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


Green walls: a red card for office worker health? – University of York

New research by University of York academics reveals that living ‘green’ walls may have adverse health effects on office workers living in hot, polluted climates.

Green wall in Milan, Biber Architects (credit: inhabitat.com)Green wall in Milan, Biber Architects (credit: inhabitat.com)

Investigating levels of air pollutants in modern office buildings, Dr Nicola Carslaw from York’s Environment Department led a modelling study focusing on ultrafine particles (UFPs). Such particles are a health concern as they can carry potentially toxic species into the lungs.

Using a detailed chemical model for indoor air, concentrations of UFPs were simulated for offices in Athens, Helsinki and Milan during a heatwave across Europe in August 2003, and again during more typical summer temperatures in August 2009. These three cities were selected to compare contrasting climates and locations across Europe.

The researchers found that indoor concentrations of UFPs were highest in the Milan and Athens offices, reflecting high outdoor air pollution levels in these cities. Such pollutants make their way indoors through doors, windows and ventilation systems as well as through gaps in the building fabric.

Indoor UFP levels were also predicted to be higher during the 2003 heatwave compared with 2009, particularly in Milan which experienced the highest temperature and pollution concentrations outdoors during this event.

However, indoor UFP concentrations were well above those expected through penetration of outdoor particles alone. On further investigation, the researchers found they were a result of high concentrations of reactive volatile organic compounds (VOCs) outdoors, emitted by plants and trees.

These reactive VOCs include limonene, a naturally occurring compound emitted by plants and trees responsible for the citrusy smell in lemons and oranges, and pinene, emitted by pine trees. Once in the atmosphere, such compounds rapidly oxidise to form a range of gas-phase and particle-phase products, which exist in a dynamic equilibrium depending on the conditions.


Wild salmon populations have fallen below 'safe' conservation limits in all rivers in the Scottish west Highland salmon-farming zone - Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland

S&TCS calls for immediate moratorium on salmon farming expansion

Salmon and Trout Conservation Scotland (S&TCS) has today (5/10/15) called upon the Scottish Government to place an immediate moratorium on further expansion of salmon farming in light of Marine Scotland's new analysis showing the very poor conservation status of west Highland salmon rivers.

Scottish Government's newly published classification of the country's salmon rivers puts all the rivers in the west Highlands and inner Hebrides, including iconic systems such as the Awe and the Lochy, in the worst-performing category, with wild salmon stocks not reaching what are known as 'conservation limits' – a measure of the overall health of the population.

Andrew Graham-Stewart, Director of S&TCS, commented: "This new analysis by Marine Scotland should ring alarm bells – fisheries scientists have long warned of the impact of sea lice and escapes emanating from salmon farms. The fact that no single river within salmon farming's heartland of the west Highlands and Inner Hebrides has a sufficient stock of wild salmon for any exploitation to be sustainable cannot be a coincidence.

Regrettably, Scottish Government has until now habitually downplayed studies by third parties, but we believe it cannot ignore its own fisheries scientists' analysis. The contrast between western Scotland and the rest of the country is clear to see and the only major or substantive distinction between the east and west coasts is, of course, the presence of salmon farming in the west. We call on the Scottish Government to halt any further growth in salmon farming until the industry can definitively prove itself to be environmentally sustainable."


Wildlife abundant at Chernobyl – University of Portsmouth

Thriving: A wolf in the exclusion zone at Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Credit Valeriy YurkoHumans are worse for wildlife than nuclear disaster, according to the first long-term study at Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, which found wildlife was thriving.

Thriving: A wolf in the exclusion zone at Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster. Credit Valeriy Yurko

The results pose profound questions about both the effect of humans on nature and of the safety for humans of sites devastated by nuclear accidents.

An international group of scientists coordinated by Professor Jim Smith from the University of Portsmouth’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences published their findings in Current Biology today (5/10/15).

It is the first large scale study of mammal populations in the 4,200 square kilometre human exclusion zone around Chernobyl. The zone was exposed to chronic radiation following the 1986 accident but, 30 years later, the researchers found no evidence of a drop in the number of animals.

On the contrary, the number of large mammals, including elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar and wolves are similar to those in four uncontaminated nature reserves in the region.

Professor Smith said: “We know that radiation can be harmful in very high doses, but research on Chernobyl has shown that it isn’t as harmful as many people think. There have been many reports of abundant wildlife at Chernobyl but this is the first large-scale study to prove how resilient they are. It’s very likely that wildlife numbers at Chernobyl are much higher than they were before the accident."


Sparrow numbers rise at garden feeders - BTO

With significant declines in both House Sparrow and Tree Sparrow populations, things could not have looked worse for UK sparrows. However, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Garden Bird Feeding Survey data from the last two winters shows that more of them are turning to our garden feeding stations.

Tree Sparrow by Tommy Holden/BTOTree Sparrow by Tommy Holden/BTO

The House Sparrow population has declined by over two-thirds since the late 1970s, and the Tree Sparrow population suffered from a dramatic population crash in the early 1980s, and as a result both species are red-listed birds of conservation concern. There are many theories behind the decline of House Sparrow, but lack of food in winter due to agricultural intensification and an associated reduction in first-year survival rates have been important drivers behind both declines. The huge losses of these once-familiar sparrows are an example of how land use changes can affect common birds, but garden bird surveys can help us to understand these effects.

While the UK Tree Sparrow population is a fraction of what it was in the 1970s, results from the BTO Garden Bird Feeding Survey (GBFS) reveal that numbers at garden bird feeders have been increasing since the late 1980s. Winter 2014/15 saw the highest number of Tree Sparrows at suburban garden feeders since the survey began in 1970, and their highest average numbers at rural garden feeders since 2010. Whether these results reflect the increasing importance of supplementary feeding remains to be seen but the importance of seeds outside of the breeding season suggests that this could be a factor.


NERC and EPSRC announce new Centre for Doctoral Training in smart observation - NERC

NERC and the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are launching a new £2·5m Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in the use of smart and autonomous observation systems (SAOS) for the environmental sciences.

RSS Discovery with its fleet of autonomous vehicles (NERC)RSS Discovery with its fleet of autonomous vehicles (NERC)

Known as NEXUSS - 'NEXt generation Unmanned System Science' - the CDT will provide specialised training in this increasingly vital area, creating a community of highly skilled people whose expertise will contribute both to scientific breakthroughs and to economic growth.

The consortium behind NEXUSS is led by the University of Southampton, in partnership with the British Antarctic Survey, Heriot-Watt University, the National Oceanography Centre, the Scottish Association for Marine Science and the University of East Anglia. It will fund training for three annual intakes of ten PhD students each, starting in 2016.

Professor Duncan Wingham, NERC chief executive, said: "Smart observation systems are an exciting and innovative field in which the UK has world-class capabilities; I am delighted that NERC is investing in the skills needed to maintain this position. We have made major investments in SAOS in recent years, and this CDT will produce the expertise to ensure future researchers can take advantage of these investments, using new technologies to address the environmental challenges we face and support growth across the UK economy."


Edible love gifts may influence female behaviour, suggests cricket study – University of Exeter

Edible gifts given by male crickets to their female partners during mating contain unique proteins which could affect the females’ behaviour according to research from the University of Exeter and Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

A female G. sigillatus reaching around to consume the nuptial gift (clear blob) while the ampulla (clouded blob) transfers sperm into the female reproductive tract. Credit: David FunkA female G. sigillatus reaching around to consume the nuptial gift (clear blob) while the ampulla (clouded blob) transfers sperm into the female reproductive tract. Credit: David Funk

Many insects mate by transferring their sperm in a capsule, or ampulla. In decorated crickets, Gryllodes sigillatus, an additional edible present, known as a nuptial gift, is offered to the female during mating in the form of a large gelatinous ball of protein attached to the ampulla which the female eats while the sperm are being transferred. 

The scientists believe that some of the proteins contained in the nuptial gift prevent digestive enzymes in the female’s gut from breaking down other active proteins in the gift. These protected proteins may then alter her reproductive physiology and make her less likely to mate with further males.

Professor Richard Ffrench-Constant from the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus said: “It has long been thought that the purpose of the edible love gift was so that male crickets could be sure their sperm wouldn’t be eaten by the female. However our study suggests that the story may actually be more complex and that the gift not only functions to feed the female but it may also affect her behaviour. It's a bit like the old cliché of offering a box of chocolates to oil the wheels of courtship – in this case  on the understanding that the crickets’ sperm will be met by a receptive reproductive system.”


Rare spider discovered in Northern Ireland - Buglife

A rare funnel-web spider has been found for the first time in Northern Ireland. Malthonica silvestris, closely related to the house spiders that people often find in their houses in the autumn, had only ever been found in Ireland, much further south in Cork.

Image: Mick Massie

The little spider had been found at Whitehead north of Belfast and is completely harmless. In England and Scotland it is normally found in damp woodland, but lives in caves in Europe. Unusually this specimen was found hiding out on a warm sunny coastal cliff where it was living in a silk-lined tube in a rock crevice.


Support for Scottish Seabird Centre's ‘National Marine Centre’ project - Heritage Lottery Fund

Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick (Image: Sean Bell, via HLF)Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick (Image: Sean Bell, via HLF)

It is announced today that conservation and education charity, the Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick, has been awarded development funding of £290,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to progress plans to create the ‘National Marine Centre’.

HLF has also given its initial support for a £3.5million bid for the project.

The ‘National Marine Centre’ is the working title for an innovative and exciting project to diversify the Scottish Seabird Centre, expanding the conservation and education work of the charity. The aim is to build on the charity’s existing activities and share more widely the importance, value and issues affecting Scotland’s unique and fascinating marine environment and wildlife.

The project will involve the extension and upgrade of the existing building to include a vital new education and interactive exhibition space. Some initial design work has been undertaken, but the Centre will now be conducting further research and developing plans in consultation with the local community, partners, members, visitors and funders.

The Scottish Seabird Centre opened in May 2000. It has won multiple awards for tourism, sustainability and its green credentials. It has led a range of high profile conservation projects and provides a well-used facility for both locals and visitors all-year-round as well as supporting artists with commissions and displays.

Tom Brock OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: "Over the last fifteen years our staff, volunteers and trustees have worked hard to develop and deliver an award-winning visitor experience and education programmes that have informed and inspired people about seabirds. Now we look forward to building on this success by also providing enhanced conservation and education programmes about the amazing marine environment and wildlife all around Scotland.   We recognise the importance of working at both local and national levels and collaboration will be vital in taking the project forward. We will work with the local community as well as with organisations all over Scotland to enthuse people across the country to conserve and protect our precious marine wildlife and environment for future generations."


Protected species: new licensing system saves customers time and money - Natural England

Natural England's changes to protected species licensing have led to £1 million of customer savings over the past 3 years.

The range of innovative measures, designed to reduce both the volume of licence applications and the associated costs, marks a significant step by Natural England towards its goal of cutting red tape and creating a more efficient organisation.

Savings have been made chiefly via the introduction of an ‘annexed licence’ system for works affecting bats, great crested newts and dormice – which has reduced the number of applications and subsequent rejections and reapplications; and a new ‘class licence’ - which has reduced applications for individual mitigation licences for low impact works affecting bats.

The drive to reduce red tape extends beyond saving money for smaller-scale customers. Organisational licences – removing the need for large organisations to apply for individual licences which can often result in costly last-minute project delays – are also being rolled out.

James Cross, Natural England’s Chief Executive said: "This landmark saving for our customers is a key milestone on our journey to reduce regulatory burdens and improve real-world impact. We are saving customers time and money, providing a slicker, more efficient process, observing environmental law and achieving great things for nature. Our organisational licences are a win-win for large organisations and for the environment, supporting economic progress, whilst ensuring that there is no impact on species conservation. The changes to our system have the added bonus of reducing time spent by Natural England staff on advising and processing individual licences, meaning that we can usefully divert those resources elsewhere."

Greater horseshoe bats (Copyright: Natural England)Bat low impact class licence

The introduction of the new bat low impact class licence system has removed the requirement for individual bat mitigation licences at a site – saving the accompanying costs.

Greater horseshoe bats (Copyright: Natural England)

In general terms, class licences are a ‘middle-way’ between general licences and individual licences. Class licences do not follow the standard individual mitigation licence application, but users must be registered with Natural England and provide frequent reports. In the case of bat low impact class licences, once registered with Natural England, consultants can apply to register individual sites. Where licensing tests are achieved, low impact works can begin.

As a basis for this new licence, Natural England provided training workshops and mandatory assessments for existing bat consultants. Almost 70 consultants have completed the training so far, registering more than 94 individual sites. A second training round is currently underway, with the number of registered consultants expected to top 100.


Forest storm resilience improved with latest software - Forest Research

Corsican pine (planted 1867) sample plot devastated by gale Location: Knightwood, New Forest, England. (image: Forest Research)Corsican pine (planted 1867) sample plot devastated by gale Location: Knightwood, New Forest, England. (image: Forest Research)

Software to help protect forests from storm damage is being released today by Forest Research.

The latest version of the computer-based tool ForestGALES uses data about the trees and the site (species, soil type) then works out the ‘windiness’ to estimate the level of risk to trees from uprooting or stem breakage. The information will help forest managers to create more resilient woodlands reducing the heavy economic cost of timber damage.

Defra Minister Rory Stewart commented:

‘Major storms in the UK not only damage our forests and woodlands, but impact on local economies and communities on those areas. This software is an excellent example of how the latest technologies and use of data can help us to protect our natural environment’

Forest Research estimates that over 11 million cubic metres of timber has been lost over the last 50 years as a result of storm damage. Using ForestGALES, managers can adjust the type of cultivation, timing of thinnings and the age at which trees are felled to make woodlands as wind resistant as possible. 


Pipistrelle bats increase in Scotland - Scottish Natural Heritage

Bat populations have declined substantially in Scotland over the last century, but one bat is making quite a comeback, according to a recent Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Bat Conservation Trust (BCT) report.

Common pipistrelle bat. Free use, copyright Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).Common pipistrelle bat. (copyright Scottish Natural Heritage).

Bat surveys have found that soprano pipistrelle and Daubenton’s bat populations have been stable since 1999, but the common pipistrelle population is estimated to have increased by around 79% since 2009. The statistics were commissioned by SNH and calculated by the Bat Conservation Trust using data from the National Bat Monitoring Programme.

The common pipistrelle population has also been increasing across Great Britain as a whole since 2009. Contributing factors to this increase are likely the legal protection for bats, fewer roost losses due to development, and less harmful timber treatment chemicals in roof voids from the 1990s onwards.

Robert Raynor, SNH’s mammal expert, commented: “Although this is certainly good news, many threats still exist for bats. There are nine or ten species of bat in Scotland, and we still need to improve our survey coverage so we can better understand what is happening with their numbers – not just the most common three.  Everyone can play their part to help encourage healthy bat populations. Bat boxes can provide safe roosts, as will letting bats make use of your roof for the part of year. Planting your garden with flowering plants, trees and shrubs that attract insects can also help.”

Anne Youngman, Bat Conservation Trust Scottish officer, added: “We’d like to say a huge thank you to all the volunteers taking part in this citizen science project across Scotland. We really appreciate them for donating their time to help us find out how Scottish bats are doing. We are delighted to be able to show that their hard work and dedication allows us to produce a positive picture for the population of common pipistrelle. It’s difficult to say why common pipistrelle appear to be recovering from the large historical decline.”

Download Trends of Bats in Scotland (pdf)


Trust launches vision for Scotland in 50 years - Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Trust is calling for 50 changes over the next 50 years to dramatically restore Scotland’s natural environment including the reintroduction of lynx, restoring all peatlands and designating Scotland’s first urban National Park, in a new publication. 

‘50 for the Future’ lists 50 actions that could transform Scotland’s natural environment for future generations. It is divided into five sections: uplands, lowlands, urban, marine and Scotland-wide. From saving the Scottish wildcat in our uplands, to bringing back beavers to our lowlands for good, de-paving our urban areas and ending the overfishing of our seas, the final 50 cover a wide range of issues, species and habitats.

‘50 for the Future’ was born last year at the end of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s 50th Anniversary, when members, supporters and experts were asked by the Trust to submit their ideas on "What one thing would most help Scotland's wildlife in the next 50 years?”. 

Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonny Hughes, said: “Fifty years ago, otters were on the brink of extinction in Scotland, there were no protected areas for marine wildlife and beavers had been absent from the landscape for almost 350 years. Fifty years on – this is not the case. We can have a huge impact to Scotland’s natural environment over the next 50 years if we work together. 

To download 50 for the Future please click here


EU Natura 2000 Award 2016: Call opens for top conservation initiatives - European Commission

The European Commission launched the 2016 edition of the EU Natura 2000 Award on 5 October. The annual Award, now in its third year, honours leading nature conservation achievements connected to Europe’s Natura 2000 Network of protected areas.

“The Natura 2000 Network is not only the centrepiece of European nature and biodiversity policy, it is also a hugely effective framework to connect the thousands of Europeans working and volunteering to conserve our precious protected areas,” Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella said on the occasion of the launch. “For the past two years, the Natura 2000 Award has highlighted the top conservation achievements of these dedicated citizens and groups. In 2016, we will once again recognise the best of the best and I encourage organisations and individuals involved in the Natura 2000 network to apply now!”

The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/Birdlife Bulgaria (BSPB), winners in the Conservation category, note, “Winning the Natura 2000 Award in 2014 has helped create a positive public image of our organisation, especially among the local communities and municipalities. Significantly, it also really enhanced our relations with the state authorities and socially responsible businesses.”

About the Natura 2000 Award 2016        

The Award is open to any organisation or person involved in Natura 2000, including public and local authorities, businesses, NGOs, land owners, educational institutions and individuals. The application period runs from 7 October to 1 December 2015 and the Award comprises five categories: Conservation; Socio-Economic Benefits; Communication; Reconciling Interests/Perceptions and Cross-Border Cooperation and Networking as well as a European Citizens’ Award. Introduced for the first time in 2015, the Citizens’ Award received an enthusiastic response from the public with 25 000 votes being cast.

Following the application deadline on 1 December 2015, the submissions will be assessed and a shortlist of finalists will be drawn up in March. The winners will be announced at a high-level ceremony in Brussels in May 2016.

For further information about the EU Natura 2000 Award 2016, please contact: info@natura2000award-application.eu


Scientific publications

Caryl, F. M., Lumsden, L. F.van der Ree, R. & Wintle, B. A. (2015) Functional responses of insectivorous bats to increasing housing density support ‘land-sparing’ rather than ‘land-sharing’ urban growth strategies. Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12549


Houle, J. E. et al (2015) Effects of seal predation on a modelled marine fish community and consequences for a commercial fishery. Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12548


Carroll, M. J. et al (2015) Ecological impacts of climate change are increasingly well-understood, with changes in species’ ranges and phenology predicted and observed in both terrestrial and marine environments. Climate Research doi: 10.3354/cr01332


Brusatte, S. L., O’Connor, J. K. & Jarvis, E. D. (2015) The Origin and Diversification of Birds. Current Biology DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.08.003


Dunn, J. C., Hamer, K. C. & Benton, T. G. (2015) Anthropogenically-Mediated Density Dependence in a Declining Farmland Bird. Plos One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139492 


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