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Wildlife trust to object to NDR Western Link amid fears for bats, rivers and trees

PUBLISHED: 06:00 02 September 2020 | UPDATED: 09:19 02 September 2020

The route of the proposed Western Link. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

The route of the proposed Western Link. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Norfolk County Council

A wildlife trust has announced that it intends to “strongly object” to plans for the Western Link and has written to the government to raise concerns over “unacceptable” impacts on wildlife.

Pamela Abbott, chief executive of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Picture: Steve AdamsPamela Abbott, chief executive of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Picture: Steve Adams

Norfolk County Council wants to build the controversial £153m road to connect the Norwich Northern Distributor Road from the A1067 to the A47 near Easton.

But Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) fears the chosen route, which would travel between Weston Longville and Ringland and include a 720-metre-long viaduct over the River Wensum, would be likely to result in the complete loss of a Special Area of Conservation calibre breeding colony of barbastelle bats.

Those bats, listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are protected by law from disturbance and destruction under the Wildlife & Countryside Act and the Habitats Regulations, the trust says.

And they say further likely losses are areas of woodland likely to qualify as ancient woodland and permanent damage to two chalk rivers.

Barbastelle bat found in woodlands which would be destroyed by the proposed Norwich Western Link. Photo credit: C. PackmanBarbastelle bat found in woodlands which would be destroyed by the proposed Norwich Western Link. Photo credit: C. Packman

Mike Jones, conservation officer at the trust, said: “Based on the evidence available, we consider that the proposal would result in the loss of significant and irreplaceable ecological features of national importance for which mitigation and compensation are not feasible.

“We cannot envisage how it would be possible to proceed with the road and comply with wildlife laws and planning policies, nor provide a net gain for biodiversity as stated by Norfolk County Council.

“As a result, NWT intends to strongly object to the planning application.”

The trust’s chief executive Pamela Abbott said: “We have written to the Department for Transport to urge the Western Link is removed from further consideration.

The Western Link would cut through woodland near Ringland. Pic: Iain Robinson.The Western Link would cut through woodland near Ringland. Pic: Iain Robinson.

“Our recommendation is that the road proposal is stopped at this point. Alternative options for meeting future transport needs that do not contravene multiple wildlife laws must be examined further.”

Martin Wilby, Norfolk County Council’s cabinet member for highways and infrastructure said: “The Norwich Western Link is an important project for Norfolk and Norwich and will provide essential infrastructure for our county’s future.

“We have seen the concerns raised by the trust and we will continue to work with them and other environmental groups throughout this project.

“We hope that the trust will review their current position when we submit our planning application in 2021.

“This will demonstrate that we are delivering a solution in the most environmentally considerate way possible, while taking into account the impact that existing traffic has on local communities and the surrounding environment.

“The traffic relief will also improve the viability of alternative transport methods in those areas, either through walking and cycling or public transport.

“It is still very early in the development of the project and there is a significant amount of work still to do in finalising the details of the scheme and the mitigation measures.

“Further details will be developed in advance of a more detailed consultation on the project during 2021.”

What are the trust’s specific concerns?

Bats

The trust says there is a “very real risk” that the road would lead to the local extinction of multiple bat colonies, which would be a clear breach of the Habitats Regulations and the Wildlife & Countryside Act.

That includes the endangered barbastelle colony at Weston, which is likely to be of international significance due to its current size.

The barbastelle bat is listed as near threatened on the red list.

The trust says: “We would not consider any assessment of the impacts on a narrow 75 metre corridor around the road, as indicated in the interim survey reports, to provide sufficient information to inform the full scale of the impact on the colony and its core sustenance zone.”

Ancient woodland

Several of the woodlands in the surrounding landscape are included in the Ancient Woodland Inventory and the trust says there is therefore a risk that there are further areas of ancient woodland directly on the route or its zone of influence.

They said: “Ancient woodland is a rare and irreplaceable habitat and the full extent of ancient woodland habitat on the route and its zone of influence should be identified through detailed Phase 2 botanical surveys in order to properly assess the risk to this irreplaceable priority habitat.”

Chalk rivers and their floodplains

The UK holds a significant proportion of the world’s chalk rivers, and so holds a key responsibility for their conservation.

The trust says the Western Link would require crossing the River Wensum Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and would also result in the loss of County Wildlife Site floodplain habitats which are linked to the health of the SAC.

The trust says: “Whilst the focus appears to be on ensuring that adverse effects on the SAC are avoided, it is not clear from the information provided if the habitat loss, hydrological and pollution impacts on the supporting floodplain habitats adjacent to the SAC have been considered in assessing the long term impacts on the SAC.

“We also consider the River Tud on the southern edge of the proposal to be of equal ecological value to the River Wensum.

“Whilst it is not designated as an SAC, and only partially designated as a County Wildlife Site, we believe it is of equal ecological value, and potentially of Site of Special Scientific Interest quality.

“It is also likely to suffer from in-combination effects from the A47 upgrades necessary to join to the Western Link, with cumulative impacts on habitat quality and its hydrology.

“In addition, the Western Link would need to cross a tributary of the Tud below Foxburrow Plantation, with likely additional hydrological impacts on the flow and water quality of the Tud.”


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