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


Residents clean up polluted stream – Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

A local litter eyesore blighted by drug use and rough sleeping has a new lease of life after 25 local residents turned out over the weekend to clean it up.

More than 40 bags of rubbish were cleared from the area opposite the Hindu Temple on Keel Drive. Also cleared were several shopping trolleys, a scooter and a safe.

The clean-up was organised by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) who, along with Slough Borough Council, Thames Water and the Environment Agency, are trying to restore the Salthill Stream catchment by involving the local community, improving water quality, reducing flooding and bringing back wildlife.

As well as cleaning up, the team of volunteers created piles of logs and other features to encourage wildlife to flourish.

WWT’s Technical Officer, Alice Wickman, said: “This spot has amazing potential as a place for people to come and enjoy. It’s right opposite the temple and backs onto the allotments. The water here is actually spring water. It comes straight out of the ground so it’s really pure. But it’s been unloved place for a while now and some people have taken advantage of that and started to use it as a place to dump litter and household rubbish, blocking the stream and threatening wildlife. It had become polluted and a really unpleasant place to be. So, we put out the call for help and there was an amazing response from local people. Now, there’s hardly any litter, it’s lighter in the woods and by the stream, and as a result it’s much nicer to walk through”.


Trail resurfacing set to improve access in the Peak District National Park

More of the High Peak Trail will be widened and resurfaced this winter, improving safety and enjoyment for visitors to the Peak District National Park.

About 2.3km (1.5 miles) of the trail between Newhaven Crossing and Minninglow car park is being improved. Work will begin on Monday (23 January) with repairs scheduled for completion by 17 February 2017.  Use of this section of the trail will be restricted at times but will remain passable.

Parts of the trail on that section are just 750mm wide in places, which is not enough to accommodate walkers, cyclists and horse riders at busy times. The improvements will mean the trail is widened to a width of at least 3 metres.

Emma Stone, who manages the Peak District National Park trails, said: "This is a trail with a variety of users and widening it to a minimum of 3 metres should make the whole experience much safer and more enjoyable for everyone."

The work is part of a rolling programme to improve safety and accessibility on the traffic-free trails in the UK’s first and original National Park 


New research debunks honey bee pesticide study – University of St Andrews

A study by a global agrochemical company that concluded there was only a low risk to honey bees from a widely used agricultural pesticide has been described as “misleading” in new research published by statisticians at the University of St Andrews.

Pesticides called neonicotinoids or neonics may be implicated in losses of honey bees and other pollinators. The economic value of honey bees and bumble bees on the pollination of commercially grown crops has been estimated at over £200 million a year in the UK alone.

A major study conducted by Swiss agrochemical company Syngenta on the effects of the neonic thiamethoxam on honey bees in the field concluded that there was only a low risk to honey bees.

New research conducted at the Centre for Research into Ecological and Environmental Modelling (CREEM) by Dr Robert Schick, Professor Jeremy Greenwood and Professor Steve Buckland shows even large and important effects could have been missed because the Syngenta study was statistically too small.

Their findings are published today in the international journal Environmental Sciences Europe.

Read the paper (open access) Robert S. Schick, Jeremy J. D. Greenwood and Stephen T. Buckland. An experiment on the impact of a neonicotinoid pesticide on honeybees: the value of a formal analysis of the data. Environmental Sciences Europe Bridging Science and Regulation at the Regional and European Level DOI: 10.1186/s12302-016-0103-8


Keepers get i-deer of animal antics after dark – Zoological Society of London

Motion sensitive camera traps have revealed for the first time what the animals at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo get up to after dark.

Approaching midnight the fallow deer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo are seen grazing (image ©ZSL)Zookeepers installed the cameras, identical to those used around the world by ZSL’s field conservation teams, to allow them to remotely observe the Zoo’s herd of fallow deer.

Approaching midnight the fallow deer at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo are seen grazing (image ©ZSL)

Detecting movement within a 30ft range, the cameras recorded the night-time activity of the herd as they grazed and roamed through their 80-acre paddock, Passage through Asia, which visitors can drive-through during the day.

As the time is logged whenever the cameras are triggered, zookeepers were able to use the technology to learn more about the deer’s night-time activity and behaviour.

Zookeeper Donovan Glyn said: “These images are not only fascinating for us to see, but extremely useful as they allow us to observe what the animals do when we’re not here.

“We regularly update and change the way we look after the animals to ensure we’re always providing the best care and we’ll use the information gleaned from our night-time observations to devise new feeding and enrichment programmes for the fallow deer.” 


Buglife welcomes new protection for Britain’s oldest inhabitants - blind shrimps - Buglife

Buglife is pleased to welcome the confirmation of Pen Park Hole in Bristol as a Site of Special Scientific Interest on account of its invertebrate fauna, particularly the cave shrimps.

Pen Park Hole is a large cave system within a buried limestone ridge in Southmead in the northern outskirts of Bristol. The cave is approximately 60 metres deep and consists of a large main chamber containing a deep lake, and several branching passages.

The cave is home to a nationally important community of blind subterranean shrimps, including Koch’s shrimp (Niphargus kochianus) and the Font shrimp (Niphargus fontanus).  These small, white shrimps live their entire lives underground, growing slowly and living for over ten years.

While most British species were wiped out about 25,000 years ago by the last glaciation, cave shrimps survived in their deep havens and have been resident here for at least 19.5 million years.   British populations of these shrimps are considered to be genetically significant due to their long history and isolation.  For instance our Koch’s shrimp split from its European counterparts some 2.9 million years ago.

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife commented. “A great many places that are home to rare little animals get no formal protection, so Buglife is delighted that these cave shrimps, Britain’s oldest inhabitants, will now be safer from harm.”


Forests ‘held their breath’ during global warming hiatus, research shows – University of Exeter

Global forest ecosystems, widely considered to act as the lungs of the planet, ‘held their breath’ during the most recent occurrence of a warming hiatus, new research has shown.

The international study examined the full extent to which these vital ecosystems performed as a carbon sink from 1998-2012 – the most recent recorded period of global warming slowdown.

The researchers, including Professor Pierre Friedlingstein from the University of Exeter, demonstrated that the global carbon sink – where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the natural environment – was particularly robust during this 14-year period.

During extended periods of slower warming, forests ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide but reduce the rate at which they release the gas back to the atmosphere (University of Exeter)The study shows that, during extended periods of slower warming, worldwide forests ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, but reduced the rate at which they ‘breathe out’ - or release the gas back to the atmosphere.

During extended periods of slower warming, forests ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide but reduce the rate at which they release the gas back to the atmosphere (University of Exeter)

The team believes the crucial study offers a significant breakthrough for future climate modelling, which is used to predict just how different ecosystems will respond to rising global temperatures.
The pioneering study is published in leading science journal, Nature Climate Change, on Monday, 23 January 2017.


£8 million for peatland restoration projects is a welcome investment - SNH

Biodiversity, water quality and our response to climate change will all benefit from the Scottish Government’s latest investment in work to restore our precious peatlands, says Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

SNH welcomes the announcement by Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham of a further £8 million for the award-winning Peatland Action initiative it has run since 2012. Peatland Action is one of the key projects helping to deliver the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity

The investment will allow SNH to continue working with its Peatland Action partners to restore a further 8,000ha of this vital habitat, to add to over 10,000ha of peatland already restored under the scheme. Peatland restoration involves blocking miles and miles of ditches, as well as other measures, to reduce the rapid runoff of water from the bare peat surfaces.

Andrew McBride, Peatland Action Manager, said: ‘This is excellent news for our peatlands, wildlife, tourism and rural jobs. The additional investment next year will allow us to almost double the amount of peatland restored, and also widen the scope of the project to ensure people are more aware and involved in the care of this valuable natural resource.


Why are you still awake? Rise in Hedgehog sightings due to late start to winter - British Trust for Ornithology

Active Hedgehogs were being seen in gardens well into December, according to reports from the British Trust for Ornithology’s weekly Garden BirdWatch (BTO GBW) scheme. Volunteer Garden BirdWatchers reported more Hedgehogs in November and December than in previous years.

Before the onset of winter Hedgehogs are busy foraging for earthworms and insects to gain plentiful fat reserves. These reserves are crucial for surviving during their hibernation, which is normally from November to March. However, timing of hibernation varies between individuals Hedgehog by Mike Tomsand depends on weather conditions. This year results from Garden BirdWatch show that more Hedgehogs were active later in the year than usual, likely as a result of mild weather.

Hedgehog by Mike Toms

July to September is the peak of Hedgehog activity in gardens when young hoglets can also be seen, but activity declines steeply with the arrival of winter. However, this November Garden BirdWatchers recorded Hedgehogs in 4.1% of gardens, which is nearly double the average (2.4%) and the sightings remained higher than normal in December. This pattern is most notable in the southern and eastern areas of the UK where temperatures were milder than elsewhere in November. The Met Office also notes that the December mean temperature was 2.1°C above average (1961-1990), which is likely to explain the increase in Hedgehog activity this winter.


The future of energy in Scotland Scottish Government

Draft strategy outlines ambitious vision for a modern, low carbon Scotland.

A new target to deliver the equivalent of 50 per cent of the energy required for Scotland’s heat, transport and electricity needs from renewable sources by 2030 was unveiled today, as part of a key consultation on Scotland’s first energy strategy.

The draft Scottish Energy Strategy, published today (Tuesday 24), sets out a vision for 2050 for Scotland to have a modern, integrated energy system that delivers reliable, low carbon energy at affordable prices to consumers in all parts of Scotland. The Strategy will build upon the existing economic strengths of the energy sector in Scotland, while protecting energy security and setting out our approach to tackling fuel poverty.

This vision will be supported next month when we will announce details of up to £50 million in funding to be awarded to 13 projects, at sites across Scotland, which will demonstrate low carbon or renewable electricity, heating or storage solutions.

Response: RSPB Scotland responds to publication of Scottish Government’s Energy Strategy – RSPB

RSPB Scotland has responded to the publication of the Scottish Government’s Scottish Energy Strategy today. Senior Policy Officer, Rebecca Bell, said: “We welcome the ambition shown by the Scottish Government in its energy strategy, particularly the target for 50% of our energy demand to be met from renewable sources by 2030, which is something we and other NGOs have been calling for.  This transition to a holistic, low-carbon energy system is what we need to meet our international climate commitments, but it needs to be done in a way that does not harm nature.


Scientists discover even wasps make trade deals – University of Sussex

Wasps have trading partners and compete for the ‘best trade deals’. T.Pennell (University of Sussex)Wasps have trading partners and compete for the ‘best trade deals’, according to scientists from the University of Sussex.

In the study, the team from the University’s School of Life Sciences looked at how the economic rule of ‘supply and demand’ applies to populations of paper wasps - in which ‘helper wasps’ raise the offspring of dominant breeders in small social groups in return for belonging in the nest.

Wasps have trading partners and compete for the ‘best trade deals’. T.Pennell (University of Sussex)

During the study, which was carried out in southern Spain over a period of three months, the team marked and genotyped 1,500 wasps and recorded social behaviour within 43 separate nests along a cactus hedge.

By increasing the number of nest spots and nesting partners available around the hedge, the scientists discovered the helper wasps provide less help to their own ‘bosses’ (the dominant breeders) when alternative nesting options are available. The dominant wasps then compete to give the helper wasps the ‘best deal’, by allowing them to work less hard, to ensure they stay in their particular nest. 


New to Britain Grass-carrying wasp discovered at Greenwich Eco Park - The Land Trust

Grass-carrying wasp (NHM)A new to Britain wasp, Isodontia mexicana (de Saussure), known as the Grass-carrying wasp, has been discovered at Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park.

About 2cm long, it is a striking addition to the UK fauna and gets its name from its habit of using grass as nest material.

Isodontia mexicana wasp (NHM)

It likes to visit flowers such as Mint and Gypsy wort, which are abundant at the Greenwich park, and preys on bush crickets, which are also common at the site.

Researcher David Notton of the Natural History Museum said the wasp is pretty docile and a solitary species, so does not form large nests.


Outrage at damage to internationally important site – Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Staff and volunteers at Northumberland Wildlife Trust have been left deeply upset and angered at the damage caused to its Whitelee nature reserve in North Northumberland.

Bike tracks next to Carter Bar (image: Geoff Dobbins)Bike tracks next to Carter Bar (image: Geoff Dobbins)

The wildlife charity received reports that trail bikes had been ridden on the site over the Christmas break, but didn’t know the extent of the damage until the ground had thawed.

Upon inspection, it is evident that the bikes entered at Carter Bar and were driven directly up the hill onto the blanket bog.

Such an act is extremely damaging to the bog surface - just one pass with the bikes and the vegetation could take decades to recover! This is immensely frustrating as the Trust is trying to repair the blanket bog in this area at great expense.

Whitelee Moor is one of Britain’s most important upland nature reserves. A large part of its 1,508 hectares is rare blanket bog habitat which is home to a variety of plants including sphagnum mosses, cloudberry, bog asphodel and cotton grasses.

The site, which is a National Nature Reserve, Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area for Conservation (SAC) was bought by Northumberland Wildlife Trust in 1999, following suport from a public appeal and National Lottery players with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund


Remarkable discovery as Roman houses are identified under city centre park – Chichester Distrcit Council

Foundations of complete Roman town houses have been discovered under one of Chichester's city centre parks and they are expected to be some of the most remarkable Roman finds yet.

Priority Park Dig (image: Chichester District Council)Archaeologists have been stunned to find three almost complete Roman buildings, footings of which have survived over 1,600 years in the centre of a thriving city.

Priory Park Dig (image: Chichester District Council)

The scans appear to show two large masonry houses, which would now be the equivalent to Chichester's grand Pallant House Gallery building, and would have been owned by someone of great importance. The third building is of great interest because of its unusual shape.

The discovery was made after local geophysics specialist, David Staveley, used ground penetrating radar equipment to scan the parks in Chichester. This was done in agreement with Chichester District Council's archaeologist, James Kenny, who felt that the parks were the most likely place to discover remains that will have survived. Following the results from the scans, James and the local archaeology society carried out a very small dig in the park which confirmed his thoughts.


Hidden value report reveals the importance of green spaces to society – The Land Trust

The Land Trust has released a new report, The Hidden Value of Our Green Spaces, which highlights the important functions to society that our sites provide.

It shows that our interventions to maintain and enhance green spaces have clear and considerable benefits, such as absorbing pollution, mitigating the risk of flooding, and storing carbon.

The report features two case studies – Beam Parklands in Dagenham and Silverdale Country Park near Stoke on Trent ­– to show how sustainable management translates into economic value for the local area.

Find out more and download the report.


Sounding them out: a unique conservation tool for monitoring bush-crickets - BTO

New research led by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and published today in the international journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, shows how existing bat monitoring could improve our understanding of bush-crickets.

Bush-crickets are a little-known group of insects that inhabit our marshes, grasslands, woods, parks and gardens. Some may be seen in the summer when they are attracted to artificial lights, but as most produce noises that are on the edge of human hearing, we know little about their status. There are suggestions that some bush-crickets may be benefiting from climate change, while others may be affected by habitat changes. But how to survey something that is difficult to see and almost impossible to hear?

Advances in autonomous recording devices are transforming our understanding of bats, but the large-scale deployment of such devices has the potential to also improve our understanding of other species groups, which produce loud and characteristic sounds.

The original objective of BTO’s bat surveys was to trial the recording of bat activity using passive real-time detectors, to gauge the willingness of members of the public to engage in bat monitoring at a large scale, and to determine the suitability of automated identification routines for processing large volumes of citizen-science collected bat recordings. It soon became clear that bush-crickets were also being recorded in large numbers.

Working with the Museum of Natural History in Paris and Natural England we have developed a computer algorithm to identify the sounds made by different species of bush-crickets. After carefully validating these state-of-the-art methods using field recordings in Norfolk, we can now examine daily activity patterns of different species of bush-cricket and determine where different species live. The speckled bush-cricket for example, pictured above, would normally be easy to overlook because it occurs in vegetation and makes sound (stridulates) at a frequency too high for humans to hear. With over 260,000 recordings of this species collected through bat surveys in Norfolk, we know that this species is common and widespread, with a distribution that extends into Norwich. At the other extreme, great green bush-cricket, previously known from only a few locations in Norfolk, was recorded at two locations, of which one was a new site for this species.

Access the paper: Newson, S.E., Bas, Y., Murray, A. & Gillings, S. (2017). Potential for coupling the monitoring of bush-crickets with established large-scale acoustic monitoring of bats. Methods in Ecology and Evolution.


Pests and diseases now 'business as usual' - Confor

Tree pests and diseases have now become “business as usual” for forest and woodland owners, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry was told.

John Wilding, Head of Forestry and Environmental Economy at Clinton Devon Estates, listed the range of pests and diseases which had blighted the business over the last decade. 

He said each one had brought new lessons, with the arrival of chalara ash dieback in the south-west raising serious questions about importing pests and diseases through young plants. 

“Pests and diseases are now very much business as usual," he said. "One real area of concern is the import of large containerised plants. Phytophthera ramorum showed that we are moving ecosystems within a pot. The plant and soil could contain untold numbers of bugs and beetles.” 

Mr Wilding, a member of the review group which reported on the P ramorum outbreak, said one positive to emerge from that period was much closer working between the private sector and the Forestry Commission’s plant health team, especially on aerial surveys which allowed early identification of the disease and a rapid response. 


Describing Scotland’s Wild Land Areas – Scottish Natural Heritage

Descriptions of Scotland’s 42 Wild Land Areas have been published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Wild Land Areas across Scotland were identified in 2014 to support Scottish Planning Policy. They are the most extensive areas where high wildness can be found and include remote mountains and moorland, isolated sections of coast and uninhabited islands.

Based on extensive field study and illustrated with photographs and maps, the descriptions capture the special qualities of Scotland’s wilder landscapes in an easy-to-read format. SNH is also inviting comments on draft guidance it has produced to help development interests and decision-makers when they are assessing potential impacts on Wild Land Areas.

The proposed guidance will help enable consistent assessment of the potential effect of any new development on the qualities of Wild Land Areas. It is technical guidance which complements established approaches to assessing the landscape and visual impacts of development. The Wild Land Descriptions provide a helpful reference against which changes to the Areas’ qualities can be assessed.

The consultation runs until 7th April 2017. 

Access the guidance and take part in the consultation.  


Scientific publications

Evans, S. R. & Gustafsson, L. (2017) Climate change upends selection on ornamentation in a wild bird. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1038/s41559-016-0039


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