Countryman Diary - April 2012
A number of organisations have this month welcomed the announcement by the Government of twelve Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs).
The establishment of NIAs was a key commitment in 2011’s Natural Environment White Paper, The Natural Choice, and they will restore habitats and create new areas for wildlife.
There were seventy-six bids for the money and, of the twelve selected, eleven of them were Wildlife Trust areas.
Ben Stafford, head of campaigns at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), says:
“As well as making a success of these first NIAs, we should look at how we can create more in the future. Landscape-scale conservation of the natural environment will demand ambition, vision and, in the longer term, more resources from government.”
However, CPRE warned that the Government’s ambition for a new approach to protecting Nature across England could be undermined if it doesn’t get its planning reforms right.
“NIAs and other protected sites are important,” Ben continues but they are only part of the picture. The bits between these sites matter just as much. Failing to protect this ‘ordinary’ countryside will make the recovery of wildlife and the natural environment harder, not easier.”
The Wildlife Trusts also believe that, for the NIAs concept to be successful, planning authorities must be given explicit guidance on taking a more strategic and integrated approach to the natural environment.
The Country Land & Business Association (CLA) are more cautious. While welcoming the NIAs, it stresses that the they must not stifle development.
CLA North Regional Director Dorothy Fairburn says:
“It is good that the Government has committed itself to encouraging farmers and land managers to work collaboratively with local authorities and other groups. We are pleased these partnerships are being promoted to get the best for landscapes and biodiversity at a local level.
“However, it is vital these areas are not underpinned by additional local planning constraints because this was never the intended approach.”
Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, says:
“Nature reserves are fantastic places for wildlife — but without action beyond their borders they will struggle to conserve our native species. We need to expand our horizons, looking at the needs of Nature across whole landscapes.”
The twelve NIAs are: Birmingham and the Black Country Living Landscape; Dark Peak; Dearne Valley Green Heart; Greater Thames Marshes; Humberhead Levels; Marlborough Downs; Meres and Mosses of the Marches; Morecambe Bay Limestones and Wetlands; Nene Valley; Northern Devon; South Downs Way Ahead; Wild Purbeck.
Year of the bat
Forget the Year of the Dragon, 2012 is all about the humble bat according to a group of organic dairy farmers.
The Organic Milk Cooperative is launching its very own Year of the Bat this spring to highlight the plight of these endangered mammals — and it has the backing of wildlife presenter, Kate Humble.
The 400-strong group of organic farmers is planning a host of bat focused activities for 2012, including special walks, making bat boxes, hedgerow safaris and workshops.
A key element to the Year of the Bat will be the Big Bat Count, with the cooperative aiming to monitor bat life on farms across the UK. The results of this will also be fed into the Bat Conservation Trust’s (BCT) Big Bat Map.
“This is a great way for people to get to know more about these fascinating creatures,” Kate comments. “Bats are at risk due to habitat decline and the use of chemical pesticides, which damage their food supply. Often maligned or misunderstood, bats play a vital role. They are excellent biodiversity indicators and tell us about the health of this country’s ecosystems.”
There are eighteen species of bat in the UK, all of which are fully protected. Despite this, there has been a disturbing decline in the number of bats over the last century, which has been partly attributed to the destruction of hedgerows, which are excellent feeding areas for bats.
Gill Crane, head of the cooperative’s Year of the Bat activity, explains:
“Organic hedgerows are important habitats for bats. Our farmers are encouraged to leave some hedgerow plants to grow taller to create a ‘canopy effect’ that is good for foraging bats.”
For more details visit the website www.organicmilk.co.uk.
New president of CPRE
The writer Sir Andrew Motion will formally be proposed as the new president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) in June, succeeding the author Bill Bryson who finishes his five-year presidency this summer.
Sir Andrew, who was Poet Laureate from 1999 until 2009 and is Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London, spoke at a CPRE event recently of his passion for the English countryside, the inspiration he draws from its beauty and tranquility, and how the countryside is a national asset that should be accessible to everyone.
“To be proposed for this role is a mixture of joy, honour and a little trepidation,” Sir Andrew says, “particularly when following in the footsteps of the current incumbent, the magnificent Bill Bryson. But if CPRE members will have me, then I am fully prepared to stand up for the countryside alongside them.
“When Government planning reform could place two-thirds of rural England at the mercy of a presumption in favour of development, this is a critical moment for the countryside, and for anyone who wants a say over what happens to their community and their surroundings.”
More mining memories
We published an article ‘Mining Memories of Clee Hill’ in our November issue in which we omitted to acknowledge the work and research already done in this field by A E Jenkins MBE. For more than thirty years Mr Jenkins has written and lectured about industrial and social history, and has produced DVDs and organised tours in the Titterstone area. Brief extracts from his 1983 book Titterstone Clee Hills, Industrial History and Dialect were included in our feature. For more details on his work visit the website www.alfjenkins.com.
Low-calorie chicken soup
A reader passes on this tale about taking his granddad to a restaurant.
The old ex-farmer was used to gran’s wholesome cooking and, when asked what he thought of the chicken soup, commented drily:
“I reckon t’ chicken must have walked through this soup on stilts.”