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


Innovative Wildlife Scheme on the River Rye Secures Heritage Lottery Funding Support – North York National Park Authority

A £2m grant to support Ryevitalise, a project to revitalise the River Rye’s heritage, has been given initial approval by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) through its Landscape Partnership programme, it was announced today. The North York Moors National Park has secured this grant working with a number of partnership members, land owners and local communities. Image: NYMNPA


The funding will help understand and enhance the Rye’s verdant valleys and clear waters which have been prized for millennia for their beauty and tranquillity resulting in a more natural, better functioning and better understood landscape. The River Rye and its tributaries rise on the moorland of the North York Moors, flowing through fast/clear upland streams that carve out steep river valleys until the land flattens and the river becomes slower and broader taking on the character of the undulating Howardian Hills and the flat lowlands of the Vale-of-Pickering.

Ryevitalise projects will cover four themes, Water Environment, looking at aquatic habitats of the Rye and rare and threatened species, Water Quality, working with land-owners and managers to reduce pollution, Water Level Management, working alongside North Yorkshire County Council to harness natural processes to manage the sources and pathways of flood waters and Reconnecting People; improving the understanding of the river landscape by telling the story of its evolution and encouraging people to protect their heritage.


Record number of common cranes in UK - RSPB

  • Latest common crane survey reveals record breaking 48 pairs across UK in 2016 with a total population of an estimated 160 birds - its highest number since they returned to the UK in 1978 after an absence of more than 400 years  
  • The Great Crane Project, a partnership between the RSPB, WWT and the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, has been instrumental in supporting the increase in numbers after successfully hand-rearing and releasing 93 cranes into the Somerset Levels and Moors between 2010 and 2014 

A record breaking 48 pairs of cranes across the UK in 2016 (Image: Nick Upton)A record breaking 48 pairs of cranes across the UK in 2016 (Image: Nick Upton)

  • Common cranes can now be seen in Norfolk, Suffolk, Yorkshire, East Scotland as well as released birds in Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire and South Wales. 

The common crane has continued to make a comeback after the latest survey revealed a record breaking 48 pairs across the UK in 2016 with the total population now at an estimated 160 birds – its highest number since cranes returned to the UK in 1978 after an absence of more than 400 years. 

Standing at a height of 4ft, this graceful grey bird with a long, elegant neck is one of the tallest in the UK. Wild cranes were once a widespread breeding species before they became extinct through hunting and the loss of their favoured wetland habitat around the 1600’s. 

In 1978, a small number of wild cranes returned to the UK and established themselves in a small area of the Norfolk Broads before slowly spreading to other areas of eastern England, benefiting from work to improve their habitat at RSPB Lakenheath and RSPB Nene Washes.


Hundreds of bat deaths at wind farms could be prevented, finds new research – University of Exeter

Hundreds of bat deaths at on-shore windfarms in the UK could be prevented by better risk assessments and simple changes to the operation of turbines, according to a study by academics at the University of Exeter.

At the 29 windfarms studied by the researchers in work published in the journal Current Biology, 194 bats were killed per month. Casualty rates varied from 1 to 64 per month across the sites. The research team derived these estimates from searching for bat carcasses with dogs beneath the turbines and then accounting for both observer efficiency and a carcass removal rate by predators.

Dr Fiona Mathews of the University of Exeter, who led the research, said that simple mitigation measures such as turning off turbines at night at peak times for bats could save many bat lives. She suggested that wind-farm operators who take steps to prevent bat deaths be rewarded with higher tariffs for the electricity they produce.

Dr Mathews, a mammalian biologist at the University of Exeter, said more research was needed into the behaviour of bats after turbines were built, including whether they may ‘switch off’ their sonar at the height of turbines, because they are not used to encountering objects at that altitude. They could also be attracted to insects flying around the turbine blades. There are effective ways of preventing bat deaths. Unfortunately we have found that assessments conducted when wind farms are being planned are very poor at identifying whether a site is likely to be risky. This means that appropriate action is not taken to protect bats,” Dr Mathews said. “We therefore call for a switch in emphasis from pre-construction to post-construction assessments, so that any problem can be nipped in the bud early on.”

The University of Exeter research team used sniffer dogs to locate dead bats under the turbines. This meant that they were able to find carcasses that would have been overlooked using traditional survey methods. But some dead bats will have already been removed by scavengers and some carcasses will have fallen into areas outside the search zone. However, most fell within a short radius of the turbine tower.

The University of Exeter academic said there was a danger that ‘huge amounts of money’ was being spent on ‘pre-construction assessments’ but ‘almost nothing is done to see whether these assessments are actually useful, or whether any mitigation actually delivers benefits for conservation.’


England’s bathing waters best on record – Environment Agency

New statistics on bathing water quality reveal England's favourite swimming spots are the cleanest they've been since records began.

Millions of visitors to England’s stunning seaside and bathing spots will be able to enjoy swimming in cleaner water than ever before, thanks to massive improvements made over the past two decades.

Bathing water quality, tested at 413 beaches and lakes up and down the country, is the best on record and 98.5 per cent passed tough standards this year.

Huge strides have been made to improve water quality, helping to make our beaches even more attractive for the increasing numbers of tourists who visit from around the world. Just 28 per cent of bathing waters met the top water quality standards in the early 1990s; now 93.2 per cent are rated excellent and good. The number of bathing waters rated ‘excellent’ has increased by 5.9 percentage points since 2015, and five bathing waters have met at least the minimum standards for the first time.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: England’s bathing waters are enjoyed by millions of people every year, which is why I am delighted the water quality at our beaches and lakes is better than at any time since before the Industrial Revolution. This year more than 93 per cent of bathing waters were rated excellent and good, but we’re not complacent – we’ll keep working to improve our environment and make sure it’s protected for future generations."


Celebrating the nation's Bees' Needs pollinator heroes - defra

Lord Gardiner honours pollinator-friendly projects and urges the public to take action to meet bees' needs this winter.

A solitary bee (image: defra)A solitary bee (image: defra)

An inner-London ‘nectar bar’ and a disused coal mine transformed into a pollen-rich hay meadow are among a range of innovative projects helping protect the nation’s pollinators being celebrated today by Defra Minister Lord Gardiner.

The Bees’ Needs Champions Awards, hosted at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, brings together 30 champions to celebrate bee-friendly initiatives, from playgrounds to parks and farms to famous shopping streets. As winter approaches, bee experts are also calling on the public to take action to keep bees buzzing over winter, with tips on providing homes and food as the temperature drops.

Speaking ahead of the Bees’ Needs Champions Awards, Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity Lord Gardiner said: "Pollinators are essential for food production and the environment. The Bees’ Needs champions show us how to keep our pollinators happy and healthy all year round, and their efforts are an inspiration for us all. They show that whether you have access to acres of land or just a window box, everyone can play a part in helping these vital insects thrive."

The awards celebrate success in six categories: youth groups, schools, local authorities, farming, construction and community groups. They have been judged by a number of organisations on adopting Defra’s National Pollinator Strategy. The champions come from all over England and are responsible for a wide range of projects.

Find out more about the Bees’ Needs campaign and read the National Pollinator Strategy.


Danger low flying woodcock - RSPB

A plump and bizarre-looking bird has been turning up in the most unusual places.

Woodcock 'roding' (Image: Mike Langman, RSPB)Woodcock 'roding' (Image: Mike Langman, RSPB)

In recent weeks, the RSPB has been receiving numerous reports of woodcock – a bulky wading bird with a long bill – showing up in back gardens and even cities. Surprised members of the public have also taken to social media to share pictures of birds appearing in urban areas, including central London.

Many birds appear dazed and confused, having collided with buildings and windows. But as birds which usually live in woodland and rural habitats, what are they doing in our cities?

Most woodcock found in the UK are migrant birds which spend the summer in Finland and Russia. Then, in October and November, when the cold weather bites, they set off for the UK in their thousands to enjoy our relatively milder weather. Because they make their long journeys – often over 1,000 miles – during the night, flying low, woodcock are prone to bumping into unexpected landmarks. Often these are tall buildings next to rivers, suggesting the birds are using rivers as migratory paths. Experts also suggest that woodcock are lured by artificial lights, and can mistake glass windows and shiny office buildings for the open sky.

Ben Andrew, RSPB Wildlife Advisor, says: “At this time of year we get calls and tweets almost every day from people who are worried and confused by what they are seeing. Woodcocks are quite large, distinctive birds and make an almighty noise when they strike windows, which is quite distressing for both the bird and for people that find them.”

The RSPB is encouraging people to interfere as little as possible if they find a woodcock which has strayed off course and isn’t visibly injured. Given time to recover in peace, they will normally fly off and resume their journeys when ready.


Canvey Wick Nature Reserve expansion plans announced – The Land Trust

Great news for wildlife and people as plans to expand Canvey Wick Nature Reserve in Essex are confirmed by RSPB, Buglife and the Land Trust 

Canvey Wick Nature Reserve, aerial view (image: the Land Trust)Canvey Wick Nature Reserve, aerial view (image: the Land Trust)

The RSPB and Buglife have this week announced that they will be working alongside the Land Trust to significantly increase the size of Essex based nature reserve Canvey Wick.  At five times its existing size, the new nature reserve will span an area equivalent to 122 football pitches.

This news follows the announcement made by the Land Trust in September that Morrisons supermarket had transferred 150 hectares of land adjacent to the existing Canvey Wick Nature Reserve to the Trust.

The RSPB and Buglife will be taking on the management of the newly acquired land with the aim of transforming it into an additional area of wildlife rich habitat.  The conservation organisations will, over the coming years, create areas of open bare ground and short flower-rich meadows on the new land, which will be central to supporting the incredible range of species that already makes a home on the existing reserve.

Located at the west end of Canvey Island, Canvey Wick Nature Reserve was once home to an oil refinery. Now owned by the Land Trust and managed in partnership with the RSPB and Buglife, the reserve is fantastically rich in plants, insects and animals with as many species per square metre as a rainforest. Recently featured on BBC’s The One Show, it is one of the most important sites in Britain for endangered invertebrate species such as shrill carder bee, five-banded weevil wasp and scarce emerald damselfly.

The nature reserve was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 2005 in recognition of its importance for wildlife and was the first brownfield site to be protected specifically for its bug and insect life.


First Apprentice Rangers join National Park – New Forest National Park Authority 

Two Apprentice Rangers have been employed in the New Forest as part of a scheme to protect, preserve and enhance its landscape, wildlife and heritage.

Promoting awareness, understanding and enjoyment of the Forest and its surrounding areas, the apprentices will spend 13 months learning about and caring for this cherished landscape.

New apprentices Katherine Argyrou, 21, and Joe Ison, 18, began their inductions and initial training at the New Forest National Park Authority, before undertaking placements with each of the organisations ranger teams, and are currently with the National Trust. Through these placements, they will receive training in all aspects of their role, including public engagement, natural history and practical conservation work to help manage, protect and promote the Forest’s landscape and wildlife.  The apprenticeships will also provide the trainees with land management qualifications, including chainsaw training and first aid, with courses provided by Kingston Maurwood College, Dorchester.

New Forest National Park Authority Lead Ranger Gillie Molland said: ‘We are very excited to be able to offer this opportunity to those wishing to start a career in countryside management. With fewer seasonal positions available now than when most of us started our careers, it is difficult to get on the first step of the ladder and gain the all-important experience necessary for securing future jobs. This is a unique opportunity to not only learn what makes the New Forest special and how it is cared for, but also to gain experience of working with five New Forest Ranger teams and be supported by the wealth of knowledge from the New Forest Association.’


Welcome rise in Scotland's golden eagle population, according to fourth national survey – RSPB Scotland

 Results from the fourth national golden eagle survey show that the population of these birds of prey has increased to 508 pairs in Scotland. That is a rise of 15% since the previous survey in 2003, when 442 pairs were recorded, and indicates recovery of the population towards levels thought to have been present in this country historically. 

Golden eagles are regarded by many people as Scotland’s national bird and it is more than likely that Scotland is actually home to the entire UK population, following reports earlier this year (2016) that England’s only resident golden eagle is feared to have died.

Golden Eagle (image: Niall Benvie via RSPB)Golden Eagle (image: Niall Benvie via RSPB)

The national survey was carried out during the first six months of 2015 and was co-funded by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Fieldwork was carried out by expert licensed volunteers from the Scottish Raptor Study Group and professional surveyors from the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.

The results are significant because the eagle population, having surpassed 500 pairs, now meets the targets identified to define it as having ‘favourable conservation status’ in the UK . The population increase also highlights the continuing steady recovery in Scotland from very low numbers in the mid-19th century.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said:“The sight of a golden eagle soaring in the sky above is an awe-inspiring part of our natural heritage, and this increase in numbers of golden eagle pairs is great news. Across many parts of Scotland there’s been a very welcome turnaround in how people respect these magnificent birds, part of a more enlightened public attitude towards birds of prey. Increased monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as stronger sanctions against wildlife crime may be serving as effective deterrents against illegal activity, therefore helping their population to increase. However, the continued absence of golden eagles in some areas of eastern Scotland remains a real cause for concern and suggests that much more work needs to be done.”

Andrew Bachell, SNH’s Director of Policy & Advice, said: “It’s wonderful to see golden eagles reaching favourable conservation status nationally. These beautiful birds are such an important part of Scotland’s nature, a species which people love to see when they visit our wilder landscapes. It’s particularly encouraging to see greater recovery in some areas where persecution had been thought to be a major constraint in the past. That picture is uneven though, and we would still expect eagles to be doing better in parts of the eastern Highlands. We will continue to look at all the factors which may be limiting numbers, in the hope that we will see further spread of the range and increase in numbers of eagles in the future. We continue to work with the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) group to combat persecution of birds of prey."


Christmas advert will bring joy and nature to children – The Wildlife Trusts 

The Wildlife Trusts are John Lewis's Christmas charity partner

Fox from John Lewis's Christmas advert (image via Wildlife Trusts)Fox from John Lewis's Christmas advert (image via Wildlife Trusts)

The Wildlife Trusts are delighted to be John Lewis’s Christmas campaign charity partner. This year’s John Lewis Christmas advert which launches today, celebrates - with sparkle and a flash of magic - the joy of encountering wildlife in a garden using a cast of wild creatures including a fox, badger, squirrel and hedgehog.

10% of the sale of soft toys from the campaign will go towards The Wildlife Trusts’ work engaging children with nature – this will include wildlife action packs for thousands of schoolchildren, activity booklets, and wildlife resources for teachers to use in lessons.

Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, Stephanie Hilborne OBE, says: “The Wildlife Trusts believe that everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of nature and wild places in their daily lives. That’s why we’re delighted that John Lewis has put some of our most endearing wild animals at the centre of their magical advert and made The Wildlife Trusts their charity of choice this Christmas. With this support we will be able to inspire thousands more children about the wonders of the natural world.”


Rare discovery of ocean sunfish at Kimmeridge – Dorset Wildlife Trust 

Ocean sunfish, image: Julie Hatcher via Dorset Wildlife TrustAn ocean sunfish has been found washed up on the beach at Kimmeridge this morning (Wed 9/11) and is possibly one of the first such strandings in Dorset. 

Ocean sunfish, image: Julie Hatcher via Dorset Wildlife Trust

Ocean sunfish, Mola mola is the heaviest bony fish in the world, although the individual found at Kimmeridge was a juvenile measuring 12 inches long.  The animals are very occasionally seen in Dorset during the summer months.   The discovery was made by Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Marine Awareness Officer, Julie Hatcher. She said, “I was thrilled to discover this animal on the beach – this is the first time I have ever found one.  Although I would rather see them alive in the sea it was a rare opportunity to have a really close look at what is a bizarre-looking fish.” Julie added, “The disc-shaped body, very tall dorsal and anal fins and the lack of a tail make this an unmistakable fish.  I knew immediately that this was a very special find.”

The specimen has been collected to further research into the species by Queen’s University, Belfast.


Why Do Seabirds Eat Plastic? The Answer Stinks Marine Plastic Debris Is an Olfactory Trap for Seabirds – University of California, Davis

If it smells like food, and looks like food, it must be food, right?

Not in the case of ocean-faring birds that are sometimes found with bellies full of plastic. But very little research examines why birds make the mistake of eating plastic in the first place.

It turns out that marine plastic debris emits the scent of a sulfurous compound that some seabirds have relied upon for thousands of years to tell them where to find food, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. This olfactory cue essentially tricks the birds into confusing marine plastic with food.  The study, published Nov. 9 in the journal Science Advances, helps explain why plastic ingestion is more prevalent in some seabird species than in others. Tubenosed seabirds, such as petrels and albatross, have a keen sense of smell, which they use to hunt. They are also among the birds most severely affected by plastic consumption.

Some species of seabirds, including blue petrels, are particularly vulnerable to eating plastic debris at sea. Credit: J.J. Harrison.Some species of seabirds, including blue petrels, are particularly vulnerable to eating plastic debris at sea. Credit: J.J. Harrison.

The study could also open the door to new strategies that address the ocean’s plastic problem, which plagues not only seabirds, but also fish, sea turtles and other marine life.

To learn exactly what marine plastic debris smells like, the scientists put beads made of the three most common types of plastic debris — high-density polyethylene, low-density polyethylene, and poly-propylene — into the ocean at Monterey Bay and Bodega Bay, off the California coast. Taking care not to add to the marine plastic problem, the scientists placed the beads inside specially sewn mesh bags and tied them to an ocean buoy before collecting them about three weeks later.  They brought the retrieved plastic to a somewhat unusual resource for marine ecologists — the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology, where researchers are more often found analyzing wine flavor chemistry than smelly trash.  Using food-and-wine chemist Susan Ebeler’s chemical analyzer, the team confirmed that, sure enough, the plastic reeked of the sulfur compound dimethyl sulfide, or DMS, a chemical cue released by algae, which coats floating plastic. 

Co-author Nevitt, with the UC Davis Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, had previously established that DMS is a scent that triggers tubenosed seabirds to forage. DMS is released when algae is eaten by animals like krill, one of the birds’ favorite meals. So while the algae does not smell like food itself, it does smell like food being eaten, which is the birds’ version of a dinner bell.

The study noted that seabirds that track the scent of DMS to find prey are nearly six times more likely to eat plastic than those that do not.

Watch Savoca's TED-style, UC Grad Slam talk on this research.

Read the paper: M. S. Savoca, M. E. Wohlfeil, S. E. Ebeler, G. A. Nevitt, Marine plastic debris emits a keystone infochemical for olfactory foraging seabirds. Sci. Adv. 2, e1600395 (2016).


Visitors to countryside not attracted by conservation importance – University of East Anglia

Countryside visitors choose where to go based on the presence of features such as coastline, woodland or abundant footpaths, rather than a site’s importance to conservation, according to new research.                                                                                              

While conservation organisations stress the important health, psychological and emotional wellbeing benefits of connecting people to nature, it isn’t the sites with the highest conservation importance which people choose to visit.

The study into people’s recreation habits, by Karen Hornigold, Dr Iain Lake and Dr Paul Dolman at the University of East Anglia (UEA), is important to inform both the provision of access to natural areas (a.k.a. “green infrastructure”) and to mitigate recreational pressures to vulnerable conservation areas.

Ms Hornigold from the School of Environmental Sciences at UEA said: “There is a lack of understanding of recreationists’ decision-making, but we must understand what drives countryside visitors to their location of choice if we want to support the management of countryside to balance both recreation and conservation of biodiversity.”

The study is the first to model outdoor recreation at a national level, examining habitat preferences and the popularity of sites of conservation importance – those designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

This unique analysis used a huge data set of countryside visits undertaken by the general public in England to show that, although conservation designated sites often offer greater public access than non-designated sites, this doesn’t drive more people to these valuable areas.

Dr Dolman said: “We found that recreationists preferred areas of coast or freshwater bodies, deciduous woodland, and sites with more footpaths over other sites such as arable land, coniferous woods or lowland heath. They aren’t choosing where to go based on a site’s importance to conservation but for the features it offers. If a site has attractive features, whether it is also of high nature conservation importance gives no additional attraction to general day-to-day recreationists, and in some cases appears to reduce the sites attraction. Although there is huge public support for nature conservation, this is not linked to greater recreational use by the general public.”

Access the paper: Hornigold K, Lake I, Dolman P (2016) Recreational Use of the Countryside: No Evidence that High Nature Value Enhances a Key Ecosystem Service. PLoS ONE 11(11): e0165043. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165043


Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group secures HLF investment – Heritage Lottery Fund

Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group has received a confirmed grant of £545,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Fixing and Linking Our Wetlands (FLOW) project, it was announced yesterday (10/11).

One of Britain’s most endangered mammals, the water vole Credit: Joan NorthOne of Britain’s most endangered mammals, the water vole Credit: Joan North

The project will be working to improve and enhance wetland habitat on the Manhood Peninsula over the next four years. The wetland network of the Manhood Peninsula is currently a stronghold for the UK’s endangered water vole population. Chichester and Pagham harbours, which flank the Manhood Peninsula, have international significance as wetland habitats because of the wildlife they support. 

With the help of trained volunteers, the project will carry out essential survey work of the existing wetland network and digitise the findings to make them accessible for a wide range of audiences.  Where environmental or flood issues are identified, solutions will be sought and physical work carried out where appropriate and possible.  Focus will be on building strong relationships between stakeholders to support a cohesive approach to wetland management across the Manhood Peninsula.  

Chloë Goddard, from the Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group, said: “We’re delighted that HLF has given us this grant.  The extensive drainage network on the Manhood Peninsula is important to both people and wildlife and this project will work to bring communities together to help us to understand and care for this environment.”


A day of mixed fortunes for Red Squirrels -

Return of the reds – reintroduction hope for iconic species – Trees for Life

Photo © Peter Cairns/www.scotlandbigpicture.com Photo © Peter Cairns/www.scotlandbigpicture.com 

An innovative project to boost the number of the UK’s red squirrels by relocating individuals to woodlands they cannot reach by themselves is taking a major step forward this month.

Conservation experts at the charity Trees for Life will carefully relocate red squirrels from Inverness-shire and Moray to forests near Kinlochewe and at Plockton, where the species is currently absent despite there being suitable habitat for squirrels.

The Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project aims to establish 10 new populations in the northwest Highlands, significantly increasing both the numbers and range of the red squirrel in the UK.

“We are giving red squirrels a helping hand to return to some of their long-lost forest homes. Many Highland woodlands offer the species excellent habitat far from disease-carrying grey squirrels – but because reds travel between trees and avoid crossing large areas of open ground, they can’t return to isolated woodlands without our help,” said Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s Wildlife Officer.

The next two releases follow a successful first reintroduction in March this year, when the charity relocated 33 red squirrels from Forres and Strathspey to native woods at Shieldaig in Wester Ross.

This new population has also bred during the summer, with several young squirrels observed – confirming that the area is excellent habitat with a good natural food supply.

There have also been regular sightings reported by local people, with the squirrels ranging widely as they explore nearby habitat. Trees for Life is continuing to monitor the population, with surveys planned for later this year.


Red squirrels in the British Isles are infected with leprosy bacteria - École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL

A red squirrel with leprosy on its ear © Dorset Wildlife TrustMicrobiologists at EPFL and the University of Edinburgh have discovered that red squirrels in Britain and Ireland carry the two bacterial species that cause leprosy in humans.

A red squirrel with leprosy on its ear © Dorset Wildlife Trust

Once rampant in medieval Europe, leprosy dramatically declined by the end of the Middle Ages for reasons that are still unclear. About a century ago, leprosy in Europe virtually disappeared, at least among humans. Examining diseased red squirrels from England, Ireland, and Scotland, scientists at EPFL and the University of Edinburgh have now discovered that the same bacteria that cause leprosy in humans also infect red squirrels. The work is published in Science.

Leprosy also affects animals, such as armadillos, which have reportedly caused a few cases of animal-to-human (or “zoonotic”) infections. Drawing from this evidence, the labs of Stewart Cole at EPFL and Anna Meredith at the University of Edinburgh carried out DNA tests on 110 red squirrels from England, Scotland, and Ireland. Some of these animals showed clinical symptoms of leprosy, while others did not; nonetheless, most were found to be infected with leprosy bacteria.

Surprisingly, red squirrels from Brownsea Island, off the south coast of England, were infected with a strain of M. leprae that is closely related to one found in a skeleton of a leprosy victim that was buried in Winchester 730 years ago, just 70 km from Brownsea Island.

On the other hand, red squirrels from Scotland and Ireland and the Isle of Wight (South England) were found to be infected with the other leprosy bacterium, M. lepromatosis. This species causes leprosy in humans in Mexico, and further analysis showed that the two strains from Mexico and Europe diverged from a common ancestor around 27,000 years ago.

“It was completely unexpected to see that centuries after its elimination from humans in the UK M. leprae causes disease in red squirrels,” says Stewart Cole. “This has never been observed before.” 

Access the paper: Charlotte Avanzi, et al. Red squirrels in the British Isles are infected with leprosy bacilli.Science 11 November 2016. DOI: 10.1126/science.aah3783


Scientific Publications 

Kuliczkowska, E. & Parka, A. (2016) Management of risk of environmental failure caused by tree and shrub root intrusion into sewers. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2016.11.001


Laidlaw, R. A., Smart, J., Smart, M. A. and Gill, J. A. (2016), Scenarios of habitat management options to reduce predator impacts on nesting waders. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12838


Boyd, C., Grünbaum, D., Hunt, G. L., Punt, A. E., Weimerskirch, H. and Bertrand, S. (2016), Effects of variation in the abundance and distribution of prey on the foraging success of central place foragers. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12832


Anders Pape Møller, Johannes Erritzøe. Brain size and the risk of getting shot. Biol. Lett. 2016 12 20160647; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0647. Published 2 November 2016



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