Here is a short video clip of the bird activity at Flamborough Head. Many thanks to my husband Geoff, providing technical support and much of the photography you will see on this blog.
Despite the recommendation that the area should be designated a Marine Conservation Zone, protected from damaging operations, plans are afoot to dredge up to 2.5 million cubic metres of sand and gravel from the Goodwin Sands. This will be used in the new Dover Western Docks Revival scheme. We will be commenting on the eventual application, but in advance of that, Bryony has been in communication with the ecological consultants to voice our concerns and discuss what we feel should be included in the Environmental Impact Assessment.
We do not see how the removal of a huge amount of the sands for which the area was designated can fail to have a negative impact on the marine environment. Bryony and I went to a meeting at the Royal HaskoningDHV offices in London, to hear more about the work that has been done to assess the likely impact of the scheme on the underwater habitats. It is a huge challenge to survey the seabed in sufficient detail over such a large area, and to predict what will happen when this amount of sand and gravel is removed. The overview of the work was fascinating and it was useful to have the opportunity to request that particular concerns were covered in the Environmental Impact Assessment. We will be scrutinising this in due course.
As yet, there is no real coordination of the many activities happening at sea around the Kent coast. This is about to change, and I went to an event in Whitstable to find out more.
The new marine plans are intended to guide what happens in the marine area, making sure activities take place at the right time and in the right place, says the Marine Management Organisation. Their aim is to enable sustainable economic growth whilst protecting the environment, balancing the needs of all. The meeting was to get input from interested people and organisations to help shape the plan for the South East marine area, from Felixstowe to Folkestone.
Although its overarching purpose is to enable sustainable growth, marine planning will provide us with a new way of influencing activity in the marine environment, providing advice and information to help identify where this could be best placed to avoid any damage.
Woolly Watery World
Staying with the marine theme, this week I press-ganged as many colleagues as possible to join a lunch-time session on crocheting a coral reef. Several years ago, at an event, a very interesting lady told me about the Crochet Coral Reef project.
This is a worldwide project which raises awareness of the plight of marine wildlife by getting people together to create amazing reef structures using crochet. I’ve had this in the back of my mind ever since, and now that we are working on the Guardians of the Deep project, I wondered if it would fit with the aims of that project, to involve people in understanding and looking after the marine environment.
So, on a rainy Easter afternoon, I persuaded my daughters that what they really wanted to do was to try crocheting or knitting some marine creatures, and took the results in to work to inspire colleagues to join in. Guided by Ruth, the Trust’s Queen of Crochet, we are going to test whether we can convincingly render the intricacies of Kent’s marine biodiversity in wool.
I have been on a roller-coaster of hope and despair for the natural environment over the past few days.
At the Westminster Briefing on Biodiversity in London last week, we heard that 40% of global GDP (a measure of the goods and services that a country produces, which governments typically use to measure their success) depends on nature. It seems bizarre then, that the message from Defra is that they will not be spending money on environmental work. I lost count of the number of times that the speakers from the public sector said “there is no money” for the natural environment.
We were told that the England Biodiversity Strategy, Biodiversity 2020, is an initiative from the last government, and that the new initiative, a 25 year strategy, will only partly be about biodiversity, it will expand to include farming and food. Meanwhile, progress on improving the condition of threatened habitats and sites has slowed, and there are 361 species that experts believe are at risk of becoming extinct in England by 2020.
Depressing news, but I’m not ready to give up. Fortunately, I had just returned from the World Forum on Natural Capital, where it is clear that other governments, and businesses, are waking up to the fact that nature is essential to business and to the economy. The things that we get from nature appear to be provided for us free of charge, but this is an illusion. If the environment becomes so degraded that some of these things stop working, we suddenly become aware of the cost, and it is huge. Flooding that is made worse by artificial landscapes that no longer soak up the water is on everyone’s minds at the moment, but there were many more examples showing how important it is to invest in looking after this vital resource.
Natural capital is a way of viewing the natural environment as an asset that can be valued, and if it has a monetary value then it can be factored in to political and economic decisions. One of the most inspirational speakers of the conference was John D. Liu, a film maker and environmentalist, who believes that change is possible and it is starting to happen. He showed a film of a devastated landscape restored to health in China, showing what can be achieved with sufficient vision and support.
Throughout the conference here were many inspiring examples of nature being valued and then enhanced, although sadly very few from the UK; the challenge is to work out how we can get this happening here. I have a notebook full of ideas, just need the time and resources to put them into practice!
Autumn has finally arrived, the woods and hedges are starting to blaze with fiery colour and despite the gloriously sunny and warm weekend, it must be time to let go of summer. Time, then, for a round-up of what has been happening at the Trust over the summer months before it becomes ancient history.
It has been a remarkably busy summer, with lots of new beginnings; new work to do, new staff and for me, the option of a new surname (although, to keep things simple, I’ll be sticking with the old one). To celebrate, we spent two weeks camping in France, trying (not entirely successfully) to outrun the rain. It was brilliant, even though we slightly blew our camper van up.
Meanwhile, back at work, we have been successful with two of the funding applications we were working on earlier in the year and so two new projects have begun.
The East of Eden project, funded by Biffa Award, started in July. Sam, who has been delivering a very successful project in the Eden Valley, working with landowners to restore habitats along the River Eden, saw an opportunity to use similar techniques in other river valleys, as well as working on new sites in the Eden valley to connect up the sites already restored. He worked with Natasha, one of the Trust’s funding officers, to put together a proposal for funding to do this work.
This kind of conservation work is vital – you may have seen reports that very few rivers and water bodies in England are classed as being in good or excellent condition, many suffer from pollution and poor biodiversity. By improving the habitats alongside rivers, we can prevent silt being washed into them and help filter out pollutants as well as increasing wildlife. A particularly important habitat that Sam will be helping landowners to restore is flower-rich meadow – a habitat which has declined by 97%.
Another exciting success story is the granting of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a marine project called Guardians of the Deep. This project will enable us to share with people why the Marine Conservation Zones that have been identified around Kent’s coast are so important and in need of protection, and help us to involve people in looking after them. Fiona, our Marine Officer, will now be working full-time, spending 3 days a week building links with community groups, schools and other partner organisations, running pilot projects and getting everything in place to deliver the full, three year project. This work will all come together in the Phase II application that, if all goes to plan, will unlock the funding for the project.
We have a new team member, Vinny, who will be leading the advisory work of the team, improving our ability to give advice on planning issues and to landowners and businesses. Vinny has been running the national Grow Wild project for the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens and before that worked at Groundwork for many years.
Our work to protect the wildlife of the Lodge Hill Site of Special Scientific Interest has intensified since the announcement was made that the application to develop the site would be decided through a Public Inquiry. We have now appointed a barrister to present our case and Greg is putting together the evidence that we will need to demonstrate that this development would have a wholly unacceptable impact on a site that is not only of great wildlife value to Kent but is of national importance because it holds over 1% of the country’s breeding nightingale population.
I’ve had meetings in a couple more interesting places this month – a few weeks ago I went to Brogdale Farm with Paul, our new Biodiversity Information Officer, who joined the team at the end of April. (Yes, it’s going to be confusing, two Pauls in the team, and neither of them own up to a nickname.) Paul’s job is to develop a more systematic way of surveying and recording how wildlife is doing, on our reserves and in the wider landscape. We want to demonstrate that not only are habitats being created restored and enhanced, but that this is increasing the success of species.
There is already a huge amount of information being collected about wildlife by Trust staff and volunteers, who record the wildlife they see on our reserves (including Roadside Nature Reserves), carry out regular surveys of particular groups of wildlife such as butterflies, birds and reptiles, survey the rare habitats and species on Local Wildlife Sites, and, through our Shore Search and Sea Search activity, record marine wildlife. The challenge is to make sure that similar things are being surveyed in a similar way, so that we can compare results between different places, habitats and years.
One of the things that we will need to do is to come up with a way of storing all the data. At the moment there is a mixture of ways being used, but having a single system will make it easier to analyse it. (Or even to find it in the first place; much of my amphibian survey data is still stored in a box under the desk, on slightly muddy and previously damp bits of paper that I will put in a spreadsheet as soon as I have a moment…) There is already an organisation that stores biodiversity information for Kent, and we don’t want to duplicate what they are doing, so that is why we were at Brogdale farm, visiting the Kent and Medway Biological Record Centre, and discussing the best way to work together, as well as getting some very helpful advice.
My next quirky meeting venue was a shed, at the Sussex Wildlife Trust offices at Woods Mill. Known as the Board Room, it provides additional meeting space, and no doubt useful storage space, as the need arises. I was there to meet Peter Anderton, one of the Sussex Wildlife Trust volunteers, along with Ian, the Conservation Manager. Peter is a geological engineer who has a long experience within the petrochemical industry and had offered to untangle the facts from the hype that surrounds fracking.
We have a number of policies and position statements, setting out Kent Wildlife Trust views on certain contentious issues, which are approved by our Trustees and reviewed regularly. I have been updating our position statement on Badgers and Bovine Tb, and the one on Offshore Wind Farms, and next on the list is the one on fracking. It is important to make sure that the Trust’s position is based on scientific evidence about the impacts of any process on wildlife, so I read various research papers to try to form a balanced and evidenced based view, which is then reviewed by our Conservation Committee. However, the technicalities of hydraulic fracturing are way outside my experience! Sussex Wildlife Trust had kindly invited me to meet their volunteer who could explain the principles of hydrocarbon extraction in layman’s terms. It was incredibly interesting, and once I’ve finished reading up on some other aspects the existing policy will be updated and submitted to our Trustees for approval.
Yesterday I held an afternoon cream tea break to raise money for a friend who was running the London Marathon for Whizz-Kidz. We have a few expert bakers in the team so scones and clotted cream were kindly supplemented by Camilla (patisserie champion), Paul (king of the intriguingly-decorated chocolate cake) and Alison (provider of the healthy option, because lemon drizzle is one of your five-a-day). Diets were busted, generous donations made, and we all admired the achievement of my friend from the comfort of the staff room chairs.
Working as the Head of Conversation, Policy and Evidence at Kent Wildlife Trust is a dream job. I coordinate the work of an amazing team of people who are helping to make the world a better place, or at least this small Kentish corner of it. If you have arrived at this blog via the Kent Wildlife Trust website you will have seen some of the work that the Trust does, looking after nature reserves, running events, helping people find out more about wildlife and providing advice on how to protect our environment. But if you would like to find out what goes on behind the scenes, read on and I’ll introduce you to the people who work here, and follow them over the year as we strive to protect and increase Kent’s wildlife.
The opinions I express here are unreservedly my own, although I hope they would not contradict the aims and objectives of the Trust. (They’re sure to let me know if they do …)