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A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.

   

Over half of chalk streams and a quarter of rivers in England currently at risk due to poor water management and usage - WWF 

With parts of the UK facing drought after a winter of low rainfall, a new report by WWF finds so much water is being taken out of rivers and groundwater for public supplies and agriculture that the environment and economy is facing critical long-term damage

More than 550 bodies of water in England and Wales are being over-abstracted, affecting iconic rivers like the Itchen and urban chalk streams like the Cray, which have seen their flow decrease and turn to trickles, according to new Freedom of Information requests by WWF.

WWF has also warned if too much water continues to be pumped from rivers and streams we will see a decline in some of the UK’s most favourite wildlife, including kingfishers and the water vole - Britain’s fastest-disappearing mammal. A drought could push them to the brink.

Extreme weather caused by climate change, poor river management and over-abstraction of water has led to over half of the chalk streams and nearly a quarter of the rivers in England being at risk of drying out. April was one of the driest months on record, with less than half the average rainfall for the month, indicating that parts of the UK might be heading for a drought. These effects are already being felt across rivers and chalk streams in the UK and are likely to get worse over the next few months and years unless urgent action is taken.

New polling by Populus has revealed that four out of five people believe wildlife has as much of a right to water as people and nearly 70% are worried about the environmental impact of taking water out of rivers. 83% of people think the UK Government should do more to encourage homes and businesses to use less water in order to protect our environment. 69% of people also think the UK Government should restrict the amount of water taken from rivers.

If new legislation is not introduced soon the effects of poor management of water abstractions and dry weather are likely to have devastating consequences for our rivers.

Click through for case studies.

WWF, supported by rivers trusts and angling clubs across the country, are asking the public to take action to help us safeguard our rivers. Find out about WWF’s Nature Needs You campaign here.

 

Scientists predict widespread invasion of harmful ragweed across northern Europe - Centre for Hydrology & Ecology

Scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) predict that climate change may well lead to a widespread invasion of harmful ragweed across Northern Europe in the next 60 years unless its path is halted by policy-makers.

Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) photo by Harry Rose CC by 2.0 via CEHCommon ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) photo by Harry Rose CC by 2.0 via CEH

Researchers at CEH have produced a scientific model – which is able to take account of the effects of changes in temperature and length of exposure to daylight – to see how in future ragweed could spread as far as central UK and Ireland, Denmark, southern Sweden and most of the southern Baltic coast.

Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) is a serious concern because of its harmful effects on agriculture as a crop weed but also on public health as a major allergen. A single plant may produce a billion grains of pollen per season – pollen which may remain airborne for days, affecting people hundreds of miles away.  Those sensitive to ragweed pollen can suffer itching, burning, and swelling of the mouth and throat, runny eyes and nose, hives, and, less commonly vomiting, diarrhoea, asthma and anaphylaxis. It also affects crop production as a weed.

Lead author Dr Daniel Chapman and Professor James Bullock, ecologists at CEH, led an international team of researchers who found that ragweed’s ability to adapt the timing of its lifecycle means the invasion may extend northwards and increase the average suitability across Europe by 90 percent in the current climate and 20 percent in the future climate.

Dr Chapman said, "This work shows that ragweed is adapting to cooler conditions than were previously thought to be suitable for its invasion in Europe. Building this effect into our models shows how much wider areas may be at risk of its serious impacts."

Professor Bullock said, "By combining powerful models with experiments across Europe, we have been able to improve our predictions of the spread of this harmful invasive." 

Read the paper (open access) Chapman, D. S., Scalone, R., Štefanić, E. and Bullock, J. M. (2017), Mechanistic species distribution modeling reveals a niche shift during invasion. Ecology, 98: 1671–1680. doi:10.1002/ecy.1835

  

UK takes centre stage in global marine protection - defra 

Today (26 June) the UK and Ireland co-hosted the annual meeting of OSPAR to protect the marine environment.  

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey has today set out how the UK continues to play a leading role in protecting the world’s oceans and turning the tide on marine litter.

Speaking in Cork for the 25th annual meeting of the OSPAR Commission – an international convention to protect the marine environment of the north-east Atlantic – the Minister outlined how the UK is leading international efforts to tackle plastic pollution, protect marine species and habitats, and support cutting-edge marine science.

Earlier this month the UK made a number of voluntary commitments at the first-ever United Nations Ocean Conference in New York. These include joining the UN’s Clean Seas campaign to reduce the use of disposable plastic by 2022, strengthening global ocean observations, and working with Overseas Territories to protect the diverse range of marine life in their waters. 

  

 Monitoring changes in wetland extent can help predict the rate of climate change - University of Exeter

Monitoring changes to the amount of wetlands in regions where permafrost is thawing should be at the forefront of efforts to predict future rates of climate change, new research shows.

Permafrost - frozen ground - holds huge amounts of carbon which may be released into the atmosphere as the climate warms and these soils thaw. For this reason it is critically important to know where thaw is taking place and how much carbon is being exposed.

The study measured rates of methane production from thawing peatlands in the boreal region of northern Canada. (University of Exeter)But a new study says that the effects of thaw on the release of the powerful greenhouse gas, methane, may be better predicted by monitoring changes in the area of wetlands rather than by investigating how much carbon is being exposed.

The study measured rates of methane production from thawing peatlands in the boreal region of northern Canada. (University of Exeter)

Permafrost thaw is caused by climate change which warms northern high latitudes faster than elsewhere on Earth. The release of permafrost carbon to the atmosphere could accelerate rates of climate change, with some estimates suggesting that potential rates of release could rival those from tropical deforestation. If even a small proportion of the carbon is released in the form of methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, then the feedback becomes even more significant.

There are around 1 million km2 of permafrost peatlands on Earth and they store approximately 20 per cent of the total permafrost carbon stock which is predicted to thaw this century. The rate at which frozen organic soils could potentially decompose is up to five times greater than for frozen mineral soils, and peats are disproportionately likely to be water-logged following thaw, the very conditions that promote methane release.

 

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