Nature Matters

    10 2017

    H E A D L I N E

    Nearly 20,000 badgers culled in attempt to reduce bovine TBPatrick Barkham, The Guardian

    Nearly 20,000 badgers were culled this autumn as part of the government’s attempt to reduce bovine TB in cattle, in what critics called the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory.

    The 19,274 dead badgers is almost twice as many as last year after 11 new cull zones were added to a swath of the West Country worst-hit by bovine TB. While some badgers were trapped before being shot, the majority – 11,638 badgers – were killed by free shooting, a method judged inhumane by the British Veterinary Association.

    The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) hailed the cull as a success and said it would be expanded to more areas next year. Farming minister George Eustice announced the authorities would also increase the regularity of testing cattle for bovine TB from annually to six-monthly in high-risk areas.

    But wildlife campaigners said the cull failed to meet its original targets and Defra could only claim it was a success because after a month of culling they drastically reduced the target number of badgers to be slaughtered in 10 of the 11 new zones.

    Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “The badger cull is the worst example of incompetence, negligence and deceit at the heart of the government. To spend over £50m of public money killing tens of thousands of badgers without any reliable evidence this will lower TB rates in cattle is a national disgrace. “If [environment secretary] Michael Gove truly wants to be remembered for putting animal welfare and wildlife protection at the top of the political agenda, he should announce an immediate halt to badger culling and a wide ranging review of this disastrous, cruel and costly policy”. The effectiveness of culling badgers on reducing bovine TB in cattle is disputed, but Defra cited a recent academic paper showing there was less cattle TB in cull zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire after two years of culling compared to equivalent areas of countryside.

    Farming minister George Eustice said: “Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB is delivering results. We are introducing more frequent testing of cattle to find and stamp out disease more quickly than ever before, to add to our tough restrictions on cattle movements to stop disease spreading. “We are also addressing the disease in wildlife and it is encouraging to see early research shows badger control is having the expected results in driving down levels of TB.”

    In the paper published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, the academic authors warned that “it would be unwise to use these findings to develop generalisable inferences about the effectiveness of the policy at present” given only two years of data and uncertainty over precisely what causes fluctuations in cattle TB.

    Their data also revealed a possible “perturbation effect” with comparatively more cattle TB in a 2km band outside the Somerset cull zone – potentially caused by the shooting disrupting badger social groups and causing them to roam more widely.

    Culling badgers began in two “pilot” areas in 2013 and has since been expanded to 19 further zones in Cornwall, Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset and Wiltshire.

    Shooters in one area of Dorset killed the most badgers – 3,450 – but the original target set at the start of the 2017 cull was for a minimum of 5,175 badgers to be killed.

    Jay Tiernan of Stop of the Cull said: “It’s disturbing to see culling being rolled out further, even though every year they fail to reach the targets they set themselves.”

    Tiernan also questioned Defra’s claim that there were no “significant” incidents of risks to public safety, citing three allegations of shots being fired dangerously close to anti-cull protesters, including one incident where shots were fired near a lawyer and his 13-year-old daughter in Devon.

    Anne Brummer, chief executive of Brian May’s Save Me Trust, said she was “appalled” by the culling, and said her charity’s support for innovative new testing methods on one Devon farm showed that bovine TB could be removed from a chronically-infected cattle herd without killing badgers. She said the research referred to by Defra showing apparent declines in bovine TB in two cull zones was “no more than poor guesswork”. She added: “Defra needs to stop producing data that is not worth the paper it is written on and actually publish the facts. The cull has failed farmers, cattle and badgers. It’s ill-conceived, full of bad practice and we need too move on together to tackle the real enemy – bovine TB.” Cattle TB continues to rise in England, with the premature slaughter of 29,000 cattle in 2016 costing taxpayers more than £100m a year, mostly in compensation to farmers. The government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB also includes grants to encourage landowners and wildlife groups to vaccinate badgers to create a buffer zone between the highest and lowest-risk disease areas in England.

  • 11 2017

    PRESS RELEASEDEFRA : dated 3 Dec 2017

    Blue Belt extended to protect rare seabirds

    Government announces two new marine Special Protection Areas and extensions to four other sites to safeguard rare seabirds.

    Nearly 150,000 rare seabirds – including the iconic little tern and black-throated diver – will be better protected as the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protected areas extends by over 650 square miles, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey announced today.

    A newly classified marine Special Protection Area (SPA) will come into force along a 24 mile stretch of coast from Falmouth Bay to St Austell Bay in Cornwall. The area – equivalent to almost 55,000 football pitches – is the UK’s most important site for the wintering black throated diver. This new protection will help to minimise disturbance to the feeding areas and marine habitats the birds rely on, providing a safe haven where they can spend the winter.

    A further marine SPA has been announced in the Irish Sea between the Isle of Man and Anglesey – home to over 12,000 Manx shearwaters – while four other sites have been extended around the UK, ranging from Liverpool Bay in the north-west of England, Poole Harbour on the south coast, and the Outer Thames Estuary near London. Marine SPAs are sites given special status to protect populations of rare, vulnerable and migratory birds. These latest designations will help to safeguard the feeding grounds of over one quarter of the UK’s breeding population of little terns and bring the UK’s total number of marine SPAs to 106.

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  • 12 2017

    CITIZEN SCIENCE

    OPENER invites you to shape environmental researchOPAL

    You may have collected data on earthworms, pond dipped or searched for bugs under your plant pots through OPAL surveys; now a new initiative is looking for new ways in which you can contribute to scientific research on the major environmental challenges facing the planet. This year long project, called OPENER, will identify ways that researchers can involve people at all stages of the research process.

    Funded through NERC’s Engaging Environments programme, OPENER aims to bring together citizen scientists, professional scientists, businesses and others who have a passion for researching the natural world. It is focused on building capacity through training in citizen science (for both researchers and members of the public) and developing so called local 'communities of practice' (interest groups) to prepare for a nationwide programme of public engagement with environmental sciences.

    The UK has a rich history of citizen science, in which non-experts collect vital data to inform scientists on the state of the environment. OPAL has been a key part of this movement, involving close to a million people in surveying their local hedges, ponds, gardens and more.

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  • 13 2017

    BRIGHT FUTURE FOR PLANET EARTH?

    A brightening world: Study shows rise in global light pollutionAstronomy Now

    Five years of advanced satellite images show that there is more artificial light at night across the globe, and that light at night is getting brighter. The rate of growth is approximately two percent each year in both the amount of areas lit and the radiance of the light.

    An international team of scientists on Wednesday reported the results of a landmark study of global light pollution and the rise of light-emitting diode (LED) outdoor lighting technology. The study, published today in the journal Science Advances, finds both light pollution and energy consumption by lighting steadily increasing over much of the planet. The findings also challenge the assumption that increases in the energy efficiency of outdoor lighting technologies necessarily lead to an overall decrease in global energy consumption.

    The team, led by Dr. Christopher Kyba of the GFZ German Research Center for Geosciences in Potsdam, Germany, analyzed five years of images from the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite, operated jointly by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The data show gains of two percent per year in both the amount of the Earth’s surface that is artificially lit at night and the quantity of light emitted by outdoor lighting. Increases were seen almost everywhere the team looked, with some of the largest gains in regions that were previously unlit.

    “Light is growing most rapidly in places that didn’t have a lot of light to start with,” Kyba noted. “That means that the fastest rates of increase are occurring in places that so far hadn’t been very strongly affected by light pollution.”

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