Housing near to home


The Planning White Paper came out last week. I understand that planning is very important, and even that it can be quite interesting, but I’ve managed to swerve knowing much about it for decades and that is still my aim. So, I’ll leave comments to others better informed.

But I keep hearing that we need more housing and I’m an expert on that for I own a house.

In the east Northants town where I live – it’s called Raunds (which may be derived from a word for ‘edge’ or ‘boundary’ perhaps because we live on the edge of Northamptonshire, perilously close to Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire (which meet a better county at the Three Counties Water Tower) – there are lots of new houses going up. Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses the population of this small market town increased from 8275 to 8641 souls.  I predict the 2012 census will show a much bigger increase.

I’ve lived here for 30 years. On arrival there were still a few small boot and shoe factories working here. In the nearby village of Stanwick it is said that the Duke of Wellington’s boots were made – at least in the excellent pub restaurant of the same name it has been said.  HE Bates wrote about this area in his novels and short stories – he was born in Rushden (not very posh).

But the shoemaking has gone to the Far East now and their former sites, brownfield sites, are now filled with new housing. But we’ve run out of old factories and so Raunds is spilling out into the countryside like a paunch hangs over a belt.

There seem to be a remarkable number of new house going up – and almost all of their inhabitants will need cars to get to work because the bus services aren’t great and the nearby opportunities aren’t that numerous – unless they are all going to be stay-at-home writers, writing about natural history (Crikey! I hope not!).

there are quite a few houses and businesses prone to flooding – I wonder what inmpact all this new hard surface will have on flood risk. But don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining about any of this built development. It seems to me that it has been done fairly sensibly – using old industrial sites and then spilling out onto nearby fields. I slightly wonder whether the local schools and doctors will cope, but maybe local shops and the library will have a more certain future.

New building on the south of town

Newly built on the north of town

More new build on the north of town

This is new too


New build on the east of town

Newly built on former brownfield site




Don’t you just love them?


Country Life – but not as we know it


I am grateful to the Northants Library Service for such good service. The 18 January copy of Country Life arrived at Higham Ferrers on Saturday and I had a look at it on Sunday morning.

Apparently Andrew Sells wrote to NE staff highlighting six priorities:

  • more Hen Harriers in England – but I guess that means an expensive reintroduction programme and falling over oneself to facilitate a wrong-headed brood meddling scheme, and it certainly doesn’t seem to extend to being at all communicative with the taxpayer about what NE is doing or how ‘their’ tagged Hen Harriers are faring or what they died of (and see this RPUK blog too).   We’ve seen too much NE inaction to believe that they are much of a part of a Hen Harrier recovery in our uplands.
  • tougher penalties for wildlife crime – interesting as this is not really NE’s remit, is it?
  • the introduction of Conservation Covenants – interesting
  • a more enlightened approach to species protection and licensing – hmmm! Licences to kill natural predators preying on non-native gamebirds?
  • reformed farm support – needed, but what reform?
  • completion of England coastal path – why isn’t it completed now?

Rather worryingly NE’s Chair thinks ‘We need to move away from static protection of species and sites’ and build functioning ecological networks.  I’m afraid that ‘moving away from static protection etc’ actually means ‘moving away from protection etc’ and will be very suspicious of government and its agencies on this subject. Building functioning ecological networks is trendy jargon and I’d like Mr Sells to point his finger at half a dozen examples of existing models of good practice – a Guest Blog is at his disposal here (although I completely understand this is hardly Country Life).

The trouble is, NE has positioned itself as a friend of developers, land owners and shooters and has almost completely turned its back on nature conservation and the public. We no longer trust it, no longer respect it and no longer like it. We no longer believe it is working for the public good.



Bird flu update

Farming Today has carried out what they call an investigation into backyard flocks of poultry that have not been housed despite this being the law. Their investigation appeared to consist of taking a phone call from a listener and then going and talking to someone.  I can’t say I’ve carried out an investigation but I predict that north Essex/south Suffolk is quite a good place to find domestic ducks still swimming around on village ponds and gaggles of white farmyard geese running around…errr….farmyards.  The fact is that Defra hasn’t got its message out widely enough and nor have the farming unions. And no one seems to be enforcing the action anyway. Have the police been asked to knock on the doors of any people with poultry still running around their fields, farmyards or villages? Most of the ‘backyard’ flocks I saw were ‘farmyard’ flocks.

Farming Today also reported on the lifting of bird flu restrictions from the end of February in most parts of the country.  But first they had a discussion about how wild birds transmit the disease to captive birds. We heard from Prof Donald Broom that waterfowl, particularly diving ducks, are the species most ‘prone’ to bird flu (although, rather negligently, the word prone was not defined or explained) and also that ‘the reality is that the risk is extremely low except when they (poultry) might be coming in contact with waterfowl, and sometimes that might be through people. Probably the major method of transmission is people getting bird droppings on their clothes and boots and taking it into the poultry unit.‘.  Charlotte Smith couldn’t get away from the idea that it was wild birds dive-bombing poultry farms with their infected droppings that was the main cause of the spread of the disease so the Prof explained that birds are not defecating all over the place in flight and that isn’t, it really isn’t, the most likely transmission route. It is much more likely to be a farmer who has goose shit on their boots.

This useful piece of practical information has been a long time emerging and has a lot of implications for biosecurity in poultry farms.  It would have been sensible if it had emerged weeks and weeks ago so that poultry farmers could also get away from looking at a wheeling flock of Starlings as a big threat to their stock and think rather more about washing their wellies, thinking about where their kids were going when away from the farm etc etc

I remain sceptical as to whether we know nearly enough about how bird flu is transmitted but if it is from wild waterfowl droppings then that is a very different kettle of fish from wild birds in general.  It is notable that only three diving ducks are listed by Defra as having tested positively for H5N8 in the UK this winter: two Pochard in Merseyside (I think that is the Marshside RSPB nature reserve at Southport) and a Tufted Duck in Lancashire (which the RSPB seems to think is a Wigeon).

One new case of H5N8 in wild birds, a single wild bird, was reported by Defra last week – a Whooper Swan in Norfolk.




Guest blog – Peak District paths by Bob Berzins

Angus Glens 2016 – Where have all the hares gone?

Bob writes: I have a life long passion for the outdoors through rock climbing and fell running. A cancer scare in my thirties made me appreciate many things I simply hadn’t noticed before, from the smallest plants to the gap in the sky from a missing raptor. It’s all worth fighting for and that’s what I try to do.


I learnt a new phrase last week – Public Goods. This is being used in DEFRA led discussions about the future of our rural environment post Brexit. For our uplands Public Goods are the value to the wider community, of any part of that environment. Looks like DEFRA have been listening to Chris Packham all along, Chris of course talks about Hen Harriers as our national treasures.

In these two guest blogs, I’ll take a look at some landscape scale developments which have affected the Peak District National Park and also local problems in more detail. Taken as a whole we can then see how this impacts the communal value of this area.

Two surfaced roads were built recently in the north east peak and this prompted the National Park Planning Authority to issue guidance recently (not yet online). The Authority has a duty to preserve the landscape and character of the park. Mark Avery often talks about grouse shooting as recreation and you’ll see that the House of Lords agree in their ruling Earl of Normanton v. Giles 1980. This is crucial as many agricultural and forestry activities do not need planning permission, but shooting does. This guidance is specific to the Peak but the Yorkshire Dales National Park should work in the same way and beyond the national parks each local authority will have the same responsibilities. This opens up another avenue to get moorland roads removed if Natural England are not helpful. You will need photographic evidence, the crucial thing is to show the route was unsurfaced previously. Google Earth or Getmapping can provide historical aerial images. It helps to see your MP and have their name copied into all emails, this means you’ll get a reply in a week rather than 6 months. You will probably find there is a time limit on this type of action.

You will have already seen this plastic track that was created at Midhope. This track is a direct consequence of intensive grouse moor management. Habitat was being damaged by repeated vehicle use. I would have thought the obvious solution was to stop the vehicles, but instead this unsightly eyesore was created across the valley.

The National Park has now started enforcement proceedings to have the road removed and the land restored.


Natural England paid for this track via High Level Stewardship grants, this is public money, in other words you and I paid for it.  Anyone care to submit an FOI to find out how much of our money was spent here? And of course this is now even more relevant – the question is how much of our money was wasted here? The track is located in the Stocksbridge and Penistone constituency where Angela Smith is MP. Wouldn’t it have been great if Angela had been able to raise these questions in the Westminster Hall debate last year?

At Strines vehicles had been damaging protected blanket bog over a decade as this Google Earth image shows. The route that was eventually surfaced is the right hand line and you can see some of the logs that were placed in the worst sections. Once again why was the landowner not told to stop the damage to this protected environment?

Google Earth


You and I have now paid for the damage of the parallel routes to be repaired as part of a moorland restoration scheme. The surfaced road changes the whole landscape here. In this case the surfaced route was funded and built by the landowner.


Natural England’s own research paper (NEER002 The Impact of tracks on the integrity & hydrological function of blanket peat) defines this construction as a Heavy Duty floating road (gravel on logs or bare peat). A massive amount of stone has been used, up to 1 metre depth in places with a likely density of about 1 tonne per metre of track and total stone of around 1000 tonnes used over 1 km.


Compacted gravel and the compacted peat underneath inevitably change the hydrology of the blanket bog, acting as a barrier to the normal underground permeation of water. Blanket bog is our most precious habitat. Millions are being spent to make the moors wetter and to try to encourage more sphagnum and environments that will start to regenerate peat instead of seeing it all being washed away.

Why is this road still here when it permanently damages this precious landscape? The only action Natural England have taken is to partially block the drain at the side, but even that’s dodgy as there are a series of pipes under the road with entry/exit concealed under flat rocks. If these drains were blocked, the road would be washed away.

With a lot of work and help from Nick Clegg I have managed to get NE to start talking to the National Park about getting the road removed. It’s quite likely this will result in a public enquiry and given the Walshaw experience, who knows how that will end?

Just as the peat is being eroded from our moors, this intensive grouse moor management is eroding the communal value of this rare environment.


To be continued later this week.