Biodiversity News

Below are links to stories on Biodiversity, especially relating to aviation and airports.

 

Cranfield Airport to ‘cull’ hares (protected species) following crash between a plane and a deer

Cranfield Airport is a small airport, close to Cranfield university in Bedfordshire, which used to be a RAF aerodrome. It is operated by Cranfield University. It deals with helicopters, training flights, and business and private jets. Not commercial airlines. It has a concrete runway of 1799 metres. Now after a crash between a light aircraft and a muntjac deer on December 16 2013, the airport has decided to cull wildlife. This cull threatens the hares that use the surrounding area - hares are a nationally protected species, of which Defra is working to increase the population in its biodiversity action plan. The local paper reports that "On Wednesday bosses at Cranfield University plan to undertake a cull of hares at the Airport in which four qualified personnel carrying firearms will seek out the animals." Wildlife groups say the proposed cull could seriously damage the numbers of hares in Bedfordshire, with the species already having become under threat nationally since the Ground Game Act 1880 gave landowners the right to kill rabbits and hares on their land. The airport is clearing the area of scrub vegetation to the south of the site, including a 'controlled cull of the excessive hare and rabbit population' within that area. So much for universities setting an intellectual example of good practice on biodiversity.

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“Biodiversity offsetting” is not the silver bullet solution this government hopes will overcome destruction of valued natural habitats

The UK government hopes it has found a way to develop, over countryside and habitats, destroying them and yet claiming no wildlife or habitat has been lost. The neat trick is "biodiversity offsetting", which is claimed to be a market mechanism that will allow developments to flourish while protecting the environment. In simple terms, if you destroy ancient woodlands, wildlife and vital habitats in one place, you have to pay to create it in another. Green NGOs across the UK see this, in reality, as a license to trash national parks, farmland, ancient woods, village greens etc. Rather than replacing habitat with its exact equivalent, a generally lower quality area might be created. By loosening planning laws, biodiversity offsetting becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. As development projects increase, so biodiversity decreases – and becomes more important. The record of biodiversity offsetting from other countries is usually one of failure. It may be as little as one third of schemes that succeed. These schemes should not be done at the expense of destroying existing biodiversity, in the uncertain hope that will be recreated elsewhere, somewhere more convenient for the developers.

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Cameron failed to deliver on promise of ‘greenest government ever’ and environmental commitments, say NGOs

In a report called "Nature Check 2013" the consortium of 41 environmental NGOs has set out a range of environmental commitments made by this government, and their progress on them. The Government has failed to deliver on more than a third of the pledges it made to improve the natural environment and has made “good progress” on less than a fifth. The report shows, comparing progress over the past 3 years, that the Coalition’s environmental record had “steadily worsened” during its time in office and found that 79% of the population believe it has not lived up to its pledge to be the “greenest government ever”. Dr Elaine King, director of the consortium said: “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." On the pledge "We will maintain the Green Belt, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and other environmental protections, and create a new designation – similar to SSSIs"...they are failing.They are making only moderate progress on two others relating to the planning system.

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Emissions of CO2 increasing ocean acidification with future serious risks to marine life

The world's oceans are becoming acidic at an "unprecedented rate" and this may be happening at faster than at any time in the past 300 million years. In their strongest statement yet on this issue, a large number of scientists say ocean acidification could increase by 170% by 2100. They say that some 30% of ocean species are unlikely to survive in these conditions. The researchers conclude that human emissions of CO2 are clearly to blame - humanity is putting some 24 million tonnes of CO2 into the oceans each day. That is already altering the chemistry of the waters, and will do so even more in future. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the waters have become 26% more acidic - and there are serious concerns about the impact this is having, and will have, on many ocean species. These include oysters, clams, sea urchins, shallow water corals, deep sea corals, and calcareous plankton. When shelled organisms are at risk, the entire food web may also be at risk. Today, more than a billion people worldwide rely on food from the ocean as their primary source of protein.

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Environmental Audit Committee warn that biodiversity offsetting plans are too simplistic and a “box-ticking exercise”

The Environmental Audit Committee has said a plan to help developers to win permission to build housing on wildlife habitats by “offsetting” the impact is too simplistic and could turn into a licence to pour concrete on the countryside. The government scheme would involve very perfunctory assessments of species in the area being targeted for development, taking as little as 20 minutes. A developer would then offer to create a replacement habitat somewhere else. Many sites need to be studied over a year, to get a true record of the species using them. The Audit Committee said the scheme could deliver benefits if subjected to stricter rules, but as proposed it could diminish important habitats, such as ancient woodland or SSSis. They told the Government the scheme needs to be delayed till pilot projects have been independently evaluated. Owen Patterson does not like development schemes being held up for biodiversity reasons. Many valuable sites have ecosystems that have taken decades or centuries to develop - these cannot be instantly replicated.

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Daily Mail claim of sharp rise in birdstrikes not borne out by the facts from CAA

The Daily Mail, it being the "silly season" with no news, had done an article on an alleged increase in the number air birdstrikes by aircraft between 2009 and 2012. However, the data published by the CAA up to March 2013 do not bear out the Mail's claims of a doubling in three years. The CAA produces data on reported birdstrikes, and on confirmed strikes - the latter being a much lower number than the former. For instance, in 2012 there were 2215 reported birdstrikes, and 1404 confirmed strikes. Some of the increase in reporting may be due to changed reporting requirements of incidents to the CAA. The species hit most often in recent years have been various species of gulls (together the largest group), then swallows, skylarks, swifts and woodpigeons, then pigeons and kestrels. The number of birdstrikes rose significantly after 2008, when the CAA introduced a new system through which all strikes can easily be reported online. It has been mandatory for all strikes to be reported since 2004.

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Airports using a biotech high alkaloid endophytic form of grass to deter insects and birds

A form of grass - with the trade name Avanex - has been developed by a firm in New Zealand, Grasslanz Technology and commercialised by PGG Wrightson Turf. It has been designed to be endophytic, which means it incorporates a form of fungus that produces a high amount of alkaloids. This makes the grass distasteful to insects, and so the areas sown with this grass have no or few insects, and consequently few birds. The grass can be toxic to animals and comes with health warnings about livestock eating it. However, airports are enthusiastic to use the grass in order to deter birds and hence the risk of bird strike. The grass has so far been trialled in New Zealand airports since 2010 and found to cut bird numbers by large amounts, making airports very sterile areas, which is what the airport operators want. However, the blurb says "The grass could also be used at sports stadiums, golf courses and even domestic lawns," so the company wants to use its biodiversity-destroying product even more widely.

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Monbiot on the threats of “biodiversity offsetting” as an excuse for ruining biodiversity habitats

George Monbiot writes about the dangerous new concept the government has seeded in the minds of developers and planners. The idea is called biodiversity offsetting, which involves trading places: allowing people to destroy wildlife and habitats if, in return, they pay someone to create new habitats elsewhere. In April, the UK government launched 6 pilot projects to test the idea, which would run for 2 years. Initially the government said these offsets should be used only to compensate for 'genuinely unavoidable damage' and they 'must not become a licence to destroy. However once the principle is established and the market is functioning, that is likely to change. Now biodiversity offsetting is being mooted as the means by which destruction of sites of great biodiversity value can be justified. The building of an airport in the Thames estuary would be the sort of project that this offsetting might allow, if it is permitted to continue. Monbiot cites a current case in north Kent where habitat for nightingales would become housing. Finding suitable habitat, which the wildlife finds suitable, is not easy and the success of such projects is very dubious.

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CAA data shows 1529 birdstrikes in 2011, up from 1278 in 2009

The CAA reports that bird strikes are on the increase throughout the UK, with 1529 reported last year – up from 1278 in 2009. For Scotland the CAA has said bird strikes have risen at Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness airports over the past 2 years, with an increase in wild flocks and air traffic blamed. Bird strikes have been blamed for bringing down huge aircraft in the past, including the incident in 2009 where an Airbus A320 was forced to ditch in the Hudson river in New York. Glasgow Airport reported 8 strikes this year involving large birds, up from the usual annual average of 3. The Herald Scotland gives information about increases at Scottish airports.

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Greater Thames Marshes becomes a Defra Nature Improvement Area

At the end of February DEFRA announced the formation of 12 new Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) across the country. NIA is the new name for Nature Restoration Zones proposed by the Making Space for Nature Review. This aims to achieve a coherent and robust ecological network that would be capable of responding to the challenges of climate change and other pressures. One of the 21 NIAs is the Greater Thames Marshes NIA, and its area covers almost all of the estuary, on the north and south banks, including all the areas where a Thames estuary airport might be located. Each NIA will get money from government to create wildlife havens, restore habitats and encourage local people to get involved with nature. Maria Eagle yesterday went to visit the area.

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