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

Draft Environment Bill contains ‘significant unanswered questions’

The hen harrier has suffered appalling levels of persecution in this country – will the Environment Bill afford it greater protection? (pic Steve Ashton)

“The draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill sets out how we will maintain environmental standards as we leave the EU and build on the vision of the 25 Year Environment Plan.”
These underwhelming words from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announcing last month’s (December 2018) publication of draft clauses for the first Environment Bill in some 20 years belie the importance of the eventual document.
This future for our natural environment once this country has departed the EU has exercised the thoughts of many – for example, CPRE Kent’s Graham Warren – but we are perhaps now some way closer to understanding quite what might lie in store.
Introducing the draft clauses, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, writes: “We have ambitions to be the home of the boldest possible environmental policies, and to set an example of excellent and effective leadership at home and abroad.
“As we leave the EU, this new environmental law marks an unprecedented step forward – helping to safeguard our commitment to environmental protection for generations to come.”
What does CPRE make of it? While not dismissing the draft Bill out of hand, it is fair to say it is not quite so convinced as it gives what it calls “a cautious welcome” to the announcement.
“While the ambition is there, detail and clear targets are evidently lacking,” says a statement on the CPRE national website.
It continues: “The core elements published in the draft clauses include:

  • Environmental principles to help protect the environment
  • The establishment of a governance body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – to uphold environmental legislation.
  • A commitment to making it a legal requirement for the government to have a plan for improving the environment.”

Tom Fyans, CPRE director of campaigns and policy, said: “Environmental principles are crucial to the way law is created, from planning and land-use policy to air quality and biodiversity targets, yet the draft Bill offers only the weak requirement that ministers ‘have regard to’ or ‘consider’ them.
“While the proposed Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) has some useful legal powers, there are significant unanswered questions regarding its relationship with the planning system, when decisions are in breach of environmental law, and how it will engage with climate change – the greatest threat to the countryside.
“We are also seriously concerned that the OEP will lack the true independence required to hold the government to account.
“We are pleased that the 25 Year Environment Plan will be placed on a statutory footing, with requirements to report to Parliament on the government’s progress to improve the environment.
“But even here there is much more work required on the future environmental priorities – for example, examining how targets are set for improvements in air and water quality, soil health and waste and resource use.”
This, of course, should not be the end of the matter and CPRE says it “looks forward to having many opportunities in the coming year to engage with Defra officials and through Parliamentary processes to ensure the Bill is improved and is able to deliver the admirable ambitions of the government.”

Friday, January 11, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Category of land mammals

(by per cent)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2018



How green is our Brexit?

We are, we are told, leaving the EU. Good or bad news for our natural heritage?

We might all be a little weary of the B word, but the future for our natural heritage once this country has departed the EU is a matter of concern for Graham Warren, chairman of the CPRE Kent environment committee   

The natural environment barely got a mention in the pre-Brexit referendum barrage of half-truths and ‘alternative facts’ and would, even now, struggle to make the top 10 of the government’s shopping list.
It is difficult to evaluate clear environmental gains and losses in isolation from agriculture and other aspects of land use and our natural heritage will perhaps prove especially vulnerable – ‘up for sale’ as it were – in the late-stage trade-offs in the Brexit negotiations.
Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, sees our proposed departure from the EU as an opportunity to treat agriculture and the environment as paired objectives.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which is paying landowners £3 billion a year based on farmed acreage, would be replaced with schemes for farmers who enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, establishing wildlife habitat, increasing biodiversity, improving water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows.
This vision was revealed in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, launched in January with a pledge to eliminate waste, create new safeguards for wildlife, connect more children with nature, improve air and water quality and curb the scourge of plastic waste in the world’s oceans.
The agenda for this ‘green future’ includes:

  • Extension of the five-pence plastic-bag charge to small retailers, with restricted dependence on single-use plastics and inclusion of plastic-free aisles in supermarkets.
  • Creation of 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species and support for farmers in turning fields into meadows and replenishing depleted soils.
  • Provision of £5.7 million to establish a ‘northern forest’.
  • Increased investment in overseas aid to combat poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and to extend marine protection areas.
  • A new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards and set out an approach to agriculture and fisheries management.
  • Promotion of a net environmental-gain principle, locally and nationally, enabling housing development “without increasing the overall burden on developers”.
  • Creation of green corridors linking otherwise isolated habitats.

The plan embodies the principle of ‘natural capital’, founded on:

  • A better understanding of the benefits from nature.
  • Recognition of the environmental assets of clean air and water, wholesome food and opportunities for recreation.
  • A commitment to interact with our natural environment as an essential element in sustaining the economy.
  • The plan sits alongside the programme for implementing the Paris Agreement to cut carbon emissions and control climate change.

There will also be a review of the national planning and building regulations to ensure the planning system delivers improved flood resilience and sustainable drainage systems and makes provision for new developments to deliver a ‘biodiversity net-gain’, aiming at the least environmentally damaging locations.
An outline of a 25-year environment plan put forward by Defra in September 2015 envisaged an investment of £3 billion from the CAP to enhance the countryside with a programme focused on Green Belts, Areas of Outstanding Beauty, National Parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
However, this will no longer be available post-Brexit.
Other investments totalling £20m were also identified but will be UK-funded and incorporated in the 25 Year Plan announced this year.
Have these been fully costed and what are the chances of this ambitious programme surviving Brexit, given that our departure would evidently incur severance penalties and possibly trigger a recession?
Further, our national debt has increased over the last 10 years from £560bn to £1,760bn (36 per cent to 85 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a rate unprecedented in peacetime) and is expected to increase.
This is bad timing for a government facing a general election with an electorate preoccupied with the immediate outcome of Brexit and the prospect of a radical reordering of our national priorities to accommodate the strictures of a sinking economy (and there seems little remaining doubt that it will indeed shrink).

In any event, we can expect a new look for the ‘top 10’ agenda, possibly:

  • National Health Service and welfare
  • The Brexit Bill (estimated at £50bn-100bn)
  • Defence (a 50 per cent increase to 3 per cent of GDP)
  • Immigration control and border security
  • National transport infrastructure
  • Servicing national debt
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Agriculture/environment
  • Fisheries

The environment may begin to look like a luxury we can no longer afford. There is already talk of the ‘zombie list’, a review of the 800-1,000 items of environmental legislation inherited from Brussels for incorporation in UK law; many of these could face ‘reform’ by statutory instruments.
In January last year, MPs warned government that environmental protection must not be weakened after Brexit, while the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) chaired by Mary Creagh called on government to introduce an Environmental Protection Act under the Article 50 negotiation and warned of the risks to our countryside, farming and wildlife currently protected under EU law.
There is also a wider global perspective of environmental issues with a direct bearing on our post-Brexit strategy.
Many of the, mainly tropical, countries that export foodstuffs to the UK face increasing levels of water demand for irrigation due to the impact of climate change and over-abstraction, evidenced by depleted river flows and falling groundwater levels.
It is estimated that by 2025 1.8 billion people (20-25 per cent of the world’s population) will be living in water-scarce regions.
There are clear implications for the availability and cost of produce we import from some of these regions and we may need to plan on increasing the proportion of home-grown produce beyond the 40-50 per cent level.
We seem to have the makings of an ideological ‘set-to’ between the need to increase the proportion of productive farmland and the counter-argument, advanced by Mr Gove, for appropriating areas for wildlife.
The latter has obvious attractions, but the penalty could be reduced food security, increased costs and a corresponding increase in the tariff bill.
To put this in context, this country’s net contribution to the EU budget has been estimated as costing the UK taxpayer an average of some £160 a year; this figure includes environmental protection. Compare that with the current level of national debt interest payments per person of more than £200.
As to what all this could mean for Kent, it would seem reasonable to plan on the assumption that any environmental outcome of national significance arising from Brexit and severance from the Single Market and Customs Union will also apply locally… in some cases, such as traffic disruption, air pollution, immigration and the disproportionate loss of greenfield acreage, to a relatively high degree.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Have your say on plans to expand Lydden Hill racing circuit

The Lydden Hill circuit lies in the Kent Downs AONB

Long-running plans to expand Lydden Hill racing circuit in the Kent Downs AONB are likely to be decided upon in the spring… and you are urged to have your say on the proposals.
The owner of the site, close to the A2 north-west of Dover, wants to build two hospitality buildings, two grandstands, driving schools, a restaurant, offices, an industrial estate and an extended car park in a development it says would cost £6 million, while a new road would improve access between the A2 and the circuit.
It is also intended to triple the amount of days it is used, from 52 per year to 157. In addition to more race days, such intensification would entail such activities as driver tuition and testing, craft fairs and car shows.
Such an extensive development, together with the planned increase in days of operation, would have an undeniable impact on the surrounding area and those who live there.
Derek Wanstall, chairman of Dover CPRE, said: “The circuit’s proposed expansion can only bring more noise and traffic problems to the nearby village of Wootton, plus the site is within an AONB.
“Residents’ tranquillity and quality of life can only deteriorate if the expansion is approved.”
The proposals first materialised in 2015 and Dover District Council asked for further details, primarily in relation to noise management, before determining the application.
Now it must consider an amended planning application – and if you would like to comment on it you must do so by Friday, March 9.
CPRE Dover objected to the plan when it first appeared and maintains its opposition to what is being promoted at the circuit; accordingly, it will be commenting on the amended application.
Unsurprisingly, local people are deeply concerned by the plans, most notably:

  • The proposed increased activity – up to 157 days, including three-day weekends over three Bank Holiday weekends.
  • Noise levels and the continuing lack of a coherent noise management plan.
  • Impact on the environment, especially given that the circuit is in an AONB.
  • Race-day traffic management on the A2 and through neighbouring villages, and also during the period of development, planned for this spring, which it is feared would result in large trucks and vans driving through country lanes.

A spokesman for Wootton Environment Protection Group said: “Residents of Wootton and Shepherdswell have been complaining about the increased noise and disruption caused by the circuit over the past 10 years or so, yet Dover District Council does little about it.
“Despite two and a half years since the original application, the latest documents provided by Lydden Hill race circuit are confusing, inaccurate and incomplete.
“For example, there are still no coherent noise management or traffic management plans and, frankly, the new documents have done nothing to address local residents’ concerns on a wide range of issues.”
Well, hopefully you can do something by making your views known. Write to the case officer at Dover District Council outlining your objections in full; the reference is Planning Application 15/00827

Your letters should be addressed to:

Luke Blaskett
Planning Officer
Dover District Council
White Cliffs Business Park
CT16 3PJ

You can post directly to the case officer or upload online on the Dover District Council website.
All letters must be the group by Thursday, March 8.

Monday, February 26, 2018

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

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

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

CPRE Kent challenges part of Maidstone Local Plan

CPRE Kent believes development of Woodcut Farm should not be included in Maidstone council’s Local Plan

CPRE Kent is challenging Maidstone Borough Council’s Local Plan.
We have sent the local authority a pre-action protocol letter requesting that it delays making a decision on a planning application for Woodcut Farm near junction 8 of the M20, due to be discussed by its planning committee tomorrow evening (Thursday, November 30).
The council adopted its Local Plan in October, but we are not happy with the inclusion of the Woodcut Farm site in the Plan, which we believe to be unlawful.
Specifically, CPRE Kent is challenging the council’s allocation of 16.8 hectares for up to 49,000 square metres of “mixed employment floorspace” at the site; this is Policy EMP 1(4) of the Plan.
We have lodged the letter, through our solicitor Richard Buxton, asking that Maidstone council’s planning committee does not debate the Woodcut Farm application, from Roxhill Developments, tomorrow.
The council has been given until 4pm today (Wednesday) to confirm postponement.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

CPRE Kent welcomes Medway Council attack on proposed housing hike

CPRE Kent today applauds Medway Council’s Cabinet for its withering rejection of proposed government policy that would see it face an “unrealistic and totally unacceptable increase in the levels of housing” to be built in the district.
Further, we support the council’s call for Kent and Medway MPs, as well as other local authorities in the county, to join it in expressing to central government the concerns that an increasing number of people and organisations have about the burden of housing development Kent would be expected to take.
It is telling that a Conservative-led council should offer such trenchant criticisms of the DCLG’s own policies.
After yesterday’s Cabinet meeting (Wednesday, October 25), the council released a fierce statement blasting the DCLG’s demands:
“At yesterday’s meeting of Medway Council’s Conservative Cabinet, members strongly rejected proposals from the Department for Communities and Local Government which would see an unrealistic and totally unacceptable increase in the levels of housing required within Medway,” it said.
“Independent consultants have previously determined Medway’s Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) for housing as 1,281 dwellings/year.
“This figure has been used as a core component of Medway Council’s Local Plan to assess the housing needed over the period covered by the plan (2012-2035).
“This work has already produced the ambitious figure of 29,463 homes required by 2035, [for] which the council has been tirelessly working to identify the land and infrastructure necessary to facilitate delivery.
“However, the flawed proposed government methodology would see a 29% uplift in the level of housing to be allocated to Medway, calling instead for 38,295 houses in the same period.
“The government may state that its approach represents a 5% increase across England, but there is significant variation in this figure.
“Within the South East, the average rise is an appalling 35%, yet the Conservative Group is disgusted to find that there are other local authorities who have in fact seen a fall in their level of housing need.
“Such authorities are largely in the north of England, reflecting the disjointed and disproportionate nature of this policy compared to the efforts the government has already been making to rebalance the economy and deliver the infrastructure in the north that would be able to support these homes.”
Responding to the statement, CPRE Kent vice chairman Richard Knox-Johnston said: “We welcome Medway Council’s statement as a first realistic reaction to the increased housing demand it has been allocated and the problems it will cause.
“CPRE has been saying for some time that the infrastructure is simply not sufficient to deal with the proposed new figures, while the DCLG approach does not address the real needs of young people and young families.”
Stressing further the views of his council, leader Alan Jarrett said: “Medway, like most of the South East, is an area already straining at the seams to accommodate the originally proposed level of growth, and therefore any increase to this figure will absolutely not be tolerated by Medway Conservatives.
“Whilst the Cabinet recognises the need for housing, and is already leading by example through the establishment of its own housing company, the sustainability of the government’s plan must be seriously questioned.
“Medway simply does not have the physical or social infrastructure to cope with any increased housing target. It is extremely unrealistic of DCLG to propose a change of target in the face of developers’ reluctance to build homes and a current lack of skilled workers to deliver these homes.
“Myself and my Conservative colleagues implore the three Medway MPs, and other Kent authorities and MPs, to follow suit in conveying to DCLG the severity of the concerns we have here in Kent and Medway.
“If the government were to ignore comments from this council, not only would this jeopardise the reams of work that have already gone into the production of Medway Council’s Local Plan but we face a scenario in which existing housing delivery targets will not be able to be met.
“On behalf of Medway residents, the Conservative Group will not stand idly by whilst our green spaces and our housing market are decimated.”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Have your say on proposed Hythe development

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

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

We’re back in court again, this time battling for a site in north Kent

What future for Pond Farm at Newington?

After the high-profile Farthingloe Valley appeal hearing at the Supreme Court yesterday, CPRE Kent has been back in court again today (Wednesday, October 18).

This time we are in the High Court supporting the decision to reject a scheme for up to 330 homes and 260 residential and care “units” near Sittingbourne on the grounds of harm to the landscape and increased air pollution.

Gladman Developments Ltd is challenging the dismissal in January this year of two linked appeals it made against the refusal of planning permission for its scheme at Pond Farm, Newington.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s inspector had dismissed the appeals because of “the substantial harm that the appeal proposals would cause to the character of a valued landscape and their likely significant adverse effect on human health”.

Gladman is now contesting that dismissal on the grounds of the inspector’s treatment of future air quality and mitigation; the decision in relation to the Newington air quality action plan; and the decision’s claimed conflict with the emerging development plan for the village.

Defending January’s decision to dismiss Gladman’s appeals are the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Swale Borough Council.

CPRE Kent, which was an important participant in the planning inquiry in November last year, is present in the High Court as an Interested Party.

The hearing is due to finish tomorrow (Thursday).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The menace of plastic around Kentish shores

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

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

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

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

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

The environmental impact on our marine life is of course disturbing enough, but there are fears that plastics are entering the food chain to the level that they are being eaten by humans.
For more on this story, visit

CPRE Kent in Supreme Court to defend AONB site

The future of Farthingloe Valley is in the spotlight today

We’re in the Supreme Court today for the latest stage of our battle to save the Farthingloe Valley in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) near Dover from entirely inappropriate development.

The Judgment from the Court of Appeal in September last year said Dover District Council’s (DDC) planning committee had failed to provide adequate reasons for granting permission.

The scale of the development is unprecedented in an AONB and the harm that the development would do to the AONB is neither properly taken account of nor mitigated.

The council‘s officers set out the situation and proposed changes, but these were rejected by the committee without, as the Court of Appeal put it, explaining why.

It is CPRE Kent’s belief that the Farthingloe case never should have reached this far and DDC should have dismissed the application, which flagrantly ignores national planning policy, at the outset.

l CPRE Kent has been the only organisation determined to stand up and defend the protected status of this special landscape – but the outcome of the case will have national implications for what developers and local authorities can do to our landscape and countryside.

Fighting for our countryside is inevitably expensive at times like this. If you are able to donate a sum, however large or small, you can do so through our website:

Monday, October 16, 2017

Protect our Green Belt

We must protect our Green Belt for future generations. It prevents urban sprawl as well as providing countryside for recreation and relaxation, tranquillity, important habitats and areas for nature, the environment and farming.

Much of west Kent is Green Belt – in fact it covers 93% of Sevenoaks, 77% of Gravesham, 71% of Tonbridge and Malling, 56% of Dartford and 22% of Tunbridge Wells.

Strengthening the protection for Green belts and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty is an important point in our 2017 election manifesto. Have a look at the video below to see how much the Green Belt is loved.


May 15th 2017

CPRE Manifesto for 2017 election

CPRE’s manifesto calls on all parties in the election to recognise the countryside’s huge contribution to the economy and our sense of who we are as individuals and communities, and to develop policies that will protect and enhance rural areas.


We are calling for:

  • stronger protection of Green Belts and AONBs
  • investment in urban regeneration, especially brownfield sites
  • funding for farming to ensure we are a resilient nation in terms of food and environment and to reverse the decline in nature, in soils and in landscapes
  • an overhaul of transport policy in favour of a better integrated and sustainable approach
  • reduce waste and pollution by committing to resource efficiency schemes, such as deposit return systems
  • transpose all EU environmental protections into domestic law and introduce an ambitious new Environment Act

Flax field by Vicky Ellis

Flax field by Vicky Ellis

Read our manifesto here.

April 27th 2017.

The end of the road?

CPRE Kent  has long argued that increased road building in fact leads to increased traffic, does not reduce journey times and does not bring the promised economic growth to areas. Plus it can destroy beautiful areas of countryside.


Traffic by Jon Coller

New research published by CPRE today (March 20th) reveals that road-building is failing to provide the congestion relief and economic boost promised, while devastating the environment [1].

No wonder we are so concerned at the wisdom of potentially spending £3billion on a new Lower Thames Crossing east of Gravesend which would have a terrible economic impact and not solve the problem of congestion at the Dartford crossings.

The research, the largest ever independent review of completed road schemes in England, arrives as Highways England starts consulting on which road schemes will receive funding, set to triple to £3 billion a year by 2020 [2].

Drawing on the research, CPRE’s report The end of the road? directly challenges government claims that ‘the economic gains from road investment are beyond doubt’ [3]; that road-building will lead to ‘mile a minute’ journeys; and that the impact on the environment will be limited ‘as far as possible’ [4]. The report shows how road building over the past two decades has repeatedly failed to live up to similar aims. Continue reading