Rare birds nest site in path of bypass

MULTIMILLION pound plans for a bypass around an often gridlocked Suffolk town could be scuppered by a group of rare nesting birds, it was warned last night.

Laurence Cawley

MULTIMILLION pound plans for a bypass around an often gridlocked Suffolk town could be scuppered by a group of rare nesting birds, it was warned last night.

Breckland Council, Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) want a 1,500m-wide buffer zone to be put in place around nesting sites for the stone curlew.

In order to be enforced, the buffer zone would need to be agreed by the relevant local authority.

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The Brecks, which includes towns like Mildenhall, Thetford and Brandon, boasts 216 of the nation's 350 pairs of stone curlews and conservationists claim any development in the area can have repercussions for the birds, one of Britain's rarest species.

But it has now emerged that if the buffer zone is enforced, plans for a bypass around Brandon could be at risk.

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Those living in Brandon have long campaigned for a bypass to ease congestion in the town centre. Last year the EADT revealed how a business consortium in Brandon was willing to stump up millions of pounds towards the estimate �15-20million cost of the scheme. It is understood plans for a bypass are still being drawn up and to date Suffolk County Council, the highways authority, has not received a planning application for the new bypass.

Robert Childerhouse, Breckland District Council's member for Weeting, said: “It would mean the bypass can't be built either with funding from the private sector or from the public purse. The birds need to be protected but we have to cater for the needs of people as well. The birds are only here for five months of the year.

“Under the current proposals the Brandon bypass is never going to happen because the birds come first. Brandon is gridlocked most days and it desperately needs a bypass.

“In Thetford, they were looking to develop to the south and south east of the town. But the stone curlews are in the south and south east. It just seems to me that nobody is taking the common sense approach.”

West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said he was aware of the stone curlew issue and said he would be following developments closely.

The RSPB's stone curlew project co-ordinator Tim Cowan said: “Whatever happens in these areas is pretty significant for the stone curlews and we just want to ensure that any development plans take them into account.

“It is worth pointing out what a special place the Brecks is, and when you've got an area like that you have to protect it.”

A spokeswoman for Natural England said: “It is our responsibility to give advice. At this stage it is a recommendation. This is our best advice - that if you have a 1.5km buffer around nesting birds than that will give the birds the best chance.”

She said if the local authority deciding planning or highways matters - Forest Heath District Council or Suffolk County Council respectively - accepted Natural England's advice and absorbed it into policy, developers would be unable to build within the stone curlew boundary.

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