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Warren Farm campaigners express concerns that Ealing Council is endangering nature with proposed sports facility on nature reserve

Campaigners for a Local Nature Reserve at Warren Farm in Southall have warned that Ealing Council’s proposed sports facility on Warren Farm may leave skylarks and other endangered species with nowhere else to live and breed in the borough.

Warren Farm Nature Reserve has actively campaigned to get the much loved area statutory designation of a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) which will help protect and grow as nature intended. It’s online petition has seen over 13,000 sign it.

In Labour-run Ealing Council’s draft new Local Plan campaigners say the council is planning to build a sports facility on the rewilded nature reserve.

The campaign group say they are worried by comments made by council Leader Councillor Peter Mason and Deputy Leader Councillor Deirdre Costigan over Warren Farm.

Recent indications have suggested that the council intends to use the majority of Warren Farm for sports, with just the remainder being left as a Nature Reserve.

At a scrutiny meeting called by the Leader of the Opposition Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm in August 2022, Deputy Leader Deirdre Costigan stated that the council intends to rewild over 60% of the total combined 33.5 hectare area of Warren Farm and the adjacent Imperial College land.

The Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign group warns that this would mean a reduction in publicly accessible green open space and a significant loss of biodiversity. They say the council is fully aware of these losses as the Local Plan’s Site Selection Report acknowledges, Warren Farm is located within an area of deficiency in access to parks. It concludes: “Although areas of public open space could be retained in the development, this is unlikely to be equivalent to the public open space lost.”

Campaigners argue that it is practically impossible to mitigate the effects of development on Warren Farm in any meaningful way. They say developing the rewilded wildflower meadow would cause an irreversible loss of biodiversity that cannot be simply offset by ‘rewilding’ other connected areas.

The eco activists say the reason Skylarks breed on Warren Farm and nowhere else in the borough is because it has 25 hectares of open grassland, full of wildflowers and insects, in which to nest and feed their chicks and cited Ealing Council’s own Biodiversity Action Plan which said: “Despite several other areas of seemingly suitable open grassland habitat within the borough of Ealing, Skylarks have failed to expand their range beyond Warren Farm. It is thought that this may be due to the likes of Horsenden West and Islip Manor Meadows having too much surrounding tree cover and hedgerows breaking up the expanses of open spaces Skylarks need to feel safe enough to breed. Because Warren Farm appears to be the only site suitable for Skylarks to breed within the borough of Ealing, any future development or changes of use must take them into account. It is vital to minimise disturbance to breeding birds as well as avoid or minimise the introduction of vertical structures that may force them to abandon the site due to increased opportunity for predators.”

Katie Boyles, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser, said: “Building a sports ground on Warren Farm would banish Skylarks from the Borough of Ealing. They need the wide open space to nest safely on the ground and the abundance of plant & insect species on which to feed their chicks.”

Ms Boyles added: “The neighbouring sites do not have the same unique combination of factors that create this unique habitat for Skylarks. That’s why they don’t exist anywhere else in the borough. The council are fully aware that the borough’s only Skylarks are a threatened species facing extinction. Put simply, take away any of Warren Farm Nature Reserve and our Skylarks, among many other rare species hanging on by a thread here, will be lost forever.”

Campaigners also point out that developing sport facilities on Warren Farm would be at odds with Ealing Council’s own Climate and Ecological Strategy and would be counter-productive given the current Climate Emergency and the council’s biodiversity commitments.

An Ealing Council spokesperson told EALING.NEWS: “Our vision for Warren Farm offers the best of both worlds. It will be the largest rewilding project that Ealing has ever seen, maintaining a balance between its wild character while providing sports facilities for local people.”

Brent River & Canal Society Trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign officer, Steven Toft commented: “Nature has gifted us an accidental gem – a distinctive ecological environment on Warren Farm Nature Reserve that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the borough. Its sheer size and interconnectedness are key to its ecological value.”

Mr Toft added: “Developing more than half of Warren Farm would therefore do more ecological damage than putting a development on almost any other site in the borough. If the council chooses to ignore Warren Farm Nature Reserve’s rewilded value and instead chooses to add sports facilities, it will mean a significant loss of biodiversity for Ealing. If the council believes that to be a worthwhile trade-off, it must have a clear and well-researched explanation as to why. We do not believe this case has been made.”

The Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign is asking its supporters to respond to the Local Plan consultation and oppose the development of a sports facility on Warren Farm on the following grounds:

  • Significant loss of biodiversity (as acknowledged in the Local Plan’s Site Selection Report)
  • Loss of publicly accessible green space (as acknowledged in the Local Plan’s Site Selection Report)
  • Loss of habitats for endangered species
  • Loss of the borough’s only breeding Skylarks (as acknowledged in the council’s Biodiversity Action Plan)
  • The development would be at odds with Ealing Council’s own Climate and Ecological Strategy and would be counter-productive given the current Climate Emergency and the council’s biodiversity commitments.

Supporting Warren Farm is Neil Reynolds, leader of Ealing Greens who tweeted:

Residents have until 25 January 2023 to make comments on the Local Plan by emailing  localplan@ealing.gov.uk

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