Air Pollution Moving Up the Media and Political Ladders

Good to see air pollution moving up both the media and political ladders (see link below). Facts such as possibly 50,000 premature deaths per year and 80% of pollution in urban hotspots from diesel engines.  Mention also made concerning diverse release of ammonium nitrate from use of artificial fertilizer and routine slurry and manure operations within the farming industry.  I have blogged before on my concerns of the threat to biodiversity of nitrogen enrichment from air pollution.

This beautiful, sunny morning, I was out and about in relation to our pony grazing operations. In the middle of the Ashdown area well away from any roads, the air from time to time carried the odour of traffic fumes.  Awhile later, over at the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve, there was a similar problem, this time from the burning of rubbish some distance up-wind.  Several weeks ago, builders at work at Bineham Farm, Chailey, were openly burning plastic debris of some description on at least two separate days, the pollution easily discernible at least a mile away.

A spin-off from reducing the demand of diesel would also at a stroke, cut the trashing of tropical forests to allow the production of biofuel products.  Years ago, local authority/EA environment officers would very likely investigate plumes of black smoke; with the cutbacks, it’s likely that there are too few of them nowadays.

Listen to: BBC Radio 4, Wednesday, April 27th 2016 @ 7-33am.

“Urgent government action is needed to stop up to 50,000 people a year dying early from air pollution-related illnesses, MPs say. Speaking on the programme is Dr Heather Walton, senior lecturer in Environmental Health at King’s College London, and Neil Parish, chair of the House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.”

Parrotfeather – An Invasive Water Plant

Yesterday, I stopped off to view West Dean Brooks, situated in the Cuckmere Valley near Seaford, part of the Seaford to Beachy Head SSSI… I was alarmed by the amount of Parrotfeather growing in the roadside ditch.  I recall that some 20 years ago, when part of my remit was a management input into this area, I would occasionally stop-off and carefully hand rake out, the small quantity then growing.  Routine mechanical weed clearance by the EA over the years has very likely spread this weed along the main feeder ditch.

weed_parfeather2_gm parrot image

No ecological benefits are associated with Parrotfeather ( Myriophyllum aquaticum), it being an introduced specie native to the Amazon in South America. It prefers a warm mild climate although it can survive temperate winters.  Parrotfeather grows best in still waters such as lakes, ponds, quiet streams and drainage ditches and is also able to survive in rivers. Vegetative reproduction is the only likely dispersal agent because female plants are not found in the UK.  Fragments can be carried by water birds and floodwaters from one location to another.

Parrotfeather readily takes over lakes, ponds and streams outcompeting native plants. It is an especially problematic plant because it is so difficult to control.  Once it enters into a water body, it takes a considerable and costly effort to eliminate it.

Parrotfeather provides an ideal habitat for mosquito larvae and the mass of the plant can increase the likelihood of flooding occurring. It may also block passage for fish species when they navigate up watercourses to spawn.  In addition, it can cause pH and other water quality issues in still water areas.  The tough stems make it difficult to boat, swim or fish.

While Parrotfeather may provide cover for some aquatic organisms, it can seriously change the physical and chemical characteristics of lakes and streams. Infestations can alter aquatic ecosystems by shading out the algae in the water column that serve as the basis of the aquatic food web.

Treatment Options.

Various herbicides are produced which can be applied to aquatic habitats but they are indiscriminate with regard to native plant species, are of course poisons and chemical treatment is expensive and would probably require several applications.

Physical Removal Options.

Mechanical cutting, nets and rakes can be used to control Parrotfeather BUT without great care, fragmentation is very likely to cause further dispersal as even tiny fragments can re-grow.  Therefore, mechanical control is not recommended unless the waterbody in question is significantly infested.  Cleaning and inspection of machinery and tools before being transported on to another aquatic site is recommended.

Plant Description.

Parrotfeather is an herbaceous aquatic plant that grows to a length of 6.5 to 16 feet. Its stems are greenish blue with numerous small leaves that resemble feathers. The leaves are either submersed or emergent and grow in whorls of 4 to 6 around the stem. This species is easily confused with the native water milfoils but those don’t have above water leaves.

Look for:

  • Bright green fir-tree-like; emergent leaves and stems
  • Leaflets arranged in whorls (4-6) around the stem
  • Leaflets with feather-like leaf arrangement
  • Dense mat of intertwined brownish stems (rhizomes) in the water
  • Reddish, feathery-leaved, limp, underwater leaves may be present

News From February Ed. of ‘British Wildlife’

Catching-up on my reading and came across these stories (which I’ve abridged), reported by Sue Everett in the February edition of ‘British Wildlife.’

From Environment Agency report on ecosystem services: Exmoor, where moorland rewetting by the blocking drainage ditches has reduced storm flows to 32% of the pre-restoration level, equating to approx. 8,000 cu metres per hectare per year across the 460ha of the project area.                                                                                Boldventure, Devon:  Some qualification of effects created by beavers.  Beavers have constructed 13 dams holding up to 650,000 litres of additional water.  This equates to 21.6 litres of surface-water storage per square metre of land.  They also had a positive impact on water quality. See @AliDriverEA

H of C’s Climate Change Committee reported in 2012 that between 2001 and 2011, 200,000 homes were built on floodplains. Since 2011, the rate of building on floodplains has been at nearly twice that outside of floodplains.  Currently, there are 9,000 homes planned to be built on areas that are partially or fully at risk from flooding.

Report from The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association showing that it is possible to finish livestock on grassland and semi-natural vegetation with no recourse to being fed cereal or manufactured feed and still produce a profit. See @PastureForLife


Nature Loses Out in Building Upgrade?

I’m not sure without returning to take a more considered view, but yesterday whilst driving through the village of Sharpthorne near East Grinstead, my thoughts turned to the imminent return of the summer flying spectacle by the village’s most reckless inhabitants – swifts!

However, as I drove past the tallish building in the middle of the village that houses their nesting colony, I was dismayed to see that it has had all its fascia’s renewed in plastic, with very likely, no allowance made for the swifts to gain entry to the building’s roof space?  If I’m correct, such a sad shame.  When I lived in the village a few years back, I used to be enthralled by their overhead antics during the evenings.

Government Response to my Concerns re England’s Moorlands…

Here is the response I received today regarding my concerns for sustainable management of England’s moorlands in the light of raptor persecution and climate change. I have highlighted in red, wording which I disagree with or do not believe.  I have not commented on the moral issue concerning the shooting of birds for pleasure as it just seems a no-brainer to me.


Dear Monty Larkin,

The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Ban driven grouse shooting”.

Government responded:

Defra is working with key interested parties to ensure the sustainable management of uplands, balancing environmental and economic benefits, which includes the role of sustainable grouse shooting.

When carried out according to the law, grouse shooting is a legitimate activity and in addition to its significant economic contribution, providing jobs and investment in some of our most remote areas, it can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation. The Government’s position is that people should be free to undertake any lawful activities. However, all those involved are encouraged to follow best practice.

A report by the UK shooting community (Public & Corporate Economic Consultants report 2014: The Value of Shooting) concludes that the overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is positive, and industry has estimated that £250 million per year is spent on management activities substantially benefiting conservation. For grouse shooting in particular, according to the Moorland Association, estates in England and Wales spend £52.5 million each year on managing 175 grouse moors. The industry also supports 1,520 full time equivalent jobs and is worth £67.7 million in England and Wales.

Grouse shooting takes place in upland areas, which are important for delivering a range of valuable “ecosystem services”, including food and fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for health and wellbeing. The Government is committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the English uplands, including by protecting peatlands through measures such as the Peatland Code.

With regard to predator control, we welcome the proactive approach taken by game keeping organisations to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation, for example through the BASC green shoots initiative. Control of grouse predators such as foxes and stoats on shooting estates has a role to play in the recovery of rare or declining species, particularly ground nesting birds. Mountain hares and other tick carrying species such as deer are controlled to reduce disease mortality in infected red grouse chicks. We also recognize that controlling mountain hares and deer is a legitimate practice in other circumstances: for example, to protect young trees and vegetation or as quarry species. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 affords protection to all wild birds; despite this, incidents of illegal killing of birds of prey continue, so we have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Each wildlife crime priority has a delivery group to consider what action should be taken, and develop a plan to prevent crime, gather intelligence on offences and enforce against it. The raptor persecution group, led by a senior police officer, focuses on the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine, red kite and white tailed eagle and is led by a senior police officer.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and assists police forces when required. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine, red kite and buzzard have increased.

With regard to hen harriers, in January 2016 the Defra led Upland Stakeholder Forum hen harrier sub-group published the Joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population. This sets out six complementary actions to increase hen harrier populations in England. These actions are individually beneficial, and when combined have the potential to deliver stronger outcomes and contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. These are:

1: Monitoring of populations in England and UK

2: Diversionary feeding

3: Work with Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) to analyse monitoring information and build intelligence picture

4: Nest and winter roost protection

5: Southern reintroduction

6: Trialling a Brood Management Scheme

The Action Plan sets out who leads on each action and the timescale and benefits of each. The plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations best placed to take action, including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and the RSPB. These organisations will now take the plan forward led by Natural England. They will monitor all the activities carried out and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Click this link to view the response online:

The Petitions Committee will take a look at this petition and its response. They can press the government for action and gather evidence. If this petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the Committee will consider it for a debate.

The Committee is made up of 11 MPs, from political parties in government and in opposition. It is entirely independent of the Government. Find out more about the Committee:

Thanks, The Petitions team UK Government and Parliament


Future Crops on UK Farms?

Biofuels, plastics and drugs: is this the future of our farms?

John Vidal, The Observer, Sunday 17 April 2016.

Farmer Rob Pickering last week planted nine hectares of flood-prone land in Lincolnshire with an African plant called miscanthus, or elephant grass. By selling the fast-growing crop as biofuel for Drax power station, he should earn as much as he would from selling wheat on the world market.

Pickering is part of a rural revolution that, thanks to climate change, low commodity prices and new consumer tastes, is seeing Britain’s fields planted with crops that are more likely to end up as electricity or paint additives than food.

In Essex, David Eagle is growing acres of sea buckthorn, a salt-tolerant plant that grows wild in Siberiacorrect and northern Europe. Its orange berries can be used in food and drink products, but are bought mainly by cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Eagle knows his coastal defences may not withstand many more storms and increases in sea-levels, so wanted a future-proof crop. “Our sea walls are in good condition but the future may not be so certain in an era of climate change,” he says.

In East Anglia, borage, hemp and flax are being grown for their oils, daffodils for drugs use, and lavender for cosmetics. The hop fields of Kent are expanding as the global boom in micro-breweries sees British hop exports to the US soaring, and wildflower seed farms are springing up on former grazing land in Lincolnshire as farmers take environmental action in return for EU subsidies.

Dorset farmers are paid premium prices by drugs firms to grow poppies and cannabis for medicines, but the market for pharmaceuticals is small, tightly controlled and limited, says David Turley of the National Non-Food Crop Centre (NNFCC) in York.

“Non-food crops have seen boom and bust years as farmers try planting new crops in bad times, only for the price to drop when supply outstrips demand,” he says. “Three years ago, everyone was growing evening primrose. Then the Chinese got in and that ended.”

Warmer winters have allowed exotic fruits and vegetables to be grown commercially in Britain, says the National Union of Farmers, but industrialists expect the next boom to be in plants whose sugars can be used to make plastics and packaging .

“There is great interest in the bio-economy,” said Turley. “We are now taking ethanol [from wheat] to make plastics. It’s an emerging market that I think will become huge as large brands become concerned about sustainability. I would expect many more plants to be grown for plastics.”

Planting for niche industrial uses is becoming more common, but so far only 100 or so hectares are planted commercially with crops such as high-erucic acid rapeseed, Buglossoides arvensis and camelina (false flax). These are now grown for use in petroleum additives, polymers and skincare products.

Staffordshire firm Statfold Seed Oils estimates the total world market for hemp oil is only about 200 tonnes, and it supplies nearly 150 tonnes of that. “Many farmers have latched on to the high prices, but we are dealing with pretty small volumes,” said a spokesman.

According to Boston Seeds in Lincolnshire, there is significant and growing demand for wild seeds, both from farmers obliged to plant field margins with bird-friendly plants to receive their EU grants, and from home gardeners.

Many older dairy and arable farmers were turning to energy crops because they required less physical work and offered security when cereal or milk prices fell, said George Robinson of agricultural energy firm Terravesta. It has contracted 350 British farmers to grow 5,000 hectares of miscanthus as a biomass source for power stations. “The British landscape that was once mixed farming is no longer,” he said. “Dairy farmers are going. Grassland is being converted. We’re adding 1,000 hectares of miscanthus a year.”

About 350,000 hectares in Britain are suitable to grow it and Robinson is confident that he can persuade thousands more farmers to plant the grass. “This is just the start,” he says.

The amount of land planted with energy biomass crops, such as miscanthus, willow and poplar, grew by nearly 50% in 2014-15 and is now more than 120,000 hectares, or 3%, of arable land. If Britain is to meet its target of 15% of energy from renewable resources by 2020, much more will be needed.

Crops producing biofuels for petrol and diesel additives are also popular: thousands of hectares of wheat are expected to be planted this year to supply the Vivergo Fuels bioethanol factory in Hull. It uses a million tonnes of wheat to provide 420 million litres of renewable fuel a year – about half the UK’s target.

Other farmers and estates have turned their acres from pasture to more traditional cash crops, like Christmas trees.

“The trade is changing,” says Harry Brightwell, secretary of the British Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, who estimates there are now 5-7,000ha grown. “There’s all kind of people growing them now. Some are farmers diversifying into trees, but there are estates with over 1m trees in Scotland. It’s an industrial crop now. But we still can’t get enough good trees.”

I’ve often wondered about whether using such soaps was a good idea…

Mounting evidence suggests antibacterial soaps do more harm than good.


While the use of antibacterial soap is beneficial in certain situations, for everyday use, they can end up doing more harm than good. That’s the message from a growing number of studies casting doubt on the safety of these microbe-killing soaps, and now the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is demanding more data from the makers of antibacterial soap so it can make a final ruling.

These bacteria-killing soaps have been under close scrutiny for several years now, and have been banned in certain parts of the US. Some researchers believe their use is contributing to the rise of ‘superbugs’ – in other words, chemicals in antibacterial products are causing the bugs to mutate and become more resistant.

Add to this the evidence that antibacterial soap doesn’t actually clean your hands any better than normal soap and warm water – at least not if you’re only cleaning your hands for a couple of minutes at a time – and you can see why experts are saying it’s causing more harm than good.

A study presented earlier this month to the US Endocrine Society found that mother rats exposed to triclocarban – a chemical most commonly found in antimicrobial bar soaps – was passed onto their offspring. It was also altering the microbiomes of both mothers and babies, which is a worry, because we’re learning more and more about how crucial our internal bacteria are for our health.

Also under suspicion is triclosan, another antimicrobial widely used in hand soaps and many other products, from shampoos to cosmetics. A 2014 study found exposure to triclosan could make both humans and rats more susceptible to a potentially infectious type of bacteria called Staphylococcus.

More recent research has found triclosan affecting the microbiomes, diversity, and community structure of zebrafish.

If that wasn’t enough bad news for antibacterial soaps, other studies are looking at their impact on the wider environment.

Two recent studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin found that both triclosan and triclocarban interfered with microbial communities that break down sewage, reducing their effectiveness, and encouraged bacteria to become more resistant to drugs.

The FDA is expected to make a decision in September about whether these antimicrobials should be banned from all soap products. While they’re technically safe, they might not be doing us or the environment around us much good. In the meantime, you could consider replacing the antibacterial handwash you keep in the kitchen or bathroom with just plain, old soap.

“We want to slow the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria so that our current antibiotics can continue to help medical patients,” said one of the team from Marquette University, Dan Carey. “If using hand soap without antimicrobials can help, I think it would be worth it to try and change consumer behaviour.”

Summer Migrants Stay for Longer as the UK Climate Warms,45KJ3,JPVF4R,F3T83,1

Summer migrants stay for longer as the UK climate warms.

Data collected by volunteer citizen scientists have been used to show how the timing of bird migration to and from the UK has changed since the 1960s. The spring arrival dates for 11 of 14 common migrants have got significantly earlier, with six species, including Swallow, House Martin and Chiffchaff, coming back to breed more than 10 days earlier than they used to. Species that advanced their timing of arrival also showed the most positive trends in abundance over this period.

BTO ecologists, led by Stuart Newson, compared data from the Inland Observation Point survey, which ran from 1962-1966, with information collected from 2002 to 2011 via MigrationWatch and BirdTrack. The change in spring arrival across species equated to an advance of 0.22 days per year on average. In addition to the early arrival, four species were found to depart for their wintering grounds significantly later than previously. As a consequence of earlier arrival and for some species later departure, nine of 14 species spent significantly longer in the UK in the 2000s than in the 1960s.

These changes in bird migration are likely to be a response to warming on the birds’ UK breeding grounds. The extended stays in the UK may have benefitted some species in allowing birds to lay more than one clutch, when they previously would not have had time to attempt to raise an extra brood because conditions were not suitable. Studies such as this are important in understanding how birds can adapt to climate change, and the effect of their response to their population dynamics at a time when many species are in decline and effective conservation measures are being sought.

This work has been published as:

Newson, S.E., Moran, N.J., Musgrove, A.J., Pearce-Higgins, J.W., Gillings, S., Atkinson, P.W., Miller, R., Grantham, M.J. & Baillie, S.R. 2016

Long-term changes in the migration phenology of UK breeding birds detected by large-scale citizen science recording schemes Ibis.

Link to publication (DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12367).

Notes. The authors thank the volunteers who collected data for the three schemes in this study. BirdTrack is a partnership between the BTO, RSPB, BirdWatch Ireland, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club and the Welsh Ornithological Society.


Earth Has Lost a Third of Arable Land in Past 40 Years

Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say

Oliver Milman, The Guardian, Wednesday 2 December 2015.

The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars, scientists have warned.

New research has calculated that nearly 33% of the world’s adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace diminished soil.

The University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, which undertook the study by analysing various pieces of research published over the past decade, said the loss was “catastrophic” and the trend close to being irretrievable without major changes to agricultural practices.

Analysis/ Can farms be good for nature without being organic?

The continual ploughing of fields, combined with heavy use of fertilizers, has degraded soils across the world, the research found, with erosion occurring at a pace of up to 100 times greater than the rate of soil formation. It takes around 500 years for just 2.5cm of topsoil to be created amid unimpeded ecological changes.

“You think of the dust bowl of the 1930s in North America and then you realise we are moving towards that situation if we don’t do something,” said Duncan Cameron, professor of plant and soil biology at the University of Sheffield.

“We are increasing the rate of loss and we are reducing soils to their bare mineral components,” he said. “We are creating soils that aren’t fit for anything except for holding a plant up. The soils are silting up river systems – if you look at the huge brown stain in the ocean where the Amazon deposits soil, you realise how much we are accelerating that process.

“We aren’t quite at the tipping point yet, but we need to do something about it. We are up against it if we are to reverse this decline.”

The erosion of soil has largely occurred due to the loss of structure by continual disturbance for crop planting and harvesting. If soil is repeatedly turned over, it is exposed to oxygen and its carbon is released into the atmosphere, causing it to fail to bind as effectively. This loss of integrity impacts soil’s ability to store water, which neutralizes its role as a buffer to floods and a fruitful base for plants.

Degraded soils are also vulnerable to being washed away by weather events fueled by global warming. Deforestation, which removes trees that help knit landscapes together, is also detrimental to soil health.

The steep decline in soil has occurred at a time when the world’s demand for food is rapidly increasing. It’s estimated the world will need to grow 50% more food by 2050 to feed an anticipated population of 9 billion people. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the increase in food production will be most needed in developing countries.

The academics behind the University of Sheffield study propose a number of remedies to soil loss, including recycling nutrients from sewerage, using biotechnology to wean plants off their dependence upon fertilizers, and rotating crops with livestock areas to relieve pressure on arable land.

Around 30% of the world’s ice-free surfaces are used to keep chicken, cattle, pigs and other livestock, rather than to grow crops.

“We need a radical solution, which is to re-engineer our agricultural system,” Cameron said. “We need to take land out of production for a long time to allow soil carbon to rebuild and become stable. We already have lots of land – it’s being used for pasture by the meat and dairy industries. Rather than keep it separated, we need to bring it into rotation, so that that there is more land in the system and less is being used at any one time.”

Why seed banks aren’t the only answer to food security

Cameron said he accepted this would involve direct government intervention, funding for farmers and “brave” policymaking.

“We can’t blame the farmers in this. We need to provide the capitalisation to help them rather than say, ‘Here’s a new policy, go and do it,’” he said. “We have the technology. We just need the political will to give us a fighting chance of solving this problem.”