Just over a week ago the Thames estuary in general and the Isle of Grain in North Kent in particular, were propelled into the media as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, tried to stack the odds in favour of a Thames Estuary Airport in the forthcoming strategic review of aviation.
Here’s a flavour of the media last week in the Telegraph and Guardian.
The analysis has continued, revealing the array of issues that such a development would bring. Here’s our own Conservation Director, Martin Harper linking the airport back to deeper concerns that the coalition Government are using the cover of our economic woes to fundamentally unpick the means of protecting our natural environment.
Juliette Jowit writing in the Guardian looks at the way protection, driven by European law, has succeeded in safeguarding the best bits of nature over three decades.
One of the long running concerns about estuary airports is the greater risk of bird strike – a serious issue in terms of human safety and in the clearances that would be necessary in an area protected because of ... its birds.
I’ve been asked what birds Thames is important for ... here’s a flavour, and I plan to come back to this topic soon.
An avocet in flight - just one of the species for which the Thames is internationally important
The greater Thames is a big estuary and is a winter life-line for over 300,000 waterfowl (that’s duck’s geese and wading birds) and is the reason the coastal wetlands of the Thames is designated as a series of Special Protection Areas.
Now, not all these birds cram on the area around the Isle of Grain in North Kent singled out for a proposed four-runway airport – but the impact of massive land claim within a dynamic tidal estuary will go far beyond the site itself and this will risk affecting other areas beyond the footprint of the development.
The term ‘internationally important’ is often used to describe birds that depend on wetlands. This is not an arbitrary description but is an indication that a site regularly supports 1% or more of the population of that species. How do we know that? Because of the dedication of an army of largely volunteer birdwatchers contributing to surveys such as the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) ... their contribution to conservation is immense.
Ironically it was an earlier Thames Estuary airport – Foulness in the late 60s – that promoted the start of the Birds of Estuaries Inquiry by the BTO, a forerunner of WeBS.
The stars of the Thames (all internationally important) are dark-bellied brent geese, teal (our smallest duck), shoveler (a duck) and a long list of wading birds; oystercatcher, avocet, ringed plover, grey plover, knot, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit and redshank.
In addition, the Swale (the tidal channel between the isle of Sheppey and the Kent coast and not far from the end of the proposed airport) adds pintail and golden plover to the list of internationally important species.
It doesn’t end there, the north Kent marshes are a vital area for red-listed nesting lapwings and the Thames and Medway is the most important place in the UK for little egrets.
Fancy a chance to see some of all this?
On 2 February (in the week of the 200 anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens) we’re organising a special walk. Starting from the main car park at 10am, and again at 1pm, the 3-mile round trip will take walkers into the heart of the Kent grazing marsh that inspired Dickens’s novel Great Expectations, serialised on TV over the Christmas break. The tour also takes in the marshes wildlife and historic buildings.
There is a charge for this event £6 for adults, £5 for children with discounts for RSPB members – and booking is essential please call 01634 222480 or email email@example.com
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Helen Byron is a regular contributor to this blog, here she gives us the latest on her work to save the Tana River Delta in Kenya.
I’ve got a unique job working closely with some of our BirdLife International Partners on their campaigns to save their special places. Our aim is always constructive engagement with developers and decision-makers to get workable solutions. But sadly this isn’t always possible, so some of the work is simply outright battling against crazy developments. The camaraderie with my BirdLife colleagues as we work shoulder to shoulder in these battles is immense, as is the passion I feel for the amazing places we are striving to save.
Tana River Delta is right up there at the top of my list of places we must save and secure a more sustainable future. Over the last four years I’ve been so privileged to work alongside my talented Nature Kenya colleagues Serah Munguti and Paul Matiku in their endeavours to safeguard this remarkable place.
The campaign has had many twists and turns and ups and downs. Back in 2008 it looked like Tana River Delta was doomed to imminent destruction from a deluge of large agriculture proposals. Fantastically this has not happened and, as you’ll know from previous posts, we are delighted to be supporting the strategic planning process for the Delta which has now started. Next week the Secretariat leading the planning and Strategic Environmental Assessment process are travelling to the Delta for a series of stakeholder meetings – things are really progressing.
But sadly it’s not all good news. There is still a live permission for a 10,000 ha biofuel project and the Canadian developer Bedford Biofuels is progressing activities on the ground. Valuable habitats have already been damaged.
We strongly believe that this permission must be cancelled. The Kenyan authorities have acknowledged irregularities in the way it was granted and we think it jeopardises the strategic planning process by proceeding before this is settled. In addition, by jumping the gun it fails to take account of which areas are suitable for which types of development and which should be safeguarded for biodiversity. And it’s not just us – many of the local communities also oppose the project.
And here’s Please help us urge the Kenyan Government to rethink and cancel the permission. It will only take a few minutes to email the Kenyan Minister of Environment and Natural Resources to tell him what you think – and here’s how.
We know from Nature Kenya that these emails really do make a difference. So thank you in advance if you can make time to do this!
Helen will keep us updated.
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The landscape is changing. I don’t mean the landscape you can physically see from your window, but the way in which we plan for that landscape, its people, places and wildlife.
Where I live in Cambridgeshire, there used to be a strategic plan for the county, and then a more detailed, local plan for the district. In some parts of the country, mostly in the larger urban areas, these were combined in a single, ‘unitary development plan’. Back in 2004 the county plan (or ‘structure plan’) was replaced by an even more strategic plan, the regional strategy. Mine covered the counties or former counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire.
2012 will be the year in which this all changes again, at least in England outside London (London is always a special case). The incoming Government has always made plain its intention to get rid of the regional strategies, largely because of their highly-contentious housing targets, but also because of concerns they took power away from people. The Localism Act 2011 allows them to do this, and also introduces an entirely new layer of planning, neighbourhood plans. So where I live I’ll have a local plan for my district, but also possibly a neighbourhood plan for my town, or part of my town.
This is all very well, but the natural environment doesn’t recognise administrative boundaries. The river which is the main feature of my town passes through many local authorities and probably dozens of neighbourhoods on its way to the sea. And many people in my town actually work or shop somewhere else. There’s still a need to plan at a more strategic level for people and for wildlife.
The Government proposes to deal with this by giving local authorities and other public bodies a ‘duty to cooperate’. We welcome the way in which the duty was strengthened during the passage of the Localism Act through Parliament. But will it really deliver effective strategic planning?
That’s one of the questions we pose in our response to the Government’s consultation on its environmental reports on the revocation of regional strategies. To cut a long story short, the road to abolishing regional strategies has been very bumpy. A series of legal challenges more or less forced the Government to consider the environmental implications of getting rid of regional strategies. Unfortunately it’s a case of too little, too late. Too late to make any real difference, too little because it only asked, do you get rid of them entirely, or not at all (how about asking, ‘what good environmental policies could be saved?’). Moreover, the reports place unquestioning faith in the environmental benefits of the Government’s planning reforms; anyone who’s been following the debate over the National Planning Policy Framework will know how contentious that is. Our verdict on the environmental reports is, nul points.
But there are things that Government could still do to encourage effective strategic planning, and our response suggests six, which I summarise as:
Here’s to effective strategic planning in 2012 and beyond.
I’m posting this at the end of long day in which the rhetoric around building a four runway airport smack bang in the Thames Estuary has gone up a couple of notches.
It sounds like the story blurted out into the media – with overtones of posturing around the elections for the Mayor of London. Dastardly politics, some might say, seeking to wreck chunks of Kent – who’s residents can’t vote for the Mayor of London.
In some respects, though the temperature has risen, we are where we were yesterday, preparing for a major airport consultation (that was signalled in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement) – and we will contribute to that fully. We’ll do what we need to do to help you comment and add your voice in this consultation.
But let's not kid ourselves, this feels like we are in the first skirmishes of what looks like a battle royal and, here at the RSPB we’re ready to step up (again!)
I’ve spent the day planning action with a range of organisations and individuals – more on that soon. One massive advantage we have is that the close relations forged between the RSPB and local people in the battle to see this bonkers proposal a decade ago (the No Airport at Cliffe campaign) will be the backbone of our campaigning this time round. The Friends of North Kent Marshes formed in the teeth of the last version of this proposal and iIf you are a twitter user, do follow them @fonkm.
If you would like some more background Charlie Moores interviewed me recently for the Talking Naturally podcast - and you can listen here.
There will be more on this story - and you will be able to keep up with it on this blog as the consultation unfolds and how you can step up.
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Two posts have appeared today on other blogs and in a spirit of cross pollination I thought I would bring them to your attention.
Firstly, in Suffolk, we are working hard to ensure woodlands in Suffolk are not slashed in two by a proposed electricity line. There are alternatives, so plenty to fight for.
Here’s the blog and here’s an article in the East Anglian Daily Times.
São Tomé is one of those places that is hard to pin point – so this blog helpfully includes a map. As islands often are, São Tomé is home to some unique and special wildlife, but the chainsaws are busy and the pressure to destroy tropical forest is extreme, we have a team on the islands exploring the issues and identifying what needs to be done.