HUNDREDS of people gathered this week to protest about plans which could see 600 homes built next to a city nature reserve. James Littlewood, director of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, explains why they won’t give up the fight to save Gosforth’s wildlife.
GOSFORTH Nature Reserve is nationally important for its flora and fauna. It is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Newcastle’s most important wildlife area. It is unique in the city and cannot be replaced. Indeed there are few such important wildlife sites in the UK’s major cities and Newcastle should be proud of this natural asset, which is one of the country’s oldest nature reserves.
In the past 12 months, it has featured on the BBC’s Springwatch and is one of the reasons for Newcastle’s title of Greenest City.Whilst the proposed housing would not be built on the reserve itself, because this site is just 50 metres away it would have a devastating impact. Mammals, birds and insects that live in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve use a variety of habitats to find food at different times and this includes the land surrounding the reserve. The reserve alone cannot support them and they need this extra habitat in order to survive. If this land were to be built on, creatures such as badgers, roe deer and buzzards would disappear.
The reserve has to be connected to a wildlife corridor to enable long-term genetic diversity and survival. The corridor will be reduced by this development, and long-term viability put into question. Secondly, the housing would bring with it problems. Based on scientific studies and average pet ownership every year at least 370 mammals, 175 birds and 35 amphibians would be killed by domestic cats. This will happen every year, so in the first 10 years 6,000 animals will be killed. We know gardens provide refuge for grey squirrels who move into the reserve to out compete the red squirrel.
Finally this area is countryside that is well used and loved by locals who enjoy an escape from urban pressures.
We understand there could be a need to build some new homes on greenfield sites but these should be in places that do not have a damaging impact on important wildlife sites. It is hard to find a worse place on the outskirts of Newcastle and Gateshead to build houses than the site the council has chosen. People from all over have visited this area for decades and gain enormous pleasure from watching wildlife, enjoying nature and the outdoors and taking exercise.
Local people are rightly proud that they have such a fantastic wildlife site in a major city, close to their homes. They want to continue to enjoy this and ensure that future generations of Geordies can do the same. Many also feel that we have a duty to protect special places like this and their wildlife. People are outraged that the council could even consider damaging such an important and well-loved place. The upwelling of public support has been overwhelming. Ordinary people are so angered that they are offering to help in whatever way they can to stop these plans.
We will fight these plans until they are withdrawn. I don’t want to see people standing in front of bulldozers but I am sure that would happen if it came to it. We will be continuing to encourage people to give their views to Newcastle Council right up until the deadline on January 4.