Happy New Year! 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. We have lots of exciting projects in the coming year, with the tree planting season already well underway.
This newsletter has been guest-edited by Olivia Henderson
In this month’s newsletter: Purple veg and Mediterranean fruit?; Another way of looking at bee declines; Survey season; Farming in Protected Landscapes grants; Electrical recycling; Reindeer can sleep and eat at the same time!; Tree planting: trialling some new approaches; Grow Back Greener; Curious livestock?; In climate…; It wouldn’t be Christmas without the King’s Speech…; But some positivity; Voluntary carbon markets; Deep sea carbon storage
Mediterranean fruit & veg?
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has recently suggested that we could see a shift in growing opportunity due to expected warmer temperatures in 2024, creating ideal conditions for fruit and veg which would have once struggled to grow in the UK. We know that Swaledale and Arkengarthdale have a microclimate of their own, but whilst we may not have quite the success of the south with figs, almonds, apricots and melons, we might find certain Mediterranean veg does better. We are also likely to have a longer growing season. The flip side of this is that some of the traditional cold-loving fruits and veg may struggle, such as apples and pears.
Now is the time to start thinking of spring veg planting. It is a great time to pop up to our community veg beds at the surgery to see what’s going on and check out our month by month veg blog on our website.
Source: The Guardian
Speaking of planting for spring, if you would like to curate a little (or big!) patch of wildflowers in your garden/field/windowsill, join in with our One Acre Meadow; our community wildflower corridor project. We can help set you up with seeds and information, so contact us to join.
Another way of looking at bee declines
A recent study in Nature has looked into how insect populations are measured. It appears that the worst declines are often, disproportionately, in species which were initially abundant, as opposed to in the rarest species. The most abundant species in an ecosystem are particularly important for an ecosystem’s structure and function, the services it provides and for higher levels of the food chain. Therefore, these changes in abundance are altering key ecosystem characteristics. These findings also support what many of us have observed; there are fewer insects now than in previous decades. This is likely due to land-use intensification; decreases in the nutritional availability of plants; and climate change.
A particular example of some of the human causes of declines are neonicotinoids. These are pesticides which are highly toxic to bees; the Wildlife Trusts quote that ‘1 teaspoon of this chemical is enough to kill 1.25 billion bees’. Consequently, neonicotinoids, such as thiamethoxam, have been banned since 2018. However, there are loopholes allowing them to be used as ‘temporary measures’. This has largely been for sugar beet and is not only affecting insects but is getting into soils and waterways.
The Mammal Society have launched the National Harvest Mouse Survey and the survey season is underway, running from October to March. The harvest mouse falls under ‘Near Threatened’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, although numbers may be even lower as records are poor. Therefore, surveying populations is important; you are able to sign up to complete a survey or just report a presence here. Nests are found in tussocky grassland, field and road verges and hedgerows.
The time of the world’s largest wildlife survey, the annual RSPB Big Garden Watch is also almost upon us, running from 26-28th January. Hundreds of thousands of people get involved every year by spending spend an hour watching the birds in their gardens and recording what they find. To find out more and take part, click here.
Farming in Protected Landscapes grants
The DEFRA funded Farming in Protected Landscapes scheme, managed in the Dales by The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) is still open to grants, with a seemingly large pot of money left. Grants are available for projects supporting nature recovery, climate change mitigation and to encourage people to enjoy the landscape. However, the money won’t hang around forever, so they are encouraging good quality applications.
Source: Richmondshire Today
There is an ongoing consultation on the new bill that aims to improve the longevity of electrical items. The bill sets out to catalyse a shift towards a more circular economy, reduce future environmental impact and improve the ways that waste is dealt with. Methods include take-back obligations for distributors and more thorough recycling financing, with a particular focus on disposable vapes.
Reindeer can sleep and eat at the same time!
A recent article in Nature has found that reindeer can enter a sleep-like state whilst chewing in order to optimise eating during the summer. The study found that during rumination their brains enter a slow wave, rhythmic mode, similar to that of non-REM sleep, and they are often sat or stood quietly as they would when sleeping (although sometimes with their eyes open!). The more they were in this state, the less sleep they needed. This adaption may be to allow them to almost constantly feed, making the most of the summer abundance of food. The amount of sleep they got also didn’t change throughout the year, suggesting it is tightly regulated unlike in many other species, and highlighting how important sleep is.
Tree planting: trialling some new approaches
We have now completed phase 1 of the 2023-2024 tree planting sessions with a further four planting sessions to come between January and March.
This year we are trialling some new approaches. The first change is that all the trees have been provided as cell-grown rather than bare roots. Those of us who visited the Mires Beck Nursery will know that this is what commercial tree planters are demanding. It makes it possible to plant more quickly with a higher success rate, and so many nurseries are now moving away from bare rooted whips. We found that the bare root hazels we planted last year had large root systems. The seedlings were a bit cramped within the spiral guards we used for hedging, so hazels particularly suffered from the dry conditions in the summer. Our Autumn checks have since revealed new growth appearing at the base of many hazels – they survived the trauma. It is hoped, however, that planting earlier in more exposed sites and using plug plants will give the newly planted seedlings a better chance at getting established before a dry summer.
Another change we’re trialling is instead of spirals, which we think held the heat in last summer and allowed leaf scorch, is Tubex Easywrap guards for hedge planting. These are double skinned guards with a vertical slit and an overlap. They start off wider and are able to expand as the tree grows so reducing the chance of heat retention. The wraps are made of 35% recycled content and are fully recyclable when it becomes time to remove them.
Lastly, we are trialling planting trees using the more ventilated Tubex shrub guard, which we again hope will prevent saplings from getting too warm in the hot weather. These guards include recycled content and are themselves 100% recyclable. Hollies and juniper are being planted as before with the widest guards to accommodate their bushier nature.
As to whether recyclable or biodegradable tree guards are better, check out an interesting blog post on the Tubex website. Sustainable Swaledale remains grateful to Tees Swale: naturally connected for supporting the 2023-2024 season.
Grow Back Greener
Currently in its second season, ‘Grow Back Greener’ is a YDNPA scheme which plans to create 43 hectares of native woodland this winter, across 12 sites. Alongside, the Forestry Commission, White Rose Forest and the Woodland Trust, the Dales Woodland Forum plans to create further 600 hectares of mostly native, deciduous woodland across the Park; an ambitious, shared target they have for each year. They aim to increase woodland cover in the Park by around 7% by 2030. Local farms included in this immense operation are Heggs and Castle.
A recent study found that livestock show empathy, have levels of social intelligence and even social awareness. Pigs would open a box when another pig was trapped inside, particularly when they’d watched the trapped pig and within just 20 minutes. This was even more likely when the pig squealed in distress, suggesting it was an emotional response rather than just curiosity. The study also found that the ‘rescue’ pigs didn’t have raised cortisol levels, suggesting it was an act of selflessness, rather than to reduce their own stress.
Cattle were found to be able to hold in their urine, suggesting self-awareness and an understanding of what is going on with their bodies. They also appear to make friends, showing affection to those they do like when confined together and butting heads with cows they don’t like. This could be useful to farmers in keeping a herd together by keeping together those that get along. Goats understood angry or happy pictures of people and found hidden food more easily after watching where humans had put it. They even seemed to understand the action of pointing at something, something chimps don’t understand. Pigs and cattle further appeared to show signs of optimism and pessimism, the former through studies linked to their love for apple sauce!
Advances on climate have been slow in the latter half of 2023, with advisors saying ‘worryingly’ so. In September PM Rishi Sunak slowed the transition away from fossil fuels in order to be more ‘pragmatic’ and to let people adjust, but threatening UK Paris commitments. Greenhouse gas levels, Antarctic sea ice thaw and global and ocean temperatures have broken records as well as there being exceptional levels of coral bleaching. Globally, we briefly passed 2ºC of warming for the first time and more wildfires, floods and droughts are on the horizon. COP28 saw some targets agreed, and although with large steps forward from previous agreements, there was a failure to agree to fully phase out fossil fuels.
It wouldn’t be Christmas without the King’s Speech…
This year whilst reflecting on the cost of living crisis and homelessness the King also touched on COP28, where he had stated that the world was still ‘dreadfully far off track’ from meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement targets. He spoke in front of a potted Christmas tree for this year’s broadcast and reminisced about the ‘growing awareness’ he had seen towards ‘our natural world as the one home which we all share’ and we must protect it ‘for the sake of our children’s children’.
But some positivity
The EU Biodiversity Strategy is a new law proposed to restore nature with a focus on carbon capture, natural disaster prevention, food security and natural capital. It plans to continue existing targets as well as focus on insect, forest, urban, agricultural, marine and river biodiversity with National Restoration Plans to be submitted within two years of the law coming into effect. These must show how the targets will be delivered.
There has been an increase in UK private solar over the past year, with an additional 17,000 houses adding solar panels. This is likely due to high energy costs and reports say it’s the cheapest energy form. Electric cars are also booming; 18% of new vehicles globally are battery powered. High costs and ‘range anxiety’ have provided causes for concern and prevented this from taking off at higher rates but new tech is hopefully going to be reassuring. Another technology with the potential to greatly reduce home emissions is a compact heat pump. Results show that whole life-cycle emissions can be reduced by 19% and when combined with grid decarbonisation reductions can be 25-60%. There are also new developments in treating timber waste which can reduce building emissions by 3-23%. Electric trains may be the future of public transport, but high costs are keeping diesel going.
2023 was also the first time Britain produced more electricity from renewables than from fossil fuels over the year and managed to cover all electricity in homes (38% of total demand). It is unlikely fossil fuels will ever reign superior again, with the last coal-fired power station set to cease production in 2024. Being left to a small margin, this milestone was reached due to businesses having a holiday over the festive period and the wind remaining strong enough for wind power. Demand, in fact, has been on a downward trend since COVID due to energy costs, another helpful factor in reaching this milestone. However, we must remain cautious as this shift is largely to the cost of wind power getting substantially cheaper and current trends may not remain so if it becomes expensive.
Source: The Conversation
Also, US President Joe Biden, has plans to ban logging in old growth and mature forests after signing an Executive Order on Earth Day to look into and protect these forests. With a survey finding that around 80% of the US’ forests fall under this category; their protection relies on 2024 US election results.
Voluntary carbon markets
There has been a boom in these markets too recently, with over $1 billion trading in the last year. Projects of high quality and charisma are the most popular, predominately with socioeconomic or biodiversity angles alongside carbon sequestration. These markets can produce long-term, high income if done properly and arebecoming increasingly feasible due to advances in technologies. Costs are being brought down by using technologies such remote sensing and eDNA analysis. There has been some backlash recently in regard to offsetting, further increasing the appeal of these markets. Importantly, further collaboration across the market is required to create opportunities within this emerging market that work for businesses, biodiversity and the climate.
Deep sea carbon storage
One of the schemes being utilised by carbon markets is a plan to bury woody debris from agriculture or forestry deep in the sea. This scheme may be possible as, according to a new article in Science, ancient shipwrecks in the Black Sea have not decayed due to the low oxygen levels. The Black Sea has such low levels due to its salt content, meaning there is little decomposition. Any carbon dioxide there is, is locked in the depths, trapped between different sea layers based on salt. The scheme does not require expensive technology and tough woody plant material grown on land is less likely to disrupt under-water ecosystems than material grown in the sea, as it won’t remove nutrients.
There are similar schemes, such as floating ‘buoys’ in which seaweed is planted and allowed to grow, before ocean currents take them, waterlogging and sinking them deep into the ocean. These schemes do not provide a complete solution, but they provide a good addition to carbon solutions.