May 5th 2022 Local Elections and Councillor Pledges for Beddington Farmlands

The local elections on May 5th are a very important election for Beddington Farmlands as elected representatives for the next term will oversee the completion of the habitats and opening of the reserve to meet the legal deadline of December 31st 2023. After over 20 years in development the long journey for a premier public nature reserve in South London is nearly over so it’s vital that our elected representatives help to push things across the finish line.

We asked local councillor candidates standing in the surrounding wards to Beddington Farmlands (the Hackbridge and Beddington North Wards) and also party representatives across the borough to pledge to supporting five key objectives:

1) The completion of the restoration habitats and public access by the end of 2023
2) Re-establishment of the annual citizen science ecology report- the nucleus of the local natural history community
3) The further development of a diverse community to record and monitor the wildlife and assist in running the reserve
4) The protection of the important local Lapwing population
5) The development of visitor facilities in Hackbridge as per the Hackbridge neighbourhood plan

The local councillor candidates we contacted were supportive of the pledges and here are some of their replies below (there was no reply from the Liberal Democrats) in response to how they would support the five key objectives:

ALRV9023

Dave Tchil and Sheldon Vestey (Labour Party, Hackbridge ward)

Objective 1 Reserve Completion by end of 2023
If elected I’ll be committed to playing my part in ensuring the relevant parties meet the 2023 deadline for restoration. It is important to enable public access but suitable, evidenced and justifiable restrictions will likely be necessary to protect wildlife. I intend to play a role that facilitates evidenced based positions and helps parties to understand the delicate balance of nature and access.

Objective 2 Citizen Science
I support the annual Citizen Science Ecology Report and its dissemination in a way that gathers community support and understanding about local nature. I would help by supporting information sharing and awareness raising, and if necessary, grant funding for it to happen.

Objective 3 An inclusive community
I see my role as helping residents to understand the very special nature within the locality and helping to promote engagement between residents and the local naturalist community.

Objective 4 Saving the Lapwings
I would firstly want to take expert advice to help understand the details necessary to protect species and if possible, the steps to reintroduce lost species. I would expect that my role would be to develop good working relationships to achieve this and levy in resources necessary for this.

Objective 5 Visitors Centre
As a member of the H&BC NDG I am signed up to the neighbourhood plan and have already been part of discussions for the early-stage work to meet the ambition for the visitor centre and access to the land.

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Tim Foster (on behalf of Beddington North Independents)

I am replying on behalf of myself and other Independent Councillors who represent Beddington.

I am doing so as I am the Chair of the Conservation Access Management Committee (CAMC) a role that I accepted in 2018 but became operational in mid-2019. The delay was in order to establish the CAMC as a properly functioning committee with relevant participation.

That participation includes Director representation from the landlord, Thames Water, the Operator, Viridor and the local authority, the London Borough of Sutton. Important additions were community representation from Hackbridge and Beddington as well as Cllr Jillian Green, Cllr Ben Andrew and representatives of the scientific community, Sutton’s Biodiversity Officer, the Bird Group and Sutton’s planners. My answers are given from the perspective of my position as Chair as well as a local Councillor with a commitment to community participation.

Objective 1 Reserve Completion by end of 2023
I think there needs to be better understanding about the timelines associated with the Farmlands project. The 2023 date being the time by which the habitats are created – if you like when the starting gun is fired for the fulfilment of the vision.

It is then for Viridor to begin to manage these habitats in their aftercare period. The CAMC, along with the Conservation Science Group (CSG) are the key advisory bodies responsible for supporting Viridor. The objective will be to get the balance between protecting the special habitats that will have been created at Beddington and opening the site up for the communities of Beddington and Hackbridge as well as a wider public to enjoy.

There is, of course, a Farmlands warden who will support Viridor to get the balance right, with bird hides and interpretation boards, and then more restricted access areas for the lapwing and other wildlife.

It is important to remember that there are certain operational areas from previous landfill usage functioning within the Farmlands and the warden’s experience of balancing nature, the public and operational issues in his previous role at Walthamstow Wetlands will be invaluable.

Objectives 2 & 3 Citizen Science and Inclusive Community
This is something that we can raise with the Warden, I fully appreciate the vital role that annual report plays in documenting and archiving the wildlife of the Beddington Farmlands. I also know how much effort went into this including substantial volunteer hours and have enjoyed reading it. I do feel that we need to do much more to break down this technical information into an engaging format for the wider community and make the Farmlands accessible for all. Our committee is about conservation AND access and that balance applies in terms of information as well as physical access.

Objective 4 Saving the Lapwings
I have worked hard to hold Viridor to account over the last three years and we have seen significant progress made on the delivery, predator fencing and establishment of the phase 1 habitat and commitments from Viridor to progress the phase 2 habitat.

In the last 12 months we have also seen the phase 3 habitat towards the south of the site – where I understand lapwing are now sitting. I see it being essential to look beyond 2023 to hold Thames Water and Viridor to account and ensure the long-term maintenance of the habitats for lapwing and the other target species.

Objective 5 Visitors Centre
As already stated, alongside nature conservation, community involvement has been one of the major platforms and a focus of our attention with cycle routes, access and the Permissive Path. If the residents of Hackbridge are committed to the delivery of a Visitor Centre, it would be a great way to champion the community connecting them with the Farmlands and offering the opportunity to deliver learning and engagement opportunities outside the classroom environment.

It is important to note that we have engaged (and funded) a local artist, Christina Peake, to engage with the local schoolchildren to design and decorate the interiors of the Bird Hides – a demonstration of our ongoing commitment to local community involvement.

Verity Thompson (on behalf of the Sutton Green Party)

I, together with other green party members, have already shown support and campaigned for the restoration of the habitats at Beddington Farmlands whilst species such as the Lapwing have been at high risk of local extinction.

It was a sad shock to have realised the local extinction of the tree sparrow from the site in very recent times (2020) and that this was very likely to have been caused by human disruption to their habitat, where plans were taken forward to build the incinerator on the site. Our local Green party campaigned against the incinerator with one of our members, Shasha Khan taking Sutton council to the high court in 2013 to try and challenge the develepment.

Please see below responses to your points.

  1. Access to the Beddington Farmlands site is really important to our local community, for education and for our links with nature, but should not be to the detriment of the already fragile and threatened local bird species populations. Many species populations have already suffered due to the huge disruption and reduction of habitat and so I would expect there to be expert advice sought and monitoring undertaken to be able to confirm the health of species populations before the carefully considered access is planned and introduced.
  1. Our party supports re-establishment of the annual Citizen Science Ecology Report and would encourage more community involvement. It would be great to share these findings more widely and allow greater community engagement, education and connection with our local nature reserve.
  2. We agree that Beddington Farmlands deserves a supportive and representative community to help it develop as a flagship Urban Nature Reserve and would actively support this.
  3. I started a petition in 2020 to Viridor, Thames Water and the London Borough of Sutton and collected over 66,800 signatures to demonstrate the breadth of support for the lapwings to be saved at Beddington Farmlands. I presented the petition and also raised the issue of the local extinction of the tree sparrow, asking about the potential re-introduction of the species, which as yet remains unanswered. I would like to see analysis of the opportunities for re-introduction of the species at this site and commitment from stakeholders to restore bird populations where this is deemed possible.

https://www.change.org/p/viridor-save-the-lapwings-at-beddington-farmlands

5.The development of a visitor centre will be crucial to the success of the site, enabling learning and promoting care and consideration for the site and local species.

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