Birdwatching Update – for Me!

During this month of May, I have visited twice the RSPB’s reserve at Dungeness to bird watch – something I haven’t done per se for many years – my former work and time always requiring me to look at the ‘bigger scene.’ Presumably due to our changing climate, these two outings were something of an update for me personally. Firstly, I saw a pair of Great Egret fly across a marsh, these, I have never seen in this country.

Great Egret

Secondly, while sitting in the sunshine having a sandwich there this week, I twice counted 7 Hobbys in view at the same time, sweeping the skies capturing up insects on a brisk easterly wind.

Hobby with prey

Just before I was about to get out of bed this morning, another new birding experience, that of laying in bed and watching swifts hawking high above the big oak immediately in front of the bedroom window – lazy twitching!

 

 

 

 

Are We Prepared to Make Changes?

Abridged article based on article by Gaby Hinsliff, columnist,  The Guardian, April 19 2019.

At this critical time…    Stores know (that many of) their young customers are eco-conscious, impressively fluent in the evils of plastic and diesel, where as past generations were oblivious. But they’re also human, still occasionally craving the disposable fashion they’ve always had. They want what most people secretly want, which is to enjoy the pleasures of a pre-climate-conscious age – foreign travel, strawberries out of season – but in ways sustainable enough to let us feel good about it…

To watch passing shoppers and tourists stop and film (climate protesters) on their camera phones is, however, to wonder how prepared we really are for the life of minimal consumption inherent in treating climate change as an emergency. The protesters have public sympathy for their broad aim in the bag. But that’s a very long way from securing public consent to the specifics…

In practice, that (would) indicate the kind of collective effort rarely seen outside wartime. It means goodbye to petrol cars, gas boilers and cookers – fine for those who can afford to replace whatever they’ve got now, impossible for the poor without significant subsidy and, hello to restrictions on flying. It implies eating significantly less meat and dairy, and no longer treating economic growth as the first priority, with all the possible consequences that entails for pay, tax revenues and public services. We might hope to create jobs in green industries but shed them in carbon-based ones but with no guarantee of the new, clean technologies basing themselves in those towns hardest hit by the loss of the old, polluting industries.

All of that might be necessary to stop global warming in the long run, but the difference is that doing it in six years, not 30, means it would have to happen at breakneck speed, with painfully little time for communities to adjust. Those who are prepared to accept sacrifices for themselves need to be honest about what they’re wishing on others, which is why alarm bells ring when Extinction Rebellion’s Gail Bradbrook says that “this is not the time to be realistic”. We’ve seen in the three years since the Brexit referendum what can happen when campaigners win an argument by refusing to be realistic about what their dream means for other people.

Salt Marshes – Our Unsung Landscapes

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/19/plantwatch-salt-marshes-are-the-unsung-heroes-saving-our-coastlines

Salt marshes are the unsung heroes saving our coastlines

Paul Simons, The Guardian, Tue 19 Feb 2019.

Salt marsh in Norfolk.

Salt marshes are not glamorous – muddy flats on coasts and estuaries, washed with seawater on the tides, where only specially adapted plants can survive in such a tough salty environment.  Although frequently ignored, salt marshes are unsung heroes. They help protect coastlines from storms, storm surges and erosion by creating a buffer between dry land and the sea, building up the height of the coast by trapping silt during floods and adding new soil from their decaying vegetation.

Less well known is that salt marshes lock away vast amounts of carbon by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through their plant leaves and storing it in the roots. And, when the plants die, the carbon becomes part of the soil. Salt marshes also provide a refuge for birds, fish and invertebrates; they provide clean water by filtering runoff, and they are low maintenance because they naturally self-repair.

But, in many places, salt marshes have been destroyed by drainage for land reclamation, coastal developments, sea walls, pollution and erosion. Globally, about 50% of salt marshes have been degraded and the rest remain under threat.

Schemes to restore salt marshes have proved successful, though, such as the Wallasea Island project in Essex, the largest scheme of its kind in Europe. Land that had been reclaimed for agriculture long ago has been turned back into wetland.

Agroecology – the Future of Food Production?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/20/european-farms-could-grow-green-and-still-be-able-to-feed-population

European farms could grow green and still be able to feed population.

Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, Wed 20 Feb 2019.

Europe would still be able to feed its growing population even if it switched entirely to environmentally friendly approaches such as organic farming, according to a new report from a think-tank.

A week after research revealed a steep decline in global insect populations that has been linked to the use of pesticides, the study from European thinktank IDDRI claims such chemicals can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population.

Agroecology takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant crops that increase the sustainability of the farming system as a whole. The IDDRI study, entitled Ten Years for Agroecology, used modelling to examine the reduction in yields that would result from a transition to such an approach.

Reductions, the authors argue, could be mitigated by eliminating food-feed competition – reorienting diets towards plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, and away from grain-fed white meat. More than half the EU’s cereals and oilseed crops are fed to animals. The study models a future in which European meat production has been cut by 40%, with the greatest reductions in grain-fed pork and poultry.

“Pesticide-hungry intensive production is not the only way to feed a growing population” said Rob Percival, the head of food policy at the Soil Association. “The Ten Years for Agroecology study shows that agroecological and organic farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and maintaining vital biodiversity.”

The study suggests that agroecology – using ecological principles first and chemicals last in agriculture – presents a credible way of feeding Europe by 2050. But it says action is needed now, with the next 10 years critical in engaging Europe in the transition. The agriculture bill now going through parliament in the UK makes no mention of agroecology, although an amendment drafted by a cross-party group of MPs proposed that farmers using the approach should receive some sort of payment.

Could flexitarianism save the planet?

“The idea of an entirely agroecological Europe is often considered unrealistic in terms of food security because agroecology sometimes means lower yields,” said Percival. “But this new research shows that by refocusing diets around plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, a fully agroecological Europe is possible.”

The study is being published in parallel with the UK launch of the Eat-Lancet “planetary health diet”, which proposes a shift towards a more plant-based diet. The agroecology study addresses similar concerns, but places greater emphasis on farmland biodiversity.

Rewilding Making Strides Across Europe

Balkan chamois

Take a look at the following link concerning the Rewilding Europe organisation which was set up in 2011 to encourage rewilding in suitable areas across Europe, with much of the funding coming from the EU’s LIFE project.  Items in the attached link include: Rewilding of peatlands in Finland, making community forests in Portugal more wildlife friendly, the RSPB’s Wallasea Island project in Essex, the bio-diverse Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria (I have been there – fantastic!) and habitat restoration in the Oder Estuary in Germany.

https://rewildingeurope.com/category/news/

 

The Future of Home Heating?

Did you know that over 80% of UK homes are heated by gas, and that heating accounts for 1/3 of UK CO2 emissions?

The UK is actually doing more than it’s part to reduce carbon emissions – our goal of a 57% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 dwarfs the EU goal of 40%.  Even more ambitiously, we want to reduce them by 80% by 2050.  The plan was, or is, to de-carbonise electricity production which has been happening with the push towards solar and wind energy.

The next step was to electrify heat.  The only problem is that the aggregate peak demand for heat is 300 gigawatts, which is more than five times the demand for electricity.  The problem is that at the moment coal and fossil fuels are proving more practical to store, and there aren’t that many alternatives.

However, there could be one…  Hydrogen could be the key to unlocking a sustainable energy economy.  Its main benefits are that it is next to carbon neutral, and it could be stored in fuel cells.  What’s more, the current gas pipeline is largely compatible with hydrogen, and the only real change consumers may have to make is to change their burners on their equipment.

There are already experiments happening over the UK, such as in Leeds where Northern Gas Networks and Wales & West Utilities are studying the feasibility of converting the existing natural gas networks to transport hydrogen.

They have found that: 1) the gas network has the correct capacity for the conversion, which would reduce emissions by 73%.  2) the network can be converted incrementally to minimise disruption.  Likewise Keele University have trialled blending hydrogen into the existing gas supply to prove that a hybrid could be rolled out to the public without disruption.

Finally, the Hydrogen for Heat programme aims to design and develop new appliances that can be run on hydrogen and explore the practicalities of using hydrogen in homes.  Eventually, they aim to implement a pilot project in a small village or town.

Written by Zak Hurst, Director of Southern Energy Solutions, Hastings.

Offshore Wind Power Cheaper Than New Nuclear

Status

Great news!  I see the Rampion Field offshore from Brighton is progressing – from Brighton Clock Tower looking down West Street, a rig and towers visible on horizon and full extent surprised me recently as it came into view whilst driving along A259 from Eastbourne.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41220948#_=_

Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear.  [ABRIDGED]

By Roger Harrabin,BBC environment analyst.  September 11 2017.

Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm, Liverpool.  copyright GETTY IMAGES

Energy from offshore wind in the UK will be cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power for the first time.  The development, revealed in figures from the government, has been seen as a milestone in the advance of renewable energy.

The plummeting cost of offshore wind energy has caught even its most optimistic supporters by surprise.  Nuclear firms said the UK still needed a mix of low-carbon energy, especially for when wind power was not possible.  The figures, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for offshore wind were revealed as the result of an auction for subsidies, in which the lowest bidder wins.

Two firms said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a subsidy of £57.50 per megawatt hour. That compares with new nuclear plants at a subsidy of £92.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23.

Emma Pinchbeck from the wind energy trade body Renewable UK told the BBC: “These figures are truly astonishing.  “We still think nuclear can be part of the mix – but our industry has shown how to drive costs down, and now they need to do the same.”

‘Energy revolution.’

Onshore wind power and solar energy are already both cost-competitive with gas in some places in the UK.  And the price of energy from offshore wind has now halved in less than five years.

Energy analysts said UK government policy helped to lower the costs by nurturing the fledgling industry, then incentivising it to expand – and then demanding firms should bid in auction for their subsidies.

Michael Grubb, professor of energy policy at University College London, called the cost reduction “a huge step forward in the energy revolution”.  “It shows that Britain’s biggest renewable resource – and least politically problematic – is available at reasonable cost.  It’ll be like the North Sea oil and gas industry: it started off expensive, then as the industry expanded, costs fell. We can expect offshore wind costs to fall more, too,” he said.

The subsidies, paid from a levy on consumer bills, will run for 15 years – unlike nuclear subsidies which run for 35 years.  This adds to the cost advantage offshore wind has now established over new nuclear.  Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “This massive price drop for offshore wind is a huge boost for the renewables industry and should be the nail in the coffin for new nuclear.  “The government’s undying commitment to new nuclear risks locking us into sky high prices for years to come. Put simply, this news should be the death knell for Hinkley C nuclear station.”

Nuclear ‘still needed.’

However, the nuclear industry said that because wind power is intermittent, nuclear energy would still be needed.  Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “It doesn’t matter how low the price of offshore wind is. On last year’s figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time.”

EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, said the UK still needed a “diverse, well-balanced” mix of low-carbon energy.  “New nuclear remains competitive for consumers who face extra costs in providing back-up power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine,” the French firm said.  “There are also costs of dealing with excess electricity when there is too much wind or sun.”

Construction of the Hinkley Point plant is under way after gaining government approval last year.  EDF added that energy from new nuclear plants would become cheaper as the market matures, as has happened with offshore wind.  Eyes will be raised at this suggestion, as nuclear power has already received subsidies since the 1950s but storage of surplus energy from offshore wind is still a challenge.

Prof Grubb estimated the new offshore wind farms would supply about 2% of UK electricity demand, with a net cost to consumers of under £5 per year.

Experts warn that in order to meet the UK’s long term climate goals, additional sources of low-carbon energy will still be needed.

Agriculture Emissions Stay the Same

https://www.desmog.uk/2017/08/23/lack-progress-agricultural-emission-reductions-shows-need-green-brexit

[Extract from a lightly longer article; go to above link for full version].

The UK has failed to make any cuts to emissions from agriculture. Again.

New government statistics released 22 August show UK farming emitted 49.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015, the exact same amount as a year before and remaining at about the same level since 2008.Overall, agriculture accounted for about 10 percent of the UK’s greenhouse gas

While the sector only contributed one percent of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, it was responsible for 53 percent of the UK’s methane emissions. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and – pound for pound – can trap much more heat in the atmosphere over the course of a couple of decades.

Agricultural emissions come from a variety of sources. The production of animal feed is the main driver, while generating power to keep the industry going also creates a lot of emissions. Livestock such as cows, sheep and pigs also emit a lot of methane.

A recent study suggested converting land for farming has led to the release of 133 billion tons of carbon dioxide globally over the last 12,000 years. That’s the equivalent of 13 years of global emissions from all sectors at their current levels, the Washington Post pointed out.

Since 2008, the UK has failed to cut its agricultural emissions, with reductions stalling at about 17 percent below 1990 levels. There is no specific climate target for the agriculture sector, instead the industry is captured under the UK Climate Change Act’s general 80 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, from 1990 levels, by 2050.    continues…

News From ‘British Wildlife,’ June 2017

Ballast-Water Reform.  An international agreement on ballast-water, water which is taken on by ships for stability and when discharged, often on the other side of the world releasing invasive species, causing huge problems for local marine wildlife.  As of September 8th, all discharged ballast-water will have to be treated beforehand.

Shrinking Shorelines.  The UK National Ecosystem Assessment estimates coastal habitat has decreased by 16% since 1945.  In England, this has amounted to a loss of some 13,000 hectares with only 800 hectares created or restored.

Pesticides and Profitability.  New research from France has found that reduction of pesticide does not necessarily result in reduced crop yields and profitability.  The study looked at 946 non-organic arable commercial farms showing contrasting levels of pesticide use and covering a wide range of production situations in France.  It was estimated that, on 59% of farms nationally, total pesticide use could be reduced by 42% without any negative effects.  France hopes by 2025 to cut pesticide use by 50%. The UK has no plans to reduce overall pesticide use.

 

Green Groups and MPs Calling for Amendments to the Repeal Bill

http://www.ciwem.org/green-groups-and-mps-are-calling-for-an-amendment-to-the-repeal-bill/

July 7 2017.  The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management,  (CIWEM).

 

Green Groups and MPs are calling For an Amendment To the Repeal Bill.

Thirteen major environmental charities in the Greener UK coalition have begun working with a cross-party group of MPs to ensure the Repeal Bill does not “dilute” the force of environmental law in the UK

The MPs that back the amendment so far include Ed Miliband, former Labour Party leader and secretary of state for energy and climate change, and Caroline Lucas, Green Party co-leader.

The government has said that existing UK mechanisms, primarily judicial review and the role of parliament, are enough to replace all the functions currently carried out by EU agencies and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  But these UK mechanisms do not compare to current EU arrangements, the groups say.

Currently, EU agencies play important roles in monitoring the state of the environment, checking governments comply with environmental law and, where necessary, enforcing the law by initiating investigations into possible breaches, including in response to complaints from citizens and civil society organisations. If breaches of the law are identified, remedies and sanctions can be applied, including fines.

Shaun Spiers, chair of Greener UK and executive director at Green Alliance, said: “No one voted for dirtier beaches or worse air quality. The government has promised to bring all environmental protections into domestic law, but laws are only effective when there are strong institutions to enforce them.

“The ultimate risk of fines imposed by the European Court has led the UK government to clean up its act several times – for example, when it stopped pumping raw sewage into oceans on a regular basis and, more recently, being ordered by the courts to publish stronger air quality plans.

“To secure the high level of environmental protection that the public overwhelmingly wants and needs, UK governance institutions must be sufficiently resourced, independent and expert. Otherwise, environmental law will fail.

“The government will protest its good intentions, but it should be establishing systems that are proof against any future government that may want to weaken environmental and other protections.”

The Greener UK coalition formed in response to the EU referendum, united in the belief that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK’s environment. It brings together 13 major environmental organisations, including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, and WWF.

The Great Repeal Bill will end the supremacy of EU law and return power to the UK.

Amendments.  The text of Repeal Bill amendment the groups are recommending the following:

(1) The relevant Ministers must, before the UK’s exit from the EU, make provision that all powers and functions relating to the UK that were carried out by an EU institution before the date of the UK leaving the EU will—

(a) continue to be carried out by an EU institution; or

(b) be carried out by an appropriate existing or newly created domestic body; or

(c) be carried out by an appropriate international body.

(2) For the purposes of this section, powers and functions relating to the UK exercised by an EU institution may include, but are not limited to—

(a) monitoring and measuring compliance with legal requirements,

(b) reviewing and reporting on compliance with legal requirements,

(c) enforcement of legal requirements,

(d) setting standards or targets,

(e) co-ordinating action,

(f) publicising information including regarding compliance with environmental standards.

(3) Within 12 months of the UK’s exit from the EU, the Government shall consult and bring forward proposals for domestic governance arrangements to ensure equivalent provision of the regulatory, monitoring, oversight, accountability, enforcement and other functions relating to the UK currently provided by EU institutions, by providing for the establishment by primary legislation of—

(a) a new independent body or bodies with powers and functions equivalent to those of the relevant EU institutions in relation to the environment; and

(b) a new domestic framework for environmental protection and improvement.

(4) For the purposes of this section ‘EU institution’ includes but is not limited to—

(a) the European Commission;

(b) the European Environment Agency;

(c) the European Chemicals Agency; and

(d) the European Court of Auditors.

(5) Responsibility for any functions or obligations arising from EU-derived UK law for which no specific provision has been made immediately after commencement of this Act will belong to the relevant Minister until such a time as specific provision for those functions or obligations has been made.

 

This article was originally posted on CIWM Journal Online.