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


Your say on special protection for marine birds - Scottish Natural Heritage

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is inviting views on plans to protect some of our most important coastal areas for marine birds.

A public consultation launched today (Monday) by SNH on behalf of Scottish Government is asking people to comment on a suite of proposed Special Protection Areas (pSPAs).

The 10 pSPAs are spread around Scotland’s coast at locations including the Moray Firth, Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides. The proposals are designed to help a wide range of marine bird species, by protecting their important areas such as foraging grounds and places where they roost. Species set to benefit include Sandwich terns and little tern, black-throated, great northern and red-throated divers, Slavonian grebe, velvet scoter, red-breasted merganser and European shag.

RSPB Scotland responds to launch of marine Special Protection Areas consultation


Rare dormice return to Yorkshire Dales National Park – People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES)

Wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority released 38 rare hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) into an undisclosed woodland location near Aysgarth in the National Park in an attempt to stem the decline of the species.

dormouse-in-hand-square-ptes-04Image: PTES

Once a familiar sight throughout much of England and Wales, over the past 100 years dormice have suffered from the loss of woodlands and hedgerows, as well as changes to traditional countryside management practices. As a result, the species is now rare and vulnerable to extinction.

The reintroduction follows a similar event in 2008, when dormice returned to a nearby woodland after a century’s absence from the Yorkshire Dales.

PTES has worked in partnership with the National Park Authority and Bolton Estate to carefully select a suitable new site near the 2008 location which will provide the best chances for the long-term survival of the species.

Ian White, Dormouse Officer at PTES explains: “The two reintroduction sites are close enough that the separate dormice populations will eventually be able to meet up and breed, creating a self-sustaining population. In addition, the programme of habitat management in the area will have great benefits for a number of other species too such as birds and bats.”


£1m HLF support to protect Welsh environments - HLF

Gilfach Nature ReserveWales’s natural landscape has long been regarded a thing of beauty to be treasured. It does however need constant care, and thanks to National Lottery players over 3,000 volunteers will be recruited to look after it as part of two new initiatives announced today (Monday 4 July).

Gilfach Nature Reserve (HLF)

Tasked with improving our hedgerows, collecting valuable habitat information and encouraging young people to take an interest in nature, the projects will share close to £1million and between them will span the length and breadth of the country – from Anglesey to Monmouthshire, Flint to Pembrokeshire.

Richard Bellamy, Head of HLF in Wales, explains what he hopes funding more projects like these in Wales will achieve: “Coming hot on the heels of Wales Biodiversity Week these fantastic projects are looking to provide a better place for us to inhabit in Wales, by protecting our threatened species, plants and natural features and inviting people to join in with that process.”

“When people think of what ‘heritage’ means, they often think of grand old buildings like castles and rolling estates. But Wales is lucky enough to also encompass some beautiful landscapes and natural environments that are home to rare and precious species. By funding natural heritage projects like The Long Forest and Exploring Gilfach, we hope more people will realise that looking after our landscape – perhaps starting in our very own back gardens – is just as important.”


Sad news for spoon-billed sandpipers – Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

These are the only critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper chicks ever bred in captivity, but sadly neither survived for more than 60 hours. Each weighed only a few grammes and was barely bigger than a bumble bee.

(c) Ben Cherry / WWT(c) Ben Cherry / WWT

Seven eggs were laid in total at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, of which only two were fertile. The first chick hatched on Saturday 2 July and it became clear quite soon that it wasn’t well and nothing could be done. The second chick hatched on Sunday 3 July and put up a brave effort; it filled everyone’s ears with lots of chirrupy noise and brought smiles to everyone as it seemed to be thriving and developing well. But despite 24 hour expert care, on the afternoon of Tuesday 5 July its health suddenly deteriorated and it slipped away within a couple of hours.

The causes of death aren’t yet known. A specialist post mortem will be undertaken for both chicks.

The deaths are particularly upsetting for the team at WWT because it has taken three years of encouragement for 23-strong captive flock at Slimbridge to attempt to breed at all. This has huge implications for the species as a whole, because only around 200 pairs survive in the wild and the purpose of the Slimbridge flock is to create a captive “ark” of breeding birds to keep the species alive if attempts to stop the bird going extinct in the wild aren’t successful.



Double first for Britain as rare chicks hatch - RSPB

Two tiny chicks have made history this week when they hatched from their eggs on an RSPB Scotland nature reserve.

There was excitement last month when the world’s smallest species of gull was confirmed to be nesting in Scotland for the first time and Britain for only the sixth time, however, this has been eclipsed by the news that the eggs have successfully hatched, with at least two chicks being spotted.

This is the first record of little gull chicks hatching in Britain, so everyone will be on tenterhooks for the next few weeks before they are big enough to take their first flight. Not that the two youngsters will be aware of the weight of expectation on their shoulders.

It seems that their choice of nesting area at RSPB Scotland’s Loch of Strathbeg nature reserve may have helped so far. The pair has set up home on the tern nesting island which along with the protection provided by being an island, is inside a fence designed to keep out ground predators. Add to this 130 pairs of feisty common tern parents that share the island and work together to drive off any intruders that they see as a threat and the young gulls should be relatively safe.


Natural England is set to double its number of apprentices – Natural England

Increased apprenticeship opportunities set to inspire more people to take up a career in the environmental sector.

Former Natural England apprentice and now Kingley Vale NNR Reserve Manager, surveying bees and butterflies on the Kingley Vale NNR © Steve WalkerFormer Natural England apprentice and now Kingley Vale NNR Reserve Manager, surveying bees and butterflies on the Kingley Vale NNR © Steve Walker

Chief Executive James Cross announced the commitment during a visit to the Humberhead Peatlands National Nature Reserve today (6 July) when he also had the chance to meet current apprentices and get involved in an important restoration project.

Natural England has 18 apprentices – and this is set to double by the end of the year.

Our apprentices currently range in age from their early 20s to their mid-40s, and backgrounds include ex-forces, arboriculture and art students.

The apprentices are currently funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Natural England. Through their 12 to 18 month journey with Natural England, they pick up essential skills as well as qualifications, such as level 2 Diplomas in environmental conservation or customer service qualifications. Of those who have completed apprenticeships this year, some have found roles with Natural England, and others at the National Trust and Lost Gardens of Heligan.


Turtle Dove population in a tailspin - BTO

The latest Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report published today (Thursday 7 July) has revealed that Turtle Dove numbers have hit a new low, declining by 93% since 1994. This trend is mirrored across Europe, with a decline of 78% between 1980 and 2013.

Jill Pakenham (BTO)Jill Pakenham (BTO)

Turtle Doves spend the winter in West Africa, arriving back to the UK in April to breed. Once in the UK, they prefer areas of bare ground with open water and mature scrub areas in which to nest, with a plentiful supply of seed to feed their young.  Before the BBS began in 1994, changes in land management had already impacted the population greatly and the species has continued to decline to this day. The highest remaining breeding densities occur in eastern and southern England, and they have now disappeared from large areas of the country.
One cause for this decline is thought to be the lack of seed from arable plants, which historically formed the bulk of Turtle Dove diet during the breeding season, resulting in a much shorter breeding season with fewer nesting attempts. The trichomonosis parasite, better known for driving Greenfinch declines, has also been recorded in a high proportion of Turtle Doves in recent years and may be having an impact.
Hunting pressures during the Turtle Dove’s migration through southern Europe is thought to impact on the population, although assessing the scale of this effect is difficult because the relevant data on the number of birds being killed is hard to come by. Further pressures in their wintering grounds of West Africa are also thought to be potential factors behind the decline, with changes in both climate and land-use reducing over-winter food availability.


Dive in to Scotland’s first Snorkel Trail – Scottish Wildlife Trust

Scotland’s first snorkel trail has been created in the north west Highlands by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as part of its Living Seas programme, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

The self-led North West Highlands Snorkel Trail features nine beaches and bays on the coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland, where beginner and advanced snorkellers can dive down to see the impressive variety of Scotland’s marine life. 

One of the snorkel trail sites is on the island of Tanera Mor © Noel HawkinsOne of the snorkel trail sites is on the island of Tanera Mor © Noel Hawkins

Highlighted locations include Tanera Mor in the Summer Isles, Camusnagaul and Achmelvich Bay. Marine life that can be seen at the locations includes dogfish, barrel jellyfish and sea urchins.

Noel Hawkins, Living Seas Communities Officer, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “The coast of Wester Ross and Sutherland features some fantastic sheltered headlands and beaches that are great places for snorkelling. The new trail is self-led, but we are hoping to establish a training programme for local people to become qualified snorkel instructors, and also a snorkel club at the local leisure centre to introduce younger members of the community to snorkelling and their local marine environment.

“Scotland needs healthy living seas that can adapt to climate change. The snorkel trail will encourage more people to explore the fragile habitats below the waves and the marine life they support, whilst also helping to raise awareness of the need to protect them.”


Open Up Countryside Paths For People On Bikes Say Outdoor Groups – British Cycling

British Cycling, a host of outdoor recreation organisations and celebrity cyclists have today written open letters to environment secretary Liz Image: British Cycling Truss and Welsh environment secretary Lesley Griffiths calling for people on bikes to have responsible access to more public paths in the England and Wales countryside.

Image: British Cycling

Due to archaic public access and rights of way laws, it is currently illegal for people on bikes to access the majority of the countryside in England and Wales.

At present, if you choose to ride a bike you only have access to less than a third of the 140,000 miles of public paths. There is also little access to the three million acres of Open Access Land or the 2,800 miles of newly created coastal access. Meanwhile, if you are on foot you have free and open access to all of this land.

A British Cycling commissioned poll by YouGov has today revealed that almost two-thirds of people do not know that they are not allowed to cycle on the majority of public paths in the countryside. The majority of people also believe they should be allowed to cycle on them.

Record-breaking gannet arrives home – The Wildlife Trusts

Map showing record-breaking flight path

Map showing record-breaking flight path

Marathon flight highlights potential impact of proposed off-shore wind farms

A Northern Gannet from Alderney arrived home yesterday evening (Wednesday) from a foraging trip which is the longest ever recorded for an adult of its kind. Normally, gannets fly between 300-500km on a fishing expedition - but this one travelled 2,700km all the way from Alderney in the Channel Islands, up the English Channel, across the North Sea to Scandinavian waters – and back again. The intrepid gannet left Alderney on 30th June - see map showing Cosmo’s route.

Named Cosmo by the Alderney sponsor who paid for its tag, the gannet flew a total distance of over 2,700km in under a week, making this – to the knowledge of all the experts involved - the longest Northern Gannet foraging trip on record.

Cosmo’s unexpected marathon foray into Scandinavian waters has been monitored by Alderney Wildlife Trust’s Track-a-Gannet (T.A.G) project.


App wins Heritage Lottery Fund support – Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s smartphone app wins Heritage Lottery Fund supportHebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s smartphone app wins Heritage Lottery Fund support

A new smartphone app allowing whale-watch operators and other seafarers to record sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises is to be launched next year by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, thanks to an award of more than £79,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

The innovative project will allow wildlife tour operators and enthusiasts to systematically record the locations of marine mammals using technology available in their pocket. The app will work at sea without phone reception as it will rely on GPS only, uploading data once internet coverage is available.

Alongside the app development, a programme of free training events and workshops for the public will be held throughout the west of Scotland to train volunteers how to identify and record marine wildlife.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Dr Lauren Hartny-Mills said: “We are absolutely thrilled to have received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and are confident the project will deliver much needed long-term monitoring data, as well as engaging local mariners with the amazing wildlife that the west of Scotland has to offer.”


Is there a future for the small family farm in the UK? – The Prince’s Countryside Fund

A major new independent study commissioned by The Prince’s Countryside Fund into the future of small family farms across the UK, has revealed a steep decline in numbers since the beginning of the century.

image: Prince's Countryside Fund

Image: Prince's Countryside Fund

Over the last two or three decades, small family farms have experienced profound change. The report set out to explore the future for these farms by identifying the pace of change, investigating ways in which they might improve performance and viability as well as putting forward proposals for improvements to farm management, adjusting policies and bringing in new blood.

Overseen by Professor Michael Winter, a rural policy specialist and rural social scientist at the University of Exeter, the report revealed a complex pattern of change with the number of farms declining by half and showed many smaller farms had been consolidated into expanding larger farms.

One of the largest risks was identified as farm succession. Without the correct retirement planning and restructuring in place, it is claimed it will make it more difficult for the ‘older generation to step back’, yet it confirms that the ‘most profitable farms are those most likely to have a successor, regardless of size’.


Award for Schools Environment Project - WWT

Hollickwood Primary School children get planting! (WWT)Hollickwood Primary School children get planting! (WWT)

A project in which schoolchildren help to reduce flooding and pollution, while learning about wildlife, has won a major national environmental award.

The project was run across 10 schools in North London by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), supported by Thames Water and the Environment Agency.

At each school, natural features have been created to show how wetlands slow down and store heavy rainfall to relieve flooding, and clean the water by filtering it. The features, including bog gardens and ponds, also act as hands-on places to learn about nature and the water cycle.

The project won the Best Practice for Innovation Award at the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) 2016 Awards.

WWT’s Head of Community Working Wetlands, Andy Graham said: “The great thing about this award is that it’s not just about WWT, Thames Water and Environment Agency who are names you’d expect to see at these awards. It’s also about all the schoolchildren, teachers and parents who helped to plant the bog gardens and ponds, and the teachers who use them every year to show children how nature helps to protect us all from floods and pollution. Their enthusiasm has brought our project to life. I’m very proud for all of them.”


Causes and consequences of spatial variation in Willow Warbler sex ratios - BTO

New BTO research shows a recent imbalance in Willow Warbler sex ratios, with 60% of adult birds being male. Such a skewed ratio has implications for the conservation of this migrant species.

Willow Warbler (Jill Pakenham)Willow Warbler (Jill Pakenham)

Male-biased sex ratios have been documented in a number of bird species, in particular those whose breeding populations are small or in decline. Various reasons have been put forward for why the sex ratio in a population should move away from one-to-one, with sex-related differences in mortality or dispersal behaviour two of the most likely. Understanding which of these factors are important, particularly in the context of why it is that small and/or declining populations show more strongly skewed sex ratios, has important consequences for conservation.

One way to establish the importance of potential sex-related differences in mortality, recruitment (the number of young that survive and join the breeding population) and dispersal for small populations is to look at a single species. This should be a species for which we have good information on the local variation in abundance across a wider spatial scale. Using information from the Constant Effort Site Scheme (CES) and the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), a new BTO study has looked at Willow Warbler – a summer migrant, which winters in Africa and for which there are strong regional differences in both abundance and population trend here in Britain.

Read the paper here: Morrison, C. A., Robinson, R. A., Clark, J. A. & Gill, J. A. (2016) Causes and consequences of spatial variation in sex ratios in a declining bird species. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12556


Scientific publications

Casdo-Coy, N., Martinez-Garcia, E., Sanchez-Jerez, P. & Sanz-Lazaro, C. (2016) Mollusc-shell debris can mitigate the deleterious effects of organic pollution on marine sediments. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12748


Burgas, D., Juutinen, A. & Byholm, P. (2016) The cost-effectiveness of using raptor nest sites to identify areas with high species richness of other taxa. Ecological Indicators. DOI:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.06.052


Looy, K. V., Lejeun, M. & Verbeke, W. (2016) Indicators and mechanisms of stability and resilience to climatic and landscape changes in a remnant calcareous grassland. Ecological Indicators. doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.06.036


Glen, E., Price, E. A. C., Caporn, S. J. M., Carroll, J. A., Jones, L. M. & Scott, R. (2016) Evaluation of topsoil inversion in U.K. habitat creation and restoration schemes. Restoration Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/rec.12403


Mitchell, M. G. E., Wu, D., Johansen, K., Maron, M., McAlpine, C. & Rhodes, J. R. (2016) Landscape structure influences urban vegetation vertical structure. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12741 


Robinson, B. S., Inger, R., Crowley, S. L. & Gaston, K. J. (2016) Weeds on the web: conflicting management advice about an invasive non-native plant. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12712


Wood, T. J., Holand, J. M. & Goulson, D. (2016) Providing foraging resources for solitary bees on farmland: current schemes for pollinators benefit a limited suite of species. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12718


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