High Weald

Blog

The views expressed here are our own, although we do not envisage writing anything that will counter the aims and objectives of the High Weald Joint Advisory Committee.

Bloggers

These blogs have been written by members of the High Weald AONB Unit staff.  You can find out more about these staff by visiting the AONB team page.

How disappointing, yet completely expected that the Government should allow a huge expansion of ‘fracking’ licences, and with only the flimsiest of safeguards in place for England’s finest landscapes.

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With Cuadrilla scrapping plans to use fracking technology at Balcombe in the High Weald AONB it is tempting to wonder whether the outcome of its current planning application to monitor exploratory drilling really matters. But it’s not just about fracking is it? As Green Party MP Caroline Lucas pointed out at in Court for taking part in an anti-fracking protest; it’s about preventing the UK being locked into using more fossil fuels. How we respond to the fracking debate seems indicative of how we might respond to the much larger challenge posed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent report released on 30th March.  

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If I hear any more eulogizing of the local scale biomass combined heat and power (CHP) plant proposed for Discovery Park, near Sandwich Kent, I will weep. Ok, so it will provide jobs and, according to the publicity, it will produce up to 11 MW power and 8 MW heat: enough energy to power 21,000 homes, all beneficial, but it will also generate many lorry movements and threaten some of our most sensitive ancient woodlands with industrial forestry.

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After a winter of high winds and sodden ground many of our familiar woodland footpaths have become obstacle courses.

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Polytunnels have had a bad press, particularly in AONBs and National Parks, but with an increasing number of households facing food poverty (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/nov/18/breadline-britain-nutritional-recession-austerity) and, for a variety of reasons, unable to source reasonably priced fruit and vegetables, perhaps it is time to think again about polytunnels?

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R.I.P Natural Beauty: that wonderful term enshrined in the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act when a romantic idea of scenery still prevailed.

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Biodiversity offsetting – in the words of Edmund Blackadder: ‘the only slight problem with this plan is that it’s bollocks’. No one can argue with the aspiration to enhance ecological networks, to restore habitats and to create landscapes which are more permeable to species dispersal but this shouldn’t be conflated with compensating for biodiversity loss through development.

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Why are we selling our forests? Certainly not because public ownership is inefficient in meeting our objectives for forests. Take this fact which appears on page 12 of defra's consultation document - the public forest estate owns 40% of England's conifer forests but produces 70% of England's home grown softwood timber. Surely that makes it a lot more efficient than the owners of the other 60% in producing low carbon wood fuel and building materials to meet the Department for Energy and Climate Change's target for a low carbon economy? And this is the concern of many people working in the timber industry across the Weald. Productive management of the public forest estate provides some stability and certainty to the industry. If we want a vibrant timber industry to meet low carbon economy targets this stability is vital.

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Today someone kindly sent me a copy of the government's 'Local Growth: realising every place's potential'. It's worth reading to see where the next battle lines are likely to be drawn in rural areas over development. For protected landscapes the focus on tailoring policy to place is welcome and highlights the importance of understanding those natural, social and cultural characteristics that make a place special but the proposed national presumption in favour of sustainable development which will underpin local plans, new neighbourhood plans and proposals for a simplified national planning framework whilst welcome in principle, could be challenging.

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Why is it so hard to articulate what our ancestors understood instinctively: that the benefits (or 'services') derived from our landscape are as much down to the action of people winning those services through sheer hard work and innovation as they are to the resources (or assets) provided by the natural environment?

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No one can argue with the need to move towards a zero-carbon Britain can they? A low carbon economy is one of the AONB Management Plan objectives so I was looking forward to reading zerocarbonbritain 2030 ( http://www.zerocarbonbritain.org/) produced by the Centre for Alternative Technology but sadly, despite all the specialists involved, the landuse chapter appears surprisingly simplistic and for anyone interested in cultural landscapes it is a depressing read.

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Isn't the BBC iPlayer wonderful? I caught up with Dan Snow's Norman Walks last night, Sussex - the Invasion Walk, and I recommend it to anyone interested in the Weald.

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