Eco fears as Hackney nature job faces extinction

Hackney Downs Lon E8 Mar 2012

THE RESIGNATION of a leading conservationist from Hackney has thrown the borough’s strategy into confusion. Kate Mitchell is leaving after two years as the council’s biodiversity officer to take up a similar position at Camden.

She has been a prime force in the Hackney Biodiversity Partnership, a link between council experts and volunteers that was formed in 2009, and in the formulation of the Hackney Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) — what you and I might call a wildlife strategy.

This, she said, “helped us [the partnership] to understand the current biodiversity resource and formulate priorities for action”. (Speaking in a roundabout and verbose way goes with the eco-system of local government.)

Hackney parks development officer Bruce Irving added: “The action plan outlines how the public, private and voluntary sectors will work together to improve biodiversity across the borough and provide opportunities for Hackney’s residents to experience the natural world in the urban environment.” (Sorry: more Bureaucratese.)

Kate Mitchell's photograph on a social network site
Kate Mitchell's photograph on a social network site

The council adopted the action plan only last month, so the timing of Mitchell’s resignation was embarrassing. She set about trying to save the partnership from collapse.

A charity, the Southwark-based London Wildlife Trust, was persuaded to run the partnership until, Mitchell said, “a final decision has been taken by Hackney council on the future of the biodiversity officer post”.

Caroline Allen, local Green Party candidate in the London Assembly elections next month, said: “I am deeply concerned to hear about the loss of the biodiversity officer in Hackney and am calling on the council to ensure that the role is filled as soon as possible.

“I understand that budgets are tight, but it is well recognised that contact with wildlife and nature has benefits for mental and physical well being, so investment in this area is likely to save costs in the long run, as well as the benefits that simply cant be costed.

“In an area such as Hackney, where few people have access to gardens, our green space is precious. We must ensure it is properly cared for. This requires expertise and dedicated staff.”

Russell Miller, of Hackney’s Tree Musketeers voluntary group, said: “I haven’t heard anything definite about Hackney council intentions regarding Kate Mitchell’s replacement.

“No one else in the council understands biodiversity issues, so if there is no officer, there is no council action or awareness.”

Hackney council told Loving Dalston: “Biodiversity is an important aspect of the council’s work and we are committed to continuing our work in this area. The council will continue to play a role in Hackney Biodiversity Partnership and is taking this opportunity to review where we are with our work and to assess how best to take it forward.”

* Caroline Allen is standing to represent the Northeast constitutency of Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest in the London Assembly next month. For a list of all candidates press this link.

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