PA­TRICK BARKHAM

The hous­ing cri­sis means fa­mil­iar bat­tles over green-belt land are be­ing fought again as con­ser­va­tion­ists try to save our wildlife-rich brown­field sites.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Welcome - re­ports. Pa­trick Barkham

“There’s some­thing ro­man­tic, ex­cit­ing and some­times spooky about derelict cor­ners of a city, filled with bram­bles and bud­dleia,” says jour­nal­ist Pa­trick.

There are red hawthorn berries and pur­ple sloes, a gar­den war­bler on the black­ber­ries and a green wood­pecker cack­ling in a dark oak. Long-tailed tits dance through sal­low scrub and com­mon lizards bask on patches of bare ground in the au­tumn sun­shine. In other sea­sons, there are bee orchids, cuck­oos, tur­tle doves, whitethroats, scor­pion-flies and slow-worms. In spring, more than 1 per cent of the UK’s nightin­gale pop­u­la­tion sings here.

Lodge Hill in Kent is an idyl­lic cor­ner of the Bri­tish coun­try­side, so I was as­tounded when I learned that less than a decade ago most of this wild-look­ing grass­land and scrub was con­crete bar­racks. Ecol­o­gists have a name for what na­ture has cre­ated here as rapidly as any builder: open mo­saic habi­tat. It’s one of the rarest land-types we have. And much of it is known by an­other name: brown­field.

Brown­field Bri­tain has be­come a bat­tle­ground. No one dis­putes the value of an­cient woods, but hous­ing de­vel­op­ers, politi­cians, green-belt cam­paign­ers and con­ser­va­tion­ists hold very dif­fer­ent views of brown­field. Most of us ac­cept we ur­gently need more af­ford­able homes. And many of our cities have been hol­lowed out by in­dus­trial de­cline and re­quire ur­ban re­gen­er­a­tion. Surely it is bet­ter to build on brown­field – land de­vel­oped in the past, which may be derelict or con­tam­i­nated – than al­low houses and busi­nesses to sprawl over our green and pleas­ant patch­work of fields?

Green-belt land near Ruthin, North Wales, is bull­dozed for new homes. Bri­tain des­per­ately needs more hous­ing – but where should we put it?

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