Ash is one of the last trees to come into leaf in late April/early May and these articles were published as ash buds were opening. Only here in Gloucestershire many of them are not.
Round Cheltenham, Stow-on-the-Wold and Evesham roughly three-quarters of even the most mature ash trees, estimated age around 200 years old. have new growth on less than half their branches. In the ash woods, and in much Gloucestershire woodland ash predominates, you can see only sky which would normally be entirely blocked out by new green leaves. Many of the ash trees have no growth whatever, looking no different to their winter adornment. entirely grey and bare.
So is 2020 the year it became clear that rather than having been beaten by science, ash dieback could be every bit as bad as the dutch elm disease that wiped out Britain’s elm trees in the early 1970s, apart from a few thousand on the south downs and one the queen was looking after in Edinburgh.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), of which she is a member, has been prominent in Kerala’s governments since 1957, the year after her birth. (It was part of the Communist Party of India until 1964, when it broke away.) Born into a family of activists and freedom fighters – her grandmother campaigned against untouchability – she watched the so-called “Kerala model” be assembled from the ground up; when we speak, this is what she wants to talk about.
The foundations of the model are land reform – enacted via legislation that capped how much land a family could own and increased land ownership among tenant farmers – a decentralised public health system and investment in public education. Every village has a primary health centre and there are hospitals at each level of its administration, as well as 10 medical colleges.
This is true of other states, too, says MP Cariappa, a public health expert based in Pune, Maharashtra state, but nowhere else are people so invested in their primary health system. Kerala enjoys the highest life expectancy and the lowest infant mortality of any state in India; it is also the most literate state. “With widespread access to education, there is a definite understanding of health being important to the wellbeing of people,” says Cariappa.
Shailaja says: “I heard about those struggles – the agricultural movement and the freedom fight – from my grandma. She was a very good storyteller.” Although emergency measures such as the lockdown are the preserve of the national government, each Indian state sets its own health policy. If the Kerala model had not been in place, she insists, her government’s response to Covid-19 would not have been possible.
That said, the state’s primary health centres had started to show signs of age. When Shailaja’s party came to power in 2016, it undertook a modernisation programme. One pre-pandemic innovation was to create clinics and a registry for respiratory disease – a big problem in India. “That meant we could spot conversion to Covid-19 and look out for community transmission,” Shailaja says. “It helped us very much.”
When the outbreak started, each district was asked to dedicate two hospitals to Covid-19, while each medical college set aside 500 beds. Separate entrances and exits were designated. Diagnostic tests were in short supply, especially after the disease reached wealthier western countries, so they were reserved for patients with symptoms and their close contacts, as well as for random sampling of asymptomatic people and those in the most exposed groups: health workers, police and volunteers.
Shailaja says a test in Kerala produces a result within 48 hours. “In the Gulf, as in the US and UK – all technologically fit countries – they are having to wait seven days,” she says. “What is happening there?” She doesn’t want to judge, she says, but she has been mystified by the large death tolls in those countries: “I think testing is very important – also quarantining and hospital surveillance – and people in those countries are not getting that.” She knows, because Malayalis living in those countries have phoned her to say so.
Places of worship were closed under the rules of lockdown, resulting in protests in some Indian states, but resistance has been noticeably absent in Kerala – in part, perhaps, because its chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, consulted with local faith leaders about the closures. Shailaja says Kerala’s high literacy level is another factor: “People understand why they must stay at home. You can explain it to them.”
The Indian government plans to lift the lockdown on 17 May (the date has been extended twice). After that, she predicts, there will be a huge influx of Malayalis to Kerala from the heavily infected Gulf region. “It will be a great challenge, but we are preparing for it,” she says. There are plans A, B and C, with plan C – the worst-case scenario – involving the requisitioning of hotels, hostels and conference centres to provide 165,000 beds. If they need more than 5,000 ventilators, they will struggle – although more are on order – but the real limiting factor will be manpower, especially when it comes to contact tracing. “We are training up schoolteachers,” Shailaja says.
Once the second wave has passed – if, indeed, there is a second wave – these teachers will return to schools. She hopes to do the same, eventually, because her ministerial term will finish with the state elections a year from now. Since she does not think the threat of Covid-19 will subside any time soon, what secret would she like to pass on to her successor? She laughs her infectious laugh, because the secret is no secret: “Proper planning.”
The Ecological Land Cooperative says small farms could and should play an important role in the future of our food system. It buys agricultural land, then divides it into small-holdings, gets planning permission for houses on each one then sells or rents the plots at well below market value. The idea is to allow new entrants into farming without the need for huge capital. We find out more and visit a vegetable farm in Devon that grows more than 50 varieties of veg on less than an acre.
Presented by Anna Hill
Produced by Heather Simons download/listen https://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/https/vpid/p08cc14w.mp3
An ageing population of farmers, losses of small and family farms, huge barriers to land ownership and an unprecedented environmental crisis see the social enterprise Ecological Land Cooperative (ELC) announce a new Community Share Investment Offer. The ELC’s plans for a mosaic of small ecological farms will regenerate rural areas – putting healthy food and a healthy planet centre stage.
Shockingly perhaps nearly half the land in the UK is owned by just 25,000 people – less than 1% of the population. And much of that land is dominated by industrial methods of production that come at great cost to the natural world. Yet there is another way. There is huge potential for the growth of agroecology – agriculture that works together with natural ecology.
If 10 GW of solar power were ground-mounted (half the national ambition for 2020 set by DECC), this, would occupy at most 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) – just 0.14% of total UK agricultural area (18 million ha) with a negligible impact on national food security. Solar farms are a temporary and reversible use of farmland – the modules are typically mounted on screw piles, to be removed at the end of the 25-year planning consent period, enabling land to return to agriculture.
Solar farms receive more cash from green subsidies than selling the energy they produce
British energy producers were given generous handouts to introduce solar farms
But many make the majority of their cash from the ‘green levy’ on taxpayers’ bills
Total subsidy provided to solar electricity generators last year was about £1.2bn
Britain’s biggest solar farms receive more cash from green subsidies than from selling the electricity they produce, figures reveal. Energy producers were encouraged to start solar farms with generous handouts funded by a ‘green levy’ on taxpayers’ bills. But many of them now make the majority of their cash from the subsidy – instead of the electricity they produce.
The total subsidy provided to all generators of solar electricity last year is estimated to be about £1.2billion. This was part of the £5.6billion subsidy paid to green energy producers, which critics say inflates household energy bills. Figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) following a Freedom of Information request show ten of the biggest solar farms in the country pocketed more than £2.5million each in eco-subsidy last year. The payouts were offered to help increase the amount of ‘green’ energy produced in the UK.
The solar subsidy is responsible for around £15 a year on a household power bill. However the system – which guarantees the handouts for 15 or 20 years – has been overly generous. Treasury officials have stopped new deals being made with solar farms in a bid to stop haemorrhaging huge amounts of cash. But farms with existing deals are guaranteed generous handouts until the end of their contracts.
Last year’s biggest beneficiary was the Owl’s Hatch Solar park, in Herne Bay, Kent. The 200-acre site generated just over 54,000 MWh of electricity, worth around £2.5million, but was given a handout of £3.8million. The farm is owned by Cubico Sustainable Investments, which has seven other smaller solar farms in England.
The nation’s largest installation, Shotwick Solar Park, in Deeside, North Wales, was handed a £3.5million subsidy, which was pocketed by owner Foresight Solar Fund. It also generated electricity worth around £2.5million.
Dr Lee Moroney, of the Renewable Energy Foundation charity, said: ‘The moratorium on new subsidies to renewables was the right thing to do, but it is a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. ‘The legacy subsidies are themselves so high … that Government must consider retrospective cuts to reduce what is an unreasonable burden on the consumer and the wider economy.’…