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Conservationist calls for stronger wildlife protection law after concerns raised about loss of species after building work begins in Great Cornard

A conservationist has denounced the “ineffective and totally inadequate nature” of wildlife legislation, after alleging that building work for a new housing development in Great Cornard has devastated a number of local populations.

Concerns about significant damage to a wildlife habitat on land off Cats Lane have been raised after work started on the site in the last two weeks.

Babergh District Council granted planning permission in December 2018 for the construction of six one-storey homes and nine two-storey homes on land east of Cats Lane.

Wildlife preservation volunteer George Millins. (38081220)
Wildlife preservation volunteer George Millins. (38081220)

But last month, the planning authority was contacted by residents and Great Cornard Parish Council, requesting urgent action to ensure the developer submits a wildlife mitigation strategy before any development takes place.

However, after digging work took place in late June and early this month, the Free Press received reports claiming that dead lizards and slow worms had been discovered at the site – both understood to be protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

The district council confirmed this week that it is aware of the concerns and is currently co-operating with Suffolk Police to investigate whether the development may have breached any wildlife protection laws.

Wildlife volunteer George Millins, who organises a number of conservation initiatives in the Sudbury area, criticised what he felt was a lack of action from planners and the police, and argued current legislation was not strong enough to safeguard protected species.

“We have found dead animals,” the 80-year-old said. “There’s not much habitat left.

“At this point in history, despite the massive decline in our wildlife, it’s all about big business and bottom lines.

“We’re in a time when we’ve got massive destruction of wildlife globally, and it’s accelerating.

“Despite that, wildlife crime officers are battling against laws and legislation that make it almost impossible to enforce.

“These days, legislation has been manipulated. We need wildlife law to be beefed up. We need it to be reinforced.

“That’s the fundamental problem. There’s so many loopholes that it’s completely unenforceable.”

A spokeswoman for Babergh District Council said the authority would support the police in any enforcement action it may take, in the event that a breach of wildlife law is found to have occurred at the Cats Lane development site.

She said: “Babergh District Council remains committed to investigating alleged breaches of planning control – considering reasonable and appropriate action to safeguard and protect our district’s environment from significant harm.

“We are aware of concerns raised by the local community in Great Cornard, and are currently working in partnership with the county wildlife officer at Suffolk Constabulary to determine if relevant wildlife protection legislation has been breached.

“If this is found to be the case, given it may well be a criminal matter, we will support the police in any enforcement action they decide to pursue.”

But Mr Millins voiced his frustration with the way the matter has been dealt with, and stated his efforts to report evidence of species loss in Great Cornard to the relevant authorities had “hit a brick wall”.

He said this particular case was an example of wildlife protection legislation being not fit for purpose, claiming that, while the species are protected, the habitat itself did not carry the same status.

“The way the law is worded, there’s too many loopholes,” Mr Millins told the Free Press. “Developers have come to know over many years that they can get away with it.

“The habitat does not have the protection. But it’s common sense that if you work on the site, it will destroy the species. By sending in a digger, they are clearly going to destroy the reptiles.

“The threats to our wildlife is mostly from government legislation. Everyone knows that development comes with section 106 money, so with all the budget cuts going on, the developers are favoured.

“Reptiles are an indicator species. If they are in trouble, potentially we are. Whatever happened to compassion and care for other species?

“Compassion is sadly missing from the vocabulary of many people.

“What I’m looking for is some sort of preventative police action. I understand numbers are short, but all we’re asking for is somebody to go down and inform developers of their responsibility.

“The appearance of a uniformed police officer would make an impact that we can’t have.”

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