THE major State of Nature report, launched last week by Sir David Attenborough, drew attention to a catastrophic decline in Britain’s wildlife, in which plants and animals, once part of everyone’s experience, have been alarmingly depleted or disappeared altogether.
Some surprising places have managed to retain their biodiversity however, and one of them is Combe Haven. For decades, the flanking seaside towns of Bexhill and Hastings have turned their backs on this river valley, viewing it as no more than an inconvenient obstacle to suburban sprawl, a black hole best filled with domestic waste.
The rubbish mountain at Pebsham Landfill Site has grown and grown, strewing the valley with plastic, nourishing a huge population of crows and troublesome herring gulls and concealing the ancient landscape behind it.
Combe Haven has long been known for its scarce wetland birds but within that neglected and half-forgotten flood-plain have also survived populations of farmland birds, once common but now vanished from many places in the Hastings hinterland.
Another survival is silence; in spite of its close proximity to built-up areas, urban sounds hardly intrude upon the wild songs of skylarks, yellowhammers, song thrushes, cuckoos, lapwings and linnets - all continue to nest here though nationally regarded as of ‘high conservation concern’.
Happily, the ugly landfill site will soon close when, once rehabilitated, it will form part of a new 600ha Combe Valley Countryside Park comprising most of Combe Haven.
With good management and adequate resources, the black hole could become a green oasis upon which 22,500 local inhabitants can once more turn their faces for fresh air, exercise, contact with nature and respite from urban pressures. Space, sky, green, streams, trees, stars, birdsong.
A story with a happy ending then? No. For smashing through the heart of Combe Haven is a lumbering dinosaur of an outdated road scheme which will lay waste to a key nesting area and bring constant noise, fumes, light pollution and litter to this unrecognised gem.
In spite of wildly inflated claims for its benefits to the local economy, this inadequate short-cut between two traffic jams was judged poor value by the Department for Transport. Yet it was still approved by the Chancellor, George Osborne, whose intervention was much appreciated by Amber Rudd MP, his ‘right-hand woman’.
Those who compiled the State of Nature report hope that it will provide a wake-up call, a warning of the dire outcomes consequent upon a perennial disregard for the natural world. They hope it will mark a move away from the ruinous policies of the past which, unhappily are alive and well in Bexhill and Hastings, where the destruction goes on.