Flood risks and ecosystem services

Screen Shot 2014-01-04 at 22.59.59 PMFlooding has been in the news again, and for many unfortunate people it has been in their homes!  You can use this map to find out the flood risk where you live, and check here for the latest flood alerts. You can also monitor the river level in Lewes at this page.

UK Government policy acknowledges that climate change is increasing the risk of flooding, but are we doing enough to protect the ecosystem services that could mitigate some of this risk?  Here is a quote from a recent report by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

Natural flood risk management involves working with natural processes to reduce flood
risk and damage. It involves working at the catchment scale and concerns the alteration,
restoration or use of landscape features; mechanisms include storing water using
landscape features, increasing soil infiltration, and slowing water by interrupting and
increasing resistance to its flow. Such measures may be able to reduce the height of
downstream water levels during a flood, or delay the arrival of the peak of the flood. These
measures, applied strategically, may also yield wider ecosystem service benefits such as
enhancing water quality, habitat for wildlife, biodiversity, carbon capture, landscape and
greenspace provision. When these benefits are taken into account, natural flood risk
management may in some cases be the best option.

The full report is here: Defra, 2013, Developing the potential for Payments for Ecosystem Services: an Action Plan

The protection of natural wetlands is one way to reduce flood risks.  You can read more about the benefits of local wetlands, and the threats they face, in this report from The Sussex Wildlife Trust.

World Forum on Natural Capital

Screen Shot 2013-11-23 at 6.59.51 AMThe World Forum on Natural Capital has been taking place in Edinburgh this week. The official website of the event is here.

BBC coverage of the event includes quotes from both Kering, the company that makes Gucci handbags, and the World Development Movement.  Not surprisingly they have different views on the concept of natural capital.  Kering is worried about the sustainability of the leather and precious metals used in its products, while WDM has labelled the idea as the Great Nature Sale.


Online ecosystems course

The Open University has announced a free online course called An Introduction to Ecosystems starting on 18th November. The course description sounds very interesting:

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 15.25.00 PMIf we don’t grasp why ecosystems function, it becomes harder to determine possible reasons for when they don’t, and makes it difficult to identify possible environmental threats to humans.

The 6-week course was mentioned at the recent Annual General Meeting of L&OVe, and some of our members decided to sign up.  We plan to have a meeting in December where we will get together to discus what we have been learning and how this applies to the Lewes area.

Anybody else from the Lewes area who joins this course will be welcome to join our discussion, tentatively scheduled for the evening of 17th December. Details of the time and place will be posted here in due course.  Meanwhile, please sign up for the course here.

Caroline Lucas comments on Natural Capital report

The State of Natural Capital Report, published in April this year, was recently discussed in Parliament. Prepared by the Natural Capital Committee, an independent advisory body, the key messages of the report are:

  • Natural capital assets are in decline and these trends should be measured
  • Changes in natural capital should be properly included in national and corporate accounts.
  • Changes in natural capital should be properly valued and those values more effectively included in decision-making processes.
  • Stewardship of natural capital is good for growth

Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion and formerly leader of the Green Party helped to spark an interesting debate in Parliament on 21 October with her comments:

Screen Shot 2013-11-01 at 17.09.32 PM“Oscar Wilde famously spoke of those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. If valuing nature in the way suggested will halt the current decline of our precious wildlife and habitats, it is to be welcomed, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need very strong safeguards, including in the planning system, to ensure that by putting a pound sign on priceless ecosystems such as ancient woodlands we do not inadvertently open the door to their destruction?”

The Hasard transcript of the full debate can be read here, and further information about the work of the Natural Capital Committee is available here.

Plan Bee

Look out for Plan Bee on the ITV Tonight Programme, this evening at 7:30 pm (18 July)

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 16.36.23 PMIt’s estimated that bees contribute £500 million annually to the British economy. And it’s not just about honey, because we rely on bees to pollinate around 75% of our food crops. Without bees and other pollinating insects, we’d struggle to produce many of the foods we’ve grown to love – strawberries, apples pears, jams, even coffee.

If you can’t watch the ITV programme, the Sussex Wildlife Trust has some advice about bees in our gardens, while the Co-op has it’s own website for Plan Bee.

What has the Thames ever done for us?

Rivers provide us with many ecosystem services.  Chris Williams, the Marine Socio-Economics Coordinator at the new economics foundation, has produced a factsheet about the Thames.  Click the image to open the file; here is an extract…

  • Thames ecosystemsProvisioning services: we obtain products from ecosystems such as food, fibre and medicines; fish and shellfish in the case of the Thames.
  • Regulating services: we benefit from the results of ecosystem processes such as water purification, air quality maintenance and climate regulation, the Thames estuary plays a key part on those services.
  • Cultural services: we gain non- material benefits from our interaction with the natural environment such as education and wellbeing, the Thames provides a sense of history, a place to learn and to enjoy
  • Supporting services: functions that are necessary for the production of other ecosystem services from which we benefit, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling, which are also key features of rivers and estuaries such as the Thames.

Chris is a Lewes resident and a member of L&OVe.

L&OVe featured in Ecosystem News

Ecosystem News No. 4The Ecosystem Knowledge Network, managed by DEFRA, is a key resource for anyone wanting to learn about the practical benefits of an ecosystems approach in the UK.  In addition to a great website, the network also has a quarterly newsletter.

Not only does Lewes feature on the front cover of the latest edition of Ecosystem News, but the newsletter includes a profile of ‘Chalking up the Benefits’, a project currently being managed be L&OVe in collaboration with the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

Click on the cover image to download the newsletter, or pop over to ‘projects’ section of our website to read more about Chalking Up the Benefits.

The Budget 2013: Value of nature still invisible to the Chancellor of the Exchequer

Author: Tony Whitbread, Sussex Wildlife Trust

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 20.58.08 PMWhile many in parliament, and in government departments, are trying to find ways of recognising and reflecting the value of nature in national accounting, the Chancellor still seems to view the environment as a cost to be beaten down.

In his 2013 Budget, Chancellor George Osborne has again put long-term prosperity at risk with a short-term bid for so-called growth.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its beleaguered environmental agencies face further big cuts after the Chancellor raided the Department’s budget to pay for more spending on major infrastructure projects.

Even before the anticipated £11.5bn extra cuts across Government, to be announced in June, £37m will be lost from Defra and its already cash-strapped agencies which have huge responsibilities for dealing with flooding, water pollution, plant and tree diseases and protecting and enhancing important places for wildlife.

The savings will contribute to increased spending on potentially damaging major infrastructure from 2015-16, and coincide with a drop in petrol duty. So the Chancellor is reducing investment in natural capital in order to throw money at damaging activities.

The Wildlife Trusts have been calling on the Chancellor to invest in the natural environment – our natural capital – as a way to secure our long-term prosperity.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“Despite the fundamental importance of the natural environment to people’s lives, the Department in charge of looking after it has a tiny budget – that is hit incredibly hard with each spending review. The debate about the public forests has shown how important our natural assets are: people care passionately about their local woods and parks; and they are fundamental to the quality of our lives and our well-being. Nature is also of vast economic value – just £20m of Government money is invested in the public forest estate each year yielding economic benefits of over £400m per year.

“The case for a different approach is clear. For example, investment in job creation through environmental projects is an investment in our natural capital and in reducing our welfare bills. These are the kinds of new and innovative win-win ideas that the Government needs to grasp.

“Defra had to stomach unusually high budget cuts in 2011. Sadly these further cuts indicate a Government that does not understand the value of nature and its importance to our future prosperity.”

Failure to recognise the value of nature in our national accounting is not just bad for the environment, its bad maths! How can government know if it is creating prosperity if it does not, or will not, measure those things that make up prosperity.

(Originally posted at the website of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, 22 March 2013)

The Circular Economy: the shape of things to come?

Remember Ellen Macarthur? the solo long-distance yachtswoman who in 2005, circumnavigated the globe in a single handed non stop journey that broke the (then) world record of  71 days, 14 hours?

Well Dame Ellen Macarthur, as she is now known, is charting a new journey no less epic in its ambition  and design – only this time she wants to take us all with her.

A year after retiring from sailing in 2009, she launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity focused on providing a positive framework for sustainable innovation using insights from living systems to re-think the future. And in a very short space of time, the foundation has made its mark on the minds of top business  leaders and CEO’s, culminating in several events at the recent Davos meeting, to  promote a new paradigm:  the ‘circular economy’.

So what is the Circular economy?

The new circular economy explores  ways to reuse products or their components and restore more of their precious material, energy and labour inputs. This is not about recycling  but re-manufacturing: products are designed for ease of re-use, disassembly and re-furbishment, without loss of value or quality.  As a result, vast amounts of materials  are reclaimed from production process  and from end-of-life products. Continue reading