Monthly Archives: December 2017

Does a bad year for hunting mean a brighter future for animals?

First, any chance that hunting would be made legal again in the near future was crushed by the reaction to Theresa May’s announcement that she personally supported the sport.

Secondly, the attempted ban of trail hunting on National Trust land was an unwelcome exposure of what has been hunting’s main deception since ‘lethal’ hunting was banned in 2005.

Thirdly, Michael Gove’s announcement that animal sentience must now be considered in any future law-making must be of great concern – it’s a lot harder to inflict animal cruelty, even in the guise of ‘sport’, when your prey is recognised as having feelings.

The ‘nasty’ party

It’s worth looking at each of these in more detail. The announcement of an election back in Spring buoyed those who support hunting – there was every chance that a government with a pro-hunting majority would be elected for the first time since hunting was banned in 2005.

The mood was positively jubilant among some, thinking that the hated Hunting Act would finally be gone. Theresa May’s comment that she personally supports hunting would have given another boost to their cause – but her statement triggered a backlash in the media. 

Over the next couple of weeks, fox hunting became one of the most talked about issues of the whole election, which frankly was interesting given how many major issues should have been on the table.

But the discussion went beyond the normal debate of pro versus anti hunting. It became an issue of compassion. Are we a nation of animal lovers or not?

The debate stirred up party vs party differences, and the perception of the Conservative Party as the ‘nasty’ party was reignited. It’s hard to know exactly how much of an impact this debate had on the election result as a whole, but it’s generally recognised that it cost the Conservative Party a lot of votes. It may even have cost them seats.

Killing foxes

The result was that the Conservative Party won the election but quickly dropped the manifesto promise to hold a free vote on repeal of the Hunting Act. A massive switch from just weeks before.

Quickly after the election came another hunting-related battle, this time fought on the grounds of a beloved institution – the National Trust. NT members put forward a motion asking for trail hunting to be banned from National Trust property – if successful, hunts would have lost a significant amount of the land they use and could have resulted in some hunts having to close down.

The National Trust issue was not a simple one. The crux of it was the term ‘trail’ hunting and what that actually means. Most people’s understanding – guided by the National Trust’s advice – was that ‘trail’ hunting is a legal activity whereby hunts follow an artificial trail and do not kill animals.

If that was true, then of course most people wouldn’t vote to ban it – why would they? But again, if that was true, this motion would never have been put forward, as no-one was trying to ban legal hunting from NT land.

This reality of trail hunting is very much disputed. Evidence gathered for ten years or more events shows trail hunts repeatedly chasing and killing foxes, deer and hares.

Animal-based scent

The most common reason they give is that the hounds picked up the scent of the animal accidentally and couldn’t be stopped. But this happens repeatedly. When does an accident become deliberate? We believe that these are no accidents, and never have been.

Trail hunting is not the only kind of hunting – there is also ‘drag’ hunting. Drag hunting has been in existence for 200 years, and involves the hounds following an artificial scent – such as aniseed. The chances of any animals being killed ‘by accident’ are minimal. There was no attempt to ban drag hunting from NT land.

When ‘lethal’ hunting was banned in 2005, if those hunts who had been chasing animals had genuinely wanted to obey the law, they could have switched to drag hunting. But they didn’t – none of them.

Instead they invented trail hunting. This looks similar to drag hunting, but there are key differences: the fact that hounds are still trained to follow an animal-based scent is vital.

Dogs don’t by nature tend to chase and kill foxes, they have to be trained to do so. Thus by training the dogs to follow an animal-based scent, the hunts are making these accidents much more likely.


There’s a list of other evidence and incidents which cast a huge shadow over the credibility of trail hunting; these have been discussed this year, perhaps more than ever, and the veneer of respectability around trail hunting has been dangerously cracked. 

Coming to the recent announcement of a new Animal Welfare Bill by Michael Gove, this has generally been met with enthusiasm by animal welfare groups.

An increase in sentencing for animal cruelty, which includes dog fighting which the League has been working hard on, was a popular move which few would have argued with – congratulations to the Government for pushing this through.

The section on sentience was interesting because it came soon after a story (or was it fake news?) around the potential removal of acknowledgement that animals are sentient from UK legislation once Brexit goes through.

Once again, the government were being hit with accusations that they are anti-animal and anti-compassion, so for a new Bill to be announced so quickly was always going to be seen as a direct response to what had gone before.

Trail hunting

The recognition of sentience in future legislation does pose a real problem for those who like hunting. Can a decision be taken to repeal an Act which is designed to protect animals from cruelty? An Act which was built on a report which stated that animals suffer from hunting?

With sentences for animal cruelty being increased, what does (or should?) this mean for those convicted of illegal hunting, which at present only leads to paltry fines. Why is setting one dog on another dog (dog fighting) any different to setting a pack of dogs on one fox? 

There are interesting questions to be answered. Meanwhile, this Boxing Day, hunts will parade, and claim that the number of people watching them is a sign that hunting is as popular as ever.

This year has shown that not to be true. The election showed that people are massively opposed to the killing of animals. The National Trust story showed that people previously didn’t realise that trail hunting generally equals ‘lethal’ hunting – but more of them do now. And the new Animal Welfare Bill showed that the government has realised that voters in this country want them to be compassionate towards animals. It’s not been a good year for hunting. 

This Author

Chris Pitt is deputy director of Campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports.

Climate change ignites fear and distress – but climate action is empowering

Lola took her inspiration for the title of her piece from a quote from Chris Rapley, one of the world’s most eminent climatologists. Ironically, we wouldn’t be here this evening – celebrating the work of these wonderful musicians, the genius of Lola herself, and all those who’ve helped to bring ClimateKeys to fruition – unless we’d been burning things and making fire for millennia.

Because right from the start of humankind’s ascent to the dominant position of the human species today, we’ve been burning things with huge enthusiasm, starting with fire from trees, and moving on to fossil fuels: coal, then oil, and then gas.

Until 1980, burning fossil fuels was seen as a wonderful boon to humankind, making life better for hundreds of millions of people on this planet. Since 1980, we’ve had to recalibrate our thoughts about fossil fuels.

Deeply moved

We’ve realised that they didn’t come cost-free for us or the planet. Every time we put a match to the next bit of fossil fuel, we emitted CO2 and other gases into the atmosphere. And we know now what the consequences of that look like.

We understand that, if we continue to burn things with the same astonishing enthusiasm and abundance, the future for humankind looks very grim indeed.

So we have to stop burning things. It’s as simple as that. We have to stop burning fossil fuels in our power stations, cars and cement kilns.  We have to make it possible for people throughout developing and emerging countries to stop burning kerosene for lighting and cooking, which kills millions of people every year. We even have to stop burning wood in our wood-burning stoves! 

So this is about gradually becoming aware of one of the most important aspects of human civilisation: the use we’ve made of fossil fuels to get us to where we are now. And it’s also about the imperative of not continuing to use those fossil fuels in the way that we have, if we’re to go anywhere sustainable from here. 

The big picture is quite scary, but that big picture translates, of course, into thousands, millions of smaller pictures, each of which has real significance. I suspect we’ve all been deeply moved by hearing Nicole talk about the Truth About Zane campaign. 

Solar revolution

And every time you hear about one of these climate-induced disasters, somewhere in the coverage there’ll be a death count attached: people killed in Californian fires, hurricanes in the Caribbean, or floods in Bangladesh. Of course people don’t just die in the disasters themselves. They die, too, as a consequence of being made homeless, and trauma from the loss that they feel. 

I’ve had the privilege of looking through synopses of the talks of all 31 speakers at the different ClimateKeys concerts over the next few weeks. They’re all immensely powerful testimonies to what we as human beings already feel, deep in our hearts, about the impact of climate change.

Inevitably, there’s anger, grief, fear. But each testimony is balanced by the sense of empowerment that we now see springing up everywhere, finding some line between hope and despair. Two of the pieces performed at this concert illustrate this: Debussy’s ‘Église Engloutie’ (‘Sunken Cathedral’), and Karen Tanaka’s ‘Wind Energy’.

All the testimonies stress the importance of empowerment, and talk about hope in the ways in which solutions to so many of today’s most pressing sustainability challenges are now proliferating around the world.

Here’s a tiny example: a SunnyMoney solar lantern. It symbolises what’s happening in the world today – a solar revolution, which is going to drive the next epoch in humankind’s history. A revolution which is already happening!

Full potentiality

There’s a kind of cosmological elegance to this. Fossil fuels are nothing more than stored sunshine, which we then extract from the earth. The amazing thing about this revolution is that we can stop burning stored sunlight and start using real-time sunlight, along with a whole array of technologies that go with that.

We can start using the earth itself more intelligently, through better use of our land, better farming, better use of natural resources all round. And people are actually getting incredibly excited about energy efficiency!

These solutions are what makes a good, sustainable, compassionate future for the whole of humankind possible. And this is how we can generate hope. We have to stop burning things that we take out of the earth, but we ourselves have to burn, with a much more fiery spirit than perhaps we’ve felt able to until now. Stoking up those fires is what I love about ClimateKeys, and why I’ve been so happy to play even a tiny part in it.

And I would add our spiritual resources to that list of solutions for a sustainable future, because in the end what we face is not just a challenge of technology; humankind also faces a deep, deep spiritual challenge. So that’s the energy we have to burn, inside ourselves and working with other people.

We have to call on the full potentiality of each individual human being on this planet to be part of this transformation, part of this solutions story. That story is actually all around us, if you want to see it for what it is.

To do that, we have to call on all our resources: intellectual, practical, artistic and spiritual. I call it the genius of the human spirit, which has been part and parcel of the ascent of humankind for as long as our habit of burning things has been. And now we have a chance to see that genius create an astonishing transformation which I think will surprise everybody on this planet over the course of the next few years.” 

This Author

Jonathon Porritt is an environmentalist and author.

Judge orders biggest corporate bribery trial in history against senior Shell and Eni bosses

Shell and Italian oil giant Eni have been ordered to stand trial in Milan on charges of aggravated international corruption for their role in a 2011 $1.1bn deal for Nigerian oil block OPL 245. Mrs Justice Barbara handed down the ruling today and set March 5 as the date for the trial to begin.

Claudio Descales, Eni’s current CEO, Paolo Scaroni, the former CEO and Roberto Casula, the chief operations and technology officer,  were also ordered to face trial alongside four former Shell Group staff members, including Malcolm Brinded CBE, former Executive Director for Upstream International and two former MI6 agents then employed by Shell.

Prosecutor’s efforts

No company as large as Shell Group or such senior executives of a major oil company have ever stood trial for bribery offences.

The investigation by the Milan public prosecutor was triggered by a complaint filed in Autumn 2013 by Global Witness, The Corner House, Re:Common and Nigerian anti-corruption campaigner Dotun Oloko. The case has also been investigated in Nigeria and the United States following the groups’ complaints. Public prosecutors in The Netherlands are also investigating the case.

“The Nigerian people lost out on over $1 billion dollars, equivalent to the country’s entire health budget, as a result of this corrupt deal. They deserve to know the truth about what happened to their missing millions.  

“We welcome the prosecutor’s efforts to bring this case to trial. It will be the biggest corporate bribery trial in history – and act as a warning to others who see corruption as a route for quick financial wins”, said Simon Taylor, co-founder of Global Witness.

In a statement today Shell said “We are disappointed by the outcome of the preliminary hearing and the decision to indict Shell and its former employees.  We believe the trial judges will conclude that there is no case against Shell or its former employees.”

Powerful corporations

Eni said: “Eni’s Board of Directors has reaffirmed its confidence that the company was not involved in alleged corrupt activities in relation to the transaction.

“The Board of Directors also confirmed its full confidence that chief executive Claudio Descalzi was not involved in the alleged illegal conduct and, more broadly, in his role as head of the company. Eni expresses its full confidence in the judicial process and that the trial will ascertain and confirm the correctness and integrity of its conduct.”

Antonio Tricarico of Italian NGO Re:Common said: “Prime Minister Renzi was utterly wrong in 2014 when he defended Mr Descalzi’s appointment as Eni’s CEO, by warning that it would ‘not allow a media scoop to put jobs at risk, or a notice of investigation issued on newspapers to change the business policy of a country’.

“If the deal for OPL 245 represents business as usual for Italy’s biggest company, partly controlled by the government, prosecutors were right to investigate and right to bring this matter before the courts. Renzi should apologise to the Italian and Nigerian public”.

“This case heralds the dawning of the age of accountability, a world where even the most powerful corporations can no longer hide their wrongdoing and avoid justice.” Said Lanre Suraju, Chairman of Nigerian NGO Human and Environmental Development Agenda.

Law enforcement

For years, Shell had claimed that it only paid the Nigerian Government for the oil block. But after the joint investigations of Global Witness and Finance Uncovered, Shell confessed it had dealt with former oil minister Dan Etete, via his front company Malabu.

Dan Etete was convicted of money laundering in France in 2007. Etete had awarded the OPL 245 oil block to his secretly owned company while serving as oil minister.

In December 2016, the Milan Public Prosecutor alleged that $520 million from the deal was converted into cash and intended to be paid to the then Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, members of the government and other Nigerian government officials.

The prosecutor further alleges that money was also channelled to Eni executives with $50 million in cash delivered to the home of Eni’s then Head of Business for Sub-Saharan Africa, Roberto Casula.

Nigerian authorities have also filed charges against a Shell subsidiary and Eni as well as several of their staff. In January Nigerian law enforcement also charged Mohammed Adoke, the former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney General with money laundering over his receipt of $2.2m in alleged proceeds of the OPL 245 deal.

Abusive corporate power

The Nigerian government successfully recovered US$85m in proceeds of the deal from the UK. The money had previously been frozen as suspected proceeds of crime at the request of Italian authorities.

The Nigerian government has also issued a billion dollar civil claim against JP Morgan for their role as a banker to the deal. JP Morgan has stated that they consider the allegation against them to be “unsubstantiated and without merit”.

“This is not a case involving a few rotten apples,” said Nick Hildyard of Corner House. “The evidence points to systemic corruption – from the top down. In this case Italy has championed the rule of law over abusive corporate power. The world waits to see if the UK and The Netherlands, where Shell is based, will have the backbone to follow suit.”

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist.

Wildlife conservation should not be a Western import

The debate over fox hunting in Britain is a binary issue that has polarised opinion in the pub and parliament alike. Similarly, discussions on wildlife conservation in Kenya have historically been cast in black and white terms: Western wildlife conservancy is “good” and indigenous human activity is “bad”.

The narrative treats local communities as enemies of conservation. Local people are blamed for environmental mismanagement and seen as at odds with their own landscape.

Endangered species

The problem with this model is that it dictates that the African wilderness is to be saved largely by non-Africans. Or, to take it one step further, the ‘white saviour’ is considered the only actor capable of protecting native wildlife. This discourse is clearly rooted in Kenya’s colonial legacy. It is a narrative in which the Kenyan people have no place. 

Denied a role in wildlife management, and not sharing in its economic benefits, impoverished Kenyan citizens have been pushed towards illicit land activity. In other words, if one is struggling to put food on the table, poaching and illegal grazing can seem the only viable solutions.

Wildlife protection efforts in recent years have begun to challenge Africa’s most damaging conservation myths. A new emerging debate recognises that communities are an integral part of the surrounding nature and are best placed to manage its biodiversity.

Respecting and using local knowledge in conjunction with environmental education is the only way wildlife preservation can thrive. The success of the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conversancy is testament to this approach.

You most likely won’t have come across the Mountain Bongo. The Mountain Bongo is the world’s largest forest antelope, distinctive in its red chestnut colour and white stripes. With approximately 100 left in the wild, the Mountain Bongo is a critically endangered species. Kenya is the only place where this magnificent creature is found in its natural habitat. 

Education initiatives

The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy is working to protect and breed the Mountain Bongo using a community-centred approach. After years of unrestricted hunting, poaching, loss of habitat and disease, in 2004 we initiated the only bongo-breeding programme of its kind.

Now, 68 bongos can be found in Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy’s semi-wild environment. Working with the Kenya Wildlife Service, the National Bongo Taskforce and the Kenya Forestry Service, we are on our way to repopulating the Mountain Bongos in their ancestral wild homes. 

Crucial to this aim is the participation of local community, the true custodians of the wildlife with which they share their lands. We recognise that the responsibility for conservation lies with the Kenyan people themselves.

The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy is proud to be collaborating with the local community, government agencies and having dozens of Kenyans in its workforce.

Integrated approach

Beyond this, we recognise the critical need for conservation knowledge from a young age. The Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy has developed environmental education initiatives, and over 10,000 Kenyan students visit the facility each year.

Our outreach programmes help to introduce these local issues into the school curriculum, cultivating a more holistic understanding of the environment and wildlife.

From recognising the economic value of the landscape to the simple aesthetic appreciation of their environmental heritage, students are empowered to preserve the wildlife for future generations. Indeed, many go on to work in conservation and use their expertise to create a richer and more sustainable conservation agenda. 

Kenyan citizens are the key stakeholders in the conservation fight, and their local knowledge about the natural world is paramount to its success. This is why we take an integrated approach to wildlife education. As our programmes develop, so too does respect for the environment and wildlife. Ultimately, conservation goals can be conducive to all.

This Author

Humphrey Kariuki is a patron to Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy, whose mission it is to save endangered species. 

A cargo-ship of cruelty: 27,000 Brazilian bull calves are heading to Turkey to be slaughtered

More than 27,000 bull calves were forced onto the rusting NADA, a 12 story Panamanian ship designed for cattle transportation, during the last week of November. They will remain on board and at sea until December 21st, 2:00 am, local time.

Brazil´s most significant port – Santos harbour, in São Paulo state – is once again open for live cattle transportation after 20 years.

Sérgio Levy is an economist and a vegan. He has been coordinating efforts towards raising awareness of animal sentience for more than a decade.

Animal rights

He told The Ecologist: “About 90 bulls were loaded into each of 300 trucks heading to Santos harbour. They were not given a single break for food or water.

“We posed as a human barrier in front of the vehicles in order to document their condition, but it was all very sudden. The port’s security personnel were quickly activated.”

He added: “As the calves entered the ship’s loading area, the steers were directed into a corridor that conveyed the animals into the vessel. The oxen by now were covered by manure and urine from the previous road journey.”

The Panamanian flagged vessel is the world’s largest livestock carrier. It can carry 30,000 oxen distributed throughout its 12 stories. The operation to load the ship was launched on the night of November 29th and ended on the afternoon of December 4th.

The animals are expected to arrive at Iskenderum harbour, Turkey, before Christmas. “Hopefully, we are able to reach out to animal rights activists in Turkey and intercept the operation,” Levy stated.

Extremely cruel

There are upcoming animal shipments scheduled for January under the same precarious and cruel conditions. São Sebastião harbour, also in São Paulo state, dispatched 23,000 bulls to Singapore on December 13th.

Sergio added: “We suspect that the Brazilian company in Turkey is purchasing live cattle from Brazil, perhaps to bypass the high taxes of industrialised products  – animals are still seen as ‘objects’. Exported as commodities, taxes are lower.”

According to the company behind the shipments, the animals should be accompanied by a veterinarian and would have complete follow-up, including food and water.

Sérgio claims this was not always properly implemented: “According to research by the World Organization for Animal Health these transports are extremely cruel. There are hardly any veterinarians onboard and often no food.”

Dr. Lynn Simpson is an Australian veterinary surgeon and has spent the past 10 years in livestock vessels, documenting the routine of suffer of these animals.

Foreign markets

Her research on long-term sea shipping has found: “There are numerous cases of injuries, stress, unnecessary pain caused by the precarious infrastructure, diseases and their dissemination due to the poor conditions in which these animals are kept.

“Salmonellosis and pneumonia – the so-called ’embarkation disease’ – are common. The illnesses spread easily due to the high density, precarious ventilation and hygiene. Disease is common.”

The Brazilian meat industry has taken a great interest in the live cattle exportation over the past decade. Previously the market was dominated by Canada, Mexico and Australia. The first two mostly supplied United States domestic demand while Australia supplied southeastern Asian countries.

Meat consumption in Brazil has plummeted – but for the wrong reasons: recession, unemployment, poverty. At the same time, Brazil is the second largest producer of beef in the world and the largest exporter.

The Brazilian Federal Police launched operation ‘Weak Meat’ in March, 2017 amid allegations that large producers had been adulterating the meat they sell into both domestic and foreign markets. As a result, the European Union, South Korea, China and Chile reported that they would also stop Brazilian meat imports.

The Brazilian meat export industry is cruel – but it also has a devastating impact in terms of deforestation in the Amazon region. The work is cut out for Brazilian animal rights activists. The same can be said for our Turkish and Singaporean fellow activists.

This Author

Ana Luisa Diniz Naghettini is an undergraduate student at The Federal University of Minas Gerais. She studies computational mathematics and intends to specialise in climate modeling. She is a Brazilian animal rights and environmental activist and a vegetarian. Petitions related to the article can be found at and Animals International.

The Theresa May government’s nuclear obsession is a betrayal of democracy

It seems like a long time ago now: the Conservative party’s catastrophic 2017 election manifesto. Yes, the one that promised a new care home tax on the elderly, and an end to the pensioners’ winter fuel allowance. And that went on to turn Teresa May’s repeated mantra of ‘strong and stable’ government into hubris of the first order as she lost her overall majority in Parliament.

But not everything in the manifesto was a disaster. Indeed it contained one excellent policy – on energy. Remarkably – given the long-standing Tory obsession with nuclear power – the word ‘nuclear’ did not appear once in the entire document.

Solar auction

Instead the manifesto insists that a future Tory government would remain utterly indifferent to how electricity is generated, so long as it’s reliable, cheap and low carbon. “Above all, we believe that energy policy should be focused on outcomes rather than the means by which we reach our objectives,” it read. 

“So, after we have left the European Union, we will form our energy policy based not on the way energy is generated but on the ends we desire – reliable and affordable energy, seizing the industrial opportunity that new technology presents and meeting our global commitments on climate change …

“We want to make sure that the cost of energy in Britain is internationally competitive, both for businesses and households … Our ambition is that the UK should have the lowest energy costs in Europe, both for households and businesses. So as we upgrade our energy infrastructure, we will do it in an affordable way, consistent with that ambition.”

This sounded good to the green brigade because renewable energy prices, in the UK and elsewhere, have been hitting new lows. In a September 2017 contract auction, two offshore wind projects came in at a record low price of £57.50 / megawatt hour (MWh).

Onshore wind costs even less: contracts awarded in Germany in May went as low as €42.80 / MWh (£38.24) – less than the UK’s wholesale power market price. And in October, Germany’s solar auction delivered bids as low as €42.90 / MWh – just a few pence higher than onshore wind.

Reactor designs

It is also clear that new nuclear plants are an incredibly costly way of generating power. Hinkley C, now under construction at Hinkley Point in Somerset, is set to receive a guaranteed £92.50 / MWh, for 35 years. That’s in 2013 money, so is now worth around £100.

With current wholesale power prices around £40-45 per MWh, that’s one hell of a deal for its developers, France’s EDF and its Chinese partner, CGN. But even at this price, many analysts think EDF should walk away from the project, such are its technical and financial risks.

So now we have power from onshore wind, solar and offshore wind all much cheaper than new nuclear. So we can safely assume that the UK government has seen the writing on the wall and dumped hyper-costly nuclear power in favour of increasingly low-cost renewables, can’t we?

No: its nuclear obsession continues unabated. The Tories’ election manifesto – which some old-fashioned ‘my word is my bond’ types might view as part of a binding covenant between government and electorate – is clearly only so much chip paper to the incumbent technocrats. 

Instead, we see a renewed determination to press ahead with massive nuclear power construction no matter what the cost. In addition to the twin EPR’s at Hinkley Point C, the government is pushing ahead with plans to build reactors at Moorside in Cumbria, at Wylfa on Anglesey, at Bradwell on the Essex coast, at Oldfield in Gloucestershire, at Sizewell on the Suffolk coast – employing surprisingly diverse reactor designs.

Design enhancements

These include the Westinghouse’s AP1000, Hitachi’s Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), China General Nuclear’s Hualong HPR1000, and South Korean group Kepco’s APR1400.

In total, the government wants to procure 19GW of new nuclear power, much of it to be operational by 2030 as the UK prepares to close some 10 gigawatts (GW = 1,000 MW) of existing nuclear capacity. But that’s not the limit of its nuclear ambitions.

Business Secretary Greg Clarke recently announced that the winner of a competion for a new generation of ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs), an industrial consortium led by Rolls Royce, will receive an initial £100 million from taxpayers to progress its project to design and manufacture reactors around a tenth the size of the 1.2GW behemoths to be deployed at Hinkley Point.

The idea is that these SMRs will be built by the hundreds on production lines, and installed in urban fringes across the UK, achieving ‘process engineering’ improvements and enormous economies of scale. But the policy suggests the triumph of hope over experience.

The first SMRs were built in the 1950 and hundreds have been installed in nuclear powered submarines and other ships since. If there were huge cost savings available from design enhancements and production-line construction, why have the last 65 years of nuclear engineering enhancements failed to deliver them already?

New nuclear

The truth is that nuclear reactors have got ever bigger for a very simple reason – that it’s cheaper that way, a fact recently confirmed in a July 2016 analysis by Atkins consultants for Clarke’s BEIS Department which revealed that the first SMRs would probably cost 30 percent more to build than existing large nuclear designs.

Only after 5-8 GW – that’s 50 – 80 100 MW units – had been deployed might the price finally be competitive with the large reactor designs that are already way too expensive. “SMRs could become cost competitive against large nuclear after 5-8 GWe of global deployment of a single design”, states the report.

The report goes on to estimate a ‘net present value’ (NPV) of a 2 GW UK SMR programme, compared to large nuclear, of minus £4.8 billion – indicating a likely thumping loss of taxpayers funds. And even that strongly negative assessment depends on generating improbably high SMR exports of 300MW to 750MW per year.

The same volume of offshore wind – even based on 2015/16 prices of around £100 / MWh, almost double the lowest achieved in 2017 – delivered a plus £400 million NPV.

So what’s the likely bill to tax payers and energy users of all this new nuclear power? Assuming an average 2030 wholesale power price (constrained by zero marginal cost wind and solar) at roughly today’s level of £40, an average nuclear power price of £100 (both in today’s money), new nuclear will need a subsidy of £60 / MWh.

Jobs and pensions

Assuming the nuclear plants work flat out for 90% of the time, 19GW will deliver 150 million MWh of power per year, earning £9 billion in support payments. Split over Britain’s 25 million homes, that comes to about £360 extra on energy bills each per year.

Assuming 35 year contracts for nuclear (as at Hinkley C) rather than the 15 year contracts given to most renewables generators, the bill comes to a total £315 billion ‘nuclear tax’ to be paid by British power users. That’s a massive £12,600 per household. 

So here’s the key question: how can a government that has declared in its election manifesto its commitment to delivering the lowest cost power in Europe, and its utter impartiality in deciding between any one power generation technology over any other, justify an obsessively pro-nuclear energy policy that could land every household in Britain with a £12,600 ‘nuclear tax’? 

No less pertinent a question is: where is the political opposition to this nuclear madness? Despite a stinging critique of Hinkley C from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee last month, The Labour party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn have been notably silent on the issue, apparently under the influence of the big nuclear sector unions, GMB and Unite.

But at least that’s consistent with its manifesto statement, which states that: “The UK has the world’s oldest nuclear industry, and nuclear will continue to be part of the UK energy supply. We will support further nuclear projects and protect nuclear workers’ jobs and pensions. There are considerable opportunities for nuclear power and decommissioning both internationally and domestically.”

Democratic process

The LibDems, who were strongly against nuclear power until they joined the Tories in coalition government in 2010, were then hugely for it in office. Now it appears the party has turned against it again.

Its manifesto promised to “accept that new nuclear power stations can play a role in electricity supply provided concerns about safety, disposal of waste and cost are adequately addressed, new technology is incorporated, and there is no public subsidy for new build.”

And since the public subsidies are enormous, that means the LibDems should be fiercely opposing the government’s plans. But – with the recent exception of former energy secretary Ed Davey MP, talking good sense this week on Greenpeace’s Unearthed – they too are keeping quiet about the monstrous subsidies the Tories are ready to throw at nuclear power.

This leaves the UK is now suffering something arguably even worse than a disastrously ill-judged energy policy: a total failure of democratic process and governance that will cost us this country dear for half a century or more to come. 

This Author

Oliver Tickell is an environmental journalist, author and campaigner, and a former editor of The Ecologist. 

The rapid decline of the British hedgehogs – and what we can do to help our hogs

Britain has lost half its rural population of hedgehogs while one third have disappeared from urban areas since the year 2000, according to the latest estimates from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

“Not long ago the Erinaceus Europaeus was a common sight in our neighbourhoods, but today we’re seeing much less of this intelligent and endearing creature,” the PTES states.  

“The reasons why we’re quietly losing our hedgehog population are entirely man-made. The shocking statistics of their decline puts them on a par with the plummeting worldwide tiger population.”

Safe havens

The reasons for hedgehog decline are complex and research is underway to identify why this is the case. Badger predation and food source competition, climate change and human activities may all have an effect. The PTES regularly commissions research that helps understand why hedgehogs are in such trouble, and how we can best help them.

Education is essential if our hedgehogs are going to make it through the next few decades, because increasing urbanisation means we have less contact with nature and less understanding of our wildlife.

The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is working to create awareness through their short film ‘Hedgehog Street’ an activity essential stop the disappearance of our native hedgehogs.

Perhaps the most obvious reason for hedgehog decline is the reduction of hedgehog-friendly environments which are increasingly under threat from the concrete-slide of our communities.

It seems easy to lay this blame this on the government and building companies, and in part the responsibility does lay at their feet, but we are responsible individually too. Our gardens could provide safe havens, but faced with fences and designer landscaping hedgehogs are losing their foothold in our communities.

Spiky creatures

Hedgehogs roam over 2kms a night, but our fences are a considerable barrier to their movements. This environmental fragmentation prevents hedgehogs gathering enough food, finding suitable nesting areas, and meeting a mate.

Paving, decking, and hard-landscaping is endemic in the modern garden, but it leaves little to no space for hedgehog needs. Longer grass, rough areas, and native plants that attract insects and invertebrates are essential. Tidy gardens sterilised by landscaping, leaf blowers, strimmers and sprinkled with slug pellets are deserts for native wildlife.

Hedgehogs have been around in one form or another since the dinosaurs, but our modern habits are testing their ability to survive. Garden tools cause horrific injuries, uncovered drains are one way pitfalls, and they become hopelessly entangled in netting.

Bonfires and ponds pose problems too. A bonfire heap is perfect hedgehog accommodation, but leads to death when the pile is lit. Ponds with slippery sides that offer no means of escape exhausts unfortunate hedgehogs that eventually drown.

We can help these endearing spiky creatures more than we realise. An area of garden left wild without slug pellets or pesticide use will support a hedgehog’s search for food.

Cat food

Hogs predominately eat insects, beetles, caterpillars, snails and slugs, effectively clearing a garden of pests, and whilst hogs don’t eat slug pellets, they do eat dead slugs and ingest the poison.

An easily purchased hedgehog house offers safe accommodation for hogs that need dry, warm places to raise young and hibernate throughout the winter.

Supplemental feeding can help make up the shortfall of natural prey, but well-meaning folk often cause serious problems offering bread and milk.

Hogs are lactose intolerant, so the resulting diarrhoea can cause dehydration and death. Bread has no useful nutrients for a small mammal, and neither do mealworms, peanuts and household scraps. Instead offer dry or wet cat food and a shallow, heavy bowl of fresh water.

Underlying problem

But all this effort is no use without access. We can boost the hog population by creating doors in our fence lines. This opens up a road network that hedgehogs can travel around. A 15cm x 15cm gap will allow hogs access to your insects, snails and water sources.

This non-threatening mammal is often the first point of contact people have with our native wildlife. From Shakespeare’s Furze-pigs to Enid Blyton’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and Sega’s Sonic, hedgehogs are steeped in our culture.

It’s easy to support these endearing creatures. It doesn’t take much to start reversing their fortunes – a simple hole in the fence line can make a big difference.

If we ignore the plummeting decline of our much loved native hedgehog we won’t be seeing them in the near future. A garden without the charming hedgehog is indeed an empty one that points to a serious underlying problem with our environmental health.  

This Author

Clive Harris is a garden writer and environmentalist. You can find his blog at