Council Wins Ashdown Forest Planning Review

Ashdown Forest is the largest area of public, indeed wild, open space in the whole of the south-east of England.  It forms part of the wider High Weald AONB, one of the best examples in Europe of a landscape still containing plentiful evidence of its medieval origins.  The Ashdown area is a truly iconic landscape, rich in fabulous views, history and wildlife.  Encroachment by development would very likely further compromise these qualities.  Nitrogen pollution over the years has very likely had a significant detrimental effect upon this landscape.  Further development would lead to a further increased volume of traffic along the several commuter roads that cross the Forest, leading to further deposition of nitrogen and increased traffic noise.  One has to be pragmatic about decisions in life but on this one, if there is even a suggestion of further damage to this iconic area, I believe WDC were correct to take the precautionary path.  We owe that to generations that follow us…

Judge dismisses claims by landowners over Wealden Core Strategy

ABSTRACT.  Attempts by local landowners to quash Wealden’s key planning strategy and force the building of more houses across the District have been thrown out of court with the Judge dismissing their claims as “speculative” and “misconceived.”  All of the four grounds of challenge to Wealden District Council’s Core Strategy Local Plan by a group of local landowners were dismissed by Judge Mr Justice Sales in London’s High Court, who praised the work conducted by the Council’s Planning Policy Team and all those behind the strategy that sets out Wealden’s future planned development to 2027.

In dismissing all claims brought in the Judicial Review by the group, acting under the name of Ashdown Forest Economic Development LLP, against Wealden District Council, The South Downs National Park Authority and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Mr Justice Sales ordered them to pay the defendants legal costs up to £35,000.  [Ashdown Forest Economic Development LLP is a group of owners of rural estates including the Nevill Estate Company Ltd,  Baycliffe Limited, the 9th Earl De La Warr 1963 Discretionary Settlement Trust and Birchgrove House Estate Limited].

“I am delighted with the outcome of today’s hearing. This judgement confirms how open, transparent, and logical the Council has been in developing and adopting its Core Strategy,” said Councillor Ann Newton, Wealden Cabinet Member for Planning and Development.

“The findings of the Judge have supported this in every way. They are testament to the dedication and professionalism of our officers and members in striving to find an appropriate balance between supporting housing and economic growth whilst also protecting Wealden’s high quality environment which our residents value so much. We will continue to support growth that is in compliance with our Local Plan and which meets our duties under the Habitats Regulations. Wealden will continue to offer the same level of support that we have given to our Local Plan to assisting and advising local businesses in the District to expand and grow. We will work closely with them to resolve how best to meet the requirements set out by the Local Plan and continue to offer free one-to-one advice as we have done throughout the proceedings.”

The Judge dismissed claims that the Planning Inspector had reached an “irrational” conclusion in setting a housing target of 9,440 compared to a total of 11,000 (in the South East Plan) that the claimants argued was needed.  In his view the Planning Inspectors judgement was both rational and compelling, as Wealden District Council had produced sufficient evidence to support the smaller number.

Mr Justice Sales also agreed with the Planning Inspector’s view in support of the depth of Wealden District Council’s investigative work and the extent to which alternative solutions were researched stating that he did not accept either of the criticisms of Wealden District Council advanced by Mr Elvin [Counsel acting for the claimants]:  “It was speculative whether an ‘appropriate assessment’ would ever really show that more extensive housing development could actually take place in the vicinity of Ashdown Forest”.

[Most importantly,] He also dismissed claims that the Council had breached EU regulations by not considering alternatives to the 7km protection zone around the Ashdown Forest as in his opinion the principled reasoning and evidence to justify the decision was clearly set out in the relevant environmental report.

Mr Justice Sales also dismissed alternative methods for protecting the Ashdown Forest proposed at the hearing by the claimants:  “No concrete, worked through proposals are set out and there is no evidence to suggest that such measures would actually work by themselves.”

How Much Flooding Is In The UK’s Future?

How much flooding is in the UK’s future? A look ahead to the next IPCC report by Roz Pidcock.

18 February 2014.

From posing a threat to natural ecosystems to damaging business, property and livelihoods, a report due next month from the UN’s official climate body reviews the wide-ranging damages extreme flooding can cause. With the UK currently dealing with the impact of widespread flooding, we look at what the draft report has to say about how serious a risk it could be in the future, as the climate changes further.

Last September, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a bumper assessment of how and why the climate is changing, including projections for how everything from rainfall to arctic sea ice is likely to change in the coming decades. Scientists expect a warming world to lead to more extreme rainfall. [Estimates] shows the UK receiving about 10 per cent more rainfall on average per year by 2100 compared to 1986-2005.

It’s not just the total amount of rainfall that scientists expect to increase. The IPCC report also predicts Europe and the UK is “very likely” to see more heavy rainfall events by the end of the century. A lot of rain falling in a short space of time raises flood risk, and there’s already evidence heavy rainfall events are getting more frequent in the UK due to climate change, as a report released last week from the Met Office explains.

Heavier rainfall plus sea level rise – which make storm surges bigger and more likely to breach coastal defences – has scientists warning of a greater flood risk in the UK as the climate warms. As professor Richard Allan from Reading University told us recently: “[W]henever we have heavy (and prolonged) rainfall events in the future, we can expect them to be more intense – along with the risk of flooding.” Rising sea level due to climate change makes storm surges bigger and more likely to breach coastal defences.

The IPCC is set to release the second part of its comprehensive overview of climate change science next month – looking at the impacts of climate change across the globe, from farming to flooding. The final draft of the report was leaked online a few months ago. With floods and climate change back on the news agenda, we’ve reviewed what the draft report has to say about future flooding and its impacts. (Note: All our references come from the chapters in the final draft of the report, which should only undergo small editorial changes before publication next month.)

How much flooding will the UK get?

Floods are the most frequently-occurring type of natural disaster, the report says. And as flood risk in the UK rises, so does the risk to society. According to one study the new report cites, warming of 3.5 to 4.8 degrees Celsius by the 2080s – which is what the IPCC expects if emissions stay high – would expose an additional 250,000 to 400,000 people in Europe to river flooding, and potentially up to 5.5 million per year to coastal flooding. The UK is likely to be one of the worst affected locations, the report suggests.

How much will it cost?

Research cited in the new IPCC report suggests flooding costs are likely to escalate with the rising risk of flooding. The report says: “Climate change could increase the annual cost of flooding in the UK almost 15-fold by the 2080s under high emission scenarios.”

The report points out this increase is primarily due to population growth and changes in the value of buildings and infrastructure – but climate change is also partly responsible. The UK government’s Foresight Programme, which the IPCC report also cites, estimated global warming of three to four degrees above pre-industrial levels could increase flood damage costs from 0.1 to 0.4 per cent of GDP. Another study projects the average amount insurers pay out annually for flood damage in the UK to go up eight per cent for two degrees warming and 14 per cent for four degrees, which the IPCC thinks looks likely by around 2060 and the end of the century, respectively, if emissions stay high.

Price Waterhouse Coopers estimates the price tag of the current flooding, in terms of lost income, repairing damage and extensive clean-up efforts, is already in the region of £600 million – and expected to rise as the bad weather continues into late February. PWC said: “Our expectations are that the insurance industry will have up to £500m of costs from the January and December weather and the economic damage will be £630m.”

Richard Holt of Capital Economics told the Independent the area at risk represented around 13 per cent of the UK’s gross domestic product, and the loss of output in those areas would reduce GDP by over 1 per cent within a month, totalling £13.8bn. This is economists’ best estimate, but experts warn it’s hard to know the full extent while a lot of the country still remains flooded.

Overflowing sewers

The new IPCC report identifies climate change as a key factor affecting Britain’s present and future sewer systems. A recent study cited in the report looked at cities across Europe, the US, Canada, Asia and Australia, and estimates a typical increase in rainfall intensity of 10 to 60 per cent has in some cases increase in the frequency of sewer flooding by up to 400 per cent. Another study estimates the volume of sewage released to the environment by flooding-induced sewage overflow spills looks set to increase by 40 per cent by 2080. In this most recent case of flooding, urban drains have been struggling to cope with the volume of water flowing into them.

Transport disruption

The new report notes persistent, heavy rainfall and flooding can disrupt important transport links, something we’re seeing a lot of in the UK at the moment. As well as the obvious direct impacts of flooding on rail networks, the report explains how possible knock-on effects are more difficult to assess, and often overlooked. The report says: “Studies have often examined the direct impacts of flooding on transport infrastructure, but the indirect costs of delays, detours, and trip cancellation may also be substantial.” And while it’s the trains that seem to be most affected in the UK at the moment, should future flooding affect the capital city the tube network could face major disruption too, the report notes:

“Many cities … depend on underground electric rail systems which require protection from the considerable risk from flooding – such as New York and London. Adapting all these systems to the impacts of climate change (including hot days, storms and sea-level rise) poses many challenges).”

Building on floodplains

While scientists are confident heavier rainfall runs a greater risk of flooding, the new IPCC report highlights how the choices we make about land use can increase the flood risk too. Building on floodplains is a big problem, for example. The report notes: “Globally, the frequency of river flood events has been increasing, as well as economic losses, due to the expansion of population and property in flood plains.”

The government’s climate change advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), found in 2012 that England’s floodplains have seen more property development than other areas over the past 10  years –  and one in five of those properties is at risk of flooding. Between 2001 and 2011, 200,000 homes were built in floodplains – and since the government came in, changes to planning regulations have made building in vulnerable areas easier.

Why build on floodplains? Opportunities for development are just too tempting a prospect for local governments, the draft IPCC report suggests: “In most nations, urban governments find it difficult to prevent new developments on sites at risk of flooding, especially in locations attractive for housing or commerce, even when there are laws and regulations in place to prevent this … There can also be vested interests and trade-offs where near-term development conflicts with longer-term adaptation and resilience goals”

Low natural drainage

Many people have raised the question in light of the recent flooding that paving over soil could be exacerbating the problem, because rainwater is falling on concrete rather than being soaked up by the ground. The CCC recently told the BBC building practices such as paving over gardens, loss of urban green space and building on the floodplain mean the UK is increasingly vulnerable to floods. Preserving or developing natural drainage – which involves taking advantage of trees, plants and soil to manage where water flows and gets absorbed – can help prevent floods.  The IPCC report highlights why soil is so important for keeping flood waters at bay, especially in urban areas. It says: “Maintaining soil water retention capacity … contributes to reduce risks of flooding as soil organic matter absorbs up to twenty times its weight in water”

What needs to happen now?

Adaptation measures to build resilience to extreme rainfall and flooding can make a difference, the IPCC report notes – by bolstering coastal defences, for example. But there’s a limit to how far adaptation can go. The report notes: “[W]hile adapting buildings in coastal communities and upgrading coastal defences can significantly reduce adverse impacts of sea level rise and storm surges, they cannot eliminate these risks, especially as sea levels will continue to rise over time. Managed retreat is likely to become a necessary response.”

Clearly, emissions need to come down to limit the extent of future risk. In the meantime, it’s important to ensure useful insurance schemes exist to cover those at risk. Swenja Surminski, a senior research fellow at the LSE’s Grantham Research Institute and its Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, previously told Carbon Brief: “[Insurance should] trigger behaviour change, especially in the government. It should lead to fewer houses being built on the floodplain, not business as usual, for example.”

Informed policy decisions to keep risks at an acceptable level should mean taking heed of the scientific evidence current and future risks – and the new report lays them out fairly clearly. Current events demonstrate the risks of not being prepared for these events when they strike.

Climate Change Is Here Now – by Nicholas Stern

Climate change is here now and it could lead to global conflict.  By Nicholas Stern writing in The Guardian.  Friday 14 February 2014.

Extreme weather events in the UK and overseas are part of a growing pattern that it would be very unwise for us, or our leaders, to ignore, writes the author of the influential 2006 report on the economics of climate change

The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Many commentators have suggested that we are suffering from unprecedented extreme weather. There are powerful grounds for arguing that this is part of a trend. Four of the five wettest years recorded in the UK have occurred from the year 2000 onwards. Over that same period, we have also had the seven warmest years.

That is not a coincidence. There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, in line with what is expected from fundamental physics, as the Met Office pointed out earlier this week. A warmer atmosphere holds more water. Add to this the increase in sea level, particularly along the English Channel, which is making storm surges bigger, and it is clear why the risk of flooding in the UK is rising.

But it is not just here that the impacts of climate change have been felt through extreme weather events over the past few months. Australia has just had its hottest year on record, during which it suffered record-breaking heatwaves and severe bushfires in many parts of the country. And there has been more extreme heat over the past few weeks. Argentina had one of its worst heatwaves in late December, while parts of Brazil were struck by floods and landslides following record rainfall. And very warm surface waters in the north-west Pacific during November fuelled Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall anywhere in the world, which killed more than 5,700 people in the Philippines. This is a pattern of global change that it would be very unwise to ignore.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last September pointed to a changing pattern of extreme weather since 1950, with more heatwaves and downpours in many parts of the world, as the Earth has warmed by about 0.7C.

The IPCC has concluded from all of the available scientific evidence that it is 95% likely that most of the rise in global average temperature since the middle of the 20th century is due to emissions of greenhouse gases, deforestation and other human activities.

The upward trend in temperature is undeniable, despite the effects of natural variability in the climate which causes the rate of warming to temporarily accelerate or slow for short periods, as we have seen over the past 15 years.

If we do not cut emissions, we face even more devastating consequences, as unchecked they could raise global average temperature to 4C or more above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. This would be far above the threshold warming of 2C that countries have already agreed that it would be dangerous to breach. The average temperature has not been 2C above pre-industrial levels for about 115,000 years, when the ice-caps were smaller and global sea level was at least five metres higher than today. The shift to such a world could cause mass migrations of hundreds of millions of people away from the worst-affected areas. That would lead to conflict and war, not peace and prosperity.

In fact, the risks are even bigger than I realised when I was working on the review of the economics of climate change for the UK government in 2006. Since then, annual greenhouse gas emissions have increased steeply and some of the impacts, such as the decline of Arctic sea ice, have started to happen much more quickly. We also underestimated the potential importance of strong feedbacks, such as the thawing of the permafrost to release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as well as tipping points beyond which some changes in the climate may become effectively irreversible.

What we have experienced so far is surely small relative to what could happen in the future. We should remember that the last time global temperature was 5C different from today, the Earth was gripped by an ice age. So the risks are immense and can only be sensibly managed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which will require a new low-carbon industrial revolution.

History teaches us how quickly industrial transformations can occur through waves of technological development, such as the introduction of electricity, based on innovation and discovery. We are already seeing low-carbon technologies being deployed across the world, but further progress will require investment and facing up to the real prices of energy, including the very damaging emissions from fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, the current pace of progress is not nearly rapid enough, with many rich industrialised countries being slow to make the transition to cleaner and more efficient forms of economic growth. The lack of vision and political will from the leaders of many developed countries is not just harming their long-term competitiveness, but is also endangering efforts to create international co-operation and reach a new agreement that should be signed in Paris in December 2015.

Delay is dangerous. Inaction could be justified only if we could have great confidence that the risks posed by climate change are small. But that is not what 200 years of climate science is telling us. The risks are huge. Fortunately poorer countries, such as China, are showing leadership and beginning to demonstrate to the world how to invest in low-carbon growth.

The UK must continue to set an example to other countries. The 2008 Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to cut its emissions by at least 80% by 2050, is regarded around the world as a model for how politicians can create the kind of clear policy signal to the private sector which could generate billions of pounds of investment. Weakening the Act would be a great mistake and would undermine a strong commitment made by all of the main political parties.

Squabbling and inconsistent messages from ministers, as well as uncertainty about the policies of possible future governments, are already eroding the confidence of businesses. Government-induced policy risk has become a serious deterrent to private investment. Instead, the UK should work with the rest of the European Union to create a unified and much better functioning energy market and power grid structure. This would also increase energy security, lower costs and reduce emissions. What better way is there to bring Europe together?

The government will also have to ensure the country becomes more resilient to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided, including by investing greater sums in flood defences. It should resist calls from some politicians and parts of media to fund adaptation to climate change by cutting overseas aid. It would be deeply immoral to penalise the 1.2 billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty. In fact, the UK should be increasing aid to poor countries to help them develop economically in a climate that is becoming more hostile largely because of past emissions by rich countries.

A much more sensible way to raise money would be to implement a strong price on greenhouse gas pollution across the economy, which would also help to reduce emissions. It is essential that the government seizes this opportunity to foster the wave of low-carbon technological development and innovation that will drive economic growth and avoid the enormous risks of unmanaged climate change.

• Nicholas Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE and president of the British Academy.

Ponies This Past Week

Ponies This Past Week

On Wednesday, we had arranged to gather and remove the 12 ponies from Birling Gap.  The weather turned out to be atrocious with a Force 8 southerly gale blowing – not conducive to gathering ponies!  With volunteers and our haulier arranged, we had to go for it.  After an hour we’d got them into the corral – but wait a moment – there are only 10!  Try as we may, we eventually gave up at 1-30pm trying to gather these two.  So we will have to try again this coming week to bring the remaining two in.

We now have 10 new ponies on Berwick Down near Alfriston.  They had a traumatic couple of days.  Bob our haulier went down to Exmoor for them on Saturday but due to road works in the Taunton area, he lost several hours and was in danger of going over his permitted driving hours.  On his return he held them in lairage on his farm for the night.

We arranged to meet at 9am on Sunday to unload them at Berwick, a beautiful sunny day for once.  Within about 5 minutes of them coming down the tailboard, they had trashed a section of electric fence and were soon on top of the Downs!  With my assistant, Anna (and later with Mick), we spent three long hours attempting to drive them partly on foot, partly with the 4×4, back down the escarpment to the fenced area but each time, they managed to slip past us and canter back up on to the top of the Downs, until on the fourth attempt we succeeded!

Being very wild and having come almost directly from off the remoteness of Exmoor, they had never come across electric fencing; I’m hoping that they will very quickly learn to respect it!  Five more ponies will be joining them when ground conditions on Exmoor allow gathering.

Beware Politicians Pretending to be Armchair Hydrologists

Richard Benyon writing in The Guardian, Thursday 13 February 2014.

When respected organisations like CIWEM say the solution to these floods does not always lie in expensive highly engineered flood defences or dredging we should listen. The solution lies in the hills and fields around rivers, where water can be held up before causing problems downstream. It is also about having a sensible long-term catchment management plan that exists alongside flood protection planning. I would add one more dimension: not having this approach torn up or rewritten to satisfy a short-term news agenda.

As Britain faces the consequences of the worst rainfall since 1760 there are a number of key rules for government and its agencies. The first is that the wrong time to work up long-term policy is in the teeth of a crisis. The desire to be seen to do something can find itself in conflict with doing what is right. When serious flooding occurs complicated issues of hydrology can get suborned to binary arguments about whether to dredge or not to dredge.

A timely report by the respected Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), called Flooding and Dredging – a Reality Check, suggests that we should be wary of seeing dredging as a solution to extreme flooding, even in a reclaimed and low-lying landscape like the Somerset Levels. The recent flooding results from high tides in the Bristol Channel in the first week of January plus extreme rainfall since mid-December. The report argues that if dredging had been carried out it is unlikely to have made a significant difference. This is because the flooding has resulted from overtopping of the river embankments and high water levels due to a combination of sustained run-off from the catchments and high tidal levels, leading to something the engineers call tide-locking. The report suggests dredging may have reduced the duration of flooding but at the expense of an increase in tidal incursions. It is clear that the portrayal of dredging as a panacea risks giving false hope to a beleaguered community.

In fact, studies show that in some places dredging can even make downstream flooding worse and heighten flood peaks – the very last thing people at the bottom of the Thames or Severn catchments need at the moment. Rivers such as the Kennet, a famous Thames tributary which I have known for all my 53 years, have never been dredged and never should be dredged. Among other things, dredging would mean water flowing very fast through my constituency and ending up in Reading and beyond.

Flood victims deserve our sympathy and support and it is understandable that some will want to find people or organisations to blame. However, having seen the tremendous efforts of Environment Agency staff working round the clock to prevent hundreds of thousands of homes from flooding and to support those who have suffered, I am uncomfortable when politicians seek to become “armchair hydrologists” or reach for the easy option of looking for scapegoats in the middle of a national crisis.

Of course assuaging local anger is understandable, but whether it is the best use of taxpayers’ money is another matter. If ministers and the Environment Agency had made the assumption that a one-in-250-year flood was going to happen two years running in the Somerset Levels some properties might have been saved but this would have been at the expense of other equally flood-prone communities. The very sensible way we have of allocating funding for flood defences sees thousands of residents in places like Leeds, Exeter, Morpeth or Littlehampton getting the protection they need. It saw 175,000 acres of farmland getting greater protection last year. This is achieved by making taxpayers’ money go as far as it can in each scheme. We should never view all Britain’s flooding problems through the prism of one calamity. I’m told that if we were to roll out river dredging nationally on a similar scale to what will be spent on the Levels the bill would amount to about a quarter of the UK’s GDP.

Often the best flood management is to incentivise farmers to slow water down higher up in catchments. And when it comes to public anger we should remember that in the last four years we have seen two years of drought and two of floods. If 2012 had been as dry as the previous two years we would have faced some very serious anger in 2013 – the sixth largest economy in the world would have had standpipes in the streets and businesses would have closed for lack of the most basic raw material. In building resilience to how we manage water we have to deal with both extremes.

That is why it was sensible of the government to develop the concept of catchment management. This draws together local players such as communities, river owners, local authorities, nature conservationists and the Environment Agency. This means flood resilience is planned in an integrated way alongside farming practices. Protection of the environment is balanced with keeping people’s homes from being flooded.

Met Office Perspective on the Recent Storms and Floods

A Global Perspective on the Recent Storms and Floods in the UK.

February 2014 – This winter the UK has been affected very severely by an exceptional run of winter storms, culminating in serious coastal damage and widespread, persistent flooding. This paper documents the record-breaking weather and flooding, considers the potential drivers and discusses whether climate change contributed to the severity of the weather and its impacts.

This series of winter storms has been exceptional in its duration, and has led to the wettest December to January period in the UK since records began. Heavy rains combined with strong winds and high waves led to widespread flooding and coastal damage, causing significant disruption to individuals, businesses and infrastructure. The severe weather in the UK coincided with exceptionally cold weather in Canada and the USA. These extreme weather events on both sides of the Atlantic were linked to a persistent pattern of perturbations to the jet stream, over the Pacific Ocean and North America.

The major changes in the Pacific jet stream were driven by a persistent pattern of enhanced rainfall over Indonesia and the tropical West Pacific associated with higher than normal ocean temperatures in that region. The North Atlantic jet stream has also been unusually strong; this can be linked to exceptional wind patterns in the stratosphere with a very intense polar vortex.

As yet, there is no definitive answer on the possible contribution of climate change to the recent storminess, rainfall amounts and the consequent flooding. This is in part due to the highly variable nature of UK weather and climate. Nevertheless, recent studies have suggested an increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms that take a more southerly track, typical of this winter’s extreme weather. There is also an increasing body of evidence that shows that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is consistent with what is expected from the fundamental physics of a warming world.

More research is urgently needed to deliver robust detection of changes in storminess and daily/hourly rain rates and this is an area of active research in the Met Office. The attribution of these changes to anthropogenic global warming requires climate models of sufficient resolution to capture storms and their associated rainfall. Such models are now becoming available and should be deployed as soon as possible to provide a solid evidence base for future investments in flood and coastal defences.

Document updated to give a more complete assessment of sea-level rise.

Last updated: 12 February 2014

‘The London Declaration’ On Illegal Wildlife Trade

Declaration signed on illegal wildlife trade.

By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC World Service.

Governments from around the world have vowed to take action on the illegal trade in wildlife. At the conference at Lancaster House in London, delegates from 46 different countries and 11 UN organisations have signed The London Declaration.

This outlines the steps that need to be taken to stop animal poaching, which governments agreed needs to be treated as a serious crime. The illegal trade in wildlife is worth about $19bn dollars a year. The London declaration states that investigating the links to corruption and organised crime needs to be made a priority. The 46 countries have also committed to improving cross border cooperation – and to strengthening laws and policing.

The London Declaration could be a pivotal moment for wildlife. With four African presidents – as well as delegates from China and Vietnam – among the signatories, the illegal animal trade has been pushed from the conservation agenda to the political one.

But now the hard work begins. The commitments agreed will need to be put into action – fast. Conservationists urge that there’s no time to spare because the survival of these key species is on the line. But has the declaration gone far enough – especially when it comes to the ivory trade? Some NGOs have called for a total ban of all ivory sales and the destruction of stockpiles around the world. Without this, they say, poaching is unlikely to stop.

With tens of thousands of rhinos, elephants and tigers being killed each year, these species face a real risk of extinction. The bulk of poaching takes place in Africa, but much of the demand comes from Asia, where animal products, such as rhino horns, are used in traditional medicine or are bought by the rich as trophies.

Speaking at the conference, the UK’s Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “The illegal wildlife trade is a global problem and it matters deeply to all of us gathered here today. We need to show the world our political commitment at the highest level across the globe to addressing this before it is to late.”

Actions from the meeting include:

Treat wildlife trade as a serious crime within the UN convention against transnational organised crime

Address problems of corruption and money laundering related to wildlife crime with legislation – a zero tolerance policy

Strengthen legal frameworks and help law enforcement

Better cross-agency mechanisms to deal with wildlife crime

Endorsing governments which are destroying wildlife products

Renounce governments which use products from species threatened with extinction

Conservationists broadly welcomed the news, but they say action will be need to be taken quickly.

Heather Sohl, chief species adviser at WWF-UK, said: “Governments signing the London Declaration today sent a strong message: Wildlife crime is a serious crime and it must be stopped. This trafficking devastates species populations, but also takes the lives of rangers, impedes countries’ economic development and destabilises society by driving corruption.”

Dr John G Robinson, chief conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the illegal trade involved “well-financed and well-armed syndicates”. He commented: “The declaration calls for governments to crack down on these criminals with stiffer penalties and more aggressive investigation and prosecution, including addressing the corruption and bribery that facilitate these crimes. It further calls for addressing this crisis at all points of the supply chain – where the animal is killed, where the parts are trafficked, and where the products are purchased.”

Prince Charles and The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, attended the meeting, hosted by the UK government. The conference heard from the presidents of Botswana, Chad, Gabon and Tanzania, and the foreign minister of Ethiopia. President Khama of Botswana said that he would put the country’s ivory stockpiles out of reach of the markets.

As an additional pledge, the leaders of Botswana, Chad, Gabon and Tanzania have agreed to a moratorium on the ivory trade for at least 10 years, as part of an elephant protection initiative. While the trade of ivory has been banned under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) since 1989, some states have been granted permission to sell their ivory stocks in the past.  In 1999, CITES authorised a “one-off” sale of stockpiled ivory from Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia to Japan, and in 2008 Namibia, Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe sold their stocks to buyers in China and Japan. In essence, by issuing a 10-year moratorium, the four African states are saying they will uphold the ban, and not ask for permission from CITES to sell any of their ivory.

Eric Pickles – The Softly Spoken Assasin

“Eric Pickles: the epitome of a playground bully; limited intellect poisoned by malice, thinly veiled by a soft voice and vicious sarcasm.”

“Sheffield University’s Professor Richard Ashley said Mr Pickles would be “more use as a sandbag”. Dear Eric – in deep water – praying 4 u!”

Two quotes I found on Twitter about our Communities Minister Eric Pickles!  I may not be the country’s greatest fan of the Environment Agency but they are doing a difficult job in trying times with one arm tied behind their back by Government spending cuts and Treasury rules.  10/10 for Lord Smith standing up (albeit a little late) for his organisation and staff!

Eric Pickles – how can you stand there in parliament yesterday, contradict what you said on Sunday and ever show your face in public again!

Bring Back Beavers To Control Flooding

Bring back beavers to control flooding, Environment Secretary told.

John Vidal, Guardian environment editor.  Wednesday 29 January 2014.

The cheapest and most effective way to control river flooding in Britain would be to bring back beavers to construct natural dams to hold back water, the UK Mammal Society has recommended to the environment secretary, Owen Paterson. The rodents, known as “master river engineers”, nibble and fell trees to create large lodges which restrict river flow, store water, and reduce flash floods and erosion. The UK has been lashed with storms and flooding in the past two months, with the south-west particularly badly hit, and David Cameron saying on Wednesday that it is unacceptable that parts of Somerset are still underwater.

Marina Pacheco, the society’s chief executive, said: “We urge the government to consider a bold and cost-effective wildlife solution: bring back the beaver and allow it to apply its benign engineering skills to our river systems. Our waterways are fed by man-made ditches and field drains that reduce the land’s natural ability to hold water. Excessive flooding of towns, villages and farmland in the lowlands is the inevitable consequence of this unnaturally rapid transfer of water from the hills.”

The government is known to be considering paying farmers to hold back water in the uplands, but this, said Pacheco, could cost millions of pounds per year. “The beaver could achieve the same effects for free and forever if we are bold enough to re-establish and tolerate it as a natural component of our river systems,” she said.

Beavers were native to Britain but were eradicated by landowners seeking to protect their fish and trees, hunters wanting their fur and by centuries of river straightening by government which destroyed their habitats. Many other countries have reintroduced beavers successfully but Britain has been extremely cautious following landowner opposition. One trial reintroduction is nearing completion in Knapdale, Scotland, an ‘unofficial’ population has been established on the river Tay in the southern Highlands.

Plans for a reintroduction in Wales are at an advanced stage. Several English groups want to re-establish colonies but will have to wait for a full assessment of the Knapdale trial. There was a recent sighting of what appeared to be a beaver in the wild in Dorset, photographed by a retired environmental scientist.