Thursday, 31 May 2007

Rewilding: What would it mean for British wildlife?

Rewilding has recently and controversially been advocated as the optimal strategy to restore biodiversity in both Northern Europe and North America. It has become a divisive issue in conservation, involving prominent scientists, and attracting much media and political attention. Definitions about rewilding are often clouded by ambiguity and vagueness - but most references to rewilding describe either:

  • Reduction or minimisation of active conservation management to allow the development of dynamic and unpredictable landscapes.


  • Proposals to reintroduce large grazing and predatory animals, or similar species as proxies, with the intention of reinstating lost ecological processes and evolutionary potential.

Bold claims have been made for the potential biodiversity benefits of rewilding, such as enhanced ability for adaptation to climate change - so there is an urgent need for an ecological evaluation of the evidence for these assertions.

A BES Ecological Issues booklet is currently in preparation to give a critical overview of the various guises of rewilding. There is also a BES specialist meeting on the Ecological consequences of 'Wilding' on 12 July 2007.

International Whaling Commission

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946. The purpose of the Convention is to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and development of the whaling industry. At their annual meeting the Commission passed a resolution condemning Japan's whaling programme for scientific research in the Antarctic, which catches nearly 1000 whales per year. The Commission has also been considering aboriginal subsistence whaling.

The Commission's report of the Scientific Committee on the status of a number of large whale stocks, received new information on Antarctic minke whales, North Pacific common minke whales, Southern Hemisphere humpback whales, Southern Hemisphere blue whales and a number of other small stocks of bowhead, right and gray whales. There was positive evidence of increases in abundance for several of the stocks of humpback, blue and right whales in the Southern Hemisphere, although they remain at reduced levels compared to their pre-whaling numbers. Information remains lacking for other stocks.

Friday, 25 May 2007

Countryside Survey

The UK's Countryside Survey 2007 has begun. The survey goes back to 1978 and has been instrumental in detecting changes to the countryside and helping to inform government land-use policies. The first results of the 2007 Survey are due at the end of 2008 and should provide a unique audit of the UK's environmental assets.

Climate Change and Biodiversity

A number of reports have been recently published in the UK on how biodiversity may be affected by climate change and options for supporting adaptation. The MONARCH programme published its report on how shifts in climate space may affect the distribution of selected UK species. Of the 32 species looked at in detail, 29 are projected to see signficant shifts in their climate space. This suggests that species dispersal will be important for many species survival. Defra published guidance on how conservationist can help biodiversity adapt to climate change. Its guiding principles are:

  • Conserve existing biodiversity
  • Reduce sources of harm not linked to climate change
  • Develop ecologically resilient and varied landscapes
  • Establish ecological networks through habitat protection, restoration and
  • Make sound decisions based on analysis
  • Integrate adaptation and mitigation measures into conservation management,
    planning and practice

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Energy White Paper and Nuclear Consultation

The UK Government published its Energy White Paper today. The White Paper had a number of significant announcements, including a consultation on the Future of Nuclear Power.

International Diplomacy and the Environment

The UK Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has today published a report arguing that the environment plays a complex and important role in conflict and its resolution, and therefore environmental protection must be considered security issues of critical importance to the UK Government and to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in particular. The Committee argues that since the costs and risks associated with climate change are widely accepted the FCO must build international support for international environmental objectives and will have a pivotal role in securing international negotiations on biodiversity and climate change.

Urban Bees

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) launched an initiative at the Chelsea Flower Show to encourage urbanites to keep bees, which have lost some of their natural countryside. They suggest that hives can be installed on rooftops, behind garden walls and on allotments in towns and cities. There are about 44,000 beekeepers in the UK who look after some 240,000 hives. The UK produces about 20% of the honey it consumes, according to the BBKA - so an increase in domestic beekeepers could also help reduce food miles.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The UK's Vision for CAP

The UK's Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has published its report on the UK Government's "Vision for the Common Agricultural Policy". The UK's Vision for CAP was for it to deliver public goods, which included environmental protection and enhancement. The Committee was concerned that there was no agreement on what public benefits should take priority (environmental or rural). They were also concerned that a move towards securing environmental goods and services would not be less expensive than the old system. The Committee wanted the Government to consider how changes to CAP could contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.

The Committee agreed that the only long-term justification for future expenditure of taxpayers’ money in the agricultural sector is for the provision of public goods. However, they said that payments should represent the most efficient means by which society can purchase the public goods—environmental, rural, social—it wishes to enjoy. For these payments to remain publicly acceptable, it is essential that they relate directly to the public goods provided and that, in turn, these public goods are measurable and capable of evaluation.

The House of Lords Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the same subject. They are taking written evidence up to the 11 June 2007.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Ecological Impact of Renewable Energy

The UK's Science and Technology Committee is to conduct an inquiry into renewable energy generation technologies. Evidence is invited on a broad range of issues relating to the development of renewable energy technologies. BES members may wish to submit evidence on the potential ecological impact of further deploying renewable energy technologies, and the Government's role in funding research and monitoring in this area. The deadline for submitting evidence is 2 July 2007.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Future of Ecology

According to an article in the Guardian, ecology is in decline at a time when it is needed to help tackle major societal issues, like climate change. The BES education officer spoke about how hard it can be to get teachers to engage their students with ecology. Cuts to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology are also cited as an example of ecology's down turn. Is ecology in serious decline and, if so, what more can the Society do to turn this around?

Friday, 4 May 2007


The UK Government has published its response to the Environmental Audit Committee's report on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. The EAC recommended that the UK conduct a national ecosystem assessment. However, the Government has said that:

We must take into account the risks of duplication of resources and opportunities for making use of existing assessment processes. There may prove to be value in a national assessment which pulls together existing initiatives for a more coherent approach to monitoring the status of and trends in ecosystem services, and predicting future impacts of drivers of change, but we would need to establish whether and how such an assessment would be useful to inform our policy and decision making in the future.
Would a national MA duplicate effort or enhance decision making?

For more on ecosystem services, read the recently published Parliamentary Office of Science and Technologies POSTnote on the topic.

IPCC: Mitigation

The IPCC's AR4 Working Group on mitigation has published its summary for policymakers. Land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) is the key area of interest to the ecological community. Between 1970 and 2004 direct green house emissions from LULUCF, not including removals, increased by 40%. Current mitigation technologies and practices highlighted by the IPCC in this area included:

  • Improved crop and grazing land management to increase soil carbon storage
  • Restoration of cultivated peaty soils and degraded lands
  • Improved farming practices (manure and fertiliser management)
  • Dedicated energy crops to replace fossil fuel use
  • Increased forest cover

The report highlighted that greater research may lead to:

  • Tree species improvements to increase biomass productivity and carbon sequestration
  • Improved remote sensing technologies for analysis of vegetation/ soil carbon sequestration potential and mapping land use change