Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Drip, Drip, Drip ... The Destruction of local Biodiversity

If you’ve been down to Jackson’s Boat recently you will see that this, once tranquil and popular, beauty spot is being transformed forever. Soon a large bridge will span the river and Metrolink trams will regularly thunder (sorry, ‘glide’ completely soundlessly) across it.

Contractors working for Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) have carved a great swathe through the Lower Hardy Farm Site of Biological Importance (SBI). To be quite honest this breaks my heart. I have
been fascinated by this little patch of ground for nearly 40 years now and I am convinced that, because of its unique plant life, it should have been one of the most important SBIs in the Mersey Valley. There has been little focus on what has been destroyed on the other side of the river – but I expect the damage to be severe.

TfGM have a ‘Wildlife and Tree Replacement Policy’ (http://www.tfgm.com/) within which they state:

“In carrying out its development programmes TfGM recognises an obligation to conserve, protect, and where possible, enhance the natural environment and to mitigate the impact on biodiversity and therefore to protect important wildlife habitats and to take full account of new developments on
wildlife itself. In addition management and after-care arrangements should be put in place for new habitats to ensure they remain safe, attractive and good for wildlife in the longer term, balanced with the need to provide sustainable public transport.” Note the caveats!

So far I see little evidence that TfGM, or, more importantly, their contractors could care less about wildlife. We’ve seen a couple of ponds constructed, using cheap pond liners, and some, shockingly
inept, tree planting ... and that’s about it (lots of careless destruction though!) Presumably all that TfGM feel that they have to do now is to tick a couple of boxes and to rate themselves “Excellent” on the BREEAM scale (don’t ask!)

Recently, I was talking to Marc Hudson of the Manchester Climate Review (http://manchesterclimatemonthly.net/). Marc informed me that he was intending to interview Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, and invited me to suggest a question to put to Sir Richard on the subject of biodiversity. Here’s the result:

“Biodiversity – a questions from Dave Bishop, who helps run Friends of Chorlton Meadows; “Given that developers and their developments have now ‘concreted over’ so many of our remaining green spaces, where is all the wildlife going to live?”

First of all, developers haven’t concreted over so many of our green spaces. Sorry Dave, we are going to build Metrolink to Wythenshawe and the Airport, and it does mean crossing the Mersey Valley(my
italics). Of course, there is a whole history of railways and similar developments protecting wildlife rather than destroying it – creating wildlife corridors because nobody goes on them. I know someone’s found rare orchids on the railway at Crumpsall. So those aren’t necessarily blots for diversity. If you look at what we’re working on for designs for new housing areas and so on, we are increasingly taking the best practice – mainly from Northern Europe – in terms of how we increase green, water management… increasingly within green spaces it won’t all be sculptured lawns and so. We have a greater use of tree
planting species that will encourage insects and birds and so on. I think there is an awful lot going on, including the recently revised Biodiversity Strategy, which is maximising the use of the green space we have, and also recognises that wildlife doesn’t always behave the way we think it ought to. Urban foxes –
are there more of them or not. Lots of people say it’s just about the same as it’s always been, it’s just that we see them more.

But no, we’re not concreting over everything, and we are planting – particularly trees – vast amounts of the city on a year-by-year basis.”

First, I have to thank Sir Richard for taking the time to answer my question. Second, I can’t help feeling that I must have done something right for Sir Richard to actually know who I am and what I stand for!

But I also can’t help but note that Sir Richard’s answer contains quite a bit of ‘hand waving’. Yes, railway lines can act as wildlife refuges – but old abandoned railway lines are even better – and we’ve now lost those to Metrolink! He may not be aware, though, that the whole ‘wildlife corridor’ hypothesis has recently been called into question (but I’ll leave that for another blog post).

More worryingly there’s the usual over-reliance on tree planting as some sort of ‘universal panacea’ for biodiversity loss. Way back in 1986 Dr Oliver Rackham, one of our greatest experts on the British countryside, wrote: Too much attention, and too much money, goes into the unintelligent planting of trees. Tree-planting is not synonymous with conservation; it is an admission that conservation has failed.” (‘The History of the Countryside’, p. 29).

I also disagree with Sir Richard when he states that, “... developers haven’t concreted over so many of our green spaces.” Sorry, Sir Richard, but they have; the amount of open space we’ve lost in Chorlton alone, since I moved here in the 1970s, is shocking! And I’m not the only one who thinks like this. In his book, ‘The Butterflies of Greater Manchester’ (1998) one of our finest local amateur naturalists, Peter Hardy wrote: “The pattern of events in the Mersey Valley is typical of many parts of Greater Manchester. The continuing trend towards private transport results in more and more schemes for building new roads and widening existing ones, and development of new industrial sites and shopping precincts, sometimes in what had appeared to be sacrosanct “green belt” locations ... [An] ever- ncreasing trend towards “market testing” and privatisation, result in every scrap of land being looked at with calculation of how much profit it could generate if put to commercial use."

No doubt Peter and I will be told that Metrolink is designed to take cars off the roads. But, for now, that’s yet another un-tested hypothesis; in the meantime we’ve lost even more of our biodiverse spaces.

The problem with biodiversity loss is that it is gradual but cumulative –‘piece by piece’ as the Guardian newspaper expressed it in 2010 – and it is happening on global, national and local scales. Recently the following startling statements and estimates have come out of Brussels:

“A silent crisis of biodiversity loss is costing the European Union 450 billion euros (US$590 billion) a year, adding to the stress of the ongoing financial crisis, the European Parliament heard on Tuesday. The loss estimate was presented in a draft report to the Environment Committee by Dutch MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, Special Rapporteur on Biodiversity of the European Parliament. He represents the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, ALDE, the third largest political group in the European Parliament.

"A quarter of the plants and animals in Europe are in danger of extinction," Gerbrandy told the committee. "This destruction of nature will cost about three percent annual economic growth - equivalent to that which Europe needs at present to rescue the Euro. Biodiversity loss, though, continues year after year."” Environmental News Service, 26.01.2012.

As I was writing this a article, copy of the Manchester Evening News (08.02.2012) came through the door. The lead article states that 250 new homes are to be built in Chorlton, Gorton and
Wythenshawe. Given the present ‘housing shortage’ (plus shortage of profits for developers?) it’s hard to argue against this scheme – but it does definitely and irrefutably mean more land being concreted over and less habitat for wildlife. Piece by piece, drip, drip, drip, the ‘road-to-Hell’ is being concreted over with good intentions?

Dave Bishop, February, 2012


Anonymous said...

Typical Manchester Council nonsense. No, not nonsense - lets be more direct. LIES, HALF TRUTH, MISINFORMATION and ARROGANCE.

Richard Lees is not a naturalist. Repeat: Richard Lees, nor any or the council executive, are naturalists or conservationists.

They get told this kind of guff by other people and all of them - all of them - have vested interests in pushing these kind of ideas on people.

They are POLITICIANS. They have a social agenda which they negotiate through structures of POWER. Which, in this case, is clearly to the detriment of ecology and conservation.

So - they talk this guff and don't come clean on what their vested interests are: all the meetings they attended, the transport staff consulted, yadda yadda yadda, all the background nonsense which they are party to and we (in this case) - enjoyers of the Mersey Valley - are not party to.

In short, when you look into it, it amounts to a form of corruption.

Friends of Chorlton Meadows said...

Yes, Anon, I couldn't disagree with any of that! Unfortunately we're stuck with them for the foreseeable future.