A417 must protect wildlife and restore lost habitat

Leigh Cousins

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust has raised concerns about Highways England’s preferred route for the A417 missing link at the Air Balloon roundabout, which will have a significant impact on two of its wildlife sites, Crickley Hill and Barrow Wake.

Highways England has promised that the ‘missing link’ road scheme will be landscape-led, repairing historic damage to the landscape and the wildlife it supports. Despite positive engagement, the designs released today are insufficient to prove that it will. They also overlook some of the most threatened species in this landscape.  

We are facing a biodiversity emergency, so Highways England need to deliver the aspirations of the Government’s own 25 Year Environment Plan, which calls for ‘net gain’ for wildlife, leaving the environment in a better state than it is now.  

“There is no information on how wildlife net gain will be achieved or how ecological networks will be protected. The proposed land bridge is welcome, but not wide enough to deliver connectivity for wildlife. And there are no assurances that sufficient budget will be allocated to ensure that commitments to protect and restore wildlife habitats are any more than lip-service.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust believes that a poorly designed scheme would further fragment and degrade wildlife habitats, proving disastrous to the wildflower rich grasslands and bluebell-rich ancient woodlands of Crickley Hill, Barrow wake and Ullenwood. It would also threaten the internationally important Cotswolds beech woodlands and three other vital wildlife sites, including the headwaters of four rivers. 

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is calling on its members and the public to respond to the consultation and ask Highways England to make the following commitments:   

  • Demonstrate how net biodiversity gain and restoration of ecological networks will be achieved.  

  • Commit sufficient budget for environmental mitigation and enhancement, confirm what the budget is and ringfence it.    

  • Deliver a land bridge with a central width of at least 80 metres to reconnect wildlife habitats between Crickley Hill and Barrow Wake. 

The A417 Air Balloon roundabout sits in a special part of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It separates Crickley Hill and Barrow Wake which are a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for their wildlife and geology. These sites are one of the few remaining strongholds for many threatened plants and animals.  

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust jointly owns and manages Crickley Hill with the National Trust. Together, and in consultation with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Historic England, it is developing a master plan for how the road scheme can restore local ecological networks, whilst protecting habitats and other important environmental features in this landscape, both for wildlife and for people.  

The public consultation drop-in events organised by Highways England are:

  • Monday 30 September, Gloucester Rugby Club, 2pm - 8pm
  • Thursday 3 October, National Star College, 2pm - 7pm
  • Saturday 5 October, Witcombe and Bentham Village Hall, 11am - 6pm
  • Monday 7 October, St Andrews Church Hall, 11am - 6pm
  • Wednesday 9 October, Birdlip Church, 2pm - 7pm
  • Friday 11 October, Cirencester Town Council, 11am - 6pm
  • Tuesday 15 October, Churchdown Community Association, 2pm - 8pm