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Hinkley Point, environmental stewardship, it’s time for decisive action

August 4th 2016

It is hard to think of a debate that has been quite so divisive to the UK’s energy policy as nuclear power. Those who are pro nuclear power state it is the only viable “clean” alternative to fossil fuels. Those against feel equally strongly that it is an expensive, potentially dangerous solution that is toxic to the environment and leaves a lethal legacy that we will have to store for hundreds of years and that there are perfectly viable clean energy alternatives. Whatever your own view on the subject one thing that all sides agree on is the UK needs more energy generation capacity and we desperately need to move from talk to action.

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All this hot debate about UK energy needs seems to be a world away from daily life at KWES tending to the health and sustainability of ancient woodland but in reality the pressures and uncertainties are just as great.

The Director General of the National Trust Dame Helen Ghosh today urged the government to use Brexit to transform the countryside making it more beautiful by spending subsidies on “wildflowers, bees and butterflies” instead of food production, “managing the land in a nature-friendly way” rather than just boosting food production after the UK leaves the EU. Whilst pressure from any source on the government to take a more environmentally responsible approach to the countryside is very welcome re-establishing wild flowers, bees and butterflies is comparatively easy to achieve and has little direct commercial benefit. A drive to protect and maintain the UK’s dwindling ancient woodlands would make a much more significant environmental, ecological and commercial contribution to the UK.

Ancient woodland is a critically important and rapidly dwindling resource that enjoys no proper statutory protection. Our once plentiful ancient woodland makes up less than 2% of the UK landmass. It could play a key role as a sustainable source of fuel and already plays a critical role in providing a refuge for a wide range of animals, flora and fauna. In addition trees absorb carbon dioxide, the bi-product of a fair number of our existing power stations. Unlike power stations or flowers, bees and butterflies, once lost ancient woodland can never be replaced so decisions made now will determine the kind of legacy we leave for future generations.

Currently farmers receive £3billion a year from Brussels, most of which has to be spent on food production. Just £600million of the £3billion is spent on “environmental stewardship”. Whilst we love to see the return of wild flowers and butterflies our ancient woodland faces unprecedented threats from diseases such as ash dieback and pests like the chestnut gall wasp and the Asian longhorn beetle. Whilst future generations may appreciate flowers in the hedgerows they may never forgive us if more irreplaceable ancient woodand is lost on our watch.