A wildflower stalk with 130 different flowering plants, dragonflies and rare bats that appeared on Norwich’s last public grass tennis courts has been bulldozed.
Despite protests from locals and green councilors, all-weather hardy lanes with floodlights and fences are being installed in Heigham Park, where species are recorded, including whiskered and brown long-eared bats, pygmy bats, hedgehogs and 18 species of dragonflies.
The 10 grass tennis courts had rebuilt themselves since they were closed in 2017, and hundreds of local residents signed a petition trying to preserve the natural refuge. Instead, Norwich City Council is continuing with a £ 266,000 plan to build three large all-weather courts, where the flower bloom was torn up this week.
When the site was surveyed in 2018, ecologists for the council concluded that the one-acre area was of “insignificant wildlife value”. But since then, the courts had quickly been colonized by wildflowers and species, including smaller hawk bites, yellow oatmeal, and the yellow-necked mouse.
A two-hour independent study by two professional ecologists and local naturalists last month found an abundance of species, including the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly, the great green bush cricket and six species of bats, two of which, whiskered and brown long- eared bats, are known to be light sensitive.
Sarah Gelpke, the ecologist who led the study, said: “This is not a tennis court, this is a hotspot for biodiversity now, an ’emerging meadow’, which if administered as a meadow would have been of great value.”
Denise Carlo, a local green councilor, said: “There are so many open areas lost in cities. If we are serious about creating climate-resistant communities, we will need to reduce the amount of hard cover, not increase it. Across the country, grass is being turned into sports fields for all kinds of weather-grass is very valuable, but it is a dwindling resource in the cities. ”
Anne Holgate, 81, who lives on the street next to the park, said: “It is heartbreaking. It is a cultural heritage, a protected park. The council spends more than £ 400,000 [on all-weather tennis courts across Norwich] when there are food banks all over the city and young people are struggling. It’s so bad. They have no moral compass. ”
Kelly Hobday, a local resident and mother of three, said: “When the kids could access the courts, they loved playing there. It was all wildflowers and wonderful to witness – the kind of thing you do not have today. ”
Residents say the council has not consulted them about the plan for all weather courses, arguing that there are seven all-weather courses in another park 10 minutes away that are rarely used in the winter. The Gardens Trust has opposed the plans because they do not respect the historic character of the Class II listed park.
According to the campaigns, the council failed to conduct a proper bat survey, as council-employed ecologists made a daily solution to look for bat rods.
The two independent ecologists used a bat detector one evening on the tennis courts to detect six species of bats. “I’ve never seen so many pipistrelle bats in my life before,” Gelpke said.
“The sad story of Heigham Park is being repeated across the country. There’s a lesson here for other councils and people who are desperately trying to keep the wildlife in urban areas – look at your urban areas as a refuge and not a place to place a tennis court that you do not even need. ”
A spokesman for Norwich City Council said: “This project will improve the facilities for our residents in a historic and much loved park.
“The importance of providing these all-weather courts cannot be underestimated in terms of the associated health benefits as well as reducing antisocial behavior and vandalism through the increased use of the park.
“Formal consultation took place in 2017 as part of the initial planning application process. Independent cultural heritage and ecological impact assessments have also been carried out together with gender impact assessments to inform our proposals. ”