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


Plantlife logoImportant report published by our Featured Charity.

Air pollution is having a devastating impact on plant diversity - Plantlife

  • Air pollution is not only a public health issue – it’s also driving a dramatic loss of plant diversity, pushing many wildlife habitats into critical condition
  • Plantlife report reveals 90% of sensitive habitats in England and Wales are suffering from excess nitrogen
  • Dr Trevor Dines: Nitrogen deposited from the air may present a 'far more immediate threat' than climate change to wild plants, lichens and fungi
  • 'Thuggish' plants such as nettles that flourish with high levels of nitrogen are overpowering the UK’s rare and endangered wild plants
  • Over a third (37%) of our flowering plants prefer low nutrient conditions and are therefore at threat from increasingly nitrogen-rich, high nutrient conditions

Atmospheric nitrogen deposition is silently ravaging our plant communities and the precious habitats they underpin, says Plantlife, Europe's largest charity dedicated to wild flowers and other flora, in We Need to Talk About Nitrogen, a report launched today.

The report, which is backed by the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, RSPB, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, the British Bryological Society, the British Lichen Society, Flora Locale, SEI, and Chester Zoo, spells out how tackling the destructive impact of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on plants and ecosystems is one of the greatest challenges faced in nature conservation.

Nitrogen deposition takes place when nitrogen emissions from transport, power stations, farming and industry – mainly emitted as nitrogen oxides and ammonia - are deposited back into the natural environment directly from the air or in rain.

The report highlights that 90% of all nitrogen-sensitive habitats in England and Wales – such as heathlands, acid grasslands and sand dunes - are receiving deposition at higher levels than they can tolerate. Across the whole of the UK, the figure stands at 63%. As a result, low nitrogen plants are declining. Over a third (37%) of our flowering plants prefer low nutrient conditions and are therefore at threat.  

Download the We Need to Talk About Nitrogen report (PDF) 


Response: NFU hits back at nitrogen emissions report – National Farmers Union

The NFU has responded to a new report that claims air pollution is having a devastating effect on Britain’s wildlife.

The report from Plant Link UK, backed by organisations such as Plantlife, the National Trust and RSPB, found that 90% of heathlands, acid grasslands and sensitive habitats were suffering due to nitrogen emissions from fossil fuel and fertilisers.

But the NFU has hit back with NFU Vice President Guy Smith saying that farmers are working hard to reduce nitrogen emissions.

Mr Smith said: “Farmers have made some real improvements to our wildlife, environment and our landscapes, particularly in the past 25-30 years. We see an improving picture, the indications are positive and we need to continue to build on this. Nitrogen emissions are down due in part to the fall in livestock numbers and in fertiliser use - application rates have been decreasing since the 1980’s.  Good practice and regulation have also been key. Support for innovation and new technologies that can help mitigate impacts but sustain growth in the agricultural sector is critical, but planning policy is also important, particularly if we would like more modern, efficient buildings and storage facilities for the food we produce."


Splashing the cash: £10.1million to help widen heritage talent pool – Heritage Lottery Fund

National Lottery investment to address critical shortages in heritage skills.

The National Lottery is investing £10.1million in 18 projects across the UK to help train a new and more diverse generation of heritage craftspeople, digital specialists and entrepreneurs.

A strong focus will be placed on people who may never have considered a career in heritage. There will be opportunities for ex-servicemen training as dry stone wallers, young novices working on historic ships, women training as steam boiler engineers and people from areas of high unemployment working in museums and visitor attractions.

Among the success projects were:

Dry Stone Walling Association (UK-wide reach) – £183,800

Eight people will train over two years as dry stone wallers to address an ongoing skills shortage. Trainees with no previous experience will be targeted including ex-servicemen and ex-offenders.

Ulster Wildlife Trust, Northern Ireland - £403,700

Ulster Wildlife Trust will train 21 people over a three-year programme in natural conservation skills, both marine and land based. Recruitment will prioritise under-24s, those from a minority ethnic background and people with disabilities. The Trust will work in partnership with a number of other organisations, including the National Trust and Butterfly Conservation.

While Skills for the Future is not a job creation programme, past projects have had an impressively high success rate with 75% of trainees securing a job in heritage following their training.


Also successful: Trees for Life secures support from the National Lottery – Trees for Life

Scottish nature charity Trees for Life has won £376,800 of highly sought after funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s (HLF) ‘Skills for the Future’ programme. The funding will enable Trees for Life to train 15 people over a three-year period in wild forest restoration skills.  

Steve Micklewright, CEO of Trees for Life, said: “There is a shortage of people who are able to manage estates to bring back natural forests and wildlife to the Highlands. This funding will help us train people in these skills, bringing new employment opportunities to local people and to fill the skills gap.” 

Trees for Life will recruit five trainees each year for three years, starting in 2018. Over the course of a year, the trainees will have the opportunity to learn and develop the essential skills needed to save the Caledonian Forest ­– a type of woodland found only in the Highlands of Scotland. They will receive practical training in specialist tree propagation, deer management for nature conservation, native forest management techniques, wildlife monitoring and community engagement. Trainees will also learn how to interpret landscapes through innovative sources of information such as Gaelic place names, which often describe which trees and other wildlife once thrived in an area.

The training will be based at Trees for Life’s flagship Dundreggan Conservation Estate and will be accredited by the University of the Highlands and Islands.


Now is the time to build a brighter future for our seas – RSPB on behalf of a coalition of eight conservation organisations

  • The number of overfished stocks in the northeast Atlantic has dropped by a quarter in the last 10 years, but the latest data show close to half of all assessed stocks are still being overfished. 
  • Eight conservation organisations are today calling on governments to develop new fisheries law that puts sustainability at the heart of fisheries management enabling fish stocks to continue recovering.
  • The organisations have published 10 principles for governments to follow to help build a brighter future for our seas, which include effective legislation that goes beyond current EU commitments, and the setting of sustainable fishing levels.

Conservationists are today calling on the UK and developed governments to work together as we prepare to leave the European Union to develop new fisheries law that will allow fish stocks to recover while putting our traditional fishing industries and coastal communities on a sustainable footing.  

As an island nation our coastal communities and connection to the sea hold a special place in our cultural identity. Our seas are also home to or visited by an amazing variety of wildlife such as puffins, Minke whale, lesser sandeel and basking shark. 

Over the last 10 years progress has been made on reducing overfishing in the northeast Atlantic and adjacent waters. In this period the number of assessed stocks being overfished dropped by over a quarter. However, the latest official information confirms that 47% of assessed stocks are still being overfished, which doesn’t just impact on the profitability of our fisheries but also the food supplies and habitats that support other marine life.  

As control of waters around the UK are repatriated, conservationists are calling on the governments to ensure our precious marine life and important fishing industries both have a long-term future.  

The principles unveiled by ClientEarth, Greenpeace, Marine Conservation Society, New Economics Foundation, The Pew Trusts, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK  set out how governments can build a brighter future for our seas. They highlight the need for: 

  • Effective legislation that meets the governments’ ambition to be world leaders in sustainable fisheries management
  • Good governance that includes a clear and transparent process of stakeholder engagement and decision making.
  • Sustainable fishing levels and accountability – legal requirement to fish below a level that allows fish stocks to fully recover, and to be fully accountable for all fish caught

For more information visit www.wwf.org.uk/green-alliance  (pdf download)


Physical activity “may tail off by age seven in boys and girls” - University of Strathclyde

Physical activity levels may start tailing off as early as the age of seven, rather than during adolescence as is widely believed, according to new research led at the University of Strathclyde.

And there is no evidence to indicate that the decline is greater among girls than boys, the findings show.

The long-term study states that the prevailing view among policy makers and health professionals is that physical activity levels during childhood are adequate, but fall sharply during adolescence – with the decline is significantly greater among girls.

But the research has discovered there is actually very little firm evidence to back this up and what research has been carried out in this area has mostly been done before the impact of new technologies would have been felt.

The study, with Newcastle University, has been published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Professor John Reilly, of Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences and Health, led the study. He said: “Our study has found that all the boys and girls we assessed were taking paths which were inconsistent with the orthodox view that physical activity begins to decline at adolescence, declines much more rapidly at adolescence or declines much more rapidly in adolescent girls than boys. We did not set out to examine the reasons behind the changes, but finding out why around one in five of the boys managed to maintain levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity throughout the study period might help to inform future policy and practice."


Research endorses National Park tree-planting strategy – Yorkshire Dales NPA

Research has suggested that the trees planted in the Yorkshire Dales National Park during the past 20 years will help woodland species adapt to global warming.

It says a strategy of planting in upland gills has added to the potential for wildlife populations to shift their natural range.

Much of the Dales may be inaccessible to species which can move only short distances to colonise other woodland patches, such as the dormouse and many flowers, ferns and trees.

But the research suggests that habitat connectivity will increase by up to 25% when recently planted woods become mature.

It has also identified areas in the Dales where future planting could be most effective in supporting long-term species range shifts.

The research has been carried out by Askham Bryan College ecology lecturer, Micah Duckworth, working with conservationists at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) and the National Trust.  It formed part of a University of Leeds Master’s degree.

Mr Duckworth said: “The climate is warming and some species may need to colonise more northerly areas to survive.  The question is, how ready is the Yorkshire Dales to help threatened woodland species?  The answer is encouraging.”

The research project digitally mapped native woodland habitats across the National Park. It used a new modelling tool called Condatis, developed by scientists at the University of Liverpool.


Flies and bees act like plant cultivators - University of Zurich

Pollinator insects accelerate plant evolution, but a plant changes in different ways depending on the pollinator. After only nine generations, the same plant is larger and more fragrant if pollinated by bumblebees rather than flies, as a study conducted by evolutionary biologists from the University of Zurich reveals.

For their experiment UZH professor Florian Schiestl and doctoral student Daniel Gervasi used field mustard. The researchers allowed one plant group to be pollinated solely by bumblebees for nine generations, another only by hoverflies and a third by hand. Afterwards they analyzed the plants, “which differed greatly,” as Florian Schiestl explains. The plants pollinated by bumblebees were larger and had more fragrant flowers with a greater UV colour component, which bees and their relatives see. The plants pollinated by hoverflies, on the other hand, were smaller, their flowers were less fragrant and they self-pollinated considerably more.

 Bumblebee pollinating field mustard (Picture: UZH) Bumblebee pollinating field mustard (Picture: UZH)

The fact that the plants change so significantly already after nine generations came as a surprise to the researchers: “The traditional assumption is that evolution is a slow process,” explains Schiestl. The evolutionary biologist from UZH draws the following conclusion from his results: “A change in the composition of pollinator insects in natural habitats can trigger a rapid evolutionary transformation in plants.” This is particularly interesting as certain pollinator insects such as bees have been vastly decimated by the extensive use of pesticides and the depletion of the landscape in recent decades. According to Schiestl, it would thus be conceivable for plants to increasingly rely on flies as pollinators, which would result in the evolution of weaker flower fragrances and more self-pollination. In the longer term, this would reduce a plant population’s genetic variability and the plants would become more susceptible to disease.   

Access the paper:  Daniel Gervasi, Florian Schiestl. Real-time divergent evolution in plants driven by pollinators. Nature Communications. March 14, 2017. DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS14691


Action on climate change, protecting peatlands - Scottish Government

An £8 million investment will restore peatlands and help reduce carbon emissions, Climate Change Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has revealed as she opened the funding for applications.

Communities and land managers can apply for the Peatlands Action Fund which will help the Scottish Government deliver on its proposals to restore 250,000 hectares of peatlands by 2032. Around 1.7 million hectares of Scotland is covered in peatlands and keeping them well-maintained mitigates against climate change by locking in carbon. If left in a degraded condition they produce greenhouse gas emissions rather than act as a sink for soaking up carbon.

SNH will deliver the fund on behalf of the Scottish Government. Andrew McBride, SNH Peatland Action Manager said: ‘This is wonderful news for our peatlands and our wildlife, as well as for tourism and rural jobs. The extra investment will almost double the amount of peatlands we can restore, and also get more people aware and involved in taking care of this valuable natural resource. Peatland Action is one of our key projects in the delivery of the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity Peatland Action has worked closely with a wide range of land managers and communities."

Apply for the Peatlands Action Fund now.

150 projects restored 10,000 hectares of peatlands since 2013.


Response: Scottish Government sets peatlands on route to recovery - IUCN UK Peatland Programme

The IUCN UK Peatland Programme has welcomed today’s (15 March 2017) announcement by the Scottish Government of £8 million funding to support peatland restoration over the next year.  

Clifton Bain, IUCN UK Peatland Programme Director, said: “The announcement of new funding for Peatland Action is fantastic news. The Scottish Government has provided a master class in providing the leadership, direction and tools for tackling one of our most urgent environmental challenges.  

“We now have a national peatland plan, clear policies and a commitment to funding. On top of this Peatland Action has shown that we have the skills and techniques, and more importantly the support of people to ensure our peatlands are brought into a healthy condition, helping avoid the costly consequences of leaving them in a degraded state.”


Heritage Lottery Fund award to help save puffins - RSPB Scotland

An RSPB Scotland project to aid conservation efforts for puffins has been awarded £49,800 by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Puffin in breeding plumage, Skomer Island (Image: Dr Charles Tyler, RSPB)Puffin in breeding plumage, (Image: Dr Charles Tyler, RSPB)

Puffins are one our most recognisable and much loved seabirds with their colourful bills and eye markings. However, in recent years their numbers across the UK and Europe have plummeted leading to the species being declared vulnerable to global extinction, with further declines of between 50-79 percent estimated by 2065. Warming seas, caused by climate change, affecting puffins’ food sources are thought to be one of the main threats to their numbers.  Now thanks to this HLF grant an innovative project to help these threatened seabirds will take place this year. Project Puffin (UK) combines the latest technology with citizen science to tackle three of the biggest challenges hampering conservation efforts for these charismatic birds; discovering more about what puffins feed their chicks, where they go to find food and how their numbers are changing.

As over 80 percent of the British and Irish population of puffins is found in Scotland much of the project’s work will focus here. Counts will take place at a number of puffin colonies, many of which have seen an alarming reduction in size. The counts are urgently required to accurately measure the extent of this decline and assess how puffins are currently faring.

GPS trackers will be carefully fitted to puffins at two sites in Scotland. During the summer these 31 tags will provide information on where parent puffins go to fish to feed their chick. This will then be combined to generate maps of their offshore feeding areas during the tracking, and also detail what conditions they need to feed.  Further information on the diet of puffins will be gathered through the citizen science aspect of the project taking place while puffins are feeding their chicks during June and July. Visitors to puffin colonies across the UK and Ireland are asked to take photographs of the birds with fish in their bills. The project will provide clear guidelines for this to ensure puffins, which are very sensitive to human presence around their burrows, and other wildlife are not disturbed, and so that the photographs provide the most useful data possible. An online portal will be set up to submit the photographs to; these will build a picture of what the chicks are being fed.


Flower-rich habitats increase survival of bumblebee families - Centre for Hydrology and Ecology

New research led by the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has revealed for the first time that flower-rich habitats are key to enhancing the survival of bumblebee families between years.

The results, which come from the largest ever study of its kind on wild bumblebee populations, will help farmers and policy makers manage the countryside more effectively to provide for these vital but declining pollinators.

The new study, published in the journal Nature, used DNA technology and remote sensing to identify, map and track mother, daughter and sister bumblebees over two years to reveal that access to a range of pollen and nectar-rich flowers is vital to the survival of their populations.

Lead author Dr Claire Carvell, a Senior Ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, "By decoding the clues hidden within the DNA of bumblebee queens and workers, and combining these with detailed landscape surveys, our research demonstrates that the survival of bumblebee families between years is positively linked with habitat quality at a landscape scale." 

The results provide strong support for environmentally-friendly management of farmland to provide more flowers in hedgerows, meadows and along the edges of arable fields. They will also help farmers and land managers decide where best to plant flowers in the landscape.r research demonstrates that the survival of bumblebee families between years is positively linked with habitat quality at a landscape scale."

Senior author Dr Matthew Heard, a Principal Ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, "While there is an urgent need for more robust data on the patterns and causes of pollinator population decline, our study strongly suggests that conservation interventions can have a lasting, positive impact on wild pollinators in agricultural landscapes."

Access the paper: Claire Carvell, Andrew F G Bourke, Stephanie Dreier, Stephen N Freeman, Sarah Hulmes, William C Jordan, John W Redhead, Seirian Sumner, Jinliang Wang & Matthew S Heard, 'Bumblebee family lineage survival is enhanced in high quality landscapes', Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature21709

Co-author John Redhead wrote a blog about the research for Nature's Behind the Paper series: Family trees for bumblebees


Osprey Excitement! - Scottish Wildlife Trust

First Lowes osprey of 2017 © Scottish Wildlife TrustWe are all absolutely delighted to see our first osprey touch down at Loch of the Lowes earlier this afternoon. At a little after 3pm the osprey managed to land on our nest despite the blustery conditions.

First Lowes osprey of 2017 © Scottish Wildlife Trust 

It remained on the nest for several minutes allowing us to get a good look at its features, markings and colours in the beautiful sunlight before it left the nest for a nearby lochside perch.  From here, we were able to get a great view of the bird from our scopes and it appeared to be a young male however it seemed to lack the characteristics of our returning male LM12.


‘Sticking and flicking’ is no better than littering - Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust

Poo bags hanging from branches are a distressingly common blight on our local countryside, but the recent campaign to abandon bags in favour of the ‘stick and flick’ approach is not the answer. Dog mess isn’t just unsightly to look at, it can contain parasites and diseases which if left on the ground or flicked into vegetation can pose a real threat to people and wildlife.

Dog walker on St Catherine's Hill © Matt Doggett (via Hants & IoW Wildlife Trust)Dog walker on St Catherine's Hill © Matt Doggett (via Hants & IoW Wildlife Trust)

Dog fouling is hazardous to the health of children and education groups trying to learn more about our wonderful natural world, not to mention the health of Wildlife Trust staff that care for our nature reserves. It doesn’t take much to imagine how nasty the task of brush-cutting scrub can get if the undergrowth is full of dog poo! It also costs valuable charity funds to clear up the mess.

More fundamentally, dog mess changes the chemical make-up of our soils. It adds extra nutrients and upsets the balance, promoting the growth of unwanted nettles and brambles. You wouldn’t throw artificial fertilisers over our iconic wildflower meadows - but leaving dog mess is not so different.  Dog faeces can also contain the parasite Neospora caninum which can cause spontaneous abortion in livestock. This is a serious risk on many of our nature reserves and farms where grazing is an essential management tool. The Wildlife Trust’s British White cattle have been impacted by Neospora, with the infection causing the loss of valuable calves from our grazing herd.

Debbie Tann, CEO at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust commented, “We believe it’s irresponsible to give out conflicting messages to dog owners as this ‘stick and flick’ campaign is doing. We’ve always been very clear about the importance of responsible dog walking on our nature reserves and in the wider countryside. We ask visitors to pick up their dog mess and put it in a bin or take it home with them. The majority of dog walkers who like to enjoy nature understand the need to act respectfully when on a wildlife site or in the countryside.” 


Arran Red Admiral arrives early - National Trust for Scotland

The National Trust for Scotland is reporting its first butterfly sighting of the year, and it is an unusual one - a Red Admiral was spotted in the gardens at Brodick Castle on Arran a few days ago.

Red Admiral at Brodick Castle (image: NTS) Red Admiral at Brodick Castle (image: NTS)

Gardener George Inglis made the discovery on 9 March and managed to catch a photograph last week while at work at the historic estate which has been in the care of the charity that conserves and promotes Scotland’s heritage since 1958.  

Although Red Admirals are common across the UK, they are not usually seen so early in spring, usually migrating from Europe and North Africa once temperatures here start to rise.  

Brodick senior ranger Kate Sampson said:  “It is quite unusual to see a Red Admiral as our first butterfly of the year. This could suggest that it over-wintered here, rather than migrating. Let’s hope this heralds a big year for butterflies at Brodick.”  

The National Trust for Scotland collects information about wildlife sightings on its land, which it then feeds into the National Biodiversity Network, providing comprehensive information on Scotland’s amazing wildlife.  


Launch of essential guide for outdoor access design - Paths for All

Outdoor Access Design GuideThe new Outdoor Access Design Guide 2017 was launched by Paths for All and Scottish Natural Heritage today (17 March) at the annual gathering of Local Access Fora from across Scotland and the National Access Forum at Battleby.The design guidelines aim to ensure that our outdoor places are accessible to everyone. Access to quality paths and greenspaces are vital if Scotland is to become a more active, healthier nation.

The Guide gives consistent and clear advice on the selection and design of outdoor access furniture and structures, such as gates, fences and boardwalks. It is aimed at land managers, access professionals, rangers, planners, surveyors, and community and interest groups involved in the development and management of outdoor access in Scotland.  

The refreshed Outdoor Access Design Guide brings together widely sourced designs, which are tried, tested, and regularly used throughout Scotland to manage multiuse outdoor access. 

The Guide is divided into six design sections. Each section includes: an overview of content; key design considerations to help you to make the most appropriate choice; and design sheets with drawings, a materials list and installation instructions.

Download the  Outdoor Access Design Guide (7.69 MB)

Read SNH blog about the code. Helping us get outdoors with good design - Scotland's Nature


'From hill to grill' venison lesson for north west school pupils - John Muir Trust

John Muir Trust staff in the north west of Scotland support a pioneering new food education initiative

Students taking part in the Hill to Grill expedition (image: John Muir Trust)Trust staff Don O’Driscoll and Romany Garnett have been involved in a ground breaking project – ‘From Hill to Grill’ – to provide young people with a deeper understanding of the entire process of getting venison onto the dinner plate, from stalking to cooking.

(image: John Muir Trust)

Along with Highland Council Rangers Andy Summers and Jenny Grant, and John Venters from the Assynt Foundation, they took a group from Ullapool High School out onto the hills. The aim was to teach the second year students how to navigate; track and follow red deer over rough terrain; and get up close without alerting the animals.

They then showed the pupils some of the techniques involved in butchering carcasses, both out on the hill and in the deer larder at Glencanisp Lodge, where they enjoyed some barbecued venison. This was followed by a cooking session in the school, where pupils made venison meatballs, chilli and cottage pie.

The ‘From Hill to Grill’ programme is part of the Outdoor and Woodland Learning Project, one of the 28 projects that form part of the Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape Partnership 


Scientific publications

Walker, R. H. et al (2017) Bird ringing and nest recording in Britain and Ireland in 2015 – Ringing & Migration http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03078698.2016.1298316


Ke-Tsung Han, The Effect of Nature and Physical Activity on Emotions and Attention while Engaging in Green Exercise, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, ISSN 1618-8667, DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2017.03.012.


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