One of London’s newest nature reserves won’t live up to promises and delays threaten wildlife, argue campaigners

Residents and conservation groups have expressed concern that plans for the long-awaited Beddington Farmlands site will fall short of its initial promises. The site was initially proposed by the bio-waste company Viridor almost 20 years ago and intended to be a ‘91 hectare site in the Wandle Valley Regional Park comprising a mosaic of important habitats.’

While the revised plans from new owners Valencia do offer some public access and relative protection for endangered species, campaigners who have experienced previous consultations, believe these plans are delayed and inadequate. They expressed these concerns in a recent consultation on the revised plans for what could become one of London’s newest nature reserves.

In her official response to the proposals, Lysanne Horrox, Chair of the Hackbridge and Beddington Corner Neighbourhood Development Group (HBCND) said: “Due to ineffective management by Viridor and now Valencia and an inability for them to be held to account, the current plan for the restoration of Beddington Farmlands has failed to meet its objectives.”

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(Image: Peter Alfrey)

“This has resulted in large areas of still unrestored habitat, the loss of key wildlife species, and an undetermined commitment to the provision of public access. Valencia had the opportunity and legal obligations to deliver and manage all non-contested habitats by the end of 2023 but refused to do so.”

Biodiversity net gain was a particular focus for campaigners, who see the development of the site as an essential measure to safeguard endangered wildlife in the largely industrial area. Yet according to campaigners, delays and mismanagement have already led to the disappearance of species like tree sparrow, redshank, and yellow wagtail, which were all targets for protection in the proposals.

Horrox outlined the extent of biodiversity loss in the HBCND response, saying: “Sadly, almost all the key wildlife species in the original restoration management plan have been lost from the site and are unlikely to return. Lapwings are in danger of leaving due to a lack of habitat management, despite a public petition of 66,902 signatures and concerns raised in our letter of April 6, 2023.”

“Considering that there has been a significant loss of wildlife habitat since the original planning application was approved, we are interested in understanding how Valencia can substantiate its claim of there being an overall Biodiversity Net Gain as a result of this new plan, which we believe should be calculated against the original baseline.”

(Image: Peter Alfrey)

Local bird expert and conservation campaigner Peter Alfrey echoed these concerns. He told the local democracy reporting service (LDRS): “The proposals were teed up earlier this year as being worse than they presented. Although I think that is a strategy to manage expectations. I was quite pleased to see some of the wetland habits were still being proposed and part of the restoration.”

“The big amendment was that they are no longer going to create acid grassland, but that was known about for a long time anyway. The loss of the acid grassland means there will be a big reduction in the quality of the habitat.”

Alongside pressing biodiversity, campaigners also pointed to the level of public access to the farmlands are another concern. The farmlands are intended to be a fully accessible public nature reserve for the nearby Hackbridge and Beddington communities, but campaigners say the recent proposals suggest reduced accessibility.

In their response to the access question, HBCND stated: “Although the new plan does provide the DDA (disability discrimination act) compliant public access to Beddington Farmlands that we desired, it falls short on the benefits for the local community, with no commitment to resurface the whole of the north/south permissive path and a rejection of east/west route to the Beddington community, despite both footpaths being included in the original agreement. Currently, the condition of the permissive path is such that in wet weather sections of it are impassable.”

(Image: Harrison Galliven/LDRS)

These assessments follow a particular theme of dissatisfaction from campaigners who feel the owners of the site have purposefully delayed the development of the site. The project has previously seen revisions and even a change of owner from Viridor, who owns the nearby Beddington incinerator, to Valencia.

Alfrey, who has followed and campaigned on the project since its inception in 1996, told the LDRS of his dissatisfaction with the consultation process. He said: “Our primary concern is that we have seen this process so many times in the past.”

“We go to a revisioning exercise where planning applications are amended and there’s a new conservation management scheme, plan, and timeline. We went through all this five years ago. All of this was supposed to be completed by December 31, 2023, but what’s happening here is that the can has been kicked down the road, and we are just starting again.”

“They are now saying that in the first three quarters of this year, we are going to be dealing with consultation and planning issues and so no further work is going to be done on the restoration until that is done. It’s just endless procrastination and we don’t trust the process. I’m not sure anything’s going to happen.”

(Image: Peter Alfrey)

After releasing their revised proposals in mid-December with an online presentation, Valencia launched a month-long public consultation. However, according to the Wandle Valley Forum (WVF) and other campaigners, the consultation was poorly communicated and executed.

WVF member Tony Burton said: “The problems with the proposals are now exacerbated by the ludicrous decision to offer a minimal consultation period over the Christmas break and provide only limited information on the proposals.” Even the more detailed information provided to the Conservation Access Management Committee has not been made publicly available.”

Burton told the LDRS how the consultation process was littered with failings, especially during the public presentation. He noted the detail on the presentation slides was often blurred, and explained how members of the public were unable to ask questions during the online consultation because of the way the meeting was handled.

He also claimed to see newspaper advertisements for the online presentation being published after the event had taken place. Burton told the LDRS: “We believe the consultation approach offered to date entirely fails to ‘demonstrate early, proactive and effective engagement’ and so should not “be looked on more favourably.”

Following the consultation, which ended today (January 5), Sutton Council must now review the proposals and decide if more should be done. While some restoration, including the construction of a bird hide, has already taken place on the site, work is not expected to start in full until at least late 2024.

Valencia were approached for comment but failed to provide in time for publication.

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