Nature lovers in plea: ‘Don’t turn Parkland Walk into cycle superhighway’

Nature lovers have urged a council not to turn a popular woodland trail into the capital’s latest cycle superhighway.

Disused railway tunnels along the Highgate section of the Parkland Walk Nature Reserve could be opened up to create a pedestrian subway or cycle route through a proposal by Haringey Council, backed by the Highgate Neighbourhood Forum.

But the idea has sparked community concern that protected bats roosting in the tunnels would be disturbed.

Cathy Meeus, treasurer of Friends of Parkland Walk, said: “I find it extraordinary that these ideas should be considered.

‘‘You can’t just move bats around, they’re not like little parcels.”

The 61-year-old, of Lorne Road, Stroud Green, added: “You tread a balance on the walk between pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists are welcome but we have no intention to turn it into a cycle superhighway. This is a nature reserve.”

The tunnels were closed off to the public in September 2013 when the council, in partnership with Transport for London and the London Bat Group, began the Highgate Tunnels Bat Project.

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Bat boxes are secured onto screens along the tunnels to encourage more bats to make winter homes there.

The plans for the former Highgate Rail Station tunnel form part of draft proposals detailing development opportunities in Haringey, drawn up by the council. The idea was also suggested in the Highgate forum’s draft Neighbourhood Plan.

Both sets of proposals are open to feedback through a formal consultation.

Jeanette Sitton, 58, who runs Lea Valley Bats educational group in Tottenham, said: “It should not go ahead at any cost. This is a typical example of why bats are endangered.”

But Highgate Forum vice-chairwoman Elspeth Clements defended the plans, saying opening up the tunnels would connect two disjointed sections of Parkland Walk between Holmesdale Road in Highgate and Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill.

However, she made clear nothing would be done to disturb the bats, which are heavily protected under EU law.

“We are aware of the limitations of what we can do there,” she said.

The Friends group is also concerned that opening up the tunnels would encourage anti-social behaviour.

A council spokeswoman said: “While no decisions have yet been made, our development guidelines make it very clear that any future development would have to both enhance the historic use of the site and preserve and safeguard its ecological biodiversity.

“Any consideration of a cycle route would be carefully balanced against the risks of opening up the tunnels. The document aims to give local residents the chance to find out about possible uses of different sites, and give their views, before any final plans are published.”