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


Campaigners call on Government to demonstrate commitment to protecting England’s National Parks - CPRE

Short-term economic priorities are overriding long-established protections and allowing inappropriate development in England’s National Parks, says a new report, published today by Campaign for National Parks, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the National Trust.

The new report is based on research commissioned by the three organisations and conducted by Sheffield Hallam University. The research looked at the national policy to restrict ‘major development’ in National Parks, which has protected these iconic areas since they were created in the 1940s. 

The research found that interpretations of ‘major development’ vary between the National Parks, and decisions to approve planning applications often reflect the Government ‘mood’ at the time, with policy changes that lean toward economic growth rather than environmental protection. This varying approach has led to a number of recent major developments being granted permission that threaten the protected areas’ beauty, along with their cultural and environmental significance.

The major development test is the central planning protection for the landscape in National Parks, and applies to developments such as mines, wind farms and large scale housing developments. It states that planning applications should be refused for major development unless there are ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Campaign for National Parks, CPRE and the National Trust are calling for a renewed commitment from Government to make sure National Parks are protected against inappropriate, damaging development. 

Ruth Bradshaw, policy and research manager at the Campaign for National Parks said: “It is essential the Government confirms that protecting our National Parks from inappropriate, damaging development remains a national priority. Our National Parks are special because of the beautiful landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage they contain and the recreational opportunities they offer. But they are also important to the rural economy and have huge potential to help improve our nation’s health and wellbeing. These assets must be protected and enhanced for future generations to enjoy and benefit from.” 

Access the National Parks: Planning for the Future report


We call on the Government to demonstrate its commitment to protecting National Parks – Campaign for National Parks

Last year the world’s largest potash mine in the North York Moors was granted planning permission. If the mine goes ahead, this huge development will disfigure the landscape, negatively impact on wildlife and cause an increase in HGV traffic during its construction. It is predicted it could result in a 13% reduction in visitor numbers and could cause a loss of £35 million in direct tourism expenditure per year. 


Survey says National Park landscape is main motivation for walkers – Pembrokeshire National Park

More than half of visitors to the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park are walking country paths on every day of their stay, according to a recent Footpath User Survey conducted by the National Park Authority.

From August 2015 to July 2016 2,959 questionnaires were collected from 12 survey boxes located around the National Park’s 1,100km network of public rights of way, which includes the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail.

The condition of the paths maintained by the National Park Authority was described as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ by 95% of respondents; while 88% of people said their main reason for walking was to enjoy the natural landscape.

National Park Authority Access and Rights of Way Manager, Anthony Richards said: “The survey demonstrated the economic importance of the Coast Path and public rights of way to the tourist industry of Pembrokeshire, with visitors accounting for more than three quarters of respondents. The high levels of satisfaction with the condition of the paths should help to encourage repeat visits to the county. These results also show that the public value the work undertaken by the Authority to manage the Coast Path and other public rights of way, with 98.5% of respondents stating their walk had met their expectations."


Northern Ireland raptor deaths rise, new report reveals – National Wildlife Crime Unit

A report into the illegal killing of Northern Ireland’s native birds of prey has been published by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime. It reveals there were nine confirmed illegal poisoning or persecution incidents, affecting 11 protected birds of prey, in Northern Ireland in 2014. This report follows on from the 2009 – 2013 Persecution Report published last year.  Between 2009 and 2014 there is now a total of 44 confirmed reports of native birds of prey being illegally killed, plus one confirmed incident of illegal nest destruction.

The report examines occurrence and trends in persecution of these birds, which has allowed PAW to produce ‘hot-spot’ maps to identify areas where crimes against birds of prey are occurring. Of the nine confirmed cases in 2014, four of these occurred in County Down, two in County Tyrone and one in each of counties Londonderry, Armagh and Antrim. The report shows that the most frequent casualties were buzzards and the recently re-introduced red kite, with four of each of these species killed. Red kites and buzzards are particularly susceptible to poisoned baits as they will scavenge on carrion routinely. There were also two peregrine falcons and a sparrowhawk killed.

The report lead author, Dr Eimear Rooney (Raptor Officer for NIRSG) commented: “This is the second report which maps the confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents in Northern Ireland.  It is great to have the partner agencies working closely together to combat raptor persecution.  This report helps us all to understand the scale and distribution of the problem. It is heart-breaking to think of the deaths of these birds but it is particularly shocking to see the continued usage of highly toxic Carbofuran.”

Download the 2014 report into the illegal killing of Northern Ireland’s native birds of prey. (PDF)

Download the Bird of Prey Persecution and Poisoning Report Northern Ireland 2009 – 2013. (PDF)


New Report on Lion Conservation - WildCRU

Lions, the iconic symbol of the African wilderness, are in grave trouble – they have disappeared from over 90% of their range and there are now fewer lions left than rhinos. Global interest in lion conservation – and particularly the role of trophy hunting in their decline – peaked in July 2016 with the killing of Cecil the lion (a WildCRU study animal). Given that the UK imports up to three lion trophies a year, in 2016 Rory Stewart, the British government’s then Under Secretary of State for the Environment, invited Oxford University’s Professor David Macdonald to review trophy hunting and to suggest how the Government could act to enhance lion conservation, including identifying the criteria that might be applied to applications to import lion trophies to the UK, and mindful of the need for hunting to avoid detriment to, and encourage enhancement of, lion conservation.


UK scientist to lead US$60 million global nitrogen management initiative – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Professor Mark Sutton from the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) will lead a new global initiative aiming to spearhead integrated Image: Centre for Ecology & Hydrologymanagement of the nitrogen cycle for clean water and air, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and better soil and biodiversity protection.

Image: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Indispensable to life on earth, reactive nitrogen is a dangerous pollutant of air, water and soil, when released in large quantities.

The United Nations and scientists and institutions from around the world are bringing together US$60 million for a new international management system to fight nitrogen pollution. The initiative was launched in Australia on Monday morning, 5 December 2016 (Australian time). Many of the world’s nitrogen experts, including Professor Mark Sutton, are currently in Australia for the International Nitrogen Initiative conference.

Almost 80% of the air we breathe is made of nitrogen in the form of unreactive N2. This gas stabilises the atmosphere by ensuring that the oxygen is limited to a safe amount to sustain life on earth. However, since the industrial revolution, reactive nitrogen has been entering into the atmosphere as a by-product of burning fossil fuels and has been discharged into the earth as nitrogen fertilizer.


Conifer Conservation Programme trees stolen – Forestry Commission Scotland 

Forest Enterprise Scotland is working with Police Scotland to identify the thieves that stole five rare Serbian Spruce from Kinnoull Hill Woodland Park last week.

Collecting seed in Bosnia (image: Forestry Commission Scotland)Collecting seed in Bosnia (image: Forestry Commission Scotland)

The stolen trees (Picea omorika), although an extremely rare species, have no commercial value. However their genetic material was a priceless component of the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust’s (PKCT) Big Tree Country Conifer Conservation Programme, part of the world-leading International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP) based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

The ICCP works in partnership with PKCT to conserve specimens of conifer species that are at risk of extinction in their native range.   

Because of the nature of these collections, the trees are irreplaceable: there is no way to recover the missing genetic material.

Forest Enterprise Scotland's Beat Forester, Robin Lofthouse, who looks after Kinnoull Hill, said; "At a time when biodiversity around the world is increasingly under pressure, projects such as this play an invaluable part in conserving genetic material. “This pointless theft is extremely frustrating not just because of the loss but because the trees are likely to have been killed: the thief had tried to dig them up but left most of the roots in the ground. “Sadly, we are now in the situation where we are forced to look at where we could site wildlife cameras to protect other species in the project. I would urge anyone with any information about this crime to contact Tayside police, or the local Forest Enterprise Scotland office."


UK’s major environmental organisations unite to highlight “once in a generation opportunity” for the environment as UK exits the EU - The Wildlife Trusts

Thirteen major environmental organisations including WWF, the National Trust, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and Friends of the Earth have united through a new Greener UK coalition to ensure that the UK uses the pivotal moment presented by the forthcoming Brexit negotiations to restore and enhance the UK’s environment. Greener UK (image: The Wildlife Trusts)

Greener UK (image: The Wildlife Trusts)

  • 13 environmental organisations, with a combined membership of 7.9 million, have united to launch Greener UK
  • Greener UK calls on the Prime Minister to restore and enhance the UK’s environment and maintain its environmental protections during Brexit negotiations
  • 145 MPs have signed the Greener UK Pledge for the Environment committing to make the UK a world leader on the environment
  • Polling shows 80% of British adults think we need the same or stronger levels of environmental protection after we leave the EU

In a letter to the editor of the Times today, Greener UK states that leaving the EU presents significant challenges but also important opportunities for the UK’s environment. It calls on the Prime Minister to state her commitment to using the forthcoming Brexit negotiations to restore the UK’s environment and maintain its protections, many of which have been developed with the EU. They have welcomed the government’s environmental ambitions but say that the UK’s natural environment is at risk, with over half of species declining, temperatures rising and poor air quality damaging people’s health.


Trust welcomes decision to retain Nature Directives – Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Scottish Wildlife Trust is delighted that EU Commissioners have decided to retain and strengthen implementation of the laws that provide vital protection for Europe’s threatened species and habitats.

Many Trust members and supporters were among the half a million people from all over Europe who called on the European Commission not to weaken wildlife laws.   

The European Commission's Regulatory Fitness and Performance programme (REFIT) has now concluded that the vital Birds and Habitats Directives are fit for purpose. These laws protect Europe’s threatened species such as the otter, wildcat and red kite, as well as vulnerable species with Scottish strongholds, such as freshwater pearl mussels.

Our Chief Executive Jonny Hughes said: “It's very welcome news that the European Commission’s ‘fitness check’ of the Nature Directives has finally concluded that these vital laws are both important and fit for purpose. I’d like to thank the 500,000 people from across Europe who to took action and gave their voice to the Defend Nature campaign."


Vaccinating badgers against TB does not change their behaviour – Zoological Society of London

ZSL-led study dispels claims that badger vaccines could encourage spread of TB

Fears that vaccinating badgers against bovine tuberculosis (TB) could actually increase transmission rates of this devastating cattle disease have been diminished by a study showing no discernible behavioural impacts from this treatment and offering hope of a practical alternative to the UK Government’s controversial cull policy.

The research, led by ZSL’s Professor Rosie Woodroffe and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, examined the behaviour of 54 GPS-collared badgers across four separate study sites in Cornwall. Scientists found that of these animals, the 15 that had received the TB vaccine at least once during the course of the project showed ranging behaviour that was indistinguishable from those that were unvaccinated.

Attaching a collar to a badger (image: Seth Jackson, ZSL)Attaching a collar to a badger (image: Seth Jackson, ZSL)

Confining badgers overnight in humane traps to enable vaccination was also found to have no impact on their behaviour. These findings show how the effects of vaccination differ from those of culling, which can encourage the spread of bovine TB by disrupting established social groups and encouraging wider movement of infected animals across the countryside.

Lead author Professor Woodroffe said: “The results of this study indicate that badgers’ ranging behaviour is not impacted by TB vaccination, and therefore vaccination cannot encourage the spread of disease by causing the wider ranging of infected individuals.   Our findings challenge recent claims that vaccinating badgers changes their behaviour and so spreads TB to cattle. Those claims were not based on scientific evidence, but on speculation by a handful of individuals. Now that we have been able to test their ideas with scientific data, I hope that farmers and vets will be reassured that badger vaccination is not harmful. Farmers and land managers battling bovine TB on the front line deserve an effective solution to the terrible problems this disease causes – one that’s based on hard scientific evidence rather than speculation. Compared with the Government’s current culling policy, badger vaccination is less risky, more humane, and cheaper. Hopefully our findings will therefore open the door for greater exploration of badger vaccination as a tool to control TB in cattle.”

Read the paper (open access) Woodroffe, R., Donnelly, C. A., Ham, C., Jackson, S. Y. B., Moyes, K., Chapman, K., Stratton, N. G. and Cartwright, S. J. (2016), Ranging behaviour of badgers Meles meles vaccinated with Bacillus Calmette Guerin. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12837


Kittiwake decline signals troubled times for St Kilda’s seabirds - National Trust for Scotland

Kittiwake numbers on St Kilda have plummeted to their lowest level ever, with experts fearing that the population is at risk of collapse.

The National Trust for Scotland carries out yearly monitoring of the archipelago’s bird population. Across the seven monitoring sites this season there was just one kittiwake nest, and one chick hatched – which later died.

Now the heritage and conservation charity fears that it is witnessing the decline of the Atlantic’s most significant seabird sanctuary. After a century of growth, populations are rapidly falling. As well as kittiwakes, the populations of fulmars, guillemots, puffins and razorbills are also threatened.

Dr Richard Luxmoore, Senior Nature Conservation Adviser at the Trust said the decline signalled ongoing changes in the marine environment, particularly the plankton that are vital to the marine food chain. “Seabirds are essentially part of the marine ecosystem. Although they breed on land they spend most of their life out at sea and they can tell us a lot about its health,” he said. “In the last 30 years plankton communities have shifted northward by 1000 kilometres, more than the distance from Edinburgh to Paris, and it’s having huge impact. If vegetation shifted by a similar distance there would be pandemonium, but because it’s happening in the sea we tend not to notice.”

This year’s seabird survey recorded significant declines across most species.  Seven of the seabird species found on St Kilda are geographically significant and four of them - the northern gannet, Atlantic puffin, great skua and Leach’s storm-petrel – are important on a world-wide scale. Monitoring looks at breeding abundance as well as breeding success. The first shows more gradual changes to an overall population while the seasonal success - or not - of fledglings can indicate short-term fluctuations.


First tree planted in the Future Forest - Sylva

This week Woodland Trust Chief Executive Beccy Speight visited Sylva Foundation to discuss the various collaborative projects running with Sylva Foundation. After discussions with CEO Gabriel Hemery concluded the pair planted the first tree in the Sylva Future Forest; a wild pear! We’re very grateful to various funders for supporting the creation of this new woodland at the Sylva Wood Centre, among them the Woodland Trust.

The main area of the Future Forest will be planted with our Forest Friends in the New Year. It will contain some 40 species, including locally-sourced native trees, native trees with ‘exotic genetics’ (i.e. matched to projected climate), and exotic species from around the world. Read more about the Future Forest.


Prosecution leads to £20,000 fine for damaging trees in the Peak District National Park – Peak District National Park

A Sheffield man has been prosecuted for removing and damaging trees in the Froggatt Conservation Area. An area of 530 square metres (about a tenth of an acre) of woodland, including 16 mature trees and 9 young trees, was destroyed in September 2015.

Developer Mark Boulby purchased the plot, which lies in a belt of woodland below Froggatt Edge, in mid-September 2015 and two days later moved heavy machinery onto the site to clear the trees. The illegal activity was reported to Peak District National Park tree conservation officers who investigated the case. In September 2016, Boulby pleaded guilty to illegally cutting down and uprooting trees from woodland in the Conservation Area at Froggatt. He was convicted and fined on 6 December 2016.

Sheffield Magistrates Court imposed the fine of £20,000 and ordered Boulby to pay costs of over £5,000 to the National Park Authority. In addition, Boulby is to restore the site to an agreed Restoration Plan by 31 July, 2017, and must not take heavy machinery onto the cleared area for five years to enable the land to regenerate.

John Scott, director of conservation and planning in the Peak District National Park, said: “This is the first time we have prosecuted a landowner for harming trees but the damage was so severe and deliberate it was our duty to pursue it. It’s a landmark victory and sends out a clear message that we do not tolerate the wilful destruction of protected trees and habitat in the National Park. Criminal damage to the environment is a serious offence and this case demonstrates that serious penalties can be incurred."


Scientific Publications 

Arnberger, A. et al (2016) Elderly resident’s uses of and preferences for urban green spaces during heat periods. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.  DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2016.11.012


Gordon, C. E., Eldridge, D. J., Ripple, W. J., Crowther, M. S., Moore, B. D. and Letnic, M. (2016), Shrub encroachment is linked to extirpation of an apex predator. J Anim Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12607


Rachel D. Cavanagh, Stefanie Broszeit, Graham M. Pilling, Susie M. Grant, Eugene J. Murphy, Melanie C. Austen Valuing biodiversity and ecosystem services: a useful way to manage and conserve marine resources? Proc. R. Soc. B 2016 283 20161635; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.1635.


S. Naeem, Case Prager, Brian Weeks, Alex Varga, Dan F. B. Flynn, Kevin Griffin, Robert Muscarella, Matthew Palmer, Stephen Wood, William Schuster. Biodiversity as a multidimensional construct: a review, framework and case study of herbivory's impact on plant biodiversity. Proc. R. Soc. B 2016 283 20153005; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.3005.


Yang, E. et al (2016) Water striders adjust leg movement speed to optimize takeoff velocity for their morphology. Nat. Commun. 7, 13698 doi: 10.1038/ncomms13698


Hoang Vu Phan, Thi Kim Loan Au, Hoon Cheol Park Clap-and-fling mechanism in a hovering insect-like two-winged flapping-wing micro air vehicle R. Soc. open sci. 2016 3 160746; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160746.  



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