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Another rural regeneration (or lack of) story:

DCMS over-reliance on commercial providers for national broadband perpetuating UK’s “great digital divide” - UK Parliament, Public Accounts Committee

The Public Accounts Committee today reports it is not convinced the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will meet even its downgraded targets for the increasingly critical rollout of super-fast, “gigabit” broadband, and is relying too heavily on commercial contractors for the progress that has been made.

Driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, good internet connectivity is now crucial to more than economic growth and the UK’s position in the global marketplace: it is essential to almost every aspect of everyday life, from work and education to accessing public services and benefits and personal lives and family connections. This makes the rapid roll out of Project Gigabit more vital than ever.

In 2020, DCMS accepted that its original plan for delivering nationwide gigabit broadband across the country by 2025 was unachievable and revised that target down to 85% coverage by 2025.

DCMS reports that the proportion of premises in the United Kingdom with access to gigabit broadband leapt from 40% to 57% between May and October 2021 but this is largely due to Virgin Media O2 upgrading its cable network and the Committee says DCMS “has made little tangible progress in delivering internet connectivity beyond that achieved by the private sector”.

DCMS’ goal of full coverage by 2030 “does not cover the very hardest to reach areas, which include around 134,000 premises” and it has no detailed plan in place for reaching communities where it is not commercially viable to do so.

The Committee had already warned earlier this year that “failures with the rollout of superfast broadband across the UK risked exacerbating digital and economic inequality” and while “commercial investment plans by existing and new providers are welcome, reducing the potential need for taxpayer funded rollout”, the Committee remains concerned that DCMS’ focus on “accelerating coverage through rollout by commercial operators rather than by prioritising those areas it knows are hardest to reach risks some of the areas that need improved connectivity most being once again left behind”.

Read the full report (PDF)

Read the report summary

Posted on: 21 January 2022

One for the bright sparks:

Geovation launches environmental challenge to tackle coastal pollution - Ordnance Survey

Geovation, Ordnance Survey’s open innovation network hub, has launched a challenge with the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) to find a sustainable solution to tackle diffuse coastal pollution, with a prize of up to £5,000 for the winners.

Diffuse coastal pollution causes significant damage to the coastal environment and as an island nation, with a coastline of almost 20,000 miles (including the islands), it is a serious issue for Great Britain. Furthermore, with a negative impact on human health and the food chain, the consequences of diffuse coastal pollution are felt beyond the coastline.

Our coastlines are not just at risk from extreme storms, coastal erosion and sea level rise caused by climate change, but from a multitude of diffuse pollution sources that can affect the water quality and pollute our coastal areas with a negative impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

Sources of diffuse pollution are often minor in isolation, but collectively can be very damaging to the environment due to the release of potential pollutants. Often driven by rainfall and how we manage land, diffuse coastal pollution can occur as a direct result of agricultural, urban and marine pollution sources.

Diffuse coastal pollution can be caused by agricultural run-off when pesticides and chemicals are lost from farming land into rivers, streams and ponds, as with urban areas due to poorly plumbed drainage systems, untreated wastewater, septic tanks, and flooding from sewers. All of which can accumulate on the coastline and in estuaries that affect the wildlife and local residents in those areas.

The challenge will aim to address the important issue of diffuse coastal pollution on our coastlines and look at sustainable solutions of how we can improve water quality, but also improve efficiencies, profitability and sustainability from agriculture to the water and sewage infrastructure, as well as improving beach cleanliness and wildlife conservation as a direct result of pollution from humans and animals.

Visit the Diffuse Coastal Pollution Challenge at Geovation.uk to find out more information.

Posted on: 21 January 2022

We're ending the week with some good news.

Extinct Chernobyl eagle back from the dead - British Trust for Ornithology

Large brown eagle, photographed from above, sitting on a nest in the fork of a tree
Greater Spotted Eagle at the nest by Valery Dombrovski

Rare Greater Spotted Eagles have returned to the Chernobyl area after going extinct before the accident.

Scientists from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have been working with scientists in Belarus to help assess how wildlife is doing in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ), and it seems that some species are doing very well.

Before the accident, Greater Spotted Eagles were locally extinct but with the absence of human interference and the natural rewetting of a large proportion of the CEZ, the eagle is thriving. Endangered in Europe, Greater Spotted Eagles are an indicator of wetland habitat quality and at the last count, up to thirteen pairs were breeding in the CEZ.

The Greater Spotted Eagle isn’t alone: White-tailed Eagles, also locally extinct before the accident, have also returned and are once again breeding in the area. Unlike Greater Spotted Eagles, which migrate south during winter, White-tailed Eagles are resident, and their survival during winter in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is likely helped by the carrion that wolves supply. As hunting is illegal in the “zone”, wolves, and other large-mammals have rebounded to abundant levels. These complex interactions between species signify the ecological recovery that is happening there without human pressures.

Dr Adham Ashton-Butt, lead BTO scientist on the project, said, “Our work shows that rewilding could be a valuable method to conserve threatened species and restore ecosystems.” He added, “Rewilding, or restoration with reduced management, is becoming an increasingly employed method to deal with the global biodiversity and climate change crisis. However, long-term data on the impact of rewilding on wildlife communities are scarce or non-existent. Our dataset offers a rare exception, allowing us to show the effects on birds of prey of over thirty years of land-abandonment of previously intensively farmed area.”

More information here and the paper - Long-term Effects of Rewilding on Species Composition: 22-years of Raptor Monitoring in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone has just been published in the journal Restoration Ecology.

Posted on: 21 January 2022



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