Posts Tagged ‘habitats directive’

National NATURE Reserves set to become the new ‘country parks’?

November 16, 2013

Recently we have had a few more signatures on our 38 degree petition STOP & RETHINK National Nature Reserves as Open Access areas.

Why I wonder?  I’d hope that it’s consequential of common sense prevailing as well as a mixture of astonishment and disbelief or perhaps even anger and naive expectation that a Government agency would act in an open and transparent manner by demonstrating best practice as well as legislative compliance.  Sadly, neither expectation has been in evidence, in fact quite the reverse.

Have any of you out there heard about Nature Conservation Assessments?  Setting aside the lack of science or any evidence, nor involvement with a wider expertise beyond internal staff, they appear to be a new approach to assessing ‘Likely Significant Effect’ on the interest features of a Natura 2000 site.  At the risk of being accused of scepticism they seem instead to be a way to side step Habitats Directive legislative compliance (Article 6(3)).  We are told that these documents exist for all the 83 NNRs proposed for Dedication as Open Access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. 

See JNCC website on the Habitats Directive.  The guidance is extensive on plans and projects which might impact on Natura 2000 sites.  See particularly Assessment of plans and projects significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites.  Methodological guidance on the provisions of Article 6(3) and (4) of the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC.  Perhaps from an NE perspective, it is easier to re-write the rules and who could blame them?

So, what might that mean for the sensitive habitats and species out there?  What might it mean for the public who visit for the quite enjoyment of the tranquil landscape or to experience the magic of wilderness and wildlife?

Car Park 115aDSC_0003

Car park requirement, litter bins (mmh, they are either full to overflowing or not used at all in my experience), lots of colourful expensive ‘interpretation’ boards (target practice for air gun or rifle enthusiasts) and not forgetting toilets ….  I do so wish they’d sort the variation for dogs as it’s been unpleasant to witness people in wheelchairs suffering the aftermath and deposits of thoughtless pets, or rather the failure of their owners to act responsibly.

The funding for all these?  We are informed that it will come from ‘core’, so despite the fact that budgets are being cut there is the ‘suggestion’ that additional expenditure can be accommodated?  Not possible, so then what is dropped or neglected?  Given that Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI for example, have yet to achieve ‘favourable condition status’ (FCS) so if funds are diverted from nature conservation management then how will that situation be addressed?  Thereafter if they fail to achieve FCS are they de-notified and disposed of?

Alarmist, not at all …. how many of you remember the 1997 endeavour by English Nature to denotify large areas of Thorne & Hatfield Moors SSSI when the peat extractors Fison’s funded the hydrological reports upon which the EN case was based?  Interestingly there is no corporate sponsor of the ‘science’ this time, perhaps that’s why there is none?  Perhaps the local authorities who might benefit as they impose more restrictions on dogs in public places are keen to see NNRs become ‘alternative country parks’?

There is the issue of health and safety, Thorne Moors SSSI particularly have very deep and dangerous drains and canals.  Parts of Crowle Moors SSSI too are equally as inviting but just as dangerous.  Worse though are the uncontrolled dogs.  Already there have been two attacks on Hatfield Moors and one was sufficiently serious to be reported to the police.

Dog walker

Please note that the walker and the dog pictured above, are not as far as we are aware the guilty parties of the attack mentioned above.

A Senior Director has tried to suggest that there will be little difference in reality, so why on earth spend funds on the exercise?

As the sites are rewetted through the implementation of the Water Level Management Plan required to assist achieving FSC, the Special Protection Area (SPA) interest feature the enigmatic and crepuscular nightjar will be squeezed to the drier areas.

Nightjar (PP)

What of the woodlark, a Schedule 1 breeding bird?  They too have already been disturbed and displaced by NE access projects in previous seasons.  But, as ‘judge and jury’ NE refused to ‘hear’ the complaint.  These are also the areas which are favoured for picnics and needed for car parks and cafes, toilets etc.

The Forum do not oppose open access in principle, but this plan / project promoted by Natural England has been a communication failure from start to the present time.  The Senior Director was insistent that the Forum have been consulted, rather the reality was that we had been notified and in my South Yorkshire dictionary there is a substantive difference in meaning between the two words!  There has been no ‘science’ to support the proposal this time, but if you examine the proportion of access vs science based staff in NE that is perhaps not surprising and there is negligible commissioned science by the Government agency here in the Humberhead Levels.

So, thank you to those of you who have signed the 38 degree petition, if you are new to the Forum’s blog and haven’t signed the petition then please consider doing so.  Better still, write to your MP, or the Minister (Owen Paterson) or the Chairman of the Board of NE about the issue.  If you would like to know more then please contact us via execsec@thmcf.org

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HELP: Please sign our on line petition STOP & RETHINK

August 14, 2013

Readers may recall our post about blogging being good for conservation ?  Well, driven by frustration the Executive have now used another on-line campaign tool in an attempt to draw to the public’s attention some rather ‘quiet’ activity being undertaken by Natural England.

In 2011, senior directors within Natural England proposed Open Access under the Countryside Rights of Way Act across all their freehold National Nature Reserves.  Remember that these sites are ours, i.e. public.  Remember too the local campaigns ‘fought’ to secure the sites for posterity, particularly those here at Thorne and Hatfield Moors, were driven by grassroots activists, see the recent page created to provide a campaign chronology.   So, National NATURE Reserves, surely the clue is in the name?

P1020499

The sign above accurately reflects, in the opinion of the author of this post, what ought to be the ethos of NNR raison d’etre.

 

The Forum’s Executive have sought answers to many points but those below have yet to receive responses in sufficient detail.

  • Has Natural England secured sufficient funds in order to finance in perpetuity the monitoring, and management of of Natura 2000 sites to ensure that any conditions and restrictions necessary to protect the special interest as a result of Dedication for Open Access under the CROW Act can be maintained in perpetuity?
  • Can Natural England confirm that where it cannot be determined at the outset, that a Project to Dedicate Open Access on a National Nature Reserve which is a  Natura 2000 site, will not have the potential to have a likely significant effect on the special interests for which the site is designated, then a full Appropriate Assessment as required by the EU Habitats Directive/Habitats Regulations 2010 (as amended) and involving the public where appropriate will be conducted to inform the acceptability of conditions or other restrictions necessary to ensure there is no harm to the special interest of the Natura 2000 sites before any dedication takes place?
  • Can Natural England confirm that as Dedication of Open Access under the CROW Act cannot be carried out conditionally that full funding and resources are in place and legally binding to ensure that the monitoring, management and controls necessary to protect the special interest of National Nature Reserves which are Natura 2000 sites in perpetuity, must be guaranteed in perpetuity at the moment of dedication, otherwise the Dedication cannot proceed?

Then there is the matter of open and transparent public consultation, that is to say demonstrable implementation of a democratic process.  Senior Directors offered to arrange a closed meeting in June but since we proposed including the public there has been prevarication and laterly a deafening silence.

There also appears to be an avoidance to ensure compliance with the Habitats Directive.  We are not yet convinced that the Chinese Walls that NE insist will ensure there will be no Conflict of Interest between regulatory compliance and access staff interests are of the appropriate material.  The Board paper NEB PU28 03, para 3.7 suggests that whole project costs will be in the region of £40,000 but correspondence received has already indicated an annual figure of around £73,584 not inclusive of the £40,000 which is available for ‘establishment’ of Open Access is necessary.

Many NNRs are in unfavourable condition status and some in unfavourable declining, including parts of Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI, so why therefore when access already exists on these sites would anyone divert money from ensuring that we comply with achieving favourable conservation status to encouraging inappropriate access across dangerously deep peat bogs awaiting those unfamiliar with the complex nature of the sites?

Why place at risk the SPA interest of the site?  See the post “Skylarks under foot as gates opened?”  Factor in that there has already been one dog attack on a member of the public on Hatfield Moors.  This was reported to the police because previous approaches to Natural England were dismissed as being trivial.

So, please consider signing the Forum’s petition on the 38 degrees Campaigns By You website.  Please help us to spread the word, help us to ensure that Thorne and Hatfield Moors are safeguarded for future generations.

Perhaps finally (for this post), to add that we are not oppossed to appropriate access on NNRs, de facto open access already exists here at Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI.  We simply seek proper process, open and transparent consultation based on science and underpinned by the acceptance that these sites are the gems in the nations natural crown jewels.  We simply ask STOP & RETHINK.

Politics and environmental conservation

May 21, 2013

Whatever your views on the UK’s membership of the EU, it has to be said that there have been some landmark ECJ cases which are down to the Habitats Directive, the Aarhus Convention and the like.  Would those same victories have been secured in the UK courts?  It was thanks to the requirements of the Habitats Directive that the future of Thorne and Hatfield Moors SSSI, also Natura 2000 sites were secured.  That is not to say they are not still threatened but they are in theory better protected.

 

06lowres

 

There have been a number of reviews over the last couple of years which have seen erosion of protection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest.  In March 2012 the UK Government published its Report of the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives Implementation Review.

The Forum made a submission  to the subsequent consultation as did many environmental organisations.

Then in February 2013 there followed the Triennial Review of the Environment Agency and Natural England, this is seen by some as a variation on the aftermath of 1997 when the statutory protection agency was dubbed a “Muzzled Watchdog” as English Nature morphed into Natural England.  What will be the outcome of this latest review, the muzzle has been removed but are they now toothless?  See Mark Avery’s guest blog for 17 January if you think theat Defra agencies are effective.  See also A Summary of Stakeholders Views to try to work out what future for statutory environmental protection.  Another excellent erudite analysis by Carol Day is to be found in another of Mark’s guest blogs under “The UK and Environmental democracy – the Aarhus end of nowhere?” 

So, whilst there is much to concern us about EU membership, by leaving in a headlong fashion without first ensuring that the environment is not completely “culled” from the agenda, consider the salutory offerings of Friends of the Earth, who issued a recent press release, in it they suggest that ….

Abandoning UK membership of  the EU, or even a partial withdrawal, would pose a significant threat to our environment, Friends of the Earth warns today (Tuesday 14 May 2013).

A new Friends of the Earth briefing, published today, the Implications for UK Environmental Policy of a Vote to Exit the EU, written by Dr Charlotte Burns of the University of York – an expert in European Union environment policy and processes – says:

· UK membership of the EU has led to cleaner drinking water, cleaner bathing beaches and cleaner air and better protection of our wildlife;

· Frequent attempts by UK ministers to weaken progressive environmental policy at the European level suggests that there will be a weakening of the nation’s environmental policy if we are not subject to EU rules;

· A partial EU withdrawal (membership of the free-trade zone), the most popular option in recent poll of Conservative members earlier, would leave the UK covered by most EU environmental laws (which the UK would have no influence over) – but not all. For example the UK would not be covered by the Birds Directive, Bathing Waters Directive and the Habitats Directive.

Friends of  the Earth’s Policy and Campaigns Director Craig Bennett said:

“UK withdrawal from the EU – partially or completely – could have an enormous  impact on our green and pleasant land.

“Our membership has led to cleaner drinking water, beaches and air and better protection for our wildlife.

“If we want to avoid a return to our reputation as the dirty man of Europe we must stay in the EU.”

Remember the words of Edmund Burke who offered that “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little”, factor in the rise of the internet tools such as online petitions and campaign blogs and you begin to contemplate the power of the collective ….

 

 

 


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Mark Avery

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a new nature blog

I write about politics, nature + the environment. Some posts are serious, some not. These are my views, I don't do any promotional stuff and these views are not being expressed for anyone who employs me.

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