A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
The world's biodiversity has fallen below the 'safe limit', researchers suggest, as habitat destruction and agriculture take their toll on nature.
Ahead of the 2021 UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15), the Museum has launched the Biodiversity Trends Explorer, an online tool that will allow everyone, from members of the public to policymakers, to see how the biodiversity of different regions has changed over time.
According to new analysis of over 58,000 species by Museum scientists, the UK has only half of its entire biodiversity left, putting it in the bottom 10% of the world's countries.
With an average of just 53% of its native wildlife intact, it falls behind countries including the USA and China following widespread destruction of its habitats from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries.
Globally - biodiversity intactness, which represents the proportion of the original number of species in an area that remain and their abundance - is measured at 75%. This is significantly below the 90% average set as the 'safe limit' to maintain the ecological processes such as pollination and nutrient cycling that are vital to our survival.
The researchers behind the new analysis have called on governments around the world for ambitious action to preserve and enhance biodiversity globally ahead of the 2021 UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15).
Professor Andy Purvis, who researches biodiversity at the Museum and carried out the analysis, says, “Biodiversity loss is just as catastrophic as climate change, but the solutions are linked. Stopping further damage to the planet requires big change, but we can do it if we act now, together. Muddling through as we currently are doing is nowhere near enough to halt, let alone reverse, this devastating decline in biodiversity. Governments possess the power - economic, political and legal - to address the planetary emergency, and there may still be time, but they must act now.”
The Museum has also launched a new tool, the Biodiversity Trends Explorer, to allow people around the world to track biodiversity changes from 2000 to 2050.
Working with Cornwall Wildlife Trust, this week The British Army will remove patches of scrub from overgrown areas of sand dunes on MOD land as part of a training exercise using JCB diggers, to give sand dune wildlife a much-needed boost.
The large dune system at Penhale is home to a wealth of native wildlife, from reptiles like common lizard and adder, to delicate orchids, the rare silver-studded blue butterfly – a favourite of nature-enthusiasts in Cornwall – and the silvery leafcutter bee, which only lives in sandy habitats. These species, like many other dune-specialists, do well in our coastal landscapes when there are plenty of areas of bare sand available for burrowing into or hunting on top of, and low grassland in which to hide or to produce flowers.
The problem that Penhale Dunes Special Area of Conservation (SAC) currently faces, much like many of the coastal dune systems in Europe, is that areas of bare sand or low grassland are becoming smaller and further apart. Fast-growing scrubby vegetation – encouraged by the loss of natural grazing, by climate change and by nitrogen increases caused by air pollution – is overtaking the landscape. As the bare sand and low grass habitat areas shrink, dune plants and animals are the first to suffer; coastal sand dunes are experiencing significant biodiversity loss.
As part of an upcoming machinery training programme, four 16-tonne military diggers will be used by the British Army’s 165 Port and Maritime Regiment to remove areas of overgrown scrub and expose bare sand on Penhale’s overgrown dunes.
These large excavators, often used to support major operations around the world, will be assigned a different mission; to support conservation a little closer to home.
Academics at the University of Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability have undertaken research that proves Earth Observation satellite imagery can accurately assess the quality and quantity of some habitat types.
This discovery opens up cost-effective routes to monitoring, reporting, and verifying land management incentive schemes, such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ new Environmental Land Management scheme.
Environmental land management is a crucial element of adapting to protect communities and natural habitats --- which is a goal of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in November.
In March 2021, the UK government announced the scheme as a replacement for the EU Common Agricultural Policy to support the rural economy while achieving the goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan and helping to meet carbon emission reduction commitments. The scheme will use public money to pay farmers and land managers in England to deliver a set of ‘public goods’ that cover clean air, clean and plentiful water, thriving plants and wildlife, protection from and mitigation of environmental hazards, beauty, heritage and engagement, and mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.
To confirm that their approach has practical application, the University of Surrey team worked with ecologists to test the use of satellite imagery in establishing habitat criteria for five example species or species groups in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of the areas in the first set of DEFRA’s trials for the Environmental Land Management scheme. Two types of butterfly, skylarks, hazel dormice, and dragonflies and damselflies were chosen for investigation because they act as bio-indicators of appropriate and healthy habitat, both for themselves and in terms of the wider ecosystem. They also represent a range of habitat needs such as chalk grassland, woodland, pasture, arable land, hedgerows and inland water.
A unique “domesticated” form of English rewilding is now emerging, which is distinct from activities in other parts of the world where there are lower levels of human intervention, a new study argues.
Rewilding in England occurs on a smaller scale than in other parts of the world, leading to greater need for human intervention and therefore less scope for animals and land to behave without human control, the research says.
Dr Virginia Thomas, from the University of Exeter, examined two English ‘rewilding’ sites - the Avalon Marshes and Wild Ennerdale, interviewing those involved in their care and development as well as experts from outside the projects
In the study, published in the journal Environmental Values, she outlines how proposals to reintroduce large carnivores are largely absent in England as part of attempts to make rewilding (appear) safer and less threatening to those who will be most affected by it, such as farmers and land owners. As a result rewilding’s intention to increase biodiversity is somewhat curtailed.
Dr Thomas said: “In England we’re seeing a ‘domestication’ of rewilding. It is being adapted to exist alongside people, compared to other countries where it involves less human intervention, in order to make it less culturally challenging and more palatable.”
At the Avalon Marshes land has been restored land from intensive agriculture and peat production to a mosaic of wildlife habitats and extensively farmed land. At Wild Ennerdale a previously intensively farmed and forested valley has been restored to a more ‘natural’ state, intensive sheep faming has been largely replaced by naturalistic cattle grazing and commercial Sitka spruce plantation forestry is being replaced by the regeneration of native deciduous woodland.
Dr Thomas said: “Rewilding in England is somewhat abridged – its aim of restoring ecological function can be fulfilled to some extent but it is limited by the availability of species and it will not be able to fully restore ecological functioning unless and until all ecological niches are filled.”
With less than three weeks to COP26, Environment Agency warns that adaptation – becoming resilient to the effects of climate change – is just as vital as mitigation
The climate emergency can only be successfully tackled through greater focus on adapting to the inevitable climate impacts that we are already seeing, the Environment Agency has warned today (13 October) as it urged world leaders to step up to that challenge at COP26.
In a report to Government, the agency has warned of more extreme weather leading to increased flooding and drought, sea level rises of up to 78cm by the 2080s, and public water supplies needing more than 3.4 billion extra litres of water per day by 2050. It has urged governments, businesses and society to embrace and invest in adaptation, rather than living with the costs of inaction.
With COP26 less than three weeks away, it has welcomed the UK Government’s focus on adaptation as well as mitigation, and the fact that climate adaptation is one of the Summit’s four key goals, but urged that more action is needed at a global level to protect the billions of lives and livelihoods that are at risk.
Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: “The climate crisis is global, but its impacts are in your village, your shop, your home. Adaptation action needs to be integral to government, businesses and communities too and people will soon question why it isn’t – especially when it is much cheaper to invest early in climate resilience than to live with the costs of inaction. While mitigation might save the planet, it is adaptation, preparing for climate shocks, that will save millions of lives. Choosing one over the other on the basis of a simple either/or calculation is like telling a bird it only needs one wing to fly. With that in mind, it is deeply worrying that adaptation is in danger of being grievously undercooked at COP26. Not by the UK Government, but by the world at large. Significant climate impacts are inevitable. We can successfully tackle the climate emergency if we do the right things, but we are running out of time to implement effective adaptation measures. Our thinking must change faster than the climate. Some 200 people died in this summer’s flooding in Germany. That will happen in this country sooner or later, however high we build our flood defences, unless we also make the places where we live, work and travel resilient to the effects of the more violent weather the climate emergency is bringing. It is adapt or die. With the right approach we can be safer and more prosperous. So let’s prepare, act and survive.”
29 projects across Wales that help preserve some of our most loved species of animals and plants are receiving a share of a £7.2 million grant fund.
We launched the Nature Networks Fund in March 2021 with the Welsh Government, to give a helping hand to Wales’ protected natural sites and wildlife habitats.
Grants ranging from £53,000 to £500,000 have been awarded to 29 projects tackling climate change and helping nature to thrive.
From grassland to woodland, from rivers to the coast, the projects receiving funding provide protection to more than 50 types of habitat. The sites offer crucial sanctuary to nearly 70 threatened species including butterflies, sand martins, ospreys and newts.
Project SIARC (Sharks Inspiring Action and Research with Communities), operating in Carmarthen Bay and Tremadog Bay, has received a £390,000 grant. They will use it to carry out conservation research on Wales’ marine environment with a focus on sharks, skates and rays.
The collaborative project led by ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and Natural Resources Wales will catalyse links between fishers, researchers, communities and government to help safeguard these species and support a green recovery in Wales.
Swansea University has received £497,457 to help reconnect five iconic Atlantic salmon rivers in Wales (Western Cleddau, Eastern Cleddau, Usk, Tywi, Teifi). The project aims to reverse the impacts caused by habitat fragmentation, a leading loss of river biodiversity and responsible for the decline of salmon and other migratory fish.
Supporting the economy and communities
The funded projects also contribute significantly to the Welsh economy through tourism recreation, farming, fishing and forestry. The conservation work will support communities and provide important life-support services for everyone – including purifying drinking water and storing carbon.
The National Trust is bringing England’s largest landowners together for a one-day summit to debate a range of climate change commitments ahead of COP26, helping government reach its net zero target and fast-track urgently needed adaptation measures
The organisations collectively care for more than 60% of England and will lay the groundwork for a deal to ensure they are working alongside nature as effectively as possible to tackle the climate crisis.
Defra minister Jo Churcher will also attend the one-day summit at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate, which will be a vital stepping-stone towards the forthcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow, where world leaders will aim to agree on a set of targets to tackle the worldwide threat.
Among those attending include RSPB, NFU, church commissioners, the Duchy of Cornwall, National Parks, Soil Association, The Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust.
The meeting will explore what more landowners and land managers can do at “ground level” to work alongside nature to mitigate the impact of the changing climate, while ensuring optimal use of land.
Some of the issues that will be discussed will focus on creating more woodland, restoring peatlands, reconnecting rivers and preventing flooding and the management of coastal erosion.
Following the summit, it is hoped that attendees will sign up to six climate and nature-based solutions that demonstrate a commitment to collectively playing a part in the nation’s net zero aims and pressing needs to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.
The six targets will:
A survey commissioned by People’s Postcode Lottery has found environmental charities and organisations hold the power to motivate people to act and change their ways when it comes to their own impact on the environment.
While respondents ranked governments as having top responsibility for tackling climate change, the poll found information from environmental charities to be the key driving force in encouraging people to adopt low carbon lifestyles.
Charities came out on top with respondents across Britain as a trusted information source and the leading motivator in encouraging climate friendly behaviour with respondents across Britain, scoring more highly than anything they see in the news.
According to the survey, what politicians say is the least motivating factor in encouraging the British public to reduce their environmental impact, scoring joint last alongside what they see on social media.
As a reliable source of motivation and information, the research highlights the third sector has a vital role to play in communicating to the public the importance of reducing their environmental impact, and how they can do that.
72% of those who answered expressed an interest in learning more about what they can do to reduce their environmental impact and over half, 57%, recognise that they are not currently doing enough.
Published ahead of the COP26 climate summit, the survey is part of a report called From Attitude to Action: Environmental concerns and behaviours in Britain. It was conducted by Survation and designed by Diffley Partnership.
As the first part of the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) takes place at Kunming, China, a partnership project to restore the Anglesey Fens is showing great signs of success with rare wildlife returning to make their homes on the landscape, according to observations made by specialists in the fields of plants and peatlands.
Anglesey boasts three fen National Nature Reserves (NNRs) - Cors Erddreiniog (the largest), Cors Bodeilio and Cors Goch.
Together they form part of the Anglesey Fens Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and are the UK’s second largest expanse of fens after East Anglia.
The award-winning Anglesey and Llŷn Fens LIFE+ project was the largest wetland restoration project of its time in Wales. It won the Best Nature Award out of 600 LIFE projects across Europe - a huge achievement for NRW and for Wales.
The main aim was to restore or improve 750 hectares of very rare fen habitats, which depend on a delicate water balance and limestone springs that flow into the peat.
The peatland restoration work carried out at the Anglesey Fens addresses the intrinsically linked nature and climate emergencies which top the agendas at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this year.
The National Peatland Action Programme, launched in 2020, is learning from past restoration to make sure that Wales delivers for both climate and nature.
Rare and endangered species such as the dwarf stonewort, greater bladderwort, medicinal leech and southern damselflies have been found this year in good numbers and most in new places on the Anglesey Fens restoration and management areas.
Fens are a special and rare kind of peatland. Bogs are fed solely from rainwater, while fens are also fed by streams and groundwater.
Mineral-rich water from the porous limestone rocks that surround the Anglesey Fens drains into them and it’s this mixing of alkaline and acid that makes them so special, and so rare.
They create the perfect conditions for a whole host of rare plants and animals, many of which are marsh plants growing closely together such as rushes, sedges or blankets of wildflowers.
Let nature work its magic and create a million acres of new woodland in England
Friends of the Earth and Rewilding Britain call on the government to unlock the country's full potential for natural regeneration
Over a million acres of new tree cover could be created in England simply by letting existing woodland regenerate and spread, new research shows.
The findings, commissioned by Friends of the Earth in partnership with Rewilding Britain, bolster calls that the UK government should pay greater attention to natural regeneration as a way to confront the nature and climate emergencies by increasing the country’s tree cover, alongside planting more trees.
Natural regeneration is the process by which trees self-seed through wind-blown seed dispersal or where animals like jays and squirrels bury nuts which then germinate. The benefit is that it naturally occurs, but is often disrupted by grazing livestock and deer eating the saplings.
New mapping, carried out by Tim Richards from TerraSullis on behalf of the two organisations, shows that allowing existing broadleaved woodlands in England to self-seed by 150 metres on all sides – excluding nature reserves, priority habitats, and productive farmland – would produce a million acres of new woodland. The analysis also identified the local authority areas with greatest potential for natural woodland regeneration, which include Cornwall, Harrogate and Northumberland.
England is one of Europe’s least wooded countries. Evidence from Friends of the Earth shows there is more than enough suitable land to double England’s tree cover, without affecting precious habitats such as peatlands or valuable farmland. Current rates of woodland creation in England remain at historically low levels , with just over 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) established this past year, mostly through planting.
Mike Childs, head of research at Friends of the Earth, said: “Doubling the UK’s tree cover should be a government priority, this is because the benefits are clear to see. It will help to restore nature and absorb climate-wrecking carbon emissions. By enabling woodlands to flourish, we can also reduce the UK’s dependence on timber imports in a further win for the planet. Natural regeneration puts us well on the way to that goal in England. By substantially increasing funding for farmers and other landowners so they can set aside suitable land for natural woodland regeneration, we can let nature work its magic.”
2,127 parks and green spaces have collected a coveted Green Flag Award for 2021 as the scheme celebrates 25 years as the international quality mark for parks.
After 18 months that have seen green spaces become lockdown lifelines, playing a vital role for people across the country as places to relax, exercise and meet friends and family safely, the news that a record number have achieved the Green Flag Award standard is testament to the hard work and dedication of those tasked with looking after these national assets.
As the scheme marks its Silver Jubilee, four of the seven parks that received their first Green Flag Award when the scheme was launched in 1996 and have flown it every year since – Worden Park in Lancashire, Cockington Country Park in Torbay and Queen’s Park and Highgate Wood in London - will be raising their flags again today.
They are joined by parks and green spaces as diverse as the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, Scottish Power Renewables Whitelee Windfarm, Belfast Botanic Gardens and Bwlch Nant yr Arian in Ceredigion.
Green Flag Award Scheme Manager Paul Todd said: “I would like to congratulate everyone involved in the 2127 parks and green spaces on their achievement. To meet the requirements demanded by the scheme is testament to the hard work of the staff and volunteers who do so much to ensure that their site has high standards of horticulture, safety and environmental management and is a place that supports people to live healthy lives.”
In celebration of this year’s announcement the scheme is asking parks, buildings and monuments around the UK to #GoGreenForParks today to show appreciation for the spaces that mean so much to people. Landmarks including Alexandra Palace and Bradford Town Hall will be ‘going green’ tonight.
A full list of Green Flag Award-winning parks and green spaces is available here
Today, BirdLife International released the European Red List of Birds 2021. The Red List reviews the regional extinction risk of 544 bird species in over 50 countries and territories in Europe and follows the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria applied at regional level. Each species extinction risk is evaluated from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Extinct’.
The European Red List of Birds 2021 published today
The data were collected by thousands of experts and volunteers from all over Europe. This is the fourth assessment done by BirdLife International, with previous editions released in 1994, 2004, and 2015. It is launched in the week that the UN Convention on Biological Diversity is discussing a new plan to tackle the crisis facing the world’s wildlife.
Because of how sensitive birds are to any changes in their environment, they are a perfect indicator to understand how our planet is doing. All life on this planet is connected, so when birds are in danger, by extension, we’re all in danger.
Some of the main findings of the study include:
More than 100 countries on Wednesday committed to develop, adopt and implement an effective post-2020 global framework, that aims to put biodiversity on a path to recovery, by 2030 at the latest.
The Kunming Declaration, adopted at the end of the UN Biodiversity Conference’s latest High Level Segment, which took place in Kunming, China, calls on the States Parties to act urgently on biodiversity protection in decision-making and recognise the importance of conservation in protecting human health.
The Segment opened on Monday - on the road to next year’s UN Biodiversity Conference, COP15 - and resulted also in the creation of the Kunming Biodiversity Fund, with the country’s President Xi Jinping, pledging around $230 billion, to establish the Fund, and support biodiversity in developing countries.
The Japanese Government has announced that it will also boost the Japan Biodiversity Fund, by $17 billion.
Signatory nations will work towards the full realization of the 2050 Vision of “Living in Harmony with Nature”, ensuring that post-pandemic recovery policies, programmes and plans contribute to the sustainable use of biodiversity, and promote inclusive development.
“The adoption of the Kunming Declaration is a clear indication of the worldwide support for the level of ambition that needs to be reflected in the post-2020 global biodiversity framework to be finalized next spring in Kunming”, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, said.
The Environment Agency has today welcomed a new strategy launched to protect England’s chalk streams.
The report, published 15 October by the Catchment Based Approach’s Chalk Stream Restoration Group, sets out recommendations of how to enhance these precious habitats.
Chalk streams are a rare and valuable habitat, often referred to as England’s equivalent of rainforests. It is estimated that 85% of the world’s chalk streams are in England and around 10% of these are in Lincolnshire.
Most water we drink in the east comes from rainwater stored deep beneath our feet in natural chalk ‘aquifers’, which feed our chalk streams. Chalk streams also need good water quality for different species of fish, plants and insects to flourish. However they face significant challenges in the 21st century due to complex problems worsened by climate change and population growth.
Recommendations in the strategy include enhanced status to drive investment in water resources and restoring physical habitat and biodiversity. The strategy has bought together partners including the Environment Agency, Natural England, Defra, water companies and environmental organisations.
Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd said: "England is home to 85% of the world’s chalk streams and their future depends on collective action from water companies, farmers, and landowners as well as government and regulators. No one should undermine the value of chalk streams, and today’s report adds clarity and certainty about what is expected of all their users. The National Framework for Water Resources encourages water companies to open up new infrastructure to reduce reliance on chalk aquifers. This is one of the many good proposals in today’s report that needs collective action."
Project sees fishers remove debris from the ocean
A project to help remove harmful litter in our seas and raise awareness of its environmental impact is set for expansion after receiving almost £180,000 of funding from the Marine Fund Scotland.
The Fishing for Litter scheme is part of an international movement to support removal of marine litter from fishing areas, and raise awareness of the damage done by marine litter with the fishing industry, local communities and school children.
The project also works to encourage improvement of waste management practices within the fishing industry.
First launched in Scotland in 2005, the scheme has grown to include 20 harbours, with more than 280 fishing vessels collecting 1,844 tonnes of marine litter.
The voluntary project has set ambitious targets for the coming year of landing at least 150 tonnes of marine litter, recruit at least another 30 member fishing vessels and add a minimum of three participating ports.
The funding will be used to cover waste collection and disposal, staff costs and education materials.
Announcing the funding at Eyemouth harbour, one of the 20 Fishing for Litter ports, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon said: “Marine litter is a global challenge and we are working nationally and internationally to address it.
“This funding demonstrates our commitment to reducing plastic pollution as part of a suite of wider measures which includes action on single-use plastic products.
A habitat that is so diverse in wildlife it has been nicknamed ‘Europe’s tropical rainforest’ is to be brought back to life thanks to a multi-million-pound grant raised by players of the National Lottery.
Chalk grassland is internationally rare and one of the most nature-rich landscapes in the UK, home to beautiful and unusual wildflowers, orchids and butterflies. But the extent of the habitat has plunged by over 80% in recent decades – caused in part by intensive agriculture and the loss of traditional grazing – leaving sites small and isolated, and threatening resident wildlife.
Now a £2.23m fund seeks to change that by breathing new life into chalk grassland on the eastern South Downs, while reconnecting local people and surrounding towns with the ancient habitat. The pioneering scheme, named Changing Chalk, is led by the National Trust and made up of ten core partners – including conservation organisations, Government bodies and a food charity.
Over the next four years, 18 ambitious projects will restore and care for nature, improve people’s wellbeing, bring local histories and heritage to life, and break down complex barriers to participation in the outdoors in some of the UK’s most economically-deprived wards.
A total of 815 hectares of land will be managed for nature, including returning 60 hectares of golf course back to chalk downland and reintroducing cattle and sheep grazing at 40 sites. Outdoor therapeutic sessions will be offered to people with mental health needs and an archaeology project will get people digging for history in their gardens and public spaces.
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