Eco News Q3 2020

Exceptional Times:  “Noticing Nature is the greatest gift I have received from lockdown.”  This was the opening sentence in an anonymous letter received by your Editor at the end of July.  It went on to say:  “I have just finished the most wonderful book, – about trees and Humanity’s destruction of them.  I recommend it – “The Overstory” by Richard Powers, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2019, and described by a critic as ‘The best novel ever written about trees, and, really, just one of the best novels, period’. 

“As I hug every tree I can, I thought those of your readership who feel the same might like to read it too, especially if they attended, as I did, your two splendid events ‘Forest of the Mind – People & Trees’ and ‘The Hidden Kingdom of the Soil’.  As an appetiser, or food for thought perhaps, here are a few extracts about trees from this gripping, action packed novel:

“If you are holding a sapling in your hand when the Messiah arrives, first plant the sapling and then go out an greet the Messiah.”

“It’s a miracle, photosynthesis: a feat of chemical engineering underpinning creation’s entire cathedral.  All the razzmatazz of life on Earth is a free-rider on that mind-boggling magic act.”

“This is not our world with trees in it.  It’s a world of trees, where humans have just arrived.”

“Trees have long been trying to reach us.  But they speak on frequencies too low for people to hear.”

“No one sees trees.  We see fruit, we see nuts, we see wood, we see shade.  We see ornaments or pretty fall foliage.  We see branches about to crush our roof.  We see a cash crop.  But trees – trees are invisible.”

“Your kind never sees us whole.  You miss half of it, and more.  There’s always as much below ground as above.”

“Trees know when we’re close by.  The chemistry of their roots and the perfumes their leaves pump out change when we’re near.  When you feel good after a walk in the woods, it may be that certain species are bribing you.”

“You and the tree in your backyard come from a common ancestor.  A billion and a half years ago, the two of you parted ways.  But now, after an immense journey in separate directions, that tree and you still share a quarter of your genes.”

“Not everything we plant will take.  Not every plant will thrive.  But together we can watch the ones that do fill up our garden.”

Picture of the Quarter: There is no shortage of Covid PPE at the beach!  Conservationists warn that there may soon be more masks and gloves in the sea than jellyfish.  Humanity is at it again!  Where is its consciousness?

Source: http://oceansasia.org/

See https://youtu.be/60vDnOeAcoA

Build Back Better:  BBB is a United Nations initiative which aims to create a recovery-from-Covid programme that establishes a new, better, normal.  A programme which triggers investments and societal change that stops the degradation of the Planet, and enables us to act as interdependent communities, joined by solidarity and responsibility. 

It expresses the three core values by which all investments are to be assessed:  their Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) impact.  Although ESG was developed for corporations its ethos applies across the board, no matter whether the investor is a government, a corporation, a community, or an individual:  money spent on BBB should reduce Humanity’s impact on the environment, achieve greater social justice, and be managed with duty of care. 

ESG has started to find acceptance at the highest levels.  In a previous issue we highlighted the greening of BlackRock (manager of assets worth $6.8tn cf UK GDP 2019 $2.7tn) and the change in attitude of other large investment managers.  That change is gathering momentum. 

In Somerset it is already reflected in County and District Council strategies.  At the community level, and in our small neck of the globe, Quantock Eco has joined with West Somerset Together/Forum 21 (WST/F21) to push forward a programme that tackles both fuel poverty (12% in West Somerset, 11% in Sedgemoor, and 10% in Taunton Deane) and climate change.

As its contribution, QE will launch a campaign to install Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs) in as many homes as possible in Somerset West & Taunton and Sedgemoor.  For those who are not familiar with this technology please go to https://www.cse.org.uk/advice/renewable-energy/air-source-heat-pumps

QE has chosen this method of space and water heating (it works like a refrigerator in reverse) because it can be retrofitted with minimum disruption, comes in a variety of sizes and prices, and is therefore likely to be appropriate for a wide range of households.  It also meshes nicely with WST/F21 insulation programme already well underway. 

The first step in our campaign is for you to choose a supplier.  There are several.  Any installer and its product must comply with the government’s Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).  See https://mcscertified.com/.  This accreditation assures you that the chosen company and their product are reliable.

To meet its sustainable energy targets the Government has launched two schemes which help finance sustainable installations such as ASHPs.  

The first is the Renewable Heat Incentive(RHI) geared to encouraging the installation of sustainable means of heating space and water.  Those who qualify for the scheme will receive payments which may total more than £9,000 over the first seven years of the installation.  This link explains what is needed to qualify: https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/system/files/docs/2018/07/essentialguideforapplicants_july_2018.pdf

The investment burden can be eased further by Ofgem’s Assignment of Rights (AoR) plan.  See  https://www.ofgem.gov.uk/publications-and-updates/essential-guide-assignment-rights for details. 

It is here that Quantock Eco hopes to help those in fuel poverty.  It is QE’s plan to invite investors to agree with the householder and Ofgem to be the assignee and to fund for a more attractive, secure return than is currently offered on its savings account. 

The RHI scheme is scheduled to terminate on 31st March 2022, when it will be replaced by another which may well be less attractive.  QE advises those who wish to benefit from the RHI not to delay making a decision.

The second scheme was launched in July of this year.  It is called the Green Homes Grant (GHG, not to be confused with the GHG of greenhouse gas!). 

Under this scheme the government may provide vouchers worth up to £10,000 to help cover the cost of making energy efficient improvements to your home.  Such improvements might include insulating your home or installing low-carbon heating such as ASHP to reduce energy use and lower CO2 emissions.  

The vouchers must be redeemed and the improvements completed by 31 March 2021.  Vouchers will be available from the end of September.  In the meantime it is probably best to get quotes from accredited installers.  See https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-the-green-homes-grant-scheme

The RHI and the GHG can be run together.  The cash flow advantage is that one receives up to £5,000 from GHG when an ASHP is installed.  Ofgem then deducts the GHG grant from any sums it may pay for the RHI. 

A good site which summarises what one needs to know is https://www.icax.co.uk/renewable_heat.html.

A Special Issue will be published shortly giving details of QE’s campaign.

A Landowner’s Opportunity:  The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) has run a Natural Flood Management (NFM) programme in the Doniford and Monksilver streams catchment area since 2018.  The project is delivered in partnership with the Environment Agency and funded by DEFRA.

It offers landowners an opportunity to tap into finance to improve their properties and help WWT meet its natural flood management objectives.  It also fits perfectly with Quantock Eco’s own native tree and hedgerow planting project. 

For those reasons QE gives the project its full support and introduces its Project Manager, Carina Gaertner, to landowners who wish to grasp the opportunity.

NFM uses natural means such as wetland creation and tree and hedgerow planting to hold back and slow down the flow of water before it reaches properties and businesses further downstream.  WWT is dedicated to bringing back natural features which have been lost or replaced over time by man-made structures.

The project has made impressive progress as these achievements show:

  • New NFM features created include over 1,400 metres of hedgerow, 35 metres of hedge bank, more than 2,000 native hardwood trees, nine new farm wetlands and one wet woodland, eight cross drains and over 100 leaky woody dams.
  • 90 farmers’ fields have been sampled to determine the extent of soil degradation and the farmers have received advice on approaches to enhance soil quality and improve infiltration.
  • 26 monitoring sites have been established across the catchment area to measure the impact of NFM interventions.  
  • Seven volunteer teams have been trained on citizen science techniques and are regularly monitoring water quality/flow, invertebrate numbers and wildlife habitat.

Any landowner who is interested in exploring the possibilities for their land should contact Carina before the end of the year when funding is likely to cease.  Her email is carina.gaertner@wwt.org.uk and her mobile 07547 863649.

Here are some examples of WWT/EA work done in the parish of Bicknoller:

  • In Newton a new wet woodland has been created that temporarily stores flood water before it enters the Doniford stream.  Dead trees will be left in the wetland to decompose and create valuable microhabitats for invertebrates.
  • Woody dams are used to slow down the Paradise stream and capture large amounts of sediment washed off land upstream during heavy rains.
  • Woodland and hedge planting delivered to three sites in Bicknoller.  More trees will be planted in other fields as winter approaches.

Editorial Note:  Apart from being Project Manager of this WWT project, Carina has a BSc in Geosciences from Gutenberg University, Mainz, and a MSc in Water & Environmental Management from Abertay University, Dundee.  Before WWT she taught geology to secondary schools as part of the GeoBus outreach programme of the Earth Science Department at St Andrews University and worked on sustainability at Abertay.

Oceans Currents & the UK Climate:  How does the ocean control the UK climate and how climate change will influence it? 

The oceans determine the global climate by controlling the global water cycle as well as storing and redistributing heat between the equator and the poles.  Warm water is transported from the equator to the poles by surface currents and redistributed by deep, cool subsurface currents.  This process means masses of warm water lose their heat, becoming colder and denser as they are transported, altering their density and therefore sinking to the deep. 

With increasing global temperatures, the result of anthropogenic or human caused climate change, scientists are investigating what impact this will have on the ocean currents.  

With sea ice melting, and changing inputs of freshwater from precipitation, the density of the water is being influenced, resulting in weakened currents.  These changes could dramatically alter the climate.

The ocean’s currents are a major control of the UK’s mild climate, bringing warmer and wetter conditions than other locations of similar latitudes.  The significant control of the ocean’s currents on our climate poses questions about how it would be influenced by a weakened or stopped circulation?  In simple terms, without the ocean currents, temperatures would be more extreme, with higher temperatures at the equator and colder at the poles. 

The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC) carries warm, surface water northwards and returns cooler, subsurface water to the equator.  This current is responsible for the climate of the UK; however, it is described as being one of the nine critical systems that are threatened by climate change.  Increasing temperatures and precipitation in high latitudes as a result of climate change are predicted to influence the stability of the water column (from the surface to the deep).  AMOC is driven by the differences in temperature and salinity.  A warmer atmosphere, greater evaporation at the surface ocean, and increased influx of cold, freshwater all result in a reduced salinity, meaning the less dense water cannot sink and drive circulation.

Evidence suggests that there has already been a 15% drop in the current’s flow over the past decade due to global warming.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent ‘Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate’ suggests that the AMOC may weaken by one third by 2100 if emissions continue at their current rate.  

A slowdown of the AMOC could cause a sudden rise in regional sea levels, changes in the position of rainfall, arid climate zones and reduce the temperature across Western Europe.  The ocean is also an important absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide, with a slowdown of current causing reduced uptake.  These impacts suggest the importance of the ocean circulation and the impact a warming climate can have.

A study by the University of Exeter suggests that a slowdown in AMOC could result in temperatures decreasing by 3.4 degrees Celsius.  This cooling would consequently influence precipitation resulting in minus 123 mm reduction in rainfall.  A key concern with these figures is the influence on the agricultural industry. The warmer, wet climate of the UK makes it a suitable location for a number of agricultural practices.  Any change to this, threatens the stability of the agricultural industry.  A reduction in temperature and precipitation may cause a shift in species able to grow in regions across the UK.  Further figures suggest that land suitable for arable farming may drop from 32% to 7% under an AMOC collapse.  These concerning figures highlight the impacts climate change can have on the oceans and the dependence regions such as the UK have on ocean circulations.

References:
Why is an ocean current critical to world weather losing steam?  McCarthy et al. (2017) (MCCIP Science Review) http://www.mccip.org.uk/media/1763/2017arc_sciencereview_002_atl.pdf.
https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/homepage/title_772755_en.html
https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-019-0011-3%20
For further reading see:
What is the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation?

Editorial Note:  This article was written for QE by Lottie Leigh-Browne.  Lottie was the first person to receive a QE Bursary (April 2018).  She graduated from Cardiff University with a BSc Hons in 2019 and is currently reading for a MSc in Climate Change Science and Policy at the University of Bristol. 

The Three Rs – Part I, Recycling:  At the bottom of the cliffs near Treen in Cornwall there is a beach that is swept by high tide.  Depending on the winter storms the area of exposed sand at low tide varies year on year.  It is a tricky climb up and down made more difficult as the choice of route diminishes with the incoming tide.  

It is a popular spot for naturists.  In the hot summer of 1976, the tide had almost reached the rocks and sun worshippers were packing up to depart.  One couple got dressed and walked away leaving a large plastic bag full of rubbish behind.  A naked young lady challenged them and was told that the sea would wash it away.  She stood her ground and made them carry it away to the cheers of onlookers.  

That was 44 years ago, and everything has changed in the intervening period – we now leave our rubbish behind on beaches en masse regardless of the tide.

Two years earlier I carried a spent match around the centre of Sophia in Bulgaria because I couldn’t find a public rubbish bin and the streets were absolutely spotless.  I later found out that the penalty for dropping litter was draconian.  Perhaps we should do something similar.

The first rule of recycling:  Take your rubbish home.

I am certain readers of this Newsletter always take their rubbish home and sort according to the wishes of the Council for later collection.  I am also sure that many regularly take items to the local recycling centre.  My local centre (Williton) proudly displays a sign saying the percentage recycled.  According to their website Viridor (the site operators) have seven categories of materials:  plastic, glass, paper, organics, mixed, metal and electrical (WEEE).

Think we could do better?  The village of Kamikatsu sits among verdant rice fields and mountainous forest on the Western Japanese island of Shikoku.  With 1,583 residents (slightly more than Nether Stowey), it’s the smallest village on the island, but for the last few years, has been garnering headlines around the world.

For decades, the village had given little thought to processing its waste, either burning it in an open incinerator or burying it in the ground. About 20 years ago a failed new incinerator project forced the village to rethink its strategy and a lofty ambition was born – to become a zero-waste town by 2020.

They currently segregate rubbish into at least 45 categories. At the top level, food waste, metals, paper, plastics, glass bottles, food trays, furniture, and machines all get separated.  Within that, there are often subcategories, so metal will get separated into aluminium and steel, or paper gets separated into newspaper, cardboard, paper carton, paper carton with aluminium (coated), hard paper tubes, paper cups, and shredded paper.  By doing this level of segregation, they can turn it over to a recycler knowing that they will treat it as a high-quality resource.

They have not reached their target of 100% recycling yet and admit that it will be impossible without further assistance from manufacturers who continue to use non-recyclable products. 

The people of Kamikatsu are showing the World what can be done if a community comes together with a commitment to recycle. Communist era Bulgaria demonstrated to me that clean streets and countryside is an achievable objective when leaders don’t have to worry about being booted out at the next election!  As for our democratic United Kingdom the people get what the majority vote for……

A few dry facts (BBC 30th September 2019):

  • Waste company Biffa has been fined £350,000 for sending household waste, including used nappies and sanitary towels, to China. The waste was illegally labelled as paper.
  • Roughly two-thirds of plastic waste in the UK is sent overseas to be recycled – in part, to reduce costs.
  • The latest figures available show that UK households produced just under 27 million tonnes of waste in 2017; that’s equivalent to 409 kg per person – roughly the weight of four adult giant pandas.

Editorial Note:  This article was written for QE by Kim Martin.  Kim is a member of Quantock Eco’s Executive with special responsibility for Marketing.  Educated at one of the famous Blue Coat Schools his initial career was in marketing capital and storage/handling equipment worldwide.  After a fair spell in Saudi Arabia he moved into general management in industrial products and services.  Widely travelled he maintains “the best way to see the world is by bike”.

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