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    Pioneering project to make drinks bottles from plant sugars

    ~Jillian Ambrose/The Observer

    Beer and soft drinks could soon be sipped from “all-plant” bottles under new plans to turn sustainably grown crops into plastic in partnership with major beverage makers Carlsberg and Coca-Cola.

    A biochemicals company in the Netherlands hopes to kickstart investment in a pioneering project that hopes to make plastics from plant sugars rather than fossil fuels.

    The plans, devised by renewable chemicals company Avantium, have already won the support of beer-maker Carlsberg, which hopes to sell its pilsner in a cardboard bottle lined with an inner layer of plant plastic.

    Avantium’s chief executive, Tom van Aken, says he hopes to greenlight a major investment in the world-leading bioplastics plant in the Netherlands by the end of the year. The project, which remains on track despite the coronavirus lockdown, is set to reveal partnerships with other food and drink companies later in the summer.

    The project has the backing of Coca-Cola and Danone, which hope to secure the future of their bottled products by tackling the environmental damage caused by plastic pollution and a reliance on fossil fuels.

    Globally around 300 million tonnes of plastic is made from fossil fuels every year, which is a major contributor to the climate crisis. Most of this is not recycled and contributes to the scourge of microplastics in the world’s oceans. Microplastics can take hundreds of years to decompose completely.

    “This plastic has very attractive sustainability credentials because it uses no fossil fuels, and can be recycled – but would also degrade in nature much faster than normal plastics do,” says Van Aken.

    Avantium’s plant plastic is designed to be resilient enough to contain carbonate drinks. Trials have shown that the plant plastic would decompose in one year using a composter, and a few years longer if left in normal outdoor conditions. But ideally, it should be recycled, said Van Aken.

    The bio-refinery plans to break down sustainable plant sugars into simple chemical structures that can then be rearranged to form a new plant-based plastic and these could appear on supermarket shelves by 2023.

    Initially, the pathfinder project will make a modest 5,000 tonnes of plastic every year using sugars from corn, wheat or beets but Avantium expects its production to grow as demand for renewable plastics climbs.

    In time, Avantium plans to use plant sugars from sustainable sourced biowaste so that the rise of plant plastic does not affect the global food supply chain.

    Uploaded: 18 May 2020


    INSECT LIFE

    Understanding changing insect appetite crucial in protecting food sources of the future

    Aberdeen University

    Like humans, insects are more likely to change their diet and try new things when in a new location, a new study has found. This discovery, led by the University of Aberdeen’s Dr Lesley Lancaster, could have serious implications for our crops as global warming causes insects to colonise new regions.

    The study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, suggests that as warming climates drive insect species out of the tropics and to cooler, high latitude locations, they are often forced to expand or switch up what they eat. This process, occurring across many insect species, has ultimately resulted in higher-latitude insects being willing to eat a wider variety of foods than their tropical counterparts.

    Examining a global dataset of Lepidopteran (butterfly and moth) feeding patterns, Dr Lancaster found they chose a wider variety of foods at higher latitudes, but critically, this pattern was due to the insects adopting broader diets specifically in more recent populations, which typically are found at higher latitudes.

    Dr Lancaster said: “As global warming events drive species out of the tropics and to cooler, temperate locations, they are often forced to expand or switch up what they eat. This is because their habitual food sources may be less readily available or more difficult to find during the move.

    “Typically ecologists have thought that latitudinal patterns of diet breadth reflect climatic or diversity differences between tropical and temperate regions in climate or species composition- however there was no strong reason why cooler climates or lower species numbers in temperate habitats would lead an individual to eat more, different kinds of things.

    “This new explanation is more intuitively appealing because many people will have had the experience of trying new things or adding different types of food to their diet when they move to a new place. Why should animals be any different?"

    “The results also have really important implications for pest or disease-vector insect species as they colonise high-latitude regions as a consequence of ongoing warming. The results suggest that we can expect these species to attack new crop varieties or spread diseases among a wider variety of hosts in the new region than they have historically targeted. This has important implications for predicting future economic or health consequences of invading pests.”

    With many species currently expanding their ranges poleward, due to global warming, the study suggests that as insects expand their populations geographically, we should also anticipate and plan for changes to the food – and crops – they consume.

    “We have provided evidence that we can expect these (geographically) expanding populations to also expand their resource use patterns as they shift poleward,” Dr Lancaster added.

    “For instance, poleward expanding crop pests might target a wider range of crops, and disease vectors might transfer pathogens among a wider range of host species, as they expand their geographic ranges under global warming.

    “It is important that we anticipate such changes in host use among expanding pests and disease vectors, and the appropriate steps to monitor and protect new hosts if we are to protect our future food security.”

    Contact Information Laura Graham | University of Aberdeen | laura.graham@abdn.ac.uk

    Uploaded: 18 May 2020


    RENEWABLES

    Offshore wind job creation and £ multi-million investment in Port of Tyne

    RenewableUK

    Welcoming today’s announcement by Equinor and SSE Renewables that they have chosen the Port of Tyne as the location for a multi-million pound Operation and Maintenance base for their massive Dogger Bank offshore wind farm project, creating over 200 jobs, RenewableUK's Deputy Chief Executive Melanie Onn said:

    "This is a great example of how our member companies in the offshore wind sector are investing billions of pounds in developing vital new energy infrastructure all around the UK. Offshore wind is creating new opportunities and employment in port towns and coastal communities throughout the country.

    "As we look to the future, renewables offer us a way to rebuild our economy after the Coronavirus pandemic, not just by developing projects here but by exporting our valuable expertise around the world. We can consolidate our global lead in offshore wind and in developing innovative technologies like floating wind, marine power and renewable hydrogen, as well as restarting the development of new onshore wind projects".

    Uploaded: 13 May 2020


    Air Quality

    Study: NO2 falls ‘significantly’ in London during lockdown, but PM rises

    Air Quality News

    Levels of NO2 have more than halved in some parts of central London during the coronavirus lockdown, King’s College London scientists have found. However, levels of PM10 and PM2.5 increased due to easterly winds, pollutants from northern Europe and more time spent cooking indoors.

    The 40-page document, which is available to read here, analyses various air pollutants monitored by the university’s London Air Quality Network. It has been sent to Defra in response to their call for evidence the research and air quality communities to address the ongoing changes in UK air quality due to the coronavirus crisis.

    60% less traffic in the central area is credited with the massive drop in NO2 levels. Reductions in average NO2 concentrations at two busy roadside sites (Marylebone Road and Euston Road) were 55% and 36% respectively.

    Overall, the mean reduction in hourly NO2 concentrations was 21.5% across the London roads.

    The research noted that changes to indoor activity saw some groups of people, such as children and tube users, exposed to a higher level of PM2.5 because of additional time spent cooking at home and using gas hobs and ovens for roasting meat and vegetables.They also said wood-burning contributed to PM concentrations before and during lockdown, with the evening peak occurring later in the day, reflecting longer daylight hours.

    Professor Martin Williams said: ‘In normal circumstances, the decrease of NO2 concentrations would be beneficial, but these improvements will have been masked by the increased PM2.5 and ozone concentrations. It also remains to be seen how air pollution affects those with COVID-19. More research is needed to assess how air pollution affects health during lockdown and the role of air pollutants in the spread of the virus.

    ‘The high concentrations of PM during lockdown is a clear warning that if the UK is to achieve the current WHO PM2.5 guideline then as well as actions in the UK, other European countries will need to achieve their emission reduction targets.’

    Uploaded: 13 May 2020


    COVID-19

    Ban wildlife markets to avert pandemics, says UN biodiversity chief

    The Guardian

    Photo by Cesar Aguilar [Pexels]

    The United Nations’ biodiversity chief has called for a global ban on wildlife markets – such as the one in Wuhan, China, believed to be the starting point of the coronavirus outbreak – to prevent future pandemics.

    Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, the acting executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, said countries should move to prevent future pandemics by banning “wet markets” that sell live and dead animals for human consumption, but cautioned against unintended consequences.

    China has issued a temporary ban on wildlife markets where animals such as civets, live wolf pups and pangolins are kept alive in small cages while on sale, often in filthy conditions where they incubate diseases that can then spill into human populations. Many scientists have urged Beijing to make the ban permanent.

    Uploaded: 08 April 2020


    S U R V E Y

    Living with Mammals

    PTES

    Photo by Lukas [Pexels]

    Towns and cities are busy, noisy places, but it’s here that most of us live and encounter nature day-to-day. We know the importance of connecting to nature for our own health and wellbeing, and by monitoring wild mammals, it gives us an indication of the ‘green health’ of our communities. So whether you have hedgehogs under your hedges, squirrels in your school grounds or even a pine marten on your patio, join in with Living with Mammals this spring. Learn more and sign up below then start recording sightings each week from 30th March 2020.

    Uploaded: 30 March 2020


    BADGER CULL

    Ministers signal end of badger cull

    based on an article in the Guardian


    An end to the controversial culling of badgers across England is now in sight. The government announced that it will be phased out over the next few years and a programme of vaccination of badgers will increase instead.

    The badger cull was meant to cut tuberculosis in cattle and, it is estimated that it has killed more than 100,000 badgers since 2013. Bovine TB is a serious problem for farmers and has led to the slaughter of 30,000 cattle, costing the taxpayer £150m every year.

    In 2018, an independent review of the government’s policies for eradicating bovine TB (bTB) concluded that regular movements of cattle and poor hygiene on farms was getting in the way of efforts to halt the disease.

    For many years scientists and environmentalists have been pointing out that the culling of badgers is barbaric and has not solved the TB problem. Many advocated the vaccination of badgers (and cattle) as a much better solution.

    Replying to this “The government envisages that the current intensive culling policy would begin to be phased out in the next few years, gradually replaced by government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance.”

    The government said it would be “incentivising the uptake of effective biosecurity measures and managing the bTB risks posed by cattle movements to reduce the risk of spread within and between farms”. Scientists have argued that tightening rules on cattle movements are key to tackling bTB, particularly as the test used to diagnose bTB is not reliable.

    Ministers have agreed to support research to produce a better test and speed up work to produce a cattle bTB vaccine within the next five years. Past cattle vaccines have not allowed vets to differentiate between infected animals and those than have been inoculated, but new research at the UK’s Animal and Plant Health Agency may have overcome this obstacle. Prof Rosie Woodroffe at the Zoological Society of London said, “Overall, this is a seismic shift in an area of government policy which has been highly controversial for many years. The response rightly highlights cattle-based measures. This focus is appropriate, because the best estimates show that most cattle herds that get TB are infected by other cattle herds.”

    Woodroffe said bTB had to be controlled in badgers if the disease was to be completely eradicated. But she said: “Vaccination is the most promising option because, unlike culling, it has the potential to eradicate TB from badgers, as well as being cheaper, more humane, and more environmentally friendly.” She said a phased transition from culling to vaccination was sensible as it would take time to train vaccinators. Dominic Dyer, the Badger Trust’s CEO, said the government’s new approach was groundbreaking: “The government has concluded that the mass indiscriminate slaughter of badgers, an iconic British wildlife species, will not provide a long-term solution to reducing bovine TB in cattle. Today the government has finally come up with a long-term exit strategy from badger culling based on cattle-based control measures and TB vaccination in both badgers and cattle. This is better for taxpayers, farmers and the future of our precious wildlife.”

    Worryingly, the government commented that culling would remain an option where assessment indicated it was still needed. It also said a scientific study of the first four years of culling had showed significant reductions in bTB infection in cattle. The authors of the study feel that that changes in how the cull was conducted over time “in response to political climate” made any accurate analysis difficult.

    Woodroffe said the data analysed had come from the first two cull areas, but one of those areas recorded a spike in bTB the year after the analysis ended. Furthermore, she said, a third area showed evidence of increased cattle TB. There are now 43 cull areas across England.

    Uploaded: 06 March 2020


    RENEWABLES

    Onshore wind projects will be allowed to compete for contracts to generate clean power

    RenewableUK


    RenewableUK is welcoming the Government’s announcement that cheap onshore wind projects will be allowed to compete for contracts to generate clean power. Onshore wind has a key role to play in helping the UK meet the net zero emissions target at the lowest cost for consumers.

    A new Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction will allow cheap renewable sources like onshore wind and solar to compete for contracts which enable new projects to be financed – the first such auction since 2015. In order to meet our net zero emissions target, the Committee on Climate Change advised Government that the UK needs to quadruple the amount of power we generate from renewables. Last year, in the absence of these contracts, just one new onshore wind farm was completed in the UK.

    It is vital that the UK secures new power sources to meet net zero and avoid an energy gap as coal power ends in 2024.

    The popularity of onshore wind has grown in recent years and the latest Government polling shows 78% public support, with just 6% opposed.

    New onshore wind can bring billions of pounds of new infrastructure investment that will create new jobs and benefits to help level the economy. Already onshore wind powers the equivalent of over 8 million homes a year and the industry supports over 13,000 UK jobs. There is widespread backing from business and environment groups for developing low cost onshore wind, including the CBI and Make UK, as well as the National Farmers Union and the RSPB.

    Uploaded: 03 March 2020


    INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

    Celebrating women in conservation - PTES has given over £650,000 to women working in conservation

    PTES


    Ahead of International Women’s Day [8th March 2020], wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is celebrating the women across the world who are working to save all creatures great and small, from badgers, bats and wildcats in the UK, to lions, leopards and spider monkeys overseas.

    PTES has awarded £656,831 in funding to 21 female conservationists and scientists currently working to save some of the world’s most endangered, and most iconic, animals. These include big cat conservationist and one of PTES’ Conservation Partners Amy Dickman, who is finding ways for local tribes and big cats to coexist peacefully in Tanzania and for conflict to be avoided, and Becky Priestley, who is creating red squirrel strongholds in areas of Scotland where greys don’t exist.

    Jill Nelson, CEO of PTES says: “We live in a time where we’re seeing an increased range of environmental threats affecting communities and wildlife across the world, from the bush fires in Australia to the floods here in the UK. Environmental threats and the actions of humans are destroying much of our wildlife globally, which is why ground-breaking conservation is needed now more than ever. Many of the female conservationists we fund regularly face a myriad of challenges, all to help the species they’ve dedicated their lives and career to. I couldn’t be prouder to support their ongoing work, and I hope their stories inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their footsteps.”

    Amy Dickman: bolstering big cat populations in Ruaha, Tanzania

    On Amy Dickman’s first night in the field a large male lion slept right outside her one-man tent, almost crushing her. But, her love for lions and other big cats was not marred by this close encounter. Amy has worked with local tribes in Ruaha, Tanzania since she established the Ruaha Carnivore Project in 2009, showing how they can live harmoniously alongside lions and other carnivores, rather than killing them to protect their communities and livestock. As part of her work, Amy developed a storybook about a boy from the local Barabaig tribe (who were responsible for most of the lion killing in Ruaha) who works to protect lions and other carnivores. Now, the Barabaig are at the heart of Ruaha’s conservation story, which is a great step forward in helping big cat numbers to recover. Amy’s faced many challenges during her time in Ruaha, including dealing with charging elephants, snakes and spiders, and gaining the trust of local communities, particularly as a lone woman.

    Amy Dickman says: “It hasn’t always been easy being a woman in charge of a conservation team. In the beginning, as a single white woman in a remote part of Tanzania living in a tent studying lions, I was considered very strange. Local tribes didn’t even really see me as a woman – I drove cars, I was the leader of a team of men, and I had no husband or children. Interestingly, it was only when I became pregnant that some of those barriers broke down, as finally there was irrefutable proof that I was in fact a ‘proper’ woman!”

    She continues: “I think that women need to truly take their place as equal decision-makers at all levels and have the voice and the power needed to shape their own futures. We have come so far, but there is much more to be done – particularly in terms of empowering women in developing countries, and ensuring we all support one another to make the world a better place.”

    Becky Priestley: creating red squirrel strongholds in the Scottish Highlands

    After years of volunteering on various wildlife conservation projects around the world – including bears in North America and Poland, turtles in Costa Rica and cetaceans in Spain - Becky now leads a Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project in Scotland, which she’s done since 2015.

    Red squirrels are the only native squirrel in the UK, whose populations have been devastated by the accidental release of non-native grey squirrels from America and the loss of their woodland habitat. Becky and her team from Trees for Life aim to reintroduce red squirrels to Morvern and Dornoch Firth in the north and west Scottish Highlands. These reintroductions will create four new populations of red squirrels, far away from where grey squirrels (and the threat of the squirrelpox virus) live. Local communities help Becky to monitor the newly released red squirrels and together they’ve created the first ever map of red squirrel distribution in the Highlands. This allows the team to measure how far the population is moving from the release sites, which in turn will help future release efforts.

    Becky Priestley says: “Our annual monitoring has shown that all eight populations that we reintroduced are flourishing – breeding successfully and expanding throughout the available habitat, which is fantastic news and is incredibly satisfying. Thanks to our new map, we’re able to see where these red squirrels are now living and where we can reintroduce more in the future, building an even bigger red squirrel stronghold in Scotland.”

    She continues: “Conservation is, sadly, one of those fields where there aren't many junior paid positions and so getting your foot on that ladder can be a long and frustrating struggle. Deciding which area or species you want to work with early on is important, as experience is key. Volunteer as much as you can, build your contacts and keep knocking on doors. Perseverance is imperative, but dreams can come true!”

    In addition to the work of Amy and Becky, PTES is also supporting the amazing efforts of a number women who are leading the way in ground-breaking conservation in the UK and around the world. For full details, please click on the Read More button below.

    Uploaded: 24 February 2020


    H E D G E H O G S

    Study reveals where London’s hedgehog hotspots are, and where help is needed

    PTES


    Scientists from ZSL (Zoological Society of London)’s London HogWatch programme have found hotspots of native hedgehog populations in the north and west of London, compared to the south east of the city.

    The research, led by Rachel Cates – an Intern funded by wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) – and supported by Dr Chris Carbone, Senior Research Fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, involved placing hundreds of camera traps in several green spaces across the capital, from Haringey to Camden and from Southwark to Barnes. The cameras recorded any wildlife spotted over a two-week period throughout 2019.

    The largest population found so far in Hampstead Heath in north Greater London, where there were a number of hedgehog records across the park. In the west of London - in the WWT Wetland Centre, Barnes Common, Putney Lower Common, Roehampton Golf Course, the Bank of England Sports Centre and on Palewell Common, 62 sightings were recorded within this area, with hedgehogs spotted on 13 of the 30 cameras set up in the WWT Wetland Centre alone. Hedgehogs were also seen across Barnes and on Putney Lower Common, but their distributions were fragmented.

    However, snuffle south east across the city and a different picture is painted in Dulwich Park, Peckham Rye and Common, and Russia Dock Woodland. Only a single hedgehog was detected out of 65 camera locations. From the many records of foxes seen in these areas, it’s clear these areas are generally suitable for wildlife. As hedgehogs and foxes often live side by side, these areas should support hedgehogs, but the team are uncertain why they weren’t recorded. Occasional sightings are recorded in these areas, so it’s possible that hedgehogs are living in the areas surrounding the parks, in private gardens, allotments and school grounds.

    Uploaded: 17 February 2020


    CARBON NEUTRAL

    New petrol and diesel vehicles sales ban in UK from 2035

    BBC

    Under revised government plans, the last date to buy a new petrol, diesel or hybrid car in the UK will be brought forward from 2040 to 2035.

    The change is being made to help Britain achieve virtually zero carbon emissions by the middle of the century. However, environmental groups like Friends of the Earth have pointed out the rise of 4WD and SUV sales 'makes a mockery' of the electric car push and that these targets need to be brought even further forward. Norway, for example, has already set its target at 2030.

    The policy will be unveiled at an event to launch Glasgow's hosting of a United Nations climate summit in November.

    The prime minister will say the government plans will bring an end to the sale of new petrol and diesel cars even earlier than 2035, if possible.

    Hybrid vehicles are also now being included in the proposals, which were originally announced in July 2017.

    The change, which will be subject to a consultation, is being planned because experts warned the previous target date of 2040 would still leave old conventional cars on the roads after the clean-up date of 2050.

    COP26 is this year's meeting of the annual UN-led gathering set up to assess progress on tackling climate change

    Mr Johnson is expected to say: “Hosting COP26 is an important opportunity for the UK and nations across the globe to step up in the fight against climate change.

    Uploaded: 04 February 2020


    DON'T FORGET!

    THE BIG GARDEN BIRDWATCH

    RSPB
    25-27 January 2020

    It's that time of year again! Why not take part in the world’s largest wildlife survey on 25-27 January and do something great for nature? Just choose an hour any time over the three days and enjoy time with nature counting birds.

    Uploaded: 24 January 2020


    FOSSIL FUELS

    Demand the Whole Truth about fossil fuel advertising

    ClientEarth

    BP is running its biggest ad campaign in a decade, to give the impression that it’s part of the climate solution.

    But 96% of its spend is still on oil and gas. Lawyers for Client Earth are demanding BP pulls the ads. And they’re not stopping there - they want to see a ban on all fossil fuel advertising unless it comes with a tobacco-style health warning about the dangers to people and planet. They have set up a petition calling on the UK Government to take action.

    If you haven't signed it yet, please click the link below to add your name. It’s time for fossil fuel companies to tell #TheWholeTruth.

    Uploaded: 22 January 2020


    O V E R F I S H I N G

    EU ministers’ decision to continue overfishing could face legal challenge

    ClientEarth

    The EU has failed to meet the 2020 legal deadline to end overfishing. European ministers have ignored scientific advice and set unsustainable fishing limits each year since the deadline was imposed.

    It has been notoriously difficult to hold anyone to account for these decisions but EU law has now been breached and our lawyers have warned that legal consequences could follow.

    Uploaded: 22 January 2020


    CARBON REDUCTION

    Ground-breaking UK hydrogen pilot gets underway

    HyDeploy

    HyDeploy is a £6.8 million pioneering hydrogen energy project designed to help reduce UK CO2 emissions, assisting the Government’s net zero target for 2050.

    Funded by Ofgem and led by Cadent and Northern Gas Networks, HyDeploy is an energy trial to establish the potential for blending up to 20% hydrogen into the normal gas supply to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

    HyDeploy will run a year-long live trial of blended gas at the University of Keele to determine the level of hydrogen that could be used by domestic gas consumers safely and with no changes to their behaviour or existing domestic appliances.

    When burned, hydrogen creates heat without carbon dioxide. The Committee on Climate Change has determined that the use of hydrogen in our energy system is necessary in order to reach Net Zero.

    Heating for domestic properties and industry accounts for half of the UK’s energy consumption and one third of its carbon emissions, with 83% of homes using gas to keep warm. The 20% volume blend means that customers can continue to use their gas supply as normal, without any changes being needed to gas appliances or pipework, while still cutting carbon emissions.

    If a 20% hydrogen blend was rolled out across the country, it could save around 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road.

    The UK’s first live pilot to inject zero carbon hydrogen into a gas network to heat homes and businesses is now fully operational.

    Uploaded: 06 January 2020