A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
Unsustainable farming and forestry, urban sprawl and pollution are the top pressures to blame for a drastic decline in Europe’s biodiversity, threatening the survival of thousands of animal species and habitats. Moreover, European Union (EU) nature directives and other environmental laws still lack implementation by Member States. Most protected habitats and species are not in good conservation status and much more must be done to reverse the situation, according to the European Environment Agency’s (EEA) ‘State of nature in the EU’ report, published today.
A majority of EU wide protected species, such as the Saker Falcon and the Danube Salmon, and habitats from grasslands to dunes across Europe, face an uncertain future unless more is urgently done to reverse the situation, according to the EEA report “State of nature in the EU — Results from reporting under the nature directives 2013-2018 ”. The EEA report is published simultaneously with the European Commission’s State of Nature report, informing about the progress made in reaching the aims of the EU’s nature legislation.
The EEA report shows positive developments in conservation efforts. Both the number and area of sites protected under the Natura 2000 network have increased over the last 6 years and the EU met the global targets with around 18 % of its land area and nearly 10 % of marine area protected.
However, the overall progress is not enough to achieve the aims of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. Most protected habitats and species have either a poor or a bad conservation status and many of them continue to decline, according to the EEA assessment. Of the three main groups studied, habitats and birds lag particularly far behind while the group of non-bird species nearly met its target.
The number of sea turtles spotted along the coasts of the UK and Ireland has declined in recent years, researchers say.
University of Exeter scientists studied records going back more than a century (1910-2018) and found almost 2,000 sea turtles had been sighted, stranded or captured.
Recorded sightings increased dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s – possibly due to more public interest in conservation, and better reporting schemes.
Numbers have dropped since 2000, but the reasons for this are unclear.
"Lots of factors could affect the changing of numbers of sea turtles sighted," said Zara Botterell, of the University of Exeter and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. “Climate change, prey availability and environmental disasters such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill could all influence turtle numbers and behaviour. However, sea turtle populations in the North Atlantic are largely stable or increasing, and the apparent decrease may represent reduced reporting rather than fewer turtles in our seas. One reason for this could be that fewer fishing boats are at sea now than in the past – and fishers are the most likely people to see and report turtles."
The most common turtles spotted off the UK and Ireland are leatherbacks – making up 1,683 of the 1,997 sightings since 1910.
Leatherbacks are thought to be the only sea turtle species that "intentionally" visits these waters, with adults arriving in summer in search of their jellyfish prey.
Meanwhile, juvenile loggerheads (240 since 1910) and Kemp's ridley turtles (61) are more often spotted in winter – likely carried on currents and finding themselves stranded in cold waters.
There are seven sea turtle species in total, and the others are much rarer in UK and Irish waters.
So-called “ghost gear”, fishing equipment which is lost in the sea, can continue killing marine life for decades or even centuries after it first enters the ocean, making it the most deadly form of marine plastic debris
WWF is calling on governments to develop a legally binding global plastic pollution treaty that addresses this fundamental threat to marine wildlife
Abandoned fishing gear is the deadliest form of plastic debris for marine life and has already driven the vaquita porpoise and other marine mammals to the brink of extinction, yet even as this crisis continues to intensify, little attention is being paid to it by governments or industry, according to a new report from WWF.
The report, Stop Ghost Gear: The most deadly form of marine plastic debris, shines a lights on how ghost gear* is responsible for harming 66 per cent of marine mammal species, half of seabird species and all species of sea turtles, often subjecting them to a slow, painful and inhumane death. It also damages vital marine habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves and threatens the food sources and livelihoods of coastal communities and fishers, according to the report, which highlights how tackling ghost gear should be at the fore of efforts to combat the global plastic pollution problem.
“Entanglement in ghost gear can cause prolonged suffering, result in long-term physiological effects and stress in individual animals, and even death,” said Leigh Henry, director wildlife policy, wildlife conservation, World Wildlife Fund. “WWF is seeking to shine a light on this devastating global threat to marine life. We have the power to stop it, but problems like these require integrated solutions and commitments from governments, fishing gear designers, producers, fishers, and the general public to prevent these plastics from strangling our oceans”.
The report shows that:
This autumn is a bumper year for acorns and fruits across much of the nation’s forests. Our oak trees have been producing a large crop of acorns this year, all because of one of nature’s mysterious events known as ‘masting’.
A bumper seed year is known as a ‘mast year’; a natural phenomenon where some tree species produce very large crops of seeds in some years, compared to very few seeds in others.
It’s not known exactly why mast years happen, however they have been linked to various causes over the years, including weather and climatic conditions.
Andrew Smith, Director of Westonbirt, The National Arboretum says: “We experienced a warm and dry spring, which are the perfect conditions for flowers to ‘set’ seeds. This, along with no late frost meant that flowers and young fruit survived into summer. The warm and moist summer has meant the nuts, fruits and berries have filled out well and are continuing to ripen nicely. Part of the fascination of experiencing a mast year is that we don’t completely understand the complex blend of factors that give rise to them and allow plants and trees to co-ordinate the production of so much fruit and seed. Weather and climate can certainly affect fruit and seed production in trees, however we also see certain trees go through cycles of mast years. For oak trees it’s usually every four years”
It's not just acorns that have experienced a bumper year, at Westonbirt, the National Arboretum trees such as hawthorn, Hupeh crab apple and mountain ash along with others have also seen a bumper year for fruits.
Hundreds of participants from 36 countries around the world – from Spain to Singapore, and from Poland to the Philippines – tuned in today for the launch of the Connecting Nature Enterprise Platform.
This novel marketplace directly connects increasing global market demand for nature-based solutions (from public and private sector ‘buyers’) with supply (innovative enterprises developing new sustainable nature-based solutions).
The Connecting Nature Enterprise Platform which was launched by John Bell, Director of Healthy Planet, DG Research & Innovation at the European Commission, and Hazel Chu, Lord Mayor of Dublin puts the spotlight firmly on the potential of nature-based enterprises as an emerging industry sector.
The platform has been created building on a collaboration between Trinity and UCD, whose pioneering global research is focused on the potential of nature-based enterprises to contribute to the net-zero economy of the future. By bringing together under the common heading of nature-based enterprises a number of existing market sectors from landscape architecture to green building construction, the potential of this industry sector as a source of employment and sustainable economic growth can be seen.
Connecting Nature, led by Trinity, is a five-year €12m Horizon 2020 project focusing on the large-scale implementation of nature-based solutions to build climate resilience in cities. Endorsed by the UN and EC, demand for nature-based solutions has increased exponentially in recent years in line with recognition that they could provide up to 30% of the mitigation required to stabilise global warming to below 2oC.
As the nights draw in, drivers using New Forest roads are reminded that animal accidents increase in the lead up to Christmas, with November being the deadliest month for livestock.
Commuters are urged to be vigilant as accidents involving animals in the Forest peak between 5pm and 8pm on weekdays in the winter months.
They are also being encouraged to slow down from 40mph to 30mph, a move which adds only three extra minutes to most journeys across the Forest and can drastically reduce accidents involving animals.
Last year, 159 New Forest animals – ponies, cattle, donkeys, pigs and sheep – were involved in collisions, with 58 killed and 32 injured.
The free-roaming animals are known as the ‘architects of the Forest’ – it’s their grazing which helps make the Forest internationally important for wildlife.
Nigel Matthews, Head of Recreation Management and Learning at the New Forest National Park Authority, convenes the Forest’s Animal Accident Reduction Group. He said: ‘It’s the grazing by animals that helps shape and maintain the New Forest we all know and enjoy. We urge drivers to be animal aware at all times and always add extra time to journeys in the Forest. By slowing down at night, especially when oncoming vehicles approach, drivers, their passengers and the animals will be much safer.’
The worst month for animal deaths is November; as days become shorter and clocks go back, journeys to and from work are often in the dark. Low light in winter, dazzling oncoming headlights and bad weather can make visibility poor.
A Hackney plane tree has been crowned England’s Tree of the Year for 2020, after the public voted overwhelmingly in its favour.
But not all votes have gone the Happy Man Tree’s way. Last month, it was decided that the tree will be felled before the year is out to make way for redevelopment.
Now in its seventh year, the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year contest aims to showcase the UK’s favourite trees to help show their value and need for protection. It is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery which gives a £1,000 care award to the winning trees.
The Happy Man Tree is a street tree outside the now demolished Happy Man public house in Woodberry Grove, just off Seven Sisters Road. It was nominated for the contest by members of the public during spring’s lockdown and shortlisted for the public vote.
Adam Cormack, head of campaigning for the Woodland Trust said: “The local community has made a powerful case to retain the tree, adopting the slogan #noticethistree. We did notice, and so did thousands more. In too many places we see well-loved mature trees lost to development rather than designed in to plans from the start. When this happens it’s a lose-lose situation. The tree itself is lost and people lose something that made their lives better. This is not a simple case of good and bad. The redevelopment is to provide important social housing and Hackney Borough Council has been doing some great work to increase green spaces including setting a borough-wide target to increase tree cover. But, given the developer’s own admission that this tree could have been retained if plans were amended earlier in the consultation process, we must call this out for being a poor decision. And sadly one we see too often. Efforts to create new homes and better places to live must start with protecting existing trees, and their avoidable loss must always be prevented. Planting new trees, while needed, will take years to have the same impact on absorbing carbon and cleaning air.”
A once lone rowan surrounded by new native woodland has been named Scotland's Tree of the Year 2020.
"The Survivor" at Carrifran near Moffat became a potent emblem for the restoration group fundraising to buy the valley twenty years ago.
"Where one tree survives, a million trees will grow," became Carrifran Wildwood's mission statement as Borders Forest Trust took ownership of the land on Millennium Day, 1 January 2000. That mission has been accomplished and the once bare valley is now full of native trees. The lone survivor is lonely no more and stands as a wonderful symbol of what can be achieved by an ambitious local group.
The competition, run by Woodland Trust Scotland, is supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The winning tree will receive a trophy plus a care package worth £1000 which can be spent on works to benefit its health, interpretation signage or community celebration.
Woodland Trust Scotland director Carol Evans said: "We are facing a climate emergency and a biodiversity crisis. One of the most obvious responses is to get more trees in our landscape. Trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere and provide a home for wildlife. So it is fantastic that Borders Forest Trust has shown what can be achieved at Carrifran Wildwood. This tree itself is quite ordinary but it represents something extraordinary.”
Analysis finds carcasses containing pesticide
North Yorkshire Police is appealing for information following investigations into the death of two peregrine falcons found at a quarry near Stutton, Tadcaster.
A member of the public who had been observing the mating pair of birds, found a male bird dead on a cliff ledge and following investigation by the RSPB and North Yorkshire Police to recover the carcass, a deceased female peregrine falcon was located in the bottom of the quarry.
Both birds were sent away for testing which confirmed high levels of Bendiocarb in their systems and this was found to be the cause of death. The male bird was found next to a pigeon carcass which it is believed may have been used as bait.
Bendiocarb is licensed for use as a pesticide in England but is highly toxic and should never be released into the environment where wildlife, such as birds of prey, could be exposed to it. The pesticide has been found used to kill birds of prey in North Yorkshire previously and as such, police believe this was a deliberate act of poisoning.
The lessons learnt from February’s floods must be the catalyst for a seismic shift in how Wales responds to the climate emergency and manages its future flood risk.
That is the urgent call to action by the Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales (NRW) Clare Pillman as the organisation publishes its reviews into its response to February’s flood events today (22 October 2020).
The record rainfall and river flows triggered by Storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge earlier this year arrived following an exceptionally wet winter and led to the most severe and widespread flooding incidents seen in Wales since 1979, which also impacted many of the same communities.
Investments made in NRW defences since that time have significantly improved Wales’ resilience to extreme rainfall. Across the whole of Wales, 73,000 properties benefit from NRW’s flood defences and it is estimated that 19,000 properties in South Wales escaped the flood waters during Storm Dennis due to the presence of NRW defences.
Yet the impacts of the successive storms earlier this year were felt across right across the nation as 3,130* properties succumbed to the ensuing flood waters over the course of the month.
The Met Office later confirmed that February 2020 would enter its record books as the wettest February on record and fifth wettest month since records began in 1862.
The call to action comes on the day that NRW publishes the outcomes of its reviews into its response to the February storms.
The RHS is today, Friday 23 October 2020, announcing its plans to safely run the 2021 RHS Chelsea Flower Show, sponsored by M&G, with many new precautions due to coronavirus to protect everyone at the Show held at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.
For the first time in its 108* year history the Show will run for 6 days in 2021, from Tuesday 18 May to Sunday 23 May. There will also be reduced visitor numbers compared to pre-Covid Shows across the increased number of days.
Tickets will go on sale at the end of October (RHS Members 26 October, Public 30 October), which will see 140,000 visitors at the show over six days, compared to 168,500 over five days in 2019.
The RHS has consulted on its plans and believes, with the measures it is implementing, that it can operate the primarily outdoor event safely for everyone.
Sue Biggs, RHS Director General, said: “We plan our Shows 18 months in advance and have been planning and researching how to open the 2021 RHS Chelsea safely and securely for our visitors, partners and exhibitors since April this year. We have taken the time to get all our plans finalised and will now be consulting with exhibitors and supporting them further due to the changes we have had to make. As the world’s most famous gardening event, RHS Chelsea is vital for the horticultural industry, as well as having a huge impact on inspiring people to garden and grow, which is so important for everyone’s health and for the environment. Whilst we continue to live in uncertain times and May is a long way off, we believe these measures will mean we can safely run the Show, although we will of course be ready to react to any Government advice and if we sadly need to, will offer anyone who has booked a ticket a full refund.”
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