Wildlife in a York nature reserve is being put at risk by plans to build a flood barrier, say experts.
A naturalist and a Green Party councillor have united to condemn the proposal by the Environment Agency, saying it would “mutilate” Rawcliffe Meadows.
The agency wrote to Dr Mick Phythian, of York Natural Environment Trust, outlining its intention to undertake hedgerow netting and/or hard pruning in a field on the site.
The agency also plans to remove an owl nesting box. This would be done in preparation for the building of a flood defence known as Clifton Barrier Bank.
But Dr Phythian believes the proposed actions to be illegal, and would be “using a sledgehammer in an ecologically sensitive area”.
The Environment Agency needs access to a cornfield on the reserve to create a flood defence to help protect 2,000 homes and businesses in Clifton, Rawcliffe and the city centre from flooding.
It plans to hard prune two 30m-long hedgerows to avoid disturbing nesting birds later in the construction works.
Hedgerow netting is controversial – a petition calling for it to become a criminal offence has more than 150,000 signatures.
But the Environment Agency told YorkMix that, in this case, they were not planning to use hedgerow nets despite it being mentioned in the letter.
The agency was due to enter the land on or after today (Wednesday, 27 March) to carry out the works. It claims to have the power to do this under the Environment Act 1995.
‘Rainforests of Britain’
But York Natural Environment Trust, which manages Rawcliffe Meadows, says the relevant planning application is still pending and not approved by City of York Council planners.
Dr Phythian said:
Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows have taken advice and believe the proposed actions to be unlawful as they are enabling works for a development requiring planning consent which has not yet been obtained and is by no means assured of receiving consent.
Due to the lack of detailed planning by the Environment Agency, they want to cover all eventualities, but that is using a sledgehammer in an ecologically sensitive area which has been managed and restored over many years.
York Green Party councillor Lars Kramm, who called in the planning application, said he was very concerned that “the Environment Agency creates a fait accompli with a complete lack of proportionality or necessity”, adding:
Hedgerows are very important for our domestic biodiversity.
They are bursting of life and are the rainforests of the British Isles and we should take care of them.
The Environment Agency response
“The work forms part of the £45m York Flood Alleviation Scheme, which will better protect 2,000 homes and businesses in Clifton, Rawcliffe and York city centre.
“We have liaised with Natural England, the City of York Council ecologist and members of Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows (FoRM) to inform them of our intentions.
“We have kept residents up-to-date of the work and we have issued a Notice of Entry to allow us to carry out this work. An ecologist will be present during the pruning to ensure that it is carried out to a high standard and follows environmental guidelines.
“We are also in the process of preparing a mitigation and management plan for the site. This would ensure that the rare meadow grassland species in Clifton Ings SSSI would either be moved to another location on the site before construction begins, or new habitat will be created by reseeding an area of meadow.
“We are working closely with the Floodplain Meadows Partnership and Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows to develop this document.”