Nest Box Origins

Nest boxes originally served a very different purpose!  Clay ‘nesting pots’ were introduced to England by Dutch labourers working in the Fens.  They hung these pots around farmyards as convenient nesting places with the aim of reducing the damage caused by birds nesting in roofs.  They also provided a ready source of protein in the form of the eggs and fledglings and had a handy ‘robbery hole’ at the back for access.

British Trust for Ornithology,  July E-news.

The Future of The Countryside and Its Funding

The Future of The Countryside and Its Funding.

With the Brexiteers victory in the recent Referendum, what of funding for farmers and land managers working in the British countryside?  It has to be remembered that a great many tourists visit Britain to explore and admire our green and pleasant land and so therefore, contribute to our economy…

That ‘greeness,’ highlights one of the current problems with our countryside.  It is all, very green and very pleasant – until the more knowledgeable soul decides to set foot outside their car and explore and actually see what biodiversity is present.  I can answer that: nothing like as much as say half a century ago!  Development, roads, pollution, globalisation and modern chemical farming have devastated much of our wildlife whether it be water habitats (including marine), grasslands, heathlands or woodlands, they all have seen dramatic changes and these negative insidious, changes are still taking place.

So what will the Theresa May’s band of Three Brexiteers bring to the agricultural and ecological table.  During the flawed Referendum debates, both bio-diversity and climate change received very little attention considering how pivotal they both are to our well-being.

Andrea Leadsum, DEFRA’s new minister, has gone on record as being rather ignorant when it comes to the facts on climate change; she has made sweeping un-qualified statements about badgers and fox control.  She has also questioned the continued current EU regime of agri-payments to farmers and landowners for various work and services in the countryside.  On this however, one has to say that the current system could most certainly be improved upon.  We must look on the optimistic side on this subject and hope for a better system in the years post EU?  But will there be the funding given all the other demands on the new Government?

Perhaps it’s time to throw another cap into the ring…  There has been much talk of ‘rewilding’ during the last few years.  There are as I recall only a handful of significant schemes operating in the UK at the moment – the Alladale Wilderness Reserve in northern Scotland, Wild Ennerdale in Cumbria, the Great Fen Project in Cambridgeshire and the Knepp Castle Estate in West Sussex.  These are all significant schemes but with all the various demands upon land within our small island, how realistic is it to envisage many more extensive versions?  Perhaps the answer is to take out of food production, smaller areas of poor, or low productivity land such as some moorland or areas of heavy clay lands and subsidize a slightly less ambitious form of re-wilding – islands (where possible, connected by wildlife corridors), in an otherwise busy, income-generating countryside. Then there are the possibilities of the use of primitive breeds of domesticated bovine and equine livestock; free-range beef?  However, I feel that if we were to go down this route, these areas should be viewed as permanent, rather than existing for several decades and then being cleared and returned to agriculture and new replacement wildlife oasis’s formed, this all part of some grand rolling programme.  Morally and economically, except in specific cases, I feel this would be unacceptable.

There is also the role of reintroductions and revival schemes bringing missing, or currently scarce species due to past human practices, back into the wider British countryside.  Current examples being beaver and lynx in the former category and wild boar, otter, polecat in the latter category.

Recent article for further reading:

Growth in Artificial Lawns Poses Threat to British Wildlife

Growth in artificial lawns poses threat to British wildlife, conservationists warn.

Sandra Laville, Monday 4 July 2016.


Artificial grass companies are reporting an increase in sales. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Environmentalists have warned that a growing trend to lay artificial lawns instead of real grass threatens the loss of wildlife and habitat across Britain.

From local authorities who purchase in bulk for use in street scaping, to primary schools for children’s play areas and in the gardens of ordinary suburban family homes, the sight of pristine, green artificial grass is becoming a familiar sight. One company has registered a 220% year-on-year increase in trade of the lawns.

But as families, councils and schools take to turfing over their open spaces with a product which is most often made from a mix of plastics – polypropylene, polyurethane and polyethylene – there is growing alarm amongst conservationists and green groups.

They say the easy fix of a fake lawn is threatening the habitat of wildlife, including butterflies, bees and garden birds as well as creating waste which will never biodegrade.

Mathew Frith, director of conservation at the London Wildlife Trust, said: “You are using fossil fuels to make it, so there is a carbon impact there, you have to remove a significant amount of soil to lay it so you are reducing the direct and indirect porosity of the soil, you are removing habitat which a wide range of species are dependent on and at the end of its life this is a non-biodegradable product which ultimately goes back into landfill. So yes we are concerned at its proliferation.”

But the demand for the flawless vibrant green carpet, which needs little or no maintenance and does not need cutting, is growing. Some landscape gardeners are dropping their traditional gardening work in favour of spending 100% of their time excavating soil, laying hardcore and installing fake lawns.

Paul Wackett, a landscape gardener from Cobham in Surrey, said: “It has gone absolutely crazy this year. Ninety nine percent of it is domestic homes – from small houses up to large houses with big gardens who use it as a feature around their hot tubs.

“Everyone is living in a very busy world now, no one has time to do anything except work. They work hard and they play hard so they are having this laid if they have children or dogs and they want to enjoy the garden but don’t have want to maintain it. There is no lawn mowing, no watering.”

Companies from small start-ups to longstanding market leaders that began life providing artificial turf for football and hockey pitches are reporting similar demand.

Eamon Sheridan, managing director of Artificial Grass London, said there had been an increase in demand across the board. “We have seen a 63% increase in sales in our case, but we are part of a group of companies, one of which, Artificial Grass Direct, has been established a lot longer, and so far they have seen a 220% increase in sales this year on last year.”

Research in 2011 revealed that 3,000 hectares (12 sq miles) of garden vegetation had been lost over eight years in the UK – which amounts to more than two Hyde Parks a year. Much, if not all, of this loss was down to decking, concreting over gardens, and the use of artificial grass, Frith said.

Paul de Zylva, senior nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “I think the negative impacts of artificial grass are substantial. For the sake of convenience and not wanting the children to get muddy, what is it we are losing here?

“You will find bees burrowing into lawns which are a mix of grass seeds, other insects will be in there too, and worms – which are incredibly important in terms of the ability of the soil to absorb nutrients and keep soil structured, so that when you have heavy rain or drought you have a soil system which can cope. By using artificial grass, you lose all this. You are creating a ‘Don’t come here sign,’ for wildlife.”

Even those who have benefited from the boom in fake grass are finding that high demand does not always mean an easy life.

Robert Redcliffe, managing director of Nam grass, which has been in the UK for six years, said the demand was now so great that his high-quality European-made product was increasingly being undercut by cheaper imports from the far east.

“It is becoming, as everything does, a very, very competitive market; we can use all our unique selling points but at the end of the day it’s the price that talks,” he said. “Every day there are boatloads of low-quality, cheaper products being shipped over from China. That is our greatest problem at the moment.”

And Redcliffe has some sympathy for the environmental case. “I would agree them; it’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every bit of the garden. Half my garden is artificial grass, where the children’s play area is, but the rest is natural lawn with lots of shrubs and plants. I spend all my time trying to make the lawn look as good as the artificial one.”

Victory in Campaign to Widen Gatwick Flight Paths

Victory in campaign to widen flight paths.

13th July 2016.

Anti-noise campaigners were celebrating last week after Gatwick airport agreed to bring in flight paths operating across a wider area from the end of this month.  Local groups have fought for two years to stop the constant stream of incoming aircraft at the Sussex airport being concentrated on a narrow strip of landscape.

The swathe of the flight paths has now been increased from two nautical miles to six, bringing it back in line with the dispersal that was in operation until 2013.


The decision was made at the inaugural meeting of the Noise Management Board (NMB) on June 21. The airport also recently agreed to increase the number of public representatives allowed to sit on the board from two to four.

The umbrella body was set up after being recommended by the Independent Arrivals Review in January. It includes the main aviation stakeholders and local community action groups.

Gatwick Airport Ltd issued a statement which said it ‘has been able to confirm that the proposal to widen the arrivals swathe will create a fairer and more equitable distribution of aircraft noise, more closely emulating that experienced by communities prior to 2013’.

While the move is significant, there was a word of warning from Graham Lake of the Arrivals Review team, who said: “It would be prudent, while acknowledging the very good progress made to date, to remind your readers that it’s not done until it’s done.”

Protesters are remaining cautious while further changes are awaited, not least because Gatwick had said in March that it ‘has accepted or is minded to accept all of the recommendations of the Review’.

One example of the work remaining to be done is the implementation of Continuous Descent Approach (CDA), which refers to how smoothly an aircraft descends, thereby reducing the noise it makes.

The Review has called for the CDAs to start at a higher altitude with a smoother descent, and for the airport to implement a more consistent quality threshold.

UK Poorly Prepared for Climate Change Impacts, Government Advisers Warn

UK poorly prepared for climate change impacts, government advisers warn.

Damian Carrington, Tuesday 12 July 2016.


A Cumbria road destroyed in floods during storm Desmond, which scientists found had been made more likely by climate change. Photograph: Ashley Cooper / Barcroft Media

The UK is poorly prepared for the inevitable impacts of global warming in coming decades, including deadly annual heatwaves, water shortages and difficulties in producing food, according the government’s official advisers.

Action must be taken now, according to the report from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) published on Tuesday, with more widespread flooding and new diseases among the risks in most urgent need of addressing.

The CCC further warns that climate-stoked wars and migration around the world could have very significant consequences for the UK, through disrupted trade and more military intervention overseas.

The 2,000-page report is a comprehensive assessment of the dangers of climate change to the UK, produced over three years by 80 experts and reviewed by many more. The main analysis is based on the temperature rise expected if the global climate agreement signed in Paris in 2015 is fully delivered and also takes account of plans already in place to cope with impacts.

The worst case scenarios in the CCC report – if action to tackle climate change completely fails – foresees searing heatwaves reaching temperatures of 48C in London and the high-30s across the nation.

“We are not sufficiently prepared and we need to do more now, even for the [Paris deal] scenario of 2.7C of warming,” said Lord John Krebs, chair of the CCC’s adaptation sub-committee. “Many impacts are affecting us now, as climate change is already happening.”

“What we now think of as an extremely hot summer, where people are dying of heat stress and it is extremely uncomfortable in homes, hospitals and much of transport, that is likely to be a typical summer by the middle of the century and would be a cool summer in the 2080s,” he said.

Krebs said critical facilities, such as hospitals and care homes, are particularly at risk: “Many are not designed to be resilient in terms of overheating.” Many are also in already flood prone areas, the report noted, with the risk of flooding set to rise further.

While most of the key risks are fairly well understood, the dangers posed by new diseases and pests invading the UK as the climate gets warmer requires urgent research, the CCC said.

“The impacts are potentially high for otherwise healthy people, animals and plants,” the report states. “Higher temperatures will lead to an increased risk of the Asian tiger mosquito, the vector of

Chikungunya virus, dengue fever and Zika virus. The current risk remains low, but may increase in the future.”

There could be some benefits to the UK from climate change including exports of products and services such as flood defence expertise, the CCC said, and UK tourism may also increase. A longer growing season could boost crops, the report said, but only if the impact of climate change on water supplies and soil fertility can be overcome.

“Already 85% of the rich peat topsoils of East Anglia has disappeared,” said Krebs, due to drainage and erosion. “We have lost a lot of the natural asset that allows us to grow cereals and climate change will accelerate the rate of loss. We could lose the remaining fertile soil within the next 30-60 years and that would be a huge negative impact on the food production capacity of the UK.”

Food supplies will also be affected by the impact of global warming around the planet, as the UK imports 40% of its food. “But it is not an expectation that there will be supermarket shelves with nothing on,” said Matthew Bell, CCC chief executive. “It is more likely that food becomes more expensive, particularly with spikes in prices as some supply chains are affected.”

The report warns of other overseas risks to the UK, including a rising need for military intervention: “There are uncertain but potentially very significant international risks arising from climate-related human [migration], and the possibility of violent inter‑state conflict over scarce natural resources.”

“These impacts are transported to the UK through the movement of people and capital, through international supply chains and also through the demands upon the UK in terms of overseas military effort,” said Daniel Johns, the CCC’s head of adaptation.

Climate change is becoming more apparent today, with temperature records being smashed amid a succession of record hot years. Amber Rudd, energy and climate change secretary, said at the end of June that global warming is “one of the most serious long-term risks to our economic and national security”.

A government spokesman said: “We are committed to making sure the UK is prepared for the challenges of climate change. That is why we are investing record amounts in flood defences and developing a long-term plan for the environment.”

UK law requires the government to use the CCC report to develop its adaptation plan, although spending on the issue halved under the coalition government.

“The CCC report is a tour de force,” said Prof Chris Rapley, a climate scientist at University College London. “It is a hugely valuable instrument for seeking to keep our government honest and true to its responsibilities of protecting the interests of UK citizens and businesses now and in the future.”

Climate change increased the chance of last winter’s devastating floods by 40%, noted Prof Joanna Haigh, at Imperial College London: “That is why this report is so important, as it starkly sets out the challenges we face and the urgency of addressing them. Some impacts are now inevitable.”

Friends of the Earth’s Guy Shrubsole said: “This is a stern warning for squabbling politicians that the biggest threat to our future is from massive climate disruption. Theresa May must make climate change a top priority.”

“The CCC’s analysis shows red and yellow lights flashing all over the dashboard,” said Tom Viita, at Christian Aid. “The new Prime Minister [May] must chair a Climate Cobra Committee to handle these risks more effectively and with the urgency required.”

Marylyn Haines Evans, at the National Federation of Women’s Institutes said: “This report is worrying because it shows just how close the risks of climate change really are for all of us. We cannot leave this problem as a legacy for our children and grandchildren.”

Five ways that climate change will affect Britain:


The deadly heatwave of 2003, which peaked at 38.5C in the UK, will be a normal summer by the 2040s, leading to related deaths more than tripling. There are currently no policies to ensure homes, schools, hospitals and offices remain tolerable in high heat.

Floods and coastal erosion

Flooding already causes £1bn of damage every year on average but the risks will rise yet further as climate change leads to more intense rainfall, bringing floods to places not currently in danger. The number of households at significant risk of flooding will more than double to 1.9m by 2050, if the global temperature rises by 4C.

Water shortages

Severe water shortages are expected as summers get drier and, by the 2050s, will extend across the UK. If temperatures are driven up significantly, many places in the UK will have a demand for water 2.5 times greater than that available.

Natural environment

The proportion of prime farmland is expected to fall from 38% to 9% with significant warming and crop growing in eastern England and Scotland could be ended by degraded soil and water shortages. Warming seas are pushing key species northwards, which may affect the entire marine food chain.


Climate change is likely to drive food prices up, with extreme weather leading to lost crops and price shocks. About 40% of UK food is imported, making the UK vulnerable to droughts and floods driven by climate change around the world.


An Overpopulation Problem – Not the One You Might Think Of

There’s An Overpopulation Problem, But Not the One You Might Think

Jimmy Pierson  07/11/2016.

Writer and spokesperson for The Vegan Society.

There’s an overpopulation problem alright, but not the one you might think. There are seven billion people on our planet, but times that number by 10 and you get the 70 billion farm animals driving the worst environmental crisis of modern times.


The impact of increased human numbers will come under renewed scrutiny this World Population Day (11 July). Rightly so; the faster we grow, the faster we are knocking down forests, killing off species and using too much water. Climate change is no longer a distant concept, but a tangible force already affecting so many people all over the world.

Overpopulation is too often seen as a standalone issue. This seems overly simplistic. Should we not rather address the specific things humans are actually doing? There is little doubt in the scientific community which single activity is to blame: the rise of animal agriculture, responsible for at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than all of the world’s transport – cars, buses, trains, planes, boats, ships – combined.

While human numbers are rising at roughly 1.2% a year, livestock numbers are rising at double that rate at around 2.4% a year. Farming animals emits high levels of CO2 through activities like feed production and the management of manure, which contains nitrous oxide, a substance estimated to have 296 times the climate change potential of CO2.

Cattle also naturally produce large amounts of methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas: your average cow produces around 700 litres of methane per day, the equivalent of a large 4×4 vehicle travelling 35 miles in a day. They also require huge amounts of land and water. It takes 15,500 litres of water to produce 1kg of beef, the equivalent of more than eight months of daily showers. It is also estimated that a vegan diet only requires about a third of the land needed for conventional Western diets.

What would happen if everyone in the UK abstained from eating meat for just one day per week? The emissions savings would equate to taking 5 million cars off the road. And what if everyone abstained for six days a week? That would be the same as taking every single car off UK roads.

If we continue ignoring the role of diet in climate change then the UK will have no chance of meeting its new commitment of cutting carbon emissions by 57% by 2032. Current policies which focus narrowly on the energy, transport and waste sectors fall a long way short of those required for the new target according to the government’s official climate change advisors.

What we really need is a public education campaign on the disastrous environmental impact of farming animals. Most people in this country, I suspect, still have little idea that the production of meat, fish and dairy products is destroying the planet.

If the UK wants a policy blueprint then it should look to China, who recently announced its plan to reduce meat consumption by 50% to tackle climate change. Such foresight has to be applauded. Will a Western government ever table such a progressive climate initiative? It is hard to imagine one in the UK anytime soon.

A global shift to a vegan diet would see climate emissions decrease by 70% by 2050, according to a recent study by Oxford University, and result in a monetary saving of over $1trillion in costs linked to climate change and healthcare. Can we afford not to stop eating meat?

Jimmy Pierson on Twitter:

Damage Wrought by Acidic Oceans Hurts More than Marine Life and Lasts Longer

The damage wrought by acidic oceans hurts more than marine life and lasts longer than you think.

By Sean Greene.

A milky white cloud blooms in the Barents Sea, so vast it can be seen from space…

It’s not the result of some toxic chemical spill or the sinking of a dairy-filled tanker — it’s the handiwork of millions of microscopic algae, doing what their kind have done for millions of years. The algae, Emiliania huxleyi, somewhat mysteriously produce ultra-thin scales made of chalk that surround their single-celled bodies.

While it’s not exactly clear how the scales benefit the algae, scientists say they provide an important benefit to the rest of the world. To build up their chalky armor, E. huxleyi eat up the dissolved carbon in the water around them. When the phytoplankton grow new shells, they shed the old ones, which sink to the bottom of the ocean.

Phytoplankton species Emiliania huxleyi absorbs carbon dioxide in the ocean to build its calcium carbonate scales. As more carbon dioxide builds up in the atmosphere and gets absorbed into the ocean, E. huxleyi and similar types of these calcifying phytoplankton are there to capture and store it away — just as trees “inhale” carbon dioxide.

The operation is so massive and industrious that an ancient species of phytoplankton, through a similar process of scale-building and shedding, gave the famous White Cliffs of Dover in [and of East Sussex] southeastern England their distinctive color as their shells piled up over tens of millions of years.


Though carbon dioxide fuels this undersea industry, it also threatens to destroy it, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances. For calcifying phytoplankton, of which E. huxleyi is the most abundant species, some extra carbon in the environment means more fuel for scale-making. But that’s only beneficial to a certain point.

As humans fill the air with the carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases that cause global warming, much of that carbon gets dissolved in the ocean, causing the water to acidify. Sometimes called the twin of global warming, ocean acidification causes corals and shellfish, whose shells are made of the same stuff as E. huxleyi’s scales to disintegrate.

A more acidic ocean eventually will cause phytoplankton like E. huxleyi to abandon their calcifying process. As the phytoplankton lose their appetite for carbon, they leave more of it in the environment. This, in turn, could worsen the effects of climate change, said Thorsten Reusch, a marine ecologist at the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel and senior author of the study.

To find out how phytoplankton will adapt to future sea changes, Reusch and Lothar Schlüter, then a doctoral student, needed to simulate the ocean conditions of the future. In the lab, the scientists placed identical clones of E. huxleyi in varying levels of “acidified” oceans, including one that replicated conditions found today.

In the lab, E. huxleyi grow extremely fast, producing a new generation about once a day. Over four years, the algae copied themselves 2,100 times, essentially allowing the scientists to watch how the species will evolve under future ocean conditions. “We can have the organisms of tomorrow in the lab of today,” Reusch said. “It’s like ‘Jurassic Park’ in reverse.”

In the first year of the experiment, acidified E. huxleyi reacted by initially reducing their scale productivity. However, the algae eventually adapted to the new conditions and took up calcification again.

But in highly acidified oceans, phytoplankton can’t produce scales and maintain their proper body chemistry. Instead of forming scales, they switch to survival mode. After four years of simulated ocean acidification, the phytoplankton shut off their scale production. “They don’t like a more acidic ocean,” Reusch said.

When the researchers returned the algae to “normal” conditions, they went right back to work making their scales. “They know when to reduce calcification,” Reusch said. “They just switch it off when it’s costly, but they switch it back on when the conditions are normal.”

Phytoplankton are vitally important to the way oceans — and the world — work. The microscopic algae form the base of the marine food web and are responsible for producing much of the world’s oxygen.

“Every second breath you take comes from their photosynthesis,” Reusch said.

Even though the study found it’s possible to restore phytoplankton’s carbon-cycling ability by returning them to an un-acidified ocean, such a scenario is “not foreseeable,” Reusch said. Even if we reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide now, he said, ocean acidification is likely to continue.

“We have to live with ocean acidification for hundreds of years,” he said.