A wildflower meadow containing 130 different flowering plants, dragonflies and rare bats that grew on Norwich’s last public tennis courts has been razed to the ground.
Despite protests from locals and green councilors, all-weather hard courts with floodlights and fences are being set up in Heigham Park, where species such as whiskered and brown bats, dwarf shrews , hedgehogs and 18 species of dragonflies have been recorded.
The 10 lawn tennis courts had rescued since their closure in 2017, and hundreds of local residents have signed a petition to preserve the natural paradise. Instead, Norwich City Council is proceeding with a £ 266,000 plan to build three large all-season courts, with the flowering grass torn this week.
When the site was inspected in 2018, council ecologists concluded the one-acre area had “negligible wildlife value.” But since then, the courts had been quickly colonized by wildflowers and species such as the little hawk, yellow oats, and the yellow-necked mouse.
A two-hour independent investigation by two professional ecologists and local naturalists last month revealed a profusion of species, including the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly, the great green bush cricket and six species of bats, including two , mustaches and long brunettes. eared bats, are known to be sensitive to light.
Sarah Gelpke, the ecologist who led the investigation, said: “It’s not a tennis court, it’s now a biodiversity hotspot, an ’emergence meadow’ which, if it was managed like a meadow, would have become of great value. “
Denise Carlo, local green advisor, said: “There are so many open spaces getting lost in cities. If we are serious about building climate resilient communities, we will need to reduce the amount of hardcover, not increase it. Across the country, grass is being turned into all-weather sports grounds – grass is very valuable but it is a dwindling resource in cities.
Anne Holgate, 81, who lives on the street next to the park, said: “It’s heartbreaking. It is a heritage park, a classified park. Council spends over £ 400,000 [on all-weather tennis courts across Norwich] when there are food banks all over town and young people are in trouble. It’s so nasty. They don’t have a moral compass.
Kelly Hobday, a local resident and mother of three, said: “When the kids could access the courts, they loved to play. It was all wildflowers and it was nice to see – the kind of thing you don’t have these days.
Residents say council did not consult with them on the all-season terrain plan, and argue there are seven all-season courts in another park 10 minutes away that are rarely used in winter. The Gardens Trust opposed the plans because they did not respect the historic character of the Grade II listed park.
Campaigners say the council failed to undertake a proper bat investigation, with environmentalists employed by the council undertaking a daytime visit to search for bat roosts.
The two independent environmentalists used a bat detector on tennis courts one evening to discover six species of bats. “I have never seen so many pipistrelle bats in my life,” Gelpke said.
“The sad story of Heigham Park is repeating itself across the country. There is a lesson here for other tips and people who are desperate to keep wildlife in urban areas – think of your urban areas as a paradise, not a place to set up a tennis court that you don’t even need. no need.
A spokesperson for Norwich City Council said: “This project will improve facilities for our residents in a historic and much loved park.
“The importance of providing these all-season courts cannot be understated in terms of health benefits throughout the year, as well as reducing anti-social behavior and vandalism through increased use of the park. .
“A formal consultation took place in 2017 as part of the initial development application process. Independent heritage and environmental impact assessments have also been carried out, alongside equality impact assessments, to inform our proposals. “