At the beginning of 2014, FoSCP and the Countryside Team submitted a proposal to Natural England that Southwick Country Park be declared a Local Nature Reserve. We know this was done with Wiltshire Council’s permission because we couldn’t have done it without; they are the landowners. A management plan for Southwick Nature Reserve was drawn up.
In May of 2014, Natural England sent us a letter saying that we had met all their criteria and they “formally welcomed” our proposal. The next step, apparently, was for Wiltshire Council to make the necessary arrangements for the formal declaration of the reserve. This could have been a simple public notice or the celebratory cutting of ribbons and a jamboree; an opening date and a map was all that NE required to complete the process.
So, in May of 2014, Natural England, the Friends of Southwick Country Park, the Countryside Team and Wiltshire Council expected the park to become a Local Nature Reserve with all kinds of statutory protection for its wildlife.
But it isn’t and we don’t know why; the matter has rested for almost five years with the Legal Department, who tell us it is complicated. FoSCP has spent those five years working to the Nature Reserve management plan, improving habitat, increasing biodiversity, attracting rare species, stopping occasionally to ask after the LNR declaration but getting no sensible answer.
This may not be significant, but in Wiltshire’s Core Strategy which was adopted in 2015, Policy 50 lists a network of wildlife-site categories but ends with, “. . . statutory protection will only ever apply to those sites which have been formally notified by Natural England.”
It’s difficult to know, in the circumstances, if that was intended to include or exclude Southwick.
Lately, the matter has acquired some urgency. Wiltshire has produced a Trowbridge Bat Mitigation Strategy (TBMS) to support its WHSAP application which comes up before the Secretary of State’s Inspector in April. The TBMS, while it is truly excellent for the bats, is a bit of a disaster for our park.
It requires that Wiltshire Council reduce the number of visitors to the nature reserves at Green Lane, Biss, Clanger and Picket Woods, where there are rare and precious bat roosts. Turn to page 50, part 9 of your TBMS, where it proposes that this be achieved by re-directing all the dog walkers to Southwick Country Park, which will be developed especially for the dogs, with a water feature, fenced-off areas for the training of unruly dogs, extra car parking, toilets and a coffee shop. These are all very good things in a doggy park, but no good at all for a nature reserve, which is what Southwick Country Park should be, and what we thought it would be by now, as explained above.
There is a public consultation on the Trowbridge Bat Mitigation Strategy, which ends at 5pm on 21st March. We know there isn’t much time left but if you think that Southwick Country Park and its protected species have their own conservation value and that if there is to be a dog park it should be somewhere else, please make you feelings known.
Click here for Wiltshire website consultation portal
Postal Address: Spatial Planning, Economic Development and Planning,
Wiltshire BA14 8JN