How hyper-manicured public spaces hurt urban wildlife

Urban trees
File 20190122 100285 1xm9p73.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Nowhere for wildlife to Hyde. I Wei Huang/Shutterstock

Colin Tosh, Newcastle University

I walked my kids to school recently through the pretty North East English village of East Boldon and saw a red cross on a beautiful old rowan tree. I thought it might be the diesel haze of nearby commuter traffic confusing my senses, but no.

One email to my local councillors later and my worst fears were realised. The rowan tree, a species which feeds flocks of birds each autumn with its berries and whose only crime is to be old and gnarly, is for the chop – and the birds’ autumn lifeline with it.

Rowan trees are native to the UK and their berries feed birds and insects. Colin Tosh, Author provided

In the email to my councillors I pointed out that two of the three trees slated for removal in that particular copse do not need to be cut down, they just need a bit of remedial work. One is a small tree smothered with ivy that simply needs to be stripped away.

The third is dead and I suggested in my email that the grounds team cut it into logs and scatter them around the small woodland – allowing them to rot for the benefit of fungi and insects, instead of their usual annihilation in an industrial grinder.

As a lecturer in ecology with 25 years of experience and over 30 peer reviewed papers published, I expected my suggestions to be taken seriously. While the councillor was prompt to reply and polite, it was made clear that grounds management is none of my business.

Clean and tidy is bad for wildlife

From my experience in the UK, grounds management teams employed by local councils seem unresponsive to expert advice. They also appear unsure how to reconcile having wild areas which are safe for human use but which remain useful for wildlife.

New Zealand cabbage trees are planted in parks in the UK, despite being non-native. Sue McDonald/Shutterstock

The small patches of wild and semi-wild areas in cities have been mostly stripped of their value to wildlife by over-intensive grounds management. Anything that has the vague look of irregularity is removed. No wood is allowed to lie on the ground, it must be tidied away. A 2013 report by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds reviews the dramatic loss of wildlife habitat in the UK in great detail, emphasising the need to improve the semi-wild urban areas we still have for wildlife.

The wildlife value of a particular tree species in cities is often disregarded when a decision is made to remove it. In parks, plant species which are exotic to the UK such as the New Zealand cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) are intentionally planted because no native wildlife can use them, so they are low maintenance.

Pansies and other colourful flowering plants used in urban park borders are often useless for pollinators. This is due to modifications made during breeding of such plants which restricts access to the nectar producing organs and sometimes leads to lower rates of nectar production.

Though pretty, flowerbeds are often planted with little thought to their ecological value. LeonP/Shutterstock

Petals of many ornamental plants are bred to enclose the central nectaries – nectar producing organs – and sexual parts of the flower that produce pollen and are of use to pollinators. This breeding gives the flower a beautiful ball shape but limits their use to insects. I suspect such plants are only put in urban parks in the first place to please the aesthetics of pensioners – a key voter demographic for local councils.

Leaves are swept up immediately before their nutrients can return to the ground and the insects that lay their eggs on them are doomed to certain death. Road verges are cut back to the bone several times each year and the clippings are left lying, minimising their use as a habitat for wild flowers.

It doesn’t help that grounds management is often subcontracted to private firms in the UK. In these cases, grounds management is more likely to be insensitive to expert advice as the function is out of the hands of the democratically controlled body and with a private company that needn’t care what the public thinks.

Wildflower meadows are a riot of colour and species diversity – exactly what pollinators like. Debra Anderson/Shutterstock

Only a few UK councils that I am aware of are making progress in wildlife-sensitive grounds management. Councils such as Burnley, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, East Sussex and Bristol have developed comprehensive pollinator action plans and are taking measures like allowing grass to grow longer in public areas, planting native, bee-friendly flowers and mowing verges less frequently.

The irony of it all is that measures to improve public areas for wildlife essentially involve less effort overall. All that really needs to be done is to allow public areas to be a little more unkempt, because unkempt areas are what nature likes. If local councils allow this to happen, the public shouldn’t berate them. We must be sympathetic to having natural and semi-natural areas that don’t look like Tellytubby land.

But I am sceptical. Local councils in the UK seem a long way from taking wildlife seriously. Unfortunately, the focus on human ideas of “neatness” at present dominates any love for nature. I fear that green spaces in urban areas will continue their decline as wildlife habitats.

Colin Tosh, Lecturer in Ecology, Evolution and Computational Biology, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pesticide residues found in more than 80% of European soils

EU soil map

Highlights

  • 76 residues of pesticides were analyzed in 317 EU agricultural topsoils.
  • 83% of the soils contained 1 or more residues, 58% contained mixtures.
  • 166 different mixtures were identified.
  • Predicted concentrations of individual residues were occasionally exceeded.
  • The combined effects of residue mixtures need to be assessed.

Abstract

Pesticide use is a major foundation of the agricultural intensification observed over the last few decades. As a result, soil contamination by pesticide residueshas become an issue of increasing concern due to some pesticides’ high soil persistence and toxicity to non-target species. In this study, the distribution of 76 pesticide residues was evaluated in 317 agricultural topsoil samples from across the European Union. The soils were collected in 2015 and originated from 11 EU Member States and 6 main cropping systems. Over 80% of the tested soils contained pesticide residues (25% of samples had 1 residue, 58% of samples had mixtures of two or more residues), in a total of 166 different pesticide combinations. Glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA, DDTs (DDT and its metabolites) and the broad-spectrum fungicides boscalid, epoxiconazole and tebuconazole were the compounds most frequently found in soil samples and the compounds found at the highest concentrations. These compounds occasionally exceeded their predicted environmental concentrations in soil but were below the respective toxic endpoints for standard in-soil organisms. Maximum individual pesticide content assessed in a soil sample was 2.05 mg kg−1 while maximum total pesticide content was 2.87 mg kg−1. This study reveals that the presence of mixtures of pesticide residues in soils are the rule rather than the exception, indicating that environmental risk assessment procedures should be adapted accordingly to minimize related risks to soil life and beyond. This information can be used to implement monitoring programs for pesticide residues in soil and to trigger toxicity assessments of mixtures of pesticide residues on a wider range of soil species in order to perform more comprehensive and accurate risk assessments.

For further information……click on full article link. 

Credit: Science Direct

Full article:  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969718343420

Davos 19: Strong message from David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough

Sir David Attenborough has told Prince William that people have never been more “out of touch” with the natural world than they are today.

In an interview with the prince at the World Economic Forum, the naturalist warned: “We can wreck it with ease, we can wreck it without even noticing.”

Sir David said people must care, respect and revere the natural world.

Heeding his words, the prince said: “Work to save the planet is probably going to largely happen on our watch”.

Sir David, 92, said: “When I started 60 years ago in the mid-50s, to be truthful, I don’t think there was anybody who thought that there was a danger that we might annihilate part of the natural world.”

In his early career, he said, simply showing people a new animal on television would astound them. 

Even then, he added: “Television in Britain in the 50s was only seen by a few million people in southern England.”

To read more……click on full article link. 

Credit: BBC News. (Image: Getty Images)

Full article: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-46957085


Gove continues to lack clarity on Agriculture Bill

ORFC 2019 Gove

While the organisers of the Oxford Real Farming Conference welcome the Rt. Honorable Michael Gove MP and thank him for his forthright session at ORFC 2019, there is some frustration on the continued lack of clarity on the role of agroecology (including organic) within the Agriculture Bill.

The session – entitled “The future of farming: Brexit and Beyond” was held on Thursday 3 January, and chaired by Kerry McCarthy MP for Bristol East and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology – saw frank questioning from the attendees and upfront responses from the Defra Secretary.

Colin Tudge, ORFC co-founder said: “While Mr Gove says all the right things and is enthusiastically knowledgeable on a wide variety of issues that are important to the ORFC, he remains difficult to pin down on vital details, such as why agroecology and organic farming continue to be omitted from the Agriculture Bill, despite widespread support for its inclusion and his personal support for the environmental protections whole-farm systems bring.”

During the session, Kerry McCarthy MP asked the question on everyone’s minds: What assurances do farmers have that Mr Gove’s commitments to sustainable farming will be upheld if there are no references within the Bill?

The Environment Secretary responded: “One of the ways we think it’s possible to get the Bill on the statute book relatively rapidly is by making it clear we are not attempting – in this government – to dictate what every future government should do in terms of agricultural support.”

There was a recent amendment tabled in November 2018 which, among other linked issues, called for an overt reference to agroecology, particularly with regards to the idea of whole farm agroecological systems.

For conference participants, the question remains – does Defra see the mere mention of agroecology or organic farming as a barrier to passing the Agriculture Bill quickly?

Agroecology and organic farming provides the type of sustainability and resilience vital for a safer future. Mr. Gove offered assurances that initiatives such as the 25 Year Environment Plan and the Climate Change Act will champion these practices. However, participants do not believe these assurances offer enough clarity on the incentives, support and enforcement required.

Originally published by ORFC. For further information……click on full article link. 

For further information……click on full article link. 

Credit: Oxford Real Farming Conference. (Image: Hugh Warwick)

Full article: http://orfc.org.uk/gove-continues-to-lack-clarity-on-agriculture-bill/

Food webs essential for nature conservation efforts

lake

Lake ecosystems make annual environmental changes more predictable. Nature conservation should not focus on individual species but on whole food webs, because the protection of their functioning is important for the predictability of species, especially when global warming is increasing environmental variability.

The environment varies drastically from year to year. Yet the variation of species in natural populations is positively correlated so that consecutive years tend to be fairly similar. Traditional population models cannot explain this phenomenon. Researchers have for long been wondering what the explanation could be, but they have now discovered a mechanism that translates various environmental variations into positive correlations in natural populations. 

A new, more predictable food web model

A team of Finnish and US researchers used a food web model to simulate daily biomass development of plankton and fish species in Lake Constance. The model accounted for the prey-predator interactions and the age structure of fishes. The food web was subjected to environmental variation in terms of algal growth, that is, in the lake’s primary production. Such variation can be caused by annual changes in temperature, for example. 

“This model differed from earlier ones, as it depicted a whole food web dynamics with 30 different species or age categories and altogether 133 prey-predator interaction links,” says Associate Professor Anna Kuparinen from the Department of Biological and Environmental Science in the University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

Read more ……click on full article link.

Credit: EurekAlert!

Full article: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-11/uoj–fwe112818.php