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New campus construction threatens campus wildlife

Plans for college development will see a significant impact to Heslington East lake

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Image Credit: Luke Snell

There are concerns about how the birdlife on Campus East will be affected by the new colleges that are due to be built in 2021.

The two new colleges, currently dubbed as ‘North’ and ‘South’ will see an influx of 1480 students and while this in itself could create issues of overcrowding on campus, the environmental impact will also be significant.

As Nouse reported in an earlier edition, the current plans will see the new college buildings spread right up to the edge of the Heslington East lake, which was, accord-ing to our interview with the York Ornithological Club, designed to be “wildlife friendly”. Consequently, light and noise pollution will be brought up to the lake and there will undoubtedly be an increase in litter. The top reaches of the lake will be cut off from the rest of the site isolating the wildlife that lives there and causing habitat loss.

Perhaps a more pressing issue is that the construc-tion of the site will disturb the majority of the wildlife around the lake which is constantly used by wintering and breed-ing birds. Air pollution in the form of dust will be a risk and if the water or surrounding plant life becomes contaminated this could affect the birds who specifically use the lake for breeding. Waste storage and removal, particularly if large vehicles are used, could present problems for the surrounding plant life. Construction sites around wildlife habitats are closely monitored. For example, removal of hedgerows and trees is forbidden from 1 March to 31 August due to nesting. It is illegal under UK law to damage bird nests in any way.

The University of York has made efforts to protect the wildlife around Heslington East since its construction. The planning conditions of Heslington East include the University increasing biodiversity across the site with habitats being created for woodland and wetland wildlife; the wetland habitat is due to be the area most affected by the development. Breeding has been encouraged across the site and the installation of three artificial nesting banks for sand martins has encouraged over 70 pairs to nest. Tern rafts have also proved successful with at least one pair of common Terns breeding.

York Birding has reported that the Heslington East lake is now home to a breeding female pochard duck which is an incredibly rare occurrence in the UK. Both species of geese on campus (Canada and greylag) also use Heslington East lake post breeding and there have been sightings of up to 800 greylags at one point.

It is unknown to what extent the University of York will continue to protect and encourage the wildlife around the Heslington East lake while construction of the new col-leges is underway.
Nouse approached the University for a comment and they told us: “We take our wildlife into careful consideration with any new development and we work closely with local authorities and the wider community on our plans. We have over 200 acres of parkland around substantial lakes where a diverse range of wildlife can be found. We are particularly proud of the abundance of wildfowl on campus and we host a wildlife recording website so that our local community can help us keep track of the different varieties and ensure that they are well provided for.”

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