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


Protection for harbour porpoise – Scottish Government

Europe’s largest special area of conservation announced.

Harbour porpoise will become the latest species to receive increased protection in Scotland under a new conservation area.  Scotland’s first Special Area of Conservation (SAC) has been created in the Inner Hebrides and Minches SAC on the West of Scotland is now Europe’s largest for this species.  The area will help maintain the favourable conservation status of harbour porpoise by providing protection to them and the habitats that support them in Scottish waters. It will fulfil the Scottish Government legal obligation to protect porpoises in our seas over and above the European Protected Species (EPS) status.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment Roseanna Cunningham said: “I am pleased to designate Scotland’s first harbour porpoise SAC. This will help maintain the favourable conservation status and provide protection to the species and their habitats. Work to develop a species conservation strategy and ensuring appropriate management, at site level now begins. Stakeholder engagement will be essential during this process and I encourage everyone with an interest to participate.”


Research Note explores issues of converting conifers to native woodland – Forest Research

Increasing the area of native woodlands, including the conversion of non-native conifer woodland to native woodland, where appropriate, is an aim of the UK Forestry Standard Guidelines on Biodiversity.

Now a new Research Note from the Forestry Commission explores the benefits and drawbacks of converting non-native planted woodlands to native woodlands, and evaluates woodland owners’ and managers’ attitudes towards, and experiences of, conversion.

The Research Note reports that attitudes and experiences vary according to owners' objectives. Managers whose primary objective is conservation are prepared to invest time and resources converting their woodlands. However, those whose primary objective is timber production are reluctant to pay for conversion because they can be concerned that it will reduce productivity, especially where competition, herbivory and biosecurity threats to native tree species are a potential issue.

The note also reports that it is unclear how much conversion is being implemented, what the motivations might be, or how it is achieved in practice. The level of effort and cost required for conversion varies with local site conditions and/or the proximity of native woodland from which colonisation processes can occur.

Read the Research Note: Converting planted non-native conifer to native woodlands: a review of the benefits, drawbacks and experience in Britain (PDF)


Washing clothes releases thousands of microplastic particles into environment, study shows – University of Plymouth

An average washing load could release 137,951 fibres from polyester-cotton blend fabric, 496,030 fibres from polyester and 728,789 from acrylic

More than 700,000 microscopic fibres could be released into waste water during each use of a domestic washing machine, with many of them likely to pass through sewage treatment and into the environment, according to new research.

A study by Plymouth University examined the mass, abundance and size of fibres present in waste effluent following washes of synthetic fabrics at standard temperatures of 30˚C and 40˚C.

It found hundreds of thousands of tiny synthetic particles could be released in each wash, confirming earlier work at Plymouth University that the washing of clothes is a major source of microscopic fibres within the aquatic environment.

The research, published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, was led by PhD student Imogen Napper in conjunction with Professor Richard Thompson, who is a leading international expert on microplastics and marine debris having worked in the field for more than 20 years.

In the paper, the authors say: “The quantity of microplastic in the environment is expected to increase over the next few decades, and there are concerns about the potential for it to have harmful effects if ingested. But while the release of tiny fibres as a result of washing textiles has been widely suggested as a potential source, there has been little quantitative research on its relevant importance, or on the factors that might influence such discharges. That was the focus of our research.”


Learning Away launch #BrilliantResidentials campaign – Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council (FSC) is part of a new campaign which has been launched today to encourage schools to provide more residential experiences for children and young people of all ages and from all backgrounds.

Image: FSC

The #BrilliantResidentials campaign will promote and champion school trips with an overnight stay and disseminate the compelling findings of the Learning Away programme, which has produced overwhelming evidence about the numerous positive impacts a residential experience can have on pupils, staff and the wider school community. 

Image: FSC

 Through its action research, spanning five years, the Learning Away programme developed 10 guiding principles which can transform residentials into highly effective, brilliant residentials. These principles include: residentials being led by teachers; co-designed with students; fully integrated into the curriculum; and affordable for all. If delivered in this way, residentials can have a huge impact on schools, teachers and on children and young people of all ages, improving their: resilience; achievement; relationships; and engagement with learning.

Learning Away was founded and initially developed by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and is now led by a consortium of organisations, including Field Studies Council, united in their commitment to ensure more young people have access to high-quality brilliant residential learning experiences. 
The campaign calls upon schools, teachers, parents, pupils, residential providers, Initial Teacher Education providers, youth groups and all those concerned with the development of young people to pledge to work together to provide more and higher quality #BrilliantResidentials.  


RSPB and local farmers work together to save the curlew - RSPB

Image: Steve RoundThanks to enormous support from local farmers, volunteers and the generosity of the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2), the RSPB has successfully completed a pilot project to help the curlew, a threatened and secretive wading bird which makes its home in farmland across the Upper Thames River Valleys.

Image: Steve Round

The curlew is the largest European wading bird, often found on winter estuaries or in summer meadows and recognisable by its long, down-curved bill, brown upperparts, long legs and evocative call. But you’ll be lucky if you see one – they are highly secretive birds, hiding their nests in long grass. And according to surveys of wading birds across the Upper Thames River Valleys, spotting a curlew could get even harder, as breeding curlew have declined by 51% between 2005 and 2015, in line with the national trend.

Fortunately, the area still managed to attract more than 40 pairs over the last 10 years, making the river valleys of Oxfordshire one of the most important areas for this species in southern England.

In April 2016, the RSPB was delighted to receive funding from TOE2 through the Landfill Communities fund for a new pilot project to discover more about the breeding habits of this enigmatic bird, and the possible reasons behind its decline. The support from local farmers was vital to the success of the project, as most curlew nesting sites are found on farmland.

Every week over the spring and early summer, volunteers visited farms and nature reserves where curlew were thought to live, gradually identifying the birds’ territories and recording their behaviour. Licensed RSPB staff then used this information to help locate the hidden nests, taking detailed measurements and installing temperature sensors to establish which nests were warm (and successful) and which were cold (and had failed). At least three of the six monitored nests seem to have hatched successfully, and recent surveying suggests that some of the young chicks have already managed to fledge and become independent of their parents. 

Are suburban garden ponds spreading lethal frog disease? - ZSL

UK study suggests human activity may be helping fuel ranavirus outbreak

Keen gardeners stocking their domestic ponds with exotic or wild aquatic species could be inadvertently fuelling the rapid spread of the lethally infectious frog disease ranavirus, according to new research led by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Queen Mary University of London.

 Urban Frog ©Richard Nichols Urban Frog ©Richard Nichols

The research – the most comprehensive investigation into the pathogen’s spread across UK amphibian populations to date – was carried out alongside UCL and Herpetofauna Consultants International (HCI), and sheds new light on how ranavirus managed to spread so quickly across the UK in recent decades.  

While the infection can arrive with the natural movement of amphibians, the expansion of its range appears to have been exacerbated by human transfers of infectious material between their own garden ponds, or direct from a common source such as commercial aquatics retailers.   

The study found that virulent viruses have been introduced to the UK at least twice, with human interventions combining with natural amphibian dispersal to facilitate a rapid invasion. The risk of disease was higher in areas of higher human density, while a corresponding reduction in risk in less populated areas suggests that human population density is a more significant predictor of disease spread than other factors like the local climate.   

Data analysis also indicated that fewer disease outbreaks occurred in less affluent neighbourhoods, raising the possibility that the fashion for introducing exotic or wild animals into ornamental ponds and other water features in British suburbs may be inadvertently fuelling the pathogen’s spread.  

Commenting on the study, lead author Dr Stephen J. Price from QMUL/ZSL/UCL said: “Ranavirus is one of the most serious health threats currently facing the UK’s amphibian population, so our findings that humans seem to have helped move the virus around, facilitating its rapid spread, could be translated into some straightforward ways to manage the risk of disease outbreaks.


Grassroots initiative helps young people champion nature – Ulster Wildlife Trust

The future’s bright for Northern Ireland’s young people and wildlife thanks to a brand new initiative led by Ulster Wildlife – the Grassroots Challenge.

The £1m programme is funded by the Big Lottery Fund as part of the Our Bright Future programme. It will see over 5,000 young people equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to give nature a helping hand in their local communities, through the delivery of ‘wild idea’ projects.

From transforming neglected local spaces into havens for wildlife and people, to inspiring adults and children alike with nature through events and surveys in their neighbourhoods, the Grassroots Challenge will unleash the potential of young people through Young Farmers’ Clubs, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and special schools

Minister McIlveen joins Kristina McKeag to launch Grassroots Challenge (image: Ulster Wildlife Trust)Minister McIlveen joins Kristina McKeag to launch Grassroots Challenge (image: Ulster Wildlife Trust)

As well developing the skills needed to become environmental leaders, young people also have the opportunity to work towards an accredited environmental qualification, improve their employment prospects, obtain eco-club status, and learn how to influence decisions at local and regional levels, alongside partners LANTRA, Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and NI Environment Link.

Speaking at the launch of the Grassroots Challenge in Stormont today, Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Michelle McIlveen MLA said: “I am delighted to support this innovative movement for change which focuses on developing young people’s employability and well-being through positive action for our environment. Young people are the leaders of tomorrow. By equipping them with environmental skills and knowledge to improve the places that are important to them, and to influence decisions that shape their surroundings, our natural and built environment and local communities will benefit from significant and lasting change.”

Find out more at www.ulsterwildlife.org/grassroots


 Big data analysis shows weak link between badgers and cattle for TB transmission - Queen Mary University of London

The largest simulation to date of the numbers of cattle and badgers infected with tuberculosis (TB) casts serious doubts about the extent to which badgers cause TB in cattle, according to research from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).  

Using a mathematical model that combines a huge number of cattle and badgers that have TB, the researchers were able to quantify the relationship between the two animals and use a big data approach to show that the route of infection for cattle is from other cattle rather than from other species. Reciprocally, badgers are mainly infected by other infected badgers.

“If badgers are causing TB in cattle, we would see a similar pattern of infection in both species, however our analysis reveals that this isn’t the case and could have implications for a strategy to vaccinate badgers, as an efficient control strategy if policymakers were to pursue this option,” said lead author Dr Aristides Moustakas from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

Bovine TB poses serious issues for the farming industry in particular, as cattle found to be TB positive need to be killed and their products may not be sold, which has financial implications. The modelling exercise in this new research paper follows over a million cattle and 50,000 badgers over different scenarios to understand how the movement of one species affects the transmission of TB in the other.

Dr Moustakas adds: “There is little geographical overlap between farms with infected cattle and setts with infected badgers, and cycles of infections between the two species are not synchronised. Also, the spatial aggregation pattern of TB in cattle and badgers is different – in badgers, we find that the disease is found in clusters whereas in cattle the disease is much more random and dispersed.” 

Access the paper: ‘A big-data spatial, temporal and network analysis of bovine tuberculosis between wildlife (badgers) and cattle’ by A. Moustakas and M.R. Evans is published in the journal Stochastic Environmental Research and Risk Assessment.


New evidence shows migrating birds are staying in UK longer – University of Aberdeen

Migrating birds like Swallows and House Martins are increasingly reluctant to leave the UK and return to Africa

A Willow Warbler (image: University of Aberdeen)A Willow Warbler (image: University of Aberdeen)

A collaboration involving scientists from the University of Aberdeen and the Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust has found that  while some early migrating birds are arriving and departing earlier each year, late migrating individuals are actually departing much later.

Research from the Fair Isle Migration Project published in the leading international science journal, Global Change Biology, also shows that the process of arrival and departure is taking much longer so that instead of quickly disappearing at the end of the summer some birds can be seen leaving over the course of several weeks.

However, the timing of spring and autumn migration was found not to be closely linked.  In any given year, migrant birds that arrive at their breeding grounds early in spring might be expected to depart early in autumn too, as soon as their chicks have fledged. But migration timing in consecutive seasons occurred independently ― birds that migrated early in spring did not consistently migrate early in the following autumn. Some species are staying for longer each year, apparently taking advantage of longer, warmer summers in Europe, and may even be nesting more often.

The study used daily observations of migrant birds from Fair Isle Bird Observatory, Scotland, to comprehensively measure how spring and autumn migration timing has changed over 60 years.

Access the publication: Miles, W. T. S., Bolton, M., Davis, P., Dennis, R., Broad, R., Robertson, I., Riddiford, N. J., Harvey, P. V., Riddington, R., Shaw, D. N., Parnaby, D. and Reid, J. M. (2016), Quantifying full phenological event distributions reveals simultaneous advances, temporal stability and delays in spring and autumn migration timing in long-distance migratory birds. Glob Change Biol. doi:10.1111/gcb.13486


2020 vision for Scotland’s biodiversity targets – Scottish Natural Heritage

Scotland is well placed to meet its 2020 targets to improve its biodiversity, according to a first-year report of an ambitious plan to improve nature across Scotland, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The report is the first annual report on the progress of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: a Route Map to 2020. SNH has prepared the report as part of their lead role to co-ordinate and champion the strategy on behalf of Scottish Government

Achievements include restoring peatlands throughout Scotland in almost twice the area set for the 2020 target – crucial work to battle the effects of climate change, among other things – and Manx shearwaters and storm petrels being recorded on the Shiant islands for the first time in recent years.

Two 2020 targets have already been exceeded: the area of Scotland’s seas now safeguarded for nature as part of the marine protected area network now stands at 16%, and 80% of our important nature sites on land, and in rivers and lochs are in good condition.  

In the first year, nearly three-quarters of the Biodiversity 2020 projects are either on-track or – as with restoring peatland and protecting special places – exceeding targets. Work restoring pearl mussels, wild cats, red squirrels, golden eagles and other key aspects of Scotland’s wild life are also making good progress. Projects are also providing lots of opportunities for people to get close to nature, improving their physical and mental health through recreation, environmental volunteering and outdoor learning.

Areas where work needs to be done to reach the 2020 targets include expanding and restoring our native woodland through increasing the rate of new planting and helping it recover naturally by improving deer management planning. A SNH report on deer management, to be published in October, will also provide a more detailed insight into the issues faced in increasing the rate of natural regeneration. Some progress has already been made though: an example cited in the report is the 1,000 hectares of Caledonian pinewoods recovering at Glenmore Forest in Strathspey – which has also increased the number of capercaillie in the area. 

Find out more here and download First annual report on Biodiversity Route Map to 2020  (PDF)


Trust digs deep to stem sector’s skills shortage in heritage horticulture – National Trust

 The National Trust has announced plans to step-up its commitment to heritage horticulture with the launch of its new Heritage Gardening Programme.

The programme will for the first time offer comprehensive training for all of the conservation charity’s gardening roles.From volunteer gardeners and trainees to garden managers, it will put in place a formal training structure to provide development opportunities within the organisation. Training will largely be internally-led through practical courses, structured training completed in the workplace and e-learning platforms. To complement the training, internal bursaries will be made available to allow gardeners to travel to other properties, when needed, in order to acquire new skills. A key part of the programme will be the launch of Heritage Skills Passports, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The passports will provide volunteers and gardeners with the opportunity to acquire a wide range of horticultural skills by tracking the user’s development and linking to available training courses.

Mike Calnan, the National Trust’s head of gardens, said: “The National Trust’s Heritage Gardening Programme is a response to the sector’s skills shortage, particularly in heritage gardening. “It offers more entry points into the sector, more opportunities for staff to share their knowledge with colleagues and for the Trust to develop the skills we need in order to look after the 240 heritage gardens in our care.”


Commission refers the United Kingdom to the Court over its failure to protect marine species - European Commission

UK in Court over failure to protect harbour porpoise in UK waters.

The European Commission is taking the United Kingdom to the Court of Justice of the EU for its failure to propose sites for the protection of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena), a marine mammal regularly found in UK waters.

EU legislation on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora requires Member States to propose a list of sites for a number of species and habitat types, ensuring their protection from threats which could seriously harm them and to maintain and restore them in a favourable status in the whole of the EU by taking the conservation measures needed.

Due to the unfavourable status of the harbour porpoises in the EU, 13 Member States, other than the UK, have designated sites for its protection in about 200 Natura 2000 sites. The UK has so far formally proposed only one small site in Northern Ireland (the Skerries and Causeway Special Area of Conservation) and one site in Scotland (the Inner Hebrides and Minches Special Area of Conservation).

As the UK has an extensive marine area, it has a particular responsibility for the protection of this species. The Commission has repeatedly urged the British authorities to fulfil their key obligations for the conservation of the species, as other Member States have done already.

Today's(29/9)  action follows a letter of formal notice sent to the UK government in June 2013 and a reasoned opinion sent in October 2014. While the UK has recently conducted a public consultation on a number of potential sites in English and Welsh waters and this month formally proposed one site in Scottish waters, more needs to be done. The continued failure to propose and designate sufficient sites leaves the areas where the species occurs in greatest densities without the protection required. This refers in particular to the requirement to carry out adequate assessments of potentially damaging developments or activities, such as from offshore wind farm construction, oil and gas exploration and fishing.


Fields in Trust submit evidence to Future of Public Parks Inquiry

Parks and open spaces are arguably the most universal of all public services.

They are used by the entire community from pre-school children through to retired adults. Green space is a defining part of our local landscapes and these community spaces are places to enjoy life experiences, whether that's reaching a personal sporting milestone, teaching grandchildren to cycle, engaging with nature, having a first kiss or simply walking a much loved dog. A Fields in Trust survey from 2015 indicated that nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) use their local park at least twice a week.

Yet unlike education or libraries, parks are a discretionary service. Councils have no statutory duty to provide these facilities. There is no requirement to consult with local planning authorities about their disposal and no national audit of green space is kept making it difficult to track the losses of these vital assets. Investment on parks has decreased and maintenance and upkeep has been reduced; local authority spending on open spaces fell by 14% between 2010 and 2014.

In summary our submission calls for a change the way public green space is conceived, not as a drain on spending that requires a considerable amount of money to maintain - but rather as an asset which can be deployed to achieve longer term savings and happier healthier more connected communities.


New report calls for 48 new protected areas at sea – Wildlife Trusts 

Call to secure the missing gaps in our Marine Conservation Zone network.

Today (30/9), The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report, ‘The case for more Marine Conservation Zones.’ The report identifies 48 areas within English waters that, if designated, will complete an ecologically coherent network of special places where habitats and wildlife can flourish to safeguard healthy and productive seas for the future.

White-beaked dolphins © Martin KitchingWhite-beaked dolphins © Martin Kitching

The report is published in advance of the government’s plans to announce a third and final phase of Marine Conservation Zones – the government plans to consult the public in 2017 and designate the chosen zones in 2018. The report will be presented to the environment minister, Therese Coffey.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, says: “This is an unprecedented opportunity to create an effective network of protected areas at sea. If the government lives up to its stated commitments such a network would put us at the forefront of worldwide marine conservation. Designating these 48 wild havens in England as Marine Conservation Zones would go some way to guaranteeing a future for the extraordinarily diverse natural landscapes that exist beneath the waves off our coast. The government designated 50 zones in the first two phases. Unfortunately, this does not provide us with the really comprehensive network needed to enable marine wildlife to thrive once more. We need a sensible number, in the best locations and with the right degree of connectivity between areas. We hope that the government will aim high and hit the 48 mark for this last phase.”

The 48 areas proposed by The Wildlife Trusts will be the final gap-fillers in the ‘blue belt’ and vary from sea grass beds in the south, which provide protected areas for our two species of seahorse, to deep sea mud, brimming with burrowing animals including sea pens and the incredibly long-lived ocean quahog, a clam species which can live up to 500 years.

Read the report The case for more Marine Conservation Zones (PDF)

You can find more information about the individual sites proposed within this report on the Trust's webpages here.


Water rail recorded breeding at Aberdeenshire reserve – Scottish Wildlife Trust

Juvenile water rail. © Nick LittlewoodJuvenile water rail. © Nick Littlewood

One of the nation’s most elusive wading birds has been confirmed to be breeding at Red Moss of Netherley Wildlife Reserve for the first time.

Reserve Wardens Nick Littlewood and Rose Toney captured images of adult and juvenile water rails on several areas of the reserve over the summer using a remote camera and a box baited with juicy mealworms.

 Nick Littlewood said: “Water rails are far more often heard than seen. They have been heard calling at the reserve for many years but until now there was no concrete evidence they were breeding. We set up a box baited with meal worms with a remote wildlife camera. Over the summer rails were frequent visitors to our camera, including a number of black, fluffy chicks which started to visit from early July. We think that there were at least two breeding pairs.”


 New report on river restoration and biodiversity launched – James Hutton Institute

A new report on river restoration and biodiversity, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and by Scotland's Centre of Expertise for Waters (CREW), describes the importance of rivers in the UK and Ireland for biodiversity, summarises the damage that river habitats have sustained over many decades, and discusses ways in which restoration can bring benefits both to wildlife and to human society.

The publication is aimed at regulatory bodies, conservation organisations, NGOs and others and aims to bridge the gap between a scientific understanding of rivers and river processes, and its practical application in restoring river habitats.

Susan Davies, Director of Conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “Healthy rivers form important ecological corridors through our landscapes and are among our richest habitats for wildlife. They provide a range of essential services for society such as drinking water, flood regulation, renewable energy and recreation. The IUCN National Committee UK River Restoration and Biodiversity project is an excellent collaboration and this new report provides a blueprint for using minimal intervention and more cost-effective techniques to restore the natural processes of river systems in the UK and Ireland. Innovative restoration projects on systems including the Eddleston Water and River Tolka clearly demonstrate how people and wildlife can benefit. It is now vital that we follow these examples by working at a catchment scale to reduce pressures, reverse past damage, and restore river systems for the future.” 

The report "River restoration and biodiversity" is available for download from the CREW website.


Scientific Publication

Toomey, A. H., Knight, A. T. and Barlow, J. (2016), Navigating the Space Between Research and Implementation in Conservation. CONSERVATION LETTERS. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/conl.12315


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