Fears over skylark habitat loss

A LOCAL authority was accused yesterday of dragging its feet on a commitment to compensate for the loss of habitat for a declining species of bird.The former Ipswich Airfield provided good nesting areas for skylarks and when Ipswich Borough Council gave the go-ahead for housing development in 1999 it promised to create compensatory habitat elsewhere within its district.

A LOCAL authority was accused yesterday of dragging its feet on a commitment to compensate for the loss of habitat for a declining species of bird.

The former Ipswich Airfield provided good nesting areas for skylarks and when Ipswich Borough Council gave the go-ahead for housing development in 1999 it promised to create compensatory habitat elsewhere within its district.

However, five years later no new habitat has been created although the council said yesterday it was involved in ongoing negotiations.

Dorothy Casey, conservation officer for the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said the airfield had provided excellent nesting habitat for skylarks becuase of the rough grassed areas and wide open environment.


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The species was in decline because of the loss of such grasslands and changes in agricultural practices, she said.

"The borough council promised to compensate for the loss of this habitat and it is clearly a commitment they need to fulfill," she said.

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Ms Casey said the trust was aware that Bellway Homes, the site developer, had created a series of wildlife areas - too small to attract skylarks - in amidst the housing estate to help creatures such as reptiles and bats.

However, the trust had never been invited to monitor the success of these initiatives.

Max Stocker, Ipswich Borough Council spokesman, said it was hoped to create two "compensatory" skylark habitats as soon as possible.

The potential for one site, subject of earlier negotiations, had been reduced and attention was now focussed on two areas, one of which could become an extension of the Orwell Country Park.

The other site comprised farmland to the west of Ipswich, including 25 acres of arable land and 15 acres of heath and woodland.

"We do sympathise with the wildlife trust and are keen to complete the negotiations but they do take time," he said.

Mr Stocker said the success of wildlife areas on the former airfield was being monitored - by rangers attached to the nearby country park.

Chris Durdin, RSPB spokesman in East Anglia, said the change to winter-sown cereals was thought to be partly to blame for the decline in skylarks.

"By the time the the parent birds come to their third broods of the year the crops are too dense. The lack of insect food may also be a factor but set-aside land is helping and we are very optimistic about initiatives which will be financed under the new agri-environment scheme due to be introduced next year," he added.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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