Saturday, 31 March 2007

The Three Rs: Rospuda, Rights and Radley?

Radley Lakes before the destruction started
Thrupp Lake at Radley in September 2006

As European diplomats drove to inspect the tranquil wildscape of the Rospuda valley in north east Poland two weeks ago, the road behind was blocked by the Polish Road Agency to prevent environmental campaigners from joining them ( It was a scene more at home in Russia than Poland. Then again, look at what happened at Radley Lakes where npower have harassed protestors with security staff and injunctions.

Strangely, it is an injunction that may save the day in Rospuda, with the EU threatening to slap one on the Polish government to halt its plans to drive the Via Baltica motorway through one of Europe's most pristine wildernesses. If you drop into the Bower Arms at Radley, the landlord calls out "how's it going?" He does not mean how are you? His concern is the campaign to save Thrupp Lake, the same concern that nearly everyone in the local community shares. But in Augustow in the Rospuda Valley, the townspeople seem to be wholeheartedly in favour of the Via Baltica. It will be their longed for bypass. At Radley there are easy but more expensive alternatives to the destruction of Thrupp Lake. At Rospuda, the alternatives cut through communities and sweep away houses.

So perhaps these two campaigns have nothing in common? They do. The passion of the campaigners and the determination and power of their opponents for a start. And the fact that the arrival of nesting birds has stopped destruction of both sites for now. Also both battles show that no matter how clear cut the case may be for preserving a landscape, campaigning nearly always proves to be extraordinarily complex. And because campaigning is not simple, you need to dig in for the long term and not waver one bit.

That's the Three Rs of the environment. Its not Rospuda, Rights and Radley but Respect for landscapes, Regard for local communities - even when you disagree with them - and Resolution in campaigning against the fiercest and most powerful of opponents.

My thanks to the British Council in Poland for hosting a dialogue between myself and eight Polish environmental campaigners in Warsaw last weekend.

Radley Lakes after npower started cutting down trees

Thrupp Lake at Radley in March 2007

Friday, 30 March 2007

The tyranny of CO2

If government is going to do something, it needs something to measure, and the measure of our age is CO2. Over the next few years we can look forward to the principle of CO2 reduction (CO2 minus) being driven across government and production of acres of sprawling regulations. But CO2 is a crude regulatory measure and unintended consequences will inevitably result. We have already seen one of the most extreme examples of CO2 minus worship in a report to Defra that claimed that local food often produces more CO2 than long distance freighted food. Ergo, it concluded, local food is less environmentally friendly.

Excuse me, but where I live we buy local food to support our farming friends, to protect the landscape we love and to keep rural communities viable. Do I have to push my trolley through Tesco to reduce CO2 a bit? Must I put up with a wind farm on the windy hill I live on, just because they may help us go CO2 minus? Am I to eat GM food because over the product cycle it is might be more CO2 minus than organic produce? The climate change debate is full of non-sequiturs as far as the landscape and rural communities are concerned, and we need to wake up to the fact that the dominance of CO2 as a performance indicator may not always be in the best interests of rural England.

Let me make my own position clear. Climate change is happening and I agree with the scientific consensus that mankind's carbon emissions are a significant driver of that change. We must reduce our CO2 emissions. But if we care about the rural landscape, we should ensure that the dash to "CO2 minus" does not work against the countryside we have worked so long and so hard to protect.

A green and threatened land

Welcome to a green and threatened land. My day job is as a campaign manager for the countryside lobby group, Campaign to Protect Rural England. Mostly I am active in Oxfordshire, working on campaigns like Warneford Meadow, Radley Lakes and the Upper Thames Reservoir at Abingdon.

You will no doubt read about those campaigns here but the main purpose of this blog is to take a sideways look at environmental issues. Working in and for the countryside tends to give a different perspective on the environmental issues of the day, and that it what I will be writing about here.

This is not a CPRE blog, its personal. But undoubtedly my day job will spill over into this column. The countryside is worth fighting for and there enough people longing to destroy it!

Andy Boddington