The three-year battle to save West Thurrock Marshes from destruction suffered a massive set-back today, when the Court of Appeal judged that the decision to build on the site was lawful.
Wildlife charity Buglife took Thurrock Development Corporation to Court on the grounds that it had failed to protect the Marshes - rated as one of the three most important sites for endangered wildlife in the country with 17 protected species. The proposed warehouses and car parks will destroy up to 70% of the flower-rich habitat, home to many of these species including the Brown-banded carder bee. The case is the first legal test of recent biodiversity protection laws.
In their summing up the three judges agreed that, despite the Biodiversity Duty on Public Bodies making biodiversity the main consideration for the planning decision, the Development Corporation had failed to follow national biodiversity and planning policy. However, the judges concluded that the Corporation was entitled to rely on a letter from Natural England in which the Government conservation body withdrew their objection and mentioned that the development offered the 'possibility of a long term nature conservation gain for the area'.
"This is a disappointing decision which reveals the inadequacy of our current wildlife protection. What right do we have to ask other countries to protect their rainforests or coral reefs while we continue to destroy the most valuable habitats of our own endangered species?" says Matt Shardlow, Buglife Director. "The Government must act now to strengthen its biodiversity legislation and halt the worsening loss of wildlife".
The decision is also a setback for a flagship Government initiative which recently identified Thurrock Marshes as one of 22 new green parks for the UK's first 'eco-region'. The Thames Gateway Parklands scheme is the brainchild of Sir Terry Farrell, one of the world's foremost architects.
The Court of Appeal decision means that the charity Buglife now faces legal costs of £30,000.
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For more information please contact Matt Shardlow (07921 700151) or Jamie Roberts (07747 715820), or call the Buglife office on 01733 201210. Photos of the site and its wildlife are available.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. Buglife is the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates, and is passionately committed to saving Britain's rarest little animals, everything from bees to beetles, and spiders to snails. Today bugs are under threat as never before, and Buglife is working hard to secure a diverse and wildlife-rich planet for future generations. To find out more visitwww.buglife.org.uk
2. Buglife is today calling for the following measures to strengthen wildlife protection:
1) Strengthen the NERC Act Biodiversity Duty so that it is clearer that Public Bodies should take positive action to help halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
2) Extend the protection provided by SSSIs to embrace wildlife other than plants and birds.
3) Establish a specialist Environmental Court with expert judges and scientific support.
4) Revise the Wildlife and Countryside Act to provide better protection for the habitats of endangered species.
3. West Thurrock Marshes on the banks of the river Thames in south Essex is home to over 1,300 species of invertebrate, including 36 species in the Red Data Book, and seventeen of the Government's priority conservation species. Only Windsor Great Park and the internationally protected Dungeness shingles are known to support more rare and endangered species - and at just over 20 hectares West Thurrock Marshes is a fraction of their size.
4. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 placed a new duty on all public bodies to 'have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity'. The NERC biodiversity duty is due to be reviewed in 2009 to determine whether it is fit for purpose. In November 2008 a Parliamentary report concluded that the Government would fail to meet its international target to halt biodiversity loss by 2010, and questioned whether current policy and legislation is effective in tackling biodiversity loss.
5. The Thames Gateway Parklands Vision was launched by the Housing Minister and Sir Terry Farrell in October 2008. It outlines a vision 'to guide and support improvements to the environment and define Parklands' contribution to the UK's first 'eco-region' in the Thames Gateway'.
Conservation Projects Manager