Green Elephants

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a ‘brilliant idea’ must be in want of a fortune. And with that rather laboured introduction, I think it’s only right that I get straight to the point: The Garden Bridge. Or rather, the Garden Bridge and its ilk.

green elephants

I’ll admit, for once I am feeling quite smug about this week’s title

Everyone’s got a ‘brilliant idea’. Take me, I have about five a day (although admittedly nutella-bacon sandwiches might not have been the product of a Spike operating at the peak of his mental powers). Problem is, these days an idea can very rapidly go from ‘in here’¹ to ‘out there’ thanks to Bloody Twitter, bypassing the much neglected ‘actually thinking it through logically’-stage. If you’re a famous person, a person with a lot of pull or some influential friends, or just a ruddy loud mouth narcissist, these ‘brilliant ideas’ can very quickly develop into a bit of a bandwagon.

It’s true there is now a generation that ‘like’² things. Wildlife charities are desperately (and occasionally embarrassingly) trying to make hay out of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ and to an extent projects like the Garden Bridge or London National Park City³ feed on them, like bloated, green, trunked pachyderms. Or something.

Green-y, fluffy-on-the-surface projects tend to do quite well out of this click button, armchair conservationist demographic. There’s a definite sense of ‘It’s Green, yeah, let’s do it!’ – and kudos to them for taking that groundswell of ‘likes’ and turning it into something more solid. My concern is that the why is all too often subservient to the what. There’s a line about could we and should we in here somewhere.

Take the blasted Garden Bridge (no, please…), with its £60M of public money and £3.5M of annual maintenance costs in perpetuity (and just for comparison here, the London Wildlife Trust with their 400+ odd hectares of nature reserves and an annual expenditure of around £2.5M…but let’s not get lost down a Garden Bridge cul-de-sac). It sounded like a great idea when you first heard it, but then you scratched beneath the surface, you realised that they’re closing libraries in Lambeth, and you started to wonder…what is this adding? What are we actually getting for our money here?

Particularly as we are now in the age of the Kickstarter, these projects can quickly crop up and before long a few people have slung a tenner at it and it has gathered some momentum. Green walls at bus-stops? Sure, that’ll work. No problem. I mean, you might want to avoid putting them on any night bus routes… Or a milk-float-potting-shed? Why not? Or, rather, why?

I’m not really sure where I’m leading with all this, except that I’ll shortly be announcing the launch of my new pop-up nutella and bacon sandwich bar. Donations welcome.


¹ *Taps head thoughtfully* – Sorry, the blog now appears to come with added stage directions. It’s a multisensory experience. Sort of.

² And, by the way, feel free to ‘like’ the blog. If only for the positive affirmation it will give me. It absolutely, definitely will not achieve anything. Although the key difference between Adventures in Conservation and the National Park City, say, is that I’ll carry on regardless of whether people ‘like’ it or not. So there.

³ About which I was briefly positive before reverting to type. I’m still largely confused about just what this will achieve and how.


Watered-Down Species Protection: A Conspiracy Theory

It can’t all be fun and games over here at Adventures in Conservation, you know. After all the irreverence and flippancy of recent posts, I thought it worth dropping a short reminder that yes, actually, I do occasionally get around to addressing serious issues. Don’t let that be a reason to stop reading, mind. I’ll try to keep it brief.

It’s entirely possible that there is a direct correlation between the first new series of the X-Files in 14 years and my current predilection for conjuring conspiracy theories out of thin air. This week I have managed to convince myself that there is something nebulous and sinister connecting three stories I have read:

Defra rows back on it’s attempt to close the UK’s wildlife crime unit

Natural England withdraws funding for Local Environment Records Centres

Defra and Natural England open consultation on new policies for European Protected Species licences

All this in the space of a couple of months. Is anyone out there having the same dark and disturbed paranoid thoughts? Or have I drifted far into the realms of the tin-foil hat-wearers of the world? Just skimming through the proposed new policies for European Protected Species licensing gave me a slightly uneasy feeling.

tinfoil hat

The authors new head-gear: Rubbish at keeping the rain out

I may get into this further at a later date, but there are a few things here that set the alarm bells ringing. Firstly, the word ‘benefit’ is used 36 times. Only once is that in relation to developers, the other 35 in relation to protected species. It surely must be clear to anyone reading the proposed policy that it is absolutely, positively for the benefit of all those Great Crested Newts out there. These policy changes are a boon for newts. And guess what? It’s a total win-win! All these proposals, by-the-by, just happen to also have great benefits for developers. Entirely a side-product, you understand. A happy coincidence…Is it conceivable that they are perhaps protesting just a teeny bit too much?

Take for example the proposal to reduce investment in excluding and relocating protected species from development sites and increase investment in the provision of compensatory habitat. Seems sensible. Though the example used here is one where a convenient, more suitable habitat just happens to exist nearby on Council Land. There’s far too much wriggle room and wooliness here for me, but then there is this very honest statement at the foot of the page:

The terms of the licence make lawful specified operations which would be expected to cause mortality of some GCN on the development site.

Jumping ahead, policy 4 concerns surveys. Natural England tell us:

We encounter some cases where the range of foreseeable impacts can be predicted with some certainty, in the absence of the normal level of survey information. In some of these cases the cost of collecting the additional information can sometimes be disproportionate to the additional certainty that it would offer.

And of course the example of where this can make a real positive for protected species (while also, of course, having a few tiny benefits for developers), is in bypassing the need for further surveys to confirm a protected species is present where the existing evidence suggests it does. Thus speeding up the whole process for the developer. There is no mention whether this could also be adopted where there is an absence of evidence for protected species for example, but is it too much of a stretch to think that this is where it is leading?

I may be joining the wrong dots here, but it all seems to add up to something a little sinister.

Something something something ‘Inside a Dead Horse’ something

I’ve heard quite a few people getting snippy with poor old Mr DiCaprio recently for having the temerity to express an opinion beyond his own particular sphere of expertise. Can people who fly around in private jets really lecture the rest of us on climate change? Yes. Yes, of course they can. They can do what they want, and the sooner we all understand our place in the scheme of things, the better it’ll go for us.

Image result for dicaprio looking smug

‘Know your place, plebs.’

It’s entirely possible you’ve twigged by now that I’m sliding dangerously into Oh, can I really be bothered to write about this twoddle-territory, and you’d be correct. So allow me to up my word count by repeating the pertinent parts of that speech here in full:

Making The Revenant was about man’s relationship to the natural world. A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history. Our production needed to move to the southern tip of this planet just to be able to find snow. Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating. We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed. I thank you all for this amazing award tonight. Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted. Thank you so very much.”

I could say stuff like that. In fact, I frequently do say stuff like that. The difference is that I yell it into the yawning abyss of the internet (Which, incidentally, almost certainly does stare back at me), whereas Leo speaks to millions. I mean, those millions probably all just want to ask him about that bit at the end of Inception* but that’s not the point. He had a platform, he said something worth saying. Good for him. So what if his carbon footprint is verging on the Argentinosaur side of things?

It was a very pretty speech and I did like Mr DiCaprio in Critters 3, so I’m prepared to be magnanimous and give him a pass on this one. But then just like my interest in sitting through all 2 hours and 36 minutes of The Revenant, my heart’s not really in this piece, truth be told.

*For the record, my ‘totem’ is Leicester City winning the Premier League. If that happens, then I am surely still somewhere deep in a dream within a dream within a dream, or something.