Welcome

This site has been created to promote and protect the wildlife and countryside around the village of Bridge in East Kent, England. Much of this locality lies within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We hope you find the site informative and that it inspires you to campaign for the protection of this precious landscape for future generations.

LOCAL VIEWS
new killer of bumblebees

new killer of bumblebees

While the link between farm insecticides and a dramatic decline in honey bees is gradually being established and accepted by official bodies, The Guardian reports that the scientific community has been stunned by new findings which indicate modern fungicides, also used on crops, are killing off bumblebees at an alarming rate in the US. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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big garden birdwatch

big garden birdwatch

The RSPB’s now famous Big Garden Birdwatch will be taking place again over the weekend of 27-29 January. To take part in this free national event all you need to do is sit in a chair for an hour with a cup of tea watching, and counting, the birds in your garden (or a local field or park of your choosing). To find out more, click on ‘Read More’ below. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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Foxhunting vote halted

Foxhunting vote halted

National media is reporting that the free vote to overturn the foxhunting ban promised by Theresa May for 2018 has been cancelled. Recent polls indicate the Prime Minister and her government have enough problems maintaining public support without exposing the Tory toffs’ love of foxhunting to the kill, which is detested by 85% of the British population. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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fieldfares in the meadows

fieldfares in the meadows

The more observant birdwatcher who ventures through the meadows around Bridge this winter may spot a pair of fieldfares which appear to have made the area their home in recent weeks. On the ground and seen from a distance the fieldfare can easily be confused with a thrush, but the fieldfare has more striking markings and grey about the face. The flight is undulating. (Picture copyright © BridgeNature.org 2017)
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A few words from Albert Schweitzer

Dr. Albert Schweitzer working at his desk. Image courtesy of WpClipart.com, free to use royalty free images.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer (14 January 1875 – 4 September 1965) was a philosopher, theologian, physician, cat lover and musician. In his time he was an outspoken and controversial figure who campaigned against colonialism, the falsehoods of historical Christianity, the arms race, nuclear weapons and cruelty to animals. In a tribute for his birthday, January 14th, we include some of his thoughts on animals below:

[After almost being pressured by other boys to sling rocks at birds.] From that day onward I took courage to emancipate myself from the fear of men, and whenever my inner convictions were at stake I let other people’s opinions weigh less with me than they had done previously. I tried also to unlearn my former dread of being laughed at by my school-fellows. This early influence upon me of the commandment not to kill or to torture other creatures is the great experience of my youth. By the side of that all others are insignificant.

True philosophy must start from the most immediate and comprehensive fact of consciousness, and this may be formulated as follows: I am life which wills to live, and I exist in the midst of life which wills to live.

A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help, and when he goes out of his way to avoid injuring anything living. He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy as valuable in itself, not how far it is capable of feeling. To him life as such is sacred…

The time will come when public opinion will no longer tolerate amusements based on the mistreatment and killing of animals. The time will come, but when? When will we reach the point that hunting, the pleasure of killing animals for sport, will be regarded as a mental aberration?

We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. It is our duty to make the whole world recognize it. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace. We need a boundless ethic which will include animals also.”

Dr Schweitzer was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. Yet is interesting to note that even today, a British Prime Minister, the daughter of a clergyman, publicly supports the illegal ‘sport’ of fox-hunting. However, she has abandoned plans to hold a free vote on restoring its legality because British public opinion is so against this vile hobby that any such vote could only bring further discredit to herself and her circle of cruel Tory pals. Nevertheless, the sport of shooting animals, just for the fun of it, continues perfectly legally here and in many other advanced nations.

Riding the wind on sacred wings

A Common Kestrel (male) on a pylon near Sheep Dip Lane, Bridge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2017

The Common Kestrel is a member of the falcon family, but one particular talent which distinguishes it from other members is the ability to hover, which it tends to practice facing into the wind; hence its more ancient and poetic name, the Windhover, used in Gerard Manley-Hopkins’ famous sonnet of that name: though quite how he manages to liken the hovering Kestrel to a man riding a horse while, at the same time, being a metaphor for Christ, is something which perhaps only a 19th century Jesuit priest-poet can answer!

The view of the Common Kestrel which may have inspired the Jesuit Manley-Hopkins. This one was hovering over The Butts, Bridge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2018

At least one pair of Kestrels were resident in the Bridge area throughout 2017 and in these winter months one can often be observed hovering in the sky above the meadows or The Butts. Others can be spotted regularly hunting above the A2 between Bridge and Dover. These are not unusual sightings: the Common Kestrel is the most populous and widely spread of British falcons, living generally in open countryside and even cities like London, in fact anywhere it can perch up high and survey the open land around for ground prey. For obvious reasons, it avoids bleak, treeless moorland and densely wooded forestry.

The birds are well known for their keen eyesight, which allows them to scan the ground from a height, but less well known is the fact that their eyes are sensitive to ultra-violet light, a feature which means that they can clearly see the UV reflecting urine droppings which voles and mice continually excrete. Hence, even from up on high, the birds can follow an active visual trail to the prey itself.

A Common Kestrel (female) with prey, Bridge Meadows, Boxing Day 2017. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2018

Although Kestrels were once persecuted by farmers, it is now widely realised that they prey on the vermin which many arable and poultry farmers want rid of: rats and mice, so these days Kestrels are generally left in peace, at least where farmers are tuned in to a modern understanding of working with Nature rather than against it.

The lie of the land

A proposal to build on this field, north of Conyngham Lane, Bridge, was thwarted by the emergence of the new Canterbury District Local Plan, which specifies the land as a Green Gap. (Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

As we approach a new year, we tend to find ourselves looking back at the last one, sometimes with a sense of relief at leaving its problems behind. Were the Bridge countryside and the wildlife within it able to speak for themselves, surely they would be very fearful of the threats which have emerged to our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the last twelve months, and those concerns will not just disappear with the turning of the calendar.

For an area which is supposedly one of the most highly protected in Britain, those threats have been as ominous as they have been unnecessary, motivated as they are by nothing but selfish greed on the part of a few people, met by ambivalence and disinterest from far too many. Not least of the disappointments surrounding proposals to build are the spurious and disingenuous arguments which have been put forward in support of them by developers and sometimes too a gullible, ignorant public.

We have been told by a developer that housing estates and industrial warehousing will enrich the wildlife of the Kent Downs, yet, where there is any paucity of agricultural biodiversity, clearly the enhancement of the countryside itself, with more land set aside for wildlife, more native trees, more hedgerows, would be a better environmental option than covering orchards with concrete.

We have been informed that “Britain has too much farmland”, when the truth is that Britain could not now feed itself, and with pressures on farmland intensifying annually from a number of sources including: development, solar farms, increased food demand from a growing population, the need to grow bio-fuels to replace fossil fuels, expanding transport networks, and other factors, it is estimated that Britain will have a farmland deficit the size of Scotland by 2030, unless incredible new farming efficiencies can be found to address the shortfall (Study by University of Cambridge, 2014).

We have been assured by authoritative sources that only ‘sustainable development’ will get approval in our AONB. Building modern housing estates on dwindling, prime agricultural, greenfield land cannot possibly be sustainable in the long term, yet it continues on the basis of lies and distortion of the fundamental principles of sustainability.

We have been led to believe that we can no longer enjoy the benefit of a recreation ground here in Bridge unless we accept and support new housing development beside it. Yet there are currently no legal requirements, national or local, that demand the building of 40 new dwellings on greenfield land in Bridge: so exactly who was it making this demand, with what authority, and why were the negotiations over the proposal kept secret from our residents?

One of the most underhand, insidious claims by the pro-building lobby is that the AONB (and Conservation Areas too) were set up to ‘conserve’ areas of value and significance, not ‘preserve’ them, thereby implying that development within them is intrinsically acceptable. This too is a deceit which can be dismissed by a glance at the Oxford English Dictionary:
conserve

VERB [WITH OBJECT]
1. Protect (something, especially something of environmental or cultural importance) from harm or destruction.
{O.E.D. EXAMPLE} ‘the funds raised will help conserve endangered meadowlands’
Origin
Late Middle English: from Old French conserver (verb), conserve (noun), from Latin conservare ‘to preserve’, from con- ‘together’ + servare ‘to keep’.

As this year closes, BridgeNature.org expresses our thanks to all those who have supported campaigns to protect our local countryside in 2017. We wish you all a happy New Year.

Yuletide berries on the Butcher’s Broom

The berry of the Butcher’s Broom. It is often ovaloid, as pictured. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

Holly is not the only plant which bears bright scarlet berries in the frosty weeks leading up to Yuletide. Another prickly character, the Butcher’s Broom, can still be seen sporting these bright fruits in Whitehill Wood this week.

Butcher’s Broom is a strange name, for a strange plant: it is a small, low growing shrub which is related to the lily, yet it offers no apparent resemblance to that flower whatsoever. Between January and April it bears tiny greenish white flowers which, rather than growing on stalks, appear to grow in the centre of the leaves. It is an evergreen, which usually means its leaves stay green through the winter, but what seem to be leaves on the Butcher’s Broom are not really leaves at all, they are flattened stems called clododes, hence the reason the flowers grow where they do. These cladodes are shaped like spear points and are extremely prickly. The real leaves are less obvious.

The flowers of the Butcher’s Broom. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

In late autumn through to Christmas, Butcher’s Broom exhibits its beautiful scarlet berries, which are bigger than those of the holly, often ovaloid, but sufficiently similar for it to be sometimes called Knee Holly. Other common names for the plant include Pettigree and Sweet Broom. Although widespread across southern Britain, Butcher’s Broom is not a particularly common sight, but it is an Ancient Woodland Indicator, meaning that if you see it in the wild you may be standing in some very long established woods; as is the case in Whitehill Wood. It generally favours shady areas beneath canopy trees.

In olden times the prickliness of the plant made it an ideal guard to prevent meat hanging in butchers’ shops from being eaten by mice, and also for making scratchy, abrasive brooms. John Parkinson, a botanist and apothecary to James I in the early 1600s wrote about butchers using it thus, “…for that a bundle of the stalkes tied together serveth them to cleanse their stalls and from thence have we our English name of Butcher’s broom.” The plant has also been cultivated across Europe for its numerous medical and cosmetic properties since the days of Ancient Greece.

We wish all readers of BridgeNature.org a happy festive season.

Wagtails in winter

Pied Wagtail, Brewery Lane, Bridge, January 2015. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

For most of the year the banks of the Nailbourne and the fields of Bridge are home to our two native Wagtails, the Grey Wagtail and the Pied Wagtail, and it is possible that we are visited in summer by the Yellow Wagtail (which is not native), although we have not observed it in this area so far.

Our local Grey Wagtails (which, just to be confusing, also bear some yellow colouring) tend to spend their time near the Nailbourne, when it is flowing, and we see them far more rarely in the winter. But the Pied Wagtails seem less shy of humanity and will quite happily inhabit or visit built up areas, particularly in winter, when the insects which form their staple diet are more scarce in the bare fields. Our resident Pied Wagtails are joined by visitors from northern climes in the autumn. One family can be seen regularly in Morrisons’ car park in Wincheap and we also have them living here in Bridge: one pair spend a lot of time foraging on the rooftops, and in the gardens and green spaces along Western Avenue.

The black and white (pied) colouring on the adult male and female Pied Wagtail is very similar, although the female’s blacks appear less dense, perhaps being more really dark greys. Where one observes a bird with a light grey back and flanks accompanied by a pale yellow face and chest, this colour set marks a juvenile experiencing its first cold season, as in the picture below.

Pied Wagtail juvenile about to pass its first Winter. Bourne Park, October 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Confusion on a national scale

Land at Highland Court Farm, Bekesbourne. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2017

Environmentally conscientious residents of the Nailbourne Valley, and the villages on the downs above, must surely be aware by now that much of our local landscape lies within a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which generally should not be built on other than for the purposes of carrying out agriculture, forestry and, in exceptional circumstances, for affordable housing for local people engaged in those industries. However, in recent weeks, as various concerned parties have considered the proposal to build on Highland Court Farm within our AONB, one particular aspect of the scheme’s status has been the subject of confusion.

We understand from the official notes of a meeting between members of Bridge Parish Council’s Planning Committee and representatives of the developer (26 Sept. 2017), that it was indicated by one party…

“…permission for the development to take place would require a “nationally significant” element to the development.”

Simon Cook (Conservative), leader of Canterbury City Council, subsequently stated at a meeting of Bridge Parish Council (12 Oct. 2017) that, in his own personal view, he was “not convinced the proposed development was on a national scale” that would justify planning approval. So, where has this idea of national scale or national significance come from? What does it mean, and why is it relevant to this proposal?

Having discussed this with a local authority planning officer, the only source we can find for any such reference is in one particular paragraph of current planning law (1). Paragraph 116 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF 2012) says this in reference to Areas of Outstanding Beauty and National Parks:

116. Planning permission should be refused for major developments in these designated areas except in exceptional circumstances and where it can be demonstrated they are in the public interest. Consideration of such applications should include an assessment of:

the need for the development, including in terms of any national considerations, and the impact of permitting it, or refusing it, upon the local economy

the cost of, and scope for, developing elsewhere outside the designated area, or meeting the need for it in some other way

any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that could be moderated. ”

So, to be clear, the issue of national considerations is not about scale in terms of the size of the building plot, it’s about the development’s potential effect on, or benefits for, the United Kingdom as a whole. The protection offered by the AONB designation is intended to be so strict it may only be overridden if the development is of overwhelming importance to our nation.

In the current Highland Court Farm proposal we see a scheme for some holiday and retirement homes along with a restaurant, some retail units and a couple of sports clubs next to a rural industrial estate. It may therefore be appropriate to consider its potential contribution to the local economy: but when that is assessed, how many of the businesses would be brand new enterprises creating additional revenue, and how many would just be moving from elsewhere, or taking trade from other local businesses, with no real net gain to the economy?

In terms of national considerations the scheme does not appear to include anything of any particular significance or with any specific need to be in that location: for instance nationally beneficial industrial development like a hydro-electric dam, or strategic commercial development such as a new airport for London, or the HS2 railway, all of which might be judged to have a critical need to be in a certain location and to provide value for our nation as a whole. The absence in the proposal of any such potential national assets is glaring.

We believe the only element of this proposal that might be deemed to be of any real national significance is that of detriment to a nationally designated AONB which should, according to British law, be zealously protected from inappropriate development.

(1) This article represents a theoretical argument in the study of considerations of Para. 116 of NPPF 2012, including its sub-clauses. Should quotations referenced herein relate to other chapters and terms of planning law which are not discussed, this argument may not apply and its conclusions may therefore be deemed invalid.

 

The mastery of flight

Just another seagull, or a master of the sky? Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2017

A local pilot was describing the intricacies of descending for a landing at one particularly difficult airport on the French Riviera.

“You must do it quietly” he said, “so as not to disturb the local residents. Using minimum power you come in parallel to the runway, then make a tight turn back on yourself before descending for the landing. The turn can be executed by setting imaginary fixed points to steer to in the sky, then following a kind of ‘join the dots’ flight path down to the runway. Or, on a good day, if the weather is fine, and if you have really mastered your craft, you can come in with one sublime, perfect curve, fine tuning it only with some minute and almost imperceptible realignments to steering: just like a bird.”

Occasionally, when that happens, one of his passengers will appreciate it for what it is: the absolute mastery of flight, but often his human cargo are too absorbed in the details of their own lives to consider the transcendent beauties of flying, or simply too unaware of the technicalities to comprehend what has just occurred.

Reflecting on that anecdotal conversation gives us cause to look anew at the flying skills of birds. Each time we see one scything through the air, or feathering the breeze, or banking gracefully to land on the wet surface of a lake, do we really understand the brilliance of the technical skills involved? In truth we don’t, we just take it all for granted, after all, flying is what birds do; but perhaps sometimes when we see a bird in flight we should stop what we are doing, pause a moment in our busy lives, gaze in awe and silently ask ourselves, “Have I really appreciated the extraordinary skill and beauty with which that was achieved?” It’s a question worth pondering, for to do so makes the world a better, more wonderful place.

The bright jewels of the Gladwin Iris

Gladwin Iris seed pods burst open on the Butts, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Take a stroll up onto the Butts this week and there, beneath a tangled little copse of bramble, elder and hawthorn, you may see this delightful display of orange seeds hanging like early Christmas decorations on the stems of the Gladwin Iris.

The Gladwin Iris is one of our two native Iris plants, yet it is often unrecognised out in the wild in summer because of its rather scruffy drab yellow-grey-purple flowers. In fact, so indistinct are the flowers of those plants on the Butts, that we have never yet observed them in bloom. Colours in the petals of local variants can be quite diverse and these are perhaps more drab than most, but if they are not showy in summer, they come into their own in autumn with an illuminating display of orange seeds that stand out vividly against the subdued backdrop colours of the season.

Gladwin Iris seeds on the Butts, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

The Gladwin Iris is also known by another more common but less attractive name, the Stinking Iris: this because someone long ago considered the smell of the crushed leaves to be rather unpleasant. Whoever it was, they were probably squashing the leaves with a pestle and mortar in the preparation of a herbal remedy, and it was perhaps contaminated in some way, for those who practice such procedures today insist the leaves have no such odour. In fact, regardless of any supposed smell, the Gladwin Iris was highly valued as a medicinal plant, and a poultice made from its leaves was a trusted prescription for removing deep splinters and arrowheads from the flesh.

Today we use modern medicines and our gardeners more often plant imported Irises for the prettiness of their blooms, but in our humble native Gladwin we have an example of how Nature offers beauty in more varied means than just a pretty flower.

The value of Natural Capital

Farmland, woodland, animals, clean air and fresh water are assets in what ecologists call our Bank of Natural Capital. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

“It is time to recognize that human capital and natural capital are every bit as important as financial capital.”
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General, United Nations

The term Natural Capital describes planet Earth’s stock of natural assets including geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is not a term with which the general public are particularly familiar, yet it describes something upon which all our futures depend.

From our Natural Capital we obtain the food we eat, the water we drink, medicines, the energy we use to light our homes and keep us warm, the fuel needed to produce our goods and power our transport systems, as well as building and manufacturing materials of all kinds. These are all things that we can see and use; but also provided by Earth’s Natural Capital are things we don’t necessarily see and appreciate, like the ability of forestry to prevent flooding and provide climate control; the carbon absorbing properties of peatland; the pollination of all our crops and wild plants by bees: and let us not forget the vast spectrum of pleasures, inspiration, and health giving activities which we humans gain from our connections with the natural world.

As everyone knows, spending or wasting too much of one’s financial capital can lead to debt or bankruptcy and, in consequence, poor health and even total collapse. The same applies to abusing Natural Capital; it needs to be preserved, used wisely and regenerated wherever possible. In our modern, highly developed world, we are used to seeing industrial projects and commercial enterprises of all kinds valued by their financial cost, but what of their impact on our planet and our nations’ Natural Capital?

The value of Natural Capital, and the cost to us all if it is lost, is something which ecologists are now suggesting should be considered in everything we do, whether it be expanding our cities, building power stations or mass producing cars. The financial aspects of all these things may be relatively easy to calculate, but assessing their cost in Natural Capital is not so easy and, in any case, commerce prefers to see the world through financial accounts not ecological concepts. Inevitably conversions are made into hard cash. Tell an economist that bees are under threat on British farmland and it may mean little; but explain that the value of bee pollination to British crops is £200 million a year and alarm bells start ringing.

Yet, even if they are effective, such cash conversions can be crude, they don’t really measure the true value of our natural assets. We need to learn to value them for themselves. If and when we start to do so, and adjust our priorities accordingly, so that all our human activities are assessed not just in financial capital but also in terms of our Natural Capital, we may find that there are alternatives in all kinds of fields which cost more financially, but use less of our natural resources and turn out to be more cost effective in terms of what really matters to our future.

*This article was inspired by http://naturalcapitalforum.com organisers of the 2017 World Forum on Natural Capital, in Edinburgh. Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisers of the forum.

No picture necessary

‘No hedgehog’ montage by BridgeNature.org 2017. Hedgehog image copyright © FreeStencilGallery.com.

One evening, back in the sultry days of summer, a neighbour phoned to tell me that she had rescued a young hedgehog.

Having apparently tumbled from the verge on Mill Lane it was lying curled up in a ball in the middle of the road when she found it. She picked it up and gave it a few moments to recover, but since it appeared to be somewhat unresponsive, she called a hedgehog rescue centre for advice on what to do. My neighbour was advised to take the hedgehog to a place of safety, provide a dish of cat food and a tray of water and monitor it for 24 hours. If it seemed healthy the next day it should be released back into the wild in close proximity to where it was found.

The following day my neighbour called me again, asking if I wanted to come and see the hedgehog. Perhaps I might like to take a picture, she suggested. In the early evening I went to look, and there, enclosed for its own safety in a small cage, was a young hedgehog, apparently healthy and fully recovered from its ordeal. For a moment or two I contemplated taking a picture, but the hedgehog was shy of me, and wary of the daylight. It hid away in an upturned pot which had been thoughtfully provided to give it shade and some sense of cover. It would not have appreciated being disturbed and distressed for the sake of a photograph.

I thought for a moment. The creature had been rescued from the road, protected and fed. It was about to be released again into the wild. Was a picture really necessary? What would it be for?

Asking the question “What is a photograph of an animal for?” leads us into another important question, “Is the picture for the animal’s benefit, or for our own amusement?”. The act of protecting wildlife is conservation, and my neighbour had accomplished that task admirably. A good picture may inspire us to take an interest in wildlife, but we must always remember photography in itself is not conservation.

And so, later that evening, the hedgehog slipped unnoticed back into the countryside, healthy and anonymous… no picture necessary.