Village row with bird conservationists

Conservationists have ploughed headlong into a row with Norfolk villagers over plans to protect one of Britain's rarest birds.Breckland Council, Natural England and the RSPB want to impose a 1,500m-wide buffer zone around nesting sites for the stone curlew at Weeting - scuppering the village's ambitious plans for hundreds of new homes and jobs aimed at breathing new life into an ailing community.

Conservationists have ploughed headlong into a row with Norfolk villagers over plans to protect one of Britain's rarest birds.

Breckland Council, Natural England and the RSPB want to impose a 1,500m-wide buffer zone around nesting sites for the stone curlew at Weeting - scuppering the village's ambitious plans for hundreds of new homes and jobs aimed at breathing new life into an ailing community.

The ban on development in the zone would allow the shy and elusive bird to thrive in peace. But, say villagers, it would encroach on land earmarked for 130 new houses, a doctors' surgery and a heritage centre at Cricketer's Park - including a 12-room country hotel, which ironically was due to be named The Stone Curlew, creating 100 much-needed jobs.

Two-thirds of the country's stone curlew population lives in the EU-designated Breckland Special Protection Area, with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's reserve at Weeting Heath a nationally-important breeding ground.


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Weeting parish councillor Gerry Moore said: “If this goes ahead it will have a catastrophic effect on the village. All the plans

we have to expand with new houses will be turned down for the sake of this organisation which thinks stone curlews are more important

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than people.

“But it is much more than just the loss of housing. It is literally a restriction on the growth of the village which will freeze it for the next 25 years. We are very much in sympathy and very proud of our stone curlew, which has been quite happy here for many years. The really ironic thing is that the new hotel was going to be named after it.”

Weeting Parish Council voted unanimously against the buffer zone, which would also mean scrapping plans for 50 new homes allocated under Breckland's Local Development Framework (LDF), a new village community centre and a bowls club.

“We have got plans to build lots of starter homes for rent because we have so many young couples who have to stay with their parents because they cannot afford to buy a home,” said Mr Moore.

The restricted development zone also encompasses parts of Thetford and reaches as far as Swaffham and Watton.

A Breckland Council spokesman said the policy - which was recommended by an independent expert and endorsed by the RSPB and Natural England - would not affect development within existing settlement boundaries.

He said: “Environmental impact is a key consideration for the development plan and Breckland is home to endangered species which are protected under European legislation. The population of stone curlews has reduced to a critical level and Breckland is one of only two areas in the UK where they can be found. The village of Weeting contains one of the most sensitive areas and because of this the potential for development is severely limited.”

Tim Cowan, the RSPB's stone curlew project officer, added: “Stone curlews are a rare breeding bird and Weeting parish has between six and nine breeding pairs so it is quite a significant habitat for such a small area. We are not against new homes, we just need to ensure any development is compatible with protecting the special wildlife we have here in the Brecks.”

The stone curlew population dwindled from an estimated 1,300 breeding pairs in the 1900s to about 130 in the 1960s. Now, 216 of the 350 breeding pairs in the country nest in Breckland, with the rest at a site in Wiltshire.

The consultation period for Breckland's plan, which will

inform development control policy until 2026, will run until February 16, after which the final document

will be offered for government approval.

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