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Environment News Round-up: September 2022

Wind power

September’s news was of course dominated by the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 96. The Queen was a supporter of a number of animal and conservation charities including the RSPCA, the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust.

Elsewhere, Liz Truss became the new Prime Minister following her victory in the Tory leadership battle. Her announcement of plans to tackle the energy crisis, along with her new cabinet, immediately sparked fears among conservationists. As the month wore on, Truss’ new Chancellor’s mini budget led to a number of charities issuing unprecedented criticism of the party’s attack on environmental protections. Some important climate research was published this month, including confirmation that climate change had contributed to Pakistan’s recent floods, along with the results of a study into the cost of renewable energy sources.

Truss’ Energy Plans and Cabinet Spark Concerns

The Tory leadership battle concluded early in the month with Liz Truss’ confirmation as the new leader. Following her election, environmentalists were deeply concerned by her plans to tackle the energy crisis. As well as a commitment to issue new North Sea oil and gas extraction licences, the government has lifted a ban on fracking. This controversial method of extracting gas and oil from shale was banned in 2019 after public pressure. Campaigners say it can cause earthquakes, pollute water supplies and as a fossil fuel shouldn’t be a source for our energy needs.

Seabank Power Station
Gas-fired power stations, like Seabank near Bristol, will remain part of the government’s energy plans

Truss’ cabinet also caused concern due to its climate scepticism bent. Of particular concern was the appointment of Jacob Rees-Mogg as the new head of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department. Rees-Mogg fully supports increased fossil fuel extraction. He believes it to be a cheaper option than renewables despite evidence to the contrary; more on this in our research round-up below. He is also in favour of fracking and has spoken in the past about ‘climate alarmism’ leading to higher energy prices.

Environmental Charities Criticise Government Plans

New Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s September mini budget, combined with the government’s new Retained EU Law bill, resulted in the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the National Trust all issuing unprecedented statements criticising government plans. The mini budget included plans for new ‘investment zones’. These would see planning rules abolished in order to make development easier. As well as potentially removing requirements for affordable housing, environmental protections could be scrapped.

In the same week, the government introduced the Retained EU Law (Reform and Revocation Bill), This piece of legislation aims to make it easier for the government to revoke over 2,400 pieces of EU law that remain on the UK’s books following Brexit. The bill confirms Truss’ commitment to getting rid of the EU Habitats Directive (see last month’s news). Food and animal welfare standards are also at risk.

Grey partridge
Grey partridges, along with many other farmland birds, are in sharp decline and need farmers’ help

In addition, conservation bodies are worried that the government plans to scrap their post-Brexit environmental land management schemes (ELMs), set up to encourage farmers to help wildlife and create carbon sinks. Instead, farmers may be paid per acre of cultivated land, regardless of their stewardship. In the wake of the backlash resulting from both the mini budget and potential scrapping of ELMs, the government was forced to issue a statement reiterating their commitment to the environment.

Climate Research Published

As extreme weather events continued to affect multiple regions, including Japan, Puerto Rico and Alaska, there was confirmation from researchers that climate change contributed to the intensity of Pakistan’s recent devastating floods. A new study was also published this month that points to five climate tipping points that may already have been reached as a result of global heating caused by humans. These include permafrost melting, coral reef die-off and the collapse of Greenland’s ice sheet. (This year was the 26th year in a row in which Greenland lost ice overall.) Researchers identified a number of further tipping points that successive temperature rises above 1.5˚C would lead to. These would likely all have disastrous consequences for the planet and humanity.

Wind turbines
Decarbonising our energy supply by 2050 would save the world trillions

In more hopeful news, a team at Oxford University published a new study on the costs of switching to renewable energy sources. Contrary to statements from politicians such as Jacob Rees-Mogg (see the top story above), they found that due to the significant drop in costs over the last ten years, green energy is far from expensive and could save the world trillions if we achieve global decarbonisation by 2050. Not only would energy production be cleaner than continuing with fossil fuel, but it would also be cheaper, produce more energy and be more accessible to all nations.

Patagonia Owner Gives Company Away to Help Planet

The billionaire owner of outdoor brand Patagonia announced he was giving the company away to help fight the climate crisis. Former rock climber Yvon Chouinard said that all the company’s profits will now go towards fighting environmental destruction via the Holdfast Collective. The company has already donated $140 million to environmental causes since beginning its ‘1% for the Planet Scheme’ in the 1980s.

Bird Charities Mark Plover Appreciation Day

Mid-September saw the annual celebration of Plover Appreciation Day around the world. Begun by BirdLife Australia to raise awareness of the plight of the endangered hooded plover, the event has grown to celebrate all members of this family of waders. BirdLife International and a host of regional bird charities, including the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, used the day to raise awareness of the various threats this vulnerable group faces, including disturbance and habitat loss.

Golden plover
Golden plovers are one of six plovers seen regularly in the UK

The UK has six species of plover. Ringed plovers, golden plovers and lapwings are all resident but birds from breeding grounds further north join them in the winter. Little ringed plovers and the dotterel are summer visitors who move south after breeding. Grey plovers are Arctic breeders and are usually only seen here in the winter.

Wainwright Prize Winners Announced

The three category winners of the James Cropper Wainwright Prize for natural history writing were announced this month. Set up in 2013 to honour fell walker and writer Alfred Wainwright, the prize aims to celebrate writers who inspire people to enjoy the outdoors, as well as those who promote respect for nature.

Cameraman James Aldred won the Nature Writing category for his book Goshawk Summer which follows him as he spends a season filming goshawks in the New Forest. Dan Saladino won the Writing on Conservation Prize for his book Eating to Extinction. Saladino’s book explores food diversity and why it is important for health, food security and the environment. The final category, Children’s Writing on Nature and Conservation, was won by The Biggest Footprint by Rob and Tom Sears. This illustrated book aimed at younger readers aims to show the impact humans have on the planet and how we can make a difference.

Basking Shark Secrets Revealed

Finally, new research published by a group of marine biologists has shed light on a mysterious aspect of basking shark behaviour. Researchers from the Marine Biological Association and the Irish Basking Shark Group, along with others, studied underwater footage of circles of the sharks off the west of Ireland. Although the behaviour has been seen in the western Atlantic, it is only rarely seen in British and Irish waters, and it wasn’t clear exactly what was going on during the events. The research found it was reproductive behaviour, with the shark groups engaging in what scientists have dubbed ‘speed dating’ as they circle each other and assess multiple potential partners.

Basking shark
Basking shark courtship behaviour is finally being unravelled