Thousands Of Reptiles Dumped on Threatened Brighton Nature Reserve

Common Lizard

Thousands of reptiles, evicted from a local wildlife site last year to make way for a development in Portslade, were dumped on Whitehawk Hill Nature Reserve in Brighton just months before the council announced plans to build on the reserve as well.

Reptiles Displaced To Whitehawk Hill

A group of concerned residents have discovered that the nature reserve they are fighting to protect was recently used as a ‘receptor site’ for over 2,200 reptiles evicted to make way for another development. The ‘translocation’ was part of ‘mitigation’ to justify a development at Mile Oak but residents are concerned it took place in breach of Natural England national guidance, and that any future plans to build on the site should be stopped.

The reptiles were moved from a Local Wildlife Site [1], on land near Overdown Rise, Mile Oak, Portslade [2] to Whitehawk Hill, now threatened by a controversial ‘Joint Venture’ housing development between The Hyde Group and Brighton and Hove City Council. [3]

Save Whitehawk Hill Demo
Local people demonstrate their opposition to development on nature reserve where "protected" reptiles were dumped -

As a condition of the planning permission for the developers Crest Nicholson’s site at Mile Oak [4] ‘protected’ reptile species, including viviparous lizards and slow worms, were scheduled for ‘translocation’ to a 4 hectare site within the nature reserve. [5]

In theory, there is strict Natural England national guidance which covers the moving of reptiles (translocation) as “mitigation” for developments. These are meant to both protect the conservation status of these creatures and to ensure ‘best practice’ is maintained. [6]

To the end of June 2018, and over 93 days, a staggering 3559 individual reptiles (including 143 adder, 751 viviparous lizards, and 2509 slow worms) were captured at the Mile Oak site, and at least 2207 (and probably nearer to 2363) viviparous lizards and slow worms were moved to Whitehawk Hill.

Guidance Not Followed, Wildlife Not Protected

In theory, there is strict Natural England national guidance which covers the moving of reptiles (translocation) as “mitigation” for developments. These are meant to both protect the conservation status of these creatures and to ensure ‘best practice’ is maintained. [6]

As part of the ‘mitigation’ for the destruction of the Mile Oak Fields site Crest Nicolson were supposed to pay £30,400 by a Section 106 agreement for scrub clearance, to be carried out by contractors, and 10 years of sheep grazing on Whitehawk Hill, to improve the grassland on the nature reserve and it’s capacity to support increased numbers of reptiles. However, it is unclear whether this money has been paid, as it appears that very little (or none) of the scrub clearance work has been carried out.

Common lizard
Viviparous lizard, several hundred of which were dumped on Whitehawk Hill -

Ecologist Richard Bickers has questioned Brighton and Hove City Council on their role in the translocation. He says:

The site within Whitehawk Hill Local Nature Reserve was not in suitable condition at the time of the translocation, thus breaching the condition that ‘enough time’ should be allowed ‘for new habitats to become suitable for the reptiles before you start to capture them’. It would take at least a year, with the appropriate management, for an area cleared of scrub to develop into suitable habitat for reptiles. In the meantime there has been a sudden and very large increase in reptile populations without appropriate action being taken to increase the amount of habitat suitable for reptiles, making the translocation likely to fail”. [7]

The Nature Reserve was known to already support populations of common lizard and slow worm, thus breaching the condition that the receptor site shouldn’t ‘currently support the same species’. It is stated in the guidance that you can “introduce small numbers of reptiles to an area with an existing population if you have improved the habitat so it can support the increased numbers”, but there is no way that over 2,200 reptiles can be called a ‘small' number”.

The guidelines clearly state that receptor sites should be ‘safe from future development and managed in the long term’. The proposed development at WHLNR would be contrary to this. If this development goes ahead it raises the prospect of reptiles that were re-located to WHLNR for one development being moved again if the proposed JVP development goes ahead. This would be considered bad practice”. [8]

Biodiversity Offsetting - Justifying The Unjustifiable

But only months after the 2,200 plus reptiles were moved to the site, the council has announced they are planning to build on this nature reserve as well. This lays bare the disconnected nature of the ‘planning system’, where very little planning actually occurs. Instead a myriad of chaotic, profit driven projects are waved through on spurious promises without any consideration of the wider implications or cumulative impact. [9]

Slow worm
Slow worm, around two thousand of which were dumped on Whitehawk Hill -

Dave Bangs, conservationist and local campaigner says, “Mile Oak is fingered for housing because the council does not want to challenge well-off, low density communities for better use of their land. The doomed site has a huge number of Lizards, Slow Worms and Adders. Tough enough luck on the Adders, which get squeezed into the undeveloped part of the site while their reptile cousins are found a home on Whitehawk Hill, a very high value site, protected by multiple layers of formal designation. Ignoring all that, the Council decides to build a high-rise estate plonk on their new home. Evicted twice?? Who gives a monkey's when it comes to our neighbouring wildlife?”

'Biodiversity offsetting' in action! Now Mile Oak Fields is concreted over, everything that was promised to justify building on it is forgotten. Where do they plan to move the creatures that would be displaced by the Whitehawk development? At some point there will be nowhere left to move wildlife to, but at that point there will also be no wildlife to move.


[1] The Mile Oak Field site of nature conservation importance (SNCI) Local Wildlife Site (LWS), designated for its ‘rough grassland, badger foraging and nesting skylark’. The site had also supported many other creatures including hedgehogs, linnet, corn bunting, dunnock, song thrush, whitethroat and yellow hammer, but these have even less statutory protection than the reptiles. See Documents: Ecology - point 5

[2] Planning ref. BH2017/02410: Land Off Overdown Rise & Mile Oak Road, Portslade - Outline application for the erection of up to 125 dwellings with associated access, landscaping and informal open space and approval of reserved matter for access only$

[3] Late last year Brighton & Hove Council announced plans to sell a large chunk of Whitehawk Hill Nature Reserve to property developers, splitting the reserve in two and irreparably damaging the wildlife it is meant to protect, and as well as impacting the local communities for which it is a vital green space Recently the council signalled they might be backing away from these plans, but it is unclear how permanent this is and the campaign continues to fight to protect the nature reserve

[4] The translocation of the reptiles was carried out by Aspect Ecology, hired by the developers Crest Nicolson (in consultation with the East Sussex County Ecologist). See See Documents: 'Amendment - Reptile Method Statement' and 'Email From Aspect Ecology'

[5] The Crest Nicholson development at Mile Oak was found in breach of its planning permission even before the translocation took place. On the 23rd January 2018 alarmed residents complained that the developer had begun work at the site without implementing the statutory protections for wildlife (including those for badgers and hedgehogs). Residents accused the developers of “environmental vandalism” and as a result work was stopped by the council until the “conditions for their planning permission regarding wildlife and ecology” had been met.

[6] Natural England guidelines include that they can “introduce small numbers of reptiles to an area with an existing population if you have improved the habitat so it can support the increased numbers”, but there is no way that over 2,000 reptiles can be called a small number. The guidance that they “must allow enough time for new habitats to become suitable for the reptiles” was also clearly not followed, given the extremely rushed nature of the development. The receptor site is also supposed to be “safe from future development and managed in the long term”.

[7] Few studies have been done on what happens to reptiles which are translocated, and almost none in the UK, but what little data there suggests the majority of the individual reptiles moved will die as a result and the majority of translocations as whole will fail to result in a population being sustained at the new site. In reality, while translocation is sold as saving reptiles and as a justification for allowing development, the reality is that it more of a way of avoiding legal responsibility for their deaths than any anything else.

[8] But how can a slow worm, which may well be our longest-living lizard, quantify ‘long term’, when it is known to have a lifespan of up to around 30 years in the wild.

[9] While the numbers of reptiles displaced in this case is shocking, the general practice of shunting ‘protected’ wildlife around to make way for developers is pretty common. Between 2004-2017 around half a dozen cases have been uncovered so far where reptiles in Brighton and Hove have been moved, mostly to Wild Park Nature Reserve. The most recent previous found case was in 2017 when 417 viviparous lizards and 163 slow worms were moved from the old Preston Barracks site on Lewes Road to Wild Park. This many explain why Whitehawk Hill was used by Crest Nicolson in 2018, since Wild Park had only just had several hundred reptiles dumped there. See Ecological Design Strategy pages 40-54