As part of Climate Action Newcastle’s Nature Conservation blog series, Rachel Locke from Save Newcastle Wildlife warns us of the threat of housing plans to our local ecosystems and shares her hopes for positive action.
Why does nature conservation matter to you?
Nature conservation is at the heart of everything we do. We want to see conservation of green space and nature embedded into all policies and practices in Newcastle. Biodiversity loss affects each and every one of us so real and immediate action is vital to halt the irreversible decline of important species and habitats.
Nature is not thriving in Newcastle. Just last year, the city lost its last breeding population of red squirrels from Havannah Nature Reserve. Now the last habitat for Brown Hare - in Newcastle Great Park - will be lost to a huge housing development. Both Havannah Nature Reserve and Gosforth Park Nature Reserve are threatened by housing estates and almost 3,000 houses are proposed for the outer west, at Callerton, which will drastically increase the likelihood of flooding around the Ouseburn and see further loss of wildlife habitat. None of this will resolve the affordability crisis. But it will fuel the biodiversity crisis. The default position to put profit and endless growth before people and planet must end.
As unprecedented numbers of unnecessary housing developments rip into Newcastle’s green fields, soils that support innumerable invertebrates and have taken years to form are devastated, trees and hedgerows are torn out and roads and car parks pave over the arable land that we should be using to grow local, healthy food. Grassland, soils, trees and hedgerows all store carbon and give us a cleaner, greener and healthier environment to live and work in. Now, more than ever, it’s vital to preserve all of this. But the broken promises of planners and developers; the diggers and scaffolding jutting blasphemously into increasingly bleak horizons and the continuing loss of Green Belt are all stark reminders of the lack of true commitment to nature conservation. The devastating losses in farmland birds, small mammals and invertebrates are testament to this.
Access to nature is essential for physical health and mental wellbeing. We owe it to ourselves - and the next generation - to look after our green space and wildlife; to fight the unjust systems that profit from exploiting nature. We all need to act locally, to make a difference globally.
Are there any particular changes you are involved in supporting or pleased to see happening this year?
We are pleased to see that the North East Community Forest has been given the green light and we very much hope that Newcastle will benefit from this in the coming months and years. But it’s important to remember that tree planting is not a panacea for all the ecological woes that have been - and are continuing to be - inflicted on Earth’s fragile ecosystems. After years of campaigning, we are pleased to finally see grass verges in the city being managed for nature and we look forward to seeing how the Council will engage with communities around this.
We are also looking forward to Newcastle City Council publishing its Green Infrastructure and Open Space Strategy as well as its new Biodiversity Action Plan. Of course, policies don’t always translate into practice: there is no point in having policies if they are just going to be ignored so we want to see a concerted effort to adhere to these policies, for the benefit of the city's wildlife and green space.
We will continue to call on the Freemen of Newcastle and Newcastle City Council to manage the Town Moor in a more ecologically sensitive manner and to work with other groups in the city, such as the Natural History Society of Northumbria and Wild West End to protect and enhance biodiversity and to raise public awareness around the need to protect our wildlife sites and nature reserves.
Save Newcastle Wildlife