Tag Archives: European Union

What does Brexit mean for British biodiversity?

Friday 24th June 2016.  What a surreal day.  I spent it trying to understand why a small majority of the voting public had committed us to leaving the European Union, an organisation that has had a demonstrably positive impact upon our lives, our society, our economy, and our environment.  That dream-like state was not helped by the fact that I’d stayed up most of the night with my youngest son James, watching the results roll in.

Saturday 25th June 2016.  Twenty four hours later, after a good night’s sleep, I feel less dislocated but no less confused and disappointed.  It is what it is, let’s get on with it.

It’s much too early to properly answer the question of what this all means for British biodiversity, of course.  But as I pointed out in my post about the environmental arguments for remaining in the EU, there’s a whole raft of policies, legislation, agreements and initiatives that the government and NGOs need to consider.  Just to give a couple of examples, what will happen to the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan, or the Special Protected Area status of places such as the Upper Nene Valley?

What I really hope is that we can continue as before, building on the current situation rather than tearing up the whole thing.  To some extent I’m optimistic that we can for the near future, because the government will have (as it sees it) bigger things to worry about.  But I do worry that eventually we will get left behind as EU environmental legislation evolves.  That’s something we have to be mindful of in the coming years.

The ecological internet is already starting to discuss these issues; here are links to a few pieces that I’ve seen:

Adventuresinbeeland has discussed what leaving the EU means for British bees and beekeepers, pointing out that EU funding has enabled bee inspectors to carry out apiary inspections and work with beekeepers on issues such as bee pests and diseases.

The Wildlife Trusts are trying to look positively at the future, with Brian Eversham, Chief Executive for the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, summing it up very well:  “Many of those who disagreed over the Referendum agree strongly that wildlife, our countryside and the natural environment matter, now and for the future. We need their voices loud and clear in the coming months. As we are now responsible for our own, independent future, it is up to all of us to make sure that we keep the environment firmly on the national agenda.”

Mark Avery has also summed up the current situation very succinctly on his blog – one cartoon says an awful lot.

Finally, here’s Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth, writing on how can we make Brexit work for the environment?

No doubt there will be more coming soon and I’ll try to provide updates on the blog.

In terms of my day job as an academic at the University of Northampton, things will also change across the whole British Higher Education sector, of course.  On one level that’s a different set of issues to what I’ve been discussing, but there are also links: a great deal of ecological research activity is being funded by the European Union and involves cross-border collaborations.  Scientists across Europe have to continue to make that work.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Birds, Nene Valley NIA, University of Northampton

If the environmental argument for remaining in the EU wasn’t enough for you, watch this!

My previous post on the environmental argument for the UK remaining in the European Union was widely shared on Twitter and via Facebook (where there was a lot of discussion in some of the groups) and to date has been viewed almost 1500 times.  This suggests to me that there’s a large appetite for accessible, informed opinion that cuts through the hype and rhetoric of both the leave and remain camps.

With that in mind, view and share the following video by Professor Michael Dougan, an expert in EU constitutional law at Liverpool Law School. This is one of the best and most balanced over views I’ve seen of the consequences of leaving the EU; EVERYBODY who has a vote on Thursday should watch it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USTypBKEd8Y

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The environmental argument for the UK remaining in the European Union

Every week I receive an email bulletin called Science for Environment Policy, sent out by the Directorate-General for Environment, which is the European Commission department that sets and monitors European Union policies relating to the environment, for example pollution levels, conservation of biodiversity, etc.  Anyone can subscribe to these bulletins and they provide useful, lay-person summaries of recent research findings that have a direct or indirect bearing on how we manage and protect Europe’s environment.

A scan through the latest few bulletins reveals article titles such as:

  • Atlantic beaches of Europe reshaped in stormy winter of 2013–2014
  • Water management: five policy conditions to help overcome the challenges of an uncertain future
  • Climate change threatens early-flowering plants due to lack of snow
  • Black carbon emissions of individual cars measured under real conditions
  • Are endocrine disrupting chemicals responsible for downward trends in male fertility?
  • Environmental performance of construction and demolition waste management
  • Golden jackal should not be treated as an alien species in Europe
  • Environmental taxation in the right place can increase business productivity 

This set of topics is fairly typical, and demonstrates the complexity and breadth of the environmental issues facing the European Union.  All of these issues, however, share one feature: they do not respect political boundaries and are cross-border in scope.  Species, rivers, air masses, sea currents, economic resources, waste products: all of them can (and do) move through the different countries of Europe and beyond.

What this means is that the policies, laws and regulations that govern the behaviour of individuals and organisations towards the environment, and ultimately protect it, must also be cross-border in scope.  That’s where the European Union comes in, because it is largely EU directives that currently protect our environment.  Some examples of these directives, and some of their achievements, include:

  • Birds Directive which has helped to coordinate action plans for endangered resident and migratory birds.
  • Habitats Directive that relates to the conservation of natural habitats and the fauna and flora they contain, including setting up the Natura 2000 network that currently covers more that 18% of the EU’s land area and almost 6% of its marine territory, making it the world’s largest coordinated network of protected areas.
  • Water Framework Directive that determines action in the area of water policy.
  • Waste Framework Directive likewise determines action in the area of wastes policy and which, together with the Landfill Directive and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, has been responsible for significantly reducing the amount of waste going into landfill, increased the amount being recycled, and placed pressure on manufacturers to take responsibility for packaging and end-of-life goods and materials.

There are many others, and you can find a list here.  It’s worth pointing out that these directives were not “imposed” on the UK by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels: the UK took an active role in their development and drafting.  In fact Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, was one of the original authors of the Habitats Directive and is a prominent advocate of remaining in the EU.

Of course, no one is arguing that these directives are the only mechanism for protecting the environment, there are local regulations too, plus the work of NGOs such as the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts.  Nor am I arguing that they have been wholly effective: there’s still a long way to go in many of these areas.  But they have had a demonstrably positive impact on the quality and protection of the UK’s environment that could be halted, or even reversed, if the UK was to leave the EU.

This last point is an important one to make and it’s not an example of the fear-mongering that has marked the EU Referendum debate on both sides.  Here is how I see it:  we cannot trust the UK government (whatever its political flavour) to safeguard our environment.

This is because, despite the best efforts of genuinely committed and environmentally savvy politicians, the political parties to which they belong are too focused on short-term goals of winning the next election to really consider the 20, 50, or 100 year perspectives that are required for environmental legislation.  This inevitably means that the environment is low on the list of priorities for most ministers, and environmental policy is subject to undue influence by special interest groups.  For example look at how easily Defra was persuaded to allow exceptions to the EU moratorium on neonicotinoid pesticides.  Likewise the HS2 project which ministers seem determined to keep going despite serious concerns about the environmental impact of the project (see my post “Ordinary by Choice“).

When considering whether or not to vote to remain in the EU, most people (understandably) are focused on the social and economic arguments: the impacts on jobs, standards of living, resources for health, etc.  But in part the environmental argument is a social and economic argument, because the natural environment underpins many jobs, our standards of living (who doesn’t want to live near unpolluted green space that is protected for future generations?), and plays an important part in the nation’s health and wellbeing.  The provision of these “ecosystem services” were clearly spelled out last year in Tony Juniper’s book What Nature Does for Britain, which I reviewed on this blog.

I’m not arguing that everything in the European Union is perfect, or even that the environment of the UK and the rest of the EU is as good as it ought to be, or could be.  But for every statistic about declining species and poor environments, it’s possible to quote figures for the success of other species and improvements in quality.  For example our major rivers such as the Thames, Tees, Mersey and Avon are now swimming with fish where once they were swimming with excrement, as I’ve previously discussed in relation to the River Wear.  Our membership of the European Union is, at least in part, responsible for these positive trends and I hope that they continue.  Please consider this when you’re deciding how to vote on 23rd June.

 

Postscript: much of what I’ve discussed above is being widely talked about amongst environmentalists, and I don’t know of any major environmental organisation that is in favour of the UK leaving the EU.  In fact a large number have publicly come out in favour of staying, including:

Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management

The Wildlife Trusts

Greenpeace

The RSPB and WWF-UK, who have produced a joint statement.

Friends of the Earth

Buglife

There is also a group called Environmentalists For Europe

So don’t just take my word for it.

 

 

 

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, RSPB

The European Bee Course 2016

Note: I’m not directly involved with this course, I’m just advertising it on behalf of the organisers; please direct any queries to them – details are on the application form (link at the end). 

All of the following text is directly taken from the information that I was sent:

Are you interested in European bees? Join our Super-B training school in Marseille, France in May!

Aim?

We aim (i) to provide a global overview on the Systematics and the Ecology of European bees including the up-to-date methods; (ii) to train to recognize the morphology of the main European genera by using keys; (iii) to collect wild bees in the field with standard technics (net, pan trap, aspirator); (iv) to prepare a collection of pinned specimens.

THE BEE COURSE is designed primarily for botanists, conservation biologists, pollination ecologists, and other biologists whose research, training, or teaching responsibilities require a greater understanding of bee taxonomy. It emphasizes the classification and identification of more than seventy bee genera of Europe, and the general information provided is applicable to the global bee fauna. Lectures include background information on the biology of bees, their floral relationships, their importance in maintaining and/or improving floral diversity, inventory strategies, and the significance of oligolecty (i.e., taxonomic floral specialization). Field trips acquaint participants with collecting and sampling techniques; associated lab work provides instruction on specimen identification, preparation and labelling.

Where?

France, Marseilles, in the beautiful site of the national park of the Calanques: http://sciences.univ-amu.fr/sites-geographiques/site-luminy

Budget?

Super-B budget covers the invitation of the trainers and material. Applicants have to pay for their flights, accommodation (130 euros) and meals (60 euros). A Super-B Grant of 600 EUR is available, this covers all expenses for the course and approximately 300 EUR for a flight.

When?

Arrival the evening of the 16th of May after 6pm, departure the evening of the 20th of May

Who?

Co-organised by the University of Mons (Denis Michez) and the University of Aix Marseilles (Benoît Geslin).

5 supervisors: Denis Michez (UMons, Belgium), Nicolas Vereecken (ULB, Belgium), Murat Aytekin (Hacettepe University, Turkey), Stuart Roberts (BWARS, UK) and Benoît Geslin (Université d’Aix-Marseille, France).

15 students, PhD & postdoc in relevant fields will have priority, but undergraduate student can apply.

Program?

16th of May from 6pm

Arrival, move to the location with minibus

 

17th of May

10am: Welcome and presentation of the organization and the goal. Denis Michez

11am: Systematics and diversity of European bees. Denis Michez

12am: Lunch

1pm: Practical courses, determination of bees among insects. All trainers

4pm: Lecture, up-to-date methods to study Bee Systematics. Murat Aytekin

6pm: Dinner

 

18th of May

10am: How to collect, prepare and determine specimens of long-tongued versus short-tongued bees. Denis Michez

12am: Lunch

1pm: Field trip

4pm: Preparation of the collected material

6pm: Dinner

 

19th of May

10am: Ecology of bees. Christophe Praz

11am: Bee community. Nicolas Vereecken

12am: Lunch

1pm: Field trip

4pm: Preparation of the collected material

6pm: Dinner

 

20th of May

10am: Determination of the collected material

12am: Lunch

1pm: Analysis of the data

3pm: Last word

4pm: Departure

 

Framework?

Cost project Super-B: http://superb-project.eu/

SUPER-B is a COST Action that will bring together scientific and societal communities involved in the conservation and sustainable management of ecosystem services mediated by pollinators. >70 of our crops need insects for optimal pollination; these include many fruits, nuts, oil crops, fibres and vegetables with some producing no yield without insect pollination. The direct economic value of crop pollination by insects in the EU is >14 billion euro annually. Moreover, >80 of wild plant species benefit from animal pollinators for fruit and seed production, making pollination a key service for ecosystem and biodiversity maintenance.

SUPER-B will combine scientific evidence (existing and new knowledge) and social feedback for developing conservation strategies for pollinators. Specifically, the Action will (1) identify the role of insect pollination in agriculture and other ecosystems; (2) clarify best practices for mitigation of pollination loss, and (3) compare and contrast important drivers of pollinator loss (wild and managed species). SUPER-B will contribute towards maintaining natural ecosystems and achieving sustainable use of pollinators in agricultural production. Its results are relevant to all European countries and will be disseminated to a wide community of beneficiaries (scientists, farmers, beekeepers, industry, policy-makers, NGOs and the public).

Here’s the application form for the course:

Bee_course_Cost_Application_form (2)

 

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Our nature conservation laws need to be defended, not weakened

If you’ve not already heard, there’s a proposal going forward in the European Parliament to review (=weaken) the current EU Nature Directives.  If this happens some of the most important wildlife sites, as well as vulnerable species, could be at risk in the UK and the rest of Europe.

If you have any strong feelings about nature conservation, or if you simply want more information about what’s happening, then I’d urge you to visit the RSPB’s page where you can watch a video about the issue and/or complete a short form to add your voice to the consultation process.

This is important.

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The state of bees: the European Red List has been published

P1010430

As I’ve frequently reported on this blog, there is growing global concern about declines in pollinator diversity and abundance across many regions, and much research is going on into what is causing those declines, their scale and consequences, and what can be done to reverse pollinator loss. It’s therefore great to see the publication of the European Red List of Bees which provides information on the conservation status of the c. 2000 species of bees in Europe.

The report uses standard IUCN criteria for assessing each species and has been picked up by various media and NGOs, who have typically promoted it with claims such as “Nearly one in 10 of Europe’s wild bee species face extinction“.  However the reality of what the report has found is much more complex and nuanced than the headlines suggest.  Over half of the bee species were classified as Data Deficient, meaning that we don’t have enough information to assess whether they are threatened or not.  Of those that could be classified, 7 species are Critically Endangered, including 3 that are endemic to Europe and found nowhere else in the world; 46 are Endangered including 12 endemics; 24 are Vulnerable, with 7 endemic; 101 are Near Threatened with 17 endemic; 663 are Least Concern (68 endemic), meaning that there are no immediate threats to their survival.

If we turn the “1 in 10” headline around, then a more accurate statement would be “Over 90% of Europe’s bees (for which we have sufficient data) are not immediately threatened by extinction”.  Of course that could change once data for the poorly studied species becomes available.  These are not grounds for complacency; but neither are they grounds for panic.

The scale at which we assess biodiversity is critical if we are to fully understand the threats to species, and when and where limited funds can be prioritised for conservation actions.  Species that are locally endangered or even extinct may actually be quite common when assessed across the whole of their distributional range.  For this reason it’s important to consider the status of species in as wide a geographic region as is possible.  Preferably this would mean a global assessment; but for most species we simply don’t have enough information to be able to undertake such a study, particularly for developing countries where there are limited historical records of species occurrences on which to draw.  Even in a relatively developed region such as Europe, with a long history of natural history observation and monitoring, there are huge gaps in our knowledge – in this case for more than half of Europe’s bees.

With this in mind I looked at the European status of those bee species which are now extinct in the UK, as I discussed in December.  Two of the extinct species are considered Critical (Bombus cullumanus and Andrena tridentata); two are Near Threatened (Dufourea minuta and D. halictula); seven other species are Least Concern; and the remaining two (Andrena lepida and A. lathyri) are Data Deficient.  Clearly some of the UK extinct species are in trouble across Europe, but others are not and may re-colonise the UK in the future, as we believe may have happened in the last couple of years for Andrena vaga.  Or they could be helped to re-colonise via a reintroduction programme, as has been done for Bombus subterraneus

Another way in which to put the findings of this report into a wider context is to consider how the level of threat to bees compares with that of other groups of species.  The authors helpfully provide some comparative data in the summary, which I’ve graphed below (click on it for a better view):

IUCN stats

Overall the proportion of threatened bees is identical to that of butterflies, perhaps because they require some similar resources (flowers on which to feed) and tend to be found in broadly similar habitats.  But other taxa are at much greater risk, particularly freshwater fish and molluscs: yet these taxa have not received the same level of publicity about their plight.  Their are no “Save the Mussels” campaigns, or television series about endangered fish in rivers and lakes.  This is surprising: clearly bees have grabbed the public’s attention because of the role they play in crop pollination, but freshwater fish are also suppliers of ecosystem services either directly (fishing) or indirectly (playing a role in maintaining the “health” of these ecosystems, as do the molluscs). Perhaps more importantly for these species, they are also indicators of water quality, an aspect of natural capital that concerns us all.

The authors of the European Red List of Bees are to be congratulated on a fine piece of work that makes a major contribution to our understanding of pollinator conservation, and is timely, coming soon after the publication of the National Pollinator Strategy for England.  However there’s still a lot of work to do to fill in the gaps for species that are Data Deficient and to understand the more detailed population trends, which are unknown for almost 80% of the bee species.

One of the most surprising findings, though, is that the honey bee (Apis mellifera), the most intensively researched pollinating insect on the planet, is considered Data Deficient “until further research enables us to differentiate between wild and non-wild colonies in order to determine the conservation status of the species in the wild.”  That’s an interesting state of affairs!

Full citation:

Nieto, A., Roberts, S.P.M., Kemp, J., Rasmont, P., Kuhlmann, M., García Criado, M., Biesmeijer, J.C., Bogusch, P., Dathe, H.H., De la Rúa, P., De Meulemeester, T., Dehon, M., Dewulf, A., Ortiz-Sánchez, F.J., Lhomme, P., Pauly, A., Potts, S.G., Praz, C., Quaranta, M., Radchenko, V.G., Scheuchl, E., Smit, J., Straka, J., Terzo, M., Tomozii, B., Window, J. and Michez, D. 2014. European Red List of bees. Luxembourg: Publication Office of the European Union.

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Filed under Bees, Biodiversity, Ecosystem services, Honey bees, Pollination