Cow Pats, Beetles and Global Warming

Abstract. ‘Cattle contribute to global warming by burping and farting large amounts of greenhouse gases. Some of the same gases are also emitted from cow pats on pastures. But now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in cow pats may reduce emissions of the key greenhouse gas — methane.

Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases caused by Man and responsible for global warming. Among these, cattle farming for meat and milk are major sources of methane, a gas with a potent warming effect. Much of this methane comes from the guts of ruminating cattle, but some escapes from dung pats on pastures. Now researchers from the University of Helsinki have found that beetles living in the cow pats may reduce emissions of methane. The study has just been published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Atte Penttil, who undertook the study for his Masters, explains: “Cow pats offer a prime food for a large number of organisms. In fact, there are probably as many beetle species living in dung as there are bird species on this planet.”

Of the dung beetles living in Northern Europe, most spend their entire lives within the dung pats. “We believe that these beetles exert much of their impact by simply digging around in the dung. Methane is primarily born under anaerobic conditions, and the tunnelling by beetles seems to aerate the pats. This will have a major impact on how carbon escapes from cow pats into the atmosphere.”

“You see, the important thing here is not just how much carbon is released” explains Tomas Roslin, head of the research team. “The question is rather in what form it is released. If carbon is first taken up by plants as carbon dioxide, then emitted in the same format by the cows eating the plants, then the effect of plants passing through cattle will be small in terms of global warming. But if in the process the same carbon is converted from carbon dioxide to methane — a gas with a much higher impact on climate — it is then that we need to worry.” “If the beetles can keep those methane emissions down, well then we should obviously thank them — and make sure to include them in our calculations of overall climatic effects of dairy and beef farming.”

“Overall, the effects that we found are intriguing, but the implications also quite worrying,” says Eleanor Slade, a researcher commuting between teams working on dung beetles in both Helsinki and Oxford. “When you combine the current increase in meat consumption around the world with the steep declines in many dung beetle species, overall emissions from cattle farming can only increase.” ‘

[A large number of invertebrates are killed by farmers using a more persistent form of wormer; farm livestock are regularly dosed to avoid gut infestations. *Avermectin treatment must take a great-toll on dung beetles; boluses (large ‘tablets’) of wormer strung together to release the substance all summer long, are given to commercial beef cattle being raised for consumption (but not dairy cattle). I have observed a case of cow-pats on the Downs still in existence after almost a year!). Two alternative groups of wormer are available and are more benign and perhaps ought to be the norm. Farmers take note!]

Ash Die-Back – Disease Hotspots

The latest Forestry Commission mapping of Ash Die-Back Disease shows that there are two hot spots of infection in established trees and woodland within the UK. These are the county of Kent including the north-east Sussex border area and East Anglia. There is also a widespread scattering of infection resulting from planting of trees and at nurseries.

For more detailed information and how to identify the disease, see the following website:

Environmental Policy Squeezed Out Even More

After a triennial review of both the Environment Agency and Natural England, the Government has decided that for the time being, a merger between them is not in the best interest. However, both agencies are likely to have to increasingly adopt the ‘Yes,ok’ approach when responding to clients regarding development and commercial practice. They will very likely have to nod through damaging developments rather than say ‘No, not on any account.’ This builds on from the castration of English Nature some years ago, for being bold and standing up to a†right-wing government.

A glaring omission in the review, is any recognition that it is Nature and its supporting ecosystems that should be the most important criteria. Economic growth, according to this Government is the ‘be all and end all’ with likely huge, negative legacies for years and years, which future generations will have to live and grapple with… Continuing increases in CO2 and attendant climate change by quick-fixes rather than low-carbon solutions. Development and infrastructure in inappropriate locations. Increasing pressure on ecosystems and crumbling levels of biodiversity including pollution and water shortages.

So much for the ‘greenest-ever Government’ promises of three years ago…

Horsey Things This Week…

Tuesday. After walking for sometime looking for the five ponies on the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve I’d given up hope of finding them – it was after all, midday, warm and humid. On my way back to the truck along a wooded ride, I fleetingly caught the unmistakable whiff of pony. Sure enough, not far away to my left there they were, grazing quietly in a coppiced glade.

Thursday. On visiting my second site, Chailey Common, to looker ponies I was informed by a walker that, she’d earlier seen, one solitary pony away bordering a wooded area I don’t usually walk to. Patiently, I worked my through the trees and eventually there they were, in the dappled shade of the trees.

On my way home, whilst driving along the Ridgeway road across Ashdown Forest, approaching on the opposite side of the road, was a bearded guy wearing a Stetson hat and leading a black, saddled horse, complete with panniers one of which bore a bright, blue-bagged sleeping bag. The scene was so surreal – and could have been from out of a film but then, there was the blue nylon bag and anyhow, I was driving and not dreaming!

Demise of the East Sussex Elm Population.

The extremely hot weather of late has now served the death sentence on any chance (without a major injection of cash), of saving the remaining elm trees in the so-called East Sussex DED Control Area. The heat will have enabled the elm bark beetles to have multiplied substantially in recent weeks. The Control Area is on recent observation, littered with dead and dying trees.

The ‘savings’ from the current set-up, ignoring advice that it would not work, are far out-weighed by the gross failure and the expenses now accumulating in attempting to deal with DED. Importantly, we are now losing many of our tallest and oldest elms; at least two of the previous four magnificent specimen elms in Alfriston village centre are now dying.

One would have thought, with an estimation that it may cost as much as £25M to fell all the street elms and replant in Brighton, Seaford and Eastbourne, this might have chastened ESCC to bite the bullet and not go for the cheap, short-term option which seems to be the current objective. On current performance – or lack of, this is now simply pouring good money after bad. With the fight in effect now given up in the ESCC Control Area, there is now an extremely serious threat to the ‘National Elm Collection’ situated within Brighton and the threat of the huge costs alluded to above.

One consideration that ESCC should (in collaboration with neighbouring authorities) seriously and urgently look into, is making use of outside funding. One avenue being pursued is persuading The Conservation Foundation to use National Lottery money to inject fungicide into the remaining specimen trees in the East Sussex/Brighton area. This is not the answer to the afore mentioned facts but could at least salvage something from this mess.

I have asked that at the next County Council Cabinet meeting, that the following questions be raised:

1. What are the future intentions of East Sussex County Council in view of the current parlous state of the East Sussex Dutch Elm Control Area?

2. Are there currently any joint contingency discussions taking place between the County Council and the Brighton and Eastbourne authorities as to how to protect their respective street elms?

3. Would the County Council support and co-operate with The Conservation Foundationís initiative should it come to fruition?