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


Environmental Audit Committee calls for halt to fracking - UK Parliament, Environmental Audit Committee 

Shale fracking should be put on hold in the UK because it is incompatible with our climate change targets and could pose significant localised environmental risks to public health.

That is the conclusion of MPs on the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee who will attempt to amend the Government’s Infrastructure Bill in Parliament today.

Joan Walley MP, chair of the Committee, said:  “Ultimately fracking cannot be compatible with our long-term commitments to cut climate changing emissions unless full-scale carbon capture and storage technology is rolled out rapidly, which currently looks unlikely. There are also huge uncertainties around the impact that fracking could have on water supplies, air quality and public health.  We cannot allow Britain’s national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty to be developed into oil and gas fields. Even if a national moratorium on shale drilling in the UK is not accepted there should be an outright ban on fracking in such special sites.  The Government is trying to rush through changes to the trespass laws that would allow companies to frack under people’s homes without permission. This is profoundly undemocratic and Parliament should protect the rights of citizens by throwing these changes out when they are debated later today.”

The report warns that only a very small fraction of our shale reserves can be safely burned if we are to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees. And that considerable uncertainties remain about the hazards fracking poses to groundwater quality, air quality, health and biodiversity. It points out that continually tightening carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act will have significantly curtailed the scope for fossil fuel energy by the time shale gas is likely to be commercially viable on a large scale.

The Committee is also calling for other changes to the Infrastructure Bill. Proposed changes to trespass law that would grant companies automatic right of access to land at depth should be removed from the Bill because they seriously undermine citizens’ rights and are not supported by the public. Fracking should also be prohibited outright in nationally important areas such as National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, SSIs, ancient woodland.

Further documents for download. 

Report: Environmental risks of fracking

Report: Environmental risks of fracking (PDF 424KB)

Inquiry: Environmental risks of fracking

Environmental Audit Committee 


And reaction from National Trust: We welcome recommendations to ban fracking in special places

The National Trust welcomes today’s recommendations by the Environmental Audit Committee to ban fracking in protected and nationally significant landscapes.

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry ©National Trust Images/David NotonThe report released by an influential committee of MPs this morning, recommends that: ‘fracking must be prohibited outright in protected and nationally important areas including National Parks, the Broads, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodland, and any land functionally linked to these areas.’

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry

©National Trust Images/David Noton

As Europe’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust shares the MPs concerns about the impact of drilling and water contamination on our natural habitats and historic heritage, and we believe a strong regulatory regime throughout the fracking process is needed to ensure our special places are protected.

Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape & Nature, said: “We are encouraged by the recommendations made in today’s Environmental Audit Committee report and whole-heartedly agree that fracking must be ruled out in the treasured landscapes that we love, such as National Parks, AONBs and SSSIs. We are calling for MPs to use their vote on today’s infrastructure bill to ensure our most sensitive places are protected from fracking and a robust regulatory system is put in place.”


Duck adapting to climate change twice as well in EU protected areas - WWT

The smew – a rare but striking winter visitor to the UK – is doing twice as well within areas protected by EU wildlife laws as they spread northeast across Europe in response to climate change, according to a new study. Scientists studied data from wetlands throughout Europe and found nearly a third of smew now spend winter in north-eastern Europe, compared to just 6% two decades ago.

Male Smew swimming with reflection (captive)In that region, numbers of smew within Special Protection Areas designated by the EU Birds Directive have grown twice as fast as those on unprotected sites.

However, the study found that in Latvia and Sweden, the protected area network supports fewer than one in five smew and in Finland that proportion drops to just one in fifty.

Male Smew swimming with reflection (captive) (image: WWT)

WWT’s Head of Species Monitoring, Richard Hearn, said: “The EU’s network of protected areas is obviously helping smew adapt to climate change, but in this newly occupied region there aren’t enough of them and that could constrict the population as they spread north. Most Special Protection Areas were designated around 20 years ago using the data that we had then. Things have changed dramatically in the natural world since then and we need to respond to help ensure that smew and other waterbirds remain well protected.”

The National Organiser of the Wetland Bird Survey, Chas Holt of the British Trust for Ornithology, said: “The UK data that contributed to this study were collected by the dedicated volunteers of the UK’s Wetland Bird Survey. The published results are an excellent example of how collaboration across a species’ range can generate outputs that are of direct relevance to conservation.”

The authors emphasise that protected areas still need to be maintained at the southern end of the birds’ range, in western Europe, so that they have somewhere to retreat during particularly harsh winters, such as during December 2010.

These results are based on data from the International Waterbird Census, coordinated by Wetlands International, from 16 countries since 1990 and the findings were published in the scientific journal “Diversity and Distributions”.

Click to read the full paper. 


Funding boost to transform Aberdeenshire nature reserve - RSPB Scotland

RSPB Scotland’s Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve has been awarded £53,250 of funding to transform the visitor facilities and volunteer accommodation at the site near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire.  The capital grant comes from the Coastal Communities Fund and will vastly help to improve the visitor experience at this popular coastal reserve and promote the area as an outstanding wildlife tourist destination.

Strathbeg is host to 20% of the world's pink footed geese. (Image: Chris Gomersall, RSPB)Loch of Strathbeg is the UK’s largest dune loch, home to thousands of wild geese, swans and ducks, including 20 per cent of the world's population of pink-footed geese. The cash will also help to create around 33 new volunteer roles annually, bringing significant economic benefit to the area through wildlife tourism and increased local expenditure. Residential volunteers and local people, including community groups, will receive training in environmental management and conservation, while young people seeking a career in conservation will benefit from the residential internships on offer at Loch of Strathbeg.

Strathbeg is host to 20% of the world's pink footed geese. (Image: Chris Gomersall, RSPB)

Building work is expected to start in March 2015 and is due for completion by March 2016.


Something cheerful to start the week

Forget the snow, spring signs are everywhere... - Woodland Trust (Nature's Calendar)

Although you might be hard pressed to believe it, spring is well and truly on its way if Mother Nature is an accurate barometer; as snowdrops, hazel catkins and even ladybirds and butterflies have been recorded across the UK on the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar website.

The Trust has been monitoring the arrival of the seasons for the last 15 years, with historical records dating back to the 18th century. So far in 2015 the conservation charity has already received sightings of snowdrops at 120 locations across the country, 74 records of hazel catkins and even sightings of ladybirds, and small tortoiseshell, peacock and red admiral butterflies.

The current freezing weather may temporarily pause the advance of spring but it causes less of a problem than a late cold spell, when many more species may be awake from hibernation or flowering – as happened in 2013.

Dr Kate Lewthwaite, Woodland Trust Citizen Science Manager, said: “People still seem surprised to see snowdrops and butterflies in early January but our warmer climate in recent years means this is now pretty common. “Records added to Nature’s Calendar by the public have enabled scientists to learn how trees, plants and wildlife adapt to our changing climate. If we can ensure our natural environment is diverse, resilient and interconnected it will make it easier for wildlife to adjust too.”

By recording spring signs of species found in woodland and other habitats, thousands of people have enabled Nature’s Calendar to become the leading survey into how climate change is affecting UK plants and wildlife. Find out more at naturescalendar.org.uk

signs of spring, elder buds 

And here's ours!

Last week it was spikes of Lords-and-Ladies, this morning a drumming woodpecker was heard for the first time this morning. And over the weekend:



Council and Bicton College form Countryside Management partnership – East Devon District Council

Council's Countryside teams up with Bicton College for rangers work experience

East Devon District Council’s Countryside Team has joined forces with Bicton College to provide work experience placements to Countryside Management students. This relationship will give the next generation of rangers an insight into habitat and visitor management across all the council’s nature reserves including Knapp Copse, Holyford Woods and the Axe Nathan Robinson, EDDC Nature Reserves Ranger; Leo Henley-Lock, Lecturer in Countryside Management and Tim Dafforn, EDDC Countryside Team Leader (People) with students from the Extended Diploma in Countryside Management/Countryside Ranger course at Bicton College. (East Devon DC)Estuary Wetlands. The students will gain invaluable skills in conservation, running events, working with volunteers and delivering education sessions.

Nathan Robinson, EDDC Nature Reserves Ranger; Leo Henley-Lock, Lecturer in Countryside Management and Tim Dafforn, EDDC Countryside Team Leader (People) with students from the Extended Diploma in Countryside Management/Countryside Ranger course at Bicton College. (East Devon DC)

Councillor Iain Chubb, Environment Portfolio Holder said: “This partnership naturally links two important organisations and highlights East Devon District Council’s commitment to Bicton College and the young people it serves. I am sure with the wealth of experience in the countryside team and the support of college tutors this link will only get stronger.”


The Natural Capital Committee's third State of Natural Capital report

The Natural Capital Committee published its third State of Natural Capital report on Tuesday 27 January, which recommends that Government, working closely with the private sector and NGOs should develop a comprehensive strategy to protect and improve natural capital.  

The report presents a series of potential environmental investments that offer good economic returns such as peatland restoration and woodland planting. It also sets out an innovative framework for corporation to take account of their natural capital. To read the report, click here.


Publication of the report received mostly positive reactions from a wide range of organisations:

New report calls for a 25-year investment plan for the natural environment - Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the publication of the Natural Capital Committee’s third and final report, which shows that investment in nature makes obvious economic sense.

The State of Natural Capital Protecting and Improving Natural Capital for Prosperity and Wellbeing sets the challenge of securing the recovery of nature in a generation, for its own sake and for the sake of the economy.  It recommends investment in natural habitats in England, such as restoring peatland and woodland planting, and demonstrates the significant benefits to society and communities such activities would bring.  

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The fact that our economic well-being depends on nature is a truth which more decision-makers need to realise so we welcome today’s report.  We rely on nature for our health and wellbeing and to provide the vital resources which underpin the economy.  Nature is continually undermined when this understanding of its value is not considered by decision-makers.  This new report challenges this thinking and provides a vital intellectual case for placing nature at the heart of society and the economy. Although our existing environment laws are strong and deliver protection for wildlife, we need to go further to achieve nature’s recovery. Legislation which recognises the fundamental importance of the natural environment to society and the economy, as well as its intrinsic worth and popularity, can help create positive change for nature at the speed and scale we really need.”


Natural Capital report highlights need for urgent government action - Friends of the Earth

The call today (27 January 2015) from the Government’s Natural Capital Committee (NCC) to tackle air pollution, improve farming’s green track record and create new urban green space and wetlands, has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth. However, the environment charity warns that recommendations on fracking and use of funds from developers may do more harm than good for the environment.

Commenting on the report Sandra Bell, Nature Campaigner at Friends of the Earth said: “The Natural Capital Committee’s timely message is that everyone wins if we look after nature, from a more stable economy to better health and flood protection. But nature is in trouble, and there’s no excuse for inaction. Government measures to protect and restore nature are needed now, not in five years’ time.  The clock is ticking because the Government is already behind on its pledge made just five years ago to restore our nature by 2020. MPs must ensure that the next Government gets on track with the right action plan to reverse the decline in bees, birds and other species and to ensure that the natural systems we rely on are healthy". 


Landowners welcome new report into value of natural environment  - CLA

The CLA, which represents landowners, farmers and rural businesses, has responded to the publication of the third annual State of Natural Capital Committee Report.

CLA Chief Land Use Policy Adviser Damian Testa said: “Investment in land management and finding new ways to finance environmental schemes are the key to meeting long-term objectives that will substantially improve our natural environment. The report rightly recognises that it is farmers and land managers who are managing our natural environment year in year out.  We welcome this important report that includes innovative ideas to ensure we account for the economic value of our natural assets and the economic return of public investment in agri-environment schemes. We agree that new ways to accommodate mutually beneficial offsetting schemes linked to new development is one way that can unlock investment in biodiversity.”


New report shows we should all value nature, says RSPB

View of Calvert Jubilee Reserve Image: RSPB - Colin WilkinsonThe RSPB welcomes a new report by the Natural Capital Committee (NCC), which shows that investment in nature will support the country’s economic growth.

View of Calvert Jubilee Reserve

(Image: RSPB - Colin Wilkinson )

The NCC, which advises the government on natural resources such as forests and oceans, published its third report today. The report calls for a 25 year plan to improve and protect natural capital. It recommends investment in natural habitats in England, for example planting woodland and restoring peatland, in each case showing how such investments would bring significant benefits to society and communities.

Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation, said “This report chimes with our call for a Nature and Wellbeing Act, setting the world’s first legal targets for nature, for the benefit of people and the environment. It goes well beyond recommending environmental protection to calls for restoring what has already been lost. Nature is priceless, but we agree you can't make good economic decisions without taking nature into account. Not only does the report demonstrate how habitat restoration will enhance our wellbeing and prosperity, it shows that ambitious plans to restore the UK’s woods, peatlands, forests and coastlines also make good economic sense."


£70,000 Pembrokeshire Coast Path repairs completed - Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

 Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority has completed more than £70,000 repairs on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail in the 12 months, in the wake of the damage caused by last year’s severe storms. The combination of extreme weather and high tides washed away bridges, undermined steps and meant some parts of the Coast Path had to be resurfaced or realigned.  

Repairs to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path near Aberbach, Dinas were the last to be completed. (image PCNPA)The National Park Authority Warden Teams have been working to repair and improve the path while carrying out their usual maintenance and cutting work across the 186-mile route. Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail Officer Dave MacLachlan said: “Many of the repairs were finished in time for the start of last year’s busy summer season, but the unprecedented spread and scale of the damage meant that some of work had to be completed later. The National Park Authority’s Warden Teams must be commended for completing these repairs as quickly as possible, with close communication with coastal landowners.” 

Repairs to the Pembrokeshire Coast Path near Aberbach, Dinas were the last to be completed. (image PCNPA)

Some of the more complex repairs required the use of specialists such as engineering geologists, who provided additional insight into cliff stability. Overall the repairs in carried out by the Authority amounted to more than £70,000 with the majority of funding coming from grant aid and some funding support from landowners. 

Although these repairs are now complete, maintaining the Coast Path is a year-round task. Recently a short stretch of the Path had to be moved further in-land following a small cliff fall at Mill Bay, near St Ann’s Head. Walkers are asked to report any new falls or concerns which they identify over the next few months.  


And good news for beavers:

Natural England approves trial release of beavers - Natural England

A licence will be issued to Devon Wildlife Trust permitting the managed release into the wild of beavers on a 5 year trial basis

Beaver on the River Otter in Devon © Dave LandNatural England’s Board has today, Wednesday 28 January, confirmed that a licence will be issued to Devon Wildlife Trust, permitting the managed release into the wild of beavers currently resident in the River Otter catchment in Devon, on a 5 year trial basis.

Beaver on the River Otter in Devon © Dave Land (via Natural England)

Devon Wildlife Trust’s licence application has been thoroughly assessed against the internationally recognised guidelines published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

The licence is subject to a range of conditions, including confirmation that the beavers are of Eurasian origin and are free of the Echinococcus multilocularis parasite. Under the terms of the licence, by September at the latest, Devon Wildlife Trust must develop a management strategy to deal quickly with any undesirable impacts which the beavers may have on the River Otter during the trial period, as well as a monitoring programme to study their impacts.

Andrew Sells, Natural England’s Chairman commented: "Reintroduction of a species is a complicated and emotive subject and we have considered this application very carefully. Responses to our written consultation and public meetings have been generally positive and we are now satisfied with Devon Wildlife Trust’s plans for managing and monitoring the project, which will allow important evidence to be gathered during the trial on any impacts which the beavers may have."


It's official - beavers are back! - Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts are celebrating today’s government announcement that England’s first wild colony of breeding beavers is to be allowed to remain living wild on a Devon river

Further landmark decisions about the future for beavers in Scotland and Wales are expected later this year.

Harry Barton, Chief Executive of Devon Wildlife Trust, said: “We are delighted by Natural England’s decision to grant us a licence to give these beavers a long term future on the River Otter.  It’s the result of a great deal of effort by our charity, supported by partner organisations across the UK and, most importantly, by the local community. This is an historic moment.  The beavers of the River Otter are the first breeding population in the English countryside for hundreds of years.  We believe they can play a positive role in the landscapes of the 21st century through their ability to restore our rivers to their former glories.  We know from our own research and research done in Europe that beavers are excellent aquatic-engineers improving the flood and drought resilience of our countryside and increasing the water quality of our rivers.2  They are incredibly industrious animals and their hard work has benefits for people and wildlife.”

Devon Wildlife Trust has expressed its delight that Natural England has granted it permission to monitor the beavers.  It is well-placed to do this work because it has solid experience: Devon Wildlife Trust’s beaver trial in another part of the county is ongoing – scientific results will be published in 2016.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts says: “This is wonderful news.  I hope that the decision to allow this fascinating and once commonplace native species to remain on the River Otter symbolises a change in our relationship with the natural world, and a wider appreciation that nature makes our lives richer.” 


Reaction from Devon Wildlife Trust

Peter Burgess, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Manager, led the licence application to Natural England. He explained what the project will mean: ‘This project will measure the impact that these beavers have on the local environment, on the local economy and on local people. The evidence from elsewhere shows that beavers should have an overwhelmingly positive effect, but this is the first time the animals will be living in a well-populated, agriculturally productive English landscape for hundreds of years. We need to ensure that any negative impacts of beavers are avoided. This will mean working alongside the Environment Agency, local authorities and landowners to manage any problems that may arise over the coming years.’
At present Natural England is yet to announce the full details of the licence.
Peter added: ‘Although we’re very pleased to have been granted the licence we will need to consider its terms in full before the project can get under way. It needs to be a licence which will work for us and safeguard the needs of local communities, the economy, landowners and the beavers.’


Whilst in Scotland: New report on beaver effects on salmon and trout - Scottish Natural Heritage

A report looking at at how salmon and trout populations might be affected, if beavers are reintroduced to Scotland, was published today (28 January).

The Scottish Government will decide later this year whether to reintroduce beavers to Scotland, after receiving the results of a number of studies, including the five-year Scottish Beaver Trial in Knapdale, Argyll.

The report was produced by the Beaver Salmonid Working Group (BSWG), which is made up of specialists from the fish biology, fishery, wildlife and river management sectors. The report was prepared for the National Species Reintroduction Forum (NSRF).

The report found that there would be a range of impacts on salmon and trout as a result of beavers, and although further research is required, any successful reintroduction would depend on a management plan. The report also found that beavers may affect salmon and trout positively by, for example, increasing the number of invertebrates available for fish to feed on, as well as increasing the variety of habitat for fish, including areas for rearing, overwintering and avoiding fast flows. However, negative impacts may include beaver dams sometimes limiting salmon and trout moving along waterways and the loss of valuable spawning habitat.

Ron Macdonald, NSRF chair and Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) Director of Policy & Advice, said: “We’re grateful to the BSWG for this comprehensive and useful report, and we’ll examine their recommendations carefully. The report will form an important part of the information that SNH is gathering for the Scottish Government for late May. We recognise that there are evidence gaps on the impact on salmon and trout and that, if the Scottish Government approves reintroducing beavers, a management plan will be required to quickly address any potential problems.”
Download the full report, (pdf)  


Children’s visits to natural environments: new evidence – Natural England

Report provides new evidence on the scale and scope of visits to natural environments made by children in England.

A new report reveals, for the first time, the scale and scope of the visits children in England make to natural environments, including parks, playgrounds and woodlands.

Natural England, Defra, English Heritage and King’s College London have been working with the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey to find out about the visits children make to natural environments; where they go, how often and who with.

The results show a link between social inequalities and the opportunities that children have to experience the natural environment. It also highlights the importance of local greenspace to all children - especially those who visit less frequently.

Many children visit frequently, but a significant minority never visit:

  • 70% of children (around 7 million children) visited the natural environment at least once a week
  • 12% (around 1.3 million) rarely, if ever, visited the natural environment
  • there are regional variations - for example, more children living in the north east of England took frequent visits than children living in the west midlands or London (74%, 64% and 62% respectively)

The frequency of children’s visits is linked to ethnicity and socio-economic status:

  • children from non-black, Asian and minority ethnic households were more likely to visit frequently than those from black, Asian and minority ethnic households (73% compared to 59%)
  • children from higher income households were more likely to visit frequently than children from lower income households (77% compared to 64%)

There are strong links between adult and child visiting behaviours:

  • in households where the adults were frequent visitors to the natural environment, 80% of children were also frequent visitors; in households where the adults rarely (or never) visited, only 39% of children visited frequently
  • in an average month:
    • 76% of children visited with the adults from their own household
    • 15% of children took visits with their grandparents
    • 10% of children visited with their schools or teachers (although children in the DE socio-economic group were only half as likely to visit the natural environment with their school as those in the AB group)
    • 22% of children took visits to the natural environment without any adults present (on their own or with other children)

Click Here to view the report (pdf)


Diving Blue Whale takes centre stage at Natural History Museum - Natural History Museum

The installation of the blue whale skeleton will be part of a complete re-display of Hintze Hall being undertaken to lay bare the relationship between humans and the natural world.

The vast skeleton of a blue whale is to welcome visitors as the central display in the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall from summer 2017. Suspended dynamically from the ceiling and plunging through the iconic space, it will take on the role held by the much-loved Dippy for 35 years. (Image via Casson Mann-Natural History Museum)

While planning the whale’s move from its current home in the mammals gallery, the Museum is exploring how the Diplodocus cast can be enjoyed by an even wider audience longer term.
The Museum’s collection is one of the world’s greatest scientific resources for understanding the natural world. This marks the beginning of a decade of transformation for the Museum described in its new strategy.
Sir Michael Dixon, Director of the Natural History Museum, commented: “As the largest known animal to have ever lived on Earth, the story of the blue whale reminds us of the scale of our responsibility to the planet. This makes it the perfect choice of specimen to welcome and capture the imagination of our visitors, as well as marking a major transformation of the Museum. This is an important and necessary change. As guardians of one of the world’s greatest scientific resources, our purpose is to challenge the way people think about the natural world, and that goal has never been more urgent. The very resources on which modern society relies are under threat. Species and ecosystems are being destroyed faster than we can describe them or even understand their significance. The blue whale serves as a poignant reminder that while abundance is no guarantee of survival, through our choices, we can make a real difference. There is hope.”
Since this whale skeleton came to the Museum in 1891, blue whales have been hunted to near extinction before starting to recover their numbers after they gained protected status. 


We are inviting people to give us their views on introducing more Marine Conservation Zones - defra

Everyone with an interest in our seas is invited to give their views on whether 23 sites in English waters should become Marine Conservation Zones.

Sea anemone (sunset cup-coral) (Image credit: Copyright Natural England/Roger Mitchell)The 23 sites proposed will cover 10,810 square kilometres of our seas, protecting important seabed habitats and species.

The evidence collected will help us ensure sites with important wildlife, plants or geological features are protected, whilst ensuring long-term economic security for coastal businesses and communities.

Sea anemone (sunset cup-coral)

(Image credit: Copyright Natural England/Roger Mitchell)

Marine Environment Minister George Eustice said: " We’re doing more than ever to protect our seas, preserving incredible underwater landscapes and helping our sea life flourish.  We’ve already created 27 Marine Conservation Zones and a quarter of English inshore waters are in protected areas.  It is important we secure the future of our coastal communities as part of our long-term economic plan. We want to support these communities while protecting our marine life. "

The 23 sites have been proposed with a focus on opportunities to add to the current network of Marine Protected Areas, giving further protection to vulnerable species and habitats in our seas.



New wave of proposed Marine Conservation Zones don’t go far enough - National Trust and Marine Conservation Society

The Government has today launched a three month consultation on the next tranche of Marine Conservation Zones around the coast of England. Below is a joint response to the announcement from the National Trust and the Marine Conservation Society. Second round of Marine Conservation Zone designation will leave English waters woefully under protected

Conservation charities say promised network of protection is not even close as vital sites don’t even get to public consultation

The UK’s leading marine charity says it is hugely disappointed that, in the same week the Government has been warned how England’s declining natural environment is harming the economy, it has failed to deliver on promises to better protect English seas.

37 sites had been proposed to go forward to a second public consultation on Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), all identified by Government’s scientific advisers as vital to plugging “major gaps” that currently exist in the development of a UK network.  However, only 23 sites have made the final list when the consultation for potential new MCZs was launched on Friday 30th January. While MCS is keen that members of the public air their views to ensure that these sites become a reality, the charity has real concerns that English seas will not contribute a network of sites that we can be proud of in future.

The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) is supported in its criticism by the National Trust, which owns 750 miles of England’s coastline. The National Trust says the underwater landscape of England’s coastline must be protected in the same way the visible land is and the protection must be put in place now before it’s too late.

MCS says sound scientific advice has once again been ignored with 14 important sites not included in the consultation. The charity says this tranche had been promoted as one to fill in major gaps, but instead appears to have slowed the MCZ process right down.

“We are extremely frustrated that these proposed MCZs have been shelved, at least for the time being. We believe all of the sites are necessary to achieve the Government’s stated commitment to deliver a full network. Delaying 14 sites means that a number of the UK’s iconic marine places and habitats are still not adequately protected,” says MCS Biodiversity and Fisheries Programme Manager, Dr Peter Richardson.

Simon Pryor, Natural Environment Director at the National Trust, said: “Steady progress is being made to have a good network of Marine Conservation Zones around the coast of England. However, it’s disappointing that we’re not even half way to the original target of 127 that the Government outlined just two years ago.  Protecting the seas around the English coast must be a priority as they face unprecedented pressure. Without the protection that they deserve marine wildlife and the quality of our seas will suffer.”

Both groups say that important sites missing from the consultation will leave huge gaps in the network. MCS says that all 23 sites being consulted on must be designated.

“It’s essential that those who care about the future of our seas respond to this consultation by giving their full support for the designation of all 23 MCZ sites announced today, and call for more sites to be proposed to make up a much-needed network of UK marine protected areas,” says Dr Richardson.


Government cuts back on ambitions for marine protection - Wildlife Trusts

Public consultation opens to bitter disappointment at exclusion of important areas due to ‘economic cost’

The long-awaited consultation on the next stages of Marine Conservation Zone designation in English and non devolved waters is launched today.  But with only 23 out of a possible 37 sites included, The Wildlife Trusts are frustrated at the lack of ambition shown by the Government.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said:  “We are bitterly disappointed that the Government has opted to consult on just 23 new Marine Conservation Zones and that some very important areas for marine wildlife  have been dropped from the list.  We are particularly frustrated that a number of sites – including in the Irish Sea - have been removed because of the likely ‘economic cost’. 

“The Wildlife Trusts believe this is a missed opportunity to achieve longer-term gains that will benefit marine biodiversity and fishing.  Ultimately an economic activity that is based on over-exploitation, beyond the ability of the resource to renew itself, is not sustainable and has no long-term future. 

Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York, Callum Roberts, says: "The decision not to create protected areas in the Irish Sea on the grounds of cost to fisheries is ironic and misguided. Irish Sea fish stocks are among the most heavily overexploited in the UK and are now on their last gasp. Two centuries of fishing with destructive trawls and dredges has stripped the seabed of its fish and once-rich habitats like oyster and horse mussel reefs. It will remain impoverished without protected areas; it has a chance of recovery with them. There is no in between."


Consultation details:

Marine Conservation Zones: second tranche of designations

Seeking views on each of the 23 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) proposed for designation. Also proposing new features to be added to 10 existing MCZs.

We want to know what you think about the 23 sites we are proposing to designate as Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). We are also asking for views on adding extra features to 10 MCZs designated in 2013.

MCZs are areas of sea where we protect rare or important features from damaging activity. They protect important habitats like honeycomb worm reefs and seagrass beds as well as species such as native oyster and stalked jellyfish.

Consultation closes 24 April 2015

Full details and survey here.


Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD): proposals for UK programme of measures

Seeking views on our proposed programme of measures to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) in UK seas by 2020.

We want to know what you think about our plans to implement the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) in the UK.

The Directive requires EU member states to take measures to achieve or maintain Good Environmental Status (GES) in their seas by 2020. The consultation covers measures for each of the 11 MSFD Descriptors. These include biological diversity, non-indigenous species, commercially exploited fish, eutrophication, hydrographical conditions, contaminants, underwater noise and litter.

Consultation closes 24 April 2015

Details, documentation and survey available here.


Record breaking year for RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch - but the work isn't over yet - RSPB

A record number of people took part during the weekend of the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch with over 115,000 survey submissions and incredible four million birds counted over two days.

The RSPB hopes this means that overall participation at the end of the submission period will be at an all time high and is urging those who haven’t submitted the results of their one hour watch to do so by the 16 February in order for their results to be used by RSPB scientists.

Fieldfare was a popular spot on social media over the weekendBig Garden Birdwatch Project Manager, Teresa Stoneage, said: “More people than ever sent us the results of their one hour birdwatch over the weekend alone, once again proving what a popular activity it is. We hope that more people will take part than ever before and more birds will be counted than ever before."

Fieldfare was a popular spot on social media over the weekend

Image: Graham Catley

Once all results have been submitted RSPB scientists will use them to see how the birds and other wildlife that use our gardens in the UK are faring. Then, together, with other wildlife organizations, they will be able to help those species in decline and find the best ways to give nature a home. 

RSPB Conservation Scientist, Daniel Hayhow, said: “Early indications show that it was a busy watch for many across the country. The temperate dip meant that more birds were out looking for food and water, which bodes well for lots of sightings. First results have shown a lot of people seem to see a high number of blackcap and fieldfare, but we will have to wait until the results have been monitored and analysed to get the full picture from the weekend.”

Big Garden Birdwatch results can be submitted until 16 February. Visit the RSPB website for more information and to submit your results online: rspb.org.uk/Birdwatch. 


Scientific papers

Tobin, Patrick.  Ecological Consequences of Pathogen and Insect Invasions Current Forestry Reports  DOI: 10.1007/s40725-015-0008-6


Schäckermann, Jessica, Mandelik, Yael, Weiss, Noam, von Wehrden, Henrik, Klein & Alexandra-Maria  Natural habitat does not mediate vertebrate seed predation as an ecosystem dis-service to agriculture.  Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12402


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