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


Two whales washed up on UK shores may have been hit by ships - WDC

Two whales have been washed up on UK beaches within hours of each other, both believed to have been hit by passing ships. The first incident was reported in Scotland, when a minke whale, thought to have been killed by a boat propeller, came ashore on Easter Ross beach. The whale, which was more than three metres long, was first spotted floating by a local lifeboat who confirmed that the whale's tail was missing.
The second whale, a fully grown female minke measuring around 35 feet, was washed up on a Ministry of Defence (MOD) beach at Shoebury in England  Local coastguard officials stated that the whale may have been hit by a passing ship in the Thames Estuary.

Whales and dolphins are often unable to avoid ships and many collisions go unnoticed meaning that the number of deaths is far higher than figures suggest. Studies in recent years indicate that, for populations in certain areas, up to one third of whales found dead display signs of having died due to a collision with a boat or ship.  Severe injuries may mean that a whale dies as a result many years later, but can also have an impact on the animal’s social group.

WDC is working with international bodies and on projects to reduce vessel strikes all around the world, including in areas where whales or dolphins are particularly vulnerable. 


No appeals against National Park extension decision - Yorkshire Dales National Park

The clock has started ticking in the countdown to the enlargement of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

In October last year Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss announced that the National Park will be increased by nearly a quarter from August 1 when its boundary is extended to include a small part of Lancashire and an additional area of Cumbria.  It means the area covered by the National Park will increase by 24 per cent from 680 sq miles (1,762 sq kms) to 841 sq miles (2,179 sq kms).

The decision was subject to any legal appeal and none was lodged.

National Park Authority Chairman Peter Charlesworth said: “The fact there have been no appeals against the Government’s decision is good news.  It means we can now get on with the job of preparing for the extension of the National Park. We will be working with organisations, communities and individuals to identify their hopes and aspirations so we can find ways of meeting them while conserving the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the new areas. In the run-up to the establishment date, we will be inviting people who live and work in the area to a series of meetings so we can explain what we do and ask how best we can help them."


Wildlife Trust calls on Government to end badger cull and get vaccination programmes back on - Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust 

Last month, The Government announced that it was suspending the sourcing of BCG vaccine, used to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (Btb), for English badger vaccination schemes, that the 2015 badger culls were ‘successful in meeting their targets’ and confirmed it wants to see ‘badger control over a wider number of areas next year’, issuing new guidance to Natural England that significantly relaxes the current badger culling licence criteria.

Speaking following the announcement our Chief Executive, Rob Fitzsimons said: “The Government’s announcement has left us very exasperated. We condemn any intention to roll out the badger culls, which have been found to be repeatedly flawed in their methodology, measures and objectives, and we are urging the Government to re-establish the supply of vaccine so we can continue with our vital badger vaccination programme here in Nottinghamshire."

The Wildlife Trusts believe that culling badgers is likely to increase the bovine tuberculosis risk to cattle due to the perturbation effect, caused when disruption of otherwise stable badger social groups leads individuals to range beyond their usual territory and come into contact with neighbouring animals, increasing the risk of disease transmission.  Vaccination does not carry this risk and is the only approach that can actually reduce the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in badgers.  We are therefore extremely concerned and disappointed that circumstances have required the suspension of badger vaccination programmes in England.  Three Wildlife Trust projects currently receive Defra funding, via its Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS), including our scheme operated along the Notts Leicestershire border. There are eight other Wildlife Trust programmes in operation in England which look likely to be suspended too.  

We remain committed to the delivery of badger vaccination as one of a number of measures against TB in cattle and will resume vaccination as soon as possible.  

Mr Fitzsimons added: “We will shortly be meeting with Defra to discuss the implications of the vaccine shortage for our project and those operated by sister Wildlife Trusts. It would seem that Government has failed to plan ahead for its badger vaccine requirements – putting the efforts of charities like ours to save badgers and help farmers in jeopardy.  We recognise that there are external difficulties in supply, and of course accept the need to prioritise global human health, but Government ought to have taken action to secure critical supplies for vaccination programmes that it has initiated. We are at a loss to understand why Defra has not put in place long-term supply arrangements as like many others, our programme is part funded by Defra. We committed to delivering it in good faith and we currently feel very let down, but remain hopeful that the programme can be resumed later in the year.”


Rare butterfly threatened as 150-year-old elm targeted – Sheffield Wildlife Trust

Ben Keywood looking for White-letter Hairstreak butterfly eggs on the Elm (Sheffield Wildlife Trust)Ben Keywood looking for White-letter Hairstreak butterfly eggs on the Elm (Sheffield Wildlife Trust)

A colony of one of the rarest and most threatened species of butterfly in the UK is under threat following the controversial decision to fell a 150-year-old elm tree in Sheffield.

Residents of Nether Edge were already up in arms about plans by Sheffield City Council contractor Amey to remove the rare mature English elm from the corner of Union Road and Chelsea Road. However, a survey by experts from the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust has now confirmed that the tree is home to an extremely rare butterfly known as the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly, which a recent report shows has suffered a 96% decrease in abundance over the last 40 years.

“White-letter Hairstreaks are a UK Biodiversity Priority Species as they spend their whole lifecycle exclusively on elm trees,” said Ben Keywood, a butterfly specialist from the Trust. “The eggs will be on the tree for the next couple of months and then the caterpillars will feed on the leaves before pupating and becoming adult butterflies in July. As the species is so dependent on that single tree twelve months of the year it is difficult to carry out any work that wouldn’t destroy the colony of this high conservation priority species.”


The eyes have it – Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

A species of flatworm, so new to science it doesn’t even have a name yet, has recently been confirmed at our Attenborough Nature Reserve, near Nottingham.

Image: Nottinghamshire Wildlife TrustThe flatworm was discovered two days before the end of the year as part of a personal challenge by Tim Sexton, Assistant Manager at the Attenborough Nature Centre, to find 1,000 species on the site in just 12 months. During the challenge Tim found around 1200 species including 10 never before recorded in the county.

Image: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

Amongst the last species to be recorded was a flatworm found under a log in the Nature Centre garden. The creature looked like a small chestnut coloured slug that was lacking tentacles but its most interesting feature was that despite measuring little more than 1cm in length, it had between 50 and 60 eyes!


Otters make debut at Brockholes – Lancashire Wildlife Trust

The iconic otter has finally made a grand appearance at Lancashire’s youngest nature reserve, after teasing wildlife spotters for four years.

In fact three otters were photographed by volunteer Helen Earnshaw swimming in Number One Pit at Brockholes over the weekend.

The otters at Brockholes (Helen Earnshaw) The otters at Brockholes (Helen Earnshaw)

There were a number of sightings of a single otter in lakes around the Preston reserve over the past couple of years, but now there is proof that this wonderful mammal is adding to visitor numbers.

Brockholes Communications Manager Sarah Leach said: “We were all amazed to see Helen’s pictures of the otters. We have had a number of reports of sightings over recent years but capturing one on camera has proved difficult. To see three together, clearly enjoying themselves at Brockholes was a real treat and Helen was thrilled to bits.


WANTED: budding scientists to capture our coast – Bangor University

People with a passion for the UK’s coastline are being invited to help make history by being part of the largest coastal marine citizen science project ever undertaken.

The £1.7m Capturing Our Coast project, funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund, is designed to further our understanding of the abundance and distribution of marine life around the UK

Investigating rock pools at Penmon Point. (Bangor University)Investigating rock pools at Penmon Point. (Bangor University)

Officially launching this week, the aim of the project is to recruit and train more than 3,000 volunteers to help build a more accurate picture of the marine life all around the UK.

Collecting data about key indicator species – such as topshells – can provide information about how coastal systems are responding to factors such as increased sea temperatures. The research will help scientists to understand how the marine environment is responding to global climate change and inform future policy and conservation strategies.

Bangor University's School of Ocean Sciences are part of the national collaborative project, led by Newcastle University and also involving Hull and Portsmouth universities, the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the Marine Biological Association of the UK and the Marine Conservation Society. It also involves a number of organisations including Earthwatch Institute, the Natural History Museum, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Coastal Partnerships Network and the North West Coastal Forum.

Professor Stuart Jenkins, Principal Investigator, at Bangor University said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the public to get involved in ‘hands on’ marine science on rocky shores and at the same time find out more about the research activities of marine scientists in the UK.”


New research exposes secret cocktail of toxic pesticides in hedgerows and wildflowers – Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Scientists at Sussex University have discovered that bees are exposed to a chemical cocktail when feeding from wildflowers growing next to neonicotinoid treated crops in UK farmland. These chemical cocktails could make the impact of neonicotinoids up to 1,000 times more potent than previously realised.

One in 10 species of Europe's wild bees is facing extinction, and neonicotinoid insecticides are increasingly seen as contributing to these declines.  In addition to neonicotinoids, farmers may spray some non-organic crops a dozen or more times while they are growing, with anything up to 23 different chemicals. 

New research by Sussex University and supported by the Soil Association reveals that pollinators consuming pollen from these crops or from nearby wildflowers will ingest a cocktail of fungicides and insecticides. A prior study suggests these fungicides could act synergistically, making the insecticides up to 1,000 times more deadly than they are on their own.

Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association said: “These findings are shocking. Neonicotinoids are supposedly highly targeted insecticides yet the researchers have found that they are turning up in the pollen of poppies, blackberries and hawthorn blossom in hedges, at levels that on their own are enough to cause harm to bees. Worse still, they are present along with a whole cocktail of chemicals, some of which could increase the toxicity of neonicotinoids up to 1,000 times.”


Trust set for radical changes – National Trust for Scotland

The National Trust for Scotland has today (Tuesday 12 January) announced bold proposals to transform the way it cares for Scotland’s natural, built and cultural heritage.

The announcement follows a review of the 85-year old charity led by the Board of Trustees, Chairman Sir Moir Lockhead and Chief Executive Simon Skinner.
The Trust proposes to re-shape itself around a number of pivotal priorities over the next three to four years:

  • Advancing conservation as a cause that displays the benefits and widens the appeal of heritage to many more people in Scotland;
  • Significant levels of new investment in key properties in order to deliver world-class visitor experiences in terms of facilities, interpretation, enjoyment and engagement;
  • Attracting more visitors and providing opportunities to increase income to fund investment in conservation; 
  • Focusing accountability and decision-making at property level, closer to members and local communities;
  • Reducing running costs by 10%.

In order to free up the skills and resources needed to turn the plans into reality, the Trust proposes a thorough re-configuration. This starts at the top with the Trust’s leadership and with layers of management being simplified.


48 cross-sector organisations unite to call for a UK Charter for Trees, Woods and People  - Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is leading 47* organisations in a campaign to celebrate the value of our trees and woods and secure their future by creating a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People.

Charter for Trees, Wood and PeopleThe new charter will be launched in November 2017, which marks 800 years since Henry lll signed the original Charter of the Forest. This influential charter protected and restored the rights of people to access and use the Royal Forests. 

Today, our nation's woods and trees are facing unprecedented pressures from development, pests and diseases and climate change. They risk being neglected, undervalued and forgotten.  Now is the time to create a new charter, a broader charter that recognises the importance of trees in our society, celebrates their enormous contribution to our lives, and acts now so that future generations can benefit from them too. 

The coalition's ambition is that the principles set out in the 2017 charter will articulate the relationship between people and trees in the UK in the 21st century.  The charter will provide guidance and inspiration for policy, practice, innovation and enjoyment. Redefining the everyday benefits that we all gain from woods and trees in our lives, for everyone, from Government to businesses, communities and individuals. 


Find out more on the Tree Charter website:

People and trees are stronger together – but our nation’s woods and trees are facing unprecedented pressures from development, disease and climate change. They risk being neglected, undervalued and forgotten. We need to act now before trees disappear from our story.

It’s time for us to stick up for trees.

We need to recognise the importance of trees in our society, celebrate their enormous contribution to our lives, and act now so that future generations can benefit too. The Woodland Trust is leading more than 35 organisations from across all sectors of society in a call to create a Charter for Trees, Woods and People and we need your help to make it possible.


Code of practice for species control provisions in Wales - Welsh Government

We seek your views on a draft code of practice for Wales on new species control provisions.

As a result of changes brought in by the Infrastructure Act 2015 new species control provisions are now contained in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. These provisions have been introduced to ensure that, in certain circumstances, appropriate action can be taken against invasive non-native species.

Welsh Ministers and Natural Resources Wales have new powers requiring owners to control invasive non-native species, or allow them to do so where an owner has refused to act or allow access.  Provisions may also be applied to formerly resident native animals where they have been released unlawfully.

Consultation ends: 05/04/2016

Click through to review the documents and submit your comments.


Screening technique to reinforce fight against ash dieback - University of York

Researchers at the University of York led a pioneering study which opens up a new front in the battle against a disease affecting ash trees across Europe.

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Credit: flickr/AJC ajcann.wordpress.com (CC-BY-SA-2.0)Ash (Fraxinus excelsior). Credit: flickr/AJC ajcann.wordpress.com (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

The research identified genetic markers to predict whether specific trees in populations of ash will succumb to the disease or are able to tolerate and survive a fungal pathogen that is causing ash dieback.

The technology could help to maintain the ash tree as part of the UK landscape through pre-screening of individual tree seedlings to identify non disease-susceptible individuals before they are planted out.

Across Europe, the European ash Fraxinus excelsior is being seriously affected by ash dieback with only around two per cent of trees surviving in areas where the disease is well established. The disease was first discovered in the UK in 2012 and is progressing much as expected. In addition to the 157,000 hectares of ash woodland in the UK, the 12 million ash trees outside those areas -- in parklands, gardens, hedgerows and along roads for example -- are also at risk.

The research was jointly funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as part of the Nornex consortium project to develop a long-term solution to the ash dieback threat.

Using a population of selected trees with diverse susceptibility, the researchers sequenced their RNA to identify genes whose sequence and expression levels are correlated with disease symptoms. This allowed the scientists to identify gene markers that are correlated with low susceptibility to ash dieback disease. Using a second population of trees, they used these gene markers to successfully predict which of the trees were likely to have a low level of susceptibility to the fungal pathogen Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. 

Access the paper. Andrea L. Harper et al. Molecular markers for tolerance of European ash (Fraxinus excelsior) to dieback disease identified using Associative Transcriptomics. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 19335 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep19335


Stewart: New plans to save England’s hen harriers - DEFRA

Details of a new six point action plan published today (Thursday 14 January) to help the recovery of England's hen harrier populations.

A hen harrier in flight (image: defra)A hen harrier in flight (Defra)

Plans to help revive the hen harrier, one of England’s most iconic birds, have been published today as part of the government’s ongoing commitment to preserve and enhance our nation’s natural environment.

As a bird of prey, hen harriers make an important contribution to our intricate ecosystem – and are a well-loved feature of our skyline, but in recent years their numbers have dropped.

The Hen Harrier Action Plan will for the first time co-ordinate action already taken by conservation groups, landowners and wildlife crime officers across the country to ensure a consistent and strategic approach. The plan will also encourage groups to share best practice to help reverse the decline of these precious birds.

Environment Minister Rory Stewart said: “This new plan will transform the fate of one of our most magnificent birds. We are working closely with conservation organisations and landowners and with their help, this plan will help hen harriers flourish once more while coexisting with a thriving rural economy. Our wildlife is a crucial part of our national identity. That’s why we care deeply about protecting this vital species for future generations to come.”

The plan was developed by Defra in conjunction with the RSPB, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, National Parks UK. Natural England will lead on the six point plan, working with organisations to:

  • Monitor hen harrier numbers in England and the UK via satellite tagging and tracking;
  • Share best practice with land managers and gamekeepers, encouraging the provision of food for birds of prey;
  • Work closely with the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) to analyse intelligence on persecution and deliver more effective enforcement and deterrence measures;
  • Monitor and protect nests and winter roosts from disturbance and destruction;
  • Work with landowners to reintroduce hen harriers to suitable areas in the South of England;
  • Scope out feasibility for trialling brood management.

Some of these actions, like monitoring and sharing best practice, are already underway at known nesting sites, such as in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire. Other actions, such as trialling brood management, will be looked into by Natural England which will work closely with partners to determine criteria for a field trial.

Read the Joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population here


BASC welcomes publication of the Hen Harrier Action Plan

BASC, the UK’s largest shooting organisation, has welcomed the publication by Defra today of the Hen Harrier Action Plan.

Tim Russell, BASC Director of Conservation said: “Everyone who shoots should welcome this plan to ensure the success of an iconic species. I congratulate those involved for producing it and offer BASC’s support for the difficult process of implementation. Working together will always do more for our birds.”

Mike Sherman, Vice Chairman of BASC, said: “For the last twelve years BASC has advocated a form of brood management and reintroduction as the key to resolving conflicts, building confidence and ensuring the future of hen harriers. We will continue to work to see this achieved.”


New plans to save England’s hen harriers - Moorland Association

Director of the Moorland Association, Amanda Anderson, commented following Defra’s announcement: : “We are delighted that the Recovery Plan has been launched to help Hen Harriers breed sustainably across their former range in England. The plan contains exciting new actions that we are looking forward to working on with others to ensure they are successful.” 


RSPB response to the Hen Harrier Action Plan - Martin Harper blog, RSPB Community


Green light for North Yorkshire coastal path - Natural England

New coastal paths have been approved from Filey Brigg to Newport Bridge and Dunball Wharf to and St Audries Bay.

The longest single section of coastal path ever to be approved has been given the green light by Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss today, giving walkers access to nearly 70 miles of stunning sea views between Filey Brigg in North Yorkshire and Middlesbrough’s Newport Bridge.

Once works are complete, the new path will stretch around the coast of North-East England along the edge of the North York Moors National Park, passing through Scarborough, Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby before ending at Middlesbrough’s iconic bridge across the River Tees.

Coastal paths play an important role in attracting visitors to explore rural and coastal communities, meaning more trade for local shops, pubs and hotels which contributes to the UK’s booming £11billion tourism industry.

The Environment Secretary also approved plans to alter the route at Dunball Wharf and St Audries Bay, part of the Somerset coastal path covering the stretch between Brean Down and Minehead, to provide in one place an alternative route so that walkers can avoid the need for a descent from the clifftop to the beach.

The approval of plans for further coastal paths follow the latest milestone in the delivery of one of the world’s longest walkways in December, when Minister Stewart announced the half-way point in government plans to complete a path around the whole of the English coast. Set for completion in 2020, the England Coast Path will stretch across 2700 miles of walking routes, covering 100% of the country.


Bringing life back to The Broads - Natural England

New funding is set to transform the iconic Hoveton Great Broad in Norfolk into a clear water haven for wildlife.

Hoveton Great Broad, Norfolk © Natural EnglanHoveton Great Broad, Norfolk © Natural England

The Hoveton Wetlands Restoration Project will ambitiously restore one of the large shallow lakes in The Broads that give the famous area its name.

The project has been awarded:

  • almost £2 million by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which recognises the important role it will play in significantly improving both the ecological condition of the broad and the access to it
  • just over £2 million from LIFE - the EU funding programme for the environment and climate action

Rick Southwood, Natural England’s Senior Reserve Manager for The Broads said: " Ecologically, Hoveton Great Broad is in poor condition, due to decades of nutrient enrichment from the surrounding catchment. However, thanks to considerable investment by the water companies and improving farming practices, the quality of water coming in from the adjacent River Bure has improved significantly and the time is now right to carry out in-lake restoration works. "

Working with the Environment Agency and the Hoveton Estate, the project will: significantly improve the ecological condition of Hoveton Great Broad and improve people’s enjoyment of the site


Banned pollutants threaten Europe’s remaining orcas - ZSL

Killer whales are facing the threat of extinction in European waters as a result of lingering toxic chemicals banned as far back as the 1980s, according to research led by international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and published today (Thursday 14 January) in the journal Scientific Reports.

Stranded killer whale, © ZSLStranded killer whale, © ZSL

The research, based on long-term studies of more than 1,000 stranded or biopsied whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – found that the blubber of killer whales (Orcinus orca), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) in Europe contain among the highest concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the planet. 

PCBs are a group of man-made chemicals previously used in the manufacture of products including electrical equipment, flame retardants and paints. High exposure to PCBs is known to weaken cetacean immune systems and markedly reduce breeding success by causing abortions or high mortality in newborn calves.

Dr Paul Jepson, lead author and specialist wildlife veterinarian at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, said: “The long life expectancy and position as apex or top marine predators make species like killer whales and bottlenose dolphins particularly vulnerable to the accumulation of PCBs through marine food webs. Our findings show that, despite the ban and initial decline in environmental contamination, PCBs still persist at dangerously high levels in European cetaceans.” 


Scientific Publications

Tanentzap, Andrew J., Walker, Susan & Theo, R. T.  Better practices for reporting on conservation.  Conservation Letters  DOI: 10.1111/conl.12229


Orford, Katherine A., Murray, Phil J., Vaughan, Ian P. & Memmott, Jane. Modest enhancements to conventional grassland diversity improve the provision of pollination services. Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12608


De Keersmaecker, W. et al (2016) Species-rich semi-natural grasslands have a higher resistance but a lower resilience than intensively managed agricultural grasslands in response to climate anomalies. Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12595


Sorensen, M. C, Asghar, M., Bensch, S., Fairhurst, G. D.,  Jenni-Eiermann, S. & Spottiswoode, C. N. (2016) A rare study from the wintering grounds provides insight into the costs of malaria infection for migratory birds. Journal of Avian Biology. DOI: 10.1111/jav.00870


Helmstedt, K. J. et al (2016) Prioritizing eradication actions on islands: it's not all or nothing. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12599


Alexandre Roulin. Strong decline in the consumption of invertebrates by Barn Owls from 1860 to 2012 in Europe. Bird Study  DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2015.1125440


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