M4 Public Inquiry ends but Gwent Wildlife Trust’s epic battle to save precious wetlands continues.

Wednesday 28th March 2018

The Gwent Levels by Neil Aldridge The Gwent Levels by Neil Aldridge

As the M4 Public Inquiry concluded, Gwent Wildlife Trust (GWT) made a plea to the Inspectors not to destroy Wales’ equivalent of the Amazon rainforest.

Speaking on the last day of the M4 Inquiry on March 28, 2018, GWT’s Chief Executive Ian Rappel said:“The Gwent Levels is vitally important to the well-being of not just wildlife but also people – it is the green lungs of Newport and South Gwent. The proposed new M4 is the UK’s most ecologically damaging road building scheme. 

“And in species diversity terms the Gwent Levels is Wales’ very own version of the Amazon rainforest. It must be protected for people and wildlife, now and for future generations.
"We hope that the Planning Inspectors recommend refusal of the new M4. Instead, Welsh Government should turn its attention to 21st Century sustainable, innovative, low carbon solutions to congestion. Surely that’s preferable to a 1960s idea that to solve congestion on a motorway you just build another motorway, and another, and another.”

The Gwent Levels are officially recognised for their natural value. This ancient landscape, which is criss-crossed with ‘reens’ (centuries-old waterways), has six Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and a Special Area of Conservation. All will be either destroyed or badly affected if the new M4 gets the go-ahead.

For over a year GWT, have been trying to halt plans to build a new six-lane motorway - a proposed bypass around Newport - across 15 miles of the Gwent Levels.

GWT’s Mr Rappel said: “In simple terms the habitat is like a jigsaw puzzle. All the component parts of the puzzle fit together and every piece has an exact and important place in the bigger picture. For every jigsaw ‘piece’ that will be lost on the Gwent Levels - if the M4 gets the go ahead - the consequence is the destruction of the habitats of vitally important species like endangered water voles, otters, birds, bats and plants. And for the people who live, work and enjoy the Gwent Levels, the towering sight of the M4 looming over them will overshadow and blight their lives forever.”

In this David and Goliath battle with Welsh Government, GWT have been able to call on some of the UK’s and World’s leading experts on ecology, economics, transport, sustainability and climate change. They have been joined by other environmental charities, and importantly Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Future Generations Commissioner.

Just a week before the end of the Public Inquiry, NRW said the scale of permanent loss of SSSIs was both ‘unprecedented’ and contrary to wildlife and environment laws. This includes the loss of reens - a network of drainage channels - on the Caldicot and Wentlooge levels. NRW claims the damage to the historic Gwent Levels would be "unprecedented" and in breach of the Welsh Government's own environmental laws.

GWT Chief Executive Ian Rappel agreed and welcomed the NRW submission. He said: "Everybody involved in environmental protection in Wales, has now expressed their opposition to this immensely damaging scheme so we hope the Inspectors will recognise this and see that the proposed new M4 is totally unsustainable and uneconomical for people and wildlife.
“Welsh Government have said that the proposed M4 scheme is ‘sustainable’ but admit that the scheme does not have ‘respect for environmental limits’. However, ‘not respecting environmental limits’ is the very definition of unsustainability.”

During the Public Inquiry, GWT were the only statutory non-governmental organisation (NGO) objector to appear. GWT’s own Magor Marsh nature reserve lies within two (SSSIs) and part of the motorway would be built over it. GWT have received a compulsory purchase order for parts of the Barecroft Common section of their Magor Marsh nature reserve.

TV naturalist Iolo Williams who gave evidence to the Inquiry said: “The Gwent Levels is one of the jewels in the crown of Wales. It has immense cultural, historical and ecological significance. This rare and complex wetland habitat is nationally important for its wildlife and is protected by national designations. The list of species that live here include water voles, otters and eels and magnificent cranes – breeding for the first time in 400 years.
“I am glad to see NRW and the Future Generations Commission join Gwent Wildlife Trust and other conservation organisations objecting to this crime on nature.”

In March 2018, GWT submitted their final evidence to the Public Inquiry. As the Inquiry closed GWT has expressed thanks to everyone who has joined them on their epic battle against the M4.

GWT’s Ian Rappel added: “The Inquiry might be over but our epic David and Goliath battle to save the precious Gwent Levels continues. From the evidence we have submitted we hope the Inspectors and Welsh Government will see the significance of the Gwent Levels and afford the area the protection and respect it deserves.”

Please help GWT and the #NoNewM4 #LoveTheLevels campaign to save this precious landscape for people and wildife :https://www.gwentwildlife.org/how-you-can-help/m4-relief-road-help-us-protect-gwent-levels