Painted Lady Butterfly at Bowden Housteads Wood butterfly meadow – photographed by Lee Swords – and about to be flattened – read on
Sheffield City Council wreak havoc on Bowden Housteads Wood butterfly meadow
Following from Lee Swords recent comment on this blog, I am able to confirm that the bulldozers are about to move in to destroy this part of the Bowden Housteads Wood Site of Scientific Interest (scheduled 1991). I have tried to get comment from the City Council’s Woodland Team but they don’t seem to respond and key questions have not been answered. The site is part of an Ancient Woodland and so protected under planning guidance, and despite wartime opencast coal extraction on this area, the ancient woodland status remains intact. This was recently confirmed in a report by Natural England (the government’s nature conservation advisory body), for the equally threatened Smithy Wood. Furthermore, as a site in the Green Belt, in a scheduled Green Corridor, in the South Yorkshire Forest, and importantly, owned by Sheffield City Council, the area should be protected by the Council’s own policies – even before we deal with planning issues. However, it seems that Sheffield City Council’s commitment to nature conservation and the environment is at best paper-thin. Additionally, the Woodland Trust aside, not a single one of the local conservation bodies and groups has bothered to support the local objectors and signatories (over 300) – which is a pretty shameful state of affairs.
Boys with toys – the big machines move in to flatten the breeding butterflies and bumblebees – present at this time of year.
You might think, well it has been disturbed by minerals extraction and so if no longer merits protection. However, bear in mind that large areas of our premier ancient woodland, Ecclesall Woods, were used for quarrying for refractory ganister and for stone in the 1700s and 1800s, and there are extensive coal extraction sites too. The same applies to quite a number of other ancient woods, which had ganister quarries and mines, stone quarries and coal bell-pits during the Industrial Revolution. We still celebrate and conserve these wonderful woodland landscapes and would not dream of building on them. Nevertheless, let’s face it, Sheffield has always had a differential attitude to the areas in the east and those in the west. Sometimes this works in reverse and Ecclesall Woods was excluded from the benefits of being in the South Yorkshire Forest in the 1990s, simply on socio-economic grounds. Being in an affluent western suburb my planning colleagues deemed it unsuitable to receive recognition and support. I campaigned hard on this at the time, and the Woods were eventually accepted as part of the Forest and a major asset. The rest, as they say, is history.
A Brimstone Butterfly – one of the less common species found here
However, it seems that we are back to the bad old days when sites and areas in the east are seriously disadvantaged – and ironic since these are the zones with most need for good open spaces – and all the benefits we know which accrue – mental and physical health, social benefits and quality of life, plus a desire to live in a particular location. During the 1980s and 1990s, in the City Council, we deliberately targeted impoverished areas like Shire Brook Valley and Woodhouse Washlands for environmental improvements and with huge success. Consider that at the time, Shire Brook had been earmarked to be landfilled with Sheffield’s waste, for the entire length of the Valley, and Woodhouse Washlands included a sizeable part of ‘Sheffield’s Noxious Trades Zone’. These trivial observations just serve to demonstrate how the east and west were considered differentially as from the 1930s Abercrombie Report, the western valleys like Porter and Rivelin were zoned for use as recreational green corridors. Of course, Abercrombie was right and just as Ecclesall Woods deserves to be celebrated as our most precious woodland site, these valleys are immensely valuable. However, this does not mean that the rest of the City has no value and that promises made to the Sheffield public can be cast aside so readily.
It seems that we are slipping back to the bad old days of east and west, of rich and poor. If you live in Ecclesall, you get a wonderful Woodland Discovery Centre in your wood, if you live in Handsworth or Darnall, you get a Fire Station. Somehow, this just doesn’t seem right. Even the environmental reports on the site missed basic information and omitted issues of impacts on the adjacent woodland archaeology – as the drains and pipelines go through the Woodland Local Nature Reserve – but nobody in authority seems to care.
The Peacock – widespread and common but great for local people to see
In the meantime, the butterfly meadow, now as I write, basking in hot sunshine, will be a heap of soil and wasteland. Gone will be the Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers, the Skippers, the Blues, and Tortoiseshells, and the Orange Tips. The answer tritely rolled out is that there will be a ‘green roof’ on the Fire Station; well have you ever tried walking your dog or even meeting the neighbours on a green roof? Will the local folk be able to watch the butterflies and bumblebees forage on there? No, it is not much of a recreational open space is it? One issue here at Bowden, is that it is one of the only good quality accessible green-spaces in an area that is relatively impoverished, and for a couple of decades it has been managed with this in mind. Sadly, this site and its fate seem to symbolise much that is wrong with the way we now care, or fail to care for our local environment and for local people. In essence, lies, excuses, greed, and incompetence. Then, that is just my opinion!
Ian D. Rotherham, Writer, Broadcaster, Professor of Environmental Geography, Reader in Tourism & Environmental Change