BT threat to wildlife at hush-hush base

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The Independent Online

BT is planning to destroy a wildlife haven in an area of the Midlands best known for its tangle of railway lines and motorway junctions. Local residents and environmentalists last week appealed to The Independent on Sunday for support in their campaign to preserve the site located on a stretch of brownfield land bordering the M1 in south Warwickshire.

BT is planning to destroy a wildlife haven in an area of the Midlands best known for its tangle of railway lines and motorway junctions. Local residents and environmentalists last week appealed to The Independent on Sunday for support in their campaign to preserve the site located on a stretch of brownfield land bordering the M1 in south Warwickshire.

The telecommunications giant, which suffered a massive drop in its profits and announced 3,000 redundancies last week, is determined to sell the 1,600-acre site near Daventry for housing or factories. The development will drive out the larks, great crested newts and woodpeckers that live there. As our Out of Bounds campaign has shown, it is not just the MoD that is restricting public access to open land - the utilities have also much to answer for.

Campaigners from local villages have decided to fight BT. With the help of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, they are calling on BT and the local authorities to scrap the sell-off and open up the land to lovers of wildlife and countryside.

If you've ever taken a train through Rugby or driven through Warwickshire on the M1, you will have been struck by the forest of masts and aerials that rises up close to Daventry. It is a serious place. The site, owned by BT, is home to an atomic clock and is used for shore-to-ship and air transmissions by the MoD. But it is also full of wildlife.

Much of the site is fenced off because of the high security risk and is accessible only to the tenant farmers who rent the grassland below the masts - a restriction which local residents have always understood. That is about to change. Satellite technology means the masts and the radio stations they serve are becoming redundant, and when BT's contract with the MoD runs out in 2003 it will not be renewed. BT plans to sell off the land to developers either for housing or an industrial estate.

With little concern for public opinion, an opportunity to transform a part of out-of-bounds Britain into a place of public recreation appears to have been ignored. "It's not beyond the wit of man to convert it to a nature reserve," said Robert Marshall, who is chairman of the campaign. "It should be developed and opened to the public. It seems a shame that we are going to lose this area just so that BT can maximise profits and the local council can breathe a sigh of relief that it won't have to find any more sites for housing."

The land, which does not even have an official name and is simply referred to as "east of Rugby", is half a mile to the west of junction 18 of the M1 where it meets the M6. The Daventry Freight Rail Terminus stands near by. Yet wildlife defiantly insists on colonising the area.

The surface of the land is mainly "ridge and furrow" farmland, a rare example of a pre-industrial farming method that dates back to pre-enclosure times. But the masts and cables that run under ground mean it is classified as a brownfield site.

Julia Perry, another campaigner, believes the land is greenfield in all but name. "It's classified as brownfield because of the masts, but I used to shepherd on it in blizzards. It's farmland that just happens to have a few poles on it. It's riddled with hares, woodpeckers, and skylarks. It is heartbreaking that they want to build on it."

The campaigners have also criticised the local authority for earmarking the site for potential development in its long-term strategic plans."The council would not oppose the creation of a wildlife area in the long-term," said a spokesman for Warwickshire County Council. "If Rugby Borough Council can find another area to build its houses then all well and good."

BT would consider proposals for part of the land to become a nature reserve in a "positive light", said a spokesman. But he added: "We see the land as suitable for redevelopment. There is a big demand locally for houses and using this site would avoid building on greenbelt land."

* Do you know of any area that should be open to all but isn't? Write to: Out of Bounds Britain, Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, or e-mail m.rowe@independent.co.uk

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