Petition update

Caught on camera! Flagrant bid to trash Wicklesham Quarry’s protected habitat.

Anna Hoare
Faringdon, United Kingdom

Dec 1, 2016 — In what must surely be the most shameful of a series of shocking revelations about the failure to restore Wicklesham Quarry, Oxfordshire County Council has documented attempts to trash the legally protected pond habitats of Wicklesham Quarry’s Great Crested Newts.
Having received these reports in response to my official complaint, a report has now been made to Wildlife Crime Officer for the Vale, PC Darren James, and anyone with any information should contact PC James, quoting Crime Reference No. 808.1.12.16. Anonymity can be assured.

Following my sceptical request for evidence of monitoring visits by Oxfordshire County Council, after they disclosed Grundon’s comprehensive failure to carry out the restoration of the quarry by the 30th September deadline, OCC has sent me 3 further reports including photographs of the ponds - both before and after flagrant attempts to decisively damage these legally protected habitats.

Grundon’s revised 2015 Restoration Plan shows exactly how these were to be preserved, in accordance with the 2010 Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations, and the Restoration and Aftercare Scheme passed by the County Council. The main petition page now shows an image of Pond 1 taken by the Monitoring Officer in May 2016, surrounded by trees and natural vegetation.

In June 2016, the landowner’s agent requested a meeting with Oxfordshire County Council and asked them to waive the Restoration and Aftercare Scheme, on the grounds that the quarry would soon be turned into an industrial estate, because of the Neighbourhood Plan! The County Council rejected this extraordinary request, and sent a clear message that they expected the landowner to carry out the required restoration by 30th September.

After receiving this knock-back, this is what the same pond looked like in October. It is only recognizable because of its position at the centre of the quarry, next to the access road. Pond 3-4 (now combined) has also been stripped of trees and natural plants.

I have learned from Natural England that Grundon failed to obtain the legally required Mitigation Licence in respect of a European Protected Species – presumably because they did not plan to carry out the restoration! According to Grundon Ltd, determined would-be developer Mr Allen-Stevens refused to allow buildings to be removed from the quarry, contravening the terms of the 2015 planning conditions. Allen-Stevens himself is claiming Grundon is responsible for failing to carry out the restoration.

Whatever the truth, the current situation represents a serious deterioration. The destruction of the habitat of these rare, protected creatures is a criminal offence, as is the carrying out of operations in the quarry without a Mitigation Licence from Natural England. Recently, Allen-Stevens has claimed on a new website that the ponds were only “temporary”, and “have for the most part dried up”.
Anyone who has read the 2013 Enzygo Report and seen the marvellous photos of these habitats will know that these ponds have been there since before 2009, when they were first surveyed.

What all this demonstrates is that, contrary to Faringdon Neighbourhood Plan’s complacent policy to 'safeguard' Wicklesham Quarry as a B2/ B8 industrial warehousing site, such a use is totally incompatible with the quarry’s status for biodiversity. Otherwise, why would anyone go to such lengths to destroy it, risking prosecution?

Following these disclosures I wonder how many Faringdon councillors will now publicly distance themselves from complicity in this environmental destruction, which the Neighbourhood Plan policy has effectively encouraged? Anyone at all?

Today it is Wicklesham Quarry that hangs by a thread. Tomorrow and the day after it will be other vulnerable and irreplaceable sites across the country. Unless local people fight to preserve our natural heritage, if necessary by seeking judicial backing, planning authorities and councils will continue to turn a blind eye to the endless destruction of our natural environment by profit-driven development.

If you have any information about this Wildlife Crime or any other, you can contact the Thames Valley Wildlife Crime Unit by phoning 101.

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