Ash Ranges is not the only location which is facing an uncertain future. This post is a guest post from our friends over in Colchester.
Hi to all those who haven’t heard of our campaign. Save Ash Ranges/ www.SaveOurSpaces.co.uk asked us to write a brief article about our fight to save the Middlewick Ranges. First, I guess is to say where we are, we are in the South part of Colchester, Essex, and home to one of (if not) the biggest army garrison in the country. Back in 2016 the MOD decided that the Middlewick Ranges was surplus to requirements and its usage transferred to the nearby Fingerinhoe Ranges (which is where the army used a lot heavier type weponage). It approached the local council to say the land was available for housing and they jumped on it faster than flies on rocking horse ****.
Despite the area being a designated LOWS (Local Wildlife site) with several county and national rare wildlife species than inhabit the ranges also close to some SSSI wildlife sites the local council added it to their prospective local plan without and relevant surveys being carried out.
Almost Immediately a Facebook group was setup to try and protect the ranges from the development, or turn It in to a county park or nature reserve, with the local plan going to take several years to come before the Planning inspector it gave us time to gel as a group, a smaller group came together later on as an action group consisting of environmentalists, ecologists, researchers and social media campaigners.
History of Middlewick Ranges
Quick History of the ranges, the army started buying farms up around the mid 1800’s and the Middlewick firing range was born, it’s been more or less untouched by development bar a couple of brick buildings and about 15yrs ago a steel fence was erected to stop people either vandalising the targets and prevent people walking through the shooting area when in use. Middlewick has developed in to the last large open space in south Colchester, surrounded on 3 sides by housing estates, the rare acidic grassland that grows on it is home to many red listed invertebrates, skylarks and nightingales. Barbastelle Bats inhabit nearby ancient woods and use the wick as a feeding ground. Badger sets are also present with foxes and other mammals, Grass snakes and the occasional adder than people worth the knowledge know where to look for on the range, it’s an absolute haven for wildlife.
Back in 2008 the Dio wanted to develop the wick into a waste recycling plant for the building waste from the new Colchester garrison redevelopment, this was rejected by the council with a note saying the wick had the potential to be a SSSI wildlife site and shouldn’t be developed on.
Progress so far
Research is the key, dig up old records, the freedom of information act is a god send. www.whatdotheyknow.co.uk makes it so easy. Lobby your MP and councillors, don’t take know for answer, newsletters websites. Get in on council meetings to have your say. Question everything the MOD/Dio say, we even had a DIO ecology survey inspected by an expert who found it less than truthful. Some of the possible plans the Dio have put forward are horrific including putting sulphur into a nearby area which drains into a SSSI area to change the grass so get their bio diversity net gain. One person that cannot go unmentioned is Rosie Pearson of the Better Planning Campaign. After her own battle with Garden Cites 2 of which her and her team defeated, she has been an enormous help,
Currently waiting for the planning inspector to decide if the Middlewick Ranges is suitable for housing, we have had a change of Political parties in charge of the council and they seem to be in favour of no or less development. The outcome is probably a couple of weeks away but will not be the end of the battle.
There is so much detail I could go into, lack of proper evidence almost disbelief in some of the statements from the council and DIO. Keep up the fight whatever you are trying to protect and keep for future generations. It can be so frustrating and feels like you hit a brick wall round every corner.
If anybody wants further information, we have 2 Facebook pages,
Save The Middlewick Ranges (is a member only Group)
Friends of Middlewick (is an Open Page on Facebook)
Twitter account is @SaveRanges
And our website is www.savemiddlewick.org
Thanks for reading and good luck in your own campaigns
Save the Middlewick Ranges Campaign group.