Now that the Friends of the Earth yearly campaigning get-together at BASECAMP is looming, at which, for the second year running, our group has been nominated in the Earthmovers Group of the Year category, I thought it might be a good idea to look back and wee how far we have come as a group in the 15 months since our group started, especially as our first AGM is due any day now.
We have, of course, thrown ourselves into some of the national Friends of the Earth campaigns, but we have been especially busy, and especially successful, with the Bee Cause campaign, famously having persuaded Eastbourne Borough Council to adopt the Bee Cause fully by adopting bee-friendly planting policies throughout all its parks and gardens. This has received much notice nationally, and has become a case study for other councils to learn from, and I know from my personal attendance at the recent Bee Summit held by Friends of the Earth in London that what has happened in Eastbourne has been warmly appreciated and has helped to shape the national agenda, one that has received a significant boost when the Minister from DEFRA, Lord de Mauley, announced at the Bee Summit that the government will now push ahead with urgency to create and implement a National Pollinator Strategy (a National Bee Action Plan in all but name). But, of course, the Bee Cause campaign goes on, and the work of raising awareness of the plight of British bees is ever more important, which is where our fabulously successful series of Bee Walks in various parks in Eastbourne over the last year have come in. Apart from being fantastically well-attended, the Bee Walks have allowed us to form strong links to local community groups, talk to local councillors, and publicise our group more generally, as well as being very enjoyable campaigning activities in their own right. The feedback from local residents about the value of the Bee Walks has been overwhelmingly favourable, so I’m sure we will be invited to do s few more Bee Walks in the year ahead! We were also successful in persuading the Eastbourne MP, Stephen Lloyd, to give his full support for the Bee Cause, and I know he has been unstinting in his support within Parliament for the Bee Cause, a fact I was able to verify for myself when I met Stephen Lloyd at Parliament during a briefing Friends of the Earth put on recently for all MPs about the Bee Cause.
The Bee Cause ccampaign openeed many doors for us with Eastbourne council, which invited us onto its Community Environment Partnership Eastbourne (CEPE), and on this we helped shape the new Environment Strategy for the next five years. This strategy includes our suggestion that Eastbourne should start creating new community orchards, and our group is now actively facilitating the emergence of the new Eastbourne Community Orchards (ECO) group, which is shaping up to be another lasting legacy of the Bee Cause campaign, not only creating new Bee Worlds, but also helping to strengthen Eastbourne’s food security as well as creating greater biodiversity generally and providing more pleasant environments (and healthy fruit!) for local people to enjoy.
What has been a harder campaign has been the Clean British Energy one, which involved us throwing our energies in trying to support the local wind farm application at Shepham Lane, Polegate. We succeeded in gaining lots of media attention and were backed up well by Friends of the Earth staff, but despite all our efforts – and some in our group put huge amounts of effort in – the wind farm application was finally turned down by Wealden District Council. But this defeat should be set in the context of the very significant increase in wind power throughout the country, a trend very strongly supported by a majority of the British public in poll after poll. Wind energy is winning the argument globally and helping to make the switch to clean renewable energy that the world desperately needs if it is to wean itself off the fossil fuels that are doing so much damage to the climate stability that has allowed humanity to flourish over the last few thousand years. As part of the Clean British Energy campaign, we were very busy lobbying local MPs to support the insertion of a 2030 decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill.
All this activity has helped us grow the group significantly over the year, and helped us build up our campaigning skills, as well as brought us all closer together as a group. All our campaign stalls throughout the year have been very well supported by our volunteers, and the various film nights we have put on at the local town hall have been very well attended and again well supported by our volunteers. Many in our group have written many letters to the local press about our campaigns and various environmental issues, and signed many petitions themselves as well as working hard to persuade others to sign them too. We have also taken part in the Eastbourne Sunshine Carnival parade for two years running, which has boosted our local presence, especially given the large number of people who watch this carnival. We are unquestionably beginning to create a strong presence in our local area and are in strong shape for whatever campaigning we do in the year ahead. I wish to thank all those in our group that have helped us to get this far and for their support for me personally. I can honestly say that working for our group has been enormously pleasurable and rewarding and I have nothing but praise and respect for the work Friends of the Earth do on a national level, and the head office staff have been unfailingly supportive to our group.
One of those campaigns looks set to be an attempt to help stop the fracking for shale gas which looks set to start up in Sussex in earnest. Our group has quietly been making links with many of the other groups in Sussex campaigning against shale gas extraction, which is unconventional (dangerously so), unwanted (especially by those Sussex residents affected), and unnecessary (we have plenty of renewable energies we can invest in anyway). Our group has been engaging in a discussion with Stephen Lloyd, MP for Eastbourne, about this and he has been listening sympathetically to our concerns on fracking, so hopefully we will be able to count on his support in our efforts to prevent this new industry from damaging the water, air, and soils of the Sussex countryside we all love.