Monday, 2 February 2015

Protected Wildlife at Dunton Hills

The proposed site for Dunton Garden Suburb is green belt land that is highly important for the biodiversity of the area. It lies between the country parks at Langdon Hills and Thorndon Park and is especially important because unlike the nature reserves it is largely undisturbed by visitors.

The land which includes the Dunton Hills golf course, fields, woodlands and hedgerows has a marshy character with ponds, isolated trees and a stream that are ideal habitat for a number of rare species such as pipistrelle bats, great crested newts, lesser spotted woodpeckers and water voles. The woods around the stream that runs down from Eastland Springs to the west is a Local Wildlife Site and while the Green Meadow woods around the garden centre and garage off the A127 has been noted as a potential Local Wildlife Site. Despite this there appears to be little known of the wildlife in the area and it is vital that we persuade Brentwood and Basildon councils that a detailed year-round biodiversity survey of the entire site is essential before they take any further decisions about building on this land. If we dont push for this they will try to get away with a quick study on the grounds that it is not a designated conservation area. The habitats of rare species are protected by law and nothing can mitigate the loss of such a large ecological site to housing. 

Some high level habitat assessements have already been carried out but these are not detailed enough to provide an accurate picture. According to the final report of the Sustainability Appraisal and Habitats Regulations Assessment Commentary, "the development location contains limited amounts of Deciduous Woodland BAP Priority Habitat, one area of which is also Ancient and Semi-Natural Woodland. There are a number of Protected Species Alert Areas in and around the area. There are also Local Wildlife Sites in close proximity (Gravelpit Wood, Southfields Washland, Langdon Complex within Basildon Borough; data unavailable for Brentwood Borough) although these are separated from the development location by existing physical infrastructure such as roads.". Note that they fail to mention the Eastlands Spring Local Wildlife Site and Green Meadows Potential Local Wildlife Site within the development location which are mapped in the Brentwood Borough Local Wildlife Site Review (pages 218 and 246) This may be an indication of a lack of thoroughness in the HRA or even a deliberate attempt to hide important information from the consultation.

Water Voles

Water Voles are rare and shy rodents whose habitats are protected by law. They like marshy areas, ponds and streams so the Dunton Hills site is an ideal location for them. They have been noted in the Crouch River near Noak Bridge in the Basildon District Local Wildlife Review (page 76). The River Crouch starts from Friern Manor Wood near the source of the stream that runs under the A127 into Eastlands Springs so there is a good chance that the voles have also spread within the Dunton site.

It would help if we could find signs of these voles near the ponds or the stream to the west. According to the Wildlife Trusts "Look out for the signs of Water Voles such as burrows in the riverbank, often with a nibbled 'lawn' of grass around the entrance. Water Voles like to sit and eat in the same place, so piles of nibbled grass and stems may be found by the water's edge, showing a distinctive 45° angled-cut at the ends. 'Latrines' of rounded, cigar-shaped droppings may also be spotted."

If the Dunton Garden Suburb gets built the marshy land will be drained and only a few isolated ponds may be left withing the housing estates. The surface water will drain into the stream causing polution and disturbance from people and cats will drive the voles away from any remaining habitat. The water vole is Britain's fastest declining wild mammal and if they are found in the area the DGS development must be stopped.

Pipistrelle Bats

Bats of all species are protected in the UK by both domestic and international law. the pipistrelle is one of the most common species and often roosts crevises around the outside of buildings. It is widespread and is likely to be found around the Dunton area especially in the barns and other farm buildings.

Great Crested Newt

The great created newt is an important species for conservation in  the UK and its habitat is also protected by law. It can be found in almost any pond around Basildon that does not contain fish. It was even discovered in the water areas of langdon Hills Golf Club and prevented them from clearing them out. There are similar ponds in the golf course at Dunton Hills as well as natural isolated ponds
near Dunton Hall and in the woods at the top of the hill. Residents have already reported findinf the newts in their gardens so we know they are there.

These are just a few of the species that could affect planning of the Dunton site. Any reports of wildlife in the area would be significant but animals and plants that would be particularity important because of their protected status include bats, newts, toads, badgers, water voles, dormice, snakes, lizards, slow-worms, rare birds, butterflies and orchids. Ancient woodland is also protected and some of the woods have already been categorised as such.

It will not be easy to stop building on these grounds as they discovered at Dry Street where a detailed report of protected wildlife in the area failed to halt building. However the planned build in Dunton is even larger and the impact on biodiversity may be more significant so it is important to raise awareness of the wildlife involved. We cannot assume that the Environmental Impact Assessments ordered by the councils will give the full picture. They will try to play down the importance of the site for conservation and will delay surveys until it is too late to act.

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