Time to review the impact of proposed Western Link on Norfolk's nature

The barbastelle bat (Barbastella barbastellus), western barbastelle hibernation

The barbastelle bat's natural habitat could be disrupted if the new Western Link is built - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Norfolk Climate Change Conference organiser Willem Buttinger is alarmed at a proposed road to the west of Norwich

An invitation arrived in my inbox to a webinar on December 8, called Nature Discovery of the Year, on the route of the Wensum Link. What was all the fuss about? Being a fairly new resident to Norfolk, the Wensum Valley had no emotional hook on me and bats had been getting a bad press of late.

On joining the webinar I was totally amazed that I was one of nearly 170 people attending. We heard from Dr Lotty Packman on how the Wensum Link route there is a super colony of the very rare barbastelle bats. Dr Packman explained that even if bat bridges/underpasses worked (which they rarely do), deaths from crossing the road is only a small part of the problem. The wide area of destruction of habitat during construction and the noise disturbance caused by a road over a wide area are just two other factors that cause bats to die out.

This provoked me to take some more interest. Researching the internet finding county council reports, previous articles in this paper and campaign material from Stop the Wensum Link group (SWL). To remind readers, the 3.9-mile link is from the A1067, travelling south halfway between Weston Longville and Ringland, and linking to the A47 at a new junction at Wood Lane near Honingham. It would require a 720-metre-long viaduct over the River Wensum, an area of special scientific interest.

The internet articles explained that the preferred route runs for several kilometres through an old landscape of woodland, hedges, arable fields and grassland over floodplain and hills. Several areas of ancient and irreplaceable, woodland as well as requiring crossings of two chalk rivers, The Wensum and The Tud. One of the chalk rivers, the Wensum, is already designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). However, there was a lot of support for the scheme from local employers and no doubt commuters and no doubt would be a benefit to the economy.

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So I went to Ringland and had a look. The area must be some of the best countryside around Norwich. Countryside with chalk streams that reminded me very much of my previous home on the North Downs which are, of course, also of chalk. I was living on the North Downs when the M25 was built. Enough is enough, I thought.

There must be an alternative way to the building of every new road. Today, there is almost universal acceptance that human kind needs to change direction and live more sustainably in relation with nature. So when do we here in Norfolk start to take that alternative path? Interestingly with Covid-19, where we saw the immediate threat, we were able to take drastic action. Why not for the sake of generations now and in the future take the right action now away from the accelerating environmental and climate crisis?

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Norfolk County Council has pushed back their meeting on putting forward the road plans to the Department of Transport for funding until February 1. Is this an opportunity for the council to pause and review this project? There are many potential solutions to local traffic problems to explore, and with Covid-19, the travel needs of Norfolk people have changed, and the financial situation has significantly worsened.

I am now emotionally hooked to help save this special area and have joined SWL and have let my councillor now how I feel. Maybe you might consider doing the same

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