Sue Young, KWT
Viewpoint: Kent Wildlife Trust
By Sue Young
Sue Young from Kent Wildlife Trust says that wildlife must not be forgotten in the Thames Gateway, so that regeneration brings benefits to the environment as well as to the economy and society.
The Thames Gateway is an important area for wildlife. The vast areas of mudflat that are exposed when the tide recedes are rich in organic material brought down in the river, providing food for invertebrates such as worms and bivalves to flourish which in turn provide a feast for wading birds.
Hundreds of thousands of birds come to spend the winter in the area, many more use the rich feeding grounds as a stopping off and refuelling point on their annual migrations.
Such is its importance to these migratory populations that much of the Thames Estuary is protected by international agreements as well as national designation.
However, there is much more to the Thames Gateway’s wildlife than its birds. The Gateway contains areas of important habitats, such as ancient woodland, chalk grassland and grazing marsh, which are declining nationally, and home species like the water vole, Britain’s most threatened mammal. Many important wildlife areas are protected, and the government seeks to avoid damaging these areas by focusing much of the development on brownfield land: land that was previously used and has, in many cases, been abandoned.
QE2 Bridge from Swanscombe Marshes. ©KWT
However, some of the special wildlife interest in the Gateway flourishes on areas of brownfield land, and Kent Wildlife Trust is concerned that this wildlife value is not always recognised, nor seen as an opportunity for environmental improvement.
Some brownfield sites, undisturbed for many years, have been reclaimed by nature. Poor stony soils inhibit the more common and competitive plants, allowing a wide variety of plants to flourish. Old rubble piles provide shelter and basking areas for lizards and slow worms, overgrown scrub offer a safe haven for nesting birds.
Common Spotted Orchid. © KWT
Because the habitats on some brownfield sites are very varied, the invertebrates they support are too, and a particular feature of brownfield sites in the Thames Gateway is the unusual invertebrate diversity that is unique to the area. Insects that have suffered from the increased use of pesticides in the rural area are able to survive in these urban oases, and they have been found to support numerous rare and unusual species such as the brown banded carder bee.
Working with developers
Although Kent Wildlife Trust would like to see the best areas for wildlife protected, there are many sites at which it feels that development and making space for wildlife can go hand in hand. The Trust works with developers and their agents, advising on how development can be designed to enhance biodiversity. From the use of nesting and roosting boxes to setting aside areas to be managed for conservation, all development can take positive action for biodiversity.
By using native plants in landscaping schemes, and innovative designs such as green roofs, developers can ensure that there are habitats for wildlife even in the most urban areas. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, which collect rainwater from roofs, roads and hard surfaces and retain it in a system of swales, ditches and ponds rather than allowing it to flush straight into conventional drains, not only help to prevent flash flooding but also provide a range of habitats for wildlife.
As well as looking at the opportunities for wildlife at a local level, Kent Wildlife Trust would like to see the Thames Gateway as a whole improved for wildlife and people. Climate change will have a devastating impact not only on our lives but also on our wildlife unless we take action to help species adapt.
We can help by creating a joined up network of habitats that allow species to colonise new areas as conditions change. The regeneration of the area provides an opportunity to do this, at the same time creating exciting new greenspaces for people to enjoy. The Trust would like to see an ecological network in place throughout North Kent, and is working to influence decision makers to ensure that initiatives such as Green Grid and the Thames Gateway Parklands will contribute to this network.
Whilst we are excited about the opportunities for creating and improving natural green spaces in North Kent, we believe that it is essential to ensure that these areas will be well managed in the future. We are concerned that current practice means that most green space funding is allocated to capital works, with little or no provision for future management costs. To ensure that the benefits of regeneration are enjoyed for years to come, Kent Wildlife Trust will continue to lobby for adequate provision for the long term management of the places that are being created in the Thames Gateway for people and wildlife to enjoy.
The Wildlife Trusts in the Thames Gateway have set up a new website, www.wildlifegateway.org.uk that gathers together the best guidance and advice on incorporating biodiversity into new development.
last updated: 04/06/2008 at 16:27