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


Duo of loggerhead turtles seen close to shore in Dorset - Marine Conservation Society

Two loggerhead turtles have been spotted together by a group of walkers from the coast path at Durlston Head, Dorset on Sunday, October 18th. 

Loggerhead turtle in rehabilitation (image: P Richardson, MCS)Loggerhead turtle in rehabilitation (image: P Richardson, MCS)

Sarah Fargher from Fuzzacker Guided Walks, based in the New Forest, contacted MCS after one of her group of walkers spotted the turtles. Sarah estimated the turtles to be about 50metres from the shore, and could have been between two and three feet in length.

MCS Head of Biodiversity and Fisheries, Dr Peter Richardson, is concerned that they may be at risk of stranding on local beaches in coming days as the sea temperature in the south west drops.

This is a fantastic record because live loggerhead turtles are rarely spotted in UK seas, and to see two together is incredibly lucky,” Peter says. "But as the seas cool down locally, these turtles will stop feeding, lose condition and suffer from acute hypothermia. If they are lucky, they may strand alive on a beach, and if found in time they can be rescued and rehabilitated back to health with specialist treatment”. “South West inshore surface temperatures waters are about 15oC at the moment. As the seas cool down these turtles will stop feeding, lose condition and suffer from acute hypothermia. If they are lucky, they may strand alive on a beach, and if found in time they can be rescued and rehabilitated back to health with specialist treatment.  We urge anyone who finds a turtle on UK shores to report it immediately, and try and make sure the tides don’t wash them back to sea”.

Live stranded turtles in the UK should be reported immediately to Marine Environmental Monitoring on 01239 683033 or the regional numbers listed on the UK Turtle Code (pdf)


Juniper in jeopardy - Plantlife

A new Plantlife report indicates Scotland's gin-flavouring plant is declining and being killed off by a deadly disease
A new Plantlife report published this weekend indicates that juniper is in a critical state in Scotland. The conservation charity is deeply concerned by the results of a citizen science survey focussed on the health of juniper in the country. Juniper has already been lost from a quarter of areas where it was previously found. Juniper is important, not just for its cultural value, but also because it provides food for wildlife such as the juniper shield bug - a key native invertebrate, important cover for game bird and shelter for stock. What’s more, there is a growing interest in locally sourced juniper for Scottish gin distillers, which is reinvigorating the use of Scottish juniper.

Juniper bushes (plantlife)Juniper's decline in Scotland is due to a combination of factors: many juniper bushes are over a century old and unable to regenerate because land management practices have meant that they have been unable to set seed successfully. According to the report, 79% of juniper recorded in 2014, was either mature, old or dead. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these plants are much less likely to be able to produce viable seed.

Now a deadly fungal disease, Phytophthora austrocedrae, first recorded in Argentina in 2007, is having a severe impact on juniper bushes. New sightings of Phytophthora are being found regularly. Phytophthora is an air-borne fungal pathogen; it is still not clear how it is distributed, although it needs wet conditions to thrive. Once infected, bushes go orange, then brown. So far, this disease has only been recorded in Argentina and Britain and it is not known how the disease arrived in the UK. The Plantlife survey found that 63% of bushes surveyed were found to have brown patches - a sign of ill health or disease.

Deborah Long, Head of Plantlife Scotland says “Volunteer citizen science surveys are helping us understand what is happening to juniper in Scotland. We know juniper populations are struggling, but they now face an additional threat. It is thanks to these citizen scientists who have been helping us monitor the species, that we can start working with land owners to help juniper communities become more resistant to the threats they face, including this new disease. We need to ensure juniper has a future. It needs active conservation effort and intervention now for it to survive."
Access the report here.


Nature reserve angler fined - Environment Agency 

An angler, caught in the act of fishing illegally at a Cambridgeshire nature reserve, has been fined.

The angler from Cornwall was thwarted by the combined investigations of the Environment Agency and Cambridgeshire Police.  Bait containers, bonfires and evidence of fishing had previously been spotted by wardens of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust at Godmanchester Nature Reserve, an area of outstanding natural beauty.  Environment Agency Fisheries Enforcement Officers later discovered angler Philip Rule, aged 50, asleep under a shelter carved deep into a hedgerow near the water’s edge. He had two baited rods cast into the water, set up with bite alarms, commonly used by specimen anglers across the UK. The case was past to Cambridgeshire Police for prosecution.

The nature reserve which is protected under various wildlife and countryside orders includes some large lakes, none of which are allowed to be used for angling or any other water sport. Intelligence suggested that the largest lake was regularly being fished illegally.  Cambridgeshire Magistrates Court was informed by Cambridgeshire Police who brought the prosecution against Rule, that he was not only fishing illegally he also did not have a valid rod licence.  He admitted knowing that he should not have been there but chose to take the chance and fish it regardless. 


World’s biggest seabird tracking database shows their incredible journeys - Birdlife

The Global Seabird Tracking Database  - one of the biggest marine conservation collaborations in the world - has just passed 5 million data points. The announcement was made at the World Seabird Conference, taking place in Cape Town, South Africa.

The database, originally called ‘Tracking Ocean Wanderers’, was established in 2003, when data on the movements of 16 species of Albatross and Petrel were brought together for the first time. From albatrosses to penguins, the database now holds more than five times as many species, provided by over 120 research institutes. 

Seabirds have some of the most extreme and fascinating life histories in the animal kingdom. We know that Arctic Terns have the longest migration of any animal, migrating from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again in a single year, covering over 80,000 kilometres in the process. Others, like the Wandering Albatross, may spend up to six years at sea before returning to the colony. 

The data in the tracking database is helping the global marine community gain yet more insights into the lives of seabirds in all the world’s oceans.  Each new study adds to our knowledge of how and why seabirds use the oceans, often surprising us in the distances covered, the routes that birds travel and the speed with which they get there.

All the tracking data, from penguins to albatrosses to terns, can be viewed at www.seabirdtracking.org 

The tracking data has helped BirdLife to identify Marine Important Bird Areas - the most important places for seabirds at sea.     The map of these sites can be explored here. 


Landmark grant to secure New Forest’s future - New Forest National Park 

A partnership scheme to conserve the New Forest’s unique heritage, landscape and wildlife for future generations has received £2.8m, thanks to National Lottery players.

The grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will fund a visionary project to restore lost habitats, develop traditional Forest skills and inspire a new generation of people to cherish and care for the National Park.  The five-year New Forest Landscape Partnership Scheme will be led by the New Forest National Park Authority and 10 key partners, who will contribute their own funding to increase the pot to more than £4m.  It marks a new era in organisations working together in the Forest and follows on from the National Park Partnership Plan signed by 10 main organisations earlier this year – setting out ambitions and actions for them to deliver collectively by 2020.

The National Lottery money will help to restore sites across the Forest, including waterways, ancient woodland, meadows and historic buildings. The project will also promote more understanding and passion for the area among landowners, local communities and visitors.

The New Forest boasts special qualities formed over a thousand years thanks to a unique system of land management based on commoning rights. It now faces unprecedented modern pressures, and this scheme will help the National Park become more robust and able to deal with climate change, agricultural practices and a growing population that is increasingly based in urban areas.

The three key programmes of the project are:

  • Restoring lost landscapes by helping landowners manage neglected woodlands, creating wildlife corridors through hedgerow planting, conserving the Forest Fringe against spreading urban areas and restoring the New Forest’s archaeology and historic buildings
  • Enhancing traditional agricultural Forest skills among landowners, developing a New Forest Ranger apprenticeship scheme,  encouraging new and young Commoners and improving traditional building skills
  • Inspiring the wider public and a new generation to discover Forest heritage by developing an e-cademy for sharing knowledge, collecting and conserving photographs and records to document the agricultural and commoning heritage of the New Forest, improving educational facilities at the National Trust’s Foxbury Estate near Wellow, and educating people about the role and importance of commoning to the New Forest. The scheme will also involve restoring the historic Verderers Court in Lyndhurst – the oldest functioning court in the land and a building central to the commoning community.

Further details can be found at www.newforestnpa.gov.uk/landscapepartnership


Stakeholders get their say on UK lynx reintroduction and vast eco-tourism potential - Lynx UK Trust 

Lynx UK Trust launches a national stakeholder consultation to formally discuss lynx reintroduction to the UK in 2016, citing independent research from AECOM suggesting reintroduction would mean hundreds of new jobs and tens of millions of pounds in new eco-tourism revenues over a 25 year period. 

Earlier this year, the Lynx UK Trust asked the general public for their opinion on bringing back the deer-hunting lynx after a 1,300 year absence to help balance out deer overpopulation and its damaging effects on forestry and agricultural crops. Over 9,000 people responded, the largest ever response to such a survey, recording support of up to 91% in favour of reintroduction.

Suggesting trial reintroduction sites in Aberdeenshire, Argyll, Northumberland, Cumbria and Norfolk, the Trust are now advancing through the penultimate stages of the application process with a national stakeholder consultation to formally discuss the details of reintroduction, and what it may mean for UK ecology and industries including tourism, farming and conservation.

The consultation includes the release of a document detailing the process of the consultation, the logistics of reintroduction and detailed assessments of the various impacts the lynx would be likely to have on life in the UK.

The document cites a range of independent research drawn from across the UK and Europe finding risks to be close to non-existent; lynx are no threat to people and are little to no threat for pets or livestock, however, they are very likely to provide benefits for various endangered species, deliver a hugely beneficial impact to forestry and crop farming through deer control and create substantial eco-tourism and job creation opportunities.

The consultation will run until the new year at a national level, moving onto more detailed consultations at a local level in areas where trial reintroductions are planned in the new year.  

More information will be available from www.lynxuk.org/consultation from Wednesday 28th October, including access to the Lynx UK Trust consultation documents and AECOM research documents. 


Rare butterfly is surprise success for South Downs project - South Downs National Park Authority

A project to boost numbers of butterflies and chalk grassland in the South Downs National Park near Brighton has unexpectedly seen the return of the silver-spotted skipper butterfly, once close to extinction across the county.

The ‘Brighton Blues’ project, led by the South Downs National Park Authority and supported by a grant of £39,425 awarded by The Veolia Environmental Trust through the Landfill Communities Fund, was set up to improve and increase areas of rare chalk grassland which several species of butterfly including the Adonis blue and chalkhill blue depend on to thrive.

Silver spotted Skipper (image: SDNPA / Neil-Hulme)Silver spotted Skipper (image: SDNPA / Neil-Hulme)

Phillippa Morrison-Price, South Downs National Park Authority ranger, said: “Chalk grassland is one of the most endangered habitats in the country and vital to the survival of wildlife but it only exists because of the grazing that’s taken place here over thousands of years. Through this project we’ve been able to introduce grazing into new areas and clear encroaching scrub. The result has not just benefitted the Adonis blue and chalkhill blue but also led to the surprise return of the silver-spotted skipper.  The benefits of this work will be seen much further too. The South Downs’ chalk downland is also relied on by more than a million people in and around the National Park for clean drinking water and tens of millions of people as a valuable green space.”

Neil Hulme, who works for project partner Butterfly Conservation, said: “In the 1970s the silver-spotted skipper was so rare that its last two locations were a closely guarded secret. It’s wonderful to see them now flying amongst the iconic blue species of the South Downs. Sightings at Anchor Bottom near Upper Beeding, Mill Hill in Shoreham and at Benfield Hill and Waterhall in Brighton & Hove show the first expansion in its range for nearly ten years.  We’ve seen many other insects and plants benefitting from this work, showing that decades of decline in this rich and unique habitat can be reversed with good management.”


Puffin and turtle dove join the list of birds facing global extinction - RSPB

The turtle dove has just joined the list of globally threatened species (Image: Deacon / RSPB)Four of the UK's bird species, including the puffin and turtle dove, have today been added to the list of birds considered to be facing the risk of global extinction.

The turtle dove has just joined the list of globally threatened species (Image: Deacon / RSPB)

The latest annual revision of birds on the IUCN Red List, which has been announced by BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN, doubles the number of UK bird species considered to be facing the risk of extinction to eight.  Shockingly, a further 14 UK species are considered to be Near Threatened, meaning that any further deterioration in their status could see them added to the red list too.

Martin Harper is the RSPB's Conservation Director. He said: “Today’s announcement means that the global wave of extinction is now lapping at our shores. The number of species facing extinction has always been highest in the tropics, particularly on small islands. But now the crisis is beginning to exact an increasingly heavy toll on temperate regions too, such as Europe.  The erosion of the UK’s wildlife is staggering and this is reinforced when you talk about puffin and turtle dove now facing the same level of extinction threat as African elephant and lion, and being more endangered than the humpback whale.”

The global revision also captures the crisis facing other birds around the world, including vultures where several African species have been listed as Critically Endangered – one step away from facing global extinction. In Africa, vultures are facing persecution and they are regularly poisoned or trapped.

Examining the list of changes among the UK’s birds to this year’s red list, several themes emerge, including: deterioration in the fortunes of some seabirds, such as puffin and razorbill; an ongoing and increasingly intense threat to wading birds, such as godwits, curlew, oystercatcher, knot and lapwing; and an increasing deterioration in the status of marine ducks, such as common eider, joining velvet scoter and long-tailed duck as species of concern.


Conservationists warn Africa’s vultures are sliding towards extinction - IUCN

Six of Africa’s 11 vulture species – the continent’s largest and most recognisable birds of prey – are now at a higher risk of extinction, according to the latest assessment of birds for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, carried out by BirdLife International – an IUCN Red List partner.

The main causes of the drop in African vulture populations are thought to be indiscriminate poisonings, where the birds are drawn to poisoned baits, use of vulture body parts in traditional medicine, and deliberate targeting by poachers, as the presence of vultures can alert authorities to illegally killed big game carcasses.

Dr Julius Arinaitwe, BirdLife International’s Africa Programme Director, said: “As well as robbing the African skies of one of their most iconic and spectacular groups of birds, the rapid decline of the continent’s vultures has profound consequences for its people – as vultures help stop the spread of diseases by cleaning up rotting carcasses.”

“However, now we are becoming aware of the sheer scale of the declines involved, there is still just enough time for conservationists to work with law-makers, faith-based organisations, government agencies and local people, to make sure there is a future for these magnificent scavengers.”

Worldwide, 40 more bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction in the 2015 Red List. Besides the vultures, these include many wading shorebirds, and other iconic species like Helmeted Hornbill, Swift Parrot, Atlantic Puffin, and European Turtle-dove.

IUCN Red List changes – summary in numbers

  • 24 bird species are now classified as having a higher risk of extinction (either Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered) in the 2015 Red List update of birds, with seven bird species being upgraded to Critically Endangered.  
  • Another 16 bird species have seen their status change from Least Concern (the lowest level of threat) to Near Threatened. 23 bird species have been downgraded to lower threat categories.

Data on The IUCN Red List website has not yet been updated. For a full list of all the changes, see: http://www.birdlife.org/globally-threatened-bird-forums/
For the new Red List assessments and factsheets, go to: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/search


Final report of Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales published - Welsh Government

A wide-ranging review about the future of Wales’s national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) has been presented to Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant. 

Chaired by Professor Terry Marsden, Director of the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University, the Independent Review of Designated Landscapes in Wales makes 69 recommendations covering a raft of proposals and observations on purposes, principles, vision, governance models, planning, and funding.

The recommendations include:

  • making no change to the name or legal status of national parks or AONB,
  • strengthening the support and delivery role of other bodies,
  • the creation of a National Landscape Committee.

The Minister said that due to the considerable scale and scope of the recommendations, further work is now needed to understand their potential benefit and their consequences.  He has asked Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas AM to lead a Future Landscapes Working Group and that he invites representatives of the national parks, AONBs, interest groups, business, and local government to participate.  

The group will explore these recommendations and the case for reform which is aligned to the priorities for public service reform in Wales, and report their findings next year. 

Details of forestry research programmes published - Forestry Commission 

The Forestry Commission has published details of the seven research programmes which will implement the current Science & Innovation in Forestry Strategy for Great Britain over the next four years.

The strategy and its constituent research programmes are designed to meet the priority needs of the British forestry sector for robust, science-based advice. Roger Coppock, Head of Analysts at the Commission, explained, “A key need across the sector is for robust and timely evidence to inform policy and forest management practice to ensure sustainability and resilience in our woods and forests in the face of developing threats, especially climate change and emerging pests and diseases. These research programmes have been developed in close consultation with the forestry community to fulfil that need as well as other current priorities. They differ significantly from previous research programmes in that they are highly interdisciplinary, with a strong applied focus on both physical and social sciences. This will support and encourage uptake and impact.”

The programme titles are:

  • assessing resilience and sustainability of woodlands and forests;
  • understanding biotic threats to resilience;
  • delivering resilient forests;
  • valuing ecosystem services; forest governance; and influencing behaviour;
  • tree breeding and developing sustainable markets, forest products and services;
  • forest resource assessment, greenhouse gas balance and modelling; and
  • integrating research for policy and practice to deliver resilient forests.

Mr Coppock added that because the programmes have been published before details of the UK Government’s spending review could be known, some changes might be needed to some of the research which can be undertaken, and to its timing.

Full details of the programmes and the Science and Innovation Strategy for Forestry in Great Britain are available at www.forestry.gov.uk/research.


Common pochard upgraded to “Vulnerable”  - Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

The not quite so common pochard (image: WWT)The not quite so common pochard (image: WWT)

Concern that the common pochard – one of the UK’s most popular duck species – is declining rapidly has led to its status being stepped up to “Vulnerable” in the IUCN Red List of threatened species, published today.

It’s one of several wetland species whose numbers have declined, leading to a step up in the level of concern for each. Amongst wading birds, the knot, bar-tailed godwit, curlew sandpiper, oystercatcher and lapwing have all been upgraded to “Near Threatened”. WWT’s nine wetland centres provide important habitat for many of these species of wetland birds.

WWT is already working to find out the reasons for the common pochard’s decline, so that more informed action could be taken to help its plight.

WWT’s Head of Monitoring Rich Hearn says: “A key thing we need to find out is whether more birds are dying, or whether fewer young are being produced in the first place. The survival of females could be an important part of ongoing changes to the population so volunteers are standing by across the UK, Europe and North Africa to count the ratio of males versus females at wintering locations. The data these volunteers produce could provide an important piece of the jigsaw of why such a common duck in the UK is declining so rapidly.”


New woodland driven forward by NRW and Ford - Natural Resources Wales

Llynfi Woods ground preperation (image: NRW)A new partnership between the public and private sectors is set to drive forward plans to turn an abandoned coal mine in South Wales into a community woodland.Llynfi Woods ground preperation (image: NRW)

Llynfi Woods ground preperation (image: NRW)

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) has joined forces with the Ford Motor Company to create the new woodland on the site of the former Coegnant Colliery and Maesteg Washery in the Upper Llynfi Valley, a project funded by the Welsh Government Nature Fund.  The partnership will see the two organisations work with local people over the next 10 years to develop and maintain the woods.  Work to convert the 30 hectare site began earlier this month when diggers moved in to prepare the ground ready for the planting of 60,000 trees over the winter.

Emyr Roberts, Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales, said: “The Llynfi project gives us the opportunity to show how we can take forward the sustainable management of natural resources and deliver benefits for local communities. Having green spaces on our doorstep is not just good for wildlife, it also helps people feel better about their community and provides an area to unwind and exercise.  NRW’s purpose is to ensure that our environment and natural resources are maintained, enhanced and used. But we cannot do this alone and there is enormous value in developing partnerships with communities and the private sector.  Our partnership with Ford Motors on this 10-year programme will ensure wide-ranging benefits for the environment, economy and the many people who will use it for recreation.”

More than 300 of Ford’s employees live in the vicinity of the Llynfi Valley.  The Llynfi project will not only improve the environment of the Llynfi Valley by increasing biodiversity, reducing water run-off and absorbing pollution but will also encourage people to spend more time outside and increase their activity levels. The partnership with Ford will support tree planting and developing green exercise facilities providing a space for health and well-being activities for the community.


Scientific paper

Schmucki, Reto et al. A regionally informed abundance index for supporting integrative analyses across butterfly monitoring schemes. Journal of Applied Ecology  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12561



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