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Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI confirmed by Natural England
19 November 2013
Natural England today confirmed Lodge Hill in Kent as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its nightingale population, special grassland and woodland.
The decision, taken by the Board at a public meeting, marks the final step in the designation process after Lodge Hill was notified as a SSSI in March this year.
The site was combined with SSSI land at neighbouring Chattenden Woods to form Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI. It is the first in Britain to have the nightingale - Luscinia megarhynchos - as one of its notified features.
As the Government's conservation adviser, Natural England has a duty to notify SSSIs when it considers that an area of land is of special interest for its flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features. Selection of SSSIs is carried out in accordance with published guidelines and, once notified, the special interest features of a SSSI are given protection against operations that are likely to damage them.
Speaking after the Board's decision, Poul Christensen, Natural England's Chairman, said: "The evidence clearly points to this site being one of the most important strongholds for nightingales in the country. Confirming this land as a Site of Special Scientific Interest gives the clearest possible recognition of this."
The site's national importance for nightingales was first established by a national survey carried out by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) last year. It found that the scrub and woodland habitat was home to more than one per cent of Great Britain's nightingale population, making it one of the most important strongholds for the bird in the country. Further research also discovered that the site contains over 11 ha of lowland species-rich grassland.
In order to help inform today's discussion by the Board further research was carried out into the local nightingale population by the BTO. This confirmed that the population had reduced from 85 pairs in 2012 to 65 in 2013, giving a two-year mean of 75 which still represented at least 1.15% of the British population (estimated at up to 6,550 in 2012). The decline was consistent with an exceptionally poor breeding season for migrant birds throughout Great Britain in 2012.
The new SSSI covers 351 ha on the Hoo Peninsula in north Kent; the previous SSSI covered 128 ha. As well as its important nightingale population Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI is considered to be of special interest for its lowland ancient and long-established semi-natural woodland and its unimproved neutral grassland, both of which are nationally important.
The site includes land identified as the potential location for a major housing development. More than 80% of the local nightingale population is distributed across the area proposed to be allocated for development.
The decision to extend the SSSI clarifies the environmental importance of the site but does not determine whether or not development can go ahead; this is a matter for the planning system. Natural England will continue to engage with the local planning authority (Medway Council), the landowner (Ministry of Defence) and its commercial partner (Land Securities) to contribute, as appropriate, to the planning process. In particular, and in order to contribute to sustainable development, we will consider carefully any proposals for a habitat creation scheme to offset the impacts on the special wildlife of the site, should development proceed.
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Notes:
∗ A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is one of the country's very best wildlife and/or geological sites. SSSIs include some of the most spectacular and beautiful habitats: wetlands teeming with wading birds, winding chalk rivers, flower-rich meadows, windswept shingle beaches and remote upland peat bogs.
∗ There are over 4,100 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in England, covering around 8% of the country's land area. More than 70% of these sites (by area) are internationally important for their wildlife and designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) or Ramsar sites. Many SSSIs are also National Nature Reserves (NNRs) or Local Nature Reserves (LNRs).
∗ After Lodge Hill's importance for nightingales was established by the national survey in 2012 Natural England had a legal duty to designate it as a SSSI. Notification was approved at a meeting of the Executive Board on 11 March 2013. Formal notification letters were sent to relevant parties who had until August to make objections and representations about the notification.
∗ Seventeen letters were received in support of notification from individuals and organisations including the RSPB, Buglife, Kent Wildlife Trust and Shorne Parish Council. Three objections were received from the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (on behalf of the Ministry of Defence), Medway Council and Land Securities, none of which was resolved. Bridge Wood Field Archery Club also initially objected to the inclusion of a car park and track in the SSSI but after this was resolved they expressed support for the SSSI confirmation.
∗ Chattenden Woods SSSI, covering 128.37 ha, was last notified in 1984 for its lowland semi-natural woodland, neutral grassland and assemblage of breeding birds chiefly associated with woodland. The new Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI includes Chattenden Woods SSSI and also enlarges the area notified to include substantial additional areas of special interest totalling 222.12 ha. The total area of the enlarged SSSI is 351.16 ha.
∗ Chattenden Woods and Lodge Hill SSSI comprises a mosaic of habitats, including long-established semi-natural woodland (areas of which are recorded as ancient semi-natural woodland), dense scrub and neutral grassland. The site lies on the Hoo Peninsula in north Kent, north-east of Rochester.
∗ The nightingale has suffered a decline in population in Great Britain for a number of years and is amber-listed by the BTO as a "Bird of Conservation Concern". Kent is the county with the highest number of nightingales, accounting for around a quarter of the British population.
About Natural England
Established in 2006, Natural England is the government's independent adviser on the natural environment. Our work is focused on enhancing England's wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
- We establish and care for England's main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves (NNRs) and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved. All of England's NNRs form part of a UK wide network of nature reserves covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
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