Today’s the day Chancellor George Osborne revealed the latest government spending cuts.
As usual, we were softened up by horror stories, and as it turned out, they were not far wrong. Others will have their say on whether, say, the loss of a further 144,000 public sector jobs is a good way to stimulate economic growth at this juncture. The news that made me sit up concerned English Heritage, the government body which manages the historic built environment of England.
The BBC reports today that “English Heritage has been given £80m in the government’s Spending Review”. Maria Miller, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said: “The new £80 million investment for English Heritage is fantastic news and recognises the vital importance of the historic environment to our national life.” Who can argue with that? Well, watch me try. This windfall is in fact a part of a process to transfer English Heritage to the charitable sector, and I have some big problems with that.
There’s a bit more detail available, although it’s all pretty new stuff. English Heritage is to become a charity by 2015. The new charity will manage the National Heritage Collection, which includes Osborne House, Stonehenge, and many other monuments and artefacts: as English Heritage does now. Statutory English Heritage responsibilities such as listing buildings will remain government funded – it’s hard to see how they couldn’t be. The new English Heritage charity will have, in the words of the official EH statement: “more freedom to generate greater commercial and philanthropic income”. And the ultimate purpose of all this? The government currently contributes £22m annually towards this work. Government funding for the new “National Heritage Protection Service” will be be reduced after 2015, eventually to nothing.
Drains, water, sewage works, landfill sites… usually best left to somebody else to sort out. Well, maybe once this was true. In south-east England nothing could be further from the truth today. It’s not always perceived as an obvious connection with countryside management but maybe it should be. The Ranger has always had a bit of an interest in sewage works, (see some photos of one of his recent visits to such an establishment) and is presently involved in advising his employer on drainage issues at a proposed large residential development site. So he read with enthusiasm the Environment Agency‘s 2007 report “Hidden infrastructure: the pressures on environmental infrastructure” because, let’s face it, you didn’t, did you? It’s a short report which is obviously designed to get some pretty stark messages home. It looks at how the environment is coming under pressure in densely populated areas, such as SE England, and argues that adequate environmental infrastructure is essential if development is to go ahead within the environment’s capacity to absorb the additional impacts. As well as looking at possible ways to reduce or mitigate these impacts, the report is bold enough to indicate the scale of the problem in simple terms:
Above is a figure from the report – it shows the calculated average environmental infrastructure cost, per house, in south-east England. The total is over £20,000 per house built.
Something’s gone badly wrong at the Greenest Government Ever. To say I’ve been profoundly disappointed at the environmental performance of the Coalition – in comparison to its glowing promises – is only the start of it. But at least, up until now, it has only been the traditional environmentalist’s bogeyman the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has been the boo-hiss villain happy to deride current protection of wildlife and landscapes as a “ridiculous cost” on business.
Now the foes of our native biodiversity are expanding their reach. They are optimistic enough to be openly at work through DEFRA – traditionally the department that is responsible for nature reserves, protected landscapes, biodiversity, and protected species as well as farming, food and fishing. A modest DEFRA proposal for a research project on birds of prey has caused an extraordinary backlash of criticism from a wide range of respected voices throughout the conservation field. Having read it, I can understand why. The project is not large, but the implications are. And as far as I can see there are two possible explanations, neither of which give me any comfort. Either those who proposed this idea have an alarmingly poor understanding of the role and relative importance of native species versus introduced ones; or they don’t, but are confident enough to believe that any resistance to the proposal can be safely disregarded. Continue reading
RSPB Saving Special Places campaign It’s not just me who gets to be reanimated by clever video-makers. Here’s Chancellor George Osborne, re-imagined by the RSPB (via Mark Avery)
Guest blog by Mark Avery I have a feeling that nature conservationists are too nice. Well, I’m trying hard not to be too nice. Some say I’m succeeding.
Wildlife is under great and increasing pressure in the fields and woods around us, and in the rainforests and oceans on this planet. We aren’t doing a great job in conserving nature. Should we beat ourselves up, all of us, in a mass bout of self-flagellation, for we are surely all to blame? We are all to blame just as we are all to blame for everything that happens on the planet. But some are more to blame than others. Continue reading
Maerl. What’s that then? Chances are, you don’t know what maerl is, or why anyone else might care. Unless you live in Falmouth – in which case you have probably found out quite a lot about maerl recently. It’s a rare marine habitat which, like many other such habitats, is protected in the UK by European designations. And it was the Falmouth maerl which Chancellor George Osborne was referring to when he said last year “We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.”
The maerl beds in Falmouth are internationally important for biodiversity and locally valued for their benefits to the fishing industry, but their fate is particularly interesting nationally because European protected habitats like these are very much in George Osborne’s crosshairs at the moment. Is he right to decide that economic benefits trump environmental sustainability? Is the economic imperative strong enough to make such fundamental changes, or is Osborne simply indulging in quixotic anti-European political posturing? Continue reading
The Red Tape Challenge! Wow, this has got to be good! The government is asking us all to get together and sweep away all the burdensome red tape that â€œhurts business, doing real damage to our economyâ€. What a great idea. Isn’t it? Well, isn’t it? Actually, no, it isn’t. And I’m going to tell you why not.
Firstly, the good news – it’s actually not a bad idea to have a review of legislation. Like any legal system, we have a load of repetitive, poorly-drafted, ambiguous laws and regulations. That’s just the way laws work. And reviewing and changing them is not sexy, quick or exciting so it tends not to ever get done. Governments find it easier just to make nice new shiny laws and hope that everyone just forgets the old ones – and often we do. Continue reading
A friend lent The Ranger a book for his entertainment; “The Retreat of Reason: Political Correctness and the Corruption of Public Debate in Modern Britain”. This provocatively-titled pamphlet was written in 2006 by Anthony Browne; a former journalist and now Policy Director for the Mayor of London. The pamphlet has had considerable influence and has been praised by many commentators. The journalist Melanie Phillips called it “a tremendously important pamphlet about political correctness… which explains just why Britain has apparently lost its senses“. AC Grayling, in the New Statesman, praised Browne’s “eloquent voice“.
Much has been written about this publication, especially about the views on immigration and race contained within it: either critical of the author’s attitude (Julian Petley, Fifth-Estate-Online; Dave Hill, The Guardian), or supportive (AC Grayling, New Statesman; Stormfront). It’s probably worth pointing out that although the British National Party do sell the book online, as is often mentioned, they seem to be rather critical of it, ironically complaining that “Browne goes all PC again by taking another swipe at the BNP“. I found the substance of ‘The Retreat of Reason’ disappointing: poorly argued, more of an exhortation to the uncritical than any attempt to form a rational position to persuade others. I didn’t think it a racist book, nor is the author a racist. But what was startling and unexpected to this Ranger was the remarkable section that Browne, a former environment editor of the Times, wrote about environmentalism, and on biodiversity in particular. Do biodiversity, pollution, protected species and habitats have a bearing on political correctness? Surprisingly, Browne thinks they do, and makes some striking assertions whilst explaining how. Continue reading
The Ranger’s been gritting his teeth for a while now, hearing all sorts of bad noises emerging from London with respect to Olympic funding. Now, don’t misunderstand, the Olympics are very fine, and good for London. That’s not the issue. The Ranger is concerned with the money going to support the games, where it’s coming from – and what it will achieve.
That’s because he keeps hearing that the lottery will have to be paying out for some of it, and as he noted in a previous post:
…what will suffer as a result? Everyday lottery bids such as the ones we Rangers spend lots of time and effort producing, managing and supporting, and which pay the wages of quite a few of us. And it’s not just rangers. Small community groups and charities, culture, heritage, education, children’s facilities, health, regeneration projects… all those things which up to now the lottery has benefited, all will suffer: and the benefit will be concentrated on one main theme – sport – and one main region – London.
Worrying stuff. But just to make things a little grimmer, the Greater London Authority has produced a report from Prof Gavin Poynter and Dr Iain MacRury of the University of East London. The Telegraph describes some of its findings:
The 2012 Olympics will struggle to bring a boom in jobs, sport and housing, according to a new study. The event could result in “white elephant” venues, job losses and a “couch potato” generation hooked on television sports coverage. The report also claims it will be difficult to regenerate parts of east London, where the venues will be built. Researchers analysed the impact of events on Athens, Sydney, Atlanta and Barcelona. They found venues “struggled to make their mark” in improving employment and sports participation… Improvement in sports participation was “mixed, at best”, with Sydney experiencing small increases in seven Olympic sports, but a decline in nine.
So, not only might we pay more than we thought for the games, but they might not even deliver the things we hoped they would. That’s not really very good.
It’s been a couple of months now since Natural England announced the proposals to create a new right of access to the coast of England, similar to that which already exists in Scotland.
Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband has waded in and made it very clear indeed what he wants to happen. Continue reading