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


Walking causes 100 times more disturbance than wildfowling, BASC-funded study shows - BASC

A groundbreaking study, part-funded by the UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), has revealed that walking causes 100 times more disturbance than wildfowling.

The evidence is the result of part of a three year PhD study looking at the effects of recreational disturbance on waterfowl and waders.  Additional evidence in the study, carried out by Catherine Collop from Bournemouth University, shows that wildfowling accounted for just 0.04% of the disturbance activities on Poole Harbour. The impact was deemed so low that research predicted that there would be no impact on the survival of birds even if it was increased by 25 times.

Tim Russell, BASC’s director of conservation, said research into the disturbance of wild birds was important because estuaries and intertidal areas, such as the one at Poole Harbour, provide essential habitat for many species of waterbirds, such as godwits, wigeon, teal and avocets. He said: “Wildfowling is not widely understood by people who do not shoot. It takes place at very low levels and wildfowlers are very rarely seen. Having new and clear evidence that wildfowling causes minimal disturbance will be important in future discussions with statutory conservation agencies about wildfowling.

The thesis will be available online later this year, along with published papers and a summary of the research findings.


A Big Leap Forward for the Sussex Blue Belt – Sussex IFCA 

Sussex seas are better protected now thanks to the work of fisheries managers the fishing sector and the wider community.

Working at a local level with the community to find solutions, Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) has brought

in management for commercial and recreational fisheries to achieve real benefits for wildlife in our seas. All current and future fisheries management for designated marine sites will sit within the new Sussex IFCA Marine Protected Area Byelaw.

Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) are one type of designated marine site and protect our diverse species and habitats in the blue belt around the English Coast. This contributes significantly to an ecologically coherent, well managed, marine protected area network. There are presently

fifty MCZs around England, five of which are in the coastal waters of the Sussex IFCA District. These include Kingmere, Beachy Head West,

Pagham Harbour, Utopia and part of the Offshore Overfalls site. They protect a range of wildlife such as chalk reefs, seahorses and black seabream nesting grounds. More sites will be designated by the UK government in the near future.

Sussex IFCA has worked in partnership with Natural England to identify the best management for important habitats and species in the blue belt around our coast.

Read the full press release (PDF)


The announcement was welcomed by the Marine Conservation Society: Great news for Sussex Seas: marine protected areas for people and wildlife

Friday saw the announcement of better protection for Sussex seas. Brand new management measures have been put in place  to safeguard  two nationally important Marine Conservation Zones.
Kingmere and Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zones are among the first of this type of protected area to have management measures in England. This is a big step towards productive, healthy seas for the future, made all the more durable because they were developed collaboratively with local people. 


SNH helps hundreds complete their ‘Discovery’ on Outward Bound® adventures - Scottish Natural Heritage

More than 500 disadvantaged young people have enjoyed wild outdoors adventures designed to help them learn about our natural environment, thanks to a three-year partnership between Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and The Outward Bound Trust.

Almost £44,000 of SNH funding has helped 12 to 16 year-olds from low-income households, predominantly from Central Scotland, to attend a five-day residential Outward Bound course at Loch Eil, near Fort William.

During the course youngsters explored, swam, scrambled and ran, climbed, canoed and camped, whilst learning about the stunning landscapes, geology and wildlife of the Highlands. Participants also carried out conservation activities, such as rhododendron clearing and path building, helping them to achieve the John Muir Award at Discovery Level.

In feedback, 90% of the youngsters said that they felt more motivated about acting responsibly towards the natural environment, and 79% felt motivated about discovering nature close to where they live. Increasing outdoor learning opportunities, as well as encouraging more people to enjoy and benefit from a healthy natural environment, are priority aims in the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity. Work such as SNH’s partnership with The Outward Bound Trust is helping to achieve both of these outcomes.


Wheat virus crosses over, harms native grasses – Michigan State University

 (via British Ecological Society)

Once upon a time, it was thought that crop diseases affected only crops. New research shows, however, that a common wheat virus can spread and harm perennial native grasses.

In the current issue of the Journal of Ecology, researchers from Michigan State University, University of Kansas and University of Virginia show that farmers and scientists need to think about how best to protect native plants from diseases emanating from crops.

“Crop fields were once considered tiny islands in a sea of wild vegetation, so farmers and scientists focused on protecting crops from wild pathogens,” said Carolyn Malmstrom, MSU plant biologist and co-lead author of the study. “Now, around the world, the situation has reversed, and diseases from agricultural fields affect not only crops, but also substantially harm native plants, such as switchgrass.”

The findings were based on a multi-year field study in Kansas. There, like in much of the Midwest, plains of native grasses have been transformed to fields of wheat or other cereal crops. Now, it’s the patches of grasses that are the islands in an ocean of crops.  A widespread wheat pathogen, barley yellow dwarf virus, can cross over and affect switchgrass, a prime candidate for biofuel research. The research team combined the field results with a statistical model and showed that the virus can reduce the vitality of switchgrass by 30 percent. Interestingly, the infection can affect switchgrass’ growth even though the native plant displays hardly any signs of sickness.

“Crops have been bred for yield, sometimes at the cost of plant defense. If they are susceptible, fast-growing crops can serve as highly competent hosts that amplify viruses within a region,” Malmstrom said. “In these ‘domesticated’ landscapes, farmers, conservation biologists and epidemiologists need to be aware that diseases from crops can move into wild and native plants, which may need protection.”

While the study focused on merely one virus, it shows that science needs to catch up in understanding how crops influence native plants and to build more knowledge of virus ecology in general. 

Access the paper: Alexander, H. M., Bruns, E., Schebor, H. and Malmstrom, C. M. (2017), Crop-associated virus infection in a native perennial grass: reduction in plant fitness and dynamic patterns of virus detection. J Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12723


Norfolk’s Blakeney retains crown for hosting the largest grey seal colony in England – National Trust

Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast is once again home to England’s largest colony of grey seals, National Trust rangers have confirmed.

The breeding season at the Norfolk nature reserve ended this month, with rangers from the conservation charity saying that 2,366 grey seal pups have been born on the colony since November. 

seal pup, Image: Jemma Finch / National Trust ImagesThe National Trust’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve on the North Norfolk coast has retained its status as England’s largest seal colony. Over 2,000 grey seal pups were born on the reserve this winter, rangers from the conservation charity have confirmed. Image: Jemma Finch / National Trust Images

This represents a one per cent increase on last year, when 2,343 pups were born. Early indications show that the seal colony fared well following last Friday’s tidal surge.

National Trust rangers have volunteers have conducted counts of the seal pups on the reserve since 2001, when just when just 25 pups were born.

Ajay Tegala, National Trust ranger on the north Norfolk coast, said: “We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of grey seal pups being born at Blakeney Point in recent years. But in the last two years it would appear that the numbers have become more static. Thankfully the pupping season had finished before last Friday’s tidal surge, which meant that a large number of pups had already dispersed. We’re pleased that all the effort the National Trust team has put into caring for the Point is helping to create a healthy environment for these beautiful animals and that they continue to return and pup here.”


Volunteering brings amazing results for wildlife at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve – Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Conservation volunteers contributed 210 days to a local nature reserve in 2016, playing a major role in habitat restoration and helping to achieve some amazing results for wildlife.

Eycott Hill volunteers planting a hedge (image: Cumbria Wildlife Trust)Eycott Hill volunteers planting a hedge (image: Cumbria Wildlife Trust)

A dedicated team of volunteers have helped at 32 conservation work parties on Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Eycott Hill Nature Reserve, between Keswick and Penrith, or spent time checking on the herd of Luing cattle that graze the site. Work party tasks have been varied, from moving rocks, repairing dry stone walls, and building fences, to planting thousands of trees and wildflower plants to create better habitats for wildlife, and carrying out monitoring and surveying to see how different species are doing.

Stephen Owen, Eycott Hill Reserve and Training Officer said: “Volunteers make a fantastic contribution to our work and the achievements over the past year have been impressive. The planting of 2600 wildflower plants has added variety to the meadows making them better for pollinating insects like bumblebees and butterflies, and 240m of new hedgerow, made up of 1500 native saplings, will grow to provide habitat for small mammals, birds, and invertebrates. Volunteers have also helped with maintenance tasks on the nature reserve including repairing dry stone walls, clearing bracken, and checking and weeding 6000 young trees across the nature reserve!”

CJS Focus 

If you're looking to recruit new volunteers send your adverts now for inclusion in CJS Focus (here) and if you're looking for a volunteer placement, to join a local group or for more information about volunteering watch out for the Focus edition in association with Keep Britain Tidy and due for publication on Monday 13 February.


Birds of a feather flock together to confuse potential predators – University of Bristol

Scientists from the Universities of Bristol and Groningen, in The Netherlands, have created a computer game style experiment which sheds new light on the reasons why starlings flock in massive swirling groups over wintering grounds.

A murmuration of starlings (image: University of Bristol)A murmuration of starlings (image: University of Bristol)

A murmuration can hold many thousands of starlings but the reasons why they put on these amazing displays are not well understood.  However, scientists have observed that flocks of starlings are larger, and more densely packed in areas with more predators, such as hawks, and that attacks by such predators are less likely to succeed against larger groups of starlings. This has led researchers to suggest that one function of these flocks may be avoiding predation.

There are many ways in which forming groups can reduce predation. One idea is that in larger groups, more birds can be on the look-out for predators at any one time, and there is even evidence that larger groups can allow for faster transfer of information. For example, if one bird sees a predator it might turn to escape, causing other birds to turn, even if they have not seen the predator themselves.  Another suggestion is that predators may simply be confused by the sheer number of potential prey, something called the “confusion effect”. The confusion effect is well documented in several species and describes decreased predator attack success with increased prey group size.

Access the publication: Benedict G. Hogan, Hanno Hildenbrandt, Nicholas E. Scott-Samuel, Innes C. Cuthill, Charlotte K.  Hemelrijk. The confusion effect when attacking simulated three-dimensional starling flocks R. Soc. open sci. 2017 4 160564; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160564. Published 18 January 2017


Marking 10 years since the MSC Napoli was grounded at Branscombe, Devon – National Trust

What do you do when a large tanker containing thousands of gallons of oil is left beached and broken just metres from your beach?

That was the challenge facing rangers at Branscombe, east Devon, on Sunday 21 January 2007.  Days before, the 275 metre long container ship MSC Napoli had broken its back in storms of the Cornish coast.  Tugs battled through stormy conditions trying to tow the ship to Portland harbour, Dorset, when coastguards took the decision to ground her just off Branscombe beach – rather than risk worse damage in deep water. But the vessel leaked 200 tonnes of fuel and around 200 containers – a tenth of the total number strapped to the ship.

Oil-slicked Mars Bars litter the beach following the grounding of the MSC Napoli ten years ago. Image: Simon Ford / National TrustOil-slicked Mars Bars litter the beach following the grounding of the MSC Napoli ten years ago. Image: Simon Ford / National Trust

National Trust rangers helped with the clear up along the Devon and Dorset coast. And the crash helped transform the conservation charity’s approach to planning for marine disasters.

Simon Ford, the National Trust’s Wildlife and Countryside Adviser in the South West, said: “I remember I was at the office when we heard about the Napoli. The rangers at Branscombe rushed down to the beach and we drew together our own team to support the emergency services’ effort.  There were hundreds of thousands of mars bars completely smothered in oil washing up on the beaches throughout east Devon and Dorset, along with a multitude of other items from car parts to enormous shipping containers. At the time I was working on a marine plan for Cornwall, planning the National Trust’s response in the event of a disaster off the Cornish coast. The ship grounded just as I was completing the plan for Cornwall and extending it to Devon. When it happened we were caught off guard.  But because we had the draft plan from Cornwall we knew what we had to do. We rushed through, trying to use the information from Napoli to guide our plans for all National Trust places. We changed our planning processes as a result, taking into account marine pollution – cargo as well as oil. We made sure that every single National Trust coastal site in the UK have an emergency plan.” 

For more detail about the wreck and subsequent clean up read the release from the Environment Agency: Tenth anniversary of the MSC Napoli shipwreck disaster


What will the wasp plague be like this year? – British Ecological Society

New research from Victoria University of Wellington has revealed the population of the common wasp is amplified by spring weather, with warmer and drier springs often meaning more wasps and wasp stings in summer.

Wasp on white (image: British Ecological Society)Wasp (image: British Ecological Society)

The study, published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology, examined 23 years of data from New Zealand and 39 years from the United Kingdom, which included the annual Rothamsted Insect Survey. “We saw different populations exposed to different weather conditions, which substantially influenced population numbers. The patterns typically show lower numbers of wasps after cold, wet springs, and higher numbers after warm, dry springs,” says lead author Professor Phil Lester from Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences.

“This year we’ve had a really wet spring in many areas across New Zealand. These places that have seen a lot of spring rainfall could expect lower numbers of wasps than average this summer.”

Professor Lester says climate change could considerably increase wasp numbers.

“We saw this at Rothamsted in the United Kingdom. The area experienced a change in climate in the 1990s, and its warmer spring weather has resulted in considerably higher numbers of wasps.”

The study also found population densities for the upcoming year are heavily dependent on numbers from the previous year.

Access the paper: Lester, P. J., Haywood, J., Archer, M. E. and Shortall, C. R. (2017), The long-term population dynamics of common wasps in their native and invaded range. J Anim Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12622


UK National Parks announce Volunteer Award winners – National Parks

The winners of the UK National Parks Volunteer Awards have been announced. Both the Individual and Group category awards for this year went to volunteers from the Brecon Beacons National Park with the Project category award going to New Forest National Park volunteers. The annual awards give recognition and thanks to all the volunteers who work hard, helping protect the special landscapes of Britain’s 15 National Parks each year.
Jo Minihane, has won the Individual award category after volunteering in the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales for around 18 months. In that time Jo has undertaken a wide range of volunteer roles including practical work carrying out footpath repairs and ground maintenance work as well as project work with a local MIND eco group. He adds: “I am volunteering up to seven days a week but to me this is not work. I enjoy the different experiences and varied projects immensely and always look for a new opportunity. Every day is different and I have learned so much. The people I meet are wonderful and I will continue my life as a volunteer for as long as possible.”
Jo is a strong testament to the incredible benefits of volunteering and he also wins £100 worth of outdoor equipment. Highly commended in the Individual category was Graham Ryan from Northumberland National Park for his invaluable contribution to helping protect the Vindolonda Excavations for over a decade.
Also from the Brecon Beacons National Park, the Nepalese Community Footpath Group were the Group award category winners. The group are recognized for the incredible work they carried out to restore a footpath in their home town of Brecon. 

Every year the Volunteer Awards, which are supported by Natural Resources Wales, highlight the wonderful things people do to help look after Britain’s Breathing Spaces. The Group and Project award winners will both receive a £1000 bursary to go towards continuing that fantastic work. 

See the full list of awards and winners.  


Hundreds of young people to help plant the Future Forest – Sylva Foundation

We have welcomed in the New Year in the best way possible: inviting hundreds of young people to plant trees in the Future Forest.

Sylva’s staff, Education Manager Jen Hurst and volunteer Pieternel Overweel, have been working closely with 20 primary school classes (500 children) thanks to funding from Tesco Bags of Help and the Ernest Cook Trust.

Sylva Tree Team (image: Sylva)During January we have been visiting the schools to talk about trees, forestry and tree planting. All the children will be visiting the site of the Future Forest to plant their trees during February. These young students are excited to be joining the Sylva Tree Team.

Sylva Tree Team (image: Sylva)

In addition to preparing the primary schools we’ve been welcoming secondary school students and special needs groups, thanks to collaboration with Earth Trust who have long-established links with local schools.

The 600+ children helping us plant the new woodland will be a long way forward in a journey learning about and taking responsibility for the environment.


New freshwater macroinvertebrate species discovered in the UK using eDNA - CIEEM

Researchers from the University of Hull, working closely with the Environment Agency, have detected a new non-native gammarid species, native to continental Europe, in several river catchments in the UK. 

Gammarus fossarum was found using a non-targeted DNA-based approach called 'metabarcoding' of both macroinvertebrate kick samples and environmental DNA (eDNA) from water and sediment. The species identification was subsequently verified by both morphology and DNA barcoding.  Re-examination of archive material from the Natural History Museum found G. fossarum to have been present in the UK since at least 1964. G. fossarum is indigenous and widespread in mainland Europe, and typically inhabits headwaters and upper reaches of mountainous streams, with G. pulex being more dominant in lower river sections. The two species do however co-exist, as was found in a number of sites from this study.

This study is one of the first to demonstrate the potential of eDNA metabarcoding for passive detection of non-native species. The research will shortly be published in Aquatic Invasions. 


BASC hopes new funding will boost numbers of Greenland white-fronted geese – British Association for Shooting and Conservation

BASC hopes a Welsh government research grant will support conservation measures that increase the numbers of Greenland white-fronted geese on the Dyfi Estuary.

RSPB Cymru, acting on behalf of the Welsh Greenland white-fronted geese partnership, has been awarded £24,000 on top of £15,000 of funding made available last year.

BASC works on the partnership alongside Welsh government, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), the RSPB, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Dyfi, Mawddach & Dysynni Wildfowlers’ Association and ecologist Mick Green.

Ian Danby, BASC’s head of biodiversity, said: “This funding enables us to further the Welsh government’s wishes to continue working together to conserve Greenland white-fronted geese. BASC has worked closely with local wildfowlers and conservation partners over many years to secure funds to research the movements of these geese that will allow us to target specific habitat work to benefit them. We are extremely excited that we have the resources to make real progress towards that aim.”

Greenland white-fronted geese are a vital part of the Dyfi Estuary SPA, although fewer than 20 birds now winter in the area. The wintering population has declined by 83% between 1990 and 2016 – which is a faster decline than the global average.

A voluntary moratorium on shooting Greenland white-fronted geese in Wales has been in place for more than 40 years. Last August, the Welsh government resisted calls to remove the geese from the quarry list after BASC successfully argued they are best protected by organisations with local knowledge working for their continued conservation.

Read the RSPB Cymru press release about the funding (PDF)


Finishing the week with a beautiful photograph.

Photograph taken in Exmoor wins our competition – Campaign for National Parks

The winning image - The ancient woods of Exmoor © Penny WebberFor a split second, the sun shone through the trees in a spectacular way. Penny Webber, resident in Exmoor National Park, seized the moment and took the perfect photograph that has won our winter photography competition.

The winning image - The ancient woods of Exmoor © Penny Webber

When she found out, Penny said, ‘I took this photo on the spur of the moment with my phone. The light was simply glorious when I was walking with my black Labrador through these woods above Porlock near my home in Exmoor. Lasting only a few moments, the sun shone through the trees bathing my dog in rays of light making him seem like a ghostly shadow. It was just lovely.’

We ran the competition because National Parks are beautiful places - it's no wonder that people take such fantastic photos in them! We received some exceptional images demonstrating the passion people have for photographing the Parks. Penny’s photo stood out though – capturing the perfect moment the sun shone through the trees.

Penny finds her inspiration in the everyday beauty of the Park. She said, ‘Exmoor is fantastic for walking – especially where the countryside meets the sea. The Park has striking views, rugged coast paths and ancient trees like the ones I captured in my shot.'


Scientific Publications

Finch, T., Butler, S., Franco, A. & Cresswell, W. (2017) Low migratory connectivity is common in long-distance migrant birds. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12635


Wellbrock, A. H. J., Bauch, C., Rozman, J. and Witte, K. (2017), “Same procedure as last year?” – Repeatedly tracked swifts show individual consistency in migration pattern in successive years. J Avian Biol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/jav.01251 


Silva, A. D., Diez-Méndez, D. and Kempenaers, B. (2017), Effects of experimental night lighting on the daily timing of winter foraging in common European songbirds. J Avian Biol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/jav.01232


Coppes, J., Ehrlacher, J., Suchant, R. and Braunisch, V. (2017), Outdoor recreation causes effective habitat reduction in Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus: a major threat for geographically restricted populations. J Avian Biol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/jav.01239


Mori, A. S. (2017), Biodiversity and ecosystem services in forests: management and restoration founded on ecological theory. J Appl Ecol, 54: 7–11. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12854 


Hausmann, A., Toivonen, T., Slotow, R., Tenkanen, H., Moilanen, A., Heikinheimo, V. and Di Minin, E. (2017), Social Media Data can be used to Understand Tourists´ Preferences for Nature-based Experiences in Protected Areas. Conservation Letters. doi:10.1111/conl.12343  


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