Clifton Ings Barrier Bank Project

A flood defence scheme in the form of a proposed improved barrier bank at Rawcliffe Meadows has been another conflict of interests and values. The barrier bank project will impact a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), including some important biodiversity species including the endangered local Tansy Beetle. Here a local group called the Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows (FoRM) have been vocally opposed to this scheme claiming that plans to compensate or mitigate against the potential harm to this SSSI have not been spelled out clearly enough.

Rawcliffe Meadows, part of Clifton Ings, has been looked after by Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows for the past 30 years, improving the ecology of the site to become a SSSI.

What’s so Special about this SSSI?

The Rawcliffe Meadows have been developed since 1991 by the Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows (FoRM) a group established and supported by the National Rivers Authority (NRA, who were subsumed by the Environment Agency in 1996). FoRM inherited the site that has historically been overgrazed and used as farmland since the middle ages and improved the ecology in a short space of time to a mosaic of different wildlife habitats.

The Tansy Beetle – ‘the jewel of York’

The Tansy Beetle, Chrysolina graminis, a shiny green jewel of a species, is a species that, though it used to be found across the country in small patches, can only be found in its last remaining stronghold in the country – up and down the River Ouse in York. Though much is known about the species as noted by the detailed paper by Geoff Oxford (Oxford, G., Sivell, D., Dytham, C., & Key, R. (2003). The jewel of York-ecology and conservation of the tansy beetle. British Wildlife14(5), 332-337), there are still uncertainties about why the beetle is so successful in York. In fact the Tansy plant, is found in lots of other areas both across York and the country but the beetles are not. The Tansy Beetle Action Group (TBAG) are aware of this enigma and are carrying out excellent surveying and monitoring of the species to try to understand more about York’s population.

The Life cycle of a Tansy Beetle taken from Oxford, G., Sivell, D., Dytham, C., & Key, R. (2003). The jewel of York-ecology and conservation of the tansy beetle. British Wildlife14(5), 332-337.

However, plans that may affect sites where the Tansy Beetles are living must take care to understand the possible impacts any actions might have on these populations. Proposals to mitigate areas lost to Tansy Beetles rely on these Beetles participating in the process. However groups such as TBAG point out it is very hard to say whether such species will participate. In this way it seems, these species are part of the decision-making process. Should we take the Tansy Beetle into consideration when making these decisions?

The Tansy Beetle has been the subject of the new wall mural by street artist ATM, unveiled in York in October this year.

Valuing floodplains

Floodplains are massively important ecosystems and they provide a whole range of benefits to both society and the economy. The Valuing Nature network have made the economic case for the ‘natural capital’ provided by floodplains arguing that the many ‘services’ which are provided by floodplains should mean they are taken into consideration much more seriously (See here – Some of the main services they provide are carbon capturing, nutrient recycling, agricultural productivity but also, crucially for York, flood alleviation.

Watch this video below made by Cheshire Wildlife Trust, which describes the ‘new’ approach to flood management, also known as Natural Flood Management. In this video it shows the role of ecosystems such as floodplains in this management approach.

Crucially this type of approach cannot be made without understanding how people live with water in these areas. Floodplains, for example, need a lot of care and maintenance to ensure it maintains these services that we depend on so much – this requires understanding the relationship between the people who live in these areas and the ecosystems. In the context of Clifton Ings that would be the Friends of Rawcliffe Meadows (FoRM). Any decision about raising the barrier bank there must work with FoRM both to negotiate how to minimise damage but also how to ensure the floodplains will be restored and looked after in the years to come.