Ealing Council report recommended Warren Farm NR as Site of Importance for Nature Conservation in 2018

An unpublished report for Ealing Council has reinforced what our campaign has been arguing for the last three years – Warren Farm is a species-rich Nature Reserve. The report recommended that Warren Farm Nature Reserve be designated as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) in its entirety, as long ago as 2018.

SINC designation is described in the Mayor of London’s London Plan as: 

“Areas of land chosen to represent the best wildlife habitats in London and areas of land where people can experience nature close to where they live and work.”

The unpublished ecology consultants’ report, based on a survey in 2017, concluded that the site should be given Borough SINC status, which means that “damage to these would mean a significant loss to the borough”. The report came to light after the Leader of the Opposition, Councillor Gary Malcolm, submitted a Freedom of Information request to the council and was provided with a partially redacted copy.

It is considered good practice for London boroughs to review their SINCs every ten years. Ealing Council’s last completed SINC review was published in 2007. The council should therefore have finished and published the latest borough wide SINC review in 2017 but it is now 6 years overdue, is still incomplete and the consultants’ reports have not yet been made public. SINC reviews are generally completed in the space of 1 – 2 years.

Excerpt from Ealing Council’s SINC review undertaken in 2017 recommending Warren Farm NR should receive SINC status

The consultants’ recommendation was made during the period when Ealing Council was negotiating the long-term leasing of Warren Farm to Queen’s Park Rangers, for development as a new training ground. In the event, it was Ealing Council’s failure to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, together with evidence backed by us and environmental experts that proved the site was species-rich, that led to the judicial review being granted in 2020 and QPR’s decision to pull out of the project. Disputes over Warren Farm spanning 10 years left the site free to rewild. Our grassland and wildflower meadow habitat is now one of the foremost wildlife sites in London. During this period, the Brent River & Canal Society (BRCS), the charity behind our Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign, strongly urged Ealing Council to undertake a SINC review on Warren Farm.

Commenting on the report, Katie Boyles, BRCS Trustee and Warren Farm Nature Reserve campaign organiser said:

“We are not at all surprised by the findings of this SINC report that recommends our green space as a vital site of importance for nature conservation. It’s obvious to anyone who visits how amazing our meadow is and that it is bursting with wildlife. Indeed, we would go further than the SINC report. We believe Warren Farm Nature Reserve is of London-wide and national importance. Since this survey was done in 2017, our grassland and wildflower meadow has further re-wilded and it contains one of the richest collections of rare and endangered species in the capital. The site is home to Ealing’s only Skylarks, making up a quarter of London’s breeding population and London’s only recently recorded site for the nationally endangered Copse Bindweed. If the council’s development plans were to go ahead, this plant would become extinct in London.

What is less clear is why Ealing Council has sat on this information for so long and why it took a freedom of information request to get to the truth. Withholding important environmental information from Ealing residents, whilst simultaneously planning to de-wild Warren Farm Nature Reserve, is hugely disappointing behaviour. This is not what we would expect from a council that claims to care about the environment. Warren Farm Nature Reserve deserves to be acknowledged and protected for future generations. We encourage Ealing Council to be open and transparent and to uphold the recommendations made in their own SINC review rather than ignoring them.”

Her comments were echoed by BRCS Trustee Phil Belman, who also pointed out the wider implications for Ealing Council’s Local Plan:

“We have been urging Ealing Council to carry out the SINC review for over five years. It was due in 2017, which was when this survey was carried out. The information from this review appears to have been omitted from its Local Plan, published in November 2022. The Local Plan contains proposals for developments on a number of sites, including Warren Farm Nature Reserve, yet the SINC recommendation is nowhere mentioned. Why not?

Ealing Council must now carry out a habitat survey of Warren Farm, as its own Overview and Scrutiny Committee recommended on 21st February.  To issue a draft Local Plan before completing the SINC review is sheer folly.  The council must now complete this review and revisit the Local Plan as a matter of urgency.”

Bluebells, Buttercups and Red-Dead Nettle are some of the wildflowers that grow alongside the ancient hedgerow in the long strip of land that runs alongside Windmill Lane. This strip is currently the only part of Warren Farm NR that has SINC status.

We have already warned the council that its plan to develop half of Warren Farm NR risks falling foul of both national and London-wide policies. From November 2023, all new developments will be required to show a “mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain” of 10 percent. The destruction of half of the most species-rich site in the borough makes it look extremely unlikely that this hurdle will be cleared.

BRCS Trustee Steven Toft remarked:

“Not only does Ealing Council not know what species are present on Warren Farm Nature Reserve, it appears not to want to know. The SINC review shows that the council has already been given some information about the value of this site. The council runs the risk of wasting a lot of money on planning the development of a sports facility only to find that it was unviable from the start. Wouldn’t it make more sense to carry out a habitat survey now before committing any more resources to this project?”

London Natural History Society forensic botanist Dr Mark A Spencer added:

“The 2017 surveys, commissioned by Ealing Council, recognise that Warren Farm sits within a larger ecologically valuable landscape and that it should be protected. Our more recent work has demonstrated that the site contains nationally and regionally endangered species, many of which are considered priorities for conservation by the GLA. Despite knowing that we have undertaken further surveys, Ealing Council have failed to recognise the existence of our findings. In essence, they have rammed their fingers in their ears and shouted ‘la, la, la’ in the hope that the information will go away. It won’t!”

Calls to action you can take today to further strengthen the voice of our wildlife under threat;

·       Call on Ealing Council to complete the SINC review

·       Demand that the Local Plan be re-written to incorporate the information in the SINC review

·       Demand that the council halt the development plans for Warren Farm NR until a full Phase 1 Habitat Survey has been carried out, using the London Open Spaces Survey methodology.

Please write to your local Ealing councillors with the above 3 calls to action, urging them not to support the dewilding plan but to defend Warren Farm Nature Reserve. Enter your postcode here and it will bring up a list of your councillors with links to their email addresses. Thank you!

We are also asking people to continue to sign our petition for Local Nature Reserve status for the whole of Warren Farm Nature Reserve, which now has over 21,000 signatures and the support from a number of notable wildlife charities, organisations and individuals.

Thank you for giving our wildlife and much loved green space a voice!