We’re into the second half of Let June Bloom, the campaign launched this year by CPRE Kent, the countryside charity, and the benefits of taking part are gloriously apparent as wildlife thrives around us.
Many wildflowers and insects are at their peak in June, with plants such as cowslip, evening primrose, meadow clary and wild foxglove all blooming during this month.
Insects hatching in June include large white, small white and small blue butterflies, while painted ladies, red admirals and peacocks can all lend a blaze of colour to our parks and gardens.
Vicky Ellis, of CPRE Kent, said: “We’re asking people to give wildlife the best possible chance by not cutting back the flowers on which so much of it – and ultimately all of us – depends.”
The above picture was taken in Broadstairs by a resident who has indeed let his lawn bloom in June – the spread of bird’s foot trefoil, white clover and red valerian, among others, is the delightful result. We’ll say it again – Let June Bloom!
CPRE Kent, the countryside charity, is launching a new campaign, Let June Bloom. Plantlife’s extremely successful No Mow May campaign is fantastic for helping protect spring flora – but it doesn’t stop there. Our insect population is in freefall, the decline being eight times faster than that of mammals and birds; however, all are linked through the food chain. The use of insecticides and plastic grass, the emphasis on neat and tidy gardens and the changing nature of our seasons due to global warming all negatively affect our precious insect population, leading to catastrophic decline. This is where Let June Bloom can help a little and give our insects a chance to thrive and in turn help our larger fauna. Many wildflowers and insects come alive during June. Plants such as cowslip, evening primrose, meadow clary and wild foxglove all bloom in this month. Insects that hatch in June include large white, small white and small blue butterflies. June also sees the hatching of caterpillars such as copper underwing, garden tiger and gypsy moth, along with insect larvae including sawflies and beetles. Bees such as red-tailed bumblebee, tree bumblebee, wool carder bee, orange-tailed mining bee are all very active during this special month. Allowing June to bloom is vital so wildflowers can carry on providing pollen for a host of insect species, allowing eggs of moths, butterflies and beetles to hatch and feed and so help our insect population thrive. Vicky Ellis, of CPRE Kent, said: “June is such a special month for our wildlife. We’re asking people to give it the best possible chance by not cutting back the flowers on which so much of it – and ultimately all of us – depends. Let June Bloom!”
CPRE Kent is one of a coalition of charities to welcome the decision by BBC Studios and ITV Studios to withdraw their support for a proposed theme park in north Kent that would have a devastating impact on a nationally important wildlife site. We are now calling on Paramount Entertainment to similarly publicly sever ties with the developer. However, despite BBC Studios’ confirmation that its agreement has expired and that London Resort can no longer use the BBC’s Intellectual Property, it appears that London Resort’s exclusive appointed investment partner, Armilla Capital, is still seeking to secure investment by promoting “signed long-term partnerships” with both BBC Studios and ITV Studios to lure investors. The Swanscombe peninsula, which sits on the bank of the River Thames, is under threat from the proposed London Resort theme park, which would see more than 100 hectares of habitat concreted over. Until recently, both BBC Studios and ITV Studios intended to pursue commercial relationships with London Resort theme park that would see rides and experiences built on their brands. However, following a letter signed by 12 national and local groups, both have revealed they no longer have agreements with London Resort, while ITV Studios has committed to ceasing all future involvement with the controversial development. Matt Shardlow, chief executive of Buglife, said: “We welcome ITV Studios’ full recognition of the environmental harm this misplaced theme park would cause and its commitment to have no future involvement. “It’s great that BBC Studios has also withdrawn from the scheme, although a long-term commitment to never become involved would fit better with the BBC Studios image and environmental sustainability claims. We are disappointed that Paramount has not responded to British wildlife charities’ request to reconsider their involvement but hope it will do so and will join ITV Studios and BBC Studios in halting their support for destroying endangered species. The theme of this wildlife oasis is nature and it must remain so.” The Swanscombe peninsula is incredibly rich in wildlife, home to some of the UK’s most threatened species of plants and animals. More than 2,000 species of insects and other invertebrates have been recorded here, including the critically endangered distinguished jumping spider. It is also the richest site in the South East for breeding birds, which live side by side with otters, water voles and rare plants such as man orchid. This is thanks to this special site’s remarkable mosaic of grasslands, coastal habitats, scrub and intricate wetlands, much of which is brownfield habitat that has been reclaimed by nature. In recognition of its valuable wildlife, it was made a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) last year. Dr Hilary Newport, CPRE Kent director, said: “This is a fragile and tranquil oasis of dark skies, open space and extraordinary natural biodiversity. It is all the more precious because of its location in one of those parts of the South East subject to the most intense development pressure. In the light of the crisis of the climate emergency and catastrophic loss of biodiversity we simply cannot risk the degradation and loss of this vitally important site.” The BBC has an international reputation for exemplary wildlife programming, with voices such as Sir David Attenborough’s highlighting the urgent need for action to save our environment to audiences worldwide. ITV Studios has also gone to great effort to green its productions and instil an environmental culture, while on screen it has broadcast programmes such as A Planet for All of Us, featuring His Royal Highness Prince William. It has both paid attention to its own important messaging and decided to avoid involvement in the destruction of a nationally important wildlife site. Donna Zimmer, from local campaign group Save Swanscombe Peninsula, said: “BBC Studios and ITV Studios must have been aware how this looked to their millions of viewers and we are really pleased that they have both stepped away from the London Resort – we hope they both now commit to doing so for good. “For local communities in Swanscombe, Greenhithe and Northfleet, the peninsula is an essential and much-loved green lung, a place for peace and calm to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life in one of the most built-up and congested parts of the country. It is unthinkable that national broadcasters could have sought to benefit from a scheme that would deprive people of experiencing wildlife on their doorstep.” Evan Bowen-Jones, chief executive at Kent Wildlife Trust, said: “At a time when society is increasingly concerned about the nature and climate crises, it is becoming commonplace for companies to talk about sustainability. But paper commitments are not enough. Only action counts. “So we are pleased that ITV has severed all ties with the proposed London Resort. We now want to see the BBC do the same. This flagship British institution must confirm it will never work with a project that would do so much harm to our native wildlife if it is to have any green credibility at all.” Unfortunately, despite the Swanscombe peninsula being notified as a SSSI in March 2021 by Natural England, the government’s adviser on the natural environment, it remains threatened by the application to build the theme park on it. These proposals are being considered by the Planning Inspectorate as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), a process normally reserved for major roads, airports or power plants. This is the first ‘business or commercial project’ to be considered to date.
It’s time for this year’s CPRE Star Count, during which we ask you to become ‘citizen scientists’ by counting stars to help measure our dark skies. We’re looking for counters across the county, of course, but just for now we’ll highlight a place on which we’re putting a particular focus (see what we did there?). CPRE Kent has teamed up with the brilliant Save Swanscombe Peninsula group to present a range of events over the Star Count period of Saturday, February 26, to Sunday, March 6. To get things under way, we’re hosting a Zoom event on Tuesday, February 22, at 7pm, during which CPRE Kent director Hilary Newport will introduce Star Count, explore the reasons behind studying the stars, explain how to take part and detail the devastating impacts of light pollution on people and wildlife alike. The Swanscombe peninsula is home to an extraordinary range of wildlife but threatened by plans for the London Resort theme park. As part of the campaign to save the site from development, we aim to count the stars on-site and more broadly in the local area to demonstrate how much of a dark oasis the peninsula is – and how its wildlife could be affected by the blinding lights of a theme park. The following week (beginning Tuesday, March 1) we’re asking people in the area to get involved by turning off their lights and turning up the stars.
Choosing a clear night
Counting how many stars you can see within the constellation of Orion
Sharing your photos on our social-media pages with the hashtag #starcount
If you don’t know where Orion is, you can download a free CPRE Star Count family activity pack, which includes a checklist and star-finder template, here
Finally, we can all meet up in person for our Dark Skies Event on Saturday, March 5, when we will be gathering on the peninsula at 5.30pm to experience the magic of the stars, count them and just enjoy the beauty of the site.
To sign up to the Swanscombe Star Count and join Dr Newport’s talk on February 22, use the QR code on the above poster or click here
To join us for our Dark Skies Event at Botany Marshes, Northfleet, Swanscombe DA10 0PP, on March 5, phone 01233 714540 or email email@example.com for more information.
CPRE Kent and Save Swanscombe Peninsula are also working with Buglife, the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust in a combined effort to protect this wonderful site. To keep in touch with what we’re all doing, visit the CPRE Kent website here
Faversham campaign group Farms, Fields & Fresh Air are hosting a peaceful protest walk on Saturday (January 22) highlighting damaging proposals for the countryside around the town presented in the Swale Local Plan. The walk is timed to focus councillors’ minds before they finalise plans to site 17,000 houses across the borough for the Planning Inspectorate (Regulation 19 of the Local Plan process). The gentle stroll starts at 11.30am from the United Church, Preston Street, Faversham ME13 8NS and will progress to the heart of the oldest market town in Kent, the Market Place itself. You are warmly invited to come along and support this initiative. You can bring placards to show that the whole of Kent is united in anger at the rampant destruction of our county’s countryside. And when it’s your turn, hopefully people from Faversham and elsewhere will return the compliment. Together as Kent, we are loud enough to be heard beyond local councils – as far as central government, from where a change in law to protect our green spaces, agricultural land and wildlife habitat from rampant development must come. And if you have never been to the beautiful and historic town of Faversham, now is your chance. You will not just be helping to protect the fields in this area but across the whole of Kent – while having a great day out at the same time.
If you have a countryside protection campaign reaching a critical point and you want to reach out across the county in a similar way, Save Kent’s Green Spaces will post the details if appropriate to the aim of saving Kent through peaceful protest.
Residents from Istead Rise and Meopham took part in Sunday’s Kent Day of Action to protest against building in the Green Belt. They met in the fields either side of Norwood Lane in Meopham, which are under threat of development, to send a clear message that they will do their best to defend the Green Belt in next year’s Local Plan consultation. Alex Hills, CPRE Kent’s Gravesham chairman, said: “Having so many people turn up at short notice sent a clear message to the government and the local council that now is not the time for rhetoric – we want to see you are serious about protecting the Green Belt. “Food-supply shortages have shown that we need the Green Belt, which is the county’s larder, more than ever.” Many residents expressed concern that there is not the water or basic infrastructure to support the amount of development proposed for Gravesham.
CPRE has broken new ground and won an award for its campaign responding to the government’s proposed reform of the country’s planning system. Our first award for campaigning and policy work in living memory was announced on Wednesday, November 24, and represents a striking triumph for the combined national and local approach of CPRE. The annual PRCA Public Affairs Awards recognise the finest organisations and individuals operating in public affairs. Clarifying why CPRE beat other big names such as Transport for London in our category, the judges said: “This was a powerful and memorable campaign, which received solid support and strong messaging and ultimately exposed the failings of the Planning White Paper – and certainly did get the government to think again.” As ever, the efforts of people at every level of CPRE have been highlighted. We can’t do it without our supporters – if you’re one of them, thank you!
• New figures show a continued increase in the amount of brownfield land suitable for housing across England
• Despite the boom in brownfield, fresh analysis shows planning permission has stagnated, with long-term trends pointing to soaring use of greenfield sites
• The proportion of brownfield housing units with planning permission is the lowest since records began – down to 44 per cent in 2021 from 53 per cent in 2020 – and the actual number, at 506,000, is the lowest for four years
Housing developers are gorging on precious greenfield land with ever greater appetite despite space being available for 1.3 million new homes in swathes of previously developed sites across the country. The annual State of Brownfield report from CPRE, the countryside charity, shows an increase in land available for redevelopment but a smaller proportion being granted planning permission over the past 12 months. So, in short, greenfield development is on the rise while brownfield development is on the slide. To halt the irreversible and unnecessary destruction of our countryside, CPRE is calling for new national planning policies to prioritise brownfield development in Local Plans as part of a package of fresh levelling-up investments in the Midlands and the North. The analysis of 330 local-authority brownfield registers shows a glut of disused and derelict land available in areas that need the most support. The North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the West Midlands have space for a total of more than 375,000 homes on previously-used land. There is also plenty in London and the South East, where just over half a million homes could be built without touching green spaces. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street, a vocal proponent of a ‘brownfield first’ planning policy, said: “The priority for housing has to be providing the homes that are much needed while protecting the Green Belt for future generations, and that’s exactly what we’re doing here in the West Midlands. “The simple fact is there is no excuse to destroy the countryside while so much brownfield land is available for housing, which is why in our region we use the cash we’ve won from government to pay to clean up derelict industrial land. “This is vital in the context of protecting our natural environment so it can help in the fight against climate change while levelling up our towns and cities so that they are thriving, attractive places to live and work – with nature on the doorstep to be explored and enjoyed. “As well as championing a ‘brownfield first’ approach to housing, the West Midlands is also leading the way on affordability. Not only do we insist on a minimum of 20 per cent of new homes built being affordable when the Combined Authority’s cash is involved but we have also changed the definition of ‘affordable’ so it is linked to local pay rather than the housing market – helping to make the dream of home ownership far more realistic for many. “I am sure the approach taken here in the West Midlands can be applied across the rest of the country, helping to keep the Green Belt safe whilst building more truly affordable homes.” Focusing development primarily on suitable urban brownfield means that housing is near where people already work and live, with infrastructure such as public transport, schools and shops already in place. A key advantage of this approach is a reduction in car use. CPRE is calling for a ‘brownfield first’ policy that ensures all new developments include affordable housing, including Help to Buy. Emma Bridgewater, president of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “A ‘brownfield first’ policy is sound good sense. We need to direct councils and developers to use these sites – often in town and city centres where housing need is most acute – before any greenfield land can be released. “It is wasteful and immoral to abandon our former industrial heartlands where factories and outdated housing have fallen into disrepair. Developing brownfield is a win-win solution that holds back the tide of new buildings on pristine countryside and aids urban regeneration at a stroke. “It is therefore heartening to hear that the government increasingly appears to share these views. Recent warm words on developing brownfield land first and enabling communities to push back on any plans to build in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Green Belt land are to be applauded. It is a welcome change of direction and we look forward to working with the government to help make this ambition a reality.” New analysis shows the use of previously undeveloped greenfield land soared by 148 per cent between 2006 and 2017, the latest date for which figures are available. The proportion of brownfield land being used for residential development dropped by 38 per cent in the same period.
Today (Wednesday, November 10) Natural England decides on the SSSI designation for Swanscombe peninsula, the biodiverse haven in north Kent under threat from the London Resort theme park. CPRE Kent believes the UK must demonstrate the right approach at home as we host COP26. This is our chance to protect and restore habitats, creating wildlife-rich, climate-resilient landscapes that lock up carbon, paving the way for nature’s recovery. Here’s hoping that NE does the right thing and upholds the SSSI notification, helping Buglife, the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Save Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI, CPRE Kent and so many others who love this precious site to Save Swanscombe…
The event attracted more than a hundred campaigners – many were local but one man had travelled from Bristol to show his support
More than 100 people joined yesterday’s (Saturday, October 2) rally calling for the protection of the wildlife-rich Swanscombe peninsula. The event went better than anyone could have hoped for, especially given a grim weather forecast, although happily the storm didn’t really get going until later in the day. The walk around this fantastic site was interspersed with short talks, while there was a strong local-media presence. The cooperation between conservation groups – notably Buglife, Save Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI, Kent Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and CPRE Kent – was particularly impressive and augurs well for the campaign ahead.
To learn more about the Swanscombe peninsula, click here
For every £1 invested in hedgerows, as much as £3.92 is generated for the wider economy, new research from CPRE, the countryside charity, has revealed
CPRE is calling on the government to stop dragging its feet and set a target to increase the hedgerow network by 40 per cent by 2050, which would be a win-win-win for climate, nature and the economy
Hedgerows could become champions of climate action and nature recovery while contributing tens of thousands of jobs to hard-hit communities, new analysis from CPRE, the countryside charity, has revealed. The Climate Change Committee (CCC) recommends that the extent of our hedgerow network should be increased by 40 per cent to support the UK government’s goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. If the right hedgerows are planted in the right place, for every £1 invested in hedgerow planting, as much as £3.92 is generated in the wider economy. Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said: “It is almost impossible to define the enormous value of our hedgerow network – just as our arteries and veins supply our bodies with nutrients and oxygen, the UK’s hedgerow network defines many of our rural landscapes and must remain healthy to benefit villages, towns and cities. Our research shows that investing in our hedgerows is a win-win for climate and people in both the countryside and urban areas. “But we know the government has the biggest part to play in unleashing the full potential of hedgerows. That’s why we’re calling on ministers to set a target to increase the hedgerow network by 40 per cent by 2050 with improved protection for existing hedgerows. In its expanse, the hedgerow network is our largest, most connected, ‘nature reserve’. Healthy hedgerows are teeming with life and vital for nature. One in nine of all vulnerable species in the UK are associated with hedgerows. These include the hazel dormouse; the hedgehog, whose decline has been closely associated with hedgerow loss; and the brown hairstreak butterfly, which lays its eggs on blackthorn and is particularly common in hedgerows. Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, said: “What was a determination to make land more productive in order to feed our people during and after the war has led to indiscriminate destruction of our hedgerows. Spurred on by Deficiency Payments and the Common Agricultural Policy, our yields rose and our wildlife diminished. “Reintroduction and proper maintenance of hedgerows transforms the all too sterile prairie land into the countryside, which for long we have loved. But, as this report shows, this is not about romance – the hard facts are that hedges contribute to profit as well as to well-being.” There is a parliamentary launch of our hedgerows campaign this afternoon, hosted by MP Selaine Saxby.
CPRE, the countryside charity, has joined with other major charities to call for urgent action to extend the country’s hedgerows by 40% by 2050 to protect nature and help tackle the climate crisis. Our humble hedgerows are the unsung heroes of the countryside. They have been adding beauty and character to our landscapes for centuries while providing the food and shelter that sustains our wildlife. They protect the soil, clean the air and absorb carbon emissions. But we have lost about half since 1945. Now, as we face up to the climate emergency, we urgently need to start reversing that decline – and allow our hedgerows to play their most important role yet. That is why we have launched our #40by50 campaign, calling on ministers to commit to extending the hedgerow network by 40% by 2050, as recommended by the independent Climate Change Committee, and have written to the government to this effect, as published in The Times last month. Our open letter calling on the government to do more to extend hedgerows reads as follows:
Hedgerows: the climate and nature heroes
Tree planting and peatland restoration are important parts of the government’s plan to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. Yet there is still one powerful solution missing from its strategy: the humble hedgerow. Hedgerows are the unsung heroes of our countryside. They are icons of our landscape, steeped in history, providing a haven for wildlife while absorbing carbon emissions. The hedgerow network, in its expanse, is our largest ‘nature reserve’. Shockingly, it is estimated that more than half our hedgerows have been lost since WW2, and many existing hedgerows are in a poor, degraded state. The Climate Change Committee recommends extending the hedgerow network by 40% by 2050 to help achieve net-zero. Ahead of COP26, now is the time for Ministers to show real leadership by committing to this target, while restoring our existing hedgerow network, to deliver a more resilient, beautiful and biodiverse countryside. Yours, Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity Dawn Varley, chief executive, Badger Trust Kit Stoner, chief executive, Bat Conservation Trust Anita Konrad, chief executive, Campaign for National Parks Mark Bridgeman, president, Country Land and Business Association Lizzie Glithero-West, chief executive, Heritage Alliance John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace Shaun Spiers, executive director, Green Alliance Hilary McGrady, director-general, National Trust Jill Nelson, chief executive, People’s Trust for Endangered Species Emma Marsh, director, RSPB England Sara Lom, chief executive, The Tree Council Craig Bennett, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts Richard Benwell, chief executive, Wildlife & Countryside Link Dr Darren Moorcroft, chief executive, Woodland Trust
The deadline for supporting the designation of the Swanscombe peninsula as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is Monday, July 12, 2021. Can you spare 10 minutes to tell Natural England you agree that this nationally important wildlife site should be protected? The importance of the Swanscombe peninsula for nature was recognised by Natural England in March, when it notified this wildlife haven in north Kent as an SSSI. This means it is an area of particularly high interest for its wildlife and significance for our natural heritage. Although this legal protection took effect immediately, there is currently a consultation on this designation. Will you help us make sure that one of the country’s most threatened wildlife sites receives the protection that it deserves by taking part in the online consultation and letting Natural England know that you want its SSSI designation to stay? The consultation portal is currently live here, where you can find all of the information on the proposed SSSI, including the detailed analysis of its precious flora and fauna, together with a map of the proposed SSSI. You can respond to the consultation online following the guidance below, but if you would rather, you can simply compose your own email, outlining your support for the SSSI designation and sending it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find guidance on what to say in our answer to question B6 below. When you are ready to take part in the online consultation, make sure that you have five or 10 minutes free, then click on ‘Click here to submit an online response’ near the bottom of the page. The first page asks you to say who you are and asks if you have any legal interests in the land or own any land in the SSSI. It is important that, even if you have been made aware of the consultation by any of Buglife, CPRE Kent, Kent Wildlife Trust or RSPB, you make it clear you are answering on behalf of yourself and not for an organisation in question A4. The second page is for ‘Your views on the Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI notification’. Most of these questions simply require you to select ‘Yes’, as the text boxes are reserved for explaining any objections. However, the following should help guide you through this section easily:
B1. Do you accept the scientific rationale behind the notification of this site for its special interest? Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank
B2. Do you agree that the boundary of the SSSI appropriately encompasses the features of special interest? Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank
B3. Do you agree with the views about management? Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank
B4. Do you agree that the operations requiring Natural England’s consent are appropriate? Please select ‘Yes’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank
B5. Do you have any additional evidence or further comments that you wish to submit in relation to the SSSI? If you don’t have any additional information or thoughts that would further support the SSSI notification, please select ‘No’ and move on to the next question, leaving the text box blank. However, if you have any additional evidence such as your own survey data or observations of wildlife using Swanscombe peninsula, then select ‘Yes’ and either explain your evidence in the text box or choose to upload a file by selecting ‘Choose file’.
B6. Do you wish to submit a representation to the notification of Swanscombe Peninsula SSSI? Please select ‘Yes, I support the notification’. This is your opportunity to say clearly why you believe that the Swanscombe peninsula should be notified as an SSSI in your own words. Some ideas of what you can write are included below, but take any opportunity to personalise your response with your own views on the site and your own experiences of Swanscombe if you live locally. Explain why you think that the notification is justified based on the important wildlife and habitats that the Swanscombe peninsula supports. This could include highlighting: • The supporting information compiled by Natural England provides a detailed picture of the rich wildlife on the Swanscombe peninsula. • The Swanscombe peninsula clearly meets the criteria for qualifying as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. • Swanscombe supports a unique complex of open mosaic habitat on previously developed land and estuarine habitats, including grasslands, scrub, wetlands, grazing marsh and saltmarsh. • The nationally important assemblage of rare and threatened invertebrates, rich breeding bird assemblages and populations of nationally scarce vascular plants make it essential that the site is protected as an SSSI. • Swanscombe peninsula is also a vital greenspace for the local community, a place where they can escape and reconnect with nature. • Highlight your concerns that wildlife across the country is in catastrophic decline and that it is more important than ever to make sure that places like Swanscombe peninsula are protected for future generations and for perpetuity.
The third page is then simply answering if you are happy with the online consultation process – your chance to give feedback on the consultation itself. The fourth page will then ask you to click ‘Submit Response’, which will then give Natural England permission to include and analyse your submission. You will then be emailed a copy of your final submission. Thank you for your continued support for our efforts to Save Swanscombe. If you haven’t already done so, please sign and share our petition, which has already been signed by more than 24,300 people.
For more on the threat to the Swanscombe peninsula, click here
It is all too familiar a scenario: a local authority proposing to build thousands of houses in areas wholly unsuitable for such levels of development. When one council in north Kent targeted sites in the Green Belt, an impressive operation to challenge the potential environmental destruction was launched. Here, Alex Hills, chairman of CPRE Kent’s Gravesham committee, gathers some of the leading players to explain how they rallied residents to the cause.
At the end of last year without warning, and with rising numbers of Covid-19 cases making people worry whether they were going to have a Christmas or a job, Gravesham Borough Council began a Regulation 18 Stage 2 consultation. The proposal was for 3,790 houses within the Green Belt envelope over 21 sites, all being highly damaging to the rural area. The consultation was a perfect example of how not to run a such a process during pandemic restrictions and in the run-up to Christmas. GBC appeared to put every possible barrier in the way of people responding – the irony of it complaining about the way Highways England carried out the Lower Thames Crossing consultation was not lost on residents. As chairman of the CPRE Kent’s Gravesham committee, I am blessed to have an experienced hard-working committee who make me look good – they of course rose to this massive challenge. At the start of the campaign, we held a large Zoom meeting. The campaign slogan Stop the Green Belt Grab was created by local resident Peers MS Carter. Peers was a creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi, so we really have drawn on excellence from the talent in our borough. If you can inspire people to act, it is amazing the talents you find and we were lucky to find many such people during the campaign. I will let the committee members say in their own words what they did during the consultation process…
Pat Luxford: We were able to bring together all our contacts and residents’ groups from previous campaigns. This enabled CPRE Kent to ensure the campaigners worked together with one message. It could so easily have become various groups saying ‘Not in my backyard’ as the proposed sites were spread over various Green Belt areas of Gravesham. Despite our inability to sit around a table to make decisions or to hold public meetings, the residents’ response was extraordinary. By pulling together a group of dedicated volunteers whom we called foot soldiers, we were able to get door to door with updated information and easy-to-follow draft objection letters to GBC, making us so much more effective. By reaching out and working with like-minded groups and individuals, we were able to beat lockdown.
James Ferrin: My input into the campaign was dealing with social media. We used two main avenues, organic posting and sharing, and then paid for advertising. We used the CPRE Kent page as the main vehicle for this. We wrote the posts and then David Mairs posted them. The organic side was simple. Once the posts were up, we shared them across all the community groups in the area. There are some 30 or so that cover Gravesham. Comments were monitored and those asking for more information were helped. The paid-for element helped us reach those harder-to-reach people who were not members of groups. We set the targeting of location, interests and age and then put £50 behind the activity and set it live. We did a couple of posts, the first giving general information and the second providing wording for a standard letter that GBC had agreed would count. The results from the paid activity were a total reach of 18,315 people and a total of 3,029 engagements that equated to £0.016 per engagement. Pretty good-going!
Noel Clark: The committee decided we needed a website to quickly post reactions to the changing consultation as GBC changed the consultation documentation during the process. We used a website as the central repository of information to avoid having to walk revised notes around to our supporters. We used justgiving.com for fundraising as our costs were relatively small and several locals had expressed interest in contributing. Over the course of the campaign, we raised £570, which was used largely on printing and banners. We found the need to be local and reflect issues that affected us directly was important, but ultimately the outcome will be determined by national policy.
Jackie Luckhurst and Sue Gofton: During the first phase, thousands of leaflets informing communities of the threat to the Green Belt were delivered. The second phase entailed the delivery of printed objection letters; these had to be distributed in the shortest time possible to meet the GBC deadline of December 31, 2020. This was coupled with banners and placards placed in prime locations and attached to householders’ properties. The volunteers had been sourced through social media and community associations and support groups. Time was of the essence as we were in lockdown and the deadline was looming. The postal service was under pressure as it was the Christmas period and Covid-19 had taken its toll, so help was given by shops that were happy to have sealed drop-boxes where people could post their objection letters for free with their personal data secured. This worked incredibly well. Frequent updates were given on social media until the deadline was met and the letters from the drop-boxes were hand-delivered before the deadline. In terms of the Covid-19 difficulties and the deadline, it was deemed a success, based on communities pulling together and forging great camaraderie.
And back to Alex Hills for the final word… The Gravesham committee is an equal partnership (as chairman I do not have a casting vote) of six very different individuals with different skills, but we all respect and trust each other, which means we can debate openly. This was a vital asset as we had to set up a campaign structure from scratch, working with the hard-working Higham, Shorne and Cobham parish councils. We also had to respond quickly as the campaign developed, so weekly Zoom meetings were important. Covid-19 prevented us from such options as public meetings, while media disinterest meant that leaflets, the website (www.cpregravesham.org) and social media were our main tools in the campaign. Seeing local groups as an asset and working with them was another key part. My role was very much that of coordinator and making sure everyone was kept informed about what was happening– this included local councillors. The fact we were able to keep the campaign non-political and have so many saying very clearly to GBC that the Green Belt is not for building on is a great compliment to the committee.
Proposals for the largest theme park in the country could spell a miserable time for the wildlife of the Swanscombe peninsula and the people who live and work in the area. David Mairs reports on a scheme that really is no fun for nature.
It could almost be the standard definition of brownfield. Dominated by the excesses of our urban and industrial assault on the Thames estuary, the Swanscombe peninsula is flanked on its southern and eastern fringes by warehouses, breakers’ yards, deepwater docks and used-car dealerships and to the north by the river and the ugly sprawl of south Essex. It is cut through by HS1 and glowered over by the tallest electricity pylon in the country. It has been abused through the widespread dumping of fly ash – a legacy of the cement industry that was once such a feature of this area – and targeted for landfill. In short, Swanscombe Marshes have not been loved. However, such intricacies do not trouble the extraordinary wildlife that makes its home on the peninsula, which juts into the Thames between Greenhithe and Northfleet. It is the numbers of invertebrates that highlight how important a site this is. Almost 2,000 species have been recorded, more than 250 of them classified as of conservation concern. In total, there are 49 Red-listed species, meaning they are accorded highest conservation priority. The star of the show is the distinguished jumping spider (surely the name alone warrants respect!), which is found at only one other site in the UK, but there is also an array of scarce bees, beetles, butterflies and moths among a wider fauna that makes this the most important brownfield site for invertebrates in the land. Swanscombe represents an uplifting tale of nature coming back against man’s abuse of our natural environment. The combination of natural features and human activity has formed what charity Buglife _ “the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates” – describes as “a remarkable mosaic of grasslands, coastal habitats, brownfield features, scrub and intricate wetlands”. The peninsula is home to more rare and threatened species than any other brownfield site in the country. They include the endangered Duffey’s bell-head spider, brown-banded carder bee, saltmarsh shortspur beetle and orange-striped water beetle. Surveys have shown the presence of water voles, harvest mice and dormouse; cuckoos, nightingales and black redstarts breed; there are exceptional reptile populations; and scarce plants include the man orchid. The estuary’s most comparable brownfield for natural wealth lies on the other side of the river at Canvey Wick and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). As important as its wild inhabitants, of course, the peninsula provides space for people living in a desperately overcrowded part of the country to walk, birdwatch, go fishing or simply take an increasingly precious breather from their more regular surroundings… Cue proposals for the “UK’s Disneyland” – or the London Resort theme park. Or to put it yet another way: developers intend to build the largest theme park in the country on the peninsula. London Resort Company Holdings submitted its 25,000-page application for a Development Consent Order to the Planning Inspectorate on New Year’s Eve last year – and in a letter dated Thursday, January 28, the inspectorate announced it had accepted the application, which is now proceeding towards a six-month examination. The final verdict will lie with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, a post held at the time of writing by Robert Jenrick. The scheme has been designated a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), the first ‘business or commercial project’ to be accepted as such by the government under the Planning Act 2008. Covering more than 1,000 acres (958 acres at Swanscombe and 63 in Essex), London Resort is anticipated by its backers to open in 2024 should work begin next year. The project is predicted to create 8,810 jobs on site by 2025, of which 3,590 will be full-time, 1,990 part-time and 3,230 seasonal. From 2038, we are told there will be 17,000 jobs on site, of which 6,535 will be full-time, 3,690 part-time and 7,080 seasonal. An access road to the A2 is planned, along with “easy access” from Ebbsfleet International station. On the other side of the river, in Essex, linked infrastructure would take up more than 60 acres east of Tilbury, with an “access corridor” around the A1089. This would all enable a “park-and-glide” system to ferry people across the river. The project website states: “Sustainability is at the core of our vision. We are exploring new and innovative ways of integrating sustainable and low-carbon principles into every area of design and operation of the London Resort. Our aim is to create one of the most sustainable theme park destinations in the world.” It adds: “Our designs will integrate local public rights of way and a green network, with improved access to the river for visitors and local communities. The London Resort will showcase the natural features of the site, seamlessly integrating them into our designs. A large proportion of the peninsula landscape will remain undeveloped and will be enhanced.” However, such fine words have failed to convince everyone and not only are there widespread fears for the site’s wildlife but concerns have been raised for people employed on the peninsula who might see their workplaces lost. It has been estimated that some 2,000 workers could effectively be forced out by the proposed development. The concept of sustainable communities seems to have been mislaid along the way. Further, it is unclear how many of the claimed new jobs will go to local people. With the plans including “staff accommodation, which will reduce the amount of staff travel”, it is evident that a significant element of the workforce is expected to be drawn from outside the immediate area. And would the bulk of the roles that did become available be of the calibre to really lift the north-west Kent economy? With the developer predicting up to 12.5 million visitors a year by 2038, CPRE Kent believes work needs to be done in relation to transport. Could the existing road network really cope with taking such huge numbers of people to and from the site? On top of all this, it is feared the NSIP status, usually reserved for such substantial schemes as roads, airports and power plants, might result in a largely inaccessible and not widely understood process (the 25,000 application pages come in 449 documents!) that deters people from participating. But it is the potential loss of wildlife that has perhaps struck the loudest chord, with Buglife, the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust calling on Natural England to protect the peninsula by declaring it an SSSI. The three groups have presented a ‘Rationale for the SSSI designation of the Swanscombe Peninsula’ to the government advisory body, together with a letter signed by 77 current and former senior staff from nature organisations and public bodies. Matt Shardlow, Buglife chief executive, said: “Biodiversity is in crisis; wildlife populations, particularly of insects, are in steep decline; many habitats and specialist species are increasingly rare and their fragmented populations are at risk of extinction. “Too few wildlife-rich brownfield sites like the Swanscombe peninsula are protected, and this is the last chance to protect a large Thames estuary brownfield site before it is too late. This is one of only two sites nationwide for the distinguished jumping spider. If the development is allowed at Swanscombe, it will push this special spider a step closer to national extinction.” Richard Bloor, of Kent Wildlife Trust, added: “Swanscombe is one of the last remaining wildlife-rich brownfield sites in the Thames estuary, with habitats ranging from dry bare earth, which is vital for invertebrates, to complex wetlands, which support a great diversity of birds, reptiles and mammals.” Swanscombe’s broader importance was emphasised by Emma Marsh, RSPB England director, who said: “In September, the Prime Minister announced the government’s ‘30 by 30 pledge’ – a commitment to protect 30 per cent of UK land for biodiversity by 2030 – calling for immediate action and avoiding dither and delay. Saving nationally important wildlife sites like Swanscombe is surely an easy win on the road to meeting that commitment.” As part of the campaign for SSSI designation, a Save Swanscombe Marshes petition has been set up by Buglife. Aimed at Mr Jenrick, it has, at the time of writing, been signed by more than 22,000 people. There is also the Swanscombe Marsh Protection Campaign, “run for and by local residents who are concerned about the loss of the marshes for current and future generations, for the difficulties it could bring to local residents, and the loss of habitat for the wildlife which lives there”. The concerns are many and varied. How high will the buildings be? How many outside events are likely? Laser shows? Fireworks? What price tranquillity? How robust was the methodology employed for the ecology reports? So many questions and so much to be done to ensure a desirable future for the Swanscombe peninsula. CPRE Kent has registered as an Interested Party for the forthcoming inquiry and submitted the necessary ‘relevant representation’. The battle is just beginning. After nature has already fought back so strongly, surely we owe it to the Swanscombe peninsula, its wildlife and its people to not betray it now.
To learn more about the Save Swanscombe Marshes campaign and sign the petition, see www.buglife.org.uk