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


Dive team survey seabeds this summer - The Wildlife Trusts

Secrets of the seabed are being revealed as divers undertake exploratory scientific surveys in a bid to better understand the UK’s marine environment and help protect it for the future

Five professional divers and marine ecologists, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, are gathering evidence and data from areas where existing knowledge about marine habitats is limited.

This summer, marine scientist Dominic Flint is leading the team of divers in recording any interesting finds in five survey areas around England.  They are surveying and photographing the sands and gravels, the rock types and forms, the seaweeds and animals attached to the rocks, crabs and other creatures that crawl over the seabed and the fish that swim above, round and through them.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ head of Living Seas, said: “By deploying a dive team we hope to be able to propose new areas for inclusion in the third phase of Marine Conservation Zones, which should be designated in 2016.

“Gathering data in the marine environment is notoriously difficult and time-consuming.  We hope our activity will help to strengthen the existing evidence base and provide information about areas where little, or nothing, is currently known.

“We have to do this to ensure these places can be included in future discussions over marine protection, and their conservation secured.  This will be our last opportunity to secure an ecologically coherent network in England.”

Find out which areas our dive team are surveying here.


Friends of the Earth mounts legal challenge over pesticide decision - Friends of the Earth

A Government decision to allow farmers to use ‘banned’ bee-harming pesticides in England, is being challenged at the High Court by Friends of the Earth.

The environment charity notified the Government on Friday (21 August 2015) that it has applied to the High Court for a judicial review of last month’s decision to allow farmers in England to use oil seed rape seeds coated with neonicotinoid pesticides that are the subject of an EU moratorium.

Three neonicotinoids were restricted throughout Europe in December 2013 after European scientists warned that they harm bees. However, following a request by the NFU, the Government controversially agreed to allow farmers to use enough neonicotinoid seeds to treat five per cent of the oilseed rape (OSR) crop in England. Seeds are being made available to farmers in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

This year's harvest has seen a good crop of oilseed rape despite the restrictions on neonicotinoids, with yields 3-9% higher than the 10 year national average.

Friends of the Earth is challenging the Government’s decision on pesticides because it believes it did not comply with EU law which sets out the conditions under which governments can grant emergency use of the restricted neonicotinoids.


We don’t like crickets – we love them! - Buglife

One of Britain’s most endangered insects is set to have a new home in Sussex thanks to work by South East Water and environment organisations Natural England and Buglife.

The Wart-biter cricket – which gets its name from the ancient Swedish medical practice of using them to eat skin warts – was once found across southern England. But their numbers have declined so dramatically, they are now found only in five locations, three in Sussex.

Image: BuglifeImage: Buglife

Thanks to a working group led by Natural England this rare species of cricket is set to be reintroduced into a carefully-created habitat around Deep Dean Water Treatment Works, in East Sussex. It has taken more than 20 years to make sure the site is suitable for the crickets. The fussy creatures need a particular kind of habitat which includes bare ground, short turf and taller clumps of grass.

Wart-biter numbers have declined as a result of habitat destruction, loss of suitable grassland and unsuitable grazing regimes. They are considered to be endangered in the UK, and the threat they could die out remains. But thanks to an intensive captive breeding programme by London Zoo and partnerships with environmental groups, landowners and farmers, the cricket now has a brighter future.

South East Water’s Environmental Manager Emma Goddard said: “To be able to release wart biter crickets at Deep Dean is a once in a lifetime opportunity and we are honoured to be able to play host to such a prestigious project. We have worked in partnership with other organisations and individuals over a long period of time to get to this point. We are all very pleased to be playing a part in saving the cricket from the very real prospect of extinction.”


Robot technology to measure UK’s marine wildlife - National Oceanography Centre

The National Oceanography Centre (NOC) has launched robot technology to measure marine wildlife in the Celtic Sea. This is the latest in a series of ambitious marine robotic vehicle trials by the NOC as part of the three-phase Exploring Ocean fronts project.

Working in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the NOC has deployed a submarine glider and C-Enduro, an autonomous surface vehicle, into the Celtic Sea. These two robotic vehicles will now work together over the next three weeks to investigate why this area is particularly attractive to marine predators, such as dolphins and seabirds.
The Celtic Sea contains known hotspots for marine animals, including the Fin Whale and the globally threatened Balearic Shearwater. However, greater densities of observations are needed to better understand why these animals are attracted to such ‘spots’ in the ocean.
The autonomous surface vehicle was deployed from Milford Haven, in Wales, at 10am this morning (Tuesday 25 August). From there it will travel to the Celtic deep region of the Celtic sea to join the Slocum submarine glider, which was deployed from RRS Discovery on the 10th of August. The autonomous surface vehicle is travelling along the sea surface carrying GoPro cameras and marine mammal acoustic detectors, as well as a state-of-the-art meteorological station.


New project seeks first major boost in Scotland’s red squirrel numbers in decades - Trees for Life

An innovative new project by conservation charities Trees for Life and the Highland Foundation for Wildlife aims to secure a major increase in the range of Scotland’s red squirrel populations for the first time in decades.

The Caledonian Forest Wildlife Project – which launches this summer – has the ambitious goal of establishing 10 new populations of the species in the Highlands over the next three years, with the long-term aim of boosting red squirrel numbers in Scotland by more than 10 per cent. It will also provide a unique opportunity for volunteers, including those from remote communities, to take an active part in wildlife conservation.

The project will involve conservation experts carefully relocating red squirrels from areas of Scotland where they are thriving to remote forests in the north-west Highlands where there are no squirrels at present, but good quality habitat for them.

Red Squirrel (Trees for Life)Urgent conservation action is needed to secure the long-term future of the red squirrel, which is increasingly rare in Britain and is recognised in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan as a priority species. Only an estimated 138,000 reds are left in the UK, and their populations – devastated by disease and competition from the introduced grey squirrel – are still in decline.  Red squirrel numbers have also been adversely affected by the loss of their forest homes, which have been reduced to isolated remnants. Although many forests in the north-west Highlands offer suitable habitat, red squirrels travel from tree to tree and do not usually cross open ground. This means they cannot spread back to areas of fragmented woodland from where they have disappeared.

Red Squirrel (image: Trees for Life)

The Caledonian Forest Wildlife Project will see squirrels transported to carefully selected release sites in specially constructed nest boxes, lined with hay for comfort and warmth, and provisioned with peanuts for food and apple for hydration. These nest boxes will then be nailed to trees and their exit holes filled with moss – so that the squirrels can find their way out in their own time, once people have left, minimising stress for the animals. Food will be provided for several months after release, to help the squirrels settle easily into their new surroundings.

Situated far away from disease-carrying grey squirrels, the relocated reds will quickly establish new populations.


Nature site set to see action to improve Scots pine woodland - Scottish Natural Heritage

The most northerly estuary on Scotland's east coast, Loch Fleet National Nature Reserve (NNR) is set for work aimed at conserving and enhancing its native Scots pine woodland.

The reserve, managed by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is a large tidal basin surrounded by dunes, saltmarsh and pine woods. It is particularly stunning during the autumn, but whatever the season, these habitats support a variety of wildlife to see and enjoy.

Loch Fleet Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) underpins Loch Fleet NNR. It is designated in part for the native Scots pine which is currently in ‘unfavourable condition’ due to deer grazing pressure and the presence of non-native trees.

SNH is committed to ensuring the woodland recovers, and is working closely with the site owners, Sutherland Estates, and the Estate’s forest managers, Scottish Woodlands, to manage deer numbers, remove invasive species and cut out non-native tree species. This work will be commenced in September, following the end of the bird breeding season.

Adam Rose, SNH’s Loch Fleet NNR manager, said: “The removal of non-native trees and invasive shrubs will focus on felling conifers, such as lodgepole pine, Sitka spruce and fir species.  We will also be tackling the issue of invasive rhododendron and whins in Balblair woods."


Government faces legal challenge after failing to protect some of England’s most precious rivers - WWF

The High Court has granted permission for WWF-UK, the Angling Trust and Fish Legal to challenge Defra and the Environment Agency over their failure to protect some of England’s most precious rivers, lakes and coastal areas from agricultural pollution. 

Map of rivers.

Click the map to see a bigger version (pdf)

The focus of the court case is on habitats that are protected by law and known as Natura 2000 sites. They include national treasures like Poole Harbour and the Rivers Avon, Wye & Eden, where pollution is having a harmful impact on species that should thrive in these habitats. The UK government is required by law to take all the necessary steps to ensure they are at good health by December 2015, but it is not going to achieve this.
This is because current action is not sufficient to tackle the scale of the problem. To protect these special habitats adequately, WWF, the Angling Trust and Fish Legal want the government to use all the tools at its disposal to ensure these precious places are properly protected and restored for people and wildlife.
This would include Water Protection Zones (WPZs), which were identified by the Environment Agency in 2009 as its preferred tool to reduce pollution if voluntary measures were not successful. 
David Nussbaum, Chief Executive, WWF-UK, said: “The health of our rivers and lakes is one of the most critical concerns for WWF-UK, the Angling Trust and Fish Legal. We are calling on the government to use the tools at its disposal to tackle the issue. We hope this legal action will lead to a rethink of the approach of the government and Environment Agency so that we can see real improvements in these precious places.”

Mark Lloyd, Chief Executive for the Angling Trust and Fish Legal, said: “Poor land management is causing soils carrying nutrients and pesticides to wash into our precious rivers, seriously harming some of our most important fish species.  We must ensure the necessary measures are in place to stop this pollution, and give our rivers and lakes a chance to recover and thrive.”
Now that permission for Judicial Review has been granted, the case will proceed to court later in the year. If successful, and its actions are found to be unlawful, the government will have to identify the regulatory steps necessary to tackle pollution affecting these areas.


100th woodland management plan in The National Forest

The 100th woodland management plan in The National Forest has been approved by the Forestry Commission, the UK governing body for forestry.

Woodland management plans are a vital part of the National Forest Company’s (NFC) Forest & Woodland Management Programme. Approval of the 100th plan by the Forestry Commission marks a major milestone in the programme, which started in September 2013, and sees over 5,000 hectares of woodland with an approved management plan and undergoing active management: approximately 50% of the total woodland within The National Forest.

Woodland management is an increasingly important aspect of creating The National Forest. Over 8 million trees have been planted throughout the 200 square miles of The National Forest since the 1990s, and although new woodlands continue to be created and more trees planted, managing the growing trees is vital to create healthy, resilient and productive woodlands.

Through the NFC’s Forest & Woodland Management Programme, landowners can obtain advice on planning the future management of their woodland, including taking out first thinnings to create space for the remaining trees to thrive, and advice on how best to prevent and minimise the impact of any pests and diseases that may affect the woodland.

Charles Robinson, Woodland Management Officer for the NFC, explains further:  “Creating a woodland management plan is the first step in managing woodland. The plan sets out the vision for the woodland and creates objectives as to how this will be achieved over the following 10 years. By looking at all aspects of the woodland, including both the opportunities and the threats that may face the site over the coming years, the owner has a working document which will help them make the  right decisions in the future. By working with our partners at the Forestry Commission, a plan will also provide a felling license for the woodland so that all operations are approved and conform to the UK Forestry Standard.”


Pilot project aims to help great crested newts - Natural England

An innovative new approach to protecting great crested newts could enhance their population and reduce delays to major building projects.

Great crested newt © Jim FosterGreat crested newt © Jim Foster (via Natural England)

Natural England is launching a pilot project that will bring more flexibility to the licensing system for great crested newts, while providing more of the weedy ponds which they favour.

The aim is to take a more strategic approach to the conservation of newts, ensuring that resources are focused on newt populations and habitat that will bring the greatest benefits to the species. At the same time it will make the licensing process much more straightforward for developers on sites where newts are present.

The ground-breaking approach, to be trialled by Natural England and Woking Borough Council in Surrey, will involve survey work to establish the size, location and connectivity of great crested newt populations. For this purpose, testing for traces of newt DNA in pond water has already been undertaken across Woking to establish where these amphibians live. This is a new survey technique, which will both improve knowledge of the species and save time and money on survey costs.

The survey information will be used to produce a local conservation plan for the newts, which will retain, enhance and link up the most significant populations of newts, identify areas where development will have the least impact and specify where new habitat will be created to ensure a healthy overall population.

The council will put in place the new habitat, so that when development results in habitat loss, the habitat gains will already be in place to compensate. Where there are sites of high conservation value for great crested newts it is likely that developers will seek to avoid those areas. This system will not only improve the habitat legacy for great crested newt, it will radically reduce delays and cost to developers of survey and setting up their own schemes to protect newts.

Andrew Sells, Chairman of Natural England, said:  "This innovative pilot in Woking is an exciting opportunity that I hope will bring significant benefits for conservation. The current licensing system for European Protected Species in England is quite a rigid way of protecting great crested newts, placing the emphasis on individual newts, rather than the species as a whole. By making the system more flexible and strategic, it will enable us to establish habitat for great crested newts, where their populations will most benefit from being in a wide network of habitat, rather than being squeezed in around development." 


National Peatland Plan published - Scottish Natural Heritage

A fresh vision for Scotland’s peatlands is outlined in a new plan published today (28/8/15) by Scottish Natural Heritage.

The National Peatland Plan highlights actions to protect, manage, and restore these precious natural resources.

The plan covers the range of public benefits resultant from well-managed peatlands, and focuses on work calculated to support development planning, conservation, and land management activities.

Its publication follows a public consultation in which many helpful comments came from a range of organisations and individuals.

Welcoming the report Dr Aileen Mcleod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “Scotland is a peat-rich nation, and our peatlands are now recognised globally for their outstanding biodiversity and carbon storage.  I am delighted to see the publication of a plan which sets out what we are doing, and where we are heading, in our programme to conserve and restore peatlands and so support the multiple benefits they deliver. I thank the many organisations and individuals who have contributed to the plan which sets a firm foundation for action.  I am also greatly heartened by the significant roles played by land managers and NGOS in improving the state of our peatlands.”

The publication of the plan follows the Minister’s statement on Scotland’s Green House Gas targets in which the Scottish Government committed a further £3million for peatland restoration this year. It will also help deliver the recently published Biodiversity Route Map.

A National Peatland Plan: Working for our future is available here.

Details of SNH's Peatland Action programme available here.


Reaction from Scottish Wildlife Trust: Trust welcomes the launch of the National Peatland Plan

The Trust is welcoming the launch of the National Peatland Plan by Scottish Natural Heritage that sets out a strategy for protecting some of Scotland’s most important habitats.

For the first time, Scotland will have a strategy to secure the sustainable use, management and restoration of peatlands – an internationally important type of habitat and vital natural capital asset.

. Head of Policy for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Dr Maggie Keegan, said: “The Scottish Wildlife Trust welcomes this plan. Peatlands are some of Scotland’s most valuable natural capital assets and it is very encouraging to see the Scottish Government taking this issue seriously.  The Trust has been at the forefront of peatland restoration work in Scotland, using our own Wildlife Reserves such as Carsegowan Moss in Dumfries and Galloway to demonstrate pioneering techniques to restore lowland raised bogs.  To help meet our peatland goals we will also need the Scottish Government to align other policies so that we end commercial peat extraction for horticulture, refuse consent to developments that damage peatland sites and stop burning on peatlands."


Two more red kites found illegally killed in North Scotland - RSPB Scotland

Two more red kites have been confirmed by Scottish Government testing to have been illegally killed in north Scotland. Both of these incidents took place in 2014 and are now being made public as the Police have concluded their enquiries.

The first victim was found last June near Beauly, and was subsequently confirmed by post-mortem, at the SAC Veterinary laboratory in Inverness, to have been shot.

The second red kite was found in September 2014, some 5 kilometres south-east of Cawdor village in Nairnshire. It was confirmed by Scottish Government testing to have been illegally poisoned with a banned pesticide. This female bird was part of a successful breeding pair which bred at Cawdor Castle in Nairnshire in 2014, representing the first breeding record of red kites in the county for over 100 years.  

Both of these birds had been fitted with satellite tags by RSPB Scotland as part of a wider project to follow the movements of these birds and look at factors influencing their survival. It is doubtful whether either of the corpses of these birds would have been found if the satellite tags had not been in place.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: "Since red kite reintroductions began in Scotland in 1989, over 100 birds have been confirmed as illegally killed, with a significant majority of the victims found poisoned. The real figure will be much higher as the finding of these satellite tagged birds demonstrates. Our scientific modelling work has shown that illegal persecution of red kites, particularly in the north of Scotland, is having a significant impact on population growth and range expansion."


New proposals to protect livestock from bovine TB - defra

Announcement of further steps to help tackle bovine TB.

Further steps to help tackle bovine TB in England have been announced today as part of the Government’s comprehensive strategy to beat the disease.

Bovine TB costs taxpayers £100m each year. It is a significant threat to the future of our beef and dairy industries, directly affecting one in five of all herds in the worst affected parts of the country.

New proposals include:

  • A consultation on introducing compulsory testing for all cattle entering low-risk areas, such as the north and east of England, to reduce the risk of new TB cases in these regions.
  • A consultation on changes to the criteria for future badger control licences such as reducing the minimum area for a licence – an approach based on the latest scientific evidence and supported by the Chief Vet.
  • A call for views on controlling TB in non-bovine animals such as pigs, goats, and deer.

Farming Minister George Eustice said: " England has the highest incidence of TB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries. This includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, vaccinating badgers in the buffer zone around high-risk areas, and culling badgers where the disease is rife.  Our approach of dealing with the disease in cattle and wildlife has worked overseas and is supported by leading vets." 

Further information and documents:

Advice to Natural England on setting minimum and maximum numbers of badgers to be culled in 2015

These papers set out Defra’s advice to Natural England on setting minimum and maximum number of badgers to be culled in 2015. The advice covers West Somerset, West Gloucestershire and Dorset. It includes a description of the methods used by Defra for estimating the badger populations in these areas.



Badger culls confirmed in Dorset - Dorset Wildlife Trust

Badger © Stewart CanhamBadger © Stewart Canham

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) is shocked and deeply saddened to learn the news that there will be a badger cull in Dorset this year, in a misguided attempt to control the spread of the devastating disease bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

The conservation charity, with over 25,000 members will not allow badger culling on any of its 44 nature reserves throughout Dorset.

DWT’s Chief Executive, Dr Simon Cripps said, “The decision to carry out a badger cull in Dorset flies in the face of scientific evidence, public opinion and the wishes of parliament. The culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have already shown to be neither effective nor humane, and as a result, a failure. The cost of culling is also high, at £3353 per badger during the trial culls of 2013*, and this doesn’t include policing costs.  Dorset Wildlife Trust owns a herd of cattle itself, so we understand how deeply concerned farmers in Dorset are for their livestock contracting this terrible disease, but we will continue to support alternatives to culling that have a far better chance of restricting the disease.  Culling badgers is not the answer.”


Inhumane badger cull must stop says Derbyshire Wildlife Trust who are two years into a five year badger vaccination programme.


Scientific Paper

Curtis, R J,  Brereton, T M, Dennis, R L H, Carbone, C & Isaac, N J B. Butterfly abundance is determined by food availability and is mediated by species traits.  Journal of Applied Ecology  DOI:  10.1111/1365-2664.12523


Mehring, A. S. & Levin, L. A. (2015) Potential roles of soil fauna in improving the efficiency of rain gardens used as natural stormwater treatment systems. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12525.


Bombaci, S. P. et al (2015) Using Twitter to communicate conservation science beyond professional conferences. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12570.


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