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All of a Buzz in the Thames Gateway

Over half of the Thames Gateway's wildlife-rich brownfields identified in the initial project have been destroyed in just six years.  

Thames Gateway brownfields

Thames Gateway brownfields support assemblages of nationally important invertebrates.  At least 15 UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) species are strongly associated with Thames Gateway brownfields, many of which are found nowhere else in the UK, including the Streaked bombardier beetle (Brachinus sclopeta) and Distinguished jumping spider (Sitticus distinguendus). 

Much of this important wildlife is dependent on a network of brownfield sites and results from the unique combination of an unusually continental climate, industrial heritage and the previous cover of dry, flower-rich, open grasslands.

However, the Thames Gateway is Europe’s largest regeneration area and the UK’s largest economic programme, with development focusing on brownfield land.

‘All of a Buzz in the Thames Gateway’ Initial Project

Between 2005 and 2008, Buglife collaborated with English Nature (now Natural England) on the initial All of a Buzz in the Thames Gateway project. The project quantified the ecological importance of brownfield land for biodiversity at a landscape scale.

Distinguished jumping spider (Sitticus distinguendus) © P.Harvey

Distinguished jumping spider (Sitticus distinguendus) © P.Harvey

6,900 hectares were mapped and the ecological value of 450 sites assessed using novel methods. Sites were assessed as being of High, Medium or Low potential for supporting Red Data Book and UKBAP invertebrates.

The report found that 198 sites (over 40%) showed High or Medium potential for invertebrate biodiversity. 

‘The State of Brownfields in the Thames Gateway’ 2012

In 2012 Buglife set out to assess the loss of these wildlife-rich brownfields using up-to-date aerial images and site visits. 

The 198 sites identified as being either High or Medium potential for invertebrates were revisited and categorised as being: intact; completely destroyed; partially destroyed; or having an outstanding planning permission likely to lead to the loss of invertebrate interest. 

Streaked bombardier beetle (Brachinus sclopeta) © Craig Slawson

Streaked bombardier beetle (Brachinus sclopeta) © Craig Slawson

The report found that in the six-year period since initial assessment, over half of the wildlife-rich brownfield sites had been either destroyed or had an outstanding planning permission.  Only 98 of the 198 sites remained intact and secure in the short-term. 

London showed the greatest losses, with over two thirds of sites either lost or immediately threatened. Development and regeneration is undoubtedly resulting in unsustainable losses of wildlife-rich brownfields across the Thames Gateway, despite an increased recognition of their ecological value. 

The failure to protect over 50% of the sites reviewed shows that there is insufficient protection for quality brownfield sites, despite many supporting UK BAP open mosaic habitat on previously developed land.

Thames gateway map

Thames gateway map

The loss of swathes of high quality brownfield habitat is likely to have a significant negative impact on the region’s rare invertebrates.

These losses run the risk of rare species being completely lost from the regional and national fauna. The protection of remaining wildlife-rich brownfields is now essential.

The 2012 work on this project was made possible thanks to Getmapping Plc, The Tubney Charitable Trust, Veolia North Thames Trust and Essex Environment Trust.

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