Trust fears for future of wildlife at city nature reserve

Plans for 217 homes pose a major threat to a city’s nature reserve that marks its 90th anniversary, wildlife campaigners’ claim.
Great spotted woodpecker - Bob Coyle

Great spotted woodpecker. Image by: Bob Coyle.

Land at the kilometre-square Gosforth Park nature reserve in Newcastle is part of a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and is described by the Natural History Society of Northumbria as a “tranquil oasis in the city”.

The reserve, with its lake, woodland and extensive reed beds has been managed by the society since 1929.

Persimmon Homes has submitted a new application to build 217 homes at Salters Lane on the border of North Tyneside and Newcastle, opposite the nature reserve on land designated for employment use at Gosforth Business Park.

More than 1,740 objections have been received to date by North Tyneside Council, with whom the planning bid is lodged. These objections have been lodged against the current application and a previous bid in 2016.

The reserve is home to legally protected wildlife such as red squirrel, badger and otter and is of great importance for birds being one of the few locations in the North East with a regular winter bittern population.

The building proposal is seen by Natural History Society members as a major threat to what is one of the region’s oldest nature reserves and local people are hugely angered and frustrated that Persimmon is putting this proposal forward on land that North Tyneside Council has earmarked for employment.

In recent years, managers of the reserve have had to cope with increasing urbanisation, which has led to incidents of trespass, and vandalism, which put fragile reedbed and woodland habitats at risk, fires and the impact of cats and dogs. It is feared that 217 nearby house will worsen the situation. It is estimated that the development will mean 460 residents and 68 dogs.

Speaking about the proposed development, Mike Pratt, Northumberland Wildlife Trust Chief Executive said: “Gosforth Park is of national  significance as it has a uniquely impressive range and  quality of species, including many protected  and threatened species within its 1km square area so very close to urban Newcastle and North Tyneside. That it has survived as such a wildlife gem with all this intact is itself a natural miracle and it is especially important it remains properly protected and has adequate buffer zones as now, around it from any new development."

Mike continued: “Persimmons’ proposed development is simply too close and will impact in many ways and undermine its integrity and the  sensitive species it supports, as well as spoiling the enjoyment of thousands of people over the years who continue to enjoy what can be experienced there.”

Since the first proposal, Persimmon has commissioned an ecological report, which concluded that the proposed development would have not detrimental impact on the quality of the site, despite the reserve lying within the designated Newcastle Strategic Wildlife Corridor.

The society is objecting on the following grounds:

  • The proposed development is contrary to North Tyneside Council’s adopted Local Plan which designates the land for employment use.
  • The application does not provide suitable access to public green space. Increased trespass on to the nature reserve and surrounding private land, particularly from dog walkers, will disturb biodiversity. Protected species will be threatened, and vulnerable habitats degraded.
  • Residential properties will bring cats and dogs to the site. Predation of birds and small mammals in the SSSI will be detrimental.
  • A detrimental effect to the SSSI is contrary to the council’s adopted policies to protect biodiversity.
  • The proposed application poses a clear threat to strategic wildlife corridors.

The reserve has hides and boardwalks, which enable visitors to view waterfowl, waders and reed bed birds, and trails to see a wide range of woodland birds, mammals and flowers.

Wetland species include bittern, kingfisher, water rail, reed warbler, grasshopper warbler, reed bunting, common tern, grey heron, wigeon, shoveler, teal, pochard, snipe, grey wagtail and little grebe. There are spectacular roosts of large flocks of starling, swallow and jackdaw.

Woodland species include green and great spotted woodpeckers, tawny owl, buzzard, sparrowhawk, nuthatch, jay, treecreeper, woodcock, siskin and garden warbler.

There are seven species of bat and England’s second largest colony of coral-root orchid, plus northern marsh and common spotted orchid, species of beetle, bee and moth which are nationally and regionally rare, and in summer nine species of butterfly.

Mike Pratt concluded: “It is incredibly impressive to have a reserve with otter, red squirrel, bittern, great crested newt and many other bird species such as tawny owl and woodpeckers and flocks of once common, but declining, birds like starling and jackdaw, regularly in residence and in view.  The reserve represents the sharp and vital end to a whole wildlife network and needs to be respected and strongly protected into the future. This development should therefore not be countenanced.”

A spokesperson for Persimmon Homes said: “In August 2016 Persimmon Homes submitted an application to construct 217 homes, all of which would be classed as affordable only under the Government guidance Starter Homes Exception sites (Starter Home Scheme).

“As part of that submission, and as a responsible construction firm, Persimmon Homes has undertaken a full ecological survey and has met the managers of the Gosforth SSSI and proposed a detailed set of mitigation.

“The proposed development site falls within the boundaries of an area allocated in the local plan as suitable for employment, as well as part of the site already having outline approval. Further uses were approved for leisure in 2015 which, unfortunately, have not progressed.”

The application can be viewed at https://idoxpublicaccess.northtyneside.gov.uk (search for 16/01394/FUL). Comments are still open and currently there is no date yet for the application to be considered by the planning committee.