David Attenborough called it ‘irreplaceable’. But this York nature reserve is now threatened by 500 houses

Sir David Attenborough called it a cathedral for conservationists.

But now Askham Bog nature reserve is under threat by a renewed plan for a housing development on land close by.

Around 500 new homes could be built off Moor Lane in Woodthorpe, York, along with allotments, a school, sports facilities and public open space, under a new bid submitted to the city council.


The land has been in and out of consideration for development for years, but in 2016 was taken off the table by city councillors after dire warnings from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust about what development could do to their Askham Bog site, which borders the land.

The scoping opinion planning application was submitted to City of York Council’s planning department on Thursday, June 14.

The approach ignores the fact the land is not allocated for housing in the draft Local Plan already submitted to government inspectors.

‘Shocking’ that it’s back

Nature experts at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust say they will fight any plans for the land, to protect the hugely significant habitat that lies just next door.

The trust’s north regional manager Jono Leadley said:

We are not opposed to development but it needs to be in the right place. This is not in the right place, and we were pleased the council agreed with us.

To hear it has come back is shocking, and a bit sad that developers think it’s an appropriate thing to do.

Sir David’s verdict

Sir David at Askham Bog. Photograph: Tom Marshall
Naturalist Sir David Attenborough visited Askham Bog in 2016, likening it to a cathedral for conservationists.

Building close to the ancient peat bog would be like building next to York Minster, he said, and the people of York have a responsibility to look after the “irreplaceable” treasure.

Askham Bog is already ‘penned in’ on three sides by roads, the railway and Park and Ride sites, Mr Leadley added, and doing anything to further risk wildlife on the site would be “unthinkable”.

Where the land lies. Photograph © Google Street View

So many houses close by would inevitably change the water that gets to the reserve while pet cats and dogs would threaten ground nesting birds that thrive on the site, he added.

On top of that, Askham Bog was saved for the people of York by “chocolate barons” Sir Francis Terry and Arnold Rowntree in the 1940s giving it cultural significance for the city, Mr Leadley said.

The wildlife trust will fight any development plans for the land, he added, and given the strength of reaction last time the plan was mooted developers will have “a fight on their hands” to push ahead.

‘We do not support it’

Ancient greenery… Askham Bog. Photograph © Johnson Cameraface on Flickr
That pledge was echoed by Woodthorpe councillor Stephen Fenton, who said the scoping opinion could be the first move by developers who want a planning inspector put their site back into York’s Local Plan and earmark it for housing once again.

“To my mind, it might be that they are using this as a platform for making representations to the planning inquiry,” adding:

As ward councillors we have been clear we do not support this development because of infrastructure and its proximity to Askham Bog. I am sure local residents feel the same.

I just hope that when the planning inspector does their homework they also take into account the strength of local feeling.

A city council spokesman confirmed that if the scoping opinion is followed up by a full planning application, that application will be considered against both national planning policy and the new Local Plan – which shows the site as greenbelt.