Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Snippets from 2014.

As 2014 draws to a close it might be nice to look back and see what we've done over the past year.  What was 2014 like and what were some of our major projects? 


The Sussex Wildlife Trust carries out a wide range of work in many different areas so it is impossible to cover everything in a short blog.  However, perhaps it is worth highlighting just a few projects – with apologies to all those I miss out!

See this link for a few more details.

We will never achieve any nature conservation if people do not care for nature.  So the starting point for all our work is to inspire, educate and motivate people about nature. 

Our Wildlife Rangers and Youth Rangers are good examples of how we connect young people (from ages 12 to 25) with nature.  In this programme they can get their hands dirty learning conservation skills and work as volunteers to help improve local green spaces.  In a similar vein our Forest Schools programmes have been extremely valuable linking children with nature through bush craft type activities and at the very young end of the spectrum our Nature Tots events hope to spark a very early interest, maybe with mum or dad in tow as well.

We work with local communities around Sussex, with the help of funding from a range of partners.  The Gatwick Greenspace project had its 20th anniversary this year, a project that is only possible because of support form Local Authorities and Gatwick Airport.   Our Access to Nature project, funded by BIG Lottery, enabled us to work with communities in Hastings and in Brighton & Hove, a funding stream that has sadly come to an end now.  But support for a project in Worthing (Wild about Worthing) has enabled us to move forward there and a charitable trust has enabled us to link with communities in Lewes as well.  In addition, projects with intriguing names like “Growing Forward”, “Nature Train” and “Wellbeing in the Wild” have all been supported by funds from unusual sources in order to engage with different groups of people.  The key point in all these is the linking of people to nature, doing activities to enhance nature and in the process gaining all sorts of personal benefits.

We also have several large landscape-scale projects, improving nature further out in the wilds of Sussex

Our West Weald Landscape project, part funded by a charitable trust, celebrated its 5th anniversary this year in a major event at Kew Gardens, Wakehurst.  This is a significant lowland landscape partnership project aiming to connect ancient woodlands and habitats covering 24,000 hectares in the Sussex Weald.  It is perhaps one of the most important areas in England for bats (and other species) and we have plotted significant population improvements as our work has progressed.

Starting off as a project with a focus on otters, our current wetlands projects aim to achieve habitat enhancements at a landscape scale.  The Arun and Rother Connections project and the Sussex Flow Initiative are examples of how we are looking at whole river catchments in order to achieve improvements for nature.  A recent change, however, has been an increasing recognition that if we improve a catchment for wildlife then it is also likely to improve it for all sorts of public benefits as well (flood risk reduction, soil erosion reduction, improved water resources and so on).

We may forget that about 50% of our wildlife (numbers of species) is actually under the sea.  Our “Making Waves” project is therefore active in engaging with children to encourage them to find out about marine wildlife. Activities include “Wild Beach”, family seaside events and “Undersea Explorers”.

And I haven’t even mentioned nature reserves yet!  Heathland restoration, conservation grazing, woodland management, wetland enhancement and so on.  Major areas of activity with significant funding needs.  But that’s another story!  (Follow our nature reserves link)

I am very enthused by the range of work we do and the wildlife conservation activities we deliver but we must bear a sad truth in mind.  The general trend for nature in England is downwards. We have many good specific examples of wildlife improvement but nature is under massive threat and is unfortunately on a long term decline.  We can celebrate the work that SWT, and other wildlife charities, has done over 2014, but this is against a permanent need for us to do more.  And, with the help of our members, supporters and partners, maybe we can redouble our efforts in 2015.


Monday, 8 December 2014

Money to burn! A road building bonanza marks the end of austerity?

£15 billion to spend on vanity roads projects around the country is a clear indication that the government has given up on any serious attempts to solve congestion.


Ignoring the evidence, and years of direct experience that shows how new roads crate new traffic, government has decided to throw money we don’t have at environmentally destructive roads schemes.  These will make congestion worse throughout the country – especially in Sussex with the A27 proposals. 

Look out for the inevitable consequences.  You may be able to speed around Arundel (having created a swathe of damage through ancient woodland and across the Arun valley), but the increased traffic will then simply stack up elsewhere.  Imagine any part of Sussex where the traffic is already high.  These will all become congested.  Towns, cities, villages, country roads, even current main roads (think how busy the Washington roundabout is at present) will all get jammed with inevitable demands for yet more roads.  More roads, more traffic and then demand for more roads.  A familiar and circular treadmill that we’ve been around so many times before.  There really is no excuse for anyone thinking that this will cure congestion.

It’s a huge waste of public money that could so much better be spent productively.

Cost-benefit analyses of these proposals, even when heavily loaded in favour of new roads, struggle to reach a two to one return on investment – and that’s with economic benefits exaggerated and environmental costs ignored.  Compare that to investments that enhance nature (when economists bother to do the sums).  When conservatively costing the benefits to people from improving the natural functioning of rivers, and the benefits to nature, we often find a return of 6:1.  Environment Agency flood defence schemes are expected to achieve 8:1.  A costing of the public benefits of the Forestry Commissions public forests returned about 20:1.  International studies have shown that protected areas for nature return between 10:1 and 100:1 against investment.

£15 billion spent on roads will fail, wasting tax-payers money and cause economic loss rather than benefit.  But even if take a glowingly optimistic return, it will struggle to deliver £30bn in public benefit.  The same amount invested in nature, like for example in a public forest estate, could deliver £300bn in public benefit.


It happens frequently – governments give up on evidence and write themselves anecdotes to support what they wanted to do anyway.  Eventually reality will raise its head and more sensible policies have to prevail.  But that could be after another round of irreversible environmental damage and another cohort of angry business leaders annoyed at being hood-winked by false promises.

Monday, 24 November 2014

MPs speak out against a second Gatwick runway

Five Members of Parliament were on the platform, and three more sent messages of support, at a mass protest meeting on Saturday 22 November organised by the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC).   That is all the MPs from around Gatwick, and helps to disprove the assumption in some national newspapers that Gatwick would politically be the easiest option for a new runway.

The MPs were united in expressing their concern about new flight paths and about the threat of a second runway.  Extracts from their speeches and messages are attached.

Over 1,000 people crammed into the Apple Tree Centre in Crawley, and were welcomed by three racy air hostesses, and by the Mayor of Crawley, Cllr Brenda Smith who later, speaking as the local councillor, expressed her deep-felt opposition to a new runway.

Some twenty national and local environmental groups, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, set up stands around the hall and answered questions from anxious members of the public.

Questions from the floor were answered by a panel of experts which included Keith Taylor (Member European Parliament), Cait Hewitt (Aviation Environment Federation), Sarah Clayton (AirportWatch), Sally Pavey (CAGNE), Richard Streatfeild (High Weald Parishes Aviation Action Group), and Brendon Sewill (GACC) under the chairmanship of Cllr Helyn Clack (Surrey County Council).

The meeting unanimously held up large cards saying NO when asked if they were in favour of new flight paths, and held up the NO cards again when asked if they were in favour of a second runway.  

The afternoon concluded with 1,000 people singing ‘What shall we do with Gatwick Airport’ to the tune of the Drunken Sailor.


Extracts from MPs’ speeches and messages


Cabinet member Rt Hon Francis Maude (Horsham) was abroad on Government business but sent a message: ‘As you know, I have always opposed a second runway at Gatwick.   We all know that there are big advantages for our area in having a successful airport as a centre for jobs and business, and I support Gatwick's expansion as a single runway airport.  That remains my view.’  

Crispin Blunt MP (Reigate) told the meeting why he had organised the Gatwick Co-ordination Group of MPs – because a second runway would be a 'disaster for surrounding communities and environment.'   Many areas are being ‘appallingly affected by PRNAV’ [the new system of concentrated flight paths].

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex). A second runway would be a disaster for our local environment. … 120,000 extra people - where they are expected to go is beyond me…. The London to Brighton railway line is already at full capacity - impossible to upgrade sufficiently. .. We must oppose this with all the power we have.’

Henry Smith (Crawley) noted that 'public opinion in Crawley is divided. … There would be a significant impact on housing and infrastructure - school places, GP surgery sizes, healthcare – a need for a new hospital. … Gatwick have not made the case for expansion here.’

Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) sent a message:  New flight paths have caused misery for my constituents, which is why I have called for Gatwick to abandon its implementation of the PRNAV system. I would like to congratulate GACC for organising this meeting, and your ongoing work to hold Gatwick to account over these changes and the possibility of a second runway, which could cause significant environmental damage and pressure on local infrastructure.

SirJohn Stanley (Tonbridge) sent this message:  ‘I am totally opposed to Gatwick’s new flight path proposals which will make the already intolerable noise disturbance still more intolerable.  I am also totally opposed to a second runway at Gatwick.'
 
Charles Hendry (Wealden) commented on ‘the extraordinarily huge meeting here today. ... Gatwick has not been straight with us and are not good neighbours.  If they are not good neighbours today, then the possible doubling in size is intolerable.  A second runway does not make economic sense and it does not make environmental sense.’ 

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) told the meeting that a second runway would mean 'putting a city on Gatwick'....'public transport links are already overburdened'... 'M25 is a parking lot'.........'national businesses are not impressed with Gatwick's proposal.’


Note

A list of the stands, and text of the air hostesses’ announcement can be found on www.gacc.org.uk/latest-news


Monday, 10 November 2014

The West Sussex Environment and Climate Change Board’s Sustainable Food Plan consultation.

The West Sussex Environment and Climate Change Board (ECCB) brings together several organisations from across the County to ensure the challenge of Climate Change is recognised and addressed in West Sussex.  One issue that has a significant effect on our carbon footprint, and therefore how we effect climate change, is food.  The ECCB therefore established it’s Food Group.

The Food Group is intended to enable and encourage new thinking around local food and drink; why it is important to us as individuals and to the West Sussex Economy.  We are the newest sub-group of the ECCB and are currently working on a Sustainable Food Plan for West Sussex.  This plan aims to reduce the food-related carbon and ecological footprint of the County by working to the following principles:

  1. Raise awareness of what local, seasonal and sustainable food means and ensure it is promoted and celebrated by residents and visitors
  2. Enhance education and skills training through high quality information
  3. Encourage the development of market places to help people get access to local food and drink
  4. Address issues of health and obesity in relation to diet
  5. Work with WSCC Waste Services to help residents, businesses and public sector to reduce, redistribute, recycle, reuse food waste

The Sustainable Food Plan will help to reduce the food-related carbon and ecological footprint of the County. Can you help us to make it better?  A consultation on this plan is now open and will run until the 15th December.  We will then write a report of all responses, ensuring anonymity, which will be available by 12th January 2015.

The plan can be downloaded from here and the online survey can be accessed here.

Through this survey, we would like to ask you for your thoughts on the document, whether you can help us, what projects are already being carried out and any ideas you may have on how we can raise awareness and get more people involved.

Your views are important to us. Please take a few minutes after reading the draft plan to complete this online survey.


Friday, 7 November 2014

A27 plans damage the environment AND the economy


It makes sense doesn't it?  You’re caught in a traffic jam; clearly we need a bigger road, or a new road, or a road somewhere else.  And, of course, if there was another road then all the other cars would use it, relieving congestion everywhere.

A big, new road is something simple and obvious; you can put a ribbon across it and declare it open, to a fanfare of appreciation from an appreciative economic sector who are now happy (until the next time).

The Department for Transport in developing its A27 feasibility study also seem to be swallowing all these old assumptions.  But life, however, is not that simple.  Simple solutions to complex problems are always wrong.

As in the past, environmental concerns are pushed to one side.  One option for the Arundel bypass will cause the greatest loss of ancient woodland in Sussex for the last 20 years; the other will destroy the setting of two villages.  But to some this is a price worth paying in order to relieve congestion and stimulate the economy.

So we get back to the old “your money or your life” approach of balancing the economy against the environment.

However, whilst the environmental costs are measurable, severe and obvious; the economic benefits are shrouded in mystery, assumption and pre-conception. 

Economic benefit is based reduced travel times and perception surveys about how much better business would be if congestion was removed.  Ask a business how much better life would be and you get an obvious answer; so arguments build up to support a road-building case.  Businesses, however, need real solutions and views very quickly change when the reality of a situation becomes clear.

Road building does not deliver the relief of congestion that is generally claimed – quite the reverse.

Roads generate new traffic and that creates new, and worse, congestion.  This is not the view of an “anti-road green group” but the clear conclusion of study after study.  For an excellent outline of this “induced traffic” phenomenon read this article by Professor Phil Goodwin, a lead author of one of these studies.

“An average road improvement, for which traffic growth due to other factors has been forecast correctly, will see an additional 10% of base traffic in the short term and 20% in the long term”.  This is the conclusion of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment in 1994.  The same study also looked at roads surrounding trunk road improvements – their use went up on average by 16%.  So, the roads that are supposed to be relived by a new road receive 16% more traffic than the predicted increase.

Even in the unlikely event that the A27 flows more freely following enlargement, surrounding roads in towns, countryside and villages will receive more traffic, more congestion, more hold-ups and more pollution.

What is more, this sort of conclusion, with these sorts of figures, has been reached again and again, on average every 8 years since 1925!

About every 10 years we go through the same process.  First we insist on forgetting the lessons of the past and push for new roads.  Roads get built, the environment suffers more damage, traffic gets worse and congestion increases.  This results in demands for yet more roads and more environmental damage until, eventually we have to realise the reality of the situation and seek more sophisticated solutions.


Interestingly, Phil Goodwin’s article was written in 2006, the last time we went through this repeating process. 

The editors comment at the end was interesting – 

“Don’t lose this – we might need to publish it again in 2014”!!

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Mineral extraction in West Sussex and the National Park: a meeting organised by the Wiggonholt Association

West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) are developing a joint "Minerals Local Plan” for future mineral provision for this area.  This aims to ensure that sufficient raw materials are available to support such activities as house-building, road development and new airport runways.

Mineral extraction could have significant adverse environmental implications so it is clearly an issue that should concern residents and conservation bodies alike.  At present the plan is at an early stage and a wide range of potential extraction sites (quarries) are being considered prior to any formal site allocation.  Nevertheless, sites are now being discussed and there is a need for local people to understand the implications and make their views known.

In this regard The Wiggonholt Association is organising a meeting at 7pm on 3rd November 2014 at Pulborough Village Hall.  Speakers include Richard Bate (an environmental planner and specialist advisor on silica sand and sand extraction) and Pat Arculus (West Sussex County Councillor for Pulborough).

Pulborough is under particular threat as an extraction site is proposed just to the east of Pulborough opposite Mare Hill and Broomer’s Hill.  The mineral here is silica sand, which is particularly sought after so there is a high likelihood that this site will go forward – with the consequent noise, disturbance and environmental damage.


I am unable to attend the meeting (although I hope someone from SWT will be able to go), but I recommend that anyone worried about having a quarry on their doorstep does go along to find out more.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Re-wilding – an idea finding its time?

A few months ago I wrote a series of blogs on re-wilding – the idea that we can re-naturalise parts of the British countryside, reinstating natural processes as an alternative to management by people.  This was largely stimulated by George Monbiot’s excellent book “Feral”. 

The idea, however, is not new and discussions about nature versus nurture have been going on in ecology for decades.  It could, however, be an idea finding its time. 

In 1995 Bill Jenman and I wrote an article called “A Natural Method of Conserving Biodiversity in Britain”.  This contained many of the points that are being made today.  The Sussex Wildlife Trust has reprinted it with the kind permission of British Wildlife (Volume 7, Number 2, December 1995).

Re-reading it today I find that many of the ideas being discussed today were already well-advanced 20 years ago.  Some of the terminology might have changed (we didn't use the term “re-wilding”) and conservation management, rather than the promotion of natural processes, was perhaps more prevalent then than it is now.  Also some emphasis might have changed slightly.  We recognised the importance of top predators but today we would probably give even more prominence to the role that predators have in influencing grazing animals and through this the way that vegetation develops (the so-called “trophic cascade”). 

The article was, perhaps, too optimistic in promoting new wildernesses in Britain as we have not seen large areas reverting to nature.  However, progress has been made with some major areas of re-naturalisation being delivered by private landowners as well as charities (see my last article in “Natural World”). 

I also remain optimistic that a greater appreciation of natural processes has worked into the thinking on conservation management throughout nature conservation.  20 years ago management planning started from the perspective of managing nature, today we work from the perspective of how nature works before implementing management regimes.   Our whole Living Landscape theme is based on the idea that by working on a landscape scale we have to think about the processes that deliver a rich and varied wildlife – natural processes as well as human processes like agriculture and forestry. 


Take a look at this British Wildlife article today.  I don’t think we were either mindless dreamers or way ahead of our time.  It promoted many of the things that are being put forward today under the title of Rewidling Britain - perhaps the difference now is that there is a strong momentum building behind re-wilding, with more people involved and more people pushing for it.  Hopefully it really is an idea finding its time.