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


Invest in Green Belt for the parks, paths and woodlands of tomorrow, says CPRE - Campaign to Protect Rural England

Research demonstrates natural capital and public access value of Green Belt

New research published today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows the huge potential of the Green Belt in terms of amenity and nature conservation. CPRE is calling on the Government to prioritise investment in Green Belts in the forthcoming 25-year plan for the environment and make sure Green Belt protection is enforced.

Produced by environmental consultants ADAS, Nature Conservation and Recreational Opportunities in the Green Belt shows how Green Belt is particularly valuable in giving people access to the countryside and opportunities for recreation. It also shows how the woodland and wetland in Green Belt can be enhanced to help us mitigate climate change.

Given Green Belt’s protected status, CPRE argues that we have the perfect case for investment in improving these vital public amenities. ADAS’s research sets out several case studies that provide models for how that can best be done in funding terms and by demonstrating where previously derelict industrial sites have been converted to thriving nature reserves and woodland.

Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) planning campaign manager, Paul Miner, comments: “The Green Belt is successful and popular, preventing urban sprawl and giving people the opportunity of getting away from it all. With the increasing pressure of development it is more vital than ever. Yet we are nibbling away at it month by month while the Government looks the other way. The Green Belt’s future depends on the Government’s desire to protect it and to fund opportunities to use that land for further public benefits. Yesterday’s car parks and sewage works can be tomorrow’s wetland and woodland, enjoyed by urban and countryside dwellers alike. Given its potential, we should be looking at how public funding can improve Green Belt.”

Access the report and summary: Nature Conservation and Recreational Opportunities in the Green Belt and summary


New licensing policies: great for wildlife - great for business – Natural England

 Ground-breaking licensing policies will free up money for long-lasting nature conservation.

Natural England is revolutionising the way it issues licences to provide significant benefits for both wildlife and licence applicants.

Four innovative new policies have been created that will smooth the process for businesses who require a wildlife licence for their project, saving them time and money. In return, they will fund an unprecedented level of investment in the creation and enhancement of wildlife habitat. This will provide greater security for populations of protected species such as water voles, dormice, bats and great crested newts.

Great crested newt © Michael Hammett (Via Natural England)Great crested newt © Michael Hammett (Via Natural England)

 Animals such as these, whose future is under threat, receive legal protection to ensure their survival. The current licensing approach sometimes focuses on individual species at locations where there is little chance of them thriving in the long term. There is a real risk of applicants spending considerable time and money surveying and moving small numbers of animals. This causes frustration for the applicants with little or no benefit for the conservation status of the animals.

Together, the 4 new policies will encourage planners and conservationists to think on a wider, landscape scale – channelling investment into bigger, better, more joined-up habitat for wildlife. In short, the changes will mean the application of the law is focused on the measures which are most effective at protecting populations.

Access the Outcome Report.


Forest Watch – tackling crime in Galloway’s forests - Forest Enterprise Scotland

new partnership is working together to reduce rural crime and anti-social behaviour within Galloway’s forests. Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES), contractors and Police Scotland have teamed up for the ‘Forest Watch’ initiative. The main aim of the initiative is to continue the work that began earlier in the year to make the forests a safe place to work and visit.

FES staff and the many contractors who work in the forest have been keeping a close eye on any suspicious activity and have challenged it or reported it to the Police.

Keith Muir, of Forest Enterprise Scotland said: “Rural crime and anti-social behaviour affects many areas of the countryside and our forests are no different. Over the years, both our contractors and staff have been affected in one way or another – mainly by theft or vandalism. Not only is this an obvious drain on resources, it also has serious implications for the safety of people working in the forest, especially as many contractors are working alone with heavy machinery.  We’ve met with the contractors and Police to increase our efforts and develop better reporting of incidents and activities that are suspicious. We would of course ask the public to also be our eyes and ears and report any unusual activity to the Police.”


Walkers give £84.7 million boost to Welsh coastal economy – Welsh Government

on the Welsh coast spent £84.7 million in 2014, supporting 1,000 jobs, according to a new report.  The report also found that 43.4 million day visits to the Welsh coast included walking as an activity.
This ranged from local people taking a short beach stroll to visitors completing the entire 870 mile long Wales Coast Path over 100 or more days.
A face to face survey of 1,483 groups on the Wales Coast Path found that 61 percent of respondents were visiting on day trips from home. The remaining 39 percent were staying away from home for one or more nights. Fifty-nine percent of visits were made by people living in Wales, with 38 percent coming from England and three percent from elsewhere.  The average distance covered in one direction was nearly three miles.


Bearded tits reach record numbers - RSPB

  • Latest population survey of bearded tits in the UK revealed 772 pairs in 2014 – their highest level since records began in 1995
  • Result made even more remarkable by arctic conditions in winter 2010/11 that led to the population crashing by nearly half to 360 pairs
  • Numbers boosted this year by a bumper 250 pairs on the Humber
  • It is thought the UK population has continued to grow since the survey

The bearded tit – one of Britain’s rarest breeding birds – has continued to bounce back from a population crash to the highest numbers recorded in the UK, according to the latest survey.  

Juvenile bearded tit in reedbed (image: Graham Catley, RSPB)Juvenile bearded tit in reedbed (image: Graham Catley, RSPB)

The Rare Breeding Birds in the UK report, published by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel, revealed that the bearded tit population has increased from 618 pairs in 2013 to 772 pairs in 2014 – the highest number since monitoring of bearded tits began in 1995. The record population is made even more remarkable by the population crash that occurred in 2011. Bearded tits are very sensitive to cold hard winters and this can have a knock on effect on their breeding success – the 2011 survey revealed the population had declined by nearly half to only 360 pairs after a disastrously cold December the previous year. This is the third year in a row that numbers have increased and it is hoped that the work to improve and create more habitat for them across RSPB nature reserves will allow bearded tit numbers to continue to grow into a more stable population.

Dr Mark Eaton, RSPB Conservation Scientist and Chairman of the Rare Breeding Bird Panel, said: “It is always special to see bearded tits dancing and diving about the reedbeds on a crisp winter’s morning – such a charismatic bird. Unfortunately they are very sensitive to the hard winter weather and there was a big dip in numbers after a particular harsh weather in 2010. But when they have a good breeding season, like in recent years, they can produce lots of young so numbers can bounce back rapidly. As the population can fluctuate year on year it’s vital that we continue to manage the reedbeds they call home to give them the best chance of thriving.”


Pesticides are damaging bumblebees’ vibes – University of Stirling 

Bumblebees' ability to produce the buzzing – or vibration – that enables them to pollinate key commercial food crops may be harmed by the controversial pesticides neonicotinoids, according to new research from the University of Stirling.

The preliminary findings of the study – which examined a type of pollination unique to bees known as 'buzz pollination' – will be presented at the British Ecological Society's annual meeting in Liverpool this week.

bee on flowers (image: University of Stirling)Bees' unique pollination technique known as 'buzz pollination' may be harmed by pesticides neonicotinoids (image: University of Stirling)

In standard forms of pollination, bees collect pollen by simply brushing it off plants' anthers. But buzz pollinated plants – including crops such as tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines – guard their pollen inside the anther and release it through small pores in the tip.

According to Dr Penelope Whitehorn of the University of Stirling, who led the study: “Bees produce a vibration – or buzz – to shake pollen out of the anther like a pepper pot. The bee lands on a flower, curls her body around the anther and grips the base with her mandibles. She then rapidly contracts the flight muscles to produce the vibration, without beating her wings.”

The results of the study reveal that learning is key to buzz pollination, and that the more bumblebees practice, the more pollen they collect over time. The study also showed that bumblebees fed field-relevant doses of neonicotinoid thiamethoxam did not collect more pollen over time, suggesting the insecticide was affecting their ability to learn.

“The study adds to the now large body of evidence from lab and field-based studies that neonicotinoids reduce learning and memory in bees, impair their communication, foraging efficiency and immune systems and, crucially, reduce their reproductive success as well as the pollination services that they can provide. “These chemicals do have serious implications for wild bee populations in agricultural landscapes but some, notably from the agrochemical industry, still promote their use,” Dr Whitehorn warns.


Fish migration in North East beck for first time in 150 years – Environment Agency

Wear Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency have worked together to make fish migration easier on County Durham beck.

After several years of work to remove barriers to migratory fish, the first fish in over 150 years have been seen moving freely up the Brancepeth Beck in County Durham.

The Wear Rivers Trust has been working in partnership with Brancepeth Castle, Brancepeth Estate and Brancepeth Castle Golf Club on a project funded by the Environment Agency to modify structures such as culverts, weirs and bridge abutments in the Brancepeth Beck which were proving to be a barrier to migrating fish. This year, the work has been carried out using a team of local volunteers and staff from the Wear Rivers Trust and the Environment Agency who have successfully addressed two structures.

Volunteers have also been monitoring various sites along the Brancepeth Beck during the last two months and have confirmed that fish have now been seen to be using the fish passes. It is hoped that fish populations will now increase along the Brancepeth Beck catchment as more fish are able to reach their spawning grounds.


 Four new marine protected areas welcomed for NI's seas – Ulster Wildlife Trust

The Northern Ireland Marine Task Force (NIMTF), a coalition of ten environmental organisations including Ulster Wildlife, today (Tuesday 13 December) welcomed the designation of four new Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) for our seas.

The new areas have been designated to strengthen and protect vulnerable marine wildlife and habitats, including black guillemots on Rathlin Island, one of Ireland’s largest seagrass meadows in Waterfoot, 220-year-old clams in Belfast Lough and a fragile community of sea pens (a type of soft coral) in Carlingford Lough.

Black guillemot © Christine Cassidy# 

Black guillemot © Christine Cassidy

This now brings Northern Ireland up to five Marine Conservation Zones including Strangford Lough, which was the first area to be designated in 2013.

Speaking today, Rebecca Hunter NI Marine Task Force Officer said: “We are delighted to see the value of our seas recognised and protected within these areas. Northern Ireland is home to some of Europe’s most important marine wildlife and habitats. Marine Conservation Zones provide a real opportunity for the recovery of our seas and with effective management, previously damaged habitats and wildlife can recover. But, we need more of them to fill the gaps - this is only the start of the process.


Intercropping can support greener farming, Hutton ecologists say – James Hutton Institute

Planting peas and other legumes alongside cereal crops could help make farming greener, ecologists at the James Hutton Institute say.

Intercropping, as it's known, could cut greenhouse gas emissions by reducing dependence on fertiliser, as well as boosting biodiversity, food security and opening up new markets for local food and drinks businesses.

At the British Ecological Society's annual meeting in Liverpool, Dr Pietro Iannetta of the James Hutton Institute discussed his research on intercropping.Pulses © James Hutton Institute

This includes producing impressive crop yields without artificial nitrogen fertiliser – and inventing new ways of brewing and distilling with beans.

Pulses © James Hutton Institute

In crop trials, Dr Iannetta grew peas and barley together. Despite sowing the intercropped barley and peas each at a 50% rate and using no artificial nitrogen, he found that total yield exceeded that of barley grown alone.

Nitrogen is essential for good crop yields, and cereals are usually grown with added man-made nitrogen at around 110 kg N per hectare. But artificial nitrogen comes from fossil fuels, so has a high carbon footprint.

Emissions could be reduced by 420,000 tonnes CO2 equivalent if the 2016 UK spring barley cropped area (682,000 ha) were to be grown without artificial nitrogen – similar to planting over 420,000 trees a year.

This is because peas and other legumes fix their own nitrogen. And when grown with other crops such as barley, the peas supply the cereal's nitrogen needs.

Agriculture contributes around 15% of greenhouse gas emissions, so finding new ways to curb this contribution to climate change is important.

Farming also needs to diversify by growing a wider range of crops and develop new markets for local, sustainable food and drinks.

Western agriculture depends on a narrow range of crops, including wheat, barley and potatoes. By adding more legumes to the mix, intercropping would boost diversity, making farming more resilient as well as less dependent on fossil fuels.


Early signs of recovery for Scotland’s seabirds – Scottish Natural Heritage

Seabird numbers in Scotland continue to show encouraging signs according to new statistics published today (Wednesday 14 December) by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Seabird numbers in Scotland have been falling since the early 1990s and by 2015 the number of seabirds breeding around our coasts was half of the 1986 level, when the UK Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) first started. However, 2015 was a relatively successful year for producing chicks. The latest report shows that the decline has slowed and numbers may have stabilised over the past four years.

SNH is working on several projects to help combat some of the pressures on seabirds. These include identifying Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect important foraging and breeding sites for birds, and the control of predators, such as brown rats and American mink, along our coast and on our islands.

Download the full seabird indicator report. (pdf)


Bumper acorn crop helps native woodlands - Forestry Commission Scotland

Around 1.2 million acorns have been collected in Galloway Forest Park as part of a project to expand and link native Ancient Oakwoods which will create semi natural habitats from the hill tops to the coast.

The project involves restoring Protected Ancient Woodlands sites and linking the woodlands through forest restructuring via natural regeneration and planting of local provenance native species.

Acorns (image: Forestry Commission Scotland)Acorns (image: Forestry Commission Scotland)

Oakwood is the dominate native woodland type in Galloway ranging from fertile Lowland Oakwood sites along the coast and the Cree Valley to less fertile Upland Oakwood sites around Loch Trool.  

However the acorn crop in Galloway is very unpredictable and unproductive which means the expansion of native Oakwood is incredibly difficult to predict and manage. In 2013 it was rumoured to be a good seed production year but collections in Galloway amounted to a little over 6kg, producing around 1,800 saplings for planting with no collections in 2014 and 2015 due to very poor seed production years.


During the late summer the team in Galloway noticed the potential for a rare seed production year in the Galloway Oakwoods.

Gareth Ventress, Environment Forest in Galloway Forest District, said: “On inspection during the early autumn we noticed that we were in for a bumper acorn crop and the Environment and Forest Management teams began planning acorn collections.

 “The Environment District Seed Liaison Officer, responsible for identifying and registering native seed stands for the collection of Forest Reproductive Material, began searching and registering additional remnant Oakwood on the National Forest Estate.  This quickly doubled the number native Oakwood stands available for collection increasing the area by over 50 hectares.  By increasing the number of seed stands and the number of trees that the acorns can be collected from we increase the genetic diversity of the trees that can be used to create more robust woodlands capable of surviving any future threats.”


Natural England Chief Scientist’s report 2015 to 2016 – Natural England Corporate Report

Find out how Natural England’s recent scientific work contributes to a better understanding of the natural world and ways to protect it.

The report shows the depth and breadth of Natural England’s science and evidence work in terrestrial and marine environments through 45 articles covering:

  • biodiversity
  • geodiversity
  • landscape
  • social sciences

The science behind Natural England: Chief Scientist’s Report 2015-16 – Natural England blog

Dr Tim Hill, Chief Scientist at Natural England, tells us about the publication of Natural England’s first Chief Scientist’s Report, why we have  put it together and what you can read between the covers.


Environmental Impact Assessment – joint technical consultation: planning changes to regulations on forestry, agriculture, water resources, land drainage and marine works

By: Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Northern Ireland), The Scottish Government & Welsh Government 

Seeking views on plans to update the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations in the UK.

We want to know what you think about our proposals to amend EIA regulations on forestry, agriculture, water resources, land drainage and marine works. These changes, agreed in 2014, will make the EIA regulations work more efficiently, focusing more on where environmental protection is really needed.

Environmental impact assessment (EIA) means checking if work (eg construction) will harm the environment and agreeing what needs to be done to avoid environmental damage.

This consultation closes on 30 January 2017 12:00am

Access the consultation.  


Bats and Licensing: A report on the success of maternity roost compensation measures - SNH Commissioned Report

This project looked at a sample of cases where SNH has licensed the damage or destruction, under licence, of bat maternity roosts for development purposes. In each such instance the licence requires that measures are incorporated into the final development to compensate for this damage or loss. The success or otherwise of these features, including whether or not bats used these features was assessed. Factors affecting the likelihood of success are discussed. 

Download the report (pdf)


Plans for Canal College sail closer – Heritage Lottery Fund

Innovative employability programme secures HLF investment.

Scottish Waterways Trust has been awarded a grant of up to £1.125million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) towards Canal College, a major skills and employability programme centred on three of the nation’s historic canals, it was announced today.

Created by Scotland’s only national waterways charity, Scottish Waterways Trust, and developed in partnership with Scottish Canals, Archaeology Scotland and Developing Nation, canal college is a unique outdoor employability programme designed to help address youth unemployment by teaching practical heritage and environment skills to disadvantaged 16-30 year olds.

The charity aims to reach twice as many young people (360 participants) as the first, successful canal college programme by extending the age criteria and the number of locations where it will be offered to Falkirk, Inverness and West Dunbartonshire.  Between 2013 and 2015 canal college helped 162 young people facing significant barriers in their lives with 72% moving into work, further education, training or volunteering on completion.  Scottish Waterways Trust is now actively seeking further match funding to deliver the £1.4m programme. Once the additional funding is in place, it is hoped that canal college will open in early 2017 and run until 2020.  

Learning through practical projects in the unique outdoor environment of Scotland’s canals, volunteers will be offered the opportunity to receive first-hand experience of working on some of the nation’s most valuable heritage assets, gaining a vibrant range of new and transferable skills.  Members of the wider community will also be invited to become volunteer mentors on the 14 week programmes, contributing their own skills and life learning to help participants learn about the built, cultural and natural heritage of the canals, whilst improving their own confidence and employability prospects.


Innovative cutting machine makes Cambus Pools reserve better for wildlife – Scottish Wildlife Trust

An innovative amphibious machine has been used to cut through a dense jungle of reeds to bring important wetland habitats back to life at Cambus Pools Wildlife Reserve near Alloa.  

Derrick Emms operating the Truxor5050 at Cambus Pools (© Scottish Wildlife Trust)The Truxor 5050 cutting machine is made in Sweden and was operated by Derrick Emms from the Sustainable Water Company Ltd. The work has exposed a network of open water, mud and swamp, which will make the reserve better for wildlife.  

Derrick Emms operating the Truxor5050 at Cambus Pools (© Scottish Wildlife Trust)

Reserves Manager Rory Sandison said: “Over the past fifteen years dense reeds have choked a once open wetland on the banks of the Upper Forth. We’re now working to push back the reeds to create a diverse mosaic of habitats that is buzzing with life. We have already seen kingfishers, grey wagtails, curlews, goldfinches and many more birds coming back to the reserve The next stage will be to bring in some of the Trust’s rare breed Shetland cattle to graze on the reserve. This will help to slow the regrowth of the reeds and maintain the more open habitats.” 


Scotland's land – Scottish Government

World-leading vision for land rights and responsibilities takes shape.

People can have their say on the shape of the future of ownership, management and use of land and buildings in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is today opening a consultation on the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement, which will underpin a range of Scottish Government strategies related to land rights and responsibilities.

It will support a commitment to build a fairer society in Scotland and promote environmental sustainability, economic prosperity and social justice.

The statement is also likely to have a significant impact on the work of the new Scottish Land Commission which becomes operational in April.

Cabinet Secretary for Land Reform Roseanna Cunningham said: “The Land and Rights and Responsibilities Statement is a world-leading undertaking, which will be central to the Government’s commitment to long-term land reform." 

Further details about the consultation here.


TB strategy ahead of schedule as England set to apply for officially TB-free status for half the country - defra / Natural England

Government's strategy to tackle bovine TB continues to deliver results 

England is set to apply for Officially TB-Free (OTF) status for more than half of the country next year - two years ahead of schedule - as the Government’s strategy to tackle bovine TB (bTB) continues to deliver results.

Dealing with Bovine TB in England costs taxpayers over £100 million a year, required the culling of 28,000 cattle in 2015 and causes devastation and distress for rural communities. Gaining OTF status for the low risk area, covering the north and east of England, would boost trade opportunities and mean some herds require less regular TB testing, reducing costs for farmers.

This would be the first time anywhere in England has enjoyed this status, making beef exports from the UK more attractive for trade partners around the world. Achieving this status for the low risk area is a key step in the government’s 25-year plan for the whole of the UK to be TB-free by 2038.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: Gaining global recognition that more than half of England is TB-free will be a significant milestone in our long-term plan to eradicate this devastating disease, and will open up new trading opportunities for farmers. We have much still to do in the worst affected parts of the country, but this shows that our strategy - combining practical biosecurity measures, a robust cattle movement and testing regime, and badger control in areas where the disease is rife - is right and is working."

Results published today (16/12/16) confirm all ten licensed badger control operations achieved successful outcomes. A consultation opens today on next steps for badger control in areas that have completed the first four years of intensive culling. This will mean the disease reduction benefits we anticipate are prolonged for many years to come.


Bovine TB: supplementary badger disease control – defra Open consultation 

Seeking views on proposals to introduce a supplementary licence for farmers to continue badger disease control measures after a licensed cull.

We want to know what you think about our plans to license badger disease control measures after a licensed cull. The licence would apply to control measures used after a licensed cull has been completed over at least 4 years.

These changes will prolong the disease control benefits achieved by a culling operation in the longer term. The proposal is part of the government’s TB Strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (TB) in England.

consultation closes: 10 February 2017

Access the consultation.  


Scientific publications

Host status of wild roe deer in bovine tuberculosis endemic areas. Lambert, S., Hars, J., Réveillaud, E. et al. Eur J Wildl Res (2017) 63: 15. doi:10.1007/s10344-016-1071-4


Horswill, C., O’Brien, S. H & Robinson R. A. (2016) Density dependence and marine bird populations: are wind farm assessments precautionary? Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12841


Myczko, Ł., Dylewski, Ł., Sparks, T. H., Łochyński, M. and Tryjanowski, P. (2017), Co-occurrence of birds and bats in natural nest-holes. Ibis, 159: 235–237. doi:10.1111/ibi.12434


Alessandra La Notte, Dalia D’Amato, Hanna Mäkinen, Maria Luisa Paracchini, Camino Liquete, Benis Egoh, Davide Geneletti, Neville D. Crossman, Ecosystem services classification: A systems ecology perspective of the cascade framework, Ecological Indicators, Volume 74, March 2017, Pages 392-402, ISSN 1470-160X, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.11.030.


Woodroffe, R., Donnelly, C.A., Ham, C. et al. Use of farm buildings by wild badgers: implications for the transmission of bovine tuberculosis  Eur J Wildl Res (2017)  63: 6. doi:10.1007/s10344-016-1065-2


Çağlar Akçay, Ádám Z. Lendvai, Mark Stanback, Mark Haussmann, Ignacio T. Moore, Fran Bonier. Strategic adjustment of parental care in tree swallows: life-history trade-offs and the role of glucocorticoids R. Soc. open sci. 2016 3 160740; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160740.


Ostaizka Aizpurua, Antton Alberdi, Joxerra Aihartza, Inazio Garin. Fishing Technique of Long-Fingered Bats Was Developed from a Primary Reaction to Disappearing Target Stimuli.PLOS ONE; 11 (12: e0167164DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0167164 


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