If the Government isn’t concerned about climate change, does it give a hoot about our wildlife and countryside?
You guessed it.
While the preferred route avoids the Otmoor nature reserve in Oxfordshire, the Expressway will nevertheless devastate huge tracts of wildlife-supporting countryside in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, including Bernwood Forest and the Otmoor Basin.
Road 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 Mark Vallance, reserves manager for the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) put it: “Wildlife doesn’t do postcodes…“
…the area east of Oxford is characterised by a mosaic of ancient woodlands, species-rich grassland, open water, scrub and hedgerows, which form part of the former Royal Hunting Forest of Bernwood. It is one of the most undisturbed and wildlife-rich areas of Buckinghamshire. Upper Ray Valley and ancient woodlands in the vicinity of Calvert, including Finemere Wood, would also be at risk.
The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) advised Highways England that Corridor B, now the preferred option, was by far the most environmentally damaging of the three potential corridors. BBOWT was clear: as well as 20 nature reserves and 51 SSSIs, 345 local wildlife sites would be adversely affected. In view of this, BBOWT called for a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA), a legal requirement for schemes this size. Highways England ignored them.
The national office of the Campaign to Protect Rural England agreed, stating that the preferred option…
…will be particularly damaging because it crosses tranquil, unspoilt countryside, threatening characterful villages and many important wildlife sites. The lack of meaningful public consultation to date means that local communities are facing an unwanted road that will also increase traffic and pollution.
Government’s failure to carry out an SEA, left the public unable to scrutinise the environmental impacts of the various options. BBOWT launched a legal based on this failing. Estelle Bailey, BBOWT’s chief executive said: “We’re going to challenge it every step of the way.“
Sadly, BBOWT lost its case, and has since changed its approach. Along with the RSPB and the Woodland Trust, BBOWT now supports the principles published in the document Nature’s Arc. This document argues that the growth arc is an opportunity to restore nature, and can be delivered without harming it. BEAG is highly concerned about this, as there appears to be no evidence for development-friendly claims like this. 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.
“Buckinghamshire is a wonderful county with a huge wealth of wildlife and beauty in it, and it has to be protected.” (BBOWT, June 2019).
In this short film, made with BEAG in 2019, the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust explained the irreversible harm that the OxCamExpressway and “growth arc” would cause to the richness of wildlife and beauty in Bucks – and why biodiversity offsetting is a sham. This makes it difficult to understand BBOWT’s endorsement of Nature’s Arc which oddly claims that the Arc area is “nature-deprived“.
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.