Ashton Court farewell...
The protest camp at Ashton Court Park in Bristol is calling it a day. For nearly a year protestors have tried to stop the expansion of Durnford Quarry into the park. With the meadow 'translocated' and blasting imminent, it was time to say goodbye, but not without the last few laughs.
Ashton Court was given to the people of Bristol in 1959 with the condition that nothing be done that 'would detract from its value as a recreation ground or prejudice the enjoyment of the people'. Realising that turning the park into an open quarry and destroying the habitats of rare orchids and other wildlife might just 'prejudice their enjoyment' of it, two protestors abseiled into the quarry and occupied a ledge above a load of explosives that were due to be detonated five minutes later. They were evicted by police after 32 hours and are in court at the end of the month. Meanwhile the quarry manager had his lawn translocated onto his driveway - and a daffodil planted on the roof of his car. Translocation means digging up everything and placing the land elsewhere. Surprise, surprise, it never works but it makes for good greenwash!
SOD OFF - ASHTON COURT AND SSSI's
a report from SchNEWS 183, 18 September 1998
"You can't move a grassland without changing its environment - and if you change that, the community of plants and animals it supports is bound to change too. The first prerequisite for protecting an SSSI* is to leave it where it is. Quite simply, if you move it, you lose it."
- Dr Richard Jefferson, English Nature ecologist
The sign on the entrance to Ashton Court Park reads. "You are visiting a beautiful and peaceful park. Help keep it that way so that everyone can enjoy it." So what do North Somerset Council do? They give planning permission for the extension of Pioneer Aggregates Durnford Quarry into 20 acres of the park! But how come a park given in 1959 to the people of Bristol, under the condition that "no part of it should be set aside for works which would detract from its value as a recreation ground or prejudice the enjoyment of the people" can be excavated for minerals? You tell us!
Despite ongoing protests, Pioneer began removing topsoil from the park's wildflower meadow last week, which is a site of Nature Conservation Interest, and home to three rare species of wild orchids as well as nesting skylarks, foraging bats, and badgers. The company plan to spend #1 million to remove 51 per cent of the twenty acre site in two metre square chunks, to be relaid half a mile away in a field on the other side of the quarry.
This process is known as translocation - and it has been an unmitigated disaster when tried elsewhere round the country.
"The idea that nature is so resilient that you just shift it around somewhere else and carry on has to be rejected."
- Dr.James Bullock. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology
FAILED: Warwickshire Wildlife Trust acted as consultants for the translocation of a meadow supporting 'almost all the unusual and rare meadow plants found in Warwickshire'. The meadow was in the way of a supermarket. An 'impossibly tight timescale rushed the process of finding a receptor site.' Result? Sedges and reeds became dominant and nearly all the species present in the original meadow disappeared. The Trust said they would not invest so much voluntary time or money in a similar endeavour, should the situation arise again.
FAILED: Twyford Down, Hampshire. In 1992 the DoE arranged for a flood meadow at Hockley Junction, lying in the path of the M3, to be translocated to an island in the River Test, 16 miles away. The receptor meadow was 'of poor agricultural quality.' Result? After initially being trampled by sheep, the translocated areas have since subsided due to the cracks in the turves ( the cut up pieces of topsoil) accelerating the peat drying out.
FAILED: Selar Farm, West Glamorgan. 'A remnant of traditionally managed farmland, a mixture of flower-rich grassland, ancient woodland, scrub and streams, that had survived years of destruction caused all round by coal mining, urban development and conifer plantations.' The meadow was home to the rare Marsh Fritillary butterfly and was on land designated for opencast mining by British Coal Opencast and Celtic Energy. In 1994 the meadow was moved.
"In a couple of years we will have to write off this site for the Marsh Fritillary. It is another nail in the coffin of this nationally rare and declining species"
- P. Kirkland, Western Mail, March 1996
"As far as we are concerned it is a successful project, and the planned process of re-introducing the butterflies, which has been happening, will continue."
- Celtic Energy, Western Mail 1996
"We visited the site in 1997 and reported that no adults had been seen that year. Current indications are it may well have died out." - John Davis, Butterfly Conservation Organisation, Sep 1998
SAVED: Brock's Farm, Devon. Owners of this SSSI, English China Clays International planned to relocate this site to allow them to tip ball clay waste. 'The show of green-winged orchids is enough to leave you breathless.' In July this year ECCI told a Public Inquiry that they could prevent the loss of the grassland site by moving it to another location. English Nature objected, presenting evidence to show that previous attempts to transplant grasslands, both at Brock's Farm and elsewhere in England, had all failed. The inspector ruled in favour of the site remaining exactly where it is.
"Translocation should never be offered as an alternative to opposing a development."
- John Davis, Butterfly Conservation Organisation
Pixies are asked to keep visting Ashton Court as the project will take about three months to complete. There is a safe camp nearby. Contact Ashton Court Quarry Campaign - 0467 430211 or 07970 423834
VOCABWATCH: A SSSI is a Site of Special Scientific Interest designated by English Nature, the government's own conservation body.