Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Un-Natural England

A pensioner has launched a High Court battle against a Government-funded organisation which has told him he must allow his cliffside home to fall into the sea.

Peter Boggis, 77, built his own coastal defences to halt erosion that was threatening his house and neighbouring properties.
So, he’s taken it upon himself to protect his home and those in his community (a laudable aim, you’d think?) and the big hand of government is poised to come crashing down to prevent that. Simple bureaucratic dogmatism, or something else?
But Natural England wants fossil-bearing cliffs in the area to be allowed to wear away, exposing soil and rock for study.

Two years ago it declared Easton Bavents, near Southwold in Suffolk, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - which prevents Mr Boggis from maintaining his barrier.
That must be some definition of ‘Special Scientific Interest’ – “It’s so wonderful, we just must see it all washed away!”
Gregory Jones, representing Mr Boggis, opened the two-day hearing by telling Mr Justice Blair (Ed: yes, he is the brother of THAT Mr Blair…) the purpose of SSSIs was to 'conserve or preserve' flora or fauna or geological features.

But Natural England, he said, had attempted to extend the scope of SSSIs 'in order to study the destruction of the cliffs'.

'Allowing the erosion of the cliffs in one or two years means they will no longer be the same cliffs as those there one or two years before,' he added.

'You have not conserved and you have not preserved them.'
Well, there’s a surprise – legislation originally intended for one purpose is distorted and twisted until it achieves precisely the opposite effect, at the behest of uncaring government apparatchiks and to the detriment of the citizens who pay for them. Doesn’t this case just sum up the attitude to the individual held by the State?
Natural England, which was formed in October 2006 from the Countryside Agency, English Nature and the Rural Development Service, claims the SSSI was properly made and not open to legal challenge.

It says there is a legitimate scientific interest in allowing the sea to erode the cliffs as the sediments contain information about the Lower Pleistocene period in Britain.
Now, normally, I’m quite a cheerleader for scientific discovery and particularly in the field of prehistory. But this is a man’s home - just how vital could that information possibly be, in comparison?

Probably quite a lot, if you work at Natural England, and want to go on working there, and keeping hold of your lucrative public sector pension (paid for out of the taxes of Mr Boggis and his neighbours, of course)…


Mark Wadsworth said...

Natural England are complete and utter bastards.

They once threatened to allow the Norfolk Broads to flood with the reasoning that ... by selecting a radical option now, the right message about the scale and severity of the impacts of climate change is delivered to the public.

Article here.

Anonymous said...

I think a fair solution would be for this old gentleman, when his house falls into the sea, to bulldoze the house of the head of "Natural England" in response.

Anonymous said...

The rocks have been hidden for between 1-2m years according to the approximate timings given for the lower Pleistocene period. A few more years shouldn't make that much difference. There are loads of them exposed on the south coast anyway.

The geological fact is that many of those houses are going in the drink and are worth very little now. They just are; the whole plate is tipping. Why people continue to build new properties so near the edge is a mystery to me.

There are enough years left to see Mr Boggis out - he's 77. If they allowed him to put in 30 years worth of erosion-delay (so long as he is not asking me to pay) and warned everyone else that this was going to be left to the tide at that point, it would not make a hoot of difference to the scientific research and would give people a chance to make other arrangements.

Anonymous said...

"The rocks have been hidden for between 1-2m years according to the approximate timings given for the lower Pleistocene period. A few more years shouldn't make that much difference."

Indeed. Except to Mr Boggis, of course.

But I suspect this is more about the exercise of power than about scientific achievement.

Anonymous said...

In fact, if scientific interest is really their bag, they'd do better to hire themselves a trawler...