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


Study shows fracking could threaten Britain's richest wildlife habitats – University of Reading

The whole Areas of Great Britain earmarked for fracking may contain some of the country's richest wildlife sites, scientists have found in the biggest ever mapping study of UK biodiversity.

Analysis undertaken by the University of Reading, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Butterfly Conservation and British Trust for Ornithology shows that many areas opened up for potential shale gas extraction by the government in recent years are home to species that are crucial to the functioning of ecosystems.

Analysis of records of 5,553 species, from groups such as bees, birds and butterflies, going back to 1970 has revealed 65% of the areas of Britain deemed suitable for fracking have above-average biodiversity.

Senior author Dr Tom Oliver from the University of Reading said: "Our results are an important step in assessing potential impacts of fracking on species and will help protect much-loved British wildlife that could be a risk such as wetland birds. The protected status of species such as the Great Crested Newt have been vital in protecting wildlife from unregulated development, but our research shows trends in wider biodiversity can also readily be incorporated into environmental impact assessments. We have more than 45,000 species in the UK and many of them perform important services for humans, such as pollination, decomposition and control of pests. Our new method of analysing biological records collected by volunteers allows us, for the first time, to map this wider biodiversity."

Assessments based on endangered species - but others are under threat

Currently, records of protected species and habitats are used in environmental impact assessments before such decisions are made to conserve an area or open it to controversial uses such as fracking. But this detailed species assessment is costly and can only be done on a local level, and often only after significant investment has been put into the development of a site, making reversal of a decision to proceed unlikely. The new research provides a new and effective way of identifying important areas for biodiversity to help protect wildlife from the impacts of development, including fracking.

How does your area rate?  Each grid square was then given a quality rating based on its relative biodiversity within its category. These ratings can be viewed on an interactive map created to illustrate the results of the study. 

Read the paper: Dyer, R.J., Gillings, S., Pywell, R.F., Fox, R., Roy, D.B. & Oliver, T.H. (2016). Developing a biodiversity-based indicator for large-scale environmental assessment: a case study of proposed shale gas extraction sites in Britain. J. Appl. Ecol. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12784


Save our historic daffodils and bluebells – English Heritage

English Heritage is launching a campaign to help save the native and historic varieties of daffodils and bluebells, both of which are at risk from aggressive hybrids and non-traditional varieties. All this week, English Heritage gardeners will plant a record 25,000 native and heritage bulbs across the historic gardens in its care.

The charity is also calling on the public to join its campaign by collecting a free native daffodil or bluebell bulb from a selection of English Heritage sites to bring home and plant in their own garden. 

John Watkins, Head of Gardens and Landscapes at English Heritage, said: "Native daffodils and bluebells as well as the historic cultivated varieties are a vital part of our horticultural and cultural heritage, inspiring gardeners and poets alike. Our native species and historic cultivars are increasingly under threat from cross pollination with non-native species and hybrids that flower at the same time. Our major spring bulb planting campaign - across some of the most important historic gardens in England - will help arrest that national decline and ensure that the daffodil celebrated by Wordsworth over 200 years ago can still be enjoyed by visitors today and in the future."


Humble bait worm worth billions – University of Portsmouth

Bait worms are many times more valuable than premium seafoods (University of Portsmouth) Bait worms are many times more valuable than premium seafoods (University of Portsmouth)

The humble bait worm wriggling on the hook at the end of an angler’s line may be considered a low-value resource.

But in the first global assessment of its value and impact, University of Portsmouth researchers have revealed it to be an industry worth nearly £6 billion per year.

Bait worms are found to be many times more valuable than premium seafoods for human consumption. For example, blood worms retail at roughly £150 per kilogram in the USA – more than four times the price of lobsters.

Dr Gordon Watson, lead author of the research from the University’s Institute of Marine Sciences, said: “This is the first assessment of its kind in the world highlighting the extraordinary value of worms. To think they are more valuable than costly delicacies like lobster and oysters is quite astounding.”

The researchers assessed three UK-based bait worm fisheries and analysed published literature to produce their global calculation. Using these data the team also estimated that the UK market alone is worth £142 million.

However, the prized nature of the bait worm means it has a significant cost to the environment. Globally around 120,000 tonnes are extracted from coastal areas each year.

Dr Watson said: “Extraction has a significant physical impact, both through the removal of the bait worms and the turning over of shore sediment. The huge amounts removed at local, national and global scales has an impact on wading birds and other protected species and habitats.

Read the paper here: Watson, G. J. et al, Bait worms: a valuable and important fishery with implications for fisheries and conservation management, Fish and Fisheries (2016). DOI: 10.1111/faf.12178 

Smartbirds - understanding how gulls behave through high-tech backpacks - British Trust for Ornithology

In a bid to understand how the amber-listed Lesser Black-backed Gull behaves around offshore wind farms, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has partnered with DONG Energy to carry out a study of the species off the Cumbrian coast.

Image: BTOImage: BTO

During the two-year study, state-of-the-art GPS tags are being used to track the movements of gulls from a colony at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s South Walney Nature Reserve, the species is protected here but has recently been in decline, and from rooftops in Barrow-in-Furness, where Lesser black-backed Gulls are often less welcomed by their human neighbours.
The tags, which sit between a bird’s wings like a backpack, will allow the BTO researchers to understand many different aspects of these birds’ lives around wind farms, including crucially, whether gulls are at risk of death through collision with turbine blades.
“While offshore wind farms are a key weapon in the fight against climate change, it is important to understand potential effects of their development on wildlife in order to minimise any negative impacts. The tagging will enable the BTO to study the flight patterns of these two groups of gulls and offer an unprecedented chance to understand how seabirds respond to the construction of an offshore wind farm, as well as to further understand their movements through the year”said Emily Scragg for the BTO. “I can’t wait to see the results”.


Cabinet Secretary announces regionalised approach to tackling bovine TB - Welsh Government

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, has outlined a new regionalised response to eliminate bovine TB in Wales as part of the Welsh Government’s refreshed bovine TB Eradication Programme.

Under the refreshed programme, Low, Intermediate and High TB Areas will be established across Wales based on bovine TB incidence levels. Each area will have a tailored approach to reflect the varying disease conditions and risks. 

The Welsh Government is consulting on the measures to be applied to protect the Low TB Area and to reduce disease in the Intermediate and High TB Areas.

The refreshed programme builds on the success of the Eradication Programme so far, as well as looking at options to do some things differently.

Other new measures include strengthening of cattle controls. Under the plans for the programme, chronic breakdown herds would have individual action plans, developed in partnership with farmers, vets and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), aimed at clearing up the infection. 

The Cabinet Secretary has also acknowledged the role played by wildlife in some TB breakdowns, but is clear that Wales will continue to rule out an England-style cull of badgers with farmers free shooting infected and healthy badgers themselves. 

Instead, the range of other options available will be considered, including learning from a pilot in Northern Ireland where badgers were cage-trapped and infected animals were humanely killed. Working with vets and wildlife experts, the Cabinet Secretary will consider whether a similar approach might be appropriate in high incidence areas where there is chronic herd breakdown and an objective confirmation that badgers are infected.  

Response: RSPCA Cymru responds to Welsh Government’s Bovine TB eradication statement - RSPCA

Responding to a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, concerning the Welsh Government’s Bovine TB Eradication Programme, Claire Lawson, Assistant Director of External Relations – Wales, said: “Bovine TB is a devastating disease, and causes grief to so many, particularly within the farming community. RSPCA Cymru has always supported humane, scientifically-supported and effective methods to tackle this disease.We will engage closely with the Welsh Government in relation to this new consultation, which we understand will explore the potential of tailoring certain responses, per geographical area, as a means of preventing the spread of the disease."


£5k boost to Miles without Stiles – Peak District National Park

Water is giving £5,000 to the Peak District National Park to produce a guide to countryside routes suitable for people with mobility issues.

Members of the Disabled Ramblers on Long Causeway from Redmires Reservoir, one of the proposed Miles without Stiles routes in the Peak District National Park (image: Peak District NPA)Members of the Disabled Ramblers on Long Causeway from Redmires Reservoir, one of the proposed Miles without Stiles routes in the Peak District National Park (image: Peak District NPA)

Known as Miles without Stiles, the routes are well surfaced and free from stiles, steps and narrow gates which are barriers for people with mobility issues. Yorkshire Water’s sponsorship will pay for a new informative guide promoting these routes to people with limited mobility, wheelchair users, families with children in pushchairs, visually impaired people and disabled rambler groups.

Peak District National Park staff are working with Accessible Derbyshire, the Local Access Forum and disabled groups to explore ways to improve access for disabled people and develop Miles without Stiles routes.

Sue Smith, Peak District National Park access officer, said: “We’re delighted to have Yorkshire Water’s support for Miles without Stiles – we plan to start work on identifying and improving the routes on the ground in the New Year and will launch the new guidebook in 2017. Miles without Stiles routes will be freely accessible for people to use and the new guidebook sponsored by Yorkshire Water will also be available for free with any donations going towards developing more Miles without Stiles.”


National Trust rangers LASSO rare Norfolk beech seeds for the nation – National Trust

National Trust rangers on the Felbrigg Estate have this week been helping to ensuring the survival of Norfolk’s rare beech trees.

Rangers are using rope lassos to collect ten kilogrammes of beech mast (seed) for Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank at the organisation’s Wakehurst estate in West Sussex. Once collected, the seeds will be stored by the Millennium Seed Bank in sub-zero temperatures in vaults deep beneath the Sussex countryside.

Richard Daplyn, Deputy Head Ranger on the National Trust’s Felbrigg Estate, said: “It’s extraordinary to think that seeds from our trees could help ensure the survival of the UK’s woods in the future. Separated from the UK’s other beech trees by their coastal location, our Norfolk beeches developed a distinct genetic make-up found nowhere else in Britain. Despite this week’s wet weather we managed to collect a few bags of seed – using a process that’s simple, but exhausting. Using a catapult to lasso a rope over the beech’s branch, we shake the tree. The beech mast then fall onto a ground sheet below.”

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project Co-ordinator at Kew Gardens, said: “Building up our seed collections of the nation’s favourite and most important tree species is a vital step in combating the plant pests and diseases that threaten our best loved trees – and are already changing Britain’s landscapes forever.”


Wind farm consented in Wild Land Area 37 – John Muir Trust

Creag Riabhach could become Trojan Horse for further industrialisation of Wild Land Areas

The John Muir Trust has expressed concern over the decision by Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse to consent the application for the Creag Riabhach wind farm at Altnaharra Estate near Lairg in Sutherland.

The development will mean the construction of 22 turbines, up to 125 metres high – roughly the height of Scotland’s tallest structure, the Glasgow Tower – in north west Sutherland. Five of the turbines will fall within the boundary of Wild Land Area 37 (Foinaven-Ben Hee).

Stuart Brooks, Chief Executive of the John Muir Trust said: “Naturally, we are very disappointed and concerned. This is the first such development to be consented within the boundaries of the Wild Land Areas map since it was agreed in 2014. The decision flies in the face of a series of previous decisions by the Scottish Government, refusing consent to similar applications impacting on Wild Land Areas. This is not a few small community-owned turbines. It is a major industrial development, including giant turbines, access roads and transmission infrastructure, which will almost certainly lead to the redrawing of the boundary of Wild Land Area 37. We are concerned that this project will become a Trojan Horse, attracting further large–scale industrial development into the area in the future, leading to further diminishing of the qualities of this wild place which attract visitors from around the world. We also fear that the decision could set a precedent for other Wild Land Areas.” 


New UK fly species found in Perthshire – Scottish Wildlife Trust

A species of fly has been recorded for the first time in the UK at the Trust's Tummel Shingle Islands Wildlife Reserve. 

The discovery was made by Stephen Hewitt, Pelham-Clinton Research Fellow in Entomology at National Museums Scotland, who is studying the flies that live on river shingle-banks. Two female specimens of Platypalpus aliterolamellatus Kovalev were swept from vegetation on Ballinluig Island.  

Stephen Hewitt said: “The flies are around 2 millimetres long and need to be identified under a high powered microscope. They can be distinguished by looking at the tiny bristles on their heads, and the shape of their legs and feet.  It wasn’t too surprising to find a new species on Ballinluig Island because it is recognised as one of the best sites of its kind in Britain.  Shingle banks are a fairly localised habitat that can be damaged by trampling from people and livestock, as well as gravel extraction. It’s important to know what is out there so that we can identify the best sites and protect them for the future.” 


Scotland’s rarest fish finds safe haven in southern loch – National Trust for Scotland

A small freshwater fish, whose habitat had reduced to just two locations in England, is successfully surviving following its introduction to Loch Skeen near Moffat.Conservation charity, The National Trust for Scotland, has been working with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and experts from the University of Glasgow to establish a thriving population of the fish in the loch, which sits in the Trust’s Grey Mare’s Tail nature reserve.

Monitoring of the fish at Loch Skeen over the summer has revealed that the population has established itself well enough for breeding to take place and significant numbers of the fish to be evident. The first vendace were introduced to the loch in the 1990s, with the stock coming from Cumbria. At that point the only stable population of the fish was in Derwent Water and 110 lochs in south-west Scotland were assessed to find the right place to establish a ‘safeguard site’ for the species.

Lindsay Mackinlay, the Trust’s Nature Conservation Adviser said: “Loch Skeen was chosen because it had all the features vendace need to thrive. It was the right size and depth and holds no predatory fish such as pike or perch and its water quality suits the species. The loch is also remote, accessed by a steep mountain path so it remains relatively undisturbed. But there is always an element of uncertainty when a project like this reintroduction takes place. With species like vendace, it’s not just a simple case of plopping a few fish and eggs into a loch and abracadabra, there they are! You need a team of highly trained and experienced fish ecologists along with the support of key partners, before such a reintroduction will work. In this case, the vendace had just such a support network, and the monitoring work has confirmed that the vendace are doing just fine in the loch.”


First seal pups spotted on the Farne Islands – National Trust

The first seal pups of the year have been spotted by National Trust rangers on the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast. 

Seal pup on the Farne Islandds (image: National Trust)Seal pup on the Farne Islands (image: National Trust)

The annual seal count, carried out by the resident rangers, is triggered by the birth of the first pups.   Rangers from the conservation charity spend two months each autumn monitoring the success rate of the breeding seals which is crucial to understanding how the seal population is faring. Every year, over 1,500 pups are born on the islands, which is one of the largest Atlantic grey seal colonies in England with a population estimated at 5,000.  The breeding season for seals on the Farnes sometimes starts as early as mid-September with the majority of pups born in November.

National Trust ranger, Ed Tooth says: “A lack of predators and a plentiful supply of sand eels and gadoids (cod) – which make up a majority of the seals’ diet – has contributed to the success of the colony. The seals have also selected a different location for their rookeries, the breeding sites for the seals.  Previously more pups were born on the islands of North and South Wamses, but now many seals try to breed on Brownsman and Staple islands.  This has resulted in mortality rates dropping, possibly because these islands offer better protection from storms and high seas.”

The rangers, who live on the Islands for nine months of the year, count the seals every four days, weather permitting.  Once born, they’re sprayed with a harmless dye to indicate the week they are born; using a rotation of three or four colours allows the rangers keep track of the numbers.  This year the team is also contributing to a genetic study being carried out along the East Coast and in the Netherlands to determine if the Farnes colony acts as a ‘seeding colony’ for the Dutch seals.


Scientific Publications

Chamagne, J. et al (2016) Forest diversity promotes individual tree growth in central European forest stands. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12783


Graña Grilli, M., Lambertucci, S. A., Therrien, J. F. & Bildstein, K. L. (2016) Wing size but not wing shape is related to migratory behavior in a soaring bird. Journal of Avian Biology. DOI: 10.1111/jav.01220


Innes M.W. Sim, Andrew J. Stanbury, Irena Tománková, and David J.T. Douglas. Changes in moorland and heathland bird abundance in southwest England in relation to environmental change. Bird Study Vol. 0 , Iss. 0,0  DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2016.1241755


Morris, J. L., Cottrell, S., Fettig, C. J., Hansen, W. D., Sherriff, R. L., Carter, V. A., Clear, J. L., Clement, J., DeRose, R. J., Hicke, J. A., Higuera, P. E., Mattor, K. M., Seddon, A. W. R., Seppä, H. T., Stednick, J. D. and Seybold, S. J. (2016), Managing bark beetle impacts on ecosystems and society: priority questions to motivate future research. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12782


Chamagne, J., Tanadini, M., Frank, D., Matula, R., Paine, C. E. T., Philipson, C. D., Svátek, M., Turnbull, L. A., Volařík, D. and Hector, A. (2016), Forest diversity promotes individual tree growth in central European forest stands. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12783


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