Brian Eversham’s talk on ‘Nature and Climate’, 01 February 2020

Earlier this month, All Saints Church was again packed again for a meeting organised by Leighton-Linslade Low Carbon Town (the partnership between Christian Ecology Leighton Linslade and South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth). This time the talk was presented by Brian Eversham, Chief Executive of the Beds, Northants and Cambs Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants and Visiting Professor, Cranfield University, on the subject ‘Nature and Climate: what’s happening to local wildlife? how can nature help us?

We had intended to post a report of Professor Eversham’s talk, but it was so full of interesting information that we’ve found it impossible to condense; we’ll probably split it into two or three blog posts, so we can include some of the slides he very kindly gave us. There’s a lot to think about in it.

Meanwhile, if you fancy pre-empting us, Professor Eversham gave us a link to a very similar one he gave a few years ago – you can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4quVtXyHxGQh .

And below is the press release we sent the Leighton Buzzard Observer, which will give you a flavour of the talk. Watch this space for our more detailed reports!

Churchwarden Nick Clarke welcomed the audience and invited our local MP, Andrew Selous, to chair the meeting. Mr Selous commented that we would all have noticed the decline in sparrows around our houses, and in farmland birds generally.

Professor Eversham said that climate scientists’ predictions are gradually coming true, with more frequent and more violent natural disasters like the apocalyptic wildfires in Australia and California, and the more frequent and more devastating flooding in many countries, including the UK. It’s happening now.

Wildlife living in northern and upland areas will be worse off than species living in southern and lowland areas, as there won’t be so many places it can migrate to. Wildlife has had to do this before, during ice age cycles millions of years ago, when our wildlife managed to migrate from the Mediterranean, back to Leighton Buzzard, and back to the Mediterranean, eight times in the last million years, twenty times in the last three million years.

However, this time around Britain is an island, cut off from mainland Europe. And we’ve built major cities, and a motorway network, and a rail network – we’ve carved the countryside up, so wildlife responding to climate change can no longer move easily from place to place. New developments, new roads and railways not only destroy habitats directly, but they stop wildlife moving around in response to climate change.

Also, for the first time in sixty million years, the climate is warming from an already warm period, which none of our current species has ever experienced. We should take our children to walk in bluebell woods pretty soon, because as the climate warms, trees will come into leaf earlier, and the flowers won’t get the spring sunshine they need to reproduce; we won’t have carpets of bluebells any more.

We need to keep any rise in temperature to one and a half degrees, which will mean sea levels rise by up to half a metre. We’d be able to protect the fenlands of East Anglia, which are the most productive agricultural land in the country. But if the temperature rises more than that, sea levels would rise by a metre or more and we won’t be able to protect that area – we’ll have Peterborough-on-Sea, and we’ll lose the best farming land this country has.

Another huge threat to wildlife is tidiness on agricultural land and in gardens. A couple of generations ago, you would never have seen a clean crop without weeds; now, if a field has poppies in it, people come from miles around to photograph it. Wildlife needs places where we let the grass grow longer and where we don’t cut things back over the winter.

For the last twenty years or so, the Wildlife Trusts have worked on maintaining ‘Living Landscapes’, linking protected areas into bigger nature reserves connected by wildlife corridors and better managed with climate change in mind, and reconnected to their local communities. If people don’t know about or hear about wildlife, they will not protect it.

We also need to see that any development that damages wildlife habitat puts back more habitat than it destroys. We can’t have developers blackmailing local authorities into saying ‘Well, you can either have a road junction, or you can have green space. You can either have a school, or you can have green space.’ If a development is to happen, it needs to provide a full set of resources.

We already know how nature can help us; we just need to let it. You don’t need to plant trees to create woodland, you simply need to stop preventing trees growing and they will create their own habitat of trees and scrub and grassland. And after seventy years, the grassland around them will store nearly as much carbon in its soil as the trees have in their timber.

Peat bogs bury carbon in their peat soil, and sequesters it for literally tens of thousands of years. The sad thing about peat bogs is that most of them have been destroyed, mainly to be bagged up as multipurpose compost for gardeners. And farming on drained peat soils loses nearly an inch of peat a year.

Carbon offsetting isn’t really a solution, thinking we can just carry on emitting carbon and plant a few trees instead.

Future generations will be baffled that we wasted all the oil and coal we have by just burning it. We could have had enough renewable energy for the whole planet instead, and saved the oil and coal as rare and precious commodity to make the plastics we really need and which we don’t have alternative materials for.

Questions from the audience included how we can mitigate the damage that will be caused by the proposed Oxford to Cambridge expressway; how can new developments be built with high-quality green spaces for wildlife and people, as at Cambourne in South Cambridgeshire; and how we must see that when the UK chairs the COP26 meeting this autumn on climate change, we achieve real international leadership on climate change, not just talking about it.

Andrew Selous commented, “We are building brand new houses now that are what I call the houses of yesterday”; he mentioned the installation of gas-fired central heating, and a lack of newer technologies such as built-in photovoltaics and ground-source heat pumps. He then pointed out that fitting gas-fired heating in new homes will be illegal by 2025, so houses built now will need to be retrofitted – why can we not get it right first time?

Afterwards, many people stayed behind to discuss specific issues in small groups. The main message from all the groups was that we need to make sure our local councillors know that the town’s residents care about loss of habitats, and would like more action to prevent climate change – only one councillor attended the meeting!

For further information and practical actions, see the South Beds Friends of the Earth website at http://southbedsfoe.co.uk/, email us at  info@southbedsfoe.co.uk , or follow our Facebook page.