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


Trust hails Stronelairg a victory for wild land protection - John Muir Trust

Judicial review overturns consent for Stronelairg wind farm

Stronelairg in winter (image John Muir Trust)Stronelairg in winter (image John Muir Trust)

The John Muir Trust today (4/12/15) expressed its delight after winning  a crucial judicial review against the Scottish Ministers and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) regarding Ministers’ consent for an industrial-scale wind farm at Stronelairg in the Monadhliath mountains. 

The 67-turbine development, which would have extended over an area the size of Inverness,  was given the go-ahead by the Energy Minister in June 2014. Seventy per cent of the Stronelairg site consists of wet peatland, Scotland’s miniature version of the rainforest, which would have faced severe disruption as a result of the excavation of 22 million cubic feet of stone from the area.

Lord Jones ruled in his decision released today  (4 December)  that members of the public had been denied the opportunity to comment on a revised planning application for the proposed wind farm, and that Scottish Ministers did not take into account Scottish Natural Heritage’s objection in principle to any wind farm development at Stronelairg. 

Due to these errors, Lord Jones reduced the Ministers’ decision to grant consent for the wind farm. 


The decision was welcomed by the National Trust for Scotland and Mountaineering Council of Scotland

NTS said: Trust welcomes outcome of judicial review on “city-sized” windfarm

Conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland today welcomed the news that the John Muir Trust had won its judicial review against Scottish Ministers and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) over planning consent for an “industrial-scale wind farm” at Stronelairg in the Monadhliath mountains, near Fort Augustus.


Stronelairg Wind Farm: MCofS welcomes findings of the Judicial Review

The MCofS has welcomed the findings of the Judicial Review, which found that the Scottish Ministers' decision to approve the application was 'defective', saying that permission should never have been granted to such a large and potentially damaging wind farm in such a valuable wild land area.


It’s Official: Snowdonia – International Dark Sky Reserve - Snowdonia Society

In Abergynolwyn today (Friday, December 4th), it was announced that Snowdonia is now an International Dark Sky Reserve, the tenth in the world.

This designation is given by the International Dark Sky Institute to select destinations that have proven that the quality of their night air is outstanding and real efforts are being made to reduce light pollution. Currently, International Dark Sky Reserves can be found in 9 locations throughout the world and in addition to this announcement for Snowdonia, out of all the countries of the world, Wales is the country with the highest percentage of its dark sky designated as an International Dark Sky.

Emyr Williams, Chief Executive of Snowdonia National Park Authority added, “Receiving this designation is very good news for the residents, businesses, visitors and the wildlife of Snowdonia. Unfortunately, the opportunity to enjoy the night sky and its stars is in decline, the living patterns of nocturnal creatures are dwindling and as light pollution is rising, it contributes to these deteriorations. However, with this designation, the area’s wildlife will be improved, the quality of the environment will be protected, there will be a new natural attraction to attract new visitors to Snowdonia on quiet periods of the year, the local economy will be improved and the dark sky above Snowdonia will be protected for future generations.”

Announcing the news from its headquarters in Tucson Arizona, on behalf of the Dark Sky Institute Directors, John Barentine said, “I sincerely congratulate Snowdonia National Park on becoming an International Dark Sky Reserve, the tenth throughout the world. Wales now leads the world in the percentage of its territory enjoying protected status for its night skies: as of today, these protections now encompass nearly 18% of the Wales’ land area. Nowhere else has achieved comparable success in recognizing the value of night time darkness and taking concrete steps to safeguard it for future generations.”


Invasive non-native species: draft code of practice for the use of species control provisions in England - defra Open consultation 

We want to know your thoughts about our draft code of practice which sets out how we’ll use new controls on invasive non-native species.

We’ve got new powers - known as species control provisions - which allow Defra and its agencies to require owners to take action against invasive non-native species. If an owner has refused to act or allow access, it also allows us to take action.

Access the consultation here, Runs from 7 Dec 2015 to 28 Feb 2016.  


SGA report highlights unthinking loss of moorland in Scotland – Scottish Gamekeepers Association

Scotland’s gamekeepers have launched a new report aimed at halting the ‘unthinking’ loss of Scotland’s globally rare moorland landscapes.

Seventy five per cent of the world’s remaining heather is found in the UK, with most found in Scotland.

Image: Scottish Gamekeepers AssociationImage: Scottish Gamekeepers Association

Yet despite the defining role open moorland landscapes of all types have played in the nation’s history and psyche, Scotland has never had a unified national policy to retain its signature treasure.

The dramatic open moors lure international tourists, generate vital rural employment, are home to threatened bird species and have inspired artists, writers and film-makers.

However, a lack of a policy vision has seen huge areas of open moorland being lost in this country since the 1940s, with afforestation and reclamation for farming hastening its fragmentation.

An estimated 20 per cent of heather moorland disappeared between 1940 and 1970, a decline which continues today with new emphasis on energy and woodland expansion.

Indeed, if the Scottish forestry strategy target of 25 per cent of land under trees by 2050 is realised, potentially a further 5000 sq km of moorland will be lost, as trees will have to be planted on open moors.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association say the devaluation of one of Scotland’s greatest national assets cannot be allowed to continue blindly, through the lack of a unifying objective.

Today (Dec 8th) it launched, A Future for Moorland in Scotland: The need for a locational strategy at an event in Edinburgh, attended by heritage bodies and MSPs.

The 34 page report, authored by independent ecologist, Dr James Fenton – who previously worked for NTS and SNH- maps the extent of the moorland left in Scotland, highlighting the obligations Scotland has to its conservation.


Biggest analysis of British nature ever rings alarm bells - University of Reading

Scientists have warned that British wildlife is at its most perilous state ever recorded in the past 40 years, after conducting the biggest ever nationwide analysis of biodiversity trends.

Using tens of millions of records dating back to 1970, scientists found that UK native biodiversity has not only suffered an overall continuous Image: Nadine Mitschunasdecline, but that some species groups are under particular threat.

In some species groups fulfilling critical roles, including pollination and pest control, the number of declining species is neither offset by those native species which are increasing in occurrence, nor by the arrival of new species to Britain.

Image: Nadine Mitschunas

Dr Tom Oliver, an ecologist at the University of Reading, led the research. He said: "There have been many efforts to track the changing prospects of wildlife, but this is the biggest and most comprehensive report ever assembled for any country in the world. By standardising records from an army of amateur biologists across the country, we have amassed an impressive array of data, giving us our most complete picture yet of the state of Britain's wildlife. The picture that emerges is of an increasingly fragile system, particularly in species that do vital jobs for humans. Unless efforts are made to reverse some of these declines, we face a future where we will be less confident that we can effectively grow our food."

Read the paper here: Oliver, T. H. et al (2015) Declining resilience of ecosystem functions under biodiversity loss. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/ncomms10122


A natural way to look at floods – Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

WWT’s thoughts and best wishes are with those affected by Storm Desmond who are our immediate concern – including WWT supporters and volunteers.

We often design our WWT reserves to store rain water – like this field at Slimbridge (WWT)We often design our WWT reserves to store rain water – like this field at Slimbridge (WWT)

Pressure to spend money on individual flood relief schemes is getting in the way of the Government finding long-term solutions for whole river catchments, says the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

The damage to homes and businesses caused in Cumbria and Lancashire by Storm Desmond this winter are the latest in an average of £1 billion flood damage suffered in England each year. The political debate after the floods is focussing on how much money the Government either spent or cut on individual relief schemes.

But WWT points out that many water management experts say flood risks can be eased in the first place by working with natural processes to slow down water flow – alongside the expensive concrete constructions that manage flooding once it’s happened.

WWT Head of Community Working Wetlands, Andy Graham told BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today: “We need to think about working with the land, working with nature so that the land can soak up water before it creates a problem downstream. NGOs and farming communities are a long way along the line but we do need supporting and we need to be able to develop coherent solutions – land owners have to make a living. We need a package of intelligently designed support for land owners to deliver over and above food production, so they’re delivering flood risk management that will link the uplands to the lowlands.”


Putting SIMs on seals - SMRU and Vodafone announce partnership - NERCSeal with smart tag. Copyright SMRU/Vodafone.

Seal with smart tag. Copyright SMRU/Vodafone.

The Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and Vodafone UK are working together to learn more about the rapid decline in many UK seal populations by fitting them with mobile phone-based tracking tags.

Scientists at SMRU, funded by NERC and based at the University of St Andrews, already use Vodafone SIM cards in the trackers, which attach harmlessly to the animals' backs. But the official partnership will give them better access to the UK phone operator's network.

As well as illuminating seal behaviour - essential if we're to protect them from the threats they face - the transmitters also provide information on ocean conditions. They turn the seals into something like much cheaper research vessels, although admittedly ones with minds of their own that don't always go where scientists would like.

The partnership will mean more reliable network coverage and faster transmission of data. It will also give access to Vodafone's partner networks, making it easier to use SMRU's tracking devices anywhere in the world and control them all from any computer. The scientists aim to produce around 100 tags a year, both for their own use and for sale to other researchers abroad, so easy operation anywhere is a major advantage.

SMRU researchers use wireless tags to track seals as they go about their business around the UK coast, keeping tabs on where they go and what they do. The tags are no bigger than a mobile phone and connect to base when their host comes to the surface to breathe. They can stand depths of up to 200 metres and last a few months before dropping off harmlessly during the seal's annual moult.

Their findings will help conserve some of the dwindling harbour seal populations around the UK. In some places numbers of this seal, one of our two resident species, have declined by up to 90 per cent in the last decade. SMRU provides advice to government on seal conservation, and to the offshore renewable energy industry about how to mitigate the effects of construction and operation on marine wildlife.

To find out more, you can watch a short film about the Connected Seals project.


The Parks Alliance response to GLA’s Natural Capital report

On Wednesday 9 December the Greater London Authority’s Green Infrastructure Task Force published its report ‘Natural Capital: Investing in a Green Infrastructure for a Future City‘. The report identifies why green infrastructure is increasingly necessary, and the changes to policy, governance, valuation and funding that are needed to ensure long-term investment in London’s green infrastructure. Recommendations include the need to appoint a Green Infrastructure Commissioner; further refinement of the All London Green Grid; new approaches to revealing the economic value of green infrastructure; and working with others, such as the National Park City initiative, for example, to find better ways of engaging the public.

The Parks Alliance welcomes the report.

Access the Green Infrastructure Task Force report here


National Park budget slashed again: no celebrations in Wales. - Snowdonia Society

Champions of National Parks in England were celebrating two weeks ago with the Chancellor’s announcement of a flat budget for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

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

Today in Wales the situation could not be more different.  There will be no Christmas celebrations for those who value our National Parks.  Budgets for 2016/17 confirmed the worst fears with Welsh National Parks facing 5.3% cuts, on top of savage cuts in the last two years.

John Harold , Director of the Snowdonia Society says: “National Park Authorities are being singled out for punishing cuts, compared to the other Local Authorities in Wales, which face cuts of around 2%.  This demonstrates that Welsh Government doesn’t understand what National Parks are for, nor what they do for Wales.  Worse still, they seem not to care.”


Stakeholder Report on Dog Fouling Published - Keep Scotland Beautiful

Keep Scotland Beautiful has published a report summarising the outcomes from the First National Stakeholder Event on Dog Fouling, which took place in September. 

The event brought together a broad range of stakeholders for the first time to participate in an open discussion on how dog fouling can be tackled more effectively in Scotland. 

Local environmental quality is of huge importance to communities – evidence from research shows it is consistently one of the most important issues to people across Scotland.  The research also shows that communities across Scotland, both urban and rural, are blighted by the problem of irresponsible dog ownership and dog fouling - and it is a problem that is getting worse. 

Access the report. (PDF)  


Better water quality helping save the Freshwater Pearl Mussel - Natural Resources Wales

Improved water quality in a river shows that a £3.5 million project to safeguard Freshwater Pearl Mussels is having a positive impact.

Freshwater Pearl Mussels (Image: Natural Resources Wales) Freshwater Pearl Mussels (Image: Natural Resources Wales)

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is working in Snowdonia to help safeguard the rare mussel as part of a UK-wide project.

Over the last hundred years numbers of Freshwater Pearl Mussels have fallen dramatically.  They are now one of the most critically endangered molluscs in the world and as a result are highly protected under national and international legislation.  In a bid to change the mussels’ fortunes, Pearls in Peril (PIP) a Life + Nature conservation project is constructing wetland, settlement ponds, fencing the riverbanks to stop livestock entering the river and reducing pollution.  Water samples now show that the amount of oxygen in the river is improving and that there is less silt in it.

NRW project officer, Elain Gwilym, is leading the project at Afon Eden near Trawsfynydd. She explained: “Good water quality is essential for the mussels which can live for well over 100 years. The figures show that the project is heading in the right direction. Our sampling shows that the level of oxygen in the gravel - where it’s needed for the mussels - is improving.  This shows that the river is cleaner, there’s less silt and more oxygen. This will improve the habitat for young pearl mussels and fish.”


At the height of beauty - Plantlife

Saving Scotland's mountain plants

Some of Scotland's most iconic habitats are found in the mountains. Caught between the warm and wet weather from the Atlantic and the cold dry weather from Europe, these mountains are home to a unique community of plants - the arctic-alpines - with species characteristic of European alpine mountains growing alongside others from arctic Scandinavia. But a significant number of these species are in decline, faced with challenges such as climate change and unsuitable land management. On International Mountain day, Plantlife Scotland is publishing some new management advice, aimed at ensuring that future generations can enjoy these special mountain plants.

Many of the species that live here, such as Sibbaldia, moss campion, mountain azalea, are rare, fragile and slow-growing. They are robust enough to survive the harsh conditions, which at the same time, keeps down competition from quicker growing plants that thrive at lower altitudes. But these slow growing species are at risk from a number of factors including climate and management...

Key threats facing Scottish arctic-alpine plant communities:

  • Burning
  • Grazing
    Changing weather conditions
  • Atmospheric pollution

Deborah Long, Head of Plantlife Scotland, says "These high-altitude Scottish specialist plants are part of our mountain heritage. With climate change, they need, more than ever, the sort of land management that creates and maintains a habitat where they can survive and thrive - What they actually need most is a kind of benign neglect, where there is no burning and a bit of grazing.

The Scottish public can also help: we require more data on how these plant communities are doing. You can help by taking part in the National Plant Monitoring Survey next year and by visiting a mountain area every year to keep track of how mountain species like blaeberry, ling cowberry and mossy saxifrage are doing."

To download Plantlife Scotland's management leaflet please visit here


Reconnecting Nature and People in Nidderdale - Heritage Lottery Fund Dallowgill Heather moorlands (image credit: GX Megson via HLF)

Dallowgill Heather moorlands (image credit: GX Megson via HLF) 

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, one of Yorkshire’s most beautiful and best-loved landscapes has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a new project unveiled today, called Reconnecting Nature and People in Nidderdale.

People and communities in Nidderdale will have the chance to reconnect with the natural heritage on their doorstep, and to make a more meaningful and more useful contribution to conserving the world around them, thanks to National Lottery players.

The Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a nationally significant landscape, incorporating striking wildlife habitats and a remarkable variety of species. The heather moorlands of the AONB are internationally important for conservation because of their rich concentration of rare plants and wildlife, and the area also includes cultural heritage sites such as Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal World Heritage sites.

The citizen science project will gather data relating to the habitats and wildlife of Nidderdale, engage people with nature, and create natural heritage action plans for nationally threatened wildlife species. It will help communities to get involved in their local natural heritage in lots of different ways, whether that is hedgehog spotting, surveying rare plants or learning new skills in natural history and nature conservation. Local people and visitors to the area will be able to have an enjoyable experience, learn something new and feel more connected to nature.

The project has the potential to make a real difference, both to species in the area and for the communities themselves. The data collected will help the team to understand how they can take targeted conservation action to best affect, and help protect the future of much-loved species, once a common sight but now increasingly threatened and rare.


Upgrade to Tree Alert pest reporting tool - Forestry Commission

Asian Longhorn Beetle (image: Forestry Commission)Asian Longhorn Beetle (image: Forestry Commission)

Tree Alert, the Forestry Commission’s on-line tool for reporting suspected tree pests and diseases of concern, has had an upgrade.

Dr John Morgan, Head of the Commission’s Plant Health Service, explained, “Tree Alert has been a valuable tool for forestry and other tree professionals and people with knowledge of trees and woods to help us monitor key pests and diseases of trees. It has enabled many people who care about Britain’s trees and woodlands, and want to help us tackle pests and diseases, to provide valuable intelligence about the location of several of concern to us. These include Chalara, acute oak decline, Ramorum disease of larch, and oak processionary moth.  It has been used to particularly good effect by the ‘Observatree’ group of trained volunteer surveyors around the country. In a very practical application of ‘citizen science’, these volunteers have used it to report suspected problems to us. This has included, notably, alerting us to an outbreak of Oriental chestnut gall wasp in sweet chestnut trees in St Albans, Hertfordshire, last summer. Without Observatree, that outbreak might not have been detected until it was a much bigger problem.

The Tree Alert on-line facility is available on the Forestry Commission website at www.forestry.gov.uk/treealert. Information about individual tree pests and diseases of concern is available at www.forestry.gov.uk/pestsanddiseases


Scientific Publications

Ives, C. D. et al (2015) Cities are hotspots for threatened species. Global Ecology and Biogeography. DOI: 10.1111/geb.12404


Swan, K. D., McPherson, J. M., Seddon, P. J. & Moehrenschlager, A. (2015) Managing marine biodiversity: The rising diversity and prevalence of marine conservation translocations. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12217


Brodie, J. F., Paxton, M., Nagulendran, K., Balamurugan, G, Clements, G. R., Reynolds, G., Jain, A. & Hon, J. (2015) Connecting science, policy, and implementation for landscape-scale habitat connectivity. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12667


Thaxter, C. B. et al (2015) Contrasting effects of GPS device and harness attachment on adult survival of Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus and Great Skuas Stercorarius skua. Ibis. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12340


Nora Fagerholm, Mario Torralba, Paul J. Burgess, Tobias Plieninger, A systematic map of ecosystem services assessments around European agroforestry, Ecological Indicators, Volume 62, March 2016, Pages 47-65, ISSN 1470-160X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.11.016.

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