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


New report: Nearly a quarter of all school children in London are exposed to illegal and harmful levels of air pollution – Policy Exchange

Nearly 25% of all school children in London and 44% of the Capital’s workforce are exposed to levels of air pollution that exceed legal and healthy limits.

A new report, Up in the Air, by leading think tank Policy Exchange and King’s College London, analyses data from over 100 air quality monitoring sites across London. It shows the most polluted parts of the Capital currently have levels of Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) nearly four times the legal limit. The research finds that 12.5% of the total area of the Capital currently exceeds the legal limit for NO2, and that deprived parts of London are more likely to be affected.


Environment Agency reveals top flood-tackling gadgets

The Environment Agency has revealed unusual kit used to tackle flooding including a remote-controlled robot called Mr Nosey.

With lights for eyes and a camera for a nose, Mr Nosey travels through underground tunnels a mile long (Environment Agency)With lights for eyes and a camera for a nose, Mr Nosey travels through underground tunnels a mile long (Environment Agency)

The Environment Agency has revealed its armoury of unusual kit used to tackle the spectre of flooding including lasers, solar-powered cameras, a gadget-laden incident vehicle and its latest ‘weapon’ - a remote-controlled robot called Mr Nosey.

Mr Nosey is a new invention being used to investigate causes of flooding that people can’t reach, such as blocked tunnels and underground culverts. Fitting into spaces as small as 6 inches in diameter, he uses the camera on his nose to inspect underground tunnels more than a mile long.

There are more than one million miles of culverts in England that can cause flooding to homes and businesses when blocked. Items which have been found down culverts include old lawnmowers, children’s toys and Christmas trees.

The robot, which weighs 30kg to prevent it from being swept away in fast-flowing water, travels through underground tunnels while sending real-time images to the surface so that Environment Agency staff can assess the damage or blockages below.

John Curtin, the Environment Agency’s Executive Director of Flood Risk Management, said: “Almost 5 million people in England live in areas at risk of flooding and innovations ranging from little gadgets like Mr Nosey to our new state of the art incident vehicles are hugely important. They are the little brothers to our larger scale flood defences, such as the iconic Thames Barrier, but all of them help us to reduce that risk. As winter approaches, we also encourage people to prepare for potential flooding by checking the flood risk in their area and signing up to free flood warnings.”


Schoolboy’s new app boosts fight against poachers - BASC

Teenager Aaron Christiansen has created an app for reporting poaching as part of Project Poacher, a new national campaign to combat wildlife crime.

The 15-year-old’s app, created in his spare time, makes it easy to use a mobile phone to report to the police suspicious activities that might be linked to poaching.

The app can be downloaded free on Android, Apple and Windows phones and takes the user step-by-step through creating a report and allows them to pinpoint their location using the phone’s GPS.

Image: BASCImage: BASC

This data can be sent to the police together with information about the type of incident, vehicles or suspects and any other witnesses; the app also provides extra information about poaching legislation.

Aaron, from Clutton in Cheshire, said; “I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and experience I have gained. My future goals include taking computing at A-level and then studying computer science at university.”

Aaron was recruited by PC Tony Owens, of Cheshire Constabulary, who is playing a major role in the project. After failing to find help at a local university, he sought help from  Bishop Heber School, Malpas. The sixth form were involved with exams, so the head of computer studies recommended Aaron.

To find out more about the prevention of wildlife crime read our interview with a Wildlife Crime Officer in the Focus on Wildlife & Animal Work.


England Coast Path funding protected - Ramblers

Today (Tuesday 2 Dec) we’re celebrating the government’s confirmation that funding to complete the England Coast Path by 2020 will be protected, despite recently announced reductions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) budget.

Chancellor George Osborne presented his Autumn Statement last week, detailing £20bn of budget cuts intended to eliminate the budget deficit, including spending reductions at DEFRA averaging around 30 percent over the next four years.

image: Ramblers

Given the substantial cuts expected, we’ve been working hard to ensure that the government maintains its commitment to construct the England Coast Path by 2020, so that the substantial momentum, experience and benefits realised to date are not lost.

The government has now given a clear indication that they intend to follow through on their pledge. Responding to a Parliamentary Question, DEFRA Minister Rory Stewart confirmed that funding to complete the coastal path around England by 2020 will be protected.


Badger vaccination project to be suspended – Welsh Government

Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, has announced that due to a global shortage of the BCG vaccine, she has suspended sourcing of BCG for badger vaccination in Wales.

The World Health Organisation has called on all countries to review their BCG usage to ensure that countries with the highest human TB rates receive priority and to target individuals who will benefit most from BCG vaccination.

The Welsh Government put in an order for Badger BCG for 2016 through Defra which procures the vaccine on an England, Wales and Northern Ireland basis. Due to a backlog in production of the BCG vaccine for use in humans globally, SSI - the only company that has the marketing authorisation to produce Badger BCG - has said that it will not be producing Badger BCG until further notice. Badger vaccine is the same formula as the vaccine used in humans.


RSPB Scotland responds to the second conviction for wildlife vicarious liability offences - RSPB

Image: Niall BenvieBuzzard Image: Niall Benvie

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said “It is shocking that in 21st century Scotland, someone employed as a professional gamekeeper has not only unlawfully targeted protected birds of prey, but has used a trap that has been illegal for decades. It is also appalling that a game farmer is so preoccupied with the production of pheasants for sport shooting that he has disregarded his responsibility to ensure that his employee was complying with the law. The recent Review of Wildlife Crime Penalties recognised that sentences for wildlife crimes are too low and we hope the Scottish Government implements the recommendations made by the review panel as soon as possible.


Working with Kew Gardens to preserve Devon's trees – Devon Wildlife Trust

Image: Devon Wildlife TrustImage: Devon Wildlife Trust

Devon Wildlife Trust has spent this autumn conducting a very different kind of harvest. 
The charity has been collecting seed from Devon’s ash, hawthorn, blackthorn, holly and other trees at some of its 49 nature reserves as part of a national project to aimed at protecting the UK’s woodlands.  Devon Wildlife Trust is a partner in the UK National Tree Seed Project, which has been set up by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, and made possible with funding generated by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery. 
Tree seeds collected as part of the project will be safely banked in the underground vaults of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank – forming the UK’s first national collection of tree seeds. These will then play a vital role in conservation work to protect UK trees and woodlands, including against pests and diseases such as ash dieback. The collections, and associated data, will be available to researchers working on solutions to tackle the many threats facing our woodlands. 


Climate change adaptation in Europe: tracking progress and sharing know-how - European Environment Agency 

An increasing number of initiatives and measures are being put in place to adapt to current and potential impacts of climate change at European, national, regional and local levels. It is now critical to understand better which actions work in which contexts and why. Where do countries stand in terms of tracking climate change adaptation in their territories? A new report by the European Environment Agency provides an overview of national monitoring, reporting and evaluation (MRE) systems in European countries.

Climate change impacts vary across Europe. Some regions are projected to face increasing water stress and drought, while others will experience floods. Different policies and actions therefore need to be put in place to meet adaptation needs and potential impacts specific to each area. To evaluate whether actions are effective and efficient, European countries need to collect and analyse information on adaptation policies in their territories. This knowledge allows for a better understanding of how and why certain actions work in certain contexts, which in turn supports the development of adaptation policies and measures.

The European Environment Agency (EEA) report ‘National monitoring, reporting and evaluation of climate change adaptation in Europe’ consolidates emerging information on MRE systems at national level in European countries. It looks at the most recent activities from European countries, provides insights into key aspects (e.g. drivers, governance, methodology and information channels) and reflects on current practices as well as on future issues that might be relevant for those working in this area. The report includes national-level case studies.

Access the report here. 


New report reveals more than one-quarter of UK birds in need of urgent help - RSPB

The latest assessment of the status of all the UK’s 244 bird species – Birds of Conservation Concern 4 – shows that 67 species are now of ‘highest conservation concern’ and have been placed on the assessment’s Red List. The revised Red List now includes even more well-known birds, including the curlew, puffin and nightingale, joining other familiar species such as the turtle dove, cuckoo and starling.  

Alarmingly, the Red List now accounts for more than one-quarter (27%) of the UK species. This is far higher than the last assessment in 2009, when 52 species (21%) were on the Red List. Most of the 67 species were placed on the Red List because of their severe declines, having halved in numbers or range in the UK in recent decades. Others remain well below historical levels, or are considered under threat of global extinction.  

Birds of Conservation Concern 4 is a report compiled by a coalition of the UK’s leading bird conservation and monitoring organisations reviewing the status of all regularly occurring birds in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. Each species was assessed against a set of objective criteria and placed on the Green, Amber or Red List – indicating an increasing level of conservation concern. 

The breeding population of curlew has declined 62% since 1970. Image: Steve Round (RSPB)The breeding population of curlew has declined 62% since 1970. Image: Steve Round (RSPB)

Amongst the species new to the Red List are five upland species, most notably the curlew; it was recently highlighted as possibly the UK’s bird of highest conservation priority because of UK and international declines, and the global importance of its UK population. It is joined by dotterel, whinchat, grey wagtail and merlin whose addition to the Red List highlights that many of the UK’s upland species are in increasing trouble, with the total number of upland birds red listed now standing at 12.  

The decline of widespread woodland birds is a theme which has continued to develop since the compilation of the last list in 2009.  Three species of seabird also join the Red List for the first time the puffin, shag and kittiwake. 

However, the 2015 assessment does contain some good news and demonstrates that targeted conservation action can make a real difference. Three species (bittern, nightjar and dunlin) have been removed from the Red List and added to Amber.   In addition to these successes, an additional 22 species have moved from the Amber to the Green list; meaning they are now of the lowest conservation concern.


A more indepth analysis from BTO: Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds  

The full lists are available in the BOCC4 summary leaflet or the full article published in British Birds (PDF), is avaialble from their website. 


Beautiful Buckinghamshire nature reserves to be looked after by the Wildlife Trust - BBOWT

 This week the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust finalised a new partnership with Buckinghamshire County Council to look after four of the county’s beautiful nature reserves: Pavis Woods, Bacombe Hill, Grangelands and the Rifle Range, and Hog and Hollowhill Woods. 

“This is a great day for wildlife in Buckinghamshire and everyone who enjoys visiting these very special places,” said Estelle Bailey, the Wildlife Trust’s Chief. “The chalk grassland sites at Bacombe and here at Grangelands complement the nature reserves that we manage elsewhere in the Chilterns. Pavis Woods, which include Black and Northill woods, are just across the lane from our Dancersend reserve near Wendover, and give exciting new walking routes in beautiful ancient woodland.”

Christopher Williams Head of Conservation for Buckinghamshire,  added: “Many people will remember that the Wildlife Trust used to manage the superb Grangelands and the Rifle Range at Kimble from the 1960s to 1990s, when it was renowned as a field studies site. Countless student ecologists learnt to identify chalk grassland flowers, plants and butterflies here. It is such a wildlife-rich site, especially for orchids and butterflies, that it will become a firm favourite among our members.”


£1m forestry fund opens for business - ConFor

Confor has welcomed the launch of a £1 million fund by the UK Government to support forestry planting in England.

The fund was confirmed in a letter from Chancellor George Osborne to Confor Chief Executive Stuart Goodall last month - and publicly announced by Forestry Minister Rory Stewart at Confor's Westminster conference three weeks ago. 

It was launched officially yesterday (Wednesday December 2) as the Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG) and is described as "a new grant to support the preparation of plans to design multi-purpose woodlands in England with a significant productive component". 

The Forestry Commission England website says: "It will contribute towards the costs of gathering and analysing the information land managers need to consider to ensure their proposals take account of any impacts on: forestry and the natural environment; landscape; water; and the historic environment. There will also be provision to support engagement with stakeholders."

Stuart Goodall said: "I am very pleased to see that this fund is open for business so soon after Confor received confirmation from the Chancellor and Rory Stewart that the money would be made available to the industry. It is vital that there is an increase in new productive planting to support the future success of the forestry and timber sector, and this fund should play a key role in making that planting happen."

The FCE website says any proposals "will need to meet some basic criteria, being at least 30 hectares in area and showing potential to benefit the forestry sector in the long-term through the provision of timber or other wood products". 

Details of the fund and how to apply can be found here.


Statistical news release: index of abundance for Scottish terrestrial breeding birds, 1994 to 2014 - Scottish Natural Heritage 

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has today released the latest figures tracking the abundance of Scotland’s terrestrial breeding birds.

Over the long term (1994-2014), the combined abundance for 66 species of terrestrial breeding bird showed a steady increase up to the mid-2000s but has since declined. There is no significant difference between the start and end of the time series.  Using the unsmoothed indices, over the short-term (2013-2014), the upland index increased by 7%, farmland by 14%, woodland by 16% and all-species index by 15%. This increase may be partly down to improved breeding season conditions in 2014.

Analysis of habitat specific trends did show some change: woodland birds increased by 63%; farmland birds showed a steady increase up to the late-2000s but have since declined, so there is no significant difference between 1994 and 2014; and upland birds decreased significantly by 19%. There are numerous explanations for the long-term trends observed. These differ between species and include the conditions experienced in wintering areas (e.g. chiffchaff), the ability of some birds to exploit different food sources (e.g. goldfinch) or land use changes (e.g. curlew).

The full statistical publication can be accessed here. 


Reaction from BTO: Curlews and other upland birds are in decline   

The latest official statistics for Scotland’s terrestrial birds show significant declines for upland birds, such as the Curlew, but more positive trends elsewhere.

The Index of Abundance for Scottish Terrestrial Breeding Birds, published today by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), shows that the long-term trend (1994-2014) for upland birds is a continuing decline, down by 19% since 1994. Birds utilising other habitats have shown more positive changes, however, with woodland birds up by 63%, whilst the trend for farmland birds has shown a 10% increase.

 Curlew is one of the upland species that has shown the greatest decline (-49%) and is now considered to be the UK’s highest conservation priority. The factors driving national Curlew declines are thought to include land-use change, forestry, the impact of generalist predators and the interplay between these. Black Grouse have also declined, by 47%, with habitat change and nest predation likely to be important factors. The Dotterel is a wading bird which breeds at high altitude in the Scottish uplands and has also shown alarming declines, falling by 60% between 1994 and 2014. 

Among woodland birds, the Great Spotted Woodpecker has shown the greatest increase, up by 603% between 1994 and 2014. Climate change and garden feeding may be helping numbers to increase. Willow Warbler has shown disturbing declines in England but is doing much better in Scotland, up by 56% long-term. Climate change is again a likely factor, along with the presence of abundant suitable habitat. The House Martin, another bird that is struggling south of the border, is doing particularly well north of it, up by 242% since 1994. Drivers of population change for this species are less well understood, and BTO are running a UK-wide survey in 2016 to find out more. 

The Farmland Bird Indicator in Scotland shows mixed fortunes. Species such as Goldfinch, Corncrake, Common Whitethroat and Reed Bunting are all doing well but Kestrel (-77%) and Lapwing (-58%) have fared less well, the former showing the greatest decline of any index species since 1994. Agricultural intensification and predation are likely to be the main drivers of Lapwing decline. 

The full report can be accessed here.


Curlew should be UK's top conservation concern says RSPB Scotland in response


Bringing England’s wildlife ‘back from the brink’ of extinction - Natural England

More than 100 species of England’s most threatened wildlife could be saved from extinction thanks to a new £4.6M grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Sand lizard © Chris Davis, ARCSand lizard © Chris Davis, ARC 

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has approved the development stage and provided initial funding for ‘Back from the Brink’, a partnership project that brings together a range of conservation organisations to focus on protecting key threatened species – such as the grey long-eared bat, pasque flower, sand lizard, and Duke of Burgundy butterfly – from extinction.

The programme is being run by Natural England and the Partnership for Species Conservation – a coalition of seven of the UK’s leading wildlife charities (Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds). By working together at sites across the country, ‘Back from the Brink’ will save 20 species from extinction and help another 118 species that are under threat move to a more certain future.

Melanie Hughes, Natural England’s Director of Innovation and Reform, has welcomed today’s announcement, saying: It’s fantastic that we’ve been able to secure this funding to support the recovery of some of our most threatened species – something we believe will make a real difference to our environment and heritage. This is a great example of conservation organisations coming together; coordinating our efforts and combining our expertise to protect England’s most important wildlife. We know that people care about the fate of our endangered wildlife, and this programme focuses on inspiring local communities to enjoy and learn about the vulnerable species local to them and across England, and how they can take positive action to improve their habitats."

Tom Tew, HLF Trustee, said: We think this programme can be a game-changer for wildlife - and it will get thousands of people involved in learning about and protecting some of England’s most endangered species. There is too often a lack of awareness here about the dramatic decline of our native species and if we don’t act soon it will be too late. With our support, Natural England will bring together a wide range of NGO partners to work cohesively on a programme of initiatives right across the country, from coast to heath, from bumblebees to bats, to make a real difference to many of our endangered species."

Once the development stage is completed in September 2016, the partnership hopes to secure the next phase of funding from HLF, which would mean the project would be up and running for four years until 2020.


Rescued seabird from Wales found in Brazil - RSPCA

A Manx Shearwater which was cared for by the RSPCA after it was blown off course – has been found four years after it was released – thousands of miles away in Brazil.

The bird was rescued from Haverfordwest in September 2011, and was in need of a wash and some rest and recuperation. It was released a few days later at Saunton in North Devon.  The body of this bird was sadly found a few days ago on 20 November at Extremoz, Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. A Ringing Recovery Report reported the information back to the RSPCA.

RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben, who rescued scores of Manx Shearwaters back in 2011, said: “It is sad to hear that this bird had died, although it had survived for four years and the distance from the release location was 6,990 km.  It goes to show that the rescue and rehabilitation that the birds received was the correct course of action. Also it highlights the skills that the staff at West Hatch have and their expertise in this area. There were hundreds Shearwaters taken to West Hatch and over 400 were released."


Weak links push migratory birds toward extinction - University of Queensland

University of Queensland scientists are calling for greater international collaboration to save the world’s migratory birds, with research finding more than 90 per cent of species are inadequately protected due to poorly coordinated conservation efforts.

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED) research team found many species of migratory bird were at risk of extinction due to habitat loss along their flight paths.

Dr Claire Runge, from UQ’s School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, said more than half of all migratory bird species travelling the world’s main flyways has suffered serious population declines in the past 30 years. “This is due mainly to unequal and ineffective protection across their migratory range and the places they stop to refuel along their routes,” she said. The research found huge gaps in conservation efforts to protect migratory birds, particularly across China, India and parts of Africa and South America. Dr Runge said a typical migratory bird relied on many different geographic locations for food, rest and breeding. “So even if we protect most of their breeding grounds, it’s still not enough. Threats somewhere else can affect the entire population,” she said. “The chain can be broken at any link.”

Access the paper:   Claire A. Runge, James E. M. Watson, Stuart H. M. Butchart, Jeffrey O. Hanson, Hugh P. Possingham, and Richard A. Fuller. Protected areas and global conservation of migratory birds.

Science 4 December 2015: 350 (6265), 1255-1258. [DOI:10.1126/science.aac9180]


Scientific Publications

Pearson, C. E., Ormerod, S. J., Symondson, W. O. C & Vaughan, I. P. (2015) Resolving large-scale pressures on species and ecosystems: propensity modelling identifies agricultural effects on streams. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12586


Żmihorski, M., Pärt, T., Gustafson, T. & Berg, Å. (2015) Effects of water level and grassland management on alpha and beta diversity of birds in restored wetlands. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12588


Lisa J. Blanken, Frank van Langevelde & Coby van Dooremalen.  Interaction between Varroa destructor and imidacloprid reduces flight capacity of honeybees Proceedings of the Royal Society: biological sciences  DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1738


Hock, Karlo et al  Controlling range expansion in habitat networks by adaptively targeting source populations.  Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12665 


Russell, James C et al. Importance of lethal control of invasive predators for island conservation. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12666


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