Environmental groups call on the Prime Minister to intervene as ten green policies are scrapped

Within the first three months of the new government ten different environmental policies have been watered down or scrapped, according to analysis by a group of leading UK environment organisations.

These range from support for renewable energy technology and tax exemptions for low carbon vehicles, which have existed for over a decade, to privatisation of the Green Investment Bank and the scrapping of the Green Deal, the establishment of both being achievements celebrated by the last Conservative-led government.

Protection for the natural environment has also been weakened with a u-turn on a ban on fracking in protected areas. And the UK has cited an ‘emergency’ to exempt itself from an EU-wide ban on neonicotinoids.

Environmental leaders have called on the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, to clarify his government’s approach to environmental protection and climate security in what is a vital year for action on climate change.

In a public letter to the Prime Minister, written in response to the findings, the heads of the UK’s leading environmental groups said:

“We welcomed the Conservative manifesto commitment to ‘being the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than that in which we found it’. Unfortunately, ten green policies which could have helped you to achieve these goals have been cancelled or weakened in the past three months. These policies were developed over many years, often with cross party backing, and with the support and involvement of many businesses and charities. Only one of these decisions, to end subsidies for onshore wind, was a commitment from your manifesto. We have, as yet, seen no positive new measures introduced to restore the health of our environment or grow the low carbon economy.”

Responses to the analysis:

Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general, National Trust, said:
“We are keen to play our part in meeting the big environmental challenges of today – climate change and the catastrophic decline in wildlife and habitats. We see their impact day by day in our places.  But Government has to play its role in setting the right regulatory and fiscal framework – and the recent shift in policy positions is worrying.”

Shaun Spiers, chief executive, CPRE, said:
“The Government’s commitment to neighbourhood planning and making better use of brownfield land is very welcome, but its overall record on the environment has been woeful. The Prime Minister clearly cares about the countryside and the wider environment, and recognises that strong environmental policies support a strong economy. He must now assert himself and ensure that his government lives up to its promises rather than taking decisions that we all regret in the long run.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, chief executive, The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“This list of recent policy reversals is shocking, and shows disregard for the health and wellbeing of current and future generations, as well as for the environment we all depend on. The Prime Minister should reset the government’s path as a matter of urgency, by reinstating these policies and bringing in truly visionary legislation like a Nature and Wellbeing Act.”

Craig Bennett, chief executive, Friends of the Earth, said:
“This all out attack on green policies undermines UK efforts to tackle climate change ahead of global talks in Paris, and sets back our renewables industry when other countries are speeding towards clean energy and green jobs.

“Over-turning the science-led ban on toxic pesticides may be illegal as well as irresponsible at a time when bees need protection.”

David Nussbaum, chief executive, WWF UK, said:
“This watering down of environmental commitments is short-sighted and short termist. As the world races ahead to develop new green technologies the government’s international standing is at risk unless the Prime Minister takes up the reins of his government and shows he is serious about establishing a long term framework for investment in renewables and positioning the UK as a leader in protecting the environment.  Thankfully – so early in this new parliament – he still has the opportunity to do so.”

Mike Clarke, chief executive, RSPB, said:
“The Conservative manifesto made a moving statement that our moors and meadows, wildlife and nature, air and water are a crucial part of our national identity and make our country what it is. For this to be credible, we will need to see a long term plan for the natural environment matched by actions across government, not a legacy of empty rhetoric.”

John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace UK, said: 
“Since the election, we have been moving from the ‘greenest government ever’ to the ‘greyest government ever’. This is not the mandate this government put to the country in the general election. And it will be a hard sell to the international community at the climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. Without any real domestic action to tackle climate change this government will lose any credibility to influence others.”

Stephen Joseph, chief executive, Campaign for Better Transport, said: 
“The changes announced by the Chancellor to vehicle excise duty have largely removed the financial incentive to buy a more efficient and less polluting car and fly in the face of the government’s environmental commitments.”

Analysis of changed policies

Changes to National Trust staff salary pension scheme announced

The National Trust has today (29 July 2015) announced its intention to close its final salary pension scheme (NTRDBS) to future accrual on 31 March 2016.  This follows a period of consultation with members of staff and the Trust’s recognised trades union Prospect.

The final salary pension scheme closed to new entrants in 2003 and therefore the proposed changes will impact around 1,200 members of staff or approximately 16% of our permanent workforce.

The closure comes as a result of the most recent valuation of the scheme in April 2014 which showed a deficit of £116m (as at 5 April 2014).  This figure has increased from £69m since our last three-year valuation in 2011.

Whilst we are going ahead with our plans to close our final salary pension scheme we have taken a number of steps to mitigate the potential impact on members of staff.  These include delaying implementation until 31 March 2016 and deciding not to remove the link with final salary.  As the result of the feedback we received during consultation we have also made positive changes to our original proposals for death-in-service and ill-health benefits from 31 March 2016.

On closure of the final salary pension scheme members of staff will be eligible to join 2,500 colleagues in our defined contribution pension scheme. In this scheme we match any contributions members of staff make between 4% and 10% although they can choose to contribute more if they so wish.

In order to safeguard accrued benefits we have agreed with the Pension Scheme Trustees to significantly increase our deficit recovery payments from £3m a year now to £8.5m a year from 2016. This will increase by CPI+1% year on year until 2029.

These proposed changes do not impact on the benefits of existing pensioners or deferred members of the defined benefit scheme.

From punk poetry to seashells and shovelled sands

The Clash, Plan B, The Arctic Monkeys, Elvis Costello and now… the National Trust. One of Britain’s most celebrated poets, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, has penned the start of a new poem reflecting the nation’s love affair with the coast, ‘Nation’s Ode to the Coast’, to encourage the UK to experience the coast this summer.

This summer the nation is invited to help finish the poem by sharing inspiring memories and their love of the coast using #lovethecoast

Punk Poet, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, has collaborated with the National Trust to pen the start of a new poem highlighting to the nation the powerful emotions our diverse coastline can convey and the care that is needed to protect it. The release of the poem will kick-start a summer-long campaign to encourage people to share their love for the awe-inspiring beaches, cliff tops, piers and more that make this island nation.

Punk Poet, Dr. John Cooper Clarke, has collaborated with the National Trust to pen the start of a new poem highlighting to the nation the powerful emotions our diverse coastline can convey and the care that is needed to protect it. The release of the poem will kick-start a summer-long campaign to encourage people to share their love for the awe-inspiring beaches, cliff tops, piers and more that make this island nation.

John Cooper Clarke says of the project; “The sea has been a rich source of inspiration to me from year zero. It’s a glimpse of eternity available to every inhabitant, so I’m right behind the National Trust on keeping the coast beautiful”.

The public’s contribution will help inspire Dr. Clarke to create the rest of the verses of the poem, which will be unveiled in autumn. The contributions can take the form of words, pictures, social media posts or even seaside sounds.

Gwen Potter, wildlife and countryside ranger at the National Trust says, “We are asking the nation to get involved over the summer and share their favourite coastal memories – past, present and future – with us in any form to help us complete the poem and encourage people to reconnect with this majestic landscape.”

Launched in May 1965, the Neptune Coastline Campaign is one of the longest running environmental campaigns in western Europe and has resulted in the National Trust managing 775 miles of coast in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, equating to over 10% of the UK’s coastline.

Gwen continues, “Looking after the British coastline is a big responsibility… Several of our properties are iconic symbols of Great Britain – from the White Cliffs of Dover, to the Gower Peninsular and the Jurassic Coast – that are visited by people from all over the world. We also care for and protect many rare species of plant and animal life, so it is crucial that we continue to care for these important pieces of land.

Dr. John Cooper Clarke will also voiceover a specially commissioned TV and cinema ad campaign launching on 13th July.

Trust ‘hopeful’ of rebuilding fire-hit stately home

The National Trust today said it hoped to rebuild, in some shape or form, Clandon Park, the 18th century mansion which was reduced to a shell following a devastating fire.

The house, near Guildford, Surrey, suffered extensive damage in the blaze which ripped through the building on April 29. The roof and floors collapsed, the rooms were destroyed and thousands of items are feared to have been lost in the flames.

The external walls however remain largely intact and a specialist team are planning the archaeological salvage operation to recover further items from the building.

The conservation charity said the full extent of the damage remains unknown as structural engineers and insurers continue to assess the site.

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Photo: Chris Lacey

But despite the many uncertainties, the Trust said it was hopeful that Clandon could be rebuilt and would have a long-term future.

Helen Ghosh, director-general of the Trust said: “We’re hopeful that one day we can rebuild Clandon but quite how, when and in what form is far from certain at this early stage.

“The house has been left a shell, with the inside of the building almost completely destroyed. We’re still awaiting guidance from the structural engineers on the safety of the house.

“As we get more information on the extent of the damage, we will be able to take a clearer view on the potential options for Clandon.

“Despite the uncertainty, we would like to reassure all those people who love Clandon as much as we do that it will continue in some shape or form in the future.”

Work will begin shortly to erect scaffolding around the building. Once the scaffolding work is complete and the building confirmed as safe to enter, the painstaking salvage operation can start again.

Significant items from the collection were rescued from the fire during the initial salvage operation including paintings, furniture and silver.

Meanwhile further details of over 350 items rescued have been confirmed including Onslow family photographs, personal mementoes belonging to the 6th Earl of Onslow relating to his time as a prisoner of war, and a silver christening mug.

Poignant and personal mementoes of the Onslow family that have been saved include:

  • A metal prisoner-of-war identity badge worn by the 6th Earl of Onslow in Offlag 79, a prisoner-of-war camp in Brunswick, Germany, where he was imprisoned during the last months of the Second World War.
  • A tie-pin cushion made after the 6th Earl of Onslow’s return from war from the hoof of ‘Queenie’ one of his horses that had served him and had been destroyed because of the shortage of food.
  • The 4th Countess of Onslow’s dinner book of guests and menus for dinner parties. It covers the period 1875-1910 and includes a Parliamentary Dinner from 1908.
  • Two framed photographs of Lady Teresa Onslow as a baby; she later married the journalist and author Auberon Waugh.
  • Photograph of Arthur, 6th Earl of Onslow, and his wife, surrounded by their dogs and caged birds
  • Speaker Sir Richard Onslow’s (1654-1717) silver christening mug.
  • State Purse and metal embroidered red State stocking worn by the ‘Great Speaker’ Arthur Onslow (1691-1768).

    State Purse of Speaker Arthur Onslow as Chancellor to Queen Caroline of Anspach (wife of George II); worked in silver thread with the arms of George II.

    State Purse of Speaker Arthur Onslow 

Sophie Chessum, the curator who is leading the National Trust’s conservation team at Clandon Park comments:

“We are so pleased that so many significant Onslow family portraits and associated historic artefacts were saved.  Three Onslow men have held the office of Speaker of the House of Commons, a unique achievement, and to have rescued their portraits and the Great Speaker’s State Purse is wonderful. We are looking forward to re-uniting the three portraits which had to be cut from their frames on the night of the fire with their elaborate gilded frames.

“We were greatly relieved that the Speakers’ Parlour has survived the fire and the frames were discovered unharmed several days after the fire.  Also rescued was the huge carved and gilt chair that stood on the Stone Stairs. This 250 year old chair might have been a gift to Arthur Onslow, known as the Great Speaker, to commemorate his retirement from the post he held for 33 years.”

It won’t be possible to confirm the full list of items saved or lost until the final assessment and salvage operation is completed.

Photographic, 3D laser and geophysical surveys are all helping with the assessment of the site along with new aerial footage of the building which can be viewed here

Neptune rises for 50 years of National Trust coast campaign

The iconic White Cliffs of Dover were a perfect natural screening for Neptune, God of the Sea, to rise from the ocean on Tuesday and thank the nation for 50 years of support for the National Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign.

Neptune Rises at White Cliffs - credit National Trust

The moment was intended as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to everyone who has supported the campaign’s coastal work over the last five decades, which has been powered by the generosity of hundreds of thousands of supporters to date.

Using multiple cameras on a trigger system, the Neptune animation took a crew of seven technicians two nights to film from the Port of Dover.  Kelly Eagle of Projection Artworks said; ‘This type of stop-motion animation has never been done to this incredible scale. The White Cliffs of Dover provided the added drama and majesty to set the scene.’

The ambitious Neptune Coastline Campaign launched in 1965, when the National Trust looked after almost 202 miles of coast around England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The charity now cares for 775 miles, including 5 UNESCO heritage sites, 9 lighthouses and an overall 10% of the British coastline.

Dame Helen Ghosh, the National Trust’s Director-General, says: Over fifty years the extraordinary generosity and support of people from across the world has enabled the Trust to buy some of the most beautiful, dramatic and diverse coastline on these islands. This campaign has tapped into that deep sense of connection with, and love of the coast.’

People are encouraged to get involved with the National Trust Coast campaign this summer by using #lovethecoast.

This year also sees the National Trust announce a new coastal vision for the future, helping to continue to grow and protect our shorelines for ever, for everyone.

Helen Ghosh continues; ‘Our priorities for the future are to help create opportunities for people to enjoy the coast, protect our wonderful coastal heritage and to enrich the wildlife living on our shores.’

For more information about the National Trust’s work protecting the coast, head to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/neptune

Clandon Park fire – items rescued from Speakers’ Parlour

One of Clandon Park’s most important rooms has miraculously survived almost intact after the devastating fire left the 18th century mansion a burnt out shell last week (Wednesday 29 April).

While the building is being assessed for structural damage, only limited access has been granted to the least damaged parts of the house.

Among these is the Speakers’ Parlour, one of the ground floor rooms, which celebrated the three members of the Onslow family who were Speakers for the House of Commons over the centuries.

The Speakers’ Parlour remained almost intact after the fire which has enabled access to the collections that remained inside.

Removing the carpet from the Speakers' Parlour after the fire

Removing the carpet from the Speakers’ Parlour after the fire

Objects now taken to safety include the ornate ormolu chandelier which was part of the decorative scheme from 1801, the large Turkey carpet dating from the 19th century, the decorative polished brass and steel fender from the fireplace and pieces of delicate, gilt etched glassware.

The decorative plaster ceiling in the Speakers’ Parlour, among the most magnificent in the house, has been carefully propped up to protect it, and the chimneypiece, designed by the house’s architect Giacomo Leoni in the 1720s, has also survived.

All the paintings from the room, including the portraits of Arthur Onslow, the Great Speaker, and Richard Onslow, Speaker in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, were rescued on the day of the fire.

The Speakers' Parlour at Clandon Park, Surrey.

The Speakers’ Parlour before the fire, photo: National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie

 

Jim Foy who is managing the salvage operation at Clandon comments: “It is heartening that we have been able to rescue more of the important items inside the house and we hope that there will be more good news as the salvage operation continues.

 “We are still limited in terms of access while structural engineers assess the building. The weather is also a big factor as we wait to see how the building responds to conditions like the high winds we have had over the past couple of days. We are incredibly grateful for the continued support we are receiving from volunteers, external specialists, the fire service and many others.”

An investigation is underway to identify the cause of the fire.

It is too early to say what the longer term plans will be for Clandon Park but donations raised will help it to face its uncertain future. To make a donation please call 0344 800 1895 or donate online at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/donate