Tagged: biodiversity

All fracking applications for Northumberland must be refused believes Green Party

Fracking must be roundly rejected in any part of Northumberland, a Green Party politician vying to be an MP has said.

Rachael Roberts, who will contest the Berwick upon Tweed constituency, has launched a petition demanding that Northumberland County Council commits to refusing all applications for fracking.

She said

“All proposals for fossil fuel extraction in Northumberland, whether by fracking for gas, drilling for oil, or open cast mining for coal, are fundamentally keeping us tied to 19th Century technology – the county council has already recognised that Northumberland has potential to become a world leader in renewable energy, and it is in this clean technology of the future that our investment must be made, not in the polluting technology of the past.”

In 2014, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) invited bids from companies wishing to explore for onshore oil and gas across much of Northumberland.

The areas permitting exploratory drilling under Amble and Rothbury, and between those two towns. The results have not been announced.

Ms Roberts is calling on the council to make a refusal of any fracking activity its policy.

She said:

“Fracking contaminates ground water supplies, where it risks introducing toxic chemicals, carcinogenic hydrocarbons and radioactive matter into the natural food chain.

“The biodiversity that is already stressed from pollution, pesticides and climate change will be under threat: this is a risk that no responsible council should ever consider taking.”

A Northumberland County Council spokesman said:

“The exploratory, appraisal or production phase of hydrocarbon extraction can only take place in areas where the Department of Energy and Climate Change have issued a license.

“The Government is considering a further round of these licences and parts of Northumberland do fall within the areas being considered.

“In addition, planning permission would also be required.

“The emerging Core Strategy includes a number of draft policies that any future planning applications for fracking would be considered against.

“The draft policies set out a range of environment criteria for assessing proposals, including a requirement to demonstrate that any benefits outweigh the adverse impacts on local communities and the environment.”

Ms Roberts’ petition can be found at:


Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Mar 2015

‘Make Young Unemployed Pull Up Ragwort For Benefits’ Says Lord Tebbit

This article was written by Rowena Mason and Damian Carrington, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd October 2014

The former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Tebbit has said young unemployed people should be required to pull up ragwort from roadside verges in return for benefits.

The 83-year-old Tory grandee made the proposal in a letter to Matt Shardlow, chief executive of a charity called Buglife, which is concerned about the effect of declining ragwort on bees and rare insects.

In his reply to the charity, Tebbit said ragwort was a major problem in his part of East Anglia and proposed it could be weeded out by “Neets” – young people who are not in education, work or training – and “low level criminals”.

He wrote:

“I suggest you come to the Norfolk/Suffolk border areas of East Anglia. Landowners who wish to control ragwort face an impossible task when roadside verges are dominated by it to an extent I cannot remember in the past.

“There would be little cost to bring that under control if Neets and low level criminals were required as part of their contribution to the society which finances them, or which they have abused … to uproot this weed.”

> Translation: anyone unemployed is either living a luxury lifestyle at taxpayer’s expense or is a criminal.

Strangely, this is also many people’s definition of a politician…

Tebbit later told the Guardian:

Given a bit of organisation, they [unemployed young people] would be happy doing something constructive. That’s something constructive for them. It’s appealing, it gets rid of a weed which is a danger to some animals and helps landowners in the cultivation of their land.

“That was my thought that caused me to suggest the idea … in a way it’s a form of national service, of doing something for society in a way in which anyone unless they are physically disabled can participate.”

Asked whether he acknowledged some might find the idea of forced labour in return for benefits controversial, he said:

It’s workfare but I think there are some powerful arguments for workfare and so does [Labour MP] Frank Field for example. It’s not a way-out idea in that sense. If you go back to the Beveridge report on which the whole welfare state has been based, you’ll find he took the view that youngsters who had never worked should not receive benefits because they have not contributed anything.

“I am much more modest about this than Beveridge was and I suspect Ernie Bevan might have been on my side in it. I just think a lot of those youngsters want something to do which is constructive.”

However, Chris Bryant, Labour’s shadow welfare reform minister, said the comments reflected the “values of the Victorian workhouse” in which out-of-work people were forced to perform demeaning, unpaid labour.

There’s one weed that I would like to uproot: it’s sitting in the House of Lords. Lord Tebbit’s proposal, which effectively equates being out of work with being a criminal, is both offensive and ludicrous,” he said.

It betrays the deeply toxic attitude the Tories have towards people who rely on the social security net for any period of their life. Rather than acting to end the scourge of insecure, unskilled, low pay jobs, they think up ever more creative ways to demonise those that they have failed.”

It is not the first time Tebbit has made controversial suggestions about the unemployed. He is famous for suggesting in 1981 that they should get on their bikes to find work.

His stance on ragwort – a plant often sprayed with herbicides by local authorities because of its reputation for killing horses and grazing animals – may also annoy environmentalists.

Shardlow, the chief executive of Buglife, said:

We were surprised that Lord Tebbit suggested that the unemployed and criminals should be forced to pull up ragwort, particularly as ragwort is an important part of our native biodiversity, supports 30 species of insects and helps to sustain the now fragile bee populations that we need to pollinate crops.”

Shardlow said that the poor reputation of ragwort was undeserved and argued that cases where horses and other livestock appear to have been poisoned are the result of poor animal husbandry, not the spread of the plant. He said that while ragwort may be more obvious on roadside verges in some areas, it declined by 39% in England between 1998 and 2007. One of the insects dependent on ragwort, the cinnabar moth, has declined by over 80% in the last 35 years.

Richard Benyon, a former environment minister, was criticised by ecologists in 2011 when he posted a picture on Facebook of himself pulling up the yellow-flowered plant.

Declaring he hated ragwort, the Tory MP said he was “on the warpath for those who let this vile weed spread,” prompting anger from experts who said at least 30 insect and 14 fungi species are entirely reliant on ragwort.

>  I have actually done this work – pulling ragwort – back in the days when I was an environmental volunteer.  Those were also the days of Thatcher’s government, which included Tebbit.

I used to get constant grief from the Jobcentre for doing voluntary work – I was actually told that I might be considered to be making myself unavailable for work !

I pointed out that I was only doing it until another paid job came along, was learning new skills (some of which, incidentally, got me more paid work further down the line).

Honestly – damned if you do, damned if you don’t…

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  23 Oct 2014


North East parks are our ‘Natural Health Service’

It’s called the Natural Health Service – and sums up the therapeutic benefits flowing from green spaces and contact with wildlife.

Nature is good for us. This is something that we intuitively know, and for which there is mounting evidence,” says Northumberland Wildlife Trust chief executive Mike Pratt.

Stroll through a nature reserve, or just watch wildlife from your window – all contribute to our physical, mental and emotional well being.”

For many urban dwellers, it is parks which offer a link to the natural world.

Many people talk about “the other NHS” – the alternative and preventative health benefits that nature provided for free,” says Mike.

After all, we are animals and are intrinsically linked to the ecosystem and life support provided through the surrounding environment.

“So it’s no surprise that we feel better when we interact with wildlife, and enjoy the open air and green spaces, benefitting from the therapeutic qualities of the natural world.”

The Wildlife Trusts is proposing a Nature and Well Being Bill which recognises the basic connection between health and the natural environment.

Mike says: “The idea is to bring together all the disparate protections and designations affecting the natural environment under one umbrella piece of legislation.

“Work has started on this and we have met senior politicians to generate interest and support.

“We will be attending all the parties’ autumn conferences to push the idea and we are trying to get manifesto pledges in advance of next year’s General Election.”

The Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) Parks for People scheme, which has invested millions of pounds in restoring and improving green spaces all over the UK, has touched almost every local authority area in the North East.

Since 1994, the HLF has jointly invested with the Big Lottery Fund £60m in over 50 parks related projects in the region. Soaring visitor numbers suggest the investment has paid off in spades.

An improved outdoor space can make a significant difference to the quality of life for many people on a daily basis.

Parks are free,” says Jerry Dronsfield, North Tyneside park and horticulture manager.

They provide a green space, a place for physical activity and they promote health and wellbeing. It’s what we call here a Natural Health Service.

“Green spaces provide great benefits for physical and mental health, and parks were created as green lungs in polluted cities.”

Fears have been voiced that councils, faced with Government funding cuts, are in turn reducing spending on parks upkeep.

Two decades of public and lottery investment has ensured that the majority of UK parks are in better condition, but unless future funding is generated in new ways, parks are at serious risk of rapid decline and even being sold off and lost to the public forever.

One of the important things about parks is that if they are not maintained then people don’t go in,” says Morris Boyle, retired chairman of the Friends of Barnes Park in Sunderland.

If you don’t maintain them then they quickly fall into decline, but when there is a lot of footfall people feel safer and that encourages more visitors.

An example is the restoration of Wallsend Parks in North Tyneside, which includes the 1900 Richardson Dees Park, Wallsend Hall grounds and Princes Road arboretum.

Comprising 40 acres over three interconnecting sites, Wallsend Parks fell into a gradual decline over the last few decades.

But that has dramatically changed since last year, thanks to a £7m lottery cash redevelopment.

Works have included refurbishing the tennis courts, improved plantings, restored views, rebuilding the Victorian bandstand, and the extension of the 1930s bowling pavilion to include a café with wi-fi, which is designed as a social hub for the area.

There is also an innovative play area, which includes a zip wire and youth shelter for older children and a sand pit for toddlers.

It has already attracted around 100,000 more visitors to the park.

With parents, if your children are happy, then you’re happy, and Wallsend Parks is now a hive of activity, ” says Jerry.

Students working alongside local historians have produced 17 illustrated panels on the park’s history and biodiversity, which will go on permanent display.

One of the original aims was that Wallsend should become a destination park, rather than one purely for locals, says Jerry, and the evidence is that this has already happened.

It’s a hub for the area,” he says. “What has happened is fantastic”.

Ouseburn Parks in Newcastle includes Jesmond Dene, Armstrong and Heaton parks. The parks were awarded a £4.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund with match funding from Newcastle City Council.

Often visitors don’t realise they can walk for a full two miles between the parks without crossing a road, says parks manager Seamus Tollitt.

The overall Ouseburn Parks scheme won an award for its restoration in 2012. Attractions include a green visitor centre, landscaping, the restoration of historical buildings, the opening up of vistas and a revamp of Jesmond Dene’s Pets Corner.

And the result? “There has been a 40% increase in visitors to the parks,” says Seamus.

This huge change has been boosted by the efforts of local volunteers who range from 18 years old to 80, including people with special needs. They have donated hours of labour helping with practical conservation such as clearing paths and riverbanks to bee-keeping – there are hives on the roof of the visitor centre – or taking guided walks.

Pensioner and volunteer Maggie Dowman has been working at Jesmond Dene for 10 years.

The vast majority of people who come with their dogs, children or on bicycles see what has been done and really appreciate it,” she says.

It’s a beautiful park, we’re lucky to have it and it would not look as good without the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

When Barnes Park in Sunderland put a bid in for a lottery grant, local wheelchairs users and their carers were asked what they might want.

The answer was “freedom”. And the result, says Helen Peverly, project manager of the bid, is “a unique park for people who don’t usually have access to an outside space that is safe.

Barnes Park was awarded £2.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund with contributions from Sunderland Council.

The park is two miles long and part of that is now a sensory garden with a camomile lawn, scented plantings, musical instruments and paths and facilities that are wheelchair-friendly.

The improvements also included restoring the historic cannon dredged form the River Wear.

That cannon is the icon of Barnes Park,” says Morris Boyle, chairman of the Friends Group when the bid was submitted.

Many a child in Sunderland has had their photograph taken beside that cannon. Myself included”.

Morris has been coming to the park “since I was in a pram,” he says.

I can remember the Mayor of Sunderland doing ballroom dancing on the tennis court during the war. And I knew it before the grant, when it had fallen into disrepair and was a den for antisocial behaviour”.

Now retired, he still comes every day with his grandchildren. “There has been huge appreciation for what the improvements have done,” he says. “It’s added that bit of class that Sunderland needed”.

Source – Newcastle Journal,   02 Aug 2014