Impacts on Wildlife

The Ox-CamArc will devastate huge tracts of wildlife-supporting countryside across Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire.

Planners generally seek to avoid designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), which are protected in law. The upshot is that supposedly “ordinary” countryside is simply regarded as a blank canvas on which to stick development. Yet, many areas that aren’t designated SSSIs possess an abundance of wildlife that far exceeds those designations.

As the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) put it in 2018: Wildlife doesn’t do postcodes…” (From BBOWT’s website – read the full article here).

In this video, BBOWT explained that the Ox-Cam Arc “presents unprecedented risks to the local environment and wildlife”. When it comes to development, the Trust urged, “it’s inevitably humans that succeed and the wildlife that loses out”.

BBOWT fought the Government’s plans for the Expressway (on the grounds that there had been no Strategic Environment Assessment) but eventually lost its case in court. The Trust’s current view of the proposed Ox-Cam Arc is still broadly negative. However, BBOWT has more recently said that the Arc presents an opportunity to enhance nature. Along with the RSPB and the Woodland Trust, BBOWT now supports the principles published in the document Nature’s Arc.

The Government also claims that the Spatial Framework for the Arc is “a unique opportunity to preserve and enhance a green Arc and support nature recovery” and to “improve access to nature and green space across the area”. A Paradise on Earth!

So how will the Arc, 4,500 square miles of urban sprawl, deliver on these wild promises? The answer will be the new biodiversity net-gain magic formula, as set out in the Government’s Environment Bill. Using the a biodiversity net-gain metric – a spreadsheet tool – developers will have to demonstrate that they can achieve a 10% increase in biodiversity – either on site or on land elsewhere – before their development schemes are given the go ahead.

Unfortunately for nature, the biodiversity net gain concept is not proven. In addition, the net gain tool doesn’t just rely on quantitative inputs. It also relies on qualitative judgements by ecologists selected by developers, which introduces a worrying level of subjectivity that leaves the system vulnerable to being gamed where costs are an issue. Another blindingly obvious problem is that land given over to concrete and tarmac will become unavailable to nature, while land allocated as net-gain sites will inevitable diminish. The result will be that less and less space will be expected to do more and more in terms of net gain. If all this were not bad enough, net-gain sites could take thirty years or more to mature. What happens to the displaced nature in the meantime? Who will maintain the sites over three decades? Who will hold developers flouting the rules to account? None of this is clear.

Meanwhile, like the world over, the UK is experiencing frightening losses of biodiversity. Actually, is it correct to say that we’re experiencing “losses” ? Chris Packham doesn’t think so:

(From A People’s Manifesto)

…to our shame, we are careless with our language. We say that ‘we’ve lost 97% of our flower rich meadows since the 1930s’ or that ‘we’ve lost 86% of the Corn Bunting population.’ We speak of ‘a loss of 97% of our Hedgehogs.’ Loss, lost… as if this habitat and these species have mysteriously disappeared into the ether, as if they’ve accidentally vanished. But they haven’t – they’ve been destroyed.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently published its Living Planet Report report. It makes uncomfortable reading.  Destruction of mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles averaged 60% between 1970 and 2014, according to the report. And the cause? An “explosion” of consumerism over that period. The WWF is calling for urgent intergovernmental action to stop a mass extinction of biodiversity.

If anyone is wondering why the mass extinction of biodiversity matters, the UK Government can explain:

(From UK Biodiversity Indicators)

…biodiversity matters because it supports the vital benefits we get from the natural environment. It contributes to our economy, our health and wellbeing, and it enriches our lives.

BEAG agrees. So, instead of pushing the argument that we can enhance nature and destroy it too, instead of positing developers as the saviours of nature, and instead of coldly and clinically treating living things as exchangeable natural capital units, let’s protect our life-support system by doing no harm to it in the first place.