Monthly Archives: June 2013

Minister launches urgent review into bees crisis

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There was great news today when the government launched an “urgent” review of the crisis facing bees and other pollinators in the UK and introduced a national pollinator strategy.

Defra Minister Lord Rupert de Mauley announced “an urgent and comprehensive review of current policy, evidence and civil society action on pollinators to identify what needs to be done to integrate and step up our approach.”

The news was welcomed by Friends of the Earth, who said: “We’re delighted that enormous press from scientists, businesses and the public has stung the government into action. The minister’s plan of action must be in place when bees emerge from hibernation next spring: we can’t afford to gamble any longer with our food, countryside and economy.”

Bees and other pollinators fertilise three-quarters of global food crops and have seen severe declines in recent decades, due to loss of habitat, disease and harmful pesticides. In the UK, wild honey bees are nearly extinct, solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas studied and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether.

In April, the European Union suspended the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides linked to serious hard in bees, despite the opposition of UK ministers.  

De Mauley said: “We know there are gaps in the evidence. That is why I am launching an urgent and comprehensive review of current policy, evidence and civil society action on pollinators to identify what needs to be done to integrate and step up our approach. This urgent review will form the basis of a national pollinator strategy, which will bring together all the pollinator-friendly initiatives already underway and provide an umbrella for new action.

“We all recognise that pollinators play a vital role in the security of our food supply and the quality of our natural environment In safeguarding their future, we can secure our own.”

Friends of the Earth said: “Announcing a National Pollinator Strategy is an important step in the right direction. Now the hard work starts. It will still take some time for the Government’s bee-saving measures to be finalised. So we will need to keep up the campaign pressure. The detail is everything. Today is a day to celebrate, but we can’t ease off just yet.”

Coronation campaign to revive wildflower meadows

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Sixty “Coronation meadows” have been identified across the UK as part of a new campaign to restore threatened wildflower meadows.

The campaign, launched to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation, follows reports of dramatic declines in many of the UK’s meadow flower species. The project, led by the Prince of Wales and three wildlife and livestock organisations, will take seed and green hay from these designated meadows to recreate new ones.

One Coronation meadow will be named in each county by the end of the year. The 60 meadows identified so far represent some of the UK’s “outstanding” wildflower meadows, according to the team.

As part of the campaign, people will be able to find out where their nearest Coronation meadow is using an online map. By the end of the year, 107 such meadows will have been identified to add to Prince Charles’ own wildflower meadow at his Gloucestershire home, Highgrove House.

Meadows already given the “Coronation” accolade include Loughborough Big Meadow in Leicestershire, Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire, and Hayton Meadow in Shropshire.

Plantlife, the Wildlife Trusts and Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) also aim to compile the first full inventory mapping all the UK’s remaining wildflower meadows as part of the project.

The campaign follows reports of dramatic declines in many of the UK’s meadow flower species. These include:

  • Green-winged orchids, found in lowland hay meadows, have decreased by 50% over the last 50 years.
  • Lesser butterfly orchids and greater butterfly orchids have also declined by 60% and 47% respectively.
  • 67% of distinctively-patterned fritillaries, which grow in meadows, have disappeared in the last few decades.
  • Half the UK’s greater butterfly orchids have been lost in the last 50 years.

The variety of flowers and grasses that are characteristic of wildflower meadows also support an array of wildlife, and are vital for many of the UK’s insect and butterfly species.

Ploughing, drainage, reseeding, increased fertiliser and herbicide application have all contributed to the loss of meadows, say the Wildlife Trust. The Coronation meadows will be used as “donor” sites, providing seeds to be used in other local meadows.

This method will help preserve the regional characteristics of each meadow, as different areas tend to host different mixes of plant and flower species.

Extinct bumblebees released on nature reserve

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Efforts to reintroduce an extinct species of bumblebee to the UK received a boost this month with new queens released into the wild.

The short-haired bumblebee was once widespread across the south of England but it vanished in 1988. However, have collected a healthy stock of the bees from Sweden, and are reintroduced them to the RSPB’s Dungeness nature reserve, home to most of the UK’s seven species of rare bumblebee.

The first generation of queens collected and released last year struggled in the cold wet conditions last summer, and it is hoped the new queen bees will bolster the colony. More short-haired bumblebees joined them this month.

Nikki Gammans, from the Short-haired Bumblebee Project, said: “Kent is really the best place in the whole of the UK for bumblebees. We haven’t found any yet from last year, but what we hope to do is a number of re-introductions, at least five, and then the numbers will pick up and we’ll start to see them again.”

The loss of the short-haired bumblebee was caused by the dramatic decline of wildflower meadows that occurred after World War II as agriculture intensified. It is estimated that 97% of Britain’s flower-rich grasslands, which the bees needed to forage and thrive, have vanished over the past 70 years.

Weird and wonderful whitebeams

Woodland Matters

With all the doom and gloom of Chalara ash dieback and other tree pests and diseases, it was encouraging to read this week that scientists have made a step forward in attempts to save Scotland’s most endangered tree, the Catacol whitebeam.

Sorbus pseudomeincichii was first recorded in 2007, with only two specimens found on the Isle of Arran, one of which has since died. Attempts to grow the tree, from seed, or to graft it onto rowan rootstock, met with failure, but now a plant has finally been grown from a cutting. Eventually, enough cuttings may be grown on to keep the lonely Arran tree company.

The UK’s native whitebeams are a funny collection of species. They include all 12 British native tree species recorded as endangered in the World Conservation Monitoring Centre’s List of Threatened Trees. Vulnerable to grazing, they’re found mostly in steep, inaccessible places, and are…

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IF campaign continues to put the pressure on

The Enough Food For Everyone IF campaign is far from over. It was a great day in Hyde Park and you can join the campaign at http://enoughfoodif.org

Hyde Park Rally urges G8 leaders to act on hunger

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About 45,000 people hit Hyde Park yesterday for the Big IF Rally, that urged action on global hunger from G8 leaders when they meet on 17-18 June.

A colourful installation of thousands of plastic flowers, the petals of which represented the millions of children who die each year as a result of malnutrition, was the focal point of the rally. The flowers were made and laid by thousands of people who had travelled to Hyde Park from around Britain for the rally.

Organised by the Enough Food for Everyone IF coalition of NGOs, the initiative is the first major joined-up campaign since Make Poverty History in 2005, the last time the UK held the G8 presidency.

The IF coalition, which includes Save the Children, Oxfam, Unicef and Christian Aid, is calling on the G8 group of industrialised countries, which meets in Northern Ireland on 17 and 18 June, to increase funding to tackle malnutrition and stunted growth. The coalition also wants the G8 to make greater efforts to give people in poorer countries control over their land, both by ensuring transparency and greater accountability over land deals and by closing loopholes that allow companies to dodge paying tax.

Figures published by The Lancet on Thursday showed malnutrition to be the root cause of death for 3.1 million children, accounting for about 45% of deaths among children under five years of age. The growth of a further 165 million children was stunted as a result of poor diets. Previous estimates had put the figure at 2.3 million.

Celebrity speakers included the Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle, Microsoft chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates, singer Angélique Kidjo and actor David Harewood.

Britain last hosted the G8 summit of super-power super-leaders in 2005, when wealthy nations promised to allocate 0.7 per cent of their wealth to international aid. Oxfam said: “One in eight people do not have enough to eat. All this can change IF the world’s most powerful leaders get serious about tackling global hunger, tax dodging and land grabs. With David Cameron as the current G8 President, June 2013 is our big chance to save and change millions of lives.”

Summer time is when to spot diseases such as ash dieback

Woodland Matters

As we move towards high summer this year and ash trees come into full leaf, we will gain a much better picture of the impact ash dieback disease has had so far across the UK. Sadly we are not just concerned about the impact of ash dieback; you may have heard us in the media in recent weeks saying a lot about it, but a plethora of other potential diseases and pests that could affect trees and our very special heritage of ancient trees in particular.

There are at least 15 known diseases and pests that pose an immediate threat. These include Acute oak decline and the oak processionary moth, Phytopthora Kernoviae which affects oak and beech, and Dothistroma needle blight which affects Scots pine.

One of our lead verifiers for the Ancient Tree Hunt, Steve Waters, helped us with some BBC filming at the Trust’s Hucking Wood in Kent.Image: thetreehunter

Rob…

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