I was always told at school that history helps us make sense of the 'now' and prevents us repeating the mistakes of previous generations. Some of us must have had pretty useless history teachers, because lessons were not learned.
The UK Government's SEVENTH report into proposals for a major new airport in the Thames Estuary has been published and it's reached the same conclusions as its six predecessors: it's too environmentally damaging, too great a risk from bird strike and... way too expensive.
The RSPB has welcomed this aspect of their reccomendations,but we're not happy with the Transport Select Committee's support for a third runway at Heathrow; maybe an even bigger expansion west of the existing facilities.
One of our main objections to expanding the number of flights is the commitment to reducing emissions 80% by 2050; a legally binding agreement the UK Government signed up to. We applaud that Government commitment because it was made to address climate change, the single biggest threat to UK wildlife. If the Government were to allow any airport expansion, they'd break their own rules and undermine their own targets. That would be messier than crumbled meringue and mashed strawberry stirred through cream.
There's still plenty of time for those championing a new airport in the Thames Estuary to stamp their feet in the hope sensible folk will be ground down by their nagging. The Aviation Review doesn't report back until after the next general election.
Meanwhile, here we are with the indisputable facts bearing-up to scrutiny once again.
1. The Thames Estuary is a dynamic and unique place that cannot be reproduced on the same scale anywhere in Europe.
2. Destroying aspects of it for an airport would do irreparable harm to the birds and wildlife that live their fragile lives along its beautiful but inhospitable mudflats, marshes and wilds. It is not empty space. It's nature's industrial complex where air, water and primary food sources are manufactured and processed.
3. Consider for a moment the volatile cocktail of the vast numbers of biggish birds that fill the estuary's airspace and the dash of planes from runways in its heart. You'll need brave pilots willing to face that mix and still guarantee their passengers' safety.
There's still a lot to protect and cherish in the Thames Estuary and I'm sure there are individuals who will happily continue to ignore history and throw more money at inquiries. If I were a cynic, I'd predict we'll reach ten Government reports before we've reduced emissions 10%. But I'm a cup half-full sort of person, so I'm looking forward to standing shoulder-to shoulder with Mayor Boris Johnson as we fight unnecesary expansion at Heathrow on the grounds that it's too expensive, too environmentally damaging and undermines our Government's obligations to reduce emissions 80% by 2050.
Wasn't the weekend glorious? Saturday was the first day this year I was able to get outdoors and tart-up my garden. I cut the grass, forked over borders, gathered up fallen leaves, cleared old growth, sowed some seeds and enjoyed coming across some of the things that share this space.
There was a shield-bug, loads of fat worms, a couple of bees, a comma butterfly and an early painted lady butterfly; maybe it's from one of those grow your own butterfly kits that kids and organic gardeners love? Either way, the sunshine and fresh air left me feeling energised.
It was all so enjoyable I lingered into the evening, hoping to catch sight of the International Space Station scooting across the evening sky (I missed it yet again). The shocking truth pulling the rug from beneath this relaxing moment was that there wasn't a minute when I couldn't see at least one jet plane in the sky. With five airports, London's airspace is pretty busy.
Today, a new report commissioned by the RSPB, HACAN and WWF has been published raising doubts on the assertion that London's economy will benefit from increasing airport capacity.
It's been the assertion that London's economy is reliant on expansion that has driven Mayor Boris Johnson to pursue the creation of a mega-hub airport in the estuary (which he wants to call Margaret Thatcher International to "scare visitors" - call me naive, but I thought we wanted to attract visitors?). It seems the whole debate supporting airport expansion is built on flimsy foundations.
Flimsy or not, the real foundations for infrastructure development like airports involve a lot of concrete and tarmac; and an awful lot of space. Just like in my garden, stuff lives in these spaces. The cost of losing nature doesn't seem to worry the airport expansionists. They assert they can build new spaces for nature. 75% of Crops worldwide are pollinated by insects as are 94% of wild flowering plants. Bees, butterflies and more are vanishing at an alarming rate. Replacing wild spaces with new runways is not the way to support nature.
As the charity Buglife states, 'it's the small things that run the world'. Shrinking numbers of garden birds are a warning sign that nature is in touble. Rather than seeing airplanes soaring over my home, I'd far rather see developers investing in schemes which improve nature; allowing our communities, our economies and our well-being to soar. Protest against airport expansion by sowing native wildflowers and shrubs in your gardens and community spaces. That way, air passengers will be able to see a riot of colour indicating public support for nature as they fly into the Capital. Say it with flower power.
Can you spot the wigeon in this image of 10,000 black-tailed godwits?
No neither could I, but if there is one, it would have been identified by one of our keen eyed volunteers who used this image to count how many birds were in the giant flock.
This picture is amazing, not just because of the size of the flock, which is roughly a third of the UK's entire population of BT godwits, but because it's a few miles from the centre of London, concentrated on our Cliffe Pools nature reserve.
Much work has been put into creating the right sort of habitat at Cliffe, where wildlife can flourish, but this gobsmacking sight was not the aim. We don't want such large numbers of single species. We want them spread across the whole of the Thames estuary as they used to be. The sad fact is that they've congregated here probably because they could no longer find the right sort of habitats elsewhere. Don't get me wrong. It's an amazing spectacle and well worth the short-trip out to Cliffe to see. But, wouldn't it be better for them and us if there was more space for them along the length of the Thames?
Cliffe is also hosting hundreds of other species right now: 1,400 teal, 3,000 lapwing, 4,500 wigeon, and 8,000 dunlin; and that's just the birds.
The pools, mudflats and marshes of the Thames estuary are unique and prized. They are crucial for the survival of migratory birds and yet the spaces they favour are shrinking. Cliffe is a gem, but we're working hard with farmers, landowners, communities and businesses to ensure the whole estuary can better support nature. It's a win-win situation. The wildlife that's lived here for centuries will continue to survive, and the spaces they favour will continue to act as flood buffers protecting homes and businesses from more frequent storm surges.
Some see the estuary as an empty space that's of no value. They, like King Canute, would look to control tides and nature. Hopefully the sight of these black tailed godwits will spring their eyes open wide to see the world in all its mystery, power and beauty. The estuary is natures' home and we are privileged to be able to share it and must learn how to be good custodians; living, working and benefiting in harmony with its rhythms.
Dr. Michael Short is a Southwark resident, living within a few minutes walk of Mayor Boris Johnson's City Hall HQ, in the shadow of Tower Bridge.
Like many Londoners, he cares about his community and the changes being done to it. Changes which all too often, forget what's there already, especially the wildlife and the greenspaces where people and nature mingle, relax and play; crucial for healthy communitties. Dr Short is one of the many Londoners passionate about their local spaces:
London started around London Bridge about 3,000 years ago. Its renaissance is happening right now with The Shard and all the developments on the south bank between Tower and London Bridges. Associated with it has been an explosion of office space and residential units climbing ever skyward. Every plot of land, no matter how small, is up for grabs as house prices rise. But, it is not so much where have all the people gone? As where do all the people go?
Whilst first Ken Livingstone and then Boris Johnson have written strategic plans to prevent the [development of] concrete jungles with damaged families, in this rush to build more badly needed housing, there has been little thought of green space for the people who will live and work in these new developments, especially in which our children can relax and meet socially in a welcoming environment.
So, my concern is for a small plot of land with a basketball court and adjoining children’s play area. It's just waiting for some grass and a few trees. It had a warehouse empty for eight years and has been cleared for five. It is in Long Lane in Southwark. An area that has received more than its share of high rise apartment blocks recently. In fact there is, or will be, almost a continuous line on the north side. A park here could break up the development on the south side. There is an enclave of terrace houses with small front and back gardens, which attract goldfinches, greenfinches, blue and great tits, robins, wrens, dunnock, blackbirds and wood pigeon facing the site. The whole area then becomes quite big and sustainable. What a little gem!
Dr Short's vision is under threat. It's not an isolated case. All over London there are similar struggles between development and communities. The truth is, both sides of the debate would benefit if nature were included in development proposals from the very start. Green space adds value, improves appearances, reduces hot air temperatures, prevents flash flooding and much, mich more. Green spaces can incorporate community growing spaces or allotments and have been proven to boost mental and physical health of the people that enjoy being in them. Another added benefit is often an improvement in public behaviour.
If you dream of spaces like that in Dr Short's vision, share your thoughts with us [images welcome too], and the following councillors and inviduals involved in the Southwark Long Lane site:
A dwarf daff is not a mighty oak.
The one I'm talking about has bright yellow petals, which stand out proudly against the hard grey landscaping of our street. Best of all, the sight of some of these tiny flowers makes me smile. I helped do that.
Some of my neighbours organised the planting last year and provided the bulbs. Together we planted them in the tree pits lining our street and this little bit of effort has been rewarded this month as the flowers burst through the compacted soil, exploded into colour and helped shine some light through the gloom and darkness of the extended winter. It was a job of minutes to push the bulbs into the ground. It required one devoted person to organise it, but it's made a tremendous difference. I guess our next step ought to be some summer flowers to keep the colour coming.
The idea is simple and has been adopted by many other people, but here's a great organised approach, turning spare pavement spaces into mini-food growing areas along a London bus route. The Capital is crammed with small spaces that could be turned into spectacular mini-gardens its communities would be proud of. If you can't picture it in your mind, the good folks at the green inbetween have some photos to help.
Basically, the message is, be positive, have a go and sow some seeds to make life more interesting. Just digging over some compacted soil will help improve London's environment. Nature always helps, with seeds dropped by birds or carried by dogs often succeeding to germinate in the most inhospitable of places. I'm not suggesting a take-over of every pavement, roundabout or tree-pit. There are some practicalities to consider and always ensure what you plant is suitable for the space you're eyeing up. No one wants harmful or destructive plants.
Get outdoors and be creative around the place where you live. Have fun, but as with all things, be sensible.