This month Medway Council in Kent has responded to the 12,000 plus people that objected to Lodge Hill being made available for housing by publishing a new draft Local Plan that continues to designate land at and around Lodge Hill as being suitable for thousands of new houses.
The decision to include Lodge Hill flies in the face of national planning rules designed to protect important natural spaces, and the local authority’s own pledge to protect important wildlife sites. Sparking concerns that other protected sites could be under threat.
Lodge Hill is recognised as the best site for nightingales in the UK and one of the last strongholds for the much-loved secretive songbird you may not see but will never forget hearing. The national population has declined by 90% in the last 50 years to just a few thousand pairs, with numbers still falling. The decline is so alarming that the nightingale is now listed among our most threatened birds. Unlike many songbirds, nightingales nest at ground level, and there are fewer and fewer sites available where they can safely rear young.
The site includes ancient woodland with grasslands which are home to mammals, reptiles, amphibians, rare insects and flowers as well as nightingales. The importance of Lodge Hill is so great that in 2013 the Government declared it a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) based on its nightingale population.
There are just over 4,000 SSSIs in England and each one is chosen because they represent the best places for wildlife in the UK, and Lodge Hill plays an important role in providing a home for our wildlife for future generations.
Under National Planning Policy, a SSSI can only be developed if all other options for potential development have first been exhausted, and then if mitigation or comprehensive compensation is put in place. These steps have not been followed.
Chris Corrigan, the RSPB’s England director, said: “Every year the tiny nightingale flies thousands of miles from Africa to spend the summer at Lodge Hill, bringing its delightful song to the Kent countryside and raising its young. But this wonderful songbird, that was so numerous and well known that it has appeared in the works of some of our most celebrated poets, is now at risk of being lost from the UK.
“With one of the few places where nightingales are thriving under threat, thousands of people have used their voice at every stage to oppose plans to build at Lodge Hill. We need the local council to recognise that there is a nationally significant site on their doorstep that must be protected and celebrated. So we are asking people to once again make their voices heard so that local decision-makers can see the strength of feeling for our nightingales and special places.”
Greg Hitchcock, Kent Wildlife Trust, said: "Lodge Hill is a nationally important wildlife site, and is designated as such. It is a fantastic asset in the nation’s natural heritage, and should be protected and looked after for future generations. Medway Council received the message loud and clear that there is a huge amount of opposition to destroying this nationally important area, both from within Medway and around the country, but their new local plan still included plans to build on the site. We need to shout louder to protect this vulnerable site and others like it."
The #SaveLodgeHill campaign has brought together a partnership including the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Friends of the North Kent Marshes, Medway Countryside Forum and The Woodland Trust.
Medway Council's public consultation into their draft Local Plan Development Options runs until 11 May. To find out more and how you can use your voice to help #SaveLodgeHill, visit: www.rspb.org.uk/savelodgehill or www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/lodge-hill.
For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:
Gareth Brede, RSPB senior media officer: 01767 693221 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Lewis, Kent Wildlife Trust: 01622 357832 / email@example.com
Last Updated: Friday 6 April 2018