City of York Council (CoYC) have recently published a planning application for a new cycle track between the former Clifton Hospital site and the N65 Sustrans track between York and Beningbrough ( 13/02683/FUL ). In August 2012, after CoYC had been proposing a cycle path between Clifton Hospital that went over the barrier bank and onto Rawcliffe Meadows for some years, the Friends met with council officers and discussed a possible route.
With CoYC having finally come up with the planning application the Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows now feel the need to oppose it since in the intervening year Natural England (NE) have proposed Rawcliffe Meadows (and Clifton Ings) be classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and we have been working with them on the evidence base which focuses on that part of the meadow the proposed cycle track is adjacent to. The track would cause yet more disturbance to an area already extensively damaged by the EA’s recent essential repairs to the barrier bank. We also know from other sites such as Hob Moor Local Nature Reserve that City of York Council has a poor record in post-construction management, so that the edges of cycle tracks become heavily infested with docks, thistles and other invasive weeds. We simply cannot afford to let this happen in a hay meadow of such quality. In addition, NE are likely to reduce our Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) annual funding by the area that the track removes from the meadow. As this is our only revenue, it will affect us substantially.
Furthermore, we know from nearly a quarter of a century of managing Rawcliffe Meadows that new paths lead to a proliferation of informal ‘desire lines’ as people make short-cuts. This has been very obvious since the Environment Agency created a hard-surface path along the crest of the barrier bank. Whilst Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows welcome, and do much to encourage, public enjoyment of the site, the continuous spread of trampled paths is gradually reducing the area of wildlife-rich grassland and threatening the integrity of a habitat recognised as being of national conservation importance. Rawcliffe Meadows is a big chunk of the national MG4 grassland (MG4 is part of the British National Vegetation Classification (NVC) which is a system of classifying natural habitat types in Britain according to the vegetation they contain. MG4 contains the plants meadow foxtail and great burnet amongst others. Due to changes in farming practices and building on flood plains, this type of land is fast disappearing and a large proportion of the country’s MG4 is made up of the York Ings). The application, as submitted by CoYC, ignores both the biodiversity value of the area and SSSI proposal on the site.
We note that throughout the application the area in question is referred to as Clifton Ings. Since 1991 the area has been known as Rawcliffe Meadows and whilst part of the Ouse washlands to the north of the City, it is in separate ownership from and divided by the Ings Dyke from Clifton Ings. We also think that whilst we are not the owners, after a twelve month lapse some confusion could have been saved by prior consultation. Rawcliffe Meadows, unlike Clifton Ings, is looked after on a day-to-day basis by the Friends and managed on an agricultural basis, paid for under a HLS scheme funded by the European agri-environment budget.