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Introducing the BES Scottish Policy Group: informing environment and science policy in Scotland

By Isabel Jones, Communications Rep., BES Scottish Policy Group

A group of active BES members make up the BES Scottish Policy Group (BES-SPG), and we work to promote the use of ecological knowledge in Scottish policy making. We do this by highlighting how ecological knowledge can help policy makers come to informed decisions, and by supporting expert scientists involved in all levels of Scottish policy making. The SPG acts as a hub for ecologists and policy makers, and we run a number of events to encourage interaction and understanding between both. You can read more about what the BES-SPG do and how to get involved here.

In this blog we thought we’d introduce ourselves a little more, as it takes an active bunch of people to bring ecologists and policy makers together, and keep all our SPG members informed about the latest developments in Scottish policy. The SPG has dozens of members and is headed-up by a dedicated committee to keep things running smoothly.

The Scottish Policy Group team

Rob Brooker, Chair of the SPG

Rob Brooker

Rob Brooker leads the Committee as Chair of the SPG. He is a plant ecologist at the James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, with research interests including plant-plant interactions in severe environments and (recently) crop systems, and the impacts of climate change on biodiversity. Rob is also chair of the Science and Technical Group for the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. He was a member of the BES Council, and an ordinary member of the BES Policy Committee. Rob is very interested in trying to understand how biodiversity policy-making works, and from this figuring out how ecologists can better engage with this process. When not trying to get to grips with policy making, he enjoys being outside when the sun is shining and staying in to read books when it’s raining. In December, Rob will move into the Secretary/Treasurer role and Ruth Mitchell will take over as SPG Chair.

Nils Bunnefeld, Vice Chair

Nils BunnefeldThe Vice Chair of the SPG is Nils Bunnefeld, based at the University of Stirling. Nils’ research interests encompass the conservation and management of social-ecological systems. He uses a combination of empirical data collection and modelling to investigate the interaction between human decision-making and the dynamics of ecological processes. In order to do this, Nils focusses on developing models and approaches to integrate ecological, social and economic data and theory, to assist conservation and management of natural resources.

Ruth Mitchell, Secretary/Treasurer

Ruth MitchellRuth Mitchell is currently the Secretary/Treasurer of SPG and will take over from Rob as Chair of the SPG in December. Ruth has been a BES member for the past 20 years, being on the BES council from 2010-14, and now working with the SPG. Ruth is a plant and soil ecologist, and like Rob, works at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen. Ruth works on assessing the impacts of e.g. pollution and land management on biodiversity, as well as on plant-soil interactions, and habitat restoration. Applied research has always been an interest of Ruth’s, and trying to make research relevant to land managers and conservationists. More recently, Ruth has begun to see how important it is to make research relevant to policy makers as well, and to be part of the two-way flow of information between scientists and policymakers.

Juliette Young, Policy Committee Rep.

Juliette YoungNext we have our Policy Committee Representative: Juliette Young is a political scientist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Edinburgh. Juliette began her career as a zoologist, studying the tiger parts trade in India, fig wasps in the Cook Islands, and chimpanzees in Sierra Leone. Juliette’s current research blends the natural and social sciences, working on public attitudes towards biodiversity, conservation conflicts and the role of stakeholder engagement in nature conservation. Her interests also include the interface between scientists and decision-makers. As a proud member of the BES and SPG, Juliette is the link with the BES  Policy Committee, of which she is also a member.

Martin Ford, Ordinary member

Martin Ford is an elected member of Aberdeenshire Council where he takes a particular interest in environmental aspects of the Council’s policies and service delivery. Martin serves on the Council’s Education, Learning and Leisure Committee and Sustainability Sub-Committee and is a board member of the North-East Scotland Transport Partnership.

Chris Pollard, Early Career Researcher Rep.

Chris PollardThe SPG also has a number of early career researchers on its Committee. One such is Chris Pollard, who will take over the role of Early Career Researcher Rep. (a role currently filled by Danny Heptinstall, University of Aberdeen). Chris is a conservation science PhD candidate at the University of Stirling and investigates conservation conflicts in Scotland. Conservation conflicts commonly involve multiple stakeholder groups including those working in government and elected representatives. Increasing communication and understanding between scientists and policy makers is a fundamental way to manage existing conflicts or even avoid them before they happen. Chris is excited to be a part of the SPG and the work it is doing to promote relationship-building between ecology and Scottish policy making.

Isabel Jones, Hannah Grist, Sam McNab, Communications

Isabel JonesAnother early career researcher on the SPG Committee is Isabel Jones. Isabel is also a PhD candidate at the University of Stirling, where she shares an office with Chris now she’s back from field seasons in the Brazilian Amazon and Panama. Isabel works on the biodiversity and carbon storage impacts of hydroelectric mega-dams in tropical forest regions, linking ecology with international development policies. Isabel has always focussed on applied research, and while her research and policy experiences are predominantly international in nature, she is keen to develop her understanding of conservation policy making a little closer to home! Isabel recently joined the SPG and now heads up the Communications team, working with Hannah Grist and Sam MacNab to develop Communications both within the SPG, and between the wider community of ecologists and policy makers in Scotland.

Hannah Grist is a postdoctoral researcher at the Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban. Hannah works as part of the UK-wide ‘Capturing our Coast’ project, that aims to support thousands of citizen scientists to survey rocky shores, in order to determine baseline data on marine species ranges and investigate potential effects of climatic changes. Prior to this Hannah was working for RSPB Scotland as an education manager in city-centre Glasgow, and so Hannah has experience of a full range of different environments across Scotland! Hannah’s policy interests are predominantly marine, including seabirds, fisheries and marine protected areas. She is also a strong advocate of citizen science and public outreach, and looks forward to being part of the SPG communications team.

Sam MacNabSam MacNab is also working on SPG Communications whilst completing his BSc in Ecology and Conservation at the University of St. Andrews. Throughout his studies, Sam has developed an interest in the science/policy interface and is particularly interested in the challenges of sustainable food production. Sam has worked as a zookeeper at the Five Sisters Zoo and as a public educator at Edinburgh Zoo, giving talks, handling sessions and running social media accounts. Sam has built his research experience by assisting an ecologist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and a scientist at the Scottish Oceans Institute, and by working on a PhD research project investigating the distribution of Scottish seagrass species. Sam looks forward to working on SPG Communications and welcomes ideas for blog topics from SPG members!

Like the sound of us and what the SPG do?

The SPG are a very welcoming group and are always keen to involve people. If you’d like to get involved with the SPG, you can do so here. We’re also on Twitter and Facebook, and will be blogging regularly with exciting news about science policy in Scotland!

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Towards a 25 year plan? Government responds to Natural Capital Committee recommendations

At the start of the year the third report of the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) outlined an ambitious set of recommendations as to how the Government could meet its oft-repeated commitment for this generation to be the first to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited. The report concluded that a comprehensive 25 year strategy is required to protect and enhance England’s natural capital, including new legislation, improved monitoring and accounting methods, a targeted investment programme and innovative financing. These conclusions were encapsulated in a set of nine clear recommendations.

Now, eight months and one general election later, the new Conservative Government has issued its response to the Committee’s report. In broad terms, the response welcomes its recommendations, praising the Committee’s role as placing the UK “at the leading edge” of an “innovative movement” and agreeing with its central assertion that safeguarding natural capital is integral to ensuring sustainable economic growth. Furthermore, in line with the Conservatives’ manifesto commitment, the response confirms that the life of the NCC will be extended until the end of this Parliament, with refreshed terms of reference and a key role in informing policy.

Recognising the value of natural capital?

Given that one of the BES’s priorities for this Parliament is that “the value of the environment to human wellbeing and prosperity – our natural capital – is recognised across government”, the Government’s broad support for the NCC work is welcome. But how substantially does the Government’s response engage with the report’s nine recommendations?

1. (and 9.) Government, working with business, NGOs and other parts of society, should fully develop a 25 year plan.

Developing a “25 year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity” was a Conservative manifesto commitment, and the Government response confirms that this will be pursued. Key themes identified for the plan include improving monitoring and data collection, recognising the importance of local action, and prioritising strategic investments. However, no mention is made of the NCC’s recommendation that the plan should “be given effect in legislation”, or that it should include “clear evidence-based targets for natural capital”. Whether or not these recommendations are picked up as the plan is developed will be an important factor in its success.

2. Government should assign institutional responsibility for monitoring the state of natural capital.

While the Government recognises that improving natural capital monitoring is a priority, and will be one of the core components of the 25 year plan, at this stage it does not outline how responsibility for this will be assigned. The BES will continue to engage with this issue through the Natural Capital Initiative, with natural capital monitoring a priority for the year ahead.

3. Organisations should create a register of natural capital for which they are responsible and use this to maintain its quality and quantity.

The Government agrees with the “underlying premise” of this recommendation, and the response signals its commitment to continue to work with the NCC to develop rigorous corporate natural accounting standards and encourage their use. However it is reluctant to endorse the creation of “registers” of natural capital as a universal standard, preferring to encourage organisations with significant “land, air and water assets to consider how best they can manage these to maximise value and minimise risks”.

4. The government should urgently step up action to ensure that the Office for National Statistics and Defra meet the target of incorporating natural capital into the national accounts by 2020.

This recommendation is endorsed, with the Government confirming that this commitment has been reaffirmed in the recent Office for National Statistics “Roadmap” in order to meet the 2020 target.

5. The National Infrastructure Plan should incorporate natural capital in to each of the main infrastructure sectors.

Despite affirming that it strives for “all publically funded infrastructure investments to make a positive contribution to protecting and enhancing our natural environment”, the Government explicitly rejects the call for an investment programme to be formally included in the National Infrastructure Plan – a potential opportunity to demonstrate the recognition of the value of natural capital across government.

6. The government should revise its economic appraisal guidance (Green Book) implementing our advice.

Again, this recommendation is strongly endorsed; the Government confirming that “new draft text on natural capital” is being developed as part of the core guidance in the Green Book, reflecting the NCC’s recommendations.

7. The government should drive a substantial, long term, interdisciplinary research programme on natural capital to inform future iterations of the strategy.

The Government rightly identifies “the importance of evidence in informing our approach to natural capital policy” and points to two substantial research programmes already underway, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for Sustainability (BESS), and the Valuing Nature Network (VNN). However, at a time when the future of the Research Councils is uncertain in light of the impending results of the Nurse Review, no additional commitments are forthcoming.

8. Government should determine how the plan to protect natural capital is to be funded.

While the Government acknowledges that finding appropriate funding mechanisms will be integral to the success of their proposed 25 year plan, and accepts the need for innovative approaches both within and beyond Government, it does not engage with the substantive funding recommendations made by the NCC, including the establishment of a “wealth fund” derived from the depletion of non-renewable resources and a commitment to capital maintenance expenditures. Unsurprisingly, funding decisions are to be deferred until after this autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review.

Where next? Towards a 25 year plan

Read as a whole, the Government’s response to the NCC’s report paints a mixed picture. While they welcome the recommendations in broad terms, and importantly, accept the underlying principle of the vital importance of the natural environment to our economic and social wellbeing, the response falls short of endorsing many of the Committee’s more detailed recommendations. A number of environmental NGOs have raised concerns, with the RSPB’s Martin Harper stating that “the Government’s response does not match the ambition of the Committee”, and Wildlife and Countryside Link challenging the Government to strengthen the role of the NCC.

Certainly, a number of unanswered questions remain about the proposed 25 year plan for the environment: How will it be funded? How cross-departmental will it be? Will it propose any new legislation? What will be the remit of the new Natural Capital Committee? Last month, the BES endorsed Wildlife and Countryside Link’s proposal for the core principles of the Government’s 25 year plan, and we will continue to engage strongly with the development of the new strategy to ensure that it is informed by the best available ecological evidence.

What do you think of the Government’s response to the Natural Capital Committee’s report? If you are interested in contributing to our work on this issue, please get in touch with the External Affairs Team.

Posted in Defra, England, Environmental Monitoring, Government, UK, Valuation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Highlights from a day in the life of a BES Mentor


Joining the undergraduates on their five-day whirlwind tour of ecology packed with lectures, excursions, lab work and tutorials; our Summer School PhD Mentors are sharing their daily schedule favourite anecdotes…


6:00am Birdwalk
Rosie: The bird walk was a definite highlight for me, a bit of exploring early in the morning – a real treat and a great way to learn a few common birdcalls. The enthusiasm from the mentees was fantastic and we were soon engrossed in spotting tree creepers, watching a nuthatch and listening to the alarm calls of a rather annoyed wren. Spotting a charm of goldfinches and then seeing a tawny owl fly through the trees was definitely worth the early start. As we walked through the woods to the tarn, it made me realise how inspiring Malham is, such a species rich area, we were soon distracted by some more candidates for the taxonomy challenge – moss, obviously. We slipped a few specimens in our pockets and headed back for some early morning ID.

7-8am Breakfast
Rosie – “Day 4, I’ve cracked the great breakfast dilemma – banana, weetabix and honey – boom!”
Jen – “It’s so beautiful here…I’m walking to breakfast through a woodland! And look at the hills! It’s so –” *Narrowly avoids walking into a student* “Whoops, ok, eyes on the road…”
Lewis – “I’ve already been up 2 hours IDing moths with these talented and eager prodigies; please move aside as I make my 4th beeline for the tea – TGIY: thank god it’s Yorkshire”
Lydia – “Are those sausages really vegetarian? They taste like meat. I mean who wants a veggie sausage tasting of meat? “

9-11am Plenary: Pests, pathogens and unpredictable rainfall: global challenges for sustainable food production.

Amy: Professor Sue Hartley delivered the first plenary. I almost didn’t make it, having locked myself in the luggage van moments before. I’m glad I was rescued in time, the talk was not to be missed! Sue engagingly discussed the increasing challenges for sustainable food production, before revealing how the science of plant-herbivore interactions could hold a solution… silicon! Silicon is an inducible anti-herbivory defence in plants. Now for the clever science. So called ‘super-crops’ can be engineered to take up more silicon, increasing pest and disease resistance. This increases yield without having to cultivate more land, helping build a more sustainable future.
Afterwards, mentor groups were asked to devise a scientifically valid and stimulating question – something all budding ecologists need to master. One group asked, ‘Is this a viable solution for meeting the increase in food demand and are there other options?’ To which Sue replied, ‘Yes, but not on its own. There is a range of research being carried out simultaneously to tackle the problem’. Sue finished by stating that over-consumption of meat is perhaps the biggest problem, revealing that she was a vegetarian. The message obviously stuck, as the vegetarian option soon ran out at dinner that evening.

11-12am Making of a bog
Ever wondered how a bog was formed? An interactive game about bog formation ensues involving the undergrads. Mentors having a wee break to talk about zombie apocalypse survival strategies and Malham field centre really is the best option.

Lewis – *sneaks away to attend to emails* … *rapidly regrets this most boring of decisions*
Other mentors engrossed in a discussion about zombie apocalypse survival techniques

12-1 Lunch and Social time
We pack our own lunches during breakfast. There are cold cuts, tuna, egg salad, cheese and salads. The spread is suitably filling but nothing compared with the gorgeous afternoon tea treats which consist of homemade cookies and cakes. We find them irresistible (and sometimes too sweet), but the perfect pick-me-up towards the end of a long afternoon.

1-2pm Guided Nature walk
Peter Walsh and Steven Morley of the National Trust lead us in a tour of Malham Tarn nature reserve. We spot sundews, bumblebees and cotton grass along the bog boardwalk, and raptors wheeling above the limestone pavements.

Students limestone pave

2-4pm Lecture and lab work
Jill: On day 4, we went to the underworld….where microbial interactions strongly influence the health of vegetation aboveground. I presented an introductory talk about types of mycorrhizae that is symbioses between plants and fungus. We learned some of these evolutionary plant-fungi relationships are very specific while others partner with many plant species. Also, some mycorrhiza form only with grasses while others prefer orchids or trees. After the introduction ‘’we got dirty’’ looking at plant roots under dissecting and compound microscopes. We saw nitrogen-fixing bacteria amongst the Fabaceae family plants and Calluna vulgaris roots colonized by mycorrhizal fungus; not to mention nematodes and mites. We also heard from Dr, Rob Griffiths, from the Center of Ecology and Hydrology. Rob introduced the complex web of microbial diversity, which draws our attention to the true complexity of ecological food webs.

4-4.30pm Tea break
Lydia – “Coffee queue? Guys let me pass this is an emergency!”
Rosie – “This cake is just too sweet, too much butter…but I will have another piece….and another”

4.14 Change of plans – aka lets take a risk
Lydia: With only three hours left before final presentations one of my mentee groups decided to change their topic to do something ‘more out there’. This came as a surprise after four days of designing their mini research project on coral ecology in the face of climate change. The past few day they had been studying the literature, working on methods, experimental design, costs and presented their ideas for feedback – all in their free time (a scarce commodity at summer school).
I was impressed! It was inspiring so see these guys challenging themselves to do something different and quite quirky (a study on the effects of meditation). Knowing that my mentees felt confident enough to come up with another well designed study and present it in a confident, succinct and engaging manner, made me very proud and showed how much the group had grown in the past few days.

5-6pm Outreach
The mentees explored how best to begin networking given their interests or openness. We had focused chats about exploring what’s ‘out there’ and not being intimidated. The mentors reminded us about the importance of risk taking, at all stages of careers development.


6-7pm Dinner
Lydia – “First at dinner always winner! Lets eat fast and get back to group work.”
Jill – “Vegetarian dining not part of the culture up north. Best to save your calories for the afternoon puddings!”
Jen – “Sponge and custard again, YES! Happy school dinner flashbacks…”

7-9pm Student presentations – Mini research projects
Lewis: It’s a balmy evening overlooking the tarn. We assemble for the research proposals our mentees stitched together during the few spare moments they’d had over the 3 days. My internal monologue begins with the first group, summarised below for brevity:

1 – ‘Wow these guys are impressive! – I struggle enough to pitch PhD chapters with a month to prepare and this lot are holding their own and then some. Good on them’.

3 – ‘Ok these guys have scraped together a few spare hours for this proposal and I would be willing to take that on as a project – glad I won’t be competing against them for PhD funding, wouldn’t stand a chance’.

7- ‘That is a genius idea. They’ve basically done their review already (how?!). I would do that as a PhD. In fact I might just quit my current work and take on that’.

12 – ‘This undergrad presentation is better planned than my entire PhD thesis is after a year of work. I’m done. What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with these students?! I’m utterly intimidated.’

Lydia – “Tears in my eyes, what a great job they all did!”

9-11pm Social Programme: Mascot challenge & Bat walk
Jen: An intense week of inspiring lectures, practicals and postgraduate-worthy student presentations; even with Yorkshire tea, SURELY energy levels are waning? Should we rethink tonight and let everyone rest? We’ve planned a bat walk and mascot competition. I look at my craft materials dubiously…but the room I walk into is packed and energized. The challenge is set: build an organism new to science and present in true Attenborough style.

As the sky darkens, we pause some alarming feats of creative genius and head outside. Eyes peeled for shadows flitting overhead and ears glued to detectors, we are captivated by glimpses and squeaks of hunting bats. Back inside, a…creature…with far too many pipecleaner appendages is hailed the winner. Looking around, I’m impressed once again at the way this group has bonded in such a short time. There’s no doubt that the experiences, memories and connections of this week will persist into the future.

Lewis – *receives pipecleaner DIY bumblebee from Jen to adorn ecologist hat* “This is the best gift I have ever received I shall treasure it always …”

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Tackling invasive species: New GB strategy launched

Grey squirrel. Mink. Japanese Knotweed. Quagga Mussel. Great Britain is currently home to around 2,000 non-native species, with between 10-12 new species arriving in England, Wales and Scotland each year. Of these, around 10-15% become invasive, causing significant adverse effects for the environment, economy and society, from outcompeting, predating and spreading disease to native species, to presenting considerable costs to the agricultural sector.

The Convention on Biological Diversity identifies invasive non-native species (INNS) as one of the main direct drivers of biodiversity loss at a global level, with Target 9 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets stating that by 2020, INNS “pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled and eradicated, and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment”.

With that in mind, the need for an effective, co-ordinated policy response to the problems posed by INNS is essential. Last month Defra, the Scottish Government, and the Welsh Government together launched a new Invasive Non-native Species Strategy for Great Britain, updating the previous strategy drawn up in 2008. The new publication follows a review involving stakeholders and international experts, and takes into account the growing evidence base on INNS as well as recent policy developments, including the introduction of new EU regulations that came into force at the start of the year.

While recognising the successes of the previous INNS Strategy, including the development of strong partnerships, funding strategic research, the development of a unique and world-leading risk analysis mechanism, and the successful eradication of three invasive species, the strategy also acknowledges that there is much more that needs to be done. It aims to ensure that if fully implemented, “biodiversity, quality of life and economic interests in Great Britain will be better protected against the adverse impacts of INNS”. This will be achieved through the implementation of a guiding framework for mitigation, control and eradication initiatives, coupled with increased awareness, better integration with biosecurity measures, improved international co-ordination and a shared approach to responsibility.

The strategy outlines a number of key actions, organised under the headings of prevention; early detection, surveillance, monitoring and rapid response; long term management and control; building awareness and understanding; cross-cutting provisions; research and information exchange; and integration. Headline commitments include the development of “Pathway Action Plans” in order to more effectively reduce the risk of the introduction of new INNS, improved surveillance building on the Non-native Species Information Portal, and developing stronger Invasive Species Action Plans for long-term management and control of established species.

In terms of research, the strategy identifies a need for greater co-ordination of research funding and a clear description of priorities, and commits to establishing a working group to help identify where gaps in our knowledge exist, and to communicate these priorities with the research community and funding bodies. Significantly, the strategy also identifies that existing legislation governing INNS lacks coherence, and that the UK will require new legislation to ensure that measures introduced by the new EU agreement can be implemented effectively.

The most recent Global Biodiversity Outlook report, assessing progress towards the 2020 Aichi Targets, concluded that little progress had been made in the last five years towards prevent the global increase of INNS. While the new UK strategy offers a step towards tackling the issue at a national scale, greater investment of resources, and a co-ordinated European and international approach will be required if the issue is to be addressed in a truly comprehensive and effective manner.

Where do the gaps in our knowledge of INNS lie? What research questions should be prioritised over the next five years? We are keen to hear from members interested in this issue – please get in touch!

Posted in Biodiversity, Defra, England, Government, Invasive Species, Scotland, Wales | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What should a 25-year plan for nature look like?

In their election manifesto, the Conservatives set out a welcome ambition to develop a “25-year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity”, stating that they would work with the recommendations of the Natural Capital Committee “to ensure that both public and private investment in the environment is directed where we need it most”.

Since the election, little further detail has emerged about the shape of this 25-year plan. Conversely, the new Conservative administration has been strongly criticised by some environmental organisations for a number of decisions deemed antithetical to the Government’s stated aim of accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy and enhancing the state of the natural environment. Examples include the withdrawal of subsidies for renewable energy, the cancellation of the zero carbon homes plan, and the loosening of restrictions on fracking in protected areas.

In this context, making strong progress towards developing a robust, ambitious, integrated plan for the recovery of nature is a clear priority. One of the BES’s priorities for policy-making in this Parliament is that the value of the environment to human wellbeing and prosperity is recognised across government, and that this value is fully integrated into decision-making. With this in mind, we have joined with twenty-three other organisations to support Wildlife and Countryside Link’s recommendations for the essential components of a 25-year plan for the natural environment.

So what would a 25-year plan for the natural environment look like? Wildlife and Countryside Link have set out eleven key principles, suggesting that the plan must:

  • Set out a new vision for a thriving natural environment
  • Establish overarching goals for government for the protection and recovery of nature
  • Contain clear objectives and five year milestones with accountability to Parliament
  • Set the right institutional framework and align resources, for meeting environmental goals across Government
  • Build on existing policy and legislation
  • Ensure the terrestrial and marine planning systems enhance landscapes and nature, delivering an ecological network
  • Deliver for our seas as well as land
  • Support people working together for nature
  • Set out stronger safeguards for threatened species and habitats
  • Include the UK Overseas Territories and our impact on natural capital abroad
  • Have a statutory basis

Furthermore, it is recommended that the plan is developed and delivered in a cross-departmental manner, subject to a broad, open consultation, and is published within twelve months to avoid delaying action towards the Biodiversity 2020 targets.

As our recent Ecology Matters publication makes clear, ecological science has an important role to play in tackling many of the most pressing policy challenges at the interface between people and the environment, and there are a number of components within Wildlife and Countryside Link’s outline plan where ecological knowledge and solutions will be essential. Scientific advice will be integral to setting objectives and milestones against which the success of the plan will be measured, and for establishing monitoring programmes to effectively assess progress. Delivering a coherent ecological network of protected sites will need to build on the recommendations of the Lawton Report – more, bigger, better and joined – and ecological expertise and information will have a crucial role in enabling regulators and planning authorities to plan and manage “nature-positive” development and infrastructure.

The development of the 25-year plan for nature will be a key environmental policy issue of this Parliament, and could shape the direction of natural environment policy in the UK for years to come. We will be working with Wildlife and Countryside Link over the coming months to feed into their ambitions for the 25-year plan, and also engaging with the Government’s plans as they emerge. We are always keen to hear from members looking get involved with our policy work, so if you would like to contribute your evidence and ideas for a new vision for the natural environment and keep up to date with the latest developments, please get in touch.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservatives, Defra, Ecology, Government, UK, Wildlife and Countryside Link | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BES joins learned societies’ call for action on climate change

The BES has today joined twenty-three other learned societies, academic and professional institutions to call for national governments to take immediate action in order to avert the serious risks posed by climate change.

Organisations from across the sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities including the Royal Society, British Academy and the Wellcome Trust have come together for the first time to publish a joint communique affirming the strength of the scientific consensus on climate change and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. The latest evidence suggests that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming in this century to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial period, we must transition to a zero-carbon world – achieving net zero global carbon emissions – by early in the second half of the century.

Finding a way to keeping global warming below 2°C will be the central aim of this Autumn’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, when the world’s governments will meet from 30th November to 11th December to negotiate a new legally binding international agreement. The joint call to action coincides with a ministerial meeting in Paris involving 48 countries, which hopes to quicken progress towards an agreement. The French government has indicated that the Paris agreement should be “short, flexible and long-lasting” in order to avoid complex future re-negotiations.

The communique states that in order to deliver an effective agreement, governments must recognise the risks climate change poses, embrace appropriate policy and technological responses, and seize the opportunities of low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.

Climate change will have a significant ecological impact over the course of the century, and its effects are already being felt. The most recent IPCC report found that climate change is already affecting many organisms, including their geographical ranges, migration patterns, abundances and interactions, and will increase extinction risk for a large fraction of species. Speaking to Carbon Brief on behalf of the BES, Plymouth University’s Professor Camille Parmesan, winner of this year’s Marsh Award for Climate Change Research, said: “We’re already seeing contraction of species in the most sensitive ecosystems, such as those dependent on sea ice or those living on mountain tops. We’re also seeing declines in some tropical systems, such as coral reefs, and the valuable services they provide for fish nurseries, tourism and coastal protection.”

The UK has taken a leading role on climate change, with the 2008 Climate Change Act establishing the world’s first legally binding target for emissions reduction. Reaching an agreement in Paris is a priority for the new Conservative government, with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, recently stating that “a global deal is the only way both to deliver the scale of action required and to drive down the costs of climate action; so Paris 2015 is both a serious opportunity to avoid its catastrophic effects and to open up new avenues for low carbon industries.”

The communique is clear that action on climate change is urgent and imperative: “Actions need to be taken now, by governments, individuals, businesses, local communities and public institutions, if we are to tackle this global challenge, deliver the cuts in emissions, and take maximum advantage of the available opportunities and additional benefits”.

Read the Climate Communique

Read more on The Guardian and Carbon Brief

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Fusing ecology and economics- what are the next steps?

Our society is facing significant challenges in the 21st century including increasing levels of resource use, environmental impacts, threats to food, water and energy security and various social and economic issues (e.g. conflicts, migration and unequal distribution of wealth).  Ecological Economics has made a significant contribution to our understanding of ecological, social and economic systems for the mutual well-being of nature and people. In 2015- what have we have learnt and where do we need to focus our interdisciplinary efforts?

What is Ecological Economics? 

Ecological economics is the study of the relationship between human housekeeping (economics) and nature’s housekeeping. Put in another way, it is about the interactions between economic and ecological systems.  Ecological Economics explores the value of nature (ecosystem services and natural capital), natural resource management, environmental quality, human health and wellbeing and how we can achieve change.  Ecological economics acknowledges that a healthy economy can only exist in symbiosis with a healthy ecology.

Why is it an important emerging field?

An understanding of ecological economics is vital to tackling the challenges of the 21st century.  Many of these challenges are highly complex and we need a correspondingly complex and diverse range of tools and insights from a variety of disciplines.  Ecological economics aims to achieve this by bringing together insights and tools from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities and therefore seeks to promote a truly transdisciplinary approach.  The study of ecological economics will help to shine a light on the interdependency between economic activity and our natural environment and will aid in the development of policies and options that prioritise our environment, societal health and wellbeing.

A fusion of economics and ecology is required to properly measure and capture the value of biodiversity” (Barry Gardiner MP, 2012). 

On 30th June- 3rd July, the University of Leeds hosted the 11th International Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE). The theme of the conference was ‘Transformations’ and explored how we can use ecological economics to achieve global sustainability. The conference brought together academics and practitioners from across the globe in order to disseminate best practice, foster research collaborations and to provide training for early-career researchers.

What have we learnt so far and what are the gaps?

Here we present key reflections and research gaps from the ESEE conference, with particular focus on natural capital and ecosystem services (one of the BES’s policy priorities).

(1) Monetary values are not the be all and end all

It is common to focus on the monetary values provided by our environment, for example the provision of food and the value of tourism. Economic approaches have significant traction and have been very popular with policy-makers.

However, it was a clear message at the ESEE conference that monetary valuations are not the be all and end all. They have significant limitations and on their own they cannot fully reflect the value of ecosystem services.    

(2) A Mixed method approach is the way forward

As illustrated previously by the UK NEA follow-on phase, we need to increasingly combine monetary and non-monetary, deliberative and interpretive methods.

This will:

– Provide a more comprehensive valuation of ecosystem services

– Illustrate complexities of the socio-ecological system and focus management.



(3) Cultural ecosystem services are gaining momentum…. but they are still frequently overlooked in decision making

Cultural ecosystem services (CES)

“The contributions ecosystems make to human well-being in terms of identities they help frame, the experiences they help enable and the capabilities they help equip” (Dr Rob Fish). 

The ESEE 2015 hosted a special session on Cultural Ecosystem Services (‘Cultural Ecosystem Services: Frontiers in theory and practice).   This session highlighted the range of methods that have been used to capture cultural value and also the diversity of case studies to date.

David Edwards: Beautiful images and quotes from arts-science collaboration on cultural ES @ForestryCommEng #ESEE2015 pic.twitter.com/Hp7zcXGrDS

Vineyard landscapes


However they are still frequently overlooked in decision making, potentially due to existing barriers and challenges:



(4) But Environment agencies ARE taking account of ecosystem services

Environment agencies are engaging with the ecosystem approach and the identification of ecosystem services across the devolved administrations. They are even taking account of the less visible and more challenging values-  for example cultural ecosystem services (CES).

Representatives from Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and the Forestry Commission presented the two approaches they have adopted to take account of cultural ecosystem services (CES)

(a) By incorporating and translating CES into existing management and planning processes and practices.

The Forestry Commission and Natural England are primarily taken this approach and presented a range of examples.

Forestry Commission:

– A team has been focusing on CES, in the context of the use and enjoyment of woodlands, green infrastructure and cultural heritage and landscape.

– Land management projects such as Neroche Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) bring together stakeholders (e.g. Blackdown Hills in South West England) and have provided a successful approach to understanding CES.

Natural England

– Natural England created ‘upland ecosystem service pilots’ in order to test the Ecosystem approach on the ground and have developed a methodology for implementing it.

– The project used a range of national and local data to identify CES and demonstrated that investment in the natural environment can result in multiple benefits for wildlife, people and society in a cost effective way (see report for more information).

– Overall the work helped to make the link between changes in land management and service provision, and involved local people in decision making.

(b) By Developing and trialling new methods based on the Ecosystem Approach.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have primarily taken this approach and have adopted a new Natural Resource Management Planning based on an Ecosystem Approach.

– Natural resource management trials have been set up in three catchments (Dyfi, Rhondda and Tawe) and will test all aspects of the Ecosystem Approach (including the integration of CES into delivery).

– The trials will draw on previous work on CES (g. NEA follow on projects) and will work out how to fully take the ‘theory into practice’.

However, future work is still required to ensure that the concept of cultural ecosystem services is resonating with ministers. Do we need to tackle the issue of scale?

(5) We need to advance our understanding of the importance and value of the environment to human health and wellbeing

Progress in the UK has long been measured by GDP and other economic metrics such as employment rate. However to get a fuller picture of the health of society and its pathway to sustainable development, we need more attempts to measure and quantify the well-being of citizens. Many sustainable development indicators are particularly relevant to well-being, highlighting how integral it is already to sustainable development.

Dr Jasper Kenter presented his recent study which captured environmental effects on subjective well-being. The study found a correlation between subjective wellbeing and the number of species of conservation concern in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland.

However, all in all, there is a marked lack of evidence. Future research is needed to significantly advance our understanding of the importance and value of the environment for human health and wellbeing. This will help to make steps towards turning this understanding into metrics that policy-makers can use to ensure the benefits are available for current and future generations to enjoy. Overall, this will help to inform policy, planning and the management of our environment.

BES and Natural Capital

‘Natural Capital’ is one of the BES’s six policy areas, complementing the overarching priorities of promoting scientific evidence in policy-making and fostering interdisciplinarity and knowledge exchange. The BES is part of the Natural Capital Initiative (NCI), a partnership between the British Ecological Society, Society of Biology, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the James Hutton Institute. The NCI aims to support decision-making that results in the sustainable management of our natural capital based on sound science. The NCI aim to do this by: (1) initiating and facilitating dialogue between people from academia, policy, business and civil society and (2) communicating independent, authoritative synthesis and evaluation of the scientific evidence base.

Click here for further information about the NCI, upcoming events and how to get involved.

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Looking forward to 2020: A route map for Scotland’s biodiversity

In October 2010, the world’s governments met in Aichi to establish twenty targets aimed at halting global biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. Now, halfway through the UN Decade of Biodiversity, and with just five years (or at the time of writing, 1998 days) remaining until the 2020 deadline for meeting the Aichi Targets, national and international institutions are taking stock of their progress towards these goals.

Globally, the picture is mixed. Last year’s Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 found that while significant progress is being made towards many of the targets, current trends suggest that we will fall short of meeting them. Similarly, in Europe, the recent State of Nature in the EU report stated that despite many examples of the positive impacts of the European Nature Directives and the Natura 2000 network, overall we are not on track to halt the loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services on the continent by 2020.

Meeting the 2020 Challenge

In the UK, biodiversity policy is a devolved matter, and last week the Scottish Government released  Scotland’s Biodiversity: a Route Map to 2020, setting out the priority themes and actions for delivering the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity, the Government’s 2013 response to the Aichi Targets. The Route Map identifies six “Big Steps for Nature” intended to improve the state of nature in Scotland and secure the benefits biodiversity brings to the nation’s wellbeing and prosperity. The document will be periodically updated to report on progress and outline further planned work.

The six “Big Steps for Nature” are:

1. “Ecosystem restoration: to reverse historical losses of habitats and ecosystems, to meet the Aichi target of restoring 15% of degraded ecosystems”. Priorities include the restoration of peatland through the implementation of the National Peatland Plan, and the restoration of native woodland and freshwaters.

2. “Investment in natural capital: to ensure the benefits which nature provides are better understood and appreciated, leading to better management of our renewable and non-renewable natural assets”. Specific projects are focused on engaging businesses by demonstrating the benefits of improving natural capital and securing investment, for example through the Peatland Carbon Code.

3. “Quality greenspace for health and education benefits: to ensure that the majority of people derive increased benefits from contact with nature where they live and work”. Ongoing and planned activities are directed towards increasing participation in outdoor recreation and volunteering, outdoor learning in primary and secondary schools, and promoting use of the “natural” health service.

4. “Conserving wildlife in Scotland: to secure the future of priority habitats and species”. Actions aim to improve the condition of protected sites – with an aim of securing 80% of features in favourable condition – and to drive conservation of protected species ranging from the freshwater pearl mussel to red squirrels and hen harriers. Future planned activity new strategies for pollinators and plant health.

5. “Sustainable management of land and freshwater: to ensure that environmental, social and economic elements are well balanced”. Primary concerns include improving habitat connectivity by developing a national ecological network, and enhancing sustainable land management through the Common Agricultural Policy.

6. “Sustainable management of marine and coastal ecosystems: to secure a healthy balance between environmental, social and economic elements”. Central to this aim is the completion of Scotland’s network of Marine Protected Areas, encompassing 10% of the nation’s seas.

Monitoring in Action

The route map is ambitious and clear in its aims, but implementation and effective monitoring of success will be crucial. At last year’s Protecting Scotland’s Biodiversity: Monitoring in Action conference, co-organised by the BES Scottish Policy Group, while the extent of the challenge of effectively tracking environmental change with limited resources was evident, the embrace of innovative new technologies and openness to collaboration suggested a productive way forward. The Route Map identifies two sets of indicators that will be used to monitor progress: Scotland’s Biodiversity State Indicators and Scotland’s Biodiversity Engagement Indicators, with a new set of Ecosystem Health Indicators also under development.

Sound ecological science will be essential to informing the delivery and evaluation of the Route Map, and the BES Scottish Policy Group will continue to find ways to inform the development of environmental policy in Scotland, and foster dialogue between scientists and policymakers. Keep your eyes peeled for new events to be announced soon, including the next edition of “Pie and a Pint”, and a workshop at the BES Annual Meeting in Edinburgh. If you would like to get involved with the Scottish Policy Group or have an idea for an event, please get in touch.

Find out more about the Scottish Policy Group

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Fishing and marine protection: What’s the catch?


“Our seas are undergoing ecological meltdown. Fishing is undermining itself by purging the oceans of the species on which it depends. But its influence is far more menacing that simply the regrettable self-destruction of an industry. The wholesale removal of marine life and obliteration of their habitats is stripping resilience from ocean ecosystems. Moreover, it is undermining the ability of the oceans to support human needs. Every fish and meat eaters responsibility for the losses and only by working together can we restore the seas’ bounty” (Professor Callum Roberts, The Unnatural History of the Sea).

The issue:

Our global demand on the ocean is rocketing. The world’s population is becoming increasingly dependent on the ocean for livelihoods, food and many other services. By 2030, annual fish consumption is likely to rise from 65 million tonnes to 150-160 million tonnes (19-20kg per person).  However, global overfishing has resulted in diminishing stocks and widespread environmental damage. Over years to come, how are our seas going to fare? Extensive evidence already suggests that our oceans have suffered significant damage, with loss of habitats, biodiversity and productivity.

On 23rd June 2015, the British Library organised a panel debate to discuss fishing and marine protection. The event was entitled: ‘TalkScience- Fishing and marine protection: What’s the catch?’ and brought together a panel of experts including: Professor Callum Roberts (Marine Conservation Scientist); Barrie Deas, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) and Dr. Alasdair Harris, Executive Director of Blue Ventures. The event was chaired by biologist, writer and broadcaster Dr Helen Scales. Here, we present the key messages from the debate.

With this knowledge, how are we going to balance fishing demand with our need to conserve the marine and coastal environment?’

(1) “By working together, we can achieve sustainability of our oceans”.

Increased communication and working between ‘multiple stakeholders’ (fishermen, scientists, managers and policy-makers) will help to improve sustainability of our oceans.

(2) We need Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

The panellists agreed on the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in our global oceans. There was also a large consensus that while implementing MPAs is all well and good- we need to improve our management of them. Effective management measures will be key to their success. Without management measures, many MPAs are “paper parks”.  


However,  our panellists didn’t disagree on the type of MPA we should use to achieve sustainability of our oceans.

Professor Callum Roberts:

Professor Callum Roberts is a strong believer of implementing MPAs with full protection. He believes that “fisheries management alone won’t bring back our endangered species, instead we need MPAs with full protection”.

In the case of the UK, Professor Roberts believes that Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), a type of MPA, should be protected in full from damaging fishing practices. He has recently commented that the UK needs more areas with protection from mobile fishing gears and that currently these areas are “far too small to have any meaningful conservation benefit and will be impossible to enforce”.    He then presented the example of the Arran Coast MPA in Scotland, which has “inadequate management measures in place to meet conservation aims”.

Mr Barrie Dees: Whilst Barrie Dees presented his case for the use of other conservation measures and tools, instead of “closed (fully protected MPAs)”.

 (3) We need to grow our MPA evidence base:   


#1: We need to ensure that MPA development and implementation is based on sound scientific evidence.

 #2: We need to improve our understanding of the socio-economic benefits of MPAs.

Specifically, that there needs to be a greater understand of the benefits of MPAs- beyond that of ecological effects. Panellists discussed the need for human dimensions within scientific research. Assessments of ecological effects need to be coupled with studies focusing on social and economic benefits of MPAs and management measures.

(4) “We need to conserve the oceans, whilst maintaining food security”  

Dr  Alisdair Harris and Mr Barrie Dees both highlighted the importance of the oceans to the livelihoods of global communities. Furthermore, that food security needs to be increasingly taken into account in MPA and fisheries management.



(5) “Overcome misconceptions- fishermen are not barriers to marine conservation”.

Dr Alasdair Harris discussed the common misconception that ‘fishermen are barriers to marine conservation’. Instead, “fishermen are the solution to our fisheries and oceans challenges” and has been reflected by their work with Blue Ventures.

According to Dr Alisdair Harris: “fishermen have been fundamental in deciding appropriate management measures, enabling the plans to be targeted and specific to a marine and coastal region”.  Furthermore, that collaborative working has resulted in economic benefits for local communities, for example in Madagascar (see report for more information).

Key conclusions:

There is hope that we can successfully balance fishing demand with our need to conserve the marine and coastal environment:

However it will be one of the greatest challenges for marine conservation (and ecologists!)

Find out more about the event and watch the debate here

Posted in Aquatic Ecology, Biodiversity, Conservation, Ecology, Environment, Fisheries, Food Security, Marine, Science, Science Policy, UK, Uncategorized, Water | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is policy too important to leave to decision makers? The case of the Infrastructure Bill


By Sarah Durant, Institute of Zoology

In April, the Zoological Society of London together with the British Ecological Society organised a one day symposium, entitled “ The Conservation Science Policy/Interface: Challenges and Opportunities”. Acting as the launch event for the BES’s revitalised Conservation Special Interest Group, the symposium brought together over 150 scientists, conservationists and policy-makers to explore how the links between science and policy can be strengthened. Among the speakers was Sarah Durant, is leader of the People, Wildlife and Ecosystems theme at the Institute of Zoology, ZSL. This blog post is an account of the talk she gave at this event.

Our society is becoming increasingly complex and, as a result, increasingly dependent on expert knowledge. This complexity has serious repercussions for wise policy-making.  While policymakers have to consider a number of factors as well as evidence and science, a policy that goes against evidence may deliver the opposite of its aims. One well known example of this relationship between policy and evidence is the impact of culling badgers on the incidence of TB in cattle; Rosie Woodroffe explains this process first hand in her blog. Often scientists are key individuals who have expert knowledge to understand and communicate what can be complex scientific arguments, yet they are traditionally reluctant to engage with policy. Indeed, DEFRA’s Chief Scientist has urged scientists to be giving further encouragement for scientists to stay quiet rather than criticise policy. But should scientists leave policy-making to the decision makers? The reality is that if they remain silent, then policies will proceed without the benefit of their expertise which, for conservation scientists such as myself, may be to the detriment of biodiversity conservation.


Corncrake (Photo: Richard Wesley)

The recent legislation in the UK for ‘environmental control of animal and plant species’ in Part 4 of the Infrastructure Act is a case in point . This legislation was intended ‘to make provision for the control of invasive non-native species’ (INNS). It provides strong new powers, including rights of access to land for the purposes of eradication or control of species and rights to recoup costs incurred in such operations. In plain English this means that if I have some land that is harbouring a target species, and I refuse to control the species, and I also refuse to allow authorities access to carry out control operations, then the authorities can gain a control order to enable them to go onto my land without my permission, control the species, and charge me for the costs of the operation.

This legislation should not have been controversial for conservationists.  INNS are a major cause of biodiversity loss, particularly for islands, and the UK government has been slow to introduce powerful legislation to control or eradicate INNS. Indeed, if these new powers had been entirely confined to INNS, they would have represented an important and welcome step forward in biodiversity conservation in the UK. However, at some point, the legislation was expanded in scope beyond INNS to include native species. When and why this happened is unclear, although it was not in response to the recommendations of the Law Commission.

Thus, in the first draft of the bill that went before parliament, the species that could have come under the scope of the legislation included all those species listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. These are largely non-native, but they include several native species – such as barn owl, red kite, white-tailed eagle, goshawk, chough, common crane, barnacle goose, corncrake and wild boar. Even more worryingly, the bill also introduced a definition for non-native species that are ‘not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain’. This could include a number of extinct native species such as beaver, wolf, lynx and bear. In effect, the draft legislation fixed native species as those present at one point in time. Any that arrived later, either through reintroduction or by natural colonisation, could face a risk of control or eradication.

Of course, those species that are most likely to be targets for such legislation are unlikely to be a random cross section of biodiversity. It seems doubtful, for example, that the government would grant a control order for the endearing and unproblematic corncrake. Predators are much more likely candidates, and powerful pressures could be brought to bear to encourage the issuing of control orders for any predator species likely to be caught red-clawed with a pheasant or grouse, for example. Anyone who doubts this would do well to reflect on the recent well-publicised demise of the hen harrier in England, despite its highly protected status. But predators are not the only likely targets; others include keystone species, such as beavers and wild boar, which have gained a fragile toehold in the UK. Predators and keystone species play key roles in ecosystems, and make important contributions to biodiversity. Should the UK be allowed to set a precedent of erecting legal barriers to the restoration of these species when many other countries in Europe are grappling with the messy problems of addressing human–wildlife conflict and finding ways to promote coexistence?

As scientists it was relatively easy to point out these problems in the draft Infrastructure Bill, which I, and a number of colleagues, did in our correspondence to Nature. Less straightforward was finding a solution, particularly given that parliament debates and subsequent discussions demonstrated that removing native species entirely from the scope of the legislation was a red line for politicians. Fortunately, after our letter, and to the credit of DEFRA, scientists and NGOs were able to establish a constructive dialogue with the government. But it was impossible to move forward without turning scientific criticism into constructive solutions. This sounds easy enough, but the law around these issues is messy, centred on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and its countless subsequent modifications. When talking to time-stretched policymakers, it was important that we were as specific as possible in suggestions for revisions.

Through this dialogue, the problematical definition of non-native species was removed; all native species listed on Schedule 9 (except wild boar) were put outside scope; any animals that were in a location as a result of a licensed reintroduction were also put outside scope; and native species subject to the legislation were dealt with separately to INNS. In addition, native species are now subject to a stronger test prior to the granting of a species control order or agreement (SCO or SCA) compared with INNS. However, there are still a number of problems that we were not able to resolve. In particular, we were unsuccessful in removing native species entirely from the scope of the Act. We hope that this will not matter in practice, but it is a concern that there is now a precedent for including native species within legislation designed to address INNS, and this may have implications for future legislation. There is also now a new list – Part 1B – that lists native species that can be subject to SCOs and SCAs, and there are no clear criteria as to how a species will be put onto this list. Currently it only includes wild boar and beaver, but without objective criteria it could be perceived as a hate list of conflict-causing species that a powerful land owning elite may wish to keep out of this island.

Wild Boar (Photo: Maigheach-gheal)

Wild Boar (Photo: Maigheach-gheal)

The government would argue that unlicensed reintroductions are unwelcome, and they have a point. Conservation scientists would clearly prefer a licensed reintroduction program for wild boar and beaver to the present situation in the UK resulting from illegal releases. This would ensure that the good genetic stock are used (avoiding current concerns of domestic pig/boar hybrids); the most appropriate sites are selected; and the animals’ health is assured. The Infrastructure Act will now make it much harder for unlicensed or accidental reintroductions to succeed. This is not a bad consequence, but it seems fair that, in return, to expect the government to stop dragging its feet in reintroductions, and become more proactive in restoring lost biodiversity back to the UK.

Other outstanding issues with this part of the Infrastructure Act relate to its effectiveness at addressing plant INNS. While SCOs and SCAs can be brought against animal species without them being separately listed on Schedule 9, a plant species has to be listed before a SCO or SCA can be brought, adding potential delays. Finally, it is unclear whether a SCO or SCA could be brought about against species listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive, as Article 12 prohibits the killing of such species. Annex IV species include beaver, as well as other potential candidates for reintroduction in the UK such as lynx.

Despite these provisos, the legislation is substantially improved, and is no longer a threat to existing native species, or an impediment to future reintroductions. What did I learn from this process? A number of things, in no particular order: 1) Published science helps –a letter from scientific experts has gravitas, and can gain the attention of policymakers, particularly if it is backed up by press interest;  2) If scientists criticise, wherever possible, they should also make efforts to engage with policymakers and legislators in the search for constructive solutions; 3) Law may appear daunting, and good legal advice is important, but law is ultimately based on logic, and scientists are good at logic and should not be put off; 4) developing a consensus across scientists and NGOs is crucial, so as to speak as one voice and simplify responses for time-stretched policy makers;  and 5) Policymakers want robust legislation just as much as scientists and very often a compromise can be found.

As scientists, we may have key expert knowledge and understanding that can help improve legislation and policy – if we don’t engage in this then who will?


This work was the result of a collaboration with John Muir Trust, RSPB, Plantlife, ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth. Within ZSL, Nathalie Pettorelli played a particularly important role.

Dr Sarah Durant is leader of the People, Wildlife and Ecosystems theme at the Institute of Zoology, ZSL. She also heads the Tanzania Carnivore Program and the Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah and  African Wild Dog. She has been working for over 20 years in conservation, focusing on developing effective and sustainable approaches to conserve threatened species. She has just recently become an Associate Editor at the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The views expressed in posts on this blog are personal to the author and are not necessarily shared by any sponsors or owners of this blog or any other person or entity involved in creating, producing or delivering it and no such party shall be held liable for any statements made or content posted.

This post from Sarah Durant is also available on the The Applied Ecologist’s blog and the ZSL Wild Science blog.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conference, Conservation, Ecology, Event, Invasive Species, Parliament, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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