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News Archive » 2016

Here you will find all articles that have been published in the weekly Science for Environment Policy News Alert.

Browse archives by year and month below.

Black carbon emissions of individual cars measured under real conditions

Measurements of individual vehicle emissions are usually made in laboratory tests. In this study, researchers followed cars driving in real conditions to measure emissions of air pollutants, including black carbon and nitrogen oxides. The study shows that diesel cars contribute disproportionately to air pollution, and highlights the value of on-road measurements.

Are endocrine disrupting chemicals responsible for downward trends in male fertility?

A growing body of evidence suggests that endocrine-disrupting compounds (EDCs) are contributing to declines in fertility. This case-control study found that EDCs were associated with changes to sex hormones and risk of subfertility in men. The researchers say environmental levels of these chemicals should be reduced to protect male fertility.

Environmental taxation in the right place can increase business productivity

Industry has traditionally claimed that strict environmental regulation has a negative effect on its competitiveness. However, a recent theory proposes it may actually increase productivity and innovation. This study used a large database of inter-sectoral transactions to investigate the effect of environmental taxation on manufacturing businesses across Europe. The findings show that environmental regulation can increase innovation and productivity.

Advances in freshwater risk assessment: experiences with Biotic Ligand Models

To assess the risk posed by metals in the aquatic environment, Biotic Ligand Models (BLMs) were developed, and are now considered suitable for use in regulatory risk assessments. This study reviews the advantages of BLMs and BLM-based software tools, providing examples from across the EU, and offers recommendations for their widespread implementation.

Environmental performance of construction and demolition waste management

The EU Waste Framework Directive aims to recycle or recover materially 70% of non-hazardous construction and demolition waste by 2020. This study evaluated the performance of the Finnish waste management system against this target. The results showed that the system generates environmental benefits and is profitable, but has not reached the 70% target. The researchers suggest ways the target could be met and recommend region-specific recycling objectives in the EU.

Air quality impact of diesel ‘severely underestimated’

Hydrocarbons are precursors to hazardous air pollutants including ozone and particulate matter. Hydrocarbons from diesel make up over 50% of all hydrocarbons in the air in London, a new study has found. The authors also estimate that they contribute up to half of total ozone production potential in London, and say future air quality control strategies must focus more on these pollutants.

What are the barriers to solar energy adoption?

The solar energy market is hampered by multiple barriers to adoption in the EU and worldwide, according to a new review. Researchers from Sweden and Spain found that lack of government commitment as well as various sociotechnical, management and economic barriers prevent photovoltaic technologies from being more readily adopted.

Sea level rise and the impact of salinity on soil invertebrates

Sea level rise may cause soils in coastal regions to become more saline. In a recent study, reproduction in soil invertebrates was impaired in soils containing salt levels below the threshold used currently to define saline soils. The authors recommend community-level studies to further investigate the salt concentrations that are harmful to soil organisms.

Re-using resources in cities: a Dutch case-study

Dense urban environments have significant resource-saving potential and serve as good platforms for climate change mitigation. This study reviewed an initiative to improve use of energy and water in Rotterdam, highlighting factors important for success including exchanges in close geographic proximity and private-sector participation.

Mercury-resistant bacteria useful for studying toxic metal cycling

Mercury-resistant bacteria could help scientists to understand more about mercury cycling in the environment. In a new study, researchers identified one particular strain of soil bacterium that could serve as a model for the conversion of the toxic metal into less toxic forms. They also discovered a new gene involved in the conversion process.

Golden jackal should not be treated as an alien species in Europe

Expansion of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) across Europe has led to its designation as an alien species in some Member States. In the first continent-wide study of the species, researchers characterise the genetic structure of the European population and attempt to identify its origin. The results suggest the golden jackal was not introduced to European countries by humans and therefore should not be treated as alien.

High levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in sediments and fish from the Italian River Po and its Lambro tributary

Researchers have recommended that fish from some sections of the River Po and the River Lambro, one of the Italian River Po tributaries, should not be eaten due to high levels of some endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the river sediments and fish. This recommendation is based on an extensive update regarding pollution levels of such substances in the rivers.

Salmon aquaculture could incorporate seaweed and sea urchins to reduce nitrogen enrichment

Farming fish together with seaweed and other species could help improve the sustainability of aquaculture and reduce pollution. A new study provides a tool for designing sustainable fish farming systems and calculates their potential to recycle waste. An example of a salmon farming system incorporating seaweed and sea urchins could reduce nitrogen releases to the environment by 45%.

Common consumer products contain high levels of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances

Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and its derivatives — linked to health problems in animals — have been found in levels exceeding EU thresholds in some outdoor textiles, leather goods and ski waxes, according to a recent analysis of everyday consumer items. Better quality control in the processing and manufacture of goods coated with the substances is among the recommendations made by researchers to reduce human exposure to these toxic chemicals.

‘Bridging’ organisations increase farmer commitment to Common Agricultural Policy

‘Network bridging organisations’, such as farmer unions, Regional Nature Parks and Local Action Groups, promote cooperation between farmers, non-state collective actors and state actors under the Common Agricultural Policy. This study finds that farmers who have regular contact with these organisations show a higher commitment to long-term practice change. This could represent an opportunity to improve the effectiveness of payments for environmental services in Europe.

Governance of new technologies: recommendations for responsible innovation in nanotechnology

Effective risk governance is important when developing new technologies. This study assessed the approaches to governance of nanotechnology in Europe, based on a comprehensive review of literature and practices, complemented by discussions with key stakeholders. The study provides a new analytical framework for exploring the strengths and weaknesses of governance strategies and makes recommendations specific to nanotechnology.

Emissions from 2008–2015 VW diesel vehicles fitted with ‘defeat devices’ linked to 59 premature deaths

In September 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) alleged that Volkswagen (VW) violated the US Clean Air Act by fitting ‘defeat devices’ in their light-duty diesel vehicles to falsify the results of emissions tests. According to a study assessing the potential impact of this decision, an extra 59 early deaths in the US are likely to be caused by exposure to PM2.5 and ozone.

Ecological intensification farming benefits wildlife and increases yield

Ecological intensification, using land and resources in ways that minimises negative ecosystem impacts while maintaining agricultural productivity, has been proposed as a way to sustainably increase crop yields, but remains under debate due to a lack of evidence. This six-year study of a large commercial farm assessed how using land for wildlife habitat affected food crops. The study shows that it is possible to remove up to 8% of land from production and maintain (and in some cases increase) yield.

How best to address aviation's full climate impact?

International regulation does not address non-CO2 emissions from aviation, despite their climate-warming effects. This study reports the findings of the AviClim research project, which investigated the feasibility of including CO2 and non-CO2 species in international protocols. Of several trading scenarios assessed, the authors found that a global emissions trading scheme for both kinds of emissions would be desirable in both environmental and economic terms.

Methane emissions from LNG-powered ships higher than current marine fuel oils

Due to regulation on sulphur emissions, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has increased in use as a maritime fuel. This study measured exhaust gases from a ship with dual-fuel engines running on LNG and marine gas oil (MGO). Although NOX and CO2 emissions were lower for LNG compared to MGO, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide emissions were higher. The authors say future work should reconsider the climate impact of LNG.

Biorenewable chemicals: a review of technologies and feedstocks

Growing demand for biorenewable chemicals could lead to conflicts with food production and unwanted environmental impacts. Against this context, this study investigated different types of feedstock and conversion technologies. The authors recommend use of only non-edible feedstock alongside green and carbon neutral conversion technologies, such as algal fermentation.

How can social scientists engage with environmental policy?

Social scientists have been advising on environmental issues for decades, but their contributions to policy remain unclear. This study analysed how social scientists interact with policymakers and provides recommendations for future engagement.

How does living near to green space affect death risk?

Living near to green spaces may reduce likelihood of death due to any cause, and especially due to cardiovascular disease, according to a new study. The review is the first to systematically evaluate the evidence linking green spaces to risk of death.

Herbicide reduction can preserve crop yields as well as biodiversity benefits of weeds

Pesticide-sparing approaches to farming do not have to compromise on crop yields, new research suggests. A study that explored the impact of reduced herbicide use across a variety of different farming contexts found that herbicide-efficient systems could be just as productive as conventional systems — and more so than organic systems — whilst having other important environmental benefits.

Revealing damages from droughts across Europe

Researchers have developed a new tool for assessing and predicting the damage caused by droughts to crop yields and hydroelectric energy production. The tool could provide useful information to policymakers, helping them develop drought management practices to improve food and energy security and adapt to climate change.

German soil monitoring programme could assess impacts of GM crops

Effective regulation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) calls for monitoring of the potential environmental risks. This study explored whether the German permanent soil monitoring programme could be a useful tool for this purpose. The researchers say the programme has potential to monitor the effects of GMOs on local soil communities, but that adaptations would be necessary.

Under- and over-managing invasive species: what are the acceptable risks and costs?

Monitoring of at-risk sites is important for preventing the arrival and spread of invasive species. However, resources are often insufficient to achieve the level of risk reduction desired by authorities. This study presents a novel framework, based on the ‘acceptable level of risk’ construct, to align needs to reduce risk with available resources.

What do pollinator declines mean for human health?

Human activity is transforming natural systems and endangering the ecosystem services they provide, which has consequences for human health. This study quantified the human health impact of losses to pollination, providing the first global analysis of its kind. The researchers say pollinator declines could increase the global disease burden and recommend increased monitoring of pollinators in at-risk regions, including Eastern and Central Europe.

Fin whales exposed to high levels of potentially toxic microplastics in the Mediterranean Sea

Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are likely being exposed to microplastics and associated toxic additives in the Mediterranean Sea, finds new research. The research analysed levels of microplastics and biological and chemical markers of exposure in whales from the Mediterranean Sea and the comparatively pristine Sea of Cortez, off the coast of Mexico. The results suggest that the vulnerable Mediterranean fin whale may be suffering as a consequence of microplastic pollution.

German greenbelt policies successfully protect valuable areas from urbanisation

Greenbelt policies in Germany, used to curb urban sprawl, are effective in protecting open spaces and the valuable natural resources they cover, a new study has found. Nevertheless, urban development can ‘leapfrog’ greenbelts, hopping over them into areas with less restrictive planning policies. Researchers recommend that such areas are also included in urban development control plans.

Wetland biodiversity is supported by temporary flooding and sustainable grazing

The preferred habitats of wetland bird species - including 12 that are endangered - have been identified by a new study. From conducting counts at 137 sites across Sweden, it was found that total species richness was highest in sites that had a tendency to flood; wet grassland areas that were grazed as opposed to mowed; and sites that were far from areas of woodland. The authors suggest this research could help determine the most suitable locations for future wetland conservation projects.

Air quality health impact assessments should use combination of metrics

Health impact assessments (HIAs) provide information on the potential health impacts of policies, and are important for developing regulation on air pollution. In this study, researchers evaluated the metrics currently used in air quality HIAs to provide recommendations for their use in policy.

Health impacts of climate change in the indoor environment: a UK review

The health risks associated with climate-induced changes to indoor environments are explored in a new study. UK-based researchers synthesised findings of how climate change — and mitigation and adaptation measures — might affect the inside of buildings, through overheating, air quality, allergies and infections, flood risk and other exposure risks.

Wild plant conservation efforts could benefit farming and food security

Conservation of wild plants related to important crops requires more concerted efforts, according to a new study conducted in Scotland. The study makes recommendations for improving conservation within Scotland, as well as outlining a process that could help other countries to prioritise their wild plants.

Implications of extreme floods for river ecosystems

The frequency and severity of flooding is expected to increase in the future. This study explored how these changes will affect rivers, in terms of structure as well as animal and plant life. The authors discuss the management implications of their findings and highlight areas for future research, including developing early warning systems for threats to ecosystems.

Soil management in China and the EU

Following rapid urbanisation, management of contaminated soil has become a political priority in China. In this study, researchers reviewed the current system in China as compared to Europe and provide recommendations for the sustainable management of soil.

Localised adaptation makes some oysters more resilient to climate change than others

Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) have been shown to adapt to local environments that are as little as 20 km apart, and these adaptations can be passed on to offspring. In this study, oysters that originated from less saline areas tended to be more resilient to extremely low saline conditions than oysters from more saline areas. Since episodes of reduced salinity are a predicted effect of climate change in the San Francisco Bay area under study, the authors say their findings could be useful for future conservation and restoration efforts.

Poor air quality associated with increased risk of preterm birth

Research using the Environmental Quality Index (EQI) linked increased risk of preterm birth with poor air quality, but not with overall low environmental quality. The study is one of the first to explore the relationship between preterm birth and environmental quality across a range of different environmental domains (including water, air, land, built environment and sociodemographic aspects).

Desertification study proposes new decision-making method for complex environmental problems

Decision-making about complex environmental problems like desertification, which also have important social and economic implications, could be improved by employing methods outlined in a new study. The study outlines the steps taken by researchers on behalf of the Canary Islands government in devising a policy strategy for tackling desertification and describes a three-step methodology and participatory decision-making process.

Constructed wetlands for removing human pathogens: factors affecting water safety

Constructed wetlands can remove disease-causing bacteria from wastewater, but their performance is highly dependent on the systems they use, a new study shows. Researchers reviewed results from a wide range of studies on constructed wetlands and found that combining different approaches increased removal of bacteria. However, further research and improvement of wetland systems is required to produce water that is safe for reuse.

Factors for success in ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ schemes

New research aimed to identify the factors that lead to the success of Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) schemes. The study analysed 40 different schemes in Latin America to identify factors related to success. The researchers identified four such factors, which could inform policy and aid decision makers in designing PES initiatives with increased chances of success.

Artichoke fields as good as grassland habitats for lesser kestrels in Italy

Lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) populations survive equally well in grassland and artichoke fields in Italy, a recent study has concluded. Overall, however, populations are declining and the researchers recommend reducing pesticide use, growing alternative crops such as artichokes, and maintaining grasslands as part of the farming landscape.

Immediate ban on fisheries discards may destabilise marine ecosystems

Discarding – returning unwanted catches to the sea – is seen as wasteful, but banning the practice would remove an important food source for many marine organisms. This study modelled the effects of gradually reducing and abruptly banning discards using data from a protected bay in Australia. The researchers recommend gradual reduction of discards in order to maintain ecosystem stability.

Greenhouse gas emissions and rural development in the EU

Climate change objectives are now featured in a wide range of policies, including the European Rural Development Programme, which promotes sustainable agricultural interventions. This study describes the net greenhouse gas emissions for these interventions across Europe. The findings could help policymakers to better meet multiple social, economic and environmental objectives, although the authors say a broader perspective may be needed to determine the overall benefit of interventions.

Refurbished mobile phones: consumer perceptions and how to increase uptake

A recent survey of Dutch mobile phone owners has identified why some consumers buy refurbished mobile phones while others buy new ones. Some consumers perceived refurbished phones to be inferior, which was a major barrier to their purchase. The study’s authors make a number of recommendations to increase consumer uptake of refurbished mobile phones, including promoting the financial and environmental benefits and offering warranties.

Good agricultural practices reduce soil erosion and increase organic carbon stocks in Italy

Soil erosion in Italy could be reduced by 43% if Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) were fully adopted, a recent study has found. Reducing soil erosion would also increase soil organic carbon stocks, particularly on cultivated sloping land.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from livestock: what are the costs?

The livestock sector is estimated to contribute 14.5% of all global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This study estimated the costs of reducing emissions from ruminant livestock using five different practices. The findings will help policymakers to understand the cost effectiveness of different interventions in the sector, and the contribution that different policies could make to addressing climate change.

Petroleum industry’s freshwater use puts pressure on areas with water scarcity issues

The impact that national energy sectors have on international freshwater resources has been demonstrated in the first global study of its kind. The analysis of 129 countries showed differences between countries and sectors in their reliance on international freshwater resources. For example, although the petroleum industries of North America and China are similar in magnitude, the North American industry consumes three times as much international freshwater. Demands from economically developed countries on less economically developed countries, which may have pre-existing water-scarcity issues, compound these problems and complicate the creation of policies that ensure both water and energy security.

‘Ecological leftovers’: a route to a sustainable diet?

Producing and consuming food has a significant environmental impact. In the search for a sustainable diet, researchers in Sweden explored a method of food production that does not exceed the level of globally available arable land per capita, and involves raising livestock on pasture or by-products not suitable for humans (the ‘ecological leftovers’ principle). The researchers developed three diets based on this method and evaluated their environmental impact compared with current diets.

Cool pavements to reduce urban heat islands: the state of the technology

Cool pavements, which can be used to reduce the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, where towns and cities are warmer than surrounding rural areas, have been reviewed in new research. The review found that reflective pavements can reduce temperatures by up to 20°C and are more durable than evaporative pavements, which are less effective at temperature reduction but may have other benefits, such as reducing runoff.

Environmental conditions in winter can be used to predict European anchovy stock

The European anchovy is one of the most important small pelagic fish in the Adriatic Sea, but the size of the stock can fluctuate year on year. This study aimed to investigate the link between anchovy catch and winter circulation patterns in the North Adriatic sea. The findings show that oceanographic conditions during winter determine anchovy abundance. Prediction of these conditions could help to guide sustainable fisheries management in the region.

Comparing life-cycle costs of road-lighting technologies

The economic costs of replacing energy inefficient high-pressure mercury (HPM) lamps, used in outdoor lighting, with more efficient alternatives have been explored in a recent study. High-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps would be more cost effective than light-emitting-diode (LED) technology, although the researchers say LEDs could become more economical in the future.

Lake Como contaminated with chemicals banned in the 1970s

Research has found evidence for recent contamination of Lake Como, northern Italy, with chemicals banned in the EU since the 1970s. Levels of DDT and PCBs in sediment, aquatic microorganisms and fish were examined. The results suggest glacial meltwater as a source for renewed DDT contamination and show recent contamination of fish above safe levels. The findings demonstrate the need for continued monitoring of persistent organic pollutants in European waters.

Potential for more efficient energy, land and phosphorus use by 2050

There is a large potential to improve the global efficiency of energy, land and phosphorus use, finds new research which modelled the effects of four worldwide scenarios between 2010 and 2050. An ‘ambitious resource strategy’ could moderate the increases in energy use (+25% globally instead of +80% in the baseline scenario), phosphorus use (+9% instead of +40%) and arable land (-9% globally, instead of + 4%).

Subway stations with platform sliding doors and good ventilation reduce passengers’ exposure to PM2.5

Underground trains are among the most widely used public transport systems in cities worldwide. A study investigating the chemical composition and source of particles in Barcelona subway stations found that a new station design, with sliding doors that separate the platform from the tunnel and good ventilation, reduced the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by over 50% compared with older station designs.

Invasive alien species in Europe: new framework shows scale and impact is increasing

Invasive alien species pose a threat to biodiversity, human health and the economy. This study describes six alien species indicators for Europe, showing that the scale and impact of biological invasions are increasing across all indicators. The societal response has also increased in recent years. The researchers say their framework could serve as a basis for monitoring the efficacy of recent EU legislation.

Climate change and transport: effects of sea-level rise on an English railway line

Climate change will have major consequences for transport networks, especially those located on coastlines. This study assessed the impact of projected sea-level rise on a vulnerable stretch of railway line on the coast of South West England. The authors say their semi-empirical modelling method could provide guidance to policymakers worldwide.

Green public procurement: a method to implement environmental policy

Green public procurement (GPP) – authorities considering environmental criteria when allocating contracts to private suppliers – is becoming increasingly popular as an environmental policy instrument. This study analysed data from Swedish cleaning service procurements, finding a ‘weak’ effect on supplier behaviour in this situation. The researchers say that, for GPP to be an effective policy instrument, it is important to consider suppliers’ decisions to participate in procurement and to screen them against mandatory green criteria.

Research for environmental policymaking: how to prioritise, communicate and measure impact - March 2016

Up-to date scientific and technological research is vital to allow humans to adapt appropriately to our changing global environment, and current rates of environmental degradation and resource depletion. Effective research policies are essential to maintain or improve the standard of life for future populations – in Europe and globally.

Conversations for conservation: the importance of interactive dialogue

Although knowledge of biodiversity is increasing, it often receives less attention than other, more anthropocentric policy challenges. To ensure research is better used, scientists and policymakers need to interact more effectively. Through a literature review, interviews and a workshop with key stakeholders, this study provides recommendations for achieving a better dialogue.

Evaluating expert involvement in policymaking

Expert advice can be crucial for good decision making. This study reviewed how experts are involved in policy, and the results of their involvement, finding that certain involvement processes are more suited to specific types of policy questions, and that more robust evaluative and documenting processes are needed. The researchers propose a framework to identify appropriate consultation methods for specific policy questions.

Eco-technologies: priorities for the future

Priorities for future environmental technology research and development were outlined by a study that surveyed experts in the field in 2010-11. The global environmental problems and potential solutions that new technologies could provide were identified and discussed in questionnaires and workshops. One of the main recommendations of the study was for a greater focus on flexible and cost-effective innovations that could alleviate potential environmental issues in countries with developing and emerging economies.

Mining scientific databases for emerging topics: a new tool for policy

Identifying emerging research areas and technologies is important for decision makers, but notoriously difficult to do. This study presents a new way of searching the literature to identify emerging topics, which will help policymakers, industry and funding bodies to make better decisions.

Creating a map of science: a visual representation of global research

A map of science could assist research planning strategies by helping to identify emerging topics. The map — which is based on links to almost 20 million scientific articles that have been published over the past 16 years — clusters and links scientific disciplines by citation-based relationships and serves as a highly detailed and scalable infographic. The authors hope it will be used by research planners to help distinguish — and potentially forecast — the research areas in science which have longevity, and also those which are innovative.

Broader impacts are important when measuring the utility of science

Governments and funding bodies are increasingly evaluating the ‘impact’ of academic research. There are growing discussions about impact – what it means, and how it can be demonstrated – and it is a challenge to evaluate impact on society. This study investigated the broader benefits of scientific research, beyond technology development, to support more comprehensive evaluations of science.

Changing research assessments could encourage knowledge dissemination

Research assessments should focus more on engagement processes and less on impacts and outcomes, a new study suggests. The authors examined researchers’ intended impacts and motivational factors, and stated that a change in research evaluation methods, together with better direction from university managers, could help incentivise knowledge exchange and engagement between departments and non-academic entities.

Creating ‘buzz’ for impact: Twitter and new-media science communication

As the media environment changes, the way scientists communicate their work must also evolve. This study explored the effect of public communication on the scientific ‘impact’ of America’s most highly cited nanotechnology researchers. It provides the first evidence that outreach activities, such as speaking to journalists and being mentioned on Twitter, can increase a scientist’s impact.

Internet tools for research dissemination: a climate-change case study

Modern technologies have provided new ways for communities to engage with climate change. This study investigated the role of Internet-based tools in disseminating the findings of a climate change research project in Canada and provides insights on how best to use the Internet to communicate the outcomes of scientific research.

Egg consumers may be exposed to dioxins above EU limit due to farmyard PCP

Chickens foraging on soils containing environmental pollutants can accumulate these chemicals in their tissues and eggs. This study assessed levels of dioxins in eggs produced in Poland, in some cases finding concentrations several times above the safe EU limit. The researchers identified the source as preservative-treated wood in the chicken coop, which they say is a public health risk.

Framing issues locally can be persuasive in climate change communication

Messages that focus on the local impacts of climate change are among the most effective at reaching people who are generally dismissive of climate science, according a recent survey of Australian residents. The questionnaire asked participants about their attitudes and beliefs about climate change. Participants were shown a range of messages related to climate change adaptation, and then asked how much each message motivated them to take action. Presentations that contained local impacts, specific advice and negative emotive content were found to be the most effective.

Exposure to BPA derivatives: newer analogues may also have endocrine-disrupting effects

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is widespread in the environment. Researchers reviewed and critically discussed the sources and routes of human exposure to chlorinated derivatives (ClxBPA) and alternatives to BPA (BPF, BPS), as well as their metabolism, toxicity and concentrations in human tissues. The researchers suggest BPA alternatives and derivatives may have similar effects, and provide directions for future research.

Wastewater treatment plant discharges can promote the development of antibiotic resistance in streams

Widespread use of antibiotics has led to pollution of waterways, potentially creating resistance among freshwater bacterial communities. A new study looked for antibiotic resistance genes in a river basin in Spain, revealing that wastewater discharges can promote the spread of antibiotic resistance in streams and small rivers.

Very high CO2 levels decrease yield and antioxidant content of some green vegetables

Increases in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can be beneficial to crops, by providing a source of carbon for growth. However, very high levels of CO2 have the reverse effect, decreasing the yield and quality of vegetable crops, a new study has shown. The researchers say atmospheric CO2 concentration should be kept below 5 000 ppm to enhance the yield of leafy vegetables such as cabbage and lettuce.

Increasing grassland species improves pollination and may impact on crop yields

Grasslands cover 30–40% of European agricultural areas. Agri-environmental schemes leading to even small changes in grassland biodiversity could elicit extensive benefits. A new study on working farms in southwest England highlights the contribution of the plant diversity of the grassland to the abundance and diversity of insect pollinators and their potential to increase crop yields. The researchers make recommendations for which species to include in seed mixes.

Building materials used between 1950 and 1980 in Europe may contribute to PCB air pollution

European buildings built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s may contribute towards levels of toxins in the body, a new study suggests. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found at elevated levels in children that lived in houses and studied in schools built during this period, before PCBs were more thoroughly regulated in the construction industry. Although food is generally a more concentrated source of these toxins, the authors say exposure through these environments should be minimised wherever possible.

Climate-smart agri-technology innovations: how to increase uptake

‘Climate-smart agriculture’ aims to sustainably increase agricultural production and increase resilience to climate change. One aspect focuses on climate-smart technologies. This study interviewed users and producers of these technologies, highlighting barriers to adoption and possible means of overcoming them, including increasing awareness, user-focused design and changes to policy.

Simple steps to increase the uptake of sustainable service-based business models

‘Product-service systems’ are innovative business models designed to satisfy societal needs in an environmentally sustainable manner. This study explores how government policies could increase the uptake of these systems, outlining five key recommendations to achieve this, including schemes to raise awareness and involve local authorities.

Chemicals applied to fruit after harvesting affect soil microbe function

Wastewaters from fruit-packaging plants may contain preservative chemicals. When spread onto fields, these wastewaters affect the way soil microbes cycle nitrogen, new research has found. Although this may impair crop growth, according to the authors, the results could also lead to the development of new substances that reduce nitrate run-off from agricultural land.

Identifying emerging risks for environmental policies

How can we better anticipate environmental changes? In our rapidly changing world, risks occur from ongoing changes (such as those occurring in the climate), to more sudden-onset risks, such as mutating microbial pathogens. This Future Brief explores some of the tools and approaches that can be used to identify emerging risk, including strategic foresight tools, citizen science and state-of-the-art monitoring technologies.

Twelve principles for introducing sustainable energy storage to the electrical grid

Researchers have provided a set of guidelines to help policymakers, designers and operators develop sustainable solutions for energy-storage systems for electricity grids. The guidelines cover a range of energy-storage technologies and grid-integration options.

Harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons removed from soil using wastewater sludge and polyacrylamide

Wastewater sludge is widely used to remove toxic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from soil, and yet the mechanisms underlying this process remain unclear. A new study reveals the extent of PAH removal following different treatments, and could provide a useful resource for those looking to diminish the effects that these pollutants have both on people and on the environment.

Management of rice paddy fields affects greenhouse gas emissions

How rice paddy fields are managed significantly influences the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs), a recent study concludes. Permanently flooded soils release more methane than soils that are flooded and then dried between production periods, for example. In general, the researchers recommend growing other crops in dried soil between production cycles, as well as limiting nitrogen fertilisers, to minimise the release of methane and nitrous oxide.

What are the most effective ways of promoting electric cars?

Norway has the highest battery-electric vehicle market share of any country worldwide. A new study investigated the incentives that have persuaded consumers to purchase electric vehicles in Norway, revealing that up-front price reductions (such as exemptions from purchase tax) are the most powerful incentives.

Why protect nature? Relational values: the missing link in policies for the natural environment

The concepts of instrumental value (protecting nature for humans’ sake) and intrinsic value (protecting nature for nature’s sake) are fundamental to environmental policy. This paper — based on a literature review and critical analysis — argues that using these concepts alone overlooks important concerns for the environment. The authors recommend also considering relational values, which derive from the relationships between people and nature.

Artificial light at night — the impact on plants and ecology

Artificial light — such as street lighting and passing car headlights — has an impact on plants. A new study suggests there could also be broader implications for the interactions of herbivores and pollinators. The study highlights that disrupting seasonal light cues with artificial light has far-reaching effects, including: mismatches in timing with herbivores; altering the development of agricultural crops; inhibiting flowering in wild species; decreasing periods of darkness necessary for plant repair from environmental pollutants; and causing barriers to nocturnal pollinator species.

Resistant sugar beet varieties better for controlling cyst nematodes than trap crops or pesticides

Growing sugar beet varieties which are resistant to their pest, the cyst nematode, is the best way to achieve high sugar yields in northern Germany, recent research has concluded. The researchers say this method is better than growing trap crops or using pesticides to control the pests.

Higher temperatures increase methane release from northern European peat bogs

Higher temperatures being brought about by global warming are increasing methane emissions from the extensive northern European peatlands, a recent study has found. The researchers also say that future estimations of greenhouse gas emissions can be improved via better land-cover classification — i.e. determining how much peatland is fenland or bogland.

Biodegradation of PPCPs in wastewater treatment plants — a Danish case study

The non-restricted production and use of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) has led to their presence in effluents from treatment plants, which can pose a threat to aquatic organisms downstream. This study analysed the breakdown of six common chemicals in four Danish treatment plants. The findings shed new light on the factors affecting removal of PPCPs from waste, showing that the composition of waste is more important than the design of the treatment plant.

Top 10 environmental issues for EU inland ports

The top 10 environmental priorities for EU inland ports have been identified in a recent survey. A port’s relationship with the local community was the top environmental issue, followed by concerns over air and water quality. The survey provides the first benchmark of the environmental performance of inland ports, against which progress in their environmental management can be measured in the future.

Polystyrene microplastics negatively affect oyster feeding, reproduction and offspring

Oysters exposed to polystyrene microplastics produced fewer offspring, which were also smaller and slower growing than offspring from unexposed oysters, according to recent research. The researchers say their study adds to growing evidence of the harm caused by microplastic pollution and can help stakeholders to take action on plastic debris entering the oceans to limit its long-term impact on marine life.

Mercury levels exceed safety standards for fish in six European freshwater and estuary sites

Mercury levels in bream (Abramis brama) collected from six European sampling sites from 2007 to 2013 exceeded the Water Framework Directive’s safety limit for fish in all but one site in 2012, a new study discovers. The findings suggest greater efforts need to be made to prevent mercury pollution.

Increasing impact of oestrogen pollution through climate change and population growth

Oestrogens are ‘female’ hormones that can enter the aquatic environment after excretion by humans and animals, causing ‘feminisation’ of male fish. This study carried out a risk assessment for oestrogen-like endocrine disruption in the UK in the 2050s, based on likely changes to the human population, river flows and temperature. The authors found that risk is likely to increase under future conditions and recommend further research to assess whether improving sewage treatment could reduce oestrogen pollution.

Shark ‘hotspots’ and fishing activities overlap in the North Atlantic Ocean

Sharks aggregate in ‘hotspots’ in the North Atlantic Ocean and are at risk from overfishing by longliner vessels that target the same areas for fishing, a recent study has concluded. Researchers found that the shark and fishing-fleet ranges overlapped by 80% in the North Atlantic and call for international regulation of shark catches to protect at-risk shark populations.

How policies could help winegrowers adapt to climate change

Grapes are sensitive to small changes in temperature, rain and sunlight, meaning climate change will have implications for wine producers worldwide. This study assessed local vulnerabilities and adaptation strategies in two wine-producing areas in France. The findings may help growers to develop suitable methods of adapting to long-term climate change.

Constructed wetlands boost biodiversity: evidence from Italy

Constructed wetlands are used in many countries as green infrastructure to treat waste water, but may also be biodiversity hotspots, a new study suggests. This study reports on a constructed wetland in an urban area of Italy, which increased the number of plant taxa — including several plants of conservation concern — by over 200%. The researchers say the ability of constructed wetlands to enhance biodiversity could support local development.

New technique developed to recycle indium from waste LCD screens

Researchers have developed a technique to recover indium, an important raw material with limited supply, from liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. The method could contribute to a resource-efficient, circular economy.

What is ‘favourable conservation status’ for species? Researchers clear up misinterpretations

‘Favourable conservation status’ (FCS) is a critical but often misinterpreted legal concept in the EU’s Habitats Directive. Now, law and ecology researchers have teamed up to help clarify some of the most disputed aspects of this term for species. Correctly applied, the concept will help environmental managers, policymakers and scientists effectively protect biodiversity.

Local-scale ecological assessments contribute to conservation planning in an Italian Marine Protected Area

Assessing threats to biodiversity is necessary for effective spatial planning and balancing sustainable development with conservation. This study details a fine-scale assessment of the effect of a range of threats to coastline habitats within a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Mediterranean Sea. The study provides an example of how local-scale assessments can contribute to national conservation policy.

Atlantic beaches of Europe reshaped in stormy winter of 2013–2014

Waves hitting Europe’s Atlantic coast during the winter of 2013–2014 were the most powerful in nearly 70 years, reports a new study. They caused significant coastal erosion and the study found examples of beaches which are now several metres lower. The study’s authors say that coastal planners should consider increasingly stormy conditions in the north-east Atlantic, as predicted by some climate change models.

Water management: five policy conditions to help overcome the challenges of an uncertain future

‘Adaptive co-management’ could help water managers cope with future shocks and unpredictability brought by climate change, according to a recent study. They identify five conditions for policies that would create an enabling environment for this management approach, which include the need to account for water’s ecological functions, and for stakeholders to learn from each other.

Climate change threatens early-flowering plants due to lack of snow

Among the ecological effects of climate change are changes to the timing of natural events, such as flowering. To understand why these phenological changes affect reproduction, this study manipulated conditions in a spring herb to prompt premature flowering. This exposed the flowers to frost, and resulting damage caused dramatic reductions in plant reproduction, suggesting that climate change may threaten plant survival.

How to choose the most cost-effective methods for improving water quality

Agricultural run-off can contain pesticides, sediment particles and nitrates and is a major threat to the health of the sea. Although there are policy frameworks to reduce run-off water, they often don’t clearly explain how to maximise benefits. A new study provides an economic framework that prioritises methods based on their cost-effectiveness, which could help policymakers to reduce the pollution of marine ecosystems.

Flood-risk communications should be specific, tailored, and utilise social networks

Effective flood-risk communications should include specific information on how householders can protect themselves and their property against flooding, a recent Dutch study concludes. The researchers’ evaluation of communication strategies also highlights an important role for social media in spreading messages about flood risk and protection.

Expansion of greenhouse horticulture in Spain seen to compromise conservation and the revitalisation of rural areas

Land-use changes in the arid south-eastern Iberian Peninsula impact on the supply of various ecosystem services that support human well-being. Research into perceptions of the rapid expansion of greenhouse horticulture and the abandonment of rural and mountainous areas has highlighted trade-offs between conservation efforts and economic development.

Early warnings: climate change may force plant ranges to split, threatening genetic diversity

Signs that the ranges of sub-mountainous forest plants in France have contracted in response to global warming have been detected in a new study. This pattern is likely to induce a splitting of these species’ ranges across Europe under future climate change, which could have serious consequences for plant genetic diversity and the capacity of plant populations to adapt to warming climates, say the researchers.

Pesticide additives can weaken the predatory activity of spiders

Two chemicals used as co-formulants in pesticides have been found to reduce the predatory behaviour of the wolf spider Pardosa agrestis, an insect predator found within agricultural landscapes. A third co-formulant was found not to affect the predatory behaviour of females and increased the prey behaviour of male spiders. This is the first time that pesticide additives have been shown to alter the predatory activity of a potential biological control agent of crop pests.

Air quality assessment in the EU: room for improvement?

Different modelling approaches are used to design and assess air quality plans across Europe. This study assessed the strengths and weaknesses of these different approaches. The researchers conclude that a large variety of models is in use, without a preferred or standard model having emerged yet. They identify integrating local-scale and large-scale models and verifying models with measurements as the most important challenges.

Chemicals risk assessment: evidence-evaluation methods analysed for nine EU regulations

The use of two methods to systematise evidence-evaluation methods is reviewed in nine EU regulations dealing with chemicals risk assessment. The majority of frameworks were found to promote the use of ‘weight of evidence’ or ‘systematic review’-style approaches, but the study found a lack of structured, consistent and detailed guidance for these approaches. The researchers recommend this guidance is developed collaboratively by European regulatory agencies and points to best practice for this guidance.

Removing invasive mammals from islands leads to major biodiversity benefits

Eradication of invasive mammal species is a strategy used to help conserve biodiversity on islands and restore populations of native species. Researchers have now assessed the success of this strategy globally, highlighting the importance of controlling invasive species to protect biodiversity on islands and achieve global conservation targets.

Nudging may be better than shoving: voluntary non-monetary approaches to conservation

Voluntary non-monetary conservation — where citizens implement actions without a financial incentive — is an emerging approach to biodiversity protection that could be applied in many countries and environments, a new study shows. This study makes recommendations for actions, such as being simple and affordable, and calls for conservation scientists to recognise their value as a complementary tool alongside traditional market-based and coercive approaches, such as payment for ecosystem services and national parks.

Biodiversity scenarios should focus on land use as well as climate change

Biodiversity scenarios are a useful tool to help policymakers predict how flora and fauna will likely respond to future environmental conditions. Although changes to land use are a major driver of biodiversity loss, scenarios focus overwhelmingly on climate change, a new study shows. The researchers say this imbalance makes scenarios less credible, and make recommendations for developing more plausible projections.

Intensive grassland farming could have deep effects: sequestering significantly less soil carbon

Huge amounts of soil carbon have been discovered up to 1 metre below grassland in a recent UK study. Yet most carbon inventories do not assess soil deeper than 30cm. Furthermore, this research suggests that intensive management of grassland, involving high rates of fertiliser use and livestock grazing, may deplete carbon at these depths.

Ship recycling: reducing human and environmental impacts – June 2016

The ship-recycling industry — which dismantles old and decommissioned ships, enabling the re-use of valuable materials — is a major supplier of steel and an important part of the economy in many countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Turkey. However, mounting evidence of negative impacts undermines the industry’s contribution to sustainable development. This Thematic Issue presents a selection of recent research on the environmental and human impacts of shipbreaking.

Chittagong ship recycling industry linked to carcinogenic air pollution

Dangerously high air pollution in the vicinity of shipbreaking yards has been detected by a recent study, where the concentrations of toxic chemicals in the air were found to be above carcinogenic risk limits (as set by the World Health Organisation). The research, carried out in Chittagong, Bangladesh, noted that shipbreaking activities and the subsequent processing and treatment of materials – particularly the burning of waste — result in emissions of persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Asbestos exposure increases risk of cancer in ship recycling workers

Recycling ships for scrap is a known asbestos exposure hazard, yet this study is one of few to trace asbestos-related cancer rates in shipbreaking workers. The results, obtained from former shipbreakers in Taiwan, show higher rates of cancer overall, especially oesophageal and lung cancers.

Pollutants at India’s biggest ship recycling yard, including heavy metals and petroleum hydrocarbons, quantified

A study of the pollution caused by ship scrapping in Alang, India, shows significantly higher levels of heavy metal and petroleum hydrocarbons in sediment and seawater, compared to a control site. The researchers also found reduced populations of zooplankton — a critical food source for marine biota — and increased numbers of pathogenic bacteria.

Micro-organism communities disrupted near world's largest ship recycling yard

Pollutants have been shown to alter the structure of bacterial communities in the coastal waters around the Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard in north-west India. The research analysed seawater from two sites near Alang-Sosiya and from pristine sea water taken 10 km from the coast. The results provide a clearer idea of changes to the microbial ecology near a large ship recycling yard.

Small plastic fragments found in intertidal sediment from world’s largest shipbreaking zone: over 80 mg/kg of sediment

Plastic pollution is a threat to marine ecosystems, as plastics are persistent, toxic and can accumulate up the food chain. This study assessed the abundance of small pieces of plastic in Alang, India. The authors found, on average, 81 mg of small plastic fragments per kg of sediment, which they say is the direct result of shipbreaking.

Coast around Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard in India ‘strongly polluted’ with heavy metals

The Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard in India is highly polluted with heavy metals, a study concludes. The researchers studied heavy metal contamination in sediments taken from the intertidal zone of the shipbreaking yard and compared them to a control site. The area was found to be ‘strongly polluted’ with copper, cobalt, manganese, lead and zinc.

Marine biodiversity under threat from high levels of heavy metal pollution in Bay of Bengal

Bangladesh’s economy is heavily dependent on ship recycling. However, the shipbreaking industry is polluting the Bay of Bengal, an area of high biodiversity. This study measured trace metals in sediments around the area, concluding that heavy metal pollution is at an alarming stage and an urgent threat to marine life.

The future for Bangladeshi ship recycling: a critical scenario analysis

A large proportion of ships are recycled on the beaches of developing countries in Asia. This study considered shipbreaking in Bangladesh, using critical scenario analysis to explore different futures for the industry and its workers. The paper suggests that a radical shift in socioeconomic and political structures is needed to enable environmentally sound practices while retaining employment opportunities for local people.

The Turkish shipbreaking industry: review of environmental, health and safety issues

Turkey is a major ship recycling centre and is the largest OECD member country with a significant ship recycling industry. In this study, researchers reviewed the environmental, health and safety issues surrounding the Turkish shipbreaking industry, its compliance with environmental regulations and its ability to claim ‘green recycling’.

Costs estimated for upgrading ship recycling to environmentally friendly standards

A 2013 study has estimated the costs of upgrading existing ship recycling facilities to more environmentally friendly, and regulatory compliant, standards. The research focuses on alternatives to the ‘beaching’ method of shipbreaking, widely criticised for its environmental impact and safety record.

Constituent materials more important than weight or class for environmental impact of shipbreaking, but valuation methods differ greatly

When broken down, ships can release hazardous substances into the environment. This study investigated the environmental impact of shipbreaking in one of Europe’s few ship recycling yards, based in Portugal. The results reveal large differences between assessment methods and show that environmental impact depends on composition rather than size or class.

Design for recycling: a route to green ship recycling

Ship recycling at the end of a ship’s useful life aims to make the shipping industry more environmentally sustainable and is a major source of employment in developing countries. However, there are associated health, safety and environmental concerns. This study argues these concerns are due to inappropriate design and explains how ‘design for recycling’ can reduce the costs and risks of ship recycling.

Environmental impact of recycling metals from ships: a life cycle assessment

Life cycle assessment (LCA) can measure the environmental impact of the different stages of a ship’s life cycle, from design to dismantling. This assessment focused on the impact of recycling the metal parts of a ship and did not consider the crucial impact of the hazardous materials present on board. The results showed that re-use of metals had environmental benefits, but overall these were small compared to the environmental impact of other life cycle stages, such as operation.

Resource use and pollutant emissions due to ship recycling in India

The Alang shipbreaking yards in India recycle almost half of all end-of-life ships worldwide. The major activity at the yards is plate-cutting, used to recover steel from ships. This process consumes nearly 29 kg of oxygen and 7 kg of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and emits almost 22 kg of CO2 per 1 km-long cut with a 1 mm depth. This study reveals the carbon footprint and resources consumed in the cutting of steel plates. The method used to derive these findings could be adapted to ship dismantling yards worldwide.

Ship manufacturers encouraged to keep track of materials

An inventory of materials used in ship construction could minimise waste and increase ships’ recycling rates and resale value, according to the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI). Although extra data management would be required on the part of suppliers, manufacturers and owners, it would help make the industry more efficient and future-proof with regard to developments in international legislation on ship building.

Perspectives on shipbreaking: economic, social and environmental impacts at Alang-Sosiya

The Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yards in India highlight the inequalities and opportunities of global waste management. The yards, which recycle retired ships from more economically developed countries, have dramatically altered the ecosystems and social structures of the local area. A study looking at stakeholder perceptions analyses different positions on the social and environmental impacts of the yards.

Enhanced waste-management practices reduce carbon emissions and support lower landfill taxes

Landfill taxes and ‘enhanced waste management’ practices have been introduced to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill and to convert waste into useful products. This study investigated the interplay of these two policy options in Belgium, generating findings that could help Europe move towards a resource-efficient, circular economy.

The hidden biodiversity impacts of global crop production and trade

The rise in intensive agriculture, and associated land-use change, is a major driver of biodiversity loss. This study evaluated these effects via international food trade, calculating estimates of species loss for 170 crops and 184 countries. The results show that the majority of biodiversity loss is due to growing crops for domestic consumption but that industrialised countries can ‘import’ negative impacts from tropical regions.

Good water quality improvements in the River Seine – but more needs to be done to reduce nitrate pollution

Water policies at European and French national levels have led to a clear improvement in the water quality of the River Seine, a new study has found. A significant reduction in phosphate and ammonium pollution and increasing oxygen concentrations are evident. However, nitrate concentrations are still higher than the recommended level for good freshwater status, despite substantial reductions of surplus nitrogen in agricultural soils over the past few decades. The researchers recommend strengthening current agri-environmental management measures to help the river to return to a fully healthy status.

Pollination and pest controls can work together to intensify agriculture ecologically

Pollination and pest control are essential to global food production. This study shows that — as well as their individual benefits — they have synergistic effects on yield. Their joint effect increased the yield of oilseed rape by 23%, and the economic benefit from their combined effects was almost twice that of their individual contributions. These findings have implications for sustainable agricultural policy.

Urban design can promote walking: people physically active for up to 1.5 hours more per week in activity-friendly neighbourhoods

People who live in the most ‘activity-friendly’ neighbourhoods do up to 1.5 hours more physical activity a week than those in the least supportive neighbourhoods. This is according to a new international study which measured levels of exercise — mainly walking for recreation or transport — in relation to the urban environment across 14 diverse cities. The results show how urban design — such as parks and local amenities — can promote healthy lifestyles which also bring environmental benefits, such as better air quality, through reduced car use.

Rising sea levels will cause irreversible changes to plant communities in a Welsh wetland

As global temperatures continue to warm, sea-levels are expected to rise, increasing the risk of saltwater inundating wetlands in low-lying coastal areas. A study in Wales, UK, describes how rising sea levels will result in a shift from a wetland rich in plant diversity to one dominated by saltwater and mud in 200 years’ time.

How does living with aircraft noise affect wellbeing? A study of UK airports

Airports are associated with air and noise pollution and may, therefore, reduce the quality of life of local people. This study assessed the link between aircraft noise and subjective wellbeing, using data from 17 English airports. The authors conclude that living under flight paths has a negative effect on people’s overall wellbeing, equivalent to around half of the effect of being a smoker for some indicators.

Could freshwater crustaceans curb algal blooms?

Algal (cyanobacterial) blooms are a major threat to marine and freshwater ecosystems, as well as to human health. This study investigated a way to reduce numbers of harmful cyanobacteria using freshwater crustaceans. Data from a large Swedish lake show that this approach can be effective but is best used alongside other methods, such as nutrient reduction.

EU pesticide-poisoning data could be harmonised between Member States

Pesticide-related poisonings in EU Member States must be reported to the European Commission under current legislation, but there is no standard information collection and reporting system. A new system has been proposed, which harmonises data collection, categorisation and reporting, enabling exposure data to be compared among Member States. The new system would improve the monitoring of pesticides in Europe and aid the identification of emerging problems.

Noise pollution may make people less likely to exercise

Physical inactivity raises the risk of ill health, so environmental factors that reduce the level of physical activity in people should be of concern to policymakers as well as to individuals. A new study has associated long-term annoyance with transportation noise with reduced physical activity in Swiss residents, which may indirectly contribute to diseases including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Urban agriculture: why ‘one size fits all’ approaches don't work

Global interest in urban agriculture is growing. However, the importance of local context is not reflected in current governance approaches, argues a new study which evaluated urban agriculture in Belgium and Poland. The authors say that considering city-specific factors can help urban agriculture achieve its full potential, and recommend a broader policymaking strategy that considers the benefits beyond food production.

Fertiliser tax of €0.05–0.27 per kilogram calculated for France as incentive to limit its use

A tax of €0.05–0.27 per kilogram (kg) of fertiliser could help to limit French farmers’ use of fertiliser, which is driven by the high rapeseed prices resulting from biofuels policy, according to new economics research. This, in turn, may limit fertilisers’ environmental impacts, such as water pollution, the study’s authors suggest.

Nanoparticles’ ecological risks: effects on soil microorganisms

Nanotechnology is a key enabling technology predicted to have many societal benefits, but there are also concerns about its risks to the environment. This study reviewed the effects of nanoparticles on soil microorganisms, showing that toxicity depends on the type of particle. The researchers make recommendations for improving environmental risk assessment, including performing experiments in soil and over longer time periods.

Ignoring flood risks leads to increasing losses: assessment should include climate change, land use and economic development

Floods are devastating natural hazards, which can cause loss of life and substantial damage to buildings and other infrastructure. Assessing future flood risk is complicated by the influence of climate change, land-use change and economic development in an area. A study on an Alpine valley suggests that land- use change and urbanisation will affect future flood risk by 2030 more than climate change, but risks can be reduced by adopting low-cost adaptation strategies, such as building restrictions in flood-prone areas and residents taking their own precautions against flooding.

New trait-based method predicts whether mammals can keep up with climate change

A new approach to modelling the spread of mammal populations under climate change has been developed. The method overcomes the problem of missing ecological data for most species by using information on species characteristics, or ‘traits’, associated with population demographic rates and individual movements to deduce which species move too slowly to escape climate change’s effects on their habitat. The model’s results suggest that around 30% of mammal species may not be able to disperse quickly enough to survive.

Coordinated policies can benefit both air quality and climate change

Pollutants emitted by human activities have caused declines in air quality and drastic changes to climate. Despite being inextricably linked, these two major environmental issues tend to be viewed separately by policy. However, in certain instances, considering these issues together could lead to strategies that benefit both, according to a newly published review.

Aerosol pollutants can have long-range effects on ocean oxygen levels

Oxygen decline is occurring in many of the world’s oceans and has important consequences for marine ecosystems, but the causes are not fully understood. Aerosol pollutants may be partly responsible, according to a new study which modelled the effects of atmospheric pollution over the Pacific Ocean. The findings suggest that air pollution can exacerbate climate impacts on the ocean, even when the source is far away.

Phosphorus flow severely affected by human activity in three large river basins

Human activities have caused phosphorus to accumulate in soils and water bodies, creating a legacy that could last for decades, new research shows. A study of three major river basins highlights better sewage treatment facilities and reduced fertiliser use as key reasons for an overall decline in phosphorus levels in the Thames River basin, UK, since the late 1990s.

Crop wild relatives ‘critically under-represented’ in gene banks

Wild plants closely related to crops, or ‘crop wild relatives’, contain genes that could be useful for developing resilient crop varieties and are, therefore, important for food security. This global study quantified their conservation status and availability for breeding. The researchers found major gaps in gene-bank stocks, with over 70% of crop wild relative species identified as ‘high priority’ for conservation action. The researchers say systematic efforts are needed to protect crop wild relatives for future plant breeding, including both protection in gene banks and local conservation.

Water run-off is key to measuring the release of biocides from treated construction materials

Weathering of treated wood and other construction materials can lead to the release of chemicals into the environment. Researchers have investigated the release of biocides from wood and roof paints, demonstrating that the amount of water in contact with exposed surfaces is a key factor in determining the level of active chemicals released. The study provides guidance for testing biocidal products in line with the European Biocidal Products Regulation.

Drought management in Europe: researchers present new evaluation method

Droughts can have far-reaching environmental, social and economic impacts. A new study has assessed how drought is managed in six areas of Europe using a new evaluation framework. Their evaluation identified policy gaps and makes recommendations for risk management. A key recommendation is to evaluate responses and management after each drought to identify good practices and strengthen drought management in the future.

Environmental compliance assurance and combatting environmental crime July 2016

How does the law protect the environment? The responsibility for the legal protection of the environment rests largely with public authorities such as the police, local authorities or specialised regulatory agencies. However, more recently, attention has been focused on the enforcement of environmental law — how it should most effectively be implemented, how best to ensure compliance, and how best to deal with breaches of environmental law where they occur. This Thematic Issue presents recent research into the value of emerging networks of enforcement bodies, the need to exploit new technologies and strategies, the use of appropriate sanctions and the added value of a compliance assurance conceptual framework.

Environmental compliance assurance systems compared in OECD study

Systems for ensuring industry compliance with pollution regulations in eight countries have been assessed by an OECD study. OECD countries have been making good progress in designing and introducing new environmental policies. However, they are generally not on track to meet the policies’ goals. A major reason for this ‘implementation gap’ is low compliance with respective regulatory requirements, for instance, emission limit values.

Tailored enforcement strategies may improve environmental outcomes

Regardless of how well-designed environmental legislation is, for it to be effective it must be properly enforced. This study explored the enforcement practices of several environmental agencies, recommending that strategies are chosen based on regulatory context and environmental risk.

Communication and evaluation: key to effective Environment Enforcement Networks

Important factors in the creation and maintenance of effective Environmental Enforcement Networks (EENs) have been shared by the International Network on Environment Compliance and Enforcement (INECE), one of the first EENs to emerge. By disseminating these ‘lessons learned’ the INECE hopes to facilitate the creation of effective EENs in emerging networks, such as those in Eastern Africa, Western Africa and South America.

Getting the maximum benefit from Environmental Enforcement Networks

How environmental agencies can best engage with, and reap the benefits of, Environmental Enforcement Networks (EENs) has been identified in new research. The study used questionnaires and interviews with senior figures from eight environment agencies, spanning seven countries, to identify the key themes of, and ways of improving engagement with, EENs, to extract the maximum benefits. The input was then used to perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of engaging with EENs, from which options for improved engagement could be developed.

Network for Ireland’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (NIECE): a story of successful implementation

Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established the Network for Ireland’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement (NIECE) over 10 years ago to ensure an effective, integrated, national approach to the enforcement of environmental legislation, as presented in a recent conference paper and a report from the EPA.

Efforts to fight environmental crime in the EU evaluated

A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of efforts to combat environmental crime in the EU has been recently conducted. It highlights a number of opportunities for improvement, including better crime data gathering across the EU and enhanced cooperation between Member States.

Satellites could help prosecute environmental criminals

Satellite images can provide important evidence of environmental crime, according to a UK researcher. Satellites are now able to take near-photographic pictures of objects on Earth as small as 0.3 metres which means that individual trees, cars and industrial pipes, for example, can be monitored from space.

Satellite images as evidence in court: legal obstacles to their use in environmental investigations

Satellite images could be used as evidence in environmental crime cases in the future, a Belgian judge and researcher predicts. However, there are several obstacles to their use at present. Notably, they do not provide sufficiently detailed evidence for the courtroom.

Punishments for breaking environmental law: lawyer calls for integrated sanction system

Enforcement of environmental law needs an integrated administrative and criminal sanction system, according to a UK lawyer and researcher. Writing in a recent paper, he argues that an integrated system allows the most appropriate response to each individual case of the law being broken

Is prison a real threat for environmental offenders?

Alongside fines, prison sentences are important punishments for environmental crime, but there is uncertainty about how often they are used. This study summarises evidence from several countries, showing that prison is indeed a genuine threat for environmental criminals, but that more needs to be done to improve its credibility.

Environmental criminal enforcement: most effective when combined with administrative sanctions

Administrative sanctions against environmental crime, such as fines, are generally easier and cheaper to implement than criminal punishment methods, such as prison sentences. This study explored enforcement methods for environmental crime in four Western European areas: Flanders (Belgium), Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Based on their findings, the authors say it is most cost-effective — and may increase deterrence — to use both forms of enforcement.

Tackling environmental crime with intelligence-led policing: the case of e-waste

Transnational environmental crime is notoriously difficult to control. Intelligence-led policing (ILP) has been suggested as one way of tackling the complex issue. This study assessed the use of ILP to prevent the illegal export of e-waste in the UK. The authors found that ILP successfully generated intelligence to address the problem and recommend that cross-border ILP be established to tackle environmental crime in Europe.

Wildlife law enforcement: the vital role of NGOs

Wildlife laws are important to protect animals from harmful human activity, and are largely enforced by state authorities, but occasionally by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). By reviewing academic literature and government legislation, this study explored the different perspectives and ideologies of NGOs and how they enforce wildlife law in practice, focusing on the UK and the US. The study concludes that environmental NGOs are vital for the effective policing of wildlife legislation.

Clamping down on illegal poisoning: Spain’s VENENO project

Poisoned bait is a major threat to endangered bird species in Europe. The LIFE+ VENENO project was set up to tackle this problem in Spain, developing an action plan for eradication of the illegal use of poison and protocols for law enforcement. As well as improving the prosecution of illegal poisoning in Spain, LIFE+ VENENO provides a useful model for other European countries.

New environmental DNA method detects invasive fish species in river water

Scientists have developed a new way of monitoring Ponto-Caspian gobies, a group of widely invasive fish species, by detecting traces of the fishes’ DNA in river water. They say, in a recent research paper, that it offers a quicker, easier and cheaper way of monitoring the fish than conventional catching or sighting methods.

Does environmental noise lead to depression and anxiety?

People who are annoyed by environmental noise are also more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, a new, large-scale study from Germany suggests. The results do not prove that noise causes mental health issues but suggest a possible link, which the study’s authors are exploring further. Of all the types of noise considered in the study, aircraft noise was reported to be the most annoying.

Asbestos products and waste: new classification system developed

Researchers have presented a comprehensive new classification manual of asbestos-containing products (ACP), materials (ACM) and waste (ACW) in a recent study. They also mapped suitable landfill sites for the proper disposal of ACW in Italy and developed guidance on assigning ACW to correct European Waste Catalogue (EWC) codes. The research will help operators engaged in asbestos waste disposal across Europe and should contribute to aims for the total removal of asbestos from the EU.

Implementing the EU Water Framework Directive — lack of evidence for Eastern European countries

A recent study has analysed research on implementing the Water Framework Directive (WFD) in Europe and identified a number of research gaps that could be filled. For example, some countries, such as Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, have not been well studied and more research on the experiences of such countries would build up knowledge on the implementation of the WFD across Europe.

Economic downturn affects businesses’ renewal of environmental certification schemes in Spain

The uncertain economic climate has severely affected companies’ decisions on whether to renew Eco Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) certification in Spain, a recent survey indicates. The study suggests that a company is less likely to renew if initial certification was mainly motivated by government subsidies and grants than if certification is believed to improve business performance.

Using microwaves to clean polluted soil could lead to energy savings

Researchers have experimented with microwave heating as a way of cleaning soils polluted with fuels, such as diesel and petrol. Soil type and moisture levels, as well as the strength of microwaves used, had a strong bearing on the overall effectiveness of the cleaning. The research shows that, at certain depths and in certain types of soil, microwaves can be a cost-effective way of cleaning polluted soils.

How will climate change and other environmental changes affect vegetation?

Climate change and other environmental changes can have major impacts on plant communities. Researchers have assessed current methods of understanding the impact of these global changes on vegetation and outlined the implications for future research. Vegetation is highly dynamic and likely to respond in complex ways to environmental changes. Researchers should, therefore, use a variety of methods to predict vegetation change in order for findings to be useful for policymaking.

Waste management is prioritised by the public as an environmental behaviour

A US-based study has confirmed the prominent position that recycling and personal waste management take in the public consciousness. Crucially, the researchers suggest that understanding the popularity of such waste- management activities could help policymakers promote other forms of pro-environmental behaviour.

Understanding how fish move can improve management of fisheries

Understanding the way fish use their habitat is necessary for a science- based approach to fisheries management, according to a new scientific review. The paper summarises the current state of knowledge and tools available to assess fish movement patterns in relation to freshwater fisheries, and recommends more systematic use of these tools to inform the management of fish populations.

Natura 2000 conservation: how can social-science research enhance conservation outcomes?

Governance of biodiversity is closely linked to social and economic processes and human behaviour, appreciation of which can enhance conservation outcomes. This study reviewed findings on the social aspects of Natura 2000, identifying research gaps and recommendations for improving the network’s implementation across the EU. The researchers say limited stakeholder participation, negative perceptions of the network and a lack of consideration of the local context hinder the network’s effectiveness. They recommend increasing public awareness and compensating private landowners.

Urban gardens provide many ecosystem services to Barcelona residents

Urban gardeners in Barcelona, Spain, identified 20 ecosystem service benefits, from pollination to environmental learning, in a recent study. Cultural ecosystem services — mainly related to the opportunity for residents to interact with nature — were the most common and highly valued of the ecosystem services identified.

Bioremediation of antibiotic pollution by a salt-marsh plant

The effects of antibiotic contamination may be attenuated by the common reed, new research shows. The study found that the common reed (Phragmites australis), sourced from a temperate estuary with brackish water, had capacity for the bioremediation of the veterinary antibiotic enrofloxacin (ENR). The authors suggest that salt-marsh plants and their associated micro-organisms could be a valuable asset in the recovery of contaminated estuary environments.

Top predators maintain regulating role in human- dominated landscapes – but human activity is greatest limiting factor on other species

Large carnivores play important roles in ecosystems by regulating populations of herbivores and other species. Understanding how human activities affect the role of predators, particularly within human-modified systems such as agricultural landscapes, is therefore important. This study investigated how predator and prey populations were distributed in Transylvania, Romania, and assessed them in relation to human activities. The research highlights how relationships between large carnivores and people need to be considered as part of biodiversity conservation efforts, especially considering the successful recovery of several large carnivore populations within the EU.

One third of all reptile species in EU at high risk of pesticide exposure

Pesticide exposure can have negative impacts on many species and is a major threat to biodiversity. A new study is one of few to assess the risks specifically for European reptiles. The results suggest that at least one third of European reptile species are at high risk of exposure, with lizards showing the highest sensitivity to pesticides.

Community perceptions towards a wind farm improve after installation

A new study has assessed community perceptions towards a controversial wind-farm development in Cornwall, UK, following installation. The results indicate that a range of social, economic and environmental factors influence residents’ perceptions of wind farms. Although negative opinions of the wind farm were found both before and after construction, overall, community attitudes towards them became more favourable after construction, adding to evidence that fear of living near wind farms can reduce over time.

Flood risk management as a government–citizen partnership

Throughout Europe and beyond, the delivery of flood risk management (FRM) is increasingly being seen as the shared responsibility of governmental actors and citizens. However, a new study, which explored the viewpoints of stakeholders in a flood-prone part of Belgium, found that citizens see FRM mainly as the government’s responsibility.

Chemicals risk assessment: Baltic study recommends more monitoring of emerging pollutants

Chemicals are everywhere and new substances are regularly being introduced to the market. However, only some pose a risk to the environment. How do we decide which of them to monitor? A new study using a database of chemicals found in fish in the Baltic Sea has assessed which chemicals are commonly monitored. The researchers suggest that monitoring is biased towards known, already regulated hazardous chemicals, and recommend changes to address other chemicals.

Sustainable phosphorus use — evaluating past patterns to inform future management

Recycling waste from farming and mining could help improve the sustainable use of phosphorus, a recent study suggests. The study traced the stocks and flows of phosphorus over a 50 year period to reveal changing patterns of global phosphorus use. The results can be used to develop the sustainable management of phosphorus — a finite and critical resource — in the future.

A global map of drought risk aids future local assessments

A new methodology for mapping the global distribution of drought risk has been proposed, which should provide guidance on which locations should be further assessed to improve drought preparedness and management policies.

Synthetic biology and biodiversity

Synthetic biology is an emerging field and industry, with a growing number of applications in the pharmaceutical, chemical, agricultural and energy sectors. While it may propose solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the environment, such as climate change and scarcity of clean water, the introduction of novel, synthetic organisms may also pose a high risk for natural ecosystems. This future brief outlines the benefits, risks and techniques of these new technologies, and examines some of the ethical and safety issues.

Fuel produced from sunlight, CO2 and water: an alternative for jet fuel?

Water and carbon dioxide (CO2) can be converted into ‘solar thermochemical fuel’ using energy from the sun and very high temperatures. A new study has analysed the production of this fuel and found that, under favourable future conditions, costs could be as little as €1.28 per litre, with close to zero life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although suitable as a substitute for any hydrocarbon fuel, it could be particularly useful as a much-needed alternative for energy-dense jet fuel.

Flood risk management has improved in Germany

After the 2002 floods in Germany — the country’s most economically damaging natural hazard — efforts were made to develop a more integrated system of flood management. A recent study has reviewed how those measures helped Germany to cope with the more recent floods of 2013, highlighting developments in early-warning systems and consideration of hazards in urban planning. The researchers also discuss areas for improvement, including citizen engagement and cross-border collaboration.

Diverse fish communities have greater resistance to climate change

Marine fisheries play a key role in feeding human populations, but are faced with the twin threats of overexploitation and climate change. Using a comprehensive database of global reef-fish communities, a team of researchers has found that the greater the diversity of fish in an assemblage, the less vulnerable that assemblage is to climate change. The researchers suggest climate change mitigation efforts should include a focus on maintaining a wide range of species in at-risk communities.

Local pressure following Somerset flooding leads to policy change

Researchers have analysed the policy response to the 2013–2014 flooding of the Somerset Levels and Moors in the UK. Analysis of media coverage and interviews with stakeholders revealed how local pressure promoted dredging — a policy that had fallen out of favour with the national Environment Agency (EA). Although dredging was eventually readopted by the EA, there remain uncertainties over its long-term viability due to funding constraints and debates over its effectiveness.

Socioeconomic status and noise and air pollution - September 2016

Lower socioeconomic status is generally associated with poorer health, and both air and noise pollution contribute to a wide range of other factors influencing human health. But do these health inequalities arise because of increased exposure to pollution, increased sensitivity to exposure, increased vulnerabilities, or some combination? This In-depth Report presents evidence on whether people in deprived areas are more affected by air and noise pollution — and suffer greater consequences — than wealthier populations.

Demand for copper could increase by 213–341% by 2050, and account for up to 2.4% of global energy demand

Global demand for copper could increase by up to 341% by 2050, and energy use is likely to increase with it — rising to a possible 2.4% of global energy demand in 2050, according to new research. Policy actions to avoid such drastic changes could include improving copper recycling and using renewable technologies.

A circular economy for mobile phones: study recommends improved waste collection and longer lifespans for handsets

Around 50% of gold in used mobile phones is not recovered for future use, a new study finds. The researchers suggest that a global circular economy in mobile phones could be created by improving recycling of precious metals in phones in developing countries, as well as increasing the lifespan of phones and improving collection after use. These changes will reduce pressures on non-renewable resources and close ‘metal flow loops’.

Multiple fish-based indicators successfully evaluate water quality in 8-year study

Worldwide, programmes have been implemented to protect water quality from human pressures, often using ecological indicators as a method of evaluation. An eight-year study of a Portuguese estuary has found that indicators based on multiple measures of fish communities, such as the number and relative abundance of resident and migrant species, reflect human pressures on these transitional waters and could improve the implementation of water protection programmes.

Seals avoid wind farms during the noisiest phase of construction

Wind farms are an important component of Europe’s shift towards a greener energy supply, but they could potentially have an impact on marine ecosystems. This study provides the first measurements of the distribution of harbour seals in relation to the construction and operation of wind farms, and makes recommendations to minimise any potential harm, including breaks in the pile-driving phase of construction.

Aquatic life needs further protection from effects of personal care products

Personal care products (PCPs) are a diverse group of products, including toothpaste, shampoo, make-up and soaps. The number and use of these products has increased over recent decades, generating concern about their impact on the environment. This literature review analysed over 5 000 reports of environmental detection of 95 different chemicals from PCPs. The analysis reveals toxic levels of PCP chemicals in raw and treated wastewater, and in surface water. The researchers recommend treatment methods focusing on antimicrobials, UV filters and fragrance molecules.

New computer modelling tool to identify persistent chemicals

Chemicals that persist in the environment can harm humans and wildlife. This study describes a computer modelling-based approach to predict which chemical compounds are likely to be persistent. The models were correctly able to predict persistence for 11 of 12 chemicals tested and could provide a cost-effective alternative to laboratory testing.

Anti-fungal compounds: emerging environmental contaminants

Azole fungicides are active ingredients in a range of pharmaceutical and personal care products, and are also used in agriculture. This study reviewed the sources, presence and risks of these compounds in the environment, finding evidence of toxic effects on aquatic organisms. The researchers provide directions for future research and warn caution should be exercised until more toxicity data becomes available.

Environmental impacts of ocean-energy systems: a life-cycle assessment

Ocean-energy technologies — which harvest renewable energy from the sea — will have a significant role to play in a future low-carbon society. A recent life-cycle analysis of different ocean-energy devices has found that life-cycle environmental impacts are caused mainly by the materials used in the mooring, foundations and structures. Improving the efficiency and lifespan of the devices, as well as improving mooring and foundations and deploying devices further out at sea, will help to further reduce the life-cycle environmental impact of ocean-energy systems, according to the study.

Moth behaviour disrupted by street lighting, may affect pollination

Street lighting reduces the number of moths at ground level and increases flight activity at the level of the lights, shows new research. Less pollen was transported by moths at lit sites in the UK study as a result of the disruptive effects on moth behaviour. The study highlights the need to consider both the direct and indirect ecological impacts of artificial light.

Flooding had major impacts on business and mental health in Germany 2013

Mental health and supply problems, such as loss of electricity, were perceived by residents as the most serious impacts of 2013 flooding in Germany, according to new research. The most frequent effect of the flooding on companies was interruption to their business. The researchers say that focusing on impacts that can be measured in financial terms does not fully describe the effects of flooding, and make recommendations for improving flood data collection.

Mussel biomarkers gauge pollution in European estuaries

Coastal areas are under threat of pollution from a variety of marine activities. This study focused on pollution caused by a range of activities with no specific discharge point (diffuse pollution) in three areas — a European harbour, marina and industrial area — by measuring biological responses in mussels. The researchers say biomarkers are useful for assessing diffuse contamination and comparing pollution between sites.

New method to prioritise pesticides based on their environmental and human health risks and on monitoring results at river-basin level

Researchers have developed a new approach to hierarchise pesticides based on their risk to or via the aquatic environment, which has been implemented in the Pinios River Basin of Central Greece. The analysis indicated that a number of pesticides were found in concentrations that could cause negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems. The results provide detailed information to inform decisions regarding the monitoring of pesticides in the Pinios River Basin and outline an approach that could be used in other watersheds.

Applying sewage sludge to soil may spread antibiotic resistance

Sewage sludge and manure are sometimes added to soil to improve crop production. However, these ‘natural fertilisers’ may contain not only nutrients and organic matter but also antibacterial agents. This study investigated their impact on the microbes in soil, revealing an increase in antibiotic resistance genes. The researchers recommend greater efforts to remove antibiotic residues from wastewater and manure.

Fungi may provide greener way of controlling oilseed rape diseases

A new study from Poland has confirmed the potential of fungal Trichoderma species to control diseases of oilseed rape crops. The use of Trichoderma can reduce the growth of disease-causing oilseed rape pathogens, which may allow a decrease in the use of harmful pesticides.

Energy-consumption feedback cut electricity use by up to 27% in low-income Mediterranean households

Electricity consumption fell by 22–27% in low-income households participating in an energy-efficiency programme in Cyprus, France, Malta and Spain, reports a new study. Participants were provided with a range of tools and information to help them curb their energy use, including smart meters and customised reports. The results confirm the value of tailoring information to specific demographic groups.

How does climate change affect birds? New tool provides accurate measurements to support biodiversity targets

A new long-term monitoring study is the first to demonstrate that climate changes are having divergent effects on populations of bird species across Europe and the United States. The study identifies broad-scale impacts on the abundance of common bird species over a 30-year period, to show that, overall, populations of bird species across both continents are being affected by changes in climate. The research adds to a growing body of evidence that climate change is affecting biodiversity either positively or adversely, depending on species’ climate preferences.

Invasive-species import risk is higher from countries with poor regulation and political instability

The risk of alien species introduction via trade in plants is higher if the plants are from poorly regulated countries with high forest cover, calculates a recent study. For introductions via the vehicle and timber trades, the risk is higher if the exporting country is politically unstable. These findings could help border controls focus their surveillance efforts on imports from countries with risky socioeconomic profiles.

Citizens recycle even in the absence of economic incentives, shows study from Malta

Recycling has significant environmental benefits and is key to a circular economy. The EU has set a goal for Member States to recycle 50% of their municipal waste by 2020 and plans to set a 65% target for 2030, although progress towards this goal is variable. This study assessed a waste separation scheme in Malta, a Member State with traditionally low levels of recycling. Even though mixed waste was collected more frequently and for free, residents contributed to the voluntary recycling scheme, with participation increasing over time. This study provides useful insights for developing voluntary policy approaches.

Wave and tidal energy plants are ‘green’ technologies

Environmental impacts for a wave energy device, tidal stream and tidal range plants are potentially eight, 20 and 115 times lower respectively than for coal-generated power, averaged over five impact categories. An assessment of the amount of metal used by these technologies, however, shows an impact respectively 11 and 17 times higher than for coal- and gas-based power generators. These are the findings of a recent study, which compared the life-cycle environmental impacts of various wave and tidal energy devices with other forms of energy generation. The researchers conclude that wave and tidal energy plants qualify as ‘green’ technologies according to their definition, but that their impacts on marine ecosystems need further research.

Fisheries need better enforcement of rubbish disposal to reduce plastic waste around UK coasts

A new study has analysed marine litter on beaches across the UK, indicating that the fishing industry is responsible for large quantities of marine rubbish. The researchers recommend a combination of better enforcement of regulations covering waste disposal, and incentives for fishing vessels to reduce marine litter.

Pollutants from the EU Watch List: a review of their occurrence and water-treatment options

Micropollutants — small, persistent and biologically active substances — are found in aquatic environments all over the world and can have negative effects on plants, animals and humans. The EU recently adopted a ‘watch list’ of potential priority substances, including pesticides, pharmaceuticals and personal care products that need to be monitored to determine their environmental risk. A new study reviews data on their worldwide occurrence and options for their removal from wastewater, and from surface and groundwater used to produce drinking water.

Local participation in marine planning can help achieve conservation outcomes without compromising fisheries

The importance of seagrass meadows in supporting fisheries has been highlighted by a new study in San Simón Bay, a Natura 2000 site in Spain. The research also demonstrates the benefits of stakeholder involvement in developing management plans to balance conservation with the use of natural resources.

Carbon dioxide successfully stored in volcanic rock — could help mitigate climate change

Storing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has the potential to mitigate the impacts of changes in climate. Researchers have now developed a way to inject CO2 into volcanic rock, and tested it in Iceland. Over 95% of the injected CO2 was mineralised (converted into a solid) within two years, instead of taking centuries or millennia as previously anticipated. The technique demonstrates potential for the permanent and safe storage of CO2 within basaltic rocks.

New tool could help optimise governance of flood risk

As the climate becomes more volatile, managing the risk of flooding has never been more important. This study proposes a new framework for evaluating how flood risk is managed by governments, which is applied to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of the system in England. The researchers say their approach can help to improve flood-risk governance and could be applied to other countries as well as other types of hazard.

Fish communities respond to environmental changes at a local scale in the Baltic Sea

Researchers have shown that in the Baltic Sea the abundance of common fish species, used as an indicator of ecosystem health, is influenced by climate-related oceanic conditions at a local scale, such as sea temperature. The researchers suggest, therefore, that the environmental status of coastal fish communities in the region should be assessed and managed at a local scale.

Agroforestry delivers more ecosystem services than conventional land use

Agroforestry — managing trees alongside crop or animal-production systems — has been proposed as a means of protecting biodiversity and enhancing ecosystem service supply. A study bringing together evidence has confirmed that agroforestry does have an overall positive effect over conventional (separate) agriculture and forestry. Its environmental benefits, which should be considered in rural planning policy, include reduced nutrient run-off and soil erosion, and biodiversity protection.

Greener cities and more exercise could dramatically reduce urban mortality rates

Researchers have estimated that, annually, almost 3 000 deaths (i.e. 20% of mortality) in Barcelona, Spain, are premature, and would be preventable if residents lived in urban environments that met international exposure recommendations for physical activity, air pollution, noise, heat and access to green spaces. The results emphasise the need to reduce motorised traffic, promote active and public transport, and provide adequate green space to encourage exercise and mitigate the impacts of environmental hazards in cities.

Mussels used to map habitat connectivity of Natura 2000 marine sites in Portugal

A species of mussel has been used to investigate the connectivity of two marine protected areas (MPAs) along the central Portuguese west coast in a new study. The chemistry of mussel shells was used to trace the dispersal routes for larval mussels, demonstrating that the Arrábida MPA is an important source population in the area.

Pesticide risk assessments could be made more realistic with ecological scenarios

A method for developing ecological scenarios for assessing pesticides’ risks to aquatic wildlife has been developed. It is based on the selection of vulnerable taxa according to biological trait information, exposure conditions and environmental properties. The method should help decision makers define what to include in ecological models used for future pesticide risk assessments and is proposed as a way to increase the ecological realism of pesticide risk assessment.

Car-free cities: healthier citizens

No cities are yet fully car-free, but many have managed or plan to restrict access to city centres for privately owned combustion-engine passenger cars. Health benefits will come from reduced traffic-related air pollution, less noise and lower levels of heat emitted from vehicles. The greatest health benefit, however, is likely to come from increased physical activity as people walk, cycle and move to catch public transport, according to a review of the potential health benefits of car-free cities.

New method of developing agri-environment schemes proposes €3 million saving in Germany

A method for developing more cost-effective agri-environment schemes is outlined in a recent study. The procedure can be used over large areas, accounts for hundreds of management regimes and several different endangered species. The model is one of the first to account for the timing of measures and, when applied to Saxony in Germany, proposed savings of over €3 million, while also improving some conservation outcomes.

Nitrous oxide could be removed from the atmosphere with simultaneous generation of renewable energy

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas and atmospheric pollutant. A new study proposes tackling both problems by removing N2O from the atmosphere using a combination of two innovative technologies — photocatalytic breakdown of the N2O to nitrogen and oxygen, and this within a solar chimney power plant that generates renewable electricity. Although some way off from commercial development, the researchers say this approach is feasible, and they outline how these two technologies can be integrated to reduce the climate impact and polluting effects of N2O emissions.

Estimated 1455 tonnes of plastic floating in the Mediterranean

A rough total of 1455 tonnes of floating plastic is present across the Mediterranean, estimates a new study. Researchers gathered floating plastics using trawl nets and found that microplastics with a surface area of around 1 square milimetre (mm2) were the most abundant size of plastic particles found.

Analysis of farmers’ social networks identifies important stakeholders for biodiversity conservation

Stakeholder support is essential to the success of environmental policies. A recent study has identified stakeholders that can promote biodiversity in European agricultural landscapes. The researchers found farmers were the most influential group of stakeholders, as they make the final decisions on land use. In turn, farmers are influenced in their decisions by a number of actors whose influence is perceived differently on a local and regional level.

Bumblebees pollinate urban gardens better than agricultural land

A recent study has found that bumblebees in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany are more successful at pollinating urban areas than agricultural land. Urban areas also had higher flower diversity and more potential nesting areas for bees compared to agricultural areas. However, the abundance of bee parasites was also higher in urban areas, although this was not found to negatively impact on pollination. This demonstrates the value of urban green spaces as habitat for pollinators.

Herbicide run-off reduced by grassy ditches in Italy — recommended for agri-environment schemes

Pesticides used on agricultural land can leach into nearby surface water; this is called run-off and can harm aquatic ecosystems. This study evaluated the potential of ditches to reduce run-off, using Italy’s Po Valley as a case study. Grassy ditches were able to significantly reduce the concentration of herbicides, even during extreme flooding. The researchers therefore suggest that the promotion of vegetated ditches via agri-environment schemes would be beneficial for pesticide mitigation.

What makes an urban neighbourhood more resilient to flood? New assessment tool trialled in Hamburg

A method for assessing urban neighbourhoods’ resilience to flooding has been presented in a recent study. The method identifies features of urban landscapes that contribute to three elements of flood resilience: resistance, absorption and recovery. In a German case study, the tool shows that the features which make a waterfront neighbourhood of Hamburg more flood resilient include high bridges, open public spaces and flood-protected basements.

How to increase the uptake of environmentally friendly fertilisers in Germany

Fertilisers have boosted crop yields but at the same time can have negative effects on the environment. This study investigates fertiliser ‘ecoinnovations’, with reduced environmental impact, in Germany. By gathering the views of experts, producers, traders and farmers, the researchers make recommendations for increasing uptake of environmentally friendly fertilisers, including increasing knowledge and awareness among traders and farmers.

Nitrification inhibitors — climate change mitigation tool recommended by the IPCC – may be less effective than previously thought

Nitrification inhibitors are thought to mitigate climate change by reducing emissions of nitrous oxide — a potent greenhouse gas — from land. However, they may not be as effective as once thought, a new study suggests. The researchers found that, while inhibitors decrease emissions of nitrous oxide, they can increase emissions of ammonia — which is later converted to nitrous oxide. They recommend these effects are considered when evaluating inhibitors as a mitigation technology.

Household sources of biocidal active substances assessed

Sources of biocidal active substances (BAS) in common household products have been assessed in a new study from Germany. These could potentially be released into wastewater and may be toxic to wildlife and humans. The main household sources of BAS were found to be washing, cleaning and personal-care products, which together accounted for over 90% of the observations of BAS in the products found in homes surveyed by the researchers.

Sustainable drainage systems: new ecosystem services-based evaluation methods

Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) could be made better for biodiversity and local people with the help of two new evaluation methods presented by a recent study. The methods, which assess the value of SuDS sites for wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, recreation and education, are described by the study’s authors as cost-effective, quick and reliable, and could help designers plan and retrofit SuDS that are wildlife-friendly and socially inclusive.

Dietary changes will help more sustainable agriculture meet increased global food demand

Researchers have assessed how changes in production efficiency and dietary patterns can combine to ensure food supply whilst minimising the global environmental impact of food production. The gain in the production efficiency of agriculture was found to be insufficient to meet future food demand whilst preventing additional environmental burdens, if dietary trends continue to grow based on GDP. Changing consumption patterns, including switching to less resource-demanding diets, would contribute towards ensuring future food security whilst preventing further increases in agriculture’s environmental burden. Reducing terrestrial animal production offers significant advantages, but alternative diets can also present environmental and production trade-offs.

Herbicide found in German estuaries, transported to the Baltic Sea

Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide, able to kill a broad range of plants ('weeds') that compete with crops. This study used a validated method to assess its presence in 10 German estuaries that lead to the Baltic Sea. All but one was contaminated with glyphosate, and all were contaminated with its metabolite AMPA. The researchers recommend risk assessments for these chemicals in the Baltic Sea and other marine environments.

Better predictions of climate change impact on wildlife thanks to genetically informed modelling

The effects of climate change on the distribution of species can be predicted more accurately by considering the genetic differences between different groups of the same species, a new study suggests. The researchers found that a computer model which incorporated genetic information on different groups of a US tree species was up to 12 times more accurate in predicting tree locations than a non-genetically informed model.

Legal analysis finds REACH authorisation rules on imported substances of ‘very high concern’ would not violate WTO law

The EU would not be breaking World Trade Organization (WTO) rules if it chose to extend REACH’s authorisation scheme on substances of very high concern (SVHC) to products imported to Europe, a recent legal analysis concludes. At present, the scheme — which is effectively a ban on SVHC, with some exceptions — applies only to products made within the European Economic Area (EEA).

Switching to LED street lighting could alter urban bat behaviour

The effect on bats of the replacement of mercury lamps with light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in street lighting has been investigated in a recent study. Artificial light affects bat species differently and the activity of species normally more sensitive to light were affected less by the new LED street lamps than by traditional mercury lamps. Use of LEDs may, therefore, help to reduce the impacts of outdoor lighting on light-sensitive bats, if used at an appropriate level.

High lead exposure for griffon vultures in Spain correlates with soil lead and ammunition from game hunting

Maps of the risk of griffon vultures’ exposure to lead in north-eastern Spain have been produced in a new study. High-risk places are mountainous areas where there are high levels of bioavailable sources of lead in the soil, but also where game hunting is prevalent, and carcasses scavenged by the birds may contain lead ammunition.

New system to convert food waste into fertiliser for greenhouse use gives potential 95% reduction in CO2 emissions

A new method of processing food waste into fertiliser has been outlined in a recent study. The process uses a digester system with microorganisms to break down organic waste into fertiliser. The resultant fertiliser was used in a low-energy greenhouse to produce a range of food crops. The method is a potential way to utilise food waste and reduce the energy consumption of food production as part of a circular economy.

Ocean acidification — caused by climate change — likely to reduce the survival rate of Atlantic cod larvae

The impact of ocean acidification — caused by increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dissolving in sea water — on Atlantic cod larvae has been assessed in a new study. The researchers estimate that, under scenarios which might be reached at the end of the century, ocean acidification could double the mortality rate of cod larvae, reducing replenishment of juvenile fish into cod fisheries to 24% of previous recruitment.

Green buildings: researchers call for fuller environmental assessment

Over half of a low-energy building’s environmental impact occurred before it was even occupied, a new case study from Italy calculates. The researchers recommend expanding the environmental assessment of buildings from just the operational stage of a building’s life, when it is in use, to include production and transport of materials, construction activities and building maintenance. A wide range of environmental impacts should also be considered, they argue, and not just energy use.

Solar park impacts on microclimate, plants and greenhouse gas emissions

A UK solar park has been found to change the local microclimate, reports recently published research. Moreover, the microclimate coupled with management activities had an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and plant-community diversity and productivity under the solar panels. The study’s authors say their research provides a starting point for considering how to improve solar-park design in order to deliver co-benefits for biodiversity and farming, and minimise any negative environmental effects.