A controversial planning application to build 5,000 houses on one of the UK’s last strongholds for nightingales has been dropped just months before a Public Inquiry was due to take a closer look at the issue
Wildlife lovers and conservationists are welcoming news that the planning application has been withdrawn that would have destroyed an important wildlife haven at Lodge Hill in Kent. It is an area that is home to the rare and declining nightingale and is also important for a wide range of other declining wildlife and habitats, including bats, and rare grassland flowers and ancient woodland.
Lodge Hill is recognised as one of the last strongholds for nightingales in the UK, an enigmatic bird that has seen its population in England drop to less than 5,500 singing males from over 60,000 a few decades ago. The decline of the species is so alarming that nightingales are listed among our most threatened birds and included on the UK Red List for birds.
The area is nationally protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for nightingales, holding up to 85 singing males. The development would have destroyed most of the nightingales' habitat, and would have set a terrible precedent for protected sites everywhere.
Over 12,000 people objected to the planning application when it was approved by Medway Council in 2014, promoting the Government to 'call in' the decision. A Public Inquiry was due to be held in March 2018
Chris Corrigan, the RSPB’s director for England said: “Thousands of people joined the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust in expressing their shock and dismay at plans to build on Lodge Hill. The withdrawal of the plans is a clear sign that the voices of people that love our wildlife have been heard. It is concerning that these proposals were approved in the first place, and this concern is something we believe the Planning Inquiry would have shared.
“Lodge Hill was declared a SSSI by the Government because it is the best place for nightingales in the UK, a species that has declined by around 90% in the last half century leaving fewer and fewer to bring their beautiful song to the English countryside. Areas as important as Lodge Hill should be protected and celebrated and not threatened with housing.”
John Bennett, Chief Executive of Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “After a huge amount of work over many years to protect Lodge Hill, alongside RSPB and other conservation partners, we welcome the common sense shown by the withdrawal of this damaging development application. We look forward, optimistically, to a positive future for the area and its wildlife, which is important for Kent and the country as a whole.”
The future of Lodge Hill is still under threat as it has been earmarked for development by Medway Council in their draft Local Plan, released earlier this year. And again, over 12,000 people also responded to that proposal, pointing out how this was at total odds with national planning guidance, and asking the Council to remove Lodge Hill from their final plan due in 2018.
To find out more about the concerns being raised by conservation groups, and get involved in saving Lodge Hill from development visit: www.rspb.org.uk/savelodgehill