Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust response to North Walls Park Plan Consultation

The Trust welcomes the review of North Walls Recreation Ground. This is an opportune time to provide the people of Winchester with a natural multi-purpose green space and bring them into contact with fields and rivers that make this place special.

Whilst we understand the appeal of ambitious, open minded proposals, we are concerned that suggestions have been made that raise expectations and we are concerned about some of the potential consequences for nature and wildlife.

Winnall Moors is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The north and east edges of the North Walls Recreation Ground fall within the SSSI impact risk zone and the Trust has significant concerns about the potential urbanisation of this area and promotion of activities that will impact the integrity of the SSSI, disturb wildlife and visitor’s enjoyment of the nature reserve.

For instance, wild swimming has leapt in popularity during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Whilst we recognise the health benefits from such immersion in nature, swimmers in this locality have been disturbing wildlife and habitats in Winnall Moors Nature Reserve, where swimming is not permitted. We have real concerns about how these plans might impact on the nature reserve and will want to be involved in any future discussion of this proposal. We would prefer that other options are considered for wild/outdoor swimming.

In the current plans, the Trust has concerns with:

  1. Promotion of wild swimming on the Park Stream in the SSSI risk impact zone adjacent to Winnall Moors Nature Reserve.
  2. The paved 'plaza' area by the redesigned Park Avenue entrance would cause a loss of public green space and may increase noise pollution towards Winnall Moors Nature Reserve. We propose a natural alternative, such as a wildflower meadow maze south of the bowling green. This space would then remain accessible to all, boost habitats for wildlife and provide a playful area adjacent to the Park Stream and Winnall Moors.
  3. Any changes to the western entrance to Winnall Moors Nature Reserve without prior consultation with the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust who are responsible for the management of Winnall Moors Nature Reserve.

The Trust can provide expertise and advice on features that would provide play, exercise and gains for nature within the Recreation Ground including:

  1. Natural play and tree climbing zone.
  2. Native wildflower meadow features.
  3. River habitats and recreation enhancements e.g., water play and river dipping zones.
  4. Viewpoints across to the nature reserve to enjoy the sights and sounds from the recreation ground.
  5. Activities and clubs to connect people with the natural environment via waymarking, guided walks and support groups.

We are asking Winchester City Council to consider the following when redesigning the North Walls Recreation Ground:

  1. Safeguard the wildlife that depends on the River Itchen and Winnall Moors SSSIs.
  2. Connect people to nature in ways that are appropriate and avoid disturbance to sensitive species.
  3. Encourage people to take action to help wildlife and rebuild biodiversity.
  4. Take action on climate change and its impacts on wildlife and local communities for example, by providing cooler spaces for heatwaves and rainfall interception to provide flood resilience.

The Trust recognises and supports the need for an increase in the quality and quantity of green spaces for people to enjoy locally. This is especially important to help reduce the impact of growing recreational pressure that our protected areas and nature reserves face.

New and improved green spaces can also form an integral part of the Nature Recovery Network, if well designed, providing more space for nature, buffering sensitive areas and providing habitat links and wildlife corridors.  We therefore encourage Winchester City Council to prioritise nature enhancements within the redesign.

Make sure you have your say on the North Walls Park Plan by the 11th June.

North Walls Park consultation