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


Silent flights: How owls could help make wind turbines and planes quieter – University of Cambridge

A newly-designed material, which mimics the wing structure of owls, could help make wind turbines, computer fans and even planes much quieter. Early wind tunnel tests of the coating have shown a substantial reduction in noise without any noticeable effect on aerodynamics.

Inset image: Close-up view of a flight feather of a Great Grey Owl. Credit: J. Jaworski.

Image: Close-up view of a flight feather of a Great Grey Owl. Credit: J. Jaworski

An investigation into how owls fly and hunt in silence has enabled researchers to develop a prototype coating for wind turbine blades that could significantly reduce the amount of noise they make.

Early tests of the material, which mimics the intricate structure of an owl’s wing, have demonstrated that it could significantly reduce the amount of noise produced by wind turbines and other types of fan blades, such as those in computers or planes. Since wind turbines are heavily braked in order to minimise noise, the addition of this new surface would mean that they could be run at much higher speeds – producing more energy while making less noise. For an average-sized wind farm, this could mean several additional megawatts worth of electricity.

The surface has been developed by researchers at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with researchers at three institutions in the USA. Their results will be presented today (22 June) at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Aeroacoustics Conference in Dallas.

“Many owls – primarily large owls like barn owls or great grey owls – can hunt by stealth, swooping down and capturing their prey undetected,” said Professor Nigel Peake of Cambridge’s Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics, who led the research. “While we’ve known this for centuries, what hasn’t been known is how or why owls are able to fly in silence.”


Chemicals from fracking could cause significant pollution and damage to wildlife – CHEM Trust

A new analysis for chemicals charity CHEM Trust finds that chemicals from fracking sites have the potential to cause significant pollution. This pollution with hazardous chemicals could cause damage to sensitive ecosystems, including killing wildlife, as has happened in the US. Fracking Briefing (CHEM Trust)Important UK wildlife sites are threatened, which could harm a wide range of species such as butterflies, dragonflies and bats.

Image: Fracking Briefing (CHEM Trust)

CHEM Trust makes 18 recommendations for vital improvements that are needed in the regulation of fracking in order to reduce risks to the environment and human health. In addition, it warns that cuts in regulators such as the Environment Agency in the UK could jeopardise the effectiveness of any regulations.

This publication comes days before Councillors in Lancashire, in North West England, vote on whether to permit Cuadrilla to frack two sites, which could potentially affect wildlife in and around Morecambe Bay, a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention. CHEM Trust is sending our report to the key Councillors in Lancashire prior to this vote.

The European Commission is also currently considering the effectiveness of the current regulations on fracking, and CHEM Trust will be sending our report to the EU’s Environment Commissioner and key Members of the European Parliament, in order to push for stronger regulation. We have already met officials in the EU’s environment department to call for tighter controls on chemical use in fracking operations.

Read the analysis here


Unique mapping project to capture the sounds of our shores – National Trust

The public is being asked to record the sounds that shape and define our relationship with the coast across the UK in a three-month crowd sourced sound project – ‘sounds of our shores’ – being launched today (Monday 22 June) by the National Trust, National Trust for Scotland and the British Library.

Image: Martyn Ware on Brighton beach recording sound for the sounds of our shores project. Credit: Tim StubbingsImage: Martyn Ware on Brighton beach recording sound for the sounds of our shores project. Credit: Tim Stubbings

Sounds can be uploaded on to the first ever UK coastal sound map, hosted on the British Library website. It could be the vibrant sounds of a working fishing village, gulls screaming on one of the wonderful seabird islands dotted around our coast or the kettle whistling from inside a much loved beach hut.

All of these sounds will be added to the British Library Sound Archive – creating a snapshot of the beautiful and diverse UK coastline that future generations will be able to hear.

The coastal sound map project co-incides with the 50th anniversary of the National Trust Neptune Coastline Campaign. Launched in May 1965, the Trust now manages 775 miles of coast in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Musician, producer and founder member of Human League and Heaven 17, Martyn Ware, will be using the sounds submitted by the public to create a brand new piece of music for release in February 2016.


Putting the UK’s largest seabird under surveillance highlights the need for a precautionary approach to development in the English Channel – The Wildlife Trusts

Gannets image credit Vic FroomeGannets image credit Vic Froome

A new and experimental project is launched today (Monday 22 June) offering an unrivalled insight into the lifecycle of Britain’s largest native seabird, the northern gannet.  The project entitled ‘Track a Gannet’, or T.A.G. for short, is jointly run by the smallest of The Wildlife Truists; Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the University of Liverpool.  It is enabling gannets to be put under surveillance using the 3G mobile network.

The project is unique in that:

  • T.A.G is the first time 3G live tracking has been used on seabirds and a world first for ‘real time’ tracking of a seabird being available to everyone.
  • T.A.G is delivering daily discoveries into the vital importance of the English Channel to these birds as they fish over vast areas.   The maximum track for a single trip recorded since the tags were enabled on 8 June is in excess of 800km.
  • For the first time real time tracking has been combined with a live streaming webcam www.teachingthroughnature.co.uk/t-a-g 
  • Data collected from the tags will be vitally important in understanding the potential impacts of off-shore developments in the English Channel and will be used to respond to a variety of development issues. 

Alderney’s gannet populations are the most southerly in the British Isles. Northern gannets are identified as ‘Amber listed’ in the Birds of Conservation Concern 3 (Joint Nature Conservation Committee), and perhaps one of the most charismatic of British breeding seabirds.

Simon King OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ President, said: “In the last decade webcams and television have brought the drama of ‘the bird nest’ into millions of people’s homes.  At the same time GPS tagging has helped scientists to understand so much more about what birds get up to, from where they forage to how they travel thousands of miles on migration." 


Conservation successes overshadowed by more species declines – IUCN Red List update - IUCN

Successful conservation action has boosted the populations of the Iberian Lynx and the Guadalupe Fur Seal, while the African Golden Cat, the New Zealand Sea Lion and the Lion are facing increasing threats to their survival, according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Image: Lion (Panthera leo) Credit: Craig Hilton-TaylorThreatened Species™. Ninety-nine percent of tropical Asian slipper orchids – some of the most highly prized ornamental plants – are threatened with extinction.

Today’s update also shows that over-collection and habitat destruction are placing enormous pressure on many medicinal plants.

Image: Lion (Panthera leo) Credit: Craig Hilton-Taylor

The IUCN Red List now includes 77,340 assessed species, of which 22,784 are threatened with extinction. The loss and degradation of habitat are identified as the main threat to 85% of all species described on the IUCN Red List, with illegal trade and invasive species also being key drivers of population decline.

“This IUCN Red List update confirms that effective conservation can yield outstanding results,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “Saving the Iberian Lynx from the brink of extinction while securing the livelihoods of local communities is a perfect example. But this update is also a wake-up call, reminding us that our natural world is becoming increasingly vulnerable. The international community must urgently step up conservation efforts if we want to secure this fascinating diversity of life that sustains, inspires and amazes us every day.”


Report lays bare public priorities for the natural environment – University of Exeter

Public views on the challenges facing policy and decision makers to manage the natural environment have been revealed in a major national public dialogue project.

Led by the University of Exeter’s Centre for Rural Policy Research, the research has informed a major report explaining why the natural environment matters to people. It also explores how current approaches to environmental policy and decision making resonate with public concerns and priorities.

The ‘Naturally Speaking…’ public dialogue process was run in partnership with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Sciencewise the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology issues. 

The report reveals that people value their natural environment for a range of cultural and health benefits and its contribution to human livelihoods and prosperity. As well as important for economic activity the natural environment is viewed as a place to enhance relationships with family and friends; encourage physical exercise; enable inner peace and mental calm; reconnect with the past; and find meaning in life.

A key finding of the report is that people support the need for making a strong economic case for the environment, yet they emphasise we should be careful not to think about the natural environment as a ‘bottomless pit’, but as something that helps us to function and therefore we need to cherish and look after it.

In addition the report highlights the need for more active and creative involvement of local communities in decisions about the natural environment. The role of government and publicly funded research in addressing the big environmental challenges of the day is also emphasised. People stressed that decision-making should prioritise long-term public gain and saw risks in decisions being driven by financial concerns and commercial interests.

Read the report here


Live mealworms are a hit with chicks - GWCT

Image: Martin Clay. Live pheasant chicks on the GWCT Game Fair stand adjacent to the main arena, will help to illustrate the science behind a new three-year project that aimed to see whether simple techniques introduced early in a reared pheasant’s life helps to increase their survival once released. A ground-breaking new study published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, which used hundreds of reared pheasant chicks as the model, could have invaluable implications for important wildlife reintroduction programmes in the future.

Live pheasant chicks on the GWCT Game Fair stand adjacent to the main arena, will help to illustrate the science behind a new three-year project that aimed to see whether simple techniques introduced early in a reared pheasant’s life helps to increase their survival once released. Image: Martin Clay. 

This new research, which formed part of a PhD study by Dr Mark Whiteside, identified that the provision of a more naturalistic diet to very young chicks in captivity, in the form of mixed seed and live meal worms, will help to make a considerable difference to their survival once released into the wild compared to pheasants reared with standard chick pellets.

The three-year study was initiated and supported by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) and carried out by Dr Whiteside from the Centre for Research in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter. Both the GWCT and Exeter University co-funded this important study.

Mark Whiteside explains why this important study has wide-ranging benefits, “Captive-reared animals released as a part of a reintroduction or restocking programme typically differ from their wild counterparts in their behavioural and physiological characteristics, which can lead to high levels of mortality. Pheasant rearing offers an excellent model system to help identify how we can manipulate early rearing conditions to promote the development of important survival traits once released into the wild.”

Read the paper: Whiteside, M. A., Sage, R. & Madden, J. R. (2015) Diet complexity in early life affects survival in released pheasants by altering foraging efficiency, food choice, handling skills, and gut morphology. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12401


Dwindling pine marten population in Wales gets major financial boost – Vincent Wildlife Trust

£200k pledged towards Pine Marten Recovery Project

The Pine Marten Recovery Project, established by The Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), has secured vital financial support, helping to ensure the long-term funding of this six-year project aimed at restoring the pine marten to England and Wales.

Image: Vincent Wildlife TrustImage: Vincent Wildlife Trust

This autumn will see the first pine martens brought from Scotland, where they are thriving, to an area of mid Wales that still retains a tiny but struggling pine marten population. This is the culmination of almost two years of feasibility research, careful groundwork and community liaison. Over time it is hoped that a viable, thriving pine marten population will once again flourish in the woodlands of mid Wales.

The project has secured a total of £200,000 from four partners: Woodland Trust, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), a private company called POLECAT and including £100,000 over six years from Chester Zoo. This is a significant proportion of the £800,000 match funding needed to finance the project.

Natalie Buttriss, Chief Executive of the VWT, said “We are delighted to have these four new partners on board. Not only have they provided a welcome early financial boost to the project, but will also bring with them additional expertise and resources.”


Devon wild beavers have kits! – Devon Wildlife Trust

Devon Wildlife Trust is delighted to announce the birth of kits born to the first wild colony of beavers in England.  New film footage proves that England’s only wild beaver population is growing.  The footage, taken by local film-maker Tom Buckley, shows baby beavers – known as kits – taking their first swimming lessons and being helped through the water by their mother at an undisclosed location on East Devon’s River Otter.  The births signal the latest chapter in a story which has attracted great support from the local community.
Devon Wildlife Trust’s Mark Elliott said:  “We are thrilled that the beavers have bred. The baby kits appear fit and healthy and the adults seem as if they are taking their parenting responsibilities very seriously.  It tells us that the beavers are very much at home in this corner of Devon. The slowly expanding population of these wild animals will help us to gain valuable insights into beavers and their environment - both in terms of animal behaviour and any benefits and effects on the surrounding river system.”
Mark also makes a plea to people who might want to catch a glimpse of the new additions to a local beaver population:  “The beavers have proved enormously popular with local people and we understand that many will now want to see the kits for themselves.  But like all new parents, the beavers will need a bit space and peace at this time.  So we ask that visitors take care not to disturb them.  This means remaining on public footpaths, keeping a respectful distance from them, and keeping dogs under close control especially when near the river.”
A population of beavers was first confirmed on the River Otter in February 2014.  This was the first time that breeding beavers were known to be living in the English countryside for as much as 400 years.  
Tom Buckley captured the fabulous footage of the beaver and kits.  He said:  “When I saw these new born baby beavers (kits) I was totally overwhelmed and thought it must be a miracle.  My first sighting of this year’s new born kits was when I saw their mother swimming with one of them in her mouth to an area nearby where their father was waiting to greet them.  One of the kits, however, seemed extremely unhappy to be out in the big wide world and as soon as its mother let it go it rushed back to its burrow.  Not surprising really – the world can be a very scary place.  This was possibly their first experience of what lies outside of their burrow.”

Watch the video of baby beavers here!


RSPB solves the migration mystery of UK's fastest declining migrant bird - RSPB

Turtle Dove via Andy Hay / RSPBThe migration route of a UK breeding turtle dove has, for the first time, been revealed by the RSPB today [Wednesday 24 June 2015] – providing valuable data in the conservation fight to help save the species from UK extinction.

The turtle dove population has plummeted by 96% since 1970 Image: Andy Hay

Last July, the RSPB fitted a small, light-weight satellite tag to a turtle dove from Suffolk before it embarked on its mammoth migration journey. In a UK science first, the RSPB was able to track Titan, the tagged turtle dove, on his 5600km migration route from Suffolk to Mali, and back again, all in real time. The turtle dove population has plummeted 96 per cent since 1970, making it the UK’s fastest declining migrant bird. This decline is so dramatic that the population is halving in number every six years; should it continue at this rate the species may be lost as a breeding bird in the UK within the next couple of decades. Flying mostly under the cover of darkness, Titan flew across epic landscapes such as the Atlas Mountains, Sahara Desert and the Gulf of Cadiz. The satellite tag also uncovered that he travelled around 500-700km per night flying at a maximum speed of 60km per hour.

Dr John Mallord, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist, said: “This is the first time that we have ever been able to track a UK-breeding turtle dove to its African wintering grounds. Previously we largely relied on ringing the birds, which didn’t give us half the amount of data Titan’s tag has. On top of his wintering grounds, we also have his migration route, where he stopped to rest and refuel and how long he spent in different places. “Our aim now is to build on this new information, which will be used to help us to target our conservation efforts far more effectively on precisely those areas the birds are using when they leave the UK.”

Titan’s outbound journey to Africa, where he wintered for six months, took around a month to complete. On his return the avian jetsetter spent two weeks making his way through France, initially following the Atlantic coast, before leaving from Dunkirk and touching down in Suffolk. The latest satellite reading shows that Titan has returned to the same area he was first found and tagged in Suffolk. 


Deer management provisions in Land Reform Bill welcome but fall short – Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Trust welcomes proposals to provide Scottish Natural Heritage with more powers to compel irresponsible landowners and occupiers to produce Deer Management Plans under the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Trust believes such provisions are long overdue and the Scottish Government should be commended in recognising the need for strengthened legislation on deer management.

However, the wording of the draft legislation falls well short of what is needed if Scotland is to tackle the widespread and often severe impact that very high numbers of deer have on Scotland’s woodlands, peatlands and uplands.

The Bill gives Scottish Natural Heritage more powers to require landowners to draw up and act on deer plans which could help tackle the problems associated with overpopulation of deer such as overgrazing, trampling and localised peatland erosion. However, under the current draft Bill, such powers can only be used when damage is already taking place and it is unclear what, if any, consequences there are for owners and occupiers who fail to produce a plan. The Trust wishes to see the deer management provisions in the Bill made much clearer. As the Bill passes through Parliament the Trust will work with MSPs and other partners to ensure the provisions are fit for purpose.

Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonny Hughes said: “As currently drafted it is questionable whether we will see any measurable improvement in the health of those habitats in Scotland currently being severely overgrazed by deer, including internationally important Atlantic rainforests and peatlands. As a start, it is vital that Scottish Natural Heritage be given powers to draw up Deer Management Plans on behalf of those owners and occupiers that fail to do so in a timely manner. More worryingly, action by SNH can only be taken when damage has already occurred; the classic closing the stable door after the horse has bolted scenario. In reality, large parts of the uplands suffer from deer damage and we urgently need realistic targets to reduce densities in order to give our exhausted landscapes some chance of recovery. We have a chance with this Bill to bring in sensible management for deer that could see the return of our once great Caledonian pine forest within a generation. Getting the wording of the Bill right is paramount.”


Confor calls on governments to protect important forestry services - Confor

As the starting pistol is fired on the process of full devolution of the Forestry Commission in Scotland and England, Confor has flagged up to ministers the importance of services currently provided by the Forestry Commission at a Great Britain level. 

"Recent years have seen significant growth in the forestry and wood processing sector across Great Britain, aided by key services, including Statistics and the National Inventory, the world renowned Forest Research and business development support", explained Confor chief executive, Stuart Goodall. "Given the relatively small amount of support given to forestry compared to other sectors, and the comparatively large benefits that the sector provides to society, not least in terms of rural jobs, it would be counter-productive to dilute or reduce that modest level of support. We note that the Westminster and Scottish governments are planning to discuss these services and the wider structure of the Forestry Commission, and look forward to getting more detailed information on the proposals in due course.  Meanwhile we will continue to work with the Forestry Commission in each country in the interests of Confor members" 

As well as core services, the Forestry Commission at the country level plays a key role in the delivery of new woodland planting. The sector urgently requires rates of new planting to increase to provide the raw material for the sector to maintain its levels of activity in future decades and new planting, of all types, contributes significantly to governments meeting their climate change targets.  


Europe’s seas: productive, but not healthy or clean - European Environment Agency

The European Union’s Blue Growth agenda aims to harness further the potential of Europe’s oceans, seas and coasts for jobs, economic value and sustainability. A new report published today by the European Environment Agency (EEA) shows that, despite some improvements, the way we use our seas remains unsustainable and threatens not only the productivity of our seas, but also our wellbeing. Human activities and climate change are increasingly putting a number of pressures on Europe’s seas, the cumulative effects of which threaten the functioning and resilience of marine ecosystems.

In line with the development of the European Union’s (EU) Blue Growth objectives, which aspire to greater and sustainable use of the seas’ potential, the EEA’s new ‘State of Europe’s seas’ report examines whether the EU is meeting its policy goals for the quality of the marine environment.

From fisheries to offshore energy production, and protection of marine biodiversity, the EU has a range of policies related to planning and regulating the sustainable use of Europe’s seas. The Marine Strategy Framework Directive, adopted in 2008, aims to ensure coherence between such EU policies and sets three goals for Europe’s seas: to be ‘productive’, ‘healthy’, and ‘clean’. Based on the data available, the EEA finds that although Europe’s seas can be considered productive, they cannot be considered healthy or clean.

The report also looks into describing what ecosystem-based management could mean in the marine context and how to improve our knowledge, as well as considering future challenges in relation to the long-term sustainability of Europe’s seas.

Only a very limited number of assessments of marine habitats and species indicate favourable conservation status. Current pressures include, among others, physical damage to the seafloor (due to bottom-trawling in particular), introduction of non-indigenous species, nutrient input (mainly from agricultural fertilisers), hazardous substance pollution and marine litter. Climate change induced temperature increases and potential ocean acidification can further weaken the ecological resilience of Europe’s Seas.


Protecting natural heritage – Scottish Government

Environment Minister launches biodiversity route map.

Details of the Scottish Government’s plans to deliver the ‘2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity’ over the next five years were announced today (Thursday) by Minister for the Environment Aileen McLeod during a visit to the Wild Flowers and Water Voles Project in Glasgow.

Scotland’s Biodiversity – A Route Map to 2020 will set out the priority work needed to meet the international Aichi Targets for biodiversity and improve the state of nature in Scotland.

Speaking at the Grow Wild site in Easterhouse, Dr McLeod said: “Our awareness of the importance, value and fragility of nature is growing year on year. Through an impressive body of evidence, we are building up a clearer picture of what needs to be done to care for and restore biodiversity. The Route Map, published today, sets out six ‘Big Steps for Nature’ and a number of priority projects that focus on collaborative work, which the Scottish Government and a range of partners are committed to taking forward to help deliver the 2020 Challenge. Many of our habitats and wildlife are internationally important. Scotland’s peatlands, mountain landscapes, coastal cliffs and seas, machair and diversity of woodland ecosystems are exceptional by European standards. These support a fantastic range of species, as well as being key assets for public health and wellbeing. We want to improve the state of nature across Scotland and to ensure more people draw on its many benefits.”

The Six Big Steps for Nature are:

  • Ecosystem restoration – to reverse historical losses of habitats and ecosystems, to meet the Aichi target of restoring 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems.
  • Investment in natural capital – to ensure the benefits that nature provides are better understood and appreciated, leading to better management of our renewable and non-renewable natural assets.
  • Quality greenspace for health and education benefits – to ensure that the majority of people derive increased benefits from contact with nature where they live and work.
  • Conserving wildlife in Scotland – to secure the future of priority habitats and species.
  • Sustainable management of land and freshwater – to ensure that environmental, social and economic elements are well balanced.
  • Sustainable management of marine and coastal ecosystems – to secure a healthy balance between environmental, social and economic elements.

Download the full report. (pdf)


Trust welcomes Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Strategy Roadmap – Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Trust supports the Scottish Government’s priorities published today which will help Scotland meet global biodiversity targets by 2020.

Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonny Hughes, said: “The Scottish Wildlife Trust would like to commend the Scottish Government on outlining these key priorities that will lead Scotland closer to reaching the internationally agreed Aichi Biodiversity Targets and ultimately towards a better Scotland. Including natural capital as a key focus in the Roadmap is particularly welcome in the year the World Forum on Natural Capital takes place in Edinburgh on November 23 and 24, when the international spotlight will shine on Scotland. The Trust believes first and foremost that we have a moral obligation to protect and restore nature in Scotland, but by also explaining that a healthy natural environment underpins a healthy, more equal and more prosperous Scotland, we may just begin to see the political buy-in we need to reverse ongoing wildlife loss. The natural capital debate helps explain that nature is directly relevant to everyone’s daily lives.”


Securing the future of soil and the good & services it provides us - Rothamsted Research

Rothamsted Research, in collaboration with other leading UK research institutions, have been awarded £1.6M for research into Soil Security.

Scientists at Rothamsted Research, in collaboration with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Lancaster University, the University of Aberdeen and Imperial College London have been awarded £1.6M from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Soils Security Programme, to investigate how we can ensure sustainable soil management practices in the face of current and future environmental change.

The earth’s soil resources are being put under increasing pressure and there is an urgent need to ensure that soils found across different landscapes continue to deliver vital good and services for humans. These goods and services, which nature freely provides us and which we often take for granted, have been termed ecosystems services. Soil ecosystems service include, for example,   the physical stability and support of plants, allowing us to grow and consume crops, and the buffering and filtering of the hydrological cycle, which gives us clean water.

The study will see the collaborative team of scientists investigate how soils in different ecosystems, ranging from intensive agriculture through to extensive, semi-natural systems, support ecosystem services, and to what extent they are robust to environmental pressures from climate change and human activity.

During the project, the team will investigate how soil in each of these ecosystems respond to change, and how management might be used to improve the delivery of the vital ecosystem services provided by soils. The team aim to identify which management practices will benefit the widest range of services, and where trade-offs, such as improving soil fertility but decreasing water quality, might occur.


Scientists disappointed at results from GM wheat field trial - Rothamsted Research

The results of the GM wheat field trial held by Rothamsted Research in 2012-2013 are published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports today (25 June). The data show that the GM wheat did not repel aphid pests in the field as was hypothesised and was initially seen in laboratory experiments conducted by scientists at the Institute.

Aphids are serious pests of wheat and other arable crops cultivated in the UK, transmitting viruses and reducing yield. Farmers spray insecticides to control aphids when infestations become severe due to lack of an alternative approach. Scientists at Rothamsted Research conducted experiments to discover whether wheat could be genetically modified (GM) to produce an aphid alarm pheromone and whether it would repel aphids in the lab and field. This would allow farmers to reduce insecticide spraying, benefiting the environment and making farming more sustainable.

Although the GM wheat did not repel aphids in the field, the five-year project did score some notable successes. The use of genetic engineering to provide wheat able to produce the aphid alarm pheromone (E)-β-farnesene (Eβf) was successful and robust - this is a world first and an important proof of concept in plant science overall. GM wheat plants produced the pheromone in significant quantities without major unexpected changes seen in the appearance or performance of the new wheat plants, which looked and yielded as normal.

In addition, in laboratory experiments aphids were successfully repelled by the Eβf signal. Scientists went on to test the GM plants in open field conditions. However, in the field trials there was no statistically significant difference in aphid infestation between the GM wheat and the conventional wheat used as a control (both of the same variety, Cadenza).

Professor Huw Jones, senior molecular biologist at Rothamsted Research with oversight for the genetic changes in the plants said: "As scientists we are trained to treat our experimental data objectively and dispassionately but I was definitely disappointed. We had hoped that this technique would offer a way to reduce the use of insecticides in pest control in arable farming. As so often happens, this experiment shows that the real world environment is much more complicated than the laboratory."

Professor Jones added: "However, many aspects of this experiment were highly successful. The genetic engineering component worked very well and GM wheat plants performed as hoped during cultivation. It would have been a fantastic outcome if the experiment had given positive results in the field too but this was not the case and for a first attempt, this was not entirely unexpected.”

Read the publication here Bruce et al. (2015) The first crop plant genetically engineered to release an insect pheromone for defence. Scientific Reports. doi:10.1038/srep11183


First spawned salmon found in River Dearne for 150 years – Environment Agency

Salmon spotted in a South Yorkshire river for the first time in 150 years in what was once part of Britain's most polluted river systems.

Juvenile Salmon via Environment AgencyA major engineering project helping salmon return to what was once one of Britain’s most polluted river systems, has achieved a historic success after a young salmon was discovered in the River Dearne, South Yorkshire.

An Environment Agency fish survey team spotted the 14cm juvenile when carrying out routine checks last week. The discovery is the first evidence of salmon spawning in the river, which is a tributary of the River Don, for more than 150 years.

The discovery of juvenile salmon on the River Dearne for more than 150 years. Image via Environment Agency

Once in abundance, salmon populations began to dwindle with the growth of industry. Weirs which were built to power industry or provide deep water for boats also acted as barriers to the fish reaching their spawning grounds. By the mid 19th Century salmon were all but gone from South Yorkshire’s rivers.

Last year the construction of a fish pass was completed at Sprotbrough Weir opening up 55 kilometres of the River Don - almost half the length of the river - to salmon and other migratory fish.

Jerome Masters, Environment Agency fisheries technical officer said: 'Our rivers are the healthiest for more than 20 years and otters, salmon and other wildlife are returning for the first time since the industrial revolution. But there is still more to be done. The construction of the fish pass at Sprotbrough Weir is a significant step in getting salmon back to rivers across South Yorkshire.'

The River Don already supports a healthy population of coarse fish, and adult salmon have been caught in the river in the recent past, but the discovery of this juvenile salmon in the River Dearne is hugely exciting. The size of the fish indicates that it was born in early 2014, which means that its parents probably used the fish pass at Sprotbrough Weir shortly after it opened.


Now is the time to strengthen seabird protection, says RSPB

Puffin image via RSPB Credit Andy HayOne of the UK’s largest seabird colonies celebrates 150 years of protection this year and with an increasing number of threats facing seabird colonies in the UK, the RSPB is urging that the laws protecting them are strengthened. 

RSPB Bempton Cliffs, in East Yorkshire, is a Special Protected Area under the Birds and Habitats directives - EU legislation to protect the most important wildlife species and habitats in the UK and Europe. But the 250,000 seabirds that flock to the cliffs at Bempton each year are facing ever increasing threats. 

Bempton Cliffs is known throughout the UK for its puffin colony Image: Andy Hay

Disruption to the marine environment is one of the primary threats facing seabirds in Europe. This is largely down to inappropriate developments at sea and the effects of climate change on the marine environment. Increased protection for wildlife at sea is seen as the first step in improving our oceans and helping marine wildlife. 

Although the European Commission’s REFIT ‘fitness check’ of the Birds and Habitats Directives could result in a weakened set of laws protecting UK and European wildlife. The RSPB is one of 100 voluntary organisations across the UK who have raised concerns that the Directives are under threat of being weakened by those who mistakenly regard them as a block on business and economic growth.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “The seabird colony at Bempton is spectacular – it’s home to vast numbers of seabirds such as puffins, kittiwakes and gannets which provide an attack on the senses with their sights sounds and smells. It is important that these much loved species are protected by laws from the threats that they are facing. The cliffs at Bempton are safeguarded by strong legal designation and the fact they are on a RSPB reserve means it is a protected area – but at sea it is a different story. The areas at sea, where the birds feed, are not protected meaning they are open to many different kinds of threats, such as the application for an addition 360 wind turbines at Hornsea only 89km off the Yorkshire coast.” 


RCT Councillors unanimously vote for sky lantern ban as no-fly zone reaches 50% - RSPCA

RSPCA Cymru has welcomed the unanimous backing given by Councillors in Rhondda Cynon Taf to a ban on the use of sky lanterns on Local Authority land.

Councillors voted in favour of the action at a full council meeting on Wednesday evening (June 24th), and also urged the Welsh Government to implement legislation restricting the use and sale of sky lanterns across Wales.

The Notice of Motion debated by RCT Councillors showed clear support for RSPCA Cymru’s long-standing campaign on the issue, which saw supporters of a ban across South Wales send messages of encouragement to the Council ahead of the vote. The move means that 11 of Wales’ 22 Local Authorities have acted on sky lantern releases – half of all Councils.

Speaking outside the Council chamber after the vote, RSPCA Cymru’s public affairs manager, Chris O’Brien, said: “Sky lanterns pose potential threat and harm to animals in numerous ways.We’re delighted RCT Council has taken this important step for local animal welfare. They’ve delivered a powerful statement to their local community and beyond by implementing this voluntary ban.RSPCA Cymru has worked closely with Rhondda Cynon Taf Council on the issue and held productive discussions with Council leader Cllr Andrew Morgan and Cabinet Member Cllr Ann Crimmings. Councillors in RCT also unanimously called upon the Welsh Government to legislate on this issue. RSPCA Cymru believes a Wales-wide ban is the most effective means to end the threat posed to wildlife, livestock and other animals by these devices.”

County Borough Councillor Andrew Morgan, Leader of Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough Council said: “The Council has received strong representation from residents to decisively deal with the dangers Sky Lanterns can pose. The RSPCA has long highlighted the dangers associated with the use of Sky Lanterns and the Council supports their call upon the Welsh Government to implement an outright ban on their use across Wales. Our decision to ban their use on Local Authority land will reduce the risk of fire, harm to animals and damage to our local environment; only an outright ban delivered through legislation can deliver the necessary protection for wildlife and our countryside we as a Council and the RSPCA want to see.”


Scientific Publications

Hamilton, J. A. & Miller, J. M. (2015) Adaptive introgression: A resource for management and genetic conservation in a changing climate. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12574


Gruby, R. L., Gray, N. J., Campbell, L. M. & Acton, L. (2015) Toward a social science research agenda for large marine protected areas. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12194


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