Forest Research Unearths New Techniques

Big Steps Forward This Month For Forestry Research

The restoration of peatland has long been deemed as one of the most cost-effective and efficient methods of limiting climate change.

It might seem like a small change to make to areas that are already deemed to be relatively green, but afforested land can still offer the world much more when its returned to its previous peaty state.

Forestry operations often affect our climate in a negative way – this goes beyond the simple act of cutting trees down. Planting trees, where previously there were none, has a negative effect on the global environment too; wildlife habitats, both small and large, are often disturbed and a release of carbon usually accompanies even the most minor of forestry operations.

Attempts to restore peatland to previously afforested areas have failed in the past due to underground cracks draining away the much needed moisture in the ground. However, recent trials conducted by Forest Research are starting to prove successful. New trenching techniques, which form a barrier preventing water drainage, have allowed successful rewetting of these sites – an accomplishment which was previously thought to be impossible.

By digging deeper than the troublesome underground cracks and repacking the ground with more peat, project leader Russell Anderson has been able to prevent water draining away from the treated areas.

In some cases his team used a thin plastic membrane to line the trench, however sites without the use of this drain were also successful in retaining moisture. In all test cases there was a dramatic rise in the level of underground water – an unmitigated success that should not be understated.

Its been a busy month for Forestry Research, who’ve also made a significant step forward in decoding the genetic makeup of the tree seed. Working in conjunction with NovelTree and cattle breeders from the Roslin Institute, a study investigating the DNA markers of 1,500 closely related trees (in the South West of England) have revealed useful information regarding how tall trees will grow and which kinds of trees will break bud first.

Applying techniques that are usually used for salmon and cattle, Steve Lee from the Department of Tree Breeding has likened the process of selection as similar to that of animal breed. Because of the vast differences in DNA structure, research has been able to progress much faster than usual. Genetic gain has increased substantially due to the fact that generation intervals have been shortened.

Its still early days for the researchers, but such is the case for DNA sequencers all around the world. The research method is still very much in its infancy, but its thanks to advances like these that we can hope to learn more about how organisms really work.

For more information on what Forestry Research is up to go to our ‘Outside Sources’ page.

Read More

The Great Forests Locations of Europe

We are spoiled for choice here in the UK for lush forests but…

Just a quick flight away, you’ll find some truly jaw-dropping sites that will give you just a small idea of what Mother Nature has to offer.

If you’re feeling a little despondent with this Spring weather and considering taking a little sojourn out to the continent then look no further than these epic forest locations. If you’re flying from the North, you may as well get your flights from John Lennon and book your Liverpool airport parking, whilst you’re at it for a good deal.

Before you do that, though, take a look at these truly breathtaking locations that you could find yourself winging your way towards in a matter of days…

Black Forest, Germany

Over 34 million overnight tourist nights are spent in this famous region each year and with good reason. Covering over 6,000 square kilometres, this mountainous region is home to massive variety of coniferous and evergreen trees, blanketing the steep hills and dramatic valleys with a thick layer of green that truly arrests the eye. Whilst you’re staying in the Black Forest you’ll have access to all kinds of outdoor pursuits such as hiking, diving and other water sports.

Flights to Germany can cost as little as £80-90 for a return, book early and you could find yourself saving even more money.

Durmitor, Montenegro

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Durmitor National Park covers a vast expanse of Northern Montenegro. Terrain can vary greatly, from wide canyons to underground streams. Dense pine forests give way to gorgeous lakes and there’s a massive variety of plant life when you take a closer look at the forest floor. A hot spot for hikers and mountain bikers, this region makes for a truly dramatic getaway.

Flights might cost you a touch more and other costs might be a little higher once you’re there, but this quintessential Western Europe location is still one not to be missed.

Ordesa, Spain

Essentially comprising the Southern tip of France’s Pyrenrees; the much smaller Spanish National Park of Ordesa might be significantly dwarfed by its Northern neighbour but this doesn’t mean that its any less striking. Ordesa has the monopoly on dramatically cascading rivers and waterfalls – if you head out there in the Summer, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend more time simply relaxing in the sun and dipping your toes in the icy waters than actually enjoying the rich forests that surround the area.

Flights out to the nearby tourist hot spot of Barcelona can be as cheap as £80 in May, when temperatures are usually a balmy 20 degrees Celsius.

Triglav, Slovenia

Slovenia does not have much of a reputation for being a hive of tourism, but if more people knew about Triglav, this would be a different story. The country’s only National Park, it covers a relatively small surface area, when compared to its European familiars, around 880 square kilometres. Not only is it one of the smallest Parks, it’s also one of the oldest, being established in 1924. The centre point of the Park is the mountain from which it takes its name, Triglav is the highest point of the Julian Alps at over 2,800m and has a number of landmarks spread over it.

Flights over to Slovenia are much more expensive than any of the other destinations on this list, but the splendours of Triglav are more than worth the money.

Read More

Thames Water Pay Up & The Vandace Returns

Sometimes it can feel like there’s never any good news to share regarding the waterways of Great Britain…

…thankfully this month we have a couple of pieces, as well as some general bits of housekeeping for any anglers out there.

For those still hoping to get some fishing done, in this particularly pleasant run of nice weather that we’ve been having, you’ll have to be careful what you catch. For another 10 weeks or so, the catching of coarse fish is strictly off-limits for any would-be fishermen. Coarse Fish, such as the barbel or the chub, are always at the risk of over-fishing. Every year, the UK government enforces a strict ‘close season’ on these fish, in order to give them a chance to recover and breed.

In this down time, members of the Environment Agency will be aiding fish in distress, improving habitats around the country and helping to restock the rivers – with the aim of repopulating the rivers by 450,000 fish. Enforcement teams have been in operation since the embargo began on March 15th, checking the licenses of fishers (available here at £30 for the year) and carrying out up to 380 targeted patrols. 70 individuals have been found fishing on off-limits grounds – a little late getting the memo, apparently…

The Environment Agency has been busy this month, not only have they been halting illegal fishing, but they’ve also settled the biggest case of pollution in their history.

Thames Water Utilities were found to be negligently polluting the water, leading to death of wildlife and distress to the public. The Utilities company will be fined over £20.3m, the largest number in UK history, in response to their repeated illegal discharge of sewage into the Thames.

Throughout a period from 2012 to 2014, the prosecution examined 6 cases of negligent pollution that severely affected the wildlife and water quality throughout the River Thames. Wastewater sites in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire repeatedly discharged poorly treated raw sewage as well as untreated waters directly into rivers. Members of staff raised their concerns but were ignored and thousands of high priority alarms were disregarded.

The Environment Agency spent months investigating this particular case, with dozens of officers working around the clock in order to respond to reports of pollution as well as clean up the waters. Several methods of investigation, including intelligence gathering, interviewing and in depth analysis were used in order to supply the court with the requisite information to reach the conclusion that it did.

Finally, one last piece of news that is truly good news…

The Vendace (otherwise known as coregonus albula) has made a welcome return to the UK’s freshwater systems. The fish, one of the rarest of its kinds in the UK, is known for being a relic of the ice age, with fossils of its remains being discovered to be more or less the same as its current incarnation. Populations of the animal were noted to have all but disappeared during the 1990s, this drop in numbers was largely blamed on the introduction of new species as well as industrial pollution.

The spotting was caught on camera by the Environment Agency who were happy to report that England’s rivers are the healthiest that they’ve been in 20 years. Salmon, sea trout and other species have slowly been returning to the waters of Great Britain as the waters have cleared significantly since the grim times of the Industrial Revolution.

Don’t forget, you’ll have to wait until June 15th to fish for those lovely coarse fish!

Read More

The Orangery: A New Kind of Extension

There’s a new kind of building fad on the rise in the North of England…

They’re attractive, environmentally friendly and a little archaic but window companies in the North West are receiving more orders for them than ever before.

Inspired by Victorian aesthetics and now more environmentally friendly than ever, traditional orangeries are popping up all over the North, bringing a new level of class and distinction to areas that are in dire need of it. So many questions have arisen from this discovery.

Why are these companies busier than ever? Why are there now so many orangeries in Manchester? And just where did this trend begin?

The North of England has been home to a number of traditional Orangeries for decades. These visually arresting buildings were, more than often, attached to stately homes, providing their rich owners with space to store plants and trees that were susceptible to the cold. They also gave eager horticulturalists the opportunity to cultivate fruits that would not usually survive in the North’s chillier climate.

Great examples of orangeries that have survived into the modern age can be seen across the North, tucked away in the corners of grand parks and attached to manor houses.

Despite their fragile nature, they have been maintained throughout the years so that the Great British public can continue to enjoy them. In Liverpool’s Sefton Park, the Palm House plays host to weddings, late-night dance raves and school proms. During the day, all is peaceful as visitors to the park can wander through and explore the wide range of exotic plants that grow in there.

Over in Barnsley, Wentworth Castle is home to a quintessential example of Victorian orangery. Ornate iron framework and fine detailing make this a must-see piece of architecture, even without the broad range of plant life inside. Taking one and a half years to restore, the £3.5 million project returned the 130-year old building to its former glory and showed the people of the North how grand an Orangery could really be.

A modern orangery, built with the finest of modern materials has several advantages over its older counterparts, making it an ideal addition to any home (as long as there is space to build it). Instead of single pane glass and iron frames, windows now come double glazed with high-tech PVC for extra insulation. Ultra-modern designs allow orangeries to be built in almost any style that the customer desires and lightweight materials make the build much quicker than a traditional extension.

Perhaps the reason why orangeries have seen a significant spike in popularity in the last few months is their eco-friendly nature.

Ethically sourced PVC, combined with thick double-glazing, means that homeowners can benefit from extra space in their rooms whilst saving money on their energy bills and helping out the environment. Of course, should they so wish, exotic plants and fruits can even be grown, leaving the homeowner with endless growing opportunities.

As more and more of these buildings come into fashion, we’ll no doubt see a return to prominence of more Victorian styles. Who knows what the next archaic design concept will be to receive a modern update? An anti-gravity grandfather clock? A solar-powered rocking chair?

The sky’s the limit. 

Read More

Efficiently Farming American Heroes

American has been working hard to shake of its reputation as a gas-guzzling nation of meat-eaters.

Leading the charge are a dedicated band of agriculturalists who are choosing to put the environment first, whilst still creating profitable businesses; demonstrating how margins can be increased by using truly innovative techniques.

In his book , The Lean Farm, Ben Hartman strives to show how farmers can increase their profits by reducing their land size.

40% of all the food produced in America, inevitably, goes to waste.

In a land where over 42 million people live in houses with insecure sources of food, there’s clearly something wrong with the way this country’s production lines are functioning.

Ben decided to make a change, starting with his own holding. He tackled efficiency in his farm by reducing his holding from 3 acres down to 1, growing 30 varieties of specialist vegetables and fruits. By staggering his planting schedule he has been able to maximise crop yield and reduce his waste by a fifth; he’s now reaping the rewards as his profits are skyrocketing.

Its not just farming in the countryside that is improving leaps and bounds in innovation.

Marianne Cufone’s own brand of ‘recirculating farm’, in her home city of New Orleans, is proving that large scale farming can be achieved with the smallest of plots.

The third most poverty stricken county in the States, healthy food is in short supply in Louisiana, with 18% of homes not having access to good sources of nutrition. To show how ordinary people could grow their own healthy ingredients with limited space, Marianne used homegrown bamboo to create scaffolding that could support multiple stacks of plots.

Growing staples such as cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries; she used an eight square foot, rubber lined pond for irrigation and fish waste as fertiliser. This kind of setup can be erected for $6,000 and could potentially be installed anywhere.

Environmentally friendly farming in America is also learning to embrace emerging technologies like AI.

Irving Fain’s Bowery Farming uses hundreds of sensors connected to a massive network in order to measure the health of the crops in inside his indoor vertical farm.  Every possible variable is accounted for, from moisture to LED lights to the plant feed, this allows Irving to produce enough veggies to deliver to three Whole Food stores (as well as a number of restaurants) without the use of pesticides.

Considering that his farm uses 95% less water than the average US holding and the food travels less than 10 miles to reach its destination, its hard to see how food production could get much greener.

However, the food product that is at the root of our current environmental woes is the one that is most widely eaten: meat.

Not only does meat production require a mammoth amount of water, it also ends up producing an insane amount of methane gases. Although hundreds of thousands of vegans argue that we can halt this by simply not eating animal-products, a handful of companies have sprouted up to offer another alternative.

Uma Valeti is one such innovator, attempting to grow meat in a lab. Cruelty free and without the same environmental impacts, Memphis Meats debuted their first lab grown chicken breast this year, although it cost $9,000 to create – food critics reported that it tasted just like the real thing!

Thanks to innovative startups and ambitious farmers like the above, America is forging its own path into a greener future.

Lets just hope we can keep up! 

Read More