Campaigners and supporters of Warren Farm 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.
The demo comes after last month’s controversial decision by Ealing Council cabinet giving the go ahead to turn as much as half of the land into a large sports facility.
The protest will take place before an Ealing Council Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting which has been called by the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Gary Malcolm. The committee, made up of backbench councillors, has the power to refer the decision back to the council’s cabinet for further discussion and gives an opportunity for councillors to cancel or delay any decision of the proposed development on the re-wilded meadow habitat.
More than 18,000 have also now signed a petition for Warren Farm be made Local Nature Reserve designation for the entire site and surrounding meadows.
Previously 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 and campaigners have said they will fight to save Warren Farm.
The council said at its cabinet meeting that one of the factors in its decision is in the interests of children in Southall. But a campaigning Southall group has hit back and says the council is misleading people and is not utilising sites more local to Southall residents than Warren Farm.
Angela Fonso, chair of the Clean Air For Southall and Hayes, explained why she will be supporting the protest: “What sickened me about the council’s cabinet meeting was the exploitation of children in Southall. For parents struggling to pay the bills, the last thing on their minds is to go to Warren Farm for sports. Within walking distance, we have sports facilities on Spencer Street and Southall Rec but these areas have been shamefully neglected. If the council is serious about reducing air pollution, surely it’s common sense that facilities should be on people’s doorsteps.”
Ms Fonso added: “We are fed up with councillors saying they know what people in Southall need when they persistently ignore what we say to them. We will be attending the Warren Farm Nature Reserve protest on 21st February and we are urging our supporters to come along. We wholly support the campaign to make all of Warren Farm a nature reserve. The council’s plan will de-wild the site. We need nature and we need space. This plan is total madness and it’s not what people want.”
Katie Boyles, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS) and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser, said: “Until now, we have not called any street demonstrations. We thought it only fair to give Ealing Council the benefit of the doubt to do the right thing after the conversations we have had with Leader, Peter Mason and Deputy Leader, Deirdre Costigan. We have shared with them expert evidence of why Warren Farm is such a unique and species-rich site and why our meadow, which has had 14 years to rewild, more than qualifies for full Local Nature Reserve designation. But sadly their decision to develop on half of Warren Farm, pushed through by cabinet councillors at a recent cabinet meeting, would be an irreversible act of environmental vandalism, so we now have no choice.”
Ms Boyles added: “This decision, if not thrown out, would destroy the breeding ground of a quarter of London’s Skylarks and see the extinction in London of Copse Bindweed, to name one plant species of importance growing here, with Warren Farm being the only site in London it grows. There is no such thing as losing just one species, it creates a domino effect of species loss. It’s absolutely vital, seeing as we live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and are in a Climate Emergency, that our wildlife is protected.
We are therefore asking our supporters to show the councillors how they feel about this unique re-wilded meadow and to voice their opposition to the de-wilding of half of it. Everyone of all ages is welcome to come join us for a peaceful and family-friendly demo on the 21 February, to lend their voice for the wildlife of Warren Farm Nature Reserve. If our Skylarks could protest, they would!”
BRCS Trustee Steven Toft added: “If the council is going to develop a site of such ecological importance it really needs to have a watertight case for doing so. This report did not make that case so it is only right that the decision should be challenged and subjected to scrutiny – which is what the Overview and Scrutiny panel is for. We will be bringing in experts to challenge this decision but we need to hear from everyone else too. If you don’t want this de-wilding plan to go ahead, please join us at the Town Hall.”
On 25 January 2023, following 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.”
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.
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.
“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 also 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 they say are is “nothing to be proud of” by ignoring what people have told the council.
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.”
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.”
Councillor Athena Zissimos, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for the Environment added: “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. We will continue to fight to save Warren Farm and the wildlife contained on the land.”
One supporter of the plans in a tweet response to Councillor Mason , Alex Crane (@AlexCrane33) said: “Now don’t let this get mired in endless consultation and listening exercises like with Gurnell leisure centre. Get on and deliver the sport and leisure facilities this borough needs, at pace”.
Ealing Green party chair Neil Reynolds told EALING.NEWS: “Tonight’s meeting was a depressing illustration of the Labour administration’s lack of commitment to the environment. These worryingly vague plans, constitute an attack on nature.”
Mark Eccleston (@MarkEccleston1) on Twitter said: “horrible and divisive debate tonight pitching a them vs us narrative… if you want to protect nature it logically follows you want to hold back poor kids – a cheap slur to distract from what’s going on. This is a slo-mo heist of an irreplaceable habitat. Lose lose ”
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 18,000 signatories to the petition and people can support it by clicking here.