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


logo: Volunteers WeekWe're supporting Volunteer Week by including plenty of news about countryside conservation volunteers


Our Volunteer Award winners - Ramblers

Without the 25,000 volunteers who give their time to the Ramblers we just wouldn’t exist.

Whether looking after paths and green spaces, leading walks, opening up new places to explore, without our dedicated volunteers we just couldn’t do what we do. Every hour that everyone gives is so important in helping the Ramblers achieve what we do in making sure everyone can enjoy walking and the benefits it provides through improving health and happiness.

To mark the start of volunteer week, we are announcing the winners of our 2016 volunteer awards. The awards recognise volunteers or groups of volunteers for their outstanding contributions. Whether that’s inspiring people to walk or helping to protect and expand the places we love to walk, they are the real walking heroes.

During volunteer week we’ll be publishing interviews with our volunteer award winners and you’ll be able to read them on our volunteers' week webpage.


Award-winning photographer volunteering for Scottish Wildcat Action - Scottish Natural Heritge and RZSS

British Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015, Barrie Williams, has begun volunteering as a Communications Assistant for the conservation project Scottish Wildcat Action. As a freelance filmmaker, former TV researcher for the BBC, and an award-winning photographer, Barrie is hoping to use his skills to help raise awareness of the endangered Scottish wildcat.

Today (1/6/16) is the first day of Volunteers’ Week. Over 21 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year and this contributes an estimated £23.9bn to the UK economy.

Barrie Williams, volunteer at Scottish Wildcat Action (Photo credit Graham Richardson/Scottish Wildcat Action)Barrie Williams, volunteer at Scottish Wildcat Action (Photo credit Graham Richardson/Scottish Wildcat Action)

Williams said, “Before I became a volunteer, I worked on some exciting projects - producing educational videos for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, writing articles for photography magazines, and snorkelling with Dougie Vipond and Doug Allan for BBC Scotland’s Landward – and I am very excited about what I can do to help Scottish Wildcat Action.”

Barrie joined as a ProjectScotland volunteer in May, and is hosted by one of the partners who have signed up to help deliver Scottish Wildcat Action’s ambitious plan, the National Trust for Scotland. He wanted to use his skills to help the wildlife he loves to photograph and learn how to use social media more effectively. “Having photographed and filmed wildlife in Scotland for a few years now, I’ve increasingly wanted to do my bit to assist conservation efforts in Britain. Fortunately for me, I have been offered the opportunity to help the biggest conservation effort for the Scottish wildcat. At Scottish Wildcat Action, I am learning about conservation communications: analysing trends on social media and website traffic, identifying popular items, and producing content that encourages engagement. I’ll then use this new knowledge to help raise awareness of the iconic Scottish wildcat, recruiting new volunteers in wildcat priority areas, increasing followers of the project, and encouraging visitors to report sightings of wild-living cats.”


Volunteers Week - South Downs National Park Authority

The work our volunteers do is invaluable and varied; they could be clearing invasive scrub one weekend and improving access to a medieval drovers road the next.

Our latest project, the Secrets of the High Woods has seen extraordinary dedication from volunteers who have been undertaking a huge range of research. They’ve collected oral histories, researched archives and carried out fieldwork to reveal archaeology hidden beneath the woodland in the South Downs.

We asked two of our volunteers what they’ve enjoyed and learnt from the Secrets of the High Woods project


The value of volunteering - British Ornithologist's Union blog post

Today kicks off an extended national Volunteers’ Week in the UK. Here, our own Steve Dudley explains how he founded his career on volunteering and recommends you give it go!


Kick-start your career in marine biology - Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust

Alistair Walker first joined HWDT back in 2013 to participate in a Teen Team Research Expedition, he has since returned in May 2016 as a student of marine biology at the Scottish Association of Marine Science University in Oban.  Here, Alistair shares his story:

"I first became aware of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in 2013 whilst I was still at school. I very much enjoy the outdoor life and am interested in wildlife watching and photography. I was looking for opportunities to volunteer to get some experience in marine conservation, as I was particularly interested in marine creatures and was thinking that maybe in the longer term I could have a career in marine conservation. I live in Braemar in the Cairngorms National Park in Scotland and had already taken up a number of different opportunities to be a conservation volunteer in my local area, but it is a long way from the sea! 


If you found this inspiring then have a look at some of our CJS Focus on Volunteering editions, they're full of similar articles about how to get started in volunteering, why you should volunteer and for the organisations and volunteer co-ordinators the practical ins and outs of recruiting and running your volunteer team plus the all important insider information on how to keep your volunteers happy.  The most recent edition was published in February (here) and we're already working on the next one due for publication on 19 September. 

For more on countryside conservation volunteering opportunities check out our volunteers section here.


Now for the rest of the week's news:  

logo: Bat Conservation TrustNews from our featured charity: Bat Conservation Trust.  Big Bat Map launch

The Big Bat Map is an interactive map that lets you view and share sightings of bats flying in your area! You can visit it HERE. Bats can be seen in cities, woodland, parks, fields and gardens all over the UK. Apart from being able to record your own sightings, the Big Bat Map also identifies “bat hotspots” which have been recommended by Bat Conservation Trust staff and local bat groups as good places to go and see bats.

Bats are fully active now so it is time to clear the map and start a fresh page of sightings! We will be clearing the map (don’t worry we do keep all the sightings) on Wednesday the 1st of June. If you want to help us monitor bats then do please visit the National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP) where you will find different surveys that are suitable for all sorts of experience. The NBMP is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, its success relies on thousands of volunteer citizen scientist who contribute data – without them, we simply would not know how bats are faring.

Take a look here: http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/nbmp.html 

More on the latest surveys and citizen science projects will be included in Friday's edition of CJS Weekly or see what's listed here. 


Public behind plastic bag charge as support for anti-litter measure increases - CPRE 

plastic bag against a blue sky (image: CPRE)Image: CPRE

As the Government collects carrier bag usage statistics for the first time, a poll partly-commissioned by CPRE has revealed increased public support for the bag charge in England.  The ICM-conducted poll for the Break the Bag Habit (BTBH) coalition found that 70% of English respondents now find it reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags - an 8% increase in support in the eight months since the English charge came into force. The increase was particularly marked amongst younger people, where support has jumped 10%.

Despite this encouraging news, the poll indicated that more people find the current charge confusing than not. The charge, introduced on 5 October 2015, does not apply to businesses of fewer than 250 employees, paper bags or franchises such as Subway. Answering the ICM survey, 42% of respondents found it confusing that only some shops charged for bags.

An ICM poll last October found that respondents in Scotland and Wales, where universal bag charges have significantly reduced usage, are very supportive of a scheme that applies to all retailers: 66% in Scotland and 70% in Wales. By contrast, public appetite in England for a universal charge is notably lower in 2016, with 53% agreeing the charge should apply to all retailers (a 2% increase on 2015) and 27% agreeing that it should extend to all bags, including paper bags.

Samantha Harding, spokesperson for the Break the Bag Habit coalition, said: “We fully expect the forthcoming Government statistics to show a significant decrease in the number of bags people use, reflecting the strong public support for the charge. At the same time, people are clearly confused by the current scope of the charge. A universal scheme that applies to all bags and all retailers will eliminate confusion, boost public support, and most importantly reduce bag usage and litter. With a frankly ridiculous £1 billion litter bill, England is lagging behind the other home nations. Now that the scheme has been successfully launched, the Government should review the exemptions and introduce a universal charge.”


Dancing hairs alert bees to floral electric fields - University of Bristol

A bumblebee covered in body hairs.(Image: University of Bristol)A bumblebee covered in body hairs.(Image: University of Bristol)

Tiny, vibrating hairs may explain how bumblebees sense and interpret the signals transmitted by flowers, according to a study by researchers at the University of Bristol.  Although it's known that flowers communicate with pollinators by sending out electric signals, just how bees detects these fields has been a mystery – until now. Using a laser to measure vibrations, researchers found that both the bees' antenna and hairs deflect in response to an electric field, but the hairs move more rapidly and with overall greater displacements. Researchers then looked at the bees' nervous system, finding that only the hairs alerted the bee's nervous system to this signal.

The findings, published in the international journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggest that electroreception in insects may be widespread. Electroreception may arise from the bees' hairs being lightweight and stiff, properties that confer a rigid, lever-like motion similar to acoustically sensitive spider hairs and mosquito antennae.

Dr Gregory Sutton, a Research Fellow in the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, led the research. He said: "We were excited to discover that bees’ tiny hairs dance in response to electric fields, like when humans hold a balloon to their hair. A lot of insects have similar body hairs, which leads to the possibility that many members the insect world may be equally sensitive to small electric fields."

Access the paper: ‘Mechanosensory hairs in bumble bees (Bombus terrestris) detect weak electric fields’ by G. P. Sutton, D. Clarke, E. L. Morley, and D. Robert in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) 


Hilltracks campaign – can you help? - Mountaineering Council of Scotland

The LINK Hilltracks group is asking walkers across Scotland for their help in monitoring new tracks in the hills.

Poorly constructed hilltracks which cause landscape and environmental damage have been a concern to environmental groups for decades, especially as no planning permission is required if they are for agricultural or forestry purposes. Following a campaign by the LINK Hilltracks group, since December 2014 all landowners must give prior notification to local authorities of their intention to construct new hill tracks or carry out improvements of existing tracks. They still don’t need to apply for full planning permission so tracks can’t be refused permission, but it’s hoped that the need for prior notification will improve construction standards.

An appeal has gone out to walkers if they come across a new track when out in the hills this summer, to send the group a photo of the track and an indication of its precise location. It will be helpful to include something into the photos to give scale – a person, pack, dog, walking poles etc. If the estate or the landowner is also known, that information would also be helpful.

Where to send your information: Email photos with your name and contact details to hilltracks@scotlink.org. You can also tweet a photo using the hashtag #hilltracks .  


It’s official – pine marten kits have been born in Wales - Vincent Wildlife Trust

The pine marten carries the title of Britain’s second rarest carnivore after the wildcat making these births a very significant moment in the conservation of this native mammal.

At least three of the ten female pine martens brought to Wales from Scotland last autumn by The Vincent Wildlife Trust have given birth. Staff from the Trust’s ‘Pine Marten Recovery Project’ placed remote cameras at a number of sites where they believed female martens were preparing to have young. Further investigation has confirmed a total of at least five kits.

Two pine marten kits in a den box installed by the VWT © Jenny MacPhersonTwo pine marten kits in a den box installed by the VWT © Jenny MacPherson

“I am absolutely delighted. We have been waiting with bated breath for months to see if breeding would be successful,” said Natalie Buttriss the Trust’s CEO.

The Pine Marten Recovery Project aims to restore a viable pine marten population to Wales and England. The project’s major partners are the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Chester Zoo and Woodland Trust, with support from Wildlife Vets International and Exeter University. “PTES is delighted that kits have been born to the translocated pine martens. This is an important step in ensuring the success of this project,” said Nida Al-Fulaij, Grants Manager with PTES.

“This is such amazing news, and makes all the hard work by the VWT team and partners worthwhile”, said Sarah Bird, Biodiversity Officer with Chester Zoo.

In the autumn of 2015, twenty pine martens were taken from Forestry Commission Scotland land under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage and relocated to Wales where they were on the verge of extinction. The animals were released in woodland owned by Natural Resources Wales. This is a pilot project and the animals have been radio tracked daily by staff and local volunteers to monitor their movements and behaviour patterns.


Outrage as three pole traps found set on North Yorkshire grouse moor - RSPB

An individual has received a police caution after admitting responsibility for setting three pole traps on a grouse shooting estate inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

On Friday, 6 May 2016, a member of the public reported finding three spring traps illegally set in the open on isolated posts about 100 metres apart. These were at a remote location along the north side of Widdale Fell, on the Mossdale Estate near Hawes, North Yorkshire.  Particularly concerning, was that a hen harrier had been sighted the same morning hunting on the fell a short distance away. The finder made two of the traps safe and reported the matter to the RSPB.

RSPB investigators attended that same day and installed covert cameras on two of the traps. The safety catch was put in place on the remaining set trap to prevent it catching anything.  Returning on the evening of Monday 9 May, it was discovered that all three pole traps had been reset. The covert footage showed an individual earlier that day taking the safety catch off one trap and resetting another.

RSPB investigators made the traps safe and reported the matter to the police. Wildlife Crime Officers from North Yorkshire Police attended with RSPB the following day and recovered all three unset traps. Two of the traps had small feathers adhering to the jaws, suggesting they may previously have caught birds.

An individual was later interviewed by the police and accepted responsibility for setting all three traps. He received an adult caution.  


Environment Secretary sets out priorities - Scottish Government

Wildlife crime review, climate change and land reform action highlighted.

A number of priorities to protect Scotland’s natural environment have been outlined by the Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

Speaking in a Parliamentary debate, Ms Cunningham highlighted key actions she will take, including:

  • Review wildlife crime prevention
  • Consult on a public register of controlling interests in land in early summer
  • Establish more ambitious climate change targets
  • Establish the Scottish Land Commission by 1 April, 2017

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham said: “Our land, our air, our seas, our climate, our flora and our fauna - there can be no doubt that our stunning natural environment is one of Scotland’s most precious assets. How we own, manage, control, conserve, promote, support and develop all of these individually and collectively matter hugely to this Government’s ambitions for our country.  Put simply, they form the backbone upon which a fairer Scotland and a strong, sustainable, low carbon economy can and should be built. Our natural capital is a national asset and, like any other asset, we must ensure that it remains in good condition now and for the future.

Reaction: Land use focus welcomed by Scottish Land & Estates

The Scottish Government’s commitment to deliver on its second Land Use Strategy over the course of the next parliament has been welcomed by landowners.

Scottish Land & Estates said enabling landowners, farmers and managers to play an ever more active role in the delivery of environmental targets would bring substantial environmental benefits to Scotland in future years.

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “It is pleasing that the Scottish Government has recognised the vital importance of how land is used to deliver a whole range of outcomes. Whilst it is clear that the conversation around land reform will continue, it is only right that what is being delivered from land is moving higher up the political agenda as well."


A report on London’s woodlands - Tree Charter

The current state of London’s woodlands is revealed in a new summary report launched this week, ahead of London Tree Week.

The project, commissioned by the Forestry Commission (FC), supported by the GLA and delivered by Lantern, aimed to better understand the condition of London’s 12,899 hectares of woodland. The report will help to shed light on how the woodland can be managed more sustainably and to greater benefit in the future.

Woodlands are a vital part of our capital’s infrastructure but not enough is known about how they are managed and maintained. This ambitious project mapped London’s woodland resources and engaged with landowners through surveys and workshops.

Forestry Commission data suggests that only 25% of London’s forests are actively managed, with just 41% of landowners confirming they have a tree and woodland strategy in place. Overall, woodlands are deemed to be under resourced with 40% of people surveyed feeling that resources did not reflect what was needed. It was felt that some woodlands are ate critically threatened by disease, public misuse and urban development.

Visit the Lantern website to download the summary document. The full report will be available soon 


Light pollution significantly alters moth activity - University of Newcastle

Street lighting disrupts pollinating moths. Street lights change the natural behaviour of moths and disrupt nocturnal pollination, new research has shown. 

The study, published today in the scientific journal Global Change Biology, reveals the shift in moth activity in street-lit areas from vegetation level to lamp-post height and the impact this is having on their ability to pollinate flowers.

The role played by moths in plant pollination has until now been largely overlooked as previous studies have focussed on daytime pollinators, such as bees.

Now the team from Newcastle University, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the charity Butterfly Conservation say more research is needed to understand the effect of street lighting on moth populations and their importance as pollinators.

Callum Macgregor, a PhD student at Newcastle University who led the research funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), explained: “We all know moths are attracted to light – some people might grumble about finding them flitting around in the bathroom or banging against the window. Where there are street lights, our research indicates that the moths are being attracted upwards, away from the fields and hedgerows. This is likely to cause disruption of night-time pollination by moths, which could be serious for the flowers which rely upon moths for pollination, and of course there could be negative effects on the moths themselves as well.”

Dr Darren Evans, Reader in Ecology and Conservation at Newcastle University and one of the authors on the paper, adds: “Our research shows that light pollution significantly alters moth activity and this in turn is disrupting their role as pollinators." 

Access the paper: The dark side of street lighting: impacts on moths and the disruption of nocturnal pollination.  Callum Macgregor, Darren Evans, Richard Fox and Michael Pocock.  Global Change Biology 2016

doi: 10.1111/gcb.13371


Puffins thriving on Fidra after removal of 'grow-your-own toilet paper' - RSPB Scotland

Over 2000 puffins are thought to be nesting on the island of Fidra this spring, following years of work to remove an invasive plant that had been preventing them breeding.

The island, an RSPB Scotland nature reserve, had been overrun by tree mallow, which was probably planted by lighthouse keepers in the 1700s for its medicinal qualities and as a grow-your-own toilet paper.

Tree mallow is native to the south of England and Continental Europe, but has caused huge problems for puffins and other sea birds on islands throughout the Firth of Forth.

RSPB Scotland’s Allison Leonard, who is the warden of Fidra, said: “Tree mallow in the Forth is a bit of a mystery. It sat quietly for years and then suddenly started spreading rapidly, possibly due to warmer temperatures associated with climate change, or with the level of nutrients in the soil. It quickly became rampant and caused real problems for the puffins, as it blocks the entrance to their nesting burrows. In 1996, puffin numbers on Fidra dropped to a low of only around 400 occupied burrows. This year, we’ve got over 1000 burrows occupied, so it’s really good to see them bouncing back after all the hard work.”


Fruit, glorious fruit! - PTES

People’s Trust for Endangered Species launches the first ‘FruitFinder’ database as part of ongoing orchard conservation 

Apple varieties (image: PTES)Apple varieties (image: PTES)

They say variety is the spice of life, but how many apple varieties have you tasted, and how many are there? You might be surprised to know, given that most supermarkets only stock about eight apple varieties, that there are actually thousands of native fruit varieties in the UK and FruitFinder, a new search tool from People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is here to help you discover them. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, this tool is part of an ongoing effort by PTES to conserve and restore traditional orchards across the country in recognition of their amazing habitat value to local wildlife.

Over the last 10 years, PTES’ orchards team, with the help of over 700 volunteers and nearly 1500 orchard owners, has identified over 35,000 individual orchards in England and over 7,000 in Wales. Alarmingly, this work revealed that 90% of traditional orchards have been lost since the 1950s. Furthermore, 45% of the remaining orchards surveyed in England and 35% of orchards in Wales were found to be in declining condition as a habitat. By far the most common reason for this is lack of replacement tree replanting, meaning these remaining old orchards will quickly disappear unless action is taken.

FruitFinder tackles both of these issues head on by making it easier for the public to discover and buy traditional heritage trees to replant in their orchards, safeguarding these habitats, and varieties, for future generations.

 Megan Gimber, Orchard Project Officer at PTES said: “PTES FruitFinder is a great way for people to find out more about local fruit and source local heritage trees and grafting material to grow their own fruit trees. The more we can educate the public about the need for conserving traditional orchards, the more likely we are to be successful in reversing their decline.”

For more information or to access PTES’ FruitFinder, see: https://ptes.org/fruitfinder/


Microplastic particles threaten fish larvae - Uppsala University

In a new study, published in Science, researchers from Uppsala University found that larval fish exposed to microplastic particles during development displayed changed behaviors and stunted growth which lead to greatly increased mortality rates. The researchers discovered that larval perch that had access to microplastic particles only ate plastic and ignored their natural food source of free-swimming zooplankton.

Today there is increasing concern that the accumulation of microplastic waste particles could affect the functioning of marine ecosystems, but our knowledge of the impacts of microplastic fragments on marine animals is limited. For the first time, scientists have now been able to show that development of fish is threatened by microplastic pollution.  
‘Fish reared in different concentrations of microplastic particles have reduced hatching rates and display abnormal behaviors. The microplastic particle levels tested in the current study are similar to what is found in many coastal habitats in Sweden and elsewhere in the world today’ says marine biologist, Oona Lönnstedt, lead author of the article.
Larval perch exposed to environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic polystyrene particles displayed stunted growth rates. The authors found that this was related to larval feeding preferences as perch that had access to microplastic particles only ate plastic and ignored their natural food source of free-swimming zooplankton.
‘Larvae exposed to microplastic particles during development also displayed changed behaviors and were much less active than fish that had been reared in water that contained no microplastic particles. Furthermore, fish exposed to microplastic particles ignored the smell of predators which usually evoke innate antipredator behaviors in naïve fish’, says Oona Lönnstedt.
The findings highlight ecologically important and previously underappreciated effects of microplastic particles that enter marine ecosystems, and emphasizes the need for new management strategies or alternative biodegradable products that lowers the release of microplastic waste products.

Access the paper: Lönnstedt O.M., Eklöv P. 2016 Environmentally relevant concentrations of microplastic particles influence larval fish ecology. Science DOI:  10.1126/science.aad8828


New review investigates the health benefit of contact with the natural environment - University of Plymouth

A new review led by Plymouth University finds little quantitative evidence, but rich participant descriptions of benefits of, contact with nature

A team of Cochrane authors based in the UK has carried out a review investigating the health benefit of contact with the natural environment.  The team found that, while the majority of quantitative studies reported no effect on health and well-being, there was limited evidence to suggest positive effects on self-reported health, quality of life and physical activity levels. Small numbers of participants reported increased mental fatigue and greater feelings of anxiety.
The review comes at a time when there is growing research and policy interest in the potential for using the natural environment to enhance human health and well-being. It is thought that contact with the natural environment has a positive impact on health and well-being.
Outdoor environmental enhancement and conservation activities include unpaid litter picking, tree planting or path maintenance. It is thought that these offer opportunities for physical activity alongside greater connection with local environments, enhanced social connections within communities, and improved self-esteem, which may, in turn, further improve well-being for the individual.
The qualitative studies illustrate the experiences of people taking part, and their perceptions of the benefits. People reported feeling better. They liked the opportunity for increased social contact, especially if they had been socially isolated through, for example, mental ill-health. They also valued a sense of achievement, being in nature and provision of a daily structure.

Access the paper: Husk K, Lovell R, Cooper C, Stahl-Timmins W, Garside R. Participation in environmental enhancement and conservation activities for health and well-being in adults: a review of quantitative and qualitative evidence. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD010351. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010351.pub2. 


Goshawk nest fails in suspicious circumstances in Peak District - RSPB

The RSPB is appealing for information after a goshawk nest failed in suspicious circumstances at Dove Stone in the Peak District. 

On 10 May, a local raptor worker discovered the freshly abandoned goshawk nest in conifer woodland in the Longendale Valley, which the RSPB co-manages with landowner United Utilities. There were three cold eggs in the nest, one of which was broken.  Damaged goshawk body feathers and a spent plastic shotgun cartridge were found in the immediate vicinity. Both Derbyshire Police and the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative were informed. 

A local birdwatcher observed the female goshawk near to the nest on 8 May so it’s thought that the nest failed sometime between the afternoon of 8 May and the morning of 10 May. 


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