Weekly round-up: October 4

The Big Butterfly Count 2020 recorded the lowest average number of butterflies since its inception 11 years ago, despite a record-breaking number of counts submitted by the public. More than 1.4 million butterflies and two species of day-flying moth were counted between July 17 and August 9, with the lowest average per count down 34 per cent compared to 2019.

Dr Zoë Randle, senior surveys officer at Butterfly Conservation said: “Coming so shortly after the recent WWF and UN reports on the global biodiversity crisis these 2020 results illustrate the perilous state of wildlife in the UK. However, the fact that so many people take part in this exciting citizen science initiative is encouraging and makes a huge difference to our understanding of how the natural world is responding to the crisis it is in. Now we need to see initiatives both here and across the world to put nature on a path to recovery.”
Source butterfly-conservation.org

Scientists have made a major breakthrough in solving the plastic pollution crisis by creating an enzyme capable of “eating” the material

Plastic pollution is reaching every part of the planet, with an effective way of breaking down and reusing many types of plastic so far elusive, leading to tonnes being discarded every year – and many more tonnes being made from fossil fuel. 

In 2016 a novel type of bacteria that was able to digest plastic into its constituent parts, Ideonella sakaiensis, was discovered in a Japanese recycling facility. By isolating and combining the two enzymes responsible, scientists have created a quick and simple way to recycle plastic they hope will be able to help solve the crisis.
Publication Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

The UK government has enacted its England-wide ban on plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, which was delayed from its original implementation date in April due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Defra figures estimate the country uses 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds every year.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “Single-use plastics cause real devastation to the environment and this government is firmly committed to tackling this issue head on. The ban on straws, stirrers and cotton buds is just the next step in our battle against plastic pollution and our pledge to protect our ocean and the environment for future generations.”
Source gov.uk

Kew’s State of the World’s Plant and Fungi 2020 report states that two in five plant species are now estimated to be at risk of extinction, including 723 currently used for medication. One such species, Brugmansia sanguinea, which is used for treatment of circulatory disorders, is already listed as extinct in the wild by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The report also highlighted 2,500 species with the potential for fuel or bioenergy, and 7,039 plants that are potential sources of food – highlighting that at present just 15 individual plants provide 90 per cent of humanity’s food intake. 

In addition, 1,942 plants and 1,886 fungi were discovered as new to science in 2019, including those with the potential for food, fuel, fibres and medicine.
Source State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020

Scientists have discovered that blue whales change their singing habits before migration, switching from mainly night crooning during the summer to daytime melodies as they prepare for their epic journey.

The research monitored blue whales off the coast of California in the north east Pacific, where they feed during the summer before travelling 4,000 miles south to their breeding grounds off Central America.

By predicting when they will migrate it is hoped the research may be used to help protect the endangered species by alerting ships in their path to prevent strikes.
Publication Current biology

The National Trust is predicted to fell a record number of trees this year due to ash dieback, with 40,000 to be lost in 2020 – including in historic woodlands such as those which inspired Beatrix Potter and John Constable.

The prolonged dry weather this spring and summer combined with management challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic has left the trees at higher risk from the disease, which is caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. Spread by windborne spores, the disease causes leaf damage loss, bark lesions and dieback of shoots, twigs and branches.
Source National Trust

Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres stressed the importance of nature-based solutions to both the Covid-19 recovery and tackling of the climate crisis while speaking at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity this week, adding that “much greater ambition is needed, not just from governments, but from all actors in society”.

“By living in harmony with nature, we can avert the worst impacts of climate change and recharge biodiversity for the benefit of people and the planet,” he said, adding that the preservation of biodiversity is also beneficial for jobs and economic growth. 

The summit followed unveiling of Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, a commitment to the reversal of biodiversity loss by 2030.

The pledge, signed by the leaders of 76 nations, reads: “We are in a state of planetary emergency: the interdependent crises of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation and climate change – driven in large part by unsustainable production and consumption – require urgent and immediate global action.”

The same day, British prime minister Boris Johnson committed to the 30×30 pledge, promising to protect 30 per cent of the UK’s land by 2030 to support the recovery of nature and preserve biodiversity.
Source UN/gov.uk

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