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


Consultations for next phase of marine planning opens - Marine Management Organisation

The Marine Management Organisations (MMO) are asking for your views on the first documents to be published as part of the North East, North West, South East and South West marine plans.

Today (Monday 11 April) the MMO have launched two consultations, which focus on the draft Statement of Public Participation for each area and the draft Sustainability Appraisal scoping report.

The Statement of Public Participation sets out whom, when and how the MMO will engage with stakeholders during the marine planning process. Stakeholders’ involvement in developing the marine plans is essential. Their specialist and local knowledge is central to ensuring the marine plans are robust and meaningful.

The Sustainability Appraisal provides an independent assessment of the marine plans at each stage in their development, ensuring that economic, social and environmental sustainability is at the core of the marine plans. The scoping report is the first stage of the Sustainability Appraisal, setting out what issues the appraisal will include.

Steve Brooker, Chief Planning Officer said: “The launch of these two consultations is a significant step in the development of marine plans for the North East, South East, South West and North West. I would encourage anyone with an interest in the marine area, or anyone who relies on it for their business to get involved. Stakeholder input has been invaluable in developing marine plans for the east and south areas, especially in identifying and understanding local issues and opportunities. The Statement of Public Participation shows our commitment to including stakeholders throughout the development of the marine plans.  One of the objectives of marine planning is to ensure that future use of our seas is sustainable. The Sustainability Appraisal is part of making sure the plans meet economic, social and environmental sustainability criteria. This scoping report sets out which criteria the Sustainability Appraisal will include.”

Both consultations open on Monday 11 April and close on Friday 13 May at 11.59pm.

The consultations are available here:


Ash Dieback in Warburg Nature Reserve - BBOWT

A case of Ash Dieback has been confirmed in BBOWT's Warburg Nature Reserve, in south Oxfordshire. BBOWT has taken advice from the Forestry Commission, which confirmed the ash tree is diseased, and has put up signs at the nature reserve advising visitors what to do to reduce the spread of the disease. 

Ash Dieback. (image Forestry Commission, via BBOWT)

Ash Dieback. (image Forestry Commission, via BBOWT) 

The fungal disease Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, is becoming widespread in the UK, and is now suspected to affect ash on a number of BBOWT nature reserves. The disease, a relative of a fungus already found naturally in our countryside, has had a huge impact on ash in mainland Europe, and may have significant nature conservation impacts in the UK.  The disease is spread predominantly by wind-borne spores, making it impossible to halt its movement through the countryside. However, it can also be spread in soil and leaf litter, and people and vehicles may accidently increase the rate of spread.

Following advice from the Forestry Commission, BBOWT is taking action to reduce any accidental spread of the disease by implementing ‘biosecurity’ measures – principally removing loose soil and leaf litter from footwear and vehicles moving between woodland sites. 


Woodland made more accessible – for people and wildlife - London Wildlife Trust 

Ten Acre Wood now has new paths and restored freshwater ditches thanks to £25,000 grant

Visitors to Ten Acre Wood in Hillingdon, west London, are enjoying the benefits of nearly half-a-kilometre of new path that has been laid, replacing muddy tracks and making it easier for people to access this London Wildlife Trust nature reserve and enjoy its native wildlife.  Sharp-eyed visitors this summer should be able to spot birds such as black cap, whitethroat and great spotted woodpecker, alongside butterflies and bush-crickets. The path will also reduce trampling around the site and help protect plant species such as orchids and adder’s tongue fern. 

Other work at the site has included the clearance of ditches where water voles, Britain’s fastest declining wild mammal, have been recorded in the past. These ditches had become heavily silted and overgrown with dense scrub, and the desilting programme is expected to increase the chances of water vole returning to the wood.

Veolia Environmental Trust generously gave London Wildlife Trust a grant of £25,045 in April 2014, awarded through the Landfill Communities Fund, to carry out this programme of work at Ten Acre Wood. It was completed with the help of 42 volunteers over a two-year period.

Tom Hayward, Reserves Manager for London Wildlife Trust, said: “We are delighted that these new pathways will enable more people to enjoy Ten Acre Wood, while at the same time helping to protect the wildlife-rich grassland and woodland habitats that we have here. It will be exciting to see if our ditch clearance work helps attract more water voles to the nature reserve in the near future.”


Rare birds spotted during the 2016 Big Farmland Bird Count – Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Image: GWCTThe Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) 2016 Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC) has been an incredible success. Nearly 1,000 farmers spotted 130 species across the UK. This year the count not only beat the last two years’ records, but also included the spotting of several rare birds over the week. The highlights were a ring ouzel and snow bunting.

Image: GWCT

The ring ouzel was spotted by NFU’s Vice President, Guy Smith, in a field adjacent to his house. Ring ouzels usually migrate from the Mediterranean to the west of the UK to breed. This ouzel was ahead of the game, as breeding does not usually occur for this species until mid-April to mid-July. Guy’s sharp eyes and ears led him to spot the bird singing with the resident thrushes and blackbirds.

While Guy Smith was spotting birds in his paddock in Essex, Matt Willmot and Jenny Parsons from Natural England saw a rarity of their own. As they were taking part in the count with farmer Hugh Darbishire, on his farm in Warwickshire, Matt and Jenny managed to get a rare and exciting view of a snow bunting.

Hugh Darbishire is a young farmer who, for over a decade, has dedicated his sheep and arable farm to helping farmland bird numbers. By using key techniques such as bird seed mixes and wild flower patches, Hugh has encouraged farmland birds to take up residence on his farm.

Matt Willmot, Natural England Advisor, says: “This was my third year of taking part in the Big Farmland Bird Count and I will definitely be counting again next year. The time you put in really counts towards the support of our farmland birds. It is always a pleasure not only to take part in the event, but to encourage local farmers to count their resident birds as well.”


Polecat survey report published – Vincent Wildlife Trust 

The report on our recent national polecat survey has just been published and can be downloaded here.

We are very grateful to everyone who submitted records for the survey. Without you, the survey would not have been possible.

A summary of the survey report is shown below.

  • A total of 1761 records of polecats and polecat-ferrets were collected from mainland Britain from January 2014 to December 2015.
  • Of the records received, 42% were verifiable on the basis of photos or video footage provided. Of the verified records, 74% were classified as true polecat, 25% were classified as polecat-ferret and 1% were classified as ferrets, based on phenotypic characteristics.
  • 51% of records received were road casualties, 36% were live sightings, 5% were animals caught alive in traps, 4% were animals found dead and not obvious road casualties, 4% were animals recorded on camera traps and <1% were from an unspecified or other source.


Delight as high court judge rules in favour of Broads National Park brand - Broads Authority

Welcome to the Broads National Park – that was the message today after a high court ruling was made in favour of using the name to fully promote the special qualities of the area.

Mr Justice Holgate gave the go ahead for the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, as the only member of the UK National Park family in the Eastern region, to benefit from marketing campaigns that clearly identify it as having equivalent qualities to the 14 UK National Parks.

The Chair of the Broads Authority, Prof Jacquie Burgess said she was “thrilled” that the judge had recognised the clear rationale for the name.

"The Broads fully deserves to be known as a national park – as much as the Lake District, the Cairngorms or any of the US Parks such as the Everglades or Yosemite.”

Because it has a navigation purpose in addition to the other UK National Park purposes the Broads Authority was given similar status to that of a National Park under its own Act of Parliament. It was previously only known as a member of the family, despite receiving National Park Grant, the same protection under the planning legislation and the same first two purposes as the other National Parks relating to conservation and recreation.

The move to identify the Broads as a National Park came out of a desire to more clearly promote its national park credentials and special qualities and Prof Burgess said the historic decision could benefit all three of its purposes.


Natural England designations programme for areas, sites and trails - Natural England Publications

The list of places Natural England is considering for designation up to March 2017.

This document shows the areas, sites and trails that Natural England is considering in its designations programme to March 2017. Inclusion in the programme is not a commitment to designate.

The designations programme considers whether places are suitable to become:

  • National Parks
  • Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • Natura 2000 sites (Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas)
  • Ramsar sites
  • Marine Conservation Zones
  • National Nature Reserves
  • National Trails

See the full list here: Natural England’s designations programme to March 2017


Ambitious plans for improving Alice Holt Forest - Forestry Commission

Alice Holt Painting (1972), image: Forestry CommissionAlice Holt Painting, image: Forestry Commission

The Forestry Commission will be investing over £2.3million to improve Alice Holt Forest’s amenities over the next 12 months. Visitors to Alice Holt Forest will soon benefit from a new café, extra seating and additional facilities, as the site undergoes a redevelopment to improve the popular woodland destination. The site and existing café will remain open to the public during the redevelopment to ensure visitors can continue to enjoy the forest while work takes place.
Families will still be able to enjoy the play equipment and sculpture trails to learn more about the forest. Biking fans will continue to love the cycle paths across the forest – including the only formal off-road cycle trail in 30 miles, which is safe from roads and passing traffic – and Go Ape, the ultimate treetop experience.
The main change will be a new café with bigger indoor and outdoor seating areas, and landscape changes to improve access for all abilities. The new building will be of the high design and quality standards that our visitors expect, and will be open from this winter. The new café will be located next to the current visitor centre and will see the seating capacity more than double in size to over 100 seats inside, and 120 outside.

In addition, car park improvements are planned to create more spaces, including purpose built disabled parking. There will also be the introduction of safer pedestrian zones and a turning area, helping to improve access and traffic flow.


Slowing the Flow scheme helped avoid Christmas flooding - Environment Agency

A pioneering natural flood risk management scheme reduced river peak flow by around 15-20% during the December floods, a briefing note published today (13 April) reveals.

Flood storage at Pickering (image: Environment Agency)Flood storage at Pickering (image: Environment Agency)

The natural flood risk management scheme provided important protection for the town of Pickering in Yorkshire when a total of 50 mm of rainfall fell over a 36-hour period over Christmas 2015.

Pickering’s ‘Slowing the Flow’ partnership was set up after the town saw four serious floods in 10 years, with floods in 2007 estimated to have caused damage of around £7 million.

The scheme combines conventional upstream flood storage with a wide range of measures designed to work with nature to hold water on the land and slow the speed at which it enters the river system. In addition to the construction of a flood storage reservoir: 40,000 trees were planted, local heather moorland restored and over 300 leaky dams built in forest and moorland drains and streams in the upper catchment.

The new analysis, conducted by Slowing the Flow Partnership, concludes that these measures reduced the flow of flood water between 15% and 20% and prevented the flooding of a number homes and the town’s museum. Based on the extent of inflows to the flood storage area, it is estimated that around half of the reduction was due to the upstream land management measures and half due to the flood storage area. 


RSPB fears the worst for England's last golden eagle

Golden eagle at eyrie (Image: Chris Gomersall, RSPB)England’s last remaining golden eagle has failed to appear this spring, leading RSPB staff and volunteers at its Lake District home to fear the worst.  The golden eagle had been resident at Riggindale at Haweswater in Cumbria since 2001/02 and had been alone since the death of his mate in 2004.

Golden eagle at eyrie (Image: Chris Gomersall, RSPB)

RSPB staff at Haweswater, who operate a special eagle viewpoint at the site, haven’t seen the bird since last November but only became concerned last month when it still hadn’t appeared. The bird isn’t always sighted during the winter but in spring it would normally have been seen nest building and displaying to attract a mate around its territory in Riggindale.

Lee Schofield, Site Manager at RSPB Haweswater, said: “When the eagle didn’t appear last month we thought there was a chance he might be hunting in a nearby valley but over the past few weeks we’ve been gradually losing hope. We will probably never find out what happened to him but as he was around 19-20 years old, an advanced age for an eagle, it’s quite possible that he died of natural causes."

His disappearance marks the end of an era as he has been an iconic part of the Haweswater landscape for the past 15 years. 


New worries over willow tits - Lancashire Wildlife Trust 

One of Britain’s most endangered birds has suffered another dramatic plunge in numbers according to a new report.  The Rare Breeding Birds Panel has just announced that willow tits are now down to just 2,000 breeding pairs in the United Kingdom.  But work by our Wigan team aims to halt the decline using creation and restoration of habitats and raising awareness of the bird in the North West.

Willow tits at Wigan Flashes by Peter Smith NW Wild ImagesWillow tits at Wigan Flashes by Peter Smith NW Wild Images

Much of the willow tits’ decline is down to loss of habitat with developers seeing no merit in the willow scrub which these beautiful birds inhabit. But volunteers working with The Wildlife Trust are working to restore habitat, create nesting areas and provide vital information about tit populations.

The Wildlife Trust’s Wigan Reserves Manager Mark Champion said: “The situation is critical and we need to ensure the willow tit is protected both locally and nationally. Last year we were reporting that there were 5,000 birds in the UK, this new report says we are now down to 4,000. This is not good news.”

The main work is being carried out in Wigan, which is at the centre of a regional population accounting for a large percentage of the UK’s total. Thanks to funding from the Lancashire Environmental Fund and Biffa Award, work on the willow tit’s habitat by The Lancashire Wildlife Trust will continue well into 2017. 

The Wildlife Trust recently put out a call for volunteers to help with habitat improvement and recording work and more than 50 people turned up to sessions in Wigan and Preston.  Mark said: “This proved that there is interest in supporting this bird, which is becoming an iconic species in Wigan. People around here are keen to support our work for a bird that is in real danger of extinction in the UK.”  More than 10 per cent of the UK’s willow tits live in the area around Wigan, St Helens, Warrington and Chorley. Nationally the UK population has fallen by 90 per cent in the past 30 years placing it on the red list of species of conservation concern.


A bright future for the over 50s - Cheshire Wildlife Trust

Access to green spaces and spending time outdoors is fantastic for our wellbeing.   That's why Cheshire Wildlife Trust is delighted to be launching the Great Outdoors Malpas project – a new initiative to help older people from in and around Malpas access the countryside and connect with nature.  Thanks to a £50,000 grant from Brightlife – a Big Lottery funded project aimed at reducing social isolation and loneliness in the over 50s – the Trust will be helping people to develop new skills and interests while rediscovering the physical, mental and social benefits of being outdoors.

The new initiative will be run by the team behind the Trust's Heritage Lottery Fund Natural Futures volunteering project and a whole host of activities will be available to anyone aged over 50 from Malpas and the surrounding villages.

Sam Caraway, the Trust's Natural Futures Manager, said: "This is an exciting new chapter for us as it's the first time we have run a project involving social prescribing, an approach that aims to improve health by tackling people's social and physical wellbeing. One of our main aims as a Trust is to ensure that wildlife is enjoyed and valued by all – this project will allow people who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the benefits of nature the opportunity to explore the great outdoors."


Vandalism at Wildlife Trust leads to death of 1000s of bees - Gwent Wildlife Trust

Last weekend (9-10/4/16), two honey bee hives were vandalised at the Ebbw Vale offices of Gwent Wildlife Trust (GWT) resulting in the death of thousands of bees and their young.

The two beehives were originally installed in partnership with Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council as part of the Pollinators for Life Project funded by Welsh Government last year. The project aims to help pollinating insects, such as the honeybee, hoverflies, solitary bees and wasps amongst others, and this attack over the weekend has been a major setback.

Veronika Brannovic, Living Valleys Manager for Gwent Wildlife Trust, said, ‘This is a particularly difficult time for bees as they are starting to become active and look for food. Spring weather has been unpredictable but our colonies had started to produce larvae within the hives. We came in to work on Monday to find one of the hives on its side with the contents tipped out. The lid had been tipped off the other hive and the sides damaged by large stones and logs being thrown at it. Bees need to maintain a temperature of around 36 degrees within the hive before they start to suffer. The rain and cold temperature on Sunday night meant that around two thirds of the bees died and, because the hive filled with water, all their larvae died.’

Along with the vandalising of the bee hives over the weekend, the Trust’s site has also been affected by an ongoing pollution problem caused by a leaking and contaminated drain that has made the ponds uninhabitable for the toads, frogs, newts and dragonflies that had made the former steelworks their home. GWT has had to stop all school visits to the site and activities with groups such as scouts for the foreseeable future.


Illegal off-roaders targeted across the Park - Brecon Beacons National Park

The National Park Authority and two local police forces have joined to target illegal off-roaders in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Operations carried out in March saw off-roaders stopped in their tracks, many leaving the National Park with warnings and pending prosecutions.

A motorbike seized for illegal off-roading, photo shows the damage the activity causes to the landscape.(image: Brecon Beacons NPA) A motorbike seized for illegal off-roading, photo shows the damage the activity causes to the landscape.(image: Brecon Beacons NPA)

National Park Authority Wardens, Dyfed Powys, Gwent and West Mercia Police forces have mounted operations to fight illegal off-roading. Quads, 4x4’s and motorbikes are a problem in the National Park, the open countryside with its grass tracks may look like the perfect playground for off-road vehicles, but driving on common and privately owned land without permission is a criminal offence. It causes damage and disturbs the quiet of the countryside and the National Park Wardens work hard each year alongside the local police force to get this message across. 

Police apprehended a number of drivers at Trefil Quarry in the east of the park and the owner of a 4x4 caught driving off-road near the quarry was successfully prosecuted, fined and made to pay court fees. In this particular case the individual had been warned during a previous exercise. If someone receives this warning (known as a Section 59) it means that if they are caught a second time in the following 12 months their vehicle will be seized, possibly destroyed and they will be fined.  

Councillor Rosemarie Harris, National Park Authority Member commented,

“What the vehicle owners need to realise is that their actions cause damage to the beautiful landscape, with land being cut by the tyres and deeply scarred. Wildlife and livestock are also disturbed by this activity and the safety of other park users is put at risk especially when non-vehicular rights of way are used.  The Police and the Authority receive many complaints about this every year.”


Fires damage protected site - Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales is appealing for help after a spate of fires at a protected site near Flint.

Halkyn Mountain damaged by fire (image: NRW)Halkyn Mountain damaged by fire (image: NRW)

Several fires at Halkyn Mountain have been tackled during April.  The fires are believed to have been set deliberately on common land between the villages of Pentre Halkyn and Brynford.  Wildlife is an important part of our environment, our heritage and our culture in Wales and anyone caught starting a fire on an SSSI without consent could be fined up to £20,000.

Kevin Jones, Business Education and Arson Reduction Team Manager at North Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: “It is extremely disheartening to find that such incidents have been ignited deliberately. Deliberate fires place tremendous pressure on resources, with our crews tied up for a considerable length of time trying to bring them under control - which in turn delays firefighters from attending life threatening incidents. The potential for serious damage to our environment, often in sensitive areas, by the impact of countryside fires is a serious concern.”


25th anniversary bid to extend Glen Affric woodlands towards Scotland’s west coast - Trees for Life 

A quarter century of volunteering conservation action in the Highlands is being marked by Trees for Life this month, with a new initiative aiming to expand Scotland’s Caledonian Forest from Glen Affric towards the west coast. 

Planted Scots pines at Athnamulloch (Image: TfL)Planted Scots pines at Athnamulloch (Image: TfL)

The bid to restore life to deforested parts of the famous glen comes as next week marks the 25th anniversary of Trees for Life's acclaimed Conservation Weeks, in which volunteers from around the world carry out practical conservation action to protect Scotland’s natural environment.

Trees for Life’s Back to Our Roots appeal is seeking to raise £18,000 for a new phase of tree planting by volunteers in Glen Affric this year – extending the endangered Caledonian Forest westwards of the area planted by the charity’s first Conservation Weeks 25 years ago, and creating vital habitats for wildlife.

“Back to Our Roots is an important new phase of our work in partnership with Forest Enterprise Scotland in Glen Affric. It will extend the native woodland beyond its current stronghold in the east of the glen towards Scotland’s west coast, creating a continuous corridor of forest across this part of the Highlands,” said Alan Watson Featherstone, Trees for Life’s Founder. 

“Helping a new generation of young trees to take root further west in Glen Affric will create an important addition to what is the largest extent of least disturbed forest in the country. This will provide habitats for a host of species – including some, such as the red squirrel, that have been lost from these deforested landscapes for far too long.”


Study reveals that wind farm led to reduction in number of breeding birds - RSPB 

Golden plover in field (winter) (image: Steve Round, RSPB)Golden plover in field (winter) (image: Steve Round, RSPB)

A new study has shown a significant reduction in the number of breeding birds following the construction of turbines at a wind farm in the north of Scotland. 

RSPB Scotland scientists, funded by SSE, studied golden plovers at the Gordonbush wind farm in Sutherland for five years, before, during and after construction. 

The study, due to be published in Ibis, reports that numbers of the plover, which are protected under the European Birds Directive, dropped by 80 per cent within the wind farm during the first two years of operation, with these declines being markedly greater than on areas surrounding the wind farm that were studied over the same period.

Lead researcher Dr Alex Sansom said: 'Golden plovers breed in open landscapes and it is likely that the presence of wind turbines in these areas leads to birds avoiding areas around the turbines. This study shows that such displacement may cause large declines in bird numbers within wind farms. 

'It will be important to examine whether these effects are maintained over the longer term at this site, and we should also use these detailed studies to examine the effects of wind farms on other bird species.'

The study is available for early view online ahead of its publication in Ibis.


Seven out of ten parents with young children worried about cuts to parks - The Parks Alliance

The Parks Alliance (TPA), the UK’s voice of parks, today published ‘The National Playground: growing the next generation’ on the importance of parks to family life. The current squeeze on budgets is putting our parks and green spaces at risk and data highlighted in the report show that parents with children under 10, are most concerned about the impact of budget cuts on local parks, with 7 out of 10 worried about the prospect of cuts. In this parent group, 8 out of 10 visit parks once a month, the highest number of any park users. 

Parks are an integral part of childhood. In an average month, 48% of all children in England visit local urban parks. Across the country it ranges from 46% of children in the North East to 54% in the east of England. Other data highlighted in the report include: 

  • Park visits accounted for an estimated 827 million visits taken to the natural environment in England 2014/15.
  • Every month, on average, three quarters of children (75%) visit the natural environment with adults from their own household.
  • Play was the dominant reason given by adults for the visits they took with children to the natural environment. 47% of children took visits that were motivated by adults wanting to play with their children and 43% took visits where the motivation was ‘to let the children play’.

 Read the report: ‘The National Playground: growing the next generation’ (PDF) 


Scientific Publications 

Yamaura, Y., Shoji, Y., Mitsuda, Y., Utsugi, H., Tsuge, T., Kuriyama, K., Nakamura, F. (2016), How many broadleaved trees are enough in conifer plantations? The economy of land sharing, land sparing and quantitative targets. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12642


Cooney, Christopher R. Seddon, Nathalie Tobias & Joseph A.  Widespread correlations between climatic niche evolution and species diversification in birds. Journal of Animal Ecology DOI:  10.1111/1365-2656.12530 


Scott M. Weir et al. Integrating copper toxicity and climate change to understand extinction risk to two species of pond-breeding anurans, Ecological Applications (2016). DOI: 10.1002/15-1082 

Cooney, C. R., Seddon, N. & Tonias, J. A. (2016) Widespread correlations between climatic niche evolution and species diversification in birds. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12530


Doherty, Tim S. & Ritchie, Euan G. Stop jumping the gun: A call for evidence-based invasive predator management. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12251


Lee, Jong Koo & Lima, Steven L.  Nest building under the risk of predation: safe nests are not always the best option.  Journal of Avian Biology.  DOI: 10.1111/jav.00958


Stefano Fenoglio, Núria Bonada, Simone Guareschi, Manuel J. López-Rodríguez, Andrés Millán, J. Manuel Tierno de Figueroa. Freshwater ecosystems and aquatic insects: a paradox in biological invasions. Biology Letters.  DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.1075  


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