Save the UK’s largest-known rare bat colony and the wildlife of the Wensum Valley from the Norwich Western Link

Despite warnings from wildlife experts, Norfolk County Council have submitted a planning application for the Norwich Western Link Road. The planning consultation is now open until 19th August and everyone who cares about nature can have a say.

Norwich Western Link Road Planning Consultation FUL/2024/0022

What is happening?

Experts in wildlife protection all agree: the Norwich Western Link Road is a no-go.

Environmental organisations including Norfolk Wildlife Trust have been asking Norfolk County Council for years to abandon the Norwich Western Link. Instead, they should find a more sustainable solution to the area’s transport issues, without destroying nature.

This stunning landscape around Norwich currently supports a huge diversity of wildlife. The proposed road and the associated 700m viaduct would be disastrous. The plans show that the road will destroy a large and beautiful area that supports rare and vulnerable plants and animals. Wildlife affected includes the legally protected barbastelle bat, for which the area is the most important site in the whole country.

The proposed road goes through the heart of the UK’s largest-known barbastelle bat ‘super-colony,’ destroying maternity roost woodlands, severing important routes between the bats’ homes, and feeding sites. Cars hitting and injuring or killing bats is also a big issue.

Barbastelle bats are in serious decline across the entirety of their international range. The destruction of roost woodlands and permanent damage to the severed remains will lead to the long-term decline and even eventual local extinction of this species. This will have heartbreaking consequences for the future of this threatened bat.

Building this road would also harm other species and habitats including rare birds such as yellowhammer and linnet, numerous beetles and mayflies species, and important habitats like ancient woodlands, rare chalk rivers, grasslands, and wetlands.

These habitats are all well connected and are the heart of this major wildlife corridor.

There is a further risk that giving permission to these plans will set a precedent. This could lead to more development on protected habitats in other parts of the UK in future.

Legally protected species in the Wensum Valley are at risk >

The habitats in the Wensum Valley and surrounding hills are especially important for a rare species of bat, the barbastelle. Barbastelle bats require large and connected foraging areas to the places where they breed. The intricate connection of dark old woodlands, floodplain meadows and rivers have provided a rich landscape that recent scientific research has found holds the country’s largest known breeding population.

The law already protects the barbastelle bat because it is declining across the world. The road would destroy the heart of breeding colony woodlands. The fragments of habitat left behind would be in an extremely poor condition because of other impacts of the road. These include:

  • Light pollution from vehicles and streetlights
  • Noise pollution
  • Worse air quality from pollution given off by vehicles

Vehicles using the new road would also hit the bats who continue to use the landscape as they attempt to cross the road. These combined impacts could lead to local barbastelle bats becoming extinct, with heartbreaking consequences.

The road will harm other wild residents in the area including bats, badgers, and owls because of pollution and collisions.

No chance to fully repair or replace what’s lost >

The ancient and veteran trees on the route provide havens for bats and other wildlife through their cracks, crevices, and flaking bark which make wonderful habitats. Newly planted trees proposed as mitigation would take hundreds of years to develop - by which point it will be far too late.

The Council proposes replacement habitat creation for those areas that the road would destroy. They also suggest mitigation measures directly targeted at bats including bat boxes, green bridges, and wildlife tunnels. However, the evidence that these measures work is lacking.

Building this road would still lead to wildlife suffering even if the council included these mitigation factors.

For barbastelle bats, there is evidence that mitigation measures do not work. The Council’s own studies from the Northern Distributor Road (The Broadway) show bats do not use the measures above. In fact, existing data shows that after building the road bats that used to be within 2.5km of the road before are no longer there after construction.

Cutting carbon and meeting climate targets is at risk >

Protecting our climate is essential for a thriving natural world.  The UK is committed to rapidly reducing the main driver of climate change - carbon pollution from roads, industry and energy.  We have our own Climate Change Act and contribute globally under the landmark Paris Agreement.   

Building new roads puts these commitments at risk. So much so that the Climate Change Committee advised the Government that new roads should only be built if delivering our climate obligations could be secured.  They called for a review of all current and future road building projects because rapid reductions in carbon pollution must be made by 2030 and 2035, as the move to electric vehicles is not decarbonising transport quickly enough.   

The road Norfolk County Council is proposing will increase Norfolks carbon footprint by destroying carbon-storing natural habitats, using steel and concrete in the long viaduct, and vehicles using the new road.  The planning consultation documents show the road adding an extra 175,000 tonnes of carbon by 2035 against Council promises in the Local Transport Plan to save more than 5,000,000 tonnes of carbon over the same period (1).   

  1. Local Transport Plan - Norfolk County Council (Local Transport Plan 4 Implementation Plan) 

Seeking alternatives to widescale environmental destruction >

There have been insufficient efforts so far to seek an alternative solution to the traffic issues this road is trying to tackle.

We recognise the impacts from traffic on local communities. But we have not seen evidence that the Council has tried hard enough to find other solutions. The Council attempted to find solutions for a similar project in Trowse Newton in the south of the county, so they should do the same for this scheme too.

Our natural world is facing huge challenges, but it also holds the answers. Everyone needs to work together to restore nature including addressing the impacts of climate change, to find solutions that support a healthy natural environment. It is vital Norfolk County Council looks for a solution in harmony with the environment, instead of committing to a multi-million-pound road that will destroy Norfolk’s countryside, its wildlife, and the wellbeing of residents and visitors.

Environmental organisations including Norfolk Wildlife Trust have long recommended that the Council steps back from the proposal to consider alternatives that avoid the large-scale destruction expected. Unfortunately, the Council has chosen to instead proceed with their preferred plan throughout every step of the process.