Developments near to Lowland Heathland - The Threat to Wildlife


Clearly the historical siting of Bournemouth and Poole near to some of Europe's best heathland sites in Dorset in southern England has been and remains a continuing disaster for these heathlands. The same can be said for the growth of Woking and Bracknell nearby to our heathlands. With the departure of the British military forces or their reduction in numbers at Deepcut in Surrey, Aldershot and Bordon in Hampshire these disasters will continue in these locations. The loss of the old tracked vehicle, military research establishment at Chobham, in Surrey is yet another problem and continuing bad news for the adjacent heathlands.

ABOVE: One of the many estate houses built on top of a part of, and right next to the remaining parts of Canford Heath, Dorset to its' detriment in the 1980s. © Copyright SMiles.

Because not unnaturally as a landowner the UK Government wants to convert these sites into cash for the Treasury. In a sense because the Crown acquired many of these heathlands years ago, this has saved them until now. But now in the 21st Century and for the next thousand years and beyond the destiny of these wonderful wildlife sites is threatened by large numbers of people moving into areas near them. Is this why successive UK Governments have failed to control inward immigration into England over the last twenty years or more? Is this why we have an excessive human rights' policy and a consequential out of control birthrate in England? One begins to wonder. It seems the Treasury needs to acquire a financial premium on all these sites.

What is the threat of large numbers of people living near to heathland?

The damage to lowland heathlands is that they end up becoming leisure areas for people and their pet animals. The management of these heathlands is driven by people and their needs and concerns and by the need to limit the activities of people to reduce the damage caused by them to the heathland wildlife.

The issues/problems are as follows:

  1. DISTURBANCE TO HEATHLAND BIRDS ESPECIALLY THOSE THAT ARE GROUND NESTING BY BOTH PEOPLE, THEIR ACTIVITIES AND BY THEIR PET ANIMALS.
  2. EXCESSIVE TRAMPLING OF THE SANDY SOIL SURFACE OF THE HEATHLAND FOOTPATHS, TRACKS & BRIDLEWAYS.
  3. DEMANDS FOR THESE ROUTES TO BECOME CYCLE PATHS OR TO BE SURFACED IN SOME WAY TO ASSIST PEOPLE'S USE OF THEM.
  4. LOSS OF THE POPULATIONS OF INSECTS AND INVERTEBRATES WHERE THEY NEST IN THE BARE GROUND TRACKS OF DRY, OPEN HEATHLAND BECAUSE OF TRAMPLING OR EXCESSIVE DISTURBANCE OR BECAUSE THEY HAVE BEEN ENTOMBED BY INAPPROPRIATE SURFACING OF THESE ROUTES.
  5. A CONSEQUENTIAL LOSS IN BIODIVERSITY.
  6. THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE COMING BEFORE THE NEEDS OF THE WILDLIFE OF HEATHLAND.
  7. LOOSE AND UNCONTROLLED DOGS, WHERE OWNERS REFUSE TO KEEP THEIR DOGS ON LEADS.
  8. DOG FAECES APPEARING EVERYWHERE ON THE HEATH CAUSING NUTRIENT ENRICHMENT OF IT, LEADING TO EXCESSIVE GRASS GROWTH IN PLACE OF THE "HEATHERS".
  9. LITTLE POLYTHENE BAGS OF DOG FAECES BEING DROPPED AS LITTER ALL OVER THE HEATHLAND.
  10. THE NEED FOR HEATHLAND SITE OWNERS TO PROVIDE SERVICES/BINS TO CONTAIN THE DOG WASTES, AS IRRESPONSIBLE DOG OWNERS REFUSE TO TAKE THEIR WASTES BACK TO THEIR OWN HOUSEHOLD BINS.
  11. DROPPING OF LITTER ALL OVER THE HEATHLAND SITES.
  12. INCONSIDERATE CYCLISTS MAKING NEW ROUTES FOR THEIR BICYCLES ALL OVER THE HEATHS CAUSING DISTURBANCE.
  13. VANDALISM BY CHILDREN AND OLDER YOUTHS.
  14. INCREASES IN UNCONTROLLED MOTORCYCLE SCRAMBLING.
  15. INCREASED SETTING OF DELIBERATE FIRES
  16. HARD SURFACED TRACKS NEEDED FOR FIRE VEHICLE ACCESS ONTO HEATHLAND.
  17. INCREASED USE OF PORTABLE BARBECUES ON HEATHLAND AND THE CONSEQUENT FIRE RISK.
  18. VEGETATION CHANGES AND REDUCTIONS IN WILDLIFE POPULATIONS AS A RESULT OF FREQUENT HEATHLAND FIRES.
  19. LOSS OF POPULATIONS OF REPTILES AND AMPHIBIANS DUE TO FIRES, NEW ROADS AND DEVELOPMENT IN GENERAL REMOVING BREEDING PONDS OR CAUSING THE AMPHIBIANS TO BE RUN OVER IN THE SPRING AS THEY RETURN TO BREED IN THEIR ORIGINAL BREEDING POND.
  20. DUMPING OF ALIEN PLANT WASTES ON THE HEATHLAND.
  21. FLYTIPPING AND DUMPING OF RUBBISH ONTO HEATHLAND.
  22. CONVERSION OF DWARF SHRUB HEATHLAND TO GRASSLAND AS A RESULT OF NUTRIENT ENRICHMENT OF THE HEATHS FROM VEHICLE EXHAUST GASES.
  23. LOSS OF WILDLIFE DUE TO PREDATION BY CATS WHERE HOUSES ARE SITUATED TOO NEAR TO HEATHLAND (WITHIN 500M).

The DEFRA Study - "A biodiversity strategy for England, Working with the Grain of Nature"

Curiously this major study worked on by members of the England Biodiversity Group hardly mentioned Heathland. Heathland is clearly a major habitat, yet the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in this series of reports issued from 2003 to 2006 hardly considered it. It is hidden under the title Agriculture. This is strange, it is almost to suggest that there was a pre-ordained agenda to exclude it from major consideration. This is suspiciously like its' mention may have been too inconvenient for some of the participant organisations of the England Biodiversity Group. Certainly the derived statistics included for measurement of the set of biodiversity indicators for the baseline assessment seem to conveniently ignore any assessment that pinpoints to loss and damage to lowland heathland. The question is why?

Elements of the assessment of heathland species and the condition of heathland sites are lumped in and hidden within other subjects of which the relevant ones are:

  • H1 Populations of Wild Birds
  • H2 Condition of Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • H7 Delivery of Local Biodiversity Targets in England

The Agriculture headline holding no measures appropriate to lowland heathland. How strange and suspicious.

Current Threats to Lowland Heathland Sites

WHITEHILL & BORDON

ABOVE: Woolmer Pond looking west with the A325 single carriageway road behind the row of trees in the distance. © Copyright SMiles.

The small country town of Bordon that has been dominated by Army training in the Bordon Garrison for over a hundred years is now to have its army buildings replaced by civilian housing, a disposal plan which threatens the biodiversity of the still-rich heathlands such as Broxhead Common, Woolmer Forest containing Woolmer Pond, The Warren and Slab [Common], Hogmoor Inclosure and Longmoor Inclosure that surround it or are situated close to it. To their credit up to now in the 21st Century the military authorities have looked after most of these areas well, so that the fauna, in these locations justifies the European wildlife designations that have been applied to many of them by Natural England on behalf of the European Commission.

But now, having learned nothing of the threats to heathland that people represent, the UK Government as the major landowner, with the co-operation of both the county and the local district council are going to damage this habitat by bringing into the area an extra 12,000 people as represented by 3400+ additional homes. This is a disaster for local wildlife such as the Nightjar populations that come all the way to Bordon from Africa, they don't go to Alton, they don't go to Petersfield they come here to Bordon in numbers. Our Government (Labour, Conservative or Liberal, local and national, it makes no difference they are all involved in this biodiversity loss and ecological destruction), in their infinite ignorance and with their supporters, they and their so-called consultants, civil engineering and development companies and partners and the applicable local enterprise partnership have started in 2015 to damage this special area. This is a national disgrace, making one ashamed to be British!

ABOVE: A mosaic of bare and poorly vegetated ground on the heathland of Slab [Common], Bordon providing ideal conditions for many plants and the nest sites for many insect species. © Copyright SMiles.

The UK does not deserve to have its alleged good record in wildlife conservation, it is just as bad as despotic African states. This is allegedly evident in the ways UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) have been treated over many years in the opinion of some authors and international bodies. So, a so-called eco-town or regeneration area or even the latest example of spurious "greenwash", the naming of it as "Hampshire's Green Town" as proposed for both Whitehill and Bordon by the district council is too awful but so typical of the UK. What a conflict in terms this amounts to, an ecological disaster as we are now beginning to see with the projected increase in traffic and new roads impacting on the European designated sites to support the planned aspiration of 5500 additional jobs and all those new residents. Gilbert White and other well-known naturalists who used to visit this area, are no doubt, turning in their graves at this travesty.

Sadly even the European Commission relies on subsidiarity among nations, so that although Natural England has a duty to protect the areas where the special birds listed in the Bird's Directive occur, it appears to fail to do this in the case of Whitehill and Bordon. Even worse were the recent moves in 2012/13 by DEFRA to reduce protection to these sites and to create loopholes in the European legislation. This will probably enable landowners to be able to challenge the European rules, such that they will be able to appeal against refusals in providing them with consents to damage sites formerly protected by both the Bird's and Habitat's Directives. In Bordon this has enabled over 70 buildings containing bat roosts to be demolished, though alternative buildings (some made of wood, sadly which will no doubt be set on fire at some point by the local human population) have had to be constructed as mitigation!

The Whitehill and Bordon Inner Relief Road

The first major decision in relation to the originally, unfortunately named Whitehill-Bordon eco-town (but now referred to as "Hampshire's Green Town") is a disastrous one for wildlife. The county council declared that their preferred route for this road in January 2013 to take traffic away from the centre of Bordon was to go through Hogmoor Inclosure, so as to allow the old community area to easily merge with the newer areas to the west. Noting the successive, so-called eco-town and green-town visions, hypocrisy is rife in the hands of the decision makers and their civil engineering advisor companies behind this ghastly project. The high moral ground "vision" is to achieve a "net increase in biodiversity" and a "model sustainable community" but all the planners and consultants and landowners clearly don't know or care how this is achieved. This is because this relief road, as a result of the full planning permission it received on the 23rd April 2015, will cause eleven categories of damage to this very biodiversity.

For example, all of the possible routes they considered, pass beside a lovely open, shallow, sandy-bottomed pond full of toads, frogs and newts in the breeding season, called Forey or Forey's Pond. This pond is good for amphibians because it dries out periodically and thus has no populations of predators. Putting a new road right next door to it with the associated kerbs, drains, and of course motorised traffic is an ecological disaster, because many of the amphibians will be run over when they periodically return to this pond to breed. Thus this regeneration project and now its' branding as "Hampshire's Green Town" starts with a biodiversity loss. Ecology, sensitivity, understanding concerning this decision are all missing from those involved in making such decisions.

ABOVE: The once common, Common Toads, a future victim of this relief road which is being built in the wrong place, within 20m of their breeding site of Forey's Pond where these two were photographed in 2009. © Copyright SMiles.

Even the boundary of the South Downs' National Park on the north edge of Woolmer Forest is to have an incursion caused by this road which will do further biodiversity damage, being situated next to a heathland mire containing Bog Asphodel flowers. The new road is also likely to damage the nearby populations of a protected European designated amphibian species. So much for the two statutory purposes common to all national parks in the UK, here on this site the first purpose will be seriously compromised because this road extension has been given permission by the planning section of the South Downs' National Park Authority (SDNPA). This first purpose is stated as to "conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area".

ALDERSHOT

The heathland at Aldershot is in a more fortunate location compared to Bordon. It is situated in one large continuous block separated by only a few roads. This will save it to some extent but locating 4500 homes right on its eastern edge will be damaging to it and the training needs of the British Army. But it is the MOD and its' Treasury friends who are promoting these awful developments, so the MOD is the architect of its own destiny. This is sad because while such lands have been in their ownership, the MOD has had an exemplary reputation for managing it well. But as soon as such land is earmarked for disposal this reputation goes out of the window. In the 21st Century this approach when land passes to the MOD disposal organisation needs to change so that the disposal element also maintains a reputation and concern for its' wildlife. I have more sympathy for the wildlife which will continue to be disastrously implicated by such developments, whether the so-called Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG) sites are a success in diverting people to them or not.

So this wonderful heathland will be much more at risk once the new homes are established nearby. But let us hope that all the species that still occur here such as the Nightjar, the Woodlark and the Mottled Bee-fly can continue to exist here despite the increased trampling of the heather and the bare ground of the tracks which are so susceptible to increased use by people.

ABOVE: A beautiful, eroded, bare, sandy track running through the Bourley heathlands at Aldershot, this still supports a wonderful array of solitary bees and wasps and their parasitoids. © Copyright SMiles.


Further reading and references, some of which are referred to in the text above.

1 - A Biodiversity Strategy for England -Working with the Grain of Nature. Published by DEFRA in 2003

2 - East Hampshire District Council: Special Planning Committee Agenda; 55587/001 Hybrid Application Land at and adjoining Bordon Garrison, Bordon 23rd April 2015 and Supplementary Matters

3 - Effects of Road Mortality and Mitigation Measures on Amphibian Populations, by T J C Beebee and published by the Society for Conservation Biology in 2013

4 - Habitats and Wild Birds Implementation Review - DEFRA 2012

5 - House of Commons Public Bill Committee: Growth and Infrastructure Bill (Proceedings - 20 November 2012)

6 - Penfold - Review of Non-planning Consents, Final Report July 2010

7 - Population Matters Magazine, Issue 24, February 2014, "Some of our politicians are talking about population", by Norman Pasley, Editor.

8 - Silent Summer: The State of Wildlife in Britain and Ireland, edited by Norman Maclean, published by Cambridge University Press in 2010

9 - Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation by the Hampshire Biodiversity Partnership published by Hampshire County Council in 2008

10 - The East Hampshire District Local Plan: Joint Core Strategy - Adopted June 2014