Issues of Concern

This website's objective is to illustrate what is going wrong in the current management of much of the British countryside. The rich plant, animal, bird, insect and invertebrate fauna in the United Kingdom is now being compromised by modern and often ill-conceived and ill-thought out pieces of policy and national legislation in the opinion of this website creator. The excessive people-orientated policies set by successive United Kingdom governments, often as a result of the implementation of legislation such as those dealing with health and safety and human access to the countryside like The Countryside and Rights-of-Way Act 2000 for example, is altering the countryside and its' habitats disastrously.

The damage that is being done to the British countryside, especially in southern England, by excessive human population growth and inappropriate numbers of newcomers being placed near heathland and other natural habitats, resulting from successive national Government failures to control both the birthrate and limit immigration will be shown. The UK and especially England has become overcrowded with people and action is urgently needed to prevent further damage to its wildlife and the habitats that they live in. If there was enough land for all needs, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in 2013 would not have needed to be targeting our ancient woodlands for housing development. His Government's policies clearly indicated the pressure for destructive development that England was and continues to be under in 2015 and will be in the future, as small villages and communities up and down the land must be all too aware. I heard their complaints about the pressure of house building in their communities in the East Hampshire local planning inspections that took place in 2012 and 2013. Yet other self-serving parties state that we as a country need to have between 200,000 to 300,000 more homes to be built annually, this is a forthcoming disaster for our countryside and remaining wildlife.

Increasingly when wildlife and our precious British countryside is placed up against the needs of people, of course it is our wildlife that is under pressure to lose its' homes and breeding areas. A political party and direction is needed urgently to have a vision for Britain that does not involve the loss of further countryside and special habitats like heathland. But this does not seem forthcoming as housing charities, house building federations, the media and the City of London and development companies and their executives get ever richer promoting the mantra that there is a serious shortage of housing and that they must build almost everywhere. The reality is that there is just too much demand being stoked up by vested interests and London's Green Belt is the next target. The question is will Britain have any of its specialist countryside habitats left by 2050 or any wildlife at all by 2200? I very much doubt it! Those concerned in making the damaging decisions on the growth of the United Kingdom's population and the extent of development should note that intensive farmland is not countryside - it is just another industrial landscape!

People's leisure use of the countryside is causing increasing damage to it. Foremost among these new threats is cycling, particularly the use of off-road mountain bicycles. Any bare ground still present on heathland footpaths and tracks is increasingly being churned up by the continuous rubber tread of the tyres used, to the detriment of the insects that burrow into the ground of the bare soil areas of these routes for their nesting situations.

ABOVE: A trampled and disturbed sandy track surface, the results of too many human leisure users' cycling on a heathland bare ground track on Canford Heath, Dorset, to the detriment of most of those species of insects that nest in the sand. © Copyright SMiles.

Of course England is not the only geographical location of occurrence for its wildlife. Its' migrant birds live elsewhere in the winter and may only survive to arrive for our summer if the conditions they live in, in Africa for example do not change excessively. Additionally they still have to fly through many Mediterranean countries, many of whose human population's main objective appears to be to both trap and shoot these precious birds. We can perhaps start to see that the age of animals and wildlife is almost over and in serious decline as the human animal increasingly reduces and destroys the habitats formerly occupied by our world's population of wildlife. Where is the evidence for this glib statement? It is that that formerly common animal, the hedgehog, is now reduced to a population of under 1,000,000 in England, the water rat is in serious decline, both directly because of the activities of humans. In the rest of the World, we know that many ape species are in serious decline and also that many coral reefs are also in a similar calamitous state even in their remote locations under the sea. This destruction needs to be stopped now but in reality we know the pressure will not ease-up! Fortunately there are concerned individuals in many parts of the world willing and able to act to try to limit the damage that is being done. Sadly as parts of the Asian world have become richer it seems the way they wish to show their wealth is to destroy the wildlife of other countries by creating an ever larger market for such products as ivory. Clearly environmentalists need to reduce their purchases of products from some of these Asian countries in order to show their disgust at their practices. If only we could boycott them altogether this would be ideal but for instance for Chinese products, this is sadly practicably impossible.

As Gerald Durrell stated in 1972 in the concluding chapter of his book, "Catch Me a Colobus", as follows, "We are like a set of idiot children, let loose with poison, saw. sickle, shotgun and rifle, in a complex and beautiful garden that we are slowly but surely turning into a barren and infertile desert." He continued, "The world is as delicate and as complicated as a spider's web, and like a spider's web, if you touch one thread, you send shudders running through all the other threads that make up the web. But we're not just touching the web, we're tearing great holes in it; we're waging biological war on the world around us." Sadly it has got even worse since 1972!

This website will provide advice and suggestions as to how site management may be improved to benefit all wildlife but especially insects and invertebrates in England. Our use of the countryside and the experiences it offers should not be achieved by continually compromising animal life's usage of it by destroying the habitats that they depend on. The leisure uses of the English countryside by the expanding human population are beginning to overwhelm what were once species' rich habitats, seemingly without the informed opposition which characterised many countryside campaigners in the 1970s/80s in the UK. Many natural history organisations could do more I think, than to just rely on their membership of Wildlife Link to campaign against any UK Government that damages our wildlife populations by its' policies. Currently as an amateur naturalist I am disappointed by the seeming lack of political activity of the UK's Wildlife Trusts' organisation, I feel let down by it. They need to be heard more on the media tackling and challenging the UK Government when they do bad things against our wildlife. They and others' need to stop sitting on the side-lines, once the UK's wildlife is wrecked by development and excessive human population growth we will never get it back again!

Wildlife in the countryside

Our experience of all species in the countryside should be one of a rich fauna but instead it is increasingly compromised to suit the leisure purposes of the continually expanding human population. All too often nowadays the countryside is being altered at the expense of the natural or semi-natural countryside of England as shown below at Chobham Common (North) National Nature Reserve (NNR) in Surrey. Instead of the natural sandy soil surface formerly used by many insect species to burrow in to form their nests, this track has been covered in wood chips, unseen below this is a layer of gravel with a further covering of sacking on top of the soil.

ABOVE: A former bare ground habitat damaged by inappropriate wood-chip surfacing and now in 2015 and onward equally destroyed by replacement by gravel on Chobham Common National Nature Reserve, Surrey. © Copyright SMiles.

A disaster! Unfortunately this habitat loss and damage, for that is what it really is, is promoted by local authorities, wildlife trusts and the county countryside access forums, all under an earlier Government's Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000. Sadly for the wildlife that lives and nests in the early successional habitats of the bare ground of our footpaths, tracks and bridleways this situation is becoming much, much worse with the publication of sets of the five yearly Rights of Way Improvement Plans (ROWIPS).

Such surfaced tracks also encourage hordes of dog-walkers to visit heathland sites of what were once supposed to be cherished National Nature Reserves (NNR). The concept of NNR's seems to be a fading vision of a once great system of nature conservation. Sites such as Chobham Common in Surrey are, in some parts, becoming tamed and urbanised to suit increasing access by humans to the detriment of its' wildlife populations.

Heathland Management For Insects →

There are ways to stop this degradation before these sites are completely damaged. These solutions and the actions necessary to stop the degradation of the landscape and the increasing damage to these important habitats need to be implemented before it is too late. They form a major part of the subject content of this website. Many dog-owning visitors to the British countryside need to change their behaviour and to become more responsible for their activities, the careless disposal of dog faeces in polythene bags must be stopped by government now before the condition of the countryside deteriorates any more! But does our Government care enough in 2015 and beyond about the countryside to do this or to stop any damage caused by industry, or by itself or by the public? Sadly the answer is no, judged by DEFRA's attempts to undermine the European Habitats' and Wild Bird's Directives legislation by seeking the assistance of the Law Commission in work that completed consultation in February 2013!

The countryside experience web site objectives are:

  1. Initially this site will concentrate on Lowland Heathland and its associated habitats. A particular focus is to show how heathland countryside should be managed in order to support the best faunal assemblages by comparing well managed sites with poorly managed heathland sites in Britain, via a scoring system developed for this website and determined by criteria reflecting the opinion of this website's creator.

  2. To illustrate the site management changes that need to be made to keep heathland in good condition for the species that create their homes and nest-sites in it.
    The provision of advice and suggestions as to how site management may be improved to benefit wildlife and our experience of the countryside without compromising animal life's usage of it.

  3. How compromise may be reached between providing safe access for humans without destroying the biodiversity of the early successional habitats of existing, open, sun exposed footpaths, tracks and bridleways situated on the natural soil surface of each location.

  4. How sites score in relation to the special invertebrate species (some Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and other species) which they should hold but which are being ruined by inappropriate management.

  5. To highlight the perceived weaknesses in national and local site management and in UK politics concerning heathlands which are to the detriment of all wildlife and especially to invertebrates and some other notable species.

  6. Change in both heathlands themselves and in the urban/countryside overlap with heathlands and the problems caused by urbanisation near them will be illustrated. This is often exemplified by development schemes and practices which are to the detriment of wildlife. Examples of poor current practice carried out in England will be highlighted.

  7. What so-called "Green Infrastructure and Development" policies need to achieve in terms of maintaining the use of human habitations by wildlife. Some of the difficulties for wildlife posed by the modern lifestyles of humans in proximity to heathlands will be highlighted.

  8. The declaration of why "Eco-towns" or "Green-towns" near heathlands are not ecological and in some cases in the choice of proposed sites are an ecological disaster in the making. This is because of the decisions being made with regard to new roads and proposed Sites of Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG's).

  9. How the British countryside has become overcrowded with people and what is needed to be done to prevent further disastrous damage to it.

  10. The planning system was changed by the Conservative/Liberal Coalition Government that was elected in 2010 and as continued from May 2015 by the Conservative majority and with further change anticipated in late 2015 to come from them to favour development. The role of Natural England in looking after our wildlife is also being continually undermined by this Government and its friends and potential donors in private industry. The recent statements by the Chairman of a major house building company, as well as those by a housing economist in October 2015 with regard to the "Greenbelt" as well as Ministry of Defence (MOD) land is indicative of the disastrous direction in which the UK is travelling. The continuing potential of damage to a major Nightingale SSSI in Kent by a large UK land development company is a national and international disgrace. The main UK environmental ministerial department has also endeavoured to undermine both the European Union's Bird's and Habitat's Directives to the detriment of wildlife in the UK, under the guise of improving Government advice to developers. Clearly the future for wildlife is bleak in the UK.

    It will be up to individual naturalists to do more to conserve British wildlife in the face of ever increasing development pressure. But it is surprising in the opinion of this website's creator that so many so-called naturalists are reduced to just being wildlife spotters, there seems to have been a loss of the campaigning spirit resulting in a quiescent and inappropriate acceptance of the political status quo. Seemingly they appear to have no understanding of the dynamics of the modern countryside, their grasp of the underlying ecology to cater for our invertebrate populations and our insect pollinators as well as other animal and plant species, and how it is being compromised by just catering for human needs and leisure uses is surprising and depressing!

Further reading and references, some of which are referred to in the text above

1 - Saving Planet Earth, by Tony Juniper published by Harper Collins in 2007

2 - The Countryside and Rights-of-Way Act 2000, published in The House of Commons during the 1999-2000 Session.

Wet And Dry Heathland →