Sunday, 9 March 2014

Mankind and Nature - Can Old Friends Form a New Bond for a Bright Future?

The present and the future: but just how bright can we make that future?

A few things, it seems, are meant to be. I set out to take a look around Clayhanger Marsh SSSI and Ryders Mere, with thoughts of mankind's tendency for destruction etched on my mind.

The reports are out on the trial Badger culls and they don't look too clever.

Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve (LNR) suffered destruction for a cycle track (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust are contesting this decision, which could potentially affect ALL LNRs. To all those who CAN see the importance of over 1500 LNRs across the country, please support the trust and get involved here).

Looking forward, the High Speed Rail 2 project (HS2), which would create a trail of destruction right across the country is sat on a rather bleak horizon for nature in the UK (Please help The Woodland Trust secure protection for ancient woodland and an open discussion on HS2 ).

All of this was replaced by light, as I fell under the spell of passionate local wildlife blogger, Chaz Mason. For the next four hours, I was treated to a tour of a very special West Midlands site, by someone who was completely at one with the wildlife and landscape there. This intoxicating blend of knowledge and range of species, habitats and scenery also got the heart of  nine year old wildlife enthusiast Aryan, racing.

The purpose of my visit to Clayhanger was three fold. Firstly I wanted to visit a site that was representative of the vast majority of the UK, having no wardens or onsite conservation team, and falling under ownership, where wildlife preservation was not the primary interest.

Secondly, I wanted to measure the scale of the challenges facing special wildlife sites (in this case an SSSI and a SINC), and those whose duty it is to protect them (in this case Natural England and Walsall Council).

Thirdly I wanted to get a feeling for how a local nature network could act as a catalyst to help improve the biodiversity across a patch, where there was what I would call a "guardian" in place (in this case, the passionate character that is Chaz Mason).

At this point, I was considering providing loads of information here to demonstrate just how important Clayhanger Marsh and the immediate surrounds are to wildlife. However there is little point in reinventing the wheel. If you spend a short while looking through Chaz's blog you will soon appreciate the rich variety of flora and fauna that exists there.

To get a feel for the site, I have, instead provided a quick pictorial tour:

Scrubland: Don't show this area to Derby City Council
- they will offer it as compensation for destroying Skylark habitat!!!

To the right, Clayhanger Marsh SSSI and to the left, land
without a wildlife designation -neither area is owned by
 council or wildlife organisation.
The view across Clayhanger Marsh SSSI - an acidic "island"
creating a unique habitat, requiring protection.
Man and Nature - Geology produces unique soils, and man creates
 the mounds from mining activity. Careful management and grazing regimes
 are required to keep nature smiling here.

A Yellowhammer - just one of a whole list of species
that are in heavy decline, locally and nationally
Ryders Mere - without designation and without protection.
This wetland forms an important connection with other local sites such as Chasewater.
 Species such as Wigeon can gather in important numbers, showing the importance
of the ecological network and connectivity between sites.
Coppice Wood SINC - an excellent example of conservation in progress.
Please note the young lad who is captivated by Clayhanger's local guardian
 and the beauty of nature!

A fantastic demonstration of the importance of management.
The woodland edge has been cleared and the canopy opened,
but deeper into the wood, you can see what it would have
 looked like, without intervention.

Adjacent farmland. The presence of stubble, set aside and caring hedgerow
management were witnessed along the walk - all signs of a desire to farm with nature.

Connectivity - It's not just waterfowl that rely on a network of similar habitat.
It is important that populations of plant species don't become isolated.
 It was therefore great to take a quick look at Jockey Fields SSSI on the tour.
More evidence of a caring farmer - permissible footpaths, allowed us
 to encounter a Yellowhammer getting his song right for the breeding season,
and to drop onto a couple of Lesser Redpoll in a mature hedgerow,
after lifting off a stubble field with a flock of Goldfinch.
Heaven for small mammals to the right and a sewage works to the left -  known to provide
 shelter and feeding opportunities for a range of wildlife
So, let's see what we have here! a range of habitats, a massive variety of species, a passionate blogger, a caring farmer, Walsall Council, Natural England, public rights of way across land that is privately owned and leased out to other interested parties. So how is nature faring?

Well unfortunately, the wildlife records for this beautiful and varied site, reflects the national trend, as summarised in that amazing document that drove me to create the Moving Mountains Nature Network - "STATE OF NATURE" (A groundbreaking report created by our amazing wildlife organisations in partnership. Please at least read the forward by David Attenborough - guaranteed to make you hear the alarm bells).

So what is the problem? Well you will see from the "State of Nature" Report that the contributing factors are wide, complex and also, to some degree, uncertain.

Council's? Well we spent three months engaging directly with councils. Their parks and biodiversity officers are passionate about wildlife, so please don't think there is a "could not care less" attitude here! Also, by way of example, just take a look at the number of SINCs and SLINCS that Walsall Council are responsible for, and then add to this the parks and reserves that also fall under their wing. This is a massive undertaking, and the resources available to them depend on decisions made much higher up the ladder.

Natural England? Well again their officers are passionate, and were extremely helpful to us last year as we set out on this journey. Again this organisation functions in accordance with decisions made by those MP's that are voted in. Natural England is THE GOVERNMENT'S ADVISOR, not decision maker!

Farmers, land owners and tenants? Unfortunately people in business get out of bed primarily to make money. The only way that financial decisions can be swayed by nature, is if it's TRUE VALUE is presented in a compelling manner. It is simple really; without fully functional ecosystems, our water, food, health and stable weather systems are under threat. David Cameron himself recently admitted that climate-change is one of the most serious threats that we face! How many people have heard of and understand the value of Natural Capital? Such an important term should be part of every day conversation!!

Let us take a quick look at where we started. The Badger Cull was started DESPITE the evidence presented by scientists. David Attenborough, above all people was also ignored in October 2013.

Sanctuary LNR fell by the voting of local Councillors, despite the significant opposition from wildlife NGO's and the general public. The offer of non suitable scrubland that already exists and deserves protection in it's own right as compensation for lost Skylark habitat, just shows how little nature is valued by those in power. Our world is being destroyed by the decision-makers.

HS2? Well, withholding information, and failing to invite scientists and wildlife organisations to the table. Are you seeing a pattern yet?

I hate this term but it's the best way to sum up the situation; SUPPLY AND DEMAND. Our Moving Mountains Action UK initiative is highlighting the fact that at present less than 0.02% of the population in the UK that are eligible to vote actually use their "voice" on wildlife issues. How can we expect the greenest government ever, if this is the scale of the green vote?

HS2? Well the wildlife organisations, as mentioned earlier are trying their best to get the decision makers around the table with them to discuss a project that already has failed to convince on providing any real net benefit. This is the case before the damage to nature is truly factored into that evaluation.

The May elections represents an opportunity for change. If two million members of wildlife organisations, plus all those others that do see the importance of protecting the planet, vote for their greenest local candidate, then change will start taking place.

In Chaz Mason and the thousands of other volunteers that are working for nature across the UK there is massive potential to halt the decline in flora and fauna. However they need support from others around them.

Now let's get back on the ground at Clayhanger Marsh and Ryders Mere. In over four hours, we met only two couples, who showed an interest in wildlife. As is often the case elsewhere, they were both dogwalkers! Chaz is too modest for his own good, but I bet most of the interest shown by local residents at this site has been encouraged by his work and engagement with people.

So whilst the green vote rises, what can nature networks do to raise awareness "on the ground"?

Well let us see! We are arranging a walk that will aim to achieve the following:

1. Raise awareness of the STATE OF NATURE in general.
2. Raise awareness of the beauty and importance of Clayhanger Marsh, Ryders Mere and their surrounds to the community, not only as a site of importance to wildlife, but also as part of the network that provides us with our essentials for life itself.
3. Raise awareness of the incredible contribution that wildlife volunteering makes to society and security for generations to come. By attaching to Walsall Council and the local wildlife groups, this will increase the human resources available for essential conservation work.
4. Raise a community fund: 25% of which will assist a very friendly farmer who has certainly, based on my "cold-call" visit earned respect, and built a desire to help them with their ambition to farm with nature.25% will go to conservation works across the site, so that Walsall Council, Natural England and local wildlife groups can have a go at protecting that massive species list that Chaz has displayed on his blog. 50% will be used for school and community projects, which will serve to help sew a seed for the future.
5. Provide a platform for the creation of a local nature network that brings green technology, businesses (via a "buy healthy - buy local" campaign), community and nature together for a sustainable future.

Young Aryan certainly enjoyed his visit, and for that I extend warm thanks to Chaz Mason. Any local groups that see this article and want to start the ball rolling on engagement with the Clayhanger community would do well to go and have a word with Chaz. For four hours solid I watched him captivate a young heart and fill it with knowledge, excitement and adventure. Simply incredible.

Oh and one last thing that I feel was meant. When I got Aryan back into Birmingham, we went to the NEW LIBRARY OF BIRMINGHAM. This is an incredible example of what mankind can create FOR mankind. On entering the building, you immediately feel at one with it and inspired to learn.

Here was a fine example of what can be achieved. A massive pool of knowledge exists within the magnificent building. Please please please, Councillor's, MPs and other decision makers - listen to the academia. Whether its Badgers, Ecosystems or Natural Capital, draw on their wisdom and protect the world for Aryan's generation. Voters?... well I think you know what you need to do, come May.

The library reminded me of the incredible perfection seen in nature:

Termite mounds- complete with farms, nurseries, and air conditioning systems

Just imagine what we could do for this world if man and nature could join forces in perfect harmony?

( For details on how to achieve this harmony, please study permaculture, and visit Project Maya's brand new site!!)

Sunday, 2 March 2014

UPDATE: Destruction of The Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve Changes Timetable for Local Networks

On 13th August 2013 the Moving Mountains Nature Network was "born".

We spent the first two months contacting councils in order to present our aims and take note of the constructive comment that flowed from passionate biodiversity officers across the country.

Our initial plan was to work outwards and create an increasing number of local nature networks across the country that would eventually meet to form a national network. We could then influence UK policy in order to help meet 2020 biodiversity objectives.

Each local network would serve as a catalyst, helping wildlife organisations and local groups to "turn on" local communities to nature so that parks and reserves would enjoy greater participation through volunteering and recording. By Christmas last year, we were preparing to start on the ground, with some pretty unique ideas.

Whilst constructing the networks, we were also helping to support wildlife campaigns via Twitter and it was this experience that has led to a complete change in our work plan.

It soon became apparent that only a very small percentage of the UK voting population (less than 0.02%) were actually using their power to protect nature. A very sobering thought then began to sink in. What if, whilst we are on the ground with local networks, something happens via local or central government policy that damages this work?

In November 2013, we had aired our concern over "Biodiversity offsetting", as it appeared to grant a license to trash our green spaces. After helping the RSPB campaign regarding CAP reform, we went on to support a petition to make the destruction of ecosystems across Europe illegal ("End Ecocide"). Less than 20,000 in the UK supported this campaign. The final blow came, when, despite all efforts by a tireless group of warriors in Derby, The Sanctuary LNR fell to a planning application that succeeded despite the reserve's Natural England designation, promises made when the status was first given, and the rich variety of wildlife species present at the site.

As if it were a sign, I then received an image of a new housing estate on the outskirts of Dundee, and was asked whether, what was left of the City's green belt could be saved. It was sickening to feel that whilst nature had no strong voice, there could be no guarantees at all.

So, after a period of deliberation a decision was made. Work on local networks would be suspended until June. We are concentrating all of our efforts on creating change ahead of the local elections in May. With Badger culling, HS2, and a judicial review in respect of The Sanctuary LNR ahead whilst green belt remains under constant threat, we want to throw all energy at our "Action UK" campaign

Badgers have suffered, Skylarks have been evicted (and offered scrubland!!) and a massive scar is planned along the centre of England. Green belt remains under constant threat. Nature seems to have NO protection! 

In one month, however, over 2000 passionate wildlife lovers have assembled on twitter, forming a team that wants to create change. Moving Mountains Nature Network now has almost 12000 followers across twitter. If the "Action UK" following increases to 10,000 by May then our team can reach well over 5 million accounts with their messages. The Green Party have been extremely supportive too. We are also forming partnerships within the business community.

A charity walk will now take place at the start of May in the West Midlands, ahead of the elections. The publicity that this event attracts will be used as a platform to inform voters about the state of nature, and why it is important to protect it. Our "Action UK" team will have formed a single loud voice for nature that WILL be heard (A MASSIVE thank you to all those that are helping to raise awareness of this. To get involved follow @MMNNActionUK on Twitter and use these instructions to enhance your power to protect!).

The charity walk will focus on one wildlife site, which will be used to illustrate the challenges that wildlife faces, and the benefits that we can enjoy by respecting and looking after nature.

As soon as the elections are over, we will turn immediately to the completion of our local networks. These networks will be far more secure, if they are supported by our "battle-ready" amazing "Action UK" team.

Our local networks will reward wildlife-friendly businesses, promote healthy local produce, and will encourage uptake of green technology to produce beautiful sustainable communities. Our networks will "Lock on" to local councils, the Wildlife Trusts and other nature organisations, and serve as a catalyst to increase the level of wildlife recording and volunteering on parks and reserves.

The "green-print" for our Moving Mountains Local Nature Networks, will be unveiled after we have shared minds with a group of individuals and organisations, that we feel hold the keys to a bright future for nature and UK society.

In the meantime, please join our "Action UK" team on Twitter. We will be creating a Facebook page and a weekly newsletter via e-mail to widen this campaign.

Oh and as always....get browsing down the right-hand side of this blog to find the UK's amazing wildlife organisations. You can find out how to join them, make a donation or volunteer for them, which will all help to get Mother Nature smiling again!!

Thank you.