News January 2018
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy 2018

Haltwhistle Is Something Special
The next meeting for this project, which aims to mount a series of poster exhibitions in the waiting rooms on Haltwhistle Station, is at 5pm on Thurs 18th Jan. in the Old Booking Hall at Haltwhistle Station. Please come along or contact me if you'd like to get involved. Our first exhibition will feature local dogs - breeds which originated in this area and Haltwhistle pets.

The Greenhead Christmas Craft Fair notched up another successful year. Many of the traders (and customers) now qualify as regulars and these were joined by new stalls, with crafts from traditional dressed sticks to designer silks. The stall fees are a real boost to the coffers of the monthly Farmers' Market and the raffle takings provide essential petty cash for STS.
Thanks to Gill and Phillipa of the Greenhead Hotel for free use of the Youth Hostel.
Hadrian's Wall Farmers' Market is held in Greenhead Village Hall on the second Sunday of every month between 10am & 2pm, next market Sunday Jan 14th.

South Tyne Wildlife Group 7.30pm, Tues, 9th Jan, Comrades Club, Haltwhistle
"Natural and Cultural Heritage in the Allen Valleys" with Fiona Knox, Community and Interpretation Officer for the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership project at the North Pennines AONB.
All welcome - £3 on the door.

Ecological Armageddon? And the role of Citizen Science.

In October last year Wendy Bond contacted me having seen this 'Warning of ecological Armageddon' ( article in the Guardian about dramatic declines - 75% in three decades - in flying insect populations. The sampling was carried out in nature reserves in Germany but it was suggested that similar changes were likely across Europe in agricultural regions. Casual observation would seem to reinforce these conclusions - older drivers like me must surely remember returning from trips on summer days with the car windscreen liberally splattered with dead insects!

The UK has its own long-running population monitoring studies; the Rothamsted Insect Survey has been monitoring insect populations principally in order to predict infestation threats to crops for over fifty years and, since 1970, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust's project in Sussex has analysed the availability of insects as feed for partridge chicks. These data sets give a more nuanced view of population changes and scientists have tried to unpick the underlying causes of the changes they have observed in insect populations.

For the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust's Sussex project ( ) over 100 cereal fields are sampled every year and this has revealed a 35% decline in the total number of flying insects since 1970. However most of the decline happened in the 1970s and individual field analysis revealed that this trend was clearly associated with increasing use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides. All three types of agri-chemicals can have an impact on insects: herbicides by removing the weeds upon which many plant feeding insects depend; fungicides by reducing fungi that some insects also feed on (e.g. Tachyporus species); and insecticides are of course designed to kill insects. Thus, a combination of removing food and causing mortality or sub-lethal effects to insects reduces insect abundance. In recent years the population of some insect groups has stabilised, probably in association with a stabilisation in the use of agri-chemicals.

Four years ago The Butterfly Conservation Trust published 'The State of Britain's Larger Moths 2013' ( This paper drew heavily on data from the Rothamsted Insect Survey as well as the Butterfly Trust's own observations and surveys. The headline was an overall 28% decrease in the moth population in the four decades from 1968 to 2007. However the decrease in the south of the UK was 40% with no significant decrease in the north of Britain. There is some evidence that the rate of decline has decreased in the decade since this analysis was made. It looks again as if farming and the increased use of agri-chemicals is the main culprit and that recent environmental schemes to, for instance, increase biodiversity in field margins, may be effective in stemming declines. Climate change appears to be neutral in its effect on the overall moth population with individual species moving according to changes in temperature. The number of UK species which have become extinct in this century is exceeded by the number of species which have become established here.

In ecology causes and effects are always difficult to isolate and there are changes, other than chemical inputs, in farming practices which will have influenced flying insect populations. The increasing specialisation of farms has resulted in the disappearance of mixed livestock and arable farms from many parts of the country, this will have impacted negatively on insect populations, whilst the introduction of minimum tillage and direct sowing of cereals is thought to be beneficial for insects numbers as there is minimal disturbance to the soil. Yes, insects are in decline and populations have been decreasing for decades but the rate of the decrease is slowing, and our understanding of the dynamics is increasing. Questions are at last being asked about the blanket use of 'safe' chemicals and procedures - practices which do no direct harm but may have devastating indirect effects by, for example, removing a food source. Maintaining biodiversity and robust soil health must take priority over short term crop yield maximisation considerations in the design of agricultural policy post Brexit. In our own gardens we can all help by leaving 'untidy' corners and growing plants which are feed/pollen sources for flying insects.

The German study used volunteers to help collect the data and citizen science projects can identify large scale, and local, population trends - noticing a decline is the first step towards unpicking what is actually happening and taking action to do something about it. Here in Haltwhistle the Haltwhistle Burn project ( has taken a citizen science approach with volunteers monitoring and reporting water flows, enabling scientists to better understand what is happening, improve water management and reduce flood risk.

Over the weekend of 27th - 29th Jan the RSPB are asking you to take an hour to watch the birds in your garden or local park:
This annual Big Bird Watch helps scientists to identify which bird species are thriving and which are struggling in urban and rural environments.

The Environmental Records and Information Centre North East at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle invites you to submit sightings of common and rare wildlife and flora:

Paradises of the Earth
War on Want recently released four short videos from the web documentary series Paradises of the Earth. The short films follow a solidarity caravan of North African activists on a trip to visit Tunisian communities fighting social and environmental injustices. As they travel across southern Tunisia's arid landscape, the activists stop by three towns deeply affected by the country's phosphate industry and one where farmers have successfully taken back their lands. Not coincidentally, these towns were also the cradles of the 2011 revolutions which swept through their countries.
Details and downloads:

Missed something?
This and all previous newsetters are available on our website:

South Tyne Sustainability aims to reduce the impact of the community of Haltwhistle and surrounding villages on our environment. This will help individuals, families and our community save money and resources and ensure a more sustainable future for us all.

To join STS contact Sue Seymour, 016977 47359