Clear conflict

A plan to drain water from the Ebro in the north-east of Spain to supply tourism and agriculture in the arid south-east has given rise to mass protests in support of a vital wetland.

Last month a small group of protesters set out to walk 1,000 kilometres from Reinosa near the source of the Ebro river to Valencia in time for a demo at last week’s Ramsar Convention on wetlands. In every town they came to, thousands joined them. By Valencia on Sunday there were 100,000 protesters, including those who had walked a different route from the Pyrenees.

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Regeneration games

While housebuilders circle the greenbelt like sharks, vast tracts of urban land lie derelict

It is fortunate that tomorrow’s urban summit, evaluating “urban renaissance” in the UK, will be held in Birmingham. Because the city, along with Manchester and Newcastle, is one of the few places in the country where there are any signs of urban renewal at all. Most other cities are still in crisis. In the north-west, vast tracts of urban land lie derelict, while in the south-east the failure to transform cities, especially London, into places worth living in means our countryside is under ever-increasing threat. Housebuilders catering for city escapees are grabbing ever-larger chunks of countryside.

Wreckers of the landscape

The EU has ruined the west’s environment. Now it’s moving east

On environmental matters, most of us believe, the European Union is a progressive force. We think of it as an environmental version of the international court of justice, a place of appeal where higher standards of protection are applied. Yet the EU is also implicated in some of Europe’s worse acts of environmental vandalism, in pristine areas of eastern Europe as well as the west.

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EU-funded road set to ruin Poland’s wildlife paradise

It’s a haven for elk, wolf, bears, lynx and bird life. But it’s about to be destroyed by a motorway. Ros Coward reports from Biebrza in Poland on the threat to one of Europe’s last wild places

May in the Biebrza marshes of north-east Poland is as near to a nature lover’s paradise as Europe has to offer. It’s an immense, complex area with 250 kilometres of river, rare raised bogs, and water meadows surrounded by the remnants of ancient forests which provide cover for migrating bears, wolves and lynxes.

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Lord Falconer’s next fiasco

The government’s proposed relaxation of planning controls will spell environmental disaster

Anyone under the illusion that the British countryside is in safe hands had better think again, and fast. The developers are on the offensive, claiming they need to build on more greenfield sites. The government has bowed to the pressure and is proposing an ill-thought-out reform of planning controls, which would guarantee that the south-east would be concreted over. Behind these so-called reforms is the architect of another fiasco, Lord Falconer of the Dome. He is currently appearing before a House of Commons select committee, protesting that of course the government wants sustainability. Look, he says, the green paper mentions it on the first page. That is practically the only mention – but “business” appears 50 times.

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A green light to the developers

New planning laws bypassing environmental concerns make a joke of Blair’s vision of sustainability

Next September Tony Blair will be going to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg to teach the world about saving the planet, just as his government completes the greatest assault on environmental protection this country has ever known. With his customary messianic zeal, he’s said he “wants the UK to lead the world on sustainability”. So why is his government trying to hustle through reforms in the planning system which rip away current protections?

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Within these walls

Getting housebuilders to take energy efficiency seriously would have a dramatic effect upon the UK’s environment

Only 20 years ago, Sue Roaf’s house in Oxford would have come out of a science fiction novel. Thermal insulation, energy efficiency appliances and solar energy from photo-voltaic panels means that her traditional looking semi not only emits hardly any carbon from fossil fuels but is a power station in its own right, exporting surplus electricity back to the grid.

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Put the planet on a war footing

This is the time for environmentalists to challenge the actions of our leaders and press their demands

I sat in the summer sun a few months ago with Blake Lee Harwood from Greenpeace, idly discussing whether Bush had inadvertently done environmentalists a favour. Kyboshing the Kyoto accord meant people who had never heard of climate change were suddenly discussing carbon trading and greenhouse gases.

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Battle of Hastings won

Victory over the bypass was sweet, but plans to streamline planning suggest the fight is scarcely over

For those involved in environmental campaigning, victories don’t come often. When they do, they are shockingly sweet. In recent months two major unexpected victories have attracted surprisingly little comment: Crystal Palace, a green oasis in London, was saved from development, while the decision not to build the Hastings bypasses has spared beautiful countryside and precious wildlife.

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‘Our roads? Don’t make me laugh’

Globe-trotting Michael Palin has been from Pole to Pole and Around the World in 80 Days, taking the worst that third-world transport can throw at him. So why does travelling in Britain make him quail, asks Ros Coward

Michael Palin is back home during a brief pause in filming his latest journey. He’s been in the Sahara and loved it. “I’m visiting countries I didn’t know existed. The cultures are fascinating and I’ve met great characters.” And, of course, for the man who has become the nation’s best-loved intrepid traveller, he especially enjoys the journeys. “I made one amazing train journey to Dakkar. The train was 10 hours late, it took forever but it was incredible. I met up with a fantastic woman and discussed Muslim attitudes to sex.”

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