English waterways could lose one of their most charismatic and once widespread residents as water voles succumb to the invasive American mink, records released by the Canal and River Trust show.
Between 1970 and 1999, water voles were found on 269 of the 2,000 miles of waterways managed by the trust. But since the turn of the century, their range dropped by almost 50% to 141 miles.
Mark Robinson, national ecologist for the Canal and River Trust, said the numbers told of a species in desperate decline.
“I very rarely hear good news about water voles. Whether extinction [from England] will occur or whether we will turn the tide I don’t know, but I think it’s certainly in the balance,” he said.
The introduction of the American mink, which have escaped from fur farms in Britain since the 1920s, has been the single greatest driver of decline. Mink are voracious predators and will hunt voles.
“That has driven whole river systems to a complete population crash,” said Darren Tansley, a wildlife officer with Essex Wildlife Trust. “The possibility [that they will become extinct in England] is there if nothing is done to control mink.”
The development of river banks and water pollution has added to the pressure on one of Britain’s most endangered mammals. The industrialisation of river systems during the 1970s and 1980s destroyed the banks where voles make their burrows.
Tansley said although the Canal and River Trust’s numbers were based on ad hoc observations not scientific surveys, they were consistent with the observed decline in all English waterways. Water vole populations are very difficult to estimate, but Tansley said the natural population of tens of millions had now almost certainly dropped below one million.
All counties have suffered “dramatic declines”. A survey in Essex in 2006 found most main rivers “utterly devoid of water voles”. The animal is now extinct in Cornwall. Across the country water voles cling on in isolated pockets, coastal marshes and backwaters where the mink has not found its way. In Scotland water voles have fared better by behaving differently to their English cousins, often living on land and thus avoiding the mink invaders.
Where conservation programmes to control the mink have been put in place, Tansley said the vole population had rebounded. Unfortunately, he said, mink do not pose an economic threat and therefore controlling its spread was not seen as a priority and attracts no funding from the government. The fight to save water voles has been almost entirely led by charities.
The trust has called for the public’s help in a mass citizen science survey of the species – the Great Nature Watch. Robinson asked people to download theeNatureWatch app and log their vole sightings.
In an effort to reach a voluntary greenhouse gas reduction goal, Disney is helping pay for a reforestation project in the lower Mississippi River that will help plant trees on 2,000 acres in the next two years.
The program is using private funding from Disney along with Department of Agriculture conservation money to help volunteer landowners plant trees on their property. That money will help pay for about 1,500 acres of the reforestation work. Additional funding is being collected to meet the 2,000-acre goal.
In turn, the amount of greenhouse gases those trees are expected to absorb will help create carbon credits. The carbon credits will be given back to Disney to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, according to a news release from The Nature Conservancy, another partner in the program.
“They’re doing it as part of their corporate sustainability program,” said Jim Bergan, director of freshwater and wetland conservation at The Nature Conservancy.
There already have been 600 acres enrolled in the program, and the carbon credits have been verified through the voluntary greenhouse gas program Verified Carbon Standard.
“The work in the Mississippi River delta has been putting forests back to where forests were cleared,” Bergen said. “We’re trying to put the forest back together.”
The Nature Conservancy project is expected to help sequester more than 517,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide during the next 70 years.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emissions calculator, this is equal to the yearly emissions from 108,842 cars or the carbon dioxide emissions resulting from the yearly energy use for 47,172 homes.
The way the program works is a landowner first enrolls in a U.S. Department of Agriculture program for one of a couple different conservation servitudes. The options include the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service wetland reserve program for a 30-year easement or the USDA’s Farm Service Agency contract program, generally for a 15-year easement.
Landowners have the option to go with a permanent easement available through the federal government or have the The Nature Conservancy take over the easement. The Nature Conservancy offers $500 more per acre as an incentive, which helps the landowner with more money and also is a benefit to the federal government by freeing up additional money for other conservation projects.
In addition, The Nature Conservancy pays for all of the restoration costs outside of any hydrology work the landowner might need to do.
“We can do some really good projects on private land,” said Kevin Norton, state conservationist with NRCS. “It’s a win for us. It allows us to work with more landowners.”
In a first for Africa, a public-private water fund was launched in Kenya on Friday, bringing together businesses, utilities, conservation groups, government and farmers to fund upstream water conservation through activities such as watershed protection and reforestation.
The Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund was launched by the Nature Conservancy, a US-based NGO, which has used the same model in 32 initiatives in Latin America. Its partners in Kenya include East African Breweries Ltd, Coca-Cola, Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company (NCWSC), and electricity provider KenGen.
The 1,000-km Tana river, which flows from the Aberdare mountains north of Nairobi to the Indian Ocean, is Kenya’s longest, and supplies 95% of the water used by the capital’s estimated 3.4 million residents.
Since the 1970s, forests and wetlands in the Tana river basin have been converted to agricultural land. Where water would once have been stored in the soil and filtered, it is now running straight into the rivers, increasing sedimentary deposits. These deposits clog up reservoirs and push up the cost of water treatment.
An estimated 60% of Nairobi’s residents do not have a secure water supply, and demand has grown by 350% since 2004, according to NCWSC.
The new fund will be managed by a trust, which seeks to raise $15m (£10m) to invest in soil and water conservation activities in the Upper Tana watershed. Landowners and NGOs will work upstream to protect the watershed and “harness nature’s ability to capture, filter, store and deliver clean and reliable water”, according to the Upper-Tana Nairobi Water Fund business case report.
The report said a $10m investment will return $21.5m in economic benefits over 30 years, including gains for farmers, Nairobi’s water and sewerage company, and KenGen.
“It’s good economic science and the best we could do,” said Colin Apse, senior freshwater conservation adviser at the Nature Conservancy.
He added that the Zambian capital Lusaka was preparing to launch a similar scheme, with other cities in sub-Saharan Africa also expected to roll out water funds in the future.
Cambodia has ordered a temporary halt to all sand dredging operations in the country's rivers and lakes in order to study the environment and social impact of a practice that has caused deadly river bank collapse incidents.
The moratorium was set Wednesday at a meeting of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the Ministry of Environment, police and military police
Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem told a news conference that the environmental and social impact studies will determine the future of sand dredging. Much of the sand is exported to neighboring Southeast Asian countries and used in construction.
“The government will also stop issuing any new licenses until the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Mines and Energy discuss with local authorities at all levels first,” he said.
Suy Sem didn’t say when the studies will begin or how long they will take.
Under the policy, holders of sand dredging business licenses must submit new applications, he added.
However, Suy Sem said in order to meet local demand for sand, companies who hold valid licenses can apply to extend their permit dredge sand at existing dredging sites. They will not be permitted to open new dredging sites during the moratorium period.
“In order to avoid illegal sand dredging, we can extend licenses to meet sand demand," he said, promising quick approval to applications to continue existing dredging.
Suy Sem said that there are 142 sand dredging companies operating in Cambodia, but only 37 of them have licenses.
“Companies whose licenses are expired must stop to avoid breaking the law. We are working hard to extend their licenses in a short period of time, but if they continue to operate, they will be prosecuted, “he said.
Military Police Commander in Chief Sao Sokha said he would cooperate with the two ministries to stop illegal sand dredging.
Minister of Environment Say Sam Al said the government will conduct studies along rivers, tributaries and the sea coast to determine which areas can sustain exploitation of sand.
He rejected the notion that dredging was the sole cause of river collapses and landslides, saying natural erosion was also a factor.
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