Conservation charities call on Michael Gove to end theme park threat to nature
Wildlife charities have written to Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, calling on him to step in and remove a controversial planning designation that threatens the future of a nationally important wildlife site in North Kent. The Swanscombe Peninsula has been the subject of a Development Consent Order since 2014, but campaigners have called on Mr Gove to use his powers to help secure its future by revoking the planning status.
The Swanscombe Peninsula is home to over 2,000 species of invertebrate, including the Critically Endangered Distinguished Jumping Spider, and 82 species of breeding birds, including Nightingales, making it one of the most important breeding bird sites in the South East of England. It is also home to Endangered Man Orchids, Water Voles and Otters. However, it has been under threat from a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) application for the London Resort Theme Park- a planning route normally earmarked for major projects like roads and power stations. The wildlife charities say this status is hindering attempts to save it and get support to enact a Vision for the site that was developed together with the local community.
Since being granted permission to be considered as a NSIP, the site’s incredible wildlife value has come to the fore, culminating in its notification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 2021 by Natural England, the Government’s advisor for the natural environment in England. This contributed to the withdrawal of a theme park application in 2022 and growing support for a Vision that would see the retained Swanscombe Peninsula at the heart of a thriving community wildlife haven.
However, with the NSIP direction still in place, the groundswell of support cannot translate to action and commitment by decision makers. The wildlife charities’ letter to the Secretary of State calls on him to use the powers afforded him under the Planning Act to revoke the controversial status and enable plans for the community and wildlife led Vision for the Swanscombe Peninsula to come to fruition.
Jamie Robins, Programmes Manager at Buglife says, “We have known for years that the site is a haven for wildlife, but the threat of a theme park continues to hang over it, leaving the community uncertain over the future of their much-loved green space, year after year. The time has come for the Secretary of State to remove this unnecessary and damaging planning status, so that we can take the steps to save it.
“The Swanscombe Peninsula is a unique site, home to thousands of species of animal and plant and an unrivalled green space for the local community, with the potential to be a nature park accessible to all. We are in a nature crisis and the Government has committed to protecting 30% of the UK for wildlife. We need to defend nature and to start by protecting SSSI sites like Swanscombe Peninsula once and for all and helping to make the Vision for the Swanscombe Peninsula a reality”
Buglife, CPRE Kent, Kent Wildlife Trust and the RSPB have been working together for a number of years, together with local community groups to save the Swanscombe Peninsula, calling for it to be notified as a SSSI, engaging with the complex planning system, working with the local Save Swanscombe Peninsula community group and developing the Vision for the Swanscombe Peninsula.
No Insectinction – how to solve the insect declines crisis
Buglife have launched ‘No Insectinction – how to solve the insect declines crisis’ a measured response to the ever growing reports of global insect declines. Buglife are launching the No Insectinction campaign to outline the action required to arrest the declines in, and stabilise populations of the small things that enable our planet to function.
Recent studies paint a grim picture of the decline of insects across the planet. It is becoming increasingly clear that our planet’s ecological balance is breaking and there is an urgent need for an intense global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends. Allowing the insect eradication crisis to become a catastrophe is not a rational option for anyone.
The No Insectinction campaign has three central planks:
Room for insects to thrive – we need to make space for wildlife and reconnect the wild parts of our landscapes
Safe spaces for insects – we must free our land and freshwaters from pollutants and invasive species
Friendlier relationship with insects – We need to act now to stop insectinction. However, the scale and quality of that action is still limited by our lack of understanding and awareness.
Craig Macadam, Buglife’s Director of Conservation and lead writer of the report commented. “We believe that there should be sustainable populations of all insects; ‘No Insectinction’ is Buglife’s response to the current crisis – a prescription for healing our planet, by restoring our depleted and devastated insect populations (and other invertebrates such as earthworms, spiders and snails). We call upon governments and decision makers around the world to take decisive action to tackle this ecological crisis. Small steps can have a huge impact if they all fall at the same time. We can stop, and reverse the declines in our insects, but only if everyone pulls together to do their bit.”
Rare Wormwood moonshiner beetles found
2019 proved to be a fantastic year for one of the UK’s rarest beetles, the elusive Wormwood moonshiner (Amara fusca). The beetle was found at two new sites with dedicated volunteers taking part in the Back from the Brink Shifting Sands project, which sees nature conservation partners working together to safeguard the future of rare Breckland wildlife.
The Moonshiner is named for its habit of emerging at night to feast on the ripening seed heads of Field wormwood (Artemisia campestris), a fellow rare speciality of the Brecks. The beetle hadn’t been seen in the UK since 2011, until a new population was discovered in 2018 on green space within a Mildenhall housing estate. It was recorded at three Breckland sites in 2019. Volunteers returned to College Heath Road in Mildenhall this autumn and found an incredible 72 beetles, the second highest count for the species on record.
Volunteers were even more excited to find two new sites for the Wormwood moonshiner in the following weeks, with a single beetle found at Forestry England’s Mildenhall Warren, on a large mature Field wormwood plant. A month later, two beetles were found on Brandon’s London Road Industrial Estate, on Field wormwood plants which had made their home in the car park of an industrial unit. This followed the designation of the industrial estate as a County Wildlife Site & Roadside Nature Reserve, thanks to the collaboration of Shifting Sands partners.
Jamie Robins, Buglife Projects Manager said:
“It’s really exciting to find new sites for such a rare beetle, particularly after a number of years with no sightings and its disappearance from previous strongholds. This goes to show what Back from the Brink can deliver – volunteers armed with just torches, warm clothes and a bit of knowledge have made a really valuable contribution to conservation.”
Pip Mountjoy, Project Officer for Shifting Sands at Natural England said:
”The discovery of new Wormwood moonshiner sites is fantastic news for Breckland wildlife. The beetle is one of our Brecks specialists, and one of many endangered plants and animals that are only found here. It’s a really special place, reflected by the passionate volunteers that are working to protect it.”
The Wormwood moonshiner has been lost from large areas of the Brecks as traditional land management practices have changed, leading to the disappearance of its Field wormwood foodplant. Until drastic management intervention in 2018, wormwood had also been nearly entirely lost from the modern stronghold for both species- a postage stamp sized Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on the London Road Industrial Estate in Brandon, prompting concerns for its long-term future as a UK species.
The Back from the Brink project, made possible thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and People’s Postcode Lottery, aims to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more through 19 projects that span England.