Why go to a heath a mile away? - photo by Anguskirk
The banning of cats (and dogs) is not unheard of as it happens a lot on an individual level when landlords won't let tenants, who wish to keep a cat, rent their property (as one obvious example). This is an odd practice as it is designed to protect the contents of the property, which might be owned by the landlord. Fair enough, on the face of it, but the landlord could simply take an extra deposit. I am sure that would be accepted by most cat keepers. In the USA landlords frequently stipulate declawed cats - an obnoxious requirement as it encourages this very unpleasant practice.
But to ban cats from a housing estate of 500 houses is unheard of it seems to me. How did this come about? What are the underlying causes? Well the housing estate concerned is in Farnborough, Hampshire, England, the site of a disused airfield (a common source of building land in the UK). About a mile away is the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area. It is an area of heathland where there are "rare birds including the highly endangered, ground-nesting nightjar1". Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are internationally important sites for birds, designated under the European Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds (the Birds Directive)2. The directive is incorporated into the law of England and Wales through the the Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations 1994 (as amended), and the Conservation (Natural Habitats, & c.) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1995 (as amended).
The developer was granted planning permission from the local authority (Surrey Heath Borough Council, I believe) on the basis that house purchasers and leaseholders on the estate were banned from keeping cats (and dogs). The ban would be enforced through restrictive covenants (
for freehold houses) and under a lease (
for leasehold property, usually apartments).
The idea behind the ban is to protect these rare birds (nightjar, Dartford warblers and woodlarks). Simple on the face of it but it begs a number of questions, which calls into question the sense of this ban on cats (I am focusing on cats) from this estate:
|Claim, Proposition or Event||Commentary - Question|
|Rare species of bird will be endangered by the domestic cat. There are two species of nightjar that are rare in the UK: (1) Red-necked Nightjar, (2) Egyptian Nightjar3.||The Dartford warbler and woodlarks are not listed as rare birds4. It is not clear if the nightjar species referred to left are found on the heath in question. It is a fact that the domestic cat preys on small mammals. Birds are a distant second in choice (domestic cats do not decimate bird populations)|
|The heath is one mile from the housing.||On the basis that about one in five houses might have a cat, most being confined to the home and garden and noting the one mile distance, it is unlikely that a domestic cat would be a hazard to the birds on the heath. The home range of domestic cats can be very small (sometimes the size of a garden5) where food is abundant and a well kept cat has little need to travel over a mile to prey on a bird that is thinly populated over a wide area.|
|Building a 500 house estate near protected heathland.||Why does the local authority allow building on this scale near protected heathland? The only reason is due to government pressure to build new housing to accommodate rising population in the UK, which in turn is mainly due to a lax immigration policy6. The problem is entirely government (local and central) generated and the humble domestic cat suffers as a consequence.|
|Enforceability of the banning of cats and dogs||Where the property is leasehold it is manageable to enforce this ban on cats but still very troublesome (who will bother?) and where the ban is created through a restrictive covenant it is almost impossible to enforce the ban.|
|"As a result, the Borough Council is taking the view that planning applications are likely to be refused unless a convincing case is presented to prove that the proposed housing will not cause harm to the SPA"7 -this is the planning policy of the local authority||Clearly, the way that the developer of the housing estate decided to "prove" that it would not cause harm to the SPA was by banning cats (and dogs). On the face of it this is a ill thought through policy but one that looks good and which gives the impression that something is being done.|
Of course birds need protecting because the main cause of damage to bird populations is through human activity. If any bans are appropriate they should affect people, exclusively. This is another governmental botch. The reason for the problem is generated by government and the solution is muddy and half baked.