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Warren Farm campaigners question Ealing Council on when it will carry out habitat survey

With more than 20,000 people signing the Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign calling for the entire site to be given Local Nature Reserve status, campaigners are also calling on Labour-run Ealing Council to carry out a full habitat survey before going any further with its plans to develop part of Warren Farm Nature Reserve.

In a statement, the Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaigners say “it is crucial that this is done before Ealing Council appoints a development partner.”

During a heated Ealing Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee (OSC) meeting last month (21 February 2023) and after hearing evidence from ecological and wildlife experts Dr Mark A Spencer, of the London Natural History Society, and Dr Sean McCormack, founder of the Ealing Wildlife Group, Ealing Council said they would be doing a habitat survey.

The Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign has written to council leader Peter Mason asking him to carry out a Phase 1 Habitat Survey, using the London Open Spaces Survey methodology, as recommended by Dr Spencer.

The Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign had also previously written to all Ealing councillors including the majority Labour which supported the proposal as well as Ealing Liberal Democrats and Ealing Conservatives who have both opposed the plans to build a large sports facility 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”.

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 council said in its cabinet report The Future of Warren Farm Sports Ground that it would advertise for bids from potential development partners in March 2023.

The campaigners claim that doing so would be premature. During the OSC meeting, Dr Spencer and Dr McCormack explained that the council’s proposals risked falling foul of both national and London-wide policies.

Dr Spencer said: “Ealing Council has a lot of work to do before it can even consider putting together a development proposal. It is essential for the council to have a record of what is present on Warren Farm Nature Reserve now, as baseline data, before it goes any further. It will need this information before it approaches Natural England. To show the mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain all developments will need after November 2023, will require more extensive surveys.”

Dr Spencer added: “So far, the council has been unable to show that it has this information. Determining the current state of Warren Farm’s established neutral and acid grassland habitat and the abundance of common, rare and vulnerable species it contains, is essential prior to the commencement of any development proposals. It seems somewhat premature to advertise for a Development Partner before carrying out this survey.”

Katie Boyles, Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS) trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser said: “The fact that the councillors on the OSC called for a full habitat survey shows that they understood the evidence being put forward by our expert witnesses and the potential risks involved in proceeding with the development of Warren Farm Nature Reserve without having a detailed record of the meadow’s wildlife.”

Ms Boyles added: “Ealing Council could cause significant species extinctions of some of our most vulnerable plants and animals if it goes ahead with this proposal. It is reckless to be entering into a commercial relationship with a Development Partner without undertaking the Phase 1 Habitat Survey or acknowledging the species records held in the Greenspace Information Centre for Greater London (GiGL).”

BRCS Trustee Steven Toft added: “The council’s proposal to develop the site appears to run counter to national, GLA and the council’s own policies. Without a habitat assessment, the council has no idea of the ecological damage this development might do. This is about good governance as much as anything else. It seems very risky to fly into a major proposal such as this without getting the full picture. We have therefore offered our wildlife expertise and assistance. We strongly urge the council to implement the OSC’s recommendation and carry out the independent habitat survey as soon as possible.”

Before the OSC meeting on 21 February, campaigners warned Ealing Council that its proposed development on Warren Farm would not achieve the “mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain” of 10 percent being imposed by the government from November 2023. It would also fall short of the GLA’s objectives as laid out in the London Plan and the London Environment Strategy, which also call for Biodiversity Net Gain and require new developments to include new wildlife habitats.

Neil Reynolds, chair of Ealing Greens told EALING.NEWS: “The evidence is already clear, the council should drop its plans and make Warren Farm a nature reserve now, all of it. If Ealing Labour are insistent on spending £50,000 to be told what they already know then it should be done prior to any other aspect of a feasibility study. It is unfair on any future partner to spend time and money on this only to discover the council has decided not to listen to experts on the real value of this site.”

An Ealing Council spokesperson told EALING.NEWS: “The council will be making further announcements on its vision for Warren Farm in the coming months and is continuing to work with local groups and community stakeholders as we work to make this a reality.”

They added: “As outlined both in the cabinet report, and the subsequent briefing to and discussion at Overview and Scrutiny Committee, an Ecological Survey will be a required component of any future planning application for material changes to the existing use at Warren Farm Sports Ground, to determine both potential risks to ecological impact, as well as any proposed mitigations.”

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