June 4 2013
Don't cull the carrier
Shropshire Wildlife Trust says it is ‘bitterly disappointed’ as the Government confirmed a trial cull of badgers will go ahead this summer, but added that its own alternative vaccination programme in the region will now be expanded.
Environment Secretary and Shropshire MP Owen Paterson made the announcement at the NFU annual conference, confirming that the trial postponed from last autumn will now proceed from 1st June 2013.
The culls are designed to test the 'controlled shooting' method of culling badgers, even though free shooting of badgers will be also permitted. The pilot culls will not measure the impact on bovine TB. They are due to take place in Gloucestershire and Somerset and a reserve area has also been identified in Dorset.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust however, says the move goes against a vote of almost 150 MPs, and 160,000 members of the public who last year backed plans for a re-think on the issue of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle and are opposed to a cull of wild badgers.
The Trust undertook a successful deployment of the BCG badger vaccine at a nature reserve in north Shropshire last autumn, and say the process will be rolled out across additional locations this summer, with several more landowners in on-going discussions to vaccinate badgers on their land.
Helen Trotman of Shropshire Wildlife trust said “It’s heartening to see the interest in vaccination as an alternative method of controlling transmission risk from badgers and we will continue to work to support those that want to deploy it on their land. We know it reduces the disease burden in badgers without any of the detrimental effects seen from culling”.
“What we want to see is a raft of measures, with vaccination sitting at the centre, allowing us to maintain stable badger populations and build badger immunity to bTB from within, whilst continuing to break the link through other measures like monitoring and the development of an effective cattle vaccine.”
The Trust is continuing with its public appeal to support its vaccination programme in Shropshire, which already has the backing of Chester Zoo who have provided trapping equipment, and local veterinary practice, Lambert, Leonard & May.
May 22 2013
State of Nature - 60% of UK species in decline, groundbreaking study finds
UK nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of a groundbreaking report published today by a coalition of leading conservation and research organisations.
Scientists working side-by-side from 25 wildlife organisations have compiled a stock take of our native species – the first of its kind in the UK. The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.
The State of Nature report will be launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London this evening (Wednesday, May 22), while simultaneous events will be held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
Sir David Attenborough said: “This groundbreaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope.
“For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife.
“Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals. We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.
“This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”
Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble - overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate.
“These declines are happening across all countries and UK Overseas Territories, habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.
“Reliable data on these species goes back just fifty years, at most, but we know that there has been a historical pattern of loss in the UK going back even further. Threats including sweeping habitat loss, changes to the way we manage our countryside, and the more recent impact of climate change, have had a major impact on our wildlife, and they are not going away.
“None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes. And that knowledge is the most essential tool that conservationists have.”
Visit The Wildlife Trusts for full details of State of Nature coalition partners and download the document and supplements for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
April 30 2013
Bees face a brighter future as pesticides banned
A decision to restrict the use of neonicotinoids, has today been welcomed by The Wildlife Trusts.
The European Commission has placed a temporary suspension on these dangerous insecticides. It is expected that the ban will come into effect from 1 December 2013 and will restrict the use of the three most common neonicotinoids (Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam) on crops which are ‘attractive to bees’.
Paul Wilkinson, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Landscape, said:
“The EU’s ban on three neonicotinoid insecticides is extremely welcome. Whilst it provides some respite for our bees, we need more action to reverse the decline in bees and other vital pollinators. The continued opposition of the UK Government is very disappointing and of great concern to those of us who value the natural environment and its contribution to food production.”
The European Commission will review the conditions of approval of the three neonicotinoids within the next two years to take into account relevant scientific and technical developments. In January, a report by the European Food Safety Authority identified a ‘high acute risk’ to honeybees from Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam, and an unknown risk to other pollinators such as bumblebees and hoverflies.
17th April 2013
Run for the wild
The Bluebell Run for fell runners and an optional route for walkers takes place in Church Stretton on Sunday 12th May and funds raised will be shared between Shropshire Wildlife Trust, The Gorilla Organisation and AfriCat.
"Our hopes are that this event will raise awareness of the plight of wildlife both in the UK and around the world," said Anna Bartlett, one of the event's organisers.
Full details of Run for the Wild
5th April 2013
Save our bees
Shropshire Wildlife Trust welcomes today’s report by MPs that the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids should be suspended.
Members of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee are calling for a moratorium on the use of these sprays. Since their introduction in 1991, a growing body of scientific evidence has been amassed, indicating that neonicotinoids have a detrimental effect on insect pollinators.
"Bees are a vital part of nature, beautiful and varied in themselves, and essential for the pollination of at least 30% of plants. They also form a vital part of the food chain for other species such as birds and amphibians," said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust. "Insect pollinators provide a vital ecosystem service to the UK’s farmers and fruit growers. It is estimated that a collapse in pollinators would cost the UK economy c. £1.8 billion per year,"
"Shropshire Wildlife Trust is calling on Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary, to end his opposition to a Europe-wide ban on these chemicals," said the Trust’s director. "We believe a precautionary approach is vital to protect both wildlife and farm crops. "The Commons Committee has accused the Department of the Environment of "extraordinary complacency" in its handling of this issue.
Meres & Mosses Nature Improvement Area celebrates its first anniversary
Representatives from a conservation project in Shropshire and Cheshire are attending a special event in London today (26th March) to mark the first anniversary of England’s Nature Improvement Area (NIA) programme. Peter Moss OBE, Programme Manager for the Meres & Mosses NIA will be presenting the main achievements of the project to an audience which includes Wildlife Minister Richard Benyon, Professor John Lawton and Natural England chair Poul Christensen.
Commenting on the first year of the Meres & Mosses NIA, Peter Moss said: “Our team has been working closely with all of the partners and we’ve got to grips with a very complex and busy programme to protect and enhance the Meres & Mosses landscape. The groundwork is now in place, and a huge amount of conservation work and community work has already begun with more just around the corner. People will be seeing and hearing more about the NIA’s work over the next few months. Meanwhile, if anyone would like to find out more about how to get involved, or about how to apply for our community or farm grants, then please visit their website.
This is one of only 12 NIAs awarded funding by DEFRA from over 70 applications. Set up through the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper, it is a Defra-led initiative for which Natural England is now responsible. The Meres & Mosses NIA covers 400 sq km of North Shropshire and South Cheshire with a small area of Wales and Staffordshire.
Ninety five per cent of all UK’s wetlands have disappeared due to urbanisation, drainage and agricultural use. The Meres & Mosses area holds some of the best remaining examples of this special landscape, with habitats which support some of the rarest plants and wildlife in England. Several mosses are the strongholds of Britain’s biggest spider, the raft spider. Cole Mere is the only place in England where a real glacial relic thrives; the Least Water Lily. However, this habitat remains under threat from continued human pressure, coupled with lack of awareness about its international importance.
The NIA’s purpose is to:
- Enhance the natural environment
- Create more and better-connected habitats over large areas
- Unite local communities, landowners and businesses through a shared vision for a better future for people and wildlife, and to engage more people with nature
The Meres & Mosses NIA programme officially started in April 2012, and is being enhanced by a five-year Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Scheme – the aim of which is to deliver similar outcomes in a slightly smaller geographical area. Our team has hit the ground running, despite atrocious ground conditions caused by last year’s excessive rainfall. Conservation work has begun on the three core sites of Cole Mere, White Mere and Brown Moss.
Our farm adviser and wetlands restoration officer are working with landowners and partner organisations to mitigate diffuse pollution and identify opportunities for conservation work and habitat restoration. As a result, work is underway on seven other non-designated peatland sites and wildlife sites in Shropshire and Cheshire. This work is focused on restoring and improving the condition of habitats, habitat restoration and gaining a better understanding of how to manage sites in the future through the monitoring of water levels. They have also identified training opportunities for farmers in the NIA.
Landscape scale conservation
We are particularly excited about the prospect of working with the Cholmondeley Estate in Cheshire, as this is the main conservation effort within our NIA. The estate consists of parkland, woods, meres, degraded peatland and tenanted intense dairy farms. We believe this will give us a great opportunity to put into practice all aspects of the ‘landscape scale’ approach – which means improving the environment for everyone’s benefit over a large area, crossing farm boundaries, involving local communities and establishing the conditions for wildlife to thrive alongside intense agriculture. A proposal has been agreed between the NIA and the estate which will see work implemented in stages. The first stage will be habitat restoration and a feasibility study to tackle water quality (already underway). The second stage will focus on two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) meres. It will provide a holistic approach to conservation throughout the catchments of these meres, working with farming businesses to maximise their business potential at the same time as providing a balance between agriculture and conservation. The third stage will provide a longer-term integrated plan for the whole estate. It will take into account biodiversity, farming, landscape, historic and community issues as resources allow. Training in diffuse pollution will also be provided for farm workers and apprentices. This project will then be a model which can be imitated and rolled out on a larger scale anywhere in the UK in the future.
In order to improve public access into some of the special places within the NIA, six circular extensions off the Shropshire Way and Sandstone Trail long distance paths have been completed. Three will be celebrated with guided walks during the Meres & Mosses sponsored Whitchurch walking festival in May this year. This will encourage local people to explore the special features of the Meres & Mosses landscape, such as Wem Moss (the home of carnivorous plants and the raft spider), Fenn’s Whixall Moss (the site of large scale peat digging until 1990 and also a reconstructed WW2 decoy for German bombing raids on Liverpool) and Bettisfield Moss where you might be lucky enough to see hobbies catching white-faced darter dragonfly. Details can be found at www.whitchurchwalkers.co.uk, www.shropshirewalking.co.uk and www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk
Engaging local communities so they can learn more about the environment on their doorstep has produced some great results. A working group was formed at Cole Mere after a NIA-led community consultation, and it meets monthly to manage this special site. A survey group has been set up within it, trained to conduct otter surveys and water vole surveys. This group will monitor populations and explore previously un-surveyed sites where it is thought these creatures may be found. A similar consultation event is planned for Brown Moss.
Our community officer has formed a Down to Earth steering group in Whixall which will record local history, supporting the work of Natural England on Bettisfield Moss, and it will work with a local business to provide Corporate Social Responsibility days. He is also working with local councils going through town plans in Ellesmere and Whitchurch and the parish plan in Welshampton to encourage greater emphasis on the environment in all aspects of community development. In Ellesmere we are recruiting more people to join the existing four volunteer community conservation groups. In Welshampton we are helping to design and promote a local walking festival and a ‘green day’ event – to make it easier for local people to get out and explore their surroundings. In Whitchurch we are giving the water vole group resources to recruit more volunteers along with the Chesire water vole group. We are also working with Whitchurch Infants School to create new forest school activities on Wem Moss.
Awards and Education
Match funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will enable us to award community grants on a regular basis, which local project groups can apply for. Over the next four years we have a total of £50,000 to award. The first grant will be awarded this month and is supporting a project to help locals get more out of the Mere at Ellesmere by giving them greater access to boating.
Primary school education focusing on the special qualities of the Meres & Mosses has got off to a flying start with the delivery of our first John Muir Award package for Tilston School in Cheshire. A further seven schools will receive this education package up until 2017. To support this, a new hide and learning centre has just been opened at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Wood Lane.
New interpretation boards will be on site at the Boathouse Visitor Information Centre in Ellesmere, and the distribution of information leaflets and grant application packs throughout the region will now commence. A Meres and Mosses NIA and Landscape Partnership Scheme website will be launched in April explaining how landowners, farmers and the general public can benefit from the NIA scheme, and how to get involved.
E-petition to strengthen hedgerow protection
Following the application by a local farmer to remove 7 miles of hedgerow near Chirbury, an e-petition has been launched, calling on the Government to strengthen the Hedgerow Regulations.
The Chirbury story highlighted the weakness of the Hedgerow Regulations to protect this cherished part of the landscape. The petition calls for a review of the regulations to include mandatory environmental impact and landscape character assessments and a commitment that hedgerows would not be removed if it would change the landscape character.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust, which vigorously opposed the Chirbury application, is urging people to back this campaign.
"We welcome the fact that the Chirbury application has now been withdrawn, but would like to see the regulations strengthened to avoid future threats to our hedgerow network," said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust. "While hedgerows are recognised as a priority habitat within the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, the regulations do not adequately protect this cherished part of the landscape."
Sign the hedgerow petition
22nd January 2013
Knit a beard for the Darwin Festival
As a mark of respect to Charles Darwin and his famously bushy beard, we're asking people to enter into the spirit of the Darwin Festival and bring their own beard. Our finance manager, Helen Gilmour, has set to with her knitting needles, knitting many splendid beards. Inspired by this, we are looking for crafty people to knit, crochet, sew or make high quality beards that we can exchange for donations to Shropshire Wildlife Trust in our visitor centre.
If you'd like to knit a beard you can download a very simple pattern here or search the internet for other designs. For further details about what to do with your knitted beard, please contact Sara Pearce at Shropshire Wildlife Trust.
Relief over withdrawal of hedgerow removal application
Shropshire Wildlife Trust welcomes the news that Fraser Jones has withdrawn his application to remove 11.3km of hedgerows from his farm at Chirbury. A public outcry against the plan resulted in more than 350 comments submitted to Shropshire Council both from local people and leading environmentalists and academics around the country.
Hedgerows are one of the defining features of the countryside and vitally important to wildlife. A recent survey of an English hedge revealed the presence of 1,671 species including butterflies, moths, bees, birds, small mammals and numerous invertebrates. Thirty-seven individual fields would have been lost if the application had been granted.
“The Chirbury application revealed the weakness of the current Hedgerow Regulations to protect this essential part of our landscape,” said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust. “While hedgerows are recognised as a priority habitat within the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, the regulations do not adequately support their continued survival and good maintenance. We would like to see the regulations strengthened so that the hedgerow network and the wildlife that lives within it is no longer subjected to threats of destruction as it has been at Chirbury, but will be valued and appropriately looked after as an intrinsic part of the landscape.”
4th January 2013
Wildlife Trust fury at hedgerow removal plan
Shropshire Wildlife Trust strongly objects to the proposal by Fraser Jones to remove 11.3km of hedgerows on at Marrington Farm, Chirbury. "The destructive intent of this proposal is breathtaking," said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust. "Farmers claim to be the custodians of the countryside; maximisation of production is obviously Mr Jones’ sole concern."
Hedgerows are one of the defining features of the countryside and are vitally important to wildlife. A recent survey of an English hedge revealed the presence of 1,671 species including butterflies, moths, bees, birds, small mammals and numerous invertebrates. "If these hedges are ripped out, the impact will be felt far beyond the immediate locality; birds, bats, hedgehogs, bees and other creatures will lose feeding, nesting and sheltering opportunities across a wide area," said Colin Preston.
The hedgerows also form part of the distinctive character of the landscape. The Vale of Montgomery has great beauty and historical interest, with remnants of fortifications, boundaries, settlements and field systems from prehistory to the medieval period. The field network is one of the most interesting elements of this. Thirty-seven individual fields will be lost if the application is granted, creating one vast stretch of grassland. Old field names such as Wood Leasow, indicate the ancient origins of some of them: the word ‘leasow’ means woodland clearance, suggesting that their existence dates back many hundreds of years.
Loss of hedgerows is also likely to have an adverse impact of the Camlad river. Increased siltation would occur and further pollution be caused as a result of pesticide and phosphate run-off.
View Shropshire Wildlife Trust's formal objection to this application to Shropshire Council.
If you would like to view and comment on the Chirbury hedgerow removal application you can do so here
Award for botanist
Ian Trueman, a trustee of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, has been presented with the Christopher Cadbury Medal for services to nature conservation.
Enthusiastic, energetic and eccentric, Ian Trueman has played a leading role in botanical conservation across the West Midlands and Welsh borders. His involvement in the research and editorial of four floras: Shropshire, Montgomeryshire, Staffordshire and Birmingham has been invaluable and highly influential. These books, which continually inform the conservation work of respective Wildlife Trusts, reveal the richness of plants within their localities, recording distribution and abundance, along with detailed descriptions of the habitats in which they are found.
Ian has scoured the environment for plants, spotting everything that grows from the paving stones of Birmingham to the wild woods of Wales. He has also taken part in numerous working groups and committees, driving forward plans and ideas to give those plants a future.
As Professor of Botany at Wolverhampton University, he inspired thousands of students, opening their eyes to the pleasure of knowing and identifying sedges, grasses and every branch of botany. His passionate enthusiasm and immense expertise make him a wonderful communicator.
Ian was also an early pioneer of species-rich grassland restoration and recreation. The meadows at Venus Pool in Shropshire are a wonderful example of this; today they are one of the best sites in the county for green winged orchids.
Professor Trueman was presented with the Christopher Cadbury medal by TV presenter Simon King OBE, President of The Wildlife Trusts.
Simon said: “I am delighted to present this medal to Professor Trueman. His efforts in mentoring young botanists both through his professional and voluntary work have been phenomenal and there’s absolutely no doubt that many professional ecologists owe their training and enthusiasm to him.”
Upon receiving the medal, Ian said: “I am very grateful to The Wildlife Trusts, both for this and for turning me into a conservationist by introducing me to the mystery and beauty of diversity and the tragedy of its loss.”
29th October 2012
Devastating threat of ash tree disease
News that at least 20 ash woods in the east of England have become infected with ash dieback has raised fears that the disease could spread across the whole of the UK, destroying one of our most beautiful and abundant trees. The implications for the Shropshire landscape are grim.
Ash trees are particularly plentiful in the limestone areas of the Oswestry Hills and Wenlock Edge, but they are found throughout the county, in woods, parks, fields and hedgerows and by rivers, streams and meres. Ash is a hugely significant tree in its own right, but there would be serious knock-on effects for other wildlife. "Ash is one of the last trees to come into leaf in the spring, making it ideal for spring flowers such as primroses, wood anemones and bluebells which need sunlight," said Carl Pickup, Reserves Manager for Shropshire Wildlife Trust. "Once in leaf they still don’t cast a heavy shade – their leaves are divided, a bit like a fern, so light still gets through – and this encourages good ground flora. If the disease takes hold in Shropshire and we lose our ash trees, it’s likely that sycamore would become the most dominant tree and very little grows under sycamore as it casts a dense shade."
The ash tree’s habit of shedding branches makes them excellent providers of nesting holes for birds and bats; many insects are associated with them and their seeds, distinctive bunches of ash keys, provide food for birds and mammals.
So far the disease has been found only in the East of England. "We’re all hoping the disease can be confined and eliminated, but the memory of the rampant destruction of Dutch elm disease causes us great concern for what might happen to our ash trees in Shropshire and across the UK," said Carl.
The Chair of The Wildlife Trusts, René Olivieri, has written to Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary, expressing disappointment that an import ban on foreign-grown ash trees was not imposed earlier and urging him to set up an emergency summit, to co-ordinate action to halt the spread of the disease; bringing together appropriate scientists, commercial interests and representatives of landowning bodies, including conservation organisations.
23rd October 2012
Badger cull delay
Shropshire Wildlife Trust welcomes the Government’s decision to delay the proposed badger cull until next summer, though The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson says that he remains utterly convinced that culling is the right thing do to.
Serious doubts about the effectiveness of a cull to control bovine TB have been raised by many leading scientists. The cost of the operation is also undermining the viability of the strategy.
"Shropshire Wildlife Trust will continue to argue for a disease strategy based on good science," said Helen Trotman, People & Wildlife Manager for the Trust, who has pioneered a badger vaccination scheme on the Shropshire/Cheshire border this autumn. "This ingredient is clearly lacking in the culling plan, which would almost certainly lead to an increase in the disease as badgers flee to new areas, panicked by the shooting."
The proposed pilot cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset aimed to demonstrate the effectiveness of free shooting as a method of culling badgers, with the requirement that 70% should be killed. But the policy was hatched based on an estimate of badger numbers, rather than actual surveys: that estimate has now been shown to be seriously adrift – badger numbers in these areas are now known to be much higher than previously thought. This would mean spiralling costs for farmers, who are required to pay the licensed shooters for each badger killed.
Although there is no ‘quick fix’ to the bTB problem, The Wildlife Trusts believe that Government efforts to tackle the disease should focus on:
Secure change to EU regulation to permit use of a cattle vaccine and develop a strategy for its deployment.
- Badger vaccination: Develop a clear strategy for deployment of the injectable BadgerBCG vaccine and continue development of an oral badger vaccine.
3rd October 2012
Shropshire Wildlife Trust has successfully vaccinated badgers on a nature reserve in north Shropshire. The programme will run for five years, greatly reducing the chances of the sett being infected with bovine tuberculosis. The Trust is campaigning for a disease strategy based on good science, which will involve scrupulous biosecurity on farms, the introduction of an oral vaccine for badgers and ultimately a cattle vaccine.
The vaccination was filmed by BBC Midlands Today - you can see it here.
13th September 2012
Badger cull opposition
Shropshire Wildlife Trust is opposed to the Government’s plan to cull badgers, which is likely to be put into action over the coming weeks in a pilot trial in Somerset and Gloucestershire. "Culling is likely to be counter-productive and could even result in an increase in the disease, as infected badgers disperse from their settled communities, panicked by shooting," said Helen Trotman for Shropshire Wildlife Trust.
Sir David Attenborough, Vice President of the Wildlife Trusts and Simon King, its President, have both spoken out against culling, criticising the strategy for its lack of scientific rigor.
The Wildlife Trusts are deeply conscious of the hardship suffered by farmers affected by bovine TB in their cattle herds and along with several others, Shropshire Wildlife Trust is exploring ways of controlling the disease. The Trust will be starting a 5-year programme of badger vaccination on one of its nature reserves in the north of the county this autumn, alongside a similar project just over the border run by Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
A local veterinary practice is working with the Trust to promote badger vaccination, while several landowners within the area are keen to get involved too. "Our work will be monitored by the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency to assess its effectiveness. Through this project, we hope to make a real contribution to solving the problem of bTB based on scientific principles," said the Trust’s Helen Trotman, who has undergone special training to carry out badger vaccination.
"We believe that strategic use of badger vaccination could play a significant role in creating a firebreak against the disease," said Helen. "Our project will provide local benefit, while the willingness of other landowners to trial vaccination will extend the possibilities of controlling the spread of this disease. We also intend to heighten awareness with decision makers that there are ways of controlling bovine TB that do not involve killing badgers."
Shropshire Wildlife Trust continues to press for the active use of badger bTB vaccine as part of a co-ordinated bTB programme for England. In particular the Trust supports the deployment of badger bTB vaccine by landowners within and around licensed cull areas.
The Wildlife Trusts are urging Defra to concentrate its efforts on developing an oral badger vaccine and to complete the development of a cattle vaccine and secure changes to EU regulation to permit its commercial deployment.
28th August 2012
Chris Hogarth tells of his involvement with our curragh project, both making and paddling the boat down the Severn.
Building the boat
The whole sequence of making and paddling the curragh really was a once in a lifetime moment. I’d booked the week off in July long before the invitation to join the voyage arrived so having the time to take part in the complete build was one of those coincidences you just have to go with.
I had expected many more volunteers to take part and there being just Andy, Fiona and me for much of the week, with the addition of Neil and Rob on some days, meant we were able to get involved in all aspects of the build, from selecting the materials on day one to putting on the skins at the end of the build. Peter Faulkner is a fantastic teacher and always had time to explain why jobs were done in a certain order and in a certain way. It did feel like we were apprentices. We learnt about bending the hazel ribs, weaving the willow to strengthen the gunwales, shaping the boat and splitting the ash for the gunwale capping, steaming the ash and willow to make it pliable and finally fitting the skins using Peter’s secret hide thong joining technique. Through the week we got to know each other and our skills and ended up as a good little team, looking at what jobs needed doing and getting on with them.
The nature of the materials means we can’t know if the way we built the boat was how it would have been done when these skin boats were first made but making it was really low technology and with more time we could have made the curragh with only hand tools and most of the time we did. Power tools were only used to sand the thwarts, drill some holes and steam some willow and ash. The rest was made using knife, axe, drawknife and saw. The amazing thing for me was seeing the natural materials used forming a rigid, regular structure, coaxed into shape by muscle and fingers and held together with twine. The boat when it came off the jig was a thing of beauty.
Going down to Peter’s workshop in Leintwardine was a special day. Beautiful sunny day, fantastic workshop, the envy of any shedaholic, and a good lunch. The smell of the skins was strange, nothing you could put your finger on just unpleasant. I thought it was some race memory, your nose telling you the skins were something you shouldn’t be around because whatever had caused them to smell like they did may still be around to do the same to you. Moulding rather than stretching them over the frame was fascinating, making holes in the hide, in just the right way so that the skins don’t tear, then lacing them to the frame with lengths of cow hide. We finished the day by taking two of Peter’s coracles down to the River Teme and playing in them. A fantastic end to a perfect day.
Journey down the Severn
Paddling Gomphus was equally special. Gaynor and I were in the Saturday morning crew with Fiona. The day started a bit surreally with Bryony and me being interviewed on radio (I only got your message that morning having had a mobile in the washing machine incident). Millie, our dog, was freaked out by the boat as it smelt like a very large cow and she hates cows, then Peter blew his cow horn and that set her off barking. Once on the water Gomphus looked fantastic. Fiona and I compared parts of the boat we had built to see whose looked best. The trick to paddling Gomphus was to keep in time with the others on your side, but there were many distractions so we were probably slower than we should have been. Even with 8 people chatting away we saw lots of wildlife on the trip from Montford Bridge including an otter.
When you paddle the Severn you realise just how rural Shropshire is, it was only when we got to the showground that the town really started to impinge on the river. We managed to miss the rain until we reached Welsh bridge when the heavens opened and lightning crackled. The rain came down, hit the river and bounced back up creating a misty layer above the water. We got cheers from the bank then coming around the bend to English bridge a crowd cheering us on. The end was a blur as crews changed over but the stopping point couldn’t have been chosen better to illustrate the problems the river faces as the rain caused a storm sewer to overflow and people had to step through some very unpleasant water.
Gaynor and I were so taken by the voyage we decided to join it for the remainder of the trip, following Gomphus and its various crews in our canoe. We decided to take our brew gear so we could provide drinks part way through each session and this seemed to work well. Sunday was a lovely day and Gomphus looked especially good going under Cressage bridge with Wrekin in the background. Lunch at the Riverside gave a chance to meet up and chat. In the evening we had a special treat, supper at John Box’s with Peter and Jan and a trip to see a curragh built by Gerwen Lewis and John. Peter and Gerwen knew each other of old and it was fascinating listening to them comparing coracle making stories.
Monday saw Gomphus voyaging through Ironbridge, and successfully navigating Jackfield rapids. I have to admit to being a bit pushy here. I thought Gomphus was going to be carried around the rapids and Gaynor and I were busy doing this with our boat when I noticed that Peter and Alastair were shaping up to go down the rapids in the curragh. Having helped build it and thinking that not many people will have a CV saying "paddled down rapids in a Curragh" I just had to have a go so I picked up a paddle and jumped in the front and away we went. Gomphus handled the rapid well, the frame flexing over the waves and squeaking like a wicker basket. As we pulled into the eddy at the end of the rapid I’m sure there were three chaps with very boyish cheesy grins on there faces.
The section from Ironbridge to Bridgnorth is lovely with masses of wildlife, so the chap from Radio 4 was happy. Millie nearly disgraced herself by attacking his fuzzy microphone but was Ok after being introduced to it at the coffee stop. The rain hit again at Bridgnorth and there was another storm drain incident with a poor fisherman being inundated from a drain which must take water from the roads and discharges down the steps of the rowing club. The afternoon session went very quickly and all too soon we were coming into Hampton Loade, with lots of folk to welcome Gomphus, then all the frantic activity to get the boats loaded.
When the curragh was being built there was flooding and at that time it would have been dangerous to paddle but three weeks later river levels had fallen. The flooding is an example of the issues the Trust was highlighting. The more intense rainfall episodes we are having (as a result of climate change?) will lead to more of these flooding events. Land use change in the uplands, draining wetlands and development adds to the flashy nature of the rivers with levels falling and rising more rapidly. If we keep putting energy into the atmosphere and building in the floodplain, paving our gardens and draining our wetlands the problems will intensify. We should respect the river by not polluting it, or removing too much water from it or expect it to take all the water we need to get rid of. What we need to do is understand our rivers more and this voyage has helped in that. Getting more people to use our rivers will hopefully mean they will value them more and messing about in boats is a fantastic way of doing this.
All in all the building of the boat and the voyage have been a fantastic experience for me. Thanks very much to the Trust for letting me get involved.
9th August 2012
End of the journey
Our boat, Gomphus, is now back at Shropshire Wildlife Trust after finishing its journey down the Severn. If you missed it, come and see it on display in our garden. You can also see day-by-day photos of our trip on our Facebook page.
Three otter sightings brought great excitement. Sand martins, goosanders and banded demoiselles were also seen. Less welcome was the stinking water that gushed into the river from several pipes along the way.
3rd August 2012
The Trust's journey down the Severn in a specially built currach (a prehistoric boat) started today (Friday 3rd August) and was featured on BBC Midlands Today yesterday (Thursday). You can also read about it in the Shropshire Star - one of their reporters is joining us on the first day. Look out for us along the river Friday 4th - Monday 6th August and see further details and our itinerary.
See the BBC news page for more pictures.
We will be joined by Radio 4's Brett Westwood on Monday to record a programme for Saving Species.
updated 5 August 2012
The Montgomeryshire & Shropshire Wildlife Trusts are extremely disappointed that National Grid have chosen the route identified in our response to the original consultation as having the greatest potential impact on special wildlife areas, such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Local Wildlife Sites and Ancient Woodland. We also question the wisdom of siting the electrical substation at Cefn Coch, a remote upland area which would require major alterations to the rural road network in order to transport the components to the site.
The Trusts have long been concerned about the cumulative effect of large-scale wind farm development. Of greatest concern is the huge scale of the new generation of wind farms currently proposed for large parts of the Mid-Wales uplands. These wind farms require major new infrastructure spreading across Montgomeryshire and Shropshire, including the new electrical substation and grid connection announced by National Grid today.
We believe there should be a more strategic and long term approach to meeting the UK’s energy needs. The grid connections announced today would simply not be needed if the proposed new large-scale wind farms were not constructed. The Trusts urge the Welsh Government to urgently and drastically re-think its policy on renewable energy which:
•concentrates wind farms into defined areas that are remote from sources of demand
•locates large-scale wind farms in areas not served by, or in proximity to, existing infrastructure
•place so great an emphasis on wind power as the primary form of renewable energy
The most cost effective and sustainable approach to meeting our energy needs is to reduce demand for energy through effective energy efficiency measures. This should be central to all energy policy and cover all sectors.
When considering renewable energy generation, the Trusts believe that the focus should be on micro-generation. Not only do these small-scale projects have a minimal ecological impact themselves, but they also do not require the massive infrastructure needed for large-scale developments.
23rd July 2012
The Urban Birder, David Lindo, has cancelled his visit to Shropshire Wildlife Trust's Open Day on Saturday 4th August due to illness. 18th July 2012
BBC Countryfile comes to Apley Woods
Torrential rain did not stop play when BBC Countryfile came to film in Apley Woods this month. Presenters Julia Bradbury and Matt Baker joined Shropshire Wildlife Trust and children from Apley Wood School for a special ecolympics event. This involved pine cone throwing, a tree leap and bows and arrows. "It was great fun," said Bryony Carter, the Trust’s People & Wildlife Officer. "Despite drenching rain everyone had a go and joined in – no one complained about the weather!"
Bryony has run numerous outdoor events in Telford over the last three years attended by thousands of young people and their families. "We are passionate about getting children outside and enjoying the wonderful wild, green areas of Telford," she said.
The Apley Woods event will be shown on Countryfile on Sunday 22nd July at 7.25pm on BBC1.
Badger cull ruling
Commenting on the announcement of a judicial ruling in favour of the Government’s planned badger cull trial, Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust spoke out against the policy:
"The Wildlife Trusts’ involvement with this issue over a long period of time has led us to the conclusion that a sustained programme of vaccination, alongside improved biosecurity measures, improved testing and controls on cattle movement would be the best means of tackling bTB. There is an available badger vaccine already being deployed by the Government in Wales and by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust in England. In addition, Shropshire and Cheshire Wildlife Trusts will be vaccinating badgers this autumn alongside a commercial veterinary practice. Despite spending millions on developing a badger vaccine, the Government has yet to provide incentives for landowners to use it."
"The Wildlife Trusts are concerned that the current approach to vaccination is piecemeal. Many landowners interested in deploying the badger vaccine have approached their local Wildlife Trust for advice, as the information is not available centrally. We urge the Government to develop a clear strategy for the deployment of badger vaccination to help increase private deployment of the vaccine. A more coordinated approach to badger vaccination would help to increase use of the vaccine by allowing information to be shared more effectively and could also help to reduce to reduce costs to landowners."
More about badgers and bovine TB
Shropshire Wildlife Trust celebrates its 50th anniversary on Thursday 12th July. "It will be a very special day," said Colin Preston, Director