How the coronavirus crisis is hitting rural communities: letter goes to government

Countryside living can appear idyllic, but rural issues are being exacerbated by the pandemic

The specific impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on rural communities have been highlighted in a letter to government.
Addressed to George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the letter is signed by the chairs of ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), Plunkett Foundation, Rural Services Network and the Rural Coalition, of which CPRE is a member.
It says: “Communities and individuals everywhere are affected, in cities, towns and villages, but we thought it might be helpful to share with you some of the particular impacts on rural communities and where help is needed.
“We would urge you, as part of your rural affairs brief, to ensure that your colleagues across government take account of the rural dimension in both tackling the virus and in the mitigating measures.”
Subjects covered include the economic impact on high streets in rural towns, on tourism and leisure businesses and on workers whose employment is often seasonally related and linked to the land.
The potential social, mental-health and well-being effects on people in the countryside, some of whom are socially isolated anyway, are also put into focus.
Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “When a village hall, pub or shop has to close, the village loses a lifeline.”

  • To read the letter to the Secretary of State, click here

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Let’s all look out for each other: a message from CPRE’s chief executive

Crispin Truman: ‘We are committed to doing our bit’

The coronavirus outbreak brings with it unprecedented challenges for organisations and individuals alike. Our first thoughts, of course, are with all those infected by the virus, and their loved ones.
For us as CPRE, the countryside charity, the welfare of our staff and volunteers is paramount. That’s why our staff are working from home for the foreseeable future and all CPRE meetings and events, nationally and locally, that were due to take place over the coming months have been postponed, or are taking place online. We are committed to doing our bit to help slow the spread of the virus.
But we are still here and working for our vision of a thriving beautiful countryside. We at CPRE are rapidly reviewing our plans for 2020 in light of the coronavirus outbreak. We’re determined to find new and creative ways to help our members, supporters and volunteers through this difficult time.
With Public Health England advising us all to avoid unnecessary physical contact, vulnerable people living in rural communities – including more elderly people – are of particular concern to CPRE.
Through small acts of kindness, whether it be a kind message or a phone call to someone you know is in need, we will be able to ease the burden on those most vulnerable and support each other through the coming months. Let’s all look out for each other.
With best wishes to you and your loved ones,
Crispin Truman OBE
chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Thames Crossing consultation extended to April 2

More time to have your say…

Public consultation on the proposed Lower Thames Crossing has been extended until Thursday, April 2.
A spokesman for Highways England said: “As a result of cancelling our last public information event and our remaining three mobile information centres, we recognise that some people may have not yet had the opportunity to speak to the team at an event.
“We are also conscious that the attentions of people and organisations will have been focused elsewhere over the past few days. Therefore we have taken the decision to extend the consultation until 23.59 on Thursday 2 April. 
“This is to give people additional time to complete their consultation response and to enable organisations to complete their governance processes, which may have been disrupted.
“Until that time people can continue to share their views online here, (www.lowerthamescrossing.co.uk/consultation-2020) by submitting a paper response form to Freepost LTC CONSULTATION or by emailing ltc.consultation@traverse.ltd”
Highways England is also opening a phone service for those who had planned to go to the remaining consultation events. Sessions will run from 2pm-8pm on Monday, March 23, and Wednesday, March 25; call 020 3787 4300.
CPRE Kent has already put together a substantive response to the consultation, which had been due to end on Wednesday, March 25.

  • To read more from Highways England on the project and the consultation extension, click here

Kent Voice: you can read the new edition now!

With many of us having to spend much of our time at home for the foreseeable future, we can at least settle down with the new edition of Kent Voice. Along with all your regular favourites, there are articles on the battle for Wincheap Water Meadows, the timely issue of food security, the problem of light pollution and the delights of Elmley National Nature Reserve.
You can read Kent Voice here

Friday, March 20, 2020

CPRE Kent: statement on coronavirus

CPRE Kent headquarters at Charing (pic Google)

CPRE Kent has considered its position after government advice on the coronavirus pandemic and will be keeping its Charing office open with a skeleton staff.
Remaining staff members will be working remotely until further notice. Any changes to the situation will be communicated via this website and our social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter).
We wish you all peace, health and safety during this difficult time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Lower Thames Crossing public events cancelled but consultation remains open

You can still have your say on the LTC project

Given the government’s updated guidelines on tackling coronavirus, Highways England has taken the decision to cancel its remaining four supplementary consultation events.
However, the consultation remains open and people can continue to share their views online at www.lowerthamescrossing.co.uk/consultation-2020, by submitting a paper response form to Freepost LTC CONSULTATION or by emailing ltc.consultation@traverse.ltd

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Time to rethink our farming and save our soils

Hope springs eternal…

Alerted to a gardening article in the county media singing the praises of a report from CPRE, the countryside charity, on the importance of our soils, we thought this would be a salient time to revisit it ourselves.
The report, Back to the Land: Rethinking Our Approach to Soil, was published in December 2018 and calls for a radical rethink of farming practices and soil management to help regenerate the soils that underpin our supply of food and environment. It sets out practical ways to restore soil and new approaches to policy.
Soil provides many benefits to the health of humans as well as our landscapes and wider environment. It is not only fundamental to the production of food but also filters and stores excess water in the ground and absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, making it critical in the fight against climate change.
However, CPRE points out that a combination of industrial farming practices, poor land management and damage from development have created a perfect storm that has resulted in dangerous levels of soil erosion, compaction and a loss of soil’s fertility – this degradation of soil costs some £1.2 billion a year in England and Wales alone.
The report highlights that common farming techniques such as inversion ploughing, as well as overgrazing and compaction from heavy machinery, has led to almost three million tonnes of topsoil being eroded every year across the UK.
These forms of soil degradation have left an area of farmland the size of Yorkshire at risk of further erosion – more than a third of all of the UK’s arable land.
Graeme Willis, CPRE senior rural policy campaigner, said: “Soil must be seen as a fundamental asset for delivering productive farming and a healthy countryside.
“For far too long we have been ignoring the fragility of such a precious commodity. Only now is the government starting address the damage decades of neglect has caused.
“Ensuring our soils are healthy is crucial if we are to effectively tackle climate change – or mitigate its worst effects. New agriculture policy must promote measures that support farmers to sustainably manage, protect and regenerate soils, and drive carbon from the atmosphere back into the ground.”
Damage from development is also a major threat to health of England’s soils, says the report. Based on current annual rates of land lost to development, CPRE warns that 1,580 sq km of farmland, an area the size of Greater London, will be lost within a decade.
In addition to killing soil by sealing it with concrete or tarmac, development projects also excavate tens of millions of tonnes of soil every year, much of which is treated as waste.
The most recent data highlighted in the report show that in 2014, in the UK, more than 20 million tonnes of soil was sent to landfill – equivalent to the weight of more than 400 Titanics – and that almost half (45 per cent) of all ‘waste’ buried in the same year was soil.
CPRE is warning that, to effectively address climate change and limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C in the timeframes set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), urgent action is needed to halt the degradation and loss of our soils.
In the UK, soil stores roughly 10 billion tonnes of carbon – the equivalent of 70 years of annual UK greenhouse gas emissions. However, degradation has led to most arable soils having already lost 40-60% of their organic carbon.
Preventing the loss of greenhouse gases from soils and rebuilding their carbon stores means that better farming and land use will be crucial in our attempt to limit the worst effects of climate change.
If properly managed, soils could help to reduce the flooding and erosion that more frequent extreme weather is bringing. However, if continued to be managed badly, soils will lack the resilience to cope with storms or drought, CPRE fears.
The report sets out five innovative yet practical solutions that would reduce the degradation and loss of soil and help to regenerate it through sustainable management.
The first four relate to farming practice and the last to how policy might reduce damage to soils from development.
Soil-sensitive farming such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, pasture-based livestock farming and farming on rewetted peatlands, if scaled up, would help the government reach its emissions targets by locking in carbon, as well as help combat the effects of climate change, improve water quality and restore the health of the natural environment.
CPRE suggests specific policy measures that could support the scaling up of these approaches, such as ensuring the Environmental Land Management scheme is properly funded and incentivises farmers by rewarding them for protecting and regenerating soils.
The government must put in place a firm goal to stop soil degradation by 2030 and establish a new goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 2050.

  • To read Back to the Land: Rethinking Our Approach to Soil, click here

Monday, March 2, 2020

Love Thanet’s remaining countryside? Please join us at Eco Expo in Margate if you do

The development onslaught on Thanet has surely never been greater. Its natural environment already trashed and degraded to a scarcely credible degree, you might be tempted to simply throw your hands in the air and give up as the diggers move on to yet another site.
However, please don’t! You are not alone – other people do care about the isle and are trying to do help salvage something good from the wreckage.
Some of those people will be at an event called Eco Expo being held in Margate this month – and CPRE Kent will be among them, hosting a stall at which you can learn more about what we do.
The “ecological afternoon” includes Karen Jones from the University of Kent speaking on The Urban Green Idea, Dr Clive Nuttman addressing Biodiversity – Global to Local and Dr Hannah Scott talking on Verges – Nothing to be Wasted.
It promises to be an uplifting event – please join us.

  • Eco Expo is being held at the Margate School (old Woolworth building), 33 High Street, Margate CT9 1EA, on Saturday, March 28, from 2pm

Be a star… get out and count the stars

CPRE’s Star Count… a highlight of the year for many

This week, CPRE, the countryside charity, is inviting everyone to join in with Star Count 2020, a fun and easy way to enjoy the wonders of the universe.
By simply counting the number of stars they can see in the Orion constellation up until Friday, February 28, those taking part will help map the best and worst places to see the awesome sight of a star-filled night sky.
Throughout history, people have gazed up at the magical starry night sky in wonder and used the cosmos to navigate. Looking at the stars we get a feeling of tranquillity rarely experienced in today’s frantic lives.
Seeing dark skies full of stars is something we associate with the countryside, and part of reconnecting with the natural world. However, places to view these spellbinding sights are becoming harder to find, even in the countryside.
Last year’s Star Count results showed that light pollution, often caused by the glow and glare from street and outdoor household and sports lighting, is making beautiful starry skies a rare sight for many of us.
Just 2 per cent of people who took part in Star Count 2019 told us they were viewing a truly dark sky.
Emma Marrington, CPRE’s starry skies expert, said: “A starry night sky is one of the most magical sights the countryside can offer, connecting people to such an important part of our natural heritage. But many people don’t get to experience this beauty due to light pollution. We want to get people out counting the stars and helping to save them now and for future generations to enjoy!”
As well as preventing us from seeing the stars and wonders of our Milky Way galaxy, the Northern Lights and meteors (shooting stars), light pollution has serious impacts. It disrupts the natural behaviour of wildlife and can be harmful for our health. It’s also a waste of energy at a time when many people are trying to live more sustainably.
Using the results from the annual Star Count, CPRE will lobby the government and local authorities to tackle light pollution and also highlight which ‘dark sky’ areas need to be protected and enhanced by strong policies.
CPRE’s Star Count is supported by the British Astronomical Association’s Commission for Dark Skies (CfDS).
Expert astronomer Bob Mizon from the CfDS said: “As well as being a wonderful opportunity to get outdoors and enjoy the night sky, Star Count is starting to give us some really useful information. We’re hoping many more people will join in this year and give us the best map ever.”
To take part, star counters are asked to choose a clear night this week.
Without using a telescope of binoculars, people can then count the stars within the rectangle shape formed by Orion, except the four stars on the outer corners, then submit their results at cpre.org.uk/starcount

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

The transport deserts leaving our rural communities high and dry

There’s a train coming… or is there?

CPRE, the countryside charity, has highlighted the issue of people in rural areas being increasingly cut off from society by a lack of effective public transport.
More than half of small towns in south-west and north-east England have such bad transport connectivity that they are considered to be living in ‘transport deserts’ or areas that are at imminent risk of becoming one, research shows.
The results are presented in Transport Deserts: The absence of transport choice in England’s small towns. Although the survey focused on just two areas of England, the problem occurs countrywide.
Almost a million people (975,227) who live in these towns have no option for convenient and affordable public transport and risk being cut off from basic services if they don’t have access to a car.
A ‘transport desert’ occurs when a community lacks the public transport options for residents to be able to travel conveniently on a day-to-day basis without driving.
The research was conducted by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) for CPRE, the countryside charity. It was the first attempt to develop a scoring system to rank the public transport options available to rural communities.
Public transport services, including bus, train and community transport options, were scored in more than 160 locations in the South West and North East against their accessibility and frequency.
The analysis showed that in 56 per cent of the cases, residents who can’t drive or are unable to afford a car are at risk of being cut off from basic services.
Crispin Truman, chief executive at CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “A thriving countryside depends on well-connected small towns and villages serviced by low-carbon public transport that fit into people’s everyday lives.
“But it is clear that, outside of England’s major cities, communities are being left high and dry in ever-widening ‘transport deserts’ with completely inadequate bus and train connections.
“And this is having dramatic effect on rural communities – young people are compelled to move away, older people are left isolated and lonely, while less affluent families can be sucked into a cycle of debt and poverty.
“CPRE is calling on the government to act now to reconnect everyone with proper public transport options. That means establishing a dedicated rural transport fund.
“But recent government funding to reopen some railway lines across the country does not go nearly far enough – especially in the shadow of the £28.8 billion planned spend on roads.
“If the prime minister and this government are serious about ‘spreading opportunity to every corner of the UK’ we need decisive action to stop the march of ‘transport deserts’.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

There’s a petition against housebuilding levels in Maidstone… and you can sign it!

Plans for a garden community at Lenham Heath have not gone down well

As the fightback against the development onslaught on Kent builds, a petition is being sent to Maidstone councillors asking them to stand up to housebuilding targets set by national government.   
The petition, set up by Peter Burton and titled Enough is Enough: Maidstone’s Housing and Infrastructure, requests councillors:

  • Challenge and campaign against national government’s housebuilding targets
  • Rethink the building of garden communities, which threaten places such as Lenham Heath, Marden and Langley
  • Do not accept new housebuilding levels that are unsustainable for the borough of Maidstone
  • Complete a full infrastructure assessment before the Local Plan Review and ensure all historical infrastructure issues are rectified across the borough before any projects commence
  • Be transparent and engage parish councils and local communities before any final decisions are made with regards to planning and new developments

If you would like to sign the petition, click here

Gravesham residents form group to fight council’s housing proposals

Shorne is one of Gravesham’s more attractive villages (pic Roy Dinnis)

In response to Gravesham Borough Council’s proposal to build 8,000 homes in the borough, many of which are planned to be built on the Green Belt, residents have formed an action group to examine and fight the proposals.
They have formed a group under the auspices of CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England). It has four aims:
• To defend the Green Belt
• To challenge the number of homes to be built
• Raise public awareness of air-pollution issues and how air quality can be improved
• Campaign for all new houses in Gravesham to be zero carbon
The challenges facing Gravesham are vast, but if we can all work together they have a greater chance of being resolved.
Alex Hills, chairman of CPRE Kent’s Gravesham committee, said: “We are holding a public meeting at Istead Rise Community Centre – all concerned residents should attend.
“This will be on a Friday towards the end of March and once the date is confirmed it will be published.
“Please email info@cprekent.org.uk or visit our website, cprekent.org.uk, for information.”

Monday, February 10, 2020

Climate change, energy efficiency and traditional buildings: talk will focus on this important subject

The Archbishop’s Palace in Charing

Kent’s architectural heritage is as rich as that in any county in the land, but how can we make our traditional buildings more energy-efficient in the battle against climate change?
One of the leading authorities in the country will be exploring the subject at a meeting hosted by CPRE Kent next month.
John Preston IHBC is heritage chair of the Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance and will be giving the talk Climate Change and Older Buildings – Meeting The Challenges? at Charing Barn on Friday, March 13.
The meeting, which begins at 4pm, is open to all and free to attend, but donations to CPRE Kent will be welcome.
If you would like to join us for what is certain to be a fascinating and thought-provoking talk, please let us know at info@cprekent.org.uk or phone 01233 714540.

  • Climate Change and Older Buildings – Meeting the Challenges? Friday, March 13, 4pm, at Charing Barn, The Market Place, Charing, Ashford  TN27 0LP