Kennet Valley Park ? the real threat to a crucial Berkshire ornithological site

Kennet Valley Park ? the real threat to a crucial Berkshire ornithological site

Those of you who attended the exhibition at Calcot Hotel on 2nd, 3rd and 4th of July will know that Prudential and the consortium will be submitting their planning application by the end of this month. The area under development threat is roughly from south of the Kennet and Avon Canal to the motorway, land and lakes east of Moatlands and limited in the west by the Reading to Basingstoke railway line. Generally the area is what we know as Burghfield Gravel Pits including Searles Lane farm area but much more land and lakes are affected right from the Bottom Lane area in the west. This application follows the main approach of the previous proposal but more detail has been fleshed out including some relating to the protection of the ?meadows? area between Reading and the Kennet and Avon canal. I spent almost two hours in meetings with the Prudential?s ecological consultants discussing their work and ideas during the exhibition. There are two things we need to understand in particular:

The planning application and its merits or otherwise

While we probably all object to this application on ornithological or wildlife grounds, there are other aspects that may deserve concern. The proposal may have merit, given the need for housing in the area, particularly for young people, but if we support this point we need to be comfortable it is not ultimately developed as an exclusive waterside development aimed at providing premium price properties. We believe the Environment Agency is opposed to the development as it lies in the flood plain and while the Pru?s team have developed counter measures (mainly removing islands in and deepening Theale Main and developing high banks to retain deep water as a reservoir in times of flood) it is expected the EA?s opposition will lead to this arriving on the Environment Secretary?s desk for a decision after a Public Appeal Hearing.
Some sources suggest West Berks Council will also oppose the development, it is largely within their boundary, on the grounds that such a large scale development is not required under the plans for the Authority. Part of the development, closest to the railway line, mainly east of Cottage Lane, is Reading Borough Council land and will constitute the first phase. Martin Salter, Reading?s MP is opposed to the development while the EA opposes it.
Concern will be expressed about basic services, some have been addressed in the short term by the developers with schools and a station being planned but the long term cost of bus and transport systems, the impact on hospitals (the Royal Berks is hardly the most expandable hospital), water supplies, local roads etc have not been fully presented yet. A particular concern is the impact on Burghfield Road where the development proposal includes no upgrading of the bridge and while the aim is to divert traffic to other routes via existing motorway junctions and connections it seems likely this shortest route into Reading will be swamped.

Ornithology and wildlife

I have had meetings with BBOWT and am in dialogue with RSPB about the area. The key ornithological concern is the regionally important Nightingale population and the RSPB supports us on this aspect. The area is a Wildlife Heritage site designated by West Berks Council but this is not sufficient designation to offer strong protection on its own. Burghfield gravel pits contains Berkshire?s largest heronry and nationally important numbers of Gadwall in winter. Our arguments will be based on the breadth and density of birdlife in the area although the developers have a thorough and detailed Environmental Impact Assessment which contains a deal of detailed data. They propose to try some relocation of species by habitat creation which will have a positive impact, if successful but this is not a proven approach.
The ?meadows? will be developed in a trust and the aim would be to create wet areas and scrapes etc with banks and ditches to border them so wildlife can be protected from the influx of people. Whether this can work is open to conjecture and the details of the management and financial funding of the trust are still unclear. A reserve centre is catered for. The ROC has been offered input to this but at present we have other concerns to address including any impact on Hosehill Lake, whether the removal of the islands for terns will be addressed, the impact on Moatlands of the road across the south east corner, the affect of housing on the Field Farm infill site on this area, the impact on Bottom lane floods etc, etc.


These comments barely scratch the surface of the issues to be addressed. While the ROC will try to stay engaged we urge those who agree with our stance to object on whatever grounds they feel are important. We believe there is a case to object on the grounds of the irreparable damage to wildlife, especially birds, in the area.
If any members or birdwatchers feel they can help us in tackling the issues through their experience or are willing to offer time for meetings and to help fight the proposal please make your name known to us as soon as possible.

Colin Wilson –

10 July 2006