Hulton Park Public Inquiry - October 2019

The L.O.S. was asked to help out with a bird survey at Hulton Park, between Bolton and Atherton, which is threatened with a development of 1000+ luxury homes and a championship golf course.

About 45% of Hulton Park's green space would be lost to housing and manicured golf infrastructure. Tony Bishop, Jeff Hurst and Paul Richardson paid four visits during 2019, and Paul had an opportunity to speak at the Public Inquiry at Bolton Town Hall in October 2019

This was our submission to the Inquiry.

I am a retired GP from Leigh, living and working in Leigh for 30 years, and I am speaking on behalf of the Leigh Ornithological Society. 
Leigh Ornithological Society has existed for 49 years. It’s an amateur society of people who have a passion for birds, of course, but other wildlife and plants too. My role as Conservation Officer is to try to remind our councils and planners to cherish and conserve green spaces and biodiversity. 
We would argue against the proposed development at Hulton Park for three reasons. 
  1. For the public good. There has never been a time when public interest in nature and wild places has been higher. At LOS we seek to promote and encourage this. We have no personal axe to grind as an organization because we haven’t had access for nearly 20 years. The permit that one of our members had to survey the area was revoked in 2000. 
  • Natural England’s recently published report, “Monitoring of Engagement with the Natural Environment” (Sept 3rd 2019) shows that nine in ten adults are concerned about damage to our natural environment. The incursion of housing developments into Hulton Park’s green space flies in the face of this public concern. 
  • 89% of adults agree that spending time outdoors is an important part of their lives. There is potential on the Hulton Estate for improving public access to the outdoors, and this development fails to do that. The public footpath access which the developer designates as the “Hulton Trail” only differs from the currently available footpaths in that some of its length will run within housing estates, where it is currently through fields and woodsThe Hulton Trail does not give access to any of the green space which is currently off limits, because this area will be taken up into the golf course. 
  1. For the sake of its wildlife. Our knowledge and experience lies in observing birds in their habitat, and LOS members have paid four visits this year to the public footpaths in the south and west of the site, and to Dearden’s Farm in the NE.
  • I should like to record that we were refused permission by the landowner to visit the central area of the site – this was in spite of one member having had 10 years of access from 1990 onwards, and thus having a wealth of knowledge. 
  • The Breeding Bird Survey provided by TEP for the developer records 63 species, and we ourselves managed to record 46 with only limited access. 9 of our species are on the RSPB Red List of greatest conservation concern. We don’t find it relevant any more to say, as the TEP Breeding Bird Survey does, that many of the birds recorded are “common or widespread” – Red List birds include many that we would think of as common: House Sparrow, Song Thrush, Dunnock, and even Starling. Another 7 of our species are RSPB Amber list birds. These birds may be common and widespread now, but if we keep agreeing to such encroachments on green space, we will only continue to see the crashing of bird populations.  
  • Habitat: Our limited access to the site has shown us many lengths of so-called “species poor” hedgerows, many of which will be removed and replanted. But we have observed large communities of House Sparrows, pairs of Dunnock (Red List) Bullfinches (Amber List) as well as Jays and even Nuthatches using these hedges. Hedgerows are a Section 41 priority habitat. Peel will no doubt argue that there is to be considerable replanting in mitigation, but there can be no guarantee that bird species lost during the work and disturbance will ever return.
  1. Hulton Park is part of a geographical Wildlife Corridor providing a link between the West Pennine Moors in the north and the Mosslands in the south. Having been excluded from the site for 20 years, we cannot present direct evidence for this, but a cursory look at maps (see below) of the area shows it, with an almost continuous band of green space from Winter Hill down through High Rid and Rumworth Reservoirs, through to Hulton Park and then further through Gibfield, Lilford and the Colliers’ Wood area to Astley and Chat mosses. Greater Manchester Ecology Unit has extensive records of Winter Hill as a bird migration “hot spot”. Birds can’t stay airborne the whole time on migration, and we believe these green corridors are vital as hundreds of thousands of birds pass over the area every Spring and Autumn. For land-based creatures such as deer, badgers, foxes and Brown Hare, such corridors are obviously even more important.
DEFRA’s publication, Biodiversity 2020, the Government commits to an ambitious target of improving wildlife corridors on a landscape scale.
“We will enhance ecological connections between, or join up, existing areas of priority habitat, increasing opportunity for wildlife to move around the landscape by making use of ‘stepping stones’, ‘corridors’ and other features. To achieve this, we will take and encourage a more spatially-based approach, focussed on places, and landscape-scale action.” 
I found the Environment Bank’s Biodiversity Impact Statement interesting. I am encouraged that they find there is a net increase of biodiversity from this project. We appreciate the Developer’s commitment to sustaining and even increasing biodiversity, and the careful work it has done on mitigations and improvements to woodland and grassland particularly. 
But I have done also some sums. When you add the land area under housing, the building and hardstanding for the golf resort and its amenity grassland – the landscaped and ornamental areas – and the golf features – the fairways, tees, greens and frequently mown rough – you come to a total of 119 Ha, which is 45% of the area of Hulton Park at 268Ha. 45% of the ground area which is of low value to wildlife, and is effectively taken out of the wildlife corridor. 
This is NOT landscape-scale action to enhance ecological connection between existing areas of priority habitat. This is landscape-scale destruction and damage of the kind that nine out of ten adults in this country are concerned about.  
The Hulton Estate may not be the Amazon Rainforest, but it is still important and it needs to be conserved, not developed. 

Hulton Park Wildlife Recording Survey 2019

Dr. Paul Richardson
L.O.S. Conservation Officer

1 comment:

David Shallcross said...

A super account of the areas importance Paul.

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