Tuesday 18 August 2009

We can’t throw things away – because there is no “away” left!

Chucking things away on a huge scale is a painful symptom of our modern society.

When you think about it, this makes no logical sense. We take resources that have taken millions of years to build up, make something briefly of use to us and then chuck them away where they become pollutants, make mess and take up space.

This is clearly unsustainable (yes – that “sustainable” thing again – it’s not jargon, it just means you plainly can’t do this for ever!). Furthermore, this causes damage to wildlife in all sorts of ways. One result that is all too obvious to people living in parts of Sussex is the need for landfill sites. We are running out of holes in the ground where we can casually throw our cast-offs so what we are left with is getting more and more damaging.

One site that is causing well-deserved concern is a proposal to fill a clay pit at Lay Brook with waste. This is a site near Ashington, immediately adjacent to Knepp – one of the country’s leading conservation projects.

I have talked about the Knepp estate in this blog before. For more details go to the estate’s own web site at http://www.knepp.co.uk/.

Suffice it to say here that the Sussex Wildlife Trusts has long supported the project and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have one of the country’s best re-wilding projects on our doorstep. What is more, it is not just us that support it – friends of the project come from all over Britain (e.g. the Environment Agency and Natural England) and Europe. It has also received warm support from the Shadow Secretary of State for the Environment. See:


The presence of a landfill so close to its borders could have a major effect. The proposed pit is wet – i.e. it fills up with water. Filling this up with any old waste would be extremely damaging. Dumped waste here would rot, chemicals would leach out and surrounding rivers would be devastated. This pit would leach directly out into the river Adur as it runs through Knepp. That would be the end of any re-wilding attempts. This would clearly not be allowed so, generally, two solutions are proposed. First the pit would be “sealed”, so nothing could leach out. Second, only inert waste that would not rot would be allowed in.

The trouble is that I am not sure this really works in practice.

First a pit will never really be sealed permanently – polluted water will always get in and out somehow, getting into surrounding rivers. Preventing a pit from flooding into surrounding steams becomes even more difficult with the increase in severe rains storms that we are now getting.

Second, can we really trust people dumping waste to only dump the most inert material into a big wet hole? Would anyone really notice the odd rotting refuse sack, oil drum or paint pot (until it started leaching into the surrounding river)?

Furthermore, these holes in the ground often have significant existing wildlife interest, or have the potential to develop it. The largest sand marten colony in Sussex is in an old sand pit for example. Holes in the ground are not just wasted land waiting to be dumped in – they are assets that could have a very positive potential use.

The current issue - Laybrook landfill - will shortly be considered by the County Council. For further details, with advice on how to make representations on the proposal, then the web site http://www.nolaybrooklandfill.co.uk/ is perhaps a good starting point.

However, we shouldn’t only be fighting against landfill sites, instead we should be forming partnership to work together and make best use of these potential assets. In other words we should be pushing for what we do want in these places, not just having to fight against what we don't. For my part I’d like to see a restored, re-naturalised lake and wetland there.

But all of this comes down to our attitude to consumption and waste. If we can’t consume without wasting then we shouldn’t consume in the first place. It may be reassuring to blame the County Council or the landfill companies (and the Sussex Wildlife Trust will oppose damaging landfill along with everyone else), but really they are just dealing with a problem that we are giving them. Obviously we have to produce less waste, obviously we have to reuse and recycle more and maybe there will always be some residue left to dispose of (maybe in an incinerator outside somebody else’s house). But the only real answer is to move to a no-waste society. Idealistic? Well I would say not, indeed our current get it, use it, chuck it approach is a silly ideal, and one that is now failing.

1 comment:

Pip said...

This hole in the ground, Laybrook brickworks, does have significant existing wildlife interest. Far from being a barren quarry devoid of life, the varied mosaic of different habitats in and around the brickworks and the fact that it remains relatively undisturbed for much of the time has resulted in a site which supports a diverse mix of invertebrate, bird and mammal species. Many of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and other high conservation species are represented

23 bird species with high conservation status were recorded by Cory's consultants (ESL) but based on other records and local knowledge this is a very conservative figure, it could be as high as 45.

There is a considerable bat population at the site with 8 species (including barbastelles) being recorded by ESL at the site and another over the adjacent fishing ponds. Many of the foraging habitats and the hedges used as flight lines by the bats will be destroyed. Work being undertaken at Knepp indicate that ESLs records are incomplete.

Water voles are also present on the site. There are very few colonies anywhere in the Adur, and the existing populations are extremely fragmented and vulnerable to extinction. The proposed landfill, rather than affording protection that is required by law, will result in the total destruction of their habitat.

As far as invertebrates are concerned the site is incredibly rich which is why it can support so many other species. Of the 565 species recorded by ESL, 60 have formal conservation status. ESL themselves describe it as a ‘site with a wide diversity of invertebrate interest’. The reason there are so many insects is because of the wide variety of habitats. Most of these will be destroyed during the construction and running of the landfill site. Mitigation measures are proposed to replace the hedges and plant new trees. However the current habitats have developed over tens, probably hundreds of years. They cannot be replaced overnight. The result will be habitat simplification, with a concomitant simplification of biodiversity that again the more common, competitive, species at the expense of far rarer niche-specialists. In addition, there will be a considerable delay before any restoration is carried out and be functional even at a basic level

Landfill gas, landfill gas flare emissions, leachate, polluted surface water, dust, litter, noise and vermin are known to impact flora and fauna. Planning permission for the landfill should be refused as it is not needed and not wanted but also on the basis that this is an area of great biodiversity value, the ecology reports submitted by Cory's consultants are not complete and that the full impact on the ecology of the brickworks and the surrounding area has not been assessed

Pip Edgcombe