CJS Logo & link to homepage

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


Boost for bees thanks to new projects for pollinators - defra

the Bees Needs logoEnvironment Minister George Eustice speaks at Bee Summit about range of pollinators initiatives

Thousands of people are signing up to schemes to create new habitats for bees and pollinators as part of the government’s National Pollinator Strategy, George Eustice will announce today (9/11/15).

A year on from the launch of the Strategy, which aims to protect pollinators and promote their vital contribution to the countryside and our economy, a range of initiatives have been launched by environmental groups, retailers and schools to help pollinators flourish.

The range of initiatives that partners in the National Pollinator Strategy are delivering is set out in a new implementation plan published today. Other examples of progress include:

  • The Bumblebee Conservation Trust is aiming to sign up 2,000 volunteers by 2019 to engage the public on pollinator friendly projects;
  • The RHS’ Perfect for Pollinators initiative has created plant lists to help gardeners identify plants that will provide nectar and pollen for bees and the many other types of pollinating insects; and
  • Defra has also installed two beehives on the roof of its building in Westminster, and last month celebrated its first yield of ‘Whitehall Honey’.

The actions in the Plan come under five key themes:

  • supporting pollinators on farmland;
  • supporting pollinators across towns, cities and the countryside;
  • enhancing the response to pest and disease risks;
  • raising awareness of what pollinators need to survive and thrive; and
  • improving evidence on the status of pollinators and the service they provide.

The National Pollinator Strategy, which was launched last year, encourages everyone to support pollinators – be they major landowners, councils, or window-box gardeners – by taking five simple steps to help pollinators known as the ‘Bees Needs’.

The National Pollinator Strategy implementation plan can be found here. 


Bearded tits thriving in the Tay reedbeds - RSPB Scotland

Long-term monitoring of one of the country’s most charismatic little birds has revealed that the River Tay is possibly their largest stronghold in the UK.

Male bearded tit feeding in Phragmites reedbed (Image: Andy Hay, RSPB)Male bearded tit feeding in Phragmites reedbed (Image: Andy Hay, RSPB)

Bearded tits are found only in reedbeds and the historic loss of habitat across Britain has resulted in the population being fragmented and dissipated across isolated areas. But records from ringing work – where ornithologists fit minute identification bands on the birds’ legs to gather monitoring data on their movements and lifespan – has shown that 2014 was a record-breaking year.

In 2014 723 of these charismatic birds were ringed at the Tay reedbeds – more than double the number in 2013.

Data from the BTO also showed that the Tay reedbeds were home to 45 per cent of the bearded tits ringed in Britain last year, highlighting the importance of this site to the country’s population.  Surprisingly, the birds only colonised the reedbeds along the Tay, the largest continuous area of reedbed in Britain, in the early 1990s.

Heather McCallum, RSPB Scotland reserves ecologist: “The Tay reedbeds are a stronghold for bearded tits in Britain and the work done by the Tay Ringing Group and Iain during the course of his PhD means that we’re able to keep track of how the birds are faring here. This data not only underlines the importance of the Tay reedbeds to the population but also demonstrates how the careful management of this environment has enabled these birds to thrive here.  Bearded tits are an amber list species and although 2014 was a good year for them at the Tay they are vulnerable to severe winters. Numbers can fluctuate year on year so it’s vital that we continue to manage the reedbeds to maximise the quality of their habitat”


UK bird populations benefitting from innovative partnerships - BTO

New report reveals conservation organisations partnered with farmers, supermarkets and even the brewing industry has positive impacts on bird populations.

Yellowhammer by Jill Pakenham / BTOYellowhammer by Jill Pakenham / BTO

The State of the UK’s Birds 2015 report (SUKB) [published today Tuesday 10th November 2015] showcases a range of inspiring examples of organizations joining forces, from within and outside the conservation sector, aiming to improve the status of birds both within the UK and across the UK’s Overseas Territories.

National statutory bodies and conservation NGOs have engaged with private landowners, farmers, supermarkets, the aggregates industry and even the brewing industry in partnerships to deliver exciting projects across the UK. 

The annual SUKB report takes a deeper look at the fortunes of farmland birds in particular which overall have declined by 54% since 1970. Despite the continued long-term decline seen across farmland birds, collaborative partnerships and agri-environment schemes have been shown to have positive impacts on a number of farmland bird species.

The report reviews a range of projects; from targeted species recovery programmes benefiting Cirl Buntings and Stone Curlews, through to agri-environment schemes for which positive effects have been found on some, but not all, widespread declining farmland species. More targeted schemes have been shown to increase or at least maintain local densities of Grey Partridge, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer at the farm-scale.

Wetland birds are another group to have benefitted from partnership projects, particularly at a landscape scale; Redshank and Lapwing are responding to habitat restoration and management in Greater Thames, Bittern in Somerset and Curlew in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile in upland areas Black Grouse populations have increased on sites in north Wales, Geltsdale and Scotland as a result of habitat management and partnerships between game managers and conservationists.

David Noble, Principal Ecologist at BTO, said: “The development of agri-environment schemes has been informed by considerable research into the requirements of farmland birds and field-based tests of management options. However, bird responses can vary due to differences in implementation, as well as other factors; so continued monitoring is critical to assess their design and modify as needed.”


A modern legal framework for protecting and managing wildlife – Law Commission

In a report published on Tuesday 10 November the Law Commission recommends reforms to modernise and simplify the law regulating wildlife and create a flexible legal framework for the future.

The current law regulating wildlife is spread over a collection of Acts dating back to 1831. The original purpose of much of the law was to govern activities such as hunting and fishing, including poaching. Over the years it has expanded to conserve species, ensure the welfare of wildlife and protect local biodiversity. Much of the older legislation is out of step with modern requirements, and there is duplication between the principal modern Act – the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – and Regulations made with a view to implementing EU law obligations. The result is a legal landscape that is out of date, confused and sometimes contradictory.

In its report, the Commission is recommending that the patchwork of existing legislation be replaced by a single statute. The new statute brings together the law governing the protection, control and management of wildlife to make it more consistent, easier to understand and simpler to use. Reflecting relevant EU directives and international conventions as well as national wildlife policy, the statute provides a regulatory framework organised around schedules listing protected and controlled species and prohibited conduct.

Existing protections for wild animals, birds and plants are maintained but a statutory procedure for amending the schedules is introduced, allowing for more strategic management of species. The existing requirement for protected species lists to be reviewed every five years is extended to include all relevant lists. Ministers retain the power to make changes between reviews but they will be required to publish their reasons if they do not follow expert advice.

Access the report here


Islay Sustainable Goose Management Strategy – Scottish Natural Heritage

We have received a number of complaints because of an article in the media which included a number of inaccuracies. Below is an explanation of the Islay goose management strategy and some corrected statistics and facts.

Eileen Stuart, head of policy and advice at SNH, said: “We’re confident the Islay goose management project is robust and protects both the goose populations on Islay and the needs of farmers to protect their crops. The project will secure the long-term future of the large geese populations on Islay, and the geese will continue to be a wildlife spectacle we can all enjoy. The project will reduce crop damage significantly by decreasing the number of barnacle geese, improving habitat for rare Greenland white-fronted geese, and helping farmers manage their land more effectively. It will support large numbers of barnacle and white-fronted geese on the island, as well as help local farmers whose land and crops are affected by the geese. More than 70% of the island will remain as undisturbed feeding areas for geese. Barnacle geese numbers have increased steadily on Islay over the past 20 years or so, and farmers have played a crucial role in this conservation success story. But with more geese, there has been increased pressure on both farmers and the public purse. We believe this new, long-term strategy strikes the right balance between conservation, making sure Islay farmers can use their lands profitably, and responsible use of public money. Local stakeholders have been vital in the development of this project."


Toxic Tastes - Ireland's Bees and Non-Native Rhododendron Nectar - Trinity College Dublin

Botanists from Trinity College Dublin's School of Natural Sciences have discovered that the nectar from a common, non-native plant, is toxic to some Irish bees. These effects vary based on the species of bee consuming the nectar, but they are lethal to some. Common rhododendron is one of the most invasive plants in the United Kingdom and is also notorious in Ireland for threatening native forest habitats.

In the study just published in Functional Ecology, research led by the Trinity botanists with UK collaborators at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, University of Greenwich, Royal Holloway University of London and Newcastle University shows that its nectar is extremely toxic to native honeybees.

Image: The nectar from Common Rhododendron flowers has toxic effects on native Irish honeybees (Trinity College Dublin)The nectar contains grayanotoxins, natural plant produced chemicals, which occur in leaves and help rhododendrons avoid being eaten by insects and mammals.

The nectar from Common Rhododendron flowers has toxic effects on native Irish honeybees (Trinity College Dublin)

The study, funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council, was led by Research Fellow, Dr Erin Jo Tiedeken, and Professor in Botany, Jane Stout, of the School of Natural Sciences in Trinity, with the collaborators from the UK.

The team fed artificial nectar containing realistic concentrations of grayanotoxins, isolated from the Rhododendron flowers by scientists at Kew, to three economically and ecologically important pollinating bee species to investigate how these nectar toxins impacted native bees. 


Study suggesting neonicotinoids are safe is severely flawed says scientists - Buglife

A paper published last week in Environmental Sciences Europe has criticised a study funded by pesticide manufactures. The study by agrochemical giant, Syngenta claims to show that one of the insecticides which they produce is safe for honeybees, however an analysis by an independent group of scientists shows that these claims are unfounded.  The study was published in scientific journal PLOS ONE and was based on the use of thiamethoxam when used as a treatment for maize and oilseed rape seeds. Thiamethoxam is one of three chemicals known as neonicotinoids which have been identified as being harmful to wildlife including honeybees and bumblebees and have now been restricted by the European Commission.

A group of scientists from across the world have analysed the study and concluded that there are serious flaws and also controversy in how the study was published. However, Syngenta had concluded that the residues of the chemical in the pollen and nectar of the crops were a “low risk” for honeybee colonies.

The paper identified a number of issues with the study

One of the authors and Pesticides Officer for Buglife, Vanessa Amaral-Rogers said “Given all these issues, it was surprising that the study had been published. It’s also concerning that there are these close ties between the pesticide regulators and the agrochemical companies. The regulators are supposed to be independent but it appears that this has certainly not been the case in this instance.”

Dave Goulson, Professor at the University of Sussex and another of the authors said “The European Commission is currently reviewing the neonicotinoid restriction and will be taking into account any new data. As publications in refereed journals are likely to be taken seriously in political debates and policy-making, they must be based on valid experimental designs and analyses, otherwise they are potentially misleading.”


Report shows mixed picture on harbour seal numbers around Scotland - Scottish Natural Heritage

There continues to be an east – west divide when it comes to the numbers of harbour seals around the coast of Scotland, according to a new report published today (11 November) by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The results of survey work from 2014 show that numbers of harbour seals are at an all-time high on the west coast of Scotland since surveys started in the late 1980s, but have continued to decline in the east.  Over the past 15 years the surveys, carried out by the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) at the University of St Andrews, have documented a decline in numbers of harbour seals on the east and north coasts and the Northern Isles. In that time numbers have dropped by over 90% in the Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary and 75% around Orkney.

Last year only 29 seals were counted in the Firth of Tay and Eden Estuary Special Area of Conservation (SAC), set up to protect habitats and wildlife including harbour seal, compared with 88 counted in 2012 and 773 in 1992. Drops in numbers were also recorded in other protected wildlife sites along the east coast including in the Moray Firth and Dornoch Firth. In contrast, numbers have gone up by 60% or more in some parts of the west coast over the last six years, with some of the highest area counts recorded to date.

John Baxter, Principle Marine Adviser with Scottish Natural Heritage said: “It’s great to hear that harbour seal numbers on the west coast are doing so well but it’s of real concern that numbers on the east coast continue to drop so dramatically. It’s still not clear what’s causing the decline but we’re continuing to work with colleagues at Marine Scotland and SMRU to try to get a better understanding of what is going on. These surveys are important to help monitor seal numbers so we can work together to take action if necessary - this year we have funded further surveys of Shetland and the south-west and south-east coasts.”

Access the report in full here. 


RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts criticise decision to cut funding for environment by up to 40%

Following Monday’s announcement regarding severe cuts across DEFRA, the RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts have come together to highlight what it could mean for the environment.
Dr Mike Clarke, the RSPB’s chief executive, said: “The Westminster Government is keen to talk about “difficult choices” but it seems increasingly clear that abandoning its obligation to ensure the UK is habitable is not very difficult for them at all.  Five years ago DEFRA was at the front of the queue and took the joint largest cuts while other departments were still negotiating.  When once again DEFRA is heavily cut ahead of other departments, talk of “difficult choices” is hard to take seriously.” Economists at the RSPB have analysed the figures and have forecast what 30 per cent cuts[1] could mean for the environment:

  • It’s estimated that a 30% cuts will lead to 57% real terms cuts – the largest of any department so far.
  • 5,000+ staff redundancies meaning fewer people to, for instance, advise farmers on managing land with wildlife in mind, research and find solutions for conservation problems, and make legal commitments to cleaning up rivers, lakes and drinking water and regulate the quality of our air. 
  • Near 80% cuts in real terms since 2009/10 to many important areas of spend including wildlife conservation, air quality and water pollution if flood risk and animal and plant disease are protected.
  • 60% of our wildlife continues to decline, while the UK Government has struggled to meet basic statutory targets for protecting our special protected areas.  If the government is failing to meet current objectives, how likely is it that they will keep their manifesto promises for the natural environment?

Mike Clarke continued:  “This seems to us to be a truly perverse decision. A lack of resource is already damaging the UK Government’s ability to meet basic statutory obligations. These obligations aren’t ‘nice to haves’ – a healthy natural environment underpins our prosperity. Investing in environmental protection is an essential part of any plan for a better future" 
Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England, said:  “Even before yesterday’s announcement, the Government was only investing a tiny proportion of our national income in environmental stewardship and the restoration of wildlife habitats – its already far below the levels that we need.  It will now be reduced to such low levels that there are real question marks over whether the Government can continue to deliver its most basic functions and responsibilities for the natural environment.   “We are now faced with the extremely worrying prospect that Government no longer has the ecological literacy or functionality that society needs if we are to build a genuinely sustainable future.”
Mike Clarke added: “The UK Government is now faced with a simple choice. Either rethink this decision or, if these cuts do have to go ahead, ring-fence spending within other departments for environmental protection.”


National Trust calls for urgent action to manage threats to our coastline

The National Trust is calling for urgent action from Government and agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure all coastal areas are ready for the enormous challenges presented by severe storms and rising sea levels.

Twelve and a half thousand new homes and businesses have been built in coastal areas at risk of significant erosion or flooding over the last decade despite a range of national guidance strongly advising against such developments, a report for the conservation charity has found.  Only one in three coastal planning authorities in England have the most up-to-date planning policy in place to deal with rising sea levels and more frequent storms.  In 2013 and 2014, the coastline was battered by a series of storms and high tides which resulted in levels of erosion and flooding experts would usually expect to see every five to 15 years.  And, in the coming years extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, affecting people and natural habitats putting coastal wildlife at risk. 

Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire. Credit Joe CornishFreshwater West, Pembrokeshire. Credit Joe Cornish

In its new report – “Shifting Shores – playing our part at the coast” the Trust calls for a bold and imaginative approach to coastline management, involving an understanding of how nature works, moving towards adaptation and away from maintaining engineered defences, where appropriate, while being sensitive to community needs.  This includes ending the ineffective cycle of continually rebuilding concrete sea defences and instead relocating buildings, infrastructure and habitats to safe areas further inland at some at risk locations.

The Trust, which cares for 775 miles of coastline for the nation, will be putting this approach into practice with its commitment to have plans in place for 80 of the coastal areas it cares for by 2020.

Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape and Nature at the National Trust says: “The harsh truth is that our natural environment is in poor health – wildlife is in decline, over-worked soils are being washed out to sea and climate change is becoming an increasing threat. The Trust has always been about much more than simply looking after the place it manages. The complex and ever-changing challenges we face on the coastline can only be addressed by working in partnership with others. We can’t and won’t ever succeed on our own. Above all we need to understand the forces of nature at work, so that we can all make well-informed choices about whether and where to continue maintaining hard defences or to adapt to and work with natural processes.”

Access the report here.


High Court refuses permission to challenge UK Government’s bee-harming pesticide decision - Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth expressed disappointment and concern after the High Court today (12/11/15) refused its application for a judicial review of the Government’s decision to allow banned bee-harming neonicotinoid pesticides to be used on oil-seed rape seeds in some parts of England this autumn. The environment group is now considering taking the case to the Court of Appeal.
Today’s High Court ruling relates to the legal process surrounding the Government’s decision in July this year – specifically whether it had satisfied the criteria for the temporary authorised use of the banned pesticide set out in European law. It does not concern the scientific basis for the restrictions on neonicotinoids, or the evidence of their harm to bees. Indeed there is clear and growing evidence that neonicotinoid pesticides are a significant threat to bees and other pollinators.

The High Court ruled that the evidence and advice provided to the Secretary of State for the Environment was sufficient for her to legally take a decision lawfully to grant the authorisations and that Friends of the Earth could not challenge this decision. But the judgment did not decide whether she had taken the right decision.
 Reacting to the decision, Friends of the Earth bee campaigner Dave Timms said: “It’s extremely disappointing that our application to challenge the Government’s decision to allow the use of banned, bee-harming pesticides has been turned down. We believe this ruling is flawed, ignores important facts and gives too much credibility to pesticide industry evidence to support the use of its own products. We are now considering an appeal.


Shooting boosts conservation - BASC

The importance of shooting’s contribution to conservation is highlighted by the reduction in government spending announced this week.

The shooting community, which influences the management of some 14 million hectares – two-thirds of the total rural land area – is already helping government reach its targets and conserve key species. Shooting provides the equivalent of 16,000 full-time jobs in conservation and spends £250 million a year on conservation, eight times more than the RSPB spends on managing its reserves.

It is widely acknowledged that improving habitat for game enhances its value for many other species and can effectively reinforce agri-environment schemes. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s Allerton project showed that the number of songbirds on a farm doubled when game management practices were introduced.

BASC believes that the 30 per cent economies to be achieved by Defra emphasise the need for private landowners, land managers and those who shoot to continue improving habitat and encouraging wildlife.

Through its work on mink control BASC has achieved a remarkable improvement in the status of water voles, which are a priority biodiversity target species. BASC’s director of conservation, Tim Russell, said: “Shoots make an immense contribution to the UK’s biodiversity and have the potential for even more. Often a small effort can reap big rewards for wildlife. There is a huge amount of conservation advice on the BASC website and the team at BASC is always ready to advise and help shoots realise their full potential.”

BASC chairman Alan Jarrett said: “We’ve never shirked from our role as guardians of the countryside but now it’s more important than ever. I can think of few other groups that cherish the countryside and take such positive steps to conserve it as those who shoot; the reduction in government funding should act as a spur to shooters to ensure that their land continues to be a haven for wildlife.”


Fairness In Wild Bird Licensing As Keeper Wins Landmark Legal Battle - National Gamekeepers Organisation

A gamekeeper from Northumberland has today (13/11/15) won a landmark legal battle after a Judicial Review at the High Court in London quashed the decision of Natural England – the Government’s conservation advisor – to refuse to issue him with a licence to control a small number of buzzards that were causing serious damage to young pheasants in his care during the summer of 2014.

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) said the court’s judgment had established that in order to be lawful, “wildlife licensing decisions must, in future, be made by Natural England (NE) fairly and on the facts, without NE exceeding its powers”. The NGO, which represents keepers in England and Wales, supported the gamekeeper’s court battle.

The gamekeeper, Ricky McMorn, who is self-employed, lost his livelihood earlier this year as a result of buzzard attacks on his young gamebirds. The scale of the losses over several years had eventually made his modest gameshooting enterprise financially unviable.

Mr McMorn first applied to Natural England for a buzzard control licence way back in 2011 and had done so again each year since. But NE consistently refused to grant him a licence, despite acknowledging that serious damage was being caused by buzzard attacks taking place on his game shoot. The licensing system, administered by NE, became law in 1981 for the specific purpose of solving such exceptional and genuine cases of wildlife conflict.

The case was heard over three days at the Royal Courts of Justice in London in June this year, but Mr Justice Ouseley reserved his judgment to give greater consideration to the case. Handing down judgment today, he quashed NE’s refusal to grant Mr McMorn a buzzard licence on four grounds.

Mr Justice Ouseley concluded that NE had taken public opinion into account, which was unlawful when judging a wildlife licence application; that NE had failed to consider properly a licence to live-trap the buzzards rather than shooting them; that NE’s decision was “Wednesbury unreasonable”; and that it had been made according to an undisclosed policy which went beyond NE’s and Defra’s powers in law. Defra (the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is the part of Government for which NE runs the wildlife licensing system under contract.

Mr Justice Ouseley’s judgment of the case can be read in full by clicking here

You can read more about the background to the case by clicking here


EU Nature legislation ‘fit for purpose’, but implementation needs to be strengthened, finds European Commission study - IUCN

A report published by the European Commission today has found that the EU’s Nature Directives, the backbone of European conservation action, are ‘fit for purpose’. The draft findings of a study on the EU Birds and Habitats Directives show that the legislation, where implemented appropriately, has been effective in protecting some of Europe’s most threatened species and habitats, especially within the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. Overall, the Directives are deemed to have made a ‘major contribution’ to the goal of halting biodiversity loss in the EU, the target agreed by all EU member states in the EU’s 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.

These findings will inform the European Commission’s evaluation (fitness check) of the Nature Directives, whose objective is to conclude if the legislation is adequate for helping the EU reach its 2020 targets.

The study also calls for sustained and urgent EU action on conservation and restoration, and the political will to enforce the full and effective implementation of the Directives, the lack of which was identified as the key obstacle for delivering the full biodiversity benefits. It points to major economic benefits of adequate implementation, from enhanced ecosystem services and tourism.

However, the report also found that the Directives alone cannot deliver the goals of halting biodiversity loss, but that urgent complementary action was required in other policy areas, notably agriculture.

IUCN has welcomed the findings of the study. “The report confirms our view that the EU Birds and Habitats Directives are fit for delivering on the biodiversity targets, but it also clearly shows that solid means of implementation is lagging behind. ‘Business as usual’ is not an option, but urgent action is needed both at EU and national level to step up efforts to put the legislation to work ‘on the ground’. This will require smart and consistent funding – but it has to be made clear that this is an investment in our future, rather than a cost to society,” said Luc Bas, Director of the IUCN European Regional Office.

 Download the report here (PDF)   


Scientific publications

Mills, M. et al (2015) Reconciling development and conservation under coastal squeeze from rising sea-level. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12213


Russell, D. J. F., Wanless, S., Collingham, Y. C., Huntley, B. & Hamer, K. C. (2015) Predicting Future European Breeding Distributions of British Seabird Species under Climate Change and Unlimited/No Dispersal Scenarios. Diversity DOI:10.3390/d7040342


Crees, Jennifer J. et al A comparative approach to assess drivers of success in mammalian conservation recovery programs. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12652


Geijzendorffer, I. R., et al (2015), How much would it cost to monitor farmland biodiversity in Europe?. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12552


CJS is not responsible for content of external sites.  Details believed correct but given without prejudice.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in these news pages do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CJS.