venerdì 27 gennaio 2017

Segnalazione da Science for Environment Policy, Issue 480

Transport infrastructure is so widespread in Europe that half of the land area is within 1.5 kilometres (km) of paved roads and railway lines, researchers have calculated. The researchers found that in Spain, transport infrastructure has an impact on the abundance of birds in almost half of the country and is affecting the abundance of mammals across almost all of the land area.
The biggest threat to terrestrial biodiversity comes from habitat loss and degradation, driven by human development, especially building settlements and roads. The challenge is to preserve biodiversity and vital ecosystem services in the face of continued infrastructure expansion.
This study is the first to assess the extent of transport infrastructure across Europe and the large-scale effect that built infrastructure has on wildlife populations.
Using a pan-European database of geographic information, the researchers measured the distance of land areas to the nearest paved road or railway line in 36 European countries. They found that human infrastructure is so prevalent that nearly one quarter of land in Europe is within half a kilometre of transport infrastructure, one half of the land is within 1.5 km and almost all of Europe is within 10 km of a paved road or railway line.
Then, using Spain as a case study, the researchers assessed how the prevalence of built infrastructure affects bird and mammal wildlife. They first calculated the nearest distances to all built-up areas, impervious surfaces and paved road and railway infrastructures and also used a more precise and complete national database. They found that, on average, half of all land in Spain is within approximately 1.5 km of a built-up area, a bit less than 900 m from a road or railway line, and less than 750 m from an impervious surface. The researchers consider that the European estimates are very conservative, since using a more precise database for Spain revealed that transport infrastructure was most likely underrepresented in the pan-European database. Thus, the distances to the nearest transport infrastructure in Europe are likely shorter than their estimations from the pan-European database.
To assess how proximity to the built infrastructure affected the distribution of six iconic species of birds and mammals, the researchers overlaid maps of built infrastructure on distribution maps of tawny owl (Strix aluco), great bustard (Otis tarda), Spanish imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti), grey wolf (Canis lupus), Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), and brown bear (Ursus arctos).
Since so little land is far from a transport infrastructure, all six species were found relatively close to roads and railway lines. Nevertheless, the great bustard, Spanish imperial eagle, Iberian lynx, and brown bear all tend to avoid the closest 500 metres next to a road or railway line. The Spanish imperial eagle, Iberian lynx, and brown bear, in particular, are all more prevalent at locations further from transport infrastructure, indicating their preference for more remote areas, or that they were able to survive only in those areas.
In 2014, 20 critically endangered Iberian lynxes, out of a population of approximately 320 (over 6%), were killed on the roads in Spain, illustrating the large-scale impact that roads have on roaming species.
The researchers then used data from an earlier meta-analysis to model how the abundance of Spanish birds and mammals was affected by proximity to the built infrastructure. They predicted that the presence of roads and railways lines, for example, reduces the overall abundance of birds by 19% and the abundance of mammals by almost 47% compared with undisturbed areas.
The maps revealed that, compared with undisturbed areas, built infrastructure reduce the abundance of the birds across 55.5% of the Spanish land area and the abundance of mammals across almost all (97.9%) of the land. The influence on the abundance of wildlife of paved roads and railways alone is similar (reduction by almost 50% for birds and 96% for mammals).
Across Europe, the researchers say areas unaffected by paved roads are so small that scientists may no longer be able to compare the impacts of road developments with undeveloped ‘control’ areas, particularly for wide-ranging mammals and birds.
The researchers suggest that their approach may be used to identify priority conservation sites in areas that currently contain little infrastructure, e.g., roadless areas, before they are lost to development. Past and ongoing habitat losses may lead to the future potential extinction of some species, which is not yet evident. Conservation efforts should, therefore, include securing existing habitats, strengthening remaining species and restoring essential ecosystem services to prevent threatened species from becoming extinct through the expansion of infrastructure development.
With their study focused on Spain and much of their data taken from European research, the researchers say their approach to assessing the impact of infrastructure on wildlife would be particularly useful in regional and national infrastructure planning in other European areas. The results of the study confirm the need to enhance actions to reduce habitat fragmentation and to adopt corrective measures for reducing collision risks on existing roads and infrastructures.
However, less economically developed countries are set to build nine-tenths of road developments in the next 40 years. Many of these areas, such as tropical forests, are still rich in biodiversity and the researchers say their approach can also be used for planning scenarios and regulating infrastructure expansion and helps to develop mitigation measures that reduce the negative impacts of built infrastructure on wildlife in these places.
Therefore, the researchers are calling for the development of an internationally coordinated database and for studies on the impact of infrastructure on wildlife across a range of ecosystems and geographical areas, particularly in developing economies.

Source: Torres, A., Jaeger, J.A.G. & Alonso, J.C. (2016). Assessing large-scale wildlife responses to human infrastructure development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (30): 8472-8477. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1522488113
Read more about: Biodiversity, Land use
QUICKScan: a quick, participatory method for exploring environmental policy problems 
Policymakers often have to make decisions under great complexity, uncertainty and time pressure. A new study presents a support tool for the first stage of policymaking: identifying and exploring alternatives to solve problems. The software tool, called QUICKScan, increases the speed of this process and combines the input of many stakeholders in participatory workshops. It has been applied 70 times in 20 different countries, for a wide range of environmental policy issues.
In times of global change, including a changing climate, depleting natural resources and biodiversity loss, environmental policymakers are facing huge challenges. Policymakers are being asked to understand these complex issues, predict future problems and protect nature while also allowing economic and social development.
The first stage in this policymaking process is identifying problems – what they are, how severe their impacts are, who they affect and whether there is a need for policy intervention. This requires collecting scientific knowledge and is described as impact assessment. Evidence-based impact assessment allows policymakers to maximise benefits and mitigate unwanted consequences and is becoming increasingly important in decision-making. However, current impact assessment methods are expensive and time consuming; often, by the time evidence has been provided, the policy context has changed.
This study describes a method that reduces the time needed for this exploratory phase. It is also participatory, thus helping policymakers to negotiate conflicting views and interests, resulting in a joint understanding of the most important problems for policy. The assessment tool, developed with EU funding1, is called QUICKScan.
This new tool uses a combination of human and computational analysis. Designed to be used by groups, it captures the knowledge of stakeholders in a software tool, which visualises results in interactive maps, summary charts and trade-off diagrams. Through an iterative process, different policy options can be trialled and new knowledge included.
The main focus of QUICKScan is a workshop, involving participants (e.g. policymakers, other decision-makers, interest groups and experts), a facilitator to guide the group and an operator who captures knowledge, converts it into modelling terms, and makes calculations resulting in maps and summary graphs.
The full process consists of:
  1. Scoping
    Identifying the question under focus with the client, such as ‘What solutions can green infrastructure offer to respond to climate change risks in urban areas?’ or ‘What management options can increase agricultural production?’
  2. Preparation
    Participants are chosen (e.g. decision-makers, interest groups, experts) and evidence and spatial data are gathered.
  3. Workshop
    Workshops begin with structured discussions around the issue at stake and the evidence surrounding it (e.g. what is the current state of green infrastructure in a city). Key indicators to show the impacts of the policy alternatives are selected and calculated based on participant knowledge. The computer tool then produces indicator maps, summary charts and trade-off diagrams, which are evaluated by participants. Multiple iterations of knowledge modelling take place during a workshop. The results of each iteration feed into the discussion among stakeholders and policymakers, creating input for the next iteration.
  4. Reporting
    Documenting results and observations is important for further progress.
The tool’s usability has been demonstrated through a large number of applications and in a range of policy contexts. Since 2010, it has been applied to 70 workshops in 20 different countries for issues ranging from environmental planning and ecosystem service assessment to crop production and land restoration.
As an example, the researchers describe the case of timber production in France. Under the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, Target 2, Action 5, Member States, with the assistance of the Commission, will map and assess the state of ecosystems and their services in their national territory to strengthen the knowledge base to decide on what ecosystems to restore with priority and where. Using QUICKScan, France prepared a first set of ecosystem services maps of timber production, which launched the mapping process at national level. During a three-hour session, policymakers, ecosystem services experts and geographic information system (GIS) data experts came together to discuss how to map estimates of timber production in the country, with the assistance of a QUICKScan modeller.
They developed four possible solutions, including mapping timber production based on growing stock and including data on tree species (as this can affect the amount of timber that is extractable). Government officials said they gained a deeper understanding through the process than through usual written or spoken methods.
The methodology can be used in a range of circumstances to collaboratively develop an understanding of a problem. Overall, the researchers describe three major benefits:
  1. Reduced lead time for problem scoping The tool rapidly produces a joint understanding of a problem. Although the process requires time for data preparation and discussions before the workshop, the software is potentially quicker than a policy officer contracting out extensive research or expert group consultations.
  2. Improving understanding between stakeholders
    The tool enables knowledge integration, learning and shared understanding by encouraging participants to listen to each other and co-develop ideas, as it has been assessed by a sociologist attending the workshops.
  3. Better comprehension of scientific knowledge and data
    Usually data is presented to policymakers in reports and publications. This software gives participants a more active understanding of policy issues, by visualising their impacts, or the trade-offs between policy options.
1. QUICKScan received funding from the European Environment Agency and the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme, under the projects ROBIN (Role of biodiversity in climate change mitigation) and OpenNESS (Operalisation of natural capital and ecosystem services).
Source: Verweij, P., Janssen, S., Braat, L., van Eupen, M., Pérez Soba, M., Winograd, M., de Winter, W. & Cormont, A. (2016). QUICKScan as a quick and participatory methodology for problem identification and scoping in policy processes. Environmental Science & Policy, 66: 47-61. DOI: 10.1016/j.envsci.2016.07.010. Contact:
Read more about: Environmental information services, Sustainable development and policy assessment 

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