Sustainable tourism key to Cumbria’s new carbon neutral plan

Across Cumbria local communities, businesses and grassroots organisations are being mobilised to map out ways that they hope will help it become the UK’s first carbon-neutral county. The county is aiming to decarbonise by 2037, an ambition initially supported by £2.5m of national lottery funding, awarded last August and to be drip-fed over five years starting this month. Tourism will be an area of focus, alongside housing, transport and agriculture.

“The national lottery funding is an injection of adrenaline at the beginning of a long journey,” said Karen Mitchell, CEO of Cumbria Action for Sustainability (Cafs). The funding was secured by the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership, which was set up by Cafs in 2019 with the help of the county council. The partnership has 68 members tasked with leading the drive to cut emissions, including the Lake District national park authority.

The UK government has a legal commitment to achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, but last month announced an additional target of reducing carbon emissions by 68% by the end of this decade. Last November, UK water companies launched a sector-wide commitment to achieving net zero by 2030, and a handful of cities, including Bristol, Glasgow and Leeds, have also committed to becoming carbon neutral by that date.

“We’re not excluding being able to do it earlier,” said Cafs’ Mitchell. “This is a climate emergency and we should be throwing everything at it.”

Achieving decarbonisation poses challenges for a county that in 2019 was visited by 48 million people. Visitors contribute £3.13bn to Cumbria’s economy and support 65,500 jobs. Tourism’s impact on its carbon footprint is largely linked to transport. In February 2020, the partnership commissioned A Carbon Baseline for Cumbria, which was produced by Professor Mike Berners-Lee, an expert in carbon footprinting – who also happens to live in Kendal.

The report found that the driving emissions of visitors to Cumbria are three times the UK average; their emissions from eating out and recreational activities are also higher than residents’. They account for 49% of Cumbria’s consumption-based greenhouse gas emissions, although 36% of those emissions come from travelling to and from Cumbria.

“Tourism does create significant challenges [to decarbonising], but it’s a huge part of the local economy,” said Chris Hodgson, owner of Haven Cottage B&B in Ambleside, which is now working towards gold certification with the Green Tourism accreditation body. He believes becoming carbon neutral will offer new opportunities for local tourism, but also that it shouldn’t have to mean reducing visitor numbers. “You just have to find ways for people to visit in a more sustainable fashion,” he said.

This could mean increasing the public transport options, the number of bike hire locations and cycleways, and looking at pedestrianisation. Hodgson is a member of the Ambleside to Zero action group, which is working with Cafs on some of these challenges.

The Lake District national park authority is about to release a new management plan that will tackle transport, one of the biggest causes of emissions in the world heritage site. As well as emphasising the public transport options available within the park, it will promote active travel days that can be undertaken without a car.

“Three quarters of visitors already go for a walk while they’re here,” said Emma Moody, sustainable transport adviser for the national park authority. “It’s about getting them to do it more, and also to get them to think about walking from the door of where they’re staying rather than feeling they have to jump in the car every morning.” In essence, it’s about persuading visitors to experience Wordsworth country in the same way the poet would have.

Electric vehicle charging points and electric buses are also on the agenda. The national park has already installed charging points in many of its car parks, and is working with Cafs and other partners to map demand hotspots and the potential volume required to cater for visitors in the future. Electric buses are a more complicated challenge, according to Moody, as the technology required to be able to do the types of journeys needed in the Lake District isn’t in place. The region has many power-draining hills and relatively long distances between charging points.

A low-carbon food programme is another area where the Zero Carbon Cumbria Partnership hopes to get tourists on board. Restaurants will be encouraged to decarbonise their food menus by lowering food miles, while also showing the impact of food choices by highlighting the carbon footprint of each item listed on the menu. The concept has been road-tested by the National Trust-run Sticklebarn pub in Langdale, which in 2019 was one of the first in the UK to list carbon calculations against its dishes.

Some of the £2.5m funding will go towards setting up a “grow local, eat local” scheme, by encouraging Cumbria’s livestock farmers to set aside land to grow fruit, vegetables and cereals. At the moment, local agriculture is geared towards lamb and dairy, according to Cafs, which leaves huge gaps for decarbonising restaurants.

“We will need every business and home in Cumbria to get on board with the net zero ambitions,” said Jonathan Kaye of Cedar Manor in Windermere, one of Cumbria’s leading eco-hotels, which already holds Green Tourism gold accreditation. “It’s taken us more than 12 years to get to where we are, and we are nowhere near carbon neutral,” he said.

“The plans are not too ambitious, they are essential, but it will take time and money to get there, and there is no point starting in 2035. Let’s be totally honest – we need to get on with this now.”

Fears over coronavirus vaccine supplies as rate drops

Ministers are increasingly concerned about the pace of the coronavirus vaccine rollout after a reduction in the supply of Pfizer-Biontech jabs.

Steven Swinford, Deputy Political Editor | Chris Smyth, Whitehall Editor

The number of people receiving their first dose on Monday fell for the third day in a row to 204,076 from a high of 324,000 on Friday.

Pfizer said supplies of vaccine would be lower this month and next as it was upgrading its factory in Belgium before increasing production in March.

A government source said that the supply had become “very constrained” with ministers concerned about meeting the target to vaccinate 15 million people in the four most vulnerable groups by mid-February. “It’s going to be very, very tight,” the source said.

In an attempt to scale up the rollout dozens of pharmacies will start offering coronavirus jabs this week in blackspots where large numbers of over-80s are unvaccinated. The pharmacies will step in where GPs have been reluctant to set up vaccination centres.

One government source said they were still “confident” about hitting the February 15 target, but that the delay in the supply of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine made it more challenging.

There are also concerns about the rollout of the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine. Ministers had expected to receive two million doses a week this month, but Astrazeneca suggested that it may not hit that target until mid-February.

Britain has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine and 100 million of the Oxford one. Ministers had hoped to distribute more than a million this week.

However, last Friday Pfizer said that it was reducing deliveries for the next three to four weeks while it made improvements to its factory in Puurs, Belgium. It said that although the move would lead to a “significant increase” in doses available in late February and March, it would “temporarily impact” shipments this month and in early February.

Pfizer said that it understood the change “has the potential to create uncertainty”. It was committed to delivering the same number of doses between January and March but said they would be “phased differently”.

London and the east of England have been lagging behind in the early stages of vaccination but officials are confident they will catch up within weeks.

At present only seven pharmacies in England have been authorised to carry out jabs. That number will rise by 63 next week and 130 the following week.

Although the government is on track to reach all care homes by next week and all over-80s shortly afterwards, concern is growing over the reluctance of some healthcare staff to accept the vaccine and plans are being made for a new push to counter misinformation.

In some parts of the country all over-80s have been vaccinated and the over-70s are being offered appointments, along with the clinically vulnerable. In other areas fewer than half of octogenarians have been reached.

London and the east of England have been slowest, with only 388,437 and 393,916 first doses administered respectively, compared with 713,602 in the Midlands.

The prime minister’s spokesman insisted yesterday that “all areas have had equal access to supply” but promised that more jabs would go to areas falling behind. “We will ensure that we provide more supply and support to those areas that have more to do,” he said…..

Grim milestone

From today’s Western Morning News:

A grim milestone in the coronavirus statistics has been reached in the Westcountry, with confirmation that more than 1,000 people in Devon and Cornwall have died with the disease.

The fully collated list of figures up to January 16 shows the total number of deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate was 1,009 for Devon and Cornwall combined.

In all, 600 died in hospitals, 329 in care homes, 73 at home, one in a hospice, three in a communal establishment and three ‘elsewhere’.

New Onward research: Levelling Up the Tax System

The new report by the right-of-centre think tank Onward, produced for the levelling-up taskforce of Conservative MPs, argues that a faster impact can be produced through the tax system, by targeting levies that impose a disproportionate burden on poorer parts of the country.

The paper argues that the Treasury should publish regional distributional analysis at every Budget and Spending Review so that policymakers can systematically examine the regional impacts of different tax changes and to ensure that the levelling up agenda is not held back by the tax system.

The analysis reveals that many taxes are regionally regressive, in that they are borne disproportionately by the less affluent regions. These include taxes such as council tax, some green levies, tobacco and alcohol duty, and VAT. In particular:

  • Average council tax per head in London is the lowest in England (£481), despite house prices being much higher in the capital than elsewhere. Per capita council taxes in London are a fifth lower than in much poorer regions such as the East of England (£593) and South West (£620). Council tax as a share of disposable income (GDHI) in London (1.64%) is the lowest in the UK, and just over half that of Yorkshire and the Humber (3.06%) and the North East (2.91%). 
  • Fuel and environmental duties are skewed towards poorer regions because of different transport patterns and more industrial economies in poorer areas. As a share of post-tax income, fuel duty is four times higher in Yorkshire and the Humber (2.72%) and Northern Ireland (2.68%) than it is London (0.68%), which has more public transport, more cycling and more electric vehicles. 
  • As a share of GDP, environmental levies on business are between a third and half lower in London (0.48%) than in more industrialised places like Scotland (0.99%) and the East Midlands (0.79%).
  • Excise duties weigh most heavily on the poorest regions. Per head the average person in Northern Ireland pays £469 a year in tobacco and alcohol duties combined, while in London it is just £210. Demographic trends have also meant that the capital’s tobacco and alcohol duty contributions combined have fallen by 16%, the fastest fall of any region.

The report also models different tax changes to understand which regions would benefit most from different approaches. The analysis finds that:

  • Reforming council tax could disproportionately benefit poorer regions. Cutting Band A council tax, from 6/9 of Band D to 5/9, for example, would save 54% of households in the North East an average of £147 a year, compared to a saving of £125 for just 4% of households in London. By contrast, increasing Bands F-H would increase tax for 15% of households in London and the South East but just 3% in the North East. 
  • Increasing capital allowances, particularly those for plant and machinery or industrial buildings, would likely generate larger gains for the midlands, the north and Wales. Businesses in places like Warwickshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, the West Midlands, Teesside, East Yorkshire, Northern Lincolnshire and Cumbria, invest the most in such things as a share of their local economy, and would be likely to see larger gains from increasing such tax allowances.
  • Removing the tax advantages for self employed people would disproportionately be borne in more prosperous regions, resulting in a £3,452 tax increase per self-employee worker in London compared to a UK average of £2,344 and just £1,565 per self-employed worker in the North East and Wales. 
  • In cash terms a £1,000 increase in the income tax personal allowance would see the largest gains per capita in London.  But as a share of income the gains would be larger in lower income regions. For Londoners this amounts to a 0.35% boost to income, compared to 0.52% in the North East, the East Midlands and Wales. 

The paper argues that the Treasury should publish regional distributional analysis at every Budget and Spending Review so that policymakers can systematically examine the regional impacts of different tax changes and to ensure that the levelling up agenda is not held back by the tax system.

Statue of fossil hunter Mary Anning to be erected after campaign

A statue to Mary Anning, a fossil hunter and palaeontologist once “lost to history” but now considered a significant female force in science, is finally to be erected after a crowdfunding campaign by a teenage girl.

Caroline Davies 

Evie Swire, 13, was nine years old when she first heard of Anning, who was born into a humble family in 1799 near Evie’s Lyme Regis home in Dorset. The schoolgirl was outraged to discover there was no statue.

Now, despite setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic, Evie’s campaign has raised £70,000 – enough to commission the statue. It is hoped it can be unveiled in Lyme Regis in May 2022 on the anniversary of Anning’s birthday.

Anning grew up hunting for fossils in the nearby cliffs to sell to supplement her family’s meagre income. She was responsible for many pioneering finds, including one of the first ichthyosaurus skeletons, and became immensely knowledgable in the then emerging field of palaeontology.

But her finds were often credited to the male collectors to whom she sold her fossils. Her disappointment and frustration was evident in one surviving letter in which she wrote: “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone.” She died aged 47.

Evie launched the “Mary Anning Rocks” campaign with her mother, Anya Pearson. Its patrons include Sir David Attenborough, the academic and broadcaster Prof Alice Roberts and the novelist Tracy Chevalier. The actor Kate Winslet, who stars in Ammonite, a film about Anning, has also pledged support.

The sculptor Denise Dutton, whose recent works have included the Land Girls monument at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, and the suffragette Annie Kenney in Oldham, has been commissioned.

Drawing inspiration from designs submitted by local schoolchildren in Lyme Regis, she has produced preliminary sketches that show Anning striding with her dog, Tray.

“I think it looks really good. It just looks like her from the one picture that we have of her,” said Evie.

Even though Anning was excluded from organisations such as the Geological Society, “it didn’t stop her. She still carried on, even when it became really hard for her,” Evie added. “She was a very important person, but she was lost in history.”

Evie’s mother said that despite the pandemic, which delayed the launch of the crowdfunder, £70,000 of the £100,000 target had been raised, enough to go ahead with the statue. The remaining £30,000, which they will continue to fundraise for, is to cover installation and legal costs.

The statue would be placed somewhere along the town’s sea defence wall, “so she will be looking out towards Black Ven where she did all her fossil hunting”, Pearson said.

“She’s been created so she’s interactive, so there’s no pedestal or podium. She’s on the floor with everyone, so people can put fossils in her basket. Lots of children leave fossils at her grave. So the idea is we put her out on the walk down to the fossil beach and children will start putting fossils into her little basket.”

The campaign has 30,000 followers across social media. “We call them the Anning army, and it really does feel like an army of people who are all equally up in arms that this absolutely incredible woman – working-class, self-educated – has been woefully forgotten,” said Pearson.

Anning is now part of the national curriculum and many children have donated Christmas and pocket money, she added.

Dutton said Anning was “absolutely fascinating” as a subject. Only one painting of her exists, where she is in her Sunday best.

“She was never credited for her discoveries. She sold specimens to male scientists who claimed credit,” said Dutton. She is meticulously researching what Anning would have worn to go fossil hunting and is taking advice from the V&A Museum in London.

What does she want the statue to convey? “Determination, because among everything else, the determination that she had to carry on, to go out – and she went out at the end of storms when it was very dangerous – so there must have been a pig-headedness about her to do that. So, that excitement and that determination,” said Dutton.