Wednesday, 30 July 2008

New Director for LWEC Initiative Announced

The new Director of the Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) initiative has been announced as Professor Andrew Watkinson, currently Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. Professor Watkinson's appointment is initially for five years, in which time the office of Director of LWEC will be based at UEA. He will take up post in September.

Commenting on his appointment, Professor Watkinson said; "Society is facing a range of challenges including climate change, population growth, globalisation and technological change. What I hope is that LWEC will play a vital part in securing the future wellbeing of the people and economy of the UK by providing the evidence base to inform policy debate and people's choices. I have no doubt that leading this partnership will itself be very challenging, but I am eager to start driving it forward."

Professor Watkinson is an active member of the British Ecological Society and has previously been a recipient of the Marsh Award for Ecology by the BES, bestowed for an outstanding discovery or development which has had a significant impact on the development of the science of ecology or its application.

Joint Committee Condemns Commitment to UK Marine Bill

A report released by the Joint Committee on the Marine Bill says that the funding is inadequate and the provisional powers allocated of the representative bodies of the Marine Bill are insufficient.

Lord Greenway, of the Joint Committee, says that the bill must "commit the secretary of state to take action" rather than just "enable change" to take place.

The report recognises recommendations made by the British Ecological Society (BES) and its members, in recommending that the creation of marine reserves be 'underpinned by [sound] science.' And Natasha Barker, senior marine policy officer at the WWF echoed the BES response saying that the MMO must have majority responsibility in planning offshore renewable and energy projects. The report also expresses concern over how the Government plans to enlist the support of the devolved administrations - essential for making the bill work.

Whilst the draft Marine Bill may have shortcomings and areas for improvement, it is an incredibly important and essential piece of legislation for the whole of the UK. Therefore it is essential that the government takes on board the recommendations from the report and of the relevant stakeholders, ensuring that the key marine conservation measures are implemented - a central aim of the Marine Bill.

The Joint Committee's findings can be read here:

Monday, 28 July 2008

Defra Launches Wildlife Management Strategy for England

Defra have launched an enquiry to investigate what is the best method of sustainably managing England's wildlife.

Up until recently, the government has had a piecemeal approach to nature conservation, with only certain species and habitats being afforded protection. This philosophy is to be superceded by Defra's recent holistic approach to Nature conservation. Defra has therefore decided to launch a more comprehensive strategy to conserve wildlife in England, and will shortly be consulting on this strategy.

The new approach aims to be more strategic, and will look at how wildlife impacts on people vice versa. One of the key components of the strategy is taking a decision-tree approach, to provide a mechanism for policy review and development. The hope is this approach will create a structured framework so that a consistent approach to wildlife conservation is used across the board, whilst allowing scope for flexibility within the framework.

The consultation document can be found here:

The closing date for responses is 22nd September 2008.

St. Albans to Receive Largest New Native Forest

An 800-acre site in Sandbridge, St. Albans, has been designated for the largest afforestation project of its kind in the UK.

The plans, set-out by the Woodland Trust would involve the plantation of 600,000 native trees, and could be realised within 12 years.

Much of Britain's natural and semi-natural woodland has been lost since the 1930s, accelerated by the advent of the Green Revolution after the Second World War.

The government is beginning to show an increased awareness of the importance of our natural environment, with the recent announcement by Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that Defra will commit £500,000 over two years to perform an Ecosystem Assessment for England. This hopefully indicates a move to an overarching 'ecosystems approach.'

To donate to the project click here.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Expanding Ethanol Production in Brazil: Environmental and Social Consequences

New research published in the journal 'Ecological Applications' explores the environmental and social consequences of an expansion in the cultivation of sugarcane for bioethanol in Brazil. The amount of land used for sugarcane growth in Brazil is predicted to rise to 14 million hectares by 2016; a doubling of the current amount of land under cultivation for this purpose. Brazil could produce up to 44 billion litres of ethanol from this extent of sugarcane growth.

The production of ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil is predicted to have severe environmental consequences if sugarcane displaces other crops, such as soya, pushing them northwards. There will also be increased constraints on the availability of grazing land, leading to encroachment into the rainforests by ranchers and farmers. A host of other environmental concerns, such as increased soil erosion, siltation in rivers and de-oxygenation of water courses due to the waste water from sugarcane processing are also highlighted.

Conditions for those harvesting the crop are poor, with little legislation protecting the rights of the low-paid migrant workers operating under gang-leaders to work the land. An expansion of sugarcane production without accompanying attention to the rights of these workers could lead to yet more of the Brazilian people suffering within this industry.

The researchers say that major changes are needed if the expansion of ethanol from sugarcane is to proceed sustainably. First among their recommendations is the need for environmental impact assessments on the risks of expansion to new areas. They also call for a more constructive approach from international stakeholders to provide sustainable development incentives in countries where biofuel production is likely to increase.

Martinelli, L. and Filoso, S. (2008). Expansion of sugarcane ethanol production in Brazil: environmental and social challenges. Ecological Applications. 18(4): 885-898.

Defra to Launch Ecosystem Assessment for England

Defra has announced that they will be launching a Millennium Ecosystem Assessment for England. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) was founded in 2001 by an independent collection of over a thousand specialist scientists, to investigate the state of the world's ecosystems in relation to human well-being, and continually monitor changes to our natural environment. An ecosystems approach is strongly supported by the MA, that is, a valuation of our natural 'capital' in social, economic and environmental terms.

The MA is broadly a project of global scope, however Defra propose to develop something along the lines of an inventory and ongoing assessment for England's natural resources. Defra has pledged to give £500,000 over a two year period to fund the assessment. Hilary Benn made the following statement at his first keynote speech on the environment at the Barnes Wetland Centre:

“This project will give us a clearer picture of our natural resources than ever before. It will show us just how much we benefit from our natural environment. And in turn it will provide a springboard for further action to protect and enhance our natural heritage.”

The Convention on Biological Diversity have devised a means of applying the ecosystems approach, using the following guidelines:
  1. Focus on the relationships and processes within ecosystems: we must strive to accelerate research into the benefits of functional biodiversity, whilst continuing to manage ecosystems in the absence of such knowledge
  2. Enhance benefit-sharing: maintain and restore ecosystem function for human well-being
  3. Use adaptive management practices: there must be flexibility in the type of management implemented; considering social and cultural factors affecting natural resources use, as well as flexibility in policy-making and implementation
  4. Carry out management actions at the scale appropriate for the issue being addressed, with decentralization to lowest level, as appropriate: management should occur at the stakeholder level where appropriate, supported by policy and legislative frameworks
  5. Ensure intersectoral cooperation: the formation of inter-ministerial bodies within government or enhanced networking capability to facilitate better communication at all levels
Further details can be found on the Defra and CBD websites.

To read the Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn's full speech go to:

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Government Launches New Website on Climate Change Adaptation

The Government has today launched a new website to bring together the details of all Government initiatives on adapting the UK to climate change. This "online information hub" will "help people identify the challenges we will face in the future and to make the decisions now that will help us to manage them". The site is targeted at businesses, planners, organisations and individuals and aims to allow all these audiences to:

  • Find out more about how the climate is changing and what this could mean for the UK;
  • Read about what the Government is doing to prepare for the impacts of climate change;
  • Find out more about information tools available to all to enable all to take action, including case studies and the work of the UK Climate Impacts Programme.
The UK's Minister for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, Joan Ruddock MP, launched the website, stating that: "Our climate is changing. We need to future proof our buildings and public spaces against this as much as possible. Even nature itself will need help to adapt to climate change if we are not to lose precious biodiversity." She called on designers and builders to learn from these innovators and build a consideration of future climate conditions into new facilities and public spaces.

Visit the new website at

Monday, 21 July 2008

Newton's Heirs: Date of Next Workshop Announced

Newton's Apple, the independent science policy think-tank, has announced a date for its next workshop aimed at educating scientists about the policy-making process. The workshop is part of the 'Newton's Heirs' initiative, which promotes the exchange of information between scientists and policy-makers through workshops, consultations and other activities.

"An Introduction to Science Policy" will take place in Westminster, London, on 8 October. The workshop is open to all scientists, from undergraduate level and beyond, and provides an opportunity to hear presentations from panellists in the policy field, along with a chance for discussion on how the science -policy interface works and can be improved.

Places are limited. To find out more contact Newton's Apple.

Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution Seeks Written Evidence

Following an initial scoping study earlier this year, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) has now launched a formal call for evidence to its inquiry into 'Adapting the UK to Climate Change'.

The focus of the study is on whether the UK has the institutional capacity and arrangements necessary to adapt to changes in the natural environment brought about by climate change. The Commission is inviting evidence in response to a number of questions, accessible on the Commission's website, focused around:

  • Biodiversity, nature conservation and protected area
  • Sea-level and coastal zones
  • Freshwater
Responses are required by 10 October 2008 at the latest.

For further information about the inquiry, contact Dr Jon Freeman at the RCEP.

To contribute to the BES's response to the inquiry, please contact the BES Science Policy Team as soon as possible.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

UK Environmental Observation Framework Launched

Today marks the launch of the new Defra Initiative: "UK Environmental Observation Framework," aimed at helping researchers access information about a whole range of monitoring activities that are ongoing.

Researchers often remark that there is too little coordination between monitoring efforts - this being an issue highlighted at the recent BES-Defra workshop on Modeling Climate Change Impacts on Biodiversity. The new initiative looks as though it will contribute to addressing this problem.

The launch was marked by presentations from chief scientific advisor Professor Bob Watson, Alan Thorpe the chief executive of NERC, Professor Maggie Gill, Chief Scientific Adviser, RERAD, Scottish Government and Doug Wilson, Head of Monitoring Assessment, Environment Agency.

The Environmental Research Funder's Forum (ERFF) outline the theme of the initiative with the following summary:

"[ERFF aim to] articulate a vision and a high-level plan to define and resolve UK environmental monitoring issues, so improving our ability to understand the natural environment and address current and future environmental policy priorities for economic benefit and quality of life."

If you are interested in getting involved in the monitoring programme or find out more about it please contact Beth Greenaway:

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Government Scientists' Climate Change Report Suppressed by White House

A report outlying the dangers posed by climate change was suppressed by U.S Government officials, in an effort to avoid having to sign-up to binding emissions reduction targets set out in the Kyoto protocol.

The Environmental Protection Agency made clear the severity of their findings in the report, stating that: "Risk (to human health, society and the environment) increases with increases in both the rate and magnitude of climate change," making clear the unequivocal evidence for global warming and its human cause.

The report, unveiled in today's Telegraph suggested that there would be an increase in human mortality through increased disease prevalence, drought, and worsened allergy reactions from increased pollen. The article made reference to potential conflict across the globe resulting from competition from increasingly scarce resources such as water. Because the Bush administration fear that the U.S economy would suffer as a result of reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the link between human health and climate change has been played down, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence.

The leaked 149-page report further adds to the current U.S Administration's track-record of hindering progress towards curbing anthropogenic-induced climate change.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

POSTnote Published on Biodiversity Indicators: Assessing the 2010 Biodiversity Target

The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has recently released its latest publication on the theme of Biodiversity Indicators. The article is published at a time when the European-led target of halting the loss of UK Biodiversity by 2010 is widely perceived to be failing. As confirmed by the BES's expert membership, in the BES Science Policy Team's official response to the environmental audit committee's enquiry.

The POSTnote examines the value of the biodiversity indicators identifying two key questions posed by an inquiry launched by the Environmental Audit Committee:

  1. Are the indicators meaningful?
  2. Are there enough data to assess progress and define targets?
1) The indicators have been good where knowledge has been available, in terms of their usefulness to policy-makers, whereas others have suffered as they more difficult to unravel in terms of biological meaningfulness.

2) For some groups, e.g. birds, there is more than enough biologically meaningful data to draw confident conclusions from about their status, whilst for other groups as found in the Red List Index, data are available for only a few species and even where found the resolution of the data is at too coarse a scale to make competent assessments. Many species are 'data deficient' making it almost impossible to assess their true status.

The BES offers the opportunity to third year PhD students to work in the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on a relevant ecological topic. For further information go to:

Friday, 11 July 2008

Motorway Verges Benefit Biodiversity

New research published in Biological Conservation suggests that strips of land alongside motorways play an important role in maintaining plant and spider diversity within intensive agricultural landscapes.

The research was conducted along one 50km stretch of Motorway near Paris, collecting data from 25 individual sites. Where possible, sites with hedgerows were selected within 1.5km from sites without hedgerows.

The researchers found that hedgerows were positively associated with plant diversity - being twice as rich as the grass verges (without hedgerows). Spider diversity was closely associated with proximity to natural woodland, with little significant difference in diversity between hedgerows and grassland. Spider community structure differed between habitat types; hunting and ballooning spiders were found more often in open grassland, whereas web-building and 'non-ballooning' spiders were most common in hedges.

Future research may benefit from looking at strips on different motorways in comparable landscapes rather than replicating along the same stretch of motorway. However, this preliminary research is important in that it has shown that the means in which motorway verges are planted and managed can increase plant and insect diversity in different ways.

After construction of future motorways, some restoration can be achieved by creating a mosaic of hedges and grassland, providing spatial and temporal refugia for biodiversity as well as increased ecological connectivity.

Full reference: Le Viol, I., Julliard, R., Kerbiriou, C., et al. (2008). Plant and spider communities benefit differently from the presence of planted hedgerows in highway verges. Biological Conservation. 141(6): 1581-1590.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

EU Targets Renewables over Biofuels

EU ministers have admitted being 'grossly confused' over renewable energy targets. There has been widespread belief amongst European ministers that the EU renewable energy target stipulates all fuels must contain 10% biofuels by 2020.

However, it has recently come to light that the original policy documents have been woefully misunderstood by ministers.

At a recent meeting, the French energy and environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo pointed out that: "The member states realised that the commission's plan specifies that 10 percent of transport needs must come from renewable energy, not 10 percent from biofuels."

There has been widespread condemnation of the European policy position on biofuels from heavyweight non-government organisations (NGOs) such as the RSPB and the WWF. At this stage however, there may be a new opportunity for NGOs to influence EU renewable energy policy direction. Mr Borloo now believes that the policy could be interpreted to infer that renewable energy could come from fuel cell technology and electricity from renewable sources, rather than biofuels or other unsustainable sources.

Despite the political distancing from biofuel policy after the recent hiatus, there has been no official EU policy change towards biofuels. The Green MEP Claude Turmes has proposed a bilateral agreement with Brazil to import biofuels from sugarcane stocks - the only biofuel source he considers sustainable.

The BES invites members and readers of the blog to contribute to the Biofuels debate: does the EU renewables policy need a better focus? Might it be sensible to distinguish between ecologically unsound biofuels and more sustainable biofuels? Should the EU place stronger emphasis on energy efficiency in transport, housing and business?

The BES strongly welcome your views!

Monday, 7 July 2008

The Copenhagen Challenge: Communicating Climate Change Science

With the wealth of independent research institutes and bodies, and the host of acronyms, figures and predictions associated with climate change, it is little wonder that yet still doubt is cast by some sections of the media on the evidence for climate change, and effective mitigation strategies remain to be implemented.

The Copenhagen Challenge project, which took place in Copenhagen last week (26 June) at the Public Communication of Science and Technology (PCST) conference, aimed to respond to this challenge. "The challenge comprised discussion topics, such as how to communicate climate change to communities without access to modern mass media"- Benita Marcussen

Despite unilateral agreement in the scientific community that climate change is a fact, the media, and subsequently the people remain to be convinced.
One of the challenges elucidated by the conference was how to overcome the contradiction of supporting development whilst mitigating climate change. Recommendations made from the event will be considered by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Biodiversity on Islands: IUCN Summit Begins

The IUCN, the world conservation union, has today produced a publication examining the challenges facing the 28 overseas entities of the European Union. The release of "Climate Change and Biodiversity in the EU Overseas Entities" coincides with the start of a five day conference on Reunion Island, where delegates will discuss strategies to counter climate change and biodiversity loss.

EU overseas entities (including the UK's overseas territories and crown dependencies) are, in the main, small tropical islands. Many depend on the integrity of their natural environment to provide employment in fishing, tourism or in the trade of natural products. Many are threatened by climate change and sea level rise, unsustainable development of infrastructure for recreation and leisure, unsustainable fishing practices and over exploitation of natural resources. These factors pose tremendous threats to the many endemic species which are found in these areas.

The BES is a member of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) which exists to promote the conservation of the species and habitats of the UK's Overseas Territories. It acts as a central point of liaison between NGOs and Government in the UK and in the Territories. The BES is present at the IUCN conference in Reunion as an observer.

View Live Webcast of IUCN Reunion Conference: 7 - 11 July 2008

World Leaders Meet in Japan for G8 Summit

The leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) most industrialised nations meet in Japan today to discuss the challenges posed to global development by climate change, rising food prices and escalating energy costs.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has called on the US to take the lead on fighting climate change, stating in an interview with AFP that "it's desirable for industrialised nations to lead by example". Ban said that "political will" was lacking in the fight against climate change. In the same article it is reported that the chief of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has said it's unlikely that specific targets for emissions cuts will be agreed by leaders at the summit. However, he says he hopes for agreement to "a long-term commitment of a 50 per cent reduction by 2050 and a principle agreement for a mid term reduction [for each G8 nation]".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to call on G8 leaders to accelerate efforts to tackle global warming, seeing this as integral to the development agenda.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Future Farming and its Impact on Biodiversity

Ths BES's Science Policy Team yesterday attended a fascinating conference at New Hall College, Cambridge, organised by the Cambridge Conservation Forum. "Future Farming in the UK: Global Implications for Society and Biodiversity" was an opportunity to discuss and debate the impacts which farming methods and models of the future could have on biodiversity, and how such models could be affected by climate change.

Presentations ranged from a discussion of the potential for miscanthus and short-rotation-coppice willow to meet our future bioenergy needs, to the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and the future impacts of UK agriculture to peoples internationally. We heard too from a farmer, Nicholas Watts of Vine House Farm, who discussed his shift to organic farming and measures on the farm to encourage biodiversity. A presentation from the BTO outlined the measures which farmers could adopt to encourage late-breeding in the turtle dove (leaving fields as whole or part stubble following the harvest) and skylarks (in-field undrilled patches to create suitable nest sites).

During the day, participants were given the opportunity to suggest possible solutions to problems of food security, climate change and consequent pressures on biodiversity. Delegates voted for the 'top' solution as; recognising that population growth is part of the problem. Increased investment in education for girls, along with greater access to birth control for women, must be part of the solution.

Professor Bill Sutherland (University of Cambridge), a co-organiser of the conference, concluded the meeting, stressing the importance of horizon-scanning to ensure that the science community is prepared, with the results of relevant scientific research, when challenges emerge. There are serious challenges ahead, and the science community has to think about how it will address these; conservationists should be part of the dialogue and part of the solution.

Access the 'top solutions' to the challenges, as voted for by delegates, plus presentations from the day, at the website of the Cambridge Conservation Forum.

Were you there? Share your thoughts on the conference with us by leaving a comment on the Blog

Badger Cull Proposals Rejected

The BBC has this morning reported that the Government has decided not to press ahead with the proposed cull of badgers in England. The formal policy announcement is due on Monday 7 July.

The NFU is disappointed by the decision and has accused the Government of lacking leadership. The organisation plans a demonstration outside Parliament next week. The NFU claim that, unchecked, bovine TB could cost the economy £1 billion in compensation and control measures.

Last year, the Independent Scientific Group looking at this issue published the results of their long-term study into the effectiveness of culling badgers to control the spread of TB to cattle. They concluded that whilst a long-term, large scale cull could be effective, the impact was inconclusive and culling was likely to be an uneconomical solution. Scientists have argued that better biosecurity is the way to keep the disease under control, along with the use of any vaccine which may be developed. The Government's then chief scientific advisor, Sir David King, published a report following the ISG publication, arguing that a cull should go ahead.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Carbon Capture and Storage Consultation Launched

The Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has launched a consultation on the future of Carbon Capture and Storage.

A burgeoning population and consequent increase in demand for energy means that meeting global, national and regional carbon emission reduction targets will become increasingly difficult. In response, the government has proposed to build additional coal-fired power stations to meet the growing demand for energy. However, these proposals have been met with fierce criticism from environmental campaigners and leading scientists such as the President of the Royal Society, as the government's commitment to energy supply is not presently concomitant with appropriate measures to reduce carbon emissions using carbon capture and storage technology.

The consultation document seeks a range of perspectives on various components of the regulation of Carbon Capture and Storage. Specifically, the document will consult on aspects of the proposed EU Directive on the Geological Storage of Carbon Dioxide and welcomes views on the principle of ‘carbon capture readiness’ for combustion plants and the regulation of Carbon Dioxide storage.

BES members are invited to take part in the consultation response, and contributions are strongly welcomed from readers of the blog.