CJS Logo & link to homepage

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


Thriving water vole population - Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs & Northants 

Despite national decline, a new report based on water vole surveys in two areas of the Fens carried out at five year intervals over the last 10 years shows that water voles are continuing to thrive

Water vole by Georgette Taylor via WT BCNWater vole by Georgette Taylor via WT BCN

A report just published by the Wildlife Trust BCN has found water voles, Arvicola amphibius, in very encouraging numbers in the Middle Level of the Fens, based on a survey completed last year. In 2015, Trust staff and volunteers conducted a detailed survey and found water voles at least as widespread as previous years - very impressive against a background of national decline.
The new report draws on information gathered in previous surveys (2010 and 2005 of Curf Fen and Ransonmoor, between Chatteris and March in the Middle Level catchment) and shows that ditch maintenance by internal drainage boards is critical for water voles, providing an extensive and stable habitat. The results also show that construction of new wind farms has had no apparent effect on water vole populations.

Leading the survey, Ruth Hawksley Wildlife Trust Water for Wildlife Officer, said: 'Surveying for water vole signs can be very enjoyable but also very demanding along Fenland drains. Our survey only covered two of the 36 districts in the Middle Level catchment, but it revealed that IDB drains can provide a large connected area of good water vole habitat. Our results support the Wildlife Trust’s belief that the Cambridgeshire fens are a regionally, and possibly nationally, important stronghold for water voles.' Trust staff and volunteers surveyed 307 ditch sections, covering over 80km of ditch on foot or by boat,

Click through to see the main conclusions from the survey.

  Decoy puffins on the Calf of Man. Lara Howe

Puffins Installed on Calf - Manx Wildlife Trust 

Puffin decoys installed as part of Trust project to encourage birds back to breed

Puffins are back on the Calf. Well, decoy ones at least! 

Decoy puffins on the Calf of Man. Lara Howe

 On 13 April the Trust, with support from Manx National Heritage technicians and volunteers, planted one hundred decoy puffins on the island as part of a project to encourage puffins to nest and successfully breed on the Calf once more.  The decoys were placed at two locations where historically puffins have nested. The most suitable locations were chosen for the decoys, with some individuals precariously perched on cliff edges to ensure their visibility from the sea. A sound system, which plays puffin calls, has also been installed at one of the sites ahead of the breeding season to attract prospecting juveniles.

In conjunction with the continued rat eradication programme as part of the Manx Shearwater Project it is hoped that puffins will be returning to the Calf in the next few years. 

Puffins were once numerous around the Calf of Man, with historic reports identifying over eight hundred individuals seen in coastal waters in 1996, an exceptional year. However, numbers have declined in recent years, with recent records of fewer than ten birds observed each year. In 2014, only two individuals were seen. Furthermore, 1985 is likely to be the last time we can say with confidence that puffins actually bred on the Calf.


 RSPB Bempton Cliffs - a year to remember - RSPB

Looking north from Bempton Cliffs (image: Katie Fuller, RSPB)A year since its launch last April, the £1.3 million seabird centre at RSPB Bempton Cliffs has exceeded all expectations, and staff and volunteers are celebrating its hugely successful first year.

Looking north from Bempton Cliffs (image: Katie Fuller, RSPB)

The centre on the Yorkshire Coast, which forms the gateway to the largest and most accessible mainland seabird colony in the country, saw 85,000 visitors pass through its doors last year – 25,000 more than in the previous years. It was also host to 2000 school children, who visited as part of the reserve’s education programme.

Keith Clarkson, RSPB Bempton Cliffs Site manager, said: “The visitor numbers surprised even us. We expected the new facility to attract more people, but the increase was exceptional. This success wouldn’t have been possible without the initial backing of our parish and local councils and, of course, our funding partners – The Heritage Lottery Fund, Coastal Communities, Biffa, and LEADER. We are incredibly grateful for their faith in our vision.”

Many people were prompted to visit RSPB Bempton Cliffs after seeing the reserve on two BBC TV favourites: Springwatch at Easter, which the reserve hosted, had 2.2 million viewers, and a whopping 5.9 million viewers watched Countryfile when it featured the reserve.  

It’s a credit to the Bempton team that, despite unprecedented demands made of them – like brewing some 25,500 cups of tea – the reserve’s standards of customer care never faltered.

The level of success achieved has paid dividends within the community too. The reserve now employs the equivalent of 15 full time staff, assisted by an amazing team of 118 volunteers. And those visiting have had a significant impact on the tourism economy, with 50 per cent of visitors to the reserve staying locally.

The other beneficiaries of all this hard work are the 250,000 seabirds, which flock to the cliffs each year during the breeding season. The colony is regularly monitored, and the data provided helps the RSPB focus its vital conservation work in areas where it will be most effective.


A step back in time could be the way forward - Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales Land Management Team have turned back the clock by using traditional forestry skills to thin an area of sensitive woodland in south east Wales. 

Horse loggers taking a break, image NRWHorse loggers taking a break, image NRW

In Gwern Ddu woodland, near Rudry, red cedar and Norway spruce trees have been felled around mature ash trees to improve light levels and increase natural regeneration rates of broadleaf species.

As a PAWS (Planted Ancient Woodland Sites) woodland this work will help to restore it while improving the natural environment.

Three Ardenne horses from Rowan Working Horses, Monmouth were employed to fell and extract the trees identified for removal. The trees were felled by hand and the horses moved the whole tree length to an open area where they could be cross cut into smaller sizes. This timber was then taken to a stacking area by a horse drawn forwarder.

In the four days the three horses hauled a total of 47 tonnes of timber, providing logs for a local sawmill and wood for the biomass plant in Baglan.


Environmental scheme makes New Forest fit for the future - New Forest Higher Level Stewardship SchemeImage: New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme

Image: New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme

A multi-million pound environmental scheme continues to benefit the New Forest.

Restoring lost grazing lawns, re-introducing meanders to artificially-straightened rivers, supporting commoners, and saving archaeological sites are just some of the ways in which the scheme is helping.
The New Forest Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) Scheme funds projects to support the ancient system of commoning – which sees ponies, cattle, pigs and sheep roaming free to graze the landscape - and conserve the fragile habitats of the New Forest. 
The scheme’s Annual General Meeting took place recently in the Verderers Court, the ancient hall in Lyndhurst where New Forest governance decisions are made. The capacity audience heard from local experts how the UK’s largest agri-environment scheme has made a noticeable difference in the Forest over the last year. 
The 10-year agreement with Natural England is worth £19m and is held by the Verderers of the New Forest. The scheme is managed by them in partnership with the Forestry Commission and the New Forest National Park Authority, with advice from the Commoners Defence Association. 


UK Awards for Biological Recording and Information Sharing – nominations open! - National Biodiversity Network

The National Biodiversity Network (NBN) is now accepting nominations for the 2016 UK awards to celebrate biological recording and information sharing.

These awards have been developed by the National Biodiversity Network, the National Forum for Biological Recording and the Biological Records Centre.

Following the success of last year’s awards, when we received 53 nominations overall, we are excited by the prospect of even more nominations for amazing people in 2016!

There are five award categories:

  • Gilbert White youth award for terrestrial and freshwater wildlife
  • Gilbert White adult award for terrestrial and freshwater wildlife
  • David Robertson youth award for marine and coastal wildlife
  • David Robertson adult award for marine and coastal wildlife
  • Group award

Download the NBN Awards nomination form 2016 (editable PDF)

Download more information on the NBN Awards for biological recording 2016

Nominations open on 20th April and close on 31st July 2016. 


Third osprey egg laid at Loch of the Lowes reserve - Scottish Wildlife Trust 

The female osprey nesting at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve near Dunkeld has laid her third and likely final egg of the season. 

Charlotte Fleming, Perthshire Ranger for the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “This is an important milestone in the osprey breeding season, but there is still a long way to go before we can relax. 

“Our pair will need to sit tight and carefully incubate their clutch whatever the weather for at least 30 days, and protect their eggs against any predators that might dare to intrude, and just this morning our female had to see off a pair of crows that ventured too close to her nest. 

“It’s possible for ospreys to lay four eggs, and the previous female at Loch of the Lowes did so on two occasions. We will be keeping a close eye on her behaviour over the next few days just in case she has another surprise for us, but all of our staff and volunteers are more than happy with a clutch of three eggs for now.” 


Saline solution at Blue House Farm - Essex Wildlife Trust

A bold project to remove non-native invasive New Zealand Pygmyweed (Crassula helmsii) from our Blue House Farm nature reserve, on the north bank of the Crouch Estuary, has progressed well.

Crassula chokes waterways and has invaded the channels in the ‘Flooded Fields’ area of the reserve. While wildfowl and waders have remained numerous, the Crassula has had a detrimental effect on Water Voles numbers and would have serious consequences for other native flora and fauna, should it spread elsewhere on the reserve.  Crassula is difficult to control or eradicate but studies have shown that it cannot survive inundation by sea water. The flooded fields are not adjacent to the seawall, so we could not simply open a sluice gate; however, we hatched an enterprising plan to use pumps and newly dug ditches to bring the sea to the fields.

Nonetheless, Blue House Farm is a Site of Special Scientific Interest: could we get permission for the work? After various assessments, Maldon District Council granted planning permission and Natural England and the Environment Agency (EA) also agreed that the project should go ahead. The EA granted a licence to abstract sea water from the river and the Crouch Harbour Authority gave permission to site a pump on the seawall, with a pipe into the estuary.

Digging began, with an archaeologist present in case anything of historical interest was found – not this time. Next, heavy-duty, eight-inch pipes were laid to link various ditches. Pumping an estimated 20,000 cubic metres of sea water took about three weeks, during November 2015.  The salt water will remain on the field until drained early this autumn (2016), when we will survey to ensure that no Crassula remains. The fields will refill with freshwater from winter rains.


New £1m project to celebrate Solent and Wight marine heritage - Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust 

We are set to develop a landmark five-year project celebrating the Solent and South Wight’s marine heritage, thanks to support from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The grant for the ‘Secrets of the Solent’ project could unlock a five-year £1m investment in inspiring local people to get involved in protecting the unique habitats and heritage within our local Marine Protected Areas - effectively ‘national parks of the sea’. 

As well as being an incredible example of the UK’s marine wildlife - home to internationally-important seagrass beds, chalk reefs, and rocky sponge gardens - our local seas are also busy shipping routes, are highly valued as a source of building materials, support a small fishing industry, and are popular with recreational users.

Tim Ferrero, Head of Marine Conservation at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust said: “The Solent is packed with nationally and internationally important wildlife – yet many people don’t realise that we have everything from seals to seahorses living so nearby.  With Secrets of the Solent, we want to celebrate the diversity of our local marine wildlife and habitats to ensure that their importance and the benefits they bring us is understood and valued. We all use and benefit from our seas in different ways, so it’s only right that we work together to come up with ways of protecting them and securing those benefits – now and for future generations.”


GWT receives M4 Compulsory Purchase Order for part of Magor Marsh! - Gwent Wildlife Trust

Gwent Wildlife Trust (GWT) have just received a Compulsory Purchase Order, part of Welsh Government’s proposed M4 Relief Road development, for a section of GWT’s Nature Reserve at Magor Marsh near Magor on the Gwent Levels.

Magor Marsh at dawn (image: Amanda Jones via Gwent Wildlife Trust)Magor Marsh at dawn (image: Amanda Jones via Gwent Wildlife Trust)

The compulsory purchase order aims to take an area of wet grassland and ditch rich in rare wildlife that includes meadow thistle, otters, water voles and ancient pollarded willows. This area is representative of many parts of the Levels expected to be compulsory purchased for the motorway relief road development, much of which is nationally designated for its wildlife importance.

Gemma Bodé Living Landscapes Manager says “The M4 relief road proposals including the Compulsory Purchase Order if successful would rob an area of the Magor Marsh reserve and bring dark times for the Gwent Levels as a whole and the nationally important wildlife that thrives here. The drainage system on the Levels is extremely complex and 2500m of ditch and reen, full of nationally rare plants and insects would be lost if the proposed relief road goes ahead. There is no way to replace these with brand new ditches never mind maintain the integrity of the drainage system that ultimately prevents many villages and towns on the Levels from flooding.”


Another step forward for Scottish woodlots - Scottish Land and Estates

Whilst land reform has been capturing political headlines in Scotland in recent years, a determined band of men and women have been quietly working away to actually deliver it on the ground – or rather, in the woods.

A new model of woodland tenure which offers affordable access to woodland for woodsmen – woodlot licences – has been pioneered by the Scottish Woodlot Association. The model allows an individual to rent an area of woodland from a landowner on a long-term basis, to manage productively.  The Association’s success was highlighted earlier this month with the signing of their seventh woodlot licence agreement at Speddoch, near Dumfries.

The site on the Speddoch Estate comprises a number of small woodland parcels which have been combined into three separate woodlot licences giving three different families the chance to benefit. One of the new licence holders, Steffi Schaffler, is a horse logger who lives nearby and plans to manage her woodlot using her own horses. The 14 ha woodlot is ideal for them, as Steffi explains: “It’s a great site for horses, not steep and not too wet. I am looking forward to thinning it, which is what horses are really good for."  Steffi and her partner recently installed a log boiler in their home, so the poorer quality timber they cannot sell as sawlogs will find a ready home in their firewood stack.

Scottish Woodlot Licences have been inspired by the situation in British Columbia (BC) where the Provincial Government has been running a highly successful woodlot licence programme on Crown land for over 30 years. There, they are seen as an important part of a diverse forestry sector, delivering particular local and community benefits, and as such are being actively promoted and expanded by the Government of BC. The SWA hope in time that woodlot licence tenure will also become an important ‘family forestry’ model in a more diverse Scottish forestry.


M4 motorway diversion to destroy the natural beauty of the Gwent Levels - RSPB 

  • M4 diversion would cut through four areas of Wales that are renowned for their outstanding natural beauty and importance for wildlife 
  • Now is the time to stand up for nature and tell planners that the Welsh countryside and its threatened wildlife needs protecting 
  • RSPB Cymru is asking Welsh Government to celebrate nature, not destroy it 

RSPB Cymru is urging the public to make their voices heard before it’s too late, as the M4 motorway diversion threatens to cut through the heart of the Gwent Levels and irreversibly damage one of the county’s most important natural spaces.  

Over the last few years, RSPB Cymru has been working closely with the Welsh Government to develop and secure important legislation which is meant to ensure that Wales has a better, healthier and greener country.

Arfon Williams, RSPB Cymru Countryside Manager, said: “You only have to look around to see that the Gwent Levels is something special to Wales. Sweeping the Severn Estuary coastline from Cardiff to the Severn Bridge and beyond, the Levels is rich in nature it is an irreplaceable patchwork of wildlife havens and landscapes.  Many of these species are in danger of disappearing from Wales and destroying their home by building a new road straight through it would have a devastating and irreversible effect. A diverted M4 motorway will create a lethal barrier of traffic that would be impossible for wildlife to cross, resulting in pollution seeping off the road surfaces into the surrounding waterways – on which much the Levels wildlife depends.” 

RSPB Cymru have called on the Welsh Government to consider  more sustainable,  solutions such as upgrading public transport through the proposed new South Wales Metro. 

Katie-Jo Luxton, RSPB Cymru Director, says: “Our treasured wildlife is sadly undervalued, ignored and already undergoing severe declines. The wanton destruction of our natural heritage has to stop. These areas are vital for nature in Wales and RSPB Cymru is urging the public to stand up and protect them. This road proposal is a classic example of out-dated government thinking, which sees our environment as simply an inconvenience or a resource to be used and exploited for short term gain – rather than something that we should be celebrating as part of what makes Wales fantastic."


A new breakthrough on ash dieback - Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

UK scientists have identified the country’s first ash tree that shows tolerance to ash dieback, raising the possibility of using selective breeding to develop strains of trees that are tolerant to the disease.

The findings, which could help ensure ash trees will thrive in UK woodlands, have today (22 April) been published in a report co-funded by Defra and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Ash dieback is spreading throughout the UK and, in one woodland in Norfolk, a great number of trees are infected. However, there are exceptions which demonstrate very low levels of infection by the ash dieback fungus and here researchers have identified one tree, nicknamed ‘Betty’, as having a strong tolerance to the disease.

The breakthrough comes after researchers from the government-backed Nornex project, led by the John Innes Centre in Norfolk, published the world-leading research report into ash dieback disease.

The team compared the genetics of trees with different levels of tolerance to ash dieback disease. From there, they developed three genetic markers which enabled them to predict whether or not a tree is likely to be tolerant to the disease – even whether it is likely to be ‘mildly’ or ‘strongly’ tolerant. Betty, they discovered, was predicted to show strong tolerance.

Defra spokesperson in the Lords, Lord Gardiner, unveiled the latest findings at the John Innes Centre in Norfolk today. He said: “This Government has invested more than any other country in research on ash dieback, and today’s breakthrough is an excellent example of how the UK’s cutting-edge science is leading the way to help support tree health. 

“We want to guarantee the graceful ash tree continues to have a place in our environment for centuries to come and this vital work is a major step towards ensuring just that.”

The Nornex report also indicates that the three genetic markers are more prevalent in UK ash trees than in those from some other countries. Reasons for this are as yet unknown but this could be taken into consideration for any future tree development programmes. 


CJS is not responsible for content of external sites.  Details believed correct but given without prejudice.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in these news pages do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CJS.