The entire population of sparrows, the bird most closely associated with chirpy cockney Londoners, is on the brink of extinction in a wildlife reserve on the borders of Sutton and Croydon where animal habitats and food sources were supposed to be preserved.
The sparrow population at Beddington Farmlands is down to its last breeding pair, according to naturalist Peter Alfrey. “There was only one pair last year and so far only one pair this year, too,” Alfrey said.
That’s down from more than 500 pairs of tree sparrows recorded on the Beddington site less than 10 years ago, when it was one of the largest breeding colonies of the species in the country.
The area, which includes several landfill dumps, is supposed to be protected as Metropolitan Open Land and was classified as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation.
Conservation work was supposed to be carried out on the landfill as a strict condition of the planning permission afforded to the waste contractor. According to Alfrey, this work has not been done for several years, resulting in the degradation of the wildlife habitat and the loss of animals from the site.
The contractor in question is Viridor, who are soon to commence construction work nearby on a controversial industrial-scale incinerator, paid for by the Council Tax-payers of Croydon and three other south London boroughs.
“The restoration has been getting further and further behind,” Alfrey told Inside Croydon.
“It was designed as a phased project, so that as one area was developed for landfill, another would be restored so that the birds and wildlife would continue to have habitat.
“However, the development reached Stage 5 and the restoration only Stage 2. They should have synchronised. The reason for the delay is because they want to build an incinerator on one major area of restoration, so they have let the whole scheme slip – presumably the impoverished state of the wildlife will also assist them in any future plans to further extend any waste management infrastructure.”
Through their Viridor Environmental Credits charity arm, the incinerator operators make a number of conscience-cleansing donations to good causes, amounting to millions of pounds, some of which may or may not have been linked in some way to the company eventually landing large public-funded contracts or planning permissions.
But on the Beddington landfill site, where Viridor promised much, including spending money on improving the environment, Alfrey accuses the incinerator operators of “causing an ecological collapse”.
He said, “Viridor believe they can default on their environmental responsibilities and destroy our local wildlife, our reserve and future public regional park and get away with it.
“Viridor promised as part of being given permission to use the reserve for waste management they would restore the site to a public nature reserve and conserve the important wildlife populations on the site throughout. That has been a complete lie.
“It is impossible to enforce conditions on companies via a formal legal route when they are very rich, as they can keep paying lawyers to defend their wrongs.
“The only course of action is pressure from local people, community groups and conservation groups to campaign against these environmental scoundrels and to encourage our councils, MPs and organisations to withdraw from associating themselves with these kind of people until they start behaving themselves and keeping their promises and acting in a responsible way.”
Alfrey provides a wildlife-in-peril list of bird species at Beddington Farmlands, all of which exhibit worrying declines in numbers, and which he links to Viridor’s failure to honour its commitments under their planning permission (most of the latest figures are from 2013):
Tree Sparrow – down from nearly 1000 birds in 2007 to 9 pairs in 2013 (reduced further to 1-2 pairs in 2015)
Little Ringed Plover – 0 pairs in 2013
Ringed Plover – 0 pairs in 2013
Redshank – 0 pairs in 2013 (extinct as a breeding bird since 2005)
Common Tern – 0 pairs in 2013
Yellow Wagtail – 0 pairs in 2013 (extinct as a breeding bird since 1995)
Lapwing – Down from 22 pairs in 2005 to 12 pairs in 2013
Sedge Warbler – Down from 25 pairs in 2000 to 2 pairs in 2013
Reed Bunting – Down from 23 pairs in 1995 to 1-2 pairs in 2013
Whitethroat and Reed Warbler – Relatively stable
In a recent article on his own website, Alfrey has written: “Seems strange that on one hand Viridor are supporting biodiversity projects (often small ones, focused on novelty eg. big cranes in well-protected and well-off areas) and on another they are destroying major sites and whole ecological systems elsewhere.”
Alfrey also questions to wisdom of large conservation non-government organisations and charities, including the RSPB and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, for taking Viridor’s cash without examining the company’s environmental record more broadly, accusing them of “basically acting as the PR vehicle for Viridor”.
Beddington Farmlands is a 400-acre site at the core of what was supposed to be developed as the Wandle Valley Regional Park, a flagship nature reserve in the heart of south London. Together with the adjacent green spaces of Beddington Park and Mitcham Common, Beddington Farmlands forms one of the largest contiguous green spaces in south London.
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