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


Landowners can help solve the rural housing crisis - CPRE 

Report suggests ways to help landowners provide affordable housing for local communities

A new paper released today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) argues that rural landowners can play a crucial role in solving England’s rural housing crisis, and sets out ways to better enable them to do so.

Under current policy, rural landowners can provide sites at below-market prices to build housing for local people in need - but recent legal and financial changes have made this increasingly difficult. On Solid Ground shows how we could make it easier for landowners to offer their land for affordable housing, including through changes to tax legislation and to councils’ waiting list systems for social housing.

Rural communities are particularly hard-hit by dwindling affordable housing stock: 8% of rural housing is classed as affordable compared to 20% in urban areas. This has seen the average age in rural communities rise as young people are priced out, and services like post offices, pubs and shops have closed as workers and potential customers are forced to move elsewhere.

Trinley Walker, policy and research adviser at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, comments: “Landowners understand the pressures facing rural communities, and they are uniquely placed to help keep these towns and villages thriving. There is a clear appetite among landowners to help create affordable housing for local people, but the current system discourages them from doing so. Government must do more to address the lack of affordable housing in rural areas. Removing some of the obstacles preventing landowners from providing land is a straightforward way to get more houses built for those who need them.”

Members of the CLA provide nearly 40% of all private rented housing in rural areas. CLA President Ross Murray says: “Landowners have strong multi-generational ties to their communities and are often local employers so are well-placed to help increase the supply of affordable homes. We want life in our villages – to support young families, local workers and those in the community who are ready to downsize. At a time when housing costs are spiralling, providing more affordable housing is an excellent way to sustain rural communities for future generations and ensure people have the opportunity to live and work in the countryside.” 

Access the On Solid Ground report.


Fox hunting laws: Review of legislation complete. – Scottish Government

A report with recommendations to improve the operation of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 had been submitted to the Scottish Government by the Rt Hon Lord Bonomy.

Lord Bonomy’s report contains a number of recommendations, including:

  • Clarification of the language of the Act to make enforcement easier
  • Consideration of the appointment of part-time, independent hunt monitors to observe the activities of hunts  on a random basis
  • A Code of Practice for the conduct of hunt activities
  • Consideration of whether vicarious liability is appropriate if an offence is committed
  • Consideration of extending the time limit for bringing prosecutions under the 2002 Act

Accepting the report, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I’d like to thank Lord Bonomy and his team for examining this legislation. I’d also like to extend thanks to all of those who participated in providing information to allow the report to be put together for our consideration. The Scottish Government recognised concerns about whether the legislation on fox-hunting is working properly – that is why we asked Lord Bonomy to carry out this detailed work. Back in 2002, Scotland led the way in addressing animal welfare concerns and we remain committed to ensuring the highest levels of welfare for our wild animals. We will now carefully consider the findings, with a view to responding in 2017.  Any ensuing proposals for legislative change will be subject to the proper consultation processes.”

View the full report.


Reaction: Response to Bonomy report into Protection of Wild Animals act – Scottish Countryside Alliance

The Countryside Alliance has welcomed the publication of the Bonomy Review into the protection of wild mammals Scotland Act 2002 which deals with hunting with dogs which has been published today (21/11).  

Scottish Countryside Alliance director Jamie Stewart, said: "We are pleased that the inquiry has recognised the importance of gun packs for fox control and has rejected  unjustified calls for further restrictions.   In particular, we are pleased that Lord Bonomy, makes  so clear the important role that gun packs play in managing the fox population and that any restriction on their activity could "seriously compromise effective pest control in the country.  Whilst we do not agree that there is a significant problem with the enforcement of the current legislation, and note that as recently as January 2016 Police Scotland confirmed to MSPs that there 'is no evidence to suggest that the mounted foxhound packs that exist are acting outwith the legislation that is in place at the moment', gun packs have always been very happy to work closely with the authorities.  We therefore  look forward to working with statutory bodies in the development of a separate code of practice for control activities as recommend by the inquiry. "


Reaction: Lord Bonomy Report Into Fox Hunting: SGA Response – Scottish Gamekeepers Association

SGA Chairman Alex Hogg said: “Our members require to be able to use foot packs in order to control foxes in areas of dense and often impenetrable forestry. This helps to prevent predation of ground-nesting species. We feel that Lord Bonomy’s report is a balanced attempt to provide greater accountability and clarity around the law and we have no problems with increasing transparency."


Shooting good for personal wellbeing, BASC report says – British Association for Shooting and Conservation

 Shooting makes an important contribution to health and wellbeing among people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, according to a new report published by the UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).

The report, entitled the Personal Value of Shooting, examines the social, physical and personal wellbeing contribution of shooting to people in the UK and is based on a survey conducted by BASC.

The report’s other key findings were:

  • That shooting can help to get more adults active through sport and physical activity, reduce social isolation and promote personal wellbeing whilst encouraging people to engage with the natural environment.
  • That allowing for variations according to discipline, shooting and its associated activities are moderate to high intensity physical activities.
  • Without shooting: 91 per cent of respondents said they would spend less time outdoors and in nature, 75 per cent would spend less time on conservation work, and 77 per cent said their social life would be poorer.

Kate Ives, BASC’s senior business intelligence officer, said: “Shooting, and activities associated with shooting, are clearly vastly important to people’s wellbeing. This is evident both in the responses to the survey and the comments people made about what shooting means to them. Wellbeing is used by policymakers and the government as an indicator and measure of our quality of life.  Sports and outdoor activity are increasingly being recognised as important for their contributions to our physical, personal and social wellbeing. Shooting and its associated activities such as beating, picking up or manual work, contribute to wellbeing. The results of this survey suggest that shooting is actively contributing towards government wellbeing targets by providing personal, social and physical benefits.” 

Access the report: The personal value of shooting: The social, physical and personal wellbeing contribution of shooting in the UK


Number Of Plastic Bags On UK Beaches Drops By Almost Half In Just One Year – Marine Conservation Society

Marine charity says 5p has been small price to pay for fewer carriers at the coast   

The number of plastic carrier bags found on UK beaches in surveys carried out by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has dropped by almost half between 2015 and 2016. This is the lowest number reported in over a decade, and fantastic news for marine wildlife.
The figures are published today (22 November) in the MCS Great British Beach Clean 2016 report, based on surveys carried out in September 2016. In 2015 there were, on average, 11 plastic bags per 100 metres of coastline cleaned but in 2016 there were just under seven – that’s a decrease of almost 40% and the lowest number in the last ten years.
The charity began calling for action on single use carrier bags in shops back in 2008 and was instrumental in getting a levy introduced in Wales in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013, Scotland in 2014 and England in October last year.
“In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of ten single use carrier bags for every 100 metres of coastline cleaned. This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations. It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment. Thanks to our thousands of fantastic volunteers who collect beach litter data, we can now see the impact these charges have had,” says Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Manager.


Road salt can change sex ratios in frog populations, study says – Yale University 

Naturally occurring chemicals found in road salts commonly used to de-ice paved surfaces can alter the sex ratios in nearby frog populations, a phenomenon that could reduce the size and viability of species populations, according to a new study co-led by scientists at Yale and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The researchers found that the proportion of females within tadpole populations was reduced by 10% when exposed to road salt, or sodium chloride, suggesting that the salt has a masculinizing effect.

They also found that exposure to fallen oak leaves also significantly altered the sex ratios in the frog populations, as well as the size of individual females in some cases. Maple leaf litter, on the other hand, had no effect.

More than 22 million metric tons of road salt is applied to roads in the United States each year. Maple and oak trees are dominant trees throughout temperate North America.

“Many scientists have studied similar effects from exposure to pharmaceuticals and pesticides, but now we’re seeing it from chemicals found in common road salt and leaf litter,” said Max Lambert, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and lead author of the paper.  “The health and abundance of females is obviously critical for the sustainability of any population because they’re the ones that make the babies,” Lambert said. “So if you have a population that is becoming male-based, the population might be at risk.” “The potential consequences to amphibian populations are interesting, including the continual masculinization of frog populations for many generations in habitats contaminated with high concentrations of road salt, which could potentially affect the abundances of frogs in these habitats,” said Rick Relyea, director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute at RPI and co-author of the study. “The research raises the possibility that many other aquatic species could be affected by road salts in sub-lethal ways, not only in terms of altered sex ratios, but potentially in many other traits,” Relyea added.


Storm Angus: natural flood management at Holnicote stops Exmoor villages flooding – National Trust

Despite heavy rain at the start of the week the Exmoor villages of Allerford and Bossington in Devon escaped flooding, largely thanks to innovative work by the National Trust, project partners and farmers to restore nature and reduce flood risk in the National Park.

Since 2009, the National Trust’s Holnicote Estate has been the site of a government research project exploring how natural flood management measures can reduce flooding on the rivers Aller and Horner. The conservation charity looks after 90 per cent of the river catchment within the 20 square mile estate.

Floodwater being stored on fields on the Holnicote Estate, Exmoor. (c) Nigel Hester/National TrustFloodwater being stored on fields on the Holnicote Estate, Exmoor. (c) Nigel Hester/National Trust

Over the last seven years the National Trust and its technical partners (JBA and Penny Anderson Associates) has worked with tenant farmers to create floodwater storage areas and plant woodland to reduce soil and water run-off from upland fields. These have helped to slow the flow of water in the catchment, protecting the villages of Bossington and Allerford from flooding. 90 homes in the area, with an estimated insurance value of £30m, are deemed to be at high risk from flooding.

When Storm Angus swept over Exmoor National Park on Monday the rivers upstream from Bossington swelled rapidly. Nigel Hester, who has overseen the project for the National Trust, said: “We had a huge amount of rainfall in a very short period of time on Monday. It came as a surprise, with river levels rising by 50cm in just two hours. Water that’s normally crystal clear became a sludgy brown with soil washing off the fields But despite the rain, our natural flood defences held – helping to protect the 90 houses at high risk of flooding in villages downstream. Our flood storage areas held back around 20,000 cubic metres of flood water.”


Celebrities back national campaign to support community farms and gardens - Groundwork

A campaign launches today (Wednesday 23 November) inspiring people across the UK to become ‘Local Heroes’ by taking  action to support community growing groups in their neighbourhoods, many of which face a struggle to make ends meet. 

Professional gardener and BBC broadcaster Christine Walkden is kicking off the campaign with a new video encouraging people to step up and become ‘Local Heroes’ by getting involved with their community farms and gardens as visitors, customers, volunteers or business partners.

It is estimated there are more than 2,500 community growing groups in the UK helping to make their neighbourhood a better, healthier, friendlier place. These include city farms, community gardens, community orchards and therapeutic gardens together with many other sites cultivated by local residents. Most rely on volunteers and need more help to thrive, particularly as less local authority grant funding is now available. According to a recent survey*, nearly half of the community growing groups questioned regularly operated at a loss and the majority felt the success of their project relied on grant funding.

The campaign is part of Growing Together, a partnership initiative between the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, Groundwork UK, Incredible Edible Network, Permaculture Association, Development Trusts Association (Scotland), Wales Cooperative Centre and Cooperative Alternatives (Northern Ireland). 

Charlie Powell, chair of the Growing Together partnership, said: "Growing groups do fantastic work in helping to build closer, healthier and more active communities, but many of them struggle with a lack of money or skills, especially in today’s tough fund grant-funding climate. Heroes are all about taking action and we want to encourage people to become a Local Hero by taking one simple action that will support their local community growing initiatives. Our aim is to get 100,000 people more actively involved."


Our response to the Autumn Statement 2016 – Wildlife Trusts

This year’s Autumn Statement – the first since the EU referendum and the last of its kind – was heavy on measures for economic infrastructure, but light on measures to support the kind of infrastructure on which we all depend for our nation’s prosperity and wellbeing: green infrastructure.

To The Wildlife Trusts, this represents another missed opportunity by the Government to show real environmental leadership and to secure the recovery of our precious wildlife and wild places.

As The Wildlife Trusts’ England Director, Steve Trotter, explained: “This year’s Autumn Statement demonstrates yet again that Government is not recognising that our society – it’s health, prosperity and happiness – is totally dependent on nature. An Autumn Statement that puts nature at its heart would include a bold plan to boost Government investment in green infrastructure: such as returning our river catchments and peatlands to good health, or ensuing that new housing projects incorporate large-scale habitat creation schemes. These types of schemes were sadly missing from the Chancellor’s statement. I hope that a big push to restore nature close to where people live and work is built into the promised Housing White Paper. We can take some small comfort that there are for now no further reductions to the Landfill Communities Fund – one of the few remaining sources of funding for nature’s recovery. We will continue to work hard to get back up to full capacity this essential lifeline for many community and environmental projects, which would otherwise not happen."


SNH puts Scottish machair on the map – Scottish Natural Heritage 

One of Europe’s rarest habitats has been mapped for the first time in Scotland by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Scotland and Ireland are the only two countries in the world that have the unique shell-rich dune grassland called machair, the majority being in Scotland.

Machair - copyright SNH-Lorne GillMachair - copyright SNH-Lorne Gill

SNH is leading a multi-partner project to produce a comprehensive Habitat Map of Scotland (HabMoS) by 2019 and machair is one of 50 important habitats to receive attention. The project is a major contribution to the Scottish Government’s 2020 Challenge for Biodiversity and, together with the UK SeaMap, will in time provide a complete picture of all of Scotland’s habitats.  With the new machair map we now know that there are more than 13,000 hectares of this special habitat on our coasts, mainly in the Outer Hebrides, Tiree and Coll, with smaller amounts in the Northern Isles and the west coast mainland.

Machair is a valuable part of our landscape in the Highlands and Islands, both because of the nature it is home to and for cultural reasons. Machair is known around the world and attracts visitors from far and wide who come to see it in all its glory.  The habitat is so rare because it requires a specific combination of features, including low-lying coastline, sand enriched with calcareous shell fragments, strong winds to blow the sand inland and just the right amount of rainfall.

Professor Stewart Angus, SNH coastal ecologist, said: “Machair can be so spectacular in summer, with swathes of coloured wild flowers that change as the season progresses. On a warm summer day, with a vivid blue sea and dazzling beach sand, some of us feel there are few better places to be.

“Machair is a constantly changing habitat, so the map represents a ‘snapshot’ in time. Accepting such limitations, this map is an invaluable aid to the assessment of change on our coasts, with a time-stamped baseline of machair distribution we can use to inform the impact of rising sea levels, as well as other impacts on a truly special feature of Scotland’s coastal environment.”

Machair is a very low-lying habitat, especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and SNH is involved in a number of machair studies investigating the impacts of sea level rise.

The map is available via the Habitat Map of Scotland web page.


Beavers to remain in Scotland – Scottish Government

Species set to receive protection, but will require careful management.

The Scottish Government is minded to allow beavers to remain in Scotland, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has announced.

Ms Cunningham has said the species will have to be actively managed, in line with practices in other European countries.

Work has now begun to ensure beavers can be added to Scotland’s list of protected species as soon as possible. It will be the first time a mammal has been officially reintroduced to the UK.

Scottish Ministers have agreed that:

  • Beaver populations in Argyll and Tayside can remain
  • The species will receive legal protection, in accordance with the EU Habitats Directive
  • Beavers will be allowed to expand their range naturally
  • Beavers should be actively managed to minimise adverse impacts on farmers and other land owners
  • It will remain an offence for beavers to be released without a licence, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine

The impacts of beavers in Scotland have been closely monitored by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) at both the official Scottish Beaver Trial site in Knapdale in Argyll and also on Tayside, where the species has become established after being released illegally.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “I have been determined to find a pragmatic approach, which balances the biodiversity benefits of reintroducing beavers with the obvious need to limit difficulties for our farmers. “I want to put on record my appreciation of the efforts of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, NFU Scotland, the Royal Scottish Zoological Society, and Scottish Land and Estates who have worked in partnership to set out a way forward." 


Response: Beavers back for good - partners welcome return of the Eurasian beaver – Scottish Wildlife Trust

The two lead partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial – the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) – have warmly welcomed today’s (21 November 2016) announcement from the Scottish Government that the Eurasian beaver is to be formally recognised as a native species, 400 years after being hunted to extinction in the UK.

Eurasian beavers have been recognised as a native species (image: Scottish Wildlife Trust)

Returning beavers to Scotland’s lochs and rivers is the first formal mammal reintroduction in UK history. Today’s announcement is a major success story for conservation, and the culmination of nearly two decades’ work.

The project partners are delighted to be given the green light to reinforce the existing population in Knapdale, Argyll, and welcome the news that the established population on the River Tay will be allowed to remain in place.

However, in order for the species to have a long-term future in Scotland and recolonise across much of its former range, further releases – following the Scottish Translocation Code and with the full support of a range of stakeholders – will be necessary over the next few years.

The Scottish Beaver Trial has set the standard for species reintroductions in the UK. Today’s announcement from the Scottish Government underlines the widespread benefits both to habitats, other species and the local economy beavers can bring.


Response: SNH welcomes Scottish Government decision on beaver reintroduction

Natural Heritage (SNH) welcomes the announcement today on the future of beavers in Scotland by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham.

SNH chairman, Ian Ross, said: “The Scottish Government’s decision will see the return of a species which was part of our wildlife for thousands of years, before becoming extinct here around the 16th century. Our report to the government, ‘Beavers in Scotland’, shows that beavers can have a very positive impact on the environment, wetland habitats and wildlife, as well as socio-economic benefits. We’re now committed to working with land managers to minimise any potential negative effects the beavers might have on land use locally.” 

Access a copy of the Beavers in Scotland report  


South Downs study wins landscape award –South Downs National Park

How do you measure the value of a view?

This was the challenge set for the South Downs National Park Viewshed Study, completed by Landuse Consultants in partnership with the National Park Authority in 2015. Their success in tackling this task has now been recognised with a Landscape Institute Award 2016.

taking in the view. image: South Downs National Parkimage: South Downs National Park

The ‘diverse, inspirational landscapes and breathtaking views’ of the South Downs are recognised as one of the seven special qualities of the National Park – in effect the reasons why the National Park exists today. From our high ground you can see for 20km or more and many of these views look beyond the National Park’s boundaries, out into some of the most populous parts of the country with high pressure for development.

Landuse Consultants were commissioned to provide evidence on the views from the National Park and what makes them special so that they can be protected and improved for future generations. They produced a series of simple interactive tools available to be used by anyone – including the 176 Town and Parish Councils and 52 Neighbourhood plan areas across the National Park.

Among the innovative tools available is a Google Earth virtual flight over the National Park with additional layers that provide detailed research out our landscapes. It is also possible to experience selected views as 360 degree panoramas.

The Viewshed study will form part of the landscape evidence base for the South Downs National Park Local Plan and we are already using it to consider how proposed changes in land use might impact our landscapes when deciding planning applications.

See the South Downs National Park Viewshed study


Annual wildlife crime report – Scottish Government

5 year drop in wildlife crime.

Recorded wildlife crimes dropped by 20% in the 5 year period to 2015, according to the annual wildlife crime report published today.

While the five year trend is positive, the latest figures show a rise of 11 per cent in recorded wildlife crime between 2013-14 and 2014-15. There were 284 recorded wildlife crime offences in Scotland in 2014-15, compared to 255 in 2013-14. The figures in the report indicate that fish poaching remains the most commonly recorded type of wildlife crime, and there has been a small increase in these offences from 90 in 2013-14 to 101 in 2014-15 and a further increase in the 5 year period of 19%. The report brings together data from the Scottish Government, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Police Scotland and other sources, all members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland). Commenting on today’s publication, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham said: “This fourth wildlife crime annual report continues to shine a spotlight on the ongoing issues we are facing to protect Scotland’s wildlife from illegal activity. Responding to feedback, this report now contains even more detailed data as we strive to improve the big picture view of the true extent of wildlife crime in Scotland. We continue to respond to the challenges that we face and that is why I recently instructed a review of satellite tagging data to get to the bottom of why so many of our tagged birds of prey are going missing. I remain determined to tackle outdated practices and attitudes. Scotland’s wildlife is for everyone to enjoy; not for criminals to destroy for their own ends. The Scottish Government will use all of the tools available to enable our law enforcement colleagues to bring those responsible to account.”

Access the full report 


Response: RSPB Scotland welcomes publication of Scottish Government's Wildlife Crime Report

RSPB Scotland has responded to the publication of the Scottish Government’s Wildlife Crime Report today, with the conservation organisation’s Head of Investigations, Ian Thomson, saying: “RSPB Scotland welcomes the publication of the Scottish Government’s Wildlife Crime Report, and commends its ongoing commitment to tackle crimes that continue to impact on the populations of some of our rarest species, threatening both our natural heritage and our country’s reputation. We also commend the strong comments made by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform in launching this report, and agree with her sentiments that the results of the review of the disappearance of satellite-tagged birds of prey, to be published next year, will be of significant interest.


Response: Scottish Land & Estates’ comment on annual wildlife crime report

Scottish Land & Estates has issued the following statement on the annual wildlife crime report published today by the Scottish Government.

Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates said: “We welcome the publication of the fourth official wildlife crime report covering the year 2014/15, and we are pleased that over a five year period wildlife crimes generally have dropped by 20%.  We note that fish poaching, deer and hare coursing is still by far the largest wildlife crime category being tackled by Police Scotland and this type of crime remains an ongoing problem for our members.


Scientific publications

Sunday, J. M. et al (2016) Ocean acidification can mediate biodiversity shifts by changing biogenic habitat. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/nclimate3161


Chollett, I. et al (2016) A Genuine Win-Win: Resolving the “Conserve or Catch” Conflict in Marine Reserve Network Design. Conservation Letters. DOI: 10.1111/conl.12318


Smith, S. H., Steenhof, K., McClure, C. J. W. & Heath, J. A. (2016) Earlier nesting by generalist predatory bird is associated with human responses to climate change. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12604


Adam Berland, Daniel A. Lange, Google Street View shows promise for virtual street tree surveys, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, Volume 21, January 2017, Pages 11-15, ISSN 1618-8667, DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2016.11.006.


Dalton, A. M., Jones, A. P., Sharp. S. J., Cooper, A. J. M., Griffin, S. & Wareham. N. J. (2016) Residential neighbourhood greenspace is associated with reduced risk of incident diabetes in older people: a prospective cohort study. BMC Public Health. DOI: 10.1186/s12889-016-3833-z


Sandra A. M. Lindström, Lina Herbertsson, Maj Rundlöf, Riccardo Bommarco, Henrik G. Smith  Experimental evidence that honeybees depress wild insect densities in a flowering crop. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.1641


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