Last Week of March

Last Week of March.

I haven’t seen the large flocks of fieldfares and redwings which have often frequented areas of woodland in the Ashdown area that I drive past regularly; presumably they have departed on their journey to their summer breeding areas. Have become aware recently of bullfinches in a couple of areas; have their numbers increased or have I just been fortunate?  A sighting of 13 firecrests was reported as being seen within just a ¼mile, near Cuckmere Haven on Sunday.

Good Friday. Helped by a number of volunteers, we gathered in the ponies from off their winter grazing area on Ditchling Common Country Park.  The whole operation went well with the task being completed by early afternoon.  Whilst ferrying the ponies over to Chailey Common, I noticed two brimstone butterflies on the wing.

The Force 10 storm (‘Katie’) which struck late Saturday evening/early Sunday caused widespread but limited damage. Gusts were reported of 106mph at The Needles and 81mph at Shoreham.  Driving between pony herds on Sunday afternoon I noticed a number of trees down with one having brought down power cables at North Chailey.  A lot of small woody debris and leaves laying along the roadsides generally.  The level of the Ouse at Sheffield Park bridge was quite high after the heavy rainfall during the night.  None of the three lots of electric fencing currently in use with our ponies were badly damaged but did require a little attention on the exposed sections up on the Downs.

A continual procession of storm clouds observed offshore in the afternoon moving up the Channel with some impressive mountainous peaks below which, squally shadows of rain could be seen falling.

What Brexit Really Means for the UK’s Fishing Industry?

What would Brexit really mean for the UK’s fishing industry?

March 24, 2016.


Bryce Stewart, Lecturer in Marine Ecosystem Management, University of York.

Griffin Carpenter, Visiting Lecturer in Environmental Economics, Oxford Brookes University.

Disclosure statement – Bryce Stewart is involved in The UK in a Changing Europe Initiative funded by the ESRC, though this article does not reflect the view of the research councils.

Griffin Carpenter works for the New Economics Foundation.


Fish is as tasty and popular as ever, but no one seems to like the policies that regulate the industry behind it. For decades, European management of fisheries has been lambasted by fishers, conservationists and scientists, including us.

The centrepiece of this system, the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, is particularly unpopular. Some scientists even argue it is designed to fail. Opponents blame it for not only mismanaging Europe’s highly productive seas, but also for giving away “our fish”, with the subject recently taking centre stage in an unlikely viral Brexit campaign video.

You might think that the chance to take back control of the fish in UK seas would be one of the most solid reasons to vote “Out” in June’s referendum on EU membership. So what’s the catch?

First, the idea that fish in British waters have been fished into near-extinction by pesky foreign boats simply doesn’t match up with reality. At least not anymore.

Yes, fish numbers aren’t what they were in the time of Moby Dick. However, a recent analysis of 118 years of statistics revealed the vast majority of the decline occurred prior to the Common Fisheries Policy’s implementation in 1983. In fact, the policy is now overall helping, not harming, the country’s fisheries.

Since EU policy was reformed in 2002, the health of many fish stocks has improved. By 2011 the majority of assessed fisheries were considered to be sustainably fished. Take the case of North Sea cod: once the “poster child” for overfishing and all that was wrong with European policy, it is now recovering strongly and likely to be certified as sustainable next year.

The EU is now phasing out the discarding of unwanted fish and setting quotas more in line with scientific advice. The aim is to ensure maximum sustainable yield of all stocks by 2020.

Who actually owns “our” fish?

Ownership of UK fishing quotas is controversial and often misunderstood. After total EU fishing limits are decided by the Council of fisheries ministers, it is up to each member state to distribute its share among its own fleet.

This is not an EU decision. The fact that a single giant Dutch-owned vessel nets a quarter of the English quota (6% of the UK total) might be shocking, especially considering the UK’s quota is in theory shared between more than 6,000 vessels, but the UK government could easily change how it allocates fish. In fact, the alternative allocation systems suggested by some pro-Brexit groups are already in place elsewhere in Europe.

Your plaice or mine?


Britain has to share with its neighbours. Inwind / wiki

Another common argument for Brexit is that it would give the UK sole control of the fish in its waters. However, these fish are not “British”; they don’t respect national boundaries. Mackerel, herring, cod and other commercial species are all highly mobile, and move easily across borders, especially in places such as the North, Celtic and Irish Seas, where “exclusive economic zones” are jammed together like sardines in a can.

So unlike more isolated countries such as Iceland and Norway, the UK was always going to have to share its fish with its neighbours, especially as we moved into an era of global maritime regulation.

Fencing out foreign fishermen.

A post-Brexit UK might still have to agree quotas with its neighbours, but could it prevent foreign boats from fishing in its waters? Maybe. But only with huge investment in monitoring and control public bodies such as the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) – organisations which are being cut at present.

Whether the UK would want this sort of escalation is a different question, as it would also mean British boats could no longer fish in the waters of other European nations. This is a major concern in the fishing industry as 20% of the fish caught by the UK fleet is landed elsewhere in the EU.

The reality is that a Brexit would require a complete re-negotiation of fishing rights, with uncertain outcomes. Some of these rights extend back to the Middle Ages and banning foreign vessels from UK waters may well be incompatible with international law.

Such negotiations may harm trading relationships with Europe. At present the UK exports around 80% of its wild-caught seafood, with four of the top five destinations being European countries.

Remaining in the EU also has big benefits for the marine ecosystems that the fishing industry ultimately relies on. The Habitats Directive protects key habitats and species such as reefs and Atlantic salmon, while the Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive commit EU members to restore and protect the environment. It seems unlikely that the UK’s current Conservative government, at least, would continue similarly progressive measures after a Brexit.

It’s no surprise the “In” campaign is gaining support from a range of environmental groups – the weight of evidence is on their side. In contrast, many fishermen have strong feelings about the EU, but the main industry organisations and decision makers are remaining neutral.

We’ve come a long way since the bad old days of excessive quotas and widespread illegal fishing. As things become more sustainable, fish numbers are rebounding, leading to increasing UK fishing quotas and growing profits (now the highest in the EU).

The history of the EU’s fishing policy is one of criticism and improvement. It is therefore unclear why the UK would want to abandon ship at this point.

Eat Less Meat to Avoid Dangerous Global Warming

Eat less meat to avoid dangerous global warming, scientists say.

Fiona Harvey, Monday 21 March 2016.

Growing food for the world’s burgeoning population is likely to send greenhouse gas emissions over the threshold of safety, unless more is done to cut meat consumption, a new report has found. A widespread switch to vegetarianism would cut emissions by nearly two-thirds, it said.

In three decades, emissions related to agriculture and food production are likely to account for about half of the world’s available “carbon budget” – the limited amount of carbon dioxide and its equivalents that can be poured into the atmosphere if we are to hold global warming to no more than 2C.

While energy generation, transport and buildings have long been a target for governments, businesses and campaigners looking to reduce emissions, the impact from food production has often been left out. But on current trends, with intensive agriculture increasingly geared towards livestock rearing, food production will be a major concern.

The research, led by scientists at the Oxford Martin School, found that shifting to a mostly vegetarian diet, or even simply cutting down meat consumption to within accepted health guidelines, would make a large dent in greenhouse gases.

Adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050, the study found, while widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring down emissions by 63%. The additional benefit of going further, with the widespread adoption of veganism, brought a smaller incremental benefit, with emissions falling by about 70% in the projections.

Such steps would also save lives, argued Dr Marco Springmann, lead author of the study, entitled Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change co-benefits of dietary change, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday.

“Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions,” he said. “At the same time, the food system is responsible [currently] for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.”

More than 5m premature deaths could be avoided globally by 2050 if health guidelines on meat consumption were followed, rising to more than 7m with a vegetarian diet and 8m on veganism. These steps, if widely followed, could also reduce global healthcare costs by $1bn a year by mid-century.

Intensive livestock-rearing is a major cause of greenhouse gases, in part because of the methane produced by the animals and the massive slurry pits that accompany large farms. It also diverts water and grains to animal-rearing, which is less efficient than directing the grains towards direct human consumption.

Non-intensive rearing of livestock, such as raising animals on marginal land, could be “an interesting proposal” that would allow meat-eating at lower levels with less environmental harm, said Springmann. “That is one of the discussions that could spring up as a result of our research.”

Individuals were often confused by health messaging, food labelling and the availability of foodstuffs, he added, meaning that many people do not realise the harm that over-consumption of meat may be doing them. As populations around the world have grown more prosperous, with the rise of middle class societies in areas that have emerged from poverty, people have tended to switch their diets to include more meat as they have grown richer.

Governments agreed at a landmark climate conference in Paris in December to hold global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration of an even lower target, of 1.5C. However, the exact measures that will be required to meet the global goal, and nationally set emissions targets, have yet to be fully worked out.

Linking health and climate change in challenging our eating habits could have more effect than focusing on each of these issues alone, said Springmann. “By combining the two benefits, you have a more powerful impact. I think this will make more of an impression,” he said.

“We do not expect everybody to become vegan. But the climate change impacts of the food system will require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large stop in the right direction. The size of the projected benefits should encourage individuals, industry and policymakers to act decisively to make sure that what we eat preserves our environment and health,” he said.


Climate Change Brings Early Grape Harvests for French Wine

21 March 2016 16:07

Climate change brings early grape harvests for French wine.

By Robert McSweeney, 21.03.2016.

Increasingly hot summers are pushing wine grapes in French vineyards to mature earlier in the year, a new study says. As early harvests tend to bring high quality wines, vineyards in France could see some good years in the near future. But it doesn’t bode well for the longer term, the researchers say.

France is synonymous with wine. From the sparkling whites of the Champagne region to the deep reds of Burgundy, French wines are some of the most recognisable in the world. French vineyards are also prolific. In 2013, for example, France produced over five and a half billion bottles of wine, more than any other country.

The study, published in Nature Climate Change, finds that something strange is happening to the harvests of wine grapes across French vineyards – they’re getting earlier.

Using data all the way back to the year 1600, the researchers find that harvests have shifted forward by days or even weeks over the last few decades.

You can see this in the infographic below. Grapes grown in Bordeaux vineyards (green shading) in southwestern France, for example, are ready for harvesting an average of nine days earlier during 1981-2007 than they were for the four hundred years before that. A little further north, grapes in the Loire valley (yellow shading) are being collected almost 11 days earlier.

The biggest change the researchers identify is actually just across the border in Switzerland, where vineyards around Lake Geneva are now harvesting 23 days earlier.

Having analysed data on temperature, rainfall and soil moisture for the region, the researchers suggest this shift to earlier harvests is being driven by rising temperatures as a result of climate change. The best quality French and Swiss wines tend to come in years with high temperatures and early harvests, the researchers say.

In the short term, hotter summers may bring some very good years for these wines, says co-author Dr Elizabeth Wolkovich, assistant professor in organismic and evolutionary biology at the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University: “So far, a good year is a hot year.”

However, this doesn’t mean that increasing temperatures will be good for the wine industry in the long run, the researchers note. For example, the European summer heatwave in 2003 set a new record for an early harvest, with grapes maturing an entire month earlier than average. But the heat stress on vineyards saw European wine production drop to a 10-year low. Nor were the wines that year of a particularly high quality, the researchers add.

Wine grapes tend to be quite fussy about the climate in which they can be grown. Further warming could see some regions become unsuitable for the grape varieties they’re renowned for, says Wolkovich:

“If we keep pushing the heat up, vineyards can’t maintain that forever.”

For example, a study from 2011 found that climate change could make much of the Burgundy region unsuitable for growing pinot noir, while other research suggests Bordeaux could become too warm for its merlot grapes.

It’s not just that harvests are shifting earlier, the researchers say. The relationship between the weather and how grapes grow has been “fundamentally altered.” Usually, a dry end to the summer allows temperatures to climb high enough for grapes to mature. A rainy period can delay the harvest by taking the edge off the heat. But in recent decades, the temperatures are climbing so high that grapes mature even if conditions are wet, the new study finds.

This means the link between dry conditions and the grape harvest has “decoupled,” says lead author Dr Benjamin Cook, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Thanks to global warming, drought is no longer a prerequisite for early harvests.”

As temperatures are expected to rise further in the coming decades, understanding how the relationship between climate and grapes is changing may prove critical for wine producers in France and Switzerland, Cook says.

Ancient Shipwrecks Hold Hidden Message About Climate Change

These ancient shipwrecks hold a hidden message about climate change.

By Chris Mooney, March 7 2016.

Inventive new research has found a surprising way of investigating the relationship between hurricanes and climate change — by examining the history of Spanish shipwrecks in the Caribbean Sea during a planetary cool period in the late 17th and 18th century.

The result, based on comparisons between tree rings from the Florida Keys and a historical record of shipwrecks, finds that there were far fewer hurricanes, or tropical cyclones, from 1645 through 1715, when the planet went through what is called the “Maunder Minimum.” This was an era in which very low sunspot activity correlated with relatively cooler temperatures here on the Earth (the Maunder Minimum was part of a cooler period known to climate history as the “Little Ice Age”).

“We see a severe reduction in the hurricane activity that overlaps perfectly with the Maunder Minimum,” said Valerie Trouet, a researcher with the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, who conducted the work with colleagues from the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The study appeared Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The result does not lead to any forecast when it comes to the hurricanes of the future, but at the same time, it’s certainly suggestive. After all, hurricanes derive their energy from the heat stored in tropical oceans. If seas are cooler — as they were between 1645 and 1715, when the Earth received less radiation from the sun — then there’s less explosive energy for storms to draw upon. If they’re warmer, as they are today, then all else being equal, there’s more opportunity for extreme storm intensification.

To study shipwrecks, the new research drew upon historical records of no less than 657 wrecks of Spanish ships in the Caribbean between 1495 and 1825 — a period that started just after Columbus’s first expedition to the new world. All of the storms that were inferred to have wrecked these ships occurred prior to the earliest year in today’s official Atlantic hurricane database, which is kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and begins in 1851.

The study weeded out historical shipwrecks attributed to other causes, like fire or human conflicts, but kept wrecks whose cause was not known. “It is know that storms were the main cause of the wrecking of ships, at least in the earlier part of the record,” says Trouet.

But to strengthen the analysis, the researchers also cross-referenced the shipwreck history with data from the rings of pine trees growing in the Florida Keys, which can also provide a record of hurricane history.

In general, strong winds and surging seas, characteristic of hurricanes, stunt the growth of these pine trees, and this in turn shows up in the growth rings inside their trunks. And the research found that the tree ring record, and the record of shipwrecks in the area, showed a “high synchronicity between years of damage at sea (shipwrecks) and on land (pines).”

Therefore, overall, the researchers conclude that the Maunder Minimum, and associated climatic developments like cooler ocean temperatures, provided a “drastically unfavorable environment” for hurricanes in the Caribbean. Storm activity was reduced by 75 percent during the period, the study suggested.

This wasn’t only because of cooler sea temperatures, the study notes — in general, during the Maunder Minimum, there was also a prevalence of El Nino type conditions, which are known to suppress hurricane activity in the Atlantic basin in particular (though they can enhance it elsewhere). That, too, might have contributed to the lows in shipwrecks and, by inference, hurricanes during the Maunder Minimum.

The study is historical in nature, and so does not provide any forecast of future hurricane activity, or any conclusion about how hurricanes may change going forward. However, as Trouet notes, “we know that there’s a very strong link between sea surface temperatures and tropical cyclone activity.” The new research clearly reinforces this — and with it, one of the key theoretical underpinnings behind the idea that storms should worsen, on average, in a warmer climate.

In fairness, many other factors affect hurricanes, ranging from temperatures at the top of the atmosphere to outbursts of dust from the coast of Africa. So it’s a complicated picture. But nonetheless, learning that hurricanes seem to have gone relatively quiet at a time of low solar activity and planetary cooling certainly adds to concern that in the era we’re heading into now, they could do the opposite.





Decision to End Funding of Local Environmental Record Centres Attacked

 Decision to end funding of local environmental record centres attacked.

Adam Vaughan, Sunday 6 March 2016.

Conservationists have criticised the decision to withdraw funding from a network of tens of thousands of local wildlife volunteers who collect data on the health of a variety of species and act as the “eyes and ears” of the government’s nature watchdog.

Local environmental record centres (Lercs), which collect and collate records of everything from great crested newts to bats and are used to inform planning decisions on legally protected species, have been told that a four-year deal to collect data is to end just one year in.

Last year, Natural England began funding almost 40 Lercs, which employ 128 staff across the UK, 500 volunteers in offices and an estimated tens of thousands more who record insects, plants and habitats in their spare time.

Stephen Trotter, the director of the Wildlife Trusts, England, condemned the decision to end the contract early, saying: “Lercs are the basis for much of our knowledge about what’s happening in the natural world and, in a time of climate change and widespread declines of wildlife, now is not the time to be pulling the rug from under them.

“The government has said it wants open data – and so do we. But Natural England needs to value the role and function of these small organisations if it’s going to achieve this. In my view, it is playing a short-term game in which society and the government could live to regret the long-term consequences if the network is allowed to collapse like a set of dominoes.”

Graham Walley, chairman of the National Forum for Biological Recording, many of whose members submit records to the centres, said they were important local services and the funding cut could be a “matter of life or death for some”.

Describing the Lercs as the watchdog’s “eyes and ears”, he added: “I think Natural England are in danger of becoming more isolated by not doing this routine funding of local record centres.”

Natural England said the move had been taken because the data – which is supplied with a licence on how it can be used – did not meet its commitment to an open data agenda.

But Tom Hunt, the national coordinator for the centres, which have had a formal relationship with Natural England for 15 years, said he could not understand the decision as he had had no contact with the watchdog since the current deal was agreed a year ago.

“Despite being the main contact between Natural England and Lercs, I am actually at a loss to understand how this decision has come about … To end this relationship without any consultation and without any clear reasoning or strategy for doing so is baffling,” he said.

The Natural England officer who emailed the Lercs the decision to end the contract conceded that the watchdog appreciated the “impact this news will have on you and your centres”.

Only three of 25 of the centres that responded to an internal poll on the changes said the decision posed an existential threat. But many are run on a shoestring with staff working long hours and volunteers contributing time out of goodwill. A 2010 report by Natural England cautioned that the centres “need a certain level of funding to retain a critical mass”. In 2014-15, Natural England paid the Lercs a total of £205,000; that funding will not be renewed after the end of March.

The agency, an arm of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, could not say what new source of data would replace that provided by the Lercs, though it does have other sources including the national biodiversity network and records from NGOs.

Some centres warned that the loss of the data from April would put at risk the government regulator’s ability to meets its statutory obligations to protect wildlife and habitats under UK and EU laws. The association of local environment record centres (Alerc) said it supported open data but some of its members had concerns over how the data they provided was used.

A Natural England spokeswoman said the watchdog was “focused on making data – whether that’s information on a protected species, or data on the rural economy – as open and easily accessible to the public as possible.

“We’re currently looking at ways we can better target our spending and resources, which is why we’re shifting our funding away from local environmental records centres, which provide us with data under a licence, towards investing in a more centralised system of data that will enable records and information to be as transparent and accessible as possible.”

Alerc has written to the head of Natural England and the environment secretary, Liz Truss, to protest against the ending of the funding and what it says was only two months’ notice when the partnership required three months’ notice.


Adverse Hold of Power of NFU Over UK Governments

Part of an article concerning the continuing adverse hold of power of the National Farmers Union over UK governments and the environment.

George Monbiot, Wednesday 23 March 2016.

“It’s simple,” a civil servant at the government’s environment department, Defra, once told me. “When we want to know what our position should be, we ask the NFU [National Farmers’ Union].”

There are not many organisations in Britain – though this country is infested with lobbyists of every persuasion – with a grip on policy as tight as the National Farmers’ Union. Vast conservation bodies (the National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts have a combined membership of some 6 million) are locked out, while the NFU seems to get everything it wants.

It looks to me like a champion of bad practice. On one issue after another it has demanded that the protections for people, places and wildlife are diluted. And in almost every case it has succeeded.

It insisted that the agricultural wages board, which protected farm labourers against exploitation, should be abolished. The last government gave it what it wanted.

It lobbied for an exemption from the ban on treating flowering crops with neonicotinoid pesticides, that are ripping through our populations of bees and many other animals. Not only did the NFU succeed, last summer, but the government also gagged its own expert advisers, perhaps to prevent us from seeing that they had counselled against the exemption. The government also refused to reveal the basis on which the NFU had lobbied it, claiming, preposterously, that this was “commercially confidential”.

The NFU demanded a badger cull, though a £49m government pilot programme demonstrated that it was not only useless, but counterproductive. It won, and badgers are being killed at the cost of £7,000 an animal.

It insisted that there should be no cap on the amount of money a landowner could receive in farm subsidies – and won.

It campaigned, with the help of successive British governments, against the European Union’s proposed soil framework directive, which sought to minimise soil erosion and compaction, to prevent landslides and to prevent soil from being contaminated with toxic substances. Once more, it won, and for the first time in the European Union’s history, a legislative proposal was abandoned.

In January, just after the Christmas floods had abated, the environment secretary, Liz Truss, announced that she would allow farmers to dredge watercourses crossing their land, without regulation or coordination. This is a perfect formula for catastrophe downstream, as it speeds up the flow of water to the nearest urban pinch-point.

It was as if she had got together with her officials to devise the most perverse possible response to the flooding. In reality, however, it seems that she was simply responding to the NFU’s lobbying. As its president, since 2014, Meurig Raymond, explained, “The NFU has pressed Defra and the Environment Agency to enable farmers to undertake minor works for many years.”

But this is not the only influence the National Farmers’ Union has sought to exert over the state of our rivers: a state that is frankly shocking. Figures from the Environment Agency suggest that just 0.08% of rivers in England are of high ecological quality, while only 17% are judged “good”. One of the principal reasons is diffuse agricultural pollution: the constant seepage of slurry, fertiliser and pesticides from fields and farm buildings.

It’s hardly surprising, as the Environment Agency has more or less stopped enforcing. When I came across a severe case of pollution in a Devon river last year, and reported it to the agency’s pollution hotline, the only action they took was to produce a list of crap excuses for looking the other way. After I wrote about this scandal, I was contacted by one of the agency’s staff, who told me that, as a result of pressure from the government and the massive cuts imposed by Truss, the staff there have been instructed to ignore all reports of grade three and grade four pollution, which accounts for the great majority of water poisoning in this country.

This puts the government in a difficult position, as all rivers in this country – not just 17% – were supposed to have been in good ecological condition by the end of 2015, under the European water framework directive. The government is now in danger of a massive fine, which ultimately will come out of the pockets of taxpayers.

It has now published a consultation on diffuse water pollution. The NFU has made its position clear, objecting to the government’s proposal to “maximise reductions in diffuse pollution and benefits to the wider environment”. Instead, it says, protecting our rivers should be left to “voluntary measures”.

Futuristic Street Lamps Are Solar Powered

Assuming their manufacturing cost comes down, what an absolutely brilliant and obvious idea!

Let there be light!  Futuristic street lamps tap into the oldest energy source: the sun

Jamie Doward, The Observer, Sunday 20 March 2016.


Not far from the House of Commons, a stone’s throw from Westminster bridge, two streetlamps will soon be erected. Paid for by Transport for London, these are no ordinary lights. According to their manufacturer, they could play a major role in tackling Britain’s energy crisis.

The Monopoles, unveiled at a German trade fair last week, convert sunlight to streetlight via photovoltaic (PV) panels. The energy they generate can then be stored in a battery and used during the night to power the lamps.

As a result, the “zero-emission streetlight” eliminates electricity costs. But not only do they generate enough energy to light themselves, they create a surplus which can be sold to the National Grid, potentially making millions of pounds for Britain’s local authorities, for which running streetlights costs an estimated £300m a year. Many councils are now dimming their streetlights or switching them off, raising fears of an increase in accidents and crime.

A survey of 141 of 150 councils found that 50 have switched off all their lamps, while 98 confirmed that they have dimmed at least some.

According to Scotia, the company behind the new technology, the average local authority operates 33,000 street lights, whose energy usage equates to emitting 7,600 tons of carbon dioxide a year. A freedom of information request to Greenwich council in south-east London revealed that in 2010 it spent £925,810 operating 22,000 lights.

There are 7 million streetlights in the UK. Scotia claims that if they were all replaced with lamps equipped with solar technology they would generate more than 4 terrawatt hours of energy a year – half the output of Sizewell B nuclear power station. That would cut the UK’s CO2 output by more than 2m metric tons a year.

“Instead of being a drain on the National Grid and a huge expense for local authorities, Monopoles turn streetlights into mini-power stations,” said Steven Scott, Scotia’s chief designer. “They’ve already proved to be hugely successful in our pilots in Copenhagen, Abu Dhabi and Riyadh and we anticipate demand will be high from around the world. A small Monopole can be erected by just two people, without the need for machinery, in under five minutes.”

Sceptics may point to Britain’s drab weather and ask whether the lamps will be much use in the dark winter months, but Scotia insists that the lamps can function even in the bleakest conditions. The pilot scheme by TfL is part of a wider drive to equip Britain’s infrastructure with energy-producing solar panels. Proponents of the technology believe many sites around the UK are ripe for development.

“With over 17, 000 car parks in the UK, there is a great opportunity for this sector to reap the benefits of solar PV panels, particularly now with falling costs and technical advances that enhance performance outputs,” said Jonny Williams, director of the BRE National Solar Centre.

But some question whether the technology can compete against rival energy sources. The current low oil price is unlikely to stimulate demand for solar energy. And cash-strapped councils and governments may be wary about committing to a fledgling innovation that could be manufactured more cheaply by other companies in the future as economies of scale kick in.

Nevertheless, energy experts believe solar technology has an increasingly significant role to play.   In 2014, the International Energy Agency issued two reports claiming that the sun could be the world’s largest source of electricity by 2050, ahead of fossil fuels, wind, hydro and nuclear.

Energy Watch Group, an independent, non-profit global network of scientists and parliamentarians, suggests that, as the cost of PV panels continues to decline, it will stimulate growth in the number of installations of the technology worldwide. “At the same time more financial investors are turning their back on fossil and nuclear projects in favour of renewable energies,” the group argues.

Elm Tree and the Lone Goldfinch

I took a trip today into Brighton for a wander around…

From the bus on the way back, I thought I glimpsed one of my (now almost rare) former elm ‘flock.’  It stands in the middle of a 70’s development to the south of Lewes prison and its owner, a Miss ? used phone me most years to ask if Mark or I would carry out an inspection and also to enquire whether she should have any pruning work carried out upon it.

If I was looking at the same tree, I could clearly see where she had spent money on having a limited crown reduction carried out years ago but no attention in recent years in evidence, so guess she’s moved on, perhaps to the next world…  [I was Dutch Elm Supervisor for East Sussex CC between 1997 and 2004 while working for the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. Sadly the scheme has since gone belly up].

Earlier, while walking along Western Road, the air filled with the drone of passing busses, I noticed a high-pitched trilling sound. Upon looking across the road, I noticed an apparently solitary male goldfinch 30 feet up in a roadside tree singing his heart out.  Seemed rather surreal!

Ash Dieback Threat

Stephen Moss. Wednesday 23 March 2016.

Reports that the ash tree is “set for extinction in Europe” have sent a shiver down the spine of everyone who loves and values Britain’s trees. For older readers like me, the stories are an unwelcome reminder of 40 years ago, when another familiar tree – the English elm – was devastated by Dutch Elm Disease.

The new research, published in the Journal of Ecology, paints a grim picture for the future of the ash in Britain and Europe. The trees are suffering a twin-pronged attack: from ash dieback, a fungal disease also known as Chalara, and the invasive emerald ash borer beetle. It has yet to reach the UK, but is moving westwards across Europe at a frightening rate.

The disappearance of ash trees would not just affect our landscape, especially in lowland Britain, but also the 1,000-plus species that depend on the ash, including more than 200 different invertebrates. But is this yet another story that might not be quite as clear-cut as the headlines suggest? Some, including naturalist and radio presenter Brett Westwood, are cautious: “I’m not certain that this will mean total wipeout of the ash in Britain, because it has strong genetic diversity which allows more chance to evolve resistance. There’s evidence that younger trees in nurseries, many of them grown in continental Europe, are more vulnerable and that fewer of the mature British ashes are displaying symptoms. Nevertheless we should be very alarmed that there is a serious risk of losing such an important and conspicuous species from our landscape.”

The doyen of tree experts, George Peterken, agrees. “There is genetic diversity in ash, and I would expect them to evolve their way round the fungus,” he says. “Even so, I endorse [ecologist] Oliver Rackham’s warning that globalisation is the main threat to British trees – from imported diseases and introduced mammals.”

The more urgent question is what humans can do to slow the progress of ash dieback. First, we need to spot any infected trees: by looking for a distinctive blackish-brown tinge towards the ends of the leaves, or lesions on dead or dying shoots. If you do find what might be signs of the disease, you should report them immediately to the Forestry Commission.

If these threats are to be beaten in the longer term, we need to stop imports of ash saplings from Europe, and identify any resistant trees that might provide a reservoir of seeds for future planting. We could also plant alternative native tree species that can fill the niche left by the loss of the ash. We won’t know whether any of these measures have worked for many decades – by which time there will no doubt be many other threats to Britain’s beleaguered trees.


Stephen Moss’s Wild Kingdom: Bringing Back Britain’s Wildlife, is published on 7 April (Square Peg, £16.99)