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SOUTH BEDFORDSHIRE FRIENDS OF THE EARTH

PRESS RELEASE

 

Road Protestors uphold Wildlife laws

 

Victoria Harvey and Rebecca Lush (1) will appear at Aylesbury Magistrates Court on 16th and 17th May. Both have been charged with failing to leave land and disrupting lawful activity, after chaining themselves to a digger due to start work on the Stoke Hammond and Linslade Western Bypass (2), on 19 January 2005.

 

They have entered a “not guilty plea” as they have a reasonable belief that, but for their actions Buckinghamshire County Council could have destroyed bat roosts and committed a criminal offence under the 1994 Conservation Regulations. They will call an expert witness, who was the species legislation and licensing specialist to Government watchdog, English Nature.

 

There will be a small demonstration of the supporters of the two women outside Aylesbury Magistrates court on Monday 16th May.

 

Over the last fifty years, the UK’s bat populations have dropped dramatically, (3) largely due to loss of their natural habitat. In response to this alarming decline, all UK bat species were given protected status in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  Chief Constable Richard Brunston, co chair of the partnership Action Against Wildlife Crime, has said “ Bats are among the most endangered animals in the UK.”

 

Victoria Harvey of South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth has been seriously concerned for the last two years that Buckinghamshire County Council may have been breaking environmental legislation. According to the legislation councils should conduct bat surveys and fully consider the effect of a development  on a endangered species before they decide on Planning Permission to build a road on a particular route. She has repeatedly raised this concern throughout the planning process. (5) Buckinghamshire County council did not do any adequate bat surveys until June 2003 one year after the road was granted planning permission.

 

However they could not take this case to the courts last year due to the risk of costs up to £40,000. There is a serious problem that local people do not have access to the law to protect endangered wildlife  as it could be prohibitively expensive. This could all change very soon. The UK will become party to  the Aarhus convention on May 23rd 2005  (6) which says that in environmental matters access to the courts must be “fair, equitable and not prohibitively expensive”.

 

The two women said Buckinghamshire County Council had been continually obstructive when asked to provide information about wildlife and ecological surveys, including refusing to comply with requests made under new freedom of information legislation, including demanding £25 per hour to reply to the requests

 

Victoria Harvey, Co-ordinator of South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth says “this road goes through a valley that is very rich in wildlife, with fenland and has a strong bat population.  Valleys like this are very rare in Buckinghamshire.  We have lost so many of our rare species and our biodiversity in this country over the last 30 years.”

“There is very strong environmental legislation, yet because local people cannot afford to go to the courts it is being ignored. “

“Councils should examine the effects on wildlife and then consider whether they have chosen the right route for the road. Buckinghamshire decided on this route over ten years ago long before they even considered the wildlife implications.”

“If a private individual moves a bat roost in their loft without permission the full weight of the law comes down on them. Yet it seems as though a council can bulldoze its way through a beautiful valley full of protected species and get away with ignoring the legislation.”

“I support the European Habitats Directive of 1992,“ natural habitats are continuing to deteriorate and an increasing number of wild species are seriously threatened; ”We need to protect our wildlife before it is too late.”

 

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Contact:  Victoria Harvey, co-ordinator South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth. Tel 01525 385 097,

Mobile 07815 817 108. email vharvey@btopenworld.com

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

[1] Victoria Harvey, 37, of South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth, and Rebecca Lush, 33, of anti-roads alliance Road Block were chained to a digger for more than two hours, and were arrested after being cut off by a specialist protest removal team.

 

[2] The £50 million Stoke Hammond and Linslade western bypass is the first of four proposed bypasses, which will provide a dual carriageway between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury within one of the Government’s ‘growth areas’. Milton Keynes is expected to have 44,000 new homes by 2021, South Bedfordshire 26,000 and Aylesbury 15,000. Protesters believe the road is the first piece of infrastructure to pave the way for this huge housing development.

 

[3] The Bat Conservation Trust website www.bats.org.uk

 

[4] Bats are protected under the 1994 Conservation Regulations which implement The European Habitats Directive of 1992. They are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

 

[5] South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth formed a coalition with other local groups and raised £8500 in four months to pay for a barrister and an ecology expert for the Public Inquiry  into the road in 2003. In 2004 South Beds Friends of the Earth, on a barrister’s advice tried to seek a judicial review on Secretary of State’s decision to confirm the orders for the road.  However  they would have risked costs of around £40,000 if they had lost the case and local people cannot afford that.

 

[6] The Aarhus Convention covers access to justice on environmental issues. Part of this convention is the Freedom of Information Act. Victoria Harvey spoke at an “Access to Justice” Parliamentary Seminar at the House of Commons, Chaired by Peter Ainsworth MP (Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee) with Michael Meacher and Norman Baker.

 

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