Natural England in firing line for loss of unique wildlife site

Wednesday 3rd April 2019

Buglife is set to challenge Natural England on its extraordinary failure to protect West Tilbury Marshes, a wildlife site,  within the Thames Estuary Important Invertebrate Area, that it has described as “irreplaceable” and claimed was being added to its SSSI designation pipeline.

The way our supposed protector of the natural environment has acted means it is not practicable to challenge Chris Grayling’s recent decision as Secretary of State at the Department of Transport to consent the development of a port at Tilbury, Essex on land considered to be of SSSI quality for endangered species of insects.

Buglife considers the huge destruction of endangered insect life associated with the port development to be illogical and immoral, but lawyers have advised the charity that the highly restricted grounds available to challenge such decisions under the process of judicial review would make it difficult to show that the decision to grant consent was as such unlawful, so legal action would be unlikely to save the site from destruction.

The approval of the port development was partly based on a “mitigation plan” for this incredible site that relies on unproven and untested methods that experts do not believe will save the endangered species, and is also planned to be carried out on a site that is already due to be converted into wildflower habitat as part of the restoration plan for a landfill site (the “mitigation” site is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust who were not consulted on the proposal). So even if the methods work it will be a case of double counting. 

“We are deeply, deeply saddened not to be able to challenge the gross environmental harm that this development will cause, we are mortified and feel as if we are abandoning these endangered species, but we must listen to advice: if we cannot feasibly challenge the decision, it would be a waste of resources to try. However we are now fully determined to take Natural England to task here. They have been complicit in the destruction of Thames Gateway wildlife sites that were home to huge numbers of exceptionally rare species. This must stop and we need a plan that can sustain the remaining threatened species.”, said Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO.

Natural England has a statutory duty to “safeguard for the present and future generations the diversity and geographic range of habitats, species and geological features” and must designate a site as an SSSI if in their view it is of “special interest due to its flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features.”

West Tilbury Marshes is home to fifteen ‘Section 41’ protected species and 159 species of conservation importance, including 31 red listed species – an outstandingly special assemblage which puts it in the top ten most important sites in the UK for endangered wildlife.