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


White-tailed eagles are flourishing on the National Forest Estate – Forestry Commission Scotland

Credit: Graeme FindlayWe are proud that our forest management helps wildlife species to flourish. One of our biggest success stories is the white-tailed eagle, once extinct in Scotland but now living here again after successful re-introduction programmes. The west coast releases and the success of the birds in places such as Mull, Skye and Argyll has been a fantastic success story but the East of Scotland project is perhaps a little less well known.

The East Scotland Sea Eagle Project brought chicks over from Norway to Fife between 2007 and 2012, and we are now seeing the released birds produce their own chicks.

Credit: Graeme Findlay

Together with partners like Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB Scotland, we protect forest areas that are part of the eagles' territories, and make sure their nesting sites aren't disturbed.

There are now 100 pairs of white-tailed eagles living across Scotland. One of the latest eaglets to hatch in a Fife woodland has been tagged and ringed and is now taking its first flights away from the nest.


Britain’s leading conservation organisations call on the Government to grasp a better future for the countryside – The Wildlife Trusts

Britain’s largest nature organisations have today (1/10) launched their joint vision for a post-Brexit environment, farming and rural policy.

credit: Paul Harris / 2020vision© Paul Harris/2020VISION

WWF-UK, National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB are calling for:

  • A new policy for the countryside - UK Governments to work together to replace the CAP with policies that deliver high environmental standards for land management across the UK
  • The creation of an independent Policy Commission - to examine a future policy for the environment, farming and rural development and encourage an inclusive and engaging public debate
  • A joined up approach between Government policies and plans for farming and the environment - Any future environment, farming and rural development policy must work together with the Westminster Government’s 25 Year Plan for the Environment
  • Continuation of agri-environment schemes - All existing agri-environment schemes should be kept open until a replacement policy is fully operational.

The conservation organisations are calling on Government to turn leaving the European Union into an opportunity to create a countryside richer in nature, by supporting sustainable farming that not only produces great food but also rewards farmers for protecting and restoring the farmed environment.

A healthy countryside is vital and necessary for the whole country: we need good food, healthy and productive soils, clean water, protection from flooding and an attractive countryside rich in wildlife. This requires existing levels of environmental protection to be maintained or bolstered while also thinking very differently about how we support the land management we want and need in the future.


The resilience of Wales’s natural resources is vital for a better life – Natural Resources Wales

Investing in our natural resources and making our ecosystems more resilient is vital to provide a better life for people and wildlife, according to a landmark report published today by Natural Resources Wales.

Image: Natural Resources WalesImage: Natural Resources Wales (from cover of report)

The State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR), the first report of its kind and the first statutory product coming out of the Environment Act, makes a direct link between the condition of our natural resources - our air, soil, water and the biodiversity that underpins them - and the impacts on people’s health, economic prosperity and social wellbeing.

It also looks at the issues facing our natural habitats of important and iconic wildlife species to better understand the worrying decline in biodiversity.

The report highlights that policy and decision-makers across the public sector need to start considering the key risks to natural resources and the benefits that they provide, in all that they do.

Emyr Roberts, Chief Executive of Natural Resources Wales, said: “Our environment and natural resources provide us with our most basic needs – the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It provides energy, creates economic activity and improves our health and wellbeing. “It is also a home to fantastic wildlife which has, for too long, been under threat and is declining. “In order for our natural resources to continue to provide for us and be a place for wildlife to thrive, we need to better understand the consequences of our actions and look after them better."

Read the report here


UK first as rare black dormouse is found – Blackdown Hills Natural Futures

image: Blackdown Hills Natural FuturesWe are very excited to have discovered a rare black dormouse right here in the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is the only black dormouse ever recorded in the UK! Britain has only one native species of dormouse, the hazel dormouse. Our discovery is a hazel dormouse, but instead of having the normal golden-brown fur this individual is black. How fitting that this black-furred little fella is living in the Blackdown Hills!

image: Blackdown Hills Natural Futures

The discovery was made when staff, trainees and volunteers from the Blackdown Hills Natural Futures project were checking dormouse nest-boxes as part of The National Dormouse Monitoring Programme. This year, the project provided 300 nest boxes and has involved more than 60 volunteers in installing and regularly checking the boxes.
First recorded in 1972, and not seen again until last year, black dormice have only ever been recorded in small numbers in northern Germany. So this is a first for the UK. 


Trees believed extinct found thriving at royal palace – Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Tree experts have been excited by the “discovery” of two mature specimens – until now thought to be extinct in Britain – within Her Majesty The Queen’s garden at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, a stone’s throw away from Edinburgh city centre. Now thoughts are turning to propagation of the rare royal 100ft-tall Wentworth elms (Ulmus 'Wentworthii Pendula).

An attractive cultivar with a “weeping” habit of growth and large glossy leaves, the Wentworth elm was probably introduced to cultivation in the late 19th century. But it was thought to have been wiped-out in the devastating Dutch elm disease epidemic that destroyed between 25 and 75 million trees in Britain during the late 20th century.

“Such a discovery when the trees in question are just shy of 100 feet and in plain sight does sound rather odd”, conceded Dr Max Coleman of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) who identified the specimens after they were noted as being unusual during a tree survey.


The Great Repeal Act: One win, five fights - Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Yesterday (2/10), the Government confirmed that “EU law will be transposed into domestic law” on the day the UK leaves the EU. This huge legislative graft will be the work of a Great Repeal Act, which will formally end the primacy of EU law in the UK.

Black tailed godwits (WWT)This is great news for everyone who values our air, water and nature: the most immediate threat to environment protection will not materialise. The Nature Directives and the laws that reduce pollution, waste and over-exploitation will not be thrown out wholesale. But a number of caveats mean we must all still be on our guard. Here are five threats that still need to be addressed:

Black tailed godwits (WWT)

1. “Wherever practical”

2. Shared treasures

3. Parliamentary scrutiny of Mrs May’s “unpicking”

4. Trajectory and accountability

5. Progress

Click through to read more on each.


Views wanted on cross-boundary protection areas for marine birds – Scottish Natural Heritage

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee are inviting views on four cross-boundary proposals to protect important areas for marine birds.

A formal public consultation launched today (4/10) by SNH on behalf of Scottish Government is asking people to comment on four proposed Special Protection Areas (pSPAs) which cross the 12 nautical mile territorial waters boundary.

The four proposed SPAs are the Pentland Firth, the Seas off Foula, the Seas off St Kilda, and the Outer Firth of Forth and St Andrews Bay Complex.

The sites are part of a suite of pSPAs 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 from the four proposals include puffin, kittiwake, storm-petrel, Manx shearwater, northern gannet, great skua, Arctic skua, and Arctic tern.

Scotland’s 11,800 km of coastline and 800 islands make it an ideal place for marine birds and it is home to some internationally important populations. For example, Bass Rock, in the Outer Firth of Forth, and St Kilda, are home to the world’s two largest colonies of northern gannets

If the sites are designated they will form part of Scotland’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which covers approximately 20% of our seas. Developing a network of well-managed MPAs is one way the Scottish Government aims to meet its 2020 Biodiversity Challenge outcome of ‘clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse’ coasts and seas. 


Warming temperatures can reduce marine diversity but increase freshwater species – University of Bath

In contrast to previous research, scientists have found that habitat warming can reduce the diversity of species in marine environments, but increase speciation in freshwater habitats.

Scientists from the University of Bath’s Milner Centre for Evolution working with colleagues at the University of York have shown that for an important group of aquatic crustaceans called the Anomura, which includes hermit crabs, king crabs and squat lobsters, habitat warming A hermit crab emerging from its shell. University of Bathdecreases species diversity in marine environments. Intriguingly the researchers found that diversity of Anomura species in freshwater habitats increased with warmer temperatures.

A hermit crab emerging from its shell. University of Bath

The findings suggest there is no universal rule about how species diversity is affected by warming temperatures and responses to climate change could be habitat dependent.

Previous research involving land-based vertebrate found that diversity tends to increase with warming and it had been thought this was a general trend across habitats.

Dr Katie Davis, who conducted the research at the University of Bath, and is now based at University of York, said: “While other research found that species diversity increased with global warming our findings suggest that this is not a universal rule. We find that the freshwater group follow this pattern, but their marine relatives show the opposite - they speciate with global cooling and diversity decreases with warming.

Access the paper here: Davis, K. E, Hill, J., Astrop, T. I. & Wills, M. A. (2016) Global cooling as a driver of diversification in a major marine clade. Nature Communications. doi:10.1038/ncomms13003


Searching for Scouse cod and Geordie haddock – NERC

Scientists this week launched a new study into the 'soundscape' of Britain's seas, aiming to better understand the impact of maritime noise pollution on fish including their ability to communicate.

Species such as cod and haddock are known to use vocalisations to attract mates so researchers will be looking at the possible impacts of noise on their behaviour.

Professor Steve Simpson, associate professor in marine biology & global change at the University of Exeter, who is leading the research, said, "Seawater is hundreds of times denser than air, so sounds travel much faster and further. We have found that fish on coral reefs are susceptible to noise pollution but we are yet to study the effects in our own waters, which are some of the busiest in the world.

"Cod produce a variety of sounds using their swim bladders, to establish territories, raise the alarm and attract mates. We may find that the 'gossip' essential to their society is being drowned out. If we value our fish stocks - or our Friday night fish supper - we need to understand this."


One of Scotland’s rarest birds thriving in Dumfries and Galloway - RSPB

The nightjar, one of Scotland’s rarest and most unusual birds, appears to be thriving in Dumfries and Galloway, after good numbers were reported from surveys this summer.

Due to their largely nocturnal habits, nightjar populations are estimated by counting the number of males heard singing, or ‘churring’, after sunset. In 2016 a record number of 40 churring males were counted in Dumfries and Galloway, the highest number since survey work commenced there in the 1980s, and double that recorded in 2015.

Nightjars are on the northerly edge of their range in Scotland, where they prefer to breed in re-stocked forestry plantations or clear-felled sites. Their success has come about following dedicated work by Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) to create and maintain suitable habitat in traditional nightjar areas.

RSPB Scotland’s Chris Rollie, said: “Nightjars are really fascinating birds, yet most people have never seen one, and know very little about them. The UK population suffered historical declines due to habitat loss, and nightjars are now amber-listed birds of medium conservation concern."


Trust moves ahead with big changes – National Trust for Scotland

Trustees of Scotland’s largest conservation charity, the 350,000-member National Trust for Scotland, have unanimously agreed to move forward with a transformational programme of change.

The changes will lead to the Trust widening its appeal, encouraging more people to visit and enjoy the heritage in its care, increasing membership and generating more income for investment in conservation.

The Trustees’ decision follows a formal 90-day consultation period through which many submissions were made by staff, volunteers and the Trust’s recognised trade union, Prospect.

The Trust’s Chief Executive, Simon Skinner, said: “We would like to thank everyone who responded to our proposals and who made such useful and thoughtful submissions. In particular I welcome the constructive part that the Prospect union has played throughout the consultation. It was clear that the need for change was fully endorsed and, as a result of the information and practical suggestions received, we have made changes to our proposals that enhance the programme we are now enacting. The changes allow us to retain a core staff of specialists, who will support conservation and visitor services at properties, enable us to bring in new skills and competencies that ensure we offer world-class experiences and deliver a new regional structure that puts the places we care for firmly at the centre of decision-making and planning. More efficient ways of working will complement other sources of funding so that we can prioritise £17 million of investment to make our properties better.  We have already announced the first tranche of investment in Culzean Castle and Country Park totalling £2.5 million and there is more to come.”

Implementation of the changes is underway and will be complete by the summer of 2017.


Green space funding – Scottish Government

£8.25 million EU green infrastructure fund announced.

A multi-million pound fund to develop green spaces in some of Scotland’s most deprived areas has been announced by Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Keith Brown.

The money – which comes from EU funding - will support projects like new nature reserves and parks and green spaces in urban areas, benefiting communities across Scotland.  With match funding from partners the total overall investment will be up to £20 million.

Visiting the project, Mr Brown said: “This £8.25 million represents a unique opportunity to create green infrastructure on an unprecedented scale and will bring benefits to areas where it is most needed. Publicly accessible green spaces are hugely important – especially in our urban areas. This European funding is specifically targeted at areas with a population of over 10,000 and will be channelled into some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities. I look forward to seeing applicants take advantage of the significant opportunity this represents."

The Green Infrastructure Fund is looking for projects, involving communities right from the start, throughout delivery and into the future. Projects should either benefit nature, biodiversity and ecosystems, address environmental quality, flooding and climate change, involve communities and increase participation, increase place attractiveness and competitiveness or improve health and wellbeing.


Goodbye Mr Toad? Scientists chart a worrying drop in numbers of our most lovable amphibian. - Froglife 

A new study led by Froglife, together with experts from Switzerland has shown how the efforts of ordinary members of the public are identifying big declines in our native amphibians.

Toad. ©Jules Howard (via Froglife)©Jules Howard (via Froglife) 

Every year thousands of volunteers in the UK, working as part of Froglife’s ‘Toads on Roads’ patrols, help save amphibians as they migrate to their breeding ponds across busy roads. Toads are particularly vulnerable and over 800,000 are carried to safety by volunteers each year in the UK and Switzerland.

Froglife’s conservation scientists teamed up with Swiss counterparts to analyse millions of records of common toads (scientific name Bufo bufo) collected by these patrols over more than three decades from the two countries. Unfortunately, despite the effort of the volunteers, the researchers show that our toads have undergone huge declines.

On average common toads have declined by 68% over the last 30 years in the UK. In some areas, such as the south east of England, declines have been even more pronounced.

The team’s results, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE show that toads have declined rapidly and continuously since the 1980s in both countries. It is likely that hundreds of thousands of toads have disappeared from the countryside in the past 30 years.

In the UK, south east England suffered the worst declines while in the west populations also declined but have remained stable for the past decade. The North, including northern counties and Scotland, has also seen significant toad declines in the past 20 years.

It is not clear what has caused numbers of toads to drop so dramatically but likely causes are a combination of changes to farming practices, loss of ponds, an increase in urbanisation and more deaths on roads as traffic values have increased. Climate change could also be a factor as research has shown that milder winters are detrimental for hibernating toads.

Access the publication:  Silviu O. Petrovan, Benedikt R. Schmidt. Volunteer Conservation Action Data Reveals Large-Scale and Long-Term Negative Population Trends of a Widespread Amphibian, the Common Toad (Bufo bufo). PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0161943


Canvey Wick Nature Reserve set for exciting expansion - Buglife

Canvey Wick Nature Reserve is set to be expanded to around 150 hectares Image credit: Claudia Wattsafter Morrisons arranged to transfer an adjoining parcel of land to national land management charity, the Land Trust.

Image credit: Claudia Watts

The retailer’s transfer of 130 hectares of land to the Land Trust – equivalent to more than 180 football pitches – together with an endowment to boost the environmental quality of the land and provide for its long-term management, will have a wide reaching impact.

Among the benefits provided by linking the adjoining land include enhanced habitat restoration and fresh education opportunities. It will also allow for links to a neighbouring RSPB reserve, connecting to other habitats in the process.
Simon Pile, Estates Manager for the Land Trust, said: “The transfer of land that will significantly increase the size of Canvey Wick Nature Reserve is tremendously exciting, helping unlock investment into the ecological diversity and provide community opportunities for the site. Morrisons deserves immense credit for its supportive partnership work in making this happen." 


Scientific papers

Rehnus, M. & Bollman, K. (2016) Non-invasive genetic population density estimation of mountain hares (Lepus timidus) in the Alps: systematic or opportunistic sampling? European Journal of Wildlife Research. DOI: 10.1007/s10344-016-1053-6


Weller, T. J., Castle, K. T., Liechti, F., Hein, C. D., Schirmacher, M. R. & Cryan, P. M. (2016) First Direct Evidence of Long-distance Seasonal Movements and Hibernation in a Migratory Bat. Scientific Reports 6. doi:10.1038/srep34585


Richard M. Francksen, Mark J. Whittingham, Sonja C. Ludwig, and David Baines Winter diet of Common Buzzards Buteo buteo on a Scottish grouse moor. Bird Study DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2016.1238868


Alexandre Roulin Shrews and moles are less often captured by European Barn Owls Tyto alba nowadays than 150 years ago. Bird Study   DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2016.1240149


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