November, 2011

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South East

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  • George Osborne's Autumn Speech

    A Thames barge glides beneath Tower BridgeTwo of the many great things about London are the River Thames and the large number of open spaces you can escape to, spaces where you can cycle, fish, run, play, walk your dog, watch the world go by or simply rage against the machine.

    Much of London's infrastructure, from its sewers right through to its lay-out with large public spaces, was created by the Victorians. They even built an empire and established economic models to fund the growth of  the country. They recognised the importance of creating public spaces, like Victoria Park, to help keep their workforce healthy and happy. Chancellor George Osborne is a history scholar, so would know all of this better than I.

    Fast forward to today and we're in the process of finally upgrading London's Victorian sewer system and re-shaping warped financial systems, but Chancellor Osborne is busy dismantling the legal powers that protect our open spaces. He's described the Habitats Regulations as a 'ridiculous cost on British business'. This legislation doesn't stop development or business growth, it guides and enhances our world; incorporating the needs and impacts of wildlife, nature and people. It helps make money by ensuring there is natural water drainage, natural air cooling, space for wildlife so it doesn't conflict with business operations and provides those all important spaces we all need. A bonus income comes for tourism or recreation in these spaces. Investing in nature makes simple economic good sense. 

    With your support we will be campaigning to stop George Osborne throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to safeguarding our natural heritage. It's not all doom and gloom though and the RSPB isn't anti-development.

    Thames Barrier Park - a much loved green spaceEast London has always been more divided than west London, partly because the river's wider and it's more difficult to build bridges. The Chancellor would like to see this resolved as quickly as possible, as would most residents and the RSPB. Three crossings are proposed, two near City airport linking the O2 Arena with Silvertown and a second at Gallions Reach. The third would be near the existing Dartford tunnel and bridge. These crossings will improve access to green space for residents both sides of the river and there's great scope for improving environmental infrastructure around them too.

    There's been much debate around the meaning of the Chancellor's words on a new estuary airport. Mr Osborne appears to have taken a swift and unexpected U-turn on behalf of his Government colleagues to support the notion of a new airport along the Thames. The area has a handful of designations  (including four Internationally recognised SSSI's and an SPA if you were wondering). A mistaken conception is that the estuary is simply a body of muddy water. It is a thriving and dynamic place where many rare creatures live, it includes unique spaces on a scale not seen in most of Europe. Rare short-snouted seahorses are recorded here and it's a breeding and nursery area for a variety of internationally protected fish species; add to this the thousands of native and migrant birds that rely on it to survive.

    The RSPB will defend the Thames and London's green spaces to get the best outcome for nature, local communities and development.

  • In praise of Boris

    Sunshine and a sunflower in a London gardenI whole-heartedly congratulate London Mayor Boris Johnson on his latest inflammatory comments.

    In a letter to Chancellor George Osborne, the Conservative Mayor of London, has attacked the Government over its cuts to solar subsidies; warning that halving the “feed-in tariff” would “slowly suffocate” the nascent renewables industry. These are the payments to householders for the energy they generate from solar panels installed on their own homes or businesses. He believes it's sending the wrong signals about solar energy generation.

    With the right subsidies in place, and support from Boris, London has the potential to become a leading player in the introduction of solar energy through new development projects. These tariffs were a vital incentive to help the UK reach its climate targets, as well as providing a boost to the green economy, both areas the Government has pledged to support. The RSPB was planning to roll out solar schemes at 22 of our nature reserves, including Rainham Marshes on the outskirts of London. But these projects, and all the time and effort that went into them, have now been scrapped.

    There are other areas where Boris and the RSPB agree, and several more where we have a lot to talk about. Not least his airport envy and a desire to go down in history as the man behind the UK's answer to Hong Kong's artificial island airport. We're not the only ones opposed to the London Mayor's plans to build in the estuary.

    The post of Mayor of London comes up for election next year and all of the candidates are busy writing their campaign plans. Here are a few ideas to make cost effective investments that will benefit all of London's residents, human or otherwise.

    • Saving energy should be a top priority. Each unit of energy saved is one that does not need to be generated. This can only benefit the environment and nature. What’s more it is the cheapest way to cut carbon output
    • Investing in public transport and cycle schemes to reduce congestion and air pollution, whilst boosting small and medium enterprises by making it easier for employees to commute
    • Supporting schemes to clean up London's rivers and removing the raw sewage discharges that kill so much wildlife and threaten public health
    • Increasing the number and quality of the Capital's green public spaces
    • Funding access to, and learning in, the great outdoors to bring communities together, whilst boosting environmental understanding and general quality of life for all Londoners

    All of these initiatives come with an investment in real jobs, benefiting local economies and communities. They also help make London a nicer place to live and work; attracting more investors. Most importantly, these simple ideas all help our struggling wildlife survive  climate change.  Scientists estimate around a third of plant and animal species will be committed to extinction by 2050 unless we act to avoid dangerous climate change. History has shown that Londoners aren't afraid of stepping forward for what's right. Here's a chance to lead the world out of the financial crisis and to step boldly forwards towards a low-carbon future with nature and people at its heart.



  • Unstoppable forces?

    A silvery thread of sparkly water is the current focus of my life. It's a mental stream that bubbles and gurggles, carrying hope and energy as it gathers strength to become a swift flowing surge and then a powerful current out into the magnificent ocean of the world's conscience.

    Fancy words to paint a picture of small voices coming together in greater numbers to loudly deliver a joint message to world leaders preparing to gather in Durban. The South African city is the setting for a meeting at the end of this month to effectively save our planet.

     Current predictions show global temperatures may rise by an average of 4°C by the 2070's. Experts agree that anything over 2°C will be catastrophic for many of our most vulnerable ecosystems that help regulate our weather, water and air quality; such as the Arctic, tropical forests and coral reefs. The RSPB is one of the many organisations and individuals coming together to help focus UK Government thoughts on what can be done to globally contain greenhouse gas emissions. These ideas will then be carried forward to Durban on a wave of popular support.

    World leaders may well be occupied with global economic worries, but the environmental crisis should be the bedrock upon which they build solutions. Investment in new energies and the adoption of developments or policies which work to support and enhance our natural world should become the norm.

    Why is this important? Because it's about life!

    The well publicised Ghosts of Gone Birds exhibition, supported by dozens of well known artists, writers and illustrators, is a brilliant portrayal of what's at stake. The humble house sparrow is almost extinct in some parts of central London and starlings and blackbirds are struggling. We're already losing species yet we continue to allow thousands of tonnes of raw sewage to seep into the regal Thames.

    If we're to give the next generation any hope of a future worth inheriting, we all need to step-up our actions to help. We only have the power to adapt to a changing climate to a certain point, and if we don’t cut carbon emissions then we’ll end up with a world we simply can’t live in.