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


RSPB and Ecotricity to build new wind turbine in green energy partnership 

Work begins in Sandy, Bedfordshire on Monday 25 January, and the 100 metre tall wind turbine will generate around two million units of green energy every year, equivalent to over half of the electricity the RSPB uses across its 127 UK locations.

With this one wind turbine, Europe’s largest nature conservation charity, in partnership with Ecotricity, will reduce carbon emissions by up to 800 tonnes every year.

Martin Harper, RSPB’s director of conservation, said: “Climate change is the single biggest threat to our planet. This is about our birds and wildlife as well as our way of life. Around the world, and even in the UK, we can already see how these changes are affecting wildlife, the places where they live as well as damage to our homes and disruptions to the economy. It is down to everyone to play their part. In the UK, we have the potential to generate a significant portion, if not all, of our electricity from sustainable sources. This will take time and it will take investment. So I am proud to say the RSPB continues to back words with actions to show we are serious about tackling the threat of climate change with our biggest single renewable energy project yet.”

The new turbine is the latest development in a growing portfolio of RSPB projects that are making the charity more energy efficient and greener. The RSPB has aligned its carbon emissions reduction ambitions with the 2008 Climate Change Act, which includes a legal duty for 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emission by 2050. 

To achieve this, since 2007, the RSPB has set out a target to reduce its carbon emissions by 3% per person per year to 2020 as the first phase towards this ambition. Over the last few years, the RSPB has invested in energy conservation, photovoltaic (PV) roof systems, wind power, solar thermal collectors, ground source heat pumps, biomass generators and more to achieve this target.

Ecotricity, in partnership with the RSPB, completed three years of detailed ecological and environmental research to confirm that the location is a suitable site for a wind turbine before presenting final plans to the local Planning Authority.


National Park Grant Protected for next four Years - Dartmoor National Park

In the 2015 Spending Review the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the funding for National Parks and AONBs (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) would be protected.  The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have just confirmed that the protection will be in real terms and that there will be additional funding for the recently announced extensions of the Yorkshire dales and Lake District National Park.  The announcement means that Dartmoor National Park Authority now has a protected grant settlement for the financial years 2016/17 to 2019/20.

Peter Harper, Chairman of Dartmoor National Park said: “We have just received confirmation that our budget will be protected for the next four years (2016/17 – 2019/20).  This is excellent news for the Authority, those who live and work in the National Park and the millions of people who visit the National Park.  I would like to record my thanks to our Minister Rory Stewart OBE MP and the Secretary of State Liz Truss for their personal support and confidence in the work we do.

After five years of deep cuts that saw our income decline by over 40 per cent we now face a period of financial stability that will provide an opportunity to plan ahead and re-focus our efforts on sustaining the National Park for the benefit of current and future generations


Lancashire County Council threatens to abandon its countryside service - Open Spaces Society

We are dismayed that Lancashire County Council has said that it will cease to provide and maintain its countryside sites in two years’ time. We have responded to the council’s consultation on the future of the countryside services beyond April 2018

Of course we understand that the council faces massive cuts, stated to be £262 million over the next five years, but we consider it a false economy to stop investing in the country parks and green spaces.

Wycoller and Beacon Fell country parks are the council’s flagships, and there are numerous other sites, close to urban areas, which provide health and happiness to thousands of people. We believe that if these cease to be available and maintained it will have a devastating effect on the well-being of the population.

People need green spaces and open countryside now more than ever, especially those which are close to home. They provide income to the county and health benefits to its people. The service manages teams of volunteers who are able to expand the work of the county council; it would be tragic if their energy and enthusiasm were to be lost.


Heritage Lottery Boost for Red Squirrel Project – Scottish Wildlife Trust

Leading environmental charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, has received initial support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels’ Developing Community Action project.

The project aims to develop a network of active voluntary red squirrel conservation groups. This is part of the programme of red squirrel protection work required to secure the long-term survival of the remaining core red squirrel populations across Scotland.

Development funding of £37,800 has also been awarded to help the Scottish Wildlife Trust progress their plans to apply for a full grant of £2.46 million at a later date.

The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project has been running for the last seven years, led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage, Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, RSPB Scotland and the Red Squirrel Survival Trust.

Through a seven-year trial the innovative partnership has established that it is possible to halt the decline of red squirrels via co-ordinated grey squirrel control. Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Developing Community Action will craft a sustainable programme to deliver this work over the long-term creating communities and landowner networks that are motivated and capable of acting together to protect red squirrels in their local area.

Project Manager of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Dr Mel Tonkin, said: “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. Our work over the last seven years has shown that it is possible to reverse the decline of our much-loved red squirrels and safeguard them for future generations, but to do this we need to keep up the protection work for a long time to come.”


The Environment Secretary has visited a GWCT Farmer Cluster - GWCT

The Environment Secretary, Elizabeth Truss, has visited a farm in Hampshire to see how Farmer Clusters are working together to deliver positive conservation at landscape scale.

Using a ‘bottom-up’ approach, these Farmer Clusters, under the guidance of a lead farmer, are trying to help wildlife on a landscape scale rather than single farms working alone. With government funding, and support and advice from Natural England (NE), the Game & Wildlife Image: GWCTConservation Trust (GWCT) launched a pilot group of five Farmer Clusters in early 2012. Since then, the project has gone from strength to strength, now boasting 22 Clusters. Those that weren’t part of the original pilot group have set up voluntarily with no funding, showing just how much the project means to them.

Image: GWCT

The Environment Secretary joined staff from the GWCT, NE and the South Downs National Park Authority to visit just one of these new clusters, The Selborne Landscape Partnership, comprising 11 farmers and covering 10,000 acres of land.

The group discussed how the Partnership has been working to conserve harvest mice, barn owls, wildflowers and several butterfly species, including the brown hairstreak and the Duke of Burgundy. The Cluster are particularly proud of their harvest mice, which have been rediscovered on their land, 25 years after the last sighting. The finding is doubly special as it was in Selborne that harvest mice were first identified as a separate species, by the naturalist Gilbert White in 1767.


BSBI New Year Plant Hunt 2016 finds an unprecedented number of wildflowers in bloom – Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland

The results are in for BSBI’s fifth New Year Plant Hunt, when wildflower enthusiasts across Britain and Ireland head out over the holidays to see what is in bloom in their local patch.

More than 850 plant-lovers spent up to three hours between 1st and 4th January hunting for wild plants in flower and contributed to these amazing results: · A total of 8,568 records of plants in bloom across Britain and Ireland. · A stunning 612 different species flowering, compared to 368 last year. · We received more than 400 lists from individuals, families and botanical recording groups. Ryan Clark, who co-ordinated the New Year Plant Hunt this year, said “It was astonishing to see so many records flooding in, from Guernsey to Shetland and Kent to Donegal.

As expected, the milder south and west of Britain had the highest numbers of species in flower, but we also had more than 60 species reported blooming in Edinburgh. Lists from Ireland also had consistently high numbers of plants in flower at New Year”. Does the number of plants flowering this New Year herald an early spring? BSBI’s Head of Science Dr Kevin Walker said “There does not seem to be any real indication of an early spring. Although spring-flowering specialists, such as Lesser Celandine, Cow Parsley and Sweet Violet, were widely recorded, they make up less than a fifth of the total. “At least three quarters of the plants recorded were ‘Autumn Stragglers’ like Yarrow, Red Campion and Red Dead-nettle that had carried on flowering in the absence of a hard frost. The two most commonly recorded plants were Daisy and Dandelion – which we would expect to be flowering at this time of year.”


Diverse migration helps birds cope with environmental change – University of East Anglia

Migratory birds that are ‘set in their ways’ could be more vulnerable to environmental impacts – according to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Many species of migratory birds are in decline as a result of human impacts such as climate change and habitat loss.

New research published today (26 January) reveals why some species are more vulnerable than others.Wood Warbler (University of East Anglia)

Wood Warbler (University of East Anglia)

It shows that species that migrate to a more diverse range of winter locations during their non-breeding season – such as White Storks, Marsh Harriers and Reed Warblers - are less likely to suffer population decline.

However species that tend to ‘funnel’ into smaller areas during the winter – such as Turtle Doves and Wood Warblers - have been more vulnerable to declining numbers, caused by human impacts.

Lead researcher Dr James Gilroy from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences said: “Birds are well-known for their remarkable long-distance migrations, often involving extreme feats of navigation and endurance. Unfortunately, many migratory birds are in decline, and there is an urgent need to understand what determines their vulnerability to human impacts. We wanted to know whether ‘migratory diversity’ - the variability of migratory behaviour within species - plays a role in determining their population trends.”

Read the paper here: Gilroy, J. J., Gill, J. A., Butchart, S. H. M., Hones, V. R. & Franco, A. M. A. (2016) Migratory diversity predicts population declines in birds. Ecology Letters. DOI: 10.1111/ele.12569


Don't blame grey squirrels: their British invasion had much more to do with us - Imperial College London

Image: Imperial College LondonDNA profiling reveals grey squirrels are not as good invaders as we think, and that humans played a much larger role in spreading them through the UK.

Grey squirrels were imported to the UK from the 1890s onwards, and the traditional view is that they spread rapidly across the UK due to their ability cope with new landscapes. Different populations of grey squirrels were thought to have interbred into a ‘supersquirrel’ that was better able to adapt and spread.

Image: Imperial College London

However, new research shows greys may not be as hardy as once thought, and were helped much more by humans in their conquest of the British Isles. Dr Lisa Signorile compiled a DNA database of nearly 1,500 grey squirrels in the UK and Italy during her PhD studies at Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London.

She was able to show that different squirrel populations are still genetically distinct, meaning they did not interbreed much and did not create a supersquirrel. The difference between populations also means Dr Signorile and coauthors were able to trace where populations in new areas had come from.

In many cases, new populations of grey squirrels are not related to nearby populations, and instead have come from a long way away. The only way they could have travelled so far was by human intervention. For example, the population in Aberdeen is most closely related to populations in Hampshire, around the New Forest area.

“It has been thought since the 1930s that grey squirrels were all the same, spreading across the country as one invasion front. After a century, genetics has proved that this isn’t correct. They are not that good at breeding and mixing – in fact there are clear signs of inbreeding,” said Dr Signorile. “Grey squirrels are not as crazy invaders as we think – their spread is far more our own fault.”

Read the paper here: Signorile, A. L et al (2016) Using DNA profiling to investigate human-mediated translocations of an invasive species. Biological Conservation. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2015.12.026


Shark hotspots ‘tracked’ by fishing vessels - Marine Biological Association

Significant geographic overlap between ‘hotspots’ of oceanic shark distribution and fishing activity is reported in a new study.

Tens of millions of ocean-dwelling sharks are caught by fishing each year, and catch rates have declined significantly for many species, yet oceanic shark fishing remains largely unregulated. A lack of data on where sharks are likely to encounter fishing vessels hampers current conservation efforts.

An international team of researchers from the UK, Portugal, Spain and U.S.A. tracked more than 100 sharks from six different species by satellite across the entire North Atlantic, one of the most heavily exploited oceans. Concurrent with the shark tracking, the scientists tracked 186 Spanish and Portuguese longline fishing vessels using GPS to quantify the overlap in space and time.

“Many studies have tracked sharks, and many studies have tracked fishing vessels, but fine-scale tracking of sharks and fishing vessels together is lacking, even though this should better inform how shark fisheries should be regulated,” says Professor David Sims of the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK, the senior author of the study

Read the paper here: Queiroz, N. et al (2016) Ocean-wide tracking of pelagic sharks reveals extent of overlap with longline fishing hotspots. PNAS. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1510090113


Minister Approves Plans To Safeguard National Park - Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park

Initial plans for investment in improved camping unveiled    

The Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod, has approved camping management proposals that cover 3.7% of Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. The proposals put forward by The Park Authority aim to protect the Park’s world-class environment by addressing damage caused by overuse and antisocial behaviour around the Park’s busiest lochshores.  

The National Park Authority collected years of evidence to support its proposals and found that, despite increased ranger and police efforts, serious problems ranging from widespread litter and fire-damage, to abandonment of entire campsites were continuing to blight the Park’s outstanding natural beauty.

Local residents are also celebrating today’s announcement, which will introduce three new ‘camping management zones’ at West Loch Lomond, Trossachs (West) and Trossachs (North).

The existing zone at East Loch Lomond – where investment, education and enforcement has had a transformative effect in addressing antisocial behaviour – will see a slight adjustment to its suite of measures for consistency and ease of communication.        

Richard Graham, Chairman of St Fillans Community Council said: “This is great news, not only for the communities who have had to put up with environmental degradation and antisocial behaviour for years, but also for the visitors who have been put off spending time in these ‘no go’ zones. We’ve seen the restorative effect that dealing with the similar issues had on East Loch Lomond and look forward to seeing families, responsible campers and visitors return to areas like ours, which have been blighted by these problems for too long.” 


Floodplain management: reducing flood risks and restoring healthy ecosystems - European Environment Agency

Image © André Künzelmann/UFZImage © André Künzelmann/UFZ

Floodplains once covered wide stretches along European rivers, but today only fractions of them remain. These ecosystems have an important role to play in reducing flood risks and are also the natural habitat of many endangered species. A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) provides an overview of significant floods in Europe and looks at the role of floodplains in flood protection, water management and nature conservation. Floodplains once covered wide stretches along European rivers, but today only fractions of them remain. These ecosystems have an important role to play in reducing flood risks and are also the natural habitat of many endangered species. A new report by the European Environment Agency (EEA) provides an overview of significant floods in Europe and looks at the role of floodplains in flood protection, water management and nature conservation.

By retaining water, floodplains can buffer the effects of heavy rainfall and in this way protect economic activities and communities further downstream from flood damage. However, many former natural floodplains are under increased pressure from urban sprawl, infrastructure developments and agriculture. In Europe, up to 90% of floodplains have been lost during the past centuries or are no longer able to serve as functioning natural ecosystems providing flood risk reduction and habitats favouring a high biodiversity.

The EEA report ‘Flood risks and environmental vulnerability — Exploring the synergies between floodplain restoration, water policies and thematic policies’ draws upon information published in the European flood impact database which covers floods reported between 1980 and 2010. The report highlights the benefits of an integrated approach to flood risk management and argues that a coordinated implementation of EU legislation, such as the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Birds and Habitats Directives and the Floods Directive through coherent measures and actions, would enhance the effectiveness of the policies.

The restoration of healthy ecosystems, for example through the Natura 2000 networks, is often a very effective way of preventing and mitigating floods. Even when 'hard' flood defences, such as dykes, are necessary to protect communities, those measures should be complemented with long-term nature-based solutions such as floodplain restoration. By 'greening the grey' and making a network of green infrastructures, the necessary protection levels can be combined with a minimum loss of habitats and a good preservation of ecosystem services.


Scottish Saltmarsh Survey report published - Scottish Natural Heritage

Results from Scotland’s first comprehensive national survey of an important coastal habitat have been published today (Thursday 28/1/16) by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

The three-year long Scottish Saltmarsh Survey, a joint project between the two agencies, has mapped in detail, and assessed the condition of, all known saltmarshes larger than three hectares or longer than 500 metres across the Scottish mainland and offshore islands.

Professor Stewart Angus of SNH, who managed the project, said:  “The Scottish Saltmarsh Survey report gives us a really valuable ‘snapshot’ of a habitat that is likely to change considerably in coming years as a result of climate change. We now have detailed mapped information on four of Scotland’s most important coastal habitats – saltmarsh, machair, dune and shingle – known as ‘soft coasts’. This work also helps the Scottish Government to meet its European reporting obligations.”

Saltmarshes are important coastal habitats which provide us with a range of natural services. They help to filter and regulate water, provide defences against flooding and they act as a valuable carbon sink. Saltmarshes also provide a refuge and food for a range of breeding, wintering and migrating birds.  Saltmarsh vegetation can help scientists to assess changes in land use and management, and help understand how people are affecting the coastal environment. It can also allow changes in climate and coastal biodiversity to be detected reliably into the future.

Throughout the project the condition of saltmarsh was assessed against UK targets, which are set at a high level, beyond that which is needed to achieve Favourable Condition under the European Habitats Directive.

The report finds that the main reasons why some sites didn’t meet the targets set related to the presence of manmade structures, such as embankments, and a lack of transition habitats between the saltmarsh and land. These are issues which are not easily addressed through site management. Negative impacts of grazing were recorded more frequently on non-designated sites.  

Access the SNH Commissioned Report 786: Scottish saltmarsh survey report 


Pagham coastal spit: planning application to protect housing in West Sussex - Natural England

Natural England says it won’t block a planning application to cut through the spit at Pagham, West Sussex.  

Natural England met local residents in Pagham to confirm it won’t block the planning application submitted by Pagham Parish Council to protect houses from erosion along this dynamic stretch of coastline.

The growth in recent years of the coastal spit at Pagham in West Sussex has led to increased erosion of the beach and subsequent risk of erosion and flooding to nearby properties. The local community has campaigned for their preferred option to cut a channel through the spit to decrease erosion at Pagham beach.

Natural England’s area manager James Seymour met community representatives in Pagham today (28 January) to share the revised advice Natural England is providing for both Arun and Chichester district councils and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) ‘the planning authorities’.

Natural England recognises the significant problems posed by the coastal erosion at Pagham and understand how distressing and difficult it is for those who are affected. Natural England is committed to helping the community in any way that it can to support their search for a solution that ensures protection of properties and the unique environment of Pagham.  Natural England clarified its advice from earlier this month to make it clear that it can work with the community and authorities to deal with any environmental reasons why planning permission cannot be sought, and help the authorities work through the legal process needed to support a legally robust decision.

During the meeting Mr Seymour also reassured residents the consultation regarding a potential new marine Special Protection Area (SPA) for foraging terns within the Solent and along the Dorset coast, will not make it harder to get planning permission, as this is already being taken into account.  Mr Seymour praised the hard work of the community’s representatives, their consultants, the local authorities and Environment Agency in considering and identifying solutions to protect the wildlife of the area, whilst progressing with the option preferred by the local community to cut a channel through the spit to decrease erosion at Pagham beach.


Dark Skies application submitted! - South Downs National Park

Our Ranger Dark-skies-Dan and his group of dedicated volunteers have spent the past three years mapping out the quality of night skies across the National Park. He’s also attended countless parish, town and county council meetings to develop policies that will help protect our skies.

All of this in preparation for our bid to get parts of the South Downs Named as an International Dark Skies Reserve. You’ve played your part too. Thank you to everyone who backed our bid by signing up to our Dark Skies Pledge.

We are really excited to announce that the bid has now been submitted to the International Dark-Sky Association.


Rare plant saved from extinction - Natural Resources Wales

A rare meadow plant with striking blue flowers has been brought back from extinction in the wild in Wales.

Meadow Clary in flower (image: NRW)Meadow Clary in flower (image: NRW)

The last surviving wild population of Meadow Clary in Wales, at a site in Monmouthshire, was dying out. But before it became extinct here, seeds were collected and grown at Treborth Botanic Gardens in Bangor, North Wales. This gave Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and its partners a chance to study the plant and understand why it was in decline.  This discovered that the Meadow Clary population at the Rectory Meadow Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Monmouthshire had dwindled due to genetic deterioration. The plants were unable to sustain the population.  The National Botanic Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire then studied various populations of Meadow Clary, found at only 22 locations across the UK.  Results showed that the germination of the Welsh plant wasn’t as good as other larger and healthier populations.  A plan to cross-pollinate the Monmouthshire plants with others from England and to limit cattle grazing at the site was created.

NRW has produced a short film to explain the work, and also created a photo album.

  rescued tawny owl, image: RSPCA 

Ending the week on an "aw" story!

He just flue in! Tawny owl rescued after getting stuck in chimney - RSPCA

A plucky tawny owl had to be rescued by the RSPCA after he fell down a chimney and got stuck.

rescued tawny owl, image: RSPCA

In a scene worthy of Harry Potter, the owl had got himself trapped in a log burner of a house in Vicarage Lane, in Neston, Cheshire, on Tuesday evening (26 January).

RSPCA inspector Anthony Joynes, who helped to free the owl, said: “He was properly jammed in there and the only way I could get him out was to remove him very delicately.  I took him straight to a vet, where it was found that he had got soot in his eyes. The vet found that he had ulcers in both eyes caused by soot rubbing under his eyelids. This meant that I could not immediately release him back to the wild, as owls rely on their eyesight for hunting. He is now being treated at the RSPCA’s Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre. I am hoping that I personally will get to release him in the near future when his eyes have healed.


Scientific papers:

Suykerbuyk W. et al (2016) Unpredictability in seagrass restoration: analysing the role of positive feedback and environmental stress on Zostera noltii transplants. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12614


Bennett, Nathan James. Use of perceptions to improve conservation and environmental management. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12681 


Jinhong Luo & Lutz Wiegrebe.  Biomechanical control of vocal plasticity in an echolocating bat. Journal of Experimental Biology 2016 : doi: 10.1242/jeb.134957


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