Conservation & Environment

Biodiversity on the bund

Spring 2017 and the bund along the Nailbourne has been strimmed; but is it necessary at this time of year? Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Those who regularly stroll in Bridge Meadows will have noticed that, in the last days of April, the flood prevention bund which runs along the bank of the Nailbourne between the ford on Mill Lane and Bridge Place was strimmed to bring the long grass and wild plants down to ground level. This was maintenance work done by the Environment Agency in what was set to become an annual spring cutting programme to prevent the growth on the bund becoming too high and too permanent. Access for regular inspection of the bund is important and it therefore needs to be kept in manageable condition.

However, BridgeNature.org has been in contact with the EA to see if the annual cutting of the wild plants on the bund can be rescheduled for autumn. This would preserve an important wild habitat for many riverside plants and creatures through the spring and summer, while there is minimal risk of flooding.

We are pleased to report that experts at the EA have been most open to the idea of rescheduling the maintenance to improve wildlife biodiversity through the summer. Strimming will now cease in the spring and become an annual event each September. The work will include a ‘preamble’ along the bund to inspect the area for wildlife and trigger escapes before the area is strimmed. The inspection will also provide an important pre-winter check for the bund itself.

As a further consequence of the initiative, BridgeNature.org has been invited to assist the EA by monitoring wildlife along the Nailbourne and the bund so that measures can be put in place to safeguard specific animals or rare plants should it be deemed necessary. If members of the public become aware of any particular issues of concern we would be grateful to hear about them.

 

Three Willows and a bridge

Willows near Bridge Tennis Club, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Canterbury City Council have recently granted permission for the pollarding of three Willow trees on the banks of the Nailbourne at the southern edge of Bridge Recreation Ground where it meets Patrixbourne Road.

BridgeNature.org is not generally keen on the pollarding of ‘amenity’ trees: amenity in this sense means trees which are planted to enhance the appearance of a particular public space rather than for timber producing purposes. Pollarding is an ancient procedure which strips a tree entirely of its branches, thereby leaving just the trunk standing as a stump, which, if the work has been done correctly on the right type of tree and at the right time of year, will grow new branches over the next few years. In olden times whole stretches of woodland were pollarded to provide a regular supply of young branches for fuel or fencing. Riverbank Willows were often pollarded for flexible ‘withies’ for basket making, furniture and other products.

It is sometimes argued that pollarding rejuvenates a tree by encouraging new growth, but the suggestion remains controversial. Another more certain consequence of this method, if practiced regularly, is that the subject tree is restricted in height and span so that it takes up less space. For this reason the procedure is often adopted as a method of controlling trees in urban landscapes where space is limited; but the results can look brutal and unnatural to those who love trees.

All this begs the question, why pollard Willows on the banks of the Nailbourne in Bridge in 2017? We think this may be more to do with tradition rather than anything else, but there is a technical argument in favour too. Left to their own devices Willows will grow into very large trees which cast a lot of shade. They grow thick upper limbs, but the wood is weak and liable to crack and fall, particularly on the Crack Willow, which is how that tree gets its name. This is obviously potentially dangerous and unsightly on an amenity tree. As a measure to reduce such risks, Willows are often pollarded and these trees tend to accept the procedure better than most.

Some may feel the Recreation Ground’s Willows are too big and cast too much shade. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.2017.

We have great faith in local tree surgeon Paul Davies, who will be supervising the work this year, as he did the same work to the same trees some 30 years ago. We understand the pollarding will be staggered so that all three Willows are not stripped at the same time. In his role as Parish Councilor, Paul Davies will also be overseeing shrub pruning and maintenance around Bridge Tennis Club, and he has  already stated that he is keen to ensure work does not progress while wild birds’ nests are in use in the area. We thank him for this considered and responsible approach.

In the same location, beside today’s dry Nailbourne, the old bridge to the Recreation Ground is under consideration for replacement. We don’t know what sort of bridge will be installed, but in olden times a new bridge would have been constructed from local timber or stone, and some ancient peoples created bridges out of saplings which would be trained to form a living tree across the water. Ironically the best tree for this kind of project is… Willow.

Some small tragedy

Common Frog, Western Avenue, Bridge. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Some small tragedy on Western Avenue
Walking home one night recently, I was turning the corner on Western Avenue when I spotted a frog sitting on the pavement opposite Saxon Lodge. Having my camera with me, I took a few pictures to record the event, then wondered if I should leave the frog where it was, or try to help it to a place of safety.

On a cold winter night a Common Frog would not be venturing out onto our streets, it would be hibernating in a found burrow, or under leaves; but as spring approaches and the night-time temperature rises above five degrees or so, frogs begin to come out foraging, or wandering in search of a lake or pond in which to meet a mate for a midnight rendezvous. There are one or two ponds in the back gardens along Western Avenue, but the road was not a good place for the frog to loiter.

Having made a decision to rescue it, I went home to get a bucket in which to transport the frog to somewhere more suitable: perhaps a spot down by the Nailbourne. But on my return it was no longer visible on the pavement, so I looked around for a while with a torch, only to find, to my horror, the body of a frog, dead and grotesquely flattened onto Western Avenue.

In the daylight of the morning, some children heading for school may have studied the squashed frog in the road with ghoulish curiosity; a hungry magpie may have eyed the corpse from a perch on a garden tree. For my part I felt a certain guilt: perhaps I could have done more. Some readers may feel the same; but in truth there are few in our busy modern world who would pause to mourn the passing of a Common Frog. Every year, on warm nights in spring, thousands of such deaths occur to frogs and toads on roads all over England, yet these sad tragedies, each the extinguishing of a little striving life, are considered of no consequence in our distracted and disinterested human realm.

 

Spring activities on the land

A modern cultivator at work near Flint Cottages this spring. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Soil preparation and spring planting
Last summer, much of the wheat we saw in our local fields had been planted the previous autumn. The wheat grows a little, lies dormant over winter, then begins growing in earnest in the spring. We understand the same practice was followed this year on fields between Bridge and Patrixbourne, but not in the fields between the Nailbourne and the Butts. In the last couple of weeks, those fields which still had stubble remaining in them, were tilled with a modern cultivator and prepared for a spring seeding of oats.

Seeding was completed in a few hours using a modern seed drill which simultaneously plants numerous rows of seeds at exactly the right depth so that the crop grows uniformly across the entire field. This would be impossible to achieve when scattering or ‘broadcasting’ seed by hand.

For our previous article on sowing search for ‘seed drill’ in our search box to the right.

A modern seed drill in operation, Bridge area. Seeds are contained in the red hopper at the top and distributed through tubes down into the earth. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Fallow land
This year we can expect to see more sections and strips of fallow land in the fields around the village. Leaving some land uncultivated as an Ecological Focus Area (EFA) for the benefit of wildlife is now a general requirement on the modern European farm, but we understand that a particular issue with the EU’s so called ‘greening’ regulations this growing season has meant that more local land will be left fallow than usual. Calculating greening requirements is a complex business for farmers, but it can provide a bonus for our wildlife.

Stringing the hop poles, Bishopsbourne, February 2017. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

Stringing the hop poles
Over the winter there were fears that Bishopsbourne might lose its last remaining hop farm, but it has apparently been reprieved, and the stringing of the hop poles began in late February in the field near Flint Cottages. This is a long, laborious process which can take many days. It must be done by hand with the aid of a long pole, enormous lengths of twine, and quite a degree of skill. Looking at the number of poles now strung, it seems we may even see more hops growing this season than we have in recent years.

For our previous articles on hops and stringing search for ‘hops’ in our search box to the right.

Best wishes
We wish our local farmers a good growing season, and let us all remember, as we face the possibility of losing more fields around Bridge to building, that farming is still, unquestionably, the most important industry in Britain.

Being green after Brexit

Our local farmer prepares ground as part of a wildlife biodiversity programme. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2017.

As the British government prepares to invoke Article 50 in order for us to leave the EU, a report by the all party Environmental Audit Committee expresses a number of concerns about the future of our wild and farmed landscapes and the animal life which inhabits them, and makes some significant recommendations to ensure that all continue to receive the protection they need if they are to prosper in the future.

Our natural environment stands in a precarious situation: many of the protections which currently safeguard it were provided by European laws which will be lost at the point of Brexit. One example is The Birds and Habitats Directives, which “form the cornerstone of Europe’s legislation on nature conservation”. They will cease to have authority when we leave the EU and the effect on our wildlife could be devastating. Other protection laws may be ignored, superceded or allowed to lapse over time.

For farmers, who undertake the practical tasks of managing huge swathes of the British countryside, the question of grants is paramount. Many cannot earn a living from farming, particularly if they make extra efforts to be environmentally compliant in the way they work, and consequently they need EU subsidies to produce the food which they deliver to the market. Such is the imbalance between supermarket prices and the costs of production. Something will need to be done to ensure that the UK’s agricultural industry survives after Brexit.

Our current Conservative government made a manifesto commitment to “be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than they found it”. In order to do this, when we leave the EU’s jurisdiction they must provide an equivalent or better level of protection for our environment and wildlife than existed while we were members. To address these issues the Environmental Audit Committee makes seven recommendations which we summarise here (1).

1. The government must legislate with a new Environmental Protection Act which offers similar or greater environmental protections than EU legislation.

2. The government must make a full assessment of the resources necessary to replace existing EU environmental funding to ensure that farming remains viable and animal welfare, food security and food safety are protected.

3. The government must recognise the interdependence of its two forthcoming 25 year plans for A. the natural environment and B. food, farming and fisheries. Consultation on these should inform the Brexit negotiating strategy.

4. Brexit negotiations must address international issues and trade arrangements with regard for how they will affect the UK’s natural environment and agriculture.

5. Before Article 50 is triggered the government should identify the legislation guaranteed to protect our environment when we leave the EU and guarantee that it will not trade away environmental and animal welfare protections as part of negotiations to leave or in future trade deals.

6. Before Britain leaves the EU the government must establish the environmental objectives and governance model of any future land management payments {ie: grants and subsidies} so that they are linked to public goods {ie: environmental protection} rather than just providing income support to farmers (2).

7. Defra must ensure that funding is allocated fairly across the nations of the UK with environmental standards required.

(1) This list provides a lay summary only. For full details of the Environmental Audit Committee’s report see: The Future of the Natural Environment after the EU Referendum: sixth report of session 2016-17.

(2) {…} denotes editorial insertions.

Badgers, blame and bovine TB

Badger, secret location, East Kent. The government’s badger cull has not reached Kent… yet! Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Bovine TB (b:TB or cattle tuberculosis) is a menace on the farm. If cattle contract it they must be slaughtered. For farmers who have spent many years breeding a herd this is a disaster, particularly as the disease tends to spread amongst animals in close proximity, meaning that sometimes an entire herd has to be destroyed.

For decades farmers, vets and environmentalists have argued about what causes the spread of bTB. Environmentalists say modern farming methods are to blame, insisting cattle aren’t checked properly before being transported to farms across the country. Others, including many farmers and the vets who earn a living treating their cattle, say badgers, which are known carriers of the disease, pass it on to livestock.

In recent years two hugely important trials have occurred out in the fields in the west of Britain. In a few English counties, a highly controversial government backed cull has attempted to kill vast numbers of badgers to see if bTB in cattle is reduced. About 15,000 have been killed so far and the pro cull lobby claims success, but many leading scientists and The Wildlife Trusts, suggest there is no basis for suggesting anything of the sort. In a joint statement the Badger Trust, Born Free Foundation, the RSPCA, and The Humane Society International make their view clear:

“there is no evidence that the current culls are reducing bovine TB in cattle” (1).

One surprising figure from an earlier test is that 83% of badgers culled in government trials 2002-2005 tested TB free” (2), yet in the culls of recent years the government has refused to allow testing of culled badgers to check if they actually had bTB. Furthermore, a panel of experts appointed by the government to assess the validity of the English badger cull was disbanded when they reported that the cull was both cruel and ineffective.

Meanwhile in Wales, where a cull was ruled out, a so called IAA Vaccination Programme has been vaccinating hundreds of Badgers against Bovine TB, so that they don’t get it and therefore can’t spread it to cattle. In tandem a more stringent bTB testing programme has been carried out in Welsh cattle herds.

Between July 2015 and July 2016 new bTB incidences in Welsh cattle fell by 19% (2) although more incidences were found in herds known to have had previous bTB infections. This suggests overall the two level programme is working: less herds are being infected, and better testing is finding more of the cattle which already have bTB. Vaccination is cheaper too, at about £700 per badger (3), while the cull is costing about £5-7,000 per badger(4). Nevertheless many Welsh farmers are insisting they want an English style badger cull. Such a call would seem to conflict with the scientific evidence.

To pass the disease directly to a cow, an infected badger would need to come within 1.5 metres of it, but new research by Prof Rosie Woodroffe and experts at the Zoological Society of London (5), in which they tracked 65,000 badger and cattle movements, shows that rather than coming into close contact with cattle, badgers actually avoid them. Only once in the entire study did a badger come within 10 metres of a cow, but most preferred to stay 50 metres away or more.

These new studies suggest that environmental factors may play a much more important role in bTB infections than has been realised. “The current tests for bTB in cattle are only 20-50% effective and one fifth of all bTB infections are only discovered when the animals go to slaughter” (6). These cattle are therefore likely to have been infecting pasture land, farmyards and a variety of common animals including hedgehogs, mice, moles, rats, sheep, goats, slugs and worms long before the disease was detected. Even when a bTb infection is found early in a cattle herd, the slurry and manure from these animals is not regarded as contaminated and often gets spread all over the farm. Professor Alastair MacMillan, ex Defra vet and Veterinary Adviser to the Humane Society International has advised:

The suggestion by some that TB is spread by frequent nose-to-nose contact between badgers and cattle has now been completely dismissed. It is much more likely that contamination by cattle of fields and yards by [TB bacteria] is the cause of repeated TB herd breakdownsIt’s clear that the government must divert the substantial resources being used needlessly to cull badgers and instead improve farmer education and biosecurity on farms”(7).

So, why is there a continued insistence amongst farmers and some members of the governmental scientific community that badgers are always to blame? Badgers are an easy target: they, like many wild animals, have been persecuted by cruel country folk for centuries, not because they cause any real harm, but because it’s a traditional ‘country sport’ to kill them. Could it be the very same thugs who are getting paid to kill badgers in the cull?

Britain’s farming industry is vital, it feeds the nation, it must succeed; but whatever the definitive cause of the spread of bTB turns out to be, we need an ethical, sustainable farming industry that works in harmony with the land, local communities and wildlife. The mass slaughter of thousands of healthy, uninfected badgers surely cannot be seen as a logical, ethical and humane solution to what is essentially a modern farming problem.

(1) Badger Trust, Born Free Foundation, RSPCA, Humane Society International, joint submission to DEFRA consultation, January 2017.
(2) Badger Trust figure
(3) Figure quoted by Caroline Lucas MP, Hansard 07 September 2016, Volume 614.
(4) Initial figure: £7,000, Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, June 2007; revised figure: £5,000, Caroline Lucas MP, Hansard 07 September 2016, Volume 614.
(5) Prof. R. Woodroffe, Ecology Letters, 4 Aug 2016,: Badgers prefer cattle pasture but avoid cattle: implications for bovine tuberculosis control
(6) Dr Monaghan MP. Sponsor of Commons EDM on Badger Cull. Hansard 07 September 2016, Volume 614.
(7) Quoted in The Guardian, Friday 5 August 2016.

A village speaks

An impression of a display at the BNPC Information Event. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Following the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Group’s information event on Saturday 21 January we present a number of the comments made on the ‘Panoramic Views’ board. We believe these give a good flavour of the opinions expressed when residents were asked which views they want protected.

The views on display were: 1. Station Rd to Bridge (not Mill Lane as stated); 2. The Butts to Mill Terrace; 3. Bishopsbourne Hop Garden to Flint Cottages and beyond (not where indicated); 4. From Star Hill over Bridge; 5. Highland Farm to Bifrons Estate; 6. Town Hill to Bridge. Some significant views of Bridge were absent from the display.

Comments

All views should be protected

No. 6, Preserve the gap between Canterbury and Bridge. Is paramount {sic}.

Keep Bridge a rural village protect all views

{Pic 6} Do not build of the green gap {sic} between Bridge/Renville/Canterbury

Keep Bridge a village do not allow Canterbury to encroach. Save all these views

No. 6 It is essential to keep a clear green gap between Bridge and South Canterbury

We need to preserve all our areas of outstanding natural beauty

{Pic 6} The green gap must be preserved for Bridge residents now and for the future

{Pic 4} The view from ‘Star Hill’ is very special and has a fantastic history. DO NOT CHANGE IT!

All views should be protected – our village is special and so are our landscapes

Surely we must preserve all our green spaces and open views. It’s a bit ironic and sad that the major threat to Bridge — Mountfield Park — is outside the scope of this otherwise informative and useful exhibition

All views should be kept our village should remain a village

1 2 3 4 5 are outside the village envelope

No 6 will mean no green gap and no space between Canterbury and Bridge

Please ensure Bridge retains it’s identity & do NOT build on the green gap {sic}

4 A frequently used footpath with lovely views of bridge over the top

{Pic 6} Please do not build in this “Green Gap”

No 6 We must preserve the Green Gap between the village and south Canterbury where they are building 4000 new homes. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty

4 The footpath here is very well used. The views are fantastic. No building here

All views should be preserved and protected — they form part of the quality of the area and contribute to the A.O.N.B. in which Bridge is situated

The key aspects of the rural setting of Bridge lies to the south and west views (1-4) The “green gap” is on high ground affecting the views from the village centre. The topography is such that access is likely to be from Bekesbourne Lane – it can therefore be argued that these houses are C/B overspill rather than part of Bridge so it too should be avoid but detriment is less {sic}

4 This should remain as beautiful as it is Do not build on this land.

So much development is going on in Canterbury, namely Barton and behind Park-n-Ride N/Dover Rd. Why must we sacrifice Bridge. Legal advice should be taken to preserve us! And our spaces.

6 Must retain green gap! This is national policy. We do not want to be connected to Mountfield Park

No. 2 and all others. This (No 2) should be preserved it is an area that all villagers enjoy. Wildlife in abundance and it makes our village special. Please keep Bridge rural.

6 It is imperative to keep the Green gap between Bridge and Canterbury so we are not part of large complex of houses

Surely we must preserve all our green spaces and open views. It’s a bit ironic and sad that the major current threat to Bridge — “Mountfiled Park” — is outside the scope of this otherwise instructive and useful exhibition.

{Pic 1} Please leave this This is a preserved area

6 {first part hidden} before the extent of Mountfield Park was known. Building here will join Bridge to Canterbury. KEEP THE GREEN GAP

Please leave all of it alone!

6 This view must be kept preserved It is the green gap

All views to be protected Don’t spoil the very thing that most of us want to live here for

{Pic 6} We need to preserve the green spaces around Bridge — and especially between us and Canterbury — if we’re to maintain the character of the village

Bridge is in an A.O.B. we should not be building in any green sites and definitly not build on the gap between bridge, Canterbury {sic}

{Pic 6} Please do not build in this “GREEN GAP”

1. Quintessential view for protection

It is vital to maintain the identity of the village and not allow the defined gap to canterbury to be filled. 6 must be maintained if we are not to become an suburb of Canterbury {sic}

All areas in Bridge need to be preserved and protected, I have watched wildlife throughout seasons in all of these locations and it is not acceptable to take away any habitat. It is an A.O.N.B.

We thank all those who left comments: clearly our countryside is much valued by the people of Bridge. Having previously expressed BridgeNature.org’s position that we want all our local countryside to be protected, we are delighted with the response of Bridge residents. We do hope that this strength of public opinion will, in future, be reflected in the policies of the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

*Note: Public comments made at a Parish Council event are a matter of public record. All comments here can be verified as having been made at the event. Comments were written on small ‘Post It Notes’ so line changes sometimes replaced punctuation which might otherwise have been used. We have tried to record comments accurately as they were made. To this end spellings, grammar and punctuation have not been corrected. {Pic X} indicates near which picture the comment was posted, although the nature of the display did not always make this clear. This list does not include comments made by BridgeNature.org.

Breaking the ice

Frozen puddles trap vital drinking water, Whitehill Wood, Bridge Parish. Image © Copyright BridgeNature.org 2016.

Deep in bleak mid-winter the crystalline patterns formed by ice in frozen puddles can be intriguing, and it’s not just children who like to pause and stoop to examine these strange frozen worlds at our feet. But the attention span of children is short, and often, when curiosity gets the better of them they will try to break the ice, either for the sheer naughty pleasure of doing so, or perhaps to discover what further mysteries lie in the murky water beneath the glassy surface. To considerate, responsible adults who have been brought up to respect our countryside, this deliberate vandalism can seem like sacrilege, the callous fracturing of Nature’s works of art, the spoiling of a virgin frozen world; but, if ever you find yourself in that frame of mind, think again, the breaking of the ice can be a godsend to wildlife yearning for a drink.

Just like us, birds, mammals, reptiles and insects of all kinds need water to drink and moisture to help them keep themselves clean, even in the winter. Out in the countryside, puddles are a precious source of water. Pot-hole puddles on country lanes provide a drink or a bath. Baths are important for drowning parasites in a bird’s feathers: blackbirds and starlings love a delousing bath. In the woods and fields the water-filled ruts left by tractors and 4X4s offer refreshment, nutrients and sometimes food like snails, nymphs and worms.

In the frozen world of winter, all such sources of water are vital for our wildlife. It really is a matter of life and death: thousands of our native birds will not survive through winter, either because of cold or starvation. In the famously cold winter of 1962-3 it was estimated that half of all British birds died (1), but in any of our colder winters up to 80% of some species, particularly smaller birds like wrens and long-tailed tits may die. Even in a normal year only 25% of Kingfishers are thought to make it through the winter (2).

The modern world has taken so much from Nature, so why not give our wildlife some help? Feeding birds in our gardens is important, providing our wild creatures with drinking water out in the countryside is absolutely vital, and this is often easily achieved as we saunter out on country walks admiring the beauty of the frost. Next time you see a puddle which has frozen across the top, go on, break the icy surface to expose the water underneath: you might just save a life.

HELP IN THE GARDEN TOO!
If you have a bird bath which freezes over, please refresh the water each day. In a small pond, leave a ping pong ball or two on the surface to stop it freezing over.

(1) The Independent, Thursday 28 January 2010. Experts fear count will reveal a deadly winter for birds.
(2) RSPB Figure

Important views of Bridge

Don’t Judge. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

“An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is exactly what it says it is: a precious landscape whose distinctive character and natural beauty are so outstanding that it is in the nation’s interest to safeguard them”.
Kent Downs AONB Management Plan 2009-14

Readers will be aware that residents of Bridge are invited to an information event hosted by the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Group, which will be held at the village hall on Saturday 21 January 2017. The event will feature a display of photographic views of the village and its surrounds taken by some local people. Residents will be asked to express preferences on which views they consider the most important, so that they can be listed for protection in the new Bridge Neighbourhood Plan.

Of course photographs of our beautiful landscape are lovely to look at, but photographs are just selective images reflecting the particular tastes of the photographer. Pictures alone do not enable us to know or judge which areas are important out in the real landscape either visually, ecologically, for agriculture or for biodiversity, so they must never be used to set one aspect of our protected countryside against another.

In fact, BridgeNature.org was asked some weeks ago to provide photographs for this event, but we declined to do so because Bridge is a rural village within two Conservation Areas and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and these legal designations mean that our village and its surrounds must, by law, be protected, both to preserve its character and its appearance. The law is quite clear: it’s not about choosing this view or that view, all our rural landscape must be protected because our area is special. The government’s National Planning Policy Framework 2012 states that AONBs are equivalent to National Parks in terms of their landscape quality, scenic beauty and their planning status (1).

Modern planning law imposes “a duty on relevant authorities, public bodies {including parish councils} and statutory undertakers to take account of the need to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of AONB landscapes when carrying out their statutory functions”. Kent Downs AONB Landscape Design Handbook 2005 reprinted 2006.

To the modern mind the term ‘natural beauty’ may sound rather vague and perhaps, to use a contemporary term, ‘cheesy’, but in 1949 it was written as shorthand for something far more important than just pretty scenery: it describes the visible presence of what today we would refer to as a healthy local ecology and rich biodiversity within a flourishing rural landscape. The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (which first defined AONBs) makes this clear “References in this Act to the preservation or conservation of the natural beauty of an area shall be construed as including references to the preservation or, as the case may be, the conservation of its flora, fauna and geological or physiographical features”. NPACA 1949, Section 114.

With this in mind we suggest that asking residents to express a preference for certain areas of our protected landscape by voting on some amateur snaps of Bridge is a gross misunderstanding of the requirements of a Neighbourhood Plan for a parish within an AONB. Some might call it crass. We understand that some Neighbourhood Plan Group members and their advisors have tried to ensure that, at the information event, public votes on the views will be restricted, so that only a limited number of views will be accepted. One suggestion was to force the vote to reduce an original display of twenty views down to six. Why should we only be allowed to value six views of our local landscape? Another suggestion was to ask residents to give the views a value on a sliding scale from ‘very important’, through ‘important’ to ‘not important at all’. In a designated AONB this has appalling implications.

We do not know which method has been chosen, it may be something different, but any attempt to prioritise or rank certain areas of our landscape against others is unacceptable: we must not let our AONB be judged in this way. To ensure that it is not, we ask all residents to spare just 15 minutes or so to attend the information event in the village hall on Saturday 21 January, between 10am and 1pm and we urge you to make it clear to the Bridge Neighbourhood Plan Group that we will not subject our local countryside to an ‘X Factor’ type popularity contest in the village hall, nor, as one committee advisor suggested, a competition for ‘Likes’ on Facebook. We wish to preserve ALL our greenfield land, ALL the scenic views it provides and ALL the flora and fauna which depend upon it. Under the laws governing an AONB nothing less is acceptable, anything else is a betrayal of its original designation.

(1) NPPF 2012. Paras. 14 footnote 9, 115 and 116

The myth of ‘The Balance of Nature’

Nature does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar. Little Egret, Bridge. 2016. Image © copyright BridgeNature.org 2016

“The idea of a balance of nature has been a dominant part of Western philosophy since before Aristotle, and it persists in the public imagination and even among some ecologists today. In fact Nature is not in balance, nor has it ever been at any stage in Earth’s history.”
John Kricher. ‘The Balance of Nature; ecology’s enduring myth.’

On 7 February 2017 we finally had to concede that the Nailbourne had dried up. Not a trickle ran in constant flow through Bridge. Since it is a bourne, an occasional stream, which leaks from fissures in the chalk beneath East Kent, this is not to be unexpected; but it spells disaster for our local wildlife and the precious ecosystem of a rare chalk stream. A rich and varied biodiversity nurtured by the cool springwater will be lost: a delicate, heirarchical food chain which was gradually establishing itself in the heart of our valley will break and fail. Many species will either die or move elsewhere.

It is a populist notion that such events are all part of what some people call the ‘Balance of Nature’. They are not. Balance implies a system of self-correction, a sustained position of equilibrium. This is not what happens in Nature. The natural world does not stand balanced like some perfectly poised dancer pirouetting on a bar; it reels and lurches from one disaster to another, like a confused boxer losing badly in a fight.

“Nature is not a balance, it is just one catastrophe after another!”
Professor Richard Dawkins

When a natural catastrophe occurs on a large scale in a meteor strike, a flood, a volcanic eruption, or, on a smaller scale, perhaps the drying up of a village pond or a local spring, there is destruction and there is death. This creates a vacuum in the natural world and Nature abhors a vacuum. Something, in a quest for survival, will fill it; this invariably will be some species of plant or creature which is more suited to the new environment. An opportunity arises, something seizes it, but this opportunism must not be confused with ‘balance’, for the state of things will now be different, the equilibrium has not somehow been restored. Things have changed and in consequence there may now be a new order in the food chain, a new king ruling the jungle. He will rule as long as the new conditions remain or until the next catastrophe arrives to topple him from his place. It’s a continuing struggle for survival in which each individual in each species fights for itself in the face of ever looming death. In the 3.5 billion year history of life on Earth, over 99% of all the species that ever lived here are thought to have become extinct, either because they just couldn’t live in the environment in which they found themselves, or because a new, more advanced or adapted species was able to out compete them. This is a process called ‘speciation’ and we modern humans may face it one day as did Neanderthal man who failed to compete with us.

Mother Nature is not of gentle mind, she is a violent and ruthless ruler in her empire of the sun. Her flowers bloom sublime, but don’t be confused by her apparent charm and her fondness for the young: she has no compassion. Her disasters appear random, but they are all a consequence of her brutal rule. There is an order in the chaos, but it is heartless, inequitable and cruel. Life on Earth staggers on, trying to navigate through constant adversity and change: ‘carpe diem’, seize the day and do your best to survive, but be assured your death will come and you won’t be calling it a balance when the reaper swings his scythe.

Sometimes we think we see Mother Nature as a beauty, dancing elegantly to illuminate our lives in the darkness of her universe. Her beauty, her dancing and even the colours of her dress are mere mirage; but the miracle, the sublime, spectacular miracle, is that she ever manages to stand at all. We must hope we never live long enough to know when she finally collapses and her empire turns to dust.