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


The Land Trust supports National Volunteers’ Week

The Land Trust is supporting National Volunteers’ Week once again after benefitting from more than 28,500 volunteering days across its parks and green spaces in 2015-16.

National Volunteers’ Week, an annual celebration of all that is great about volunteering, takes place this year between 1 to 12 June. It is led by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and celebrates the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK.

The Land Trust, which owns and manages nearly 60 parks and community green space across the country, most of which have benefitted from the tireless work of volunteers taking part in activities spanning wildflower planting, shrub clearance, den building for learning opportunities and recording and welcoming visitors.

Motivations for people choosing to go out onto a Land Trust site range from wanting to learn skills to meeting new people to boosting health or simply to give something back to the community.

There is also a consistent desire by local businesses to make a difference to the community and get staff out and about in the great outdoors. This has helped contribute towards the equivalent of more than 5,500 volunteering days taking place across the Land Trust’s parks and green spaces in 2015-16.


England on the crest of a new wave of tree planting - Confor

England could be on the verge of a new tree planting boom after a forestry innovation fund launched by a Government minister at a Confor event received applications to plant more than 1000 hectares of new woodland.

Rory Stewart MP launched the £1 million Forestry Innovation Fund at Modern Forestry: Unleashing the Rural Potential at Westminster last November.  Now, Forestry Commission figures have revealed a very strong response to the fund, which encourages schemes that will promote the growth of the forest industry in their region and have the support of their Local Enterprise Partnership.   The Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG) is financed by the fund, to address common complaints that significant upfront costs are holding back potential planting schemes.

The WCPG pilot ran from December 2015 to February 2016. Forestry Commission England received 11 applications, offering grants to all applicants and 10 of these offers are being taken forward - relating to proposals for a total of 1,064 hectares of new productive woodland and ranging from 33 to 339 hectares in area.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, said: “This is excellent news, but it is vital that these schemes move to rapid approval. If this scheme works as both we and Government hope, then it can act as a catalyst to drive up new planting in England, which has been disappointingly low in recent years.”


World’s largest skate and small shark followed in new west coast tagging study - SNH

High-tech tracking devices are helping scientists to protect two of Scotland’s most endangered fish species in a west coast Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Marine biologists from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Marine Scotland Science (MSS) are working together, with help from local creel fishermen and anglers, to better understand how common skate and spurdog use the Argyll MPA.

The Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura MPA is designated to help protect the common skate, the world’s largest skate species. Skate are related to sharks and common skate can grow up to two metres across and three metres long. The project team have fitted tags to 40 skate caught in the area, the largest of which weighed an impressive 98kgs.

Dr Jane Dodd, who is managing the project for SNH, said: “We’re really lucky in Scotland to have a wonderful range of wildlife living in our seas. Previous studies have shown that common skate are resident in the waters off Oban in significant numbers and the MPA was designated for their protection in 2014. By tracking skate in the MPA we aim to better understand how they use the area throughout the year, which will help us to make sure that the management of the site is appropriate.”


Record-breaking bird migration revealed in new research – Newcastle University

Electronic tags fitted to one of the world’s smallest seabirds have revealed record-breaking migration distances.

A study carried out by scientists at Newcastle University for BBC’s Springwatch has mapped for the first time the incredible annual migration of Arctic Terns from the Farne Islands on the Northumberland coast.

Weighing just 100g the Arctic Tern has the longest migration of any bird, travelling all the Image: Newcastle Universityway to Antarctica for the winter and back to the Farnes, which are owned and managed by the National Trust, to breed in the Spring.

Last year 29 birds were fitted with geolocators by local researchers from Newcastle University watched by Springwatch presenter Nick Baker and National Trust rangers. The first of the Terns arrived back in the Farnes this spring.

Image: Newcastle University

One bird was found to have made a 96,000km round trip between Northumberland and its winter home in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica.

This is the longest flight ever recorded for a migratory bird. The previous record was held by an Arctic Tern from the Netherlands, which had made a 91,000km round trip to its wintering grounds and back.


Roads “a serious threat” to rare bats – University of Exeter

Roads present a serious threat to bat populations, indicating that protection policies are failing.

The University of Exeter experts studied data collected across Europe and concluded that roads present “a real and growing danger” to protected bat populations. The research, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), concluded bats were often reluctant to cross roads, disrupting their ability to reach feeding and roosting areas. The group also identified more than 1,000 bat fatalities caused by collisions with cars.

Roads present “a real and growing danger” to protected bat populations. (Exeter University)Dr Fiona Mathews, Associate Professor of Mammalian Biology at the University of Exeter, said: “There has already been concern about roads severing the commuting routes of bats. Our research has now shown that road fatalities are also an important issue, particularly when rarer species such as barbastelle and horseshoe bats are affected.

Roads present “a real and growing danger” to protected bat populations. (Exeter University)

Because bats and their habitat are now highly protected throughout Europe, we might think that there is no cause for concern and there has been widespread media interest in the public money spent on ‘bat bridges’ and acoustic surveys for bats. Unfortunately these measures are often more of a box-ticking exercise than a means of offering real protection. We know from our research that bat casualties are extremely difficult to find on roads because of their small size: the true collision rate will therefore be at least an order of magnitude larger than that actually observed."

Interestingly, the study found that male bats were considerably more likely to be killed in collisions than females. Dr Mathews, who is who is also chair of The Mammal Society said: “The males may be forced into less favourable habitats near roads, as females tend to stick together in breeding grounds in prime habitat. ”

Read the paper here: Fensome, A. G. & Matthews, F. (2016) Roads and bats: a meta-analysis and review of the evidence on vehicle collisions and barrier effects. Mammal Review. DOI: 10.1111/mam.12072


Cleaning up decades of phosphorus pollution in lakes – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Phosphorus is the biggest cause of water quality degradation worldwide, causing ‘dead zones’, toxic algal blooms, a loss of biodiversity and increased health risks for plants, animals and humans that come in contact with polluted waters. This threatens the loss of economic and social benefits from freshwaters upon which society relies. Now, in a series of studies published in a new special issue of Water Research, leading scientists assess how geo-engineering in lakes can control phosphorus pollution.

After decades of run-off from agriculture, human sewage and industrial practices, phosphorus has been stockpiled at an alarming rate in lake bed sediments. The scale of the problem is daunting, and humans are still pumping about 10 million tonnes of extra phosphorus into freshwaters every year.

Long-term monitoring activities following the control of phosphorus sources to lakes show that plants and animals don’t recover for many years. This is because phosphorus stored in bed sediments is released back to the water column. Society then has to make a decision – either speed up recovery using geo-engineering to cap sediment phosphorus stores, or do nothing, and accept poor quality freshwaters for decades to come.


Intrepid water vole travels 7km and takes a selfie – South Downs National Park Authority

The UK’s largest ever water vole release is being hailed a success as evidence shows the rare animals are once again established on the River Meon in Hampshire.

Image: South Downs NPAOnce a common sight in the area, water voles had been locally extinct in the Meon Valley for at least ten years. Now, thanks to a joint project led by the South Downs National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, the UK’s most rapidly declining mammal is making a comeback.

Image: South Downs NPA

Since the project began in 2013 more than 1,500 water voles have been released at 10 sites along the river valley starting at Hampshire County Council’s site at Tichfield Haven near the river mouth and then upstream. This is the best place to visit for people hoping to spot water voles.

South Downs National Park rangers and volunteers have been monitoring the water vole’s progress by carrying out surveys and using camera traps. This shows that the animals have been moving into new territories and breeding.

Elaina Whitaker-Slark, Lead Ranger at the South Downs National Park, said: “Our most intrepid water vole, we’re calling him Marco Vole-o, has travelled about 7km from his original release site. We know this because he took a ‘selfie’ on one of our camera traps.”


Scotland’s environment web named as one of the top five - Keep Scotland Beautiful

Scotland’s Environment Web – in which both SSN and Keep Scotland Beautiful are partners - has been named as one of the top five Best of LIFE projects by the European Commission. The LIFE programme is the EU’s funding instrument for the environment and climate action. 

Scotland’s Environment Web was earlier this year selected as one of the 24 ‘Best LIFE Environment Projects’ out of a total of 113 projects that finished and were evaluated in 2015. Five of the 24 Best projects went on to be awarded the ‘Best of the Best’ at an awards ceremony on 31 May, during EU Green Week. 

The Scotland’s Environment Web project aims to present a wide view of Scotland’s environment, through a website that brings together data and information as well as expertise from a number of organisations into a single centralised “gateway to everything you want to know about Scotland’s Environment”.


Department decides against introduction of red squirrels - Isle of Man Government

Red squirrels will not be introduced to the Manx countryside in the immediate future.

At present, red squirrels can’t be brought to the Island except under licence and any licensed keeper can’t allow them to roam free.

The Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA) consulted the public over a law change that would have allowed consideration of red squirrels’ introduction to the wild.

The consultation attracted 107 responses, many individuals favouring the idea.  However, after studying all the views submitted, and given the strong opinions of the scientific organisations and groups who responded, DEFA concluded that it would be detrimental to the countryside to introduce them.

UK experts stated that the red squirrel isn’t in danger of extinction in the UK and see no scientific basis for creating a refuge for it. They therefore didn’t support its introduction to the Island.


Is the UK set for a humming-bird summer? - Butterfly Conservation 

Wildlife lovers are being asked to check their gardens for humming-birds in a bid to find out if one of the world’s most striking moths is attempting to colonise the UK. 

The unmistakeable Humming-bird Hawk-moth, which is found on the Continent, beats its wings 80 times per-second, which allows it to hover with humming-bird like precision over flower heads. 

Typically only a summer visitor to the UK, in recent years the warming climate has seen the day-flying moth successfully overwinter in greenhouses and sheltered locations in South West England.   

There have been large influxes of the moth in 2000, 2006 and 2011 and hopes are high that 2016 could witness another ‘hummer summer’ as the long-distance migrant attempts to gain a foothold in the UK.

Humming-bird Hawk moth (image: Bob Eade, Butterfly Conservation)Humming-bird Hawk moth (image: Bob Eade, Butterfly Conservation)

As part of this year’s Moth Night celebrations organisers Butterfly Conservation and Atropos are asking the public to look out for the Humming-bird Hawk-moth in order to build a clearer picture of its UK distribution.

Mark Tunmore, editor of Atropos, said: “June is a particularly colourful time of year for moths with some of our most colourful and spectacular species on the wing and high levels of diversity. It’s a great time to get out into the garden and see what is flying at night or by day.   In recent weeks there has been a huge influx of the tiny but distinctive Diamond-back Moth into the British Isles, which has flown in from the Continent and is being seen as far as the Northern Isles. This moth can be disturbed easily by day from long grass or attracted to light and could be seen anywhere over the Moth Night period.”

Moth Night 2016 runs from 9 to 11 June and will include moth trapping events across the UK.


Recognition of links between health and natural environment welcomed - Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Trust has welcomed a statement by Alison Johnstone MSP, made during a recent debate on health in the Scottish Parliament, highlighting that more can be done to improve people’s well-being by increasing access to nature.

During the debate she said: "There is good evidence that green spaces and closer contact with nature can have a measurable benefit on people’s mental health and physical well-being.  The Scottish Wildlife Trust is right to emphasise that people who are connected with their natural environment are healthier and happier. I support the Trust in its request that the Government should invest more in nature.”

The Trust’s Head of Policy Maggie Keegan added: “Many MSPs made the link between increased exercise and better health and well-being in the debate. What we now need is wider recognition of the fact that people who are connected with the natural environment are both happier and healthier. Less than 1.5% of the Scottish budget is invested in the natural environment, but increased access to high-quality green space can help tackle obesity, reduce health inequalities, and also ensure that children get the best start in life wherever they live.  It should be a priority for the Scottish Government to commit to a smarter allocation of resources and better use of incentives regarding Scotland’s natural capital to ensure everyone in Scotland can enjoy the benefits that nature provides.”

Read the Trust's briefing on Delivering a Healthier Scotland (PDF)


European forest trees show high levels of biodiversity within one tree species - European Commission

EU researchers have found that a single tree species may perform many different ecosystem activities, meaning that biodiversity is both between and within species.

Discovering how forest tree ecosystems function is crucial to both predicting how they might respond to climate change and to drawing up forest management plans. It is also key to the EU Forest Action Plan’s objective to maintain and enhance biodiversity, carbon absorption, and the health and resilience of forest ecosystems.    One EU-funded project, DIVERFOR, has focussed on European forests which, when compared to forest regions in other areas of the world, are considered to have a relatively low range of different species.  The project found that individual trees in a single tree species can have high levels of functional biodiversity, meaning they may perform a diverse range of ecosystem activities. These activities include nutrient cycling, climate regulation, timber production, protection against erosion, and recreation.
DIVERFOR assessed this diversity by measuring characteristics - or functional traits - such as leaf toughness, which is linked to its resistance to herbivores. It also assessed the branching pattern of a tree which is linked to the way it colonises space and competes with other trees. Other traits measured included the levels of nitrogen in a leaf which is linked to a forest’s nutrient cycling rate and a tree’s flowering time which is linked to the trees chances of reproducing.
‘Our project shows that differences in certain characteristics among individual trees within a species can be as relevant as differences between different tree species in European forests. This is the case in dominant tree species in particular,’ says Raquel Benavides, DIVERFOR project researcher.  ‘DIVERFOR also found that trees can adjust their characteristics according to the environment that surrounds them. This includes adjusting to biotic factors such as the amount of different trees species, and abiotic factors such as light, soil nutrients, water and climate,’ Benavides continues.
Both findings are significant since tree communities with higher levels of biodiversity even within a species are expected to be more stable and have a higher resistance to climate change. ‘This can be a good reason to preserve patches of forest with a high number of species within areas with fewer species. For example, it is important to maintain an area dominated by pine trees in Finland and pine forest in Spain, as well as areas where pine is mixed with other species,’ explains Benavides.


Metal exposure – a factor in bat population decline - University of York

Scientists at the University of York have led the first full-scale national assessment of metal contamination in bats, showing that many bats in the UK contain levels of metals high enough to cause toxic effects

Common Pipistrelle bat image (via University of York, credit: JP, Flickr)Common Pipistrelle bat image (via University of York, credit: JP, Flickr)

With bat species across the world in decline, exposure to chemicals is one of many potential threats to the species, along with urbanisation, loss of habitats, decline in food and water, agricultural intensification and climate change.  Metals are present in a wide range of habitats, with a large number of land sites in the UK remaining contaminated since the industrial revolution. Records show areas that were once extensively mined, such as the Pennines, still contain high concentrations of metal deposits.  Soil-associated metals are accumulated by invertebrates and plants which then move along the food chain into the bat species. However, the potential risks of metal in bats has, until now, been poorly understood.

Bat organs and tissues from Pipistrelles found dead were analysed for a range of metals and the results compared to levels known to cause toxic effects in mammals.

Approximately 21 percent of bats sampled contained residues of at least one metal at concentrations high enough to elicit toxic effects, such as kidney damage. Lead was found to pose the greatest risk, as seven to 11 percent of bats sampled had levels of lead above the toxic threshold for this metal in small mammals.  Copper, zinc and cadmium was also prevalent in bat tissue, with levels often above the upper levels measured in other mammal species.

Professor Alistair Boxall, who supervised PhD researcher Dr Hernout, said: “The percentage of bats in which concentrations of metals exceeded toxic thresholds suggest that a significant proportion of the bat population in England and Wales may be affected by metal exposure." 

Access the paper: Béatrice V. Hernout, Kathryn E. Arnold, Colin J. McClean, Michael Walls, Malcolm Baxter, Alistair B.A. Boxall, A national level assessment of metal contamination in bats, Environmental Pollution, Volume 214, July 2016, Pages 847-858, ISSN 0269-7491, DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.04.079.


Scottish pine martens reviving Welsh cousins' fortunes - Forestry Commission Scotland

An ambitious project to revive the dwindling pine marten population in Wales has got off to a good start, with help from Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES).

Pine marten (Picture courtesy of Dave Pullan, via Forestry Commission)Pine marten (Picture courtesy of Dave Pullan, via Forestry Commission)

Last year the FES team in Inverness, Ross and Skye helped The Vincent Wildlife Trust to capture twenty pine martens, which were then transported to Wales as part of the Trust’s six-year ‘Pine Marten Recovery Project’.

Released into the Welsh countryside towards the end of 2015, at least three of the ten females captured have recently given birth.

Giles Brockman for the Inverness team, said; “The pine marten carries the title of Britain’s second rarest carnivore after the wildcat, so these births in Wales are excellent news. These amazing animals are comparatively common in Scotland compared with Wales, where they were on the point of being extinct. In fact our research into these animals on the national forest estate indicates that there are healthy populations in many forests. Conservation is a big part of our remit so once The Trust had obtained the correct licence from SNH we were more than happy to help and to donate some of our pine martens to the project and help them take their plans forward."

The animals were released in woodland owned by Natural Resources Wales and their behaviour was radio tracked daily. Behavioural changes indicated that birthing might be imminent and images from remote cameras have now confirmed that at least five kits have been born.

To consolidate this early success, a further twenty pine martens will be translocated from Scotland in the autumn of this year, which should help establish a viable population that over time will spread to other forests of Wales and across the border into England. 


Want to attract Goldfinches? Sunflower hearts are the answer! - BTO

Goldfinch on feeders by Josie Latus via BTOGoldfinch on feeders by Josie Latus via BTO

Goldfinches are being seen at garden bird feeders in ever-greater numbers, and the key attraction for them is sunflower hearts, according to an investigation into the increase of this colourful garden visitor. Between November 2015 and February 2016 an amazing 5,183 households across Britain and Ireland took part in the British Trust for Ornithology’s Goldfinch Feeding Survey to help determine this result.

As a nation we put out a staggering amount of bird food in our gardens every year, but we know little about how this affects bird populations on a national scale. New work by the BTO is attempting to answer these questions by investigating the recent increase in Goldfinch numbers, a bird that is making greater use of garden feeding stations. Over the winter of 2015/16 the public were asked to watch their garden bird feeders and report what foods Goldfinches were choosing, to help determine what it is that attracts these birds into our gardens.

With record numbers of Goldfinches being seen in gardens over the winter, it seemed like fate that this was the winter chosen to run a survey to investigate whether supplementary feeding in gardens could be behind their increasing population. An average of eight Goldfinches at a time were seen per household during the survey, highlighting the fact that this colourful bird is being reported by 70% more BTO Garden BirdWatch participants than twenty years ago.

The preliminary Goldfinch Feeding Survey results reveal that Goldfinches appear to prefer feeding on the supplementary food that we provide to the natural foods available in gardens. Sunflower hearts were overwhelmingly the preferred option, with nyger seed coming second. Natural foods were also taken, however, with teasel and thistle the favourites.


Scientific Publications

Andrew D. Barnes et al. Species richness and biomass explain spatial turnover in ecosystem functioning across tropical and temperate ecosystems, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0279 


Holzschuh, J. A. & Deutschlander, M. E. (2016) Do migratory warblers carry excess fuel reserves during migration for insurance or for breeding purposes? The Auk. DOI: 10.1642/AUK-15-141.1


Larson, D. M., Dodds, W. K., Whiles, M. R., Fulgoni, J. N. & Thompson T. R. (2016) A before-and-after assessment of patch-burn grazing and riparian fencing along headwater streams. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12692


Kays, R., Parsons, A. W., Baker, M. C., Kalies, E. L., Forrester, T., Costello, R., Rota, C. T., Millspaugh, J. J. and McShea, W. J. (2016), Does hunting or hiking affect wildlife communities in protected areas?. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12700


Staffan Roos , Chris Donald , Desmond Dugan , Mark H. Hancock , David O’Hara , Leigh Stephen , Murray Grant. Habitat associations of young Black Grouse Tetrao tetrix broods.  Bird Study  Vol. 63, Iss. 2, 2016  DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2016.1141167 


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