News: February 2024

The Metropol Parasol in Seville, Spain - a remarkable example of wooden architecture. Photo by martine87 from Pixabay

Here are a few quick updates on what we’re up to. If you’re on Facebook, please join our group and get involved in the conversations.

This newsletter has been guest-edited by Olivia Henderson.

In this month’s newsletter: Yorkshire Dales National Park’s ‘To Do’ List; Plantlife’s species to look out for this February; The future of wooden infrastructure; Investment required for city trees; The hidden habitats of peat bogs; Northern Rail’s recycling mission; The Big Plastic Count; English hedgerows in need of repair; A new kind of garden at the Chelsea Flower Show; Is straw the future of insulation?; Baking cakes or polluting rivers?; Will we be seeing heatwaves given names this summer?; A new study on sea otters, burrowing crabs and pickleweed; Labour withdraws longstanding pledge; An update on government habitat restoration schemes; Sustainable Swaledale Membership renewal.

Yorkshire Dales National Park’s ‘To Do’ List

The National Park is asking for people to consider what six things they would like the Park to focus on, from 18 different areas, including river pollution and affordable homes.  There is a focussed social media campaign for all ages and backgrounds, asking what they like most about the National Park.  If you would like to contribute to this ‘to-do’ list, there is a survey consultation. Deadline: 26 February 2024.

Plantlife’s species to look out for this February

This month, plants you are likely to see include the snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, which is usually found on river banks and woodlands, the common primrose, Primula vulgaris, which is most commonly found on banks and in hedgerows and the lesser celandine, Ruscus aculeatus, found in parks and woodlands.

Snowdrops, although not native, have some clever tricks up their sleeves for living in such cold weather.  The tips to their stalks are hardened to push up through the snow and their leaves hold a natural antifreeze.  They traditionally reproduce by creating a fat-rich protein in their seeds to attract ants, who take them down into their nests to feed on the protein.  They then germinate in the warmer nests.  50 years ago, snowdrops usually weren’t seen until February or March, and in fact I remember my mum just being able to collect a vase full for my birthday in the second week of Feb, when I was little in the early 2000s.  Now we can see their heads peak through as early as November and flowers mid-January, a likely sign of climate change.

It is also ‘Reverse the Red’s fungi month’, according to Plantlife, where you might find threatened species such as the Hazel Glove Fungus hidden in the undergrowth.

Source: Plantlife

The future of wooden infrastructure

From the emotional balm of a walk in the woods to the first wooden skyscrapers, Tom Heap and Helen Czerski ask if we can replace a world of concrete and steel with a wooden utopia. Will the Wood Age be healthier for us and for the planet? Michael Ramage of Cambridge University explains how the development of Cross-Laminated Timber makes it possible to build pretty much any building with wood while Tim Searchinger of Princeton University argues that turning forests into construction material has a high carbon cost for the planet.  Listen here on BBC Sounds.

Investment required for city trees

In Swaledale we might be lucky enough to find shelter under a tree or two, but a new interactive map of the UK’s urban centres has found tree-poor neighbourhoods are at higher risk of extreme heat and pollution.  Around 80% of the population live in these ‘concrete jungles’ (more than 50 million people) which show high levels of air pollution and poor air quality.

Tree Equity Score UK has created a 0-100 measure, in coordination with the Woodland Trust, American Forests and Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, where a lower score means it requires greater investment.  The score sets a national standard for each county in order to encourage investment in the worst-affected areas and each location has its own rating. For some local examples, Harrogate has a score of 88, York 87 and Scarborough 79.

The hidden habitats of peat bogs

Blanket bogs hold a secret.  Below the flat squishy carpets of moss, sedge and shrub lies a varied, complex habitat.  Above, the wind dries sphagnum tendrils into crispy fingers and the sun beats down on the moss, drying it out.  Hardy spiders and beetles bravely battle the harsh terrain in search of food and mates, much like a cowboy in the desert.  However, below the surface, a cold, wet (and a little rotten) microclimate provides a safe haven for many less tenacious (and soft-bodied) organisms.  Read more at theYorkshire Peat Partnership’s webpage about nimble springtails and tardigrade battles and their rather off-putting feeding strategies.  (Conversely the tardigrade might make a poor example of a less tenacious organism as these have been found to withstand intensive radiation and trips to space but that’s beside the point!).

Northern Rail’s recycling mission

As part of their 2024 environmental mission Northern Rail is separating its waste into 33 different categories.  Imagine having 33 bins to put out on a fortnight rotation!  The company already recycles or reuses 70% of its generated waste across the 467 stations it manages on the network and its depots across the North of England, but this new scheme is set to improve this.

Source: Northern Railway

The Big Plastic Count

Last year the scheme saw a great number of people sign up to record their plastic waste for a week and nearly 37,000 people have signed up so far this year.  This time the scheme will use results to push politicians to strengthen negotiations for a Global Plastics Treaty.  The goal is to hopefully achieve less global production of plastic!  To get involved sign up to take part on the 11-17th March.

English hedgerows in need of repair

Recent work has mapped 390,000 km of UK hedgerows (1-6 meters tall) on field boundaries.  The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has used new laser technology to produce a comprehensive map of these statements-of-English-heritage to guide their restoration.  They provide key habitats as biodiversity corridors and carbon sinks but subsidies trying to promote the post-war intensification of agriculture, required the removal of many hedgerows.  This led to a loss of around half of our hedges by the 1990s and those that have managed to survive have been poorly maintained, leaving either dead gaps or maturity to full trees.  Lately, we have been learning how to lay a hedge so we can restore what we can and lay our newly planted hedges when the time comes!

Source: UKCEH

A new kind of garden at the Chelsea Flower Show

One garden set to be displayed at the Chelsea Flower Show this year is catching particular attention.  The ‘microbiome garden’ will be planted with flowers which can be eaten or just walked past to enhance gut health.  Our microbiome consisted of trillions of microbes, on and in us but mostly in the gut.  There are influenced by the other microbes we encounter every day, including flowers and trees.

Is straw the future of insulation?

What does Lithuanian straw have to do with the small town of Todmorden in West Yorkshire?  Renovations to the 1950s college are using over 1,600 m2 of the stuff to ‘stuff’ 400 mm thick, timber framed insulation panels. Straw bales have been used for decades as insulation, but these panels allow for better control over packing density, reduce fire risk and work well with uneven walls.

Source: BBC News

Baking cakes or polluting rivers?

Heavy rain, roads and waterlogged fields provide the perfect combination for polluting our waterways and it turns out this is poorly monitored.  Run-off has been causing damage in places such as just downstream of the tents of The Great British Bake Off.  There are over 18,000 outflows and drains along the major roads of England and although National Highways says its improving the system,  a dirty mix of oil, chemical and tyre pieces are finding their way downstream.  The Environment Agency has recognised the severity of the issue.

Source: BBC News

Will we be seeing heatwaves given names this summer?

We’ve had Storm Henk, Isha and Jocelyn already this year and we might be set for Heatwave Adam, Rachel or Margaret this summer; a committee of MPs believe that we should start naming UK heatwaves in order to improve communication.  It seems it is easier to follow the progress of a storm with a name and with heatwaves such as the 2022 heatwave causing 4,500 heat-related deaths in the UK, it might be a better way to stay up to date with critical advice.

Source: BBC News

A new study on sea otters, burrowing crabs and pickleweed

A recent study in Nature has found that after the recolonisation of sea otters in California’s Monterey Bay, the rate of erosion of their salt marsh home has reduced significantly.  With the help of conservationists, the otters have begun to return to their previous hangouts, such as Elkhorn Slough, where marsh erosion had previously been quite the cause for concern.  The erosion has been causing drastic habitat loss and damages to ecosystem services.  Since their reintroduction the otters have been eating their way through the burrowing crab populations, who themselves had been eating their way through the roots of bank-stabilising pickleweed, weakening marsh edges.  The positive effect of the otters has been as much as 20 cm less marsh lost per year, an effect stronger than the negative effects of nutrient loading, sea-level rise or tidal scouring.

The banks where the sea otters could catch the crabs have grown thicker, denser vegetation and the banks they couldn’t, have remained grazed, altering the dynamic of the marsh.  This pattern was seen across seagrass and giant kelp elsewhere too.  A pattern which sounds very familiar; the famous Yellowstone introduction of wolves led to a change in the course of the river as certain areas of the bank were stabilised – areas where the wolves could hunt the elk and deer – and steep gorges or other difficult terrain for the wolves, remained grazed.  ‘Trophic downgrading’ or the loss of top predators and the cause of the boom in crab numbers and the resultant erosion, is an effect that seems to have been largely underestimated in the past.

Labour withdraws longstanding pledge

Colder, damper, sicker, poorer and less employed.  A charming title of an article from the Guardian, shining the light onto the potential bleak future of Britain’s economy with Labour abandoning their pledge to invest £28 billion a year into low-carbon industries.  Without new investment into our ‘crumbling infrastructure’ we may be set to see further failings in our public services with businesses and investors looking further afield.

An update on government habitat restoration schemes

There have been various new government habitat restoration schemes in recent years.  Since the publication of the Environmental Improvement Plan last January, commitments have been made to restore habitats, whilst continuing to be 60% self-sufficient in food.  New packages have recently been released to continue support; ‘Water for Peat’ grants plan to award over £7 million across 35 sustainable farming and water management infrastructure for peat projects.  Read the Lowland Agriculture Peat Task Force report here.

In other schemes: the Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) Scheme goes live and the Yorkshire Dales’ Local Nature Recovery Strategy consultation closes on the 12th February.  BNG will require all major developments (unless exempt) to increase biodiversity by at least 10% on the site, an agreed offsite location or, as a last resort, by purchasing biodiversity credits.  This can be calculated in BNG units, using the statutory BNG metric, and will help restore habitats, connect local communities with nature and make things more consistent for developers. Furthermore, The Agricultural Transition Plan has received recent updates to support farmers with the impacts of climate change and the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF) is in its second round of payments.  NEIRF is designed for farmers to attract private investment from nature projects of up to £100,000.

Sustainable Swaledale Membership renewal

Membership subscriptions for 2024 are now due.  The membership fee helps us cover general costs, such as insurance, website hosting and events, which are not met by specific project funds. It also allows the group to have some funds available for starting up new projects.  The annual cost remains £10 with £5 concessions.  If you would like to join Sustainable Swaledale, email and the Secretary will send you  joining instructions and payment details.

Core Group Meeting

The next meeting will take place at the Two Dales Bakery on 7th March 2024 at 7.00pm. Please get in touch if you’d like to join us.

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