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.

The charity is calling on Highways England to deliver a ‘net gain’ for wildlife, in line with government policy, and to confirm there is sufficient funding for a route that will also benefit the environment and the local community.

Crickley Hill and Barrow Wake used to be one connected landscape, but were severed when the A417 was created. The road cuts through the middle of these sites, fragmenting this wildlife habitat. The proposed new scheme will significantly widen the road and present a much bigger barrier for wildlife trying to pass between these sites, so steps must be taken to reconnect them via a land bridge.

Crickley Hill and Barrow Wake have been awarded the status of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of their wildlife. This designation protects the individual sites but does not ensure that the land between Crickley Hill and Barrow Wake is protected for wildlife. It is vital that these sites do not suffer further fragmentation.

Gareth Parry, Director of Conservation at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, says:

'The existing road clearly needs to be improved and we support a landscape-led scheme. However, the preferred route must demonstrate how it is going to protect and improve wildlife, reconnecting the nationally important wildlife habitat which the original road cut through.

'We want to see a solution that improves the environment and doesn’t just mitigate the damage done by the scheme. This is a nationally significant landscape which is highly dependent on visitors who value the countryside of the Cotswolds.’

There are opportunities for the preferred route to benefit wildlife and the environment, but the current plan could cause significant harm.

The charity is concerned that at present the scheme will not deliver the aspirations of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which needs schemes to break from tradition and deliver enhancements for wildlife. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust will work with Highways England to ensure that the road delivers a net gain for wildlife - an overall increase in the amount of high-quality, better-connected wildlife habitat.

‘There are opportunities for the preferred route to benefit wildlife and the environment, but the current plan could cause significant harm. At this stage there is not enough evidence of how this harm will be reduced, nor appreciation for the level of mitigation and restoration needed,’ says Gareth Parry.

The rare habitats and species at Crickley Hill are also very sensitive to changes in groundwater. The new scheme could significantly change the movement of underground water and it is vital that this doesn’t cause declines in the rare grassland, woodland and fungi which Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust jointly look after at Crickley Hill.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust remain disappointed that a tunnel was not considered in the options appraisal and that the government has not provided enough funding to deliver a scheme that is appropriate for this special landscape in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust works in partnership with The National Trust to look after and protect Crickley Hill, its archaeology, limestone grassland, ancient woodland and diverse wildlife. It is a delicate, much-loved and well-used landscape of international significance on the Cotswold escarpment. It includes four designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest, a Scheduled Ancient Monument (an Iron Age Hill Fort) and is set within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.