Farmer Turns Down £275m Housing Deal to Protect Countryside

Planning system under fire after [Sussex] farmer turns down £275m housing deal to protect countryside

Dated 12 May 2015 by Olivia Midgley.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said farmers and landowners across the country were rejecting developers’ plans – and substantial amounts of cash – in order to protect the countryside

West Sussex farmer Robert Worsley rebuffed the offer by Mayfield Market Towns, who have proposed to build 10,000 homes, along with an academy, primary schools and shops across 485 hectares (1,200 acres).

Mr Worsley, who farms the 222 ha (550 ac) site in Twineham, near the South Downs and his neighbours, who have refused similar offers, have become the latest community to fight back against countryside housing plans.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said more and more farmers and landowners across the country were rejecting developers’ plans – and substantial amounts of cash – in order to protect the countryside for future generations.  CPRE senior rural affairs campaigner Graeme Willis, said Mr Worsley should be commended for placing these considerations above financial incentives.

“It is invidious that so many landowners are put in this position by highly speculative land acquisition – especially where there is huge community opposition and no planning permission,” said Mr Willis, adding the case illustrated ‘the failures of our planning system in encouraging aggressive, speculative development’.

“The current developer-led planning system has significantly increased the regularity and pressure of speculative development – which is both divisive and distressing for communities. In its place, we need a plan-led system where the focus is on land that people want to see developed – like the brownfield sites around the country that can provide the space for one million new homes.”

CLA director of external affairs Shane Brennan echoed the comments, but said it was up to landowners to choose what to do with their land.  He added: “Development should be plan-led, balancing the needs of rural communities and making sure that the development that is needed goes in the right places.”

Arable farmer Robert Worsley, who bought the farm 15 years ago and grows wheat, barley, oats, oilseed rape, linseed and peas said his case highlighted the ‘hypocrisy’ in Britain’s planning system.

“The government tells us we have got localism, which means we have a say in planning issues. But in reality planning policy is dictated from on high, giving rise to the wealthy building lobby to come and drive a coach and horses through our land. And it is not local communities which benefit from these developments – it is the landowner and the developer,” he said.

“It is an easy source of economic activity and growth to sacrifice land in the South East and get cash to bolster the economy. It is like or worse than selling off the gold reserves during the Labour government. It could cause irreversible damage because once the land has gone, it has gone.”

Mr Worsley, whose land is one third permanent grassland under Entry Level Stewardship, said ‘urban sprawl’ was already affecting the South East and the area’s infrastructure was ‘saturated’.  There is a difference between the words ‘need’ and ‘demand’ when you are talking about housing,” he added.

“The answer is to regenerate areas in the North Midlands and the North East where they are crying out for developers’ money to rebuild communities where industries have been superseded.”

Bats are Harmed Rather Than Helped by Street Lights

Bats are harmed rather than helped by street lights.

New research at the University of Exeter and Bat Conservation Ireland has given the lie to the popular belief that streetlights are attractive to our common bat species because of the insect life they attract. The study found that in fact bat activity was lower in street-lit areas than in dark locations with similar habitat.  And, in fact, the scientists have concluded bright lights are having a detrimental effect on bats.

Despite frequently being depicted as blind, bats have good eyesight that is adapted for low light conditions.

Dr Fiona Mathews from the University of Exeter says: “When we walk out of a lit house into the dark, it takes a while for our eyes to adapt to the darkness.

“The same is true in bats – they are dazzled by bright light and it takes time for their eyes to re-adjust.   This could affect their ability to navigate.

“People rarely see bats, and when they do it is usually because they are silhouetted by a light.

“Because clouds of insects accumulate around lights, there has been an assumption that the bats were getting an easy lunch.

“However, it seems that their ability to hunt insects is reduced in the light.  So although a bat may be seen flying round and round a streetlamp, it may actually be struggling to catch anything.”

The findings have important implications for conservation, overturning the previous assumption that common bats benefited from artificial lights for feeding.


The research, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, found that the activity of soprano pipistrelle, noctule and serotine bats was similar or lower in areas with street lighting compared to dark areas.  The only species for which lighting appeared favourable was Leisler’s bat, a species common in Ireland but rare in Britain.

An increase in the activity of our most common bat, the common pipistrelle, was only seen in locations where there was also a good amount of shelter from trees or hedgerows.

Dr Mathews says: “What our work shows is that they are actually usually just as active, if not more so, in adjacent dark areas.

“We already knew that lighting was bad news for rare species such as horseshoe bats.  Now we have demonstrated that, for the common species which are of vital importance to our ecosystem, lighting is not helpful.

“Over recent decades, the number of streetlights, and the brightness of lighting, has grown enormously.  We also use increasingly powerful lights to illuminate outdoor areas around our homes.

“We urgently need to reverse this trend.”

The research analysed large-scale surveys conducted in Britain and Ireland, involving more than 265,000 bat calls at over 600 locations.

The links between lighting and bats were explored at several spatial scales including car-surveys conducted by volunteers across Ireland, to shorter surveys conducted by bicycle, and detailed monitoring over multiple nights at specific sites.

Dr Niamh Roche of Bat Conservation Ireland commented: “Leisler’s bat is considered very special in Ireland since its population here is of international importance, so it is good to know that this species at least may not be so negatively impacted by street lighting.

“Nonetheless, we are extremely concerned that, with just one out of our nine Irish species showing a positive association with street lighting, much more needs to be done to lessen negative impacts of lighting.

“This can be achieved by considering lighting scheme designs more thoroughly from the planning stage.”

Wild Boars Arrive in Istanbul Due to Loss of Habitat

Wild boars arrive in Istanbul due to loss of habitat.

By Zia Weise in Istanbul, Friday 6 March 2015.

Wild boars are returning to Istanbul as giant construction projects shrink their habitat in the city’s northern forests. Last week, a group of boars stormed the garden of a luxury housing complex in Sariyer on Istanbul’s European side, sending residents and a security guard running. The animals quickly disappeared into a nearby wood, but sightings of boars in the inner districts of Turkey’s largest city have become more frequent over the past months.

Ecologists and activists believe that Istanbul’s enormous construction projects are driving the boars from their natural habitat in the city’s northern forests, where a third Bosphorus bridge is nearing completion and a third airport is being built.

“We’re destroying their homes, their food sources,” said Onur Akgül of the Northern Forest Defence, a movement dedicated to protecting Istanbul’s remaining green spaces. “They can’t go north. They can’t go live in the sea. So they migrate into the city.”

When a boar was spotted swimming in the Bosphorus waters around the central Beyoğlu district in November, the forestry and water affairs minister Veysel Eroğlu dismissed the idea that construction was to blame, saying “the pig did what pigs do”.

Yet the locations of the third bridge and the new airport, planned to be the world’s largest, remain controversial and have provoked lawsuits and protests. “Instead of an ecosystem, we’ll have asphalt,” said Sedat Kalem, WWF Turkey’s conservation director.

“The ecological health of the area is lost. The incidents with the wild boars, that is one of the indicators of what is happening.”  The northern forests and wetlands are considered to be vital for Istanbul’s sustainability, as the area produces much of the city’s drinking water. Twenty years ago, the then-mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, even described the prospect of a third bridge as “murder”.

Now, it seems hardly a day goes by without news of another mega-project. Last week, prime minister Davutoğlu announced a three-storey tunnel underneath the Bosphorus while president Erdoğan hoped to accelerate the construction of a canal that would turn Istanbul’s European side into an island.

“All of these big infrastructure projects are crossing those green areas in the north of the city, with the motorways, with the bridge, with the new airport and the planned canal,” said Kalem.  He worries that the widespread deforestation accompanying these projects will do irreparable damage to Istanbul’s diverse ecosystem. The forests are an important bird migration corridor and host thousands of plant and animal species. With construction ongoing and millions of trees slated for removal, Kalem expects an increasing number of wild animals to escape into urban Istanbul.

“I think even more and more areas and species will be lost, unfortunately,” he added. “The size of excavation, of construction, is enormous. It’s something which we have not witnessed – ever.”

Tuba Inal Çekiç, of Istanbul’s chamber of urban planning, said that the construction would affect the city’s human population as much as its animals: deforestation would change the behaviour of winds and rain and increase already high pollution levels. The chamber therefore considers the northern forests a “red line.” You have to expand on the shore of the Marmara sea, not on the northern area, not on the Bosphorus,” Çekiç said. “Because that forest area is our lungs, the lungs of the city.”

The Great Myth of Urban Britain – Or Not

I was really surprised by this piece by the BBC’s Mark Easton !  I with some initial difficulty, found it quite reassuring.  So, our green and pleasant land is still worth fighting for, though, this article obviously doesn’t qualify the biodiversity degradation that has gone on…

The Great Myth of Urban Britain.  28 June 2012.

I was prompted to find out the answer to this question after reading this week how woodland is now calculated to cover 12.7% of the UK, the highest proportion since 1924 when records began.  I tweeted the figures after the ONS published them in their UK Environmental Accounts and found I was not the only one surprised. “Do we have a completely mistaken view of what our landscape is like?” I wondered.

The 80% of us who live in towns and cities spend an inordinate amount of time staring at tarmac and brick. On most urban roads, one can be tricked into thinking that the ribbon of grey we see reflects the land use for miles around. But when you look out of a plane window as you buckle-up ahead of landing at a UK airport, the revelation is how green the country appears.

So what is the answer to my question – have you got a figure in your head?

Until recently, conflicting definitions have made the calculation tricky but fortunately, a huge piece of mapping work was completed last summer – the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA). Five hundred experts analysed vast quantities of data and produced what they claim is the first coherent body of evidence about the state of Britain’s natural environment.

Having looked at all the information, they calculated that “6.8% of the UK’s land area is now classified as urban” (a definition that includes rural development and roads, by the way).

The urban landscape accounts for 10.6% of England, 1.9% of Scotland, 3.6% of Northern Ireland and 4.1% of Wales.

Put another way, that means almost 93% of the UK is not urban. But even that isn’t the end of the story because urban is not the same as built on. In urban England, for example, the researchers found that just over half the land (54%) in our towns and cities is greenspace – parks, allotments, sports pitches and so on. Furthermore, domestic gardens account for another 18% of urban land use; rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs an additional 6.6%.

Their conclusion?

In England, “78.6% of urban areas is designated as natural rather than built”. Since urban only covers a tenth of the country, this means that the proportion of England’s landscape which is built on is…

Yes. According to the most detailed analysis ever conducted, almost 98% of England is, in their word, natural.

Elsewhere in the UK, the figure rises to more than 99%. It is clear that only a small fraction of Britain has been concreted over.

There will be quibbles. What about the gardens people have paved? The NEA looked at that, noting how in London an estimated 3,200 hectares of front gardens have been covered in concrete, bricks or gravel. Paving levels are highest, it was found, in the North-East of England and Scotland, where 47% and 31% of front gardens are more than three-quarters paved. The detail in their analysis is impressive.

Quite simply, the figures suggest Britain’s mental picture of its landscape is far removed from the reality.

The map from the NEA report – also seen on page 20 of the PDF report above – helps to visualise what the country actually looks like.

Land built on: UK 1.5%   England 2.3%     Scotland 0.4%    Wales 0.9%         Northern Ireland 0.8%

But even it cannot reflect the extraordinary finding that almost four-fifths of what is designated urban land is not built on. Perhaps our impressions are the result of lives largely spent in the 2% of the country that has been concreted over – at work, at home or travelling between the two in the car or on the bus.

The lesson might be that we need to celebrate the truth about our green and pleasant land.  Or perhaps it simply tells us we really should get out more.

Article written by Mark Easton, BBC Home Editor.

Boris Johnson’s Estuary Airport Suffers a ‘Death Blow’

Boris Johnson’s estuary airport suffers a ‘death blow’

By Adam Bienkov     Friday, 11 July 2014 11:16 AM

Boris Johnson’s hopes of building a new airport in the Thames estuary suffered a “death blow” today, after the Airports Commission released several more reports throwing doubt on the future of the scheme.

The studies found that City Hall have dramatically underestimated the costs and overestimated the benefits of moving Heathrow airport to the estuary. The new airport would struggle to make sufficient revenues to remain viable, while tens of billions of pounds would need to be spent on road and rail infrastructure to service it.

Consultants hired by the commission also found City Hall had wildly overestimated the amount of people who would travel to the new airport by train. They found that up to £8 billion would need to be spent on widening and constructing new roads on top of around £26 billion for new rail links. Even with that investment, the road access would still struggle to cope with demand.

The reports also found the case for the estuary airport rested on the assumption of attracting significantly higher revenues per passenger than Heathrow. This seems highly unlikely given the reductions in revenues from car parking and increased construction costs implied by the plans. Failure to achieve that greater revenue would push up charges, giving a competitive advantage to other European hub airports, and therefore defeating the central purpose of the new airport.

The economic benefits of the scheme have also been overestimated, the reports suggest. The mayor’s plans failed to take into account the fact that a new estuary airport would inevitably lead to the closure of Heathrow and the loss of thousands more jobs in the wider area. The new airport would also struggle to attract a workforce given its location and the shortage of housing and other infrastructure in the area, they suggest.

The reports also highlight how the airport would interfere with the flight paths of two existing airports in the South East. While they conclude these problems are not insurmountable, they would pose a significant challenge.

The findings follow another Airports Commission report earlier this week which detailed huge environmental and safety risks attached to building a new airport in the estuary. Critics said the scheme had been handed a “death blow” by the Commission.

“These latest reports are a potential death blow to the Mayor’s dream of creating a massive airport located in the Thames estuary,” Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said. “It is bad enough that the Mayor has spent millions of London’s taxpayer’s money promoting his fantasy project. Now his proposals have been exposed as being based on wildly inaccurate estimates of the real cost of locating an airport in the Thames Estuary. The Mayor for a long time has had a dream of a Thames Estuary airport. It is time he woke up to reality.”

Labour also urged him to give up his hopes of building the airport. “We have always known that Boris’ plan for a Thames Estuary airport was pie in the sky, but four expert reports inside a week have now confirmed this,” Labour London Assembly member Val Shawcross said. “Whether it’s environmental problems, expensive transport links or the decimation of employment at Heathrow, we now know for sure that this project poses a devastating risk to the taxpayer. Boris has already wasted millions of pounds on this vanity project. He needs to accept that the evidence is now totally against him and that no more public money should be spent pursuing a Thames Estuary airport.”

The Airports Commission are due to release their final shortlist of options for expanding airport capacity in the UK later this year.

Britain Hasn’t Learnt Lessons of Somerset Floods – Lord Krebs


Britain still hasn’t learned the lessons of the Somerset floods

By Lord Krebs. The Telegraph. 9 Jul 2014.

No one can say with confidence whether or not the coming winter will bring floods on the same scale as the last. The weather does not allow us the luxury of such predictability this far in advance. What we can say is that the risks of severe flooding and other extreme weather events are likely to rise in the coming years. The climate is changing because of the carbon dioxide that we have pumped into the air over the last 250 years, and that does not come without consequences. More extreme events, more often: this is what the climate models indicate. The issue is what we are going to do about it.

The destruction wrought last winter should focus our minds on reducing the risks that climate change poses to our citizens, communities and businesses. It should also provide a wake-up call over the benefits of acting. If it hadn’t been for past investment in flood defences, and improved flood forecasting and emergency planning, the impacts of the severe weather would have been much worse. As the government’s statutory adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is charged with assessing how prepared we are. This year’s progress report, which I am launching today as chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC), emphasises areas where more could be done.

Despite the pain of the winter, and the injection of £270 million to put right the damage done to flood defences, three-quarters of our flood defence structures are not being maintained at an ideal level. Hundreds of new flood protection projects won’t be delivered until 2019 at the earliest. Key recommendations from the Pitt Review, published in 2008 after the previous year’s floods left 13 people dead, 45,000 homes flooded and caused £3 billion worth of damage, have not yet been fulfilled.

This winter’s floods made a deep impression on our psyche, but has this translated into action to better protect people in the future? In early December last year, we experienced the largest tidal surge in 60 years, and 18,000 people had to be evacuated from low-lying areas along the east coast. The government has not commissioned a review to learn the lessons arising from this significant event.

We are putting up buildings at a faster rate in areas of high flood risk than elsewhere: in Sedgemoor District Council in the Somerset Levels, for instance, 900 new homes in areas at a significant risk of flooding have been built this century, while Intensive farming is making the land less able to absorb water and more likely to erode silt into rivers. This will increase the need for dredging. We are paving over permeable surfaces in towns and cities – the proportion of paved area in gardens leaped from 28 per cent to 48 per cent in 10 years – creating run-off problems and overwhelming drains in heavy rainstorms.

Flooding is not the only risk increased by climate change. Paradoxically, many parts of England, especially in the south and east, may not have enough water to meet future demand in the coming decades. Heatwaves are likely to become more common, so we ought to begin to adapt buildings in preparation. Instead, we find that many buildings where vulnerable people live, including hospitals and care homes as well as typical modern homes, were built for yesterday’s climate and are already difficult to keep cool.

Climate change impacts, including an increased risk of flooding, and sea level rise, are inevitable as a result of greenhouse gases that we have already put into the atmosphere. The first choice we face is whether we do more to protect ourselves against them, or suffer the consequences – which will almost certainly be more expensive as well as more disruptive.

As a statutory adviser, our committee is making a number of recommendations that can reduce the risks that lie ahead. Regulations to avoid new development causing surface water flooding, as recommended in the Pitt Review, should be introduced without delay. Councils should publish statutory flood risk management plans and strategies, and enforce regulations to prevent more gardens being lost to hard surfacing. New policies to begin to address the risks from overheating buildings should be introduced, to promote cost-effective measures such as better ventilation, shading and insulation. A new standard should be introduced to ensure that new buildings are designed with the higher temperatures of the future in mind. All of these measures are simple and could in principle be pursued straight away.

But we cannot counter climate impacts just by adapting. The second choice before us is whether we allow climate risks to escalate by continuing to emit greenhouse gases, or whether we follow the path of reducing our emissions and encouraging other countries towards the same goal. The 2008 Climate Change Act, with its legally binding targets on emissions, was a powerful statement of UK leadership, but we are far from alone. More than 500 pieces of legislation related to climate change have been introduced in 66 countries, which between them account for 88 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The actions of other countries reduce our future risk, just as our actions reduce theirs.

The precise impacts of climate change on the UK are impossible to predict with certainty, but this is not an excuse for inaction. Preparing for impacts while continuing to reduce emissions is the sensible, pragmatic choice: adaptation and mitigation going hand in hand to safeguard public health and protect the economy, as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended earlier this year.

The government’s National Adaptation Programme contains a long list of policy objectives and detailed actions. In the summer next year, the ASC will be reporting to Parliament on whether progress is being made, and crucially, whether the action being taken is making a difference. We will not be able to prevent altogether the climate changing and the resulting impacts. But we can become more resilient and reduce the costs and consequences. My committee’s report sets out how.

Lord Krebs is chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change.

Surprise! UK Running Out Of Land

UK faces ‘significant’ shortage of farmland by 2030

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News

Britain is running out of land for food and faces a potential shortfall of two million hectares by 2030 according to new research.

The report, from the University of Cambridge, says the growing population plus the use of land for energy crops are contributing to the gap. It criticises the government’s lack of a coherent vision on how to make the most of UK farm land. The authors warn that tough choices may need to be made on future land use.

The total land area of the UK amounts to over 24 million hectares with more than 75% of that used for farming. While self sufficient in products like barley, wheat, milk, lamb and mutton, the UK still imports large amounts of fruit and vegetables and other farm products including pork. Overall the UK runs a food, feed and and drink trade deficit of £18.6bn.

Under pressure

With a population expected to exceed 70 million by 2030, the extra demand for living space and food will have a major impact on the way land is used, the report says. On top of these pressures, the government is committed to using bioenergy crops such as miscanthus as renewable sources of energy, further limiting the stock of land for food. “That is putting some very significant future pressures on how we use our land,” said Andrew Montague-Fuller, the report’s lead author.

“If you look at the land that is required under some of the bioenergy projections made by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, that could potentially take some significant chunks of land.”

Another factor is the EU, in the shape of the Common Agricultural Policy which now requires farmers to put more land aside to protect nature. “They are meeting one of the objectives but maybe hurting some of our other objectives like growing more food, and biomass type crops,” said Mr Montague-Fuller.

The report estimates that all these factors will require an extra seven million hectares of land by 2030. However there are a number of factors that will offset this, including reductions in the 19% of food and drink that are wasted in the UK.

Combined with increased yields and reductions in meat consumption that will boost land for farming, the authors say there is likely to be an overall two million hectare shortfall.The report highlights the fact that there are a number of uncertainties about how land will be used, and they point the finger at government for lack of a coherent overall vision.

“What they are not doing is stepping back and looking at the overall direction and vision for future land use, and making sure that all of these different policies all add up so that we are clear about what our demands are and where the land will be released from to meet those needs.”

According to a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the government was taking steps to deal with land challenges. “We are investing £70 million in agricultural technologies that will help us to increase the efficiency of food production and help our food, farming and science industries grow economically while meeting the increasing global demand for food.”

The report has been produced by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership in collaboration with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), and companies including Asda, Sainsbury’s and Nestle.

According to Dr Andrea Graham from the NFU, the report highlighted some tough choices ahead. “This report shows that agricultural land will need to be multi-functional, delivering a range of goods and services. We will need the full range of tools to meet future demand, employing the very best technology and innovation to drive efficiency, quality, yields and profitability.”

Andrew Montague-Fuller says that there is a danger that the future farming landscape of Britain might not be compatible with the country’s needs. He said: “We may well find that there’s a large amount of the land growing biofuels, has solar panels and wind farms on it, when actually we need more land put aside for the food needs of our growing population. “We may get the balance wrong if we don’t face up to this shortfall.”


National Trust Chief Speaks Out Against Government

13 April 2014.

Councils hustled over housing, says National Trust chief.

Councils are being “hustled” by the government to produce local plans quickly to meet housing targets, the head of the National Trust has said. Dame Helen Ghosh said “pressure” meant some English local authorities felt they had to allow greenfield building.

The Trust was monitoring the situation and “making appropriate representations to government about it”, she said. But the government said it valued and protected the countryside and councils had had a decade to come up with plans. Greenfield sites are defined as places which have not previously been built on, including greenbelt land around cities. Brownfield sites are those which have previously been developed.

In 2004, the Labour government introduced local plans, requiring councils to set housing targets and identify a rolling five-year supply of developable land. And, in April 2012, planning law in England was further changed to speed up decisions, with a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” unless negative considerations “significantly and demonstrably” outweigh positives.

Director-general Dame Helen said the National Trust – a charity which works to protect historical sites in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – was “very concerned” about the level of pressure on councils. “We are very concerned that the haste with which local authorities – some of them ill-prepared to do so – have been hustled into producing their local plans, and the pressure they’re under to produce the number of houses has forced them, in some cases, to designate greenfield sites,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World this Weekend. “We are very worried about that and we are monitoring it – and making appropriate representations to government about it.”

Dame Helen said the Trust had previously argued that giving councils a year to produce a local plan was “just too short” and events since had proved councils “need to take longer to do these things properly.” But she said there had been “some positive signs recently” when the government had said Incentives for developing on brownfield sites would be increased.

Dame Helen Ghosh Dame Helen Ghosh said the government was “pressuring” councils.” We were encouraged by that but we are still very worried about the number of potential planning permissions that are out there on greenfield sites,” she added.

In response, planning minister Nick Boles said: “This government values and protects the countryside.” Greenbelt development had fallen “to its lowest rate since modern records began” under the coalition, he added. Mr Boles also said: “Councils have had a decade to shape where development should and shouldn’t go through their local plans. So far, three quarters of local authorities have published a draft plan, and local residents should hold slow-coach councils to account.”

The Local Government Association, which represents 350 English councils, said councils were “making good progress with getting complex and detailed local plans in place”. “The most important thing will always be getting them right and ensuring people have a real say in developments that can support growth in their areas,” a spokesman said.

Fracking and floods

During the interview, Dame Helen also criticised comments made earlier this year by Environment Agency chairman Lord Smith, suggesting flood defence planning involved “tricky issues of policy and priority” about whether to protect “town or country, front rooms or farmland”. She said it was “dangerous and unnecessary to paint it as a black-and-white argument”, adding that there should be a “national debate” on flood defence planning.

On the issue of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – where rock is drilled to release gas, she said the Trust would “undoubtedly say no” to a request to frack on its land at present. It has already said it maintains a “presumption” against the technology.

“We would need very convincing assurances about environmental impacts, very tight regulation around the kinds of assessments that would take place before we would ever consider fracking on our land,” Dame Helen said.

Another Threat to Our Countryside – ‘Biodiversity Off-Setting’

Developers have been told they can ‘build’ in National Parks, as long as damage suffered by wildlife is off-set elsewhere. This a very worrying scenario as it is very difficult to replicate a habitat elsewhere and should only be considered as a very last resort.

By Matt Chorley, Mailonline Political Editor. PUBLISHED: 10:50, 25 September 2013 | UPDATED: 14:42, 25 September 2013.

Homes and businesses could be built in National Parks if developers pay to make up the damage elsewhere. In a speech on boosting the rural economy, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson backed the idea of developments in some of England’s most picturesque areas. In exchange construction firms would have to create new nature sites nearby to offset the damage caused.

Recovery: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson claims more development in national parks would boost rural economies. The idea of increased development in Englandís 10 National Parks including Exmoor, the Peak District, Dartmoor and the Lake District could be controversial. But Mr. Paterson argued that it could play a part in wider government plans designed to help boost growth and revive the rural economy.

He used a speech to the National Park Authorities Conference in Easingwold, York, to back the idea of ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’ in national parks. Where a new development damages the natural

He said: ‘For too long we have allowed the lazy assumption that the environment and growth are incompatible objectives within the planning system. I believe that, with a bit of innovative thinking, in many cases it is possible to have both. This is why I am particularly interested in Biodiversity Offsetting. Offsetting gives us a chance to improve the way our planning system works. It gets round the long-running conundrum of how to grow the economy at the same time as improving the environment. It could provide real opportunities in our National Parks, where the necessary extension of a farm building could result in the enhancement of an existing habitat or the creation of a new one.’

Under existing rules the National Park Authority has two statutory duties – to conserve the countryside and its wildlife, and to allow people to enjoy it. A spokesman for the Campaign to Protect Rural England said: ‘Exactly how would it be possible for a developer to replace, for example, ancient hedgerows by way of mitigation?

‘Some habitats, particularly sensitive ones, are irreplaceable and thoroughly integral to the landscape’s character because it’s taken centuries to evolve – you can’t just order a new one to be delivered somewhere else like it’s an Amazon purchase. Offsetting doesn’t address the complex way in which wildlife systems are sustained and thrive, and if it allows developers to push through damaging schemes then it’s just another way for money to win over protecting nature.’

The Government has launched a consultation on biodiversity offsetting, which is still open, Mr Paterson said. He stressed it was one of several policies which he thought could benefit national parks. He added: ‘There are many opportunities for National Parks to seize upon. One of these is the opportunity to capitalise on and increase the 110 million people who visit the UKís National Parks every year. Tourism is important because it provides people with new experiences. It enables people to appreciate and put a value on wildlife and wild places. Tourism also helps grow the economy. Tourists spend money in our National Parks and this supports 68,000 jobs. But also when tourists return home they are more likely to buy the products we export. Great clothing, great food and great drink.’

What is biodiversity Off-Setting?

An approach that can be used to compensate for habitats and species lost to development in one area, with the creation, enhancement or restoration of habitat in another. Biodiversity off-setting was announced in the Governmentís Natural Environment White Paper – its 50-year vision for the natural environment. It is an approach that can be used to compensate for habitats and species lost to development in one area, with the creation, enhancement or restoration of habitat in another.

When is it appropriate to use biodiversity off-setting? The replacement of one habitat with another is extremely complex. The Wildlife Trusts recognise the potential of biodiversity offsetting on land, but believe it is a last resort measure and should only be used to compensate for genuinely unavoidable damage. The replacement of one habitat with another is extremely complex and there are some habitats that are simply irreplaceable, so:

1. The starting point for any development proposal should be to avoid damage to our most important wildlife sites.

2. Next, it is essential to mitigate the potential damage of a development through good design.

3. Only then – and as a final measure – should off-setting be considered to compensate for damage that cannot be avoided or mitigated. Any offsetting should help nature to recover by creating more habitat than is being lost.

Oh, I’m not a Daily Mail reader!”

Environmental Policy Squeezed Out Even More

After a triennial review of both the Environment Agency and Natural England, the Government has decided that for the time being, a merger between them is not in the best interest. However, both agencies are likely to have to increasingly adopt the ‘Yes,ok’ approach when responding to clients regarding development and commercial practice. They will very likely have to nod through damaging developments rather than say ‘No, not on any account.’ This builds on from the castration of English Nature some years ago, for being bold and standing up to a†right-wing government.

A glaring omission in the review, is any recognition that it is Nature and its supporting ecosystems that should be the most important criteria. Economic growth, according to this Government is the ‘be all and end all’ with likely huge, negative legacies for years and years, which future generations will have to live and grapple with… Continuing increases in CO2 and attendant climate change by quick-fixes rather than low-carbon solutions. Development and infrastructure in inappropriate locations. Increasing pressure on ecosystems and crumbling levels of biodiversity including pollution and water shortages.

So much for the ‘greenest-ever Government’ promises of three years ago…