News of the Natural World Seawater quality

Water collected from Pelham Beach and tested by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has been rated ‘sufficient’ – the joint-lowest rating obtained in Sussex. In St Leonards samples tested were found to be excellent but in Bexhill, water quality was merely sufficient.

Overall results along the South East coast showed the highest ever ratings in DEFRA’s 2019 bathing water summer sampling. A total of 58 out of the region’s 83 bathing water beaches achieved ‘excellent’, compared to 55 last year. Another 21 were ‘good’, four ‘sufficient’ and none rated ‘poor’. On the Sussex coast there were 16 ‘excellent’, eight ‘good’ and three ‘sufficient’ water results.

Dr Alison Hoyle, Southern Water’s director of risk and compliance, said: “Water at the beaches around our coast has never been cleaner. The trend of improvement has continued again in 2019 thanks to the collaborative approach taken between councils, regulators, charities and Southern Water. Thirty years ago only 41 per cent of beaches in the region met the ‘sufficient’ standard.” 

A diverse range of pollutants can impact water quality – contaminated rainwater running off roads and agricultural land, wastewater from privately owned treatment works and boats and animals on the beach.


Hope for dying trees

Ash trees are widespread across East and West Sussex and ash dieback is now the most significant threat to UK trees since Dutch elm disease was first recognised in the 1960s. East Sussex County Council has been surveying the county’s roads during 2019 to record where ash trees are and what level of infection they show in order to help prioritise any action required, such as felling or further inspections.

The disease may eventually lead to the decline and death of the majority of our ash trees, possibly up to 70% or 70 million trees. Caused by an airborne fungus which originally came to Europe from Asia about 30 years ago and arrived in the UK around 2012, it has now spread to almost every part of the country. Ash trees are widespread across East and West Sussex.

During the summer the disease turns leaves black and they fall to the ground. This causes the dieback of first the young then eventually all branches. East Sussex County Council has been surveying the county’s roads during 2019 to record where ash trees are and what level of infection they show in order to help prioritise any action required, such as felling or further inspections.

In a bid to halt this seemingly unstoppable disease scientists have been studying the DNA of hundreds of ash trees. Recent research, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, revealed that a small number of trees showed some natural resistance to ash dieback – and researchers have identified the parts of their genome helping this fightback. This helps discover the rate at which ash trees are evolving a tolerance to dieback and is crucial to future breeding programmes. 

Professor Richard Buggs, from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew says: “We hope to bring together all of the genetic differences that are contributing to resistance into a single population of ash trees that will have higher resistance than any of the ash trees that we currently have.” He added that this will not save the trees that are currently dying, but if this project is successful, it could mean they could eventually be replaced and ash could live on in the countryside.

Professor Buggs adds: “I hope this work will lead to us safeguarding ash populations for future generations.”

The fungus came to Europe from Asia about 30 years ago, causing widespread destruction. Recent estimates suggest it may kill up to 70% of ash – 70 million trees – in the UK. 

In a bid to halt this seemingly unstoppable disease scientists have been studying the DNA of hundreds of ash trees. A small number of trees showed some natural resistance to ash dieback – and researchers have identified the parts of their genome helping this fightback.

This helps discover how quickly ash trees are evolving a tolerance to dieback and is crucial to future breeding programmes. 

Prof Buggs adds: “We hope to bring together all of the genetic differences that are contributing to resistance into a single population of ash trees that will have higher resistance than any of the ash trees that we currently have.”

He added that this will not save the trees that are currently dying, but if this project is successful, it could mean they could eventually be replaced and ash could live on in the countryside.


Environmentalists should beware the radical right

Advocacy group Hope not Hate (HNH), which campaigns against racism and fascism says the environmental movement must wake up to the danger of the radical and the far right.

As the reality of climate change has become accepted across mainstream politics, climate denial has found a home amongst right-wing populists – with impacts at both grassroots and at the highest levels of government.

HNH  argue that  Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Jair Bolsanaro’s assault on the Amazon rainforest to the German far-right AdF’s pro-diesel campaigning – the opponents of action on the environment are driven by a distinct ideology that green movements need to understand.

Although using the pretext of questioning science, today’s climate opposition is driven by concepts of nationalism and sovereignty and a suspicion of transnational agreements and organisations. For populists the expert scientific consensus on climate change represents a conspiracy by the elite.

The destabilising effects of climate change – with the potential to rapidly displace large populations and disrupt whole economies and ways of life – could create exactly the kind of social crises that allow extreme politics to flourish say HNH.

Opportunistically some far-right groups look to co-opt local environmental concerns as a bolster to nationalism and as a way of appealing to younger generations, Hope not Hate warns. (www.hopenothate.org.uk)


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