Why Protect the Environment and How? A manifesto of change to save the environment

This following post may be a bit pretentious, however it’s an essay I wrote for an assignment at university titled ‘Why Protect the Environment and How?” I’ve not got my actual grade for the assignment back yet however going by module results I’m guessing I gain a 2:1 for it. Sliced in the middle is a piece about farming, this is from another assignment from the same module. For this I got a 1st (76%). If there is any glaring errors, spelling mistakes, typos, grammar errors it’s probably due to me confidently thinking I had just three weeks to do the assignment and slowly cruising along before finding out I only had four days so had to rush to get it completed! I’ve included a reference list and cited my references except for the section on farming which wasn’t a typical essay and therefore didn’t need citation. However the references are included. Hope you find it interesting!

Why Protect the Environment and How? A manifesto of change to save the environment

Whilst most will argue that the aesthetic beauty of nature and the environment is a valid enough reason to protect it, halcyon days of youth spent traipsing fields upon fields upon fields upon fields do not alone carry enough weight to protect against destruction.  Even the beneficial quality to physical and mental health nature offers (Natural England, 2014) stands little chance of protecting the environment. Since the global recession in the late 2000s governments have in a naïve bid to revitalise the economy seen the countryside as an area for economic growth, with green belt land set aside for building new houses (Motion, 2013). Robert Costanza stated in 1997 that the services provided by the ecosystem and natural capital range between 16 – 54 trillion US dollars per year (Stratford, 2013) These figures are made up from counting the cost of the services nature provides us for free, such as $1 trillion in sales dependent on animal pollination (Juniper, 2013). As the human population increases and with it the demand for growth, can our environment sustain it without adequate protection? Whilst governments and politicians worldwide generally follow a consensus that we need to act against climate change many fall short of addressing the issue of the greater environmental crisis and that we’re running out of resources (Goldsmith, 2010). As we fight for resources with it we risk ruining the ecosystems that hold the vital services together (Juniper, 2013) (Stratford, 2013).

As the demand for resources and their scarcity rises with it comes grave warnings that it could see the social unrest and the possible downfall of societies (Ahmed, 2013). Whilst some commentators may scoff at such suggestions history has documented the collapse of a society due to resource depletion such as on Easter Island (Good & Reuveny, 2006) The idea of the collapse of society due to human impact on the environment may come across as hyperbole however between 2008 and 2013 social unrest was seen in several countries following the rise of food prices with links to the rising price of fossil fuels (Ahmed, 2014). Furthermore the effects of climate change, the extinction of plants and animals, land degradation and erosion, ocean acidification and other environmental issues only add to the pressures that can be put upon societies (Ehrlich & Ehrlich, 2013).  If societies and governments require a substantial reason to protect the environment then here it lies. Humanity and the economy rely on it. With this comes the first force for change: A move away from being a carbon and in particular an oil dependent nation.

The burning of fossil fuels for power is the biggest polluter and driver of climate change (WWF, 2014). If the environment is to be protected then one of the first steps taken has to be to reduce dependency on ‘dirty fuel’ and move towards ‘clean’ renewable energy. However the UK government seems reluctant on the transition to renewables (Atkins, 2014). This is not surprising when the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has been accused of being lobbied by the fossil fuel industry (Merrick, 2012) and Prime Minister David Cameron laying the blame on expensive fuel bills on the subsidies for green energy (Mason, 2013). Backing the claims of those who oppose renewables that it is too expensive for the public, however Cameron makes no reference to the subsidies paid for fossil fuels, which work out at around £6 – £8 for every £1 spent on renewable energy (Goldsmith, 2010). Furthermore the UK government seems determined to keep the UK hooked on fossil fuels by pushing the use of hydraulic fracturing or fracking to extract shale gas (Williams, 2013). This ‘dash for gas’ is supported by offering incentives to local authorities that support it (BBC, 2014), offering ‘most generous tax breaks in the world’ for fracking companies (Harvey, 2013) and changing land ownership and trespassing laws to suit the fracking companies (BBC, 2014). At the same time ministers are trying to win over the support of the public by insisting that shale gas will reduce energy bills, however this claim is refuted by several sources including the head of a fracking company (Bawden, 2013). In addition to fracking the UK government also supports nuclear energy (Wintour, 2013).  However nuclear energy does not offer a quick solution to climate change; if all UK nuclear reactors were replaced and doubled it would take over twenty years for them to reduce carbon emissions by 8 percent (Goldsmith, 2010). Then there is the debate over the risk to human health and the argument that nuclear reactors provide a target for terrorism, with a terrorist strike on a nuclear power plant being up to forty times more catastrophic then Chernobyl (Goldsmith, 2010). This leads to the next factor for change; electing politicians on their environmental principles.

If politicians are elected without any consideration to their beliefs or principles on the environment then there is a risk of climate sceptics holding office in departments that are in charge of environmental policy. Like the UK’s Secretary of State for the environment, Owen Paterson; who sees climate change as a positive as it creates better summers for British farmers (Syal, 2013). Early 2014 saw large amounts of flooding across England, with many environmentalists claiming that this would become the norm due to climate change, however around the same time it was revealed that money spent on flood defence  had been cut by 41% (Carrington, 2014).

Whilst environmental spending receives cuts as part of the UK government’s austerity program, large amounts of money are made available (£50 billion) for the ambitious high speed railway project HS2 (BBC, 2014). Although from an environmental view point it may look positive that large amounts of government funding was been used on mass public transit projects with HS2 comes a large environmental and ecological impact. These include causing fragmentation of butterfly, bird and bat communities, HS2 will also affect, pass through or destroy; 10 sites of special scientific interest, 9 Wildlife Trust nature reserves, 153 local wildlife sites and indirectly affects a further 337 sites  (The Wildlife Trusts, 2014). This grave lost to the environment is been pushed through a necessary means to boost UK business, however it has been argued that HS2 is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem and that the money used on HS2 would be better spent on investment in digital networking rather than physical networks (Donnelly, 2013).

One viewpoint taken is that when the destruction of wildlife sites is unavoidable that biodiversity offsetting should take place. This means creating a new habitat in a different area to compensate for the habitat lost by the construction on green belt. In the case of HS2 it has been suggested that whilst the environmental destruction previously outlined is inescapable that it provides an opportunity for nature restoration and using the rail line to build upon wildlife corridors and hopefully provide a wider more linked environment (Trotter, 2014). Biodiversity offsetting along with the creation of small suitable habitats can be incredibly beneficial to wildlife and protecting the environment if considered when the building on green belt is the only option to take (Morris, et al., 2006). The inclusion of areas such as artificial wetlands in close proximity to urban and industrial areas provide a small haven for wildlife which would otherwise be lost (Gemmell & Connell, 1984) (Santoul, et al., 2009). This then provides the next change that must be implemented; if destruction of the environment is unavoidable then there must be ecological compensation.

Whilst the human population continues to rise it is palpable that with it so does the demand for food.  This increase has seen vast changes in the way food is produced; intensive agriculture has become the norm in Western society. However does this have a negative effect on the environment?

Possibly the main negative impact agriculture has on the environment is its contribution to climate change. From machinery and transport to fertilizer, pesticide and feed production, the farming industry is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and in particular oil. As well as the CO2­­ emissions from fossils fuels, animal farming produces large amounts of greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide).

The majority of agriculture is the production of crops. Not only for human consumption but also for use in animal feed (95% of soya bean production is for animal feed). To grow crops the farmers need space, which can see deforestation. Crops are often a monoculture which can result in biodiversity loss, most prevalent in the decline of pollinators and farmland birds. To grow these crops there will be the use of pesticides and fertilizers which both carry harmful effects. There will also be the need for a large amount of water, 87% of all fresh water consumed is used in farming. Water scarcity is predicted to become a major issue.

In addition to these factors intensive agriculture also speeds up the degradation and erosion of soil. This problem in time will only get worse owing to the prediction that due to lack of space farming will have to resort to moving onto more sloped land where soil erosion occurs more rapidly.

The use of genetically modified (GM) crops in farming whilst could signify a move away from the heavy application of pesticides and fertilizers also comes with its problems such as the development of super weeds and super pests which will then result in an increase use of toxic chemicals. This has resulted in several countries moving away from the use of GM crops to some extent.

As well as the environmental risks, there are also risks to human health such as the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria which has resulted from the indiscriminate feeding of antibiotics to factory farmed animals. There is also the risk of pollution and build-up of chemicals in water that farming can present.

Is there a way to reduce the negative effect on the environment? Whilst organic farming can reduce certain negative effects it too comes with its problems. There is little difference in soil erosion. Organic dairy farming produces more methane than intensive dairy farming and an increase in organic farming would result in the need for more deforestation. Whilst changes in farming practice such as mixed crops and low cropping can increase biodiversity and reduce negative factors these result in a low yield. Because agriculture is an industry this is not favourable. Similarly a reduction in pesticides, fertilizers and GM crops results in industry lobbying politicians.

Given the amount of oil, water and crops used to produce meat, the ideal solution to reduce the negative impact farming has on the environment is either a vegetarian or vegan diet with anaerobic digesters used to treat waste which can then be used for power and further reduce agriculture’s use of fossil fuels. If we are to protect the environment we must change the way we farm the land.

The most important factor of change to protect the environment for future generations is getting the future generations involved. It has been stated that modern children spend very little time outdoors engaging with the natural environment, which can have a negative effect both on their health and the health of society (Henley, 2010). In addition to this whilst children spend less time outdoors in the environment there has also been plans to remove certain environmental issues from the UK national curriculum including not teaching children under the age of 14 about climate change (Siddique, 2013). If the environment is to be protected then we need to educate and engage children to care, from small scale recycling to the big issues of climate change. Which is the final factor for change: get the next generation interested and enthused.

The reason for saving the environment is simple; our economy depends on it, our society depends upon it, our humanity depends on it. From the services the ecosystem provides for our financial needs to the benefits it’s provides our mental and physical health if we don’t look after it, if we don’t change our ways then there is no way out and we are destined for downfall. Change needs to come most importantly in the form of tackling climate change and reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and oil. To achieve this we need a political will that will listen to both the people and planet, not corporations. Whilst the world’s population continues to grow it is palpable that with it there will be the need to extend urbanisation, but in doing so we must make sure that there is no biodiversity loss, that suitable habitats replace the ones lost. If we don’t we lose the vital services we rely on to live. However all the changes that must be implemented to protect the environment are null and void if we fall short of one thing; educating and engaging children in the natural world and the environment. This is summed up flawlessly in The Lorax the children’s environmental fable about damaging the environment at the expense of business when Dr. Seuss (1971) wrote “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”


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Top 5 of 2013

Due to a poor birding year (my year list total is only 102!) I’ve decided to narrow my top birds of the year to the top 5. They are as followed…

5. Waxwing
I was going in to college and missed the bus I wanted to originally catch. However this was turned into a plus point when I saw a single waxwing in a tree down Beverley Road. Jedwards Hypocolius striking the fear into bus rides!

4. Red Kite
This has been some what of a bogey bird for me, having always missed them at North Cave, however this year was different and I finally managed to tick it. At the time I was showing my daughter some owl pellets on the ground when I turned around to see a Red Kite sail over our heads.

3. Common Scoter
I’ve been doing my WeBS count at Bransholme Reservoir for little over a year, whilst the site has potential to host something a bit rare little has been recorded there. The best birds I’ve found through RBA, WeBS and other sources of being recorded there stand at; Garganey, Goldeneye and Goosander. So you can imagine my delight of discovering a single common scoter there.

2. Tawny Owl
Finally managed to see a tawny owl this year! Whilst I’ve heard them many a time I’ve never seen one. I’d just finished a twelve hour shift at work and was walking home when I heard one calling. I spent around 10 minutes walking and listening around the Beverley minster until I managed to see two glowing eyes on top of a roof. Well worth the wait and the twelve hour shift.

1. Smew
Of course, what else could it be? But my favourite duck in full drake Billy Idol cracked iced plumage finest. I even let out a rebel yell once I’d managed to twitch it. Well worth standing on the edge of the most locked up angling complex in the country, in slush and cold winds for. A fantastic bird, finally getting to see a male in its upmost glory was brilliant.

Of course there were some close contenders such as: Peregrine Falcon – it’s wonderfully living a fifteen minute walk away from these birds, the tophill low marsh harriers, surf scoter, red-throated diver, wood sandpiper and garganey.

Hope you all had a fantastic year of birding and that 2014 is just as good.

Surfin’ Bird

I’m your only friend
I’m not your only friend
But I’m a little glowing friend
But really I’m not actually your friend
But I am

This is what woke me up at five past six this morning. Five past six on a Monday morning? Why you must be thinking I was going to work, nope I was off on a twitch! I got up earlier and easier than I would have done for work and headed down to the train station.

The magical metal box, transported me to the seaside town of Filey. Which I have decided is currently number one in the region for inbreds day outing closing beating Scarborough and Bridlington. My aim for the for the day was a lifer in the form of a Surf Scoter. If you’re not sure what a surf scoter is, well neither am I. It’s either the second more freakish duck after a Muscovy (which even a vegan would kick to death they’re so ugly) or one of the finest looking ducks in the land (possibly top 5). It’s either a thing of magnificent or an ugly bastard, I just can’t decided! Anyway it’s a bit lost as it’s normally found in Canada and America. He (as with all ducks the handsomer bastard is always male except goosander which are equally as delightful) has tagged on to a group of common scoters hoping they won’t reject their American cousin for looking so peculiar.

I made my way up to the Brigg, during my journey I stopped off at Tesco. Outside was a dog crying for it’s owner. I stroked and comforted it until the old lady came out. I’m a modern day saint really! Despite spending most of the weekend really close to the Brigg fishing activity in the bay made sure the raft of scoters were out in the distance. A fellow birder informed me of the rough location of the scoters and I managed to pick up the white of the back of it’s neck through my scope. Well a tiny black dot with a bit of white on it. Very disappointing lifer! I hung around the Brigg a bit longer and managed to get some much needed year ticks; Sand Martin, Gannet, Meadow Pipit, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot and kittiwake.

I tried various points of the Brigg and cliff tops, helping out other birders to locate the scoters. I eventually made it down to the seafront and at the end of the promenade I set up my scope, was joined by two others and we eventually located the scoters and I hung on until I managed to get a goodish view of that ridiculous bill that makes a shoveler look normal. A couple of sandwich terns past over head which was my third lifer of the day. Happy with that I decided to head home. Sadly it was still too distant to photograph but James Spencer managed to grab one on his blog.

Not the Filey bird but stolen off wikipedia

Not the Filey bird but stolen off Wikipedia

Father’s Day Memories

It’s father’s day as I write this blog entry (knowing me it probably won’t be by the time I finish and upload) so I thought I’d write a few words about my father.

It is fair to say that my love for the natural world is a direct influence from my father. From him joining us to the RSPB back when their children’s section was called Young Ornithologists Club (YOC) and wearing my Osprey badge. I somehow prefer the term YOC to Wildlife Explorers or whatever they call it these days. Going on walks down the old railway tracks near our house and been saddened by the building on green belt. We’d watch nature documentaries together and I remember him once comforting me as I cried after we watched something about the slaughter of elephants for their ivory. The majority of the few memories I have of him include birds or being outside. Some more vague than others, such as a flash back in the college library the other week when I found a field guide that could have been the one he used. The silhouettes of the birds looked similar and it reminded me of spending days flicking through looking at the various pictures of birds it contains.
Every time I enter an old hide that is warm and stuffy the smell of the dark old wooden interior instantly transports me back to holidays as a child spent in Norfolk. We’d always visit Hickling Broad NWT Nature Reserve. This was one of my favourite reserves mainly because it has a gift shop (I could be wrong, we’re going back 20 years). A lot of my memories of time with him are those spent holidaying in either our trailer tent or caravan. We’d mostly go to Cropton Forest with two weeks a year spent in Norfolk. Walks in the cropton during a day looking for crossbills or him lied out on the Norfolk sand dunes with his scope sea watching. Even when not birding on holiday bird activities could occur, such as the evenings we’d spent in our caravan playing Bill Oddie’s Bird Race board game. I remember him getting excited and taking my older sister off to see some cranes that were near to our Norfolk campsite. I didn’t go out birding much with my dad, I got bored and tired quick. Something I hear from my six year old daughter when I try and get her to go birding with me. How quickly life goes around in circles! Hopefully in 20 years’ time she’ll have a great love for nature and remember those days when she found birding boring and tiring!

Although not much of a twitcher, I do remember him using the old bird line to gather bird news and from checking his logbook he did see some great birds (a lot come from excellent days at Spurn) including: “Desert Warbler 6th for Britain. ‘Lots of twitchers’”, 8-7-1989 Blue Cheeked Bee-eater an entry which was excellently accompanied with the words – “Bird of the year so far”, he also saw North Cave Wetland’s first official rarity – the white winged black tern back when it was referred to as North Cave Gravel Pits.

Looking through his log book and year list shows the changing status of birds in the UK. There is no tick next to red kite, a bird which now breeds locally and a decent roost site with large numbers. In June 1988 we took a family holiday to Wales, where he saw his first peregrine. A bird that now can be seen breeding on the cliffs at nearby Scarborough. I’m not entirely sure but I’m guessing this was a rare bird around here back then as 14th December 1991’s entry PEREGRINE FALCON* CHASHING PIGEONS at Filey is underlined, surely for the excitement. There’s also his first Avocet at Titchwell in 1987, which now also breed locally. They have a few local sightings in the later years but only in low numbers ones and twos, not like the many now found at North Cave and Blacktoft. Without studying each entry in depth I see no entry for little egret except on a holiday to France. On the other hand there are several sightings of ruddy duck before they were culled. These sightings are in 2s and 3s at least. Now you’d be lucky to see one.

The book also contains some exciting garden birds that I remember including in November 1993 when a merlin got trapped in between our and next doors fence, my dad using gardening gloves managed to free it and we were able to see it up close in hand before he released it. I remember watching it take to the skies until it was a small dot and then nothing as a six year old seeing something disappear like that fascinated me. There’s also an entry from February 1996 when we had waxwings visit our garden for berries.

The majority of memories I have of him are to do with birds, Sundays spent waiting for him to return from Pulfin Bog, Figham Common or Tophill Low so we could have our roast dinner. Places that I’d not visited but sounded like exotic places of British wilderness full of exciting birds, such as the time when he rang home to say he wouldn’t be coming home for tea as an osprey had just turned up at Tophill.

Tophill is the second to last entry in his logbooks – 27th April 1996 Jack Snipe, Ruddy duck and cuckoo all seen that day. Two months later he’d lose his battle with cancer. I could say about how I wish I could change the past and been more interested when we went out places or how I would love to go out birding with him now, but life offers no alternate in these situations. All I can do is pick up his Leitz that are older than I, put on my boots, go visit one of his favourite places and take in the amazing natural world. Pass on my knowledge and enthusiasm to my child and be thankful for the influence I’ve received. The influence that sowed the seeds for a love of nature that although took a while to fully blossom, I’m thankful someone was there to sow them.

Spring at Swinemoor

Whilst most birders were at Spurn today for the Rock Thrush and a fly by from a Caspian Tern (lucky lucky people!) I took a break from assignments to have a wander onto Swinemoor common. My main reason for visiting was to catch up with a couple of migrants that had recently turned up. Strong winds made looking for Sedge and Reed warblers nearly impossible so I focussed on the flooded pasture instead.


Pools at Swinemoor

My first year tick there was a single common Sandpiper (Y70). The flooded fields offered plenty of water for wildfowl with mute swan, shoveler, gadwall,teal, wigeon, shelduck and mallard all making use of the ponds. Sadly nothing interesting to pick up. Wader wise – Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, snipe and lapwing. Managed two more year ticks when a hobby (Y71) caused a bit of disturbance before flying north and out of sight and half of the reason I went down there – yellow wagtails (Y72). Also saw a white wagtail. Had no luck with any wheatears though.


Spring at last?

On probably the nicest and warmest day we’ve had so far this year I made my way up to Bransholme Reservoir to conduct my BTO Wetlands Bird Survey (WeBS). When I arrived at the lagoon which aims to protect north Hull from flooding I soon noticed a distinct lack of birds, however something caught my eye and I was given that wonderful sight of spring and summer the swallow (Y68) along with a House Martin (Y69)




I’ve been counting at this site for nearly a year now, and enjoy doing the monthly count, good to see how things change from month to month. This month the summer arrivals as previously mentioned were also greeted with some lesser black backed gulls, which I haven’t recorded over winter, other gulls present include herring, common and black headed.


Gulls! Gulls! Gulls!

The numbers of winter wildfowl were on the decline with small numbers of gadwall, pochard and shoveler compared to previous months. Teal, coot, mallard, mute swan were also present. No sign of the terrapin I saw twice last year yet, wonder if it’ll surface on a hot day again this year. Also no Chiffchaff that was singing every summer visit last year. Hopefully that’ll be an addition for my next visit.


Bransholme Lagoon



Camera Test Run

I recently decided to buy a new camera, after reading a few reviews on Amazon I settled for a Fuji Finepix. I finally managed to get out today for a test run. I decided to head up to Figham and try my luck photographing the Barn Owls. The common was very quiet, a few mallards and moorhens on the river, Reed Buntings and Pied Wagtails on the edges. I didn’t take me scope to check out the flooded field but I managed to make out some Lapwing, Teal and greylags using it. Spotted a yellowhammer (Y65) in the poor light. Back in 2010 this bird was very numerous on the common with every visit being able to see at least five or six birds plus hearing a lot of their “a little bit of bread but no cheese” calls sadly since the harsh winter of 2010 their numbers have been low and I rarely see or hear them when I go on there.

It took a while to find the barn owl tonight as it was mainly hunting in the long grass that is fenced off from the rest of the common. I managed a few shots, which I don’t think are too bad for a first attempt. Hopefully next time it’ll come closer.

Cropped Owl

Cropped Owl


Barn Owl

Barn Owl