What value our nature? A dead car park has no value.

What value our nature? A dead car park has no value.

Local campaigners against the climate and biodiversity emergency have slammed proposals to turn part of the Shawford Down nature reserve into a car park for commuters.

The proposed site has mature beech, sycamore, horse-chestnut and ash trees, and even a young oak tree making a bid to maturity. Damsel flies from the nearby River Itchen take advantage of insects for food, and butterflies make the most of buttercup and speedwell for nectar. It is just quietly doing what nature does - which is to grow and create webs of life.

Shawford is a small village. It has a train service to London and residents can walk or cycle to the train station. Some passengers come from further afield and park in the village to take the train from Shawford. Whilst other commuters are happy to use the park and ride near Winchester to take the train.

Hampshire County Council (HCC) who own this land and act as custodians of this designated nature reserve have offered part of it as parking for around 100 cars. Fundamentally HCC are failing in their duty to preserve and protect this land on behalf of the community. That community is not only Shawford residents but also the many people from the surrounding district who enjoy walking there.

“What value would you put on this piece of land? Think about this before you answer” says Lesley Mackinnon of Extinction Rebellion Winchester.

“The value of this land is not monetary. We cannot buy what it gives us. Two mature trees produce enough oxygen for a family of four every year. The variety of trees, grasses, flowers, plants and fungi support a huge range of insects, birds, and other mammals. Mature trees lock up around a tonne of harmful carbon dioxide in their life-time.

During lockdown it is places like these, on both small and large scales, that have helped us fight the panic of the coronavirus tragedy.”

HCC ignore its real value, referring to it as a “small piece of land” and imply that it is not part of the designated nature reserve.

Campaigners accuse HCC of being happy to see trees cut down, flowers and vegetation destroyed, all this to be replaced by a 100 space floodlit carpark.

“By devaluing the land through their use of language, and concealing its location within the nature reserve, maybe they believe we will not get upset about it disappearing under the bulldozers and excavators. The end result will be dead land” said Lesley.

HCC declared a climate emergency in 2019. HCC accepts that it has a “responsibility to its residents to take meaningful action to reduce carbon emissions, and to prepare Hampshire for the impacts of a changing climate”. But they are still working as if it is business as usual .

So what should they do on climate change? Obvious steps would be increasing tree cover and improving biodiversity such as allowing verges to become wildflower havens.

But they also need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – in particular, from motor vehicles. HCC is the transport authority. It should be encouraging people out of their cars, not encouraging car use by destroying our countryside and polluting our air.

Shawford residents have put forward a range of different solutions to improving existing car parking. Options which do not involve destruction of part of a designated nature reserve.

They also believe that any designs for improved parking should be considered in view of an integrated transport policy as laid out in the Winchester Movement Strategy and a review of the original business case given the likely reduction in travel for work in a post-covid society.

Extinction Rebellion Winchester challenges HCC to step up to its environmental stewardship responsibilities.

“You can pave paradise and put up a parking lot – but you don't know what you got till it’s gone” said James Miller or was it Joni Mitchell ?

“We ask you to take this part of Shawford Down nature reserve off the negotiating table. Maintain our natural environment and help Hampshire residents keep our air clean for now and future generations. Dead land has no value.”

Image: Google Earth