Rainforest site under threat from Royal Mail development
Press release – Thursday 2nd November 2006
Royal Mail is planning to build a distribution centre on one of the top three UK sites for endangered wildlife, and a key part of ‘England’s rainforest’.
Something extraordinary has risen from the ashes in the grounds of a former power station. West Thurrock Marshes is now home to over one thousand three hundred species of invertebrates, birds and reptiles, including dozens of rare species and 36 animals listed in the conservation Red Data Book. Yet this incredible natural oasis in South Essex is under threat from the construction of a giant warehouse and lorry park.
Previously-developed or ‘Brownfield’ sites in the Thames Gateway have recently been dubbed ‘England’s rainforests’ because of the large populations of endangered wildlife they support. Research funded by Natural England has shown that a third of brownfield sites in the region are of high importance to nature conservation, and the invertebrate charity Buglife is campaigning to ensure the best sites are protected. Brownfield is targeted for development under Government policy on regeneration.
The Royal Mail development – which will destroy two thirds of the important flower-rich grasslands found on the site – threatens a number of very endangered animals, including:
The Distinguished jumper (Sitticus distinguendus): a charismatic spider found on only two sites in the UK – both threatened brownfield sites. The spider is on a draft Government biodiversity conservation list that when published will require its protection. Yet the species may be extinct before the list has even been produced.
The Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis) and Red-shanked bumblebee (Bombus ruderarius) depend on the large areas of flower-rich grassland, most of which will be destroyed by the development. Both these bumblebees have declined massively and are now in a perilous position.
The Saltmarsh shortspur beetle (Anisodactylus poeciliodes): a large proportion of the habitat of this rare and endangered beetle will be lost – replaced by a car park.
Despite the Royal Mail Group’s Post OfficeTM advertisements featuring happy ants, the ants on this site will be less amused. The new development will stamp out a population of the rare Hump-backed red ant (Myrmica bessarabica).
The development is opposed by Thurrock Council, but the planning decision has been taken out of the hands of local democracy and will be determined on Monday by a quango set up by John Prescott.
‘West Thurrock Marshes should have a bright future as a vibrant green hub for people and wildlife. Yet this insensitive and opportunist development will turn those hopes to dust. We appeal to all those involved to rethink their plans so that we can ensure an environmentally sustainable future for this incredible site,’ says Matt Shardlow, Director of Buglife.
For further information call Jamie Roberts on 01733 201 210 or
07747 715 820.
Notes to Editors:
Buglife-The Invertebrate Conservation Trust is the first organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates, and is actively engaged in saving Britain's rarest bugs, butterflies, snails, bees, wasps, ants, spiders, beetles and many more fascinating creatures. Set up in 2000, the charity now has eight members of staff working of diverse projects including a national bumblebee survey and riverfly conservation www.buglife.org.uk
West Thurrock Marshes and Lagoons SSSI: the southern part of the site is notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for over-wintering wading birds. However in recent years the lagoons have dried out and the bird interest has diminished. At the same time the site has developed a nationally important invertebrate population. West Thurrock Marshes is home to seven UK BAP invertebrate species, including the Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis), the Five-banded weevil wasp (Cerceris quinquefasciata) and the Saltmarsh shortspur beetle (Anisodactylus poeciloides). Buglife believes that the whole site should be notified as an SSSI for its invertebrate populations.
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan is the process by which the UK government delivers biodiversity conservation. The Plan was formulated in response to the Convention of Biological Diversity held in Rio in 1992. UK BAP identifies and prioritises action for species and habitats of conservation concern, and is underpinned by a new Act of Parliament requiring planning authorities to have regard to the conservation of listed species. A revised list of priority species and habitats has been in preparation for over two years.
The Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation was set up in 2003 with a remit to “drive forward development”. As the local planning authority for determining strategic planning applications, the TTGDC has substantial development control powers within Thurrock. Only householder and minor applications remain with Thurrock Council. Under the recent Natural England and Rural Communities Act (2006), public bodies such as the TTGDC have a duty to ‘have regard to biodiversity’.
Photos of the site and its wildlife are available from Buglife.