Local council ignores nightingale protests


More than 12,000 people objected to a proposal to build houses on and around Lodge Hill, Kent. The area represents one of Britain's last remaining strongholds for Common Nightingale. While the application was withdrawn, Medway council has responded by publishing a new draft Local Plan that continues to designate land at and around the site as being suitable for thousands of new houses.

The decision to include Lodge Hill flies in the face of national planning rules designed to protect important natural spaces, as well as the local authority’s own pledge to protect important wildlife sites, sparking concerns that other protected areas could also be under threat.

Lodge Hill is recognised as the best site for Common Nightingale in Britain. The species' national population has declined by 90 per cent in the last 50 years to just a few thousand pairs, with numbers still falling. The decline is so alarming that Common Nightingale is now listed among our most threatened birds. Unlike many songbirds, nightingales nest at ground level, and there are fewer and fewer sites available where they can safely rear young.

The site includes ancient woodland with grasslands which are home to mammals, reptiles, amphibians, rare insects and flowers, as well as nightingales. In 2013, Lodge Hill was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) based on its nightingale population. There are just over 4,000 SSSIs in England, and these are chosen because they represent the best places for wildlife in the country; Lodge Hill plays a very important role in this network.

Under National Planning Policy, an SSSI can only be developed if all other options for potential development have first been exhausted, and only then if mitigation or comprehensive compensation is put in place. These steps have not been followed in Kent.

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The RSPB’s England director Chris Corrigan said: “Every year the nightingale flies thousands of miles from Africa to spend the summer at Lodge Hill, bringing its delightful song to the Kent countryside and raising its young. But this wonderful songbird, which was so numerous and well known that it has appeared in the works of some of our most celebrated poets, is now at risk of being lost from the UK.

“With one of the few places where nightingales are thriving under threat, thousands of people have used their voice at every stage to oppose plans to build at Lodge Hill. We need the local council to recognise that there is a nationally significant site on their doorstep that must be protected and celebrated. So we are asking people to once again make their voices heard so that local decision-makers can see the strength of feeling for our nightingales and special places.”

Greg Hitchcock of the Kent Wildlife Trust added: "Lodge Hill is a nationally important wildlife site and is designated as such. It is a fantastic asset in the nation’s natural heritage and should be protected and looked after for future generations. Medway council received the message loud and clear that there is a huge amount of opposition to destroying this nationally important area, both from within Medway and around the country, but their new Local Plan still included plans to build on the site. We need to shout louder to protect this vulnerable site and others like it."

The #SaveLodgeHill campaign represents a partnership including the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation, Friends of the North Kent Marshes, Medway Countryside Forum and The Woodland Trust. Medway council's public consultation into the draft Local Plan Development Options runs until 11 May. To find out more and how you can help, you can attend a nightingale festival event, or visit www.rspb.org.uk/savelodgehill or www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk/lodge-hill