The Undesignated Countryside

I’M WORRIED about my local patch of countryside. What’s there to worry about, you might ask;  the old railway marshalling yards at Healey Mills were featured on a BBC Natural World film as a superb example of butterfly habitat; the Strands and the Wyke made it into the national press as a unique wetland area (the first place in Britain that wild White Storks have nested after an absence of 600 years) and, crucially for biodiversity, these Calder Valley habitats are linked to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves at Stoneycliffe and Stocksmoor by Coxley Beck – the only stream in the area with a population of bullheads – and the much-loved woods of Coxley Valley.

Well that’s just how naturalists like myself, local people and the national media see it. This particular stretch of the Calder Valley is also a literary landscape; it features in the novels of the late Stan Barstow who was born in Horbury. Addingford Steps on the path down into the valley take on a symbolic significance in a couple of his novels where characters move from their everyday urban existence to an inkling of a new life with a deeper meaning. I think that’s what a patch of countryside on our doorstep does for a lot of us. It gives us somewhere to think, to forget our everyday concerns for an hour or so.

The valley was where I roamed with my friends as a child and where I set out with my sketchbook as an art student to draw plants, birds and animals.

So much for stories and inspiration; planners and politicians take a different view:

How a Planner might see the Calder Valley

There’s currently a major review of planning legislation in England. We need to get the country’s economy back on it’s feet so the suggestion is that any planning application that can be shown to promote sustainable development should be approved unless it has environmental implications.

But the habitats that I have described above don’t enjoy any special protection. In that sense, they have no special significance in planning legislation. On paper there would be no environmental implications; we’re not talking about a National Park or a Site of Special Scientific interest. None of these habitats, despite their national fame, is recognised as a Local Nature Reserve (not that they enjoy any special legal protection). Approval of applications would, presumably, be automatic.

In the south of England the most biodiverse nature reserve in the country is on brownfield land. At the Olympic site in London, efforts have been made to integrate meadows and watercourses into the design.

We can encourage biodiversity in planning but only if local people, who know the area best, are encouraged to contribute to the planning process. The presumption in favour of development would make it almost impossible to save habitats like these.

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