Cockles and mussels, Alive, Alive-O

Living next to the Solent with a beach and foreshore recognised as of Special Scientific Interest is a positive aspect of life in Hill Head and Stubbington. But our Solent has a few problems and is in need of our care and attention, writes Bob Seymour. Allowing the many birds that feed at low tide a little bit more relief from our pet dogs scaring them when off a lead is one way.

It is the level of Nitrates in the Solent’s water though that needs our urgent attention. Fertilisers on Hampshire fields and domestic waste from the houses that fringe its shores have accumulated in the Solent causing a big rise in oxygen depleting algae growth. All life in the Solent suffers, and the water pollution makes it a more hazardous place to swim and sail.

Some actions have been taken, encouraging less reliance on nitrate fertilisers, a temporary stop to any large housing developments. Another might be to take better care of the shellfish that live here.

The Solent shellfish are known as bivalves – Cockles Clams and Oysters. They are nature’s filter feeders, their simple life cleans up after our polluting lifestyle. As a result they also become dangerous to our health if eaten!

Scientific studies recognise these little creatures as ‘keystone species’, performing the task of ‘ecosytem engineers’. Their filter feeding behaviour removes particles, both organic and inorganic from Solent’s water transferring the matter to the seabed to either be locked into the sediment or be food for even smaller organisms in the ecosystem. They are especially adept at removing bacteria such as e-Coli, which we are so good at putting into the water from our sewage treatment process.

Undisturbed, these little saviours cluster in large colonies where the impact of their cleaning process is really important for us. In fact they perform three key tasks for us – filtering the water, trapping carbon and they can help reduce shoreline erosion.

Across the Solent over-harvesting of shellfish has had many negative impacts. There are already several controls managed by the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority – a limit on both the size of shellfish that can be taken, a seasonal halt on taking cockles between February and May, for Oysters between March and November.

Picture from Southern IFCA

In 2018 a total ban on fishing was temporarily introduced as the full impact of over-fishing was identified. The Hill Head fishery, covering the foreshore and halfway across to the Isle of Wight has been declassified as a fishery because of the poor quality of the water.

In 2020 a leak from the Hook sewage treatment outfall resulted in a temporary total ban by Fareham’s food hygiene service on the taking of shellfish. On the positive side there are several initiatives to reintroduce Oysters into the Solent, an attempt to both improve their ability to clean our water and to revive a small fishing industry that has been around for several thousand years.

If we could just leave the shellfish alone in the sea and under the sands at low tide for a much longer period, perhaps a few years, their work would be even more effective for us.

We can play a small part here by encouraging a wider appreciation of the value of a shellfish in the water rather than in a stew. At the very least we can properly enforce existing controls to stop the large scale gathering of them on our shore by illegal gangs as we saw on one occasion last year. Again, you can play a role by letting the authority know if you see any sign of large scale gathering at low tides; report such harmful activity to Fareham’s food hygiene service on 01329 236100.

Let us know what you think of this local environmental issue.

It’s a crime to close a library

It should be a criminal offence to close a library, says Focus Team member Bob Seymour! 

Right now of course we have no open libraries, so this invaluable source of learning and wisdom at the heart of any community has been denied to us all for many months now. 

Have pity then for the residents of Elson and our neighbours in Lee-on-the-Solent. The Tory led review of county library services last year has resulted in both closing their doors.

It reminds me of the actions of Caesar in Alexandria two millennia ago! Of course it was all in aid of making the claim to have not increased our council tax. But the cost is endangering the future of our children’s abilities at a time when there are so many risks to that most precious of our reasons for being. 

The library at Lee was always such a source of wonder to the many children who passed through its doors and of course a haven of peace and recreation to those of us who have already benefited from a library’s formative role in our education.

The range of values of course goes well beyond the availability of knowledge and leisure, reading or entertainment. 
So many times have I been struck by the variety of groups taking advantage of our Stubbington library’s position at the heart of our community. Many of you reading this on your tablet or phone will have been taught how in a class with others overcoming fear of the technology. 

All is not lost in Lee or Elson though, despite the best efforts of the administration. A collection of our citizens have stepped forward to work on new solutions, aiming to preserve the ambitions of a library within a community hub.

To revive the purpose of that glorious building in Lee, they of course need our help. Take a look at the latest position on their website.

Just remember: This narrow-minded approach to service provision, which in the case of libraries should in my opinion be outlawed, could so easily have taken our own library on the green away from us.

As with that ancient library in Alexandria, any temporary decline in its influence must not be taken as an excuse to commit the vandalism inflicted in Hampshire last year.

Blow to bright youngsters

One effect of Brexit is that students from the UK will no longer be able to take part in the Erasmus exchange scheme which enabled them to study at universities in Europe.

The Government is proposing the alternative Turing scheme, enabling exchanges with universities in other parts of the world, but details and funding ar not yet clear.

Focus team member John Hoar has written to Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage protesting at the withdrawal from Erasmus. John writes:

Dear Caroline

The EU-UK Trade & Cooperation Agreement (1,246 pp) could not have been properly scrutinised in Parliament in such a short time. It raises the likelihood of a whole range of errors and omissions being discovered years hence.

Although the Agreement did not mention Erasmus by name, I understand that the UK will not participate further, to be replaced by the Turing Scheme. Yet in January 2020 the Prime Minister said that we would remain a partner. I was a lecturer to many European students, including Erasmus students, at Southampton Solent University and City University, London.

Although the net cost was cited as the reason for leaving Erasmus, we all know that where there is political will, money is found. So we are left wondering the real reason why the Government doesn’t want to continue with Erasmus.

This seems similar to the decision by Cameron to deny 16 and 17 year-olds the vote in the 2016 Referendum, i.e. but it is their future! Shamefully, Cameron thought it might set a precedent for general elections, because of young people’s support for Labour. (Tim Shipman, All Out War, p89). How do you sell these ideas to the Young Conservatives?

One interpretation for the decision to quit Erasmus is that the Government is trying to minimise the interchange of bright young people between the EU and UK.

If this is the case, then it is a particularly mean-spirited and isolationist decision, unless you can convince me that there are more worthy reasons.

Sending exchange students overseas by air is contrary to efforts to stem climate change, when there are excellent European universities a train ride away.