Recap: Solar, Sundew & South Wales Dippers

The latest news on UK nature + conservation.

Welcome to Inkcap, a newsletter about landscapes, creatures + conservation in the UK, edited by Sophie Yeo. 

From next week onwards, Inkcap will go out on a Friday. It's a news roundup, so it seems to make sense. As ever, you can get in touch at editor@inkcap.co.uk. And again, please support Inkcap by spreading the word of its existence. Thanks so much!

1. National news: Headlines affecting the whole UK
2. Around the country: Local stories from all corners
3. Reports: Big documents, summarised
4. Science: Complicated papers, simplified
5. Driftwood: Features, comment, and assorted items
6. Happy days: Ending on a cheerful note


Solar | A proposed solar farm in Kent is dividing opinion. Almost a million panels are set to be installed on around 900 acres of farmland, which environmentalists fear could damage the area’s biodiversity. The Times, the Independent and the Telegraph all cover the story. While Friends of the Earth supports the construction, Greenpeace and the local branch of the Green Party are opposed. Matthew Hatchwell, previously director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London, points out in a blog that the Environment Agency was previously planning to revert the farmland to salt marsh, which would have been greatly preferable from a biodiversity perspective. 

Journey | A small group of RSPB conservationists successfully returned home after a 12-day voyage to the UK from one of the world’s remotest islands. The team had been on Gough Island in the South Atlantic to protect seabirds from invasive mice, but the project was cancelled due to coronavirus. Their journey was indisputably within government guidelines and did not involve any stopovers at Barnard Castle. The BBC, the Telegraph and the Guardian all have the story. 

Wildlife | It’s not just dolphins in Venice and wild boar in Italy (P.S. don’t believe everything you read) – wildlife is returning to National Trust properties, too. The charity has warned visitors that they may encounter unexpected wildlife when they return for long-awaited scones and strolls, including peregrine falcons at Corfe Castle and a buzzard in the orangery of a stately home in Norfolk. The Guardian, the Telegraph and the Independent all cover the story. 

In other news:

  • Natural England is set to reform its planning, licensing and monitoring activities. ENDS

  • Small forest owners are helping to ‘rewild’ the UK’s woodland. Guardian


Around the country

Wales | The BBC looks at roadsides in bloom across Wales, with people campaigning for councils to abandon the lawnmower and allow wildflowers to thrive. There has been heightened interest in roadsides this week, with a few local papers covering the issue in other areas, including Norfolk and North Somerset. In the latter county, the council notes that its mowing regime has been cut back due to coronavirus. 

Yorkshire | Anti-road campaigners are planning on buying an area of land near the ancient Nidd Gorge and creating a nature reserve. The plan for Long Lands Common, as it is called, includes a community-owned woodland (they are selling shares for £50), a wildflower meadow and marshy areas. The story is covered by the Yorkshire Post, but you can read about their plans directly on their website. Elsewhere in Yorkshire, fish passes are being installed to enable salmon to reach their historic spawning sites.

Cheshire | Great sundew, one of England’s few carnivorous plants, has been re-introduced into a secret location in Cheshire, according to the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Josh Styles from the North West Rare Plant Initiative, who reintroduced the plants, said: “With reinforcement and monitoring of this reintroduction planned in the long-term, I have my hopes set on big population increases at the site!”

Elsewhere:

  • Two sites in Leicestershire are being developed as habitats for endangered newts. BBC

  • A coastal path in Norfolk may be diverted to protect little tern and ringed plover. North Norfolk News

  • The Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is fundraising to create a new wetland nature reserve. HWT

  • Hundreds of trees have been planted across Sunderland. Sunderland Echo

  • A bird of prey rescue centre in the Highlands needs to raise £5,000 or be forced to close due to coronavirus. The Scotsman

  • Charity suggests moving beavers to the Highlands to prevent landowners shooting them. The Times

  • Fires have broken out at nature reserves in Dorset and South Yorkshire. BirdGuides


Reports

Nature | The Wildlife Trusts, alongside the University of Derby, have released a five year review of their 30 Days Wild programme, looking at how daily contact with nature can improve mental health. A survey of more than 1,000 participants found that daily contact with nature produced a lasting boost in happiness. The report is available here

Overseas impact | The RSPB and WWF-UK have released a report quantifying the impact of the UK’s demand for commodities on land and biodiversity overseas. Between 2016 and 2018, an area equivalent to 88% of the total UK land area was required to supply the nation with just seven agricultural and forest products, the report found. The press release is available here, for those wanting a detailed summary.

Devon | Natural England has released a Natural Capital Strategy for North Devon. It highlights four priorities: protecting and improving water quality, minimising flood risk, increasing carbon capture and storage, and managing tourism and recreation pressure. The report is available here.


Science

Dippers | Academics have studied dippers to better understand how plastic moves up the food chain, passed from prey to the birds and onto the chicks. "These iconic birds, the dippers, are ingesting hundreds of pieces of plastic every day," said Steve Ormerod, one of the authors of the study, in the BBC’s write-up. The research was conducted in South Wales.

Pine martens | To help struggling pine marten populations, the Vincent Wildlife Trust translocated individuals from Scotland to Wales. A recent study looks at the behaviour of these martens upon arrival, including how long they took to settle into their territory. The author, Cat McNicol, explains the findings in a tweet thread.


Driftwood

Trees | The government is expected to produce its England Tree Strategy for consultation imminently. Andrew Allen, lead advocate for land use at the Woodland Trust, has written about his hopes for the document, which include that new planting will focus on native species and that there will be renewed commitment to addressing current issues such as disease. 

Fish | A really thoughtful and interesting blog by writer Andrew Griffiths about the relative value that society places on fish conservation compared to other charismatic birds and animals – or, as he puts it, that life is cheap when you’re a fish. “Does it matter that we indulge in this charismatic beauty charade?” he writes. “Yes it does, and all serious conservationists know that it does.”

Birch | A beautiful feature about birch trees and a couple in Scotland who make a living by tapping them for birch water and harvesting the leaves to make birch leaf tea. “Elsewhere in Europe, people tend to make more use of birch and understand the complexities of edible fungi and other plants that bring health benefits. We have a long way to go to realise nature’s full potential,” says Rob Clamp, who co-runs the business.


Further reading:

  • Jess Chappell , RSPB senior policy officer, blogs about the need to embed nature in the West Midlands Combined Authority recovery action plan. RSPB

  • Natural England’s chief executive, Marian Spain, lays out her priorities for the year ahead. Natural England

  • There could be a conclusion to a ten-year dispute between a marine biologist and Ricky Gervais over Flanimals. Yep, this one made me look twice, too. Eastern Daily Press

  • Ecologist Simon Phelps encourages people to think about the ‘normal’ we want to return to post-coronavirus. Wildlife Phelps

  • Wild Justice has published its response to the RSPB’s consultation on gamebird shooting. Wild Justice

  • Dave Slater, Natural England’s director for wildlife licensing cases, has written on a blog on the extension of the hen harrier brood management trial. Natural England

  • Forest fires have cost Natural Resources Wales over £500,000, and are damaging wildlife. NRW

  • Holly Jones blogs on how the pandemic has affected ecological field research. The Applied Ecologist


Happy days

Soundscape | This is an awesome interactive by the Guardian, where you scroll down through the songs of a forest, learning how the soundscape changes as the day progresses. It’s mainly relaxing, though I wasn’t sure about the shriek of the red fox. The graphics are fabulous, too.


Image credit: Peter Cairns