Hurrah, The Guardian is once again promoting the delights of the Hoo Peninsula. Follow in my footsteps and take a walk out to Cooling this spring.
In this month’s edition of The Land magazine, George Monbiot draws parallels between the struggles of indigenous people stripped of their tribal land by unscrupulous corporations and the road protesters at Twyford Down in the nineties who fought to protect chalk downland and Iron Age remains against an unscrupulous government intent on handing out road building contracts to their development buddies.
As Berengrave Nursery, an area of scrubland on the edge of my town, home to some of our rarest and most endangered wildlife, is granted planning permission for 120 houses. It strikes me that we are in a new era of land grabbing.
As a child growing up in an East London suburb my love of nature was created by exploring the former airfield and quarry at the end of my road. A world of wetland, scrubland and hedgerow now designated a SSSI. Yet everywhere I look these urban nature reserves are being cut down and concreted over to make way for completely unaffordable housing which no one trying to get on the housing ladder can buy.
These housing developments are doing nothing to solve our countries supposed problems which rest in inflated housing prices, lack of affordable rent in London and the 90,000 houses which are owned by foreign investors and sit empty for most of the year.
They provide nothing for local communities other than tailbacks caused by temporary traffic lights and more cars on unsuitable roads yet they take away our precious edgelands full of hedgehogs, badgers, nightingales and turtle doves. They take away the countryside on our doorstep and move it to somewhere else. They take away spaces which generations have used to walk their dogs, let the kids run wild, pick blackberries for jam.
It strikes me that our edgelands are the new commons, places which exist in our shared culture which are being surrounded by steel fences and destroyed for massive financial gain by wealthy land speculators.
Berengrave will be destroyed as every other scrubland in my area has been destroyed. Rich men will get richer and some environmental consultancy firm will get fat off of helping the developers to remove the wildlife and dump it elsewhere.
I’m pretty sure this is happening in your area as well as mine and with each piece of scrubland that vanishes we becoming more divorced from our countryside, more urban, more cut off from wildlife.
This land is our land and we are loosing it faster than every before.
As I write the country is hit by icy temperatures.
Not quite down to the -40 degrees I experienced while working in the Arctic in 2013 but still enough to send us all scurrying to turn the heating on.
This surge in energy usage is threatening the countries supply of gas and will possibly lead to cries to allow increased fracking with all its attendant potential to damage our water supplies.
Alternative energy sources are, of course, part of the solution but like all developments they need to be appropriately sited.
At Langenhoe in Essex, the solar farm is situated on flat fields near the River Colne and Mersea Island. Each month I visit the site and conduct wetland bird surveys (Webs counts) on behalf of Brooks Ecological Services. The survey area is unexceptional and it is not possible for me to judge whether it was more valuable for wildlife before the solar farm was developed. Certainly the arable fields surrounding the site support huge flocks of wintering lapwing and golden plover and lots more could be done to improve the survey area for the benefit of these birds but, in this instance, my job is simply to record what is now there.
No one doubts that solar energy plays a vital role in the fight against climate change. Equally no one can really argue that solar farms are ugly intrusions on the landscape. However, until now, the majority of solar farm developments have not attracted too much controversy.
Unfortunately that has now changed. In 2015 the Government withdrew it’s support for green energy and cut subsidies for solar farm developers. This meant that small solar farms were no longer financially viable and developers have reacted by putting in planning applications for mega farms.
Developers Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy are now proposing covering 900acres of Graveney Marshes outside Faversham in Kent with panels which would make it the biggest development in the country and five times bigger than any other solar farm to date.
The land, currently used by grazing wildfowl, is adjacent to Kent Wildlife Trust’s South Swale Reserve and the Trust fear that it would cause habitats to become fragmented, marooning wildlife in pockets of pristine habitat from which they couldn’t expand. There are also fears of the direct impact on wildlife from the change of land use. The fields are currently used by brent geese and widgeon in winter and skylarks and meadow pipits in summer, all birds of conservation concern which would lose out if these proposals were to go ahead.
It seems bizarre, at this time of unpredictable weather patterns caused by climate change and mass housing development, that the Government is not creating legislation to force housing developers to install solar panels on new build roofs and insist supermarkets install them on warehouses, thereby making us all much more self sufficient in energy while at the same time make it easier for us to reduce our energy consumption by helping people properly insulate their homes.
Away from working on solar farms I revisited Wademarsh channel on Chislet marshes where volunteers from the Kentish Stour Countryside Partnership had spent the autumn clearing around 500m of channel infested with parrot’s feather.
It was heartening to see the positive impact of their work with only small amounts of the plant remaining. The work is only just beginning though as most of the 6km channel is still infested. Monitoring will now take place throughout the summer and the volunteers will continue their good work this autumn.
Lastly, work has begun again with farmers in North Kent as part of the Breeding Wader project. After the winter rains lots of the land is holding water better than in previous years and improvements to rills and scrapes carried out using money from the North Kent Capital Grant Scheme has created bare earth ideal for lapwings.
Just before the snow hit I witnessed my first pair of lapwing displaying on the wind blasted shores of the Thames. Let’s hope the current icy blast doesn’t effect our wildlife too badly and there will be plenty of birds to breed this spring.
I for one am keeping bird feeders topped up and the bird bath unfrozen
You know it’s cold when.. Ice begins to form on the Medway River. Will there be icebergs next?
Enjoying a chat with Peter Saxton of Waterstones in front of a packed crowd at the Faversham Literary Festival at the weekend. Loved everyone’s questions and chatting to people afterwards. Many thanks for everyone who attended.
Thanks to the Writing Comes Alive festival, which took place in Canterbury in the autumn, you can now see me chitter chatter about my book On the Marshes on You Tube. Here I am.
Church like peace descending down through the canopy making our chatter falter as the hush reaches us.
We pause and listen to the distant drum, hollow skinned and far reaching. A pileated woodpecker drops through the canopy onto a silvered trunk. Anvil shaped against the bark and big. Black wings flicking against the tree. It is a primal dweller of the woods in this prehistoric world of coffee trees and poison ivy.
Big mouth fish slap their tails in dark pitted pools. Lichens and bryophytes drip from the trees, strangler figs wrap clawed hands in a death embrace around the cyprus trees. The world hisses and sings with insect noise as it did in a swampy past. Above us the air explodes as grackles come off the swamp to roost in the trees. Their calls see-saw overhead but Pete and I walk in reverence, along the boardwalk to a pond where wood storks preen and herons fish.
We have walked into the past and two mourning doves watch us depart.