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New woodlands can help reduce flooding risk within 15 years - University of Plymouth

Pasture and native woodland sit side by side at Colly Brook on Dartmoor (Credit Paul Lunt, University of Plymouth)
Pasture and native woodland sit side by side at Colly Brook on Dartmoor (Credit Paul Lunt, University of Plymouth)

A study by the University has shown native broadleaf trees can have a marked impact on soil’s response during extreme weather events

The planting of woodlands in upland areas could play a significant role in preventing the flash flooding which has increasingly affected communities across the UK in recent years.

A new study by the University of Plymouth has shown that within just 15 years of being planted, native broadleaf trees can have a marked impact on soil’s response during extreme weather events.

It means the huge quantities of rainwater generated can be more readily absorbed, rather than it simply running over the surface and into rivers where it subsequently causes severe flooding.

Writing in Land Degradation & Development, scientists say their findings show the establishment of more native woodlands in upland areas could be an effective and natural flood management tool.

This nature-based solution could be extremely timely, given the Government commitment to planting 30 million trees a year by 2025 and other environmental schemes designed to enhance carbon retention, biodiversity and flood prevention. They caution however, new woodlands will require careful placement if the benefits are to be maximised.

There have been a number well-documented extreme rainfall and flooding events in recent years, and they are predicted to increase in both frequency and severity in the coming decades as a consequence of human-induced climate change. In fact, researchers from the University previously showed* the UK’s uplands could see significantly more annual rainfall than is currently being predicted in national climate models.

This new research, completed with funding from the Environment Agency as part of the Dartmoor Headwaters Natural Flood Management Project, compared the physical and hydrological properties of surface soils across four flood vulnerable upland headwater catchments in Dartmoor National Park.

Access the paper here: Murphy et al: Taking the higher ground: Deviation between projected and observed precipitation trends greater with altitude, doi: 10.3354/cr01583.

HS2 to host webinar on the new habitats created for local wildlife in the West Midlands and Warwickshire - HS2 Ltd

Finham Brook Pond (HS2 Ltd)
Finham Brook Pond (HS2 Ltd)
  • Around 80,000 trees have already been planted and 40 ponds created in West Midlands and Warwickshire
  • New woodland planting will join up existing areas, creating bigger and better habitats
  • Find out more at HS2’s webinar on 30 September - 'Ecology – habitats and wetlands in the West Midlands'

In the West Midlands, HS2’s landscape and ecology programme will create bigger, better and more joined up wildlife habitat including woodland, along with community spaces around the new railway for people to enjoy for years to come.

Around 250,000 trees will be planted in the West Midlands and Warwickshire by HS2’s enabling works contractor LMJV (Laing O’Rourke and J. Murphy & Sons Ltd) and their team of ecologists and landscape architects, with 80,000 already planted. In addition, 40 ponds and many acres of wetland, heathland and meadow in the region have been created. New wildlife habitats in a variety of locations include new badger setts, bat houses, bird boxes, reptile banks and bug houses to help local wildlife populations thrive.

The new woodlands will be part of HS2’s ‘green corridor’ which will see up to 7 million new trees and shrubs planted between London and the West Midlands, and which will support delicately balanced local ecosystems running through the spine of the country.

Climate change threatens breeding birds - Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior

Tree swallow. Early breeding birds of the species run the risk of losing their chicks because of increased risk of poor weather conditions (MPI of Animal Behavior/ Shipley)
Tree swallow. Early breeding birds of the species run the risk of losing their chicks because of increased risk of poor weather conditions (MPI of Animal Behavior/ Shipley)

Birds risk starvation in bid to ‘keep pace’ with climate change

Surviving on a warming planet can be a matter of timing—but simply shifting lifecycle stages to match the tempo of climate change has hidden dangers for some animals, according to new research from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and Cornell University.

The study, published in PNAS, has uncovered drastic consequences for birds that are breeding earlier in lockstep with earlier starts of spring: chicks hatching earlier face increased risk of poor weather conditions, food shortages and mortality. The researchers, who examined decades of data on weather, food availability and breeding in Tree Swallows, say that the timing of when to breed and when food is available is becoming decoupled for some animals—highlighting the complexity behind how organisms respond to climate change. “Simply moving dates earlier to track climate change isn’t necessarily risk free. Riskier conditions earlier in the year can expose animals to unintended consequences when responding to bouts of unusually warm spring weather,” says Ryan Shipley, postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and first author on the paper.
In recent years, studies have raised concerns about whether or not species can adapt, or “keep pace” with climate change. Particular emphasis has been placed on phenology—the timing of life cycle events such as breeding and migration—and the importance of adjusting this to track rising temperatures and earlier arrivals of spring. But the authors say that breeding earlier may place animals at greater risk of exposure to inclement weather events that tend to occur more frequently earlier in the year. They found that Tree Swallows had been advancing breeding by three days every decade for the last 30 years, but earlier-hatching offspring were at greater risk of exposure to inclement weather, which in turn reduced the availability of the flying insects they rely on for food.

Cairngorms Nature project a first for the UK - Cairngorms National Park Authority

An exciting and ambitious project to find out how nature is doing in the National Park is about to be launched by the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA). For the first time in the UK, the Cairngorms Nature Index (CNI) will use an ecosystem based approach to assess nature within a National Park.

Following a review of international approaches the CNI will build on a successful method that has been used in Norway. Over the next 18 months CNPA will be working with Atmos Consulting Ltd and a Project Advisory Group to develop an approach tailored to the Cairngorms.

The new method involves the selection of indicators that can reveal the health of our ecosystems in the National Park, by looking at how they respond to pressures such as climate change, pollution and land use. For example snow bed cover, aquatic invertebrates and stream temperature are indicators which can tell us about water quality and the impact of climate change on our freshwater and alpine systems.

Dr Sarah Henshall, CNI Project Manager at the CNPA explains “We want to achieve a National Park that is richer in nature, understanding how nature is doing and what is driving change is hugely important. It can act as an early warning system allowing us to target the right conservation action in the right place to mitigate impact or reverse decline.”



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