Invading Species Could Wreak Havoc on the UK Environment.

Tom Bawden, Environment Editor, The Independent, Wednesday 27 August 2014

A black-and-white mussel that is native to the Black Sea and poisons water has been identified as the species most likely to invade the UK and wreak havoc on the environment. Researchers from 21 institutions have unanimously voted the quagga mussel, which is now well established in the Netherlands, as posing the greatest threat to Britain’s ecosystems among those species which have yet to reach the UK but are expected to arrive in the next few years.

The mussel – officially known as Dreissena rostriformis bugensis – is thought likely to enter the country in canoes, sailing dinghies or the ballast water of a ship. The mussel, known in ecology circles as an “ecosystem engineer” because of its transformative impact on the environment, is just the size of a thumbnail, but clusters can grow metres thick. It is a menace on a number of fronts, according to Dr Helen Roy, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology who led the research project.

Much of the damage quagga mussels inflict derives from their eating habits; they filter the water through their system to extract the food and discard unwanted matter in the form of “pseudofaeces”. The filtering process removes valuable food needed by other species, creates poisonous waste and radically alters the chemical composition of the water.

“Quaggas are prodigious water filterers, removing substantial amounts of phytoplankton – or algae – from the water. The pseudofaeces that is produced from filtering the water accumulates and creates a foul environment, containing pollutants which can be passed up the food chain,” said Dr Roy. “The filtration of the water increases its transparency, which increases light penetration and causes a proliferation of aquatic plants that can change species dominance and alter the entire ecosystem,” Dr Roy added. The mussel also clogs up pipes.

The report, which also includes contributions from Cambridge University, the Natural History Museum, the Royal Horticultural Society and the Zoological Society of London, analysed 591 non-native species that are expected to enter the UK in the next decade. While the majority posed no environmental risk, the researchers identified 93 constituting a medium risk, and 30 a high risk.

Other high-risk species include the raccoon, the African sacred ibis, the Asian hornet and the Pine processionary moth.

Raccoons are high on the list because they are widely featured in zoos and private collections,  and in other countries, particularly in Germany, have been shown to be adept at breaking out. As a result it is thought to be only a matter of time before they bust out into the wild in the UK, to prey on birds’ eggs and amphibians, and to spread raccoon roundworm, which is dangerous to birds and mammals.

The Asian hornet has made it to France and is thought likely to fly to the UK – or enter in a holidaymaker’s luggage – in the near future. Its danger stems from its diet of honey bees and other pollinators, at a time when these insects are already suffering from habitat loss and pesticides.

Although climate change is making it easier for some species to settle in the UK, in most cases the species will invade in ballast, timber and vehicles, aided by the rise in trade and travel, Dr Roy said.

Non-Native Wildlife ‘At Risk Under New Legislation’

Non-native wildlife ‘at risk under new legislation’

Tom Bawden, Environment Editor, The Independent, Thursday 21 August 2014.

Animals including the red kite, the goshawk, the barn owl and the wild boar could be completely wiped out of the UK if a new bill to encourage the development of infrastructure is passed, a group of leading scientists warns today.

The threat stems from a new definition of the term “non-native species”, which is so broad that it includes native species that died out in the UK but have since been reintroduced. The labelling means many species, such as the white-tailed eagle, eagle owl and common crane could be placed at risk as they would classed as non-native, the scientists warned.

“It is entirely possible that this legislation could be used to eradicate some native species from the UK. Wild boar, beaver and goshawk are particularly vulnerable,” said Dr Sarah Durant, a researcher at the Institute of Zoology. She was the lead signatory in an open letter to the Government written by 24 leading scientists from institutions such as the Natural History Museum, the RSPB, University College London and Oxford and Cambridge universities.

“If the bill is passed in its current form, it could lead to an irreversible loss of native biodiversity… The legislation could also preclude future species reintroductions,” said the letter, published in the journal Nature.

Some non-native species could also be vulnerable because a landowner only needs to prove economic damage to apply for an order to control or eradicate a species. A Government spokesman said: “These control orders… will not be used for species that are the subject of a legitimate reintroduction programme.”

How to Ensure Agricultural Investment is Responsible

‘Reap what you sow: how to ensure an agricultural investment is responsible.’

By Michael Aubrey, The Guardian Professional, Friday 29 August 2014.

The Wellcome Trust’s recent acquisition of the Co-operative Group’s farm business for £249m has turned the spotlight on investment in agricultural land in the UK.

While the number of traditional landed estates declined during the last century, the role of the patrician landowner has often been taken up by wealthy educational investors such as the Oxbridge colleges. As land supplies diminish, profitable estates can be hard to find – as Mark Twain aptly noted: “Buy land, they’re not making it any more.”

The Wellcome Trust has seized upon the opportunity to acquire one of the most significant farming businesses to come on the market. It acquired 16,000 hectares of freehold and third-party owned land, 15 farms including three pack houses, more than 100 residential properties, 27 commercial properties and 255 employees.

Although opportunities to invest on such a significant scale are rare, what can cash-rich organisations hope to gain from smaller strategic investments in agricultural land and how can they ensure it is maintained in a responsible way?

1. Harvesting profits.  The value of other asset types tumbled during the recession, while that of agricultural land rose steadily. This increase is continuing even as other markets begin to rebound. Rural assets let to tenants under a range of tenancy agreements delivered total returns of 18.5% in 2013 according to the Bidwells Agri-Investment Index. This out-paces commercial property, at 10.7% and residential property, at 14.7%.

Although capital growth is clearly attractive, rural land does not necessarily operate in a traditional model and the true benefits of agricultural investment come from holding the land long-term. Whereas 10 years ago values for quality farmland were hovering around £3,500 per acre, in 2014 this is anywhere upwards of £10,000 per acre.

2. Responsible stewardship.  In order to maximise this return and reap the true benefits of agricultural investment, the land must be well-managed. It can either be farmed “in hand” or let to tenants, sometimes on tenancies that can last for generations. Such a relationship requires responsible stewardship, towards both the land and those who work and live on it.

In the case of the Wellcome Trust, it has acquired a business, its employees and, in many cases, the homes in which those employees live. With that comes a responsibility to invest in and support those workers and their families, as well as the land.

3. Sustainable farming.  Responsible stewardship means farming sustainably so as to ensure the land is kept in good heart and not intensively cropped in the short-term without allowing fertility levels to replenish. It also involves inward investment, including keeping farm buildings in good condition so that they are fit for purpose and not a visual blight, and renovating farm cottages so that they are pleasant places to live.

This level of investment can often not be funded from agricultural income alone, and so a well-managed estate will identify appropriate opportunities to provide funds for reinvestment.

4. Renewables.  For some estates, development opportunities – most notably for housing – will over time be one key way to maximise profitability from the estate. The interest in the renewable sector can be another opportunity to make medium to long-term gains on the investment. Subject to obtaining planning permission, wind farms, anaerobic digester plants or solar farms can sometimes provide higher returns on investment than using the land to grow agricultural crops.

However laudable arguments for diversifying the land may be, such developments can bring local opposition and so any investor will also have to manage local politics carefully. No rural investor should embark on rural management without their eyes wide open and a strong team of professional advisers around them.

Successful stewardship will not be measured by the increase in soft fruit, apples and potatoes on the supermarket shelves, but by the success of the local communities who support and derive their living from the estate.

(Michael Aubrey is partner and agriculture and estates lawyer at national law firm Mills & Reeve who represented The Wellcome Trust in its acquisition of the Co-operative farms).

Britain needs Chinese Approach to Climate Change

Britain needs ‘Chinese’ Approach to Climate Change.

By Alex Stevenson     Wednesday, 13 August 2014.

China is showing a “leadership” on climate change which the UK is lacking, the chair of an influential Commons committee has told Environmental audit committee chair Joan Walley said the Chinese government had a “set of plans and the ability to deliver them” – in contrast to David Cameron’s government, which she accused of paying “lip service” to the decarbonisation agenda.

Her comments came after the latest Ipsos Mori Global Trends survey revealed British people’s appreciation of the need to act on climate change is among the worst of the 20 countries surveyed.

Fifty-eight per cent of British respondents agreed with the statement that ‘we are heading for environmental disaster unless we change our habits quickly’. Only Japan and the US had a lower percentage, while China topped the poll with 91.1% agreeing.

Walley said the Climate Change Act, which has legislated to ensure Britain cuts its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, meant the UK had the long-term framework to tackle climate change. But she criticised the government for failing to demonstrate a commitment to pursuing the target, blaming the short-termism of the five-year electoral cycle. “We haven’t got leadership in terms of dealing with this,” Walley said.

“Whatever’s China’s position on the world stage in respect of international negotiations on climate change, what they have got is a very clear robust set of five-year plans and the ability to deliver them.”

When asked by Ipsos Mori whether they agreed with the statement that ‘the climate change we are currently seeing is largely the result of human activity’, only 54% of Britons agreed. Thirty-two per cent disagreed. This contrasted with seven countries, including France, Spain and Italy, which saw at least four out of five agreeing that humans are to blame for climate change.

Britain’s apparent climate scepticism was reinforced by its position in the table of answers to the statement that ‘the climate change we are currently seeing is a natural phenomenon that happens from time to time”.

Forty-eight per cent of Brits agreed with this statement, compared to just 22% of people in Japan, 34% in Sweden and 39% in Germany.

Britain’s latest equivalent of a five-year plan – its fourth carbon budget – has been undermined by the government’s decision to delay confirming it until the last day before the summer recess. That foot-dragging – branded “bad for business, consumers and the UK’s energy security alike” by WWF-UK – sums up Britain’s problem, Walley suggested.

“When all the time you’re faced with the day-to-day emergencies, policymaking becomes about the short-term. We need to fix that in the government and in the City. At the moment we haven’t got a mechanism for factoring in transitional costs which will balance out in time. You can see it’s not just right for the environment, but economically and competitively as well.”

Walley said the government’s failure to embrace climate change was behind British voters’ relative indifference towards the issue. Could the government do even more to raise awareness of climate change?

Her theory has been reinforced by research from Washington DC think-tank the Worldwatch Institute, which has criticised the ‘eco-literacy’ agenda of addressing the knowledge gap instead of the issue it believes is the real problem – the ‘behaviour deficit’.

“Knowing that change is needed is clearly not enough to motivate it in most human behaviour,” contributing author Monty Hempel said.

“Individuals must have a sense of urgency and personal control over prospective outcomes and goal achievement before they will commit to meaningful action or new behaviours.”

Worldwatch’s radical claim is that around the world there are “growing political pressures to replace a barely functioning democracy with something closer to technocratic oligarchy”.

But Walley hopes that western democracies can cope by embedding sustainability education into the national curriculum. She also wants to co-opt local authorities into the fourth carbon budget in order to allow accelerated changes in areas which are more environmentally-minded than others.

“Electorate that values these things may well sign up to it,” she added, “but we need it right the way across the country”.

Snowfall In A Warmer World

 Snowfall in a warmer world: Big snowstorms will still occur in Northern Hemisphere, study shows

August 27, 2014
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Big snowstorms will still occur in the Northern Hemisphere following global warming, a study shows. While most areas in the Northern Hemisphere will likely experience less snowfall throughout a season, the study concludes that extreme snow events will still occur, even in a future with significant warming.

This Weeks Pony News – Aug 30

Tuesday.  Hastings Country Park.  Met up with 5 new Lookers (volunteers who assist with checking the ponies); we now have an almost full complement there now.

Thursday.  NT’s Blackcap nr Lewes.  We erected some 400 m of electric fencing in readiness for the arrival of 12 Exmoor ponies next Tuesday.  This was I suspect, some of the steepest ground that I’ve had to work on!  Driving down the trackway below it was somewhat tricky to – steep and muddy in places.    *While having lunch, a large group of house martins were feeding above us including at least 2 swifts.

Friday.  We had the second of our Pony Trust’s work groups on Chailey Common, engaged in removing birch tree saplings from one of the more specie diverse areas of the Common.  Rewarding but hard work!

Saturday.  Big, two-day ‘Spartan Race’ endurance event being held at Pippingford Park in the Ashdown Forest area; I decided to go back during the early evening.  Just as well, as several gates left open, which could have led to the ponies going walk-about!  I politely expressed my displeasure to the organisers, we parting amicably, they accepting weaknesses in their organising.

Comment.  I find it frustrating that these thousands of participants burn all that energy for no material benefit.  It’s rather like jacking up the wheels on your car and then getting in and putting your foot down on the accelerator!  I and my colleagues in wildlife conservation could find a mountain of tasks that could be carried out for a fraction of that determination and energy.  How about it?


Pesticides and the English Countryside

I hold varying views about farming…  For me, it’s the wider, greedy agri-business, not so much the individual farmer – making generalisations can be a double-edged weapon.  Some farmers are both productive, caring and doing their best to protect the wider countryside within the scope of their earning a livelihood. Others seem to don’t care or are simply not sufficiently informed. At the end of the day, we all need to eat.

The link below to an 11 minute video shows perhaps why there is now such a dearth of wildlife across much of the English countryside in recent years, compared with years ago.  I am of an age where I can recall relatively huge numbers of wild flowers, insects and birds of all types. Please copy and paste the link below and take a few minutes and watch and then pass the link on to your friends.

Politics and Climate Stabilisation Do Not Mix

Effective climate agreement not likely

According to a group of Norwegian researchers, the prospects for achieving an effective international climate treaty are poor. The measures that are politically feasible are ineffective and the measures that would be effective are politically infeasible.

In the project “The nature, design and feasibility of robust climate agreements,” researchers from the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (Cicero) and Statistics Norway (SSB) posed the following question: What are the conditions for succeeding in achieving an international climate agreement that will substantially reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases?

The backdrop for the question is the extremely slow progress in the UN negotiations on a climate agreement. The world is actually further away from achieving an effective international climate agreement today than it was 15 years ago, when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. Little basis for optimism exists.

Professor Jon Hovi headed the project at Cicero in Oslo. The project was funded by the Research Council of Norway and was concluded in 2013.

Professor Hovi identifies three prerequisites for a robust international climate agreement:

1.1.It must encompass all key countries, i.e., all major emitters of greenhouse gases.

2.2.It must require each member country to cut its emissions substantially.

3.3.The member countries must comply with their commitments.

A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions benefit all countries. In contrast, each country must bear the full costs of reducing its own emissions. Thus, each country faces a strong temptation to act as a free rider; i.e., to enjoy the benefits of emission cuts made by others and ignore its own commitments.

“Cutting emissions is expensive, and powerful interests in every country are proffering arguments as to why that particular country should be exempted from international regulation of greenhouse gas emissions,” Jon Hovi explains. “This inclines the authorities of all countries to take decisions that make them free riders,” he states.

Five types of free riding

The researchers have outlined five types of free riding: Some countries never ratified the Kyoto Protocol (e.g. USA).

Some countries ratified but later withdrew from the agreement (e.g. Canada).

The developing countries ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but without assuming any substantial commitments.

The countries of Eastern Europe ratified the Kyoto Protocol, but at no cost as the transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy inherently entailed drastic cuts in emissions.

It is also conceivable that some of the countries which agreed to take on relatively deep commitments under the Kyoto Protocol failed to completely fulfil these commitments. The final figures for compliance are not yet available.

“In order to succeed in crafting an effective international climate agreement, we must eliminate free riding. Each and every country must be certain that the other countries are also doing their part. It’s the only viable option,” says Professor Hovi.

An effective compliance enforcement system is a must

Professor Hovi insists that the nations of the world must face consequences if they fail to fulfil their commitments under a climate treaty.

“Free riding must be met with concrete sanctions. This was not the case when the US refused to take part in the Kyoto Protocol, for example. Canada’s withdrawal from the treaty also entailed no repercussions. The question is what type of enforcement could conceivably work and, if such a system exists, would it be politically possible to implement it,” Dr Hovi states.

GETTING AWAY WITH NON-COMPLIANCE: An effective international climate agreement must counteract attempts to “free ride” – that is, to ignore obligations under the treaty. Each and every country must be certain that the other countries are also doing their part. (Illustrative photo: Shutterstock)

A system based on deposits

Hovi and his associates recommend a system based on deposits

At ratification, each country deposits a significant amount of money.

The deposits are administered by an international secretariat. Each party continues to make yearly deposits during the preparation stage prior to the commitment period. The total amount deposited by each country should correspond to the abatement costs associated with its commitments.

At the end of the commitment period, those countries that meet their emissions limitation targets receive a full refund of their deposit (plus interest), while those that fail to do so forfeit part or all of it.

But even with a robust system of this type in place, a number of practical problems would arise, admits Professor Hovi. And even if these problems could be solved or if compliance could somehow be enforced without such practical problems, there is little chance that such measures would be adopted.

Why? Because strict enforcement of a climate agreement is not politically feasible, according to the Norwegian researchers.

Compliance enforcement systems: USA for, China against

The UN climate negotiations are based on consensus, which makes the issue even more difficult.


Certain countries – such as the US – support international systems of enforcement that can safeguard compliance with an agreement. When the US commits to an international agreement it typically complies with its commitments. The existence of a potent compliance enforcement system could convince the US that other key countries will comply with the agreement as well.

“At the same time, other key countries have stated a clear opposition to potent enforcement measures – either as a matter of principle or because they know that they will risk punishment,” Professor Hovi explains.

“For example, China opposes mechanisms that entail international intervention in domestic affairs as a matter of principle. China is not even prepared to accept international monitoring of its own emissions. The UN principle of full consensus allows countries opposed to enforcement measures to prevail by using their veto right during negotiations,” Professor Hovi says in conclusion.

Written by:  Bård Amundsen/Else Lie, Translation: Carol B. Eckmann/Darren McKellep  Published:  13.08.2014 Last updated: 14.08.2014

Cheap Meat Production Un-Sustainable

Christine Chemnitz is Head of the Department of International Agricultural Politics at the Heinrich Böll Foundation.    Shefali Sharma is Director of Agricultural Commodities and Globalization at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

BERLIN, AUG 19, 2014.

The High Cost of Cheap Meat

Factory-style livestock production is a critical driver of agricultural industrialization. Its remorseless expansion is contributing to climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and human-rights violations – all to satisfy Western societies’ unhealthy appetite for cheap meat.

Europe and the United States were the largest meat consumers in the twentieth century, with the average person eating 60-90 kilograms (132-198 pounds) annually – far more than is required to meet humans’ nutritional needs. Though Western consumption rates are now stagnating and even declining in some regions, they remain far higher than in most other regions in the world.

Meanwhile, in emerging economies – especially the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) – members of the burgeoning middle class are changing their diets to resemble those of their rich-country counterparts. In the coming decades, as incomes continue to rise, so will demand for meat and dairy products.

To meet this demand, the world’s agribusiness firms will attempt to boost their annual meat output from 300 million tons today to 480 million tons by 2050, generating serious social challenges and ecological pressures at virtually every stage of the value chain (feed supply, production, processing, and retail).

One major problem with factory-style livestock production is that it leads to considerable greenhouse-gas emissions – and not just because the digestive processes of ruminant animals produce methane. The waste from the animals, together with the fertilizers and pesticides used to produce feed, generate large quantities of nitrogen oxides.

Indeed, the factory model implies significant land-use change and deforestation, beginning with the production of feed. As it stands, about one-third of existing agricultural land is used for feed production, with the total share used for livestock production, including grazing, amounting to about 70%.

With expanded meat consumption, soybean production alone would nearly double, implying a proportional increase in the use of inputs like land, fertilizer, pesticides, and water. Increased crop diversion to feed livestock will put upward pressure on food and land prices, making it increasingly difficult for the world’s poor to meet their basic nutritional needs.

Making matters worse, the shift from mixed-use or indigenous systems of raising livestock to large-scale operations jeopardizes rural livelihoods, particularly in developing countries. Pastoralists, small producers, and independent farmers simply cannot compete with low retail prices that fail to account for the industry’s true environmental and health costs. And the industrial livestock system, with its low wages and poor health and safety standards, does not provide a good alternative for employment.

Finally, there is the public-health impact of industrial livestock production. For starters, excessively high levels of meat and dairy consumption are contributing to nutrition-related health problems like obesity and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, keeping large concentrations of animals in confined spaces facilitates the proliferation of infectious diseases that can spread to humans, such as avian flu. And measures used to mitigate that risk, such as the administration of low doses of antibiotics to prevent disease (and promote growth), are creating a public-health crisis by strengthening resistance to antimicrobial drugs.

Add to this the horrific conditions suffered by the animals themselves, owing to the industry’s resistance to applying reasonable animal-welfare standards, and one might wonder how the industry could have been allowed to grow so large. The answer lies in its oligopolistic power, which enables industrial livestock producers to externalize their true social and environmental costs, which must then be covered by workers and taxpayers.

The reality is that there are other ways to meet the world’s need for meat and dairy. In the European Union, only two key elements of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would have to be changed to reduce drastically the distortions in the production system. Implementing these changes would send a clear signal that European policymakers take consumers’ wishes seriously.

The first change would be to prohibit imports of genetically modified feed, and require that farmers produce at least half of their animal feed on their own farms. A clear set of rules on feed procurement would eliminate international imbalances in nutrients, and diminish the power of multinational agricultural biotechnology corporations like Monsanto. Moreover, slurry and manure would no longer be transported long distances, and could be used to fertilize farmers’ own land to produce feed.

Second, the unnecessary administration of antibiotics in feed and watering systems should be prohibited. This would force farmers to treat animals individually for illnesses, based on veterinary diagnosis.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration could ban the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics. And the US Department of Agriculture’s farm bill programs could provide increased support for free-range livestock operations, in order to encourage more sustainable approaches to meat production.

Of course, these actions would be only important first steps. As emerging-economy middle classes grow, it is vital to recognize that existing Western models of meat production and consumption do not provide a sound blueprint for the future. It is time to create a system that adheres to our ecological, social, and ethical boundaries.