Imperial College have come out with a statement today saying they have no plans for sports grounds on their land in the controversy surrounding Ealing Council’s ambitious plans for sports and ‘rewilding’ at Warren Farm. The truth is that Imperial College land entering the scheme is currently a trashed, horse grazed paddock next door to Warren Farm. The Council can only get away with calling this entire scheme ‘rewilding’ because they are going to allow this single paddocked area to rewild. It will take 10-15 years. Many species will be lost in that time. Meanwhile Warren Farm itself has been rewilding for well over a decade and is now an incredibly precious ecosystem as a result of that time for nature to recover. Destroying half of Warren Farm for soccer pitches nobody needs and cricket pitches that could be placed elsewhere is not acceptable in a climate and biodiversity crisis.
Imperial College are being used as pawns in this flagrant ‘up yours’ to the Council’s own Biodiversity Action Plan and as tokenistic mitigation. It’s like chopping up ancient woodland with 500 year old Oak trees and saying you’ll plant the same number of Oak saplings in their place. It’s simply not equivalent and makes no sense when we have alternative sites for sports available. Biodiversity value comes with scale, intactness and age. It’s also not a good look for an organisation like Imperial hoping to boost their green credentials so I would strongly advise their legal and PR team take a closer look at how this will impact their reputation.
Council leaders are quite incredibly pushing through a plan tonight which has been vocally opposed by the majority of respondents in their public consultation, over 15,000 respondents to the Warren Farm Nature Reserve petition, our 5,500 members of Ealing Wildlife Group and most worryingly they’ve shown they don’t have a clue about very basic ecological principles. Nor it seems will they listen to experts or evidence on the matter. It begs the question why they are stubbornly proceeding with a plan that virtually everyone but them objects to? Is there an ulterior motive? How is it acceptable to ignore and silence objection on this, and then brazenly state it’s democratic. It boggles the mind.
I’m all for social justice and new sports facilities for children and communities in need, but in appropriate locations that don’t destroy incredibly complex ecosystems and rare species. Ones that cannot exist elsewhere and cannot survive on the crumbs left behind when this Council barges its plans through effectively halving the space for Skylarks, Barn Owls, rare plants, Slow Worms, Bats and all the people that want to enjoy Warren Farm as it is. The fact is they won’t survive. A vital urban oasis needs protection. Chipping away bit by bit at these last refuges are why we are one of the most nature depleted countries in the world!
There is still a chance to halt these plans and start from scratch with a solution that favours sports for children as well as saving our last Skylarks and all the other species that rely on this land. I challenge Councillors voting tonight to vote no and let’s start discussions together from scratch, respectfully and collaboratively. Let’s bring children from Southall schools to Warren Farm together and teach them about the unique wildlife that lives there. And let’s ask them if they’d like cricket and football pitches to be installed there, or at one of the 7 other sites earmarked as suitable in the Council’s sports review last July. One of the seven sites that are wholly more suitable and won’t destroy the precious little urban nature we have left.
Our Council leaders say they have to find a compromise. This is the only acceptable compromise.
Dr Sean McCormack BSc (Hons), MVB, MRCVS
Founder & Chair, Ealing Wildlife Group