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


HWDT Welcomes the Announcement of a Proposed Special Area of Conservation for Harbour Porpoises in The Hebrides

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) is delighted to learn that the Scottish Government is honouring its commitment to provide habitat protection for the harbour porpoise. Last week, on 23 March, the Scottish Government announced that a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) for Scotland’s smallest cetacean, the harbour porpoise, will be designated in the west of Scotland, following an 8-week period of public consultation.

HWDT has engaged with the SAC designation process over many years, providing scientific evidence to support site selection, and we are encouraged that it is finally progressing. Our dedicated survey work, carried out every year over the last decade, has demonstrated that the Hebrides as a whole is an exceptionally important area for this species on both national and European scales. We support both the scale and location of the proposed SAC and hope that all stakeholders will take the opportunity to respond to this consultation to voice their views (click here), so that the best possible outcome can be reached for both harbour porpoises and for coastal communities. 


Emergency services urge rural community to adopt geolocation apps - Scottish Land and Estates 

Scotland’s emergency services have joined forces to encourage people living and working in rural areas to help them locate their exact position, in the event they call for help.  

By downloading an app to their smartphone or smartwatch, they can give emergency call handlers their exact Ordnance Survey grid reference and all three emergency service control centres can use these “Eastings” and “Northings” to plot their location, reducing the time taken to respond to incidents, improving the service provided to the public. 

Accurately identifying a rural location, particularly remote locations several miles from a listed road, can be problematic and people who work in remote or rural areas are being encouraged to use  these ‘geo-location’ apps, many of which can be downloaded and used for free,  such as the ‘OS Locate’ app, produced by Ordnance Survey. 

Chief Inspector Stuart Simpson of Police Scotland's Contact, Command and Control Division and a member of the Scottish Partnership Against Rural Crime (SPARC), said: “By giving the Eastings and Northings, the geo-locator apps provide an easy way for people in rural areas to give their location when calling the emergency services. This information can then be used by the control centre operators to plot the exact location and direct the police officer, fire crew or ambulance to the incident. We hope that this would improve the contact from and reporting of incidents from those who live, work or visit our rural areas.”

Storm Katie causes damage amongst Bedgebury National Pinetum conifer collection - Forestry Commission

Following the departure of Storm Katie on late on Monday (28/3) morning, site inspections have revealed damage to several trees across Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, near Goudhurst, Kent.
Most significantly, the “Old Man of Kent”, a grand silver fir, Abies grandis which at nearly 50 metres is well known as Kent’s tallest tree, suffered when one of its three top branches was snapped out during the high winds. Closer inspection of the fallen branch has revealed that it is diseased, and sadly, following further checks, a decision may have to be made to remove the remainder of the tree from the collection.
Fortunately, a Bedgebury led team of conservation experts travelled to the Pacific Northwest coast of America on a collaborative seed-collecting expedition in 2015, which enabled them to bring back wild collected seed of Abies grandis. Once propagated, these seedlings could one day be used to replace the aging “Old Man of Kent” when it eventually comes to the end of its natural life.

Abies grandis - Bedgebury seed collecting - Pacific northwest coast 2015 (image: Forestry Commission)Abies grandis - Bedgebury seed collecting - Pacific northwest coast 2015 (image: Forestry Commission)

Patrick West, Bedgebury Manager, said,  “The damage to trees following storms like Katie just goes to reinforce why the work that we carry out here at Bedgebury is so important for the international conservation of conifers.”

Other notable trees that were damaged in the collection included Calocedrus, common name incense cedar, and Fitzroya cupressoides, named after Captain FitzRoy of Darwin’s HMS Beagle, which is listed as endangered in the IUCN (International Union of Conservation of Nature) red list of threatened species.
In the wider forest, which had to remain closed until the winds eased off, the Bedgebury team were out early to survey the damage. They located and cleared a way through two large Leyland cypress trees that had fallen blocking one of the forest trails, along with many fallen branches which caused the temporary closure of six sections of the single track mountain bike trails. Fallen chestnut also caused problems around the Go Ape tree top adventure course, and further surveys are likely to reveal disturbed roots which may result in the need to remove other trees, or early coppicing.


RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results: Mild winter boosts sightings of smaller garden birds

  • Long-tailed tit flies into top 10 most spotted garden birds after benefiting from mild winter – recorded appearances increased by 44% on 2015
  • Other garden birds that benefitted from warmer weather include great tit and coal tit
  • House sparrow remains top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings, with starling and blue tit rounding off the top three

Long tailed tit collecting insects from hawthorn bush, (Image: John Bridges, RSPB)Long tailed tit collecting insects from hawthorn bush, (Image: John Bridges, RSPB)

More than 519,000 people across the UK took part in the 2016 Birdwatch counting a bumper 8,262,662 birds

In excess of half-a-million people joined in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey turning their eyes to the garden to watch and count over eight million birds during the 37th RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – witnessing some exciting and interesting changes among our most popular garden birds.

The tiny long-tailed tit has flown into the Big Garden Birdwatch top 10 – the first time in seven years – after the average number seen visiting gardens across the UK increased this year by 44 per cent. The highly sociable species is likely to have benefitted from the mild months leading up to January’s Birdwatch, making an appearance in over a quarter of participants’ gardens.

RSPB experts are linking the increase in sightings of long-tailed tits, as well as other smaller gardens birds such as coal tit and great tit, to the mild weather in the months leading up to the 2016 Birdwatch. Small, insect-eating birds like long- tailed tits are particularly susceptible to the cold as the food they rely on is hard to come by in frosts and snow so milder conditions are likely to have contributed to a higher survival rate.

Dr Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “This year’s survey was another brilliant year for the Big Garden Birdwatch. More than half-a-million people took part counting a bumper 8.2 million birds, proving us with valuable data which helps to build a better picture of how our garden birds are doing."


£1million secured to train young people for green employment - Avon Wildlife Trust

One million pounds has been awarded to the Avon and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trusts to train 1,100 18-24 years olds in community engagement and conservation skills, and work with more than 7,000 young people over the next five years.

A real boost to help tackle youth unemployment, the Natural Estates project will empower young people living in social housing to gain new skills relevant to finding jobs. Through training, volunteering and entrepreneurial projects, they will contribute to the green economy and create a brighter future in their local communities,

Working in partnership with six social housing providers as well as local authorities, youth support organisations, schools and colleges this five year project led by Avon and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trusts will support young people living in social housing to become a catalyst for significant change in the way their local green space is managed.

The Natural Estates project will work with more than 7,000 young people aged 11 -24 living in deprived areas with high unemployment. Over 200 participants will be trained as Garden Mentors and learn how to consult their communities and lead environmental change that will benefit everybody. Green spaces across the social housing sites will be transformed, improving the environment for people and wildlife. In addition 1,100 participants will gain real world skills and experience to help them secure employment and improve their life opportunities for the future.

“Young people have so much to offer, and to gain, from the Natural Estates project.” Explains Janice Gardiner, Programme Manager at Avon Wildlife Trust. “We need young people to get involved and help us attract their peers to the project. The opportunity for training and skills development to make creative changes on their doorstep will have long term positive impacts on the health and wellbeing of all the residents, and on wildlife. We want to inspire young people to make a difference on their own patch.”  


Committee calls for a comprehensive review of national planning policy - UK Parliament

A comprehensive review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) should be carried out before the end of this Parliament, says the Communities & Local Government (CLG) Committee in its report, 'Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on national planning policy'.

The Committee's inquiry into the Department for Communities and Local Government's Consultation on proposed changes to national planning policy (PDF 495MB) found that there has not been sufficient robust, objective and evidence-based monitoring, evaluation or review of the National Planning Policy Framework (PDF 1.98MB) since its publication in 2012.

The Committee calls for an overall review of the operation of national planning policy to pull together the various significant pieces of work in this area, including the Local Plans Expert Group report, the Housing and Planning Bill, and the technical consultation on the implementation planning changes.

Clive Betts MP, Chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, said:  "We welcome many of the proposals in the Government’s consultation. However, particularly at a time of significant change for the planning and housing sectors, it’s important that people are reassured that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) works effectively and that it supports sustainable development in their communities. The Government needs to ensure there is confidence in the planning system by carrying out a comprehensive review of the NPPF by the end of this Parliament".

Further information:

Report: Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on national planning policy

Report: Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on national planning policy (PDF 551KB)

Inquiry: Consultation on national planning policy

Communities and Local Government Committee



National Trust welcomes CLG committee report into government’s planning reforms 

Commenting on the publication of the CLG committee’s report today (Friday, April 1) on changes to the government’s controversial National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), Ingrid Samuel, Historic Environment Director at the Trust, said: “The changes to the NPPF are just one part of the biggest shake-up of planning since the NPPF itself was controversially introduced in 2012. We share the committee’s concerns about these further reforms. They’re too piecemeal, rushed and confusing so we welcome the call for a thorough, evidence-based review of the effectiveness of planning policy.  We know from the big campaign over the NPPF that the public want a planning system that is able to deliver the homes we need but not by carelessly allowing our countryside to be sacrificed. So we’re particularly pleased that the committee is calling for a different approach on the small sites proposal and the housing delivery test which are particularly worrying.  These two measures from DCLG could see the constant expansion of rural towns and villages into the countryside and developers being able to pick and choose more greenfield sites over brownfield. Some greenfield sites may be needed for housing but this has to be done through the Local Plan to protect the natural environment and avoid developers being able to bypass the local community.  It’s important that the government gets any reform right rather than rushing into changes. The wording in the consultation was often high level and lacking in detail so ministers should listen to MPs and agree to consult again on the precise wording of changes to the NPPF. We look forward to working with DCLG to get the final wording right.” 


CLG select committee calls for review of National Planning Policy Framework - CPRE

The Communities and Local Government select committee has today published its report on the Government’s consultation on proposed changes to national planning policy. The report analysed and commented on the evidence collected by the committee, which included oral evidence from Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

The select committee’s report emphasised that a significant number of local authorities still did not have an up-to-date local plan. Its main recommendation was that there should be a comprehensive review of the National Planning Policy Framework before the end of this parliament. However, there were other elements of the report that CPRE consider important:

  • The Committee says that the Government needs to provide stronger policies to ensure that brownfield sites are developed before greenfield. The report endorses CPRE concerns that greenfield sites are coming forward unnecessarily in areas where brownfield sites with planning permission are available. This is something we recently emphasised in our report on the comparative speed of brownfield and greenfield development.
  • The Committee calls on the Government to identify ways in which we can get developers to build out sites with planning permission more quickly.
  • The Committee calls for the existing ‘rural exception sites’ policy to be kept. The policy allows local authorities to prioritise the building of affordable social housing for local needs on the edge of rural towns and villages. The report also says that the Government needs to set out how the need for affordable housing in rural communities should be met.


Small bird, big message - BirdLife

New study confirms common birds are powerful indicators of threats from climate change. From Europe to the US the trends match as scientists expected, the data showing coherent and substantial changes in detriment to cold-adapted species.

You might be familiar with the rapid chittering of its alarm call: a remarkably loud voice for such a small bird. A common sight in many gardens, the little Wren, cocking its short, stubby tail and flitting from twig to twig, is also known for its restless nature.

Winter Wren trying to tell you a message about climate change. Original image: Frank Vassen, flickrWinter Wren trying to tell you a message about climate change. Original image: Frank Vassen, flickr

According to new research published today in Science journal, the tiny brown bird is sending a bigger message. One that makes its restlessness certainly seem more apt.

An international team of researchers led by Durham University, UK, and including scientists from the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and BirdLife International found that populations of bird species expected to do well due to climate change had substantially outperformed those expected to do badly over a 30 year period from 1980 to 2010.

The study shows that common bird populations in Europe and the USA are messengers of climate change as they are pronouncedly responding to alterations in temperatures. The Winter Wren, the American Robin, which we see in our garden or local woodland are therefore precious indicators of their ecosystems, and of our planet’s climate.

The research, conducted in collaboration with the RSPB and the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is published today in the journal Science and it is the first real demonstration that climate is having a similar, large-scale influence on the abundance of common birds in widely separated parts of the world. The common birds we share between countries and continents seem to be sharing with us a common message about climate change. 

Access the paper:

Philip A. Stephens et al. Consistent response of bird populations to climate change on two continents.  Science  01 Apr 2016: Vol. 352, Issue 6281, pp. 84-87  DOI: 10.1126/science.aac4858


Creating Wildflower Super Highways - Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust 

A new community driven project aims to create wildflower super highways and wildlife hubs across the Yorkshire Dales to provide connected pathways, shelter and food for wildlife all year round.

By empowering communities and helping people to engage with and conserve their local wildlife, the new Meadow Links project aims to build ‘stepping stones’ between existing fragmented wildlife havens to enable the movement of species.

Local charity Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) will work in partnership with Buglife, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), Natural England and community groups on this initiative to help wildlife thrive.

Tanya St. Pierre, Meadow Links project officer at YDMT, said: “As part of this project we’d like to work with community groups in the Yorkshire Dales to create ten flagship meadows. We’ll help groups to create a wildlife meadow in their own community space, provide funding for equipment and ‘Sow, grow and mow’ practical training sessions to enable groups to maintain their meadows in years to come. So if you have a group of willing volunteers and an accessible public space about the size of a tennis court, we’d love to hear from you.”

Homeowners and landowners are also being called on to help create 30 additional wildlife patches that will act as stepping stones at strategic points to extend the wildflower highways. These patches can be any shape or size, from linear hedgerows and verges to small back gardens, and could incorporate bird boxes, hogitats (hedgehog habitats), ponds and wildflower areas to support wildlife.

Tanya added: “Since the 1930s we’ve lost 97% of the UK’s hay meadows. Iconic Dales’ birds such as the curlew have declined by 42%, 60% of England’s flowering plants are decreasing and overall a staggering 60% of UK wildlife is declining. The wildlife patches will give nature a helping hand by connecting fragmented habitat and providing important feeding and nesting sites for our wildlife. Prizes will be awarded for the most innovative design features and best overall wildlife patch, so keep photo diaries of what you’ve done!”

Conservation work undertaken through the Meadow Links project will be mapped and recorded onto the ecological networks and connectivity GIS systems for the YDNPA and Buglife’s national B-Lines database. This will help provide a clear picture of the work done, and the areas where further action needs to be taken to create a cohesive and resilient network for wildlife.


Higher risk to swans from lead poisoning - Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust 

The health of swans in Britain is being affected by lead poisoning at lower doses than previously recognised, suggests new research by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the University of Exeter. The study investigated levels of lead in the bloodstream and found they were related to reduced body condition of whooper swans.

Graphic extract and swans image, WWT

Image: WWT

The swans’ body weight is critical for getting them through cold weather, and for giving them the strength to migrate from Britain back to Iceland in the spring and then breed successfully.

260 whooper swans were caught and tested by WWT in Lancashire and Dumfriesshire. The study showed significantly lower body conditions in birds whose blood lead level was above 44 micrograms per decilitre – lower than previously recognised thresholds of 50-100 micrograms per decilitre.

10 per cent of the swans in the study had lead levels above the level associated with significant loss of condition. The study shows how sensitive birds can be to lead poisoning as health effects can be seen at even relatively low levels of this toxic substance. Apparently healthy swans may in fact be suffering from the effects of lead poisoning.

The swans are exposed to lead by eating spent shot, left on the ground after shooting, which they mistake for food or grit. A classic symptom of lead poisoning is paralysis of the gut making digestion of food ineffective and leading to loss of weight and energy reserves.

WWT Senior Ecosystem Health Officer, Julia Newth said: “We know from this and previous studies that a high proportion of whooper swans are affected by lead poisoning in the UK. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to find negative impacts at lower lead levels than previously thought as global research on a range of species recognises that there is no such thing as a safe level of lead.” 

Access the paper:

J.L. Newth, E.C. Rees, R.L. Cromie, R.A. McDonald, S. Bearhop, D.J. Pain, G.J. Norton, C. Deacon, G.M. Hilton, Widespread exposure to lead affects the body condition of free-living whooper swans Cygnus cygnus wintering in Britain, Environmental Pollution, Volume 209, February 2016, Pages 60-67, ISSN 0269-7491, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2015.11.007.


And finally it may be 1 April but this is no fool's tale:

Escaped raccoon caught on camera - Scottish Natural Heritage

A raccoon has been spotted in the wild near Garve in Ross-shire.

Racoon, Trail Cam (SNH images)Raccoons have been identified in Scotland as one of the top 50 invasive, non-native species most likely to be introduced and cause negative impacts. They are currently kept as pets and zoo animals, and there have been several escapes in the last few years.   Raccoons are native to North America, where they are considered to be a major nuisance, causing damage to buildings and gardens and foraging in rubbish bins. They also carry wildlife diseases, such as rabies.

Members of the Blackwater Wildlife Recording Group caught the animal on camera on 17 March. The camera traps were set to capture images of the elusive Scottish wildcat, as part of the Scottish Wildcat Action Project winter survey in the Strathpeffer area.

Raccoons were deliberately introduced to Germany in the 1930s and the population in Europe has now grown to over a million. In the U.K., raccoons aren’t established in the wild, but sightings have been reported since the 1970s.

SNH Wildlife and Non-Native Species Manager, Stan Whitaker, said:   “Raccoons could cause millions of pounds worth of damage per year to the Scottish economy if they became established here. They could also cause significant damage to our native wildlife by preying on birds, small animals and amphibians.   Raccoons aren’t dangerous, but they may give you a nasty bite if cornered. The racoon that has been recorded is an adult and roughly the size of a domestic cat.  Ideally, we would like to trap this raccoon and rehome it in a zoo or wildlife park, if possible.”


But this one?  Well, we'll let you decide….

Moving the Avebury stones for British Summer Time - National Trust

Published : 01 Apr 2016

Avebury stone circle is the world's largest prehistoric monument, a World Heritage site set in the heart of Wiltshire. This ancient site was primarily used as a time-keeping device that worked in a similar way to a sundial. Unfortunately, the adoption of British Summer Time has disrupted the accuracy of the site, creating a weighty challenge for our team of rangers.


Scientific Publications

Che-Castaldo, Judy P. & Neel, Maile C.  Species-level persistence probabilities for recovery and conservation status assessment.  Conservation Biology  DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12728


Brammer, Jeremy R. et al The role of digital data entry in participatory environmental monitoring. Conservation Biology.  DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12727 


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