A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
New data shows almost half a million tonne reduction in total UK food waste in just three years – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall ten times.
Reducing food waste has saved citizens over £1 billion per year compared to 2015.
WRAP calls for further action to reduce food waste to help tackle climate change.
The UK is making significant steps in reducing its food waste, with total food waste levels falling by 480,000 tonnes between 2015 and 2018 – a 7% reduction per person and equivalent of filling London’s Royal Albert Hall ten times.
The new data comes from sustainability not-for-profit WRAP’s latest Courtauld Commitment 2025 Milestone Progress Report, which sets our progress in food waste reduction since 2007. It reveals that households and businesses are now tackling the problem at an accelerated rate, with a greater rate of progress from 2015 to 2018 than over the preceding five years.
Looking back to when WRAP began work on household food waste, a total of 1.4 million tonnes of food has been saved from going to waste each year in our homes compared to 2007 levels - enough each year to fill 150,000 food collection trucks which, if placed end to end, would stretch from London to Prague.
The time it takes for species to respond to conservation measures – known as an ‘ecological time lag’ – could be partly masking any real progress that is being made, experts have warned.
Global conservation targets to reverse declines in biodiversity and halt species extinctions are not being met, despite decades of conservation action.
Last year, a UN report on global biodiversity warned one million species are at risk of extinction within decades, putting the world’s natural life-support systems in jeopardy.
The report also revealed we were on track to miss almost all the 2020 nature targets that had been agreed a decade earlier by the global Convention on Biological Diversity.
But work published today in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution offers new hope that in some cases, conservation measures may not necessarily be failing, it is just too early to see the progress that is being made.
Led by Forest Research together with the University of Stirling, Natural England, and Newcastle University, the study authors highlight the need for ‘smarter’ biodiversity targets which account for ecological time-lags to help us better distinguish between cases where conservation interventions are on track to achieve success but need more time for the conservation benefits to be realised, and those where current conservation actions are simply insufficient or inappropriate.
Improving the way we evaluate 'success'
Lead researcher Dr Kevin Watts of Forest Research said: “We don’t have time to wait and see which conservation measures are working and which ones will fail. But the picture is complicated and we fear that some conservation actions that will ultimately be successful may be negatively reviewed, reduced or even abandoned simply due to the unappreciated delay between actions and species’ response.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is starting the new year by celebrating the completion of several river projects aiming to improve fish habitats and bring a boost to their populations.
The projects were carried out across Wales and focus on repairing damaged assets and improving natural river structures.
One project was carried out on the Ogwen bank weir, Snowdonia, and focused on improving and repairing a fish pass.
The fish pass, which was built in the 1930’s, had been deteriorating over recent years. NRW repaired and modified the asset allowing more fish to access the upstream habitat.
NRW have also improved fish migration on the Nant Clwyd. A weir which controlled water levels had been partially damaged, making it more difficult for fish to get upstream. This meant that no salmon had been recorded in the upstream electro-fishing site since 2009. A boulder barrage was installed to replace the lower weir, raising water levels and making the river much more accessible to fish traveling upstream.
As well as improving the channels that fish can travel through, some projects focused on improving fish spawning sites.
Work on the Afon Wen, a tributary of the river Mawddach, included reinstalling spawning beds that had been washed away by a flooding event in 2001 and damaged by historic gold panning.
NRW reinstated 12 gravel traps that act as spawning sites for fish and within 2 weeks sea trout were sighted spawning in the area.
Traps like these will help boost the local trout population, as they have done in several other sites in Wales in recent years.
Cutting emissions of particular gases could improve conditions for plants, allowing them to grow faster and capture more carbon, new research suggests.
A cocktail of gases – including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and methane – combines in the atmosphere to form ozone.
Ozone at the Earth’s surface limits photosynthesis, reducing plants’ ability to grow.
University of Exeter researchers say cutting emissions of ozone-forming gases offers a“unique opportunity” to create a “natural climate solution”.
A 50% cut in emissions of these gases from the seven largest human-made sources – including road transport (the largest emitter) and energy production – would help plants contribute to “negative carbon emissions”, the study says.
“Ecosystems on land currently slow global warming by storing about 30% of our carbon dioxide emissions every year,” said Professor Nadine Unger, of the University of Exeter. “This carbon capture is being undermined by ozone pollution. Our findings suggest the largest losses of plant productivity are in the eastern United States, Europe and eastern China, which all have high levels of surface ozone pollution. The impact on plant growth in these areas is estimated to be 5-20% annually.”
Ozone is not emitted directly but forms in the atmosphere during complex chemical reactions of carbon monoxide, methane, non-methane volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides.
The seven areas of human activity that emit the largest amounts of these gases are agriculture, residential, energy, industry, road transportation, waste/landfill and shipping.
The study says a target of cutting these specific emissions by 50% is “large but plausible”, citing examples of cuts already made in some industries.
Read the paper: Unger, N., Zheng, Y., Yue, X & Harper, K. L. Mitigation of ozone damage to the world’s land ecosystems by source sector. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0678-3
The Countryside Alliance (CA), British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Moorland Association (MA) and National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) – four of the largest organisations representing shooting in England and Wales – have been joined by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) in issuing the following joint statement condemning all forms of raptor persecution:
“There is no excuse for the illegal killing of any bird of prey, and we unreservedly condemn all such acts. The shooting community has been tarnished with a reputation for persecuting raptors, and while many reports of such persecution have proven to be false and confirmed cases are decreasing year-on-year, the illegal killing of birds of prey continues to be carried out by a small minority of irresponsible individuals. We strongly condemn their actions and have a zero tolerance policy towards any such incident. These people have no place in a sector that is otherwise overwhelmingly positive; one that is the economic driver for many of our more remote communities, and the largest contributor to conservation schemes in England and Wales. Our countryside is a managed landscape and it is an environment in which there can be instances of some species coming into clear conflict with land managers. But two developments should serve to emphasise that the illegal killing of birds of prey is unjustified and self-destructive. Firstly, after the successful Judicial Review brought by Ricky McMorn against Natural England in 2015, farmers, gamekeepers and others working to create an environment that balances human and ecological interests should be reassured that Natural England will treat applications for wildlife licences – including those to control buzzards – more consistently. Secondly, the trial brood management scheme for hen harriers provides relief for land managers suffering high predation losses during the nesting season in the uplands”.
Natural England’s ‘Recreation ReMEDIES’ project is launched today with £2.5 million of funding.
The future of England’s most important underwater habitats have today (29 January) received an important boost after a marine restoration project received £2.5 million funding.
The LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES project, led by Natural England, will protect seagrass meadows - a critically endangered EU red listed habitat which are easily damaged and slow to recover. They are threatened by anchoring, mooring and launching of recreational boats, as well as trampling from walkers and bait collectors. The project will provide environmentally friendly moorings, voluntary codes, targeted training and habitat restoration, in five areas across southern England.
Seagrass meadows stabilise the seabed, clean surrounding seawater and absorb carbon, helping to prevent climate change. It has been estimated that seagrass around our shores can absorb and store at least as much carbon per hectare as trees in UK woodland. These plants are havens for many marine animals including rare seahorses, stalked jellyfish, and rare seaweeds. These habitats are also perfect for fish nurseries, including commercially valuable flatfish such as plaice and flounder.
The five Marine Protected Areas, set to benefit from the funded project are: the Isles of Scilly, Fal & Helford, Plymouth Sound & Estuaries, Solent Maritime and Essex Estuaries Special Areas of Conservation.
Scottish Environment LINK - a coalition of organisations involved in land and deer management, forestry, wildlife conservation, cultural heritage community, land partnerships, nature education and outdoor recreation – has welcomed the findings in the report published today by the independent Deer Working Group (DWG).
The independent expert body that was appointed by Scottish Ministers in 2017 has set out nearly a hundred recommendations in its 374-page report which if implemented in full, would go a long way to improving the ecological state of Scotland’s uplands by changing the culture of deer management in Scotland.
Mike Daniels Head of Land Management at the John Muir Trust said: “First we want to praise the authors of this report including the late Simon Pepper who chaired the Deer Working Group until his tragic death in 2018 – for their thoroughness and professionalism. We welcome the courage and clarity of the report which confirms that Scotland’s existing deer management procedures and practices need major reform. If we were designing a new system of deer management today in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss and the depopulation of fragile rural areas it would bear little resemblance to the ‘traditional sporting estate’ model found in large parts of the Highlands.”
Duncan Orr-Ewing, Chair of LINK Deer Task Force said “We welcome the publication today of this independent review of deer management in Scotland. We note and support proposals to update deer legislation to ensure modern and transparent systems of deer management, and proposed improvements to SNH powers to enable changes in practice on the ground.”
Landmark Bill will better protect our natural environment for generations to come.
Our precious natural environment will be better protected for generations to come with today’s (Thursday 30 January) introduction of a far-reaching Environment Bill.
The speedy return of the Bill to Parliament following the General Election underlines the government’s commitment to tackling climate change and to protecting and restoring our natural environment for future generations.
For the first time, the enhanced Bill will create new powers to stop the exports of polluting plastic waste to developing countries, which could prevent harmful waste from being shipped out of sight whilst boosting the UK’s domestic recycling system.
Tackling plastic pollution is just one example of where our commitments to the environment will go beyond the EU’s level of ambition and – by freeing ourselves from future changes to EU law – we will be able to lead the way at home and abroad to deliver global environmental change.
More broadly, the ground-breaking Bill will enshrine environmental principles in law and introduce measures to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive.
But, several crucial improvements are needed to save wildlife, say The Wildlife Trusts.
Today, the Government’s landmark Environment Bill finally returns to Parliament – an important first step towards wildlife recovery. Also published today is the Government’s Fisheries Bill. You can read our response to this here.
With one in seven species in the UK now at risk of extinction and 58% of species in decline, The Wildlife Trusts have long called for ambitious new laws to allow nature to recover. Ensuring a healthy natural environment is vital to reversing the massive loss of nature as well as combating climate change and achieving net zero carbon emissions.
The Environment Bill, the first of its kind for over 20 years, will establish a new structure for managing the environment and will aim to strengthen environmental protections to reverse nature’s decline.
Joan Edwards, Director of Public Affairs for The Wildlife Trusts, says: “This much needed Bill is a crucial step in ensuring we halt the rapid decline of wildlife and the Government delivers on its pledge to develop the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. We know that nature reserves alone are not enough for wildlife’s recovery."
Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust, said: “This new Environment Bill will help close the gap left in our laws by our departure from the EU. We welcome the Government’s ambition, and are thankful for its ongoing commitment to this essential legislation. However, there is still much more work to do for the UK to be a leader on the world stage in 2020 and address the ongoing declines set out by the State of Nature report last October. The Bill is currently not strong enough to fulfil the Government’s promise of there being no drop in environmental standards once we leave the EU. For example, the new watchdog - the Office for Environmental Protection - needs to be completely independent from Government. Otherwise it won’t be able to deter future governments from breaking environmental laws or take meaningful action when they do. Nature is in serious trouble, and the Bill itself doesn’t currently set the ambitious targets we need to improve it. It also doesn’t put the historic environment on a level playing field with the natural environment and only applies to England. We need to see a clear commitment to a shared approach to the environment across the UK. If we end up with different environmental legal structures the biggest loser could be the environment itself. We will keep working constructively with Government for these key improvements as the Bill goes through Parliament.”
Natural England has today [Thursday 30 January] set out changes to licences for the lethal control of herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls in England to protect these declining species.
Owing to their poor conservation status, herring gulls and lesser black-backed gulls were not included in Defra’s general licences issued last year. The breeding population of herring gull has fallen by 60% in recent decades, with lesser black-backed gulls declining by an estimated 48%.
Assessment carried out by Natural England has since indicated that the scale of activity carried out under licences in recent years is above a sustainable level. Continued activity at these levels is likely to have a harmful impact on the population levels of both species.
For this reason, it is necessary to scale back the lethal control of these gull species. In rural areas, where populations overall are known to be in decline, Natural England will set upper ‘safe’ number of birds that could be killed. Upper ‘safe’ levels have not been identified for lethal control in urban populations of gulls, as these are faring better.
Isle of Man fishermen are being encouraged to collect rubbish from the sea and bring it ashore in a project to help clean the marine environment.
The Fishing for Litter (FFL) initiative will see the Isle of Man Government provide fishermen with reusable marine litter sacks to collect rubbish that is caught in nets during normal fishing activities.
Filled bags are emptied into designated quayside bins before the waste is safely taken away. Buckets will also be made available from harbour offices so crews can prevent any plastic from blowing into the sea when undertaking tasks such as net mending.
Each Isle of Man port will be paired with a local school and information from the marine litter collected will be used to educate children about the issue.
Children will learn all about the range of waste items found at sea, and the issues that they cause. They will gain a better understanding of the vital work that fishermen are doing to protect the sea from litter.
Geoffrey Boot MHK, Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture said: ‘Fishing for Litter is part of our national commitment to help reduce the amount of plastic pollution in our seas; a healthy marine environment is vital for everyone, especially the fishing industry as their livelihoods depend on it.’
The Moorland Association responds to the announcement by Natural England of new arrangements for licensing the control of Herring Gulls (HG) and Lesser-Black-Backed Gulls (LBBG). Two species removed from the 2019 General Licences.
These arrangements include the introduction of a maximum threshold for the total number of these gulls that they will allow to be culled in England under Individual Licences.
Considering the gull control currently undertaken for non-conservation purposes – significantly by UK airports, this has the potential to restrict gull control on our uplands by over 70%.
Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association commented: “We are dismayed by this action by Natural England which has the potential to devastate the endangered bird populations that we are all committed to preserving. Most targeted gull control by gamekeepers occurs on upland estates, many of which are European protected sites. This is not done for fun; indeed, it is hard work, but it is vital for protecting endangered species of birds which have seen their populations decline dramatically over recent decades. Gulls feast on a whole range of endangered smaller birds including Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover. City dwellers may view gulls as scavengers and pests going through human rubbish and stealing food, those who have seen them in action in the countryside recognise them as the ruthless predators that they are - devouring new-born chicks and decimating populations of endangered species”.
An adult pair of Eurasian beavers were released yesterday, (Thursday 30 January), on the Holnicote Estate on the edge of Exmoor in Somerset to help with flood management and to improve biodiversity.
Beavers are currently only present in a handful of sites across the country. Having once been an important part of the natural environment, beavers became extinct on mainland Britain in the 16th century due to hunting for their fur, meat and scent glands.
The enclosed beaver release is the first to be made by the conservation charity, as part of its ambition to create priority habitats for nature and to increase the diversity of species and wildlife numbers on the land in its care. As nature’s engineers, they are also a natural solution to help tackle climate change. The two beavers – a male and a female - will be released into a 2.7 hectare fenced area of unmanaged woodland on the estate. The beavers have been relocated from wild populations on the River Tay catchment in Scotland, under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, to England under licence from Natural England.
Ben Eardley, Project Manager for the National Trust at Holnicote says: “As ecosystem engineers the beavers will develop wetland habitat, increasing the variety and richness of wildlife in the local landscape. Their presence in our river catchments is a sustainable way to help make our landscape more resilient to climate change and the extremes of weather it will bring. The dams the beavers create will slow the flow, holding water in dry periods which will reduce the impact of drought. They will help to lessen flash-flooding downstream, reducing erosion and improving water quality by holding silt and pollutants. Although we are introducing a species that used to live here in the wild, this project is all about developing our landscapes of the future, helping us respond to the challenges the landscape and communities now face.”
The releases will be carefully monitored by National Trust staff and volunteers with help from Exeter University and others, to document ecological and hydrological changes to the habitat.
Zoo improvements should benefit all animals and include a wide range of “enrichment” techniques, researchers say. Zoos have made great advances in “environmental enrichment” – making changes to encourage natural behaviour and improve animal wellbeing. But researchers from the University of Exeter and the University of Winchester say efforts disproportionally focus on large, “popular” animals – with less focus on creatures such as invertebrates, fish and reptiles.
The study, based on interviews with zoo professionals, revealed support for enrichment – but a lack of evaluation and evidence to measure the effectiveness of changes.
“There are a range of different types of enrichment, and it seems that only certain types are used for certain species,” said Dr Paul Rose, of the University of Exeter. “For example, enrichment for large predators will often focus on the way they are fed. But nutrition is only one of the five categories of enrichment – along with the physical environment, sensory stimulation, occupation (activities) and social structure.”
Previous Exeter research showed that research carried out in zoos focusses disproportionately on animals that are popular with zoo visitors – and a similar pattern exists in enrichment.
“It’s common to see a lot of effort devoted to enriching the environment for lions or tigers,” said Dr Rose. “But who considers giving enrichment to invertebrates? We wanted to investigate what enrichment is out there for the ‘less exciting’ species we house in the zoo. Invertebrates, birds, reptiles and fish are all complex beings, and each species has evolved for a particular niche – so it’s possible to enrich their environments to reflect their natural habitats and social structures.”
The paper, published in the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research, is entitled: “Concepts, applications, uses and evaluation of environmental enrichment: Perceptions of zoo professionals.”
SNH initiated this review in 2019 to update the existing 2008 SNH policy statement - Rangers in Scotland. The Ranger Development Partnership, a group with representatives from several key partners, has provided comments on earlier drafts. Views were also sought at the Ranger Managers’ Forum on 27th January 2020. We are now ready to consult more widely.
A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) pre-screening notification has agreed that carrying out an SEA for this policy review will not raise new environmental impacts that were not addressed in the 2008 Rangers in Scotland policy SEA, and therefore a new SEA is not required.
Responding to this consultation: In addition to general comments on the draft policy, views are specifically sought on a number of elements of the policy statement detailed in the consultation pro-forma available to download.
Written responses are sought by 13 March 2020.
Lincoln R. Larson, Caren B. Cooper, Sara Futch, Devyani Singh, Nathan J. Shipley, Kathy Dale, Geoffrey S. LeBaron, John Y. Takekawa, The diverse motivations of citizen scientists: Does conservation emphasis grow as volunteer participation progresses?, Biological Conservation, Volume 242, 2020, 108428, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108428.
Rikke Reisner Hansen, Knud Erik Nielsen, Joachim Offenberg, Christian Damgaard, David Bille Byriel, Inger Kappel Schmidt, Peter Borgen Sørensen, Christian Kjær, Morten Tune Strandberg, Implications of heathland management for ant species composition and diversity – Is heathland management causing biotic homogenization?, Biological Conservation, Volume 242, 2020, 108422, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2020.108422.
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