Category Archives: Conservation

National Habitat NM, 2020

National Habitat Network Maps (May 2020)

Whatever your opinion about Natural England (NE) with its vaste network of www links, these links are always useful when eventually found. Such is the case with the latest version of the NHNM, published May 2020. It builds on ‘Making Space for Nature, A Review of England Wildlife Sites and Ecological Network’(Lawton et al., 2010), the 25 year Environment Plan (11 Jan 2018, updated 16 May 2019), Theresa Villier’s (Defra) speech of 15 October 2019),and the Environment Bill (2020) – and other reports!  It aims to enhance biodiversity and be good guidance for local considerations in the planning system.

The key to the maps as referred in the title is that its initiative is based on the preparation of ‘individudal habitat network maps’ of the 23 Priority Habitats. All these priority habitats, ranging from calcareous grasslands, through various heathlands,bots, dunes, shingle to Ancient Woodlands and Wood-pasture & Parkland, are all as statutorily listed under Section 41 of NERC (2006).

What is new is that it now recognised generous buffer areas around these protected areas, and this is now shown in as different coloured shaded areas. Not only are ‘Primary habitats’ e.g. Ancient Woodland shown, but ‘Associated Habitats’ shown. These are described as ‘Other priority habitat types that form a mosaic or an ecologically coherent group with the landscape and may, for example, be essential for some species associated with the primary habitat.’  The close association of ‘Ancient Woodland’ and ‘Wood-pasture & Parkland’ are typical. There are new enhancement areas proposed ‘Network Enhancement Zones’ (two of them, Zone 1 and Zone 2) where ‘creation of primary habitat’ is recommended (that will actually be a tall order, as some habitats cannot be recreated as per advice from NE).  These Priority Habitat patches are also recommended to be ‘buffered by 500m’. That is quite a substantial distance, when some LPAs only currently require 30m buffering, but they will have to get used to greater protection of some habitats, such as Ancient Woodlands that are now regarded as ‘irreplaceable’.

This report will be useful to LPAs, developers and consultants with regard to further protection of the countryside.



In An Old House by Varlows

In An Old House, by Peter & Sally Varlow. Lewes, Pomegranite Press.  2018

Anyone who appreciates timber-framed buildings in the Weald of Sussex will realise what a significant impact the making of the building had on the local woodland. This book explores the ins and outs, the nooks and crannies, the joints and trusses that went into the construction of this particular house 500 years ago. The immediate impact of felling of trees in the winter of 1474-3 would have denuded quite a lot of woodland. The bare facts to construct this building included 143 trees (weighing 27 green tonnes) as well as 233 small timbers, held together with 619 joints.  The joints included 440 mortices and tenons and 138 lap joints. All this wood could be sawn from a block of woodland about 50 acres in size. The tree expert Oliver Rackham estimates that such a block would produce 100 suitable trees over a 50 year period. This is a wonderful book about a typical house in the Weald near Lewes. It draws together the history of the various owners, the local trades and how the house was created in the landscape: a masterpiece in every sense.


Wasp by Richard Jones

Wasp. Reakton Books Ltd. 2019. 207pp

Almost 100 titles in the ‘Animal Series’ have been published by Reaktion Books, and they all good reads, and collectible. The author is a leading UK entomologist and has already written the ‘Mosquito’ book. The books follow a familiar format showing how the species has been illustrated and written about from the earliest times, in this case since the Egyptians, 5000 years ago. The black and yellow wasp ‘brand’ is explored, and even the book cover is black and yellow. The book has interesting chapters on ‘warning colours’, ‘paper architecture’, ‘tabloid mayhem’ and ‘what is the point of wasps’; on the latter it is pointed out that they are part of biodiversity and are useful predators of other insects. The book covers wasps worldwide (the 4000 species of vespid hymenopterans) and in relation to the recent arrival of Asian Hornet into the UK, this is up to date to 2019. For those who like wasps, this book is an excellent exposé of their capabilities, their form and function, and their niche in the world. The wider context of wasps in the world is rather more interesting than the entomological detail.  In the next edition the small tortoiseshell on p. 51 should be corrected to the large tortoiseshell.

Wilding by Isabella Tree

Wilding, the return of nature to a British farm.  Isabella Tree. London, Picador. Paperback edition 2018. 363pp.

Rewilding is the common parlance for ‘Wilding’.  As the author says wilding ‘is restoration by letting go’ (p.8), and that the stubborn ‘re-‘ reveals a naïve ambition to recover the past (p.152). The farm dropped the ‘re’ to concentrate on a ‘long term, minimum intervention, natural process-led’ operation (p.160). And a great success it has been. Knepp is synonymous with rewilding.

The sub-title is an understatement. The British farm in West Sussex is no ordinary farm, it is 3,500ac with a castle (and lost town) that was visited by King John in 1201. The book is about how the farm changed from being a reasonable profitable dairy and arable farm (though unsustainable p.39) to a farm for nature conservation over the last, now twenty years. It is written by one of the co-owners of the farm with her partner Charlie Burrell and is essentially the modern history of Knepp.  And what a struggle it has been.

There are seventeen chapters, some of them about single species, such as beavers, nightingales, purple emperors and turtle doves – in a sense the book could have been dedicated to the turtle dove (on the book cover) because all the conservation ‘strategy’ had led up to optimal habitat for this species, and for nightingales, purple emperors and many other invertebrates too including plenty of BAP species. There can be few wild areas spread about Britain that are becoming refuges for wildlife, but this is one of them.

The change from intensive farming to farming for nature conservation took at least ten years for an income stream to materialise. The Countryside Stewardship Scheme agreement funded the management of part of the estate from 2000-2010, and the Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) chipped in for another 10 years from 1 January 2010 (p.175).  This is what used to be called ‘being paid not farm’, which is not the case here, and where there was the perverse situation of EU giving grants to farm intensively and grants to reverse the effects of farming intensively. By 2010 they had 283 Longhorn cattle ‘a by-product of rewilding began to present itself as a potentially significant income stream’ (p.246) without any need to feed or pay for fences, sheds etc and few veterinary costs.

There were plenty of critics of the Knepp Wildland Project from locals, professionals and statutory bodies who could not get their heads around the concept of wilding. Natural England gave Isabella a run-around for at least 10 years. The concept was completely alien to NE – it did not fit with their modus operandi – which cannot operate without evidential information about wilding to inform any engagement with Knepp – or as Keith Kirby of NE said it was a project  without ‘sound scientific base for what is proposed’ (p.93). So it was a NO from NE, even though NE had been involved with the ‘Wild Ennerdale’ project in the Lake District in 2003. Surprise, surprise. The decline from NE was even after a site visit to see the hugely successful recreated grasslands and wetlands of the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands created on a reclaimed polder. In her attempt to rewild 1.5miles of the River Adur that flows through the property it had taken 16 years of failure (up to 2017 publication) to get a grant from the many authorities, which she states as shameful (p.229). The aerial colour photographs show it all. A huge success.

The book is incredibly well researched with scientific papers per chapter quoted at the back. There is a sublime chapter on scrub which is probably not seen in any other book. The author goes to great length to present all the background information on the subject before getting to the subject in hand – but it still presents a good read, a crammer for some of the species subjects, whether it is pigs, cattle or deer. Overall she is very frustrated at the slowness of authorities to accept rewilding, but then it goes against all conservative conservation strategies that are not based on abandonment of habitats. However, the author is delighted about the wildlife fruits of the venture in the mosaic of habitats created and the clamour of wildlife to inhabit it, in some cases the best populations of animals in the southern England – for instance maybe the only place in Britain where turtle dove numbers have increased: Sussex has 200 of the 5000 pairs in Britain (p.194) and Knepp possibly has the greatest density of bird surviving in England (p. 201).  Autecological information gleaned from the Knepp estate about turtle doves  allowed them to decline the local ‘Operation Turtle Dove’ project proposed by NE in 2012 and the author sadly called it a case of ‘the principle failings of conventional conservation’. (p.200) Altogether it is an absorbing good read and all ecologists, naturalists and anyone interested in nature should read the book. A one off.


HW AONB Design Guide

The High Weald AONB Design Guide was adopted by Rother District Council on 11 Feb 2020. The on-line edition is dated November 2019. 44pp.

The fifteen councils took two years to collate how they would like to see the design of houses appear in this huge AONB.  Generally they have succeeded with a review of all matters regarding topics such as ‘the right built form’, ‘connecting beyond the site’, structuring and parking. The 45pp is filled with photographs of typical Wealden buildings the design of which is to inspire, inform and to follow, also with photographs of how not to do it – new buildings which the Weald will have to live with for decades to come. Quite how all the new designs with twiterns, cat-slide roofs and open landscape gardens can be successfully and sensitively integrated into the already busy environment is down to planning regulation. No laws and Acts are mentioned to support their admirable appeal. The recommendations are all based on the Design Council’s Guide ‘Building for Life 12’ (it is ‘broadly based on’), the NPPF (2019), Guidance and the National Design Guide, and LEMPs.  They would like a lot of work on the planning of new sites to be sorted out Design and Access Statements. ‘Ongoing management proposals for the open space and habitats should be included up front as part of the planning application as part of a Landscape and Ecological Management Plan.’ In a nod to biodiversity metrics which are being slowly introduced, they state that ‘The wildlife of the High Weald is embedded in the landscape character and so proposals for habitat creation and enhancements or biodiversity net gain should also be able to make positive contributions to landscape character.’  There is a great deal of ‘should’ do this (252 mentions) as opposed to ‘must’ (13), which goes against the grain of BS42020 2016.  There is plenty of emphasis on ‘multi-function green spaces’incorporating drainage systems within green space’ with illustrations of a suitable example (so watch where you are treading – the new open green spaces may have some watery surprises. Generally the idea to ‘enhance habitats and wildlife’ is plausible, and ‘opportunities for wildlife should be maximised’ are maxims that have been trotted out over the years, and there is nothing tangible for developers to grasp other than their usual suite of bat, bird, hedgehog boxes, log piles etc.  When metrics are eventually obligatory then more positive habitat creation will be obligatory on or off site, and the Weald will benefit accordingly. However, that day is slow to arrive.  In the meantime, readers are directed to the Wildlife Trusts’ ‘Homes, People and Wildlife’ for further advice and inspiration.

Environment Bill 2020

The 30 January Environment Bill 2020 Policy Paper repeats the mantra of Theresa May’s ’25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ (2018) about having a metric to determine quite how biodiversity enhancement can be measured.  The new Environment Bill 2020, through Michael Gove’s continuing encouragement ‘introduces a mandatory requirement for biodiversity net gain in the planning system, to ensure that new developments enhance biodiversity and create new green spaces for local communities to enjoy.’  England will benefit from the saving of £1.4 billion of ‘annual natural capital benefits’ representing ‘several thousands of hectare of habitat’ that will not now be lost!  Ecosystems will benefit (e.g. air pollution, water flow control…) but they do not mention conservation of soils which is a significant issue in some protected areas such as AONBs. The bill states that the metric system will not undermine the existing range of protections that exists, not least of all ‘irreplaceable habitats’ and protected sites. That is fine then. ‘Conserve and enhance’ is fundamental to all UK conservation law, and it pops up again in the Environment Bill as ‘enhance and conserve biodiversity’ and helping to ‘deliver thriving natural spaces for communities.’  Communities is an issue that gets greater attention here.  We are reminded that NERC (2006) originally set out a duty on public bodies to ‘have regard’ to conserving biodiversity, and the new bill seeks to strengthen LPAs in effecting ‘meaningful change.’  LPAs need to look out as they will have to return a ‘five-year report on the actions taken to comply with the new duty’ (surely updating the NERC 2006 duty of 14 years ago, if they have not done this already?). So two years in from the suggested biodiversity metric, we await much quantitative data proving that the loss of the natural capital has been halted. The Rt Hon Michael Gove would then be very pleased and offer us his big smile of success.

Hdbook of Whales…2020

Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises.  By Mark Carwardine. Published by Bloomsbury, 2020. 528pp.

The author is the world’s expert on whales, dolphins and porpoises, having already written over 50 wildlife and conservation books. He is also a familiar voice on BBC Radio 4’s Nature programme and has been seen working with Stephen Fry on ‘Last Chance to See’ series.  This tome is by far the best, and comprehensive handbook on the group. It is too heavy to go in a field coat, but it will be essential back in the ships’ mess, field laboratory or university library for identification. Mammalogist Carwardine has acknowledged the input of over 70 scientists who have assisted with the field observations to make the book such a colossus of information. Each of the 90 species of cetacean has been meticulously described. Over 1,000 illustrations were commissioned from artists: Martin Camm, Rebecca Robinson and Toni Llobet and the text is also illustrated with colour photographs throughout.  The detail for each species is superlative. I could find nothing omitted –  annotated diagrams describing all the external features of each sex, colour variants, identification from photos, population differences, similar species, distribution, maps, teeth, behaviour, predators, populations, conservation and vocalisations. This is just a fascinating book for all naturalists, even if you are not a whale enthusiast, it is a gazetteer of cetaceans; I only wish I had read up from this book about the pink river dolphins before I met them in the Amazon.  Then I would have been much wiser. John Feltwell.

Climate Change & British Wildlife 2018

Climate Change and British Wildlife by Trevor Beebee. 2018. London, Bloomsbury. 368 pp. £35.00

The author is an emeritus professor at the University of Sussex and is best known for his life time’s work on amphibians. The book is number six in ‘The British Wildlife Collection’, the others being Mushrooms, Meadows, Rivers, Mountain Flowers and Saltmarsh. They have the feel of newer volumes in the New Naturalists books by Collins in size, length and colour illustrations.  The book has ten chapters and deals with habitats and groups of flora and fauna. Although the evidence is not always clear cut, the position is held that warmer and wetter winters combined with longer summers have worked for the advantage of plants and a whole range of insects, as a result of climate change. The flyleaf says the book is essential reading for every British naturalist and I would agree.  The captions to all the many excellent colour illustrations impart a little snippet of the effect of climate change. There is a section on the scientists who have assisted in bringing the factual information together, from Tim Sparks – ‘the leading phenologist of recent times’, Chris Thomas on trends and ranges of butterflies, James Pearch-Higgins for BTO work and Rachel McCarthy as a climate scientist and poet.  And now for the caveats: The greater understanding of what groups of animals are doing is limited by the available data; the author says that for freshwater fishes, reptiles and mammals data deficiencies limits our understanding of their phenology….’for fishes and amphibians there has been limited evidence of climate-related changes either way in terms of distribution and abundance’ (p. 161). For fungi, lichens and microbes in the British countryside the author argues that it is ‘habitat damage and deterioration, including atmospheric and freshwater pollution’ that has dominated the recent fates of these groups (p. 179). He states that much of the UK’s farmland is now a wildlife desert since the Second World War (p. 207) and that ‘generalists’ such as carrion crows, and that only annual plants and insects and perhaps highly mobile birds are likely to survive (p.213). Beebee believes that the kittiwake is the most affected British animal of climate change, and that ‘arguably the most negative effect of climate change anywhere in and around the UK, matched only by the plight of arctic-alpine plants, has been the disruption of North Sea food webs. Acidification and increased carbon dioxide is the problem that affects the marine environment (p.243).  As for invertebrates there is a lot of information available that suggests that climate change is beneficial in expanding ranges but considerable doubt it thrown into the discussion…’these complex interactions are disentangled..   ‘all taxonomic groups are declining in the UK as a result of the unrelenting efforts of the agrochemical industry and habitat destruction. Any benefits of climate warming are a minor superimposition on this ongoing disaster.’   This is an excellent book and ideal for all natural history libraries. An Index and References completes the book.


Ancient Woodland Inventory, 2018

Ancient Woodland Inventory, 2018. SANSUM, P. & BANNISTER, N.R. 2018. A Handbook for updating the Ancient Woodland Inventory for England. Natural England Commissioned Reports NECR248   Edition 1. Dated May 2018. 187pp


The original Ancient Woodland Inventory (AW1) was originally published provisionally in 1992 following research dating back to 1981.  This current handbook is a working document which is collating evidenced-based information as it becomes available. Much of the research for this has come from the High Weald AONB Unit in East Sussex, the Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre and Natural England.  It is not surprising that a lot of the evidence has come from the heavily wooded parts of Southern England which plays host to some of the best ancient woodland in England.  Data has also been incorporated from work in Herefordshire and in Dorset and work from the Sheffield Hallam University.

The process of updating the AW1 is in four phases i) capturing boundaries via GIS, ii) cross-referencing with existing data sets of woodland, iii) evidence gathering, and iv) evaluating and recording each polygon. There is much more clarification regarding Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) ‘wood-pasture and parkland’ which they admit had often been left off maps because of ‘their low tree density’. This is a very technical handbook.

Originally wood-pasture was ‘generally omitted’ from the original AWI and ‘understanding of this habitat type is still developing…’(para However, this update states that ‘Where ancient wood-pastures are identified they should receive the same consideration as other forms of ancient woodland’ (p.9). This document states that it was the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) which declared that ‘wood-pasture and parkland’ was indeed a UK Priority Habitat where it had the characteristics of veteran trees, often as scattered individuals, and a wide range of other tree and shrub species.

Two months before this Handbook was published Natural England published its guidance in March 2018 on Ancient Woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees: protecting them from development ( an update from its 2014 edition) where it specifically states that ‘other distinct forms of ancient woodland are: wood pastures identified as ancient.

Other NE documents describe the other characteristics of wood-pasture as being pollarded trees, a matrix of grassland, many saproxylic invertebrates, and supporting 41% of priority species associated with woodland (as per Natural England’s 2015 (EIN011) Summary of evidence: wood-pasture and parkland).

Overall, this is a useful update on the understanding and interpretation of wood pasture as a continuum habitat with ancient woodland.