The plan

The land around Bridge is not just pretty scenery, it is a working agricultural landscape. Image © Copyright 2018.

After years of hard work in preparation, the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan has been presented publicly for consultation with the people of the parish. All residents are invited to comment. So, how does it look from the perspective of Nature, wildlife conservation and agriculture?

The plan appears to be very much geared towards preserving the unique identity of Bridge, maintaining a strong sense of separation from the city of Canterbury and protecting green spaces around the village. It presents as a ‘green plan’ accepting and supporting the use of environmentally friendly initiatives and technologies as they arise. These include: maintaining public transport links, an improved cycle route to Canterbury, clean air policies, electric car charging points, preservation of green spaces in and around the village, flood and sewage pollution prevention policies and sustainable building practices.

We sense that this plan is also a valiant attempt to resist major development in Bridge while fulfilling a demand for need established affordable homes. The latter is a generous gesture and it may win public approval, but even the building of affordable homes of this type is only intended to be allowed within an AONB in exceptional circumstances, and these might be considered hard to justify when so many new houses are about to be built outside the AONB just a few minutes away at Mountfield Park.

Unfortunately, there is a further sense within the plan that various policies on development contradict each other. Policy C3 expresses support for the proposal to build 40 houses near Bridge Surgery, although the need for more housing than 11 affordable homes has not been established. This does not comply with national planning legislation (NPPF 2012), current AONB management policies, CCC’s District Plan, or indeed other policies within the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan itself. Residents should recall that, in a trade off for the recreation ground, this proposal was voted into the plan by the public, but that does not mean the idea is appropriate or that it will pass muster with the planning authority.

The idea that Bridge includes, and is surrounded by, green space is made much of within the plan, but it is described in an abstract sense and there is surprisingly little acknowledgement that the surrounding fields are working farmland in an historic and beautiful corner of England: one that has been protected for future generations by AONB designation of the same status as that of a National Park. A further indicator of this omission is the poor presentation of the pictures showing protected views within the plan, sometimes as tiny images, which can barely be seen. Better presentation might endorse the recognition that these views are worth protecting.

Sadly this does not look and read like a Neighbourhood Plan which values farming: indeed, there is so little mention of farming, farmland and the outlying countryside of our parish that it reads like a plan for the village centre, which only acknowledges farming as a scenic view from the window, and only appreciates countryside as a place of recreational pursuits. On page 26, in general text we read, “The plan will encourage and support the use of land to establish sustainable farming, allotments and community orchards…”, but that sounds almost like a slap in the face for existing farming, which faces many complex environmental, economic and political challenges. On the same page we are offered Project F2, which says it will “support new developments that allocate land to uses such as sustainable farming, allotments and community orchards”. Is this saying it will approve new housing development if such land is offered as a sweetener? It certainly reads that way and it is alarming. The plan needs clarity here. Perhaps Project F2 should be replaced with a project which states, “Sustainable farming will be supported and the further use of land to establish allotments and community orchards will be encouraged”. And what of a project statement on local woodland? And on wildlife conservation?

Of further concern is Policy A3 which supports a proposal to convert redundant farm buildings at Great Pett Farm, Bridge, to light industrial/commercial units. This is a proposal from agents acting for the landowner; but how and why are the landowner and the authors of the plan so sure that Great Pett Farm will never again need its barns and its farmyard? What is the long term ambition for farming in the fields around Bridge? We don’t find an answer in the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

To be fair, we are perhaps asking the plan to speak beyond its basic remit on some of these issues, but maybe it should. This should be a plan presenting, not just a defence of our village from urban expansion, but a vision of Bridge parish as a thriving, historic, rural landscape which treasures its AONB status, its countryside, its farming heritage and its wildlife, along with its community. The plan is a bold effort, but our parish has much to be proud of, and we should not hesitate to speak loudly in praise of what it is we are defending: a little more expressive recognition of farming and countryside would be welcome.

Chasing a misshapen ball

The current cricket facilities at Highland Court Farm are historic, on a small scale, and have old world charm; few would consider them obtrusive. The proposed new sports complexes would be on a significantly larger scale. Image © Copyright 2018.

In recent months a huge new building development scheme has been proposed for Highland Court Farm on the Bekesbourne Downs in our local AONB. Within it there is a very substantial element of sports complex development included. Indeed, the developer indicates that a new home for Canterbury Rugby Club is a fundamental part of the plan, along with club and pitch facilities for other ball sports. While building development in an AONB is always controversial, traditional sports pitches may appear less so, on the grassy surface at least. The original terms of Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty designation do indicate some conditional support for recreation; so does that mean modern sports pitches and clubhouse complexes comply as an appropriate use of land within an AONB?

From the outset AONBs were envisioned as working conservation areas, the work being farming and forestry, and something close to the original description of the designation is set out in the Countryside Agency’s 1991 Policy Statement on AONBs:

“The primary purpose of the designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.

In pursuing the primary purpose of the designation, account should be taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry and other rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities. Particular regard should be paid to promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the environment.

Recreation is not an objective of the designation, but the demand for recreation should be met insofar as this is consistent with the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses.”

While this policy discusses meeting a requirement for recreation, it means something rather different from pitch activities such as football, hockey, tennis and rugby: the policy was clearly intended to provide for activities such as hiking, cycling, horse riding and fishing, all for the benefit of enjoying the beautiful rural scenery of the AONB. Quite obviously it was not condoning the building of sports pitches, stands, stadiums, membership clubs and car parks, all of which would, by their very nature, interfere with the needs of agriculture and forestry while despoiling the rural scenery of the AONB.

Bridge village has a recreation ground which is underused for traditional ball sports. Image © Copyright 2018.

Those local people who wish to spend their leisure time chasing balls, already have plenty of facilities in which to do so, but our local village recreation grounds are underused by local people for traditional amateur sports, suggesting there is limited demand. Those who have most to gain from the new facilities proposed, would be commercial sports clubs wishing to expand, and they would draw supporters and participants from all over Kent, possibly to be joined by sporting opponents from far beyond. This would not be appropriate or welcome here: valuable farmland in our AONB is not the place in which to create showpiece sports facilities for everyone in Kent, either for the sake of those few who are unsatisfied with what they already have, or to enrich those who would exploit the land for their own commercial interests.

Bekesbourne village recreation ground is also much underused for traditional sports. Image © Copyright 2018.

Confusion on a national scale

Land at Highland Court Farm, Bekesbourne. Image © copyright 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 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 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 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.

Of signs and scenery

Under orders. A plethora of ugly, bossy signage can create an oppressive atmosphere. Image © Copyright 2017.

NO ENTRY, KEEP OFF THE GRASS, TURN LEFT, TURN RIGHT. Whatever a sign says, very often there is another message written large within the words, and it says, “Pay attention to me: I want to tell you what to do”. We see signs all over the place, everywhere we go, in the city and in our rural fields. Even advertising signs for things as unimportant as pop songs and fashion wear pass daily through our countryside on buses and delivery trucks, telling us what we need to buy and imposing themselves upon our scenic vistas. People living in the metropolis may have grown used to signs and accept them as part of daily life in the busy urban hive; but do we really need so many cluttering the countryside and our small villages? What are they all for?

Theme park countryside. The placement of this supposedly educational sign spoils a rural beauty spot and the view of the Little Stour at Littlebourne. Image © Copyright 2017.

At their best, signs are necessary and useful: they keep us safe, prevent us from getting lost and guide us on our way. One obvious example might seem to be street name signs, but in fact Japan has managed without them for centuries, so even these aren’t quite as essential as we might assume.

LIVESTOCK LOOSE, PLEASE CLOSE THE GATE, KEEP DOGS ON A LEAD and other such signs in the rural landscape make it clear that we are on a farm: the farmer may rightly deem the signs necessary to protect livestock, but ironically they only become so because of the careless stupidity of an ignorant public who have become so used to signage that they don’t know how to behave on working land unless they see a sign telling them what to do.

With the exception of these types of notices, our working countryside is generally clear of signage litter; our farmers have better things to do than plant signs. But the same cannot be said for our rural roadside verges, parks, recreation grounds and public places, all of which are littered with self-important signage. Many of these signs are poorly considered and simply express a need to be noticed in an individualist orientated, yet alienating modern commercial culture which has no regard for the demure.

We have been informed that CCC have requested the removal of this unauthorised advertising sign in a field on the approach to Bishopsbourne village. It has now been covered. Image © Copyright 2017.

British panning law requires that signs above a certain size need planning permission before they can be placed out in the countryside: placement without authorisation is a criminal offence, and thankfully Britain’s farmland is spared the rows of huge roadside advertising hoardings that litter the roadside in various countries on the continent. This is particularly important here in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and our designated Conservation Areas, where the commercial interests of private enterprise should not be allowed to damage rural amenity assets which are of immense value to local communities and the nation as a whole.

Messing with a model farm

Farmland at Highland Court Farm is under threat from a new development proposal. Image © Copyright 2017.

In recent weeks residents of Bridge and other local villages have learned details of a proposal for a huge new development at Highland Court Farm, which is in Bekesbourne parish, but just across the A2 from Bridge Down and Bishopsbourne. The development is intended to include 300 holiday homes, 150 retirement homes, a business park and innovation centre, a leisure and artisan food and drink hub and new facilities for Canterbury Rugby Club and Canterbury Football Club. On a map all this is even larger than it sounds: it looks like a big new village on our doorstep.

Some voices in Bridge have suggested that this development would be “good for the local economy and businesses”; it would “provide jobs for local people”. While the scheme would presumably offer employment opportunities, it appears to come with its own retail, restaurant and bar facilities, which are so far described only in the most vague terms; but it may be so big and so self-centred that it would take trade from local village businesses and leave us with nothing but a nightmare in traffic, infrastructure and service facility problems to deal with, along with the loss of local green fields. But, even if all the supposed positives are correct in their assumptions, is this kind of development really a good thing for a rural area like ours?

Highland Court Farm lies within its own Conservation Area and the entire development site lies within Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an area designated in 1968 for protection as an agricultural landscape, not just because of its visual appearance, but because of its importance to agriculture, our cultural heritage, the well-being of the British people and the national economy. The land in our AONBs provides outstanding benefits to many aspects of British life including: green space for rural experience, leisure and education for people in our cities; tourism; wildlife habitat; natural resources; and, most importantly of all… farming. In a country of dwindling countryside which no longer has enough farmland to feed itself, AONBs are a vital strategic resource which, once lost, can never be replaced.

The notion that development on fields at Highland Court Farm would be good for the economy might suggest that those fields are just waste ground, waiting to be built over: they are not, this is working land growing crops including apples and plums for our food industry, the largest industry in the UK. This land has a role in the national chain of employment for pickers, packers, drivers and workers of all kinds across the country in food and drink manufacturing (Blackcurrants for Ribena are also grown here). Furthermore, these fields provide green space between our urban developments; they provide a vital wildlife corridor and habitat; and they contribute along with all the other parts of our AONB to an essential land resource which is being constantly reduced by unnecessary development.

In their promotional material the developers say that the farmland here is currently “intensively farmed” and “of poor ecological value and species poor” {We would like to see the evidence which backs this up}: with this development they want to “create an environment that is species rich and that becomes an exemplar of how development can work in harmony with nature”. That would indeed be a worthy ambition in a different, less valuable location, but in one of the most protected landscapes in the United Kingdom, wildlife habitat enhancement would be beneficial, but there is simply no need to bring building development into the equation.

We do not believe an important farming landscape next to a heritage asset on Kent’s protected North Downs would be more valuable to Kent or the United Kingdom if it were converted into a couple of sports complexes, a restaurant and some rows of second homes for rich holidaymakers placed next to an industrial estate. It makes no sense at all, unless we only value our national countryside in terms of the financial profit which can be generated by building over it.

Highland Court Farm achieved a valued heritage status because it was built as a ‘model farm’, an experimental farm which, at the time, practiced the latest methods in early 20th century agricultural efficiency, in combination with an attitude of welfare for workers and best practice in the enhancement of the local countryside environment. If there is to be any restructuring of this farm and its environs, surely it should be as an evolution of this model, in what The Campaign to Protect Rural England call a ‘new model farm’, using modern exemplary farming practice and our new understanding of the current ecological imperatives, to work for the very same ideals and principles as the previous model.

Ironically, the new proposal presented by the developer does include an admirable scheme for varied habitat enhancement for wildlife across the area, and an organic farm: exactly what the CPRE are calling for in the ‘new model farm’. Fabulous! So why not just roll that idea out across the whole landscape and scrap the plan to build anything?

AONB: not just a pretty face

The proposed site for building between the A2 and Bridge Recreation Ground is within our AONB. Image © Copyright 2017.

Bridge village and much of the land around it is located in the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an area designated in 1968 for strict protection as an agricultural landscape. ‘Beauty’ in this sense was intended to describe a working, bio-diverse agricultural landscape, not just a pretty one.

Whenever new housing, commercial building or industrial development is proposed in or around Patrixbourne, Bridge, Bishopsbourne and villages on down towards the coast at Dover, all the relevant authorities check to see whether or not the proposed site lies within our local AONB. If it does, special protections apply. Generally, only agricultural buildings and, under exceptional circumstances, affordable homes for local people should be allowed.

Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 also confirms a general duty on all local authorities to ‘have regard to the purpose of conserving or enhancing the natural beauty’ of AONBs when coming to any decisions or carrying out activities relating to or affecting land within these areas. Development on any large scale is supposed to be refused out of hand, but sometimes, much to the annoyance of conservationists and many residents, the authorities let it go ahead: this is appalling.

A sketch map of the approximate area of The Kent Downs AONB. Not to scale. Re-use prohibited. Image © Copyright 2017.

There are now 46 AONBs in Britain, each of them has the same protection status in law as a National Park. So, what is their value, and why are they worth protecting in this way?

The land in our AONBs provides outstanding benefits to many aspects of British life including:

  1. Farming. Farming is the single most important industry in this country. Not only does it feed us, it produces the raw materials for our food industry, which is the largest industry in the UK. The agri-food industry employs nearly four million people and adds £108 billion in gross added value to the economy (1). In comparison The City of London provides £48.1 billion (2).

  2. Natural resources. While other AONBs provide resources like granite and slate and store water in lakes and rivers, the Kent Downs AONB has historically provided clay for building and chalk for lime, and it stores fresh water deep underground. It is also one of the most wooded AONBs in the country: timber has been grown here and used for agriculture, building and industry since the dawn of civilisation. Farmed bio-fuels are are now targeted as a growth sector to provide fuel for clean energy for homes, schools and businesses. We cannot afford to lose the land on which to grow this new resource.

  3. Rural leisure space. It is now well established that leisure time spent in the countryside, including short breaks, trips to the seaside, walks, dog-walking, horse-riding, mountain biking and all kinds of other outdoor pastimes, provide wonderful and vital relaxation with many health-giving benefits for modern people living busy lives. These are all activities for which our AONBs have been specifically preserved.

  4. Rural educational facilities and experiences. Where do adults and children from our big cities go on school trips to experience the countryside and learn about farming, animals, trees and nature? They go to an AONB or a National Park. How would we ever replace that experience and education if we lost these important areas of protected countryside?

  5. Insights into our cultural history. Have you ever pictured England as a “green and pleasant land” with quaint little country villages, rolling hills, farms, ragged hedgerows, streams winding through lush green meadows, stands of hops growing on poles? These are aspects of our national heritage which our population treasure and millions of tourists come to see; but with massive pressure to build new housing they will be lost forever if we do not preserve them somewhere; where do we do that? In our AONBs and National Parks.

  6. Wildlife habitat. Due to housing development, and the pressure on farmers to produce more and more food, the wildlife of Britain has suffered massive declines in the last few decades: farmland birds have declined by 54% since 1970 (3) and some once familiar birds, like tree sparrows and corn buntings, have experienced population drops of 90% in that time (4). Those birds and other animals that remain need protected countryside in which they can prosper. AONBs and National Parks provide perfect places for wildlife conservation if they are used properly.

  7. Tourism. AONBs and the rural landscapes within them provide a huge attraction for tourists from the UK and abroad: they learn about different British regions and spend money in our local shops, hotels and restaurants. In total across the UK 156 million people visit AONBs annually, and these visitors spend over £2 billion in local businesses (5). The White Cliffs at Dover and the Kent fruit and hop fields of ‘The Garden of England’ are world famous locations, and they lie within our very own AONB.

The proposed site for building at Highland Court Farm is within our AONB. Image © Copyright 2017.

Our local fields and woodlands are not lying vacant waiting to be built over, they contribute to our national reserve of AONBs and National Parks. These are essential landscape assets, yet they are being constantly reduced by unnecessary development. We must realise that it is in the interests of all of us to protect them for future generations: once lost they can never be replaced. Surely it is not just council officers upon whom the duty to protect this land has been imposed; as the current custodians of the landscape that responsibility falls upon all of us.

(2) Sky
(3) of Nature UK report_ 20 Sept_tcm9-424984.pdf
(5) Landscapes for Life. The Association of AONBs.

At the end of the working day

End of the line. Simmentals on Great Pett Farm, Bridge. Image © Copyright 2017.

Few of us can say that in our working days’ toils we nurtured and maintained the very countryside which formed the backdrop to our village life; but such is the working life of the local farmer, and it leaves a legacy in landscape which will remain forever in the minds of all those who experienced it, as a place of childhood adventure, youthful rites of passage, happy times with family and tranquil contemplative walks in scenes of rural idyll through all the seasons of the passing years.

As our village farmer Brian Mummery opens the field gate to his herd of Simmental cattle for the final time and retires from his working days, the people of Bridge should be immensely grateful to a man who has contributed so much over so many years to our local landscape and ecology.

The fields, the hillsides, the grass and the greening hedgerows will of course live on (if we don’t build on them!) but they will not be the same. The rural landscape of the Nailbourne Valley is not some magically self-perpetuating garden, as people may like to assume. Our countryside is managed with planning and hard work, and where it appears beautiful to us, that aesthetic value has often been achieved with careful consideration, creative imagination and a certain love for the land. Things may be very different in the future. Farming is still, without question, the most important industry in this country and over the years Great Pett Farm, our local farm, has played its part in feeding the nation with pasture-fed beef, oats, wheat, barley, beans and other crops too; but as we lose more and more of our precious farmland to housing, our local fields may be subject to new initiatives in intensive agriculture in the years to come.

Masterpiece in a meadow. Wild flowers on chalk down at the Butts, June 2017. Image © Copyright 2017.

In recent decades, an increasing awareness of the importance of biodiversity has been a new imperative for farming in the developed world, and nowhere is this more important than here in our own little sector of the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, an agricultural region with the same status as a National Park. Here Mr Mummery has maintained our local farmland to high modern ecological standards while creating and presenting a landscape of great visual charm. He has restored chalkstream water meadow, maintained lowland cattle pasture, planted hedges, provided wildlife havens, created wild flower meadows and revitalised the biodiversity of the grassy chalkland downs for which this area is famous. What is more, he has allowed us, the local people, free access to enjoy it all. It is a landscape of which many of us are very fond and very proud: we enjoy it, we treasure it, and, at the end of our farmer’s working days, the very least we can all do is say “thank you”.


In the meadow of the Moon Daisy

Oxeye Daisies, Bridge area, June 2017. Image © Copyright 2017.

Walkers who venture along the farm track extending from Mill Terrace in Bridge will, once again, see a swathe of flowers growing in a field near the old Elham Valley Railway. Currently in bloom are thousands of Oxeye Daisies (alternative spelling Ox-eye) planted by our local farmer a couple of years ago. We believe more have flowered this month than this time last summer. Sometimes these are called Moon Daisies, either because of the bright yellow disc of florets at their centre, or perhaps because the flowers seem to glow in the moonlight.

While, in the past, some formal gardeners and indeed farmers too, may have considered the Oxeye Daisy to be a weed, in these more enlightened times it is recognised as a true grassland flower to be valued for the biodiversity it brings to the Kentish chalk downlands. The yellow florets at the centre of the flower will provide nectar for a whole range of pollinating insects, particularly bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Farms need to be growing food, but it is now well understood that biodiversity assists in that cause and one of the ‘beauties’ of our Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is that it can, and should, be retained and enhanced as a preserve of biodiversity for the benefit of our entire countryside.

Also growing in the same area, though blooming at different times are chicory, cornflower, yarrow, wild carrot, buttercup, common mallow, herb robert, black horehound, herb bennet, knapweed, ragwort, selfheal, birdsfoot trefoil, field marigold, dandelion and scarlet pimpernel.


Sustainable Development: a dream betrayed?

What makes development sustainable? Image © Copyright 2017.

In recent years anyone reading a local authority Local Plan or perusing a property developer’s brochure will have come across the term ‘sustainable development’. It’s a popular term at all levels of government and it is ubiquitous in modern planning documents, but what exactly does it mean?

Back in 1970, while Simon & Garfunkle were singing ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, a group of MIT scientists working for a think tank called ‘The Club of Rome’ were studying a computer simulation which predicted that our world was developing too fast and our natural resources could not support the current rate of industrial production and growth beyond the later 21st century. They concluded that we needed a new global economic system which provided for the needs of everyone while remaining sustainable into the future. They called their report ‘The Limits to Growth’: it was seminal and it influenced minds across the world.

Two years later in 1972, Stockholm hosted the ‘United Nations Conference on the Human Environment’ which declared 26 principles for a sustainable global future. These are the first 10:

1. Human rights must be asserted, apartheid and colonialism condemned
2. Natural resources must be safeguarded
3. The Earth’s capacity to produce renewable resources must be maintained
4. Wildlife must be safeguarded
5. Non-renewable resources must be shared and not exhausted
6. Pollution must not exceed the environment’s capacity to clean itself
7. Damaging oceanic pollution must be prevented
8. Development is needed to improve the environment
9. Developing countries therefore need assistance
10. Developing countries need reasonable prices for exports to carry out environmental management

A new concept ‘Environmentalism’ hit the headlines, but, as anyone who lived through the 1970s and 80s will know, in those decades environmentalism was not taken very seriously in the developed west. Nevertheless, by 1987 the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development had released a report called ‘Our Common Future’, or ‘The Brundtland Report’, which brought into clear focus the idea that development and environmental conservation must work together if the world community was to have a sustainable future. To that end it introduced the concept of ‘sustainable development’.

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:
The concept of ‘needs’, in particular, the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs”

The idea drew support, and in 1992 the United Nations held a Conference on Environment and Development, known as the ‘Earth Summit’, in Rio de Janeiro. At this conference 128 participating countries, including the United Kingdom, agreed on a new global plan for sustainable development into the 21st century, it was called ‘Agenda 21’.

“Agenda 21 addresses the development of societies and economies by focusing on the conservation and preservation of our environments and natural resources”(2).

Agenda 21 is ambitious: it is a revolutionary new concept in global politics: a world of united nations working together with a plan to end poverty and improve health (particularly in poor countries), to enhance the lives of women and children, to control population expansion, to change consumption patterns, to conserve natural resources, to clean up pollution, to limit deforestation and to conserve biodiversity right across the world. All this within a framework which encourages economic growth for all the nations involved and financial prosperity and social inclusion for all of their inhabitants. A noble initiative indeed, but its critics say it’s not so much a plan as an unachievable fantasy.

In Britain in June 2000, The Sustainable Development Commission was set up to “hold government to account to ensure the needs of society, the economy and the environment were properly balanced in the decisions it made and the way it ran itself”(3). It was shut down by the coalition government in 2011.

The new National Planning Policy Framework, which dictates the planning rules for Britain, was published in 2012 with its much quoted mantra:

“At the heart of the National Planning Policy Framework is a presumption in favour of sustainable development, which should be seen as a golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking” (4).

It is a policy for building development. Yet each time we see this golden thread twisted into the context of a new planning proposal on our diminishing British farmland, we need to follow it back to its origin and ask ourselves: is the term ‘sustainable development’ really being used to describe a proposal which will help to end world poverty, to conserve natural resources, to preserve biodiversity, to change consumer consumption patterns? Or is it just being misused as a meaningless catch-phrase to justify a new housing proposal here in the affluent west?

(1) United Nations:
(4) NPPF 2012, Para 14.