CPRE win victory in battle with developers

Dover-Farthingloe-from-Mount-Road-Vic-030Fabulous news today as the Campaign to Protect Rural England won a landmark victory at the Supreme Court to prevent a development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The developers, who wanted to build over 500 homes and a retirement village in the beautiful countryside around Farthingloe near Dover in Kent, were supported by Dover District Council and local MP Charlie Elphicke, who was recently suspended from duty after allegations of sexual misconduct.

Despite Charlie Elphicke’s outburst in which he claimed the Supreme Court had put the views of an out of touch campaign group over the needs of local people, the supreme court felt that Dover District Council had not give adequate reasons for granting planning to the developers in the first place.

Well done CPRE for seeing this through and taking action against inappropriate developments and councils who appear too often in the pockets of the money men behind these hideous housing estates.

It is Charlie Elphicke that is out of touch with what is really happening in his constituency if he believes that any of the jobless youth of Dover, an area where unemployment has soared, could ever afford one of the houses that the developers would have built in this beautiful area of countryside.

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Day in the Life of an environmental consultant – November 2017

Day in the Life of an environmental consultant – November 2017

November began with a meeting between staff from the Stour Internal Drainage Board and their contractors Rhino Plant to review the cutting of Shalmsford Street Dyke.

The dyke once supported white clawed crayfish and was a nursery ground for trout but has become degraded with silt covering gravels and an excess growth of watercress across the channel.
shalmsford street 2016

excess watercress in stream

These problems are exacerbated by high nitrate levels and poaching of channel banks by livestock. Sheep stand in the channel to graze the watercress causing further poaching and nutrient enrichment.

Fencing would be one solution but landowners often don’t want the expense. Fencing can also cause problems for rivers if the fence line is too close to the channel edge and prevents bankside management. When this happens river banks can begin to scrub up creating dark channels which are impossible to manage.

During the meeting we looked at ways the cutting of the channel could help alleviate the situation. Narrow channels are often faster flowing with better oxygen levels and less silt drop out but this needs to be balanced against flood risk.

We decided that parts of Shalmsford Street will be cut manually which creates less disturbance to the channel bed and can give a more sinuous cut working with the natural processes of the river while other parts will be machine cut in order to create more open conditions to allow for winter water levels.

A further meeting took place with the IDB and EA in the middle of the month to talk about improvements to Buxford Dyke, near Ashford. Again poaching by livestock is causing issues here, pushing banks and silt into the river where it can cover gravels. Other sections of this channel are prone to drying out and there is potential to create off line ponds which could provide refuge for macro invertebrates during drought periods. Further discussions are needed with landowners before work can take place.4 cattle crossing leading to nitrate problems (2)

November also saw the annual IDB AGM where I gave a presentation to the board on the work we have completed in the last year and some of the challenges we face including managing invasive species on Chislet marshes and deciding which IDB channels to reduce maintenance on as we take on management of main river channels as part of the Environment Agency Rationalisation programme.

The Rationalisation Project looks at changing the status of some of our main rivers downgrading some of the smaller channels to Ordinary Watercourses. This would allow the Environment Agency to reduce the cost of its maintenance programme.

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Lampen Stream is a channel which could be transferred to IDB management

It is proposed that the downgraded rivers are managed by the Internal Drainage Boards, whose costs are met by landowners who pay drainage rates for the channels to be managed. Several areas have been chosen to trial the project and the River Stour board is potentially one of the pilot areas, chosen partially because of its good environmental track record.

As the River Stour Board takes on the maintenance of more kilometres of river then they need to reduce maintenance on channels they currently manage. One of my main areas of work at the moment is deciding which channels would most benefit from reduced maintenance.

This project offers great potential to improve habitat for species such as Shining Ramshorn snails who like rivers with more in-channel weed and I have been liaising with Kent Wildlife Trust to choose which ditches in areas like the Ash Levels would benefit the most. Other species prefer more open water habitat and here I have been talking to the County Plant Recorder to make sure that channels with species such as hair like pondweed continue to be managed on an annual basis.

tub wat drop close up

tubular water dropwort may benefit from reduced maintenance

This will create one of the biggest changes in the drainage district for many years but one which provides exciting opportunities for wildlife.

Development Company threaten endangered species.

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turtle dove

Here we go again. Back on the merry-go-round that is the current planning system as another development company propose to destroy a wildlife rich site home to endangered species.

Gleeson Strategic Land are proposing to build 121 houses and the normal associated roads and car parks over a site which is currently home to the UK’s fastest declining bird, the turtle dove. This bird, already threatened with global extinction, will come one step closer to it once the site in Berengrave Road in Rainham, Kent is stripped of the scrubland the birds need to breed.

The site is currently a tapestry of native woodland, grassland and scrub and home to slow worms, common lizards, bats and badgers but, as always, this means nothing to the men who wish to tear it up for a quick profit.

The site is in the perfect location to provide a natural corridor for our native wildlife, adjacent to a community woodland and close to SSSI’s. It could provide a much needed green lung for our every expanding towns. It could be managed as part of the community woodland and provide a resource for local schools. Or it could, as is happening at a every increasing rate, be ripped apart to create yet another ugly housing estate with a minimum of affordable houses for local people.

Medway Council must take a tougher stance and say no to these developments if we are to have any green space left. It must put housing in town centres. It must make development 100% affordable for local people. It must make developers pay long term for local amenity and countryside management instead of being allowed to throw up badly designed houses, inconvenience everyone with roadworks and clog up roads with traffic.

It must give more protection to our fast declining wildlife not just turtle doves but sparrows, hedgehogs, bullfinches and bumblebees, all of which will suffer from this development. If the council does not begin to reject these developments and all the subsequent appeals then more of our wildlife will slip off the face of the local map.

Day in the life of an environmental consultant – October 2017

Day in the life of an environmental consultant – October 2017

October has been a busy month, working with farmers across Kent to improve marshland and rivers for wildlife.

The North Kent Breeding Wader project is gaining pace helped by a grant scheme administered by Kent Wildlife Trust. This funding scheme gives grants to landowners to undertake work on their land for the benefit of wetland wildlife. Almost all the farmers I worked with applied for the grant and, while the land is still dry, they have been busy creating scrapes, restoring rills, fixing pumps and improving water control.

Mid month I joined farmer Mr Wood and contractors Taylor Bros near Conyer to scrape back rush from an overgrown rill in order to create bare earth ideal for lapwings to feed on.

re-profiling rill 2017

Surveys carried out by KWT had shown there were no water vole present and so we could use the opportunity to create a shallow sloping edge. Good visibility is important for ground nesting birds so they can see and drive off predators. Crouching down at the water’s edge, I tried to look at the world from a lapwings point of view in order to get the correct bank profile.

This month also saw the completion of the first round of parrots feather removal from Chislet Marshes near Birchington on Sea. The River Stour Internal Drainage Board worked with Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership volunteers to remove every fragment of the plant from 500m stretches of the upstream reaches of three channels which the plant has colonised.

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Volunteers from KSCP search for Parrot’s feather on Chislet Marshes

In future years we hope to work slowly downstream pulling out the plant from the margins as it is hopefully eradicated from the upper reaches. This approach has been chosen so that we can remove the invasive without damaging other marginal flora .

White clawed crayfish enhancment visit pig stream

Officers from the EA and IDB discuss improvements for white clawed crayfish.

Lastly this month I met with white clawed crayfish experts from the Environment Agency to talk about management of channels which are proving strongholds for these endangered creatures. Working with the landowners and the IDB we hope to cut the weed from the channels in a way which will help maintain connectivity between isolated populations and add cobbles to the channel to give the crayfish places to shelter under.

We need more positivity.

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Lapwings in Kent: A good news story.

It is hard to be positive about nature when everything seems so bleak.

Here in the South East of England I find that some days the only way to stay happy is to get through the day with blinkers on. Drive through a pretty Kentish village, ignore the mini red brick city springing up on its fringes and instead focus on the golden light of autumn leaves. Ignore that you have been stuck in yet another traffic jam for an hour and marvel at the spindled beauty of winter twigs against a marbled sky. Look at the good news story not the bad.

Some people are the opposite. Some people just want to focus on the negatives, declare the world black and that we shouldn’t even try to change things. This kind of defeatist attitude just swallows up hope and effort and good will.

Here in North Kent we are being overwhelmed with ugly housing estates and traffic but we also have some fabulous farmers who are working their socks off to improve their land for waders. Yes, because they are paid by the government to do so but also, I truly believe, because they want to see lapwings plummeting over their fields almost as much as I do. Because lapwing flight brings joy and, together we are helping to spread that joy to more and more land in Kent. This is good news.

I stand by rivers and see the trout run down gravel streams and sometimes I find it hard that I am not able to do more to reconnect those streams with their flood plains but I also have to remember that this stream is on the edge of a city that once supported a tannery industry that polluted the rivers to the point that no fish ventured there.

I have to remember that once the sheep grazing the fields would have been dipped in chemicals so powerful that they would linger in the food chain and kill off otters. I have to remember that I have heard a rumour that otters are hunting the shallow just downstream again.

I have to remember that we are in a battle to protect the wildlife of our country and in battle there is no room for defeatism.