Fears over soaring energy costs reduce light pollution, Star Count suggests

More than 2,500 people took part in this year’s annual Star Count

A significant reduction in severe light pollution levels, first recorded during lockdown last year, has continued, according to the results of a nationwide star count.
Despite lockdown being well and truly behind us, there does not appear to have been a corresponding increase in light levels from outdoor and street lighting.
The ‘lockdown legacy’ of working from home and rising energy prices has created an opportunity to permanently improve our view of the night sky, says CPRE, the countryside charity.
Office-based organisations switching to permanent home working, coupled with employers’ desire to reduce electricity bills, appear to have led to fewer lights being left on overnight.
This, alongside households being more conscious about wasting energy and councils reducing street lighting and switching to better lighting design, are believed to be behind the continued reduction in light pollution.
More than 2,500 people took part in the annual Star Count, the country’s biggest citizen science project of its kind, between February 26 and March 6. Participants were asked to report the number of stars they could see in the Orion constellation.
The results show severe light pollution, defined as being able to see 10 or fewer stars with the naked eye, has continued to fall. After peaking in 2020, when 61 per cent of participants reported seeing 10 stars or less, severe light pollution fell to 51 per cent in 2021 and continued its slide this year, to 49 per cent.
Emma Marrington, CPRE’s dark skies campaigner, said: “Half of the people who took part in Star Count experienced severe light pollution that obscures their view of the night sky. This is bad for wildlife and human health – and the energy being needlessly wasted is bad financially and bad for our planet.
“But the good news is that these results show small adaptations can make a big difference. If there is a silver lining from the legacy of lockdown and now the soaring cost of energy, it is that it has never been clearer how simple it is to cut carbon emissions and energy bills while improving our natural environment.”
A clear view of a star-filled night sky has a hugely beneficial effect on our mental health and, like access to other forms of nature, helps reduce stress and increase a sense of peace and well-being.
Research has even shown that regularly spending time looking at the stars can lower blood pressure and reduce depression. Yet the night sky, which is a hugely significant part of our natural environment, has no legal protection.
Turning off garden lights when not needed, dimming street lights and reducing office lighting could permanently reduce carbon emissions and cut energy bills while improving the natural environment for wildlife and human health.
Other solutions that could reduce both light pollution and energy use include councils investing in well-designed lighting, used only where and when needed. They can also adopt policies in Local Plans to reduce light pollution and protect and enhance existing dark skies in their areas.
Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: “The night sky is one half of our experience of nature, but we don’t often think of it like that. In and of itself, it helps balance our mental health and boost our emotional well-being. Recollect that experience of a starry sky and you instinctively know it soothed you.
“But our view of the night sky – and all the benefits it undoubtedly brings – is being blotted out by light pollution. Like all forms of pollution, it is damaging our mental and physical health, and also having a severe impact on wildlife. Yet it is a form of pollution that is allowed to increase year on year without any effort being made to control the damage it is causing.”
Forty-nine per cent saw 10 or fewer stars compared with 51 per cent last year. This is the lowest percentage of people reporting 10 or fewer, indicating the most severe light pollution. This could be due to the continued effect of lockdown and changing behaviours such as hybrid working or less ambient light.
Three per cent saw more than 30 stars, compared with 5 per cent last year. That’s a reduction of 2 per cent since the last Star Count in 2021 of people who report experiencing truly dark skies.

Results for Star Count 2022

Stars countedNumberPer cent
0>528311.1
6>1095837.6
11>1566326.0
16>2031112.2
21>251636.4
26>30943.7
>30783.1
   
TOTAL2,550100

Star Count results compared with previous years (number of stars counted within the constellation of Orion):

  
Year0 >56 > 1011> 1516 > 2021> 2526> 3031>  
200714%40%24%12%6%2%2%100%
201116%43%22%11%5%2%1%100%
201214%39%23%13%6%3%2%100%
201317%37%22%10%6%3%5%100%
201419%39%21%9%5%3%4%100%
201915%42%22%11%7%2%2%100%
202018%43%22%9%4%1%3%100%
202112%40%24%12%6%2%5%100%
202211%38%26%12%6%4%3%100%

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Blinded by the lights

The skies above Thanet Earth appear to be ablaze on some nights (pic Steve Geliot)

A vast glasshouse complex in Thanet is one of the greatest sources of light pollution in the country. Steve Geliot has been researching the potential impact on both people and wildlife and suggests that it really should not be too difficult to design structures that are kinder to us all.

In 2001 a movie called The Glass House tanked at the box office and lost a lot of money. Released just days after the 9/11 attacks, you could put this down to being the wrong film at the wrong time, but critics were generally in agreement about its shortcomings. The website Rotten Tomatoes says: “Due to obvious plot twists and foreshadowing, The Glass House fails to thrill. By the end it degenerates into ludicrousness”.

Birchington has what many might call a ludicrous glasshouse story of the literal variety – one that, in terms of environmental credentials, might merit a rotten tomato or two.

In my work as a campaigning artist, I have found myself becoming a citizen scientist using remote sensing from satellites to map and measure light pollution, thanks to some amazing mentoring from Professor Chris Kyba in Potsdam.

The group of glasshouses near Birchington known as Thanet Earth stands out as one of the worst sources of light pollution in the entire country.

Its green-and-blue-branded website states that the site grows tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers – vegetables that one might normally import from the sunnier parts of southern Europe. This could potentially be a good thing since it avoids emissions created by long-distance hauling of produce.

The website boasts that “Britain’s leading glasshouse complex sits proudly within the landscape of East Kent” and adds that “innovation, environmental concern and a focus on quality combine with cutting-edge technology, international expertise and the best growing conditions in the UK to produce unrivalled taste on a commercial scale”.

If we are avoiding all the carbon emissions of shipping produce from Spain, surely these are fair claims?

Well, maybe not. I’m not an expert on hydroponics, so I don’t know what sort of chemical fertilisers or pest and disease controls are used, or if any of these things find their way into the environment. However, as well as having a rough idea of electricity consumption, we can measure the light emissions without putting a foot inside the building.

The units (summed radiance nW/cm2sr) can seem confusing, so let’s make a quick comparison. An area of about 4 sq km in the West End of London, including Leicester Square, emits about 3,600 units and is actually decreasing in brightness by 0.5 per cent a year, owing to small improvements in street-light design. By comparison, the same area at Thanet Earth is emitting about 12,000 units, and this is increasing annually by an average of 12.5 per cent a year. That is three times as bright as central London.

The website accepts Thanet Earth uses some 40,000 lights, each of which is 1,000 watts. Just think about it for a moment: that equates to some 40 million watts of electricity being used.

The Eye Hortilux High Pressure Sodium bulbs used are not efficient and pump out a huge amount of heat. I know because I bought one to test.

The lights at Thanet Earth come on at night but can stay on during the day to supplement daylight – so maybe they are burning for about 17 hours a day during winter.

The website talks about blinds to screen off the light and that unavoidably there are some small gaps; however, when I visited at night and photographed this impressive volcano of light pollution I could see no evidence of such blinds. There was some ragged black plastic mesh on the sides of the glasshouses, but a vast amount of light and heat was bouncing straight up into the sky without any effective measure to contain it.

If we are going to take any environmental claims seriously, we need to see some comparative figures for the emissions involved in transporting tomatoes from Spain against the emissions, including light emissions, from these glasshouses. Only then can we assess what is going on from a net-zero perspective.

Why does it matter? Well, the climate-busting use of electricity is obvious, but science is showing that artificial light at night is driving insect declines, impacting on bird migrations, and evidence is growing about the ways in which light pollution impacts human health.

Artificial light increases obesity rates and drives anxiety and depression, especially in teenagers. That is why the screen colour of iPhones changes in the evening. These well-researched harms to your health are known and manufacturers don’t want to be sued.

Chronic exposure to artificial light at night also makes it a little more likely that pre-cancerous cells in breast tissue change and become active cancer. If you already have breast cancer and are on a drug called Tamoxifen, then that drip-drip chronic exposure to artificial light at night makes the Tamoxifen less effective and reduces the chances of recovery.

Artificial light at night and poor sleep are also implicated more generally in inflammatory illnesses, while there is growing evidence about its role in thyroid cancer.

The light pollution from Thanet Earth blights much of the east Kent night sky (pic Steve Geliot)

We can take a more detailed look at how light pollution affects birds. I have been filming the iconic starling murmuration here in Brighton for the last eight years and as part of that have been learning about the science of how and why these dazzling birds do it.

I have also investigated the causes of the dramatic declines that have brought our Brighton murmuration from 100,000 birds in the 1960s to 10,000 last year and just 6,500 this year. The main cause is thought to be insect declines, meaning the starlings don’t have as much to eat.

These insect declines are caused primarily by pesticides, but light pollution also plays a significant role in driving insect decline. Maybe there is even more to consider. Our dwindling UK starling flocks consist of birds that live here year-round that are joined in autumn by many hundreds of thousands that migrate to the UK from areas of north-east Europe with cold winters.

These migrations across the North Sea between The Netherlands and Norfolk take place at night. The Dutch and Belgian coasts are the brightest part of Europe due to the hundreds of greenhouses just like Thanet Earth. This light pollution, mainly from the area known as Westland, close to Rotterdam, is six times as bright as that in New York.

To navigate at night, starlings, as well as many other birds, use a sense called magneto-reception, meaning they can literally see Earth’s magnetic field. However, it is quite a subtle sense and seriously disrupted by light in the yellow to red part of the spectrum, which is exactly what is emitted by these huge greenhouses.

Starling mortality appears to be occurring mainly in juveniles failing to make it past their first year. Juveniles have not yet established or learned their migration route, so their first journey is an epic challenge. Their magneto-reception is only just forming and is probably weaker and more vulnerable to this kind of sensory pollution. My theory, and it is only a theory that has yet to be researched, is that some losses might be explained by juvenile birds not successfully navigating their first migration past that huge wall of light on the Dutch coast.

Brightly-lit glasshouses in the UK will probably also be problematic for bird navigation.

If you mess with the natural day-night arrangement to the extent that is happening at Thanet Earth, and on an even larger scale in Westland, you are not really a friend to wildlife and it is questionable whether you are a friend to the wider community.

If we take a forensic look at the cost of these huge, arguably badly-designed glasshouses in terms of climate, in terms of wildlife and in terms of human health, we can only conclude that, in this instance at least, modern farming degenerates into ludicrousness.

Environmentally speaking, I believe these really are rotten tomatoes. It is frustrating because it is simply a matter of design. We have world-class glass manufacturers in the UK, so surely it would be possible to develop a world-class design for a glasshouse that allows light in but doesn’t allow light out.

‘When I visited at night and photographed this impressive volcano of light pollution I could see no evidence of such blinds’ (pic Steve Geliot)

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Planning to fail: net zero is impossible without urgent changes to planning policy, CPRE analysis finds

CPRE wants all Local Plans to demonstrate how they will deliver a reduction in private car mileage

Reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is impossible without urgent changes to national planning policy, analysis by CPRE, the countryside charity, has found. 

A study of all 24 Local Plans outside Greater London that have been adopted since the Climate Change Act was updated in 2019 shows just one local authority has introduced a quantified, strategic-level carbon-reduction target.

No other local authority has a Plan to hit net zero. In each case, government planning inspectors have been content to sign off Plans without making tackling the climate emergency a central priority. A study of inspectors’ reports produced before plans are adopted showed an average of only one mention of ‘climate’ for 24 mentions of ‘housing’.

Housing, transport, business and industry generate 62 per cent of our carbon emissions. That is why CPRE is calling for the climate emergency to be urgently put at the heart of planning decisions so we have a realistic chance of hitting net zero by 2050.

For this to happen, the National Planning Policy Framework must be amended so that:

•          All new developments demonstrate a measurable reduction in net carbon emissions over the life of the development

•          All Plans demonstrate how they will deliver a reduction in private car mileage

•          Any plans to boost housing and employment must also be justified on the basis of the additional carbon reductions they will deliver

•          All councils must have their net-zero carbon target integrated across the Local Plan as a whole, and this should be an additional test of soundness at examination.

Planning inspectors must give as much weight to environmental targets as they do housebuilding targets. Yet national planning policy has failed to keep up with climate-change legislation, leaving ambitious carbon-reduction targets impossible to achieve.

CPRE’s research shows how national planning policy sets detailed and specific housebuilding targets, with planning inspectors regularly requiring changes to local authority plans that fall short. Conversely, climate targets are generalised, subjective and hard to enforce, with no evidence that inspectors find fault with plans on environmental grounds.

Commenting on the research, Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, said:   

“We’re not going to hit net zero by accident – we need to plan for it. Unfortunately, local authorities are hamstrung by national planning policy that is woefully behind the times on this issue.

“Local Plans need to act like road maps plotting the path towards the sustainable future envisaged by the government’s climate-change legislation. The fact that they don’t come close to doing so is proof of the failure of current national planning policy.

“In terms of climate, we are planning to fail. It is impossible to hit net zero if it isn’t prioritised in Local Plans. Providing the attractive, affordable homes that people need and ensuring it is environmentally sustainable is not an either/or trade-off. We need to do both at the same time and with the same level of commitment.

“Worryingly, CPRE’s research has found clear-cut evidence that planning inspectors routinely force local authorities to adopt housebuilding targets with no attempt to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Worse still, there is no evidence of any serious effort to reduce car journeys – new developments are frequently planned on the edges of towns with no requirements to provide better public transport or cycle lanes to reduce road journeys.

“We found not a single example of planning inspectors demanding changes to Plans to ensure they reduce carbon emissions. This was in sharp contrast to how Local Plans must itemise and quantify how they will meet housing needs. Both objectives are important, but there is a stark difference in emphasis. It’s time for a revitalised, net-zero-focused planning system to increase biodiversity, enhance the countryside’s ability to soak up carbon and create sustainable places to live.”

Changing how places work to make them a lot less energy-hungry is a crucial step on the road to net zero – and the planning system is the means to do it. Local Plans need to radically reduce public dependence on car travel, including the introduction of thriving ‘20-minute neighbourhoods’ that place housing, amenities and workplaces within walking distance of each other.

Industrial and commercial developments could be permitted on the condition they install solar panels, helping create a modern network of rooftop renewable energy that would reduce pressure on the countryside.

A renewed ‘brownfield first’ approach would redevelop land and buildings in the heart of communities where housing is most needed, retaining and reusing the embodied carbon.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Hormones… the menace in our water

They’re not visible to the human eye, but unseen pollutants in the form of female sex hormones are frighteningly common in our waterways… and that is bad news for people and wildlife alike. Vicky Ellis investigates.

We have something sinister wreaking havoc in our waterways that we can’t see or smell and that has a direct effect on our physiology: female sex hormones – natural oestrogens and synthetic chemicals that imitate oestrogens. This invisible pollutant is penetrating all our natural waterways and entering our drinking water supply chain.
Research by Brunel University and the University of Exeter has found these pollutants are entering the water via our sewage systems, leading to reduced fish-breeding and feminising of fish and other aquatic organisms. Other studies have found a causational link between hormones in water and an increase in human male infertility, low sperm counts and testicular dysgenesis syndrome (a male reproduction disorder).

What are hormones?
Hormones are signalling molecules, otherwise known as chemical messengers, that are present in all multicellular organisms from humans through to fungi. In humans and other animals, hormones are produced in the endocrine gland and carried around the body via the vascular system to all organs and tissues to regulate physiology and behaviour such as development and growth, metabolism, sexual function and reproduction, cognitive function, mood and much more.
Hormones influence who we are as people.

So, apart from in nature, where else are hormones used?
Humans also use hormones to manipulate nature, such as in animal agriculture to muscle up cattle; in the gym for bodybuilders to bulk up, where they are referred to more commonly as steroids; for contraception; and to help with symptoms of the menopause, along with other pharmaceutical uses.

Animal agriculture
Animal agricultures use a synthetic hormone version of oestrogen, testosterone or progesterone, which are utilised to increase growth speed, thus using less feed and saving money. However, in the UK, using hormones for dairy cattle has been banned since 1990 due to animal welfare implications. The UK also has a ban on importing all hormone-treated beef and other meats. However, this may be under review since leaving the EU.

Oral contraception
The UK’s first oral contraceptives, using synthetic hormones, became available in 1961 and since then their popularity has grown considerably. From 1962 to 1969 the number of women taking ‘the pill’ grew from an estimated 50,000 to one million, and in 2000 the numbers had risen to more than three million, making the birth-control pill the most popular form of contraception in the UK.

Synthetic hormones
Synthetic hormones lack a chemical structure that matches a woman’s biological hormone structure. They are produced by synthesis – oestrogen and progesterone are synthesised from other sources such as pregnant mares (a highly controversial source of extraction).
Synthetic hormones have several uses, from the contraceptive pill through to cancer treatments. Diethylstilbestrol is a synthetic oestrogen first synthesised in 1938 and prescribed to many women between 1940 and 1971 for the prevention of miscarriage in the first trimester. Due to unforeseen side-effects, it is no longer prescribed.
All the metabolites from this hormone and others are then released into the environment via urine and faeces from users. According to the Daily Mail article ‘Fertility timebomb found in drinking water’, synthetic oestrogens are 50-100 times more potent than natural oestrogens.
Hormones are in such wide use now that they pose a serious threat to the natural environment, from soil to water resources, and biological organisms such as fish and humans.
However, this is not new news: in 2010 Susanne Goldenberg wrote a report detailing that “more than 80% of the male bass fish in Washington’s major river are exhibiting female traits such as egg production because of a ‘toxic stew’ of pollutants”, while in 2012 The Observer reported on how “Britain faced a £30bn bill to clean up rivers, streams and drinking water supplies contaminated by synthetic hormones from contraceptive pills”. In 2014, the BBC produced an article entitled ‘How drugs are entering UK water systems through urine’ and in 2016 The National Geographic wrote an article with the headline ‘Why are these male fish growing eggs?’. Hormone pollution is not just a UK-wide issue but a global one.

Oestrogen in water courses and how they got there
Back in 1999, the Environment Agency produced a report entitled ‘Fate and behaviour of steroid oestrogens in rivers: A scoping study’. This was a 94-page research report focusing exclusively on three oestrogen compounds: two natural oestrogens – oestrone and 17β oestradiol – and one synthetic hormone, ethynyl-oestradiol. This research, financed by Defra and the Natural Environment Research Council, concluded that half of all male fish in our rivers were changing sex because of pollution by these three hormones.
Natural hormones are generally inactive, or if active only at high doses due to the body’s ability to metabolise them rapidly. Synthetic hormones are more stable and remain within the body long enough to be utilised as contraceptives. This increased stability results in up to 80 per cent being excreted in conjugated form.
According to the report, all three hormones are excreted in a relatively stable and inactive form, so an adverse effect on the watercourses would seem unlikely. Therefore, something must occur to destabilise these hormones in the sewage treatment works. It was discovered that large quantities of active, unconjugated oestrogens were indeed present in treated sewage.
The same principle would apply to animal agriculture. Only the animal excretes on to the ground and the hormones then seep into water courses and may even be spread during muck-spreading.

The effects on fish and other organisms
Vitellogenin (a protein found in the blood stream synthesised by female fish to produce egg yolk) is used as a biomarker and has been observed to be produced by both male and juvenile females, with increased levels in mature females along polluted stretches of rivers, with some fish being reported as hermaphrodites. The danger with steroids, in comparison with other pollutants, is that the nature of sex hormones is such that even at low levels they can still have a profound effect on an organism’s physical development.
Synthetic oestrogen, found to be present in all lowland rivers in the UK, led to male fish developing female characteristics, with 50 per cent producing eggs in their testes; one in 10 were sterile and a quarter had damaged sperm, according to the company Pure Water People.
The Independent reported that all rivers, including the Lea in Hertfordshire, which supplies London with drinking water, and the Avon in Bristol, had male fish that had become feminised.
According to Adeel et al, as well as disrupting fish physiology, polluting oestrogens also negatively affect the development in both domestic animals and wildlife, and treatment of oestrogen was found to have affected root and shoot development, flowering and germination in flora.
Lab rats and mice when exposed to oestrogen, were found to be adversely affected by increased sexual behaviour, greater weight of the placenta, increased litter numbers and size of pups for gestational age in mice, higher abortion rates and changes of maternal behaviour in rats and advanced puberty.
In humans, women in Spain exposed to exogenous oestrogens were found to have an increased risk of breast cancer. In China, urinary phytoestrogen levels were associated with idiopathic infertility in men. Obesity has also been cited as an adverse effect, so could drinking water be inadvertently contributing to obesity?

How many oestrogen pollutants are in our drinking water?
Pure Water People claims it is hard to quantify how much oestrogen is present in drinking water as it’s difficult to measure at low concentrations. The American Chemical Society says that the contraception pill accounts for less than 1 per cent of the oestrogens found in the nation’s drinking water, concluding that hormones enter drinking water from other sources. However, 1 per cent of a massive data set amounts to quite a considerable percentage; furthermore, oestrogen has been found to be harmful at even very low doses.

Solutions to a man-made pollutant problem
So now we have created this problem for us and the natural environment, how can we best solve it?
Researchers are looking to neutralise these oestrogens in several ways before they enter the environment. One such idea is to use activated carbons in much the same way as a domestic water filter works. The active carbon hoovers up the oestrogens, allowing pure water to flow through.
Another method being tested is the use of ozone gas as a means to treat wastewater. Ozone works by splitting the molecules into less active biproducts. However, the downside and consequence of this method is that ozone can create toxic by-products such as bromate, which is considered carcinogenic, so then a further treatment would be required to remove this carcinogen.
Both these methods work small-scale but would take some thinking to scale up for use in industrial-sized sewage plants. Some water treatment plants such as that at Bewl Water have the facilities for ozonisation followed by active carbon treatment.
Switzerland’s recently introduced regulations aim to lower hormones in the environment by upgrading sewage plants and it is using ozone and/or activated carbon. However, researchers estimate the costs of running the water treatment plants will increase, along with energy consumption.
Another viable alternative is peroxide. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Brunel University have worked together and claim this method is “promising”. They used a concentrated type of hydrogen peroxide alongside bespoke catalysts that act similarly to enzymes to accelerate the chemical reaction and denature synthetic oestrogens in water, urine and wastewater. They also tested this cleaned water by placing feminised male fish in a tank and found the male fish made less vitellogenin.
The most recent paper on the subject, ‘Water treatment: Removing hormones with sunlight’, published in 2021 by the KIT institute, acknowledges the issues surrounding scalability with the other methods and has come up with the idea of utilising photocatalysis, transforming the hormones into benign oxidation products and consequently reducing the concentration of oestradiol by some 98 per cent by filtering 60-600 litres of water per square meter of membrane in one hour. This would make this method more easily scalable but is still not without its challenges.
So, you can rest assured there are scientists who recognise the seriousness of this invisible pollutant and are working hard on a solution to help not just us but the natural environment.
If hormones in our water teaches us one thing, it’s how intrinsically linked we are to the health of the natural environment around us and that how we treat this natural environment can directly impact on our own health. A lesson, perhaps, to take note.

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The joy of SuDs!

The St Clements Lake housing development in Greenhithe is based around lakes, meaning the swales generally hold water and look attractive as an effectively natural feature (pic Paul Buckley)

Far from splashing around in the hot tub, David Morrish examines Sustainable Drainage Systems, an increasingly important element of urban design and an important tool in the battle against climate-change events

When training as a civil engineer, I helped supervise drainage works at Telford new town, where all fresh development was on a plateau 100 metres above the River Severn.
Before a house or a factory was built, a network of surface-water sewers and balancing lakes or storage systems had to be built to ensure that during storm conditions the flow of surface-water run-off into the Severn Gorge would be controlled. Even with such control measures in place, the final culvert taking water down to the discharge was two metres wide – enough for me to drive my dumper truck through.
My interest in drainage was recently rekindled by some highway and environmental works incorporating a Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) carried out near our home in Westgate by Kent Highways with the support of local groups. The result has been the transformation of a barren dog-walking field into an oasis of greenery.
I have recently embarked on a personal journey into how drainage design and sustainability is, or should be, approached in an era of increasing climate-change events.
Often the willingness to integrate a sustainable system into a design has been   held up by site constraints or ‘stakeholder pressure’, ie developer reluctance. Yet there are simple ways to approach a drainage design differently and provide many benefits without increasing financial cost or build complexity.
A rainwater pipe, for example, can discharge into a small, vegetated planter, with clean stone and a partial pipe on the outfall. This will now provide advantages on all four principles enshrined in The SuDS manual (published in 2007 by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association) with relatively little space used and minimal construction and maintenance costs.
A conventional system of pipes and chambers at the side of an access road could be enhanced with swales (shallow, wide, vegetated hollows that store or carry run-off and remove pollutants), filter strips or tree pits. A swale and headwall system can be run shallow and flat, solving problems on sites with tight vertical levels and providing a range of benefits.
Green roofs have advanced significantly and can now be installed as intensive or extensive systems on pitched roofs and provide significant biodiverse living spaces as well as perform their standard function of slowing and filtering rainwater. With the addition of blue roof systems, which provide initial temporary rainfall storage before gradually releasing it, they can become a complete surface-water solution.
Space does not need to be at a premium when considering a green or blue solution. Rain gardens have progressed to compact engineered trenches that can be fitted along the back of footways for water conveyance. Tree planters are a more advanced variant of this system and can offer additional benefits of urban cooling and water absorption and retention as well as those normally offered by a planted rain garden.
The 2012 version of the National Planning Policy Framework created a policy requirement for SuDS and this was strengthened in 2018, with the consequence that all Local Plans must have a SuDS policy – indeed, it is a requirement for all major development via the NPPF regardless of the Local Plan policy position. Some 90 per cent of all developments now incorporate SuDS and that figure is increasing.
Kent County Council is the Lead Local Flood Authority (LLFA) here and as such the statutory consultee in the planning process to require and oversee the provision of SuDS for major development.
KCC prepared a Drainage and Planning Policy Statement in September 2015, containing guidance on how to integrate SuDs into the masterplans of large and small developments.
Surface-water drainage design should be developed in line with KCC Drainage and Planning Policy Statement (June 2017), while it should use a 40 per cent climate-change allowance as required by the Environment Agency.
Despite the legislation and volumes of advice, there often remains the vexed issue of maintaining systems that involve multi-authority support but not necessarily funding.
The UK has not, historically, put alot of focus on sustainable design. Underground infrastructure and existing buildings would often be deemed unsuitable had they been built today under current regulations. Even if all new developments were fully sustainable, they would only account for some 20 per cent of the UK’s surface water from developed areas. Retrofitting sustainable drainage may become inevitable if we are to meet future environmental targets, in the same way that we will have to install new heating systems in existing houses.
Starting from the example of small housing estates and in response to the experience of flash flooding of the past 20 years, the whole process of surface-water drainage is being rethought to address the problems of run-off caused by high-intensity storms and lack of capacity in conventional surface-water sewers.
SuDS principles are not reliant on specific local conditions but rather are part of an interconnecting system where water flows slowly from where it falls to a soakage area or discharge point through a series of features that help to treat, store, re-use, convey and actually celebrate water.
An important concept for the SuDS designer to follow is the ‘treatment train’. By passing water through several stages of treatment, sediment and other pollutants should be removed more effectively and maintenance costs reduced as this minimises the risk of downstream drainage features becoming clogged.
Designers are also extending that treatment train to create green corridors and links, add opportunities for engagement and education and to match delivery of SuDS to phasing of development.
Some politicians and the Association of SuDS Authorities now recognise that a substantial change is needed in flood-risk management, utilising natural flood management and starting from small-scale interventions, including tree-planting (roots allow more water infiltration into the ground and evaporation through the leaves) and enhancement with swales, filter strips or tree pits.
This should also reduce the role of hard engineering.
The policies of KCC in the past six years have meant that more land must be provided to accommodate run-off on new development sites; consequently, developers are being encouraged to create more green space as part of their masterplanning. A recent proposal for 450 houses near Margate included almost a third of the 20-hectare site dedicated to a combination of green play space and retained tree cover with sustainable drainage, retaining all surface water on-site.
Greater recognition of SUDS principles in planning will mean that in new developments a greater proportion of land will have to be allocated for blue green infrastructure.

The recently-built Ebbsfleet Green development incorporates swales, showing just how important they can be for people and wildlife alike (pic Paul Buckley)

Green and blue infrastructure strategy
The four important ‘pillars’ of sustainable drainage are set out in the 400 pages of The SuDS manual.
More importantly, greater attention should be placed on the principle that designers of new sites should aim to “create and sustain better places for people and nature” as part of green and blue infrastructure is the green space and water environment essential to the quality of our lives and ecosystem.
It is referred to as ‘infrastructure’ as it is as important as other types of infrastructure such as roads, schools and hospitals. It is taken to mean all green space and water of public and natural value.
Looking deeper into the benefits of sustainable drainage, systems promoting green or blue infrastructure can also provide other significant advantages. Green planning-based SuDS are widely considered to offer:

  • Enhanced biodiversity (with targets for biodiversity net gain)
  • Increased amenity value and creation of a pleasant and interactive space
  • Pollution control
  • Carbon reduction, embodied energy and footprint offset (looking forward to net-zero 2050)
  • Life-cycle cost savings
  • Nutrient and water demand balance in areas with sensitive soils and aquifers
  • Additional resilience against climate change
  • Physical and mental-health benefits for occupants
  • Reduced impact on an area in the event of system failure

More local authorities, as part of their Local Plan preparation, are addressing the concept of designing around the need to manage water and encourage more green areas, using the SuDS treatment train requirements and creating green corridors and links, adding opportunities for engagement and education and matching delivery of SuDS to phasing of development.
By doing so, they are facing up to climate-change priorities by focusing on four priority action areas:

1. Effective water management and flood-risk reduction – developing natural flood-management programmes and drainage solutions

2. Building green and blue infrastructure into physical development and housing – creating vibrant, healthy and inspiring places where people want to live, work and invest

3. Enhancing green and blue corridors and networks – improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions and creating a greener, even more attractive localities

4. Recognition that green and blue infrastructure is the green space and water environment essential to the quality of our lives and ecosystems

Conclusion
I have concluded that SuDS principles are important design tools that might not initially have been obvious to non-professionals. Further, green and blue strategies arising from SuDS might be key to ensuring local planning authorities carry out their planning and drainage roles to deliver ambitious, climate-friendly and sustainable development and play a part in accelerating climate action to meet the UK’s and UN’s sustainable development goals.
Moreover, green and blue strategies can help enhance biodiversity and nature’s recovery by providing fit-for-purpose contributions towards nature in all developments.
It is to be hoped that CPRE members and branches can play their part, firstly by engaging in consultation on masterplans to encourage a more enlightened approach to climate change as an essential part of planning to be considered at every stage of Local Plan development.
Secondly, we should be encouraging recognition of green and blue infrastructure as just as important as other types of public infrastructure. This should include all green space and water of public and natural value, with recognition of SuDS principles meaning that in new developments more land will have to be allocated for it.
Finally, in the longer term, such engagement might help encourage more volunteers to get involved in the creation and maintenance of such systems that are so vital for us all.

What is sustainable drainage all about?

The swales at Castle Hill, Ebbsfleet, are not always filled with water and can sometimes look a little unattractive, but that does not detract from their importance in collecting surface-water (pic Paul Buckley)

SuDS are drainage systems that are environmentally beneficial, causing minimal or no long-term detrimental damage. They are often regarded as a sequence of management practices, control structures and strategies designed to drain surface-water efficiently and sustainably while minimising pollution and managing the impact on the quality of local water bodies.
The Association of SuDS Authorities defines the purpose of sustainable drainage planning as the delivery of systems that contribute to sustainable development and improvement of the places and spaces in which we live, work and play.
Although the principles have been recognised for many years, pressure to deal with climate change and the increasing incidence of flash flooding, with all the economic, social and political concerns it entails, has caused drainage authorities to rethink their approach to disposal of surface-water run-off rather than simply passing it downstream.
Detailed techniques to manage surface-water that take account of water quantity (flooding), water quality (pollution), biodiversity (wildlife) and amenity are collectively referred to as Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS).
SuDS are intended to mimic nature and typically manage rainfall close to where it falls. Systems can be designed to transport surface-water and slow run-off, ideally attenuating it even before it enters watercourses.
They provide areas to store water in natural contours and can be used to allow water to soak (infiltrate) into the ground or evaporate from surface-water or be lost or transpired from vegetation.
The Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) has produced a SuDS manual, which is used throughout the UK. There are four main categories covered by SuDS design, referred to as ‘the four pillars of SuDS’:

  • Water quality
  • Water quantity
  • Amenity
  • Biodiversity

Monday, January 3, 2022

Why fungi matter… possibly more than you think

Toadstools, brackets, puffballs, earthballs, earthstars… they come in an astonishing range of shapes, sizes and colours, but their importance to the natural world often goes unheralded. Tricia Moxey sets the record straight.

Porcelain fungus is associated with dead branches on beech (pic John Skerry)

As nature’s recyclers, fungi are everywhere, largely invisible but busy decomposing organic materials so they can grow and reproduce.
Feeding by secreting enzymes from their fine penetrating threads or hyphae, assorted fungi break down the complex molecules found in fallen leaves, branches, standing dead wood, fur and dung. Some are parasitic on living plants or animals.
Assorted fungi provide food for a varied range of animals.
Many reproduce in the autumn, forming beautiful and colourful fruiting bodies of varied forms: toadstools, brackets, puffballs, earthballs, earthstars, earthtongues and spindles. Some of these can be confidently identified by these fruiting bodies, even from a photograph, but other species require close examination by those with skills in microscopy and laboratory analysis.
Certain species are more commonly noticed than others, for example the fly agaric and sulphur tuft. Some even glow in the dark such as the honey fungus – possibly the origin of many ghostly tales!  
Fungi play a crucial role in the functioning of all Kent’s ecosystems as their combined activities underpin and shape the nature of habitats occupied by other organisms.
Vast numbers of fungal species are present in the upper portion of a healthy soil, many unidentified, where their actions release nutrients for reuse by plants or to feed innumerable soil bacteria. Their hyphae help to retain moisture and reduce erosion by binding the mineral particles together. They ensure that soils store carbon derived from dead organic matter and maintain the ideal conditions for a thriving underground microbiome. 

The historical county list of fungi noted the names of some 3,300 species. This should come as no surprise as Kent has the largest amount of ancient woodland in England, as well as other plant-rich habitats, where fungal species outnumber green plants. This means that there are many locations in the county with special assemblages of fungi, some common, some less so. The richer areas are the mixed coniferous and broadleaved woodlands, historic parks and fragments of unimproved chalk grasslands, but an unexpected fungal fruiting body can suddenly appear in a garden, churchyard or roadside verge, too.
The association of certain fungi with specific trees has been known for some years, but recent research shows that 80 per cent of trees and other plants share and trade food via the symbiotic or mycorrhizal fungal networks that connect their roots.
The term the ‘wood wide web’ has now become widely accepted as it describes the vital interconnectivity between trees and other plants to supply synthesised food materials via the associated fungi in exchange for water and minerals.
Acute pressures from pollution and built development threaten many sensitive habitats with the potential loss of species, including fungi. The methodology for biodiversity offsetting has yet to take any fungal associations into account, a serious omission.
Information about the role of fungi in underpinning all ecological systems and the need for their protection must be highlighted so that this can be better understood and integrated into policy decisions, especially around the development of new woodlands, changing farming practices and urban design for green spaces, where such plantings also require the support of mycorrhizal fungi.  
Although largely hidden from view, fungi also have a significant role to play in the proposed natural mitigation strategies to deal with climate change… and in these times few things matter more than that.  

Friday, December 31, 2021

Hedgerows: how we can help protect a countryside treasure

Is there anything more symbolic of the Kentish countryside than a healthy hedgerow? (pic Julie Davies)

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.

Dog-rose is a common hedgerow shrub in favourable conditions (pic Julie Davies)

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.

The tangled lives of hedges… (pic Vicky Ellis)

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Don’t forget the nature: CPRE responds to 10-point environment plan

Woods store huge amounts of carbon… and they’re a good place for a stroll (pic Julie Davies)

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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Our stolen night skies

The orange mushroom cloud of Thanet Earth blights much of the east Kent night sky (pic Craig Solly)

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.

Health

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.

Blinded by the light: this illumination on a retirement estate near Faversham can be seen for miles around (pic Vicky Ellis)

Ecology

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.

Whether in town or country, many can’t escape the light pollution of Thanet Earth (pic Craig Solly)

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.

Pollution

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.

… and this is what we’re missing (pic Bob Mizon)

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.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Appreciating the silent skies? Then join this survey asking how we’re affected by noise pollution

A single vapour trail in a sky that might otherwise be criss-crossed by them

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  

Friday, April 24, 2020

Today is Earth Day’s 50th birthday… let’s celebrate it!

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.

Wednesday, April 22

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