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The latest news on nature and conservation in the UK.
Welcome to Inkcap, a newsletter about nature, ecology and conservation in the UK.
This is your Friday digest. You can still read this week’s feature on the looming extinguishment facing our footpaths.
Ammunition | The government is considering a ban of lead ammunition to protect nature and wildlife – a move which the Daily Mail called the “biggest shake-up in 500 years for game shooting”. Research has shown that between 50,000 and 100,000 wildfowl die in the UK each year from ingesting toxic shotgun pellets after mistaking them for food. According to a government statement, shooting organisations are supportive of the transition and are working with the government to bring this about; Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, said that shooters can either “do it on our time-scale, or it will be imposed on us”. The Environment Agency will now start a two-year process to review the evidence, conduct a public consultation and propose options for restrictions. The Telegraph also covered the news.
Rewilding | Isabella Tree, co-owner of the Knepp estate in West Sussex, has warned that proposed development will “devastate” the rewilding project by blocking off any potential to create a wildlife corridor to nearby forests. As many as 3,500 new homes could be built on nearby greenfield land, the Guardian reports. “If wildlife can’t move in response to temperature rises, then it’s doomed to extinction,” said Tree. In other rewilding news, the Scottish Rewilding Alliance is calling on Scottish MPs to support a parliamentary motion recognising the potential social, economic and environmental benefits of Scotland becoming the world’s first rewilding nation. The Times, meanwhile, reports on efforts to rewild cities via extensive networks of “wild belt” land.
Parks | The National Trust for Scotland is calling for a network of new national parks to be set up, reports the Scotsman. The proposal is part of a manifesto sent to party leaders and to be published in April, ahead of the Holyrood elections. Stuart Brooks, head of conservation and policy at the charity, said that “a family of national parks with their own unique features can complement each and help spread the load of tourism across the country.” The manifesto will also contain proposals for the sustainable use and enjoyment of Scotland’s cultural and physical heritage. The call follows the Scottish Liberal Democrats' adoption of the creation of new national parks as policy last autumn, with possible locations including Dumfries and Galloway and Argyll and Bute; currently Scotland has two designated national parks, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and the Cairngorms.
In other news:
Almost half of Scotland’s salmon farms dispose of their dead fish through burning, landfilling or destroying, reports the Scotsman.
The former boss of Barclays has called on the government to set up a bank to support sustainable farming, reports the Telegraph.
The Guardian profiled various UK rewilding projects for World Rewilding Day.
A new climate bill in Northern Ireland has been described as an “historic moment”, reports the BBC.
Scotland’s climate assembly has released its interim report, laying out a vision for a greener society, reports the Scotsman.
Trawl fishing has been banned in more than 100 square miles of seabed off Sussex to help kelp forests recover, reports the Guardian.
Buglife has launched a new plan for UK-wide insect superhighways, allowing pollinators to move freely across the landscape.
Thousands of oysters are to be placed in UK harbours to boost water quality, reports the Evening Standard.
Across the country
Mid-Wales | Extinction Rebellion activists have removed bird nets covering a hedgerow on the site of a proposed crematorium in mid-Wales, reports the Shropshire Star. Three activists were interviewed by police after they "decided to go and take the netting off because nothing had been done about it... and the nesting season is due to begin." The company behind the proposal said that the netting was installed to protect wildlife should they receive planning permission. Separately, also in the Shropshire Star, a 150-year-old oak in Shrewsbury received a stay of execution after an Extinction Rebellion protester suspended himself from the tree in a harness. According to the council, the felling has been postponed "in the light of the suggestion that nesting birds may have been identified."
Staffordshire | Plans to create a new slurry lagoon in Staffordshire have prompted concerns among councillors, reports the Express and Star. The dairy farmers in questions have been chosen to supply milk to the ice-cream company Ben & Jerry’s, but the application for the slurry lagoon has been called in by the planning committee to discuss the impacts on the environment and local water courses. One resident called it an “ecological disaster” waiting to happen, while another person defended the proposal, saying that there was a “good soil structure for the construction of a safe lagoon”.
Cambridgeshire | Photographer Joe Giddens has captured dramatic images of Konik pony stallions sparring at Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire, the National Trust's oldest nature reserve. According to conservation grazing ranger Carol Laidlaw, “during the mating season, males can engage in sparring, which is a natural part of their behaviour", but this is not a common event and the hardy horses "spend most of their time grazing, sleeping and forming bonds with one another.” On that peaceful note, be sure to scroll to the end for an adorable foal.
A community group in Caithness has taken ownership of a local woodland, taking over from NatureScot.
Almost 900 trees have been planted along riverbanks in Suffolk to improve habitat diversity, according to the Environment Agency.
Funding for a new project in Norfolk will help deprived families connect with nature, reports the Eastern Daily Press.
The BBC reports on a massive tree felling operation at Kielder Forest in Northumberland, where bogs are being restored.
A rare grasshopper is being returned to wetlands in Norfolk, reports the Eastern Daily Press.
A pair of beavers have been released in the South Downs, reports the Guardian.
Improvements to Hayley Wood in Cambridgeshire will benefit the oxlip and a wide variety of other plants and wildlife, says the local Wildlife Trust.
Natural Resources Wales is starting to restore an SSSI on Llantysilio Mountain that was destroyed by fire in 2018.
Deer | The Scottish government has released its 47-page response to the 99 recommendations made by the Deer Working Group on the management of wild deer in January last year. “It is vital we protect tree-planting, woodland regeneration and peatland restoration from further damage if we are to meet our climate change and biodiversity commitments and protect our environment,” the government says in its response. NatureScot, the RSPB and Scottish Environment LINK all released supportive statements.
Wilding | A new report from Common Weal presents a vision for reforming Scotland’s uplands, and suggests creating a “half-wild mosaic” of different land uses across the nation – complete with nine policy actions that could create this future. “Reforesting and rewilding can create a more productive use of land with a mixture of commercial and non-commercial woodland which also enables biodiversity recovery and better carbon capture. This will be interspersed with more contained livestock rearing, patches of arable crops, restored peatland, revitalised communities, energy generation, ecotourism and more,” the report says. The National covers its findings. Scotland’s Just Transition Commission also released its findings this week, focusing on how to create a “fairer, greener” country.
Farming | Four farmer-led groups have released reports this week, looking at how the Scottish agriculture industry can reduce its emissions and help tackle climate change. The groups were established by the Scottish government: they comprise hill farmers and crofters, pig farmers, arable farmers and dairy farmers. There was also a report on beef earlier this year. The Press and Journal has covered the findings.
Puffins | A study in the Journal of Animal Ecology has found that a lack of prey around breeding colonies in the northeast Atlantic is leading to declines in puffin populations. Researchers wanted to know why some colonies, such as the one on the Norwegian Røst archipelago, have declined steeply while others, like the one on Skomer Island in Wales, appear to be thriving. The answer lay in climate-driven changes in their food sources, which is “forcing birds to feed much further away than they normally would, and preventing them from feeding their offspring sufficiently, which ultimately causes chick starvation,” according to one of the authors.
Weeds | A study in Global Change Biology looks at the world’s longest running agricultural experiment to see whether potential yield losses from weeds have increased in response to management and environmental change since the Green Revolution In the 1960s. The result was a resounding yes. The scientists concluded that “weeds now represent a greater inherent threat to crop production than before the advent of herbicides” and that sustainable solutions to weed management are “urgently needed”. The findings were covered in the Courier.
Farming | A study by the Met Office looks at the impacts of climate change on the dairy and potato farming sectors over the next 30 to 50 years, finding that cattle are likely to experience increased heat stress and that potato blight is likely to occur more often under warmer conditions. It concluded that the agricultural sector should consider suitable climate adaptation measures to minimise the risk. The Scotsman covered the findings.
Policing | Almost 250 environmental and other organisations have signed an open letter expressing "profound concern and alarm" over the government's controversial policing bill, which passed its second reading last week. Craig Bennett of the Wildlife Trusts says that the protest restrictions in the bill threaten "the ability of people to unite in standing up for wildlife". There was also concern over the bill's trespass provisions, with the CPRE saying they risk "putting a ‘do not enter’ sign across the country and further limiting access to the very green spaces that enrich all of our lives" and "criminalising the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities". Both organisations draw attention to historic successes of peaceful protest, including saving places like Askham Bog in Yorkshire and putting an end to fracking in England.
Eagles | A feature in the Scotsman delves into the two sides of rewilding, looking at the reintroduction of sea eagles in Scotland from the perspective of both crofters and rewilding advocates. The crofters interviewed expressed concern about the apex predators taking their lambs, with one suggesting that rewilding had been “romanticised...for an urban audience.” But Peter Cairns, of Scotland: The Big Picture, said that crofters needed to adapt to the changes. “They perceive rewilding as change that they don’t want because it is change imposed upon them by decisions they were excluded from,” he said. “But with this backdrop of a global climate crisis, there is ecological justification to restore an abundance of species.”
History | Various items of historical miscellanea caught my eye this week. Kathryn Rooke, assistant archivist at the Natural History Museum, looks at the history of the Plumage Act, which passed in 1921 and saw the beginning of the end of the fashion for “fancy feathers”. Alexandra Beaumon, an author of folklore-inspired tales, explores the history of beavers throughout fables, folklore and literature for the Beaver Trust. And Wicked Leeks examines the physical legacy of the medieval system of open field farming in the countryside today: the ridges and furrows that ripple across the land even now.
Who owns Dartmoor? Author and campaigner Guy Shrubsole investigates in a new blog.
Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, has given a speech on why tackling gender inequality is a crucial component of climate adaptation.
Patrick Barkham writes about the lack of diversity in nature writing for the Independent.
Poetry | The National Trust has been creating a nature poem from the observations of amateur poets: writers were encouraged to document their feelings and sightings related to spring, which are to be woven into a poem by the writer Elizabeth-Jane Burnett. Sadly, that all took place last weekend, so it’s too late to take part, but that shouldn’t stop you from scribbling down a few lines anyway should you feel moved by the new season.
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