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


Peatland Code could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions – University of Leeds

image: University of Leeds

Image: University of Leeds

A new Government-backed code has been launched that could slash UK carbon dioxide emissions by 220 million tonnes and protect rare wildlife by restoring moors, bogs and mires.

The Peatland Code is unveiled at the World Forum for Natural Capital in Edinburgh on 23 November following a successful two-year trial, which has seen businesses fund peatland restoration projects in southwest England, the Lake District and Wales.

The Code is based on research by academics at the University of Leeds and Birmingham City University, which revealed that sustainable business investment could reverse the degradation of peatlands and significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Professor Joseph Holden, from the School of Geography, who led research, said: “The peatlands of the UK are our own version of the Amazon rainforest. They need to be protected. They are home to some of our rare and endangered wildlife. They also act as a huge store of carbon, with perhaps as much as 3.2 billion tonnes, greater than the amount of carbon soaked up every year by all of the world’s oceans combined. The UK’s peatlands are also important source areas for the provision of clean drinking water while protection of many of our peatlands may reduce flood risk."


Scientists discover method to eliminate killer fungus in amphibians – Zoological Society of London

Breakthrough discovery leads to eradication of fatal amphibian disease

Research published today details the first-ever successful elimination of a fatal chytrid fungus in a wild amphibian, marking a major breakthrough in the fight against the disease responsible for devastating amphibian populations worldwide. The highly-infectious chytrid pathogen has severely affected over 700 amphibian species worldwide; driving population declines, extirpations anThe study combined antifungal treatment of Mallorcan midwife toad tadpoles with environmental disinfection. Image (c) Jaime Boschd species extinctions across five continents.

The study combined antifungal treatment of Mallorcan midwife toad tadpoles with environmental disinfection. Image (c) Jaime Bosch

Results from the seven-year study show the first evidence of eradicating the chytrid pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) affecting amphibians in situ. Published today (18 November) in Biology Letters, the paper details the outcome of a project led by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the National Museum of Natural History in Spain (MNCN), and Imperial College London.

Read the paper here: Bosch, J., Sanchez-Tomé, E., Oliver, J. A, Fisher. M. C. & Garner, T. W. J. (2015) Successful elimination of a lethal wildlife infectious disease in nature. Biology Letters. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0874


London’s pollution-busting trees valued at £6.1 billion in new survey – Greater London Authority

London’s eight million trees are worth a staggering £6.1 billion to the capital and contribute £130 million in wider benefits, a new survey has calculated.  
The iTree urban forest survey used over 300 volunteers to analyse and count trees on the ‘services’ they provide from the carbon they store, the pollution they remove, and rainwater they hold. Trees play a huge role in improving air quality and remove 299 tonnes of PM10 and 698 tonnes of NO2 pollution across London annually.
Today (Monday 23 November) as part of his wider work to make the city greener the Mayor has announced a new partnership with Unilever which will deliver 40,000 new trees. 20,000 will be offered to London’s schools and 20,000 will create a new urban woodland in West London. Hundreds of volunteers rolled up their sleeves in Ealing today to start planting some of the new woodland forest in Southall.


New report suggests a continuing decline in hedgehogs - PTES

A new report published today (Saturday 21 November) by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and The British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) shows a continuing decline in hedgehog numbers, in both rural and urban landscapes.

The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2015 follows the first comprehensive review of the status of hedgehogs nationally in 2011.  Since this first report, several ongoing surveys, by PTES and others, have shown a continuing population decline. The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2015, publicised at a special UK summit on hedgehogs, paints a stark picture: since 2000, records of the species have declined by half in rural areas and by a third in urban ones.

The loss of hedgerows and intensive farming in rural areas, along with tidy fenced-in gardens in urban and suburban locations, are just some of the threats contributing to the demise of hedgehogs.

PTES and BHPS are working to ensure the long-term survival of this iconic native animal and are also launching today a joint, 10-year conservation strategy for the hedgehog in Britain. This report has been developed in consultation with leading experts, NGOs and statutory bodies and is designed help plan conservation action up to 2025.


Neonicotinoid pesticides linked to butterfly declines – Butterfly Conservation

The use of neonicotinoid pesticides may be contributing to the decline of butterflies in the UK, a study has revealed.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly (Butterfly Conservation)

Previous research has demonstrated that these chemicals, widely used in agriculture, appear to be harming bees, birds and other wildlife.

But the study by the Universities of Stirling and Sussex in partnership with Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology is the first scientific evidence of a possible negative impact on widespread UK butterflies.

Neonicotinoids were introduced in the mid-1990s as a replacement for older chemicals. They are a systematic insecticide, meaning that they are absorbed into every cell in a plant, making all parts poisonous to pests.

The chemicals remain in the environment and can be absorbed by the wildflowers growing in field margins, many of which provide a nectar source for butterflies and food-plants for their caterpillars.

The study found population trends of 15 species showed declines associated with neonicotinoid use, including Small Tortoiseshell, Small Skipper and Wall species.

The study, published today in the journal PeerJ, is based on data gathered by volunteers from more than 1,000 sites across the UK as part of the long-running UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS).

Read the paper here: Gilburn, A. S., Bunnefeld, N., McVean Wilson, J., Botham, M. S., Brereton, T. M., Fox, R. & Goulson, D. (2015) Are neonicotinoid insecticides driving declines of widespread butterflies? Peer J. 10.7717/peerj.1402


Wildlife Trust report claims badger vaccination ‘viable and underused’ - Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

image: Report (Gloucestershire WT)In a new report published today (Tuesday 24 November), Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) says it has demonstrated that vaccinating badgers is a viable and underused tool in the fight against bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in the county – but that more research is needed to demonstrate the link between vaccinating badgers and the control of bTB in cattle.

In 2011 GWT was the first non-government organisation in the UK to pioneer the vaccination of badgers against TB and has done so for the past five years on its nature reserves in the Stroud Valleys and the Cotswolds – and more recently with other, neighbouring landowners.

“We recognise the real distress that bTB causes farmers in Gloucestershire. As landowners with cattle grazing many of our nature reserves we wanted to do something positive to try to prevent bTB breakdowns on our sites and those adjoining them,” said Roger Mortlock, Chief Executive of GWT. “The trial set out to show that vaccinating wild badgers could be done efficiently. The science supports that by doing this we’ve reduced TB in the badger population where we’ve vaccinated – but farmers deserve more research to explore the link between vaccinating badgers and the spread of bTB in cattle. Five years ago many assumed that vaccinating badgers would be both impractical and costly. This report proves it can be done.”


New UNESCO programme recognises the UK’s seven ‘Global Geoparks’ - UNESCO

UNESCO – the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science and Culture – has announced a new programme, which creates “UNESCO Global Geoparks.” This is the first new UNESCO designation of its kind to be established in over 40 years and puts Global Aesha Head, Papa Stour © Shetland GeotoursGeoparks alongside UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. Previously operating with the informal support of UNESCO, the status of Global Geoparks will now be formally recognised under the new programme.

Aesha Head, Papa Stour © Shetland Geotours

The UK is home to seven UNESCO Global Geoparks, stretching from the English Riviera in the South to Geopark Shetland in the North, and including two in Wales and a cross-border UNESCO Global Geopark shared by Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The UK sites are part of a growing international network of Global Geoparks – areas of outstanding geological interest which use their unique geology to drive community development.


Manx shearwater revival: Oxford research sheds new light on enigmatic seabird – University of Oxford

They are a common sight off the UK's west coast in summer, but we still have much to learn about the Manx shearwater, a remarkably long-lived Atlantic marine bird.

image: University of Oxfordimage: University of Oxford

Ongoing research by Oxford scientists, however, is expanding what we know about the behaviour of the Manx shearwater (also known as Puffinus puffinus – not to be confused with the Atlantic puffin).

Fourth-year Zoology DPhil student Annette Fayet has just completed a piece of research looking at the relative foraging success of young and mature birds.

Annette, who works in the Oxford Navigation Group led by Professor Tim Guilford, said: 'Our project aimed to compare immature (non-breeding) and breeding seabirds, and to answer the question of whether there are any differences in how they forage at sea, including any segregation between them. We know very little in general about what immature seabirds do while they're at sea, so there is lots of scope for research and for learning more about their behaviour. The Manx shearwater is no exception to this – and, indeed, they are particularly interesting because they can live for more than 50 years and don't start breeding until they are around five years old.'

The study, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, found that there was substantial segregation between immature and breeding birds on their foraging trips. The young birds also put on less weight during their trips, suggesting they were less successful in finding food.

Read the paper here: Fayet, A. L. et al (2015) Lower foraging efficiency in immatures drives spatial segregation with breeding adults in a long-lived pelagic seabird. Animal Behaviour. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.09.008


Wanted: Winter Sightings of Hen Harriers – Scottish Natural Heritage

After a successful public appeal for sightings of hen harriers over the spring and summer – with over 100 reports recorded – the Heads Up for Harriers group is asking the public to help once again this winter.

The hen harrier is one of Britain’s rarest birds of prey, with most harriers found in Scotland. To help safeguard the species, a number of organisations are working together on conservation projects to promote summer breeding success, under the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland).

But there is little known about where the birds go in the winter months and of the particular threats to the birds’ survival in winter, something PAW Scotland wants to understand better.


The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' settlement at the Spending Review 2015 - Defra

The Chancellor has published the results of the spending review, including details of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) budget over the course of this parliament.

The Spending Review and Autumn Statement deliver on the government’s priority to provide security to working people at every stage of their lives. It sets out a 4 year plan to fix the public finances, return the country to surplus and run a healthy economy that starts to pay down the debt. By ensuring Britain’s long term economic security, the government is able to spend £4 trillion on its priorities over the next 4 years.

For Defra this means:

  • protection of flood defence funding, including the £2.3 billion 6-year capital investment programme to better protect over 300,000 homes
  • over £130 million capital investment in Defra’s science estates and equipment, including funding to enhance national outbreak response capabilities
  • £3 billion investment to safeguard England’s countryside through the Common Agricultural Policy, and protection of over £350 million funding for public forests, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty over the Spending Review period
  • resource savings of 15% in real terms by 2019-20; delivered through efficiencies within the department and across its network



National Parks Funding Protected in the Spending Review – Campaign for National Parks

We’re absolutely delighted that today [25th Nov] in the spending review Chancellor George Osbourne has protected over £350 million funding for English National Parks, AONBs and forests.


Walking and cycling hangs in the balance as spending review drives UK back to the 1970's - Sustrans

This afternoon UK Chancellor George Osborne announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review that there would be more investment in new roads than at any point since the 1970s, putting the future of cycling and walking in jeopardy.


National Trust response to Spending Review

Richard Hebditch, External Affairs Director for the National Trust, said: “The Government’s commitment to ensure the new commercial model for English Heritage will have sufficient funding is very welcome, as is recognition of the importance of heritage, and Historic England, more generally. Within Defra’s budgets, we’re particularly pleased to see the protection of funding for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks and public forests. In the last Parliament, Nick Clegg also announced funding for Natural England to complete the England Coastal Path by 2020 but we have to see confirmation that that funding will continue – we trust it will.”


Restoring Welsh peatlands – for people and wildlife – Natural Resources Wales

Work to restore Welsh peatlands is showing signs of success – but there’s a lot more to do.

image: Natural Resources Wales

That’s the key message from the Wales Peatland Action Group as the Welsh Government’s Minister for Natural Resources Carl Sargeant prepares to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, which runs from 30 November to 11 December 2015.

Due to damage over many years, Welsh peat is a source of green-house gas emissions, releasing around 550,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year. This is equivalent to approximately the annual CO2 emissions of Anglesey or Torfaen. That’s why the Welsh Government has set an ambitious target of getting all peatlands in Wales into restoration management by 2020. 

Peter Jones, NRW member of the multi-agency Welsh Peatlands Action Group said: “Restoring peatlands is essential. If all carbon in peatlands was to be lost to the atmosphere it would be equivalent to almost 15 years’ worth of Wales’s total CO2 emissions – or 97 years’ worth of CO2 emissions from Welsh agriculture and land use.”


Stronger action needed to protect native birds of prey as Birdcrime report reveals illegal killing continues - RSPB

The RSPB is calling for better application of the laws that protect UK raptors, as the Birdcrime 2014 report highlights that illegal persecution continues to prevent some of our native birds of prey from recovering to their natural levels. 

In 2014, the RSPB received 179 reports of shooting and destruction of birds of prey, including the confirmed shooting of 23 buzzards, nine peregrines, three red kites and a hen harrier. The report also documents 72 reported incidents of wildlife poisoning and pesticide-related offences. Confirmed victims of poisoning include 23 red kites, 9 buzzards and four peregrine falcons. These figures are believed to represent only a fraction of the illegal persecution in the UK, with many incidents thought to be going undetected and unreported.

Birds of prey continue to suffer unacceptable levels of illegal persecution, which disrupt efforts to restore natural populations of some species throughout the UK. Notable incidents in 2014 included the discovery of 16 red kites and six buzzards found dead near Inverness, of which 12 kites and four buzzards were proved to have been poisoned. 

Furthermore England’s worst ever raptor poisoning case concluded in 2014, when Norfolk gamekeeper Allan Lambert received a suspended prison sentence for a range of offences including the poisoning of ten buzzards and a sparrowhawk. Last week the Stody Estate, where Lambert had worked, was docked €260,000 in farm subsidy payments by the Rural Payments Agency as a result of the poisoning incident.  


The Messengers: what birds tell us about the threats from climate change - Birdlife International

A new report, jointly published by BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society, draws on bird science showing that climate change is already affecting life, and that negative effects will increase in the future. The solution? Bank on nature. Birds are among the best-studied species and they are powerful sentinels for the natural world. They are telling us how climate change threatens nature and people. The Messengers, the report jointly published today [Friday 27 November] by BirdLife International and the National Audubon Society (BirdLife’s Partner in the US), gathers hundreds of peer-reviewed studies illustrating the many ways climate change threatens us and our birds. It is also a collection of examples in which BirdLife Partners, leaders in naturebased solutions, help birds and communities become more resilient in a warming world. Patricia Zurita, CEO of BirdLife International, and David Yarnold, President and CEO of the National Audubon Society, write in their foreword: “Over time and across cultures, birds have sent us signals about the health of our environment. Miners no longer use canaries as early warning systems, but birds are our closest connection to wildlife on the planet and they still tell us about the health of the places people and birds share. Never before has their message – climate change is here and a threat to the survival of birds and people – been as clear or as urgent.”

The online version of the report can be viewed here


Lead ammunition poisoning – new figures – Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust   

This swan can’t support its own weight due to lead poisoning image: WWTUp to 100,000 wildfowl (swans, ducks and geese) are estimated to die each year in the UK countryside due to lead poisoning from spent gunshot, according to research published today. It’s estimated that large numbers of terrestrial birds also die.

This swan can’t support its own weight due to lead poisoning image: WWT

At least 2,000 tonnes of toxic lead shot pellets – the equivalent weight of 2 million bags of sugar – is used to shoot live quarry in the UK each year1. Most of it is irretrievably deposited on the ground where it can be ingested by birds who mistake it for grit or seeds. A further 3,000 tonnes of lead shot is deposited on clay shooting grounds.

Lead from ammunition can also enter the human food chain when people eat wild-shot game. When lead ammunition passes through an animal it can fragment into tiny pieces that are often too small to be seen or cut out (especially in game birds) and these fragments can be solubilised and absorbed.

WWT, RSPB and the Sustainable Food Trust would like to see lead ammunition phased out by the end of 2017 and replaced with non-toxic alternatives which are effective, affordable and readily available.

Today’s figures, which are part of the proceedings of a symposium on the risks from lead ammunition held at Oxford University, draw on hundreds of scientific sources, including research by WWT and RSPB. There is widespread scientific consensus on the evidence of toxic risks from lead ammunition, and the need for it to be phased out. 



BASC statement on attacks on lead ammunition

The risks to wildlife and human health from lead ammunition alleged by speakers at the Oxford Lead Symposium, neither of whom have medical expertise, have been exaggerated and distorted by quoting selectively from research, according to the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).

Estimates from the Oxford Lead Symposium that between 50,000 and 100,000 waterfowl could be affected are so wide as to represent little more than guesswork and the report itself says that “more precise estimates cannot readily be made.” They are based on extrapolation and are not supported by hard evidence. Despite the worst estimates of bird mortality, there is no evidence of an impact at a population scale.


Scientific publications:

Thompson, S. J. et al (2015) Grassland birds demonstrate delayed response to large-scale tree removal in central North America. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12554


Lawson, B. et al (2015) Drowning is an apparent and unexpected recurrent cause of mass mortality of Common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris). Nature. doi:10.1038/srep17020


Pistorius, P. A., Hindell, M. A., Tremblay, Y. & Rishworth, G. M. (2015) Weathering a Dynamic Seascape: Influences of Wind and Rain on a Seabird’s Year-Round Activity Budgets. Plos One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0142623


Thompson S., Vehkaoja, M. & Nummi, P. (2015) Beaver-created deadwood dynamics in the boreal forest. Forest Ecology and Management. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2015.10.019


Oliver, T. H., Smithers, R. J., Beale, C. M. & Watts, K. (2015) Are existing biodiversity conservation strategies appropriate in a changing climate? Biological Conservation. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.10.024

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