Plans for a theme park on the banks of the Thames would destroy “irreplaceable” habitats currently home to birds and otters, activists say.
Environmentalists fear the proposed London Resort project on the Swanscombe Peninsula would harm wildlife, including a critically endangered jumping spider only found in one other place in the UK.
Developers say the theme park, set to feature rollercoasters and a dinosaur-themed “prehistoric nature reserve”, will generate £50 billion over 25 years and include mitigation for the environment.
Under current plans, which need to be approved by the Government, the London Resort would be built on 465 hectares of land near Dartford, Kent.
Much of the Swanscombe Peninsula was previously used for industry but has since returned to nature, creating what campaigners say is a unique haven for wildlife.
Nicky Britton-Williams from Kent Wildlife Trust said that the project would see 140 football pitches worth of “precious” habitat “effectively concreted over”.
Rich mosaic habitats
She told the PA news agency: “The Swanscombe Peninsula is a fantastic example of how wildlife can reclaim a site that’s previously been used by humans.
“What’s been left is a really rich mosaic of habitats: we’ve got areas of bare earth and flowering plants that are really important for invertebrates, we’ve got the wetland areas that are vital for birds and for species like water vole and otter.
“We’ve also got really dense scrub for species like nightingale… the list goes on and on.”
Among the various birds, mammals and invertebrates found at Swanscombe Peninsula is the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider.
Ms Britton-Williams added: “That particular spider is only found in two locations in the whole of the UK, and one of those locations, here, the Swanscombe Peninsula, is under threat.
“At the moment, the local people love this site, it’s used for your day-to-day exercise and immersing yourself with nature.
“We saw in lockdown how important connecting people with nature is for mental health and wellbeing, and people do rely on this site for that.”
In March, the Swanscombe Peninsula was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its grassland, scrub, wetlands, grazing marsh and saltmarsh habitat which is home to an array of wildlife.
Buglife, the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, CPRE Kent and Save Swanscombe Peninsula are working together to save the site and are urging Natural England to do everything in its power to ensure the area is protected.
As a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), the London Resort plans need to be approved by the relevant Secretary of State.
Ms Britton-Williams said: “We are calling on the Government to ensure that they fulfil their commitments to tackling the nature and climate crisis and protect this precious wildlife site.”
Andy Martin, Director of Communications and Strategy for London Resort Company Holdings (LRCH), criticised Natural England’s decision to designate Swanscombe Peninsula an SSSI.
He added: “Huge parts of the area are contaminated, it is largely a brownfield former industrial site which has been unmanaged for decades.
“We have committed to invest £150 million on remediation, mitigation, habitat enhancement providing around eight miles of footpaths and public rights of way and substantial ecological compensation.
“We have also stated our intention to create 48,000 jobs by 2038 and deliver £50bn of gross economic activity, a third of which will directly benefit local regions,” he added.