Thursday, 31 July 2014

Libdems Pledge to Plant a Tree for Every Newborn

"Libdems will plant a tree for every baby born"  is a pretty cheesy headline but it is a good idea.  As an extension of The Forestry Commission's Big Tree Plant, it seeks to both help to protect the natural environment and foster community feeling; getting people involved and improving the neighbour.  Under the Big Tree Plant, 800,000 trees have already been planted.  The Libdem plan will see that extended to a further 750,000 trees every year for England and Wales.

Following some of the disastrous policies of the 1970s and 80s, in which many square miles of the country were put under a monoculture of non-native spruces, it is good to see a pledge to not only to manage and protect existing woodland more effectively, but to democratise the scheme and bring the benefits as close to people as possible.

If one is hoping to bring maximum benefit to wildlife, it is better to plant native species such as (but by no means limited to) oak, ash,  chestnut, sycamore, bird cherry, aspen, birch and rowan.  It is always good to be aware of the ultimate size an individual specimen is expected to grow: aspen for example can reach heights of over 20m.

If a community is intending to recreate a natural woodland, a mix of trees and shrubs will be necessary, planted in the knowledge that as the decades go by, the larger tree specimens will eventually overshadow and kill off smaller species.  This is all part of the natural progression,  with four main woodland cycle being recognised - pioneer plants, scrub and shrubs, small trees and finally mature woodland consisting of the biggest species.

The Royal Horticultural Society has a very useful page, giving a list of native species of trees and shrubs, along with a size guide.

When it comes to forestry, a very long term vision is needed: something we are not encouraged to think about in our day-to-day lives.  I am reminded of the story of an Oxford college who, some decades back, was facing a crisis.  The oak beams that supported the roof of the Great Hall had perished, reaching the end of their useful lives.  Meeting after meeting was held and alternatives sought, but no solution could be found by the dons.  Eventually the college steward was invited to yet another meeting and was finally asked his opinion.

"I wondered when you would get around to asking me," said the steward.  "You know that line of oaks at the college entrance?  They were planted in the same year construction of the Great Hall started over 500 years ago, so when these beams wore out, their replacements would be ready."

Now that is vision.

Friday, 18 July 2014

MH17. My reaction.

I am not just saddened by the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17, causing the death of 298 people, I am profoundly pissed off.

If it is not bad enough dealing with the threat of accidents and terrorism, the air traveller have to risk the attention of trigger-happy morons, who with the aid of high-technology weapons supplied by the power-hungry, take a pop at anything that happens to be passing overhead.

It is not the first time it happened. Nor, historically speaking, is Russia the only guilty party. The US has previous form too.

Whoever doles out these weapons should be equally liable, under international law, when they are misused by others.  In this case, although Mr. Putin is already on record as blaming the Ukrainians, I hope he sticks to his word, promised to Dutch premier Mr Rutte, that the inquiry will be thorough and objective.

My heart goes out to the families of the dead. My anger is for all those who feed war zones such as Eastern Ukraine.

As a postscript, why is it the US "leading calls" for an inquiry, as reported on the BBC news at eight o'clock this morning? Although they are welcome to pass on evidence, surely this one is for the Dutch and Malaysian authorities, in co-operation with the Ukrainian and Russians.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Why a Liberal? Why not something else?

I'm not a Conservative owing to its cynical view of humanity and refusal to engage with the better nature of people.
I'm not a Socialist because although collective action does have a role in society, the movement quickly dissolves into competing factions in its struggle to replace one elite with another.
I'm not a Nationalist because although there is a lot to be grateful for in growing up in a particular place, the place should not be romanticised and set up above all other places. That is the politics of Us and not Them.
I'm not a Green because although care of the Earth is vital, it isn't at the centre of everything. We are in politics to serve people first, but it would be irresponsible not to care for the planet too.
I'm a Liberal because I have a belief that the state is here to serve the individual, the family and caring for people who are not able to care for themselves; to encourage behaviour beneficial to wider society, while acknowledging that some human drives are destructive and selfish but allowing for those instincts too. 
In short, liberalism accepts people as they are, rather than what some might wish others to be.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Fracking and Anti-Fracking.

Fellow Liberal Democrat, Tessa Munt MP, asked for views on the proposed government legislation to enable developers gain access to resources under private property.  Tessa is anti-fracking, so my response probably will not be a pleasant read for her, but below is my initial reply.

Tessa, I will make several points.

1) You are correct. Renewables should be the priority for the UK. It seems though that the British public are against ANY form of development of the countryside. The Conservatives are pandering to this by promising a ban on further onshore windfarm development if they win power after the next election.
Research and development of renewable energy, combined with government subsidy of improving the energy efficiency of our homes and places of work, should be a priority. Perhaps the stamp-duty tax and business rates of properties could be tweaked to reflect the energy efficiencies of properties, as well as giving positive support to make buildings more energy efficient.

2) In my view, and in the view of the British Geological Survey, 300m is too shallow. In a paper cited in my block entry on fracking, the BGS says that prospects under 1000m should not be explored and developed. Although some prospects in the UK come into this zone, most are between depths of 1000 and 3000m. I am against development above this depth and the law of access should reflect that safety margin.

3) You state that hydrocarbons should be left in the ground to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. True, but that is not happening. Coal is currently supplying 30% of UK energy, and those figures are rising, thanks to cheap imports from the US. Surely it is better to exploit cleaner gas reserves and leave the coal in the ground?

4) It is interesting that you mention the Coal Industry Act. This provides precedent under the law.
Can any individual really claim ownership of the ground over a mile below their property? Similarly, if we owned the sky above our houses, an overflying aircraft would equally be guilty of trespass. It is important that legislations does recognise damage and the level of evidence should not be criminal (beyond all reasonable doubt) but rather civil, on the balance of probabilities. A civil body, perhaps advised by the BGS, should be set up to independently evaluate any complaint. This should be funded by a levy on exploration companies involved in onshore activities.

5) Energy security. One just has to remember this simple fact. Since the late 1990s, levels in production of both oil and gas from the UK sector have fallen by two-thirds. Please see my blog for a graph based upon DECC production figures.
What is clear is that Britain’s main focus should be making good on this shortfall. We are currently a net energy importer and this situation is projected only to get worse in the next decade.

To summarise.
I am all for government subsidy into renewable energy and energy saving in our nation’s buildings. We should investigate methods of taxation that reward responsible owners and disadvantage those who make no effort to improve their properties.

1000m should be the minimum depth of development, not the 300m cited in the proposed law.

In order to further decrease greenhouse gas emissions, usage of coal to generate electricity should be completely phased out as soon as possible.
Precedent for the proposed law already exists. An independent body, advised by the BGS, should be set up to evaluate damage claims. This body should be funded by a levy on the energy companies.
The status-quo is not tenable. If we do nothing as a nation, refuse to develop the opportunities open to us, we are effectively washing our hands of the matter and in importing more energy, we are paying cash to export the problem and our responsibilities.

If you wish to support Tessa's point of view, her website can be reached here.

My previous blogs on fracking for beginners can be reached through this link.

I fully intend to look over the government's consultation paper on drilling access and give a more detailed account later.


The day after I published this blog, the BGS published their Aquifers and Shales; a series of interactive maps showing the proximity of shale prospects to drinking water aquifers.  It is especially useful as it gives both plan and section views, giving the vertical distance between formations.  On the basis of this information, it is expected that drilling will be prevented where there is a risk to drinking water.

The site also gives details of their water-sampling project, which establishes a base line of the current methane content in the UK's potable water aquifers.  This is something that the US failed to establish prior to their fracking industry going ahead.