Archive for June, 2011

Farming Peat Fens, Part 1

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

What could possibly be wrong with that? The common perception is that farming is green and sustainable, or at the very minimum it must take CO2 out of the atmosphere.

In most places this is true. But the fens are a special case. When peat fen is drained the loss of water pressure allows the extremely porous peat to collapse and restructure, but it also exposes it to the air, causing wastage by oxidation.

This process of wastage is unique to peat soils, which are largely composed of organic matter. When peat is saturated, oxygen cannot reach it, so there is no biodegradation (which tangentially has led to the preservation of bodies such as Lindow Man). But when the peat is drained, biodegradation resumes and the peat evaporates, mostly becoming carbon dioxide.

The speed of this process can best be seen near Holme, where shrinkage was anticipated following the drainage of the fen and a post was driven into the underlying clay in 1851. Since then, some 4 metres of post have been exposed and the ground surface is currently falling by about 1cm a year. Given there was originally 6 metres of peat, it is estimated that all the peat will be gone in 80 years exposing the underlying clay.

So how much CO2 does this produce? About 120 tonnes per hectare per year. This may not seem a lot but across the whole of the East Anglian fens, this adds up to some 1,000,000 tonnes of CO2 per year!

Can and should we do anything about this? Well, over 50% of the original area peat has already disappeared (as shown below; the yellow area shows peat fen that has disappeared) so clearly we can do nothing about that.

But some 16,500 hectare of fen survive and much of this falls within our area. But more on that in the next post.

Boundary Changes

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Recently there has been talk of the impending boundary changes. Some of this has been quite alarming for us Liberal Democrats, with the Guardian estimating we’d lose up to 25% of our seats! Personally, I suspect that is merely alarmist, but I thought I’d take a look at how the changes might affect my area.

First, what will the changes be? The intent is to reduce the number of seats from 650 to 600. Of these, 596 will be “normal” seats which must be within 5% of 76,641 voters – in other words, between 72,810 and 80,473.

As North-West Cambridgeshire is the fourth largest constituency in the country at 89,419 voters in 2010, it will clearly be affected and must lose at least 9,000 voters.

Looking at the surrounding constituencies, these have the following numbers of voters:

Constituency # voters Possible changes
Cambridge 75,259 +5,200
Corby 79,468 Out of county so unlikely to be affected
Huntingdon 79,134 +1,300
North-East Cambridgeshire 83,661 -3,200
North-West Cambridgeshire 89,419 -8,000
Peterborough 72,787 +7,700
South Cambridgeshire 80,001
South-East Cambridgeshire 82,265 -1,800
Total in Cambridgeshire 562,525 or between 7.73 and 6.99 seats

It is clear that ALL seats within Cambridgeshire will be very close to the maximum size allowed and some may exceed the limit. Given how fast the population of Cambridgeshire is growing, it may need to add a seat.

In particular, between 2008 and 2016, Cambridgeshire County Council project growth of around 62,000 and by 2031 a further 100,000 growth is expected. Assuming the period 2010 to 2015 accounts for 40,000 of this, I think the review should plan ahead and split Cambridgeshire into eight seats rather than the current seven.

From the list, it is also clear that Peterborough is smaller than required and that North-East and South-East Cambridgeshire must also lose voters. In total, some 14,000 votes must be transferred.

As far as North-West Cambridgeshire, the possible transfers (assuming no additional seat) that make sense are:

  • Stanground Central and Stanground East to Peterborough
  • or Barnack, Glinton and Wittering, and Northborough to Peterborough

Both of these move roughly the right number of voters. I haven’t worked out the knock-on effects on the rest of the constituencies, but it feels like a relatively small change would “fix” North-West Cambridgeshire.

As for election prospects, I don’t think this materially affects things (still safe Conservative). However, if there were to be an additional seat, there are all sorts of “interesting” ways the county could be split; both good for us and bad. But I have to say, I feel it highly unlikely we would get an extra seat given the overall objective of reducing seats.