Still so much to reflect on from AGM

Eyes forward! The AGM audience enjoys the AONB talk by Simon Amstutz

We have already reported on the tributes made to CPRE Essex volunteers at last month’s AGM at Cressing Temple Barns (see here), but there was of course a lot more to proceedings than that.
The CPRE Length of Service Awards and volunteer medals handed to Liz Lucas, Jill Hinds, Tricia Moxey and Petra Ward by the Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Essex, Vincent Thompson, comprised just one highlight of a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
AGMs are, of course, a time for members and supporters, and questions and matters from the floor ranged from the Glover Review into protected landscapes – and a plea that a letter be sent to the Secretary of State urging that the review recommendations be implemented – to the need for recruitment and the lack of young people present on the day.
The latter point has of course been made before and it continues to prove taxing. It was pointed out that many groups were having the same trouble as younger people did not seem inclined to join organised societies or campaigns.
The suggestion was made that CPRE Essex could work positively with other environmental groups like CAUSE (Campaign Against Urban Sprawl in Essex), engaging with schools, some of whose pupils followed us on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.
Young people were passionate about the environment, said one speaker, supported by another, who mentioned the growth of Extinction Rebellion.
After this discussion came a talk by Simon Amstutz, manager of the Dedham Vale and Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONBs team.
He highlighted both the delights of and the pressures on the two AONBs, noting that designation as a protected landscape (AONB or National Park) did not stop development proposals. He urged people to write to their MPs in support of such treasured landscapes.
Although covering 15 per cent of England, AONBS are, we must acknowledge, the poor relations of our National Parks, but the disparity in funding is striking all the same, Simon pointing out that England’s 34 AONBs received some £6 million per annum in total in comparison with the £10 million earmarked for the South Downs National Park alone.
The team are pushing for Dedham Vale AONB to be extended along the south bank of the River Stour at a time when, it could be argued, our environment and natural heritage have never been under such pressure. For example, 60 per cent of recorded species have declined in recent decades.
Issues don’t stop at county boundaries, of course, and we need to be aware that Essex is likely to see more pylons taking energy from both an expanded Sizewell nuclear plant and Suffolk’s offshore wind farms.
The odd bit of jargon never goes unappreciated (?!) and we learnt about shifting baseline syndrome, which describes a changing normality – and few would argue that we’re not witnessing that.
Either way, Simon stressed the economic importance of AONBs, with Dedham Vale and Suffolk Coast and Heaths estimated to contribute some £250 million to local coffers while supporting 6,000 jobs.
Bear in mind that the United Kingdom spends £7.4 billion a year on tourism, and the point is made more strongly still, while it is difficult to overstate the benefits of a high-quality landscape to a prosperous economy and healthy society… and we’re forever being told about the rising cost of obesity.
It had been a thought-provoking talk, but, notwithstanding such concerns, the 28 hale and hearty souls present did not waste the opportunity to wrap up proceedings by tucking into the wonderful spread provided by Wilkins tea room.
See you all next year!