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


Swift action saves toads - Devon Wildlife Trust

The lives of hundreds of toads have been saved thanks to the swift action of a local wildlife charity.
Devon Wildlife Trust has stepped in to help secure a vital migration route for the amphibians close to Bovey Tracey in South Devon. Temporary roadworks were threatening to trap the toads as they made their annual migration hop from local countryside to a nearby pond.
Peter Burgess, a Director at Devon Wildlife Trust, first identified a problem and its potentially disastrous impact on local toads when he spotted that a trench had been dug along part of the B3344 Chudleigh Knighton to Bovey Tracey road. The road is closed to traffic for three months while a 185 home development is built nearby.
Peter explained:   
‘I live locally in Bovey Tracey and was walking along this section of the road one evening when I saw that a trench had been dug running along a 150 metre stretch. I could see that in parts it was up to a metre deep and had sheer sides. This made it a perfect trap for unsuspecting amphibians to fall in to. Once in there it was clear they wouldn’t be able to get out. Over the next two nights Pete returned with his two children, Amelia, aged 9, and Joe, aged 7. Together they managed to rescue a number of toads which had become trapped in the trench. Together we scooped out the trapped toads using a fishing net. It was good to release them so that they could resume their journey to the ponds to mate, but it was obvious we needed a better long-term solution to the problem.’
Staff at Devon Wildlife Trust contacted Bovis Homes who had dug the trench to install cabling to the nearby housing development. Working with environmental consultants EAD Ecology, they acted quickly to complete the work and fill in the trench the next day.
Steve Hussey from Devon Wildlife Trust commented:  ‘We’re so pleased that disaster was averted. Toads get killed on Devon’s roads each spring, it’s an unfortunate part of their mating migrations. However, a trench like this had the potential to trap hundreds of them and to devastate an entire local population.  ‘The vigilance of Peter and his family and the quick cooperation of Bovis Homes have saved the day in this instance. But it does underline that we all have to be aware of wildlife and its needs, otherwise we risk losing it.’


Green space charity shortlisted for the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards - Land Trust

A national land management charity with a strong track record of transforming derelict land into thriving public spaces has been recognised for its innovative solutions-focused financial approach, earning a coveted place on the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards shortlist.

The Land Trust has been using its sustainable financial model to create and manage country parks, nature reserves and woodlands for long term social benefit since 2004.

During that time it has acquired over 5,000 acres of land spanning 60 sites – equivalent to three times the size of Gibraltar.

In securing investment, the Land Trust has stringently managed the finances for long term benefit, as well as attracting additional funding for further improvements and enhancements.

This has enabled the charity and its partners to engage with over 200,000 local people through educational, health and community related activities, contributing towards creating a sense of community, improving people’s health and wellbeing, enhancing the environment and giving people confidence to find employment.

This approach has helped the Land Trust secure a position on the shortlist of the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards’ Finance for Good category.

Find out more about the award scheme here.


Scotland's local environmental quality in decline – Keep Scotland Beautiful

Local environmental quality (Keep Scotland Beautiful)A report 'Scotland's local environmental quality in decline' has been published today, 16 March 2016.  It confirms that after many years of improvements, we are now seeing a deterioration in key indicators across the country. The acknowledged indicators of ‘local environmental quality’ are litter, dog fouling, flytipping, graffiti, detritus, weed growth and flyposting.

Local environmental quality (Keep Scotland Beautiful)

The report is set to be the focus of Scotland's Local Environmental Quality Conference, an event which brings together a range of environmental organisations, including members of the Local Environmental Quality Network, which all face the challenge of arresting and reversing that decline despite financial challenges.

Speaking on launching the report, Derek Robertson, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: “This is an important report in the long history of action to improve Scotland’s environment. In a country where we owe so much of our economy to attracting visitors from across the globe, and where civic and social justice are so important to our national sense of wellbeing - this report makes it clear that we cannot stand by and watch whilst standards are clearly starting to decline.

Read the report here


Action required now to address the impact of deer on Scotland’s environment – Scottish Wildlife Trust    

Leading environmental charity, the Scottish Wildlife Trust is backing new measures to strengthen deer management provisions under the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. The Trust believes that imminent action is necessary to sustain, protect and enhance Scotland’s biodiversity and ecosystems. Its support comes ahead of Parliament’s Stage 3 consideration of the Bill which takes place on Wednesday this week.

Due to the loss of native predators and lack of effective control, wild deer numbers are much higher in Scotland than they should be, and they continue to rise. Through overgrazing, bark stripping and trampling, deer can cause widespread damage to habitats such as peatlands and woodlands, which further impacts local biodiversity, flood risk and the ability of Scotland’s bogs to store carbon. In order to control wild deer populations, culling must keep pace with population expansion. However, current culling levels are falling far short of this to the extent that red deer numbers have tripled in the last 50 years demonstrating that the current voluntary approach to deer management is not working. 

Dr Maggie Keegan, Head of Policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “For too long, many areas of Scotland have been overrun by high deer numbers - in excess of that which a healthy natural environment can support. This has led to environmental degradation such as the suppression of native woodland expansion, peatlands becoming eroded and emitting rather than storing carbon, a lack of a natural treeline, denuded hillsides, trees clinging on in the most inaccessible places, a lack of montane scrub such as juniper, increased run off rate, decreased water quality and increased downstream flooding risk.”


Hundreds of thousands of birds still being illegally killed on British military base in Cyprus but annual increase halted - RSPB

Over 800,000 birds were trapped and killed illegally on a British military base in Cyprus last autumn, according to the latest research by the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus.

The songbirds are illegally trapped to provide the main ingredient for the local and expensive delicacy of ambelopoulia, where a plate of songbirds is illegally served to restaurant diners.

Organised crime gangs are running this illegal practice on an 'industrial scale', which is estimated by the Cypriot authorities to earn criminals on the island 15 million Euros every year.

Survey data from BirdLife Cyprus and other organisations have recorded over 150 species of bird which have become trapped in nets or on lime-sticks. More than half of these species are of conservation concern.

On a positive note, the results from 2015 show that there’s been a stop to the annual increases of the last five years in numbers of birds killed on British Territory, thanks to various measures taken to tackle the problem by the Base authorities. The numbers however remain around record-breaking levels, with levels of illegal killing still far worse on British Territory than in the Republic of Cyprus.


Fish free to roam our rivers could boost biodiversity – Environment Agency

Rivers across England could benefit from new Government plans to help address declining freshwater fish stocks so native species can thrive

Minister Eustice with representatives of the Rivers Trust at the River Fowey (gov.uk)Minister Eustice with representatives of the Rivers Trust at the River Fowey (gov.uk)

Migration within rivers and between rivers and the sea is an important part of the lifecycles of many species of fish native to England. But these journeys can be impeded by structures like weirs or water intakes, hampering fishes’ efforts to reproduce or feed.

This month the Government is setting out proposed new legislation to remove obstructions or build fish passes to provide a route around or through these hurdles. These passes already exist on some rivers across the country, as do protective screens to stop fish getting trapped in water intakes—but more action is needed.

New legislation to facilitate fish passage could help recover stocks of species like salmon, which are born in our rivers and swim to the Atlantic to mature for up to three years before returning to the same river to spawn.

Speaking as he visited the River Fowey in Cornwall with The Rivers Trust to see first-hand work that had improved fish passage, Fisheries Minister George Eustice said: “Improving and restoring our rivers is key to the Government’s vision for a cleaner, healthier environment—but we can’t do this alone. That’s why the work of organisations like The Rivers Trust is so important, and we are increasingly working in partnership to take action to protect iconic species like salmon, including by ensuring them safe passage in our rivers.”


£1.8m to help nurture the next generation of environmental leaders in NI – Ulster Wildlife

Over 15,000 young people set to stand up for nature and create a brighter future (Ulster Wildlife)

Over 15,000 young people set to stand up for nature and create a brighter future (Ulster Wildlife)

More than 15,000 young people across Northern Ireland will be empowered to help stand up for nature and create a brighter future in their local communities, thanks to a £1.8m cash boost from the Big Lottery Fund.

The funding which has been awarded to two local charities, Ulster Wildlife and Belfast Hills Partnership, is part of a new UK-wide £33m programme led by The Wildlife Trusts, involving 31 organisations and more than 50,000 young people, over the next five years.

Our Bright Future, aims to tackle three big challenges facing society today - a lack of social cohesion, a lack of economic opportunities for young people and vulnerability to climate change. From tackling marine pollution to caring for local green spaces, young people will be have the opportunity to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to become environmental leaders, influence decisions at local and national levels and improve their employment prospects.


Red deer study shows impact of inbreeding – University of Edinburgh

Inbred animals have fewer surviving offspring compared with others, a study of red deer in the wild has found.

The insight could aid the conservation and management of endangered populations of animals in which inbreeding carries a high risk of extinction.

The findings from a long-term study on a Scottish island shows that hinds whose parents were first cousins raise far fewer offspring - about one-quarter as many - to adulthood over their lifetimes compared with others.

This is because inbred hinds are less likely to survive to breeding age, to have a calf in any given year and to rear any calves they do have to independence.

Similarly, male red deer born to first cousins sire only one-twentieth the number of offspring of average adult males.

Inbreeding is known to have adverse effects across many species, but examples of its impact on adult wild animals are rare.

Researchers used a DNA screening tool to gain a highly detailed measure of inbreeding for each individual deer living at the study site on the Isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides.


Europe's rarest seabird 'could be extinct within 60 years' – Oxford University

The Balearic shearwater, Europe's most endangered seabird, is 'on the road to extinction', according to an international team of scientists.

But researchers say its demise could be avoided with a simple technique – the setting of fishing lines at night, when the bird does not dive for food.

Experts put the global population of Balearic shearwaters (Puffinus mauretanicus) at about 7,200 breeding pairs and fewer than 30,000 individuals. The main threat to the bird is becoming entangled in fishing gear.

Image: Oxford UniversityImage: Oxford University

Professor Tim Guilford of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford, a co-author of the study, said: 'The survival of adults from one year to the next, and especially of young adults, is much lower than we thought. The species is unsustainable – it is on the road to extinction.'

The team, comprising scientists from Oxford, Southampton and Spain, and led by Meritxell Genovart of Palma de Mallorca's Mediterranean Institute for Advanced Studies, used modern techniques to model the sustainability of the current population, which is numbered at fewer than 30,000 birds. With declines of about 14% a year, complete extinction is predicted within about 60 years.

Estimates of survival from the world's largest single colony, a remote cave on Mallorca where the Oxford team works, show that it is far below what is needed to maintain population growth or stability.

However, policy changes such as setting fishing gear at night when the bird does not dive 'could make a massive difference,' according to Professor Guilford.

Access the paper here: Genovart M. et al (2016) Demography of the critically endangered Balearic shearwater: the impact of fisheries and time to extinction. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12622


On a cliff edge, one of the UK’s rarest wildflowers is saved - Plantlife

Yellow whitlowgrass, which grows only on the South Gower cliffs, has been saved thanks to Plantlife’s work to remove invasive non-native cotoneaster, fast-growing shrubs that cause havoc for wild plants and wildlife.  

Yellow Whitlowgrass - one of Britain's rarest wildflowers - growing on the cliffs of the Gower (image: Tim Wilkins via  Pantlife)Yellow Whitlowgrass - one of Britain's rarest wildflowers - growing on the cliffs of the Gower (image: Tim Wilkins via  Pantlife)

Since 2013, Plantlife has been battling invasive cotoneaster that’s invaded large areas of pristine natural habitat on Gower. The garden escapee had smothered the fragile wild flowers, and almost wiped out the rare and intricate lichens, liverworts and mosses that give Gower its international importance. However, thanks to funding from Biffa Award, and the landowner National Trust, Plantlife has now cleared nearly 10 hectares of cotoneaster at Foxhole and the results speak for themselves.

Plantlife’s Colin Cheesman: “The rare and threatened yellow Whitlowgrass was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It relies on the Gower’s rocky slopes where it flowers in the cracks and crevices but this was becoming engulfed with invasive cotoneaster which it simply can’t compete with and as a result was pushed to near extinction. Thankfully, through funding from Biffa Award and working with the landowners, the National Trust, we have been able to remove the cotoneaster and bring beauty and colour back to this important part of Gower. It’s sobering to think that if we hadn’t stepped in, some wild plants would be facing local extinction but it’s essential we continue our work and ensure that this area is kept cotoneaster free.”


£33 million invested in the next generation of environmental leaders - Big Lottery Fund

Three months on from the Paris climate change agreement, more than 30 organisations are using £33 million from the Big Lottery Fund to help young people step up and create what is rightfully theirs: a healthy planet, a thriving economy and a brighter future. With more than 50,000 young people reached through the programme, Our Bright Future is creating the next generation of environmental leaders.

Our Bright Future aims to tackle three big challenges facing society today - a lack of social cohesion, a lack of opportunities for young people and vulnerability to climate change. Thirty one youth-led projects across the UK are receiving around £1m each of National Lottery funding to give young people the skills and knowledge to improve their local environments - from reducing marine pollution to minimising food waste. In doing so, young people will develop the confidence and resilience to become environmental leaders and influence decisions at local and national levels. This young, ambitious and capable movement is ensuring this generation’s voice is heard in the current debates around environmental improvements and a resource-efficient economy.

One project run by the National Union of Students is creating more than 60 social enterprises across the UK. As a result, 10,000 young people will benefit from improved employability skills and carbon emissions will be reduced by 1,000 tonnes. In another project, more than 6,000 young people will benefit from environmental training with the Learning through Landscapes Trust’s ‘Fruit-full Communities’ project creating community orchards. Global Feedback Ltd’s ‘From Farm to Fork’ project will help young people to gain skills and qualifications whilst providing approximately 6.2 million portions of fruit and vegetables to charities and community groups.

But Our Bright Future goes a lot further than the impressive impacts seen by these individual projects. The programme is gathering strong evidence about how we can support the development of the environment and young people using a resource efficient and sustainable ‘green’ economy. More than a hundred organisations are contributing to the wider Our Bright Future movement by sharing evidence, learning and knowledge which will soon start to inform the choices made at local, regional, and national levels in the UK.

With over 30 projects across the UK and the involvement of organisations such as St Mungo’s, The National Trust, Action for Blind People, Centre for Sustainable Energy, Friends of the Earth, and UpRising, there is a very bright future ahead.

Find out more about the Our Bright Future project here.


Poorer pupils benefit most from school nature trips - Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

Poorer children are less interested in being outdoors in nature than better-off children, but that difference can be turned on its head after just one day spent learning outside. That’s according to early findings from a study by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

Children at WWT Centre (Image: WWT)Children at WWT Centre (Image: WWT)

WWT’s study – thought to be the first of its kind – is investigating the long-term impact of a school visit to one of WWT’s wetland centres on pupils’ attitudes and values around nature and wildlife.

Groups of pupils from different schools were tracked from the day before their first visit and for a further year or more using focus groups and surveys.

The responses of pupils from schools in poorer areas – where a high proportion claim free school meals – were generally far less positive about nature and wildlife than their peers before the visit. But when researchers followed up in the weeks afterwards, they found this group had developed a greater interest and positive attitude, including wanting to do things to help wildlife

These preliminary findings come one year into the study. Over the next year more schools will join the study and final results are expected in 2017.


Over 60,000 visits to the John Muir Way - Scottish Natural Heritage

There were over 60,000 visits to the John Muir Way in 2015, according to a new Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report, with 6000 people completing the 134-mile trail end-to-end over consecutive days.

Over 60,000 visits were specifically to walk or cycle on the John Muir Way, with a further 200,000 also making use of some of the popular local sections for routine dog walking, commuting and other purposes.

Eight in 10 visitors were extremely or very satisfied with their visit to Scotland’s newest long-distance route, citing in particular the variety of views, scenery, landscapes and terrain on offer. Seventy-five percent of the users are walkers, and 25% are cyclists.

The Way is designed to be used for local day trips throughout the Central Belt, as well as an end-to-end long distance trail, with easy access to attractions, public transport and accommodation along the way.

The survey found that a third of those interviewed were people who ‘seldom’ visit the outdoors, highlighting the potential of the route to encourage a new generation of outdoor visitors.

Ron McCraw, route developer for SNH, said: “We’re really thrilled to discover how many people are using the John Muir Way. In particular, it’s great that so many people who may not have considered going out for a walk or cycle very often before are enjoying the Way. We’re now working with Central Scotland Green Network Trust and other partners to encourage even more people to journey on the route, which will benefit communities and businesses throughout the Central Belt.”

The survey also found peoples’ main reasons for visiting the route were both mental and physical health, including ‘health and exercise’ (61%), enjoying the scenery (22%), the fresh air or pleasant weather (20%), the opportunity to relax and unwind (19%), and the peace and quiet (16%).

Around 3 in 10 visitors spent money during their visit to the John Muir Way. Visitors from further afield were more likely than local people to spend money, showing the potential to increase the economic benefits as the route becomes better known.

The John Muir Way Visitor Survey took place between November 2014 and October 2015.

Full survey results available here. 


Researchers find dissimilar forests are vital for delivery of ecosystem services - Royal Holloway, University of London

A team of ecologists from Royal Holloway, University of London has taken part in a large collaborative EU project to find out what the effects of forest tree species diversity are on ecosystem services. These services, which include timber production, carbon storage, and forest resistance to pests and diseases, are crucial to human well-being.

One of the key novel findings of the project published on Monday (March 14) is the consistently negative impact a similarity in tree species composition across the landscape (biotic homogenization) has on the ability of forests to deliver multiple ecosystem services.  Forests are becoming dominated by a small number of tree species as a result of species extinctions, tree species selection by forest managers, and invasions or planting of exotic species. This process of biotic homogenization is similar to cultural globalization with the global consumer market becoming dominated by the small number of chains (the so-called McDonald’s Effect).

Researchers combined field data from 209 forest plots across six European countries with computer simulations to study the consequences of both local tree species loss and biotic homogenization on 16 ecosystem functions, including timber production, carbon storage, bird diversity, forest regeneration and resistance to insect and mammalian pests.

The researchers found that while the effects of local tree species loss were highly variable, the effects of biotic homogenization were almost always detrimental for provisioning of multiple ecosystem services. This means that landscapes containing more dissimilar forests provide more ecosystem services than landscapes where all forest patches were dominated by the same tree species. This is because different tree species are needed to provide different services; for example, in Poland, the Norway spruce provides high quality timber whereas hornbeam forests are better at supporting the diversity of attractive plant species in the understorey that may appeal to tourists.

While many studies have investigated the consequences of species loss for human well-being, this is the first study to show the consequences of biotic homogenization for forest ecosystem services.

Access the paper: Fons van der Plas et al. Biotic homogenization can decrease landscape-scale forest multifunctionality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA doi: 10.1073/pnas.1517903113


Nature conservation vs ecosystem services – what’s the trade-off? - James Hutton Institute

There has been a renewed drive in nature conservation policy in recent years, but is it coming at the expense of limitations in the delivery of the many services that our ecosystems provide, such as tourism and recreation, provision of raw materials and climate regulation? The question is at the centre of multidisciplinary research by scientists at the James Hutton Institute, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, RSPB Scotland and the Seafield Estate in Scotland.

After looking at the impacts of nature conservation in the UK for the full range of ecosystem services across nine case-studies, covering a range of protected sites and comparable non-protected sites, the team found that protected sites deliver overall higher levels of ecosystem services than non-protected sites, with the main differences found in the cultural (e.g. artistic, education, religious, tourism, recreation) and regulating (such as air quality, climate, pollination, soil and water quality) services.

Socio-ecologist Dr Antonia Eastwood, part of the Ecological Sciences group of the James Hutton Institute and co-author of the study, said that against expectations there was no consistent negative impact on provisioning services (e.g. sourcing of energy, fibre, food and freshwater) across the case studies. “Whilst the analysis demonstrated general patterns in ecosystem services delivery between protected and non-protected sites, individual responses in each case study highlight the importance of the local context of individual protected areas and the associated management.  We believe this research is crucial to gain an integrated and holistic understanding of the impacts of nature conservation on the supply of services provided by our ecosystems. However, more comprehensive research on ways to assess all of the cultural and regulatory benefits of nature conservation is essential, with input from local stakeholders and experts.” 

Access the paper: A. Eastwood, et al. Does nature conservation enhance ecosystem services delivery?, Ecosystem Services, Volume 17, February 2016, Pages 152-162, ISSN 2212-0416, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoser.2015.12.001.


Outdoor Learning Opportunity for Scottish Junior Rangers - Scottish Natural Heritage

A project encouraging young people to take an interest in the environment is being launched across the country by the Scottish Countryside Rangers’ Association (SCRA) this week.

The Junior Ranger programme allows 11to18 year-olds to get involved with the work of their local ranger service. This gives them valuable opportunities to work as part of a team, develop practical skills and explore future career opportunities. SCRA is now rolling out the programme after a series of successful pilot Junior Ranger projects.

Those on the pilot projects took part in activities such as species identification, planting hedgerows, learning new conservation management skills and removing invasive plant species. Young volunteers also supported the rangers at events and built on their self-confidence by talking to people about their work.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has funded the Junior Rangers project. Alison Matheson, who worked on the project for SNH, said: “We are pleased to have supported the development of Scotland’s Junior Ranger programme. Young people in Scotland have much to gain from being active in the outdoors. As well as the health benefits, the Junior Ranger work gives them and their friends an opportunity to try something different, learn new skills, help the environment, and start thinking about the world of work.”

For more information on the project and to find a Junior Ranger scheme near you visit the SCRA website.


New study reveals intriguing information about inquisitive UK fish - The Wildlife Trusts

Photographer’s underwater observations and ID unveil new blenny behaviour.

Diver with tompot blenny (c) Paul Naylor/marinephoto.co.uk, via Wildlife TrustsDiver with tompot blenny (c) Paul Naylor/marinephoto.co.uk, via Wildlife Trusts

The discovery of distinctive face markings on one of the UK’s most charismatic and inquisitive fish has enabled an underwater photographer to reveal intriguing new information about its behaviour. Paul Naylor has been studying tompot blennies for many years, undertaking more than 100 dives at particular spots in Devon.  He recently discovered, thanks to his library of close-up photographs, that each fish has distinctive face markings, allowing him to get to know individual blennies.

Paul determined that a male tompot blenny, as found on shallow rocky reefs around Britain, can live in the same crevice in the rock for up to four years. Paul now knows he witnessed males encouraging females - not just one but many – and over subsequent breeding seasons, to lay eggs which the male guarded from all predators, such as other fish and crabs, until the eggs hatched. Paul identified males having disputes over territory, with one individual seen recovering from injuries endured in the fights. Juvenile tompot blennies learn the ways of adulthood quickly, with even the youngest fish having stand-offs.

Through photo identification, Paul also recorded a highly unusual aspect of blenny behaviour close to the Dorset coast; a large male tompot followed winning a territorial fight, by pushing a large shell around the seabed ‘showing off’ to two smaller tompots.

Paul adds: “I hope the results of this study will help to illustrate the awesome antics going on in UK waters and how important it is for us to protect them for the future.”

Access the paper: P. Naylor and D. M. P Jacoby: Territoriality in the tompot blenny Parablennius gattorugine from photographic records. Journal of Fish Biology 2016; DOI 10.1111/jfb.12918. 


Scientific Publications 

Newson, Stuart E., Moran, Nick J., Musgrove, Andy J., Pearce-Higgins, James W., Gillings, Simon, Atkinson, Philip W., Miller, Ryan, Grantham, Mark J. & Baillie, Stephen R.  Long-term changes in the migration phenology of UK breeding birds detected by large-scale citizen science recording schemes.  Ibis  DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12367


McClanahan, T. R. & Rankin, P.S. Geography of conservation spending, biodiversity, and culture.  Conservation Biology  DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12720 


Vicente, J. R. et al (2016) Cost-effective monitoring of biological invasions under global change: a model-based framework. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12631


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