September 1st, 2020
Saving Askham Bog by Emma-Louise Fenelon barrister at 1COR
In 2020 we are encouraged to venerate all that is new: the fresh discovery, the cutting-edge tool, the latest scientific discovery. These can be wonderful things. Indeed without the various tests, experiments and surveys that modern technology enable, it is unlikely we would have successfully convinced the Planning Inspector to refuse would-be developers planning permission to build 516 homes adjacent to Askham Bog, a small peatbog and designated Site of Special Scientific Interest in York. But in the midst of a three week planning inquiry concerning flow rate calculations, water attenuation, eutrophication, habitat fragmentation and the catastrophic effect such a development was likely to have on a much beloved and visited site, one could have been forgiven for forgetting that Askham Bog is an ancient place.
Formed from the remnants of a retreating glacier over 15,000 years ago, Askham Bog has been described as a cathedral to conservation, and is home to 2925 non microbial species, representing over 5% of all UK species. Some of its ferns have grown there for 500 years, making them the oldest living things in York. It was thanks to the heroic efforts of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, who have managed the site since 1946, that the Planning Inspector, and all those who attended the Inquiry were reminded of its venerable history and significant biodiversity, described by Sir David Attenborough as “irreplaceable”.
Becoming involved in a Planning Inquiry is no mean feat. Instructions were provided by Emma Montlake at the Environmental Law Foundation; support (both practical and moral) by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Officers Louise Wilkinson and Sara Robin; expert opinion and evidence by Sir John Lawton, Professor Alastair Fitter and Alex Jones; 7,000 signatures, 400 letters and £39,000 by individuals opposing the development; and legal representation (happily) provided pro bono by Darragh Coffey and myself, guided by the sage advice of David Hart QC all at 1, Crown Office Row.
The news of our team’s success reached me in early May, as the reality of lockdown was sinking in. It was a lovely moment. I would encourage any Barrister with an interest in the environmental law to consider acting for the Environmental Law Foundation in future. Acting in this case has become one of my fondest memories since coming to the Bar.
Photograph courtesy of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust