Today our Elected Mayor Mark Meredith is speaking at the Regional Annual Biodiversity Conference in Birmingham.
We have asked our regular commenter, occasional contributor and self confessed Tree Huger Biggles to read the speech Mayor Meredith is making and comment on it for PnP.Ã‚ The text of Mayor Merediths speech can be read here
[Contributed Post] By Biggles
As you may have guessed from previous posts of mine, I work in the environmental sector and I am what is commonly referred to as a “Treehugger”. I make no apology for that; but I am also a realist and a businessman and my views are more often than not tempered by those two things.
As a realist, I realise that I do not know everything, I realise that the sum of all knowledge is beyond my comprehension and that I know remarkably little about many subjects; the majority of subjects if I’m honest.
This world is, however, inhabited by a growing number of people who believe that they do know an awful lot about an awful lot and are quite prepared to spout on about subjects that in reality they have absolutely no knowledge of whatsoever.
Unfortunately, knowledge is often trampled by the stampede of opinion; to the detriment of us all.
Why this intro, you may ask? Well, it’s because as I write our Mayor is due to speak at the West Midlands Regional Biodiversity Conference in Birmingham on a subject he clearly has no understanding of.
His topic is “Why we signed the Pledge”.
He isn’t referring to a latent tendency towards alcoholism here; rather he is referring to the West Midlands Biodiversity Pledge signed in November 2008 that commits this City to considering biodiversity in all its decision-making.Ã‚ This is either a noble commitment or a PR exercise depending upon your degree of cynicism, but if I tell you that the commitment is a legal requirement of Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006, you can make your own minds up.
Biodiversity is the word used to describe the richness of a landscape. It is the mix of species not simply the numbers that matter. It is often the case that the most beautiful places in the UK and the rest of the world are all landscapes with the highest level of biodiversity.
As a parent I want my children to have the opportunity to experience the same pleasures in their lives as I have in my life and to me that makes it essential that societies work to protect our natural heritage as much as we do our industrial and social heritage: but I know this is not a universal view.
Setting aside the moral argument for preserving the Natural World for the moment, I would say that Biodiversity matters because throughout the world, societies that have pleasant, green spaces to inhabit tend to be thriving, with lower rates of criminality, drug taking etc. It’s nigh on impossible to determine causal links between the two (although many researchers believe they can) but what is clear is that Governments throughout Europe believe the link (or public opinion) to be sufficiently strong to enshrine the need to protect and improve biodiversity in Law.
Stoke-on-Trent, emerging from its industrial phase into the next phase, demolition & regeneration, is in an interesting and promising situation. It is undoubtedly true that Stoke has many green spaces, much more than the average for a City in the UK and we are clearly blessed by that.
Whether it’s a walk through our Victorian Parks, dodging fishing rods on towpaths or rambling through our nature reserves, Stoke has much to offer. But the quality of these landscapes is actually quite low in biodiversity terms; in this regard, we are still suffering from our industrial past. In saying the quality is low, I mean that the numbers and variety of species present are not as high as they might be; the places are as a result arguably less beautiful and less interesting than they could be. We have many sites that have the potential to be host to much less common species than we currently see, but this will not occur without our help.
Improving biodiversity in Stoke ought to be relatively simple because of the opportunities we have and the sites that already exist. We are not trying to create from scratch here, merely improve upon what we already have.
So it is good that our Elected Mayor is speaking at the Regional Annual Conference but it would be better if he knew what he was talking about and actually spoke about Biodiversity rather than using the opportunity to showcase his “successes”.
The speech points out that the City is crisscrossed by rivers, canals and disused railway lines, providing links for wildlife to move. Whilst this is true, it’s also misleading. Simple linear corridors are often of less value than islands of wildlife friendly “stepping stones”. The reason comes down to the quality of that environment. Sensitive species will not move down narrow linear corridors that are not of themselves suitable environments, especially where these corridors are also intensively used by cyclists and dog walkers.
He also points out that approximately 13% of the City is “managed” greenspace, be it allotments, parks or Nature Reserves. Ironically, allotments value to biodiversity comes when they are abandoned and allowed to grow wild rather than when they are “managed”.Ã‚ The value of “management” though really comes down to how it is done. Management sympathetic to wildlife is often less expensive than existing management methods; for instance mowing grass to within an inch of its life in our parks is costly and counterproductive for biodiversity; much better to mow some areas less frequently or at higher heights to encourage wildflowers and insects. Less cost, lower carbon, more biodiversity.
Why don’t we do this? Ignorance.
I don’t mean that as insult, it’s simply a statement of fact; none of us can be experts in every field and managing landscapes for wildlife is still not widely understood.
Of course mismanagement plays a part too.
Much of the Mayor’s speech however is only loosely connected to the subject at hand, instead being a list of “successes”.
Some of the real successes that are relevant get remarkably little coverage either in the speech or in the local press or indeed on the Council website. The education initiatives are worthy, Forest Schools, School Holiday Clubs and events, a Natural England funded project called Natural Connections; but are participation levels as high as they might be?
Take a look at the Council website and you’ll struggle to find anything other than a reference to the Call Centre. Our Council does much that is worthy of criticism but it also seems so busy with “spin” that it’s few real successes are overlooked.
One success was securing funding from English Nature to set up Local Nature Reserves and a number of reserves were set up in 2004 and Friends of Groups established. Take a look at the website, very poor, very little current publicity and no real attempt to get people involved beyond that initial effort.
Take the recent initiative to spruce up the Kingsway and to plant new trees. Many comments on the Sentinel website were along the lines that it would not have been necessary had the Council maintained the previous planting scheme and not allowed it to degenerate as it had. Other comments were about the irony of this announcement only months after the Council uprooted several mature trees to plant a steel one.
It’s hard to think of much that this Council has done in recent years to improve the biodiversity of our City and it’s rather disappointing therefore that Mayor Meredith feels he can speak authoritatively on the subject.
Stoke is a relatively green City in a beautiful part of the UK. We have more green spaces than most other Cities. We have passionate people (take a look at TAG, whether you agreed with them or not, they showed that Stoke folk have commitment in bucketloads). We have the right basis to start from.
We have the potential to show the rest of the UK what a biodiverse City can be, thriving, interesting, healthy and a pleasure to live in; a place where people would wish to live, not leave; a place where people wish to do business, but to get there we would need a plan, a commitment from the public, and a Council capable of inspiring, communicating and managing that plan.
I’d like to think this could happen; but being a realist, I’m fairly confident it won’t.