New homes for wildlife

green roof workshop

green roof workshop

Sussex Wildlife Trust is very grateful to Lee Evans from Organic Roofs Ltd and James Farrell from Building Green for donating a number of surplus bird boxes from their recent course on fitting green roofs, where participants constructed their own green roofed bird shelter, at the Brighton Permaculture Trust.

The bird boxes will be used to help encourage wildlife in local schools as part of the Brighton & Hove Environmental Education Project (BHee).

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MPs speak out against a second Gatwick runway

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign

Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign

Five Members of Parliament were on the platform, and three more sent messages of support, at a mass protest meeting on Saturday 22 November organised by the Gatwick Area Conservation Campaign (GACC). That is all the MPs from around Gatwick, and helps to disprove the assumption in some national newspapers that Gatwick would politically be the easiest option for a new runway.

The MPs were united in expressing their concern about new flight paths and about the threat of a second runway.  Extracts from their speeches and messages are attached.

Over 1,000 people crammed into the Apple Tree Centre in Crawley, and were welcomed by three racy air hostesses, and by the Mayor of Crawley, Cllr Brenda Smith who later, speaking as the local councillor, expressed her deep-felt opposition to a new runway.

Some twenty national and local environmental groups, including the Sussex Wildlife Trust, set up stands around the hall and answered questions from anxious members of the public.

Questions from the floor were answered by a panel of experts which included Keith Taylor (Member European Parliament), Cait Hewitt (Aviation Environment Federation), Sarah Clayton (AirportWatch), Sally Pavey (CAGNE), Richard Streatfeild (High Weald Parishes Aviation Action Group), and Brendon Sewill (GACC) under the chairmanship of Cllr Helyn Clack (Surrey County Council).

The meeting unanimously held up large cards saying NO when asked if they were in favour of new flight paths, and held up the NO cards again when asked if they were in favour of a second runway.

The afternoon concluded with 1,000 people singing ‘What shall we do with Gatwick Airport’ to the tune of the Drunken Sailor.

Extracts from MPs’ speeches and messages

Cabinet member Rt Hon Francis Maude (Horsham) was abroad on Government business but sent a message: ‘As you know, I have always opposed a second runway at Gatwick.   We all know that there are big advantages for our area in having a successful airport as a centre for jobs and business, and I support Gatwick’s expansion as a single runway airport.  That remains my view.’  

Crispin Blunt MP (Reigate) told the meeting why he had organised the Gatwick Co-ordination Group of MPs – because a second runway would be a ‘disaster for surrounding communities and environment.’   Many areas are being ‘appallingly affected by PRNAV’ [the new system of concentrated flight paths].

Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex). A second runway would be a disaster for our local environment. … 120,000 extra people – where they are expected to go is beyond me…. The London to Brighton railway line is already at full capacity – impossible to upgrade sufficiently. .. We must oppose this with all the power we have.’

Henry Smith (Crawley) noted that ‘public opinion in Crawley is divided. … There would be a significant impact on housing and infrastructure – school places, GP surgery sizes, healthcare – a need for a new hospital. … Gatwick have not made the case for expansion here.’

Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) sent a message:  New flight paths have caused misery for my constituents, which is why I have called for Gatwick to abandon its implementation of the PRNAV system. I would like to congratulate GACC for organising this meeting, and your ongoing work to hold Gatwick to account over these changes and the possibility of a second runway, which could cause significant environmental damage and pressure on local infrastructure.

SirJohn Stanley (Tonbridge) sent this message:  ‘I am totally opposed to Gatwick’s new flight path proposals which will make the already intolerable noise disturbance still more intolerable.  I am also totally opposed to a second runway at Gatwick.’

Charles Hendry (Wealden) commented on ‘the extraordinarily huge meeting here today. … Gatwick has not been straight with us and are not good neighbours.  If they are not good neighbours today, then the possible doubling in size is intolerable.  A second runway does not make economic sense and it does not make environmental sense.’ 

Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) told the meeting that a second runway would mean ‘putting a city on Gatwick’….’public transport links are already overburdened’… ‘M25 is a parking lot’………’national businesses are not impressed with Gatwick’s proposal.’

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Beach treasures

strandline finds / Nikki Hill

beach treasures / Nikki Hills

Author Nikki Hills
Making Waves Project Officer

It was only three days since my last visit to Ovingdean beach but in that time the stormy sea had thrown up all kinds of new treasures along the shoreline just waiting to be discovered.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the sky was blue but the waves were dark and crashing up onto the beach. As the tide turned that morning the strandline was revealed. The strandline forms along the high tide mark at the top of the beach. Natural and man-made objects are deposited by the sea and left behind as the tide goes out. You can often see the strandline as a line of seaweed along the beach.

After a few minutes of wandering along the beach it was clear that this strandline was so much more than just seaweed. There were all sorts of beach treasures to be found. Some instantly recognisable but others presented quite a challenge in trying to work out what they were and where they might have come from. Our finds that day included the egg cases of a small spotted catshark and thornback ray, a common whelk shell and a five-bearded rockling to name but a few. These strandline discoveries can give us an insight into what’s living beneath the waves and turn a relaxing Sunday stroll along the beach into an exciting adventure of discovery.

Have a look at what’s been washing up along our coast and share your own beach finds on our new Beach Treasures Gallery.

strandline treasures / Olle Akeson

strandline treasures / Olle Akeson

 

Making Waves is our marine education and awareness project, which is spreading the word about the wonderful marine life found around our coast and the importance of protecting it. This project is run in partnership with Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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How soil can help stop flooding?

mud1Author Fran Southgate
Wetlands Officer

I’m sure that you have all noticed that the gigantic puddles and floods are back following some particularly heavy rainstorms last week. As the wetland officer for Sussex, I am always trying to remind people that the swathes of countryside that they see underwater are storing the water from these rainstorms for us, helping enormously to keep it out of our homes and businesses. But what I learnt this week about the contribution that good soil can make to reducing flooding surprised even me.

A soil with only 1% organic matter in it, can hold up to 170 000 litres of water per hectare. When you multiply that up to the area of Sussex (around 400 000 hectares), and add in the fact that many soils have up to 10% organic matter in them, suddenly the soil beneath our feet has the capacity to be the most immense sponge imaginable, mopping up the many thousands of litres of water which fall from the sky in a rainstorm. Good, healthy soils are therefore a huge tool in helping us to reduce flooding.

Unfortunately we have covered our soils with concrete, helping to create an impenetrable barrier to water which runs off our towns, causing scenes of flooding chaos such as those which were seen in Brighton and Rottingdean last month. For a concreted urban area of only 1000 ha, that’s over 170 million litres of water storage ‘foregone’ that we have created through urbanisation.

You might argue that so much of the rest of our country is covered in soil, that this shouldn’t really make a difference. However, in many places our soil management has become so poor, that large swathes are impoverished and compacted and act in a similar way to concrete – causing rain to run quickly off the surface, rapidly swelling our rivers and streams.

So as well as creating permeable urban surfaces such as porous paving, perhaps we should be trying to help reduce flooding by improving our stewardship of the countryside. Soil formation and retention is one of the key natural services that our landscape provides for us. Its value is often overlooked, and yet the benefits it provides us with are inestimable. I for one will be looking at my veggie patch in a slightly different light next week!

Click here for more on the Trust’s wetlands work

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12 reasons to love November

fly agaric / Richard Cobden

fly agaric / Richard Cobden

Ronnie Reed
People and Wildlife Officer Seven Sisters Country Park

November is: wild blustery days when the trees seem to lift their roots and sway like sail boats washed far out to sea while their leaves take to the sky in a mad Dervish dance swirling beneath heavy, grey skies laden with rain.

November is: cold, clear, crisp mornings, fields glazed with frost, hedgerows draped in rose hips hanging motionless in the breathless early morning light and glistening spiders’ webs woven through tall, stiff arms of yellow grass and laced around the prickly seeds of teasels and umbrella heads of hogweed.

November is: fireworks, noise, and clear silent skies, with tiny points of stars etched above our heads on the dark canvas of the sky.

November is: the call of tawny owls breaking through the hushed dark of the woods.

November is: squirrels scurrying across carpets of fallen leaves and moving through the branches carrying the last of their winter larder between their teeth like thieves running from a crime scene.

November is: amazing sunsets when the west catches fire and tongues of red, scarlet, pink, crimson, and orange hang in the still, clear sky above the lip of the hills and wait for the darkening clouds of night.

November is: noisy, squabbling rooks, lifting and falling on the wind above their winter roosts.

November is: deserted beaches, branches of bleached dried sea kale pods tumbling across the shingle on the back of the wind, empty slipper limpet shells, dark, weathered mermaid’s purses, white, mini surf board cuttlefish, rubbish, plastic, rope, wood, spewed up by the sea, tossed by the waves onto the beach, and left behind, forgotten along the strandline, black backed gulls, calling across the wind, lifting and falling above the crest of the waves, oyster catchers, wheeling and turning at the edge of the water.

November is: the smell of rotting, damp leaves beneath beech trees, clumps of black fingered white tipped candlesnuff fungus pushing up between the pores in decaying logs, and the deadly, garish red and white spotted fly agaric beneath the cracked silvery trunks of birch.

November is: cold damp clinging fog and I want to stay indoors days.

November is: a fox standing motionless on the edge of a misty, ploughed field, nose lifted, tiny droplets of water caught in the fur, ears pointed, listening.

November is: the haunting cry of the geese on the water meadows settling down to the dusk.

November is amazing! So forget the cold and the damp, put on the hats and scarves and waterproofs, grab the wellies and get out there. Enjoy it, kick up some leaves, take some time to look up at the stars, stride out along the top of the Downs, and find those secret places in the woods laid bare by the winter.

Enjoy November.

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Food for Thought

scarecrow / Ruth Garner

scarecrow / Ruth Garner

Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

The West Sussex Environment and Climate Change Board’s Sustainable Food Plan consultation.

The West Sussex Environment and Climate Change Board (ECCB) brings together several organisations from across the County to ensure the challenge of Climate Change is recognised and addressed in West Sussex. One issue that has a significant effect on our carbon footprint, and therefore how we effect climate change, is food. The ECCB therefore established it’s Food Group.

The Food Group is intended to enable and encourage new thinking around local food and drink; why it is important to us as individuals and to the West Sussex Economy. We are the newest sub-group of the ECCB and are currently working on a Sustainable Food Plan for West Sussex. This plan aims to reduce the food-related carbon and ecological footprint of the County by working to the following principles:

  1. Raise awareness of what local, seasonal and sustainable food means and ensure it is promoted and celebrated by residents and visitors
  2. Enhance education and skills training through high quality information
  3. Encourage the development of market places to help people get access to local food and drink
  4. Address issues of health and obesity in relation to diet
  5. Work with WSCC Waste Services to help residents, businesses and public sector to reduce, redistribute, recycle, reuse food waste

The Sustainable Food Plan will help to reduce the food-related carbon and ecological footprint of the County. Can you help us to make it better? A consultation on this plan is now open and will run until the 15th December. We will then write a report of all responses, ensuring anonymity, which will be available by 12th January 2015.

The plan can be downloaded from here and the online survey can be accessed here.

Through this survey, we would like to ask you for your thoughts on the document, whether you can help us, what projects are already being carried out and any ideas you may have on how we can raise awareness and get more people involved.

Your views are important to us. Please take a few minutes after reading the draft plan to complete this online survey.

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A27 plans damage the environment AND the economy

Photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read / Foter / CC BY-ND

Photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read / Foter / CC BY-ND

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

It makes sense doesn’t it? You’re caught in a traffic jam; clearly we need a bigger road, or a new road, or a road somewhere else. And, of course, if there was another road then all the other cars would use it, relieving congestion everywhere.

A big, new road is something simple and obvious; you can put a ribbon across it and declare it open, to a fanfare of appreciation from an appreciative economic sector who are now happy (until the next time).

The Department for Transport in developing its A27 feasibility study also seem to be swallowing all these old assumptions. But life, however, is not that simple. Simple solutions to complex problems are always wrong.

As in the past, environmental concerns are pushed to one side. One option for the Arundel bypass will cause the greatest loss of ancient woodland in Sussex for the last 20 years; the other will destroy the setting of two villages. But to some this is a price worth paying in order to relieve congestion and stimulate the economy.

So we get back to the old “your money or your life” approach of balancing the economy against the environment.

However, whilst the environmental costs are measurable, severe and obvious; the economic benefits are shrouded in mystery, assumption and pre-conception.

Economic benefit is based reduced travel times and perception surveys about how much better business would be if congestion was removed. Ask a business how much better life would be and you get an obvious answer; so arguments build up to support a road-building case. Businesses, however, need real solutions and views very quickly change when the reality of a situation becomes clear.

Road building does not deliver the relief of congestion that is generally claimed – quite the reverse.

Roads generate new traffic and that creates new, and worse, congestion. This is not the view of an “anti-road green group” but the clear conclusion of study after study. For an excellent outline of this “induced traffic” phenomenon read this article by Professor Phil Goodwin, a lead author of one of these studies.

“An average road improvement, for which traffic growth due to other factors has been forecast correctly, will see an additional 10% of base traffic in the short term and 20% in the long term”.

This is the conclusion of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment in 1994. The same study also looked at roads surrounding trunk road improvements – their use went up on average by 16%. So, the roads that are supposed to be relived by a new road receive 16% more traffic than the predicted increase.

Even in the unlikely event that the A27 flows more freely following enlargement, surrounding roads in towns, countryside and villages will receive more traffic, more congestion, more hold-ups and more pollution.

What is more, this sort of conclusion, with these sorts of figures, has been reached again and again, on average every 8 years since 1925!

About every 10 years we go through the same process. First we insist on forgetting the lessons of the past and push for new roads. Roads get built, the environment suffers more damage, traffic gets worse and congestion increases. This results in demands for yet more roads and more environmental damage until, eventually we have to realise the reality of the situation and seek more sophisticated solutions.

Interestingly, Phil Goodwin’s article was written in 2006, the last time we went through this repeating process.

The editors comment at the end was interesting –

“Don’t lose this – we might need to publish it again in 2014”!!

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Barn Owls are Back!

Author Mike Russell
Senior Conservation Advisor

barn owl chick being ringed / Barry Yates

barn owl chick being ringed / Barry Yates

Here you go some good wildlife news for a change. Barn owls have had their best breeding year since 2007, following two pretty disastrous years. According to the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), barn owls have had a very successful year with an estimated 33% of the population going on to have two broods.

Because of the warm spring and extended summer, the owls had an early start and ringing records show that in May and June 2013 only 20 and 183 chicks were ringed, whereas this year it was 428 and 1,814 respectively. Fledgling success is down to the amount of food available, as well as favourable weather conditions. This year was a bumper year for field voles, their primary food source, so the adults were having bigger broods and more chicks were reaching adulthood.

Reports were also coming in that other species where voles are an important part of their diet, such as kestrel, tawny and little owl have also had successful years, so all round pretty good news.

Earlier on I used the term ‘disastrous‘; I used it deliberately but also inadvisedly. Actually the last two years for barn owls haven’t been a disaster even though breeding success was very low and many adults did in fact die of starvation, but they are used to these cyclical changes and there are naturally good years and bad years. In some years there are crashes in the vole population and that will have an immediate impact on the productivity, and then of course there is the weather. Two years of bad breeding conditions is also not a problem as what happens is that when you get a good year such as this one, those adults that survive have less competition for breeding territories and food, they have more chicks that have a greater chance of fledging and the population recovers.

Sometimes those of us in nature conservation can rush too easily to use the term ‘disaster‘ to highlight an immediate problem with one species or another on the basis of a poor breeding season. We can go to the press and media to try and get support and profile for a particular cause or species but then if that species recovers, the elements who are sceptical, uninterested or even downright hostile to wildlife conservation will use this to argue that our evidence is unscientific and at best unreliable. I saw a good example of this in an article where the writer was saying that, a few years ago it was being predicted that small tortoiseshell butterfly numbers were declining so fast they were on the verge of extinction in the UK, but in the last couple of years their numbers have recovered drastically, then making the point how unreliable conservationists can be.

Don’t get me wrong, much of what is going on with our wildlife at the moment is disastrous, loss of habitat, pollution, pesticides and changing climate is seeing dramatic declines in many species so the term is appropriate, but using it inappropriately to describe short-term problems can undermine the bigger picture when trying to convince the deniers of what is really happening to our wildlife.

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Build a bottle bird feeder

Author Richard Cobden
Digital Media Officer

As you know, here at the Sussex Wildlife Trust we are always keen to recycle and help wildlife in our gardens, so I was excited to see this brilliantly simple idea for upcycling empty plastic bottles as bird feeders.

Make a bottle bird feeder from Money Matters blog

Make a bottle bird feeder from Money Matters blog

With all bird feeders, it is really important to clean them regularly to help prevent the spread of disease. Here are some tips to keep your feeders spick and span.

feeders_info_1100

Click here for more tips and advice on feeding birds in your garden and you can buy your bird seed from our friends at Vine House Farm.

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