Europe’s First Farmers Discovered

Genetic history of Europeans revealed.

By Helen Briggs, BBC News, 23 November 2015.

A study of ancient DNA has shed new light on European genetic history. It confirms that farming spread across Europe due to the influx of ancient people from what is now eastern Turkey.

Many modern Europeans owe their taller stature to these early farmers – and a later influx of Bronze Age “horsemen” – say international researchers.

In the study, researchers mapped the genes of 273 ancient people who lived in West Europe and Asia from about 8,500 to 2,500 years ago. Of these, 26 were part of a population that gave rise to Europe’s first farmers.

Prof Ron Pinhasi of the School of Archaeology at University College Dublin, a lead researcher on the study, said: “We now have the first clear evidence that agriculture in Europe started with the first farmers coming from what is now Turkey.  “This is very exciting because there’s been a dispute for the last 40 years over whether that’s the case or not. Some have argued that it was diffusion of ideas but not of people. We now have the evidence that it was actually movement of people.”

The study, published in the journal, Nature, adds to growing evidence that two events in prehistoric times have had a big impact on the genetic make-up of modern Europeans. The first was the arrival of an ancestral “tribe” of early farmers from Anatolia around 8,500 years ago. Ancient DNA was extracted from 230 ancient Eurasians.

The later arrival of a tribe of ancient “horsemen” in Bronze Age times also shaped the genes of modern Europeans. Both had an influence on the way genes for skin colour, eye colour and susceptibility to various diseases were shaped in prehistoric times.

Two populations appear to have had an impact on the height of Europeans – early farmers and horse-riding herders called the Yamnaya who entered Europe from the eastern Steppe region – in present day Ukraine and Russia, about 5,000 years ago.

Prof Pinhasi told BBC News. “Early farmers were already tall when they came into Europe. Part of the modern day higher stature – for example in Northern Central Europe – has its origins in the first farmers coming from Turkey into Europe.”

Ancient tribes.

Most modern Europeans have a genetic make-up that suggests they are descended from three ancient “tribes” – western hunter gatherers, early European farmers and “horsemen” known as the Yamnaya.

The first layer of European ancestry, the hunter-gatherers, entered Europe before the Ice Age 40,000 years ago. But 7,000 years ago, they were swept up in a migration of people from the Middle East, who introduced farming to Europe, followed 2,000 years later by the Yamnaya.

Eppie Jones of Trinity College Dublin, co- researcher on the study, said: “This paper is taking our journey back in time ever further. “It is looking at our genes and how the interactions and innovations through history have shaped who Europeans are today.”

Ancient Wild Ox Genome Reveals Complex Cow Ancestry

Ancient wild ox genome reveals complex cow ancestry

October 26, 2015.  The ancestry of domesticated cattle proves more complex than previously thought, reports a paper published in the open access journal Genome Biology. The first nuclear genome sequence from an ancient wild ox reveals that some modern domestic cow breeds, including the Scottish Highland and Irish Kerry, had wild ancestors that were British, as well as Asian.

The aurochs, Bos primigenius, is an extinct wild ox species that ranged across the grasslands of Eurasia and North Africa 11,000 years ago. Domestication of aurochs gave rise to two major groups of cattle; Bos taurus and Bos indicus.

Previous studies have shown that European B. taurus are descended from western Asian populations of aurochs. However, little was known about the relationship between domesticated cattle and wild aurochs in Europe, and how wild populations contributed to the evolutionary history of the cows that graze our fields today.

To build a clearer picture of the ancestry of European cattle breeds, scientists from University College Dublin extracted genetic material from a bone of a 6,750 year old wild British aurochs discovered in a cave in Derbyshire, England. They then sequenced its complete genome — its genetic blueprint — and compared it with the genomes of 81 domesticated B. taurus and B. indicus animals, and DNA marker information from more than 1,200 modern cows.

David MacHugh, senior author on the study from the School of Agriculture and Food Science at University College Dublin, said: “Our results show the ancestors of modern British and Irish breeds share more genetic similarities with this ancient specimen than other European cattle. This suggests that early British farmers may have restocked their domesticated herds with wild aurochs.”

Genes linked to neurobiology and muscle development were also found to be associated with domestication of the ancestors of European cattle, indicating that a key part of the domestication process was the selection of cattle based on behavioural and meat traits.

David MacHugh added: “This is the first complete nuclear genome sequence from the extinct Eurasian aurochs. Our new study contradicts earlier simple models of cattle domestication and evolution that we and others proposed based on mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosomes. What now emerges from high-resolution studies of the nuclear genome is a more nuanced picture of crossbreeding and gene flow between domestic cattle and wild aurochs as early European farmers moved into new habitats such as Britain during the Neolithic.”


Journal Reference:

1.Stephen D E Park, David A. Magee, Paul A. McGettigan, Matthew D. Teasdale, Ceiridwen J. Edwards, Amanda J. Lohan, Alison Murphy, Martin Braud, Mark T. Donoghue, Yuan Liu, Andrew T. Chamberlain, Kévin Rue-Albrecht, Steven Schroeder, Charles Spillane, Shuaishuai Tai, Daniel G. Bradley, Tad S. Sonstegard, Brendan J. Loftus, David E. MacHugh. Genome sequencing of the extinct Eurasian wild aurochs, Bos primigenius, illuminates the phylogeography and evolution of cattle. Genome Biology, 2015; 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s13059-015-0790-2

Number of Trees Remaining on the Planet

October 2015 Newsletter The Latest News from International Tree Foundation.

 Humans and Trees.

A REPORT published last month by an international team of scientists contained the most detailed assessment yet of the number of trees on the planet. It estimates there are just over three trillion trees left on Earth. Since the onset of agriculture 12,000 years ago, humans have reduced the planet’s tree cover by 46%, and trees are now being cut down at the rate of 12 billion a year.

Depressing statistics – although the rate of deforestation is, at least, slowing down. But the report, based on a combination of satellite data and ground level measurements, also contains some fascinating insights into the number of trees in each all the world’s countries – and how this compares with their respective human populations. If the former is divided by the latter, a figure is arrived at which we could call the Tree Per Person Ratio, or TPPR. Considering that trees sustain life on Earth including humans, and humans are responsible for cutting them down, it seems like an important equation. According to the data the UK, with a population of 67.5 million has just over 3 billion trees which means it has a tree per person ratio (TPPR) of exactly 47. It turns out that four thousand miles or so to the south, Kenya, one of the least-forested countries in Africa, also has around 3 billion trees – but with a population of just 45.6 million, its TPPR is 67.

Britain and many other European countries lost most of their original forest cover centuries of years ago, and it could be argued that they now bear a responsibility to the rest of the world to bring more of their forests back. In Africa deforestation is a more recent phenomenon – one which, of course, is germane to ITF’s work. So we have compiled a list showing the TPPRs for all the African countries where we are supporting efforts to conserve and enhance forest cover.

COUNTRY         PEOPLE (million)         TREES (million)                TPPR

Cameroon           22.8                           19, 431                           852

Tanzania             50.7                           21, 000                           410

Malawi                16.8                             3, 000                           189

Ghana                 26.4                             4, 600                           172

Mali                    15.7                             3, 000                           166

Ethiopia              96.5                           14, 000                           143

Senegal              14.5                             1, 300                             90

Kenya                 45.6                             3, 000                             67

Uganda              38.8                              2, 000                            63

Nigeria              178.5                           10, 945                            61

Burkina Faso       17.5                             1, 000                            59


And the TPPR for planet Earth? According to the Yale study there are precisely 3,251,375,879,417 on the planet. At the time of writing, the human population (which is growing at the rate of about 75m per year) stood at 7,375, 354,750. This means there are trees 440.84 trees per person on Earth (or slightly less by the time you read this newsletter).


Inputs to Gardening – Some Amazing & Disturbing Facts!

I came across these amazing stats concerned with inputs to home gardening in the US! Although without doubt considerably less in the UK, it does make one wonder how much fertilizer and pesticides are administered to gardens here.  (Then there is the question of people planting bee-friendly plants bought from a nursery, only for an unknown percentage these to have been treated with neonicotinoids, so not really helping the poor bees at all?).

“…In addition to nurturing the health and well-being of people, growing [vegetable] gardens instead of lawns could greatly reduce use of natural resources in countries that engage in such behaviors. For example, the amount of lawn in the U.S. is 40.5 million acres and the total amount of money spent on lawns is $30 billion annually. Three million tons of fertilizer is used annually on lawns. Use of nitrogen fertilizer could be cut in half by leaving clippings on lawns to build healthy soil. Over 30 thousand tons of synthetic pesticides are used on lawns annually at a cost of well over $2 billion. Over 800 million gallons of gasoline is burned annually caring for lawns. For perspective, the amount of gas spilled annually refilling gaso- line lawn mowers is 17 million gallons e 1.57 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez off the shores of Alaska. Finally, resi- dential water use outside the home is 30%e60% of total water use. Depending on the estimate, 7 billion to 9 billion gallons of water are used each day for suburban irrigation.”

Sourced from the following article I happen to come across:

‘Our Landscapes, Our Livestock, Ourselves: Restoring Broken Linkages among Plants, Herbivores, and Humans with Diets that Nourish and Satiate.’


Impact Factor: 2.69 · DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.08.004


Frederick D. Provenza a, Michel Meuret b, Pablo Gregorini c.

a Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322-5230, USA

b INRA, UMR868 SELMET (Mediterranean and Tropical Livestock Farming Systems), 2 Place Pierre Viala, 34060 Montpellier Cedex 1, France

c Feed and Farm Systems Group, DairyNZ, Private Bag 3221, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand



Where Did Europe’s Wild Horses Go?

Rewilding Europe article – Where did the wild horse go?

by Henri Kerkdijk, 2nd March 2012.

Wild horses have been an intricate part of the wildlife of Europe since hundreds of thousands of years. During historical times, wild horses have been described by contemporaries from the ancient period, untill the 19th century AD. Herodotos, the Greek historian of the fifth century BC talks about wild living horses somewhere in present day Belorussia. Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist living in the first century AD, describes that vast herds of wild horses were living north of the Alps.

Truly wild horse species?

There is no doubt that wild horses should have their rightful place in Europe’s nature areas today. It becomes a lot more complicated when the question arises which horse breeds to choose as a truly wild horse species.

The first problem is that one of the last wild horses of Eurasia, the Tarpan, is seen by many biologists and ecologists as the ecotype to be used in the whole of Europe. This is however an oversimplification of the historical truth. The Tarpan was a wild or possibly feralized horse ecotype that lived on the steppes of the Ukraine and southern Russia. Information regarding the species is scanty. There have been attempts to breed back the Tarpan, but they reflect the personal vision of individuals, about what a Tarpan should look like. From archaeozoological research, written sources and ancient genetics, we know now that none of the so called bred back Tarpans actually derives from the ancient Tarpan and that they show marked differences in phenotype. This is further complicated by the fact that the sources about the Tarpan somewhat differ in the details when it comes to describing the animal. Another problem is the fact that the Tarpan represents just one ecotype in a certain region at a certain place in time.

To breed or not to breed.

It doesn’t make sense to automatically translate the Tarpan to the whole of Europe. The appearance of animals is determined by their genetic make-up but also by the environment they live in. It should be further noted that the notion of a ‘breed’ is a typical human notion that has developed in the last hundred and fifty years and it mostly describes a static situation. There is however nothing as fluid as evolution. Zebra stripes that seem handy on the steppes to confuse predators have no meaning in a forested environment. From all the archaeozoological remains studied and from examples like ancient color genetic studies, it becomes clear that the appearance of horses changed constantly and varied widely in the course of time and according to the various ecoregions they inhabited

Przewalski the only??

The alternative would be to simply choose for the only recognized wild horse: the Przewalski horse. However, Przewalski horses did split from Equus Caballus Caballus some time ago, so they present another type of Equine. Przewalski’s have also developed in a certain climate and vegetation, ancient Przewalski remains have not been found in Europe and to complicate matters further, the present day population is derived from only twelve founding animals and some of those founding individuals were not pureblood Przewalski, but crossbreds with domestic horses.

While these facts might come as a shock to some, it actually means that we have the unique opportunity to widen our horizon and see things from a fresh perspective. The question that is raised in the title can be answered as follows; wild horses never left and they never died out in Europe. They changed according to circumstances… we just have to know where to look.

European wild horses; wild is defined by wilderness.

The question then becomes; what constitutes a European wild horse? In my opinion some important criteria are:

  • overall hardiness,
  • fit for purpose,
  • adapted to local circumstances,
  • has been living feral or in the wild for at least quite some time
  • shows some uniformity in conformation,
  • does not show clear domestication marks and
  • the horses are seen by the public as wild horses.

Unknown to many, a lot of horses in Europe fit those criteria. And in total, all those ecotypes represent a unique diversity of wild and feral horses spanning virtually the whole of Europe.

I hereby present an overview of wild or semi-wild living horse ecotypes in Europe, I will not describe all the characteristics in detail, but suffice to say that all breeds or ecotypes fit the criteria and are ‘fit for purpose:’

  • Asturcon: wild living pony in nature reserves in the northern mountains of Spain. Part of the Northern-Iberia group of wild horses.
  • Bosnian mountain pony: primitive pony type. A completely wild population lives in the wilderness area around Livno and Kupres in the southwest of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  • Cabalo Galego: galician pony that lives in several feral herds in Galicia, in the northwest of Spain. Exactly the same ecotype as the Garrano. Part of the Northern-Iberia group of wild horses.
  • Camargue horse: has been living wild in the marshes of the Rhone delta, southern France, since time immemorial. Supposedly resembles ancient horses.
  • Dartmoor pony: lives in feral herds in Dartmoor nature reserves. Original Exmoor-like ecotype that has been crossbred with Shetland pony
  • Dülmener wild horse: one population that lives in a small reserve in the west of Germany. Original of wild medieval stock. Since the beginning of the 20th century, Exmoor stallions have been bred in and since the nineteen-sixties, Konik stallions have been bred in exclusively. Ecotype therefore equals Konik, but with small differences and more variation.
  • Exmoor pony: population lives wild in Exmoor national park and in other nature reserves in the UK, Benelux and Germany. Described since the 11th century AD as a wild horse. Primitive type.
  • Giara pony: lives in a feral state in the wild areas of Sardinia. Primitive type.
  • Hucul/Hutzul: primitive pony from the Carpathian mountains of Poland, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine and Hungary. Some populations run wild in Hungary and Ukraine.
  • Icelandic pony: hardy pony originating from Iceland. Has successfully been used and partly rewilded in some nature reserves in the Northwest of continental Europe.
  • Karakachan horse: mountain pony from the mountain regions of Bulgaria. Exactly the same ecotype as Serbian mountain pony. Some small and totally wild populations live in Pirin mountains and in the Central Balkan mountains.
  • Konik horse: lives feral in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Latvia, England. A few strong populations live in the Netherlands, in the Oostvaardersplassen, in riverine areas and other nature areas. Bred back Tarpan according to the vision of one man and created using domestic stock. Successfully rewilded or feralized.
  • Letea Forest horse: living wild in the Letea forest in the Danube Delta, Romania. Descriptions about the wild horses exist since a few centuries.
  • Losiño: small population rescued from the brink of extinction. Small feral living populations in the mountains of northern Spain and further south in Castillia y Leon province. Part of the Northern-Iberia group of wild horses.
  • Garrano: lives wild in the Peneda Geres national park in northern Portugal. Lives in a feral state in other nature reserves in Portugal. Part of the Northern-Iberia group of wild horses.
  • Monterufoli pony: lives feral in a nature reserve in the Pisa Province of Italy. Thought to come from wild stock.
  • New Forest pony: lives in feral herds in the area of Hampshire, England. Original Exmoor-like ecotype that has been crossbred with a multitude of horse breeds.
  • Pentro horse: a primitive old breed living feral in the marshes and wetlands of southern Italy. Extremely endangered.
  • Pottoka: lives feral in the Basque mountains, for example in the Pagoeta nature reserve. Purest forms live in northern Spain. There are also feral herds in the Basque region of France. Part of the Northern-Iberia group of wild horses.
  • Retuerta: a genetically and historically isolated small group of horses that live totally wild in the Donaña National Park in southern Spain.
  • Sanfratellano: lives feral in the Nebrodi nature park on the Italian island of Sicily. They actually share some bloodlines with the Camargue horse.
  • Serbian mountain pony: primitive pony from the Republic of Serbia, that is of exactly the same ecotype as the Karakachan horse of adjacent Bulgaria. A small population lives totally wild in the Stara Planina nature park. More will be rewilded in the near future.
  • Sorraia: from Portugal. Bred back Tarpan according to the vision of one man and created using domestic stock, mainly of the Lusitano group of horses. Currently living under domestic conditions.
  • Welsh Pony: a feral population of about 180 animals roams the Carneddau hills of North Wales. Other feral population can be found in the eastern parts of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

The above represents a rather impressive list of horse ecotypes and it is strange to see that the general public knows so little about most of them. It would be a shame if we would lose those valuable horses, because at least some of them truly represent ancient ecotypes and genes. More research is currently being done and still has to be done. Until we know more, we should at least try to protect those breeds.

If a European-wide rewilding scheme ever wants to reach its optimum, then we should take advantage of this enormous wealth of biodiversity and genetic diversity and start using them in those areas where they belong.

And of course… let nature take its course from there.

Dr. Henri Kerkdijk-Otten

(Note that this blog does not necessarily reflect Rewilding Europe’s opinion).

For comments and questions please contact Henri Kerkdijk-Otten.

Week Ending Saturday, November 7th

Monday.  During the afternoon, we gathered-in and corralled the 10 ponies at Shooters Bottom.  These were then trailered up to Lullington Heath to re-join their Herd 2 companions.  The exercise was something of a race as the hours of daylight decrease; luckily the ponies ‘co-operated’ with us, we only having to use headlights to dismantle the corral in the failing light.  Fog or low cloud over the last couple of days has made the lookering of ponies on the high ground of the Ashdown Forest area somewhat tricky.

Wednesday.  The start of several days of wet, dank and often windy weather.  Today saw the 15 ponies of Herd 5 driven from Belle Tout around to Shooters Bottom.  They have done an excellent job on the former site, we having grazed this early in the season so as not to risk compromising the orchid colonies there next year.  We also managed to take up all the electric fencing.

Friday.  While checking the ponies at Shooters Bottom, I noticed that autumn hawkbit, clustered bellflower and common centaury were still in flower.  The temperatures this week have been abnormal with them reaching the upper teens on a daily basis.

Saturday.  The autumn winds of the last two days have ravaged the magnificent autumn tints.  This notable show of colours was due to the trees not being drought-stressed during the summer, few frosts and warm or mild temperatures up to the present time.

River Quality in the UK

November 4th edition of BBC R4’s ‘Costing The Earth.’

Campaigners claim England’s river life is under threat from ‘insidious’ pollution, yet the Environment Agency says rivers are at their healthiest in 20 years. Tom Heap visits the River Itchen, in Hampshire, and the River Thames to discover where the truth might lie. This is an important moment for rivers, the next five year plan for improving them is about to be published. The Government Minister for the Natural Environment, Rory Stewart, tells Tom what his priorities will be.  Well worth listening to!

Presenter: Tom Heap

Producer: Sarah Swadling.

Soil Degradation on Britain’s Farms.

ABSTRACT from an article in the October issue of the BRITISH WILDLIFE magazine:

Environmental manager and livestock farmer Dave Stanley has taken a critical look at Natural England’s recent evidence review of soil, and is worried. He suggests that the report is ‘complacent’ and ‘disingenuous’ as it fails to acknowledge or consider the impacts of inorganic fertilizers and pesticides on soil-loss and says that these are ‘prime factors’ in soil decline.  Furthermore, he underlines the fact that the report contains only ‘very limited reference to soil organic matter loss,’ a serious short-coming when we know that organic-matter loss on cropped land is severe.

He cites the Countryside Survey 2007 figures illustrating carbon losses of 20% in Wales 1978-2007 and 6% in England 1998-2007. Those of us involved in grassland creation on arable land, and others knowledgeable on agricultural soils, also see for ourselves that it is at 0% or near on much arable land in Britain.  This year, for example, I have recommended the importing of municipal green-waste compost to one site to be restored to grassland, just to inject some life into what looked like a biologically dead soil exhausted by repeated arable cropping.

Focusing on research, Dave also concludes that ‘the national resource of soil is pretty close to bottom of the list of the Government’s list of research priorities – if not actually just a token gesture.’ He points out that, as part of their cross-compliance for land in continuous tillage/arable, the Irish government requires that soil be sampled for carbon; remedial action must be taken when the soil organic carbon has dropped below 2%.  However, there are no plans to measure UK arable soil carbon.  Failure to measure and monitor also means that there is no impetus for good soil management nor for remedial measures to be implemented.

New cross-compliance standards for agriculture introduced this year include a requirement to ‘maintain the level of organic matter in soil.’ The very brief guidance, however, refers only to burning of stubble and crop residues on arable land.  Given the global initiative on food security, the government and farming industry need a serious wake-up call.  Dave not alone in believing that the industry, and government, are too focused on increasing output and developing export markets, while failing to take adequate measures to ensure that living soil, the resource on which food production depends, is protected and restored.


The following are some current good and poor examples of soil management that I have noticed recently in travels within my home county of East Sussex:

Good.                                                                                                                                                                    Miles Walton, of Alciston Court Farm, Alciston.  Minimal cultivation techniques, changed drilling (sowing) practices and the incorporation of sewage sludge to reduce inorganic fertilizer use.

Duncan Ellis, of Church Farm, Litlington. Minimal cultivation techniques and computer-aided fertilizer inputs.

Poor.                                                                                                                                                                   Near Berwick Station. Harvesting of maize crop that has not been under-sown, with excessive mud brought on road and the probability of silt being carried into nearby watercourse.