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


New atlas reveals spread of British bryophytes in response to cleaner air - CEH

A new atlas of British and Irish bryophytes is published this month. Analysis in the atlas shows that many bryophyte species growing on the barks of trees have spread across Britain in response to a decrease in sulphur dioxide pollution over recent decades.  The British Isles support a rich and geographically diverse flora of bryophytes with more than 1000 native species (four hornworts, 298 liverworts and 767 mosses) currently known. Fifty-nine new species have been discovered in the last 20 years.

Frullania dilatata, a species of liverwort. Photo by Jonathan Sleath.The British Bryological Society and the Biological Records Centre started recording bryophyte occurrences in 1960 and some 1069 species are mapped in the new, two-volume publication. It replaces an earlier, three-volume atlas (1991–94), updating it with the results of two decades of further fieldwork. The number of records on which the maps are based has increased from a total of 770,000 in 1994 to 2.83 million in 2014.

Frullania dilatata, a species of liverwort. Photo by Jonathan Sleath.

Records have been contributed largely by amateur recorders – 404 recorders contributed 97% of the records and of these a ‘hard core’ of 45 recorders each contributed more than 10,000 records.

In the Foreword, Professor John Birks from the University of Bergen describes the new Atlas as "a truly magnificent achievement" and "a major contribution not only to British and Irish botanical literature but also to international botanical literature".

Co-editor Chris Preston, from the Biological Records Centre at CEH, said, “The Atlas highlights the contribution that volunteer naturalists can make to the study of our biodiversity. Although we are often told that naturalists are a threatened species, the publication of this Atlas shows that this is far from the case. Dedicated observers are devoting years to systematically recording our species, and by use of computer technology are able to contribute their records to a national database.

The atlas was edited by T L Blockeel, S D S Bosanquet, M O Hill & C D Preston. It is published by Pisces Publications on behalf of the British Bryological Society.


Active Cairngorms – get involved! - Cairngorms National Park Authority

Being more active tops many people’s new year resolution list.  Now there is way to get active and get involved with our new Cairngorms outdoor access strategy.

It’s not just for the kayakers and mountain bikers but for everyone, it aims to make it safer and easier for people to move around the Cairngorms National Park whatever their age, ability or background.  Whether you live in the Park, or just visit, you can have your say.

The consultation begins today (Monday 12th January) with the ‘Active Cairngorms’ draft strategy now available online for comment.  It outlines the types of actions to be taken to promote healthy lifestyles through being active in the outdoors, while also ensuring that recreation does not impact negatively on the Park’s special species and habitats.

Recreation and Access Manager at the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA), David Clyne explained: “We want ‘Active Cairngorms’ to make a difference to everyone living and visiting the Cairngorms National Park, from walking to school to offering a high quality outdoor experience for visitors. Our work in developing this outdoor access strategy can influence changes in behaviour that can last a lifetime and help people live healthier lifestyles. Therefore it’s important that as many people as possible contribute to the consultation.”

You can view and comment on ‘Active Cairngorms’ via the CNPA website, here. The consultation lasts for 12 weeks, closing on Friday 10th April.


National Park Authority accepts cut in affordable housing – Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Plans to build more affordable homes in the Yorkshire Dales National Park to help local communities survive have been cut by more than half by new housing rules introduced by the Government.

The changes mean local planning authorities no longer have the power to insist that a proportion of new homes planned for a site should be built as affordable housing. In the National Park, half of all the houses built would have been affordable homes.

The Government initially consulted on a proposal whereby developers should not be required to provide affordable housing on any sites where fewer than 11 houses were going to be built.

After protests from all the local authorities in North Yorkshire, including the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), the Government gave national parks, and some rural areas, the option of having a lower threshold of six.

YDNPA Members have now very reluctantly agreed to adopt this lower threshold, which means there will now be no requirement for developers to build affordable housing on sites for fewer than six houses in the National Park. 


Aberdeen gamekeeper jailed for killing goshawk - Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

Gamekeeper Mutch was handed a custodial sentence today after being caught trapping and killing a rare wild bird with the use of video cameras.
George Mutch was sentenced to four months imprisonment on each of four charges, one offence under Section 5(1)(b) and three offences under Section 1(1)(a) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The sentences will run concurrently.  Mutch was convicted at Aberdeen Sheriff Court on 11 December 2014 of the use of traps for the purpose of taking wild birds and of the killing of a goshawk and the taking of another goshawk and a common buzzard on the Kildrummy Estate in late 2012.

Sara Shaw, Procurator Fiscal, Wildlife and Environment said:  “Birds of prey are given strict protection by our law. Goshawks in particular are rare birds: the court heard evidence in this case that there are only about 150 nesting pairs in Scotland. It is highly important to preserve Scotland’s natural heritage, including the wildlife that forms part of it. Our environmental laws exist to provide this protection.  This case involved serious contraventions of those laws. The conviction of Mr Mutch and the severity of the sentence given by the Court highlights that message. COPFS will continue to prosecute such cases where appropriate to ensure that offenders are brought to justice.”

Reaction: RSPB Scotland welcomes first UK prison sentence for raptor persecution - RSPB

Mr Mutch imprisoned after being convicted of four counts relating to the persecution of Goshawk (Image: Mark Hamblin)RSPB Scotland has welcomed the first imprisonment for raptor persecution following the conviction of gamekeeper George Mutch.

Mr Mutch imprisoned after being convicted of four counts relating to the persecution of Goshawk

(Image: Mark Hamblin)

Welcoming the custodial sentence awarded at Aberdeen Sheriff Court to the convicted bird of prey killer George Mutch, Duncan Orr Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, said: “This sentence is an historic, landmark result. Mr Mutch has been sentenced to four months in prison following his conviction for the illegal killing of a goshawk; illegal use of a trap; and illegal taking of a buzzard and a second goshawk.


Survey reveals importance of outdoor visits in England - Natural England, defra, Forestry Commission

The fifth year of findings from the definitive survey of the way people enjoy the great English outdoors have been published.

The annual report from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey, the national survey on people and the natural environment, reveals that the English adult population made approximately 2.93 billion visits to natural environments between March 2013 to February 2014 – the highest number for 5 years.

Footpaths in the Manchester Pennine Fringe © Martin Moss/Natural England Footpaths in the Manchester Pennine Fringe

© Martin Moss/Natural England

The report also provides the latest evidence that over the last 5 years our enthusiasm for spending time outdoors relaxing and unwinding, watching wildlife and enjoying the scenery as a way to keep healthy has markedly increased.

ince the first MENE annual report was published in 2010, the proportion of people taking at least one visit to the outdoors in the previous week for health and exercise has increased significantly from 34% in 2009 to 2010, to 45% in 2013 to 2014.

Other findings from the fifth annual report include:

  • between March 2013 and February 2014, it is estimated that the 42.3 million adults resident in England took a total of 2.93 billion visits to the natural environment
  • around a quarter of visits involved some form of expenditure – resulting in an estimated spend of £17 billion; around 54 pence in every pound was spent on food and drink, 14 pence on fuel, 9 pence on admission fees, and 6 pence on gifts and souvenirs
  • visiting the natural environment for health or exercise accounted for an estimated 1.3 billion visits to the natural environment between March 2013 to February 2014
  • respondents to the survey consistently agreed that being outdoors made them feel ‘calm and relaxed’ and the proportion agreeing that a visit was ‘refreshing and revitalising’ was at its highest in the most recent survey
  • people who visited natural environments several times a day, every day, or several times a week rated themselves as having greater life satisfaction, more self-worth, more happiness and less anxiety than less regular visitors
  • walking was by far the most frequently undertaken activity; almost half of visits were taken to walk a dog
  • three-quarters of visits were less than 2 hours in duration, while two-thirds involved walking to the visit destination and almost four-fifths were taken within 2 miles of the visit start point
  • 96% of people ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that having green spaces close to where they live is important
  • factors relating to lack of time were most likely to be cited as reasons for not visiting the natural environment more often or at all

The survey found that 58% of the population make one leisure visit or more to the outdoors every week and the latest survey report suggests that green spaces near home are an increasingly important part of modern life. There has been an increase in outdoor recreation visits to towns and cities – currently just under half of outdoor recreation visits were taken to a destination within a town or city compared to two-fifths in 2010 to 2011. Visits tend to be taken close to where people live, with two-thirds within 2 miles of home.

Access copies of the report, downloads available, here.


Testing for Bovine Tuberculosis is more effective than badger culls at controlling the disease - Queen Mary University of London

Modelling produced by researchers at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has found that the only effective potential Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) control strategies are badger culling, cattle testing, controlling cattle movement, and ceasing the practice of housing farm cattle together during winter.

Modelling found that in a region containing about 1.5m cows of which 3000 to 15,000 might have TB, badger culling could account for a reduction of 12 in the number of infected cattle. While reducing the testing interval by one month could reduce the number of those infected by 193. The model showed that regular and frequent testing of cattle could eventually lead to the eradication of the disease, whether or not badgers were culled and despite the current test being at most 80% accurate. Badger culling alone, however did not lead to TB eradication in the study and is therefore unlikely to be a successful control strategy. The model also suggested that housing cattle in large sheds over winter could potentially double the number of infected animals in a herd, as under such conditions there is a much greater chance of TB being passed between cows.

Professor Matthew Evans, Professor of Ecology at QMUL, said “Of the available Bovine Tuberculosis control strategies we believe that how frequently cattle are tested and whether or not farms utilise winter housing have the most significant effect on the number of infected cattle. TB is a complex disease and modelling it is difficult but we’ve successfully used our model to replicate real world situations and are confident that it can be used to predict the effects of various changes in the way we tackle the disease.Our modelling provides compelling evidence, for those charged with controlling Bovine TB, that investment in increasing the frequency of cattle testing is a far more effective strategy than badger culling.”

More Information: The paper 'Coupling models of cattle and farms with models of badgers for predicting the dynamics of bovine tuberculosis (TB)' by Professor Matthew Evans and Dr Aristides Moustakas of QMUL is published online in Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment.


Heather Trust Heather Beetle News – Scottish Land & Estates

Thanks to the many people who filled in survey forms, the Heather Trust now has information relating to over 20,000 acres of heather damaged by beetle in 2014, with reports coming from 20 counties, from Cornwall to Wester Ross.

Some of the largest outbreaks were  in the North York Moors, where almost half of the recorded damage was found. Smaller outbreaks were nonetheless equally devastating on valuable areas of lowland heath in Norfolk and Dorset. 

If nothing else, the wide geographic spread of reports demonstrates the universal nature of the issue, which appears not to be restricted to any region, management technique or age-class of heather.

Although the nature of the questions and the problem itself both preclude precise and definite conclusions, there is some value in identifying persistent trends identified in survey returns. 

  • For example, of the 17 returns received in 2014 from properties which routinely burn their beetle damage, over 80% report a total recovery within five years, whereas the properties which left their beetle damage unburnt or partially burnt reported patchy recovery or heather loss.
  • Based on their previous experience of heather beetle, almost 60% of respondents believe that 2014’s beetle damage was more extensive than it had been in previous years.
  • One third of respondents expect to see beetle damage on their ground every year, and almost 95% expect damage at least every ten years.

Interestingly, there has been little correlation between beetle damage and the nature of the ground upon which it is inflicted. Tradition dictates that beetle damage is more prevalent on wet ground, but survey returns in 2014 suggest that damage takes place as often on hard ground as it does on wet. 


Solar farm shock decision will destroy precious wildlife - Dorset Wildlife Trust

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) is shocked and appalled to learn that planning permission to create a large solar farm on a nationally important wildlife site, Rampisham Down in west Dorset, has been approved today.

The 72 ha (187 acres) Rampisham Down is a legally protected SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) set in the heart of a nationally protected landscape, and is one of the largest sites of lowland acid grassland remaining in England.  It is home to an incredibly rare grouping of plants and fungi, including lousewort, eyebright and waxcap fungi, and supports a range of wildlife from adders to skylarks. 

Shock at the decision, despite other suitable site being available nearby.

DWT is even more shocked to discover that an alternative site, on the other side of the road, has been made available for the solar farm, yet still West Dorset District Councillors voted in favour of the unnecessary destruction of this wildlife-rich Rampisham Down site.  

"These special wildlife sites are few and far between."

DWT’s Chief Executive, Dr Simon Cripps, said, “With a viable alternative site available, we can’t understand why the council have allowed this important wildlife site to be lost to developers. Dorset Wildlife Trust supports renewable energy, in the right place.  These special, legally protected wildlife sites are few and far between and there’s no need to destroy them, especially in this case, when there is a perfectly acceptable alternative site nearby, which we support.”   


Solar farm shock decision will destroy legally protected wildlife site - The Wildlife Trusts

A decision to build on a legally protected area of lowland acid grassland – one of the largest areas of this flower-rich habitat in England – has been met with disbelief.

Rampisham Down cpt Dominic ClealAgainst the advice of the Council planning officers, Natural England and Dorset Wildlife Trust, the planning application by British Solar Renewables to build the solar farm was last night approved by West Dorset District Councillors, despite a suitable alternative site being made available, just across the road.

Rampisham Down cpt Dominic Cleal

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: "Although The Wildlife Trusts are not opposed to solar farms and renewables in principle, we are shocked at the decision to develop this site which has legal protection for its national wildlife significance.  This is one of the largest remaining areas of special acid grassland in lowland England.  It is an area which supports a range of wildlife from adders to skylarks and waxcap fungi – and the development will result in extensive damage and habitat loss across a large part of this very special place. This is an astonishing decision by West Dorset Council.  Rampisham Down is a site of national importance - it is a precious and vital part of our national heritage, ranking alongside the very best of England's ancient monuments, art treasures and historic buildings. The protection and recovery of the natural environment should be at the heart of all planning decisions.  This Council's decision goes against the statutory obligations of local authorities to protect important designated wildlife sites for future generations.  This is simply the wrong place for this development and Rampisham should be protected not destroyed." 


Restrictions on plant protection products would have detrimental effect on land management, says CLA - CLA

The CLA has said vital products needed for land management may be lost as a result of the EU's attempt to redefine how hazardous they are.

Responding to a European Commission consultation to help determine criteria for endocrine disruption - chemicals contained within products which could alter the hormonal system - the CLA said it was necessary to identify the potential risk of pesticides and biocides by taking into account potency and exposure as well as hazard.

CLA President Henry Robinson said: “Seventeen active substances in herbicides, fungicides and insecticides could be lost as a result of the endocrine disruptor classification. Such a loss would have significant consequences for agriculture and land management. 


Scientific Publications

Runge, Claire A., Tulloch, Ayesha, Hammill, Edd, Possingham, Hugh P. & Fuller, Richard A.  Geographic range size and extinction risk assessment in nomadic species.  Conservation Biology  DOI:  10.1111/cobi.12440


Ilse R. Geijzendorffer, Berta Martín-López, Philip K. Roche, Improving the identification of mismatches in ecosystem services assessments, Ecological Indicators, Volume 52, May 2015, Pages 320-331, ISSN 1470-160X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2014.12.016.


S. Cavers, Evolution, ecology and tree health: finding ways to prepare Britain's forests for future threats Forestry (2015) 88 (1): 1-2 first published online December 15, 2014 doi:10.1093/forestry/cpu052 


Lawrence, D. J., Beauchamp, D. A. & Olden, J. D. (2015) Life-stage specific physiology defines invasion extent of a riverine fish. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12332


Smith, L. S., Broyles, M. E. J., Larzleer, H. K. & Fellowes. M. D. E. (2015) Adding ecological value to the urban lawnscape. Insect abundance and diversity in grass-free lawns. Biodiversity & Conservation. DOI: 10.1007/s10531-014-0788-1 


Robertson, Andrew et al Exposure of nontarget wildlife to candidate TB vaccine baits deployed for European badgers European. Journal of Wildlife Research DOI: 10.1007/s10344-014-0896-y


Manley, Robyn, Boots, Mike, Wilfert, Lena.  Emerging viral disease risk to pollinating insects: ecological, evolutionary and anthropogenic factors. Journal of Applied Ecology.  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12385 


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