NEWS AND VIEWS (COMMENT): Sainsbury’s have put in a planning application to extend their Guildford superstore. The extension encroaches on woodland around the store where hedgehogs are often seen. The woods also serves as habitat for bats, birds and other precious wildlife. Brian May, the Queen guitarist, is fighting the corner of the hedgehog against big business. A noble cause.
Brian May is a high profile wildlife conservationist in the UK. In the context of almost unfettered deforestation in many parts of the world and wildlife habitat loss coupled with global warming and an increased sensitivity by the public to protecting the planet, such an application is out of place. Brian May argues that Sainsbury’s should be able to find another place to build their facility which does not damage the environment.
Sainsburys want to build the facility because of a burgeoning online marketplace. They are finding that their online sales have increased dramatically, encouraged by the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown sent people to the internet to buy their groceries. It was a growing market anyway but it has been catapulted into a very profitable area for the supermarket chain. Amazon is one of the greatest beneficiaries of the pandemic. They employed an additional 125,000 people worldwide to accommodate the increased business online. In one day the founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, made $12 billion which more than paid for his divorce settlement to his now former wife, who I understand is the world’s richest woman or she is in second place, all because of his divorce settlement! It’s a crazy world but its citizens have turned to online purchasing which has driven this supermarket’s planning application.
The UK hedgehog population has fallen by 1.5 million in 1995 to 500,000 in 2018 according to the Mammal Society. They are a much loved and endangered species in the UK. Sainsbury’s have made huge profits during the pandemic and they can do better than cut down 67 trees in local woodland to make more profits. The wood adjacent to their Guildford superstore is important for local wildlife. Wildlife habitats across the UK are being constantly eroded. Many species are under pressure of human activities.
Ironically, when the original development was applied for i.e. when the superstore was built at Guildford in the first place, the protection of the wood was part of the application and used as mitigation against other damage. This surely must go against Sainsburys in a very big way. Data shows that the hedgehogs love this particular area. Andy Clapham, the chairman of the local Burpham Community Association said that it was one of the few areas locally where hedgehogs are often seen. In addition, the woods shield local housing from the carpark and the store.
In defence, Sainsbury’s said that it would replace the trees with 300 plants and also install stacked timber for wildlife to hibernate and nesting boxes for birdlife. They said their proposal has been informed by a “comprehensive ecological appraisal and arboricultural reports”.