Viridor, the operators of the polluting waste incinerator at Beddington Lane, have been accused of allowing an environmental slaughter in the neighbouring wetland nature reserve which they are supposed to manage. Nesting pairs of endangered bird species have been disturbed or attacked and their young killed, after water levels in the lakes around their island nest sites were allowed to drop.
And after witnessing development work being carried out nearby during lockdown on a site of importance for nature conservation, an angry conservationist has warned, “If they manage to kill off these bird populations, it will make it easier to get future planning permission to expand industrial activity.”
Peter Alfrey is a locally-based environmental consultant who was horrified by what he discovered on a rare lockdown outing to the Beddington Farmlands this week.
He accuses Viridor of allowing water levels around what was supposed to be a “predator-proof” island in the lakes to fall – whether deliberately or through neglect – to such an extent that lapwing and little ringed plover “have been pushed even closer to the brink of local extinction”, after having survived “20 years of Viridor destruction”.
Alfrey told Inside Croydon: “Viridor have let the water levels fall at the Farmlands and a fox has walked over to the supposedly predator-proof island of the north lake and eaten the eggs of lapwing and little ringed plover – a Red Data list species and Schedule 1 species respectively: the rarest breeding birds in the country.”
Since taking over the (lucrative) running of the landfill sites around Beddington Farmlands, Viridor were also given responsibility for managing the nature reserve and, as the use of landfill decreased, also providing environmental improvements to the area. It was a modest quid pro quo in return for their vast income from nearby local councils, including Croydon.
Ownership of the land is complicated, with Thames Water still using part of the site for sewage treatment.
But Viridor has rarely met the terms of their agreements over the Farmlands nature reserve, and Sutton, the local authority with responsibility for ensuring planning conditions are complied with, have done little to enforce those conditions.
“Viridor are not interested in anything unless there’s a profit for them,” as one keen observer of the incinerator development said this week.
Alfrey is a member of the Beddington Farmlands bird group. “We presented Viridor with management plans and feedback including the need for water level management again this winter,” he said. “We have provided similar advice for years, and that advice has been ignored.
“Due to the dry weather this spring, most of the wetland habitat has gone. The last relic of rare birds left on the site, that have survived 20 years of Viridor’s destruction, have been pushed closer to the brink of local extinction.
“If they manage to kill off these populations it will make it easier to get future planning permission to expand industrial activity.
“No doubt Viridor will say that the habitat management has slipped due to covid-19 and that the local wildlife has suffered drastically because of circumstances beyond their control.
“But we gave our warnings about water levels long before the lockdown, or the drought.
“The incinerator and its workforce had been fully operational throughout the pandemic lockdown and landfill engineers and their teams have been working for several weeks. So it seems only that nature conservation has been left to go to the dogs. The conservation science group meetings were also cancelled – presumably, the multi-billion-pound company haven’t been introduced to Zoom or Skype.”
Alfrey this week fired off a lengthy letter to councillor Jayne McCoy, the chair of Sutton’s housing, economy and business committee, and warned of illegal development work being carried out, through lockdown, on a site of importance for nature conservation.
In his letter, he pleaded for Sutton, as the planning authority, to take some action to ensure Viridor, and others, meet all their ecological obligations at Beddington Farmlands. Alfrey warned of the situation that would make the lapwings and plovers extinct locally, “in the same way that many other of our local specialities have, due to either inadequate or no conservation management, despite clear obligations within planning conditions”.
Alfrey’s letter also warned that, for the first time in more than 100 years of recording and study, there had been no sightings of tree sparrows at Beddington Farmlands, which had been known as one of the last safe havens of what was once among the commonest of birds.
“We have been offering advice to the [conservation science group] for over 10 years on… water level management of the lakes and also a long-term conservation management plan… and nothing adequate has come to fruition. The lack of action is now reaching a critical point which has been compounded by lockdown and the dry spring.”
Alfrey has also discovered that a site of importance for nature conservation, Oak Copse, where more than 20 trees were illegally felled previously and no prosecutions ever made, has during lockdown started to be developed, with hardcore spread across the site, and heavy plant vehicles and workers’ cabins installed.
“It sets an extremely worrying precedent that completely illegal development can be occurring within the site of importance for nature conservation without being stopped by the authorities,” Alfrey wrote.
He remains very fearful for the future of the whole nature reserve.
“Despite their shallow gestures of committing to the restoration last year, at the first opportunity to kill off the rest of the wildlife at Beddington Farmlands, Viridor will jump on it,” he said.
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