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


A Blooming Awful Summer - Plantlife

Summer flowers are a rarer sight on our road verges

The last few decades has seen huge changes in our road verge flora.  As a result of mowing earlier in the year we have effectively lost summer from verges in many areas. We often get magnificent displays of bluebells, cowslips and  celandines that give a clear sign that spring is here but sadly we don’t get the same floral signs to welcome the arrival of summer. Only plants that flower early get the chance to set seed before the mowers arrive. As a result some spring flowers are thriving and spreading, but many summer flowers are disappearing. This isn’t just bad news for the 700 species of flowers that grow on our verges, it’s bad news for the bees, beetles, butterflies and birds that rely on them for food.

This month Plantlife launch their road verge campaign to encourage those in charge of our verges to cut less and cut later in the year. As part of their campaign, the conservation charity have created a new “Good Verge Guide” which will offer councils and community groups expert advice on how to better manage road verges for wildflowers whilst keeping them safe for motorists. 

One solution the Good Verge Guide will explore is the use of yellow rattle, an annual meadow plant that was once common on flower-rich road verges. As it germinates each spring, its roots tap into those of the grasses growing around it, stealing water and nutrients reducing their growth by 40-60%. With less competition from vigorous grasses, other wildflowers like harebells and orchids have more room to thrive. Instead of cutting grass three or four times a year, Councils such as Dorset, Anglesey and Gwynedd are experimenting with introducing Yellow Rattle onto road verges, bringing in seed from those few surviving ancient wildflower meadows.

Plantlife are currently working with councils across the UK and as a result 2,370 hectares of road verges is protected but far more needs to be done. In June 2016, Plantlife launches its road verge campaign for the 5th year and are urging people who love wildflowers to sign the petition to show councils it’s crucial for road verges to be managed with wildflowers and wildlife in mind. 
Download the Good Verge Guide (PDF)


Creating a new generation of young green leaders - Groundwork

The benefits that high quality, accessible green infrastructure brings to local communities have been well proven. Green spaces provide neighbourhoods with a place for social interaction, a space for physical activity, a sanctuary to support mental wellbeing to name but a few.

Times are, of course, very tough in ‘Austerity Britain’ and public sector funding for our formal parks and informal green spaces can be much harder to come by. While the benefits are well documented, so are the likely cuts to future budgets.

For 35 years Groundwork has championed work to enable communities to have a greater say in how their neighbourhoods are improved and managed. By giving local people the skills, support and resources to make a practical difference to their local area, they are naturally more engaged and committed to ensuring it’s vibrant and well-maintained.  Communities are being encouraged to take more responsibility for assets and services in their local area.  Making sure that young people are able to participate in this shift in both thinking and power is critical.   

The misconception that young people aren’t interested in volunteering and simply use green space as a place to misbehave is a barrier that needs to be overcome.

Encouraging ‘social action’ is a major priority of government and campaigns and programmes such as ‘Step Up to Serve’ and National Citizen Service have shown that young people are not backwards in coming forwards when it comes to giving their time as long as they have the support and can see the value. New research conducted by Business in the Community shows that young people aged 18 to 24 years old in Britain volunteer more than any other age group (57%) and are also using volunteering to further their career aims (38%) and gain new skills (48%).

While we are blessed with networks of committed local groups and activists devoting their time and energy to improve their local parks, many of them report the challenge they face in engaging local people in their work.  At the same time we know many young people see traditional volunteering approaches as a barrier.  There is a clear need for support and capacity building on both sides of the equation.  As the state shrinks its budgets and retreats from providing universal services such as youth centres and green spaces, we need to find new models to ensure that the benefits of these services in terms of the wellbeing of our communities is maintained. 

Young people have more to lose if we don’t and more to contribute if we do.


Engaging farmers in environment management through a better understanding of behaviour - CCRI

A paper produced by CCRI providing insights into farmers’ willingness and ability to undertake environmental management has just been published in the Journal of Agriculture and Human Values.

The paper is based on research undertaken by a team at CCRI over the last 8 years for Defra. One research project was concerned with understanding and influencing environmental behaviour change among farmers and led to the development of the two key conceptual frameworks presented in this paper. The empirical data in the paper is derived from 60 farmer interviews for another project which explored farmers’ attitudes to on-farm environmental management.

Increasingly, there is interest in the UK of ‘nudging’ managers towards voluntary environmentally friendly actions. However, we argue in the paper that this approach requires a good understanding of farmers’ willingness and ability to take up environmental activities and the influences on farmers, particularly the social-psychological influences which are often under-researched. The research findings show how an in-depth understanding of these influences is necessary to develop appropriate engagement approaches to achieve sustained and durable environmental management.

Access the paper: Mills, J., P. Gaskell, J. Ingram, J. Dwyer, M. Reed, and C. Short. 2016. Engaging farmers in environmental management through a better understanding of behaviour. Agriculture and Human Values:1-17. doi:10.1007/s10460-016-9705-4.


Trust’s devolution to deliver major heritage investments – National Trust for Scotland

Scotland’s largest conservation charity, the 350,000-member National Trust for Scotland, has begun formal consultation on significant changes to its structure as well as proposals to invest tens of millions of pounds in its iconic heritage properties, its systems and people.

The changes are part of the Trust’s strategy to widen its appeal, encourage more people to visit and enjoy the heritage in its care, increase membership and generate more income for investment in conservation.

An ambitious investment programme of circa £17 million over the next three years will benefit a number of famous locations, including Culzean Castle and Country Park in Ayrshire, Brodie Castle near Forres and Newhailes House in Musselburgh.

Culzean Castle (NTS)Culzean Castle (NTS)

The changes are designed to support new ways of working and will mean that the charity’s HQ will be streamlined. 

Conservation expertise will be relocated around the country, along with a number of new posts bringing competencies and skills in areas such as commercial management, as part of a flatter, more nimble structure, with decision-making and planning devolved to properties at regional and local levels.

68 new posts will be created across Scotland, while circa 42 posts will be transferred from the Trust’s HQ in Edinburgh to be based alongside properties.  There will be an overall reduction in staff numbers, mainly at the Trust’s HQ, with 142 posts classified as ‘at risk’.  Only core services operating at national level will remain there. 

The Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, Simon Skinner said: “We have opened consultation with our recognised trade union on a visionary transformation of the Trust.  It is a bold and ambitious vision, which challenges us to completely change the way we deliver our core purposes. While the Trust has achieved stability in the last few years, we have choices to make if we are to move forward and face up to ensuring our heritage remains relevant and engaging in an era of ever-more demanding, digitally-savvy generations. We need a step-change if we are to find and generate the investment we need to ensure the Trust is fit for the future and offer world-class visitor experiences that are stimulating, thought-provoking and fun.  Our core purposes are to promote access, engagement and learning , and we will begin by tempting visitors back to our properties in numbers that were last seen eight to ten years ago.”


Urban bird species at risk dying prematurely due to stress – Lund University

Great tit. Photo: Kev ChapmanBirds of the species Parus Major (great tit) living in an urban environment are at greater risk of dying young than great tits living outside cities. Research results from Lund University in Sweden show that urban great tits have shorter telomeres than others of their own species living in rural areas. According to the researchers, the induced stress that the urban great tits are experiencing is what results in shorter telomeres and thereby increases their risk of dying young.

Great tit. Photo: Kev Chapman

Telomeres are located at the end of each DNA strand in the body’s chromosomes, in both great tits and humans. The length of the telomeres can be described as a kind of age biomarker – short telomeres mean short life expectancy. According to the researchers, their study shows that the environment in which great tits grow up determines the length of their telomeres more than their genetics.

“Although there are advantages to living in cities, such as the access to food, they seem to be outweighed by the disadvantages, such as stress – at least in terms of how quickly the cells of the great tits age”, says biologist Pablo Salmón who conducts research in the field of evolutionary ecology at the Faculty of Science, Lund University.

The study is published in an article in the scientific journal The Royal Society Journal Biology Letters. Download it here: Salmón P, et al (2016). Urban environment shortens telomere length in nestling great tits, Parus major.


Fake birds used to help rare Suffolk seabirds - RSPB

Little tern at nest (Image: Chris Gomersall)Little tern at nest (Image: Chris Gomersall)

Special hand-painted models of little terns are being used on the Suffolk coast to help conserve one of the area’s rarest birds this summer.

The Suffolk coastline is one of a few UK strongholds for breeding little terns, Britain's second rarest tern, with just 1,900 breeding pairs in the UK each year.

The tiny chattering birds travel from West Africa each year to nest on the beaches of the British Isles, but their numbers have been declining as they struggle to find safe beaches to nest and feed their young, free from predators and human disturbance.

The model birds were successfully tested on Suffolk beaches last year, and will be used again in 2016 at Kessingland and Shingle Street to attract the vulnerable species to protected areas on the Suffolk Coast.

Thanks to funding from EU LIFE + the little tern recovery project has been able put measures in place such as electric fencing and dedicated little tern wardens to create safe havens for little terns on Suffolk beaches at sites including Kessingland, Ben Acre and Shingle Street.

In 2016 the RSPB will also be installing special ‘chick shelters’ inside the fenced areas  made of old piping which will protect little tern chicks from aerial predators and bad weather as they begin moving around.

Emily Irving-Witt, EU Life + Little Tern Warden for Suffolk said: “After trialling the fake birds last year, little terns had their most successful breeding season in Suffolk. Benacre became the UK’s largest little tern colony in the UK, and saw a fantastic 180 fledglings starting their long migration back to West Africa at the end of last August.”


Arup report reveals why walking is good for business

Arup launches ‘Cities Alive: Towards a walking world’- a new report that analyses research and trends in city design to show how walking friendly cities can help create healthier and wealthier cities.

Improved walkability has been proven to increase local retail spend, enhance the value of local services and create more jobs. Making places better for walking can boost footfall and trading by up to 40 per cent. In fact, pedestrians have been found to spend on average 65 per cent more than drivers, so the economic benefits of walking for city and town centres are significant.

Similarly, companies are now choosing walkable central locations as it has been proven to increase productivity and creativity by 60 per cent. Walking reduces the risk of stress, anxiety and depression positively helping people’s mental health and happiness. When employees are more physically active and mentally healthier, they are less likely to take time off, improving productivity.

Click here to view the report in full


Scotland’s butterfly population shows winners and losers – Scottish Natural Heritage

Scotland’s butterfly population continues to have winners and losers in the face of climate change and habitat loss, the latest Scottish Biodiversity Indicator has reported.

The majority of Scottish butterflies can be conveniently classed as ‘specialists’ or ‘generalists.' Scotland’s specialist butterflies have declined by 67% since 1979. Three species declined significantly – small pearl bordered fritillary (over the past 10 years) large heath and grayling.

Generalists like Small Skipper and Essex Skipper are benefitting from climate change and have expanded their range into southern Scotland. And three generalist butterflies show climate-driven, significant long-term population increases – peacock, speckled wood and orange-tip.

Regular migrant butterflies, including the red admiral, are also growing in number. Butterflies are a familiar sight in the summer months across Scotland. Some inhabit a range of habitats and include meadow brown and small tortoiseshell, commonly found throughout Scotland.


Scotland’s bugs are good for your health! - Buglife

Buglife have recently launched two new campaigns to get the Scottish public outside and looking for insects. By involving the public in these campaigns, Buglife hope to help encourage people to spend more time outside and appreciating what Scotland’s nature has on offer as well as helping nature conservation efforts. Spending time outside is immensely beneficial to your physical and mental health, participating in projects such as  Nest Quest and the Longhorn Survey is a fun way to do this and to help conserve Scotland’s beauty.

Buglife, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage, will be running a series of events across Scotland to encourage people to head outside and look for Wood ants and Longhorn beetles this summer. They are also encouraging the public to head out on their own or with their families to spend time outside and help conservation by collecting records whilst they are out and about. By spending more time outside, people can strongly improve their health and wellbeing. By joining in with projects such as Nest Quest and the Longhorn beetle survey, participants will not only improve their own physical and mental wellbeing, but they will learn something along the way and help protect Scottish nature. Scottish Natural Heritage is encouraging the people of Scotland to go outside a bit more, “Being active outdoors and having contact with nature brings many health benefits, but in an ever busier world, it’s hard to find the time to exercise.  This is why projects like Nest Quest are great.  Why not get involved in a little citizen science, and by joining in on the Nest Quest not only will you provide useful local information on wood ants, you’ll be having a healthy dose of the outdoors – good for your body and mind.”(Bridget Finton, SNH)


A new bat species for Jersey! - Bat Conservation Trust 

Alcathoe’s bat – Myotis alcathoe (image: BCT)Alcathoe’s bat – Myotis alcathoe (image: BCT)

During a recent Jersey bat group bat trapping session as part of the Woodland Project a small myotis bat was caught which we were unable to formally identify.  Following DNA analysis of a faecal sample we are delighted to confirm that the bat was an Alcathoe’s bat – Myotis alcathoe.  This is the first record for this species in the Island.

Alcathoe’s bat is a rare species with narrow ecological requirements.  It was only identified as a separate species in Greece in 2001, and has only been confirmed in a few locations in the UK (in Sussex and Yorkshire) as well as from limited sites across Europe.

Dr Amy Hall, Chair of the Jersey Bat Group said ‘We are very excited to find this species in the Island for the first time.  As the Woodland Project moves forward there may be further exciting new discoveries’.

logo: Bat Conservation TrustRead more from Bat Conservation Trust, our featured charity here.




South Downs take lead on Pondtail Wood action - South Downs National Park Authority

The South Downs National Park Authority has secured agreement from the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission to lead on a coordinated response to restore Pondtail Wood in West Sussex.

Margaret Paren, Chair of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “These two government agencies, along with ourselves and Mid Sussex District Council, have key roles to play in fixing this situation but we need to make sure that action is taken and that the local community are kept informed. Our Enforcement Notice stipulates that the site owners must remove all deposited soils, waste and drainage channels in order to expose the ancient woodland soils which can then support the return of native species. Wherever possible we try to work with site owners to fix breaches in planning, however if the work isn’t carried out by the 23 August deadline we will certainly consider prosecution. We appreciate that the local community are as frustrated as we are with the damage to the site and will be sending out regular updates on progress with the case.”


Ancient origins of bog revealed during restoration work - Buglife

Surveys carried out by wildlife charity Buglife Scotland during peatland restoration work at Fannyside Muir, near Cumbernauld have revealed that the bog has been accumulating peat for over 9000 years.

Peat depth surveys were carried out as part of a large project restoring 210 hectares of damaged raised bog at Fannyside Muir. The results show that parts of the bog formed at the end of the last ice age when Britain was still connected to mainland Europe.

As part of their Slamannan Bog Restoration Project, Buglife Scotland have helped restore over 210 hectares of damaged bog at Fannyside Muir by blocking old ditches and removing trees to encourage peat-forming Sphagnum moss to recolonise the site.  Over 1600 dams have been installed, and 25 hectares of invasive conifers and scrub have been removed by volunteers and contractors.  Over 1500 shallow bog pools have also been created for dragonflies and other wildlife, including rare Taiga bean geese that roost on the bog pools in winter.

Buglife Scotland’s Conservation Officer Dr Scott Shanks said “Under ideal conditions, peat accumulates at about 1mm per year; so it was quite a shock to discover that parts of Fannyside Muir hold over 9 meters of preserved  plant fragments, pollen and animal remains! It’s possible that some of the Sphagnum mosses, and other bog-specialist plants and invertebrates at Fannyside Muir may have survived there continuously for over 9000 years.  It's amazing to think that when these bogs were forming extinct mammals such as giant deer, lynx, bears and wolves would have been found in Scotland, and it was possible to walk from Cumbernauld to Copenhagen'!” 


New app to record full range of UK wildlife - CEH

The new iRecord App is available now, enabling users to get involved with the biological recording of all UK species. Now you can record all the wildlife you see and contribute to scientific research and conservation.

The app, available for both AndroidTM and Apple devices, adds to the family of iRecord tools. Contribute your species sightings with GPS acquired coordinates, photos, descriptions and other information. Such important new biodiversity information contributes to nature conservation, planning, research and education.

It was developed by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology’s mobile applications development team and part-funded by the CEH / Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) partnership supporting the Biological Records Centre. It helps further the aims of the National Biodiversity Network to share biological data.

Deborah Procter, Senior Monitoring Ecologist at JNCC, said, “We welcome the development of this new tool to make species recording and subsequent sharing quick and easy. Records submitted all add to the growing body of useful information that supports conservation and research. The iRecord App is for anyone who wants to contribute their observations to improve our understanding of the natural environment, and for those sightings to be shared with others.”

Dr David Roy, Head of the Biological Records Centre at CEH said, “The iRecord app is perfect for wildlife enthusiasts to record the range of species they see, from mammals and insects to plants and birds. Our species specific apps including iRecord Grasshoppers and iRecord Butterflies are also available and are ideal if you want to access more detailed information about species as well as submit observations. Please continue to use these too if you prefer. All records are sent to the same place and treated in the same way.”

The app is BRC approved which means you can be assured that the data you submit will be made available to experts for quality assurance, made available for conservation and research and preserved for long-term use.


Search for Wales’ most mysterious seabird - University of Gloucestershire

As part of a national drive to count the UK's breeding seabirds, this summer a hardy band of fieldworkers will be searching two Pembrokeshire islands, Skokholm and Skomer, for the most mysterious seabird in Wales - the European Storm petrel.

Perhaps 5,000 European Storm petrels breed on Skokholm Island, representing up to 20% of Europe's breeding population, and a few hundred on Skomer, but no one really knows simply because they're notoriously difficult to count. If you turn on a torch they fly away, if you disturb them in their breeding burrows they tend to desert their nest. And they nest in inaccessible places, so it's understandable that ornithologists have to think smart to count storm petrels without disturbing them.

"We play the sound of a singing storm petrel to a likely nest site," says Vicky, "and if there's a bird in there it often calls back. It's supposed to sound like a fairy being sick, but I think it's more like a purring cat with the hiccups!" The distinctive smell of storm petrels can also reveal a nest. "It's a musty, oily smell, but distinctly pleasant," says Skomer Assistant Warden Jason Moss. "If you get a strong whiff it can help to locate a nest burrow or a new breeding colony."

The survey technique has been refined over the years, but 2016 sees the first attempt a complete census of the largest European Storm petrel breeding colony in England and Wales: the 'Quarry' on Skokholm Island. Warden Richard Brown says, "The Quarry is a natural amphitheatre of old red sandstone where hundreds of storm petrels nest in fragile crevices. Work there is challenging and requires careful planning, but what an office!"

The survey is a great example of cooperation between conservationists, seabird biologists, and government agency: the project is carried out by the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales & the University of Gloucestershire, with funding and support from Natural Resources Wales.


£10m skills boost for heritage careers - Heritage Lottery Fund

A £10million fund to train the next generation of heritage craftspeople, specialists and entrepreneurs was unveiled today (24/6) by Sir Peter Luff, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Skills for the Future funding will have a particular focus on people who might not have previously considered a career in heritage because of a lack of paid training opportunities.  It will address a shortage of skills in building conservation and the preservation of landscapes, species, industrial heritage and museum and archive collections, as well as public engagement and business skills.

Speaking at the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) Conference in Edinburgh, Sir Peter Luff said: “In order to thrive, our heritage needs ongoing investment in training - and a heritage workforce that reflects our population. The Skills for the Future programme puts novices together with experts, helping them learn on the job.  Our grants will ensure trainees are paid – so they can get the best possible experience to set them up for a new career in heritage.”

The launch of a third round of Skills for the Future is a key HLF contribution to the Government’s Culture White Paper.

Skills for the Future challenges the sector to recruit from a wider pool of talent, encouraging more people to see heritage as a career open to them.  Grants given out under the programme will help organisations draw in expertise and recruit in new ways. 


Scientific publications

Van Overveld, T., Vardakis, M., Arvidsson, L., Stolk, K., Adriaensen, F. & Matthysen, E. (2016) Post-fledging family space use in blue and great tit: similarities and species-specific behaviours. Journal of Avian Biology. DOI: 10.1111/jav.00999


Van de Peer, T., Verheyen, K., Baeten, L., Ponette, Q. and Muys, B. (2016), Biodiversity as insurance for sapling survival in experimental tree plantations. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12721


Rinella, M. J., Espeland, E. K. and Moffatt, B. J. (2016), Studying long-term, large-scale grassland restoration outcomes to improve seeding methods and reveal knowledge gaps. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12722


Theodorou, P.,  Radzevičiūtė, R., Settele, J., Schweiger, O., Murray, M. & Paxton, R. J. (2016) Pollination services enhanced with urbanization despite increasing pollinator parasitism. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0561  


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