Our environment correspondent, PAUL LUSHION, on suspicions that a rare wildlife habitat in suburban Kenley has suffered the cruellest cut
The council has been accused of an act of “wildlife vandalism”, with some angry residents of Wontford Road and Roffey Close in Kenley suspecting that grass-cutting contractors were sent in by the council to help the planning case for a controversial Brick by Brick housing development proposed for the public green space.
Wontford Road Green is on rare chalk downland. In summer, as the grass and wildflowers grow, it provides a rich habitat and food source for millions of butterflies, bees and other insects and pollinators. Rare species have been observed there.
A year ago the council trumpeted, as part of its new, climate crisis green policies, its intention to do-nothing to parks’ grassland and roadside verges, allowing nature to take its course, helping to provide habitat for under-pressure bee populations and pollinators. Some parks and open spaces have been designated trial areas – though notably not Wontford Road Green. They even now have a whole page on the council website devoted to this eco-aware approach.
Yet Croydon Council cannot even do nothing properly.
The mowers moved in on Wontford Road Green on Monday, hacking away at the tall grass and naturally-seeded wildflowers the height of summer, in the middle of a drought.
Local naturalists were planning to conduct a detailed entomology survey visit soon, to monitor the insects living in the wildflower meadow in suburban south London, to help make the case against the council-owned house-builders’ plans to concrete over a large part of the site.
That wildlife survey, and the evidence it might have been able to produce for the planning committee, will now not be going ahead.
The council-owned, loss-making developers have a growing reputation for paying for dodgy ecology and tree surveys to demonstrate that building on their chosen sites – previously publicly-owned land – will cause little or no environmental damage.
Wontford Road Green was the subject of a questionable ecology survey carried out last winter, when most chalk grassland species are dormant. It delivered the desired results for Brick by Brick, with a worthless biodiversity report to support the destruction of the green to accommodate nine houses for private sale and a hideous block of 17 affordable rent flats.
Independent conservationists have visited the green twice since May. On the first visit, they recorded a scarce bee (Andrena humilis) and on the second visit, they identified a very rare vascular plant (Clinopodium acinos) that is listed in Section 41 of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act and is protected by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
The rare plant was previously recorded on Wontford Road Green in 2017 by the Surrey Botanical Society, something conveniently “overlooked” by the so-called ecology experts who were hired by Brick by Brick to prepare their biodiversity report.
Whether any trace of Clinopodium acinos might be found at Wontford Road Green now, after a visit from the council’s grass-cutters, seems unlikely. And the chances of the plant having been able to self-seed for future growing seasons will have also been reduced.
As one concerned resident told Inside Croydon, “The mowing of the wildflowers in full bloom will have done Brick by Brick a massive favour, since any repeat of the ecology survey in the summer months would surely have thrown up a whole host of problems for the developers, given that the rare plant was growing within the proposed development area.
“But I’m sure the actions of the Council’s ground maintenance team is nothing more than a coincidence and in no way a wanton act of environmental vandalism.”
Others are less convinced.
There’s been strong grounds for suspicion that the establishment of a Croydon Climate Crisis Commission was never anything more than an effort by council leader Tony Newman to kick the issue into… well, the long grass. Had it not already been cut by the council contractors.
The Climate Commission, announced in July 2019, has so far met just once.
This week, a dozen civic interest groups, including Croydon Extinction Rebellion, together with five Labour councillors produced a coronavirus recovery plan, challenging Newman and the council to turn their words into actions and to cherish the borough’s existing parks and open spaces, and even create more green corridors, to benefit people as well as nature.
In the meantime, the council contractors blithely continue to mow down natural habitat, while Brick by Brick plans to concrete over it.
An angry resident who lives near Wontford Road Green has told Inside Croydon, “I’m rather shocked at this act of wildlife vandalism. This just further demonstrates what awful, ignorant people the council are.
“A letter-writing campaign of complaints to the leader of the council will demonstrate how much all the residents valued their flowering meadow and how disgusted we all are with Croydon Council for doing this to you, and during lockdown when nature close to home and is helping us all with our mental health as we watch the butterflies and listen to the grasshoppers and hear the bird song again.”
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