Time to rethink our farming and save our soils

Hope springs eternal…

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

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

Monday, March 2, 2020

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

The Archbishop’s Palace in Charing

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

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

Choose your gifts wisely and Christmas really can give to the environment

Did you know you can get eco-friendly brown masking tape?
Don’t feel ashamed if the answer to this taxing question is no, you didn’t. We’re sure you’re not alone.
Either way, the rather splendid news is that, yes, you can get this must-have festive accessory – and we can help you in your quest.
Eco-friendly brown masking tape is just one item that could help your Christmas be the greenest ever.
White-paper snowflake decorations, eco crackers and recycled wrapping paper can all contribute to a healthy green glow on you and yours over this most wonderful time of the year.   
And, of course, an eco-friendly lifestyle is not just for Christmas! A whole range of goodies are available that will make both fantastic gifts for your loved ones and life very much finer for our natural neighbours.
These include bug hotels, bee-bombs (native wildflower seed-balls) and fake wasp-nests (that’s fake nests, not creatures masquerading as wasps, and just to be clear, they help deter wasps and hornets from building nests nearby rather than encourage them… but all in a nature-friendly fashion).
We’re sure you must be solely tempted to buy some, if not all, of these delectable treats – and, as it’s Christmas, we’ve made it easy for you! All you need to do is click on the links below.
Just one thing we’d like to ask in return: please do buy through Amazon Smile and raise a little money for CPRE Kent. Just in case you don’t know how to do this, you need to register with Amazon Smile. And that, dear friends, takes just a couple of seconds. See here

Your presents can help make this Christmas the greenest ever
  • Click here for a bug hotel    
  • Here for a bee-bomb
  • Here for eco crackers
  • Here for white-paper snowflake decorations
  • Here for eco parcel tape
  • Here for recycled Christmas wrapping paper
  • Here for Natural Kraft wrapping paper
  • Here for a fake wasp-nest

Monday, December 9, 2019

Passivhaus: the environmentally friendly way ahead for our homes

A low-energy house in east Kent built using traditional materials

Earlier this year, chartered surveyor Paul Mallion enthralled CPRE Kent members with a talk on the principles of Passivhaus, a voluntary standard that aims to drastically cut energy demand in our homes. Here he explains further how we must improve energy efficiency across the building industry if we are to reduce carbon emissions to an acceptable level 

As party to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the UK must reduce greenhouse gas emissions (compared with 1990 levels) by 57 per cent by 2032 and at least 80 per cent by 2050. 
The independent Committee on Climate Change reports, however, that, at best, current policies and plans will deliver only half the required reduction by 2030. To achieve even this lower rate of emissions, there needs to be a significant increase in the current building standards for energy efficiency for dwellings.
The Building Regulations set the minimum standards for buildings in the UK, covering new-build and refurbishment, extension and alteration projects. 
The Regulations include Part L, which relates to the conservation of fuel and power and energy efficiency, and this part has not been updated since 2013.  Local authorities do have power to set higher standards than Part L for new-builds through planning policy, although, since the government scrapping of the Code for Sustainable Homes in 2015, this power has not generally been applied.
Horror stories in the news about the poor quality of completed new dwellings in the UK are now unfortunately commonplace. What is often overlooked, however, in such cases is that substandard workmanship and design also extends to energy performance. 
Studies into completed housing projects show that most fail to live up to the energy standards they were designed to meet, a phenomenon known as the performance gap (Rowntreei, BREii , Leeds Met Universityiii).
This can be caused by a multitude of small failings, such as thermal bridges, gaps in insulation, air leakage caused by poor workmanship and design, poorly fitted fenestration, over-optimistic thermal calculations and inaccurate energy assessment methods such as Standard Assessment Procedure (from which Energy Performance Certificates are generated).  
Research into the performance gap in Germany and Sweden in the 1980s led to the development of a new building standard, known as the Passivhaus Standard. The research demonstrated a link between energy efficiency and indoor air quality and comfort, establishing one of the key concepts of Passivhaus: that energy efficiency and fresh air supply cannot be separated.
The Passivhaus Institut in Darmstadt defines a true Passivhaus as:
“a building for which thermal comfort can be achieved solely by post-heating the fresh air mass which is required to achieve sufficient indoor air quality conditions without the need for recirculation of air”
This means that the primary design criterion for a Passivhaus is the supply of hygienic fresh air, something that hardly registers in most new-builds, as they rely mainly on accidental draughts for fresh air supply.
The design and calculation procedure required for the standard is rigorous but has proven to be statistically accurate over thousands of completed buildings across the world – greatly reducing the incidence of the performance gap.

Key principles of the Passivhaus Standard

  • Maximum U value for walls, floors, roofs 0.15W/m2K (or less if the building has an inefficient surface area-to-floor area ratio).
  • Windows and doors usually need to be triple-glazed with a U value of 0.8W/m2K, averaged over the glass, glazing spacer and frame.
  • All thermal bridges must be less than 0.01W/mK (known as a psi value); if greater, they must be included in the calculation.
  • An efficient mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery is needed, supplying fresh outdoor air to each habitable room, extracting from wet rooms. Heat recovery efficiency of minimum 75 per cent. Fresh air supply at 30m3 per person per hour, or a whole house ventilation rate of 0.3 air changes per hour.
  • Airtight construction (meaning no draughts when the windows are shut) tested to a maximum of 0.6 air changes per hour using a blower door at 50 Pascals under both positive and negative pressure.
  • Prevention of overheating, limited to 10 per cent of the year above 25°C.
  • Heating may be provided by simply heating the ventilation air or providing a small heat source such as a woodstove or centrally located radiator or bathroom towel rail.

This will result in a building that will have a maximum heating demand of 15kWh/m2annum or a heating load of 10W/m2. To put this in perspective, a typical three-bedroom British house uses some 180kWh/m2annum and still often fails to provide comfort and sufficient fresh air.
As Passivhaus is only an energy and comfort standard, there is no limitation on the type of construction that can be used. Owing to the greater levels of insulation material required, however, there should be a greater imperative to use sustainable insulations such as woodfibre, cellulose fibre from recycled paper, cork, sheep’s wool, recycled denim, hemp or flax. These materials contain only a fraction of the embodied carbon of petrochemical alternatives and generally perform much better in summer conditions to resist overheating.
The principles of Passivhaus can also be applied to existing buildings, in the form of retrofitting. EnerPHit is a slightly relaxed standard in terms of airtightness and heating demand criteria that allows for the nuances and restrictions of existing buildings and conservation issues. If successfully applied, the standard can reduce heating demand by up to 90 per cent. 
The UK has been slow to adopt PH Standard, although there has been a marked upturn in completed projects across all sectors in recent years. Constructing to higher standards can have cost implications, although experienced Passivhaus designers in mainland Europe argue that once the market matures and has gone beyond the experimental stage, costs can become neutral.
Commercial buildings and schools can even cost less than conventional buildings as the need for complex heating and cooling systems and advanced building controls can be avoided. 
While it may not be possible to achieve PH certification on all projects, it can be beneficial to apply Passivhaus principles to a design or refurbishment wherever possible due to the rigorous assessment procedure.
Construction costs, which will ultimately be reflected in the purchase costs, of a Passivhaus will be higher than a house built to the minimum UK standards, currently averaging between 10 per cent and 15 per cent more expensive, owing to its higher quality.
This additional cost could, however, be significantly reduced on larger developments where economies of scale can be exploited. What needs to be considered are the operational or running costs over the lifetime of the building and, of course, the carbon savings. 
Cost and carbon savings on energy are typically 80-90 per cent (compared with minimum standards) and this saving will persist for the life of the building.  With rising fuel costs and widespread environmental concern, homes built or refurbished to Passivhaus standards are likely to become sought after in the property market and this will ultimately increase the value of such properties.
CPRE’s 2015 report ‘Warm and Green: Achieving affordable, low carbon energy while reducing impacts on the countryside’ focuses on using less energy and explores the realities of greening homes and communities in rural areas.
Practical examples of energy-efficient refurbishment projects are demonstrated, along with exemplar new builds. It includes recommendations for government, the construction industry and householders.
A change in VAT rating would also provide a significant boost for retrofitting, reducing VAT to zero for energy efficiency works for refurbishments that attain either Passivhaus, EnerPHit or the AECB (Association for Environment Conscious Building) low energy standardiv, along with a training incentive scheme for the building trades to increase understanding and skills in energy efficiency. At present, insulation-related work is VAT rated at 5 per cent, but this does not cover whole house refurbishment.
The construction industry has the skills, products and practices available to achieve these standards right now, but as the regulatory standards are so low, too many designers and contractors are happy to perpetuate the principle of building to the lowest acceptable standard (the race to the bottom). There needs to be a dramatic shift in attitude in the construction industry to meet the challenge of truly lowering carbon emissions.

Paul Mallion FRICS is a chartered building surveyor and certified Passivhaus designer; he is also director of Conker Conservation Ltd based in Canterbury.

For further information, see:

Passivhaus Trust www.passivhaustrust.org

Sustainable building in general  www.aecb.net

Conker Conservation Ltd www.conker.cc

References
i Low Carbon Housing-Lessons from Elm Tree Mews, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Nov 2010

ii Bridging the performance gap – understanding predicted and actual building operational energy (IP 1/15), BRE Trust and the Energy Services and Technology Association

iii Bridging the domestic building fabric performance gap, Leeds Metropolitan University

iv AECB Building Standard

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 Michael 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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