The Essence of Conservation

Thorne Moors

Thorne Moors, protected by the bloody minded determination of William Bunting. Copyright Natural England/Peter Roworth 1998

“I suggest that the essence of conservation lies in one simple word. No. Say no, mean no. Fight to retain the places we have.” William Bunting.

A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – October 2015

A Year in the Life of an Environmental Consultant – October 2015

The latest update on my work as an environmental consultant.

For more information visit my website

October 2015 – A pause in a busy year.

After the rush of September, then October was a time to take stock of our first year and prepare for the future.

We continued working with Medway Council and contractor, Ovendens to talk through the plans for Whitewall Drain, a freshwater channel which flows under a road and tunnel complex into the River Medway.

Bank slippage had caused damage to the headwall and a broken tidal flap beneath the road was allowing salt water to enter the drain at high tide.

tidal flow emerging from pipe

tidal flow emerging from pipe

This was causing damage to the biodiversity of the channel, as brackish water will kill freshwater fish and invertebrates and a build up of silt was reducing the capacity of the channel and could lead to flooding.

Ovendens plan to install Penstock structures, which will allow the channel flow to be controlled and should benefit the environment.

The quiet month gave time to review our first year in business and think about how we can continue to grow and improve the services we offer.

funding cuts over the last few years have prevented some local authorities and environmental charities from hiring full time staff. In addition many existing staff are now on short term or part time contracts. Although this may allow greater flexibilty it also makes staff retention difficult.

As a consequence landowners may deal with many different faces over a few years and this lack of continuity means that good relationships are not established.

Clients are now coming to us as a way to ensure that landowners will get to work with someone well qualified who they can get to know.

This is the case with our new role, which will see us working with landowners across North Kent on behalf of Natural England and the RSPB, delivering advice on managing land for breeding waders.

establishing good relationships with landowners is crucial in improving habitat for wildlife.

establishing good relationships with landowners is crucial in improving habitat for wildlife.

This flagship project seeks to turn the numbers of waders breeding on private land around from the current low and emulate the huge success of reserves in the area, which saw record numbers of lapwing this year.

While this trend of taking on fewer staff provides consultancies with opportunities it is not a sign of a healthy environmental job sector.

It is also a sad fact that, while more people than ever are coming out of college with qualifications in countryside management, entry level jobs are increasingly filled by volunteers or interns.

At Carol J Donaldson Associates we believe in helping young people get their crucial first paid steps in the industry and try to support young people in gaining essential experience. This is something we hope to offer more of as our client base grows.

We have no aims.

all creatures great and small. No targets to protect them at all.

all creatures great and small. No targets to protect them at all. Image – Carol J Donaldson

Did you know that the UK no longer has a Biodiversity Action Plan? Forgive my ignorance here but I didn’t. Despite the fact that I have worked in conservation for at least 15 years and spend day in day out at the coal face trying to protect our habitats and species then I didn’t know that all the aims and targets for the things I most care about had been swept away.

Nor, it seems, did most of my colleagues. Maybe this is our problem, our noses are to the ground, trying frantically to protect what’s left and we don’t look up and see that we are living under a government determined to undermine our work.

bee on green winged orchid

image – Carol J Donaldson

The United Kingdom was the first county in the world to produce a Biodiversity Action Plan following the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. This is something to be proud of. The BAP provided detailed targets of how we were going to halt the loss of biodiversity and action plans which could be used to protect the most precious and threatened species and habitats. We failed to do this. No British Government cared enough to stop the loss of biodiversity but at least we still knew what we were aiming for and roughly what we should do to get there.

Now it seems, quietly, without fanfare, we have lost our direction. In 2011 the new Tory led government scrapped the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan, closed the website, along with a whole host of websites belonging to its environment and nature conservation agencies and sent letters out to say that all the habitat and species plans and targets so carefully worked out by experts were no longer relevant. What was put in their place? seemingly nothing.

The UK Bap was replaced by the snappily titled, Post 2010 Biodiversity Framework and a document was produced which had lots of nice waffle about how marvellous we were all doing but had no meat on the bones to say how we planned to make things better.

It is easy to lose your way under the governments new plans for biodiversity. Image MLP

It is easy to lose your way under the governments new plans for biodiversity.
Image MLP

Wading through the website of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, who advise the government on nature conservation, is like walking through a forest of birch trees on a very foggy day. Shapes loom out at you but, before you can determine what they might mean, they are lost. Am I just being cynical when I begin to feel that this opaqueness might just be on purpose? You are not meant to find the information you are looking for because it doesn’t actually exist.

JNCC staff seem equally confused. When you ask them what has replaced the plans which once laid out how we were going to protect everything from the brown hare to an obscure pea mussel they seem unsure and take your e-mail address with promises to get back to you. Finally you might be directed to a web page  which nowadays only gives you a list of important species, tells you the many reasons they are struggling to survive but gives you no idea what we are doing to stop their loss.

On a local level, things are different. Professional and amateur naturalists, county recorders and wildlife interest groups work frantically to protect their local patch but most of these people are voluntary or woefully underfunded and increasingly they are also portrayed in Government rhetoric as the enemies of the country. These are the people who stand in the way of progress, growth, development. These are the people who put a spanner in the works of housing estates being developed on green spaces and rich men getting richer.

every tiny thing matters

Every tiny thing matters. Image – Carol J Donaldson

Conservation, wildlife, biodiversity and those who seek to save it have become, it seems, the enemy of the Government and the Government has picked away at the strings and science and laws that once protected it. There is no UK plan, no joined up thinking and maybe this was the plan after all. Un-united they hope we might just fall.