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News Article | May 12, 2017
Site: www.theguardian.com

Farmers are warning that water may have to be transferred across Britain after an unusually dry winter and spring left more than four-fifths of rivers with too little to support local growers. Fears of a drought were expected to ease this weekend as scattered showers usher in a more traditional British spring, but wildlife and agriculture industries are bracing for a long, parched summer. The driest winter for 20 years has hit particularly hard in the south-east, where forecasts for rain remain elusive in the coming week. Rivers in the Chilterns were at half the level considered healthy for May. The river Ver, for example, was 3.7 miles (6km) shorter than normal, while one chalk stream had almost completely disappeared. “It’s a total loss of an aquatic ecosystem – fish and invertebrates such as caddis fly larvae get trapped and die,” said Allen Beachey of the Chilterns Chalk Streams Project. “It’s not as bad as spring 2012 when we were saved by the wettest summer on record but we’re facing a summer of continued stress on what are already very stressed chalk rivers.” Many farmers have begun to irrigate crops six weeks earlier than usual as a result, and fruit farmers in particular are worried that the water will run out. Water management experts are calling for “water shunting”, in which water is moved huge distances from the high rainfall north to the low-rainfall south. “HS2 is coming because the Treasury says we have to build the economy,” said Laurence Couldrick, CEO of Westcountry Rivers Trust, referring to the high-speed rail project. “The same argument is relevant for having water shunting. We might have to build a water shunting pipeline from Wales to London.” John Breach, chairman of the British Independent Fruit Growers Association, is calling for a government-funded water grid to be built alongside HS2 and other major new roads to carry water from the north-west to the south-east. “Anywhere they build new motorways they should think ahead for once – pipelines could be added alongside and you’re only paying for the cost of the pipes,” he said. According to Clive Edmed, a fruit farmer in Kent, modern high-yielding apple trees require more water and are less resistant to drought than the larger-rooted old trees. Apples are likely to be smaller this year and the only consolation for growers such as Edmed is that he is unlikely to be competing with large scale imports – apple crops on the continent, including France, have also been decimated by drought and late frosts. Late frosts in the UK have also caused apple growers to lose all the blossom – and this year’s fruit – in some orchards. “We’ve got our backs to the wall on several fronts,” said Edmed. Beyond the struggle to make a living this season, farmers in the parched south-east are investing millions in on-farm reservoirs to future-proof their growing of high-value – but thirsty – crops such as potatoes and carrots. The 2,530-hectare (6,250-acre) Euston estate in Suffolk has spent £800,000 on two reservoirs which hold 200m gallons of water and £1.2m on laying an underground irrigation main to distribute the water to its fields. The farm has enough water to survive a one-and-a-quarter year drought, but even now does not have enough water to irrigate its cereal crops. According to Andrew Blenkiron, the estate’s director, the dry spring will reduce the farm’s wheat and barley yields by 20%, with further losses if the drought intensifies. “If the river flows continue to be low this summer and we move into a really dry winter we won’t be able to fill our reservoirs,” said Blenkiron. “The ability to irrigate crops is going to be vitally important in the future. We need to simplify the planning system so we can build these storage reservoirs and come up with some kind of financial incentive such as tax-breaks to help pay for these massive capital items.” Many smaller farms cannot afford to build reservoirs but an increasing number of farmers are seeking to build up organic matter in their soils so they better store moisture and do not erode in dry weather. “This is the long game,” said Blenkiron. “It’s probably not my lifetime but my successor’s lifetime – building organic matter with lots of animal manures. Lots of farmers are really enlightened now and focused on this.” Across the country, catchment partnerships involving local farmers, water companies and environmental organisations, are taking similar “sensible and pragmatic measures” to slow the movement of water through the landscape, according to Henri Brocklebank of Sussex Wildlife Trust. “We’re not pitched against farmers at all, we’re all on the same team on this one.” While the dry weather is challenging human ingenuity, there are winners as well as losers in the natural world. “The dry spell is doing far more good than harm for wildlife and long may it continue because the last time we had a decent summer was 2006,” said Matthew Oates of the National Trust. Recent wet summers have caused long, rank grass and bracken to swamp many heat-loving species. “The main beneficiaries of drier weather are the myriad of plants and animals which like pockets of bare ground, because that’s been closed over in recent years. Insects such as mining bees really benefit from having barer ground and have for once been doing really well,” he said. The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is calling on gardeners to put out shallow dishes of water for parched hedgehogs. The RSPB also advises topping up muddy puddles so house martins can find enough mud to build their nests.


Bennie J.,University of Exeter | Hodgson J.A.,University of York | Hodgson J.A.,University of Liverpool | Lawson C.R.,University of Exeter | And 6 more authors.
Ecology Letters | Year: 2013

Ecological responses to climate change may depend on complex patterns of variability in weather and local microclimate that overlay global increases in mean temperature. Here, we show that high-resolution temporal and spatial variability in temperature drives the dynamics of range expansion for an exemplar species, the butterfly Hesperia comma. Using fine-resolution (5 m) models of vegetation surface microclimate, we estimate the thermal suitability of 906 habitat patches at the species' range margin for 27 years. Population and metapopulation models that incorporate this dynamic microclimate surface improve predictions of observed annual changes to population density and patch occupancy dynamics during the species' range expansion from 1982 to 2009. Our findings reveal how fine-scale, short-term environmental variability drives rates and patterns of range expansion through spatially localised, intermittent episodes of expansion and contraction. Incorporating dynamic microclimates can thus improve models of species range shifts at spatial and temporal scales relevant to conservation interventions. © 2013 The Authors. Ecology Letters published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and CNRS.


Loos J.,Lüneburg University | Loos J.,Lund University | Kuussaari M.,Finnish Environment Institute | Ekroos J.,Lund University | And 4 more authors.
Landscape Ecology | Year: 2015

Context: Agricultural transformation and increased land use intensity often lead to simplified landscapes and biodiversity loss. For animals, one possible mechanism underpinning biodiversity loss in agricultural landscapes is the disruption of movements. The disruption of movements may explain, for example, why butterfly communities in agricultural landscapes are often dominated by generalist species with high mobility.Objectives: Here, we investigated how the movement patterns of butterflies characterised by different levels of mobility changed along a gradient of agricultural land use intensity.Methods: To this end, we studied 15 landscapes in low-intensity farmland in Central Romania, measuring 10 ha each and covering a gradient of landscape heterogeneity and woody vegetation cover. In these landscapes, we tracked movements of 563 individuals of nine butterfly species.Results: Our findings showed that overall movement activities differed significantly between species, corresponding well with expert-derived estimates of species-specific mobility. Interestingly, species of low and high mobility responded in opposite ways to increasing levels of landscape heterogeneity. In relatively simple landscapes, the movement patterns of low and high mobility species were similar. By contrast, in complex landscapes, the flight paths of low-mobility species became shorter and more erratic, whereas the flight paths of high-mobility species became longer and straighter. An analysis of the land covers traversed showed that most species avoided arable land but favoured the more heterogeneous parts of a given landscape.Conclusions: In combination, our results suggest that non-arable patches in agricultural landscapes are important for butterfly movements, especially for low-mobility species. © 2014, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


Dean C.,Bournemouth University | Day J.,RSPB | Gozlan R.E.,French Natural History Museum | Green I.,Bournemouth University | And 2 more authors.
Conservation Evidence | Year: 2013

Crassula helmsii is a semi-aquatic, invasive macrophyte, which has become abundant in wetland habitats across Europe. This species is of conservation concern because heavy invasions form dense carpets within which few other plants species occur. C. helmsii is known to be killed by inundation with seawater, but published information on its response to inundation by less saline water is limited. Growth trials were conducted to investigate the levels of salinity required to kill this species. We found a linear negative relationship between growth rate and salinity across the range from 2 - 8 ppt, but that 8 ppt was required to kill C. helmsii. These findings suggest that C. helmsii growth could be controlled by inundation with saline water of 8 ppt. This may present a method for reducing the negative effects of salt water on co-occurring species, and thus the next stage will be to determine the efficacy of this method in field trials.


Bocklebank H.,Sussex Wildlife Trust
Ecos | Year: 2012

The Wildlife Trusts have been talking about 'bigger, better and more joined-up' conservation for many years, primed by their Living Landscape programme launched in 2006. The Trusts recognise the importance of moving outside nature reserve boundaries and looking at connectivity in the wider countryside. Policies are now catching up with this thinking and the Lawton Review paved the way for the larger-scale aspirations of the 2011 Natural Environment White Paper. This article reflects on work by the West Weald Landscape Partnership. The activity began in 2004, building on research into wildlife connectivity of this landscape from 1998.


Whitbread T.,Sussex Wildlife Trust
Ecos | Year: 2012

Is looking after the environment an act of charity, to be funded by those with the desire to do so, or is it an act of social responsibility to be funded by all? This article considers the dilemmas for conservation in linking its interests to the political priority for economic qrowth.


Scott D.M.,University of Brighton | Southgate F.,Sussex Wildlife Trust | Overall A.J.,University of Brighton | Waite S.,University of Brighton | Tolhurst B.A.,University of Brighton
Journal of Zoology | Year: 2012

The Eurasian water shrew Neomys fodiens is a semi-aquatic predator of freshwater invertebrates. As water quality affects the diversity and abundance of aquatic invertebrates, water shrews could potentially be used as a vertebrate bio-indicator of water quality. To date, no detailed studies have empirically examined the impacts of water quality on Eurasian water shrew occurrence. Bait-tube surveys were undertaken in winter and summer over 3years at 26 different wetland locations across Sussex, UK, which varied in water quality. Bait tubes were used to confirm water shrew presence at specific sites and derive an index of activity using frequency of occurrence of faeces within tubes. Water quality was measured using six direct physical and chemical indicators (dissolved oxygen, pH, water temperature, ammonia, nitrate and phosphate) and two derived indices of biological indicators based on aquatic invertebrate composition. We found no linear relationship between any physical, chemical or biological water quality indicators and water shrew occurrence. Generalized linear models indicate that water shrew presence and frequency of occurrence are more affected by site and season than water quality. Thus, water shrews may be more tolerant of poor water quality than previously envisaged. Overall, our study indicates that water shrews are not suitable vertebrate bio-indicators of water quality. © 2011 The Authors. Journal of Zoology © 2011 The Zoological Society of London.

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