Is this the wildlife manifesto for you?

Is this the wildlife manifesto you’ve been looking for?

Ahead of the Walk for Wildlife in Hyde Park on Saturday – assemble from 10am, chat and music midday-1pm and then a stroll down to Downing St –  Chris Packham and friends have produced a Manifesto for Wildlife.

Although I am one of the authors (I wrote a few words about the uplands) I hadn’t seen the full, illustrated version until yesterday morning.  I was trying to read it on my phone while heading into London on the train.

Considering that it’s been written by a bunch of busy people, as a favour to Chris and in the hope that it will set an agenda for a better future for wildlife, and in a very short period of time, it’s pretty good.  At least I think it’s pretty good but what do you think?

You’ll notice that it is described as Draft 1 – I can imagine it will be tweaked, enlarged and expanded over time. But what do you think?

Calling this document a manifesto is quite appropriate. I’d vote for this, as a package, way ahead of what any political party will offer us at the next general election even though there are some bits I like more than others.  Some of ‘our’ ideas are everybody’s ideas (they may well turn up in the election manifestos of several political parties), some of our ideas are accepted by many wildlife NGOs,  some of our ideas are very new.  Have a look and tell us what you think.

There are gaps in the coverage of issues, but these can be filled, there are minor contradictions in the document between different authors (but no serious ones that I have spotted) and there are, no doubt, other ricks and glitches.  But still, I think it’s pretty good, and a serious contribution to the debate – but what do you think?

This manifesto was edited by three men of letters (and other skills and attributes); Chris himself, Patrick Barkham and Rob Macfarlane.

The authors are:

  • Mark AVERY
  • Amy-Jane BEER
  • Kate BRADBURY
  • Jill BUTLER
  • Mark CARWARDINE
  • Mya-Rose CRAIG
  • Carol DAY
  • Dominic DYER
  • Dave GOULSON
  • Miles KING
  • Bella LACK
  • Georgia LOCOCK
  • Robert MACFARLANE
  • George MONBIOT
  • Ruth PEACEY
  • Robert SHELDON
  • Ruth TINGAY
  • Hugh WARWICK

There are contributions from others and the delightful artwork is by Harry Woodgate.

There will be a few thousand free copies available at Hyde Park on Saturday.

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National Trust press release

Globally endangered Large Blue butterfly enjoys best numbers for 80 years

Large Blue Butterfly. Photo: NT/Matthew Oates

A previously extinct butterfly has had its best summer on record with the south west of England recognised as having the highest numbers anywhere in the world.

The exquisite Large Blue Butterfly – officially recognised as having died out in the UK in 1979 – has become synonymous with Collard Hill, Somerset since being reintroduced in 2000.

And this year, thanks to three consecutive years of optimal weather conditions and important conservation work by the National Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation and the Royal Entomological Society, numbers have hit a record high.

The butterfly – which contrary to its name, is actually relatively small in size – was recorded at 40 sites across the country in June and July with three key nature reserves, two in Somerset and one in the Cotswolds, found to support 85 per cent of the UK population.

Its population is believed to have doubled in the last year alone at Collard Hill in Somerset, cared for by the National Trust, with this 17.4 hectare (43 acre) site providing the perfect habitat and conditions to support 22 per cent of the UK’s population.

Creating the ideal habitat for the Large Blue at Collard Hill has been achieved by planting wild thyme plants and introducing ponies and cattle to carefully graze the site with help from the Trust’s tenant grazier, to manage growth.

Ian Clemmett, Lead Ranger for the National Trust’s Somerset Coast and Countryside said: “By working with our grazier we’ve been able to introduce tailor made management of the land.  The livestock carefully graze the hill in the autumn and early spring, which isn’t always easy to achieve, punctuated with a fallow period in summer that allows insects to thrive and plants to flower.

Breeding was initially confined to one corner of Collard but has now increased five-fold.

The grazing regime also helped to provide optimal conditions for the red ant Myrmica sabuleti which is vital for the butterfly’s survival.”.

The Trust also employed a volunteer ranger to help record and protect the Large Blue during its first flight. 

Professor Jeremy Thomas, Chair of the Joint Committee for the Conservation of The Large Blue Butterfly, said: “This rare butterfly is really important because it is more difficult to conserve than other butterflies due to its complex life cycle.

However, despite this summer’s record numbers, numbers next year will most certainly drop due to the drought which will have damaged the ant nests.

It is nevertheless the first butterfly in the UK to now have numbers similar to when it was previously at its peak and our approach has now become the model for insect conservation worldwide.”.

Ian concluded: ‘We’re thrilled to see such a boom in numbers thanks to the partnership work being done to improve the habitat for the Large Blue. This work is part of the National Trust’s commitment to work with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

ENDS

Large Blue Butterfly. Photo: Brian Cleckner/NT

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A Bluffer’s Guide to Agriculture Policy (2)

I’ve explained (in oh so broad terms!) how we got to where we are with European Agriculture Policy (see here). This blog is about what’s wrong with the current position.

Public policy tends to evolve through tweaks and reform rather than by massive change, and the pace of reform is bound to be slow when there are many players involved and they have different perspectives and needs. Thus, it is not surprising that the changes to the CAP have been so slow that almost everyone feels that they haven’t gone far enough – it’s just that different EU Member States and individuals in those Member States wish we’d got to different positions by now.

Brexit gives the UK a chance to develop its own agriculture policies – it is one of the best potential examples of how we really can start from almost scratch and build on what we have learned over the years to come up with our own bespoke system that works for the UK economy, the UK people and the UK environment.

What’s wrong with the current CAP?

Well, the answer to that question depends on who you are. Farmers, overwhelmingly the main recipients of CAP funds, tend to moan about the forms that they have to fill in to get the money, the inefficiencies of the implementation of the system, and the lack of enough money but this can generally be written off as simple ingratitude.

The average man or woman in the street won’t have very strong views about the CAP – they won’t understand it but may have picked up from somewhere that it isn’t great and it’s all the fault of people in Brussels.

Let’s put ourselves in the position of a civil servant, a neutral, informed policy person, who is given the chance to write a new agriculture policy ahead of Brexit. What might they think?

  • it’s a lot of money! The CAP is c40% of the EU budget (and yet most Brits are quite clueless about it) and c£3bn per annum of it goes to land managers in the UK. Because the UK is a nett donor to the overall EU budget this means that we should be able to spend at least £3bn per annum on agriculture after Brexit (if we want to). Maybe we could spend some of that money on the NHS, education, HS2 or Trident missiles instead of on farming?
  • most of current CAP spend is in income support to farmers, with hardly any strings attached (apart from not breaking the law). The biggest land owners get most of the money.  This means that poor people who pay their taxes are handing over their money (via The Treasury, the EU Commission, back to The Treasury and then to Defra (or your favourite devolved administration)) to some of the wealthiest land owners in the UK (such as the Duke of Westminster) . This might not be how one would design a scheme if starting from a blank sheet of paper.
  • income support from CAP inflates land prices. If your land comes with an annual cheque from the government then it is worth more than if it doesn’t.  High land prices feed through into house prices and other issues.
  • income support stifles efficiency. If the largest component of your income is that annual large cheque from government (which will be true of many upland farmers for example) then adding 10% to the farmed income part of your bank balance may seem a bit of a waste of time. Income support allows inefficient farmers to remain in farming.
  • income support does set farming in aspic to some extent, and in some places that doesn’t seem such a bad thing. Do you want lots of upland farmers to go out of business and sell up to an ultra-efficient sheep-ranching outfit that will ‘improve’ the flower-rich pastures that hang on through the current farmer’s lack of entrepreneurial dynamism?
  • income support goes to just about all landowners – not just ‘proper’ farmers. So, the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and National Trusts are major beneficiaries of this scheme. Just about any land that has agricultural value gets the income support – some nature reserves are farmed in some ways but that can hardly be said to be their major function. And similarly (in a strange sort of way) grouse moors attract the same subsidies even though the agricultural role they play may be utterly trivial.
  • environmental grants are voluntary and time-limited – their benefits depend on who participates and how long they stay the course.
  • environmental grants haven’t worked very well – their results have been patchy.  This might be because we let the farmers have too much say in their design or it might be that voluntary schemes only attract the already-converted so we end up paying for what we were getting for nothing anyway and not getting much more.
  • environmental grants amount to leasing environmental benefits – after the period of a scheme a land owner can leave the scheme and undo all or most of the benefits that have been paid for. This matters less if new entrants to the schemes can be found except that the biggest benefits probably come from long term commitment.
  • existing environmental schemes have tended to focus on wildlife and there may be other things that we want to support instead or as well.

Standing back a bit, this could be summaried as: despite reforms, the CAP is still expensive, market-distorting, environmentally damaging and bad value for the general public.

But can we do better?

Michael Gove’s starter for 10 was published last week, in outline, and, as expected (and actually as promised) it states that income support payments will disappear and the basis for public payments to land owners will be on the basis of the delivery of public goods.

What are public goods?  I’ll come back to that on Friday as I’m pretty sure that this will become another term (like sustainability) that gets bent out of shape by various interest groups over time.

But, let’s just say, that the outline of the Agriculture Bill signals a massive change for agriculture and a change in the relationship between farming and the public. It’s quite exciting – but just because it could be fantastic doesn’t mean that it will be.  It could be awful, but it may not be that either. There is a lot to play for.

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Wuthering Moors 71

Our lawyers at Leigh Day are in regular contact with Natural England following our successful challenge of the legality of the Walshaw Moor Habitats Regulations Assessment (see here and here).

We understand that any new HRA will be informed by ‘‘the peat depth survey that Natural England is seeking to carry out’ . 

Well done Bob Berzins for doing his own survey back in February!


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Press Release from Leigh Day

Legal challenge to Highways England bypass decision to go ahead

Lawyers have been granted permission by the High Court to challenge the decision by Highways England over a road project that would destroy ancient woodland and pass through the South Downs National Park near Arundel, West Sussex.

Law firm Leigh Day are taking the legal action on behalf of local environmental campaigner Dr Emma Tristram, to challenge Highways England’s proposal for the new bypass which campaigners argue will destroy valuable woodlands and ruin local villages.

Dr Tristram is crowdfunding her legal challenge through CrowdJustice

The decision by the High Court to grant permission for a judicial review into the Highways England decision included observations by the Court that the legal claim: ‘raises arguable questions of law in relation to whether something went clearly and radically wrong with the consultation in relation to the traffic figures…’.

Grandmother Dr Tristram is a local historian and author of ‘Binsted and Beyond’, which charts the history of Binsted and its surrounds, a village set in the landscape through which the proposed bypass would run.

In 2017 Highways England ran a public consultation on three bypass options, to which Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee (ABNC) responded, including evidence from local environmental survey group, the Mid-Arun Valley Environmental Survey (MAVES), which had undertaken extensive surveys and prepared reports on the wildlife and biodiversity of the local area.

Three options were consulted on: Option 1, which runs close to the present route; Option 3, which runs through Ancient Woodland at Tortington Common and the South Downs National Park; and Option 5A, which runs through Ancient Woodland at Binsted Woods, the historic Binsted Park and also through the South Downs National Park.

Despite objections and serious concerns over the level of environmental harm, and the fact that Highways England itself had found post-consultation that Option 5A would have a ‘very large adverse impact’ on biodiversity and a ‘large adverse impact’ on the landscape, Highways England announced Option 5A as its ‘Preferred Route’ on 11 May 2018.

In July this year lawyers from the public law team at Leigh Day issued proceedings in the High Court claiming that the decision by Highways England was unlawful as, following public consultation on the three options, there was a radical change to Highways England’s projected traffic flow on surrounding roads which meant that:

  • information in the consultation brochure was positively misleading;
  • expressions of support by the public for Highways England’s preferred route was based on out of date traffic figures;
  • the public were not given the opportunity to consider revised traffic figures.

The consultation material also contained numerous material errors and omissions which, cumulatively, gave a positively misleading impression of the impact of the preferred option on Binsted village, Binsted Woods and historic Binsted Park.

The High Court, which has designated the challenge as a Significant Planning Court claim, granted permission for Judicial Review on all grounds.

Speaking about the case, Dr Tristram said: ‘This legal challenge is about the damage this proposed route would cause to the South Downs National Park, to Walberton Parish, to Binsted and Tortington Villages and the Arundel watermeadows. It’s about future generations, and the people who love and use these areas.

Loss of this ‘green lung’ would seriously damage access to the National Park from nearby villages and towns. On top of all that, to accept a new major road through the National Park would put all National Parks in danger. These protected areas should remain protected.”.

Solicitor Tessa Gregory, from Leigh Day, said: ‘We are pleased that the Court has granted permission and we will now prepare to argue our client’s case at the High Court over this decision which she believes is unlawful.

Proper regard must be given to the potential damage to the National Park and Ancient Woodland, and all consultees should be apprised of the true extent of environmental damage that will be caused by the current preferred route.’.

ENDS

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