Frosty’s Ramblings: Kent’s Tories are putting profits ahead of the environment again and they are threatening the existence of the county’s most secretive songbirds
Tory councils have a long history of sweeping aside rare and threatened wildlife in the drive to make easy profits for their property-developing mates and financial sponsors.
The latest example is on Kent’s Hoo peninsula where, in the Garden of England, our biggest nightingale population is under threat after the Tory council granted permission for 5,000 homes to be built on ancient woodland.
Medway Council has 34 Tories, 17 Labour, 3 Lib Dems and one so-called Independent Tory who stopped being an official Tory when he could no longer tolerate the racist outpourings of the Tory whip with whom he shares a council ward.
Now Medway Council has approved a planning application for thousands of new homes at Lodge Hill in Chattenden, Kent. They ignored strong objections from Kent Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, Natural England and many other conservation bodies as well many locals.
As well as nightingales, the former army training ground is home to all kinds of rare and threatened wildlife including the rare Duke of Burgundy butterfly, badgers, bats, snakes, lizards and many amphibians.
Around 70 nightingales return to this part of Kent each summer, making the long flight from their winter homes in west Africa. Scientists have predicted that more than four out of five of these amazing songbirds could be lost because of the development.
The local Wildlife Trust has asked for the decision to be reviewed by Communities and Local Government Minister Eric Pickles.
But Pickles has a long record of coming down on the side of profits for developers in these kind of cases.
Kent Wildlife Trust chief executive John Bennett told me: “This development will result in the mass destruction of habitat and wildlife that cannot be replaced.
“The country cannot afford to lose our most precious highly protected wild places like Lodge Hill, which after all is supposed to be protected in law.”
The nightingale — Luscinia megarhynchos — is a shy, dowdy and very secretive bird which looks like a slightly larger robin but without the red breast. Often more heard than seen, its song by night and day in a sure sign that spring has arrived.
The nightingale population has declined dramatically in Britain in recent years, more than halving between 1995 and 2009. A survey two years ago by the British Trust for Ornithology showed there are just 3,300 pairs of nightingales left, moving them to the amber category on the list of species of special conservation concern.
One major disturbance is from increasing numbers of roe and muntjac deer that have reduced the density of shrubs in ancient woodland, the traditional home of the songster, by grazing.
Of course Britain and the Medway area of Kent needs homes but, make no mistake, this development is all about maximising profit, not doing anything to provide affordable housing. There are plenty of other available and far less sensitive and fragile sites where houses could be built in this part of Kent.
With Ukip snapping at their heels, the Tories of Thanet are doing all they can to keep in with the business community. Property companies are more important to them than the homeless, who don’t donate to the Tory Party.
The RSPB, Britain’s biggest environmental pressure group, feels so strongly about the issue that it is taking legal action in the case.
A spokesperson for the RSPB told me: “If it goes ahead, not only do we lose one of the best homes in the country for nightingales, but it undermines those government tests for every other nationally protected area around the country.”
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 10 October 2014,