Environment

Biodiversity

I made the following speech on the biodiversity strategy in December 2015

 

Sir, I have to say I did struggle early on with the funding request for this strategy.  However, I do believe States should be fulfilling its commitment to the environmental strand of the States Strategic Plan.

Members won’t need reminding that the SSP says the government of guernsey aims to ‘Protect and improve the Island’s environment, unique cultural identity and rich heritage.’ And it says that this requires, ‘Policies which protect the natural environment and its biodiversity by accounting for the wider impacts that human activity has on it.’

Clearly, this strategy meets the SSP aims. How can we not support it?

My main concern about the cost, something Deputy Trott I know will consider is just lost in the roundings, was the potential creation of another civil service post. I understand from the Minister that this may not be the case. My preference would be a 2 year contract, in order that the action plans can be put in place and then for the role to be revisited. However, I appreciate this may not be practicable.

Funding for the environment falls woefully short. I have before now expressed my concerns over such lakc of funding principally in respect of  coastal defences. I am convinced that we will live to regret the decades of underinvestment in that area and the result will mean very difficult decisions are going ot have to be made.

Money is often not spent until it is too late. The result is a false economy.

The same goes for biodiversity. The cost of reintroducing species is far higher than protecting what we have, or are we happy to see the end of the unique and rich natural heritage of this Island. We hear so much about how, from an economic and social point of view Guernsey is losing its identity, are we happy for this to be true from an environmental perspective too?

I’m not and that is why I support this policy letter.

Coastal Defences

The Environment Dpartment’s report on coastal defences was pushed back to the September 2013 meeting. This was a report that interested me as a geographer and I spoke broadly in favour of it, whilst commenting that it was a travesty how little has been spent on coastal defences for decades.

Sir, I have to say I found this report a welcome relief from many of the other inward looking plans we have been debating recently. It is a very comprehensive, detailed, but at the same time readable report that reflects the amount of constructive research that has led up to it.

 

Admittedly, part of that interest may stem from the fact that I am a geography graduate and my degree focused on coastal geomorphology and environmental change. Once a geographer, always a geographer. That might also explain that wherever I have lived I have made sure that it was near or on top of a hill. However, what I really like about this report is that it recognises the problem we have but has not over-engineered a solution and also points out that householders need to take responsibility themselves.

 

It is frankly shocking that the current budget for coastal defences is so small and that it is just lumped in with other maintenance costs. However, it is always so much harder to justify expenditure in areas that don’t appear to demonstrate an immediate necessity. It is only when something apparently unexpected happens, such as the collapse of a sea wall, that governments are spurred into action. That is not the case in this instance although this work has been going on since 1999 with no agreed policy direction to date.  So I do wonder how well this strategy will do as, hopefully, it progresses though the capital prioritization process.

 

I attended the excellent Environment presentation last year on the Haskoning results which was very informative and made a lot of sense. It clearly identified the Perelle area as being a problem which needed to be dealt with. Hey presto, only a few months later and part of the defences collapsed.

 

It was inevitable given the lack of investment in maintaining our coastal defences combined with climate change and rise in sea level since they were built. Whilst all the fuss had been about who rebuilt the Perelle wall it should really have been about why it had to be rebuilt. It should be a salutary warning that if you don’t do anything something similar will happen again and possibly with more catastrophic consequences.

 

We  must do something now. There are key parts of our infrastructure which are becoming increasingly vulnerable if nothing is done.

 

Sea level has risen since our defences were built and this will continue due to a variety of influences including post-glacial rebound since the last ice age, not just through current melting of the ice caps and global climate change. Sea levels in the English channel are predicted to rise by between 19-54cm by 2080. Combined with projected increased storm severity this will increase the likelihood of flooding around the Island.

In fact, what was in 1900 a 1 in 100 year event would now be considered a 1 in 25 event in some areas of the English Channel.

 

 

It is recognised that major marine construction projects must be fully justified in the current economic environment.

 

The propositions in this report are built around risk – environmental and socio-economic. Whilst people might want to preserve our coastline in aspic, that make no sense environmentally, socially or economically. We need a more scientific basis on which to act, as stated in 6.3.3

The use of a robust and scalable evaluation process provides a consistent approach for the prioritisation of coastal defence projects over the longer term. what i think should be twken out of this para is the ‘current economic environemnt’. Major marine construction projects must be fully justified full stop.

 

To the North of us, across the English Channel there is a UNESCO world heritage site, known as the Jurassic coast. it was granted this status because of the effect of erosion exposing rocks and fossils. Therir coastal defence plan has to take into account of the fact that they want nature to take its course, but still have towns and villages that need protection.

 

In the UK a coast defence scheme currently has to cost no more than 20% of the value of the property that it seeks to protect. It also has to guarantee to do the job over its design live (i.e. work) while minimising the impact on geology, wildlife or landscape. DEFRA now also require schemes to work with nature rather than against it, so moving away from concrete sea walls and rock armour towards those that use natural processes to deliver the required defence through, for example, beach management.

 

I hope that such considerations are taken into account when drawing up plans for defence solutions for Guernsey such that they are cost effective, viable and environmentally acceptable.

 

I am happy to support the propositions in this report and will be taking a particular interest in future progress.

 



Mobile: 07781 139385

Email: heidi@heidisoulsby.com