'Huge disappointment' at new plans for South London nature reserve


Revised plans for Beddington Farmlands, a South London nature reserve of major local importance to wildlife, have left local birders and campaigners 'dismayed'.

Beddington is one of the most famous birding locales in London and the Surrey vice-county, with a rich history of ornithological coverage. Returning the former sewage works and landfill site to a nature reserve was one of the conditions of the building of an incinerator, granted in 2013. It was supposed to be completed by the end of 2023 but this did not happen – and new landowner, Valencia Waste Management, has recently revealed revised plans for the site which have been met with disappointment.

The plans, validated by Sutton Council on 22 February, have come in response to the public consultation over Christmas. During the consultation, Lysanne Horrox, Chair of the Hackbridge and Beddington Corner Neighbourhood Development Group said: "The current plan for the restoration of Beddington Farmlands has failed to meet its objectives."

Beddington Farmlands supports a fantastic variety of wildlife and has a long track record of producing rare and unusual birds (Peter Alfrey).


Major shortcomings

In response to the plans the Wandle Valley Forum (WVF), a volunteer-run conservation group, has published a list outlining what they argue to be the current site's 'major shortcomings'. Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), Tony Burton, Chair of the WVF, said: "The revised plans for Beddington Farmlands are a huge disappointment. All the evidence shows they are not as good for either wildlife or public access as the original plans.

"Local communities have been waiting in vain for years to enjoy the long-promised nature reserve only to have their hopes dashed by the new owners [Valencia Waste Management]. Sutton Council now needs to stand firm and demand a much more ambitious approach that benefits wildlife, provides better public access, and connects the whole area of open land between Mitcham Common and Beddington Park on both sides of the railway."

A key bone of contention that campaigners have is Valencia Waste Management's decision to abandon plans to create an acid grassland site. Despite this type of grassland initially being promised, Valencia has since reneged on the pledge citing cost and environmental concerns. Valencia has now opted to implement wet grassland on site, which the WVF believes will reduce the biodiversity benefits.

However, the WVF believes the money Valencia have saved from opting against acid grassland has not been effectively reinvested in new habitats and better visitor facilities. In its list of objections, the WVF said: "We recognise the reasons for not progressing with the plans for acid grassland and heath. The alternative proposals are both less expensive to deliver and result in poorer biodiversity outcomes. It is essential therefore to not only enhance the plans to provide a net ecological gain over the original plans but also to mitigate the loss of acid grassland and heath."

Eurasian Penduline Tit at Beddington Farmlands in October 2021 (Zach Pannifer).


Public access concerns

Public access to the site was another key issue that has attracted much concern. While all agree that nature is the key consideration for the site, campaigners have stressed that access to the site is currently limited for nearby residents.

A spokesperson for Valencia said: "We are committed to restoring the Beddington Farmlands into a network of habitats in line with the planning requirements. Once restored the Farmlands will transform a former landfill site into fantastic asset for wildlife, and the local community. The project is vast in scale, and complex requiring significant investment, and detailed management to establish the habitats. Significant progress is being made onsite with new bird hides and footpath network being installed towards the end of 2023.

"Following extensive consultation with stakeholders, Valencia has undertaken technical assessments to present proposals to vary the restoration plans to ensure they are deliverable, sustainable, and viable. The proposals are in line with the requirements, and the local planning authority has been kept updated throughout this period."

In recent years, habitat creation delays and mismanagement has led to the disappearance of the site's famous colony of Tree Sparrow, which was the last in Surrey and one of very few in London, with nesting waders also negatively impacted by the lack of habitat restoration.