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


Mystery of butterfly disaster summer - Butterfly Conservation

Common butterflies saw their numbers collapse over the summer despite the UK experiencing weather conditions that usually help them to thrive, results from the Big Butterfly Count have revealed.

Peacock butterfly, image: James O'Neill, Butterfly ConservationPeacock butterfly, image: James O'Neill, Butterfly Conservation

The majority of butterfly species studied as part of the scheme saw their populations fall with some producing their worst numbers since the Big Butterfly Count scheme began.  Widespread species such as the Gatekeeper, Comma and Small Copper experienced their worst summers in the project’s history and were down 40%, 46% and 30% respectively compared to last year.  The Small Tortoiseshell saw a 47% drop in numbers and Peacock slumped by 42% with both species recording their second worst years. Numbers of the colourful Peacock have now dropped from an average of 3.6 individuals per count in 2013 to just 0.5 per Count in 2016, a six-fold decrease over three years.  Participants also saw the lowest number of butterflies per count since the scheme began with an average of just 12 butterflies spotted.

These figures were even lower than those experienced during the cold and wet disaster summer of 2012 – the worst year on record for UK butterflies.  These falls come despite the summer of 2016 being warmer than average and relatively dry – conditions butterflies typically depend upon in order to successfully breed and feed.

Reasons why butterflies have struggled despite favourable summer weather conditions are as yet unclear.

Big Butterfly Count 2016 – top 10 species ranking 

Large White: 62,890 seen

Small White: 61,955

Meadow Brown: 57,281

Gatekeeper: 47,597

Ringlet: 26,968

Red Admiral: 26,568

Peacock: 18,508

Green-veined White: 16,879

Small Tortoiseshell: 12,335

Speckled Wood:10,271        Full results can be found at www.bigbutterflycount.org


Scotland’s own tube map for walkers and cyclists – Scottish Natural Heritage

A new tube-style map, showing paths where walkers and cyclists can link up routes throughout Scotland, has been published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

With just a quick look, users can see both existing routes across Scotland and planned routes which will link to even more paths, cities and places of interest in the future. Walkers and cyclists can also easily see that, for example, they can journey off-road on paths from Mull of Galloway to Inverness via Glasgow, from Berwick-on-Tweed to Dundee via Edinburgh, and from Helensburgh to St Andrews via Linlithgow. There are even canoe trails to view.

Cyclists using Sustrans Route 75, Oban to Fort William (©Lorne Gill/SNH)Cyclists using Sustrans Route 75, Oban to Fort William (©Lorne Gill/SNH)

The map is part of National Walking and Cycling Network’s (NWCN’s) ambitious programme of work to connect Scotland’s paths across the country. SNH’s key partners in the project are Scottish Canals and Sustrans, working closely with local authorities and route managers.

Right now, there are about 6400 kilometres of trails for walking, cycling, horse-riding and canoeing across Scotland. This includes Scotland's Great Trails, the National Cycling Network & The Scottish Canals Network. NWCN plans to extend this network by 1750 kilometres through 50 separate projects over the next 20 years, by creating new routes and joining up the missing links.

SNH chairman, Ian Ross, said: “Our walking and cycling tube map is an easy way to start planning your next journey – whether it’s a trip between two towns or a week-long cycling or walking holiday. Scotland is such a wonderful place to walk and cycle. It’s easy to take for granted how many paths we already have in so many beautiful areas, and I’m thrilled that we’ll have even more paths to enjoy in the coming years.”

The tube map, as well as more information about the National Walking and Cycling Network, is available online here.


What is the UK’s favourite mammal? – Mammal Society

Society of Biology Launches Poll to Find the Favourite UK Mammal 
Almost two thirds of species in the UK have declined in the past 50 years, including some of the country’s most charismatic mammals. Today (9th October) the Royal Society of Biology launches a poll to discover the Favourite UK Mammal.

A total of 101 mammal species can be found in and around the UK. Some of these species have suffered serious declines and require increased conservation effort.
Professor David Macdonald CBE CBiol FRSB, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at The University of Oxford said:  “Mammals are special! Not only are we one of them, but their appeal and charisma make them powerful ambassadors for nature.  Most of the UK’s big mammals such as wolves and lynx have gone, and while we procrastinate on bringing them back, we should celebrate the 101 that remain. They are beset by all the global threats to wildlife; from disease afflicting red squirrels, hybridisation diluting wildcats to oblivion, habitat loss and invasive species blighting water voles.  Whether it’s in air, sea, river, land or burrow there’s a mammal to suit your tastes – but which do you prefer as your personal flagship? That’s what the RSB poll seeks to find out.”

Find out more about the ten species chosen here.  And cast your vote here.


Multi-agency response to Kerosene oil spill in Carmarthenshire – Natural Resources Wales

Kerosene oil spill in Carmarthenshire (image: NRW)Kerosene oil spill in Carmarthenshire (image: NRW)

We're working with partners to investigate an oil spill in a Carmarthenshire stream to minimise the impact on people and the environment.

UPDATE 1700hrs 10 October 2016: Multi-agency response to Kerosene oil spill in Carmarthenshire continues

Work continued over the weekend to recover the oil spill that occurred in Nant y Caws, Carmarthenshire last week. A substantial amount of oil has already been recovered from Nant Pibwr by Valero’s specialist contractors. They will continue to remove the oil over the next few days.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is working closely with partners to manage the response to the incident, to investigate how the incident happened, and prepare plans to remediate the site.  NRW has also assessed the impact on the local environment. Although the local impact to ecology and fish population is significant, the quick response to contain the spill has resulted in no impact downstream on the River Tywi at the moment.


South Downs project wins prestigious national award – South Downs National Park / Campaign for National Parks 

The Arun and Rother Connections project in the South Downs National Park has won the Campaign for National Parks 2016 ‘Park Protector Award’.

Caroline Quentin, Campaign for National Parks’ president judged the award and said: “How fantastic to see a project that is not only making a huge difference to the South Downs right now, but is also inspiring everyone to become a conservationist, safeguarding the future of this wonderful area.”
Before the ARC project began in 2013, pollution, flooding, invasive species and declining wildlife threatened to ruin this important part of the South Downs National Park. The Arun and Rother rivers in West Sussex were in a bad way. However, over the last three years, this partnership led by the RSPB in partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority and six other organisations and funded by the HLF has worked to promote a rich and thriving river system.

Over 1,100 local volunteers have helped to restore a rage of wetland habitats including floodplain meadows, fen, wet heath, wet woodland and saved three kilometres of globally rare chalk streams. It has also created over 250,000m2 of open water habitat for vulnerable birds and wetland species.

One of the goals of the project has been to involve as many people as possible ‘citizen scientists’, protecting this precious part of the South Downs. Local residents have created rain gardens designed to reduce flood risks and provide a habitat for pollinators. Individuals living in the river catchment have also used an app developed by the project to easily record the plants and wildlife they have seen in their green spaces.


Funding boost is welcome news for water voles in west London – London Wildlife Trust

The endangered water vole, Britain’s fastest disappearing mammal, is getting a helping hand at Frays Farm Meadows in North Uxbridge.A £25,000 grant from Veolia Environment Trust will allow London Wildlife Trust, which manages this nationally important nature reserve, to carry out important access and conservation work that will benefit water vole and other wildlife in the Meadows.

Water vole by Tom MarshallWater vole by Tom Marshall

Frays Farm Meadows is one of the finest examples of rare wet grazing meadows in Greater London, providing a home for a range of wildlife species including; snipe, water vole, harvest mouse, dragonflies and even glow worms.

The grant will allow the Trust to clear encroaching scrub and bring Sussex cattle onto previously inaccessible parts of the reserve, where they will chomp away on the more dominant plant species. This will allow rarer plants and wild flowers to become established, such as marsh forget-me-not, ragged robin and kingcup.

The Sussex cattle, mainly red in colour with an off-white tail switch, are well known for their excellent temperament and placid nature and are already being used in other areas of Frays Farm Meadows.

Alongside the grazing cattle, the Trust will be clearing scrub from the freshwater ditches that wind across the reserve. The ditches provide a perfect home for water vole, which live in burrows in the banks of the ditches and the nearby Fray’s River and the River Colne, feeding on grasses and other plants that grow nearby.

Work is scheduled to start in November, with the support of specialist contractors as well as local volunteers, who help the Trust look after the Meadows and other nature reserves in the area. Access to the nature reserve remains free to the public.


Largest Trees in the UK discovered at Plas Tan y Bwlch – Snowdonia National Park

Following a recent survey by the Tree Register of the British Isles (TROBI) it has been confirmed that some of the biggest trees in Britain are growing in the grounds and gardens of Plas Tan y Bwlch in Maentwrog, Snowdonia.

On a recent TROBI (Tree Register of the British Isles) visit to Plas Tan y Bwlch, dendrologist Dr. Owen Johnson, noted that the trees at Plas Tan y Bwlch have several exceptional characteristics.  In all, it has four UK champion trees, 9 Welsh champions, plus a further 16 Gwynedd champions.

Red Cedar (image: Snowdonia National Park)Red Cedar (image: Snowdonia National Park)

One of the UK Champions is an enormous Red Cedar which comes originally from Japan, the Cryptomeria japonica. It forms part of a series of trees and it is very unusual to have a series of the same trees of the same age and provenance in the same place. The collection at Plas is the best of the largest tress of their kind in Britain. Among the largest trees of their kind in Britain that can be seen here also are a Japanese Red Cedar, a Golden-leaved Lawson Cypress, a Sawara Cypress and a Variegated Holly Olive Tree. The Welsh Champion trees include a Downy Birch, a Katsura Tree, a Sawara Cypress, Japanese Red Cedar, Pocket Handkerchief Tree, Oriental Spruce, Chinese Rhododendron, Smith’s Rhododendron and Silver Lime.

Dr Johnson said "The woods at Plas Tan y Bwlch probably have the best series of Cryptomeria japonica (Japanese cedars) of any estate in Britain. Below Llyn Mair a small Victorian pinetum now contains three 'champion trees' growing almost side-by-side. There is also an attractive range of trees in the main garden, including a Davidia (Dove Tree) unsurpassed from its crown-size and beauty."  

Welcoming the news, Head of Business at Plas, Andrew Oughton, said,  “We have long been aware of the magnificence of the trees at Plas, but had no idea so many of them were the biggest of their kind."


Families will go wild for play at new site in the New Forest – New Forest National Park

The New Forest is receiving its first permanent wild play site to help children discover and connect with nature. 

Wild Play Walk (image: New Forest National Park)Wild Play Walk (image: New Forest National Park)

Whether it is den building, balancing on logs or tracing animal tracks, woods are wonderful places for children to explore the great outdoors.

However the number of children playing in wild spaces has more than halved in a generation, with only 10 per cent playing in natural spaces such as woodlands and heaths.

Opening in spring 2017, The Holbury Manor Park and Warren Copse wild play site, situated just outside Holbury, will be a space for children and families to explore the outdoors all year round. The scheme is supported by a multi-million pound landscape partnership scheme called Our Past, Our Future, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the New Forest National Park Authority with 10 key partners.

New Forest National Park Authority Wild Play Officer Claire Pearce said: ‘Not only will the site benefit children’s health, it will provide a place for families to connect with nature and develop a desire to protect and preserve the local environment.’

New Forest Land Advice Service Project Co-ordinator Tom Murphy, said: ‘Warren Copse had become an example of unmanaged and neglected woodland, with the overgrown tree canopy creating problems for local wildlife.


Impact of pesticide on bumblebees revealed by taking experiments into the field – Imperial College London

A study in which free-foraging bee colonies were placed in the field has shown that pesticide exposure can affect colony development.

A class of pesticides called neonicotinoids have faced scrutiny in recent years for potentially contributing to bee declines. If bees decline then many plants will go un-pollinated, including important crops we rely on for food.

However, the extent to which neonicotinoids are to blame is not fully understood, and three neonicotinoids are currently under restriction within the EU while more evidence is gathered.

To date studies looking at the effect of neonicotinoids on bees have either been in the lab, or in the field where colonies are placed next to treated crops. However, lab studies are often unrealistic, and field studies are difficult to control, meaning other factors in the environment could play a role in any changes to the colony.  Now, in a study that balances the pros and cons of these two approaches, a team led by researchers from Imperial College London have developed a way of housing colonies in the field. This allowed them to control pesticide exposure and closely monitor colony activity and development.

Unlike some previous studies they did not find any large effect on bee foraging behaviour following neonicotinoid exposure. However, they did find evidence that the colony produced a lower number of new queens and males, which underpins colony success.

Senior author Dr Richard Gill from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial said: “Neonicotinoids found in the environment are unlikely to directly kill individual foraging bees, but when exposure is relatively persistent and combined with other stressors associated with land use change, they could have detrimental effects at the colony level.”

Access the paper: Arce, A. N., David, T. I., Randall, E. L., Ramos Rodrigues, A., Colgan, T. J., Wurm, Y. and Gill, R. J. (2016), Impact of controlled neonicotinoid exposure on bumblebees in a realistic field setting. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12792


Sea eagle numbers predicted to climb in Scotland - Scottish Natural Heritage

new Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report predicts that the number of white-tailed eagles, also known as sea eagles, is likely to be around 221 pairs by 2025 with potential for a much larger population by 2040.

There have been three release phases to re-establish the eagles, which went extinct in 1917. Two releases occurred on the west coast of Scotland from 1975-85 (Rum) and from 1993-98 (Wester Ross), and one on the east coast (Fife) from 2007-12. There were 106 pairs of white-tailed eagles in Scotland in 2015.

Sea Eagle in flight (Copyright Lorne Gill/SNH.)Sea Eagle in flight (Copyright Lorne Gill/SNH.)

The report, authored by researchers at RSPB's Centre for Conservation Science, modelled a range of scenarios to predict the potential size of the sea eagle population, including scenarios with no limits on population growth. Other scenarios included the limits of the carrying capacity of the land (suitable habitat, food and nest sites) or other factors such as potential increased mortality. The estimate of 221 pairs by 2025 figure is considered a realistic figure. Over the longer term, the modelling predicted the population could potentially reach 889-1,005 pairs by 2040; however, the top end of the population range is unlikely to be reached, because it does not take into account the carrying capacity of the land and other factors. These values do not include juvenile birds, which typically do not pair up and breed until they are five or six years old.

Andrew Bachell, SNH’s Director of Policy & Advice, said: “The future of the white-tailed eagle looks stable and the population is growing well. Many people and organisations have contributed to this success and we should be proud of it.  We know some farmers and crofters have serious concerns about the impact of sea eagles on their livestock with some experiencing losses. We are working with NFU Scotland, local stakeholders and others to thoroughly understand the part sea eagles play in livestock losses, and we’re committed to working together to find solutions to allow sea eagles and livestock farmers to co-exist.”

The report, an important output from the 2014 joint statement of intent between SNH and NFU Scotland, will be used to inform future conservation actions for the species. It highlights the need to re-double efforts to work together with a range of land managers, particularly in farming and forestry and other interests, to mediate potential conflicts that may arise. 

Access the report: SNH Commissioned Report 898: Population and future range modelling of reintroduced Scottish white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla)


Tracking Basking Sharks in the Sea of the Hebrides – Marine Conservation Society

We have teamed up with Dr Matthew Witt at the University of Exeter to attach state-of-the-art satellite transmitters to basking sharks in the proposed Sea of the Hebrides Marine Protected Area.

This exciting project builds on an ongoing tracking study with Scottish Natural Heritage to explore basking shark behaviours. Basking Shark Watch sightings as well other research and surveys mean we do understand something of the life of these massive marine creatures, enough in fact to already support the scientific case for the proposed MPA. Now, by following these three tagged baskers, we’ll collect even more information which will further persuade the Scottish Government why creating the Sea of Hebrides Marine Protected Area is a no brainer for basking sharks.

Matthew tagged the sharks on the 6th September 2016 while they fed on plankton at the sea surface in the Gunna Sound near Coll and Tiree. Little is understood about the seasonal movements of our largest fish, and how they are affected by the changes in plankton. This project is starting to reveal some of those mysteries, and now you can track the sharks here live, and experience scientific discovery first hand!


National Wildlife Crime Unit Celebrates 10th Anniversary - NWCU

The 16th October 2016 marks 10 years since the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) was officially launched. The NWCU is a stand-alone Police Unit dedicated to tackling wildlife crime.

Historically, police response to wildlife crime investigation has been varied. Some forces provided an excellent service, whilst the service provided by others ranged from adequate to non-existent.  Criminals that targeted wildlife did not stick to one force area, some even travelled the globe profiting from illegal trade in wildlife. It was clear that there was a lack of co-ordination and guidance for the police officers who dealt with wildlife crime.

In 2002 under the guidance of the then North Wales Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom, who was also the ACPO lead for wildlife crime, the Wildlife Crime Intelligence Unit (WCIU) was set up within the National Crime Intelligence Service (NCIS). becoming the National Wildlife Crime Unit in 2006. Not only would it fulfil its role as an intelligence cell, but it would provide experienced investigators to support wildlife crime investigations. The new unit was also set up with analytical capability. Importantly, as a stand-alone police unit, it has no agenda outside of policing so the support the NWCU provides is totally impartial.

The NWCU is now firmly established as part of UK Policing and its long-term funding has been agreed until at least 2020.  Since its launch the NWCU has also become established on the global stage and regularly works with law enforcement agencies from around the world.

Head of Unit, Chief Inspector Martin Sims said: “There have been many challenges along the way, but the fact that the NWCU’s long-term future has been secured is recognition of the unit’s value. The NWCU is a small but very effective team which has made a huge difference in the fight against wildlife crime. It has been recognised both at home and abroad. I would like to praise the expertise and dedication of NWCU members, past and present – without such dedication the unit may not have survived. I would also like to thank all agencies and NGO’s who lobbied for the future of the unit before the Government’s last spending review. I believe this helped portray the benefit of a dedicated police unit to tackle wildlife crime”.


New County for the Willow Emerald – British Dragonfly Association

The Willow Emerald Damselfly, which had only been recorded on 3 occasions in the UK before 2009, was found in Tattenhoe Valley Park, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire on the 28th September 2016, marking the spread of the species ever further westwards.  

Female Willow Emerald Damselfly ovipositing (image: BDS)Female Willow Emerald Damselfly ovipositing (image: BDS)

Following a massive boom in records in 2009, the Willow Emerald Damselfly has spread incredibly quickly, with new counties added to the list of breeding localities on a yearly basis. In 2016 alone the species has newly colonised Bedfordshire, Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire with the recent find in Buckinghamshire the fourth new county for the species this year. 

The find was made by young naturalist, Harry Appleyard, who saw both males and females and even witnessed oviposition (egg-laying) behaviour (photo right). The species has since been found at further ponds on the same site. Harry says: 'This is easily the most exciting wildlife find I've had in the local area to date.'


NFU Council's bold vision for post-Brexit farming – National Farmers Union 

Council supports a bold, ambitious vision for British food and farming post-Brexit; one that ensures farm businesses are central to a dynamic food chain and deliver a countryside that works for everyone.  

Over the past eight weeks the views of thousands of members on the future of farming have been gathered through questionnaires and a series of meetings nationwide. NFU Council, the organisation’s governing body, reviewed the results of the work to date and supported the next steps to develop a comprehensive framework. This will form the basis of those initial talks with government, at all levels, to ensure the country builds a progressive, profitable and competitive future for British farming post-Brexit.

A detailed policy paper will now be developed for publication early next year.

NFU President Meurig Raymond said: “It has been encouraging to see the high level of interest among our farmer and grower members over the summer at this unique opportunity to help shape the future of our industry. Members of Council have taken these views on board and are keen to capitalise on opportunities as well as meet the challenges presented post-Brexit. The overwhelming view from our membership is that we need a bold and ambitious vision for the industry shared by government that delivers improved health, wealth and environment for the British people. This vision will be vital in helping to produce the raw ingredients for a dynamic food and drink industry, one that underpins the £108bn contribution to the UK economy and the 3.9 million jobs for people working in food and farming. What’s at stake here clearly needs to remain at the front of this debate – protecting the environment alongside having access to safe, affordable, traceable home-grown food and for that we need to have competitive, profitable and progressive farming.


CPRE welcomes NFU statement on the future of UK farming

This week the National Farmers' Union (NFU) released a statement on its vision for the future of UK farming post-Brexit. 

Belinda Gordon, head of government and rural affairs at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) commented: “CPRE welcomes the statement from the NFU, following the consultation with their members, that we need a farming sector that “delivers improved health, wealth and environment for the British people.” This, as well as the call for an ambitious vision, echoes the message in CPRE’s New Model Farming Report that farming is vital for delivering so many benefits for the public beyond just food, yet the current system, focused on ever increasing production, is not working effectively for the environment, for farmers or for rural communities. "The NFU is right in identifying that the key is “protecting the environment alongside having access to safe, affordable, traceable home-grown food and for that we need to have competitive, profitable and progressive farming.” But we also need to recognise that a profitable farming system that is truly efficient over the long–term relies on many environmental assets, such as healthy soils, water availability and pollinators.


New-for-Britain bee discovered at Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park – The Land Trust

A bee species has been spotted for the first time breeding in Britain. The bee was found during a survey of Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park in south east London.

Viper's Bugloss Mason Bee (image: The Land Trust)Viper's Bugloss Mason Bee (image: The Land Trust)

First found in Britain by Natural History Museum scientist David Notton, the bee is using bee nest boxes provided at the Land Trust site, which is managed on a day-to-day basis by The Conservation Volunteers. The species, Hoplitis adunca, is more commonly found in continental Europe and does not pose a threat to other British pollinators.

Notton thinks it is unlikely to become widespread in Britain: “It’s at the limit of its temperature range here, and is restricted by its reliance on pollen from a specific plant called Viper’s Bugloss. But it’s a great example of how important urban green spaces are for giving pollinators a home and that putting bee nesting boxes in gardens and parks can help support pollinators too.”

The Ecology Park is a good habitat for the bee, with a warm micro-climate, a large quantity of its preferred flower, Viper’s Bugloss, and mud and dead wood to make nests from.


Scottish Land Commission, key land reform body to bring around 20 new jobs to Inverness -  Scottish Government 

Scottish Land Commission, including five Land Commissioners, the Tenant Farming Commissioner and support staff, will be based in Inverness, Land Reform Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will announce.

The new Scottish Land Commission is a key part of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. It will review law and policy, and make recommendations to the Scottish Government on matters relating to Scotland's land. The Tenant Farming Commissioner will also be part of the Scottish Land Commission, and will develop codes of practice and provide support to the tenant farming sector.

Ms Cunningham said “Land reform is a journey and we are determined to ensure all of the people of Scotland can benefit from our land. The Land Reform Scotland (Act) was a significant milestone and delivered a number of important changes. The legislation paved the way for setting up a new Scottish Land Commission which will help to ensure that we continue to progress with land reform and I am delighted to confirm it will be based in Inverness.  This will provide approximately 20 new jobs in the area while providing a base that is easily accessible for all parts of Scotland. The city location symbolises that land reform is no longer an exclusively rural issue – we want to see people in our towns and cities reap the benefits of land reform too.  The Commission will have an important role reviewing policy and legislation, help to influence future developments relating the ownership of Scotland’s land and how we ensure communities across Scotland realise their potential.”


Conservation 21: Natural England’s conservation strategy for the 21st century – Natural England Corporate report 

How Natural England will work to protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and the ecosystem services they provide.

The government’s ambition is for England to be a great place to live, with a healthy natural environment on land and at sea that benefits people and the economy. This strategy sets out Natural England’s thinking about what we need to do differently and how we need to work with others, to better deliver this shared ambition.

The strategy’s 3 guiding principles are to:

  • create resilient landscapes and seas
  • put people at the heart of the environment
  • grow natural capital

Download the report: Conservation 21: Natural England’s conservation strategy for the 21st century (PDF)


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