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


Extreme weather effects may explain recent butterfly decline - University of East Anglia (UEA)

Increasingly frequent extreme weather events could threaten butterfly populations in the UK and could be the cause of recently reported butterfly population crashes, according to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Image: UEA

Image: UEA

Researchers investigated the impact of Extreme Climatic Events (ECEs) on butterfly populations. The study shows that the impact can be significantly positive and negative, but questions remain as to whether the benefits outweigh the negative effects.

While it is well known that changes to the mean climate can affect ecosystems, little is known about the impact of short-term extreme climatic events (ECEs) such as heatwaves, heavy rainfall or droughts.

Osgur McDermott-Long, PhD student and lead author from the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA, said: “This is the first study to examine the effects of extreme climate events across all life stages of the UK butterflies from egg to adult butterfly. We wanted to identify sensitive life stages and unravel the role that life history traits play in species sensitivity to ECEs.”

The researchers used data from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS), a high-quality long-term dataset of UK butterfly abundances collected from over 1,800 sites across the UK, spanning 37 years, to examine the effects of weather data and extreme events (drought, extremes of rain, heat and cold) on population change.


New warning over spread of ash dieback – University of Exeter

The ash dieback fungus could spread more quickly and affect more trees than previously expected, according to research at the University of Exeter.

Exeter scientists have discovered that asexual spores of the ash dieback fungus (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) are infectious and can germinate on leaves or infect seedlings via soil.

Ash dieback in a mature ash tree (University of Exeter)Ash dieback in a mature ash tree (University of Exeter)

It was previously thought that these spores could not germinate alone, and only functioned as the male part of sexual reproduction. This meant the fungus could only reproduce in part of its life cycle – on fallen leaves, usually in spring – but the asexual form is prolific in producing spores and can do so for much of the year.

The study, carried out as part of the Nornex consortium, funded by the BBSRC and DEFRA, and published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals additional routes for the spread of the fungus, including by the transfer of soil between sites.

“It is important to know that if you’ve had ash trees in soil and you move that soil, you could be moving live fungus,” said lead author Dr Helen Fones. She added: “The life cycle of the fungus is different from what we thought.”


New management measures for scallop fishing in Cardigan Bay – Welsh Government

The Cabinet Secretary for the Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, has announced new management measures for the Scallop fishery in Cardigan Bay following an extensive consultation.

The consultation followed a two-year programme of wide-ranging research by Bangor University, in collaboration with the fishing industry, within the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation.  

This was the first study of its kind and found some fishing activity is possible, within specific areas, with no adverse impact on the Special Area of Conservation. This research offers a unique opportunity to implement an ecosystem based approach to management of the fishery.

Two further independent scientific peer reviews, of the evidence presented by Bangor University, were carried out and concluded this to be of robust and high scientific merit. 

Based on this research and after considering all 5,500 responses to the consultation, the Cabinet Secretary has decided to proceed with a new flexible permit scheme within Cardigan Bay.


Reaction: Conservation Charity Says No Damaging Fishing Activities Should Be Allowed In Welsh Marine Protected Sites - Marine Conservation Society


Grouse debate united the countryside, says BASC

BASC believes the driven grouse debate has united the countryside behind shooting after submissions made by MPs highlighted its benefits to the rural economy and conservation.

Many of those who spoke at the three-hour debate in Westminster Hall on Monday (31/10/16) paid tribute to the work of those who manage the uplands for grouse shooting and acknowledged that it provides a lifeline to isolated rural communities. Grouse shooting is worth £100 million to the UK economy and supports the equivalent of 2,500 full-time jobs.


Report: A review of the status of the beetles of Great Britain: The stag beetles, dor beetles, dung beetles, chafers and their allies - Lucanidae, Geotrupidae, Trogidae and Scarabaeidae (NECR224) – Natural England

This report was commissioned to update the national threat status of beetles within the Lucanidae, Geotrupidae, Trogidae and Scarabaeidae. It covers all species in these groups, identifying those that are rare and/or under threat as well as non-threatened and non-native species.


MPs demand overhaul of Environment Agency flood role – UK Parliament

MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee are calling for an overhaul of flood management in England to tackle the rising risk to communities from climate change in a report on Future flood prevention.

Five million people at risk of flooding

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair, Neil Parish MP, said: "Some five million people in England are at risk of flooding. Winter 2015-16 broke rainfall records. Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank disrupted communities across northern parts of the UK, with Desmond alone costing the UK more than £5 billion.  We propose a radical alternative to the Government's National Flood Resilience Review's limited solutions to the current fragmented, inefficient and ineffective flood risk management arrangements. Our proposals will deliver a far more holistic approach to flooding and water supply management, looking at catchments as a whole. Flood management must include much wider use of natural measures such as leaky dams, tree planting and improved soil management. And some areas of farmland should be used to store flood water."

New governance model

The Committee recommends a new governance model: with a new National Floods Commissioner responsible for flood management in England. S/he would agree with the Government strategic, long-term flood risk reduction outcomes and be held to account for their effective delivery. 


More than a million homes possible on suitable brownfield land - CPRE

Image: Paul TownsendImage: Paul Townsend

New figures show big increase in brownfield sites available for housing

New research published today (1/11/16) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that suitable brownfield sites across England can provide at least 1.1 million new homes.

The Government had described a previous CPRE estimate of around 1 million homes as ‘wildly over optimistic’. Now, using the Government’s own pilot brownfield register scheme, CPRE has calculated that suitable brownfield sites can provide between 1.1 and 1.4 million new homes.

CPRE studied the findings of 53 councils that have published their data on suitable sites, and found that these areas alone could provide 273,000 homes. Comparing this new data with the last available data from 2010-2012, CPRE noted an 11% increase in the number of homes that could be provided on suitable sites, with planning permissions for such sites increasing by 21% and the number of suitable sites being identified by 50%


Response from government "missed opportunity" on responsible countryside access says British Cycling
British Cycling is calling for a meeting with the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) after the department provided a “lacklustre response” to British Cycling’s letter calling for better public access to outdoor places for mountain biking.

In the letter, DEFRA minister Lord Gardiner said that the government did “not consider that it would be appropriate to introduce access in England on the lines of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 as a Scottish model would not be a substitute for public rights of way.”

Lord Gardiner also said that in Scotland – where access all country paths is allowed - “access to lowland farmland remains inferior to similar land in England” and that “population density of England is different to that of Scotland.”

Commenting on the response, British Cycling’s campaigns manager, Martin Key, said: “The response from DEFRA is a missed opportunity. Their unwillingness to consider the benefits that this could bring to everyone in Britain, not just those who live in the countryside, is frustrating. Using pithy excuses like Scotland’s population density compared with England also just highlights a lack of understanding of the issues at play.”


Obama invades UK gardens - Buglife

An invasive flatworm from Brazil that is already a threat to agriculture across France and is spreading rapidly through Europe has arrived in Image: Buglifethe UK. 

Image: Buglife

The Obama flatworm (Obama nungara), which grows 7cm long, is a predator of earthworms and land snails, thereby endangering soil fertility and wildlife.  It was first found in Europe on Guernsey in 2008, but has spread through France and into Spain and has now been discovered at a handful of locations in the UK.

In the latest incident a 4.5 cm worm crawled out of a pot plant that had been bought in a Garden Centre in Oxfordshire. The plant, a Heuchera, had been imported from the Netherlands.  The worm was sent to wildlife artist Richard Lewington who, with the national flatworm recorder Hugh Jones, was able to identify it as Obama nungara.


Council and funders urged to support grass root groups in making communities more sustainable - Groundwork

Community groups can play a pivotal role in tackling some of the big environmental challenges facing the country – from flooding to fuel poverty to food production – but their efforts need to be supported by local authorities, government agencies and funders if they’re going to have a lasting impact. 

CLS Event London (Groundwork)

CLS Event London (Groundwork)

That’s the message from a series of events being held to mark the achievements of the Communities Living Sustainably (CLS) programme.

CLS has seen 12 community partnerships across England working for the last five years to make their areas more sustainable and resilient to the impacts of climate change with the support of a £12 million investment from the Big Lottery Fund. 

The projects have been supported on their journey by a national ‘Learning Partnership’ comprising Groundwork UK, Energy Saving Trust, Building Research Establishment, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens and New Economics Foundation.

The events in London, Manchester and Middlesbrough have brought together industry experts, practitioners, funders and environmental campaigners to celebrate the work of the 12 local partnerships and to explore how the lessons from the programme can be shared with policymakers and embedded in future initiatives.


Asian hornet outbreak contained in Gloucestershire and Somerset – defra

image: gov.ukAn outbreak of Asian hornets in the South West has been successfully contained by the National Bee Unit

Image: gov.uk

An outbreak of Asian hornets has been successfully contained by bee inspectors who promptly tracked down and destroyed their nest in Gloucestershire.

Asian hornets were first discovered in the Tetbury area in September, but the National Bee Unit moved swiftly to find the nest and remove it.

No further live Asian hornets have been seen since the nest was treated with pesticide and removed in early October.

Two dead Asian hornets were discovered in separate locations close by in north Somerset, but no nests or live hornets have been located by inspectors and there have been no further sightings.


Farm cats neutered and vaccinated in bid to save Scottish wildcats – Scottish Wildcat Action

image: Scottish Wildcat ActionIt’s been a thirteen hour day and I am covered head to toe in cat hair, smelling distinctly like tom cat pee and itching all over from cat lice, so why am I grinning from ear to ear? Well, it’s because it’s been one of the best days I have had on the job so far, one where I feel I have made a real difference for wildcats by doing Trap Neuter Vaccinate Return (TNVR).

Image: Scottish Wildcat Action

Whilst making preparations for feral cat TNVR recently, I started by visiting every home within a 2 mile radius of our feral cat hotspots (mostly in woodland) to let people know what we are doing to help wildcats and how to make sure their pet cat doesn’t accidentally get caught during the TNVR process. This has led to some great conversations about wildcat sightings and the chance to further spread the message about responsible pet ownership.

Hybridisation is perhaps the biggest threat to our native cat species, the Scottish wildcat, and unneutered domestic cats that come into contact with them can breed and produce fertile offspring. Because wildcats are vastly outnumbered, this dilutes their gene pool and carries the additional risk of disease transmission.


Research shows female fish judge males on DIY skills – University of Leicester

image: University of LeicesterInternational team show that male fish build nests to suit local environments - and females judge males on their ability to respond to changing conditions. Female fish judge males based on their ability to design nests best suited for the conditions of their environment, according to a new study by researchers from the Department of Neuroscience, Psychology and Behaviour.

Image: University of Leicester

In the study, which is published today (3/11/16), biologists at our University, the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have shown that low oxygen can change the way in which fish build nests, and also change the nesting preferences of female fish.

Male three-spined stickleback fish are unusual in that they build nests and provide all the parental care for the eggs, which are spawned by females, and for the developing baby fish. The research team found that males change the design of their nests depending on the oxygen content of the water – making looser nests under low-oxygen conditions and more compact nests when oxygen increases.


Scientific publications

Chandler, M. et al (2016) Contribution of citizen science towards international biodiversity monitoring. Biological Conservation. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.09.004


Gallo, T. & Pejchar, L. (2016) Woodland reduction and long-term change in breeding bird communities. The Journal of Wildlife Management. DOI: 10.1002/jwmg.21188


Banaszak-Cibicka, W., Ratyńska, H. & Dylewski, Ł. (2016) Features of urban green space favourable for large and diverse bee populations (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Apiformes) Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2016.10.015


Theodoropoulos, C., Vourka, A. S., Stamou, A, Rutschmann, P. Skoulikidis, N. (2016) Response of freshwater macroinvertebrates to rainfall-induced high flows: A hydroecological approach. Ecological Indicators. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.10.011


Dorward, L. J., Mittermeier, J. C., Sandbrook, C. & Spooner, F. (2016) Pokémon Go: Benefits, Costs, and Lessons for the Conservation Movement. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12326


Orsman, C. J. et al (2016) Diet flexibility in a declining long-distance migrant may allow it to escape the consequences of phenological mismatch with its caterpillar food supply. IBIS. DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12437


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