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


Essex Badgers keep their homes after railway is designed around them - Network Rail

At the start of National Badger Week this week (25 June – 2 July), Network Rail has unveiled a new way of working on major upgrade projects to protect badgers living by the railway and keep the project on track.

Image: Network RailImage: Network Rail

Structures are currently being put in place between London Liverpool Street and Southend Victoria, which will carry new overhead electricity lines to make the railway more reliable for passengers, as part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan.

The structures need deep foundations to be put in place to install the gantries that support the overhead wires, work which could threaten badger setts in the area. As standard practice, an ecology survey was carried out during the early stages of the project. However, rather than using the information to apply for a licence to move the badgers, details from the survey were sent to the project team so that designers could decide where the foundations should be put so that they didn’t affect the badgers. Not only does this mean that the badgers which live alongside the railway can stay in their homes, but it also saves time and money on the project. Network Rail is now looking at how this can be used on other projects.

Adriaan Bekker, Network Rail’s environmental manager for Anglia, said: “We should always consider wildlife at the design stage and how to avoid disturbing it and avoid risks and delays to the project before construction starts. Providing design engineers with simple technical information from the environmental report has enabled them to design a railway that considered the wildlife already living around it, rather than trying to move the badgers away. This has saved a lot of time and money on the project and meant that the badgers can keep their homes.”


Birds pushed to the edge by floods – University of Exeter

A flock of cranes that ended up at the centre of a once-in-200-year flood has given researchers a rare insight into how wildlife copes with extreme weather.

The cranes’ progress was being tracked by researchers from the University of Exeter, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and RSPB when severe flooding hit the Somerset Levels in 2013.

The study published today in the Springer Nature journal Scientific Reportsfound that the floods forced the cranes out of their usual roosts and feeding sites, and caused them to spend two extra hours a day searching for food along the margins of the flooded areas.

Image courtesy of John Crispin.Image courtesy of John Crispin.

Andrea Soriano, the PhD student at the University of Exeter who carried out the research said: “Climate change means we are seeing extreme weather occur more frequently. Monitoring the effects of those events is essential so that we can design and implement successful conservation plans.”

Geoff Hilton, WWT’s Chief Scientist and co-supervisor on the project said: “Shallow winter flooding is normal on the Somerset Levels, but no one expected the crane flock to end up at the centre of floods so severe that they became a global news story. They were literally pushed to the edge but they pulled through in the end.

“Extreme weather events are inherently unpredictable, so it is very rare for wildlife researchers to be in the right place at the right time, able to monitor in detail how animals cope; we’ve gained valuable insights here.”


Volunteers boost rare butterflies along Oxford Canal - Canal & River Trust

There has been a 500% increase in sightings of the Grizzled Skipper butterfly along the Oxford Canal, thanks to the efforts of volunteers from the Warwickshire Branch of Butterfly Conservation over the last three years.

Butterfly conservation volunteers (Canal & River Trust)

Butterfly conservation volunteers (Canal & River Trust)

The Grizzled Skipper is becoming increasingly rare across England & Wales but, along the Oxford Canal at Fenny Compton, this brown and white chequered insect is thriving.

Frequently spotted species of butterflies such as the Common Blue, Essex Skipper and Green-veined White can also be seen fluttering along hedgerows and feeding on flowers.


Hope for Orkney’s little terns thanks to school project - RSPB

Some of Orkney’s rarest seabirds have now laid eggs, after two local primary schools worked with RSPB Scotland to protect their home at the Churchill Barriers.

In May, over a hundred children from the Hope Community School and Burray Primary School carried out a project to help the struggling little tern colony at the 4th Barrier beach, the only location in Orkney where the birds are known to breed.

The children wanted to protect the little terns on the beach to give them the best chance of raising chicks. Awareness-raising posters were put up around the beach and in local Stagecoach buses, and chick shelters made by the children were placed inside a small fenced area at the beach. Little tern decoys – life-size models of the adult birds – were positioned nearby to encourage the birds to nest in the safe area.

The local RSPB Scotland team have now spotted at least three little terns nests inside or very close to the fenced area. Alison Phillip, Conservation Officer, said, “This is great news and we’d like to say a big thank you to all the children who helped the little terns get this far. The terns struggle to breed successfully each year at the 4th barrier, so it would be brilliant if the schools’ project means some are able to raise chicks this year – it would be a boost for birds that are rare not just in Orkney but across the UK.”


In pheasant harems, bigger is not always better - Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Image: Game & Wildlife Conservation TrustToo many females in a wild pheasant harem harms the ability of the group to spot predators, experts from the University of Exeter have found.

Image: Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Males and females adjust their vigilance levels with harem size, collectively this has consequences for the ability of the group to detect a predator, a new study shows.

Scientists from the University of Exeter and the Game & Wildlife Trust (GWCT) observed 81 male and 43 female pheasants living wild on an estate in the UK, just before the breeding season began. They watched individuals foraging and being vigilant, whilst in harems of varying size in the wild.

There are three key ingredients to pheasant reproductive success: food, sex and predation avoidance. Pheasants work in groups so they can take turns to look for predators, and then they are able to eat and procreate so we may expect males to want as many females in a harem as possible.

Females in larger harems were less vigilant than females in smaller harems. Males showed the opposite trend, with vigilance increasing for males with larger harem sizes.


Northern bird found to be more resilient to winter weather – British Trust for Ornithology

Wren by Jill Pakenham/BTOWren by Jill Pakenham/BTO

New research, published today (Wednesday 29 June) in the Royal Society journal Open Science, reveals that one of our most widespread songbirds – the Wren – varies in its resilience to winter weather, depending on where in Britain it lives. Scottish Wrens are larger than those living in southern Britain, and more resilient to hard winter frosts.

Populations of small birds may decline following periods of cold winter weather, something that is probably linked to low temperatures and difficulties in finding sufficient insect prey. We might expect populations inhabiting regions where winters are more severe to show some form of adaptation, and this is exactly what researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) have found in a study of one of our smallest songbirds, the Wren.

BTO researchers used information on Wren populations that had been collected by volunteers participating in the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey, the main scheme for monitoring the population changes of the UK’s common breeding birds. The researchers found that Wren populations were susceptible to severe winter weather, measured in terms of the number of days with a ground frost. However, northern populations were found to be resilient to winters with up to 70% more frost days than southern populations, suggesting a degree of local adaptation.

James Pearce-Higgins (BTO Director of Science and one of the authors) commented "This work indicates that each Wren population is closely adapted to its local climate; there was a close correlation between the historic regional climate and the degree to which the population was resilient to severe winters.


Night-time light pollution causes Spring to come early – University of Exeter

Human use of artificial light is causing Spring to come at least a week early in the UK, researchers at the University of Exeter in Cornwall have found.

New research led by a team of biologists based at the University’s Penryn campus highlights for the first time and at a national scale the relationship between the amount of artificial night-time light and the date of budburst in woodland trees.

Researchers believe early bud bursting will have a cascade effect on other organisms (University of Exeter)Researchers believe early bud bursting will have a cascade effect on other organisms (University of Exeter)

PhD student Robin Somers-Yeates, working with independent environmental consultants Spalding Associates in Truro, led the study which made use of data collected by citizen scientists from across the UK, after the Woodland Trust asked them to note down when they first saw sycamore, oak, ash and beech trees in leaf as part of the charity’s Nature’s Calendar initiative. The research team analysed this information, correlated with satellite images of artificial lighting.

The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, found that buds were bursting by up to 7.5 days earlier in brighter areas and that the effect was larger in later budding trees.

Researchers believe early bud bursting will have a cascade effect on other organisms whose life cycles work in synchronicity with the trees. The proliferation of the winter moth for example, which feeds on fresh emerging oak leaves is likely to be affected which may in turn have some effect on birds in the food chain that rely on it for food.

The findings provide important information for those in charge of lighting levels, such as local councils, and point to the need for further research into the impact of different light quality and the specific wavelengths of light generated by different lighting types.

Read the paper here: Ffrench-Constant, R. H. et al (2016) Light pollution is associated with earlier tree budburst across the United Kingdom. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0813


Concern as fireworks and camp fires threaten wildlife - Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales is asking people not to use fireworks or start bonfires, especially in places like nature reserves, as they can threaten the wildlife that lives there.

Image: NRWImage: NRW

This follows a number of isolated incidents at several nature reserves across Wales recently. Two bags of used and discarded fireworks were collected from the Dyfi Ynyslas nature reserve beach car park, near Aberystwyth.

Large amounts of bottles, cans and general rubbish have also been collected from other sites which are managed by Natural Resources Wales.

Ali Chedgy, Ceredigion Assistant Reserve Manager, Natural Resources Wales said: “Nature reserves are fantastic places for people to enjoy and get closer to nature, but they also provide a home to the rich, diverse and valuable wildlife we have in Wales. We do ask all visitors to be considerate when they visit, and to be aware of the harmful effect that fireworks, fires, and leaving rubbish can have on the reserve. As it is breeding season at the moment many animals have young or are on nests. The noise from a firework can cause fear and stress to wild animals, forcing them to abandon their young or their nests.”


Nesting project backs endangered Barn Owl - Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has been doing its bit for barn owls, one of Northern Ireland’s most iconic species - but also one of the most endangered.

image: Mid & East Antrim Borough CouncilThe Mayor of Mid and East Antrim Borough, Councillor Audrey Wales MBE, said: “There are thought to be less than 30 to 40 breeding pairs left in Northern Ireland with the main reason for the barn owl's decline being the loss of suitable feeding and nesting sites.

“In order to enhance our parks and open spaces for barn owls our staff have specially chosen three sites in the Borough as potential barn owl habitat and have installed three custom built barn owl nest boxes. The boxes have been installed at Eden Allotment Gardens Carrickfergus, Diamond Jubilee Wood Whitehead and Ecos Nature Park Ballymena,” Cllr Wales said. She is shown here with one of the local owls that may benefit from the nesting boxes.

Local schools Eden Primary, Kilcoan Primary and Ballykeel Primary helped out with the project, with pupils learning all about barns owls and helping to build the nest boxes.


Birds, bees and butterflies get boost from new countryside coalition – Linking Environment & Farming (LEAF)

The Wildlife Trusts and LEAF create unique model for nature-friendly farming across 44,500 acres, as part of new Jordans Farm Partnership.

This summer, 42 progressive arable farms are embarking on a new model for sustainable farming and will maintain nature-friendly corridors on farmland which, if placed end to end, would reach from Land’s End to John O’Groats - as part of a new partnership to enhance the natural environment and support farming communities.

The new and unique collaboration - involving The Wildlife Trusts, Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) and Jordans - will promote sustainable farming practice - and address rural development issues through The Prince’s Countryside Fund. Known as the Jordans Farm Partnership, it will create a new model for UK farm sustainability and set high standards for nature-friendly farming.

Five farms are currently piloting the scheme and, from this summer, all 42 farms which supply grain to breakfast cereal brand Jordans, will undertake a wide variety of measures to protect water and soil, building on their longstanding commitment to support wildlife on at least 10% of their land. Together, the farms in the Partnership manage over 44,500 acres of land. Ten percent of this area will continue to be managed to provide food for farmland birds, pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies and pollinating insects; sustaining landscape-scale wildlife corridors with dedicated habitats, such as ponds and hedgerow highways, for species of significance in the local area.


UK wildlife calendar reshuffled by climate change – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Climate change is already reshuffling the UK’s wildlife calendar, and it’s likely this will continue into the future, according to new research published today in the journal Nature.

Snowdrops (Ross Newham) Snowdrops (Ross Newham)

The results suggest that seasonal events - such as the timing of flowering in plants and breeding in birds - are generally more sensitive to temperature change, than to changes in precipitation such as rain and snowfall. Plants and animals respond differently to temperature changes at different times of year.

Seasonal relationships between predators, such as insect-eating birds and plankton-eating fish, and their prey could be disrupted in the future. This could affect the breeding success and survival of these species, with possible consequences for UK biodiversity. 

The analysis shows that, given these patterns in climate sensitivity, species in the middle of food webs, such as some insects and plankton species, which feed on plants but are themselves fed on by predators, are likely to change their seasonal “behaviour” the most in future. The study was led by ecologists at the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, working in collaboration with 17 other organisations - research institutes, non-governmental organisations and universities. The analysis involved more than 370,000 observations of seasonal events including long-term records, spanning the period 1960 to 2012, covering 812 marine, freshwater and dry-land plant and animal species from the UK, from plankton to plants, butterflies to birds and moths to mammals.

Read the paper here Thackeray, S J et al (2016) Phenological sensitivity to climate varies across taxa and trophic levels.  Nature DOI:10.1038/nature18608


Bird 'backpacks' to uncover swift secrets - RSPB

Swift (Graham Catley)A new project to find out where migrant birds forage in Northern Ireland has taken flight, thanks to a partnership between RSPB Northern Ireland, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Northern Ireland Swift Group.

Swift (Graham Catley)

In a first for conservation science in Northern Ireland, this summer dozens of swifts will be fitted with tiny GPS ‘backpacks’ in a bid to shed light on key feeding areas- something which has previously been impossible to monitor.

During June and July, experts will safely re-capture the swifts, some of which have been previously tagged as part of a BTO and NI Swift Group migration study, to fit them with newly developed miniature tracking devices which weigh less than one gram.

Being used for the first time in Ireland, and building on work carried out by the BTO over the previous two summers, these devices will record the locations of the swifts at approximately hourly intervals with an accuracy of just a few metres, revealing the feeding behaviour of nesting swifts in unprecedented detail.


Researchers reveal the flower power in urban wildflower meadows – Scottish Wildlife Trust

The pollen and nectar production of millions of flowers in urban meadows across the UK has been comprehensively measured to help conservationists work out how best to boost pollinators including bees and butterflies.

A team led by Graham Stone at the University of Edinburgh carried out a study of more than two million flowers from annual and perennial species typically grown in wildflower meadows, and associated weeds, by surveying sixty large meadows planted in Edinburgh, Bristol, Leeds and Reading. The project involved working closely with city parks teams and local schools, who planted and looked after each meadow.

The results of this research have now been published in the journal PLOS ONE and demonstrate that wildflower meadows made up of common perennial species (plants that persist for more than two years) provide more food for pollinators than those made up of annual species (that die after one year and grow again from seed).

High performing plants included rough hawkbit, wild carrot, common poppy, black knapweed, corn marigold and dandelions.

Perennial meadows contain more pollen and nectar and also flower earlier in the year, meaning they are best for spring flying insects such as the queens of some bumblebee species and many wild bees, and butterflies coming out of hibernation.

The research shows that a significant contribution to nectar and pollen early in the year comes from weeds such as dandelions and buttercups, which means leaving some of these to flower is likely to be important to early spring pollinators. The research also demonstrates that at some times of the year a single flowering lime tree can produce as much nectar as a single wildflower meadow covering 300 square metres.

Research: Food for pollinators: quantifying the nectar and pollen resources of urban flower meadows, is published in the open access Journal PLOS ONE.


First signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer - University of Leeds

First signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

First signs of healing in the Antarctic ozone layer (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Scientists have observed clear signs that the hole in the Antarctic ozone layer is beginning to close.

The scientists from the University of Leeds were part of an international team, led by Professor Susan Solomon of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The research confirmed the first signs of healing of the ozone layer, which shields life on Earth from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. 

Recovery of the hole has varied from year to year, due in part to the effects of volcanic eruptions. 

But accounting for the effects of these eruptions allowed the team to show that the ozone hole is healing, and they see no reason why the ozone hole should not close permanently by the middle of this century. 

These encouraging new findings, published today in the journal Science, show that the average size of the ozone hole each September has shrunk by more than 1.7 million square miles since 2000 – about 18 times the area of the United Kingdom.

The research attributes this improvement to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which heralded a ban the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) – then widely used in cooling appliances and aerosol cans.

Read the paper here: The paper, Emergence of Healing in the Antarctic Ozone Layer, is published in Science today (Thursday 30 June) (DOI: 10.1126/science.aae0061). 


Continued success for rare butterfly on Exmoor – Exmoor National Park Authority

A rare butterfly introduced to part of Exmoor two years ago has more than doubled its population at the site, Butterfly Conservation (BC) can reveal.

Around 50 Heath Fritillaries were released into woodland clearings in Hawkcombe Wood near Porlock in Somerset in 2014, thanks to work by BC, the National Trust and Exmoor National Park Authority.

The butterfly bred successfully in its first year and around 20 adults were recorded during June 2015.

This year a local volunteer has recorded some 125 Heath Fritillaries in one section of recently cleared habitat, thanks to conservation work carried out by Exmoor National Park.

Jenny Plackett, BC’s South West Regional Officer, said: “We are delighted that the butterfly is continuing to thrive in the newly managed habitat at Hawkcombe. The butterflies were collected from nearest occupied site around 3km away, and as the Heath Fritillary is such a sedentary butterfly, it is unlikely that it would have made it here without a helping hand. Extending the range of the Heath Fritillary this far west from its current distribution will help to strengthen the population as a whole and hopefully enable it to colonise back into its historic breeding grounds in nearby Shillett Combe. We will be monitoring the butterfly closely.”


Royal Horticultural Society Appeals to Gardeners to Help Identify Pollinator-Friendly Plants - RHS

New survey aims to peek beyond the garden fence to understand how gardeners are supporting pollinators 

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and the University of Bristol are asking gardeners to take part in a new study to identify the most commonly planted pollinator-friendly plants and assess how good UK gardens are for pollinators.
From July until September 2016, the RHS is urging the UK’s 27 million gardeners, from window sill and urban gardeners to more traditional horticulturists, to complete an online survey that will help the charity better understand how widely gardeners plant for pollinators. The survey can be found here
RHS scientists believe the study, the first of its kind in the UK, will help fill a significant gap in the knowledge that exists about the distribution of garden plants which provide nectar and pollen for pollinators.


Citizen scientists to investigate our saltmarshes – University of St Andrews

Marine scientists are appealing to citizen scientists to collect information about Britain’s saltmarshes with a new mobile phone app.

University of St AndrewsUsing the free Saltmarsh App individuals can identify the specialised plants and wildlife found on saltmarshes and carry out an interactive plant and soil survey. 

The information will form the basis of a survey to estimate the stored carbon in the saltmarsh soil and show how, by capturing carbon and reducing the concentration of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the marsh is helping to limit climate change.

The Saltmarsh App was developed as a cooperation between Bangor and St Andrews Universities, with the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. Every marsh survey uploaded will help the scientists learn more about UK saltmarsh soils and how they are helping fight climate change. A website –www.saltmarshapp.com – allows users to track theirs and other citizen scientists’ results, and to learn more about the science.


Plants' ability to slow climate change depends on their fungi – Imperial College London

Scientists have discovered why only certain plants can take in extra carbon dioxide when levels rise and help to reduce global warming.

Imperial College LondonMost plants associate with fungi in their roots (Imperial College London)

Plants take in carbon dioxide for growth, and in a greenhouse, raising the levels of carbon dioxide can boost their growth. This boost is known as the ‘CO2 fertilisation effect’.

This effect also works on a global scale, with plants currently absorbing about 30 percent of human CO2 emissions. This helps to remove some extra CO2 from the atmosphere, slowing down the rate of climate change.

However, it was not known whether this effect would continue indefinitely, and plants would continue to take up the same percentage of extra CO2 emissions with rising levels. 


Scientific publications

Kütt, L. et al (2016) The quality of flower-based ecosystem services in field margins and road verges from human and insect pollinator perspectives. Ecological Indicators. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.06.009


D’agata, S., Mouillot, D., Wantiez, L., Friedlander, A. M., Kulbicki, M. & Vigliola, L. (2016) Marine reserves lag behind wilderness in the conservation of key functional roles. Nature Communications. DOI:10.1038/ncomms12000


LaZerte, S. E., Slabbekoorn, H. & Otter. K. A. (2016) Learning to cope: vocal adjustment to urban noise is correlated with prior experience in black-capped chickadees. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.1058


Nagelkerken, I., Pitt, K. A, Rutte, M. D. & Geertsma, R. C. (2016) Ocean acidification alters fish–jellyfish symbiosis. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.1146


Jellison, B. M., Ninokawa, A. T., Hill, T. M., Sanford, E. & Gaylord, B. (2016) Ocean acidification alters the response of intertidal snails to a key sea star predator. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0890


Green, R. E., Langston, R. H. W., McCluskie, A., Sutherland, R. & Wilson, J. D. (2016) Lack of sound science in assessing wind-farm impacts on seabirds. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12731


Hahn, P. G. & Orrock, J. L. (2016) Ontogenetic responses of four plant species to additive and interactive effects of land-use history, canopy structure, and herbivory. Journal of Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12623


Latombe, G. et al (2016) A vision for global monitoring of biological invasions. Biological Conservation. DOI:10.1016/j.biocon.2016.06.013


Sangiuliano, A., Lovari, S, Ferretti, F. (2016) Dietary partitioning between European roe deer and European brown hare. European Journal of Wildlife Research. DOI: 10.1007/s10344-016-1023-z


Vinagre, P. A. et al (2016) Ability of invertebrate indices to assess ecological condition on intertidal rocky shores. Ecological Indicators. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.06.004


Coda, J. et al (2016) The use of fluctuating asymmetry as a measure of farming practice effects in rodents: A species-specific response. Ecological Indicators. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.06.018


Breininger, D. R., Breininger, R. D. & Hall, C. R. (2016) Effects of surrounding land use and water depth on seagrass dynamics with attention to a catastrophic algal bloom. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12791


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