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


Keep it Clean campaign launched to keep trees healthy – Forestry Commission Scotland

Everyone who works in or visits Scotland’s forests can help the ongoing effort to keep our forests and trees healthy, says Forestry Commission Scotland.

The simple message behind the Commission’s new ‘Keep It Clean’ campaign is that arriving at woodlands with clean boots, tyres and kit, such as tools or walking poles, can help slow the spread of tree pests and diseases.

Environment Minister, Dr Aileen McLeod, said; “This is a very simple idea that could have a very big impact on tree health. Our forests are a vital environmental, economic, social and cultural resource and we should all willingly play our part in doing what we can to protect them. Keeping it clean is a fundamental message that we should all support - the people who visit and work in woodlands are key to protecting our trees.”

The simple advice to ‘Keep It Clean’ asks people to take a few minutes before visiting a woodland to clean dirt and mud off boots, tyres, kit and pets - and to make this a habit before every woodland visit.


Scottish wildcats threatened by feline form of HIV, study finds – Scottish Wildcat Action

The endangered Scottish wildcat could be further threatened by a deadly virus that is known to cause the cat version of Aids, a study has found.

Experts involved in Scottish Wildcat Action have isolated two cases of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) from cats with a mixed domestic-wildcat ancestry.

One of the cases was detected in an area that has been identified as a priority zone for wildcat conservation.

Although FIV is common in feral cats, these are the first known cases of the virus affecting hybrid cats in a wildcat priority area.

Wildlife experts from the University of Edinburgh’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and National Museums Scotland made the discovery after carrying out post mortem examinations on 23 feral and hybrid cats from around Scotland. 

A long-haired tabby found dead in a barn in Morvern in the Western Highlands was one of the animals to test positive for the virus. Morvern is one of six places identified by Scottish Wildcat Action last year as a priority area for wildcat conservation.

There is currently no vaccine for FIV. The infection is transmitted mainly when adult male cats fight and experts say neutering is key to tackling the disease.

Professor Anna Meredith, of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, said: “This recent find confirms that pet owners must be encouraged to vaccinate and neuter their cats, particularly if they live in a wildcat priority area. Cats are susceptible to other illnesses, such as cat flu and feline leukemia virus, and these can be common in feral cats too.  That means the importance of vaccinating and neutering cats is at an all-time high as we continue to work together to save our Scottish wildcat.”


School children dig in for science - BTO

School children across the country are getting ready to dig up their school playing fields in the name of science.

Image: BTOImage: BTO

As part of a national citizen science project, schools will make their first digs in October to investigate the animal life living beneath their school grounds. By examining and reporting what they find, all of the schools taking part in ‘What’s Under Your Feet?’ will be helping scientists at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) to discover what lives in the soil they sample.

The project, a UK-wide collaboration between BTO and EDF Energy, will map the creatures that are living under our feet for the first time. Many of these largely unseen invertebrates form an important source of food for Britain’s birds but little is known about how many there are, where they are or how their presence changes across the UK. These are just a few of the gaps in our knowledge that the school children will be helping to fill, there are many more. More than 900 schools and seven local authorities have signed up already, promising to make this one of the biggest school citizen scientist projects ever undertaken.

Dr Blaise Martay, Research Ecologist at the BTO and project lead, said: “Soil invertebrates are such an important part of our ecosystem and yet we know so little about them. It is really exciting to think that over the coming months, children all over the country will be collecting the data needed to map differences in numbers and types of soil invertebrates. This project will make great strides in increasing our understanding of soil invertebrates and how bird numbers are affected by them, something we couldn’t do without the help of citizen scientists.”


Top trunks do battle for nations’ votes in Tree of the Year contest - Woodland Trust

Image: Woodland TrustA tree with links to Joseph of Arimathea, one of Game of Thrones’ most iconic locations and a tree said to have been visited by William Wallace are among the contenders shortlisted in the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year contest.

Image: Woodland Trust

The charity, thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, is now inviting the public to vote for their favourite tree in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland before October 12, with the winning tree in each country going forward to the European Tree of the Year competition in early 2016.

The Trust, with expert help, has whittled down over 200 public nominations to create shortlists of trees in all four nations of the UK; 10 in England, seven in Wales and six in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust Chief Executive, said: “This contest reminds us how trees have been an integral part of this country’s history and play an important role in our lives today. We still need better protection for individual trees across the UK and we hope everyone who votes will also support our campaign to create a register for all our Trees of National Special Interest.”


Can nature help reduce the impacts of climate change? - European Environment Agency

Building and managing a well-planned network of natural areas might provide an effective and, in many cases, cheaper solution for coping with natural disasters such as floods or landslides. A new report published today (Monday 21 September) by the European Environment Agency (EEA) explores how ‘green infrastructure’ can help Europe prepare for and reduce the loss from weather- and climate-related hazards.

Image © G.Karadeniz/EEAImage © G.Karadeniz/EEA

Weather- and climate-related hazards, including extreme precipitation, floods, wet mass movement (e.g. avalanches and landslides) and storm surges are among the costliest and deadliest natural hazards in Europe and globally. The EEA’s new report ‘Exploring nature-based solutions: the role of green infrastructure in mitigating the impacts of weather- and climate change-related natural hazards’ focuses on certain types of extreme events and hazards in Europe that are likely to be amplified by ongoing climate change.

As mentioned in the Green Infrastructure Strategy, the European Commission defines green infrastructure as a strategically planned network of high-quality green spaces. In this study, green infrastructure is defined by its capacity to provide a relevant number of ecosystem services. The maps presented in this study provide an overview of where specific weather- and climate-related natural hazards are likely to occur, where well-functioning ecosystem services exist which can support disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation so as to lessen the impacts of natural hazards (e.g. floods and landslides), and where the provision of ecosystem services may be improved.


Citizen scientists needed to map 3D scans to solve puzzle of bird bill evolution – University of Sheffield

University of Sheffield team is working to scan the bills of every living species of bird in the world

Information will be used to learn more about why birds’ bills are so diverse

New website launched so citizen scientists can help map images to create the most comprehensive data set of bird bills ever attempted

Citizen scientists from across the globe are needed to help a team of University of Sheffield researchers map 3D scans of the bills of every living species of bird in the world.

A 3D scan of a robin bill. Copyright: Natural History MuseumA 3D scan of a robin bill. Copyright: Natural History Museum

Dr Gavin Thomas, of the University’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, and his research group have embarked on the task of scanning the bills of 10,000 species to build the most comprehensive data set of bird bills ever attempted.

So far they have scanned 4,000 species – hoping to reach their 10,000 target in the next 12 months - but to turn the scans into data that can be analysed, they need to be ‘landmarked’.

The team has today (Monday 21 September 2015) launched a website where citizen scientists can help with that task by looking at the images and identifying features that are common to each species.

The data will help scientists learn more about birds and what bill evolution can tell us about the origin of species.


Natural Capital Committee’s third state of natural capital report: government response - defra

Our response to the Natural Capital Committee’s third state of natural capital report, published in January 2015.

This response sets out how we will act on the recommendations in the Natural Capital Committee’s third State of Natural Capital report. This includes working with others to develop a strategy and 25 year plan for protecting and improving the benefits we get from our natural resources.

We have also committed to extend the life of the Committee until at least the end of this Parliament. We will draw on NCC’s advice when developing policy and particularly in the development and delivery of the 25 year plan.

Access the full response paper here (PDF)  


Reaction: Natural Capital Committee response welcomed - CPRE

Tuesday’s (22/9) Government response to the Natural Capital Committee’s (NCC) third report sets out its plans to take forward advice on how to safeguard England’s natural capital. This includes elements of the natural environment that provide valuable goods and services to people, such as clean air, clean water, food and recreation.

The NCC report recommended that Government should develop a 25-year plan to meet the Government’s commitment to protect and improve the environment within a generation.  It also set out key investments in natural capital that would deliver significant value for money and generate large economic returns, for example, investing in urban greenspaces benefits millions of people and offers significant potential for improvements in physical and mental health, and increased woodland planting.

Emma Marrington, Senior Rural Policy Campaigner, said: “We welcome the Government response to the NCC report and its commitment to develop a 25-year plan for a ‘healthy natural economy’, which is vital for future investment in England’s natural capital. We particularly agree that the plan should help give more people the opportunity to use, enjoy and engage with the natural environment, as well as focus policies on delivering better environmental outcomes."


Towards a 25 year plan? Government responds to Natural Capital Committee recommendations - British Ecological Society blog post


Rural communities back grouse shooting as key to their future - Scottish Land & Estates

Communities in key rural areas of Scotland have voiced strong support for grouse shooting which they believe makes a major social and economic contribution to the lives of local people. 

The importance of grouse shooting and moorland management in supporting fragile rural communities is highlighted in a new report published today (23/9)by Scotland’s Rural College and the University of the Highlands and Islands’ Centre for Mountain Studies at Perth College. 

The report examines community perceptions and the socio-economic impacts of grouse shooting and moorland management in Scotland. The findings are also supported by the release today of ‘The Untold Story: Driven Grouse Shooting’ – a feature film made by gamekeepers from the Angus Glens Moorland Group demonstrating the impact on local communities. 

The report focused on two areas of Scotland - the Angus Glens and the Monadhliaths

  • 26 moorland estates were surveyed covering over 100,000 hectares of land and included 266 households and 18 businesses. 
  • The majority of these businesses benefited from spending by the estates and visiting shooting parties were viewed as a consistent and reliable source of income.
  • High numbers of respondents in both areas, 70% in the Angus Glens and 53% in the Monadhliath, recognised community and personal benefits of grouse shooting in their local area. 

Speaking at the launch of the report in Edinburgh today, Fergus Ewing, Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism, said: “The Scottish Government is committed to maximising tourism growth and to supporting field sports. Scotland offers the complete package of sport, a warm welcome, good food & drink and unrivalled landscapes and shooting makes a valuable contribution to the rural economy, including in the winter months.  I am very pleased to be able to extend support to all of those who make a success of field sports in a professional and responsible fashion. Their efforts bring to Scotland a number of visitors who are very welcome and make a significant financial contribution to the sector.” 

Dr Ros Bryce, from the Centre of Mountain Studies (UHI), said: “The research broadly demonstrated a high level of support for grouse shooting with a majority in both areas supportive of the continuation or expansion of grouse shooting.  While awareness of estate management within local communities was generally good, a proportion of the community lacked awareness. Our report identified specific opportunities for enhancing estate-community engagement and awareness-raising around sporting land management, including estates engaging with local primary and secondary schools through school visits by gamekeepers and school visits to estates, establishing estate ‘demonstration days’, increased estate engagement with local community councils and increased emphasis on recruitment of beaters and loaders from local communities.”

You can read Grouse Shooting Moorland Management and Local Communities report here (pdf)


SNH Commissioned Report 874: Assessing the effectiveness of early warning systems for the detection of marine invasive non-native species in Scottish waters

Invasive non-native species (INNS) are considered to be one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. The eradication of INNS is often costly, labour-intensive and difficult. Detecting INNS at the earliest possible stage, when only small populations are present, provides the best opportunity for a rapid response to their management. The ability to detect INNS introductions, particularly in the marine environment, is poorly developed and often relies on chance sightings. This report aims to directly address this issue by assessing the effectiveness of five sampling techniques in detecting marine non-native species.

Download the publication here (PDF)


Trees for Life project creates conservation opportunities for young people - Trees for Life

Trees for Life is running a new project to develop high-quality conservation volunteering opportunities for young people, thanks to a grant of £20,000 from the ScottishPower Foundation.

Those benefitting from the initiative include students from Peterborough Open Awards Centre, Aberdeen University, Glasgow University and Leicestershire’s Brooksby Melton College.

“This generous grant from ScottishPower Foundation is excellent news for the Caledonian Forest and its rare species, and for dozens of young people who will be able to study and carry out practical hands-on conservation work – including the establishment of native woodlands and managing land for wildlife,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Executive Director,  "young people involved will gain practical skills that will support their career ambitions, as well as valuable life skills." He added

The project will benefit 70 young people aged 18-25 years old during 2015. Through both week-long courses and long-term volunteering placements, the young people will be able to develop new skills and strengthen their employability.

Activities will include the planting of native trees and plants to expand woodland habitat, collecting and propagating seeds in a specialised tree nursery at Trees for Life’s acclaimed Dundreggan Conservation Estate near Loch Ness, and carrying out biodiversity surveys.


Feeding garden birds shown to affect their evolution - BTO

New research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has revealed that bird food provided in British gardens has helped Blackcaps to rapidly evolve a successful new migration route. This is the first time that garden bird feeding has been shown to affect large-scale bird distributions.

Blackcap by Mark R Taylor, via BTOBlackcap by Mark R Taylor, via BTO

Blackcaps are migratory warblers that historically only came to Britain in summer. Over the last 60 years there have been surprising changes in Blackcap migration behaviour, with birds from central Europe visiting British gardens in winter, rather than heading to their usual wintering grounds in southern Spain.  The reasons why Britain has become great for Blackcaps were previously unclear, but now scientists have been able to uncover some answers, using the extensive data on garden birds and feeders collected by thousands of volunteer birdwatchers for the BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch survey.

The new study, published in the international journal Global Change Biology, has revealed that Blackcaps are becoming increasingly associated with garden bird feeding over time, and that supplementary foods, particularly fats and sunflower hearts, are affecting their national distribution in winter.  The findings also indicate that changes in the British winter climate have been important in shaping the evolution of this new migration behaviour.

Dr Kate Plummer, BTO Research Ecologist and lead author of the paper, said: "This is the first scientific evidence that supplementary foods provided in gardens can influence the evolution of wild birds, so the findings are extremely important.” 

She continued, “It’s been suspected for a long time that Blackcaps started coming to Britain in winter to take advantage of the bird food being provided in gardens.  However, it’s only now that we have actually found concrete evidence to support this, thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists.”

As the global environment rapidly changes due to human activities, it is becoming increasingly important that we understand if, and how, species are able to respond.  These findings indicate that some species, like the Blackcap, may be more resilient to environmental change than we previously assumed. 

Read the paper: Plummer, K. E., Siriwardena, G. M., Conway, G. J., Risely, K. and Toms, M. P. (2015), Is supplementary feeding in gardens a driver of evolutionary change in a migratory bird species?. Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/gcb.13070


Otter returns to upper Rother River - South Downs National Park Authority

The first confirmed evidence of an otter on the upper Rother River in Hampshire since 2001 has been captured on film as part of work to boost local wildlife in the South Downs National Park.Otter on camera trap footage (South Downs NPA)

Otter on camera trap footage (South Downs NPA)

A camera trap, set up on the river was put in place to monitor whether invasive species American mink, which threatens our native wildlife, was at large in the area. But instead it’s recorded a young otter visiting the site on two separate occasions since the start of September.

Chris Gurney, Apprentice Ranger for the South Downs National Park, said:  “It’s been fourteen years since the last confirmed sighting of an otter here – probably because the river hasn’t been healthy enough to support the fish they eat. There’s been a real community effort to improve the habitat with local fishing groups, landowners and volunteers all working together to restore the river and encourage more sympathetic land management, this hard work is starting to pay off. "

Click through for video footage from the camera trap


Barnacle geese cull – WWT takes action - Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Until recently, a long-running Local Goose Management Scheme on the Hebridean island of Islay was based largely on management payments and goose scaring, with a small amount of lethal control for the purposes of scaring large numbers of birds. This appears to have been effective and widely accepted.

However recent proposals by the Scottish authorities to alter the scheme and instead cull more than a quarter of the barnacle geese on Islay have led to a joint complaint by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and RSPB Scotland to Brussels.

At least a quarter of Islay’s barnies are due to be shot (image WWT)At least a quarter of Islay’s barnies are due to be shot (image WWT)

There are around 80,000 Greenland barnacle geese in the world, making them a relatively uncommon bird. Around 40,000 of these overwinter in one place – Islay.

While the flocks are a great sight for nature tourists, the geese can cause significant damage to grass crops. This can threaten the livelihoods of landowners who need to protect their produce in order to support their families as well as the local economy.

Historically WWT and RSPB Scotland have been closely involved in trying to come up with solutions on Islay, and these appeared to work. However, there has recently been a move on the part of the Scottish authorities to look at other ways of dealing with this issue and  instead of working with us to research the effectiveness of bird scaring, or resourcing farmers to look after this wildlife, in this case they have drawn up a plan to begin widespread culling in November 2015.

Our complaint to the European Commission in Brussels is based on our opinion that the Scottish authorities have not met all the necessary conditions, nor have a sufficient evidence base, in order to justify this large cull of a European protected species.


Saving the small things that manage our water - Buglife

Buglife are launching a strategy for freshwater invertebrates. The charity has long championed the small things that run the planet but are now turning the focus on the often forgotten invertebrates that live in our freshwaters.

“Freshwater teems with wildlife and is vital to life on Earth, including human life. Rivers, streams, ditches, springs, seepages, ponds and lakes are all extremely important, but with the development of agriculture, human settlements and industry, they are being lost, damaged or polluted. There is a great need to preserve what we have, restore what we have lost and create new freshwater habitats.” Commented Craig Macadam, Buglife’s Director of Conservation.

Over 3,800 invertebrate species in the UK spend at least part of their lifecycle in freshwater. They play a vital role in maintaining clean water; they help to break down and filter organic matter and provide a food source for fish, birds and mammals. Their presence is the standard indicator of the health of the habitat they live in.

The strategy highlights eight principles required to save and sustain freshwater invertebrates and their habitats:

The use of peat in horticulture destroys wildlife, it is a disgrace and must halt

Aquatic invertebrates should be more widely understood, cherished and properly valued for the services they provide

Reducing pollution and improving the cleanliness of water is essential to healthy aquatic ecosystems

Biosecurity, eradication and mitigation measures must be improved because of the extreme vulnerability of freshwater species and habitats to damage from invasive non-native species

Climate change is an urgent threat to aquatic ecosystems and actions to make them more resilient must be implemented now

Efforts to conserve aquatic habitats have focussed on rivers and lakes, but most invertebrate biodiversity lives in small, marginal and dynamic water bodies, these are much more fragile and require improved protection from damage

Freshwater invertebrate populations tell us how healthy our environment is and they must be properly monitored and understood

Some freshwater species are now so vulnerable that specific, targeted conservation action and legislative changes are required to save them from extinction

Download the strategy report (PDF) 


Scientific papers

Harrison, P. J. et al. (2015) Quantifying turnover in biodiversity of British breeding birds. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12539 


Andrews, C. et al. (2015) Early life adversity increases foraging and information gathering in European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris. Animal Behaviour. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.08.009


De Palma, A., Kuhlmann, M., Roberts, S. P.M., Potts, S. G., Börger, L., Hudson, L. N., Lysenko, I., Newbold, T., Purvis, A. (2015), Ecological traits affect the sensitivity of bees to land-use pressures in European agricultural landscapes. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12524


Trevor F. Keenan Phenology: Spring greening in a warming world.  Nature doi:10.1038/nature15633


David Gilljam, Alva Curtsdotter & Bo Ebenman Adaptive rewiring aggravates the effects of species loss in ecosystems. Nature doi:10.1038/ncomms9412


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