This blog is where you can read about the places we work to protect and the people on the front line. The scope of this blog covers planning, the policies and legal framework that exists to protect the best places for wildlife and of, of course, the individual cases that are the daily work of staff across the UK. We help BirdLife International partners overseas – and you will be able to read contributions from Europe and further afield.
Of course – probably of the best way to save a site is to a acquire it as a nature reserve – this blog will sometimes feature our reserves and the role they play in future of our wildlife, but the full story of the RSPBs network of nature reserves is told elsewhere: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
This blog features the contributions of many individuals – I will have the pleasure of holding the ring and acting as the narrator to this compelling story. So a little about me; I’m Andre Farrar and my first active involvement with the RSPB was in the late 1970s as a volunteer with our Leeds Local Group http://www.rspb.org.uk/groups/leeds.
I was one of many who wrote to their MPs as part of the campaign to get the best outcome for what became the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). It wasn’t perfect but it was a good start. Thirty years on, I’m still in the thick of it campaigning for our protected areas and special places for wildlife. Are we winning? Read on and find out, and see how you can help.
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.
When it comes to Stepping Up – Admiral Nelson is in a league of his own. His famous message to the fleet ‘England expects every man will do his duty’ galvanised the battle of Trafalgar. It’s fitting, then, that at his feet a new vision for the centre of London is unveiled to transform the iconic London square into a vibrant and green heart to the city.
The RSPB’s launch of the Trafalgar Naturepark marks the launch of IUCN’s decade of biodiversity – which aims to halt the loss of the planet’s wildlife by 2020. Nelson’s column will form a central pillar of a giant rainforest biome surrounded by the extensive wildlife gardens and wildflower meadows. The open spaces of the square will be places where people can get up close to nature and enjoy wildlife spectacles on giant 3D screens.
We’ll be bringing in dramatic live wildlife footage from our network of 200 nature reserves here in the UK as well as dramatic material from flagship overseas projects including rainforest restoration schemes in Sumatra and Sierra Leone. We’ll be featuring projects to save endangered wildlife in Kazakhstan and albatrosses in the southern oceans.
Our own Paul Lewis has been at the heart of planning this project and is very excited: “We all have to step up if we are meet the 2020 targets for saving nature. A healthy natural environment is crucial to our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing and also has significant, well-documented economic benefits.
“To mark our ambitions for 2020, we want visitors to Trafalgar Square to enjoy parrots, penguins and polar bears, as opposed to pigeons. It’s going to be an inspiring, interactive experience with a mix of digital, hands on and real life components.
“ We’ve held very positive talks with both the Government and the Mayor’s office and our backers are ready with a multi-million pound funding package.”
The RSPB led consortium has plans for further ‘nature experience zones’ in nine city centre locations across the UK, including Birmingham’s Bullring and Princess Street Gardens in Edinburgh.
“For far too long our city centres have turned a blind eye to the value of inspiring a close relationship with nature, said Mr Lewis. “Young people living in urban areas are increasingly isolated from opportunities to enjoy nature. Our natureparks aim to redress the balance by putting nature at the heart of city centre life.”
The project backers include a businessman, a rock star, a computer entrepreneur, a high street retailer and a leading leisure experience provider. Full details will be revealed in an exhibition showcasing the project later this year.
When asked about the future of the lions – Mr Lewis, in an unguarded moment, revealed that a small pride was planned.
Well, as Nelson would, no doubt, have said, ‘You should keep an eye out for that one'.Follow me on twitter (if you dare)
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.