Friday, 26 September 2008

Amphibians in Precipitous Decline Spurred by Climate Change and Disease

Researchers at the Zoological Society of London last night warned that over half of all frogs, toads and newts in Europe could be driven to extinction within the next 40 years, through a combination of climate change, disease and habitat destruction.

Those species most at risk are found in Mediterranean regions, predicted to become warmer and drier as the climate changes. These island species are unable to move to cooler areas as they are cut off by sea or by mountain ranges. In England too, the common toad, natterjack toad and crested newt are threatened. One study shows that as global warming alters the climate in Europe, almost every amphibian habitat would be affected.

Habitat loss, caused the the encroachment of towns and cities into rural areas is chiefly to blame, but climate change also seems to be exacerbating the threat of disease and infection to many amphibian species. In one national park in Spain for example, the amphibian population has declined sharply: as the area has become warmer, the deadly chytrid fungus has thrived and spread amongst the animals' populations.

As the number of amphibians declines, the populations of their insect prey are expected to increase, with consequences for disease amongst humans. The chief predators of the amphibians; snakes, fish and birds, are already showing declines.

Conservationists have urged zoos to set up captive breeding programmes to save the most threatened amphibian species.

Original article: Over half of Europe's amphibians face extinction by 2050. Guardian, 26 September 2008:

Mild Recreational Activities Can Disrupt Ecosystems

New research published in Conservation Letters has shown that even supposedly mild recreational activities can have a dramatic impact on ecosystem structure. Researchers surveyed 28 national parks in the US, examining population densities of coyote, bob-cat and grey foxes in areas where land was open to the public, where access to land was restricted and land where access was prohibited.

The results showed that the numbers of coyote and bobcat present in the areas open to the public were significantly lower than in those areas with no access allowed. This was matched by a corresponding increase in non-native and domestic animals (dogs and cats) in the areas allowing public access and recreation. The researchers conclude that even activities such as hiking or bird-watching can have a disruptive effect on these ecosystems.

The scientists acknowledge the important role played by access to green spaces in generating willingness, and funds, to conserve them but call for new tools for conservation planning which take into account the impact of human recreational activities on the species living in protected areas.

Original article: Science for Environment Policy

Original research paper:
Reed, S.A. and Mereniender, A.M. (2008).Quiet, Nonconsumptive Recreation Reduces Protected Area Effectiveness. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2008.00019.x.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Environment Agency Calls for Mandatory Carbon Capture and Storage

The Environment Agency has called for a halt to Government plans to build a new generation of coal-fired power stations, unless these incorporate carbon capture and storage technology (CCS). Chris Smith, the new Chair of the Environment Agency has commented that building coal-fired stations without this capability was "not an environmentally sustainable way of generating power given the challenges we face with climate change". Simply proving that new coal-fired power plants can be retrofitted with this technology, when developed after several years of the station's conventional operation, is not adequate.

The world's first CCS demonstration project was inaugurated in Germany last year - with the capability to store 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. It is unlikely that a commercial-scale demonstration project will be built in the UK until 2013.

Climate Change Minister Online Today to Answer Your Questions

Joan Ruddock MP, Minister for Climate Change, Biodiversity and Waste, will be online today at to answer your questions on climate change and fuel poverty. You can post questions to the Minister in advance and see them answered when the Minister is live online between 12.30pm - 1.30pm.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

New Practical Biology website for schools

The Nuffield Curriculum Centre, in partnership with the Biosciences Federation, has launched a new Practical Biology website for teachers of secondary school biology. The website allows teachers to download tried and tested biology experiments that should work in any school laboratory. The practicals can be used as starting-points for investigations and also for enhancement activities, such as clubs or open day events.

To visit the website, go to:
More information about the project is available at:

Friday, 12 September 2008

Content Analysis Could Aid Public Engagement

Recent research published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology has revealed that analysis of language content used in debate between stakeholders could help find common ground to manage conflicts.

The researchers used the case study of hedgehog eradication on Scottish islands; hedgehogs were introduced to combat garden pests on one island but spread to a further three and became invasive, threatening ground nesting bird species. The issue was divisive and resulted in pro-bird and pro-hedgehog groups.

The researchers analysed stakeholder documents and media reports and found the pro-hedgehog group to be emotive, informal and focused on animal welfare issues, whereas the pro-bird group focused on the conservation of the birds and native wildlife, using more scientific language. The media, in this case, tended to be biased towards the hedgehogs, highlighting the killing of the individual hedgehogs, rather than the protection of entire populations utilising the islands.

Content analysis was found to be useful in finding common ground whilst a debate is ongoing, since it cannot be used until the text and media reports have been produced.

There may be lessons to be learned for those working in policy and public engagement. The media err towards an imbalanced non-scientific view, highlighting the plight of the targeted individuals rather than providing a balanced account of the whole situation, and motivations behind the action taken. Its often easier to conceptualise the 'few' over the 'many', and the media often plays on this. Providing greater weight, to the environmental concerns, communicated with clarity, whilst considering the favoured opinion may help engage the public in all the issues involved in debate.

Article source: Webb, T.J. and Raffaelli, D. (2008). Conversations in conservation: revealing and dealing with language difficulties in environmental conflicts. Journal of Applied Ecology. 45: 1198-1204.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Prince Rallies The City to Save Rainforests

The Prince of Wales has called upon hard-nosed city financiers to invest in Rainforests. Top city officials including Robert Swannell, Vice President of Citi Europe and Chris Gibson-Smith, chairman of the London Stock Exchange are among invitees to Mansion House tonight to discuss methods of investing billions in conservation schemes globally.

The carbon market is thought to be the best way of investing in forests, however presently most investment is directed towards new plantations rather than preserving standing forests.

Stanley Fink, former chief executive of Man Group, stated that if the true value of rainforests was reflected in their price, then they would not be cut down. Speaking to the Financial Times, Mr Fink stated that [ecosystem] services provided by the forests were worth around £8,500 per hectare of forest, as opposed to the £100-200 obtained through agriculture. The true value may in fact be much higher if retrospective carbon sequestration and other historical ecosystem services were included in the valuation.

Businesses including Macdonalds, Goldman Sachs, Shell and Rio Tinto will be represented at tonight's dinner at Mansion House.

See the Prince's Rainforest Project website here:

Global Biodiversity Loss Estimated at 14 Trillion Euros

A new report commissioned by the European Commission - 'The Cost of Policy Inaction (COPI): The case of not meeting the 2010 biodiversity target' - indicates that biodiversity is set to continue declining. Key drivers of biodiversity loss include overexploitation, invasion of non-native species and conversion of natural habitat to agricultural landscapes.

It has long been known that ecosystems provide a wide range of goods and services to humankind, such as the provision of clean water, climate regulation, food and clothing, flood protection to mention but a few. Although these goods and services (Ecosystem Services (ES)) provided by biodiversity have been widely recognised, so far efforts to put a monetary value on these services has proved difficult at best.

The new report attempts to value ecosystem services in terms of the cost to the global economy of future biodiversity loss as a result of policy inaction. The study used a baseline valuation from 2000 to extrapolate ES loss to 2050, assuming predicted population growth takes place with the associated demand for energy and resources and that average global GDP increases 2.8% per annum with the highest growth in China and India.

The key findings of the study include:

  • 50 billion Euros worth of biodiversity providing ecosystem services is being lost each year
  • Land-based ecosystem loss is estimated at 545 billion Euros by 2010
  • Annual loss in ecosystem services from biodiversity loss could exceed 14 trillion Euros by 2050
This study is part of a much larger research effort on a global scale: The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity. It is hoped this study will result in a much wider global awareness of the cost of losing biodiversity and associated ES to mankind in an economic context, and ultimately result in a 'valuation toolkit' that will provide environmental economists and policy-makers a standardised approach to ES valuation.

Download the report here:

Target agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002. See:

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

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Eat Less Meat to Tackle Climate Change

The BES Science Policy Team last night attended a lecture given by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the International Panel on Climate Change, sponsored by Compassion in World Farming. Dr Pachauri argued that one way for citizens in developed countries to tackle climate change is to eat less meat, particularly beef; the production of which uses vast tracts of land, along with huge amounts of grain and water.

Dr Pachauri presented the audience with some disturbing figures during the course of his lecture, including that of the massive increase in agricultural land in the past 40 years (gaining 500MHa from forests and other land uses); a growth which is set to continue. 80% of the emissions from agriculture are accounted for by livestock, whilst livestock rearing and processing itself accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock industry accounts for only 1% of global GDP. Dr Pachauri argued that these statistics illustrate the lack of productivity in livestock farming, stating that although meat consumption is increasingly seen as the 'right' of a developed society, livestock rearing is often a symptom of poverty.

Perhaps the most powerful statistic displayed by Dr Pachauri was this: that a farmer can feed up to 30 people on 1Ha of land providing vegetables, fruit, cereals and vegetable fats, over the course of one year, but if the same area of land is used for the production of eggs, milk and meat, only five to 10 people can be sustained.

Dr Pachauri was joined after the talk by a panel including Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor to Defra, Felicity Lawrence, Guardian correspondent, and Dr John Fowles, Cambridge University Institute of Public Health. Interesting points to emerge from the discussion were the need to "educate the public for choice", starting with engaging children with the issue of climate change, links to our diet and inequalities the need to reform agricultural subsidies to ensure that over-production and over-consumption of meat is not peversely supported,

Dr Fowles argued for the "double dividend" which could arise through a reform of patterns of meat consumption. Through 'contraction' of intake in the West, developing countries would be given space to 'converge' on meat consumption currently enjoyed in the developed world. Over time, greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock industry would remain constant. Greater consumption of meat in poorer areas would encourage better childhood growth and health, whilst evidence sugggested that reducing meat consumption in the developed world could lower the incidence of heart attack and colon cancer.

Media articles:

Eat less meat to curb global warming: Juliette Jowit, Observer, 08 Sept
Save the planet by cutting down on meat? That's just a load of bull: Boris Johnson, Telegraph 09 Sept

Monday, 8 September 2008

Sir David King Opens BA Science Festival in Liverpool

The 2008 BA Science Festival has begun in Liverpool. Professor Sir David King, President of the BA, is due to address the Festival this evening and is expected to call for a shift in focus of science research in the UK, with the nation's most innovative minds applied to the world's most significant challenges, such as climate change.

It has been widely reported in the media today that Sir David will suggest that less time and resources be spent on space exploration and particle physics: controversial given the imminent opening of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN later this week.

In his speech, Sir David is to criticise anti-GM advocates and to argue that advanced approaches to agriculture, such as GM crops, are the only way that Africa can feed itself. He is quoted in today's media as saying: "The position taken by non-governmental organisations and international organisations is to support traditional agricultural technologies. These technologies will not deliver the food for the burgeoning population of Africa,"..."Suffering within that continent is largely driven by attitudes in the West which are anti-science and anti-technology. We have the technology to feed the population of the planet. Do we have the ability to understand what we have?"

Click here for further details of events taking place at the BA Festival (6 - 11 September)

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Royal Society Launches New Study on Enhancing Food Crop Production

The Royal Society has launched a new study on 'Biological Approaches to Enhance Food Crop Production'. The study aims to provide a balanced assessment of the challenges to world food-crop production, the different biological approaches that could be used to enhance supplies and their likely consequences and impacts.

The Society is seeking the views of agriculturalists, bioscientists, academics, policy-makers, industrialists and other interested parties to inform the study. Organisations and individuals are invited to contribute to the study by responding to the call for evidence by Monday 06 October 2008. Evidence should be submitted to Sarah Mee at the Royal Society (

The working group leading the study will report on its findings in summer 2009.

Intermediaries Important to Bridge Divide Between Science and Policy

New research by the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI) indicates the value of intermediary organisations, such as the BES, in bridging the divide between science and policy. Although the research focused on the interface between science and development policy, they can equally be applied to science to ecology/ environmental policy-making. The research has been published as part of the ODI's RAPID programme (Research and Policy in Development).

More than 600 scientists, intermediaries and policy-makers responded to an electronic survey from the ODI, launched in summer 2007. The findings were combined with a literature review and case studies to generate the conclusions of the project.

The review and case-studies show that, in the developing world particularly, close personal relationships between scientists and policy-makers are extremely important.

Two-thirds of the stakeholders surveyed by the ODI stated that a lack of understanding by policy-makers was a major obstacle to getting scientific information into policy. Poor dissemination of research findings was also identified as a hindrance. Policy-makers found opportunities to exchange opinions with scientists, and other forms of personal interaction, the most valuable means to increase their engagement with the science community.

The BES plays an important role in building the relationships between scientists and policy-makers highlighted as so important by this research. Our Ministerial Shadowing Scheme allows early-career ecologists to spend several days shadowing a Minister or government official, experiencing first-hand how the policy-making process works. The BES also organises workshops each year to bring policy-makers and scientists closer together, so building networks of collaboration.

Access the ODI's report
Find out more about the BES's Ministerial Shadowing Scheme and Policy Meetings.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Scientists Warn Radical Solutions Needed to Tackle Climate Change

Writing in a special edition of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, published today, scientists from around the world warn that radical solutions are needed to tackle climate change if the planet is to avert catastrophic global warming.

The scientists call for more research on geo-engineering options, including seeding the oceans with iron to stimulate the growth of marine algae and phytoplankton; thus capturing carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and seeding artificial clouds over the oceans to reflect sunlight back into space. A study proposes building ships which could spray micrometre-sized drops of seawater into the air under stratocumulus clouds to make the whiter, whilst a second proposes the use of jumbo jets to deposit clouds of sulphur dioxide, these particles then reflecting away sunlight.

Critics argue that a focus on geo-engineering as a solution to climate change is a dangerous distraction from attempts to limit carbon dioxide pollution. It will also do nothing to ameliorate the ecological consequences of ocean acidification. Professor Martin Rees, President of the Royal Society argues: "it is worth devoting effort to clarifying the feasibility and any potential downsides of the various options. None of these technologies will provide a 'get out of jail free card' and they must not divert attention away from efforts to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases."

See full article in the Guardian, 1 September 2008: Extreme and risky action the only way to tackle global warming, say scientists

Link to the Royal Society