Published: 06:00, 15 September 2021
| Updated: 14:47, 15 September 2021
An environmental campaigner says he is prepared to "die in a ditch" to protect a tiny snail living in the path of a planned £30 million bypass.
Biff Whipster has discovered the Desmoulin's whorl snail in reeds where the Sturry relief road near Canterbury will cross, but claims its presence has been "glossed over" in an ecology report.
Now, the 54-year-old dad, who is a volunteer river warden for the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership, insists the controversial relief road viaduct must be abandoned.
"Sometimes you have to die in a ditch for what you believe and I am prepared to do what it takes to stop this new road," he said.
The relief road was recently granted planning permission at the 11th hour, securing a special funding contribution following intense debate and objections.
A 0.9-mile viaduct will stretch over the River Stour from Sturry Road to Broad Oak Road, connecting to the other half of the bypass, which will take drivers through a new housing estate in Sturry.
It is designed to relieve traffic tailbacks at the village's level crossing.
Kent County Council (KCC) has now confirmed that work on the link road is scheduled to begin in autumn 2023 and end in the summer of 2025.
Mr Whipster has already run into trouble with the law during environmental protests around the country. And just this week he joined the Insulate Britain traffic protest on the M25.
His exploits have also cost him his job at B&Q in Canterbury, but he remains unrepentant.
"I'm a deadly serious middle-aged father who's going to stand my ground to call out Kent County Council's 'cherry-picking' and disregard of the evidence that was gathered to inform their decision making," he said
"And I have no issue whatsoever with placing myself physically between any construction activity and the snails and get arrested, as will others, I understand."
'It's not just about a small snail, but the protection of our whole ecosystem...'
Mr Whipster says the presence of the Desmoulin whorl snail on the site of the planned Newbury bypass in Berkshire back in 1994 caused the project to be postponed while they were moved to safety.
But in that case, he claims, it did not work and the snail population still suffered.
Mr Whipster says the KCC-commissioned environmental impact report is fair and did flag up the snails in a location 150 yards away from the proposed viaduct.
But he claims the authority ignored a crucial footnote in the report which said that following two dry summers – during which the snails had concentrated their population in a damp ditch – it was believed they would spread again when the weather was more typically wetter.
"They chose to 'green-wash' that bit, which happens all too often when authority's select evidence to suit their own agendas," said Mr Whipster.
"It took me five minutes to find some snails, so they have obviously repopulated the area.
"It's not just about a small snail, but the protection of our whole ecosystem, which is under threat."
A Kent County Council spokesman said: "Environmental surveys for the Sturry bypass have shown Desmoulin’s whorl snails in an area close to the construction site.
"KCC included information on mitigation as part of this application within the Environmental Impact Assessment, which has now been before the planning committee.
"Officers are aware of concerns surrounding possible sightings of further populations on the site itself.
"While this has not yet been verified, additional surveys will be completed to monitor the distribution of snails and inform an up-to-date mitigation strategy ahead of construction planned for autumn 2023."
According to the government's own wildlife conservation advisors, Desmoulin’s whorl snail is the largest vertigo species, with a shell height up to about 2.6 mm.
It is restricted to calcareous wetlands, usually bordering lakes or rivers, or in fens with high humidity important in determining its distribution.
It normally lives on reed-grasses and sedges, such as reed sweet-grass and tussocks of greater and lesser pond-sedge where it feeds on the microflora.
The species was more widespread during the early post-glacial period but climatic change and destruction of its habitats for agriculture caused a contraction in its range.
A sizeable population of the snails also lives beside ditches within pasture on the floodplain of the River Stour in Stodmarsh.