I’m back from half term hols and in catching up with
messages I was struck by the commitment communities are prepared to make in
putting the case to defend places that are both vital for the natural world and
a key part of their lives.
At home, the second full week of the Public Inquiry into
proposals to extent the runway at Lydd airport will get underway tomorrow. And it is in this week that our evidence will
be given and cross-examined. It’s a case that we’ve been following closely and
working side by side with local communities to ensure that the full range of
issues are fully argued at the Public Inquiry.
The inquriy continues
Another case we’ve been following is the threats to the Tana
River Delta in Kenya – a very different mix of issues but a similar mix of
local activism working alongside the contribution made by our friends and
colleagues in Nature Kenya.
This update from Sarah Munguti, Nature Kenya’s Communication
and Advocacy manager was waiting in my inbox when I got back to work
The Tana court case came
up for hearing yesterday 14 Feb 2011 at 9 AM as scheduled before Justice
It was however stood over to 4th April 2011
following requests by some of the respondents for more time to file their
responses and submissions against the community lawyer's application for
About 100 people from Tana Delta travelled overnight to Nairobi to attend the
hearing. They were joined by another 50 people who come from Tana Delta but
reside in Nairobi. Afterwards the community representatives held a
demonstration within the Nairobi High Court grounds with media covering the
demo. High Court Advocate Job Thiga who is representing the community addressed
them briefly and explained what had happened in court. He also spoke to media
and availed copies of the community petition to the media.
At about 10.30 a.m. the 150 community representatives
walked to the Vice President's office and presented the issues on Tana to him. The
Vice President requested a written petition on the issue and promised them to
look into the issue and even raise it with the President. The community representatives
wrote the petition, all of them signed it and sent two of their own to present
it to the Vice President.
It was encouraging to see so many people from Tana Delta at
the High Court and they drew the attention of many. Still more encouraging that
the community fundraised on their own and with support from well-wishers and
'friends of Tana Delta' managed to attend the hearing yesterday. They have
vowed to attend the next hearing, follow up with the Vice President and the
Prime Minister on the issue.
More Kenyans are aware of the case and issues in the Tana.
For instance, the Member of Parliament for Galole heard about the demo while in
North Eastern Kenya and contacted the community coordinator while he was still
Thank you for your support
Sarah on a visit to the Delta
I’ll keep updating you on both stories as they move towards
their conclusions. Both places have
benefited hugely that local communities have been central to giving Dungeness
and the Tana River Delta the profile and campaigning zeal that means they are
both getting their days in court.
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At last the Public Inquiry has properly opened in Folkestone to start hearing evidence that will decide the fate of wildlife and local people in the Dungeness area from a massively expanded airport at Lydd.
It was fantastic to see local people turning up to show their feelings against the expansion that is likely to damage their local environment and quality of life. The public viewing area in the council chamber was so full that an overflow area was opened up so people could watch and listen to proceedings.
The day started with all parties presenting their opening statements summarising the outline of their case.
It was reassuring to hear that both the council and the airport team agreed that the views of local people were relevant and important - let's hope they finally decide to listen to them then. In the only independent local referenda, local people voted overwhelmingly against an expanded airport - 2 to 1 against! They have emphatically rejected an expanded airport.
It was also emphasised that the local area needs new jobs - no-one denies this. However, the RSPB believes that creating new jobs from an expanded airport would not only damage the wider environment, but could also jeopardise existing jobs in the tourism industry. Why not promote this beautiful and distinctive environment as a place to come and see wonderful wildlife, creating a more sustainable economy, based on eco-tourism, that won't degrade this unique place?
Instead Shepway Council believe that an expanded airport will raise the profile of this part of Kent as a visitor destination and bring new people to the area. What would these visitors come to see? Certainly not an amazing wildlife spectacle, but maybe large passenger jets instead?
Over the next two weeks the RSPB will present evidence on the impact of an expanded airport on the important bird populations in this highly protected place, the effect on our much-valued nature reserve at Dungeness and also the impact on climate change.
Other objecting parties will highlight damage to the sensitive plants on the vegetated shingle from air pollution, the loss of the area's famous tranquillity and the safety issues raised by the development of such as a large airport near a nuclear power plant- in fact the nearest airport to a nuclear power plant in the UK
Dedicated RSPB staff will be here at the Public Inquiry for much of the time over the coming months - watch this space for more updates as the proceedings continue.
Tomorrow sees the public inquiry into plans extend Lydd Airport and potentially boost passenger numbers to 2m a year (they are currently under 1000) really get under way. We’re appearing at the inquiry giving evidence to back up our long-held objection to this proposal. The inquiry opened last week and then adjourned so that the inspector, Mr Ken Barton, could go on a series of site visits. Tomorrow the serious business starts – I’m on holiday this week so we’ll have some guest blogging.
Here’s a catch up on some of the reporting of the preliminaries (I don’t pretend it’s comprehensive and I would encourage you to follow the story up if you want to read or listen to every word).
The opening was widely reported on BBC, Meridian and in local print and online media. The Independent carried a double page spread on the morning of the inquiry’s opening.
Most of the coverage in the week following was repeating the opening positions covered last Tuesday – but the Guardian has picked up on the risk of nuclear accident as an important theme in the inquiry – and one that the Lydd Airport Action Group (LAAG) will major on.
Inevitably, angles develop in stories – here’s one ‘revealing’ that the aforementioned LAAG has been raising funds! Putting across a well-reasoned argument at a public inquiry needs resources – let alone running the campaign that led to this point. ‘Local campaign wins backing’ would be another way of looking at it.
Feels like the mix of local and national stories (not to mention the odd potty one) is positioning this inquiry in the public eye – not surprising, the issues are serious and the interest in the eventual outcome will be considerable. Meanwhile, you can keep up with the wildlife news from our Dungeness nature reserve.
Dungeness with birds, nuclear power station in the background.
It was high tide on the Dee Estuary last weekend – and it looks like the wildlife spectacle didn’t disappoint. When really high tides inundate the saltmarsh everything heads for higher ground and crowds were able to enjoy the event from Wirral’s Parkgate - the story made it on to the BBC.
I mentioned the massive loss of lowland peatlands recently when telling you about our concerns abut the Isle of Axholme. Over 94% of lowland raised bogs have been lost – gone, wrecked, destroyed. This particular type of peat bog – lowland raised mire – has come as close as any habitat to disappearing completely.
A whole habitat!
Before I tell you the story, I do want to highlight that there’s something you can do at the end.
In recent times, the main driver of the loss of lowland peat bogs has been the use of peat to make compost for horticultural use. It’s often called peat harvesting – giving the process a sustainable veneer. Call it open cast mining – for that is what it is.
The assault on the senses when you witness the destruction – is unforgettable. On flat landscapes the ravages of the mining are concealed by a fringe of trees. Pass through the curtain of birch trees and the scale of the operation is apparent. For me it was Thorne and Hatfield Moors on the boarders of South Yorkshire and Lincolnshire – and my epiphany was over twenty years ago.
The Government clearly agrees that the continued use of peat for use as compost is unsustainable and must stop – but on a twenty-year timescale. Hear hear to the principle – but two decades is too long to right this wrong.
I’ll come back to Thorne and Hatfield later – but let me tell you a little about a lowland raised mire (not too much – if you want the full story, here’s a link). Their key feature is that the only source of water is from the rain, peat builds up as the water-logged remains of plants in a shallow bowl in the landscape and is topped with surface of living vegetation. Over the centuries, humans have used peat for fuel, for animal bedding and cut-areas have developed their own particular interest.
Insectivorous plants like sundews, rare insects from large heath butterflies to mire pill beetles call these places home – a wildlife community easily wrecked. Now here’s a picture of the process of stripping peat – it’s straight forward and industrial. Remove the veg and drain, then mill the peat and pile it up for processing.
That was Thorne Moors in the bad old days. The future for the scattering of our most important bogs here and in Cumbria is much brighter – but the industry grinds on in this country and overseas. As spring approaches and our thoughts turn to time in the garden, the garden centres are piled with composts to attract the green fingered and the rest of us who are more in the plant and hope camp.
And here's what lowland bogs should look like.
Will you pick a peat-alternative? I hope you do. The glory of your garden should not be at the expense of the glories of our natural world should it?
So we want to see the Government encourage the end of this destructive use of peat – and we’re suggesting that one way to speed the day is to introduce a peat levy. Tax the damage that peat does – make the costs equivalent to composts made with alternatives to peat and hasten the day that the damage will stop.
The campaigns to save the best of remnants of our lowland raised mires had some successes those of us involved two decades ago intervened at the eleventh hour. Despite widespread acceptance that peat-use is fundamentally unsustainable we’ve seen 15 years of failure to deliver through voluntary means. We believe a peat levy is a vital signal that the damage must stop – and soon.
You can help – if you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, please send a letter to your MP, you can find all the details of what we are asking you to do here.
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Peat is the waterlogged remains of plants that have built up over thousands of years. Peat bogs and wetlands are treasure-troves of nature. They are also vital landscape features that hold water in the landscape and, crucially lock up carbon.
Pretty precious then?
So not wise to drain them, opencast mine them for horticulture, plough them up and otherwise degrade then?
For one type of peat bog known as lowland raised mire, we’ve lost over 94% of them – for other extensive areas of peaty soils (such as much of the Fens for example) the changing land use over centuries has restricted the once vast wetlands to tiny fragments. But now many of these former wetland wonders are now rich farmland – to find a future for wetland restoration will require careful integration of agriculture and conservation. Not easy, but the prize is surely worth it – and when opportunities come along we should seize the day.
The Isle of Axholme is just such a chance, an area between Goole and Bawtry is currently having a flood risk strategy drawn up for it – a plan that could shape the future of the area for the next hundred years.
What an opportunity!
We’re really worried that the chance will be missed – that the Agency’s strategy will fail to grasp a rare opportunity to shape a future that works for farming (by storing precious water) helps to reduce the drying out of peat (and thus cutting down the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere) and provide a secure future for wetland wildlife.
We are calling on the agency to re-think their plan – consultation finishes next week. You van find out more here and what other’s are saying here.