Sycamore Lodge: A Case Study

Let's stop fighting over who we believe created the planet & work together against those that choose to destroy it. Jack Barker

Amidst the ever-encroaching development of concrete, tarmac and bricks spreading out across the city, Sycamore Lodge stands as an oasis of tranquillity and greenery. A grade 2 listed building built in 1838, it is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest. To the inhabitants of the post-war council estate surrounding it, the house and its 6+ acres of mature woodland are their heritage. The woods are home to a staggering range of wildlife, including nesting birds of prey, owls, nightingales and a small herd of deer. For most of the residents, the land has been an integral part of their life where they have variously courted, picnicked, played, built dens and learned the names of the plants, animals and birds. It would be very true to say that the woods are loved and cherished.

At least that´s how it used to be...

"I was at work when it all started and I couldn´t believe it when my wife sent me pictures of everything that was being done. There was an array of wildlife in this area - squirrels, woodpeckers, even an owl. It was just a delight to sit outside in the sunshine and look up at the trees, listen to the birds and watch all the animals jumping around."

This was not the only resident who woke up one May morning to find that, without any warning, their lives had suddenly changed... and not for the better. With no notice, consultation or planning consent, men had turned up with bulldozers and chain-saws and proceeded to wreak destruction on this valued area of natural beauty; destroying trees at the height of nesting season, transforming the glades & hedgerows into rubble, driving the deer onto busy roads and, in one insane act of mindless vandalism, ripping the heart and soul out of this quiet, friendly community. Anyone questioning their actions was met with threats. Welcome to UK New Housing Development in action...

Residents should be happy. Local authority officer.

To their great credit, the residents immediately formed an action group, bringing the entire community together; united in their grief and outrage. Gradually a sordid, arguably corrupt and unhappy scenario began to emerge which offers 3 valuable insights into how a typical "development" driven background to environmental destruction is taking place at an accelerating pace; an estimated 375 km2 per day of woodland being destroyed worldwide (source). Firstly developers are taking advantage of both the coronavirus lockdown and also shortcomings in enforcement of environmental protections to wreak havoc on our shared heritage of natural green spaces, driving species extinction. In a very short space of time, it became clear that although sale (by the local authority) and subsequent development of the land was subject to an array of regulations, pre-planning conditions and comprehensive environmental protections, the developer apparently chose to simply ignore much of this, while claiming to stay strictly within planning legislation (at the time of writing this, no planning application for development of the land has been submitted). Increasingly, developers are being emboldened to simply trample over environmental protections and local interests, in pursuit of financial profit at the expense of the natural world.

Secondly, the system for enforcement of environmental protections is simply no longer adequate to deal with this kind of situation. Many local people in the Sycamore Lodge neighbourhood hold a belief, like many people, that if something bad and illegal happens, then there is a "well-oiled machine" that will spring into action to protect their interests and uphold the law. Sorry... no... such a machine doesn´t really exist, much as we might like it to. As the diagram below shows, nature and species extinction are taking place at an accelerating rate. The current system is not able to stop this, tending instead, for structural reasons, to support those perpetuating the destruction. Multiple issues contribute to this, including central government policies on housing & infrastructure targets, recent changes in the law to fast-track planning applications, legal constraints on the powers and duties of local authorities, and more than a decade of cuts to public services.

Thirdly, for much of the community around Sycamore Lodge, this type of event is completely outside of their realm of previous experience. It has been profoundly emotionally disturbing. To deal with it, they have resorted to the tried and trusted techniques of, for example, organising a petition, writing to the local councillors, setting up a committee etc; none of which have changed the situation or halted the destruction. However, as often happens in these kinds of situations, the loudest voices carry the most weight, sometimes rejecting out of hand different and possibly more effective strategies and helpful individuals. Faced with a painful and seemingly overwhelming problem, people tend to turn on each other and this certainly happened here, leaving a trail of abuse, hostility and nervous breakdowns; creating the kind of void that is readily filled by those ready to exploit the situation for their own gain.

Make no mistake, when dealing with the twin spectres of climate change and environmental destruction, we are faced with very powerful political & financial forces that are resistant to the required radical change. The old ways of working within the old system are simply no longer adequate to prevent the wholesale destruction of nature.

Change Agents

Polly Higgins

Polly (1968-2019) was an accomplished lawyer who dedicated her life to the recognition of Ecocide as a crime under international law.

Tree Sisters

We focus on women´s nature-based leadership, in support of humanity's identity shift from a consumer species to a restorer species.