July, 2011

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Saving special places

Protecting our best wildlife sites from damage is big part of the RSPB's work - read about our work from the people on the front line
  • Talbot Heath Public Inquiry begins

    Yesterday saw the start of the inquiry into the proposed development of land adjacent Talbot heath in Poole. Opening statements were made by all parties followed by David Tyldesley and Dr John Day presenting the case on planning and ornithological matters on behalf of RSPB and Natural England.

    There has been good coverage in the media including a feature on BBC South evening news here . Bournemouth Echo reported on the opening day here.

    The full programme for the inquiry can be found here and documents relating to the inquiry are available from Poole Borough Council. This is a public inquiry, so anyone is able to attend and watch the proceedings. And if you can't make it during the day, there will be an evening session between 6pm and 8:30pm on Wednesday 20 July when local residents will present their evidence. The inquiry is being held at Hamworthy Recreation Club to the north of Poole/Bournemouth.

  • Presumption in the media

    Since I blogged earlier this week, the National Planning Policy Framework has hit the headlines in quite a big way. The National Trust campaign has created quite a stir (“National Trust warns planning changes could tear up countryside” in the Guardian), with a “bewildered” reaction from business in the shape of the British Property Federation and the British Chambers of Commerce in the Telegraph here and a riposte from minister Bob Neill in the Guardian here, who claims that “preserving the character of our country’s landscape and checking unrestricted sprawl of built-up areas are key priorities” within the NPPF.

    A lot of the media debate has been helpfully summarised on the Planning Resource website, including a long list of who said what on the day except, strangely, the RSPB. If you’re not a subscriber, see what our own Martin Harper said in the Telegraph or on the RSPB website, and for another point of view here’s the FT. My colleague Alice Hardiman appeared on the BBC News channel discussing the NPPF with minister Greg Clark, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be available on i-player. CPRE, Friends of the Earth and WWF-UK have been in on the action too.

    Meanwhile, we’ve been asking our members and supporters to respond to the consultation as part of our Stepping Up for Nature campaign.  

    So, are the environmental groups making a fuss about nothing? Is it all "hyperbole and scare tactics"?

    As I said before, there are some welcome policies in the text – I helped draft them. To take a few examples, there are new policies on restoring habitats and protecting local ecological networks. There’s a tougher stance on peat extraction – no more planning permissions, even for extended sites. As Bob Neill points out, there’s a new designation to protect local green spaces.

    But the big argument isn’t really over the environmental policies. It’s the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ and the strongly pro-growth tone of the policy. Damian Carrington in the Guardian has a good blog on this.

    Don’t get me wrong, we need new homes and businesses, and they have to go somewhere. We need renewable energy too, and the approval rates in England are shockingly low.

    If this development is going to be truly sustainable, it has to do (at least) two things: protect special places, and deliver environmental benefits too. The ‘presumption’ as currently worded undermines the environmental policies of the NPPF by making it harder for local authorities to refuse damaging development. There's also some unfortunate repetition of the presumption even within the environment chapter, which effectively waters down otherwise good policies.

    That’s why those who are concerned about the environment and the future of planning are right to make a fuss.

    In the coming weeks we’ll be talking to Government about specific changes we’d like to see to ensure the NPPF really does lives up to its ambition for the natural environment.

  • Great news for the Danube Delta

    In November 2009 I made a promise that we would update you on the campaign mounted by the Romanian Ornithological Society (SOR – BirdLife Romania) to establish proper protection for the world-famous Danube Delta.  The news, then, was that the Romanian parliament had chucked out a draft law that would have put in place just such protection.

    The Danube Delta - a magical and special place. Photo by Daniel Petrescu

    So I'm delighted to bring you the news from SOR’s Marina Cazacu that, at last, after nearly five years of campaigning, the Romanian president has just announced the adoption of a new law!

    This law brings the protection of the Delta in line with European Union (EU) legislation.  It gives strict protection to 18 areas within the Biosphere Reserve where the only permitted activities will be research, education and eco-tourism.  It also requires the adoption of a management plan to ensure that the species that the site is designated for achieve or remain at ‘favourable conservation status’. 

    The dry legalese of the formal protection scarcely gives an indication of the richness of the Delta.  It is one of the EU’s most important wetlands.  It hosts 320 bird species, 30 different ecosystems, and over 5000 species of flora and fauna.  It is designated as a Special Protection Area and Site of Community Importance under the European Birds and Habitats Directives, and is also designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    And the wildlife – Imperial eagles, Dalmatian pelicans and great snipe; red-breasted geese, pallid harriers and European rollers, a stellar line up indeed!

    The Delta administration now has powers to regulate fish stocks sustainably, and the law gives them a remit to facilitate the restoration of 60,000 ha of unused agricultural polders and fishponds.

    Marina says ‘Its really exciting that we have at last got a fit-for-purpose law to protect and manage this fantastic site of world importance.  It took a lot of perseverance and false-starts, but now we’re really looking forward to working with the Delta administration to make sure that this magical wetland is managed properly and restored for future generations.’

    The RSPB has been supporting the work of SOR - and we're delighted that this is the outcome of a long campaign.

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