Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Barrage Proposal is a Wash With Controversy

A proposal launched yesterday to build a barrier across The Wash has been met with widespread condemnation from numerous conservation bodies. Businessman Peter Dawes has launched the Wash Tidal Barrier Corporation, which proposes to build a tidal barrage from Hunstanton to Skegness.

The proposals are in apparent defiance of an internationally recognised agreement, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands as well as the fact the region is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and designated under European Law as a Special Protection Area and a Special Area for Conservation. It is anticipated The Wash will receive even greater protection under the forthcoming Marine Bill.

Richard Powell, regional director of the RSPB said: 'This scheme should be dismissed as a non-starter... ...we’re talking about a site that supports a phenomenal amount of wildlife.'

The British Ecological Society invites members and readers of the blog to comment on this issue.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Prioritising Global Conservation Efforts

New research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B indicates that agricultural expansion and population growth must be incorporated into prioritising conservation efforts for biodiversity 'hotspots', (areas of exceptionally high biological diversity).

Previous research has suggested that global conservation priorities should be set according to biodiversity hotspots alone, whereas other research has identified weaknesses in the 'hotspots' approach for prioritising conservation effort, such as the incronguence of endemism and threat levels with biodiversity hotspots.

The new research takes into consideration future global change as a means of prioritising conservation effort. The published research exposed the existing global network of protected areas to potential future threats such as climate and land-use change using the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment criterion and looked at the threats against conservation value and the ability of biogeographic and geopolitical regions to take measures against forecasted change.

The research indicated that developing tropical nations with few resources for conservation but high levels of biological diversity such as Indonesia and Madagascar are most at risk in the future, and should be the focal points of global conservation efforts. Africa is predicted to face major land-use change in the future, contains areas of high biodiversity and may lack the capacity to cope with threats to biodiversity.

The authors recognise the need to create a network of new reserves in places that are likely to be threatened in the near future, to stand the best chance of both mitigating the effects of climate change and conserving biodiversity.

The BES invites members to comment on this article

Friday, 25 April 2008

New Database Shows Extent of Threat to Marine Environment from Non-Native Invasive Species

New research published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment reveals the extent of the threat posted to the marine environment from non-native invasive species.

Researchers created a database of invasive species worldwide, examining 329 non- native invasive species and scoring each on a 1-4 scale, on the basis of their ecological impact, geographical extent, invasive potential and management difficulty. The database allows the identification of global patterns. The researchers conclude that interception and removal of the routes used for colonisation by the invasive species is the most effective strategy for reducing their future impacts.

This presents a real challenge however, given the range of routes by which species can colonise: shipping was found to be the most common, through transportation in ballast water or through hull-fouling.

The database could be used to inform conservation policy decisions and, through allowing a comparison between invasive species in similar habitats, can allow prediction of species likely to become invasive in a particular area.

The global map produced as a result of the study shows that the Mediterranean and North Seas are the marine areas most affected by non-native invasive species.

Access the database of Invasive Species (contributions to the database are welcome)

Link to POSTnote on Non-Native Invasive Species: produced April 2008 by the BES POST Fellow, Fay Collier. Find out more about the BES POST Fellowship

Thursday, 24 April 2008

John Denham Announces: Proposals for REF to Move Ahead

Proposals to develop the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the successor to the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) are to move ahead, following a statement today by John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

Two significant changes to the proposals have occurred, following consultation by HEFCE, to which the BES responded:

1. The timescale for introducing the REF will be pushed back by 12 months to allow a more comprehensive pilot of the new system to be run.
2. There will no longer be such a clear distinction between arrangements for science-based and non-science subjects, as originally proposed. Assessment of both sets of subjects will proceed through a system of metrics (including bibliometrics where appropriate) and peer-review by expert panels.

No information is yet available on whether scientists' engagement in outward-facing activities, such as engagement with policy, will be considered in acdemics' assessment under the REF, something which the BES would strongly support.

Links to Ministerial Statement and DIUS Press Release

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Ecology and Policy Blog Featured on Times Online

The BES's Ecology and Policy Blog has been featured in Times Online as one of "10 eco blogs for Earth Day" (22 April).

Access the full list of Eco Blogs

DFID Launches New Strategy

The Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, launched DFID's new five-year strategy for research yesterday in London. DFID's portfolio of research is to be broadened from four to six major research priorities, putting research on climate change and growth centre stage. DFID will spend approximately £1 billion on development research over the next five years, working with Research Councils UK and international funding bodies to deliver its priorities.

As part of the over-arching strategy, DFID have launched research strategies for Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. Funding for research on agriculture, fisheries and forestry will be doubled by 2010. DFID is to expand and diversity its research into climate change, focusing on: climate science, especially in Africa; tackling climate change in national and international policy; strategies for adapting to climate change; and mitigation and low carbon growth. DFID will establish an International Climate Change Network to provide in-country research and advisory services.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Public Event - Flying Green : Making Air Travel More Sustainable

Lecture: Flying Green: Making Air Travel More Sustainable
Organised by: The Royal Institution
Time: 7.00pm - 8.30pm
Location: The Royal Institution, 21 Albermarle Street, London (Map)

Is there a way to make air travel more sustainable for those times when we can't avoid flying? Boeing are building an airliner that uses biofuel to make its journeys. Hear from one of their top environmental strategists, Bill Glover, explaining how it works. Ian Poll, an expert from Greener By Design will also be on the panel, looking at what else society can do to make air travel more sustainable, and where air travel fits into the UK's larger plan for getting greener. How much can we improve current technology and what will the future of aviation look like? Will we ever have an emission-free plane?

Concern for Peatlands Leads to Rejection of Windfarm Proposal

Plans to build one of Europe's largest on-shore windfarms, on Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides, have been rejected after Scottish Ministers ruled that the farm would have "significant adverse impacts" on rare and endangered birds living on the peatlands. The Lewis windfarm would have generated enough energy to meet 10% of Scotland's energy needs. Jim Mather, the Scottish Energy Minister denied that the rejection of the scheme undermined Scotland's commitment to green energy, stating that 13 schemes had been approved by the Scottish National Party since May 2006, with further schemes planned.

Link to original article; The Guardian "Endangered birds come first: Scottish ministers say no to huge wind farm on Lewis peatland"

Friday, 18 April 2008

Stern Warns that Climate Change Worse Than Feared

Sir Nicholas Stern has warned that his 2006 review of the economics of climate change has underestimated the risks posed by accelerating global warming. Speaking this week and reported in the Guardian today, Stern said that new scientific findings showed greenhouse gas emissions were are causing more damage than was understood in 2006, when he prepared his highly influential report. Stating that "emissions are growing much faster than we thought, the absorptive capacity of the planet is less than we thought [and] the risks of greenhouse gases are potentially bigger than more cautious estimates", he called for increasing commitments from countries to cut emissions of greenhouse gases to be translated into action.

Original article: "I underestimated the threat, says Stern", The Guardian, 18 April 2008
(with audio to accompany the story)

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Modelling Biodiversity in a Changing World

New EU-funded research has shown how biodiversity might be affected under future models of human-induced change. Researchers modelled the impact on biodiversity in four 'future worlds' and found that a reduction in biodiversity was likely in each scenario, even if environmentally-friendly approaches to development were taken.

The four 'worlds' were drawn from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) special report on emissions scenarios:

- Global Economic (A1F1): Fuels use, rapid economic growth and introduction of efficient technologies.

- Regional Economic (A2): Emphasis on local traditions, high population growth and low concern for economic development.

- Global Economic (B1): Global solutions for environmental and social sustainability, increased use of 'green technologies', such as wind and solar power.

- Regional Environmental (B2): Local rather than global solutions to economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Researchers found that B2 had the greatest increase in urban pressure on biodiversity at local levels, due to the development of numerous small human settlements. The greatest climate impacts were expected under A1F1, but with less pressure on biodiversity in the countryside, due to limited urbanisation in these areas.

Integration of predicted land use and human activity offers a new approach to modelling the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. It is hoped that in future the models can be further refined to offer a regional and species-level analysis and help policy-makers devise conservation strategies.

Araujo, M.B., Nogues-Bravo, D., Reginster, I. et al. (2008). Exposure of European biodiversity to changes in human-induced pressures. Environmental Science and Policy II. 11: 38-45

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

World's System of Food Production Has Serious Ecological Effects, Report Concludes

A new report published yesterday calls for radical changes in world farming, to avoid food shortages and serious ecological effects. The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), led by Professor Robert Watson, Chief Scientist at DEFRA, states that governments focus too narrowly on increasing food production, with little regard for natural resources or food security. 400 scientists from 40 countries worked on the report, the first of its kind to involve governments, industry and NGOs from rich and poor nations.

Science and technology should be targeted towards raining yields but also protecting soils, water and forests. Professor Watson commented that "incentives for science to address the issues that matter to the poor are weak". Professor Watson yesterday also commented that GM technology as currently practised does not offer the solution to food shortages, but can contribute in part. The authors also warned that the global rush to biofuels was not sustainable, with biofuels contributing to deforestation and degradation of land and soils.

See full article in the Guardian: Change in farming can feed world - report, 15 April 2008

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

New Biofuels Rules Come Into Force

Today sees the introduction of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) in the UK. All petrol and diesel which is sold at UK pumps must now include at least 2.5% biofuels. The target will rise to 5% by 2010.

The RTFO aims to make transport 'greener', by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced by road transport: this at present contributes to more than a quarter of the UK's GHG emissions.

The introduction of the RTFO has had a mixed reaction, with many concerned about the environmental impact of the production of biofuels. Cultivation of palm oil, the world's biggest biofuel crop, has led to the destrution of large tracts of rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia, whilst other concerns surround the fertilisers and machinery used to grow and harvest these crops, reducing the benefit of using them.

The Government claim that introducing biofuels into UK fuels gradually over the next few years will help to provide a market for sustainably produced biofuels. The RTFO contains an obligation for suppliers of biofuels to report on their practices; leading to 'naming and shaming' of unsustainable practices.

Read two contrasting views on the RTFO from Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Transport and Peter Ainsworth, Shadow EFRA Secretary, at the Guardian's website: 14 April 2008

Monday, 14 April 2008

A New Model for Investment in Ecosystem Services

A deal between two environmental organisations could provide a blueprint for investment to conserve the world's vital ecosystem services. Canopy Capital, an environmental investment and development company, has struck a deal with Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development which owns a one million acre area of rainforest in Guyana. Canopy Capital will pay Iwokrama for the ecosystem services generated by the rainforest, including those supporting and regulating services which are often viewed as unquantifiable, such as water storage and climate regulation.

In return for its investment, Canopy Capital will receive a percentage of any income that might one day be made by the rainforest’s ecosystem services. The company hopes that the services will one day become tradeable commodities. Once the organisation has re-couped its investment, 80% of further profits will go back to the reserve to allow Iwokrama to carry out its activities.

Pollutants in Cities Destroy Flowers' Scents

The results of a new study could help to explain why populations of bees and other pollinators are in decline. Research published in the journal 'Atmospheric Environment' suggests that the scent of flowers in polluted environments travels less far, with the scents then less likely to be detected by pollinators and the plants less likely to be fertilised.

Scent particles easily bind to chemical pollutants from car exhausts and chimneys, such as ozone and nitrates. These reactions destroy the fragrance close to the source. In today's polluted environment, the scent of flowers downwind from big cities may travel only 200- 300 metres, compared to up to 1,200 metres in less polluted conditions.

Original story in the Guardian, 14 April 2008.

Friday, 11 April 2008

REF May Be Delayed By One Year

An article in this week's THS claims that implementation of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), the successor to the RAE, is to be delayed by a year to allow a comprehensive pilot to be run. HEFCE originally intended to introduce the new system for assessing science subjects, through the use of metrics, in 2009, following a pilot this year alongside RAE2008. HEFCE seem to have responded to the criticism, in numerous responses to the consultation earlier this year, that the timetable was too tight.

The system was to be phased in between 2010 and 2014, with the peer-review system for assessment of non-science subjects to begin in 2013.

A final decision had not been made when the THS went to press.

Link to original article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, 10 April 2008

Madagascar Study Could Provide Conservation Blue Print

The results of a ten-year study into species conservation in Madagascar, published in this week's Science, could act as a blue print for future areas to conserve species richness in biodiversity 'hot spots'.

An international team of researchers, including scientists from the Natural History Museum, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the University of York, built up a vast library of information across a wide range of species whilst in Madagascar. Specially designed software was used to work out the range of each species and how to devise the optimum way of saving them from extinction. Conservation planning has traditionally focused on protecting one species or group of species at a time. This is the first time that such a detailed database over such a broad range of species and such a wide area of land has been developed.

Madagascar has a very high level of endemism and species richness but faces massive threats. Only 10% of its original forested habitat remains. The results of the research will form the basis of the Malagasy government's plans to triple the area of protected land in Madagascar, extending existing networks of protected species.

Aligning Conservation Priorities Across Taxa in Madagascar with High-Resolution Planning Tools. C. Kremen et al. Science 11 April 2008.

Carbon Capture and Storage in Soils - EU Review

A new review, showcased on the EU DG Environment website, explores the different EU strategies for capturing carbon in soils. Research has previous indicated that 60-70 million tonnes of CO2-eq could be captured in soils.

Carbon can be trapped in the soil by the activities of bacteria, fungi and earthworms and the conversion of organic matter to humus - which remains in the soil, preventing the release of CO2. Spreading biodegradeable waste, such as sewage and crop residues, on to agricultural land, can also contribute to carbon capture. This practice could contribute 2 - 20 million tonnes of CO2-eq per year to soil carbon capture, given differences in soil and climate.

A crucial factor in the capacity of this practice to contribute to carbon capture is the quality of the waste spread on the land. An initiative under the EU Waste Framework Directive aims to define quality standards for this.

DG Environment is working to develop a 'Life Cycle Thinking' approach to managing waste - examining the total impact of the use of products and services on the environment, from extraction to manufacturing to recycling and eventual disposal. The aim is to avoid shifting environmental impacts from one component of the cycle to another or onto different environmental systems. Find out more about Life Cycle Thinking here.

Source Article at website of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment

Figurehead Appointed to Lead 'Stern Review' of Biodiversity

Pavan Sukhdev, Managing Director and Head of Global Markets at Deutsche Bank AG, London, has been appointed to lead the on-going EU review into the economics of biodiversity loss. The aim of the project is to determine the economic cost of worldwide biodiversity loss, in the same way that the Stern Review showed the incontrovertible cost of 'business as usual' models of action to address climate change.

Alongside his role at Deutsche Bank, Pavan Sukhdev is also director of the Green Accounting for Indian States Project, a study on the economic significance of biodiversity in India.

The preliminary results of the EU study will be presented to the 9th Conference of the Parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn in May this year.

Original press release

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Proposed Badger Eradication in Wales

Welsh ministers are considering introducing a targeted badger cull. Elin Jones, rural affairs minister, has called for a review of the current policy, given that the incidence of TB in cattle has increased in recent years.

A report published last year by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB set up to evaluate the evidence of badger culling pilot schemes concluded that although there was evidence to suggest that badgers are a significant source of TB for cattle, badger culling could make no meaningful contribution to the eradication of the disease. There has as yet been no announcement from Wales as to the scale of the cull proposed.

The BES invites members to comment on this topic.

Biodiversity and Oil Palm

Talks were held on Tuesday 8th April at the Zoological Society of London, from scientific and industrial perspectives regarding the issue of conserving biodiversity within a climate of growth in the palm oil industry. Palm oil is grown widely in south-east Asia with the majority of exports coming from Malaysia and Indonesia. Palm oil is used in a range of different products from food additives, lubricants and cosmetics through to biofuels. The implications of the palm oil industry were discussed by Ben Phalan, a PhD student from Cambridge, Brian Dyer, LONSUM and Dr. Tom Maddox, ZSL:

Ben Phalan's research into how oil palm plantations affect biodiversity has highlighted that:

  • species richness is significantly lower in palm oil plantations than indigenous rainforest
  • habitat specialists have declined in palm oil plantations whilst habitat generalists, non-forest species and species that feed on oil palm crops have done well
  • there is a much greater loss of forest and native species in palm oil plantations
  • detectability issues of many species mean that actual species loss may be higher than thought

Ben has also identified areaas where further research is required:

  • no published papers so far on the impacts of water pollution
  • the value of fragmented forests is unknown
  • the extent of bioaccumulation resulting from the use of rodenticides
  • the impact of pesticide usage on plantations
Brian Dyer is the managing director of operations for LONSUM, a company that grows and processes palm products in Indonesia. Brian:
  • claimed that "demand pull" rather than "consumer push" was the major driver of the palm oil industry and that offshore markets are the major consumer of palm oil
  • pointed out that there is a strong legislative framework that companies involved in the industry must abide by, (though it should be noted that more effective enforcement of legislation is required)
  • infomed the audience there are few NGOs in the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
Finally Dr Tom Maddox spoke about his research into the compatibility of oil palm and conservation stating that:

  • despite the wealth of knowledge indicating the harmful effects of palm oil plantations, there is a lack of knowledge into how to conserve species and areas of high conservation value alongside plantations
  • also noted a lack of enforcement of laws, and also that government is "woefully under represented" in the RSPO
  • increasing the strength of the economy is a priority of governments, and the palm oil industry is a huge source of revenue
  • areas within plantations could be developed for biodiversity, such as wildlife corridors between habitat fragments
  • increasing yields within existing plantations would mean that 'small holders' aren't incentivised to clear more forest
An RSPO accreditation system is seen as a possible way forward in identifying 'sustainable' palm oil companies, or at least those that work to reduce their impact on biodiversity. Providing financial incentives to companies to retain forests is a possible option.

Greater Protection for Red Squirrels

The "buffer zones" which protect red squirrel populations in the North of England from the encroachment of grey squirrels have been widened. Lord Rooker, Minister for the Environment, said that Natural England had taken the action as a "precautionary measure". Red squirrel populations in England have been decimated by the squirrel pox virus, carried by the grey squirrel but harmless to them.

Link to original article - BBC

Friday, 4 April 2008

Rising CO2 Reduces Food Crops' Protein Content

New research published in the journal 'Global Change Biology' has revealed that increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 stand to have a great impact on the protein content of the world's key food crops. Researchers examined the protein content of barley, rice. wheat, soybean and potato when exposed to differing CO2 concentrations. At the level of atmospheric CO2 projected for 2100, under current scenarios, the protein content of the crops was found to have decreased by approximately 14%. Many of the world's poorest people depend on these crops as staple food supplies. In Bangladesh for example, 75% of the population's diet consists of these crops.

The researchers found that farmers could mitigate this effect by increasing their use of nitrogen-rich fertiliser, although this has significant environmental implications.

Link to original research paper

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Carbon Capture for Coal-fired Power Stations

The Royal Society has called for Government to guarantee that new coal-fired power stations in the UK capture 90% of their carbon emissions by 2020.

In the letter written to John Hutton the Secretary of State at the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, the President of the Society, Lord Martin Rees, makes clear that in order to meet the 2020 emission reduction targets set out in the climate change bill, measures such as the withdrawal of operating permits for coal-fired power stations are withdrawn if they fail to meet the above emissions target.

DEFRA Consultation on the Draft Marine Bill

An encouraging step forward has been made regarding the proetction of the UK marine environment with today's release of the draft marine bill, on which DEFRA is consulting. The aims of the marine bill at this stage include:

  • proposals to create a network of marine reserves in order to protect endangered species and habitats around England's coastline
  • setup of Marine Management Organisation by government to deliver objectives for marine environment
  • fisheries management and marine enforcement
Environment Minister Hilary Benn has stated that: "Our proposals will raise protection and management of our seas to a new level, halting the decline in biodiversity to create clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse oceans and seas."

BES members are invited to comment on the draft bill. The deadline for responses to the consultation is 26 June 2008.