growing food in a changing climate: a forest garden view

The impacts of climate change are becoming ever clearer and more damaging as the years go by. One of the most significant impacts is on the way we grow food. As climate scientists predicted, UK winters are becoming warmer and wetter, and last winter was no exception, resulting in significant crop losses for UK farmers. It also resulted in greater difficulties for local growers in the Eastbourne area, such as smallholders, allotment holders, community gardens, etc, especially as intense rainfall events led to flooding issues on many growing spaces, followed by weeks of very sodden ground that made any work very challenging. The need for growers to adapt to a rapidly changing climate is becoming ever more acute.

in response, the Eastbourne Eco Action Network has begun a collaboration with the Eastbourne Food Partnership, supported by the Blue Heart project, to survey the ways in which local growers are responding to the challenges of growing food despite the impacts of climate change and investigate how such growers can be better supported in their climate adaptation efforts.

One such local growing project is the Pevensey & Westham Community Forest Garden, which has been running for the last 8 years, planting many fruit and nut trees and bushes on land that had fallen out of active management for many years, becoming an unkempt and overgrown scrub and woodland in the process. The volunteers that run the forest garden report that they have not experienced any significant drop in fruit and nut production even during intense heatwaves or periods of intense rainfall, primarily because:

  • the site is very well-drained, being in the Pevensey Levels where the extensive network of deep and wide drainage channels is carefully monitored to ensure water levels in the channels are kept at stable levels with no flooding onto adjacent land (the Langney Sewer runs alongside the forest garden but has never flooded onto it).
  • the site is protected by shading from an extensive tree canopy that keeps the forest garden cool enough during heatwaves, reduces water evaporation from the soil and ground cover, and protects young plants against strong winds during winter storms.
community orchard site next to Pevensey Castle

The forest garden volunteers point out that, by contrast, a community orchard they have been developing in the last few years on an exposed site next to Pevensey Castle, a short distance away from the forest garden, did suffer a big drop in fruit production in 2022 during the intense summer heatwave that resulted in the UK reaching a temperature of 40 degrees C for the first time ever. The relative lack of tree cover for the orchard, compared to the forest garden, meant that the young fruit trees did not have enough shade, putting them under great stress.

rainwater butts at side of forest garden tool shed

However, the main issue for the forest garden is the lack of any mains water on site, which means that in intense heatwaves and periods of prolonged drought there is no supply of water readily available for any watering needs. This has necessitated the volunteers setting up many water butts and rainwater cisterns on site to capture and store as much rainwater as possible. Rainwater conservation is sure to become ever more important for all growers and gardeners as time goes by, especially as fresh water is generally becoming an ever more scare, and more costly, resource in the water-stressed south-east of England.

Forest gardening is therefore one way in which food growing can be adapted to changing climate conditions. But other local food growing enterprises and communities will be visited over the course of the next few months to discover how they try and  cope with the challenges of climate change and what kinds of help they may need to cope better.

supercharging carbon neutrality through symposia

 

The recent Carbon Neutrality Symposium organised by the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC (EEAN CIC) held at Eastbourne Town Hall on Saturday 20th April 2024 is hopefully the start of a regular series of annual symposia to review and reinvigorate the drive towards a carbon neutral Eastbourne by 2030, as mandated by Eastbourne Borough Council’s Climate Emergency Declaration of July 2019.

The Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) Climate Lead, Councillor James Murray, opened the proceedings and made the point that EBC’s performance on its Climate Emergency Strategy could be usefully compared with other similar councils through the Climate Emergency UK scorecards.

These scorecards, completed for every single UK council, is a mine of useful, granular data about how councils are doing on climate action and a very useful source for EBC to use for its proposed review and refresh of its Climate Emergency Strategy, which will be updated by the end of 2024.

Kate Richardson, Sustainability Lead Officer for EBC, gave a short presentation on where Eastbourne as a borough currently is with regards to carbon neutrality and what the challenges are for the town in reaching that target by 2030. The main challenge is to speed up the borough-wide carbon emissions reduction from its present 6% or 7% reduction per year to more than 12% per year if Eastbourne is to meet its fair share of keeping global carbon reductions to no more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade as mandated by the UN IPCC COP21 Paris Agreement of 2015.

The keynote speaker for the day was Richard Garland from Gradient Consultants, an Eastbourne-based business. His inspirational speech and slideshow  presentation demonstrated the kind of example on sustainability, climate action, and Net Zero that all Eastbourne businesses could follow, and will need to follow eventually in any case, as more Net Zero legislation is applied to a wider range of businesses in the next few years in order to help meet the UK’s legally binding commitment under the Climate Change Act to achieve Net Zero by 2050. As Richard said, “As a business we are de-risking the need to meet current and future compliance requirements within our industry, and we are acknowledging the opportunities of the low carbon transition- the green economy”.

The results of the Carbon Neutral survey by the EEAN CIC were presented by Jill Shacklock, one of the directors of the EEAN CIC. The survey was very much a pilot study that will help inform a subsequent revised and enlarged survey later on. But the initial data reveals how some early wins can be made in advancing carbon neutrality in Eastbourne right now. For example, many people don’t know what the current Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating on their property is or how to find out what it is. The government has a website that gives the EPC rating for all UK properties that have one, and each rating includes info about what measures could be taken to improve the EPC rating.

Andrew Durling, a director of the EEAN CIC, gave a very brief introduction to two digital tools that can help local residents and organisations to both discover their carbon footprints and ways to reduce them significantly through simple, practical actions that can be taken right now. The first was Giki Zero and the second was small99. Both tools are free, and were presented as particularly user-friendly and easy to use. Giki Zero allows people to quickly find out their carbon footprint and then select actions which can help reduce it, each selection automatically recalculating the footprint to demonstrate progress towards the 2030 global average target for all citizens.

Small99 is particularly useful for small businesses and organisations of any kind that have little time and resources to devote to in-depth Net Zero action planning. Such planning will need to be demonstrated by all organisations, especially businesses (as Richard Garland’s keynote speech emphasised), over the coming years if they wish to maximise their chances of both complying with Net Zero legislation and in securing more business or funding from other organisations already in compliance with such legislation.

Breakout groups throughout the event allowed for networking and sharing of ideas about how Eastbourne’s carbon neutrality strategy could be improved.

Carbon offsetting is an important aspect of carbon neutrality, and one of Eastbourne’s major carbon offsetting and carbon sequestration schemes was developed by the Eastbourne United Nations Association, which had an information stall during the Symposium. This scheme is entirely administered by volunteers and many local organisations have made donations to it, including EBC.

A full overview of all the actions and initiative currently being undertaken or planned in Eastbourne to further the town’s carbon neutrality strategy can be seen on the One Planet Eastbourne community ecosystem platform developed by the EEAN CIC in collaboration with OnePlanet.

Interestingly, the recent local elections held on May 4th can be seen as a triumph for those candidates that campaigned for cleaner air, better active travel/public transport, and faster climate action. As Chris Skidmore, the UK government’s former Net Zero tsar, said, “These elections have shown pro-environment parties and mayors who made net zero central to their campaigns made significant gains”. The Eastbourne Carbon Neutrality 2030 campaign is unanimously supported by all borough councillors, and has popular support amongst the town’s residents, as the recent well-attended Carbon Neutrality Symposium, and the many other events mounted, or supported by, the Eastbourne Eco Action Network indicates.

Making business a force for good

At our recent Carbon Neutrality Symposium held at Eastbourne Town hall on 20th April, our keynote speaker, Richard Garland, a prominent local business owner, gave an inspirational talk about how local businesses can make a very significant contribution towards Eastbourne becoming a truly Carbon Neutral town by 2030. Below is an abridged version of his speech:

 Good afternoon, everyone. I am Richard Garland, and amongst other things I am co-founder of Gradient Consultants. We are chartered surveyors, project managers and compliance consultants, based here in town since 2004. Some of our projects you may be familiar with include the Fishing Quay development on Sovereign Harbour, Costa Drive-thru on Hampden Retail Park and the affordable rental flats in Southfields Road. In 2020 we certified as a B-Corp, the first independent company in Eastbourne and one of the first UK built environment professional firms to do so. B-Corp is a global movement transforming the economy to benefit ALL – people, communities and the planet. We still have to make a profit but the way we go about it isn’t about making profit at any cost – everyone has to benefit along the way. 

Our purpose is our commitment to making a positive impact on the world. As a certified B-Corp, our values are deeply rooted in sustainability, social responsibility, and ethical business practices. We believe what we do in the next 7 years leading up to 2030 really matters and now is the time to act, with our industry being responsible for over 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions. We consider ourselves carbon neutral through our support of Ecologi. Ecologi®  have achieved the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and have been our offsetting partner for a number of years. We currently offset the business and personal emissions for all our people . We support tree planting and ecological schemes across the world. In the last 3 years we have offset 138 tonnes of carbon, planting over 2000 trees, and supported global sustainable projects. Our goal is to retain this off- setting, regardless of emissions reduction , but bring it closer to home, which we have already started to do by supporting planting on the Eastbourne escarpment. But we want to go further…

In 2022 we decided to set our ambitions on Net-Zero by 2030. We recognised that at some point in the not too distant future Net Zero will be the new carbon neutrality, so we wanted to be ahead of that journey. We started looking at data collection. I cannot begin to tell you how many articles on how to measure, what to measure, and when to measure from, we read – and at one point we got analysis paralysis – just stuck! And it took a friend to simply say stop thinking and just do something, anything – even if it is simply to walk to work and then make that your first action! This was a bit of a light bulb moment and as long as we could evidence a robust source of data it was worth doing something positive, rather than worrying over the how! We looked and celebrated what we were already doing, which included recycling pretty much everything, making sure our unwanted IT equipment and furniture goes into the circular economy, and pushing our clients to install bee bricks, swift boxes and fruit trees onto their development sites. 

Calculating our Scope 1 and 2 emissions was relatively straightforward for us as a professional services business so I won’t dwell too much on it- the biggest change is the utility companies will help you with this so it is much easier to deal with. In conjunction with our landlord we now have an office that has solar panels, LED lighting, infra-red heating panels, additional roof insulation and film on the windows to reduce solar gain. As for the dreaded Scope 3 emissions, for a firm such as ours this is where the majority of our emissions lurk and a challenging area for organisations in terms of data collection and carbon reduction initiatives. From travel to water to the things we buy, the list was long but eventually we agreed a more manageable list of priority measures, assisted by Small99. Our Pathway to Net Zero covers short and longer term planned activities to reduce our business ‘and personal’ GHG emissions, as well as push for a greater reduction in the emissions of the projects and services we advise on and can influence. At the last count there were 50 + ideas and actions. The priority ones get a champion, an estimated date for achievement and the emission saving impact. As a result we now use local suppliers as a priority. Local sourcing helps us reduce our carbon footprint and supports our community and local economy. We specify nature based materials, including hemp, lime and we now specify Graphenstone paint for all our projects. This paint absorbs CO2, removes pollutants to purify the air and as a mineral based paint it contains no microplastics. We hold our business event at venues close to a train station to encourage guests to make sustainable travel choices.

And we waved goodbye to our computer server in October last year, which was no longer needed since moving to the cloud as one of our reduction actions. The server had been running continuously for 6 years and by retiring the server we are saving 118 kgCO2e per year. The biggest impact on the list we are currently addressing is banking and pensions. Moving these financial instruments has the potential to have the greatest impact of all – a sustainable pension is 21 times more powerful than giving up flying, becoming vegetarian and switching to renewable energy.  Our goal is to make a 10% CO2e reduction year on year from 2024 to 2030. This will have reduced our overall emissions by 70% by 2030. With the Scope 1 and 2 emissions reduction prior to 2023 we believe we can achieve the necessary reduction in emissions to at least try and hit Net Zero by 2030.

So why do this, what and who benefits? B-Corp gave us ‘a legal high, we started to see ourselves as activists and ethical leaders. For us it is a climate justice choice . As a business we are de-risking the need to meet current and future compliance requirements within our industry , and we are acknowledging the opportunities of the low carbon transition – the green economy. For example, retrofitting the UK’s existing building stocks, measuring the Whole Life Carbon costs on construction projects, and the impact of Net Zero building standards, are all opportunities for sustainable growth and meeting future Department for Energy Security and Net Zero targets. Clients need us to have taken action because their funders (banks, pension funds, government) will be demanding it of them. We are influencing our supply chain to take action before they require it of us and we are offering to assist them with that change – openness, sharing ideas and transparency will make the journey go quicker! And to close, my advice to anyone at the beginning or on this journey is: do not over-strategise and get stuck in the data. Imagine if we did nothing and just talked about it? Look at what you have done so far, celebrate it and then take another step on your journey – be a force for good whatever you do!

We are grateful to Richard for kindly making available a full transcript of his speech, as well as the slideshow to accompany it.

Suncoast Solar Farm Planning Application (ref.230800): setting the context

 

This guest blog is from Miles Berkley, who was one of the co-founders of the Eastbourne ECO Action Network CIC, and is a Director of TechResort CIC which works from its base in Devonshire Ward helping to tackle digital exclusion, here and across East Sussex. He’s also a member of the multi-agency Lewes District Cost of Living Partners Action Group, and is a subscribing member of Friends of the Earth.

aerial view of proposed solar farm in Eastbourne Park

Setting The Context:

Friends of the Earth notes the need to increase at a minimum the amount of locally generated renewable energy in Eastbourne from  about 4.8 GWh currently to 28GWh i.e. 5.8 times present levels (UK Climate Change Committee). In fact, Friends of the Earth recommends we go further to reach 56.1 GWh. For more details, look here:  https://groups.friendsoftheearth.uk/near-you/local-authority/eastbourne#energy

The Eastbourne Borough Council Carbon Neutral Annual Report (Dec 2023) reveals that the town’s emissions in 2021 rose 6% from 2020 levels to 277.4 ktCO2e, the main source of which is domestic buildings, closely followed by transport. Eastbourne Borough Council has pledged to achieve a carbon neutral town by 2030, which the Tyndall Centre at the University of Manchester states that it requires an overall reduction of emissions by 12.3% per year – which is not being achieved.

We are experiencing the destabilising effects of accelerating global warming with more extreme weather events: storms, flooding, heatwaves, wildfires – all devastating the habitats of every species. We need to rapidly scale up action to decarbonise our energy sources, moving away from fossil fuels, as well as improving the UK’s national energy security.

Biodiversity Net Gain – improvements needed.

The present proposal presents a Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) of between 24-29% based on the creation of new habitats and water courses, plus the addition of 11.51 new hedgerow units.

In comparison, another similar sized local development of 17MW (compared to 20MW for Suncoast) achieved a 243% net gain in habitat areas, and 104% in hedgerows. This, the Ouse Valley Solar Farm, is supported by Greenpeace.

The Cleve Hill Solar Farm (373MW) development on the North Kent Coast achieves a 65% BNG and is supported by Swale Friends of the Earth Group. The latter development achieved this by reducing the overall area covered by solar panels to 45.5% of the developable area, leaving the remaining arable land to be managed for biodiversity benefits.

The Berwick Solar Farm in Wealden has, for example, installed a Swift Tower, orchards, and thermosolar beehives.

The developers need engage the professional opinion, and support of, local ecologists to conduct further studies, to obtain detailed expertise regarding the site, and to help oversee the delivery of a far-reaching and rigorous biodiversity net gain management programme. Preferably, they could work with Sussex Wildlife Trust which advised the Berwick Solar Farm, and possibly Buglife, who also provide specialist advice to realising the biodiversity of solar developments.

This proposal should seek to improve the BNG target, either through reducing the density of solar panels on the existing developable area and/or including other areas within the proximity for biodiversity investment, as done at Cleve Hill.

Local Community Benefits – needs a clear, significant, and defined local gain.

The proposal indicates that a Community Benefit Fund may be created but falls short of specifying the financial contribution envisaged, or the process for managing this, and does not set out transparently the financial gains to the developer, or landowner (Chatsworth Estate/Duke of Devonshire).  

Suncoast state that the 20MW capacity can supply c6.400 homes. They use a metric of 2,900 kWh per home (slightly higher than the Ofgem average of 2,700 kWh consumption of electricity). The Energy Stats portal, which monitors the wholesale market price of energy, indicates the average price is currently around 10p per kWh – which if achieved would result in a minimum annual income to Suncoast of £1,856,000 annually, though market prices fluctuate e.g. prices have been twice or three times this level during the past 12 months, this could result in a turnover of c£4-6 million per annum. 

From this the developer would need to repay the capital costs, say £424,000 per annum (£16 million capital investment at 6% interest depreciated over the 40 years expected lifespan) less other costs such as network connection fees, business rates, maintenance and rent to the landowner. If the development achieved an average net margin of say c20% of turnover, this could result in a net profit somewhere between £360,000 -1,080,000 each year (depending on market prices)

This speculation goes to the heart of the difference of this type of commercial development compared to a community energy scheme where the financial profile is more transparent, and the community benefit better defined. It would be beneficial for Suncoast to share its financial forecasts.

Level Up our deprived parts of town in a targeted and direct way

This proposal needs to recognise the financial wealth historically extracted from Eastbourne by the Chatsworth Estate (valued at some £905 million) together with opportunity to “level up” those parts of the town which are most deprived, from the latest LSOA data i.e. these are Hampden Park, Langney, the northeast of town centre, Roselands, and Devonshire Ward.

Given the historical perspective, and depth of the local need I suggest that a minimum fund of £5,000-10,000 per MW annually is provided by Suncoast i.e. £100,000 -200,000 each year. With the fund to be administered by a board of local constituted third sector grassroots organisations directing the funds to tackle deprivation in all its manifestations (energy and food poverty, homelessness, digital exclusion, and other aspects of deprivation) in these areas. This would augment and better target the now much reduced Eastbourne Borough Council Devolved Ward Budget Scheme.

 

Review of 2023: a personal perspective from our Executive Director

Another year has gone by, so time for a review of what the Eastbourne Eco Action Network (EEAN) has been up to in  2023, following on from the reviews of our activities in 2021 and 2022.

Logo for Sustainable Transport and active travel summit 2023. Includes green circle with Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 and a white cloud with C)2 and an arrow to indicate CO2 levels decreasing

The highlight of our year was undoubtedly our widely acclaimed Sustainable Transport & Active Travel Summit in November, which opened with a keynote speech from Chris Ralls, a member of the EcoTransport Group.  This summit brought together all the main players in the local transport sector to investigate ways of deepening collaboration on plans and actions to tackle Eastbourne’s notoriously chronic traffic congestion and pollution, as well as its over-dependence upon cars for travelling across town. Transport accounts for over 25% of the town’s carbon emissions, a proportion which has so far stubbornly refused to decline. The quality of presentations and workshops was very high, and together with the extensive networking evident during the summit, there is perhaps a good chance that the barriers to progress on local transport will finally be overcome, leading to more, better, safer walking and cycling infrastructure as well as more reliable bus services operating on dedicated bus lanes supported by more bus priority measures. The first opportunity to see such progress will come if the new Local Transport Plan 4 prepared by East Sussex County Council gets final approval and adequate funding for its implementation. You can comment on it now that it is open to public consultation until February 2024.

The One Planet Eastbourne online community ecosystem platform for mapping and tracking progress towards a more sustainable town was developed by the EEAN this year using the innovative OnePlanet app, designed to facilitate deeper collaboration between local organisations on climate actions and environmental initiatives. Extra grant funding has now been secured to significantly extend work on this platform and to help other local local groups to use the OnePlanet app.

The EEAN organised an Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 Gathering at the Town Hall in May, bringing together many of the local groups involved in helping to make the town Carbon Neutral by 2030. It was an excellent opportunity for those groups to give updates on their progress and to network with other local groups. Hopefully another such gathering can be organised in 2024.

The EEAN partnered up with Energise Sussex Coast to train up local volunteers to become Energy Champions, equipping them to run local energy projects such as giving basic energy advice to local residents and supporting local energy efficiency or clean energy initiatives of various kinds. The first event organised by the Eastbourne Energy Champions was a Business Community Energy Day in July at East Sussex College’s Green Training Hub in Hampden Park  The first cohort of Energy Champions have now completed their training, and more cohorts will be trained up in 2024.

Eastbourne Borough Council decided this year to fund a scheme for offsetting the carbon emissions of Airbourne 2023, by far the town’s biggest festival of the year. The council approached us for advice on which scheme to fund, and we advised that the best scheme would be one developed locally by the Eastbourne United Nations Association. This scheme, which has been running successfully for many years, channels donations from local organisations into supplying free tree saplings to local communities in Uganda, proving these communities with much needed biodiversity improvements as well as nutritious fruit and natural medicines. The amount of carbon sequestered by the scheme is much greater than any similarly-sized tree planting scheme in the UK because of the special nature of the trees planted and the very favourable climate of that part of equatorial Uganda where the tree are planted.

In October, Eastbourne Borough Council submitted plans to the South Downs National Park Authority for its proposed Black Robin Farm redevelopment, part of its government-funded Levelling Up project. If approved, this would trigger a significant investment in the Eastbourne Downland Estate, the biggest since the downland was saved by popular opposition from being sold off by the council in 2017. Comments on the plan can be made via the SDNPA planning portal. Much rides on how well the plans would protect and enhance the downland biodiversity as well as addressing how transport by visitors to the site by bus, walking and cycling can best be supported and encouraged. I and my fellow directors have submitted comments to the SDNPA about the plans.

In December, plans for a big solar farm in Eastbourne, the first ever, was submitted to Eastbourne Borough Council by a commercial developer. If approved, it will be sited in Eastbourne Park and will supposedly generate 20MW of electricity, equivalent to producing enough clean energy to power 6,400 homes per year. If approved, the solar farm would represent the single biggest increase in solar power within the town, adding to the solar power generated by the solar canopy installed this year by Eastbourne DGH over one of its car parks. Solar power is a key part of the clean energy transition and a key element in the national strategy of weaning the UK off its traditional reliance on fossil fuels for power generation. However, much rides on the quality of the solar farm’s proposals on protecting local biodiversity, and how much the local community would benefit from the project. I and my fellow directors gave advice to the developers on how that might best be achieved.

2023 was the hottest year in human history and 2024 looks set to be even  hotter when the current El Nino reaches its climax. No wonder 2023 was full of natural disasters worldwide such as severe floods, droughts and storms. Given that we may be entering the early stages of climate breakdown, there is a need for much more rapid progress not only towards a zero carbon Eastbourne, but also towards building a strong climate adaptation plan to prepare for the inevitable and damaging impacts of climate change upon Eastbourne, a low-lying coastal community that is very much in the front line of climate change, facing the rising seas and stronger storm surges of a rapidly warming world. Indeed, a key part of adapting to climate change is managing and improving our local sea defences. Which is why, in November, the Environment Agency released its list of options for maintaining and  improving the local sea defences from 2027 to 2037 and started a public consultation on them. The EEAN is represented on the agency’s Coastal Community Forum for Eastbourne and attended all of its meetings so far, giving feedback about what our network perceives as the key issues that need addressing.

Key to developing the effective climate adaptation plan we need is the development of a strong and resilient local food system that supports local food growing initiatives and provides equitable access to healthy, locally grown or locally sourced food. Fortunately, the  good folks at the Eastbourne Food Partnership, one of our partners, are doing lots of work on this and have this year won the Bronze Award from Sustainable Food Places for that work. They deserve congratulations on achieving this significant milestone and look forward to deepening our collaboration with them in 2024, especially through working with them on researching ways in which local food growing can adapt to our changing climate.

But there is so much more to do, especially as Eastbourne Borough Council’s latest update to its Climate Emergency Strategy states: “The Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester have carried out analysis that recommends a minimum of a 12.3% per year reduction to deliver a Paris aligned carbon budget. The borough as a whole is a long way off meeting this year-on-year reduction”. The effectiveness of the council’s climate action plan was comprehensively assessed this year by Climate Emergency UK, which published a detailed scorecard of progress achieved in Eastbourne so far. Yet, as the strategy update also says,  “We must not be put off by the challenge but must rally together and work together to improve the environment of our town for our residents, children, businesses and visitors now and in the future in order to mitigate global climate change”.

I wish to thank all the members and supporters of EEAN for all their hard work. The EEAN is entirely run by volunteers on a very small budget but consistently punches way above its weight, making significant contributions towards the ECN2030 campaign. May you all have a very restful and peaceful Christmas holiday period followed by a very Happy New Year.

Andrew Durling, Executive Director, Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC

What to do about Airbourne 2023 carbon emissions?

Airbourne 2023 is now over. But its carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere, adding to global warming. The emissions from Airbourne 2022 were estimated by Eastbourne Borough Council to be 241.5 tonnes C02e from the airshow event itself, and 6,033 tonnes C02e from the transport impact of event visitors. The council decided to offset those emissions through a carbon capture scheme. Eastbourne already does have carbon capture initiatives, primarily those run by Treebourne, a social enterprise that had its beginnings within the Eastbourne Eco Action Network, and which has already planted many thousands of trees across the borough, primarily on council-owned land.

But the scale of the carbon emissions from a festival as big as Airbourne 2023 –  which attracted 750,000 visitors, most of them arriving in Eastbourne by car – was such that they could not be offset within the borough alone. So following conversations between Eastbourne Borough Council, the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC, and the United Nations Association Eastbourne, it was agreed that the council would fund the UNA Eastbourne’s carbon offsetting scheme, allocating £7,000 to plant 14,000 tropical hardwood trees in Uganda, capturing 62,240 tonnes of carbon over 10 years. This scheme has been running successfully for many years already, resulting in 175,418 trees planted in Uganda so far.

But the scheme does far more than carbon capture. It was designed in close collaboration with local communities in Uganda to ensure that the scheme has the full consent of those communities and meets their needs. Backed by scientific research and monitored closely by UNA Eastbourne and its Ugandan partners, the trees planted are indigenous to Uganda, grown by Ugandan tree nurseries from seedlings, distributed freely to those communities that want them, and nurtured to full growth by those very same communities who integrate them within their own agroforestry practices on their farms or on land maintained by community institutions such as local schools and churches. The trees not only capture carbon faster and in far greater quantities than trees planted outside of the Equatorial region where Uganda is, but they provide many other benefits, such as enriching the soil and providing a harvest of nutritious fruit and natural medicines for the communities that nurture them.

Importantly, the trees planted under this scheme do not take farmland out of production, nor push out poor farmers onto more marginal land. Local farmers decide if they need the trees, which they value because the types of trees offered under the scheme complement the crops they grow on their farms. The trees protect the crops interplanted between them and enrich the soil, thereby increasing the productivity and income of the farms. Trees and crops work well together within the agroforestry system common on small farms in Uganda, something we should perhaps have a lot more of within the UK.

Tito Wekesa supervising the farmer (left) on planting the Mvule sapling. Behind this Mvule is a 1-year-old Terminalia. All saplings are protected by being in the midst of this banana shamba.

All of us, whether we live in the UK, Uganda, share the same planetary home, so all of us benefit from carbon capture schemes when they are run well, with careful selection of trees, right location, etc. The scheme that UNA Eastbourne runs in Uganda recognises that reality and also delivers a degree of climate justice too, as Uganda, like most countries in Africa, has contributed far less to global warming than rich countries like the UK have historically done, whilst the carbon footprint of most Ugandans is far less than that of most people in Eastbourne.

We can be proud of the fact that a carbon capture scheme devised in Eastbourne is having a significant effect in drawing down carbon from the atmosphere and setting a good example of an effective, fair, research-backed carbon offsetting scheme. But this does not relieve us of the responsibility to reduce the carbon emissions of Eastbourne, and our own individual carbon footprints, as fast as possible. The emissions of festivals like Airbourne, and indeed of all sectors of the Eastbourne economy, have to be much further reduced year on year until the town becomes genuinely carbon neutral, hopefully by 2030. Will we collectively rise to the challenge?

 

This blog post written by Andrew Durling, a Board director of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC

 

Coming soon: a summit for sorting out Eastbourne’s transport issues

Eastbourne ECO Action Network (EEAN) is organising a SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT & ACTIVE TRAVEL SUMMIT at the Welcome Building, Eastbourne on Friday 17th November 2023. It will be a follow-up to the successful Sustainable Business & Solar Summit last year, which brought together solar and renewable energy experts, manufacturers, installers, landlords and financiers to explore ways of expanding solar power in the UK’s sunniest town.

 

  Why Transport? Our transportation systems, dependent as they are on vehicles running on imported fossil fuels, are a highly significant component of ongoing damage to the earth’s life-support systems. A wealth of evidence suggests that current levels of road transport also undermine people’s health and well-being through pollution, congestion, collisions and by eroding social connections. UN Secretary General António Guterres summed up the situation in 2021:
“Transport is fundamental to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement. We are already close to the 1.5°C upper limit agreed in Paris. The door is closing for action on climate, nature and pollution. We must act together, smartly, and quickly, to make the next nine years count. Transport, which accounts for more than one quarter of global greenhouse gases, is key to getting on track. We must decarbonize all means of transport in order to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 globally. We know how to make this happen. First, we must accelerate the decarbonization of the entire transport sector.”
Here in Eastbourne, the largest town in East Sussex, with more than 100,000 residents, the local authorities have made various commitments. Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) have pledged to achieve a carbon neutral town by 2030 (transport accounts for about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions). The East Sussex Local Transport Plan runs up to 2026 and seeks to improve sustainable transport, while the Transport Strategy for the South East seeks to refocus its approach from “planning for vehicles” to “planning for people” and “for places”. However, progress has been agonisingly slow. As a report by AECOM put it in 2019 “Eastbourne has experienced a significant increase in highway congestion in recent years. All strategic highway routes to/from Eastbourne are very congested at weekday peak times.” Many recent planning documents talk confidently of a 10% “modal shift” from cars to bus, bicycles and walking. Achieving this would, however, require a massive increase (well over 100%) in cycle and bus use. Last year East Sussex County Council was rated among the poorer performing local transport authorities in England in terms of delivering the government’s objective of ensuring 50% of trips in England’s towns and cities are walked, wheeled or cycled by 2030. The key question is: how can the transport system in and around Eastbourne be made more attractive, efficient and sustainable without undermining the economy and causing undue disruption to locals and visitors? The Sustainable Transport & Active Travel Summit, organised by EEAN, EBC, and Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce, will explore these themes by bringing together a range of expert speakers and exhibitors – from companies running electric buses, to pioneers in cargo-bikes for “last mile” deliveries, designers of cycle infrastructure and leafy public spaces to purveyors of car clubs and solar-powered car-park canopies. There will be panel discussions, video presentations and lots of networking opportunities. The audience will include elected representatives, businesses, community groups, transport planners and local institutions from schools and colleges to the NHS. This blog post was written by Robert McGowan, a director of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC. 

The importance of ‘Right Tree, Right Place’

Our guest blogger for this week is Sarah Brotherton from Wild Bourne, the newest working group within the Eastbourne Eco Action Network:

 

One of the ways in which we can tackle the climate crisis is through tree planting. However, this may not be as simple as it seems, it is certainly not a quick solution, and it is definitely not a substitute for reducing CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Why are trees and woodlands so important in tackling the climate crisis? Because they store carbon within their structures, or biomass as it is technically referred to. However, it is worth pointing out that equal or even greater amounts of carbon are stored in woodland soils, so it is not just the tree it is what is below the tree that is also important. while woodland soils store substantial amounts of carbon, many grassland soils, particularly those of wet grasslands, and other wetland habitats store vastly more carbon than woodland soils1. Which is good to know, because although Eastbourne does not have a lot of tree cover, especially as woodland, it has large areas of wet grassland in the form of grazing marsh in the Eastbourne Park and Eastbourne levels areas.

East Sussex is one of the most wooded counties in England, with 17% woodland cover compared to the national average of 12.5%. But if you live in Eastbourne, that might seem a stretch to imagine given that Eastbourne and much of the surrounding landscape are not very wooded. That is because the bulk of woodland in the county is within the High Weald, north of Horam, which is in fact the most woodland landscape in the whole of England.

So, does this mean lots of tree planting should be happening in and around Eastbourne? Well, this is actually quite a complex question. Eastbourne has a completely different underlying geology to the High Weald, which has led to a different historical land use, and that in turn has led to the development of very different, but no less important habitats, which is why the landscape around Eastbourne and the Downs at this Eastern end are characteristically different from the low and high Weald of Sussex. Take the chalk grassland on Eastbourne’s doorstep on the Downs. This is an internationally rare habitat, with 80% of the original extent of chalk grassland lost since WWII. Much of the loss in the last 80 years has been to arable conversion on the dip slopes and spreading secondary woodland on the scarp slopes. Secondary woodland is tree and shrub cover that has naturally regenerated because of extensification – the opposite of agricultural intensification – the land is no longer actively managed.

The South Downs National Park Authority in conjunction with Sussex Nature Partnership have produced an ArcGIS map which helps to sense check potential sites across both East and West Sussex, and the full extent of the South Downs National Park for woodland creation. This map draws on national and local data and is the best woodland opportunity mapping tool we have because it has been developed specifically to be used locally. It removes areas not suitable for woodland creation that are often other important habitats, it then weighs both positive and negative factors of the remaining areas across the counties to give one of three scores depending on how sensitive (suitable) the area is for tree planting. The one down side to this excellent tool is that is cannot be used to ascertain suitability for urban tree planting, as urban areas are screened out.

Image source: Mapping Woodland Opportunity in Sussex and the South Downs National Park Technical report, 2022

The map can be found by clicking on the link below. There is a storymap element which explains how the maps work, but if you scroll to the bottom there is an interactive map, which is zoomable:

Sussex and South Downs Woodland Opportunity Mapping (arcgis.com)

This mapping work suggests there is not a great deal of opportunity for woodland creation around Eastbourne. But that is OK, because Eastbourne has other naturally occurring habitats that are just as important if not more important in the fight against climate change. And anyway, the rest of Sussex, and in particular the High Weald AONB holds a place for us with its woodland cover, the same way that the Downs holds chalk grassland for the rest of Sussex. It is a reminder that looking after and restoring all habitats for biodiversity and for us is important, including for future generations, regardless of where those habitats are found.

1 R Gregg, J. L. Elias, I Alonso, I.E. Crosher and P Muto and M.D. Morecroft (2021) Carbon storage and sequestration by habitat: a review of the evidence (second edition) Natural England Research Report NERR094. Natural England, York

Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 Gathering: a short summary

 

March 15th was a significant day in the Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 (ECN2030) campaign, as it was the first chance  for over two years for the many groups and organisations within the campaign to get together again in person to share their progress and their challenges since the campaign was launched back in January 2020. The gathering was co-sponsored by Energise Sussex Coast and the Warm This Winter coalition. The venue, Eastbourne Town Hall, was offered free of charge by Eastbourne Borough Council, together with substantial logistical support from the town hall staff, who did so much to ensure that the event was a success.

The gathering featured updates from many of the campaign’s members, some of them including slideshow presentations. First up was Andrew Durling, Executive Director of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC (EEAN CIC), which organised the gathering. He delivered a welcome speech that set the context for the campaign, explained what its 2030 target meant in terms of actual carbon emissions reduction, and reported on some of the recent activities of the EEAN CIC which have facilitated the campaign. He also briefly introduced the One Planet Eastbourne platform that is being developed to help map the entire ECN2030 campaign in a visual, interactive way that incorporates as much monitoring data as possible to track progress of the campaign.

Many updates were given by most of the key initiatives within the ECN2030 campaign, and some of them included extensive and well-prepared slideshow presentations. These slideshows can be seen by clicking on these links below:

Treebourne

EcoTransport Group

Energy & Housing Group

Eastbourne Borough Council

Energise Sussex Coast

Other groups that gave updates were: EcoEd2030, Plastic Free Eastbourne, Eastbourne Jubilee Green Canopy, and Wild Bourne.

Here is a screenshot from Energise Sussex Coast’s presentation, which featured a briefing about the Energy Champions scheme that will be rolled out across Eastbourne during 2023 with the assistance of the EEAN CIC:

If you wish to train to become an Energy Champion, please contact kate@energisesussexcoast.co.uk or andy@ecoactioneb.co.uk

The updates given clearly illustrated the depth and breadth of the ECN2030 campaign and the large number of local volunteers giving so much of their time and energy to taking real action to ensure that the campaign make real progress whilst simultaneously improving the quality of life, and the health of the local environment, within the town at the same time.

The EEAN CIC intends to organise further ECN2030 Gatherings at regular intervals, hopefully every three months, in order to keep the momentum going for networking within the ECN2030 campaign and to showcase even more of the projects and initiatives within the campaign. Making Eastbourne a town that does its fair share of reducing its carbon emissions as well as learning to live within the ecological boundaries of our one and only livable planet is an ambitious and worthy goal that requires the whole of our community to come together and collaborate to achieve it. The ECN2030 Gathering on March 15th will hopefully be seen as an important step in facilitating that collaboration.

 

Welcome speech at ECN2030 Gathering

On the evening of Wednesday 15th March 2023, at Eastbourne Town Hall, there was a gathering of many of the organisations involved in the Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 campaign. The event was opened with a welcome speech from Andrew Durling, the Executive Director of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC:

 

Welcome everybody and thank you so much for coming along this evening. It’s so good to see you all. I do hope you find this evening both productive and enjoyable. My thanks go to Eastbourne Borough Council, and Councillor James Murray in particular, as well as the town hall staff, for helping to set up this evening, and to Energise Sussex Coast for co-hosting and co-sponsoring this gathering. My gratitude also goes to Miles Berkely, my predecessor as Executive Director of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network Community Interest Company (EEAN CIC), who did so much to help lay firm foundations for the CIC and for the development of the Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 Campaign (ECN2030) generally. I also want to thank Pauline von Hellerman and Adam Rose for their great contributions whilst they were fellow directors of the EEAN CIC, during which time we all worked together to help lay the foundations for new, independently constituted groups, such as EcoEd2030 and Treebourne.

Also, on behalf of the EEAN CIC, I want to thank you all for the hard work and dedication you have shown in the ECN2030 campaign so far. You have all done amazing things and I know that you will do even more amazing things over the coming years. I look forward to hearing tonight about some of the inspiring projects and the achievements of the various groups and partners within the ECN2030 campaign. However, not every single group and partner in the ECN2030 campaign is represented tonight. To have updates from them all would take too long. But I do hope that this gathering tonight is just the first of regular such gatherings from now on, and that each time we can highlight different aspects of the strategy and the work of any groups and partners not able to be here tonight.

To put the ECN2030 strategy into context, it aims to reduce the carbon emissions of the borough as much as possible by 2030, with whatever emissions still occurring in 2030 offset by carbon capture of those emissions (such as by planting trees), ideally all within the borough itself, creating a Net Zero result. It is a highly ambitious target, but it reflects the fierce urgency of the Climate Emergency we are now well into. The 2030 target was unanimously agreed by all borough councillors in 2019, so there is a settled political consensus around it, backed up by the enthusiastic participation of many volunteers from across the local community in the campaign to try and reach the target. The EEAN CIC was established in September 2019 as a social enterprise dedicated to facilitating the ECN2030 campaign in any way possible and has developed strong working relationships with Eastbourne Borough Council, local community groups, and local businesses to support cross-community collaboration within the campaign.

But what is the scale of the challenge? The Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Manchester says that, in order for Eastbourne to do its fair share under the UN Paris Agreement, then it should achieve an 82% reduction of emissions relative to the 2015 baseline for the borough. By my calculation that equates to a total of emissions in 2030 of just 64 ktCo2. To put that in perspective, the borough’s emissions in 2020 were 276 ktCO2.

But reducing the borough’s emissions has to be done sustainably, as part of an overall strategy to create a truly sustainable town that lives within the ecological boundaries of our one planet. UK emissions fell significantly in 2020, but primarily because of the pandemic lockdown. But that fall could not be sustained because lockdown had to end at some point in order to get the economy going again. A truly sustainable reduction requires systemic, enduring  change across all sectors of the local economy, and in all aspects of our own lifestyles, so that we end up with a town in 2030 where the quality of life is such that it is an even better place to live and work in than in 2020. We can call that a One Planet Eastbourne.

An interactive mindmap of One Planet Eastbourne can be found on a new Community Ecosystem platform on OnePlanet.com that the EEAN CIC has created, and I invite everybody to have a look at it and see what they think. I hope some of you tonight may be interested in becoming part of the team that develops this platform and also provides support for any community group or business that wishes to create its own sustainability plan and connect it to this new platform. In that way we can create a visually engaging, interactive map of all the actions being undertaken within the ECN2030 campaign, joining up all the dots to see where the challenges and opportunities are for scaling up collaboration across the campaign, as well as monitoring the progress made.

The EEAN CIC collaborated intensively with Eastbourne Borough Council and the Eastbourne Chamber of Commerce to mount a Sustainable Business & Solar Summit at the Welcome Building last November, which was adjudged a great success by most who attended, forging much closer links between local businesses, councillors, and community energy cooperatives, as well as creating a much greater awareness of the huge potential for renewable energy installations and energy efficiency retrofits throughout Eastbourne, which would result in significant savings on energy bills, make warmer homes, and create more green jobs. Similar summits are now planned for each year of the ECN2030 campaign. I would like to thank my fellow directors, Jill Shacklock and Rob McGowan, in particular for the huge amount of work they put into organising the summit.

Finally, the EEAN CIC has entered into a long-term partnership with the Eastbourne Climate Coalition to develop a Climate Hub for Eastbourne, which will facilitate positive engagement with the local community about how they can become involved in creating a more sustainable and resilient zero carbon town and how they can make changes in their own lives that fit in with One Planet Living as well as increasing their quality of life at the same time. Two pop-up hubs last year  – at the E-Festival and in the Beacon shopping centre – have already taken place, their success proving that the Climate Hub concept can work, thanks to the commitment and creativity of so many local volunteers and community groups.

 

The following groups made slideshow presentations during the gathering, which can be accessed in the links below:

Treebourne

EcoTransport Group

Energy & Housing Group

Eastbourne Borough Council

Energise Sussex Coast