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


New report shows promise for puffins in Scotland – Scottish Natural Heritage

After two decades of declining numbers, there are early signs of hope for some seabirds, including common guillemots and puffins. If the trend continues, this could lead to declines slowing and maybe even reversing in some areas.

This is according to the latest seabird indicator for Scotland published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), using information collected from the Seabird Monitoring Programme.

Looking at the number of chicks produced can give an indication of how seabirds have fared in 2014 and 2015. Overall, the number of puffin chicks produced in 2014-15 was slightly higher than the long-term average. Similar results were recorded for some other seabirds, such as herring gull and little tern, although populations are now lower than when results were first collected in 1986.

Although the long-term declines are serious, the 2014-15 results are encouraging. On the Isle of May, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has been researching the seabirds since 1972. They've found that 2015 was above average for all study species with kittiwakes and shags having a particularly productive breeding season. This was the second consecutive year of high breeding success for kittiwakes after a number of poor years.

For the full seabird indicator report click here


The first day of spring? Six weeks early for some species... – Woodland Trust
Early bluebells at the Woodland Trust's Heartwood Forest in Hertfordshire. WTML-Judith Parry

Early bluebells at the Woodland Trust's Heartwood Forest in Hertfordshire. WTML-Judith Parry
It may now officially be the start of spring, but records on the Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar survey suggest that some common spring events could be as much as six weeks earlier than average this year, playing havoc with natural timings.

Following the third warmest winter since 1910 the charity has received some of the earliest records this century of flowering bluebells and blackthorn, with hawthorn trees also coming into leaf far earlier. This time last year the Trust had received just 22 bluebell sightings across the UK, but over 60 locations have already been recorded this year, from Dorchester to Doncaster.

Event in 2016

Compared to 2015

Compared to 2001 (benchmark year)

Blackthorn first flower

6 weeks earlier

6 weeks earlier

Hawthorn first leaf

5 weeks earlier

6 weeks earlier

Bluebell first flower

2-3 weeks earlier

4 weeks earlier

Nest building blackbirds

No difference

1 week earlier

Nest building blue tits

No difference

No difference

Ladybird first seen

No difference

No data

Red- tailed bumblebee first seen

No difference

No data

The Trust has seen less of a response from wildlife with nesting bird data and ladybird sightings seeing no change compared to previous years, suggesting other factors determine their spring activity.


Annual bird of prey crime maps – Scottish Government

Details published for 2015.

20 bird of prey crimes were recorded in 2015 including six poisoning incidents, according to the latest bird of prey crime maps published today.

The maps by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland show a slight increase from 2014 which saw 18 bird of prey crimes recorded.

The birds involved in these incidents include buzzards, red kites, peregrine falcons, goshawks, osprey and a hen harrier. Poisoning was the most frequently recorded bird of prey crime, but there were also five shootings, five cases of disturbance, three trapping or attempted trapping offences and one chick theft.

A new map showing the locations of other poison baits has also been published. This map includes 6 poisoning abuse incidents over a five year period from 2011-2015 where no bird of prey was confirmed poisoned, but where the type and location of the bait, and the type of poison used could pose a serious threat to these birds.

Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Dr Aileen McLeod said: “Whilst these figures only show a small increase in the number of crimes against birds of prey over the last year, it is very disappointing not to see a decrease in the number of incidents. I want to be clear that wildlife crime is not acceptable in a modern Scotland and this is why we are doing all we can to end the illegal killing of birds of prey and working in partnership with stakeholders to achieve that. Scotland already has the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK and last month I accepted proposals from the wildlife crime penalties review group to introduce tough new maximum penalties for those who commit crimes against wildlife. This sends out a clear message to those who commit crimes against birds of prey – that this will not be tolerated.”

The hotspot maps can be viewed here


Small Copper slumps as butterflies struggle in cold summer – Butterfly Conservation

One of the UK’s most widespread butterflies, the Small Copper, has suffered its worst year on record and is now in a state of significant decline, a study has revealed.

The summer of 2015 was cooler than average with the majority of widespread and habitat specialist butterflies struggling as a result.

Small Copper butterfly by Peter EelesThe Small Copper saw numbers fall by almost a quarter last year compared to 2014, the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) led by Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) revealed.

Small Copper butterfly by Peter Eeles

Found across the UK, the Small Copper, an occasional garden visitor, has seen its numbers tumble.

Previous research suggests the butterfly has suffered substantial declines over the last century due to habitat loss, but relatively poor weather in recent years may also be aggravating this decline.

2015’s dry spring was followed by the coldest and wettest summer for three year. Some 34 of the 57 butterfly species monitored by the scheme experienced declines, with the lack of summer warmth a factor in this. 


Poor weather hits garden birds – British Trust for Ornithology

With the British Trust for Ornithology's (BTO) Garden BirdWatch results now published for 2015, we can see the full impact last year’s wet spring had on our garden birds.Some of the birds that had a particularly poor year were those that are most familiar to us, such as Blackbird and Blue Tit. Will this year see common garden bird numbers recover from 2015's poor breeding season? Your help is needed to find out.

The annual results of the BTO Garden BirdWatch show an interesting story for some of our more common garden birds, with Blue Tit, Great Tit and Blackbird numbers all well below average during the second half of 2015.  Blackbird numbers were 13% lower than usual between June and December, whilst both Blue Tit and Great Tit were at their lowest numbers on record for June, down 19% and 14% respectively. Blackbird by www.grayimages.co.ukThis is the time of year when the numbers of these species seen in gardens normally rises sharply, as juveniles leave the nest and join their parents at garden feeding stations.

Blackbird by www.grayimages.co.uk

It is thought that these results were due to a poor breeding season, which was caused by cold, wet weather in the spring, resulting in fewer juvenile birds. “Data collected by BTO Nest Record Scheme volunteers show that the number of chicks fledged per Blackbird nest in 2015 was the lowest since records began in the mid-1960s,” explained Dave Leech, Head of the Nest Record Scheme. “Small clutches meant that numbers of young reared by both Blue and Great Tits were also significantly lower than average.”


Lethal genetic blindness found in a rare Scottish bird - University of Aberdeen

The last remaining Scottish populations of the rare red-billed chough are being affected by a genetic mutation causing lethal blindness, a new study from the University of Aberdeen and the Scottish Chough Study Group and funded by NERC and Scottish Natural Heritage has shown.

Image: University of AberdeenBlindness was first observed in a chough chick in 1998 and small numbers of blind chicks have occurred in most years subsequently.

Blind chicks can survive in the nest while being fed by their parents, but once they leave the nest they die very quickly.

Image: University of Aberdeen

A similar condition occurs in humans and is caused by a genetic mutation and now this new research, which is published today (21 Mar) in the Journal of Animal Ecology suggests that the blindness in the Scottish chough population is also caused by a genetic mutation.

Furthermore, the research shows that non-blind individuals that carry the mutant gene are likely to be widely-distributed within the Scottish chough population and therefore eradicating the mutation is likely to be difficult.


SNH: plan now to preserve ancient rainforest species

Globally important lichens in western Scotland are the subject of a new report produced for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

Western Scotland is home to temperate rainforests inhabited by rich and diverse lichen communities. Most of them are ‘epiphytes’ which means they grow on another plant without harming it.

Lichens will, like the rest of Scotland’s biodiversity, be affected by climate change. Since they depend on the trees they grow on, they could also be threatened by anything that harms the trees – including diseases such as ash dieback.

The new report ‘Woodland composition, climate change and the long-term resilience of lichen epiphytes at Glasdrum NNR’ presents a method that can help land managers to consider how decisions taken now could affect the future survival of species.

Link to the report here


New Plan for National Parks gives every schoolchild a chance to visit - Defra

The government's new Plan for National Parks kickstarts a programme of activity to safeguard the future of these iconic landscapes.

Every schoolchild in England will have the chance to visit our inspiring National Parks at each stage of their education under plans announced today by Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss - as new figures reveal only 10% of schoolchildren currently have access to outdoor learning.

The new Plan for National Parks kickstarts a programme of activity to safeguard the future of these iconic landscapes, including by engaging young people throughout their education

from primary school, bringing more than 80,000 young people to visit National Parks and putting National Parks in the curriculum

at secondary school, doubling the number of youth volunteers in National Parks as part of the National Citizen Service

in their first steps to employment, developing a new apprenticeship standard and doubling apprenticeships in National Parks by 2020

With over half of the population in England living within an hour of a National Park, the plan aims to increase the diversity of visitors from the UK - as well as promoting these world-class cultural attractions to a global audience through the GREAT campaign to drive international tourism. The Environment Secretary aims to build annual visitor numbers to 100 million, bringing around £440 million more to local businesses, adding to the £4 billion already generated by National Parks.

The government protected National Parks’ budgets in the last spending review, committing over £350 million for English National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and forests. The new plan will further secure the future of these iconic protected landscapes, ensuring effective environmental management and growing a strong rural economy.

Along with work already underway to give schools in England one million native British trees to plant in their communities, National Parks will be a key part of a new government campaign later this year to connect children with nature and the environment.

The plan also aims to harness the power of the natural environment to improve national wellbeing, after research published last month by Natural England showed taking part in nature-based activities can contribute to a reduction in anxiety, stress, and depression. It recommended greater use of ‘green care’ to help people suffering from mental ill health, including taking part in environmental conservation - for example, through innovative schemes in National Parks.


National parks: 8-point plan for England (2016 to 2020) - defra publications

This plan sets out how we intend to protect, promote and enhance National Parks in England from now until 2020.

This 8-point plan sets out our priorities for improving National Parks in England over the period from 2016 until 2020.

It includes plans to connect more young people to the environment through National Parks, and to increase visitor numbers. The plan also includes plans to develop apprenticeships through National Park Authorities, and to protect and enhance the natural environment.

Access the plan: National parks: 8-point plan for England (2016 to 2020) (PDF)


Government issues 8 point plan for National Parks in England highlighting the importance of these beautiful places - Campaign for National Parks

We welcome the 8-Point Plan for England’s National Parks the Government published today which places an emphasis on ensuring National Parks are protected and promoted for future generations to enjoy.  

For the last three years our Mosaic Youth project in partnership with National Park Authorities has been working to ensure that disadvantaged 16-25 year olds are able to access and enjoy National Parks. So we are delighted to see that the Government’s National Parks plan offers more opportunities for young people to enjoy these places.  

Our chief executive, Fiona Howie said: “It is fantastic that this Plan sets out the Government’s ambition to put National Parks at the heart of how we think about and manage the environment for future generations. The Campaign for National Parks has always believed that the National Parks are inspirational and special and we share the ambition that even more people, whether they are visiting or live or work in the Parks, should be able to benefit from these unique places.”

 We look forward to working with the Government and the National Park Authorities to make these ambitions a reality.


Many of the individual National Parks welcomed the plan, read their responses


Great British Beach Clean Results 2015 - Marine Conservation Society

Great British Beach CleanOur 2015 Great British Beach Clean event has been yet another record breaker! When 5,349 volunteers took part in 2014 we were thrilled - but that record was smashed in September 2015 when 6,035 of you headed to the beach - the most in our 22 year history of running clean-ups.

Thanks to each and every one of you - your support is a massive part of the fight to reduce beach litter on UK shores.

Here’s a taste of this years stories

Another record was broken too, but we rather wish it hadn’t been. In 2014 we found 2,457 pieces of litter on every kilometre of beach we cleaned - the highest amount since we began our annual September cleans. But in 2015 it got worse, with 3,298 items picked up per kilometre surveyed.

Bottles are the story of this year’s Great British Beach Clean, with almost 100 being found on every kilometre we cleaned. We’ve more on bottles on pages 10 and 12.

Changing policy: In this year’s report you’ll find out how some beach data is helping to show how UK governments are performing when it comes to European litter targets, go on a beach cleaning road trip with MCS staff and get the latest beach litter news from around the UK. 

It’s a damning indictment that current legislation to stop litter reaching the sea isn’t working. From public litter to industrial waste, fishing litter to fly tipping - this problem belongs to us all, so it can be fixed.

Download the full report to find out more (PDF) 


Ashes to ashes - Keele Unviersity

The future for ash – the tree that gave us food, fuel and the Sweet Track, one of the oldest roads in the world – looks bleak, according to a new survey of its biology and ecology. The review by tree expert Dr Peter Thomas is the largest-ever survey of this much-loved tree and is published today in the Journal of Ecology.

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) is native throughout most of the British Isles. It is an important urban tree in our towns and cities, is the second most abundant tree (after oak) in woodland, and outside woods there are 2.2 million ash trees in Britain. Ash is our most common hedgerow species  and the length of woody linear features (hedgerows and tree lines) composed of ash in Great Britain is almost 100,000 km.

Ash had been thriving in Europe until recently thanks, paradoxically, to air pollution. Nitrogen pollution has acted as a fertiliser and climate change has also aided ash because of ash is drought tolerant, able to cope with lower rainfall, and sensitive to spring frosts and so benefits from warmer springs.

But, the survey warns, ash faces several serious problems, including the immediate threat of ash dieback and the 'potentially devastating' emerald ash borer, which is spreading west across Europe.

According to Dr Thomas of Keele University: “Between the fungal disease ash dieback and a bright green beetle called the emerald ash borer, it is likely that almost all ash trees in Europe will be wiped out – just as the elm was largely eliminated by Dutch elm disease.”

Access the publication: Thomas, P. A. (2016), Biological Flora of the British Isles: Fraxinus excelsior. J Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12566


Spring is in the air as the ospreys begin to return

Female osprey returns to Loch of the Lowes - Scottish Wildlife Trust

Staff and volunteers at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scotland's leading nature conservation charity, are delighted that a female osprey has returned to Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve, near Dunkeld, almost two weeks earlier than anticipated.

Wildlife enthusiasts from around the world had been waiting to see if the female osprey, known at the Trust as LF15, would return to the reserve for a second year running. The osprey successfully fledged three chicks at the reserve last summer and had last been seen on 7 August 2015. Having spent the winter in a warmer climate, she has now returned Scotland’s most famous osprey nest, where it is hoped that she will breed once more.

Perthshire Ranger for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Charlotte Fleming, said: “It’s great to see the osprey back again. Her behaviour is very relaxed and she seems very at ease in the middle of the nest. From initial observations she looks in great condition for breeding and we are sure to see her enjoying a well-needed fish soon.

“We are hoping that she won’t be on her own for long and are keeping our eyes glued to the webcam to see when the male will arrive. I am delighted that our osprey season has started so well already, and have everything crossed for another successful breeding season.”


RSPB Scotland celebrates return of EJ the osprey to Loch Garten

Female osprey in flight (Image: Chris Gomersall, RSPB)RSPB Scotland is celebrating the return of EJ the osprey to its Loch Garten nature reserve in Speyside, a full 12 days earlier than she appeared last year.

Female osprey in flight (Image: Chris Gomersall, RSPB)

EJ, a female osprey, has been a regular resident at the site since 2003 and has raised a total 23 chicks there to date, mainly with her usual partner Odin.

Julie Quirie manages the Osprey Centre shop, and was the first member of RSPB Scotland staff to spot EJ. She said: “I had just arrived at work for my first day of the new season, threw open the flaps at the Osprey Centre, and there, sitting on a branch, eating a fish was EJ!

“She had just arrived, having completed her epic flight from the far south. It may seem strange, but even after eight years working at Loch Garten, the return of the ospreys still brings a lump to my throat.”


The results are in from the third Big Farmland Bird Count - Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Ring Ouzel (image: Guy Smith NFU) Ring Ouzel (image: Guy Smith NFU) 

This February saw a flock of farmers, gamekeepers and land managers join together to count their farmland birds. With nearly 1,000 farmers spotting 130 species, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) 2016 Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) has been an incredible success.

Taking half an hour out of their busy schedules to count, the farmers, gamekeepers and land managers dusted off their binoculars to see just how much their conservation work is helping their resident birds. In total, 130 different species were spotted, which is the highest number of species counted since the BFBC was launched in 2014. In addition, this year a total of 25 Red List species were recorded, again beating the numbers spotted during previous counts. It was particularly exciting to see six of these in the 25 most commonly seen species list: fieldfares, house sparrows, starlings, yellowhammers, song thrushes and skylarks.

Many people took part across Northern Ireland, counting 50 different species. Starlings were seen by 80% of those taking part from the area and mistle thrushes were seen by 70%, joining 7 other species spotted from the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern.

With the BFBC now in its third year, the GWCT is starting to see some patterns developing. For example, this year’s five most abundant birds seen were woodpigeons, starlings, rooks, fieldfares and lapwings. These are almost the same as in 2014 and 2015, except lapwings have pushed chaffinches down to sixth place.

The GWCT’s Head of Development and Training and BFBC organiser, Jim Egan, said: “It is really exciting to see so many people taking part in the count this year. Despite the horrible weather at the start of the count week, we’ve nearly doubled the total number of participants since the first year, and many of those who took part in the first year have continued to submit their results every time. It really does show that farmers have a long-term commitment to conservation management.” 


Agricultural management and climatic change major drivers of UK biodiversity change - CEH

The State of Nature report, published in 2013 by a partnership of 25 conservation organisations, showed the scale of declines in UK wildlife. Data and analysis from scientists within the Biological Records Centre, part of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), played a major role in tracking the trends identified in the report.

This week, a paper exploring the pressures that led to those declines has been published in the journal PLOS ONE. The study was led by the RSPB and was carried out by scientists from ten organisations - charities, Universities and research institutes – including staff from CEH.

The study looked at a comprehensive range of pressures, both positive and negative, on a sample of 400 species of plants and animals and found that intensive management of agricultural land and climatic change have had the greatest impact on wildlife since 1970.

Professor Helen Roy, Dr Gary Powney and Bjorn Beckmann from CEH were involved in the study working on assisting with data use from Biological Records Centre-hosted recording schemes and identifying the drivers of change for several species including grasshoppers and ladybirds.

Farming practices have changed dramatically since 1970, such as a change from spring- to autumn-sown crops, losses of hedgerows and farm ponds, and use of novel pesticides and herbicides.  These changes have had negative impacts across many groups of animals and plants – including butterflies, beetles, bees, grasshoppers, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, birds and plants.

A second iteration of the 2013 State of Nature report will be published this September, bringing the analysis up to date for 2016. Monitoring and analytical developments since 2013 mean that this second report will be even more in-depth and comprehensive.

Read the publication: Fiona Burns  et al Agricultural Management and Climatic Change Are the Major Drivers of Biodiversity Change in the UK. Plos One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151595


Scottish Wildlife Trust calls for investment in nature

In the run up to the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, leading environmental charity the Scottish Wildlife Trust is asking its members and supporters to challenge candidates about their plans for nature.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust wants all parties to commit to actions which will ensure that everyone in Scotland can access and enjoy the benefits of nature wherever they live.

Dr Maggie Keegan, Head of Policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “More and more people are realising that everyone relies on a healthy natural environment. Nature isn’t just about the wildlife we all love – and for which Scotland is famous – nature is also the backbone of our economy and is crucial to our well-being. This is why we would like to see all parties commit to taking nature into account in all major decisions. As people look ahead to the election in May, we’re particularly highlighting the role of green spaces in our towns and cities. On so many levels, green spaces are vital. High quality and accessible green spaces means healthier child development, a fitter community, lower levels of depression, cleaner air, lower levels of asthma – and those are just the health benefits. Investing in green spaces can also help tackle inequalities, create more resilient communities and make neighbourhoods better places to live and work. And all of this is on top of the benefits for wildlife, from protecting butterflies and bees to looking after garden birds and helping our endangered hedgehogs.”


Trees for Life rewilding project wins global conservation competition

Scots pines in snow with blue sky at Coille Ruigh na Cuileigemed (image: Trees for Life)Scots pines in snow with blue sky at Coille Ruigh na Cuileigemed (image: Trees for Life)

Scotland’s only entry in a leading global conservation competition has won funding of more than £20,000 to address biodiversity loss and deforestation in the Highlands, including through the planting of 50,000 native trees and the creation of habitats that will offer a lifeline to endangered and rare wildlife.

Trees for Life’s Rewilding the Highlands initiative has won the Alpine category of the 2016 European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA) Conservation Vote, securing more than 7,000 votes and widespread social media support in a tightly contested international online vote that was held between 8-22 March.

The success will allow Trees for Life to establish one of the UK’s most inspiring examples of rewilding. This will involve ambitious habitat creation to support wildlife including pine marten, red squirrel, golden eagle and Scottish wildcat, the planting of 50,000 native trees, and also the annual growing of 10,000 rare montane tree species, at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston to the west of Loch Ness.

 “This is fantastic news for Scotland’s Caledonian Forest and its endangered and rare wildlife, as well as for the many people who will benefit from our Rewilding the Highlands project, which is about people as well as places. Our sincere thanks go to everyone who supported us,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Founder.


NBN Action Plan published - National Biodiversity Network

The NBN Action Plan has now been published and is available to download.

The NBN Secretariat really values the time that all consultees put into responding to the Action Plan and we have taken on board your comments and suggested changes. These changes have all been outlined in the Action Plan Table of Changes – March 2016 for your reference.

Most significantly, the total number of actions has reduced from 104 to 95 following a merger of various duplicate actions flagged up during the consultation process.

The Action Plan also highlights the role of the Working Groups in implementing the Action Plan this year.

Download the NBN Action Plan 2016 – 2020 (PDF) 


Lough Neagh’s heritage receives £2.49m grant - Heritage Lottery Fund

The Heritage Lottery Fund has today (25/3/16) confirmed a £2.49million grant to manage and conserve the cultural, natural and built heritage of Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland.

The five-year Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership will deliver 27 integrated projects around the lough shore area.  Activities will include restoring and protecting the Lough’s wetlands, peatlands and boglands, providing skills and training opportunities for the local community, and using the Lough’s rich heritage to regenerate areas and make them better places to live.  The project will provide training for 240 people, full-time jobs for five people and 200 volunteering places.

Today’s announcement brings HLF’s investment in land and biodiversity projects in Northern Ireland to £37.6m, helping to conserve key habitats and species, restore historic built heritage features and reconnect people to their local landscapes.


Scientific Publications

Trask, A. E., Bignal, E. M.,  McCracken, D. I., Monaghan, P., Piertney, S. B. & Reid, J. M. (2016) Evidence of the phenotypic expression of a lethal recessive allele under inbreeding in a wild population of conservation. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12503


Thompson, P. S. et al (2016) Environmental impacts of high-output driven shooting of Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica. Ibis. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12356


Oduor, A. M.O., Leimu, R. and van Kleunen, M. (2016), Invasive plant species are locally adapted just as frequently and at least as strongly as native plant species. J Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12578


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