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