Mine eye is on the sparrow!

The humble Tree Sparrow was the hot topic – at least as far as I was concerned – at last nights’ Development Control Committee. The issue was a planning application from Thames Water to rebuild the sewage works on Beddington Lane, which would involve the filling in of sludge beds and a lagoon.

The site is home to Tree Sparrows, the rare cousin of the common House Sparrow. Tree Sparrows, like the one pictured, are in almost terminal decline. Once common in England, their numbers have plummeted 97 percent over the past 40 years and are now on the ‘Red List’ of endangered species.

Apart from one recent sighting in Kent I haven’t seen this species for a long time. At first glance they look similar to the House Sparrow – which itself is in rapid decline – but Tree Sparrows have an all-Chestnut cap and distinctive black ‘ear’ mark. And unlike House Sparrows, where the male and female have very different plumages, Tree Sparrows all look the same. They also have slightly ‘lighter’ build than their chubbier cousins.

I was very disappointed to learn that Tree Sparrows would be adversely affected by the Beddington Sewage application, and said so at the Committee meeting. 

There were a lot of arguments in favour. This was an essential modernising of the sewage plant, it would significantly reduce the pungent smells that have been plaguing neighbours, and there were no objections from residents or local councillors. Faced with this scenario I voted in favour along with every other member of the committee.

I got a guarantee that efforts would be made to accommodate the Tree Sparrow with nesting boxes placed nearby and that the development was part of a wider plan to enhance the Wandle Valley Park for the benefit of residents and wildlife.

However I remain deeply concerned about the impact of the works on the endangered Tree Sparrow and have written to the Council’s biodiversity officer asking to be kept fully informed of efforts to preserve this species. I have also asked for a full list of all significant birds, flora and fauna and mammals affected by the development.

At the meeting Conservative councillor Graham Witham, leader of the opposition, argued that the lagoon would be ‘restored’ to its’ original state of grassland. But I countered that this opinion did not take into account the fact that sewage works and lagoons often have a much higher wildlife value than grassland. They may smell and appear superficially unattractive but are more often than not better for rare species.

I will keep this issue on my radar to be satisfied that everything possible is being done to preserve this species and any others that live on this piece of land.

By Lester Holloway @brolezholloway