It’s a surprising fact that England is the only country in the UK that doesn’t have any kind of strategic, spatial plan. In fact, it seems to be one of the few countries in the world not to have one. OK, we’ve got plans that cover England that do things for different sectors, like national policy statements for energy infrastructure or ports (in England and Wales). There’s even a National Infrastructure Plan (for the UK), and an England Biodiversity Strategy. There are probably lots of other different types of plan for England if I looked hard enough.
But there’s definitely no integrated, strategic, spatial (i.e. with maps) plan for the use and development of land in England. Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands and umpteen other places do it, so why can’t we?
Just before Christmas, the Government announced that it would produce a ‘simple national planning policy framework setting out their priorities for the planning system in England in a single, concise document covering all major forms of development proposals handled by local authorities’.
The Government has asked organisations and individuals to offer their suggestions on what priorities and policies might be adopted to produce a ‘shorter, more decentralised and less bureaucratic national planning policy framework.’
Well, that’s maybe not quite what we had in mind, but it’s a start.
In a couple of weeks we’ll be publishing our own report on what a Natural Planning Framework for England should look like.
The deadline to make proposals to the Department of Communities and Local Government is 28 February 2011.
When a colleague of mine was talking to a friend at the BTO about birds seen at our respective headquarters, it all went a little too far! And now we locked in a year-long competition to see how many species (and not just birds) we can see here at the Lodge (pictured in the December snow) or at the BTO’s HQ, the Nunnery in Thetford.
You can read all about it on this blog (and yes, I know, we’ve got some ground to make up but there’s still time!)
The challenge will be fun – but behind it is the illustration of the richness of the wildlife around us. We’ll be using BirdTrack to record the details – run by the BTO in partnership with us, BirdWatch Ireland and the Scottish Ornithologists Club. The value of records in terms of both helping to conserve species and protect the places they depend upon should never be underestimated – and BirdTrack is a great way for bird-watchers to make their birding really count – I’d really recommend having a go to see if it’s for you.
But of course there’s a great way you can let us know what birds are in your garden – in just a few days time over the weekend of 29 – 30 January. Yes, it’s Big Garden Birdwatch time! And you can pre-register here.
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Stop flogging it Boris.
Just in case anyone is in any doubt – here’s our reaction to the latest attempt by Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to breath life into the crazy idea of building an International Airport hub in the middle of the Thames Estuary.
Today (Tuesday18 January), the Mayor addressed business leaders in the Capital, telling them the business gains will be great and that planning needs to start now. He presented no new evidence and once again failed to address the considerable environmental issues.
Much of the estuary has International environmental protection, safeguarding its immense importance for native and migratory birds, rare plants and habitats. Hundreds of thousands of birds use the estuary as a major migratory route, posing a considerable threat to planes of bird strike.
Chris Corrigan, the RSPB’s Director for South East England said: “Boris continues to pursue this pipe dream, but no amount of wishful thinking on his behalf changes the fact that the Thames Estuary is not dead space, waiting for development. It is home to an immense number of birds and other wildlife. You can not recreate the estuary nor move on the native or migratory wildlife that relies on it for food and shelter. "I'm sure the Mayor doesn't want to go down in history as the man who decimated not just birds in the Thames, but global species too, while putting air passengers lives at risk due to bird strike. I'd urge him to drop this costly pursuit now and look to further strengthening, greening and improving London's public transport systems."Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking in October last year, ruled out a Thames Estuary airport and the idea exhaustively investigated by the government between 2002-2005, concluding it was not a viable option. It reported that an estuary airport did not make sense economically, would not meet the requirements of the aviation industry, and presented a significantly higher risk of ‘bird strike’ than at any other major airport in the UK. The Thames Estuary is used by 300,000 migratory birds and is home to one of Europe’s largest groups of internationally protected habitats. The massive environmental damage that building an airport in the Estuary would cause means the RSPB is firmly opposed to the move.
Last year bitterns nested in the reeds at our Dungeness reserve for the first time – a great compliment to the habitat creation work that the reserves team have put in place. A habitat without its characteristic species is a bit like a stage without the cast – something to look at but not the full show.
Anyway – after the booming calls of the male bittern last spring – a new bittern record has been set for the reserve with at least 11 of these elusive birds wintering on site. They won’t be the same birds – most of these will be visitors from the continent – and they have been very visible to visitors.
I was watching one at New Year, just a few feet away, feeding in thin reeds at the waters edge. Even though I knew exactly where it was, as soon as it stopped its camouflaged plumage melted into the background. Now you see it, now you don’t.
The BBC has covered the story – and you can read more here.
Countdown to the public inquiry.
We’re less than a month away from the start of the Lydd airport public inquiry – so still time to object, as an individual – you can find out how here. Do consider visiting the reserve – especially for the first time or if you haven’t be there for a while. It’s a great way to find out what all the fuss is about!
Meet Dunge (he's the one in the middle) – the Olympics have Wenlock and Mandeville, we’ve got Dunge, he spent years rolling along the south coast before he settled at Dungeness, just a stone’s throw from some of our reserve ... keep an eye out for him and his friends throughout our coverage over the next few weeks.
I wrote about an exciting project in Shropshire the other day – the Lapwing Meadows project. They’re running some consultation events at the moment – there’s one tomorrow, here are the dates:
Saturday 15 January 2011 – Parish Rooms, Newport. 9.00 AM to 1.00 PM
Wednesday 26 January 2011 – Ruyton XI Town’s Memorial Hall 6.00 PM to 9.00 PM
Project manager, Sarah Wheale, has been in touch and told me about a focus group that is to be set up to help the project.
Here's some more details – direct from Sarah.
RSPB, Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the Environment Agency are working together with farmers and landowners to revitalise the wetlands of the Weald Moors and Baggy Moor in Shropshire to enable breeding wading birds and a host of other wildlife to flourish in the area. This project has been called “Lapwing Meadows”; to reflect the type of landscape and wildlife we hope to see more of in the future. Wetlands are a key component of our countryside, offering unique wildlife habitats and interesting places for people to visit. They also play an important part in our everyday lives supplying us with fresh water, helping to control flooding and mitigating the effects of climate change.
As part of this project we are looking to set up a focus group made of people from the local community, who live in and around the Weald Moors and Baggy Moor or who live in the wider community and are interested in the project. The aim of the focus group is to learn more about how people use and engage with the local countryside, their thoughts on the Lapwing Meadows Project and their ideas for how the project could be developed in the future.
Being part of the focus group won’t take up much of your time and you will be making a valuable contribution to a project which will support local wildlife and the environment, as well as potentially providing opportunities for education and training.
If you are interested in being part of the focus group please contact Sarah Wheale on 01952 433211 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The focus group meeting will take place in early February at Wellington Leisure Centre in Telford and a range of refreshments will be provided.