to do that, and without them any chance of meeting the 2020 target would be scuppered. The report, prepared by the cross-Party Environment Committee, opposes changes to the Nature Directives for this reason.
A crucial moment to send a message
The vote is a chance for the whole Parliament to make a crystal clear statement in support of the laws that protect nature by adopting the report as their official position.
We want to make sure our UK MEPs know we’d like to see them defend nature. Over 100,500 UK citizens spoke up for the Nature Directives in the European Commission’s consultation last year, and our MEPs are our elected representatives in Europe.
Email your MEP and urge them to vote to adopt the report as the Parliament’s official position
We've already come a long way
Achieving the biggest ever response to an EU consultation last summer (more than half a million European citizens responded!) made a big impact on European politicians and policy-makers. Before Christmas we wrote to our MPs backing UK Environment Minister Rory Stewart to defend nature too, and it clearly had a positive impact. The actions we took as individuals joined those of thousands of other people across the continent. Together we’ve already secured support for the Nature Directives from:
So let's get our MEPs, who represent us, to speak up and defend nature too!
Catch up on the story of the campaign:The Defend Nature campaign web pagePrevious Defend Nature blogs