Monday, 26 June 2017

Field in summer

Was down at the field the other day, and it's looking super summery. Here are a few pictures from the field and its surrounds in late June. In terms of animals - the mammals were lying low when I was there, but there were finches, skylarks, pheasants, wrens, herons, buzzards and a huge number of dragonflies, butterflies and of course, horseflies.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

'Mon the fox

Its easy to forget how great foxes are. So common and suburban, so much abused in agricultural folklore and the media, this perfect little predator is rarely given its due.

Their orange-red fur is the match of any dhole or jackal, particularly in winter when they have their thickest coats. I once saw one tracking down geese at first light on Dartmoor, and it struck me that this was the equal of any small hunter I had seen on the plains of India. 

Anyway - here are a few pieces of footage of a fox which appears to frequent my field, taken over a couple of weeks just after Christmas. Hunting, calling, running from the rain. I'm glad I can help provide a refuge.

As a final aside fox hunting back in the news with the soon to be PM Theresa May saying she will have a free vote on the issue. I don't want to get into the issue over whether predators need 'control' but two things are clear. 

If we eat less meat then fewer predators will need controlled. 

Fox hunting is wrong. Yes, animals get killed violently all the time, and that's just the way it is, but why would we wish to inflict that horror on another living thing for no reason? Those - like Jacob Rees-Mogg - who have tried to claim that hunting with dogs is more humane than say, being shot with a rifle, are lying to themselves to justify their support of hunting. We should ask them whether they personally would rather be shot with a high powered rifle, or chased by a mob and torn apart by dogs. Didn't think so. 

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Tactical voting around Bristol

For the progressive in Britain, these are dark times. Theresa May has called an election to win herself a big mandate. For what exactly we don't know, but she is banking on the short turnaround, dislike of the Labour leader and general confusion to win her the vote. And she is probably right. Let's be clear that the Conservatives will almost certainly win this general election. The question is by how much, and if there will be interesting upsets along the way.

The job for those of us who disagree with her politics, and who want a more pro-Europe, pro-environment and generally less xenophobic and authoritarian future, is to try and blunt her victory and hope that something unexpected happens. Given that she is looking forward to a huge win, anything less will be a big blow.

So we need to swallow our concerns over parties that will probably not be in government anyway. We need the Parties to make deals too. They need to grow up, and we need to stop worrying about what happened with tuition fees or Iraq. Neither matters in this election.

Where I live in Bristol this means tactical voting, and pushing the Parties to talk to each other. Here are the constituencies near me, and voting suggestions.

Bristol West - Suggest Green
In Bristol West we are lucky to have a three way fight between the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Labour. Both Greens and LDs are pro-Europe and have offered a ratification referendum on whatever deal is agreed. The sitting Labour MP is pro-Europe, her party less so. They accept Brexit but will likely want a better kind than the government. I will be voting Green (Molly Scot Cato), because they can win, and more Green MPs would be a good thing. Personally I think the LDs should withdraw in exchange for the Greens stepping down in Bath, but that's another story.

Bristol NW - Probably suggest Labour
Like Bristol West this was a remain voting area. But it has a hard Leaver Tory MP called Charlotte Leslie. I would vote to get rid of her. The best bet for that seems to be Labour's Darren Jones. The seat has always been either Conservative or Labour, so while I am not 100% certain, I think its the best bet. He is pro-European and pro-environment. If the Greens step aside he will have a better chance. If I was a pro-European conservative who could not bring myself to vote Labour, I would stay at home or vote Liberal Democrat, assuming they do not pull out, which they probably should.

Bristol East - Suggest Labour
Bristol East has a pro-European Labour MP called Kerry McCarthy. She is also good on the environment. I would vote for her. The Conservatives really want this seat. Greens and Libdems will not win and should step aside.

Bristol South - Suggest Labour
Bristol South has a not very pro-European MP called Karyn Smith. She has quite a big UKIP vote in her seat. The Conservatives could win it. I would reluctantly vote for her, as her Party is more pro-European and pro-Environment than the conservatives. Greens and Libdems would be unlikely to win.

Bath - Suggest Liberal Democrat
Outside Bristol the LDs are the main opposition. I would vote for them in Bath where they topped the recent Metro Mayor polls (albeit on a low turnout) and have a good chance of winning. Greens and Labour will not win here and should step aside this time.

Thornbury and Yate - Suggest Liberal Democrat
Pretty much the same as Bath. Again Greens and Labour should step aside or de-escalate their campaigns.

North East Somerset - not sure, perhaps Lib Dems, perhaps Greens to build long term alternative
Jacob-Rees Mogg's constituency. Yup the Conservative party's own right-wing Kermit the Frog. Just do whatever you can.

North Somerset - Suggest LD or possibly Green/Labour
This is Liam Fox territory, with UKIP, Labour and LDs all on a similar vote. LD were the main challengers before their collapse in 2010 and so would seem the most likely to re-emerge in future.

None however is likely to beat him this time, so vote for which ever you would like to help build a base in the longer term.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Badger and deer

Was down checking on the field at the weekend, and looking at the camera trap pictures. Thought I'd pop these up.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Beavers prove a winner for Greens

Nice little bit of good news.

The Green Party have won a seat on a local council in the Forest of Dean from UKIP with a pledge to support the reintroduction of beavers to prevent flooding. I can't say if it was the main reason they won, but I'd like to think so.

Anyway, I didn't know it, but it turns out there is an official discussion underway about beaver reintroduction in the area - involving the local wildlife trusts and some charities. Combined with other reintroductions in Devon, Wales and Scotland and escapee populations in Kent, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and elsewhere, its just more momentum to the growing spread of the wild beaver across Britain, which will be a boost for fish, for flood prevention, for birds and every other thing that creepeth along the river bank.

It could also be a relief for the Forest of Dean's wild boar population as UKIP councillors have in the past been among those calling for them to suffer a major cull.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Bristol should have a 'hotel tax' to fund low carbon transition

I think it's time that Bristol seriously considered having a 'city tax'. This would be a small amount of money levied on tourists staying in hotels in the city, raising funds for important projects. In my view there is a strong case that this money should be used to aid the transition to a low-carbon economy, and specifically targeted at lower-income households.

The point is that Bristol needs money. Like other authorities around the country Bristol City Council is in trouble, with a £92 million hole in its next five year budget. At the same time the city itself is booming, with population, construction and tourism expanding rapidly. We also know that the transition to a low carbon, environmentally friendly economy is both the greatest challenge and greatest opportunity of the coming decades. It is also essential. We simply cannot carry on as normal.

A tourist tax would help with both, and would also be a fair tax. Tourism is a high-carbon and relatively high-income business, and a little tax on it is justified.

Bristol receives around 526,000 international tourists a year. If each spends on average six nights in the city, then there is the potential to raise millions of pounds. There are also around 1.5 million domestic tourists, each spending around 2 nights in the city (they should also pay the hotel tax). Of course the tourism industry also brings over a billion pounds to the local economy, so there would be no advantage in making the tax punitive, but a small amount would be justified.

Lots of cities have these taxes - from Amsterdam to Cologne, Paris to Singapore - and Bristol's close neighbour Bath is also considering it. No doubt parts of the hotel industry will cry foul, but there is no reason to worry. A tax of £2 per night per person on a hotel room might earn the city £12 million a year. That would be less than 0.1% of the total tourism spend on the local economy, so would be unlikely to harm the industry, and would give money directly to the Council.

£12 million is not vast, but it is not nothing either. And it would be a start. It is one of the few taxes a city can have which is not a tax on the electorate, making it politically viable. Finally if the tax was publicly and visibly advertised as helping the environment many tourists would welcome it, and it would boost Bristol's 'green credentials' which are an important part of its overall 'brand' (itself something which draws tourism).

So what would we do with this small windfall? It could be targeted at specific functions - such as deploying solar power on low-income housing. The returns (small though they currently are, around 3%-4%) could accrue to the Council, while residents would get lower electricity bills.

Other good options would include home insulation to make a contribution to fuel poverty, biodiversity projects in the city (here a few million could make a very big difference), affordable zero-carbon housing, or public transport.

At the very least it is worth a try. It would be a bold move, and a fair one. Give it five or ten years, and then see who wants to get rid of it.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Is Bristol in danger of losing its trees?

Is Bristol in danger of losing its trees? Its a genuine question, and one I don't yet have the full answer to. But I've done some digging and I'm concerned. Let me explain.

Trees are one of the nicest things about Bristol. Particularly the old ones. But in recent months I've noticed quite a few little white signs seeking permission to cut them down - for development, for rebuilding, for health and safety, for disease. A lot of renovations seem to involve removing mature trees. One in particular caught my eye from a developer in Clifton who wanted to remove two huge oak trees because they were decaying. The planning office was unable to insist on their replacement.

Individually these applications could be reasonable, but what of the cumulative effect? How many established trees are being lost, and are they being replaced? The trouble with trees is that they take a long time to get old, and unless there has been continuous replanting, there will be big gaps. That's bad for wildlife, air quality and the character of the area, and it's just not as nice.

From a Freedom of Information request I got a list of all the times permission has been sought to fell trees. This only covers trees in conservation areas, so I have no idea how many are being lost elsewhere, but its a start.

From this data we can see that around 3800-4000 trees have been lost in the last 5 years (a conservative estimate from the number of trees mentioned in each application). That might not sound too bad, but these are only the ones in conservation areas which required permission. That excludes much of the city.

Plotting the location of the trees removed on google maps give the spread below.

And what of replacements? Looking at the entries in the FOI data, only a small minority of applications indicate that new trees will replace those being removed, about 130 trees replanted in all.

In addition, very few applications were refused or had tree preservation orders imposed - around 70 out of 2343 applications.

Of course Bristol has planted lots of new trees in that time - about 39,000 by the Council as part of Tree Bristol and the One Tree Per Child scheme, including at least 129 street trees. But where are they? I've been trying to get a comprehensive map, but have not yet managed to find one.

We can however get a clue from the Council's adopt a tree policy, which allows individuals to adopt trees that have already been planted. Looking at the adopt a tree map from Bristol City Council you can see that almost all of the trees that have been planted by the city are in the same few parks, and open areas, quite separate from the old garden and street trees being lost in conservation areas, and perhaps, the rest of the city (we don't know).

Individuals too have likely planted thousands of trees - no permissions are needed - but again, as far as I can tell, we simply don't know.

The point of all this is that I have a concern. Without some way of accounting for the cumulative impact of losing old trees, and without being able to ensure that on average they are replaced, there is a risk that the ancient garden and street trees which give large parts of Bristol its character will be hollowed out and lost.

There is a threat too that as trees mature, take up more space and become more difficult to handle then the easiest thing will be to simply remove them and either not replace them or replace them with different species, such as the ubiquitous plane trees which blanket all new developments - a danger that seems more likely than ever given the financial crisis facing our councils. Indeed this may already be happening. There have been stories that Bristol City Council cannot afford to replace trees that it is removing, while in Sheffield the city council is removing trees on roads to cut down on maintenance costs.

This is not to say that this is all the fault of the Council, or that they are not aware of the problem. Far from it - the Tree Bristol and One Tree Per Child schemes look very worthwhile, and planting community forests is a great idea - but we must also take care of the every day urban trees that are essential to the character and ecosystem of a city.

I have tried to contact the council to chat through some of these points, but so far, no joy. I'll keep you posted. Do let me know in the comments if you have any insights or corrections.