Wildlife Warden Podcast Episode 5

Emily Marbaix is back with another podcast (which you can also read) in which she talks about her latest wild camping trip, orienteering training with Emma Cunis (aka Dartmoor’s Daughter), and notes that 68 wildlife wardens across 34 parishes and wards have received introductory training. There is also:

  • An update on the Wildlife Warden Scheme
  • An interview with Paul Martin of Ogwell-based Ogwild on the group’s experiences so far
  • Wildlife watching and outdoor ideas for the summer holidays
  • Information about Sustainable Bishops’s wildflower art competition, which will be on show on the 11th September
  • Information about Defra’s new campaign, Plant for our Planet
  • Information about the Teignbridge Local Plan Consultation

Last Chance to Influence Where New Housing is Built

You have until noon on Monday August 9th to give Teignbridge District Council (TDC) your views on the 100 plus sites around Teignbridge proposed for new development. If you don’t respond to this consultation you won’t get another opportunity. It is difficult, if not impossible, for plans to be changed further down the line.

Government proposals for a new approach to planning rules will prevent even the local authority from making adjustments in response to changing circumstances in the future. It’s our last chance to influence where new homes are built. You may think your views won’t count. They definitely won’t if you don’t make them known. The more people who respond the better.

The current Local Plan Part 2 consultation follows on from Part 1 in 2020, which focused on the policies that guide developments. The two parts will together form the Local Plan 2020-2040, which will replace the current Local Plan adopted in 2014.

How to respond

The consultation is online at teignbridge.gov.uk and is available chapter by chapter. You can comment using the online survey or the downloadable response form. The survey looks technical, but if you have local knowledge about particular sites it’s vital you share it. You can only comment on one site at a time and give comments in relation to eight criteria, although there is an opportunity to comment on “anything else”. You may want to prepare your comments before you go online and then copy and paste them in. Make sure you go all the way to the end of the survey, even if you don’t give all the personal information requested, and press the Submit button.

The printable pdf form only asks for comments, with no prompts for specific criteria, but you have to print it out to use it or convert it from a pdf to a word document or similar.

It is also possible to download the questions and send your comments by email to localplanreview@teignbridge.gov.uk or by letter to Spatial Planning & Delivery, Teignbridge District Council, Forde House, Newton Abbot Devon TQ12 4XX. All comments made in writing will be considered. 

What to say 

The number of homes proposed for each town or village is stated at the beginning of each ‘Housing Site Options’ chapter. If a town or village has several sites on offer, which together are able to more than cover TDC’s suggested housing numbers for the settlement, then stating in your comments which site/sites would be better is helpful. The suggested general comments below may be useful here.

If you think your village has no allocated sites, make sure it hasn’t been included in Chapter 4 of the consultation, the Heart of Teignbridge. This is true for several proposed sites in Ogwell and Kingskerswell, for example. Check this map to see where all the proposed sites are. You will also need to look at Chapter 9, Employment Site Options, for land which may be developed for employment.

If you have local knowledge of a proposed site, check the information given about it in the relevant consultation chapter for accuracy and omissions. If you have the time and inclination, it is also worth looking at TDC’s assessment of the sites in the appendices to the consultation. Appendix D(a) is for town sites while Appendix D(b) is for villages. To understand the scoring and colour coding for the sites, you will need to go to page 14 of the Stage B Report – Sustainability Appraisal (SA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). To dig further into the scoring assumptions, check out Appendix A. You might need a stiff drink or two to see you through all this!

Here are some examples of the sort of comments you could make on issues relating to wildlife:

  • It is essential that mitigation measures taken to protect wildlife habitats and avoid extinction of local species are completed before site clearance and building starts.
  • All the hedges around this site are biodiverse and should be protected and buffered.
  • A wide buffer strip is needed alongside the public footpath beside the stream, to ensure habitats are connected’.
  • Protect Greater Horseshoe Bat flyways and ensure there is no artificial lighting on the development.
  • Protect the nearby SSSI/ CWS (Site of Special Scientific Interest/County Wildlife Site) from polluted run-off from the new estate.

These are more general comments you could make on the subject of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions:

  • New developments should be about meeting local needs in the most sustainable way. Delivering a pre-set number of housing units to boost the economy should NOT be the driver. 
  • Many of us nowadays live in one or two-person households, so the need is for smaller homes than the three to five bedroom houses typical of new developments. Building on a smaller scale would deliver lower greenhouse gas emissions as well as the housing numbers required. 
  • Greenhouse gas emissions for people living in urban areas in Teignbridge are typically 30% lower than for those who live in rural ones, as is true throughout the UK. The benefits of housing people within, or close to, urban areas are clear. The emissions associated with the provision of goods and services, as well as travel, can be minimised.

You can find more information here.

XR Protests at the G7

When you think about an Extinction Rebellion (XR) activist, you probably don’t think of someone like me, writes Amanda Cole. A 68 year old grandmother, with a 44 year history of NHS work in a responsible and respected position. But I attended the protests at the recent G7 meeting in St Ives and joined hundreds of other people rebelling against the failure of governments to act on the dual climate and ecological emergencies.

100 Penitents carry the sins of the G7 through Cornwall. Photo: Tristian Herbert

A sixth mass extinction of wildlife is already underway. Studies show a 60% decline in wildlife populations since 1980, while the world’s natural ecosystems have lost about half their area, all largely due to human action. Climate change is already affecting our weather, bringing more frequent floods and heatwaves. If we don’t allow ecosystems to recover and expand, as well as massively reduce our carbon emissions, it will all get worse. Other parts of the world with more vulnerable communities are suffering these effects more acutely than Britain is right now. 

Attending the XR events at the G7, a meeting of the Group of Seven richest nations, was a great experience in many ways. The protests were creative, inspiring, sometimes sombre, and sometimes fun. There was lots of media coverage; it was great to engage with the public and the police. The reception in my experience was pretty much 100% friendly. There was one woman muttering at a bus stop, but I didn’t catch what she said. There were no Rebel arrests. But of course we were securely separated from the official goings-on in Carbis Bay, so I’m not sure how much we were listened to. The government resolution to pledge a £500m Blue Planet Fund for marine conservation had already been announced last year. About US$2bn is to be provided to help countries worldwide to phase out coal-fired power generation. This may not even be new money. The summit failed to set us up for a successful COP26, the UN climate talks to be held in Glasgow in November, as trust is sorely lacking between rich and developing countries. Overall, these outcomes were more than disappointing. 

So yes, you are right; I am not a typical Rebel. Extinction Rebellion members do come from a particular demographic in the main. But with the richest nations in the world failing to provide leadership and finance to tackle the climate crisis, it falls to each and every one of us to make the changes we feel able to make.

People sometimes think individuals cannot make a difference, but that is wrong. Look at how the British public responded to the challenges the pandemic brought. We were far more responsive and able to change than the government, and even the scientists predicted. And there is some evidence that if you feel good about making a little change, you will go on to make another. What is vital is to choose something you want to do, and are able to do. I would never ask my beef farmer friend to give up meat or suggest my friends on benefits buy expensive eco-products. But we can all start reusing plastic, sorting our recycled waste, and picking up litter, for example. We can all do something. 

I was heartened at the end of the visit to St Ives to hear the speaker at the closing ceremony for the XR events say: “Some people say we’re preaching to the converted in XR. Well let’s make it our pledge before COP26 to talk to people outside this group. Ask what they think. Find out what makes them sceptical or hesitant. See if you can help.” 

So that’s what I’m doing. Let’s all take some climate action today and build towards a happier and healthier future.

Travels With My BEV

Who would have thought there could be so much ‘mileage’, in having a BEV. No, not my best friend, my BEV is a Battery Electric Vehicle, writes Helen Chessum.

Bought last year just before the pandemic took over our lives, BEV turned out to be the perfect lockdown project, providing endless hours of fun looking at stats with my husband, the engineer.

BEV records your driving stats and shows how energy-efficiently you drive. My husband was keen to make sure I didn’t drive on his stats. When we came to the first review I had a little chuckle when my stats beat his. Of course, this facility isn’t exclusive to electric vehicles. Anyone can make use of these stats on newer cars to reduce their own fuel consumption. It’s not rocket science: the more steadily you drive the less fuel you use!

As BEV doesn’t have a fuel tank, you have two displays to guide you: battery charge level and range display. Range anxiety is an issue for BEV owners so you need to be more aware of your charge level and range to manage your nerves, especially on a longer outing. Charging points are not on every corner like petrol stations. On a trip back from Exeter I suddenly got a shock when a flashing warning message was triggered: only 12 miles left in the battery!

The range display is where the magic starts. This is not a specific measure like the charge level indicator, but a prediction based on the conditions, previous driving style and the weather. I can leave home with a range of 140 miles, arrive in the centre of Newton Abbot and still see a range of 140. I’ve driven eight miles but according to the display I haven’t used any energy! It feels like magic but it’s due to energy recovery.

Both feedback displays really are useful to moderate your driving to save energy. At first there was a downside as I became obsessed with the displays but I have now found a good balance. I have to confess I was never so aware of my driving in my old petrol Polo.

BEV also has a blue and green zone energy display, next to the normal speedo. All part of the learning curve, I have trained myself to drive in the green zone as much as possible to maximise this energy recovery and make the magic happen. However, this can have some hairshirt consequences when you see how much energy is drawn from the battery by the radio or the heating. Early on I occasionally drove home shivering and with no entertainment just to protect my stats. This is the extreme end of the energy saving sport. But joking aside, it does graphically ‘drive’ home how much energy it takes to power the mod cons in our cars we take for granted.

What about charging and range anxiety I hear you ask? Well I’m fortunate to have a drive and can park right next to my charger. Much trickier if you live in town. The 13 amp charge lead comes as standard but takes about 10-11 hours to charge fully. Your next investment is a rapid charger. Just plug BEV into her life support overnight and bingo! Or not quite, as my other energy-saving challenge is to charge BEV as much as possible from our solar panels, using truly low-carbon electricity. So overnight is not the ideal time to charge. This all takes some management and engagement with BEV and her charger. So here’s the trick – plan ahead and charge only when you need to travel. At this time of year it’s much easier as there is (usually) more sun. If my journeys are local BEV doesn’t need to be fully charged every time and I can divert some of the solar power to other appliances in my house or to our batteries.

Of course I do still need to use the grid electricity for part of the year. The grid is using more power from low-carbon sources as we make the changes to combat climate change. But there is no guarantee the energy I’m drawing is from renewables. I have to live with that for the time being. By charging BEV from the grid only when I absolutely need to, I’m making quite an impact on my carbon footprint.

The next big challenge with BEV is driving to Bristol and back, which is outside BEV’s 145 mile range. This will involve charging away from home – a new adventure. So wish us luck! 

Precious Trees Need Preserving

New neighbours move in and immediately cut down a magnificent silver birch and create a drive with non-porous material. I am mad! I love trees, writes Fran Hamilton.

What’s all the fuss about?

Let’s start at the bottom, below the surface of the soil. Maybe you have noticed white threads on old rotting wood. These are called mycorrhizal fungi and absorb nutrients and minerals in the soil and transport them from one plant or tree to another, often over huge areas. In this way they extend the roots of any plant. Nearly all plants (including vegetables) are dependent on mycorrhizal fungi for their thriving and survival. You can read about the astonishing abilities of underground fungal networks in Merlin Sheldrake’s book ‘Entangled Life’.

Still at ground level, trees absorb water and hold it, thus regulating the flow that any heavy rain brings. Once a tree has been removed, soil erosion can result from the removal of the many roots that anchored it in the soil. 

Above the ground, the water the trees have absorbed is drawn up and eventually expelled via the branches and leaves. This cools the air, which brings increasing benefits as extreme weather becomes the norm due to climate change. One large oak tree is capable of transpiring 40,000 gallons of water into the atmosphere each year. Strategically planted deciduous trees can cool a building in the hotter months, and then allow the warming sun into our homes during the winter months. Trees can also protect buildings from the wind.

Another key benefit of trees is the reduction in pollutants as a result of the leaves absorbing particles. Researchers from the US Forest Service have calculated that trees in the US remove over 17 million tonnes of air pollution each year, saving at least 850 lives that would otherwise be lost through acute respiratory illness. No doubt the UK will also have a high figure.

Trees are also a vital habitat for wildlife. Tree cavities provide nest and roost sites for birds and bats. In Europe, an estimated 30% of forest-dwelling birds use tree cavities, and it is well known that the availability of cavities – in number and type – is a limiting factor of bird-population size. We quietly acknowledge the lack of tree cavities in our landscape every time we put up a nest or bat-box. The research, however, is starting to suggest that these boxes are not adequate replacements for natural hollows and cavities. Trees have more stable microclimates than boxes, buffering against temperature fluctuations. 

Even a dead tree is valuable for wildlife. Springtails, mites, beetles, flies and parasitoid wasps are particularly likely to use dead trees, but it isn’t unusual to find the humble earthworm living metres-high in a tree cavity. 

So besides not cutting down a perfectly healthy tree what can we do? Tree cover in Devon is only 11.8%  – slightly less than the national average. Surprisingly, Camden and Croydon feature among the top 20 places in England and Wales with the most tree cover, while largely rural areas like the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales have the least.

But before rushing out to plant a tree it’s worth doing some research on which tree to plant. You need the right tree in the right place. Getting it wrong can do more harm than good. The Woodland Trust has lots of information on its website, including an A-Z of British trees and a tree ID app, plus tips on how to choose a tree and where to plant it. 

Planting trees is often promoted as a way of offsetting our carbon emissions, but such schemes can be little more than greenwash. In many cases the trees would have been planted anyway. Reducing emissions in the first place is always the better option.

So be alert to the sound of the chainsaw; trees are really precious and need all the help we can give them for all our sakes. 

Wildlife Warden Podcast Episode 3

In the latest Devon Wildlife Warden Podcast, Emily Marbaix brings you details about Churches Count for Nature Week (between 5th and 13th of June) and of a quiz she has put together to quantify how well you are managing your garden for wildlife. There is also:

  • An interview with Flavio, the Wildlife Warden Coordinator.
  • A summery of what Wildlife Wardens have been up to recently.
  • Details about the Wildlife Trust’s 30 days wild challenge.
  • Information about the Avon Valley project.
  • Information about some of the meadows you can visit through Open Meadows 2021.

Why Wildlife Wardens?

In December 2020 I signed up to become a wildlife warden for my parish, writes Emily Marbaix. It’s a scheme run by ACT aiming to help local wildlife survive and thrive. There’s a strong connection between wildlife loss and climate breakdown. They are both outcomes of our exploitation of the natural world and insatiable demand for more stuff.

Wildlife wardens on a training day in October 2020

Scientists often think of the natural world as a web of interconnected species, habitats and resources. Take one away and the rest become less stable. Take away lots and it’s like a Jenga tower teetering on the edge of collapse. Our natural ecosystems are now reaching this point and it’s for this reason that grassroots movements are springing up all over the place, attempting to protect what they can in their local areas. This is exactly what ACT and its wildlife wardens are attempting to do – help to look after their local area, and encourage others to do the same. 

So how and why did I get involved? Well, I went to university to study science and the media in the hope that I could tie together my love of the natural world with my passion for communication and performing. Back then, I had hopes of being the next Attenborough (hey – it doesn’t hurt to dream big!) However, with £20,000 of student loans hanging over my head and a desire to get on the property ladder, I turned instead to the corporate world and pursuit of the almighty pound after a brief stint in teaching. 

Fast forward 16 years and I’m in a more financially stable position, with my son at school and more time on my hands. So when I saw the advert on Facebook inviting people to apply to be wildlife wardens, I thought it was a great scheme to get involved with. I did some basic training via Zoom and started to think about what I could do that might make a difference in Abbotskerswell – the parish I’m attached to. 

We don’t have many publicly owned green spaces in Abbotskerswell, and our local tree warden, Amy, has already assessed these and initiated the planting of a community orchard, which I was thrilled to help with back in 2019. I’ve met with the Parish Council and agreed to help with an update to our biodiversity audit which will include some recommendations/actions with regard to how we can improve these areas for our local wildlife. But the spaces are small and as such are likely to have limited impact as far as mitigating climate change and species loss goes.

I therefore see my position as more of a communication based one. I want to encourage our local community to do more wildlife gardening and engage with conservation efforts in any way they can. This might involve simply signing a petition that will help to give greater protection to threatened species, or taking part in a citizen science project. There are things that we can all do, however big or small, and I see my role as an opportunity to help give people ideas.

I started off by writing a piece for the local parish magazine, which included a poem that outlined lots of different things villagers could do in their own gardens to support wildlife. But then I started to think bigger. What about a podcast? I’d always had a passion for performing and had hosted a radio show at university and loved it – so I decided to start “The Devon Wildlife Warden” podcast. In doing this, I could still create something relevant to our parish, but with the added bonus that it might also reach people from other areas – after all, we want the initiative to spread – and it already is, with people from other districts getting in touch and asking if they can get involved, too – great! 

Whether it’s challenging planning applications, enriching public spaces, helping with ecology fieldwork or simply putting a small dish of water out for thirsty bugs or mowing our lawns less often, we all can, and should do something big or small to help keep the Jenga tower from toppling.

Get in touch if you live in Teignbridge and would like to get involved with the ACT Wildlife Warden Scheme – it is in particular need of wardens for the Dartmoor side of the borough, but there is space for anyone and everyone in the area who would like to help. Visit the website or contact the scheme coordinator flavio@actionclimateteignbridge.org.

* ACT’s Wildlife Warden scheme would not be possible without the generous assistance of: Devon Environment Foundation; Teign Energy Communities’ Community Fund; Cllr Jackie Hook’s DCC Locality Fund; Dartmoor National Park Authority’ the Nineveh Trust; anonymous donors. Many thanks to all.

Choose peat free compost this spring

It’s spring, writes Lucy Oldroyd. The cold winds have passed. Surely, that is the last of the severe frosts. It is time to get planting! Trays of bright bedding at the supermarket, at the garden centre entice. Now for the compost. The bags are almost as bright as the bedding plants, but which one to choose? Which one is cheapest? Three bags for how much?

We are a clever species. We know the price of everything. But do we know the value of a bag of compost? A bag of dirt. It is trivial. Isn’t it?

How about the value of a peat bog? Less than one tenth of England’s lowland peat bogs remain. A scarce habitat home to unique animals, plants and insects. An important feeding and stopping-off point for native and migrating birds. A crucial factor in flood mitigation soaking up rainfall to release it back slowly. A huge store of trapped carbon, laid down over millennia. But as soon as the peat begins to drain, it begins to oxidise and emit that carbon back out again.

Our peatlands are the UK’s largest store of carbon, estimated at around 3.2 billion tonnes. That is more than all our forests. New licenses for harvesting peat are no longer issued by the UK government but extraction at existing sites will continue for years to come.

But we need peat to grow our plants don’t we? The Royal Horticultural Society disagrees and is working with exhibitors to transition towards no peat use at its shows by 2025. The RHS does not sell peat based composts and its nurseries and propagation areas are predominantly peat free. It is working with suppliers to replace peat-grown plants with peat-free ones in its gardens and to eradicate peat use in the plants it sells. 

Mark Gush, RHS head of environmental horticulture, estimates the RHS to be 98% peat free, the exception being some special collections. But do those of us without a national collection of pitcher plants or sundews really need peat? The RHS has lots of information on using peat free composts available on its website. 

The peat industry and the garden centres are wringing their hands. But this is so sudden, we need more time, they say. More people are gardening because of the pandemic so there is more demand. This is all eye-wash. Geoff Hamilton, of Gardeners’ World, began campaigning against peat in the 1990s. In 2011, the government set voluntary targets to end sales of peat-based compost for domestic use by 2020. It’s been a dismal failure. Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, says: “Countless promises have been broken and targets missed, with the result that precious peatland habitats are still being unnecessarily destroyed in the name of gardening.”

We are a nation of gardeners (not shopkeepers as Napoleon famously jibed). What power can a nation of gardeners show? If we cannot move mountains we have the power in our wallets to save peat bogs. We can petition the UK government to rescind peat extraction licenses. But that is a minor source of the peat in those gaudy plastic bags at the garden centre. Most of the peat we buy comes from Ireland or Europe. Here is a chance for UK gardeners to show leadership. What a role model for the world if we boycott peat! Let’s send a clear message to leave it in the ground. This spring don’t buy compost with peat. If the bag does not clearly state ‘Peat Free’ then it contains peat. 

Jessie Stevens eloquently stated the case against peat in her recent column ‘Call to Change’ (1st April) in the Mid Devon Advertiser and called on gardeners to begin a new era of gardening. Let us follow her call and now act for change.

Your choice this spring. What will you value? What will you save? Will you save a few pennies for a few bright ephemeral primulas? For a few pence more you can help save a unique habitat, an ecosystem, an irreplaceable source of biodiversity, a carbon store. What will you choose this spring at the garden centre?

Please sign the petition ‘Ban the use of peat in horticulture and all growing media by 2023’.