In continuing my research of recent nature/wildlife news, I started to notice a topical pattern emerging in concerns over the use and sustainability of water, a limited resource that has often been neglected in public discussion but started to received more attention due to severity of the situation via continued over population and thus consumption of freshwater.
This first caught my attention within a photo story on BBC Nature discussing various wildlife issues as part of Britain’s wildlife revival. Many of the examples focus upon issues relating to the damage and later restoration efforts of freshwater environments, which turn has influenced the demise or growth of numerous life forms.
This was refined further whilst reading an article in the Guardian that discussed pressure such demands placed upon wetland environments, particularly rivers and therefore eco-systems required to sustain wildlife.
The subject in question was the potential changes being made to the UK water bill, which would allow private licence owners to sell vast quantities of water to private companies, allowing mass abstraction of water from rivers, wetlands and reservoirs, well in excess in what is available and viably sustainable to support not only future human demands (drinking, lifestyle) but also what would be required to maintain a healthy ecological balance in the environment.
We rely upon natural environments for tourism, food production, energy resources and flood management and yet we often neglect and abuse this co-existence through our desire for economic growth and to supply the demand of an increasing population. Nature generates a huge supply of financial gain for many western societies, this is especially the case with the UK.
After many years of neglect, we are starting to understand the true scale of human interference and how significant the consequences of this are to all life forms. We risk destroying part of our heritage, diverse eco-systems as well as exhausting a natural life source that we cannot life without.
This is especially true of water and yet it has only recent been considered to be as important, if not more so than other nature elements. Freshwater and marine sites cover a enormous area of the earth’s terrains and offer a wealth of unique and diverse natural wildlife and yet so few are preserved and protected through government priorities and law.
I want my own series to underpin this aspect and follow the example of the few other contemporary artists that have started to consider the severity of human consumption and exhaustion of water sources. Perhaps this could form as a part of the general mention of Europe’s 2020 vision.
In pictures: Restoring Britain’s wildlife vision
Twenty of the UK’s best wildlife photographers have been given the task of capturing our wildlife for 2020 Vision, a nature photography project that links habitat restoration to our own well-being. Red squirrels are considered potent symbols of a healthy woodland habitat and have been the subject of nationwide conservation campaigns.
Water vole populations were devastated by habitat loss and farmed mink that escaped into the countryside. But signs look promising for a return, as otters are pushing out the mink and restoring the natural ecological balance of our rivers and wetlands allowing water voles and other wildlife to prosper.
From their lowest ebb of just a handful of breeding pairs in central Wales, red kites have seen an unprecedented revival in the last 20 years. Bolstered by an intensive reintroduction program the impressive birds have been re-established as a successful breeding species across large parts of the UK.
Each day in summer an enthusiastic crowd of keen dolphin-watchers gather on the beach of the Moray Firth to witness bottlenose dolphins breaching off shore. This is just one of 28 cetacean species recorded in UK waters yet only 2% of our waters are currently designated as protected areas
The Great Crane Project aims to reintroduce 100 cranes to Somerset by 2015. The young birds attend “crane school” where a dedicated team dressed in crane outfits help them to develop. Young birds have already shown signs of breeding bolstering hopes the birds will re-establish here for the first time in over 400 years.
The large blue butterfly was brought back from extinction in the UK in 1984 following ground-breaking scientific research. Habitat restoration has seen the insects return to more than 30 former sites in south-west England, alongside other rare species of plants and insects that had suffered similar declines.
The River Tweed is now the best river for Atlantic salmon in the world, but it took a long-term commitment by many different partners with an interest in the river to bring it back to good health from source to sea. Plants, insects and fish are all now prospering.
Stag beetles rely on dead and decaying wood to lay their eggs and to feed on, an increasingly rare commodity in our environment. If you live in the south of England you can help the recovery of our largest terrestrial beetle by leaving areas of dead wood in quiet moist corners of your garden.
The recovery of otters in British rivers is one of the great conservation success stories of recent years. After hunting and unchecked pollution drove otters to the remotest corners of the country, their return to every English county is symbolic of changing attitudes towards otters and the rivers and wetlands in which they live.
Peregrine falcons have become ambassadors for urban re-wilding after adapting to skyscrapers, cathedrals and office blocks. The fortunes of our most-at risk animals are also the subject of the BBC One series Britain’s Big Wildlife Revival which begins Sunday 18 August at 17:35 BST.
Wind in the Willows river ‘risks running dry’ if new water bill is passed
Rivers including the one Ratty rowed Mole along in Wind in the Willows face running dry far more often under new laws that will increase thewater taken from them, according to critics of the government’s water bill, which is debated by MPs for the first time on Monday.
Already one in seven of England’s rivers have unsustainable amounts of water drawn from them, causing serious harm to the fish, animals and plants living there. At particular risk are chalk streams, a very rare habitat almost completely confined to England. The River Pang, a tributary of the Thames in Berkshire and whose water voles are thought to be the inspiration for Ratty in Kenneth Grahame’s classic story, is one of just 160 chalk streams. The waterways, many of which already run dry, host otters, salmon, trout, crayfish and water buttercups but are prized by water companies for the very clean water that has been filtered through underwater acquifers.
The new laws will allow for the first time all private holders of abstraction licences to sell their water to water companies, a move that would almost double the water able to be taken. Most of the licences were issued 50 years ago and were granted forever. Currently, 30bn litres a day are taken from rivers, 10% more than is ecologically sustainable, but licences exist for a further 50bn litres a day.
“The licence system is completely broken, unsustainable and out of date, having been set in 1960s with no regard to how much water could be sustainably taken out,” said Dr Rose O’Neill, a water expert at WWF.
Maria Eagle, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said: “The serious environmental concerns are entirely justified and ministers should rethink their approach.”
Ministers acknowledged the problem in 2011 and pledged to reform the system, with the then environment secretary Caroline Spelman saying: “We must act now to make the changes needed to keep our rivers flowing.” However, the bill that will be debated on the house of commons on Monday no longer contains major reform plans but does include the changes allowing those with private abstraction licences to sell water to increase so-called “upstream” competition in the water industry. Ministers now say the licence regime will be reformed in another water bill in the next parliament.
“The government is dragging its feet for some reason and pushing it off to a future bill which may never happen,” said O’Neill.
A spokeswoman for the department of environment, food and rural affairs said: “Making sure we have enough water is one of the major challenges we face in the coming years. We are making changes to the water industry to address these challenges and we will be consulting on abstraction reform shortly.”
In July, Conservative MP Anne McIntosh, chair of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee, led a report which condemned thegovernment’s lack of “ambition and urgency”. She said: “We heard about the environmental damage unleashed by over-abstraction [but] the government’s plans – to reform the abstraction regime by the mid-to-late 2020s – will not take effect rapidly enough given that our rivers are already running dry.”
“In the spring of 2012, after the dry winter, we saw rivers up and down the country drying up, with local groups having to rescue fish,” said O’Neill. “Without reform the risk is going to go up even further.”
The Environment Agency (EA), which manages abstraction licences and the protection of rivers, warned in June that other factors would compound the problem: “In the future, population growth, climate change and economic development are likely to increase pressure for more water to be abstracted. As a result, unless we all act now, further environmental damage may occur.”
Ministers have already made one concession by pledging to make the water regulator Ofwat consult the EA before allowing private licence holders to supply water. But O’Neill pointed out that the EA is facing further deep budget cuts, which will see its staff cut by almost 3,000, a quarter of the total in 2009.
Wetlands: constantly changing, always photogenic
Photographing wetlands is incredibly exciting because there’s such a range of pictures you can take: water can be choppy or flat and it can rain, which creates loads of opportunities. Wetlands are constantly changing too, especially the Severn Estuary with its big skies and wide, flat landscape.
Hundreds of thousands of wildfowl, wading birds and gulls use the estuary over the winter and they’re constantly landing and taking off, diving in the water and surfacing.
Most of these birds stay until early spring, conjuring so many potential spectacles that sometimes you don’t know where to point your lens first.
You can generally approach wetland photography in two ways; focusing on wildlife close-up or attaching a wide-angled lens for stunning landscapes. A golden rule for both is avoiding the middle of the day, even in winter. If the sun is high it ruins the colours and overexposes the shot. It also dulls and flattens the subject. Low sun, on the other hand, bathes a bird in light.
Ducks can be very photogenic. In winter, they’ve display all their breeding colours because they’re looking to pair-up. Their behaviour is eye-catching too – flying in and out, flapping their wings creating cascades of water droplets, and almost always on the move looking for food.
The best wildfowl photos are taken from low level, about as close to the water as you can get. From above, you cloud the water and lose perspective. Avoid zooming in too close though because you might miss a really nice reflection. If you cut out half a reflection, the picture looks awful and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Some of the classic wetland shots are of wildfowl taking off and landing and for these you need to know your site. Birds will always land and take off into the wind so if you know the wind direction you can position yourself so that they’re coming towards you with the sun behind.
Photos of birds bathing can be show-stoppers. You’ll need a high shutter speed for these types of shots – at least 1/800 and maybe even 1/1500. That way the water droplets surrounding the bird can appear frozen in the air. And remember, always focus on the head.
Framing your picture is important. If a swan or goose is facing right, place it on the left-hand side so that the bird is looking into the photo. This draws the eye into the picture rather than to the subject alone. The two-thirds rule applies to wildfowl (and wetland landscape) photography too: you want the bird in only two thirds of a picture, not spread across the whole thing.
Landscape photography on wetlands can be hugely rewarding. One of my favourite photos shows swans and geese feeding in the foreground with thousands of lapwings circling behind, after being scared by a peregrine falcon. The lapwings are reflected in the water and there’s a nice blue sky. Without the birds it would be very bare. They create something to focus on.
That said, check your background too because a wonky horizon is a disaster: you’ll have a whole load of ducks swimming up a hill of water.
I prefer more sky than ground in my landscapes. We have spectacular skies in Gloucestershire which make images very dramatic. You can include interesting weather features like a distant storm or unusual cloud formation. And ideally you have lots of birds flying through.
Be ready to react to light conditions which can change suddenly on wetlands. Fog can look brilliant and a swan in silhouette shrouded in mist can be special. Heavy rain is worth sitting out too. Set a fast shutter speed and you might catch the water droplets appearing to bounce off a duck’s back.
Waterbirds fly fairly quickly and a fast shutter speed will keep them in focus. Setting your camera to a medium ISO and continuous focus means you can track them across your field of vision. On the other hand, slow shutter speeds blur the wings and create a sense of movement. A photo taken at a really slow shutter speed looks wicked if you can pull it off.
Wetland colours in winter are also amazing. At Slimbridge this month we’ve got the crisp red of willow bark against golden reeds and bright blue water.
• James Lees is a Conservation Warden at WWT. WWT is currently running a photo competition with a prize of a trip to Antartica – it closes on 31 August 2012
Bees, birds and hedgerows at risk: public must act to protect nature on farms
Thursday 31st October 2013
28 day consultation asks: farming with – or without – nature?
This morning the Government launched a consultation on how the Common Agricultural Policy should shape the future of farming and the rural economy in England from 2015-2020.
A healthy natural environment, where farmland is producing food but also bursting with wildlife, underpins sustainable farming systems
The Government has given only 28 days for the public to have their say on how 69% of the English landscape is maintained and how farmers can be financially supported to deliver the environmental benefits that underpin sustainable food production, healthy ecosystems and rural communities.
The Wildlife Trusts are gravely concerned that overall budget cuts will mean a halving of the area of land currently benefiting from farm environment schemes.
Additionally, we are extremely disappointed at the Government’s lack of ambition on implementation of the new ‘greening’ measures, which are linked to 30% of the payments that all farmers receive. The consultation makes it clear that it intends to implement greening in a way that keeps close to the basic European requirements.
We welcome the Government’s support for moving the full 15% funding allowable under EU rules into the purse that supports the farm environment schemes that do most for nature – this is a necessity if such schemes are to be viable in the future.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“A healthy natural environment, where farmland is producing food but also bursting with wildlife, underpins sustainable farming systems. Currently 70% of farmland benefits from farm environment schemes that help both commonplace and rare wildlife.
“Reducing this to 35/40% and adhering to the EU’s very basic requirements for greening could be disastrous for our natural environment. It is bad news for bees, birds and hedgerows as well as water quality and a host of other environmental considerations.”
Helen Perkins, Living Landscape Development Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, says:
“Farmers have made a huge commitment to delivering farm environment schemes during the last 25 years. They have restored and connected areas of flower rich grassland to benefit butterflies like the marsh fritillary, they are bringing species like cirl bunting back from the brink, have restored hedgerows and wetlands, and created new habitats for bees and other pollinators.
“We need to make sure that all this good work is sustained, but also we now need to see farming with nature mainstreamed – with environmental standards raised on every farm so that exemplary environmental practises are not restricted to pockets of the countryside.”
Farmers have restored and connected areas of flower rich grassland to benefit butterflies like the marsh fritillary, they are bringing species like cirl bunting back from the brink, have restored hedgerows and wetlands, and created new habitats for bees and other pollinators
The Wildlife Trusts welcome:
- The Government’s affirmation that CAP will be a strong contributor to Government environmental objectives and the highlighting of biodiversity, water and soils quality, and specific mention of restoring peatlands.
- A new element of environmental land management schemes being delivered on a landscape-scale, in addition to the actions targeted at the most valuable sites for nature. However, the limited budget means it’ll be restricted to a small number of areas.
- The Government’s desire to produce a package of measures to generate more habitats and food sources for pollinators. However, these must be developed across the whole landscape – in grassland as well as arable systems – and must be strategically linked across the landscape to create sustained enhancements for these species.
In the future, The Wildlife Trusts believe we need to ensure that public money (the CAP budget for the UK totals almost £20 billion) is deployed for public benefit with more transparency in how this huge amount of money is being spent.
Notes to Editors:
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
The Wildlife Trusts believe that the Government can do two things to ensure that we continue to reward farmers for delivering environmental measures on their farms:
Firstly, it can sustain the funding for farm environment schemes by transferring the maximum amount allowed from another CAP budget pot (the direct payments pot) to the budget that supports these schemes (the rural development pot).
Secondly, it can use the ‘greening’ measures that are being introduced to farms across Europe (and which are linked to 30% of farmers’ direct payments) to maximum benefit-raising environmental standards. It can also make sure that farms which are unable to get into environment schemes can play their part in helping to address issues such as the loss of wildflower-rich grasslands and the fragmentation of remaining habitats across farmland.
Biodiversity offsetting plans too simplistic, MPs warn
By Mark KinverEnvironment reporter, BBC News
Biodiversity offsetting plans outlined by the government must be strengthened if they are to “properly protect Britain’s wildlife”, MPs have warned.
The scheme aims to ensure that when a development causes unavoidable damage to biodiversity, “new, bigger or better nature sites will be created”.
But the MPs say the assessment proposed by ministers appears to be little more than a “box-ticking exercise”.
Six areas are taking part in a two-year pilot, which began in April 2012.
Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) chairwoman Joan Walley MP said many witnesses that gave evidence to the EAC’s inquiry had voiced concerns that key habitats – such as ancient woodlands and Sites of Special Scientific Interest – would be included in the government’s offsetting plans.
“There is a danger that an overly simplistic offsetting system would not protect these long-established ecosystems,” she added.
What is biodiversity offsetting?
Actions by large companies, organisations or countries to compensate for their negative impact on ecosystems and biodiversity by funding or developing schemes which conserve biodiversity in other areas.
“Biodiversity offsetting could improve the way our planning system accounts for the damage developments do to wildlife, if it is done well.
“The assessment process currently proposed by the government appears to be little more than a 20-minute box-ticking exercise that is simply not adequate to assess a site’s year-round biodiversity.
Ms Walley explained: “If a 20-minute assessment was carried out in a British wood in winter, for instance, it would be easy to overlook many of the migratory birds that may use it as habitat in summer.”
However, in their report, the MPs acknowledged that it was “too soon to reach a decision” on offsetting while the pilot schemes had yet to be completed and independently evaluated.
But they added that they were publishing their report now as ministers were considering submissions made during a public consultation on the proposals.
The consultation on how the scheme would be rolled-out across England closed last week and officials are now considering the submissions.
Responding to the EAC’s findings, National Trust natural environment director Simon Pryor said the MPs’ report showed that the government had to take its time to ensure to get the scheme right.
“Offsetting could be a positive way to help avoid the loss of wildlife that can result from development – but only if it is done properly,” he observed.
“If a system is introduced too rapidly, and without adequate testing and evidence, the prospect of a workable and supportable biodiversity offsetting system would be undermined for many years to come.”
In its consultation document, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that England faced “the twin challenges of growing its economy and improving its natural environment”, adding: “We will not achieve these goals unless our planning system is fit-for-purpose.”
A Defra spokesman told BBC News: “Biodiversity offsetting could help improve our environment as well as boost the economy.
“This report, along with other consultation responses, will help us get the detail of the policy right,” he explained.
“We will formally respond to the report in due course.”
However, an independent review of England’s wildlife sites, led by Prof Sir John Lawton, concluded in September 2010 that biodiversity offsetting must not become a “licence to destroy” or damage existing habitat of recognised value.
“In other words, offsets must only be used to compensate for genuinely unavoidable damage,” the review recommended.
Defra said that offsetting schemes had been adopted in more than 20 countries, including Australia, Germany, India and the US, as a means of protecting biodiversity.
Ms Walley also observed that the pilot schemes, which are scheduled to run until April 2014, had “not had a good take-up”.
“That suggests that these sorts of schemes need to be mandatory, but the government should exercise some caution about this because the pilots need to be rigorously and independently assessed first to make sure all the lesson are properly taken on board”.
England names 27 new marine conservation zones
But the number is four less than ministers proposed and just one-fifth of the 127 zones recommended by the government’s own consultation.
The seas around England are some of richest marine environments in the world, with dense forests of seaweed, many fish and crustacean species and schools of dolphins, but dredging and bottom-trawling for fish, prawns and aggregates have devastated large areas.
“We very much see the new MCZs as the beginning and not an end,” said environment minister George Eustice, who said consultation on two more tranches of MCZs would start in 2015. He added: “It is important to remember that MCZs are only one part of the jigsaw. Over 500 marine protected areas already exist around the UK.”
The 27 zones cover 9,700 kilometres squared (km2) from the Aln estuary in the north-east to Beachy Head and Chesil Beach in the south and Padstow Bay and the Scilly Isles in the south-west. Together with the 30,000km2 already protected, 9% of all UK waters and one-quarter of inshore waters now have some form of protection – though critics have called the existing protected areas “paper parks” that do not stop the most damaging practices.
Professor Callum Roberts, a marine expert at the University of York who led 86 marine scientists in condemning the government in April for reneging on the 127 MCZs recommended by an earlier £8m consultation, said: “The 27 is far, far away from where we need to be.”
Ministers have argued that the economic cost to fishing and ports of some proposed zones would be too great, but Roberts was blunt: “It’s bollocks. These MCZs will not put fishermen out of jobs: they will protect them in the long run.”
Roberts said the possibility of more MCZs in future provided an opportunity: “If science is put at the helm it will be worth waiting for.”
Joan Edwards, the Wildlife Trusts’ head of living seas, welcomed the news: “Marine protection is an issue which matters to anyone who has ever spent happy afternoons exploring rock pools or been enchanted by chance encounters with dolphins, whales or one of the many other captivating species we enjoy in our waters.”
But she said the completion of an “ecologically coherent network of marine-protected areas was desperately needed”, particularly to ensure species with large ranges like basking sharks and sea birds were protected.
Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, biodiversity policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said the current way of creating MCZs was too complex and costly, as each part of each zone had to be assessed. “Protecting whole zones is much more simple and visionary as it allows larger areas of seabed to actually recover. That is what our sites need – actual recovery.”
Barry Gardiner, Labour’s environment minister, said: “Once again we see this government’s failure to implement proper science. The scientific purpose was to create an ecologically coherent and resilient network of 127 sites and 65 reference areas that would safeguard and enhance the biodiversity of our marine heritage. The government is not only 100 sites light but predictably it has failed to specify how the inshore fisheries conservation authorities are going to be resourced to monitor, manage and enforce this new statutory obligation.”
On Monday, 41 UK conservation groups issued a report stating that just four of the 25 nature and wildlife commitments made by the government were progressing well. It said the ministers were failing on the pledge to better protect the marine environment.
Connecting Water, Land, People, and Wildlife
A large fish proves more than a mouthful for a hungry great egret, which lost its prize soon after this shot was snapped. This big bird may be seen across much of the globe but is nearly always found near water where food is plentiful.
Photograph by Andy Nguyen, My Shot
Wetlands, rivers, lakes, and coastal estuaries are all aquatic ecosystems—critical elements of Earth’s dynamic processes and essential to human economies and health.
Wetlands connect land and water, serving as natural filters, reducing pollution, controlling floods, and acting as nurseries for many aquatic species. Rivers, lakes, and estuaries serve as important transportation, recreation, and wildlife hubs.
Learning more about the ecosystems within your watershed—all the water in your region that drains to the same point—can help you better understand how everything is connected and what is at stake with freshwater overuse, pollution, and drought.
- Global extinction rates for freshwater species are four to six times higher than those for terrestrial or marine species.
- Forty percent of all fish species in North America are at risk of extinction.
- In the U.S., 69 percent of freshwater mussel species, which help to filter water, are at risk of extinction.
I will update with further research, looking at environmental stories upon the subject.