18th November 2013
The Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
17 Smith Square
Dear Mr Paterson
We would like to draw your attention to a current situation here in Saddleworth, where Oldham Council are ignoring their duty to conserve biodiversity in England, under Section 40 (S40) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.
Oldham Council have proposed a new development to move Saddleworth School from its site in Uppermill to an undeveloped site in Diggle, that is part Green Belt, part greenfield land and which also contains a river environment in the middle of it. This development is part of the Priority Schools Building Programme with the Department of Education and the Education Funding Agency (EFA). Please see the attached proposal plans.
It is well known locally that Northern Lapwings regularly ground nest on the Green Belt area between the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and Diggle Brook every year. They successfully rear chicks in this area and feed in the marshy green field in the front of the Loom Works, during their breeding season, from March to July.
The proposed new School at Diggle will decimate the Lapwingsí nesting site. The proposal is to terrace the sloping bank and develop two all-weather flood-lit football pitches on this Green Belt area. Their marshy feeding ground will be equally decimated by the development of the new School, car parks and bus turning circle.
As you already know, the Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) is a "Species of Principal Importance" under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 and the site proposed to be developed also contains two "Habitats of Principal Importance" - River and Floodplain grazing marsh.
As part of the National Planning Policy Framework (March 2012), Oldham Council must "promote the preservation, restoration and re-creation of priority habitats, ecological networks and the protection and recovery of priority species populations, linked to national and local targets, and identify suitable indicators for monitoring biodiversity in the plan."
Due to the concerns by the Government over the future of Northern Lapwings, both this Green Belt and the greenfield land should be protected from any development, in order to preserve such an important habitat for a species whose population is under threat.
The UK's National conservation of Northern Lapwings would be an integral part of Oldham Council's own Biodiversity Action Plan, so any development on this site would go against their own biodiversity conservation policy, but they seemed to have overlooked this.
How can we stand by and see a successful Northern Lapwing breeding area be bulldozed, especially when the local resident action group has come up with proposals to build on the existing Saddleworth School site, as a viable alternative.
The residents have both the backing of the Saddleworth Parish Council and the Diggle Community Association, to not go ahead with this development on the Diggle site, but we fear that Oldham Council is not listening and will plough on regardless.
We are told that there is not much time to stop this development. That the deal is weeks, if not days, away from being signed off for the Diggle site. We are told that this is due to the EFA's deadlines.
We urge you to contact your colleague, the Rt Hon David Laws MP, Minister of State for Schools, the Education Funding Agency, Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth and Councillor Jim McMahon, Leader of Oldham Council.
Please make all parties aware that they have a duty to protect the Northern Lapwing and its irreplaceable habitat here in Diggle, under Section 40 (S40) of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006 and that the proposed development of this site should be halted immediately.
We would also propose that any future development of this site should be rejected and that the greenfield area (marked B.1.1.28 in Oldham Councilís Local Plan) should obviously be re-designated as a locally designated site of importance for biodiversity, such as a Local Wildlife Site, and re-zoned as such on the Local Plan by Oldham Council.
The Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Science
The Rt Hon David Laws MP, Minister of State for Schools
Jane Brighouse, Education Funding Agency
Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth
Councillor Jim McMahon, Leader of Oldham Council
Councillor Graham Sheldon, Chairman of Saddleworth Parish Council
Matthew Milburn, Head Teacher, Saddleworth School
Councillor Mike Buckley, Save Diggle Action Group
25th November 2013
Mr Derek Richardson MIEEM
Greater Manchester Ecology Unit
Ashton under Lyne
Dear Mr Richardson
RE: Selection of a new Site of Biological Importance in Diggle
We are writing to request that an area of land, well known locally, as an important breeding habitat for the Northern Lapwing in Diggle, be selected as a new Site of Biological Importance.
This site needs URGENT consideration, as its nature conservation interests are currently under imminent threat. Oldham Council wishes to build a new Saddleworth School for 1500 pupils on the Lapwing's feeding area (fields marked B & C on attached map) and flood lit all-weather playing fields on their ground nesting area (field marked D), with no regard to the devastation it will have on this important wildlife habitat.
As you know the Northern Lapwing is currently a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, as well as a Species of Principal Importance under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
The proposed site contains the two green fields in front of the Loom Works (previously known as W H Shaw and Sons Pallet Works) on Huddersfield Road in Diggle, together with the adjoining Green Belt fields which connect Huddersfield Road to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and continuing down, travelling parallel to the canal towpath. It also contains a water course, Diggle Brook, running through and around the site, which adds to its wildlife diversity. Most of the site is currently owned by WRT Developments Ltd, who owns the Loom Works, but some land further down the valley may be owned by the owners of Wool Road Farm. (See attached map).
This proposed area is adjacent to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, which is already designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Site of Biological Importance (Grade A) and is on the perimeter of the South Pennines Special Area of Conservation, which enjoys high level protection under the European Habitats Directive. Although the proposed fields are not actually within the zone, the border is perhaps a mile further up the hillside toward Broadstone Hill. This proposed site will contribute greatly to the maintenance of the biodiversity in both these areas.
The proposed fields are all within a floodplain grazing marsh, with a river running through it, which are both currently Habitats of Principal Importance under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006.
Most of the land is Green Belt (fields marked C, D & E), but the two green fields in front of the Loom Works (fields marked A & B) are currently zoned for Business (B1.1.28 on Oldham Councilís Local Plan), but it is vital that these fields are protected from any form of development, because of their irreplaceable ecological significance.
These fields have always been used for animal grazing. When the Dobcross Loom Works opened in 1861, the fields surrounding it were used for grazing the horses that worked at the factory. With the advent of steam locomotives and motor vehicles, the horses were no longer required, so the land was then leased to the neighbouring farm to graze their livestock. This has continued ever since. In recent years the farm has changed from rearing cattle to stabling horses, but still leases the land to graze the horses and produce hay. It is vital that this grazing management of the area is continued, in order to maintain the balance of this habitat in its present state.
The Lapwings have been recorded breeding in this area by observations from the canal towpath and neighbouring residences on Huddersfield Road for many years. We ourselves, having lived across from the site for the last 27 years, have also observed these beautiful birds feeding in the field opposite (field marked B) and observed them ground nesting in the fields by the side of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.
Attached is a copy of a local breeding bird survey that was conducted by a local resident. He was not specifically looking for Lapwings, but observed these results in the proposed fields whilst on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal towpath.
There was a full survey of nesting Lapwings across Diggle, Castleshaw and Uppermill in 2007, as part of the RSPB's Peak District Lapwing and Wader Survey. The three fields (the two adjoining Huddersfield Road in front of the Loom Works (fields marked A & B), as well as the one adjoining the canal tow path (field marked D)) constituted the most important site within the survey boundary of 9 square kilometres, with 9 pairs (18 adults) nesting and a total of 13 chicks counted on the final visit. Lapwings used all three fields.
A neighbour who worked on this survey in 2007 has, in subsequent years, seen at least four nesting pairs, each year, in the large field adjoining the canal (field marked D), where Oldham Council proposes the playing fields for the new school to be sited.
In addition, the South Manchester Ringing Group have occasionally ringed chicks and submitted records to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) ringing scheme. Hence, there is substantial evidence of long-term use of these fields by nesting Lapwings.
The management of this flood plain grazing marsh, by the grazing of livestock has produced the perfect place for Lapwings to breed.
The ground nesting area is perfect for the Lapwings (fields marked D & E). It is an open habitat, away from predator perches and is regularly choose by them year after year.
The marshy brood rearing and feeding areas close by (fields marked A, B & C), appear to contain rich invertebrate species, to sustain both themselves and their chicks.
This wildlife area is accessible to the public, by the use of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal towpath, which runs along the eastern boundary, to allow the public to look down on their nesting sites and via a public footpath that runs through the site, from Huddersfield Road, over Diggle Brook and then connects to the canal towpath. The public can also watch the birds in the marshy fields directly from Huddersfield Road.
As well as this area being such an important breeding site for the Lapwing, it also plays a major role for other species. Wood Pigeons, Jackdaws, Magpies, Mallard Ducks and large flocks of Canada Geese can be seen feeding in these fields. There are also Tawny Owls in the area, which must be feeding on small mammals, which could be living in the fields. Dippers and Kingfishers have also been spotted along Diggle Brook in this area. Just this weekend we spotted a female Pheasant on the stone wall separating Huddersfield Road with the front south field (field marked B).
Bats are also known to roost in the Grade II Listed Clock Tower Building on the Loom Works site, and feed in the area at dusk.
We would also think that as this site is such a rich habitat for birds, that any habitat appraisal that you would undertake might also indicate that there are other less obvious species present here, that make this an area of conservation interest. As you know, you usually donít get one thing without another. The Lapwings are there because of the relatively rich invertebrate species, which in turn is often an indicator of species diversity at the level of plants and so on.
Nationally it has been acknowledged that Northern Lapwing breeding areas now require special protection, so we would hope that you will do the following:
- Urgently consider this area as a Site of Biological Importance, due to the imminent threat that it could be built upon, by Oldham Council, who are ignoring their duty under S40 NERC Act 2006 to a UK Priority Species.
- Notify Oldham Council that a selection process to designate this area as a Site of Biological Importance is being undertaken and that no planning application can be made on this site, until the process has been completed and a decision is known.
We would appreciate confirmation from yourself as to whether this site is going to be assessed as a Site of Biological Importance.
If so, at the end of the process we would also be interested in knowing what other species inhabit this site, so that this can be promoted to residents and the greater community.
Mr Jameson Bridgwater, Head of Planning and Infrastructure at Oldham Council
Mr Matthew Milburn, Head Teacher, Saddleworth School
Councillor Graham Sheldon, Chairman of Saddleworth Parish Council
Stuart Coleman, Chairman of Diggle Community Association
Councillor Mike Buckley, Save Diggle Action Group
Margaret Rawlins, Saddleworth Naturalists
British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Breeding Bird Surveys
Bird ringers licensed by the BTO also ringed 2 chicks in 2007
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds survey 2007
1st survey: 9 adults
2nd survey: 11 adults, 9 young
3rd survey: 13 adults, 11 young
These were in the fields directly affected by the proposed development; there were others in adjoining fields to the south.
A BTO and RSPB member records for 2008
1st survey: at least 8 adults
2nd survey: 6 or 7 pairs
3rd survey: 7 chicks seen from the towpath.
A BTO representative for Greater Manchester records
2009: 10 adults and some fledged young
2010: 2 juveniles