Bid to save birds threatened by homes plan

Tree sparrow by Steve Round

A colony of tree sparrows at Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits is threatened by development. - Credit: Steve Round

A campaign has been launched to protect a red-listed colony of endangered birds from extinction.

A colony of tree sparrows found in Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits is threatened by a housing development which could see them become extinct as a breeding bird in Herts.

As part of Hertsmere Borough Council's new Local Plan, the Tyttenhanger site is one of many sites being considered for development, with 6,000 new homes planned to help meet their targets for the next 15 years.’

The proposed development by Urban & Civic plc would be a new garden village known as Bowman's Cross, which both Colney Heath and London Colney Parish Councils believe will create coalescence between the settlements due to its close proximity.

A partnership between Herts Bird Club, SE Herts RSPB group and the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust is now working together to look at ways the site and its rich wildlife - including the tree sparrows - can be saved.

Tree sparrow (Passer montanus) by Simon West

A tree sparrow (Passer montanus) by Simon West - Credit: Simon West

Although the developer has agreed to fund a program of expanding feeding and nest box provision, campaigners do not believe the tree sparrows will survive the building work, and are keen to work on a long-term solution to protect the birds.

Subject to any further delays caused by the pandemic, the development process is set to move forward another step this spring with a Draft Local Plan likely to be officially adopted. The public will then have a chance to comment on the proposals as part of the subsequent consultation.

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Herts Ad columnist and keen naturalist Rupert Evershed, chair of Herts Bird Club explained why the campaign is so important: "Since the 1970s tree sparrow populations have declined by over 90 per cent nationally placing them on the Red List of birds of greatest conservation concern.

"Just one small breeding colony survives in Hertfordshire at Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits and has managed to cling on thanks to the efforts of the Herts Bird Club’s Tree Sparrow Project providing year-round feeding and nest boxes over the last 30 years. 

"The colony, which is believed to be one of the very last in the south-east of England, now faces the very real threat of extinction from a large-scale housing development set to be given the go-ahead this year as part of Hertsmere Borough Council’s Local Plan.

"In response to this the Herts Bird Club, working with other local conservation groups, have engaged with the developer to explore what might be done to save the tree sparrows. 

"Over the last year, additional feeding stations and nest boxes have been erected around the site in the hope that the existing tree sparrow population can be encouraged to grow and spread.

"Efforts are also being made to raise public awareness, not just of the tree sparrows’ plight but also of the very rich wildlife the site has to offer.  It is hoped that these efforts will not only save our tree sparrows but also present a strong case for the whole site as great place for wildlife."

David Utting, secretary of Hertfordshire Natural History Society, said: "It is in everyone’s interest – developers, local authority planners and conservationists – to protect the tree sparrows, while maintaining and enhancing the diversity of wildlife in and around the site proposed for new housing."

A spokesperson for Hertsmere Borough Council said: "Bowman’s Cross is being considered as a possible site allocation in the new Local Plan for a new settlement. As part of this process all necessary studies - including ecological - will need to be undertaken and will inform the final decision as to the extent of any development to ensure any protected species remain so."

See the following Facebook groups to find out more about the fight to save the tree sparrows and protect Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits from excessive development: