Huge profits are being made in the electricity business – but is this in the national interest?

A report published by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit this week revealed that the six companies operating the electricity distribution network are paying their shareholders vast profits while adding pressure to household bills. New government regulations from Ofgem have failed to drive necessary investment in the electricity grid to make it fit for the future.

The electricity distribution network – the wires and substations delivering electricity to homes and businesses – is a natural monopoly, and so companies operating the network are able to work to relatively high profit margins.

These companies have their revenues regulated by government – ostensibly in order to keep them operating with a public service ethos – but that hasn’t stopped them paying out huge dividends to their shareholders. According to the report, network distribution costs form the second largest segment of domestic energy bills – accounting for 27 percent.

Lack of plans

Ofgem did impose a new set of regulations – ‘RIIO’ – which many were hoping would bring down profits and payouts to more reasonable levels. I’m sure that even some of the most ardent neoliberals would see that it would be wildly unpopular to simply hand over public assets to the profit motive without any kind of caveats.

This has failed, with profits shifting marginally from 32 percent to 30.4 percent over the course of the new regulations being brought in and giving an average payout dividend ratio of 13.3 percent.

Aside from arguments about profit and public goods, Theresa May, the prime minister, has just launched the Tories’ 25 Year Environment Plan, attempting to rebrand the party – which has been driven by pro-austerity, pro-privatisation ideologues – into a more compassionate party which cares about the environment.

The plan does include some excellent ideas, some of which had already started to be adopted voluntarily by the private sector, such as cardboard straws rather than plastic ones in some pub chains. Yet, even the BBC has been decrying the lack of plans for legislation.

With the electricity distribution network vital to national security and run using what has historically been publicly owned infrastructure, it is right that the government has a significant hand in steering the direction of the industries involved in profiting from it.

Deliver electricity

Since the Tories were left to play on their own after the 2015 General Election – waving goodbye to the more environmentally concerned Liberal Democrats – they have been actively pushing back on policies to promote sustainable energy.

By blocking the development of onshore wind farms which are one of the cheapest forms of electricity generation, and attempting to force fracking on local communities, the Government has clearly been more concerned about a small section of their voter base going to UKIP, rather than acting in the interests of the people and planet.

If the May government really did care about the environment and tackling climate change, and wanted to support the country in moving towards a future powered by renewables, they’d take a serious look at our electricity grid.

The grid is currently tilted in favour of massive centralized power generation, like coal-fired and nuclear power stations. Everyone from off-grid hippies to liberal green Tories would benefit from the development of a ‘smart grid’.

If we took the grid back into public hands rather than leave it with 6 companies, doing their own things with various fragments of the grid, which was designed to deliver electricity to households generated by a small number of massive coal-fired power stations, rather than a diverse network of green energy sources, we could fundamentally restructure it into being a climate resilient network. This would drive down costs and help bring in more renewable generation as well as create space for energy storage.

Experiment of neoliberalism

While the government consistently mishandles firms in control of our public assets like the railways – letting them keep profits in good times, and bailing them out with taxpayer money in bad times, and like construction work on infrastructure vital for the functioning of the state carried out by the now liquidated Carillion – it’s important that they step up and reassess what is in the national interest.

This clearly raises the question of why we continue to allow public assets and taxpayers money to both give companies the means of production and go on to pay private shareholders profits which are propped up by household bills.

Why, when the cost of living is driving working families below the poverty line and into the tattered state welfare system, are we not taking action on this siphoning off of public money into the pockets of billionaires and corporations?

A huge majority of Britons would like to see institutions like the railways being brought back into public hands, so perhaps it’s time at last to recognise the experiment of neoliberalism for what it is.

This Author

Tom Pashby is a Communications Assistant at EIT Climate-KIC and an elected member of the Green party executive. Tom is writing in a personal capacity. They tweet at @TomPashby.

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Scientists uncover secret of ‘mass mortality event’ of endangered saiga antelopes in Central Asia

The sudden death of more than 200,000 saiga antelopes – more than 60 percent of the global population of this species – during a single event in Kazakhstan during May 2015 has ever since baffled the world.

Entire herds of tens of thousands of healthy animals died of haemorrhagic septicaemia across a landscape equivalent to the area of the British Isles in the Betpak-Dala region of Kazakhstan in just three weeks. It was soon understood that the deaths were caused by Pasteurella multocida bacteria.

But this pathogen was – most probably – living harmlessly in the saigas’ tonsils up to this point – so what caused this sudden, dramatic mass mortality event (MME)?

Food scarce

New research by an interdisciplinary, international research team has shown that many separate  – and independently harmless – factors contributed to this extraordinary phenomenon.

In particular, climatic factors such as increased humidity and raised air temperatures in the days before the deaths apparently triggered opportunistic bacterial invasion of the blood stream, causing septicaemia (blood poisoning).

By studying previous die-offs in saiga antelope populations, the researchers were able to uncover patterns and show that the probability of sudden die-offs increases when the weather is humid and warm, as was the case in 2015.

The research also shows that these very large mass mortalities, which have been observed in saiga antelopes before (including in 2015 and twice during the 1980s), are unprecedented in other large mammal species and tend to occur during calving.

This species invests a lot in reproduction, so that it can persist in such an extreme continental environment where temperatures plummet to below -40 celsius in winter or rise to above 40 celsius in summer, with food scarce and wolves prowling.

Mass die-off

In fact, it bears the largest calves of any ungulate species as this allows the calves to develop quickly and follow their mothers on their migrations, but also means that females are physiologically stressed during calving.

With this strategy, high levels of mortality are to be expected, but the species’ recent history suggests that die-offs are occurring more frequently, potentially making the species more vulnerable to extinction.

This includes, most recently, losses of 60 percent of the unique, endemic Mongolian saiga sub-species in 2017 from a virus infection spilling over from livestock.

High levels of poaching since the 1990s have also been a major factor in depleting the species, while increasing levels of infrastructure development (from railways, roads and fences) threaten to fragment their habitat and interfere with their migrations.  

With all these threats, it is possible that another mass die-off from disease could reduce numbers to a level where recovery is no longer possible. This needs to be countered by an integrated approach to tackling the threats facing the species, which is ongoing under the Convention on Migratory Species’ action plan for the species.

Risk factors

This research was conducted as part of a wide international collaboration, adopting a ‘One Health’ approach – looking at the wildlife, livestock, environmental and human impacts that have driven disease emergence in saiga populations.

Adopting such a holistic approach has enabled the research team to understand the wider significance of die-offs in saiga populations, beyond simply the proximate causes of the 2015 epidemic.

Professor Richard Kock, Professor in Emerging Diseases lead researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, said: “The recent die-offs among saiga populations are unprecedented in large terrestrial mammals.

“The 2015 mass mortality event provided the first opportunity for in-depth study, and a multidisciplinary approach has enabled great advances to be made.

“The use of data from vets, biologists, botanists, ecologists and laboratory scientists is helping improve our understanding of the risk factors leading to MMEs – which was beneficial when another MME occurred, this time in Mongolia in 2017. Improved knowledge of disease in saigas, in the context of climate change, livestock interactions and landscape changes, is vital to planning conservation measures for the species’ long-term survival”

Conservation charities

Professor EJ Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity at Oxford University, said: “This important research was possible due to a strong partnership between European universities, governmental and non-governmental Institutions in Kazakhstan, and international bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Convention on Migratory Species, as well as generous funding from the UK government and conservation charities worldwide.

“During the more recent saiga disease outbreak in Mongolia, this international partnership was useful for supporting in-country colleagues, for example by providing emergency response protocols.

“It’s excellent to see the real-world value of research partnerships of this kind, and the great advances we have made in understanding disease in saigas thanks to such a productive collaboration.”

Mr Steffen Zuther, Project manager for Kazakhstan at the Frankfurt Zoological Society/Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan, said: “This research is not only the first of its kind through its complexity and interdisciplinary approach, it also helps in capacity building inside Kazakhstan and shaping the public opinion towards a more evidence based thinking.

Disease outbreak

“MMEs are a major threat for the saiga antelope and can wipe out many years of conservation work and saiga population growth in just a few days. Therefore, understanding these MMEs, what triggers them and what can be done to combat them is extremely important to develop effective saiga conservation strategies.

“The triggering of such MMEs in saiga through weather conditions shows that not much can be done to prevent them occurring, and therefore how important it is to maintain saiga populations of sufficient size for the species to survive such catastrophes.”

Professor Mukhit Orynbayev,  Senior Researcher at the Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems, Kazakhstan, said: “Kazakhstan plays a crucial role for the conservation of saiga, and its government takes this very seriously.

“This research is an important component of the government’s strategy for the conservation of the species, and we as researchers are grateful for the support we have received during our work. Through several years of work on this subject, the team of the RIBPS has gained experience in fieldwork and laboratory tests. This allows us to react quickly to any disease outbreak and get a diagnosis for it.”

Research paper

Title:  Saigas on the brink: multi-disciplinary analysis of the factors influencing mass mortality events
Published by: Science Advances
Authors: Richard Kock, Mukhit Orynbayaev, Sarah Robinson, Steffen Zuther, Navinder Singh, Wendy Beauvais, Eric Morgan, Aslan Kerimbayev, Sergei Khomenko, Henny Martineau, Rashida Rystaeva, Zamira Omarova, Sara Wolfs, Florent Hawotte, Julien Radoux, E.J. Milner-Gulland

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This news story is based on a press release written by the Royal Veterinary College and sent out on behalf of PTES, who co-funded this research. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Animal charities call on Theresa May’s government to ‘put words into action’ on post-Brexit animal welfare

The Theresa May government must ban live exports of animals for slaughter, clamp down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers and ensure that future farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices to meet its claim to support animal welfare, a consortium of 40 charities said today.

The UK Centre for Animal Law and Wildlife and Countryside Link has released a new report ‘Brexit – getting the best deal for animals’ calling on the UK Government to turn words into action for animals.

The report has now been supported by more than 40 of the UK’s best-known animal welfare charities, who have joined forces to make sure that animal protection is strengthened and not lost as Britain exits the EU.

Welfare protections

“The report recommends a suite of changes that would enable Ministers to realise their goal of being ‘a world leader on animal welfare’, a spokesperson said. 

The charities are calling for animal welfare to be put centre stage in relevant future legislative decisions, including through the Animal Welfare Bill currently under consultation.

The groups are urging the government to commit to tangible actions such as: banning live exports of animals for slaughter; clamping down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers; and ensuring that any farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices.

The report also calls on the UK Government to demonstrate strong global leadership on animal welfare, including by committing to ensure that protecting and enhancing animal welfare is a priority in new trade agreements.

There are still major gaps in welfare law and issues where legal protections need significant improvement, the charities add, even though there are many strong EU animal welfare protections have improved welfare standards.

Consumer choice

Claire Bass, from the Humane Society International UK and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Animal Welfare Group, said: “Legal protections from the EU have helped raise animal welfare standards but as the Secretary of State has said, there is still substantial room for improvement.

“Animal welfare matters to voters, and it matters to British businesses; the government can satisfy both by taking the tangible steps in our report.  Animal protection NGOs are united in urging government to capitalise on Brexit as a once in a generation opportunity to protect and improve the lives of billions of animals.”

Alan Bates, of the UK Centre for Animal Law, said: “Fixing gaping animal law flaws is a big opportunity for post-Brexit Britain and should be a key objective for the UK Government.

“Not only would boosting animal welfare protections help prevent thousands of animals from unnecessary suffering and even death, it also makes economic sense. Consumers in the UK, EU and beyond are increasingly looking for welfare-responsible products.

Warm words

“Improving labelling and welfare standards not only gives greater consumer choice in the UK, it could give a valuable boost for our products being traded abroad.”

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at RSPCA: ‘Brexit offers huge opportunities to give animals a better deal in the UK.

“While the EU has given animal protections in many areas, it has also handcuffed our hands and stopped improvements to welfare in other areas like mandatory meat and milk labelling based on method of production, improving the slaughter of farm animals or stopping the sale of foie-gras, already banned in the UK.

“The Government has given lots of warm words on animal welfare, we now want to see cold hard action in the Animal Welfare Bill and post-Brexit legislation.’

The charities set out a top ten of animal welfare policies which they argue should be addressed during Brexit:

1. Close loopholes in the Pet Travel Scheme that allow the cruel trade in poorly bred pups from Central and Eastern European puppy-farms: If the UK raised standards by reintroducing blood testing requirements and improving border checks, it could help thousands of dogs affected.

2. Extend existing fur trade bans: Only the sale of cat, dog and seal fur is banned in the EU, despite some 90% of the British population wanting a stop to all fur sales.

3. Ban live exports for slaughter: Livestock legislation has remained the same for 12 years despite European scientists calling for improvements on conditions and journey times. Brexit gives an opportunity to ban cruel live exports for slaughter or fattening and strengthen journey times and standards.

4. Introduce strong welfare incentives in British farming: There is no meaningful animal welfare aspect in the existing Common Agricultural Policy, 80 percent of payments are essentially based on farm size. UK welfare incentives could help transform conditions for animals on British farms.

5. Introduce new animal product labelling laws: At present meat and milk don’t have to be labelled to identify how they were produced.  Mandatory egg labelling saw free-range sales soar and should be replicated into other areas to aid consumer choice.

6. Ban imports of foie-gras: The UK has been unable to ban foie-gras imports because of the EU free movement of goods principle, despite a de facto UK ban on production already existing5 and 63% of the UK public supporting a ban on sales due to welfare concerns.

7. Work with UK fisheries to promote humane catches:  Encouraging the UK fishing fleet to invest in new stunning technology would improve the welfare of billions of fish during capture.

8. Introduce legal protection for crabs, lobsters, octopuses and squids in the Animal Welfare Bill: These animals aren’t protected by EU law outside of use in laboratories , despite being proven to experience pain and suffering, and being protected in countries like New Zealand and Norway.

9. Adopt world-leading measures aimed at combatting wildlife trafficking and domestic wildlife crime: Wild animals are being widely exploited and traded in the UK despite EU legal protection. UK legislation enforcement should be bolstered post-Brexit to protect wild animals in trade by adopting a stricter ‘positive list’ approach – anything on the list can come in, anything not can’t.

10. Commitment to ending ‘severe’ suffering’ in animal experiments, keep the cosmetics testing ban: The UK should; maintain the EU testing and marketing ban on animal-tested cosmetics, improve transparency around the use of animals in research, commit to eliminating experiments causing ‘severe’ suffering, and invest in humane non-animal technologies – 74 percent of us want more done to find alternatives.

This Author

Brendan Montague is the editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. This article is based substantially on a press release from the Wildlife and Countryside Link. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Habitat fragmentation ‘bigger threat to Chile’s güiña wildcat than persecution by humans’

Habitat fragmentation and the subdivision of large farms into smaller ones are the biggest threats facing the güiña wildcat in Chile, research by conservationists at the University of Kent has found.

The güiña has been in decline for many years, with its population estimated to be fewer than 10,000 individuals, and it has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996.

However, the forest living cat is surprisingly resilient when it comes to deforestation – and even direct killing by people as retaliation for lost livestock, according to findings published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Higher risk

The güiña has a reputation for attacking livestock and is therefore unpopular with rural inhabitants in the region. It had been assumed, therefore, that a major threat to the future of the güiña was human persecution, coupled with extensive farming and logging that has seen its habitat reduced by almost 70 percent since 1970.

But the researchers working on the latest study, led by Nicolás Gálvez studying at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), found that the güiña is remarkably adaptable to forest loss. This finding is based on a series of questionnaires, camera trap data and remote-sensed images. 

The team found that large, intensive agricultural areas are actually well suited for the güiña and should not be dismissed as poor quality habitat. This is because there are often unfarmed areas that provide refuge, food resources and suitable conditions for rearing young.

Dr Nicolás Gálvez, now a lecturer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, said: “Land subdivision and fragmentation have a far bigger impact on güiña survival.

“This is because there is a higher risk of human interaction and persecution in areas where there are more farms, a greater pressure on natural resources through increased timber extraction and livestock grazing, and even competition for food from domestic animals kept as pets.”

Species survival

Professor Zoe Davies, from DICE at Kent, said: “Notably, though, while the risk of a güiña being killed by a human is higher in more densely populated farming areas, our questionnaires indicate that only 10 percent of the rural inhabitants have killed a güiña over the last decade. This suggests that persecution is much less of a threat to their survival than the subdivision of farms.”

The researchers have suggested that farmers with large properties are key stakeholders in the conservation of this species and should be at the centre of any conservation interventions that aim to protect existing land where the güiña is usually found.

The findings also highlight a framework that can be used to spatially match social and ecological data which could help with conservation efforts for other similar small to medium-sized carnivores in other parts of the world. The framework provides a clearer understanding of how habitat loss, land fragmentation and human interactions affect species survival.

Nicolás Gálvez, Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita, Freya St John, Elke Schüttler, David Macdonald and Zoe Davies (2018). ‘A spatially integrated framework for assessing socio-ecological drivers of carnivore decline’, is published in Journal of Applied Ecology on 16 January 2018.

Other academic institutions involved in the research were: the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the university´s Centre for Local Development (CEDEL-UC), University of Melbourne, Bangor University, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (wildCRU) at University of Oxford.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Scientists uncover secret of ‘mass mortality event’ of endangered saiga antelopes in Central Asia

The sudden death of more than 200,000 saiga antelopes – more than 60 percent of the global population of this species – during a single event in Kazakhstan during May 2015 has ever since baffled the world.

Entire herds of tens of thousands of healthy animals died of haemorrhagic septicaemia across a landscape equivalent to the area of the British Isles in the Betpak-Dala region of Kazakhstan in just three weeks. It was soon understood that the deaths were caused by Pasteurella multocida bacteria.

But this pathogen was – most probably – living harmlessly in the saigas’ tonsils up to this point – so what caused this sudden, dramatic mass mortality event (MME)?

Food scarce

New research by an interdisciplinary, international research team has shown that many separate  – and independently harmless – factors contributed to this extraordinary phenomenon.

In particular, climatic factors such as increased humidity and raised air temperatures in the days before the deaths apparently triggered opportunistic bacterial invasion of the blood stream, causing septicaemia (blood poisoning).

By studying previous die-offs in saiga antelope populations, the researchers were able to uncover patterns and show that the probability of sudden die-offs increases when the weather is humid and warm, as was the case in 2015.

The research also shows that these very large mass mortalities, which have been observed in saiga antelopes before (including in 2015 and twice during the 1980s), are unprecedented in other large mammal species and tend to occur during calving.

This species invests a lot in reproduction, so that it can persist in such an extreme continental environment where temperatures plummet to below -40 celsius in winter or rise to above 40 celsius in summer, with food scarce and wolves prowling.

Mass die-off

In fact, it bears the largest calves of any ungulate species as this allows the calves to develop quickly and follow their mothers on their migrations, but also means that females are physiologically stressed during calving.

With this strategy, high levels of mortality are to be expected, but the species’ recent history suggests that die-offs are occurring more frequently, potentially making the species more vulnerable to extinction.

This includes, most recently, losses of 60 percent of the unique, endemic Mongolian saiga sub-species in 2017 from a virus infection spilling over from livestock.

High levels of poaching since the 1990s have also been a major factor in depleting the species, while increasing levels of infrastructure development (from railways, roads and fences) threaten to fragment their habitat and interfere with their migrations.  

With all these threats, it is possible that another mass die-off from disease could reduce numbers to a level where recovery is no longer possible. This needs to be countered by an integrated approach to tackling the threats facing the species, which is ongoing under the Convention on Migratory Species’ action plan for the species.

Risk factors

This research was conducted as part of a wide international collaboration, adopting a ‘One Health’ approach – looking at the wildlife, livestock, environmental and human impacts that have driven disease emergence in saiga populations.

Adopting such a holistic approach has enabled the research team to understand the wider significance of die-offs in saiga populations, beyond simply the proximate causes of the 2015 epidemic.

Professor Richard Kock, Professor in Emerging Diseases lead researcher at the Royal Veterinary College, said: “The recent die-offs among saiga populations are unprecedented in large terrestrial mammals.

“The 2015 mass mortality event provided the first opportunity for in-depth study, and a multidisciplinary approach has enabled great advances to be made.

“The use of data from vets, biologists, botanists, ecologists and laboratory scientists is helping improve our understanding of the risk factors leading to MMEs – which was beneficial when another MME occurred, this time in Mongolia in 2017. Improved knowledge of disease in saigas, in the context of climate change, livestock interactions and landscape changes, is vital to planning conservation measures for the species’ long-term survival”

Conservation charities

Professor EJ Milner-Gulland, Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity at Oxford University, said: “This important research was possible due to a strong partnership between European universities, governmental and non-governmental Institutions in Kazakhstan, and international bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and Convention on Migratory Species, as well as generous funding from the UK government and conservation charities worldwide.

“During the more recent saiga disease outbreak in Mongolia, this international partnership was useful for supporting in-country colleagues, for example by providing emergency response protocols.

“It’s excellent to see the real-world value of research partnerships of this kind, and the great advances we have made in understanding disease in saigas thanks to such a productive collaboration.”

Mr Steffen Zuther, Project manager for Kazakhstan at the Frankfurt Zoological Society/Association for the Conservation of Biodiversity of Kazakhstan, said: “This research is not only the first of its kind through its complexity and interdisciplinary approach, it also helps in capacity building inside Kazakhstan and shaping the public opinion towards a more evidence based thinking.

Disease outbreak

“MMEs are a major threat for the saiga antelope and can wipe out many years of conservation work and saiga population growth in just a few days. Therefore, understanding these MMEs, what triggers them and what can be done to combat them is extremely important to develop effective saiga conservation strategies.

“The triggering of such MMEs in saiga through weather conditions shows that not much can be done to prevent them occurring, and therefore how important it is to maintain saiga populations of sufficient size for the species to survive such catastrophes.”

Professor Mukhit Orynbayev,  Senior Researcher at the Research Institute for Biological Safety Problems, Kazakhstan, said: “Kazakhstan plays a crucial role for the conservation of saiga, and its government takes this very seriously.

“This research is an important component of the government’s strategy for the conservation of the species, and we as researchers are grateful for the support we have received during our work. Through several years of work on this subject, the team of the RIBPS has gained experience in fieldwork and laboratory tests. This allows us to react quickly to any disease outbreak and get a diagnosis for it.”

Research paper

Title:  Saigas on the brink: multi-disciplinary analysis of the factors influencing mass mortality events
Published by: Science Advances
Authors: Richard Kock, Mukhit Orynbayaev, Sarah Robinson, Steffen Zuther, Navinder Singh, Wendy Beauvais, Eric Morgan, Aslan Kerimbayev, Sergei Khomenko, Henny Martineau, Rashida Rystaeva, Zamira Omarova, Sara Wolfs, Florent Hawotte, Julien Radoux, E.J. Milner-Gulland

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This news story is based on a press release written by the Royal Veterinary College and sent out on behalf of PTES, who co-funded this research. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Animal charities call on Theresa May’s government to ‘put words into action’ on post-Brexit animal welfare

The Theresa May government must ban live exports of animals for slaughter, clamp down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers and ensure that future farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices to meet its claim to support animal welfare, a consortium of 40 charities said today.

The UK Centre for Animal Law and Wildlife and Countryside Link has released a new report ‘Brexit – getting the best deal for animals’ calling on the UK Government to turn words into action for animals.

The report has now been supported by more than 40 of the UK’s best-known animal welfare charities, who have joined forces to make sure that animal protection is strengthened and not lost as Britain exits the EU.

Welfare protections

“The report recommends a suite of changes that would enable Ministers to realise their goal of being ‘a world leader on animal welfare’, a spokesperson said. 

The charities are calling for animal welfare to be put centre stage in relevant future legislative decisions, including through the Animal Welfare Bill currently under consultation.

The groups are urging the government to commit to tangible actions such as: banning live exports of animals for slaughter; clamping down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers; and ensuring that any farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices.

The report also calls on the UK Government to demonstrate strong global leadership on animal welfare, including by committing to ensure that protecting and enhancing animal welfare is a priority in new trade agreements.

There are still major gaps in welfare law and issues where legal protections need significant improvement, the charities add, even though there are many strong EU animal welfare protections have improved welfare standards.

Consumer choice

Claire Bass, from the Humane Society International UK and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Animal Welfare Group, said: “Legal protections from the EU have helped raise animal welfare standards but as the Secretary of State has said, there is still substantial room for improvement.

“Animal welfare matters to voters, and it matters to British businesses; the government can satisfy both by taking the tangible steps in our report.  Animal protection NGOs are united in urging government to capitalise on Brexit as a once in a generation opportunity to protect and improve the lives of billions of animals.”

Alan Bates, of the UK Centre for Animal Law, said: “Fixing gaping animal law flaws is a big opportunity for post-Brexit Britain and should be a key objective for the UK Government.

“Not only would boosting animal welfare protections help prevent thousands of animals from unnecessary suffering and even death, it also makes economic sense. Consumers in the UK, EU and beyond are increasingly looking for welfare-responsible products.

Warm words

“Improving labelling and welfare standards not only gives greater consumer choice in the UK, it could give a valuable boost for our products being traded abroad.”

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at RSPCA: ‘Brexit offers huge opportunities to give animals a better deal in the UK.

“While the EU has given animal protections in many areas, it has also handcuffed our hands and stopped improvements to welfare in other areas like mandatory meat and milk labelling based on method of production, improving the slaughter of farm animals or stopping the sale of foie-gras, already banned in the UK.

“The Government has given lots of warm words on animal welfare, we now want to see cold hard action in the Animal Welfare Bill and post-Brexit legislation.’

The charities set out a top ten of animal welfare policies which they argue should be addressed during Brexit:

1. Close loopholes in the Pet Travel Scheme that allow the cruel trade in poorly bred pups from Central and Eastern European puppy-farms: If the UK raised standards by reintroducing blood testing requirements and improving border checks, it could help thousands of dogs affected.

2. Extend existing fur trade bans: Only the sale of cat, dog and seal fur is banned in the EU, despite some 90% of the British population wanting a stop to all fur sales.

3. Ban live exports for slaughter: Livestock legislation has remained the same for 12 years despite European scientists calling for improvements on conditions and journey times. Brexit gives an opportunity to ban cruel live exports for slaughter or fattening and strengthen journey times and standards.

4. Introduce strong welfare incentives in British farming: There is no meaningful animal welfare aspect in the existing Common Agricultural Policy, 80 percent of payments are essentially based on farm size. UK welfare incentives could help transform conditions for animals on British farms.

5. Introduce new animal product labelling laws: At present meat and milk don’t have to be labelled to identify how they were produced.  Mandatory egg labelling saw free-range sales soar and should be replicated into other areas to aid consumer choice.

6. Ban imports of foie-gras: The UK has been unable to ban foie-gras imports because of the EU free movement of goods principle, despite a de facto UK ban on production already existing5 and 63% of the UK public supporting a ban on sales due to welfare concerns.

7. Work with UK fisheries to promote humane catches:  Encouraging the UK fishing fleet to invest in new stunning technology would improve the welfare of billions of fish during capture.

8. Introduce legal protection for crabs, lobsters, octopuses and squids in the Animal Welfare Bill: These animals aren’t protected by EU law outside of use in laboratories , despite being proven to experience pain and suffering, and being protected in countries like New Zealand and Norway.

9. Adopt world-leading measures aimed at combatting wildlife trafficking and domestic wildlife crime: Wild animals are being widely exploited and traded in the UK despite EU legal protection. UK legislation enforcement should be bolstered post-Brexit to protect wild animals in trade by adopting a stricter ‘positive list’ approach – anything on the list can come in, anything not can’t.

10. Commitment to ending ‘severe’ suffering’ in animal experiments, keep the cosmetics testing ban: The UK should; maintain the EU testing and marketing ban on animal-tested cosmetics, improve transparency around the use of animals in research, commit to eliminating experiments causing ‘severe’ suffering, and invest in humane non-animal technologies – 74 percent of us want more done to find alternatives.

This Author

Brendan Montague is the editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. This article is based substantially on a press release from the Wildlife and Countryside Link. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Habitat fragmentation ‘bigger threat to Chile’s güiña wildcat than persecution by humans’

Habitat fragmentation and the subdivision of large farms into smaller ones are the biggest threats facing the güiña wildcat in Chile, research by conservationists at the University of Kent has found.

The güiña has been in decline for many years, with its population estimated to be fewer than 10,000 individuals, and it has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996.

However, the forest living cat is surprisingly resilient when it comes to deforestation – and even direct killing by people as retaliation for lost livestock, according to findings published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Higher risk

The güiña has a reputation for attacking livestock and is therefore unpopular with rural inhabitants in the region. It had been assumed, therefore, that a major threat to the future of the güiña was human persecution, coupled with extensive farming and logging that has seen its habitat reduced by almost 70 percent since 1970.

But the researchers working on the latest study, led by Nicolás Gálvez studying at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), found that the güiña is remarkably adaptable to forest loss. This finding is based on a series of questionnaires, camera trap data and remote-sensed images. 

The team found that large, intensive agricultural areas are actually well suited for the güiña and should not be dismissed as poor quality habitat. This is because there are often unfarmed areas that provide refuge, food resources and suitable conditions for rearing young.

Dr Nicolás Gálvez, now a lecturer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, said: “Land subdivision and fragmentation have a far bigger impact on güiña survival.

“This is because there is a higher risk of human interaction and persecution in areas where there are more farms, a greater pressure on natural resources through increased timber extraction and livestock grazing, and even competition for food from domestic animals kept as pets.”

Species survival

Professor Zoe Davies, from DICE at Kent, said: “Notably, though, while the risk of a güiña being killed by a human is higher in more densely populated farming areas, our questionnaires indicate that only 10 percent of the rural inhabitants have killed a güiña over the last decade. This suggests that persecution is much less of a threat to their survival than the subdivision of farms.”

The researchers have suggested that farmers with large properties are key stakeholders in the conservation of this species and should be at the centre of any conservation interventions that aim to protect existing land where the güiña is usually found.

The findings also highlight a framework that can be used to spatially match social and ecological data which could help with conservation efforts for other similar small to medium-sized carnivores in other parts of the world. The framework provides a clearer understanding of how habitat loss, land fragmentation and human interactions affect species survival.

Nicolás Gálvez, Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita, Freya St John, Elke Schüttler, David Macdonald and Zoe Davies (2018). ‘A spatially integrated framework for assessing socio-ecological drivers of carnivore decline’, is published in Journal of Applied Ecology on 16 January 2018.

Other academic institutions involved in the research were: the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the university´s Centre for Local Development (CEDEL-UC), University of Melbourne, Bangor University, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (wildCRU) at University of Oxford.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Animal charities call on Theresa May’s government to ‘put words into action’ on post-Brexit animal welfare

The Theresa May government must ban live exports of animals for slaughter, clamp down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers and ensure that future farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices to meet its claim to support animal welfare, a consortium of 40 charities said today.

The UK Centre for Animal Law and Wildlife and Countryside Link has released a new report ‘Brexit – getting the best deal for animals’ calling on the UK Government to turn words into action for animals.

The report has now been supported by more than 40 of the UK’s best-known animal welfare charities, who have joined forces to make sure that animal protection is strengthened and not lost as Britain exits the EU.

Welfare protections

“The report recommends a suite of changes that would enable Ministers to realise their goal of being ‘a world leader on animal welfare’, a spokesperson said. 

The charities are calling for animal welfare to be put centre stage in relevant future legislative decisions, including through the Animal Welfare Bill currently under consultation.

The groups are urging the government to commit to tangible actions such as: banning live exports of animals for slaughter; clamping down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers; and ensuring that any farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices.

The report also calls on the UK Government to demonstrate strong global leadership on animal welfare, including by committing to ensure that protecting and enhancing animal welfare is a priority in new trade agreements.

There are still major gaps in welfare law and issues where legal protections need significant improvement, the charities add, even though there are many strong EU animal welfare protections have improved welfare standards.

Consumer choice

Claire Bass, from the Humane Society International UK and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Animal Welfare Group, said: “Legal protections from the EU have helped raise animal welfare standards but as the Secretary of State has said, there is still substantial room for improvement.

“Animal welfare matters to voters, and it matters to British businesses; the government can satisfy both by taking the tangible steps in our report.  Animal protection NGOs are united in urging government to capitalise on Brexit as a once in a generation opportunity to protect and improve the lives of billions of animals.”

Alan Bates, of the UK Centre for Animal Law, said: “Fixing gaping animal law flaws is a big opportunity for post-Brexit Britain and should be a key objective for the UK Government.

“Not only would boosting animal welfare protections help prevent thousands of animals from unnecessary suffering and even death, it also makes economic sense. Consumers in the UK, EU and beyond are increasingly looking for welfare-responsible products.

Warm words

“Improving labelling and welfare standards not only gives greater consumer choice in the UK, it could give a valuable boost for our products being traded abroad.”

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at RSPCA: ‘Brexit offers huge opportunities to give animals a better deal in the UK.

“While the EU has given animal protections in many areas, it has also handcuffed our hands and stopped improvements to welfare in other areas like mandatory meat and milk labelling based on method of production, improving the slaughter of farm animals or stopping the sale of foie-gras, already banned in the UK.

“The Government has given lots of warm words on animal welfare, we now want to see cold hard action in the Animal Welfare Bill and post-Brexit legislation.’

The charities set out a top ten of animal welfare policies which they argue should be addressed during Brexit:

1. Close loopholes in the Pet Travel Scheme that allow the cruel trade in poorly bred pups from Central and Eastern European puppy-farms: If the UK raised standards by reintroducing blood testing requirements and improving border checks, it could help thousands of dogs affected.

2. Extend existing fur trade bans: Only the sale of cat, dog and seal fur is banned in the EU, despite some 90% of the British population wanting a stop to all fur sales.

3. Ban live exports for slaughter: Livestock legislation has remained the same for 12 years despite European scientists calling for improvements on conditions and journey times. Brexit gives an opportunity to ban cruel live exports for slaughter or fattening and strengthen journey times and standards.

4. Introduce strong welfare incentives in British farming: There is no meaningful animal welfare aspect in the existing Common Agricultural Policy, 80 percent of payments are essentially based on farm size. UK welfare incentives could help transform conditions for animals on British farms.

5. Introduce new animal product labelling laws: At present meat and milk don’t have to be labelled to identify how they were produced.  Mandatory egg labelling saw free-range sales soar and should be replicated into other areas to aid consumer choice.

6. Ban imports of foie-gras: The UK has been unable to ban foie-gras imports because of the EU free movement of goods principle, despite a de facto UK ban on production already existing5 and 63% of the UK public supporting a ban on sales due to welfare concerns.

7. Work with UK fisheries to promote humane catches:  Encouraging the UK fishing fleet to invest in new stunning technology would improve the welfare of billions of fish during capture.

8. Introduce legal protection for crabs, lobsters, octopuses and squids in the Animal Welfare Bill: These animals aren’t protected by EU law outside of use in laboratories , despite being proven to experience pain and suffering, and being protected in countries like New Zealand and Norway.

9. Adopt world-leading measures aimed at combatting wildlife trafficking and domestic wildlife crime: Wild animals are being widely exploited and traded in the UK despite EU legal protection. UK legislation enforcement should be bolstered post-Brexit to protect wild animals in trade by adopting a stricter ‘positive list’ approach – anything on the list can come in, anything not can’t.

10. Commitment to ending ‘severe’ suffering’ in animal experiments, keep the cosmetics testing ban: The UK should; maintain the EU testing and marketing ban on animal-tested cosmetics, improve transparency around the use of animals in research, commit to eliminating experiments causing ‘severe’ suffering, and invest in humane non-animal technologies – 74 percent of us want more done to find alternatives.

This Author

Brendan Montague is the editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. This article is based substantially on a press release from the Wildlife and Countryside Link. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Habitat fragmentation ‘bigger threat to Chile’s güiña wildcat than persecution by humans’

Habitat fragmentation and the subdivision of large farms into smaller ones are the biggest threats facing the güiña wildcat in Chile, research by conservationists at the University of Kent has found.

The güiña has been in decline for many years, with its population estimated to be fewer than 10,000 individuals, and it has been listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List since 1996.

However, the forest living cat is surprisingly resilient when it comes to deforestation – and even direct killing by people as retaliation for lost livestock, according to findings published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Higher risk

The güiña has a reputation for attacking livestock and is therefore unpopular with rural inhabitants in the region. It had been assumed, therefore, that a major threat to the future of the güiña was human persecution, coupled with extensive farming and logging that has seen its habitat reduced by almost 70 percent since 1970.

But the researchers working on the latest study, led by Nicolás Gálvez studying at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), found that the güiña is remarkably adaptable to forest loss. This finding is based on a series of questionnaires, camera trap data and remote-sensed images. 

The team found that large, intensive agricultural areas are actually well suited for the güiña and should not be dismissed as poor quality habitat. This is because there are often unfarmed areas that provide refuge, food resources and suitable conditions for rearing young.

Dr Nicolás Gálvez, now a lecturer at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, said: “Land subdivision and fragmentation have a far bigger impact on güiña survival.

“This is because there is a higher risk of human interaction and persecution in areas where there are more farms, a greater pressure on natural resources through increased timber extraction and livestock grazing, and even competition for food from domestic animals kept as pets.”

Species survival

Professor Zoe Davies, from DICE at Kent, said: “Notably, though, while the risk of a güiña being killed by a human is higher in more densely populated farming areas, our questionnaires indicate that only 10 percent of the rural inhabitants have killed a güiña over the last decade. This suggests that persecution is much less of a threat to their survival than the subdivision of farms.”

The researchers have suggested that farmers with large properties are key stakeholders in the conservation of this species and should be at the centre of any conservation interventions that aim to protect existing land where the güiña is usually found.

The findings also highlight a framework that can be used to spatially match social and ecological data which could help with conservation efforts for other similar small to medium-sized carnivores in other parts of the world. The framework provides a clearer understanding of how habitat loss, land fragmentation and human interactions affect species survival.

Nicolás Gálvez, Gurutzeta Guillera-Arroita, Freya St John, Elke Schüttler, David Macdonald and Zoe Davies (2018). ‘A spatially integrated framework for assessing socio-ecological drivers of carnivore decline’, is published in Journal of Applied Ecology on 16 January 2018.

Other academic institutions involved in the research were: the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and the university´s Centre for Local Development (CEDEL-UC), University of Melbourne, Bangor University, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Germany and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (wildCRU) at University of Oxford.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.

Animal charities call on Theresa May’s government to ‘put words into action’ on post-Brexit animal welfare

The Theresa May government must ban live exports of animals for slaughter, clamp down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers and ensure that future farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices to meet its claim to support animal welfare, a consortium of 40 charities said today.

The UK Centre for Animal Law and Wildlife and Countryside Link has released a new report ‘Brexit – getting the best deal for animals’ calling on the UK Government to turn words into action for animals.

The report has now been supported by more than 40 of the UK’s best-known animal welfare charities, who have joined forces to make sure that animal protection is strengthened and not lost as Britain exits the EU.

Welfare protections

“The report recommends a suite of changes that would enable Ministers to realise their goal of being ‘a world leader on animal welfare’, a spokesperson said. 

The charities are calling for animal welfare to be put centre stage in relevant future legislative decisions, including through the Animal Welfare Bill currently under consultation.

The groups are urging the government to commit to tangible actions such as: banning live exports of animals for slaughter; clamping down on pet travel loopholes exploited by unscrupulous puppy farmers; and ensuring that any farming subsidies reward best animal welfare practices.

The report also calls on the UK Government to demonstrate strong global leadership on animal welfare, including by committing to ensure that protecting and enhancing animal welfare is a priority in new trade agreements.

There are still major gaps in welfare law and issues where legal protections need significant improvement, the charities add, even though there are many strong EU animal welfare protections have improved welfare standards.

Consumer choice

Claire Bass, from the Humane Society International UK and Chair of Wildlife and Countryside Link’s Animal Welfare Group, said: “Legal protections from the EU have helped raise animal welfare standards but as the Secretary of State has said, there is still substantial room for improvement.

“Animal welfare matters to voters, and it matters to British businesses; the government can satisfy both by taking the tangible steps in our report.  Animal protection NGOs are united in urging government to capitalise on Brexit as a once in a generation opportunity to protect and improve the lives of billions of animals.”

Alan Bates, of the UK Centre for Animal Law, said: “Fixing gaping animal law flaws is a big opportunity for post-Brexit Britain and should be a key objective for the UK Government.

“Not only would boosting animal welfare protections help prevent thousands of animals from unnecessary suffering and even death, it also makes economic sense. Consumers in the UK, EU and beyond are increasingly looking for welfare-responsible products.

Warm words

“Improving labelling and welfare standards not only gives greater consumer choice in the UK, it could give a valuable boost for our products being traded abroad.”

David Bowles, Head of Public Affairs at RSPCA: ‘Brexit offers huge opportunities to give animals a better deal in the UK.

“While the EU has given animal protections in many areas, it has also handcuffed our hands and stopped improvements to welfare in other areas like mandatory meat and milk labelling based on method of production, improving the slaughter of farm animals or stopping the sale of foie-gras, already banned in the UK.

“The Government has given lots of warm words on animal welfare, we now want to see cold hard action in the Animal Welfare Bill and post-Brexit legislation.’

The charities set out a top ten of animal welfare policies which they argue should be addressed during Brexit:

1. Close loopholes in the Pet Travel Scheme that allow the cruel trade in poorly bred pups from Central and Eastern European puppy-farms: If the UK raised standards by reintroducing blood testing requirements and improving border checks, it could help thousands of dogs affected.

2. Extend existing fur trade bans: Only the sale of cat, dog and seal fur is banned in the EU, despite some 90% of the British population wanting a stop to all fur sales.

3. Ban live exports for slaughter: Livestock legislation has remained the same for 12 years despite European scientists calling for improvements on conditions and journey times. Brexit gives an opportunity to ban cruel live exports for slaughter or fattening and strengthen journey times and standards.

4. Introduce strong welfare incentives in British farming: There is no meaningful animal welfare aspect in the existing Common Agricultural Policy, 80 percent of payments are essentially based on farm size. UK welfare incentives could help transform conditions for animals on British farms.

5. Introduce new animal product labelling laws: At present meat and milk don’t have to be labelled to identify how they were produced.  Mandatory egg labelling saw free-range sales soar and should be replicated into other areas to aid consumer choice.

6. Ban imports of foie-gras: The UK has been unable to ban foie-gras imports because of the EU free movement of goods principle, despite a de facto UK ban on production already existing5 and 63% of the UK public supporting a ban on sales due to welfare concerns.

7. Work with UK fisheries to promote humane catches:  Encouraging the UK fishing fleet to invest in new stunning technology would improve the welfare of billions of fish during capture.

8. Introduce legal protection for crabs, lobsters, octopuses and squids in the Animal Welfare Bill: These animals aren’t protected by EU law outside of use in laboratories , despite being proven to experience pain and suffering, and being protected in countries like New Zealand and Norway.

9. Adopt world-leading measures aimed at combatting wildlife trafficking and domestic wildlife crime: Wild animals are being widely exploited and traded in the UK despite EU legal protection. UK legislation enforcement should be bolstered post-Brexit to protect wild animals in trade by adopting a stricter ‘positive list’ approach – anything on the list can come in, anything not can’t.

10. Commitment to ending ‘severe’ suffering’ in animal experiments, keep the cosmetics testing ban: The UK should; maintain the EU testing and marketing ban on animal-tested cosmetics, improve transparency around the use of animals in research, commit to eliminating experiments causing ‘severe’ suffering, and invest in humane non-animal technologies – 74 percent of us want more done to find alternatives.

This Author

Brendan Montague is the editor of The Ecologist and tweets at @EcoMontague. This article is based substantially on a press release from the Wildlife and Countryside Link. 

Read about the science about great looking hair by reading this blog.