This article was written for and originally published by Ealing News on 31 July 2023
As a London National Park City ranger, I am proud to live in a city with a diverse range of blue and green spaces, diverse habitats and an abundance of species. As citizens, it’s our right to access them whilst our duty to help make them ‘greener, healthier and wilder’.
I began to explore Warren Farm Nature Reserve (WFNR) a year ago after seeing glorious photos posted by members of Ealing Wildlife Group. Until that point, I had no idea that owls were found in London, let alone Ealing.
Since then, I have assisted in organising 15-20 nature walks, attended by people of all ages from across the borough and beyond, including members of the Eco Club from a local school.
So, why is WFNR so precious?
Warren Farm is 61 acres of rewilded acid grassland and is one of the most biodiverse sites in London. It is now effectively a nature reserve, although it does not yet have an official designation. It is part of the Brent River Park, an area which stretches from Hangar Lane in the North to Brentford in the South. These connected habitats are crucial for wildlife to thrive; breed, feed, socialise and stay safe.
97% of this kind of habitat has been lost in the UK since the 1930s. Insects are declining at a
terrifying rate; 5 acres of meadow can contain one ton of insects acting as pollinators, food for birds and mammals.
WFNR supports a range of rare and protected species such as skylarks, barn owls, moths and
butterflies like the yarrow pug, brown argus, and the spider, Thanatus striatus which has not been recorded anywhere else in Middlesex. Biodiversity is critical in sustaining a healthy planet. Losing one species creates a chain reaction.
At this time of climate emergency, flower-rich grasslands and meadows can store 500% more carbon than monoculture grass, maintain cooler temperatures and reduce flooding.
Since 2020, many have realised how critical green spaces are for mental and physical health. WFNR can be enjoyed by many; young and old, rich and poor and is an ideal space for walking, running or cycling. The NHS recognise “walking is simple, free and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier.”. In addition, they encourage engagement in “nature-based activities to support mental health”.
What is wrong with Ealing Council’s proposal?
The council have labelled their plan to put a sports facility on over half of Warren Farm as a ‘win-win’ which is an immensely naïve statement. They have ignored evidence presented to them by experts including conservationist Dr Sean McCormack and renowned London Natural History Society botanist Dr Mark A Spencer.
Data gathered by Dr Spencer indicates that the half of Warren Farm that the council wants to build on is the area containing some of the most threatened plant species.
Skylarks will not ‘share' their nesting sites with floodlights, noise and sports pitches and, as Ealing Council says in its own Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), there is nowhere else in the borough which has proved suitable for them to breed.
The dilapidated buildings, which Ealing Council’s leader Peter Mason is so keen to focus on, only makes up a small fraction of the site. The council continually declares that campaigners are against sports for young people which is false. Their own plans highlight a wide number of spaces where sports could be built and there is a cricket club across the road.
Ealing Council: just like the 2,000 people turned up to protest outside Ealing Town Hall in March, the 22,000+ who signed the online petition, Kabir Kaul, Chris Packham, Iolo Williams, Megan McCubbin and Liz Bonnin, we want you to see how proud you should be of this already rewilded space. Calling from the rooftops to other councils that this space, in its current form, can be used to improve the physical and mental health of your constituents across all ages. How this area will protect existing and future generations against climate change by acting as a carbon sink, all whilst demonstrating that you are keeping the promises made in your BAP to protect skylarks and other rare species.
As already identified in the Ealing Sports Strategy, sports can find a home elsewhere, but once
destroyed, we can never get this rare ecological haven back.