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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Net Zero: CCC recommendations on how to achieve it

The UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s statutory advisor, published its progress report at the end of June.

CCC

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/25/road-to-net-zero-what-the-committee-on-climate-change-recommends

According to the report, a number of areas need urgent attention, if the government is to reach its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.  These are:

  • Energy Efficiency – insulating Britain’s homes;
  • Domestic Heating – looking at low carbon alternatives;
  • Electric Vehicles –  the CCC suggests that a complete switch to electric vehicles can be achieved by 2032, earlier than the government’s target of 2035, though car manufacturuers are opposing this;
  • Carbon Tax – this would not hit consumers but could raise £15 billion a year, according to the CCC;
  • Agriculture and Land Use – such as tree planting and nature-friendly farming, which could change agriculture from a major source of emissions to a net absorber;
  • Reskilling and Retraining Programmes – a new workforce will be required to install low-carbon boilers, home insulation and offshore wind farms;
  • Behavioural Changes in Lockdown – showed that many people can work from home, reducing emissions from transport emissions. A new infrastructure to encourage people to cycle or walk to work needs developing;
  • Targeted Science and Innovation Funding – for the development of low-carbon technologies;
  • Adaptations to the Effects of the Climate Crisis – flood defences, protecting homes from hotter summers etc.


 


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Farming for nature pays off for Wimpole Home Farm (near Cambridge)

Nature and soil health are flourishing at the National Trust’s Wimpole Home Farm near Cambridge according to the results of a full ‘health-check’ into its biodiversity, carbon levels and levels of public accessibility.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/press-release/farming-for-nature-pays-off-for-wimpole

wimpole

Cultivating at Wimpole Home Farm (with acknowledgements to Jeanette Heard)

 The results of the health check were announced as the landmark Agriculture Bill started its crucial stage in the House of Lords.  It showed increases in the numbers of breeding pairs of rare farmland birds, invertebrates and how the land is a significant sequester of carbon.

The organic farm has been focusing on nature friendly, sustainable farming methods for the past 12 years to reflect the conservation charity’s goals for farming models which are good for nature, deliver public benefit and which are profitable.

Nationally, numbers of farmland birds have declined by 54 per cent since 1970, the distribution of bees and hoverflies declined by 31 per cent between 2009 and 2014 and it is estimated that soil degradation in England and Wales costs the economy £1.2 billion a year.

The 589 hectare (1,419 acre) mixed livestock and arable farm, which is the only lowland farm run in-hand by the conservation charity, conducted in-depth surveys over two years into farmland birds, invertebrates and soil health.

Key results included:
• the doubling in numbers of breeding pairs of rare skylarks and linnets in six years which are good indicators of a healthy ecosystem
• a 38 per cent increase in invertebrate numbers over 13 years to include the recording of 95 rare and protected species, vital for pollinating crops and preying on pests
• a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year achieved through the amount of organic matter in the soil which soaks up carbon, the number of trees and grown out hedges

As for public goods, in terms of access for the public, Wimpole also has over 40km of public rights of way and permissive paths which are enjoyed by over 350,000 visitors a year.

As a business, the farm is also returning a healthy profit.

Last year, production levels across 369 hectares (912 acres) of the arable farm reached impressive levels for an organic farming system with last year’s harvests resulting in 142 tonnes of wheat – enough to make 200,000 loaves of bread, or over four million scones – 123 tonnes of organic barley – equivalent to what’s needed to make nearly 1.5million pints of beer and 126 tonnes of organic oats – equivalent to over 2.5 million bowls of porridge.

For 2019, this resulted in £294,617 income, £117,588 profit for the farm (including subsidy payments).

Callum Weir farm manager at Wimpole said: “Many of the increases we recorded in the surveys are down to the combination of organic farming methods in the fields and the mosaic of margins, hedges and habitats that surround each field.

“That is not to say that organic farming is the only way to farm with nature.  There are great examples of farmers across the UK who aren’t organic, but are still delivering massive benefits to the environment.  Like many farmers, we dedicate areas of Wimpole to help biodiversity.  For example, we sow a variety of plants including phacelia which has purpley blue flowers, clover and sainfoin, with its bright pink flowers which flower from early April right through to October.  These attract and support pollinators and insects which have a vital role in the ecosystem.

“The survey results are vital to understanding how our holistic approach to farming at Wimpole is working.  We want to farm sustainably at the same time as being a truly viable business and it’s fantastic to see how nature friendly farming and a profitable farm business, can go hand in hand.”

Professor Dave Goulson, invertebrate expert at Sussex University said: “The intensification of farming practises over the last 100 years, with the move to ever-larger fields, fewer crops, and lots of chemical inputs, has been a major driver of biodiversity loss. It is hugely heartening to see that farming doesn’t need to be this way; Wimpole shows that it is possible to have a highly productive, profitable farm without pesticides, and to simultaneously encourage biodiversity and capture carbon. The new Agriculture Bill could learn from this.”

Mark Harold, Director of Land and Nature at the National Trust said: “Sustainable, productive and profitable farming is underpinned by a healthy environment.

“Coronavirus has shown how important it is to have a resilient food and farming system.  We know that climate change and sustainability pose the greatest threats to food security, as this year’s flooding and now drought have shown.

“The Agriculture Bill – and the principle of public money for public goods at its heart – is an opportunity to deliver this.

“At the Trust we are working to demonstrate that sustainable farming does work and that it is profitable.

“We have taken the risks, experimented and want to share our learnings with others.  At Wimpole we’ve had to overcome particular challenges such as soil degradation, decreasing returns from farming and declines in farmland wildlife.

“With a focus on sustainable land management, wildlife and soil health can recover quicker than we might think.

“The story at Wimpole paints one of hope and optimism – and the Government’s forthcoming ‘environmental land management scheme’ will be crucial to replicating this across the farming industry, as will the new Agriculture Bill in prioritising government support for this scheme.

Together, these two mechanisms will ensure all farms have a sustainable future which will be good for the environment, good for farm businesses and good for people.

“Tomorrow, the Agriculture Bill starts its next stage in the House of Lords. It’s vital that its ambition and key public goods principles aren’t weakened.  We also mustn’t see progress at home on sustainability undermined by food imports that don’t meet our standards: the Bill should therefore be amended to provide safeguards against this.”

Survey results in detail:
To fully understand the impact of 12 years of organic farming on the environment, the team carried out surveys into rare farmland birds, invertebrates and conducted an in-depth study into carbon sequestration.

Key findings from the farmland bird survey conducted across half the farm revealed that since 2013:
– Numbers of rare skylarks have increased by 75 per cent, from 12 to 21 pairs
– Number of rare linnets have doubled from three to seven pairs
– Wimpole is one of the most important populations of the rare corn bunting in Cambridgeshire  with between five and eight pairs breeding each year
– The farm provides winter feeding habitat for at least nine rare bird species – grey partridge, lapwing, linnet, skylark, starling, yellowhammer, woodcock, hen harrier, fieldfare

A total of 1,145 species were recorded in the invertebrates survey, equating to an increase of 38 per cent in the number of species between 2003 and 2019.

This included 95 rare species with formal conservation status including Bombus Ruderatus – the large garden bumblebee and Tyria Jacobaeae – the cinnabar moth.  75 species of bee, 49 species of wasps, 46 species of hoverflies and 22 types of butterflies were recorded.  Other key results from last year included:
– A 150 per cent increase in Hymonptera (wasps, bees, ants)
– A 190 per cent increase in the number of rare invertebrate species including the nationally scarce (NS) Tumbling Flower Beeting (Mordellistena variegate), the small heath butterfly (high on the Butterfly Conservation Priority List) and the (NS) Slender-horned Leatherback
– A 30 per cent increase in the number of butterfly species including the silver washed fritillary and marbled white.
– The organic field margins support on average 30 per cent more invertebrates then conventional field margins.

Callum continued: “We were so pleased by the results of the study.  It was great to see that our margins, so rich in wildlife, bordering productive farmland.  This gave me real hope that with the right support, farmers can help address biodiversity losses and play our part with tackling the climate crisis.”

margins

Wimpole’s six-metre wide field margins (Acknowedgements to Jeanette Heard)

The team used the Farm Carbon Cutting Toolkit, a recognised carbon measure by the farming industry, to conduct a full carbon analysis across the whole estate to include the farmland, parkland and woodland.

Thanks to the team’s holistic approach to farming on the estate, incorporating soil management, habitats and tree planting/woodland management, the land is a significant sequester of carbon, with a total carbon balance of -2,260 tonnes of CO2 per year.

Callum explains: “When you think that an economy class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger, this is really significant.”

Over the last 12 years, by far the biggest sequester of carbon is the increase in soil organic matter (SOM).

This has been achieved by applying agroecological principles to the arable farmland which includes reducing cultivation, cover cropping, integrating livestock, utilising habitats and stewardship and embracing technology.

“Trees were a significant sequester or carbon on the estate, however the main belts and blocks of woodlands on the estate are reaching maturity and will soon stop sequestering carbon (but these old trees remain very valuable to biodiversity). However, we’ve addressed this by planting 1,000 parkland trees over the past 10 years which will help with carbon capture and biodiversity.

“We recognise that our livestock are a large emitter of carbon.  But, they are the perfect tool to manage our Grade 1 listed parkland and the traditional hay meadows.

“If we were to plough up the parkland and convert it to arable, this would release 50,000 tonnes of CO2e from this carbon sink – equivalent to 100,000 return flights to New York City (for individual people or 416 full 747 aeroplanes).  This demonstrates the value of livestock in the carbon cycle, and the benefits of grass fed meat.  If meat is produced in the right way and consumed in the right amounts, it can be sustainable.”



 


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Growing palm oil on former farmland cuts deforestation, CO₂ and biodiversity loss

From The Conversation:

https://theconversation.com/growing-palm-oil-on-former-farmland-cuts-deforestation-co-and-biodiversity-loss-127312

Few natural products are as maligned as palm oil, the vegetable oil that’s in everything from chocolate spread to washing up liquid. On the island of Borneo, oil palm plantations have replaced nearly 40% of the native forest cover since 2000. Deforestation releases CO₂ into the atmosphere and deprives rare and endangered species with the complex habitats they need to thrive.

A new study has tried to find out if this valuable crop can be grown without destroying more forests, by converting existing pastureland into new oil palm plantations instead. Could growing more oil palm on land with already scarce wildlife be a solution to the deforestation crisis?

The oil palm tree produces two types of vegetable oil. Palm oil from the fruit is used in cooking and baking and helps feed over three billion people, mostly in Asia. The other oil comes from the palm kernel, or seed, which is used around the world to make most of our detergents, soaps and other cleaning products.

Palm oil comes from the tree’s bright red fruit and is one of the most valuable vegetable oils in the world. Eva Blue/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

The relentless increase in global demand for vegetable oil has driven the logging and draining of forests and peatland to grow soybeans in South America and oil palm in Asia. About 85% of oil palm is grown in just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. But other tropical countries, particularly in South America and West Africa, are establishing their own oil palm plantations. These are vast monocultures that very few species can inhabit, especially compared with the tropical forest they replace.

A drainage ditch in a recently created oil palm plantation, Sarawak, Borneo. As the peat dries, it can release large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Denis Murphy, Author provided

Use farms not forests

In the recent study, researchers measured how much carbon – previously locked up in trees and other vegetation – was lost to the atmosphere when either pastureland or rainforest was converted to oil palm plantation.

The good news is that turning pastureland into oil palm plantations reduced how much carbon was released by 99.7%, compared to when rainforest was converted. Another bonus of using pastureland might be that its starting biodiversity is relatively low anyway, so the plantation may actually have a greater diversity of wildlife than the previous ecosystem.

Areas of forest that have been cleared for oil palm plantations, in Bawa village, Subulusalam, Aceh, Indonesia, July 27 2019. EPA-EFE/HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK

Converting grassland ecosystems like the Llanos in South America to oil palm plantations also released less carbon than converting forests. But in this case, the researchers found there were significant losses for biodiversity. If we have to produce more palm oil, the best outcome for wildlife and the climate would be to make former pastureland the first choice for future plantations.

But would it not be better to ban palm oil altogether? Campaigns have urged consumers to switch to products that don’t contain palm oil, while some retailers have announced plans to exclude such items from their own-brand products.


Read more: Replanting oil palm may be driving a second wave of biodiversity loss


Oil palm plantations produce 73.5 million tonnes of vegetable oil from a total land area of 27 million hectares worldwide. This might seem like a large area, but the second most important vegetable oil crop, soybean, produces 56 million tonnes from 97 million hectares – more than 3.6 times the oil palm area. This means that oil palm actually uses much less land than other crops, which is one reason why it’s so popular with growers.

Scientists measure greenhouse gas emissions and sample groundwater in an oil palm plantation in Sarawak, Borneo. Denis Murphy, Author provided

So boycotting palm oil could actually increase deforestation, since alternative tropical oil crops tend to use much more land. A better approach is to ensure that all the palm oil used in food and other products has been obtained from a “sustainable” source, and not from recently logged forests.

That’s why it’s important to base our decisions on sound scientific evidence. Oil palm will continue to be a vital crop for many developing countries in the future. Using former pastureland to grow the crop could ensure the product’s development isn’t at the expense of vulnerable ecosystems. Given how bad red meat production is for the planet, a switch from cattle pasture to oil palm plantation in the tropics could well be a marked improvement.”


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French farmers affected by climate change and droughts

A report in the Financial Times includes stories from French farmers in the Loire valley who are being put out of business by climate change.  This summer’s heatwave has been devastating to them.

https://www.ft.com/content/164e75da-b9d3-11e9-96bd-8e884d3ea203?accessToken=zwAAAWyzic-okc8WTnXaudMR6dOWvY6ITT6iAw.MEUCIQCm2mJLhtC-gCdDCfi1hfeh4SFFbMbvJXWn7nnpHtLWFgIgMmQVWAnov1Mq0KqmXSkAJSi6DklRl-tmVNHeqvjwI6E&sharetype=gift?token=1f943f7b-8e69-4e5c-9dda-53bb41e83b9f

One of the farmers, Clément Traineau, described the stunted growth of corn, due to the drought, which means that his harvest will be only half of what it should be, so that there will not be enough to feed his cattle during the winter. Beef prices have also been stagnant due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the latest IPCC report calling on people to eat less meat.  One farmer has been forced to sell a quarter of his cows to make ends meet.

Frenchcattle

Intense storms on August 6th brought some relief to the drought but they also caused flooding and mudslides.

Farmers in the Loire valley are now trying to diversify their income, investing in wind farms and solar panels (on top of the cow sheds).  They are also generating power by burning methane from cow dung.

M. Traineau is quoted as saying:
“We farmers are in the front line of climate change as victims, and — in the media — as the guilty ones for producing meat. But people forget we can also be a means of fighting global warming. Meadows and pastures have a substantial capacity for storing carbon.”



 


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Successful petition to save the endangered Sumatran elephants

I received an email today from the Rainforest Action Network.  They have been campaigning to stop a palm oil company from destroying the habitat of the rare Sumatran elephants. I signed their petition, as did many others and include their email in its entirety, together with photographs.  Well done!

In honor of this week’s “World Elephant Day,”
we’ve got some GREAT news to share with you!

I’m SO HAPPY to share some great news with you! We’ve really got something to celebrate after “World Elephant Day!” We’re so proud to announce the protection and connection of the rainforest bridge Sumatran elephants use to migrate between important parts of their habitat, their home.

You see, this elephant migration route ran smack dab through a palm oil company’s operation in the northeast lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. Actually, reverse that, a palm oil company’s operation ran right through the migration corridors elephants have used to move around their rainforests for generations.

Thanks to your petitions, strong negotiating by our campaign team, and powerful media exposés, Mopoli Raya (said palm oil company) was put on the “No Buy” list by many of the Snack Food 20, including Nestlé and Unilever, and by the biggest palm oil traders sourcing from the Leuser. And once Mopoli Raya was cut out from the global market for long enough, it decided to start doing the right thing. Naturally 😉

So now I have the good fortune of sharing with you that Mopoli Raya has committed to protect the remaining three-and-a-half thousand acres of forests within its operations. The protection of these forests will maintain the connectivity of thousands of acres of surrounding rainforests in this critical elephant corridor. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help make this happen!

Long live the elephants, long may they roam,

 

Gemma Tillack
Forest Policy Director
Rainforest Action Network

 



 


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“Favourite” crops provide little nutrition for pollinators

A report reviewed by Phoebe Weston in The Independent” suggests that western appetites for foods, such as avocados, coffee and citrus fruits, are threatening global food security.

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/monocultures-coffee-avocados-threaten-global-food-production-a8999561.html?SPnews17July

The cited study analysed 40 years of data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016.  They found that global diversity of crops has declined, as soyabean, canola and palm take up more land than ever – crops that only provide nutrition for pollinators during a narrow window of time, whilst they are in bloom.  As well as this, farmers are growing more crops that require pollination, such as fruits, nuts and oil seeds, because there is an increasing demand for them and they have a higher market value.

The report suggests that countries that diversity their crops are going to benefit more than those which expand with only a limited range of crops. Countries listed as most unstable in this respect are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, where expansion of soybean farms has driven deforestation and the loss of meadows. Soy production has risen by about 30% per decade globally.  These crops are an unstable source of food for insects, which are in decline globally.

fig22

Deforestation

A similar effect is occurring in Malaysia and Indonesia due to the clearance of forests to grow palm and market palm oil across the world.  These mono-culture crops are creating unstable agricultural environments, as well as the loss of many forest-dwelling creatures and pollinating insects, such as bees.

Europe has a different problem in that farmland is getting smaller, to be replaced by urban development, and to favour the growing of pollinating-dependent crops. This is happening in the UK, Denmark, Germany, France, Austria and Finland.

bee

Although it is mainly poorer regions which are most at risk, the consequencies of crop failure would be felt world-wide.



In recognition of the problems mentioned above, a seven-mile long bee corridor is being developed in London.  Wildflower meadows will be put in place in 22 of Brent Council’s parks in north London. The seeds will be sown across parks in the Brent Council area including Barham Park, Gladstone Park and Tiverton.  This initiative has been praised by Jeremy Corbyn (report from BBC).