Saturday, 25 June 2011
Gail Mayhew, consultant to Broadland Land Group and BLG's most loquacious public promoter, has invited herself to a Thorpe tree wardens' walk around Belmore Plantation next Tuesday. The tree wardens' walks are open to anyone interested in trees and woodland, and a high turnout is expected at this one.
It may seem odd that the promoter of a scheme that would involve reducing the 144 acre Racecourse wood to a fringe of trees around a housing estate, would wish to voluntarily appear at a walk through the neighbouring wood. But Gail Mayhew is extremely persuasive and expert at avoiding the fundamental issues by deflecting attention onto minute, theoretical details.
At last year's charette, Gail held forth with an unstoppable stream of near-evangelical praise for her own ideas. She spoke tirelessly about footpaths and cycleways, allotments, self-sufficiency, walkable communities, garden birds and an endless array of other nice, green-seeming topics. A lot of her ideas would be quite nice, if it weren't for the fact that they all hinge upon eradicating a huge area of superb woodland. But Gail's enthusiasm isn't hindered by such details. Questions about the appalling effects of her scheme on the woodland and its ecology were batted away with evasive responses: wouldn't we like to see people growing their own vegetables? don't we think that housing where people can walk and cycle to work would be a good thing? aren't we as concerned as her about global warming and the need to reduce carbon emissions?
A few well-meaning souls left their Gail encounters feeling a tad guilty about standing in the way of such worthy concepts, and forgot about the heart of the matter, ie: that Gail was not describing a development on some brownfield site, but on a 200 acre County Wildlife Site woodland. The ecological diversity and richness of the woods is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to their scheme, and Gail & co have been careful to avoid straying far into that territory. What little they have publicly uttered on the subject has been frankly ridiculous.
They have claimed that only parts of the woods are of CWS quality and that they could build around these small areas without harming them. They are especially keen to play down the ecological value in Racecourse, both because this is where the bulk of the housing would go, and also because this wood has by far the richest ecosystem. Racecourse contains an amazing range of habitats and numerous scarce and rare plant species, including several that are found at only a handful of other sites, and one that occurs nowhere else in Norfolk. To suggest - as they have - that such a unique ecosystem could be not only conserved but enhanced by turning most of it into a housing estate is quite incredible. Either they are well aware of the absurdity of such a notion, or they are genuinely so ignorant about ecology that they honestly believe what they say. Either way, they cannot be trusted on this subject.
The situation in Belmore is slightly different. Only around half of Belmore would disappear under their original 631 houses scheme, with the area closest to the local population supposedly retained with public access. This was the bait: the hope must have been that enough people would care only about the bit of woodland they walked their dogs in, and be sufficiently afraid of losing even that, that they'd gain local support for the scheme. Unfortunately for BLG, the local people have proved far less selfish and gullible than that. We would remind anyone inclined towards this way of thinking that BLG has already increased the proposed housing number to 800, and that during last summer's charette, it was revealed that up to 1200 'units' had been considered an ideal number. Not only that, but keeping 25 acres or so of woodland at the expense of the rest would be a very foolish trade-off.
The tree wardens' walk through Belmore might seem to Gail like an ideal public relations opportunity. We hope she won't try to exploit it in this way; if she does though, many people are ready to provide the counter-argument if necessary.
If you want to come along, the walk is on Tuesday 28th June, starting at 7pm at the South Hill Road entrance to the wood. All welcome!
Thursday, 16 June 2011
We don't know which ecological consultancy BLG has employed, but we sincerely hope that they do a thorough job and produce an honest report. There are some ecological consultants who will twist results to suit their clients. We will be in a good position to judge whenever we get to see their report, because several experienced local ecologists have been carrying out their own surveys on behalf of Friends of Thorpe Woodlands. The feedback so far is very encouraging. All of the rare and scarce plant species recorded in Norfolk Wildlife Trust's 1997 survey are confirmed as still present, mostly in greater numbers and/or more locations than previously. Additionally, at least 30 'new' species have been recorded, including several more rarities. We will be updating the species list soon (see right-hand column of blog for this), when more survey work has been completed.
While we mustn't pre-judge the quality of BLG's survey, it is fair to say that their reptile refuges (felt mats placed on the ground to attract lizards, slow worms, adders and grass snakes) have not, in many cases, been sensibly located. Many of the 35 or so refuges in Racecourse wood have been placed very close to paths (see photo) and have - predictably - been frequently disturbed by curious walkers. On a number of visits in April & May, several walkers told me what they'd seen under them! Such levels of disturbance render the refuges unlikely to provide meaningful results, and under-recording of all four species of reptiles known to occur in the wood is probable.
For other fauna species, the surveyors have used some quite fancy pices of kit. They fitted an Anabat recorder to one tree (pictured). These digitally record the various sound frequencies emitted by bats flying within detectable range, and the recordings are analysed to determine which bat species are present, and give an indication of numbers. The location they chose was good, but unless we've failed to spot other Anabats, only one in a 144 acre wood like Racecourse will give a snapshot picture at best, and its results won't necessarily enable an accurate assessment of bat species and populations throughout the site.
They also placed a moth/insect trap in another tree (pictured), presumably to gain samples of the range of flying invertebrates present near that location. Again, there only seemed to be one of these in Racecourse, and similar limitations to those applicable to the Anabat must apply. Both of these pieces of equipment had been removed by early June, but the reptile refuges remain in place.
At last November's public examination into the GNDP's Joint Core Strategy, BLG claimed that only parts of the woods are worthy of County Wildlife Site (CWS) status, and that their development of 800 houses plus shops, roads and a supermarket would fit nicely into the woods without harming any important bits. They went so far as to claim that their development would actually enhance the woods' wildlife value!
The woods' CWS status has been something of a thorn in BLG's side for years, as it makes the concept of building on them seem even more unthinkable than it would anyway. Not only that, but all Norfolk councils have policies against developments that would harm or destroy CWSs.
If the report commissioned by BLG concludes - as it should - that the woods in general and Racecourse in particular are extremely valuable ecological treasures that would suffer devastating damage if any development were permitted, it must be within the bounds of possibility that BLG concede defeat and abandon their scheme. However, going by their record to date, this seems highly unlikely. We will have our own survey results soon, and shortly afterwards we will get them written up into a proper report. It will be interesting to discover the extent of contrast between 'ours' and 'theirs'. Watch this space for more news.
Monday, 6 June 2011
The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) is the first analysis of the UK natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and the nation’s continuing prosperity. It is based on the processes that link human societies and their well-being with the environment and emphasises the role of ecosystems in providing services that bring improvements in well-being to people.
It is envisaged that the Ministers who commissioned the NEA will use it to re-shape planning policy.
"The natural world is vital to our existence, providing us with essentials such as food, water and clean air - but also cultural and health benefits not always fully appreciated because we get them for free," said Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.
"The UK NEA is a vital step forward in our ability to understand the true value of nature and how to sustain the benefits it gives us."
Woodlands, such as Thorpe woods, were identified as a key resource for the wellbeing of the country and its people.
Two-thirds of the UK’s current woodland area of around 3million hectares is productive plantation, mostly less than 100 years old and much of it comprising non-native species. These facts emphasises the importance of Thorpe woods which are largely native, semi natural woodlands that are well over 100 years old.
The benefits of local woodlands
Woodland such as ours were identified as having many benefits, they support biodiversity, carbon regulation, help prevent flooding and contribute to our mental and physical health. In fact the report calculates that the health benefits of merely living close to a green space are worth up to £300 per person per year.
The social benefits of woodlands and other green spaces are often underestimated. Most of us appreciate the wildlife value of our woods but the report identifies their importance as green spaces, particularly when they exist as green spaces in urban areas.
'The growth of the UK population, combined with a trend for smaller households, has driven up housing demand everywhere. This has led both to an expansion of urban settlement into the countryside and also to an increase in housing density in inner cities. In metropolitan areas, per capita
green space provision has therefore declined, particularly in the most deprived areas, adversely affecting health by reducing childhood development, mental and physical well-being, for example through less exercise, less community cohesion, and a diminished sense of security, and by causing the loss of a sense of place. In particular, the sale of playing fields and loss of associated wildlife has reduced opportunities for young people to participate in sporting activities and to study nature. This has affected their education, ecological knowledge and understanding of the natural environment and its importance to them, and risks long-term detriment'.
Recent Forestry Commission surveys found that a majority of people agreed that ‘trees are good because they remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood’, ‘that woodlands are places to reduce stress and anxiety’, and ‘that they felt healthier when spending time outdoors in the woodlands’
This once again underlines how lucky Thorpe and Norwich are to have this wonderful green space that stretches for 200 acres and which enhances all of our lives, it also underlines what a terrible loss it would be if we were to lose such an irreplaceable treasure.
A rare a vital treasure
Only 9% of England is wooded, despite cover increasing by 45% since 1945.Woodlands possibly deliver the greatest number of ecosystem services including carbon storage, recreation, timber and a contribution to water regulation.
This report tells many of us what we knew already, that the people of Thorpe and Norwich are very lucky to have such a beautiful, rich and life enhancing woodland to enjoy, and that if we were to lose it our live’s would be much poorer.
Thorpe Woods are still under threat, the Broadland Land Group are continuing with their plans to cut this woodland down and cover it with concrete and tarmac, their sole concern is money and how much they can make, it would appear they know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
You can save these woods, not only for yourself but for your children, and their children. Over the next few months the Friends of Thorpe Woodlands will be working with our local councillors to ensure the woods are preserved and protected within the joint Core Strategy. Once again we will be asking you to play an important part in in protecting these precious woods.
The UK National Ecosystem Assessment