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LISTENING PAYS OFF

 

Local Action – Dudley MBC, an update.

Being a member of the Primary School’s PTA had its advantages. We made some great friends, some even had an interest in Lepidoptera. But there was only one who also knew about the internal decision-making process of a local council. I only found this out when we were having a pint after taking him to one of Trevor Bucknall’s winter conservation events. He still wishes to remain anonymous since he is still employed by a council, but he is a leading national figure. You have probably seen him on BBC Midlands Today. I asked him to write an article for the newsletter, it appeared in Issue 46 entitled ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Scythe?’ that told us what to do.

Since then you have had the dubious pleasure of reading some of my articles suggesting you get involved with local authorities. Back in January 2000, at the age of 50, I wrote my first ever letter to a council objecting to Walsall’s proposed development at Anchor Meadow along with 50 others who responded to my plea to do the same. Peter Newell had recorded a Dingy Skipper colony by disused railway sidings for the Millennium Atlas project and commented to David Jackson, the local co-ordinator, that it was a shame there was a proposed development. The council did not know what had hit them when the letters arrived and to their credit they reacted positively as eventually did Bryant Homes.

It was clear to me that the real message was that local people, preferably ratepayers, really can make a difference by expressing themselves. In Dudley MBC, where I live, the following has happened over the last 18 months.

Achievements

Joined the council LA21 committee who asked me after their Countryside Department helped us record for the Millennium Atlas. Agreed an Action Plan for biodiversity in the Borough that I presented at the official launch. The Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) for Birmingham & The Black Country was fully endorsed. This is important since our own Regional Action Plan is well reflected in the LBAP, given the mentions of Dingy Skipper & Green Hairstreak as protected species.

Put an official objection to the proposed 10 year future development plan (UDP) since the first draft made little reference to nature conservation nor the LBAP. Also sent an information pack to key decision-makers which stated BC’s position and backed it up by including the excellent publication ‘The State of Britain’s Butterflies’. The council has recently announced their final changes to the UDP which take full account of wildlife, not just in the Nature Conservation area but also in the Building Design section. This alteration is potentially of major significance since we have influenced policy rather than just objected to a specific development. You can access details from the website www.dudley.gov.uk/planning -  click UDP, then click Revised Deposit, now go to pages 24 & 25 "Nature Conservation" and page 11 "Design & Development".

Current Activity

A by-pass continuation is proposed that goes through Linear Open Space in a corridor that supports Dingy Skipper & Green Hairstreak. The Branch is objecting to this proposal through a formal approach to an independent government Inspector. Our case has been strengthened by over 30% of members living in the borough writing to the Chief Planner. I thank you for taking the trouble. We should know the outcome by summer but please attend the recording work parties we are conducting in this corridor, along with other nature groups this spring.

A Dingy Skipper colony was identified last year on a brownfield site just east of Pensnett Trading Estate and the Planning Department were immediately informed. They are currently looking to see how a potential commercial development can be planned around the continued existence of the colony.

Future Involvement

A formal ‘Proof of Evidence’ document was submitted to the Inspector regarding the planning consent at Hawne Colliery by Halesowen (see "In the News" article Wildlife haven on track list). I will be at the hearing on 13th February. The developer, Barratt Homes, is currently conducting an Environment Impact Assessment but this has not stopped the council conducting an independent survey that has recently confirmed the site’s wildlife potential across all taxa. We already know this through David White conducting a butterfly transect, whilst its regional significance is confirmed with reference to all our recent recording efforts for the Millennium Atlas. Our case is so much stronger since it is based on fact; it took me 10 seconds to convince BBC Midlands Today they should do an article. I hope you saw the item.

The council is looking to plant a ‘wildlife’ hedge around the perimeter of the prestigious Mary Stevens Park as part of the LA21 Plan. We are recommending they also consider a wildlife friendly hedgerow margin. In all 20 species of butterfly, including the White letter Hairstreak plus many moths, should be attracted to what is currently a green desert. The Education Department is also considering involving schools by recording what happens as part of the curriculum.

Conclusion

Space constraints have prevented mentioning other initiatives but I trust you have a positive picture of a  ‘can-do’ culture that is developing in the borough. At the start a leading councillor stated "you wildlife people always tell us what we can’t do". I was mortified since we will never win the case for biodiversity if that is the impression we give. BC members in the borough have tried to disprove it by making the point that ‘commerce and conservation’ can be successful bedfellows. These days local politicians of all political persuasions are talking about corridors for commerce, people and now wildlife.

 

Any chance you can do something similar in your home patch? I would certainly like someone to pick up the cudgel and prove ‘agriculture and conservation can be successful bedfellows.’ Who’s up for the challenge?

Richard Southwell