The killing of nature: Ecosystems and Biodiversity Demise, by Geoff Meaden

Countryside lovers and naturalists alike in this county feel the decline of wildlife as much as anyone. Kentish plover once bred on the coastline between Dungeness and Greatstone, but urban sprawl put paid to this country’s only substantial population of the species (pic David Mairs)

In the Autumn-Winter 2018 edition of Kent Voice we published the first, edited, part of Geoff Meaden’s article on ecosystems and biodiversity demise.
Here, as promised, is the entire, expanded piece in which he not only highlights the pressures on our natural heritage but considers a range of approaches to reversing the trend of environmental loss 

Surely no one reading this will be unaware that, at any scale from local to international, and in any place from the tropics to the subarctic, most natural ecosystems face rapid degradation and that biodiversity losses continue unabated.
Although our TV screens continually relay this demise of nature, still it continues as an apparently unstoppable certainty.
With all this information, plus imploring from conservation organisations, why do humans seem hell-bent on bringing about biological extinction for the planet?
After a look at some relevant factors on a wider scale, I hope here to open a small window on possible causes for the demise and suggest solutions at the local level.
As a 10-year-old in 1952 I remember going to Saturday-morning pictures to see a film called Where No Vultures Fly. It showed Africa in all its natural glory, but even then the unsustainable destruction of wildlife was recognised and the film demonstrated that wildlife parks would soon be necessary if biodiversity was to be maintained.
In the 66 years since the film was released, Africa’s human population has risen from a quarter of a billion to one and a quarter billion – a fivefold increase. And it has changed from having largely undegraded natural environments to a continent that is almost completely human-dominated.
What has happened in Africa has been replicated in Central and South America, as well as in much of Asia, while no continent has been without severe environmental damage.
As a measure of this damage, the weight of all larger land mammals on Earth now comprises 33 per cent Homo sapiens, 66 per cent our pets and livestock (domesticated animals) and just 1 per cent are wild animals (see Table 1).
The latest State of Nature report for the UK (2016) shows that abundance of 2,500 terrestrial and freshwater species has fallen by about 20 per cent over the last 40 years, but for the 213 species with highest conservation priority abundance the decline is close to 65 per cent.
Our planet is now almost completely anthropocentric, with the world’s human population continuing to grow at some 80 million a year. The planet has finite resources, making this growth totally unsustainable; if nothing changes we are on course for massive biological extinctions.

Table 1 Changes in weight distribution of all larger land mammals on the planet

Category of land mammals

(by per cent)

Time
10000BC 5000BC 1900AD 2008AD
 Wild >99 99 15 1
Domesticated 0 <1 70 66
Homo sapiens <1 <1 15 33

 

This reversal of Earth from being a ‘nature-bountiful’ planet would seem to imply the problems are not being tackled.
This is far from true.
There is no end of environmental organisations ranging from local to international; from broad-based to specific; from large to small membership; from being talking shops to action- or activity-based; and from public to charity or private organisations.
Some of these organisations have memberships measured in hundreds of thousands and financial accounts that turn over millions of pounds annually. So what is going wrong?
Why are numerous animals on the verge of extinction? Why doesn’t rainforest destruction decrease? Why are coral reefs almost a thing of the past? Why is Britain one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world? Why is no one apparently really listening to what David Attenborough and others are constantly saying?
These questions are far too complex to answer at an international or national scale, so here I examine some causes of biodiversity and ecosystems demise, mainly at a local level, before postulating some ideas for reversing this process.
In Kent we are blessed with a relatively wide range of natural biomes. These include extensive coastal plains, chalk downs, clay vales, river floodplains and areas reclaimed from the sea, each giving rise to a range of vegetative biomes such as marshland, natural grassland, mixed deciduous woodland and heathland.
Into these vegetation zones variations in the physical structure of the land help to create a random assortment of micro-habitats. Moreover, we have had imposed centuries of human development, which has led to a panoply of additional vegetative environments that include hedgerows, copses, planted woodland and coppiced woodland, plus an assortment of farmland types (essentially arable and grazing land).
The potential for biodiversity variation could be great, and indeed it once was. But where and why has much of Kent’s nature gone? It might be useful to address what I see as important points contributing to local, and to some extent national, ecosystems and biodiversity demise:

  1. Pressures from population growth
    This is easily the most important longer-term reason for the demise of nature. In Kent we have seen particularly high population growth over recent decades, the convenience of accessibility to London being a primary factor. The population here is now growing by some 15,000 per annum compared with ‘only’ 8,000 per annum in the late 1990s. Many in the population are well placed to enjoy a comparatively good lifestyle, which almost inevitably has negative impacts on the environment in terms of ‘environmental consumption’, for example through building homes and utilising wilder areas for leisure pursuits.
  2. Habitat loss and fragmentation
    For many centuries the main cause of habitat loss was its conversion to productive farming land. The compatibility of this ‘new land’ with the requirements of nature has declined with the degree of applied technology and we now have what is to a large degree a monoculture where ‘nature’ is virtually excluded. Population growth also leads to increased housing demand, plus demand for infrastructure, retail and employment. Although some of this demand is met from brownfield sites, most is not. Natural habitats are inevitably gnawed at and increasingly the size and connectivity of individual units of wild space is eroded. Kent is particularly hard hit because the density of human constructs is already high, so the obstacles to achieving larger and more integrated biological units are almost insurmountable.
  3. Pollution
    Most of us are aware of the vast range of insecticides, herbicides, fertilisers and assorted chemicals deposited on our rural environment (plus back gardens). These chemicals are mainly aimed at increasing food production for humans and little attention is given to the negative consequences for biodiversity. A walk through any Kentish orchard in spring reveals almost a complete lack of pollinators, doubtless caused by too many chemicals. Of probably greater overall concern is the leaching of pollutants into waterways, where they are concentrated into relatively narrow channels and often added to by discharges from sewage plants. In Kent this is a particular problem because rainfall is low and sub-face geology encourages water infiltration; thus there are frequently low water levels.
  4. A failure to appreciate or react to the problems
    We can make a fair assumption that, despite the variety of environmental information constantly streamed from a range of media, too many of us give insufficient thought to what is happening to the natural world. Even if we do think about this, how many of us take the trouble to take part in nature-conserving activities? While it is true that there are many conservation volunteers and practitioners, as a proportion of those that are really needed to ‘make a difference’, the number of practitioners is too few and conservation groups are coping inadequately with the decline of nature. Perhaps the basis of this lies in the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest: we are each individually programmed for self-preservation and too many of us go through life ‘fighting for ourselves’. So, perhaps rather simplistically, our individual actions are geared mainly towards making life better for ourselves. Too many of us care insufficiently for our surroundings, be they built constructs or nature. Human nature prevaricates against achieving the necessary behavioural change.
  5. Too much public access to ‘nature’
    We must recognise that people want to ‘see and visit nature’. Hence we are invited to visit a wide variety of attractions, and local councils and conservation groups promote new cycle paths or species habitats as places to visit. But in many cases this has gone too far and there are now few places in Kent from where the public are barred on the basis of nature protection. Just as humans need refuges of peace and quiet, I am quite certain that many species require the same. Human disturbance is a major factor behind species decline.
  6. Disease and alien invasions
    The position of Kent in relation to the Eurasian landmass means this county is particularly vulnerable to invasive species. The basic causes of invasions are the four Ts of trade, travel, tourism and transport, plus, more recently, climate change. Of course, species have always migrated by various means and there is some difficulty in identifying what constitutes a native species. Nevertheless, even a cursory examination shows invasion rates are accelerating, with at least 12 species of tree having become vulnerable to extinction from increased disease invasions in the past two decades. In some cases such invasions may cause little harm to ecosystems or biodiversity, either because the invader can easily integrate within a specific ecosystem or because it fails to compete with existing organisms. At the other extreme, invasions can wreak havoc, especially regarding fungal infections or viruses. In Kent we have seen decimation of amphibians through fungal infections; in many areas toads and frogs seem to have disappeared. The acceleration of climate change will surely exacerbate both disease and species invasions.
  7. A concentration on economic growth and development
    You only have to read local-government corporate plans, or witness the power and influence of big business, to realise economic growth and development are the primary goals society seeks. While of course we need jobs as a source of income and satisfaction, the primacy of the economy and its promotion means that social and environmental considerations usually take second place. Ultimately, economic growth and development depend on land and other resources being exploited, which on balance is a negative for nature. There seems little appreciation by many in the business community that the exploitation of nature is eventually unsustainable. I suspect ‘ecosystem services’ are something foreign to the business community.
  8. Lack of centralised cohesive policies
    As mentioned in my introduction, there is any number of groups, bodies, organisations, charities and government departments involved in one way or another with ecosystems or biodiversity research, observation or ‘management’. Although most of these groups are doubtless doing great work, no single organisation has both an overall vision and the means necessary to effectively say ‘Enough!’. With the severity of nature’s decline, why hasn’t central government given impetus to the Department for the Environment to project a necessary ‘office for the promotion of healthy ecosystems’?

I, and many others, fear the real threat of biological extinctions is now so great that it is putting our fundamental life-support systems at risk. A central plan of action must be established so management controls can be identified, rationalised and then implemented.

Even this brief look at some of the factors leading to the accelerating demise of ecosystems and biodiversity reveals society has a huge challenge, and this must be addressed urgently. It is essential we convey the fact that humans are part of an integrated biology living on a tiny planet where the continued existence of life relies on a changing but balanced living environment. And it is this environment that supplies us with the essential ecosystems services without which life is impossible. We must never ignore or forget this.
Saving ecosystems and biodiversity will mean making sacrifices and taking decisions that to date have proved a challenge too far. The challenge is not easy and in Kent it will certainly not be solved by citizens or groups acting alone. There will need to be worldwide efforts, plus the implementation of remedies at European and national levels. A main purpose of this piece is to consider realistically what local people and groups might best do. I now offer some possibilities that could be taken up according to prevailing conditions and personal circumstances.

  1. Giving protection to a wider area
    Several groups and informed experts have emphasised that it is essential some quantified level of strictly protected status is given to a significant proportion of both the terrestrial and marine areas. The recommended proportion varies from expert to expert and is dependent on the scale being examined. Edward Wilson, probably the world’s leading conservation ecologist, suggests that 50 per cent of the land on our planet needs “sacrosanct conservation”, ie this amount of land is set aside solely for nature conservation. At a more local scale, Kent Wildlife Trust has a target that 30 per cent of Kent “is managed to create a healthy place for wildlife to flourish”. Even 30 per cent of Kent is probably a highly ambitious target, but this is likely to be needed if all varied ecosystems are to be maintained and indeed improved. We must take the necessary responsibility to ensure this target is achieved.
  2. Habitat improvement
    If habitats could be improved, there are numerous local sites where greater biodiversity could be encouraged. Examples include degraded ponds, areas of intensive weed infestation, silted stream beds or marshlands, point source pollution along streams and areas where litter or rubbish has accumulated. There is already much activity directed towards improving habitats, but there is almost an unlimited range of work that can still be usefully accomplished. As well as restoring degraded habitats, new habitats can be created that allow for ‘more nature’, for example new lagoons in marshland or along river banks; planting of wildflower meadows, especially along set-aside land; and creating artificial nesting sites in modern barns.
  3. Joining wildlife and local conservation groups
    There are numerous groups whose focus is directed generally towards ‘improving nature’. Membership of such groups gives the opportunity for active or more static participation. For those who are relatively inactive, then just your support and encouragement are welcome, while of course financial contributions are important (if not essential). But groups such as Kent Wildlife Trust, Kentish Stour Countryside Project, RSPB, Friends of the Earth, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, The Woodland Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation offer a wide variety of mainly voluntary opportunities to ‘get actively involved’. Most of these groups also have action plans explaining their aims and how these aims might best be achieved, while ample information is available on websites.
  4. Nature improvements outside conservation areas
    The majority of land in Kent will always retain a variety of non-conservation purposes, for example housing, industry, transport routes and urban centres. However, most of these areas offer wide opportunities for nature improvement. One obvious example is urban gardens, where nature can be encouraged through bird-feeding, adding flower and plant varieties and perhaps leaving some kind of ‘wild area’. Another important improvement outside conservation areas per se is through the implementation and protection of ‘wildlife corridors’ that often compensate for the fragmentation of ecosystems by allowing wildlife transit routes between dispersed areas of protection. This may be along railway lines and hedgerows, through golf courses and via an assortment of ‘nature stepping stones’. One important set of wildlife corridors that needs considerable enhancement comprises headlands or set-aside land along the edges of countless fields. Too often these areas are literally set aside having had no management or improvements. Most of these non-conservation land areas need to be recognised and given some level of formal protection.
  5. Tackling local wildlife pressure points
    Recognition needs to be given to where existing and planned structures, industries, pollution sources and other major constructs that could be detrimental to ‘nature’ are located or are planned. I suspect we can all think of actual or potential, mainly human, constructs likely to create such pressure points, for example the proposed solar farm at Cleve Hill, the former animal-rendering plant at Thruxted Mill and the sewage plant at Bybrook. We can all play a part in ‘watching’ these developments and, if necessary, contact the owner or the local authority if there are problems. These single points can do environmental damage that may be out of all proportion to the size or scale of the pressure point itself.
  6. Data gathering
    For the great majority of local biodiversity there is a deficiency of quantitative and locational data. Local environmental organisations ought to be challenged as to the data they can provide and whether they think that adequate actions to redress negative situations can be addressed via their existing data. It is well known that the RSPB organised an annual garden bird count and this is an invaluable source of knowledge in respect to wild bird populations, at least in urban areas. But this data collection ideal needs extensive replication across a much wider biome and species range. As long as methods of data collection can be appropriately standardised, the actual data can easily be gathered. Most of the larger wildlife organisations should have the resources to turn the data into useful information (text plus tables, graphs and maps) and eventually time-trend analyses. The use of data gathered can be essential to wildlife-targeted recovery plans – something all major local environmental or conservation groups should aspire to.
  7. The identification of keystone sites or areas
    For all the Kent biome types and for a range of important indicator species, it is vital to select areas where either the biomes or the selected species are thriving. Once selected, these sites need to gain protection so the area is sacrosanct from built development; it may also be necessary to bar general human access to some sites. It is now well known that Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) have an excellent capacity to not only give protection to species within the area but also to act as overspill sources. Thus, when populations build up within an MPA the population pressure obliges animals or plants to move out into surrounding waters and soon replenishment of these waters becomes noticeable. The same general principle is likely to work in terrestrial ecosystems, though strict management may be necessary.
  8. Friendly persuasion
    Since the reversal of ecosystems and biodiversity declines is never likely to be accomplished solely by actions on a local or Kentish scale, it will be vital that both groups and individuals participate in ‘friendly persuasion’ across the widest possible audience:
    l ‘Friendly’ because if something needs to be done, success is more likely to be achieved through a positive and friendly approach
    l ‘Persuasion’ because we are attempting either to change someone’s mind or to show that our suggested approach needs to be activated.
    There is a myriad range of measures that might come under this category, such as letter-writing to decision-makers or to the press, issuing press releases, spreading the word via social media, circulating petitions, talking to a councillor or your MP and giving public talks.
    These measures must be pursued with vigour, determination and commitment – as if our lives depended on what we are doing, which very surely they soon will.
    It is important to note that before embarking on any campaign it is essential to be well informed on the particular aspect of a topic about which you feel most strongly. This is important because we do need to change mindsets; if people were as convinced as we must be, then the chances are that the status of ecosystems and biodiversity would not be in their present dire situation.

There is no evidence that any local or international person, body or group has an overall perspective on the management priorities necessary to halt ecosystems and biodiversity decline.
A body like the United Nations should have a whole agency committed to fostering the future of ‘nature’, but the UN Environment Programme’s ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ has no such comprehensive plans, for example like those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for combatting worldwide climate change.

Likewise, the Department of the Environment should be the lead organisation in the UK, and indeed this year Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom, produced a 25-year plan for the environment, but although this plan recognised some of the main “actions that are needed”, it said almost nothing on “how the plans would be implemented”. The same can said of earlier government plans.
Vision, action and coordination will be vital to achieve the following essential management actions:

  • The appointment of an ecosystems and biodiversity champion
  • Financial commitments, primary aims and objectives
  • An overall management structure
  • Developing suitable metrics for measuring progress
  • Data gathering and processing
  • Establishing priority actions
  • Delegation of specific roles to existing nature conservation groups (a rationalisation of effort)
  • Building a volunteer structure.

Most of these actions could best operate at county level. An oversight body in Kent might be Kent Wildlife Trust, Kent Nature Partnership, Environment Agency or Natural England.
It would be of interest to find out what actions any of these groups are taking to ensure that the overall demise of nature does not continue.

Our wonderful nature is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before”, David Attenborough, State of Nature 2016

I also believe that an organisation going under the title Campaign to Protect Rural England needs to be at the forefront of attempts to reverse the diminishing fortunes of our local ecosystems and biodiversity.

Monday, November 12, 2018

 

 

Cleve Hill, plans for the UK’s largest solar farm… and our response

The special landscape of Graveney Marshes would be destroyed if the Cleve Hill solar park was approved (picture by Vicky Ellis)

The damaging proposal for the country’s largest solar farm, at Cleve Hill near Faversham, has reached the second public consultation phase and CPRE has taken the opportunity to clarify its strong opposition to the project.
Our response totals almost 1,700 words, but our primary concerns lie in the following areas (more may be added after scrutiny of the Development Consent Order application):

  • Damage to landscape including tranquillity and dark skies
  • Inadequate assessment of flood risk and potential conflict with the Environment Agency’s ‘managed retreat’ strategy
  • Impacts on soil microclimate and hydrology
  • Ecological impacts
  • Damage to heritage assets caused by construction traffic
  • Loss of agricultural land
  • Threats to animal welfare

CPRE Kent recognises the challenges of climate change and the government’s commitment to meeting carbon emission targets but does not consider the renewable-energy benefits of the scheme proposed by developers Hive Energy and Wirsol – which has already grown from an initial 890 acres to 1,000 – outweigh the damage it would cause the North Kent Marshes.
We also question the sustainability of reliance on lithium-ion technology, with its own remote but concerning ecological impacts.
In short, the solar farm proposal is on a wholly unacceptable scale and in entirely the wrong location; it carries a disturbing catalogue of harmful impacts and it is to be hoped that the plans are ultimately stopped in their tracks.
Read our response to the consultation: Cleve Hill II Consultation Response (CPRE)

Water: we’re already struggling, so what of the future?

The region is already severely water-stressed; the low water levels at Bewl Water are clear to see in this picture

On the day the Environment Agency has released a report warning we could be facing water shortages as soon as 2050, concerns have been raised about such provision for the planned Otterpool Park new town near Hythe.
The report, The State of the Environment: Water Resources, paints a sorry picture of unsustainable levels of water abstraction, leakage from water companies – estimated at three billion litres a day nationally – and high demand combining to harm ecology and wildlife, as well as threaten public supply.
Introducing the report, Environment Agency chair Emma Howard Boyd said: “We need to change our attitudes to water use. It is the most fundamental thing needed to ensure a healthy environment, but we are taking too much of it and have to work together to manage this precious resource.
“Industry must innovate and change behaviours in order to reduce demand and cut down on wastage – and we all have a duty to use water more wisely at home.
“With demand on the rise, water companies must invest more in infrastructure to address leakage instead of relying on abstraction and the natural environment to make up this shortfall.”
According to the EA report, levels of abstraction are unsustainable in more than a quarter of groundwaters and one fifth of rivers, leading to harmfully reduced flows.
Climate change and population growth are expected to exacerbate the problem, with summer river flows and groundwater levels likely to fall yet further.
The government has already introduced a plan for abstraction reform that will review licences and introduce greater controls to protect resources, while its 25 Year Environment Plan, announced in January, aims to reduce individual water use – on average 140 litres per person a day – by working with industry to set a personal consumption target.
Predictably, given its population pressures and low rainfall, the South East is the region most likely to face water shortages.
With all this in mind, it is salient to question how water will be provided for the huge levels of housing growth within Kent predicted by the government’s new proposals for calculating demand.
One of the largest potential developments in the county is the planned 10,000-home Otterpool Park near Westenhanger.
Graham Horner, CPRE Kent’s local chairman, said: “Looked at objectively, the local water company is not even planning for the number of people envisaged to be in the area.
“Affinity Water is carrying out a public consultation on its draft Water Resources Management Plan, but the number of households referred to isn’t anywhere near the figure in the Folkestone & Hythe District Council Core Strategy Review.”
So how is this apparent disconnect going to be tackled?
“The current council core strategy allows for 90 litres being used per person per day for strategic developments, but the core strategy review has a relaxed figure of 110 litres, so it’s going in the wrong direction,” said Mr Horner.
“Further, the actual local figure is 127 litres being used per person per day, although nationally it’s 140 litres.”
It’s not overly encouraging reading, but the one positive is that personal water consumption in Folkestone and Hythe area is lower than it is nationally.
Mr Horner puts this down essentially to two factors.
“I suspect people in this area are aware there’s a water shortage, while the penetration of metering – which means people have to pay for what they use –in this area is above average.”
As for the future, Mr Horner believes new homes will be fitted with water-saving features such as shower aerators, but even there he sounds a cautionary note.
“You can’t police these things. People might find they’re not happy with the water pressure in their shower and retrofit different systems.
“Quite simply, we’ve got to get people to use less water. It’s about education.”
One way forward might be recycling, but it has an image problem.
“We can re-use water and waste – collect it, treat it and stick it straight back into the aquifer. But people don’t want to drink their own waste.”
Nevertheless, in the face of the EA warnings about our existing water stresses and future water availability, it is clear we need to challenge the assumption that the majority of economic and population growth will continue to be focused on the South East.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018   

Brilliant! CPRE campaign for deposit return scheme is going ahead

We should be seeing a lot fewer of these lying around our countryside

CPRE’s campaign for a deposit return scheme on drinks bottles and cans has finally won the day.
Environment secretary Michael Gove announced yesterday (Tuesday, March 27) that we will all pay a deposit of up to 22 pence on plastic and glass bottles, as well as aluminium cans. This deposit can of course be reclaimed.
CPRE has campaigned for the introduction of a deposit return system (DRS) in England for 10 years and is obviously thrilled with Mr Gove’s announcement.
It is a watershed moment for recycling in the UK, given that similar systems around the world produce excellent results.
The decision follows a call for evidence in October last year that investigated how littering with drinks containers could be cut and the recycling of them increased.
The evidence submitted was examined by retail giants such as Coca-Cola and Tesco, alongside other members of the Voluntary and Economic Incentives Working Group, for which CPRE provided the secretariat.
There has been increasing pressure from environmental groups, the media and the public for more action to be taken against the tide of waste polluting our environment, with single-use drinks containers being a huge contributor.
The new DRS for England, which follows the Scottish government’s announcement last year that it would be introducing a similar scheme, will be consulted upon this year. It is not yet apparent whether all retailers of single-use drinks will have to participate.
Samantha Harding, CPRE’s litter programme director, said: “This is a brilliant and significant decision by Michael Gove.
“I am thrilled that we will finally see the many benefits a deposit system will bring to England, not least the absence of ugly drinks containers in our beautiful countryside.
“What’s significant is that producers will now pay the full costs of their packaging, reducing the burden on the taxpayer and setting a strong precedent for other schemes where the polluter pays. This really is a bold and exciting step by the government.”
Bill Bryson, author and former CPRE president, said: “I wholeheartedly congratulate Michael Gove for his wisdom in finally accepting the case for a deposit return system in the UK – I never thought I would see this in my lifetime.
“Future generations will look back on this decision as a piece of supremely enlightened policy-making, and one that raises the prospect of the world’s most beautiful country becoming free from drinks-container litter at last.
“My most profound gratitude goes to the tireless campaigners and heroic litter-pickers of CPRE who, for the past decade, have kept the issue alive in the minds of our politicians, press and public.”
Emma Bridgewater, president of CPRE, added: “This landmark announcement is the breakthrough we have been waiting for.
“CPRE have been campaigning for the introduction of a DRS for almost 10 years – it has been a long battle, but this significant victory is an enormous leap forward in the war against waste.
“Our countryside, oceans and wildlife have long been the victim of our obsession with single-use bottles and cans, with the UK producing billions of them year after year.
“Many end up damaging our natural environments and killing our wildlife – and it is also a shocking waste of valuable materials. The proven success of DRS in other countries means that now most of these bottles and cans will be captured and recycled – we congratulate the government on their decision.”

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Government’s 25-year plan for our environment… what is the CPRE view?

Will Kent’s wild places be better protected as a result of the government’s 25-year plan? This is Westbere in the Stour valley (pic Richard Brooks)

The publication on Thursday last week (January 11) of the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan met – as perhaps is the case with most things emanating from our political leaders – a mixed response.
It was difficult to argue against the principles it embraced and most commentators have broadly welcomed the plan, although it has been criticised for a lack of detail and commitment to concrete action.
To make up your own mind, you can read the 125-page document (or at least as much as you want to read!) here.
Just to give you an idea of the government’s stated intention, in the meantime, Prime Minister Theresa May says in the plan’s forward:
“Our natural environment is our most precious inheritance. The United Kingdom is blessed with a wonderful variety of natural landscapes and habitats and our 25 Year Environment Plan sets out our comprehensive and long-term approach to protecting and enhancing them in England for the next generation.
“Its goals are simple: cleaner air and water; plants and animals which are thriving; and a cleaner, greener country for us all. We have already taken huge strides to improve environmental protections, from banning microbeads which harm our marine life to improving the quality of the air we breathe to improving standards of animal welfare. This plan sets out the further action we will take.
“By using our land more sustainably and creating new habitats for wildlife, including by planting more trees, we can arrest the decline in native species and improve our biodiversity. By tackling the scourge of waste plastic we can make our oceans cleaner and healthier. Connecting more people with the environment will promote greater well-being. And by making the most of emerging technologies, we can build a cleaner, greener country and reap the economic rewards of the clean growth revolution.”
And Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, adds: “It is this Government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it. We have made significant progress but there is much more to be done. The 25 Year Environment Plan that we have published today outlines the steps we propose to take to achieve our ambition.”
So what does CPRE make of it?
Belinda Gordon, our head of government and rural affairs, said: “The introduction of a 25-year Environment Plan is a fantastic commitment to long-term investment in the health, protection and enhancement of our countryside.
“We are delighted to see the Government taking measures to improve our National Parks, Green Belts and wider landscapes.
“However, despite the Government’s best intentions, we are concerned that the plan does not adequately address the growing development pressures on England’s countryside.
“England’s land is a finite resource – it is vital that we ensure we have a planning system that ensures the best use of land, while protecting our landscape and the wider natural environment.
“We look forward to working with the Government to make sure our planning system delivers what our communities and environment need.”
Belinda gives greater detail in her blog A vision for change here, in which she talks of “a sense of disappointment about lack of detail in some areas while some anticipated announcements were not in the final plan”.
We would be keen to know your views, so please feel free to get in touch with us via email, Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Have your say on proposed Hythe development

The scheme proposed by Shepway District Council would impact on the Royal Military Canal, a scheduled historic monument (image courtesy of Save Prince’s Parade, saveprincesparade.org)

Time is almost up for anyone wanting to comment on Shepway District Council’s proposals to develop land it owns at Princes Parade in Hythe.
One of the district’s most contentious planning sagas in recent years will see the local authority determine its own application for up to 150 houses and associated buildings such as a leisure centre, hotel and café or restaurant.
Campaigners against the development say it could be approved even before the site’s future is fully considered as part of the overall planning process for Shepway.
Princes Parade is one of the last undeveloped pieces of land on this stretch of coastline, but the council has had its eye on developing it since at least 2012. Now, with the publication last month of its own planning application, the council’s development control committee will get to determine the site’s future, possibly in the new year.
If you would like to have your say on the proposals, you have until Wednesday, November 8, to do so.
The council had originally quoted October 12 as the deadline for comments, but one of the site notices gave a deadline of October 26. However, the public notice had to be reprinted in the local media as the original notice did not make clear that the application did not comply with the Local Plan. The new notice was published on October 18, so the public were given 21 days from then to submit comments.
All make sense? Either way, the link is here:
CPRE Kent has objected to Shepway council’s plans on ecological grounds,  submitting a detailed report highlighting the harm that such a development would cause to the site’s wildlife and wider natural environment.
Our historic buildings committee put in an objection, too, citing the scheme’s unacceptable impact on the setting of the nearby heritage assets, namely the Royal Military Canal and its associated fortifications.
Government body Historic England also expressed concerns about the effect of the development on the setting of the canal, a scheduled historic monument.
Lesley Whybrow, of the group Save Princes Parade, said: “The council wants to build 150 houses and commercial buildings including a hotel and a leisure centre.
“They will be raised high above the promenade, destroying the most important views in Shepway and the wildlife habitat, damaging the setting of the ancient monument and putting people’s homes in risk of flooding.
“Most importantly, the planning application could ride roughshod over the substantial objections from Historic England and Kent County Council made just last year when Shepway council included proposals to develop the site in its draft local plan.
“More than 6,000 people signed a petition objecting to development of the site.”
For more on the story of Princes Parade and the development planned by Shepway District Council, see the Save Princes Parade website here

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The menace of plastic around Kentish shores

The remains of plastic bottles are ending up in the county’s marine life

If you needed any convincing about the importance of CPRE’s campaign for deposits to be introduced on plastic bottles, the findings of a survey carried out in Kent should surely do the job.

A team from King’s College London checked four beaches in the county and found that about two-thirds of the mussels tested for contamination contained plastic detritus.

Ramsgate molluscs came out worst, with 80 per cent harbouring ‘microplastics’, the worn-down remnants of water bottles, plastic bags and other rubbish.

The figure was 40 per cent for mussels tested at Herne Bay, the study, carried out for the BBC’s Inside Out show and reported on Mail Online, revealed.

The environmental impact on our marine life is of course disturbing enough, but there are fears that plastics are entering the food chain to the level that they are being eaten by humans.
For more on this story, visit www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4962778/Two-three-mussels-Kent-contaminated-plastics.html

CPRE Kent on TV to debate huge AONB development scheme

Plans for a sprawling development in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty were put in the television spotlight last night (Wednesday, October 4) – with CPRE Kent vice president Richard Knox Johnston explaining why the scheme should be a non-starter.
The proposals, put forward by developer Quinn Estates and landowner Highland Investment Company, are targeted for 300 acres of protected countryside at Highland Court Farm near Bridge. They entail 300 holiday homes, a retirement village, business centre, restaurant and market, along with clubhouses and pitches for Canterbury football and rugby clubs and an equestrian, walking and cycling centre.
It had been intended for Mr Knox Johnston to debate the plans face to face with Quinn Estates chief executive Mark Quinn on KMTV’s Chris & Co., but unfortunately Mr Quinn was not able to make the live scheduling and so gave his views earlier in a pre-recording.
Mr Quinn called for a “wholesale review of the AONB and the Green Belt” and said his scheme would stop 300 people buying second homes in the area, allowing “more homes for normal people with normal jobs”. He said his proposal would make “a massive difference to the housing crisis”.
He further claimed there would be “a lot of benefits from those tourists [staying at the complex] with very little pain”. Canterbury wanted to grow and encourage tourists but had “hardly any quality hotels”, said Mr Quinn. “We will give them 1,000 beds a night,” he continued, stating that tourists would not drive into town but catch a bus from the proposed development.
Asked how he would respond to environmentalists objecting to the scheme, Mr Quinn said it wasn’t him who had decided “to put a junction there”. “If it was that important, the land, why did they allow a road to go through it?” he asked.
As for his proposals for sporting facilities, he said Canterbury was the only city in the country “without a resident football club” and that was “something we should be ashamed of”.
“I think it will be a boon, I really do,” Mr Quinn concluded about his scheme.
Following on, appearing live, Mr Knox Johnston of CPRE Kent told host Chris Price about national planning strategy going back to the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 that designated pieces of land not available for development.
“So this land is not available for any development on it,” he said. “If we don’t protect these AONBs, in due course we won’t have any left. There have to be very special reasons as to why you would want to do any building on that sort of site.”
Mr Knox Johnston stressed the value and attractiveness of Highland Court Farm, noting how the North Downs Way, public footpaths, a cycle path and bridleway all passed through the site, which was important to people in terms of mental health and relaxation.
Asked about Mr Quinn’s claim that the project would bring tourists into the county, Mr Knox Johnston said: “That’s a supposition that he makes. There’s no financial plan or structure to support this, and any business would have done that properly beforehand to show how it can be done.”
He also said claims that the project would create 1,500 jobs should be taken with “a great pinch of salt”, noting that Mr Quinn should have made clear precisely how that would happen.
Mr Knox Johnston highlighted the fact that Brexit would probably mean the country would need to keep as much agricultural land as it could, referring to Highland Court Farm’s history of growing soft fruit.
Finally, he dismissed the idea of an AONB rethink, saying the designated areas had all been carefully set out – and should stay there.

Richard Knox Johnston, CPRE Kent vice president, talks about the Highland Court Farm plans on KMTV
Pic courtesy of KMTV

To watch the discussion on KMTV, visit kentonline.co.uk/kmtv/video/chris-co-wednesday-4th-october-2017-8518/

Canterbury development challenge: your chance to help

This map shows the roads in Canterbury, marked red and dark blue, where it is believed air pollution is in breach of legal limits.

Can you support two legal challenges aimed at saving hundreds of acres of countryside around Canterbury and cutting air pollution in the city?

Emily Shirley from Bridge and Michael Rundell from Wincheap hope to halt Corinthian’s Mountfield Park application south of Canterbury on the grounds on increased air pollution.

The application entails the building of 4,000 houses, roads, schools, a relocated and enlarged park-and-ride and possibly a relocated hospital set primarily on Grade 1 farmland.

Although the challenge was initially unsuccessful, Emily and Michael believe there are robust grounds to have the decision revisited in the Court of Appeal because of the increased levels of air pollution such a development would bring. Permission to appeal is therefore being sought.

The accompanying map shows the roads in Canterbury, marked red and dark blue, where it is believed air pollution is in breach of legal limits.

The second legal challenge concerns the Canterbury Local Plan, which was adopted in July this year.

It proposes 16,000 extra houses, new roads and associated car-accommodating policies.

It would create havoc on the roads, gobble up acres of beautiful countryside and worsen air pollution, say Emily and Michael.

A legal challenge was issued against the Plan on August 21. Emily and Michael are waiting to see if permission for the challenge has been granted.

Some £12,000 has been raised so far to help pay for both legal challenges, with a further £13,000 needed to reach the combined target of £25,000. This includes a Crowdjustice bid for £10,000, detailed solely for the second challenge and which has so far raised a little more than £2,000.

Please contribute if you can by sending a cheque to:

Kent Environment & Community Network

c/o Netherbury

Meadow Close

Bridge

Kent

CT4 5AT

Alternatively, you can contribute online at www.crowdjustice.com/case/canterburyairpollution

CPRE push for plastic bottles wins Gove backing

CPRE’s campaign for deposits to be introduced on plastic bottles has won a huge boost with the news that environment secretary Michel Gove is backing the idea.

Mr Gove said yesterday that schemes put in place abroad had been a “great success” in tackling pollution. He now wants to see evidence that a similar ‘reward and return’ system could work in England.

Britain’s record on recycling of plastic bottles compares unfavourably with that of other European countries: just 57 per cent of plastic bottles sold last year in this country were recycled, compared with 90 per cent in Denmark and Germany, both of which have deposit schemes.

Speaking to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Mr Gove referred to the fact that bottles comprised a significant proportion of the eight million tonnes of plastic waste entering our oceans each year.

He said action was needed to protect marine life from such waste: “That means tackling the rise in

Are we about to see deposits on plastic bottles?

plastic bottles entering our waters by making it simpler and easier to recycle and dispose of them appropriately.”

The environment secretary’s apparent support follows an announcement that the Scottish government will be introducing a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). Responding to that news, Samantha Harding, CPRE’s litter programme director, had said: “Michael Gove has said that he wants to introduce a scheme as quickly as possible, and Scottish ministers have now laid down a marker.

“We just need to make sure that an English scheme is the same as or compatible with the one in Scotland. A drinks container bought in St Ives should be able to be returned in St Andrews.”


Our concerns about air quality

We have submitted our concerns about air quality in the consultation “Improving air quality: national plan for tackling nitrogen dioxide in our towns and cities”.

London air pollution by David Holt

We are very dissatisfied with DEFRA’s (Department of the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs) proposed measures to address the problem:

  • We do not accept that devolution of responsibility for air quality to local planning authorities is an appropriate way forward. Local authorities lack the resources, capacity and expertise to shoulder the responsibility.
  • We are concerned that each local planning authority will act in isolation with regard to air quality. The government is committed to delivering 1 million new homes by 2020, and it is clear that the adverse air quality impacts of increased traffic, increased congestion and air pollution in pinch-points, will be experienced across more than one planning authority area and we are aware of no overarching strategy that can address this.
  • Within Kent, we are particularly concerned at the conflict between the requirement for air quality improvement and policies and decisions on transport. Kent’s channel corridors provide for the movement of some 60% of freight between the UK and mainland Europe. Kent County Council’s Freight Action Plan seeks to facilitate increased traffic, rather than engage in sustainable freight movement strategies which reduce the nation’s reliance on this route. The Port of Dover’s expansion plans will have concomitant impact on the highways network further afield, not least at the existing Dartford Crossings. It is because of the congestion, delays and exceedance of air quality limit values that already exist at Dartford that DfT recently announced a third Thames Crossing to be sited east of Gravesend. However, Highways England have acknowledged that the construction of this crossing would be expected to divert only 14% of the traffic using Dartford to the new crossing at Gravesend; it will not resolve the existing problems at Dartford, but it will create new problems at Gravesend.

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Otterpool Park – the wrong location and concern about water shortages

We have written to Greg Clark MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to express our concerns for the proposed garden town of 10,000 homes in Shepway, Otterpool Park. The following extract from Hilary Newport’s letter sums up our concerns:

Otterpool Park 2

“While we entirely support the principles of high quality, sustainable design and place-making, we strongly disagree that this is the right location for a garden city of this scale. The existing pressures for development in this area are extreme, not least with the region being categorised by the Environment Agency as being under ‘severe water stress’, and we question the wisdom of drawing even more housing in to a county and a region which is already struggling to accommodate the housing  targets being generated in local plans.

Sheep in fields at Otterpool

Everything in this view would be urbanised

“In its submission draft of the Shepway Core Strategy (January 2012), the District Council included a policy which outlined its ambitions for 800+ homes on the former Folkestone Racecourse, immediately adjacent to the land acquired by the District Council for its proposed Otterpool Park. At examination, the inspector comprehensively rejected this policy as unsound, being neither justified nor necessary to meet housing targets. A further policy outlined the concept of a ‘Strategic Corridor’, covering the area proposed for Otterpool Park as well as the urban areas of Hythe and Folkestone, for mixed use development in furtherance of the Council’s growth agenda. This policy too was rejected by the inspector as unsound. Since the adoption of the Shepway Core Strategy (November 2013) it is difficult to see what has changed to suggest that the plans for Otterpool Park are now either sustainable or necessary. I hope that your department will take these issues into account in considering Shepway’s submission.”

June 27th 2016

 

Night blight and dark skies – new maps launched

The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s light pollution and dark skies, released today (13th June) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), have shown that Thanet Earth is the second worst light polluter in the country, only second to Tata Steel in Rotherham. [1].

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Night sky over Thanet, photo by Kimberley Eve

Overall, Kent is the 29th darkest county of 41. The maps, produced using satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015, show that within Kent, Ashford has the darkest skies, 68th of 326 districts. Ashford Borough Council adopted a specific Dark Skies Policy in 2014 to raise awareness about ways we can minimise light pollution and to raise the profile of dark skies as an environmental asset we are increasingly at threat of losing. [2]

Dartford has Kent’s lightest skies, 260th of the 326 districts, of course this area has major transport networks, including the Dartford Crossing.

Thanet is 241st in the rankings, with 34% of its skies in the lightest categories. Thanet Earth pledged to improve its greenhouse blinds in 2013, yet the light emitted is still severe. [3] [4] Its maximum brightness value is 584.98nanowatts/cm2*sr, brighter than anywhere else in the South East, including London.

Thanet Earth by Craig Solly 1

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Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

Thanet Earth, photos by Craig Solly

The research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lighting spills.

The new maps were produced by Land Use Consultants from data gathered by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in America. The NOAA satellite captured visible and infrared imagery to determine the levels of light spilling up into British skies. CPRE is sending lesson plans to primary schools in order to promote the enjoyment of dark skies.

We are calling on the county’s local authorities to use these maps to identify areas with severe light pollution and target action to reduce it, as well as identifying existing dark skies that need protecting.

 

Stars by Tone Netone

Stars by Tone Netone

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

Starry night by Ethan Sztular

CPRE Kent recommends that:

  • Local authorities follow Ashford’s lead and develop policies to reduce light pollution in their emerging local plans.
    The councils use CPRE’s maps to inform decisions on local planning applications and identify individual facilities that should be asked to dim or switch off unnecessary lights.
  • Local businesses review their current lighting and future development plans to save money by dimming or switching off light to reduce pollution as well as meet their promises over reducing existing pollution (e.g. Thanet Earth).

Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent said: “Our view of the stars is obscured by artificial light. Many children may not have seen the Milky Way, our own galaxy, due to the veil of light that spreads across their night skies. It is known that dark skies are beneficial to our wellbeing. Light pollution can disturb our sleep, prevent our enjoyment of the countryside and affect wildlife, by interrupting natural rhythms including migration, reproduction and feeding patterns.
“Councils can reduce light levels through better planning, and with investment in the right street lighting that is used only where and when it is needed.
“Our Night Blight maps also show where people can expect to find a truly dark, starry sky and we hope they will go out and enjoy the wonder of the stars.”

Summary of Kent districts (this information and more is available via the maps):

District Ranking out of 329 % in three darkest sky categories, less than 1 NanoWatts / cm2 / sr
Ashford 68 85
Tunbridge Wells 72 76
Shepway 99 74
Sevenoaks 101 47
Dover 106 66
Canterbury 112 78
Maidstone 116 55
Swale 137 47
Tonbridge and Malling 156 32
Medway 196 12
Gravesham 202 0.3
Thanet 241 8
Dartford 260 0

 

Notes:

[1] CPRE’s interactive maps can be accessed at http://nightblight.cpre.org.uk

Light pollution is a generic term referring to excess artificial light that shines where it is neither wanted nor needed. In broad terms, there are three types of light pollution:

  • skyglow – the pink or orange glow we see for miles around towns and cities, spreading deep into the countryside, caused by a scattering of artificial light by airborne dust and water droplets
  • glare – the uncomfortable brightness of a light source
  • light intrusion – light spilling beyond the boundary of the property on which a light is located, sometimes shining through windows and curtains
[2] http://www.ashford.gov.uk/dark-skies-spd-2014

[3] http://www.thanetearth.com/faqs-growing-using-light.html

[4] http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/skies-Birchington-going-green/story-20253506-detail/story.html

June 13th 2016

Public support for plastic bag charge increases

it’s great news that plastic bag usage has slumped by around 80% – the UK’s largest retailer Tesco said in December that the number of bags had been slashed by 78% since the 5p charge was introduced, while at Morrisons, plastic bag consumption was down 80% across its stores. The Government is now collecting full usage statistics so the full picture should be clear soon.

Meanwhile, a poll partly-commissioned by CPRE has revealed increased public support for the bag charge in England [1]. The poll for the Break the Bag Habit (BTBH) coalition found that 70% of English respondents now find it reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags – an 8% increase in support in the eight months since the English charge came into force [2]. The increase was particularly marked amongst younger people, where support has jumped 10% [3].

plastic bag cpre

Despite this encouraging news, the poll indicated that more people find the current charge confusing than not. The charge, introduced on 5 October 2015, does not apply to businesses of fewer than 250 employees, paper bags or franchises such as Subway. Answering the ICM survey, 42% of respondents found it confusing that only some shops charged for bags.

Samantha Harding, http://alwaysvaltrexonline.com spokesperson for the Break the Bag Habit coalition, said:

“People are clearly confused by the current scope of the charge. A universal scheme that applies to all bags and all retailers will eliminate confusion, boost public support, and most importantly reduce bag usage and litter.

“With a frankly ridiculous £1 billion litter bill, England is lagging behind the other home nations. Now that the scheme has been successfully launched, the Government should review the exemptions and introduce a universal charge.”

Photo: Earth Policy Institute

Photo: Earth Policy Institute

[1] The 2016 poll was conducted by ICM on 11th of May 2016. ICM interviewed a random sample of 2000 GB adults, including 1742 in England, aged 18+ online. The results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information is available at www.icmresearch.co.uk.

[2] The Break the Bag Habit coalition consists of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Greener Upon Thames, Keep Britain Tidy, Surfers Against Sewage and Thames21. The coalition has long worked towards the introduction of a carrier bag charge scheme in England.

[3] Survey respondents aged 18-24.

June 7th 2016

Shepway’s Otterpool Park – huge intrusion on landscape and villages

Shepway District Council (SDC) has announced plans for a “Garden Town” which would engulf Westenhanger, Newingreen, most of Lympne and some of Sellindge, together with up to 700 hectares (1730 acres) of countryside, bordering on the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Somehow, the council expects local residents to support this while the leader, Cllr David Monk, answers his critics with words like “It is not green space. Most of the time it’s brown, it’s mud, brown mud. It’s cockalooloo land. It is agricultural fields. You can’t say we can’t build on fields. It hardly affects anyone.” (quoted in Folkestone Herald 12/5/16).

Sheep in fields at Otterpool

Everything in this view, as far as the windmill (white tower), would be urbanised, photo by Graham Horner

CPRE fought hard to halt the urbanisation of this area through the examination of Shepway District’s Local Plan and the inspector agreed with us, throwing out proposals for just 400 houses on the Folkestone Racecourse site.  Now up to 12,000 houses are contemplated in the same area.  Shepway seem intent on filling up all land which is not AONB or on the Marsh with housing or allowing it to be concreted over for lorry parks.

Hilary Newport said “The garden city/village principles have merit, but CPRE believes that housing delivery should focus on putting effort into the regeneration of those brownfield sites that blight urban areas and communities. This site, by contrast, is in open countryside, near villages that are already struggling under the pressure of overdevelopment, and would be a huge intrusion on the landscape – indeed the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (a nationally important designation, equivalent in importance to a National Park) surrounds this area on three sides: walkers and riders on the North Downs Way national trail to the north would have their views across open landscape blighted.”

Otterpool Park 4 Otterpool Park 2

 

Photos by Graham Horner

May 16th 2016.