Monday, 29 June 2015

Lewes Railway Land Festival

On Sunday 5th July the Lewes Railway Land is hosting the Biosphere Festival.  There will be a host of events and displays, including a small stand from the SWT, but the event will be opened with a fascinating geological perspective on 500 million years of climate and sea-level change.

A geology display by Professor Rory Mortimore will be formally unveiled at the Railway Land Festival.  This display, which will feature drilling cores, fossils, drone shots and QR code- triggered videos sets out long term historical climate change that brings yet another aspect to the pioneering Linklater Pavilion dedicated to the study of environmental change.

Said Professor Mortimore, who will open the exhibition at 3pm on 5th July, ‘Climate and sea levels have constantly changed throughout geological time.  The rocks that make the South Downs record nearly 40 million years of environmental change. Sea-level was 300 metres above present day (two times the height of Beachy Head) when the Chalk, exposed in the river-cliffs at Lewes opposite the Linklater Pavilion, formed.

The animals that lived in that sea and on the seafloor are the fossils that we now find in our local chalk pits and shown in these displays.  As well as high sea levels the Chalk represents a time when the Earth was a ‘hot-house’ with no or little polar ice.  Yet we can see in the Chalk that there were also small ‘cycles’ of temperature and climate change represented by the alternating beds of marl-limestone in Southerham Grey Pit.’

The free Railway Land Live! Festival, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will include many family activities - a Minecraft game based on the Reserve, underwater wildlife images, a puppet show, displays by the young sea level rise group of teenagers called the Linklater Rats, live music, refreshments and much more.  It runs from 2-5pm at the Railway Land Local Nature Reserve, situated at the end of Railway Lane, Lewes BN7 2FG.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Happy Birthday to the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere.

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere is now a year old and in that time it has built up a good record of pioneering a positive future for people and nature in the area.

The Biosphere – an area of land and coastal waters between the rivers Adur and Ouse – was officially recognised by UNESCO on 11 June 2014. With the city of Brighton and Hove at its heart, it joined a unique global network of over 600 international demonstration areas across 100 countries.

The Biosphere name confers a high level of international recognition on an area, but it does not come with any extra guaranteed money or powers.  So action has to be delivered through imaginative approaches.  And since its launch the Biosphere has developed new partnerships, improved the natural environment, organised a campaign of community engagement and provided more opportunities for local people and visitors to experience its special nature.

Paula Murray, chair of the Biosphere Board, says “We want to build on the success of our first year through more innovative major projects, novel partnerships and greater community engagement. Our aim is to sustainably improve our environment, our relationship with it and ourselves too.”

The work of the Biosphere programme has successfully:
  • Worked with Brighton & Hove City Council’s Cityparks team and the University of Sussex to create new wildflower areas for bees and butterflies in Brighton, including a new ‘bee-bed’ at The Level
  • Created fun and stimulating educational programmes for children including a virtual world of the Biosphere based on the popular computer game,  Minecraft
  • Developed projects with a range of public and private bodies to reduce impacts of flooding and to improve the quality of our drinking water from the chalk downs
  • Worked with Visit Brighton to develop a 'Best of our Biosphere' guide for visitors and local people, as well as a host of new materials for promotional and educational purposes

The Biosphere Partnership of some 40 local organisations, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, aspires to not just enhance the environment but also to raise the profile and awareness of how special our area is with both residents and visitors, as a key foundation for the local economy too.

Murray says, “We have established a Biosphere Board that will work with the Greater Brighton Economic Board to take forward a programme of new projects that deliver for both people and the environment, for example by diversifying our visitor offer to include eco-tourism.”

We all rely 100% on the environment for our health and well-being, yet people in towns and cities can become isolated from this reality.  Brighton, Hove and Lewes are set within a world-class environment, both in the surrounding Downs and threading into the urban areas themselves.  The Biosphere has created the perfect opportunity to increase awareness of this precious resource and hopefully provide a stimulus for us to care for it for years to come.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Countryside or Concrete?

Pre-election Television debates between the leaders of the main parties are very much the in the national news at the moment.  It is therefore good to see that, here in Horsham on Saturday 21 March,10.00am to 12.30pm, CPRE Sussex is hosting a pre-election hustings for Horsham’s Parliamentary candidates.  This will take place at the Drill Hall, Denne Road, Horsham RH12 1JF.

Countryside or Concrete is the essential theme because a fundamental issue for communities has been the rewriting and dumbing-down of planning regulations by the Government.  This seems to have enabled developers to build where they like on green fields adjoining villages, irrespective of the justified concerns and objections of residents.  In Horsham, for example, the Planning Inspector has imposed an apparently arbitrary target of 15,000/16,000 houses on the District. See here for an interesting article on this subject by Roger Smith of CPRE.

CPRE Sussex’s pre-election hustings will be an unprecedented and much needed opportunity for members of the public to put questions to and hear what Conservative, Green, Labour, UKIP and independent Parliamentary Candidates have to say about planning and the future of our countryside, and the rights of communities to decide where development should go.

Book your free place either on line through the CPRE Sussex website:
or by phone: 01825 890975.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The sad loss of Oliver Rackham – one of the greatest contributors to the study of trees, woodlands and the landscape.

Oliver Rackham was one of my greatest inspirations.  Before his great work “Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape”, few of us had any idea about ancient woodland; we didn't understand how special they were, few realized that woods were managed and very few understood the great historical and cultural value of woodland.  Oliver Rackham opened a whole library of rich new meaning to generations of people with an interest in woodland and landscape. His books were just becoming well known as I was developing my own interest in woodlands and his sudden death after collapsing at a dinner in Leckhampton leaves a great hole were there once was the leading authority on trees and woodlands.  Some great tributes have been payed to Oliver; see, for example posts by Keith Kirby and Ian Rotherham.

Friday, 13 February 2015

What Nature Does For Britain - A brilliant new book draws on the work of The Wildlife Trusts across the UK

A new book by Tony Juniper, What Nature Does for Britain, takes a fascinating journey through Britain and powerfully illustrates how we all need nature – for our health, wealth and security.  He explores how nature makes us happy, helps us to feel better and is good for business too.  The book also looks at how the protection of natural habitats can also provide a cleaner, cheaper water supply; how healthy soils help purify water, reduce flooding and store carbon, thus combating climate change; and how food production in the UK remains fundamentally dependent on a thriving natural world.

In the book Tony visits people and places across Britain to illustrate the social and economic benefits of landscape and habitat restoration.  The book includes many examples of The Wildlife Trusts’ work such as:
·         Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Pumlumon Project where landscape restoration upstream seeks to reap flood defence benefits downstream
·         Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr – a beautiful urban wildlife retreat on the edge of Doncaster, designed to store quantities of water and prevent local flooding
·         Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust’s awe-inspiring ospreys, eco-tourism and habitat creation with Anglian Water at Rutland Water
·         Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s peatland restoration near Manchester to create fabulous habitats and store carbon at Chat Moss and other bogs
·         Ulster Wildlife’s expertise in maintaining wildlife-rich farmland and the benefits of reserves like Slievenacloy
·         Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s work to improve community greenspace, making it wilder and bringing social benefits to deprived and run-down housing estates

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:  “What Nature Does for Britain is a fact-packed challenge to any preconceptions that greens spend their lives complaining.  There are positive alternatives and this book makes these very clear.  What Nature Does for Britain provides great material for politicians, town planners, health workers and even the Treasury to justify taking into account the true value of wildlife and natural ecosystems.  Tony Juniper illustrates the folly of short-term gain strategies which damage the natural world.  The tax payer is being landed with unnecessary bills now but it is the next generation that it will cost most dearly.  I’m delighted that the author has chosen examples of The Wildlife Trusts’ work to illustrate the benefits of restoring our ecosystem for people’s happiness, health and for their purses.”

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.