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Almost 2 million acres of GB grassland lost as woodland and urban areas expand - UK Centre of Ecology & Hydrology

A major loss of grassland and significant increases in urbanisation and woodland in Great Britain since 1990 have been revealed in a new scientific analysis of land cover changes across the country.

Using high-resolution satellite-derived data, the UK Centre of Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has calculated the overall net gains and losses in land cover over 25 years in Great Britain between 1990 and 2015. These show:

  • a net reduction in all types of grassland (both farm use and recreational areas) of 7,668 km2 or 1.9 million acres – greater than the size of Suffolk and Sussex combined
  • a net increase in woodland area of 5,236 km2 – almost the equivalent of the size of Norfolk – with the majority of this increase in Scotland
  • a net increase in urban areas of 3,376 km2 – an area almost the size of Cornwall – with the majority in England
  • a net reduction in arable farmland of 782 km2, with Scotland accounting for almost all this net loss. East Anglia also lost significant amounts of arable land, but there were increases elsewhere in England
  • 2,505km2 of grassland (about the size of Dorset) and 1,121 km2 of arable farmland (almost the size of Bedfordshire) were converted to urban use

Kent had the largest net rise in urban land cover in terms of geographical area (136km2) between 1990 and 2015, while Edinburgh had the largest percentage increase (6 per cent).

Argyll & Bute lost the largest amount of grassland (739 km2) in Great Britain and gained the largest area of woodland (662 km2). This was symptomatic of the significant differences between England and Scotland, which lost a similar total net area of grassland between 1990 and 2015. In England, grassland was largely replaced by urban development, while in Scotland, there was a massive expansion in woodland at the expense of grassland and also arable farmland, with much less urbanisation. In Wales, the picture was more balanced, with a similar increases in urban and woodland cover.

Fine words, but insufficient action – Audit judges EU’s efforts to halt insectinction as failing - Buglife

(image: Buglife)
(image: Buglife)

On Thursday 9 July 2020, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) will publish the Special Report “Protection of wild pollinators in the EU: Commission initiatives have not borne fruit”.

It is expected that despite the good intentions and fine words from the Commission the ECA will conclude that there has been insufficient progress on the key factors that are causing the decline of bees and other pollinators. In particular:

  • There has been a deadlock between EU institutions on making the pesticide approval process pollinator friendly, the process being stuck on first base with Member States blocking the protection even of wild bees, and the European Commission failing to push through regulations to bring the EU into compliance with its own laws, despite a motion from the European Parliament in October 2019 urging strong action. The secretive process for making pesticide decisions has already been described as “maladministration” by the European Ombudsman and is now subject to a legal challenge from French NGO Pollinis.
  • The Common Agricultural Policy has not committed sufficient resource or impetus to improve agricultural habitats and restore and reconnect high nature value grasslands.
  • The European Commission (EC) has failed to properly resource the Pollinator Initiative which depends on a single officer to coordinate the delivery of 31 EU wide actions.

There has been good work by the EC, for instance the publication of new guidance for local authorities and importantly the development of an EU wide pollinator monitoring scheme remains on track, but there has been slippage on several actions and some, such as the development of a pollinator friendly Ecolabel for plants, have been put on hold.

The recently published EU Biodiversity Strategy has committed the EU to reverse the decline in pollinators by 2030, but there is still no indication that the resources needed to achieve this, and other actions such as a 50% reduction in pesticide harm to bees, will materialise.

“The decline in bees and other insects across the EU is dreadful and must be rectified, while we welcome the target to reverse the declines in pollinators, the resources must now follow the words so that we restore the environment to state where the little animals can again thrive” Matt Shardlow CEO Buglife.

RSPB Scotland supports Crofters and Farmers to protect corncrakes -

RSPB Scotland is launching an ambitious £738k project to protect corncrakes with the help of a £375k grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The “Corncrake Calling” project aims to save one of Scotland’s rarest and most secretive birds.

Once widespread, older generations still remember the distinctive crex-crex song which rang out across UK meadows until corncrake populations fell dramatically with the intensification of farming. They are now confined to a few Scottish islands and a few isolated areas on the North West coast.

Corncrake Calling will work closely with farmers, local communities and national audiences to provide these iconic birds with the best possible chance of future success.

In the UK, the corncrake is red listed (the highest level of conservation concern). Their population fell catastrophically during the 1900s due to mechanisation and earlier mowing of grass crops. By the 1990s they bred only in the Hebrides, North West Highlands and Orkney in Scotland.

Action by the RSPB, other conservation charities and government resulted in a significant increase in the corncrake population between 1993 and 2007. It was a major success story for evidence-based conservation, for partnership working and for agri-environment measures promoting species conservation.

But the birds’ fortunes have declined more recently. The UK population fluctuated at just over 1000 calling males until 2017 when only 866 were recorded, a drop of 33% since 2014 and the lowest number since 2003. Numbers recovered slightly in 2018 with 899 males recorded but decreased again in 2019 to only 870 calling males.

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