GE17: Manifestos on the Environment

Less than a week to go until the “snap” General Election 2017 that nobody wanted but what are the parties promising on the environment?

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Here’s a quick summary:

Green Party

  • preserve all EU environmental laws and principles after Brexit
  • introduce Environment Protection Act to preserve wildlife and habitats and ensure all have right to access green space
  • work towards global temperature rise of below 1.5 degrees
  • ban fracking
  • end fossil-fuel use
  • support onshore wind and solar power
  • all new homes to be zero carbon by 2020 and improve energy efficiency of old homes
  • remove diesel cars through scrappage
  • £2 million for cycle and walking schemes
  • redirect farmer subsidies towards sustainable land management
  • marine protection network around the UK, maintaining sustainable fish stocks

Labour

  • will meet international climate targets and transition to low carbon economy
  • protect current EU environmental standards and principles
  • nationalise the energy market
  • ban fracking
  • interest free loans for landlords to improve energy sufficiency of their properties, as well as improving insulation in 4 million homes
  • introduce a Clean Air Act
  • invest in electric vehicle manufacture and use
  • targets to reduce plastic bottle waste
  • plant 1 million trees to help natural flood management
  • protect land and sea habitats

Liberal Democrats

  • maintain EU environmental standards
  • create governmental office for sustainability
  • create blue belt for marine life
  • introduce a Zero Carbon Britain Act, Green Buildings Act, Zero Waste Act, and an Air Quality Act
  • expand renewables by 60% by 2030
  • diesel scrappage scheme
  • plant a tree per citizen
  • maintain Paris climate obligations
  • £2 million for flood prevention
  • redirect farmers’ subsidies towards healthy food and effective land management

Conservatives

  • continue to meet the international goal of reducing emissions by 80% by 2050
  • £600 million investment to make every car have zero emissions by 2050
  • upgrading poor fuel homes by 2030 to EPC band C
  • possible offshore wind technology, particular in the Scottish isles (if they are still within the UK….)
  • subsidies for farmers guaranteed until 2022 (new schemes to come into play after that)
  • improving water courses with landowners to manage natural flood defenses
  • commercial fishing to preserve fish stocks
  • free vote on the Hunting Act

 

Hope this helps you come to the right decision for the environment this Thursday!

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Nightjar

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I’ve not blogged in a while because I have been busy with others thing (including overtime at work) and also I suppose I was waiting for the warmer weather to appear to give me an opportunity to find something to write about.

Last week we went to Lakenheath Fen on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, a reserve managed by the RSPB. I hadn’t been there before but was aware it has a variety of habitats – woodlands, wetlands, reedbeds, etc. – so I was expecting to get some use out of my binoculars.

Instead it was mostly my ears that took centre stage as there were many interesting bird sounds from the reedbeds from elusive birds that just didn’t emerge, no matter how long we waited. Bitterns booming and never appearing is an experience I am used to, but I had not expected that when wandering down the path back to the visitor centre we would disturb a nightjar!

The sound was so puzzling to a very amateur birder like me – it sounded like a computer game, or a laser, or a machine. We couldn’t spot the creature, didn’t even manage to get a recording, but when googling it days later we realised it could only be a nightjar. I know it’s unlikely and unusual behaviour at this time of year but I can’t think that we could have confused such a distinctive sound.

This was on the 1st of April, on a reserve that had no prior reported sightings. They do nest in nearby Thetford forest so I imagine this one was on its way there and stopped off to see if maybe this territory might be suitable nesting ground.

Other birds that we actually spotted that day include blackcaps, reed buntings, cormorants, marsh harriers, egrets, herons. There were also some garganeys but they were too far away for binoculars to take in.

5 interesting new species we discovered in 2016

It’s not all doom and gloom and the Sixth Mass Extinction – scientists have been discovering new species as well as pronouncing their imminent demist. As our knowledge and technology improves, researchers are able to access more and more remote areas and discover interesting species that are completely new to science – before it is too late. Here’s a round up of my favourites.

  • The Ziggy Stardust Snake – for good reason this is my favourite new species, and for good reason they named it after the late great Bowie’s alter personality Ziggy, with it’s striking iridescent rainbow head.

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  • The Seadragon – OK, so I seem to be making a list of species with the coolest names. A relative of the seahorse, it has a long narrow body, with dorsal and pectoral fins.

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  • Harry Potter Sorting Hat Spider – again, the cool name theme. It was discovered in a mountainous region of south-west India and it mimics foliage to hide from predators

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  • Four-penised milipede – such a thing exists. 414 legs, 200 poison glands, 4 penises, and no eyes. So it goes.

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  •  Klingon newt – one of 163 new species, along with the Ziggy snake, that were discovered in 2015 along the Mekong delta, a hugely ecologically diverse.

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Trump’s threat to tear up the Paris agreement could help to make it law

Climate change denying president-elect (said with the contempt it deserves) Donald Trump has reiterated his campaign threat to tear up the Paris agreement signed less than a year that committed all nations to limit the global temperature rise to less than 2 degrees.

Trump believes (or claims to – who really knows what’s going on beneath the wig?) that climate change is a Communist conspiracy invented by the Chinese to bring down American capitalism. It’s not.

Last year, the UNFCCC managed to sign up all 195 nations of the ailing planet to a voluntary agreement to limit the global temperature increase and mitigate climate change; it’s key pledge is to:

Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change

This is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement and is absolutely essential in reducing the impact of climate change before it is too late. Within a year, 111 of the 195 countries have ratified that deal, making it official. It is a monumental achievement that both the US and China, which together account for over 40% of global emissions, actually agreed to do this, and Trump has promised to retract that commitment.

It’s not clear whether Trump will be “allowed” to back out of it; however, the actual agreement is voluntary, and consists of promises to change behaviour, and crucially there is no fiscal punishment for backtracking or failing to keep those promises.

It’s tempting to deny climate change – I was never very clear about the evidence myself because apparently the climate has changed a lot throughout the history of the planet. But it’s obvious to me that humans are destroying the earth – we’ve been cutting down those rainforests for decades with no thought or care about the wildlife housed within them, and polluting the oceans with our discarded plastic. So it makes perfect sense that there would be some environment consequence of this.

There’s not much we can do on an individual level, apart from recycle the little we can, limit our waste and consumption where possible, and walk the distances we can manage rather than driving. But what’s the point of me carefully cleaning out yoghurt pots when China and America keep on coughing up coal?

This song ‘4 degrees‘ by Anohni is an ironic anthem for our doomed planet and a challenging reminder that we’re all part of the problem.

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If climate change deniers don’t give a damn about the environment, maybe they will consider the health impacts on people demonstrated in this graph.

 

 

Hickling Broad, Norfolk, is being sold to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Hickling Broad is one of our most famous and internationally important broads in Norfolk. It houses a significant proportion of the UK’s common crane population, along with resident marsh harriers, bitterns, pochards, water rails, Cetti’s warbler, and the infamous beared tit.

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A large area of the estate has been managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, which is this year celebrating its 90th birthday. At the end of the second world war, the Mills family, who have owner the estate for over 200 years, decided to hand over the management to the NWT. Now more than 1,400 acres of the important ecosystem have been agreed for sale to the charity, which is now campaigning to raise £1m to buy the land.

It’s not just birds that enjoy living on the broad – Hickling is also home to the rare swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly. You can also spot otters and barn owls, if you’re lucky, as well as the hilariously teddy-bear-like non-native Chinese water deer.

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And it’s not just animals – the broad is the largest reedbed in the UK and contains three rare species of stonewort, milk-parsley and the holly-leaved naiad.

The current owner of this vast estate, Hallam Mills, said:

“The Hickling estate has been in my family for 200 years and during that time this lovely Broad has survived in fine style, despite the pressures of the modern world.  The family is delighted that, out of many expressions of interest, the Broad is going to Norfolk Wildlife Trust, who in many ways were the Broad’s natural owner.  The wildlife and conservation interest of the reserve will be very safe in their hands.”

You can donate to this appeal for the NWT to buy the Broad by texting LAND26 to 70070, including the figure you wish to donate. You can also visit the Just Giving page. At the time of writing, over £3,400 has been raised in just a few days but they need to get to £1m by March.

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Corruption and the illegal wildlife trade

A new report published by The Guardian yesterday has exposed key wildlife trafficking crime groups and the corrupt government officials enabling them.

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The investigation was carried out by Freeland over 14 years and identifies through Thai government surveillance the main crime networks and individual traffickers who have profited around $23bn through illegally trading in animals, including endangered species, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos.

‘The Bach brothers’, two Vietnamese siblings, allegedly control one of the main trade routes in endangered species and are some of the key suspects in the report.

Why and how is this criminal trade so lucrative? It is the fourth most profitable illegal trade, after drugs, people and arms trafficking. A pair of rhino horns, for example, can sell for 200 times the original price in Vietnam and 400 times in China. Around 5% of rhinos are alive today compared with four decades ago, and around 1,000 are killed by poachers each year. Just to be clear – the rhinos are ‘detusked’ and left to bleed to death.

Rhino horns have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and used to treat rheumatism, fever, gout, headaches, and all sort of other ailments, despite having no scientific basis in fact. Rhino horn is mainly made of keratin and has no proven ability to cure anything.

The Guardian report reveals that the known wildlife trafficking kingpin, Vixay Keosavang, has apparently brought his operations to a close, since the US put a $1m reward on his capture. This is the only monetary reward historically offered for a wildlife trafficker, and seems to have been almost instantly effective in halting his business. Since then, however, new players have taken over – the Bach brothers, who are:

well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling; the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

Today, the Guardian has also revealed  that senior officials in Laos have profited through a 2% tax on trade involving tigers, rhinos and elephants. For over a decade, the office of the Laos prime minister has cut deals with three leading traffickers to move wildlife through borders. The statistics are truly shocking:

In 2014 alone, these deals covered $45m (£35m) worth of animal body parts and included agreed quotas requiring the disabling or killing of 165 tigers, more than 650 rhinos and more than 16,000 elephants.

This trade is illegal and prohibited by the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Laos continues to be a full member of Cites, despite having been suspended in 2015 for failure to produce a plan to tackle the ivory trade, and again this year for failure to implement a plan to tackle the ivory trade. This new evidence proves that not only has Laos shown little interest in confronting the illegal trade in wildlife, it has actually profited substantially from taxing the trade.

You can read about the WWF’s efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade here.

If we are to end this horrific trade in wild animals, we need an international approach that must involve robustly tackling the demand, enforcing the laws, and investing in the areas that are targeted by poachers, to promote education about the ecological need for diverse habitats and species, and to enable local communities to protect wildlife on their doorstep.

Most importantly, we need to kill the demand in Asia and China.

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On The Importance Of Insects

Insects are the most common of all animals on the planet, totally around 1.5 million types of insects – that’s three times more than any other animal population combined!

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They are especially important to all ecosystems because they serve two functions: to pollinate and to clean. Many of the foods we rely on are pollinated by insects, and insects also provide an efficient service in cleaning up decaying matter and decomposing animals.

Insects are also eaten by many species, including reptiles, amphibians, other insects, mammals and, of course, birds, so they are a substantial foundation in the food web that most species simply could not do without.

Since the 1950s, however, insect populations have been declining, and conservationists are particularly concerned about the falling numbers of bees, moths, and butterflies. The Bumblebee Conservation Trust suggests that this decline in bee populations is due to a combination of factors but mostly we look to the loss of wildflowers in the countryside and new agricultural techniques. They estimate that we have lost around 97% of flower-grassland since the 1930s, resulting in the extinction in the UK of two species of bees – so far. They also suggest that:

Through the pollination of many commercial crops such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries, insects are estimated to contribute over £400 million per annum to the UK economy and €14.2 billion per annum to the EU economy.

A very important insect, then. But it’s not just bees that contribute to the UK economy; ladybirds, for example, eat aphids, which feed on farmers’ crops.

But those are the cute, fluffy, colourful bugs – what about the ugly bugs? Cockroaches are probably universally despised, yet the 5,000+ known species that do not inhabit urban areas provide a significant ecological service in forests by cleaning up indigestible leaf matter, and by being a food source to desert lizards and some endangered mammals. Mosquitoes, too, despite being potentially deadly to humans, are a vital food source to birds and mammals.

There are some excellent resources on the internet to learn about the valuable role of insects in all ecosystems:

National Insect Week

Amateur Entomologists’ Society

Insects.org

 

 

 

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