Ecological renaissance or Hall of Mirrors?

By Dr Tim Ingram

“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into its genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady.”― E.O. Wilson

One of the key tenets of conservation is the fundamental importance of specific habitat and scale. Another is connectivity and its corollary: regeneration from places of recognised biodiversity and ecological ‘strength’. Both of these factors apply to the unique maritime land/sea interface of the Thames Estuary and North Kent Marshes, which come more and more under pressures of development and reclamation at the same time as they face the natural consequences of Climate Change and sea level rise.

What then are the implications of Alok Sharma’s decision to permit 900 acres of historically reclaimed marshland, earmarked by the Environment Agency for ecological restoration and adherence to Habitat Directives, to instead be intensively covered in Solar Panels in the drive to achieve Carbon Zero by 2050? Does the precedent of this decision threaten large tracts of coastal and inland habitat throughout the sunnier south of England and show that the industrialisation of the landscape ultimately trumps any of its ecological potential and actuality?

Are the investment opportunities and gain from a burgeoning Solar industry of greater value than the chance to turn the tide of biodiversity decline and enrich the ecological and recreational future of the North Kent Marshes? Do the Marsh Harrier, Curlew and Lark have less and less chance to transcend the mighty dollar?

As society recovers fitfully from an animally transmitted disease what do we learn about our inherent role in the Anthropocene? Will the solutions always be bigger and bolder and more potentially damaging, or sometimes smaller, more detailed and intimate and local, and deriving from the natural world itself and its ability to adapt and equilbrate to change? Are 900 acres of Solar Power Farm at the oxymoronically named Cleve Hill, only a few metres above sea level and protected by an artificial sea wall, absolutely essential in the human scheme of things?

This then is the decision that Alok Sharma has made, to sacrifice ecological potential for electrical power. The consequences will be profound for the whole of Britain, equally as for the small town of Faversham and ecological reserves that lie close by. It is either a bold move into the future of profitability or a blight on a Green and Pleasant Land.