Wednesday, 4 March 2009

BES Blog Moves to New Home

The BES Blog has now moved to a new home at

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read the Blog since it's inception in June 2007 here at Blogger. Please update your RSS feeds to ensure you move with us and stay in touch with the latest developments in ecology and policy...

Friday, 27 February 2009

Gordon Brown to Set Ambitious New Targets for Science and Maths Education

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce ambitious new targets for science and maths education when he delivers the Romanes Lecture at Oxford University later today.

In the lecture, the Prime Minister will explore how the UK can capitalise on our scientific and intellectual heritage to make Britain the best country in the world in which to practice science. The Prime Minister will signal his desire to move the country away from a reliance on financial services, instead placing science and technology at the heart of the UK economy as the country emerges from recession.

Within five years, the PM will announce, 90% of state schools will be expected to deliver triple science (single subject biology, physics and chemistry) at GCSE level; up from 32% currently. The Government aims to at least double the 8.5% of state school pupils studying triple science within this time period.

The lecture follows Lord Drayson's comments earlier this month, regarding whether Government should set the priorities for scientific research as a means to achieve delivery of the innovation and scientific advance needed to strengthen the UK economy. The scientific community reacted angrily to Lord Drayson's remarks.

Speaking on the Today Programme this morning, academics Professor Don Braben and Lord Krebs discussed the need for scientific endeavour to operate at arm's length from Government: the so-called 'Haldane Principle'. The Prime Minister's speech this afternoon is bound to stimulate questions on whether, in a time of recession, the Government does plan to direct funding for scientific research more stringently; with an emphasis on targets and deliverable outcomes and away from 'blue skies' endeavour.

More on this from BBC News

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Wild Deer: Seminar in Parliament Tomorrow

Tomorrow sees the formal launch of the POSTnote written by the 2008 BES POST Fellow, with a seminar in Westminster. Laura Spence has spent the past few months working at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, researching and writing a briefing note for parliamentarians (POSTnote 325) on "Wild Deer".

Wild deer populations are increasing in number and geographic range in the UK. Deer are a valuable natural resource if managed sustainably, but when occurring at excessive densities, they can have negative effects on biodiversity, the rural economy, human health and
safety, and animal welfare. The POSTnote examines the current status of wild deer in the UK, their ecological, economic and social impacts and legislation on their management.

The seminar will take place in the Jubilee Room, Westminster Hall, from 3.30 - 5pm. To find out more see the Event Flyer.
If you would like to attend, please contact or telephone Emma Kearney on 020 7219 2840.

To apply for the 2009 BES POST Fellowship, visit the BES website. Applications must be received by 6 April.

Monday, 23 February 2009

'Save the Albatross' Campaign a Remarkable Success

The outlook for endangered albatross species has dramatically improved, thanks to the success of an international conservation programme implemented by the RSPB and Birdlife International.

The Albatross Task Force (ATF) was established in 2006 in order to reduce the number of accidental albatross deaths caused by long-line fishing. At the time, it was estimated that one bird was killed every five minutes from long line fishing, and 19 of the 22 albatross species were under threat from extinction.

The birds dying because they were taking bait from fishing lines fed into the sea from boats fishing for tuna or swordfish. Once they swallowed the bait, they would become caught on the hook, dragged underwater and drown.

Specialist instructors from the ATF went out with fishermen and taught them techniques that would stop the birds becoming entangled. They were encouraged to fish at night, weight their lines and attach streamers the back of vessels to scare the birds away. Government legislation also played its part by stipulating that no more than 25 birds could be caught as "by-catch" during trips.

The programme has been heralded as a resounding success, and has reduced deaths by up to 85% in some locations.

Dr Ross Wanless, coordinator of the Birdlife programme in Africa, said: "Changing entrenched attitudes and practices is a slow process, but the ATF has shown that by working with government and industry, change is possible."

Whilst the 19 species are not freed from the threat of extinction yet- many are still snagged by trawlers, breeding is slow and habitats are endangered - the campaign is likely to have made a remarkable impact on their population stability and its success cannot be understated.

Learn more about the 'Save the Albatross' Campaign here

Read more about this story at the BBC News website and the Times News website

Friday, 20 February 2009

Historical Trends Show Food Security Threatened by Climate Change

Research published recently in Science illustrates the destabilising effect which extreme weather events have on agricultural productivity, and predicts that without significant investment now in adaptation measures, climate change will lead to major food crises in the next 100 years.

Based on an analysis of 23 global climate change models, researchers suggest that unusually hot summers, for example the 2003 heatwave in Europe, will become common by the end of this century. This heatwave, in which the temperature was 3.5oC above normal, led to 50,000 heat-related deaths and poor yields from grain and fruit crops across much of France and Italy.

Droughts in Africa from the 1960s to 90s, and consequent effect on crops, led to very many hunger-related deaths.

Examining these events, the researchers conclude that agricultural yields may fall by 20 - 40% over the next century as the climate warms, without investment in adaptation measures. They urge governments to prioritise research and development in climate change adaptation for agriculture, including investment in genomics, breeding, management and engineering.

Battisti, D.S. and Naylor, R.L. (2008). Historical Warnings of Food Security with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat. Science. 323: 240-244.

A Million Ponds by 2059

Yesterday evening, the BES Science Policy Team attended the launch of the Million Ponds Project. The ambitious project is a national initiative to reverse the long-term decline in ponds; from around a million 100 years ago, to 500,000 now. Of those that remain, only 8% are thought to be in good condition.

Launching the project last night, Alan Titchmarsh focused on the need for the conservation community to communicate with the public over not only the importance of ponds for wildlife, but also the joy to be had from engaging with nature. Well set-up and maintained ponds provide a fantastic habitat for freshwater organisms but also provide a unique area where children can learn about the natural environment.

Pond Conservation, a national charity dedicated to creating and protecting ponds, and other freshwaters, and the wildlife they support, is co-ordinating the project. Other organisations who are taking part, digging the ponds and providing advisors to assist those wishing to establish ponds on their land, are: Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and many others. In total, 11 major partners are involved. The Ministry of Justice and Defence Estates are key partners, wishing to establish ponds in prison grounds and on firing ranges.

Over the first five-years of the project, which is to run for 50 years in total, Pond Conservation hope to facilitate the establishment of 5,000 ponds, at a cost of £3million. Establishing and maintaining ponds is key for the survival of freshwater species: the IUCN has warned that freshwater biodiversity is extremely threatened, and there are more threatened species in ponds in Britain than in lakes or rivers.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

EASAC Launch Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) yesterday launched a report on 'Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity in Europe'. The EASAC working group behind the report was led by Professor Alastair Fitter, University of York, a past-President of the BES.

The report provides a review of the state of ecosystem services in Europe, and examines what is known regarding the contribution which biodiversity makes to maintaining ecosystem services.

As urbanisation and intensification of agriculture compromise the environment and lead to declines in biodiversity, so too will the ability of ecosystems to provide the essential services on which we depend be threatened. As an example, soil biodiversity provides a key role in nutrient cycling, essential to maintain high-levels of productivity in agriculture. As fertilisers are likely to become more costly in future, whilst food prices are set to increase, maintaining the integrity of soil ecosystems in Europe will be vital to deliver the produce needed by a growing population, increasingly unable to afford the high cost of imported food.

One of the key messages of the report is that although European ecosystems can deliver a range of services, managing land to primarily deliver one service will reduce its capacity to deliver others. EASAC recommends that European governments introduce a new Directive, encouraging the active management of land for a range of ecosystem services; putting in place legislation to ensure that management is systematic and to standards uniform across Europe.

A copy of the report can be accessed here: