Manchester Region Biodiversity Crisis

This article was written by Dave Bishop, November 2011

  • There is limited protection for Sites of Biological Importance (SBIs). For example, the Metrolink line across the Mersey will pass through the Lower Hardy Farm SBI at Chorlton. I have twice asked MCC if this means that all SBIs are vulnerable to development and have received no reply.
  •  Many biodiverse sites are not recognised as such, have no designation and no protection from development, inappropriate management or neglect. For example, the banks of the river Mersey are rich in plant life but have been inappropriately managed in the past (i.e. have been mowed in May and June); the Environment Agency seem to have changed their policy with respect to these banks recently but there is no guarantee that this new policy will be maintained in future. There are biodiverse areas in several Manchester parks (e.g. Alexandra park and Platt Fields) – but this may be purely down to neglect or lack of funds.
  •  The vast majority of SBIs are not managed. They usually have Biodiversity Action Plans associated with them – but, in practice, these are usually ‘Biodiversity NO Action Plans’. Many SBIs are becoming seriously overgrown with scrub and could lose their designations.
  •  With local government cuts, local authorities have a perfect excuse for neglecting biodiversity – but they have neglected it for years. For example, I am aware of no serious management for biodiversity in the Mersey Valley for at least 10+ years. I believe that Manchester and Trafford (and possibly other authorities) have a serious attitude problem with respect to their duties towards biodiversity (i.e. ‘Biodiversity is trivial and nothing to do with us – what is the minimum that we can get away with?’).
  •  Local authorities, their contractors and various agencies (e.g. Environment Agency, GM Waste Authority, United Utilities etc.) are still employing management regimes which are grossly inappropriate or inimical to wildlife. For example, mowing and pruning at the wrong time of year, use of herbicides, ‘blitzing’ everything every 5 or 10 years – rather than regular maintenance, and, paradoxically , gross neglect of important sites. As far as I am aware most of these bodies have professional Ecologists working for them and I can only conclude that either these professionals are not listened to or are incompetent.
  •  Giving people access to local green spaces seems to be the local authorities’ only priority. But unlimited access can cause serious problems for wildlife. For example, important unimproved grassland at Chorlton Ees was once regularly mowed and the hay sold to local livestock owners. With increased use, the site became contaminated with dog faeces, the livestock owners refused to take the hay and the site became overgrown. In recent years a vandal has been observed setting fire to the site with a blowlamp; it is now overgrown with Rosebay Willowherb and utterly ruined.
  •  Far too many of our local green spaces consist of obsessively mown grass and little else. There are far too many under-used playing fields, which are used by a few young men, for, literally, a few hours per year. It’s worth noting that many relatively biodiverse sites are full of people (and their dogs) but many obsessively mown sites are empty. Nevertheless, there appears to be increasing pressure to convert even more of our green spaces into sports fields.
  •  There is far too much emphasis on tree planting. I sometimes think that local authorities are operating under the illusion that all that all they have to do to fulfil their duties towards biodiversity is to plant a few trees. Tree planting has very little to do with enhancing biodiversity (except in certain limited circumstances) and can seriously reduce it by casting shade and drying out wetland sites. We don’t need any more trees – we have a surfeit already. Anyone who takes the trouble to look at our green spaces will easily see that they are in fact being invaded by self-sown trees. On the other hand we are losing old trees (which are important for biodiversity) at a ferocious rate. We are usually told that an old tree has to be destroyed because it is ‘diseased’ – but any old tree can be described as ‘diseased’ – hence all of our old trees are under threat.
  •  I strongly suspect that the local natural environment may be deteriorating as a result of climate change and/ or pollution. Thus local wildlife may be facing a ‘double whammy’!

What Can AMOSS Do?

  • Demand that Manchester City Council does more to achieve the objectives articulated on its website and in the Manchester Biodiversity Strategy:

“Manchester has a wide range of habitats and wildlife. This includes everything from floating water plantain in the Rochdale Canal through to ancient woodland in Blackley. These species and habitats make up a rich and valuable diversity that we should aim to protect and manage so that this can be enjoyed by all, both now, and in the future.”

  •  Insist that MCC’s contractors and other agencies, without exception, adopt management practices which are wildlife friendly. AMOSS should seek to highlight and challenge as many examples of bad practice as possible.
  • Insist that all local green spaces are audited for their biodiversity and challenge any professional opinion which claims that a particular space has no biological value – note that, scientifically, it is not possible to prove a negative!
  • Work with the Greater Manchester Ecology Unit to build up its biodiversity records.
  • Seek to reconcile any conflicts between the biological interest of a particular site and those users of the site who may not consider themselves to be interested in the site’s wildlife or see it as a legitimate priority.
  • Challenge the present orthodoxy which appears to put the interests of sporting groups before any other interests (particularly as many outdoor sporting facilities seem to be poorly utilised). Insist that the environs of existing public sporting facilities are made as wildlife friendly as possible.

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