Breakfast time on Tuesday, February 4th… As I sit here typing this post, it would seem from looking out of my window, that the Dutch have gazumped our government over fishing rights, as there’s a Dutch fisheries patrol vessel hovering a couple of miles off the beach at St.Leonards!
The following article reiterates what I have observed and have been saying for years – that many of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are in a parlous state. For example, most of the Firle Escarpment has not been inspected for 5 years! Significant areas are now degenerating into bramble and scrub due to poor management by some farmers – ML.
Pevensey Levels ‘at risk’ – new data reveals poor conditions at protected wildlife site.
By Ginny Sanderson, Sussex Express.
Tuesday, 21st January 2020.
More than half of all inspections found poor conditions at the wildlife haven, which is among the country’s precious few Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). An investigation has found the protected area is among thousands of beauty spots across the country which are in a poor state and facing unsatisfactory conditions.
The area is home to many rare creatures, and is considered to best site in Britain for freshwater molluscs, including the endangered ram’s horn snail. Extremely rare aquatic plants can also be found in the marshland, which stretches from Bexhill to Hailsham. The 3,600 hectare site is in peril alongside other East Sussex areas Romney Marsh and Rye Bay, and Dungeness in neighbouring Kent.
Many SSSI sites have not been assessed for years, leading environmental campaigners to fear the situation could be even worse. Wildlife charities have branded the findings “shocking”, while the government says it is taking action to restore sites. Paul de Zylva, of Friends of the Earth, said it was “shocking that our top wildlife sites are in such poor condition”.
He said, “If we can’t even protect the jewels in the crown, it’s little wonder that UK nature is in such poor shape. The new government must make the protection and restoration of our natural environment a top priority.” While Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trust’s director of campaigns and policy, said bodies such as Natural England, which monitor the condition of sites, had been starved of funding.
She called for them to get a substantial cash injection “to enable them to carry out their functions effectively and to ensure our protected sites are restored and enhanced.” In England, SSSIs are inspected in smaller sections called units. More than half of these units (53 per cent) are in an unfavourable condition, inspection data shows.
Guidelines state SSSI features in England should be assessed at least every six years, but analysis by the JPI Media Investigation Unit found more than half (12,394) of sites have not been assessed since 2011. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said while most of England’s SSSIs were either in a favourable condition or were recovering, they recognised that “more needs to be done to improve these vital sites”.
They said, “England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest protect our most rare and threatened wildlife and represent the best in nature this country has to offer. While 94 per cent of these are currently in a favourable or recovering condition, we know more needs to be done to improve these vital sites. That’s why we are focusing on restoring those sites that are still in a recovering condition so we can enhance these important areas.”
Investigative reporting by Aimee Stanton of the JPI Media Data Unit.
There has been a lot of disquiet in recent weeks about flooding in the Cuckmere valley and also the build-up of shingle within the river mouth. See my previous post concerning the sad demise of the Cuckmere meanders area.
On Wednesday, November 5th I did go and view the river mouth and it looks quite different to how it used to be, that is, discharging directly straight out into Cuckmere Haven. Now, it turns abruptly east and flows along for about a third of the length of the east beach as seen below. It actually appears far more natural!
This has arisen due to a decision by the Environment Agency not to carry out further work on river maintenance south of the A259 unless there was a real threat to homes and businesses, so no maintenance of floodbanks, groynes or shingle dredging. It was understood that the EA did intend to maintain some existing structures after the above decision but what happened to ‘contingent evaluation’ – the value of a rural, landscape experience to visitors, high in my opinion for the meanders at the Seven Sisters Country Park.
This decision takes account of their limited budget due to government budget cuts and the inevitability of losing the fight against sea level change from global climatic processes. There is not the money to protect a relatively small amount of grazing land when many communities across the country are under real threat. The river estuary if left to the forces of nature will change as pictured below, this being taken two years ago.
Within the last two days, an excavator has appeared on site presumably to clear out the original man-made channel and reduce the overall height of the river back up through the valley, this presumably being paid for by the local water catchment board?
Flooding to the north of the A259 (picture above) though not unconnected with the above is largely due to when the east riverbank was rebuilt during the 1960’s and the then East Sussex River Board coming under pressure from the local farmers to install the new sluices at a very low level. (I was informed of this fact recently by a retired former senior ESRB drainage engineer). It means that the river-side flaps of the 4? sluices are unable to open because they’ve become buried by silt due to their low positioning.
Below is the letter I sent off to the media and local MP’s this morning after making a visit yesterday. A sad state of affairs…
ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE at CUCKMERE, EAST SUSSEX.
© Jon Rigby/Eastbourne Herald.
People from across the country and abroad, travel to Exceat near Seaford to view the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and the majestic, winding meanders of the Cuckmere River set within a green baize, one of the best examples of a meandering river on the planet…
Well regarding the second point, not at the moment! Nine days ago the BBC’s South East Today ran an article concerning the flooding within the Cuckmere valley and the fact that the world famous meanders were no where to be seen, they literally submerged beneath ‘flood water from the recent heavy rains.’
On Wednesday, October 30th I visited the area, the meanders are barely discernible, they still being largely masked by flood water. I will digress here for a moment if I may. I worked on the Country Park through which the meanders wind, for twenty years including two short period of managing it. We would in those days monitor and finely adjust the height of the water level in the meanders. Over the following ten years I also had an input into managing the Country Park. The meanders have not been as high or surrounding meadows so completely flooded like they are at present, in living memory. So I do understand in minute detail how the drainage system there works.
Back to my visit… Upon inspection during the afternoon, there was a spring tide within the tidal river so its level was understandably high. On the landward side of the floodbank however, water was alarmingly racing through the metre diameter sluice from the tidal river and welling-up in the meanders as a large pool of angry, swirling water. Yes, the sluice instead of draining the meanders, was actually allowing seawater into the meanders! Somebody has at some point, tampered with the sluice by ‘obstructing’ one of the large cast-iron sluice flaps and very likely though not visible, also having ‘adjusted’ the sill of the sluice that controls the height of the meanders. A canoeist, vandals? Debris in unlikely. Where the water level had dropped away from its maximum height two weeks ago, the grass was brown and possibly has been killed. Tourists are going to be somewhat disappointed when coming to view the meanders, they winding through a large tract of brown dead grass!
Later in the afternoon I managed to speak with a local Environment Agency official who said that though they are not responsible in managing the meanders, they were aware of the problem and were monitoring the situation and when it becomes possible to gain access when the river levels drop, they will rectify the situation. They no longer carry out work on the river towards the sea because they only have sufficient funds to carry out essential works where flooding of the built environment may occur.
The meanders and the surrounding land are part of an extensive Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated by another government agency, Natural England. Damaging such areas is a criminal offence; however English Nature does not now have the staff or expertise nowadays to monitor and safeguard SSSI areas or enforce their protection, they now possessing too few staff. Flooding of the area containing the meanders with largely seawater has probably caused untold damage to the surrounding specie-rich grasslands, polluted and destroyed the rich biodiversity of neighbouring ponds and ditches – these also now unfit for watering of livestock. The meanders are now more salty than they would normally be, so affecting the life within them. The grazier of the Country Park will have temporarily lost a significant amount of his grazing pasture.
Funding cuts by successive Conservative governments have emasculated the above two important statutory agencies, one supposedly protecting us from pollution and rising sea levels, the other supposedly acting as guardian against damaging land management, short-sighted development of our diverse countryside and is now banned from criticising government policy. So the moral of this sad microcosm of a tale with the approach of a General Election is, if you value our public services, value your countryside and its wildlife, then whatever you do, oppose the Conservative Party! Regarding Brexit, if enacted, we are likely to be saddled with lower environmental regulations than in Europe.
Monty Larkin (www.montylarkin.co.uk)
cc to the following:
BBC South East firstname.lastname@example.org
Eastbourne Herald email@example.com
The Argus firstname.lastname@example.org
The Guardian email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Sussex Express email@example.com
Dust from car brakes and tyres will still pollute city air even when the vehicle fleet has gone all-electric, a report has warned. Fragments of microplastics from tyres, road surfaces and brakes will also flow into rivers, and ultimately into the sea, government advisers say. Ministers say they want to pass standards to improve tyres and brakes.
But critics say they need to go further by developing policies to lure people out of private cars. The government’s Air Quality Expert Group said particles from brake wear, tyre wear and road surface wear directly contribute to well over half of particle pollution from road transport.
They warn: “No legislation is currently in place specifically to limit or reduce [these] particles. So while legislation has driven down emissions of particles from exhausts, the non-exhaust proportion of road traffic emissions has increased.”
They say the percentage of pollutants will get proportionally higher as vehicle exhausts are cleaned up more.
Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said : “The documents published today make clear that it is not just fumes from car exhaust pipes that have a detrimental impact on human health but also the tiny particles that are released from their brakes and tyres. Emissions from car exhausts have been decreasing through development of cleaner technologies – and there is now a need for the car industry to find innovative ways to address the challenges of air pollution from other sources”.
- Climate change: UK government ‘like Dad’s Army’
- ‘How do I charge an electric car without a driveway?’
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said: “The industry is committed to improving air quality and has already all but eliminated particulate matter from tailpipe emissions. Brake, tyre and road wear is a recognised challenge as emissions from these sources are not easy to measure.”
The document chimes with a recent report warning that electric cars won’t offer a complete solution to mobility. It said even self-driving electric cars would produce pollution and congest the roads. The key was to reduce the use of cars by getting people on to less-polluting forms of transport, said Prof Jillian Anable, one of the authors of the report.
She said: “For many years ministers have adopted the principle of trying to meet demand by increasing road space. They need to reduce demand instead.”
The UK transport department said it was spending £6bn on buses, walking and cycling – and £50bn on roads.
Supporters of electric cars say the report may be flawed because when you lift your throttle foot in an electric vehicle, the car slows itself and there is less need to brake.
UK Will Miss Almost All 2020 Wildlife Targets
Damian Carrington & Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, March 23 2019. Abridged.
The UK will miss almost all the 2020 nature targets it signed up to a decade ago, according to a report by the government’s official advisers. The nation is failing to protect threatened species; end the degradation of land; reduce agricultural pollution; and increase funding for green schemes, the assessment concludes. It also says the UK is not ending unsustainable fishing; stopping the arrival of invasive alien species; nor raising public awareness of the importance of biodiversity.
The targets were set in 2010 by the global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the report from the joint nature conservation committee (JNCC) found insufficient progress was being made on 14 of the 19 targets.
The news came on the day Britain formally launched its bid to host the UN climate change conference in 2020, seeking to prove its green credentials are not tarnished and to show the disarray that has been caused by Brexit does not mean the UK has forfeited its right to be a major international player. Speaking at a launch event for the bid in Downing Street, the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “Most importantly of all, we are ambitious. If we are going to ensure that future generations do not pay a price for our prosperity today, we must collectively change our economies and societies. We believe this can be done and protecting the environment can go hand-in- hand with economic growth.”
Critics of the government said the report showed wildlife and natural habitats were in deep crisis. The UK is “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, according to a separate 2016 report, with continuing declines in species such as skylarks, hedgehogs, many insects including butterflies and corn marigolds.
“The JNCC report says nature in the UK is pretty bad, declining and not recovering, and that is in the context of an awful lot of rhetoric [from ministers] about being a world leader on the environment,” said Kate Jennings, the head of site conservation policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).
The environment minister Thérèse Coffey said: “Nature matters. Our species and ecosystems are valued in their own right, but they also contribute to our well-being and economic prosperity. We acknowledge that in many areas there are ongoing declines in nature, but there are real points of progress on which we can build. Our 25 Year Environment Plan is a step-change in ambition.”
A key CBD target is to improve the conservation status of threatened species but the report says “there have been widespread and significant ongoing declines across many species”, such as farmland birds and pollinating insects. Another of the 2020 targets is to cut the rate of loss and degradation of natural habitats to “close to zero”. While the report says some places have improved, there have been “ongoing losses of natural and semi-natural habitat, for example through neglect or development”.
The target to cut fertiliser and other pollution to levels that do not harm biodiversity is being missed, the report says, with little reduction in sensitive habitats since 2010 and with 65% of inland and coastal waters remaining below target levels. Only about half of fish stocks are sustainably caught, the report says, meaning the target to end overfishing will be missed.
This month you may be surprised to know, that is the 50th anniversary of the Countryside Act 1968, which allowed for the creation of our Country Parks. These have played a crucial part in allowing people to visit the countryside, spend the day exploring, getting away from the hustle and bustle, or perhaps to introducing their young families to the great outdoors.
There are more than 400 recognised Country Parks in England and Wales, attracting millions of visitors a year. The majority are owned and run by local authorities but there is a real risk that cuts to green space budgets for staff, maintenance and a lack of funding and investment will mean that increasingly, some country parks will and indeed are facing decline in the coming years.
Recently, there were two article on the BBC’s Countryfile programme of August 12th 2018 highlighting the dilemma of East Sussex County Council (ESCC). From its budget of £371M per year, its 10 countryside sites cost in the region of £400K per year – and that is currently with insufficient staff to carry out all the necessary work. The two largest sites that they manage are the Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat near Seaford and Chailey Common Local Nature Reserve, (the latter which they do not own). The ESCC is currently reviewing how to manage these important sites in the future bearing in mind that in the coming financial year they have got to find another £17M of savings. See the following link for further details:
Of particular concern to me is the Seven Sisters Country Park – one of the earlier and larger country parks created; it is already being poorly managed through government-induced cuts incurred by ESCC and a lack of supervision of the huge subsidy that the current farm tenant receives because of the emasculation of the government’s own conservation organisation, English Nature. The conservation value of this Country Park now falls far below of what it was decades ago. Options to be considered leading on from the above report include various combination of shared responsibility to the out-right sale of the property.
I have worked in countryside management and conservation for 40 years, half of that time being closely involved with the Seven Sisters Country Park. Based upon that experience and in particular having worked with both the front runners for involvement in the Country Park – the Sussex Wildlife Trust and The National Trust, I would say after careful consideration and without reservation, that The National Trust’s involvement with managing at least, the landscape and conservation elements of this large and popular countryside site would be far and away my preferred option. The National Trust already has a large landholding within the vicinity of the Seven Sisters Country Park – Birling Gap, Crowlink, Gayles Farm, Exceat Salting, half of Chyngton Farm, Frog Firle and The Clergy House. They have the in-house experience of managing buildings and visitor services, they holding an international reputation in this field. They also have an outstanding countryside team based at Birling Gap who manage their wider countryside estate, which has access to a wide field of specialist advisers – archaeology, farm management, vegetation etc.
I feel that it’s now pertinent to reappraise, to question, why and how we move forward with conserving our iconic chalk grasslands. So, two questions come to mind for me and I shall here attempt to answer them.
1) Where does the conservation of chalk grassland fit into a much broader, evolving view of nature conservation in today’s Britain of the 21st century?
2) Can we, and how do we justify the expenditure of the currently very limited amounts of funding and resources, in dealing with the threats to conserving our chalk grasslands?
To try and answer the first question we need to begin by looking backwards… The latest cutting-edge research is very much pointing to the following scenario: that it was likely that the chalk grasslands of southern England following the retreat of the last Ice Age, were fairly open – perhaps a mosaic of grassland and scrub with occasional stands of woodland on the deeper soils. With the arrival of Man some 10,000 years ago, who practiced ‘intentional’ hunting, followed by approximately 5,000 years later the introduction of farming, it was likely that this open, grassland habitat on these lighter soils of the chalk would have been encouraged by the increased grazing with the occasional breaking-up of relatively small areas of grassland by effectively shallow, ‘organic’ tillage, this soon being recolonised by the large wild seedbank, once cultivation had been moved on. Chalk grassland was further enhanced over millennia peaking during the medieval period and again during the 18th and 19th centuries, with the arable element waxing and waning according to the demands of the market place.
Chalk grasslands are today, largely an inconvenience on most farms that include such areas; they are just somewhere to hold some livestock during the occasional pinch-point or in some cases, are simply disregarded, several unacceptable examples to be found on the Firle Estate in the BoPeep area, pictured below. Other sites are simply badly managed, for example, the Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat. However, chalk grassland forms one of this country’s great biodiversity assemblages, rich in both flora and fauna and comparable in this respect to tropical rain forests. We have though, regrettably lost during the past century somewhere in the region of 97% of this treasured habitat. (Incidentally, the UK ranks as 29th from the bottom out of 218 countries assessed upon their remaining richness of biodiversity!).
As to the answering of the second question… We are now conditioned by some 70 years or more of interventionist conservation or ‘gardening,’ of our prize wildlife habitats including the one under discussion. Oddly, nearly all our designated landscapes (National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are valued primarily for their cultural value and not for their true potential wildness. Challenges faced by chalk grassland have been: the slump in agricultural production (grazing) during the first half of the twentieth century and following hard in its heels, the demise of the rabbit population and the fragmentation of farmland from the post-war industrialisation of farming. Then more latterly there are the repercussions of bovine Tb restricting where cattle can safely graze. All four challenges have led in general, to courser and ranker chalk grassland vegetation and also in places, to its loss.
But there are more recent, more sinister threats to chalk grassland which a century ago would have been virtually unheard of: nitrogen pollution; destruction from the use of pesticides and lastly, climate change. To briefly explain: nitrogen compounds emanate from the various types of exhaust emissions released into the atmosphere. These have almost certainly led to soil enrichment (most wild flora requiring nutrient-poor soils) aiding the spread of the rampant, native tor grass (Brachypodium rupestre) across much of the chalk grasslands and now possibly the increasing occurrence of soft brome grass (Brachypodium sylvaticum). These grasses are of little use to modern breeds of farm livestock. Then there has been the use, often indiscriminately, of artificial fertilizers. Also affecting chalk grassland is the diffuse drift of spray from the widespread use of a whole host of chemicals. Finally, there is the enormity of climate change which we’re increasingly being affected by and can only guess at what impact this will have in the future on this habitat.
So, we as a nation – national and local government (I castigate national government for their emasculation of Natural England!), NGO’s, (I here single out the National Trust’s achievements as being exemplary), with assistance and encouragement from the public, must continue to fight for and safeguard our chalk grasslands. Continued, sympathetic grazing by farmers and land managers together with well-considered control of scrub where thought necessary, are vital to safeguarding this much threatened and very finite wonder of the natural world here in the UK. Education too of course of our younger generations also has a vital part to play in the longer-term struggle.
Good article highlighting the parlous state of England’s watchdog for our beleaguered wildlife: