Don’t write off furry, feathery, slimy things just yet


The tree sparrow is now a ‘priority species’ in Kent

There’s a sentiment around in some places that says it’s not worth worrying too much about the wildlife. Newts and nightjars may need protection if Imperial gets its way, but they are not enough to halt the plan, and for that reason we should bury our heads in council papers and seek salvation in the minutiae of red tape.

You can see the argument. While Imperial may be a large organisation, full of decent people, many of whom hate the idea of damaging the countryside, you tend to suspect that, if a colony of albino unicorns were found happily playing away at the foot of the Downs, the regime of Richard Sykes would carry them off for a spot of lab testing then drive the bulldozers in regardless.

All the same endangered species do matter. They need protection; or, more accurately, we need public vigilance to ensure that they receive the protection national and European law gives them already. Just as important, they give people a visible symbol around which they can rally, and in campaigns like these symbols are vitally important.


The nightjar, above, is just one of the many rare species under threat

Telling people to go out there and fight for your right to be treated fairly under Planning Policy Statement Number 9 just isn’t the same as saying, ‘Save Our Newts’. It bores the public when keeping up their interest over a long and possibly gruelling battle is essential. It also disengages them from the entire process, because they don’t understand the dreadful jargon of the planning process half the time, and I, for one, don’t blame them because it baffles me too.

What we are talking about here is called public relations: the ability to get over a simple message, clearly and succinctly, in terms that make it comprehensible to people who are just on the edge of the debate, peeking in to see what’s going on. Just because Imperial are terribly, horribly bad at it, there is no reason we should copy them down that path.

By setting Imperial’s overweening ambitions in the context of what harm they may do to small, harmless, endangered species — however much the developers object to the contrary — we bring the argument over Wye to a new and broader audience. Without that, we’re back looking to a deal behind doors in London clubs, and I for one place little confidence there.

So please think twice before rejecting the idea that paying attention to this area’s spectacularly varied wildlife is somehow wasted effort compared to the larger tasks of chasing legal options and scouring development plans for holes through which the developers might hope to slip. It’s also a good excuse to get out and about and enjoy the countryside at this time of year. Water voles and hares, orchids, butterflies and bumblebees, are all on the priority conservation list, and visible in the Wye area for those who know how to find them.

Will Imperial be able to square a huge development with the existing nature protection rules? Probably, at great time and expense if it can be bothered. But whether they will be able to mitigate all the damage I doubt. If there is one thing we learn about large building projects it is that they change the eco-system in subtle ways which sometimes take years to appreciate. Some species become more dominant, and others decline or disappear altogether. Perhaps the infamous Brooks Wilson Vulture (Avarishus Avarishus) will fall into the latter category…

And if anyone would like to start a log of sightings of local endangered wildlife, or some other kind of nature diary, please let us know — we will happily host it on this site.

You can find a lovely article about nightjars here. There is an astonishingly extensive list of endangered species in the Kent Red Book here (1.4mb download). And below you will find a list of Kent’s priority species. These cover the whole county — you can find more information here. Just in case you think this is crying wolf, I suggest you take at the birds category which includes, these days, the tree sparrow, once an everyday species we surely took for granted.

1. Amphibians:
Natterjack Toad
Great Crested Newt

2. Ants:
Red-Barbed Ant

3. Bees/Wasps:
Banded Mining Bee
Carder Bumblebee
Large Garden Bumblebee
Short-Haired Bumblebee
Shrill Carder Bumblebee
Cerceris quadricincta (a Solitary Wasp)
Cerceris quinquefasciata (a Solitary Wasp)
Ruby-Tailed Wasp
Evagetes pectinipes (a Spider-Hunting Wasp)
Nomada ferruginata (a Cuckoo Bee)

4. Beetles:
Amara strenua (a Ground Beetle)
Anisodactylus poeciloides (a Ground Beetle)
Hazel Pot Beetle
Harpalus cordatus (a Ground Beetle)
Harpalus parallelus (a Ground Beetle)
Lionychus quadrillum (a Ground Beetle)
Crucifix Ground Beetle

5. Birds:
Reed Bunting
Corn Bunting
Spotted Flycatcher
Tree Sparrow
Grey Partridge
Turtle Dove
Song Thrush

6. Bugs:
Plant Bug

7. Butterflies:
Pearl-Bordered Fritillary
Silver-Spotted Skipper
Adonis Blue
Heath Fritillary

8. Crustaceans:
Freshwater White-Clawed Crayfish
Lagoon Sand Shrimp

9. Fish:
Allis Shad
Twaite Shad

10. Flowering Plants:
True Fox-Sedge
Stinking Hawk’s-Beard
Deptford Pink
Broad-Leaved Cudweed
Red Hemp-Nettle
Early Gentian
Three-Lobed Water-Crowfoot
Shepherd’s Needle
Great Water-Parsnip

11. Fungi:
Sandy Stiltball
Devil’s Bolete
Bearded Tooth
Pink Waxcap

12. Grasshoppers/Crickets:
Wart-Biter Bush Cricket

13. Lichens:
Churchyard Lecanactis

14. Mammals:
Water Vole
Brown Hare
European Otter
Pipistrelle Bat

15. Molluscs:
Shining Ram’s Horn Snail
Desmoulin’s Whorl Snail

16. Mosses:
Lesser Smoothcap
Sea Bryum
Tiny Fern-Moss
English Rock-Bristle
Spreading-Leaved Beardless-Moss

17. Moths:
Straw Belle
Toadflax Brocade
Light Crimson
Dark Crimson Underwing
Marsh Mallow Moth
Bright Wave
Orange Upperwing
Scarce Merveille du Jour
Black Veined Moth
Essex Emerald

18. Reptiles:
Sand Lizard

19. True Flies:
Hornet Robber-Fly
Dotted Bee-Fly
Heath Bee-Fly
Lipsothrix nervosa (a Cranefly)
Picture-Winged Fly

20. Worms:
Medicinal Leech


About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome, Pieter Vos in Amsterdam, adaptions of the Sarah Lund stories in Copenhagen, and versions of Shakespeare worked for Audible.
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8 Responses to Don’t write off furry, feathery, slimy things just yet

  1. Diana Pound says:

    Having just said that I didn’t have the time to write anymore here I am already.

    Myself and another biodiversity expert have put together a survey form and instructions to encourage those in Wye and the surrounding area to get out and about and record wildlife. We have also edited the above list for those species that either would not occur in the habitats around here or require specialist skills to identify (though lists by specialists are welcome).

    To count and be used in arguing a case, species records must have certain key information so I will send this survey form to save-wye (this evening – must get on with the day job) and I will later notify you when we are collecting them and where to send them too.

    Of course biodiversity counts – individual species, habitats and ecosystems and the way they function. I am all for using iconic species and inspiring people to care more for the natural world (what about ‘Naff from our Newts’). But it is also necessary to manage expectations in the community about what is a show stopper and what is not – I have worked at the interface between biodiversity and planning for 20 years and I do know what I am talking about here. And so far I have not heard a biodiversity argument that is a show stopper – bricks in the wall yes – but not the definitive arguement – though I am checking out various things with my network of friends who are national experts.

  2. Diana Pound says:

    That should have been ‘Naff off from our Newts’. D

  3. Jo says:

    Or – “Newts: Naff Off”

    Or would that only confuse?


  4. David Hewson says:

    If you let me have the form Diana I will happily try to come up with something on this site which will let people fill it in and allow others to see what is happening.

  5. Sarah says:

    I think that making a log of wildlife sightings is a great sideline to the boring political details of our struggle to preserve Wye and its beautiful countryside. This is something that the children of the area would find interesting and educational, so let’s get them involved. When I point to the acres of open farmland on my way from Brook to Wye and tell my children that it could one day be covered in houses, they are horrified. Perhaps with the guidance of parents, youth groups and schools, we can give the younger generation a chance to have a voice (and they might learn something along the way!)

  6. David Hewson says:

    That is a great idea. We have today posted the forms to be used for WFG’s formal survey. This is of necessity a detailed and structured thing. But I would be happy to look at hosting some kind of online sightings board here if people are interested. So do let me know if you think that is a good idea, and if so what restrictions ought to be placed on it. Presumably one doesn’t want the exact locations of the more delicate species put online.

  7. Diana Pound says:

    Hi David,
    I have sent an email to Anne who is helping with this and we will get back to you. You are right that exact locations on the web is not a good idea for sensitive stuff. We need to find some way of doing this that is easy to use, child friendly and yet potentially of use too – in case people log something on your site but not on the forms.

    To register the first find on you site, yesterday we found slow worms and today a grass snake. 😀 (and sadly a dead hedgehog sliced in many pieces by ICL’s tractor mower – not I hope a sign of things to come).

    On a more general note I would really like kids/young people to be involved more in what is going on – yes the wildlife but also in the broader debate – could you think about how you can host an online section for kids to talk about how they feel about this? Mine are very interested and want to have their say – but are not up for reading the complexity of articles on your site and feel unable to comment.

    But stuff written by the kids of the villages and area will have its own special sort of power. Yesterday I asked my kids to tell me if they were beginning to resent the amount of time I am giving to this and my 10 year old said in a sad wistful voice: “How could I resent it? – you are trying to save the only place I want to live in – if they destroy it, where else can I go that I know and love? – Where else could I want to live? Of course I don’t resent it.”

  8. David Hewson says:

    I’ve put up a new forum here – httpe:// – which will allow anyone who registers to post sightings, and put up photos too. It is very easy to use – you simply have to register with a real email address (which doesn’t have to identify you). It also ought to be very kid friendly and allows users to do things such as have cartoons for their identities and share messages, and post events for a village calendar, which might be useful too.

    In fact I haven’t really had time to work it out myself. So to all of you out there – feel free to play with it, find out what it can do, and have fun. At the moment it is unmoderated which means that anything people post goes straight in. I hope we can keep it that way.

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