BROWN HARES COULD FACE EXTINCTION
Mysterious deaths identified as myxomatosis
Britain’s brown hares could be wiped out after a deadly infection spread from rabbits threatens this already vulnerable species, experts have warned.
Over the past month, scientists have been inundated with reports of dead or dying hares, particularly in the east of England, prompting them to launch an investigation.
Early examinations suggest the animals are victims of myxomatosis, a virus introduced to the UK in the 1950s to control rabbits, which killed 99 per cent of the population.
Uploaded: 14 October 2018
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
Incheon, Republic of Korea, 8 October 2018
The landmark UN report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius was released in South Korea yesterday after a week-long meeting of the 195-nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The key findings are:
Capping global warming at 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will require "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society", the IPCC said. Earth's average surface temperature has already gone up 1C -- enough to unleash a crescendo of deadly extreme weather -- and is on track to rise another two or three degrees absent a sharp and sustained reduction in carbon pollution. At current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, we could pass the 1.5C marker as early as 2030. To have at least a 50-50 chance of staying under 1.5C without overshooting the mark, the world must, by 2050, become "carbon neutral".
HIGH COST OF INACTION
The 30-page executive summary also details humanity's "carbon budget" -- the amount of CO2 we can emit and still stay under the 1.5C ceiling. For a two-thirds chance of success, that is about 420 billion tonnes, an allowance that would -- according to current trends -- be used up in a decade. The share of electricity generated by renewables -- mainly hydro, solar and wind -- would have to jump by mid-century from about 20 to 70 percent. The share of coal, meanwhile, would need to drop from 40 percent to low single digits. Limiting global warming to 1.5C will require investing about $2.4 trillion (2.1 trillion euros) in the global energy system every year between 2016 and 2035.
1.5C V 2C
Two degrees Celsius was long considered the temperature guardrail for a climate-safe world, but a raft of recent research shows otherwise. "Climate impacts are exponentially more dramatic when we go from 1.5C to 2C," said Henri Waisman, a scientist at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, and a coordinating lead author of the IPCC report. Some tropical fisheries are likely to collapse somewhere between the 1.5C and 2C benchmark. Staple food crops will decline in yield and nutritional value by an extra 10 to 15 percent. Coral reefs will mostly perish. The rate of species loss will accelerate "substantially".
The IPCC say the 1.5C goal is technically and economically feasible, but depends on political leadership to become reality. One pathway, for example, relies heavily on a deep reduction in energy demand, while another assumes major changes in consumption habits, such as eating less meat and abandoning cars with internal combustion engines. Two others depend on sucking massive amounts of CO2 out of the air, either though large-scale reforestation, use of biofuels, or direct carbon capture.
Uploaded: 14 October 2018
PCB THREAT TO ORCAS
Pollution threatens to wipe out killer whales
ZSL & Science magazine
Persistent chemical pollution in the environment, in the form of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are affecting the breeding success of orcas or killer whales.
A new study suggests the long-term viability of more than half of the different orca groups around the globe is now in question.
Certain populations, including those around the UK, the Strait of Gibraltar, off Brazil, Japan and California, are likely to disappear.
PCBs were once manufactured in large quantities, and used in everything from paints to electrical equipment and in certain plastics. Their use was banned decades ago but they persist in the environment and are highly toxic.
Killer whales are apex predators so when they eat fish, seals and other marine creatures lower down in the food chain, their bodies absorb all PCB pollution already absorbed by them.
It is believed that the PCBs stunt the ovaries of female orcas, limiting their ability to produce calves. In addition, PCBs damage their immune system.
Uploaded: 28 September 2018
Badger cull under way in England for sixth year
Badger culling has started across England for a sixth consecutive year.
A source close to Defra has said the badger cull restarted on Monday 10 September across many of the existing 21 zones.
Farmers Weekly claims that Natural England is about to announce the approval of culling licences for 10 new zones including Avon, Berkshire, Derbyshire, Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire as well as parts of Wiltshire and Devon, where culling licences are already in place.
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said with 10 new licences in operation in 2018, more badgers could be killed in 2018 than the last five years combined.
The Badger Trust estimates that by the end of 2018 over 70,000 badgers could have been killed as a result of culling and if the policy continues to be expanded this figure will exceed 150,000 by 2020.
Mr Dyer said large numbers of badger cubs and their mothers (sows) had died this summer as a result of heat exhaustion and being unable to get access to food – the ground has been too hard to get earthworms or water.
More badgers had also died on the road as they have been forced to move out of their territories in search of food and water.
Mr Dyer said expanding the cull following the heatwave risked “pushing the badger to the verge of local extinction”, especially in Gloucestershire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall where culling has been taking place over the longest period.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency is set to publish a review of the results on the first four years of the badger cull later this autumn.
Population biologist Sir Charles Godfray is expected to publish the results of an independent review of the government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England.
Uploaded: 10 September 2018
New research throws light on factors associated with the decline of Britain’s hedgehogs
+ This was the first systematic survey of rural hedgehog populations in England and Wales using footprint tracking tunnels to measure the presence / absence of hedgehogs
+ Hedgehogs were present at only 21% of all the sites surveyed
+ Hedgehog presence was negatively affected by badger sett density. However, both badger setts and hedgehogs were absent from 27% of all sites, suggesting that there is a wider landscape issue affecting both species
+ Hedgehog presence was positively affected by the amount of built land (i.e. housing); areas of human habitation may, therefore, be acting as a "refuge" habitat from the problems associated with rural landscapes
Results from the first systematic survey of rural hedgehog populations in England and Wales using footprint tracking tunnels has been published in Scientific Reports.
The research, titled ‘Reduced occupancy of hedgehogs in rural England and Wales: the influence of habitat and an asymmetric intra-guild predator’, investigates the effects of the availability of key habitat types and badger (Meles meles) sett density on native hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus). The results show that while badger sett density is negatively correlated with hedgehog presence, there was evidence of both species co-existing and hedgehogs being positively associated with built habitat (e.g. houses). More worryingly, both hedgehogs and badger setts were not recorded at many of the sites surveyed, suggesting there is a much wider land management issue in our countryside affecting both species.
The research, led by Nottingham Trent University and the University of Reading, and funded by the People's Trust for Endangered Species and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, surveyed 261 rural sites covering all habitat types (7 land classes from arable farmland to upland sites) across England and Wales between 2014 and 2015 (18 sites in Wales, 243 in England) using footprint tracking tunnels. Many sites were surveyed by volunteers.
Ben Williams, PhD student from the University of Reading, the primary author of this paper, explains: "We found that although hedgehogs were generally widely distributed across England and Wales, they were actually found at a worryingly low number (21%) of sites. We also found that hedgehogs were absent from 71% of sites that did not have badger setts either, indicating that both hedgehogs and badgers may be absent from large portions of rural England and Wales."
“We found hedgehogs at 55 sites. We also found that badger setts were present at 49% of these sites, demonstrating that badgers and hedgehogs can, and do, coexist, as was the case historically for thousands of years prior to the recent decline in hedgehog numbers. However, perhaps more importantly our results indicate that a large proportion of rural England and Wales is potentially unsuitable for both hedgehogs and badgers to live in. Given the similarity in diets of the two species, one explanation for this could be the reduced availability of macro-invertebrate prey (such as earthworms) which both species need to feed on to survive. This could be as a result of agricultural intensification and climate change.”
While the results don’t dispute that high numbers of badgers in some places do have a negative impact on the presence of hedgehogs, crucially, neither hedgehogs nor badger setts were present at 70 sites (27%), meaning that at over a quarter of the study sites the landscape was apparently unsuitable for either species. This would imply a wider landscape management issue affecting both species, rather than a single factor being the cause of the well-documented hedgehog decline.
Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager at PTES expands: “Badgers are what’s known as ‘intra-guild predators’, meaning they predate hedgehogs but also compete with them for food resources. This naturally makes their relationship complex, which we already knew, but until now we didn’t realise the extent to which changes in the landscape were affecting both species”.
Ben further elaborates: “The results also indicate that hedgehogs may be using areas of human habitation as a sort of “refuge habitat”. This was evident across all scales (from small villages to cities), becoming more pronounced with greater urbanisation. Residential gardens potentially offer a number of advantages for hedgehogs and enable them to escape some of the problems associated with the rural landscape. Therefore, houses, villages and towns bordering more rural landscapes are important areas for hedgehogs and may become increasingly so if we continue to see the rate of declines we are currently witnessing in rural Britain.”
PTES Press Release. Thanks to Adela Cragg at Firebird PR. T: 01235 835 297. E: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uploaded: 08 September 2018
LANDMARK RULING ON GLYPHOSATE
US lawsuit is dramatic blow to Monsanto
Earlier this month, a landmark glyphosate case found that agri-chemical giant Monsanto’s weedkiller not only caused a man’s terminal cancer, but that the company knew its glyphosate products could be dangerous. The settlement of $289m was unprecedented and has caused huge ripples, with supermarkets reviewing their gardening product ranges and the public quite rightly asking questions.
We have been actively campaigning on this issue – calling for a ban on the use of glyphosate on UK wheat pre-harvest, and as a weedkiller in public spaces – since 2015 when government testing found glyphosate regularly turning up in British bread.
The evidence is ever-more damning and the problem isn't just glyphosate. Our food and farming system is stuck on a chemical-reliant treadmill and we need it to stop. Pesticide use is increasing dramatically – despite industry claims to the opposite. Along with scientists, we increasingly believe that there is no safe dose for human exposure to many pesticides and research indicates that they are playing a significant part in the catastrophic biodiversity crash.
With the impact of glyphosate high on politicans’ and public awareness, and as we prepare to exit the Common Agricultural Policy with Brexit, the need to act has never been more urgent.
Uploaded: 30 Aug 2018
THE LARGEST CLEANUP IN HISTORY
The Ocean Cleanup
The Ocean Cleanup develops advanced technologies to rid the world's oceans of plastic. A full-scale deployment of their systems is estimated to clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.
Ocean currents concentrate plastic in five areas in the world: the subtropical gyres, also known as the world’s "ocean garbage patches". Once in these patches, the plastic will not go away by itself.
The challenge of cleaning up the gyres is the plastic pollution spreads across millions of square kilometers and travels in all directions. Covering this area using vessels and nets would take thousands of years and cost billions of dollars to complete. How can we use these ocean currents to our advantage? The largest one of these is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, located between Hawaii and California. If left to circulate, the plastic will impact our ecosystems, health and economies. Solving it requires a combination of closing the source, and cleaning up what has already accumulated in the ocean.
Models indicate that a full-scale system roll-out could clean up 50% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 5 years.
Research shows the majority of plastic by mass is currently in the larger debris. By removing the plastic while most of it is still large, we prevent it from breaking down into dangerous microplastics.
Combining the cleanup with source reduction on land paves the way towards a plastic free ocean by 2050.
Uploaded: 8 September 2018
EDEN PROJECT NORTH PROPOSED
Eden Project plans for new site in Morecambe
Proposals have been announced to bring the world famous Eden Project attraction to Morecambe. Eden Project North would bring a boost to the town’s economy and act as a catalyst for regeneration and includes developing the former Dome and Bubbles site into a major visitor attraction.
Plans are in their very early stages and may include biodomes like those at the Eden Project’s current site in Cornwall but the Morecambe site is expected to focus on marine rather than tropical environments.
The Eden Project, an educational charity, is working with its partners, Lancaster University and Lancashire County Council, to investigate the feasibility of the project in Morecambe.
Uploaded: 25 Aug 2018
R E N E W A B L E S
Support for small-scale renewable energy under threat
While most of us were enjoying the heatwave this summer, the government sneaked in a call for evidence about small-scale renewable energy in the UK and a consultation on their plan to close the Feed-in tariff scheme.
The proposal is worse than expected. The government are also planning to axe the export tariff. This guarantees households who install solar a fair price for the electricity they generate but don’t use. Cutting it means anyone installing solar panels at home will essentially donate their extra power to big energy companies. For most people, installing solar just won’t make sense financially.
10:10 Climate Action is preparing a response to the government, as well as planning a suite of clean energy campaigns for the next year.
The group wants to make sure people know about this consultation and call for evidence, in case individuals want to submit something to the government themselves as there are lots of really dedicated, expert and passionate people who may have something to say to the government!
The deadline for the call for evidence is the 30th August, and the Feed-in Tariffs consultation closes on the 14th September.
10:10 Climate Action has fought back the cuts to clean energy before, and they are ready to do so again.
Uploaded: 26 Aug 2018
Government watchdog warns of waste exports ending up landfilled or dumped
National Audit Office - Report
The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that British waste sent overseas for recycling could be dumped or sent to landfill due to inadequate checks.
Under a government scheme, companies can meet their recycling obligations by sending the waste abroad (Ed: out of sight is out of mind?).
Last year half of the packaging reported as recycled was sent abroad to countries like China, Turkey, Malaysia and Poland.
However the NAO states that there is a risk that some material is not being recycled to UK standards and may be adding to global pollution.
Regulatory bodies like the Environment Agency have failed to put adequate checks in place to stop this system providing cheap exports of poor-quality or contaminated. Defra has also been criticised for not doing enough to assess the effectiveness of the system with a significant rise in waste exports.
The NAO report found that businesses paid just £73 million in recycling costs in 2017 while local authorities spent £700 million. But there are no guarantees that recycling of this exported waste even takes place, producers are not made to pay to recycle their packaging, and the system is open to unscrupulous operators and potential fraud.
The NAO has called on the Government to fix these weak systems in its upcoming ‘Resources and Waste Strategy’.
In 2017, 11 million tonnes of packaging was used by UK households and businesses. 64% of this packaging waste was declared as being recycled.
The question that comes to my mind – with the recent publicity around plastic waste – how much of this waste is ending up dumped in the seas and oceans of our planet?
Mike Armitage - Editor
Uploaded: 23 July 2018
SHORT FILM SHOWCASE
The Tragic Tale of a Pangolin, the World’s Most Trafficked Animal
Pangolins are the most illegally trafficked mammal in the world. They are the world's only scaled mammal. They are cat-sized, nocturnal anteaters and are found in Africa and Asia.
Their meat and scales are in high demand in Chinese medicine for their supposed health benefits, and as a result the pangolin's population has plummeted.
Earlier this year, 4.4 tons of pangolin scales, labeled as plastic, were seized in Hong Kong, a haul estimated to represent between 1,100 and 6,600 pangolins and be worth $1.25 million (U.S.).
Pangolins are now one of the most valuable animals to need protection, and bans are being discussed alongside those of iconic animals like elephants and rhinos. It's estimated that in the last 10 years, a million pangolins have been trafficked.
SCOTTISH BREEDING SUCCESS!!
First white-tailed eagle chick in Orkney for over 140 years
A white-tailed eagle chick has successfully hatched in Orkney for the first time in over 140 years, RSPB Scotland has announced. One chick has been seen, however local RSPB Scotland staff believe from watching the parents’ behaviour that there may be two.
Also known as sea eagles it’s been five years since these birds reappeared in Orkney after an absence of 95 years. The species were wiped out in the UK when the last bird was shot on Shetland in 1918, and it’s thanks to a reintroduction programme begun in the 1970s that the birds are once again found in Scotland.
A pair have been seen in Hoy every year since 2013 but nesting attempts in 2015 and 2016 were both unsuccessful, a common occurrence for young birds. It’s thought to be the parents’ first year and nesting attempt together, with a female from previous years pairing up with a new male.
Lee Shields, RSPB Scotland’s Hoy Warden said: “It’s fantastic that the eggs laid in spring have hatched, the first successful breeding season here since the 19th century. This breeding attempt is still at the early stages, with young often in the nest for up to 14 weeks. Everybody was so excited when the first pair arrived and we’ve been keeping our fingers crossed for this ever since. We were hugely disappointed when a previous pair abandoned the territory last year, so to have at least one chick now is even more special.
“Even though they hadn’t nested here since 1873, white-tailed eagles have long been associated with Orkney’s natural and cultural heritage. Our RSPB Scotland reserve in Hoy is already home to hen harriers, great skuas, red-throated divers and more, so to see the eagles return backs up just how special this environment is. Now we’re just hoping that the chicks do well as it’s always uncertain with first-time parents.”
After the last white-tailed eagles in the UK were driven to extinction in the early 20th century, 82 birds were re-introduced from Norway between 1975 and 1985. They first bred successfully in 1985 on the Isle of Mull and established territories on a number of islands on the west coast. Additional releases in Wester Ross and Fife in subsequent decades further expanded their range and there are now over 100 breeding pairs of the UK’s largest bird of prey in Scotland.
It is not known whether the pair in Hoy are from the Scottish mainland or if they have travelled from Scandinavia. The nest, known as an eyrie, is perched high on a cliff face well hidden from the naked eye. RSPB Scotland is running “Eaglewatch” every day in the nearby Dwarfie Stone car park to allow people to catch a glimpse of them without disturbing the new parents and their young. Another male eagle has also been observed on the island and is estimated to be around three years old.
E N V I R O N M E N T
BBC Plastics Watch initiative
New footage of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on wildlife has been captured by a BBC team.
Seabirds are starving to death on the remote Lord Howe Island, a crew filming for the BBC One documentary Drowning in Plastic has revealed.
Their stomachs were so full of plastic there was no room for food.
The documentary is part of a BBC initiative called Plastics Watch, tracking the impact of plastic on the environment.
The marine biologists the team filmed are working on the island to save the birds. They captured hundreds of chicks - as they left their nests - to physically flush plastic from their stomachs and "give them a chance to survive".
Conventional pesticides should be the last line of defence
[Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)]
In April 2018, EU member states voted for a near-total ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, following a review of the evidence linking their use with a reduction in honeybee and wild bee populations.
Scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) published a large-scale pan-European field study in June 2017. Professors Richard Pywell and Richard Shore, who lead the CEH Biodiversity and Pollution science areas respectively, look at the future of crop protection following the ban.
The new extension to the ban on neonicotinoids to include widely planted crops, such as cereals and sugar beet that are not attractive to bees, reflects concerns about persistence of these compounds in the soil.
There is a risk that some of the neonicotinoid from the seed coatings on wheat and sugar beet will persist in the soil after the crop has been harvested. If a mass-flowering crop, such as oilseed rape, is planted in soils with neonicotinoid residues there is a possibility that the pesticide will be present in the nectar and pollen of the crop, thus potentially exposing bees to the pesticide.
These concerns are justified by the recent findings from the CEH Honey Monitoring Scheme that detected widespread neonicotinoid residues in honey associated with oilseed seed rape crops despite the moratorium on their use.
While the European Commission has carried out a review of changes in farmer behaviour in light of the restrictions on neonicotinoid use, it is important that the alternative means of crop protection are carefully monitored to assess their impacts on a wide range of environmental indicators.
This will require continued monitoring of the impacts of pesticide on pollinators and other groups. An example of this is the recently launched CEH Honey Monitoring Scheme, working with beekeepers across the UK to collect and analyse honey samples for a range of pesticides.
CEH suggests that now would be a good time to rethink our strategies for crop protection. In future, effective and resilient crop protection strategies will need to be truly holistic, requiring the integration of a range of pest and disease control methods.
These might include improved diagnostic and forecasting of pest outbreaks, use of techniques like gene editing to more rapidly produce crop varieties with durable disease resistance, use of traditional control strategies like crop rotation, enhancing underlying natural pest control and the deployment of new biopesticides.
This doesn't mean no pesticides, but rather that conventional pesticides need to be the last line of defence rather than the first line, as they are currently.
The loss of a parent is the most common cause of brood failure in blue tits
British Ecological Society/Max Planck Institute for Ornithology press release
Complete brood failure in blue tits is almost always associated with the sudden and permanent disappearance of one of the parents. Peter Santema and Bart Kempenaers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen show in their study that the remaining parent substantially increased its effort to raise at least some of the chicks, which turned out to be successful in two thirds of the nests.
Single parent males generally do worse, probably because they are not able to keep their chicks warm. Their findings are published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology.
Apart from being a popular garden feeder visitor, blue tits have been the focus of much research on the causes and consequences of variation in reproductive success. Blue tits typically lay between 8-15 eggs, of which a varying number of young will survive to leave the nest. In some nests, however, all the offspring die before they are old enough to leave the nest.
Finding out what causes these cases of complete brood mortality has proven challenging. Does one parent leave all the care to its mate? Can a single parent not cope with the demands? Do both parents decide to desert their brood? To find out, we need to know exactly when parents stop bringing food and when the offspring perish.
Therefore, Peter Santema and Bart Kempenaers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen equipped all adult blue tits in their study site with a tiny, passive integrated transponder.
They also designed nestboxes with a built-in, automated monitoring system that recorded every visit of a transpondered bird throughout the entire year. With this system, they could analyse all parental visits of 277 nestboxes and determine when a parent was last present at the nest. In case of sudden parental disappearance, they also measured how often the remaining parent visited, both before and after the disappearance of its partner.
Of the 684 nests analysed over seven years, 13 percent suffered complete brood failure. The researchers found that in almost all of these nests, one of the parents had disappeared while the young were still alive.
“This raises the question whether one of the parents deserted and left all the care to its partner, or whether the parents were exhausted and simply gave up,” says Bart Kempenaers, who was leading the study.
Both scenarios are unlikely, because the researchers found that – with one exception – all birds that had disappeared were never observed again in the study area.
Moreover, their nest visit rates were normal up to the moment of disappearance, suggesting that these were otherwise healthy individuals.
“All the evidence suggests that death by predation is the most likely cause for the disappearance of a parent”, says Peter Santema, first author of the study.
The constant flying to and from the nest makes them vulnerable to predation by aerial predators, in particular the sparrowhawk.
Review of British wildlife by The Mammal Society and Natural England
British mammals’ fight for survival
Almost one in five of British mammal species face a high risk of extinction, according to the first comprehensive review of their populations for more than 20 years launched today by The Mammal Society and Natural England.
The red squirrel, wildcat and the grey long-eared bat are all listed as facing severe threats to their survival.
The review – commissioned by Natural England working in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural Resources Wales – also found other mammals such as the hedgehog and water vole have seen their populations decline by up to 66% over the past 20 years.
Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and road deaths are all putting pressure on some of the best loved and most recognisable of Britain’s 58 terrestrial mammals, whose current status, historical and recent population trends, threats, and future prospects have all been assessed in the review. The work will prioritise conservation actions and also sets an agenda for future research efforts.
Prof Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society Chair and professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex, said:
“This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever.”
The Mammal Society is now calling for more research to be carried out urgently to get a clearer and more accurate picture of Britain’s mammal populations. For many species, including common animals such as rabbits and moles, very little information is available.
Last month, the Society launched a Mammal Mapper app so that any nature lover could record sightings of local mammals using just their smartphone.