Could you be a parish Wildlife Warden?

The ACT Ecology Group is looking for parish-based, volunteer Wildlife Wardens, writes Audrey Compton. They are needed to help support, protect and increase our district’s wildlife and improve its chances of surviving the ecological and climate emergencies we face. Wildlife Wardens need to love wildlife but don’t need specialist knowledge, we will provide training.

Having Wildlife Wardens will help our communities become more involved in the natural world, enhancing their physical health and giving them more joy and happiness.

Our aim is for all 54 Teignbridge parishes and Newton Abbot wards to have one or two Wildlife Wardens by the end of 2021. As our training capacity increases, we will recruit up to 5 wardens for each Parish.

Who can be a Wildlife Warden and what will they do?

Anyone who is interested in or knowledgeable about wildlife/ecology can become a Warden. You will:

  • Commit to giving your parish’s wildlife several hours of your time a month.
  • Look out for opportunities to protect, help and increase the wildlife in your parish.
  • Carry out practical work in your parish that will benefit wildlife.
  • Either work in a team or possibly train to lead local volunteers on practical tasks (or you could call in specialists from ACT Ecology Group).
  • Send ACT and your parish council a brief, monthly account of what you have been doing, so we can all share successes and difficulties.

Wildlife Wardens in neighbouring parishes could work together on joint projects. Wardens with special skills and knowledge might also help train other Wardens.

Unfortunately, we don’t have funds to pay for Wardens’ expenses. However, Wardens who are ACT members will be covered by our insurance.

Some of our existing parish wildlife groups will be Wildlife Wardens, organising work and sharing expertise. If there isn’t a local group, Wildlife Wardens can work together – and maybe even start a group.

Project areas:
A. Surveying and helping to improve and connect habitats.
B. Promoting organic wildlife gardening
C. Monitoring building and development within the parish and alerting ACT of any wildlife damage.

The Ecology Group hopes to provide free training in these areas:

  • Identification of all types of wildlife
  • Habitat management and connectivity: hedges, woodlands, meadows, verges, ponds
  • Farming and wildlife
  • Writing risk assessments – and working with them!
  • Wildlife gardening
  • Creating pesticide-free zones
  • Carrying out desktop surveys
  • Monitoring planning applications and developments.

We will stay in close contact with the Council’s Green Spaces Team, and collaborate wherever we can, but we are aware their resources are limited. We have support from Teignbridge District Council, RSPB, the Woodland Trust and Devon Biodiversity Record Centre.

We have been granted funding by Teign Energy Communities, Councillor Jackie Hook’s DCC Locality Fund and Dartmoor National Park Authority, and extend our thanks to them for this vital help. Among other things it has enabled us to appoint a coordinator for a few hours a week, who will ensure good communication and record keeping.

If you are interested in becoming a parish Wildlife Warden, please get in touch with our coordinator, Flavio Winkler Ford: flavio@actionclimateteignbridge.org

Why carbon intensity apps are greenwash

There is an app for almost everything. One that recently drew my attention is a carbon intensity app, which at first sight looks really helpful in alerting you to when you can put washing on or charge up batteries while the electricity grid in your area has low carbon emissions.

Renewable energy is not yet stored in sufficient quantity so needs to be used when it’s available. Carbon intensity apps tell you when output from renewable sources of electricity is high and the carbon intensity of the grid is therefore low. 

What’s not to like? Well, the devil is in the detail, as the saying goes. The claims made for these apps are little more than ‘greenwash’, says ACT energy expert Fuad Al-Tawil. Teign Energy Communities (TECs) has produced a detailed explanation of why this is so.

Essentially, the only sure way to lower grid carbon emissions is to increase the renewable energy that feeds into the grid. Point in time readings from a carbon intensity app are not a reliable indicator of surplus low-carbon electricity being available. If demand for electricity from users of the apps increases when intensity is low and there is no renewable surplus, it will just lead to gas being switched on. A gas-fired power station is currently the easiest type of electricity generator to turn on and off at short notice.

There are additional complicating factors due to the way the national grid operates. The financial settlement system for generating, transporting, distributing and consuming electricity is based on price. There is no accounting for carbon emissions. This can lead to renewable generation being turned off and a gas fired power station being turned on to maintain the balance of the grid, so generation and consumption are matched. 

By all means download a carbon intensity app, but don’t assume you will be increasing the use of renewable energy and thereby reducing the carbon intensity of the electricity you buy. 

The only way to help reduce the carbon intensity of the national electricity supply is to encourage the market to build more renewable generation.  You can do this by buying a 100% green tariff from a provider.  Ideally use one of the few providers that buys directly from renewable generators or generates its own supply. TECs names Good Energy and Ecotricity as two such companies. The more people who use such providers, the greater the demand for renewable energy as part of the energy mix of the grid. 

The 100% ‘green’ tariffs offered by other energy companies will not help so much in this regard as they are achieved by a form of offsetting using tradable certificates called REGOs (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin). Despite the name, they will not be adding new renewable generation to the grid, simply offsetting against existing renewable generation.  This will not reduce the carbon intensity of the grid. The TECs paper explains this in more detail.

Of course, the most reliable way to reduce emissions from electricity generation is to lower your usage. Use the carbon calculator to work out your carbon footprint then consider what changes you can make to reduce it. Generating your own renewable energy also helps, as does buying from Good Energy or Ecotricity. Sadly, timing your energy consumption to coincide with low carbon intensity periods via an app will not help and could even increase carbon emissions.

Local Plan consultation extended

Teignbridge District Council has extended the consultation period on its Local Plan, moving the closing date from 15th June to 13th July. The change has been made to give people more time to comment, given that face to face meetings are not currently possible.

ACT encourages everyone to submit a response. Feel free to use ACT’s draft response as a reference/template. Please continue to send ACT any comments or suggestions on the draft response as we will not submit it until early July.

The Local Plan and its associated documents can be viewed at: www.teignbridge.gov.uk/localplanreview.

The FAQ section of the documents explains that a Local Plan guides decisions on where and how development takes place. It contains a set of rules, called ‘policies’, which are used to guide decisions on applications for development. The Teignbridge Local Plan is in two parts, with Part 1 guiding decisions on HOW development takes place in Teignbridge, and Part 2 on WHERE developments take place. The consultation is on Part 1.

If you would like to comment on the Local Plan you can your comments by:

A burning issue for Dartmoor

I learned a new word recently, swaling, which is the West Country term for controlled burning of moorland. It comes up in the Dartmoor National Park Management Plan 2020-2045, and in ACT’s response to the consultation on the Plan.

Swaling only gets two mentions in the Plan. The first notes that the Moorland Vision for Dartmoor, agreed in 2005, confirmed that swaling, along with grazing, was “essential to delivering the Vision”. The second advises that concerns about swaling being in conflict with climate change objectives were raised when the Management Plan was developed.

Cliff edge of Bench Tor, Dartmoor

One of the Principles in the Plan under the section headed A grazed moorland landscape is to “Ask Government to review the Heather and Grass burning code to provide updated guidance for land managers on management regimes to deliver conservation objectives and respond to the climate emergency.” This needs to take account of the wild fire risk and other means of delivering environmental outcomes, it adds.

ACT in its response says swaling needs to be reduced and better controlled, although this needs to be balanced against the risk of wildfires.

There are many other aspects of the Plan that Act’s response covers but swaling caught my eye because of its novelty value. I looked it up on Google and came across a polemic about the practice by George Monbiot, in which he states that swaling, and grazing (he’s not a big fan of sheep), are causing “an environmental disaster”.

Competing interests will always present challenges, but we must make sure economic interests do not always trump those of wildlife and the environment.

Coronavirus crisis: what comes next?

The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated our vulnerability but has also revealed our care, compassion and community spirit. The links we forge now in our communities will stand us in good stead for the work of pushing forward with climate action.

It is essential to keep the climate emergency on the agenda. Of course, resources and attention are focused on dealing with the human (and economic) cost of the coronavirus pandemic. But the climate and ecological emergencies have not been put on hold. They will still unfold and we have to ensure the need to restart economic activity won’t take precedence over cutting carbon emissions.

The good news is that arguments about not being able to afford to take action on climate change are now exposed as misleading and wrong. Lockdown, and the accompanying damage to financial markets and economies, has revealed that governments and central banks can rustle up the readies when needed.

Writing in the Guardian, historian Adam Tooze examines the extraordinary extent of the interventions by central banks around the world, and in particular by the Federal Reserve, the US central bank. Governments have also had to take action they would never have otherwise contemplated.

The damage caused by pandemics, it turns out, costs even more to fix than was laid out to prevent the 2008 global financial crisis turning into another Great Depression.

The indebtedness of governments after the 2008 crisis was used as an excuse to cut spending . Some commentators are already lining up to say further cuts will have to be made to pay for the new debts incurred in the current crisis. Restarting the economy will be the priority and we will all have to tighten our belts to recover lost ground.

This would be a disastrous response. Instead, the coronavirus crisis offers an opportunity for a rethink, about our priorities, our lifestyles and our future.

We have seen what a world without air pollution looks like, in some cases recovering views not seen for years. Some cities, most notably Milan, have decided that cyclists and pedestrians should have precedence over motorised traffic as the city reopens.

The mayors of Manchester and Liverpool have also called for a rethink, and urged the government against a return to “business as usual”. They want to keep some of the benefits we have seen from the pause in economic activity and advocate investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, and in retrofitting homes with renewable energy technology, thereby creating thousands of jobs.

The huge fall in the oil price could also work in favour of a greener economy, especially if oilfields have to be shut down. Of course, cheap oil is also a risk, as it could persuade people to choose fossil fuels over renewables. The fossil fuel companies will not give way without a fight, but they have already lost their social licence and the divestment campaign is starting to hurt their finances.

The Financial Times believes coronavirus could pave the way for a major change in political direction, with the pandemic having underlined the huge inequalities in society. In a recent editorial, the paper said:

“Radical reforms — reversing the prevailing policy direction of the last four decades — will need to be put on the table. Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies until recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.”

Greening the economy will hardly look radical at all in that scenario.

ACT launches resources pack for town and parish councillors

Action on Climate in Teignbridge (ACT) works to support district, town and parish councils in the locality that are considering declaring or have already declared a climate and /or ecological emergency.

Twenty councils In Teignbridge, including the district council, have made such a declaration, while others are considering doing so.

ACT has put together an information and resources pack designed to help councils work with their communities to reduce carbon emissions, protect the environment and achieve carbon neutrality.

The launch of the pack follows the two workshops ACT convened in February to facilitate a discussion among councillors on the challenges we all face in taking effective climate action and to exchange ideas on how to tackle those challenges.

The resources pack contains:

  • An overview offering guidelines on declaring an emergency and developing an action plan
  • An explanation of why it is a climate emergency, what are the consequences of a changing climate, what we can do, and setting emissions targets
  • A guide to what local councils can do, including ideas on community engagement and how to put climate and ecological considerations at the heart of councils’ statutory responsibilities
  • Ideas for actions councils can take to measure and reduce emissions within the built environment and primary energy generation
  • A section on food, farming and forestry plus ecology, looking at encouraging local food production, involving farmers in improving carbon sequestration, extending tree cover, and how to help wildlife 
  • A section on transport, noting it is the biggest source of carbon emissions in Teignbridge (51%) and highlighting possible actions to remedy that.

The pack also advises that ACT’s topic groups can help with information, guidance and signposting once a council has chosen its first initiative in a particular area.

The pack will evolve over time and ACT welcomes feedback and input. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute.

You can view and download pack documents here:

https://actionclimateteignbridge.org/index.php/resources-pack-for-town-and-parish-councils/

Plant that tree, but make sure it’s the right tree in the right place

Tree planting is fast becoming a national mania as research shows that trees are a key ally in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Planting without due care and attention won’t get us far though. It is all about planting the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. This was a mantra repeated often by speakers at a tree planting seminar held recently by Teignbridge District Council and the Woodland Trust for councillors and community groups.

Dominic Scanlon of Aspect Tree Consultancy illustrated the “right tree in the right place” point by mention of an oak tree someone unknown has planted between two semi-mature trees in Forde Park in Newton Abbot. “It looked like the right place but over the long term we will end up with three poor specimen trees” because there isn’t enough space for all of them, he said. You have to think in terms of decades when planting trees.

Trees in Stover Country Park

TDC commissioned a study last year of the trees it owns. Trees have been considered a burden in the past because of the costs of maintenance, Mr Scanlon said, but they can also be viewed as an asset for their role in carbon capture and storage, and protection from storm water run-off. When considered from that perspective, the benefits far outstrip the costs. 

This is the value attributed to TDC’s tree population, as measured using iTree, which calculates the economic worth of trees based on the ecosystem services they provide :

  • The replacement cost of the trees is £16m.
  • They store more than 5,000 tonnes of carbon worth £1.3m.
  • They bring £20,000 of benefit in pollution capture and water run-off capture.
  • They have a public asset value of £144m.

The study also showed Teignbridge has a diverse population of trees with the most common species being oak, ash, sycamore and birch. In terms of pollution capture and carbon storage, the oak is the most important species, followed by beech, ash and sycamore. This is because they are the older, larger trees that confer the most benefits on the ecosystem. 

Of course, ash trees are under threat from dieback, caused by a fungus. The disease is expected to kill nearly all of them (94%). Infected trees become brittle and liable to drop branches, which makes them a risk, particularly in public spaces or where they overhang roads. TDC owns 3,800 ash trees and has only removed four to date, but has been planting to replace the trees that will be lost and has almost replaced the full 3,800 already. 

Councils need to develop a plan to deal with ash trees they own, said Mr Scanlon. He recommended the Ash Dieback Action Plan Toolkit available from the Tree Council

Private landowners may also need to take action. Bob Stevenson, tree officer for Devon County Council, said the council estimates there are 448,000 ash trees within falling distance of roads across the county, most of which are on private land.

For 2020, TDC plans to plant a further 1,500 native trees provided by the Woodland Trust on three sites (Sandringham Park Newton Abbot, Michaels Field, Bishopsteignton, Dawlish Leisure Centre, Sandy Lane, Dawlish), plus 15 fruit trees in a community orchard in Bishopsteignton. The aim is to plant adjacent to existing woodland to help create corridors for wildlife.

Heather Elgar of the Woodland Trust said the UK currently has 13% tree cover (10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland), which is significantly lower than for European countries. The Committee on Climate Change, which gives independent advice to the UK government, recommends aiming for tree coverage of 19%. The Trust supports this and considers how to do it in its recently published Emergency Tree Plan for the UK.

Graham Burton, also of the Woodland Trust, took up the theme of right tree, right place but cautioned that it isn’t easy to adhere to that principle. It is about creating a community of trees, a woodland assembly, not just a collection of trees, he said, pointing out there are 24 types of woodland.

The Trust has a preference for natural regeneration over planting but recognises it is not always possible. The drawback to planting is that guards are required and these are often plastic. Biodegradable options are under investigation.

The Trust’s ambitions are to work at landscape scale. For example, it aims to reforest 2% of Cornwall and double canopy cover in Bristol. There is capacity in UK nurseries to produce 100m UK sourced and grown trees, said Mr Burton; the hurdle is finding enough land to plant on. “80% of the UK is farmland, so unless farmers are supported to plant trees under the natural capital banner, it will be really hard to get enough trees planted.”

Teignbridge has a lot of smaller woodlands, he added, and we need to find ways of joining them up. He also gave brief details of the funding and help available for medium scale planting (between 0.5 and 3 hectares) and the free trees available to schools and communities.

Steve Edmunds of the Forestry Commission also gave details of the funding streams for woodland creation and management that local authorities and other landowners can access. These include Countryside Stewardship, targeted at biodiversity and water management, the Woodland Creation Planning Grant, mainly targeted at productive woodlands, and the Woodland Carbon Code, which helps landowners obtain top-up funding for carbon offsetting for businesses.

Then came the reality check. ACT’s Audrey Compton said planting trees is necessary but not sufficient. “Even if we planted every square metre of Teignbridge with trees we still couldn’t make our lives carbon neutral,” she said. 

The annual average carbon footprint in the UK is 13 tonnes, including imported goods. We each need four mature trees to offset that footprint. And as long as we keep using soya and palm oil, planting trees won’t help much. Both crops are often planted on land cleared of rainforest. Soya is widely used in animal feed, making it important to avoid buying imported beef and intensively reared meat. Palm oil is used in many food products and toiletries, although labelling doesn’t always make that clear.

Audrey also spoke of the power of hedges to connect nature and reduce flooding. She showed how the hedges in her steep fields grow along contour lines, and said there is evidence there were more hedges in the past. This approach to planting slows down water run-off and soil erosion. 

“We need to work with the Environment Agency and local farmers to put hedges in the right places, but these are projects that Parish Councils and local Climate Action Groups can help with,” said Audrey. She highlighted how volunteers this month planted 6,000 trees, including 3,500 as hedgerows, in Ide and Shillingford, two parishes in Teignbridge.

Finally, there was welcome news from Cllr Jackie Hook, portfolio holder for climate change on TDC, who said the council will extend its climate emergency declaration to an ecological one too. 

Increasing tree coverage is an essential element in any plan to deal with both of those emergencies, provided we put the right trees in the right place. 

Further reading:

Exeter based Treeconomics has done reports on the ecosystem service value of the tree populations in Exeter, Exmouth and Torbay. The Torbay report finds the area’s estimated 818,000 trees store 98,100 tons of carbon and sequester a further 4,279 tons each year.  They also remove 50 tons of pollutants from the atmosphere each year, a service with an estimated value of £281,000, while the structural value of the trees has been calculated at a remarkable £280m.

Subjectivity and Climate Change

In her 2016 PhD thesis, Gillian Westcott examined the part played by subjective attitudes to climate change in determining the policy and actions of local authorities in South West England.

The research used interviews with officers and members of seven local authorities in the area, conducted during the years 2010 to 2013. While much has changed since then, the views expressed could well be relevant to today’s community energy workers and others who engage with local authorities on climate change issues. Read more here.

What you can learn from Energy Performance Certificates

All domestic and commercial buildings in the UK available to rent or buy must have an Energy Performance Certificate. The Certificate provides details on the energy efficiency of a building, gives it a rating from A (very efficient) to G (inefficient), and tells you what you can do to improve that rating. It is valid for 10 years.
ACT has analysed certificates since 2008

An EPC lets the person who will use the building know how costly it will be to heat and light, and what its carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be.

In the Teignbridge area EPCs have been issued for more than 37,000 of around 54,000 dwellings. Nearly two-thirds of these (62% or 23,137) are rated D or worse, with just 58 rated A. Only 27 dwellings have zero or negative carbon emissions, but of those, 10 are new estate houses built by Redrow in Kingsteignton. This shows it can be done so why aren’t all new build estate houses zero carbon? Most have a B or C rating.

Total emissions from dwellings rated D or below currently amount to 127kt of CO2, against 31kt for the higher rated ones.

The top recommendations in Teignbridge EPCs for improving energy efficiency are to install: solar panels (29,642 certificates), solar hot water heating (26,591), low energy light bulbs (24,075), a new condensing boiler (11,994). There are also various insulation recommendations.

If all the suggested improvements were carried out, only 5,949 dwellings  (16%) would be rated D or worse and emissions per dwelling would drop by nearly half, from 4.23 tonnes to 2.37 tonnes. But those low rated dwellings would still account for around a third of CO2 emissions.

EPC data is a useful starting point for Parish and Town councils that have declared a climate emergency. It will help to set carbon targets and implement initiatives designed to reduce emissions.  For more details, and maps showing current and potential CO2 emissions by parish, please visit https://actionclimateteignbridge.org/index.php/energy-performance-certificates-epcs/