What are the main threats facing East Anglia’s environment?

Countryside near Coddenham in Suffolk PIC: Sarah Lucy Brown.

Countryside near Coddenham in Suffolk PIC: Sarah Lucy Brown. - Credit: Archant

Leading environmental figures from the region ponder the question.

Heathland at Dunwich Heath Picture: National Trust/Justin Minns

Heathland at Dunwich Heath Picture: National Trust/Justin Minns - Credit: Archant

Environmental issues are now mainstream as people become increasingly aware of how human activities are having an impact on the climate, wildlife and our green spaces. Of course, many environmental issues are interlinked but are there some key threats facing East Anglia that should be treated as a priority?

‘Huge energy projects mustn’t come at the expense of the Suffolk landscape’

Without question, the most important issue globally is climate change. Unless we keep the average rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius on pre-industrial levels, the implications are dire for us as a species, and for ecosystems the world over. That is why we recently declared a Climate Emergency at Suffolk County Council with the ambitious target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

However, locally my main concern is the huge energy projects, including Sizewell C and the ScottishPower Renewables wind farms, that we are expected to accommodate.

Production of clean energy is essential but a small corridor of Suffolk is currently bearing the brunt of these nationally significant infrastructure projects. These schemes mustn’t come at the expense of our rural communities and unique Suffolk landscape. We’re lobbying Government to produce an over-arching Suffolk strategy to protect our county, give peace of mind to local residents, and provide clarity to us as local authorities.

(Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council Cabinet member for the Environment)

Suffolk county councillor Richard Rout

Suffolk county councillor Richard Rout - Credit: Archant

READ MORE: East Anglia on the ‘front line’ of managing the impact of climate change, says Environment Agency director

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‘Industrialised agriculture is taking a toll’

To begin to tackle the county’s biggest environmental challenges we must think about how our farmed land works with nature. At least 70% of Suffolk is in agricultural production and the county is undoubtedly a crucial contributor to the nation’s food basket.

However, it’s becoming acutely apparent that we need to address the toll industrial agriculture is taking on the land - in terms of habitat destruction, pesticide use and damage to soil quality - and the knock-on impacts to wildlife and ultimately to our own well-being.

There is a role for environmental organisations like Suffolk Wildlife Trust to work with farmers and landowners, some of whom are making great strides in successful sustainable and organic farming practices, and reaping the rewards.

Kerry Stranix at Suffolk Wild Life Trust

Kerry Stranix at Suffolk Wild Life Trust - Credit: Archant

As Government introduces new agricultural and environmental legislation, there is a sense that change is afoot, with hope that farming subsidies for public goods will reflect environmentally positive land management, improving and restoring habitats and recognising the societal value of outstanding natural landscapes.

(Kerry Stranix, campaigns manager at Suffolk Wildlife Trust)

‘Unsustainable policies threaten East Anglia’s very identity’

Sadly, it is our politicians and their policies that are causing the greatest threat to our region. It is all about the economy, never-ending growth and development.

This is a disaster for our environment - it means that even precious, supposedly protected wildlife sites can be sacrificed for the sake of profits for big businesses.

Then there is the push for ever more house building, in effect small new towns, dumped inappropriately on to green field land, generally poorly insulated and none with solar panels. Bearing in mind the crisis of climate change, why are these not compulsory?

Rachel Fulcher, Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth

Rachel Fulcher, Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth - Credit: Archant

Where are the safe cycle lanes and effective public transport? All we hear about is the demand for more roads. These divide up the landscape and put even more pressure on our dwindling wildlife. The extra traffic and emissions will only contribute to global warming, with resulting rising seas, storm surges and drought.

Such policies are unsustainable and are already threatening East Anglia’s very identity, once acclaimed for its natural beauty and tranquillity.

(Rachel Fulcher, Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth)

‘Our low-lying coast is vulnerable to sea-level rises’

Climate change is the biggest environmental threat facing the world including us here in East Anglia.

We have a soft, low-lying coast and the sea level rises that are predicted are likely to cause damage on the coast and inundate freshwater habitats, such as those found at Minsmere and Brancaster in Norfolk.

Paul Forecast, the National Trust's regional director for the East of England

Paul Forecast, the National Trust's regional director for the East of England - Credit: Archant

As the climate becomes warmer and drier, there’s a danger that precious wetland habitats will disappear. We already live in the driest part of the UK while the growth in housing will also put pressure on water resources.

Climate change will also have an impact on phenology - that is, how animal life cycles are effected by climate events. For example, many bird species are reliant on insects for food - but if migrating birds arrive here several weeks after the insects have emerged [because of warmer weather] that is not good news.

(Paul Forecast, East of England regional director at the National Trust)

‘Too many children are disconnected from nature’

The single biggest threat facing East Anglia is how disconnected children are from nature.

Only 10% of children in the UK played regularly in natural places in 2009, compared to 40% in the 1970s. This tells us that we are facing an environmental disaster; if our children don’t experience nature, they won’t love it, won’t want to save it, and sadly, they won’t know what they’ve lost once it’s gone.

Jeff Knott, regional director for Eastern England at RSPB

Jeff Knott, regional director for Eastern England at RSPB - Credit: Archant

It is our job to give nature space, to let it sing so that we can all reconnect with it. Nature, and our future generations, needs us now – 165 species are critically endangered in the UK.

Together, let’s put nature back on the agenda. Spread the word and share nature’s song.

(Jeff Knott, RSPb regional director for East of England)

‘We must radically change our policies away from boosting economic growth’

Nature can cope with quite a bit but many of our most loved plants and animals, and even our crops in East Anglia will not be able to survive from the extreme changes in climate and weather we are about to witness due to emissions of carbon and other global warming gases.

These emissions are being driven by the extreme scale of development globally, both of infrastructure and in modern agricultural practices. In East Anglia this is enabled by the pro-growth approach of many of our local authorities and some of our business quangos, like the Local Enterprise Partnerships. But this kind of ‘growth’ means more building – more developer-led profits, more housing estates on green fields, more out of town warehouses and big chain retail sheds - all predicated on individualised car use, which fuels congestion, more demand for more and bigger roads and bypasses, which in turn generates more traffic and more land for development.

Cllr Robert Lindsay Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Cllr Robert Lindsay Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

The spiral seems unstoppable but stop it must if we are to have a habitable East Anglia and indeed planet. We must radically change our policies away from boosting national economic growth towards personal and community growth - working, living and obtaining our real needs increasingly locally, creating genuine community rather than our current isolated, frustrated and insecure lifestyles.

(Robert Lindsay, Suffolk County councillor, Green Party)