Please tell Natural England you want the Swanscombe peninsula protected

The Swanscombe peninsula is home to an extraordinary array of plants and animals (pic Buglife)

The deadline for supporting the designation of the Swanscombe peninsula as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is Monday, July 12, 2021. Can you spare 10 minutes to tell Natural England you agree that this nationally important wildlife site should be protected?
The importance of the Swanscombe peninsula for nature was recognised by Natural England in March, when it notified this wildlife haven in north Kent as an SSSI. This means it is an area of particularly high interest for its wildlife and significance for our natural heritage. Although this legal protection took effect immediately, there is currently a consultation on this designation.
Will you help us make sure that one of the country’s most threatened wildlife sites receives the protection that it deserves by taking part in the online consultation and letting Natural England know that you want its SSSI designation to stay?
The consultation portal is currently live here, where you can find all of the information on the proposed SSSI, including the detailed analysis of its precious flora and fauna, together with a map of the proposed SSSI.
You can respond to the consultation online following the guidance below, but if you would rather, you can simply compose your own email, outlining your support for the SSSI designation and sending it to thamesestuary@naturalengland.org.uk. You can find guidance on what to say in our answer to question B6 below.
When you are ready to take part in the online consultation, make sure that you have five or 10 minutes free, then click on ‘Click here to submit an online response’ near the bottom of the page.
The first page asks you to say who you are and asks if you have any legal interests in the land or own any land in the SSSI. It is important that, even if you have been made aware of the consultation by any of Buglife, CPRE Kent, Kent Wildlife Trust or RSPB, you make it clear you are answering on behalf of yourself and not for an organisation in question A4.
The second page is for ‘Your views on the Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI notification’. Most of these questions simply require you to select ‘Yes’, as the text boxes are reserved for explaining any objections. However, the following should help guide you through this section easily:

B1. Do you accept the scientific rationale behind the notification of this site for its special interest?
Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank

B2. Do you agree that the boundary of the SSSI appropriately encompasses the features of special interest?
Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank

B3. Do you agree with the views about management?
Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank

B4. Do you agree that the operations requiring Natural England’s consent are appropriate?
Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank

B5. Do you have any additional evidence or further comments that you wish to submit in relation to the SSSI?
If you don’t have any additional information or thoughts that would further support the SSSI notification, please select ‘No’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank.
However, if you have any additional evidence such as your own survey data or observations of wildlife using Swanscombe peninsula, then select ‘Yes’ and either explain your evidence in the text box or choose to upload a file by selecting ‘Choose file’.

B6. Do you wish to submit a representation to the notification of Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI?
Please select ‘Yes, I support the notification’.
This is your opportunity to say clearly why you believe that the Swanscombe peninsula should be notified as an SSSI in your own words. Some ideas of what you can write are included below, but take any opportunity to personalise your response with your own views on the site and your own experiences of Swanscombe if you live locally.
Explain why you think that the notification is justified based on the important wildlife and habitats that the Swanscombe peninsula supports. This could include highlighting:
• The supporting information compiled by Natural England provides a detailed picture of the rich wildlife on the Swanscombe peninsula.
• The Swanscombe peninsula clearly meets the criteria for qualifying as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
• Swanscombe supports a unique complex of open mosaic habitat on previously developed land and estuarine habitats, including grasslands, scrub, wetlands, grazing marsh and saltmarsh.
• The nationally important assemblage of rare and threatened invertebrates, rich breeding bird assemblages and populations of nationally scarce vascular plants make it essential that the site is protected as an SSSI.
• Swanscombe peninsula is also a vital greenspace for the local community, a place where they can escape and reconnect with nature.
• Highlight your concerns that wildlife across the country is in catastrophic decline and that it is more important than ever to make sure that places like Swanscombe peninsula are protected for future generations and for perpetuity.

The third page is then simply answering if you are happy with the online consultation process – your chance to give feedback on the consultation itself.
The fourth page will then ask you to click ‘Submit Response’, which will then give Natural England permission to include and analyse your submission. You will then be emailed a copy of your final submission.
Thank you for your continued support for our efforts to Save Swanscombe. If you haven’t already done so, please sign and share our petition, which has already been signed by more than 24,300 people.

  • For more on the threat to the Swanscombe peninsula, click here

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Swanscombe wins SSSI designation… but there’s a four-month consultation to come

The peninsula hosts some wonderful natural habitat (pic Paul Buckley)

The Swanscombe peninsula – the area of north Kent being targeted for the building of the country’s largest theme park – has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
National England announced today (Thursday, March 11, 2021) that the peninsula’s “nationally important invertebrates, breeding birds, plants and geology” warranted such recognition.
The government advisory body said: “The 250 hectare site, alongside the Thames Estuary, forms a corridor of habitats connecting Ebbsfleet Valley with the southern shore of the River Thames between Dartford and Gravesend.
“The site has an incredible assortment of grassland, scrub, wetlands, grazing marsh and saltmarsh habitat in a relatively small area, providing ideal conditions for a unique variety of wildlife.
“The area is home to over 1,700 invertebrate species, which includes over a quarter of the UK’s water beetle species and more than 200 species that are considered of conservation importance. It is one of just two places in the UK where the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider is found.
“The rich and varied habitats on the peninsula also provide great conditions for breeding birds such as marsh harrier and bearded tit, and for nationally scarce plants threatened with extinction in Great Britain, such as the divided sedge and the slender hare’s ear.”
James Seymour, NE’s Sussex and Kent area manager, added: “The designation of Swanscombe Peninsula as an SSSI is great news for one of the richest known sites in England for invertebrates, ensuring essential refuge for many rare and threatened species that sadly are not able to thrive in the wider landscape.
“Right on the doorstep of some of our most densely populated towns and cities, this new SSSI will also offer wonderful opportunities for people to connect with nature via the England Coast Path.
“This area is living proof that some of our most important species can thrive hand in hand with businesses and transport infrastructure. Special places like this will form the vital backbone of a national nature recovery network.”
The new Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI includes the previously-designated Bakers Hole SSSI, which covers 6.9 hectares with geological and archaeological features.
The designation is undoubtedly good news, but this is only the start of the process, not the end, as there will now be a four-month consultation before potential SSSI confirmation. 
Natural England said: “As of 11 March 2021, the SSSI has been formally notified to landowners and occupiers and other interested parties.
“There will be a 4 month period in which anyone can make representations or object to the notification. If all objections are resolved or none are submitted, the designation will be confirmed. If there are unresolved objections the Natural England Board will hear all of these; they must then decide whether to confirm the designation (with or without reductions).
“If the notification is not confirmed within 9 months of the date of notification, the notification falls.”
And, in a clear reference to the proposed London Resort theme park, it said: “Natural England recognises that there is interest and consideration of potential development opportunities in the Swanscombe area.
“Designation of this site for its nationally important wildlife features is an important step towards ensuring that its environmental value is recognised and taken due account of in any future planning decisions.”
In January, the Planning Inspectorate accepted the application by London Resort Company Holdings for a Development Consent Order to build the London Resort theme park on the peninsula.

  • For more on this story, see here

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Lodge Hill: protected habitats owed to a nightingale…

Last night (4th September) Medway Council’s Planning Committee voted to approve the outline planning application for 5,000 homes at Lodge Hill.  This ex-MOD site had been identified in the last draft of the Medway Local Plan as a significant strategic location for around one-third of all Medway’s identified housing needs to 2026.  While this site was technically designated as brownfield in 2007, it has more recently been identified as one of the most important breeding sites for nightingales in the country; as a result of this, Natural England recognised its significance in 2013 by designating it a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)*.

This important designation was one of the significant reasons that the Inspector charged with testing the Medway Local Plan in 2013 advised that the Plan was sufficiently flawed that it should be abandoned; she wrote “… I am not convinced that the social and economic benefits … would outweigh the harm to a site of national importance.”  She went on to state that the modifications that would be needed to prevent damage to the SSSI were “…so significant as to amount to the Plan being re-written”.

This makes Medway Council’s resolution to grant planning permission seem all the more bizarre.  If the selection of this site as a major centre for Medway’s future development is sufficiently ill-advised as to make the whole of Medway’s Local Plan ‘unsound’, then the validity of the resolution to grant planning permission must also be somewhat shaky.

Let’s hope that the Secretary of State will give this decision the scrutiny it deserves. The National Planning Policy Framework makes it clear that in exceptional circumstances, the need for development might outweigh the importance of an SSSI or other important habitat.  In this case, the independent Inspector made it equally clear that it does not.  Let’s further hope that our National Planning Policy Framework lives up to its name this time.

HN

*Natural England describes SSSIs thus: “…the country’s very best wildlife and/or geological sites. SSSIs include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats: wetlands teeming with wading birds, winding chalk rivers, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland peat bogs.”