Business as usual - has the Countryside Council of Wales lost its teeth in the face of economic pressures?

How freeing a few packs of wolves could enliven the Scots economy

Oil exploration in protected dolphin habitat

Persimmon Homes fined £13,000 for beck pollution

New Stansted flight path to destroy ancient woodland

UK Trees and Forests

Time is running out for irreplaceable ancient woodland in Northern Ireland

New pilots announced to push policy on flooding and coastal erosion

Illegal persecution of red kites still a massive problem in Scotland

Business as usual - has the Countryside Council of Wales lost its teeth in the face of economic pressures?

The Guardian 31 January 2007

Critics accuse the Countryside Council of Wales of being more interested in development than the environment, of siding with damaging developers against communities, and of shirking its statutory responsibilities for wildlife protection. It seeks, they say, to promote the economy first and placate the interests of landowners, developers and its paymasters, the Welsh assembly.

CCW's relationship with the assembly is seen as crucial to the future of nature conservation in Wales. With the assembly acquiring increased powers under the recent Government of Wales Act, critics say it is likely CCW will be merged into the assembly. Although it will maintain its role as an independent adviser to the assembly, there is scepticism about how strong it will be.

In a recent article in the conservation journal Ecos, Cyril Trundle, a contractor to local government in south Wales, is critical of CCW's focus on the environment as "a sustainable resource, contributing to a better, stronger economy", and accuses it of being unwilling or unable to challenge the Welsh assembly or development organisations when wildlife sites are threatened.

He cites the recent offshore oil licensing round, which is expected to bring oil prospecting to Cardigan Bay. CCW, he says, agreed with the Department of Trade and Industry that "no areas of sea, including special protection areas, need be off-limits to oil companies and that the potential economic benefits of oil drilling need to be taken into account".

Conservationists are concerned that an increasing socio-economic agenda has tied CCW to a "sustainable development" that is more about sustaining development than reducing its ecological impact.,,2001981,00.html

How freeing a few packs of wolves could enliven the Scots economy

The Times, 31 Jan, 2007

Reintroducing wolves to the Scottish Highlands to control the rapidly growing red deer population would boost the economy and help to protect the environment, a study suggests. Scotland’s last wolf was shot dead in 1769.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, said: “Model results suggest that a wolf reintroduction would be economically beneficial for deer estates.” The reduction would also help forest regeneration, improve forest animal breeding rates, especially birds, and cut the number of deer ticks, which pass on Lyme disease to people.

Landowners and conservationists have called for the reintroduction of wolves for several years but this is the first study to assess the potential impact. The team used computer models based on a reintroduction of three wolf packs on the Isle of Rum. Although the island is an unlikely release site, it was chosen because previous research had provided detailed information on the deer population.

After 25 years, the wolf population would increase to more than 150 per 1,000 sq km (386 sq miles), then fall to about 20 per 1,000 sq km as pack sizes stabilised, similar to the number seen in the wild today in the Bialoweiza Forest in Poland. Simultaneously, the deer population would drop from more than twenty per sq km to about seven.

Tim Coulson, of Imperial College, London, said that trophy hunting of wolves could be one of the potential economic benefits. “It would be possible for a few individuals of a viable population of wolves to be hunted. If the wolf population was successful there’s nothing to stop a few licences being issued,” he said.

The study said that, although Highland sheep farms mainly depended on subsidies, the loss of livestock to wolves should be considered beyond profit and loss assessments. Farmers could be compensated for livestock losses but that their emotional attachment to their sheep “should not be ignored”.

Much of the research was based on studies in Yellowstone Park, in the United States, where the reintroduction programme had been so successful that wildlife managers were considering issuing hunting licences.,,2-2574922,00.html

Oil exploration in protected dolphin habitat

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society 31 Jan 2007

WDCS has welcomed a decision by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to withhold the granting of licences to explore for oil and gas within Cardigan Bay and the Inner Moray Firth – two important sites designated under European legislation to protect bottlenose dolphins. These two areas were under threat from applications by oil companies to drill within and adjacent to the Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) – the only two sites in the UK designated specifically to protect dolphins. There are no sites designated to protect any of the other 40 or more species of cetaceans found in UK waters.

However, the DTI have not completely withdrawn the threat of licences – this is merely a delay while a separate ‘Appropriate Assessment’ on the potential effects of oil and gas exploration in these sensitive areas is carried out. Oil and gas exploration increases underwater noise levels and disturbance in an area and may disrupt the normal behaviour of dolphins and displace them from areas important for their survival.

Any proposed development that may affect an SAC is required to be the subject of an ‘Appropriate Assessment’ in order to show the proposal will not adversely affect the designated site or its protected species. The Assessment undertaken for the 24th licensing round clearly failed to show that the dolphin’s protection could be guaranteed – a view held not just by WDCS, but by many dolphin experts and the Government statutory advisors on conservation in Cardigan Bay – The Countryside Council for Wales.

Mark Simmonds of WDCS said “Though we welcome the fact that the DTI has belatedly recognised that both Cardigan Bay and the Moray Firth, with their resident bottlenose dolphin populations, deserve special treatment, we are concerned that the DTI think they can get round European legislation by re-writing an assessment of the potential environmental effects."

"Withdrawing licenses for exploration in the SACs would be a good first step but we need to recognise the importance of the entire Moray Firth and Cardigan Bay for dolphin populations and to prohibit such potentially harmful activities in these areas.We urge the DTI to use this opportunity to stop these disastrous plans from going any further."

Mark Simmonds added “This clearly shows the need for a proper network of protected areas around the UK coast to conserve our populations of whales, dolphins and porpoises. WDCS is calling for comprehensive legislation to achieve better protection for whales, dolphins and porpoises and effective management of our seas. WDCS hopes the forthcoming Marine Bill will include legislation to provide for the designation of a representative network of Marine Protected Area".

Persimmon Homes fined £13,000 for beck pollution

Environment Agency 30 Jan 2007

A housing developer has been fined a total of £13,000 after the company was accused of polluting a West Yorkshire river.

Persimmon Homes (West Yorkshire), based in Fulford, York appeared before Calderdale magistrates on Friday, January 26 and admitted two charges of breaching its Consent to Discharge permit by polluting the River Ryburn. The company was ordered to pay £1820.48 court costs.

Officers were concerned that silt from the site could end up draining into the nearby River Ryburn and asked Persimmon Homes to take action to prevent this.

The company applied for a Consent to Discharge permit which regulated the amount of effluent from the site that could go into the watercourse.

However, in July 2005 the Environment Agency received a report of silt in the River Ryburn, and a sample showed that there was 48 times more suspended solids, such as silt particles, in the water than the amount allowed under Persimmon Homes’ permit.

In interview, the company explained that it had a number of holding tanks to prevent run-off from the site going directly into the river. But run-off had escaped when a stopper came loose during bad weather.

In the second incident in May 2006 an officer inspected the site and found more pollution had discharged into the river.

The court heard that although Persimmon Homes had the equipment to contain the discharge there was only limited checks to see if it was working properly.

In both incidents, the river’s wildlife was not visibly affected, but the pollution could have had a damaging impact.

After the court case an Environment Agency officer Dave Tempest said: “Persimmon Homes was warned of the risk of pollution to the river yet failed to take all the necessary precautions.

“Rivers in West Yorkshire are recovering from their industrial legacy and it is vital that businesses take responsibility for their actions and ensure that the environment is protected.”

New Stansted flight path to destroy ancient woodland

Woodland Trust 30 Jan 2007

Nearly 25 hectares (50 acres – 25 football pitches) of irreplaceable ancient woodland will be lost if BAA’s, while many more like the vast and historic 1,000-year-old Hatfield Forest face the spectre of degradation from pollution, if plans to build a second runway at Stansted come to fruition.

Less than two per cent of Britain is covered with ancient woodland, our richest habitat for wildlife. But if Stansted’s proposed expansions get the go ahead, three ancient woods will be razed to the ground destroying the habitats of a host of rare and threatened species like the dormouse, bluebell, oxlip, early purple orchid and glow worm.

Among woods directly threatened are:

Round Coppice is a 4.54-hectare ancient woodland would be cleared for parking. Contains Oxlip, dog’s mercury and bluebell abundant in the ground layer.

The Wilderness is a 4.76-hectare ancient woodland would be destroyed by an apron and cargo development.

Pigeon Wood is a 1.88-hectare ancient woodland would be destroyed by airfield development.

Priory Wood is a 7.16-hectare ancient woodland has a very rich flora. In 1938, Priory Wood was compulsorily purchased by the British Airports Authority to make way for airport roads. In the process, part of it was destroyed. Thousands of oxlips flower during April to May. Further destruction of this habitat should be prevented.

Indirectly affected  woodland sites include Eastend Wood, Hatfield Forest, Pledgdon Wood, High Wood and Runnels Hay.

UK Trees and Forests

POSTnote 275, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology 27 Jan 2007

Trees and forests can provide a range of benefits that are often complementary. Some of these benefits derive from green space in general, but forests may also offer unique opportunities. The social and environmental value of woodland and forest in Great Britain has been estimated to be worth up to £1 billion a year. This POSTnote explores the issues surrounding the sustainable management of existing and new forest in the UK.

Time is running out for irreplaceable ancient woodland in Northern Ireland

Woodland Trust 25 Jan 2007

Ancient woods are many times scarcer in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the UK, yet are still being lost at an alarming rate, according to the results of a four-year project carried out by the Woodland Trust.

The Woodland Trust launched the findings of ‘Back on the Map’; a project to research and record ancient and long-established woodland in Northern Ireland for the first time ever. Funded by Environment and Heritage Service and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project gives the first ever inventory of Northern Ireland’s woodland heritage.

The results of the project show that Only 0.73 per cent of Northern Ireland is still covered with woodland that was present on the First Edition Ordnance Survey maps of the 1830s and 40s. Of this, just over a tenth – equivalent to 0.08 per cent of Northern Ireland – can be shown with any certainty to be ancient i.e. to have existed continuously since 1600. By comparison, ancient woodland is thought to cover around 2 per cent of Britain. Of this tiny area of ancient woodland in Northern Ireland, nearly a third (33 per cent) has been replanted with conifers or a mixture of conifers and broadleaves.

Around 13 per cent of ancient and long-established woodland that survived to the 1960s has since been lost. A total of 273 ancient and long-established woods have been cleared altogether since that time. An estimated 60 per cent of this loss was to agriculture, 13 per cent to development, and 27 per cent to other causes. Of the ancient and long-established woodland areas that still remain, nearly two-thirds (63 per cent) are under 2 hectares in area, and less than one tenth are over 10 hectares in area.

The Woodland Trust is calling for:

  • Re-introduction of felling licences

  • Ancient woodland to be granted the same level of protection in the planning system as Areas of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserves

  • Restoration of all ancient woods that have been felled and replanted with coniferous or mixed woodland.

For further information visit

New pilots announced to push policy on flooding and coastal erosion

DEFRA Ref: 3/07 4 January 2007

The role that trees can play in cutting the risk of flooding is to be investigated in a new Defra funded study aimed at pushing the boundaries of policy on flooding and coastal erosion.

Other projects will consider the contribution farm land can make in reducing flood risk as well as how communities can better adapt to the pressures of coastal erosion.

Announcing the six pilots, Minister for Climate Change and Environment Ian Pearson said:

"The pilot projects I have announced today are testing out new and innovative approaches to deal with flooding and coastal erosion. These pilots will see whether we can push the boundaries of policy and test the potential of whether these innovative ideas can form part of our mainstream policy and delivery.”

The six pilot studies will consider:

  • Farming Floodplains for the Future (Staffordshire Washland Partnership) - will encourage economically and environmentally sustainable  land use in flood plains that addresses flood risk management through close working with the local Drainage Board.

  • A Collaborative Approach to Sustainable Coastal Land Management (National Farmers Union) - will encourage and assist land owners on the coast to make informed and sustainable management decisions.

  • Restoring Floodplain Woodland for Flood Alleviation (Forest Research) - will provide important information on the ability of flood plain forestry to contribute to flood alleviation.

  • Slapton Coastal Zone Adaptation Plan (South Hams District Council, on behalf of the Slapton Line Partnership) - will produce a plan in liaison with local communities for adapting in response to coastal erosion which will affect transport links, environmental and heritage assets and the local economy.

  • LiFE: Long-term Initiatives for Flood risk Environments  (Building Research Establishment and Barker And Coutts Architects) - will produce guidance on planning and designing sustainable housing and communities in flood plain areas.

  • Development of an Educational Tool for Sustainable Shoreline Management  (Halcrow Group Ltd) -  will help us communicate more effectively with stakeholders and improve understanding of some of the difficult long term issues to be addressed in achieving sustainable coastal management.

The pilots form part of the Government's Making Space for Water programme -  a cross-Government strategy, launched in 2005, which takes a long-term and sustainable approach to flood and coastal erosion risk management. Its aim is to manage risks through a range of approaches, which reflect national and local priorities, and which combine a reduction in the threat to people and their property with the delivery of the greatest environmental, social and economic benefit.

The pilots are funded from the Innovation Fund launched on 14 November 2005. £1.5m will be made available to fund the projects over the next three years. Further details can be found at:

Illegal persecution of red kites still a massive problem in Scotland

RSPB media release 2 Jan 2007

Illegal persecution of red kites is still having a devastating impact on the Scottish population, according to ongoing research by RSPB Scotland scientists.

Many land managers welcome red kites, but some involved with game management continue with indiscriminate and illegal abuse of agricultural pesticides by laying poison baits. Poisoning was one of the factors that led to the red kite becoming extinct as a breeding bird in Scotland nearly 150 years ago.

Preliminary analysis by RSPB Scotland researchers indicates that 38 per cent of the 395 Scottish birds that fledged between 1999 and 2003 were poisoned, and a further nine per cent were either shot or otherwise killed by man. RSPB Scotland believes that these are conservative estimates, as the corpses of birds deliberately killed are more likely to be hidden or disposed of than those that have died naturally, and the remains of some recovered birds are too decomposed for a conclusive post mortem. The overall background level of illegal activity in relation to red kites may also be indicative of what is happening to other bird of prey populations.

The results bring into sharp focus the scale of the problem throughout Scotland, with the source of this illegal persecution remaining largely attributable to upland areas of our country where game management takes place.

Poisoned baits, using agricultural pesticides, are left out in the open countryside to kill crows, birds of prey and any other species that are judged as a threat to grouse and other game birds even though the practice has been illegal since the early 1900s. Although red kites are rarely the intended victims, and most shooting estates agree that red kites are of no threat to game birds as they are largely scavengers, illegal poisoning is still having a devastating impact on both their numbers and their ability to expand their current range. Their carrion feeding habit makes them highly likely to find any poisoned meat left lying around.

Between 1996 and 2006 there have been 49 confirmed poisoning cases of red kites in Scotland. For all birds of prey, including red kite, peregrine, white tailed eagle, golden eagle, hen harrier, goshawk, sparrowhawk, buzzard and ravens, there have been 283 confirmed cases of poisoning over the same period.

Rhona Brankin MSP, the Deputy Environment Minister, said: ‘The continuing persecution of red kites in Scotland revealed in these figures is deplorable, irresponsible and criminal. This will not be tolerated and those responsible will be pursued to the full extent of the law.’