PROJECTS AND RESEARCH
REPORTS FROM EVENTS
ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS HIGHLIGHTS
The Environmental Audit Committee is launching an inquiry into water quality in rivers. The EAC has previously inquired into nitrate pollution so this inquiry intends to focus on the water industry and urban diffuse pollution.
Untreated sewage is discharged directly into rivers across England and Wales from nearly 18,000 sewer overflows. Sewage is estimated to account for 55% of the rivers that are failing to reach good ecological status. This can lead to pollutants such as organic material that depletes the dissolved oxygen in the water, and other pollutants such as phosphorus, nitrates, ammonia, pathogens, and manmade toxic chemicals entering the water environment.
Urban runoff is a significant contributor to the overall pollution load suffered by watercourses. Pollution from highways can contain high levels of pollutants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons which are persistent and carcinogenic. Unlike sewage works’ discharges, highways outfalls are not permitted and not monitored. This type of pollution can be prevented with the use of nature-based solutions and sustainable drainage systems, which also contribute to the urban realm and increase biodiversity.
The Committee is inviting written submissions on a number of issues, including:
Written evidence should be submitted through the Committee’s web portal by 11.59pm on Friday 5 February 2021. We encourage members of under-represented groups to submit written evidence.
Read more here
The Challenges and Choices response document is due to be published by the end of January 2021.
From the consultation area of the Environment Agency website: Published responses – only answers from respondents who gave permission are published. However, all responses are included in the analysis of this consultation.
Defra received 1,073 individual responses to this consultation. 998 supported the proposal and 75 were opposed.
Following consideration of these responses, the area of the River Wharfe in Ilkley that was the subject of the application will be added to the list of bathing waters before the beginning of the 2021 bathing season.
Read more here
Water UK represents all water companies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This updated briefing note outlines Water UK’s position on the Environment Bill at Report Stage in the Commons, and how lawmakers can improve the legislation.
UK Water state: While we welcome the ambition and much within the Bill, there are areas we believe can be enhanced. There are four areas specifically related to water in which the legislation could be improved:
Access Water UK’s document here
From CaBA (the Catchment Based Approach initiative): A new chalk stream restoration group has been set up to bring together organisations with an interest in chalk stream management. Members include government (Defra), regulators (the Environment Agency, Ofwat and Natural England), water companies, and environmental NGOs including WWF, the Rivers Trust, the Angling Trust, Salmon and Trout Conservation, and the Wild Trout Trust.
The first task of the group is to develop a chalk streams restoration plan. The first meeting was held on 10th December 2020 and focussed on water resources and low flows. The discussion concentrated on the history of abstraction, and the various laws and policies that have been developed to address low flows, including recent sustainability reductions. The group examined the relationship between environmental flow targets and groundwater abstraction, with the NGOs proposing a validation assessment of sustainable abstraction as a percentage of the annual recharge of the chalk stream catchment, including an abstraction audit of all English chalk streams. Proposals to imaginatively and ambitiously address the need to re-naturalise flows and achieve sustainable abstraction included the Chalk Streams First concept of moving abstraction from the chalk headwaters in the Chilterns to surface water abstraction at the downstream ends of the Colne and Lee catchments.
Future meetings will include water quality and habitat restoration. The group will draft a plan for wide consultation with stakeholder groups, which they will publicise through the CaBA newsletter.
Find out more here
A joint industry-government group established last year to tackle river pollution has agreed a new objective to prevent damage from storm overflows.
The Storm Overflows Taskforce – made up of Defra, the Environment Agency, Ofwat, Consumer Council for Water, Blueprint for Water and Water UK – has agreed to set a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows. Following recommendations from the Taskforce, water companies will also increase transparency around when and how storm overflows are used. Storm overflows were designed to be used during extreme weather to prevent sewers becoming overloaded with a combination of sewage and rainwater, releasing diluted wastewater into rivers rather than letting it back up into people’s homes. However, climate change has led to increased rainfall, and water infrastructure has not kept pace with development growth over decades.
Water companies have agreed to make real-time data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round, meaning surfers, swimmers and other water users can check the latest information – especially after heavy rainfall. Water companies will also accelerate work to install monitoring devices to create a complete picture of their activity by 2023.
Read more here
The ban on supplying plastic straws and stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds has come into force in England, marking yet another major step in the fight against single-use plastic waste to protect our environment and clean up our oceans.
It is estimated we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers, and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds in England every year, many of which find their way into our ocean. By banning the supply of these items, we can further protect our marine wildlife and move one step closer to the ambition of eliminating all avoidable plastic waste, as set out in Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan. While making this important step to help the environment, disabled people and those with medical conditions will also be protected, and will be able to request a plastic straw when visiting a pub or restaurant and purchase them from pharmacies.
It is estimated that between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean globally every year, which has produced many scenes of marine wildlife being injured or killed by plastic waste. The UK is leading on a wide programme of overseas engagements, including through the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance and the Commonwealth Litter Programme, aiming to prevent plastic waste from reaching the ocean in the first place. The government is also committed to launching a £500 million Blue Planet Fund to protect the ocean from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing.
The fleeting sight of a kingfisher flitting across the water has become more common in London over the last two decades thanks to ongoing efforts to rewild the city’s waterways. That’s according to a report by the Catchment Partnerships in London Group (CPiL), which manages the city’s rivers. It found that sightings have increased by 450 per cent since 2000, compared to the 20 years before.
Two inner-city boroughs that have seen significant river restoration projects – Lewisham and Tower Hamlets. Both showed large increases in kingfisher sightings. Lewisham recorded just 27 sightings of the birds between 1980 and 2000, but reported 209 in the following two decades. Tower Hamlets, meanwhile, logged 11 kingfisher sightings pre-2000, but 130 since.
London has approximately 400 miles of riverways, three-quarters of which are encased below ground in concrete and metal tubes. Since 2000, more than 20 miles have been restored. CPiL wants to see the pace increase to three miles per year in order to meet the target of a third of London’s rivers restored by 2050.
Read more here
The government’s landmark legislation to transform our environment returned to Parliament in November after a pause due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The article on gov.uk continues: The Environment Bill sets out a comprehensive and world-leading vision to allow our environment to prosper for future generations and ensure that we maintain and enhance our environmental protections. A key vehicle for delivering the bold vision set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Bill will enhance wildlife, tackle air pollution, transform how we manage our resources and waste, and improve the resilience of water supplies in a changing climate to ensure we protect and restore the natural environment.
Legally binding targets will be introduced for air quality, nature, water and resource and waste efficiency, and a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will be created to hold government and public bodies to account for their environmental credentials. The Office’s enforcement powers will cover all climate change legislation and hold the government to account on its commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050. By also championing nature-based solutions, the Bill demonstrates our commitment to tackle climate change.
Ahead of the Environment Bill’s return, a number of amendments have been tabled by the Government for consideration. These clarify how the OEP should exercise its enforcement powers so as to leave no doubt about its thresholds for action, and to protect its confidence and ability to focus on the most serious cases whilst maintaining its crucial independence. Other amendments would enable the creation of Species Conservation Strategies and Protected Site Strategies to deal with the complex challenge of protecting and restoring species and habitats at risk, while also enabling much needed development.
Read more here
After enshrining its 2050 net-zero target in law last year, the UK Government is developing similar legally binding targets for biodiversity, air quality, water and waste. In an update to the Environment Bill, in August Defra confirmed that it is developing time-bound, numerical targets aimed at tackling an array of environmental issues.
At least one ‘strong and meaningful target will be introduced for each of the four priority areas for the Bill: biodiversity, air quality, water and waste. All targets will be deadlined for the mid-to-late 2030s and will be backed up with interim targets that will not be legally binding, to help spur early progress.
The goals should be set in statute by the end of October 2022 at the latest, the Defra documents state. The Department has promised to use a ‘robust, evidence-led’ process for developing and implementing the new targets, such as was used for the UK’s updated Climate Change Act. According to Defra’s documents, the UK’s post-Brexit watchdog for green issues, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will report annually on progress against the new targets. Recruitment for the OEP’s inaugural chair began last week, meaning that the OEP is likely to be created in early 2021, subject to the Environment Bill receiving royal assent.
The Environment Bill, in its current form, was first introduced in October 2019. It was reintroduced in January 2020, then updated at a second reading in February, but its process has been shelved since then as Ministers grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government has long faced criticism over its approach to environmental issues. Beyond the swathe of climate activism which, coupled with new scientific research, laid the basis for the 2050 net-zero target, Ministers have repeatedly faced direct action over air quality and biodiversity in the UK.
Read more here
Existing EU environmental laws will continue to operate in UK law. The following will also continue:
From 1 January 2021, current legislation will be changed to:
On 18 July 2018, the government announced it will bring forward the first Environment Bill in more than 20 years. The Bill will apply to England and reserved environmental matters for which the UK government has responsibility.
From 1 January 2021, the UK government will establish a new, independent statutory body – The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). The OEP will oversee compliance with environmental law and will be able to bring legal proceedings against government and public authorities if necessary. The OEP will also scrutinise and advise government. Environmental principles will guide future government policy.
The UK government will introduce interim measures before the OEP is set up. These interim arrangements will continue until the OEP becomes fully operational.
(Information from the CMS (Communications & Management for Sustainability) website via this link: http://www.cmscoms.com/?p=22176
Salmon that escaped from a fish farm near Campbeltown during Storm Ellen have now been found in three rivers in Cumbria in England. Almost 50,000 fish escaped when cages at the North Carradale farm broke free from their anchors in August. Many have been found in local waters but now six have been discovered 150 miles away.
The fish were caught on the River Ehen, the Border Esk and on the Cumbrian Derwent river. More of the fish are suspected to be in other rivers in the area. This has been a massive change in the ecological balance of a marine ecosystem and the full impacts of it are only just starting to play out. The escapes have more than trebled the number of salmon in the seas around the west coast, all competing for the same food as a wild species already experiencing significant decline. Many have already been caught on local rivers but for six to be caught in Cumbria – more than 150 miles away – suggests this is not just a problem confined to Argyll. Scientists are working to establish the full impact but it may not be truly known for some time.
The government has announced the expansion of a protected area in the Isles of Scilly, home to some of our rarest seabirds such as the Manx shearwater and storm petrel. This decision is based on extensive work by Natural England with a comprehensive package of over 4 years of scientific advice and research on the new boundaries and a public consultation which took place in early spring 2019.
The Isles of Scilly supports a greater diversity of seabirds than any other site in England, with internationally important populations of European storm petrel and lesser black-backed gull. The expansion will see the site boosted by approximately 12,930 hectares and benefit 15,000 seabirds. It is one of only two protected sites in England where Manx shearwater and European storm petrel breed, and is also home to the largest population of great black-backed gulls in the UK.
Read more here
The results from this year’s Great British Beach Clean show a concerning, but perhaps predictable, presence of PPE litter. Face masks and gloves were found on almost 30% of beaches cleaned by our volunteers. The Source to Sea Litter Quest data shows a similarly worrying presence of masks and gloves, with more than two thirds (69%) of litter picks finding PPE items.
In addition to the sharp jump in face masks and gloves, drinks containers continue to pollute UK beaches. An average of 30 drinks containers were found per 100m of beach surveyed this year. Inland, almost all litter picks (99%) found drinks containers. This continued blight to our environment illustrates the urgent need for governments to follow Scotland’s lead and introduce an all-inclusive Deposit Return Scheme.
A recent survey of the Arctic Charr has found an increase in the population in Ennerdale Water in Cumbria. The Ennerdale Arctic Charr Restoration project, led by the Environment Agency with money from fishing licences and delivered in partnership with the Forestry Commission and Wild Ennerdale, was set up to boost numbers of the iconic Ice Age relic species in Ennerdale Water.
The species was on the brink of extinction and the fish found in Ennerdale are thought to be the last spawning in an English river. During November, the spawning season, the Environment Agency monitors the unique fish as they migrate into nearby river tributaries. This year’s survey has shown that Charr numbers have increased significantly and the project is now in the monitoring phase.
Read more here
In September, the Chief Executive of the Environment Agency said that universal access to a healthy natural environment could save the NHS billions of pounds a year in treatment costs if everyone in England had access to good quality green space.
James Bevan highlighted evidence which shows the physical and mental health benefits of good environment and explained the steps the Environment Agency is taking to protect and enhance our precious green and blue spaces, while adapting to the threat of a changing climate.
The speech coincided with the publication of the Environment Agency’s report The State of the Environment: health, people and the environment, which shows the green inequality in society.
In its new five year plan, EA2025, the Environment Agency has already laid out plans for a new approach which promotes health, equity and environmental enhancement, with the coronavirus pandemic presenting an opportunity to reshape a better future. It can help society better understand the largest public health threat of the century: climate change. The plan also highlights a renewed focus on improving the health of air, land and water for people and nature – and ensuring green growth for a sustainable future.
Read more here
Our seas have a great variety of marine life and habitats, many of which are rare and of national importance. Marine protected areas (MPAs) help make sure that these are guarded from the increasing pressures of human activity. There are over 250 MPAs in English waters. These include European marine sites (EMS) and marine conservation zones (MCZ).
European marine sites (EMS) are protected under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 and the Conservation of Offshore Habitats and Species Regulations 2017. There are currently over 200 EMSs. They include:
MCZs protect species and habitats of national importance and are designated under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. There are currently 91 designated MCZs. To view all English MPAs visit Defra’s Marine Information System.
Managing commercial fishing activity in marine protected areas
The impact of any licensable activity or development in or near an MPA is looked at as part of the marine licensing process. However, fishing activity is not part of this process.
Fishing activity in an MPA is managed and monitored through a separate process, which includes six main steps:
Read more here
From the summary report:
More than a third of UK seas are Marine Protected Areas (over 300,000 km2). Like nature reserves and national parks on land, these areas have been set up to protect at-risk species and habitats. While, on paper, these areas are protected, many continue to be exploited and destroyed. Just 5% of the UK’s Marine Protected Areas ban bottom trawling, a method of fishing that can damage the seabed, kill animals and plants and release carbon stored in the seabed. This report, a result of research and analysis conducted by scientists at the Marine Conservation Society, provides an insight into the pressures faced by the UK’s seabed and charts a way forward.
Read Defra’s response here
From Waterwise: A key part of the new Environment Bill is the commitment by the government to set long-term, legally-binding environmental targets. The government had previously committed in the 25 Year Environment Plan to publish a target to reduce domestic water use in England. Following interventions from water companies, Waterwise and eNGOs they propose broadening this out so that the Environment Bill target would potentially also include non-household business demand and leakage, more closely reflecting the total amount of water taken out of the environment by water companies. Work will now focus on agreeing the actual target levels with a public consultation on them in early 2022.
The invasive non-native species has recently been found in the River Trent near Newton-on-Trent, Lincolnshire, as well as in Rutland Water. People using the river or reservoir are now being urged to follow ‘check, clean, dry’ procedures to try to prevent the spread.
The Environment Agency has increased its monitoring across the region’s rivers to establish the extent of the problem and is working with Anglian Water and the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat to agree an appropriate bio-security response. While quagga mussels do not pose any immediate direct threat to water quality, animals or people, they do spread rapidly and can block pipes and water-based assets resulting in significant future maintenance costs.
Quagga mussels were first recorded in the UK in 2014 and have previously been found in the Thames catchment. It is not known how they arrived in the Trent or Rutland Water.
New sites are to offer protection for iconic species. Minke whale, basking sharks and Risso’s dolphins will be among a wide range of biodiversity and geological features to be safeguarded following the designation of four new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
A further 12 sites have been given Special Protection Area status, providing additional protection to Scotland’s vulnerable marine birds including sea ducks, divers, grebes and iconic seabirds.
A total of 230 sites are now subject to marine protection measures, covering around 227,622 square kilometres (37% of Scotland’s seas).
The West of Scotland MPA, Europe’s largest Marine Protected Area, was designated in September and is regarded by the Convention on Biological Diversity as ‘internationally significant’.
Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020 (SMA2020) portal reports on the vision for the seas: ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive, biologically diverse marine and coastal environments, managed to meet the long-term needs of nature and people’.
Scotland’s seas, an area within the Exclusive Economic Zone covering approximately 462,000 km2 have economic activity worth £5.1 billion (Gross Value Added) to the Scottish economy excluding oil and gas extraction and £14.7 billion including oil and gas.
By delivering an assessment of both the state of Scotland’s seas and of the main activities and pressures in the various Scottish Marine Regions and Offshore Marine Regions, SMA2020 fulfils the requirement of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 which requires that, prior to reviewing the National Marine Plan, an assessment of the state of Scotland’s seas is undertaken. SMA2020 presents, where possible, trends for the period 2014 to 2018 with longer term data presented where this sets the 2014 to 2018 period in a longer term context.
The SMA2020 portal is structured around the vision for the seas. In all there are 183 components to SMA2020.
Explore more here: http://marine.gov.scot/sma/
Also of interest, this blog from ‘Save Scottish Seas’
This Marine Policy Statement (MPS) is the framework for preparing Marine Plans and taking decisions affecting the marine environment. The Statement will contribute to the achievement of sustainable development in the United Kingdom marine area.
It has been prepared and adopted for the purposes of section 44 of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009. The Guidance to the UK Marine Policy Statement from 1 January 2020 explains how references to EU law in the UK MPS should be interpreted from 1 January 2021 following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
The government has set out its commitment to international marine and fisheries science by signing an agreement which will ensure continued partnership with the International Council of the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
ICES is a network of nearly 6,000 scientists from over 700 marine institutes in 20 member countries. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) came into effect on 1 January and sets out how the UK will work with ICES as an independent coastal State. It outlines how UK scientists will contribute to ICES and the advice ICES will provide to the UK on conservation, protection, the sustainable use of the marine environment and sustainable fisheries. The partnership will assist the UK in meeting its international and domestic commitments to achieving a sustainable marine environment, support vital ecosystems and improve fish stocks which will in turn also benefit our aquaculture and fishing industries.
Read more here
The Canal & Rivers Trust are working on an exciting conservation and engagement project to open up Britain’s longest river, for both the rare fish that depend on it and communities who live alongside it. Hundreds of thousands of twaite shad used to migrate up the River Severn each year to reach their natural spawning grounds. But weirs installed in the mid-19th century blocked the shad’s route and the population in the Severn crashed. Today they are one of the UK’s rarest fish.
This ‘Unlocking the Severn’ project will create fish passes at six barriers on the Severn and its River Teme tributary. Fish passes provide fish with a route around an obstacle on the river, such as a weir. One example is a ‘deep vertical slot fish pass’. This is a series of ascending pools running along the bank next to the weir. It allows the shad to swim up above the weir in small, manageable steps.
In total the work will restore 158 miles of river habitat. As well as helping the shad, this will allow free passage for other important and endangered migratory fish species, such as salmon and eel.
See the first installed and opened fish pass:
Read more here
From the Environment Agency chair: Last year’s report made clear that performance was unacceptable across the sector, this report shows performance deteriorated for the second year in a row. This comes soon after England’s shocking water classification results showed just 16% of water bodies meet the criteria for Good Ecological Status against the 25 Year Environment Plan’s target of 75%.
The sector as a whole has now moved further away from the performance expectations for 2015 to 2020 the Environment Agency set out in 2013; 4 out of the 9 water companies are now rated as poor or requiring improvement, the worst result since 2011. South West Water has never got above a 2 star rating and the number of serious pollution incidents continued to plateau, although this was not geographically uniform: over half were due to Anglian Water and Thames Water.
Read more here
Thames Water and three other water companies have vowed to invest millions of pounds to protect the country’s chalk streams by reducing the amount of water they abstract from them for public drinking supply and cutting pollution.
The pledge was made at an online Chalk Stream Summit organised by the Chalk Rivers Action Group (CRAG) and attended by water minister, Rebecca Pow, along with representatives from several environmental groups plus senior leaders from Thames Water, Anglian Water, Affinity Water and Southern Water.
At the summit each water company laid out its plans to stop the decline of English chalk streams and reverse the decline so their flows, health and ecological status recover and are protected in the future. This included stopping sewage discharges into chalk streams from sewers and treatment sites, which are currently permitted during and following heavy rain to alleviate pressure on the system, and reducing or stopping the abstraction of water from vulnerable chalk streams.
Attendees also heard how cross water company and regional level planning will help ensure demand for water from households, businesses, industry and agriculture can be met in the future without such reliance on chalk streams through the development of new sources of water, increased storage such as new reservoirs, and reducing demand through consumer education and metering.
There are only 200 chalk streams known globally, 85% of which are found in the UK in southern and eastern England. While some chalk streams, notably the Kennet, Lambourne, Test and Itchen, benefit from formal designations under the EU Habitats Directive, many, such as the Chess in the Chilterns, do not.
Read more here
Ofwat has established a £200 million Innovation Fund to grow the water sector’s capacity to innovate, enabling it to better meet the evolving needs of customers, society and the environment. From 2021 Ofwat will be running at least two rounds of the following competitions that water companies, in partnership with others, can enter with their innovations:
Ofwat expect different rounds of the competitions to run until 2025, but their goal is that the Innovation Fund’s impact will continue well beyond this.
The management of our coastal waters plays an important role in protecting and conserving our marine ecosystems. The Marine Conservation Team at the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) are responsible for the implementation of management in certain marine protected areas (MPA) in English waters.
The team will be writing a series of blog posts explaining what and how they manage these MPAs, starting at the beginning, with what is an MPA? In the upcoming posts they will look into what the MMO does to protect some of these sites, by putting in management. They will look at how they decide which sites need management and highlight some management they have in place already. They will also focus on how they work with other stakeholders who are also responsible for managing the seas around the England.
What is an MPA?
A marine protected area is a collective term used to describe a protected area with a marine component. This term is used frequently and covers a variety of sites such as European marine sites (EMS), marine conservation zones (MCZ), special areas of conservation (SAC), special protection areas (SPA) and Ramsar sites.
Read more here
30 countries have now joined the Global Ocean Alliance championing an international commitment for a minimum 30% of the global ocean to be protected through Marine Protected Areas by 2030.
The UK’s global leadership on ocean protection has seen it on track to establish a ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protected areas spanning 4 million square kilometres across its Overseas Territories and a £500 million Blue Planet Fund, to be launched next year, that will protect marine resources from key human-generated impacts, including climate change, plastic pollution, overfishing and habitat loss.
The Global Ocean Alliance has grown from 10 to 30 members in just 12 months, and the countries alongside the UK which have committed to trebling existing targets, are: Belize, Belgium, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Finland, Fiji, Gabon, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Kenya, Luxembourg, Maldives, Monaco, Nigeria, Palau, Portugal, Seychelles, Senegal, St Kitts, Sweden, Spain, United Arab Emirates and Vanuatu.
Read more here
MV Wakashio, a 299m bulk carrier, grounded in July 2020 on the outer reef about 1.5 nautical miles off the south east coast of Mauritius. Over the time of the ship breaking up, 3,000 tons of fuel oil were removed from the carrier. Unfortunately, complete removal was not possible due to the location of the vessel and weather logistics. In August, the hull of the grounded vessel began to break apart, and low sulphur fuel oil was released into the surrounding marine environment. Mitigation and clean up began immediately, with several booms deployed to stop movement on oil.
The integrated post-spill monitoring framework will help to understand the ongoing impact of the oils spill. The international response working alongside Mauritius agencies has been able to determine the footprint of the impacted areas and types of habitats affected. The monitoring will consider the fate and recovery of those impacted ecosystems and identify the area of risk, both in terms of location and time. Ongoing monitoring will be carried out via the Mauritius agencies and the information will be used to regularly assess how the recovery is tracking.
Read more here
Excerpt from the blog from the Marine Management Organisation:
At a time when the news continues to be filled with stories of habitat destruction, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a rare example of an ecosystem in recovery. The UK Blue Belt Programme has supported this recovery over the past 4 years, and it builds on a strong foundation of research and monitoring in the Territory that dates back to the Discovery Expeditions of the 1920s and beyond.
In 2017/18 the first five-year independent review of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Island’s Marine Protected Area was supported by Blue Belt. The review panel concluded that the objectives of the MPA were being met, but after considering over 200 relevant peer reviewed papers also recommended a number of enhancements. These were subsequently implemented by the government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands to further safeguard biodiversity in the marine environment, and included extending the no-take zones where all fishing is prohibited to over 280,000 km2 including areas of highly biodiverse seamounts and the deepest trench in the Southern Ocean.
The UK Overseas Territories are all at different stages in the development of their marine management and whilst Tristan da Cunha has recently declared its Marine Protection Zone, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands’ Marine Protected Area was designated back in 2012. This means we have a wealth of experience to share – not only the aspects that have worked well and the best practices we have developed with our stakeholders, but also areas where we might have done things differently if we had our time again.
Read more of the blog here
The UK government’s Blue Belt programme supports the UK Overseas Territories with the protection and sustainable management of their marine environments.
The Blue Belt programme supports the UK Overseas Territories to put in place long-term protection. Supported by the delivery bodies, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, and Marine Management Organisation, the programme is on track to put in place protection and sustainable management measures for over 4 million square kilometres of oceans around the Overseas Territories.
The programme was supported by nearly £20 million CSSF funding from 2016 to 2020; and has been extended to 2021 with additional funding of £7 million. The programme supports the Overseas Territories to:
Access more information and many related documents here
And read the Blue Belt programme highlights 2016ﾖ2020
The Tristan da Cunha MPZ is the fourth largest fully-protected marine reserve on the planet, and the biggest in the Atlantic.
Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most profound challenges facing humankind, as current medicines become less effective or do not work at all against some disease-causing microbes. Antibiotics are widely used in animal production in some parts of the world, including agriculture and aquaculture, so their reduced effectiveness is also a significant risk to providing enough food for the growing global population.
AMR occurs in microbial pathogens, including bacteria, when they change and no longer respond to medicines such as antibiotics, making diseases in animals and humans harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease and death. Overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics drives the increased development of resistance.
The UK is committed to tackling the threat of AMR nationally, through its national action plan on AMR, and internationally, through a diversity of initiatives and leadership roles as outlined in its 20 year vision for AMR.
Read more here: https://marinescience.blog.gov.uk/2020/11/20/1418/
PROJECTS & RESEARCH
DNA-based methods offer a significant opportunity to change how we monitor and assess biodiversity. These techniques may provide cheaper alternatives to existing species monitoring or an ability to detect species that we cannot currently detect reliably.
However, for most species, there is still much development required before they can be used in routine monitoring.
Natural England has been exploring the further use of these methods for environmental monitoring for several years, delivering a series of reports which focus on the development of DNA-based methods with potential in a particular area.
This report presents the development of a technique using eDNA collected by a large-volume marine eDNA sampler deployed on the seabed to detect inshore fish communities. It builds on previous work to explore the special and temporal variation required to detect changes in fish communities, and the use of haplotypes as a promising new technique for assessing the diversity of breeding fish populations.
Access the report here
Marine fisheries provide a major source of food and livelihood for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. However, many fish stocks are being overfished, with major cascading impacts on marine biodiversity. Identifying effective strategies for fishery management is, therefore, a matter of urgency. To assess stock status and sustainability, this study models three ecologically and economically important coastal fish species inside and outside Mediterranean marine protected areas (MPAs).
Read more here
Highways England has launched a study into whether surface water which runs off roads affects the level of microplastics in the environment. Initial research has just been published, identifying what evidence exists and to determine what further research needs doing. The academic desk-top findings have also secured funding to investigate the issue further through ‘on road’ investigations.
Read more here
Researchers at the University of Strathclyde have won early-stage funding to develop plans to tap into the geothermal energy contained within disused, flooded coal mines in Scotland.
The HotScot project is one of 17 shortlisted submissions across the UK chosen by the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Strength in Places Fund to develop a full-stage bid that could lead to significant economic growth. The consortium behind the project will submit their bid to UKRI in late 2020, with four to eight of the strongest bids set to receive between £10m and £50m each to carry out their proposals.
If successful, the HotScot consortium will develop at least three new mine-water geothermal heating/cooling/thermal energy storage sites in the Central Belt. The consortium will deliver research and development to de-risk the technologies and support Scottish industry to build such sites across the UK and globally. The £21 million investment in these sites, in tandem with £16 million research and innovation activities, will demonstrate the commercial potential to private sector investors of low-cost, low-emissions heating, cooling and heat storage for communities and businesses.
Read more here
Contamination of the marine environment is an issue of growing concern. In the EU, Member States are required to monitor contaminant levels in their marine region, and to support efforts to achieve and maintain the good environmental status of marine waters under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. A study using samples of mussels and fish has explored which chemicals of emerging concern (CEC) are relevant in the German coastal environment and identified a need for greater monitoring of flame retardants and long-chain perfluoroalkyl substances in the North and Baltic Seas.
Read more here
Researchers have shown how accurate, fine-scale maps of riverine biodiversity can be obtained using a method combining the trace genetic material (eDNA) found in rivers and streams and modelling based on hydrological principles. This non-invasive method can identify biodiversity hotspots to inform their management and conservation and could provide information on locations that are inaccessible (and therefore very difficult to monitor).
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At abandoned oil and gas wells in the North Sea, considerable quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane escape uncontrolled into the water. These leaks account for the dominant part of the total methane budget of the North Sea. This is shown in a new study recently published by researchers from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel in the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control. It confirms earlier studies based on a greatly extended data basis.
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The mass of ‘invisible’ microplastics found in the upper waters of the Atlantic Ocean is approximately 12–21 million tonnes, according to research published in the journal Nature Communications.
Significantly, this figure is only for three of the most common types of plastic litter in a limited size range. Yet it is comparable in magnitude to estimates of all plastic waste that has entered the Atlantic Ocean over the past 65 years: 17 million tonnes. This suggests that the supply of plastic to the ocean has been substantially underestimated.
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The results of a study of wild roach in English rivers indicate that oestrogenic contaminants continue to occur at levels sufficient to produce a biological response in fish in rivers.
The oestrogenic effects observed – the feminising of male fish (termed ‘intersex’) – result from exposure to effluents from wastewater treatment works, which can contain natural and synthetic oestrogens originating from human excretion and the breakdown of industrial detergents.
Previous studies from the 1990s/2000s had shown that oestrogenic (feminising) effects were common in UK roach populations. The new study has revealed that feminisation of males is still occurring at the same sites and remains at similar levels in most locations. However, there are indications that concentrations of oestrogens may be lower than historical levels. This could be associated with water company investments to improve waste water effluent treatment. These findings have implications for the nationwide monitoring and regulating of oestrogenic contaminants to ensure the health of fish populations and other river life.
Access the report here
This blog from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science explains how small ocean life is used to monitor the health of seas and the life they support:
Microscopic plankton form the base of the marine food webs. Yet they are often the ‘forgotten’ element in marine ecosystems despite having the critical role of supporting all other life. Cefas’ plankton scientists maintain long-term observational records of marine plankton alongside developing new technologies to improve the monitoring of this key collection of organisms. Plankton are a diverse collection of organisms including phytoplankton (plankton that is capable of photosynthesis), zooplankton (animal plankton), and bacterioplankton (bacteria). Though the vast majority of plankton are microscopic and invisible to the naked eye, they cover a wide range of sizes including large organisms such as jellyfish.
As the base of the food chain, plankton provide a crucial source of food, directly and indirectly, to many small and large animals like fish and whales. Observing and understanding the plankton is key to assessing the health of the marine environment. The total number of individual plankton (their abundance) and different plankton species (their community structure) are sensitive to pressures like changes in temperature (climate) and certain pollutants (nutrients). Plankton abundance and community structure often respond quickly to these pressures. This makes them good indicators for the status of the marine environment.
Phytoplankton are being used by UK agencies as an indicator of anthropogenic (human-driven) inputs of nutrients, mainly from inorganic nitrogen, under many environmental directives. They are a crucial part of our toolbox in understanding human impacts on the marine environment, so the plankton monitoring programme reveals much about the wider health of our seas.
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Highlights from the paper:
See full abstract here
Many European freshwater bodies are unlikely to meet the 2027 targets of the Water Framework Directive. This Europe-wide study assesses multiple types of freshwater stressor (physical, biological or chemical constraints on an ecosystem) to quantify the frequency, interactions and impacts of these on freshwater plants and animals. By mapping stressors’ effects on scales – starting from single lake or river to an entire basin – such assessment can inform ecosystem management decisions.
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Anglian Water has conducted a study of plastics being wrongly flushed into one of their water recycling centres, finding wet wipes the biggest culprit along with a variety of other household products.
The study involved taking a number of random samples from the skips at the water recycling centre in Newmarket. As part of the initial screening process of waste water, any rubbish is removed and collected before the water goes onto the next stage of the treatment process. The rubbish samples were analysed to identify the quantity and types of plastic removed at this early stage, to understand what types of items these plastics originally came from.
The aptly named, ‘skip autopsy’ found the most common offender to be wet wipes and that 80% of those found contained plastics, which do not break down in the sewer network. Anglian Water’s Keep it Clear programme has run for the past decade and focuses on educating customers about the devastating environmental impacts that can result from the wrong items being flushed away. Wipes, cotton buds and sanitary items all contain plastic which can’t break down, causing blockages, which can ultimately lead to sewer flooding in peoples’ homes or the environment.
Click here to watch a video about the skip autopsy project.
This project reviewed the published literature on the social and health benefits of rivers, lakes and coastal waters – referred to collectively as ‘Blue Space’. The project’s main aims were to capture the positive social and health benefits of Blue Space and compare them to the benefits of the environment in general – often referred to in the literature as ‘Green Space’.
The review focused on studies that quantified the social and health outcomes associated with people’s interaction with Blue Space. It captured the evidence of what is distinctive about the social and health benefits provided by rivers, lakes and coastal waters. The report sets this out and compares it against comparable evidence of the positive effects of Green Space.
This evidence will help the Environment Agency to develop its understanding of the contribution made by the water environment to achieving environmental and social policy outcomes.
Access the report here
Research published by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) this week in Environmental Pollution shows that wastewater treatment processes remove 99.8% microplastics from the treated wastewater released to rivers, meaning that the majority do not enter rivers, and therefore do not reach the sea.
Scientists discovered that some treatment technologies seem better than others at removing microplastics, with activated sludge and tertiary treatment technologies appearing more effective at filtering out microplastics. The scientists discovered that sludge acts as a reservoir for these captured microplastics, where they can accumulate. This research helps us better understand the role of wastewater treatment works in handling microplastics throughout the treatment process.
The next stage of this research focuses on developing a mass-balance approach to better understand the fate of microplastics throughout the treatment process, relating to different treatment technologies.
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This report is from Greenpeace. Chris Packham writes the introduction – here is a flavour:
The UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are our government’s much lauded symbol of the UK’s ‘world-leading’ marine protection standards. On paper, the network appears impressive. More than 25% of our territorial waters are covered by Marine Protected Areas, allegedly safeguarding important ecosystems like reefs and kelp forests, and protecting iconic species like porpoises and dolphins. Over half are thought to contain habitats vital for the UK’s future climate resilience. However, there’s a catch... because a deeper look into the state of the UK’s offshore Marine Protected Areas, the areas we will have new powers to protect after leaving the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), reveals an alarming reality completely at odds with the rhetoric used by our government. Only five of the 73 UK offshore MPAs ‘may be’ progressing towards conservation targets, and only two out of 73 offshore MPAs have any long-term site condition monitoring available.
Read more - access the report here
From the Executive Summary: As an island nation, the UK’s seas are part of our identity and our culture. Their natural beauty and amazing wildlife are a source of wonder, inspiration, recreation and wellbeing for millions. They also have huge economic value: the UK government estimates that maritime activities including tourism, shipping, fisheries and renewable energy contribute £47 billion to the British economy annually.
But our seas are in trouble. Fishing, pollution and climate change are putting increasing pressure on marine ecosystems, jeopardising their future. In 2019, our seas failed to meet government standards on good environmental health against 11 out of 15 indicators, including those relating to birds, fish and seabed habitats. Sky Ocean Rescue and WWF are campaigning for a new 10-year vision and action plan for UK ocean recovery. Bringing our oceans back to life is crucial for our climate and biodiversity targets, but it’s also a sound economic investment. Taking action now to put UK seas on a path to recovery will bring additional benefits worth at least £50 billion by 2050, against an estimated cost of £38 billion. It also has the potential to create over 100,000 full-time jobs, mostly in renewable energy, as we seek to rebuild after the COVID-19 pandemic.
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This document contains the EA’s:
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From Defra: The Environment Bill brings about urgent and meaningful action to combat the environmental and climate crises we are facing and acts as a key vehicle for delivering the bold vision set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan. It will support the country’s desire to build back better after Covid-19 with measures that support both economic growth and the government’s manifesto commitments to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. It will help us emerge from this crisis and build a fairer, greener, more resilient future. It sets a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance and includes commitments to secure improvement on air quality, biodiversity, water and resource efficiency.
An important aspect of the Environment Bill is the power to set long-term, legally-binding environmental targets. Setting targets will provide a strong mechanism to deliver long-term environmental outcomes. Once proposed targets are developed, businesses, communities and civil society will have an opportunity to share their views in response to a public consultation that is expected in early 2022.
The document is divided into three parts:
A. The process for developing targets under the Environment Bill Framework
B. Overview of the scope of targets that government is considering
C. Sources of target information and how you can get involved.
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This handbook aims to provide foundational and practical guidance on the restoration and conservation of native oysters (Ostrea edulis) and native oyster habitat across the UK and Ireland. The guidance outlined throughout the handbook is also of relevance to projects across the native oyster’s biogeographic range.
The handbook includes an introduction to native oyster restoration, information about starting a restoration project, current methods of restoration in practice, biosecurity recommendations and an outline of how to effectively communicate a restoration project.
Access the handbook here
The River Restoration Centre (RRC) Manual of River Restoration Techniques aims to help river managers identify potential restoration techniques for use in river restoration and sustainable river management. First issued in 1997, it provides detailed examples of innovative and best-practice river restoration techniques, and now includes 68 case examples from 39 sites across the UK which can be downloaded freely as PDFs.
Users can search by river name, restoration aim or use an interactive map. Decision support pages are available to help identify relevant case studies.
Access the manual here: https://www.therrc.co.uk/manual-river-restoration-techniques
This map shows the rivers in Cornwall and Devon that are polluted by at least one metal, which includes cadmium, lead, zinc, copper, nickel, arsenic and iron, due to abandoned metal mines. The map also includes where measures are in place to manage this pollution.
In this part of the UK, the Water and Abandoned Metal Mines programme manages the Wheal Jane mine water treatment scheme to limit the amount of metals entering watercourses.
Access the map here
The Annual Report and Accounts provides detail on the MMO, including; their purpose, the key risks that they face in achieving their objectives, and how they have performed during 2019/20.
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Published by the Marine Management Organisation.
Marine planning is important for many areas, and not just those at sea. It relates to planning decisions for the coast, estuaries and tidal waters (which sometimes extend a long distance inland), as well as developments that impact on these areas, such as infrastructure. Marine planning has important links and interactions with land-use planning. For example, the intertidal zone between high water and low water mark is covered by both planning systems. As with land-use planning, marine planning is a statutory requirement. A new marine planning system was introduced in 2009 through the Marine and Coastal Access Act. The Act gave the MMO delegated functions for marine planning from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Whilst marine plans are being developed, planning decisions for the marine area must take into account the Marine Policy Statement (published 2011).The Marine Policy Statement includes a summary of national policies relevant to marine planning and decision-making in the marine areas.
The guide covers:
Marine plans are similar to land-use plans. The principles of both systems are the same: enabling sustainable development.
Access the guide here
Find out about the different marine species and how they are protected UK wildlife legislation. Many marine species are protected by UK wildlife legislation from intentional or deliberate disturbance, taking, harm and killing, and in some cases possession or sale. This guidance covers: birds, cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, whales), seals, marine turtles, fish (including seahorses, sharks and skates), and invertebrates.
The offences that apply will depend on the species, activity and location. The tables provide a summary of what marine species are protected and by what legislation. Please refer to the legislation directly for details of offences and defences, or contact your local Marine Management Organisation office for further advice.
Some of the species are also protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and are labelled in the guidance.
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This is an independent review of the costs and benefits of rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling options in the UK, commissioned by Waterwise.
Rainwater harvesting (RWH) and grey water recycling (GWR) are ways of generating alternative sources of water. This can be used for some non-potable uses instead of mains water which is treated to meet strict drinking water standards. To date, both RWH and GWR systems have been implemented with mixed experience in the UK. There remains a gap in research and accreditation for these systems in support to bring them to the market on a wider scale. There has also been a lack of coordinated and collated evidence across the country, especially on differing scales and for non-domestic properties.
Information guides published by the Environment Agency in 2010 and 2011, outlined the costs and benefits for domestic installations, but these are now largely out of date. This work aims to address this research gap. Drawing on academic and industry research, case studies and industry examples, an appraisal of RWH and GWR systems and the costs and benefits of the existing technologies in different contexts have been modelled. The cost benefit analysis sought to access the various impacts associated with each system and monetise these impacts to allow for a comparison. The analysis allows for a comparison of the private net impact (does the system pay for itself through a reduced water bill) as well as the wider impacts. The findings form an update to the information guides published by the EA.
Access the report here
From the Executive Summary:
Polluted waters are what kickstarted SAS into action 30 years ago and are an issue that worryingly continues to affect surfers, open water swimmers, bathers, stand-up paddleboarders and other water users to this day. Despite the progress we have made, with much to be celebrated, there is still vital work to do to protect and restore rivers and the ocean from the impact of sewage and agricultural and urban runoff.
Between 1st October 2019 and 30th September 2020, a total of 2,941 Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) discharge notifications were issued through the Safer Seas Service (SSS), which is based on information we access from water companies. 1,195 of these were issued during the official Bathing Season in England and Wales (May 15th – September 30th) and a further 1,746 were issued out of season by the water companies willing to issue year-round data, in response to the need for more transparency and accountability.
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A new report from WWF says abandoned fishing gear is an ‘immortal menace’ which must be central in the fight against plastic pollution.
So-called ‘ghost gear’, fishing equipment which is lost in the sea, can continue killing marine life for decades or even centuries after it first enters the ocean, making it the most deadly form of marine plastic debris. WWF is calling on governments to develop a legally binding global plastic pollution treaty that addresses this fundamental threat to marine wildlife.
The report, Stop Ghost Gear: The most deadly form of marine plastic debris, shines a light on how ghost gear is responsible for harming 66 per cent of marine mammal species, half of seabird species, and all species of sea turtles, often subjecting them to a slow, painful and inhumane death. It also damages vital marine habitats such as coral reefs and mangroves and threatens the food sources and livelihoods of coastal communities and fishers, according to the report, which highlights how tackling ghost gear should be at the fore of efforts to combat the global plastic pollution problem.
REPORTS FROM EVENTS
On land, the concept of rewilding has been gaining traction for decades. There is a growing understanding that putting nature in charge, allowing re-growth, restoration and resilience-building at the planet’s own pace, can bring untold benefits for humankind and may be one of the key tools at our disposal in fighting the climate crisis.
In the ocean, while the conservation sector is well-versed in the terminology of marine protected areas there has been little discussion of marine rewilding. For the purposes of the conference, Blue Marine Foundation defined rewilding the sea as any effort to improve the health of the ocean by actively restoring habitats and species, or by leaving it alone to recover. Key issues included communication, education, sharing knowledge and best practice, reframing ambitions for marine restoration, and bringing communities along with projects.
Access the report of the conference here