Welcome to the February Parliament activity report

Note this is a summary of some of the points - read the full set of Hansard on https://hansard.parliament.uk/ - This blog is to inform rather than to express affiliations with a certain point of view. Feel free to scroll through to the headline that interests you - the House of Lords Hansard summary is in indigo and the House of Commons in green. Links to relevant information have been added.

This months blog includes information on the ocean floor, human activity and animal movements, Identiflight, invertebrate densities in relation to plants, the 'Field of Dreams', the economics of biodiversity, 3D forests, healthy soundscapes, climate and ecological emergency, ecological interactions and evolution, Eden Project North, pollen data, biodiversity protects bees and gardens as a powerhouse for pollinators.

Trending on TED: The secrets I find on the mysterious ocean floor

TED Talk

1st Feb - Human activity forces animals to move 70% further to survive

Episodic activities such as hunting, urbanisation, logging, oil pipeline construction, and military manoeuvers have been found to have big effects on the movements of 160 species across six continents. Including:

  • Madagascan lemurs
  • Brushtailed possums
  • Moose
  • Texas tortoises
  • Mountain lions
  • Flightless rail birds
  • Reindeer

One of the researchers, Dr Tim Doherty stated:

“In Australia, an average person’s commute is about 16km, so 70% is like travelling an extra 11 km,... If animals aren’t moving around in a natural way, then there’s potential for broader impacts.”

1st Feb - IdentiFlight

It has been found that automatic shutdown of wind turbines can significantly reduce eagle fatalities by 82%. The system used was IdentiFlight which detects flying objects, classifies species in real-time and closes the wind turbine off if certain parameters are met. The manufacturers state that "millions of images gathered from IdentiFlight’s data set are used to train a convolutional neural network which can continuously learn and improve as the data set grows".

1st Feb - Invertebrate Density and Plants

Josephine Ulrich and colleagues recently work with the iDiv Ecotron - they used 24 self-contained units to investigate the impact of invertebrate densities on tiny grasslands of 12 herbaceous plant species. Density varied from 100%, 25% to 0%. Lower invertebrate densities correlated with increased abundances of the dominant plant species Trifolium pratense, and variation in plant flowering times. This is an interesting use of this resource.

2nd Feb - Study challenges 'Field of Dreams' hypothesis

The Field of Dreams: "if you build it, they will come" or if you create a habitat, species will populate it and it will function normally.

The reality: If you build it, they might not come

According to a study of 17 research plots of restored tallgrass prairie, which measured four animal communities: snakes, small mammals, ground beetles, and dung beetles, it was found that restoration management strategies had a stronger impact than changes in plant biodiversity.

"our study shows these active restoration techniques of introducing megaherbivores like bison, which were near extinction last century, and fire regimes that Indigenous people used to set to prairies, are absolutely critical components to recreating those complex webs of species and interactions. Seeding alone gets us started, but extra management super charges the animal communities that are critical to maintaining healthy prairies."

NIU Professor Holly Jones

4th Feb - The Economics of Biodiversity: Dasgupta Review

The Government thanked Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta for his review on biodiversity. The Government has initiated their review of the findings and has commenced with taking action.

  • The 2020 Green Book on valuing natural capital and climate effects.
  • The Prime Minister has agreed on five policy themes for COP 26: nature, adaptation and resilience, energy transition, clean road transport, and finance.
  • In the nature campaign, there is a commitment to protecting and restoring natural habitats and ecosystems, and progress being made towards protecting 30% of our land and oceans by 2030.
  • The Environment Bill contains proposals for mandatory biodiversity net gain for development.
  • Action is being taken to prevent the use of single-use plastics and their presence in the ecosystem.
  • The Green Finance Strategy of 2019 sets out a number of measures, including: climate-related financial disclosure and green-proofing our Official Development Assistance spend.
  • £15 billion has been committed to help those countries in the developing world ensure that they have nature-based solutions to climate change.

Further information is available on the Hansard

5th Feb - Forests of the world in 3D

Researchers investigated the 3D structure of primeval forests on several continents in different climate zones with 3D laser scanners. They concluded that structure is influenced by water availability. The researchers wish to understand how human influence and climate change affect the forest structure and processes. By understanding the complexity of forests, researchers can better understand the impact of management practices and changes in the climate.

5th Feb - Healthy soundscapes

Researchers found that the ocean ecosystem is negatively impacted by noise as it impacts on behavior, physiology, reproduction and mortality rates.

"The landscape of sound -- or soundscape -- is such a powerful indicator of the health of an environment,"

Ben Halpern, director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at UC Santa Barbara
Jana Winderen - Composition from the Soundscape of the Anthropocene Ocean

9th Feb - Climate and Ecological Emergency: UK's Response

Caroline Lucas opened announcing to the house: It's been two years since a climate and nature emergency was declared. Following with these points:

  • The world is hotter than at any time in the past 12,000 years
  • Record fire events have been experienced in the Amazon and US
  • Ice-cap melt in Greenland is a concern
  • Storm Eta wreaked havoc in the USA
  • The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has stated: 1 million species are now threatened with extinction

Caroline wants the following to be acknowledged:

  • Domestic climate policy is inconsistent and incoherent
  • We are off course to meet both our fourth and fifth carbon budgets: the Government have failed on 17 of 21 progress indicators, and have met two of 31 key policy milestones
  • Legislation has not moved on with science and is out of date

She spoke about the three primary goals of The Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill:

  • To limit global heating to 1.5° C
  • To conserve and restore nature
  • To give people a real say in how we transition to a zero-carbon society, drawing on the creativity and ingenuity of the British people as we recover from the effects of the pandemic

Caroline added the importance of the addition of nature to the CEE Bill, and the change to nature-based solutions now. She spoke of Professor Dasgupta who said: we need to change how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world.

Nadia Whittome agreed with supporting the CEE Bill. She added that the 2018 special report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that we need rapid action now. The Bill provides a clear framework to deliver the UK’s commitments, such as:

  • Introducing measures to dramatically reduce our emissions
  • Restoring/regenerating our soils, biodiverse habitats, and ecosystems
  • Lessening the negative impacts

Liz Saville Roberts noted that climate change and ecosystem degradation in Wales is in a terrible state, with 666 species at threat and 73 species have gone extinct.

The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth outlined the Governments commitments:

  • The determination that the UK will be a world leader in ensuring that the Paris agreement takes root 
  • To bring down our country’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • Doubling international climate finance to £11.6 billion, with £3 billion going to nature-based solutions
  • To power past coal with rapid decarbonisation
  • To lead the world into a new green industrial revolution - to support up to 250,000 green jobs and reach net zero by 2050

and successes:

  • Our emissions are down by c. 44% across the last 30 years
  • Electricity generation from coal has reduced from 40% in 2012 to less than 5% today, replaced by renewables
  • We have met our first two carbon budgets and are projected to meet the third by 2022

Further information is available on the Hansard

9th Feb - Ecological interactions as a driver of evolution

Professor Stefan Wanke of TU Dresden has linked ecological changes to genome-level adaptations which result in macroevolutionary consequences. He did this by studying butterflies that feed on poisonous plants and mapped the movement in time and space of Papilionidae and Aristolochiaceae species, concluding that both groups originated in the Northern Hemisphere 55 million years ago. A spread in distribution since has seen changes in the genetic makeup of the plants which in turn resulted in the emergence of more butterfly species.

10th Feb - Eden Project North

From an initial public and private investment of £105 million, the Eden Project has returned more than £2 billion directly into the regional economy. It is proposed that a derelict site in Morecambe which was formally the old Lido us transformed into an ecological park - a bubble.

Further information is available on the Hansard

11th Feb - A validated method for measuring ecosystem health with pollen

Data for a given site, he said, can demonstrate if plants were disrupted by past events such as droughts, fires, and changes in the climate. It gives an idea of ecosystem health. This can indicate

That, Brussel said, can inform choices about what management techniques protect existing services, such as protecting hillsides from erosion or purifying water, during new disruptions.

12th Feb - Biodiversity protects bees

The most diverse bee communities have been correlated with low levels of common viral pathogens. This is called the "dilution effect". It was found that the presence of native bees helps because they are not very good viral hosts, whereas honeybees are. The spread of virus is worsened when honeybees dominate an area and share floral resources.

22nd Feb - Gardens are a powerhouse for pollinators

Gardens are important in supporting pollinators and should be seen as part of a wider landscape. No one garden should be looked at as a singular plot. Each and every garden is part of a bigger network of resources. Gardens should be planted with plants that flower from early spring until late autumn so that pollinators are catered for throughout the year. Nectar-rich plants, delays in mowing, and minimal use of pesticides can contribute towards a healthier environment for these animals.

23rd Feb - Trees

Lord Clark of Windermere raised the importance of trees in relation to carbon sequestration, and biodiversity, and the Government's commitment to plant 30,000 hectares of trees annually. The Government recognises native woodland as a priority habitat. A £640 million nature for climate fund is in place to ensure trees are grown, planted, and managed appropriately. Planting or natural regeneration will amount to at least 30,000 hectares a year across the UK by 2025.

Further information is available on the Hansard