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Rabbits slaughtered for 'living, breathing' Olympic Park

john hopkins points to rabbits graveyardIn a still from 'Going for Green', Olympic Park designer John Hopkins demonstrates the plans that spelled the end for the rabbits and their nature reserve.

Olympic Delivery Authority contractors Thurlow Countryside Management (TCM) undertook a secret mass gassing of rabbits during the clearance of nature reserves, allotments and parkland within the London 2012 construction site in 2008. The ODA had sought to systematically misrepresent the existing open space as 'industrial wasteland' and a '100-year-old rubbish tip' while claiming to be protecting the wildlife on site. This is the first evidence that wildlife incompatible with the construction plans was deliberately destroyed.

The extermination was part of the scheme for removal of all established wildlife and habitat prior to replacement with artificial new Olympic parkland - designed by LDA Design Hargreaves Associates, and bizarrely promoted by the ODA as a 'living, breathing' park.

TCM were paid £12,731 to eliminate the rabbits so that landscaping earthworks could proceed. This included the infilling of the wooded Channelsea River Gorge, which the 2007 Olympic Planning Application had promised to retain as a protected wildlife habitat.

Far from being pests or causing damage, the rabbits were an important part of the complex biodiversity that had grown over the past 35 years across the 25 hectares of wooded grassland on the lost Eastway Cycle Circuit and Bully Point Nature Reserve. This was part of the 45 hectares of designated sites of importance for nature conservation within the Olympic Park boundary, containing numerous rare species and important bird nesting sites as well as small mammals.

Many invertebrate and plant species depend on turf grazed by a healthy rabbit population for their survival, and decline in rabbit populations has been linked to their disappearance. Natural England state that "Rabbits can be important in maintaining plant diversity in a range of habitats".

Killing Fields - Eastway nature reserve destroyed for Olympics
Killing Fields - pre-Olympics Eastway parkland and allotments
Olympic rabbit warrens for gassing
Rabbit communities on Olympic Death List

In 14 areas of warrens, the rabbits were condemned to slow asphyxiation with phosphine gas - trade name Talunex - which can take up to 4 hours for death to result. Ferrets were also used to panic rabbits into fleeing their burrows into nets where they were killed by hand.

An Australian goverment document, "Diffusion fumigation of rabbit warrens" explains:

"The precise nature and extent of suffering of rabbits after inhalation of phosphine is unknown. Symptoms of phosphine toxicity in humans often include nausea, abdominal pain, headache and convulsions followed by coma. It is not known whether other mammals experience similar symptoms."

The Forestry Authority advises:

"Phosphine, which is less toxic and slower acting than hydrogen cyanide, is less hazardous to the operator and is therefore preferred by risk assessment. However, it is considered by some to be less humane."

Welshpool council recently rejected a proposal for similar mass gassing to control rabbits on their sports pitches. Donna Thomas of Animal Aid is quoted as saying: "Gassing is expensive, inhumane and dangerous not just for rabbits but for other animals. It's wrong to remove an entire species from the area and killing the rabbits for the upkeep of human pleasure is not ethically sound... Removing the rabbits will have a big knock-on effect for the eco-system."

The London 2012 organisers have no such sentimentality, and are able to operate free from scrutiny or public knowledge of their activities behind security fencing and draconian confidentiality agreements.

In their Freedom of Information response, the ODA blame the Pests Act 1954 and claim they could be liable to a "Notice under the Agricultural Act 1947 requiring rabbit control to be carried out" and that they could "also be liable to a fine". This is an absurd suggestion in the context of the Olympic park - and these notices are now never used. Natural England confirm that these Acts were established at a time when rabbit numbers and the damage they caused was much greater than now and that it would only be appropriate to spend public money issuing and enforcing Notices in exceptional circumstances.

The ODA go on to say "Rabbits are covered under the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996 and as such it is an offence to intentionally inflict unnecessary suffering on any wild mammal.", apparently implying that gassing the rabbits was doing them a kindness as an alternative to being buried alive or crushed under excavators.

Bully Point Nature Reserve in 2006 - location of 4 of the rabbit warrens

2012 velopark ecology disasterNo place for a rabbit - from Green to Brown as the nature reserves are destroyed for the Velopark construction.

The fate of the rabbits' nature playground as a blank canvas for the park designer's ambitions is revealed in the recent propaganda film commissioned by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - 'Going for Green - London's 2012 Dream'. As the camera pans over the earthworks taking place, a fantasy image is painted of a "vast ecological landscape with rich and diverse habitats" - in reality little more than a dozen hectares of sterile soil and nursery grown, computer designed plantings. A grotesque misrepresentation of the reality of a wholesale elimination of exactly the kind of environment it is claimed is being created.

The London 2012 Biodiversity Action Plan claims to be "minimising and mitigating the impact of construction activity where possible on existing species and habitats in the run up to 2012" and that a "commitment to minimise disruption to biodiversity and enhance habitats has been informing all parts of the construction programme" - while David Higgins, ODA Chief Executive stated "A great deal of work is also being done to ensure that we minimise any disruption to existing habitats and protect the wildlife on the site during this period".

This has proved to be cynical greenwash with the lucky few animals - newts and some fish - undergoing token relocation to maximum PR advantage, while almost all existing habitat has been lost as it is reengineered into a cosmetic showpiece backdrop for the Olympic extravaganza and legacy property development opportunity.

by Paul Charman

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