Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Louth Area Group Evening Visit to Legbourne Wood 26 June 2015


This was the view that we had as we were briefed on the management of the wood by LWT Outer Humber Warden Rob Lidstone-Scot who spends his winters dealing with the seal colony at Donna Nook. The earth bank on the right is covered by a mass of Stinging nettles and Sticky Willy (Goose grass, if you don’t live in Lincolnshire!) whilst the left bank has a profusion of Hogweed, Dog rose, Hedge wound-wort and grasses interspersed with the delicate blue flowers of Green alkanet.

Legbourne Wood, covering 86 acres, is one of the few remaining ancient woodlands in eastern Lincolnshire and the largest of the Trust’s woodland nature reserves. These ancient woodlands contain more biodiversity than more recently planted woods. Beneath the canopy of Ash and Oak over 60 species of wild flowers have been recorded during an annual period. We are fortunate in the LAG to have at  half a dozen people who are able to identify many of the common species of wild flowers whilst at least one of us always has a guide book to hand! I have listed some species below. Gary Cooper, the volunteer warden at Toby’s Hill, accompanied Rob and pointed out Dog’s mercury and Wood sorrel as indicators of ancient woods and identified other flowers together with many of the grasses.

Rob described the ways in which the Legbourne site is arranged with small areas being thinned and managed by selective thinning to restore the traditional coppice with standards system. This means of providing large, straight trees creates open areas which is good for wildlife and enables some light to reach the woodland floor. Access through the woods is via cleared rides which are allowed to remain damp – or even muddy as we discovered.  

The task of administrative management pertaining to any of our LWT sites is not straightforward because of so many well-meaning agencies involved. I heard Rob mention the Forestry Commission, Natural England and East Lindsey District Council as well as the LWT. It becomes more complex when two of the agencies give conflicting advice or even directives as was the case in dealing with Ash die back disease.

We were a large group, 29 members and non-members plus Jack, a friendly, well behaved dog. Rob and Gary gave us briefings at two key points before allowing us to straggle along the paths covered in shady places by tiny ‘Mind-your-own-business’ plants.  As the sun dropped low on the horizon the light effects among the trees was magical. We eventually returned to the car park where Swallows and House martins flew overhead. The only other birds we saw were a single Wood pigeon and a couple of Carrion crows.

It was great to be able to welcome so many new faces, please come along again. Our next field trip is to the LWT Willow Tree Fen Reserve on Saturday 25 July.  Ray W

Some of the plants that we encountered:

Common nettle, Mind-your-own-business, Curled dock, Broad leaved dock, White campion, Ragged robin, Meadow buttercup, Common poppy, Bramble, Dog rose, Meadowsweet, Common vetch, Bird’s foot trefoil, White clover, Dog’s mercury, Wood sorrel, Herb Robert, Great willow herb, Hogweed, Fen bedstraw, (possibly Wild angelica), Hoary plantain, Green alkanet, Skull-cap, Hedge woundwort, Honeysuckle, Pineapple mayweed, Spear thistle, Goat’s beard, Nipple wort, Early purple (spotted) orchid, Common sedge, Common bent grass, Yorkshire fog grass, Oak tree, Ash tree etc! 

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Pope and the Scientists

This week saw the publication of two important papers.  A group of scientists headed by Gerardo Ceballos provides more evidence that we are entering the planet's sixth mass extinction and Pope Francis published his encyclical, Laudato Si, in which he describes the predicament and offers solutions.

Here's the abstract of
Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction

by Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle and Todd M. Palmer.

The oft-repeated claim that Earth’s biota is entering a sixth “mass extinction” depends on clearly demonstrating that current extinction rates are far above the “background” rates prevailing in the five previous mass extinctions. Earlier estimates of extinction rates have been criticized for using assumptions that might overestimate the severity of the extinction crisis. We assess, using extremely conservative assumptions, whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. First, we use a recent estimate of a background rate of 2 mammal extinctions per 10,000 species per 100 years (that is, 2 E/MSY), which is twice as high as widely used previous estimates. We then compare this rate with the current rate of mammal and vertebrate extinctions. The latter is conservatively low because listing a species as extinct requires meeting stringent criteria. Even under our assumptions, which would tend to minimize evidence of an incipient mass extinction, the average rate of vertebrate species loss over the last century is up to 114 times higher than the background rate. Under the 2 E/MSY background rate, the number of species that have gone extinct in the last century would have taken, depending on the vertebrate taxon, between 800 and 10,000 years to disappear. These estimates reveal an exceptionally rapid loss of biodiversity over the last few centuries, indicating that a sixth mass extinction is already under way. Averting a dramatic decay of biodiversity and the subsequent loss of ecosystem services is still possible through intensified conservation efforts, but that window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

The Pope devoted a substantial part of his encyclical to biodiversity.  He speaks to all of us and his writing must surely chime with those of us concerned for the wildlife in our own neighbourhood.

Loss of biodiversity
The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.
It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation. For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful. We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.
In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely. As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives exist which at least lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries demonstrate such concern and foresight. Frequently, when certain species are exploited commercially, little attention is paid to studying their reproductive patterns in order to prevent their depletion and the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem.
Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.
Some countries have made significant progress in establishing sanctuaries on land and in the oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features or alter their original structures. In the protection of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for particular attention to be shown to areas richer both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less protected species. Certain places need greater protection because of their immense importance for the global ecosystem, or because they represent important water reserves and thus safeguard other forms of life.
Let us mention, for example, those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers and glaciers. We know how important these are for the entire earth and for the future of humanity. The ecosystems of tropical forests possess an enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when these forests are burned down or levelled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years countless species are lost and the areas frequently become arid wastelands. A delicate balance has to be maintained when speaking about these places, for we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations. In fact, there are “proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations”.24 We cannot fail to praise the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.
The replacement of virgin forest with plantations of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely adequately analyzed. Yet this can seriously compromise a biodiversity which the new species being introduced does not accommodate. Similarly, wetlands converted into cultivated land lose the enormous biodiversity which they formerly hosted. In some coastal areas the disappearance of ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a source of serious concern.
Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species. Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated. Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately depend on them.
In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline. “Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?”25 This phenomenon is due largely to pollution which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation, agricultural monocultures, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans. All of this helps us to see that every intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately evident, and that certain ways of exploiting resources prove costly in terms of degradation which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.
Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family. This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Pusschair & Wheelchair Access at Rimac

Members of the Louth Area Group have been busy on three occasions recently helping Lizzie Lemon, the Warden at RIMAC, cut back overgrown pathways. The paths need to be kept clear to enable easy access for those who are being pushed and wheeled around this wonderful wildlife area where the orchids are in bloom whilst bees and butterflies are taking advantage of a whole variety of colourful wild flowers.
Many thanks to Dave, Louise, Graham, Anne, Pauline, Viv, Mike and Ray who wielded the spades.
The next meeting of the Louth Area Group for members and non-members will be at Legbourne Woods at 7.00 pm on Friday 26 June when Warden Rob Lidstone-Scott will explain how the woodlands have been developed by careful management.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Statement on Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon

The Wildlife Trusts issued the following statement today:

Wednesday 10th June 2015

In response to the announcement that the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon has been granted planning consent, Joan Edwards, Head of Living Seas for The Wildlife Trusts said: ‘We support the Government’s targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to tackle climate change and increase the proportion of energy generated from renewable sources. Whilst renewable energy projects could be seen to be helping to tackle climate change, they are still developments with potentially adverse impacts on wildlife, a carbon footprint of their own and associated costs. It is important that all elements of the development stack up. Hence we strongly believe in ‘right technology, right place’.
The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon should be seen as a test case for a new type of development, in which there is still uncertainty about the environmental impacts, as much of the impact assessment work was based on modelling. Therefore we want to see the proposed mitigation strictly adhered to, and we believe that monitoring should be carried out over a number of years before any other lagoons are built. Swansea is a far smaller development than other tidal lagoons proposed in the Severn Estuary. The proposed lagoons at Cardiff, Newport and Bridgwater Bay are in areas that have multiple European conservation designations. Therefore any environmental impacts are likely to be on a far greater scale and we are concerned about plans to develop these lagoons, without first learning lessons from the development in Swansea Bay.
We still have strong concerns about where the rock to build the lagoon walls will come from, particularly the proposed source at Dean Quarry on the south Cornwall coast. Dean Quarry is in the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone where plans for a new breakwater and jetties (needed to transport the rock out by sea) could result in significant damage to the designated habitat features as well as having impacts on marine mammals. We welcome the decision by the Department for Communites and Local Government (DCLG) to withdraw the permitted development rights for the terrestrial development, calling on the need for a full Environmental Impact Assessment.’
The statement contains a lot of good sense and there are difficult balances to be struck, but I think it lacks acknowledgement of the climate change emergency we and the wildlife are facing.  Unless we cease to burn fossil carbon fuels in quick order there will be no marine mammals to conserve in the acid, anoxic ocean and 'designated habitat features' will become redundant in a warmer world.  Moving to a zero-carbon world as fast as physically, rather than politically, possible has to be the top priority for any organisation concerned with wildlife conservation.
Biff Vernon 10/06/2015

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Life on the Verge

Life on the Verge was a project run by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, coordinated by Mark Schofield, to map the distribution of wildflowers on the road verges in the Lincolnshire Wolds and limestone areas.  It drew attention to the invaluable resource and refuges that road verges have become, now that intensive agriculture has removed much of the native flora from most of the landscape.  The project called for better management of the verges to protect what is left of the species once abundant across the county.

Plantlife have just launched a nationwide campaign to promote understanding of the value of road verges and have written an open letter to local authorities responsible for road verge management:

Our open letter

Dear Sir/Madam
Please adopt Plantlife's guidelines for managing road verges to benefit wild flowers and other nature. I know that road verges are under considerable pressure. Priorities for safety and access, along with budget constraints and difficulties with the collection of litter and grass clippings can mean that enhancing their wildlife value is often low on the list. But we believe that the adoption of a few basic principles will improve our verges for nature, bringing benefits for wildlife, for us and for future generations.
Yours faithfully,
Someone who cares about wildlife on our verges
You can support the campaign by signing the letter on the Plantlife website.