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Expert Witness : Environment

Funding initiatives will help promote ‘green’ farming

Picture from Soil Association for Your Expert Witness storyOn 7 November the Soil Association announced two new funding competitions to support innovative research in sustainable agriculture, as part of the Duchy Originals Future Farming Programme.

Farmers and growers can apply directly for £2,000 of investment to test ideas to tackle real problems in farming on their own farm through a ‘field lab’. Field labs bring a small group of likeminded farmers together to solve a problem, adapting an approach pioneered in developing countries that supports practical DIY research by farmers. Up to 15 winners will receive £500 cash towards their time and costs, and at least £1,500 of ‘in-kind’ support from an expert researcher and facilitator.

Last Updated on Monday, 11 November 2013 19:03

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Climate experts certain of human involvement in warming

Report cover picture for Your Expert Witness storyAs has been widely anticipated, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Climate Change 2013: the Physical Science Basis – published on 27 September – has concluded that human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident, says the report, in most regions of the globe.

The report says it is “extremely likely” that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

The Summary for Policymakers states that: “Warming in the climate system is unequivocal and since 1950 many changes have been observed throughout the climate system that are unprecedented over decades to millennia. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.”

Last Updated on Friday, 27 September 2013 11:00

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Effects of coastal change signalled by six ‘pit canary’ species

Photo of puffin for Your Expert Witness storyThe National Trust has identified six species that might be seriously affected by coastline changes caused by coastal erosion and climate change. They are: little tern, puffin, oysterplant, triggerfish, Glanville fritillary butterfly and cliff tiger beetle. Research shows how an increasingly dynamic coastline could radically change the face of wildlife on our coast in the coming decades.

According to the National Trust, the next century will see rising sea levels, with the UK’s 8,050 miles of UK going through a process of massive and accelerating and change. In particular, increasing numbers of extreme weather events could lead to huge turmoil for wildlife along this much-loved habitat.

David Bullock is the NT’s head of nature conservation. He said: “The coast is at the forefront of how a changing climate will affect wildlife in the UK and is very vulnerable to the forces of change.

“Over the past decade we’ve been developing a better understanding of the coastline that we care for and in particular the 50% that will be affected by increased coastal erosion or flooding in the future.

“Our six coastal ‘canaries in the mine’ indicate how plants, animals and ourselves will have to live with an increasing rate of environmental change.”

Rising sea levels and coastal erosion

The UK coastline is already being affected by rising sea levels and projections suggest that by 2100 they will be more than half a metre higher than at present. That is causing increased erosion, with the British Geological Survey reporting a four-to-five-fold increase in the number of landslides during July and December 2012 in comparison with previous years.

Warming seas and the increased unpredictability of weather could also have a radical impact on coastal habitats and wildlife.

Matthew Oates, the NT’s national expert on nature and wildlife, commented: “Climate change could change the face of our coastal flora and fauna. With rising sea levels, our rich mud flats could simply disappear.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 September 2013 08:58

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Knowing how much you don’t know is a positive, say scientific experts

Picture of cover of publication for Your Expert Witness storyResearchers in climate science, disease modelling, epidemiology, weather forecasting and natural hazard prediction say that we should be relieved when scientists describe the uncertainties in their work. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we cannot make decisions – we might well have ‘operational knowledge’ – but it does mean that there is greater confidence about what is known and unknown.

That was message of a publication from Sense About Science – a charitable trust that aims to help the general public understand science. Making Sense of Uncertainty was launched at the World Conference of Science Journalists at the end of June.

Researchers working in some of the most significant, cutting edge fields say that if policy makers and the public are discouraged by the existence of uncertainty, we miss out on important discussions about the development of new drugs, taking action to mitigate the impact of natural hazards, how to respond to the changing climate and to pandemic threats.

In the introduction to the guide, which has contributions from experts in many fields of earth sciences, Tracey Brown and Tabitha Innocent from Sense About Science write: “We  want (even expect) certainty – safety, effective public policies, useful public expenditure. Uncertainty is seen as worrying, and even a reason to be cynical about scientific research – particularly on subjects such as climate science, the threat of disease or the prediction of natural disasters. In some discussions, uncertainty is taken by commentators to mean that anything could be true, including things that are highly unlikely or discredited, or that nothing is known.

Many scientists say that, interrogated with the question ‘But are you certain?’, they have ended up sounding defensive or as though their results are not meaningful. Instead, say the authors of the guide, we need to embrace uncertainty, especially when trying to understand more about complex systems.

In Making Sense of Uncertainty they review the current discussion and discuss:

• The way scientists use uncertainty to express how confident they are about results

• That uncertainty can be abused to undermine evidence or to suggest anything could be true: from alternative cancer treatments to anthropogenic CO2 not changing the atmosphere

• Why uncertainty is not a barrier to taking action – decision makers usually look for a higher level of certainty for an operational decision (such as introducing body scanners in airports) than for a decision based on broader ideology or politics (such as reducing crime rates).

Last Updated on Monday, 29 July 2013 16:53

Research identifies UK issues with climate change abroad

Recent research carried out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers – as part of the government’s National Adaptation Programme – looked at the possible impact of climate change overseas on UK trade and investment, food, health and well-being, energy, and foreign policy. The report found that climate change overseas could have greater impact on the UK climate change at home. The findings are based on a “medium emissions scenario consistent with 2°C warming”.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 14:34

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