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A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.


National Parks at a crossroads: Campaign for National Parks calls for a moratorium on budget cuts and high-level roundtable this year to consider how to secure long-term future for treasured landscapes - Campaign for National Parks

Calls for a moratorium on future budget cuts to National Parks and the establishment of a high-level round-table this year to consider how to ensure the future of National Parks were made today by the Campaign for National Parks.
The charity said it would like to see a commitment to no further reductions in the funding allocated to National Park Authorities over the next Parliament and for representatives of National Park Authorities, Government, the charitable sector and business to explore how National Parks are protected and funded in future.
National Park Authorities, largely funded by Government to look after National Parks, have experienced up to 40 per cuts in their budgets in the last five years. This has so far led to 252 job losses in National Parks in England and Wales.
National Park Authorities have also been forced to put iconic landscapes up for sale, cut back on the maintenance of rights of way, reduce funding for conservation projects, cut grant support for apprenticeships, stop school visits programmes and close visitor centres, catering for the 90m visitors per annum to the National Parks.
Julian Woolford, Campaign for National Parks chief executive, said he was frustrated at the piecemeal approach to the cuts and the lack of innovative thinking to ensure their future.
“The current approach to cuts is piecemeal, short-termist and relentless. We have to stop the cuts and get the best brains in government, the National Park Authorities, the charitable sector and business to develop an exciting, properly-funded vision for the future of National Parks as soon as possible.”
Mr Woolford added that each of the National Park Authorities had a budget smaller than that of a comprehensive school, showing they represent incredibly good value for the benefits they deliver.

To see a list of ten areas of cutbacks go to our campaigns page - www.cnp.org.uk/news/ten-impacts-government-cuts-national-parks 


Sale of National Park property - Lake District National Park notice published 19 February

The Lake District National Park recently advertised a number of properties for sale, including Stickle Tarn, as part of our ongoing sales and acquisitions review to make sure our properties are managed effectively within the current financial climate.


Reaction: Chunks of the Lake District National Park to be sold - Open Spaces Society

We have condemned plans by the Lake District National Park Authority to sell seven of its sites in the national park, including Stickle Tarn, high up in Great Langdale, the lovely Yewbarrow Woods at Longsleddale and part of the shore of Coniston Water.

In common with other national park authorities the Lake District is strapped for cash, although the environment minister, Lord de Mauley, told the House of Lords on 5 March that the sales were not in connection with government cuts.

The park’s budget has been cut by £1.56 million, 23 per cent, in the last five years and further cuts are threatened.

Stickle Tarn. Photo: British Mountaineering Council Stickle Tarn. Photo: British Mountaineering Council

The authority claims ‘We have safeguarded and strengthened public access where it already exists and included other special conditions to protect the special qualities.’ The properties are being sold through agent Michael C L Hodgson of Kendal and bidding closes on 12 March.

We deeply concerned about the sales. The land is all subject to access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, some of it dedicated under section 16 of that act, but that does not protect the land in perpetuity.

Says Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary: ‘A new owner may not have national park purposes at heart but may be driven by the potential commercial benefits to be wrung from the site. Although such development would require planning permission, and the national park authority would, we hope, reject it, the development might be granted on appeal. We believe that if the national park authority sells this land it could be at risk.

‘We have great sympathy with the park authorities who are suffering slashed budgets and we back the Campaign for National Parks’ battle against the cuts. But it is no solution to flog off land which should be held for the nation. We hope that the Lake District National Park Authority will change its mind even at this late hour.’

Adds Ian Brodie, former director of the Friends of the Lake District and the OSS representative in the Lake District: ‘I fear for the future of much of this land. Unless it is purchased by a suitable charity, it will potentially end up as someone’s private park, to the detriment of public access and the landscape of the national park.’


Trust helps first East Ren forest school flourish - National Trust for Scotland

An agreement between conservation charity, the National Trust for Scotland and an East Renfrewshire childcare provider has seen the establishment of the area’s first ever ‘forest school’.
Greenbank Woodland Play set up home within the grounds of Greenbank House in Clarkston in January 2015. The playgroup is aimed at providing children aged from 3 to 5 years with an alternative approach to early years learning focused on outdoor education. It is based on the forest school model, popular in Nordic countries, which sees children spend the majority of their time outside.   The grounds at Greenbank are a safe natural setting, offering opportunities for outdoor play, woodland walks and the chance to grow fruit and vegetables.
Greenbank Garden Property Manager David Ferguson said: “We are very excited to welcome this fantastic initiative to the grounds at Greenbank. As we are a conservation charity, the nature-focused ethos of Greenbank Woodland Play seemed to fit well. The Trust is always seeking out new ways of ensuring that our nation’s heritage remains useful and relevant to its local community. We look forward to welcoming children and parents to the grounds and sharing this beautiful place and its fascinating stories with them.”


Bringing back the lynx to the British Isles - Lynx Trust

Lynx Trust have just launched a national survey to gather the opinions of people across the UK on lynx reintroduction.

The initial stage of this process is focused on support or opposition to a proposal that lynx should be reintroduced to the UK as part of a controlled and monitored scientific trial.

There is a legal framework that structures potential reintroductions to ensure successful outcomes, this framework focuses not only on the interests of target species but also takes into consideration concerns of the general public; to address this second point we have begun the process of collecting public opinion. A series of representative surveys have been put together which will give voice to a wide range of target audiences, this approach is designed to collect opinions from the general public, interested individuals, organisations and stakeholder groups.

The European Union's Habitats and Species Directive 92/43 (the 'Habitats Directive') together with the 'Birds Directive' forms the cornerstone of Europe's nature conservation policy. These directives are built around two core pillars: a network of protected sites plus a strict system of species protection. Under the Habitats Directive, the UK Government is obliged to study the desirability of reintroducing select species to their former range which are threatened in Europe but have become extinct in the UK, if this is likely to contribute to their conservation; the Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) is one such species.

The process of establishing a case for reintroduction needs to take into account the experience of other EU Member States, ensure that any reintroduction activity will effectively contribute to re-establishing the species at a favourable conservation status and, importantly for this element of the exercise, that any reintroduction should only take place after proper consultation with the public concerned.

Please, help us get a clear picture of public opinion of reintroduction of these cats as part of a controlled and monitored scientific trial


This was mooted in January by the The Scottish Wildlife Trust's Chief Executive, Jonny Hughes,who called for the reintroduction of the once native Eurasian lynx to Scotland, find out more here.


Pembrokeshire Coast celebration marks end of Mosaic Project  - Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

Mosaic Community Champions from across Wales came together recently to celebrate the achievements of the project, which has seen over 2,000 people from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities introduced to National Parks.

With the Mosaic Project coming to an end in March 2015, seven Community Champions visited the Pembrokeshire Coast to share their experiences of involvement in the project and discuss how they can work with the National Park and other agencies in the future.

Mosaic Community Champions are pictured with Mosaic Project Officer Pat Gregory, National Park Authority Chairman Cllr Mike James and Discovery Team Leader Graham Peake. Image: Pembrokeshire Coast NPAMosaic Community Champions are pictured with Mosaic Project Officer Pat Gregory, National Park Authority Chairman Cllr Mike James and Discovery Team Leader Graham Peake. Image: Pembrokeshire Coast NPA

The weekend also involved discussion and training sessions, activities and coincided with the St David’s Day Celebrations, with the Community Champions taking part in the annual Oriel y Parc Dragon Parade.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority Discovery Team Leader, Graham Peake said: “The Community Champions should be proud of their contribution to making Wales’ National Parks more accessible to BME communities in Wales. Hopefully this event has helped the Champions forge stronger links and create further opportunities so they can continue to support the Mosaic approach in working with BME communities.”

The Champions, who are based in Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, have organised a range of trips and events around the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park over the life of the project, from bushcraft and arts workshops to training sessions in walk leading, map reading and fundraising.

We included an article about CNP's Mosaic Project in the most recent CJS Focus on Volunteering in February. Read it here


Red squirrel project calls on public to use new squirrel spotter – Scottish Wildlife Trust

A ground-breaking project aiming to safeguard the native red squirrel from extinction in Scotland has launched a new website and is calling on the public to try the updated squirrel reporting feature.

Packed full of brand new content, such as blogs, video and updates, scottishsquirrels.org.uk will help supporters keep up-to-date with all the latest from the project.

A key improvement is the update to the squirrel reporting feature to make recording red and grey squirrels much easier. The new website works with the GPS on mobile devices to pinpoint a user’s location. Hopefully, this will mean more accurate data for the Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels team.

Since 1952, 95% of red squirrels in England and Wales have been wiped out. Today, 75% of the UK’s remaining population is found in Scotland. Project Manager for Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Mel Tonkin, said: “Red squirrels are an iconic Scottish species that the public loves. This new website will allow people to learn more about red squirrels, the project itself and more of what happens behind the scenes.”


Public Inquiry needed to determine controversial North York Moors potash mine plan -  Campaign for National Parks

The Campaign for National Parks has called for a public inquiry to examine plans to develop the world’s largest potash mine in the North York Moors. The charity today (Tues) asked for the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to call in the planning application for the York Potash mine head  and tunnel, near Whitby, on the grounds that it is an issue of national significance which conflicts with national policy on the protection of National Parks.
Other reasons why a public inquiry is needed are that the application has significant effects beyond its immediate locality and, if approved, would give rise to substantial national controversy. The mine plan involves the construction of a mine head and mine shaft at Dove’s Nest Farm along with a tunnel to transport the mineral 23 miles from the mine site to Wilton on Teeside where the extracted mineral would be processed for export.
Four other organisations – the National Trust, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the North Yorkshire Moors Association and the Campaign for Protection of Rural England Coastal branch – are also calling for a public inquiry.
The Campaign for National Parks has also submitted its letter of objection to the planning application for the mine head and mineral transport system this week. This argues that the application should be refused on the grounds that it does not pass the major development test, which only allows developments of this scale in a National Park in exceptional circumstances and when they can be demonstrated to be in the national interest. 
Ruth Bradshaw, Campaign for National Parks policy and research manager, said the potential impact of the current York Potash application was even greater than the previous application lodged in 2013. The tunnel which is part of the new application requires  three access shafts -  one of these is in the National Park (Ladycross Plantation, near Egton) and a second just outside it at Lockwood Beck. The landscape and visual impact at both these sites and at Dove’s Nest Farm, the proposed location for the minehead, would be considerable, particularly during the construction period which has been extended from three to five years. Ms Bradshaw said: “We’re very concerned about the threat that this mine poses for the North York Moors and the damage it will cause to landscape, biodiversity and recreational activities. Surveys – both by North York Moors National Park Authority and by York Potash – have shown there would significant damage to the local tourism economy, particularly during the lengthy construction period.”
Karin Taylor, head of land use planning at the National Trust, said: “This application threatens to undermine the principles under which National Parks are protected through the planning system and could even threaten the designation of the North York Moors as a National Park. Given the scale of the development and the likely changes to the landscape, there’s a clear need for the Secretary of State to call in this application and for a public inquiry to assess the impacts and the national need for this development.”
Tom Chadwick, Chairman of the North Yorkshire Moors Association, added: “If this development is allowed to go ahead it will amount to sacrificing the integrity of an English National Park to satisfy an alarming trend for economic growth at any cost. That is why this planning application needs to be examined at a public inquiry.”


Brownfield regeneration must be backed by better policy - CPRE

CPRE paper illustrates we can do much more to ensure the highest quality housing development on brownfield land

A new research paper from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) today concludes that better data collection and community engagement hold the key to advancing housing development on brownfield land.

The Better brownfield paper follows a recent pledge from David Cameron to build 200,000 starter homes on brownfield land, as well as Government policy changes aimed at increasing brownfield development. The paper argues that political focus on brownfield has been welcome, but that new homes on brownfield land have often failed to meet the aspirations or needs of communities.

To boost the provision and quality of homes on brownfield, the paper suggests four specific initiatives.

First, we should foster more cooperation between local and national government on collecting information on brownfield sites, such as through the use of a combined index that includes environmental and social factors. Second, we should introduce a register of suitable small-scale and publicly-owned brownfield sites, complemented by stronger incentives for public-private partnership in their development.

Third, we should implement measures to improve community engagement in planning, such as citizen forums, and to increase custom- and self-build housing on large-scale brownfield sites. Fourth, we should consider full reform of housing density measurements to ensure that new housing is designed for community need.

Luke Burroughs, policy and research adviser at CPRE and report author, says: “The recent focus on brownfield land from both Government and the opposition is really welcome, but we must work harder to ensure that we build homes communities really need.To guarantee that ambitious initiatives don’t just improve the quantity of poor quality housing, we have to empower local authorities to play a greater role in leading brownfield development. A more positive approach to design and location can spur the right kind of housing where people want and can afford to live.”

Download The Better brownfield paper here (7.4MB PDF)


Access to evidence about the natural environment – Natural England

Natural England has published summaries of evidence.

West Exmoor Coast And Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest. Copyright Natural England/Peter Wakely West Exmoor Coast And Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Copyright Natural England/Peter Wakely

What do we know about the variety of life on earth, the effects of climate change, land management, marine life, ecosystems, the geology of England and the economic benefits of the natural environment?

These are just some of the topics covered by Natural England’s summaries of evidence, published for the first time to give instant access to the wealth of knowledge we hold about the natural environment.

Covering the full range of Natural England’s work, each document provides a statement of the current evidence base, setting out what we do know, what we don’t know and areas that are subject to active research and debate.

9 summaries have been published today with more to follow. They include:

  • Access & Engagement,
  • Biodiversity
  • Climate Change
  • Ecosystem Approach
  • Geodiversity
  • Land Management
  • Land Use
  • Marine
  • Wood-pasture & Parkland

You can download the summaries of evidence here


Devon's wild beavers – Devon Wildlife Trust

Wild Beaver via Devon Wildlife Trust****Update 10 March: beavers' health screening****  

(image via Devon Wildlife Trust)

The Defra Agency APHA have successfully trapped and temporarily homed five beavers from the river Otter (two adult pairs and one kit). The beavers are still in Devon, they are being housed in family groups and being fed on a natural diet of willow supplemented with fruit and vegetables. They are bedded on wood chip and have access to water and artificial lodges and appear to be comfortable in their new short-term housing and are feeding well.

The responsibility for the beavers following their capture has now passed from APHA to Devon Wildlife Trust. All beavers have been tested to ensure they are healthy before they are returned to the river. DWT has overseen the testing which has been carried out under the direction of leading beaver vets, from the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. The health screening was also filmed by the BBC Springwatch team for this year's programme - the activity of the film crew was supervised by the vets. Visual observations show the beavers are healthy but we are still awaiting the results for a range of diseases that DWT is required to test for under the terms of our beaver release licence. We expect the results from those tests to be returned very soon.  We are confident that we will be able to announce the beavers' return to the Otter in the near future.
We would like to reassure all those people concerned about the trapping that it has been conducted expertly by APHA and without any injuries to the beavers or any other wildlife. 


New Apps for places to go and stories to hear - Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales are releasing two new Smartphone Apps that help people get out to explore the great outdoors in Wales.

The free ‘Places to Go’ App shows you where you can go and what you can do in Wales’s public forests and National Nature Reserves.

Meanwhile the partner app ‘Place Tales’ explains the natural and cultural heritage of these sites, including audio trails and folk tales, bringing these mythical places to life.

Steven Richards-Price, Visitor Experience Manager at Natural Resources Wales said: “Getting outdoors is a fantastic way for people to get active and lead a healthier lifestyle. Encouraging people to get out and about is a valuable part of the work we do and these Apps make it even easier for people to find and enjoy the sites we manage. The storytelling App is a great way for families or those interested in Welsh mythology and stories to make the most of being outdoors and also enhance their experience.”


CAP rules jeopardise future of high nature value farming and crofting - RSPB

Corncrake Calling Image: Andy Hay via RSPBRecent Scottish Government decisions on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules and payments are likely to leave the fate of many farmers and crofters across Scotland – and important species such as the corncrake - hanging in the balance.

RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Crofting Federation are urging the Government for an immediate rethink before the deadline for applying for payments in May.

(Image: Andy Hay via RSPB)

Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy for RSPB Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government is trying to use new EU rules to ensure CAP funds are targeted at active farmers. This is justified but in defining ‘minimum activity’ they have devised a set of nonsensical rules for Scotland that will exclude many farmers and crofters from receiving vital payments. Those who depend on these payments are often managing land designated for its high environmental importance in places such as the Western and Argyll Islands. The consequences for Scotland’s wildlife as well as vulnerable rural communities look very serious indeed.”

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has also raised concerns about the payment rates for those who do meet the minimum activity requirements and are eligible for support. Patrick Krause, Chief Executive of SCF, said: “Crofters, and many farmers, with rough grazing land will receive very low levels of payments under the new Basic Payment Scheme compared to their counterparts who farm arable land and permanent grassland. Upland farmers in Wales mounted a successful legal challenge to the Government when similar regions and rates were announced there. Many believe a similar challenge is warranted here.”

In future, in order to be eligible for support under the Basic Payment Scheme and for many options in the new agri-environment-climate scheme, farmers and crofters with land in Region 2 and 3 will need to meet certain minimum activity requirements. These requirements mean farmers will need to keep sufficient livestock to meet a minimum stocking density of 0.05 livestock units per hectare of land or demonstrate why they are stocking below this level.

One option is to undertake an environmental assessment including annual surveys of breeding birds, mammals, butterflies and plant health and annual monitoring of habitats. An alternative is to have an environmental agreement on the land with Scottish Natural Heritage or an agri-environment agreement under the Scotland Rural Development Programme.


Future funding announced for Scotland’s Environment Web - SEPA

Scotland’s first dedicated website for environmental data will continue to be supported by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and partners, once the European LIFE+ funding contribution concludes later this year. SEPA’s Chief Executive, James Curran, will make the announcement of future funding for the website (www.environment.scotland.gov.uk) at Understanding the state of the environment – a conference being held by the agency in Edinburgh.

The Scotland’s Environment Web LIFE+ project has been working closely with partners over the last three and a half years to create a website that provides access to data and information about Scotland’s environment, in a format that is accessible to a wide range of interests. 

Users of Scotland’s Environment website have access to:

  • over 300 openly published data sets and over 2000 information resources published by 11 different organisations;
  • 18 different tools (with some exciting new developments to be released soon) that make it easy for users to not only find the information but to interpret and analyse it if they want to;
  • 2 additional websites in the Scotland’s Environment Web family, that take a more specialised view of the environmental – Scotland’s Soils and Scotland’s Aquaculture.

In addition to these tools, Scotland’s Environment website provides access to reports on the state and quality of the environment, whilst aiming to improve our understanding of the challenges faced by public agencies and the wide range of benefits the environment has to offer all sectors of society. 

 David Pirie, SEPA Executive Director, said: There are so many people interested in environmental data, from young people who want to know what is happening around their school and home, to those who rely on a high quality environmental data for their business, to community volunteers seeking to protect and improve the environment. With so many organisations holding data, some of it very technical and complex, the real challenge was to create a website that would work for everyone and enable them to make better use of the vast quantities of published data.  The European LIFE + funding has allowed SEPA and partners to be innovative in our approach and demonstrate new digital data solutions to common challenges, in areas there we might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. It’s an exciting time to be working in this area, given the pace of change in new digital technologies and new software options that will let us widen out our offering even more.  This continued funding means that we can now establish a comprehensive data and information resource for anyone who is personally or professionally interested in protecting and improving Scotland’s Environment”


Scientific Publication

Christiansen, F. & Lusseau, D. (2015) Linking Behaviour to Vital Rates to Measure the Effects of Non-Lethal Disturbance on Wildlife. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12166


Pocock, Michael J.O. et al Developing and enhancing biodiversity monitoring programmes: a collaborative assessment of priorities. Journal of Applied Ecology  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12423


Lundholm, Jeremy T.  Green roof plant species diversity improves ecosystem multifunctionality.  Journal of Applied Ecology  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12425 

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Disclaimer: the views expressed in these news pages do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CJS.