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Wildlife presenters speak out to save Warren Farm from Ealing Council plans

A video featuring wildlife presenters including Iolo Williams. Dr Amir Khan and Megan McCubbin is urging Ealing Council to stop with its plans to turn as much of half the land of Warren Farm into a large sports facility has been released.

The video, introduced by Dr Sean McCormack, founder and chair of Ealing Wildlife Group, calls on the council and its leadership to leave Warren Farm as nature intended so that the local ecosystem is not destroyed which the wildlife experts say will happen under Ealing Council plans.

Dr McCormack told EALING.NEWS: “As we seem to be failing to impress on our local councillors just how important Warren Farm is ecologically, and how their plans place sports facilities on arguably the most important zone of the entire site with many rare species and acid grassland habitat, I needed to call in a favour. So I got in touch with fellow wildlife presenters who were just as shocked that this plan is being pushed through as a “win-win” for nature and sports when it’s most certainly not that. Nor is it rewilding, it’s dewilding what’s already had 14 years to develop.”

“There is still time to adjust the plans so the needs of our community and wildlife are met. I’m really thankful for these wildlife heroes for stepping up and recording their pleas to Ealing Council to reconsider their plans and develop sports facilities for disadvantaged youth in Southall in a more appropriate and accessible location. There are many options, not least the Imperial College horse paddocks next door. Or one of the seven other sites identified in the Council’s own sports strategy released in July 2022.

“As you can see from the video, we just can’t continue to chip away at the precious little pockets of nature and biodiversity we have left and pretend it’s in the interests of our children and future generations. Ealing Wildlife Group would again like to reiterate our willingness to collaborate on better plans that deliver sports for Southall but don’t obliterate one of the most biodiverse and wild habitats we have remaining in the entire borough. All of the experts here are urging the Council to listen and not go down this route which will undoubtedly waste a lot of time and money on a proposal that is grossly flawed and open to legal challenge from the outset. It needs revising, so we are asking councillors to withdraw their support and let’s start again with a clean slate”.

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 video comes a week before campaigners will be staging a community protest on 21 February 2023 from 5.30pm to 7pm outside Ealing Town Hall against Labour-run Ealing Council and its leadership over its controversial decision for Warren Farm.

The presenters join with campaigners and supporters of Warren Farm who have raised concerns about what will happen to local wildlife following Ealing Council cabinet giving the go ahead to turn on rewilded land at Warren Farm which experts is dangerous to wildlife living there.

At the full cabinet meeting on 25 January 2023, all council cabinet members present supported the plans. One member, Genuinely affordable homes Councillor Lauren Wall was not at the meeting. The cabinet vote now paves the way for the council to launch a feasibility study for the provision of sports pitches.

More than 18,000 people have also now signed a petition for Warren Farm be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows.

Announcing the cabinet support, Ealing Council Leader Councillor Peter Mason tweeted: “Tonight, @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.”

Katie Boyles, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS) and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser, said following the Cabinet decision: “We are utterly dismayed with this decision. Ealing Council have chosen to destroy our wildflower meadow habitat that has had 14 years to rewild. A site with an astonishing array of vulnerable and rare species recorded thriving on it, verified by experts. The councillors who voted this through tonight have actively contributed to the extinction of Ealing’s only Skylarks and more.

“The RSPB who are supporting our campaign tell us Warren Farm Nature Reserve holds a quarter of London’s Skylark population – gone. Plants like our Copse Bindweed, a first record for Middlesex in over 300 years – gone. Hunting ground for our Barn Owls and Peregrine Falcons – gone. These are not the actions of a council that claims to care about the environment.

“The narrative being told by Deputy Leader and Climate Action cabinet member Deirdre Costigan was shockingly full of misleading information. Showing an aerial view photo quoting ‘This is what Warren Farm looks like today’ was a photo taken back in 2008. And to say that 62% of the combined site of Warren Farm and the adjoined Imperial College land will be ‘rewilded’ is simply not true. This cannot be called ‘the biggest rewilding project in London’ when Ealing councillors have just voted to destroy over half of an already rewilded site, in contravention of their own Biodiversity Action Plan.”

Ms Boyles also raised concerns over Council leader Councillor Peter Mason.  She said: “Peter Mason keeps calling it a ‘win win’ situation but in truth it is a ‘lose lose’ situation. The children of Ealing, and in particular Southall, Norwood Green and Hanwell, will not get to grow up hearing the song of Skylarks. They are having their environment actively de-wilded in a Climate and Ecological Emergency, in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Imperial College, we have been told, wish to off-set their carbon footprint and we are of course supportive that they wish to give their adjourning site Local Nature Reserve designation, as we put forward in our vision for a Nature Recovery Network – but they too cannot claim to be ‘rewilding’ if they allow the destruction of already rewilded neighbouring Warren Farm Nature Reserve.”

She added: “We urge Ealing Council to follow its own climate and biodiversity commitments and give Local Nature Reserve status to the entirety of Warren Farm Nature Reserve.”

Dr Parviz Dabir-Alai, Emeritus Professor of Economics and former Dean of Richmond Business School, also questioned the evidence behind the council’s claims. In a letter to his local councillor, Professor Dabir-Alai said:

I am afraid the issues addressed by Councillor Costigan left me somewhat bemused. For example, mentioning life expectancy of residents in Norwood Green and comparing that with what occurs in Northfield Ward is, at best, simplistic and at worst simply incorrect. It is not possible to provide a direct link between the installation of astroturf football pitches in one neighbourhood and life expectancy data there. Any such claim will need an extensive time series investigation covering a period of at least 20 years.”

Professor Dabir-Alai added: “Life expectancy data depend on a whole host of different key drivers, and the most significant of those will be income and the group’s wider socio-economic status. I feel that these issues are being ignored and an undue degree of importance is being placed on a single driver: provision of sports facilities.

RCS Trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign officer, Steven Toft said: “This decision was justified with some bizarre leaps of logic. Poor health outcomes and low life expectancy have complex causes, yet the council claimed that putting football pitches on Warren Farm would somehow mitigate the problem without really explaining how. The councillors also admitted that they had very low engagement from people in Southall, yet they have assumed that those same people want a sports development on Warren Farm. The council’s argument seems to be, ‘Whatever the question, the answer is football pitches on Warren Farm’.

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”.


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

Following the cabinet meeting, Ms Boyles said at the time:

“We are dismayed by this decision. Ealing Council have chosen to destroy our wildflower meadow habitat that has had 14 years to rewild. A site with an astonishing array of vulnerable and rare species recorded thriving on it, verified by experts. The councillors who voted this through tonight have actively contributed to the extinction of Ealing’s only Skylarks.

Skylarks on Warren Farm
Skylarks on Warren Farm

“We can do so much better than this. We will continue our campaign, with support from conservationists and wildlife organisations such as Kabir Kaul, Mathew Frith and The London Wildlife Trust, Liz Bonnin and Chris Packham, the RSPB, Ealing Wildlife Group, London National Park City and so many more who can see the true value of Warren Farm NR for our wildlife and community.

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.

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.

Residents and community groups were shocked by the plans which Ealing Council cabinet approved. Locals say it is “nothing to be proud of”.

In a tweet to Councillor Mason,  Dr Sean McCormack, founder and chair of Ealing Wildlife Group  said:  “A misleading, gaslighting disgrace. Nothing to be proud of. I’d like to ask a ‘democratic’ question. How does a Cabinet meeting work? Is everyone given a point to address? Does everyone have to tow the party line? I find it hard to believe you all had the exact same opinion!”

Dr Victoria Williams, (@vrw123) said in a tweet: “Why are Ealing Council so sure “young people” will be in favour of destroying Warren Farm? This is a generation that listens to Greta Thunberg…never have young people been so eco-aware.”

Felix Lowe, (@saddleblaze) tweeted: “Shame on you, Peter. Besides building on a nature reserve, stalling on bike hangers, failing to deliver protected bike lanes & giving cars free reign on residential streets across Ealing, what exactly are your self-proclaimed “huge ambitions on tacking the climate emergency”?

Residents and environmentalists have previously accused the council and its leader Councillor Peter Mason of “ecocide” and being “environmentally reckless” and “ecologically illiterate” with its plans which they say will destroy the environment including the loss of the borough’s only breeding Skylarks.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Gary Malcolm, Leader of the Opposition, said: “Liberal Democrats have called for the whole of Warren Farm to be designated as a local Nature Reserve. We are very concerned that the 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.”

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 campaign for Warren Farm to be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows continues. It already has over 18,000 signatories to the petition and people can support it by clicking here.

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