News Article | May 9, 2017
If this bid for power succeeds, the consequences for Britain will be irreversible. It will privilege special interests over the public good, shut out the voices of opposition and damage the fabric of the nation, perhaps indefinitely. No, I’m not writing about the election. In the next few weeks Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation, will decide whether or not to grant world heritage status to the Lake District. Once the decision is made, it is effectively irreversible. Shouldn’t we be proud that this grand scenery, which plays such a prominent role in our perceptions of nationhood, will achieve official global recognition? On the contrary: we should raise our voices against it. World heritage status would lock the Lake District into its current, shocking state, ensuring that recovery becomes almost impossible. Stand back from the fells and valleys, and try to judge this vista as you would a landscape in any other part of the world. What you will see is the great damage farming has inflicted: wet deserts grazed down to turf and rock; erosion gullies from which piles of stones spill; woods in which no new trees have grown for 80 years, as every seedling has been nibbled out by sheep; dredged and canalised rivers, empty of wildlife and dangerous to the people living downstream; tracts of bare mountainside on which every spring is a silent one. Anyone with ecological knowledge should recoil from this scene. The documents supporting the bid for world heritage status are lavishly illustrated with photos that inadvertently reveal what has happened to the national park. But this slow-burning disaster goes almost unmentioned in the text. On the contrary, the bid repeatedly claims that the park is in “good physical condition”, and that the relationship between grazing and wildlife is “harmonious”. Only on page 535, buried in a table, is the reality acknowledge: three-quarters of the sites that are meant to be protected for nature are in “unfavourable condition”. This great national property has degenerated into a sheepwrecked wasteland. And the national park partnership that submitted the bid wants to keep it this way: this is the explicit purpose of its attempt to achieve world heritage status. It wants to preserve the Lake District as a “cultural landscape”. But whose culture? Whose landscape? There are only 1,080 farms in the district. Should the entire national park be managed for their benefit? If so, why? The question isn’t raised, let alone answered. I can see the value and beauty of the traditional shepherding culture in the Lake District. I can also see that the farming there, reliant on subsidies, quad bikes and steel barns, now bears little relationship to traditional practice. As the size of landholdings has increased, it looks ever more like ranching and ever less like the old system the bid describes. The bid’s claim that farming there is “wholly authentic in terms of … its traditions, techniques and management systems” is neither intelligible nor true. Remnants of old shepherding culture tend to be represented ceremonially, as its customs are mostly disconnected from the farm economy. Shepherding is not the only cultural legacy in play. The Lake District is also the birthplace of the modern conservation movement. Inspired by the Picturesque and Romantic movements, much of our environmental ethic and the groups representing it, such as the National Trust, originated here. Attempts to preserve natural beauty in the district began in the mid-18th century, with complaints against the felling of trees around Derwentwater. Today the national park cares so little for this legacy that, as the bid admits, “there are no data available” on the condition of the Lake District’s woodlands. The small group favoured by this bid sees environmental protection as anathema. Farmers’ organisations in the Lake District have fought tooth and nail against conservation measures. They revile the National Trust and the RSPB, whose mild efforts to protect the land from overgrazing are, with the help of a lazy and compliant media, treated like bubonic plague. As one of these farming groups exults, world heritage status “gives us a powerful weapon” that they can wield against those who seek to limit their impacts. If the plan is approved, this world heritage site would be a 230,000-hectare monument to overgrazing and ecological destruction. This is not the only sense in which the bid is unsustainable. Nowhere in its 700 pages is Brexit mentioned. It was obviously written prior to the referendum, and has not been updated. Yet the entire vision relies, the bid admits, on the economic viability of the farming system – which depends in turn on subsidies from the European Union. Without these payments, there would be no sheep farming in the Lake District: it operates at a major loss. European subsidies counteract this loss, delivering an average net farm income of £9,600. Unsurprisingly, people are leaving the industry in droves. The number of farms in the national park is declining by 2% a year. And this is before the payments cease. What is the national park partnership that prepared this bid going to do – march people on to the fells at gunpoint and demand they continue farming? Or does it hope that the government, amid the massacre of public investment that will follow Brexit, will not only match but exceed the £3bn of public money currently being passed to UK farmers by the European Union? Your guess is as good as mine. This omission alone should disqualify the bid. The failure to mention this fatal issue looks to me like one of many attempts to pull the Herdwick wool over Unesco’s eyes. The entire bid is based on a fairytale, a pretence that the rural economy of the Lake District hasn’t changed for 200 years. If Unesco grants world heritage status on these grounds, it will inflict irreparable harm on both our natural heritage and its own good standing. The hills, whose clothes so many profess to admire, are naked. The narrative we are being asked to support is false. This attempt to ensure that the ecological disaster zone we call the Lake District National Park can never recover from its sheepwrecking is one long exercise in woolly thinking. • A fully linked version of this column will be published at monbiot.com
News Article | May 12, 2017
Farmers are warning that water may have to be transferred across Britain after an unusually dry winter and spring left more than four-fifths of rivers with too little to support local growers. Fears of a drought were expected to ease this weekend as scattered showers usher in a more traditional British spring, but wildlife and agriculture industries are bracing for a long, parched summer. The driest winter for 20 years has hit particularly hard in the south-east, where forecasts for rain remain elusive in the coming week. Rivers in the Chilterns were at half the level considered healthy for May. The river Ver, for example, was 3.7 miles (6km) shorter than normal, while one chalk stream had almost completely disappeared. “It’s a total loss of an aquatic ecosystem – fish and invertebrates such as caddis fly larvae get trapped and die,” said Allen Beachey of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project. “It’s not as bad as spring 2012 when we were saved by the wettest summer on record but we’re facing a summer of continued stress on what are already very stressed chalk rivers.” Many farmers have begun to irrigate crops six weeks earlier than usual as a result, and fruit farmers in particular are worried that the water will run out. Water management experts are calling for “water shunting”, in which water is moved huge distances from the high rainfall north to the low-rainfall south. “HS2 is coming because the Treasury says we have to build the economy,” said Laurence Couldrick, CEO of Westcountry Rivers Trust, referring to the high-speed rail project. “The same argument is relevant for having water shunting. We might have to build a water shunting pipeline from Wales to London.” John Breach, chairman of the British Independent Fruit Growers Association, is calling for a government-funded water grid to be built alongside HS2 and other major new roads to carry water from the north-west to the south-east. “Anywhere they build new motorways they should think ahead for once – pipelines could be added alongside and you’re only paying for the cost of the pipes,” he said. According to Clive Edmed, a fruit farmer in Kent, modern high-yielding apple trees require more water and are less resistant to drought than the larger-rooted old trees. Apples are likely to be smaller this year and the only consolation for growers such as Edmed is that he is unlikely to be competing with large scale imports – apple crops on the continent, including France, have also been decimated by drought and late frosts. Late frosts in the UK have also caused apple growers to lose all the blossom – and this year’s fruit – in some orchards. “We’ve got our backs to the wall on several fronts,” said Edmed. Beyond the struggle to make a living this season, farmers in the parched south-east are investing millions in on-farm reservoirs to future-proof their growing of high-value – but thirsty – crops such as potatoes and carrots. The 2,530-hectare (6,250-acre) Euston estate in Suffolk has spent £800,000 on two reservoirs which hold 200m gallons of water and £1.2m on laying an underground irrigation main to distribute the water to its fields. The farm has enough water to survive a one-and-a-quarter year drought, but even now does not have enough water to irrigate its cereal crops. According to Andrew Blenkiron, the estate’s director, the dry spring will reduce the farm’s wheat and barley yields by 20%, with further losses if the drought intensifies. “If the river flows continue to be low this summer and we move into a really dry winter we won’t be able to fill our reservoirs,” said Blenkiron. “The ability to irrigate crops is going to be vitally important in the future. We need to simplify the planning system so we can build these storage reservoirs and come up with some kind of financial incentive such as tax-breaks to help pay for these massive capital items.” Many smaller farms cannot afford to build reservoirs but an increasing number of farmers are seeking to build up organic matter in their soils so they better store moisture and do not erode in dry weather. “This is the long game,” said Blenkiron. “It’s probably not my lifetime but my successor’s lifetime – building organic matter with lots of animal manures. Lots of farmers are really enlightened now and focused on this.” Across the country, catchment partnerships involving local farmers, water companies and environmental organisations, are taking similar “sensible and pragmatic measures” to slow the movement of water through the landscape, according to Henri Brocklebank of Sussex Wildlife Trust. “We’re not pitched against farmers at all, we’re all on the same team on this one.” While the dry weather is challenging human ingenuity, there are winners as well as losers in the natural world. “The dry spell is doing far more good than harm for wildlife and long may it continue because the last time we had a decent summer was 2006,” said Matthew Oates of the National Trust. Recent wet summers have caused long, rank grass and bracken to swamp many heat-loving species. “The main beneficiaries of drier weather are the myriad of plants and animals which like pockets of bare ground, because that’s been closed over in recent years. Insects such as mining bees really benefit from having barer ground and have for once been doing really well,” he said. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is calling on gardeners to put out shallow dishes of water for parched hedgehogs. The RSPB also advises topping up muddy puddles so house martins can find enough mud to build their nests.
News Article | May 17, 2017
As reported by the Bournemouth Daily Echo, Watercress Warrior is a collaboration between Cerne Abbas Brewery and The Watercress Company. The 4.5% pilsner is made with hops, watercress seeds and 1,000 litres of spring water taken from the natural springs at The Watercress Company’s farm near Dorchester. Dubbed a superfood for being rich in vitamins A, B, C and E, watercress is also said to increase the male sex drive. According to its makers, Watercress Warrior is, “a delightfully hoppy brew with a refreshing citrus bite that contrasts deliciously with the peppery hit of the watercress.” Thus far, 1,800 500ml bottles of Watercress Warrior have been brewed and are on sale in shops and pubs around Dorset. Fittingly, the brewery’s logo is the Cerne Abbas Giant – a 180ft tall chalk figure of a naked man branded onto a hill in a field in the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset. The ancient symbol of fertility is listed as a scheduled monument and the land where he lies is owned by the National Trust. The Bournemouth Daily Echo reports that couples wanting to conceive have been known to get amorous on top of the giant’s giant manhood. “Cerne Abbas is one of the first places watercress was grown. There is also of course the famous giant, who we thought was the perfect face of our brew,” James Harper of The Watercress Company told the Bournemouth Daily Echo. “Watercress is a fabulous health food packed full of vitamins and nutrients that help boost virility. The ale itself is delicious, it’s very fruity with a peppery kick,” he added. Vic Irvine, head brewer at Cerne Abbas Brewery, added: “We love a challenge and were fascinated by the prospect of a watercress beer.”
News Article | April 26, 2012
I'm leaning against a pine tree in Grenoside Woods on the outskirts of Sheffield, watching local hero Steve Peat flash by on his mountain bike. Peaty, as everyone seems to call him, is one of the all-time greats of downhill racing, world champion in 2009 and a world cup champion three times over. Today's race may not be in that league, but it's special nonetheless. Peat was born just down the hill in Chapeltown, and when he was learning his craft, he'd cycle up through these woods to reach the steeper downhill trails at Wharncliffe. This is home ground. But that's not the only reason he's offered his backing to the Steel City downhill event. The race is also a fundraiser for the Sheffield Wildlife Trust, which is completing a £1m purchase of the 440-acre site both for wildlife and the people of Sheffield. At the finish line, a sound system is belting out the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and young lads and a lasses are knocking back freebie caffeine drinks while leaning on some very pricey bicycles. They don't look like typical nature conservation types, but as Peat explains, looks can be deceptive. Sheffield has a huge mountain biking scene, supporting several specialist shops and manufacturers, including cult frame-makers Cotic. But there are proportionally fewer bridleways than most other parts of the country, and frustrated riders have been at loggerheads with the city council and other users, including some walkers and horse riders. Although the Trans Pennine trail goes through Grenoside, there are few designated bridleways in the woods and manicured surfaces aren't what riders like Peat want. They like their tracks a lot more challenging. But negotiating access to the countryside has been outside the scope of existing cycling groups, which campaign on safety and planning issues, or else oversee competition. So in February 2010, a group of local riders met in a pub to launch Ride Sheffield, an advocacy group aimed at fighting mountain biking's corner to improve access. The group was the brainchild of Henry Norman, whose day job is working for cycling charity Sustrans. Ride Sheffield has around 700 bikers signed up. It costs nothing to join, and relies on volunteers to attend meetings where access is up for discussion. Despite limited resources, it has quickly proved itself an effective voice. Apart from Grenoside, there are schemes and campaigns across the city to improve access and build new trails. Most recently, the National Trust and RSPB, which jointly manage the wild moors southwest of Sheffield, have agreed to create permissive bridleways on a few carefully chosen footpaths. Roy Mosley of Sheffield Wildlife Trust says that with a largely urban portfolio of properties, his organisation has to be pragmatic. "It comes with having sites on people's doorsteps. We want them to come, so we try to manage things to support biodiversity." Liaising with Ride Sheffield has, he says, produced a more interesting bike trail in a less sensitive part of the woods.
News Article | May 5, 2017
The Nottingham Trent University study is investigating how red squirrels currently utilise and exploit urban environments – so that this information can be used to help better manage these habitats to their advantage. There are thought to be about 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK, with numbers dwindling as a result of being outcompeted by the hardier grey squirrel, which was introduced from the United States in the late 1800s. Using Formby in Merseyside as their study site – a stronghold for red squirrels – the researchers will examine the reds' patterns of movement and their home ranges. They will also investigate the effects of living in close proximity to humans, such as activities and opportunities for supplementary feeding and hotspots linked to traffic mortality. The impact upon squirrel populations of the gradual removal of trees in nearby residential gardens – a high-quality habitat for the reds – will be studied as part of the four-year project, which also involves Lancashire Wildlife Trust and National Trust Formby. The work will involve using tracking technology to monitor movements in nearby gardens and woods. Questionnaires to volunteers will assess how and when they currently feed the reds and their thoughts on squirrel conservation generally. Any dead red squirrels found during the study will also be tested for disease and cause of death. Red squirrels have suffered since the introduction of the non-native greys. Grey squirrels carry the squirrelpox virus – a disease which is harmless to them but can kill reds in just a few weeks, and they can also digest seeds such as acorns more efficiently which provides them with additional food sources. "We hope that this study will provide us with crucial insight into the urban ecology and conservation of the UK's red squirrels," said Kat Fingland, a researcher in Nottingham Trent University's School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences. She said: "We want to take all the information we gather on how red squirrels exploit urban habitats and resources and use it to develop a strategy for managing urban areas for their benefit. "We could look to develop new urban refuges for reds, encouraging them to disperse into neighbouring towns, and help to find new ways for them to thrive alongside people." Kate Martin, Lead Ranger at National Trust Formby, said: "It's great to have this study taking place at Formby. Our red squirrel population lives in the coastal pinewoods but is quite close to the urban fringe of Formby town – and of course lots of visitors. We'll be very interested to see the results of Kat Fingland's work."
News Article | March 25, 2016
Three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates, according to a new survey revealing the extent to which time playing in parks, wood and fields has shrunk. A fifth of the children did not play outside at all on an average day, the poll found. Experts warn that active play is essential to the health and development of children, but that parents’ fears, lack of green spaces and the lure of digital technology is leading youngsters to lead enclosed lives. Most of the parents polled said their children have fewer opportunities to play outside than they did when young. The new research is strongly supported by previous work, including a government report in February that found more than one in nine children had not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least a year. “The truth is we are enclosing our children,” said Mark Sears, at The Wild Network, which works to increase wild play. “We are stifling their ability to be free, to be at their best as children and it is having significant impacts.” He said increasing obesity and lower mental wellbeing in children was linked to a lack of physical activity. On Wednesday, environment secretary Liz Truss announced that every schoolchild will have the opportunity to visit a national park, noting that only 10% currently have access to outdoor learning. “I want every child to know the joy and wonder of the great outdoors,” she said recently. “Our children should be climbing trees, not the walls.” Under the plan, national park authorities will engage over 60,000 young people a year through schools visits by 2017/18. The plan is part of a government campaign expected later this year that will aim to connect children with nature and the environment. The new survey questioned a nationally representative sample of 2,000 parents of 5-12 year olds and found 74% of children spent less than 60 minutes playing outside each day. UN guidelines for prisoners require “at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily”. The poll also found children spent twice as long playing on screens as playing outside. It was funded by Persil, as part of the detergent brand’s Dirt is Good campaign. “Academic research shows that active play is the natural and primary way that children learn,” said Sir Ken Robinson, an educationalist and advisor to Unilever, which makes Persil. “It is essential to their healthy growth and progress, particularly during periods of rapid brain development. We must place adequate importance on play now, so that our precious children grow up into successful, well-rounded and happy adults.” Sears said: “Parents see the value of outdoor play and still it doesn’t happen. Outdoor time is shrinking. It is a gigantic paradox.” He said fear of strangers, traffic or accidents deterred parents from allowing children to play outside, as did lack of time due to busy school and work lives. “It’s time we gave parents the tools, skills and confidence to do the things that they know are good for their children.” A separate study from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), published earlier in March, found that children from poorer backgrounds were less interested in being outdoors in nature than better-off children. But WWT found this difference was overcome after just one day spent learning outside. “Young kids that learn and play outside get direct experience of weather and the seasons and wildlife – things that are only possible outdoors – and they get to assess risks, solve problems and develop creativity,” said Lucy Hellier, WWT learning project manager. “The benefits may seem obvious, but in reality many children don’t get to be outdoors in a natural environment in any regular or meaningful way. And that’s even more common among kids from deprived areas.” In 2013, the RSPB published a three-year study, which concluded that four out of five children in the UK were not adequately “connected to nature”. In 2012, a National Trust report called Natural Childhood revealed the growing gap between children and nature. Less than one in 10 children regularly played in wild spaces, it said, compared to half of children a generation ago.
News Article | May 8, 2017
Scotland is famous for its scenic wild places and uplifting sense of remoteness. With the exception of the recent bylaws banning wild camping in certain areas of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs (check before you go), it is still completely legal to camp on most of Scotland’s unenclosed land. The progressive Land Reform Act was passed in 2003, and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code was introduced in 2005, which lays out campers’ rights and responsibilities. Avoid camping in enclosed fields of crops or with farm animals, or too close to roads or buildings. Always take away your litter and remove any trace of a tent pitch or campfire. For the adventurous, and those willing to tolerate some unpredictable weather, the rewards are plenty. Pitch your tent amid the high rolling sand dunes at one of Britain’s most famous wild beaches. Reached only by a four-mile walk, this remarkable stretch of pink-hued sand, in northwest Sutherland, is bounded by cliffs and the Am Buachaille sea stack. The beach is popular with surfers and owned by the John Muir Trust. There’s some of the best-preserved machair wildflower grassland in mainland Scotland here, with more than 200 species of plant growing behind the dunes. • Park at the John Muir Trust car park in Blairmore (IV27 4RT). From the gate opposite, follow the well-marked track across moorland, turning left at the end of the second loch, towards the bay. Walking time from vehicle: 1½ hrs. Map ref: 58.5384, -5.0650. Hemmed by rugged mountains and ancient Scots pine, glassy Beinn a’ Mheadhoin is a peaceful freshwater loch nestled to the east of Scotland’s loveliest glen, the exceptionally picturesque Glen Affric. Numerous little islands and promontories make for fun adventure swimming, and the many small beaches are perfect for camping. The old tree stumps make hobbit-like seats for sitting around the campfire. To really get away from it all, canoe over to one of the islets and camp there. • From Cannich on the A381 take the road signposted Glen Affric past IV4 7NB. At about 8½ miles, roughly a quarter of the way up the loch, there is a large layby. Head down the bank towards the island linked to the shore by a sandy beach. Walking time from vehicle: 5 mins. Map ref: 57.2832, -4.9280. This magnificent bay on the wild northern coast of Rùm has a sandy beach looking straight out over the immense skyline of the Cuillins on Skye. Kilmory is the heart of the Red Deer Project, one of the longest and most complete studies of a wild animal population in the world. Look out for deer wandering the beach, and in late September and early October for rutting stags challenging each other. • From Kinloch Castle head north, then turn left along the Kinloch river into Kinloch Glen. Continue past waterfalls, and after another 1½ miles take the right fork. Follow the track, turning north another 2½ miles, before heading down to the beach. Walking time from vehicle: 2–2½ hrs. Map ref: 57.0499, -6.3545. The otherworldly hanging valley of Coire Gabhail is hidden away from famous Glencoe behind a number of towering peaks. The secret glen has a dark past: it was here that many members of Clan MacDonald took refuge in the immediate aftermath of the Glencoe massacre in 1692. Guarded on all sides by mountains, it is the perfect place to camp, with a flat high meadow, meandering stream and giant boulders to shelter behind. • Park in one of the National Trust car parks on the A82 in Glencoe, 3½ and 5 miles E from PH49 4HX. The Lost Valley is the left of two valleys between the Three Sisters, the prong-like ridges jutting out into the glen. A decent path crosses the river Coe and winds up in the Lost Valley itself. Walking time from vehicle: 60 mins. Map ref: 56.6549, -4.9940. Combining breathtaking scenery with easy access, this picturesque glen in the heart of the Highlands is hard to beat. The steep-sided gorge is enveloped by the tallest mountains in Britain and opens up to reveal a hanging valley with alpine meadows. Here, the dramatic 120m-high Steall Falls pour into the scene, joining a beautiful river with plunge pools, and a famous wire bridge. • From Fort William take the road that winds up the glen (PH33 6SY) to the Upper Falls car park at the end. An obvious path leads up into the higher reaches of Glen Nevis, following the river. Walking time from vehicle: 20 mins. Map ref: 56.7723, -4.9814. Idyllic Vatersay is the perfect place for those seeking island isolation. The southernmost inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides boasts a series of stunning beaches, surrounded by machair grasses that are ablaze with colourful wildflowers in spring and summer. Peaceful Vatersay Bay in the east has bright white sands lapped by clear turquoise water, great for swimming on a calm day. High sand dunes backing the bay also provide shelter for camping and picnics on this windswept island. • Cross the causeway at the south of Barra onto the island and follow the minor road south for approximately 3 miles. There is informal parking on the grass to the left, opposite a passing place and a signed path to a shipwreck monument. Walking time from vehicle: 5 mins. Map ref: 56.9236, -7.5353. If Arran is “Scotland in miniature”, you can sample it all in Glen Sannox. This quintessentially Scottish glen curves up from the sandy bay at Sannox village and into the heart of the rugged Goat Fell mountain range. Running down the glen is the pretty Sannox Burn, edged by heather and bracken. At its northern end you can explore a number of pools and waterfalls which tumble through the forest. • From the car park in Sannox (near KA27 8JD) head west on well-signposted paths, then follow the burn up the glen. Walking time from vehicle: 1-2 hrs. Map ref: 55.6603, -5.1651. Home to one of the most successful “rewilding” projects in the country, the careful deer management at Glenfeshie has led to a host of young trees and a hugely increased variety of wildlife. There are foot and bike trails leading to Scots pinewoods, with tumbling waterfalls and mountain views. If you fancy upgrading for the night, seek out Ruigh Aiteachain, an MBA bothy deep in the glen where Sir Edwin Landseer studied the red deer for his famous painting, Monarch of the Glen. You might have it all to yourself. • From the B970 at Feshiebridge take the road signed Auchlean to a car park on the left after 4 miles. Walk ½ mile along the tarmac road ending at Achlean farm, pick up the main path through a gate and over a stream, and walk into the glen. Walking time from vehicle: 1–3 hrs. Map ref: 57.0353, -3.8963. Set up camp on one of the grassy promontories overlooking enchanting ruins at the east end of Loch Assynt. Built by the MacLeods, Ardvreck castle dates back to the 16th century and local legend has it that the loch itself is home to the elusive “Mermaid of Assynt”, the MacLeods’ lost daughter Eimhir. It is said that in exchange for help building the castle the MacLeods pledged Eimhir to the Clootie (devil), and so in hiding from him she dived into the loch and began living underwater. • On the A837 north from Inchnadamph (IV27 4HN) park at a car park after 1½ miles, on the east shore of Loch Assynt. Walking time from vehicle: 10 mins. Map ref: 58.1664, -4.9944. Watch the sunrise from your tent atop one of the many spectacular plateaux that make up this magnificent landscape. The Quiraing was formed by an ancient landslip that is still moving, and includes a jagged 37m-high pinnacle known as The Needle, a flat expanse of short grass called The Table, and a pyramidal rocky peak that resembles a medieval keep, and is known as The Prison. • Parking at summit of minor road between Uig and Staffin at 57.6281, -6.2909. Walking time from vehicle: 2 mins. Map ref: 57.6395, -6.2705. Wild Guide Scotland: Hidden Places, Great Adventures & the Good Life by Kimberley Grant, Richard Gaston and David Cooper is published by Wild Things Publishing at £16.99. Readers can receive a 20% discount and free P&P with coupon code ‘GuardianScotland’ at wildthingspublishing.com
News Article | April 25, 2017
Solstice Park is “a strategically located development opportunity”. That’s what its promotional blurb says, anyway – but put more prosaically, it is a clump of offices, distribution centres and retail and hospitality businesses on the A303, just under 10 miles from Salisbury. It symbolises two things: government attempts to help the economy of south-west England, and the tourist industry centred on Stonehenge, a few minutes’ drive away. As if to somehow complement the monument’s antiquarian wonders, there is a faux-ancient statue outside the Holiday Inn, of a 22ft figure giving thanks to the sun. Inside, double rooms go for just short of £100. It’s 8am on a misty Wednesday morning and a group of people here are very anxious about the latest proposal for this historic patch of England: a 1.8 mile tunnel containing a new dual carriageway, its entrance and exit sitting inside the Stonehenge world heritage site, and which may also involve a new flyover. After years of proposals for a tunnel being knocked back and forth – a similar plan was ruled out in 2007 – the latest scheme was announced by then chancellor George Osborne in 2014. Soon after, David Cameron and Nick Clegg staged separate photo opportunities on the same day at Stonehenge, in an attempt to sell the economic benefits of a tunnel and widened road to locals. Give or take consultation processes and concerns about the costs, work is due to start in 2020. The government talks about a supposed reduction of the congestion that has long affected this part of Wiltshire, and an upgrade that will “develop the A303 into a high-quality, high-performing route linking the M3 in the south-east and the M5 in the south-west, improving journeys for millions of people.” Both English Heritage, which runs Stonehenge as a visitor attraction, and the National Trust, which has a stake in Stonehenge thanks to the 800 hectares of land it owns around the stones, are in favour of the plan in principle. They talk about an end to the spectacle of the stones being spoiled by passing traffic, and how the grassing-over of the existing A303 will mean the restoration of the Stonehenge Avenue, the ancient processional route to the monument. All this might sound reasonable, but there are mounting concerns about what a tunnel will mean, particularly for archaeology in one of the world’s most important prehistoric sites. Twenty-one renowned archaeologists who know the area have announced their opposition. One of the most vocal opponents is classical historian, writer and radio presenter Tom Holland. Over a Holiday Inn breakfast, he tells me what he thinks is at stake, why the Stonehenge site has to be thought about as much more than the stones, and why a campaign group called the Stonehenge Alliance is making such a lot of noise. Most obviously, there is a fascinating archaeological site nearby called Blick Mead, where recent finds have shone light on life in the immediate wake of the ice age and why Stonehenge – even before the stones – was a regular gathering-place for people from all over ancient Britain. If the road plan materialises, Holland says, it will ruin Blick Mead, and bring important work there to an abrupt end. He is also concerned about land close by, where a network of ancient burial mounds and other sites are rich with historical interest. Not to mention the fact that the planned site for one of the tunnel’s entrances (or “portals”) threatens one of Stonehenge’s most significant aspects: the direct line of sight from the stones to the setting sun on the winter solstice. “The issue is whether Stonehenge exists to provide a tourist experience, or whether it is something more significant, both historically and spiritually,” he says. “It has stood there for 4,500 years. And up to now, no one’s thought of injecting enormous quantities of concrete into the landscape and permanently disfiguring it.” “I am angry about it, yes. Because if everything mysterious and evocative and ancient is packaged up in to a heritage visitor experience, and sliced and diced, and subordinated entirely to the needs of the road-building programme, there’ll be nothing left.” Having left Solstice Park, our first port of call is a large expanse of land peppered with bronze age burial mounds and circular burial sites known as disc barrows. It sits in the middle of Boreland farm, a 300-acre expanse owned and run by Rachel Hosier, who drives us around in her Land Rover. In the middle distance a handful of Highways England vehicles flit around the landscape, occasionally disgorging people in hard hats and hi-vis jackets. After a five minute drive through the fields, we get out at a burial mound known as Bush Barrow, which was first excavated in 1808. The finds here were centred on the remains of a man who had been buried along with grave goods including an axe, two daggers, and items of jewellery. Hosier claps eyes on the nearby vans and diggers, and points out where one of the tunnel’s portals is planned to be built, around 300 yards away. “I’ve grown up with this place,” she says. “My garden just happens to be bigger than other people’s. And I feel very honoured to be a custodian of this land. It’s fascinating. But I’m extremely worried. Bush Barrow man is going to be looking at a tunnel and a big road, right from his grave.” Half an hour later, after another rendezvous in the nearby town of Amesbury, we head to Blick Mead. So as to protect it from unwanted intrusion, the exact location of this site – a boggy, wooded spot, named after a local farm worker – is a secret. Nearby is a spring that releases water at a constant 10–11C, even when the surrounding land is frozen – which probably explains why human beings were here a long time before Stonehenge was built. Such animals as aurochs, a huge ancestor of the modern cow whose carcass could feed 200 people, gathered close by, which in turn drew people who used them as a source of food. And the fact that the moist soil here acted as a perfect preservative has meant that items which explain how these humans lived could be excavated up to 7,000 years after they were dropped into the soil. Over the last 15 years, the prime mover behind archaeological work here has been David Jacques, an expert on the Mesolithic period (8500-4000BC) based at the University of Buckingham. Last year, he and his fellow archaeologists found a 7,000-year-old dog’s tooth, which amazingly detailed analysis suggested may well have been born in the east of England, before being taken to Scotland and then travelled all the way to Salisbury Plain. What this revealed, he says, is how important the Stonehenge area had been long before the circle itself was built. He has also been working on the remains of an ancient dwelling in Blick Mead, which offers clues about both visitors to Salisbury Plain, and people who lived here on a more permanent basis. The proposed eight-metre flyover that would feed traffic in and out of the tunnel, Jacques says, would sit only a few hundred yards away. The concrete would dry out the very moist soil here and obliterate its archaeological richness. “It’ll take down the water table, and if that water table drops, it’ll remove all of the organics, like the animal bones. They’ll all be gone within five years. They’ll be reoxygenated, and they’ll degrade fast. So we’ll lose dating evidence, all the ways of understanding how people were living, and what their resources were.” And in terms of the bigger historical picture, what would that mean? “We would lose the backstory to Stonehenge. This is genuinely exciting, so it doesn’t need any hype: the house is dated around 4000BC. That is really important, because there’s hunter-gatherer material in there, at the same time as there’s the first Neolithic date at Stonehenge. So simply put, you’ve got the first multicultural society here. This is probably a contact point between early Neolithic pioneers coming in from continental Europe, and the indigenous people who had been doing stuff for 4,000 years. Before our site, there was virtually no evidence of Mesolithic occupation in this area at all.” “Up to now, the assumption has been that Stonehenge was a kind of Neolithic new-build, in an empty landscape. And of course, the big question is: why is it where it is? Nobody’s had a very good answer for that. But now, all of a sudden, we’ve got the longest spread of radio-carbon dates from the Mesolithic of anywhere in Europe. Something really odd was going on: these are normally nomadic people, but they are coming back here again and again and again.” Half an hour later, we are joined by Andy Rhind-Tutt, a former mayor of Amesbury who is president of the local chamber of commerce. He does not buy the idea of the changes to the A303 as a bringer of local economic benefits (“It won’t bring business to the area – it’s about an expressway to send traffic faster to other parts of the West Country”), and says the fact that the new road will meet a junction leading to the Stonehenge visitor centre will still cause plenty of congestion. “You’ll end up with a traffic jam underground,” he says. “The tunnel will become, effectively, an underground car park. “And a tunnel won’t deal with the issue of what happens to the traffic when there’s a problem,” he continues. “In fact, it’ll make it worse. A tunnel with a blockage will force cars to come through Amesbury or the local villages, which are already suffering. You’re going to end up with lorries coming through the villages every time the tunnel shuts. “So the question I have is: What is the purpose of the tunnel? As far as I can see, there’s only one purpose, which is to remove the view of the stones from the road, and remove the view of the road from the stones. There can be no other reason.” The views of the bodies who support the tunnel plan are inevitably very different. A spokesperson for English Heritage says that “there is still much work to be done on the detail,” but the proposals “have the potential to transform and enhance the landscape”. Nonetheless, they express serious concern about the proposed location of the western end of the tunnel. At the south-west office of the National Trust, assistant director Ian Wilson says he understands the significance of Blick Mead, and has faith that the road-builders will respect its importance. “What we would expect is that with any works carried out as part of the road scheme, the potential impact on Blick Mead should be assessed, and if there was going to be an impact on the water table, that would need to be mitigated.” He says that Highways England needs to “take Blick Mead into account”. Asked what a new road and flyover would mean for the painstaking archaeology happening nearby, the organisation gives a somewhat gnomic reply: now that the latest public consultation has finished, Highways England is “considering all information and feedback we have received”, and “until we have fully assessed this information we are not in a position to comment further at this time”. Holland and the Stonehenge Alliance say they would be comfortable with a much longer tunnel, on the proviso that it caused “no further damage” to the world heritage site – and the government’s failure to consider such an area shows that short-term financial considerations are taking precedence over damage that would be irreversible. And they still see glimmers of hope, even if they are often somewhat obscured by clunky acronyms. The International Council on Monuments and Sites, which advises world heritage body Unesco, said recently that the current design would have a “substantial negative and irreversible impact” on the Stonehenge site, and that consideration has to be given to an alterative route that would take the A303 through land owned by the Ministry of Defence. Back at Solstice Park, I ask Holland how he feels about the tunnel plan actually coming to pass. “I feel a deep psychic sense of distress at the prospect, to be honest,” he says. “I try to think it’s not going to happen. I absolutely haven’t given up. I think there’s a dawning realisation among the general public that a monstrous act of desecration is brewing. I hope that there will be international disapproval of this: I hope that matters. The government is already quite unpopular abroad; I don’t think it wants to tarnish its reputation any more.” But what if work actually starts? Would he lie in front of diggers, or take up residence in a tree? “I don’t know. I’ve wondered about that, and whether I’d be prepared to do that. I’d reserve judgment on that.” So he might? He thinks for a moment. “If you’re trying to defend a prehistoric landscape that has Stonehenge at the heart of it, there is a kind of poetry and magic to that, which I think would serve as a lightning rod for a lot of people’s anxieties about a lot of things. Ultimately, it’s about whether the government thinks it’s going to damage its reputation. That’s really what it comes down to: is the government going to be anxious about looking like vandals?” Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with the A303 – the road due to be bypassed by the controversial Stonehenge tunnel. As my main route from London to my home in Somerset, I love heading westwards on a fine summer evening. But as soon as I reach Stonehenge, the traffic grinds to a halt. Time, perhaps, to leaf through Tom Fort’s rather optimistically titled book A303: Highway to the Sun. But maybe he will now need to rename it A303: Roadkill Hotspot. For despite the (usually) slow-moving traffic, it seems that the road is just that. With more than 420 animals killed in just over a year, this is the road to hell for deer, badgers and foxes – and even the occasional otter. But could there now be light at the end of the tunnel? By digging underground, will the highway engineers be able to put an end to this wildlife carnage? Or might it just transfer the problem a mile or two down the road, so that as cars emerge from the tunnel they mow down the wildlife there? Anyone who lives in the countryside, as I do, is used to seeing the corpses of animals flattened across the tarmac of our rural lanes. It’s a good way to judge the state of Britain’s wildlife, or perhaps its stupidity. Badgers and pheasants appear to be the main victims, while hedgehogs – now as rare as hen’s teeth in my neck of the woods – are few and far between. With this in mind, the Project Splatter website, a citizen science research project at Cardiff University, wants us to report any roadkill sightings to work out what impact roads are having on our wildlife. Judging by the carnage along the A303, the answer is “quite a lot”. The author is a naturalist, writer and broadcaster who also lectures in nature and travel writing at Bath Spa University
News Article | May 4, 2017
Funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and co-organized with the Ministry of Fisheries (MoF), the Biosecurity Agency of Fiji (BAF), the University of South Pacific (USP) and facilitated by FAO, the workshop participated by 39 representing the government, the academe (USP), producers (Pacific Ocean Culture Pte Ltd., The Crab Company of Fiji Ltd., Valili Pearls Co., Ltd., Pacific Ocean Culture Pte Ltd., Aquarium Fish (Fiji) Ltd. and Vet Essentials Fiji Ltd.) and regional and international organizations (FAO, JICA, Secretariat of the Pacific Community), prepared a draft NAAHB Strategy. A broad yet comprehensive strategy for building and enhancing capacity for the management of national aquatic biosecurity and aquatic animal health, the strategy will focus on five priority commodities, namely: prawn & shrimp, seaweeds, pearls, Nile tilapia, giant clam & sandfish. The strategy contains the national action plans at the short-, medium- and long-term using phased implementation based on national needs and priorities. The strategy framework consists of Purpose and Vision Statements and Guiding Principles. The strategy includes 10 Programme Component/Elements, each one contains a description of the scope, objectives, current status and projects/activities that will be implemented at the short-, medium- and long-term based on national needs and priorities. Responsible entities for each project/activity are also included as well as an Implementation Plan. The 10 Programme Components/Elements are: (1) Policy, Legislation and Enforcement, (2) Risk Analysis, (3) Pathogen List, (4) Border Inspection and Quarantine, (5) Surveillance, Monitoring and Reporting, (6) Emergency Preparedness and Contingency Planning, (7) Institutional Structure (Including Infrastructure), (8) Research and Development, (9) Regional and International Cooperation, and (10) Capacity Building. Development of a NAAHB Strategy involves an extensive & iterative process led by the Competent Authority and extensive consultation with key stakeholders from other government agencies, academia and the private sector. It is a proactive measure without which a country can only react in a piecemeal fashion to new developments in international trade and the global situation with regard to serious transboundary aquatic animal diseases (TAADs), and its aquaculture and fisheries sectors will remain highly vulnerable to new and emerging diseases that may severely affect capture fisheries and aquaculture production, leading to major social and economic impacts. Fiji can take an important lead role in setting an example for the Pacific region with a vision that Fiji's aquatic wildlife and aquaculture species thrive in a healthy environment, valued by its society that embraces and sustainably benefits from the diversity of its aquatic resources. Fiji's MoF has taken the initial necessary steps for developing a NAAHB Strategy for the country. The development of this strategy is a very timely initiative and is in line and in parallel to a number of legal and policy instruments (e.g. Aquaculture Bill 2016 scheduled for 3rd hearing at the Parliament; the draft National Fisheries Policy and the draft Fiji Aquaculture Strategy) – all of which will support sustainable aquaculture development. Mr Semi Koroilavesau, The Honorable Minister for Fisheries, Mr Hiroyuki Sawada, JICA Resident Representative, Dr Ciro Rico, Head of the School of Marine Studies of USP, Dr Robin Yarrow, Keynote Speaker and Chairperson of National Trust of Fiji and Dr Melba Reantaso of FAO graced the Opening session of the workshop. Further information can be obtained by writing to Melba.Reantaso@fao.org
News Article | February 7, 2017
Climate change is already wrecking some of Britain’s most significant sites, from Wordsworth’s gardens in Cumbria to the white cliffs on England’s south coast, according to a new report. Floods and erosion are damaging historic places, while warmer temperatures are seeing salmon vanishing from famous rivers and birds no longer visiting important wetlands. The report was produced by climate experts at Leeds University and the Climate Coalition, a group of 130 organisations including the RSPB, National Trust, WWF and the Women’s Institute. “Climate change often seems like a distant existential threat [but] this report shows it is already impacting upon some of our most treasured and special places around the UK,” said Prof Piers Forster of Leeds University. “It is clear our winters are generally getting warmer and wetter, storms are increasing in intensity and rainfall is becoming heavier. Climate change is not only coming home – it has arrived,” Forster said. It is also already affecting everyday places such as churches, sports grounds, farms and beaches, he said. Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, where the romantic poet William Wordsworth was born in 1770 and learned his love of nature, was seriously damaged by two recent flooding events linked to a changing climate. In November 2009, torrential rain caused £500,000 of damage, sweeping away gates and walls that had survived since the 1690s. Floods inundated the site again during Storm Desmond in December 2015. “When I saw the damage the floods had caused in 2009 I was shocked and it took almost three years to repair the garden,” said the house’s head gardener, Amanda Thackeray. “Then after all that hard work to see the devastation from flooding in 2015 was very upsetting.” A century-long record shows the UK is experiencing more intense heavy rainfall during winter. Researchers can also use climate models to reveal the influence of global warming on some extreme events and have found the UK’s record December rainfall in 2015 was made 50-75% more likely by climate change. Another study found Storm Desmond was 40% more likely to have occurred because of the human activities that release greenhouse gases, such as burning fossil fuels. Birling Gap is part of the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs on England’s south coast and over the last 50 years, about 67cm of cliff is eroded each year. But during the winter storms of 2013-2014, the equivalent of seven years of erosion occurred in just two months. “The succession of storms provided a stark warning that coastal ‘defence’ as the only response to managing coastal change looks increasingly less plausible,” said Phil Dyke, coastal adviser at the National Trust. “We must learn how to adapt.” Existing buildings at Birling Gap are being lost and new buildings will be designed to be easier to move back as the cliff disappears. Scientists know that climate change is driving up sea levels and increasing the likelihood of more intense storms, meaning the rate of erosion is likely to rise. Rising temperatures are also affecting wildlife, including in the famous salmon rivers, the Wye and Usk, where otters and kingfishers also live. December is peak spawning time for salmon in Wales, but recent winters have been exceptionally warm. “After eliminating other potential causes such as disease and lack of adults, we have come to the conclusion that the exceptionally high water temperatures of November and December 2016 are the reason for the disastrous salmon fry numbers this year,” said Simon Evans, chief executive of the Wye & Usk Foundation. 2015 was little better, with young salmon found at just 17 sites out of 142, when they usually would be expected at 108 areas. Research has shown salmon populations across the Wye catchment fell by 50% from 1985-2004, despite cuts in water pollution. But stream temperatures have risen by up to 1C in that time, leaving researchers to conclude that climate change is a key factor in plummeting salmon numbers. Slimbridge wetlands in Gloucestershire is one of the UK’s most important bird sites, hosting 200 species from all over the world, but is also seeing changes as the climate warms. Numbers of migratory white-fronted geese have fallen by 98% in the last 30 years due to warmer weather further north. Geoff Hilton, at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust said the shrinking flocks could have knock-on effects on the wetland habitat: “These are quite big changes ecologically. If you suddenly lose thousands of geese from a wetland, there are bound to be big effects on that wetland.” Warmer conditions have also meant water primrose, an alien invader to the UK, has grown aggressively in wide, dense mats and is seriously damaging native plants and fish. However, warmer winters have seen little egret numbers visiting Slimbridge increasing from just eight in the 1990s to 30 in 2013. Other sites being ruined by climate change, according to the new report, include a famous riverside pub on Manchester’s river Irwell, the Mark Addy, which has not re-opened after the 2015 winter floods and the historic clubhouse at Corbridge cricket club in Northumberland, now demolished after the same floods. The report also warns that the 5,000-year-old neolithic village at Skara Brae on Orkney, revealed after a great storm in 1850 stripped away grass and sand, could be destroyed in future as violent storms become more common.