Greenspace invader

himalayan balsam / Kevin Lerwill

himalayan balsam / Kevin Lerwill

Author Kevin Lerwill
Gatwick Greenspace Project Community Wildlife Officer

One of the most important jobs for us to tackle each Summer is trying to control the spread of himalayan balsam (Glandulifera impatiens) throughout the project area (and beyond) and with the help of our plucky volunteers we should have the people power to get it done. Himalayan balsam was brought back by Victorian collectors but is now a major problem along many of our watercourses for the following reasons:

  • Balsam seeds are dispersed far and wide by explosive seed pods which can spread seeds over a seven metre radius around the plant, usually propelling them into a nearby watercourse to be carried down stream.
  • After the seeds germinate in the spring, this impressive plant can reach up to eight feet in a little over 16 weeks, averaging six inches growth per week!
  • To compensate for its shallow root system, balsam grows in dense stands, spreading quickly to dominate river banks, displacing native plants.
  • This ability to smothers out all other vegetation has a knock on effect; when balsam stands die down in winter, river banks are left lacking the root networks which stabilise the soil, resulting in increased erosion, collapsing banks and creating a much greater flood risk.
  • Though its flowers do provide nectar for insects, they are distracted from pollinating our native flora when they find large stands of pink balsam flowers. Native plants also have more structural diversity, providing better habitats for wildlife.

Over the years, the spread of himalayan balsam through urban and industrial areas has been left largely unchecked and this has been further compounded by recent flooding, distributing the seeds further and into previously unaffected territory.

It’s not all bad news though; himalayan balsam only lives for a year, dying off in the autumn. The seeds remain viable in the soil for two years, so if himalayan balsam plants are prevented from setting seed for two to three consecutive years, this species can eventually be totally cleared from a site (provided it does not encroach again from neighbouring sites).

In conjunction with Gatwick Airport, our local authorities and as part of the River Mole Catchment Project (led by Surrey Wildlife Trust), we are now trying to make a concerted effort to reduce the spread of this invasive species from our area…and you can help.

The simplest and most reliable management technique is to pull up this shallow rooted plant before it flowers and we will be doing this regularly throughout the Summer and into Autumn, so if you want to join the fight, please contact us for more information…

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Watch the birdie

Young blackbirds / Jani Pritard

Young blackbirds / Jani Pritchard

Author Jani Pritchard
Student placement with the Gatwick Greenspace Project

I just completed two weeks of work experience with the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership at Tilgate Park, and it left me feeling that everyone can take part in conserving our wildlife, all it takes is for us to open up, and be aware of what’s living around us.

At home, I have a blackbird pair living in our back garden, which I have been observing over the last few years. I spend much of my free time simply watching the young blackbirds growing up, it’s much more interesting than watching TV. This year, two chicks came out of the breeding season, which was the same last year, although their nest was in the neighbour’s garden which made it more difficult to observe the early stages. As I recently developed a passion for wildlife photography, the blackbird family was the perfect chance to practice.

When they were still really young they would find a hidden place in the garden and simply sit there really quietly waiting for one of their parents to come and feed them. At these times it was relatively easy to get a good shot of them once I had located their spot, the only problem was that there were always lots of twigs in the foreground that got in the way.

After a few weeks the birds got used to my presence in the garden and realized that I wasn’t a danger to them. This meant that I could get even closer to them which was great, as it also allowed me to get great pictures. I also became very familiar with their call, as every morning I could hear their song through the open window, a very early alarm clock!

One day I was just sitting in my study with my camera on the desk, watching the blackbirds eating the raspberries from our bush through the open door. Of course I’m open to sharing, so long as I get my share, and it did make a good photo.

You don’t need to do much to enjoy nature. All you need is a bit of space, such as your own back garden. Ours is quite messy and overgrown, but full of plants and greenery, which provide all the resources the birds need for nest building and food. Having a very neat garden may be pleasing to the eye, but it will not encourage or sustain much wildlife; and even simple wildlife like blackbirds increase your garden’s biodiversity and are simply enjoyable to watch.

blackbirds / Jani Pritchard

blackbirds / Jani Pritchard

If you like nature photography, why not enter the Sussex Wildlife Trust Photography Competition?

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Secret Wildlife Festival: Glow-sticks, horntails and a sockful of gorgonzola

Dante and a privet hawk-mothAuthor Michael Blencowe
People and Wildlife Officer

Last year Tim Bullen from The Secret Campsite at Barcombe arranged a one night / one day event at the campsite focusing on all the great wildlife that can be found there. We all enjoyed it so much we thought we’d make it a bigger three day / two night event this year and created The Secret Wildlife Festival . We put together a packed programme of events over the weekend aimed at wildlife-lovers of all ages.

On the Friday morning I turned up with a car load of nets, traps, books, magnifying glasses and a sleeping bag.We pinned big sheets of paper in the  barn (now the Festival HQ) and encouraged everyone to add their sightings over the weekend. The weekend event was fully booked and, on Friday afternoon,  over 50 campers arrived and settled in.

Friday

The first evening started in the barn with a festival welcome and an illustrated talk about nocturnal wildlife and was followed by Tim leading us on an early evening tour around the wildlife habitats he has created at the Secret Campsite.

Friday evening tour of the campsite

Everyone then gathered back at the barn for a longer tour; astronomer Neil Phillipson of ViewPoint Optics took us on a tour of the universe. Neil’s knowledge and enthusiasm carried us on a journey across the galaxy and beyond. Neil answered some pretty probing questions from some of our younger space explorers. It seems there were a lot of fans of the planet Jupiter in the front of the audience and some folk who were rather obsessed about the destruction of the universe.

Neil assures us we're not going to collide with the sun over the weekend.

After the astronomy we gathered for a walk around the campsite armed with bat detectors and tuned in to the hunting claps and clicks of common pipistrelle and serotine bats.

Saturday

An early start this morning (does 06:30 still count as early?) for a group of campers who joined Derrick from ViewPoint Optics and headed out for an early morning birdwatch recording birds along the wildlife-rich disused railway line alongside the campsite.

Birds on a branch line

The scrubby habitat here is perfect for common whitethroat, yellowhammer andnightingale. Afterwards Tim filled us all with bacon butties and we headed down to see what Ryan and Rachel had been captured during the night in our small mammal survey.

Opening the mammal traps

Some of the traps had been sprung by slugs but others contained wood mice which, it would seem, are more popular than slugs.

Wood mouse released from the trap / Ryan Greaves

With the sun starting to shine it was the perfect time to start our quest for the legendarypurple emperor. This amazing butterfly lives in the woods around the campsite. His Majesty has some rather dirty habits and can famously be lured from his tree-top throne by anything disgusting and smelly. Last year I tried to tempt him down with some rotting ox liver. It didn’t work. So this year I decided to up my game with a row of my socks filled with some rather nasty, stinking stuff.  Gorgonzola was Option 1 – it stinks but isn’t that offensive – in fact I had some the night before. Option 2 was a foul-smelling Malaysian shrimp paste. I certainly wasn’t going to spreading the disgusting Option 3 onto my crackers. As this was a scientific experiment I had to add just a sock as Option 4 in case anyone suggested it was just the smell of my socks that was attracting the emperor.

A meal fit for an Emperor

With the Emperor’s breakfast sorted out we headed over to the moth trap which had been running all evening. It was full of hundreds of moths! We opened the trap and were entertained by the camouflaged buff-tip, the beautiful swallow-tailed moth and the extravagant elephant hawk-moth. There was a long list of other species too and I was pleased to see the bright green scarce silver-lines a moth I hadn’t seen in a while.

Scarce silver-lines

The moth list soon took up most of the sightings sheet.

The moth list

After the moth trap we gathered around the campsite’s pond and Ryan and Rachel taught everyone the art of pond dipping. Children (and adults) were thrilled with what we found –young newts, water fleas, freshwater shrimps, damselfly and dragonfly larvae andTHE WORLDS BIGGEST FROG.

Big (and little) dippers

After pond dipping we had a bug hunt across the campsite finding caterpillars, butterflies, grasshoppers, crickets, ladybirds, shieldbugs and beetles. Amy and Izzy became quite attached to a rove beetle they found.

Jake, Amy and Izzy and their rove beetle / Rosie Taylor

Young entomologist Archie was determined to fill up his I-Spy Creepy Crawlies book. Soon Archie was racking up the points – I still can’t believe you get a whopping 15 points for a woodlouse!

15 points for a woodlouse!Archie racks up the points in his I-Spy book

 

 

In the afternoon some people stayed and enjoyed the sun on the campsite and other joined Ryan and Rachel to do some woodworking; making wooden snails out of wood from around the campsite.

808 SnailsSawing a snail

Other people joined in on a long wildlife walk exploring the neighbouring woodland. The landowner kindly allowed us permission to visit the wood and (aside from some cool deer skulls) we also found plenty of silver-washed fritillary cruising along the sunny woodland rides. Some people also saw a white admiral (and found it highly entertaining that I didn’t see it).

Taking a break at the Hunter's Hut

OK, don't rub it in.

Later in the afternoon local herbalist Therri took some campers on a tour of the campsite and her herb garden discussing the various uses of our herbs for health and food. After the evening barbecue there was an tale of high adventure for the Saturday night illustrated talk ‘Dancing with Dodos’. Late in the evening a big crowd armed with torches and glow-sticks headed out for a late night walk along the old railway line listening for owls, bats and finding lots of glow-worms.

Sunday

The day started with the children gathering in the mammal traps they had set the night before and opening them and finding a cool devil’s coach horse (15 points). Then we headed over to open up the moth trap.

Opening up the moth trap

There were a different range of moths from the night before and, just as I said “It looks like we have a lot of rather small moths” I turned over an egg box and found our biggest – the privet hawk-moth.

 

Mia and an elephant hawk-moth

Sara and a poplar hawk-moth

There’s no two ways about it – people love hawk-moths and soon the privet and (poplar and elephant) were being passed around so everyone could get really close to nature.

Archie was thrilled too – the privet hawk-moth is worth 20 points in the I-Spy Creepy Crawlies book.

808 Privet

It was great to see so many children really getting into the wildlife at the campsite. All over the weekend the sightings sheets in the barn were filled in and I was really impressed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the children. I thought to myself it would be great to be a young kid again seeing all this wonderful wildlife for the first time. A few minutes later my wish came true!

While clearing away the moth trap some children rushed over to tell me that there was something BIG flying around inside the barn. We ran over and I was amazed to see a wood wasp (or horntail) buzzing around inside. I had always wanted to see one of these amazing insects since I was a little boy – and it was worth the wait! It was huge. Despite seeing photos of it in my insect books I didn’t expect it to be so big. It looks pretty vicious too but it is harmless (that’s not a sting it’s an egg-laying ovipositor). Still, I wan’t taking any chances. We all got out of the barn and secured the doors.  Then I bravely grabbed a net and entered – telling the children to send for back-up if I didn’t return in 5 minutes. As everyone crowded around the windows and watched I managed to catch the wood wasp and put it in a big pot.

Wood wasp

After the excitement of the wood wasp we headed off into the woods looking for the purple emperor. We saw some purple hairstreaks but the emperor was nowhere to be seen. Someone suggested the smell of my socks may have scared him away. After lunch we had another wildlife walk and added more species including some fresh brimstonessix-spot burnets and a peregrine to our lists.

The Butterfly ListThe Bird List

 

The Other Stuff List

And then it was time to pack up the tents and head back. It was a fantastic weekend. Thanks to Tim, Lisa, Amelia, Maddy, Therri, Nick, Clare, Ryan, Rachel, Bob, Derrick and Neil for all their help in arranging the weekend and making it so enjoyable for everyone who came along. And a big thank you to all the campers who came along and made it so enjoyable for us.

 

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Roads to nowhere

A27 Proposed roads will damage the environment

Proposed roads will damage the environment

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

They say that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it – and so it goes with road building.

Blowing a thick layer of dust off plans that have already failed several times, an A27 Action group has now formed to promote major road expansion across Sussex. This seems supported by a so-called evidence gathering exercise is now being rushed through by Department for Transport. This will effectively tell us where the traffic jams are (I thought we already knew that!); this skewed exercise – only investigating traffic and only asking about road constraints – is designed to come up with the answer of more roads.

We’ve been here before – many times.

That proposed roads will damage the environment is unarguable. Likely outcomes include devastation of ancient woodland, construction of dual carriageways through the National Park and the ignoring of climate change implications. At a time when we should be enhancing our natural environment, rebuilding our natural prosperity and achieving major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, these proposals simply take us in the wrong direction.

Other lessons forgotten from history include the point that roads like this do not even achieve the narrow objectives set by their proposers. The “predict and provide” approach of yesteryear has re-emerged on the naïve basis that if you predict where the traffic jams are going to be, expand the roads at those points then all the problems will magically disappear.

The opposite tends to be the case. New roads generate new traffic. Even in the unlikely event that the current traffic hot-spots might be eased, the effect of this will be to draw more traffic into the area generally. More traffic through the lanes and villages of the National Park, more traffic and congestion in the cities, towns and villages along the A27 corridor. Another turn of the treadmill with the following demands for yet more road building.

The reason for this is obvious. If any one of us thinks that traffic jams are a little less likely then we will simply use our cars a little more often. This phenomenon of generated traffic is well-known, although seems to be forgotten in current plans.

The pity here is that there are some in the economic sector that seem unable to think at a strategic level. We live in a small, heavily populated county. Transport will always be constrained. Building an economy on the principle of moving more goods and people over longer distances will always be a vulnerable economy. Instead we should be looking to the already good work being done to massively improve energy and resource efficiency, far greater use of IT and digital technology and far better integration of transport with planning.

Approaches like this, and many others, should aim to deliver environmental prosperity and economic growth in ways that reduce the need to travel. Setting us off in the wrong direction yet again is just a distraction from the sort of progress we should be looking for.

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Top 10 Garden Moths

garden tiger / Alan Price

garden tiger / Alan Price

Author Penny Green
Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre Manager

I’m a bit of a night owl, so when it’s getting dark you’ll find me outside listening for nightingales, looking for glow-worms or my favourite… moth-trapping. The garden is a wonderful place at twilight, when all the daytime activity quietens down animals that have been keeping a low-profile during the day come out; this is their time to be on centre stage.

After the sun sets the moths get ready for work – they warm up by vibrating their wings, getting ready to fly. I walk around with a torch and a net and see what I can catch at this time, when the moths are just appearing from their daytime hangout. And as the evening goes on I put a bright light trap in my garden to see what moths I can catch in it. People are disbelieving when I show them the variety of moths that can be found in our gardens at night time.

Here are my top 10 garden moths

1. Huge and colourful, the exotic-looking garden tiger garden tiger / Alan Price
2. Disco-coloured pink and green elephant hawkmoth elephant hawkmoth / Paul Stevens
3. Well-camouflaged buff-tip who blends in during the day by looking like a bit of snapped birch twig
4. Resembling a crinkled dead leaf to merge in with its surroundings angle shades
5. Furry-headed white ermine who looks very regal with his ermine cloak on
6. Subtle green light emerald
7. The red and black butterfly-like cinnabar
8. Who could forget the peppered moth, the one I remember first learning about in biology at school.
9. The brimstone butterfly has a night-time counterpart: the brimstone moth, a pretty lemony-yellow to brighten up our nights
10. One of my favourite garden moths is the drinker, who looks a bit like a cross between a shrew and a leaf

Our gardens are full of wildlife at night, you just have to look! Find out more during The Wildlife Trusts’ Our Garden Wildlife Weekend (11 to 13th July). This years theme is ‘The night garden‘.

How to attract moths

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Swan rescue

Author Amanda Solomon
Communications Manager

Roger rescuing the trapped swan / James Power

Roger rescuing the trapped swan / James Power

I’ve watched plenty of wildlife rescue programmes on TV but nothing compares to seeing a real life rescue.

Roger Musselle from Roger’s Wildlife Rescue answered an emergency call to attend the Sussex Wildlife Trust Woods Mill nature reserve this afternoon after a female mute swan became trapped in a drainage ditch.

It was an enclosed space and the swan had been trapped for about two hours so wasn’t very happy. Roger climbed quietly down into the water filled ditch talking softly to the swan all the time. Armed with only a pillow case he managed to take hold of the swan and wrap it up with the minimum of fuss leaving its entire neck and head free.

He then scooped the ‘wrapped’ bird into his arms and climbed out of the ditch and then carried it around the nature reserve until he found the perfect place to release it back onto the pond.

Throughout this entire process the swan remained calm and although there were a few hisses along the way back to the pond, once released she swam away unhurt with just a few ruffled feathers and quite happily began to feed – ordeal over – status quo resumed.

Nothing would have induced me to climb into a water filled ditch with a swan. I have the greatest admiration and respect for Roger who arrived, did the job and then went on his way not even stopping for a cup of tea.

Sussex Wildlife Trust regularly pass on Roger’s details to people who phone us when they find injured wildlife as we don’t offer a rescue service ourselves. I feel privileged to have seen Roger at work.

About Roger’s Wildlife Rescue

Roger’s Wildlife Rescue gives information and help over the phone and internet for free, and runs purely on donations and club members only – caring for over 1,500 wild creatures each year.
Check out Roger’s Wildlife Rescue website.

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Trainee Ecologist finds first for Sussex

Author Graeme Lyons
Senior Ecologist

alder leaf beetle / Graeme Lyons

alder leaf beetle / Graeme Lyons

Which actually means a first for TWO counties, even more significant than a county first really. This rather stunning creature is the alder leaf beetle Agelastica alni which we recorded at Burton Pond on Tuesday. In fact, this summer’s Voluntary Trainee Ecologist, Adrian Holloway spotted it sitting on a young alder tree and he should be very pleased, as it’s almost certainly the first record in the south east of England for many years! Despite looking at plenty of suitable habitat, we only found one specimen. What a great find.

The species has recently had a bit of a come back in the north of England and has the status RDBK, which means we don’t really know what is going on with this species! Has it clung on in the south east undetected, is it an immigrant or maybe even an introduction, we just can’t say other than it’s clearly not common down here.

The invertebrate survey we are conducting at the Trust’s land holdings at Burton Pond this year is proving to be quite interesting, with nearly 400 species recorded so far from four visits and with many flies and aculeates still to be added to this total. We have had one beetle new to Sussex and one spider new to West Sussex so far. Whatever will this incredibly varied site turn up next?!

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Legless

Author Ronnie Reed
Schools Officer

grass snake in pond / Alan Grey

grass snake in pond / Alan Grey

I hate to admit it but I have a strong aversion to things that slither and slide. Ever since I was child I have had a morbid fear of snakes which probably stems from an early encounter with a basking grass snake on the Downs. This dread of things legless means over the years I have shut my eyes in cinemas, walked out on nature documentaries on television and turned over countless pages in books because even images of snakes do something to the hair on the back of my neck! My irrational behaviour has improved over time. I can now admire the pattern on an adder as it lies camouflaged in a pool of sunlight beneath the fronds of a clump of bracken. I have been talked into stroking a python, and I bought myself to sit still and watch a colleague pick up a slow worm and allow it to tighten its grip around her fingers; the stuff horror movies are made of for me!

But given this, the last two weeks have been rather traumatic with three separate encounters of the slithering kind. The first was at our dipping pond in Friston Forest with a group of eight year olds. The first thing a small group of boys had asked when they arrived for a visit to the park was whether we would see any snakes. I gave my stock answer that it was unlikely with thirty noisy children in tow but as we started to pond dip we disturbed a grass snake sheltering beneath the dipping platform and watched as it swam across the pond and escaped into the undergrowth at the far end of the pond. It glided through the water, pale belly up, at a remarkable speed as it made its getaway. I could not see the markings on its back but it was too big to be an adder; they can grow up to five feet long, and grass snakes like ponds and water, feeding on frogs and toads, the occasional small fish as well as small mammals. This one obviously knew about our resident frog population. Cold bloodied, they need to bask in the sun to get enough energy to survive and last year we saw one curled up in the middle of the lily pads that catch the sunlight filtering down through the beech trees around the pond.

Grass snakes hibernate from October to March, emerging to mate and lay between ten and forty eggs in dead, rotting plant material. Compost heaps are ideal quarters for this. The eggs are incubated for ten to twelve weeks and then the young are on their own. One such youngest made its way into the Pump Barn we use for school visits. It was the end of the day and I was just about to tidy up the chairs when I spotted it moving sideways across the stone flags. Definitely a grass snake with its tell-tale yellow collar, almost black in colour and only five or six inches long.

Volunteers are amazing people and one of them removed it carefully for me with a dustpan and brush.

My finally encounter was not with a snake but a legless lizard, a slow worm, outside my garage and endanger of being run over. They favour heathland, tussocky grass and woodland edges and rides, anywhere they can find the invertebrates they eat and a warm patch in which to sunbath. They also turn up in gardens, especially those like mine with a compost heap. Smooth, grey skin, this was a female with dark sides and a dark stripe down her back.

Husbands are amazing people too and mine carefully removed it from the edge of the road to the safety of a nearby field.

grass snake in the barn at Seven Sisters Country Park / Alan Grey

grass snake in the barn at Seven Sisters Country Park / Alan Grey

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Your chance to influence what happens in Sussex

planning_map

Make your voice heard

Author Jess Price
Conservation Officer

The planning system in England exists to ensure that development is in the public interest with positive outcomes for people, the environment and the economy. It follows a plan-led system which involves preparing plans that set out what can be built and where. With development pressure increasing in Sussex, it is vital that local people and organisations like the Sussex Wildlife Trust engage in this strategic level of planning to ensure our natural capital is valued and protected.

Many of the local authorities in Sussex are currently producing local plans which lay out where development will go and what it will look like for the next 20 years or more. The policies these plans contain are what all planning applications will be decided against. The Sussex Wildlife Trust passionately feels that the environment should not be seen as a barrier to development, but a priority for protection in local plans. After all if we don’t protect and enhance our natural capital, Sussex may not be a very nice place to live in 20 years time for people or wildlife.

Some plans, like the Horsham District Planning Framework, are already at the proposed submission stage. This means the final draft of the plan is ready to be given to a planning inspector who will decide whether plan has been prepared in accordance with the duty to cooperate, legal requirements and the test of soundness. For a plan to be ‘sound’ it needs to be:

  • Positively prepared i.e. based on a strategy which meets development and infrastructure requirements
  • Justified i.e. the most appropriate strategy based on evidence
  • Effective i.e. deliverable over its period and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities
  • Consistent with national policy i.e. accord with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)

The Sussex Wildlife Trust is a nature conservation charity and as such we focus on whether plans aim to protect and enhance biodiversity sufficiently. Some of the things we look for in a plan when deciding whether we think it is sound or not include:

  • The evidence base – what information have the local planning authority used to inform their strategy? Paragraph 158 of the NPPF says that ‘Each local planning authority should ensure that the Local Plan is based on adequate, up-to-date and relevant evidence…’ Have they used the most up-to-date species and habitat data from the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre? Have they produced an Environmental Impact Assessment and a Green Infrastructure Strategy?
  • Biodiversity gains – does the plan look to achieve net gains in biodiversity through policies and strategic allocations as per paragraph 109 of the NPPF?
  • Ecological networks – does the plan look to contribute to the delivery of a ecological coherent network or do policies and allocations compromise that network? Paragraph 117 of the NPPF
  • Natural capital – does the plan recognise the true value of ecosystem services as require by paragraph 109 of the NPPF?

Anybody can take part in the local plan process by submitting comments and if you want to influence what happens to your county in the future it is important to get involved. Remember not to focus entirely on the place you live, the plans for neighbouring local authorities may well impact on your local area.

The deadline for comments on the proposed submission Horsham District Planning Framework is this Friday 27th June. Do not let an opportunity to affect what happens in Horsham District and the surrounding area pass you by. Make your voice heard by submitting comments on whether or not you think the plan is sound.

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Lies, damn lies and (housing) statistics

Author Tony Whitbread
Chief Executive

I had the privilege of attending a packed meeting last Friday, organised by LAMBS, in opposition to the new town that a developer is proposing in the countryside outside Henfield.  Around 500 people crammed into a large hall in Burgess Hill to express their concerns.

The panel of speakers included Arundel and Downs MP, Nick Herbert; Mid Sussex MP, Nicholas Soames; Mid Sussex District Councillor, Norman Webster; Hosham District Councillor, Brian O’Connell; Founder of LAMBS, Anthony Watts WilliamsDr Roger Smith, Sussex CPRE, Kenneth MacIntosh from Hands Off Henfield and I was there too.

It was an excellent meeting, giving a very clear message to these predatory developers and I recommend that you read Jane Simmons piece about the meeting on the LAMBS website.

There was, however, one thing we did not have time to delve into.  We did not really question the propaganda that is constantly promoted by developers.

We all know the story.  We need houses, the environment is a block on development, and all these protesters are just being NIMBYs by preventing people getting homes!  The constant line we are fed is that there is a lack of capacity – not enough homes, we must build more and governments are judged on how many houses they build.

But simple answers to complex problems are always wrong.

Let’s have a look at a few statistics.

If this lack of capacity was true then we would expect to be seeing increasing numbers of people being crammed into ever smaller houses.  The truth, however, is the opposite.

About 10 years ago there was an average of 2.4 people per house.  Today there is an average of 2.3.  The drive for more house building is largely a result of fewer people living in each house.  Broadly, what seems to be happening is we are spreading the same number of people into a larger number of houses.

To take this to a ridiculous extreme you can project this continuous decline of the number of people per house into the future.  If you do this you get to a point in 230 years time where there is nobody living in any houses no matter how many you build!

A mindset based on predict and provide has obvious shortcomings.

We seem to accept, unquestioningly, that we need more houses so that young families, in particular, will have somewhere to live in the future.  Yet building more houses alone does not solve the problem.  We just end up with fewer people per house and those young families can still not find a home.

There are far more complex issues at work here requiring social, economic and political answers – why are people needing homes not able to get them whilst others are able to spread into more houses?  Gritty problems way outside the remit of a Wildlife Trust, but problems our politicians should be addressing.  We are being deflected in a “homes versus the environment” argument as an alternative to finding more complex solutions.  This deflection benefits no one except the development industry.

We have become obsessed with housing numbers because of the “frame” of the argument, set by developers to their own advantage.  If we spend all our time arguing about who can build most houses and where we are going to put them, then developers do very nicely out of it!

In practice, as ever, the environment is used as a scape-goat.  Instead of addressing socio-economic problems driving a lack of homes we vaguely hope that destroying a bit more environment in order to build a new town will somehow be the solution.  It won’t be but in the mean time the developer will have moved on to his next lucrative project.

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