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.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Another New Town doomed to fail?



Following the growing controversy over the proposed new town to the east of Henfield, Jane Simmons from “Locals Against Mayfield Building Sprawl" (LAMBS) has sent me the following article showing how some of the ideas here are not as new as we may think. 


As the promotion of Mayfield Market Towns rumbles on, it is easy to forget that Sussex already has a ‘New Town’; just 12 miles up the road.

This New Town is arguably not as ‘new’ as it was a generation ago; but it was at its concept, exactly the sort of visionary place described in Mayfields’ rhetoric.

This ‘New Town’ is, of course, Crawley; built as a post war initiative more than half a Century ago around a quaint Sussex market town in a near perfect location.

In June 1949, Anthony Minoprio proudly presented his Crawley New Town Master Plan to the Crawley Development Corporation as an aspirational blueprint which was, he said, “the framework of a beautiful and efficient town”.

In common with Mayfields Director, Peter Freeman, Mr Minoprio painted an idyllic picture of socially balanced neighbourhoods; built in sympathy with the surrounding countryside, around friendly village greens, a short bus ride from a vibrant town centre.

Mr Minoprio suggested, “The provision of small socially mixed residential areas, each with its own individuality and its own centre, in order to promote neighbourliness and the social development of the town. Practically all homes are within one-third of a mile (536metres) of their neighbourhood shops and within one and a quarter miles of the town centre.

“The character of the individual neighbourhood centres will vary and the design will spring from the natural features of the area,” he continued. “Local place names have been retained for the neighbourhoods in all cases and the affix 'Green', which is common in the Crawley area, has suggested the creation of a typical English Green at the centre of each neighbourhood.”

So what went wrong?

It is well documented that Mayfields’ master plan for Sussex is a scaled down version of a Garden City; very similar to those being promoted by this government, and in particular by Lord Matthew Taylor, the man behind the UK’s planning reforms (the NPPF). It is also well documented that Lord Taylor is one of Mayfield Market Towns’ Directors, and has been widely criticised for having a perceived conflict of interest. 

Earlier this year his fellow director, Peter Freeman entered the Wolfson Prize for a new garden city. What is most unsettling about Mr Freeman’s submission, titled ‘A Shared Vision’ is that it bears an uncanny resemblance to Minoprio’s “visionary” Master Plan for Crawley New Town.

“We all love villages,” Mr Freeman begins, enthusiastically. “Our Garden City comprises a series of walkable neighbourhoods within a radius of 500 metres (exactly the same size as Minoprio’s). Enough people would live in each neighbourhood to populate a two form entry primary school and to support a viable cluster of shops, restaurants, hairdressers… We envisage that Village Green would be on a main route through the neighbourhood to boost customer support for local traders and bus services.”

And in common with Mr Minoprio, Mr Freeman is also keen to embrace the countryside in his design; which he says would include, “at least one linear park running through the town (incorporating landscape features like a stream or ancient woodland).”

Both plans extol the virtues of public transport (despite the fact that Mayfields would have no railway line) and both envisage the town becoming so successful that local people will be happy to live, work and play within its parameters.

Crawley is to be a self-contained and economically balanced town,” stated Mr Minoprio. “Not a dormitory town to London”.
Once again, Mr Freeman agrees with his predecessor;

“The New Market Town is not designed to be a commuter town to serve London, but rather a town which concentrates on keeping travel local”. (It goes without saying that without a railway line, residents would have little choice).

But perhaps the most worrying thing about this comparison is that Crawley was already failing in its promises just months after the first brick was laid. Despite pledging, like Mayfields, to provide adequate affordable housing for young families, this vision was never realised, even for its very first residents. Crawley’s location in an affluent part of Sussex made this promise impossible. In May 1950 Hansard reported that rents on homes in Crawley New Town were already “beyond the reach of the average wage earner” (475).

 It is too late to go back and correct the mistakes made in Crawley, but we can at least do our best to prevent a repeat. The NPPF promises to allow local people more say in housing decisions because they know the needs of their area best of all. However, in reality these decisions all go before a Government Inspector and are ultimately still made at a national level.

Two years ago (Speaking at the Institute of Civil Engineering in March 2012) the Prime Minister, David Cameron cited planners like Minoprio and his contemporary, Patrick Abercrombie as an inspiration, saying;

“It seems to me that our Post War predecessors had the right idea, embodied in a visionary plan prepared by Patrick Abercrombie in 1944. His plan underpinned the South East’s economic success by proposing well-planned and well-located new towns…”

Maybe Mr Cameron was unaware at the time that Mr Abercrombie was also a founding member of the CPRE; an organisation which is bitterly opposed to lack of protection offered to the countryside by the NPPF and is fighting hard against Mayfield’s proposals.

One thing that we can be sure of is that Crawley has fallen rather short of Abercrombie’s vision for a “beautiful and efficient” new town… and Mayfields (should it ever be built) looks to be heading for the same fate.



Friday, 5 September 2014

Game-changing response required to tackle State of Nature crisis

Finding game-changing solutions to the crisis facing nature was the theme of the landmark Conference for Nature, held on 3rd September this week.  The event featured high-profile delegates including Sir David Attenborough, The Rt Hon Nick Clegg MP, Germaine Greer and key people from business, politics, the utility sector and conservation.

In May last year, the UK’s leading wildlife groups released the State of Nature report, which revealed 60 per cent of our native species are in decline and one in ten are heading for UK extinction.  This national picture is probably reflected in Sussex where we have noted long-term declines for example in woodland butterflies, bird species and flower-rich hay meadows.

More than a year on, the State of Nature report partners, with support from Sir David Attenborough, are striving to encourage new ways of tackling the crisis facing our wildlife.
Commenting ahead of the event, Sir David Attenborough said:  “From the food we eat to the popular bedtime stories we read to our children, nature touches everyone’s lives more deeply than we can possibly imagine. The escalating erosion of wildlife from our planet is a direct threat to many facets of our own quality of life. Because of the complex relationship society has with nature, it is obvious that our response to saving it must extend from every possible quarter too. From you and I in our own domains, from business magnates to politicians, and from farmers to faith leaders, everyone has an opportunity to save nature. With an increasing global footprint, mankind is intensifying the crisis for wildlife, but as individuals we can all be a part of the solution for saving it too.”

More than 250 people attended this seminal conference including leading figures in industry and Government as well as all the UK’s major wildlife and countryside organizations; demonstrating the level of ambition for tackling the huge challenges facing nature.

Mike Clarke, is the RSPB’s Chief Executive. He said: “Last year’s State of Nature Conference set out the context for the devastating declines in some of our best-loved species, such as the turtle dove, common toad, and Atlantic salmon. However, saving these and other threatened species requires inventive solutions and creative partnerships with many sectors, underpinned by a meaningful commitment from Government. This conference is the platform for all to come together and achieve just that.”

Helen Ghosh, Director-General of the National Trust, said: “The evidence that nature is in trouble is overwhelming. Our challenge is to find radical and practical solutions to restore the health of our natural environment, which we know is loved by people across the UK. At the heart of this approach must be collaboration and partnership – working together to think big, be bold and to deliver real change on the ground.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:  "As a country, we are experiencing increasing levels of obesity and diabetes; and one in four of us will suffer with our mental health at some point in our lives.  Active contact with nature can help prevent and cure these health problems so we need to help our natural environment to recover and get back in touch with it.  That’s a big change and Society will only prosper when genuine political leadership is shown on this issue.”

The Conference for Nature was organized by the State of Nature Partnership, a coalition of 26 NGOs, including RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Buglife, Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife and was attended by figures from a wide range of other industry sectors including housing development, water, retail, agriculture, mineral extraction, finance, transport and infrastructure.

For more information and to read a digital version of the report visit The Wildlife Trusts’ webpage here 



Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Road building – Its yesterday once more!

Nostalgia is not, as they say, as good as it used to be.  The current push for new roads seems to harp back to an imagined golden age when, it was thought, all you had to do was invest in infrastructure and everything would then be fine. 

Indeed, if I remember correctly, around the mid 1990’s there was a proud boast of the biggest road building programme since the Romans left.  So, as there seems to be some attempt to live in the past again, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves of the level of environmental damage that would have resulted from this previous rush for roads.

Going from east to west the list of devastation seems almost unimaginable today:

First at Rye there were proposals for a major road changing the character of the old town and extending across Rye Harbour.  This would probably have impacted on a Special Area for Conservation - an internationally important wildlife site appreciated by hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. 

Then a road was proposed to run the length of the beautifully tranquil Brede valley, devastating the wetlands there before sweeping through the ancient woods north of Hastings and carving across the Combe Haven Site of Special Scientific Interest. 

Then there was a proposal for a dual carriageway running across Pevensey Levels and through our own nature reserve.  Again Pevensey is an internationally recognised wildlife site and one of the most important wetlands in the whole of Britain, to say nothing of its historical interest and landscape quality.

Further west there were proposals to run a length of dual carriageway from Eastbourne to Lewes through what is now the National Park. 

Then we got to Worthing and proposals for a dual carriageway cutting through the Downs and passing under Cissbury Ring – a fantastic Iron Age Hill fort and also a nationally important wildlife site.  The quiet setting here would have been destroyed in a futile effort to push traffic away from Worthing itself.

A little further west and of course there was a cluster of proposals to run a dual carriageway through the largest ancient woodland on the coastal plain in order to build an Arundel bypass.

It didn’t stop with the south coast trunk road either.  A recognition that this would drive congestion elsewhere meant that proposals for new roads throughout Sussex came thick and fast.

“Improvements” to the A24, A23, A22 and A21 going north–south, some of which have now happened some have not.  But a dual carriageway was gong to be run through Ashdown Forest, the biggest heathland in the south east, appreciate by thousands and again internationally important for wildlife. 

An A272 upgrade was proposed, that would have impacted at several places, including our own nature reserve at The Mens near Wisborough Green and driving up traffic through several villages. 

There were even suggestions for an “outer” M25 running roughly through the middle of the Weald of Sussex to relieve the pressure on the current M25.


I suspect that half the people reading this today might say that it couldn’t be that bad these days.  The other half might feel that a road building programme like this is a good thing.  We need roads, so wildlife, once again, will have to be compromised.  But look again at the ever expanding list and, even ignoring the destruction of rural Sussex, you don’t see a solution, you see a treadmill.   What starts as just a little bypass here and there ends up as a treadmill with travel increasing and congestion getting worse.  Road building is not a solution – it is a politically expedient waste of public money.