Wednesday, 19 December 2012

British Gas - a shocking bill

After more than 25 years as a British Gas customer, I finally decided last month to leave for a cheaper and greener supplier, OvoEnergy.  The process seemed to be going really smoothly until I received my final electricity statement a few days ago.

It was good news in a way. You see, I'd been slightly overpaying every month and my account was almost £73 in credit. I was due a refund. (Hooray!) Somewhere around £62 it seemed. But then I looked again at the statement from British Gas.

"Your adjustments"  debit: £50.13  

So you'll only get £12.70 from us. (Booo!)

British Gas adds on a trumped-up, five-year old charge of £50 for work that was never done
But hold on. I was on a standard tariff, dual fuel. There are no fees for cancelling any contract, because I simply don't have one. I was confused; where did this £50.13p charge come from?

A chat to their call centre staff revealed that I wasn't alone in being confused; they simply couldn't tell me, either, "We'll have to refer it upwards", the man said. "We'll get back to you with an answer on Monday."

Monday came and went, so on Tuesday I rang again and repeated my question. It turned out that back in 2007 I'd enquired (note the word "enquired") about the cost of changing  my dual rate meter (i.e. economy 7) to a single  rate meter. They said they had overlooked billing me for changing the meter,  "so we'd  like it now, before you leave us, please!"

Not only is it shocking to think that British Gas can dredge up an unpaid bill from five years ago, it's utterly appalling that they try it on because my electricity meter was never changed. The work was never done. It was just an enquiry I made in 2007. Yes, my meter did eventually get changed some years later, but at British Gas' request, and when the engineer turned up to do the replacement, he only had a single rate meter with him. I didn't realise this until it had been installed.  But I've been happy with it; the costs have been about the same.

But I'm not at all happy at British Gas trying it on by trumping up an unpaid bill for work that was never done. And to add on a fake 5-year old fee just as I am leaving them seems petty in the extreme. OK, they have agreed to delete the "adjustment" and reimburse me the full amount I overpaid. But next time you hear British Gas offering to "Fix Your Prices"  you'll know just what that could mean!

 And if that's not a good reason to change supplier, I don't know what is.

What British Gas promises it will do for you!

Addendum: After receiving five more paper printouts of my "final bill", I finally received a cheque for £62.83 - but it was made out, not to the person who's been paying the bills for the last 25 years, but to my wife!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

PlantTracker - Invasive Plants go Mobile

A brilliant little mobile phone application was launched earlier this year which lets anyone with a smartphone collect and submit records of any of fourteen of the most invasive plant species across Britain. I gave it a try out recently, and  would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interesting in contributing to efforts to control  the spread of damaging alien plants. No great expertise is needed  - just a willingness to get out and about with your mobile nphone.

Developed at Bristol University, PlantTracker can be downloaded for free and installed on any smartphone or iPhone. Visit the website at to get the phone app. or to view the records already submitted.

Himalayan Balsam now chokes many
UK waterways. (Photo: GBNNSS)
All users need do is simply photograph the plant with their phone, then select one of three keywords to describe the size of the colony. Location coordinates are determined automatically by the phone network, but mobiles with GPS give much greater accuracy. Hit ‘Send’ to upload your record to a mapping website, which appear only after each has been checked by validators. Mine have sometimes appeared in less than 30 minutes! And they're dead accurate on the map.

It's no problem if you're in an area without mobile phone coverage. You can store your pictures and coordinates to be sent later.

Helpfully, the phone app contains a library of information and some great images to aid identification in the field before records are submitted. The species included are:
  • Japanese Knotweed
  • Himalayan Balsam
  • Orange Balsam
  • Water Fern
  • New Zealand Pygmyweed
  • Parrot’s Feather
  • Giant Hogweed
  • Floating Pennywort
  • Creeping Water-primrose
  • Piri-Piri Burr
  • American Skunk Cabbage,
  • Monkey Flower
  • Curly Waterweed
  • Screenshot of the PlantTracker website showing
    all Japanese Knotweed records received.
  • Rhododendron.

The website has its own blog, giving users feedback on developments and achievements. For example, when the project received its first verified record of Floating Pennywort (shown below) from a London park, the Environment Agency alerted the managers of the site where it had been discovered, and control measures were put into effect immediately to eradicate it. As you can see from the photo, it really is a plant with an invasive streak.

The website offers standard mapping as well as  Google’s satellite mapping, but not Streetview, which is a shame. PlantTracker can certainly help local groups working with INNS (Invasive Non-Native Species), and any scheme organisers needing full access to the data can contact the PlantTracker team for this.  Helpfully, users can also upload invasive plant records and photos direct from the website.

Surprisingly, PlantTracker doesn't yet allow recorders to be 'pre-approved' after submitting sufficient records of each species. So every report needs an accompanying photograph. I think this might discourage its use for more intensive local recording of particular species, as taking yet another and then another photograph of Himalayan Balsam is eventually going to be seen as a bit of a pain.

Floating Pennywort Hydrocotyle ranunculoides
(credit: GBNNSS)
My main criticism of PlantTracker is that location coordinates are displayed as Latitude and Longitude, whereas conversion to OSGB grid references would have been very helpful for local recorders. As someone who has operated a Biological Records Centre for over 20 years, I can say from experience that we tended to ignore records provided with Lat/Long unless it was something really special. The effort needed to convert each record is just not worthwhile. But I'd have thought that a little algorithm in the programme itself could have provided that conversion. I did like the feature to display all uploaded records. Now, had it displayed the National Grid Reference and the date, that would have been brilliant. That said, I do hope LatLong informaiotn will also be retained - it's great to be able to cut and paste it straight to Google Maps and be taken to the location.

At the  moment the amount of validated records presented on the online maps is nowhere near the amount of data available to us locally. But that's not the point. The point is that this app will, in time, generate additional records, encourage new recorders, and maybe generate a new wave of volunteers willing to help record and take action to remove these invasive species from our waterways and other habitats.

And if I were to offer one other minor criticism, I'd say it would be nice to be able to zoom in on the results page of the PlantTracker website to an area of interest and then to be able to change the species being mapped, rather than having to start afresh and zoom in all over again for each individual species.

All in all, PlantTracker is a superb and simple phone app. Both it and the related website are incredibly easy to use. No doubt future modifications will make them even more effective. The PlantTracker project is a collaboration between the Environment Agency, the NatureLocator team at Bristol University and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

It can be downloaded free from the iTunes store or Android Market.

If you are interested in contributing to efforts to control invasive species in your area, contact your local Wildlife Trust, Biological Records Centre, National Park Authority, or check out the GBNNS website for information on the increasing number of formal 'Local Action Groups' being set up around the country to try to control these alien invaders. 
This is an expanded version of an article written for Derbyshire Biodiversity Newsletter Vol 8 Issue 2 

This review was based on the Android version of PlantTracker ver 1.2.1 running on an HTC Desire HD

Nov 7th: Since this review was posted, I've had contact with Dave Kilbey from the team at PlantTracker. He tells me that OSGB grid references will be added in an update next spring (do keep the Lat/Long display on the database, too, guys). The pre-approving of recorders for particularly common species may be made more obvious - it does actually happen at the moment behind the scenes, but users don't know see it. A pat on the back for being appreciated as a competent recorder would go down well with most users, I'm sure.  I've even suggested that there could also be opportunities for getting greater involvement from the userbase by making the app a bit more like Foursquare, for examle. Users of PlantTracker could win 'badges' for becoming an 'approved' recorder, or for submitting set numbers of records, or for reporting more than one species, or for recording in a certain number of regions, whether they be countries, counties or 10km squares. Perhaps it's a case of 'watch this space'

Friday, 19 October 2012

Climber - a mountain poem


We came down off that hill in darkness, the three of us, 
carrying our burdens upon our backs
 and in our hearts. 

We started out in joyous mood that morning, 
exalted by the day’s beginning; 
by mountains to be climbed and miles walked, 
called by sharp frosts and brilliant sun 
to the very top of this frozen world. 

Our world; a world of naked rock, 
of snow and calling ravens. 
Our world; a world of gaily painted ropes, 
of boots and clanking axes. 
Our world; a world of white and black, 
of welcome and betrayal. 

 And so it was we journeyed upwards into this kingdom, 
our lives connected by purpose and by rope, 
each step freeing us from those cities in which we worked. 

 Upwards we journeyed, at times moving together, 
at times living alone. 
Knowing we are watched, we watched only for ourselves 
and trusted in our fellows. 

And below our feet: 
that infinity;
the valley floor so distant, 
yet always just a slip away. 

 A slip? What term is this? 
A careless move, a moment's inattention? 
One slip
and this welcome world turns traitor to invaders. 

 And so it happened when least expected. 
One man, content in his existence and his challenge, 
knowing he was safe, was unsafe. 

A slip? Who can say? 
Who amongst us can say what happened 
or comprehend the fact that one of us is dead? 
A slip indeed, held at last by rope 
but with life’s thread already broken. 

 We came down off that hill in darkness, the three of us, 
carrying our burdens upon our backs
 and in our hearts.

N Moyes 1987

These words were dedicated to Steve Caswell who died in 1994 in a tragic mountaineering accident in the shadow of Mont Blanc long after I wrote these words. They are also dedicated to his wife, Pam, who managed to survive that incident, but whose life and those of her family were forever changed by it. She passed away peacefully in September 2012 and was cremated today. Appreciating the importance of helicopter rescue, Pam used to raise money for her local service, the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance to which you can donate here. Childcare commitments mean I couldn't attend her funeral service, so have donated the equivalent of my travel costs to this Air Ambulance Service instead. 

 The poem - if you can call it that - was inspired by my own deep love of the mountains, and especially by the steep, snow-filled gullies of Glencoe in Scotland where I learnt to ice-climb. (The photo used is unrelated to the people or places referred to above.)

Monday, 15 October 2012

A Tale with a Sting

Wasp-killing traps on sale at The Eden Project
A visit to the Eden Project rounded off a superb two week family holiday in Cornwall recently. It was a wonderful day out,  and the organisation is clearly doing  a brilliant job in getting across its conservation and environmental messages.

Brilliant that is, except in one respect. . .

I was saddened to discover on my way out through their enormous shop area that The Eden Project finds it acceptable to generate income by promoting the elimination of wasps. Two separate displays of these pretty glass wasp-drowning traps were on sale to visitors.

Isn't it nice when killing insects can be done in such an attractive and delicate way? Maybe people find these little glass traps attractive; personally, I find it repugnant that such items were being sold there. It completely undermines the ecological message this organisation is promoting. Search their online shop for words like slug, insecticide, killer, pest, or trap and  you'll find nothing else being sold to destroy wildlife in your garden. So why these wasp traps? Is it because they're pretty, and they sell well? Or maybe they just didn't think it through.

An unconvincing justification for
you to buy one of The Eden Project's
pretty glass wasp-killing traps.
I don't worry that hardware stores and garden centres sell insect-killing products, but not an organisation that promotes the ethics and importance of conservation. So come on, Eden Project - follow the example of The National Trust and take these horrid things off your shelves for good, and do it as quickly as you can.

When large organisation with conservation ethics at their  heart get something wrong, it’s heartening to know that just the tiniest of nudges can sometimes get them to rectify their mistakes.
Let's hope The Eden Project will do this.

Twitter saves wasps from death by drowning
In 2011 a single tweet of mine set in motion a change of heart at The National Trust. I had become frustrated with seeing these same colourful wasp traps being sold in every National Trust property I visited. It seemed wrong, and something had to be done.

So I tweeted my concerns to @NationalTrust and received a helpful, but understandably naive reply from their Social Media Team. My response back then elicited an email address for the twitter team. So I set out my arguments to them as to why I felt an organisation like the NT, so closely allied to conservation of the environment, should not be seen to be promoting Victorian-style wasp traps as an acceptable means of pest control in its shops. I pointed out that everything else they sell, say, and do promotes garden wildlife and conservation, so why were these pretty glass ornamental killers being sold? As any social media team should do, they forwarded my concerns upwards for consideration within the organisation, and to their specialist on nature and wildlife, Matthew Oates.

Meanwhile I tweeted to @Buzz_dont_tweet  (aka the charity 'Buglife') which  soon got their CEO,  Matt Shardlow, writing to Helen Meech, the Assistant Director of External Affairs at The National Trust.

Pretty soon the National Trust contacted us to say they'd reviewed their position and had agreed not to order these horrid traps in future. They didn't remove their existing stock, but I'm pleased to say that during the 2012 season I visited a number of National Trust outlets and looked carefully for wasp traps on sale. Not one could be found, though sometimes the shop staff apologised and expressed a hope they'd be back in stock soon.   They won't!

Will the managers at The Eden Project follow the lead of The National Trust and remove wasp traps from sale?  Here's the tweet I sent them this morning

@edenproject As an environmental organisation, how do you justify the sale of wasp-killing traps? Whose decision is it?

I hope to report back on their response soon.

Native wasps are integral parts of our fauna. They play a valuable role in pest control in our gardens, and it’s only for a few short weeks in autumn that they can come into conflict with humans. If they come close to you, don't flap, don't panic, and simply move a hand slowly near them to get them to move. If they come to a picnic, just leave a little bit of meat or sugary food on one side and enjoy watching them go about their business. Call a qualified pest control officer if you have a large wasp nest near your property causing you genuine problems. Remember, the colonies all die off in winter - only the queen survives through to the next year.
If you really want a trap from The Eden Project, my kids were delighted when we came away with this instead.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Derbyshire - a geological poem

Today is National Poetry Day, so it seemed appropriate to dig out a few words I penned some years ago to sum up the the geology of our wonderful county. It was intended for use in the 'On The Rock's geology gallery that I was working on at Derby Museum & Art Gallery. In the end it was never utilsed. So here it is  - 23 years on.

Bleak northern moors of heathered grit,
sheer edge of climber's play;
green barren land of woven wall
and dale of Limestone Way.

In lowland south lies farm and wood
on rolling, marl-rich ground;
where rivers flow by valley side
are town and city found.

On eastern flank black coal is hid,
layered in shale and sand;
that dirty jewel of modern times,
hewn out by human hand.

Much quarried once, and still today,
for stones hard won and fought,
rock-wrenching mines of industry
this county's treasure sought.

Grey lime, dark grit and basalt black,
red marl and pebbled land;
all make these scenes of Derbyshire,
slow-carved by Nature's hand.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

I'm Not a Pheasant Plucker - I'm a Native of this State

Buzzard 1
Pheasant Plucker?
Buzzard by Paul Buxton, Flickr
Yesterday evening  I was alerted by Alan Tilmouth's blog to an appalling situation.

Government is looking for someone who can find the best ways of getting rid of buzzards.

But if you fancied the job - and there must be plenty of gamekeepers and shooting syndicates out there who would do it for free, - I'm sorry to tell you that you're too late.  The deadline for tendering for a cool £1/3 million of taxpayers'  money passed last month.

Believe it or not, DEFRA has been advertising for someone to work with shooting estates in Northumberland to find the best way of getting rid of buzzards so they don't plunder specially reared baby pheasant chicks. (Reared so someone can go out with a gun and shoot at them).

It's clear to me from DEFRA's own tender document (which you can read here) that they have no concrete evidence that buzzards take pheasant chicks, or what the extent of the problem is, assuming there is one. It's pretty obvious that there has been some hard and influential lobbying done by the shooting fraternity to highlight their assertion that some of their chicks have been going missing.  You'd think DEFRA might perhaps feel obliged to spend a little bit of cash investigating whether there actually is a real widespread problem or not with buzzards. (OK, maybe you'd really think they'd go tell the shooting fratentity to go away and don't be so silly, and maybe rear your pheasants in a better way, and don't bother us, thank you very much)

But either way you'd be wrong. Instead, they're going to pay someone up to £375,000 over three years to work with shooting estates to find various ways of getting rid of buzzards close to where pheasants are reared. This may include trapping and nest destruction - destruction of a species whose numbers everyone is delighted to see have increased in recent years, but which DEFRA says may now be  levelling off. Oh, and they might pay compensation to those involved in any study if they are used as a control and pheasant poults get taken, even if they don't know by which predator

There's no evidence in the DEFRA tender to suggest any of the money for this study is coming from the shooting estates or the National Gamekeepers Organisation.  I bet most, if not all, is coming from your taxes and from mine! Meanwhile they'll happily pay the costs of a  reknowned and no doubt highly expensive QC to defend an individual gamekeeper charged and found guilty of crimes against raptors as here in Derbyshire.

I was so incensed at this ridiculous waste of money to appease a load of rich shooting estates, based on no sound evidence, that I felt a  letter to somebody high up was in order. And here it is:

Date: 22 May 2012

Dear Mrs Spelman
Please could you clarify whether £1/3 million of taxpayers' money is to be spent researching ways to destroy buzzards in Northumberland  based purely on the "opinions" of a few gamekeepers and shooting estates in a survey? Or is the money to fund research into ways to destroy buzzards in this DEFRA trial  being put up by the National Gamekeepers Organisation?
If the former, I object most strongly to my taxes being spent in this way. Here in Derbyshire we have seen how the 'fair and reasonable opinions' of gamekeepers and the vested interests of shooting estates have utterly annihilated native raptors in parts of the Dark Peak.
When I was made redundant  through government funding cuts in 2011 (after 30 years local authority service), I never foresaw how those savings might then help support rich shooting estates. So on what basis is it felt appropriate to spend over £300k to appease pheasant breeders at a time of austerity?
Let's look at statements in the DEFRA tender document (my capitalisation)

  • It has HAS BEEN CLAIMED THAT raptors, particularly buzzards, have been causing serious damage
  • 76% of gamekeepers BELIEVE that buzzards have a harmful effect on gamebirds.
  • ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE SUGGESTS that it can be significant at the local site level
  • Although research has YET TO IDENTIFY  the extent of impact of buzzards at a national or local scale, . . .

I wouldn't object so strongly if DEFRA appeared to be spending money solely to ascertain if there genuinely is a problem in the UK. It sounds more like you've simply listened to a few vocal lobbyists and are rushing to spend taxpayers' cash working out a solution to a problem you don't actually know exists.

Please tell me I've got this all wrong and that there's a sound, legitimate reason. (I may, of course, need some persuading).
Yours etc.

It wasn't going to be long before the big organisations came out to denounce this awful situation, and here are some fine responses from The RSPB and Raptor Politics. Please remember that it's down to your actions, and pressure exerted on the real decision-makers that really count, not outraged comments left on an obscure blog like mine. 

Friday, 30 March 2012

An Open Letter to NatSCA - the Natural Sciences Collections Association

A Derby museum visitor scans a QR code to access data on local
rocks in a display produced by a skilled natural science curator. 
There has been an appalling loss of specialist natural science curators across the UK's provincial museums in the last few years. And extinction point seems to have been reached over the last year in many areas of Britain, thanks to a combination of government cuts and blinkered museum managers who value arts over sciences, and who have long seen natural history as a "cinderella subject", despite it still being the most popular of subjects amongst museum visitors.

I have blogged previously about my own treatment at the hands of Derby City Council. But recently Steven Falk,  former Senior Keeper of Natural History at Warwickshire Museum, wrote most eloquently in British Wildlife Magazine (Feb 2012) about his view of the decline in specialist staff with traditional natural science skills, and the contribution they make. Like me, he is now redundant, along with Paul Williams, Senior Keeper of Natural History at Sheffield Museums, who lost his job in March 2012. 

One curator recently wrote: "There are now more pandas living in Edinburgh than there are natural history curators employed in the whole of East Midlands, West Midlands and South Yorkshire put together." 

And so I wondered what NatSCA, the Natural Sciences Collections Association was doing about it. They say that their organisation "promotes the interests of natural science collections and the staff that work with them." So maybe a bit of lobbying here, a bit of publicising there? Well, I visited their website and could find nothing at all.

I had hoped they might have got around to collating, recording and publishing a list to reflect the rapid extinction of the skilled naturalist in UK's provincial and national museums.  If they have a list, they've certainly kept it quiet.  And so, in the week of their annual conference in London I feel it is appropriate to publish an open letter to their chairman, Paul Brown of The Natural History Museum, urging NatSCA to do more to highlight the near-destruction of a generation of natural science posts, and their replacement with a small handful of "collections assistants"  who know little or nothing about the objects left in their care when skilled curators are kicked out.
So here it is:

Subject: Open Letter to NatSCA: Use it and You'll Probably Still Lose it

Dear Paul 
I see the NatSCA conference is based at the Horniman this week.
Thirty years ago I was a volunteer at the Horniman Museum. For three months I cycled 12 miles a day, every day, to get work experience whilst looking for my first paid job as a natural science curator after leaving Leicester's Museum Studies course. Until just 12 months ago I had spent all the intervening years working as a natural historian in provincial museums in Kirkleees and Derbyshire. But then last March I was forced into redundancy and given 24 hours notice to leave the work I loved.
Up and down the country the government's cuts have been impacting savagely on natural history expertise, and on curators themselves. The West Midlands no longer has any natural history curators, and in the East Midlands they are rapidly going extinct. Paul Richards - a dedicated naturalist and curator is the latest to be forced out at Sheffield, and the losses continue. There is now only one natural science curator post at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham - job-shared by two people, one of whom comes back as a volunteer on her days off because she cares so much.
I was quite emotional when I read Steven Falk's brilliant letter in British Wildlife in Feb 2012, highlighting his demise as the last traditional Natural History curator in the West Midlands. His words and views seemed like my words and views.He pointed out how many natural history collections are now in the hands of archaeologists and social historians who have all been rebranded as collections access officers, and how museum managers in his area have long been unsympathetic to the importance and value of natural history collections. This has long been true in Derby where they are now calling for volunteers to help look after those collections, yet with nobody skilled to manage them.
So may I ask you to raise one simple question at the conference and AGM this week?  Could you ask what NatSCA is doing to record, collate and widely publicise these losses of curatorial expertise across the country? 
OK, make it two questions:
Could you ask what initiatives NatSCA will now take to publicise and promote awareness of these lost posts and lost skills?
I searched the NatSCA site. I looked for a list of national or provincial museums and posts that had been axed or remained unfilled over the last few years. I looked for a list of museums with collections but no qualified staff, or a list of museums where potential job losses are still a very real concern. But nothing. Absolutely nothing - not even on the Collections At Risk page.
So please take the chance this week to ask your fellow curators on NatSCA what they will do now. Will someone come forward to build a big, bright page on your website and call for information, gather details and publicise all these losses in UK museums? NatSCA needs to find its voice and to highlight the collections at risk as a result, and to make a contact point for staff to report past, present and future cuts to natural science curators.
I wish you well for your Conference and AGM. But do please consider that unless more is done to raise awareness of the loss of skilled staff with the ability to engage people, whether we use it or not, we will probably still lose it.  Someone needs to bring information on these losses together, and I see no-one more able than NatSCA to gather this data, to keep it up-to-date, and to shout about it to whoever will listen.
Yours sincerely
Nick Moyes
(former Senior Keeper of Natural Sciences, Derby Museum. 1985-2011)

Monday, 30 January 2012

Will you be riding rough-shod over nature?

UPDATE: Derby City Council eventually granted itself permission to develop a multi-sports arena in March 2012.  (Application ref: 12/11/01496)  It says any racing track would be the subject of a separate application, but clearly indicated its preferred location on this map.Whilst the Council remained tight-lipped over intentions, Margaret Beckett MP, speaking on Radio Derby, was wonderfully forthright in her opinions of their insensitive actions. I'll bring you a transcript of her interview soon. Meanwhile here's the BBC News coverage from 29 March 2012. The cycling groups mentioned below have since also publicly expressed their concerns over these plans.

Back in May I wrote to Derby City Councillors and sent an open letter (see this post) to Margaret Beckett MP after becoming  concerned that plans to build a Velodrome at Pride Park in Derby might also include the idea for an outdoor racing track to be built over the city's first bird reserve -  a designated Local Nature Reserve (LNR)  The Council wrote back to her, assuring Mrs Beckett that they would not build a cycle track on this important site. But now it seems there is a distinct possibility it might happen.
Sand Martin on the fence at The Sanctuary, Pride Park

After voicing my objections, I was invited to meet with a senior member of staff, Paul Robinson, and Derek Jinks of Derby City Council to discuss their proposal for a Velodrome and associated racing track. One of their suggestions was to put this pay-to-use race track outside the perimeter of The Sanctuary, possibly using just a small part of the LNR along the River Derwent. This idea did have some merit, as it had the potential to bring some wildlife gains to the reserve, so I suggested they worked up one of those ideas further, whilst not offering to withdraw my formal objection.
Lapwing at The Sanctuary (the cycle track is shown in plans
 going along the green strip in front of the fence.)

Last week I was invited back by the City Council, and was saddened to hear that they mow wanted the entire Park and Ride site for their velodrome and car park, and are now thinking of putting a 1.5km x 7m wide track right around the inside of The Sanctuary bird reserve. This would be in just the places I've watched Little Ringed Plover, Sand Martin, Skylark and even a Dartford Warbler, and would eat up more than one hectare out of this amazing twelve hectare bird reserve. 

They've discovered that the Park and Ride car park just isn't big enough (though I could have told them that in the first place). So now it seems that it's important wildlife that comes under threat yet again - this time it is external funding from Cycle England that seems to be riding rough-shod over it.

The planning application for the velodrome is out for consultation right now until 8th February. And sensibly the Council will submit a separate planning application for this racing track at a later stage. And I predict they will have one almighty fight on their hands. But right now the track is there in the plans for all to see. So it's of great concern. 

And it must not remain there. 

Sadly Derby Cycling Group have expressed their whole-hearted support for the velodrome and closed circuit race track. Of course they won't have realised at the time the impact on biodiversity that it would have.  As a keen cyclist myself, I would normally given my unequivocal support for anything that encourages more cycling in Derby. But I can't support such a damaging proposal for a cycle track as this, and I hope you won't either.   

Note: This is my letter of objection sent to before the planning application deadline of 8th February 2012.  
The application reference is: 12/11/01496  (Erection of multi sports arena and formation of associated car parking area)

Dear Sirs

I write to express my immense concern and alarm, and to object strongly to the site Masterplan for the multi-sports arena at Pride Park including a 1.5km x 7metre wide cycle racing track on the site of The Sanctuary bird reserve. This is a designated Local Nature Reserve, opened in 2004 by the former Secretary of State for the Environment and South Derbyshire MP, Margaret Beckett, and the Mayor of Derby, Ruth Skelton. 

I am fully aware the current planning application is not considering the cycle track itself, and that Derby City Council must submit a separate planning application and EIA if it wishes to build on the Local Nature Reserve. But inclusion of this race track on the Site Masterplan means it cannot go unchallenged at this stage.  Any decision by members to approve the Velodrome construction could well result in an assumption that this closed cycle racing track will inevitably go there. And it must not.

A 1.5km x 7metre wide track and verge would destroy one twelfth of this important Local Nature Reserve. It would demonstrate that this Council is happy to ride rough-shod over the national LNR designation process and not care about key biodiversity interests, or scheduled birds, or Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) habitats and species.

At the launch of The Sanctuary in 2004 - and standing exactly where the Masterplan shows the racing track may go - the Secretary of State for the Environment is on record as saying that Derby's first bird reserve was making a considerable contribution to her Department's biodiversity targets.  And when the Mayor of Derby, Roy Webb, unveiled new wildlife viewing platform facilities in autumn 2005 I doubt he envisaged that racing bikes would one day be whizzing past in front of birdwatchers where scheduled species like to walk. Your own Strategic Director for Neighbourhoods, Paul Robinson, wrote to Mrs Beckett on 23rd June 2011 stating "...we do not require any of the Sanctuary land".

The Sanctuary contains Derby's most important bird species and some important BAP habitats. The Little Ringed Plover is a Scheduled Species and has nested here. I have photographed it exactly where the racing track is shown on the Velodrome Masterplan. Other key (BAP) bird species, including Skylarks, Reed Buntings and Lapwings, have bred here too. Sedge Warbler nest along the river corridor, and are found within the LNR; Sand Martins breed in abundance, close to the car park, and would be disturbed if cyclists race by too closely. Wheatears, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Linnets, Ringed Plovers, Whinchats, Stonechats and even the immensely rare Dartford Warbler have all been recorded on this site, and all have used habitat close to the perimeter and most were easily visible from that fence. All would be liable to disturbance. In fact 93 different bird species have been recorded here so far. 

The Sanctuary featured in Alan Titchmarsh's Nature of Britain series in 2007 ( and more recently has been written about in Birdwatching Magazine by TV broadcaster David Lindo ( Unlike Derby's other iconic bird site, it is not well-known. The velodrome could, potentially, improve people's understanding of the importance of urban wildlife, but not if damaged by a race track running through it.

Finally I must also bring to your attention the incompetently researched and incorrectly referenced ‘Site Ecology Walkover Report’, dated 3/1/2011  It fails to mention the Schedule 1 Little Ringed Plover that mates and attempts to breed at the adjacent Sanctuary each year. It tries to suggest that the area west of the riverside pathway is not within the LNR - when it is. (The so-called 'LNR fence' referred to on p6 is not the site boundary of The Sanctuary; inspection of the Management Plan and the Local Wildlife Sites system will show the site boundary runs right up to the riverside pathway).  And the Harris Hawk is definitely not, as stated, a rare species listed in The Sanctuary Management Plan of 2006 – it’s a falconer’s escaped bird.  

I have given my time freely and tried to work positively with staff from the City Council to guide them on ways to avoid damaging the key biodiversity interests of The Sanctuary, and even to bring benefits to the reserve. I do not see in the current plans any measures designed to encourage biodiversity, along the lines I suggested at meetings with your officers, Derek Jinks and Paul Robinson.  So, as a member of the public and Derby resident, I am severely disappointed the Masterplan now exposes this threat to The Sanctuary LNR by indicating a cycle race track entirely within the reserve. And for that reason I must reiterate my objection to the multi-sports arena plan for failing to include the 1.5km racing track within the footprint of the existing park-and-ride car park.

Yours faithfully

Nick Moyes