Our Biodiversity Meeting with WBC – 12/11/2013

No-one was more surprised than I to get a quick response from WBC’s Chief Executive Ray Morgan, when I emailed him, suggesting a meeting to discuss how WBC and LA21 might best support biodiversity within Woking. Alison Daykin, David Askew and myself came up with some ideas of what we wanted to talk about and Alison put them together in a powerpoint presentation. Our main suggestions were that more bee friendly plants should be included in any new planting by WBC’s horticultural contractors Serco, that any woodland should be managed in as environmentally friendly a way as possible, that biological corridors should be created and where possible habitats restored. We also requested that the edges of recreation grounds be managed in such a way as to encourage more wildlife, and perhaps most importantly of all, that WBC should come up with a Biodiversity Action Plan to set out how Woking could both improve and maintain its biodiversity.

The meeting seemed to get off to a good start with Ray Morgan assuring us that he was on our side so to speak, and indeed he did show a genuine knowledge and concern about biodiversity. He also assured us that WBC would be producing a Biodiversity Action Plan and that it would take about 18 months to do so. We were less successful  in persuading WBC to play a more active role in guiding Serco to be more wildlife friendly in their management of open spaces in the more urban parts of Woking, but I think that in time they will be more open to such proposals and we will keep pushing for this to be a part of their Biodiversity Action Plan. They clearly have to balance what I believe is a genuine desire to encourage biodiversity with a concern over what some of Woking’s more conservative-minded residents might object to. An area of long grass with wildflowers might be viewed by some as just a patch of long grass with weeds that nobody had bothered to maintain. So perhaps a degree of public education is needed and LA21 and other organizations such as The Surrey Wildlife Trust can clearly play an active role in such a process. However, I do feel we have started chipping away at established attitudes, as shown by the wildflower mixes on the roundabouts that will be continued next year, and that in time more wildlife friendly habitats will be created closer to residential areas.

However, WBC did show that they wanted to support the biodiversity arm of LA21 in three important ways. They invited us to come up with our own conservation project and hinted that they would be willing to help fund it, if we could come up with a decent proposal. They also said they would put their support behind promoting a Woking Best Wildlife Garden Competition if we would be willing to publicize and run it, and that they would support proposals for a habitat restoration project at St John’s Lye. This would restore some of the area to the heathland that it used to be, and so long as some of the residents concerns can be overcome, would provide Woking with another interesting area of biodiversity.

As regards the possible conservation project, Ray Morgan stressed that he wanted something that would capture the imagination of the public and he himself is clearly interested in the possibility of attracting owls back to Woking so I am currently researching how feasible this might be but also how such a project might be expanded to provide homes for some of our other creatures. Other LA21 members may well have their own ideas and we will organize a meeting sometime in January, where we can discuss how best we can make use of the opportunities that WBC has offered us.

We hope to be able to have such a meeting at the new WWF Centre and Tim Lowe has also said he can probably arrange a guided tour around their eco-friendly building. We will let you know as soon as possible when the meeting will be, and we hope that as many LA21 members as possible will be willing to take part. Until then, if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions feel free to email me, Charles Barber at charles.barber13@gmail.com

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