Pony Grazing During February 2016

The frequent occurrence of gales and the odd storm force winds have kept us on our toes this winter with regard to two of the three groups of Exmoor ponies on the coast. These two herds are contained only by electric fencing and the strong winds have put a great deal of strain on these fences.  Due diligence and also being proactive have paid off, with failures being kept to a bare minimum.

Have noticed yet again how hardy and resilient our Exmoor ponies are. I happened to observe a group of the much-vaunted Konik (Konik Polski) ponies grazing on purple moor-grass (Molinia) on another heathland area in SE England.  The overall grazing conditions were very similar to what three groups of our ponies are currently grazing; the body condition between the two was very noticeable.  There could be admittedly other factors at work, but I for one put my money without a hint of doubt on good old British stock!

On a cool but beautifully sunny Thursday (25th), we gathered in Herd 5 which has been carrying out grazing for a month not far from the summit of Beachy Head.  With help from volunteer Laurence and Eastbourne Borough Council’s two estate workers, we very quickly had all 15 ponies gathered and corralled and by early afternoon, all transported off to their next job of work and all the electric fencing taken up.

The only glitch was a failure on my part with the first load, to ‘read’ correctly the clay-with-flint ground conditions at Gayles when the truck, trailer and three ponies forward motion abruptly stopped and sideways motion began! After letting the ponies off and much pondering, I made a sharp sideways turn and went downhill – a rather a nervous moment!

Their new place of work is a return to the National Trust’s recent acquisition of Gayles Farm in the vicinity of the Seven Sisters cliffs. This is a fairly extensive area of chalk grassland where sheep grazing over the past two decades have failed to control the relentless spread of tor grass across these floristically bountiful slopes.  This is likely to be a long-term collaboration with the National Trust.

‘Brexit’ Poses Huge Risk to UK’s Countryside, Experts Warn


EU Referendum: ‘Brexit’ poses huge risk to UK’s countryside, experts warn.

Oliver Wright Political Editor, Tuesday 26 January 2016.

Pulling out of the Europe Union would encourage Westminster politicians to tear up decades of environmental protections, damaging Britain’s countryside for the sake of short term competitive advantage, some of the UK’s most eminent naturalists have warned.

In a letter to the Environment Secretary Liz Truss the academics and conservation experts say that, far from being ‘red tape’, the rules and regulations coming out of Brussels have been “critical” to improving the quality of Britain’s water, air and natural environment.

And they warn that a vote to leave would put in jeopardy international efforts to tackle climate change and pollution, restore fish stocks, and improve biodiversity.

The letter, which has been passed to The Independent, is signed by among others the former heads of Natural England, English Nature, the RSPB and the National Trust. In it they say that Britain’s membership of the European Union has had “hugely positive effect” across a range of environmental issues many of which people now take for granted.

And the group warn that pulling out of the EU could lead to “a very sharp decline” in pan-European protections in areas as diverse as water quality, energy efficiency and habitat and species protection. “Being part of the Union has enabled us to co-ordinate action and agree policies that have improved our quality of life, including the air we breathe, the seas we fish in, and have protected the wildlife which crosses national boundaries,” they write.

“As individuals who have spent much of our working lives seeking to deliver a greener Britain, we know from experience that EU coordination, legislation and policy has been critical to improving the UK’s environmental quality.”

Members of the group argue that many EU environmental directives have only been possible because they apply across all 28 member states – and so no one is put at a competitive disadvantage by not adopting them.

In contrast if the UK were to pull out of the EU the Government would be under huge pressure from industry to water down environmental protections in areas like energy efficiency to help the UK to become more competitive against our former European partners.

“Never mind what you think of the EU generally, you have to be very careful what you wish for in terms of the impact of Brexit on UK natural habitats and landscapes,” Professor Sir John Lawton former chair of Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution told The Independent.

“UK politics has a tendency to be short term and see the natural environment as an impediment to economic growth, and EU agreements help mitigate this by encouraging us to be more long term in our public policy.”

Professor Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at University College London, voiced concerns that Brexit would lessen the UK’s voice in tackling global environmental concerns. “Individual nations can have limited influence, but working through the EU greatly enhances our potential to tackle transnational issues such as climate change, deforestation and unsustainable wildlife harvesting,” he said.

The authors of the letter point out that higher European manufacturing standards for cars, lights and household appliances have lowered consumer energy costs as well as stimulating business innovation. If the UK were to leave the EU it is very unclear which elements of existing European policy would continue to apply to the UK,” the authors write.

“The rules of engagement are very uncertain and would be subject to lengthy and protracted negotiation”.

While the heads of Government quangos such as the Environment Agency and Natural England are not allowed to speak out in favour of Britain’s membership the fact that their immediate predecessors have signed the letter is significant. It reflects concern that the debate about Britain’s EU membership has so far been dominated by migration and the economy and not other areas of policy which they claim are equally important.

“It’s vital to recognise that virtually the entire legal protection for our environment here in Britain derives from European safeguards,” said Lord Smith, the former chair, Environment Agency.”It’s vital from European safeguards.  Our air, water and land are kept clean by European laws.  And rightly so, because pollution knows no national boundaries.  We ignore these protections at our peril.”

Full list of signatories:

Professor Bill Adams, professor of conservation and development, University of Cambridge

Professor Andrew Balmford, professor of conservation science, University of Cambridge

Dr Andy Brown, former chief executive, English Nature

Mr. Poul Christiensen CBE, former chair, Natural England

Professor Paul Ekins OBE, professor of resources and environmental policy, University College London

Mr Nigel Haigh OBE, former chair of Green Alliance and former director, the Institute for European Environmental Policy

Sir John Harman, former chair, Environment Agency, and founding director, Aldersgate Group

Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, former chair of the Royal Commission on Environment and Pollution, former chief executive, Natural Environment Research Council

Mr. Adrian Phillips, former chief executive, Countryside Commission, former Chair, IUCN Word Commission on Protected Areas

Dr Helen Phillips, former chief executive, Natural England

Dame Fiona Reynolds, chair Green Alliance, former director general, National Trust,

Lord Chris Smith, former chair, Environment Agency

Sir Graham Wynne, deputy chair, Green Alliance, former chief executive, RSPB

Baroness Young of Old Scone, former chief executive, Environment Agency and the RSPB

TB Outbreaks in Dorset Cull Zone Possibly Increased After Badger Cull


‘Stop the Cull’ finds number of herds with TB outbreak, in Dorset cull zone and at its edge, increased after badger killing began.

Steven Morris, Friday 19 February 2016.

The government’s controversial badger cull has led to a rise in the number of cases of tuberculosis found in cattle in one of the programme’s key geographical areas, say animal rights activists.

Rather than the number of cases of bovine TB falling among herds in and on the edge of the badger killing area in Dorset, they have been increasing, it was claimed. The campaign group Stop the Cull suggests this was due to “perturbation”, referring to the way culling may disrupt badger social groups, leading probably to more widespread roaming (including migration into cull areas), and consequently the disease spreading.

The claims came as the government announced that Natural England had received 29 applications or expressions of interest from farmers’ groups wanting a badger cull in their area. Natural England said the various areas ranged from a total of 52 sq miles to up to 252 sq miles. The areas were in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Cheshire. There has been no decision on the number of cull areas for 2016.

Stop the Cull, which has championed direct action against the government’s programme, has analysed official figures recording outbreaks of bovine TB in Dorset, where culling began in the autumn.

The precise location of the cull zones are not released because of security concerns, but the group believes its activists have accurately mapped the boundaries. Within those boundaries 14 herds are currently infected with bovine TB and the “breakdowns” or outbreaks began before the cull started. But 18 herds became infected after the start of the cull.

Around the edge of what Stop the Cull says is the zone, there are three continuing “breakdowns” that began before the cull – but eight that started afterwards.

Jay Tiernan, spokesperson for Stop the Cull, said: “Farmers were repeatedly warned by scientists that killing badgers could make the situation far worse for them. They ignored that advice and are now reaping what they have sown.”

Defra said it did not have the official analysis of the cull on bovine TB levels in Dorset but claimed investigation of the first culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire showed that perturbation had not occurred in these counties.

A Defra spokesperson said: “Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB through tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control, is delivering results and we are on track to deliver TB freedom to more than half of the country by the end of this parliament. TB poses a huge threat to our farming industry and has cost £500m over the last decade. However badger control in the south west has been successful and we are enabling it to take place over a wider number of areas.”

The government insists that the risk of perturbation has been reduced through the use of natural geographic barriers or introduction of measures such as fencing.

Chris Cheeseman, a badger ecologist and expert on bovine TB, warned that both sides – the anti-cull lobby and the government – cherry-picked figures to suit their case. But he added: “It is entirely possible that the apparent increase in herd breakdowns both inside the Dorset badger cull zone, particularly around the edge of the area, is due to the disruptive phenomenon of perturbation. This is where the disruption caused by culling to the badger population actually exacerbates the spread of TB among both badgers and cattle.”

Cheeseman argued that it would be impossible to determine the impact of badger culling on its own because there were many other factors, such as improvements in farm biosecurity, which could have an impact on cattle TB rates.


Landfill Dumps Across UK at Risk From Flooding


Landfill dumps across UK ‘at risk of leaking hazardous chemicals’

Tom Bawden, Environment Editor, Sunday 21 February 2016.

Thousands of landfill dumps around the UK are at risk of being compromised by flooding and coastal erosion, sparking fears that dangerous substances could spill into rivers, streets and beaches, academics warn. The UK faces a “toxic time bomb” after an analysis of its ageing dumps revealed that 2,946 are located in flood plains, experts say.

Furthermore, 1,655 of these “historical” landfill sites contain dangerous materials such as hazardous chemicals and asbestos, according to calculations for The Independent by Dr Daren Gooddy of the British Geological Society (BGS).

Dr Gooddy is especially concerned about these sites because they are in areas with a high flood risk, and they are very unlikely to have a protective lining because they predate tough EU waste regulations introduced in the 1990s. These significantly strengthened requirements to insulate landfill waste from the surroundings and protect it from severe weather.

“The research is alarming,” said Friends of the Earth Campaigner Guy Shrubsole. “Britain’s leaky landfills could turn out to be a toxic timebomb – and it’s clear that some are already leaching waste and chemicals into our watercourses.”

Details about the contents of the UK’s 21,027 historic landfills, which date from about 1890 to 1990, are sketchy, making it hard to assess their individual vulnerability to flooding and coastal erosion. But with nearly 3,000 of them located in flood plains – and a further 1,264 in low-lying coastal areas, often by the sea – many waste sites risk being flooded from heavy rain, storm surges and coastal erosion.

Many of these landfill sites are protected by flood defences and will be able to withstand extreme weather. However, experts are concerned that many others may not be adequately protected and point out that heavy flooding in recent years demonstrates that even robust defences can be overcome by heavy rain.

“There are major gaps in our knowledge about historical landfills and huge uncertainty about the scale of contamination they have caused in water and on land,” said Dr Gooddy, principal hydrogeochemist at BGS. “While it’s hard to say for sure, I would suggest that many of these legacy sites are vulnerable to flooding.”

Furthermore, historic landfill sites across the country pose a risk to their surroundings even if they don’t flood because they can still discharge waste that eventually washes into the waterways.

“Even when flooding does not occur these sites leach out contaminated waste, which generally gets transported towards the nearest river,” said Dr Gooddy. His estimates relate to England and Wales but there are also numerous historical landfills in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland which are thought to pose similar risks.

Last year, waves washed away the clay walls of a disused landfill north of Bray, near Dublin, giving an indication of the risks at other sites. Environmental group Coastwatch revealed that about 200 metres of the tip has been exposed, with asbestos, rusted metal, heavy plastics, bricks and bags seen at the foot of the eroded cliffs. Waste has also been reported hanging out of the side of the riverbank near the village of East Tilbury in Essex as a result of erosion.

With climate change set to increase heavy rain, storms and storm surges, these historical sites will become increasingly vulnerable – putting marine wildlife at risk, scattering rubbish over river banks and beaches and posing a risk to people, especially children, coming into contact with the waste.

“The work we’ve done in the South-east suggests that there has already been widespread pollution from historic landfills,” said Dr Kate Spencer, of Queen Mary University of London. “And at one site we actually found a blue poison bottle from a pharmacist that had a skull and crossbones on it, with a stopper and liquid inside.”

She added: “These sites date back to a time when there were no protective linings, no regulation about what went in and little in the way of records about the contents. Many are on coastlines highly vulnerable to coastal erosion, storm surges and flooding and the big concern is that they will become even more vulnerable as climate change makes storms more frequent and intense.”

Dr Spencer and her PhD student James Brand are working with the Environment Agency to create a “vulnerability” index ranking to identify those sites posing the greatest danger – based on the risk of flooding and the contents of the dump.

Francis O’Shea of University College London, who researched the state of Britain’s historical landfill sites for his PhD at Queen Mary, said: “I was surprised how many historic landfill sites are lying in areas at risk from flooding or coastal erosion. With little information about their current state and what could be released if they flooded this is an area of considerable concern that needs to be investigated.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We are supporting a research project by Queen Mary University of London to assess the potential impacts of flooding and coastal erosion on historic landfill sites close to the coast. We hope the research findings may provide a useful contribution to future shoreline management plans.”

Decline of Pollinators – Major Threat to World Food Production


Decline of bees poses potential risks to major crops, says UN

Friday 26 February 2016.

Populations of bees, butterflies and other species important for agricultural pollination are declining, posing potential risks to major world crops, a UN body on biodiversity said Friday.

“Many wild bees and butterflies have been declining in abundance, occurrence and diversity at local and regional scales in Northwest Europe and North America,” said an assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

It said declines had also been detected elsewhere in the world and that possible causes include habitat loss, pesticides, pollution, invasive species, pathogens and climate change. The report by the IPBES, which was established under UN auspices in 2012 to assess the state of ecosystems and biodiversity, stopped short of declaring a full-scale threat to food supplies.  But it stressed the importance of protecting pollinators to ensure stable fruit and vegetable output, amid concern over the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population in coming decades.

It said animal pollination is directly responsible for between 5-8% of global agricultural production by volume, amounting to between $235bn (£167bn) and $577bn worth of annual output. In addition, more than three-quarters of the “leading types of global food crops” rely to some extent on animal pollination for yield and quality.

“Pollinator-dependent species encompass many fruit, vegetable, seed, nut and oil crops, which supply major proportions of micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the human diet,” the IPBES said. Pollination is the transfer of pollen between the male and female parts of flowers to enable reproduction.

The assessment is the work of nearly 80 scientists from around the world and was released at an IPBES meeting in Kuala Lumpur. It is the first report by the four-year-old group, which is considered the biodiversity equivalent of the UN-organised Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In Europe, 9% of bee and butterfly species are threatened with extinction and populations are declining for 37% of bee species and 31% of butterfly species for which sufficient data is available, the IPBES said. In some places in Europe more than 40% of bee species may be threatened, it added.

A “data gap” frustrates analysis of the situation in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, but the same drivers are suspected to be at work in those regions, it said. Data is more solid for non-insect pollinators such as bats and birds, however, with the IPBES saying 16% of such species worldwide are threatened with extinction.

Some of the most important world food staples such as rice, wheat and other grains do not rely on animal pollination. But vulnerable crops could include apples, mangoes, chocolate and many other commonly consumed foods, said Simon Potts, co-chair of the assessment.

“Pretty much nearly all your fruits and many of your vegetables are pollination-dependent,” said Potts, deputy director of the Centre for Agri-Environmental Research at Britain’s Reading University.

Possible policy options include better protection of natural environments and ecosystems, limiting the scope of intensive agriculture, and finding alternatives to pesticides, the IPBES said. Greater attention to controlling pathogens among species and better regulation of managed populations of bees and other pollinators could also help, it added.

IPBES members stressed that the group does not make specific recommendations, but provides information for policy-makers. The assessment said pollinator declines could lead to lower crop yields, raising prices for consumers and reducing agricultural profits.

Limited Role for Natural Gas for Power Generation


‘Limited role’ for natural gas in UK future energy mix

By Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent. 23 February 2016

The use of natural gas for electricity generation in the UK may have to decline significantly over the next 30 years, according to a new study. Without carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, gas-fired electricity would have to fall to 10% of the mix to meet emissions targets for 2050.  The new study also warns that current government policies will deter investment in gas. The report has been published by the UK Energy Research Centre.

Blue bridge.

Last November the government signalled that the UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations would be phased out by 2025. Energy Secretary Amber Rudd said those closures would only go ahead if nuclear and gas-fuelled generation could fill the gap, and act as a bridge to a decarbonised future.  The authors calculate that without carbon capture and storage technology, unabated gas could only make up 10% of the electricity mix in 2050, if the government wanted to meet current legal obligations to restrict carbon.  Legislation on the statute books in the UK requires an 80% cut in CO2 emissions below the 1990 level by the middle of this century.

“There is limited scope for gas to act as a bridge (to a decarbonised future),” said Prof Jim Watson from the UK Energy Research Centre. If we stick to carbon targets and have CCS, you’ve got a significant amount of gas being burned in the energy system, perhaps half the current levels by 2050.  But if we stick to carbon targets and don’t have CCS you are down to the 10% level compared to current gas demand by 2050.”

However, UK research on CCS was dealt a severe blow following the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, when the government confirmed it was scrapping a £1bn carbon capture and storage competition on the grounds of cost. According to the authors of this new report, the cancelling of the UK CCS competition will make it “risky” as to whether the technology will be available when needed.

“If you look around the world at where CCS is at, my view would be there isn’t enough going on to guarantee you’ll have that available,” said Prof Mike Bradshaw from the Warwick Business School. “The UK was one of the few countries that was actually serious about this – a charitable interpretation of the government’s decision was that they were just hoping that someone else will bring the cost down and we’ll buy it in when we need it, but that is quite a risky decision to make.”

Energy dilemma

The scenario outlined by the report highlights the scale of the challenge of trying to reduce emissions while keeping the lights on. While the government is keen on natural gas as an alternative to coal, investors have yet to be convinced that gas-fired stations are a good long-term investment.   To ease their fears the government has developed a “capacity market”, where generators are paid for future supplies of energy that they can provide at short notice to ensure continuity of supply as renewables provide more of the energy mix.  According to the new report, the current capacity market mechanism is simply not attractive enough for investors to build new gas-generating capabilities. The authors argue that any new gas plants built to replace coal without CCS will only operate intermittently, meaning a poor return on investment.

“Even if you want more gas to replace coal in the power sector, the policy framework clearly isn’t working,” said Prof Watson.  “The capacity market isn’t doing what it needs to do, and I suspect they will have to put in place much stronger economic incentives for new gas developers.”

The authors say that using gas for electricity is a question that needs to be answered over the next 10 years. Beyond that they say reducing the role of gas in domestic heating and industry will be the “critical” challenge on the way to meeting the 2050 targets.

Effects of Ocean Warming Underestimated by Half


Effects of Ocean Warming Underestimated by Half    [ABSTRACT]

Written by Laura Cole.  Published in Oceans.

02 Feb 2016.

Imagine for a moment that the Earth had no melting ice caps. Even in that bizarre scenario, global sea levels would be rising anyway. This is because warmer temperatures cause water to expand – like mercury in a thermometer – resulting in higher sea levels. A team of scientists at the University of Bonn are arguing that this expansion effect has contributed up to twice as much to the global sea level rise than had been reported over the past 12 years.

‘To date, we have underestimated how much the heat-related expansion of the water mass in the oceans contributes to a global rise in sea level,’ says Dr. Jürgen Kusche, co-author of the paper and Professor of Astronomical, Physical and Mathematical Geodesy at the University of Bonn. For the past 12 years it was thought that heat-related expansion contributed to a 0.7 to 1.0 millimetre rise in global sea levels every year. However, the new findings suggest it could be as much as 1.4mm per year. Now thought to be twice as large as the effect of melting ice from Greenland, it has become the leading factor in sea level rise.

Though 1.4 millimetres per year sounds like a small increase, every millimetre of water can add extra energy to storm surges. With all the warmer temperatures, these storms may become more frequent. Also, with time, millimetres add up. ‘No country will raise its levees because of a couple of millimetres,’ says Dr. Roelof Rietbroek, co-author of the paper and researcher at the University of Bonn, ‘however, these small amounts add up to several centimetres within decades. Under such conditions, the likelihood of a destructive storm surge could increase dramatically.’

To make matters worse, expanding water does not have a uniform effect across sea levels, leaving some coasts more at risk than others. In this sense, the single, average figure for global sea rise can be misleading: sea levels are actually rising at different rates in different regions. ‘When heat, wind and melting ice impact the sea regionally, the ocean is simply not quick enough to compensate,’ says Rietbroek. ‘This prohibits it from spreading the water equally.’ The Philippines experiences the highest annual sea level rise at 14.7 millimetres per year – five times the global rate. According to Rietbroek, most of that is due to heat expansion, along with other factors such as El Nino cycles.