Environmental concerns over planning application next to historic orchard
The orchard is more than 100 years old and home to lots of wildlife
By Natalie Bloomer
Tucked between a large housing area and the busy A45 in Northampton sits a patch of land where field voles, woodpeckers, kingfishers, pheasants and sparrowhawks have been spotted.
Wilsons Orchard, off Billing Road East in the town, was planted during the first world war and is made up of around 200 trees - mainly bramleys but also some cherry, pear, plum, hazelnut, elder and sloe.
In August a planning application was put in by the owners of one of the nearby houses at Honeysuckle Drive to build two homes on a site they own at the back of their property which once formed part of the orchard.
South Court Environmental, a local environmental group which manages the orchard, says that if the planning application is approved it could have a major impact on nearby wildlife.
“Some of these trees are more than 100 years old and can be classed as veteran trees (younger than ancient trees but with similar features such as missing branches and hollow trunks). Building work shouldn’t be carried out near veteran trees due to the impact on wildlife,” Peter Nalder of South Court Environmental told NN Journal.
The group has conducted wildlife surveys on the land and also holds community events such as an ‘Apple Day’ where people can use a traditional apple press and try some of the different varieties growing at the orchard. It also donates fruit to local food aid organisations.
When consulting with local people on the planning application West Northamptonshire Council didn’t initially contact South Court Environmental. This was rectified after a number of councillors contacted the planning department about it, including Cllr Emma Roberts who copied in local councillors in the hope that they would call the application into committee.
Once given the right to respond South Court Environmental wrote:
“Traditionally managed orchards are rare and important sites for wildlife diversity. There are very few, if any, other such sites within Northamptonshire. Such orchards within or bordering urban areas are countrywide much rarer still.
“We maintain that the planning site and Wilsons Orchard are together an important part of Northampton's history, its present and future. They are a candidate for being regarded as a matter of civic pride for the town.”
Some local residents have also responded claiming they were told when they purchased their homes that the site would never be built on.
Last week the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire wrote to the planning department requesting that an ecological assessment be done.
“It is likely that Priority Habitats and protected species are present on and around the application site. We would strongly advise that the application needs to be accompanied by an ecological assessment along with information from any additional surveys that may be recommended.
“...Wilson’s Orchard Local Wildlife Site (LWS) is adjacent to the proposed houses and may include the access drive included within the application because of the continuous habitat. Abington Old Mill Pond LWS is also adjacent to the application site. It includes the old mill pond, as well as an arm of the River Nene and a willow covered island. LWS are identified as important to wildlife when assessed against a set of criteria by a panel of local experts.
“Orchards are often particularly rich in wildlife as they contain a range of habitats and foraging opportunities. Abington Old Mill Pond also includes a range of habitats which are linked to the wider River Nene corridor. Although they do not receive statutory protection, LWS are recognised within the planning process. This application site and the adjacent orchard are also highlighted as Priority Habitat Deciduous Woodland.”
The full planning application can be viewed here. A decision due date has not yet been given.