The government has declared that 13 projects in urban communities in England will receive a share of £10 million in the first round of the Urban Tree Challenge Fund.

The scheme, which launched in May 2019, aims to plant 130,000 trees across England by 2021. More than 22,000 large and 28,000 small trees will be planted in urban areas like Bristol, Merseyside and Thanet.

The government said its commitment to planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year in the UK by 2025 would help to increase canopy cover in towns and cities.

Theresa Villiers, before she was removed from her role as Environment Secretary, said: “Trees are vital in the fight against climate change, to tackle air pollution and help us achieve our net-zero target by 2050. But for local communities they are so much more. They allow green spaces to come together, help both physical and mental wellbeing, and connect children and young people with nature".

The first round of the projects include:

  • the Trees for Cities project, which will receive support for at least 9,000 trees to be distributed across the country;
  • more than 8,000 trees will be planted by Slough Borough Council;
  • almost 7,000 large trees will go to London Street Trees; and
  • 6,000 trees to The Mersey Forest.

The Urban Tree Challenge Fund is made up of two parts:

  • Year One: the fund was open for block bids from local authorities or larger organisations, and bidding closed on the 31 August 2019;
  • Year Two: the fund will reopen for applications for individual tree planters, starting in spring 2020.

Applicants will be able to submit expressions of interest to the Forestry Commission to gain more information about the fund. The grants will provide funding for the planting of trees in the first three years of care, to ensure that they reach their full potential in the future.

A company that designs, manufactures and distributes construction materials has been fined after an employee suffered serious injuries, including his left arm being amputated.

Loughborough Magistrates' Court heard that in August 2017, a 48-year-old employee of Saint-Gobain Construction Products UK Ltd was seriously injured when a rock handling belt failed at the company's plant in Leicestershire. 

Two employees had been clearing rock that had built up around the belt, as the belt had become so compacted it was difficult to remove by hand. Both men went to the isolator end of the belt and removed the local isolation with the guards still removed, and pressed the "stop/start" button.

On checking the tail-end of the drum they saw it had not cleared itself of rock. One of the men went to the opposite side of the tail-end drum to remove the rock and the pair were no longer in visual contact. His colleague pressed the start/stop button again whilst his colleague's arm was in close proximity to the rotating drum, drawing his arm in.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found there was no risk assessment or safe system of work in place for clearing rock safely from tail-end drums.

Saint-Gobain Construction Products UK Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, were fined £400,000, and ordered to pay costs of £12,945.62.

HSE inspector Michelle Morrison commented: "This injury could easily have been prevented, had the risk have been identified. Employers should make sure they properly assess and apply effective control measures to minimise the risk from dangerous parts of machinery".

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have updated their leaflet on managing upper limb disorders.

Revision 3 to INDG171, published late January 2020, is aimed at employers and offers practical advice on reducing the risks of upper limb disorders, which can affect the shoulders, arms, wrists, hands and fingers, as well as the neck.

It includes information on:

  • what upper limb disorders are;
  • their symptoms and causes;
  • how to manage the risks around them;
  • what employers can do to help their workers.

The revised version now includes a simple filter to help identify low-risk tasks which do not need further assessment.

The EU Member States have been split in a debate over whether the exemption that allows the use of mercury in fluorescent lighting products should continue. 

Mercury is classified as a toxic material due to its potential to cause damage to both human health and the environment. Whilst the EU banned mercury from being used in much equipment including batteries and electrical equipment, there has been an exemption to its ban to allow its use.

Since 2011 an exemption to Directive 2011/65/EU, on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment (RoHS), granted the lighting industry permission to use mercury in fluorescent lighting products.

Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have requested the European Commission continue the exemption for the lighting industry. However, concerns have been raised by member states including Sweden, Finland and Bulgaria over the impact of continued mercury use on the environment. They claim that the argument back in 2011 that supported the exemption is no longer applicable. There was a successful argument that the use of mercury in lighting should be allowed as there was no readily available alternative, as mercury-free LEDs produced significantly poorer lighting levels. However, there have been advances in technology since then so it is argued the exemption is no longer suitable.

A letter from the Swedish government stated: ''Sweden’s main concern is that there are no legal grounds for renewing an exemption for the use in questions. Today there are economically viable substitutes available for most of the mercury-containing light sources.''

They also argued that the exemption would breach the EU's legal obligations under the Minamata Convention. The EU signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2017, this international treaty seeks its signatories to reduce their use of mercury and mercury compounds in order to protect human health and the environment.

The decision the Commission has to make on the exemption will be closely followed, as this is seen as a test of the EU's commitment to its European Green Deal, which was hailed as a 'man on the moon moment' for Europe by Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president.

Natural England have produced a new application form for a wild birds licence to kill, take or disturb to prevent disease or agricultural damage, for conservation or public health and safety.

This form can be used to control wild birds, including the great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull and herring gull, under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) general licences for specific birds (such as the ones for Canada geese, carrion crows or woodpigeons) do not cover those species due to their poor conservation status.

To control great black-backed gulls, lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls, a person needs to complete an A08 form and an Integrated Management Plan template A47a and send them to Natural England, where they will determine whether to grant the licence or not, within 30 working days. 

The licence form requires a detailed description of the bird, site, issue with the bird(s) in question, as well as appropriate justification for applying for a licence and a method that will be used. Following Natural England's review of the application, they can grant a licence to:

  • disturb them;
  • kill them;
  • take them; or
  • use a prohibited method to control them.

The applications should be made before 15 March 2020 where possible.

Before submitting the form, the applicant should make sure the bird and/or circumstances in question are not covered by a general licence for birds.

For more information on this subject, see:

Manual handling guidance updated
Published: 06 Feb 2020

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance document INDG143: Manual handling at work: A brief guide has been updated.

The document is aimed at employers and explains the problems associated with manual handling, with guidance on how to deal with them.

It has been updated to Revision 4, and brings the risk assessment process in line with L23 - Manual handling, in order to help identify low-risk tasks.

As a result, it includes:

  • more information on the simple risk filters for lifting, lowering and carrying operations;
  • simplified advice on pushing and pulling;
  • a simple filter for manual handling when seated.

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