Data Reveals Poor Conditions at Protected Wildlife Site

The following article reiterates what I have observed and have been saying for years – that many of our Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are in a parlous state.  For example, most of the Firle Escarpment has not been inspected for 5 years!  Significant areas are now degenerating into bramble and scrub due to poor management by some farmers – ML.

Pevensey Levels ‘at risk’ – new data reveals poor conditions at protected wildlife site.

By Ginny Sanderson, Sussex Express.

Tuesday, 21st January 2020.

Waller’s Haven on Pevensey Levels looking towards Herstmonceux in the late afternoon winter sun.

More than half of all inspections found poor conditions at the wildlife haven, which is among the country’s precious few Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).  An investigation has found the protected area is among thousands of beauty spots across the country which are in a poor state and facing unsatisfactory conditions.

The area is home to many rare creatures, and is considered to best site in Britain for freshwater molluscs, including the endangered ram’s horn snail.  Extremely rare aquatic plants can also be found in the marshland, which stretches from Bexhill to Hailsham.  The 3,600 hectare site is in peril alongside other East Sussex areas Romney Marsh and Rye Bay, and Dungeness in neighbouring Kent.

Many SSSI sites have not been assessed for years, leading environmental campaigners to fear the situation could be even worse.  Wildlife charities have branded the findings “shocking”, while the government says it is taking action to restore sites.  Paul de Zylva, of Friends of the Earth, said it was “shocking that our top wildlife sites are in such poor condition”.

He said, “If we can’t even protect the jewels in the crown, it’s little wonder that UK nature is in such poor shape.  The new government must make the protection and restoration of our natural environment a top priority.”  While Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trust’s director of campaigns and policy, said bodies such as Natural England, which monitor the condition of sites, had been starved of funding.

She called for them to get a substantial cash injection “to enable them to carry out their functions effectively and to ensure our protected sites are restored and enhanced.”  In England, SSSIs are inspected in smaller sections called units.  More than half of these units (53 per cent) are in an unfavourable condition, inspection data shows.

Guidelines state SSSI features in England should be assessed at least every six years, but analysis by the JPI Media Investigation Unit found more than half (12,394) of sites have not been assessed since 2011.  A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said while most of England’s SSSIs were either in a favourable condition or were recovering, they recognised that “more needs to be done to improve these vital sites”.

They said, “England’s Sites of Special Scientific Interest protect our most rare and threatened wildlife and represent the best in nature this country has to offer.  While 94 per cent of these are currently in a favourable or recovering condition, we know more needs to be done to improve these vital sites. That’s why we are focusing on restoring those sites that are still in a recovering condition so we can enhance these important areas.”

Investigative reporting by Aimee Stanton of the JPI Media Data Unit.

Today – 20 Years of Pony Grazing!

Today, I sent the e-mail below to fifty of the longer serving pony Lookers – volunteers who (used to) check the Exmoor ponies on a regular basis come rain, wind or snow.  I have hesitated in the tense of the last sentence as I gain the impression that many of the Lookers have been made redundant by the pony trust or sadly fallen by the wayside through lack of communication.

The first 15 ponies about to reach Drusillas roundabout after travelling from Exmoor.
On the fist site above Alfriston with the BBC filming them.
“On November 22 1999 –  20 years ago today, our first 18 ponies were driven on the hoof from Frog Firle to the very first grazing site situated above Alfriston, doesn’t time (and hooves) fly!  
The reason for e-mailing you is that when I retired in February 2017, I’d been seriously ill with flu, followed almost immediately by my move to St.Leonards.  Therefore, I never got to thanking you myself for the many hours and toil – often in inclement weathers, that you loyally gave lookering our wonderful five herds of Exmoor ponies.  Today seems a good day to correct that…  So, thank you all very much from my innermost self, for your commitment across the years to the ponies and to helping wildlife conservation.
During the last couple of years, I gather a number of changes have come about concerning the Trust – not all of which I’m happy about but, times change and I’ve retired and no longer have any connection with our dear four-legged friends.”
Some of the first Lookers about to erect the corral for the first time.  L to R Brian Miles (hidden), Alan Holyoak, Brian Sandham, ?, Alan Skinner, Emrys Hughes, Mike Bridges.

Peering Above The Horizon is…

Pioneering Spirit.  As I sit, writing here at lunchtime on Tuesday 19th, looming above the horizon and more than half way to France is the Pioneering Spirit on passage to Kristiansand in southern Norway.

It is the world’s largest construction vessel, designed for the single-lift installation and removal of large oil and gas platforms and the installation of record-weight pipelines.  Designed by Swiss-based Allseas Group, the 382 m long, 124 m wide vessel was built in South Korea by Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering (2011–14) at a cost of €2.6 billion and commenced offshore operations in August 2016.

In June 2017, Pioneering Spirit commenced pipelaying for the first line of SouthStream Transport B.V’s dual 930-km Turkish Stream gas pipeline in the Black Sea.

Pioneering Spirit is the world’s largest vessel, in terms of its gross tonnage (403,342 gt), breadth (123.75 m / 406 ft.), and displacement (1,000,000 t).  The maximum 48,000 t (47,000-long-ton; 53,000-short-ton) topside lift capacity is achieved by operating as a semi-submersible. For removal of topsides, the vessel straddles the intended payload with the slot formed by the twin bows. The slot measures 122 m × 59 m (400 ft × 194 ft) (L×W). After straddling the payload, Pioneering Spirit takes on ballast to lower, and two sets of eight (one set per bow) retractable motion-compensated horizontal lifting beams are slid under the payload. Once the load is secure, the vessel offloads the ballast, rising in the water and partially transferring the load to the beams. In the final stage a fast lift system is used that lifts the payload up to 2.5 m in 15 s.

Two tilting lift beams for the installation or removal of steel jackets, up to 25,000 t (25,000 long tons; 28,000 short tons) in weight, will be located at the vessel’s stern.[25] A 5,000 t (4,900 long tons; 5,500 short tons) special purpose crane built by Huisman is scheduled for delivery in the second half of 2018. The tub mounted crane will be available for additional lifts for jacket and topsides installation such as pile handling and bridge installation.[26][27]

When equipped with the Stinger, Pioneering Spirit can be used to lay pipe. Pipe segments are welded together on board the vessel, then are placed on the Stinger, where they roll into the water. The Stinger is curved to guide the pipe to the bottom of the ocean. The Stinger itself weighs 4,200 tonnes (4,600 short tons) and measures 150 metres (490 ft) long and 65 metres (213 ft) wide. It is attached to the Stinger Transition Frame (STF), which provides an interface between the Stinger and the vessel; the STF is installed in the bow slot when attached to the vessel. The Stinger Transition Frame weighs more than 1,600 tonnes (1,800 short tons) by itself.

The vessel is equipped with eight, 20-cylinder (20V32/44CR) MAN 11,200 kW diesel generators providing a total installed power of 95 MW, driving 12 Rolls-Royce azimuth thrusters which provide dynamic positioning (DP3) and for propulsion. The vessel’s maximum speed is 14 knots. The accommodation has room for 571 persons in two-berth cabins.  Taken from Wikipedia.

Cuckmere Estuary

There has been a lot of disquiet in recent weeks about flooding in the Cuckmere valley and also the build-up of shingle within the river mouth.  See my previous post concerning the sad demise of the Cuckmere meanders area.

On Wednesday, November 5th I did go and view the river mouth and it looks quite different to how it used to be, that is, discharging directly straight out into Cuckmere Haven.  Now, it turns abruptly east and flows along for about a third of the length of the east beach as seen below.  It actually appears far more natural!

This has arisen due to a decision by the Environment Agency not to carry out further work on river maintenance south of the A259 unless there was a real threat to homes and businesses, so no maintenance of floodbanks, groynes or shingle dredging. It was understood that the EA did intend to maintain some existing structures after the above decision but what happened to ‘contingent evaluation’ – the value of a rural, landscape experience to visitors, high in my opinion for the meanders at the Seven Sisters Country Park.

This decision takes account of their limited budget due to government budget cuts and the inevitability of losing the fight against sea level change from global climatic processes. There is not the money to protect a relatively small amout of grazing land when many communities across the country are under real threat.  The river estuary if left to the forces of nature will change as pictured below, this being taken two years ago.

Within the last two days, an excavator has appeared on site presumably to clear out the original man-made channel and reduce the overall height of the river back up through the valley, this presumably being paid for by the local water catchment board?

Flooding to the north of the A259 (picture above) though not unconnected with the above is largely due to when the east riverbank was rebuilt during the 1960’s and the then East Sussex River Board coming under pressure from the local farmers to install the new sluices at a very low level.  (I was informed of this fact recently by a retired former senior ESRB drainage engineer). It means that the river-side flaps of the 4? sluices are unable to open because they’ve become buried by silt due to their low positioning.

Cuckmere Meanders Flooding.

Below is the letter I sent off to the media and local MP’s this morning after making a visit yesterday.  A sad state of affairs…

ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE at CUCKMERE, EAST SUSSEX.

© Jon Rigby/Eastbourne Herald.

People from across the country and abroad, travel to Exceat near Seaford to view the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and the majestic, winding meanders of the Cuckmere River set within a green baize, one of the best examples of a meandering river on the planet…

Well regarding the second point, not at the moment!  Nine days ago the BBC’s South East Today ran an article concerning the flooding within the Cuckmere valley and the fact that the world famous meanders were no where to be seen, they literally submerged beneath ‘flood water from the recent heavy rains.’

On Wednesday, October 30th I visited the area, the meanders are barely discernible, they still being largely masked by flood water.  I will digress here for a moment if I may.  I worked on the Country Park through which the meanders wind, for twenty years including two short period of managing it.  We would in those days monitor and finely adjust the height of the water level in the meanders.  Over the following ten years I also had an input into managing the Country Park.    The meanders have not been as high or surrounding meadows so completely flooded like they are at present, in living memory.  So I do understand in minute detail how the drainage system there works.

Back to my visit…  Upon inspection during the afternoon, there was a spring tide within the tidal river so its level was understandably high.  On the landward side of the floodbank however, water was alarmingly racing through the metre diameter sluice from the tidal river and welling-up in the meanders as a large pool of angry, swirling water.  Yes, the sluice instead of draining the meanders, was actually allowing seawater into the meanders!  Somebody has at some point, tampered with the sluice by ‘obstructing’ one of the large cast-iron sluice flaps and very likely though not visible, also having ‘adjusted’ the sill of the sluice that controls the height of the meanders.  A canoeist, vandals?  Debris in unlikely.  Where the water level had dropped away from its maximum height two weeks ago, the grass was brown and possibly has been killed.  Tourists are going to be somewhat disappointed when coming to view the meanders, they winding through a large tract of brown dead grass!

Later in the afternoon I managed to speak with a local Environment Agency official who said that though they are not responsible in managing the meanders, they were aware of the problem and were monitoring the situation and when it becomes possible to gain access when the river levels drop, they will rectify the situation.  They no longer carry out work on the river towards the sea because they only have sufficient funds to carry out essential works where flooding of the built environment may occur.

The meanders and the surrounding land are part of an extensive Site of Special  Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated by another government agency, Natural England.  Damaging such areas is a criminal offence; however English Nature does not now have the staff or expertise nowadays to monitor and safeguard SSSI areas or enforce their protection, they now possessing too few staff.  Flooding of the area containing the meanders with largely seawater has probably caused untold damage to the surrounding specie-rich grasslands, polluted and destroyed the rich biodiversity of neighbouring ponds and ditches – these also now unfit for watering of livestock.  The meanders are now more salty than they would normally be, so affecting the life within them.  The grazier of the Country Park will have temporarily lost a significant amount of his grazing pasture.

Funding cuts by successive Conservative governments have emasculated the above two important statutory agencies, one supposedly protecting us from pollution and rising sea levels, the other supposedly acting as guardian against damaging land management, short-sighted development of our diverse countryside and is now banned from criticising government policy.  So the moral of this sad microcosm of a tale with the approach of a General Election is, if you value our public services, value your countryside and its wildlife, then whatever you do, oppose the Conservative Party!  Regarding Brexit, if enacted, we are likely to be saddled with lower environmental regulations than in Europe.

Monty Larkin      (www.montylarkin.co.uk)

cc to the following:

BBC South East                  south.today@bbc.co.uk

Eastbourne Herald           laura.sonier@jpimedia.co.uk

The Argus                        editor@theargus.co.uk

The Guardian                  alan.evans@theguardian.com   and                                             natalie.hanman@theguardian.com

Sussex Express           sussex.express@jpress.co.uk

Eastbourne and Lewes respective MP’s.                                stephen.lloyd.mp@parliament.uk    maria.caulfield.mp@parliament.uk

 

Countryfile Calendar Competition 2020

As the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust is probably about to cease operation, lets send them out on a well pubicised high!  Help Simon King, John Craven and Cerys Matthews to choose the favourite to feature on the front cover of the 2020 Countryfile Calendar.  So ring the tel number below to register your vote for the Exmoors grazing at Belle Tout!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/…/the-countryfile-photographic-compet…

My choice is: ‘Pony Trek’ by Ashley Hemsley.

Postscript to this thread:  I recently sent this e-mail to BBC Countryfile concerning the winning entry.

“Dear Countryfile,

I have lived and worked in conservation for 40 years…

The person who won the public Countryfile photo vote took her photo in a studio.  The judges knew this but we the public did not and when we were asked to vote this information was not disclosed.  It may have been on the website but a lot of people, like me, vote with their hearts when they watch the programme.  The picture chosen to grace the cover of the Countryfile calendar is very good but as it was a staged photo in a studio it just can’t compete with the pictures taken in a natural environment.  I find this completely unacceptable; entries should only be considered that are caught live in the wild, outside theatre of the countryside.
To use that dreadful term, this entry amounts to fake news!”

Monster Crane Passes Along Sussex Coast

When having returned home last night (Mon, Aug 12 2019) just after 8-30 as dusk was closing-in, I noticed a lot of lights out towards the far horizon and a red light – ‘Oh, a distress flare’ I thought for just a moment but no, it was a flashing navigation light atop the world’s third largest floating crane.  It’s absolutely Gigantic!  It is currently on passage being towed to the the Bahamas for the Gulf of Mexico at just 6.5 knots.

Statistics.

The Saipem 7000 has two NOV Lifting and Handling AmClyde model Saipem 7000 fully revolving cranes. Each has a 140-metre-long boom fitted with 4 hooks. Each crane is capable of lifting up to 7,000 tonnes at 40 m lift radius using the main hook. The auxiliary hook capacities are 1st Auxiliary 2,500 tonnes at 75 m radius and 2nd Auxiliary 900 tonnes at 115 m. The whip hook has a capacity of 120 tonnes at 150 m. The 2nd Auxiliary hook can be deployed to a water depth of 450 m. The two cranes are capable of a tandem lift of 14,000 tonnes.  (Taken from Wikipedia).

Each crane was fitted with 15,600 hp (11,630 kW) engines to power the boom and load hoists, 9 tugger lines and the crane slewing system. The cranes use 48 miles (77 km) of wire rope of various diameters.

Ballast system.

The Saipem 7000 was fitted with two ballast systems: a conventional pumped system which could transfer up to 24,000 tonnes of water per hour using 4 pumps and a free flooding system. The free flooding system used 2 m diameter valves to open certain compartments to the sea thus trimming or heeling the vessel. This allows the vessel to lift cargoes from barges much faster than if just the crane hoists are used.

Power system.

The vessel’s main power is provided by eight 12-cylinder 8400 hp diesel engines built by Grandi Motori Trieste, a former Fincantieri company. Later Grandi Motori was purchased by the Finnish Wärtsilä. They provide up to 47,000 kW of electric power at 10,000 V 60 Hz for propulsion and positioning. Auxiliary power is provided by two 6-cylinder 4,200 hp (3,130 kW) GMT diesel engines. There is also an emergency generator.  Total power that can be supplied is 57,000 kilowatts (76,000 hp).

Working off coast of Norway.

General characteristics
Class and type: Semi-submersible crane vessel
Displacement: 172,000 t (heavy lift)
Length: 198 m (overall)
Beam: 87 m
Height: 43.5 m (keel to deck)
Draft:
  • 10.5 m (34 ft) (transit)
  • 18.0 m (59 ft) (survival)
  • 27.5 metres (90 ft) (heavy lift)
Installed power: 70,000 kW
Propulsion: 12 thrusters
Speed: 9.5 knots (17.6 km/h; 10.9 mph)
Crew: Up to 700 persons

Future of the Exmoor Pony Grazing Scheme

Ponies being released at Hastings Country Park.

Popular Exmoor ponies to be removed from Hastings Country Park by                    Andy Helmsley, ‘The Hastings Observer,’  Monday 05 August 2019.

The well-loved sight of Exmoor ponies at Hastings Country Park is coming to an end with the ponies being removed.  The Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust who manages the ponies has told the council their organisation now has an uncertain future and they will no longer be able to manage the ponies.  As a result they are moving them to a different location.  The ponies have been grazing the slopes and glens of Hastings Country Park for the last six years.  Their conservation grazing habits have transformed Warren Glen from a bracken dominated habitat to one where native coastal grassland and heather now dominates.

Cllr Colin Fitzgerald said: “We are really sorry the Trust is taking to ponies away. They have been a great attraction for the public and they have done a fantastic job of recovering threatened and rare coastal habitats.  As a conservation tool, they have been invaluable in helping the council retain their green flag awards and receive a special award for conservation grazing from the Keep Britain Tidy Group.  However, we wish them well in their new home.  We will be contacting other organisations to see if we can bring another set of ponies to the reserve “

Exmoor ponies are particularly suited to the rugged terrain of Hastings Country Park and they have become a familiar and well-loved site at the Country Park.  Together with the Belted Galloway cattle they form the conservation grazing backbone for managing the rugged and inaccessible areas of Hastings Country Park.”

The background to this story is that once I had retired in 2017, the Trust’s small, voluntary, long-serving but wherried committee had served for far longer than they had expected to and were in a sense, burnt-out.  On the ground, there simply wasn’t the continuing level of commitment or mental drive that I had as founder, this not being helped by a general failing to continue to engender in the Lookers (volunteers) a feeling of involvement and not using their co-operation with sharing some of the practical elements of the fencing and gathering-in work that was required.  Additional practical concerns were, a small vociferous section of the dog-walking fraternity on Eastbourne’s coastal downland objecting to the essential temporary electric fencing.  Another factor has been the increasing storminess of our weather due to climate change, increasing the struggle to maintain this fencing in a stock-proof condition during stormy weather thus ensuring that the ponies didn’t break-out and put themselves and possibly motorists, at risk.

The current position of play at present is that the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust will announce its formal winding-up by the coming autumn and nearly all the remaining 65 ponies being split three ways – 22 having already been purchased by farmer Duncan Ellis for use on the chalk downland of the Folkington Estate which they tenant and along the Firle Escarpment SSSI Continue reading

Thursday, July 25th – A Storm Arrives

The weather suddenly turned quite dramatically here early this evening, this happening on the hottest day of the year – indeed at Cambridge, it breaking the all time UK record for the hottest day, it reaching 38.7C (101F) and here reaching about 32/33 degrees C…
Late-afternoon, and the sky had gradually changed from broken cloud to menacing dark-coloured clouds, this change approaching from the SSW.  At 5-55pm, a few heavy spots of rain began to fall, thunder and lightning seen and heard about 4-8 miles away out to sea to the SE, the eye of the storm about to miss the Hastings area and probably making landfall towards the Rye area to the east.  By now, fairly torrential rain was falling, the street gutters now swollen.  But the South wind!  Firstly, a large area of sea perhaps 2-3 miles out to the SE took on a whitish, almost misty appearance – it being whipped-up by the wind.  The sea generally at about the same time, went from a deep blue, a little choppy with some ‘white horses’ to within 10 to 15 minutes, a wild, winter seascape – the sea becoming completely quite rough and dichromatic with the countless crests of white-topped waves!  I have been lucky through life to have witnessed the sea in many of its moods but I have never witnessed such a dramatic change, within such a short period of time!
By 6-15pm the situation had peaked, the storm having passed by and over the following 10 minutes the wind abated, the sea quickly calming again and becoming a settled blue again by about 6-25pm.