Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Wildlife worries

I have got a huge stack of work to do that is covering my desk, but when my friend and teacher at the local primary school asked me if I wanted to go on ‘Lotties walk’ with the children, well, I couldn’t resist. It is such a uplifting activity to do something fun with....around fifty energetic 4 year olds ;)

‘Lotties walk’ is a story I wrote a couple of years ago based on a local walk with my dog Lottie. We live on the edge of town and there are some lovely green spaces and country walks, that I can take from home. This small area of farm and woodland is what remains of the local country estate, hemmed in by the M1 motorway, and the rapidly expanding towns and villages. The original grand house was left in such disrepair after being commandeered for the army in the war, that it was demolished and the rubble used to build the motorway. Some fantastic pieces of history still remain though, like the old gatehouse, an attractive tree-lined avenue to the folly and an obelisk.

As the surrounding areas have become more built up, the wildlife has been squeezed into a smaller area. I take walks around this area several times a week and I have seen all kinds of wildlife over the years including kingfishers, badgers, weasels, green and spotted woodpeckers, jays, herons, English partridges, bats, owls, kestrels, buzzards, dragonflies, butterflies and more. My other half is a wildlife photographer and has captured images of several of the local species, but mostly you just get a fleeting glimpse of them as you approach and you catch your breath in amazement.
The local primary school is so close that, when the teachers can make a space in a timetable full of targets (yes – even for 4 year olds!), they take the children out for adventures. This was my inspiration a couple of years ago. I was out walking my dog and we met the children along the path, so as a family project we put together a storyboard for the children with artwork and photos from hubby, pictures drawn by my children and the story based on our cheeky puppy, to make it fun. The story was told in class and the children got to draw their own maps and learn about some of the animals.

This year the teachers planned a picnic at the gatehouse, and invited Lottie to join them on the way. They read ‘Lotties walk’ before they set out, and the children were excited to meet Lottie. As you can imagine, it is an exhausting activity for the teachers and the parents that help, so we are very lucky that they are so devoted to giving the children such enjoyable experiences. Lottie behaved impeccably, despite 50 children all wanting to stroke her! The children remembered the animals in the story and saw butterflies, beetles and the foxes den.
A great ‘feel good’ day don’t you think? But all of the adults could only think of one thing - this is all going to change. Almost all the fields we walked past are to be developed. A new village is being built on the land with a planned 3,500 new homes for around 9,000 people, complete with a major road through the middle. It is just devastating. The small patches of woodland will remain in a sea of new houses, with their tiny handkerchief-sized gardens. How much of the ground area will be paved over? How little will remain for the wildlife?

There are even more issues than that, the approved incinerator close by, the increased flood risk, the increase in traffic and pollution, the strain on local resources to name just a few. But there will inevitably be a serious shrinking of habitats and wildlife.

This seems to be happening all over, and there must be numerous other local protests going on in other towns as I write this. I am concerned whether these houses are really necessary? Is this shortage of houses real? I haven’t noticed an increase in homeless people, and there seem to be plenty of houses for sale and others sitting empty. Maybe there are lots of people waiting for their own place on housing association lists, but with around a 30% target for affordable housing, which will be further from the town centre and facilities, who can afford the other 70%? It strikes me that it is a lack of affordable housing that is the problem, in other words over-inflated house prices.

The population of the Borough increased by 8% from 2001 to 2011, when the census showed there were 166,100 residents. If the population increases at the same 8% over the next 10 years the population will have increased by 13,288 people. There are roughly 2.5 people per household at present, so by my calculation 5,315 new homes would be required over 10 years. The number of new houses planned to be built for that period is 19,700. Why do we need nearly 4 times as many homes? These figures assume that young adults will be able to afford to leave home and buy their own place, but with high youth unemployment, lower wages and increased part-time workers is that realistic?

In addition the population estimates used are based on projections from fast out-of-date data (2011 data is only just starting to filter through, so already are 2 years behind). In the news today they mentioned that the birthrate in Europe appears to be linked to unemployment, so the higher unemployment is, the lower the birthrate drops. Last week’s article pointed out that we have a lot less elderly people than expected. In other words they didn’t live as long as predicted and life expectancy may no longer be increasing. In addition there has been an attempt to tighten up immigration, which is a major contributor to the increase in population for the UK. All these indicate that population growth estimates may well be over ambitious, and this isn’t surprising when they are linked to growth. To the government more workers leads to more industry, and more houses built, adding to the economy and growth. Maybe they have forgotten that it is a law of nature that nothing grows forever.

If these houses get built, will they end up like the ghost housing estates in Ireland, Spain, China and countless other countries around the World, where building work powered ahead to increase growth, regardless of whether the houses were really required?

Judge for yourselves whether I am just a Nimby (Not In My BackYard) or there are grounds to my concerns. I will admit that I am going to be sad for my family and the community if this development goes ahead. But more than that, it represents the continued and blind destruction of natural habitats going on everywhere. I think the recent RSPB advert says it best....

If you are local or not and want to add your support to stopping this development please look here for ways you can help. The deadline is the 22nd July.




  1. Oh Judy, that is so heartbreaking for you all. I do agree with you about the need for housing. In my regional city in Tasmania there are lots of new housing developments for... a population which isn't increasing at all! Madness. As you say, houses for sale and available, but people tend to want to buy new, and in an estate, and it is cheaper to do that than renovate or rebuild existing stock.
    Hoping you are successful with your protest. If you can find an endangered species hiding in your woodland you have a better chance..
    And I must say, that is the cutest puppy I have EVER seen. What kind of dog is she?

  2. Thanks Jo. Some of the species are 'red-listed' in our area, so they will leave 'wildlife corridors' around the brook, which they are very good at doing. But to my mind corridors aren't enough. I didn't even mention all the food producing land that will be lost too, which is not ideal in a country that depends on imports.

    It is rather a wild looking picture of Lottie :) She is a 'working' Cocker Spaniel, but has very dumpy little legs and a long body. She looks a bit bizarre but has a cute spaniel face and is very loyal.

    I am planning to add the links to the 'Lotties Walk' story, but I can't find them for now.