Following the government naming the Norwich Western Link among road projects that could benefit from the recent scrapping of the northern section of HS2, we have raised grave concerns about the damage the road would do to wildlife in a letter to the Department of Transport.
In our letter we request that there be no decision on any further public funding for the road until clear evidence is presented that Norfolk County Council’s proposed mitigation would be effective for rare, and legally protected, barbastelle bats.
We have been raising concerns regarding the impact of the Norwich Western Link on the area’s wildlife and the landscape for years.
In addition to spelling disaster for a newly discovered super-colony of rare barbastelle bats along the route of the road, we have warned that the development would result in the destruction of a well-connected network of vital wildlife habitats including ancient woods and trees, grasslands, chalk streams and floodplain.
Eliot Lyne, our CEO, said in the letter: “The proposed Norwich Western Link would pass through a very ecologically sensitive area, which includes an internationally important chalk stream and highly protected river valley, as well as mature woodland habitats. The impacts of such a scheme on these sensitive and irreplaceable habitats and their biodiversity cannot be effectively mitigated. Moreover, in our professional view the road scheme is unlikely to get planning permission due to the mounting and detailed long-term scientific evidence that it will irreparably harm the UK’s largest population of rare and threatened barbastelle bats.”
“We therefore request that there be no decision on any further public funding for this road until clear evidence is presented that Norfolk County Council’s proposed mitigation would be effective for barbastelle bats, to ensure that public money isn’t wasted on a project that would never be able to pass planning consent.”
Eliot Lyne also highlighted a previous letter we sent to the Department for Transport in January of this year, which drew attention to significant new evidence on the population of rare barbastelle bats in woodlands in the path of the Western Link, collected by local scientists (supported by the University of East Anglia), together with local volunteers.
Mr Lyne explained in his correspondence with the DfT: “All evidence gathered further reinforces our professional conclusion that this area of the Wensum Valley is the largest known colony in the whole of the UK and far exceeds the criteria for designation both as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
“We have awaited evidence from the Council, that they would be able to provide sufficient mitigation specifically for this species that would ensure that damaging impacts on this national important population would be avoided. No such evidence has been provided by the Council, which accords with our conclusion that it is impossible to successfully mitigate for impacts at this scale.”
He concluded: “We are of no doubt that a new road of this nature would irreparably damage the population leading to long term decline and local extinction and note growing evidence showing the failure of bat mitigation on the nearby Norwich Northern Distributor Road. In full knowledge of the evidence, this disastrous situation should not be repeated here.”
In our, we highlighted to the Department for Transport the significant concerns held by the public regarding this proposal, evidenced by a public petition calling for the proposal to be stopped which has gathered nearly 16,000 signatures to date.
In December 2022 Natural England confirmed that it is actively considering the designation of the Wensum Woodlands area as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to its importance for the barbastelle bat population.
We are part of a growing collective of regional and national environmental organisations including Stop the Wensum Link, CPRE Norfolk, Friends of the Earth, the Woodland Trust, Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society, Buglife, Norfolk and Norwich Bat Group and British Dragonfly Society, all of whom oppose the development on the grounds of the unacceptable impact it will have on wildlife and the wider natural landscape.
For more information and to read the full letter, visit: norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/ndr