Crime spotters take to the saddle

THAMES Valley Police is recruiting a new team of volunteer rural crime spotters in Chiltern and South Bucks.

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The volunteers are horse riders who will help with rural crime prevention while out on their normal hacking routes.

The role is voluntary and has no police powers attached but builds on the work of the force’s Horse Watch network which links horse owners, riders and equestrian workers with their local police teams.

To become a rural spotter, riders must past an application process and undertake a short training course. They must be 18+ with their own horse, personal liability insurance, own transport and no criminal record.

Volunteers will report any suspicious activity, including fly-tipping, unauthorised off- road biking and hare coursing to the NFU Rural Crime Reporting line on a free phone number, 0800 7830137.

Anyone interested should email Helen Evans, the Thames Valley Police equine liaison volunteer, who had the idea for the scheme. She said: Within the equine community we have an untapped source of people who are able to act as the eyes and ears of the police in rural areas.

Riders have the unique ability to go to fairly inaccessible places and have the advantage of height to see over hedges. My hope is that the scheme will make the countryside a safer place for all.”

Neighbourhood Sergeant Darren Walsh said: “By working together with the riding community, we can make criminals think twice, and deter and detect crime.”

Berks, Bucks and Oxon NFU Chairman Jeff Powell said: “Rural Spotters on horseback will be well placed to report any unusual or suspicious behaviour in the Buckinghamshire countryside and then log this anonymously through the NFU’s Rural Crime Reporting Line, run in partnership with Crimestoppers.”

For more details, see the Chiltern Community Forum.

 

Museum reopens for 2019

The Chiltern Open Air Museum reopens for the 2019 season this weekend with a living history event focused around World War I.

On Saturday, the museum marks English Tourism Week by officially opening its completed WWI Nissen hut to the public.

Over the weekend. costumed re-enactors will show the Tommies would relax on the home front and what weapons and kit they used when fighting.

Nurse and chaplain re-enactors will demonstrate how they supported the troops on the front line and back home.

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Visitors can take part in a poppy trail and dress up in WWI officer and nurse costumes.

On Saturday, there will also be the opportunity to chat to the museum team about educational visits, group visits, experience days, weddings and events at the Museum.

The event is part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project to rebuild a WWI Nissen hut on the site to commemorate WWI in the Chilterns and to tell the stories of local war heroes.

The museum is open from 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday and entry this weekend is by donation.

For more detail about the work of the museum see our History In The Making feature or visit the museum’s website.

Pupils call for climate change action

THOUSANDS of pupils took to the streets across the UK yesterday in a national protest calling for action on climate change.

Defying criticism from head teachers and the prime minister, schoolchildren in more than 60 towns and cities took part in marches calling on the government to declare a climate emergency and take active steps to tackle the problem.

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Organisers Youth Strike 4 Climate said protests took place in more than 60 towns and cities, with an estimated 15,000 taking part.

Meetings took place outside town halls from Truro to Inverness and from Norwich to Ullapool, with the largest crowds converging on parliament in Westminster, at one point blocking Westminster Bridge.

The action was part of a wider global movement, Schools 4 Climate Action, which began when 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg skipped classes to sit outside government buildings, accusing her country of not following the Paris Climate Agreement.

The climate activist, who has Asperger’s. quickly became a global phenomenon, being invited to speak at the UN and the World Economic Forum at Davos, where she told world leaders: “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day – and then I want you to act.”

With more than 182,000 followers on Twitter Greta, now 16, has inspired thousands of other young people across the world to carry out similar protests, many of them with placards bearing slogans such as “There is no planet B”.

Students participating in yesterday’s day of protest in the UK demanded that the Government communicate the severity of the ecological crisis to the public and reform the curriculum to make it an educational priority.

Anna Taylor, 17, of UK Student Climate Network, said: “We’re running out of time for meaningful change, and that’s why we’re seeing young people around the world rising up to hold their governments to account on their dismal climate records.

“Unless we take positive action, the future’s looking bleak for those of us that have grown up in an era defined by climate change.”

In a TV interview she said: “I feel very disappointed that 15,000 students had to walk out of school today. We feel deeply betrayed by past generations and past governments.”

The campaign has also received celebrity backing.

On Twitter, TV presenter Chris Packham wrote: “Across the planet we have elected a confederacy of idiots obsessed with short term greed.

“Well today a bunch of children and young people are going to show them up. Bloody marvellous isn’t it!”

Theresa May was attacked by Labour politicians after saying that those taking part in the strike were “wasting lesson time”. And activist Greta Thurnberg responded on Twitter: “That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”

Other young activists promoting the strike included 17-year-old wildlife ambassador Bella Lack and 14-year-old Dara McAnulty from Northern Ireland, an autistic naturalist and conservationist who demanded that governments declared our time “an ecological emergency”.

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The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said that while it supported the rights of young people to express themselves, it did not condone students being out of the classroom to take action.

But writing in the Huffington Post, Caroline Lucas, the MP for Brighton Pavilion and former leader and co-leader of The Green Party, said: “Our children recognise that they are living through a climate emergency. They are striking today because they know we cannot carry on as normal.

“There have been some who have questioned today’s strike – asking if climate change is enough of an ‘exceptional circumstance’ for children to miss lessons. But if the threat of civilisational collapse and the possibility of the end of life on Earth as we know it is not an exceptional circumstance, then I don’t know what it is.

“We’re already feeling the effects of climate breakdown. Nature and wildlife populations are at tipping points. Wildfires and droughts are becoming increasingly common.

“And in October last year, the United Nations warned that we have only 12 years left to transform our global economy and prevent catastrophe.”

She said young people were issuing a wake-up call and showing “courage and leadership where the adults in charge show none”.

Her message was echoed after the protest by Chris Packham, who Tweeted: “Day 1 – superb . And authority responded predictably – from headmasters to government . Never trust – always question them, be peaceful but forceful, rational and informed . The future is yours not theirs. Seize it.”

And energy minister Claire Perry said she was “incredibly proud” of young people’s passion and concern.

She told the BBC: “I suspect if this was happening 40 years ago, I would be out there too.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said schoolchildren were “right to feel let down by the generation before them” and said it was “inspiring” to see them making their voice heard.

 

 

 

Icy venue gets a warm welcome

MORE than 2.5m tuned into the first night of BBC2’s four-part Winterwatch series this week, the best viewing figures for a couple of years.

And although some continued to lament the absence of Martin Hughes-Games, the move to the Cairngorms appeared to prove a big hit with presenters and viewers alike.

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Veteran TV buddies Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan were joined by the affable Welsh naturalist Iolo Williams, 56, as well as biologist Gillian Burke, 42, who has been a regular presenter on the show for the past two years.

While some critics took to social media to say how much they missed Hughes-Games, with some arguing the show should have honoured his departure officially, the stunning snow-covered venue won plenty of praise.

Highlights included sleepy pine martens, superbly camouflaged ptarmigans and a moving interview between Chris Packham and Bird Therapy author Joe Harkness about the mental health benefits of bird-watching.

The Cairngorms National Park is  the new, year-round home for The Watches, with this week’s show exploring how local wildlife adapts to get through the tough winter.

The presenters will then return to their new base  throughout the year to cover the changing seasons, keep up with some of the key year-round residents and meet the seasonal arrivals as they flock to the wild landscape in spring and summer.

Home base is at the Dell of Abernethy, a lodge built in 1780 sitting on the edge of the Abernethy Caledonian pine forest and perfectly placed to link viewers to the whole of the Cairngorms.

From here, the team can showcase the whole region, seeking out the wildlife that thrives in this challenging habitat and looking at the people and projects working to conserve it, including the UK’s largest landscape-scale conservation project, Cairngorms Connect.

As ever, the programme reflects wildlife issues and spectacles across the UK in a series of pre-recorded films showcasing the diversity of habitats and species that make this group of islands a truly unique place for wildlife.

All the presenters spoke of their enthusiasm for the new base before the show and have taken to social media regularly to sing its praises.

Michaela Strachan said: “The Highlands have a wonderful diversity of wildlife and habitats. It’s one of those places in the UK where you can really connect with the natural environment.”

Scotland’s national tourist organisation, Visit Scotland, and RSPB Scotland have both been delighted by way the programme has highlighted the scenic and wildlife attractions of the Cairngorms, with some local papers predicting the show will prompt a tourism boost.

The Watches are produced by BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit.

 

Model village reopens for business

THE miniature world of Bekonscot reopens to the public next month, with some craft activities to keep youngsters busy during half-term week.

The 2019 season is a special one for Beaconsfield’s timeless tourist attraction because this August marks 90 years since Roland Callingham welcomed the first visitors to the model village and railway he built in his garden.

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There will be special celebrations in the summer to mark the event, but in the meantime the doors reopen at 10am on Saturday February 16  ready for the half-term holiday.

Special attractions include a chance for youngsters to make their own fridge magnets to take home on Monday, and a 45-minute workshop on Thursday where children can help to recreate one of Bekonscot’s animated models.

The model village actually comprises six little towns stuck in a 1930s timewarp with more than 200 buildings, 3,000 animals and features ranging from coal mines to great castles, aerodromes to farms, docks to cable cars, racecourses to escaped convicts!

Latest attractions include new models based on local businesses as they would have looked in the 1930s and a range of interactive activities for younger visitors in the EdShed, as the education centre has been re-branded.

Keep an eye on our What’s On pages for details of forthcoming attractions – and find out more about the tiny world of Bekonscot here.

 

Chilly new year for Winterwatch

WINTERWATCH will return to BBC Two next year, broadcasting live from a new location in the wildest landscape of the UK – the Cairngorms National Park – which is to be the new, year-round home for The Watches.

SPRINGWATCHPresenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan and Gillian Burke will host the wildlife extravaganza, kicking off the year in the depths of winter in one of the toughest places in the country for our animals.

The freezing temperatures and blanket of snow make this an extreme environment to call home, and the team will explore how the local wildlife adapts to get through this toughest of seasons.

Winterwatch will only be the start though, as The Watches will come back throughout the year to cover the changing seasons in Springwatch and Autumnwatch, keeping up with some of the key year-round residents such as golden and white-tailed eagles, red squirrels and pine martens, as well as meeting the seasonal arrivals as they flock to this wild landscape in spring and summer.

By staying for a full year, the team will get to know the area like never before, exploring the snow-capped mountains, ancient forests, raging rivers and deep, silent lochs in intimate detail. The Cairngorms are home to some of the most revered and rare wildlife in the UK – and The Watches will follow that life as the seasons change, unravelling exactly what it takes to survive in this great Scottish wilderness.

The Winterwatch studio will be based at The Dell of Abernethy, a lodge built in 1780 which sits on the edge of the Abernethy Caledonian pine forest and is perfectly placed to link viewers to the whole of the Cairngorms. From here, the team will be able to showcase the whole region, seeking out the wildlife that thrives in this challenging habitat, and looking at the people and projects working to conserve it; including the UK’s largest landscape-scale conservation project, Cairngorms Connect.

As ever, the Watches will also reflect the wildlife issues and spectacles across the UK in a series of pre-recorded films for each series – showcasing the diversity of habitats and species that make this group of islands a truly unique place for wildlife.

Michaela Strachan said: “I’m so excited to be going to the Cairngorms for Winterwatch. It’s such a stunning place. Full of wildlife, dramatic, wild and very, very cold! The wildlife always delivers from Golden Eagles to Mountain Hares, Wild Cats to Black Grouse, Ptarmigan, Pine Marten, Red Squirrel, Water Vole, Otter. The Highlands have a wonderful diversity of wildlife and habitats. It’s one of those places in the UK where you can really connect with the natural environment.”

Chris Packham said: “Scotland – land of the brave, home of the wild and hope for the UK’s wildlife. This is the happening zone in conservation and home to the most amazing diversity of sexy species. I can’t wait.”

Winterwatch will return to BBC Two in January 2019. The Watches are produced by the BBC Studios’ Natural History Unit.

Get tough on the waste cowboys!

TOUGHER penalties and stronger investigatory powers should be adopted by the government to clamp down on rogue waste operators, an independent review has warned.

The cost of waste crime to the English economy rocketed to £600m in 2015 and the review, ordered by environment secretary Michael Gove, concluded that compulsory electronic tracking of waste could help clamp down on illegal movements of waste at home and abroad.

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Welcoming the findings, Mr Gove said: “The threat to society from waste crime is real. Criminals are running illegal waste sites as a cover for theft, human trafficking, drug running and money laundering. It is costing our economy millions of pounds each year, and blighting our communities. I welcome today’s review. We are committed to clamping down on these unscrupulous groups and we will set out our next steps in our forthcoming Resources and Waste Strategy.”

Other recommendations include:

  • A Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC) led by the Environment Agency with the police, crime commissioners, HMRC and waste industry representatives working together to tackle the most serious cases;
  • a national database of registered waste brokers to make it harder for unscrupulous operators to do businesses.

Lizzie Noel who chaired the review said: “Our intention must be to give the criminals responsible real cause to fear the consequences of their actions.”

Between 2011 and 2017, the Environment Agency stopped the operation of more than 5,400 illegal waste sites.

Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, said: “Serious waste crime is the new narcotics – it damages the environment and harms local communities.

“In the last year, the Environment Agency has closed down over 800 illegal waste sites and brought almost 100 successful waste crime prosecutions. But there is still more to be done. This report represents an opportunity to ensure we have the right powers, resources and coordination to win this fight.”

The review builds on recent government measures to tackle waste crime, including new powers for the Environment Agency to lock the gates to problem waste sites to prevent waste illegally building up and powers to force operators to clear all the waste at problem sites.

Examples of recent prosecutions for waste crimes include arrests made earlier this year in London for fraud and money laundering offences across the country, and enforcement action taken in April 2017 after the illegal dumping of 20,000 tonnes of waste at 17 sites across the Midlands, North West and North East.

For more information see the full review.

Get snapping to win a prize

WHAT does the Chilterns mean to you?

Budding landscape and wildlife photographers of all ages are being invited to answer that question in pictorial form for a new competition being launched this month by the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

IMG_0281The competition is intended to highlight the importance of getting out and about and to encourage participants to celebrate the beauty and enjoyment of the area.

Images can be of anything from a landscape to a building, community event or wildlife, but there are prizes in two categories, for those over 16 years and those under.

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Prizes donated by local businesses include a framed copy of the winning image courtesy of Pretty Like Pictures Framing Studio in Thame, an exclusive 50-minute ride with the driver on a diesel engine offering a unique photo opportunity courtesy of Chiltern and Princes Risborough Railway or a Tree Top experience for four at Go Ape.

Finalists will be selected by an in-house judging panel and short-listed photos will be displayed on an online poll where the public will be able to vote for their favourite. To take part, click on the link above.

Thousands rally for wildlife

THOUSANDS of people braved the September drizzle to join Chris Packham on a march to Whitehall calling on the government to take radical action to help reverse the decline of British wildlife.

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Protesters from around the country included families, friends and groups from organisations ranging from Friends of the Earth to local Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust.

As crowds gathered in Hyde Park, TV presenters like Lucy Cooke and Iolo Williams joined Packham and musician Billy Bragg to talk about the need for concerted action to reverse the decline of UK species – and avert their potential extinction.

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Industrialisation, urbanisation and over-exploitation were blamed for some of the most dramatic statistics, with changes in farming practices contributing to the loss of flower-rich meadows and millions of farmland birds.

With some walkers dressed as bees, birds, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs, protesters set out to deliver the “People’s manifesto” to Downing Street calling for an end to the “war on wildlife”.

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Describing the statistics as “horrifying, depressing and disastrous” the manifesto made a series of recommendations, including twinning primary schools with farms to help children understand how food is produced, banning driven grouse shooting, making it illegal to dredge for scallops and stopping Scottish seal culling.

“It’s time to wake up,” said Packham. “We are presiding over an ecological apocalypse and precipitating a mass extinction in our own backyard. But – vitally – it is not too late. There is hope we can hold to, and there is action we can take.”

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The People’s Walk departed for Westminster to the tune of digital birdsong reverberating through the streets of London from hundreds of smartphones.

The manifesto booklet includes a series of essays from 18 “ministers” highlighting some of the most critical concerns affecting the British landscape matched with specific proposals of ways which if implemented, would directly benefit the nation’s wildlife.

Contributors include authors, journalists, environmentalists and campaigners like Dr Mark Avery, Patrick Barkham, Kate Bradbury, Dr Robert Macfarlane and George Monbiot.

 

Danny lambasts litter apathy

THE Kent businessman who invented a pioneering new app to tackle the country’s litter crisis admits it’s been a long, uphill struggle to get people to take his idea seriously.

Launched in a blaze of publicity back in 2015, the idea was a simple one, as Danny Lucas explains: “I decided to tackle the UK litter crisis in a way that had never been done before.

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“As a child of the 70s I remembered public information films at school and Keep Britain Tidy logos on every crisp packet and sweet wrapper.

“Whilst that worked back then, it was clear that it had no effect today and I knew a new approach was needed.”

His solution was a simple, free app for smartphone users that allows individuals to tip off their local council with information about litter, dog fouling and fly-tipping. It was accompanied by a two-minute animated education film that could be shown to the kids at school assembly.

By August 2016 Danny was picking up an environmental champions award from the Mayor of Tonbridge in recognition of the contribution LitterGram had had on improving conditions in the borough.

But although he tries to remain positive, two years on he is the first to admit that the scheme hasn’t grown the way he had hoped when he first wrote about the idea of making “hating litter cool” and getting all of the UK’s 433 local councils involved.

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“Councils are just not interested,” he says. “Behind closed doors they see us as a pain in the arse.”

Having invested £300,000 of his own money in the project, it’s clear that the lukewarm response has been the source of considerable anger and frustration. As the boss of a multi-million pound business in the construction industry, employing hundreds of staff, this is a man who’s clearly accustomed to getting things done.

The company he owns is the same family-run business he joined as a teenager of 15, and for most of his life he has lived in Kent– the so-called ‘Garden of England’.

“I am proud to be British however when I look around Britain I can’t see what’s great about it any more. Littering has increased by 500% since the 1960s and 48% of the population admit to dropping litter.

“We now spend £1bn per year tackling the problem which clearly does nothing as we are now officially the third most littered nation globally behind countries in the developing world.”

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“This is a shocking statistic and purely down to a lack of education and awareness. This has in turn created a culture and attitude across the UK of not caring and has affected the very authorities whose duty it is to maintain standards and set examples. Effectively they now broadcast a message that says “we don’t care” and this fuels the problem.”

Danny was disappointed to find that relatively few head teachers were keen to take up the baton, some insisting that it was parents’ job to teach children about such matters.

Coupled with poor enforcement in many areas of the country, the apathy means that many people become “litter blind”, he believes – because the country is being so trashed and neglected that this is becoming the norm.

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Not all council clear-up teams are as efficient as they could be, he believes. That is another waste of money and a cause for complacency, particularly if councils really don’t want to be told about the scale of the problem.

“Councils have to set standards but no one really cares,” he says. “I saw it as a great way to get the kids on board and I thought councils would embrace it.”

The LitterGram Live message of “Snap It. Share It. Sort It” was envisaged as a dynamic and fast-changing service which would include details of the most littered brands, the most active users and the most responsive councils, with enthusiastic litter spotters able to keep up with latest developments on Twitter @LitterGram.

But it hasn’t quite gone according to plan – even though there are dozens of litter-picking groups up and down the country doing their bit to help, and millions of nature and animal lovers doing their bit to highlight the scale of the crisis.

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There’s been plenty of publicity in the press and on TV and radio, but that has not translated into LitterGram becoming the “fifth emergency service” as Danny might have wished.

Perhaps even more radical solutions are needed? “Take it off the councils. You could halve the costs and keep Britain spotless,” says Danny. And he’s not exactly joking. But nor is he despondent that the battle has been lost.

“I get phoned up all the time about it, so we are obviously getting the attention of a lot of people,” he says. “One way or another we will get there. The problem is now an epidemic that has a grip on the nation like cancer. If nothing is done, the problem will worsen and our children and their children will be swimming in filth.”

It’s an apocalyptic warning, but even a cursory glance along the average English roadside is enough to demonstrate that this is not empty rhetoric. The problem is there for all to see – and while LitterGram may not have become the quick-fix solution Danny Lucas might have wished for, you get the impression this is one campaigner who isn’t giving up the fight just yet.