Election Blogs 1: setting the scene

 

 

 

 

 

There’s an election coming! yes of course you know. But this could be the most interesting and bizarre election in decades. The old tribal boundaries between Left and Right are really breaking down, and it’s difficult to see how they will be reconstructed after 2019.

Staunch Labour heartland constituencies that voted strongly to leave the EU are unlikely to be persuaded by Corbyn’s ambiguous Brexit position. But will they really be able to vote Tory, or perhaps more likely for the Brexit Party. At the other end of the country (well England, anyway), are strongly pro-Remain Tory heartlands, such as those constituencies John Harris talks about in this article. Local Council and Euro election results show clearly  that the historic bonds to the Tory party are loosening. Will they break completely this time, with a wholesale shift to the LibDems, alongside former Tory now independent MPs? Will the Remain Alliance achieve anything in our creaking, no failing, First Past The Post system, other than larger opposition votes.

Added to this extra dimension of Remain/Leave, is the continuing rejection of the old Westminster parties in Scotland, and perhaps also in Wales, especially South Wales.  This is another former Labour heartland now looking like it may finally lose that old bond.

To add to the electoral strata of old tribal loyalties, the Remain/Leave split; and burgeoning nationalism (especially in Scotland), there is a profound distrust in politicians in general. While there has always been a healthy scepticism around politics at all levels, there’s no question that the voting public now view Westminster politics in an extremely poor light.

The Brexit Party in particular has exploited and fanned the flames of this distrust, making best use of the Betrayal Narrative, which I wrote about earlier. It remains to be seen whether Farage will pull back from his threat to field candidates in constituences where they could split the Leave vote. That peerage offer may be simply too tempting for the politician who has failed on seven previous occasions, to make it into Westminster via the electoral route.

It’s no wonder the Betrayal Narrative is working so well as a political strategy, when MPs are generally viewed as self-serving, money-grubbing and completely uninterested in the views or needs of their electorate. I don’t agree with this view  – many MPs serve the public – both their constituents and wider civil society, work very hard, sacrifice their home life; and now have to work under a constant barrage of abuse, even physical threats of violence. And it’s not just from the far right, but extremists on all sides.  Who would want to be an MP in these circumstances? This, among other factors, is creating a feedback loop, where MPs are selected from within the existing political parties, from within the very small Westminster bubble, and become ever less representative of the wider public.

I am not going to say much more now, other than that I am waiting for the party manifestos and when they are published I will write more blogs, with a particular focus on the various party’s commitments (or aspirations anyway) on the environment, farming, food and housing.

If you’re looking for predictions, forget it. And certainly don’t trust the polls, unless they are at or near constituency level.

And watch the weather, it could play a very significant role in this, the first December election in nearly a century.

 

 

photo by:  The joy of all things [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

The Brexit Charade

The Brexit charade continues to play out.

Increasingly shrill, even hysterical threats emanate from what we can only assume to be the new bunker built by Dominic Cummings’ dad under Number 10 Downing Street. The latest one, picked up and amplified by the Spectator no less, involves Cummings threatening EU member states with the Brexit equivalent of excommunication if they allow an extension beyond the Halloween deadline – but now we realise why this portentous date was chosen. In the coming days, expect promises of the dead rising from their graves, and the spirits of the damned being unleashed on Cummings’ enemies.

Does Cummings see himself as a Gandalf on his white charger riding to glory across the plains below Minas Tirith?  quite possibly. I see him more as Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, playing with power he has no control over, causing a mess for others to clean up.

Whatever the state of Cummings’ delusions, it seems to me that Johnson is going through the motions of threatening a crash-out scary Halloween Brexit, while having no intention of actually doing it.

As yesterday’s Scottish court finding concluded, there was no need for the court to legally force Johnson to write the letter asking for the extension, as he had written to the court saying he would write that letter. Johnson might get his minions to lie to the Queen, and he may lie about giving favours to his friends, and he may well lie about just about everything else, but lying to a High Court would land him in very hot legal water. So it looks increasingly likely that Johnson will write the letter, and the EU will give a further extension, possibly with a caveat that it will only operate until there is an election or a second referendum.

What then could all this bluster, threats and invocations of the ghosts of Brexit past, present and future, mean? I think what Johnson and Cummings are doing is building the betrayal narrative. The betrayal narrative is a well worn tactic, where when something hasn’t worked out, it’s because of all the dark forces preventing it from happening. In this case it will be

a) Parliament

b) remoaners conspiring with the EU

c) traitors in the High Court

d) remoaner civil servants in Whitehall

e) the EU; and

f) the Irish.

The Irish have traditionally played the role of scapegoat in British political pantomime and there’s no reason why they won’t be brought on this time, possibly in a surprise last minute starring role.

This is all preparing the ground for the next General Election, when Johnson can position himself as champion of the people (his hero is Pericles – another champion of the people) fighting against the Elites.

Johnson – Eton and Oxford educated, scion of several European Aristocratic & Royal houses – fighting against the elites……..

anyway.

The narrative being built is that the elites, the establishment, the deep state and so on, are undermining Johnson – Champion of the People – in his quest for the Holy Grail. Sorry his quest for the one true Brexit. If only all these dark forces (and naughty French kniggets) weren’t conspiring to stop him, he would have found the Holy Brexit by now, and unleashed the golden light of freedom on the grateful people.

King Boris seeks the Holy Brexit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ok I exaggerate for effect but the point remains the same. Which means that there is an election coming, and soon. Johnson will stick to his dream of a crash-out Brexit, or “Freedom Brexit” as I expect it will be rebranded. He has to do this even if he doesn’t believe it. Because if he moves away from the Hardest Possible Brexit, he will lose ground – to the Brexit Party.

Have you noticed how quiet Nigel Farage has been? He knows that Johnson is approaching the time of greatest risk, when, having been forced into requesting an extension beyond Halloween, he is vulnerable to being attacked as an apostate, a fallen believer. Farage’s Brexit Party will have to decide whether they want to accept the Betrayal  Narrative and cosy up to the Tories (and risk political oblivion); or reject Johnson’s betrayal narrative as a false one – and urge the Electorate to accept that the Brexit Party’s Betrayal Narrative is the one true narrative.

One problem the Brexit Party has, it that it has no policies other than Get Brexit Done. And Johnson has stolen that from them.

Regular readers may recall that I am a long standing student of the environmental policies of UKIP and now the Brexit Party. Remember the heady days of Dr Earth, for example? Or Stuart Agnew and his problems with gases?

I’ve been trying to find a few clues as to what TBP’s electoral position might be, on things like the environment and agriculture. Needless to say it’s a very confused picture.

TBP MEP Rupert Lowe for example wants farm subsidies to continue after Brexit – including a pay off to compensate for the effects of a crash-out Brexit. But then he would as he owns a very large Cotswold estate and trousers over £50k a year in Euro farm subsidies – oops!

Housing developer and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice wants to see the UK grow much more of its own food  – from the current 60% or so, up to 80%. Increasing self-sufficiency to 80% would have a devastating effect on the countryside – as it did the last time the UK approached this figure through the 1980s. Then again Labour has also proposed this target.

Climate denialism is rife within the Brexit Party – as one would expect with the UKIP origins. One suggestion for new National Parks on the Welsh border included a ban on wind farms and solar farms within them, though it’s not clear whether TBP would re-open all of those Welsh coal mines.

Farage is on record as denying the reality of human-induced climate change. But recently he did suggest that “if we’re worried about CO2” (he isn’t) then the answer – lots of tree planting. Farage on last week’s Any Questions, responding to a question about the State of Nature report, suggested that “too many pesticides and insecticides” (insecticides are pesticides but never mind) were used in farming and “we have a problem with habitats, especially wetlands” (Farage is a keen angler).

Bringing all of these clues together gives us a few pieces of the puzzle. It suggests that TBP will reinstate an agriculture policy which pays farmers to produce more food, but possibly using fewer pesticides and insecticides. And there will lots of tree planting as well – and lovely clean rivers for angling. Wind and Solar farms will be banned, because there is no problem with climate change or need for renewable energy.

It’s a mess of course, because it’s just Tice, Farage, Lowe etc shooting off remarks without any further thought.

Given that the environment is now one of top issues for the electorate, according to recent polls (yes of course if you believe them), this would seem to be a big tactical mistake. And it’s certainly noteworthy how the Tories are pushing environmental stories on a regular basis – notably on animal welfare, and international wildlife trade. Expect much more of this as the election approaches.

Posted in Brexit, Dominic Cummings, The Brexit Party, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Climate Action, food and farming: a seismic shift for the NFU?

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with my critical views on the National Farmers Union, the NFU – over the years. So be prepared for a shock, brace yourselves and read on.

Or stop now if your cognitive dissonance klaxon is blaring.

The NFU has released its long-awaited vision for how farming (in England of course) can reach net zero – that is no net contribution to the unfolding climate crisis, by 204. I say vision rather than plan, because it lays out its stall without necessarily revealing the cost of each individual item. Some items are a bit sketchy, and some are fantasy, but we’ll come on to that. Considering the prevalence of climate denial within the farming community, this is a very bold move on the part of the NFU and in particular its newish President Minette Batters.

The NFU accepts that agriculture makes a large contribution (10%) to the UK’s domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. I say domestic, because of the way emissions are calculated. Country emissions ignore the GHG footprint of imported goods and services, as well as major contributions from air travel and international shipping. This means our domestic emissions may underestimate our total contribution to the global climate crisis by a large amount. Still, that’s another story. Agriculture’s emissions are mostly Methane – from ruminants like sheep and cows; and Nitrous Oxide, most of which is released from the soil when artificial nitrogen fertilisers are used.

The NFU’s solutions to addressing these pollutants fall into three categories –

  • techno fixes to improve productivity;
  • bioenergy with carbon capture & storage (BECCS); and
  • farmland carbon storage.

Of the total of 45 megatonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2e) greenhouse gases emitted per year from farmland in England, a whopping 22 Mt ie half, is going to be dealt with via BECCS. By comparison NFU sees new tree-planting on farmland as delivering 0.7MtCO2e.

Starting with the technofixes, the idea is to produce more food with less environmental impact – something which is known as sustainable intensification. This covers a wide range of things, from precision farming using satellite-controlled tractors, developing GMOs; and creating food additives to make cows fart less. Sustainable Intensification has been around for quite a while now and has been enthusiastically adopted as an idea. The odd thing though is that farm productivity overall has not increased during that 10 years.

 

 

 

 

Perhaps, like communism, it just hasn’t been done properly yet. And is there really any appetite among the British public for GM crops now, any more than there hasn’t been for the last 20 years? So I think it’s fair to say the NFU is being optimistic in thinking it can get one quarter of its target delivered through this route, but of course we won’t know until it’s been tried.

One thing that I noticed wasn’t mentioned is shifting away from using fossil fuels to power farm machinery. As I wrote about earlier in the year, Red Diesel use on English farms generates 1.1Mt of CO2 per year – fuel that is heavily subsidised by the tax payer. Cheap fuel is no incentive to drive fuel efficiency or innovative tech. Redirecting this £550M a year into supporting low carbon farming, or research into electric vehicles and farm robots, might be a good idea.

The NFU has nailed its colours firmly to the mast of Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage – BECCS. What this essentially means is that farmers grow crops which are used to create energy rather than food. The report helpfully points us towards what this means in practice on its front cover – Anaerobic Digesters, or AD plants. There are now nearly 350 AD plants across the UK – mainly driven by crops such as Maize and increasingly hybrid Rye. These are very heavily subsidised and they also have a host of environmental and social problems associated with them.

I have written a number of times about the problems with AD and personally I do not believe they are part of the solution to climate chaos. Then there is Carbon Capture and Storage – where carbon dioxide is drawn out of the air and stored underground for, effectively, ever. This is an idea which has been around for a long time, but there is no functioning system for doing it. Like nuclear fusion, the tech always seems to be five or 10 years away. Interestingly the Government’s own advisor on climate action, the Climate Change Committee, also depend on future developments of BECCS as part of their strategy, though they do recognise the danger  – that giving over large areas of farmland to bioenergy production can displace other land-uses (food mainly) elsewhere, including abroad.

The NFU specifically state that they want to avoid sending our GHG footprint elsewhere in the world, so how will they do this? What area of England would need to be covered by bioenergy crops, to create a 22MtCO2e saving per year? At the moment around 50,000ha of farmland is used to grow bioenergy Maize and other feedstock like sugar beet and hybrid Rye – and the NFU has previously stated its vision of 200,000ha of England’s farmland under such crops. Germany currently has seven times as much farmland under bioenergy as the UK – perhaps this is the target. We need to know. I previously calculated that half the arable land in Dorset would be needed to provide gas (not electricity) for Dorset’s residents.

The last leg of this stool is carbon storage on farmland. There is very little detail in here other than wider hedgerows and a smattering of farmland tree planting. There have been various claims (elsewhere) that changing from arable cultivation to no-till or min-till farming has the capacity to capture lots of carbon in soils, but so far the evidence is not there – what it does suggest is that there is movement of carbon from the surface layers of the soil into deeper layers, and vice versa. Traditionally soil carbon has only been measured in the top 6 inches – providing a very partial picture of soil carbon storage.

Extensively managed grassland does store a great deal of carbon in its soil though – as much as 1ooo tonnes of CO2e per hectare, according to research recently carried out by the Duchy Business School Soil Carbon Project (Matt Chatfield pers comm).

Perhaps the most intriguing suggestion is 3MtCO2e from peatland and wetland restoration. Peatlands across the UK currently emit 23MtCO2e a year – an incredible amount. Peat converted to arable – in the intensive farmland of East Anglia, is the biggest emitter and I don’t suppose the NFU is proposing that this area be converted to wetland – although sea level rise will do that, probably before the century is out. Perhaps they are thinking about the peatland converted to intensive grassland which emits 6.3MtCO2e per year. Seeing half of the Culm grassland (yes it’s peat) that was lost to intensive pasture in the South-West of England restored to its former wildlife-rich glory would be a marvellous outcome for everyone, although presumably not the farmers who currently farm it (some of it already being used to grow bioenergy crops for the plethora of AD plants across Devon.)

You may feel I am being unduly critical – even dismissive – of the NFU’s vision. I actually think it’s amazing that the NFU has produced this vision at all and it’s a great thing to see them place an environmental issue at the heart of their work.

Perhaps the biggest omission from the report is to ask the question “what sort of food should we be producing in the UK?”. Because that underlies everything else. If we were to produce more fruit and vegetables, more pulses to provide protein for people, less meat, less dairy and fewer crops to feed livestock, that would change all the equations for methane and Nitrous Oxide. But the NFU is not yet in a position to consider those questions.

And I suppose that sums up the approach which the NFU has taken in this report – trying as hard as possible to find ways of addressing farming’s climate footprint, without changing what farming produces. This has caused the authors to perform contortions which necessitate applying  – well let’s say aspirational – approaches such as BECCS and other techno fixes, rather than reducing their climate footprint through dietary changes of their consumers. In a way this illustrates how farmers are so constrained in what they do by all the other actors in the food chain – from machinery and chemical suppliers, the big retailers, policy wonks and politicians; and, ultimately, the consumer.

Personally I would advocate a different approach;

Changing our national diet – through education, incentives and taxation. Sustain is doing great work on this and I would recommend you read what they produce.

Producing less and better meat – rare breeds of beef and lamb, which is only produced using grassland and other forage, not cereals or importing soya beans from Brazil or Argentina. Chicken and Pork grown from domestic cereals produced extensively in mixed farming systems.

A massive increase in the production of domestic fruit and vegetables; and pulses. This is probably going to have to happen anyway as the supply of cheap fruit and veg produced in Spain & elsewhere is cut off by Brexit.

Shifting agriculture to Agro-ecology. This means farming in ways which work with nature not against it. Organic farming, small-scale horticulture, producing fruit and vegetable for local markets and communities.

A hundred Knepps. Developing large area of extensively grazed wood pasture which act as carbon sinks, wildlife refuges, produce excellent quality meat and provide places where people can enjoy and benefit from nature. Think of 100 Knepps, but on public land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in agro-ecology, Anaerobic Digester, biofuels, biogas, climate action, NFU | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Brexit Coups, Communism and Civil Assistance; some history.

The Army at Heathrow Airport 1974

It feels like things are coming to a head.

Talk of a coup may be overblown, but the Prime Minister has indicated that he may refuse to abide by an Act of Parliament – you know, the one that will receive Royal Assent tomorrow, which forces him to ask the EU for an extension to Article 50, should he have failed to reach a deal with them on how we leave on the 31st October.

An article in the Mail on Sunday today reveals that the Army is already stockpiling fuel and will distribute it (presumably to strategic locations where it can be accessed by those with the proper papers) in the event of a disruption to supplies caused either by a crash-out Brexit or industrial action in response to it, or both. Last week’s Private Eye led with the story emanating from leaks of Operation Yellowhammer: that in the event of a crash-out crisis, Local Government officials would be drafted in to work in Whitehall – presumably after the remainers have been purged – and the Army would be called in to run local authorities. The Army – or more specifically the Territorial Army, as what remains of the regular Army will be busy defending food dumps and escorting fuel convoys and providing a defensive perimeter around strategic locations. Oh and not forgetting a rapid deployment to Northern Ireland.

Let that sink in. Territorial Army members (some of whom no doubt already work in local Government – many of whom do not and wouldn’t know one end of a local council from the other – think Mark Francois) will take over Local Government roles. This is not a drill.

We already know that the Army Reserve, as it’s formally known, has been placed on standby since January. Thanks to the Yellowhammer leaks, we now know what it is expected that they will do once deployed.

Talk of a coup may be excessive, but in the event of a no-deal Brexit – the Prime Minister’s preferred option – the Army will be on the streets and in the council offices.

This reminds me of a strange story I heard, about a time not so different from now, when the country was wrestling with the knotty question of whether to stay in the European Union, or the Common Market, as it was known then. The time is 1974. Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson is in power, having seen off Ted Heath the year previously. Harold Wilson was a socialist though I would suggest nowhere near as left wing as Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell. He was a popular leader in the country – he presented an affable front which played well with the electorate. And Labour’s policies at the time created a country where inequality was at its lowest in the 20th century (and 21st).

But there were rumours that Wilson’s soft socialism (and the power of the unions at the time) hid far more malign intentions, of aligning with the Soviet Union – the old “reds under the beds” trope was still a big thing in the 70s. A small group of very right wing operators, led by SAS founder David Stirling, came together under the banner of GB75, to topple Wilson. One such character was General Walter Walker. Walker toured the country raising the spectre of a Communist take-over under the disguise of Wilson’s Socialist Government. He was recruiting for a group called Civil Assistance and claimed that at its height it had 100,000 members. The plan was that when Wilson had been toppled, should there be any civil unrest, the self-appointed members of Civil Assistance would take control of strategic locations – electricity sub-stations, telephone exchanges, council offices – the smaller scale infrastructure which a much larger Army, as it was back then, would have been stretched to cover.

You may find this difficult to believe, but it’s true. I heard an anecdote from an acquaintance who confirmed that people he knew, landowners, members of the elite even, were members of Civil Assistance. They made it clear that trouble makers would also be rounded up at the same time.

Something else also happened. The Army turned up, in force, at Heathrow Airport – a training exercise apparently – in June and July 1974. Wilson had not been informed – it was reported that he believed a coup was in progress. We now know that he was in the early stages of developing Alzheimer’s disease and this may not have helped his paranoia. Shortly afterwards he resigned. The Wilson Plot  has been rejected as just another cold war conspiracy theory. Perhaps it is.

With the ascension of Margaret Thatcher to the leadership of the Tory Party  – in Feb 1975, there was new hope for the far-right wing of the Tory party and the plotters diverted their attentions elsewhere. Wilson resigned, suddenly, a year later.

There is no known equivalent to Civil Assistance being organised at the moment, though I think we can all imagine people who would jump at the opportunity to get involved. To save the country from Communism as in 1974? Well there are plenty who would make the same claim about Corbyn the Communist – or indeed make absurd comparisons between the EU and Soviet Russia.

What else do we know? We know that Dominic “Colonel Kurtz” Cummings has indicated that he has plenty more shock tactics up his sleeve. Described as a revolutionary on the right, Cummings, it would seem, would like nothing more than seeing the existing structures of society swept away, with a new order created along his own ideological lines. I don’t think there’s any doubt he is a dangerous individual in a position of great power. Times have moved on and Cummings doesn’t need a volunteer army of 100,000 Civil Assistance members. Look no further than how he used Social Media to manipulate the 2016 EU Referendum Campaign. Only now he has the apparatus of Government at his fingertips. Watch him carefully. Perhaps Cummings is aware of the history of 1974-75 perhaps not. But we should all be alert to the possibilities in the coming weeks.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Brexit, Civil Assistance, Harold Wilson, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Another top wildlife site trashed – landowner given paltry fine and let off costs

News has been dripping out, about a significant incident of damage to an SSSI in North Yorkshire.

The first we heard was on 21st August, when Defra announced a successful prosecution of a SSSI owner in North Yorkshire. The owner admitted three offences of damage to Newtondale SSSI, a large and complex site on the edge of the North York Moors National Park – including illegal track construction, illegal felling of trees and “significant earthworks”.

Presumably he was not building new long barrows or a hillfort.

Defra explained that the owner “was handed down a fine and ordered to make a contribution to Natural England’s costs.” Normally the amount of fine and the costs would have been detailed, and that it was left innumerate raised eyebrows, including my own. ENDS reporter James Agyepong-Parsons contacted Defra and asked them for more details, as did his colleague Gareth Simkins.

 

 

 

 

 

answer came there none.

Eventually, after receiving nothing from Defra, James found the details of the court case – the defendant had pleaded guilty on the 7th May at York Magistrates Court, received a £600 fine and ordered to pay £300 towards Natural England’s legal costs.

Why had it taken two and a half months between the judgement and Defra/NE making the case public? Were they embarrassed about the tiny size of the fine?

I had a look on the MAGIC website to discover that Unit 13 (ca 37 ha in area) of the Newtondale SSSI was now classified as “partly destroyed.” This is about as serious as it gets without Natural England denotifying part of a SSSI because it has lost its scientific interest (or value for nature as it is also known.)

For comparison, it’s worth noting that the area (unit 4) of Gelt Wood SSSI in Cumbria, which was damaged through track construction and illegal felling of trees (for a pheasant shoot) resulting in a £450,000 fine and £457,000 costs, is now considered to be in “unfavourable recovering” condition. An assessment of unfavourable recovering  is good enough for Natural England to  consider a site is in target condition.

Today James revealed that Natural England had spent £61,000 on legal costs prosecuting the case. So that £300 contribution from the defendant seems almost like a snub to Natural England from the Judge.

I was curious to see whether the defendant, a Brian Eddon, was in any kind of agri-environment scheme on his SSSI land, but nothing showed up on MAGIC. Here’s a screenshot of the relevant area:

the dark brown area is the SSSI unit which was partially destroyed by Mr Eddon. But the odd thing is half of it is owned by the Woodland Trust and the bottom third by another entirely innocent landowner.

There was no sign of Mr Eddon anywhere on here.

 

 

I then remembered I have a very useful dataset provided by open data mapping guru Anna Powell-Smith. Anna mapped environmental stewardship payments back in 2016 and this now provides a very valuable historic data set, as MAGIC only provides information on live agreements. Looking on Anna’s historic dataset, Mr Eddon’s land-holding (or at least the land-holding he entered into Environmental Stewardship) appears.

Aside from the southernmost section, all of the rest of Mr Eddon’s landholding lies within the SSSI. The total area he entered into Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship, back in 2009, was substantial. – around 30ha. Over the 10 year period of the agreement – with Natural England – he received around £84,000.

 

This case leaves so many questions hanging in the air.

Why did Defra/Natural England take so long to publicise this rare prosecution, especially when it was of such a serious nature?

Why did Defra ignore repeated requests for further information from environmental journalists?

And will Natural England appeal against the Judge’s extreme leniency, both on the fine and the ridiculous costs award.

Natural England is supposed to stand up for England’s natural treasures – and although it should always be a last resort, it has a duty to prosecute owners who deliberately or recklessly damage the wildlife habitats on SSSIs. In this case NE has done its job and, at least as far as we can tell, given Defra’s reluctance to share the findings with the public, done that job well.

But if the Courts will not take crimes of this gravity with the seriousness they deserve, what sort of signal does that send to other landowners who may feel they can get away with similar activities?

Posted in Natural England, SSSis, Uncategorized, wildlife crime | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

#Unchecked launches. The need for Regulation and Enforcement.

A new campaign launches today  – called Unchecked. The premise is that Regulation (yes with a capital R) is a Good Thing  – for people, communities, the environment, the climate, society. And while Regulations (ie the rule book) are vital, actually enforcing them, as opposed to just having them on paper, is also equally vital.

I don’t think many people could argue that we live in deregulatory times.

The new Government – the one created without a mandate, fronted by a Clown, with Dominic Cummings in charge, that one – illustrates the point perfectly.

It includes all manner of people, whose avowed intent is to rid the country of troublesome regulations. These include politicians like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Dominic Raab, Liz Truss and others, the authors of ‘Britannia Unchained”  – unchained, bascally, from pesky regulations.  These are combined with a whole raft of Special Advisors drafted in from Hard-Right Think-Tank World – you know, the Tax Payers Alliance, the IEA, and so on. All of those groups who want to a low tax low/no regulation country.

Not that this is anything new. Dredging the muddy waters of my declining memory, I recalled having written something in 2011, about Libertarian Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing. This was back in the days of the Grasslands Trust – here it is for the ancient historians among you. Even back before 2010 the Blair/Brown Governments were keen on “better regulation”, which sometimes meant poor regulation, poorly enforced.

How we look back to those far-off days, in misty-eyed nostalgia!

Nowadays it’s a small miracle when some enforcement action is taken. Take the Environment Agency for example. Former Undertones front-man turned river campaigner Feargal Sharkey (@Feargal_Sharkey) is constantly on their backs for failing to act against polluters.We need more Feargal’s.

Occasionally someone gets a slapped wrist – this one appeared on the Government website today (despite the court case having happened nearly two weeks ago – why the delay?). It’s yet another example of pollution associated with Anaerobic Digestion – producing supposedly renewable energy from crops. In this case several 300+ tonne sealed bags of silage had burst, leaking horrendously polluted liquid into a water course. Or rather two separate sets of toxic bags polluting two separate water courses fifteen miles apart.  At the second location, 8 out of the 14, 300+ tonne bags had failed.

The company (or rather an earlier iteration of the company) had already been prosecuted for similar offences three years previously – and received a fine of £10,000. I expect they solemnly promised not to do it again.

The company concerned was fined £12500 for each offence – that’s a 12% increase from 1st conviction to second one (taking into account inflation). Court costs etc brought the total costs to a shade under £46,000. While the EA officer said he hoped the fine would act as a deterrent, I have my doubts.

Pretoria Energy Company Holdings Ltd manages around 15000 acres of East Anglian farmland, producing 360,000 tonnes of crops for Anaerobic Digestion. The crops supply the largest AD plant in the country. They’ve just arranged a £120M refinancing package, with the Allied Irish Bank. The thing about growing crops for AD is that it benefits from a double subsidy – the basic farm payment, and a subsidy for producing renewable energy. The subsidies could be worth between £2m and £3m a year.

With this amount of money on offer, you can see why paying a paltry fine would be seen as just another operating cost.

In a more recent case, the “largest fish kill ever recorded in Devon and Cornwall” saw 10,000 Brown Trout, Sea Trout and Salmon, die in the river Mole near South Molton. The Environment Agency has already concluded that Anaerobic Digester digestate caused the pollution which killed the fish. There is a large AD plant just south of South Molton, a few hundred metres from the river.

 

 

 

 

 

The Unchecked website has masses of resources, please take a look. I’m delighted to have been asked to join their advisory group and look forward to working with them.

Posted in Anaerobic Digester, pollution, regulation, regulatory reform, unchecked | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The world in 2130 – a short story by Jane Wilkinson

Continuing the series of fiction contributions, this one is from Jane Wilkinson (@bikerjaney)

Not sure if you know, Miles, but I have a time machine.

I travelled to 2130 last week and it was a surprising place. The climate had changed… various coastlines had altered, and the weather extremes had caused some awful disasters – especially the terrible Tsunami of 2097 off the Spanish coast.

But it wasn’t so bad, living in that era… there were still sneep, and horses, cows, pigs… but these were not eaten anymore – a World Council agreement in 2078 had meant that the population of the world was now vegetarian (yes, all 3 billion of them) – so the animals are now used as beasts of burden and delivery, due to vehicles being banned except ones used by the emergency service charities.

But most countries operate quite peacefully, since the Great Registration of 2100, which led to the Affiliations and Peaceful Settlements Act .

And then there is the UK, and the DSA.

In 2053 the UK had finally split, and the warring nations had agreed to go their separate ways. Unfortunately their proximity to each other and the isolation caused by the 100 mile wide Sea of Europe, had affected the chances of the 7 individual nations being able to cope with the Great Famine, and the follow-on Terrible Blockade.

Excluded from the European, African and Chinese Bloc, there really was no hope. The nations re-joined and the total population (34 million) now scrape an existence among the dry plains, nuclear reprocessing plants, and barren coastlines.

But even that existence is preferable to living in the Divided States of America. Little news gets out of there, but what does escape is terrifying. The various (numbers of States change regularly) Religious States try to maintain the borders peacefully, but with starvation, homelessness and profanity now outlawed; and the numbers of criminals rising, the expense of termination is almost bankrupting some States, so criminal-dumping is rife at the borders.

I was glad to get back to 2019, and the minor matter of a Brexit where I know what happens!

Posted in fiction | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Web – a short story by Vicki Hird

continuing in the same vein as my “Forest of Brexeat” story earlier this week, Vicki Hird

has written this piece…

Swallowtail ©Tim Rice

 

The web was both delicate and strong. And as large as a lake. Spreading out as a silk cloak over the scrub and ground it was hard to imagine how such a small animal as a moth caterpillar – could create such a large structure. Grandfather talked about the scene underneath – how a billion mouths would be chomping at the plants underneath…

Bees hovered overhead and the old man and boy watched as one was caught in a real spiders web in a tree behind them. Little silk coffins lined this web showing what a killer had made this lair – waiting hidden at the edge to catch one of the thousands of flying insects in the air.

Was a time you heard little in countryside. Now it’s always buzzin” the old man mumbled..

The Boy had already been reminded to keep his mouth shut as he walked. Butterflies, wasps, flies and beetles would soon be fluttering in your mouth otherwise. He thought he’d learnt his lesson when the mosquito bit him in the lip some weeks back – lucky not one with malaria. But the going was fast and he was breathing hard. He was thirsty.

The sun beat down as they walked away from the web lake and small moths fluttered up as they disturbed new ground.

Once this was all wheat growing as high as ye lad“. “It were sprayed with chemicals so the wee beasts would not steal the crop….tis odd to think we kept on and on and the beast just developed ways round and more came we’d not seen before.”

 “What happened to the chemicals grandpa” the boy had not heard of this before. Grandpa was miles away in his memories.

and all along we was killin the bugs that would keep the pests in check… seems mad now…We’d even cover them sneep I talked of in a terrible chemical to stop a fly laying its eggs under the sneep’s skin… nerve killing stuff it was but the sneep suffered terrible…maybe they was too many or the wrong breed..I dunno. “

A rumbling noise checked his chatter and he pushed the boy back against a tree trunk as a herd of wild cattle rumbled by. Insects flew up and filled the air as the pack of dogs flew past in pursuit aiming to catch a weaker animal. The old man quickly pulled the boy off the track in case they returned.

Safe havens were hard to find. Where they were now stumbling seem to be full of biting insects. The couple pulled thick sacks over their faces with eye holes, and pushed on towards the river to catch a fish for supper in the cave. At least the rivers were bountiful. Clean rivers full of invertebrates – everything fish needed.

We’ll have a small fish feast tonight mark my words lad. Maybe some groundnuts and dandys leaves to pull up along the way hey…”

In the distance yet another woodland clearing was draped with the caterpillars cloth and they skirted round it to head toward the sound of water rushing over rocks.

If we’re lucky lad we can find some large beetle grubs to eat with the fish – real tasty fat sausagy when fried with a bit of welsh sea salt… I know just the spot and they get bigger every year seems to me”.

He thought of the huge stag beetle antlers and shivered. He knew those were harmless but with the climate so different and new creatures every year it was hard to say what beasts they were going to have to deal with. The huge butterflies and new birds were beauties. But giant hornet nests were common and tarantulas and nasty ticks with diseases were everywhere now. The oaks can cope but us and our crops and orchards?

Thanks grandpa that would be great. I love those crunchy on outside and squigy inside. Don’t know how you know where to find them though.”

Folk talked of ‘insectageddon’ years ago. He remembered that. And there were mass extinctions from habitats lost, chemical use and climate change. Yet now some beasts were taking over it seemed to him… he didn’t want to scare the boy though so kept quiet as they walked to the river.

“Wisdom of years my boy …wisdom of years.”

Posted in fiction | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Forest of Brexeat – a short story

April was upon them and shelter was their goal.

The sun beat down upon their heads, sweat pouring off them as the boy took a small swig of water from his grandfather’s water bottle.

“Just small sips lad, we don’t have that much.”

Grandfather was all too aware that their well had nearly run dry the previous year. Rains were only intermittent now until the next wet season came in July. They sought the shade of the forest.

“the old stories tell of a time when these hills were bare, grazed by a furry animal that people used to eat on sundays.” The grandfather recounted the stories he had been told  – the boy immediately distracted from the hunger in his own stomach by the familiar tale.

“Did people really eat animals back then grandad?” the boy’s eyes widened.

“So they say, yes.”

“Farmers used to have flocks of these animals called sneep, and they grazed on trees until all the trees had gone, then they ate grass.”

They sat and savoured the shade of a large spreading Oak – a cork Oak, whose bark was useful in providing all manner of things – but most valuable of all was its insulating properties, keeping their roof cool under the unremitting Summer sun.

“Why is this called the Forest of Brexeat grandad?” the boy was nearly 10 and his curiosity knew no bounds.

“Back a long time ago before I was born at the time of the Empire of Eyuu the sneep were grown here but eaten a long way away. But then King  Boris decided that Briton wanted to be free of that Empire and his army of Brexites fought for our freedom, boy. Then there was nowhere for the sneep to go and they were all burnt in a big fire to celebrate freedom – and that’s why we burn a pumpkin at the festival of St. Boris on the 1st November.”

Grandfather paused, thoughtfully – pumpkins never burn that well and it did seem like a waste of food, but it was a tradition which had to be upheld. The relentless buzz of Cicadas, normally tuned out, briefly entered his consciousness.

“And after that the great heating came and there was no food and no grass, most people went away, and those that were left planted Cork Oaks and called it the Forest of Brexeat.”

“Will it be an really big celebration this year grandad – for 100 years since we gained our Freedom?”

“Yes boy, we’ll have a big party.” Grandfather suddenly felt very tired and closed his eyes briefly, passing into a half-dream of furry white animals running across green hillsides. The boy idly picked up a stick and toyed with a scorpion which had emerged from its hole.

The sun had descended a little int the late afternoon, and it was time to return home, to their Welsh village.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

The Cork Pot Story

I’m thinking about Turtles. Turtles which died because they had swallowed a plastic bag, a bag that once carried some shopping. Discarded, it fell into a river; the river flowed to the sea, the sea joined the ocean. The Turtle died.

We know about Ocean Plastic. We know that the packaging used for retail products makes it easy to handle consumer products; easy to transport, easy to stack on shop shelves. It’s that packaging which is, among other things, causing the problems of Ocean Plastic.

Lush is also worried about Ocean Plastic. Lush perfumer and head of ethical buying, Simon Constantine, wants to start making packaging from Ocean Plastic, (although long term, he has an even bigger aspiration explaining: “The point of intervention is to stop all new plastic production.” Which is an ambitious goal, for sure).

One way to cut out plastic packaging is to sell consumer products without any. Lush calls its unpackaged range its ‘Naked’ line of products. But how do buyers get their naked soap bars home without making their pockets or bags soapy and fragrant? This was the challenge that Simon set his buying and sourcing team back in 2017.

Nick Gumery, creative buyer for packaging at Lush, wondered if Cork might be the answer. Cork is a natural product, made from the inner layer under the bark of the Cork Oak tree (​Quercus suber).​ Traditionally used to make corks (as in stoppers for wine bottles) Cork is actually a remarkable material – anti-bacterial, fire-retardant, water-resistant, flexible, strong, easy to work; and at the end of its life, it can be composted.

Harvested from a living tree, it also has an exceptional ability to sequester carbon, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change chaos. Lush is currently waiting for confirmation from the Carbon Trust that the company has produced the first ever accredited Carbon Positive Packaging. The team’s calculations suggest that each cork pot sequesters over one kilo of carbon dioxide gas (and this is a very conservative estimate). This compares with an aluminium pot which releases 9kg of CO2 for every kg of Aluminium created.

Regenerative Packaging Is Born

Could Cork be used to make a reusable pot in which Lush “Naked’ (unpackaged) products could be taken home, leaving the pocket un-soaped, and those wonderful fragrances retained, in the pot? The dream of a reusable – not just sustainable but regenerative – piece of packaging was born.

The Cork Oak only occurs around the Western Mediterranean and the Iberian Peninsula. It is unique in that it produces cork partly as a defence against drought and partly to protect from the regular forest fires that are naturally part of that region’s ecology. Most Cork oak forest is found in Portugal and Spain, with Portugal producing about half of the world’s total (around 340,000 tonnes) Cork harvest.

Cork is harvested from each tree every 10 years or so which allows it enough time to grow back after it has been taken. Unlike most forestry operations, the tree lives on after harvest so the process of harvesting the cork can be compared with tapping sugar maples for maple syrup, or pollarding a willow to make baskets since these trees do the same. The trees that are harvested grow in the open (in savannah landscapes) rather than in a dense forest and this characteristic has created a magical landscape known as the Montado in Portugal and the Dehesa in Spain.

The patchwork of Cork oaks, other trees, shrubs and open areas of grassland, is immensely rich in wildlife, as well as forming the basis of that area‘s food culture. Jamon iberico – the legendary Black Pig of Spain – grazes under the Cork oaks. And the Cork oak savannah supports one of Europe’s rarest mammals – the Iberian Lynx, as well as birds such as the Imperial and Booted Eagles. These savannahs are also important for migratory birds, stopping to feed on their way to or from their northern breeding areas which include the UK.

But in recent decades the Cork forests have been threatened – with abandonment, damage and conversion to other land uses. Cork forest owners have taken to cultivating the soil under the Cork oaks in the mistaken belief that this makes them grow faster (whereas, sadly, it actually hastens their death by repeatedly damaging their roots) and in the belief that it reduces fire risk.

Some Cork oak forests have been destroyed and replaced with fast growing trees like Eucalypts from Australia. Others have been converted to cereal fields or pastures. One environmental group, Eco-interventions has been working since 2013 to restore an area of Portugal’s Cork Oak forests and so when the Lush team decided to explore the possibility of replacing Aluminium packaging with cork, they turned to this organisation to ask whether it could provide the Cork Pots Lush wanted. Eco-interventions realised that a new market for Cork products could help provide an economic reason for managing Cork oak forests. Starting with Cork from a 400ha area called ​Vale Bacias​ , Cork Connections will be moving on to buying from five other Portuguese landowners . Lush pays €5 to eco-interventions for each cork pot, and this money is used to support the ecological restoration of the Cork oak forest and savannah.

Lush is now buying around 35,000 pots a year from Cork Connections (an Eco-Interventions offshoot), but plans to increase this to 500,000 pots in a year’s time. But Lush isn’t just interested in the pots; it wants to ensure that the pots it buys are produced from Forest which is also being restored. So it buys at a high enough price to cover the cost of a forest restoration and regeneration programme.

Eco Interventions, via its Cork Connections offshoot business, provides Portuguese Cork Forest owners with native shrubs to replant where they have been lost through cultivation, but only on the condition that the growers stop cultivating and desist from using artificial fertilisers or pesticides. And to date, income from Lush buying Cork pots has already led to 20,000 shrubs being planted over the last 12 months, back into degraded Cork forest.

Lush recognises that transport has a big impact on its product’s credibility as being truly regenerative and so the final leg of this story is a journey by sailboat. Instead of trucking the Cork pots from Portugal to the UK, Lush has just received its first consignment of 6,000 pots via a sailing freighter. The SV Gallant docked in Poole Harbour on July 4t​ h​, bringing Cork pots, salt from Portuguese Salinas, Irish moss seaweed; and signs made from Eucalyptus and invasive pine wood produced from another Lush-supported project,​ ​Veredgaia​, which is restoring forestry plantations back to native wildlife-rich habitat.

I spoke to project instigator Nick Gumery on board the SV Gallant, as we made our way sedately past Brownsea Island. (He had just spent the morning with the local BBC TV news, who covered the story as did local paper the ​Bournemouth Echo​).

Nick knew that the press might be cynical and take the view that the sailing voyage was no more than a publicity gimmick. But they would be wrong. He wants to test the waters and see if it really is feasible to move freight by sail and not least because Lush needs to move a lot of raw materials​ ​around and is looking for, and committed to finding, more sustainable methods of doing it.

“It’s a serious test of logistics and whether it makes business sense,” he tells me.

Nick is also keen for people to get away from thinking that Lush does everything for charitable reasons, especially if it is going to influence how other businesses operate: “Business won’t change if it’s solely done charitably. Lush is interested in its impact but wants to show, as an ethical business, it can still make a profit.”

It is clear from speaking to Nick, Lush’s Cork Pot encapsulates, in the palm of one hand, the challenges that face retailers and consumers, who want to change their business practises and consumption habits.

And it could even start a global packaging revolution.

Posted in Lush Times | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments