Gwent Wildlife Trust M4 campaign

Wednesday 28th February 2018

The Gwent Levels by Neil AldridgeThe Gwent Levels by Neil Aldridge

Gwent Wildlife Trust (GWT) is battling to save Wales’ own equivalent of the Amazon rainforest - the Gwent Levels.

In March 2018, GWT and Wildlife Trusts Wales (WTW) submitted further evidence to the Public Inquiry into a new M4 motorway across a precious area of wetlands on the Gwent Levels.The proposed new M4 is the UK’s most damaging road building scheme currently under consideration.

GWT and WTW have been trying to halt plans to put a new six-lane motorway - a proposed bypass around Newport - over 15 miles of the glorious Gwent Levels.

Chief Executive of Gwent Wildlife Trust, Ian Rappel said: “In ecological terms the Gwent Levels is Wales’ very own version of the Amazon rainforest and should be protected for people and wildlife, now and for future generations.

“Welsh Government say 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.

“The motorway would rupture the essential cohesion of the Gwent Levels, acting as an impermeable barrier to all flightless wildlife and a dangerous permeable barrier to flying wildlife such as rare bats and bumblebees. It would snap the protected habitat like a cracker in two, isolating wildlife populations on either side of the divide, devaluing the habitat on both sides of the motorway making both populations smaller and more vulnerable to local extinction.”

For the past year, GWT and Wildlife Trust Wales (WTW) have played a lead role at the ongoing Public Inquiry, called by the Welsh Government, to look into the proposals for the new M4.

The Gwent Levels are set within an historic and highly designated landscape which contains a wealth of rare wildlife such as the UK’s smallest flowering plant, endangered animals such as water voles and cranes, which recently bred there having been extinct in Wales for 400 years.
The Gwent Levels are officially recognised for their natural value – the 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 road gets the go-ahead.
GWT were the only statutory non-governmental organisation (NGO) objector to appear at the Inquiry. We own Magor Marsh nature reserve which would be badly affected by the new road and which lies within two SSSIs. GWT have received a compulsory purchase order for parts of the Barecroft Common section of our Magor Marsh nature reserve.
GWT’s Magor Marsh is one of the last remaining areas of natural fenland that once covered the Gwent Levels. A complex network of drainage ditches and marshy grassland. GWT reintroduced water voles to the reserve in 2012, returning them to a landscape they would have once flourished in.

Thought extinct in the area, water voles can now be seen again feeding by the water’s edge. The water voles and other species including dragonflies, bearded tits, warblers, and the rare shrill carder bees are all at risk, if plans for the M4 go ahead. Thousands of people visit and enjoy the tranquility of Magor Marsh every year – this will also be jeopardized if the new road is built.

Wildlife, transport and sustainability experts argue that:
• The destruction that a new road would cause is disproportionate to the predicted 10 minutes of journey time that will be saved travelling past Newport by 2050.
• The direct effect of 125 hectare of land-take and the fragmentation caused by the proposed six lanes of concrete, steel and tarmac on the Gwent Levels’ habitats would be immense and unprecedented in Wales.
• The proposed M4 bypass would be in breach of current environmental and planning policy - namely the Welsh Government’s Well-being of Future Generations Act and The Environment (Wales) Act.
• The Future Generations Act requires Ministers to take into account the economic, social, environmental and cultural impact of any policy decision.
• The proposed motorway would also have significant indirect effects on the whole of the Gwent Levels – for example the pollution from construction (and traffic) that will enter the ancient, complex and inter-connected waterway systems.
The Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, Sophie Howe, wrote to the Inquiry to object to the M4 plans saying Welsh ministers are misinterpreting their own legislation and could setting a ‘dangerous precedent’ in the way they have interpreted the Act.
GWT’s campaign against the M4 has gained support from thousands of people, including Welsh TV naturalist Iolo Williams who gave written evidence to the Inquiry and how it would destroy precious breeding and feeding grounds for otters, water voles and nesting cranes.
As the lead NGO, GWT has worked tirelessly throughout the Inquiry, advising smaller charities and local people also in opposition to the M4.
GWT has offered advice and helped to supply witnesses to the Inquiry from a wide range of expertise.
These included environmental issues linked to: Magor Marsh nature reserve, ecology, bats, otters and the 800 or so recorded invertebrates which would be impacted by the plans.
Sustainable Transport specialist and Visiting Professor in the School of the Built Environment at Liverpool John Moores University, Prof. John Whitelegg, gave expert evidence on behalf of GWT, he said: “All the analysis and evaluation of this road project point unequivocally to its rejection. The proposal is a direct attack on nature, biodiversity and protected landscape and fails every test of sustainability.”
During the Inquiry, an army of GWT supporters and volunteers, Campaign Against Levels Motorway (CALM) members and staff from GWT, have liaised with our witnesses, arranged notetaking, proof-read written material, and provided a key link with the administrators of the Inquiry, all vital in keeping momentum going for our campaign. Students from the Cardiff Law School also did a sterling work note-taking during the Inquiry, which kept us fully up to speed with the proceedings.

GWT are extremely grateful to everyone who has in some way helped us in our opposition of the new M4 so far, far too many of you to name in person, but you know who you are.
We couldn’t have got this far without you and we hope you will continue to help us in the fight to save our precious Gwent Levels.

A year in, the M4 Public Inquiry is still continuing and we eagerly await the Inspector’s recommendation to the Welsh Government Minister Ken Skates, who has the final say on whether or not the M4 project goes ahead. Mr Skates can agree or disagree with the Inspector whichever way he recommends, so ultimately the decision will be a political one.

We will keep you updated on our next steps in the campaign, in the meantime, you can find out more and sign our petition here:

You can also help by raising the profile of the Gwent Levels and Magor Marsh. Post your photos and videos of the area and its amazing wildlife and voice your opposition of the M4 plans using Twitter and Facebook. Please use the hashtags #LoveTheLevels #NoNewM4

Please also read and share GWT’s Chief Executive Ian Rappel’s powerful blog about the proposed M4 which featured in British Wildlife: