Updated May 2009
About West Thurrock Marshes
The story of West Thurrock Marshes in south Essex is similar to that of many brownfield sites. Once grazing marsh, a power station was built on the site after the war. Large areas of the site were then covered with flyash waste. When the power station closed down in the early 1990s the wildlife started to colonise the site. Now it is one of the richest and most important nature reserves in the country, with over 1,200 species of bug, bird and reptile, many of them extremely rare. In summer it is a riot of colour. But it is still considered a brownfield site by the authorities, and as such it has little protection from development.
|A place to get away from it all: West Thurrock Marshes |
© Greg Hitchcock
Buglife - fighting to save West Thurrock Marshes
Early in 2006 a planning application was submitted for a huge warehouse and lorry park on the site. Buglife - in partnership with the local Council and Essex Wildlife Trust - has pushed hard for the a less damaging scheme to be developed, but in November 2006 the Thurrock Development Corporation went ahead and approved the plans.
Buglife immediately sprang into action. We launched an online petition which over 2,500 people signed. We also tabled a motion in the House of Commons, calling for the protection of the site, which received cross-party support. In early 2007 Buglife met with then Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Biodiversity Minister to press for the site to be protected. As we said at the time, if you can't protect the second best invertebrate wildlife site in the UK, what's safe?
Buglife handing over the 2,000-name petition to PM Blair
Court action to save West Thurrock Marshes
In February 2008 Buglife went to the High Court to challenge the development of the site. The Judge declared that biodiversity protection legislation in the UK was ‘weak’ and unfortunately we lost the case. Despite this setback we pressed on and went to the Court of Appeal in November. The judges agreed with Buglife that, despite the Biodiversity Duty on Public Bodies making biodiversity the main consideration for the planning decision, the Development Corporation had failed to follow national biodiversity and planning policy. However, the judges concluded that the Corporation was entitled to rely on a letter from Natural England in which the Government conservation body withdrew their objection and mentioned that the development offered the ‘possibility of a long term nature conservation gain for the area’.
There are many positive outcomes - the judgment did establish that the NERC Act Biodiversity Duty was an important consideration in cases such as this, and highlighted failings in the Biodiversity Duty, court system, planning policy and SSSI system that can now be addressed.
The House of Lords has recently refused to give permission to hear Buglife’s appeal against the most recent court decision. This effectively marks the end of Buglife's legal attempt to save the site. Any further action by Buglife would be against the UK for failing to properly implement the EC legislation and would not hold up the development. This is very sad for biodiversity - the planned development will destroy over half of the site, including the flower-rich areas many of the insects depend on. Many rare species may be lost from the site forever. However, Buglife has not given up hope that the wildlife of West Thurrock Marshes will be saved.
Distinguished jumping spider (Sitticus distinguendus) -
this pretty little spider is found on just two sites in the UK one
of which is West Thurrock Marshes. Both are under threat of
development. © Peter Harvey
Meanwhile the campaign, which has given the endangered wildlife a two and a half year’s reprieve, has resulted in the Royal Mail withdrawing their interest in moving onto the site, and has exposed the frailty of the level of protection that biodiversity is given in the planning system, has been shortlisted by the Observer Ethical Awards 2009.
A ground-breaking campaign
The fight to save West Thurrock Marshes has been truly ground-breaking. It is the first time that biodiversity protection has been tested in UK courts and it has clarified the relevant legislation and policy guidance. It has also emphasised the importance of Natural England’s advice in decision making. Wildlife campaigners are very concerned about the implications of the ruling for Britain’s wildlife.
We have received huge support both from the public, and other conservation bodies and environmental organisations. Patagonia Environmental Grants has helped to fund our work, as have many other organisations and individuals. Thank you to everyone who has supported this campaign.