Restoring the Wild Coast of King Canute

Britain looks to US for wolf breeding plan

Golden Eagle poisoned

Report published on the future of farming

Restoring the Wild Coast of King Canute

RSPB 30 September 2007

The RSPB is to harness rising sea levels to create one of Europe’s largest coastal wetlands and help wildlife adapt to climate change. Tidal waters flowing back and forth on land once claimed by King Canute, will turn three-quarters (1,800 acres) of Wallasea Island in south-east Essex into saltmarsh, creeks and mudflats creating a paradise for wildlife. The £12 million scheme, called the Wallasea Island Wild Coast Project, will be the RSPB’s most ambitious and costly in the UK and could lure several new species, including spoonbills, which have not nested successfully here for more than 400 years. Kentish plovers, absent for 50 years, and black-winged stilts, which have only bred in Britain three times, are among birds also expected to thrive on the new reserve. Otters, saltwater fish and specialist saltwater plants could also flourish.

Graham Wynne, Chief Executive of the RSPB, said: “Wallasea will become a wonderful coastal wetland full of wildlife in a unique and special landscape. It will be a supermarket for birds, create nursery grounds for fish and be a true wilderness that people can visit, savour and enjoy... We will be restoring habitats that were lost more than 400 years ago and preparing the land for sea level rise. This is land that was borrowed from the sea that now the sea is re-claiming. Our project will make a major contribution to efforts to help wildlife adapt to the serious impacts of climate change.”

Wallasea Island, which is eight miles north of Southend-on-Sea, was a wildlife haven 500 years ago, before being reclaimed for farming. Its saltmarshes - natural sea defences storing water and absorbing the power of the tides – were destroyed and its wildlife disappeared. The RSPB project will restore the island’s wetlands creating the largest ‘tidal-exchange’ scheme in the UK. Tidal controls built into existing earth sea walls will regulate the flow of seawater on and off the island. Wallasea is currently farmed by Wallasea Farms Ltd and is being bought from a private trust that has owned the island for 50 years. Work is due to start in two years’ time once planning permission and other consents are won, and funds raised.

Project Manager Mark Dixon said: “We will have a landscape of marshes, islands, lagoons and creeks little more than 20 inches deep at high tide. Wallasea is one island now but was once five separate pieces of land. We will restore these ancient divisions and each new island will have its own tidal control... Many birds will starve if we don’t restore Wallasea. Fish are under incredible pressure too, not just because of overfishing but because of the loss of their saltmarsh nurseries as well. Wallasea is only ten miles from London and once the work is done, it will be a breathing space for those living there now and for their children in the future.”

Wetland restoration began on Wallasea last year when Defra breached sea walls on the 280-acre northern edge of the island. That land is now managed by the RSPB and will lie adjacent to the Society’s new project, increasing by six-fold the area of wetland on Wallasea. Joan Ruddock, Minister for Climate Change and Biodiversity, said: “Our coastal habitats are internationally important for wildlife but now face the new threat of climate change and faster sea level rise. We need to plan and manage our coast to adapt to this change not only to benefit wildlife but also to make sure people can continue to visit the wild coast to enjoy its dynamic wildlife, fresh air and solitude.”

Paul Woodcock, Anglian Region Director for the Environment Agency, said: “The Environment Agency is pleased to be working with the RSPB as it develops this exciting wetland creation project. Such initiative will help our estuaries and coastlines adapt to climate change and sea level rise for the benefit of people and wildlife.” Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “Our plans for Wallasea reflect the very great difficulties climate change will cause but also the RSPB’s determination to find ways of combating them. We will be providing new sites into which wildlife can move when sea level rise swallows up their existing habitats. We are setting an example for governments to follow. Now it is vital that they do so.”

Britain looks to US for wolf breeding plan

The Observer 30 September 2007

Ten years ago wildlife experts released 31 wolves into the wild in America's Yellowstone National Park. From that small beginning, hundreds of grey wolves in packs now roam the vast park and beyond in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, and have changed the ecology of the region. This weekend experts in Britain will meet to discuss whether wolf reintroduction schemes could be used as a model to change this country's landscape. The conference comes as a scheme to create a vast, fenced Highland safari park with roaming wolves in Scotland has just got the go-ahead from planners. Support for going a step further and having wild wolves in Britain after centuries of extinction is also growing, though there is still opposition from farmers, walking groups and some conservationists.

'It's an extremely interesting time in Britain,' said Neil Hutt, a director of the International Wolf Centre in the US, who has flown over to speak to the conference. 'We [humans] have the power to destroy wolves or accept them and have them in the landscape. What are we going to do with that power?'

Wolves once roamed freely across much of Europe, but with the advent of settled farming their forest homes were cleared and they became the enemy of livestock. By the mid-1500s wolves had been hunted to extinction in England and Wales, and two centuries later there were none left in Scotland either. But as awareness of Britain's lost ecological heritage has increased, along with concern about the explosion of wild deer and their voracious appetite for plants and trees, there has been growing support for wolves to be brought back. Ten years ago, for the first time in centuries in Britain, the UK Wolf Conservation Society successfully bred the first European grey wolves - the original forest-dwelling indigenous sub-species. Earlier this year a report for the Royal Society backed the idea that such wolves should be let into the wild.

This weekend the Wolf Conservation Society has organised its annual conference at Ufton Court in Berkshire around the theme of wild reintroduction, an idea it supports in principle, though co-director Tsa Palmer believes Britain might be too crowded to succeed. As well as hopes that the wolves would hunt wild deer, support comes from those interested in recreating the long-lost forested landscapes of ancient Britain, where wolves lived with bear, elk and other extinct or rare species. In Yellowstone, the reintroduction of wolves has been linked to declines in their favoured prey of elks and coyotes. Pronghorn fawn, which are hunted by the coyote, and willow and aspen eaten by the elk have thrived, and the burgeoning vegetation has helped birds and insects prosper too. The wolves have also brought in millions of dollars a year in tourist spending. Such changes could be felt in Britain, but only if more work is done to reintroduce other extinct species and replant trees in areas of Scotland where reintroductions are most likely, said Richard Morley, a co-director of the Wolves and Humans Foundation. 'It would help, but we have got to acknowledge Scotland has a very degraded environment,' he said. The supporters of wild wolf reintroductions acknowledge there is still strong opposition, especially from farmers who are worried about livestock, and walking groups who fear the wolves could be a danger to people - although most experts agree humans should be safe.

Scottish Natural Heritage's policy director, Professor Colin Galbraith, also warns there might not be sufficient forest habitat for wild wolves. These were 'legitimate concerns' and so the only way wolves could be reintroduced was to persuade people it was safe for them and their animals, said Hutt. 'We have to learn conflict resolution,' she said. 'The animals will do fine if we give them a place to live, and we can sit down and talk to each other about how best to manage them and alter to their needs.'

The Guardian

Golden Eagle poisoned

The Scotsman 26 September 2007

Last month, a bird from the only breeding pair of golden eagles was found dead in the region after ingesting the banned substance carbofuran. While no-one has been charged, police suspect gamekeepers anxious to protect the dwindling number of grouse from the talons of eagles and other raptors.

The Scotsman

Report published on the future of farming

11 September 2007

A major independent report on the future of farming in Wales up to the year 2020 has been published today and presented to the Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones. The Report was presented by William Legge-Bourke, chair of the Sustainable Farming and Environment: Action Towards 2020 Group. This independent group was established in April 2006 to inform the Welsh Assembly Government on longer-term options for supporting the sustainability of farming and the countryside. The Report sets out a radical vision with an emphasis on three main priorities: 1) Farming connecting to the market; 2) Farming delivering environmental goods and services; and 3) Farming contributing to the sustainability of rural communities

The Report stresses the importance of farmers collaborating, and that farmers should be given professional training to successfully manage co-operatives. The report also focuses on how farmers can respond to the challenge of climate change and that the agriculture industry must work towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2020. Elin Jones said: “The Group has produced a major piece of work that will be influential in shaping the Welsh Assembly Government’s longer term strategy for farming and the countryside... The Report sets out 67 recommendations to the Welsh Assembly Government and our partners across Wales aimed specifically at delivering the comprehensive vision set out in the Report... Since "Farming for the Future" was published in November 2001 as the first strategic policy document for Welsh agriculture, much has changed. I am clear that it is necessary to revisit the strategic direction set out in “Farming for the Future” and the detailed actions that underpin it. That process will be informed by the 2020 Report... The new strategy will aim to face up to the challenges of the future, and there will be extensive consultation as it is taken forward. I will study the Group’s report and its recommendations in detail as part of this work. In the meantime I would like to thank the members of the Group once again for their sterling work which I know will make a significant contribution to the debate on the future of farming and the environment in Wales towards 2020.”