Panshanger Park wildlife trail

December 15, 2014

I am pleased to see that the new wildlife trail at Panshanger Park is now open to the public. The 185-metre trail is in the south-east corner of the park, at the eastern end of Osprey Lake, and is within the environmentally-sensitive nature reserve area of the site.

The project has been part-funded by Natural England and forms part of a three-year landscape-scale project, involving partners from, and improvement works to, places across the whole of the River Lea catchment area. The newly constructed trail will provide visitors with a new opportunity to view the wildlife at Osprey Lake, and next summer will give them close-up views of the dragonflies which live in the adjacent wetlands.

This is an impressive project, and I hope to pay a visit soon.

Drought in North East Herts

February 29, 2012

It is alarming that there have been reports in the press recently that this summer we should expect the worst drought since 1976. We have certainly experienced a very dry winter [1] with some parts of Eastern England receiving as little rain as the Sahara Desert in Africa. It is essential that we start to make alternative plans to ensure there is sufficient water in the East of England. Traditionally the east of the country is drier than the west of England and I think the time has come for water companies to create some form of water grid so that the East of England is adequately provided for. Equally, if there are to be any new developments in our area, it is essential that there is an ample supply of water to service new households too.

I am already receiving reports from Friends of the Mimram and the Beane Restoration Association of very dry conditions. One Mimram supporter tells me: “I have been regularly doing visual checks of the River Mimram at various locations for about three months. I thought you should know that at the moment there is a small flow in the section of the River Mimram below Tewin, but week upon week it has been showing progressive reduction. Also because the water depths and widths in this part have, to some extent, been maintained by the presence of some shallow historical weirs, the true low flow situation may not be immediately apparent to casual viewers. Therefore when the drought really bites the change in conditions could cause some shocks when people suddenly realise their river has ‘gone’ and assume it has ‘disappeared overnight’.

The situation at Digswell is very bad. A week ago at a location immediately opposite the Digswell Pumping Station the flow in the river was, in part, little more than a metre wide. Moreover I could walk through it in my shoes and no water reached the shoelace holes. Not very scientific I know, but sufficient to illustrate the situation I trust. These observations are identical to observations I made at the same location just before the river became dry in 2006.”

I am keeping in touch with the Environment Agency and hope our SSSIs at Ashwell (Upper Rhee River) and Tewinbury (Mimram) can be protected.


The Future for Forests

February 17, 2011

Those of us who enjoy rambling, cycling and horseriding know just how very important our forests are – particularly public access to them. I was personally quite shocked to learn that the last Government sold 25,000 acres of woodland without protections for the public.

The recent consultation on forests has been very controversial and I am glad that David Cameron has stepped in to stop the process. However, this does still leave the question of how best to protect our heritage forests. Some of our best forests are owned by the National Trust and other woodland trusts, and it may be better for the future if such independent bodies look after our forest heritage, rather than leaving it all in the hands of the Forestry Commission. At least with a trust, you know that Government cannot interfere with our rights

Conservative Shadow Environment Minister visits the River Beane

April 14, 2010

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen

December 8, 2009

For the next two weeks delegates from around the world will be attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. This is an important event where members of the UN will try to agree a framework to cut carbon emissions by 2012 and thereafter. This is the first international summit on Climate Change where a US President will be in attendance and is expected to make a commitment. The last time a similar treaty was signed was the 1997 Kyoto agreement, but without the backing of the USA the treaty largely failed to achieve the ambitious targets set. Now that President Obama is attending Copenhagen, hopes are running high that an agreement can be reached.

So far President Obama has pledged a 17% cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2020, 30% by 2025, 42% by 2030 and 83% by 2050. Britain, along with the rest of the EU, has pledged to cut 20% from 1990 levels.

I am supportive of action on climate change and am not sceptical about it. It is good that we question the evidence being put forward by our scientists, but many of the sceptics’ arguments seem to me to be nitpicking the details: from the Maldives to Moscow the evidence in support of global warming is clear to see.

I am personally backing the 10:10 campaign and have raised the importance of reducing our carbon emissions in the House of Commons a number of times. The last time I spoke in the Chamber I asked the Government to “send out a message ahead of Copenhagen that this is not going to be yet another occasion that is all about warm words and signing up to something vague and meaningless, but that it will be an occasion when the world means business.” It is vital that firm and long lasting commitments are reached at Copenhagen this year.

My statement for the Benington wind farm Inquiry

November 11, 2009

I know constituents are interested in the Benington wind farm issue and this my statement for the forthcoming Inquiry:


I am making this statement in opposition to the proposal to site wind turbines on the land of the Bott family at Benington, Hertfordshire. The hill on which the turbines would be sited looks down on the historic village of Watton-at-Stone. The site for the turbines is substantially in the Green Belt.

I have been a Member of Parliament since 1992 and since 1997 my Parliamentary Constituency of North East Hertfordshire has included the village and parish of Watton-at-Stone.

Watton-at-Stone is a thriving village with shops, public houses, a school, a railway station and a church. It is in the heart of the Green Belt. It has about 2000 residents, 1700 of whom are adults. It is about 30 miles from Central London and is 6 miles from Stevenage and a similar distance from Hertford. It is in the southern part of the valley of the River Beane, a well-known chalk stream which feeds into the River Lea at Hertford. Residents of Watton-at-Stone are rightly proud of their village history, which goes back to the Domesday Book. Many local buildings are listed Grade 2 including Gregory’s Farm, the Church and the Waggon and Horses’ public house. Nearby Woodhall Park is a Grade 1 listed Mansion House. The High Street is full of Tudor cottages.

My Constituency also includes the towns of Letchworth Garden City, Baldock, Royston and Buntingford, as well as many villages and it extends to the south as far as the Five Greens south of Tewin. It covers 181 square miles. Apart from the Garden City, it is made up of communities with a long history and which have developed from medieval settlements among chalky hills and streams and connected by a tracery of small lanes, which complement the more substantial roads such as the A10, A505, A507, A602 and the A414. My Constituency is neighboured by the Stevenage Constituency, which currently includes Benington, although Benington will come into the North East Hertfordshire Constituency at the next General Election.

Hertfordshire is one of the most heavily populated counties and is very built-up, but the Beane Valley is in the precious unspoilt part. It does not even have pylons. There is a Society dedicated to preserving and improving the condition of the River. Many people from other more urban parts of the County visit this area to enjoy the countryside. It is often described as part of the lungs of the County. The southern part of the valley near Watton-at-Stone is more wooded and hilly and has a smaller scale to it than the more open middle and northern parts.

A group of residents of Watton-at-Stone came to my surgery in the Community Centre to object to the idea of wind turbines being sited on the hill above the village. The Chairman of the Watton Parish Council and District Councillor, Councillor Nigel Poulton suggested that I visit the exhibition of the plans at Benington Village Hall. We went together and I met many people from my Constituency who were adamantly opposed to the proposal. I also had the chance to talk to Mr Andrew Bott and to see the exhibition including projections of how the turbines would impact visually on the area. I was shocked that the turbines were so large, being as high as the London Eye and placed in such an intrusive position that they would be clearly visible from the historic buildings of Watton and totally out of scale with the valley of a small chalk river and the surrounding small hills, hedges and copses.

I also visited the exhibition held at a later date at Watton Community Centre of the book of plans submitted in support of the application. Councillor Poulton and I have also visited Mr and Mrs Bott to discuss the plans and we spoke fully and frankly with them about their scheme. I also attended a rally and march against the proposals held in Benington by “Stop Benington Wind Farm” and I wrote to East Hertfordshire District Council objecting to the application. I have seen barrage balloons positioned by objectors to show the great height of the turbines.

At least a hundred representations have been made to me against this application by concerned local residents. Councillor Poulton has told me that hundreds of residents have contacted him to say how much they oppose this scheme.

The main objections made to me were: first, that these turbines would have a badly damaging visual impact on this particular landscape and the historic village setting and secondly, that they were inappropriate in the Green Belt. There were also objections about the proposals for heavy construction traffic through the centre of the village of Watton-at-Stone, which would involve changing the road configuration and causing considerable inconvenience.

The three main concerns about the visual impact were: first, that the size of the turbines would overpower the small scale of the landscape of the southern Beane Valley and spoil the visual amenity which it provides to local residents and visitors. Secondly, that such a radical change to this part of the Beane Valley would destroy its character as a gently evolved rural landscape. Thirdly, historic Watton-at-Stone would be spoiled by having industrial structures on its skyline. The view from important historical buildings would be harmed. I am told by Councillor Poulton that there is fear that business would be affected by a reduction in visitors to the village and that it would become a less attractive area for horse riding and horse related businesses, because riders are concerned that horses would be frightened by the noise and movement of the turbines. This is an area with a very high level of horse riding with many horse related businesses, pony paddocks, livery and riding establishments, much used by urban dwellers in the nearby Hertfordshire towns. This is documented in paragraph 4.12 of the District Local Plan.

I understand that the fundamental aim of Green Belt policy is to keep land permanently open and to shape patterns of urban development to ensure that development occurs in locations allocated in development plans. They protect the countryside, be it in agricultural, forestry or other use. I believe there are five purposes of including land in Green Belts:

• to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built-up areas;
• to prevent neighbouring towns from merging into one another;
• to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment;
• to preserve the setting and special character of historic towns; and
• to assist in urban regeneration, by encouraging the recycling of derelict and other urban land.

The proposed erection of wind turbines on the hill above Watton would not safeguard the countryside from encroachment, but would rather be a major industrial encroachment. It would not preserve the setting and special character of historic towns, but damage the setting and special character of the large historic village of Watton-at-Stone.

I understand that once Green Belts have been defined, the use of land in them has a positive role to play in fulfilling the following objectives:

• to provide opportunities for access to the open countryside for the urban population;
• to provide opportunities for outdoor sport and outdoor recreation near urban areas;
• to retain attractive landscapes, and enhance landscapes, near to where people live;
• to improve damaged and derelict land around towns;
• to secure nature conservation interest; and
• to retain land in agricultural, forestry and related uses.

The proposal would lead to the open countryside being less attractive to visitors from Hertfordshire towns such as Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City and thereby reduce access to the countryside for these urban dwellers. It is likely to reduce horse riding in the area as local riders are wary of the effect of the noise and movement on their animals. It interferes with an attractive landscape near Watton-at-Stone.

I understand that within the Green Belt, there is a presumption against inappropriate development. Planning Policy Statement 22: Renewable Energy (2004) mentions renewable energy development in the Green Belt:

“Policy on development in the green belt is set out in PPG2. When located in the green belt, elements of many renewable energy projects will comprise inappropriate development, which may impact on the openness of the green belt. Careful consideration will therefore need to be given to the visual impact of projects, and developers will need to demonstrate very special circumstances that clearly outweigh any harm by reason of inappropriateness and any other harm if projects are to proceed. Such very special circumstances may include the wider environmental benefits associated with increased production of energy from renewable sources.”

I do not accept that there are such very special circumstances here.

The East Hertfordshire District Council Local Plan Policy, Chapter 4: “Green Belt and the Countryside” (GBC) sets out in GBC1 that permission will not be given for inappropriate development unless very special circumstances can be demonstrated and that building will be inappropriate unless it falls within certain purposes, none of which apply to this application.

It is the policy of East Hertfordshire District Council GBC2 to maintain a rural area beyond the Green Belt in the centre and northern part of the District where inappropriate development will not be permitted. Insofar as this application relates to land outside the Green Belt, this policy applies, as does GBC3, which provides that permission will not be given save for certain limited purposes which do not apply to this application.

I also refer to GBC14 and the East Hertfordshire District Council Landscape Character Assessment Supplementary Planning Document. The Assessments for Areas 39, 70 and 71 are relevant. None of these assessments suggest that this application would be appropriate.

It would be wrong to sacrifice this most unspoilt valley in Hertfordshire to this industrial development. I oppose this planning application.

Bees’ Delight

October 6, 2009

Earlier this year the Save Our Bees Campaign sent me a packet of wildflower seeds.  The idea was for people to sow the seeds in their gardens to encourage the growth of the bee population.  I have previously blogged about the success of my researcher, Martin’s, efforts to grow his seeds on the windowsill of his London flat. I have also been pleased to see the seeds thrive in my Royston garden, although they have been late to open. But I now have a flower and would be grateful if anyone can identify it for me!

My mysterious bee flowers

My mysterious bee flowers

When is a field not a field?

September 24, 2009

forest3. landscapeWhen is a field not a field? When it is about to become part of Heartwood Forest, the largest new native forest ever to be created in England. The Woodland Trust charity has bought 850 acres of arable farmland at Sandridge, north of St Albans, and begins planting the first of 600,000 new trees in November. This will be a major boost for the Hertfordshire environment and put us at the forefront of nature conservation in the UK. I went for a walk around the site this week and was briefed on the work by the Senior Woodland Officer overseeing the project, Al Crosby, and Trust expert, Dr James Cooper.

We started in one of the 2 small areas of ancient woodland remaining on the land. It is shocking to hear that nearly 50% of ancient woodland (defined as being over 400 years old) that survived until the 1930s has disappeared since then. This small wood is mainly hornbeam which would previously have been coppiced for firewood. It is well-used these days by local scouts and schoolchildren taking part in Forest School sessions run by the Forestry Commission. This striking sculpture is a memento of a willow-weaving course run over the summer. forest2.jpg - stag

We walked on across the field where planting begins in a few weeks. The Trust hope that all of the new trees will be planted by volunteers, so that the local community will feel a sense of pride as the forest takes shape. Within 12 years, the area should be recognisable as woodland. We carried on to the second area of ancient woodland, which had a very different character. This was mainly ash and oak. Al has had an inspired idea. The adjoining wheat field was harvested last year and could have been included in the re-planting scheme. Instead, he has decided to leave a large part of it undisturbed to allow the wood to regenerate itself. Apparently ash trees produce plentiful seeds, which are easily carried on the wind. I was staggered to see that within the past 12 months, scores of seeds have taken root over a wide area of the field and have already produced shoots up to a foot high. There are also oaks growing from acorns carried by squirrels, but these are less abundant. forest4. Visit to Heartwood

This photo shows Al, me and James admiring one of the ash plants. I shall look forward to going back next year to see how this natural extension of the ancient woodland has progressed.

The Heartwood Forest project is exciting, imaginative and of enormous benefit to the county.

Onshore wind turbines: Have I got news for you

July 16, 2009

As part of the media campaign behind the launch of the Government’s latest plan to reduce carbon emissions and lead greener lives, Ed Miliband, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change announced to the country that “the biggest threat to the countryside is not wind turbines but climate change”. This is simplistic nonsense – propaganda.

Hidden within a raft of well-intentioned proposals to increase our reliance upon renewable energy sources, was a commitment to more onshore wind turbines and support for the “political persuasion” that was required to convince everyone of what a good idea these are. I think he’s clearly trying to soften us up for something, but is it really the lazy option of covering our precious countryside with wind farms or is there more to this than meets the eye?

I support an expansion of our renewable energy sector, in fact last year I berated the Government for being so slow to increase it, however I do not support all forms of renewable energy in all circumstances. Microgeneration, solar, CCS, nuclear power and feed-in tariffs are all options I support to reduce our carbon emissions and fight climate change. I even support wind turbines built way out at sea where they can best take advantage of the wind’s natural power, but I draw the line at onshore wind turbines unless they are sited very sensitively.

So I’ve got news for Mr Miliband. The precious countryside we still have left in Hertfordshire is constantly threatened by development proposals on all sides and we fight hard to protect our local environment. We are the most densely populated county. We have already done our bit. If we pave over our fields and clutter up the horizon with monstrous industrial turbines there won’t be a countryside worth saving.

Big onshore wind turbines only work roughly 35% of the time, are expensive and they damage local bird and bat populations (a 2002 study estimated 11,200 birds of prey (many of them endangered), 350,000 bats and 3,000,000 small birds are killed every year by turbines in Spain). They can be painfully noisy for local residents and it has been compared to the throbbing bass of a night club. On-shore wind farms are controversial and inefficient. Why is the Government pushing so hard for them, rather than solar power or the other options.

I think they are softening us up for a lot more nuclear power – on the basis that if we won’t have on-shore wind, there is no alternative….

Taking part in the Save Our Bees Campaign

June 24, 2009
As the pollinators of approximately a third of the plants and trees of the countryside, including the agricultural sector, bees play a vital role in our wellbeing. Unfortunately bees are now under threat across the world, mainly it would appear from a mysterious phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder, a strange disorder whereby the majority of a hive will die almost over-night, seemingly without explanation. Last winter almost two-thirds of the bee colonies in London, about 4,000 hives, are estimated to have died. Bees are also under attack from the vicious Varroa mite.

In fact their decline is so worrying that their case has been discussed in both Houses of Parliament and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs even has a “Bee Health Plan”. So to help do my bit I planted a packet of bee-friendly plant seeds the Save Our Bees Campaign sent me in my garden and my researcher Martin did the same in his flat, and I am very happy to report they have grown into plants and are now in full bloom! According to the campaign these flowers will help make bees healthier, help them survive infection, changing weather patterns and more! Lucky bees.

For more information, why not have a look at

Martin’s plants

At the end of the first week…

At the end of the first week…

At the end of the first week…

After the next few weeks…

After the next few weeks…

After the next few weeks…

Getting bigger the week after…


Getting bigger the week after…

Getting bigger the week after…

One small yellow bud appears a few weeks later…

One small yellow bud appears a few weeks later…

One small yellow bud appears a few weeks later…

This week in full bloom!

This week in full bloom!

This week in full bloom!