Category Archives: Environment

Art from the Balcombe Frontline

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– By RC.

RC joined hundreds in protesting on No Dash For Gas’s day of action in Balcombe: a day of peaceful protest and civil disobedience which was met with unproportionate and indiscriminately heavy handed police tactics. After witnessing the violent arrest of her friend by an officer who’d removed his identification number, she was pulled from the crowd and arrested too. Balcombe’s battle saw 39 arrested just on this day, and over 100 arrested in total. Fortunately RC’s charges have since been dropped.


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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Small Copper butterfly and Cladonia lichen.


View across Romney Marsh from the RSPB reserve.


By Laura Clayson


“Ecocide”: “heedless or deliberate destruction of the natural environment, as by pollutants or an act of war.” ‘Unconventional Fossil Fuels’ certainly fit this framework well. As Dan Sweeney explains them, these are “primary resources which are not being intensively exploited at present.”

The tar sands of Canada are a primary example of this “act of war” on nature. Greenpeace summarises them as huge deposits of bitumen, a tar-like substance that’s turned into oil through complex and energy-intensive processes that cause widespread environmental damage. Dubbed the “Saudi Arabia” of the West, the aim of them is evident: extract as much oil as possible, whatever the price. And the prices are catastrophic. Indigenous communities have had their whole way of life completely eradicated, not only from the removal of land upon which they live but also the health issues that have manifested themselves in the “unusually high levels of rare cancers and autoimmune diseases” in the area. However, the increase of such diseases doesn’t appear to bother Enbridge Inc. the company which wishes to expand the trade through building a tar sands pipeline spanning 1,170 kilometres from Hardisty, Alberta to Kitimat, in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia. Understandably there is much protest against this ‘unconventional’ source already, so why is it such a concern?

Environmental anxieties are top of the agenda here. Enbridge Inc.’s own pipelines have spilled an average of more than once a week, and yet the pipeline they propose would cross over 1,000 rivers and streams and the Rocky Mountains on the way to B.C.’s pristine coastline. It would bring more than 200 crude oil tankers through some of the world’s most treacherous waters each year. Such potential for a spill is even more concerning when you consider that tar sands bitumen is more ecologically destructive than any other oil as it is harder to clean up when there is a spill, rendering it  expensive both economically and environmentally. Indeed, it was this same company who were responsible for the massive tar sands spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2008, “when authorities openly worried that the Michigan mess would ooze tar sands oil into the Great Lakes.” Whilst they determine that clean-up is possible, as is evaporation of the oil, it must be highlighted that currently oil spill cleaning technology isn’t particularly efficient- for example, only 15% of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico was cleaned up! It might not be in the media anymore, but that certainly doesn’t mean it  isn’t still completely destroying eco-systems. Additionally, the by-product of tar sands is petro coke. This is used as substitute for coal and has four times the carbon effluence, offering strong support for concerns of Terry Macalister in the Guardian who postulates that “the tar sands business… risks tipping the world into an irreversible process of global warming.”

However, Marin Katusa, an accomplished investment analyst, pioneering the pipeline has suggested, these tar sands are much more ethical than what he terms the “bloody oil” currently being sourced from places such as Niger under Russian investment. Supposedly the human rights abuses in countries such as this provide a strong reason why sourcing from Canada is much more in line with humanitarian concerns. However, Katusa is more than slightly misguided here, as Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace, has refuted. Based upon “absolute academic evidence” and the association of the tar sands industry with “increasing cancer” in the area it is certainly disconcerting how an ethical argument could be seen to hold any sustenance in the argument over whether or not the expansion of the industry is a good thing.

The tar sands pipeline proposal threatens to allow a 30 per cent expansion in tar sands development. But don’t panic! For those of you who were worried, there is of course an economic argument. According to Katusa though, the lovely American government will be getting a discount for the Canadian oil, so this is very significant and will also mean billions of dollars for Canadians as it is energy self-sufficient, right? Not so sure about that one either. As Rex highlights what is really needed to help the Canadian government actually make money off of this is to clean it up and cap it. As it will be shipped to China and the US for refinery this would be boosting their economies a lot more than Canada’s. It needs localising! Whilst it would certainly stimulate jobs at first; in the pipeline’s maintenance, regulation and inspection one spill would wipe out all this gain.

Thus, it seems evident, from the threat to marine life to the fact that bitumen is “is the dirtiest oil in the world,” that tar sands as a potential replacement for crude oil is not viable: they produce more carbon, more carcinogenic toxins and have no net benefit to Canadians.

Some of you may be wondering what relevance this has to you, in Europe. A lot! In this globalised world based on imports and exports, it affects the UK very much. This year, the EU member states will be voting upon the ‘EU Fuel Quality Directive.’ Within this it states that: “a requirement on fuel suppliers [is] to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of energy supplied for road transport.” Should tar sands oil be adopted this would certainly put our country in direct violation of this article and so hopefully, as organisations such as ‘People and Planet’ hope, they will vote ‘Yes’ for this and ‘No’ to letting tar sands into European fuel tanks.

But how far can we trust the UK’s “most green government yet”? Not much if we refer to  Osborne’s recent ‘Dash for Gas’ which saw him reveal plans to build up to 40 new power plants and give a clear nod towards potential shale gas, through the controversial means of Fracking. All this stands in stark contrast to the government’s supposed commitment to meet carbon emissions reduction targets, as well as to the advice of the ‘Committee on Climate Change’ which it set up. Despite their main argument of economic security being inherently flawed (importing oil from a country deemed more politically stable than the Middle East) the environmental implications of this new investment surely outweighs the capital saved.

Edward Begley Jr. encapsulates the current situation very well: “I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man, we call it ‘vandalism’, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it ‘progress.’” Indeed, as the search for resources to further fuel our over-consumptive culture starts to lead us down such ‘unconventional’ routes in order to sustain our ‘right’ to capitalise on all the wealth the planet has to offer, we need to stop and look at where this is taking us. Once nature has ‘progressed’ as far as we can possibly force it to, where will we go next?

To see what is at risk please watch: