I’ll be Idle on Friday

I’ll be heading to the Idle Wetlands Nature Reserve on Friday evening.

Details here.


Winter farmland bird survey

I have two BBS squares which I survey in the spring, and so I am doing two lots of English Winter Bird Survey. The images above and below give you some idea of how unexciting the farmland is in this particular square.

The birds were a little bit dull too – not many species and not many birds. But there is always something of interest whenever one goes out and records the birds one sees. I did hear a Grey Partridge though, which is a good record, and I did see a Red Kite over the square for the first time during survey visits. And the hedgerows had quite a few Yellowhammers hanging around in them too. And anyway, my dull square is just as useful, I assume, in the future analysis of these data, as a square full of massive flocks of wintering thrushes, seed-eating birds and Lapwings and Golden Plover.

When I wrote about my visit to my other survey square on 7 January I mentioned in a not wholly complimentary way, the lack of data entry function at this stage of the survey. The online information available at that time suggested that data entry would be possible in ‘early 2019’ which was a bit unspecific. The expectation was that data entry would be available from mid-January but that has now changed to mid-February (see below).

And the BTO sent out, on 9 January, perhaps prompted by my blog (but perhaps not) an email to all involved (at least I assume everyone got one) an email with the same information.

This means that the data entry function will be available a lot closer to the end of the survey period than the beginning – something that I have never experienced before with BTO-led surveys. In a comment on my earlier post Gavin Siriwardena of the BTO apologised for the delay and explained that it was due to the timing of funding from NE and the complexity of the job of fixing the data entry function whilst updating the data entry functionality for the BBS survey as a whole.

All of that makes sense, but it also isn’t ideal. And the BTO, as the interface with the thousands of volunteers who actually collect the data, donating our time, expertise, travel costs and data entry skills for free, is the organisation whose reputation is slightly dented by this. Only slightly dented, as the BTO has a lot of credit in the bank of course, but dented all the same.

Let us just remember that NE and Defra are getting the data, and the BTO are getting the money and the data, but we the volunteers are doing the work. Work worth hundreds of thousands of pounds even at a conservative costing. It’s always better to treat the workers with respect.

I now will have a large pile of data sheets that I will have to set aside a quite large chunk of time to deal with. Quite honestly, it’s a prospect as appealing as doing my tax return.


Waitrose you are rubbish!

I wrote to Waitrose on 26 November and they haven’t been able to come up with a response in all that time – just this …

Dear Dr Avery

Please accept my apologies on my behalf my colleague for incorrectly addressing you. 

I’ve asked our technical team if they have anything further to add and we’ll be back in touch. 

Kind regards
Txxxxxx Bxxxxx
Waitrose & Partners 

email received yesterday

My response …

Waitrose – you are rubbish! You have taken over 6 weeks to come up with nothing so far. I used to think that you were a good company – now I think you are totally untrustworthy and/or totally inept. I still want a response from you, please.

email response from me yesterday

For more information see
23 November, 26 November, 28 November, 3 December, 10 December, 14 December, 19 December,29 December, 2 January, 3 January, 9 January.


Press release from UK100

Press release from UK100 (Twitter: @UK100) commenting on Clean Air Strategy:

“Plans in the Clean Air Strategy will fail unless there are strong new protections in law” – UK100

Responding to the upcoming publication of the Government’s Clean Air Strategy, Polly Billington, Director of UK100, said: “Plans in the Clean Air Strategy will fail unless there are strong new protections in law to clean up our air as we leave the EU and sufficient financial support to make the changes a reality. Local leaders have consistently stated that Clean Air funding committed by Government to tackle air pollution is simply inadequate on three fronts: not enough funding for those local authority areas that Government has identified as having the most severe air quality challenges, insufficient funding available for tackling the wider sources of air pollution and limited financial support for national measures.”



Press release from Wildlife and Countryside link

Press release from Wildlife and Countryside Link:

Clean Air Strategy: progress for wildlife and people on ammonia – the ‘poor cousin’ of air pollution

Twelve nature charities, including Plantlife, RSPB and Friends of the Earth, have welcomed new regulations to cut ammonia emissions announced in the Clean Air Strategy today. This move is vital and long overdue given the ravaging effect ammonia has on wild plants, woodlands and meadows, and the wildlife that rely on them, and the disastrous impact of ammonia on people’s health. Cutting ammonia emissions by 50% could prevent the equivalent of around an estimated 250,000 premature deaths globally each year.

Ammonia is the ‘poor cousin’ of air pollution – flying below the radar of regulators until now, despite its destructive impacts, and the rising levels of this toxin in the air we breathe. Recent official data shows that ammonia emissions in England increased for the third year in a row in 2016, in stark contrast with all other major pollutants. Ammonia emissions are higher than at any time since 2005, while levels of other pollutants are largely unchanged or decreasing.

Ammonia plays a major role in creating particulate matter, one of the biggest threats to people’s health from air pollution, with emissions from farms harming the health of people hundreds of miles away. An estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK each year are attributed to air pollution, with more than 40 towns and cities at, or exceeding, limits set by the World Health Organization. There is also a wealth of scientific evidence showing that nitrogen pollution is one of the greatest threats to wild plants around the world including  evidence from the charities to the Clean Air Strategy consultation on the decimation of plants by ammonia.

Jenny Hawley, Senior Policy Officer at Plantlife, said: ‘Air pollution from farming has been neglected by policymakers for too long – with year-on-year increases in ammonia emissions. Voluntary measures haven’t worked, so the commitments to new regulation are a positive step forward. But the devil will be in the detail and the Clean Air Strategy must be translated into legislation without delay if it is to protect some of our rarest plants, lichens and fungi from extinction.

Runaway ammonia emissions are contributing to unnaturally nutrient-rich soil conditions that are having a chilling impact on plant diversity. Many rare and threatened wildflowers like harebell and bird’s-foot trefoil are being crowded out of the countryside by a marauding gang of ‘nitrogen guzzlers’ such as brambles and stinging nettles. The knock-on effects of habitats becoming nitrogen-rich ‘badlands’ can be lethal, for example the marsh fritillary butterfly feeds almost exclusively on Devil’s-bit scabious, a plant that simply cannot survive in these conditions.’

Hannah Freeman, Senior Government Affairs Officer at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, said:Air pollution literally doesn’t exist in a bubble. Ammonia in the air over our farmlands dissolves into our wetlands and waterways and wreaks havoc on delicate aquatic ecosystems. The proposed measures are a step forward, but what we really want is government policy that supports farmers to be true stewards, holistically managing our air, soil and water together.’

Thomas Lancaster, Acting Head of Land Use Policy at the RSPB said: ‘The Government’s proposals for reducing ammonia emissions from farming are a significant step forward, and recognise the importance of effective regulation in protecting the environment and public health. We now need Government to set out a much more comprehensive and ambitious package of regulatory reforms for farming, to secure the safeguards that both progressive farmers and the environment so desperately need.’.

Frances Winder, conservation policy lead at the Woodland Trust said: ‘Nitrogen deposition and increasing concentrations of ammonia are severely damaging our ancient woodlands. It is imperative we integrate on-farm measures for air quality, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions to protect these precious, irreplaceable habitats. Working with nature can have significant beneficial impacts. Planting new trees downwind of a poultry house fan outlet, for example, can be very effective at capturing both gaseous and particulate pollutants as well as providing shade and water management- a win-win for farm efficiency, reducing input costs and protecting the environment.  Any new land management scheme must include effective enforcement as well as support for the development of solutions.’.

Richard Young, Policy Director at the Sustainable Food Trust said: ‘The Sustainable Food Trust welcomes the Government’s Clean Air Strategy, but feels that greater action is needed to address the issue of ammonia, a major component of air pollution, which mostly comes from the agricultural sector. In particular, the overuse of nitrogen fertiliser must be recognised as the main cause of ammonia, and this needs to be urgently addressed.

In order to make real headway in tackling the air pollution crisis, we need a fundamental change in the way we produce food, moving away from heavy reliance on nitrogen fertiliser towards mixed farm systems which utilise forage legumes, such as clover, to rebuild the soil’s natural nitrogen levels. We should also focus on re-localising food production and consumption as much as possible to reduce diesel emissions associated with transport. Future ‘public goods’ funding should be used to help shift farming systems in this more sustainable direction.’.

Farming is the main source of ammonia emissions, stemming from the storage and spreading on fields of manure, slurry, digestate and artificial fertilisers. The UK Government has relied on restricting farming practices in certain areas (nitrate vulnerable zones (NVZs)) to tackle pollution of rivers and streams from fertilisers. However, the charities argue that Government should use post-Brexit agriculture policy and its proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme to reform NVZs, prevent water and air pollution more effectively and better protect our environment.

Under the new measures announced today, farmers will have to use low-emissions technology and facilities to collect, store and spread animal wastes and fertilisers on their fields. Many dairy and intensive beef farms will have to apply for an environmental permit, as is already the case for the largest poultry and pig farms. The strategy also tackles emissions from anaerobic digesters which have risen significantly as the technology has become more popular.

The charities support these measures but warned that their effectiveness will depend on the detail which still has to be developed. They called on the Government to bring forward detailed proposals in the coming months and to set earlier deadlines for reducing ammonia emissions from the most polluting sources. While the new target to reduce by 17% the area of wildlife habitat affected by nitrogen deposition by 2030 is welcome, it does not go far enough and the Strategy does not take forward the specific measures recommended by the charities to protect and restore wildlife.

There are many other welcome moves in the Clean Air Strategy from Government, however the organisations are warning that:

1. more still needs to be done to tackle pollution from cars and other vehicles in particular, as plans on the main source of illegal air pollution in our towns and cities fall short. For example, this should include a network of clean air zones and support for people and businesses to move to cleaner forms of transport

2. we need new clean air laws that enshrine people’s right to breathe clean air and stricter legal limits based on World Health Organisation guidelines in UK law to drive greater ambition on this issue

3. The Clean Air Strategy is being developed in response to legally binding emission reduction targets from the EU. After Brexit, it is essential the promised new UK environment watchdog is strong, well-resourced and independent to ensure the government complies with its legal duty to protect the health of people and the environment