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


Schoolchildren unearth interesting playing field results – British Trust for Ornithology

Since the summer of 2015 1,606 schools across the UK have taken part in a survey to find out what is living under their feet, and how this affects the birds that depend on the wildlife that lives in our soil.

So far, around 40,000 schoolchildren have taken part in the 'What’s Under Your Feet'project to help find out, what is living right under their feet, and how it is distributed across the country in the differing soils.

Image: William Skellorn, BTOImage: William Skellorn, BTO

The schoolchildren were asked to sample a 300mm x 300mm square of soil on their playing fields, and rather surprisingly, it seems that the length of time since any rain had fallen had a large impact on the results. More invertebrates were found in the soil the longer it had been since there was any rainfall. This might mean that the floods experienced this winter in northern Britain could have far reaching implications for those animals that rely on soil invertebrates. Further investigation is needed and it will be interesting to see the results from those schools whose playing fields have experienced flooding.

Early indications also show that there are often more soil invertebrates close to trees and shrubs. Worms, woodlice, spiders, beetles, ants and earwigs are all more abundant near shrubs or trees than they are in open soil.


LEARC position Statement on the withdrawal of Natural England MoA funding – Association of Local Environmental Records Centres

​On 3rd February 2016 Natural England sent to an email to all English Local Environmental Records Centre (LERC) managers announcing that MoA funding for LERCs will end on 31st March 2016.  Naturally this comes as a disappointment to ALERC who question the decision-making behind ending a four year agreement before the end of the first year, and prior to annual assessment of the agreement.
The reasons given by NE are linked to an Open Data agenda and “generic data management services” and are unrelated to the current content of the agreement. NE has expressed an aim to move towards Open Data which, something ALERC supports, but our members are custodians and managers of records from other people and this needs to be recognised. Indeed recent discussions with the Open Data Institute have confirmed the key role that LERCs can play in such an agenda.
ALERC believes that MoA funding from National Agencies should support LERCs local as well as national-facing activities. LERCs are organisations with a broad remit, both to support biodiversity data needs locally and engage with national initiatives. This local support (such as training, coordination of surveys and verification) is essential in any system that hopes to increase biodiversity data collection and mobilisation.


New research will improve city life with green infrastructure - NERC

NERC is investing around £1·2m in innovative projects designed to improve urban life and create sustainable cities by helping us make better use of 'green infrastructure' – natural spaces from roadside verges to parks and gardens.

Image: NERCImage: NERC

Cities contain a lot of these green spaces, but many of them could be managed more effectively to improve the lives of local people.

Green infrastructure can provide a host of benefits - from absorbing rainwater to help reduce flooding to improving local people's wellbeing by giving them regular contact with nature. But putting a concrete economic value on these benefits is difficult, and this has tended to mean they haven't been given enough weight by decision-makers in government and industry.


Training success creates conservationists for Dorset – Dorset Wildlife Trust

Skills for the future trainees getting muddy © Rachel Janes 

Skills for the future trainees getting muddy © Rachel Janes 

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) is celebrating the success of a four-year Conservation Skills Programme, which is part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Skills for the Future’ trainee scheme.  A new report reveals that 87% of the trainees in Dorset gained employment in the environment sector within one year of completing the programme.

The Conservation Skills Programme has recruited 31 individuals from Dorset onto a placement with Dorset Wildlife Trust to allow them to train for a career in nature conservation. 18 of those 31 are now employed in Dorset.

Over the duration of the four year project (2011-2015), 296 months of work based training has been delivered to young people who were not in employment, education or training.  The success of this training demonstrates it is possible for people from diverse backgrounds to gain employment in the environment and heritage sector.

DWT’s Skills for the Future Coordinator, Steve Davis, said, “As the conservation skills programme draws to a close, we are really proud of the 31 individuals who now have the skills to persue their dream jobs in conservation.  They have already made a really big difference to wildlife in Dorset, and we look forward to watching their careers go from strength to strength.” 


Plant Health Strategy announcement welcomed – James Hutton Institute

Potato plant affected by blight (James Hutton Institute)Scientists at the James Hutton Institute have welcomed the launch of a Plant Health Strategy by Dr Aileen McLeod MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. The new strategy includes the appointment of a Scottish plant health officer and the establishment of a Centre of Expertise for Plant Health.

Potato plant affected by blight (James Hutton Institute)

Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, said: “We welcome the Minister’s announcement. Plant health is a hugely important topic for our agriculture, forestry and native species.

“There is much opportunity in greater coordination of the research, policy and industry to get all players working together to meet the threats of emergent new diseases, to develop of more nature-based solutions and to face up to climate change.”


From Kerry to L\Derry: barn owl sets new long distance record – Ulster Wildlife Trust

A new record has been set for the longest recorded distance travelled by a barn owl within Ireland.The bird which travelled from Kerry to Derry/Londonderry – a journey of over 220 miles as the crow flies – is almost double the distance of any previously recorded barn owl within Ireland.

The juvenile barn owl, which sadly met its tragic end as a road casualty on the Limavady Road, was picked up by Brian Hegarty, a volunteer barn owl fieldworker with Ulster Wildlife.

Barn owl killed by a car (c) Sandy OsboroughBarn owl killed by a car (c) Sandy Osborough

It was identified by the special metal ring on its leg which was fitted as a chick last July, at its nest site near Farranfore, Co. Kerry by John Lusby from BirdWatch Ireland.

“I couldn’t quite believe the news when Brian contacted me,” said John. “The bird was one of four chicks that we ringed at a traditional nest site in Kerry in July 2015. The resident pair uses a nest box which we provided some years back, and they have bred here successfully every year since. The ringing of barn owl chicks and their subsequent recovery has provided us with a wealth of information on their dispersal. With over 600 barn owls ringed to date in Ireland, this is the longest dispersal recorded of any of the barn owls we have ringed yet,”

After their first winter, juvenile barn owls disperse from where they hatched to establish their home range where they hunt, roost and breed. Barn owls are very site-loyal and many will never leave their home range.

According to BirdWatch Ireland, the average dispersal distance in Ireland is approximately 35km (21 miles). The majority settle just a few miles away from where they hatched and only a small minority move such a long way. During dispersal, juvenile barn owls are vulnerable to man-made hazards, with over 30% dying on major roads.


Most significant conviction for bat crime ever recorded – Bat Conservation Trust

In April 2014 BCT reported on the conviction of Hargudial Singh RAI and ISAR Enterprises Ltd for destroying a roost used by Brown Long Eared Bats in Matlock (read story here)
Shortly after that date both Mr Rai and his company ISAR Enterprises lodged an appeal against conviction. Appeal hearing dates were set and adjourned on a number of occasions.

On Monday 7th March 2016 His Honour John Burgess sitting at Derby Crown Court heard the appeals. The conviction against Mr Rai was quashed, at the same time ISAR Enterprises Ltd abandoned their appeal accepting the conviction. The hearing then went on to consider a Proceeds of Crime Order which seeks to ensure that offenders do not benefit financially from their criminal behaviour. In this case it was agreed by both sides that the financial benefit amounted to £5730. 


Lake District confirmed as UK nomination for World Heritage status – Lake District National Park Authority

The English Lake District has become the UK’s latest nomination for World Heritage site status following confirmation of the bid being received by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency.

View of Ullswater from Gowbarrow Park, Lake District World Heritage bidView of Ullswater from Gowbarrow Park, Lake District World Heritage bid

This is the UK’s only submission for 2017 following the Government’s announcement in 2014 that it would be submitting the Lake District for consideration in the category of ‘cultural landscapes’. Since then, the Lake District National Park Partnership has been working with 25 partners, including the National Trust, Cumbria County Council and Forestry Commission to create a compelling case for international recognition.

The Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) and Historic England submitted the four volume nomination to UNESCO for review during the next 12-18 months, including a visit to the Lake District, ahead of a decision being made in summer 2017.

Heritage Minister, David Evennett, said: “The Lake District is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and important landscapes in the UK, so it is only fitting that the area be nominated for World Heritage site status. Not only would this formally recognise its unique identity, but also provide a significant boost to the local tourism industry and encourage even more visitors to visit this vibrant area.”


‘Butcher Bird’ Spotted In Surrey – Surrey Wildlife Trust

‘Great Grey Shrike’ - Credit: Mark Adams/Surrey Wildlife Trust

‘Great Grey Shrike’ - Credit: Mark Adams/Surrey Wildlife Trust

A rare bird of prey which stores its victims in a grisly larder has been seen out hunting on one of Surrey Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves.

The feisty grey predator stores its catch in a bush or tree, to devour later

The Great Grey Shrike - known as the ‘butcher bird’ - was identified by eagle-eyed Surrey Wildlife Trust Officer James Herd on Poors Allotment near Camberley.

“It’s an incredibly rare bird and it’s very difficult to get a glimpse, so I was really lucky to witness it,” he said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one, despite working in heathland management for seven years, so it was really exciting.”

Not much bigger than a blackbird, the Great Grey Shrike hunts small mammals, lizards and beetles and it’ll even kill other birds as big as greenfinches. The feisty grey predator then stores its catch in a bush or tree, to devour later at its leisure.

“It’s called the butcher bird, because it has this unusual behaviour of keeping its prey in a larder - sometimes even impaling mammals or birds on a thorn for safekeeping,” added James.

Only about 200 Great Grey Shrikes visit the UK every year. They travel here from Europe, Asia and North Africa to overwinter between October and May.


Heather burning - new research raises important questions - GWCT

Game & Wildlife Conservation TrustBritain’s beautiful heather clad moors were created thousands of years ago – by man. As forest clearance increased, the open heath, rough grass and bogs began to form.

Ancient settlers here and in Denmark, Norway and Sweden are known to have used fire and grazing as management tools to clear woodland and supress regeneration. Indeed, some peatland plant populations have evolved alongside fire management, and are now well adapted to thrive in this environment.

Across Europe scientists are promoting the reintroduction of burning – to protect and restore globally-rare heathland and moorland. Best practice on burning is informed by this growing body of scientific literature, much of it emerging from the UK. Bizarrely, individuals ‘closely associated with the RSPB’ are using the same science to call for a ban on burning.

A recent paper accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed flagship biology journal of the Royal Society assessed the science behind the arguments, and highlighted media bias around reporting on this issue. This comprehensive review thoroughly assessed the scientific literature and concludes that the following commonly held views are not verified by the evidence currently available and should not be perpetuated in discussions until they are formally addressed

 Access the papers

Davies G, Kettridge N, Stoof C, et al. The role of fire in UK peatland and moorland management; the need for informed, unbiased debate. Philos Trans R Soc B. 2016; (Mar16 In press) 

Allen KA, Denelle P, Ruiz FMS, Santana VM, Marrs RH. Prescribed moorland burning meets good practice guidelines: A monitoring case study using aerial photography in the Peak District, UK. Ecol Indic. 2016;62:79-85. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2015.11.030


Call for new conservation strategies – Newcastle University

Scientists call for a shake-up in the way we record biodiversity

Pheasant Newcastle UniversityGaps in our information about biodiversity means we are at risk of focussing our conservation efforts in the wrong places.

(Image Newcastle University)

New research from Newcastle University, UCL (University College London) and the University of Queensland, Australia, highlights the uncertainty around our global biodiversity data because of the way we record species sightings.

The study explains how a lack of information about a species in a particular location doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not there and that recording when we don’t see something is as important as recording when we do.

Publishing their findings today in the academic journal Biology Letters, the team say we need to change the way we record sightings - or a lack of them - so we can better prioritise our conservation efforts in light of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Dr Phil McGowan, one of the study’s authors and a Senior Lecturer in Biodiversity and Conservation at Newcastle University, said: “Where there is no recent biodiversity data from an area then we might assume a species is no longer found there, but there could be a number of other possible reasons for this lack of data. It could be that its habitat is inaccessible - either geographically or due to human activity such as ongoing conflict - or perhaps it’s simply a case that no-one has been looking for it. Unless we know where people have looked for a particular species and not found it then we can’t be confident that it’s not there.”

Read the paper here: Uncertainty in identifying local extinctions: the distribution of missing data and its effects on biodiversity measures. Elizabeth Boakes, Richard Fuller, Philip McGowan and Georgina Mace. Biology Letters DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0824


£2M pledged to safeguard Britain's trees - Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council 

Two new projects have received a share of £2M for research to help combat threats to trees and plants as part of the Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI). This multi-disciplinary initiative brings together biological, environmental, and social scientists to support the future health and resilience of the UK’s forests and woodland in the face of increasing pressures.

Several new tree pests and pathogens have emerged to threaten UK trees in recent years, with plant imports and climate change often implicated in their spread.  Research that will conserve trees, woodlands and forests has the potential to be greatly beneficial to both society and the economy, as the social value of UK trees has been estimated at around £1.8Bn per year.

Of the two projects funded under phase three of THAPBI, one focuses on forecasting pests and pathogens that affect oak trees, the other on minimising the threat from destructive Phytophthora pathogens and their spread in trade. Across all phases, the projects funded will increase our knowledge and understanding of pests, pathogens and trees in the hope of developing best practice guidelines for commercial and environmental sectors.

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “This £2M investment in Britain's pioneering plant science will enable scientists to find new ways to tackle pests and diseases that are a real threat to our environment and global food security. By protecting the science budget in real terms we can continue to invest in world-class science that delivers environmental benefits worldwide while ensuring everyone can continue to enjoy Britain's beautiful woodlands and forests.”

Professor Melanie Welham, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “Understanding threats to trees and habitats could make a huge difference to the UK's social and economic landscape in the face of emerging risks from pests and pathogens. Research funded under this initiative has the potential to be transferred to other tree pests or diseases, to help keep our forests and crops safe.”

The research will address knowledge gaps identified by Defra's Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Expert Task Force and the objectives of the joint Defra/Forestry Commission 'Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Action Plan'. The projects will also ensure that the UK has increased research capacity and skills for dealing with plant health, and pests and pathogens.


New research into dementia and the role of the natural environment - Natural England

People living with dementia and their carers were asked about their engagement with nature and the outdoors in one of the largest projects of its kind. 

A new report published by Natural England today (11 March 2016) highlights how engagement with nature and the great outdoors could be improved for the benefit of people living with dementia and their carers.

In one of the biggest surveys of its kind so far, people living with dementia and their carers were asked about the outdoor activities that they take part in and the places where they go, or most want to go. It reveals what motivates them to go outside and what barriers they think need to be overcome to improve their access to the outdoors and maximise the beneficial effect this brings for them.

The new study – Is it nice outside? Consulting people living with dementia and carers about engaging with the natural environment – is the result of a collaborative project between Natural England, Dementia Adventure, the Mental Health Foundation and Innovations in Dementia.

The report reveals that engaging in outdoor activities that have a purpose and those that involve being with other people provide the greatest motivation for people living with dementia.

Only 20% of the people living with dementia considered that their condition was a barrier to using outdoor spaces, whereas 83% of carers believed that dementia limited the person’s ability.

The findings from this project will now be used to help design a large-scale demonstration project to deliver services in the natural environment for people living with dementia and their carers. The recommendations will also be valuable to other natural environment providers in shaping projects to further their work with people living with dementia.

Download the report: Is it nice outside? Consulting people living with dementia and carers about engaging with the natural environment 


The strange case of the disappearing duck - RSPB Scotland

 Of all the research projects carried out by RSPB Scotland, perhaps one of the most puzzling has been the case of a disappearing duck: the common scoter.

Flock of common scoters sleeping (Image: Graham Catley, RSPB)Flock of common scoters sleeping (Image: Graham Catley, RSPB)

Common scoters are rare breeding birds that have been dwindling in numbers in the UK, but researchers could not pinpoint why. There are plenty of suitable habitats for this species in Scotland, but they are only found at a few locations in the Scottish Highlands, including the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland and at several lochs in Inverness-shire. 

Concern among conservationists that this species may become locally extinct prompted a three-year research project by the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science. The team now believes that a solution to the birds’ recovery might be found by restoring the balance between fish and invertebrates in common scoter habitat, and in some cases, angling could be one way to help restore the scoter population.

Dr Mark Hancock, from the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science said: “Of all the lochs we investigated during this work, scoters bred most often at those with the shallowest water and the most large, freshwater invertebrates. It soon became clear that there were more insects where there were fewer brown trout, so it looks like scoters are being limited by a lack of food in places where the fish are eating it all.  We're now using these results to design new ways of helping scoters. For example, in areas of the north Highlands where angling activity has dropped off and fish numbers have increased, more trout angling is potentially one way to boost freshwater insect life. At hydro lochs, where water levels are to some extent under human control, we could also aim to maximise the area of shallow water.”


Surveys reveal coastal wildlife jewels in National Trust crown - National Trust

Thousands of nature lovers and wildlife experts helped the National Trust record more than 3,400 species at twenty five of its places along the coastline of England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the charity’s largest ever wildlife survey.

From the world famous chalk cliffs at the White Cliffs of Dover to the dune-rich White Park Bay on the beautiful North Antrim coast, volunteers raced against the clock to record as many species as possible over either 12 or 24 hours.

The BioBlitz surveys, which were run across six months during 2015, recorded a handful of wildlife firsts at National Trust places. These included the first recorded sighting of Balearic shearwaters, Puffinus mauretanicus, at Blakeney on the Norfolk coast. At Freshwater West in Pembrokeshire a Slow worm, Anguis fragilis, was found for the first time since 1966 and at White Park Bay, Co. Antrim, volunteers discovered the rare Forest chafer beetle, Melolontha hippocastani. This was the first recorded sighting of the beetle in Ireland in over a century.

The surveys were organised to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the National Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign [2] – the conservation charity now owns 775 miles of coastline.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation, said: “The data from these bioblitzes will play an important part in giving us a greater understanding of the species that live along our coastline. The shifting nature of our shoreline means that we need to think ahead about what is happening to coastal habitats and how we might secure the future of the wildlife that lives by the sea. The National Trust is working alongside partners at coastal landscapes across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to create space for nature to move on a much greater scale.”


Targeted tree planting to combat flooding - University of Southampton 

A study has shown that strategic planting of trees on floodplains, could reduce the height of flooding in towns downstream by up to 20 per cent.

The research, led by the universities of Birmingham and Southampton, is published in the journal Earth Surfaces Processes and Landforms.

Flooding in Emsworth (image, University of Southampton)Flooding in Emsworth (image, University of Southampton)

Scientists studied a whole river catchment in the New Forest over an area of 100 square kilometres, upstream of the town of Brockenhurst. They wanted to understand how tree planting, river restoration and ‘logjams’ might affect the ‘peak height’ of a flood in a downstream urban location.
Using a digital terrain model of the landscape and a hydrological model simulation the researchers found that planting trees on the floodplain and increasing the number of logjams, across 10-15 per cent of the total river length, could reduce the peak height of a potential flood in the town by six per cent – once the trees had grown for 25 years.
The scientists found that more extensive floodplain forest and river restoration (for example in 20–25 per cent of the total river length) resulted in a reduction in flood peak height of up to 20 per cent. As the trees age and the forests become more mature and complex up to 100 years post planting there are larger reductions in flood peak height.
Professor David Sear from the University of Southampton, who supervised the project, says: “With increasing interest in alternatives to conventional hard flood defences, there is an urgent need for evidence that these alternatives can work. This research reminds us that natural processes, when targeted carefully, can reduce downstream flood risk alongside other societal benefits including biodiversity and recreation.”
Dr Simon Dixon, from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR), lead author of the study, says: “As our research shows, targeted tree planting and restoration can contribute to reducing flood risk. We believe that tree planting can make a big contribution to reducing flood risk, and should be part of a wider flood risk management approach, including conventional flood defences. Tree planting would represent an extra element that helps to slow down the arrival of rain water to vulnerable locations.


Scientific Publications

Fountain, T. et al (2016) Oxygen and energy availability interact to determine flight performance in the Glanville fritillary butterfly. Journal of Experimental Biology doi: 10.1242/jeb.138180


Washburn, B. E., C. K. Swearingin, Pullins, C. K. & Rice, M. E. (2016) Composition and Diversity of Avian Communities Using a New Urban Habitat: Green Roofs. Environmental Management. DOI: 10.1007/s00267-016-0687-1


Attard, A. R. M. et al (2016) A novel holistic framework for genetic-based captive-breeding and reintroduction programs. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12699


Laura N. Kloepper, Meike Linnenschmidt, Zelda Blowers, Brian Branstetter, Joel Ralston, James A. Simmons Estimating colony sizes of emerging bats using acoustic recordings R. Soc. open sci. 2016 3 160022; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160022.


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