Friday, 27 June 2008

Report Challenges Reliance on Citations

A report by the International Mathematics Union, profiled in the Times Higher this week, argues that an over-reliance on the use of citation figures is damaging as such statistics can be as subjective as other forms of assessment, such as peer-review. Citation metrics will be used to rate researchers in the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework (REF), the replacement to the RAE.

The report 'Citation Statistics', looks at journal impact factors and citation counts. The authors stress that metrics should only be used as part of a wider package which includes peer review and "esteem indicators", such as conference invitations and membership of editorial boards. Following concerned feedback from the scientific community to a HEFCE consulation published earlier this year, the REF is to include peer-review alongside the use of citation indicators.

Access original article (Blind faith in metrics is 'unfounded': 26 June 2008)

Conservatives Launch Policy on Environmental Education

Tuesday saw the launch of 'Root to Branch', a paper developed by Gregory Barker MP, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, together with the Education Commission, at Frost and Reed Gallery in London. 'Root to Branch' explores the place of the Environment in schools, examines the barriers to a hands-on understanding of the natural world amongst school children and highlights the lack of a 'green' approach in many school buildings.

Both the BES's Policy Officer and Education Officer attended this event, at which David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, delivered a short speech on his vision for a green Britain, with sustainability developed using market forces.

The BES contributed to the early stages of development of the policy paper, briefing the Shadow Minister's office on the Society's education work and vision for encouraging a greater understanding and appreciation of ecology in our schools. While the paper acknowledges the importance of engaging young people with the natural world and reflects many of the concerns teachers have with delivering practical experiences we feel that it's disappointing that the paper goes on to make recommendations that seemingly focus on popular sustainability recommendations such as children walking and cycling to school rather than addressing some of the more complex issues it’s own research highlights.

The BES will continue to engage with the Shadow Minister's office as Root to Branch develops.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

BES Facilitates 'Knowledge Transfer' Between Science and Policy

The BES, together with Defra, Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Woodland Trust, today held a workshop in Reading to explore the use of models, experiments and other techniques in assessing the possible future impacts of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Participants were drawn from both science and policy. The morning began with an exploration of the policy context surrounding biodiversity conservation in the UK, followed by a presentation on the science to policy relationship. One key point here was the need to understand that policy does not proceed in a linear way but that multiple factors, aside from scientific evidence, including anecdote and lobbying activities, public perception and the media, all act to influence how policy is produced.

A series of scientific presentations then explored means to project the direct and indirect impacts on climate change. It was clear from the presentation on the 'indirect impacts' that models linking socioeconomic factors to changes in biodiversity need further development. Finally, participants received a presentation from Alex Harvey, UK Climate Impacts Programme, on the forthcoming UKCIP08 scenarios, expected in November this year. UKCIP08 should provide a broader range of emissions scenarios for use by the community, along with a greater consideration of socioeconomic factors.

The main themes to emerge from the afternoon session, break-out groups to consider the morning's issues in more depth, were: the need for greater integration across Europe of the biodiversity monitoring activities already being taken; the need for investment in gathering greater basic data about individual species, their interactions and how this effects ecosystem response to climate change; and the need for greater knowledge transfer between scientists and policy-makers, in both directions. One specific issue highlighted was the limited funding available to allow methodologies developed to study the responses of a small number of species to climate change or other environmental factors, to be 'rolled out' and applied more widely across species.

To close the day there was a commitment from Defra to review the day's findings and use these in developing the Department's research programmes. The information would also be fed into other research funders, including into the Living With Environmental Change initiative, and into the devolved administrations. The BES looks forward to continuing to work with Defra and others to facilitate knowledge exchange between science and policy as this develops.

The full report of the workshop will be produced in due course and will be published on the BES's website.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

An Ethical Approach to Environmentalism

The Science Policy team today attended an extremely interesting conference at New Hall College, Cambridge, on 'The Root Causes of Unsustainability'. Organised co-jointly by the Faraday Institute and the John Ray Initiative, two organisations which aim to foster the dialogue between science and religion, presentations explored the causes of unsustainable development and consumption from scientific, economic, ethical and theological perspectives.

Sir John Houghton FRS, Chairman of the John Ray Initiative and former Chairman of the Scientific Assessment Working Group of the IPCC, defined sustainability as: not cheating our children; not cheating our neighbours and not cheating the rest of creation. In explaining to the audience, of theologians, philosophers, ecologists and economists, the magnitude of the impacts which could be expected under 'business as usual' approaches to climate change, Sir John stressed that tackling environmental change is a moral, spiritual and scientific challenge.

This was a theme echoed throughout a day that saw presentations from, amongst others: Dr Jim McCarthy, President of the AAAS, on the role of corporations and lobby groups in spreading climate change 'misinformation'; Professor John Guillebaud, UCL, on tackling 'the elephant in the room', population growth, including a highly informative video on world population growth over the past 100 years; Donald Hay, Oxford University, on 'discounting the future', and whether such a standard economic tool is ethical or appropriate when applied to the environment and Professor Ian Arbon, Newcastle University, on unsustainable energy.

It was fascinating to explore the ethical and moral, aside from the scientific, impetus to tackle climate change, with a group largely outwith the ecological community, and to consider how the perspectives represented could work together in engaging the public and policy makers with the key issues considered.

Access the presentations and a web-cast of the event at the website of the John Ray Initiative (available shortly)

Access the World Population Video on You Tube

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Parliamentary Links Day: Science in an Uncertain World

Yesterday, the BES policy team attended the Parliamentary Links Day today at Portcullis House, Westminster, hosted by the Royal Society for Chemistry.

Politicians and leading scientists gave talks throughout the day, followed by the opportunity to interact with them afterwards at the reception.

Speakers included Dr Brian Iddon CChem FRSC MP Member Commons Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills; Rt Hon John Denham MP, Secratary State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, former and present chief scientific Advisors Professor Sir David King and Dr Bob Crawford, and Professor Rosemary Hails of the Institute of Biology and CEH. Numerous politicians and representatives from NGOs were amongst the audience too, including Rt. Hon Tony Benn and Rt. Hon Kenneth Clarke.

Research and Development

John Denham, Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, led the proceedings citing a doubling in the research budget in the last two years and the UK's leadership in scientific output - second only to the USA. Mr Denham ranked the energy programme as the chief scientific priority for the UK with Aging research and security coming second and third. The Living With Environmental Change programme was mentioned, being particularly topical since food supply, energy security and terrorism present challenging and uncertain prospects.

Climate Change

Sir David King put forward a compelling and urgent case for the reduction of carbon emissions globally, in light of a projected 2-3 degrees centigrade rise in global temperatures. Historically, some important global and local environmental issues have been identified by scientists, leading to policy change resulting in positive outcomes. These include London smog, addressed by the banning of coal fires in 1963, and global ban on CFC use in refrigerators and aerosols resulting in 'rebuilding' of the ozone layer. In this sense, Sir David King believes that, with global ratification of binding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, through 'decarbonisation' of the global economy, the negative consequences of climate change can be abated.

Questions led by the British Psychological Society prompted Sir David to reiterate the need for government cabinets to really take on board the idea of decarbonising the economy. The need for a frameshift in national psychology, in that as a society we must stop idolising celebrity over-consumption, is imperative.

Ecosystems Approach

Professor Rosie Hails focused on the need for an ecosystems-based approach to valuing biodiversity in future development proposals, given society's dependence on nature's goods and services for food, materials and environmental regulation. This approach is also in accordance with the guidelines of the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment and the UNEP-Global Outlook-4 ProfessorHails called for an end to the extensive bureaucracy associated with GM crops applications on the basis of scientifically unvalidated safety and environmental concerns. Particular emphasis was made on the need for regulation that is proportional to benefits and risks, rather than sentiment.

Overall, the day presented the opportunity to both meet high profile scientists and key politicians as well as ascertain the hot scientific topics scientists are hoping politicians and policy-makers will act upon.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Knowledge and Policy Gaps in Coastal Invasive Species Management

New research published recently in Estuaries and Coastal Science indicates that current policy and knowledge of invasive species in coastal and estuarine areas is seriously lacking.

Shipping may introduce invasive non-native species (INNS) through the emptying of ballast water in estuarine areas, or through species attached to the hull, often these may have originated thousands of miles from where they are released. Fish farming and aquariums are also significant potential INNS sources.

The authors of the paper call for further research by scientists and greater attention from policy-makers and stakeholders. The researchers suggest that prevention and early detection are the most effective methods of dealing with INNS. Further, screening using historically invasive-traits and matching previous habitats with potential new habitats, could help predict the likelihood of future invasions into alien environments.

This is of particular relevance given that the draft Marine Bill presently does not provide any reference to the introduction of INNS into the marine environment, nor any legislative preventative measures. The CBD and the Codes of Practice on the Introductions and transfers of Marine Organisms set by the International Council for Exploration of the Seas are not binding and carry no fixed penalties, therefore unless the Marine Bill addresses these issues in its final iteration, a great opportunity will have been missed.

Do readers of the blog agree that the Marine Bill should address the introduction of invasive non-native species into the marine environment?

Read the BES's Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST) fellow's POSTnote.

Further information on the British Ecological Society's POST fellowship can be found on the website.

UK Government Ready to Reignite GM Debate

The UK Government is ready to explore once more the use of GM technology in crops, hoping that this will offer a solution to the current world food crisis. Phil Woolas, the UK's Environment Minister, has reportedly held private talks with the Agricultural Biotechnology Council, an umbrella group to promote the role of biotechnology in agriculture.

In an interview with the Independent newspaper yesterday, Mr Woolas said: "There is a growing question of whether GM crops can help the developing world out of the current food price crisis. It is a question that we as a nation need to ask ourselves." Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday called on leaders at an EU summit to consider relaxing rules on the import of GM animal feed, as a way of lowering food costs for the poorest countries.

The only GM food crops currently available commercially are those which have been grown to be herbicide or insect resistant. There are very legitimate concerns that extensive growth of such crops will severely impact on the biodiversity of the countryside; as broad-spectrum herbicides such as Monsanto's 'Roundup' indiscriminately affect wildlife. However, GM technology could offer benefits to developing countries if the focus was on research into higher yields, drought and disease resistance. Downing Street has commented that "GM crops are to be considered on a case-by-case basis, based solely on the science".

Does GM offer a solution to hunger and poverty in the developing world as food prices rise and food shortages threaten?
The Science Policy Team invites you to comment on this article

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Significant Shifts Needed in UK Policies Towards Climate Change

The front page of today's Guardian reports that the Gallagher Report into the UK's biofuels policy, to be published next week, will call for greater research into the indirect impacts of biofuels on land use and food production before the Government can set targets for their use. The report will say that there is a place for biofuels, as an alternative to fossil fuels and as a source of income to poor farmers with marginal lands, but that a distinction must be made between "first generation" fuels and "second generation" fuels made from non-food plants.

The Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, commissioned Professor Ed Gallagher, head of the Renewable Fuels Agency, to conduct the review back in February. Since then, the Government's "Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation" has come into force, requiring all petrol and diesel sold at Britain's pumps to contain 2.5% biofuels. The EU is pushing for a 10% target across Europe by 2010.

The paper also reports on comments by the Renewables Advisory Board (RAB) that the UK can at best expect to generate 14% of its energy from sustainable sources by 2020, missing an EU target of 15%. The 14% figure could be met through "significant but achievable policy changes". The RAB comments that current policies will produce just 6% renewable energy by 2020.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Energy Minister Criticises NGOs Over Severn Barrage

The UK Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, has criticised the RSPB and other NGOs for adopting a 'no' position to the development of a Severn Barrage.

Mr Wicks, speaking to the House of Commons Welsh Grand Committee, said that the RSPB were "clearly not understanding that unless we are prepared to take some courageous action on climate change the devastation of species will be truly enormous".

He said:"It is the duty of a sensible NGO (non-governmental organisation) supported by the public that occasionally they say yes to projects and (are) not always seeking the comfort zone of saying no to a barrage, no to a wind farm, no to this, no to that." "There needs to be a responsibility and a seriousness in all organisations, especially the environmental ones." Mr Wicks also said that if the Government's assessment of the Severn Barrage, due to report next year, revealed severe environmental impacts, the project would be suspended.

The RSPB has hit back at the Minister, saying that the development of a Severn Barrage would be an extremely costly means to achieve the same benefits as less expensive renewable energy projects, concomitant with tremendous loss of wildlife in the Severn Estuary.

Read the full story online at

Satellite Policing to Save Rainforest

£108m is to be invested by Britain and Norway in a scheme said to provide a viable alternative to logging in the African Congo basin. The Congo rainforest is roughly twice the size of France, but is being deforested at a rate equivalent to 25,000 football pitches a week.

At the launch of the funding event, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We are pledging to work together to secure the future of one of the world's last remaining ancient forests." Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg added that "By doing something about deforestation we can achieve a big and rapid reduction in emissions." Cutting carbon emissions this way is an order of magnitude cheaper than carbon capture schemes.

Projects that receive investment from the fund will be monitored by high definition cameras on mounted on satellites, to ensure that progess is made in areas that have received government funding.

Compensatory Mitigation of Marine Bycatch is Inaffective

Many non-target species are killed regularly as a result of commercial fishing activities, these are known as marine bycatch. As well as fish, many seabirds are affected by fishing, particularly by long-line fishing techniques.

A potentially policy-influencing paper was published last year in Frontiers in Ecology and Environment, suggesting that loss of seabirds by fishing activities could be 'compensated' by promoting conservation efforts such as removing rats from islands colonized by seabirds. However new research published in PLoS suggests that this would only work in a limited number of cases, and in the majority of cases, the mitigation scheme would actually be detrimental. This is because the seabirds affected such as albatross, are often long-lived and produce few young infrequently, so they are unable to replace themselves at the rate they are being lost through bycatch. The authors suggest the policy would only benefit some of the species affected by bycatch, whilst others continue to be lost or could potentially be affected worse by inaction.

The authors of the paper urge caution when adopting policies for endangered species.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Ruth Kelly to Urge Shipping Reforms to Cut Emissions

Ruth Kelly, Transport Secretary, is to deliver a speech to the UN International Maritime Organisation today, in which she is expected to call for shipping to be included in emissions trading schemes and more research into hydrogen fuel cells. The Minister is also expected to call for a reduction in ships' speeds in shipping lanes. A drop of just two knots, from an average speed of 18 - 19 knots could save 5% of fuel emissions.

A report in today's Guardian highlights the potential to develop new forms of storage for hydrogen, to be used in shipping to cut the emission of greenhouse gases. The Ross Barlow, a canal boat converted by a team at the University of Birmingham to run solely on hydrogen, breaks new ground in running on hydrogen stored in the form of metal hydrides. The project team believe that this technology could offer a solution to the massive carbon dioxide emissions from the shipping industry, which amount to 1.1 billion tonnes each year, projected to rise by 30% by 2020. Shipping accounts for nearly 4.5% of all global CO2 emissions.

Hydrides are too heavy for transportation in cars, meaning that the issue of storage hydrogen as volatile compressed gas or liquid remains for these vehicles. In shipping however, the heavy hydrides can be used to provide ballast.

The International Maritime Organisation

Conservatives to Reaffirm Green Policies

In a speech he is due to deliver today, the leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron, will reaffirm his party's commitment to green policies, stressing that the global credit crunch has not led to a watering down of his commitment to this agenda. He is expected to say that he recognises that it is harder for the public to go green when economic times are hard, but that the world "can not afford" to do more to save the planet.

Mr Cameron is expected to say that the only way to "realistic environmentalism", harmonising social, economic and environmental concerns, is to " develop a strategy... not ignoring economic realities and just pressing on regardless, but understanding economic realities and using them as a spur to innovation and imagination. Although fighting climate change may seem like a step too far to cash-strapped families, Mr Cameron will insist that;"The truth is it's not that we can't afford to go green - it's that we can't afford not to go green."

See original media articles (16 June 2008)

Friday, 13 June 2008

A Single Voice for the Biological Sciences?

This week's Times Higher (12 June 2008) has reported some unease amongst the biological sciences community in relation to a proposed merger between the Institute of Biology and Biosciences Federation. The merger has been suggested as a means to counter complaints from policy-makers and opinion formers that biology speaks with multiple voices. A stronger, better co-ordinated effort could lead to a higher profile for the biological sciences in policy circles.

The BSF represents 44 organisations from across the spectrum of the biological sciences, from learned societies such as the BES to private sector pharmaceutical companies. The IOB meanwhile counts 14,000 biologists as members, with a network of affiliated societies, of which the BES is one.

It is anticipated that, if successful, a merger could be complete by mid-2009.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

True Cost of Severn Barrage

A new report by Frontier Economics commissioned by NGOs including the RSPB and National Trust, suggests that a tidal barrage is the least cost-effective way of generating renewable energy for the UK.

The barrage could potentially supply 5% of the UK's electricity in less than two decades, however the independent report suggests that not only will the barrage waste taxpayers' money, but cause widespread environmental damage to 85k hectares of protected wetlands. The wetlands support numerous important species of wading birds as well as permit salmon, sea trout and sea lampreys to reach spawning grounds.

The projected costs are in the region of £15 billion, however it is thought that this figure could be much greater. This figure does not take into account the value of the ecosystem services the wetlands provide, which it is anticipated would have to be considered as part of the forthcoming legislation in the Marine Bill.

However, given the UK target of obtaining 40% of its energy from renewables by 2020, serious consideration must be given to alternative renewable energy projects.

Link to RSPB Press Release (12 June 2008)

The BES invites members and blog readers to comment.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Future Priorities for BBSRC-funded Research

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is inviting opinions on the direction BBSRC-funded research should take in the future regarding environmental change, particularly climate change.

Further information, including scientific scope, BBSRC remit, consultation questions, potential priorities and a glossary, can be found in the full consultation document.

The British Ecological Society will be submitting a response to the consultation. If you would like to have your say, please e-mail your comments to the policy team no later than Friday 4 July.

British Bird Phylogeny Could Predict Future Bird Declines

An unique and insightful piece of research on British birds has recently been published by Dr Gavin Thomas in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. For the first time a phylogeny (taxonomic family tree) of British birds has been published, showing that closely related species tend to decline in sync.

Dr Gavin Thomas found that birds experiencing population declines tended to be clustered on the phylogenetic tree. The implication of his research is that birds in taxonomic groups with species that have already undergone declines, may be at risk from decline in the future. For example, the greenfinch is closely related to the linnet and bullfinch, which have undergone declines, but the greenfinch is not currently listed as endangered. It is proposed that this could be due to shared traits that predispose certain species to decline, such as requiring specialist habitats or having a slow life history, (for example small clutch size and low reproductive rate).

However it is likely that there are other key traits that enable some species to survive better than others such as broad diet and habitat requirements, which could be why the blackbird is not declining but other family members such as the mistle thrush and starling are in decline.

Where resources are limited or practicalities prohibit conservationists to undertake baseline surveys of birds, the use of genetic information to identify birds potentially under threat in the future will be incredibly useful.

BES members and blog readers are invited to comment on this article.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Science Academies Call for Tougher Action by G8 Nations

The Royal Society has joined other academic institutions from around the world in calling for rapid agreement on a timetable to fit carbon capturing technologies to coal-fired power stations, in order to avoid "rapid and irreversible" climate change. Academies from the G8 nations have issued a statement on climate change adaptation and the transition to a low-carbon economy, setting out the key points which must be addressed by the G8 summit in July.

Amongst other points, the societies call on industrialised countries to step-up their efforts to develop greener housing and transport, in the move to a low carbon economy, and urge the G8 nations to commit themselves to power station upgrades to capture CO2. Carbon capture technology is still unproved at the industrial scale but the UK government believes that it could remove 90% of the CO2 released by Britain's fossil fuel power stations.

The statement has been delivered to the Japanese government, which hosts the next G8 Summit. Japan has this week announced a new climate change policy that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 - 80% by 2050. Japan has encouraged voluntary pledges from industry to cut emissions under a new carbon trading scheme.

Read Press Release from the Royal Society (10 June 2008)

Monday, 9 June 2008

Human Population Growth and Ecology: Jonathon Porrit at the Cheltenham Science Festival

The BES policy team attended several insightful and stimulating talks at this year's Cheltenham Science Festival, which took place last week. In particular, Jonathon Porrit (Programme Director of Forum for the Future and Chair of the UK Sustainable Development Commission) delivered a fascinating, if controversial talk on the issue of global population growth, in the context of rising oil prices, increasing food costs and ongoing environmental degradation. Jonathon identified a number of global regions , many in South East Asia and Africa, where population growth exceeds a neutral growth rate, or 'replacement' rate; with some families having up to seven children on average. He cited the lack of funding, and political will, for effective family-planning programmes in many developing countries as a major barrier to reducing global population growth.

With the global population set to exceed 9 billion by 2050, and current resources struggling to fulfill demand, the current rate of consumption cannot hope to match a future population if everyone in the world consumed as much as those in 'developed' countries. What Jonathon failed to identify clearly was the link between demand for resources and demography. It is true to say that many of the world's poorest reside in the most biologically diverse regions of the world, such as tropical rainforests, and that they depend on their resources for their livelihood. But in the same spirit, the driving force of habitat loss and destruction is generally from economically more developed countries.

A strong case has been made for sustainable population growth, if not reduction, but the root cause of the world's environmental ills presently is not just in the rapidly expanding population, but in the existing and falling populations in economically more developed countries with the overwhelmingly larger environmental footprint. Geometric population growth should not be overlooked as an environmental issue because of its controversy, but the facts should not be misrepresented, so as to ease the mindset of the economically most developed countries into continuing unsustainable and environmentally damaging activities, such as over-exploitation of natural resources, continued pollution of the natural environment and increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

We all have a part to play in living less environmentally harmful lifestyles and globally, countries should take responsibility in equal measure rather than naming and shaming others.

The Economist provides an interesting insight to the topic of population growth, and other links.

The BES would like to invite blog readers to share their thoughts and opinions on this topic.

A Vision of the Future from Volcanic Vents

A team of researchers at the University of Plymouth have carried out the first in-situ investigation into the possible effects of anthropogenic CO2 on the world's oceans. Until now, studies into the effect of increasing atmospheric CO2 on the chemistry of the oceans were carried out in aquaria. The results were published online yesterday (8 June) in Nature.

Studying the effect of high concentrations of CO2 around volcanic vents off the coast of Italy, the researchers found that around these vents, coral and microbial organisms with calcite exoskeletons were absent, with a proliferation of algae in their place. As the concentration of CO2 in the ocean increases, the pH decreases; the oceans become more acidic. The increase in acidity removes calcite and aragonite from the marine environment, which are used by many marine organisms to build their shells.

The researchers describe their results as "quite worrying". The next step is to undertake more work to see how ocean acidification trickles through marine food webs.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Soil Biodiversity Integral to Carbon Cycling

The respiration of soil is a key function in the carbon cycle, moving carbon from the ground to the atmosphere.

Peatland across Northern Europe occupies somewhere in the region of 3.5 million km2 and holds one third of the world's soil carbon. These areas are under pressure from increased agricultural activity, which accelerates the net loss of carbon dioxide. Theory and practice suggests that afforestation will result in net carbon uptake and reduce carbon loss to the atmosphere from soil respiration. Although soils are thought to act as a sink for carbon, land-use change such as agriculture alters the way that carbon dioxide is emitted.

Currently tree plantations are believed to be a worthwhile mitigation technique against climate change. However, in a research paper published in Soil Biology and Biochemistry, researchers found that previous agriculture on afforested land led to higher soil respiration than undisturbed areas, up to decades after afforestation.

At present, European legislation is placing an emphasis on the role of afforestation in combating climate change. This research suggests that further work is required into the effects of climate change on soil biodiversity and the subsequent effect on the carbon cycle.

BES members and readers of the blog are invited to discuss this article.

World Environment Day Today!

New Zealand is playing this year's host to the global event: World Environment Day (WED). WED began in 1972 at the time of the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment at the United Nations General Assembly.

It is an opportunity to raise political awareness of environmental issues and for governments globally to make sincere pledges towards improving the state of the environment. This year the slogan is Kick the Habit! Towards a Low Carbon Economy, hence the central theme for this year's event is reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Issues being highlighted therefore include improving our energy efficiency, eco-friendly consumption and living 'low-carbon' lifestyles.

People can celebrate WED by hosting green events such as bicycle parades, street parties, clean-up campaigns and anything that highlights green issues.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

POSTnote on Wildlife Diseases at Westminster Hall

Yesterday a POSTnote seminar was held on the topic of Wildlife Diseases at Westminster Hall, with speakers Dr Andrew Cunningham, Institute of Zoology, Vic Simpson, Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre, and Matthew Hartley, DEFRA.

Wildlife diseases can be both a driver of biodiversity loss and a potential threat to human health. For wildlife, diseases can lead to increased susceptibility to other diseases and reduced reproductive capacity. Numerous diseases are believed to have been introduced from outside the UK, indicating the need for better monitoring of diseases and improved regulation of animal imports and movements. For example the squirrelpox virus, which affects red squirrels but not grey squirrels, is thought to have been introduced by grey squirrels and has been identified as a major contributor of red squirrel decline. Ranavirus affects amphibians in the UK, and phylogeographic research suggests that the disease has been introduced from the USA. And globally, Chytridiomycosis is a major threat to all amphibians and an important driver of amphibian population declines.

Despite these considerable threats, not to mention the unknown threats from emerging and as-yet undiscovered viruses, there is no single government body designed and equipped to deal specifically with wildlife diseases, a strong point highlighted by the speakers. The Wildlife Health Strategy is in place to cover issues pertaining to wildlife disease, but only has the budget and resources to respond reactively to emerging events.

There was a general concensus that there is an urgent need for a new government body to deal with wildlife diseases, although at present DEFRA does not have the resources for a restructuring. Vic Simpson, a veterinary pathologist by training, identified the link between pesticide pollution - Polychlorobiphenyls led to increased disease susceptibility in otters and other problems - and the near-extinction of otters in the UK. His work enabled a succesful reintroduction campaign, having identified the cause of the problem. However, due to DEFRA's chronic underfunding, the important work of Vic Simpson has been cut short.

The seminar was an excellent opportunity to expose an interesting and under-explored topic of disease ecology, coming at a time when when fresh outbreaks of Avian Influenza are reported to be impacting on Oxfordshire poultry farms. There is clearly an urgent need for a wildlife department in the UK capable of dealing with wildlife diseases.

Read more about POST at

Click here to read about how to apply for the BES POST Fellowship. Applications for the 2009 Fellowship will open early in the new year.

UNFF Web Forum - Forests and Biodiversity Conservation

The United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) is holding a web-forum on "Forests and Biodiversity Conservation, including protected areas". Take part online until 30 June.

Dialogue and inputs fo the forum will be used to inform one of the themes for discussion at the upcoming 8th session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, which will take place at UNHQ New York, from 20 April - 1 May 2009.

Take part in the Forum

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

"It's the ecology, stupid"...

It's not the economy, but ecology which is the key to the survival of the human species, stated Sir John Harman, Chairman of the Environment Agency, in his closing remarks to the IEEM summer conference, attended by the BES's Policy Team. Sir John called for a 'new economics' to tackle the tough environmental challenges we face today. He also urged greater collaboration between ecologists and economists and stressed the importance of ecologists engaging with policy-makers.

The theme of the conference was "Moving to an Ecological Economy", with speakers discussing how ecology can drive the valuation of biodiversity and natural resources:

Peter Head, a Director of ARUP, outlined his work with the company in developing Dongtan, an innovative new eco-city to be built in China, on an island north of Shanghai. The first phase of construction will be completed in 2010, and when Dongtan is finished it will provide sustainable, 'green' homes for 80,000 people. Just some of the exciting measures to be adopted in the city include the use of used rice husks to power a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant, widespread use of photovoltaic cells to harness energy from the sun, the use of anaerobic digesters to process all biological waste and extensive food production within the city to compensate for the land lost through the building of the development.

Peter highlighted the work of ARUP in creating pilot schemes for public-private partnerships, which he hopes will lead to street by street transitions to sustainability and 'one planet living' at, at least initially, a regional scale.

Shulamit Alony, Business and Biodiversity Officer at the Countdown 2010 initative, developed by the IUCN, outlined the work of Countdown 2010 in encouraging Governments to increase momentum towards the CBD target. Countdown 2010 has also been working with industry to 'green' their activities, working with both multi-national companies and small and medium enterprises across Europe whose activities either impact on biodiversity or depend directly on biodiversity for their profits.

David Calpin, Defra's head of strategy in the Natural Environment division, outlined the shift in thinking at Defra towards a holistic whole ecosystems focus, discussing the Ecosystem Approach Action Plan.

Dr Mike Christie, University of Aberystwyth and Salman Hussein, Scottish Agricultural College, discussed separate studies they have undertaken for Defra to put a value on ecosystem services. Dr Christie has undertaken on valuing the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), whilst Salman Hussein has explored different scenarios for conserving biodiversity as proposed by the Marine Bill. Salman's team have developed a methodology to quantify the economic costs and benefits of implementing Marine Protected Zones as either 'Highly Restricted' or 'Maintenance of Conservation Status', under which different levels of potentially damaging activities would be allowed by the Marine Bill.

Overall, the message to emerge from the day was that innovative work was being undertaken by environmental economists, and by others in the economics and ecological communities in this area. Yet, putting a value on biodiversity and ecosystem services is never going to be simple and much more work is required in order for HM Treasury to take the Ecosystem Approach seriously. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Review (TEEB) Review, being conducted at EU level, could provide a powerful tool to force the Government to recognise the true cost to the UK of failing to halt biodiversity loss.

Payments for Environmental Services: an Alternative to Logging in Indonesia?

A new report published in Ecological Economics suggests that payments for environmental services (PES), unless properly targeted, are ineffective at curbing forest loss.

The report suggests that PES schemes will put some communities inhabiting tropical forests in a better 'bargaining' position for property rights with loggers, rather than encourage conservation initiatives. In many cases, even if PES schemes offer more money than logging fees, local communities are ill-equipped to prevent deforestation by loggers anyway, rendering the PES impotent at preventing forest loss. The study recommends that PES schemes target communities that would not otherwise conserve the rainforest.

Other research has suggested that user-financed schemes (such as local water companies) are better equipped to ensure conditions are met than government funded schemes, as greater consideration of local conditions are made and projects are conducted more efficiently. However in terms of carbon sequestration, government-financed schemes are the only option.

If the current rate of forest loss continues in Indonesia, it is predicted that all of the lowland forest will be lost by 2010, flying in the face of global agreements at the Convention of Biological Diversity to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010. Thus it is critical that PES schemes effectively target appropriate beneficiaries when implemented rather than be used as a blanket scheme targeting all communities.

BES members and readers of the blog are invited to comment on the usefulness of PES schemes.

Monday, 2 June 2008

UN Biodiversity Forum Pledges to Halt Wildlife Loss

Over 200 countries have agreed to sign-up to measures to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010.

Amongst the pledges have been the proposed deep-sea nature reserves, creation of global standards for biofuel development, and expand reserve area globally to an area twice the size of Germany.

However some environmentalists have noted that the UN Millenium Development target of substantially reducing the loss of biodiversity by 2010 is still not being met.

Joan Ruddock, the UK's Minister for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, welcomed the progress which had been made but insisted that the UK could not be complacent in protecting its natural resources. In a statement released by Defra today, the Minister stressed that the UK would continue to press for international action.