Peter Chowney, head and shoulders, outdoors. out

This blog is by Peter Chowney, former Labour leader of Hastings Council, resident of Maze Hill, St Leonards on Sea, UK, and councillor for Tressell ward on Hastings Council. Also a former microbiologist, a keen gardener, chicken keeper, and classic car owner. It serves no particular purpose, beyond entertainment, debate and constructive comment. You need to be registered and logged in to comment, but if you do, please make sure it is constructive! Click on the post title to comment.

Ban the (Seed) Bomb!

This morning, I went to a wildflower sowing, for want of a better title of the event. This was a good example of how to encourage and plant wildflowers, why it’s important to properly research and audit the area before planting, and why ‘seed bombing’ can be at best superficial and pointless, and at worst, ecologically damaging.

There were quite a few of us at the event, including Maya Evans (Hastings Council lead councillor for environment), local environmental campaigner Anna Sabin, Andy Phillips, a local ecological consultant, along with Ian Jarman and others from ‘Friends of Edith’, a local group whose aim is to enhance the area in Grosvenor Gardens around the statue of King Harold and Edith Swanneck.

The project aim is to grow a wildflower bed in Grosvenor Gardens, between the statue and the toilets. Andy Phillips has been helping the Friends of Edith, advising them on how to go about it. The first stage was to carry out an ecological audit of Grosvenor Gardens, to asses what plants would be of most benefit to the local fauna and ecosystem. This audit was interesting, as it revealed that the gardens are home to the rare four-banded flower bee. Using information from the audit, Ian and his local volunteers worked with Andy to select a custom mix of 36 native wildflower seeds, chosen to be tolerant of maritime locations, so resistant to drought, salt and wind, giving a range of flowering times through the year, and suitable for sowing at this time of year.

The soil under the Grosvenor Gardens lawns was surprisingly good, considering it had been covered with grass for over a hundred years. They dug and raked it to a good, fine ‘tilth’, and then this morning, we all helped sow the seed and tread it in.  Treading the seed in is important as it mimics the effects of larger animals in a natural setting, stops it blowing away, and pushes it into the soil.  There was a small flock of pigeons looking on hopefully, but the area will be surrounded by rather less natural fencing and netting, to make sure the seed doesn’t all get eaten.

Bee on a leaf
Four-Banded Flower Bee

The local volunteers will now keep the area regularly watered (if the rain stops) and, as the plants start to grow, will carry out further audits to check whether all 36 species have germinated, and whether they all survive.  Inevitably, some flower species will dominate, and the bed might need future attention to stop the more ‘thuggish’ species dominating, although as time goes by, a natural mixture of some, if not all, of the 36 species will become established.  The volunteers will also be planting salvias, a group of plants that includes common sage, and catmint, both of which are salt-tolerant, and are a favourite food source of the four-banded flower bee.

This is the right way to go about establishing wildflowers: proper research into what grows in the area and what established fauna needs, proper choice of a mix of suitable seed, and a long-term programme to monitor and maintain the area. Getting groups of people together to ‘seedbomb’ an urban space without the necessary background research, species auditing, and long-term maintenance plan could do more harm than good, especially if ‘untidy weeds’ were dug out first. At best, it’s unlikely that many of the seeds will grow.  At worst, the ‘untidy weeds’ could have been plants that were a necessary part of the local ecosystem, to be replaced with ones that aren’t.

After treading in the seeds, Andy took us to look at a rather different wildflower meadow, that’s been gradually establishing over the last 20 years.  This is on the bank that leads up to TK Maxx in the Bexhill Road Retail Park, from Bexhill Road. That area has become well-established with wild flowers. At the moment, there are ox-eye daisies, alexanders (which I know as horse parsley), field buttercups, red clover, yarrow, sedge, vetch, cranesbill, hoary cress, and much more.  And next month, there will be orchids in flower; bee orchids and pyramidal orchids have become well-established in the bank. 

Wiildflowers in sloping urban meadow
Wildflowers on the slope at TK Maxx

However, no-one ever planted this meadow.  The bank was created from spoil when the retail park was built, covered with a thin layer of soil and, as far as I remember, turfed. Needless to say, the slope was too dry and the soil too poor for turf to grow. So over the years, the wildflowers have established themselves naturally.  And because it’s happened naturally, these plants are all ‘the right plant for the right place’, and support the local fauna too – amongst many insects, bees and butterflies, there are now slow worms living there.  Nature has done the work here, establishing a thriving ecosystem with no human intervention at all.

Wildflower close-up
Red clover and buttercups on the slope

And that’s the key to it really.  Leave a bit of land alone and it will establish its own ecosystem, with the right plants growing in the right place. But if you do want to help nature along, make sure you do your research, find out what the right plant in the right place is, and help the development of natural ecosystems rather than hindering or destroying them.  But please, no indiscriminate scattering of random seeds.  Make sure your interventions are properly researched, and enhance our local ecosystems rather than doing them harm.

Through a Glass Darkly? Gambles and Barriers in the Vaccination Programme

Scientist holding a vial of the Pfizer vaccine
Photo: U.S. Secretary of Defense, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0,

The vaccination programme is finally being rolled out, which can only be good news. Here in Hastings, we were off to a slow start, with the public vaccination programme not getting underway till January 4th. But although we’re by no means the world’s fastest nation at getting the vaccination into recipients, it’s good to see the UK, for once, pretty quick off the mark. But is the decision to give only one dose and delay the booster dose the right thing to do?  And with this ’one dose’ strategy, can we guarantee anywhere near the two million vaccinations a week that the government has promised?

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The Christmas Tree: How to Keep it Green

Two Christmas trees planted in the garden, a large one in the background smaller in the foreground.
Two generations of Christmas tree: in the foreground, the tree just planted out. Behind it, one planted five years ago.

There’s been a bit of discussion recently about Christmas trees. It’s the season for it.  But this year, the debates have been around sustainability, and whether it’s better to get a real tree, which you’re cutting down and chucking away, or an artificial tree, that’s (probably) made from plastic derived from fossil fuels.

When put on the spot with the ‘what kind of tree do you have’ question, I described what I did. They suggested I put it on the blog.  So here it is.

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The Covid Vaccine: Keep the Champagne on Ice for Just a Little Longer

A Vaccination, a painting by Ann Archer, 1899
‘A Vaccination’ by Ann Archer, 1899

The world’s media have gone into excited overdrive over the last couple of days with the announcement that US drug company Pfizer has developed an effective vaccine against Covid-19.  Should we be celebrating?  Or is our desperation for a vaccine and a ‘return to normal’ clouding our collective judgement?

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The Second Wave: It Didn’t Have To Be Like This

Couple meeting during self-isolation
Self-isolation during the COVID 19 pandemic (www.vperemen.com)

As the second wave of Covid-19 infections breaks tumultuously over our heads, it’s disappointing that there’s still so much misinformation out there, and some of it is originating from places where it really didn’t ought to. But that’s just one factor in a complicated mosaic that has led us to this dismal outcome.

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In the Eye of the Beholder? The Planning White Paper Has Big Risks for Local Democracy.

A shorter version of this post appears on the Sussex Bylines news website

Archery Road housing development - picture shows housing and flats under construction.
The Archery Road housing development resulted from a controversial planning application with many objections. In the future, will such developments not need permission at all?

Earlier this month, the government published ‘Planning for the Future’, a consultation White Paper on the future of the planning system, promising the biggest shake up since 1948 with a ‘fast track for beauty’ through the planning system.  The proposals were immediately criticised by many, with the Royal Institute of British Architects branding them as ‘disgraceful’, and the Royal Town Planning Institute describing the White Paper as a ‘serious error’. So what exactly is proposed in the White Paper and how’s it different from the current planning system?

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Cost of COVID: Councils Can’t Cope

A similar version of this article is also published on the newly launched ‘Sussex Bylines’ news website:

www.sussexbylines.co.uk

Hastings Council street sweeping vehicles
How will councils continue to provide basic services with no money?

Dramatic cuts in income have left councils with big budget shortfalls, and no way to get the money they need to provide day-to-day services. Had the Covid-19 crisis happened back in 2010, there wouldn’t have been such a problem. Ten years of austerity have left councils in no fit state to cope. 

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While The Sun Shines: Can We Avoid an Autumn Covid Outbreak?

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister, head and shoulders in red jacket.
Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand Prime Minister (New Zealand Government, Office of the Governor-General )

Today, New Zealand declared the country to be free of the COVID-19 virus, and scrapped all COVID-related restrictions, apart from quarantine of overseas visitors.  It’s not the first country to announce that it’s COVID-free, nor is it the largest.  But it is significant in that it’s a country that’s broadly comparable to European and North American nations, and took an approach to tackling the virus that was very different from that of UK.

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Stay Alert: Bad News for Hastings?

Sunbathers on Pelham Beach, Hastings under a cloudless sky.
Will we see crowds of sunbathers back in Hastings?

The government has changed their advice from ‘stay at home’ to ‘stay alert’.  The original message was clear and straightforward; the new one is meaningless. Even ‘Get the Pandemic Done’ would have been better, although just as ambiguous as the original vote-winning Brexit slogan.              

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