Developer’s plan for A24 wildlife bridge dismissed as ‘greenwashing’

A developer’s proposal to build a £5 million ‘wildlife bridge’ over the A24 is being dismissed as ‘a cynical attempt at greenwashing.’

Wednesday, 5th May 2021, 9:33 am

Thakeham Homes - which wants to build 3,500 houses at Buck Barn, West Grinstead - announced plans for the bridge last week following public concerns over the effects on the world-renowned re-wilding project at the nearby Knepp Estate.

Isabella Tree who owns the estate with her husband Sir Charles Burrell, said that the developer’s claim that the bridge would be ‘the biggest single biodiversity project in the county’s history’ was “clearly nonsense - and we consider it insulting in light of the work we at Knepp and other conservation organisations across the county have been undertaking.”

She said Knepp had campaigned for land bridges to improve nature connectivity in the UK and would be in favour of carefully and strategically planned wildlife bridges connecting Knepp with other biodiversity hotspots.

Thakeham Homes' vision for a green bridge over the A24

“But we could not support one that would connect a nationally important rewilding area with a site filled with 3,500 houses, 7,000 cars, light and noise pollution, and domestic cats and dogs which would disturb and predate on any wildlife that may venture across it.”She added: “Anyone with even the most basic understanding of habitats knows wildlife corridors need to be well away from housing.”

And, she said: “Thakeham only came up with this plan in public in the last week. There is no consideration of the wider ecosystem that a green bridge requires in order to function.

“Not even the landowner where the bridge is proposed was aware of this plan. We are forced to conclude that this is a cynical attempt at ‘greenwashing’, a diversion technique which involves constructing a veneer of environmental respectability to hide the underlying permanent destruction of habitats and of our countryside.”

She said that inducing animals to move from high quality habitat into a relatively dangerous landscape created a phenomenon known as an ‘ecological trap’ whereby sensitive species fail to realise the dangers posed by the sub-optimal habitat they’re encouraged into.

She added that Thakeham Homes referred to the site as ‘just arable land. “Yet,” she said, “Horsham District Council’s own Wilder Horsham plan identifies the site as of ‘high nature value.’

“On old maps it was called ‘Heaven’ and to this day contains important ghyll woodlands, rich in ferns, mosses and other moisture loving plants, ancient woodland, species-dense hedgerows and scrub, and a dynamic and functioning floodplain.

“It is nesting habitat for endangered nightingales, cuckoos, yellowhammers and skylarks and a plethora of other birds.

“It is highly likely to be home to Bechstein’s and barbastelle bats, some of Europe’s rarest mammals. We have colonies of them at Knepp in exactly the same habitat.

“Bats will be using Buck Barn as a flyway, feeding on bounteous insect life over the floodplain, and in hedgerows and woodland margins, travelling between Knepp and other nesting sites.

“They are highly sensitive to disturbance. No amount of bat boxes provided by Thakeham Homes would mitigate the impact that housing, air pollution, noise and artificial light will have on this site for bats and other species.”

She urged local councillors to visit the site before finalising Horsham’s Local Plan.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that the current permeability of this land for birds, bats, insects and small mammals travelling from Knepp to other biodiversity hotspots will be decimated by the development, buried under hundreds of acres of concrete, bricks and tarmac.”

She said Horsham District Council “could - and should - be reclaiming its initiative to be at the forefront of something truly ground-breaking: a Nature Recovery Network that would establish, protect and sustain a living landscape for all inhabitants of the district through the 21st century and beyond, and an example for local councils nationwide to follow.”