Video: Great Crested Newt Survey

July 21st, 2014

Quick video of Phlorum staff undertaking a great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) survey earlier this year.

Failed air pollution solutions – UK set to miss EU standards by 20 years

July 18th, 2014

London air pollution smogIt’s official. Despite the government recently claiming that the entire UK would comply with the EU Air Quality Directive by 2025, EU air quality targets in some of Britain’s biggest cities are now highly unlikely to be met, even by 2030.

All the EU’s member states were supposed to comply with stiff targets on air pollutants by 2010, a deadline long past. This has been due, in part, to emissions from the increasing number of diesel vehicles on our nation’s roads.

In addition to emitting more particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) than petrol vehicles, diesel engines also directly emit a surprising amount of nitrogen dioxide (petrol engines tend to emit much more nitric oxide, which is less harmful). Particulate pollution and nitrogen dioxide are linked to a host of nasty respiratory illnesses and increased mortality rates in areas of poor air quality and during high pollution episodes.

3 UK cities hotbeds of traffic-generated air pollution

The EU Court of Justice recently heard that three UK cities, London, Leeds and Birmingham, will probably not meet the goals by the prescribed date, during a civil case brought by the air quality activists Client Earth. Their case, that the British government has reneged on its legal duties on nitrogen dioxide, has already succeeded in Britain’s Supreme Court. The EU case follows on from the winning judgement, brought about by UK judges who asked their European counterparts to decide on the precise legal meaning behind specified areas of the EU Air Quality Directive.

The case is being tried in Luxembourg, with Client Earth insisting that fresh scientific evidence reveals nitrogen dioxide as having very similar devastating health effects as the notorious fine-particulate pollutant PM2.5, which those in power already acknowledge causes a tragic 29,000 premature deaths in this country alone every year. And Britain’s tax policies haven’t helped by actively encouraging more and more of us to buy diesel vehicles.

In its own defence the government is keen to highlight the EU’s failure to improve diesel engine performance, a fact the campaigners are happy to acknowledge. And officials also insist they’re:

“spending significant amounts”

to clean the air. The sum being invested actually runs to £billions, set aside to increase interest in ultra-low emission vehicles, sustainable travel and green transport, including a whopping £400m to support the fledgling ultra-low emission vehicle market next year and £500m more to extend support until 2020.

The case should be decided by the end of 2014, and will then return to the British Supreme Court in 2015 for the final judgement. If they lose, the government will be forced to look again at the tax policies that drive more take-up of diesel vehicles.

One key suggestion for bringing deadlines back in line is the total pedestrianisation of cities. With traffic in places like London’s Oxford Street emitting in excess of 3.5 times the legal nitrogen dioxide limit, increasing by as much as 10 times the limit when it’s busy, there’s a very long way to go.

The story also serves to illustrate how very slowly the wheels of justice turn. With 29,000 directly-attributable deaths a year pinned on fine particulate pollution and with nitrogen dioxide responsible for similarly gruesome statistics, let’s hope the matter is resolved as quickly as possible so that lives can be saved.

Is the air you breathe as clean and fresh as it can be, or are there hidden dangers? Do you need an air quality survey, carried out by professionals, inside or outdoors? If so we’ll be delighted to help.

RICS Article on Japanese Knotweed: Countering Invasion

July 17th, 2014

RICS Japanese knotweed articleThe latest issue of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Property Journal includes an article by Phlorum’s Dr Paul Beckett on Invasive Non Native Species (INNS).

The article singles out Japanese knotweed as a special case, which, due to some peculiarities of its biology and ecology, has rampantly spread across the UK, Europe and the USA, causing damage to built structures and underground services.

Some ‘horizon-scanning’ of future innovations in the battle against INNS and knotweed are also discussed in the article, including the following:

  • Remote sensing tools to determine areas of knotweed from your desktop;
  • Novel herbicides engineered to affect only target species;
  • Biological control using insects or disease-causing organisms to knock back INNS; and
  • Fragmenting knotweed’s extensive root system and ‘cooking’ the remains with high pressure steam.

You can download a copy of the article here.


Biological control – The latest news about Japanese knotweed treatment

July 11th, 2014

Japanese knotweed leafJapanese knotweed is the UK’s most hated and feared plant. It’s also derided much further afield, affecting large parts of the USA and Europe. As well as wrecking buildings and infrastructure, with often horrendous financial results, it’s choking waterways, damaging flood defences and ruining beautiful, unique and precious natural habitats. It has found its way to remote New Zealand and Australia and it is even volcano-resistant, growing happily in still-smoking volcanic ash.

Philipp von Siebold, the nineteenth century botanist who originally acquired a specimen of Japanese knotweed in the 1840s and whose horticultural firm decided it was a good idea to sell cuttings, would probably be horrified by the havoc his find has caused. At the time it was an instant hit with keen gardeners, loved for its majestic size, beautiful leaves and delicate flowers as well as its extraordinary vigour. By 1898 it was being recognised as a problem and by the 1930s it had acquired a sinister nickname: Hancock’s Curse.

Fighting a formidable foe

In the words of one entomologist in this week’s New Scientist magazine:

“outside its native range, knotweed has the biodiversity value of concrete. Nothing lives on it, nothing eats it”.

It’s clear the issue is getting worse, well on its way to becoming one of the globe’s knottiest invasive species problems. So what are the latest developments in the battle against this ferociously successful weed?

Will psyllids deliver a solution?

The answer could come from a tiny sap-sucking insect called a psyllid. They’re only 2mm long but the newly-hatched creatures drain the life out of the weed, depleting it to such an extent that it never reaches its usual mighty 4 metre height.

Hundreds of thousands of psyllids have been released into the wild at eight secret sites across England and Wales over the past four years, as part of Europe’s first ever biological control trial to combat the plant. If the results bear out the early signs, the insects could represent a critical weapon in the ongoing global war against the dreaded weed. And it could open the door to more biological controls against other invasive weeds that are rampaging their way across Europe and beyond.

The psyllid is called Aphalara itadori, which lays its eggs on knotweed. The nymphs eat the plants, preventing them getting any taller, and the rhizomes begin shrinking within a year. With just a year left to go in the five year trial, the signs looking very good indeed. And because most of Britain’s knotweed is genetically identical, cloned from the 1840s original, it’s highly unlikely the plants will develop immunity to the psyllid’s ravages.

The scientists involved hope that the insects will eventually establish themselves across the nation and while they probably won’t eradicate the invader completely, it might slow the spread. Better still, the damage they cause might enable native plants to start fighting back. If the day comes, it’ll mean Japanese knotweed treatment is no longer such a big issue, and finding a patch of it on your land won’t be such a nightmare.

In the meantime if you need help getting rid of it we’re your local Japanese knotweed specialists.

Energy YES! 2014

July 10th, 2014

Energy YES 2014Phlorum was proud to have been asked back to help with the Energy Young Entrepreneurs Scheem (YES) 2014 event, as one of the business mentors.

Energy YES is developed for postgraduate energy researchers by the Network of Energy Centres for Doctoral Training and the Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Energy YES is the first event of its kind specifically for the energy community. It offers participants a great opportunity to hone their business skills and the chance to compete for a cash prize of £1,000.

This year the event was held at Alstom Power in Rugby. The competition spans three busy days, packed with presentations and activities to help the teams get to grips with commercialisation and entrepreneurship. The teams have to prepare a business plan, which they present on the last day to a panel of investors who  judge the best bid.

Energy YES gives participants the chance to:

  • gain invaluable knowledge of the business world whether they plan to work in industry or remain in academia;
  • develop key skills in team work, succeeding under pressure and innovative problem solving;
  • talk to the speakers and mentors about the opportunities available to them, as they could become potential employees;
  • meet fellow energy postgraduate researchers from across the country.

The winning team this year was Absol Composites from the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies at University of Bath. Their idea was for a new light-weight composite material for use in shipping containers. The runners-up were Catovation Ltd from Imperial College and University of Leeds with their catalyst formulation for fuel cell applications.

Ecology consultancy news – Developers going batty all over Britain

July 7th, 2014
Pipistrelle bat

Pipistrelle bat

We carry out regular ecology surveys and habitat surveys right across Sussex and the South East. So we’re very aware of the delays a bat-focused environmental audit can cause to building, repair and development projects. But as expert ecological consultants we’re also aware of how important it is to protect threatened species. Here are a few recent bat-related stories which illustrate the issues behind bat-focused ecology consultancy and the solutions to them.

Pipistrelle bats put swimming pool repairs on hold

Things weren’t going swimmingly in Aberaeron, Wales, when a project to repair a leaking swimming pool roof was halted because a colony of around forty five pipistrelle bats was living there. Changes to the plans meant Natural Resources Wales had to revoke the original licence until they were certain the altered plans were still legally sound. Thankfully the licence was quickly reissued, which means the work can go ahead.

It’s a salutary tale, highlighting the importance of notifying the correct authority if approved plans have to be changed in any way. If your repair or renovation plans have to be amended before or part-way through a project, it’s best to get the changes approved as early as you can.

Bat re-homing project in Oxfordshire

Bats living on a proposed industrial development site in Oxfordshire could be re-homed; another common solution to the issue of balancing conservation with commercial concerns.

A colony of common pipistrelles has made its home in the roof of an old farm building and before the animals can be moved to a new specially-built home, a European Protected Species Mitigation licence is needed from Natural England. The cost of moving the bats in addition to mitigating for a nearby badger sett is estimated at £18,000, which illustrates the financial lengths to which Britain is willing to go to protect the threatened species living cheek-by-jowl with humans.

Appeal against a conviction for destroying a crucial bat resting place

In Matlock, Derbyshire, a developer has been found guilty of destroying a bat roost, after going ahead with redevelopment plans without taking the creatures into account. A survey was carried out, identifying the site as supporting long-eared bats, but the man in question ignored its findings and recommendations and destroyed the resting place.

The Bat Conservation Trust said complying with the regulation would have cost the developer an extra £5,737, which highlights the fact that the cost of protecting species isn’t always too high for comfort as well as the risks of non-compliance. The man has appealed and the case will be reconsidered in September.

How are British bats protected?

All British bats, together with the places they roost, are protected by law. Bats are faitful to their roost sites and so the roosts are protected even if the bats don’t use them all of the time. There’s an excellent summary of all the relevant legislation and conventions in .pdf table form, available from the Bat Conservation Trust. You can download it from this page, by scrolling down to the Legal and Conservation Status section – there’s a link just below it. If you’re in or around Sussex and would like to talk about bat surveys, feel free to contact us.

BREEAM code for sustainable homes proposes voluntary sustainability system

July 2nd, 2014

Sustainable houseBREEAM is the world’s best known environmental assessment method and rating system. So far, since its launch in 1990, a quarter of a million buildings have been certified and more than a million property owners, developers and builders have registered for assessment. But now there’s more, as the organisation launches plans to develop a revolutionary voluntary sustainability standard for new homes, which have more usually been assessed under the Code for Sustainable Homes scheme.

The news comes after a Department for Communities and Local Government Housing Standards Review recommended changes to the regulatory landscape, including formally ending the Code for Sustainable Homes scheme and incorporating much of it into the UK’s building regulations.

New voluntary sustainability standards on the cards for homes

The initiative means developers who take the standard on board will be able to differentiate their product in a crowded and highly competitive marketplace. Compliance will mean any actions taken over and above the minimum will be recognised, and the move will ultimately improve things for the consumer, with a better choice of sustainable options. More interesting still, it’s expected consumers will also have a say in what should be included in the standard.

Essential new areas to cover

BREEAM’s Director Gavin Dunn confirmed the organisation has their own ideas about how to improve the sustainability of future housing, including looking at buildings’ resilience to extreme weather events, such as increasingly frequent floods and higher than average winds. Overheating, in a steadily warming climate, is also an issue tipped to become more important as time passes. And issues like the physical and mental health of the occupants, using resources to their best advantage, better biodiversity, lower energy usage, reduced water use, better overall connectivity to the web and other contemporary communications and, last but not least, reductions in home maintenance costs will also play a vital part.

Improving consumer choice and quality, providing better solutions

For the proposed tools and systems to work as expected, they must provide increased quality and choice as well as driving future innovation right across the housing supply chain. It must also be easy to understand, be consumer-focused and of course deal with the serious issue of performance gaps, making sure buildings are performing as they’re designed to and suggesting common sense, achievable, affordable solutions if not.

BREEAM as a catalyst for change

BREEAM has always done its very best to act as a catalyst for change. The benefits to people, the environment and the economy are clear. The new system will carry on the excellent work, pushing for even better sustainability, increased quality and even greater levels of continual improvement.

Do you need a professional BREEAM assessor or Code for Sustainable Homes assessor on the case? As experts we’ll be delighted to help.

Oliver Heath Impresses at the Eco-Technology Show

June 30th, 2014
Ana meets Oliver Heath

Ana (left) meets her hero, Oliver Heath, (centre) at the Eco-Technology Show. Her architect friend, Lais Moretto, (right) is happy to meet him too.

Our Brazillian summer intern, Ana Vilela Felix, was delighted to meet her hero and eco-interior design maven, Oliver Heath, at the Eco-Technology Show in Brighton last week. Apparently, reruns of the BBC television show Changing Rooms, in which Oliver features as a hands-on expert helping people transform their homes, are massively popular in Brazil. Ana’s mum was particularly impressed with the photo her daughter sent her of the design supremo.

Oliver gave a talk at the show on the eco-refurbishment of his house and how his recent training as a Domestic Energy Assessor has focused his passion to help others improve the energy perfomance of their homes.

Ana is an Environmental Engineering student from the Federal University of Viçosa participating in a Brazilian government exchange programme called Science Without Borders. She has been continuing her studies at Brighton Univeristy and is currently helping Phlorum with our work on life-cycle carbon assessments of new buildings.

It’s nice to see that England can still impress the odd Brazillian, if not with our football skills at the World Cup, then at least with our passion for good, eco-centric, interior design!

Will a Japanese knotweed membrane help protect my property?

June 19th, 2014

knotweed membraneAs Japanese knotweed specialists, we’re often asked about the performance and effectiveness of a Japanese knotweed membrane. What it is, how does it work and does it keep the dreaded invader at bay? After all, the plant can work its way through concrete and tarmac, so how well can a membrane actually work, and for how long?

What is a Japanese knotweed root barrier? And how does it work?

A root barrier is a physical membrane that protects structures and stops encroachment of knotweed. It’s often used along with other methods like herbicidal treatments, excavation, screening and sifting, helping to prevent the plant’s spread. It is effectively a preventative measure.

It’s important to remember that a root barrier’s performance depends on how well it’s laid. It’s an expert task, requiring fitting that redirects spreading roots and limits their extension until they run out of energy before they can produce aboveground shoots. This in turn reduces the plant’s strength and cuts its ability to spread.

How deep should the barrier go?

The membrane should be dug into the earth vertically, as deep as three metres since the plant’s rhizomes can grow this deep – sometimes even further! As long as the barrier is laid deep enough in the ground, and the knotweed is prevented from thriving (e.g. by spraying the aboveground growth with herbicide), it can’t grow underneath it.

In some situations the barrier must also be fitted so it surrounds the affected area completely, so the plant can’t escape. It’s vital the membrane isn’t damaged because the smallest tear or hole can let the plant through. If necessary, sealing overlapping membranes is also crucial, and it’s far better to have a seamless barrier than one with seams, which can be a weakness, causing a breach in the membrane. This means that in order to avoid overlaps, you quite often need a very large expanse of membrane material in order to cover an entire knotweed area.

What about UV damage?

Some barrier materials become weaker when exposed to sunlight. The most effective barriers are resistant to UV light damage, so if they are ever exposed to sunlight the material will remain impervious. And it has to be of a good enough quality, sturdy and strong enough to last for at least half a century; most manufacturers offer guarantees on their products for 25 years or more. As you can tell, Japanese knotweed is a serious adversary and every care has to be taken to ensure an absolutely perfect job.

It may seem extreme, but this plant dictates extreme measures. An expert Japanese knotweed eradication specialist, with the necessary training and experience (e.g. an approved member of the Property Care Association Invasive Weeds Control Group), will be able to provide an Insurance-Backed Guarantee for their work. This level of protection is necessary for many financial institutions involved in property transactions, in order for them to approve mortgages and other lending on knotweed-affected property or land.

Can you do it yourself?

Yes, but it isn’t recommended and you won’t be able to satisfy a lender with an appropriate Insurance-Backed Guarantee. Ideally you need the services of a professional to assess the extent of the problem and create a removal and control plan. You’re far better off spending time identifying a good quality knotweed solutions provider so you know the best possible job will be done and you can relax in the knowledge the barrier will do its job for decades to come. If you’d like to know more, contact us.

Relative of cane toad threatens Madagascar

June 3rd, 2014

Asian common toadThe Asian common toad (Duttaphrynus melanostictus), a relative of the cane toad (Rhinella marina) has been discovered in Madagascar. This is a non-native species first observed on the island in March this year. It is believed the toad may have been transported on a shipping container from South East Asia and there is a worry over the danger this species poses to the fragile and endemic flora on the island.

The main fears are that this species is poisonous like its relative the cane toad and, therefore, the Asian common toad has the potential to poison local wildlife. As the native fauna will not have been exposed to Asian toad toxins it is unlikely they will have an evolutionary defence against them. In addition, there is a fear that the invasive toads may carry diseases, such as the deadly Chytridiomycosis fungus (an infectious and fatal amphibian disease). There are also worries that there will be an absence of natural predators on the island and therefore this species may be able to breed readily, resulting in a population explosion similar to that observed in Australia following the introduction of cane toads in 1935.

More information can be found here.