Book Review: Ghosts in the Hedgerow: A Hedgehog Whodunnit

Ghosts in the Hedgerow is the new book by conservation research scientist Dr Tom Moorhouse. His previous book, Elegy for a River, was a heartfelt tribute to UK rivers and included many wonderful tales of his fieldwork adventures beside rivers, fens, lakes and more. He discussed the threats currently facing these habitats and their occupants, the conservation work currently taking place and what he believes is needed to repair the degradation that has occurred. Ghosts in the Hedgerow follows a similar format but instead looks at Britain’s favourite mammal – the hedgehog. 

Moorhouse presents the full story of the hedgehogs’ plight in the face of humanity, following three years of conservation research focusing on the species. This book opens with a classic fictional murder mystery scene: the  guests are gathered around a detective who announces that a murder has occurred, the murder of a hedgehog. This tongue-in-cheek opening with its amusing if perhaps stereotypical cast of characters makes the data-dense introductory chapter easy to read. Snippets of this continue throughout as welcome breaks to the often sombre topics covered. The book is split into five more sections, the first four covering each main ‘suspect’ in the decline of hedgehogs: cars, agriculture, modern gardens, and the badger – a species which is also the focus of conservation efforts. The final section ‘A Murderer Unmasked’ and the afterword ‘One Final Word’ presents Moorhouse’s solution.

Hedgehog by Andrew Wilkinson via Flickr

The second chapter, ‘Driven to Destruction’, highlights the main obstacle behind identifying the significant causes of hedgehog decline and developing an effective solution: the lack of accurate population estimates. It is generally quoted that there were around 36 million individuals in the 1950s. But it is worth noting that this number was based on one ‘survey’ where ten  hedgehogs were seen in ten acres on a single walk, thus estimating a population density of one hedgehog per non-urban acre in Great Britain, regardless of habitat type (excluding upland areas where hedgehogs are known to be scarce). Current estimations of the overall population are based on various smaller surveys of hedgehogs within certain habitats, with that data extrapolated based on the amount of these habitats in the UK. But due to the small number of these habitat surveys and their short study time, each current population estimate has limited reliability. Without accurate and reliable population estimates, the true impact of the various threats is unclear, and the implemention and monitoring of conservation efforts can be jeopardised.

Moorhouse also highlights another issue with hedgehog conservation, or with conservation in general, in chapter three, ‘The Tale of Tommy Brock’, – trade-offs. No conservation effort occurs in a vacuum, just as no species lives in a vacuum. Any efforts made for one species will likely have an impact on another, whether that be positive or negative. Badgers have faced decades of persecution, often being the scapegoat of many agricultural issues. Their populations had declined so much that they were considered uncommon, until the 1980s when concerted efforts were made to protect them. Badgers are now one of the most protected species in the UK and their numbers are up 50-80% (depending on the survey data). Ghosts in the Hedgerow discusses one of the potential environmental trade-offs of this conservation success – the impact on hedgehogs, one of the badgers’ prey items. Hedgehogs tend to avoid badgers, so they are increasingly pushed out of more and more areas as badger numbers increase. This story is not as simple as it first seems, however, as badgers are found not to be the most important factor when studies examined hedgehog densities. Additionally, as Moorhouse points out, badgers and hedgehogs have coexisted for thousands of years; while they may be contributing towards hedgehog decline, it is unlikely that they are the root cause.

Badger by caroline legg via Flickr

Throughout the book, Moorhouse takes these complicated factors and picks them apart, examining the reliability of the data and challenging baseless assumptions. He discusses the impact of hedgerow removal in the 1930s and 40s, the emerging threat of automatic lawnmowers, the problem of enclosed gardens and the reluctance of landowners to cut holes into fences for ‘hedgehog highways’. He includes injuries caused by strimmers, the impact of slug pellet overuse, the massive loss of invertebrate biomass and diversity, and the increasing impacts of agricultural conversion and intensification, and urban expansion. Each one of these stressors may have been survivable on its own if it weren’t for the others. Therefore, it is not one ‘murderer’ but the synergistic interaction between a combination of stressors creating a cumulative effect on hedgehog populations. Moorhouse refers to it as ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

Eco Hedgehog Hole Fence Plate
Hedgehog Highway Sign

 

 

 

 

 

 

The final sections of Ghosts in the Hedgerow, chapter six ‘A Murderer Unmasked’ and the afterword ‘One Final Word’, is where Moorhouse presents his solution. The important part of any conservation proposal is to make sure, as Moorhouse puts it, it doesn’t result in a “trade-off in human lives”. Moorhouse suggests small lifestyle changes, for instance reducing your meat intake, particularly beef as its production is a major cause of biodiversity loss and global emissions; purchasing food from farms that use less environmentally harmful chemicals or practices; writing to MPs about local ventures such as planting street trees and traffic reductions; recording hedgehog sightings; and allowing your garden to become wilder and more accessible. The book ends on a final word, a collation of advice from several well-known and passionate hedgehog lovers, experts and authors, including David Wembridge, Hugh Warwick and Pat Morris. He believes that these small-scale personal changes, alongside more large-scale governmental and policy changes, such as more environmentally friendly regulations for new building developments, more sustainably managed public green spaces and serious reductions in consumption and food waste, might give hedgehogs the best possible opportunity to thrive.

Ghosts in the Hedgerow is a funny but serious, light-hearted but uncomfortably honest lament for the plight of our favourite mammal and a strong call for widespread conservation to be implemented. It is a well-researched and compelling read, filled with footnotes, puns and anecdotes that bring this topic to life. This truly is the perfect read for anyone who loves hedgehogs, wants to be more wildlife friendly, or is just interested in the complicated problems of conservation efforts in Britain.


Ghosts in the Hedgerow: A Hedgehog Whodunnit
By: Tom Moorhouse
Hardback | March 2023

 

 

 

 

This Week in Biodiversity News – 30th January 2023

Deforestation

Human activity has degraded more than a third of the Amazon rainforest. New research has shown that up to 38% of the forest has been affected by human actions, with the four key disturbances being fire, selective logging (including illegal practices), extreme drought and edge effects (the changes that occur in areas next to deforested areas). The level of degradation is far greater than previously understood and not only has consequences for the climate crisis and biodiversity loss but also Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.

More extreme thunderstorms resulting from climate change are likely to cause a greater number and frequency of ‘windthrow’ events in the Amazon rainforest, where trees are uprooted or damaged due to severe weather. These fallen trees then decompose on the forest floor which has a huge impact on the carbon budget and carbon dynamics of the rainforest. Scientists are now working on better models which will help them to understand how forests will fare under different emissions scenarios.

Amazon rainforest by Jay via Flickr
Pollution

England’s coast faces multiple threats from dredging, sewage and pollution. The Environment Agency has warned that dredging will likely increase around the coast, with pollution and sewage adding pressures to coastal ecosystems. In 2021, three quarters of shellfish waters around England failed to meet aspirational standards for environmental protection, with dredging and pollution coming under increased scrutiny following mass die-offs of crabs and lobsters. The findings from the EA report published last week suggest that dredging was unlikely to be the cause but this has been criticised by some scientists. There are now calls for stronger targets to cut pollution, a ban on destructive fishing in marine protected areas, and stricter penalties for sewage discharges.

The UK government has allowed ’emergency’ use of a banned bee-harming pesticide for the third year in a row, just days after the EU tightens protections against emergency deregulations. The neonicotinoid thiamethoxam is lethal to bees, and the authorisation comes just a month after the UK government advocated for a global reduction target at COP15. UK guidance states that emergency applications should not be granted more than once and the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides once again advised against allowing thiamethoxam to be used, but was again ignored by the government.

A new study has found plastic in the scat of fishing cats living near Colombo, Sri Lanka. The plastics varied in size from microplastics to larger macroplastics and were believed to have been ingested via their prey. Only six of the 276 samples taken were found to contain plastics but this is still a concern for the vulnerable species. Further research is needed to assess any potential health impacts on the species.

Shortfin Mako Shark by Mark Conlin via Wikimedia Commons
Extinction Risk

An investigation has found that endangered sharks are being sold as ‘flake’ in South Australian fish and chip shops. According to the study, less than a third of servings meet seafood labelling standards. Out of 96 fish and chip shops and 10 fresh fish retailers, only 29 servings were actually gummy shark, one of only two shark species that Australian Fish Names Standard says can be sold as flake in Australia. Three servings were narrownose smooth-hound, a critically endangered shark; two were the endangered shortfin mako; one was smooth hammerhead, considered vulnerable; 19 were the critically endangered school shark; and 15 servings were whiskery shark.

Gillnets in Bangladesh are a major threat to both the Ganga River dolphin and the Irrawaddy dolphin. Entanglement in nets, along with boat propeller strikes, killed 130 Ganga River dolphins between 2007 and 2016. Since 2002, the manufacture, marketing, import, hoarding, carrying, possession or use of any kind of gillnet is prohibited but they are still widely used by fishers due to their effectiveness at catching large numbers of fish. There are currently only 2,000 Ganga River dolphins and 6,000 Irrawaddy dolphins left in Bangladesh.

Research

A study has suggested that reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions in England and Wales by 2050 could lead to an extra 2 million years of life. Many of the proposed policies in the UK will reduce harmful environmental factors such as air pollution, as well as encouraging healthier behaviours such as a balanced diet and exercise. These policies, if implemented, would result in significant reductions in mortality across English and Welsh populations. Retrofitting homes with insulation, reducing red meat consumption, replacing car journeys with walking or cycling, and reducing air pollution could also lead to people living with fewer health conditions.

Dwarf eelgrass by Duartefrade via Wikimedia Commons
Conservation

Seagrass restoration trails have begun in Cornwall. The first round of planting for the project, taking place in the River Fal, has been completed, and is the first attempt by Cornwall Wildlife Trust to restore seagrass meadows. A group of volunteers spent more than 120 hours collecting over 4,000 seeds last summer and planting them. It is hoped that this project will expand to an area 10 times the size used in the first round of trails.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 16th January 2023

Pollution

Global NGOs are joining forces to accelerate the campaign to end plastic pollution. The World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP), the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Plastics Initiative and waste charity WRAP are planning to work together to deliver a circular economy for plastics. This supports international negotiations to deliver a new Plastics Treaty, which began last November and aims to crack down on plastic waste by mid-2025.

Citizen science

Buglife, a conservation charity, is appealing for the public’s help to find a rare beetle in the woodlands of Devon and Cornwall. The blue ground beetle (Carabus intricatus) has only been seen at 15 sites across the south-west of England and south Wales. The species was identified at two new sites on Dartmoor in 2022 but the charity would like people to help find out if it is living in more locations. Buglife is asking for people to take pictures if they think they have spotted the beetle, and to send them to the Dartmoor Blue Ground Beetle project online.

The blue ground beetle by Berard DUPONT via Flickr
Research

A chemical that is used in the production of toilet paper and ‘forever chemicals’ has been found in the bodies of orcas. A team of scientists have analysed tissue samples from six southern resident orcas and six Bigg’s whales that were stranded along the coast of British Columbia from 2006 to 2018. The team, made up of scientists from The Institute for the Ocean and Fisheries, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, found that the chemical accounted for 46% of the total pollutants identified. This toxic substance can interact with the nervous system and influence cognitive function.

A new study has suggested that more than three million years of evolutionary history has been lost in Madagascar due to extinctions. Urgent conservation action is needed to prevent another wave of extinctions as, if all currently threatened mammals also go extinct, it is predicted that it would take more than 20 million years for new species to evolve naturally to replace those lost.

The golden-crowned sifaka, a critically endangered mammal found in northeast Madagascar. Image by Alex Chiang via Flickr.
Conservation

Beavers are set to be released into Hampshire for the first time in 400 years. A pair will be released at Ewhurst Park estate near Basingstoke, which is being restored for nature and sustainable food production. Beavers were given legal protection in England in 2021, formally recognising them as native wildlife. This keystone species will help to create new wetlands on the estate, which will provide new habitats for dozens of bird and insect species.

Over 5,000 fish from endangered species have been released into the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers in Cambodia. The ceremony was held by the Cambodian government and the Wonders of the Mekong project at the Chaktomuk River in Phnom Penh, which is connected to both of the larger rivers. The species released included Mekong giant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas), giant barbs (Catlocarpio siamensis) and striped catfish (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus). It is hoped that they will reproduce and increase the rare fish populations in both rivers.

Dartmoor ponies by Tony Hisgett via Flickr

A new herd of Dartmoor ponies have been brought in to boost the population on Thetford heathland in Norfolk. Fifteen ponies have joined the 119 others that currently live in the area and will help to deliver conservation grazing programmes across the nature reserves, including East Wretham Heath. These selective grazers will create a rich variety of different heights and species of vegetation, helping birds such as nightjars and stone curlews.

Extinction risks

The scientists who led the research into the mass die-off of crabs and lobsters along the north-east coast of England say they have not been questioned by the panel investigating the disaster. The review panel is due to send its findings to ministers this week, but they have also been excluded from examining government processes as part of its inquiry. This is raising questions about the potential limitations and reliability of the forthcoming results.

Queensland, Australia, has been urged to end its shark nets and drum lines programme, as scientists call these lethal methods “ineffective” and inhumane. In 2019, Humane Society International won a legal challenge to stop the use of lethal drum lines in the Great Barrier Reef park, but as of 1st December 2022, the Queensland government has only spent $505,000 on replacing the old drum lines with ‘Smart’ catch-and-alert ones. Last year, 15 humpback whales were caught in shark nets, as Queensland does not remove them during whale migration season.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 2nd January 2023

Climate change

UK wildlife was ‘devastated’ by extreme weather in the UK. The National Trust’s annual audit revealed that 2022 was a dire year for animals, including amphibians, mammals, birds and insects. Due to strong storms, heatwaves and cold snaps, many species and habitats were effected. The wildfires during the hot summer destroyed many heathland areas in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, impacting rare species such as sand lizards and smooth snakes. This potential ‘new norm’ of extreme weather is creating major challenges for UK biodiversity.

2022 will be the warmest year on record in the UK, according to the Met Office. Provisional figures hint that the annual average temperature from last year will exceed the previous record set in 2014. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2003, with temperature trends showing that the UK is hotter since we began burning fossil fuels and releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This new record is showing that climate change is having a real impact.

Unseasonably warm weather is expected this January, with at least eight countries across Europe experiencing record high temperatures. The warmest January day on record was recorded in Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia. The Czech Republic saw temperatures of 19.6°C, compared with the usual average of 3°C.

Extinction risks
Polar bear by Martin Lopatka via Flickr

Polar bears are vanishing from the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ in Canada. The western Hudson Bay is considered a stronghold for this species but government research is showing that there has been a dramatic decline in numbers. Every five years, researchers count the number of bears in the area and extrapolate population trends, with the last count in 2021 estimating 618 bears, down from 842 five years earlier. The reveal showed significant declines in adult females and subadult bears between 2011 and 2021, possibly due to displacements to neighbouring regions or hunting. The bears’ sea-ice habitat has also been disappearing, with the far north of the world warming up to four times faster than the rest of the planet.

New discoveries

A pink coloured variant of the Monotropastrum humile plant, native to East and Southeast Asia, has been discovered to actually be a new species. A 20-year study determined how exactly these plants different, with specimens collected throughout Japan, Taiwan and Vietnam. Originially, there was thought to be only one species in this genus in the world, so this new discovery has deepened our understanding of the plants in the Monotropastrum genus. As this newly recognised species is rare and therefore presumably endangered, the information from this study will hopefully be used to inform conservation efforts.

Research

Researchers have found a ‘shark graveyard’ at the bottom of the ocean in one of Australia’s newest marine parks. Fossilised teeth dating back to an ancient ancestor of the megalodon were found in samples taken from this site, along with 750 teeth representing a number of other predatory species. These were a mix of modern and ancient sharks and will help scientists better understand both past and present life in the ocean.

Conservation
Eastern Quoll by sontag1 via Flickr

Eastern quolls have been released into the Australian bush in New South Wales, over sixty years after they were declared extinct on the mainland. The 10 individuals were released into a NSW nature reserve, bolstering an insurance population of quolls. The Barrington population is the largest on the mainland and was established through the Tasmanian Quoll Program. Special fences have been erected to keep out cats, foxes and pigs, as feral invasive predators are thought to have been the cause of the initial population decimation.

What are the results of COP15 and do they really mean anything?

COP15, the UN Biodiversity Conference, took place between 7th and 19th December 2022. This event set out to convene world governments to agree to a new set of goals for nature over the next decade. This will create a framework that sets out an ambitious plan to implement broad-based action to change society’s relationship with biodiversity, ensuring that humanity can live in harmony with nature by 2050. COP15 has been touted as the key turning point in the fight to protect biodiversity, and a vital opportunity for countries to make change.

Biodiversity is declining globally, with the WWF Living Planet Report reporting that trends in the population abundance of mammals, fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians have revealed that populations have declined by an average of 69% between 1970 and 2018. Habitat conversion for people and livestock, hunting, exploitation, the intensification of agricultural practices, and the impacts of climate change such as temperature increase, changes to rainfall patterns and increased extreme weather events are among the wide range of challenges wildlife currently faces. Regionally, Latin America and The Caribbean have experienced the worst decline, at 94%. This global decline is set to worsen if no changes are made.  

COP15 by UN Biodiversity via Flickr
What were the goals that needed to be set?

The main aim of COP15 was to reach a set of goals and targets that would create a comprehensive and equitable framework agreed upon by world governments. These clear targets need to address over-exploitation, pollution, fragmentation and unsustainable agricultural practices, and be matched by the resources needed for implementation. There also needed to be a plan that safeguarded the rights of indigenous peoples, recognising their contributions as stewards of nature. Finally, the finance for biodiversity needed to be addressed, particularly relating to the alignment of financial flows with nature to push finances towards sustainable investments and away from environmentally harmful ones.

The Deal

An agreement was reached on Monday 19th December 2022. Almost 200 countries agreed to the new set of goals and targets that aim to “halt and reverse” biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. Six items were adopted at COP15:

  • the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF)
  • A monitoring framework for the Kunming-Montreal GBF
  • Mechanisms for planning, monitoring, reporting and review
  • Capacity-building, development, technical and scientific cooperation
  • Resource mobilisation
  • Digital sequence information on genetic resources.

It is hoped that measurable targets within the Kunming-Montreal GBF, and a mechanism for implementation, will ensure it will succeed where previous targets have not. There are 23 global targets within this GBF for 2030, with 10 ‘milestones’, including ensuring that at least 30% of land and water considered important for biodiversity are protected before the end of the decade. Currently, only 17% of terrestrial and 10% of marine areas are protected.

The key targets also include increasing financial resources from all sources, not just governments, to at least $200 billion per year towards supporting biodiversity by 2030; reducing, redirecting or reforming environmentally harmful incentives by $500 billion per year; and reducing the nutrients lost to the environment by at least 50%, pesticides by at least two thirds and eliminating plastic waste from entering the environment entirely.

The digital sequence information target refers to genetic sequence data, derived from the natural world. This is used in medicine and science, for vaccines, biofuels, crop improvements and further research. The target would require that the benefits arising from this information be shared fairly and equitably.

Are they effective?

Many are labelling the goal of taking urgent measures by 2030 as a strong call to action, with many 2030 milestones listed in the final agreement, including reducing extinction risk by 20%. This would then be reduced tenfold by 2050. This, however, would mean many species are still likely to go extinct during this time, particularly specialist species that occupy narrow niches, as these are more likely to be impacted than generalist species that can survive in a wider variety of environmental conditions. Reducing the diversity of species within an ecosystem can reduce its resilience against other stressors, such as the impacts of climate change, disease and habitat degradation. This is known as biotic homogenisation, where ecological communities become increasingly similar due to a combination of the extinction of native species and the invasion of non-native species.

The target of protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030 is hailed by many as the main success of the conference. This large increase in protected areas, especially with the requested focus on areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services, will have a significant impact on biodiversity loss. However, some are describing the milestone of conserving at least 30% of land and sea by 2030 as a ‘floor, not a ceiling’, suggesting that 50% is an important step to the long-term survival of both biodiversity and humanity. This is the key aspect of the Half-Earth concept, developed by biologist E. O. Wilson, which states that the only solution to the upcoming ‘Sixth Extinction’ is to increase natural reserves to cover half the surface of the earth.

Additionally, there is no target for increasing species population abundance by 2030, with details on enlarging the area of natural ecosystems by at least 5% being removed after earlier drafts. While many of the other targets will most likely lead to an increase in species population abundance, and perhaps even in increasing the area of natural ecosystems, the lack of a set target makes it harder to hold governments to account.

Another item that has notably been missed is the issue of dietary consumption, beyond reducing general overconsumption. Research has shown the consumption of meat, particularly beef, is specifically linked to biodiversity loss, with 30% of biodiversity loss linked to livestock production. Reduction of meat consumption is not mentioned in the text of the COP15 agreement, despite research suggesting that beef consumption needs to fall by 90% in western countries to prevent the future impacts of climate change.

Cattle farming by ScotGov Rural via Flickr

Research has also shown that over £1.48tn ($1.8tn) of environmentally harmful subsidies are being paid each year, going towards high-emission cattle production, deforestation and pollution. One of the Aichi biodiversity targets, discussed later in this article, was to remove these subsidies, which governments failed to achieve by 2020. This new target, which requires governments to redirect or reduce these subsidies by at least £416bn ($500bn) per year is a major opportunity, and is recognised as another major outcome of this agreement. However, this still leaves over £1tn ($1.3tn) in environmentally harmful subsidies each year, continuing to put pressure on global biodiversity.

Additonally, the COP15 agreement calls for businesses to assess and disclose how they impact and are impacted by nature loss, but it is not mandatory, which weakens this target. This is unlikely to effectively hold large corporations to account, though societal pressure may play a role in encouraging many countries and financial firms towards disclosures.

This all suggests that, while meeting these targets will put the world on the right track towards halting and reversing biodiversity loss, there is still much more that is needed to be done to create a ‘nature-positive’, more harmonious future. These targets need to be a starting point rather than an end goal.

Can we rely on these promises?

The previous strategic plan for biodiversity for the 2011-2020 period included the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, agreed upon at COP10 in 2010. However, by 2020, the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 Report by the UN showed that the world failed to meet any of the targets.  There were 20 targets agreed upon, which were separated into 6o elements, to aid in monitoring overall progress. In 2020, only seven of these elements were achieved, with 38 showing progress and 13 with no progress at all. Two had unknown progress. This resulted in six Aichi targets being partially achieved, such as those on protected areas and invasive species. This failure to meet the previous set of targets does not bode well for any confidence in the seriousness of the commitment of world governments to meet these new ones.

The new financial targets, widely hailed as one of the main successes of COP15 will make a huge difference in halting and reversing biodiversity loss but only if they are actually achieved. In 2009, developed countries committed to supplying $100 billion per year by 2020 to help vulnerable countries impacted by climate change. However, these rich nations failed to meet the long-standing pledge. Instead, $83.3 billion was provided in 2020, $16.7 billion short of the target. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested that the $100 billion target would not be met until 2023, using U.N. data processed with a two-year delay. This, again, casts doubt on whether developed countries can be relied upon to follow through with the financial commitments agreed upon at these events.

The other main success of COP15, the goal to protect 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030, also has a failing precedent. In the UK in 2020, the Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, committed to protecting 30% of the UK’s land and sea for nature by 2030. However, so far, according to the 2022 Progress Report on 30×30 in England by Wildlife and Countryside Link, only 3.22% of England’s land is effectively protected and managed by nature, compared to 3% in 2021. There was more progress in protecting English waters, with 8% effectively protected for nature, compared to 4% in 2021.  With very little progress being made and the continued threats of deregulatory proposals to reform or repeal the strongest laws for nature, this calls into question whether the UK will remain committed to these new global goals. Additionally, the newly published environmental targets from The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) are being criticised as a ‘job half-done’ as the goals to ensure greater biodiversity in 2042 than in 2022, and at least 10% more than in 2030, do not go far enough.

However, a proposed EU Nature Restoration Law might be the first step towards achieving these new targets. Should this law successfully make its way through the European Parliament, it would signal that these countries are willing to make the necessary policy changes to stop biodiversity loss. The new law aims to set specific timetables for restoring degraded habitats such as rivers, wetlands, fields and forests. It would cover 1.6 million square miles across the 27 member countries. As the EU’s current environmental laws don’t explicitly state how, when or who needs to restore these areas, this new law is a much-needed addition to ensure proper implementation of conservation. The final vote is expected to take place in June.

Protest at COP15. Image by UN Biodiversity via Flickr

Ultimately, world governments and global businesses have made similar pledges before and failed to follow through. Often, while the agreements contain targets that would make significant progress against biodiversity loss, there is a lack of strict regulation of adherence and adoption of policies that would allow for progress towards these targets. While there have been some initial steps that suggest a real commitment to achieving these targets, the next few months and years will be a key time for world governments to prove that they are willing to make the necessary changes.

References and useful resources

The UN page on COP15

The first draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework

The 23 targets of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework

Two papers on the impacts of biotic homogenisation

Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson

Research into meat consumption and its connection to biodiversity loss

Research into food systems and environmental limits, discussing the reduction of meat consumption

Research into the amount of environmentally harmful subsidies per year

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The world failed to meet any of the Aichi biodiversity targets by 2020 – a news report by The Guardian

The statement by Defra on the final environmental targets under the Environment Act 2021

Information on the EU Nature Restoration Law

This Week in Biodiversity News – 19th December 2022

Conservation

The province of Limburg in the Netherlands will be restoring the habitat of the critically endangered garden dormouse over the next four years. In the Netherlands, this species (Eliomys quercinus) is only found in the southern Limburg area, although it is found across other parts of Europe, including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy and areas of south eastern Europe. The species relies on contiguous hedges and bushes, avoiding open fields, with a food preference for blackberries, common hazel, elderberries, gooseberries and red currants. Habitat loss and fragmentation are thought to have been the cause of the decline in both their abundance and range.

The garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus) by Arno Laurent via Wikipedia Commons
Extinction risks

There have been a number of news stories relating to the mass die-offs of crustaceans off the North East and Yorkshire coasts, the first of which occurred in October 2021. Fishers and campaigners are protesting against further developments on the River Tee, where they believe dredging disturbed toxic chemicals and caused the mass deaths. Both the government and Tees Valley Combined Authority rejected this claim, with Defra suggesting naturally occurring algae was the most likely cause. Defra is organising an independent panel that will reinvestigate by January, and MPs are now calling for the inquiry to be open and collaborative, ensuring independence in the process.

Policy

Campaigners call for biodegradable plastic to be included in English single-use cutlery ban. The ban, expected to be announced in the coming weeks, comes after Scotland and Wales already legislated to ban various single-use plastics, including those described as biodegradable. Many ‘bioplastics’ are environmentally damaging and won’t break down in the natural environment, despite being termed biodegradable.  

A report from the House of Lords has said that access to green space needs to be prioritised when deciding how to use land. The cross-party House of Lords land use in England commission has laid out its priorities for a land use framework. This would divide up the land in England and decide where is best for different types of agriculture, as well as carbon sequestration, nature restoration and recreation. The report, published on Tuesday last week, highlights the need for greater access to the natural world for the public, as it is ‘important for health and wellbeing, especially in urban and peri-urban locations near where people live’.  

Research

New research has found the structures and binding environments of pigments bound to a protein responsible for photosynthesis at sea. Using cryogenic electron microscopy, the team studied a marine macroalga, Sea Staghorn (Codium fragile), which uses a protein termed a ‘photosynthetic antenna’ to efficiently utilise the blue-green light that reaches the ocean floor. The mechanism by which this is achieved has not yet been fully understood but this new research is contributing to a better understanding.

Sea Staghorn (Codium fragile) by Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr

A breakthrough in nuclear fusion energy has been announced by US scientists. Physicists have been pursuing the technology for decades as it promises a potential source of near-limitless clean energy. The fusion experiment, which took place at the National Ignition Facility in California produced more energy than was put in, but experts say there is still some way to go before fusion powers homes. Nuclear fusion works by taking pairs of light atoms and forcing them together, which releases a lot of energy. This process, while giving off small amounts of short-lived radioactive waste, produces no greenhouse gas emissions and therefore would not contribute to climate change.  

Pollination loss removes healthy food from global diets. New research led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that this increases chronic diseases causing excess deaths. Inadequate pollination, due to reduced biodiversity, has led to a 3-5% loss of fruit, vegetable and nut production, linked to an estimated 427,000 excess deaths annually from lost healthy food consumption and associated diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain cancers.

COP15

Eels are facing a population collapse after the annual fishing negotiations for key EU waters ended in quotas higher than those scientists have recommended. Conservation groups and scientists recently called for all EU eel fisheries to be closed to allow populations space to recover. However, the European Commission only agreed to extend the closure of eel fisheries at sea from the current three-month closure to six months. This will cover juvenile eel migrations and mature eels swimming between the sea and rivers. This decision came as the UN COP15 biodiversity summit, which ended on Monday 19th December, attempted to bring countries together to agree on targets to ensure the survival of species and stem the collapse of ecosystems across the world. A number of conservationists and scientists believe this decision is at odds with EU leaders’ proclaimed ambitions to protect biodiversity at COP15. 

Countries have agreed to protect 30% of land and sea, decrease environmentally harmful subsidies and increase financing for nature restoration and protection. This goal is set to be achieved by the end of the decade, with initial responses from green groups being broadly positive. A new biodiversity fund will be formed, to sit within the UN’s existing Global Environment Facility, pooling together development aid, private sector money, philanthropic donations and funds raised through the use of digital sequence information of genetic resources. Additionally, rich countries have committed to increasing international aid for biodiversity to $20bn annually by 2025, then to $30bn by 2030.

The NHBS Guide to UK Rails

Rails, from the family Rallidae, are small- to medium-sized birds and include crakes, coots and gallinules. They can be found in most terrestrial habitats, but the most common are marshland and dense forests. They are present on every continent except Antarctica and are generally omnivores, consuming invertebrates, fruits and seedlings. Typically, they prefer dense vegetation near bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers or swamps.

This is a large family with around 130 species. We have several resident species in the UK, as well as a number of migrants and occasional visitors. Identification of rail species relies on plumage, leg and frontal shield colouration (if present), and their calls. Binoculars and scopes are useful for spotting these features from a distance. Juveniles and chicks will often differ in appearance from adults, therefore a guide covering these life stages is also helpful.

How are rails faring?

Due to hunting, egg collection and habitat loss, many rail species have become extinct and others are endangered. The corncrake and the spotted crake, for example, are classified as Red and Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4. Due to their general flightlessness, they are often heavily impacted by introduced species such as domestic cats. American mink, a nonnative and invasive species in the UK, are a particular threat to moorhen as they can be a main prey item.

Corncrakes are the focus of several conservation projects due to their Europe-wide population declines. Research has shown that increasing the areas of suitable tall vegetation, particularly in spring, autumn and mid-winter, delaying mowing and using certain mowing methods can be effective conservation measures. Up to 60% of chicks are killed by standard mowing practices, due to their flightlessness and reluctance to escape to areas already cut. Since 1992, conservation measures have been implemented on a large scale and have resulted in a partial recovery, from 480 calling males in 1993 in the UK to 1,284 in 2014. However, since 2014, numbers are declining again in Scotland, down by 30% to 870 males in 2019.

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Distribution: Widespread in England and Wales, rarer in Scotland and Ireland. Numbers are boosted by migrants during winter.
BoCC4 status: Green
Wingspan: 70–80cm
What to look for: The coot is an all-black bird with a distinctive white bill and ‘shield’ on its forehead. They have yellow and white legs with large white feet that have lobed flaps of skin, which act similarly to webbed feet to aid their swimming.

Eurasian coot by Dave Morton via Flickr

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Distribution: Widespread in England, Wales, and Ireland, but less common in Scotland.
BoCC4 status: Amber
Wingspan: 50–55cm
What to look for: Moorhens have a similar appearance to the Eurasian coot, with a blackish plumage, which, when viewed close up, is actually dark brown on its back and wings with a bluer underside. However, they have a red and yellow bill, long green legs and white stripes on their flanks

Moorhen by cuatrok77 via Flickr

Corncrake (Crex crex)

Distribution: Scarce summer breeding population, recorded in the Western Isles, coastal parts of northern Scotland, parts of Ireland and a few key areas in England.
BoCC4 status: Red
Wingspan: 46–53cm
What to look for: Corncrakes are small birds, slightly larger than a blackbird, with chestnut and dark brown wings and back, a mottled grey to buff underside and reddish-brown and white flanks. Its head is grey, with chestnut eyestripes and a chestnut and dark brown crown. Its legs and bill are pale pink.

Corncrake by Jo Garbutt via Flickr

Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana)

Distribution: Scarce, scattered pairs across Scotland and England.
BoCC4 status: Amber
Wingspan: 37–42cm
What to look for: The spotted crake is similar to the corncrake, with chestnut and dark brown wings and back and a greyer underside, but this species is speckled with white throughout and has a buff undertail. It has a similar grey head, chestnut and dark brown crown and chestnut eyestripe. Its legs are yellowish-green and its bill is a mix of orange, yellow and grey.

Spotted crake by Imran Shah via Flickr

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

Distribution: Widespread but thinly distributed throughout England, parts of Wales and Ireland. More scarce in Scotland and absent from upland areas.
BoCC4 status: Green
Wingspan: 38–45cm
What to look for: Their back and wings are chestnut and dark brown, with a grey underside and face. They have black-and-white barred flanks, a chestnut and dark brown crown, a long, red bill with a darker upper part and greyish-pink legs.

Water rail by Imran Shah via Flickr

Sora (Porzana carolina)

Distribution: Occasional visitors, small number of records around England.
Global status: Least concern
Wingspan: 38cm
What to look for: The sora has a brown back marked with small black and white lines, a blue-grey underside and face, a short yellow bill with black markings at the base and yellow legs. Their flanks are barred with white and black.

Sora by Susan Young via Flickr

Recommended books and equipment

The Corncrake: An Ecology of an Enigma

The detailed ecology of the corncrake, including many important facts about its lifestyle and behaviour, remains mysterious, even among ornithologists. This is the first full-length book to capture all the aspects of corncrake ecology and present this information to non-specialists.

 

Collins Bird Guide: The Most Complete Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe

With expanded text and additional colour illustrations, the third edition of the hugely successful Collins Bird Guide is a must for every birdwatcher. The new edition has an extra 32 pages allowing several groups more space and completely or partly new plates with more detailed text.

 

Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland

A bestselling guide since it was first published, Britain’s Birds has quickly established itself as the go-to photographic identification guide – the most comprehensive, up-to-date, practical and user-friendly book of its kind. Acclaimed by birdwatchers of all kinds, from the beginner to the most experienced, the guide has now been thoroughly revised and updated to make it even better than before.

 

Rite in the Rain Side Spiral Notebook (Small)

This is an environmentally responsible, all-weather paper which will survive anything from torrential rain to extreme heat and humidity. Perfect for making notes when birdwatching.

 

Kowa TSN-500 Series Compact Spotting Scope

Durable, lightweight and with excellent image quality, the TSN-500 series 20-40x spotting scopes are ideal for beginners or experienced birders looking for a portable alternative to heavier scopes.

 

Opticron Discovery WP PC Binoculars

These have an ultra-compact design to make them among the smallest waterproof roof prism binoculars available on the market today. Great for travelling and fantastic for children as young as seven.

 

Bird-Spot Laser Pointer

This is a pocket-sized green laser designed for use on birding trips. Its green beam will allow you to easily point out the location of a bird to fellow observers whilst remaining safe for both the birds and the user.

 

Please see nhbs.com for up to date pricing and availability.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 5th December 2022

Conservation

More than 20,000 bison, in 65 herds, are now owned by 82 Native American tribes across the US. Once roaming North America’s Great Plains in the tens of millions, bison were slaughtered to near extinction by European settlers. Previously, conservation efforts for this species have excluded Native Americans but now this cultural connection is being rekindled, increasing food security, reclaiming sovereignty and improving land management.

Bison by Sheila Sund via Flickr

More than 50 shark species are to be given protection from over-exploitation. Nearly 200 countries voted to add them to the list of species protected under global trade rules. This includes tiger sharks, blacktip sharks, the bonnethead and blue sharks. The two shark families, requiem sharks and hammerhead sharks, that these species belong to make up over 50% of the trade in shark fins for soup, with many species threatened with extinction. By listing them on CITES, trading products that contain these species will be much harder. 

The largest-ever dam demolition will restore hundreds of miles of historical salmon habitat. Four ageing dams are set to be destroyed along the Klamath River in California and Oregon, a win for the Native American tribes and environmentalists that have been fighting for this for years. This $500 million proposal was approved in November and the project is slated to began next year, with the biggest removals taking place in 2024.

Cranes fledge young on the Suffolk coast for the first time. The RSPB recorded two successfully raised chicks at Snape Wetlands Nature Reserve by a pair of cranes. Only around 65 pairs breed in Britain each year. This is a great sign for the relatively new reserve: the original 82ha graslland was converted to wetland and reedbed between 2008-2014. The RSPB has said it will continue to manage the wetlands to encourage more cranes to breed at the site.  

Common crane by Charlie Jackson via Flickr
New discoveries

A new seaweed species has been discovered more than 100 metres below the surface of the Antarctic Ocean. The red algae, Palmaria decipiens, was found by a team that included researchers from the University of Aberdeen using a remotely operated vehicle. The project, funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council, set out to clarify the maximum depths that seaweed could grow in Antarctica. Samples were collected for further examination and DNA sequencing was then used to confirm the type of seaweed.  

Extinction risk

The Mount Ballow mountain frog, only discovered earlier this year, is already facing extinction, despite living in a World Heritage rainforest. Scientists have warned that the species could become extinct by 2055 due to the impacts of climate change reducing the availability of suitable habitats. These frogs are currently stranded on an ‘island in the sky’ due to habitat loss within the upland mountain rainforests of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, and occupy a very narrow niche. 91% of this ecological niche would be lost under a worst-case scenario of three degrees warming, according to lead author Liam Bolitho. 

Calls for a ban on eel fishing from an intergovernmental scientific organisation are challenging the UK and EU to step up on the extinction crisis. Juvenile populations of this snake-like fish have crashed by between 95-99% since 1980. The Internation Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) now advise that fisheries catch no European eel in 2023. With the UN Biological Conference currently taking place, now is the time for European countries to make the right commitments.

European Eel by Bernard Dupont via Flickr
Climate Change

A survey has found that 80% of Scots fear climate change impacts on Scotland’s nature. The research, conducted for charities network Scottish Environment LINK, also found that pollution and ocean warming are also major fears. Just over 1,000 Scots were interviewed between 31st October and 6th November. Nearly a third of those polled stated thay were “very concerned” about the impact of climate change on Scotland, with 50% saying they were “quite concerned”. Just 14% put that they were “not that concerned”, and only 3% stated they were “not at all concerned”.

Policy

A number of MPs are backing the bill to ban trophy hunting overseas, in hopes to protect many endangered animals that are being hunted to the brink of extinction. Support currently includes the MPs for East Yorkshire, North Devon and Milton Keynes. The bill, which has cross party support, would ban British hunters from bringing ‘trophies’ of endangered and vulnerable animals into Britain. The bill has passed its second reading and it is now preparing for the committee stage of its progress through Parliament, which is expected to take place in the New Year.  

Research

Tissue loss, decay and death, along with widespread coral bleaching, were reported across the northern coastline of New Zealand last year, impacting hundreds of thousands of specimens. Latest research shows that the most severe impacts on sponges occurred in areas where a prolonged marine heatwave was most intense. These organisms serve a number of important ecological functions, including filtering large quantities of water and moving carbon from the water column to the seafloor. A major loss in coral species would change the community structure of the ecosystem within that habitat, having widespread impacts on a variety of species.

Recent and Forthcoming Titles on Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time, with a wealth of publications released on this topic each year, exploring causes, impacts and potential solutions. In 2019, we put together this list of thought-provoking titles on climate change but, since then, many more key books have been published. In this post, we present an updated selection, including academic titles, handbooks, collaborations, introductory textbooks, children’s books and explorations of climate history.

General

The Climate Book
Greta Thunberg | October 2022
This is an essential tool for everyone who wants to help save the world. Created in partnership with over one hundred experts, including geophysicists, oceanographers, economists, psychologists and philosophers, The Climate Book compiles their wisdom to equip us all with the knowledge we need to combat climate disaster.

 

Our Biggest Experiment: A History of the Climate Crisis
Alice Bell | September 2022
Bell takes us back to climate change science’s earliest steps in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, to the advancing realisation that global warming was a significant problem in the 1950s. It continues right up to today, where we have seen the growth of the environmental movement, climate scepticism and political responses like the UN climate talks.

 

Fire & Flood: A People’s History of Climate Change, from 1979 to the Present
Eugene Linden | April 2022
This is a definitive history of the modern climate-change era, from an award-winning writer who has been at the centre of the fight for more than thirty years. Fire & Flood is a comprehensive, compulsively readable history of climate change, drawing together the elements of the biggest story in the world.

 

Future on Fire: Capitalism and the Politics of Climate Change
David Carnfield | November 2022
This title argues that a just transition from fossil fuels and other drivers of climate change will not be delivered by business people or politicians that support the status quo. Nor will electing green left leaders be enough to overcome the opposition of capitalists and state bureaucrats. Only the power of disruptive mass social movements has the potential to force governments to make the changes we need.

 

Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction
Mark A Maslin | August 2021
This Very Short Introduction draws on science from the 2021 IPCC Report, examining the evidence that climate change is already happening, and discussing its potential catastrophic impacts in the future. Mark Maslin also explores the geopolitics of climate change and the win-win solutions we can employ to avoid the very worst effects of climate change.

 

Other key titles include Global Warming of 1.5°C: IPCC Special Report, Nomad Century, The Atlas of a Changing Climate and Food in a Changing Climate.

Physics / Climatology

The Physics of Climate Change
Lawrence M Krauss | February 2021
This book provides a unique, clear, accurate and accessible perspective of climate science and the risks of global inaction. Krauss explores the history of how scientists progressed to our current understanding of the Earth’s climate and its future. This is required reading for anyone interested in understanding humanity’s role in the future of our planet.

 

Climate Change: What Science Tells Us
Charles Fletcher | December 2021
This book introduces climate change fundamentals and essential concepts that reveal the extent of the damage, the impacts felt around the globe, and the innovation and leadership it will take to bring an end to the status quo.

 

Greenhouse Planet: How Rising CO2 Changes Plants and Life as We Know It
Lewis H Ziska | October 2022
Greenhouse Planet reveals the stakes of increased CO2 for plants, people and ecosystems – from crop yields to seasonal allergies and from wildfires to biodiversity. The veteran plant biologist Lewis H. Ziska describes the importance of plants for food, medicine, and culture and explores the complex ways higher CO2 concentrations alter the systems on which humanity relies.

 

Introduction to Modern Climate Change
Andrew E Dessler | August 2021
The third edition of this introductory textbook for both science students and non-science majors has been brought completely up-to-date. As in previous editions, it is tightly focused on anthropogenic climate change, concentrating on the science of modern climate change, the carbon cycle, and the economics and policy options to address climate change.

Other titles include The Climate Demon, Meltdown and Beyond Global Warming.

Advice / Handbook

Net Zero: How We Stop Causing Climate Change
Dieter Helm | September 2021
Economist Dieter Helm addresses the action we all need to take to tackle the climate emergency: personal, local, national and global. Helm argues that we, the ultimate polluters, should pay based on how much carbon the products we buy produce. The goal of net-zero carbon emissions needs a rethink and Net Zero sets out how to do it in a plan that could and would work.

 

The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide to the Climate Crisis
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac | April 2021
This is a passionate call to arms from former UN Executive Secretary for Climate Change Christina Figueres, and Tom Rivett-Carnac, senior political strategist for the Paris Agreement. We are still able to stave off the worst and manage the long-term effects of climate change, but we have to act now. This is a book for every generation, for all of us who feel powerless in the face of the climate crisis.

 

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times
Dame Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams | July 2022
The world-renowned naturalist and conservationist Jane Goodall has spent more than a half-century warning of our impact on our planet. In The Book of Hope, Jane draws on the wisdom of a lifetime dedicated to nature to teach us how to find strength in the face of the climate crisis and explains why she still has hope for the natural world and for humanity.

 

What We Need to Do Now: For a Zero Carbon Future
Chris Goodall | February 2021
What We Need to Do Now is an urgent, practical and inspiring book that signals a green new deal for Britain. Drawing on actions, policies and technologies already emerging around the world, Chris Goodall sets out the ways to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in the UK.

 

Fixing the Climate: Strategies for an Uncertain World
David G Victor and Charles F Sabel | September 2022
A compelling argument for solving the global climate crisis through local partnerships and experimentation. This book explains why the profound transformations needed for deep cuts in emissions must arise locally before best solutions can be spread globally. This is a road map to institutional design that can finally lead to self-sustaining reductions in emissions that years of global diplomacy have failed to deliver.

 

The Carbon Almanac
The Carbon Almanac Network | August 2022
This is a collaboration between hundreds of writers, researchers, thinkers and leaders that focuses on what we know, what has come before and what might happen next. With thousands of data points, articles and charts explaining carbon’s impact on everything in our society, it is the definitive source for facts and the basis for a global movement to fight climate change.

More titles include Hot Mess, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Food and Climate Change Without the Hot Air and Pandora’s Toolbox.

Psychology

Minding the Climate: How Neuroscience Can Help Solve Our Environmental Crisis
Ann-Christine Duhaime | October 2022
A neurosurgeon explores how our tendency to prioritize short-term consumer pleasures spurs climate change, but also how the brain’s amazing capacity for flexibility can – and likely will – enable us to prioritize the long-term survival of humanity.

 

How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference
Rebecca Huntley | January 2021
Why is it so hard to talk about the future of our Earth? Rebecca Huntley’s book explores why the key to progress on climate change is in the psychology of human attitudes and our ability to change. This is about understanding why people who aren’t like you feel the way they do and learning to talk to them effectively.

 

We’re All Climate Hypocrites Now: How Embracing Our Limitations Can Unlock the Power of a Movement
Sami Grover | October 2021
Taking a tongue-in-cheek approach, self-confessed eco-hypocrite Sami Grover says we should do what we can in our own lives to minimise our climate impacts, but then we need to target those actions so they create systemic change. Along the way, he skewers those pointing fingers, celebrates those who are trying and offers practical pathways to start making a difference.

Warning

Our Final Warming: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency
Mark Lynas | March 2021
Mark Lynas delivers a vital account of the future of our earth, and our civilisation, if current rates of global warming persist. And it’s only looking worse. These escalating consequences can still be avoided, but time is running out. This book must not be ignored, it really is our final warning.

 

 

Hope in Hell: A Decade to Confront the Climate Emergency
Jonathon Porritt | August 2021
Porritt believes we have time to do what needs to be done, but only if we move now – and move together. In this ultimately optimistic book, he explores all these reasons to be hopeful: new technology; the power of innovation; the mobilisation of young people – and a sense of intergenerational solidarity as older generations come to understand their own obligation to secure a safer world for their children and grandchildren.

 

Climate change denial

Hot Air: The Inside Story of the Battle Against Climate Change Denial
Peter Scott | August 2022
Climate scientist and MET Science Fellow Peter Stott reveals the bitter fight to get international recognition for what, among scientists, has been known for decades: human activity causes climate change. Hot Air is the urgent story of how the science was developed, how it has been repeatedly sabotaged and why humanity hasn’t a second to spare in the fight to halt climate change.

 

The Power of Narrative: Climate Skepticism and the Deconstruction of Science
Raul P Lejano and Shondel J Nero | October 2021
This examines the strength of climate scepticism as a story, offering a thoughtful analysis and comparison of anti-climate science narratives over time and across geographic boundaries. This is a book about how our society understands and interacts with science, how a social narrative becomes ideology, and how we can move beyond personal and political dogma to arrive at a sense of collective rapprochement.

Habitat / Species

Fen, Bog & Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis
Annie Proulx | September 2022
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx comes a riveting, revolutionary history of our wetlands, their ecological role and what their systematic destruction means for the planet. A sobering look at the degradation of wetlands over centuries and the serious ecological consequences, this is a stunningly important work and a rousing call to action by a writer whose passionate devotion to understanding and preserving the environment is on full and glorious display.

Nowhere Left to Go: How Climate Change Is Driving Species to the Ends of the Earth
Benjamin von Brackel | July 2022
The lengths plants and animals must go to avoid extinction are as alarming as they are inspirational: sea animals – like fish – move on average 45 miles a decade to cooler regions, while land animals – like beavers and butterflies – move 11 miles. As even the poles of the Earth heat up, we’re left with a stark and irreversible choice: halt the climate emergency now, or face a massive die-off of species, who are increasingly left with nowhere else to go.

Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid: How the Natural World is Adapting to Climate Change
Thor Hanson | February 2022
This is the first major book by a biologist to focus on the fascinating story of how the natural world is adjusting, adapting and sometimes measurably evolving in response to climate change. Lyrical and thought-provoking, this book broadens the climate focus from humans to the wider lattice of life.

 

Children’s books

Climate Emergency Atlas: What’s Happening – What We Can Do
Dan Hooke | October 2020
Packed with facts and figures and more than 30 dynamic maps, Climate Emergency Atlas is clear and easy to understand, making it the perfect reference guide for all young climate activists. This unique graphic atlas tells you everything you need to know about the current climate emergency, and what we can do to turn things around.

 

A Short, Hopeful Guide to Climate Change
Oisín McGann | May 2021
What is climate change? How can it be stopped? And what can young people do to help the fight? Author Oisín McGann explains climate change science and encourages young people to be part of positive change by getting involved in the global movement to fight humanity’s biggest challenge. This book is also eco-friendly, with vegan inks, all recycled materials and fully recyclable – this book is part of the solution.

 

How to Change Everything: The Young Human’s Guide to Protecting the Planet and Each Other
Naomi Klein and Rebecca Stefoff | March 2022
This is the most authoritative and inspiring book on climate change for young people yet, discussing the effects of climate change, how young people are fighting back and how you can get involved to make the world a safer and better place. This gives a powerful picture of why and how the planet is changing, providing effective tools for action so that YOU really can make a difference.

Upcoming titles

Ecology of a Changing World
Trevor Price | December 2022
This book outlines the importance of species conservation relative to human existence. It breaks down ecological principles and explains six threats to biodiversity in terms anyone studying ecology, evolutionary biology, environmental science or environmental justice will understand. These threats are climate change, overharvesting, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and disease, with Price offering the history, current status and economic and environmental impacts of each of these.

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know
Joseph Romm | December 2022
This is the essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time. Newly updated with the latest in climate science from COP26 and beyond, this third edition offers user-friendly, scientifically rigorous answers to the most difficult (and commonly politicised) questions surrounding climate change.

 

Outsourcing Climate Breakdown: How Rich Nations Get Away With It
Laurie Parsons | May 2023
Around the world, leading economies are announcing significant progress on climate change. World leaders are queuing up to proclaim their commitment to tackling the climate crisis. Yet the atmosphere is still warming at a record rate. Outsourcing Climate Breakdown explores the murky practices of exporting a country’s environmental impact., taking a wide-ranging, culturally engaged approach to the topic and showing that this is not only a technical problem, but a problem of cultural and political systems and structures.


You can browse our full collection of climate change titles here. We also have a number of blogs on the current challenges we face with climate change here.

Image credit: Mike Lewelling, National Park Service via Flickr

The NHBS Guide to UK Lichens

Lichens are composites of two or more different organisms, an alga or cyanobacteria living among the filaments of a fungus species. It is a symbiotic relationship where the fungal partner, also termed the mycobiont, makes up the body or ‘thallus’, and the algae or cyanobacteria is the photosynthetic partner, or photobiont, providing nourishment. There is debate as to whether this symbiotic relationship is mutualistic, where both parties benefit and neither is harmed through this interaction, or a type of controlled parasitism, where the mycobiont is ‘farming’ the photobiont for the sugars produced by photosynthesis.

There are over 1,800 species recorded in the UK, and 17,000 species worldwide. There are three main categories of lichen body types: crustose, fruticose and foliose. Crustose lichen are species that form thin, crust-like coverings that are tightly bound to the surface they’re on. Fruticose lichen form coral-like bushy or shrubby structures with a holdfast, a root-like structure that anchors it to trees, rocks or other surfaces. Foliose lichen are species that have a flattened, leaf-like thallus with an upper and lower cortex, the surface layer or ‘skin’ of the lichen, and attach to surfaces by hyphae with root-like structures called rhizines. There are other growth forms, such as leprose (a powder-like or granular appearance), squamulose (scaly), filamentose (stringy) and byssoid (wispy). These can also be divided into numerous subtypes.

Lichens are an important food source for many species, such as deer and goats, and are used as building material for birds nests. They occur from sea level to high elevations, tolerating many different environmental conditions. They grow on a wide variety of surfaces, from tree bark, leaves, mosses, rocks, gravestones, roofs, soil, bones and rubber. The general guidance for identifying lichens is to look at growth form, colour, habitat and substrate type and distribution. You should also look for the presence or absence of certain structures such as rhizines, soredia (scale-like reproductive structures), isidia (column-like outgrowths of the thallus) and apothecia (a cup-shaped structure containing asci, spore-bearing cells). A hand lens and a guide that covers other lichen species will be useful for identifying these.

Spot tests can be performed, which involve placing a drop of a chemical, such as potassium hydroxide or sodium hypochlorite, on different parts of the lichen. Any colour change, or lack thereof, can be used for identification when following dichotomous keys for lichen species. Care should be taken when using chemicals, however, particularly in the natural environment, due to the damage they can cause.

Some species are harder to identify in the field and require microscopic examination or further chemical testing. Additionally, there may be variations in appearance due to weather conditions or the condition of the lichen. Its colour can change when the lichen is wet or in poor condition, for example, or the growth form can appear different if the lichen has begun to disintegrate.

Elegant Sunburst Lichen (Xanthoria elegans)

Distribution: Widespread, but most frequently found in upland areas.
Growth type: Foliose
What to look for: This is a small lichen, typically no more than 5cm wide with lobes that are less than 2mm broad and closely pressed against a surface. Their upper surface is orange, with a white lower surface, a cortex (skin), and attached with short, sparse hapters (peg-like structures on the lower surface of lichen). Soredia and isidia are absent but apothecia structures are common.

Björn S… via Flickr

Common Greenshield Lichen (Flavoparmelia caperata)

Distribution: Widespread, more common in the western and southern parts of England, scarce in northern and central Scotland.
Growth type: Foliose
What to look for: This is a pale grey species that turns yellowish-green when wet. The lower surface is black with a brown margin and black, unbranched rhizoids that attach it to the substrate. Its lobes are rounded, around 3–8mm wide, with patches of soredia. The lobes are often wrinkled in appearance, particularly in older specimens.

Paul Morris via Flickr

Hooded Rosette Lichen (Physcia adscendens)

Distribution: Widespread
Growth type: Foliose
What to look for: Hooded rosette lichen is a pale grey species, with lobes up to 2mm wide that are curled into a hood shape. They have cilia, thin projections from the margin of the lichen, which progress from pale to black at the ends. Soralia are usually abundant and disc-shaped apothecia can also be present. The lower surface is white to greyish. They are attached to surfaces by rhizines, which can be white to black.

Hedera.baltica via Flickr

Hoary Rosette Lichen (Physcia aipolia)

Distribution: Fairly widespread
Growth type: Foliose
What to look for: This species is pale, from white to bluish-grey. It has white-rimmed apothecia that have black centres. Soralia and marginal cilia are absent. The lobes also have distinct flecks of white called pseudocyphellae. It grows in well-lit habitats, usually on fences or trees, often in the nodes of branches.

Gilles San Martin via Flickr

Common Orange Lichen / Yellow Scale (Xanthoria parietina)

Distribution: Widespread
Growth type: Foliose
What to look for: This species is a yellow-orange coloured lichen that can appear greener when wet. It is a leafy lichen with flattened lobes that are between 1–4mm in diameter. Its lower surface is white and has pale rhizines or hapters. Similarly to X. elegans, soredia and isidia are absent but yellow or orange apothecia are usually present. There is a cortex that is made of tightly packed fungal hyphae, which can be thicker in more exposed locations and is thought to protect the lichen from evaporation and exposure.

Udo Schmidt via Flickr

Monk’s Hood Lichen (Hypogymnia physodes)

Distribution: Widespread
Growth type: Foliose
What to look for: The thallus is grey to greenish-grey, with inflated lobes that lift at the tips. These inflations can burst open, displaying the floury soredia inside. They may have black dots, called pycnidia, near the lobe tips. Rhizines are absent and the lower surface is wrinkled with a light brown margin, darkening towards a black centre. They may have apothecia, which occur on short stalks and have a red-brown disc.

Björn S… via Flickr

Many-forked Cladonia (Cladonia furcata)

Distribution: Widespread, particularly in heathland, healthy turf and on dunes.
Growth type: Fruticose
What to look for: This species has an upright secondary thallus, called the podetium, which can vary from grey-green to brown. This forms loose mats, and the finer branches are erect and sharply pointed. Soredia are absent, with few to no squamules (scales). They may have small, green areolar patches set into or raised on the cortex surface. The podetia become darker brown and glossy with age. Pycnidia, the asexual fruiting bodies, are small, brown and are found on the branch tips. This species has apothecia, which are brown and occur in extended clusters at the ends of podetia.

Jason Hollinger via Flickr

Lasallia pustulata

Distribution: Scattered distribution, mainly in parts of Wales, south- and north-west England and scattered areas of Scotland.
Growth type: Foliose
What to look for: The thallus of this species is a pale grey or brown when dry but becomes brownish or yellowish-green when wet. It has convex pustules across its upper surface which often appear darker in colour and are covered in a powder towards the centre. The margins of this species are often ragged and can be darkened by the presence of black isidia. The lower surface can be grey, brown or black, and have corresponding depressions to the pustules on the upper surface. Rhizines are absent and this species is attached to substrate by a stalk.

Dry state: Jacinta lluch valero via Flickr
Wet state: Björn S… via Flickr

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri)

Distribution: Widespread
Growth type: Fruticose
What to look for: They primarily grow on oak trees but can be found on the trunk and branches of other deciduous trees and conifers. This species is flat and strap-like, highly branched (forked) and bushy, forming large clumps when growing together. When dry the thallus is rough and the colour can vary from green to a pale greenish-white. When wet, they appear dark olive-green to yellow-green and are rubbery in texture.

Björn S… via Flickr

Pink Earth Lichen (Dibaeis baeomyces)

Distribution: Widespread in Scotland and Wales, scattered throughout England, more common in the north and west.
Growth type: Fruticose
What to look for: Pink earth lichen have bulbous pink apothecia that are around 1–4mm in diameter, set on stalks up to 6mm tall, although these are not always present. The thallus can vary in colour between grey or white, occasionally with a pink tinge, and can appear greenish-grey when wet. They are coarsely granular and are sometimes covered in small, white balls up to 1mm in width, with small powdery areas.

Jason Hollinger via Flickr

Yellow Map Lichen (Rhizocarpon geographicum)

Distribution: Widespread in Scotland and north-west England, and the upland areas of England, Wales and Ireland. Less common in the East Midlands, East of England and the South East.
Growth type: Crustose
What to look for: This is a bright yellow to yellow-green species, with a cracked thallus, flat, black apothecia and bordered by a black line of fungal hyphae. This lichen grows in patches adjacent to each other, giving the appearance of a map.

Björn S… via Flickr

Recommended books and equipment

Lichens: Towards a Minimal Resistance

The result of several years of investigation carried out on several different continents, this remarkable book offers an original, radical and, like its subject matter, symbiotic reflection on this common but mostly invisible form of life, blending cultures and disciplines, drawing on biology, ecology, philosophy, literature, poetry, and even graphic art.

 

Lichens: An Illustrated Guide to the British and Irish Species

This book provides an invaluable guide to identifying the British and Irish species both for the amateur naturalist just starting to study lichens and the more advanced lichenologist. It offers the environmentalist and ecologist a concise work of reference, compact enough to be used in the field.

 

FSC Wildlife Pack 20: Lichens

These colourful and widespread organisms can be seen all year round. Featuring six of the FSC’s popular fold-out charts: lichens on twigs, churchyard lichens, urban lichens 1 and 2, rocky shore lichens and lichens of heaths and moors

Each pack includes a card-sized magnifier, so you can get in even closer to the details.

 

Opticron Hand Lens (10x 23mm)

Observe the finer details of your specimen with this high-quality 23mm doublet lens, the most commonly recommended magnifier for all types of fieldwork.

 

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Please see nhbs.com for up to date pricing and availability.