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Environmentalists tell Ealing Council and its leader Councillor Peter Mason their actions will result in “ecocide” and are “environmentally reckless” and “ecologically illiterate” over Warren Farm sports plans

Environmentalists have responded with anger and shock over Ealing Council plans to turn as much as half of Warren Farm land in Southall into a large sports facility.

They join the many thousands who want to see  Warren Farm Nature Reserve be made into a local nature reserve and are angry following details of Ealing Council’s proposal to allow a large sports facility to be developed on its green open space. They have called the council  “environmentally reckless” and “ecologically illiterate”.

This follows a weekend in which campaigners and supporters of Warren Farm have reacted with shock following the news and also anger at how Ealing Council leader Councillor Peter Mason reaffirmed that “we’re moving ahead this week with our plans for Warren Farm”,

The London head of the UK’s largest conservation charity, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has spoken of the importance of Warren Farm Nature Reserve as a breeding space for rare birds.

Skylarks on Warren Farm
Skylarks on Warren Farm

In a statement of support for the Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign, Andrew Peel said that the endangered Skylarks were down to just 50 breeding pairs in London last year, meaning that Warren Farm’s 12 pairs account for a quarter of London’s entire Skylark population.

Mr Peel said: “As an Ealing resident, I know that Warren Farm is an important green space, both for nature, and as a space for renewing local people’s physical and mental health. The mixture of habitats (grassland, brownfield, scrub, mature trees etc) support a variety of wildlife, including a crucially important breeding population of Skylarks (down to just 50 pairs in London), and other declining species such as Linnets and Kestrels. It is also important for seasonal visitors such as Stonechats, and as a refuelling point for migrants such as Wheatear and Whinchat.”

He added: “Warren Farm is equally important as a place for local people to walk / dog walk / rest, and play. There is an increasingly large body of scientific research showing that regular access to green spaces is vital in creating and maintaining people’s physical and mental health. In the words of the African proverb ‘Health is made at home, hospitals are for repairs’. Accessible green spaces are also vital for children’s development and play, affording great scope for interaction and imagination, as well as promoting their independence.

Local RSPB group, RSPB Richmond and Twickenham added in a statement:

Warren Farm is a very special place for wildlife. Members of our group regularly visit the site to see & hear the breeding skylarks, such an important area for them as a quarter of London’s breeding skylarks nest there. Add to that the linnets & kestrels that are both in decline & also nest there. We have seen wheatears & whinchats on their migration route stopping off at Warren Farm to refuel.

It is also an important area for the brown Argus butterfly too. It is an absolute travesty that Ealing Council are planning to redevelop Warren Farm which is such an important biodiverse area with various habitats. It’s also an important area for local people to walk, knowing that it’s been proven that accessible green spaces are so beneficial for people’s mental & physical Heath & wellbeing.

Campaigners for a Local Nature Reserve at Warren Farm say that Ealing Council’s proposal to develop a sports facility on Warren Farm presents a serious threat to the borough’s only Skylark population.

In a statement,  Dr Sean McCormack, founder and chair of Ealing Wildlife Group highlighted his deep concerns:

“I’m very disappointed that our leaders are pushing on with plans to destroy half of one our most biodiverse habitats in the borough, home to many rare species and the only site in Ealing where Skylarks can breed, a red listed bird of highest conservation concern. Having contributed to Ealing’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) which vows to protect and enhance habitat for this rare bird it’s shocking to hear that it’s apparently either Skylarks or sports facilities for children. This is disingenuous and misleading. We can have both. It’s also extremely concerning to see a real misuse of the term ‘rewilding’ when the plans involve the opposite, de-wilding. Warren Farm has already rewilded. It’s ecocide to undo that process.

Warren Farm is not the place for sports facilities. And Natural England will categorically not grant this plan for Local Nature Reserve status when it will cause local extinction of this precious Skylark population if it goes ahead. There are lots of sports grounds that children can use, and far more suitable sites to make new ones that won’t obliterate nature on such a concerning scale. There’s only one place in Ealing where we can show children Skylarks, an indicator species for a really rich and valuable ecosystem. I’m sure many children would agree to save this amazing natural asset we are lucky to have on our doorstep, and if they had a vote, would ask their Council leader Peter Mason to reconsider this ill thought out plan. It’s stubborn, ignoring the overwhelming consensus of the local community and undermining democracy at worst, and ecologically illiterate at best.

The Council needs to listen to experts on this if their Climate and Ecological Emergency policy or Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) mean anything at all. Skylarks, Barn Owls, Slow Worms, rare plants and insects, Bats and many other threatened species rely on this whole vast site to thrive, not a damaged portion of it left after new sports facilities swallow it up and leave the remainder for wildlife to share and make do with alongside a more concentrated public using the site currently for exercise, recreation and enjoying nature. The remainder will be a poor replacement and wholly unsuitable for Skylarks who need the large scale meadows currently there to avoid predators, as they are vulnerable ground nesting birds.”

Local young naturalists Daniel Brasier and Rowan Watkins, both in Year 9 at Elthorne Park High School, said:

Daniel Braisier:“Warren Farm Nature Reserve is a unique meadow site in the London borough of Ealing that has attracted a rare breeding population of Skylarks. When I visit Warren Farm it is good for my mood and mental health. I have grown up with the rewilded Warren Farm and it is really sad that nature and the Skylarks are now under threat. I am a member of the Central London RSPB group and told them about the fantastic bird species at Warren Farm including Barn Owls, Little Owls and Skylarks. I felt it is vital for the world’s leading nature organization to be involved in the campaign to save Warren Farm for people and nature. When I asked for a supporter statement the group was happy to write one.”

Rowan Watkins: “It is so amazing to have skylarks within walking distance in Ealing. The song reminds me of the beautiful fields around my grandparents’ house and is my definition of a countryside summer. It would be an enormous blow to lose them, not only for me and many others but also for their overall London population.

Kabir Kaul on Twitter said: “An outrageous decision by @_petermason and Ealing Council. Under these plans, half of Warren Farm will be replaced with sports pitches, driving Skylarks to extinction in Ealing. We want this meadow to stay rewilded, not dewilded.”

Chris Packham on Twitter commented: “The excellent @Kaulofthewilduk is on this case, it’s close to his heart and a valuable part of his and many others community. The site is home to a spectacular array of bird species, like Red Kites, Barn and Short-eared Owls, Starlings, Wheatears, Linnets, Mistle Thrushes. RT”

Katie Boyles, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS) and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser, said:

“It’s frankly speaking, environmentally reckless and it is fantastic that so many environmental campaigners are supporting us. The fact that Warren Farm hosts a quarter of London’s Skylark breeding pairs should be seen as a biodiversity badge of honour by Ealing Council. Instead, it is putting forward a development proposal that will destroy their habitat and see our only Skylarks disappear from the Borough of Ealing if given the go ahead on Weds 25th January. As the council’s own Biodiversity Action Plan states, nowhere else in the borough has the wide open space and abundance of food to enable our skylarks to nest and breed.”

Ms Boyles added: “Future generations deserve to grow-up hearing this bird’s iconic song and to benefit from this already rewilded, unique green space on their doorstep. We strongly advise the council to adhere to the results of their own Public Consultation and give all of Warren Farm, Nature Reserve designation. To do otherwise would show the council to be selectively democratic and environmentally backwards. It’s not too late to do the right thing.”

Local residents have also spoken out.

“I’ve been coming here for years,” said Jane from Acton who was walking her two dogs. “This is such a beautiful place. I first started coming here when I lived nearby and even now I come. It’s such a unique place in West London.  It’s quiet, it’s tranquil and is the perfect place for me time. But if there was a sports ground here, it will totally destroy all of that.”

Another walker with a dog was Beth who said: “I grew up in the country and when I came to London, it was so wonderful to have Warren Farm. Throughout Covid, being able to walk freely around here really helped and if it’s future is under threat, that is really shocking.  A sports facility will ruin everything for the wildlife here, for people coming and getting pleasure and enjoyment from walking and there surely are other places where it would be more suitable.”

With his two children, James said Warren Farm has been one of the few places he can take his son and daughter to and show them nature in the wild. “This is nature. What is here should be left alone and as nature intended. It is so amazing seeing so many birds and wildlife here. My children learn so much about nature and teach me about what they see. I never had this when I grew up and it’s such a benefit to have this here for all.”

Campaigners have said the plans are “stubborn, ignoring the overwhelming consensus of the local community and undermining democracy at worst” are due to be discussed at a cabinet meeting on 25 January 2023 at Ealing Town Hall.

Taking his Sunday run, James from Hanwell said he loves his runs. “Why do they want to change something that so many people from the area benefit from. It’s open and so amazing to run and hear the birds. It’s one of my favourite places to run.”

The people at Warren Farm emphasised much of what was being said by campaigners over the weekend.

 Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaigners have highlighted the council plans to designate five of Hanwell’s Meadows as Local Nature Reserve, as put forward in the Brent River & Canal Society’s vision to create and protect a Wildlife Corridor, but the council’s proposal only includes half of rewilded Warren Farm.

They also say that even though Warren Farm has recorded rare species, the council plans to develop the rest of the site as a sports facility.

Campaigners have warned that developing the rewilded wildflower meadow would leave Ealing’s only Skylark population with nowhere to breed and contradicts Ealing Council’s own Biodiversity Action Plan which confirms that Warren Farm is the only place in the borough suitable for Skylarks to nest.

 

The map above is taken from Ealing Council’s cabinet report showing one of the suggested sports developments on Warren Farm
The map above is taken from Ealing Council’s cabinet report showing one of the suggested sports developments on Warren Farm

Campaigners also highlighted that developing sport facilities counters Ealing Council’s own Climate and Ecological Strategy. In a statement, they said it “would be counter-productive given the current Climate Emergency and the council’s biodiversity commitments.”

In a tweet on 18 January 2023, Ealing Council leader, Councillor Peter Mason said: “In May @EalingLabour set out our ambitions for Warren Farm, to provide both a much needed sports facility, as well as London’s largest project to re-wild and re-grow a key part of Southall and Hanwell. Now, we’re getting on with the job.”

Councillor Mason followed up by tweeting on 20 January 2023: “ICYMI, we’re moving ahead this week with our plans for Warren Farm.Plans that were democratically endorsed last May. Plans for a compromise to get the best of community sports facilities and London’s largest re-wilding project.”

But residents and community groups are shocked by the plans which they say are “undermining democracy” by ignoring what people have told the council.

BRCS Trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign officer, Steven Toft commented: “We deduced, from comments by the council leader and deputy leader in August last year, that the proposal would look something like this and now our fears have been confirmed.

“The council talks about its biodiversity and re-wilding ambitions. Starting the new Local Plan with biodiversity loss and de-wilding seems an odd way of going about it.”

In a statement, Ealing Council said: “Warren Farm is Ealing’s largest outdoor sports ground, but it has been out of use for more than 10 years, and the changing rooms and the pavilions are dilapidated. The council remains committed to ensuring that new sports facilities are delivered for the benefit of local people, alongside its ambitious plans for the rewilding of much of the site.”

It added: “Should the plans be approved by cabinet, the council will launch a study for the provision of sports pitches on the remainder of the site not included in the boundaries of the proposed nature reserve. The council will make further announcements on its full strategy for delivering sports facilities following this completion. Ealing’s Sports Facility Strategy supports a need for additional sport facilities in the area.”

Liberal Democrat Councillor Athena Zissimos, spokesperson for the Environment including streets, parks, air quality and climate change said: “Liberal Democrats are very concerned that the three options in the Council report mean that around half of Warren Farm will be lost, meaning a significant loss of biodiversity and publicly accessible open space.”

Councillor Zissimos added: “Liberal Democrats have called for the whole of Warren Farm to be designated as a local Nature Reserve. Ealing Council needs to decide between skylarks and cricket and they cannot have both in the same space and they are fooling themselves if they think they can.”

Ealing Green Party chair Neil Reynolds told EALING.NEWS: “The plans for Warren Farm are an attack on nature. The rewilding of nearby land makes no sense if it comes at the price of destroying the existing habitat of protected species. If these rumoured plans are true then it would be a best a terrible error of judgement or even a cynical exercise in greenwashing.”

BRCS Trustee and former Ealing Council Senior Ranger Phil Belman added:

“In 2020, the government committed to protecting 30% of land for nature by 2030. Last November, the Labour Party criticised the government for ‘a monumental dereliction of duty’ over its lack of progress. Yet here in Ealing, our Labour council is planning to destroy biodiversity on its own land. Skylarks need space to nest. Taking half of Warren Farm won’t halve the number of Skylarks breeding, it will eliminate them completely.”

The Brent River & Canal Society and the Warren Farm Nature Reserve group are asking their supporters to take part in the Local Plan consultation and oppose the development of a sports facility on Warren Farm.

They have highlighted the following grounds as reasons to state opposition:

  • 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.

Residents have until 8 February 2023 to make comments on the Local Plan and can respond by email to: localplan@ealing.gov.uk

The campaign for Warren Farm to be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows continues. It already has nearly 15,000 signatories to the petition and people can support it by clicking here.

EALING.NEWS has contacted Ealing Council for a comment.

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