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


New interactive maps from CPRE reveal England’s darkest and most light-polluted skies - CPRE

Northumberland enjoys the very darkest skies, while light from London, the North West, major roads and stadiums particularly blights our view of the starsNorthumberland enjoys the very darkest skies, while light from London, the North West, major roads and stadiums particularly blights our view of the stars (image CPRE) 

The most detailed ever satellite maps of England’s dark skies are today released by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). Produced by consultants LUC, they enable users to search by postcode, and provide a more detailed and up-to-date analysis of England’s skies compared with the global atlas of light pollution released this week.

The interactive maps were produced with satellite images captured at 1.30 am throughout September 2015. They show that the Isles of Scilly, West Devon and Eden in Cumbria are England’s darkest districts, and that the very darkest spot in England, out of more than 2.25million pixels, is a secluded hillside on the East Kielder Moors in Northumberland.

CPRE’s interactive maps also give us an unprecedented level of understanding into where light pollution is most invasive. Nineteen of the brightest 20 skies are above London boroughs, while Manchester is the only non-London district in the top 20. As a region, London is at least nine times brighter than any other except the North West.

Nationwide, the maps show that just 22% of England is untouched by light pollution, and that 53% of our darkest skies are over National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Northumberland National Park enjoys 96% pristine night skies, while the South Downs, granted Dark Sky Reserve status in May 2016, is London’s closest expanse of dark skies.

This research comes at a time of increasing awareness of the harmful effects light pollution can have on the health of people and wildlife. That these skies were monitored at 1.30 am illustrates just how long into the night England’s lights continue to shine.

Local councils were estimated to spend £613 million on street lighting in 2014-15, and the lights can account for between 15-30% of a council’s carbon emissions. The research shows that motorways, trunk roads and business districts are significant contributors to light pollution.


Natural History Museum garden redesign could consign species to history - Buglife

Buglife is objecting to planning permission requested by the Natural History Museum to rip out and remodel the important ecological gardens on site due to the potential impact on rare and endangered invertebrates. There are 15 species of conservation concern noted within the gardens which could become locally extinct if the redevelopment goes ahead.

The at risk species include:  Acinia corniculata, a picture winged fly that is classed as endangered, as is the Ladybird Clitostethus arcuatus,  Anobium nitidum, a beetle found at fewer than 10 sites in the UK and Lucanus cervus, the iconic Stag beetle which is listed as a priority species on Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act and on Annex II of the Habitats Directive.

Craig Macadam, Buglife’s Conservation Director commented. “The gardens currently provide vital habitat for species struggling to exist in other places and acting as a ‘stepping stone’ for wildlife allowing them to move and disperse through urban green space and the wider landscape. Its loss could have a disproportionally large impact on populations of rare and endangered invertebrates. “


Smartphone addicts significantly more anxious than nature lovers, according to pioneering research - Wildlife Trusts 

Smartphone addicts are more anxious and have lower self-esteem than nature lovers, new research by the University of Derby has revealed. 

A team of researchers carried out a survey to study people’s phone use and their connection to nature.  And the study, which is believed to be the first of its kind, has revealed people who are in touch with nature use their phone half as much each day, have significantly higher self-esteem, are significantly more conscientious, emotionally stable and open to new experiences. 

Lead researcher Dr Miles Richardson, Head of Psychology at the University of Derby, said: “Technology is often cited as a reason for our disconnection from the natural world but smartphones are here to stay.  Nature connectedness isn't about going back to some halcyon days where we lived in harmony with nature. It's about realising our place in a wider ecology here and now. Technology must play a role in that and smartphones are clearly powerful and engaging tools. The study showed that those more connected to their phones had a latent interest in nature through taking photos of it. Smartphones can foster that interest as we showed with our three good things in nature research – where people prompted to note down the good things in nature each day for five days showed a sustained increase in connection with nature. Technology can help deliver nature into people's everyday lives, helping them realise their place in the wider natural world.” 

The survey was completed online and used scales to measure people’s phone use, connection to nature and personality and self-esteem. Participants also completed an anxiety questionnaire.  It revealed that people who were more connected with nature used their phone significantly less (two hours 15 minutes a day compared to four hours eight minutes), took 87% fewer selfies and took 320% more pictures of nature. It showed that people who used their phones more were 33% more anxious and had a greater relationship with their phones than nature.


Eggs mean fresh hope for spoon-billed sandpipers – Wildfowl & Wetland Trust

One of the world’s rarest birds has a new hope: it’s laid eggs in captivity for the first time.

A spoon-billed sandpiper nest: the lighter eggs are dummies, placed in the nest when the real eggs are taken to an artificial incubator (WWT)Seven eggs have been laid so far by two spoon-billed sandpipers at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, UK. The flock was established in 2011 as a back-up in case conservationists run out of time to save the wild population from extinction and is the only one in the world.

A spoon-billed sandpiper nest: the lighter eggs are dummies, placed in the nest when the real eggs are taken to an artificial incubator (WWT)

In the wild, only around 200 breeding pairs are left on the Asia Pacific coast, following declines of up to 25% each year. The Slimbridge flock has a further seven potential breeding pairs.

Each spoon-billed sandpiper usually lays four tiny eggs in each clutch. They weigh 32g in total, more than the mother’s entire bodyweight, and they take her almost a week to lay. WWT will have to wait for the embryos to develop before they can find out how many of the eggs might be viable.

WWT Head of Conservation Breeding Nigel Jarrett said: “For the last two years – ever since all the spoonies came into maturity – we’ve been doing everything short of playing Barry White to get these birds in the mood for love. And for two years we’ve come up scratching our heads and feeling a bit deflated. So when we found the first egg last week we almost couldn’t believe it. We’ve had two mums busy laying and the significance of it is only just starting to hit home. These are some of the rarest birds in the world and because of their unique characteristics – their little spoon shaped bill and the incredible migration that they make each year – they are much loved by many people. I’m so glad for all of them that we’re on the road to breeding spoonie chicks in captivity, which is really the ultimate insurance policy for the species in the wild.”


Hedgehogs prove elusive but foxes parade loud and proud - RSPB

  • New data reveals that less than 6 per cent of people in Greater London see hedgehogs in their gardens at least once a month, a startling 20 per cent lower than the national average.  
  • Gardens cover an estimated ten million acres in the UK, an area the size of five million football pitches, therefore have the potential to play pivotal role in efforts to reverse the fortunes of struggling UK wildlife
  • The RSPB is calling on people to get involved in Giving Nature a Home this summer by doing at least one thing for wildlife in their garden or outdoor space
  • New online digital tool launched this week by the RSPB that allows people to create their own personalised nature plan to help struggling wildlife in their area

The RSPB is calling on Londoners to get involved in Giving Nature a Home this summer by doing at least one thing for wildlife in their garden or outdoor space after new data revealed further declines in sightings of some of our most familiar and favourite garden species.

Results from the wildlife survey showed only 6 per cent of London residents see hedgehogs in their gardens at least once a month, almost 20 percent lower than the already declining national average. There were 13 percent fewer sightings nationally than were recorded in 2014.


Droughts across Europe affect British trees most - University of Stirling

One beech tree population in South Wales scientists have found is already suffering from the effects of drought (University of Stirling)One beech tree population in South Wales scientists have found is already suffering from the effects of drought (University of Stirling)

Environmental scientists from the University of Stirling have found beech forests across western Europe are increasingly at risk from drought – with areas of southern England worst affected.

In a new €1.4 million study, part-funded by NERC, researchers examined tree ring data from across Western Europe to help uncover the extent to which the growth of beech forests is being impacted by changes in climate.

Results publishing in Global Change Biology show beech trees located at the centre of the region where the species grows, in this case southern England, were least resistant to drought compared to forests located elsewhere in Europe.

Alistair Jump, Professor of Plant Ecology at the University and lead author, said: “Beech trees across Europe are extremely vulnerable to the effects of drought. These long dry spells cause sudden and widespread reduced growth within the species. We might expect beech forests in hotter and drier regions of Europe, such as southern France and Spain, to be most at risk. However, we have found that the south of the UK - the very centre of the area where the species grows - is most badly affected.” 

To access the study ‘Global Change Biology “Highest drought sensitivity and lowest resistance to growth suppression is found in the range core of the tree Fagus sylvatica L. not the equatorial range edge” will be published in Global Change Biology and will be found in full at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1365-2486


Red kite persecution "nothing short of disgraceful" after another bird found dead - North Yorkshire Police

Police have described the persecution of red kites as "totally unacceptable", after another bird was found shot.

On Monday, a member of the public found a dead adult red kite at Timble Ings, between Harrogate and Skipton. It was taken to a vet to be examined and x-rayed. A number of shot gun pellets were found in it, and this appears to have been the cause of its death.
In the last two months, six red kites have been shot or died in circumstances that suggest poisoning in North Yorkshire.  The red kite found at Timble Ings will have been killed some time before it was found, and police are appealing for information to help bring those responsible to justice.
PC Gareth Jones, Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator at North Yorkshire Police, said: "Red kites are majestic birds, and it is wonderful to see them soaring in the skies above North Yorkshire. It has taken many years to re-introduce them after they were persecuted to extinction in the UK. The extent of persecution of these birds is nothing short of disgraceful, and people will quite rightly be shocked by these cruel and totally unacceptable criminal acts."


New Chiltern haunt for rare Phantom Hoverfly - National Trust

The chance sighting of a globally rare hoverfly in the Chiltern Hills has satisfied a lifelong ambition for one National Trust insect expert.

Phantom Hoverfly, pictured on a bramble leaf. (c) Peter Brash/National TrustPhantom Hoverfly, pictured on a bramble leaf. (c) Peter Brash/National Trust

The Phantom Hoverfly was spotted near Ivinghoe Beacon on the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate by the conservation charity’s expert entomologist, Peter Brash.

It is believed to be the first recorded sighting of the red-listed hoverfly species in the Chilterns. Across England, there are approximately 1-2 recorded sightings of the rare insect every year.


Peter Brash of the National Trust’s Biological Survey Team captured beautiful close up images of the hoverfly whilst surveying for wildlife at Ashridge last week. The Biological Survey team undertakes regular monitoring of wildlife on National Trust estates. 


Rare birds make a home and history at RSPB Scotland nature reserve - RSPB Scotland

First breeding record for little gulls in Scotland and only sixth for Britain

Adult little gull feeding on water's surface (Image: Graham Catley, RPSB)Adult little gull feeding on water's surface (Image: Graham Catley, RPSB)

The world’s smallest species of gull has been confirmed to be nesting in Scotland for the first time, it was announced today (16/6).

The photos of the birds’ nest containing an egg makes this the first confirmed breeding record for little gulls in Scotland and only the sixth from across Britain since at least the 1970s with the most recent record from Norfolk in 2007.

There’s no confirmed record of little gulls successfully raising chicks in Britain, so all eyes will be on this pair. It’s hoped that their choice of nesting area at RSPB Scotland’s Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve will help them as the pair have set up home on the tern nesting island. Along with the protection provided by the island being inside a fence, RSPB Scotland staff will mount a 24 hour watch and use cameras to protect these rare birds.

Richard Humpidge, RSPB Scotland Sites Manager, said: “We’re really excited to have these smashing little birds nesting on the reserve. A few years back, we did a lot of work on our tern nesting island reshaping it and adding 10 tons of shingle and shelters as well as installing a fence around the edge of the pool to prevent access for ground predators. It’s been a great success: four years ago there were just 10 pairs of common terns and they failed to raise any chicks, the next year there were 60 pairs and this year we have 130 pairs and their eggs are just starting to hatch. It’s great that the little gulls are using the same area and we hope that it will also give them the protection they need to raise chicks when their eggs hatch shortly.”


Woodland Area, Planting and Restocking - Forestry Commission

The latest National Statistics on Woodland Area, Planting & Restocking produced by the Forestry Commission were released on 16 June 2016 according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

The First Release contains provisional statistics for the year to March 2016 on:

  • UK woodland area;
  • certified woodland area; and
  • areas of new planting and restocking.

The main findings are:

  • The area of woodland in the UK at 31 March 2016 is 3.16 million hectares. This represents 13% of the total land area in the UK, 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 18% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland. 
  • Of the total UK woodland area, 0.86 million hectares is owned or managed by the Forestry Commission (in England and Scotland), Natural Resources Wales or the Forest Service (in Northern Ireland).
  • The total certified woodland area in the UK at 31 March 2016 is 1.35 million hectares, including all Forestry Commission/Natural Resources Wales/Forest Service woodland. Overall, 43% of the UK woodland area is certified.
  • Six thousand hectares of newly created woodland were reported in the UK in 2015-16, mostly with broadleaved species.
  • Fourteen thousand hectares of woodland restocking were reported in the UK in 2015-16, mostly with conifers.

Download the report (PDF)



Lowest tree planting figures in England in a generation - Deforestation likely? - Woodland Trust
The Woodland Trust is appalled by the continued drastic decline in new woodland planting confirmed in official figures today (16/6).
The figures released today (page 11) show only 700 ha of woodland was planted in England last year, far below the Government and Forestry Commission aim of 5000ha, with the FC missing its goal by 86% percent. In comparison 2,400ha was planted in 2014-2015, but planting in England has been consistently low, at under 5000ha a year since 2006.  

The Trust’s Austin Brady, Director of Conservation and External Affairs said: “These figures are all the more shocking against the backdrop of the growing evidence of the importance of trees and woods in tackling air pollution, improving water quality and offering scope to deliver natural flood management, not to mention what they offer for wildlife and their productive potential for the rural economy. Something is drastically wrong with the way woodland planting is being supported across the various government departments that share responsibility for trees and woods.  On top of poor planting rates, woodland losses, and weak protection of ancient woods mean in England, deforestation is highly likely, with some areas of woodland felled or destroyed and not replanted. Despite repeated requests; there is little government effort to accurately quantify the cumulative losses of woodland resulting from planning, infrastructure, tree disease and intensive land use.” 
The Trust says the number and variety of native trees being planted must increase if we are to have any hope of heading off serious environmental degradation and combat diseases which threaten millions of trees.  


Open spaces and national parks at risk - Open Spaces Society

Public funding is being cut and our green spaces exploited to fill the gap. Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, considers the threat to our open spaces and national parks.

In London, communities fight motor racing in Battersea Park, and festivals on Acton Green, Clapham Common and Finsbury Park—among countless battles.

But we have a new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has made welcome manifesto pledges to ‘strengthen protections for open spaces within the London Plan’ and to ‘open up more walking routes around London’—and many others.  He should outlaw the commercial abuse of London’s open spaces for a start.

It’s not just London of course.  Last year Surrey County Council decided to ‘achieve a self-funded countryside estate’ by 2021, slashing its payment to Surrey Wildlife Trust (which manages Surrey’s estate) by more than ten per cent (£100,000) a year.

And now the national parks, our most precious landscapes, are cashing in.  The 15 UK park authorities have launched the National Parks Partnerships; its aim is to enable businesses to engage with them ‘to enhance the quality and utility of the parks now and for future generations’.

Some hopes.  Businesses will want their profits from the scheme through Disneyfication and crassly inappropriate sponsorships. Furthermore, the park authorities will be competing for money from the same pot as the voluntary, campaigning, park societies, such as our members the Dartmoor Preservation Association and Friends of the Lake District, who could suffer as a result.

The English parks had a funding-reprieve, thanks to the brilliant ‘Stop the Cuts’ action led by the Campaign for National Parks.  But the Welsh parks remain at serious risk. This ‘partnership’ must not give governments an excuse further to reduce cash for national parks.


New behaviour seen in rare wading birds - Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

A ménage-a-trois between breeding black-tailed godwits has been witnessed for the first time ever by staff at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) in Norfolk.

Black-tailed godwit male (image: WWT)Black-tailed godwit male (image: WWT)

Staff monitoring the rare birds at WWT’s Welney reserve, one of only two places in the UK where they breed, report a male working closely with two females to jointly raise a brood of chicks on the reserve.

The adults are being very careful to shelter the chicks so it’s not yet been possible to count them. If there are more than four, the usual number for a single female, that would indicate that he bred with both females rather than one acting as nanny to the other’s brood.

In either case, it’s thought to be the first record of collaborative breeding in the normally monogamous black-tailed godwits. Experts think it could be a reaction to the very low numbers left in the UK.

Louise Clewley, warden at WWT Welney, said: “It’s already been an exciting breeding season. Two pairs of godwits have hatched broods on part of the reserve known as Lady Fen, and then I spotted this unusual family arrangement.  We can’t yet be sure of the story behind these three birds, and we may never know, but if it’s working then more power to them. Incredibly, these few breeding birds at Welney make up six percent of the entire UK population, so it’s crucial that they, and we, do all we can to ensure they successfully rear a new generation each summer.”


Record number of stone-curlews nesting on Suffolk Coast - RSPB

The stone-curlew stars of BBC Springwatch may have had a tough time of it at Minsmere this month, but landowners continue to secure the future of one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds as chicks successfully hatch in their UK stronghold of the Brecks and a record number of breeding pairs is recorded on the Suffolk Coast. 

Stone-curlews are doing well on the Suffolk Coast and in the Brecks this year  (Image: Chris Knights, RSPB)Stone-curlews are doing well on the Suffolk Coast and in the Brecks this year  (Image: Chris Knights, RSPB)

The mild winter saw stone-curlews – migratory birds that escape the colder months by traveling to North Africa – arriving back from their Mediterranean wintering grounds in February, earlier than usual, but a cold snap in the spring delayed the start of nesting and the first nest wasn’t located until mid-April.

To date, of the 112 nesting stone-curlew pairs the RSPB is monitoring in the Brecks so far this year 65 have successfully hatched chicks, which will soon by flying. Meanwhile, 10 of the Suffolk Coast’s record 15 breeding pairs this year are at Minsmere, with many also already raising chicks.

Tim Cowan, RSPBBreckland Stone Curlew Project Officer, said: “Thanks to farmers and landowners in the area, we have been able to create the very special conditions that stone curlews need to nest successfully, and its working! We’ve been delighted to see lots of chicks around over the past few weeks, and monitoring suggests they are doing well.  We are not quite sure what the impact of recent wet weather might be for our chicks, but fingers crossed they’ll weather the storms and more clement times ahead will give them the best chance of making it to adulthood. Without nest protection and the diligent efforts of farmers and landowners in the Brecks, the species may well have become extinct here by the turn of the century. It is fantastic to witness the dedication and pride that landowners, estate managers and gamekeepers take in conserving the stone-curlew and other Brecks wildlife, now and for future generations to enjoy.”


Scientific Publications 

Franz Rebele, Cornelia Lehmann, Twenty years of woodland establishment through natural succession on a sandy landfill site in Berlin, Germany, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, ISSN 1618-8667, DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2016.06.006.


Åsa Ode Sang, Igor Knez, Bengt Gunnarsson, Marcus Hedblom, The effects of naturalness, gender, and age on how urban green space is perceived and used, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, ISSN 1618-8667, DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2016.06.008.


Hiddink, J. G. et al (2016) Bottom trawling affects fish condition through changes in the ratio of prey availability to density of competitors. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12697


Grajal, Alejandro, Luebke, Jerry F., Clayton, Susan, Kelly, Lisa-Anne DeGregoria, Karazsia, Bryan T., Saunders, Carol D., Matiasek, Jennifer, Stanoss, Ricardo, Goldman, Susan R. &  Mann, Michael E.  The relationship between affective connections to animals and proenvironmental behaviors. Conservation Biology.  DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12780


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