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


The Big Pathwatch reveals 59,000 problems on our path network - Ramblers

Ramblers has today, 14 November 2016, released the results of the Big Pathwatch, the nation’s biggest ever footpath survey.
Citizen surveyors walked every path in almost half the total area of England and Wales recording more than 100,000 features including attractive views and interesting flora and fauna; and locked gates, barbed wire across paths and missing or misleading signs.
The results revealed that although more than half (56%) of paths are well-kept and signposted, more than a third (35%) are in need of improvement and nearly a tenth (9%) are difficult or impossible to use.   Just over half of reported features were negative (55%), with muddy, ploughed or potholed paths, unsafe stiles, gates or bridges, heavy undergrowth or overhanging vegetation. Many of these made paths difficult or impossible to use. However, 45% of features identified were positive, with attractive views topping the charts.

The good news is that the problem is far from insurmountable – and we are now calling for everyone to take responsibility for their local paths by walking them and reporting any problems they find using the free Pathwatch app.
Nicky Philpott, the Ramblers’ director of advocacy and engagement, said: “It shouldn’t just be up to local authorities to ensure the upkeep of our paths. We all have a part to play in looking after them, which is why we want everyone to take responsibility for their paths. It can be as simple as regularly using your local paths. Get out and walk them. If you see a problem, use the Pathwatch app to report it and we’ll pass the information on to the local authority. Problems reported early that would be quick and cheap to fix can become difficult and costly over time.”

Read the report, a summary is also available.


Branching out for the Hair Streak with Elm - Buglife

White letter hairstreak (image: ©Roger Key via Buglife) White letter hairstreak (image: ©Roger Key via Buglife) 

Buglife’s Urban Buzz project, together with the City of Cardiff Council will be planting several varieties of elm tree on five sites in Cardiff between Bute Park and Forest Farm to provide important habitat for the White-letter hairstreak butterfly which has declined by 53%  in the UK since the 1970s.  Elm trees, once common across Britain, have drastically declined since the 1970s, when Dutch elm disease ravaged populations across the country. The White-letter hairstreak breeds and lays eggs on elms and so also suffered when they lost this vital food source for their caterpillars. 

Michelle Bales, Conservation Officer for the Urban Buzz project said “If we really want to make a difference to declining insect populations it is important to provide habitat not only for the adult forms, such as butterflies, but all stages of the insect’s life cycle which is often overlooked”.

 There are a few known populations in Cardiff and it is these which the project is targeting to ensure habitat for these insects. Russel Hobson, Head of Butterfly Conservation Wales, provided advice on elm trees for White-letter Hairstreak. He said: “Bute Park is a known hotspot for this butterfly in Cardiff so it is great that the Urban Buzz Project is able to link up populations so they continue to thrive in future.” A range of elm tree species will be planted to increase the number of trees at specific sites. As well as these varieties, Buglife have secured 25 trees bred from Dutch elm resistant trees from The Conservation Foundation.


Competitive males are a blessing and a curse, study reveals - Queen Mary University of London

Showy ornaments used by the male of the species in competition for mates, such as the long tail of a peacock or shaggy mane of a lion, could indicate a species' risk of decline in a changing climate, according to a new study from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).        

Males of many animal species compete for mates, either by producing showy ornaments to attract females, such as the plumes and bright colours of male Birds of Paradise, or, like stags and elephant seals, by fighting with other males for access to mates. Scientists have shown over the last few years that in many of these cases the winning males are fitter because they carry genes that make them better adapted to the environment – the so called ‘good genes’ effect.

The researchers from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences investigated whether these ‘sexually selected’ animals might be better able to cope with changes in the environment such as increasing temperatures or acidity.

Using a sophisticated mathematical simulation model that integrates both ecological and evolutionary processes, the researchers found that sexually selected species can adapt faster to new environments, and are less likely to go extinct. There is a twist in this peacock’s tail though - this effect only happens when the animal populations are large. When the populations are small, the presence of competitive males can actually make a population more likely to become extinct.


Oxfordshire's baby bittern boom - RSPB 

The first bitterns to breed in Oxfordshire for more than 150 years have been recorded at the RSPB Otmoor reserve, thanks to the hard work of volunteers.
Adult bittern wading in reedbed (image: Andy Hay, RSPB)Adult bittern wading in reedbed (image: Andy Hay, RSPB)

The bittern, related to the heron, is a rare breeding species in the UK, nesting only in big, wet reedbeds. They are superbly camouflaged and very secretive, however in the breeding season the males make a distinctive booming sound which can be heard over a mile away. While the first ‘booming’ bittern was recorded at the Otmoor reserve in 2013, it was only recently proved that successful breeding had finally taken place, with the discovery of two nests.

This is welcome news for these enigmatic birds, who’ve had a tumultuous history in the UK. In the late 19th century they had vanished from our shores; prized as a medieval banquet dish, they were hit by hunting and by loss of their reedbed habitat. They started to re-colonise slowly at the beginning of the 20th century, but due to continuing habitat loss their numbers slumped yet again, and by 1997 there were only eleven booming males across the country.

At Otmoor, the RSPB and the Environment Agency have been working together to bring bitterns back to Oxfordshire. An army of volunteers invested countless hours to transform bare mud islands into a wildlife haven, planting more than 150,000 reed seedlings by hand over seven years. Now the reedbed has matured, it is the centrepiece of the reserve, home not only to the elusive bitterns but also otters, marsh harriers and cranes.

David Wilding, RSPB Site Manager at Otmoor, said: “We are delighted to finally have bitterns breeding in Oxfordshire once again, and with the amazing habitats created at Otmoor we hope to hear bitterns booming here for years to come. We owe much of this success to our brilliant team of volunteers. Otmoor has also benefitted from generous funding and we are extremely grateful to each of our funders as, without their support, this achievement would simply not have been possible.”


Praise for Peak District paths – Peak District National Park

The Peak District National Park has been praised following the biggest-ever survey of the nation’s footpaths, bridleways and byways.

The Big Pathwatch study by The Ramblers found that in areas of special designation such as National Parks, rights of way are considerably more likely to be well maintained. Of all National Parks in England and Wales, the Peak District had the highest proportion (85%) of paths well kept and signposted, compared to the national average of 56%.

Mike Rhodes, access and rights of way manager at the Peak District National Park, said: “Most people who visit the Peak District come to walk, so it’s essential that our rights of way are well managed and maintained. It’s great news that the paths in the National Park have been recognised by The Ramblers as being well kept and signposted and therefore more enjoyable to walk. This corresponds with our own surveys, which regularly show that between 85-90% are open and easy to use. This is a result of a close collaboration between our Ranger Service, local Highways authorities, landowners and local user groups, who together make the Peak District a welcoming place to visit.’’


Mycologists become rarer than the species they study - Plantlife

Fears over demise in fungi experts prompts new project

Despite the enormous interest in edible wild fungi, the decline in expert mycologists has hit an all time low in the UK with a 70% decline in the last 20 years.

Today, less than a dozen remain in employed posts. As a result Plantlife Cymru are launching a new project which aims to create a new generation of fungi experts.

Pink Ballerina (Hygrocybe calyptriformis) (image: © Ray-Woods via Plantlife)Pink Ballerina (Hygrocybe calyptriformis) (image: © Ray-Woods via Plantlife)

Why? For its size, Wales is one of the richest countries in the world for fungi. It supports for example over half the UK’s grassland fungi, 112 species in total, many of which are incredibly rare and in decline. With a drastic shortage in experts to conserve them they risk disappearing without anyone knowing.

But thankfully the Wonderful Waxcaps of Wales have been thrown a much needed lifeline. Plantlife Cymru are delighted to announce that they have received £24,900 of support from the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop a new 3-year project starting in 2017 which aims to engage at least 12,000 people across Wales – including school children, land owners, local communities and budding new experts whom will become Waxcap Fungi Apprentices, going on to study and conserve these threatened species and their habitats.

Anita Daimond from Plantlife Cymru said “We’re delighted that the HLF has given us this support and we will be working with schools, communities, conservation partners and land owners across Wales to breathe new life into what has become an almost forgotten field of science. Welsh grasslands are home to some extraordinarily beautiful fungi but these wild and wonderful waxcaps are highly sensitive to ploughing and the application of fertilizers so they need urgent care and protection. The current shortage of fungi experts meant their future looked bleak but we are confident that this new project will help by finding and training the next generation of fungi fanatics.”

find out more about the project.  


UK leading global fight against illegal wildlife trade - defra

The UK will commit an additional £13 million to new measures tackling the illegal wildlife trade, doubling its investment, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom announced today (17/11) at the Hanoi Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade.  The Secretary of State also confirmed the UK would call world leaders together once more in 2018 at a conference in London to ensure international commitments to stop the illegal wildlife trade are delivered. 

Speaking at the meeting of global leaders in Vietnam, the Environment Secretary welcomed the agreement for decisive action on the black market trade threatening the world’s most endangered wild animals.  And she announced a new UK-China arrangement to train African border forces to spot and tackle smugglers pedalling illegal animal products. The UK will also work with Vietnamese authorities to improve border security in the South East Asian nation, working with airports and airlines to stop smugglers trafficking illegal goods out of the country.  The illegal wildlife trade has brought world populations of iconic species like elephants and rhinos to crisis levels in recent years. Almost 150,000 African elephants have been lost to poaching in the last decade and at least two rhinos are killed every day.

The Environment Secretary outlined new targeted UK-led initiatives, including British military training for anti-poaching forces in key African states. This is alongside financial support for global action by Interpol and other intergovernmental organisations.


Global Peatlands Initiative launched to address climate change - Ramsar

Peatlands only cover 3% of the land surface; they contain twice as much carbon as the entire biomass of the world’s forests.

Drained peatlands are responsible for up to 5% of anthropogenic carbon emissions

A new global initiative, launched today (17/11) at the climate change conference COP22 in Marrakech, aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by protecting peatlands – the world’s largest terrestrial organic carbon stock.
The Global Peatlands Initiative is a time-bound, targeted effort by leading experts and institutions to protect peatlands, which are the most space-effective store of carbon on the planet.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which represents the commitment of 169 Contracting Parties is very pleased to announce the launch of this initiative as a founding partner along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Wetlands International and other institutions.
Half of the world’s wetlands contain peat deposits. Although peatlands only cover 3% of the land surface, they contain twice as much carbon in the peat soil as the entire biomass of the world’s forests.
When peatlands are drained, the carbon is released in greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Greenhouse gas emissions from unsustainable peatland management account for up to 5% of total global emissions, and they are on the rise due to increasing rates of peatland degradation and loss from agriculture and fires. Worldwide, 15% of peatlands have been drained. 95% of global peatland emissions come from 25 countries. A growing number of studies assert that without tackling peat degradation and loss, climate change cannot be stopped.  


Rare farmland bird reaches major milestone - RSPB

The cirl bunting – one of Britain’s most threatened farmland birds – has continued its trail blazing comeback from the brink of extinction after the UK population reached more than 1000 pairs, according to the latest national survey by the RSPB.

Male cirl bunting sitting in hedge, (image: Andy Hay, RSPB)Male cirl bunting sitting in hedge, (image: Andy Hay, RSPB) 

The dramatic rise in the population of the cirl bunting  to 1078 pairs comes at a time when many other farmland birds continue to struggle. The jump in numbers follows a 25-year project between the RSPB and local farmers in the south west of England to help manage their land in a cirl bunting friendly way providing year round food supplies and habitat for the threatened species. 

Under the Cirl Bunting Recovery Programme, led by the RSPB, advisers worked with farmers to help them take up Countryside Stewardship Schemes to manage their land for cirl buntings. These options include growing spring barley that after harvest is left as weedy stubble to provide seed food during the colder months and planting margins of grassland at the edge of their arable fields, which provides insects and spiders for summer food.  The initiative has led to an incredible 8-fold increase in the number of cirl buntings in the UK, from being on the brink of extinction in 1991 to a more stable population of 1078 pairs in 2016. It is hoped numbers will continue to climb and colonies will spread into other parts of southern England where they were once common and widespread before suffering huge declines as a result of the loss of their food sources and nesting sites. 

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “The recovery of this charming little bird is a remarkable conservation success and shows what can be achieved when farmers, conservationists and nature work together. To go from being on the brink of extinction to have over a thousand pairs in just 25 years – bucking the overall downward trend for most farmland birds – highlights how effective this project has been.  It is down to the care and hard work farmers in Devon and Cornwall have put in on their land using the tailored schemes that has made this remarkable comeback possible. The success is one of the best examples of how conservation groups and farmers can work together to achieve amazing results for wildlife. Without this action the cirl bunting would have almost certainly disappeared from our shores altogether.”


Treasury must factor in long term impact of policies on environment - Environmental Audit Committee, UK Parliament

The Environmental Audit Committee is calling for the Treasury to "green-check" all its decisions after a major investigation into its approach found that it puts short term priorities over long term sustainability – potentially increasing costs to the economy in the future, and harming investor confidence.

Government performance

The Chair Mary Creagh MP, said:  "The Treasury is highly influential and uniquely placed to ensure the whole of Government works to promote sustainability. But we have seen considerable evidence that it fails to do this.  The Treasury tends not to take full account of the long term environmental costs and benefits of decisions which would reduce costs for taxpayers and consumers in the long run.  On the carbon capture and storage competition and zero carbon homes we saw the Treasury riding roughshod over departments, cancelling long-established environmental programmes at short notice with no consultation, costing businesses and the taxpayer tens of millions of pounds. With a week to go until the next Autumn Statement, we hope our inquiry will be a wake-up call to the Treasury."

The Treasury, through its control over government spending, taxation policy and regulation is arguably the most important department for ensuring the UK meets its environmental obligations. However, the Treasury is failing adequately to factor in long-term environmental risks into its decisions and is not doing enough to encourage departments to work together on environmental issues – such as air quality, decarbonisation, energy and resource efficiency.

If the Treasury is going to improve its performance and provide greater leadership on environmental sustainability it must: 

  • Ensure Spending Reviews provide strong incentives for collaboration between departments on environmental matters.
  • Incorporate new evidence on long-term environmental risks and benefits into its frameworks for assessing the value for money of government interventions;
  • Increase transparency and accountability by providing publically available justifications for its decisions;
  • Work with other departments whose policies affect the environment to ensure the Government’s new industrial strategies promote sustainability.

Supporting Documentation: Read the report summary; Read the report conclusions and recommendations;

Read the full report: Sustainability and HM Treasury


Scotland’s woodland birds up two-thirds overall since 1994 – Scottish Natural Heritage

Woodland birds have increased by 68 percent overall since 1994, according to a new report from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The Official Statistic for Terrestrial Breeding Birds, published today, reveals mixed fortunes for birds in Scotland, with woodland and farmland birds increasing and upland birds decreasing overall.

Goldfinch (image: SNH)Goldfinch (image: SNH)

Some woodlands bird populations have increased hugely, such as great spotted woodpeckers, which have increased by 530 percent, and chiffchaffs, which have increased by 752 percent. The reasons for changes aren’t certain, but changes in how woodland is managed may be starting to help woodland birds. As well, the effect of climate change is making a big difference for some woodland birds in Scotland – improved conditions in their wintering areas have helped chiffchaffs, for example. Willow warblers and tree pipits are also good examples, showing more positive trends in Scotland than further south. Willow warblers have increased by 46 percent, with tree pipits up 86 percent.

Farmland birds have also increased overall, with long-term increases in several species, including goldfinch (429%), great tit (176%), magpie (143%), corncrake (127%) and whitethroat (99%). Unfortunately, declines continue among waders, with lapwing (down 53%) and oystercatchers (down 40%) experiencing large declines. But targeted management for these species through the Scottish Rural Development Programme is helping boost populations in some areas.

The most negative trend is in upland birds which are, in general, declining. There are some success stories though, including increasing numbers of golden eagles with the most recent national survey showing an increase to an estimated 508 breeding pairs (up 19%). As well, cuckoos in the uplands are bucking the trend with a 129% increase, compared to a decline in UK as a whole. A recent study by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has shown that this may be due to cuckoos from different habitats choosing different migration routes.

See the full report.


Growing partnership to enable planting of 250,000 trees - TCV

We are proud to annouce the launch of this year’s I Dig Trees programme that will see 250,000 trees being planted in communities across the United Kingdom.

I Dig Trees is a partnership between The Conservation Volunteers and OVO Energy, one of the UK’s most innovative independent energy suppliers.  This year’s I Dig Trees programme is growing bigger and better than ever as OVO aims to plant 250,000 trees, together with TCV and thousands of volunteers in over 1,250 community spaces across the UK - most notably in urban areas that would benefit considerably from the tree planting. This will be achieved with approximately 62,000 hours of community volunteering. All trees planted are native species and all will be planted in the UK, directly impacting our local communities.

The programme launches this month and there are multiple ways in which people can get involved. Members of the public can register their community group to receive one of the 1,250 free community tree planting packs, through the My Community Digs Trees initiative on the TCV website. Alternatively, people can volunteers to take part in the tree planting at a location near them.

TCV recognise the critical role that trees play in maintaining the delicate ecosystem and tree planting programmes have long formed a key part of TCV’s nationwide activities, alongside improving the country’s public health. The programme will also take strides towards TCV’s aim of creating healthy, happy communities for everyone across the country.

The programmes hope to involve and inspire volunteers of all ages and backgrounds to get involved with their natural environment, be more active and make the most of their outdoor spaces.


Government’s scientists’ new proposals to help restore England’s seas are welcomed by leading conservation charities – Wildlife Trusts

New Marine Conservation Zones proposed for English Waters.  The Government’s scientific advisors have provided proposals on where a final set of Marine Conservation Zones are needed around England. Leading marine conservation charities, the Marine Conservation Society and The Wildlife Trusts are excited about the plans, which are a positive step forward towards restoring our seas. 

The sites are being proposed for protection by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee and Natural England. They would form the third and final round of Marine Conservation Zone designations around England. In the previous two tranches, only 50 protected sites have been created in English waters, falling far short of the amount of protection scientists say is needed to safeguard our seas. These new plans with approximately 50 further sites could help turn that around.

Melissa Moore, Marine Conservation Society said “the 50 Marine Conservation Zones being recommended by the government’s scientific advisors are essential to ensure we are protecting examples of all habitats. They will allow a proportion of our seas to begin to recover from over a century of damage and contribute to the restoration of biodiversity in our seas. We call on Government to include all these sites in their third tranche consultation next summer.”

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts said “UK seas are home to a stunning array of wildlife, as well as playing a vital role in the planet’s life-support system. If designated as Marine Conservation Zones, these 50 new sites will help to establish a proper network of protected areas in our seas. This is a huge step towards ensuring that future generations will be able to rely on healthy and productive seas, rich in wildlife.”


Lake District receives £3m flood recovery cash boost – Lake District National Park

In December 2015, severe flooding left its mark on the Lake District National Park. Of the 3113km of rights of way we look after, 562km were affected, leaving us with a repair bill of £5.8million, and limiting access and enjoyment for those who live, work and visit the National Park. 

Dipper Bridge before and after (image: Lake District National Park)Dipper Bridge before and after (image: Lake District National Park)

By October we completed 33 repairs to key sites across the Park, made possible by donations from organisations such as Friends of the Lake District and LDNP reserves. But with limited funds available, this was just the start.

We are delighted to announce on Friday 18 November, a £3million grant will kick-start ‘Routes to Resilience’, our 18-month flood recovery programme.

This cash injection has come from the Rural Payments Agency’s ‘Cumbria Countryside Access Fund’, using funding from the European Rural Development Programme. An additional £500,000 has been allocated to Cumbria County Council and £500,000 to The Canal and Rivers Trust.

Richard Leafe, Chief Executive of the Lake District National Park, said: “This year we’ve made a start on repairing some of the areas most affected by the floods, but with limited funding from our own resources and donations, it’s been a challenge. This £3m is fantastic news. It will allow us to launch our extensive recovery programme that will not only reconnect flood-damaged public rights of ways, but also make them more robust and resilient for the future. We are confident Routes to Resilience will benefit everyone who enjoys the Lake District and also bring a much-needed boost to the local economy. Our park rangers are ready to get started to reconnect the Lake District!”

A team of 11 new rangers have been recruited specially for Routes to Resilience. They will join our existing staff to carry out much needed repairs across the Park for the benefit of visitors, businesses, locals and landowners.


West Pennine Moors becomes largest protected wildlife site in a decade – Natural England

One of the country’s most precious landscapes has been given special legal protection for its nationally important wildlife and habitats.

Calf Hey reservoir, Haslingden Grane (image: © Natural England)Calf Hey reservoir, Haslingden Grane (image: © Natural England)

The West Pennine Moors is the largest new site of special scientific interest (SSSI) notified by Natural England since 2004, covering a total of 76 square kilometres between Chorley, Blackburn, Bolton and Haslingden in Lancashire and Greater Manchester.

This move reflects the national significance of the area and its combination of upland habitats, moorland fringe grasslands and woodland, which support an impressive array of breeding birds. Merlin, curlew, snipe, lapwing and redshank nest in the area and there are large breeding colonies of both black-headed and Mediterranean Gulls.

Natural England’s Chief Executive, James Cross, said: "This is a significant moment for the protection of wildlife across a wild and beautiful expanse of north-west England.  Our upland landscapes provide vital wildlife habitats and clean water, reduce flood risk and bring enjoyment and a sense of well-being to millions of people."

The West Pennine Moors provide a dramatic backdrop to the surrounding towns and the wild, open spaces have been enjoyed by generations of locals and visitors alike. The hills also provide clean drinking water for thousands of households and their ability to store water plays a vital role in reducing flood risk in urban areas downstream.

Natural England will work with owners and land managers to continue to protect and enhance the wildlife importance of the area, whilst maximising the other benefits from the moors. This includes sensitive management of blanket bogs through careful grazing by cattle or sheep, and maintaining water levels at or around the surface of the peat to make sure the habitat is at its healthiest.


Scientific Publications

M.A. Equiza, M. Calvo-Polanco, D. Cirelli, J. Señorans, M. Wartenbe, C. Saunders, J.J. Zwiazek, Long-term impact of road salt (NaCl) on soil and urban trees in Edmonton, Canada, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, ISSN 1618-8667, DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2016.11.003.


Carrizo, S. F., Lengyel, S., Kapusi, F., Szabolcs, M., Kasperidus, H. D., Scholz, M., Markovic, D., Freyhof, J., Cid, N., Cardoso, A. C. and Darwall, W. (2016), Critical catchments for freshwater biodiversity conservation in Europe: identification, prioritisation and gap-analysis. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12842


Crowley, S. L., Hinchliffe, S. and McDonald, R. A. (2016), Invasive species management will benefit from social impact assessment. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12817 


Alan D. Fox, Lea-Anne Henry, David W. Corne, J. Murray Roberts. Sensitivity of marine protected area network connectivity to atmospheric variability Royal Scoiety: Open Science. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160494


Vaugoyeau, M., Meylan, S. and Biard, C. (2016), How does an increase in minimum daily temperatures during incubation influence reproduction in the great tit (Parus major)?. J Avian Biol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/jav.01208 


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