Covenants like ‘putting water through a sieve’ says environmentalist on downland sale

Paul De Zylva giving a speech at the demonstration
Paul De Zylva giving a speech at the demonstration

A senior nature campaigner from Friends of the Earth has spoken out against the council’s proposed sale of the South Downs farms.

Paul De Zylva, who delivered a speech at the town centre demonstration on Saturday (February 25), has argued that covenants will not protect the land from subsequent misuse – and sale could therefore irreparably damage its wildlife.

He said to the Herald, “Our environment is in trouble in this country. A State of Nature report last year found that half of wild species in the whole of the UK are in long-term decline – that’s 56 per cent over the last 60 years.

“It’s because we are chopping and gnawing away at the way land is managed. That’s partly about farming, bad management, pollution and development threats.

“If the downland is sold the real concern is there’s nothing to stop the land from being totally changed in terms of the way it’s managed.

“It is fragile. There’s a complex way in which a habitat relies on other things to function, and you could lose that if you suddenly change the drainage or farming or start putting in concrete.

“The council can’t guarantee any change of ownership would not lead to a deterioration in the natural conditions of the downs.

“Covenants – you might as well pour water into a sieve.

“They have no enforcement, very little legal standing. You could drive a coach and horses through a set of covenants.

“We understand councils are under pressure, but there’s a nonsense going on that any bit of land should be allocated to any old development, regardless of whether it’s any good, or whether it has affordable accommodation or not.

“I’m not against housing but I’m against bad development in the wrong place, very often sold at the wrong price – that’s not solving our housing crisis.

“This is a national problem. But you don’t solve national problems by selling land off to any old type of development.

“You’ll lose a lot of natural environment, these are the things that matter.

“If they get that wrong, we will have another 50 years of decline of our natural environment. The quality of our rivers, soils, and yes the loss of species.

“Whether it’s the Adonis Blue butterfly or horseshoe vetch [yellow wildflowers essential to the butterfly’s existence]. These may seem insignificant on a daily basis but they matter, they are about us as a country.

“Everyone gets dewey-eyed about the White Cliffs of Dover, well let’s get dewey-eyed about the ants and horseshoe vetch and the Adonis Blue butterflies on the downland.

“Are we really going to take away that chance for our children to see all those kinds of things?

“That’s what it comes down to. Unless you are careful about how the land is managed, and you can’t guarantee that if it is sold.”