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Angry Couple Forced Off Their Farm So Birds Can Move In

Angry Couple Forced Off Their Farm So Birds Can Move In

The Telegraph reports that a couple are being forced from their 60-acre estate in Bembridge on the Isle of Wighton, on which they’ve lived for 30 years, in order for the estate to be flooded to create breeding grounds for rare and endangered birds per EU law.

According to the Telegraph, “The land was originally within a Site of Special Scientific Interest but there was no suggestion water levels would be raised to protect birds. In October 1998 the land was incorporated into an EU Special Protection Area and the family sold 420 acres to the RSPB to help meet EU rules. The RSPB argued the SPA was performing ‘far below optimum’ meaning raising water levels on its land was necessary.”

The couple states of the law requiring them to move: “It has forced us out of our home because it effectively values the rights of birds above the rights of human beings.”

And this is bad because…? Considering how favored humans are in general over every other species every day, it doesn’t hurt to put other species in a place of priority once in awhile. What’s more, it’s not an actual hardship on the family. A bummer, sure, and certainly emotionally difficult — it wouldn’t be easy for anyone to leave their home of 30 years when they never planned on leaving, especially at this late stage in their lives — but not a true hardship.

They’re being compensated: “Mr and Mrs Hicks, 78, will be rehomed, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer.” The Daily Mail states that it will actually be a seven-figure bill to rehome the couple. While this is phrased as if it is a burden on the taxpayer (both the Telegraph and Daily Mail reports take an indignant tone about the EU law and RSPB’s move to claim the land for wildlife), it reveals that the couple is not exactly being sent to go live in a shack somewhere. They are going to have a perfectly nice new home. In fact, Mr. Hicks even called it a “fair offer” from the EU, according to the news reports. And while their biggest regret is not being able to pass the land down to their three sons, the three sons aren’t exactly in dire need of the inheritance; they “work as a psychologist, a doctor and a lawyer.”

And what was the farm used for? “It was excellent land which we used to grow hay for our horses and for around 100 sheep to graze.”

So basically, it comes down to an older couple, their horses, and 100 sheep versus breeding grounds for rare waterfowl including brent geese, widgeons, shovellers, lapwings and redshanks. One bit of private land for limited use, or a new habitat to welcome in and support multiple species in danger of disappearing for lack of breeding grounds.

While the couple, quite understandably, feels upset about it (they state, “We have been forced into this agreement with a gun to our heads because it was made abundantly clear to us that under European law there was no other option” but we’re pretty darn sure no one used an actual gun, the “gun” simply being a well-written law), there is a greater purpose being served. They could leave one farm to their three children, or they could leave a larger legacy of a healthy ecosystem filled with birds and biodiversity for many, many people to enjoy, including their children. And let’s go back to another important point: the land is within an EU Special Protection Area. So it’s not as if this could come as a massive surprise to the couple. The possibility was always there at some level.

While I am empathetic to the couple’s position, the conservationist in me is thankful for the laws that allowed this to happen at all. And it passes my “put yourself in their shoes” test. What would I think were my family home of 30+ years to be flooded for some birds? To be honest, I would probably feel quite a bit of pride at the use to which my family home was being put, and would hope for the success of the conservation efforts (after all, it better be worth it!).

This is just one take — my take — on the situation. But no doubt everyone has their own opinion on the rightness or wrongness of this issue. So, weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

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Read more: Environment, Nature, Nature & Wildlife

article written by Jaymi Heimbuch

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Kara, selected from TreeHugger

Planet Green is the multi-platform media destination devoted to the environment and dedicated to helping people understand how humans impact the planet and how to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Its two robust websites, planetgreen.com and TreeHugger.com, offer original, inspiring, and entertaining content related to how we can evolve to live a better, brighter future. Planet Green is a division of Discovery Communications.

174 comments

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7:29PM PST on Jan 7, 2014

I am all for the endangered birds but feel this couple was done wrong by being made to leave their home. It was their home after all even if they were given a home to live in. I still think it should have been their choice to leave or not and my heart goes out to them. What if it was your home? How would you feel?

5:07AM PST on Dec 29, 2013

You are missing the whole point of the newspaper reports: they are designed to show how authoritarian and anti-democratic the EU is supposed to be: forgetting that our government enacts the laws that bring them in to being. They conveniently forget that the designation of SSSI's, SPA's etc. is at the whim of our own government department.

I do feel sorry for these people but I am also totally in favour of the development of new wetland areas for the benefit of wildlife and also humanity: not only do wetlands improve our life experiences they also help to reduce flooding - which is something the UK desperately needs.

7:30PM PST on Dec 26, 2013

In the States, it is called Eminent Domain. In the UK it's called Compulsory Purchase. I've heard of an elderly couple losing their beachfront home because a restaurant wanted their business there. The restaurant won right to the land because the community on the whole would ostensibly benefit from the restaurant opening there. I always wondered, why did it have to be right there, on their land?!

In this article's case, it is very sad and a difficult decision that was made, I hope. All I can say is that I hope it was worth it.

1:25PM PST on Dec 23, 2013

Kara, you did a good job bringing this to our attention. Thanks, but...where's the Isle of Wighton? You mean the Isle of Wight?

And whoever got turned out of their house for a Great Tit! If you need a photo of a British Bird to illustrate the story, why not find one of a water bird?

1:21PM PST on Dec 23, 2013

I finally saw the fact that I was sure was lurking there, somewhere.
'the land is within an EU Special Protection Area. So it’s not as if this could come as a massive surprise to the couple. The possibility was always there at some level.'

Exactly! They knew what the terms were and their solicitor must have pointed this out to them when they bought the farm! They were merely hoping it wouldn't happen!

3:46AM PST on Dec 22, 2013

More to this than meets the eye. Compensation for the couple and benefits to the rest of us in that a valuable habitat for birds is created.

3:07PM PST on Dec 20, 2013

Complicated,after a long life where they build up their place they now have to leave. They can live another 20 years. Why not wait until the couple had passed away or had to live in a nursery home for heathy reasons?

12:38PM PST on Dec 20, 2013

I think they should be happy and proud that "their" land will be used for
a wildlife sanctuary. I know I would. Especially if I were elderly, and was
compensated/relocated. Their heirs will do just fine, I'm sure, w/o this
piece of land.

2:55AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

There must be something we can do for our neighbours in this Village Earth

2:20AM PST on Dec 20, 2013

One thing which hasn't been mentioned is that the weather here in the UK is becoming ever wetter, and if this land is low-lying enough that it *can* be flooded and turned into wetlands, the odds are good that that would have happened naturally some time in the next 20 years or so, so the legacy the couple would be leaving their sons would be a bog. Better to get a good price for it now.

But just buying them a house in compensation isn't sufficient, because they also need to preserve their life and have somewhere for their animals. The EU should provide them with an equivalent plot of land, in the same area (so they don't lose their social contacts) but on higher ground. If their house is of any historic value then it should consider letting them stay in their house and providing banks and a causeway so it can still function as a house even with marshland all around it.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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