By Ros Deer
Ros Deer is a resident of Harlow and a longstanding wildlife lover. She has been involved in the Save the Stort Campaign and has taken part in wildlife and bat surveys among other activities.
For at least a week I felt sick to the pit of my stomach when I learnt about the proposed Eastern Stort Crossing (second Stort crossing). As a longstanding wildlife lover, I could not comprehend how building a roundabout serving three roads (proposed Eastern Stort Crossing) on the Stort floodplain could ever be contemplated. Not only is the Stort valley floodplain an environmentally sensitive area on many counts, including two historic landfill sites and regularly flooded after heavy rain but, within a small area, the rich mosaic of habitats provide homes and food for an abundance of wildlife.
In comparison to other natural areas around Harlow, the Stort’s rich biodiversity (variety of wildlife) is far superior (and way ahead of your average farm field or mown lawn). Wet-grassland, marsh, swamp, ponds, streams and the magnificent trees lining River Walk (Riverway) all provide homes for numerous species of wildlife, including butterflies, moths, bees, beetles, fish, amphibians, birds (many of conservation concern), shy water shrews, and legally protected mammals, such as bats, water voles and otters adapted to a specific habitat. Removal of one plant species could result in the loss of an insect species and dependent on feeding on its leaves; such is the delicate ecology of this area.
Four local wildlife sites – Harlow’s Maymeads & Marshgate Springs and Hertfordshire’s Fiddlers Brook Marsh and Hollingson Meads – bear witness to the rich biodiversity here. Both Hertfordshire wildlife sites are intersected by the proposed road so likely to be seriously impoverished, if not destroyed. Harlow’s two wildlife sites, less than a kilometre from the proposed road crossing, are likely to be impacted too.
Developers argue that by ‘off-setting biodiversity damage’ by using the Biodiversity Net Gain 10% minimum metric (Environment Bill) means ecological and biodiversity damage can be assessed and mitigated or compensated for. Sounds good but mitigation and/or compensation results are unguaranteed. Biodiversity Impact Assessment and mitigation/compensation plans are an inexact science. Additionally, developers have a poor track record of fulfilling their obligations in off-setting biodiversity loss.
It can take years of careful management to establish new habitat before wildlife moves in. Some habitats are irreplaceable. Alongside Riverway, hundreds of trees in the wet-woodland, classified by UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) as Habitat of Principal Importance and extremely high value, are scheduled to be felled for construction access for the new road joining Riverway. These trees have stood for decades providing homes for wildlife and are irreplaceable. Surveys show bat ‘commuter routes’ from their Gilston/Eastwick roosts to their Stort foraging areas, are intersected by the proposed new roads. Despite mitigation measures, surveys conclude many bats will suffer road fatalities. Secretive water voles currently enjoying tranquillity, will be forced to find territories elsewhere.
Shockingly, the Natural History Museum Scientists’ Report (October 2021)
Analysis warns global biodiversity is below ‘safe limit’ ahead of COP 15 | Natural History Museum (nhm.ac.uk) shows Britain has lost bio-diversity almost more than any other Western European country and is the bottom 10% of the world’s countries. In the UK the balance between development and protecting biodiversity is tilted very much towards developers and urgently needs re-addressing. That is why I am fighting the proposed Eastern Stort Crossing.