Things the German’s do better – Part Two



Garden Houses on the edge of Hamburg.

So what’s the point of travel if it isn’t to find out how other people in the world are doing things and bring those ideas back home? It was good enough for Sir Walter Raleigh, it’s good enough for me.

Germany is a greener country than Britain. Not just because it’s bigger and has more space but because it doesn’t appear to see green issues as the preserves of cranks and people with dreadlocks. Better transport, better options for living in the city just make more sense in the 21st Century. Embracing environmental concerns and doing something to improve things IS progress where as our own government is stuck in the past, telling us time and again that environmental concerns stand in the way of progress.


Cyclists have right of way on Hamburg Streets

Last week on my trip to Hamburg I saw a transport system that appears to work. The train links with the underground which links with the buses. The buses were not just populated by pensioners, children and those too poor to own a car, as appears to be the case in Britain, but people of all ages and backgrounds.

True my friend, Wolfgang is a master of the public transport system of Hamburg, seemingly keeping a completely updated timetable in his head, but things just seemed to work more efficiently there. The trains were double decker and, my God, they ran at weekends as efficiently as in the week. Who would have thought that was possible? The buses were regular and even had a free book swap shelf on board. I could not imagine this happening in Britain. Something so sensible and altruistic. In Britain someone would be trying to make money from such a scheme.

In contrast today, I find my local train once again not running due to engineering works which seem to never be completed and only appear to serve the interests of commuters into London not people wanting to move around their local towns without a car. I cannot buy a ticket online for the next train only one for a train which leaves two hours after I wish to travel and the replacement bus service is not stopping at all locations.

Also last week I saw many attractive forms of city living in Hamburg. City centre apartments which come with an option to own a beautiful Gartenhaus. A wooden chalet down by the river with enough room to grow your own vegetables. These apartments did not appear to be the preserve of the wealthy but were, I believe, within the means of ordinary people.


It was as if in Germany it was just accepted that being locked in an urban environment was not good for ones soul and their was a human need to get out into the sunshine and stick your fingers into the soil. Further into the city I saw beautiful houseboats along the canals. Who would not want to live on the river or have somewhere natural to escape to on a summers evening in London.


Hamburg houseboat. .


But here in Britain we are sold the line that living in London is just too expensive for ordinary people and the only solution is for these people to move out of London into new housing estates built in the countryside and commute ever further into work, loosing a big chunk of their day stuck in overcrowded and inefficient trains.

It feels at times as if the government have thrown their hands in the air and resigned to the fact that they have no control over the London property market, as if they no longer have control of the capital. They probably don’t. The capital is ruled by business and foreign investors but the solution can’t be to bleed the life out of our cities and transport people elsewhere.

Instead of supporting building on our green spaces the government should be investing in inner city housing solutions, new ways of living, better public transport. I am clearly not a politician or an economist, I am just someone who senses that things are wrong.  It seemed to me that the Germans are ahead of the game once again.



Here we go again.


Kent Down Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. See it while you can. It’s about to be concreted over.


Monday morning and what do I find in my inbox? Yet another proposal to concrete over a large area of Kent countryside in the name of progress. This time it is the Highways Agency who are proposing creating a massive lorry park off of the M20.

I, along with millions of others, was affected by Operation Stack last year. This, for those who don’t live in Kent, is when the channel tunnel is not working due to industrial action or bad weather or migrants attempting to reach England through it and lorries are parked on the M20 until it opens again. It is a pain to be sure and last summer the area did rather grind to a halt. But until last year Operation Stack really didn’t seem too much of a problem.

So it seems a bit of an overreaction to create a massive lorry park to deal with an occasional problem but, as you read further into the consultation document you begin to realise that what is actually being proposed is some permanent overnight lorry parking facility which would net the government thousands in fees.

While the powers that be wander off with the cash us in Kent are left with increased pollution and flooding issues from the run off from this facility, increased traffic problems year round on local roads, not to mention the loss of woodland, downland, a scheduled ancient monument, Westhanger Abbey, and an ugly intrusion either into the villages of Sellindge and Stanford or the Kent Down AONB.

And of course this giant headline grabbing ego project does nothing to solve the real problems. Security at the channel tunnel and the increasing amounts of freight traffic on our roads. If only the government had the ability to think long term and deal with the real issues, but, no, this is too much to hope for, so I await once again the vision of David Cameron coming over the hill in his hunter wellies with his cement mixer in tow.

If this makes you as angry as it does me then you can attempt to get your voice heard here.

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.