Two big decisions for David Cameron – what will he do?

Next week David Cameron has to make a key decision on how to spend £13billion of public money.  This huge sum is destined for English farmers through the Common Agricultural Policy and will shape the future of 69% of the English landscape.  The question Cameron must answer is: will the money be given to farmers who implement environmentally-friendly practices or will it be handed over as income support with few environmental strings attached?  

The choice is between a healthy, wildlife-rich farmed landscape where hedgerows, clean rivers and our much-loved wild plants and animals co-exist with sustainable food production  –  or a countryside where nature, already greatly diminished, ebbs further into inexorable decline. In May this year, the State of Nature Report revealed that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades.  Many of these species rely on wildlife-friendly farmland to survive.

E-Action Infographic - Common Agricultural Policy 26-11

 

The Government has two main decisions to make:

Big Decision 1 – Support for farm environment schemes

Farmers have made significant commitments to delivering farm environment schemes in the last 25 years. These schemes are restoring and connecting important habitats and bringing species back from the brink. They help to protect rivers and streams from pollution and protect habitats that store carbon. But budget cuts agreed in Europe mean these schemes are under threat. The Government wants to put things right and move the maximum amount allowed by Europe (15%) from the budget which supports direct payments to farmers, into the rural development pot (so-called ‘modulation’) which funds these schemes. Not everyone agrees and the Government could change its mind.

We want the Government to stick to its commitment to protect the rural development budget which supports farm environment schemes by making this 15% funding transfer. Once it has agreed its amount for the rural development budget the Government will choose whether to allocate an amount between 78-88% of the rural development budget to farm environment schemes. We want to see the maximum amount possible allocated to environment schemes, providing more space for nature and supporting healthy farmland ecosystems.

 

Big Decision 2 – Effective actions for the environment on all farms

As well as building on current successes and keeping the farm environment schemes going, more needs to be done in the areas that will not be eligible for such schemes. At best, future environment schemes are likely to cover 35-40% of the country, so other ways must be found to raise environmental standards across the whole of the farmed landscape.

The Government can choose whether or not to improve upon the standard ‘greening’ measures proposed by the EU that farmers will undertake in return for 30% of the direct payments they receive. For example Government could focus on measures that could do more to protect remaining flower-rich grasslands or link habitats strategically across the landscape. The best way for the Government to deliver the ‘greening’ measures would be via a special greening scheme for England.

Please see the Wildlife Trusts news release that was issued on the when the public consultation began: Bees, birds and hedgerows at risk: public must act to protect nature on farms

 

First wave of marine protection – a good start but not enough

tompot blenny paul naylorToday the Government announced the immediate designation of 27 new Marine Conservation Zones – arising from the 2009 Marine Act.

These are an important first step towards the urgent job of helping our seas’ wildlife and ecosystems recover, so it is good news.  However, there were 127 recommended MCZs in total so we will need to continue to press Government to bring more sites forward in further tranches. 

After years of neglect and overexploitation the introduction of protected areas to help our seas recover to full health and productivity is long overdue and the Wildlife Trusts are encouraged to hear that there is a definite commitment to make further tranches of designations in the next few years.

It is vitally important that this first step leads on to a complete ecological network of MCZs for the full benefit to our marine wildlife to be realised. Decisions affecting the marine environment affect us all.

Our neighbours in Dorset and Sussex are lucky to have new MCZs in their areas, but unfortunately we lost out locally.  None of the recommended MCZs in the Hampshire and Isle of Wight area were included in the first tranche of designations. 

seagrass, Paul Kay

We strongly ask for these important and diverse sites featuring nationally important areas of seagrasses and reefs and supporting a tremendous diversity of marine life, to be considered for designation as soon as possible.

For further details of the recommended marine conservation zones we wish to see in the Hampshire & Isle of Wight seas, please click here

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For the third year running the “Greenest Government” shows its true colours (hint: not very green)

The Government’s performance in protecting our environment has come under scrutiny in Nature Check 2013,1 a report published today by 41 environmental organisations, under the umbrella of Wildlife and Countryside Link.2

The proportion of nature commitments on which the Government is failing has steadily worsened during its term in office.  Areas in which it is falling short include protection of the Green Belt, farm animal welfare, designating the full network of Marine Conservation Zones and reversing wildlife declines.

The Nature Check report urges the Government to recognise the value of nature to both the economy and to the people of Britain.  Alongside the report, a ComRes survey of more than 2,000 adults has been published, which reveals the love people have for the British countryside.3 

Notably, 83% of British adults believe the natural environment should be protected at all costs, while only a quarter think the Government is doing enough to protect our landscapes and wildlife.

The survey shows that the majority of people want politicians to do more to protect nature and the countryside.  The message from the public is clear – they want healthy seas and landscapes providing rich habitats for thriving wildlife.  But sadly, most species in this country are in decline.

We’re told an economy in crisis is a higher priority than nature in crisis.  Yet the Government is missing a huge opportunity – a healthy environment helps the economy and enhances people’s health and wellbeing.

Our wetlands alone provide a home for millions of migrating birds and other wildlife, but they also give us £350 million worth of flood protection a year through storing rainwater that would otherwise run off our roads and fields into our towns.  Without wetlands, the cost of resulting flood damage would need to be met by businesses and Government and passed on to the public through higher prices and higher taxes.

The report rates four of the Government’s commitments to the natural environment as green (good progress), with 12 amber (moderate progress) and nine red (failing).  Of the commitments which were rated in last year’s report, 20% have got worse and only 10% have improved.

The ComRes survey shows the personal value of the environment to people in Britain, alongside their view of the Government’s performance. Findings include:

Regarding the environment:
• 91% of people agree we should improve the condition of the natural environment for future generations.
• 85% agree the natural environment boosts their quality of life.

Regarding the Government:
• 21% agree the current Government is the ‘greenest Government ever’.
• 28% agree the Government is taking the right steps to leave the natural environment in a better condition for future generations

The report Nature Check 2013 and the ComRes Countryside Survey, both published on 19 November 2013, are available online www.wcl.org.uk/nature-check.asp.

Multimedia available: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/8cvv8kb4m6tbp76/qj5vua2LPd?n=112572258.

Notes
1. Nature Check 2013 is an analysis of the Government’s delivery against 25 of its natural environment commitments.  The report found:
Good progress on Common Fisheries Policy, the Government’s response to ash dieback and its global leadership on protection of elephants, rhinos and whales.
Moderate progress on water and agriculture policies, including the Water Bill and reforms to the Common Agriculture Policy.  Many policies are rated amber pending certainty on what’s happening to them – for example the welcome recent developments on wildlife trafficking are tempered by a lack of commitment to long-term funding for the National Wildlife Crime Unit.  There is an opportunity for good progress in many of these areas.
Failure to implement the Biodiversity Strategy, provide an ecologically coherent network of Marine Conservation Zones, ensure environmentally-friendly farming and farm animal welfare, take an evidence-based approach to badger control for tackling bovine TB, protect the environment within the planning system and provide holistic flood control.

Nature Check 2013 makes three recommendations to Government to help it to improve its performance on the environment over the next 18 months:
• To provide strong leadership and a clarity of purpose that will  reverse the catastrophic decline in wildlife and reconnect people with nature;
• To enable the statutory nature conservation bodies fulfil their critical role as champions of nature; and
• To enforce the laws to protect our environment.

The 41 organisations supporting this report are: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation; Badger Trust; Bat Conservation Trust; British Ecological Society; British Mountaineering Council; Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust; Bumblebee Conservation Trust; Butterfly Conservation; Campaign for National Parks; Campaign to Protect Rural England; Client Earth; Council for British Archaeology; Environmental Investigation Agency; Freshwater Biological Association; Freshwater Habitats Trust; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; Hawk and Owl Trust; Humane Society International; International Fund for Animal Welfare; The Mammal Society; Marine Conservation Society; MARINElife; Open Spaces Society; People’s Trust for Endangered Species; Plantlife; Ramblers; The Rivers Trust; RSPB; RSPCA; Salmon & Trout Association; Shark Trust; Waterwise; Whale and Dolphin Conservation; Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust; Wildlife Gardening Forum; The Wildlife Trusts; Woodland Trust; WSPA; WWF-UK; and Zoological Society of London.

2. Wildlife and Countryside Link is a coalition of voluntary organisations concerned with the conservation and protection of wildlife, countryside and the marine environment.  Our members practise and advocate environmentally sensitive land management, and encourage respect for and enjoyment of natural landscapes and features, the historic environment and biodiversity.  Taken together our members have the support of over 8 million people in the UK and manage over 750,000 hectares of land. For more information see: www.wcl.org.uk.

3. The ComRes Countryside Survey was conducted for Wildlife and Countryside Link, and interviewed 2,042 GB adults online between 11 – 13 October 2013.  The survey report includes comparisons with a similar survey conducted by ComRes of 2,055 adults from 16 – 18 November 2012.  Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+.  ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  Full data tables are available at www.ComRes.co.uk.

Butterfly madness!

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of adjudicating the Big Butterfly Race between the Hampshire and Sussex branches of Butterfly Conservation which marked the start of the Big Butterfly Count (20th July – 11th August) which encourages everyone to go out and record butterflies.

I hadn’t taken part in a butterfly race before – my butterfly watching is normally done at a much more leisurely pace, strolling around Trust nature reserves such as St Catherine’s Hill, Noar Hill or Pamber Forest. However, it was clear from the off that this was an altogether more competitive and serious affair.

Team Wood White (led by Nick Baker) from Sussex tackled Hampshire, whilst Team Glanville Fritillary from Hampshire (led by Matthew Oates) scoured West Sussex. Our task was to find as many different species of butterfly in 8 hours as possible. One point for each adult, and an extra point for early stages (eggs, caterpillars or pupae). My job was to make sure that Team Wood White followed the rules, and I needed to see every butterfly myself and be convinced of the identification for it to count. My counterpart at Sussex Wildlife Trust, Tony Whitbread, oversaw the other team.

Grayling. Photo by ukbutterflies.co.uk

Grayling. Photo by ukbutterflies.co.uk

We jumped into the Land rovers at 9am and headed straight for Browndown where our target was the Grayling. In true “Treasure Hunt” style we ran up and down through the site, making sure we first got the Grayling and ticking off a dozen other species on the way including Small Skipper and Marbled White. We’d seen 13 species in the first 45 minutes – great start!

Next we tried to spot the elusive White-letter Hairstreak which is known to inhabit a patch of Elm trees alongside a busy dual-carriageway in Cosham. No such luck this time, and so we headed north to Broxhead Common.

Team Wood White planning our next move. Photo by Martin Warren

Team Wood White planning our next move. Photo by Martin Warren

Zooming up the A3, slightly frustrated at having wasted time not seeing the White-letter hairstreak, we suddenly lost control of the Land rover and the back end span out. Amazingly our driver, Caroline, managed to control the spin but we did skid across two lanes of the A3, span round 360 degrees and ended up on the hard shoulder! Shaken, but not hurt, we all checked ourselves and the vehicle (thankfully, all ok) and moved on, this time rather less hurriedly!

The Silver-studded Blue we were looking for at Broxhead Common proved incredibly easy to spot, being seen as soon as we jumped out of the vehicles. Another two or three species on and our next task was to search for the big one – the Purple Emperor at Alice Holt Forest.

I’d never had a particularly good view of a Purple Emperor before. As an arboreal species that hangs out at the very top of mature trees such as Oak, one needs to look to the sky to see it. Four or five times I heard the shout “purple emperor – look, there!” but each time I missed it. Then one of the team took a very blurred photo to show me. However, as adjudicator (I was taking it seriously!), I wanted to be sure to see it with my own eyes, so I insisted we stayed a little longer. I could tell the team were a little irritated as time was of the essence – but eventually I did catch a fleeting glimpse (although it was rather unsatisfying). I marked it on our list, and we moved on to Straits Enclosure, just a mile or so down the road.

Purple Emperor. Photo by hantsiow-butterflies.org.uk

Purple Emperor. Photo by hantsiow-butterflies.org.uk

Here our targets included White Admiral, which we saw just a few of probably due to the extremely hot weather. By this time we were all a bit frazzled in the 30 degree heat, but determined to press on. Then, one of the team stopped and called “purple emperor, just here”. This time, it was sitting on a Sallow leaf, not too high up, gently fanning its wings. The view was stunning and for a short while we were all transfixed by the beauty and majesty of  this magnificent butterfly, forgetting we were in a race and we’d already ticked it off the list! Nick Baker was particularly pleased as he’d missed it earlier and I know this brilliant view of the Purple Emperor made his day (and all of ours too!)

Harebell. Photo by plantlife.org.uk

Harebell. Photo by plantlife.org.uk

We had now seen 25 species and our next venue was Old Winchester Hill to find Dark Green Fritillary. This wonderful chalk grassland site was full of delicate harebells, fragrant marjoram and swathes of scabious. We got the Fritillary immediately along with Chalkhill Blue and a few other species we’d already seen elsewhere. It was rather a shame not to spend more time on the Hill as the views were spectacular, but we were in a race!

By now we were running out of species, but the White-letter Hairstreak that had eluded us earlier was playing on the team’s mind and so we decided to drive back into the industrial edge of Portsmouth to try again. This time we spotted it within minutes!

Small Blue caterpillars on Kidney vetch. Photo by Butterfly Conservation

Small Blue caterpillars on Kidney vetch. Photo by Butterfly Conservation

Feeling rather pleased, and now with an hour’s counting time left, we knew we probably needed a couple more points and so we decided to hunt for caterpillars of the Small Blue butterfly which feed on kidney vetch. As we were close to Paulsgrove Quarry we took a chance that there would be kidney vetch and possibly small blue caterpillars there. Sure enough, after just five minutes of hunting our target was found by Martin Warren!

Driving back to the meeting point in Bosham to confront the other team, we knew we had done pretty well – having seen an amazing 28 species and collecting 34 points.  But we also knew the Hampshire team was full of incredibly experienced butterfly experts and so we thought they may well have outdone us on points by recording more of the early stages.

All day both teams had been followed by the BBC South Today team, along with Guardian journalist Patrick Barkham and we had all made full use of social media to tease each other on twitter about our latest scores. Tony and I, as adjudicators, checked and double-checked the results so that we could announce the winner live on television.

The BBC iplayer coverage is here – 15 minutes into the programme – if you want to see the results!

I’d like to thank Dan Danahar who organised the whole event and Neil Hulme who designed the route we took. It was great fun and we all learned to love butterflies just a little bit more (if that was possible!). The real goal of the event was to raise awareness about our colourful friends, and hopefully to inspire everyone to get out there and enjoy wildlife. And of course, the State of Nature Report reminds us just how threatened and vulnerable many of our butterflies are, and so we all need to do our bit to help save them.

Do take part in the Big Butterfly Count over the next couple of weeks, and make time to visit some of the stunning nature reserves managed by the Trust or our partner nature conservation organisations.  And finally – please encourage butterflies and other wildlife into your garden by creating a wildlife-friendly haven at home.

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State of Nature – Time to take Action

The UK’s nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of a groundbreaking report published today by a coalition of 25 leading conservation and research organisations. The State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum is a stock take of our native species – the first of its kind in the UK.
 
The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether; and this trend is worryingly mirrored in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight and across the south east of England.
 
For example, the native white clawed crayfish has declined by 95% since the 1970s and Hampshire now has just one viable population left. The marsh fritillary butterfly, which was once found in wet meadows across north Hampshire, is now extinct and its habitat has reduced to mere fragments.

Of the three species of auk recorded as breeding on the Isle of Wight, only guillemots still have an active colony on the island, and this is the only place where guillemots breed in the south east. Puffins were last recorded as a breeding species on the Isle of Wight in the late 1950s early 1960s; while the island’s razorbill colony has been extinct since 1979, there have been a few reports of isolated pairs breeding since then, the last was in 2001.

The Isle of Wight has a diverse and complex geology with chalk, greensands and clay and gravel, and it’s because of this geological diversity that the landscapes on the Island are incredibly varied. With no feral deer, no mink and, perhaps most famously, no grey squirrels the result is the Island’s woodlands are unique, providing good habitat for red squirrels and dormice. On the rivers, the lack of mink means that water birds and water vole thrive. The Island’s open species-rich downland is home to 80% of the world population of early gentian, a plant found only on chalk soils in Britain.
 
But the Island is still suffering serious species declines. The greater horseshoe bat, grey partridge, redshank, spotted flycatcher, marsh tit, and small pearl-bordered fritillary are all in danger, and it’s already too late for species like the little tern, razorbill, corn bunting, duke of burgundy fritillary, pearl bordered fritillary, white legged damselfly, shepherd’s needle, pale butterwort, and burnt orchid.
 
Hampshire is incredibly diverse – the New Forest, the Solent coast, the iconic chalk rivers Test and Itchen, the chalk grassland of the South Downs and the heathland of the Thames Basin all give the county its varied landscape character.
 
But despite almost 7% of the land surface being protected, we are still suffering serious wildlife declines locally.  Breeding waders such as lapwing and redshank were lost from the Itchen Valley more than a decade ago and despite efforts to clean up our chalk rivers, phosphate levels remain dangerously high.  

There is increasing evidence that climate change is affecting the breeding success of UK seabirds.
 
Declines are happening across all habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.
 
None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes.

For some species it may be too late but it’s not all doom and gloom. Many of these declines are reversible. By using a joined-up, landscape-scale approach to conservation that engages land-owners, wildlife bodies and the public we can help ensure that wildlife recovers and starts to thrive again across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight for future generations to enjoy.
 

Thanks Hugh!

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at the River Cottage Autumn Fair.

Hugh is a real advocate for sustainability (just look at some of the great things he’s doing at River Cottage HQ) and of course is famous as being the mastermind behind Hugh’s Fish Fight.  So I wanted the chance to chat to him about the Wildlife Trusts’ marine work and in particular our concerns about Marine Conservation Zones.

Hugh agreed to support our campaign for 127 MCZs as you can see from the photo!  Thanks Hugh – we really appreciate it.

To find out more about our MCZs campaign follow the link here.  You can help too by signing up to be a Friend of your local MCZ here.

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