With great power comes great responsibility, and let’s face it, the human race is the most powerful single species that has ever roamed this planet. In times gone by, people believed that whatever madness we fell into – catastrophic war, pollution, the destruction of whole eco-systems – nature would always pick up the pieces.

Now we know better. Every decision we make concerning the resources of our world and how we use them, even apparently small ones, has profound ramifications. Drive to the shops when you could easily walk? We know that trip, insignificant in itself, is melting the North and South Poles through carbon emissions when added to millions upon millions of similar journeys.

What then should we decide about a tiny corner of Yorkshire, Askham Bog? The development firm Barwood Land is working hard for permission to build up to 516 new homes on farmland off Moor Lane, Acomb, which neighbours the bog. Meanwhile, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, supported by no less a luminary than Sir David Attenborough, is working just as hard to stop them.

Askham Bog was formed on the site of an ancient lake left behind by a retreating glacier at the end of the last Ice Age, 15,000 years ago. The result is a diverse habitat for wild plants and animals that is completely unique, as irreplaceable as the Amazon rain forests. Birds, rare insects and flowers, as well as our native mammals like roe deer, all thrive there.

If you’ve never taken a walk round Askham Bog, I cannot recommend the experience enough.

Why then, you might ask, put such a local and national treasure at risk? The answer is one that drives just about every decision in modern Britain: money. Barwood Land hope to make a killing from the development without killing off any of the bog’s natural wonders. Indeed, they believe their plans will not affect the area’s natural beauty and bio-diversity.

Nevertheless, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust is raising serious objections to such optimism. They argue the development could damage Askham Bog in several ways. Firstly, through an increased risk of predation from domestic cats and dogs, plus increased pollution through household waste. They also calculate the plans would isolate and cut off Askham Bog, which is already surrounded by a railway and ring roads, from open country, thereby affecting many species. Their main worry, however, is that the development would drastically change the water table, leading to a risk the bog could dry out and become ordinary woodland.

The controversy connects many touchstone issues in modern Britain. Barwood Land, for example, point to a chronic housing shortage in York as a justification for its plans. Yet the real answer to our housing crisis will not come from building yet more estates of expensive houses for sale. Huge swathes of the population, especially the young, are effectively priced out of home ownership. Affordability can only come from secure, good quality social housing available to all our citizens, not just the most economically disadvantaged. In short, we have to stop treating housing as an asset to gamble with, and view it as a basic human right, like education and free health care. We also need to factor in demographic changes that mean Britons are far more likely to live in one or two-person households these days.

Another issue raised by Barwood Land’s planning application is even more fundamental. They expect to make a big profit because York is seen as a desirable place to live. And it is. Hence the pressure to develop lots of new satellite villages around the ring road.

Now it may be selfish nimbyism, but I worry deeply about expanding York in this way. Even as it stands, our road and public transport systems are completely inadequate. As proposed, the Moor Lane development would only deepen our city’s ecologically-disastrous dependence on the motor car.

As ever, the decision will come down to who has the power. What a shame we cannot consult the beautiful plants and animals in Askham Bog that merely want to live out their brief stay on this planet in peace. If we could, I have a feeling we all know what they would say.