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


The search is on to find the nations’ top community meadow - Plantlife

Award launched for the most successful “Meadow Makers” across Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales in 2016.

Bursting with colour, seductive scents, the buzz of insects and alive with animals - a wildflower meadow is a jewel in nature’s crown that puts on a spectacular show in summer.

Devils Bit Scabious meadow (image: Trevor Dines, Plantlife)Devils Bit Scabious meadow (image: Trevor Dines, Plantlife)

So it’s frightening to think that something so precious and vital is in real danger. Since the 1930’s we have lost 97% (nearly 7.5 million acres) of meadows and grasslands and the wildflowers and wildlife associated with them. Every year more and more meadows are lost through neglect, change of land use or development and with them our native wildflowers such as oxeye daisies, snakes head fritillary and bee orchids, to name but a few. 

To reverse this loss, the search is on to find England's most successful “Meadow Makers” across Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales.  As part of the Save Our Magnificent Meadows project, Plantlife and partners want to celebrate the work of the unsung heroes in our communities and schools who are setting a fantastic example of how to protect our meadow heritage and who are inspiring others to follow suit. 

Marian Spain, CEO of Plantlife, says: “Meadows were once a common feature of our countryside throughout the UK. We want to showcase the work of those in our communities and schools, who are showing commitment to the conservation of our last surviving pockets of meadows and are helping to conserve the remaining ones, whether it be on a small parish meadow, road verge, school field, or even a village green, they will be playing a vital role in reversing a lifetime of loss”

Entries for ‘Meadow Makers’ are welcome from now to 31 July with the winners for each nation (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) announced in September 2016. For more information and details on how to enter, visit www.magnificentmeadows.org.uk.


£600,000 to improve accessibility to Wales’s National Parks - Welsh Government

Natural Resources Minister Carl Sargeant has announced funding of £600,000 to support a range of projects that will improve accessibility in Wales’s three National Parks and to help Natural Resources Wales repair storm damage on the Wales Coast Path.

The Minister has allocated £126,000 for the improvement of two sections of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail and £104,500 to a further seven sections of the Wales Coast Path to repair damage that was caused during the winter and make the routes more sustainable for future years.  

The remaining £369,500 is split between the three Welsh National Park Authorities as follows:

  • Brecon Beacons National Park Authority (BBNPA) will receive £157,500 for a package of projects to improve access in the east Beacons which will secure the protection of peat land in a number of SSSIs in the area.
  • Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) will receive £107,000 for a package of work on some of the National Park’s most popular and iconic sites. The works include the further development of the four different sections of the Snowdon circular route, improving accessibility to Cadair Idris and Snowdon’s Miners track.
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority (PCNPA) will receive £105,000 to support a range of projects which focus on developing disability access to a number of the Park’s most popular sites as well as some new ones. These projects will provide wheelchair access to a number of flagship sites, such as Abereiddy, Freshwater East and St David’s.


Kew’s value and impact revealed - Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

In an independent assessment of the value of the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew, a new Oxford Economics report highlights the myriad ways the 257 year old institution contributes to the UK economy and society today (4 April).

2014/15 activities valued at £182m, just 90p cost per taxpayer

From the economic value generated by visitors to the gardens at Kew and Wakehurst, to the societal value generated by its contribution to education and scientific research, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is found to be incredibly good value for money, delivering £182m of value in the UK at a cost of just 90p per taxpayer in 2014/15. 

In 2014/15, more than 1.5 million visitors, including 85,000 school children, visited Kew Gardens and its sister gardens at Wakehurst, which together comprise the RBG Kew. The report also quantifies the value to science of Kew’s vast work as a global resource for plant and fungal knowledge. Kew’s unique combination of extensive collections, databases, scientific expertise and global partnerships was valued at £56.2 million to the UK for 2014/15.


A record early return for the Kielder Ospreys – Forestry Commission

Bird lovers in Northumberland are celebrating an early start to their season with the earliest ever sighting of a bird on the Kielder Osprey nest and now the safe return of two pairs of birds.

Ospreys nesting at Kielder Water and Forest Park, June 2009Yellow 37 – one of the ringed Kielder males - was first seen at Nest 2 on the 24 March, coinciding with one of the Osprey volunteer training days, an unexpected bonus sighting for the team of Northumberland Wildlife Trust volunteers who were busy preparing for the season ahead. Not only is it the earliest return of any Kielder Osprey to the nest, Yellow 37 was the second male home across all UK osprey projects.

Image: Forestry Commission

Since the first sighting, Nest 1 has seen the return of “YA”, on the 26 March, another record early return date for this male, with his partner arriving shortly after. Meanwhile, on Nest 2, Yellow 37 didn’t have to wait too long for his mate to arrive, with “Mrs 37” arriving safely back on the 30 March. This rare species were extinct in England for 150 years but have bred successfully in Kielder Water and Forest Park every season since they returned to north east England in 2009.


Quality of environment explains why some birds choose to neglect their hungriest chicks – University of Oxford

Scientists have long been aware that in some species of bird, parents will prioritise feeding the neediest chicks, whereas in others they will focus on the strongest offspring. Until now, though, the reason behind this discrepancy has remained a mystery.

Image: University of Oxford

A comprehensive new study from the University of Oxford finds that the quality of the local environment can explain which chicks in a nest a parent bird decides to feed. This helps resolve a long-standing question in ecology about whether parents respond to signals of need (such as how much a chick begs) or signals of quality (such as a chick's colour) when making feeding decisions.

For example, species living in favourable, predictable environments (such as tree swallows in North America) choose to feed begging chicks that are in poorer condition relative to their siblings, whereas parent birds in unfavourable, unpredictable environments (such as blue-footed boobies in the Galápagos Islands) preferentially feed chicks that are in the best condition, regardless of how much other siblings in the nest beg.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Shana Caro, a PhD student in Oxford's Department of Zoology who led the research, said: 'There have been hundreds of studies looking at the phenomenon of begging in birds, many of which have found strange results and contradictory patterns. Our analysis of these studies found that there is a universal explanation for these discrepancies: the predictability and quality of the local environment.'

Access the paper 'Unpredictable environments lead to the evolution of parental neglect in birds' is published in Nature Communications.


Major new project maps out woodland biodiversity – University of Stirling

An innovative joint project between the University of Stirling, Forest Research and Natural England is using woodland creation and maps from 1840 to the present day to assess the impact of past land use change on current biodiversity.

Initial findings from the Woodland Creation and Ecological Networks (WrEN) project are published this week in the open access journal Ecology and Evolution and outline how British woodlands can be used as a study system to inform landscape-scale conservation.

Image: University of Stirling

Image: University of Stirling

Dr Kevin Watts from Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission and lead author of the study, explained: “Experimental studies to inform how best to restore landscapes for wildlife conservation are really hard to do due to the large scales of time and distance required but the combination of a long history of woodland planting in the UK, coupled with comprehensive historical mapping, provides an excellent, possibly unique, opportunity to develop such experiments.”


Nature connection at the heart of a happy and healthy life - Wildlife Trusts

People who do something ‘wild’ every day for a month change their attitude to nature and report improvements in their physical and mental wellbeing, according to new research which places nature connection at the heart of a happy and healthy life.

An impact study, by the University of Derby, of 30 Days Wild - the UK’s first ever month-long nature challenge, run by The Wildlife Trusts in June 2015 - reveals sustained increases in participants’ happiness, health, connection to nature and positive environmental behaviours, such as feeding the birds or growing flowers for pollinators like bees.

Dr Miles Richardson, Head of Psychology at the University of Derby, conducted the study. He says:  “Two months after taking part in 30 Days Wild, the number of people reporting their health as excellent increased by over 30%.  And that improvement in health was influenced by the improvements in happiness and connection with nature. The impact of 30 Days Wild adds to the compelling argument for bringing nature into our everyday lives.  Our grand challenges, such as health and declining biodiversity, require large-scale interventions and the evaluation of 30 Days Wild provides good evidence that time in, and a connection with nature can bring sustained benefits to public health, reducing demands on our health services, while also improving pro-nature behaviours.  Even in urban areas, nature can provide a simple solution to complex problems.”

Families at Kingcombe (image: Katharine Davies, Wildlife Trusts)Families at Kingcombe (image: Katharine Davies, Wildlife Trusts)

Lucy McRobert, The Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Matters campaigns manager, said:  “Last year, thousands of people undertook Random Acts of Wildness everywhere, from the centre of London to the Outer Hebrides.  The results of our study show that taking part in 30 Days Wild makes people happier, healthier and more connected to nature in the long-term.  Importantly it also showed that by looking out for nature on a regular basis people became more likely to care about and protect it – and that’s what we’re all about. We’re here to inspire everyone again - every day throughout June. Whatever their age, wherever they live, we want everyone to feel they can take part and join thousands of others making nature part of their life.”

Access the study results: Richardson M, Cormack A, McRobert L, Underhill R (2016) 30 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0149777. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149777 


Exploring links between woodland age and biodiversity - Forestry Commission 

The evidence for the effects on woodland biodiversity of differing lengths of forestry crop rotations and stand ages is explored and discussed in a new Research Note published by the Forestry Commission.

Entitled “Biodiversity and rotation length: economic models and ecological evidence”, the Research Note is intended to support forest planners and researchers.

It reports on a study exploring the links between biodiversity and stand age with a view to including it in stand-level models for optimal rotation lengths, and associated forest management tools. The investigation was conducted through literature reviews and re-examination of UK Biodiversity Assessment Plan (UK BAP) data.

Overall, it found limited published ecological evidence to link biodiversity to stand age, or economic modelling to account for such a link.

It revealed no simple or universal response of biodiversity to stand age. However, there was more evidence of biodiversity increasing with stand age than falling. There was also evidence that after a brief initial increase, bird and mammal biodiversity declines until the stand is about 20 years old, and increases again thereafter.

Upland Sitka spruce stands were an exception, where biodiversity levels were higher in young forests and more-mature forests, and at a minimum when the forests were about 40 years old.

The authors explain that biodiversity is a major focus of international environmental policy and practice. It is widely recognised that biodiversity in woodlands varies across different bio-geographical zones and depends upon the tree species mix, forest management approach and stand structure.

Read the research (PDF): N. Barsoum, R. Gill, L. Henderson, A. Peace, C. Quine, V. Saraev, G. Valatin. Biodiversity and rotation length: economic models and ecological evidence. Forestry Commission Research Note. Ref: 978-0-85538-944-4


Peat bog restoration work continues at Cors Caron - Natural Resources Wales

NRW is repairing three peat bogs at Cors Caron National Nature Reserve (NNR) to protect wildlife and help fight climate change.

Piling installation at Cors Caron on 9 February 2016 (image: NRW)Piling installation at Cors Caron on 9 February 2016 (image: NRW)

The peat bogs are located north of Tregaron and formed over five thousand years ago.  Historically peat at the edges of the bogs was harvested by locals for domestic heating purposes. This has damaged them and made them drier, making it difficult for water to be held close to the surface of the bogs.  The damage has also caused a decline in rare bog wildlife which is why Cors Caron was declared as a NNR and European Special Area of Conservation.

NRW is working to slow down and stop water loss from the three bogs and restore their ability to keep water levels close to the surface.  This will enable them to form new peat, which traps carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and benefits rare & unique bog wildlife.

Andy Polkey, Senior Reserves Manager for NRW, said: “Healthy peat bogs are rare, provide habitats for special wildlife and bring a huge benefit when it comes to climate change so it’s important to maintain them as best we can. A healthy peat bog doesn’t just store carbon in peat laid down over thousands of years, but constantly forms new peat, locking up more carbon each year. The bogs at Cors Caron also make a big contribution to the local economy as maintaining these three sites has provided work for local contractors for over twenty years.”


World Heritage supports millions, but threatened worldwide - WWF

Nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, according to a new WWF report. These sites provide vital services to people and the environment, but are at risk worldwide from activities including oil and gas exploration, mining and illegal logging.

The report, produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, shows how natural World Heritage sites contribute to economic and social development through the protection of the environment, but also details global failures to protect these areas of outstanding universal value.

According to the study, 114 natural and mixed World Heritage sites out of 229 either have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or are under threat from at least one other harmful industrial activity.

“World Heritage sites should receive the highest levels of protection, yet we are often unable to safeguard even this important fraction of the Earth’s surface,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “We all agree that these are some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet, now we need to work together to let these sites provide for the well-being of people and nature.”

The study, Protecting People through Nature: Natural World Heritage Sites as Drivers of Sustainable Development, also shows that over 20 percent of natural World Heritage sites face threats from multiple harmful industrial activities.

Among other measures listed in the report, WWF is asking the private sector to make no go commitments to refrain from activities that threaten to degrade World Heritage sites. Financing should also be withheld from projects involving harmful industrial activities in World Heritage sites or the companies conducting them.

National governments should ensure that no harmful industrial activities are permitted in World Heritage sites or in areas that could negatively affect them. Governments should hold multinational enterprises headquartered or operating in their territories to the highest standards of corporate accountability and stewardship.

The WWF report establishes five global principles that are fundamental to well-managed World Heritage sites. These principles – valuation, investment decisions, governance, policymaking and enforcement – can help decision makers achieve an appropriate and equitable balance between conservation, sustainability and development and reduce the threats to our shared World Heritage. 

Access the report: Protecting People through Nature: Natural World Heritage Sites as Drivers of Sustainable Development


Response from IUCN: Concerns over scale of threats to natural World Heritage confirmed by new report

Nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by industrial activities, according to a new report drawing heavily on data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s World Heritage Outlook.

Activities such as mining, illegal logging, oil and gas exploration threaten 114 out of 229 natural World Heritage sites, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) survey, Protecting people through nature. These sites are recognised as the world’s most important protected areas and include iconic places like the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef. The survey highlights their enormous contribution to sustainable economic and social development, and to achieving the sustainable development goals agreed by UN Member States last year.
“This report confirms the concerns that IUCN has long been raising over the scale of impacts from industrial developments, which threaten the integrity of natural World Heritage sites,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “These iconic places face a range of threats, including climate change. Removing pressure from harmful industrial activity is therefore critical to increase the sites’ resilience. Natural World Heritage sites have a crucial role in supporting human well-being and as beacons of sustainable development.  By highlighting human dependency on these exceptional places, WWF’s report reinforces the need to boost our efforts to conserve them.”


New Vision for England’s urban forest - Forestry Commission

England’s National Forestry Forum will be challenged to play their part in growing the importance, protection and size of England’s urban forest on 12 April following the publication of ‘Our Vision for a resilient urban forest’.

Hosted by Defra and the Forestry Commission the forum is the chance for more than 60 forestry organisations and individuals to hear progress on the Government’s forestry policy and discuss how they will take this and other key activities forward.

The Vision is a call to action for a resilient urban forest and was produced by a network of urban forestry specialists from the Forestry Commission’s Forestry and Woodland Advisory Committees (FWACs). The document was launched at the England Community Forest Conference on 23 March 2016.

Setting out what could be achieved by seeing all the trees in our urban environment as a single collective forest, Jane Carlsen, the Urban FWAC Network Chair said: “I am delighted that we have created a visionary document which sets out the many benefits that trees offer to people in our towns and cities and seeks to unite the whole urban forestry sector with a single vision.”

At the Community Forest conference she called upon the urban forestry sector to work closely with planners, highway engineers and landscape and health professionals to ensure that trees are included in their thinking and planning.


Groundwork and greenspace scotland sign partnership agreement - Groundwork

Groundwork and greenspace scotland have signed a strategic partnership agreement that will boost collaboration between both organisations over the next three years.  The two charities have previously worked together on UK-wide opportunities including the Tesco Bags of Help grant scheme.

The partnership agreement formalises this relationship and will see both charities working closely on the development and delivery of UK-wide programmes relating to community greenspaces.  It sets out a number of key principles around collaborative working, cobranding and communications on any jointly delivered activity. 

Both charities hail the signing of the agreement as a significant step towards ensuring communities across the UK continue to get the support they need at a time of significant funding reductions. 


RSPB goes off the straight and narrow to give salmon a home in Cumbria

The RSPB is helping to give spawning salmon and other wildlife a home in Cumbria by restoring part of a Lake District river to its former glory.

 A tributary of the River Eden, Swindale Beck runs through Swindale Valley, forming part of the RSPB’s landholding at Haweswater. A sizable stretch of the river was straightened at least 200 years ago in an attempt to provide more land for grazing and hay making.  However, this modification has caused serious problems for Atlantic salmon as the straightened and fast flowing channel does not provide the different habitats, normally found in natural meandering rivers, which they need to successfully spawn.  The UK is a stronghold for Atlantic salmon, however, the numbers returning to spawn have halved since the 1970s.

Working in partnership with the Environment Agency, landowners United Utilities and Natural England, the RSPB is restoring part of this artificial stretch of the river, enabling it to revert to its former slower-flowing, meandering course.  This is being achieved by digging a new channel along a carefully mapped route, redirecting the water flow, then filling in the old straightened section to create a more suitable and productive meadow that will help support the farm, as well provide a home for wildflowers and insects. 

The RSPB will also plant trees along the river, providing much-needed natural shade for spawning salmon and other fish species including brown trout.  The restored Swindale Beck will support a greater range of breeding fish and insects, which in turn, will help wildlife further up the food chain, including otters and a range of birds such as herons and kingfishers.


Operation EASTER 2016 ~ stopping egg thieves and egg collectors - National Wildlife Crime Unit

Wild birds are now nesting – many have already laid eggs – and the national campaign to protect them is underway. Egg thieves will go to any lengths to raid the nests of rare species but Operation EASTER is determined to stop them in their tracks.

Operation EASTER is a campaign which was developed in Scotland and is now facilitated by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) in conjunction with UK Police Forces and partner agencies.  The operation targets egg thieves, egg traders and egg collectors by sharing intelligence across the UK to support enforcement action.

The taking of wild bird eggs is a serious crime yet it remains the pastime of some determined individuals.  Whole clutches of birds’ eggs can be taken from some of the UK’s rarest birds with potentially devastating impacts.

If you have information on any wild bird’s egg thieves, or those who disturb rare nesting birds without a licence, or anyone trading in eggs on the internet you should contact your local or nearest police station by dialing 101 and ask to speak to a wildlife crime officer if possible.  Information can also be passed in confidence to Crimestoppers via 0800 555 111.


Yoesden nature reserve just got bigger! - BBOWT

Yoesden nature reserve in the Chiltern Hills near Radnage has grown by almost a third, thanks to a successful public appeal to buy three plots next to the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust’s land.

From 6 April, the Wildlife Trust is now managing a larger Yoesden nature reserve which will benefit butterflies, rare chalk grassland plants and woodland wildlife, thanks to the overwhelming generosity of our members and supporters who helped to buy three plots of land adjacent to the reserve increasing the size of the reserve, providing enormous long-term benefits for local wildlife.  Our fantastic team of volunteers and staff can now begin work to help encourage the specialist flora, and the wildlife it supports, helping to boost its biodiversity and encouraging the wild flowers and butterflies to extend their ranges across the area of restored grassland.

The three plots of land that extend the original nature reserve are:

  • A chalk bank, which is so steep that it has never been cultivated, and for this reason it has huge potential for wildlife.
  • A small wooded area of 1.5 acres which includes beech and ash trees for which this part of the Chilterns is renowned.
  • A three acre pasture field criss-crossed with public footpaths. The paddock was grazed so hard that only a few chalk grassland plants and flowers have survived. This is a perfect site for wild flower restoration.


Scientific Publications 

Rémi Fay, Christophe Barbraud, Karine Delord & Henri Weimerskirch.  Paternal but not maternal age influences early-life performance of offspring in a long-lived seabird. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences. Published 6 April 2016.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.2318


Rafael P. Leitão, Jansen Zuanon, Sébastien Villéger, Stephen E. Williams, Christopher Baraloto, Claire Fortunel, Fernando P. Mendonça, & David Mouillot. Rare species contribute disproportionately to the functional structure of species assemblages. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences. Published 6 April 2016.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0084


Saija Piiroinen & Dave Goulson. Chronic neonicotinoid pesticide exposure and parasite stress differentially affects learning in honeybees and bumblebees. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences. Published 6 April 2016.DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0246


Tenley M. Conway, Tending their urban forest: residents motivations for tree planting and removal, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, ISSN 1618-8667, DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2016.03.008.


Walton, Laura, Marion, Glenn Davidson, Ross S., White, Piran C.L., Smith, Lesley A., Gavier-Widen, Dolores, Yon, Lisa, Hannant, Duncan & Hutchings, Michael R.  The ecology of wildlife disease surveillance: demographic and prevalence fluctuations undermine surveillance. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI:



Brown, Julian, York, Alan, Christie, Fiona, & McCarthy, Michael. Effects of fire on pollinators and pollination. Journal of Applied Ecology  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12670


Lopez-Antia, Ana, Feliu, Jordi, Camarero, Pablo R., Ortiz Santaliestra, Manuel E. & Mateo, Rafael. Risk assessment of pesticide seed treatment for farmland birds using refined field data. Journal of Applied Ecology  DOI:



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