News Article | April 24, 2017
Major road embankments are a refuge for more than 800 species of flora. We should care for them with that in mindIn a ditch by a burger van on the A142 near Ely, Cambridgeshire, lives one of our rarest plants. It is the last natural home of fen ragwort, which shows its yellow flowers each summer despite being assailed by discarded coffee cups and the occasional burning car.It’s the rarest of many plants for which roadside verges have become a last refuge. The fact that rubbish-strewn verges are home to more than half Britain’s flora – 809 species, according to the charity, Plantlife – is a stark sign of how we have trashed our environment, destroying 97% of wildflower meadows since the 1930s. Continue reading...
News Article | April 29, 2017
The next time you are on a train take a moment to look out of the window. As you trundle along the line consider all the other lines you can see – roads, canals, power lines; and (once you’re out of the city) hedges, ditches, dykes and drystone walls. It is one of the defining features of humanity that we love lines. So significant is our love that we have created a “linescape” out of the landscape. These lines bring with them both great benefits to the life with which we share the land and also considerable threat. The first lines we etched into the land were specifically to fragment it – to assert ownership or restrain livestock – but these have inadvertently become the agents of connectivity for wildlife. For instance, stoats make wonderful use of walls to weave their way through moorland. We are, rightly, concerned about loss of wildlife habitat. But there is less attention paid to the fragmentation of what remains. For example, recent research shows that we need at least 90 hectares (0.3 square miles) of undivided, good quality habitat to support a population of hedgehogs. Now try to find where these patches are in our suburbs and you will begin to understand why hedgehogs are declining so fast. We need to reclaim the lines that have sliced and diced our lives into such insularity. From the green lanes under threat of neglect to hedges that remain unlayed and unloved; from verges mown clear of vital flowers to railway lines that need to operate within a cordon sanitaire, there are lines that can help wildlife flourish. We just need to start treating ecology with the same degree of seriousness with which we treat the economy. There is a great risk, however, that in trying to tackle the obvious we exacerbate the bigger problem. For example, last week the Guardian’s Tim Dowling argued for great walls to be built alongside roads to reduce the death toll caused by our cars and lorries. Yes, roadkill is a vast problem – some 150,000 hedgehogs alone die every year on our roads – but to hermetically seal roads from wildlife will create absolute fragmentation of the landscape for all those not blessed with the power of flight. Already this is being done, to some extent, with the roll-out of concrete barriers down the central reservations of busy roads. Roads are such an obvious blight; they affect not just the terrestrial – birds, bugs and bats all suffer, so much so that it can be hard to see roads ever presenting an ecological good – but even they have potential. For instance, the dormice that live alongside the A36 in peace and with security, while their nests are shaken by the turbulence of passing articulated trucks, enjoy the absence of people and predators. Conservation charity Plantlife released a report extolling the virtues of the verge. In fact, the expanses of land alongside roads are home to more than 800 species of plant and can be, if managed sensitively, a refuge. Artist Edward Chell took note of this in his brilliant exhibition and book, Soft Estate, in which he argued that this landscape should be considered close to wilderness in that it remains unpeopled. In 2010, Professor Sir John Lawton published a report called Making Space for Nature. This significant document was one of the most powerful calls for a more ecologically literate approach to conservation. It was filled with an optimism that is left seeming a little naive in the face of seven years of anti-ecological politics. But it remains important. We need more space for nature, it needs to be of better quality – and it needs to be joined up. That is where our linescapes can come into their own. How do we start to rebuild and reconnect? There are examples of wonderful bridges, ecoducts, from around the world, where this issue is treated with more respect. And there are a few examples closer to home, such as the Devil’s Punchbowl in Surrey. After many years of campaigning by local people, plans to devastate the beauty of this natural amphitheatre, already compromised by the A3, were shelved and a tunnel built. This has re-consecrated a remarkable habitat. So a tunnel under Stonehenge might seem a great idea, but is fraught with difficulty and, if done as currently planned, will just further diminish this sacred land. There is hope, beyond Lawton’s wishes. And this comes in the shape of the Linear Infrastructure Network (LINet). This gathering of charities, businesses and government agencies has in mind a practical vision of a connected landscape. It calculates that the land associated with the 250,000 miles of public roads, the 10,000 miles of railways and 9,000 miles of energy networks totals 16,000 square miles. This is land that could, and I believe should, be managed with ecological good in mind. We can argue this through the cloudy lens of natural capital, the way in which accountants price and value nature with a crude currency. Or we could be bigger than that, recognise that the economy is but one small subset of the ecosystem and manage this land for the benefit of all the life that depends on a connected landscape. Because this is more than just nature at stake. We should reclaim the linescape of this country for us all. For what we see racing by through the train window is what keeps us alive.
News Article | April 24, 2017
Roadside verges are becoming the last refuge for some of the rarest wild flowers and plants in the UK, according to a conservation charity. Plantlife is calling for better management of grassy verges to preserve a wealth of different flowering plants. It says road margins are a haven for wild plants that have been lost from the countryside. Some wild plants, such as wood calamint and fen ragwort, are now found naturally only on road verges. The charity says such plants can be brought back from near extinction, with conservation management. But it says even endangered plants on verges deemed nature reserves have been mown or cleared. For too long road verges have been thought of as "dull, inconsequential places that flash by in the wing mirror," said Dr Trevor Dines of Plantlife. "Sadly, road verges have been woefully disregarded for decades and are increasingly poorly managed for nature," he added. "Some exceptionally rare plants including fen ragwort and wood calamint are only hanging on thanks to the existence of some remaining well-managed verges. "But we must not get complacent - only genuine management for nature will safeguard these and other plants from extinction." Plantlife says verges should be managed for wildlife as a matter of course, while remaining safe for motorists. Its top 10 threatened plants growing on road verges are: In the study, Plantlife found that 724 plant species grow on road verges in the UK. Of these, 91 are threatened or near-threatened. If ditches and hedgerows are included, this figure rises to 97 out of 809.
News Article | April 23, 2017
Some of the UK’s rarest plants are at risk of extinction unless action is taken to look after the road verges that have become their final refuge, a charity has warned. Species such as fen ragwort and wood calamint are now only found on road verges, with fen ragwort hanging on in just one native spot near a burger van on the A142 in Cambridgeshire, conservation charity Plantlife said. Other plants such as sulphur clover, crested cow-wheat and wood bitter-vetch have lost much of their habitats in meadows, pastures or woodlands and are now most frequently found on the side of roads. In total, Britain’s verges are home to more than 700 species of wild plants, with 12% threatened with extinction or heading in that direction, Plantlife said. Some verges are effectively fragments of wildflower-rich ancient hay meadows and grasslands, most of which have been lost through the countryside since the 1930s, while coastal plants have exploited motorways and A-roads that are salted in winter. The wildflowers provide nectar and pollen, and are a refuge for many declining bee, butterfly, bird, bat and bug species, with plants such as bird’s-foot trefoil – a food source for 160 species of insect – found on many verges. Plantlife has revealed the top 10 threatened species growing on Britain’s road verges, as it calls for better road verge management to help protect wild flowers and plants. The list includes among others the species tower mustard, velvet lady’s-mantle, yarrow broomrape and Welsh groundsel. The charity also said road verges were an important connection to nature for people, with their flowers from bluebells to knapweed providing colour and a sense of the seasons through the year. Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s botanical specialist, said: “For too long road verges have been thought of as dull, inconsequential places that flash by in the wing mirror. “But these findings underline just how fundamental verges are to the health of wildflowers and the wildlife they support. “Sadly, road verges have been woefully disregarded for decades and are increasingly poorly managed for nature.” He said some very rare plants were “hanging on” thanks to the existence of some well-managed verges. “But we must not get complacent – only genuine management for nature will safeguard these and other plants from extinction.” He added that the plight of the critically endangered fen ragwort was “particularly striking”. “Only one native site remains but, unlike lady’s-slipper orchid which also grows in a single native site and receives round-the-clock protection when in flower, this poor plant flounders in an unprepossessing roadside drainage ditch beside the A142 near Ely, Cambridgeshire, where it is at risk from discarded debris.” He warned many councils were mowing road verges earlier in the year, which only gives early flowers a chance to set seed before they are mown, and later plants struggle to survive under the cuttings left behind. Simple changes to management such as mowing later can have a major difference. Almost 20,000 people have signed Plantlife’s petition calling for council management to better benefit wild flowers, the charity said.
News Article | January 19, 2017
Small island species, confined to limited terrain, are always vulnerable, particularly to invasive species, burgeoning human populations, and new diseases. On Hawaii, climate change intersects with these three factors to imperil its unique birds, including six species of honeycreeper. The small, often brightly coloured honeycreepers tend to survive at higher altitudes where their forest habitat is less likely to be destroyed by humans. Higher elevations are also cooler, and less attractive to mosquitoes, which were first carried to Hawaii in the 19th century, long after the birds had evolved there. Outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as avian malaria and avian pox began soon afterwards. As the world warms, so mosquitoes move into higher elevations – and there is nowhere for the honeycreepers to escape to. The birds are particularly susceptible to avian malaria. Last year, a scientific study noted that the prevalence of avian malaria has more than doubled since the 1990s in the upper regions of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Naturalists working in the Kauai mountains never encountered mosquitoes despite searching for them until the last six years or so, during which time they have become commonplace. As well as mosquitos, climate change is also assisting non-native competitors and invasive weeds, which may hasten the native birds’ demise. Eben Paxton, of the US Geological Survey’s Pacific Island Ecosystems research centre, fears that two honeycreepers, the ‘akikiki and the ‘akeke’e, will fall extinct in the next decade “without major intervention”. This means action unfamiliar to many conservationists: removing standing water to reduce mosquito populations, and even releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to reduce populations over time, as undertaken in Brazil to combat the Zika virus. The Baird’s sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) is not likely to become extinct any time soon. It is still listed as a species of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List. But the challenge posed by climate change for this elegant little wading bird is one experienced by many other species: it’s a problem of phenology and synchronicity. Phenology, the study of the timing of natural events in relation to weather and climate, is increasingly complex and important in an era of rapid climate change. Changes in phenology may be a positive sign, demonstrating that species are adapting to climatic conditions and migrating earlier, or flowering sooner, or having offspring earlier in the spring to coincide with food supplies that are changing with the season. But many species are struggling to adapt quickly enough. Increasing temperates in the high Arctic are encouraging shore birds such as the Baird’s sandpiper to breed earlier in the season. This means that more chicks are emerging before the peak abundance of the insects that they feed own. Studies show that chicks raised outside the period of peak abundance grow much more slowly, which means they are less likely to survive into adulthood. A similar mismatch between chick emergence and peak food has also been shown to occur with the European pied flycatcher in the Netherlands. Increasing temperatures are posing a challenge for all kinds of montane species. They may retreat to higher altitudes but, eventually, they will run out of mountain. Mountainous regions are also likely to experience particularly extreme temperature changes: while the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 21st-century climate warming is likely to exceed 2C in many scenarios, the rate of temperature increase in mountainous areas is predicted to be much higher – possibly three times the increase recorded over the 20th century. The giant mountain lobelia (Lobelia rhynchopetalum) is a native of Ethiopia, a spectacular-looking tropical alpine plant that resembles a spiky tropical palm but then shoots up a huge woolly protuberance, sometimes more than 10 metres tall. Implausibly large in arid mountainous terrain, the family of lobelia plants remarkably predate the formation of tall mountains in eastern Africa, to which they’ve adapted. They are not finding it so easy to adapt to rapid anthropogenic climate change. A scientific study of the plant’s prospects last year concluded it “will suffer massive reduction in range” under warmer climes, with just 3.4% of its habitat still suitable by 2080. By then, it is predicted to be confined to just four suitable mountain-top habitats “which may be too small to sustain viable populations”. There’s a further problem. As alpine species such as the giant mountain lobelia are confined to isolated mountaintops, their genetic diversity will narrow dramatically – by 82% – further increasing the likelihood of extinction. The travails of this mountain giant are matched by mountain plant species around the world, including high-altitude species in Britain. Botanist Trevor Dines, of the charity Plantlife, says: “It’s already clear that some of our rarest Arctic-alpine plants, such as Highland saxifrage, are at risk. As the climate warms, they’re already moving to higher altitudes to find cooler, damper conditions. At some point, they’ll run out of mountain to climb and we’ll be facing the extinction of some of our most enigmatic and wonderful flora.” For many creatures, climate change is the most vicious component of a perfect storm driving them towards extinction. For some, extinction is quite literally caused by storms and rising seas. Anthropogenic climate change has almost certainly driven our first mammal species to extinction. The Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), or mosaic-tailed rat, lived the unobtrusive life of a small rodent in the eastern Torres Strait. It was first discovered – and killed – on the tiny vegetated coral island of Bramble Cay by Europeans in 1845. Several hundred lived there as recently as 1978. But the highest point of Bramble Cay is three metres above sea level and around the Torres Strait the sea level rose at almost twice the global average rate between 1993 and 2014. Since 1998, the area of Bramble Cay above high tide has shrunk from from 4 hectares to 2.5 hectares. The melomys has lost 97% of its habitat and was last seen by a fisherman in 2009. Scientists laid traps in 2011 and twice in 2014 to catch the little rodent and start a captive breeding programme to save it from extinction. But they were too late: they couldn’t find any trace of the animal. There’s a small chance an as-yet-undiscovered population may survive in Papua New Guinea but the scientists have judged it is almost certainly extinct. The Sierra Nevada blue (Polyommatus golgus) is a small butterfly that is both brilliant blue (the male) and dark black-brown (the female) and is one of four endangered species unique to Spain. It is only found in the peaks of the Sierra Nevada and in another small mountainous area further north. It has already lost habitat to overgrazing by animals, a ski resort, and the trampling of vegetation by people on roads and footpaths. But its biggest threat is climate change, according to a species recovery plan drawn up by the researcher Miguel Munguira for Butterfly Conservation Europe. Drought, increased temperatures and reduced snow coverage are set to displace the species to higher areas where the habitat might not be suitable. “For the populations living on the highest areas of the mountains these changes would mean their extinction,” says Munguira. Of the 482 species of butterfly in Europe, 149 are restricted to such small areas that it is difficult for scientists to assess how the changing climate will affect them. Isolated in such small pockets of land makes these rare insects hugely vulnerable – wild habitat is too fragmented for even winged creatures to easily find a suitable alternative. And those that can only live in northern Europe, or on the tops of mountain ranges, will be the first to go. “The scale of threat to the species of Europe is massive,” says Nigel Bourn, conservation director of Butterfly Conservation in Britain. “I don’t really think policymakers have even begun to come to terms with that.” The disappearance of a few butterflies may not move the hardest of human hearts but these are the most closely monitored insects: the impact of climate change on hundreds of butterflies will be replicated in other less-known pollinators and insect populations – from bees to hoverflies – and the very fabric of life on earth will start to fray. Rising seas and stormy weather will affect turtle species in the most direct of ways, eroding or destroying many of the beaches where they lay their eggs. But scientists have discovered that hotter sands also cause greater numbers of sea turtles to be born female. In the short term, over the next 20 or 30 years, this will increase turtle numbers. But a study published in Nature Climate Change examining the loggerhead turtles of Cape Verde in the Atlantic, warns that significantly warmer sands in the next 150 years could cause such a preponderance of females that species become extinct. Hotter sand can also cause complete nest failure. Turtles are facing more problems than most animals: warming ocean temperatures will alter currents and shift the distribution and abundance of prey species. Species such as the hawksbill turtle are dependant on coral reefs which are bleaching and dying with climate change. The Adélie penguin is one of just two true Antarctic penguins, surviving on the ice-bound continent for 45,000 years. Now its survival is being questioned by scientists puzzling over the precise cause for sharp declines that correlate with a rapidly changing climate. Colonies of this little penguin on the West Antarctic Peninsula have declined by at least 80% since the 1970s, and this is an area with more years of warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures than other regions. Changes in sea temperature and sea ice affects the availability of food, and where fish populations have fallen the penguins eat more krill, which is less nutritious. Nest sites may not be ideal if warming is creating premature melt and puddles on the ground as eggs cannot survive if they are lying in a pool of water. Most importantly, the Adéie penguin cannot survive without sea ice. In a paper published last year, researchers predicted that 60% of the present habitat would be unsuitable for the penguins by 2099. But Adélie populations in the southern most parts of Antarctica, where there has been fewer climatic and environmental changes, are much more stable. The Adélie has refugia but for how long? The polar bear may be the poster-creature of climate change victims but this equally attractive – and rather more timid – white furry mammal is much closer to the edge of extinction. This arboreal marsupial lives on the wooded slopes of Mount Lewis in the Daintree rainforest in Queensland, Australia, where scientists have judged it already “ecologically extinct”. The white lemuroid ringtail possum (Hemibelideus lemuroides) lives off leaf moisture and are only found in the high-altitude cloud forest and cannot survive temperatures above 30C for more than a few hours. At less than 3,000 metres high, the climate of Mount Lewis is rapidly changing. A severe heatwave in 2005 killed off most of these cool-loving creatures. In July 2014, scientists observed four or five adults during 10 surveys. Even if the population bounces back, soon it will have nowhere left to go. Genetic studies have never been carried out to determine whether the white possums are a separate species or simply colour variations of the brown-furred lemuroid ringtail possums, which appear to be able to survive higher temperatures. But Prof Bill Laurance of James Cook University has argued that the white form is “a unique evolutionary unit and therefore worthy of conservation”. It is also just one furry symbol of the “ecological catastrophe” that scientists warn will soon befall thousands of species who will find that Australia’s tropical rainforests offer them no shelter in an era of warming. The most commonly pictured victim of climate change is the polar bear clinging to a rapidly diminishing iceberg. But there is another vulnerable Arctic mammal that is just as photogenic and even more dependant upon Arctic sea ice for its survival. Climate change is driving polar bears from the safety of sea ice and on to hazardous dry land, and into more conflict with humans. But the ringed seal, the smallest Arctic seal species, cannot adapt to dry land so easily. Ringed seals rest on sea ice, conceive beneath it, and give birth upon it, excavating snow dens on the surface of the sea ice to shelter their newborns. These dens keep the young warm, and depends upon sufficient annual snowfall. Warmer spring temperatures causes snow dens to collapse and the ice to break up early, separating young – just 60cm long when born – from their mothers, and exposing them to the cold, predators and pathogens. Ring seal reproductive rates are already showing declines associated with climate change. Hundreds of pups are usually born each year on the fjords along the west coast of Svalbard but pups were “virtually non-existent” in 2006 and 2007, when many fjords did not freeze for the first time in recorded history. If ringed seal populations slump, there will be another victim, too: they are the prime food source of the polar bear. Coral is not merely a living species; it’s a miraculous ecosystem engineer, building elaborate and beautiful subterranean structures that provide food and shelter for so many other forms of life on Earth. Coral reefs are hailed as the “rainforest of the sea” but such analogies underplay their significance: they house a greater diversity of animal and plant life than rainforests. Coral is being killed by climate change and its extinction is coming sooner than many other creatures imperilled by climate change. Staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis) is experiencing disastrous declines in its range in the southern Gulf of Mexico, Florida and the Bahamas, declining by up to 98% in parts of the Caribbean since the 1980s. It is listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN red list. Since 2005, the Caribbean region has lost 50% of its corals, largely because of rising sea temperatures and mass bleaching incidents which have killed coral around the world. Species such as the orange-spotted filefish are completely dependent on coral reefs, and highly sensitive to warmer water. Across the world, coral reefs are bleaching and dying: Japan’s government this year reported that almost three-quarters of its biggest coral reef has died, blaming rising sea temperatures caused by global warming. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced the worst bleaching ever recorded by scientists in 2016. Researchers at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have predicted that by 2050 more than 98% of coral reefs around the world will be afflicted by “bleaching-level thermal stress” each year. They conclude that reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, are unlikely to survive such events. Homo sapiens is not dependant on the coral reefs but their loss would be a devastating and demoralising indictment of our era, and the destructiveness of our species. “We’ll lose more species of plants and animals between 2000 and 2065 than we’ve lost in the last 65 million years,” environmentalist Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd, has pointed out. “If we don’t find answers to these problems, we’re gonna be victims of this extinction event that we’re at fault for.”
Storkey J.,Rothamsted Research |
Meyer S.,University of Gottingen |
Still K.S.,Plantlife |
Leuschner C.,University of Gottingen
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2012
The impact of crop management and agricultural land use on the threat status of plants adapted to arable habitats was analysed using data from Red Lists of vascular plants assessed by national experts from 29 European countries. There was a positive relationship between national wheat yields and the numbers of rare, threatened or recently extinct arable plant species in each country. Variance in the relative proportions of species in different threat categories was significantly explained using a combination of fertilizer and herbicide use, with a greater percentage of the variance partitioned to fertilizers. Specialist species adapted to individual crops, such as flax, are among the most threatened. These species have declined across Europe in response to a reduction in the area grown for the crops on which they rely. The increased use of agro-chemicals, especially in central and northwestern Europe, has selected against a larger group of species adapted to habitats with intermediate fertility. There is an urgent need to implement successful conservation strategies to arrest the decline of this functionally distinct and increasingly threatened component of the European flora. © 2011 The Royal Society.
News Article | November 3, 2016
An invasive flatworm from Brazil that poses a threat to soil health and wildlife has made its way to mainland Britain. A 4.5cm Obama flatworm (Obama nungara) – not linked to the US president but named after the Brazilian Tupi words for leaf (oba) and animal (ma) – was discovered this summer crawling out of a Heuchera plant imported from the Netherlands at a garden centre in Oxfordshire. Conservationists say this is the “smoking gun” which provides the direct link between the “virtually uncontrolled” trade in pot plants and the spread of invasive species. The worm, which has a broad, flattened, leaf-shaped body and can grow up to 7cm long, was first found in Europe on Guernsey in 2008 but has spread to France, Italy and Spain. It was only described as a new species last year. Populations of New Zealand and Australian flatworms are already established in the UK and there are at least 18 flatworms that have been introduced in Europe, including the New Guinea flatworm, listed as one of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world. Flatworms prey on earthworms and land snails, and in areas where they have already colonised the soil they have reduced some earthworm populations by 20%. These invertebrates are considered essential for soil health as they aerate and fertilise the earth, maintain its structure and support plant growth. Fewer invertebrates would also have an impact higher up the food chain, while the resulting poorer quality soil could have knock-on effects on everything from flooding - making the soil less able to absorb water - to farming - where crops would be harder to grow. “The importation of pot plants into the UK is bringing with it an avalanche of harmful and unwanted species. At Buglife we are regularly alerted to exotic grasshoppers, wasps, beetles, spiders and moths arriving at nurseries and garden centres, many of these animals have the potential to damage agriculture, destroy wildlife or distress gardeners,” said Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO. “Our biosecurity is feeble, it is time for the government to take control of this problem before it gets completely out of hand and we are unable to recognise the wildlife in our own gardens.” Current government guidance for importing trees and plants to England and Wales from the EU requires certain species to carry a “plant passport” or be declared. But Shardlow said for the vast majority of plants there are no biosecurity measures to exclude or check for eggs or hibernating animals in the soil. There has been an increasing volume and speed of movement of plants in recent years and this increases the chances of exotic pests arriving with imported goods and travellers. Other stresses such as climate change and changes in land use have increased the risk of invasive species establishing themselves and spreading. The discovery of ash dieback in England in 2012 highlighted the risk posed to the UK’s plants from new pests and diseases. Imports were banned and an independent taskforce set up to assess the threats. Among the other invasive species that are likely to have arrived through the pot plant trade are the rosemary leaf-beetle, Spanish slug, oak processionary moth, Asian hornet and harlequin ladybird. Figures show that the UK imports £324m worth of live ornamental plants each year, while invasive species are estimated to cost the British economy around £1.7bn a year. Trevor Dines, botanical specialist at Plantlife, said: “With thousands of species arriving from around the world the main threats actually are plants themselves. While bans have now been placed on the sale of highly invasive species, we import thousands of others that pose a serious risk. “Without any screening in place we’re playing a game of Russian roulette with our countryside and native wildlife. The current guidance is utterly inadequate and without rigorous screening it’s not surprising that new invasive plants – and their alarming hitchhikers like the Obama flatworm – are arriving.” A Defra spokesman said:“We take biosecurity extremely seriously and are committed to doing all we can to prevent pests and invasive non-native species reaching our borders. “We work closely with neighbouring countries, the wider international community, industry, charities, landowners and the public to reduce the risks.”
News Article | August 2, 2016
The north American raccoon, an Asian hornet and an American cabbage are among 37 invasive species that will be banned from being brought into the UK from Wednesday when a new EU regulation comes into effect. The continent-wide rules now make it illegal to import, keep, breed or grow, transport, sell or use, or release into the environment without a permit the listed invasive, non-native plant and animal species. But the ban will no longer apply when then UK leaves the EU. The 14 plants listed include the American skunk cabbage, which has invaded Scottish marshes and wiped out all of the native flora at one site in the New Forest, Hampshire. Curly waterweed, also on the list, has increased by 41% in 15 years in the UK, while floating pennywort can spread at a rate of 20cm per day. The list of 23 banned animals contains the aggressive North American signal crayfish, which breeds faster and preys on the smaller native crayfish species; the Asian hornet, which is spreading rapidly across France and other parts of mainland Europe, and the raccoon. As many as 1 million are believed to have spread across Germany, threatening native wildlife and carrying parasitic diseases. The named species have been assessed as being “of union concern” - posing such a high risk of invasion and damage within one or more EU member states that a co-ordinated, Europe-wide response is needed to limit their spread. Invasive alien species are animals and plants that are introduced accidentally or deliberately into a natural environment where they are not normally found. Around 1,800 species in the EU are considered invasive, and their numbers are rapidly growing. They represent a major biodiversity threat by crowding out indigenous species and cause more than €12bn of damage every year. Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for the environment, said: “Some species of plants and animals can damage property, crops and livelihoods so they need to be kept out if possible and under control if not. This needs to be done at EU level as invasive species don’t stop at borders. We are acting on a problem that cannot be ignored.” Invasive species in the UK have been controlled to date by the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the GB Invasive Non-native Species strategy and are estimated to cost the British economy around £1.7bn a year. Total annual costs of Japanese knotweed are estimated at £166m and some £13.9m of damage is thought to be caused by deer vehicle collisions each year - many of which are non-native species. An £11m bill has been set for the eradication of rhododendron from a national park in Wales. A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We continue to take a robust and comprehensive approach to tackling invasive non-native species in the UK.” The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) said the ban was welcome because the EU list contains several water-based species that can grow aggressively and choke native water life of light, oxygen and space. WWT government affairs officer, Hannah Freeman, said: “This European regulation is a no-brainer that will save wildlife and also save our economy millions of pounds each year. It’s important that we continue to make those savings and keep managing harmful alien species once we leave the EU. “Invasive non-native species is an ever-developing issue as climate and transport changes over time. This regulation is a welcome first step, but more steps will be needed in future to keep pace with the threats to Britain’s wildlife, whether we’re a member of the EU or not.” Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife’s botanical specialist, said: “Although harsh, these stringent new controls are one of the most effective ways to stop species at an early stage of the invasion process. It’s much better to nip them in the bud – getting on top of the problem now – before eradication at many sites in the wild becomes difficult and prohibitively expensive.” Paul Hetherington, fundraising and communications director of Buglife, said: “Agreement on this initial, very modest list of species is a small but important step in controlling the invasive alien species that are threatening our natural heritage.” The regulation was originally planned to come into effect in January 2015 but has been delayed until the list of regulated species could be agreed. Member states have 18 months to implement effective management measures including a surveillance system, early detection and rapid eradication and control of the invasive species that are already widespread in their territory. Breach of the regulation will result in a fine and seizure of the animal or plant. The rules also include special provisions for pet owners, traders, and breeders.
News Article | October 26, 2016
A UK-wide citizen project that has attracted almost one million participants has been awarded a further £1.2m of funding. Peter Ainsworth, chairman of the Big Lottery Fund, said Open Air Laboratories (Opal) got people "off their bums" and into the community. Opal, founded in 2007, aims to engage people in environmental issues while collecting data for scientific studies. Mr Ainsworth made the announcement at a conference at Kew Gardens, London. "What we love about Opal is the way it gets people involved and gets them away from their computer screens, off their bums and out into the community and finding things out, and being useful," he said. "While being valuable to scientists, it is also very valuable for people by delivering a really useful social outcome." To date, Opal projects have gathered data on a range of issues, including air quality, soil, water and tree health. The data-collecting programme, led by a team at Imperial College London, aims to: In a speech to delegates, Mr Ainsworth said the philosophy of the Big Lottery Fund had moved away from asking people "what is the matter with you?" to asking "what matters to you?" The former MP and chairman of the Plantlife charity observed: "Policymakers tend to think that it is about health, or education, or it is about crime. "It is about all of those things but what really matters to people is the quality of where people live: the design of buildings, the dog [mess] all over playing fields, graffiti on walls. People care about the quality of the places and spaces where they live." He told the conference that once you joined up the dots "then you get a very powerful narrative about the connection of human beings to the natural world, which sustains every single one of us". Opal director David Slawson welcomed the funding, explaining that despite engaging almost more than one million people, there was still further work to do in order to ensure the project reached people that were not being reached at the moment. He added that one of the key successes of the Opal network was the breadth of benefits that had emerged from the projects. "If you look into the depth of the analysis then you find that people become more engaged in the environment; their attitude to the environment has changed, and they have said that their behaviour towards the environment will also change as a result of [taking part in an Opal survey]," Dr Slawson told BBC News. "I think that has really started a pathway towards environmental stewardship, and helping produce the next generation as environmentalists and I desperately hope that we have enthused them so they will do a better job than we have."
News Article | March 1, 2016
Killer Asian hornets that feast on up to 50 honeybees every day are likely on their way to Great Britain soon, warned experts. These insects — scientifically known as Vespa velutina and considerably more aggressive that than their British counterparts — arrived in neighboring France 12 years earlier hidden in a shipment of Chinese pottery. They spread quickly across the continent and all the way to southern Portugal. Invasive non-native species (INNS) cost the United Kingdom alone more than £1.7 billion ($2.37 billion) every year to control, with more than 300 of their 2,000 species invasive and considered culprit to several bird extinctions over centuries. Asian hornets feature a wingspan of more than 7 centimeters (2.75 inches), and an almost completely dark abdomen with a number of faint yellow stripes. Experts estimated that they are likely to cross the channel through imported potted plants, cut flowers, fruit and timber. "Like all invasive non-native species, once established the Asian hornet would be incredibly difficult and hugely costly to tackle," says Camilla Keane, chair of the Wildlife and Countryside Link's invasive species group. Keane warned that the problem is not going away anytime soon, as many other INNS are already wreaking havoc on the countryside while new ones arrive over time. During the ongoing Invasive Species Week, Keane called on the UK government to work with different groups to create list of invasive alien species that are of countrywide concern, as set out in the developing European Union Invasive Alien Species (IAS) Regulation. Honeybee populations in Europe have already experienced alarming declines, and they are not in the safe zone yet as Asian hornets eat them and other pollinators in large quantities. The hornets hunt them up, chop them to pieces using their jaws, and feed them to larvae present in the nest. According to Charity Plantlife, anyone who spots the Asian hornet in the UK should report it to the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat. As for humans, the Asian hornet's sting can be greatly painful and the venom is delivered repeatedly and rapidly. The sting can be fatal, but only when the individual suffers an anaphylactic shock. As a safety precaution, humans should keep away from their nests, which are usually up in trees but are sometimes located in sheds and garages. Unlike the common wasp, too, they rarely nest in wall cavities. An Asian hornet is different from the common wasps, which have little to no hair, are black and bright yellow, and do not swarm. The common wasp consumes insects, food waste and sugary drinks.