UEA has been accused of “putting finance over diversity and well-being” by several notable alumni, due to proposals to create car parks in green space.

The plans will turn wildflower meadows and wild grassland in the Yare Valley into parking for 218 cars, a floodlit artificially turfed rugby pitch, a clubhouse and bar, and a further 30 sports pitches. Ironically, UEA is internationally renowned for environmental sciences. The UEA campus is home to 5,525 species, including water voles, otters, kingfishers, 935 species of moth and 23 species of dragonfly.

Ian McEwan, an inaugural graduate of the internationally acclaimed creative writing course, called the plans “thuggish”. In an interview with the Guardian he said, “UEA is privileged to be sited along the most beautiful natural river valley in Norfolk. Car parking and rugby have their place in the world of course, but not at the expense of an irreplaceable riverine ecology and gorgeous city resource. The plan seems crude, even thuggish.”

Iain Barr, senior lecturer in ecology, accused UEA of failing to give planning authorities the scientific evidence they required to make an informed decision. He said that bats, including brown long-eared and nocturnal varieties, would be particularly affected by the floodlit pitch and the loss of tree roots. He believes there could be other rare bats on the site, although no adequate survey has been conducted.

He accused the development of not being “future-proofed” against climate change and said it would increase flood risk.

More than 2,500 people have signed a petition opposing the plans, which are due to be considered by South Norfolk district council in early October.

A statement on UEA’s website said, “In developing the site, minimising the impact on the environment has been, and remains a top priority for us. We have reduced the number and size of the car park, and taken significant steps to reduce any impact on the landscape, for example, moving the pitches away from sensitive parts of the river valley and changing the surfacing of roads and parking areas.

“The application is supported by a full range of ecology reports, landscape appraisals, flood risk assessments and reports on the affects of transport. We have also undertaken additional ecology surveys to address concerns over particular wildlife species.”