Thursday, 10 September 2015

Joint West Sussex Minerals Local Plan; an update from the Wiggonholt Association

I am indebted to Janet Aiden of the Wiggonholt Association for the following update on plans for mineral extraction in West Sussex.  This is an important subject, from an environmental perspective, as plans could have a major impact on local countryside, with places like Pulborough and bury at risk in particular.  It is worth keeping an eye on the situation and being prepared to respond when a consultation comes out:

The draft policies of the Plan were issued for consultation in May 2014, followed in August by the draft sites which were being considered by the Minerals Planning Authority (MPA) which consists of West Sussex County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority.  This revealed that the MPA was considering silica sand (a specialised and valuable form of soft sand) within its targeted figure for soft sand.  (The two are often distinguished as ‘industrial’ and ‘building’ sand.)  The Plan also makes provision for ‘sharp’ or concreting sand, and gravel, in one separate category.  There are thus two categories of aggregate: Soft Sand, and Sharp Sand/Gravel.  These categories are dealt with quite separately in the Plan and an abundance of one type cannot be used to compensate for a shortage of the other.

A report on the Sites Consultation was issued by the MPA in the spring of 2015.  The two local silica sites, Wickford Bridge (Pulborough) and Horncroft (Bury) have not been withdrawn. The next stage has been to filter all sites in the South Downs National Park through a Sustainability Appraisal.  This evaluates specific  features of all sites, such as landscape quality.  These two sites are both in the Park.

The MPA originally expected to publish a series of updates on the appraisals and it also wrote of consulting local communities which would be directly affected by proposed sites, such as Pulborough.  (All sites affect people to some extent, but the Wickford Bridge site is adjacent to a high density of housing on the outskirts of Pulborough, at Mare Hill and in the approaches to Nutbourne and West Chiltington.  The Wiggonholt Association has twice written to the MPA requesting such a consultation.

The MPA has also undertaken a Soft Sand Study, which would evaluate the amounts of soft sand in West Sussex and no doubt identify and distinguish between ‘industrial’ and ‘building’ sand (see above).   The conclusions of this document are much anticipated as they will determine the amounts which the MPA must provide for in its Plan.  They will also shed light on other areas of silica sand.  (Silica sand was previously unknown in West Sussex and it has a higher value than building sand.)

In July, the MPA revealed that it had decided not to give out any more information to “stakeholders” (those affected by, or with an interest in, minerals extraction).  All must now await the draft Minerals Plan itself, when special studies (such as the Soft Sand Study), amended policies, and the short list of sand sites will all be revealed at a blow.  At this stage evaluations of each site will be published and it will be either “in” or “out” of a short list.   This is likely to happen at the beginning of 2016, and the information will come in a flood.  There will then be a formal consultation, probably lasting six weeks.   But even if a site is “out” of the shortlist, the industry – and anyone else with an interest – will have the opportunity to challenge its exclusion before and during the public hearing on the Plan (the Examination-in-Public) which will be held by a Government inspector, probably later next year.

The Wiggonholt Association is considering what action might be taken to persuade the MPA to release some of its background papers ahead of the Draft Plan as it believes that publication as a flood would put non-professional stakeholders at a great disadvantage. 

Support your local Rivers Trust

I currently sit on the board of the Arun and Rother RiversTrust – an excellent charity dedicated to making practical improvements to our local rivers.  Their key role is to deliver projects in collaboration with other environmental organisations, local authorities, government agencies, water companies and universities.  In particular they have made excellent links with the landowning community and indeed landowners are fundamental in the work of the Trust.  They are now looking for a new trustee, a volunteer to contribute to the governance of the Trust.  The current board of volunteer trustees has a wide range of experience and interests but they are seeking a new member with expertise and relevant experience in fundraising and marketing to help achieve their strategic aims. 

If you are interested please email the Trust on with a cv and supporting statement, or ask the Trust to put you in touch with one of the other Trustees for further information.  The closing date for applications is 31st October 2015.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Lewes Railway Land Festival

On Sunday 5th July the Lewes Railway Land is hosting the Biosphere Festival.  There will be a host of events and displays, including a small stand from the SWT, but the event will be opened with a fascinating geological perspective on 500 million years of climate and sea-level change.

A geology display by Professor Rory Mortimore will be formally unveiled at the Railway Land Festival.  This display, which will feature drilling cores, fossils, drone shots and QR code- triggered videos sets out long term historical climate change that brings yet another aspect to the pioneering Linklater Pavilion dedicated to the study of environmental change.

Said Professor Mortimore, who will open the exhibition at 3pm on 5th July, ‘Climate and sea levels have constantly changed throughout geological time.  The rocks that make the South Downs record nearly 40 million years of environmental change. Sea-level was 300 metres above present day (two times the height of Beachy Head) when the Chalk, exposed in the river-cliffs at Lewes opposite the Linklater Pavilion, formed.

The animals that lived in that sea and on the seafloor are the fossils that we now find in our local chalk pits and shown in these displays.  As well as high sea levels the Chalk represents a time when the Earth was a ‘hot-house’ with no or little polar ice.  Yet we can see in the Chalk that there were also small ‘cycles’ of temperature and climate change represented by the alternating beds of marl-limestone in Southerham Grey Pit.’

The free Railway Land Live! Festival, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, will include many family activities - a Minecraft game based on the Reserve, underwater wildlife images, a puppet show, displays by the young sea level rise group of teenagers called the Linklater Rats, live music, refreshments and much more.  It runs from 2-5pm at the Railway Land Local Nature Reserve, situated at the end of Railway Lane, Lewes BN7 2FG.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Happy Birthday to the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere.

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere is now a year old and in that time it has built up a good record of pioneering a positive future for people and nature in the area.

The Biosphere – an area of land and coastal waters between the rivers Adur and Ouse – was officially recognised by UNESCO on 11 June 2014. With the city of Brighton and Hove at its heart, it joined a unique global network of over 600 international demonstration areas across 100 countries.

The Biosphere name confers a high level of international recognition on an area, but it does not come with any extra guaranteed money or powers.  So action has to be delivered through imaginative approaches.  And since its launch the Biosphere has developed new partnerships, improved the natural environment, organised a campaign of community engagement and provided more opportunities for local people and visitors to experience its special nature.

Paula Murray, chair of the Biosphere Board, says “We want to build on the success of our first year through more innovative major projects, novel partnerships and greater community engagement. Our aim is to sustainably improve our environment, our relationship with it and ourselves too.”

The work of the Biosphere programme has successfully:
  • Worked with Brighton & Hove City Council’s Cityparks team and the University of Sussex to create new wildflower areas for bees and butterflies in Brighton, including a new ‘bee-bed’ at The Level
  • Created fun and stimulating educational programmes for children including a virtual world of the Biosphere based on the popular computer game,  Minecraft
  • Developed projects with a range of public and private bodies to reduce impacts of flooding and to improve the quality of our drinking water from the chalk downs
  • Worked with Visit Brighton to develop a 'Best of our Biosphere' guide for visitors and local people, as well as a host of new materials for promotional and educational purposes

The Biosphere Partnership of some 40 local organisations, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, aspires to not just enhance the environment but also to raise the profile and awareness of how special our area is with both residents and visitors, as a key foundation for the local economy too.

Murray says, “We have established a Biosphere Board that will work with the Greater Brighton Economic Board to take forward a programme of new projects that deliver for both people and the environment, for example by diversifying our visitor offer to include eco-tourism.”

We all rely 100% on the environment for our health and well-being, yet people in towns and cities can become isolated from this reality.  Brighton, Hove and Lewes are set within a world-class environment, both in the surrounding Downs and threading into the urban areas themselves.  The Biosphere has created the perfect opportunity to increase awareness of this precious resource and hopefully provide a stimulus for us to care for it for years to come.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Countryside or Concrete?

Pre-election Television debates between the leaders of the main parties are very much the in the national news at the moment.  It is therefore good to see that, here in Horsham on Saturday 21 March,10.00am to 12.30pm, CPRE Sussex is hosting a pre-election hustings for Horsham’s Parliamentary candidates.  This will take place at the Drill Hall, Denne Road, Horsham RH12 1JF.

Countryside or Concrete is the essential theme because a fundamental issue for communities has been the rewriting and dumbing-down of planning regulations by the Government.  This seems to have enabled developers to build where they like on green fields adjoining villages, irrespective of the justified concerns and objections of residents.  In Horsham, for example, the Planning Inspector has imposed an apparently arbitrary target of 15,000/16,000 houses on the District. See here for an interesting article on this subject by Roger Smith of CPRE.

CPRE Sussex’s pre-election hustings will be an unprecedented and much needed opportunity for members of the public to put questions to and hear what Conservative, Green, Labour, UKIP and independent Parliamentary Candidates have to say about planning and the future of our countryside, and the rights of communities to decide where development should go.

Book your free place either on line through the CPRE Sussex website:
or by phone: 01825 890975.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The sad loss of Oliver Rackham – one of the greatest contributors to the study of trees, woodlands and the landscape.

Oliver Rackham was one of my greatest inspirations.  Before his great work “Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape”, few of us had any idea about ancient woodland; we didn't understand how special they were, few realized that woods were managed and very few understood the great historical and cultural value of woodland.  Oliver Rackham opened a whole library of rich new meaning to generations of people with an interest in woodland and landscape. His books were just becoming well known as I was developing my own interest in woodlands and his sudden death after collapsing at a dinner in Leckhampton leaves a great hole were there once was the leading authority on trees and woodlands.  Some great tributes have been payed to Oliver; see, for example posts by Keith Kirby and Ian Rotherham.

Friday, 13 February 2015

What Nature Does For Britain - A brilliant new book draws on the work of The Wildlife Trusts across the UK

A new book by Tony Juniper, What Nature Does for Britain, takes a fascinating journey through Britain and powerfully illustrates how we all need nature – for our health, wealth and security.  He explores how nature makes us happy, helps us to feel better and is good for business too.  The book also looks at how the protection of natural habitats can also provide a cleaner, cheaper water supply; how healthy soils help purify water, reduce flooding and store carbon, thus combating climate change; and how food production in the UK remains fundamentally dependent on a thriving natural world.

In the book Tony visits people and places across Britain to illustrate the social and economic benefits of landscape and habitat restoration.  The book includes many examples of The Wildlife Trusts’ work such as:
·         Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Pumlumon Project where landscape restoration upstream seeks to reap flood defence benefits downstream
·         Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr – a beautiful urban wildlife retreat on the edge of Doncaster, designed to store quantities of water and prevent local flooding
·         Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust’s awe-inspiring ospreys, eco-tourism and habitat creation with Anglian Water at Rutland Water
·         Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s peatland restoration near Manchester to create fabulous habitats and store carbon at Chat Moss and other bogs
·         Ulster Wildlife’s expertise in maintaining wildlife-rich farmland and the benefits of reserves like Slievenacloy
·         Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s work to improve community greenspace, making it wilder and bringing social benefits to deprived and run-down housing estates

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, says:  “What Nature Does for Britain is a fact-packed challenge to any preconceptions that greens spend their lives complaining.  There are positive alternatives and this book makes these very clear.  What Nature Does for Britain provides great material for politicians, town planners, health workers and even the Treasury to justify taking into account the true value of wildlife and natural ecosystems.  Tony Juniper illustrates the folly of short-term gain strategies which damage the natural world.  The tax payer is being landed with unnecessary bills now but it is the next generation that it will cost most dearly.  I’m delighted that the author has chosen examples of The Wildlife Trusts’ work to illustrate the benefits of restoring our ecosystem for people’s happiness, health and for their purses.”