Tuesday, March 20, 2012

...Snails and the Councillor...

I have drunk a lot of tea, talked a lot and collected a lot of snails. Now who can say that's not an honest day's work?
After a morning developing a wildlife pond near Oswestry, I came home to find my local councillor had been round and left his card. I was very nervous about speaking to him as it's my first foray into local politics; I didn't want to sound stupid and ruin chances of being taken seriously.
I needn't have worried. He was human!
We had a chat about how the planning system worked (another reminder not to assume I could "save" the wild patch) and whether I had any chance of making a difference in speaking up for local biodiversity.
I explained my personal position.

 "I am not against development. I am against insensitve development that fails to take into account local character and just ends up sprawling haphazardly across some prime UK countryside. I would like my son to have a decent, affordable house; but not at the expense of the natural world. What if Shropshire Council could work with local residents and developers to be really honest about the long term future of Shrewsbury and its green space?"

Well, this could be beginning to happen, explained the councillor...

 There's currently a consultation called the SAMdev (gorgeous name!) in Shropshire. It stands for Site Allocations and Management of Development.

Anyone can comment on what they think of local housing and development plans. It's a chance for everyone to have their say, apparently regardless of income, where you live or who you know. In theory, it sounds pretty democratic to me and I've filled in a questionnaire making my feelings known. If you want to make your feelings known, you have until the 8th June 2012.

I feel that if I just objected to development on the grounds that I don't like change, or that housing is bad and green space is good; then I'm kind of falling into the same old trap of environmentalist vs developer, both deaf to each other and more than a bit shouty. No one gets anywhere.

Einstein should have been a town planner: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". Calling developers and planners "evil" or laughing at environmentalists is insanity. Both sides are doing their jobs, hopefully with passion too.

Sticking with the Einstein as Town Planner theme: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them".

We have created a problem in which residents are reassured that there are no immediate plans to develop an area until roughly 12 weeks before the footings go in.
No wonder everyone gets a bit pee'd off and confrontational with each other as ecologists search for barn owls and developers build what they've always built.

Now imagine that planners say to residents, "We've got 14-20 years to look at some innovative ways to accommodate a growing population. Here's your chance to find the green space you value and start to shape where you live for future generations."

Place Plans could be a step in this direction. I've been asked to go along to a public meeting to find out more. I'm certainly interested.
  • It could mean that in the future, all of Shropshire's new schools get built within walking distance of some prime, beautiful local countryside for playing in and learning valuable skills for their future.
  • It could mean that Highways work with allotment groups to ensure cycle paths and safe walking routes exist to connect people with their food.
  • It could mean that in the future there's a place for a herd of cows grazing in the middle of town (Why not? It's the milk on your cereal every morning, and a chance for farmers to feel a bit more loved). 
  • It could mean that every new development brings a net increase in biodiversity through careful long term research and planning.
It doesn't cost anything to think a bit differently. Talk to your neighbours.

(This next bit contains a sanity warning for my sister-in-law, who I know reads this! J, I know you hate s*!gs and sn*!ls, so please look away now...)

Oh, and I spent half an hour in the wild patch looking for snails today!
What a huge layer of leaf litter; 20-30cm deep in places and crawling with at least three different species of woodlice. (Does anyone know a woodlouse expert I can borrow?)

I collected (and returned) all these snails within one square metre of leaf litter, but not sure how many different species there are, or if any are particularly rare.
I've shared them on iSpot.org.uk for identification and will let you know the results. Let me know how many different species you think you can see on these pictures? If you can name them too, that would be marvellous.

This snail was a smart looking thing, and seemed to know it too!

How many species can you see? I'm still trying to work it out.

Beautiful little ramshorn shaped shells

More snails. (Sorry J, hope you're not looking at these.)

Three different species of snail? Could be four.

No wonder the song thrushes love our back garden!

If I can give the area an overall biodiversity "score", like an index, then highlight the main species/habitats - could the developers take this info and work with local residents to increase the score? Back gardens can be havens for wildlife, as can community spaces and careful management.

Stop press: Barn Owl spotted yesterday by B on the field opposite the development site. Hopefully we'll be allowed to put up some nest boxes and encourage them to stay. Have a look at the Shropshire Barn Owl Group's webpage for more info on how you can help this protected species.


  1. that's a really hopeful and inspiring post. How wonderful to see the barn owl and good luck with your campaign!

  2. Hi, I have been reading your blog with interest and I must say I feel your approach to development and the environment constructive and sensible, obviously people need houses but what is the point if those houses detract from the everyones enjoyment of the area in question. We have a similar situation in Ellesmere, there is a plan to build 22 houses right up against the mere (as a part of an 800 house allocation) which quite a few of us feel pretty strongly about. I was just wondering if you had any advice regarding approaching the Council and getting them to look more closely at the environmental impact of some of the proposals in the SAMDEV?


    1. Hi Kieron, I would recommend you find out when your local Place Plan meeting takes place and go along armed with as much information about your patch as possible. Data is great, but stories about your quality of life, the character of your immediate community and how it will be affected, plus constructive suggestions on ways forward may get the right people listening? I can't guarantee success, but Place Plan meetings are hopefully a useful place to start your negotiations. Keep encouraging people to respond to the SAMdev so that you aren't the lone voice. There are proactive and very interesting debates taking place all over Shropshire about future housing, biodiversity and that dreaded phrase "ecosystem services". Have you contacted the Ellesmere branch of Shropshire Wildlife Trust? Plus, visit Natural Shropshire for an idea of what wildlife is already recorded from your area. Good luck! It's a worthwhile campaign- please keep in touch.