Bat Conservation Trust – National Bat Conference

The Bat Conservation Trust’s annual National Bat Conference, held online via Zoom from 29th–31st October, covered many aspects of bat conservation through a wide variety of activities and talks, including monitoring, surveying and development. We are extremely pleased to have sponsored this event and we were lucky enough to have been able to attend many of these sessions, including talks by Professor Tigga Kingston from Texas Tech University on the human dimensions of bat conservation, and Thomas Foxley, University of the West of England, who spoke about the role of landscape features in spatial activity patterns of greater horseshoe bats. We also attended a few of the amazing workshops that took place, such as Shirley Thompson’s gardening for bats.

Bat Conservation Trust update

Bat Conservation Trust also shared an update on their current and future work. Bats make up more than a quarter of all mammal species in the UK, but sadly, these species face many threats. Habitat loss and fragmentation, decreasing food resources, chemical use, disturbance to roosts and threats from cats have all led to a dramatic decline in bat populations over the last century. Diseases, wind farms, flypaper, artificial lighting and the presence and construction of roads also negatively impact.

Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) bats roosting by Jessicajil via Flickr

Currently, Bat Conservation Trust supports a number of local bat groups, working with volunteers, scientists, industry and government on a range of projects. They focus on discovering more about bats, taking action to protect them, inspiring people to care about bats and strengthening their work by improving relevant skills and knowledge. Their programmes include a National Bat Monitoring Programme, education and engagement, the National Bat Helpline, Landscapes for Bats, and science and research.

During this update, Bat Conservation Trust spoke of the many ways they will be increasing their efforts to help bat populations, for example by increasing the spread of their monitoring programs and organising a petition regarding key amendments to the Environment Bill, including legally binding targets for wildlife recovery. Through new acoustic and monitoring approaches, they also aim to improve their evidence base and Bat Conservation Trust are also working towards improving their engagement with policymakers, the public and the media. Their Bat in Churches project has also been expanded to include training on bat care basics, surveying a church, the best architectural practices for bats and cleaning workshops.

One key scheme they are developing is the Bat Roost Tree Tag Scheme where recognisable tags are placed on trees that contain bat roosts. The aim of this is to make sure all trees that have been surveyed and found to contain bat roosts are easily identifiable. When woodland managers and workers see a tag on a tree, they will know to seek advice before proceeding with work. This will also give a significantly increased level of protection for ancient trees, which are vitally important for a large number of species.

Future events and how to get involved

The National Bat Conference was a very interesting and educational event, and it was wonderful to see such a wide range of knowledge and skillsets being shared through the many talks, activities and workshops throughout the weekend. If you missed out this time or would like to attend further events, the Bat Conservation Trust has a number of future events planned, including Spring into Action, Midlands Bat Conference and the East of England Bat Conference. More information about these and other events can be found on the Bat Conservation Trust website.

There are a number of ways you can help to support Bat Conservation Trust, such as by becoming a member or donating.  You can also contact your local bat group, fundraise for bats or volunteer for their various projects. However you choose to get involved, you can make a real difference to the future of bats in the UK.

Climate Challenges: COP26 Round Up

COP26, the 26th annual summit of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, has come to a close. This historic event ran from 31st October to 12th November and aimed to secure global net zero emission targets and keep the 1.5°C target within reach. It also discussed the need to adapt to protect communities and natural habitats, mobilising finance and working together to deliver key commitments. For more information on the lead up to this event, what net zero means and the 1.5°C agreement, read our blog: What is COP26 and Why is it Important? We also looked back on the first week of COP26 in our blog: Climate Challenges: COP26 First Week Update. In this article, we discuss an overview of the major outcomes of this event and how they might affect our efforts to combat climate change.

COP26 climate march by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Insure Our Future via Flickr
Key outcomes

A number of key pledges were launched and signed during COP26, including:

  • 90% of the world’s economy now striving for net zero emissions, with many aiming for 2050.
  • The Glasgow Leader’s Declaration on Forest and Land Use intends to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030, while also delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation. This pledge has been signed by over 100 world leaders, covering around 85% of the world’s forests.
  • More than 100 world leaders have signed the Global Methane Pledge, a U.S. and EU-led commitment to reduce methane emissions by 30% over the next decade from 2020 levels.
  • The Breakthrough Agenda, a global initiative launched by the UK, aims to make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most economical and appealing option for each emitting sector by 2030, with leaders committing to review progress annually, starting in 2022.
  • The Coal Pledge, signed by more than 40 countries, aims for nations to move away from coal power by the 2030s for major economies and 2040s for developing countries.
  • A $10.5 billion fund for emerging economies to switch to renewable energies will be supplied by the Global Alliance Group, a group of philanthropic foundations and international development banks. They intend to raise $100 billion in public and private capital.
  • Around 450 financial organisations, with a combined market capitalisation of $130 trillion, have agreed to shift their investments away from financing fossil fuel-burning industries and toward “clean” technology.
  • China and the U.S. have announced an agreement to work together to cut emissions and help the world stay within 1.5°C by cooperating on key areas, such as cutting emissions from transport, energy and industry.
COP26 coalition rally – Stephen and Helen Jones via Flickr
Are they effective?

Many critics and climate experts are concerned that these pledges will not be enough to keep average global temperatures below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. There are calls for global leaders to do more to meet this goal, as exceeding it will see a worsening in the negative impacts of climate change, potentially putting millions of lives and livelihoods at risk. With countries such as Russia, China, India and Australia refusing to sign the methane pledge, and others, such as the U.S. and China, not signing the coal pledge, it is unclear how successful these agreements will be at tackling climate change. Despite signing the deforestation pledge, Indonesia has stated that it will not halt its developmental growth, which involves cutting forests for new roads and the cultivation of food crops. According to a spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, this pledge does not forbid the cutting down of forests, but rather seeks to end net deforestation – forest loss must be “replaced sustainably”.

Replacing primary forest with new growth has a variety of negative environmental consequences. Primary, undisturbed, ancient forests are often highly complex ecosystems that support a variety of species, including many specialist species, and have an irreplaceable value. New-growth or secondary forest are less able to support the same level of biodiversity, as they may have significant differences in forest structure and species composition. Abiotic factors can vary during development, reducing the area’s suitability for the previous ecosystem. After a major disturbance, it can take decades for an area to develop into a climax community, such as a forest, through ecological succession. During many of these stages, many of the species that previously inhabited the primary forest will be unable to survive, and the community will most likely be made up of more disturbance-tolerant, generalist species that are often of lower conservation concern.

Once the stable climax habitat has developed, even if the new habitat is similar, the community structure may differ dramatically from the original. Certain plant or wildlife species may have been unable to re-establish due to the presence of new species or a reduction in resources, potentially leading to localised extinctions. It is unknown how long it takes for a secondary forest to develop the levels of biodiversity found in primary forests, but it could be several hundred years. Therefore, this form of “sustainable” deforestation might still result in extinctions and reduced biodiversity. These new-growth regions may be far less ecologically valuable than primary forest and, during much of the successional period, store significantly less carbon.

A deforestation policy that focuses on net deforestation rather than halting or severely limiting all deforestation, could potentially help to reduce world carbon emissions by stabilising, or even increasing global forest cover, but this does not address the whole picture. This policy allows for the continued negative ecological impacts of deforestation on biodiversity and vulnerable species, which could ultimately lead to countless extinctions.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the Global Methane Pledge. Hailey Sani via Flickr
Glasgow Climate Pact

Only effective implementation of pledges and tangible action, much of which has not been seen following previous promises of past summits, can ensure the success of COP26. The Glasgow Climate Pact is the agreement reached at COP26 and the first deal ever to explicitly plan to reduce coal. This document initially aimed to clarify and build on the Paris Agreement, proposing that countries agree to accelerate the phasing out of fossil fuels and for developed countries to double their climate finance commitments for funding adaptation. However, many demonstrators throughout the two-week event have called for bolder commitments and stricter accountability to combat climate change, followed by appropriate and effective action.

The first draft of the document was criticised for a variety of reasons, including a lack of financial aid for developing nations and the need for clearer commitments to force countries to increase their emissions cuts. The second draft retained the core demand to return to the negotiating table next year to improve countries’ national emission reduction plans, but included even softer language. COP26 President Alok Sharma stated he was “deeply sorry”, as this final deal shifted from requiring countries to “phase out” coal to “phase down”, a change that has disappointed some. Many now look to the meeting next year that may see further pledges to cut emissions to reach the 1.5°C goal, as an analysis showed that the world is on track for a 2.4°C rise, despite these new pledges.

COP26 light projection in Glasglow. Backbone Campaign via Flickr
References and useful resources

A news report on the countries that are now aiming for net zero: https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2021-11-01-80-world-economy-now-aiming-net-zero-not-all-pledges-are-equal

The COP26 website information on the Glasgow Leader’s declaration on forests and land use: https://ukcop26.org/glasgow-leaders-declaration-on-forests-and-land-use/

A news report on the COP26 deforestation pledge: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-59088498

The UK Government’s Press release on the new Breakthrough Agenda: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/world-leaders-join-uks-glasgow-breakthroughs-to-speed-up-affordable-clean-tech-worldwide

The New York Times report of the Global Energy Alliance: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/world/europe/global-energy-alliance-fund-cop26.html

The Guardian news report on the Coal Pledge and its criticisms: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/03/more-than-40-countries-agree-to-phase-out-coal-fired-power

Indonesia believes the pledge is unfair: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/05/indonesia-says-cop26-zero-deforestation-pledge-it-signed unfairhttps://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/

Stages of Ecological Succession: https://sciencing.com/stages-ecological-succession-8324279.html

Barlow, J. et al. 2007. Quantifying the biodiversity value of tropical primary, secondary, and plantation forests. PNAS 104(47): 18555-18560. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0703333104

A news report on China and the US’ plan to work together on cutting emissions: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/10/china-and-the-us-announce-plan-to-work-together-on-cutting-emissions

A news report detailing the criticism of the first Cop26 draft: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/10/cop26-draft-calls-for-tougher-emissions-pledges-by-next-year

The draft document, published on 12 November 2021: https://unfccc.int/documents/310987

A news report on the Glasgow Climate Pact: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-59277788

A new report on Climate Action Tracker’s analysis of the potential 2.4°C in global average temperatures: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/09/cop26-sets-course-for-disastrous-heating-of-more-than-24c-says-key-report

This Week in Biodiversity News – 17th November 2021

An extinct species could be cloned as a last-ditch attempt to find the Eungella gastric-brooding frog in the wild fails. This species, last seen in the wild between the 1970s and 80s, was the subject of a final search in the remote rainforests of north Queensland, which proved unsuccessful. Scientists across the world are now experimenting with cloning procedures “beyond the known edge of science” in an attempt to bring the species back.

China signs up to combat forest destruction, but critics say it’s not enough. China is among more than 100 countries that have committed to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030, but its supply chains are reliant on the production of ‘forest-risk’ commodities, such as palm oil and cattle, which is driving deforestation outside its borders.

Federal agency withdraws plan that would all but end protection for red wolves in North Carolina. Just days after announcing that it will withdraw a 2018 proposal that would have reduced the north-eastern North Carolina protection area for red wolves by some 90%, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) stated it now plans to release nine wolves from captivity this winter. This comes in response to a federal lawsuit that accuses the FWS of violating the Endangered Species Act by not releasing more wolves into the wild.

The Amazon has the highest October forest loss since at least 2007. 877 square kilometres of rainforest were cleared in the Brazilian Amazon, a 5% increase over October 2020, the second straight month that the rate of forest clearing has risen on a month-over-month basis. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has been trending upwards since 2012, but there are hopes that this trend will end as Brazil signed the COP26 agreement to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030.

Lancashire Peatland Initiative: Q&A with Sarah Johnson

 

The Lancashire Peatland Initiative, run by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, has delivered habitat restoration across over 200 hectares of degraded lowland raised bog. These habitats are peatland ecosystems that develop primarily in areas less than 150m above sea level, particularly in cool, humid regions. These deep bodies of peat can be raised several metres higher than the surrounding land and are much wetter, usually covered in typical bog vegetation, such as cotton grass, sphagnum moss and heather.

This pioneering initiative has spanned the past three decades, with active restoration activities on numerous sites, including Little Woolden Moss, Winmarleigh Moss SSSI and Astley Moss SSSI SAC. The Trust’s tireless efforts, in collaboration with Natural England and other partners, has ultimately halted the decline of these nationally significant sites and species, resulting in an expansion of active raised bog habitats.

The Lancashire Peatland Initiative won the NHBS sponsored Best Practice Award for Large Scale Nature Conservation at the 2021 CIEEM Awards. Project Manager Sarah Johnson has kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for us.

Could you tell us about the Lancashire Peatland Initiative and how it started?

The Lancashire Peatland Initiative was born out of a desire to bring together and co-ordinate all of the peatland restoration work happening in Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, raising awareness of the importance of these amazing habitats, and ensuring their protection in the future.

In 2019 we were delighted to be awarded funding from the Esmeé Fairbairn Foundation to create and support the Lancashire Peatland Initiative. This allowed us to fund Project Officers, Assistant Project Officers, communications support, and myself as Lancashire Peatland Initiative Project Manager, to work across all of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside’s peatland nature reserves in the area. We also co-ordinate the Lancashire Peat Partnership and the Northern Lowland Peatland Coalition, and work closely with the Great North Bog Coalition and the Great Manchester Wetlands Partnership, bringing together partners and other organisations who are involved in our peatlands.

This allows the Lancashire Peatland Initiative to work on our own peatland restoration projects, but also support those of our partners and develop new projects across areas of commonality and innovation.

Digger creating a bog pool at Little Woolden Moss. Image by Lancashire Wildlife Trust

How did these habitats become so degraded and what are the main threats they are currently facing?

Our peatlands face threats from all directions. Historically peatlands have been seen as wastelands that needed to be tamed by humans before they could be exploited, either for conversion to agricultural land or for the extraction of the peat. Deep ditches were dug to drain the water from the peat, destroying these fragile ecosystems.

Unfortunately, many of these same threats are still faced by our peatlands today. Drainage and conversion to agriculture, overgrazing, rotational burning and extraction of peat for use in the horticultural industry has left only 13% of England’s peatlands in a near-natural state.

Public opinion is often integral in the success of large restoration projects such as this; how have you found local reception of peatland restoration? Are people generally supportive?

Peatlands are not always at the top of people’s agendas, so we are working hard to get the message out there about the importance of our peatlands, not only to provide a habitat for lots of amazing plants and animals but also in our fight against climate change, as natural flood mitigators, water filters and protection against wildfires.

However, we have found that once people know about these fantastic ecosystems they really support our work to restore and care for them. Of course, there are some issues still to fully answer, such as the need to protect both peat and our food supplies, so much of which is grown or grazed on drained peatland. But we have found that as the plight of our peatlands enters more people’s consciousnesses, they are more willing to work with us to find solutions.

Little Woolden Moss bog pool. Image by Lancashire Wildlife Trust

The sale of peat compost to gardeners is to be banned from 2024; how do you think this will affect peatland degradation and restoration? Are there any other policies you think are needed to protect these habitats?

A ban on domestic sales of peat compost is a fantastic step towards protecting our peatlands. But so much more still needs to be done. Large amounts of peat are still being used in commercial horticulture, growing the plants that are for sale in your local garden centre, and this is an issue that is yet to be addressed. Another really damaging practice is the growing of lawn turf on drained peatlands, one of the highest carbon dioxide emitting uses of peat that not many people are aware of.

However, we do need to be careful that we are not simply exporting the issue elsewhere to areas of lower regulation. For example, Ireland recently announced an end to its peat extraction, but just a few months later there were reports of millions of tonnes of peat being imported into the country from one of the Baltic states.

We also really need policy support for the movement towards more environmentally sensitive management of land on peat-based soils. For example, the adoption of paludiculture or higher water table agriculture (wet farming) and land management could have a huge impact on CO2e emissions from our peatlands, but until these practices can be shown to be financially viable how can we expect landowners to take up these changes? This is an area where public subsidies and financial incentives could make a real difference.

There also needs to be an immediate end to all peatland burning, as the current legislation is riddled with loopholes.

Species reintroductions began in 2018; how are the species chosen for reintroduction? What are the criteria for determining whether an area has recovered enough to support these reintroduced species?

Species reintroductions are one of my favourite parts of my job! Currently, we are focusing on reintroducing species lost from Greater Manchester, and so a working group from the Great Manchester Wetlands Partnership comes together to appraise which species would be suitable for reintroduction. However, this can only happen after years of habitat restoration to create the right conditions for these returned species to thrive.

A recent success story was the reintroduction of the large heath butterfly. Locally known as the Manchester argus, the destruction of its peatland habitat drove it into local extinction almost 150 years ago. However, by following strict IUCN guidelines and working closely with Natural England and Chester Zoo, we were able to reintroduce the species to Astley Moss in the summer of 2020. Since then we have had the privilege of seeing the first native population flying on the moss this summer.

Sphagnum and Cotton Grass plugs – Winmarleigh

With the current COP26 summit, what are your hopes for the future of the Lancashire Peatland Initiative and the restoration of these habitats?

We have really high hopes for the future of our peatlands. It seems clear to anyone in the know that we need to be prioritising the recovery of these habitats as they can provide us with quick, massive wins in terms of carbon reductions. For example, at our pioneering carbon farm we have already seen a 90% reduction in CO2e emissions from the site, compared to an adjacent area of drained peatland that has been converted to agricultural pasture. This has been achieved in just over a year by simply re-wetting the land, and give us another year or two to fully re-vegetate the site and we expect it to become a functioning carbon sink.

What we are really hoping to see out of COP26 is a commitment to ambitious peatland restoration targets, that are backed up by both the policy and the funding to actually achieve this. In the words of Greta, we need action now – not more ‘blah, blah, blah’!


You can find out more about the Lancashire Peatland Initiative from the Lancashire Wildlife Trust website and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Author Interview with Arthur V. Evans: Beetles of Western North America

Beetles of Western North America is a landmark book – the only comprehensive colour photographic guide to the remarkably diverse beetles of the United States and Canada west of the Continental Divide.

A follow-up to the highly regarded companion title Beetles of Eastern North America, this engaging and accessible book provides extensive information on 1,428 species from all 131 families that occur in the west, lavishly illustrated with more than 1,500 stunning images. This is an unmatched guide to the rich variety of western North American beetle fauna, a must-have book for anyone from amateur naturalists and nature photographers to insect enthusiasts, students, professional entomologists and biologists.

Arthur V. Evans has kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for us below.

Could you tell us a bit more about how you became interested in entomology? What prompted you to start producing field guides?

My interest in insects began when I was five years old. I grew up on the south-western fringes of the Mojave Desert in southern California, where there were plenty of insects to discover and observe. My parents were incredibly supportive of my interest in insects and nature and took my sister and me on numerous weekend excursions to explore natural areas and historical sites throughout the region. While in elementary school, I met an entomologist who arranged my first visit behind-the-scenes at the Entomology Section of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), one of the largest natural history museums in the United States. There, I had the opportunity to meet with each of the entomology curators, all of whom encouraged my interest in entomology. During my high school years, I took part in several extended summer field trips to collect insects, especially beetles, throughout southern California and the Southwest. Several of these trips focused on the Sky Islands of south-eastern Arizona, a biodiversity hot spot in North America. Upon graduating high school, I was hired as a student worker at NHMLAC, an experience that ultimately helped to launch my pursuit of academic degrees in entomology at California State University at Long Beach (B.A., M.S.) and the University of Pretoria (D.Sc.) in South Africa.

I have always had a long-standing interest in informal science education. Not long after I finished my doctorate in entomology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, I accepted a position as the Director of the Ralph M. Parsons Insect Zoo at NHMLAC. While working there, I was invited to write my first book, An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles (with Charles Bellamy, Henry Holt, 1996). On the strength of this book, I was approached by several publishers over the years to write field guides on insects, including Field Guide to California Beetles with James Hogue (University of California, 2004), Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America (Barnes and Noble, 2007), and Beetles of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press, 2014). I have always found field guides useful and writing them gave me an opportunity to share my passion for entomology and my insect images with a larger audience.

Beetles of Western North America, and your other related work Beetles of Eastern North America, are comprehensive guides documenting thousands of species. Can you tell us about your decision to tackle such a huge project?

A truly comprehensive work covering the entire beetle fauna of an area as large as western or eastern North America is a very tall order! Still, I accepted the challenge of these writing these richly illustrated books in order to give these fascinating animals their due. Both Beetles of Western North America and its companion volume, Beetles of Eastern North America, are the first books to present in full color representative species from all families known in their respective regions. I think the diversity of beetles presented in these books will not only appeal to coleopterists and other entomologists but also field biologists and naturalists, as well as anyone interested in macro photography. My hope is that these works will not only stimulate interest in beetles but will also encourage the production of similar regional works that feature orders of insects other than Lepidoptera (moths, butterflies and skippers) and Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies).

Surveying and photographing species in an area as large as western North America must have been challenging. How did you select the species that appeared in the book?

My initial goal was to include images of as many genera as possible representing all 131 families currently known to occur west of the Continental Divide, an area that stretches from Alaska south to western Mexico. However, the book focuses primarily on those species that inhabit the region from southern British Columbia to southern California and south-eastern Arizona. Species selections were based on surveys of several museum and university beetle collections in Arizona and California, reviews of species that appear on bugguide.net and iNaturalist.com, and my own field experiences throughout the west. I concentrated on species that people were likely to see at home and in the field. From 2010 to 2018, I undertook six field trips to observe, collect and photograph beetles for this book, driving more than 8,000 miles. Of the 1500+ images in the book, about half of them were photographed by me, while the rest were supplied by 116 other photographers who generously contributed their photographs to the work.

This book is more than just an ID guide; it also provides tips on photographing, collecting and rearing species. Why did you decide to include these sections?

As a child, I grew up using several field guides that included sections collecting and rearing insects. I found this information incredibly useful then and considered the inclusion of this material essential in Beetles of Western North America. The book begins with an extensive introduction to their morphology, behavior and natural history, use as biocontrol agents and indicators of past environments, threatened and endangered species, observation and photography, conservation, collection and preservation, rearing, and internet resources. I have long believed that both collecting beetles and carefully preparing them as museum-quality specimens are essential for their study and conservation. Eventually, all collections should be deposited in museum or university collections where they will be available to researchers in perpetuity.

Do you have any more field guides of this scale planned for the future?

Yes! I am currently working on a field guide to the beetles of Arizona with Margarethe Brummermann that will cover nearly 2,500 species in more than 80 families. Although the focus is on beetles that occur in Arizona, this book will be very useful for identifying species in adjacent states in both the United States (south-eastern California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, south-western Colorado, western New Mexico) and Mexico (Baja California, Sonora).

Climate Challenges: COP26 First Week Update

COP26, the 26th annual summit of the United Nations climate change conference, is currently taking place in Glasgow. In this article, Hana Ketley looks back over the first week of COP26 and discusses the key pledges and targets that have been announced so far.

COP26 is taking place between 31st October and 12th November. US Embassy via Flickr
Emissions targets

Ahead of COP26, many countries announced new emissions targets, including India, which aims to halve its energy emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2070, and Nepal, which now aims to reach net zero by 2045. Net zero refers to a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions emitted and removed from the atmosphere, and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°, the world must reach net zero by 2050 to limit global average temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Several countries have committed to meeting this target, with 80% of the world’s economy now striving for net zero emissions. Many of these targets, however, are under discussion, in policy documents or as proposed legislation, rather than being enacted into law. Additionally, several countries have not updated their targets, such as China, which continues to aim for net zero emissions by 2060, a full ten years after the recommended date. Many climate groups and critics are questioning the validity of these pledges, a theme that continues through many of the outcomes from the first week of COP26. As many of the targets set at previous COPs have not been met, there are doubts that they will be achieved this time.

Furthermore, the Climate Crisis Advisory Group, consisting of 15 of the world’s leading climate scientists, have produced a report warning that achieving global net zero by 2050 may no longer be enough to avoid many of the worst impacts of rising global temperatures. The report, titled ‘The Final Warning Bell’, was released in August 2021 and builds upon the most recent report from the IPCC’s Working Group 1, which was released earlier in the same month. Using the IPCC’s insight, the Climate Crisis Advisory Group determined that meeting the 2050 target will only result in a 50% likelihood of preventing average global temperatures from exceeding 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. They suggest that aiming for net-negative emissions by 2050, rather than net zero, will provide countries and industries with the best chance of curbing global warming. Only two countries, Suriname and Bhutan, have achieved net zero (based on self-assessment) and only a few others, such as Finland, Germany and Sweden, have net zero ambitions that are set to be met before 2050. As a result, current global objectives are unlikely to fulfil the proposed target set by the Climate Crisis Advisory Group.

Climate protests in Australia, coinciding with the first day of COP26 in Glasgow. Extinction Rebellion activists burnt an Australian flag on the steps of the Victorian Parliament in Melbourne, in response to the Australian government’s perceived inaction on climate change. Matt Hrkac via Flickr
Deforestation

The Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, which aims to cease and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030, was one of the first major pledges made during COP26. This historic pact was signed by nearly 130 world leaders, and has been hailed by some as the summit’s first big achievement. As the countries that signed are responsible for roughly 85% of the world’s forests, this pledge might have a considerable influence on deforestation and climate change if it results in effective action. Alongside this commitment, 12 nations, including the UK, U.S., Canada, France and Germany, have also collectively pledged to mobilise £8.75 billion of public funding over the next five years. This fund will be utilised by developing nations for a variety of schemes, including supporting the restoration of degraded land, combating wildfires and defending the rights of indigenous communities. This is backed by the commitment of more than 30 major financial institutions, such as Axa and Aviva, to look at eliminating commodity-driven deforestation from their investment and lending portfolios by 2025. They have also agreed to several other stipulations, including assessing the amount of their investments that are linked to deforestation by the end of 2022. By the end of 2023, they must disclose this information and their mitigation efforts and, by 2025, publicly report credible progress on their goals.

But, due to a lack of detail on enforcement, these pledges on deforestation have already been criticised. The success of this summit and the fight against climate change will be determined by how well all the pledges launched and signed during COP26 are implemented. Many signatories have not specified how this implementation will be monitored, nor has it been defined how countries will be held accountable if they fail to follow through on their commitments. Many critics point to other pledges to reduce or halt deforestation that have not been fulfilled, as many voluntary pledges, such as the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, have failed to deliver on their promises. One of the key goals of the 2014 pledge was to reduce the rate of forest loss globally by half by 2020, but the rate of tropical primary forest loss has actually increased since the signing.

Deforestation on September 2021 in the Amazon, Peixoto de Azevedo, a municipality in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Much of the untouched forest is within the Capoto/Jarina Indigenous Land and Parque do Xingu Indigenous Land. Image generated through sentinelhub

When questioned about the reality of meaningful action and willingness to halt deforestation by countries that have signed this pledge, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated that the emphasis may be placed on the financial sector. During the press conference on 2nd November, he suggested that these goals would most likely be reached through the “agreement of companies around the world that they will no longer support or invest in these communities”. He also suggested, however, that the pressure on these banks, financial institutions and companies to meet their promises will come from consumers. This is similarly reflected in the proposed Treasury rules, which would require most large UK corporations and financial institutions to release a detailed public plan by 2023 outlining how they will transition to a low-carbon future in line with the UK’s net zero 2050 target. Any commitments suggested by these companies would not be made mandatory by the UK government, as these rules only aim to increase transparency and accountability. Consumers must once again be relied upon to exert pressure on these firms to make serious changes. There are strong criticisms for this lack of regulation by the government, with many arguing that, without legal obligations, these pledges are doomed to fail.

Methane

More than 100 world leaders have also signed the U.S. and EU-led pledge to reduce methane emissions by 30% over the next decade from 2020 levels. Methane has a higher heat-trapping capacity compared with carbon dioxide but breaks down in the atmosphere considerably faster, and so it is hoped that cutting methane emissions could have a rapid impact on limiting global warming. The Global Methane Pledge was first announced in September and it now has half of the top 30 methane emitters as signatories. Critically, however, China, Russia and India, three of the top five emitters, have not yet signed on. Australia, which is among the top ten emitters, has also refused to sign. In 2018, these four countries emitted 2.894 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, accounting for around 35% of the global total of 8.175 million tonnes (calculated from data sourced from The World Bank, sourced from CAIT data: Climate Watch). The countries that have signed up constitute “nearly half the global methane emissions”, according to Biden, but the pledge’s impact may be limited without the backing of these large emitters. 

Further pledges

Other important key pledges and outcomes from the first week include:

  • The Breakthrough Agenda, an international plan launched by the UK to help deliver clean and affordable technology everywhere by 2030
  • The Global Energy Alliance, a group of philanthropic foundations and international development banks that announced a $10.5 billion fund for emerging economies to switch to renewable energies, with the goal of raising $100 billion in public and private capital
  • The Coal Pledge, which has been signed by more than 40 countries, pledging to end all investment in new coal power generation and to phase out coal power in the 2030s for major economies and the 2040s for developing economies. Around $18 billion has been pledged to assist this transition. Notably, China and the U.S., two of the biggest coal-dependant countries, have not signed up.

These, as with all other pledges launched and signed during COP26, will only have a significant influence on our fight against climate change if they are effectively implemented and translated into tangible action. While there is cautious optimism that the pledges and targets announced during the first week of COP26 could be sufficient to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2°C, there are mounting concerns that they may not be enough to keep the rise below 1.5°C. The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) has stated that these new promises could reduce projected global warming to 1.8°C. This is better than the prior predictions of 2.4–4.8°C, based on high-emission scenario SSP5-8.5, but it is still above the Paris Agreement’s desired 1.5°C limit. A rise above 1.5°C will most likely see a worsening in the negative impacts on resources, the intensity and frequency of extreme events, ecosystems, biodiversity, lives and livelihoods, making adaptation to climate change much more difficult.

References and useful resources

IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., et al. (eds)]. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/2018/10/08/summary-for-policymakers-of-ipcc-special-report-on-global-warming-of-1-5c-approved-by-governments/

A news report on the countries that are now aiming for net zero: https://www.ox.ac.uk/news/2021-11-01-80-world-economy-now-aiming-net-zero-not-all-pledges-are-equal

Net Zero Tracker, showing the target year by country and information on their status in law or policy, presence of a detailed plan, reporting mechanism, use of international offset credits and greenhouse gas coverage: https://zerotracker.net/

A news report on the Climate Crisis Advisory Group’s August report on the aims for global net zero by 2050: https://www.edie.net/news/9/Go-beyond-net-zero-and-target-net-negative-emissions–climate-scientists-urge/

The Climate Crisis Advisory Group, 2021. The Final Warning Bell. [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/354144163_The_Final_Warning_Bell

The COP26 website information on the Glasgow Leader’s declaration on forests and land use: https://ukcop26.org/glasgow-leaders-declaration-on-forests-and-land-use/

The UK Government’s press release on the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/over-100-leaders-make-landmark-pledge-to-end-deforestation-at-cop26

World Bank’s data on methane emissions: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.ATM.METH.KT.CE?end=2018&most_recent_value_desc=true&start=1970&view=chart

The UK Government’s Press release on the new Breakthrough Agenda: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/world-leaders-join-uks-glasgow-breakthroughs-to-speed-up-affordable-clean-tech-worldwide

The New York Times report of the Global Energy Alliance: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/03/world/europe/global-energy-alliance-fund-cop26.html

The Guardian news report on the Coal Pledge and its criticisms: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/03/more-than-40-countries-agree-to-phase-out-coal-fired-power

Comments by the head of the International Energy Agency on the impacts of pledges made this week at COP26: https://news.sky.com/story/cop26-climate-pledges-could-limit-projected-warming-to-1-8c-says-energy-agency-boss-12459562

IPPC. 2021. Future Global Climate: Scenario-Based Projections and Near-Term Information. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., et al. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press. In Press. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/

The NHBS Introduction to Habitats: Farmland

Farmland by Tony Armstrong-Sly via Flickr

The next habitat in our NHBS Introduction to Habitats series is farmland. Farmland encompasses a wide variety of different habitats, many of which can be rich in wildlife. Farmland itself is not defined under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a habitat, but it contains four habitat types that are identified: arable and horticulture, boundary and linear features, improved grassland and standing open water. These habitats are important for many plant species, as well as a variety of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles.

Farming has been a part of the UK landscape for thousands of years and methods are constantly changing as consumer tastes shift and new technological innovations emerge. With an estimated three-quarters of the UK being farmland, it is unsurprising that these habitats are used by so many species. It is also not surprising just how important environmentally friendly farming practices are.

The need to utilise as much of the land as possible to increase productivity has led to a rapid decline of boundary and linear features, such as stone walls and hedgerows. These features constitute a significant ecological part of the farmland habitat, providing variety, food and shelter for wildlife, as well as helping to reduce run-off, flooding and soil erosion. Hedgerows and tree lines can also play an important role in carbon sequestration in agricultural landscapes.

What species can you find here?
Flora

Beyond crop species, farmland can be home to a large number of flora species that can all play key roles in the ecosystem. These plants support the large variety of fauna species found on farmland. The abundance and diversity of plant species depends on the type of habitat and the level of ‘improvement’. Improved grasslands are areas that have been re-seeded and treated with chemicals, such as fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, and typically species diversity is much lower compared to unimproved or semi-improved grasslands.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Blackthorn by Rob Hodgkins via Flickr

A common hedgerow species, blackthorn flowers in early spring and produces fruits in autumn and winter, providing an important food source for many species, including invertebrates and birds. It is visually similar to several other species, such as wild plum and wild cherry, but can be distinguished by its fruit size, leaf shape and the time of year that the flowers bloom.

Common Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Hawthorn flowers by Bjorn S and haws by Tristram Brelstaff via Flickr

Hawthorn is another common hedgerow species, providing food and shelter for species such as yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) and the hawthorn moth (Scythropia crataegella). The red berries, called haws, develop during autumn and winter, and are an important source of food during the colder months for many farmland species. Did you know that hawthorn was originally associated with May Day? It was used before the development of the Maypole, with its leaves and flowers used in garlands.

White Clover (Trifolium repens)

White clover by Hideyuki Kamon via Flickr

This plant is often used as a companion plant for crops, providing additional ground cover to reduce soil erosion. White clover also fixes nitrogen within the soil, allowing for better crop growth. Clover suppresses the growth of unwanted or damaging plants too, and also acts as a trap for pests to draw them away from valuable crop plants. This practice helps to improve farmland for wildlife as it prevents it from becoming a monoculture, adding more variety in food and shelter resources. The use of cover crops within agriculture has reduced, however, and white clover is much less abundant on farmland than it once was.

Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Creeping thistle by Peter O’Connor via Flickr

The creeping thistle is an important source of food for many farmland birds, such as goldfinches and linnets, but it’s often considered a ‘weed’ and is normally quite heavily managed on agricultural land. Its flower heads consist of lilac-pink florets on a cylinder of spiny leaf-like structures called bracts. During the late summer, it releases fluffy, wind-borne seeds en masse.

Fauna

Many iconic UK species use farmland and the fauna present changes depending on the time of year. Farmland can seem to come alive during spring and summer, although there is still much to see during the colder months.

Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix)

Grey partridge by Ekaterina Chernetsova (Papchinskaya) via Flickr

This species is an iconic part of farmland wildlife, with its orange face, dark black semi-circle patch on its abdomen and stripy grey and orange-brown feathers. The grey partridge relies on the seeds, leaves and certain invertebrate species that it finds in open farmland and has a preference for areas with hedges. It is a ground-nesting bird, laying the most number of eggs per clutch of any bird (the record is 25).

Grey partridge numbers have declined by more than 80% in the UK since the 1980s. This has mostly been attributed to a loss of seed sources, habitat loss and predation, for example by cats and foxes. Luckily there are several conservation efforts in place to help this species.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

Yellowhammer by Airwolfhound via Flickr

These brightly coloured birds prefer open countryside with bushes and hedgerows, and so they are often found in farmland habitats. Yellowhammers feed on invertebrates and seeds, relying on farmland seeds during the winter as snow cover can make it difficult to find food elsewhere.

Heart and Dart Moth (Agrotis exclamationis)

Heart and dart by AJC1 via Flickr

Farmland habitats are home to a great many invertebrate species, with a large variety of butterflies and moths. The heart and dart is an easily identifiable moth due to its distinctive markings. It has a blackish v-shaped collar, with a dark dart mark and two circular marks on its wings. The wing colour can vary from lightish grey to a much darker brown. They feed on a variety of plants such as brambles (Rubus spp.), maize (Zea spp.) and lettuce (Lactuca spp.).

Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)

Brown hare by Caroline Legg via Flickr

While not a true native to the UK, as they were thought to have been introduced during Roman times, this species is now considered naturalised. It prefers a mixture of grassland, arable fields and hedgerows, grazing on vegetation and the bark of young, woody plants. Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) can also be seen on farmland, although they can be distinguished quite easily as hares are much larger, with longer limbs and longer, black-tipped ears.

Farmland can also support many of the UK’s small mammal species. For more information on those, check out our NHBS Guide to UK Small Mammal Identification.

Threats

Intensification of agricultural practices has led to a reduction in habitat areas that are seen as unproductive, such as hedgerows, rough grassland and open water areas. It has been reported that 60% of farmland species are now in decline. As well as agricultural intensification, other factors behind this decline include changes in farming practices; the use of harmful chemicals, such as insecticides; overgrazing by livestock; destruction of habitats and soil erosion.

Habitat changes caused by development, afforestation or conservation efforts that prioritise alternative habitat types can also pose a threat to farmland. As can changes in management, or a lack thereof; the abandonment of farmland can lead to encroachment by scrubs and trees. While scrubland can be an important habitat for many wildlife species, it is not necessarily suitable for all farmland species, such as ground-nesting birds that prefer open habitats. This could lead to a change in community structure and may even lead to localised extinction of vulnerable species that rely on farmland and cannot survive in other habitats. Changes in land use through development can also impact in a similar way. Furthermore, if the land was originally woodland or wetland, for example, there may be a push to restore it to its previous habitat type, which may not be suitable for the species previously inhabiting the farmland area.

Farmland habitats also face climate change-related challenges. Changes in precipitation, increased extreme weather and increased temperatures can lead to soil degradation, reduced plant growth and changes in the availability of food, shelter and fresh water for wildlife. These factors can also impact crop production, and where this results in reduced yields, this increases the need for agricultural intensification to meet demands, further impacting the farmland ecosystem.

Hopes for the future

A change in the way farmers receive subsidies may signal a shift away from a rather bleak picture for these habitats. Previously, farmers were paid grants based on how much land they owned and farmed. This encouraged them to use as much of their land for productivity as possible. Now, however, farmers will be paid for more sustainable practices instead. Under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, grants will be rewarded for restoration of non-crop habitats, the provision of resources for farmland species year-round and reducing the use of harmful pesticides.

Useful resources and further reading

Farming and Birds
Ian Newton
Hardback | £32.50 £34.99

 

 

 

Wildlife Conservation on Farmland, Volume 1
David W Macdonald and Ruth E Feber
Hardback | £78.99

 

 

 

 

Farmland Conservation: Evidence for the effects of interventions in northern and western Europe
Lynn V Dicks et al
Paperback | £34.99

 

 

The Shepherd’s Life: A Tale of the Lake District
James Rebanks
Paperback | £9.99

 

 

All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd November 2021

Satellite images show the positive impact of conservation efforts for China’s coastal wetlands. An international, interdisciplinary research team led by University of Oklahoma professor Xiangming Xiao analysed more than 62,000 satellite images of coastal wetlands in China taken between 1984 to 2018. They found a substantial increase in saltmarsh area and a stable trend of tidal flat areas after 2012, driven by decreased pollution and increased conservation and restoration efforts.

Nature in Australia’s southwest is on the climate frontline. This region has been identified as a global drying hotspot as, since 1970, winter rainfall has declined up to 20%, river flows have plummeted and heatwaves spanning water and land have intensified. This is having a wide range of negative impacts on the region’s wildlife and plants, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned this will continue as emissions rise and the climate warms.

Endangered condor chicks have hatched from unfertilised eggs in a species first. Scientists have discovered two California condor chicks (Gymnogyps californianus) that were born through a form of asexual reproduction, which is extremely uncommon in birds. Only 27 individuals were recorded in 1987, all of which were captive and part of a managed breeding programme. In the decades since, many have been released back into the wild as numbers bounce back to over 500.

COP26 began in Glasgow on Sunday as the ‘last, best hope’ for meeting the 1.5°C Paris Agreement target. Over the next two weeks, delegates from over 200 countries will negotiate how to tackle the challenge of intensifying global warming. It is hoped that many of the largest carbon polluters will raise their climate targets to prevent further warming.

The pledge of $100bn annual climate aid for developing countries has been pushed back to 2023. The UK government has announced a new financing plan which talks of hopes that developed countries will deliver $100bn a year in climate finance to developing countries. However, the financing plan states that it is not likely the original 2020 target will be met, but it is confident that the target will be reached by 2023.

MARINElife: Q&A with Rick Morris and Tom Brereton

MARINElife is a science charity that conducts research on the health of our oceans by gathering information on key marine species. With the help of experienced volunteers, they carry out dolphin, whale and seabird surveys in UK and bordering waters and provide relevant, robust and up-to-date information to those working for the sustainable future of our oceans. MARINElife also runs an extensive programme of educational and outreach events, from species identification to full surveyor courses.

Research Director Tom Brereton and Trustee, Trainer and Wildlife Officer Rick Morris have kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for us.


Could you tell us about the work MARINElife does and how your charity began?

MARINElife is a charity (established in 2005) that is dedicated to the conservation of marine wildlife through research and educational activities. MARINElife grew out of the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP), which was a survey and educational programme originally based on a P&O ferry from Portsmouth to Bilbao (1995-2010).

Today, MARINElife carries out scientifically robust surveys of dolphins, whales, and seabirds, made by experienced volunteers, on a variety of vessels at sea in UK and bordering waters, from angling boats through to large commercial ferries. The work is done in partnership with a wide range of sponsoring bodies from ecotourism through to research institutes and shipping companies.

MARINElife Surveyors by Rick Morris Photography

You survey many key marine species to monitor the health of our oceans. Could you explain a bit more about the role dolphins, whales and seabirds play in the marine ecosystem and the key threats they are facing?

Dolphins perform crucial roles in their native ecosystems wherever they’re found and function as high-level predators feeding primarily on fish and squid. In any ecosystem, carnivores near or at the top of the food chain establish fundamental order all the way down to the bottom, and their removal can have wide-ranging and highly complex repercussions.

Whales play a vital role in the marine ecosystem as they help provide at least half of the oxygen you breathe by providing nutrients to phytoplankton.

Seabirds can be a good and visible indicator of the wider health of the marine environment as they feed on many of the same species as cetaceans and are often found in association with cetaceans during feeding.

The key threats to whales, dolphins and seabirds are: whaling, climate change, overfishing, by-catch, entanglement in ghost fishing gear, noise pollution and ship strikes.

Minke Whale by Rick Morris Photography

The marine realm is an important resource for many communities but is also intensely exploited. Do you believe a balance can be found between its continued use and the improvement and maintenance of ocean health?

We believe that through scientific evidence and good educational programs, cooperation with local fishing communities and everyone who depends upon the marine environment can be established to safeguard the future of our seas.

Presently, you are focusing on your small boat surveys in Lyme Bay monitoring dolphin populations. Have you noted any changes since the start of the pandemic?

Generally, there seems to be less commercial fishing activity during the day than there was a few years ago, perhaps a sign that the area has been “fished out” to some degree. There has been a notable increase in Balearic Shearwaters throughout the summer months in both years, with the Bay becoming more and more important for this species. 2020 was characterised by large numbers of Bluefin Tuna, whilst 2021 was a late season with hardly any Mackerel until September.

Bottlenose Dolphin by Rick Morris Photography

Using data collected by MARINElife, a major study published this year highlighted the importance of south-west UK waters to the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater. What conservation measures would you like to see put in place to help this species?

The main global threats to the species have been identified as drowning in fishing nets and predation by introduced species on their breeding grounds. For the bycatch issue, appropriate mitigation measures are urgently needed, whilst predator control and eradication measures need to be stepped up at breeding sites. Research is required on other threats including light pollution, marine plastics and climate change. More locally, shoaling pelagic fish such as Anchovy, which are key prey items, need to be protected from overfishing and disturbance of moulting flocks need to be monitored and regulated if required. Work needs to continue to identify and designate Special Protection Areas for the species, where these will make a real difference to the conservation of the species.

Balearic Shearwater by Tom Brereton/MARINElife

For those interested in your work and would like to get involved with MARINElife, how would you best recommend they do this?

The best route to get involved would be to email info@marine-life.org.uk and state what skills you have that would be suited to our work!

Reference

Phillips, J. A., et al. 2021. Consistent concentrations of critically endangered Balearic shearwaters in UK waters revealed by at-sea surveys. Ecology and Evolution, 11(4): 1544-1557.


You can find out more about MARINElife from their website and by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Author Interview with Angela Harding: A Year Unfolding

A Year Unfolding: A Beautifully Illustrated Guide to Nature Through the Seasons is a stunning book by much-loved printmaker Angela Harding, the first solely dedicated to her art. It is a celebration of Angela’s beautiful prints and a glimpse into her detailed and meticulous process.

A Year Unfolding is a journey through Angela’s year in nature, watching the seasons unfold in front of her studio in Rutland. This book shows how nature transforms and evolves over the course of the year, while also telling the stories behind some of Angela’s most popular images, giving context to her celebrated works, as well as new art created specifically for the book. The beautiful illustrations and evocative imagery of the prose make this the perfect book for readers and art lovers everywhere.

Angela Harding has kindly taken the time to answer a few questions for us below.

Could you tell us how you became interested in nature and printmaking?

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, the Potteries, one of the most industrial parts of the UK, it is perhaps surprising that I am more at home in the countryside than in towns. At school, I was the misfit teenager in socks rather than tights, whose bedroom was plastered with bird posters rather than popstars. So it has continued into my adult life, I have never lost my love of the natural world and in particular, birds still inspire my work. As a student of Fine Art at Leicester Polytechnic in the 1980s, I was first introduced to printmaking. My student home was a tiny cottage in the graveyard of St Marys church in Melton Mowbray. I would cycle the 18 miles to Leicester, collecting roadkill that I strapped to my handbags to draw at college. These drawings would then be turned into prints; at that time, I mainly worked in drypoint and etching. So my love of drawing moved easily into a love of printmaking. Today I work in a combination of block printing and silkscreen, but you can still see my love of line in the way I carve the blocks I make.

A Year Unfolding is a journey through the seasons. Why did you decide to give early spring and early summer their own chapters?

I love all the British seasons, but of all of them, it is the energy of spring and early summer that inspires many of my images. I always try to bring movement into my work, so there is a natural fit with the bursts of new growth and new life you get at these times of year. Also, the intensity of colour, the fresh greens of the garden and hedgerow. Birds become so much part of our day in spring and early summer, in the beauty of their songs and in their mad dashing flight to build nests and find mates.

The natural world takes centre stage in your prints; how important do you think art is in bringing awareness to the environment and how do you think it could be better used?

All of us have moved so far from a proper connection with the natural world—our comforts come high on what we need or what we think we need. So if my prints are a small reminder of the fact that we are very much part of the natural world, I am honoured. We all cherish those moments when we spot a kingfisher or come across a hedgehog in the garden. I hope, in my work, I communicate some of that joy. So if these wonders of experience with nature are to continue and grow, we need to be reminded how special they are and how much we value them.
You’ve created many beautiful and striking book covers, including English Pastoral, The Wild Isles and The Salt Path. What is the process of creating these? Do you approach each project differently?

Working with publishers over the years has given me wonderful opportunities to create new work and see my work published on a variety of themes. The advantage of being an older illustrator is that I come with a lifetime of experience. So when I was asked to do the cover for Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path, I could draw on the experience of having walked that coast path and spent a lot of my youth camping in Cornwall. I hope it is evident in the illustration I made for The Salt Path how much I love Cornwall and what great times I have had exploring its coastline.

The covers English Pastoral and The Wild Isles both used print that I had already made and luckily fitted with the themes of the books. English Pastoral featured a print call the Shippen Curlew—made after visiting my friends Mary and Hugh Elliot, who run the Twenty Twenty Gallery in Ludlow. Shippen is the Shropshire word for sheep shed and they live in a converted Shippen surrounded by farmland. Very sadly, Shropshire curlews are not as common as they were when I lived in Shropshire in my 20s, but they are still a bird I very much associate with the area. The Wild Isles shows a nightjar and moth against a seascape—this image is one of three prints made on the same theme. It was inspired by the trips my husband and I make on our small wooden boat—a lot of our summer months are spent sailing on the east coast of Britain.

What prompted you to make the jump from illustrator to author and create your own book?

I have always wanted to collect my work into a book. I work in themes and series so even though many of the images were made years apart, they fit together well. I hope the writing in the book is ok; I am, of course, more comfortable with a pen or chisel! I do come from a literary background; my father was an unpublished poet and a great influence. He studied English at Cambridge in the late 1940s under Professor F. R. Leavis. It is a shame my father is no longer here to see my book; I hope he would have approved. The poems that mark my chapter headings are ones we often shared together.

Finally, do you have any further projects planned that you’d like to tell us about?

I do have new projects in mind, but nothing definite that I can share with you at the moment. I am hoping to do a series of prints about the British coast that my husband and I visit on Wingsong, our boat. Travelling by boat and bike gives a different perspective on our landscape—we mainly spend time on the east coast moving from Suffolk up to Shetland, but we have both been around the whole coast by boat and by bike.