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.

 

Thoughts on Farming and Rivers

June 17.  A dear friend of mine went for a walk out from Alfriston today, in the heart of the South Downs and through the Cuckmere Valley.  He was commenting on the “crops gently swaying in the breeze. How lucky we are to have such diligent farmers growing our fine food.”  I don’t know about diligent, they and the agro-chemical industry have certainly messed-up the once wonderful balance that used to exist between farming and wildlife.

There is a middle way of doing things, note The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton Project is based at Loddington in Leicestershire – (https://www.gwct.org.uk/allerton/about-the-allerton-project/ )  Or the RSPB’s Hope Farm, a 181-hectare (450-acre) arable farm in Cambridgeshire (https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/conservation-and-sustainability/farming/hopefarm/the_farm.aspx )  The government and public opinion just need to encourage and finance farming post Brexit along that route.

Yellowhammer RSPB

He wrote on: “The Cuckmere river is in a state, either side of white bridge it can’t be more than 6′ [feet] wide, strangled with weed & silt!”  Man interferes with rivers at his peril – note all the Environment Agency schemes across the country reinstating river’s natural features and their courses, back to how they naturally once were in various places across the country. So maybe as it’s not built over, its time to consider breaching the Cuckmere’s banks and let the river re-connect with its floodplain?

News from ‘British Wildlife,’ April 2017

BATS.  Two interesting facts on long distance migration of bats have been made known.  In December 2013, a specie of Pipistrelle was found in northern Netherlands, having been ringed in Somerset some three years earlier.  The second involved one being trapped during October 2015 in East Sussex, it having been ringed as a sub-adult two months earlier in Latvia.  In its first year of life, this bat had made a journey of 1,460km over a period of some seven weeks.

COUNTRYSIDE STEWARDSHIP.  England’s agri-environment scheme is said to be a shambles.  With an inflexible start date of 1st January, some farmers are being left financially high and dry because their previous HLS Scheme ends after 1st January, they then being out of pocket for 11 months.  Complexity of CS and insufficient Natural England staff to administer the scheme are making matters worse.

PESTICIDES and GAMEBIRDS.  Work carried out in Sussex by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust have shown that foliar insecticides and insecticidal seed dressings are having a significant effect on the species of insect that are important food sources for young game birds.  No wonder many of our farmland bird species are struggling!

PESTICIDE BAN.  Meanwhile, perhaps France is showing the way forward, for there will be a total ban on pesticide use in public gardens, parks and forests.  As from 2019, this ban will be extended to prohibit use in private gardens (apart from use by professionals).  This seems a good idea when seeing the amount shelf space devoted to pesticides in our garden centres (not to mention the stench coming from them).  Many people reach for their killer of choice without a clue of the environmental damage some of these concoctions can have!

NITROGEN.  The Plant Link UK network has issued a new report, ‘We Need To Talk About Nitrogen…’ and it has the backing of the National Trust, Woodland Trust and the RSPB.  It highlights the serious damage that nitrogen deposition is having upon the UK’s semi-natural habitats and wildlife.  I’ve been banging on about this problem for years, one which partially instigated my setting-up in the 1990’s of conservation grazing by ponies in Sussex.

Prof Mark Sutton from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has been appointed Chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative.  Prof Sutton said that ‘in the EU alone, the fertilizer value of nitrogen losses from agriculture is around 14 billion Euros per year, equivalent to losing 25% of the European Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget (or 10% of the entire EU budget) up in smoke or down the drain.’

DEFRA DEFICIENT.  There’s a widespread feeling in Westminster that DEFRA will not be up to the job of sorting out the huge amount of environmental law and new agricultural regulation following Brexit.  Since 2006 the department has lost 2,285 members from its core staff. It has also suffered from crippling and on-going cuts to its budget.  Put in context, currently the Civil Service is leaner than it has been since the Second World War and simply does not have the capacity to deal with the gargantuan task of leaving the EU.

May Sightings

And so the cool, dry spring continues without much prospect of change until towards the end of May…

May 6th and during the evening there was a group of 7 swifts hawking for insects in the cold easterly wind, high over St.Leonards old town.  Still numbers of turnstones along the beach.  May 8th and as I sat down to my breakfast, 6 swallows flew across the street at window height in that purposeful, determined flight behaviour that characterises swallows on migration, heading north-westwards.  I wished them well.

May 8th.  There’s still a reasonable population of english elms in the vicinity of the station at Pevensey.  Also nearby, are a number of trees (poplar?) with thriving plants of mistletoe high in their crowns; nice to see.

May 18th.  In the following pic, scrub-bashing with a difference!  These fellas are removing dense ivy from off the cliff face at Rock-A-nor at Hastings in order to attach steel mesh safety netting as can be seen above them.  They’re working from off ropes using pneumatically powered equipment.

 

On the same day in the evening, saw this amazing ‘barley-twist’ cloud formation.

May 24th.  There were 10 swifts over St.Leonards old town as I sat having breakfast. Went for a walk in Ham Street Woods National Nature Reserve in Kent, a lovely wood but unfortunately there appears to be not a lot of coppicing now going on – how this wood was traditionally managed.  Saw this tree which many years ago had suffered severe trauma, survived and prospered!

Nearby the entrance to the woods stands a row of four Victorian(?) cottages.  I thought they were very unusual in that the upper storey is clad all around the entire block with butt-jointed slates with strips fixed over the vertical joints.

On this jaunt I travelled by train and spotted just west of Winchelsea good and bad farming practice – the latter almost certainly contravening government/EU regulations by cultivating as close to a watercourse as physically possible.  The adjacent water must be receiving a very unhealthy cocktail of fertilizer and chemicals  First, good practice with 2 metre wide uncultivated headlands on a neighbouring farm and then the bad.  Apologies that the second doesn’t make the point very obvious but the train was going quite fast! Stile and post are on nearside of watercourse.

In the evening, saw my first painted lady butterfly; it was in beautiful condition and probably had not long arrived from across the Channel.  About 10 swifts screaming high overhead mid-evening.  I’m not religious but full marks to the Pope for giving Trump some serious reading matter today!

Bees Can Breathe a Sigh of Relief This Week

Government rejects bee-harming pesticide application

Bees can breathe a sigh of relief this week.

The government has rejected an application to use bee-harming neonicotinoids (neonics) by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

We couldn’t have done this without you.

Thousands of you emailed your MPs to keep bee-harming pesticides out of our fields – thank you.

The NFU failed to convince ministers because they didn’t have enough evidence to show that farmers need banned neonics.

They need to face the facts – there’s now a long list of scientific evidence showing the threat bees face from neonics.

News from ‘British Wildlife,’ January 2017

Flooding.  Two reports have recently been published concerning streamlining and enhancing of the countries response to do with flooding and associated issues: these are by Prof. Dieter Helm, Chairman of the Natural Capital Committee and EFRA’s Future Flood Prevention.  they cover such issues as: natural capital systems, flood defence, remunerating landowners for ‘Payments for Ecosystem Services’ (PES), ending the current dysfunctional organisational structure in favour of a more holistic structure, building on floodplains and insurance of building liable to flooding, protection of soils.  See  http://bit.ly/2exR8kg  and  http://bit.ly/2fghJPD.

Pesticides and Bees.  Recent report written by the Uni of Sussex’s Dave Goulson and available on the Soil Association’s website at  http://bit.ly/2fSepfQ  draws a surprising conclusion.  A majority of the toxic cocktail of chemicals detected in honey and nectar from honey bee and bumblebee nests, seems to be coming via wild flowers such as poppies, hawthorn, buttercup and hogweed even when oilseed rape is in flower.

Weedkillers and Rare Plants.  A study recently completed in western France confirms previous work that herbicides on arable crops are eliminating rare arable flowers and having little bearing on the farm crop yield.  It suggests that current yields could be maintained with an approximate cut of 50% in the use of herbicides.  See  http://go.nature.com/2fSrhCy

Bats and Wind Turbines.  More work is required as to why wind turbines are killing more bats than was previously expected according to the Uni of Exeter.  Better mitigation is required and to discover wht bats are drawn to turbines.  See  http://bit.ly/2fSiwbB

New Threat to Earthworms.  An invasive flatworm which can measure up to 7cm has now been found in the UK and is also spreading on the continent.  It feeds on earthworms and land snails.  It is thought to have arrived on horticultural produce from Brazil.  the Obama worm was first discovered in 2008 on Guernsey.  See http://bit.ly/2fzw9fv

Ranscombe Farm Reserve on TV.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0071ms1

Ranscombe Farm (@Ranscombe_Farm)

Interesting piece on the BBC’s Inside Out yesterday about the Ranscombe Farm nature reserve in Kent.  It presents a brilliant farmer/conservationist working relationship.  I was glad to see that it also ‘banged the drum’ on the relationship between atmospheric pollution and the threat to biodiversity.

British Wildlife News, April 2016

I came across these stories (which I’ve abridged), reported by Sue Everett in the April edition of ‘British Wildlife.’

Carbon, Peat and Fresh Waters. Upland waters are getting browner, thanks to dissolved organic carbon (DOC) leaching from soil.  According to long-term monitoring undertaken by CEH, levels of DOC in upland reservoirs, lakes and streams have roughly doubled over the past quarter-century.  While degraded pear bogs are a significant source of this rising DOC, it is also suspected that declining levels of sulphur deposition from acid rain have more recently contributed to the increase.

Volunteer for Water. Clean water for wildlife is a nationwide citizen survey to find out about the extent of nutrient pollution.  Details are available at http://bit.ly/24MIK3H.

Natural Action on Flooding. A study (http://bit.ly/1prlF5F) caied out for the EA, has shown that strategic planting of trees on floodplains could reduce the height of flooding downstream by up to 20%.  [But how about] more attention paid to reversing some land drainage and thus restoring rush pastures, flushes and floodplain meadows as a means to slow down water coming off landscapes.

Chemicals and Cetaceans. Researchers from the ZSL have completed a major study of more than 1,000 stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises.  Many of the carcases contained high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) though these were banned during the 1980’s.  most of the 300,000 tonnes of PCB’s produced in Europe are thought to be on land and not properly disposed of.

Managing Mammals. Concerning the future population size of beavers, wild boar and badgers as they have no natural predators.  With regard to badgers, Peter Cooper explores this theme in his blog of 7th March (http://petecooperwildlife.com) – ‘Are Badgers Over-Protected?’  I agree that it would be a good time to have a grown-up conversation on the species’ population and management.

Carbon Fields. A nationwide survey has revealed the huge store of carbon associated with UK grasslands. The study also shows however, that decades of intensive farming across the UK, involving high rates of fertilizer use and livestock grazing, have caused valuable soil carbon stocks to decline.  The team found that the largest soil carbon stocks were under grasslands that have been farmed at intermediate levels of intensiveness, receiving less fertilizer and with fewer grazing animals.  Synopsis at http://bit.ly/1RDOFjn.

Two of the World’s Top Three Insecticides Harm Bumblebees

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/apr/28/two-worlds-top-three-leading-insecticides-harm-bees-study-shows?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Green+Light+2016&utm_term=169734&subid=13038048&CMP=EMCENVEML1631

 Two of the world’s top three insecticides harm bumblebees – study

Damian Carrington, The Guardian, Thursday 28 April 2016.

Two of the world’s most widely used insecticides cause significant harm to bumblebee colonies, a new study has found, but a third had no effect.

The work shows the distinct effects of each type of neonicotinoid pesticide, from cuts in live bees and eggs to changed sex ratios and numbers of queens. Previously, the different types of neonicotinoids have often been treated as interchangeable.

Neonicotinoids and other pesticides have been implicated in the worldwide decline in pollinators, which are vital for many food crops, although disease and loss of habitat are also important factors. There is strong evidence that neonicotinoids harm individual bees but little evidence so far that colonies suffer as a result. The EU imposed a moratorium on the use of neonicotinoids on flowering crops in 2013.

The new study examined the effect of three neonicotinoids from the level of brain cells to colonies in the field. The latter involved 75 colonies across five sites in Scotland and included control colonies that were not given access to the pesticides.

The research found that both imidacloprid (made by Bayer) and thiamethoxam (Syngenta) at realistic levels of exposure harmed the bumblebee colonies. For example, imidacloprid cut the number of brood cells, which contain eggs, by 46%, while thiamethoxam reduced the number of live bees by 38%. But clothianidin (Bayer) had no effect other than increasing the number of queens produced.

“There is clear evidence that imidacloprid and thiamethoxam are harmful to bees but our evidence raises a question over clothianidin,” said Dr Christopher Connolly, at the University of Dundee and who led the research published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Reports.

“I think there is sufficient evidence for a ban on imidacloprid and thiamethoxam, but not for clothianidin although the moratorium should continue,” as more evidence is gathered.

A study published in November found that honeybee colonies exposed to thiamethoxam were able to compensate for bee deaths by producing more workers, so no overall impact was seen. However, honeybee colonies have far more individual bees than bumblebees, suggesting the latter have far less ability to compensate.

The only effect seen in the new study from clothianidin exposure was an increase in queens. “The number went through the roof,” said Connolly. “The purpose of a colony is to produce queens so this could be a really good thing, unless, say, all those queens turn out to be infertile.”

Connolly said the research did not show clothianidin was harmless to all pollinators: “It does not show it is safe, but it does show it may be less harmful to bumblebees.” He said the work showed the effects of one neonicotinoid could not be assessed from studies on another: “All three behave completely differently. You can’t predict the insect-insecticide relationship by extrapolation.”

“This is an important and timely study,” said Mike Garratt, an ecologist at the University of Reading and not involved in the new research.

“As the body of evidence for negative effects of neonicotinoids on non-target species mounts, it is important to consider the differential effects of these chemicals. This study only considers impacts on one species of bumblebee. Similar variability in toxicity might be expected for other species of bee and non-target organisms, and it is important to remember there are more than 200 distinct bee species in the UK alone.”

Prof David Goulson, a bee researcher at the University of Sussex and also not involved in the new research, said: “The [new information on variable effects] makes assessing the impacts of these chemicals even more challenging [and], even more confusingly, bees are often exposed to a mixture of several neonics, the effects of which we haven’t begun to understand.”

But spokesmen from the pesticide manufacturers challenged the research. “The apparent colony effects reported in this study for thiamethoxam contradict a previous study, which reported no adverse effects on bumblebee micro-colonies,” said Peter Campbell, from Syngenta. “This study struggles to explain the inconsistent results found across the [brain cell], laboratory and colony experiments, which often contradicted each other as well other previous published data.”

Julian Little, from Bayer, said: “This paper continues a narrative where different research groups find different, and in many cases, no impacts of insecticides on different bee species. It underlines the importance of not making kneejerk reactions in response to individual papers.”

Connolly criticised EU regulations that allow pesticide manufacturers to conduct the safety trials themselves. “It is ludicrous to have industry doing their own testing and then keeping the results as proprietary information.”

Neonicotinoids have been used for two decades, but Connolly said: “It has taken years and millions of pounds for scientists to wave a red flag.”

In a separate development, the UK’s National Farmers Union (NFU) has applied for an “emergency” lifting of the moratorium for some oilseed rape to deal with a pest beetle, but campaigners say rape yields have actually increased since the neonicotinoid ban.

NFU vice-president Guy Smith said this week: “After assessing the evidence and having listened to the experiences of our oilseed rape growing members this autumn, the NFU has applied for emergency use of neonicotinoid seed treatments on a limited proportion of the oilseed rape crop in England.”

The NFU was granted a suspension of the ban for about 5% of rape fields in 2015, a move opposed by a 500,000-strong petition.

Friends of the Earth’s Dave Timms said: “Allowing farmers to use banned bee-harming pesticides would be reckless and unnecessary. Oilseed rape yields have actually risen since the pesticide ban was introduced, while the evidence of the harm these chemicals pose to bees has increased.”