A wildflower meadow containing 130 different flowering plants, dragonflies and rare bats that grew on Norwich's last public tennis courts has been bulldozed.
Despite protests from locals and green councilors, all-weather hard courts with floodlights and fences are being set up in the parkHeigham, where species such as brown and long-eared bats, dwarf shrews, hedgehogs and 18 species of dragonflies have been recorded.
The 10 lawn tennis courts have been redesigned since they were closed in 2017, and hundreds of local residents have signed a petition to to preserve the natural paradise. Instead, Norwich City Council is proceeding with a £ 266,000 plan to build three large all-season courts, with the flowered lawn torn this week.
When the site was surveyed in 2018, council ecologists concluded that the one-acre area had "negligible wildlife value." But since then, the courts had been quickly colonized by wildflowers and species such as the little hawk, yellow oats and the yellow-necked mouse.
An independent investigation oftwo hours led by two professional environmentalists and local naturalists discovered a profusion of species last month, including the rare Norfolk hawker dragonfly, the large green bush cricket , and six species of bats, two of which are the bat - Whiskered mouse, and the brown bat, are known to be sensitive to light.
Sarah Gelpke, the environmentalist who led the investigation , said: "It 's not a tennis court, it ' s now a biodiversity hotspot, an 'emergence meadow' which, if managed like a meadow, would have grown to high. ue value. "
Denise Carlo, local green advisor, said: " There are so many open spaces getting lost in cities. If we are serious about building climate resilient communities, we will need to reduce theamount of hard cover, not increase it. Across the country, grass is being turned into all-weather sports grounds - grass is very valuable but it is a dwindling resource in cities.
Anne Holgate, 81, who lives on the street next to the park, said: "It is heartbreaking. It is a heritage park, a classified park. The council is spending over £ 400,000 [on the all-season tennis courts in Norwich] as there are food banks all over town and young people are struggling. It 's so nasty. They have no moral compass.
Kelly Hobday, a local resident and mother of three, said: "When kids could access the courts, they loved to play there. They were all wild flowers and nice to see - the kind of thing you don't have these days. the courts plan and hold that there are seven all-season courts inanother park 10 minutes away which are seldom used in winter. The Gardens Trust s ' is opposed to the plans as they do not respect the historic character of the Grade II listed park.
Activists say the council failed to undertake an investigation appropriate on bats, with ecologists employed by the council making a day visit to search for bat roosts.
The two independent environmentalists used a bat detector one evening at the tennis courts to discover six species of bats. "I 've never seen so many pipistrelle bats in my life " said Gelpke.
"The sad story of Heigham Park is repeats all over the country. There is a lesson here for the other councils and the people who are desperately trying to gAvoid wildlife in urban areas - think of your urban areas as a haven, not a place to set up a tennis court that you don 't even need.
A spokesperson for Norwich City Council said: "This project will improve facilities for our residents in a historic and much loved park.
"The importance of providing these all-season shorts cannot be understated in terms of the health benefits throughout the year, as well as the reduction anti-social behavior and vandalism through increased use of the park.
"A formal consultation took place in 2017 as part of the planning request process original. Independent heritage and ecological impact assessments have also been carried out, alongside equality impact assessments, to inform our proposals. "