Wednesday, 4 March 2009

BES Blog Moves to New Home

The BES Blog has now moved to a new home at

Thanks to all of you who have taken the time to read the Blog since it's inception in June 2007 here at Blogger. Please update your RSS feeds to ensure you move with us and stay in touch with the latest developments in ecology and policy...

Friday, 27 February 2009

Gordon Brown to Set Ambitious New Targets for Science and Maths Education

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to announce ambitious new targets for science and maths education when he delivers the Romanes Lecture at Oxford University later today.

In the lecture, the Prime Minister will explore how the UK can capitalise on our scientific and intellectual heritage to make Britain the best country in the world in which to practice science. The Prime Minister will signal his desire to move the country away from a reliance on financial services, instead placing science and technology at the heart of the UK economy as the country emerges from recession.

Within five years, the PM will announce, 90% of state schools will be expected to deliver triple science (single subject biology, physics and chemistry) at GCSE level; up from 32% currently. The Government aims to at least double the 8.5% of state school pupils studying triple science within this time period.

The lecture follows Lord Drayson's comments earlier this month, regarding whether Government should set the priorities for scientific research as a means to achieve delivery of the innovation and scientific advance needed to strengthen the UK economy. The scientific community reacted angrily to Lord Drayson's remarks.

Speaking on the Today Programme this morning, academics Professor Don Braben and Lord Krebs discussed the need for scientific endeavour to operate at arm's length from Government: the so-called 'Haldane Principle'. The Prime Minister's speech this afternoon is bound to stimulate questions on whether, in a time of recession, the Government does plan to direct funding for scientific research more stringently; with an emphasis on targets and deliverable outcomes and away from 'blue skies' endeavour.

More on this from BBC News

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Wild Deer: Seminar in Parliament Tomorrow

Tomorrow sees the formal launch of the POSTnote written by the 2008 BES POST Fellow, with a seminar in Westminster. Laura Spence has spent the past few months working at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, researching and writing a briefing note for parliamentarians (POSTnote 325) on "Wild Deer".

Wild deer populations are increasing in number and geographic range in the UK. Deer are a valuable natural resource if managed sustainably, but when occurring at excessive densities, they can have negative effects on biodiversity, the rural economy, human health and
safety, and animal welfare. The POSTnote examines the current status of wild deer in the UK, their ecological, economic and social impacts and legislation on their management.

The seminar will take place in the Jubilee Room, Westminster Hall, from 3.30 - 5pm. To find out more see the Event Flyer.
If you would like to attend, please contact or telephone Emma Kearney on 020 7219 2840.

To apply for the 2009 BES POST Fellowship, visit the BES website. Applications must be received by 6 April.

Monday, 23 February 2009

'Save the Albatross' Campaign a Remarkable Success

The outlook for endangered albatross species has dramatically improved, thanks to the success of an international conservation programme implemented by the RSPB and Birdlife International.

The Albatross Task Force (ATF) was established in 2006 in order to reduce the number of accidental albatross deaths caused by long-line fishing. At the time, it was estimated that one bird was killed every five minutes from long line fishing, and 19 of the 22 albatross species were under threat from extinction.

The birds dying because they were taking bait from fishing lines fed into the sea from boats fishing for tuna or swordfish. Once they swallowed the bait, they would become caught on the hook, dragged underwater and drown.

Specialist instructors from the ATF went out with fishermen and taught them techniques that would stop the birds becoming entangled. They were encouraged to fish at night, weight their lines and attach streamers the back of vessels to scare the birds away. Government legislation also played its part by stipulating that no more than 25 birds could be caught as "by-catch" during trips.

The programme has been heralded as a resounding success, and has reduced deaths by up to 85% in some locations.

Dr Ross Wanless, coordinator of the Birdlife programme in Africa, said: "Changing entrenched attitudes and practices is a slow process, but the ATF has shown that by working with government and industry, change is possible."

Whilst the 19 species are not freed from the threat of extinction yet- many are still snagged by trawlers, breeding is slow and habitats are endangered - the campaign is likely to have made a remarkable impact on their population stability and its success cannot be understated.

Learn more about the 'Save the Albatross' Campaign here

Read more about this story at the BBC News website and the Times News website

Friday, 20 February 2009

Historical Trends Show Food Security Threatened by Climate Change

Research published recently in Science illustrates the destabilising effect which extreme weather events have on agricultural productivity, and predicts that without significant investment now in adaptation measures, climate change will lead to major food crises in the next 100 years.

Based on an analysis of 23 global climate change models, researchers suggest that unusually hot summers, for example the 2003 heatwave in Europe, will become common by the end of this century. This heatwave, in which the temperature was 3.5oC above normal, led to 50,000 heat-related deaths and poor yields from grain and fruit crops across much of France and Italy.

Droughts in Africa from the 1960s to 90s, and consequent effect on crops, led to very many hunger-related deaths.

Examining these events, the researchers conclude that agricultural yields may fall by 20 - 40% over the next century as the climate warms, without investment in adaptation measures. They urge governments to prioritise research and development in climate change adaptation for agriculture, including investment in genomics, breeding, management and engineering.

Battisti, D.S. and Naylor, R.L. (2008). Historical Warnings of Food Security with Unprecedented Seasonal Heat. Science. 323: 240-244.

A Million Ponds by 2059

Yesterday evening, the BES Science Policy Team attended the launch of the Million Ponds Project. The ambitious project is a national initiative to reverse the long-term decline in ponds; from around a million 100 years ago, to 500,000 now. Of those that remain, only 8% are thought to be in good condition.

Launching the project last night, Alan Titchmarsh focused on the need for the conservation community to communicate with the public over not only the importance of ponds for wildlife, but also the joy to be had from engaging with nature. Well set-up and maintained ponds provide a fantastic habitat for freshwater organisms but also provide a unique area where children can learn about the natural environment.

Pond Conservation, a national charity dedicated to creating and protecting ponds, and other freshwaters, and the wildlife they support, is co-ordinating the project. Other organisations who are taking part, digging the ponds and providing advisors to assist those wishing to establish ponds on their land, are: Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission and many others. In total, 11 major partners are involved. The Ministry of Justice and Defence Estates are key partners, wishing to establish ponds in prison grounds and on firing ranges.

Over the first five-years of the project, which is to run for 50 years in total, Pond Conservation hope to facilitate the establishment of 5,000 ponds, at a cost of £3million. Establishing and maintaining ponds is key for the survival of freshwater species: the IUCN has warned that freshwater biodiversity is extremely threatened, and there are more threatened species in ponds in Britain than in lakes or rivers.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

EASAC Launch Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

The European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) yesterday launched a report on 'Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity in Europe'. The EASAC working group behind the report was led by Professor Alastair Fitter, University of York, a past-President of the BES.

The report provides a review of the state of ecosystem services in Europe, and examines what is known regarding the contribution which biodiversity makes to maintaining ecosystem services.

As urbanisation and intensification of agriculture compromise the environment and lead to declines in biodiversity, so too will the ability of ecosystems to provide the essential services on which we depend be threatened. As an example, soil biodiversity provides a key role in nutrient cycling, essential to maintain high-levels of productivity in agriculture. As fertilisers are likely to become more costly in future, whilst food prices are set to increase, maintaining the integrity of soil ecosystems in Europe will be vital to deliver the produce needed by a growing population, increasingly unable to afford the high cost of imported food.

One of the key messages of the report is that although European ecosystems can deliver a range of services, managing land to primarily deliver one service will reduce its capacity to deliver others. EASAC recommends that European governments introduce a new Directive, encouraging the active management of land for a range of ecosystem services; putting in place legislation to ensure that management is systematic and to standards uniform across Europe.

A copy of the report can be accessed here:

Monday, 16 February 2009

Severity of Global Warming Underestimated

Leading climate change scientist, Professor Chris Field has announced that the severity of global warming over the next century will be well beyond anything predicted.

Field, a senior member of the Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC), revealed his findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago on Saturday. He told the attendees that IPCC’s previous report on climate change in 2007 (of which he was co-author) had substantially underestimated the rate of global warming and the extent of the problem.

"We are basically looking now at a future climate that is beyond anything that we've considered seriously in climate policy," he said.

Increases in greenhouse gas emissions from 2000-2007 have accelerated more rapidly than forecast “primarily because developing countries, like China and India, increased their electric power generation, by burning more coal” he said. This means that temperatures rises could exceed 6.4 oC over the next century.

The temperature rises could cause large scale melting of permafrost in the Arctic and dry out tropical forests enough for wildfires to breakout. This would dramatically increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and have potentially devastating consequences for the global climate.

"Without effective action, climate change is going to be larger and more difficult to deal with than we thought," Field warned.

Read more about this story on the BBC news website and the Guardian news website

Return of Set-Aside Schemes for Farmers

Environment secretary, Hilary Benn has announced new proposals to bring back payments for farmers who set aside areas of uncultivated land to promote biodiversity and environmental benefits.

The system of subsiding farmers for setting-aside areas of land from agricultural production was introduced in the 1980’s in order to curtail over-production, which had generated food surpluses and caused a dramatic reduction in some commodity prices.

The scheme was effectively abolished by the European Commission in 2008 after harvests were devastated by extensive flooding and global food prices began to soar. Environmental groups and conservationists did not welcome the decision as the uncultivated land provided a vital source of food and refuge for wildlife in agricultural landscapes, especially birds.

In a speech to the National Farmers' Union conference in Birmingham later today, Benn is expected to propose two possible options; a mandatory scheme requiring a minimum area land to be set aside with incentives to expand, and an entirely voluntary scheme. A decision is expected in the summer.

"I welcome the idea of a voluntary scheme, led by the industry, if we can be sure that it will deliver," he is expected to say.

Read more about this issue on the Guardian news website
Updates on the NFU conference can be found here

All Party Parliamentary Environment Group Discuss the Climate Change Act

The BES Policy Team recently attended an All Party Parliamentary Environment Group meeting at the House of Commons to discuss the Climate Change Act and the potential implications of its key provisions on economy and society in the UK.

Guest speaker Joan Ruddock (Labour MP) started off the session by describing the Climate Change Act as ‘ground breaking legislation’ that would contribute to the search for a global agreement on reducing emissions. She reviewed the key provisions of the Act and acknowledged that the Cap and Trade system, due to be enforced next year, is likely to be the most effective strategy for reducing C02 emissions in the UK. It is hoped that more schemes will be included in the system and that Cap and Trade strategies alone will save the UK 4 million tonnes of carbon each year by the year 2020.

Gathered from the discussion, participants were calling for the following:
• The need for the Government to begin to take action at the ground level to increase the energy efficiency of existing building stock, for example, provide a framework and budget for the installation of double glazing and insulation in existing buildings;
• A recognition that a global agreement on emission trading is essential; there are fears that European countries may be placed at a competitive disadvantage if they are the only ones required to have a cap and trade on emissions;
• The need for the public to have a more realistic understanding about the size and impact of their carbon footprint and how they can minimise it;
• The need to make public transport more attractive to the community and reduce dependency on private cars.

Participants also voiced concerns about whether it was sensible to press ahead with plans to build a third runway at Heathrow, considering the Government’s commitment to include emissions arising from the aviation industry in reduction targets. Ruddock empathised but argued that it was crucial for the economy to maintain a hub at Heathrow to prevent the UK from being out-competed by other EU members. It was stressed that this was not a decision that had been taken lightly and would be subject to constant scrutiny.

Ruddock concluded her lecture by stating that she intended the December international agreement in Copenhagen to be a ‘negotiation of substance’. The Climate Change Act should ensure that the mechanisms to create a low carbon economy will be in place in the UK by the time these talks commence. It is hoped that this will enable the UK play a big part in the discussions and that UK legislation will provide a ‘blue print for other countries to emulate’ when tacking the difficulties of climate change.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Vacancy for Science to Policy Liaison Officer at QUEST

QUEST have a vacancy for a Science to Policy Liaison Officer at their headquarters in Bristol. This post is offered as a part time (two days per week) secondment until September 2010.

QUEST (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System) is a multidisciplinary £23M programme of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). It brings together UK scientists working in a wide range of disciplines to answer policy relevant questions on the global environment. For example: How are atmospheric composition and climate naturally regulated? To stabilise climate, how much greenhouse gasses can be emitted and when? How much climate change is dangerous (risk analysis, vulnerability of ecosystem services)? What are the biological options for reducing climate change (avoided deforestation, forestry and bioenergy) and their sustainability?

The ideal candidate will be either:
- Policy person already working within a government agency, other policy institution or NGO (e.g. Defra, DECC, DfID, Environment Agency, WWF) with a science background or good scientific understanding.
- A post-doctoral researcher in the environment or climate change field with strong experience working on policy interface.

Level of experience: equivalent to 3 to 10 years post-doctoral or agency work, PhD not necessary, experience more important. The post will require mobility, familiarity with the workings of government and ideally good personal links across it, excellent written skills, excellent networking abilities, good organisational skills and the ability to work in a team.

For more information, and details of how to apply, see the QUEST website.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

IUCN Consider Successor to Biodiversity 2010 Target

The BES Policy Team yesterday attended an international conference in Brussels, to explore the successor to the target to 'halt biodiversity loss by 2010'. Organised by Countdown 2010, the meeting brought together representatives from the European Parliament, NGOs, learned societies, European agencies and academics to consider whether the 2010 target would be reached, including how to build on successes and mitigate potential failures in policy.

Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment, was frank in acknowledging that the target would not be met. However, speakers and participants recognised that the existence of a target has spurred on the development of policy, and led to actions which would not otherwise have occurred. Developing a successor to the target was therefore acknowledged as a vital next step.

The 2010 biodiversity target 'had teeth'; this was the prevailing view of the audience. The Birds and Habitats Directives had provided core, useful components to allow member states to take steps towards addressing biodiversity loss. The Natura 2000 network should also be recognised as taking steps towards success. However, there was general recognition that more needed to be done, and that a successor to the target should be far broader.

Gathered from discussion during the day, participants were broadly calling for the target to possess the following, post-2010:

  • a broader focus, incorporating ecosystem services and encouraging an ecosystem-wide approach to biodiversity conservation.
  • to include sub-targets to assess progress on the way to achieving the overall goal by 2020 or 2025.
  • to take into account the unique conservation needs, incredible biodiversity, and incredible challenges, faced by the Overseas Territories.
  • a recognition that EU-wide policy is important, but that implementation should be sensitive to local needs and conditions.
To make any target a success, broad societal change would be necessary, not least the shift to a 'Green New Deal'; a change to the economic and policy framework underlying society, a re-think of GDP and the development of an economic successor to this tool which measures natural capital. Integration of land-use for multiple needs will be absolutely vital. Education of the public, raising the profile of biodiversity to public consciousness in the same way as climate change over recent years, will also be integral to success. Perhaps to facilitate this there should be a change in terminology. Is 'biodiversity' too sterile, too devoid of any 'spiritual significance' - is it too 'scientific'. Do we need to shift to present the target as 'halting declines in life on earth'?

Ladislav Miko, Director of 'Protecting the Natural Environment' at DG Environment, stressed that although the European Commission had its own ideas about the successor to the 2010 target, the target would be developed through stakeholder engagement. He called on NGOs, individual ecologists, economists and others, to participate in the development of the target over the coming months. It was hoped that a successor to the target could be introduced in the first half of 2010.

The BES is working with the IEEM to deliver a reception in the UK parliament in October 2009, exploring the 2010 biodiversity target, and successor, from a UK perspective. If you would like more information, please contact

Happy Birthday Darwin!

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, naturalist and the 'father' of modern evolutionary theory. 2009 also sees the 15oth anniversary of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species', Darwin's seminal work, setting out his exploration of evolution by the process of natural selection.

Celebrating Darwin's achievements, his detailed observations of animals and plants through his voyage on the Beagle and the crystallisation of the theory of evolution on his return to England, should give us pause to consider the situation which the organisms which he so carefully examined, collected and recorded, now find themselves. Conservationists have warned, reported the BBC this morning, that the Galapagos face irreparable damage if tourism to the islands is not curbed. The number of visitors to the Galapagos has quadrupled over the past 20 years, threatening established organisms through the transport of invasive alien species, including the pervasive fire ant, which threatens birds and tortoises, and a species of parasitic fly.

Speaking to the BBC, the director of the Galapagos National Park, Edgar Munoz, acknowledges the challenge but says the Ecuadorian government's actions will tackle the problem. He is hopeful that the threat can be reduced within the next '50 years'. Conservationists have expressed concern however that tackling these insects will not be easy.

Along with many others organising festivals and events around the country to mark these important anniversaries, the BES is celebrating Darwin's life and work by staging two productions of 'Re:Design', a play commissioned by the Darwin Correspondence Project, written by the playwright Craig Baxter, and performed by the Menagerie theatre company in Cambridge. You will be able to see 'Re:Design' either at our Annual Meeting (9 September) or at the British Science Festival (5 September - tbc).

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Scotland Launch Grey Squirrel Cull

A nationally co-ordinated programme has been launched in an attempt to save Scotland’s red squirrel. The £1.3m project will develop habitats in which the red squirrel can thrive, but will also attempt to control the grey population by trapping and killing them.

To achieve this, a "red squirrel protection line" has been drawn across Scotland, stretching south-east from Montrose on the North Sea to Inveraray on the west coast. All grey squirrels caught north of this line will be culled. It is expected that many tens and thousands of greys will be killed, making this the largest mammal cull in the UK.

The number of British red squirrels has been declining since grey squirrels arrived from North America in the 19th Century. The larger and stronger greys easily out-compete reds for food and habitat and also carry squirrelpox; a virus which is harmless to greys but generally lethal in reds.

It is estimated that a mere 160,000 red squirrels are left in Britain - 75% of which live in Scotland - compared to approximately 3.3m greys.

Stuart Brooks, the SWT conservation director, told the guardian that unless concerted action is taken, reds could be extinct on mainland Britain within 30 years.

The project has received criticism from animal campaign organisations such as Advocates for Animals, who feel that the protection of the red squirrel should not come at the greys' expense, and should be achieved through effective habitat management and the development of a squirrelpox vaccine. However, this could take decades to take effect, by which time, many fear, there may be no red squirrels left to protect.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Should Science Investment be Determined by Industrial and Economic Priorities?

The UK Science minister, Lord Drayson, has called for a debate about weather a larger proportion of the research budget should be allocated to areas which could directly benefit the economy.

During his lecture at The Foundation for Science and Technology, Lord Drayson said that, in light of the current economic climate, he wanted to “stimulate a debate on our national science and innovation strategy, and whether it is adequately geared up to cope with the future.”

He then went on to ask his audience whether the time had come to make choices about the balance of investment in science projects based on their compatibility with industrial and economic priorities.

This has heightened concerns amongst scientists that pure research will lose out to areas that have commercial potential.

Nick Dusic, of the Campaign for Science and Engineering in the UK (Case), told the BBC that Lord Drayson's proposal could undermine the government's hard work in building up the UK's research base over the past decade.

"There has been a lot of effort over the last few years to increase the impact of the research base, including setting grand challenges and creating new institutions to focus on translational research," he said. "More direction from the government would cause alarm across the research community”.

Read more about this story on the BBC News website

A recording and transcript of the lecture is available on The Foundation for Science and Technology website

Call for GM Debate to be Reopened

Leading agricultural scientists are calling for another debate on genetic modification (GM), claiming that we will need ‘every tool in our armory if we are to cope with the food security issues raised by population growth, climate change and environmental degradation.’

The genetic modification of plants raises important issues for science and the public. There is legitimate concern about whether GM products safe to eat and release into the environment, but they also hold enormous potential to increase yields and food quality, whilst reducing the need for pesticides.

In 2003 the Government held a national debate on the commercialisation of genetically modified crops in the UK, before setting out its overall policy on the issue in March 2004.

However, many participants felt that the exchanges made in 2003 were marred by anger and personal grievances, which prevented the central issues from being discussed rationally and answered adequately.

With estimates that food production must double by 2050 to feed an anticipated population of 9 billion (FAO), it is imperative that government considers all options at its disposal to ensure food security and mitigate human poverty in the UK. Consequently, leading scientists have called for the debate to be reopened, so that the issues can be addressed with appropriate, evidence based discussions.

Listen to a Radio 4 broadcast on the issue here.

For more information about GM crops, including government policy, click here.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Green Living: Access to Green Spaces Improves Health

New research published in the Lancet shows that access to green spaces, such as parks and river corridors reduces health inequality. The health gap between richer and poorer residents in areas with access to green spaces was half of that in areas where such access was not possible.

Researchers examined records from more than 360,000 deaths across England (excluding men and women above the standard age of retirement). Access to green spaces was defined as the proportion of such spaces in a resident’s local area, excluding gardens. The study concentrated on those in the lowest to middle income brackets.

Links were revealed between the levels of income and access to green space, in relation to deaths from all causes, but particularly circulatory causes, such as heart disease. Researchers surmise that access to green spaces encourages activity and exercise, whilst other studies have linked access to green spaces to stress levels.

The study demonstrates that differences in health inequality can exist between populations exposed to the same welfare state, health service and income, but living in different types of physical environment; with access or not to green areas. The researchers recommend that the impact of the physical environment on health inequality be taken into account in urban planning and development.

Mitchell, R. and Popham, F. (2008). Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study. The Lancet. 372(9650): 1655-1660.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Voice of the Future: 10 March 2009

The Royal Society of Chemistry's annual Voice of the Future event is to take place at Portcullis House, Westminster on 10 March.

This is a free event, open to all those interested in science, and aged under 37.

Voice of the Future aims to strengthen links between the scientific community, parliament and Government. It provides a great chance for young scientists, and aspiring scientists, to question members of Parliament about the use of science in policy-making; and about support for science across Government more generally.

For more information, see the Royal Society of Chemistry website. Places are expected to disappear quickly so do register as soon as possible.

Monday, 2 February 2009

GM Crop that Needs Less Fertilizer

Canadian Scientists have successfully developed genetically modified (GM) rice plants that take-up and metabolise nitrogen more efficiently, thereby reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers and increasing yields.

Nitrogen is quantitatively the most essential nutrient for plants and a major factor limiting crop productivity. Plants are particularly inefficient at acquiring nitrogen from applied fertilizer, and as a result, excess nitrogen frequently leaches from the soil into waterways and damages aquatic ecosystems, or volatizes to nitrous oxide, an atmospheric greenhouse gas.

To meet growing food demands, the global use of nitrogen increased from 3.5 million metric tonnes (MT) in 1960 to 87 million MT in 2000, and is projected to increase to 249 million MT by the year 2050. Clearly, the importance of developing agricultural crops with enhanced nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) cannot be understated. These crops not only have the potential to lower production costs and reduce environmental pollution, but their increased productively could make a significant contribution to our long-term food security.

Given the complexity of plant physiology, research into the production of transgenic plants with increased NUE is ongoing. Ultimately, all GM crops must be thoroughly assessed on a case-by-case- basis to ensure they meet the stringent safety regulations required by legislation before they can be considered for commercial use.

Source Article: Shrawat, A.K., Carrol, R.T., DePaum, M. et al. (2008). Genetic engineering of improved nitrogen use efficiency in rice by the tissue-specific expression of alanine aminotransferase. Plant Biotechnology Journal. 6: 722-732.

BES Members Interviewed on Plight of UK Bees

Writing in yesterday's Times (Sunday 1st February), Richard Girling explores the plight of bumble and honey bees in the UK. Examining the massive declines in bee populations in the UK, accelerating from 6% of honeybee colonies failing per year in 2003 to over 30% lost each year now, Richard explores the potential causes of the species' perilous state, and the consequences if bee species were to become extinct in the UK.

Two members of the BES were interviewed to inform the article; Professor Dave Goulson, University of Stirling, and Dr Mick Hanley, Plymouth University. We are always keen to hear from members of the BES interested in engaging with the media, and can offer support towards media training if necessary. Please contact the BES Press Officer for more information.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Save Our Bees

As part of the celebrations for this year's National Science and Engineering Week (6-15 March 2009), the British Science Association (formerly the BA) want you to help save UK Bees by planting bee-friendly plants across the country. The 'Save Our Bees' campaign has been launched with a dedicated website and resources for schools.

Billions of the UK's bees are dying from unknown causes and one in three bee colonies in the UK were lost last winter alone. Bees are vitally important: In all, they are responsible for pollinating one-third of all the foods we eat.

Register your interest at the website of the campaign to receive a FREE pack of seeds and a education pack of activities designed for KS1, KS2 and KS3 children.

Look out for further information from the BES later this year, as we develop an event for the 2009 British Science Festival (5-11 September), focused on attracting pollinators to gardens and green spaces.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Standing up for Science 2: Launch Event 29 January 2009

Tomorrow night (29 January) sees the launch of 'Standing up for Science 2: The nuts and bolts', a new publication from Sense about Science building on the success of their initial 'Standing up for Science' publication. Delivered through Sense about Science's 'Voice of Young Science' (VoYS) programme, the publication is targeted at early career scientists who want to promote good science and fight misinformation.

If you are interested in joining the VoYS team at the launch event, for drinks and discussion, then contact

29 January 2009, 5.45 - 7.45pm at the Royal College of Pathologists, London, SW1Y 5AF.

New Model Sheds Light on Mosquito Spread in a Changing Climate

A new study, published online in the British Ecological Society journal, Functional Ecology, uses an innovative model to predict the spread of human disease vectors in a changing climate. Warren Porter, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has developed a unique model, 'NicheMapper', which allows researchers to answer the question: "Where would a species with a particular set of properties best survive and function on the planet?" Uniquely, the model also allows an organisms potential for evolutionary change to be incorporated, allowing the researchers to examine a range of scenarios.

The study focused on the dengue fever vector, the mosquito Aedes aegypti, and on its distribution and abundance in Australia. At present, the mosquito is confined to areas around Queensland, however, by modelling the insect's life history traits, capacity to evolve and climate change scenarios, the researchers conclude that a warming climate will allow the mosquito to expand its range into several populated areas of the continent, over the next 40-years. These conclusions are also likely to apply to populations of the mosquito found elsewhere in the world.

The researchers found that onefactor limiting the ability of the mosquito to spread would be the availability of standing water in which to lay its eggs. Simple measures, such as covering pools and water tanks, could have a large effect in reducing the spread of the insect. However, NicheMapper also allowed the researchers to model the effects on the species' distribution if the mosquito evolved to develop eggs tolerant of dessication; observed in other closely related species. In this case, combined with climate change, the mosquito could spread far, and rapidly.

Warren Porter claims that NicheMapper can be used to model the spread of almost any species on the planet; for example mapping the likely pattern of spread of invasive species. He has developed a company, 'Animaps' to make the software available to the scientific and policy communities.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Shortlisted Projects for Severn Estuary Unveiled

The Government has announced a proposed shortlist of schemes to generate renewable energy form the tides of the Severn estuary. The shortlist is comprised of various barrage and lagoon projects.

The Severn has a tidal range of 14m, making it the second-largest in the world. Successfully harnessing the energy created by the tides would make an enormous contribution to achieving renewable energy targets- the Government is committed to producing 20% of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2020- as well as assisting in the reduction of UK carbon emissions.

Below is the proposed shortlist:

Cardiff Weston Barrage: A barrage crossing the Severn estuary from Brean Down, near Weston super Mare to Lavernock Point, near Cardiff. Its estimated capacity is over 8.6 Gigawatts – the equivalent of eight typical coal-fired power stations. It could generate nearly 5% of UK electricity and would cost approximately £15bn to implement.

Shoots Barrage: Further upstream of the Cardiff Weston scheme. Capacity of 1.05GW, similar to a large fossil fuel plant.

Beachley Barrage: The smallest barrage on the proposed shortlist, just above the Wye River. It could generate 625MW.

Bridgwater Bay Lagoon: Lagoons are radical new proposals which impound a section of the estuary without damming it. This scheme is sited on the English shore between east of Hinkley Point and Weston super Mare. It could generate 1.36GW.

Fleming Lagoon: An impoundment on the Welsh shore of the estuary between Newport and the Severn road crossings. It too could generate 1.36GW.

Environmentalists have openly criticized the Governments decision to include the Cardiff Weston Barrage as an option. The barrage would cause severe environmental and ecological damage to the area, destroying rare habitats used by 69,000 birds and blocking the migration routes of numerous fish species.

Martin Harper, head of sustainable development at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said it was “Hugely disappointing to see the Government still pushing forward with the environmentally destructive option.”

The proposed shortlist, and the original list of projects from which it was created, are now open to a three month public consultation. The final decision on which project(s) will go ahead will be announced in 2010.

Many environmentalists are pessimistic about the outcome, and believe it is a foregone conclusion. FOE Cymru director Gordon James told the Guardian "We have long suspected that the UK government has already decided on the Cardiff to Weston Severn barrage, and that this consultation process is little more than a cosmetic exercise."

Monday, 26 January 2009

BES Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme Opens

Applications are now welcome for the 2009 BES Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme.

The scheme is now in its third year. Since 2007 our ecologists have had the opportunity to shadow two Parliamentary Under-Secretaries (Barry Gardiner MP and Joan Ruddock MP) at Defra, two MEPs (John Bowis MEP and Linda McAvan MP), plus officials from the devolved administrations. Those members of the BES who have taken part have commented on the value of this experience to them; gaining an unprecedented opportunity to gain first-hand experience of how science is used to inform policy-making. Ecologists spend one-two days with the parliamentarian, before spending another day or so with civil servants and policy-advisors.

The full list of Ministers, MEPs and Officials who have agreed to participate in the 2009 scheme has yet to be finalised. However, we are delighted to confirm that the following have so far agreed to take part:

  • Jane Davidson AM, Minister for the Environment, Sustainability and Housing at the Welsh Assembly Government
  • Professor Maggie Gill, Chief Scientific Advisor for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Scottish Government
  • Linda McAvan MEP, Labour Spokesperson on the Environment, European Parliament

If you are a member of the BES and an early-career researcher (no more than eight years since finishing PhD) interested in the science-policy interface, then consider applying. The BES will cover all reasonable expenses you incur whilst on the scheme.

Find out more at the BES website.
Closing date: 27 February

Finding a global solution to Climate Change: 26 January 2009

The Policy Team this afternoon attended a seminar organised by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) on ‘Brokering a global deal on climate change’. Speakers Joan Ruddock MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Climate Change, and Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, discussed the steps needed to secure assent to a comprehensive, truly global treaty on climate change in Copenhagen later this year.

The Copenhagen treaty, successor to the Kyoto agreement, could be judged a success if it contained the following, according to Mr de Boer:

  • Clarity on quantifying emission limitation for developed countries.
  • Clarity on nationally appropriate mitigation strategies in developing countries.
  • Clarity on financial and technological support for mitigation and adaptation, involving innovative new methods of funding outwith carbon markets.
  • Clarity on an institutional framework to deliver support for mitigation and adaptation measures.

The Minister stated that the UK Government was under no illusions about the size of the task as hand but stressed that Government’s commitment to tackling climate change would not falter in the face of the global economic crisis. The global economic downturn did present a challenge to this agenda, said Mr de Boer: in Copenhagen, a method of making climate change mitigation ‘pay for itself’, without the need to mobilise extra finance from Government, should be found.

The Minister defended the Government against comments from the audience that campaigns relying on individual voluntary, rather than society-wide mandatory, action did not go far enough. She stressed that as an elected body, the Government could not realistically impose radical measures upon voters if it wished to retain their support. The Government would instead proceed through consensus building amongst the public, whilst introducing legislation to necessitate business taking action to mitigate climate change which it would not previously have done. She noted that the UK Climate Change Act: to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% of 1990 levels by 2050, is groundbreaking legislation.

Mr de Boer viewed accurate pricing as the key to tackling climate change. The price paid for goods and services should adequately reflect the pollution created through their manufacture or consumption. The effect of this would be to stimulate innovation: to bring renewable energy solutions to the market and so drive down the price of using them relative to fossil fuels.

The commitment to tackling climate change was palpable from both The Minister and Mr de Boer and both were optimistic that a deal could be reached in Copenhagen, particularly given the willingness of the new Obama administration to engage with negotiations. Mr de Boer stressed that further refinement would be needed post-Copenhagen, but that it was vital to reach initial agreement this year.

Shortlist of Severn Estuary Plans to be Announced

A shortlist of proposed schemes to generate renewable energy form the Severn estuary will be announced by the Government later today.

Over the past six months, the Department of Energy and Climate Change have examined 10 projects for converting the Severn estuary’s tidal power into electricity. Five of these have been selected for further investigation and are due to be revealed by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, this afternoon.

Among the proposed schemes is a 10 mile long barrage from Lavernock Point, Vale of Glamorgan to Somerset, which has attracted a lot of controversy and could cost up to £15 billion to implement.

Barrages are essentially dams which span the width of a tidal estuary. They generate electricity in a similar way to hydroelectric dams, except they harness energy from the difference in height between high and low tides, as opposed to the force of falling water.

The Severn, which has the second-largest tidal range in the world – the difference between the highest and lowest tides can be as great as 42ft (14m) – has the potential to generate 5% of Britain's electricity and reduce carbon dioxide emissions significantly.

However, conservation groups, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, are opposed to the barrage, due to the potential environmental and ecological damage it could cause. For example, the barrage could block the migratory routes for fish such as lampreys, salmon, sea trout and eels, and would destroy rare mud-flat and salt-marsh habitats which are vital to many species wetland birds. They are hoping the less intrusive, but equally efficient options, such as tidal fences, reefs and lagoons will be selected.

The preferred project(s) is to be approved by the Government in 2010 and is likely to be integral to the Government’s long-term targets for renewable energy and CO2 emissions.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Freshwater Mussel Colony Re-Introduced into Scotland

A new freshwater mussel colony has been established at a secret location in the Scottish Highlands. The re-introduction by ecologists offers a chance to address the precipitous decline in the species. The success of the introduction will not been known until the slow-growing mussels become established; in 20 years or so.

Only 150 rivers throughout the world currently support freshwater mussel populations, over half of them in Scotland. Mussels remain threatened in the UK by indiscriminate killing by thieves, keen to find freshwater pearls which can change hands for hundreds of pounds. Speaking to the BBC, ecologist and mussel expert Peter Cosgrove said that his team had discovered a site with 800 mussel kills; the average age of each mussel 80 years: "If you do the maths that's 64,000 years of mussel growth, just ripped from a river and destroyed. The rivers just cannot sustain that". Mussels play a very important role in river ecology, filtering up to 50 litres of water per day.

Killing freshwater mussels has been illegal since 1998, with hefty fines of up to £10,000 for anyone guilty of killing even a single mussel. However, it is thought that no-one has ever been convicted. The police are now working on raising awareness amongst those in the Highlands about the high penalties for those committing such a crime, in the hope that this may prohibit thieves and cause witnesses to come forward.

See more on this story at the BBC News Website

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Fresh Scientific Agenda for the US as Obama takes Office

Scientists have high expectations for future scientific and environmental policy as President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in as America's 44th president later today.

The Bush administration has had a somewhat turbulent relationship with the scientific community over the last eight years, attracting serious criticisms for restricting federal funding for research and their decisions regarding global warming and stem cell research. Obama, on the other hand, has put scientific and environmental issues at the top of his agenda.

In a weekly radio and video address he stated that science “holds the key to our survival as a planet, and our security and prosperity as a nation… It's time we… worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology." Since then, he has pledged to reverse Bush's funding limits, and appointed a team of well respected scientists, which has heightened expectations for what actions he will take once he is sworn into office.

Undoubtedly, one of the biggest changes will be the United States policy on climate change. Since his election, Obama has repeatedly indicated he wants to fulfill his campaign promise to create a low-carbon economy and create jobs by investing in renewable energy.

In a speech made at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Obama said his administration hoped to double the production of renewable energy over the next three years while boosting energy efficiency in 10 million homes (1.6% of US housing) and more than 75% of federal buildings. This will require a well-organized, massive injection of funds. Hopefully, worries that America will not be able to afford to convert their promises into a reality in the prevailing economic climate will remain unfounded.

Biological Control of Plant Parasitic Nematodes

Plant parasitic nematodes are a leading biotic cause of yield loss in crops, costing world agriculture an estimated US $125 billion annually. These small (0.25-3mm), unsegmented worms can affect crops in a variety of ways: altering normal root cell division, modifying plant cells for nutrient transfer, transmitting viruses and creating wounds that permit the entrance of other plant pathogens. Yet despite their enormous impact on important crop plants through-out the world, there are no effective, environmentally safe management strategies to treat or prevent plants from nematode infection. However, recent results from the EU-funded EcoTrain Project indicate that natural forms of control could provide a long-term solution to the problem.

Current nematode management strategies are largely dependent upon highly toxic pesticides (nematicides), which are harmful to the physical environment and reduce soil biodiversity by eliminating a variety non-target species.

By investigating the regulation of plant parasitic nematodes in the wild, scientists found that naturally occurring soil-dwelling predators could effectively control various nematode species.

The scientists took various micro-organisms, non-parasitic nematodes and microarthropods (such as mites) from the soil in a coastal dune grass (Ammophila arenaria) system, and examined the effect of different combinations on eight different species of parasitic nematode. Their results indicated that the most effective and sustainable method of biological control could be to treat crops with nematode suppressing soils, which contain a variety of soil-dwelling organisms found in wild plant populations. Their results also suggest that ‘conserving soil biodiversity is crucial in order to enhance the reliability of biological crop protection against soil-borne pests and diseases’.

These findings will undoubtedly be followed up with further investigations and more extensive field experiments. Especially in light of the European Parliaments approval of the Plant Protection Products regulation, which aims to phase out many chemical pesticides in Europe and promote of safer alternatives.

However, as parasitologist Tom Powers pointed out in 1992, the difficulty with this method of control appears to be the ability to transform it ‘into management system that can be manipulated by the growers’. After over 50 years of research, there are still no biological controls that are routinely used against plant parasitic nematodes.

Original Article: Piskiewicz, A.M., Duyts, H., van der Putten, W.H. (2008). Multiple species-specific controls of root-feeding nematodes in natural soils. Soil Biology and Biochemistry. 40: 2729-2735.

The EcoTrain Project is funded by the EU's Research Training Network (RTN) Program.

Additional information:
Tom Powers (1992) Biological control of plant parasitic nematodes: Progress, problems and prospects: by G.R. Stirling, CAB International, 1991. Parasitology Today. 8: 320

European Parliament Plant Protection Products Regulations

Friday, 16 January 2009

Efforts to Support Biodiversity Best Focused on Less Intensive Systems

The authors of a new EU-funded study into the biodiversity of intensive and extensively managed farmland systems have recommended that efforts to conserve biodiversity be focused on less intensively managed systems.

Researchers compared the richness of plant species with levels of Nitrogen input on 130 grasslands and 141 arable fields across six European countries, including the UK. Intensively and extensively managed sites were assessed and the number of different plant species in each plot counted. 'Rare' species were defined as those with less than 1% cover in a study area.

The study found a link between increased Nitrogen inputs and a decrease in species richness, along with a link between the richness of plant species and the richness of invertebrates in the fields. The rare species of plant were shown to be the most vulnerable to increasing land-use intensity and were the most likely to disappear following fertilisation of the fields with Nitrogen.

The researchers found that the decline in species richness with an increase in Nitrogen application was sharper on the extensively managed plots, suggesting that species in these areas are more sensitive to land-use change. This suggests both that efforts to manage such areas sensitively can reap rewards for biodiversity, and also that restoration of biodiversity to intensively managed land will require an enhanced level of effort: lower sensitivity to change will mean that greater change will be needed to get the desired result.

The rate of extinction of species in intensively farmed land is 100 - 1000 times greater than the base rate, and is predicted to increase further in the future. The researchers suggest that the difficulty of restoring biodiversity on intensively managed land following such losses, along with the sensitivity of extensively managed land, means that efforts to preserve biodiversity could best be focused on extensively managed systems.

Original article: EU Science for Environment Policy, 15 January 2009
Research Source: Evaluating Current European Agri-environment Schemes to Quantify and Improve Nature Conservation Efforts in Agricultural Landscapes (EASY) (supported by the European Commission under the Fifth Framework Programme).

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Government Set to Announce Heathrow Expansion

The UK Government is expected to give the go-ahead to the development of a third runway at London Heathrow later today, following delays to the announcement due to Cabinet unrest.

A new 200mph rail link between London and Birmingham, with a spur from Heathrow to St Pancras station will also be announced.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have pledged to cancel the expansion of Heathrow if either win the next General Election, however certain legal restrictions may make this costly, necessitating compensation to the airport's operator, BAA.

Ministers have described the development as 'green Heathrow' and has offered assurances that EU rules on air and noise pollution will not be breached. Concerns have been raised by NGOs, such as Greenpeace, that expansion of the airport will lead to the Government breaching its own stringent targets on greenhouse gas emissions: a reduction of 80% on 1990 levels by 2050.

Monday, 12 January 2009

CaSE Forum Focuses on the Impact of the UK Science Base

Today saw the participation of the BES Policy Team in an Opinion Forum organised by the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), focusing on the impact of the UK science and engineering base. The Forum was the first step towards the publication of a policy document by CaSE, summarising discussion and to be used as a basis for the organisation's lobbying activities.

Participants heard presentations from Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn-Smith FRS, former Director General of CERN, Dr Graeme Reid, DIUS, and Professor Philip Esler, Chief Executive of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Interesting points were made regarding the distinction between 'basic' (or 'curiosity driven') and 'applied' research; including whether such definitions were in fact unhelpful. Is 'basic' research simply applied research which hasn't been applied yet?

Basic research was seen as a vital component of the UK research base and participants felt strongly that the increased emphasis on Knowledge Transfer by the Research Councils should not be at the expense of 'blue skies' thinking. Basic research has a vital role not only in the possibility it offers of discoveries of enormous economic and practical importance, but also in the contribution it offers to culture and to education: attracting people to science through the often fantastic nature of blue skies endeavours.

Discussion in the afternoon's break-out sessions highlighted the importance of communication between researchers, industry and Government to capitalise to the development of benefits from research, and to effecting a 'culture change' within universities: Knowledge Transfer is important and is something researchers should engage in. Changes are also required in the consumers of research however. Government in particular was singled out as needing to become a more intelligent customer of research. Finally, participants felt that there was the need for the formation of a body to act as an 'independent broker' of research, matching researchers to industry and Government need and vice versa. In some respects, this echoes the work of Learned Societies such as the BES, but at a much wider, cross-disciplinary scale.

For further information about the work of CaSE please visit the CaSE website.

Registration Now Open for 'Natural Capital Initiative' Symposium

Registration has today opened for the inaugural symposium of the 'Natural Capital Initiative' (NCI).

The NCI is a new partnership; between the Institute of Biology, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, British Ecological Society and Science Council, which aims to bring together scientists, policy-makers and other interested groups to discuss how to better value and appreciate the planet's natural resources.

The three-day symposium will take place at Savoy Place, London, from 30 April - 1 May. The first day will see a number of high profile speakers discuss their views on delivery of an 'ecosystem approach', whilst the second and third day take the form of workshops focusing on land use, planning and the marine environment. The diversity of the expected audience is reflected in the diversity of our confirmed speakers, who include: Professor John Beddington (Government Chief Scientific Advisor), Lord May of Oxford, Professor Gretchen Daily (Stanford University), Baroness Barbara Young (Care Quality Commission) and Lucy Neville-Rolfe (Director of Corporate Affairs, Tesco).

Register before 1 February to benefit from a discount to the registration fee. Members of the BES are also eligible for a discount.

Natural Capital Initiative: Valuing our life support systems 30 April - 1 May 2009

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

US Designates 200,000 Square Miles of Conservation Zones in the Pacific Ocean

George Bush was expected to announce yesterday that he will designate nearly 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as conservation areas. This announcement will make the US President the leader who has protected a greater area of the oceans than anyone else in the world.

Areas to be designated as marine reserves are the Mariana islands in the Western Pacific, a chain of remote islands in the central Pacific and the Rose Atoll off American Samoa. The Marianas Marine National Monument will protect the Mariana Trench: as deep as Everest is tall. The area is home to a wide variety of species, including many species of corals and some of the most diverse fish populations to be found in the Mariana islands. Other species to be protected by the three conservation areas include sharks, turtles, petrels and the Micronesian megapode; a bird which uses heat from volcanic vents to incubate its eggs.

Commercial fishing, mining and energy exploration will be banned within the protected areas. Recreational fishing will be allowed, but only by permit, with the number of permits to be limited.

Although excited by the proposals, conservationists are disappointed that protection will only extend to a distance of 50 miles from the islands: scientists had recommended a protection zone extending up to 200 nautical miles.

Guardian, 6 January 2009: Bush designates ocean conservation areas in final weeks as President.

London Train Company to Tackle Knotweed

A London railway operator, Tube Lines Group, has announced plans to eradicate the invasive Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) from more than 120 sites across London, using the new chemical herbicide ‘Tordon’. If successful, Tube Line will become the first train company in Europe to eradicate the species.

Japanese Knotweed is an invasive, non-native species that was originally introduced to the UK in the mid-19th century. It is notorious for its ability to grow vigorously from tiny pieces of stem or rhizome and can break through drains, brick wall and tarmac as it spreads. Once established, it easily out-competes the vast majority of British flora and can quickly transform the ecosystem it inhabits.

In addition to altering the native flora and fauna, the knotweed can have a detrimental effect on the economy by decreasing the area of land available for agriculture and infrastructure and making certain areas more susceptible to flooding.

Japanese knotweed is difficult and expensive to control using current techniques and an estimated £1.56 billion would be required to eradicate it from the UK entirely. Until now, eradiation programmes have mainly involved digging out the plant or treating it with herbicides, three times a year, over a period of seven years. However, Tube Lines plans to eradicate the knotweed by spraying the herbicide just once a year for two years.

Picloram, the active agent in Tordon, is harmful to plant species other than the knotweed. The US Environment Protection Agency states it is ‘slightly toxic’ to aquatic wildlife, although, the Environmental Protection Agency states it is "practically non-toxic to birds, mammals and honeybees".

If this regime proves to be successful, with minimal impact on non-target species, it may be extended to the remaining London underground services and the national railways.

Original article: Guardian, 6 January 2009; New herbicide offers hope in battle against Japanese Knotweed

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Forthcoming Workshop on 'Space and the Marine Environment'

GLOBE UK will hold a workshop in London on Thursday 22 January on 'space and the marine environment'. Together with partners, including the Advisory Committee on the Protection of the Sea (ACOPS) and the British National Space Centre (BNSC), GLOBE UK will explore the need for mapping and monitoring the marine environment, necessary for setting up marine reserves around Europe. This is a key feature of the Marine Bill, currently passing through the UK Parliament. The speakers will address this and other applications including marine pollution monitoring, fishing, hydrographic surveying, oil and gas exploration, the arctic and carbon sequestration. The event will cover technical, environmental, operation and policy aspects of the contributions of satellites and new systems for the analysis and communication of the data.

The event will be held from 2-6pm in the Boothroyd Room in the Portcullis House, opposite the Palace of Westminster. If you would like to attend this meeting or would like more information, please email

Monday, 5 January 2009

2009 BES POST Fellowship Now Open for Applications

Applications are now invited for the 2009 BES POST Fellowship.

This fantastic opportunity to work at the heart of Parliament in Westminster, London, should not be missed by those with an interest in science policy. Over the three months of your placement, at the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology, you will be given the opportunity to research and write a POSTnote for MPs and Peers, to work on a parliamentary inquiry or on the production of briefing materials for parliamentarians. The BES will award you a bursary of £5,000 to cover your travel and living costs whilst undertaking the internship.

If you are in the second or third year of your PhD, in ecology or a related subject, then consider applying. The closing date is 6 April and interviews will be held on 22 April, in London.

For more information, see