Tuesday 16 December 2014

Snippets from 2014.

As 2014 draws to a close it might be nice to look back and see what we've done over the past year.  What was 2014 like and what were some of our major projects? 

The Sussex Wildlife Trust carries out a wide range of work in many different areas so it is impossible to cover everything in a short blog.  However, perhaps it is worth highlighting just a few projects – with apologies to all those I miss out!

See this link for a few more details.

We will never achieve any nature conservation if people do not care for nature.  So the starting point for all our work is to inspire, educate and motivate people about nature. 

Our Wildlife Rangers and Youth Rangers are good examples of how we connect young people (from ages 12 to 25) with nature.  In this programme they can get their hands dirty learning conservation skills and work as volunteers to help improve local green spaces.  In a similar vein our Forest Schools programmes have been extremely valuable linking children with nature through bush craft type activities and at the very young end of the spectrum our Nature Tots events hope to spark a very early interest, maybe with mum or dad in tow as well.

We work with local communities around Sussex, with the help of funding from a range of partners.  The Gatwick Greenspace project had its 20th anniversary this year, a project that is only possible because of support form Local Authorities and Gatwick Airport.   Our Access to Nature project, funded by BIG Lottery, enabled us to work with communities in Hastings and in Brighton & Hove, a funding stream that has sadly come to an end now.  But support for a project in Worthing (Wild about Worthing) has enabled us to move forward there and a charitable trust has enabled us to link with communities in Lewes as well.  In addition, projects with intriguing names like “Growing Forward”, “Nature Train” and “Wellbeing in the Wild” have all been supported by funds from unusual sources in order to engage with different groups of people.  The key point in all these is the linking of people to nature, doing activities to enhance nature and in the process gaining all sorts of personal benefits.

We also have several large landscape-scale projects, improving nature further out in the wilds of Sussex

Our West Weald Landscape project, part funded by a charitable trust, celebrated its 5th anniversary this year in a major event at Kew Gardens, Wakehurst.  This is a significant lowland landscape partnership project aiming to connect ancient woodlands and habitats covering 24,000 hectares in the Sussex Weald.  It is perhaps one of the most important areas in England for bats (and other species) and we have plotted significant population improvements as our work has progressed.

Starting off as a project with a focus on otters, our current wetlands projects aim to achieve habitat enhancements at a landscape scale.  The Arun and Rother Connections project and the Sussex Flow Initiative are examples of how we are looking at whole river catchments in order to achieve improvements for nature.  A recent change, however, has been an increasing recognition that if we improve a catchment for wildlife then it is also likely to improve it for all sorts of public benefits as well (flood risk reduction, soil erosion reduction, improved water resources and so on).

We may forget that about 50% of our wildlife (numbers of species) is actually under the sea.  Our “Making Waves” project is therefore active in engaging with children to encourage them to find out about marine wildlife. Activities include “Wild Beach”, family seaside events and “Undersea Explorers”.

And I haven’t even mentioned nature reserves yet!  Heathland restoration, conservation grazing, woodland management, wetland enhancement and so on.  Major areas of activity with significant funding needs.  But that’s another story!  (Follow our nature reserves link)

I am very enthused by the range of work we do and the wildlife conservation activities we deliver but we must bear a sad truth in mind.  The general trend for nature in England is downwards. We have many good specific examples of wildlife improvement but nature is under massive threat and is unfortunately on a long term decline.  We can celebrate the work that SWT, and other wildlife charities, has done over 2014, but this is against a permanent need for us to do more.  And, with the help of our members, supporters and partners, maybe we can redouble our efforts in 2015.

Monday 8 December 2014

Money to burn! A road building bonanza marks the end of austerity?

£15 billion to spend on vanity roads projects around the country is a clear indication that the government has given up on any serious attempts to solve congestion.

Ignoring the evidence, and years of direct experience that shows how new roads crate new traffic, government has decided to throw money we don’t have at environmentally destructive roads schemes.  These will make congestion worse throughout the country – especially in Sussex with the A27 proposals. 

Look out for the inevitable consequences.  You may be able to speed around Arundel (having created a swathe of damage through ancient woodland and across the Arun valley), but the increased traffic will then simply stack up elsewhere.  Imagine any part of Sussex where the traffic is already high.  These will all become congested.  Towns, cities, villages, country roads, even current main roads (think how busy the Washington roundabout is at present) will all get jammed with inevitable demands for yet more roads.  More roads, more traffic and then demand for more roads.  A familiar and circular treadmill that we’ve been around so many times before.  There really is no excuse for anyone thinking that this will cure congestion.

It’s a huge waste of public money that could so much better be spent productively.

Cost-benefit analyses of these proposals, even when heavily loaded in favour of new roads, struggle to reach a two to one return on investment – and that’s with economic benefits exaggerated and environmental costs ignored.  Compare that to investments that enhance nature (when economists bother to do the sums).  When conservatively costing the benefits to people from improving the natural functioning of rivers, and the benefits to nature, we often find a return of 6:1.  Environment Agency flood defence schemes are expected to achieve 8:1.  A costing of the public benefits of the Forestry Commissions public forests returned about 20:1.  International studies have shown that protected areas for nature return between 10:1 and 100:1 against investment.

£15 billion spent on roads will fail, wasting tax-payers money and cause economic loss rather than benefit.  But even if take a glowingly optimistic return, it will struggle to deliver £30bn in public benefit.  The same amount invested in nature, like for example in a public forest estate, could deliver £300bn in public benefit.

It happens frequently – governments give up on evidence and write themselves anecdotes to support what they wanted to do anyway.  Eventually reality will raise its head and more sensible policies have to prevail.  But that could be after another round of irreversible environmental damage and another cohort of angry business leaders annoyed at being hood-winked by false promises.