Nature Prescriptions & Goshawk Deaths

The latest news on nature and conservation in the UK.

Welcome to Inkcap, a newsletter about nature, ecology and conservation in the UK, written and reported by me, Sophie Yeo.

This is your Friday recap. If you haven’t done so yet, you can still read Wednesday’s feature story on the impacts of citizen science on mental health.

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National news

Green Brexit | The environment secretary, George Eustice, has given a speech focusing on the government’s plan for nature in the wake of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic. This included various pointers on forthcoming policies, including a £5m pilot project to establish a new Natural Capital and Ecosystem Assessment. You can read the whole speech here. The Independent reports that environmental groups were unimpressed with the speech; I’ve rounded up some of the reaction myself in the ‘Driftwood’ section below.

Nature prescription | There was one announcement in George Eustice’s speech that gained particular attention from the press: the promise of £4m over two years for a pilot project bringing “green prescribing” to four areas, urban and rural, that have been hit especially hard by coronavirus. NHS patients will be told to attend outdoor exercise classes, plant trees or visit natural beauty spots, reports the Times. It is hoped that the scheme will simultaneously boost mental health and tackle obesity, reports the Daily Mail. The Telegraph and Independent also covered the story.

Badgers | A new vaccine for bovine tuberculosis has been given the go-ahead by the government, with trials to take place across England and Wales, in the hope that it could be deployed by 2025. If successful, this could lead to the phase-out of intensive culling of badgers, a protected species that can transmit the disease to livestock, reports the Guardian. If all goes well in these early stages, 2,000 cattle across seven herds will help test the effectiveness of the new vaccine, reports the Independent.

In other news:

  • Farmers are harvesting blackcurrants resilient to climate change for the first time. The Telegraph

  • A £1m fund has been made available to Scottish farmers as an incentive to take up forestry. The Herald

  • Just 3.6% of fly-tipping and pollution complaints to an Environment Agency hotline lead to penalties. The Guardian

  • The RSPB has hit back against demands from Scottish gamekeepers for independent monitoring for birds of prey. The Courier

  • Ministers are considering excluding free ports from rules protecting birds and wildlife habitats. The Guardian


Across the country

Duchy of Lancaster | Three gamekeepers working on one of the Queen’s grouse moors have reportedly been suspended after they were questioned by police over the alleged killing of a goshawk, reports the Yorkshire Post. Undercover activists filmed a man killing the rare wild bird on Goathland Moor in North Yorkshire and handed it to the police, reports the Times. Separately, in Scotland, fears are growing for a golden eagle that has vanished around Perthshire, an area known as a raptor persecution hotspot, reports the Courier. Happily, the UK’s newest vulture resident is still alive and well; conservationists believe that the large crowds that it has drawn will help to keep it safe from persecution, reports the Shropshire Star.

Chilterns | There has been a lot of coverage this week of the 30th anniversary of the reintroduction of red kites into the Chiltern Hills. At one point there were just a few breeding pairs, in central Wales, reports the BBC; today, the distinctive birds can be seen across the UK (I personally watched one follow a tractor across a field in County Durham a few weeks ago). The project has “paved the way for further species reintroductions,” according to Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England. The first red kite project officer has written about the tense moment when they first released the birds. The news was also covered in the Independent and the Guardian.

Pennines & Dales | A scheme to restore nature across the uplands of Teesdale and Swaledale, in the North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales, has received a £5.7m funding boost from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The programme plans to bring in nature-friendly farming across more than 320 square miles of the region, reports the Northern Echo. It is also hoped that the scheme could prevent a return of flash flooding, which devastated many local communities last summer, reports the Yorkshire Post. Work will begin on the project in earnest in autumn.

Elsewhere:

  • A child is sad because the Woodland Trust removed his fairy teacups. Lancashire Post

  • Cranes have bred in Lincolnshire for the first time in more than 400 years. BirdGuides

  • Sheffield council says it will have to remove more trees to tackle the Ash dieback threat. Yorkshire Post

  • The mayor of the West Midlands is asking owners of derelict sites to give them up to housing developers, to spare green belt land. Express & Star

  • Lesser Skullcap has been reintroduced to Cheshire after a 20 year absence. CWT

  • Wildlife campaigners in Newcastle have condemned roofing works on properties where swifts have been spotted. The Chronicle


Reports

Coasts | Government research has highlighted the boost to health and happiness that humans receive from living by the beach. The evidence statement drew on 46 peer-reviewed papers, concluding that people living by the coast report better mental health and undertake more recreational physical activity compared to those living inland. Interestingly, the area’s conservation status appeared to impact wellbeing; there was also a positive correlation between “greater subjective wellbeing and the number of species of conservation interest”. The Telegraph and the Daily Mail wrote up the study.

Project Speed | A few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced that the government would speed up housing and infrastructure development to reignite the economy, to the dismay of many green groups, who feared a bonfire of environmental regulations. Wildlife and Countryside Link have released a briefing contesting the government’s claims; instead, they say that that better environmental data and specialist expertise in planning could lead to better, greener and faster construction.

Rivers | If you want a detailed account of what’s going on with the UK’s rivers, then the Rivers Trust Review is a good place to start. It details the work of the Trusts over the past 12 months, including case studies and success stories. This includes creating or restoring more than 70 wetlands and opening up 391km of river to fish passage.


Science

Sharks | Microplastics and synthetic fibres have been found in the guts of sharks living off the UK coast, according to a study carried out by academics at the University of Exeter. They looked at the presence of plastic in the small-spotted catshark, starry smooth-hound, spiny dogfish and bull huss. “Of the 46 sharks analysed in this study, samples from 67% contained at least one contaminant particle,” according to the paper. The findings were reported in the Independent and the Guardian.

Thames | In many ways, the Thames is cleaner now than it has been in years – but that’s not the case when it comes to microplastics. A study by scientists at Royal Holloway in London has found that the river suffers from among the highest levels of plastic pollution in the world. Some 94,000 microplastics per second flow down the river at Greenwich, the research revealed. The BBC and the Telegraph covered the story.

Culling | Predator species such as crows and foxes may need to be culled to protect ground-nesting birds, according to a study by researchers from the University of Aberdeen and University College Dublin. They found that, across Europe, 74% of ground‐nesting bird species were in decline compared to 41% of other species – and that the trend was particularly evident in Britain. “Ignoring the role of generalist predators in modern landscapes may lead to further declines and losses,” write the authors.


Driftwood

Green recovery | Here’s the reaction to George Eustice’s speech this week. Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said he was “pleased” that the government had recognised that “that Nature needs to move to front and centre in how we plan for the future of our country at this pivotal moment”. Other responses were more lukewarm. Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, said that the government needs to “rebuild trust with the environment sector” following the recent newt fiasco. Darren Moorcroft, CEO of the Woodland Trust, emphasised that “the first step for Government must be to ensure these green spaces are protected so they are available for all to enjoy.” Richard Benwell, CEO at Wildlife and Countryside Link, said that “strong laws must be matched by appropriate funding”. Miles King of People Need Nature has written an analysis of the speech.

Rewilding | In an effort to provide guidance to farmers and landowners seeking to rewild their land, Rewilding Britain is launching a new Rewilding Network. The organisation hopes to catalyse and support the rewilding of at least 300,000 acres of land, an area the size of Greater Manchester. “Despite reasonably good advice available for farmers, landowners and land managers about nature-friendly farming, there is currently no coordinated service providing advice on how to rewild and build new enterprises around this,” the organisation says. It has provided more details about the network here.

Native species | Given the surprising amount of discussion prompted by my recent article on the language around non-native species, I thought I would highlight a letter in the Guardian by Davina Cooper, a professor in law and political theory at King’s College London. “Surely there is a public language to talk about these problems away from the pervasive terms of native and alien, with its dangerous implication that certain things belong, which the incomer upsets,” she writes. (Separately, I thought this article on American mink was a good example of the emotive language we’re talking about: “They are the foreign invaders threatening to decimate some of our best-loved wildlife,” declares the Herald.)

Further reading:

  • The John Muir Trust’s latest work to protect wild land from “inappropriate” wind farm developments. JMT

  • An epic reading list of literature with an ecological theme. ECOS

  • North York Moors farmers have had their say on the government’s proposed new land management scheme. NYM

  • Licensing of Scottish grouse moors is needed now, writes the RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing. The Scotsman

  • Fifteen Wildlife Trusts have been awarded emergency Covid grants from the National Lottery. NWT


Happy days

Acidification | The Natural History Museum recently carried out a study on ocean shells, showing that samples are now thinner than their equivalents recovered by the Challenger Expedition of the 1870s due to ocean acidification. That is not good news. But what is cool is that the scientists have released their scans of these shells, so if you happen to have a 3D printer, you can recreate them yourself at home. I can never even get the normal printer to work, but if you happen to give this a try, please let me know!


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Image credits: Alison Day, Karen Bullock, Neil Howard, Negative Space