A political blog: the unholy alliance between UKIP and the Marxist Libertarians

Nigel_Farage_Autumn_2008

the cheeky chappy

 

Last week I forced myself to watch a Channel 4 documentary “Nigel Farage: who are you?”, made by self-styled “fashionable left-wing film-maker turned wicked libertarian” Martin Durkin. He has previously made such edifying and entertaining pieces as “Against Nature” and “The Great Global Warming Swindle” and regularly accuses greens of being fascists.

Durkin used to be a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, founded by University of Kent radical academic Frank Furedi. As society changed, the RCP morphed into the magazine Living Marxism, until that was forced to close – having accused ITN of faking coverage of the Trnopolje concentration camp during the Bosnia war. I think the idea was that the plucky Serbian holders of the Socialist flame could not possible have been to blame for such outrages – and anybody who suggested they were were labelled fascists, in time honoured Trotskyite fashion. ITN successfully sued LM for libel and it closed down. Almost immediately, the RCP grew a new excrescence called Spiked Online, which continues to exist – using much the same approach as the RCP and LM (Trotskyite entryisim and contrarianism)- but with an apparent radical change in political position. Spiked Online is now a mouthpiece for right-libertarian commentary having seemingly lost its communistic shackles. Irish online Magazine Forth is another outgrowth apparently. Where the LM network gets is funding is as transparent as any other right wing thinktank but corporate funding has been linked to them. Of course this could all be a very long game being played and they are in fact still marxists – it wouldn’t be the first time the RCP have worn reactionary clothes to discredit their competitors and confuse their enemies. For me though, that’s a conspiracy theory too far (even for me) and I think they have ended up believing their own false flag propaganda.

In the Documentary, Durkin seemed a bit disappointed with Farage – complaining that Farage’s anti-immigration stance was mistaken, as the free movement of people was as important as the free movement of capital in this best of all possible globalised market-driven world.

But then again they are different aren’t they? While capital can flow (fly) to tax-havens like the Turks and Caicos, or out of Russia, people cannot or choose not to. Farage (and the far right of the Tory party) through that organ of the outraged right, the Daily Mail, and fellow travellers, raised the spectre of millions of Romanians and Bulgarians arriving in our island in January. Could they come? yes they could. Did they come? No they didn’t. Decisions taken by individuals as to whether to move from their home country to another one are not taken lightly, and not necessarily driven by pure economic necessity. I know this: my mum emigrated to England in 1954, from Australia.

Farage sought to portray himself in the doco as a man of the people, a defender of what used to be known as The Man on the Clapham Omnibus. We followed him back to the village in Kent where he was born, brought up, and still lives today. He visited the local pub where he was regaled by his locals. The image of Farage with pint of beer and fag in hand is now well-embedded in the media and it is a familiar trope.

The plan is clear and I guess being led by UKIP’s media expert Patrick O’Flynn: represent Farage as normal, friendly, up for a good laugh and a chat about politics down the local. He is portrayed as a pub politician and we were treated to seeing his public verbal assault on The President of the European Commisson Herman Van Rompuy. We were also witness to Durkin and Farage running around The Strasbourg European Parliament like a couple of naughty schoolboys, sniggering as they filmed where they weren’t allowed to, and catching journalists asleep at their computers. This I imagine was supposed to reflect Farage’s “naughty but nice” cheeky-chappy persona. It appealed to my sense of the absurd, but that was about it.

This image is of course a sham. Farage was born into privilege. His father was a stockbroker and Farage went to a top public school, Dulwich College. At the time a teacher had attempted to prevent Farage from being made a prefect on account of his “racist” and “neofascist” views; he was made a prefect though.

Of course we all do and say silly things when we are teenagers and he may have grown out of these views. Farage went on to make a lot of money in the city, as a metals trader before turning to politics. Consequently Farage has many friends in the city, as the film showed. He loves the City of London – he believes it is a force for good.

Durkin called a number of witnesses to attest to Farage’s character and influence. Right Wing/libertarian commentators Simon Heffer and James Delingpole were both happy to shower him with praise, among many others. Only Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was an opposing journalistic view, while former Labour leader Neil Kinnock was wheeled out and portrayed as a straw man to knock down from his Euro-pedestal (after failing to beat John Major in 1992 he went to Brussels to be a Commissioner.)

I suppose it should not be that surprising that the libertarians are warmish fans of UKIP. While Durkin’s hagiography of Farage is well-timed in advance of the Euro elections, there are other connections. Another member of the Living Marxism network, Ben Pile, who writes an anti-environmental and climate change denial website, is also UKIP’s climate change advisor.

It is no surprise that the now exiled Godfrey Bloom was the UKIP climate change leader – either someone in UKIP has a sharp sense of irony or more likely it illustrates their utter contempt for environmental concerns. Bloom is out, now Roger Helmer is at the err Helm on climate change and Pile is his “expert.” Pile has a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of York. Helmer who is now positioned as the leading UKIP MEP after Farage, has in the past been funded by the Oil Palm industry to lobby Brussels to reject criticism of this industry which has to clear rainforest to grow the palms, attack climate change “alarmism” – but counter-intuitively, help portray Oil Palm as a carbon sink – as if that would matter if there were no climate change!

Climate Change denier Helmer is also happy to take public funds to put up solar panels.

Helmer’s climate denier wingman Pile is a regular contributor to Spiked Online, as well as running an Oxford Salon, and speaking at various LM events such as the Institute of Ideas. The LM network has a number of these fronts – the Battle of Ideas, Intelligence Squared, Science Media Centre, Sense about Science and so on. If you look carefully you can see other LM network members turning up in the media on a regular basis, such as Claire Fox on the Moral Maze and Timandra Harkness who turned up as resident reporter on social psychology prog “the human zoo” on Radio 4. Next time you hear see or read something that sounds a bit libertarian or anti-environmental – check out the journalist – you might be surprised how often they turn out to be LMers.

Delingpole in a recent interview with Conservative Home talked about the continuing fight against Cultural Marxism, and included climate change and other environmental regulations in that all encompassing term. Water-melons is another favourite phrase of the far-right – because they are green on the outside but red on the inside (geddit?). I didn’t realise I was a Marxist. Interestingly other fellow-travellers of the LM network include arch climate change sceptic and self-styled “rational optimist” Matt Ridley and anti-green re-wilding advocate (huh?) Peter Taylor.

After the programme ended, I wondered to myself “is UKIP racist”? The party does not officially espouse racist policies in the way that the NF or BNP did (I grew up in East London in the 1970s). But it seems unthinkable that UKIP has not attracted in many who previously supported or were active in those extreme and fascistic parties.

I think UKIP has been clever to focus in on Europe because the issue of skin colour is more nuanced. Those of a certain generation (and most UKIP support comes from the over 50s) will recall that the Brits (or should that be English) had highly derogatory terms for every conceivable ethnicity in Europe. The phrase “w….s start at Calais” I am sure still has a certain appeal to that generation.

This cultural superiority, or perhaps a festering nostalgia for such superiority and a burning resentment at its loss, is a malevolent flame burning inside the popularity of UKIP. No wonder the Romanians and Bulgarians (and of course the Roma) are the target of invective (and hatred from some.) Remember the Roma was as comprehensively exterminated in the second world war as the Jewish peoples.

All this must be further confirmation (if any were needed) amongst mainland Europeans, that we Brits (though in truth it is the English who have the problem) are a very weird lot. We just have no idea that people have been moving around the continent for millennia and that it is nothing unusual for ethnic Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Romanians, Russians and other Slavs, and others to happily/unhappily co-exist with each other, recognising their differences but also sharing their commonalities. When we forget about our similarities and focus on our differences, this is when the problems arise, whether in Nazi Germany, or post-Tito Yugoslavia. We the “native” English are, after all, mostly Anglo-Saxons – Angles from north Germany/Denmark, Saxons from Saxony. Perhaps what UKIP fears most is recognising our European, Germanic roots.

For some, UKIP are the pantomime clowns of British politics, not taken seriously. This is wrong. They are likely to do well in the European Elections next month, they could even win the popular vote. Their views on Europe may be offensive, but their anti-environmental anti-climate change views are more damaging. And the unholy alliance between UKIP and the libertarian movement, under whatever guise, is something to watch and expose.

photo by Berchemboy [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in anti conservation rhetoric, anti-environmental rhetoric, Astroturfing, climate change, Living Marxism, Matt Ridley, UKIP | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Mapping local greenspace: will it help protect these green lungs?

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moody greenspace (photo Miles King)

As some of you may have guessed, I’m not the biggest fan of Policy Exchange. This is the think tank the Tories love most – its ex-treasurer is the new Natural England chair, Andrew Sells, about whom I have written a number of times. It has made a “visiting scholar” of climate denier and general anti-environmental pundit (and former chair of Northern Rock, at the time when its demise helped trigger the longest recession in a century) Matt Ridley, who is also brother-in-law and personal think tank to “get rid of all this Environmental crap” Secretary Owen Paterson.

This is the think tank that told Owen Paterson about Biodiversity Offsetting. So I was pleasantly surprised to see PE making sensible suggestions about urban greenspace late last year. In their report by Kat Drayson entitled “Park Land” they call for a national urban greenspace map, and point out the barriers to using existing data sets such as OS Mastermap or CEH’s land use cover map. I do find it a bit ironic that the PE uber-neoliberals are calling for the Government (CLG and Defra) to lead on this initiative, rather than business; maybe that’s why I like its proposals.

I do quite a bit of GIS work now in my job at Footprint Ecology. I have been learning how to use the free GIS system QGIS. I used to use Mapinfo (badly), which was very expensive to buy. I have to say QGIS is easier to use, albeit it has more limited capacity for spatial data analysis (or so I am told by people who know.)

I have just finished work on a contract for Natural England, where we surveyed and mapped vegetation communities on strandlines and shingle around the Solent. I was mapping polygons down to just a few metres (using handheld GPS), as the vegetation was patchy at an extremely small scale. Natural England had provided Mastermap data for us to use. It is also extremely expensive to buy – as Park Land points out. Actually it was pretty useless on the shoreline because it’s such a dynamic system. So I used Open Street Map instead. Open Street Map is a free map to use with GIS. It’s the wikipedia of maps. People just update it so it is getting better and better. Using Open Street Map, handheld GPS and QGIS together, the public could create a very good quality national urban greenspace map for all to use.

One of the other things Kat Drayson recommends is a standard typology for such a map; and using green flag style quality assessment, combined with a tripadvisor approach, getting the public to score their local greenspaces. It’s an interesting idea. Another area which Footprint does a great deal of work in is around visitor pressure on high quality nature sites (such as heathlands.) Getting the public to use openstreetmap to mark areas where dog-walkers empty their dogs in urban greenspaces and high quality nature sites could be really interesting and a valuable source of evidence for policy makers. There is also a risk that by publicising some greenspaces, the map may inadvertently increase visitor numbers and cause a higher level of disturbance to their wildlife. But I can see such a map being used to show  which greenspaces have exceeded their wildlife’s carrying capacity, providing information that car parking spaces are being reduced, so discouraging visitors from going there.

Urban greenspace isn’t just about parks: it’s also areas of encapsulated countryside, nature reserves, post-industrial sites that have developed important wildlife habitat; and a whole host of other stuff, including back gardens, road verges and greenspace within housing and industrial estates. It all adds together to create Green Infrastructure.

An ever stronger base of evidence is pointing towards green infrastructure and greenspace specifically, as having a major positive effect on people’s health. Just yesterday the BBC reported the President of the Royal College of Physicians stating how important greenspaces, with biodiversity, are for both mental and physical health.

What I do not see (yet) is the link between mapping greenspace and protecting it. House-building is continuing to see the loss of urban greenspace as local plans identify greenspace areas for new housing within their areas. How would a wiki-greenspace map feed in to Core Strategies? Green Infrastructure Strategies are not regarded as especially high priority within the Local Development Framework.

Perhaps when the public can easily access a local greenspace map which shows which greenspace areas are included in the strategic housing land allocation area (ie targeted for housing), they might start getting on the backs of their local councillors.

Posted in biodiversity offsetting, greenspace, housing, Policy Exchange | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Feed the World….. sugar till we are all obese.

 

We are told that Fat is the new normal and this is undoubtedly true. It’s another example of shifting baseline syndrome, also known as the “frog in the saucepan“. I have noticed my own waistline expand over the years – not just due to middle age spread; as my lifestyle has become more sedentary.

One theory why obesity is such a massive global health and environmental problem is that we live in an obesogenic environment. It’s amazing that more people in the world are now overweight than are hungry and obesity kills three times as many people as malnutrition.

More concrete evidence points towards the addictive properties of sugar, while Global food corporations derive their profits from food consumption, whether healthy food or not (and generally not). Whatever the cause, the problem is a real one and must be tackled.

Yet we are still implored  in this country to grow more food. Time and again the High Priests of food production – the NFU being the Archbishopric of the cult of obesity. The outgoing Pope of agricultural Production NFU president Peter Kendall pushed this particular point at the Oxford Farming Conference in January as he looked forward to “The EU [getting] back to agreeing policy in-line with …the massive challenge of global food security.” Kendall is now president of the World Farmers Organisation. Will Peter be standing up for the small subsistence farmer in Africa, or the global agro-industrial complex? Watch this space.

This means farmers rich and not rich alike get £200 per hectare per annum from us the taxpayer, for whatever they produce from their land. It could be wheat, to feed cows to produce milk to sell to China. It could be oil seed rape to make into biodiesel. It could be maize to feed an anaerobic digester to make biogas. In theory it could be used for public goods such as providing wildlife habitat, storing carbon or preventing flooding. Thanks to the power of the ag-elite, EC rules generally prohibit this sort of useful contribution to society and the planet, unless under very strict controls, for limited periods of time, through agri-environment schemes.

A small cadre of agriculturalists are still obsessed with the UK running short of food. I call this the “U-boats in the channel” syndrome. The last time there were U-boats in the channel, with 70% of our food imported  (from the Empire or Commonwealth) the spectre of a hungry nation (who needed to be fit to work in war factories and fight) led to Dig for Victory, The Great Harvest driven by the the War Ag committees – and generous farm subsidies. Food production soared, although arguably it was rationing that made the key difference, not only in terms of food availability, but also health. Rationing produced a healthier population than before, or arguably since.

This mentality continued after the war, across Europe, until we were swimming in butter lakes, with wheat mountains looming over us.

Thanks to the power of this clique and their political connections, we still pay over £3 billion a year in benefits to farmers to overproduce food in this country and trash the environment. The CAP system doesn’t discriminate, it’s not means tested. If you have more than a few hectares of land, kerching! In 2011 the Duke of Westminster (net worth £7.4Bn) was paid nearly £750,000 for his farms. By 2013 the Ag-elite were a bit miffed that their little (large) scam had been revealed and successfully lobbied the EC to stop publishing data on which farms recieved how much welfare payment.

Now all we can tell is that companies like “Meadows Food” (ah the irony) received 171 Million Euros in farm welfare payments while the biggest corporate recipient was …….da da da daaaa…..Tate and Lyle who received a whopping 600 Million Euros during the noughties.

To grow sugar and make very healthy profits in that decade.  Now they have sold their sugar refining business to American Sugar, they are in financial trouble.

Meanwhile the Government takes benefits from people on their deathbeds and forces the poor to move homes or get into serious rent arrears to save a questionable amount of money – at what social and psychological cost?

 

Posted in Common Agricultural Policy, ecosystem services, farming, public goods, Uncategorized | 8 Comments

A Lenten Story: The Gamekeeper’s Gibbet, Biodiversity Onsetting and Confirmation Bias

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spot the badger

The Gamekeeper’s Gibbet

Not so long ago, a walk in the country would entail this scene – a gamekeeper’s gibbet. Vermin would be presented by the estate gamekeeper, neatly strung on fences or hung from trees, as this one does. Presented to – well to whom?

Some might suggest this was merely the gamekeeper showing his prowess, showing the Master that he is doing a good job keeping all those pesky stoats, crows, buzzards, kites, foxes, badgers, pine martens, beavers, wolves, bears, wolverines and elephants, in check, so they don’t compete with us for food.

I think it goes much deeper. I think this is primeval, it is about both sacrifice, abeyance and defiance. On the one hand, humans have always made sacrifices to appease our gods  – I have written about this elsewhere. Sacrificing something valuable gave it extra meaning, and the bigger the request or plea for a deity to intervene, the more valuable the sacrifice needed – Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his own child to appease Yahweh.  There is a direct line from Abraham to giving up Facebook for Lent.

Reverse Sacrifice

Stringing up furry animals and birds on trees is also a way of signifying that we can overcome nature, that we rail against the power of the nature gods: a kind of reverse sacrifice. Instead of giving something precious – we take something away from nature. Festooning special trees with talismanic objects is also a ritual that  has very deep roots (sorry for the pun.) Wishing trees, like wishing wells have long been decorated with votive objects of significance to the decorators, as gifts to nature gods or spirits. They continue to play an important role in modern day Britain.

wishing tree

wishing (rag) tree at the fulacht fiadh (holy well) Slieve Carron, The Burren. (c) Miles King

Of course it could just be a simple economic transaction – you eat my crops (or game animals) and I will kill you.

What has this got to do with the Badger Cull I hear none of you asking. Well I think it has quite a lot. On this day when we will (?) hear that the pilot Badger Cull was a resounding success and it will be rolled out to Dorset for this year’s summer butchery, it occurs to me that this is about a reverse sacrifice, thumbing our noses at nature. The badger as scapegoat – Owen Paterson as high priest of a badger death cult.  They may not be publicly strung up in trees – but who knows what happens in the deep privacy of the land?

Biodiversity Onsetting

I was talking about Biodiversity Offsetting last week and one of my critiques of the Government’s approach is that it only applies to development. Why? Here are the figures:

    • 9% of England is developed.
    • 69% of England is agricultural land, increased by 1% from 2012 to 2013.
    • 10% of England is forested.

Agriculture is the principal cause of biodiversity loss. It has been, is and will continue to be so. Why then is it not included in biodiversity offsetting?

If Agriculture were included in BO, the badger cull would be liable to offsetting, as the only (official) argument in favour of the cull is an economic one – cattle die of TB costing farmers money. Badgers cause cattle to get TB ergo kill badgers to save farmers money.

If the mitigation hierarchy was applied to the badger cull, the first step would be avoid damage. This would be through things like better TB testing, restricting the ability for TB to pass from cattle to cattle (the main transmission route) and introducing vaccination for cattle and badgers. Once all these measures have been thoroughly implemented, the next step is mitigation – this means minimise the impact of an action on biodiversity or in this case minimise the impact of the badger cull on badgers. Ah. we seem to have hit a problem. Anyway let’s move on.

Next is offsetting – this means replacing the lost biodiversity, or badgers, by creating new biodiversity, or badgers, or improving degraded biodiversity, or badgers, somewhere else. Could Dorset’s badgers be replaced by badgers elsewhere?

Perhaps there are areas of Britain which are currently under-badgered where special badger breeding programmes could provide guaranteed TB-free (GM?) badgers to be reintroduced there. Perhaps badgers could be captured, vaccinated and returned to those areas where they have recently been exterminated? Perhaps – instead of killing the badgers of Dorset (most of whom are TB free) they could be captured, checked for TB, vaccinated and released back into their former areas straight away?

But no. Instead what we have is Biodiversity Onsetting for badgers. This is where farmers are mostly paid by us, via the Government, to go and kill biodiversity (badgers), for their own economic gain. Yes – work that you and I do, to earn money, is used (transferred via taxation from your pocket to farmers) to kill biodiversity, for the farmers economic gain.

This is biodiversity onsetting in action and it’s been going on for decades.

Confirmation Bias

Clearly this is not being driven by any rational consideration either of science or economics. I think it is being driven by an atavistic need to make sacrifices. There is also something called cognitive bias which I am sure is in play here.  One such cognitive bias is Confirmation Bias. Effectively this means you look for the evidence to support the argument you already know instinctively to be true; and ignore any evidence to the contrary. Politicians do it all the time.

What can we do to counter the innate drive to satisfy our atavistic urges and feed our cognitive biases? Are we slaves to our palaeolithic brains?

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Dorset Badger Cull Areas – apparently, the North sacrifice will take place this Summer

Posted in agricultural pests, animism, badgers, biodiversity offsetting, blood sports, Defra, Owen Paterson | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Humans as Deicides – we killed our original gods and we have forgotten them

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Straight Tusked Elephant

I had been thinking about writing about this again and George Monbiot spurred me to write this, following another eloquent, passionate but depressing counsel of despair in the guardian yesterday.  George argued that hominims had been driving megafauna to extinction possibly for more than a million years, and drew parallels with modern day elephant slaughter in Africa.

I would look at it another way, as I have previously eg here, here and here. Straight-tusked Elephants were the major ecosystem engineer animals in Europe (alongside rhino, hippos and other smaller mammals like Beavers) over a period of several millions years. Ancestors of modern elephants appeared in the middle miocene about 15 million years ago and returned after each cool phase right up until the previous interglacial to this one, the Ipswichian.

This fascinating paper by Gary Haynes lays out what the impact on landscape and ecosystem may have been from such elephantine giants. Massive long distance trails worn smooth by elephant feet, trees pushed over, bark ripped off. Special clay deposits are sought out by modern elephants (creating Bai in the process) and palaeological evidence indicates the giants of the past did the same, and where large number of animals died, created “Beast Solonetz”  sites which attracted human hunters, scavengers and artists. Mammoth bone was extensively used to create talismans, artwork and jewellery going back at least 40,000 years and some of it is staggeringly beautiful.

I was wondering how many straight tuskers there might have been in England in the Ipswichian. It’s difficult to be sure but the best estimates for african forest elephant density are 0.5 to 1 ele per km2 and they weight on average just over 2 1/2 tonnes.  Straight tuskers grew to 10 tonnes and 4.3m high. Savannah elephants occur at a higher density (having engineered their ecosystem to provide for them) and can occur at up to 6 per km2. on this basis, I would give a conservative estimate of 1 straight tusker per 1km2 for Ipswichian England. That would mean there were about 250,000 straight tuskers in England, assuming the were able to survive across the whole of England, which this map indicates they did.

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Distribution map of Palaeoloxodon antiquus finds by DagdaMor (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Modern elephants deposit up to 200kg of dung per day, so scaling up, Straight tuskers deposited 500kg per day, perhaps in 15 piles of 35kg. That would explain why the pleistocene was a paradise for dung beetles. As this recent research shows, the pleistocene dung beetles were species of mosaics of forest and open habitats.

I don’t think it’s too fanciful to wonder whether humans evolved into the species we are, because elephants and their like created and maintained the african savannahs, the mammoth steppe and the open mosaic of Ipswichian Europe that were such fertile hunting grounds for our ancestors. So they were our gods; they created the earth and the landscape early humans depended on and created the habitats for the animals and plants which humans used for all their needs.

It may be true (and from my reading of the literature it’s not quite a clear cut as George suggests) that Cro Magnon people extirpated the Straight Tuskers from Europe during the last Ice age. If they did, then it was people who created the dark (foreboding) Holocene Forest some people call the primeval wildwood.

In which case the semi-natural was born in Britain long before the neolithic; and we killed our original gods millennia ago, then forgot about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by PePeEfe (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Ecosystem Engineers, forest elephant, Pleistocene, straight tusked elephant, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Mark Reckless MP for Lodge Hill rails against Natural England, Quangos, spiders, bugs and – vegetated shingle

Following yesterday’s blog on the latest machinations at Lodge Hill, I was informed that the local MP for the Lodge Hill area Mark Reckless, had not made any statement either for or against the development at Lodge Hill or the SSSI notification. Intrigued, I dug around a bit on the internet and found this video of him asking a question about Lodge Hill to that defender of the environment Nick Boles, planning minister; this was about a year ago.

Mark Reckless was elected an MP in 2010. Educated at Marlborough, then doing PPE at Oxford (along with about half of the cabinet), he went on to do an MBA then trained as a barrister, though he was only at the Bar for three years before becoming an MP. He had worked for a leading Merchant Bank and was rated as one of the top City of London economists during the 90s. He went on to work in the deregulation unit in Conservative Central Office in the early 2000s. He was a Medway Councillor from 2007 until 2011. During his time as a prospective Tory candidate he received funding from Tory uber funder and string puller Michael Ashcroft, via Bearwood Corporate Services. Clearly regarded as a Tory high flying new boy, he has disappointed many in teh part by being one of the most rebellious MPs of the new intake and is vociferously anti immigration and anti europe. I would suggest he sits rather uncomfortably on the barbed wire fence between the Tory right and UKIP. This will probably play well with some of his voters in 2015.

Reckless claims to represent all those in his consituency “Since being elected in 2010 I have worked hard to represent all of the people in my Rochester and Strood constituency, irrespective of who they backed at the election”.

Is that really true – perhaps Reckless should organise a local referendum on this issue.

No doubt aware of the very strong opposition to Lodge Hill being developed from within his constituency, Reckless has not made any public pronouncements, at least not to his constituents. He has made his views very clear in the Commons though. This is the type of anti-environmental rhetoric I am becoming used to hearing from Tory backwoodsmen old and new.

Mark Reckless complained bitterly about Natural England, calling them part of the quanogocracy. He claimed that the Bonfire of the Quangos had had no effect on Natural England and had “fizzled out.”

He railed against the notion that 84 nightingales had stopped the building of homes fo5 12000 people and jobs for 5000. He went on to  mention other places in his constituency “Grain – where 6ooo jobs have been delayed for 3 years because of the habitat of a bug” and at Swanscombe where “27000 jobs are at risk due to a spider“. He then went way outside his constituency and lamented that “at Dungeness where vegetated shingle must be considered for power development“.

He then implored the Minister to “end this absurd situation of a non-elected government agency dictating to national and local government how to run things.” and sought “the ministers assurance that our local council will decide where best for development to go not ministers or inspectors, still less these quangos.”

He talked about us being in the great global economic race and asked “Is Natural England board able to consider the policy of this government. If not, how will ministers have their way.”

Minister Boles replied sympathetically ” I can well understand his dismay that this major scheme be put at risk by notification”. “A notification does not necessarily mean a site cannot be developed” he said  “the developer has to make very advanced efforts both to mitigate, and if they cannot entirely mitigate, the compensate for any impact on the site.”

Boles “met with the Natural England chair asked him… how the notification can be managed in such a way to ensure that the houses needed for the people of his constituency can be built.”

Now this is old news in a way (nearly a year old) but is still highly pertinent.

Firstly Boles has made it clear he and CLG will look very sympathetically on a mitigation/compensation package for Lodge Hill – ie Biodiversity Offsetting. Note the use of language here – he truncates the mitigation hierarchy neatly ignoring the first test – avoid damage and moving straight on to mitigate – oh but don’t worry it you can’t mitigate on-site you can just compensate (ie offset) instead.

Secondly CLG are clearly leaning on Defra and Natural England to ensure that the SSSI can be “managed” in such a way that the houses get built. Managed as in destroyed. As in some Martin Scorsese mob  movie. “Hey, Luigi did you sort out that err problem – has it been managed” “yes boss, we took care of it for ya.”

Thirdly Mark Reckless by his own admission is reckless in regard to the environment of his constituency or indeed it would seem anywhere else. Why pick on the vegetated shingle of Dungeness – did he have a traumatic childhood experience with a yellow horned poppy?

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The reason why England is falling behind in the global economic race – vegetated shingle.

Posted in anti conservation rhetoric, anti-environmental rhetoric, biodiversity, biodiversity offsetting, Lodge Hill, Natural England | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Offsetting at Lodge Hill rears its ugly head again.

CIEEM held a conference on biodiversity offsetting last week, and I was lucky enough to be the first speaker. I had put in an abstract for a talk which was highly sceptical of offsetting and whether it would provide any benefits for conservation. CIEEM will be putting the talk up on their website and I’m not going to repeat it here – for regular readers you will be familiar with my arguments. The talk appeared to have been well received although some came up to me afterwards and suggested I had not been tough enough in my criticism of BO. A straw poll on the day indicated about half of the audience (of about 300) were for and half were sceptical of BO.

Some of the other talks were very interesting – examples from Queensland indicated a scale of habitat loss resulting from mining activities which dwarfed anything we could imagine here, but the approach to offsetting was to improve the condition of existing habitat (in the long term but still temporarily). Habitat creation was not really an issue for them, as there were still large areas of natural habitat there. We were also treated to a presentation from ecologists working for HS2 who had decided the Defra metric wasn’t helpful to them, so they had changed it to include offsetting the loss of ancient woodland. This was roundly condemned in the question time, by none other than Jo Treweek, one of the founders of offsetting, who lambasted HS2 for taking this approach, stating this was exactly the type of thing that led people to justifiably call offsetting “a licence to trash”. HS2′s approach to offsetting ancient woodland was that it was worth twice as many credits as normal priority habitat.  This does sound very similar in approach to Owen Paterson’s idea – paraphrasing Chairman Mao “let a thousand trees be planted” which I wrote about in January.

If I took away one thing from the day it was that it would be a good idea to use the existing defra metric on developments that have already taken place where some mitigation has been incorporated, before offsetting was created. One example I gave in my talk was the Weymouth Relief Road, which created considerably more good quality neutral and calcareous grassland than had been lost. I will let you know the results of that exercise – but please think about developments near you where this might also be applied. It will be a good test for the metric and might yield some surprising data.

Probably the biggest test case for biodiversity offsetting is rumbling on – Lodge Farm SSSI in Kent. As you may recall Lodge Farm is a MoD site which the Government are keen to sell off for 5000 new houses and associated infrastructure. I don’t know why they haven’t rebranded it a garden citylike they have for the Ebbsfleet developmen up the road a few miles. Lodge Farm was confirmed as an SSSI in November, for Nightingales and its unimproved grassland. I have pondered previously whether Offsetting would be applied to Lodge Hill despite it being an SSSI.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (a Government Agency) has resubmitted the planning application for the development. I will repeat that again for effect – the Government has, in the last four months – confirmed that Lodge Hill is of national importance for its wildlife value and used primary legislation to protect it from harm; and then almost immediately applied for planning permission to destroy it. One of the justifications for this ludicrous act is that another (untested) government policy – “biodiversity offsetting” will mitigate that harm. That answers my previous question, at any rate.

Several things occur to me:

  • clearly the Biodiversity Duty is a totally useless and meaningless piece of legislation if it allows this sort of thing to go ahead.
  • Biodiversity 2020 the England Biodiversity Strategy is fatally flawed if it fails to prevent one arm of government from so flagrantly over-riding another arm of Government to destroy such a valuable site.
  • Planning Guidance to inform planning decisions affecting SSSIs was previously provided through circular 06/05 which updated PPS9. Both of these have been superceded by the NPPF and Defra is at this moment working on updated guidance.
  • Big questions now sit over the effectiveness of SSSI legislation as a means to protect sites from development – with the impending introduction of a “duty to have regard to economic growth” for Natural England in the wings.
  • Applying Biodiversity Offsetting to an SSSI will quite possibly kill the Biodiversity Offsetting goose before it has had any chance of laying any eggs of any colour, because no self-respecting organisation/developer would want to touch it with a barge pole.

The Biodiversity Programme Board in Defra sits at the heart of B2020 and is the key place where environmental folk from MoD would talk biodiversity with Defra folk. I wonder whether there have been any heated discussions about Lodge Hill with table banging, shouting and people storming out.  Somehow I doubt it. Though we do know that Lodge Hill has been raised at the Cabinet this time last year. Incidentally the England Biodiversity Group is gradually dying on its feet as members find more interesting things to do with their time. We know that the veil of interest in the environment has finally dropped away from the Government altogether.

Back to Lodge Hill. The planning application has now been re-submitted with a deadline for comments of 15th April. Here is the link for submitting comments.

As some of you will recall, I provided expert advice to RSPB on the value of the grasslands at Lodge Hill – and after a very lively debate at Natural England board, the unimproved grasslands were eventually included in the SSSI. I wrote about this here and here. The grasslands at Lodge Hill are highly valuable – supporting increasingly scarce plants such as Dyer’s Greenweed and Pepper Saxifrage. Wet areas support the priority plant species True Fox Sedge which has become extinct across most of its English range. I have not come across a single example of a successful translocation of grassland supporting either Dyer’s Greenweed or Pepper Saxifrage.

Dyers Greenweed

Dyer’s Greenweed (c) Miles King

I would argue it’s simply not possible to translocate this species, nor should it be even considered. This type of ancient grassland should fall into the category of “irreplaceable habitat”. Defra have yet to come out with a definitive list of what they regard as irreplaceable – nor has CLG. The new Planning Practice Guidance website is silent on the matter.

Yet the Government, in the form of DIO is proposing just that. In the Environmental Statement recently published (downloadable from the Medway Council website) it is stated that ” Approximately 144ha of the SSSI will be lost to development….. and greater than 90% of the neutral grassland.” What is also clear is that the developers (the Government) are trying to claim that the only areas of unimproved grassland that they have to consider are those which were surveyed in 2012 and 2013. This is not true – there are others areas which the MoD prevented surveyors from looking at, including the best grassland supporting Pepper Saxifrage and Dyer’s Greenweed, which are in the SSSI and therefore automatically qualify as features of interest.

They go on to claim “The loss of the neutral grassland elsewhere in the ..planning.. boundary will be mitigated and compensated by a combined approach of using seeding and translocation.”

There is also a proposal to create a Nightingale Compensation Area on MoD land at Foulness in Essex, about 20km away. RSPB are obviously interested in this, from the viewpoint of Nightingale conservation. With their new “All Nature” approach I would hope that they continue to be as interested in the unimproved grassland at Lodge Hill as they are by the Nightingales.

 

 

 

 

Posted in biodiversity, biodiversity offsetting, Lodge Hill, RSPB, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

No targets and prescriptions – Conservation: The Knepp Way

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wild daffodils on Knepp Estate (c) miles king

On Wednesday I was privileged to spend a day at the Knepp Estate in Sussex, with Natural England Agriculture Policy experts – not that NE do policy of course. Other experts (and friends) also attended including Sussex Wildlife Trust Chief Exec Tony Whitbread and Weald Meadow Project founder and wildflower meadow creation expert Keith Datchler.

Over the last 12 years the owner, Charlie Burrell, has converted what he had run as an intensive mostly arable estate of 3000 acres, into very low intensity naturalistic grazing land. Some might even call it re-wilding. Charlie (formally Sir Charles Burrell 10th Baronet) showed us round with great pride and ecological expertise. Fields that had been intensive arable less than 10 years ago were supporting nationally important populations of nightingale and Purple emperor. 24 species of dung beetle had appeared (from where?) thanks to large herds of Longhorn cattle, Exmoor Ponies, Fallow and Red deer and Tamworth pigs. And the other ecosystem goods that are provided by this project are likely to be highly significant whether it be carbon storage, pollinator provision, water quality and flood prevention, as well as jobs and the economy   – Knepp Ecosafaris is starting up this year.

Naturally a great deal of scrub is developing – but it was interesting how the composition varied from field to field, as did the sward. Some areas were covered in common fleabane last year – to such an extent that 50 head of cattle had to be taken off that particular area. Charlie was concerned that the fleabane would take over, but we wondered whether it was one of those “boom and bust” episodes so common to recently reverted land. But I don’t think any of the suggestions about how to “manage” the fleabane would be acted upon. This is because Charlie is determined to make as few interventions as possible. Under law he has to pick ragwort from a strip around the estate border, to appease his neighbours. Otherwise everything is left to nature, under the influence of all those grazing animals. Charlie was really interested in what would happen – not deciding what was going to happen then steering the ecosystem towards that goal. I would still like to see a beaver family or two.

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Longhorn cattle grazing on the Adur floodplain (c) miles king

I led a discussion after the tour, about re-wilding and what is means and whether it matters. Naturally we talked about predators and trophic cascades, ecosystem engineers and invasive exotics. Some of the NE experts just couldnt make the leap beyond prescriptive, target-driven conservation, to the exciting world of emergent properties. Many did though.

Charlie receives Single Payment and HLS on the re-natured land, which adds up to enough to make the thing profitable – remarkable when you realise that farming it intensively made a loss, even including SPS income. The project has freed up half a million square feet of redundant agricultural buildings which are now being used by small businesses. 200 people now work on the estate – far more than have been employed in agriculture there, probably since before the first world war.  Without HLS and SPS the equation would change and that is frightening possibility.

One of the reasons is that the most innovative elements of the  New Environmental Land Management Schemes (NELMS) are being strangled at birth by the Rural Payment Agency. They are telling Natural England that those options whose outcomes require more than the cognitive abilities of a five year old to measure, (or preferably someone sitting in an office looking at a satellite image) are not verifiable and therefore the European Commission will disallow. This means we could end up with a completely dumbed down set of agri environment options and imaginative schemes like Charlie’s would never see the light of day.

Secondly the RPA are becoming more and more anal about what constitutes eligible land for SPS. One farmer friend has had tiny field corners with valuable emergent scrub mapped as ineligible by RPA and for a couple of hundred pounds fine, their entire SPS payment has been stuck in the system for 7 months. Charlie told us one year 3% of his SPS was with-held, then it was returned the following year, only to be with-held, then returned again. This is presumably because one person looked at a satellite image and decided they could see grazeable sward underneath, while the following year another could see no grass, so no payment. Neither understood that cattle,especially hardy breeds, will happily strip the bark off scrub in the winter. I guess they didn’t disallow the areas under ungrazed fleabane though. Madness.

Still, at least under the new CAP rules we will see the back of the notorious GAEC 12 “encroachment of unwanted vegetation” rule; and hopefully the equally crazy 50 trees rule has also been put in the dustbin of wacky agriculture subsidy rules; issues I have written about on many occasions.

I would like to see a Knepp or two in every county of England; in addition to really large scale projects (10,000-50,000ha) where predators could also be introduced. When you consider that Knepp is delivering nearly 1500ha of new dynamic high quality wildlife habitat, providing that dynamic mosaic of habitats about which so many get so excited (rightly), why are we spending so much on arable field margins?

Posted in agriculture, biodiversity, carbon storage, Common Agricultural Policy, ecosystem services, grazing, landscape dynamics, rewilding, scrub | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Defra publish correct Bovine TB herd breakdown data – previous figures were inflated by one third

The Badger Cull has been found to be ineffective and inhumane according to Defra’s own expert panel looking at the Pilot areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

The BBC report Prof Rosie Woodroffe, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London, said that the panel’s “findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria.

“I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State (Owen Paterson) to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle,” she told BBC News.

In January, Defra announced that the figures it used to justify the badger cull, namely the number of cattle herds that had tested positive for Bovine TB, were based on flawed data. The number of herd breakdowns were lower than had previously been reported. Now the data have been published for all to see.
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I have to say this is pretty astonishing. Gloucestershire – one of the cull pilot areas on account of how much bTB there had been – originally published cases – 259, actual cases 194 – that is 34% over-reporting or an error of one third.  Somerset -  published figure (used to justify badger cull) 327, actual figure 264 – a 24% over-reporting error, or one quarter.

Now I am not decrying the pain and hardship suffered by the farms in Somerset and Gloucestershire that have had TB breakdowns. But there must be some very serious questions to ask of Defra and its agency the AHVLA (the Defra vets), who were recording and reporting these incidents. How could they have got it so wrong?

In Dorset, where I live and which is now in line for a badger cull this year if it is not abandoned, the figures are 175 published, 133 actual incidents. That’s  32% over-reporting or again an error of one third. For Hereford and Worcester the error was a staggering 58%, but this was beaten by Cheshire -  with a 68% over-reporting!

For the West and South West as a whole (which is all under a 1 year testing regime), there was an over-reporting error of 30%.

Not only is this stunningly awful in terms of the errors in the data, but previously herd breakdowns were published by Parish (until 2010), meaning that there was far greater resolution in the published data, for those of us interested in such things. The EC have been apparently encouraging Defra to move towards county and eventually Regional bTB status. That may be all well and good but the parish level data are still essential for monitoring the spread (or decline) of bTB and the public should be able to see these data. After all, AHVLA hold data on herd breakdowns at farm level.

It’s easy to say “heads must roll” but there is one distinct possibility, other than yet another public sector IT foul-up. The cuts at Defra (and its agencies) have been deeper than any other Government department. This extraordinary mess could well be the result of cutting that quickly and that deeply. And of course it does give new and powerful ammunition to any pro-cull organisation seeking to use statistics to support the badger cull.

One head that should roll of course is Secretary of State Owen Paterson, who has unambiguously nailed his own colours to the Badger Cull mast. What will he do?

 

 

 

Posted in badgers, Defra | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Supergrass that betrays real Environmental Goods

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I was intrigued by this headline in Farmers Weekly (where else?) – “£2.5M boost for grass that helps prevent floods“. What can it be? A panacea for all our flooding problems – is it superabsorbent? Is it a climate change buster? Yes – it’s Festulolium. Huh? I hear you grunt over your toast and tea.

Yes – Aberystwyth University – to be precise IBERRS, which I believe has evolved from IGER the Institue of Grassland and Environmental Research (a euphemism if ever I heard one – but that’s another story.), has landed a couple of million to research into the benefits of sowing Festulolium to combat flooding, reduce soil erosion and soil compaction. It really is a Supergrass if you believe this hype.

What is Festulolium? According to IBERRS it’s a swarm of natural hybrids formed when Lolium perenne, our ubiquitous agricultural grass Perennial Ryegrass; and Festuca pratensis, Meadow Fescue. In the sense that both Lolium and Festuca pratensis are native, it’s true that Festulolium is a native hybrid. It is disingenuous though to suggest that Festulolium is a common native now. In fact native perennial ryegrass is difficult to find these days, as the agricultural cultivars are everywhere and there is so little grassland with native grass in it. No, Festulolium is just another highly bred agricultural grass. IBERRS make some bold claims about it wondrousness. Festulolium achieved a 51% reduction in run-off compared with other grasses grown alongside. Without finding the details of the research (if indeed they are accessible) I would imagine the “other grasses” are Rye grass cultivars. I would be more interested to see how the soil run-off compared against a mix of native grasses, flowers and shrubs, let alone a native woodland ecosystem or bog.

 

Perhaps the thing that made my alarm bell ring was this paragraph “Many river catchments are upland grasslands predominating in the wettest areas of the UK, say scientists. They believe if the rates of surface run-off could be reduced and rainfall captured more effectively by grassland soils, then the worst impacts of heavy rainfall down-stream may be reduced.”

The implication is that Festulolium could or should be sown in the uplands. The very act of sowing an agricultural grass involves cultivating the soil (leading to soil erosion, compaction and err run-off.) Plus to get the grass growing properly would involve application of artificial fertiliser, herbicide and doubt Bayer would find some reason – killing slugs perhaps (ah yes big fat profits – that’s the one) to develop a Neonicotinoid-based ubuiquicide that absolutely had to be used on this new crop.

The beauty of this approach is that it avoids having to tackle the effects of other grasses – such as Maize,  on which George Monbiot has just written further and better.

It also shows how the concept of ecosystem services is so vulnerable to coruption by Agro-Industrial Technofixes.

Image by Janus (Jan) Kops [Public domain or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in agricultural pests, agriculture, ecosystem services, flooding, grasslands, Neonicotinoids, public goods, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments