Ragwort – The Facts


The Sussex Pony Grazing and Conservation Trust take very seriously, the well-being of our Exmoor ponies, many of which are characters whom we have cared for since 1999.  The Trust offers a specialised grazing service to owners of wildlife-rich sites and operates fully within the Animal Welfare Act 2006.  We do not place our ponies where there is an unacceptable risk to them or, where their ‘five freedoms’ are compromised…

Ragwort.  This is a biennial, which in its first year only has leaves organized in a low rosette. These can be found throughout most of the year.  Ragwort usually flowers in the second year (June till October).  After the plant has produced seeds, it dies.  Flower-heads occur in clusters, which are bright yellow.

At this time of year Ragwort receives quite a lot of media coverage.  Many facts are presented, but also many myths.  Fact, that Ragwort is poisonous to mammals, but it is a myth that an animal will die if it ingests only a mouthful.  Fact, equines are unlikely to eat living ragwort, it having a cautioning foul smell and taste.  Ragwort is currently very common, it liking dry, broken and light soils, as found here at Hastings.  Seed of this species is dispersed very efficiently by the wind.

Ragwort can be a perceived significant nuisance to horse keepers but this specie is also a very important source of nectar and pollen.  About 150 species of insects, such as bees, flies and butterflies, visit the plant.  Therefore, even it were possible, eradicating this plant is not a desirable option.  There are no easy solutions to the Ragwort problem, but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing we can do.

Frequently Asked Questions.

Q: Is it true that horses usually do not eat fresh Ragwort?

A: Yes, that is right.  Only in exceptional circumstances or when there is a food shortage, will ponies eat fresh Ragwort.  Ponies however, do not recognize dried Ragwort plants as poisonous and contaminated hay may cause Ragwort poisoning.

Q: Will our ponies get ill when it occasionally eats a mouthful of Ragwort?

A; No, incidentally ingesting small amounts of Ragwort will not result in illness.  If, however, our ponies were to eat several kilograms of Ragwort per day, this could lead to irreparable liver damage.

Q: Do the toxins in Ragwort accumulate in a horse’s body?

A: No. The toxins (pyrrolizidine alkaloids) are excreted within 24-48 hours.  If an animal consumes pyrrolidizine alkaloids regularly though, liver damage could accumulate and the animal would show signs of illness.

Q: Is it true there are several hundreds of victims each year?

A: The exact number of victims of Ragwort poisoning is unknown.  The symptoms of Ragwort poisoning cannot be distinguished from other liver disorders and poisoning can only be confirmed by means of a post-mortem liver exam.  These examinations are however, not common practice and reliable data on the number of victims are therefore not available.

Q: Will touching a Ragwort plant result in alkaloid poisoning?

A: No. Ragwort poisoning takes place through the digestive system. In the plant, pyrrolidizine alkaloids are stored in their non-toxic form.  Only if these substances end up in the digestive system, they will be converted into their toxic form.  There is no scientific evidence that skin contact leads to the conversion of non-toxic alkaloids into their toxic form.  Some people may experience an allergic reaction after skin contact (compositae dermatitis).

Q: Why is Ragwort fairly common in poor pastures?

A: Ragwort needs bare earth to germinate.  Animals, erosion or vehicles can easily churn up the ground when soft and wet, thereby easily creating the open ground required for seed germination.

Q: If Ragwort plants are growing in a field, what can done?

A: Ragwort is not easy to eradicate.  Action such as pulling-up fully by hand or using herbicide, can reduce its occurrence.  Mowing, or leaving the roots in the ground after pulling, may increase rather than decrease the number of Ragwort plants at a given site.  Best practice is to prevent ragwort from establishing to any significant degree in pasture land.

Q: There’s so much contradicting information about ragwort on the internet. How do I know who is right?

A: The aim of this article is to distinguish facts from myths, by using a scientific approach based on research and advice from biologists, toxicologists, and other experts.  In this way, we want to confirm to you that we take very seriously, the well-being of our Exmoor ponies.

Monty Larkin, Grazing Co-ordinator.

This Week’s Pony News – July 25

Proving to be rather a busy week this week with an urgent appeal from Hastings Borough Council for ponies asap. Originally the Sussex Pony Trust was going to commence grazing at their Hastings Country Park during the autumn. Fortunately, we have a few spare ponies at the moment so they will be going over there on Wednesday, July 23. The following day, a certain amount of mis-informed criticism, concerning the ragwort where the ponies are at Hastings; put out a statement stating the facts (and available on this blog – ‘Ragwort – The Facts’).

On another site, in the Ashdown area, have been spending time pulling ragwort where there is the potential of it becoming a nuisance; I’m not particularly worried about our ponies eating it – they won’t, but want to avoid it ‘getting away’ on areas of disturbed ground and avoiding vehicles whisking it about. July 22 near Coleman’s Hatch, saw a single red kite there today over-flying some woodland I was driving through; the deeply cleft tail was very distinct. [Postscript, late afternoon; kite flew over our house situated east of Ashdown Forest!]

On Friday 25, we held the first of the Trust’s Working Group days on Chailey Common assisting with conservation work on behalf of ESCC who manage the area. Eight of us spent the day pulling and cutting birch saplings – not the best occupation on a hot summers day! The Trust currently has 15 ponies on the Commons (there are also Townings Farm’s longhorn cattle and Hebridean sheep grazing alongside them). The principal task will be making a start on removing birch saplings from an area of marshy ground that used to be floristically quite diverse. This will assist the grazing animals in turning round this area.

Investing In a North Sea Power Grid


Report — 11 July 2014

How to build a North Seas Grid without regretting it

The North Seas contain vast and largely untapped renewable energy resources. Whether or not these resources are ultimately exploited remains a matter of great uncertainty. However, important decisions on grid development in the North Seas will need to be taken before the amount of offshore wind and other renewable generation is fully known.

Strategic Development of North Sea Grid Infrastructure to Facilitate Least-Cost Decarbonisation Technical Report.  A strategic approach to investing in a North Seas Grid.

If the necessary grid infrastructure is not built on time or in the right place, then the option of utilising high levels of offshore wind in Europe in coming decades will effectively be frozen out. But regulators and investors are rightly concerned about overinvesting in cables and wires that could end up under-used if the expected volumes of offshore wind do not materialise.

To address this vicious circle, E3G and Imperial College London have explored the risks and opportunities associated with designing the North Seas electricity grid using leading-edge computer modelling. This analysis has demonstrated the significant advantages of taking a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to network planning in the North Seas region.

In particular, new approaches to network design can ensure that the costs associated with creating the option for significant levels of renewables deployment will be far less than the costs of reducing short term investment costs and restricting future options.

The modelling suggests:

◦Judicious use of anticipatory investments can keep offshore wind options open at relatively low cost – with the ‘worst case’ economic regret restricted to around €1 billion even if significant volumes of offshore wind fail to materialise.

◦Moving to a regional, strategic approach to grid planning with full resource sharing could save €25 – €75 billion in the period to 2040, compared to the current incremental member-state approach. A proactive approach that plans offshore wind locations at the same time as grid design could increase these benefits to €30 – 80 billion.

◦Even the most basic approach to strategic grid design, involving the clustering of offshore wind parks into offshore hubs, would still save €8 – €40 billion to 2040, depending on levels of offshore wind deployment.

This is an opportunity that demands the attention of Energy Ministries of the North Seas countries, as major cost savings can be secured with relatively little regret. However, the existing fragmented landscape of national policies and regulatory approaches is not well suited to capturing the full scale of these potential benefits.

The analysis concludes that North Seas countries should, therefore, establish a joint ministerial level body charged with defining political direction, targets and objectives for the exploitation of energy resources in the North Seas. It is also important to establish a new institution with strategic network design oversight. This body would need to establish the future scenarios that will enable TSOs to plan grid development in the North Seas during the 2020s and be charged with giving particular attention to minimising the cost associated with retaining the option of high levels of offshore wind deployment.

Boris Johnson’s Estuary Airport Suffers a ‘Death Blow’


Boris Johnson’s estuary airport suffers a ‘death blow’

By Adam Bienkov     Friday, 11 July 2014 11:16 AM

Boris Johnson’s hopes of building a new airport in the Thames estuary suffered a “death blow” today, after the Airports Commission released several more reports throwing doubt on the future of the scheme.

The studies found that City Hall have dramatically underestimated the costs and overestimated the benefits of moving Heathrow airport to the estuary. The new airport would struggle to make sufficient revenues to remain viable, while tens of billions of pounds would need to be spent on road and rail infrastructure to service it.

Consultants hired by the commission also found City Hall had wildly overestimated the amount of people who would travel to the new airport by train. They found that up to £8 billion would need to be spent on widening and constructing new roads on top of around £26 billion for new rail links. Even with that investment, the road access would still struggle to cope with demand.

The reports also found the case for the estuary airport rested on the assumption of attracting significantly higher revenues per passenger than Heathrow. This seems highly unlikely given the reductions in revenues from car parking and increased construction costs implied by the plans. Failure to achieve that greater revenue would push up charges, giving a competitive advantage to other European hub airports, and therefore defeating the central purpose of the new airport.

The economic benefits of the scheme have also been overestimated, the reports suggest. The mayor’s plans failed to take into account the fact that a new estuary airport would inevitably lead to the closure of Heathrow and the loss of thousands more jobs in the wider area. The new airport would also struggle to attract a workforce given its location and the shortage of housing and other infrastructure in the area, they suggest.

The reports also highlight how the airport would interfere with the flight paths of two existing airports in the South East. While they conclude these problems are not insurmountable, they would pose a significant challenge.

The findings follow another Airports Commission report earlier this week which detailed huge environmental and safety risks attached to building a new airport in the estuary. Critics said the scheme had been handed a “death blow” by the Commission.

“These latest reports are a potential death blow to the Mayor’s dream of creating a massive airport located in the Thames estuary,” Liberal Democrat London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said. “It is bad enough that the Mayor has spent millions of London’s taxpayer’s money promoting his fantasy project. Now his proposals have been exposed as being based on wildly inaccurate estimates of the real cost of locating an airport in the Thames Estuary. The Mayor for a long time has had a dream of a Thames Estuary airport. It is time he woke up to reality.”

Labour also urged him to give up his hopes of building the airport. “We have always known that Boris’ plan for a Thames Estuary airport was pie in the sky, but four expert reports inside a week have now confirmed this,” Labour London Assembly member Val Shawcross said. “Whether it’s environmental problems, expensive transport links or the decimation of employment at Heathrow, we now know for sure that this project poses a devastating risk to the taxpayer. Boris has already wasted millions of pounds on this vanity project. He needs to accept that the evidence is now totally against him and that no more public money should be spent pursuing a Thames Estuary airport.”

The Airports Commission are due to release their final shortlist of options for expanding airport capacity in the UK later this year.

Liz Truss: Not-Very-Green Environment Secretary?

In fairness, it’s probably too early to predict how our new Environment Secretary will stand up for the environment, climate change etc, but the omens don’t loo too good. 

A correspondent of mine just sent this quote to me:  “Let’s be optimistic, Monty. We’ve seen the last of a total w—–, dope, idiot – some who – I now know, having heard from a senior Defra man – the Defra people have found him thoroughly impossible to deal with. Liz Truss can’t be as bad as him –  she’s able to read a balance sheet – she’ll be able to understand the science and will at least not be as arrogant and ridiculous as OP in refusing to meet scientist whose facts disagree with her foundless beliefs.”


Liz Truss: A not-very-green environment secretary

By Alex Stevenson     Tuesday, 15 July 2014 11:34 AM  

Liz Truss, the woman now charged with watching out for Britain’s environment, used to spend her days working for Shell – and has been a vocal supporter of a third runway at Heathrow. So why has David Cameron made her the next environment secretary? It’s the latest move in an extraordinary career where the backing of the PM has proved critical more than once.

Truss, almost unbelievably, used to be a lefty. “My mum was a member of the CND and I have memories of going on marches with her when I was a child, so I suppose I had an awareness of and an interest in politics from quite an early age,” she told Politics.co.uk soon after arriving in parliament in 2010. The exposure to the left-wing academic circles frequented by her parents in the 1980s didn’t sink in, though. Instead Truss found herself attracted to the Liberal Democrats, a party she ended up joining at the age of 17. At Oxford she was the Lib Dem president.

“When I left university,” she told the New Statesman in 2012, “I got a job with Shell on their graduate scheme.” She explained that her job involved managing the shipping of liquid natural gas around the world, as well as “project economics and contract negotiation”. To suggest, at that stage, that she would one day be the Cabinet minister tasked with looking after Britain’s countryside would have been incredible. But that was a while ago, and Truss’ political transition was far from complete.

She had already realised at university that her true allegiance was with the Conservatives. And so the next decade was spent working her way up to become an MP. It didn’t work out in 2001 or 2005. But 2010 looked a more likely prospect, as she took on the challenge of the eminently winnable Norfolk South West.

The Tories were doing everything to push her. She was a councillor in Greenwich at the time, but having made it on to the A-list was a prime candidate. Unfortunately, the local Conservatives weren’t keen on having their candidate imposed on them by Eric Pickles, the then-party chairman. When a local paper broke the story about her affair with Mark Field, the MP for Westminster, they responded by attempting to deselect her. They failed, after Cameron intervened to publicly support her. “There’s an element of hurtfulness but I accept… when you put yourself in the spotlight you put yourself in a certain degree of scrutiny,” a bruised Truss said afterwards.

She continued her rise quickly in parliament. After the general election, where she secured a weighty majority of over 13,000, Truss convened the Free Enterprise Group of Tory MPs. Her support for a third runway at Heathrow, as part of her work with the Group, was not welcomed by environmentalists like Zac Goldsmith – especially after the Tories’ 2010 manifesto pledge not to build a third runway in the present parliament. The U-turn she was calling for would, in Goldsmith’s words, have made it hard “to persuade anyone whose door she knocks on in 2015 that the manifesto she’s standing on means anything”.

Truss’ reply was revealing. “There is not going to be a third runway going to be built in this parliament,” she shrugged back in 2012, “so as far as I’m concerned we’re honouring the pledge in that manifesto.”

Having been brought into the government as children’s minister, Truss was making a decent reputation for herself until the Lib Dems intervened. Nick Clegg and co torpedoed her efforts to reform childcare. It was a PR victory for the coalition’s junior party, but humiliating for Truss personally. And yet it did not hurt her promotion prospects; Cameron was not prepared to let the Lib Dems ruin the career of a woman he had taken such pains to build up. This morning, as she walked up Downing Street, she will have known the PM was on her side. Her rise is complete.

The question then becomes: what will she get up to at Defra? All the evidence is that she is scornful of the climate change agenda. She is an enemy of solar farms or biomass plants, preferring to back agriculture whenever possible. “Food and farming is the largest manufacturing industry in the UK and she is keen to see that the importance of this sector is recognised,” it states on her website. This may well be why Cameron has picked her for the job: she is a safe pair of hands who can keep the agricultural lobby happy.

And yet her position is vital for the green agenda. This is why environmentalists will lament her appointment – and worry that when it comes to this autumn’s badger cull, the most controversial issue awaiting her on her desk at Defra, she is unlikely to spend much time resisting the demands of the National Farmers’ Union that the culls should continue apace.

Comment on Recent Farming and Wildlife Issues

Monty’s Comment on Recent Farming and Wildlife Issues: 

I’ve lived and worked for most of my life in the countryside and would say from a lifetime’s observations, that the loss of diversity – insects, birds and flowers, is now quite alarming.

Wildlife’s (and our) wider environment has changed significantly, for the worse… Take just two examples. Hedgerow ground flora and watercourses are contaminated by the indiscriminate use of artificial fertilizer leading to a carpet of nettles and goosegrass in the former and algal blooms and rank vegetation in the latter. (I accept that in the case of the latter, sewage effluent has a part to play). How many moths come to the light of one’s open window on a summers evening nowadays? Very few. 

Much of our neighbouring farmland is now relatively poor or even barren for wildlife, for a vast majority of the year. There has got to be another more benign way of producing the food that we all require AND have a rich, vibrant countryside, and it needs to happen SOON. The agricultural industry as a whole has got to try much harder to work alongside the environment rather than to continue battling it into submission, or even oblivion.

The present Government seems either oblivious or more likely, simply refuses to treat the wider environment with respect it disserves, preferring instead to carry on with more and deeper cuts including to the government agencies that are supposed to be protecting the environment. Economic is important but it’s got to be kept in prospective; what is the use of having a healthy economy if we’re living amongst a wrecked wider environment?  Agreed changes to EU agri-environment schemes earlier this year have been so amended in favour of agricultural production, as to make many of them unfit for purpose.  M.L.

Neonicotinoids Now Linked to Fall in Farmland Birds


Neonicotinoids now linked to recent fall in farmland bird numbers

Damian Carrington. The Guardian, Wednesday 9 July 2014.

New research has identified the world’s most widely used insecticides as the key factor in the recent reduction in numbers of farmland birds. The finding represents a significant escalation of the known dangers of the insecticides and follows an assessment in June that warned that pervasive pollution by these nerve agents was now threatening all food production.

The neonicotinoid insecticides are believed to seriously harm bees and other pollinating insects, and a two-year EU suspension on three of the poisons began at the end of 2013. But the suspected knock-on effects on other species had not been demonstrated until now.

Peer-reviewed research, published in the leading journal Nature this Wednesday, has revealed data from the Netherlands showing that bird populations fell most sharply in those areas where neonicotinoid pollution was highest. Starlings, tree sparrows and swallows were among the most affected.

At least 95% of neonicotinoids applied to crops ends up in the wider environment, killing the insects the birds rely on for food, particularly when raising chicks.

The researchers, led by Hans de Kroon, an ecologist at Radboud University, in the Netherlands, examined other possible reasons for the bird declines seen during the study period of 2003 to 2010, including intensification of farming. But high pollution by a neonicotinoid known as imidacloprid was by far the largest factor.

“It is very surprising and very disturbing,” de Kroon said. Water pollution levels of just 20 nanograms of neonicotinoid per litre led to a 30% fall in bird numbers over 10 years, but some water had contamination levels 50 times higher. “That is why it is so disturbing – there is an incredible amount of imidacloprid in the water,” he said. “And it is not likely these effects will be restricted to birds.”

De Kroon added: “All the other studies [on harm caused by neonicotinoids] build up from toxicology studies. But we approached this completely from the other end. We started with the bird population data and tried to explain the declines. Our study really makes the evidence complete that something is going on here. We can’t go on like this any more. It has to stop.”

David Goulson, a professor at the University of Sussex, who was not involved in the new studies, said the research was convincing and ruled out likely alternative causes of bird decline. “The simplest, most obvious, explanation is that highly toxic substances that kill insects lead to declines in things that eat insects.”

There was little reason to doubt that wildlife in the UK and other countries were not suffering similar harm, he said. “This work flags up the point that this isn’t just about bees, it is about everything. When hundreds or thousands of species or insect are being wiped out, it’s going to have impacts on bats, shrews, hedgehogs, you name it. It is pretty good evidence of wholesale damage to the environment.”

Goulson said that, unlike the Netherlands, the UK did not monitor neonicotinoid pollution and the EU ban would not remove the substances from the environment. “They are still being widely used, as the moratorium only applies to three neonicotinoids and some crops. There is still a lot of them going into the environment. The door is far from shut.”

A spokesman for Bayer CropScience, which makes the neonicotinoid that was examined in the study, disputed the findings. “It provides no substantiated evidence of the alleged indirect effects of imidacloprid on insectivorous birds. Bayer CropScience is working with the Dutch authorities and agricultural stakeholders to ensure the safe use of imidacloprid-containing crop protection products and to preserve the environment.” He added: “Neonicotinoids have gone through an extensive risk assessment which has shown that they are safe to the environment when used responsibly according to the label instructions.”

But de Kroon said new research, including his own, was showing that neonicotinoids posed an even greater threat than had been anticipated and new regulations had to take this into account. In 2012, MPs warned regulators appeared to be “turning a blind eye” to the harm caused by neonicotinoids.

David Gibbons, head of the RSPB centre for conservation science, said: “This elegant and important study provides worrying evidence of negative impacts of neonicotinoid insecticides on birds. Monitoring of neonicotinoid pollution in UK soils and waterways is urgently required, as is research into the effects of these insecticides on wildlife.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “Pesticide use across Europe is tightly regulated to protect the environment and public health – [pesticides] are a safe, effective and economical means of managing crops. We continue to review evidence on neonicotinoids.”

Also on Wednesday, further research showing that neonicotinoids damage the natural ability of bees to collect food was published in the journal Functional Ecology. The work used tiny tags to track bees and found those exposed to the insecticide gathered less pollen. “Exposure to this neonicotinoid seems to prevent bees from being able to learn essential skills,” said Nigel Raine, a professor at the University of Guelph, Canada. He said the regulatory tests, which only looked for short-term, lethal effects, were failing to prevent serious harm. “These tests should be conducted for extended periods to detect the effects of chronic exposure.”

NFU Response to Neonicotinoids ‘Kill Birds’


NFU response: Neonicotinoids ‘kill birds’

Last updated: 10 Jul 2014

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “The link between the surface water concentrations of imidacloprid and declines in certain bird species in the Netherlands published today [July 10] in a Nature report is interesting, but does not demonstrate that pesticide use causes bird decline.

“Changes in habit, climate and cropping patterns could all contribute to shifts in bird population; the study itself acknowledges that: “Food resource depletion may not be the only or even the most important cause of decline,” but it fails to investigate or even mention any other factors.

“The researchers assert that consumption of contaminated insects could have a direct impact on birds, but they provide absolutely no evidence to support this highly suggestive statement, which has caused a lot of sensationalism in the media today around ‘pesticides killing birds’.

“In the UK, the use of pesticides is tightly regulated and monitored. The study states that the use of imidacloprid in the Netherlands regularly results in the permitted environmental concentrations being exceeded – if such problems are detected in the UK, measures are rapidly implemented to avoid potential negative impacts on the environment.

“The NFU fully supports Prof. Charles Godfray’s response to the article where he states that there’s  landscapes to get much harder data on the effects of this class of insecticide on all elements of biodiversity.”


Britain Hasn’t Learnt Lessons of Somerset Floods – Lord Krebs



Britain still hasn’t learned the lessons of the Somerset floods

By Lord Krebs. The Telegraph. 9 Jul 2014.

No one can say with confidence whether or not the coming winter will bring floods on the same scale as the last. The weather does not allow us the luxury of such predictability this far in advance. What we can say is that the risks of severe flooding and other extreme weather events are likely to rise in the coming years. The climate is changing because of the carbon dioxide that we have pumped into the air over the last 250 years, and that does not come without consequences. More extreme events, more often: this is what the climate models indicate. The issue is what we are going to do about it.

The destruction wrought last winter should focus our minds on reducing the risks that climate change poses to our citizens, communities and businesses. It should also provide a wake-up call over the benefits of acting. If it hadn’t been for past investment in flood defences, and improved flood forecasting and emergency planning, the impacts of the severe weather would have been much worse. As the government’s statutory adviser, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is charged with assessing how prepared we are. This year’s progress report, which I am launching today as chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC), emphasises areas where more could be done.

Despite the pain of the winter, and the injection of £270 million to put right the damage done to flood defences, three-quarters of our flood defence structures are not being maintained at an ideal level. Hundreds of new flood protection projects won’t be delivered until 2019 at the earliest. Key recommendations from the Pitt Review, published in 2008 after the previous year’s floods left 13 people dead, 45,000 homes flooded and caused £3 billion worth of damage, have not yet been fulfilled.

This winter’s floods made a deep impression on our psyche, but has this translated into action to better protect people in the future? In early December last year, we experienced the largest tidal surge in 60 years, and 18,000 people had to be evacuated from low-lying areas along the east coast. The government has not commissioned a review to learn the lessons arising from this significant event.

We are putting up buildings at a faster rate in areas of high flood risk than elsewhere: in Sedgemoor District Council in the Somerset Levels, for instance, 900 new homes in areas at a significant risk of flooding have been built this century, while Intensive farming is making the land less able to absorb water and more likely to erode silt into rivers. This will increase the need for dredging. We are paving over permeable surfaces in towns and cities – the proportion of paved area in gardens leaped from 28 per cent to 48 per cent in 10 years – creating run-off problems and overwhelming drains in heavy rainstorms.

Flooding is not the only risk increased by climate change. Paradoxically, many parts of England, especially in the south and east, may not have enough water to meet future demand in the coming decades. Heatwaves are likely to become more common, so we ought to begin to adapt buildings in preparation. Instead, we find that many buildings where vulnerable people live, including hospitals and care homes as well as typical modern homes, were built for yesterday’s climate and are already difficult to keep cool.

Climate change impacts, including an increased risk of flooding, and sea level rise, are inevitable as a result of greenhouse gases that we have already put into the atmosphere. The first choice we face is whether we do more to protect ourselves against them, or suffer the consequences – which will almost certainly be more expensive as well as more disruptive.

As a statutory adviser, our committee is making a number of recommendations that can reduce the risks that lie ahead. Regulations to avoid new development causing surface water flooding, as recommended in the Pitt Review, should be introduced without delay. Councils should publish statutory flood risk management plans and strategies, and enforce regulations to prevent more gardens being lost to hard surfacing. New policies to begin to address the risks from overheating buildings should be introduced, to promote cost-effective measures such as better ventilation, shading and insulation. A new standard should be introduced to ensure that new buildings are designed with the higher temperatures of the future in mind. All of these measures are simple and could in principle be pursued straight away.

But we cannot counter climate impacts just by adapting. The second choice before us is whether we allow climate risks to escalate by continuing to emit greenhouse gases, or whether we follow the path of reducing our emissions and encouraging other countries towards the same goal. The 2008 Climate Change Act, with its legally binding targets on emissions, was a powerful statement of UK leadership, but we are far from alone. More than 500 pieces of legislation related to climate change have been introduced in 66 countries, which between them account for 88 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The actions of other countries reduce our future risk, just as our actions reduce theirs.

The precise impacts of climate change on the UK are impossible to predict with certainty, but this is not an excuse for inaction. Preparing for impacts while continuing to reduce emissions is the sensible, pragmatic choice: adaptation and mitigation going hand in hand to safeguard public health and protect the economy, as the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommended earlier this year.

The government’s National Adaptation Programme contains a long list of policy objectives and detailed actions. In the summer next year, the ASC will be reporting to Parliament on whether progress is being made, and crucially, whether the action being taken is making a difference. We will not be able to prevent altogether the climate changing and the resulting impacts. But we can become more resilient and reduce the costs and consequences. My committee’s report sets out how.

Lord Krebs is chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee of the Committee on Climate Change.