They are one of the most familiar features of the Kent countryside. We find them lining roads, railways and footpaths. We see them bordering fields and gardens. But hedgerows are under threat from poor management practices and development pressures and many have been removed.
Hedgerows originally defined ownership boundaries and provided shelter and stock-proof barriers between fields. They also helped reduce soil erosion and surface-water run-off on arable land. The hedgerows from this later period tend to be straight and dominated by hawthorn, while those from medieval times include field maple, hazel, dogwood and spindle, which provide richer habitats for mammals, birds and insects.
But aren’t hedgerows protected?
Strong controls exist for the protection of hedgerows in the open countryside. The Hedgerow Regulations 1997 prohibit the removal of ‘important’ hedgerows unless at least 42 days’ notice is served on the local planning authority and it has either granted such permission or failed to serve notice preventing removal.
For a hedgerow to be regarded as important, it must satisfy criteria relating to its size and age:
• It must be at least 20 metres long, or, if it is less than 20 metres, meet at each end another hedgerow (any gap of less than 20 metres is treated as part of the hedgerow)
• It must be at least 30 years old and part of a historic parish boundary or a medieval estate or manor boundary, or part of a field system that existed before 1845, or
• It must contain, or be next to, archaeological features and sites such as scheduled monuments, or
• The hedgerow contains protected wildlife or plants and associated features
However, the situation regarding hedgerows and hedges in built-up areas, or where the countryside meets the built-up area, is much less helpful in their protection. Generally speaking, a hedgerow is not protected if it is in or marks the boundary of a private garden.
There are exceptions to this:
• If a hedgerow is in a Conservation Area, removal may require permission if it includes trees
• A hedgerow may be protected if it includes trees covered by a Tree Preservation Order (although the protection only relates to the trees, not intervening shrubs)
Hedges can also be protected, to a limited extent, through conditions attached to a planning permission or through legal covenants attached to a property, though this would be dependent on enforcement in both instances.
What else can we do to protect our hedgerows?
Firstly, we could lobby for Local Plan policies that give a measure of control over the removal of hedgerows. An example of where this has been done relates to the criteria attached to Ashford Local Plan Site Policies S51 and S52 in Aldington. These require retention of a hedgerow that originally formed a field boundary as part of any edge-of-village residential development…
“The site is proposed for residential development with an indicative capacity of 12 dwellings. Development proposals for this site shall: (a) Be designed and laid out in such a way as to conserve the mature hedgerow along the road frontage where possible…”
Secondly, in addition to lobbying for hedgerow protection on specific development sites in Local Plans, we could press for hedgerows to be covered in Supplementary Planning Guidance and in Neighbourhood Plans. An illustration of this is the Vale of Glamorgan’s Supplementary Planning Guidance for Trees, Woodlands and Hedgerows produced in 2017. This requires that where developments are likely to affect a hedgerow, a survey must be undertaken to ascertain whether the hedgerow should be classified as important under the Hedgerow Regulations 1987. The survey is required to cover the condition, height, spread and species content of the hedgerow. Even when the hedgerow is deemed not to meet the criteria for classification as important, consideration is to be given to its importance for biodiversity and wildlife, for example as nesting sites, migration corridors or foraging routes for bats and birds, or as habitat for dormice. The Guidance requires building layout and site infrastructure to be designed so that as many hedgerows as possible are retained. Thirdly, we could address hedgerow protection at planning-application level. We could encourage landowners and prospective developers to incorporate established hedgerows into their landscaping schemes when sites come forward for development. Fourthly, we could do more to get the public on our side and to value the hedgerows in their areas. Ironically, the only specific legislation applying to urban hedgerows concerns their potential nuisance and neighbour disputes about hedgerows between property boundaries. The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 addresses how neighbour disputes over hedges should be dealt with. We should be doing more to publicise the value of hedgerows and good management practices so that a better-informed and sympathetic public would be more prepared to accommodate them. Hedges are good for our health. They hold particulates from traffic fumes and tyres that would otherwise end up deep in our lungs. Studies have shown that a one-metre-long hedge traps emissions from 30 diesel cars a year. Being at street level, they are more efficient at trapping exhaust pollution than trees. The best hedges in this regard have many small leaves and are evergreen. An ill-informed public could be doing harm to wildlife without knowing it. Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, for example, it is an offence to disturb a bird’s nest if it contains eggs or chicks or is being otherwise used; such a nest could of course be in a hedge. Hedgerows are beautiful, they are beneficial in so many ways and they can be packed with wildlife – let us share and publicise their value for the benefit of future generations.
CPRE, the countryside charity, says the prime minister’s “green industrial revolution” aimed at tackling climate change and creating jobs in such industries as nuclear energy, has missed the vital role played by nature. Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan was announced yesterday (Tuesday, November 17), with the headline statement being that cars and vans powered wholly by petrol or diesel will not be sold in this country from 2030. Tom Fyans, CPRE campaigns and policy director, however, has highlighted the lack of emphasis on the natural environment. He said: “Nature should be playing a starring role in tackling the climate emergency alongside the rapid carbon emissions cuts in our transport, energy, homes and food. “While new technology is rightly being rolled out across the country to slash emissions, the government should also be getting back to basics and harnessing the potential of the countryside to soak up carbon emissions and prevent runaway climate change. “Hedgerows, peatlands, trees, grasslands and many other parts of our countryside store vast amounts of carbon. It’s no wonder peatlands are seen as the UK’s rainforest when, in their natural state, they safely lock away over three billion tonnes of carbon. “MPs will be debating a long-awaited ban on the burning of moorlands hours after the launch of the prime minister’s 10-point plan. It’s never been clearer that more needs to be done to grab the low-hanging fruit that are nature-based solutions and end our contribution to the climate emergency. “The prime minister is absolutely right that action to tackle climate change should boost economic growth and benefit communities right across the country. “It is encouraging to see the renewed focus on energy efficiency for existing homes. It is now more important than ever that new schemes aimed to reduce our emissions also improve people’s lives by tackling fuel poverty and poor air quality and improve public transport and access to nature and green space. “It’s time for government to step up and deliver real action to tackle the climate emergency.” Some £4 billion has been earmarked for the plan – a total that has been criticised by some commentators as too small a figure. The BBC has listed the 10 points as follows: Offshore wind: Produce enough offshore wind to power every home in the UK, quadrupling how much it produces to 40 gigawatts by 2030, and supporting up to 60,000 jobs. Hydrogen: Have five gigawatts of “low carbon” hydrogen production capacity by 2030 – for industry, transport, power and homes – and develop the first town heated by the gas by the end of the decade. Nuclear: Pushing nuclear power as a clean energy source and including provision for a large nuclear plant, as well as for advanced small nuclear reactors, which could support 10,000 jobs. Electric vehicles: Phasing out sales of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and investing in grants to help buy cars and charge point infrastructure. Public transport, cycling and walking: Making cycling and walking more attractive ways to travel and investing in zero-emission public transport for the future. Jet zero and greener maritime: Supporting research projects for zero-emission planes and ships. Homes and public buildings: Making homes, schools and hospitals greener, warmer and more energy efficient, including a target to install 600,000 heat pumps every year by 2028. Carbon capture: Developing world-leading technology to capture and store harmful emissions away from the atmosphere, with a target to remove 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030 – equivalent to all emissions of the industrial Humber. Nature: Protecting and restoring the natural environment, with plans to include planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year. Innovation and finance: Developing cutting-edge technologies and making the City of London the global centre of green finance.
Light pollution is an acknowledged blight on both the rural and the urban environment, but perhaps less known is its detrimental effect on wildlife and even our own health. Vicky Ellis investigates.
We humans seem preconditioned to take rather than give back – perhaps nowhere is this more evident than when it comes to nature and our dark skies. Dark skies are more than just pretty stars in the sky or moonlit trees on a clear night. As romantic as that sounds, the darkness we inexplicably try so hard to flood out is vital for not just our health and well-being but also the health and well-being of flora and fauna. As more and more housing is built, along with ancillary infrastructure, the more street lighting, outside lighting, security lighting and garden lighting goes up, with little or no regard for the damage caused to our ecosystems that rely on darkness for their very survival. Why are dark nights so fundamental? This article hopefully goes some way to explaining how important dark nights are and why they should be protected, embraced and treasured. The night sky with its wondrous stars and moon are part of our heritage. It belongs to no one and everyone at the same time. There is not one person alive who has right over our night sky and not one person who has the right to rob the joys of the night sky from anyone else. It should be our fundamental right to see, enjoy and benefit from the darkness and the tranquillity it generates.
Over billions of years, life on Earth has evolved to rely on the rhythmic cycle of night and day to govern our physiology. It’s part of nature’s DNA and therefore part of our DNA. Science is now uncovering the deadly effect light pollution has on our flora and fauna, from birds, amphibians, mammals, insects and plants to our own health and well-being. The process behind these circadian rhythms is initiated by photons signalling via the retina a tiny part of the brain responsible for the secretion of melatonin. Melatonin begins to increase at dusk and peaks around midnight, relinquishing a cascade of chemical signals responsible for the regulation of sleep and wake cycles, body temperature, metabolism and appetite. Leptin is one of these hormones. Sometimes referred to as the ‘hunger hormone’, it is released primarily from fat cells and ironically contributes to the regulation of body weight, curbing appetite while we sleep. According to epidemiologist Dr Richard Stevens from the University of Connecticut, who has studied links between ALAN (artificial light at night) and human health, one theory as to why it’s important our appetite is suppressed during the night is because ‘back in the day’ foraging for food when it’s dark would have been a high-risk strategy resulting in the likelihood of us becoming food. All ALAN, be it computer screens, streetlights shining through windows or indoor and outside lights, interfere with circadian rhythms to varying degrees by interrupting regulation of melatonin. Obesity is one consequence among many and is linked to low levels of leptin. Other studies have found a strong correlation between low melatonin levels and disrupted circadian cycles with heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer – particularly breast cancer. Further studies implicate ALAN as having a negative psychological impact on health. On the other hand, Dacher Keltner, a psychologist from the University of California, claims that observing stars rotating gently above our heads creates a feeling of awe and amazement that can elicit a sense of positivity.
Nocturnal animals, which sleep during the day and come out at night, have their natural rhythm drastically disrupted when their night-time environment is destroyed by ALAN. Predators use light to hunt, while prey species utilise darkness to stay safe and other fauna use night-time features to navigate. When affecting ecology, ALAN is sometimes referred to as ‘ecological light pollution’ and can affect nature down to the tiniest organism. Spiders, for instance, will seek out light sources to spin their webs as insects are attracted to the light, so it makes sense to exploit this to their advantage. The same can be said of bats feeding on moths. However, this disruption in predator-prey balance can result in crashes in prey populations, as we are witnessing now with insects, especially flying insects. While it is unlikely that ALAN is the sole driver of our insect population crash, it is a contributing factor. ALAN is just one more avoidable man-made negative that affects nature’s natural balance. Nocturnal insects such as moths navigate at night. ALAN can severely inhibit this ability to navigate, interfering with reproductive success. Artificial light sends moths into a frenzy around the light source, which often results in them either being picked off by predators or dying from exhaustion. Flowers that bloom at night rely on moths for pollination. If there is no other night-time pollinator not affected by light pollution, the plant will be unable to reproduce, drastically altering the local ecosystem with sometimes disastrous consequences. Many will have heard birds singing at night in an illuminated tree, something that makes us feel uncomfortable because we know it is not right. Other fauna negatively affected include frogs that use a light-dependent compass to find their way at night, using this light to find their way to breeding ponds. Studies have shown ALAN to also cause developmental deformities such as retinal damage, impeded juvenile development, premature metamorphosis, reduced sperm production and genetic mutation. Frogs croak at night under cover of darkness during their mating season. ALAN can disrupt this, interfering in successful reproduction and negatively affecting population numbers. Light and glare from ALAN can have a devastating effect on wetlands, home to amphibians such as frogs and toads and migratory birds. Migratory birds often navigate at night using the moon and stars. ALAN can trick these birds into deviating from their migratory routes, sometimes with fatal consequences. Irresponsibly-lit tall buildings in cities around the world draw these doomed birds, which then collide with them. Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) in America states that brightly-lit tower blocks in Toronto could be responsible for tens of thousands of bird fatalities a year. The volume of flora and fauna negatively affected by ALAN is so far-reaching that it would be impossible to list each species, but they range across the spectrum to include such animals as turtle hatchlings, some of which turn the wrong way at night. Instead of heading for the moonlit ocean, tragically they are drawn to the bright lights of towns and roads.
Crime and safety
We often hear people panic at the mere suggestion streetlights are turned off after hours, citing safety as a primary reason. Others are that streetlights make people ‘feel’ safer and that the accident rate might increase ‘tenfold’ if street lighting is removed, either in towns or on dual carriageways, and crime rates will soar. It may come as a surprise, but these perceptions are not backed by science or fact, and in some cases, it is quite the opposite: street lighting can do more harm than good when it comes to crime and safety. Many people reside in the countryside with no street lighting for miles and manage to survive quite adequately, avoiding being run over, burgled or attacked, while cars do not suddenly lose control when no streetlight is on. A number of studies make the same findings, but two major papers draw similar conclusions: The first study found, in summary, the following results:
Switch-off (permanently turning off streetlights) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
Part-night lighting (for example streetlights switched off between midnight and 6am) was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions or crime
Replacing conventional yellow lighting with white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise
Dimming of conventional yellow light or white light was not associated with an increase in night-time traffic collisions and was associated with a reduction in crime, though estimates were imprecise
It concluded that turning off streetlights resulted in “little evidence of harmful effects… on road collisions or crime in England and Wales” and “found no evidence for an increase in collisions where street lighting was reduced at night”. The second study of reviewed literature concluded: “In the light of these findings it can be considered highly unlikely that the Cambridgeshire part-night lighting scheme will cause an increase in crime.” What are the figures for rural crime, where few or no streetlights occur, as opposed to towns, often heavily peppered with streetlights? According to statistics from the Office for National Statistics 2018-19 crime and justice bulletin, the rate of violence against any one individual was 20.2 per 1,000 population in mainly rural areas compared with 29.5 per 1,000 population in mainly urban areas. For sexual offences the rural figure was 2.2 per 1,000 against 2.8 per 1,000 urban areas and the rate for recorded crime was also lower in rural areas than urban areas, for example robbery, domestic burglary and vehicle offences. The figures here were 4.3 per 1,000 population (rural) versus 9.5 per 1,000 in urban areas. There is of course more reason for these figures than just a lack of streetlighting in rural areas, but these figures may tell us that streetlighting does not seem to have any influence on keeping people safe at night.
It has been found that ALAN can increase atmospheric pollution negatively, affecting the air we breathe. A recent study presented by Harald Stark from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that ALAN destroyed nitrate radicals and in so doing prevented the natural night-time reduction of atmospheric smog produced by fumes generated from cars and factories. Every night the nitrate radical NO3, which is destroyed by sunlight, builds up during the night, neutralising some of the nitrogen oxides (NOx), which pollute the air during daylight hours, leading to increased levels of ozone (O3), which can cause breathing difficulties. Further research, cited by Kelly Beatty in her article Night Lights Worsen Smog, claims to show that this clean-up is inhibited due to nitrate radicals being destroyed by vertical night-time light-glow spillage emanating from outside lighting on the ground. Astronomers who study the night sky are particularly sensitive to even the lowest levels of light pollution. Indeed, skyglow can destroy their chances of studying the night sky completely.
How can we reduce the impact of ALAN?
Of course, the one preferred default is no light at all. However, the type of bulb you use can have a huge impact on how many insects are attracted, especially winged insects. It is recommended that we use warm-coloured LED bulbs for outside lighting and avoid white LED sources. A study by Michael Justin from the University of North Carolina found incandescent light bulbs were attracted the highest number of insects, followed by CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps), halogen globes and cool-coloured (such as blue) LEDs. The second-best light was the ‘bug light’ and surprisingly the winner, with the fewest insects attracted, was the warm LED bulb. We can use light fittings that angle the light down where it is needed and do not allow the light to flood out across fields and into the night sky. As pretty as that lantern is, it’s not night-friendly. Further, lighting need be kept on only when necessary – we can turn it off once in bed or when our visitors have left. These are only small gestures in the great scheme of things, but if everyone did this it would collectively make a huge difference. Who knows, we might even get back our night sky and nature can begin to slowly mend.
It cannot have escaped the notice of many in the county that everything during the Covid-19 lockdown is so very much quieter – the constant drone (or roar) of aircraft overhead and road traffic all around us is a fraction of what it was. While we’re fully understanding of the misery caused by the situation, the lockdown has resulted in an environment less afflicted by noise pollution than we have known for years. Earlier this year, CPRE’s Network Aviation Group released a report showing the need for better mapping of aircraft noise and more research to understand the impact of aircraft noise on health. The group are now undertaking an Aviation Noise Attitudes Survey to find out more about the impact of aircraft noise across the country and how it affects people on a day-to-day basis. “During the lockdown many people have observed nature returning to towns and villages, from foxes to pheasants,” said Kia Trainor, director of CPRE Sussex. “The sound of birdsong is becoming more familiar than the sound of traffic and aircraft noise. We think that this is a golden opportunity for people to consider the impact of noise on their lives”. Sally Pavey, a CPRE Sussex trustee, added: “Although communities face uncertainty about what the future holds, the government are not delaying plans for the modernisation of airspace. “This could see many rural areas impacted for the very first time by aircraft noise as policy seeks to limit the number of people impacted, so avoiding built-up areas. “The process is well under way, with the Civil Aviation Authority conducting the CAP 1887 consultation on the masterplan of airspace modernisation during lockdown.” The new survey is open until Monday, June 1, and open to everyone – you can take part by clicking here
Today (Wednesday, April 22) is Earth Day. In fact, it’s Earth Day’s 50th birthday! With the first held in 1970, Earth Day’s mission is to “build the world’s largest environmental movement to drive transformative change for people and planet”. Put another way, it celebrates the environmental movement and raises awareness of pollution and ways we can all help maintain a cleaner world. Click here to learn more about this annual event and discover three ways you can “take action as Earth Day goes digital”. It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, but the state of our planet’s environment has arguably never been more sharply in focus than it is now. CPRE Kent is fully supportive of all that Earth Day seeks to achieve.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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
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
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
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.
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)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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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