A former deputy mayor of London and current Green Party member in the House of Lords, Baroness Jenny Jones has visited Warren Farm and spoken out against Labour-run Ealing Council plans to turn as much as half of the land into a large sports facility.
She has said that Ealing Council and its leadership including leader Councillor Peter Mason and deputy leader Deirdre Costigan “have no idea about the environment, ecology or nature”. The Baroness added: “If we can’t save these remaining green corners of our cities, then both planet and people are in big trouble”.
Earlier this week, Baroness Jones met with local residents and campaigners who are calling for the whole of Warren Farm to be granted Local Nature Reserve status.
Baroness Jones said: “It was a pleasure to visit Warren Farm in Ealing, and add my voice to the thousands of others that are demanding this precious green space be left for nature. The 61 acres of meadows are a vital urban sanctuary for rare and endangered animal, bird and plant species including 12 of London’s 50 breeding pairs of Skylarks. This delicate ecosystem will be destroyed by Ealing Council’s plans to develop a sports complex on the site which, they say, will ‘benefit deprived communities’.
The Baroness added: “But deprived communities need green space, as do Skylarks, owls and rare plants. It shows that Ealing Labour have no idea about the environment, ecology or nature. Thankfully the local community are up in arms, with nearly 18,000 signing a petition to make Warren Farm a Nature Reserve in its entirety. This is a fight we have to win. If we can’t save these remaining green corners of our cities, then both planet and people are in big trouble.”
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.
Announcing the Ealing Council cabinet support for the plans following the meeting on 25 January 2023, Ealing Council Leader Councillor Peter Mason tweeted that night: “@EalingLabour agreed to move forward with our plans for a win-win at Warren Farm, where we’ll deliver both community sports & rewilding, to tackle the climate emergency & the huge health inequalities in our Borough.”
Representing Ealing Green Party, Neil Reynolds said: “I am very grateful that Baroness Jones came to see the nature reserve. It was reassuring that she was able to see quickly how valuable it is ecologically. I am delighted she will act as a strong green voice for local residents in parliament and beyond. This will be a long campaign. With a well-respected member of the House of Lords on our side we are definitely stronger for it.”
During a consultation period last year in which Ealing Council asked residents what do you like from Warren Farm, only 89 expressed interest in “opportunity to revive Southall FC”, while 1,001 said “Biodiversity and open/green space”.
Among those who Baroness Jones met was local wildlife writer and conservationist Kabir Kaul. He said: “Thrilled that Baroness Jones was able to visit and give a boost to our campaign. It is essential that Warren Farm is designated as a Local Nature Reserve in its entirety to protect its red listed species, like Skylarks.”
Katie Boyles, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser said: “It was brilliant to be given the opportunity to discuss with Baroness Jenny Jones in person, the incredible rewilding that has taken place over the last 14 years on Warren Farm and why our petition, which is approaching 18,000 supporters, want to see it safeguarded for nature.”
Ms Boyles added: “Baroness Jones shared some great insights with us as our campaign continues to grow at a pace, attracting a number of high-profile wildlife organisations, charities and individuals who can see our meadow’s amazing benefits for both wildlife and local community – in a way Ealing Council are currently severely failing to acknowledge. It is simply not okay to destroy a priority habitat proven to be species-rich, home to an array of wildlife, some of which are facing extinction hanging on by a thread here. ‘De-wilding’ is not an option for Warren Farm that more than qualifies for Local Nature Reserve designation in its entirety.”
Adding his voice when meeting with Baroness Jones was botanist Mark Spencer who hit out against Ealing Council’s plans. He said: “Ealing Council appear to be indifferent to nature, out of touch with their electorate and pursuing a goal that only they want, despite their manifesto pledges. How often is it that we’re lucky enough to have this sort of opportunity for nature in London?”
Dr Spencer added: “These plans will mean the extinction of Copse Bindweed in Greater London. This is a plant vulnerable to extinction in the UK and a GLA ‘Priority Species’ of conservation concern.’ The GLA’s policy says that development proposals must adequately consider the impacts of any development on Priority Species and provide net gains for biodiversity. All public bodies, including Ealing Council, are required to take account of Priority Species under the Biodiversity Duty placed on them by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. You are not supposed to sweep London’s biodiversity under the carpet, it’s an integral part of this city.”
In a previous statement, the 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.”
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
The campaign for Warren Farm to be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows continues. It already has over 17,000 signatories to the petition and people can support it by clicking here.