Category Archives: Environment

LAUNCH SYSTEM FOR ILFRACOMBE’S HARBOUR WASTE SHARK IS NEARLY READY

The new launch system for Ilfracombe Harbour’s very own waste shark, ‘Sharkie’, is getting closer to completion thanks to the arrival of a new shark cage and a lot of hard work.

The custom-built shark cage, along with a trolley and a waterproof cover, have been presented to Ilfracombe Harbour Staff and The Shark Ambassadors from Commando Logistic Regiment, Royal Marines Chivenor and the North Devon branch of the Royal Marine Association. ‘Sharkie’ is the nickname given to the aquatic drone, designed to clear unwanted debris such as plastics and oil from waterways and a much-loved resident of Ilfracombe Harbour. The items will be used to transport it from its home to the new bespoke launch system once complete and installed at the harbour.

The new launch system for ‘Sharkie’ is currently being  set up specifically for Ilfracombe’s tidal range by harbour staff and The Shark Ambassadors. The Shark Ambassadors are local residents who have volunteered their time to help with the set-up of the system and operating ‘Sharkie’ and also the organising of other volunteers who will be trained up when the system is complete. Once complete and Covid-19 restrictions ease, it will mean that ‘Sharkie’ can be launched on a more regular basis in the harbour.

Lead Member for the Environment at North Devon Council, Councillor Netti Pearson, says: “‘Sharkie’ is a real asset to Ilfracombe and as a resident of the town I look forward to seeing it back in action. I was at the launch last year, it is a novel way to raise awareness of the amount of plastic waste that washes up in the harbour and is a useful tool for measuring and reducing other pollutants in the water. The new equipment will make it easier to launch ‘Sharkie’, and house it safely, so we will be able to see it in action more often.”

Ilfracombe Harbour Master, Georgina Carlo-Paat, says: “I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Commando Logistic Regiment, Royal Marines Chivenor and the North Devon branch of the Royal Marine Association for all their hard work developing these items for us to house ‘Sharkie’, the resulting cage, trolley and cover are brilliant and have moved the completion of the project a huge step closer.”

Chairman of the Royal Marines Association in North Devon, John Peel, says: “The communities of Ilfracombe and North Devon are very appreciative of the Armed Forces and the work they do and particularly those stationed at RMB Chivenor and the base at Instow.  As chairman, acknowledging the responsibilities we have to our local veterans, it is great to have such a good relationship within the community and we are always very well received when out and about.

“It is a great pleasure to able to support projects when they come around and the ‘Sharkie’ project has, yet again, been an opportunity to collaborate in a positive way and continue to enhance relationships.  We look forward to being able to come back to Ilfracombe for future events.”

‘Sharkie’ was first launched in Ilfracombe Harbour in March 2019 and has been stored away during the winter months. This recent project has been funded with a grant from the AONB along with other local contributors. Once launched, the drone has the capabilities to gather air and water quality data, and filter chemicals out of the water such as oil, arsenic, and heavy metals through filtering pads.

‘Sharkie’ is controlled by harbour staff alongside the Shark Ambassadors and all waste recovered from it will be deposited in the Ocean Recovery Project bins at Ilfracombe Harbour, then collected by North Devon Council for sorting.  Ocean Recovery will then recycle the separated plastic waste into pellets, which can in turn be made into kayaks and composite flooring.

 

CALL FOR CITIZEN SCIENTISTS TO HELP KEEP VITAL CONSERVATION PROJECTS ON TRACK

Exmoor National Park is calling on people to help rescue conservation projects that have been hit by the coronavirus lockdown, by reporting sightings of important plants and wildlife spotted in their garden or whilst out walking on Exmoor.

The plea follows the launch of #30DaysWild this month, the Wildlife Trusts’ challenge to the nation to carry out Random Acts of Wildness every day in June, and is a great way of giving something back to the landscapes we love.

The National Park relies on records submitted by volunteers and the general public to help monitor the condition of habitats on Exmoor through its WildWatch scheme. This helps paint a picture of overall ecological health to help target conservation efforts and tackle problem invasive species.

The lockdown has meant many volunteer teams being stood down and far fewer records being submitted. This is a particular problem for projects with short-term funding, such as the Exmoor Non-Native Invasive Species (ENNIS) project – a two-year collaboration between Exmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, the National Trust and Natural England that was set to majorly scale up work to control invasive species in the National Park.

Ali Hawkins, Exmoor National Park Conservation Officer, said: “Prior to the lockdown we had a dedicated team of trained volunteers ready to start surveying for invasive species. But even with some volunteers now returning to surveying, we have nothing like the numbers needed for large-scale monitoring. Meanwhile the clock is ticking down on our two years of funding and, if we don’t find a way to get some records in, it could have a serious impact on the whole project.

“We’re appealing to everyone locally to take a little time out to check what’s growing and living in their gardens and, if out walking on Exmoor, to report what they see. Many of the invasive species that threaten our precious habitats started life as garden plants and it’s surprising how many private gardens still harbor them. Equally we would absolutely love to hear about all the bees, butterflies, songbirds, bats, owls, fungi and wild flowers that signal nature is thriving.

“Now is a good time to look out for the invasive species ‘American skunk cabbage’, with its large green fleshy leaves and distinctive yellow flower spikes. Sightings of this plant will help us tackle it as part of our ENNIS Project, which is funded by Defra and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. You will also spot the emergence of Japanese and Himalayan knotweed, Himalayan balsam and montbretia and we’d like to hear about these species too.”

Submitting a record is quick and easy and can be done on your mobile phone via the iNaturalist App or at www.inaturalist.org. There is even a category for unidentified species, so you don’t necessarily need to know the name. Or, if you don’t have a smart device, head to www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/wild-watch to submit an online record and also download a handy spotter guide.

PHOTO: American skunk cabbage has been banned from sale in the UK since 2016 due to the damage it can cause to native species if left to spread in the wild. Look out for it in wet woodland and on the banks of ponds and rivers. Seen here on the River Barle in Exmoor National Park.

KINGSLEY SCHOOLS CLIMATE CHANGE TEACHER ACCREDITED BY UNITED NATIONS

Steve Whaley, Head of Geography at Kingsley School Bideford, has become one of the first teachers in the UK to be a UN accredited Climate Change Teacher.

Mr Steve Whaley has been working hard to become an eduCCate Global Climate Change Teacher, accredited by UN CC:Learn. Mr Whaley can now deliver world-class climate change lessons to all pupils at Kingsley School and, through lesson observations and staff training, plans to share information and best practice with all teaching staff, so they too can take part in this new initiative. He will also continue to deliver climate change education through the geography lessons and his many extra-curricular activities.

Steve says, “As a keen environmentalist I was delighted to get the opportunity to deepen my knowledge and understanding of climate change. Achieving the United Nations accreditation was a challenging process of many different learning mediums and formal assessments but ultimately has left me far more informed and able to educate the students in my care.

“The timing is spot on, with climate change being at the fore of current affairs and with the launch of the Earth Centre at Kingsley.

“For the next century to be a success for humankind, environmental sustainability needs to be at the core of everything we do.  Our earth is creaking, and the big question: ‘Can the planet support and enable a population of 10 billion people to live contented and flourishing lives?’ remains unanswered. Being an accredited UN Climate Change Teacher and the launch of the new of the Earth Centre puts environmental sustainability at the heart of school life here at
Kingsley: increasing awareness, asking the right questions and developing the future leaders and practitioners for the future.“

Steve Whaley continued: “Climate change has been in the curriculum for years. The information I learnt on the course is astonishing and we really need to provide our students with the up-to-the-minute knowledge on climate change so we can empower them to make the decisions that can make a difference.”

The UN Climate Change Teacher Academy is being delivered by Harwood Education, in partnership with the One United Nations Climate Change Learning Partnership (UN CC:Learn). Teachers will be able to teach pupils vital lessons about climate change and earn certification from the United Nations.

DUNSTER BEACH HUT URGES OTHERS TO JOIN THE PLASTIC FREE REVOLUTION

Salad Days and Holi Moli, two multi-award-winning 5-star beach huts at Dunster Beach, have received further recognition, this time by Surfers against Sewage and Plastic Free Minehead & West Somerset.

“The two beach huts have a long list of awards, but this one is really special,” said Brett Bates, who co-owns the beach huts with his partner Susan Juggins. “We have always been environmentally conscious, during the refurbishment and the running of both our huts, but when we got involved with Plastic Free Minehead & West Somerset, an environmental action group run by Surfers Against Sewage as part of their Plastic Free Communities campaign, we decided we could go one step further and make our little green huts just a little bit greener.”

Dunster Beach Huts looked at all their processes and supplies to see how they could become as single-use-plastic-free as possible. Brett said, “Some areas were easier than others; for example, we have always done beach cleans inspired by 2 Minute Beach Clean, so we now actively encourage our guests and social media followers to do their own beach cleans, and the ‘David Attenborough effect’ has certainly made it easier to get this message across.” Guests at Salad Days and Holi Moli are now provided with their own picker sticks and beach clean bags. Brett and Susan changed some of their supplies to include eco-friendly shower and shampoo cubes instead of plastic bottles, locally made natural guest soaps, homemade jam and marmalade in reusable jars, homemade wax food wraps to replace cling film and glass water bottles in the fridge to save wasting water by running the tap to mention just a few of the changes. Even their doggy guests can get involved using bamboo dog bowls, refillable water bottles and biodegradable poop bags. Their guest changeovers have become greener too, by only using environmentally friendly cleaning products and using old tea towels as cleaning cloths instead of bought-in cloths.

“Our aim now is to continue on this green path even further, by being even more conscious of our sustainability as a company, but also in our private lives and to encourage other Somerset businesses to follow our lead and help give the world a single-use -plastic-free future,” Brett concluded. For further information on becoming a plastic-free champion see the Surfers against Sewage website or follow Plastic Free Minehead and West Somerset on Facebook.

HEDGELAYING SKILLS REWARDED

The important work of Exmoor’s hedgelayers has once again been recognised and rewarded through the Exmoor Hedge Competition.

Peter Smith received first place and the ‘Mary Stacey Trophy’ (locally made using beech wood from a laid Exmoor hedge), which was kindly donated by the late Mrs Stacey of Foxhanger Farm, Brompton Regis.  As winner, Peter is also invited to join the judges in deciding the winners of next year’s competition.

Well-laid hedges store more carbon, harbour more wildlife and provide a range of environmental benefits that far outstrip any other method of boundary management. They are also key to the National Park’s landscape, wildlife and farming history and provide employment for numerous skilled craftspeople during the winter months.

In recognition of this valuable work, Exmoor National Park Authority launched the Exmoor Hedge Competition in partnership with the Devon and Somerset Hedge Groups, together with the generous support and sponsorship of the Exmoor Trust.

Susan May, Chairman of the Exmoor Trust, and Sarah Bryan, Chief Executive of Exmoor National Park Authority, presented the prizes of up to £200 to the winning hedgelayers. First Place in the Open Class was Peter Smith, who laid the hedge for Timothy and Sally Stevens of Summerings Farm, near Wheddon Cross. Second prize went to Gary Atkins, who laid one of the hedges belonging to Shiamala Comer at Ashott Barton Farm, Exford. In third place was a hedge belonging to Robert Kilvington of Parsonage Farm, Hawkridge, whose hedge was laid by Adam Tarr of Lower Hunstone.

Heather Harley, Conservation Officer (Farming & Land Management) for Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “We’re extremely grateful to the Exmoor Trust and the Devon and Somerset Hedge Groups for supporting this competition. This traditional skill is so important to the wildlife and landscape of the National Park and an integral part of the rural community.

“Agri-environment support for hedge management has changed dramatically over recent years and the future of hedge management on Exmoor is not certain. I hope that this competition goes a little way to promote the work of these craftspeople.”

Susan May, Chairman of the Exmoor Trust, said: “The Exmoor Trust is very pleased to continue to sponsor the Exmoor Hedge Competition and to support this very important rural skill.  Exmoor would not look like it does today if it were not for these skilled hedge-layers. With uncertain times ahead for agriculture, management of the land and hedgerows becomes ever more important.”

Those looking to develop their hedge-laying skills may be interested in the one-day introductory courses being offered in the Quantocks this autumn, organised by Somerset Hedge Group (£25 per person). See www.fwagsw.org.uk/Pages/Events/Category/events-and-workshops.

For more information about the competition, grants for hedge management or farming and wildlife advice, contact Heather on 01398 322277 or hjharley@exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk

COMMITMENT TO TACKLE CLIMATE CHANGE REITERATED BY NORTH DEVON COUNCIL

North Devon Council has reiterated its commitment to the environment by signing up to a joint Devon-wide climate change declaration.

At a Full Council meeting recently, councillors voted unanimously to sign up and also agreed to setting up a special working party to look specifically at tackling climate change and what the council can do to help prevent global warming.

The climate declaration involves committing to helping the country achieve a 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and by 100% by 2050.

The council also appointed a lead member for climate change, Cllr Caroline Leaver.

Cllr Leaver says: “We all need to work together to tackle this huge threat to our future. We can all do our bit and, of course, that’s important, but we need to work with all of our partners and our community to strengthen action through collaboration. The scale and urgency of the global challenge from climate change must be recognised and acted on or the world will be an entirely different place by the time a child starting primary school this year finishes their secondary education.

“I look forward to working with council members and officers, and other organisations and groups, to tackle this massively important issue. It’s time for us to be bold. I relish the challenge ahead.”

More information on the Devon Climate Declaration can be found on Devon County Council’s website. The declaration has been prepared and signed up to by a consortium of public, private and voluntary organisations collaborating through a Devon Climate Emergency Response Group.

 

FARMERS URGED TO BID ONLINE FOR FLOOD WORK

Farmers across Somerset are being invited to bid in the UK’s first countywide auction for works to help stop flooding.

The auction will be run online from 26 February – 12 March using a new Environment Agency web app, which can be found at www.nfmauction.org.uk.

The website offers Somerset farmers a unique combination of possibilities: first, to select for themselves different natural flood management (NFM) activities; second, to pick out parts of their land where they believe those activities will produce the best flood prevention results for them and for local communities; third, to bid for funding for those activities.

As the main purpose of NFM activities in Somerset is to slow the flow of water down through the higher parts of river catchments, the web app will not allow farmers to place bids for land in low-lying Internal Drainage Board areas, but the auction otherwise covers the length and breadth of Somerset.  After the auction closes, bids will be checked by the Farming & Wildlife Advisory Group SW (FWAG SW). Grants from Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) will then be given to the best, most competitively-priced ideas.

Cllr John Osman, SRA Chairman, said: “This is still a very new system, but all the signs are that it has many strengths. It cuts out paperwork. It saves time and money. It draws on farmers’ unrivalled knowledge of their own land. It’s easy to use – and it gets results.

“Last summer, as a trial of the web app, there was a much smaller auction in the catchments of the River Tone and River Parrett in Somerset and the SRA gave out 22 grants to winning bids. Flood risks to local communities have been reduced through improvements that farmers have been able to make. So it’s a win-win.

“Now we’re opening it up across the county, I hope many Somerset farmers will give it a go.”

Grants are being offered for five different natural flood management measures: maize management, grassland subsoiling, hedge planting, soil bunds, and leaky dams. All help to slow the flow of water, while delivering other benefits. Grassland subsoiling, for example, aerates the ground so that more rainwater can filter in; it also improves the soil.

Anthony Gothard, a Stoke St Gregory farmer who won a maize management grant in last year’s trial auction, said: “It only took me a few minutes to place my bid online and there wasn’t any paperwork. I’m really pleased with what I’ve been able to achieve with the grant money.”

Since the devastating flooding of the Somerset Levels in 2013-14, hundreds of natural flood management initiatives have been carried out across Somerset, as part of the county’s pioneering Hills to Levels project and overarching 20 Year Flood Action Plan. Hills to Levels has so far won two national awards, and this new auction shows Somerset continuing to lead the UK with fresh ideas for tackling local flooding hotspots.

For further information relating to the auction or the Hills to Levels project please contact Victoria Munday victoria.munday@fwagsw.org.uk or Ellen James ellen.james@fwagsw.org.uk

PHOTO: Hedge planting funded by the 2018 auction.

SOMERSET MP MAKES PROGRESS WITH RIVERS AUTHORITIES BILL

The following is a press release from the Somerset Rivers Authority, issued earlier this month (more on this topic tomorrow…)

A Private Members’ Bill to help secure the future of Somerset Rivers Authority, and give local people more powers to tackle flooding, is making progress in Parliament.

After an hour-long debate in the House of Commons, the Somerton and Frome Conservative MP David Warburton’s Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill passed its Second Reading stage, unopposed. The Bill will next be examined more closely by MPs in what is known as the Committee stage.

Mr Warburton opened the debate by reminding MPs of the devastating floods of 2013-14, when “100 million cubic metres of water covered Somerset’s otherwise green and pleasant land… Livelihoods really were driven to the brink, and people were understandably driven to despair.” Somerset drew up a 20 Year Flood Action Plan, from which came a provisional Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA).

If Mr Warburton’s Bill makes it all the way through the House of Commons and House of Lords, there will then be a public consultation across Somerset, after which the SRA could be firmly established in law as a Flood Risk Management Authority with powers specially focused on Somerset. The SRA would be independently able to raise funds for its work through a share of council tax known as a precept.

Mr Warburton told the House: “A flood risk management authority would have duties and would, for the first time, be able to put its finances on a stable footing as a precepting body. The Bill includes additional safeguards for local taxpayers, of course, and would allow the rivers authority to plan its water and flood management schemes into the future and thereby create a safer, more secure environment for us all.”

Reacting to news of the Bill’s successful Second Reading, Cllr John Osman, Chairman of Somerset Rivers Authority, said: “I’m delighted to see the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill making progress. Somerset Rivers Authority is doing a great deal of extra work to tackle flooding problems across Somerset, but legislation is needed to secure its long-term future.

“David Warburton has had to be extremely persistent in getting matters to this stage, and everyone involved with the SRA is very grateful to him for his determination.

“In the debate, it was heartening to hear support from other MPs. Let’s hope that continues.”

North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones (Conservative) said in the debate that he looked upon Somerset “with envious eyes” because Mr Warburton’s Somerton and Frome constituency was covered by Somerset Rivers Authority.

Mr Heaton-Jones went on: “The SRA has done extraordinarily valuable work for his constituents, and householders and residents in the other constituencies across Somerset…  I particularly welcome my hon. Friend’s Bill and his contribution today, because it seeks to hark back to a time when we rightly had rivers authorities, which were doing work that is best done by local experts, local people – those who know the environment.”

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Flooding and Coastal Communities, Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said the Opposition thanked Mr Warburton for bringing the Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill forward. It was “long overdue’ and rivers authorities would be “a good thing”.

Mr Pollard concluded: “We face unprecedented challenges in defending our lowland areas and coastal communities from flooding. The Bill is welcome, and it will help communities if local authorities use the powers. We need to look at how we can incentivise communities to get there, and we need a comprehensive plan for every community at risk of flooding. If we cannot get this Private Member’s Bill through Parliament, I encourage the Minister to ensure that the Government swiftly adopt the measures to make sure that communities that could benefit are not hindered by the fact that the Bill was not introduced in Government time.”

George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, and Minister of State at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, congratulated David Warburton on bringing an “important Bill” forward. Mr Eustice recalled his own experience of Somerset flooding, and said: “The Government fully understand how important this issue is for the people of Somerset and fully support the work of the Somerset Rivers Authority… The Government fully support the Bill going to the next stage.”

PHOTO: SRA-funded work to repair the joints between 300 8-metre concrete slabs in the River Avill’s flood relief channel at Dunster, looking out to sea. In this picture, the joints are being cleaned out.

EXMOOR AND DARTMOOR PROJECTS WANTED FOR 2018 AWARD

Exmoor and Dartmoor projects contributing to our beautiful National Parks could receive a £2,000 boost in recognition of their work thanks to the Campaign for National Parks’ Park Protector Award.

The Award, sponsored by Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust, celebrates the work being done to protect and improve National Parks across England and Wales with the winner receiving a £2,000 bursary and a runner up receiving £500 courtesy of Breedon Group.
Nominations are being invited until Tuesday 31 July. Nominated projects must be seeking to conserve or enhance the biodiversity or a heritage site, improve access to the Parks, or protect an area in a National Park.

Fiona Howie, chief executive of Campaign for National Parks, said: “The Park Protector Award is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate amazing projects happening across the English and Welsh National Parks. The Ramblers Holiday Charitable Trust and Campaign for National Parks urge you to submit a nomination if you know of or are involved in a project doing important work.”

A community science project in the Peak District National Park took the top prize in 2017. The project monitors wildlife in the National Park, looking at the effects of climate change and other issues. Previous winners have included Arun and Rother Connections in the South Downs and Fell Futures in the Lake District.

Find out more: www.cnp.org.uk/news/2018-park-protector-award-searches-its-next-winner

PHOTO: Robbers Briedge by the late Brian Pearce, courtesy of Elaine Pearce

ECO-FRIENDLY PUPILS FUND COACH SUSTAINABILITY PROJECT

Eco-friendly pupils from King’s College recently welcomed to the school the Club Captain of Taunton Rowing Club, Steve Swan.
Steve met with the Head of the King’s Sustainability Strategy, Christina French, to discuss the various sustainability measures implemented across the school and to see how the children could get involved in his latest project: a rainwater-harvesting system at Taunton’s Centre for Outdoor Activities & Community Hub (COACH).

Earlier this month, members of the sustainability group visited the centre, where they took part in an interactive design workshop. Students had the opportunity to audit the building and come up with their own strategies and ideas of how the centre could be more sustainable.

In the coming weeks, King’s pupils will work closely with COACH and Taunton Rowing to construct the rainwater system after donating £500 to help fund the project.

Pictured, left to right: Thomas Newman, Harvey Richard, Steve Swan and Christina French.