Take The Carrot Or, Risk The Stick?

Mike Clarke from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaking about the recent CAP reforms said: “The deal falls short of what nature needs. The Government has made its job of meeting its own environmental commitments harder. The RSPB did say though that the Government had planted the seeds for recovery of some threatened species.” (The coalition Government decided to reject the Secretary of State for the Environment’s recommendation of a full 15% rate of payment for the CAP (and go for 12% instead) after lobbying by the NFU and rural Conservative MP’s).

One could repeat a number of such quotes from wildlife organisations, all written in a similar vein with no anger, no passion. But these organisations are caught in a cleft-stick situation; should they be grateful for half measures? Should they shout from the rooftops, about the huge losses that wildlife (and the environment) has suffered over the past half century or so?  If they speak up and publicly challenge the coalition’s policies, do they risk the financial wroth of DEFRA and its now castrated puppet, Natural England? (I must qualify this last sentence in that I have found over the years that NE’s staff at the coalface, to be more than helpful and enthusiastic under the current hostile conditions that they now find themselves).

Professionals in the conservation movement and that significant proportion of the public that are sympathetic or aspire to a richer more attractive countryside, have got to find renewed zeal, passion and new ways of influencing this “greenest Government ever,” to change its hostile stance towards most things green. Longer term (excuse the pun), we need to raise the profile of wildlife and the environment within this countries’ education system, so that following generations are much better informed on such issues.

One way in which the Government could redirect their (our) limited monies would be to analyse the benefits currently being delivered under the Entry Level Scheme (ELS) part of their agri-environment scheme and transfer it to the Higher Level Scheme (HLS).  ELS seems to me, like money for old rope – something of an easy cop-out for farmers. HLS on the other hand, does seem to generally deliver real benefits to our beleaguered countryside and the plants and animals that make it up, thus encouraging sympathetic landowners and managers.


After A Stormy Night

What a night!  Though we live inland in the lee of Ashdown Forest, it was a rough night weather-wise!  Firstly the technical stuff.  The wind peaked at about 10pm last night with a mean wind speed of 58mph – Storm Force 10, being recorded at the weather buoy off the East Sussex coast, with a gust of 66mph being recorded in the early hours at Shoreham.  Rainfall in the county over the past 24 hours has been in the region of 30-50mm.  The atmospheric pressure bottomed out here at about 5-6am today at 28.98 inches or 981 millibars.  At the eye of the storm as it passed NW Scotland 929 millibars was recorded, the lowest recorded pressure reading in the British Isles since the 1880’s.

I was out the door just before first light…  There were a number of trees obstructing the roads in the Forest area though presumably the Highways guys had been out early and cut a vehicle’s width through them.  Down at East Dean it was a different story with two roads well and truly blocked, including the A259 coast road on East Dean Hill; this was still closed at the midday.  On eventually reaching Birling Gap where we have 12 ponies in the vicinity of the cliffs, the electric fencing had to my surprise, remained largely intact with only two breaks, these having been discovered and repaired before the ponies had gone walkabout, by Mick our stalwart volunteer, who was already out inspecting the fencing.  Whilst repairing the fence Mick (now accompanied by Michael) witnessed a cliff fall not far away due to the very wet rock, it sending a large cloud of white dust – yes dust, carried inland on the wind.P1010186

At another pony grazing site in the Ashdown Forest area access was rather tricky due to two sycamore trees having crashed down across an access road.  Streams and rivers are very swollen, with the floodgate having been closed earlier in the day at one of Uckfield’s car parks, after it was feared that the town centre could be at danger from very high levels in the River Uck.  The River Cuckmere looks likely to spread out on to the neighbouring floodplain near Alfriston in the following days?

Subsidies – Government Caves In To Big Farming


By Roger Harrabin, Environment analyst

December 20 2013.  Wildlife groups have accused the government of caving in to big farmers over planned changes to farm subsidies in England. The government proposed increasing the proportion of farm payments transferred to protecting wildlife from 9% to 15%. But it backed it down to 12% after farmers said this was not fair. The government said it would be spending a bigger share on the environment despite a smaller overall budget for subsidies.

Farmers get £50bn of taxpayers’ money a year based mainly on the amount of land they own, and the EU set out this year to ensure that they earned their grants by protecting the countryside. Little changed as the plans were fought successfully by farmers across Europe. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson had said he wanted to make a difference by transferring 15% of grants away from direct payments for farmers and into protecting wildlife and helping the rural economy. The Welsh government has stuck to its plan to take 15% off direct farm payments but the Scottish government has shaved off 9.5%.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) said most European counterparts were transferring less. Farmers were relieved but wildlife groups said a crucial chance to bring birds back to the countryside had been missed. Mr Paterson said: “England’s £15bn Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must deliver real benefits to farming, rural businesses, the countryside and the taxpayer. Today’s decision will see £3.5bn invested in the environment and rural development schemes over the next seven years. This is a significant change in the way we allocate CAP money and even with a smaller overall CAP budget, the government will be spending a bigger share of the budget on the environment than before.”

The NFU lobbied strongly against the maximum cut. But some of its members are unhappy about that stance. Georgina Edge farms in Shropshire in a way that encourages wildlife. She claims to have three times more bird species on her land than on any neighbouring farm. She told BBC News: “Our farm can’t make a profit unless we are rewarded for wildlife and if the NFU has undermined that it won’t be acting in my interest.”

Mike Clarke from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said: “The deal falls short of what nature needs. The government has made its job of meeting its own environmental commitments harder.” The RSPB did say though that the government had planted the seeds for recovery of some threatened species. Friends of the Earth’s Paul de Zylva accused the government of short changing taxpayers. “Farmers already pocket huge amounts of cash without having to farm in ways that reduce their effect on wildlife, water and soils,” he said.

The NFU’s Meurig Raymond said:”I am delighted the environment secretary has decided to keep modulation (grant-switching) below the maximum level.” The Tenant Farmers’ Association chairman Jeremy Walker added: “This shows the benefit of industry lobbying.” A clause in the document will force the issue to resurface after four years when the proposal for taking the full 15% will be reviewed.

The Past Tells Us About Sea-Level Rise


Dec. 12, 2013 — Researchers from the University of Southampton and the Australian National University report that sea-level rise since the industrial revolution has been fast by natural standards and — at current rates — may reach 80 cm above the modern level by 2100 and 2.5 metres by 2200.

The team used geological evidence of the past few million years to derive a background pattern of natural sea-level rise. This was compared with historical tide-gauge and satellite observations of sea-level change for the ‘global warming’ period, since the industrial revolution. The study, which was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (iGlass consortium) and Australian Research Council (Laureate Fellowship), is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Lead author Professor Eelco Rohling, from the Australian National University and formerly of the University of Southampton, says: “Our natural background pattern from geological evidence should not be confused with a model-based prediction. It instead uses data to illustrate how fast sea level might change if only normal, natural processes were at work. There is no speculation about any new mechanisms that might develop due to human-made global warming. Put simply, we consider purely what nature has done before, and therefore could do again.”

Co-author Dr Gavin Foster, a Reader in Ocean and Earth Science at the University of Southampton, who is based at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS), explains: “Geological data showed that sea level would likely rise by nine metres or more as the climate system adjusts to today’s greenhouse effect. But the timescale for this was unclear. So we studied past rates and timescales of sea-level rise, and used these to determine the natural background pattern.”

Co-author Dr Ivan Haigh, lecturer in coastal oceanography at the University of Southampton and also based at NOCS, adds: “Historical observations show a rising sea level from about 1800 as sea water warmed up and melt water from glaciers and ice fields flowed into the oceans. Around 2000, sea level was rising by about three mm per year. That may sound slow, but it produces a significant change over time.”

The natural background pattern allowed the team to see whether recent sea-level changes are exceptional or within the normal range, and whether they are faster, equal, or slower than natural changes.

Professor Rohling concludes: “For the first time, we can see that the modern sea-level rise is quite fast by natural standards. Based on our natural background pattern, only about half the observed sea-level rise would be expected.


“Although fast, the observed rise still is (just) within the ‘natural range’. While we are within this range, our current understanding of ice-mass loss is adequate. Continued monitoring of future sea-level rise will show if and when it goes outside the natural range. If that happens, then this means that our current understanding falls short, potentially with severe consequences.”

Anniversary of a Memorable Day in 2010

The third anniversary of December 17 2010!  – During the morning and with help from the Army’s Lands Warden and four people from the Pippingford Estate Company, we drove Herd 1 the ¾ mile to the corral, in all it taking about ¾ of an hour.  We then separated 12 ponies out and released the remainder back on to the heath.  Then the weather closed in!

Bob T, our haulier phoned to say he was coming an hour earlier at 1pm due to the worsening conditions, for by now there was a heavy snow falling.  He duly arrived and proceeded to reverse with trepidation the last 1/4 mile downhill to the corral.  We then split the ponies into groups for loading; ‘Trouble’ was her usual un-sociable self and refused to load but we eventually cajoled her on board.  Bob then managed to drive his truck out and negotiated up the long gradient of Kidd’s Hill on to the summit of the Ashdown Forest, just in the nick of time.  The weather had now seriously closed in with visibility down to 20-30 metres, daylight having now faded to half-darkness, the snow packing down like an ice rink by the time we reached the A22.  Bob remarked that ‘it was the worse weather he’d driven in.’  It took us 2½ hours to reach Lullington at 4pm and by now the skies had cleared.  The seven volunteers on standby at the destination were by this time, bored and wondering how we were going to finish the task off.

Local farmer Duncan Ellis, had kindly gone on standby with his stockman Mick and had a tractor to assist if necessary should Bob require towing.  It was decided however to shut the several gateways and to drive the ponies along the farm roadway on to the Downs.  By now, we were working in the surreal conditions of snow, darkness and moonlight – quite, quite beautiful!  We eventually persuaded the ponies through some cattle and into the area adjacent to where they were intended to be, (until conditions the following day allowed us to drive them further up into the majestic bowl of Deep Dean).  As for myself, I left Lullington at 5-30 and arrived home at 10pm.  A real team effort!  Special thanks to all involved.


I cannot resist adding a note to Monty’s report.  Eventually, Bob the lorry driver (what amazing skill!) got the lorry backed-up the lane a little.  I assumed that the ponies, once released, would high-tail it as far as possible from the lorry; three of us had positioned ourselves further up the lane to ensure they did not go off the lane.  We heard the rumble of hooves getting off the lorry – but no ponies came galloping past.  Instead, through the dark we heard Monty, the Exmoor pony whisperer approaching, followed by an orderly file of ponies!  A priceless memory for me!  Susan.





Farmer’ Leaders Protest Over Farm Subsidy Plan


By Roger Harrabin, Environment analyst.

December 14 2013. Farmers’ leaders have urged ministers not to bring in plans to cut subsidies by 15% and transfer cash to wildlife protection in England and Wales. The National Farmers Union (NFU) has written to every MP, saying the plan to share £3.5bn of farm grants would disadvantage British farmers. The NFU also warns MPs that going ahead with the move would risk rural votes.

The government said the money would help to build on the “success” of its environmental and rural growth schemes. Wildlife groups have used newspaper advertisements to urge the government to keep its countryside commitments. They also say votes are at stake as every household pays £400 a year to subsidise farmers – and people expect their money will be used to protect the environment, not just to shore up farmers’ budgets.

In the summer, the EU set the framework for how the money should be spent with its scheme to “green” the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The greening plans were heavily diluted under pressure from farmers, but large landowners will in future need to do more to collect subsidies by leaving existing grassland unploughed, diversifying their crops and setting aside some land for wildlife.

What is being decided is exactly how the farm subsidy pot for in England and Wales should be divided between conflicting interests. The decision is tough because the overall size of the pot has shrunk as Europe’s leaders attempted to shrink the £50bn CAP.

In England and Wales ministers have indicated a wish to shift the maximum allowable – 15% – away from direct payments to farmers – which is mostly for owning farmland. The money will go towards protecting wildlife and stimulating the rural economy.

The NFU letter to MPs says this is unfair to farmers in England and Wales because farmers elsewhere are being better protected. In Scotland the government has decided to shift 9.5% of subsidies away from direct payments. The NFU also complains that the government appears ready to transfer this amount without having decided the purpose of the transfer.

President Peter Kendall says in the letter to MPs: “Farmers remain at a complete loss to understand what the government intends to use this money on, and how it can be used effectively for the benefit of their businesses. The threat of disproportionate reductions in their payments…is making them angry and frustrated with this government.”

Wildlife groups who take the opposite view believe Prime Minister David Cameron will be discussing the issue over the weekend. The RSPB, which has registered huge losses in farmland birds through intensive subsidised farming, has taken a full-page advertisement in the Times warning: “This weekend the prime minister could cut the life from the English countryside.”

Green groups say public money spent on subsidising farmers should go on public good like thriving wildlife and well-managed water catchment areas to retain water for use and to prevent flooding. A Defra spokesperson said: “Our environmental and rural growth schemes have delivered real benefits to the natural environment and rural economy.

“We want to build on these schemes’ success by channelling into them some of the money from the budget for farmers’ direct payments. We have sought views on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy in England and will make an announcement shortly.”

The final division will be complicated, with firms supporting rural development also hoping to benefit from the 15% transfer of funds. In Scotland the government is consulting on plans to shift 9.5% of subsidies away from direct payments to farmers – a payment which is mostly for owning farmland. The money will go towards protecting wildlife and stimulating the rural economy.


This Weeks Pony News

This week has been quiet – so far!  The only matter of real concern is the irresponsible person (or persons) who have on a number of occasions in recent weeks, deliberately propped gates open where the ponies are grazing at Chailey Common.  This could lead to ponies getting out on to the adjacent busy A272 road, leading to the real possibility of horrific consequences.  The extra six recently acquired ponies have now settled in at Chailey.

Restoration work is currently in-hand at both Chailey and the RSPB’s Broadwater.  At Chailey, the ESCC’s contractors are progressing with the felling of selected groups of trees and scraping of some areas to remove bracken and plant debris in the hope of re-establishing heather.  At Broadwater, the scale of the RSPB’s restoration could be described as being at an industrial scale, with more large areas of mature conifer having been felled and their stumps having been ground-out.  This will lead to the creation of sweeping vistas of heath, grass and containing a rich assemblage of birds and insects.  This will in coming years, require more ponies to maintain it.

P1010172                                        Part of the recently cleared area at the RSPB’s Broadwater reserve near Tunbridge Wells.

Matters are slowly progressing towards the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust creating a fourth herd of ponies numbering 15 ponies.  This will hopefully happen during January and will bring the total number of ponies to 77.  These new ponies will initially be employed on two sites on the eastern South Downs helping to restore and conserve chalk grassland.



Is Hydropower Set to Balance Wind Power?


December 4 2013. While Europe invests in wind energy, Norwegian hydropower offers the key to stable electricity supplies. By Christina Benjaminsen.

The key driver of the development of a northern European offshore power grid is the massive investment being made in wind power in the Baltic and in and around the North Sea. The aim here is to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as between 80 and 95 per cent by 2050. “If this project is to succeed, we must secure stable electricity supplies”, says Daniel Huertas-Hernando at SINTEF. [SINTEF which is Norwegian, is the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia]. This is why researchers are currently looking into how Norwegian hydropower plants can contribute as a potential ‘blue-green’ battery for European wind power.

According to the EU, a total offshore wind power capacity of 3.8 GW had been established in Europe by the end of 2011. The European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) anticipates that this will rise to 150 GW in the period 2030 to 2050. This is equivalent to the energy produced by about 150 medium-sized coal-fired power stations.

Most of this increase in wind power generation will come from northern Europe. The widespread construction of both on- and offshore wind farms will result in greater variability in power generation, and consequently a greater need for what we call ‘balancing services’ – that is, energy sources which can fill the gap if wind power generation is reduced to very low levels or zero.

“Today, forecasts of wind velocities provide the only information which gives us any indication of power generation levels from wind farms for the next 24 hours”, says Huertas-Hernando. “If these prognoses turn out to be wrong, or if bad weather makes generation from the turbines impossible, we will need an effective stand-by source which can fill the energy supply gap at short notice”, he says. “And this is exactly what Norwegian hydropower can do, because it makes it possible to store energy which can then be released on tap as and when it is needed”, he explains.

The researchers conclude that the renovation of existing Norwegian hydropower plants is all that is needed to boost the exploitation of Norwegian hydropower as a ‘blue-green’ battery supporting future European investment in wind farms. “We don’t have to build any more new hydropower plants which have a negative impact on the natural environment”, says Huertas-Hernando. “We have calculations that show that we will obtain sufficient capacity if we upgrade our existing hydropower turbines and install pump storage power plants”, he explains.

A pump storage plant is a hydropower plant which can be repeatedly ‘charged’ because water can be pumped back into the reservoir after it has flowed through a turbine. When connected to the power grid, these types of power plant function as ‘batteries’.

Calculations show that these two initiatives will provide an increase in power capacity of between 11 and 18 GW. New power generation must of course be connected to the onshore grid.  A key issue is whether it will be profitable to introduce so-called ‘coordinated solutions’ in which different wind farms share infrastructure and make it possible to hook up to power from onshore hydropower sources.

“Since grid construction takes such a long time, it’s important to find the answer to this question now, so that we can plan in time”, says Huertas-Hernando. “The aim is to achieve a grid development strategy which is socio-economically beneficial in a wider context. We believe that Norwegian hydropower will strengthen the benefits of any future power grid established offshore. So far the only power cables we have extending directly between different countries are the so-called ‘cross-border trading cables'”, says Huertas-Hernando.

FACTS: The EU project called TWENTIES has involved SINTEF and a number of its industry partners looking into energy solutions best suited for collaborative projects in connection with future wind power production as part of ensuring stable and large-scale renewable electricity supplies to the EU. The aim of the project is to find solutions which guarantee as much flexibility in the European wind power generation system as possible. Continuation of the TWENTIES project has fuelled high current levels of activity at the FME centres NOWITECH (Norwegian Research Centre for Offshore Wind) and CEDREN (Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy).

Read more about this at http://www.twenties-project.eu/



Badger Cull Halted


Extract from item dated December 2 2013. Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News.

The pilot cull of badgers in west Gloucestershire has failed to meet the 70% target set by the government, official figures have shown. In the additional five weeks and three days of culling, 213 badgers were killed, giving an overall total of 921. It shows only 40% were culled during the operation, which ended on Saturday.

Rural affairs minister Owen Patterson criticised “a small minority who resorted to widespread criminality” in an attempt to stop the cull. Campaigners said Mr Patterson’s claim of criminality was “without any basis of fact whatsoever” and said the cull had been a “complete failure”. But BBC Environment Correspondent Matt McGrath said Mr Patterson was “essentially saying you have to judge it over the longer time frame”.

A similar cull pilot in Somerset ended last month after it also failed to meet its target even after a three-week extension. In that area there was an estimated 65% reduction in the badger population – the target was 70%.

Missing both the original and the revised badger target for Gloucestershire might be seen by many as evidence that the cull has failed – but that’s not the view of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. In his statement he says the cull in Gloucestershire has been “successful in meeting its aim in preparing the ground for a fully effective four year trial”. Essentially Mr Paterson is saying you have to judge it over the longer time frame. But some critics believe taking almost three months to shoot about half the target you were supposed to kill in six weeks is evidence the free shooting method that was used has some serious flaws.

According to Care for the Wild and several other campaigning groups, the culling policy has shown itself to be too expensive, ineffective and cruel. They are calling for revised and improved cattle management systems and increased efforts to vaccinate badgers. But Mr Paterson says the government is “resolved” to continue to tackle TB in badgers by culling. As he has so closely identified himself with the policy, it is unlikely to change while he is in charge at Defra.

An independent panel of experts will now consider the information collected during the pilots on the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting. This information will be used by the minister to make a decision on any wider roll-out of badger control operations in the parts of England most severely affected by bTB. Figures from Defra show more than 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2012 because of bTB. New herd incidents in the UK have risen from 1,075 in 1996 to 5,171 in 2012. In 2012, 6,919 herds were under restrictions due to bovine TB.

Solar Power – Coming From A Field Near You?


November 26 2013.  As solar farms begin to play an important role in addressing the UK’s electricity needs and aiding the drive towards cheaper, cleaner electricity bills for the consumer, this maturing industry now plays a vital role supporting the economic stability of the agricultural sector and creating full time employment for local communities.

Mark Turner, Operations Director for Lightsource Renewable Energy comments, “By March 2014, we will have to manage over 4,000 acres of land responsibly and sustainably. That’s twice as much land as surrounds Blenheim Palace! You could think of us as a new breed of tenant farmer, and the biggest challenge for us is that our land is spread across the entire width and breadth of the United Kingdom. Contrary to the unfounded opinions of some, solar farms do not harm the land they are installed upon. In fact they safeguard it for future generations and provide further options for farmland diversification like grazing small livestock or providing an ecological habitat for rare birds like the English Grey Partridge”.

Lightsource Renewable Energy, the UK’s leading solar energy generator, today announces it is undertaking a large recruitment drive across the UK, creating full time positions local to where their operating solar farms are based. The company has already created over 150 full time jobs in the UK in just 3 years.

Mark continues to elaborate, “Not only are we responsible for the maintenance and care of our solar farm infrastructure, we are responsible  for land management activities as well including weeding, planting and ensuring any stock proof fencing is kept in good order. “We are kick-starting this initiative with 15 full-time positions first and many more will follow. These new specialist maintenance jobs are created in the towns or villages near our operational solar farms and therefore benefit the local economy directly. We’re currently looking for experienced electricians with a real passion for renewable energy and the desire to be part of a great British success story. We want to show local communities that solar farms have huge tangible benefits aside from the clean electricity they generate. Some of our plans include our own livestock like sheep and also harvesting wild flower seed as there is a great shortage of indigenous seed in the UK. All these activities require expertise, we will have to hire more local people to make this happen and this announcement of 15 jobs is only the beginning.” Mark concludes.


One farmer was discussing this with someone the other day, who felt quite strongly that solar farms were a bad thing for UK agriculture, the environment and food production, until the first suggested the following:

1)These have only a 30 year planning approval, after which they’re returned to farmland.

2) One of our biggest problems with continuous arable farming is the depletion of topsoil through organic matter loss and erosion. Essentially these solar farms represent a 30-year fallow during which time they’ll only receive light grazing or be left for wildlife and no compaction or cultivation, giving soils chance to build up organic matter and fertility.

3) What is the difference between harvesting the energy as direct solar into electricity and growing wheat to put through a bioethanol plant and producing animal feed as a by-product? Apart from you not having to use fossil fuels to harvest, cultivate, fertilise and transport the energy in the case of solar (one difference is bioethanol is storable, whereas solar power is not).

4) In terms of land use we’re not continuously cropping all available land as it is, mainly because the rise in value of the land is more than the income derived from farming it. If this takes some land out of production that can only be a good thing for the viability of producing food from the remaining land. I think it will present some real opportunities to new entrants and have significant benefits for wildlife.


There are a number of pending planning application here within East Sussex – Arlington, Berwick, Ringmer and Isfield. But today, the Government has announced big changes the tax incentives which will move in favour of offshore wind generation.  Will this change the fields of play?