Brian Eversham’s talk on ‘Nature and Climate’, 01 February 2020

Earlier this month, All Saints Church was again packed again for a meeting organised by Leighton-Linslade Low Carbon Town (the partnership between Christian Ecology Leighton Linslade and South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth). This time the talk was presented by Brian Eversham, Chief Executive of the Beds, Northants and Cambs Wildlife Trust, Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants and Visiting Professor, Cranfield University, on the subject ‘Nature and Climate: what’s happening to local wildlife? how can nature help us?

We had intended to post a report of Professor Eversham’s talk, but it was so full of interesting information that we’ve found it impossible to condense; we’ll probably split it into two or three blog posts, so we can include some of the slides he very kindly gave us. There’s a lot to think about in it.

Meanwhile, if you fancy pre-empting us, Professor Eversham gave us a link to a very similar one he gave a few years ago – you can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4quVtXyHxGQh .

And below is the press release we sent the Leighton Buzzard Observer, which will give you a flavour of the talk. Watch this space for our more detailed reports!

Churchwarden Nick Clarke welcomed the audience and invited our local MP, Andrew Selous, to chair the meeting. Mr Selous commented that we would all have noticed the decline in sparrows around our houses, and in farmland birds generally.

Professor Eversham said that climate scientists’ predictions are gradually coming true, with more frequent and more violent natural disasters like the apocalyptic wildfires in Australia and California, and the more frequent and more devastating flooding in many countries, including the UK. It’s happening now.

Wildlife living in northern and upland areas will be worse off than species living in southern and lowland areas, as there won’t be so many places it can migrate to. Wildlife has had to do this before, during ice age cycles millions of years ago, when our wildlife managed to migrate from the Mediterranean, back to Leighton Buzzard, and back to the Mediterranean, eight times in the last million years, twenty times in the last three million years.

However, this time around Britain is an island, cut off from mainland Europe. And we’ve built major cities, and a motorway network, and a rail network – we’ve carved the countryside up, so wildlife responding to climate change can no longer move easily from place to place. New developments, new roads and railways not only destroy habitats directly, but they stop wildlife moving around in response to climate change.

Also, for the first time in sixty million years, the climate is warming from an already warm period, which none of our current species has ever experienced. We should take our children to walk in bluebell woods pretty soon, because as the climate warms, trees will come into leaf earlier, and the flowers won’t get the spring sunshine they need to reproduce; we won’t have carpets of bluebells any more.

We need to keep any rise in temperature to one and a half degrees, which will mean sea levels rise by up to half a metre. We’d be able to protect the fenlands of East Anglia, which are the most productive agricultural land in the country. But if the temperature rises more than that, sea levels would rise by a metre or more and we won’t be able to protect that area – we’ll have Peterborough-on-Sea, and we’ll lose the best farming land this country has.

Another huge threat to wildlife is tidiness on agricultural land and in gardens. A couple of generations ago, you would never have seen a clean crop without weeds; now, if a field has poppies in it, people come from miles around to photograph it. Wildlife needs places where we let the grass grow longer and where we don’t cut things back over the winter.

For the last twenty years or so, the Wildlife Trusts have worked on maintaining ‘Living Landscapes’, linking protected areas into bigger nature reserves connected by wildlife corridors and better managed with climate change in mind, and reconnected to their local communities. If people don’t know about or hear about wildlife, they will not protect it.

We also need to see that any development that damages wildlife habitat puts back more habitat than it destroys. We can’t have developers blackmailing local authorities into saying ‘Well, you can either have a road junction, or you can have green space. You can either have a school, or you can have green space.’ If a development is to happen, it needs to provide a full set of resources.

We already know how nature can help us; we just need to let it. You don’t need to plant trees to create woodland, you simply need to stop preventing trees growing and they will create their own habitat of trees and scrub and grassland. And after seventy years, the grassland around them will store nearly as much carbon in its soil as the trees have in their timber.

Peat bogs bury carbon in their peat soil, and sequesters it for literally tens of thousands of years. The sad thing about peat bogs is that most of them have been destroyed, mainly to be bagged up as multipurpose compost for gardeners. And farming on drained peat soils loses nearly an inch of peat a year.

Carbon offsetting isn’t really a solution, thinking we can just carry on emitting carbon and plant a few trees instead.

Future generations will be baffled that we wasted all the oil and coal we have by just burning it. We could have had enough renewable energy for the whole planet instead, and saved the oil and coal as rare and precious commodity to make the plastics we really need and which we don’t have alternative materials for.

Questions from the audience included how we can mitigate the damage that will be caused by the proposed Oxford to Cambridge expressway; how can new developments be built with high-quality green spaces for wildlife and people, as at Cambourne in South Cambridgeshire; and how we must see that when the UK chairs the COP26 meeting this autumn on climate change, we achieve real international leadership on climate change, not just talking about it.

Andrew Selous commented, “We are building brand new houses now that are what I call the houses of yesterday”; he mentioned the installation of gas-fired central heating, and a lack of newer technologies such as built-in photovoltaics and ground-source heat pumps. He then pointed out that fitting gas-fired heating in new homes will be illegal by 2025, so houses built now will need to be retrofitted – why can we not get it right first time?

Afterwards, many people stayed behind to discuss specific issues in small groups. The main message from all the groups was that we need to make sure our local councillors know that the town’s residents care about loss of habitats, and would like more action to prevent climate change – only one councillor attended the meeting!

For further information and practical actions, see the South Beds Friends of the Earth website at http://southbedsfoe.co.uk/, email us at  info@southbedsfoe.co.uk , or follow our Facebook page.

Major plan for tree planting in Central Bedfordshire

At its budget meeting on 20 February 2020, Central Bedfordshire Council agreed to set aside $1.68 million from additional New Homes Bonus funds to a specific reserve, in support of CBC’s upcoming climate change plan, for planting trees, hedges and similar cover across Central Bedfordshire.”

This was a real cross-party initiative, proposed by Caroline Maudlin, Conservative ward councillor for Sandy, Beeston and Blunham, and seconded by Victoria Harvey, Independent ward councillor for Linslade.

What is so encouraging about this particular project is that it has been so well prepared, taking so many aspects into account that are sometimes forgotten in the zeal to get new trees in the ground. For example, the proposers recognise that new planting must not displace existing valuable habitat, like established grasslands and hedges, or ancient woodland; the need for maintenance after planting has been recognised right from the start; and the proposal includes hedging and scrub – two very valuable habitats which are often overlooked.

The council will be consulting widely with all the interested parties and local expert organisations, including town and parish councils, the local Wildlife Trust, Forest of Marston Vale, Greensand Trust and others, and they will take the time to get this right, with the right trees, in the right place, with the right maintenance.

Speaking in support of the motion, Cllr Maudlin said, “The UK has now one of the lowest levels of woodland cover in Europe and also one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.

The government have been trying to improve this with grant schemes and CBC have benefited from … but simply – we are not planting enough trees.

The current level of canopy cover within Central Bedfordshire has been assessed as 14.5% – compared with an average of 17% England, varying from only 8% in Tithe Ward in Houghton Regis to 24% in Ampthill Ward.

The area of actual woodland cover is also variable, from around 17% across the Greensand Ridge, to 5-7% across the arable landscapes.

The Forest of Marston Vale has increased woodland cover within the project area from 3% to 9% – which has led to a noticeable change in the landscape.

Central Bedfordshire has three different types of landscape – the Greensand Ridge, Bedfordshire claylands; and the Chilterns – each with different types of landscape, ecology and soil, so it is essential that the right species of trees and plants are planted in the right area with the right ongoing maintenance to get the maximum return in all these areas, to increase not only carbon capture and storage, but also biodiversity and wildlife, while providing access to green space for people, and increasing wellbeing.

Woodland and tree canopy cover can be increased in a number of ways, including:

• farm woodland schemes, including agroforestry (where planting is widely spaced within arable cropping)

• larger scale mitigation of new development, both residential and employment

• wooded sustainable drainage corridors to increase wet woodland, an ecological priority

• planting for shade in towns, in school grounds

• hedgerow tree planting, particularly to combat losses from Ash Dieback disease

• tree and hedge planting to improve air quality

• and as an integrating major infrastructure []

The project is not as simple as just planting a few trees here and there – careful consideration has to be given as I mentioned to the right site, the right trees, and right reason AND then ensuring there is the ongoing hard work in keeping them watered and maintenance to get them truly established.

In all of this I have not even begun to talk about our wildlife and benefits it would bring to the decreasing numbers …

I don’t have a business plan, quotations, project plan or map showing planting locations and that is why I ask for the money to be put in a specific reserve. Passing this motion will enable our excellent in house Countryside officers, conservation team and ecologists with members, Town and Parish Councils putting this scheme together – we need to make sure we get the maximum return in locking carbon away in to the trees and soil, increasing biodiversity, public access, wellbeing and more.

Addressing the full council, Leader Cllr James Jamieson, underlined the importance of moving towards a zero carbon environment.“At a national and local level, we share a commitment to tackle the climate emergency and I’m keen to explore how we can do more to unlock resources for action in Central Bedfordshire” said Councillor Jamieson.“We are a council which is hugely ambitious to improve our environment and to build, great, sustainable communities. I’m optimistic about our ability to really make a difference, but delivery must be about more than tokenism.We need to work with our partners and our communities to effect practical and cultural change”.

The council’s budget, also approved last night, allocates £0.75m of revenue and up to £4m capital specifically on environmental sustainability projects.

Central Bedfordshire Council taking its response to climate change seriously

Three members of South Beds Friends of the Earth went along to a Central Bedfordshire Council budget-setting meeting last night, to ask them a question. This was prompted by our local MP Andrew Selous, who remarked at our recent public meeting on Nature and Climate, “We are building brand new houses now that are what I call the houses of yesterday”. He said that we are still fitting gas boilers for heating, although this will be banned from 2025; we need to improve insulation levels to reduce energy use, and start incorporating other low-carbon techniques.

We wanted to raise the bar, and ask how CBC could persuade developers to start building the houses of tomorrow. You can hear what we said, and see Cllr Dixon’s response, here.

We had a very good response from Cllr Dixon, the Executive Member for Transformation and External Relations, who agreed that low- or zero-carbon building needed to be considered in his imminent plan for CBC’s response to the climate emergency. He went further, and said that CBC is setting up its own housing company, which will aim for negative carbon – this is great!

What was particularly interesting was to hear so many councillors mentioning climate change when discussing their normal work; it’s good to see that the message has been received and that they’re aiming to be leaders on a response to climate change!

Paul Brown’s talk at the public meeting on climate change, 16 November 2019

Paul Brown’s talk at the public meeting on climate change, 16 November 2019

Paul Brown is the former Guardian environment correspondent

Paul started by remarking that we had just been listening to a scientist, and one of his criticisms of scientists is that they are far too cautious; they have been under attack for the last twenty years from the fossil fuel lobby, and their careers have often been blighted because they’ve stuck their heads up. He was going to tell it like it is, rather than being cautious.

Disastrous climate change is already happening, and man is damaging the planet in all sorts of other ways. We have been overusing chemicals , and we’ve seen massive extinction of species, particularly the loss of insects that pollinate our food crops. If we kill the all, we’ll kill ourselves as well.

We are now seeing climate change in action – dramatic bush fires in Australia, following years of terrible drought; similar fires in California; most of Venice under water because of exceptional high tides and sea level rise; and the second so-called hundred-year flood in the Midlands. Weather patterns have changed; we should expect a lot more of these devastating floods.

In advanced countries, particularly Australia, the United States and the UK, scientists are saying that these extremes of climate change are happening now, and we need to factor them in to our daily lives. They are saying that by 2030, these kind of events will be even more violent, and commonplace. Yet none of the governments of these three countries are taking action on climate change seriously, or anywhere near fast enough. And worse than that: the Australian government has not produced an action plan at all to tackle climate change, and is intent on opening vast new coal mines that will inevitably make their own heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires worse, and everybody else’s, as well.

In America, president Trump has pulled out commitments to do anything about climate change all together, and has spent the last three years reversing US environmental legislation built up over the last two decades.

In the UK, the government’s actions to avert climate crisis are grossly inadequate. We are not going to meet our climate targets. The UK government claims it is making progress on climate change, but fails to include emissons from air travel or shipping in its total

Elsewhere in the world, Brazil’s ruling class seems intent on burning down the Amazon to supply the world with beef and soya.

Most nations will fail to meet the climate targets they signed up to in 2015 at the Paris climate talks, and the world is going to miss its target of keeping temperature increases down to two degrees, let alone the much more desirable one and a half degrees. We are already at 1° more than preindustrial levels, and we are facing climate extremes.   The rise is likely to reach 3° C by the end of the century. This will already have caused irreversible damage, including sea levels rising by a metre, drowning many of the vital food growing areas of the world, including much of East Anglia.

The message is simple: if the human race is to survive, we’ve got our work cut out. This really is an emergency, and we need to do something about it now.

We have the solutions in our hands; we have already developed the technologies to save ourselves. All we lack is the political will to implement them.

Paul went on to mention some recent developments and reasons to be cheerful.

The price of electricity produced by solar power and wind power is now less than fossil fuels. It is now economically crazy for the world to burn fossil fuels when solar and wind are cheaper.

We could produce enough electricity from offshore windfarms in the North Sea to provide electricity for the whole of Europe. Each wind turbine now produces twelve times as much power as it did ten years ago. Similarly, solar power is now 80% cheaper than it was a decade ago.

What a terrible waste of resources nuclear power is, and our government’s preoccupation with it is driving our addressing climate change badly off course. If we opt for nuclear power, we will have lost the battle on climate change. .

The better news is that despite president Trump’s subsidies for both coal and nuclear generation, the companies that own these power stations are going bust in the United States because even existing power plants cannot compete on price with new wind and solar.

Texas, the oil capital of America, has a fantastic number of windfarms because they outcompete oil.

Another bright spot is batteries – in the last five years, battery technology has come on in leaps and bounds. Prices have dropped 70%.

We also have other non-battery technologies which make nonsense of the claim that intermittency of renewables is a problem.

Green hydrogen produced by renewables is one of the fuels of the future, with huge investment in it in the last twelve months

Electric lorries, cars, buses and bikes are now a practical  proposition.

Buildings can be made energy efficient. That energy efficiency in all its forms has always made economic sense. Even without our government doing anything to help, the use of electricity in this country has been going down every year for the last ten years because of EU regulations on light bulbs, fridges, boilers and other appliances we use in our homes, making them more efficient than they used to be.

Now we come to the difficult bit. Our politicians have not got the message, at least the ones that are currently in power, not just here in the UK, but in many other countries throughout the world. Many of them are stuck in 20th-century thinking and are not up to the challenge.

But there is some hope: many people are getting the message. Greta Thunberg has started a school revolution. Adults are joining in too, in the UK-inspired Extinction Rebellion. Some people dislike the these groups’ tactics, but before they started taking direct action no one was talking about the climate. Now they are. The coming generations have at least some chance of a better life through the school strikes and the Extinction Rebellion protests. So that is where we come in. We all have a civic duty to do our bit.

We can take action in two spheres. First of all, there are small but important actions we can all do in our own lives.

A few examples: save energy, shop locally, eat less meat, reuse or recycle, cycle or walk or take public transport rather than drive, try to avoid flying, sell your gas-guzzling car and get a smaller one, preferably a hybrid or electric.

As individuals or as a community we can invest in renewable energies, solar or heat pumps.

For example, a junior school in Somerset went into partnership two years ago with a local energy cooperative to place solar panels on its roof space, and is now saving four thousand a year. Good for the school budget, but what matters is the educational value for teachers and children at the school.

Are we spending our money as consumers in the right places, and indeed spending our time for the cause? For example, getting involved in tree planting and looking after our local environment.

But more than that, we need to take political action. We must pressurise not only politicians, but also the people who run companies, banks and shops. What really works, is putting pressure on decision-makers. Ask your MP, local councillors, company directors, people managing your pension fund, difficult questions about what they’re doing on climate. Ask repeatedly for answers, and don’t take no for an answer.

Politically, a very important milestone is coming up next year when the UK plays host at the 2020 climate talks in Glasgow. We need to make sure the UK government takes a lead..

The situation is still not hopeless; but we need to act, and act now.

Dr Chris Brierley’s talk at the meeting on climate change, 16 November 2019

Public meeting on climate change, 16 November 2019

 How the climate evolved in the past and how it will develop in the future

Dr Chris Brierley, Associate Professor in Climate Change, University College, London

 Dr Brierley has two roles at UCL. One role is as a researcher, using climate models to simulate the climate of six thousand years ago, when the Sahara desert had vegetation right the way across it. Then the Earth’s orbit changed, the  vegetation collapsed, and the people living there migrated into the Nile valley, which sparked off the Egyptian civilisation.

His other role is as a lecturer, talking to and teaching students.

At the public meeting, he structured his talk around some of the things he’d done in the previous week, and how they related to climate change in the broad sense, to give a broad perspective.

For example, last weekend he went to see the film The Aeronauts, a story about a balloon ascent in the 1860s, when we really didn’t know much about what the atmosphere was, to find out more about the weather. This reminded Dr Brierley just how hard it was to get science information then, compared with today when he could sit in front of his computer all day. Then, they had to go up in a balloon and discover some fairly fundamental things about the structure of the atmosphere, and it was a very dangerous occasion.

To be more precise, the average temperature between 1850 and 1900 is often used by the international community as a definition of the Preindustrial time, which is the baseline, against which many climate agreements are measured. For example, the Paris climate agreement that was signed in 2015 was aiming to limit warming to 1.5°, and at most 2°, above that preindustrial baseline.

The science community was asked, what is the difference between a one-and-a-half degree world and a two-degree world, a thick textbook was produced; and one important thing that emerged was, what exactly was the preindustrial climate?.

So one of the things he did this week was to discuss with his colleague Ed Hawkins, who’s writing the next, more formal, assessment, the sixth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and they want to quantify just what exactly is the difference from that 1850-1900 period. That period is when we first had a global network of thermometers, and so we can really know what the temperature was. And the temperature during the period 1860-1900 turned out to be  0.1° ± 0.1° warmer than the slightly stricter ‘preindustrial period’, of round about 1700.

His first real lecture on Monday was talking to his first year students, to explain what the cryosphere was. The cryosphere is the ice sheet, the sea ice and the snow cover, and it is the most depressing lecture that he ever has to give. Because in saying what it is and where it is, you have to show observations of it, and this component of the Earth’s system is the one that is changing the most. And certainly on his slides, he has the sad note that by the time these students – who are about 19 or 20 – by the time they’re his age, it is expected that there will be no summer sea ice in the Arctic. And that is not a happy message.

He felt that his task at some point – and if he keeps on with his career, with maybe another thirty years of lecturing – his task in talking to geographers will not be to explain to them the science of climate change, but rather to explain to them a historical perspective of why we didn’t act fast enough, to deal with it, and why we bequeathed to them the changes that are going to come, and the changes that have already come.

He remarked that he probably has another thirty years left in his career, and at some point while he is still lecturing, he will have to explain to his students the historical perspective of why we didn’t act fast enough, and why we bequeathed to them the changes that are going to come, and the changes that have come.

There are two responses to looking at the future of the cryosphere, and looking at the future of the climate; they are defined as mitigation, and adaptation.

Mitigation means dealing with the cause of climate change, in other words, not putting any more stuff into the atmosphere. Nearly all of the scenarios described in the IPCC assessment show that once you get past about 2070, instead of having carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere, they are sucking it out. You can do that by planting forests, or by burning biomass to get energy and then capturing the carbon – you don’t let any of the carbon go into the atmosphere, and you put that carbon back down into the earth, and you sequester it away.

Adaptation

The carbon already in the atmosphere has committed us to some future warming, so the other side of our response is adaptation. That means how we adapt to the changes that we’re seeing already, for example, working out how much of the wildfires that have been happening in Portugal, in California and in Australia can be attributed to anthropogenic warming (i.e. warming caused by humans).

Adapting to these events involves changing our society, and changing the infrastructure within which that society works.

Within a community like this, we need to be thinking both about mitigation, and so cutting our carbon emissions, and we need to be thinking about how we can change our town and our community to better cope with the changes that are already in there.