Scotland's Biodiversity Plan & HS2 Map

The latest news on nature and conservation in the UK.

Scotland's Biodiversity Plan & HS2 Map

National news

Scotland | The Scottish government has set out proposals to protect the nation’s biodiversity in a new “statement of intent”. The headline here is the plan to extend the terrestrial area protected for nature to at least 30 percent by 2030; according to NatureScot, just 22.7 percent of Scotland’s land is currently protected. The document received a warm response from NGOs, with the RSPB calling it “a clear signal towards progressive steps to tackle the biodiversity crisis that threatens our planet and our country post 2020.” There was also an approving editorial in the Scotsman, although it also noted that “whether the government and those that succeed it will live up to the document’s fine words remains to be seen”. Separately, the Scottish government also published an update to its 2018-2032 Climate Change Plan, including more than a hundred new policies and proposals to support a green recovery. This was not so well received, with Friends of the Earth Scotland accusing the government of making “illusory promises”. The Press and Journal has looked at its implications for agriculture.

Adaptation | The UK government has set out its Adaptation Communication, which will be submitted to the UN as part of its Paris Agreement commitments on climate change. The report doesn’t really contain anything new, but it’s a useful outline of the policies that the government and devolved administrations are implementing to help protect the country and the people who live here from the impacts of rising temperatures. There’s a fair amount on nature, and the document is generally a useful reference to the patchwork of reports, initiatives, pledges and promises that have been produced over the years.

Pesticides | Something of a controversy broke out this week after George Monbiot unearthed documents from the NFU about lobbying the government to allow the use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are harmful to insects, and telling its members to “refrain from sharing this on social media”. However, on closer inspection, the story looks more complicated: the application was for emergency use on sugar beet only, in the face of a disease that had decimated this year’s crop. Some unlikely alliances subsequently emerged, with rewilding advocate Alastair Driver lending his support to NFU head, Minette Batters. If nothing else, the incident has been a demonstration of the messiness and complexities of farming and conservation, which have been well summarised in this thread by a farmer, Tom Clarke.

In other news:

  • The pandemic has resulted in almost £1.7m of losses for Scotland’s grouse moor estates, reports the Herald.
  • Garden centres will be fined for continuing to sell peat compost under new government plans to crack down on the product, reports the Telegraph.
  • J.K. Rowling’s forestry firm received more than £750,000 in EU subsidies last year, reports the Scotsman.
  • For the first time in the UK, and maybe the world, air pollution has been recognised as a cause of a person's death, reports the BBC.
  • A sudden influx of supertrawlers off the UK coast ahead of Brexit is killing dolphins and destroying fish stocks, reports the Independent.
  • Harvest mice are under threat from the government’s house building targets, reports the Telegraph.

Across the country

Yorkshire | Thousands of trees will be planted in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, following the adoption of a new ten-year Dales Woodland Strategy, devised by a forum of landowners, charities and public bodies. This sets out an ambition to plant 6,000 hectares of woodland habitat by 2030. “We have agreed that the open, farmed character of the Yorkshire Dales must be conserved. That’s why the new Dales Woodland Strategy clearly sets out that any new woodland must enhance the landscape,” said Ian McPherson, who is a member of the forum. The announcement received some criticism for its lack of ambition, although others applauded the progress. The news was covered by the Times and the BBC.

Sandringham | A Little Owl has been killed in a trap on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, reports the Independent. According to the police, no offence was committed and officers did not investigate, although the RSPCA spoke to the head gamekeeper. Chris Packham said that the incident was “appalling”. It seems like a good time to remind you of Guy Shrubsole’s piece on royal rewilding, published by Inkcap a couple of week’s ago. In other depressing raptor news, Wales Online reports that Wales’ last wild golden eagle was shot at least twice before it died, while the BBC reports that a banned pesticide was responsible for the death of a red kite in the Highlands.

Leicester | Walk down Pine Tree Avenue in Leicester and you’ll be greeted by an unusual site: 21 giant redwoods. These magnificent trees are native to California, but were planted here to form a tree-lined approach to Humberstone Hall, which was demolished in 1923, with residential homes taking its place. Six years ago, Leicester City Council consulted residents on potentially felling these giants due to their wayward roots – but they have now been given protected status as part of a broader Tree Preservation Strategy. This fascinating little story appeared in the Leicester Mercury.

Elsewhere:

  • Middlesbrough could soon be getting a new nature reserve, reports the Teesside Gazette.
  • Walkers have been told to avoid a stretch of the River Trent due to high levels of air pollution, reports the Stoke Sentinel.
  • WildEast is gathering thoughts on which locally extinct birds should be returned to Norfolk, reports the Eastern Daily Press.
  • Extinction Rebellion has targeted Wessex Water for “disgusting” river pollution in Somerset, reports the BBC.
  • Scottish Forestry has granted approval for a farmer in Sutherland to grow the largest woodland of the century, including an element of natural regeneration.

Reports

Birds | The RSPB has released the 2020 edition of its report, the State of the UK’s Birds. It’s the first one since 2017, and the first time that it has highlighted the different trends across the four UK countries. Fiona Burns, senior conservation scientist, has written a rundown of the findings. The RSPB has also published separate blogs on the birds of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The report was covered by the Guardian, the Telegraph, the BBC and the Belfast Telegraph. Separately, NatureScot has released its latest assessment of Scotland’s wintering waterbirds.

Woodland | Rewilding Britain has released a new report, Reforesting Britain, on natural regeneration – the idea that trees will essentially plant themselves if given the time and space to do so. “The evidence suggests that natural regeneration could massively increase the scale of forest and woodland expansion in Britain,” the report says, citing examples from the UK and around the world. The report was covered by the Guardian and the Independent.

Recovery | The RSPB has released a report targeting the leaders of England’s largest city regions, urging them to invest in nature as a way to save lives, reduce inequality and create jobs. “With elections coming up in May for many of them, we are asking all sitting and would-be mayors to put investing in nature at the top of their agendas so that no-one gets left behind as we look to level up the country,” said Emma Marsh, director of RSPB England. It includes the finding that the NHS could save £2.1bn annually if everyone in England had good access to green space.


Science

Hares | Mountain hares are consummate shapeshifters. As winter sets in, they shed their brown summer fur to become a startling white, which camouflages them against the snow. But the seasons are changing thanks to climate change, and hares are not adapting, according to a new study. In Scotland, mountain hares are now left without the appropriate camouflage for an additional 35 days per year, on average, compared with the hares that were around in 1950. The findings were covered by the Guardian.

Discovery | Scientists at Kew Botanic Gardens have rounded up some of the new species that they named this year, alongside their partners around the world. The list includes six new species of toadstool mushrooms, found at Heathrow, Scotland, Brighton and Barrow-in-Furness. There are links to the scientific papers at the end of the article. But the story came with a bleak warning: “With two in five plants threatened with extinction, it is a race against time to find, identify, name, and conserve plants before they disappear.”

Net gain | The government’s proposal that all developments should lead to a net gain in biodiversity may be misguided, according to research presented at the British Ecological Society’s Festival of Ecology. Academics studied the outcomes in early-adopter councils, and found that biodiversity net gain policies translated into “considerable losses of habitat area” that were compensated by “commitments to deliver higher quality habitats years later in the development project cycle” – but without the necessary governance to ensure that these promises would be kept. The paper itself is currently under peer review, but you can read a blog about it here.


Driftwood

Railway | HS2 has released a “green corridor prospectus” – essentially a summary of the work it is doing to create habitats alongside the railway line – and an interactive map that allows you to examine, in varying detail, the projects lining the route. The tools are in response to the concerns of local communities about the environmental impact of HS2, according to the website. Natural England has published a blog about this latest development, calling it a “good start” but adding: “We’re not naïve. We know that constructing HS2 will result in major disruption to nature and there are strong feelings caused by the loss of existing habitats and particularly by the destruction of irreplaceable ancient woodland.”

Scottish farming | There has been a flurry of pieces about the future of farming and nature in Scotland this week. The Scotsman’s Martyn Mclaughlin looks at the uncertainty around what will replace the Common Agricultural Policy following Brexit. Agriculture is a devolved matter and the government has “put in place a transition period until 2024, by which point it hopes to introduce a replacement system,” he writes, before taking a whistle-stop tour of the lobbying that’s taking place. A column in the Press and Journal covers similar ground; while the BBC looks at how the post-Brexit agriculture conversation is playing out in Wales. Meanwhile, the RSPB has looked at the uncertain future facing Scotland’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, which helps nature to flourish on farmland and crofts.

Birdsong | The Guardian has written an interesting profile of Cosmo Sheldrake, a quirky musician who recently wrote an album of songs called Wake Up Calls, composed using the songs of endangered birds. “Sheldrake is as eccentric as you’d expect, given that he is the son of the maverick biologist Rupert, and brother to fungi expert Merlin. Musically, he is most influenced by his mother, Jill Purce, who teaches and practises Mongolian overtone chanting,” writes Phoebe Weston.

Further reading:

  • Writer Luke Turner has a thought-provoking article on ecofascism, misanthropy and the pandemic in The Quietus.
  • The Times has a feature on Brexit and hill farmers – a group it says has received less attention than fishers.
  • The Woodland Trust is warning about the dangers of importing tree pests and diseases into the UK, and calling for improvements in biosecurity.
  • Defra has released data on its gender pay gap in 2020.
  • The department has also issued its annual statistics on the status of English bathing waters.

Happy days

Christmas | Just in case you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping yet, here’s a list of gift ideas assembled by Land In Our Names, a brilliant organisation devoted to reconnecting Black communities with land in Britain. Each of these suggestions will support organisations and individuals that they think are doing important work. None of these ideas are specific to Christmas, so maybe keep it up your sleeve for birthday inspiration, too?


Image credits: Frank Winkler, Erika Wittlieb

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