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


WDC bids farewell to Kessock Centre

After detailed discussions lasting over a year, WDC has made the decision not to renew the lease at the Dolphin and Seal Centre (DSC) at North Kessock from the end of the 2015 season. 

WDC have run this small, satellite centre since 2007 and during those years it has been a great place to tell visitors to the Inverness area about WDC and the bottlenose dolphins in the Kessock channel and at Chanonry Point. We would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all our supporters, volunteers and visitors who have been to the Centre over the years. 

However, visitor behaviour is changing. This has dramatically lowered footfall at the DSC; it is situated opposite a tourist information centre and, as more tourists use the internet to plan their holidays, fewer people visit information centres like these. This, coupled with the increased interest in Chanonry Point, has resulted in visitor numbers being down by 45%, despite an increase in marketing by WDC. 

As a registered charity, we have to use our funds wisely, and feel it would be more beneficial to have a flexible staff member who can spend more time interacting with the public at places like Chanonry Point. There have been no redundancies caused by the closure and the decision will also give WDC more scope to visit schools and attend community events in the Inverness area, and set up talks at the nearby marina to promote responsible behaviour around dolphins. We hope to gain some external funding for this work and for it to begin in late spring 2016. This plan will enable us to work more flexibly, and without the fixed costs that running the Kessock Centre includes.

The Scottish Dolphin Centre  is unaffected by these changes.


Seabirds prosper as local people and conservationists come together to make St Agnes and Gugh rat-free - RSPB

 On Saturday 13 February St Agnes and Gugh in the Isles of Scilly will have been declared officially rat-free after passing a thorough month-long inspection two years after the last signs of rat activity were spotted.Manx shearwater, one of the birds now breeding on St Agnes and Gugh (Image: Steve Round, RSPB)

Manx shearwater, one of the birds now breeding on St Agnes and Gugh (Image: Steve Round, RSPB) 

This is the world’s largest community-led project to restore seabird populations by removal of rats.  Local volunteers worked with conservationists from the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project and island restoration specialists Wildlife Management International Ltd (WMIL) to rid their islands of the non-native rats that were killing seabirds. The project to remove the invasive species has been a huge success and benefitted from essential support from EU LIFE and the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as local organisations.  

Work began in 2013 with an intensive six-month operation to monitor rat activity on the islands. WMIL worked with over 30 local volunteers to find rat nests and signs of activity. This information was used to create a strategy for eradicating the rat population, with an intensive programme of baiting and poisoning for a month in the winter.   Baiting started on 8 November 2013 and continued every day, as the days passed the amount of bait taken was monitored. And by the end of the month the last evidence of rats was observed. Treatment and community projects continued, but no further rat activity was detected.  

The specialists returned at the beginning of the year to check for any signs that rats might still be present on the islands. Having completed this follow-up survey St Agnes and Gugh now meet the international criteria to be declared rat-free.  

Since the removal of the rat population, the project team has observed both Manx shearwaters European storm petrels successfully breeding on the islands for the first time in living memory, with over 40 chicks being recorded on the islands in the last two years. 

Jaclyn Pearson from the RSPB, who manages the project said: “Getting to this stage is a fantastic achievement and everyone involved is delighted that the islands are now officially rat free. This, and the recovery of the seabirds so early on, is testament to the hard work of the team and the 100% support from the local community. We look forward to continuing to work with the community for the next two years of the project and beyond.” 

Elizabeth Bell, Senior Ecologist, Wildlife Management International Ltd says: “The eradication of non-native brown rats from St Agnes and Gugh demonstrates that the techniques of ground-based bait station operations can be successfully utilised on inhabited islands throughout the UK and the world.”


Position statement: the future of beavers in Scotland - Scottish Wildlife Trust & RZSS

Position Statement from Scottish Wildlife Trust and Royal Zoological Society of Scotland on the Scottish Government decision concerning the future status of the Eurasian beaver in Scotland

As the two lead partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust believe that the Eurasian beaver should be fully recognised by the Scottish Government as a resident, native species in Scotland.

It is now eight months since Scottish Natural Heritage delivered its Beavers in Scotland report to the Scottish Government, outlining four possible future scenarios for the beaver in Scotland. We are firmly of the view, supported by extensive scientific evidence, that beavers will be a key asset to Scotland and are now urging the Scottish Government not to delay any longer in making a positive decision on the restoration of this species to Scotland.

We believe augmenting and managing the current population in Tayside and beaver families in mid-Argyll is urgently needed to secure the genetic health and long-term viability of these colonies. We also strongly advocate for further licensed releases across other appropriate areas of Scotland in order to restore this once widespread species and minimize the risk of genetic in-breeding and local extinctions.

The decision has now become urgent as animals are currently being indiscriminately culled on Tayside. The indiscriminate nature of this culling has led to well-publicised animal welfare concerns and, in the medium term, could threaten the existence of local populations.

There is also a particular urgency to enhance the small number of beavers at the Scottish Beaver Trial site at Knapdale with additional animals to ensure the viability of the population in the long term.

Scientific evidence shows that the return of the beaver will help to restore our depleted wetland ecosystems, assisting in the delivery of the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity, and bring a range of other social, economic and environmental benefits.


Our top UK wildlife-watching experiences - Wildlife Trusts

As winter wanes and spring starts to unfold, our exciting new seasonal online guide offers a perfect opportunity to plan a ‘wild’ year ahead.  For those who have ever wondered when and where to glory in the beauty of the rare swallowtail butterfly or to cheer at a salmon’s leap; for those who pine to see a puffin but don’t know where to head and when; or for those who want to spot an otter, osprey or orchid but don’t know how,  The Wildlife Trusts’ online guide to our Top UK Wildlife Experiences offers answers to these and so much more.

Outdoor enthusiasts and wildlife-watchers will be able to vote for their favourite wildlife experience online – the results will be published in 2017.

Simon Barnes, wildlife author and journalist, introduces our top wildlife-watching experiences.  He warns: “Here are many, many ways in which you can get closer to the Wild World than you ever dreamed.”

Our Top UK Wildlife Experiences online guide is live at the start of spring, the perfect moment to make plans and venture outdoors.


Whales beached in Scotland show high toxic metal levels - University of Aberdeen

Investigations led by the University of Aberdeen, in collaboration with the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, have shown that a pod of whales stranded in Fife in 2012 had high concentrations of toxic chemicals, some of which had reached the mammals' brains.

The pod of long-finned pilot whales they investigated were stranded on a beach between Anstruther and Pittenweem in Scotland, on September 12 2012. Out of the 31 mammals which beached only 10 could be refloated and 21 – 16 females and five males – died.

Scientists found mercury at levels high enough to cause severe neurological damage in humans and demonstrated for the first time that the toxic element cadmium can cross the blood-brain barrier. Their report, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, shows a clear correlation between the increased levels and the age of the mammals, suggesting toxic stress increases the longer the mammals live.

They say this could demonstrate that this species of marine mammal are less susceptible to mercury poisoning than humans, but that they cannot entirely discount the possibility that it is a factor leading to whales navigating off course.

Dr Eva Krupp, an environmental analytical chemist from the University of Aberdeen, collected and analysed samples from the whales together with PhD students Cornelius Brombach and Zuzana Gajdosechova.

She said: “We were able to gather an unprecedented number of tissue samples from all the major organs including the brain and as a result we can see for the first time the long term effects of mammalian exposure to the environmental pollutants.

Previous scientific studies have shown that mercury concentrations in the oceans have notably risen since the industrial revolution and through goldmining activities, which may in turn lead to an increase of mercury levels in marine mammals.

“So far, we have no indication that the mercury and cadmium levels in the brain cause disorientation, which in some cases can lead to strandings, but there is a potential for higher stress in these iconic animals due to rising toxic metal concentration in the oceans,” Dr Krupp added. “More research is needed to investigate whether this is a factor in strandings, particularly where other explanations such as illness or weather events cannot be found.” 


Green light given to over 80 pocket parks – Department for Communities and Local Government

More than 80 unloved and neglected urban spaces across the country will be transformed into green oases for everyone to use, thanks to a share of a £1.5 million dedicated fund, Communities Secretary Greg Clark announced today (Tuesday 16 February).

Increasing the availability of green space draws more people outside, giving residents, particularly in urban areas without gardens of their own, more space to relax, get together with their neighbours, grow food and provide a safe space for their children to play.

Now 87 community groups, from Newcastle to Penryn in Cornwall, will have the money to create their own ‘dream’ pocket parks, developing small parcels of land, sometimes as small as the size of a tennis court.


75,000 children across the UK join forces to protect precious pollinators – Field Studies Council

205 schools located across all counties within the UK, are celebrating the news that they been selected to participate in the UK wide ‘Polli:Nation’ project – an initiative which supports schools to provide food and shelter for Britain’s pollinating insects. FSC is proud to be a partner in the project.

Image: Field Studies CouncilImage: Field Studies Council

The 205 selected schools have been handpicked, following an application process that required them to demonstrate how they would like to transform their grounds to support the dwindling population of Britain’s pollinators.

Following today’s interactive website launch, the programme has also been made available for all schools to participate.  Access to the website will enable all schools and communities in Britain to independently get involved by using the vast array of free resources available at: www.polli-nation.co.uk

The Polli:Nation project, developed by the charity Learning through Landscapes (LTL), is the result of a collaboration between various wildlife and education organisations.  The programme runs over a period of three years and allows selected primary and secondary schools to join forces in clusters of four. Pupils will have direct hands-on experiences; from creating vertical green walls and night-blooming flower beds, to lobbying to change school maintenance regimes and debating pesticide use.


Beavers bring environmental benefits to Scotland – University of Stirling

Dr Nigel Willby of the School of Natural Sciences (University of Stirling)Dr Nigel Willby of the School of Natural Sciences (University of Stirling)

Beavers are beneficial to the Scottish environment, say academics from the University of Stirling.

A study into the ecology and habitat engineering of beavers reintroduced to a site on Tayside in 2002 has found the creatures can improve biodiversity, minimise pollutants and reduce downstream flooding.

Examining head water streams which drain water from 13 hectares of Scottish countryside, scientists compared areas where beavers had been active with areas in which they were absent. The study formed part of a programme of research at this site by Stirling scientists that has been ongoing since 2003.

Leading the research Dr Nigel Willby of the School of Natural Sciences, said: “Our study found that beaver behaviours have several benefits for the environment. Their dam building skills help restore degraded streams and increase the complexity of the surrounding habitat, consequently increasing the number of species found by 28 per cent. The dams also help improve pollutant levels and store flood water.”


North East coastal heritage to be protected with National Lottery support - Heritage Lottery Fund

From sea rescue and protecting the environment to tackling antisocial behaviour, volunteers up and down the North East coast are getting involved in projects made possible by National Lottery players.

A Little tern says hello to a Coast Care volunteer (Credit: Northumberland Coast AONB)A Little tern says hello to a Coast Care volunteer (Credit: Northumberland Coast AONB)

Durham Heritage Coast is working with 300 volunteers to reconnect people with the heritage of the coast between Hendon and Seaham. Under-used and under-appreciated, the area is often subject to vandalism and antisocial behaviour.  Volunteers will help to improve the environment and encourage local people to take pride in their landscape. Activities will include tree and wildflower sowing, litter picking, repairs to vandalised signage, creating a guided trail and a programme of walks. They will also work alongside Northumbrian Police to develop a Coast Watch scheme to deter antisocial behaviour. A programme of outdoor education workshops for five schools and the opportunity for youth groups to take part in the John Muir Challenge aims to inspire the next generation to care for their coast.

Further north, the Northumberland Coast AONB (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) Partnership has received initial support for its plans to establish a skilled volunteer base to celebrate and conserve the north Northumberland coast from just south of Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Coquet Estuary. Two hundred volunteers, three community champions and a group of Young Rangers (aged 13 to 19) will gain training in conservation and heritage skills. Activities will include beach cleaning, monitoring historic buildings, control of invasive species and mitigating the effects of coastal erosion, scrub clearance and dry stone walling.


Consultation outcome: Biodiversity offsetting in England - defra 

We received 460 substantive responses to this consultation, together with 486 campaign responses.

Defra and Natural England will continue to work with interested parties to develop our shared understanding of how best to compensate for biodiversity loss when it cannot first be avoided or mitigated, as required by the National Planning Policy Framework.

Access the report Biodiversity offsetting in England: summary of responses (PDF)


National Park calls on help from the skies above - Brecon Beacons National Park

National Park Wardens have undertaken a herculean task this month among the snowy peaks of the Brecon Beacons National Park battling the weather to preserve eroded peat bogs and footpaths.  By the end of the project over 910 tonnes of stone along with 300 enormous bags of heather brash, jute and heather bales will have been transported onto the mountain tops of the Central Beacons and Black Mountains range. For a task like this, the wardens call on help from the skies above in the form of a helicopter.

A helicopter airlifts materials to repair footpaths onto Fan y Big, one of the peaks in the central Beacons (credit: Sam Harpur)A helicopter airlifts materials to repair footpaths onto Fan y Big, one of the peaks in the central Beacons (credit: Sam Harpur)

Weather permitting, the helicopter makes repeated trips to inaccessible locations across the park laden with bags full of materials. Thanks to funding from the Welsh Government, Honourable Artillery Company and the National Park Authority, Fan y Big in the Central Beacons will have 120 tonnes of stone airlifted to improve the path and help protect surrounding vegetation along one of the most used walking routes in the park.

Ian Rowat, Brecon Beacons National Park Authority Member Champion for Biodiversity and Environment added; “This crucial work is made possible through grant funding from a variety of different sources and through working closely with the Black Mountains Graziers Association. We hope that visitors to the park recognise that the importance of this work to what is a not only a wonderful recreation asset but also a working environment is economically important in terms of both farming and tourism. The whole project is a great example of partnerships working to protect and improve the condition of the landscape around us now and through long-term land management. As a member of the National Park Authority and someone who has worked in countryside management I would also like to thank all those who are out in all weathers completing the work’.

On the ground a team of Brecon Beacons National Park Authority Wardens, National Park Upland Path Volunteers and local contractors are battling with snow and ice to carry out the work before the ground nesting bird season starts in the spring. Volunteers will then maintain the paths throughout the year to minimise further erosion of the popular walking routes. 


We renew call for use of Local Green Space designation - Open Spaces Society

We have called on the government to clarify the opportunities to win Local Green Space (LGS), and once again urged local authorities and communities to make use of the designation.  The society has responded to a consultation from the Department for Communities and Local Government on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework of March 2012, in which LGS is first mentioned.

We are concerned that the criteria for designating land as LGS are vague and that there is no prescribed process for this, nor is there any requirement for a local authority to consider creating public access, or ensuring the land is managed properly.  The protection afforded to LGS is also unclear, and only stated to be similar to that of the green belt—which the government proposes to relax.

LGS can be designated as part of the neighbourhood and local plan processes.


Prize winning photo of moorland bird took four years to capture - Peak District National Park

With piercing yellow eyes, the short-eared owl alights for the briefest of moments on a fencepost as golden evening sunlight bathes the moorland.

Malcolm Mee’s winning photograph was pitted against a high volume of entries showing ‘moorland and wildlife’ scenes, and impressed the judges enough to take first prize in the Moors for the Future Partnership’s first photography competition.

The winning image by Malcolm Mee (Peak District National Park)The winning image by Malcolm Mee (Peak District National Park)

The winning image was chosen by wildlife photographer Paul Hobson and BBC Springwatch regular contributor Wildlife Kate (Kate MacRae) who said “Golden light falling on this stunning short-eared owl was what made this shot stand out. The moor in the distance puts this awesome hunter in context with its landscape. A cracking shot!”

Malcolm explained how he achieved his winning image: “I have been visiting the same location for four years trying to get shots of this daytime hunter - I stay in my car as it makes a perfect hide. Finally the owl landed briefly on a post on the other side of the road giving me just enough time to get the portrait that I was looking for”.. 

Project manager Sarah Proctor said: “It’s wonderful to see all the inspiring moments people living in and around the moorlands have captured and shared with us. It is great to see so many potential Community Scientists engaging with the landscape”.

The winning and shortlisted photos can be seen online via the Moors for the Future Partnership website (here), and will be on display in the Peak District National Park and beyond during the coming months. 


Don't forget that if you've any photos as wonderful as this one by Malcolm to enter them into the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2016 competition is now open 


Planning changes will do nothing to address housing needs in National Parks - Campaign for National Parks

We respond to a recent Government consultation on national planning policy, concluding it will lead to inappropriate housing in National Parks.

Prioritising starter homes and reducing planning authorities’ ability to take account of local circumstances will undermine existing measures to address local housing needs and could lead to significant amounts of completely inappropriate housing in National Parks. That’s the key conclusion of our response to a recent Government consultation on changes to national planning policy aimed at speeding up the delivery of housing.

Ditchling village (image: Richard Reed via CNP)Ditchling village (image: Richard Reed via CNP) 

National Park Authorities (NPAs) have a strong track record of supporting the delivery of the kind of housing that is needed locally but the proposed changes would restrict their ability to do this in the future. We are very concerned that the Government has not fully considered the implications of the proposed changes and are calling for National Parks to be exempt from some of the proposals. One such change would allow dense housing development around virtually all rail stations but there are many small stations in National Parks where such development would be completely inappropriate, for example, where the existing settlement is very small and has few or no shops and other local services.  We believe there is a strong case for exempting National Parks from this and other damaging proposals given that national policy emphasise the high level of protection that should be granted to these areas. 


Lords committee calls for Government to change course on housing - CPRE 

CPRE today (19/2) welcomes the first report from a new cross-party House of Lords select committee on the built environment.

The Building better places report, from the National Policy for the Built Environment Committee, criticises the Government’s housing policy and argues that it is unlikely to provide either the quantity or quality of homes we need.

More precisely, the report:

  • calls for local authorities and housing associations to play a more significant role in delivering new homes
  • suggests that the Government has not done enough to address the gap between permissions and completions
  • calls for a brownfield first policy
  • advocates financial penalties for developers who fail to build quickly - the equivalent to paying council tax on unbuilt homes
  • argues that Green Belt protection needs to be tightened
  • shows concern about starter homes qualifying as affordable housing
  • advocates a community right of appeal

Paul Miner, planning campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), gave oral and written evidence to the committee. His evidence was referenced in the report.  He comments: “The Government is constantly focusing on speeding up the planning process, but there is no evidence that cheaper and quicker planning means better decisions for local people.

CPRE strongly welcomes the cross-party support for a community right of appeal. The Government has continually declined to introduce the measure. Paul Miner comments: “A community right of appeal would reassure communities that their aims and aspirations are not being ignored.”


The Land Trust welcomes House of Lords National Policy for the Built Environment committee report

Today (19/2), the House of Lords Built Environment Committee has published a report expressing its concerns that the short-sighted Government housing policy will not meet objectives.

The committee emphasises the importance of delivering a better built environment, is concerned about the quality of new developments and the risk of housing delivery being prioritised at the expense of other elements of the built environment. Therefore, the focus needs to be on building better places, not just on the quantity. In its written and oral evidence to the Committee, the Land Trust stressed the important role that green infrastructure plays within the planning process and sustainable development of the built environment as well as a need for more joined up approaches between the health and planning sectors.

Euan Hall, CEO of the Land Trust said: ‘I am really pleased that the Committee recognises that the housing policy does not go far enough in relation to green infrastructure and that it has taken our views into account.  As we stated, well maintained green infrastructure is essential for good development and needs to be considered on the same level as grey and blue infrastructure (transport, highways, utilities etc.).  I am however disappointed that there is a recommendation for reintroducing the ‘brownfield first’ approach. Some brownfield land has far greater environmental value than green field, and I think that a land use strategy is needed to ensure the right land is used for the right type of activity in the right locations.  I hope that Government takes on board the views of the Built Environment Committee in relation to green infrastructure and provides a mechanism for coordinating better approaches to developments.”


Defra’s strategy to 2020: creating a great place for living - Defra Corporate report

A strategy for the whole of Defra that sets out a shared vision and set of strategic objectives for the period up to 2020.

This strategy document sets out a shared vision and set of strategic objectives for the whole of Defra for the period up to 2020. It is intended to provide staff across the whole group of Defra organisations (including non-ministerial departments, executive agencies, non-departmental and other public bodies) with a clear, unifying framework. Actions to achieve the strategic objectives are described in more detail in Defra’s Single Departmental Plan

Download the report Creating a great place for living: Defra’s strategy to 2020 (PDF)


Defra: single departmental plan 2015 to 2020 - Defra Corporate report 

Our single departmental plan describes the objectives of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs for 2015 to 2020.

You can see updates on the department’s progress towards achieving its objectives and read about the programmes and policies which will help to meet them. 

Access the Single departmental plan: 2015 to 2020


Scientific Publications 

Ingersoll, Thomas E., Sewall, Brent J. & Amelon, Sybill K. Effects of white-nose syndrome on regional population patterns of three hibernating bat species. Conservation Biology  DOI:  10.1111/cobi.12690 


Nico Blüthgen, et al Land use imperils plant and animal community stability through changes in asynchrony rather than diversity. Nature Communications. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10697


Baker, C. M. (2016) Target the source: Optimal spatiotemporal resource allocation for invasive species control. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12236


Hüppop, O., Hüppop, K., Dierschke, J. & Hill. R. (2016) Bird collisions at an offshore platform in the North Sea. Bird Study. DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2015.1134440


Elwyn Sharps, Angus Garbutt, Jan G. Hiddink, Jennifer Smart, Martin W. Skov, Light grazing of saltmarshes increases the availability of nest sites for Common Redshank Tringa totanus, but reduces their quality, Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, Volume 221, 1 April 2016, Pages 71-78, ISSN 0167-8809, DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2016.01.030.


Céline Bellard, Phillip Cassey, Tim M. Blackburn Biology of extinction: Alien species as a driver of recent extinctions. Biology Letters (Royal Society). 2016 12 20150623; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0623. Published 17 February 2016  


David Vačkář, Zuzana V. Harmáčková, Helena Kaňková, Kateřina Stupková, Human transformation of ecosystems: Comparing protected and unprotected areas with natural baselines, Ecological Indicators, Volume 66, July 2016, Pages 321-328, ISSN 1470-160X, DOI: /10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.02.001


Lukyanenko, Roman, Parsons, Jeffrey & Wiersma, Yolanda F.  Emerging problems of data quality in citizen science. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12706


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