Cory Environmental Trust declines to answer awkward questions over Borax fields ‘hypocrisy’

As part of the ongoing ‘Save our Skylarks’ campaign, the Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve recently wrote to the head of the Cory Environmental Trust, the body that dispenses grants from the company’s landfill tax breaks for, amongst other things, ‘Protecting the environment, and conserving or promoting biological diversity’, pointing out the contradiction between the activity of the Trust and its parent company’s proposals for the Borax fields next to Crossness Nature Reserve.  The Trust has now punted the matter back to Cory’s Head of Planning and Development for London without reply. He in turn has simply referred to Cory’s ‘Supplementary Ecological Report’ to Bexley Council rather than addressing the key issues. This second report fails once again to take into account red-listed Ringed Plover breeding, and promises no adequate ‘mitigation’ for the loss of breeding habitat for this species or red-listed Skylark at the site.

Save our Skylarks demonstrators line up for the photoshoot with Cory's incinerator in the background.

Save our Skylarks demonstrators line up for the photoshoot with Cory’s incinerator in the background.

FoCNR has sought constructive dialogue with Cory throughout, but has been stymied by less than full and frank disclosure over their plans at an initial meeting, and slow or inadequate responses to its questions since.

The full text of the letter follows:

26th April

Dear Mr Gerstrom,

Re: Cory Environmental/RRRL Planning Application Norman Road/Crossness – London Borough of Bexley.

Last week my wife and I visited the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park managed by Essex Wildlife Park. We were immensely impressed with the nature park and also the magnificent Visitor Centre – possibly the best in South East England. You will be aware that Cory Environmental Trust has their name emblazoned across the top of the Centre – and why not? You should be proud of the partnership you have with Essex Wildlife Trust. The other thing that stood out for us was the number of skylarks (a UK red data species) that were in the air singing – almost certainly more than we’ve seen at any other single site for many, many years.

Here, across the river in Bexley we have just three sites with breeding skylarks: one inland with one pair (hanging on despite pressure from dog walkers), one on the Crayford Marshes with 6 or 7 pairs (currently under threat from a major development) and two fields on the Erith Marshes at Crossness (also now under threat from development by Cory Environmental).

These are the only two fields where the skylark breeds within the larger complex of marshes/paddocks and fields.

I am not sure if you are aware that Cory Environmental/RRRL has entered a planning application to Bexley Council to develop two, four storey Data Centres on the two plots of land adjoining the highly regarded Crossness Nature Reserve. These two plots are vitally important for wildlife with both being the only nesting sites for skylark, ringed and little ringed plover amongst a variety of other wildlife.

At the outset I wrote, on behalf of the Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve, to the Director of RRRL Mr Pike to seek clarification of rumours that were circulating at the time. Mr Pike passed me to the Head of Planning and Development, Richard Wilkinson, who I met on site in January and have had some communication with since (see attached communication with Mr Wilkinson for a more detailed understanding of our objections). Despite an early indication that he would continue to communicate with me and giving assurances to a local forum that he would do so I have failed to elicit a response to a letter I sent on 6th March which he acknowledged and said he would respond to (I have sent three reminders). His most recent response only informed what we already knew – Bexley Council had passed the application asked for more work.

The purpose of me writing directly to you is that it seems quite bizarre to myself and the Friends that whilst Cory Environmental Trust in Britain sets out very comprehensive and demanding criteria to be met by applicants for grants from the Trust, especially environmental grants, Cory Environmental (whilst not seeking a grant from the Trust) can seemingly ride rough shod over such criteria and destroy what is known to be valuable habitat for breeding, feeding and foraging species. It also seems incomprehensible not to mention hypocritical, as I’ve said in my letters to Messr. Pike and Wilkinson that a company that boasts a strap line “At Cory Environmental the environment is not only in the name, it’s at the heart of everything we do” is then prepared to blindly go ahead destroying places that are important for wildlife and enjoyed by large groups of the community.

We are now aware that Bexley Council has asked Cory Environmental for further information which is not a surprise given that they only carried out two, one day, ecological assessments both outside the breeding season (September and October we are led to believe) and their findings were woefully inadequate demonstrating either a total lack of professionalism or arrogance. There are so many issues but I appreciate that is not your concern.

I am not sure what, if any influence you will have over the company but in the absence of any positive responses, the local Friends and wider community are getting very frustrated. The local press are taking an increasing interest and whilst we thought we had a line of communication open we were happy to look positively on Cory Environmental. Now that we have seen the extent of the development plan and lack of communication I can see the issue becoming quite an embarrassment to both Cory Environmental and possibly the Trust. It is just another irony that many of us interested in the natural environment can applaud the grant funding Cory Environmental Trust gave to another local Bexley site, in conjunction with Froglife – the splendid, forward thinking introduction of ponds to improve habitats for amphibians and invertebrates at East Wickham Open Space. Yet just four miles away Cory Environmental are destroying rare and important habitats for schedule 1 and red data species.

I understand a significant number of objections have been sent to Bexley Council who have asked Cory Environmental to carry out more work on the application in light of those objections. However, the main thrust of the objections, as I understand it, is that this development should not go ahead at all and I am hoping, on behalf of the 300 Friends and the wider community that Cory Environmental Trust in Britain might agree with us.

Thank you for your consideration,

Yours Sincerely, Ralph Todd(on behalf of the Friends of Crossness Nature Reserve) London Borough of Bexley.

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