Tuesday, 22 March 2011

petrol prices add more pressure to the local environment

British petrol prices hit new highs!

I was so astounded when I filled my car with petrol on Sunday that I had to take a photograph. £60.24!! $100!!!

This is punishing on an individual level, but this rush up in prices will have huge implications for the local environment.

Of course, there is part of us that feels we should be rejoicing since the hope is that we use less petrol. This will lead to lower emissions and will be an obvious benefit.

The hope too is that this rise will see organic food become more competitive. Intensive agriculture makes heavy use of energy and a rise in costs may push up prices and make less intensive methods more attractive.

But these are difficult times in our country and in our county. We have national and local government bent on public spending reduction and the consequence will be seen soon. In the coming months funding cuts will hit jobs across Nottinghamshire with the biggest wave of job losses since the Conservative government of the eighties closed our coal mines. There are communities here that have not recovered from those cruel cuts.

So, within this context of heavy job losses we then add increased inflation. Rises in fuel costs push up the costs of production and transport affecting everything we produce and buy. Those public sector workers still in work begin the first of three years of pay freeze this year with no cost of living rises till 2013. Private sector workers have had downward pressure on pay for some time. There will be less money in pay packets in the years ahead.

So job losses; increased cost of living and pay freeze. But how will this affect our local environment?

Locally, park rangers are losing their jobs due to public sector cuts. The impact on green spaces will be seen quickly. 'The 'Big Society' we hear about will not be able to fill the gaps left by trained, experienced and paid staff. Bestwood Country Park will follow smaller parks like Brierley Country Park in losing its staff.  Managing land for wildlife is fundamentally different from the work done maintaining formal parks. A concern is that staff with little understanding of how to manage grassland for wildlife or when best to cut hedges take on this role as a cost saving measure, doing more harm than good.
Footpaths too will begin to deteriorate as we lose the small band of footpaths officers who keep our network of bridleways and paths open. There has been a big improvement in access to the countryside over recent years and often due to the unseen work of footpaths staff who repair stiles and ensure that paths are reinstated after farmers have ploughed them up.

Another major impact will be that the squeeze in disposable incomes will result in less support for environmental charities. Charities reported a reduction in income after the credit crunch in 2008. This new wave of austerity  will result in even more pressure on charities like the wildlife trust movement who will have less money available to support the nature reserves and wild places that are vital for wildlife - and people. Nottinghamshire, Wildlife Trust has ambitious plans (with other environmental charities and local landowners) to create new, large areas for wildlife. How will these be affected by our challenging times?

Whether we support the cuts or not, we enter uncertain times for wildlife and the environment. I have no confidence there is any plan, locally or nationally to see wildlife through. The impact may be considerable within a short time but with damage that lasts decades.

We must act collectively to ensure that decision takers understand the consequences of their actions and do all we can to safeguard places for wildlife.

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