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


Tackling fresh invasive species threat must be a government priority – National Trust

Today (Monday 29 Feb) marks the start of Invasives Week, which aims to raise awareness of the huge problem of invasive non-native species like the American Signal crayfish.

During Invasives Week conservation organisations led by Wildlife & Countryside Link will be pressing the UK government to do more to work alongside other European Union member states to prevent the spread of invasive species across the continent.

According to Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation, invasive species are a growing problem for the National Trust. “Dealing with invasive species at our places costs the National Trust thousands of pounds every year. As a conservation charity looking after 250,000 hectares of countryside, 775 miles of coastline and hundreds of ponds, lakes and rivers, we’re very aware of the impact of invasive species on our native wildlife.”

Attempts to control invasive species at National Trust have met with varying success:

  • On the River Allen, which runs through Kingston Lacy, east Dorset, the plague carried by the American signal crayfish has wiped out the native White-clawed crayfish. Thousands of the native crayfish were recorded just two years ago. After an extensive search last year only 5 native crayfish were found.
  • On Lundy Island, in the Bristol Channel, we’ve been working with partners RSPB, Natural England and Landmark Trust since 2002 to boost the island’s dwindling numbers of rare Manx shearwaters on the island by eradicating the rats that ate the seabirds’ eggs and chicks. Almost 15 years later Manx shearwater are thriving on Lundy, with thousands of pairs breeding on the island every year.

Continuing to keep places like Lundy free of invasive non-native predators is vital, warns David Bullock. “Off the UK’s coasts there are thousands of islands on which seabirds breed. The spectacle of huge colonies of Manx shearwaters and other species is only possible because the islands are free from invasive non-native predators. It is vital that we ensure that rats do not get to seabird islands, and that if they do we remove them."


New breakthrough in fight against lethal amphibian disease – Zoological Society of London

Amphibians have been treated in the wild for the first time against the global chytridiomycosis (‘chytrid’) pandemic currently devastating their populations worldwide, as part of a pioneering study led by scientists from international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). 

Mountain chicken frog (Chester Zoo)Mountain chicken frog (Chester Zoo)

Published in the journal Biological Conservation and conducted in partnership with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, the University of Kent, Chester Zoo and the Government of Montserrat, the paper describes how the established antifungal drug itraconazole can be used to treat amphibians in the wild during periods of particular risk from chytrid outbreaks. Frogs were individually washed for five minutes at a time in a bag containing the anti-fungal bath. While this measure was not ultimately able to stop them dying, the paper demonstrates that this technique has potential to greatly extend the likely time to extinction for any given amphibian population in the face of epidemic disease. 

Caused by the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), this chytrid variant has so far infected more than 600 amphibian species globally – causing population declines, extirpations or extinctions in over 200 of these and representing the greatest disease-driven loss of biodiversity ever recorded. Whilst captive breeding programmes offer hope for some, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently estimates that even with the cooperation of the global zoological community, only around 50 species could potentially be saved from extinction through this approach. Proven, field-based methods will therefore play a vital role in mitigating the risk posed by this disease. 


Scottish Wildlife Trust & Buglife Scotland call for permanent ban on damaging insecticides – Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Scottish Wildlife Trust and Buglife Scotland are leading a campaign calling for a permanent ban on three neonicotinoid insecticides in Scotland because of the detrimental effects on bees and other wild pollinators.

As part of the campaign, a roundtable discussion will be held at the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 1 March, sponsored by Graeme Dey MSP, where speakers will discuss the evidence regarding the harmful effect certain neonicotinoids can have on bees and other wildlife.

The event is intended to inform MSPs of the issues surrounding neonicotinoids, including how farmers and other commercial growers could cut down on all pesticide use by moving towards systems that benefit wildlife, improve long-term farm health and safeguard food production.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust, Buglife Scotland and other leading conservation charities in Scotland have written to the Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead MSP calling for the temporary EU ban to be made permanent for all crops in Scotland.

A two-year EU moratorium banning three of these neonicotinoid pesticides is currently being reviewed in light of new research. The Scottish Government, in its response to the campaign, says that it supports the EU precautionary approach, but states that it does not yet have enough scientific evidence at the right scale to know if there is a strong enough effect on the health of honeybee colonies, the abundance and viability of wild pollinator populations or the pollination services they provide.  

Dr Maggie Keegan, Head of Policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “There is a huge body of evidence, which cannot be ignored, showing that certain neonicotinoids are harmful to bees and other wild pollinators. Pollinators are invaluable to Scotland’s ecosystems and must be protected. The Trust believes the most harmful groups of neonicotinoids – clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam - should be permanently banned for use on all crops.”


UK river flow data now web accessible – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Decades’ worth of river flow data have been made freely available over the web for the first time on the UK’s National River Flow Archive.

The National River Flow Archive has today (29 February 2016) released an expanded data download facility which allows users to download Image: CEHdata from all the gauging stations held on the national archive. Previously, only data for around 400 gauging stations were accessible for direct download from the NRFA website, with the remaining 1,100 or so requiring users to contact the NRFA by telephone or email to retrieve information and data. The full station data release means river flow records for around 1,500 gauging stations totalling 59,000 years’ of daily data, are now available to download directly from the NRFA website.

Image: CEH

Dr Harry Dixon from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Head of the NRFA, said, “The expanded download facility launched today is an important step in making our data holdings more accessible to users. Ever since the first surface water yearbooks were published in the 1930s by the Inland Water Survey, the national archive has a adopted a principle of openly publishing high quality river flow data for use by researchers, practitioners and the general public. Today’s launch of improved web-access to NRFA data continues this tradition. We are currently working to develop a set of web-services to provide dynamic access to our key datasets and hope to launch these later in 2016.”


New research shows climate change will endanger many species previously believed to be not at risk – University of Aberdeen

New research from the University of Aberdeen has shown that insects in high-latitude ecosystems such as Scotland are just as at risk from climate change as tropical species.

It was previously believed that insects in the tropics and deserts were the most at risk species from climate change and that high-latitude species were not endangered. However a new study, which is published today in Nature Climate Change, has shown that only recently arrived high-latitude species, such as agricultural pests and disease vectors, will be able to withstand future levels of warming at high latitudes.

This is because these recently arrived species retain thermal tolerances to the warmer climates from which they originated. For example, insects such as fruitflies, mealworm beetles, and invasive termites have only recently colonized higher latitudes as a result of human activities, and these insects therefore have broad tolerances to warming which will buffer them against future climate change.

In contrast, species native to high latitudes will in fact suffer worse declines than comparable species in the tropics, because these endemic, high-latitude species have very narrow thermal tolerances (very low warming tolerances), similar to the low warming tolerances exhibited by threatened tropical species. 


Government's £1m funding injection saves wildlife crime unit for next four years – Police Professional

logo: NWCUAn eleventh-hour Government lifeline has saved Britain’s world-leading police unit dedicated to wildlife crime from becoming an endangered species. 
Home Office Ministers and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have stepped up with a cash injection totalling £1.2 million, securing funding for the next four years. 
The last-minute intervention will spare their joint blushes as the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) was within days of contemplating closure. 
Animal welfare charities have welcomed the news after condemning the Government for a lack of commitment stretching back to 2012 which they claim — without guaranteed funding — would give criminals “free rein to poach, bait, shoot, trap, smuggle, torment and exploit British wildlife however they like”. 


Livestock Worrying Incidents Highest for Six Years – National Farmers Union Scotland

Industry-wide campaigns to be launched to raise awareness
Livestock worrying incidents in Scotland are at their highest for six years, according to figures obtained by NFU Scotland.
The Union has been working with stakeholders, including closely with Police Scotland and as part of the national Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC).
A review of agricultural and rural crime was announced by the Solicitor General who tasked the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service with reviewing agricultural crime prosecution policy.  This came on the back of NFU Scotland member concerns regarding rural crime, including the frequency of livestock worrying. As a result, new policy has been implemented, and revised direction given to Police Scotland in investigating crimes such as livestock worrying.
According to the figures, obtained by NFU Scotland through a Freedom of Information request, there were 133 incidents of livestock worrying across Scotland during 2015 compared with 93 in 2014; 100 in 2013, 132 in 2012, 132 in 2011 and 109 in 2010.
Allan Bowie, NFU Scotland President commented: “It is very concerning that instances of livestock worrying is on the increase. “NFU Scotland is working hard with other stakeholders to raise awareness of this issue.  Whilst it is right that the public are able to enjoy the Scottish countryside, it is imperative that they respect the farmers who make a living there.The Scottish Outdoor Access Code sets out clearly what is expected by responsible access.  Any dog walker exercising their access rights should ensure they are familiar with the Code and also ensure their dogs are adequately controlled so that “they are unable to cause distress or injury to farm animals.”


Has MPA management compromised the fate of the common skate? – Save Scottish Seas

Our campaigners ask whether enough is being done to protect the refuge of one of the world’s most endangered fish…

Save Scottish SeasDescribed sometimes as the Giant Panda of the sea, the Common skate is a critically endangered species – and one of its last strongholds is in our deep sea lochs on the West coast. However, the latest Scottish Government measures introduced to protect this majestic, but sadly all-too-rare creature, whilst a major step forward, are still at risk of being jeopardised by short-termist compromise.

Some areas – once identified as potentially crucial to the recovery of the common skate – will now remain open seasonally to bottom-towed fishing. These ‘derogations’ were called for mainly by those working in the mobile sector of the fishing industry. However, they were not supported by all fishermen and commercial interests. Others – including static fishermen and scallop divers – had hoped that these areas would be included in a full ban on mobile fishing to give the seabed a chance to recover, as well as improving the commercial and recreational fishing opportunities and access. Amongst these ‘derogations,’ a small group of islands known as the Green Isles (north of Salen), which are surrounded by fragile underwater reefs, have been left open to scallop dredging and are just two kilometres outside of the zone prohibiting bottom-towed fishing – despite serious concerns expressed via public consultation.


Strong support from South West MPs as threatened species get new champions - Buglife

Image: Nothophantes horridus 1 (c) John WaltersImage: Nothophantes horridus 1 (c) John Walters

Nine MPs from across the South West are lending their political support to help our region’s wildlife - by adopting threatened species in a new Species Champions initiative.

Iconic and threatened English species are being ‘adopted’ by MPs across England, who are acting as ‘Species Champions’ to help improve the species future. From the Skylark to the Shrill carder-bee, 20 English species currently facing significant threats have been identified and put up for adoption. 

The initiative was launched this month by the a coalition of seven nature NGOs - RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Buglife, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Plantlife and Bat Conservation Trust. This follows a successful model in Scotland, and a trial in the South West of England in 2014.


Scientific publications

Davis, C. A., Churchwell, R. T., Fuhlendorf, S. D., Engle, D. M. & Hovick, T. J. (2016) Effect of pyric herbivory on source–sink dynamics in grassland birds. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12641


Grogan, L. F. et al (2016) Endemicity of chytridiomycosis features pathogen overdispersion. Journal of Animal Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12500


Holden, M. H., Nyrop, J. P. & Ellner, S. P. (2016) The economic benefit of time-varying surveillance effort for invasive species management. Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12617


Martinig, A. R. & Bélanger-Smith, K. (2016) Factors influencing the discovery and use of wildlife passages for small fauna. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12616


Pander, J. & Geist, J. (2016) Can fish habitat restoration for rheophilic species in highly modified rivers be sustainable in the long run? Ecological Engineering. doi:10.1016/j.ecoleng.2015.12.006


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