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The Threat to Our Natural World

A few years ago, I was one of two birders conducting a survey to the south west of Billericay. We were pleased to hear a skylark and, with our binoculars, we eventually located it, a slow moving dot against the sky, then watched it descend into the long grass. We are hoping to increase Skylark populations, as part of Essex Wildlife Trust’s Living Landscapes initiative but, in this locale, this ambition faces a potential setback, as its territory is in the site known in the Basildon Borough Draft Local Plan as H 23.

H 23 is one of many Green Belt sites which are proposed for housing in the Local Plan. It also has implications for biodiversity and our own enjoyment of a local natural world. 

In the Local Plan, there is a similar assessment for every site description, which broadly states that the site is “not known to be ecologically sensitive” but that surveys need to be done to see what is there. It goes on to state that development should ensure that there is no net loss to biodiversity and that it should seek to obtain a net gain. The aim is laudable but the execution requires planners and developers to look beyond the boundaries of each site.

Take the example of Potash Road, the sites H19a and H19b.  We know that some protected species, Adder and Dormouse, inhabit places either side of the site as both are recorded near Norsey Wood and in private farmland next to Stock Road. Although there is no public access to the site, the passer-by can see scrub, ancient trees and unimproved grassland, some of which is suitable for these species, so the species may actually be within the proposed development sites. And they may be reliant on them to move around for food and to avoid isolated populations which dilute the gene pool and lead to local extinction.  

So my response is that the planners and developers have to look at whole areas. To really achieve no net loss to biodiversity may mean that land within the site, and possibly even outside the site, has to be allocated for wildlife habitat, as well as providing access for quiet recreation so we can enjoy the wildlife. This is the approach for the land near Greens Farm Lane which could mitigate the impact on Mill Meadows LNR if it is done well. In my view this approach needs to be adopted for all the other sites in the Green Belt.

Neil Sumner
Conservation Volunteer (EWT Living Landscapes)