If you think that you should take much notice of Nigel Lawson then read this taking-apart of his book on climate change.
Yesterday East Cambridgeshire District Councillors voted by eight votes to three to approve a boathouse complex at Ely (although subject to addressing ecological conditions via conditions and with the approval delegated to the Head of Planning).
It is exceptionally unusual for a planning decision to go ahead in this way when the statutory advisor on nature conservation, Natural England, maintains its objection to the development. It is to be hoped that NE take this matter further and exacts onerous, perhaps even impossibly onerous, conditions on the development so that it must go back to the committee.
75% of the large number of comments on the application were against – the university couldn’t even whip up enough enthusiasm for the proposal amongst its rowing enthusiasts, past and present, to make the proposed development look as if it were popular.
The Beds, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust and the RSPB must consider what further action they will take on this issue as it seems to raise plenty of issues of principle let alone of nature conservation importance. At the very least, writing to the top of NE and directly to Defra and CLG Ministers on this subject would seem appropriate.
The EA are also culpable in this mess. They, remember, owned the land in question (ie as far as I am concerned, you and I owned it) until they sold it to the Cambridge University Boat Club, presumably for a sum not very different from the £67,500 of the valuation by the District Valuer. It is unclear that EA (and E stands for Environment in this case and not Economic) gave any consideration to the ecological value of the land – which they should have done.
At this stage we are left, I think (but others may know better), hoping that Cambridge University can be shamed into withdrawing their plans and selling the land back to the EA. Vice Chancellor – have you no shame?
This weekend it’s the Scottish Birdfair and it looks like a good programme of talks and events (although the weather might not be so good on Saturday).
Some have criticised the choice of venue for the event because of links between Hopetoun House and the Leadhills Estate where various dark deeds happened and others were alleged to have happened. As I understand it, Hopetoun House is managed by a private charitable trust and the management of the Leadhills Estate is on a long sporting lease, so the links are not quite as clear and obvious as might at first seem. The world is a complicated place.
Stuart Housden’s blog puts the RSPB case.
But this small controversy reminded me of the attack on the RSPB a little while ago by the Countryside Alliance when an RSPB staff member spoke at a League Against Cruel Sports meeting. Gosh the CA were up in arms over the RSPB talking with extremists. I wrote at the time that when I worked for the RSPB I talked to many people of conflicting views and clearly upland land owners fall into that category.
But back to the Scottish Birdfair. If I were there over the weekend I’d want to see Tristan Reid’s right arm and hear his talk, but I suspect I’d spend quite a lot of time standing around talking to people whom I hadn’t seen for ages – and that would be just fine.
The food and drink on offer looks quite good too – I’d be interested in any reports from attendees on this aspect. I find the beer at the Rutland Birdfair to be very enjoyable, but one can’t fully appreciate the range on offer with a drive home at the end of the day, but the food is a little disappointing.
This is my last weekend in the UK for a while and so I’ll probably be having a last look at some of my local sites. I have done the first visits for my two BBS squares. Both had ‘record’ numbers of whitethroats which didn’t come as a surprise as whitethroats seem to be everywhere this year. But I haven’t seen or heard a garden warbler at all yet.
If you are heading to the Scottish Birdfair this weekend then do enjoy it – and if not – good birding and wildlife watching!
Today is the day when the planning committee will decide on the proposal to damage an important wildlife site on the edge of Ely (see previous blogs). Very surprisingly, the Planning Officer has recommended that the plan should be approved despite the weight of local objection and informed nature conservation objection.
Maybe it’s because the Planning Officer has swallowed the impact assessment done by the developers. In which case, meet the otter, or at least one of them, that will be affected by building a boathouse complex within feet of where this video was filmed on 2 May at 01:02.
Rumour has it that there is a mutiny of academics in the offing. We’ll see.
I’ve just received a letter from the Downing College Cambridge Alumni and Development department. I will return their form, with no money, asking my College what they have done to prevent the University going ahead with this damaging development.
The student newspaper, known wittily as The Cambridge Student, has featured the case recently. Note the scale of the development.
Dick Pryce-Jones was at Peterhouse as an undergraduate and read Geography (’nuff said). He has been the Executive Secretary of the Cambridge University Boat Club for the past 12 University Boat Races during which time the score is Oxford 8: Cambridge 4.
I was struck by the number of birds on display: ostrich, secretary bird, kestrel, black grouse, chough, some eagles and a strange looking black bird of prey (?).
That black bird of prey belongs to Sir John Chapple who is a proper birder, so that’s no surprise, I guess – I’ll have to ask him about it when I next see him (maybe at the Bird Fair).
The choughs were chosen by Lord Armstrong of Ilminster – it’s a while since there have been choughs seen in Ilminster, but it’s a good reminder of how widespread these birds were when there was more rough grassland around.
The late Lord Moore of Wolvercote (nr Oxford) laid claim to the blackgame – I once lived in Wolvercote and didn’t see any black grouse on my cycle rides.
Sir Patrick Hine has an eagle on his crest.
The late Sir David Fraser used an ostrich on his crest.
Sir Kenneth Stowe has a bit of wit about him – he was a Permanent Secretary and his is the secretary bird!
But I haven’t tracked down the owner of the kestrel on his (or her) banner – any ideas anyone?
Carol Day is a solicitor at WWF-UK. She originally trained as a nature conservationist and worked on policy with The Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK, but converted to law in 2002. She now advises in-house policy staff on the law around marine and fisheries, species and habitats, freshwater and access to justice. She often ponders the irony that any direct experience of nature is now reserved for the weekends.
Denmark. Home of great things – bacon (for the non-vegetarians), gritty detective series and a little known legal instrument called the UNECE Aarhus Convention, named after the city in which it was signed in 1998. Until a few years ago, hardly anyone had heard of it – but it is rapidly becoming one of the most important environmental laws around (and thus ripe for Government attack).
The Convention sets a benchmark for ‘participatory rights’ in environmental matters – including access to information (“the right to know’), public participation in decision-making (‘the right to get involved’) and access to justice (‘the right to challenge’). The UK ratified the Convention in 2005 – as has (now) every EU Member State and the European Community in its own right. The Convention has working groups centred around the three ‘pillars’ (as they are often called) and a novel compliance mechanism, in which individuals and groups are afforded equal rights of participation as contracting Parties.
The UK was a driving force in the drafting of the Convention, believing everything in the UK garden was rosy. However, it would appear, unlike those ‘Neanderthal backwaters in Eastern Europe’, that the UK has rather a problem with the Convention. And the picture looks set to get a whole lot worse with the Government’s continuing war on Judicial Review.
The main thorn in the UK’s side is the requirement that legal review procedures in respect of environmental issues must be “fair, equitable, timely and not prohibitively expensive”. Initially, the Government thought the “not prohibitively expensive” bit related to the fees for lodging a Judicial Review in court. Not so. It has subsequently been held to include all the costs in a case, including your legal fees, your opponent’s legal fees if you lose (thanks to the established principle that costs “follow the event”) and any ‘bond’ required by the court to secure an injunction. And we’re not talking peanuts. Consider the plight of Lilian Pallikaropoulos in Rugby, who faced a costs bill for just under £90,000 for losing a case concerning the legality of a cement works in Rugby – or Marco McGinty in Scotland, who faces a bill of £30,000 for challenging the (now withdrawn) Hunterston power station – or the residents of Merthyr Tydfil, who were served with a costs estimate of £257,104 in respect of pre-action costs by open-cast coal operator Miller Argent. These brave individuals risk huge personal loss to challenge the legality of the decisions of public bodies in the interests of protecting the environment. And it is right that, where they have an arguable case, they are enabled to do so.
Thankfully, both the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and the European Commission consider the UK in breach of the Convention and EU law on costs, the Commission inexorably dragging the Government to the European Court following a complaint by a coalition of NGOs in 2005. Although the wheels of EU justice turn slowly, the weight of international concern has forced the Government in England and Wales to amend the law on costs in environmental cases. As of 1st April 2013, an individual’s liability for the costs of a public body is capped at £5,000, that of a group at £10,000 and a bond will now only be required in exceptional circumstances. Whilst not perfect, these changes mark a real improvement and should be welcomed (and used wisely).
The trouble is, when you win one battle the Government invariably clamps down elsewhere. On 23rd April, the Government announced a reduction in the time limit for applying for JR in planning cases from a three months maximum to six weeks and a ban on people seeking an oral hearing if their initial written application is ruled ‘totally without merit’ (as was the case in the Friends of the Earth solar case – which ultimately went on to be successful in the Court of Appeal). We have yet to see one shred of evidence to support the purported relationship between JR and ‘the stifling of economic growth’, but the Government has little interest in data. For example, only a fifth of respondents to the recent consultation paper supported the proposal to shorten the time limit in relation to planning JRs, but the proposals went ahead anyway.
The Government seems less than enthusiastic about consulting the public these days too. Following the introduction of the Cabinet Office Consultation Principles in 2012, standard consultation periods of 12 weeks have been replaced by 2-6 weeks (witness the 3-week period for the review of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee over the Easter break). Anyone would think they’d already made their minds up.
The Aarhus Convention goes to the heart of environmental democracy. Judicial Review cases are not road traffic matters – they concern complex legal arguments of unlawful behaviour by public bodies and remain a key mechanism for environmental protection. Restrictions on judicial review are of constitutional importance, and should not be confused with measures to cut red tape or costs. If you’re interested in exercising your democratic right to protect the environment, bone up on the Aarhus Convention – before George Osborne turns his attention to it.
Yesterday I saw 75 species of birds at an RSPB nature reserve.
But the species which will stick in my mind for longer were the harbour porpoises, adder and weasel.
Q Where was I?
A Yes, well done Doug, Bob, Stella and I guess Filbert! I’ve never seen harbour porpoise there before and there were at least three of them. The adder was by the wall of ‘The Sluice’ and was the first I have seen for years. A bittern stood on a post in the reedbed and two spotted redshank looked gorgeous. Hobbies were catching dragonflies (I guess) and a nightingale was singing. The weasel escorted me off the reserve on the road towards Westleton.
I’m always interested in offers of Guest Blogs for this site. If you have a burning issue that you would like to get off your chest, and you can write in an interesting way, then get in touch, please.
You can’t buy your way onto this site – no-one has ever paid to publish a Guest Blog here. Au contraire my insurance is higher because I publish contributions from others so these Guest Blogs cost me.
Advice to people submitting a blog to this website:
- get in touch before submitting your blog so that we can discuss it
- any blog should be of interest to readers of this blog and of an environmental bent
- word count is up to you
- only submit a blog that you are happy to see published as it is submitted – I might correct spelling, typos etc but it’s your job to get these things right
- submit a few sentences about yourself as well as your blog
- send a jpg image of yourself so that we can all have a look at you
And thank you to all those who have already contributed – you have stimulated some very interesting comments and debates.
Here is a list of published Guest Blogs (oldest first):
Dr Mark Avery, supporter of vulnerable creatures in the sporting field – ‘Mr White’ (April 2012)
The NGO world – Peter Marren (October 2011)
Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust – Ian Coghill (November 2011)
The NT on nature – David Bullock (January 2012)
The Deer initiative – Peter Watson (January 2012)
Feeling for nature – Mark Infield (February 2012)
NT responds to events in the Peak District – Simon Pryor (February 2012)
Maerl – Matthew Chatfield (February 2012)
Gary Burgess, a pigeon fancier – Gary Burgess (February 2012)
Every little helps? – Matt Williams (March 2012)
Save wildlife. Stop birdwatching! – Andrew Lucas (March 2012)
Where are all the women? – Sue Walker (March 2012)
Renewable energy and its impact on nature – Leo Fisher (March 2012)
A service-based environment? – Jonathan Baker (March 2012)
National Trust Natural Childhood report – Stephen Moss (March 2012)
Blogging for victory – Alison Fure (April 2012)
It isn’t easy being a wildlife friendly farmer – David Fursdon (April 2012)
Bird race – Jonny Rankin (May 2012)
Don’t shoot! – Giles Bradshaw (May 2012)
Save our verges – Sarah Pettegree (June 2012)
Are neonicitinoid pesticides responsible for the demise of bees and other wildlife? – Rosemary Mason and Derek Thomas (July 2012)
One year on – Jennifer Avery (October 2012)
Mollusc of the glen – Peter Cosgrove (October 2012)
Ashes to ashes – Peter Marren (November 2012)
BTO science – Andy Clements (November 2012)
RSPB science – David Gibbons (November 2012)
A natural history GCSE? – Mary Colwell (November 2012)
Why we need to change if we really care – Ralph Underhill (December 2012)
Is the future in safe hands? -Findlay Wilde (December 2012)
A Christmas greeting to a climate sceptic council leader – Sarah Whitebread (December 2012)
Not the BTO thrush survey – Hugh Brazier (January 2013)
Good v Bad science. Good v Bad birdwatching – David Christian Rose (January 2103)
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding – Colin Williams (January 2013)
‘Muzzled watchdog’ to ‘Toothless terrier’? – Helen Kirk (January 2013)
The flight of the neonicotinoids - Matt Shardlow (February 2013)
You can be a member of the RSPB & a gamekeeper – Rob Yorke (April 2013)
BTO & CLO – Andy Clements (May 2013)
Nigel Farrage (or Smooth Newt-Kip as he is known to his follower) will be supping an extra pint of Old Peculiar after Newt-Kip’s astounding poll success. Instead of controlling Ramsey council and having no MPs Newt-Kip now controls Ramsey council and has no MPs.
But you can’t get away from the fact that the coalition ‘partners’ both took one hell of a beating. The Conservatives will be fearing that they will end up at the next election as numerous as bluebirds really are over the White Cliffs of Dover. Lib Dems will be feeling they have been hammered – and yellowhammers have declined widely in agricultural areas and are never seen in towns.
Labour did OK, and, like red kites feeding on a road-killed pheasant, they have picked over the bones of Tory demise and made a killing. But like the red kite, they haven’t actually killed very much – they are just carrion eaters benefitting from others’ misfortune.
Seriously for a moment, the Green Party gained a few council seats but achieved nothing resembling a breakthrough – they are still waiting for the lights to turn green and it looks like it may be a very long wait.
But Newt-Kip is on the Great Crest of a wave at the moment. Personally, I think it is the fault of all those immigrants coming over here and voting for the foreigner-loving Newt-Kip. We should pack them off back home so that we Brits can vote again for the greenest government ever.
Do have a look at UKIP’s policies on food, farming and the countryside and keeping the lights on.
At the time of my previous blogs I had not seen the objections to the proposed development (which is much more than a simple boathouse) from the RSPB and Natural England; now I have.
Natural England, the government’s advisor on nature conservation (and former wildlife watchdog) objects to the two-storey boathouse development next to a county wildlife site and near an SSSI on four main grounds (and I paraphrase):
- it will damage wildlife interest
- it’s not the most appropriate site
- the ecological assessment wasn’t up to the job
- the proposed mitigation won’t be sufficient.
The RSPB, possibly the best nature conservation organisation in the world (other brands of wildlife NGO are available) objects on the following grounds (and I paraphrase):
- the ecological impact assessment isn’t good enough
- it’ll scare the neighbouring bitterns
- the application site is more important than acknowledged in years of flood and this would affect the conservation status of the SSSI
- the application doesn’t adequately address the quality of the application site
The University Boat Club then had a go at arguing the merits of their case – they tried to show that they knew more about nature conservation than the statutory nature conservation advisor and more about bird conservation than the RSPB. This is certainly their right, and Cambridge folk are quite often a bit arrogant and like arguing (M. Avery MA (Cantab) pers comm). But back came the RSPB with some pretty firm rejoinders.
It’s worth looking through these documents and others on the same website to get a feeling for how the planning process works. Yes it’s rather detailed and dull and painstaking – but would you want it to be quick and easy and for the rich and influential to get an easy run for their (sometimes our) money?
Note the effort and detail put into responding to this application by the local Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. Such work is going on all over the country (and indeed other countries, whether you take that to mean Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, or indeed in some cases outside the UK) and is part of what your membership fees (and mine) pay for. It’s not very glamorous but without these charities putting in the effort an awful lot of shoddy applications would be passed and an awful lot more wildlife would be lost.
If you were on the local planning committee and you got the application to build this boathouse would you know what its snags were without them being pointed out by local residents and by national wildlife charities? I think not.
NE put in a firm objection too. Long may that continue because they must be listened to. Remember, though, that the government is wondering whether to merge NE with the EA, and then remember that it was the EA who sold the land in question to the Cambridge Boat Club – what chance that a merged NE+EA would object to the development that it had helped to make possible? That’s right – none.
One of the things that pains me is that this is my university behaving in this way – and the way it is behaving is shoddy. It is relying on shoddy evidence to justify a shoddy development. I would have objected to ‘shoddy’, I think, before I spent three very enjoyable years at Cambridge reading Natural Sciences, but my dislike of shoddiness was certainly honed at Cambridge. It comes to something when the people who taught one the value of clarity of thought and adequate evidence demonstrate that they didn’t really mean it – or at least only meant it in a sort of academic, ivory-towered sort of way. When it comes to the real world of splashing through the water facing backwards then intellectual rigour can go hang!
Cambridge University won’t be receiving any money from my will, as perhaps they might have done, if they persist in their arrogant plans for this wildlife-harming development. And the next time some undergraduate from Downing College phones me to try to butter me up for a donation I will ask them about the University Boat Club’s development plans instead.
The University motto is Hinc lucem et pocula sacra which roughly translated means From this place, we gain enlightenment and precious knowledge. Really? I’m not so sure.