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New report shows the UK is the least effective G7 member at protecting nature - RSPB

  • A league table showing how much of the natural world is left in each of the G7 countries has the UK languishing at the bottom, and twelfth worst of 240 countries and territories
  • Using the Biodiversity Intactness Indicator the new report reveals that nature in the UK is in a perilous state, retaining only half of its plants and animals
  • The RSPB is calling on the Prime Minister to use his commitments to the international community as a catalyst for delivering urgent action at home, by working with the governments of the UK to halt and reverse wildlife declines and restore and expand spaces for nature

A new report from the RSPB, using data compiled by the Natural History Museum, has been published ahead of the UK-hosted G7 Summit in Cornwall next month and shows the perilous state of nature in the UK. The UK is listed as the worst in the G7 for the amount of wildlife and wild spaces lost due to human activity, resulting in the UK being ranked twelfth worst of 240 countries and territories.

The new league table is the latest in a growing body of scientific reports that highlights the urgent need for action from the governments of the UK in order to halt and reverse declines in wildlife and protect and restore the environment. Using the Biodiversity Intactness Indicator (BII), an internationally approved scientific measurement of the impact of human activity on plants, animals and landscapes, scientists are able to judge the damage to nature in different countries.

The UK has a score of just 50%, which means it has retained only half of its plants and animals, compared with 65% for France, 67%, for Germany and 89% for Canada, which is among the best countries or territories worldwide for retaining its natural biodiversity.

The new report is available here.

Natural England announces new National Nature Reserve for East Devon Pebblebed Heaths - Natural England

Natural England, in collaboration with Clinton Devon Estates, has announced today (Thursday 13 May), a new National Nature Reserve (NNR) for the vitally important East Devon Pebblebed Heaths near Exeter.

East Devon Pebblebed Heaths, stretching between the village of Woodbury towards Budleigh Salterton on the Jurassic Coast, is the latest site in the county to join the UK’s list of nationally and internationally important landscapes.

The management partners are the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust and the RSPB. A new board, under the chairmanship of Chris Woodruff, the manager of the East Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership, will guide and advise the partners in the management of the new NNR.

Recognition of the 1,160 hectare site as a NNR both protects and establishes East Devon Pebblebed Heaths’ important habitats, species and geology, and provides an ‘outdoor laboratory’ for research.

The new NNR will make up a part of the wider Nature Recovery Network to significantly expand and connect wildlife rich places to benefit people and nature. At the heart of the heaths is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and the site is also a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA).

A biodiversity audit in 2016 documented more than 3,000 species across the range of habitats on the heaths – and more than 10% of these have been shown to have high conservation value. Among the key species which benefit from the habitats the heaths provide are Dartford warblers, nightjars and the southern damselfly.

State of the UK Barn Owl Population 2020 - The Barn Owl Trust

barn owl flying over a grassy meadow

Despite the pandemic and lockdown disruptions, many groups were able to monitor substantial numbers of Barn Owl nests and collectively contribute to a reliable impression of the 2020 breeding period.

You can read the results, presented here in the State of the UK Barn Owl Population 2020, were poor in general, particularly in terms of mean brood size.

Although three projects from the northern region reported positive outcomes, results were mixed from the Midwest, disappointing from the eastern seaboard, and were even worse from central England, South Wales, and the southwest. It may be no coincidence that the second poorest mean brood size in the history of the State of the UK Barn Owl Population reports has occurred during a year when rainfall swung from unusually dry to very wet, and right at the time when eggs needed incubating and owlets should have been growing.

Water companies are main cause of microplastic pollution in UK’s rivers - University of Manchester

New research by experts from The University of Manchester has found that the poor management of untreated wastewater and raw sewage by water companies is the main source of microplastic pollution in the UK’s rivers.

Three years ago, the researchers from the University’s Department of Geography were the first to demonstrate high levels of microplastic contamination on the UK’s river beds.

Now, new research published in the journal Nature Sustainability has found that water companies themselves are the cause of this contamination, as they are releasing wastewater during periods of dry weather into river flows that are too sluggish to disperse microplastics downstream.

The quality of river bed habitats underpins the entire river ecosystem because many creatures live, feed and reproduce in this environment - when they are contaminated with microplastics, ecosystem exposure is maximised because the particles are stored on the bed for weeks or months before they are flushed away by flooding. The river bed is the worst place for extended periods of microplastic contamination because it increases opportunities for ingestion by aquatic creatures, and for them to move through the food chain. Microplastics are also vectors for other contaminants present in wastewater.

The researchers say that conventional treatment removes the great bulk of the microplastic load in wastewater – therefore, river beds that are heavily contaminated with microplastics provide a clear indication of poor wastewater management.

The first frost is the deepest - John Innes Institute

frosted fallen autumn leaves
(image: S Herman and F Richter)

The first frost of autumn may be grim for gardeners but the latest evidence reveals it is a profound event in the life of plants.

The discovery may affect how we grow crops in a fluctuating climate and help us better understand molecular mechanisms in animals and humans.

Much of our understanding of how plants register temperature at a molecular level has been gained from the study of vernalization – the exposure to an extended period of cold as a preparation for flowering in spring.

Dr Yusheng Zhao, co-first author of the study said: “Our study shows a new aspect of temperature sensing in plants in natural field conditions. The first seasonal frost serves as an important indicator in autumn for winter arrival. The initial freezing dependent induction of COOLAIR appears to be an evolutionarily conserved feature in Arabidopsis and helps to explain how plants sense environmental signals to begin silencing of the major floral repressor FLC to align flowering with spring.”

The study offers insight into the plasticity in the molecular process of how plants sense temperatures which may help plants adapt to different climates.

Professor Dame Caroline Dean, corresponding author of the study explained: “From the plant’s point of view it gives you a tunable way of shutting off FLC. Any modulation of antisense will switch off sense and from an evolutionary perspective, depending on how efficiently or how fast this happens, and how many cells it happens in, you then have a way of dialing the brake up and down among cells.”

The findings will be helpful for understanding how plants and other organisms sense fluctuating environmental signals and could be translatable to improving crops at a time of climate change.

The discovery will also likely be widely relevant for environmental regulation of gene expression in many organisms because antisense transcription has been shown to alter transcription in yeast and human cells.

The study: ‘Natural temperature fluctuations promote COOLAIR regulation of FLC‘ appears in Genes & Development

1000th badger vaccinated in Derbyshire - Derbyshiire Wildlife Trust

At 5.56am on Wednesday 12th May 2021 Derbyshire Wildlife Trust vaccinated their 1000th badger.

The Trust’s dedicated team of volunteers have been growing the vaccination programme across the county for six years so far, with numbers of vaccinations only dipping in 2017 due to a world-wide shortage of the Bovine TB vaccine.

The Trust are recognised as a national leader in badger vaccination by the Government, and have led on national badger vaccination training programmes in Edale. This season started on Tuesday 11th May 2021 and the Trust have vaccinated 35 badgers already - great news for the county.

Lead vaccinator Debbie Bailey has said “We are delighted with how 2021 is shaping up and positive that we can vaccinate many more badgers this year. Whilst we await the results from the Government on what the future of the badger cull looks like, we’ll be continuing to vaccinate badgers and proving that vaccination is more effective, cheaper and more humane that the badger cull.”

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