Gwent Levels Photo Neil Aldridge
A leading wildlife charity has welcomed the Welsh Government’s proposals to strengthen protection for sensitive landscapes.
Gwent Wildlife Trust said changes to Planning Policy Wales (PPW) made by Minister for Climate Change Julie James create stronger protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), from inappropriate development.
The changes to PPW come at a crucial time for the charity’s campaign to protect the Gwent Levels, currently under threat from multiple, adjacent solar plant proposals and business parks.
The revised policy issued by Ms James includes a statement on the protection of SSSIs which says: “strengthened approach to the protection of SSSIs, with increased clarity on the position for site management and exemptions for minor development necessary to maintain a ‘living landscape’. Other development is considered unacceptable as a matter of principle. Exceptionally, a planned approach may be appropriate where necessary safeguards can be secured through a development plan.”
Gwent Wildlife Trust, supported by leading conservationists such as Iolo Williams, Lizzie Daly and Julian Hoffman, recently launched a campaign to call a halt on significant development on these nationally important wetlands until full formal protection is in place. A Senedd petition to that effect is currently running, with the aim of gaining 10,000 signatures and triggering a debate in a full plenary session.
SSSIs are areas of land throughout the UK which are officially judged to be important for wildlife at the UK level. They are “designated” (given official protection) by Natural Resources Wales, the Welsh Government’s statutory body on wildlife. They are considered to be the “jewels in the crown” of Welsh wildlife and cover only 11% of the land and coastal areas of Wales.
Adam Taylor, Gwent Wildlife Trust CEO, said: “We are grateful that the national Welsh planning rules now recognise the importance now recognised the importance of protecting SSSIs from development proposals by giving them significantly greater protection under this legal framework. There is now an official presumption against locating a development where it will damage these special areas.
“The Gwent Levels are under siege from a number of development proposals that would cause irretrievable damage to this nationally important landscape and the incomparable wildlife that depends upon it. We would like to stress that we are not against solar plants, simply that these developments should not be placed where they will destroy precious habitat. The existing solar plant at Llanwern has already had a catastrophic impact on a hugely important lapwing breeding site.”
Local people are also relieved to see the changes to PPW. Cath Davis, a fourth generation Gwent Levels farmer, said: “I let out a huge sigh of relief at this news, as the new rules will make it much harder for developers to target my community and the irreplaceable Levels landscape. My family has farmed this stunning area for more than a century. I follow in my parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps as custodian of a very special area. This landscape means everything to me, and I have been lobbying for its protection for many years. Since the Second World War, approximately half of the Levels have disappeared, making protecting what’s left all the more essential.”
The Gwent Levels are one of the largest surviving areas of ancient grazing marsh and reen (drainage ditch) systems in Britain and is the largest of its kind in Wales. Thanks to several nationally significant archaeological finds, the Gwent Levels has been designated a ‘Landscape of Outstanding Historic Interest’. Its biodiversity significance is recognised both nationally and internationally.
This ancient landscape has been carefully and purposefully managed by man for thousands of years. Prehistoric footprints preserved in the mud of the nearby estuary show this was a hunting ground for early man. The man-made reens that criss-cross the area are thought to date back to Roman times.
The petition calling for the Gwent Levels to be protected from damaging developments can be signed here…….
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