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


More than a quarter of a million houses now planned for Green Belt land - CPRE 

Ever-increasing numbers undermine Government claims that it truly wants to protect the Green Belt

Research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), published today, shows that 275,000 houses are now planned for England’s Green Belt, an increase of 50,000 on last year and nearly 200,000 more than when the Government introduced its planning reforms back in March 2012.

Compiled from draft and adopted local plans, the research is the latest finding to challenge the Government’s commitment to the Green Belt. Only last year Prime Minister David Cameron claimed that the protection of the ‘precious’ Green Belt was ‘paramount’, reiterating the commitment made in the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto.   Yet last month the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark decided that 1,500 new homes should be built on Green Belt between Gloucester and Cheltenham in one of the biggest developments on Green Belt for a decade. This followed proposals in the Government’s planning policy consultation to release small sites in the Green Belt for ‘starter homes’. A Government-appointed body, the ‘Local Plans Expert Group’, has also encouraged Green Belt reviews.

CPRE’s Green Belt under siege report illustrates that Green Belt boundaries are being changed to accommodate housing at the fastest rate for two decades. In the year to 2015, 11 local authorities finalised boundary changes to accommodate development. The 275,000 houses now planned are an increase of 25% on 2015, and almost double the 147,000 houses outlined for Green Belt in Labour’s 2009 regional plans. There is particular pressure in the Metropolitan and West Midlands Green Belt. 

Green Belt policy is gradually being weakened through loopholes in planning guidance. Under pressure from Government to set and meet high housing targets, councils are releasing Green Belt for new development through a misappropriated ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause. At least three local authorities – Bradford, Durham and Northumberland – have claimed that economic growth justifies an ‘exceptional’ change to the Green Belt.

Access the Green Belt Under Siege: 2016 report


Wind farm alters the local climate of a Scottish peatland - CEH

Newly published research shows that the action of wind turbines has a measurable effect on the local climate, but this is unlikely to affect carbon storage in peatlands, where the majority of Scottish wind farms are located.

Scientists installing temperature and humidity sensors around wind turbines Photo: Susan Waldron, CEHScientists installing temperature and humidity sensors around wind turbines Photo: Susan Waldron, CEH

Researchers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the University of Glasgow, Lancaster University and the University of Leeds placed a grid of more than 100 temperature and humidity sensors around wind turbines at ScottishPower Renewables’ Black Law Wind Farm in North Lanarkshire. Over six months, the scientific team took readings from the air every five minutes and from the surface and soil every 30 minutes, including during a period when the turbines were switched off for maintenance.

They found that when the turbines were operational at night the temperature around the turbines increased by nearly 0.2 °C and absolute humidity increased fractionally. The turbines also increased the variability in air, surface and soil temperature throughout each 24-hour cycle.

Susan Waldron, Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, said, “The trapped organic matter in peat bogs represents captured atmospheric carbon dioxide, which can help slow the pace of global climate change. A change in the atmospheric conditions of peatland could change their capacity to store carbon.”

Access the paper: Ground-level climate at a peatland wind farm in Scotland is affected by wind turbine operation. Armstrong et al 2016 Environ. Res. Lett. doi: 11 044024


New staff members gallop into East Yorkshire nature reserve - RSPB

Konik ponies grazing at RSPB Minsmere, Image: Andy Hay, RSPBKonik ponies grazing at RSPB Minsmere, Image: Andy Hay, RSPB

RSPB Blacktoft Sands has welcomed two new Konik ponies to their site, to help the team manage the land for wildlife in an environmentally friendly way.

The nature reserve, near Goole, was able to buy the Koniks – named Splat and Theo – as part of Blacktoft’s Saving Marshlands Wildlife and Heritage project which is supported by funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Pete Short, Blacktoft Sands’ Site Manager, said: “Splat and Theo will join our existing herd of four horses, which have grazed the tidal reedbed here over the last four years. They have made a huge difference for wildlife: saltmarsh plants, such as strawberry clover and milkwort, are thriving;   invertebrate numbers have increased and we discovered the rare crucifix ground beetle, which is only found in ten other sites in the UK. We’ve also seen a huge variety in bird species, with avocets, bearded tits, bitterns, snipe, skylarks, reed buntings and black tailed godwits all being spotted in the area where the Koniks graze.”

Konik grazing at Blacktoft is part of the wider Back to the Future project, funded by WREN Biodiversity Action Fund, which looks at how to manage fenland habitats for wildlife on a landscape scale without the use of machinery.


Celebrities lead support for first ever lone female expedition to save swans – Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and Sir David Attenborough head a list of hundreds of businesses, charities and individual supporters throughout Europe and Russia who are getting behind a unique expedition to save Europe’s smallest swan from disappearing.

Image: WWTFlight of the Swans will be the first ever attempt to follow the migration of the Bewick’s swan from the air. Setting off this September, Sacha Dench of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) will fly a paramotor from the Bewick’s swans’ breeding grounds in arctic Russia 7,500km across 11 countries before finishing at the swans’ final destination in the UK.

Image: WWT

The paramotor is simply a wing of fabric, from which Sacha will dangle with a propeller strapped to her back. Flying at the same speed and height as the swans, she will experience the wonders and dangers the swans face including heavy storms, sea crossings and extreme cold. She will share their view with the world in real time using the latest digital camera technology and satellite communication.

Along the way, Sacha and her support team will meet with the communities that live along the swans’ flight path, including reindeer herders, farmers and hunters, and investigate why the number of Bewick’s swans in Europe has almost halved in the last twenty years with less than 18,000 now surviving.

Anyone can find out more about the expedition and sign up to support the Bewick’s swan at www.flightoftheswans.org


Suffolk MP becomes national bittern champion - RSPB

Suffolk Coastal MP, Dr Thérèse Coffey, has become the new UK Bittern Champion, supporting an exciting partnership between seven nature conservation organisations aimed at raising the profile of some of the UK’s most threatened species.

A bittern wading in reedbed on the Suffolk Coast, constituency of MP Dr Thérèse Coffey (Image: Andy Hay)A bittern wading in reedbed on the Suffolk Coast, constituency of MP Dr Thérèse Coffey (Image: Andy Hay)

Dr Coffey will be visiting RSPB Minsmere nature reserve, near Westleton, at 10.30 am on Friday 29 April, to learn more about what makes the Suffolk coast so important for this elusive relative of the familiar grey heron.

Dr Coffey will meet RSPB Suffolk Area Manager, Ben McFarland, to learn how pioneering RSPB-led conservation work in Suffolk’s reedbeds, during the 1990s, saw populations recover after the species became perilously close to extinction in the UK. As recently as 1997, surveys using the males’ distinctive and unique booming call, revealed that only 11 male bitterns remained in the UK. 

Following research at Minsmere, new reedbeds have been created, and established reedbeds restored across the UK, helping bittern populations to recover. The summary of breeding bitterns in the UK in 2015, published by the RSPB and Natural England, highlighted the recovery in bittern populations, with at least 156 booming males recorded across at least 71 sites, representing a 14 fold increase on the 1997 low.  Last year, 32 booming male bitterns made a home on the Suffolk coast, the highest total since records began in 1990.


Camping out for nature - RSPB

Grown-ups and children alike are in for a treat over the upcoming summer holidays as the RSPB will once again be urging nature lovers to spend a night under the stars for its annual Big Wild Sleepout.  

The charity is challenging children and their families across the UK to go on a mini-adventure, get wild and discover what goes bump in the night with the amazing nocturnal wildlife on their doorstep.   For the fourth year running, happy campers across the country will be encouraged to sleep out in their own gardens or outdoor spaces to get close to nature and discover which creatures they share their homes with.  

The event takes place over the last weekend in July, and with the late sunsets and early sunrises in store, there will be plenty of fun-filled hours for people of all ages to set up camp and spend a memorable night in nature.   Whether it be glamping in tents or caravans, getting back to basics in dens and shelters or even roughing it under open skies and a blanket of stars, there will be Sleepout styles to cater for all levels and ages.   

Some of the more extraordinary Sleepouts in the pipeline include stepping back in time and camping out in a museum, sleeping out under a wind turbine and seeing shooting stars, globular clusters and the international space station with a variety of telescopes, an indoor planetarium and a meteor roadshow! 

In addition to spending a night in nature’s home and getting to know the night time wildlife around them, those taking part can choose to donate money to help the RSPB give nature a home. The Big Wild Sleepout is part of the RSPB’s ‘Giving Nature a Home’ campaign, which is aimed at inspiring everyone to do their bit for nature, wherever they live and however big their outside space.  

James Harding-Morris, Big Wild Sleepout organiser said: “Thousands of people across the UK will be going on a mini adventure and getting closer to wildlife in our fourth Big Wild Sleepout event. Our main aim is to get children and grown-ups connected to nature to help preserve it for future generations and what better way to do this than spending a night under the stars and getting to know the amazing animals around us that thrive in the dark. Nature is in trouble and by taking part in Sleepout and sharing your experiences with the RSPB, we’re getting a deeper understanding of the wildlife around us, as well as helping to give nature a home.”


Volunteer walk leaders go the extra mile! - Cairngorms National Park Authority

Volunteer walk leaders in the Cairngorms National Park have clocked up more than 50,000 hours over the past 12 years – and in doing so – have helped improve the physical and mental health of those taking part.

From just three Walking to Health groups in 2004, the project has grown to 34 groups operating in and around the Cairngorms National Park delivering 5,500 hours worth of health walks annually.

A special day of training, networking and celebration was held at Glenmore Lodge today (Tuesday 26th April) to say ‘thank you’ to all those willing volunteers who have been part of the Cairngorms Walking to Health project. Of the 80 volunteers, 40 of them were able to attend the event with keynote speaker, mountaineer, author and broadcaster Cameron McNeish. He stressed the importance and value of volunteers in helping people to access the outdoors with confidence, with a view to improving their health and wellbeing.

He said: “Every hour that a volunteer offers can be measured in increased awareness, more confidence and greater health benefits for all those who join a Walk to Health group. In addition all those who join a group are re-connected to the natural world, something that can make a massive difference to everyone. I hugely appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given to come to Glenmore Lodge and thank the volunteers personally.”


Partnership awarded for one of the best EU-funded nature conservation projects in Europe - Peak District National Park

A large-scale nature conservation project that is protecting Peak District and South Pennine moorlands, delivered by the Moors for the Future Partnership, has been recognised as one of the most effective and inspiring in the EU.

Since 2003 the partnership has been helping to breathe new life into moorlands damaged by the legacy of 200 years of industrial pollution and wildfires that caused vast areas of bare and eroding peat.  These areas across the Peak District and South Pennines are internationally important active blanket bog known as the South Pennines Special Area for Conservation.

The Partnership’s MoorLIFE project is due to receive an award for being one of the best LIFE Nature Projects of 2015 in recognition of the successful completion of the five-year project.  With €6.7 million project funding, including €5 million from the EU LIFE+ programme, almost 2,500 hectares of moorland has been protected from damage.  By developing innovative conservation techniques nearly 900 hectares of badly damaged blanket bog has been revegetated to stabilise the exposed and damaged bare peat, preventing further erosion.

The winning projects represent the three strands of the LIFE+ programme - Nature; Environment; and Information & Communication – and are drawn from 15 EU Member States in total.  Winners of the ‘Best of the Best’ project awards will be chosen by a  jury of the Member States and European Commission and will be revealed at the LIFE Nature and LIFE Environment award ceremonies in Brussels on May 31.

Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park, said: “This award is a huge honour. We are delighted that MoorLIFE has been recognised as one of the best conservation projects in Europe.  This project has delivered landscape-scale works in the Peak District National Park and South Pennines as well as leading the way in research and the development of innovative techniques to help us protect and understand these fantastic places.”


Does nature make you happy? Crowdsourcing app looks at relationship between the outdoors and wellbeing - University of Cambridge 

A new app will crowdsource data to help scientists understand the relationship between biodiversity and wellbeing. The app, developed at the University of Cambridge, maps happiness onto a detailed map that includes all the UK’s nature reserves and green spaces. 

NatureBuzz, which is available to download free on iOS and Android platforms, asks participants three times per day to answer questions about how they feel, whether they are outside or indoors, who they are with, and what they are doing. At the same time, it records their location using GPS data.
NatureBuzz also provides information about UK nature reserves and ‘protected areas’ and will provide users with feedback on how their happiness has fluctuated, where it was highest, with whom and during which activities.
“Apps provide a great way of collecting data from thousands – possibly tens of thousands – of users, a scale that is just not possible in lab experiments,” explains research associate Laurie Parma from the Department of Psychology, who coordinates the study. “We’ll use this data to answer some fascinating and potentially very important questions about our relationship with nature.”
Studies have suggested that people are happier and reinvigorated when living in more natural settings. For example, a 2011 study from the United States found that people who live in inner cities were the least happy, while those who live in rural areas are the happiest. However, it is not clear whether all green spaces promote happiness equally.

NatureBuzz is available to download from the iPhone App Store and from Google Play.


Monitoring reveals changes in biodiversity and the environment over 20 years at North Wyke, Devon - Rothamsted Research 

Scientists carrying out long-term monitoring at the North Wyke site of Rothamsted Research have detected trends in the biodiversity and the environment. Lower surface wind speeds, decreased concentrations of pollutants in rainfall and fluctuations in the abundances of butterflies and moths are among the changes recorded. Since 1993 the programme, conducted by the UK Environmental Change Network (ECN), has collected records to monitor the weather, atmospheric pollution and land management, while measuring effects on biodiversity, soil and water quality. The scientists collected fortnightly samples from the air and from water in soil and the river Taw. They analysed the samples, and compared the measurements with observations of vegetation and fauna. The main findings from the first 20 years of monitoring at North Wyke are described in a short report written by scientists at Rothamsted Research, which is strategically funded by the BBSRC. This work is part of the Long-Term Experiments National Capability (LTE-NC).

The author of the short report and researcher at Rothamsted North Wyke, Deborah Beaumont, said: “The Environmental Change Network data has enabled us to see what components of the environment have changed at North Wyke over a 20-year period. The long-term approach to environmental monitoring helps us to distinguish between natural and inter-annual variations and longer-term trends that short-term projects are unable to capture. The environment continues to be under multiple anthropogenic pressures and the Environmental Change Network is providing important information on the health of our ecosystems, which can be used to inform policy-makers, scientific researchers and environmental managers.”

The report is available as a short booklet from the Rothamsted ECN website.

 Entangled fox cub (image: RSPCA)

Warning after fox cub is rescued from football netting in Walsall - RSPCA

The RSPCA is reminding people about the dangers sports netting can pose to wildlife after a fox cub had to be rescued when he got entangled in one.

 The struggling cub, who was only a few weeks’ old, was spotted by a member of the public last Wednesday (20 April) at a school in Beaufort Way, Aldridge, Walsall. The football netting had wrapped around the cub’s neck and front right paw, leaving him unable to move.

Entangled fox cub (image: RSPCA)

RSPCA Animal Collection Officer Cara Gibbon freed the cub by carefully cutting away the netting. She said: “As I was removing him, the cub’s mum and dad ran over to see what was happening.  As soon as I freed him, I popped him under the fence and he ran back to his mum and dad. It is so nice to have a rescue with a happy ending, especially as this could have been much worse for this little lad, as he could have panicked and got himself even more tangled, but thankfully we got there just in time."  ACO Gibbon added. “Netting such as goal nets pose a real hazard to our wildlife and sadly we get a lot of wild animals can get trapped in them. To prevent this from happening, we encourage people to remove the nets after use and store them safely away.


Striking image of Perthshire osprey guarding her territory - Scottish Wildlife Trust

Visitors witness acrobatic displays as territorial birds protect their nest  

Female osprey LF15 chasing off an intruding buzzard. Photo: Marion Moore. (via Scottish Wildlife trust)Female osprey LF15 chasing off an intruding buzzard. Photo: Marion Moore. (via Scottish Wildlife Trust)

  The nesting pair of ospreys at the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Loch of the Lowes Nature Reserve in Perthshire have been kept on their toes by intruding ospreys and buzzards.

While most of their time is spent incubating their eggs and catching fish to bring back to the nest, the ospreys have also treated visitors to the reserve to acrobatic displays as they defend their nest.

The pair successfully laid a full clutch of three eggs earlier this month. They are expected to hatch in the middle of May.

Charlotte Fleming, Perthshire Ranger, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: "Ospreys are very territorial and fiercely defend their nests. There are always younger birds hanging around the established nests looking for a chance to sneak in and breed. This keeps the current pair on their toes and gives our visitors a chance to see the ospreys put on an amazing display of skilled flying.”


Plymouth preparing to Buzz - Buglife 

This summer the centre of Plymouth will be blooming, and buzzing with bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects as part of the Urban Buzz project. Work is already underway to create this vibrant new addition to Plymouth.

Colletes species (c) Rory Dimond via BuglifeColletes species (c) Rory Dimond via Buglife

Millbay Park, St Andrew’s Cross and Derry’s Cross roundabouts and along Western Approach will be full of beautiful flowers and buzzing with life come the summer. Buglife and Plymouth City Council, along with the help of some local volunteers will shortly be sowing colourful mixes of flowers throughout these areas, following careful land preparation.

Laura Curry, Plymouth’s Urban Buzz Officer said “Over a third of Plymouth is identified as green space; there are many exciting opportunities within the city for creating wonderful new homes for these essential insects as well as helping local communities - providing them with beautiful, bright, and inspiring flower-filled places that local people can use and enjoy, and catch the Urban Buzz in Plymouth!”


Various pieces of evidence suggest that bat populations crashed dramatically in the 20th century, but the information available is largely circumstantial so can't tell us by how much and over what time period. For this reason, in 1996 BCT established the National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP) with the aim of providing effective monitoring of resident species of bats in the UK. This was possible thanks to the UK’s growing network of bat volunteers and the availability of more affordable bat detectors.

Since then 3,973 volunteers have carried out 65,610 surveys at 7,758 sites! Thanks to the amazing contribution of this network of citizen scientists we are able to produce population trends for 11 of the UK’s 17 breeding bat species. The latest species population trends are due to be published in the NBMP Annual Report on 5th May.

NBMP data have also been used in a number of research projects leading to some important findings such as new insights into different species’ habitat requirements and the effects of urbanisation on bats.

Support them here.


Bees research shows not all neonicotinoids are the same - University of Dundee 

The group of chemical insecticides known as neonicotinoids have been identified as presenting a serious risk to bee populations, leading to bans on their use. But at least one may be unfairly named among the offenders when it comes to risks to bumblebees, according to new research led by the University of Dundee.

The new study found that one of the neonicotinoid insecticides – clothianidin – did not show the same detrimental effects on bee colonies as its close chemical relatives imidacloprid and thiamethoxam. All three neonicotinoids have been subject to an EU-wide moratorium on their use.

bees on flowers (image: University of Dundee)Image: University of Dundee

Dr Chris Connolly, a Research Associate at the Centre for Environmental change and Human Rselience (CECHR) and Reader in the Division of Neuroscience at Dundee’s School of Medicine, is one of the leading authorities on the effects of neonicotinoids on bees. He has led this new study, involving both the University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews, which shows that each of the different neonicotinoids leads to differential risks for bumblebees.

“There has been growing concern over the risk to bee populations from neonicotinoid insecticides and their long-term consequences to essential ecosystem services and food security,” said Dr Connolly.  “Our knowledge of the risk of neonicotinoids to bees is based on studies of imidacloprid and thiamethoxam and these findings have generally been extrapolated to clothianidin.  From our findings, we consider that it is premature to place a permanent ban on the use of clothianidin. That said, a moratorium on its use should continue until the knowledge gaps are filled on its wider impact on other species.”

Dr Connolly said the study once again confirmed the threat to bumblebees from use of imidacloprid and thiamethoxam.

The results of the study are published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Read the paper:  Christopher Moffat, Stephen T. Buckland, Andrew J. Samson, Robin McArthur, Victor Chamosa Pino, Karen A. Bollan, Jeffrey T.-J. Huang & Christopher N. Connolly. Neonicotinoids target distinct nicotinic acetylcholine receptors and neurons, leading to differential risks to bumblebees. Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24764 (2016)  doi:10.1038/srep24764


Struggling farms run out of options as cash flow crisis spreads to wider rural economy - The Prince's Countryside Fund

Stark research into the cash flow pressures faced by farmers is released by The Prince’s Countryside Fund today. The report was commissioned following growing concerns in the sector about serious cash flow issues affecting an increasing number of farm businesses. This is putting a huge strain on suppliers, affecting the health and wellbeing of farmers and affecting the prospects of the wider rural economy.

Lord Curry, Chairman of The Prince’s Countryside Fund said, "The research presents a very bleak picture not only for farmers; but also for the wider rural economy. Volatile commodity markets are not just affecting farmers; decreased cash flow is affecting the industry as a whole, from vets to feed and machinery suppliers to auction marts. The full extent of the crisis is not yet fully understood. As a result we are witnessing a trend towards increased and sometimes risky borrowing by farmers. Distressingly the outlook does not look set to change in the short-term and the degree of uncertainty about the future is affecting everyone. This in turn is causing suppliers to consider making job redundancies and think about coming out of agriculture. 'It is essential that farm businesses seek professional advice, have all the support they need to cope and that they are equipped with risk and business management tools. Confidence, better cooperation and communication throughout the supply chain are needed if they are to survive."

To read the full report please click here. (PDF)  


Scientific Publications

Merenlender, Adina M., Crall, Alycia W., Drill, Sabrina, Prysby, Michelle & Ballard, Heidi.  Evaluating environmental education, citizen science, and stewardship through naturalist programs.  Conservation Biology DOI:  10.1111/cobi.12737


Antonio J. Carpio, Lars Hillström & Francisco S. Tortosa.  Effects of wild boar predation on nests of wading birds in various Swedish habitats.  European Journal of Wildlife Research. DOI: 10.1007/s10344-016-1016-y


Turnhout, E., Lawrence, A. & Turnhout, S. (2016) Citizen science networks in natural history and the collective validation of biodiversity data. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12696


Caniani, D., Labella, A., Serafina Lioi, D., Mancini, I. M. & Masi, S. (2016) Habitat ecological integrity and environmental impact assessment of anthropic activities: A GIS-based fuzzy logic model for sites of high biodiversity conservation interest. Ecological Indicators. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.02.038


Juanita Zorrilla-Pujana, Sergio Rossi, Environmental education indicators system for protected areas management, Ecological Indicators, Volume 67, August 2016, Pages 146-155, ISSN 1470-160X, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.02.053.


Bianca M. Wentzell, Charles W. Boylen, Sandra A. Nierzwicki-Bauer, Wetland ecosystem comparison using a suite of plant assessment measures, Ecological Indicators, Volume 67, August 2016, Pages 283-291, ISSN 1470-160X, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.02.056.


Iacona, Gwenllian D., Bode, Michael & Armsworth, Paul R.  Limitations of outsourcing on-the-ground biodiversity conservation.  Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12739


Chase, Sarah K. & Levine, Arielle  A framework for evaluating and designing citizen science programs for natural resources monitoring. Conservation Biology  DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12697


Mavrommati, Georgia, Bithas, Kostas, Borsuk, Mark E. & Howarth, Richard B. Integration of ecological-biological thresholds in conservation decision making. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12745


Virginie Guyot, Bastien Castagneyrol, Aude Vialatte, Marc Deconchat, Hervé Jactel. Tree diversity reduces pest damage in mature forests across Europe  Biology Letters .DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.1037  


Selina Brace, Mark Ruddy, Rebecca Miller, Danielle C. Schreve, John R. Stewart, Ian Barnes. The colonization history of British water vole (Arvicola amphibius (Linnaeus, 1758)): origins and development of the Celtic fringe. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: biological sciences DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0130   


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