Our local wildlife needs your voice!
- Credit: Nick Pettit
When writing my monthly Nature Notes I am usually deliberately upbeat. I am a firm believer that if we love something we will fight for it and be motivated to protect it.
There are occasions however when even I, trying as I may to stay positive, feel the weight of encroaching problems and the closing-in of the world I enjoy.
For some time now heavy storm clouds have hung on the horizon of Tyttenhanger Gravel Pits – a place I love and enjoy weekly. They are not literal clouds but metaphorical and began to cast a long shadow over the area as far back as 2017 with the publishing of Hertsmere Borough Council’s vision for the future of housing development.
Now those heavy clouds sit right over the site with Hertsmere’s recently published Draft Local Plan for development making the site the centrepiece of its proposals: a new village starting with 6,000 new homes but growing to possibly 12,000 in the future.
‘Bowman’s Cross’ will straddle the space between London Colney and Colney Heath, removing any vestiges of Green Belt and swallowing these existing villages in a vast conurbation.
The sheer scale of the proposals is shocking and, if approved, will remove an area of countryside rich in wildlife and enjoyed by many local people.
For Hertsmere Borough Council it is a masterstroke with most of these local people not living in their borough but in the neighbouring St Albans borough. Despite pressure to publicise their proposals more widely many local residents remain unaware of Hertsmere’s intentions.
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Successive lockdowns over the last year have made the area even more valued by local walkers, cyclists and horse-riders. A new Facebook page, focusing on the enjoyment of wildlife at the site, now has over 400 members with many expressing their initial surprise and wonder at the richness of the wildlife on offer.
It is a place that you cannot help but notice the wildlife, whether it is the nesting grey herons, the summer kaleidoscope of butterflies or the hawking hobbies that feed off the plentiful supply of dragonflies. Winter brings flocks of thrushes, gulls and wildfowl ensuring that even the dullest day is enlivened with activity and possibly the drama of a hunting peregrine or fox.
The site is not just for our entertainment though and represents an important and valuable ecology, supporting the very last breeding tree sparrows in the southeast of England. These rare birds have clung on thanks to habitat protection and year-round feeding and monitoring by the Herts Bird Club.
Now their world is threatened and along with them over 200 other species of birds, many of which are themselves endangered.
Aside from the sadness caused by the very real possibility of one of Hertfordshire’s best sites for wildlife being lost comes the deeper sadness – perhaps verging on despair – that this is ‘yet another’ loss for wildlife.
The plight of our planet, the shifting climate and the rapid demise of so much of our wildlife is rarely out of the news and yet the kind of systemic change needed is still awaited.
Wildlife is still seen as expendable and the loss of biodiversity something that can, in the words of the National Planning Policy Framework, be compensated for or mitigated. But underlying the compensation and mitigation strategies is the assumption of loss.
No amount of compensation or mitigation can replace, for example, a single 100-year-old oak tree and the 2,300 species it supports.
It is easy to despair, and the danger is that this leads to inaction. Instead, it is important to make our voices heard and particularly at this time when the future of the Tyttenhanger area hangs in the balance.
Hertsmere’s Draft Local Plan is open for public consultation until 6th Dec 2021 giving anyone the opportunity to object and comment. It is a very real and powerful way to stand up for nature – something that is not just relevant to residents of Hertsmere but to everyone, everywhere.
This level of development, especially on Green Belt land, is unsustainable and if areas of wide-open space, rich in wildlife, are needed now, how much more so for future generations!
To find out how you can help please visit www.savetyttenhanger.co.uk