14 March 2013
Natural England yesterday notified land at Lodge Hill in Kent as an extension to Chattenden Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its nightingale population and its special grassland and woodland.
As the Government’s conservation adviser, Natural England has a duty to notify SSSIs when it considers that an area of land is of special interest for its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features.
The site’s national importance for nightingales was first established by a national survey carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology last year. It found that the area is home to 1.3 per cent of the UK’s nightingale population, making it one of the most important strongholds for the bird in the country. Further research also discovered that the site contains over 11 ha of a rare type of lowland unimproved meadow grassland.
Natural England’s Executive Board therefore has a legal duty to designate it as a SSSI and approved formal notification at a meeting on 11 March. The previous SSSI at Chattenden Woods has been extended to incorporate the land at Lodge Hill. Formal notification letters have been sent to relevant parties. They will have four months in which to make objections and representations about the notification. Any such points which remain unresolved will then be considered by the Natural England Board which has nine months to decide whether to confirm or withdraw the SSSI notification.
The extension of the SSSI includes land identified as the potential location for a major development project. More than 80% of the local nightingale population is distributed across the area proposed to be allocated for development.
The decision to extend the SSSI does not determine whether or not development can go ahead at the site; this is a matter for the planning system. Natural England will continue to engage with the local planning authority (Medway Council), the landowner (Ministry of Defence) and its commercial partner (Land Securities) to contribute, as appropriate, to the planning process. In particular, we will consider carefully any proposals for a habitat creation scheme to offset the impacts on the special wildlife of the site, should development proceed, in order to contribute to sustainable development.