Monthly Archives: May 2013

Lydd Airport: why nature is NOT another ‘commodity’ to be consumed

by John Jae Attiwell

Finding time to blog is sometimes a bit of a challenge.  This is why I am blogging about an announcement made now several weeks ago. On the 10th of April the news broke that permission had been granted for Lydd airport to be expanded, a measure which may conclude the story of Dungeness’ National Nature Reserve’s “Death from a thousand cuts”, to quote the expression once used by the botanist Brian Ferry, who has worked extensively on the site.

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Dungeness Old Lighthouse from the RH&DR narrow-gauge railway.

Dungeness, announced as “the other Land’s End” by a sign welcoming visitors to the expansive National Nature Reserve and ramshackle fishing community, is a totally unique habitat, with no parallel existing anywhere in the world. It consists of miles of shingle, bound by a community of lichen and bryophytes, grazed by a few hardy rabbits and hares.  It shows a complete succession from a maritime flora of rare Sea Kale, a curious, salt-tolerant member of the cabbage family, up to scrub, established on soils left behind by lichen and bryophyte pioneers, an example of life finding a way on a stony desert of rounded pebbles deposited by the sea. Wild flowers grow among the simpler plants and lichens, and in high summer these are visited by a range of butterflies, small tortoiseshell, small heath, small copper.  A single road winds across the foreshore, past the two lighthouses, historic and modern, past the Pilot Inn, serving local fish and chips, past the old coastguard cottages housing the Dungeness Bird Observatory, my home for five weeks in the Autumn of 2010, toward the dual towering, steam emitting monstrosities of Dungeness A and B nuclear power stations. A small footpath cuts north in a straight line across the shingle, past a memorial to a couple of brave Polish lads who died in their Spitfires defending the English coast, a threadbare Polish flag flying over the wild, flat shingle country. A series of lakes,  traces of the gravel extraction workings which dot Romney Marsh, are attended by herons, and in Autumn, swallows and martins gather over them in their thousands, surround an old cart track, where the lichen flora is barer (and where one can experience jelly legs after hours spent walking over the unstable shingle), which leads up to the famous RSPB reserve, home to the most obliging birds of prey in the country, a population of Marsh Harriers, a bird described by the lands’ custodians as rarer than a Golden Eagle. Yellow wagtails and meadow pipits breed here, and the reserve hosts black redstarts, specialists in these extreme habitats, and a rare colony of Tree Sparrows.  The gravel workings present an opportunity for migratory birds passing through the area from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, and even Iceland and Greenland, through the migration bottleneck the peninsula presents, on their way to the Mediterranean and beyond. From the lighthouse the ridges and troughs, landforms typical of an apposition beach, can still be seen, creating interest for Geomorphologists as well as Ecologists.

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Rare Lapland Bunting at Dungeness.

Lydd airport as it is now is fairly inoffensive. Light aircraft fly out of it, pleasure flights take in the beauty of the channel coast and the Kent countryside. But the news of impending airport improvements threaten all of this, and, wooed by the promise of a meagre 200 new jobs (according to the Guardian’s transport columnist) local opinion is split, although a poll suggested 2/3 people would still rather not see their treasured National Nature Reserve disappear, and are opposed to the airport expansion.  More concerningly, the scheme has been approved by government who claim, despite all the scientific evidence to the contrary,  that the airport scheme will not damage local wildlife.  This is a clear falsehood, as the RSPB, and Professor Ferry, of whose teaching I had the honour when I was an undergraduate at the University of London, would testify. The Sulphur dioxide pollution associated with jet propulsion causes increased nitrogen deposition to the soil, to which lichens, complex symbioses of algae and fungi, specialists in nutrient-poor environments in which the two organisms depend on each other to survive, are particularly vulnerable.  The increased nutrient levels will destroy the unique plant communities and the succession.  The RSPB manages its reserve for birds, and flight safety legislation may prevent them from managing in such a way as to encourage them. The Wildlife and Countryside act protecting wild birds from hunting does not apply where there are flight safety issues, and any birds perceived as presenting a danger to flights will probably be shot.  Lydd Airport expansion, for Dungeness and its wildlife, means death.  The RSPB has been campaigning hard against airport expansion, with petition after petition, and even calling in the initial approval of the scheme to judicial review.  Their case was that the nature conservation value of the area was overlooked by the planners, which is clearly true. Nevertheless the judiciary sided with the business cartel.  The airport is owned by the charming Sheikh Fahad el Athel, who was once in court over millions of pounds of commissions involved in weapons deals between BAe and his native Saudi Arabia, who complains the runway.

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Cricket among the shingle at Dungeness.

The government seems intent to force upon us some new airport building in the near future, despite widespread campaigns to the contrary. They support their war on Ecology through the use of academic stooges such as the Ecosystems Markets Task Force, a group, tellingly composed of economists, who claim it is possible to offset damage caused by commercial building projects simply by directing conservation effort, funded by developers, to other sites, equivalent to licensing an individual to destroy the Mona Lisa and replace it with a picture of a smiley face. Dungeness is irreplaceable, as the barren shingle “habitat creation” projects at Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Rye Harbour reserve demonstrates.  Such habitats, and the landforms which accompany them, cannot be created artificially. This deserves another blog, but ridiculous exercises in market-based approaches will sound the death knell of the British conservation movement if they are permitted to get any further. Nevertheless they will try and fall back on such guidance notes.  Meanwhile Hundreds of loyal, Tory-voting West Londoners have succeeded in convincing the government not to expand Heathrow, with the help of well meaning green campaigners. Few of us see the need for increased airport capacity, and much as I love aeroplanes, and the opportunities for travel they provide, I acknowledge we need to reduce, not increase our capacity if we are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and minimise the coming climate disaster. Campaigners, including those at the climate camp in 2005 I had the honour of attending, have done well, but using Heathrow as a focal point for protest is problematic, as it risks diverting development to places they can do much more damage, places like the Thames Estuary, and Cliffe.  Places like Lydd.  The truth seems to be, although many West Londoners appear curiously reluctant to adjust to the jet noise which has been going on above their heads, usually since before they were born, Heathrow may just be the least worst place for this environmental tragedy to play out. Not Dungeness.  We would all rather it didn’t happen anywhere, but so called green campaigners who talk of airports “in unpopulated areas” are really doing biodiversity no favours at all.

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View across Dungeness to the Nuclear Power Station.

Now it seems the campaign against the airport, and to save Dungeness, could have found a pair of very unlikely friends. When it is next in court, as the RSPB will, with widespread support, ensure it will be, the main focus may be in the area of Nuclear safety.  Large aeroplanes and nuclear power stations present a fairly obvious safety risk and security challenge, and, especially in these days of paranoia, the risk of aeroplane-reactor collision, and all the associated fallout, are a real concern.  A blight on the beautiful landscape may yet, ironically, save it.  If not, one can hope that the legal fees will eventually build up sufficiently that the business interests whose endless greed would see this green, windswept paradise of bird life and lichen erased forever, will be put off by the mounting cost. The possibility remains that the cost of building the airport at Lydd will eventually prove prohibitive. We must not be complacent, campaigns continue to prevent it. It is not over, and it may yet go to court in Europe, where, as a designated SPA site, UK equivalent of the Natura 2000 network, the planning authorities will have to demonstrate that the airport is in the vital national interest.

What is in the vital national interest is preserving this unique, and incredibly fragile and vulnerable wildlife habitat.

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Small Copper butterfly and Cladonia lichen.

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View across Romney Marsh from the RSPB reserve.

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Stuck between myths and liberties

acab all day all week

I read this on the blog of a veteran Calais No Borders activist and I immediately thought it was so good that I must steal it. He kindly allowed a re-post here. WT

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Stuck between myths and liberties

Marcel Dubois

An article of Voix Du Nord1 mentions the setting up of new detection equipment on the Calais harbor:

For Sir Charles Montgomery, head of the Border Force, this new scanner marks “the UK’s commitment to provide the most high-tech technology: it allows you to search for illegal immigrants whilst maintaining the fluidity of circulation.” In total, five scanners will be set up, at the french border, by the British for a total cost of 3 million euros: after that of the harbor, four others will be set up in the North department, one at the entrance of the Channel Tunnel.”

You read that right. The British state, whose economy is in recession and whose people is under hardship even more than ours, takes 3 million euros out of the taxpayers pockets, and out of the real economy, to stop people from accessing the island where their family resides, the island where they think they will find a job and a house, the island where they think they have a chance to get a decent life. One wonders by what right the British government forbids them the possibility to reunite with their family, or to try to get a better life for themselves.

It is too early still to know what the consequences of this scanner will be. A lot of measures are bypassed by crossing elsewhere, or by taking even greater risks. Doubtless more people will die. (But who cares, those people are not electoral majorities with the ability to defend their rights in our dear “democracies.”)

If nevertheless we imagine the British state manages to block the border more efficiently, we see the immediate consequence will be that more people find themselves blocked in France and along the coast. These people will take a longer time to cross, or will not cross. Once their dream is destroyed, part of them will take their hopes elsewhere.

Thus, the border closure game consists simply in placing human beings elsewhere than they initially wanted. Economically, and in a large perspective, it’s an enormous waste of time and money; it costs a lot of money to the population and to the migrants, and the basic result is the same, new people entering the labour market, maybe French rather than British, when it is already bleeding from capitalism, the one as much as the other, if not more.

If we move to what would happen under a regime of free movement, we immediately see a great number of costs would be taken out of the equation: people do not spend years on the streets or in the asylum system’s administrative limbo, a time during which they are sustained by the state and the associations; they do not lose their economies to smugglers and corrupt police; they can make themselves useful, learn the language, do trainings; police forces dedicated to the dirty work are reduced or reassigned; security measures are lessened, equipment resold or recycled; there are no more deaths at the border; there is less tension, less hatred, less injuries; etc. As always liberty is the best “system,” precisely because it isn’t a system; it fits perfectly with the rights and interests of all.

The simplicity of freedom of movement is such that even Madame Bouchart, right-wing mayor of Calais, and anti-migrants par excellence, cannot help mentioning open borders in a (sham) “migrants council” (without migrants) — even though as a “solution” to the “problem” of the presence of migrants in Calais, and not as an ethical demand. True justice makes things right, but on a wider perspective only. One does not do justice for personal convenience or to be rid of people of colour. One does justice by moral obligation.

Speaking of the injustice of national border controls, you cannot stress enough how much of a sham nationalism is, a new mandatory religion that dictates your identity, your values and your loyalties, that arbitrarily takes control of a territory and pretends to govern the population in the name of a mythical people. A people that in reality never agreed to do anything whatsoever, and does not agree to do anything to this very day. In fact, the reality of this divided “people” is admitted, and a trick is found with the rule of the majority, for lying politicians scamming their electorate, on top of oppressing the opposition and the minorities. The best thing is, this “republic” has today more powers than the monarchy that preceded it, on the sole pretext of “representation.” Politicians lie every day, they represent and can represent no one but themselves. Democracy is a sham.

This nation therefore is an idea that does not exist and yet serves as a pretext to the very real and destructive power of the capitalist state. And the national borders — also delineated in the minds of nationalists — have no justification either. One day, nationalists fought among themselves to know up to what imaginary line they could project their forces and submit the populations. When the battles and massacres ended, they sat at a negotiating table and drew lines. They didn’t know no nation existed, and that this dominating power was inherently illegitimate. They said deserters and pacifists were traitors, but actually, they were the people who saw things correctly, and they are the people we celebrate today, not the barking, raging patriots.

This is where we are today with this border. Stuck between myths that won’t die and liberties that won’t bend.

1: http://www.lavoixdunord.fr/region/au-port-de-calais-un-nouveau-scanner-pour-detecter-les-ia0b0n1203003

Repost from: https://anoborderer.wordpress.com