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


National Trust outlines ambition to help restore UK’s natural heritage - National Trust

National Trust today (19/3/17) outlined ambitious plans to help reverse the decline in wildlife on all land in its ownership – including an aim to create 25,000 hectares of new habitats by 2025.

As one of the country’s largest landowners, the Trust wants to play its part in addressing the dramatic slump in UK species and improve soil quality and water quality in the countryside. An in-depth study last year found 56 per cent of species were in decline.  The conservation charity, which was set up to protect places of natural beauty, hopes to create and restore “Priority Habitats”, areas identified by the government as threatened and in need of conservation support, on 10 per cent of its land.

Farming will remain vital to the Trust’s approach to countryside management and the charity will work in partnership with tenant farmers to see how they can help deliver nature-rich, productive, fertile landscapes which are good for wildlife and good for farming. Supporting sustainable farming will be crucial for the plans to succeed. Many of the Trust’s 1,500 farm tenants are already farming in a way which benefits wildlife. The charity said that it wanted to discuss, listen and learn from them and other groups as it explores how nature-friendly measures could be introduced or enhanced across all of its farmed land. The aim is that at least 50 per cent of farmland will be ‘nature-friendly’ by 2025, with protected hedgerows, field margins, ponds, woodland and other habitats allowing plants and animals to thrive.  The Government, tenant farmers and conservation charities have all welcomed the Trust’s approach.

Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape and Nature at the National Trust, said: “Our charity was founded to protect our natural as well as cultural heritage and we believe we should be playing an active role in reviving nature – by doing what we can on our own land. Nature has been squeezed out to the margins for far too long. We want to help bring it back to the heart of our countryside. Despite the battering it’s taken over many decades, nature has an incredible ability to rejuvenate and revive if given the conditions to thrive."


Natural England reduces red tape on badger class licences - Natural England

England has launched a streamlined approach to moving badgers on development sites or stop them causing damage to important infrastructure.

Natural England’s new class licence will mean badgers continue to have the same high level of protection when it is necessary to move an active sett.

This new licence will reduce paper work delays on building sites. Currently applications take up to 30 working days to process; the new licence is expected to take just five working days.

This new approach is a change to the administration of the licence – the powers for moving badgers remain the same. Where the licence is for the purpose of development, work to exclude badgers will only begin once an artificial sett has been constructed nearby and ‘discovered’.

Only specialists, with the required high level of knowledge and experience in excluding badgers, will be able to register to act under this licence. The class licence is not for individual homeowners.

Badgers and their setts are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. This level of protection is unaffected by the class licence.


91% of today’s children are not getting enough exercise - Sustrans

New figures show that less than one in ten (9%) of the UK’s parents say their children get the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a Joanna Roswell Shand & children at a school (Sustrans) day. A YouGov poll, carried out on our behalf, surveyed 1,370 parents of 5 to 16 year-olds about their children’s daily levels of physical activity. 

Joanna Roswell Shand & children at a school (Sustrans)

About one in five (19%) of those surveyed said their child took part in 60 minutes of physical activity a day, two days a week. While 13% said their children did so one day a week or less.

Government guidelines

According to government guidelines, children and young people aged 5 to 18 need at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day “to maintain a basic level of health”.

The survey also found: 

  • 13% of the respondents were concerned their child was overweight, with 9% saying in the past two years they had either been, or had thought about going, to see a healthcare practitioner about their child being overweight. 
  • the number of children cycling the whole way to and from school is low at 3%. 
  • more than one in three (35%) of parents say their children now travel to school by car, while 12% of the parents surveyed said they had travelled to school by car as a child.


Case for tripling roads budget based on wishful thinking, say campaigners - CPRE

Landmark research shows scant evidence that road schemes produce economic benefits, but that they increase traffic dramatically and damage the countryside

image: CPRENew research published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) today (Monday 20 March) reveals that road-building is failing to provide the congestion relief and economic boost promised, while devastating the environment.

Image: CPRE

The research, the largest ever independent review of completed road schemes in England, arrives as Highways England starts consulting on which road schemes will receive funding, set to triple to £3 billion a year by 2020.

Drawing on the research, CPRE’s report The end of the road? directly challenges government claims that ‘the economic gains from road investment are beyond doubt’; that road-building will lead to ‘mile a minute’ journeys; and that the impact on the environment will be limited ‘as far as possible’. The report shows how road building over the past two decades has repeatedly failed to live up to similar aims.

Read the report here


We fear loss of public paths in North Yorkshire - Open Spaces Society

North Yorkshire County Council has consulted on its plan to categorise the county’s public paths so that some will receive little or no attention.

It proposes to put paths into categories to determine the level of their maintenance, with a complicated system of assigning the priority to be given to each route.

We are deeply concerned about this. It appears that those routes which are afforded low priority will be neglected and consequently less used, and they could in effect be lost even if they are not closed legally.

Public footpaths and bridleways are highways in law, just like any road. The county council has a statutory duty to maintain all the highways in its area. It cannot in law neglect them — it would not allow an obstruction to remain on a public road, and it should treat public paths in the same way.

We believe that the proposed categorisation will lead to a distortion of the path network, with urban paths being better maintained than rural ones, and little attention given to paths between communities.


Ruthless fly-tipper jailed - Environment Agency

A fly-tipper who left a trail of waste across the Devon countryside was finally brought to justice today when he was sentenced to 20 months in prison. 

Waste dumped by Martin McDonagh in a compound off the B3192, near Ashcombe. (image: Environment Agency)Waste dumped by Martin McDonagh in a compound off the B3192, near Ashcombe. (image: Environment Agency)

Martin McDonagh, 23, failed to turn up at Plymouth Crown Court and was made the subject of a European Arrest Warrant following the sentencing hearing. Judge Ian Lawrie described him as a ‘persistent offender who showed a ruthless determination to dump waste wherever it suited.’  McDonagh, who is believed to have fled to the Republic of Ireland, was also ordered to pay a total of £7,000 costs for illegally depositing commercial and household waste at numerous sites in South and West Devon. The court also issued a Criminal Behaviour Order that prohibits McDonagh from being involved in any business enterprise involving the collection, carrying or transport of waste.

The van used during his crime spree was seized and destroyed by the Environment Agency. It is the first time, in the South West, that the agency has ordered the destruction of a vehicle used to commit waste crimes.  The defendant was caught following a joint investigation led by the Environment Agency, with support from Teignbridge District Council, Plymouth City Council, West Devon District Council, South Hams District Council and Devon and Cornwall Police.

Adrian Evans, senior environment crime officer for the Devon and Cornwall area, said: " This case serves as a reminder for people to be vigilant when transferring waste for disposal. Any person who collects and disposes of commercial or household waste must be a registered waste carrier, authorised by the Environment Agency. Everyone has a duty of care to ensure their waste is disposed of safely and doesn’t harm the environment. You should ask to see an operator’s waste carrier licence and whether your waste is being taken to an authorised site. Do not let your waste be removed if you are in any doubt. These simple steps can stop rogue fly-tippers in their tracks. The illegal disposal of waste in the countryside and local beauty spots causes annoyance and upset to local people and visitors. The serial fly-tipper in this case was caught as a result of agencies working closely together, sharing intelligence and resources to protect our environment."


£7.3m in funding for new green infrastructure projects across Scotland - Scottish Natural Heritage

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is awarding £3 million to five projects which will improve local greenspace in some of the most deprived areas in Scotland. The SNH funding comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), and once match funding from other sources is added will result in a total investment of £7.3 million.

Three of the five new projects are in west Central Scotland at Clydebank, Castlemilk & Fernhill, and Cardonald. The other two projects are in Aberdeen - at Middlefield and Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. This latest award adds to £2.9 million of funding awarded last year to two projects in Glasgow at Possilpark and Easterhouse.
SNH is the lead partner for the ERDF’s Green Infrastructure Fund. This aims to transform some of Scotland’s most deprived urban areas by developing and improving their green spaces. It focusses on communities which are among the 15% most deprived areas in Scotland.

Ian Ross, SNH’s chairman, said: “We’re delighted to help fund these projects and look forward to working with our partners to deliver them. Green infrastructure makes such a big impact on a community: attracting businesses to an area, improving physical and mental health, reducing flood risk, and improving biodiversity. The Green Infrastructure Fund provides a unique opportunity to create better places for people and wildlife on an unprecedented scale across urban Scotland. It’s a wonderful chance for us to work in areas where it is most needed.”
The five projects have been chosen because of their good green infrastructure design, their strong links to neighbouring communities and the range of benefits they will bring to the areas where they are based. As well as the investment in capital projects through the main fund, a separate Community Engagement Challenge Fund is currently open for applications. This is targeted to help organisations work with communities to make best use of their local greenspace.


Forestry and woodland grant schemes not fit for purpose - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

On International Day of Forests, MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have published a report "Forestry in England: Seeing the wood for the trees", calling for the Government to take action to increase woodland creation in England.

The Committee says that the forestry Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS), is "not fit for purpose". The Committee heard that the grant application process was "torturous", "bureaucratic" and "overly complex", with three organisations involved in administering CSS.

Poor administration of the grant system is acting as a barrier to greater woodland creation, with under 700 hectares of woodland created in England in 2015–16. The Committee is calling today for the Government to re-introduce a one-stop shop for forestry grants on day one of the UK's exit from the European Union.

The UK is the third largest importer of timber in the world, behind only Japan and China. There needs to be greater use of UK timber. The Committee says that the Government needs to incorporate a UK timber-first approach into English housing procurement policy.

Softwood availability is projected to decline after the period 2027–31. The Committee calls on the Government to introduce incentives which encourage 50:50 mixed planting of softwoods and hardwoods.

Ancient woodland is not adequately protected in the planning system. The Committee is concerned about the rate at which irreplaceable ancient woodland appears to be disappearing. So, the Committee is calling today on the Government to implement the proposal in the Government's Housing White Paper to clarify protections afforded to ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Read the report summary

Read the report conclusions and recommendations

Read the full report: Forestry in England: Seeing the wood for the trees


Response: Government is failing forestry says official report - Woodland Trust

A report published today (21/3) by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee says the current Government is failing to ensure realisation of the huge environmental, social and economic benefits of forestry, which Defra says are worth at least £1.8billion to the UK economy each year.

In Forestry in England: seeing the wood for the trees, the Sub-Committee heavily criticises the Government over low planting rates (saying it is on course to fail to meet its target of 12% cover by 2060), overly bureaucratic systems, lack of proper recording for woodland loss and inadequate protection for ancient woodland.

The Sub-Committee was appointed in July 2016 by the Commons Efra Committee to scrutinise the work of the Government in relation to forestry in England since the publication of the Independent Panel on Forestry’s  report in 2012. The Woodland Trust was one of 70 organisations to submit evidence as part of the cross-party inquiry.

The Woodland Trust has campaigned on many of the issues the report raises for years and welcomes the recommendations within it. We’re pleased to see the strength of the report in terms of recognition of poor planting rates and the need to quickly simplify the process. The report is also unequivocal on the need to amend planning guidance to improve protection for ancient woodland.

Woodland Trust Chief Executive, Beccy Speight, said: “This report clearly highlights the barriers to progress that forestry in England faces. It’s incredibly valuable, particularly with Brexit just around the corner. Government policy is failing forestry catastrophically and urgent action is needed. Planting rates are shockingly low – we believe parts of the UK are at real risk of deforestation. Grant systems are complex and restrictive, and protection for ancient woodland is weak. Crucially, the report sets out what government must do now to bring about dramatic change for our forests’ future, and it’s really not rocket science. The quickest win of all would be to follow through on the report’s recommendation to amend planning policy to secure better protection for ancient woodland. Recent Housing White Paper proposals also support this need, and with the National Planning Policy Framework being reviewed later this year, it’s perfect timing. There’s no excuse now for government to bury its head in the sand as it’s seemingly done since responding to the Independent Panel Report in 2013.” 


Nature is secret weapon in fight for better health - Friends of the Earth

More nature in our lives helps address poor health and inequality. Nature is key to mental and physical wellbeing – fewer anti-depressants and lower death rate.

A lack of nature in our lives is associated with higher obesity levels, mental health problems and higher death rates, according to a study for Friends of the Earth.

The study, by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) for Friends of the Earth Europe, says lack of access to nature has a strong link to poor health and inequality. It finds:

  • Doctors prescribe fewer anti-depressants in urban areas that contain more trees;
  • Children in deprived areas are 9 times less likely to have access to nature and places to play;
  • Obesity and inactivity are higher among people with less access to nature;
  • Access to nature is associated with mental wellbeing and lower death rates;
  • Pregnant women living close to nature areas on average have lower blood pressure, and give birth to larger babies;
  • Men in deprived urban areas have a 16% lower risk of dying when they have green space nearby.

Robbie Blake, nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, says: “The evidence is strong and growing that people and communities can only thrive when they have access to nature. We all need nature in our lives, it gives us freedom and helps us live healthily; yet deprived communities are routinely cut off from nature and it’s suffocating their wellbeing"

Protecting and restoring nature sites, improving access to nature in planning, and prescribing nature in preventative healthcare could help tackle poor health in deprived communities.

 Download the Nature For Health and Equity report (PDF)


Calls strengthen for UK balloon ban - ORCA

Renewed calls for action have been raised today to stop the devastating impact of balloons on the natural world.

Balloon release (image: ORCA)The Marine Conservation Society (MCS) has proposed a complete ban because of the danger they pose to wildlife through entanglement and choking.

The charity have said they have seen a 53% increase in beach litter since 2015, and that confusion over the impact of balloons on the environment is contributing significantly to the issue.

Balloon Release (image: ORCA)

MCS are asking the public to show support for a ban by pledging their support here. Early signs for action are positive, with the Local Government Association (LGA) supportive of a ban.

The issue of plastics in the marine environment is a critical challenge facing conservation organisations worldwide, and ORCA are fully committed to decreasing plastics and other marine litter that is having a devastating impact on cetaceans.


Are amphibian road tunnels putting protected species at risk from pollution? - Froglife

Researchers from Froglife and the University of Hull are investigating how endangered and protected amphibians use man-made tunnels to cross roads and also, if such tunnels suffer from chemical pollution from the road traffic above them. A new study, Amphibian road tunnel. (image: S Petrovan)published today in the Water and Environment journal indicates that such road tunnels, while extensively used by amphibians, including the protected great crested newt (Triturus cristatus), can indeed accumulate multiple potentially harmful substances including metals, salt and petroleum hydrocarbons. This is the first published research linking road pollution to amphibian tunnels for the great crested newt. 

Amphibian road tunnel. (image: S Petrovan)

Amphibians need water to breed and in a heavily urbanised country such as the UK, the long distances they have to cross between their terrestrial grounds and breeding ponds are often crossed by roads. Roads are not just deadly obstacle courses for amphibians, killing millions each year but also have more insidious effects such as creating barriers for movement, effectively preventing animals from breeding and isolating them in smaller and smaller fragments of habitats. This means that in many parts of the world, amphibian populations have become increasingly fragmented, rare and isolated. Installing amphibian tunnels under roads can be a really positive and important step in order to reduce mortality and encourage connectivity. However, roads are known to be important sources of chemical pollution and amphibians are more susceptible than most animals due to their permeable skin which means dangerous substances can enter the body through direct contact.

Read the paper: White, K. J., Mayes, W. M. and Petrovan, S. O. (2017), Identifying pathways of exposure to highway pollutants in great crested newt (Triturus cristatus) road mitigation tunnels. Water and Environment Journal. doi:10.1111/wej.12244


New forestry market research reveals best period for forestry expansion since the 1980s' - Savills

More than 18,300 hectares of forestry were sold across Britain last year at a cumulative value of just under £83M in another strong transactional year for the forestry sector. 

Although the average price per hectare across the whole market dropped slightly from 2015 levels, this  was due to significant changes in the market share by region, with nearly 80% of all property sold north of the Forth-Clyde canal.   Demand for UK grown timber improved over the year with the prospect of further rises as ambitious new build and low carbon targets filter through, which will give the domestic timber industry a boost. Meanwhile both UK and Scottish Governments have ambitious tree planting targets, supported by attractive grant packages providing clear opportunities for investors to create new productive forests.

These are among the findings of new research by Savills and Scottish Woodlands.

David Robertson, Investment & Business Development Manager at Scottish Woodlands said:  "Government policy is increasingly focussed on the benefit of woodland.  The Scottish Parliament has increased its tree planting target from 22 million to 33 million trees per year by 2025, this equates to a rise from 10,000 to 15,000 hectares of forestry land, with grant funding bolstered from £36 to £40 million in 2017/18.  In addition a £19 million Carbon Woodland Fund has been announced  in England aimed at increasing planting of woodlands to contribute to the Westminster target of 11 million trees in the lifetime of the 2015-20 parliament.   In summary, we are potentially witnessing the best period for forestry expansion since the 1970s and 80s, supported by Government policy on both sides of the border". 

Download the Spotlight on UK Forestry Market 2017 report (PDF)


North Yorkshire Police launches initiative to close legal loopholes against dog attacks on livestock - National Rural Crime Network

With the lambing season underway, North Yorkshire Police is joining up with four other rural Forces to take part in a new initiative that could lead to a tightening up of the law against dog attacks on livestock.

Since September 2013 there have been 325 reported dog attacks on livestock in North Yorkshire, and it’s a similar picture in some other rural areas*. Injury to livestock can cost farmers and livestock owners thousands of pounds, but police and countryside campaigners are concerned that there may be gaps in the current laws that make it more difficult to deal with the issue effectively.

This week (21 March 2017) North Yorkshire Police has joined up with four other Forces, Sheepwatch UK and the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England to launch a special initiative aimed at gathering more information about dog attacks on livestock, and the power of the police to deal with them. The Forces will look at how livestock attacks are reported, recorded and handled, to assess whether the law needs to be changed or updated.

Chief Constable Dave Jones of North Yorkshire Police, who is the national policing lead for rural and wildlife crime, explains: “Our experience of dealing with dog attacks suggests that there are some areas of the current legislation that could be improved. For example, the definition of livestock doesn’t cover all the types of animals that we know can be affected. In some cases, the police can’t legally seize a dog that has been involved in an attack, which makes it difficult to prevent the same thing happening again. And whilst livestock damage can be extremely costly for the animals’ owner, the maximum fine under law is relatively low and can be disproportionate to the loss. We believe that there may be scope for the law to be tightened up, but we need hard evidence to confirm it. Through the initiative we have launched this week, five rural Forces will start to gather more details about dog attacks on livestock so that, if the evidence supports it, we can present a clear case to support a change in the law.” 


Get involved and help researchers find out which plants bumblebees like - University of Aberdeen

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen will be on hand this week to show people how a new interactive tool can help us to help bees.  The citizen science project,BeeWatch, has launched its new interactive site giving advice on pollinator friendly plants that are vital for bumblebee survival.

The University of Aberdeen and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust have been running BeeWatch since 2010 to monitor bumblebees across the UK. Through BeeWatch members of the British public have submitted more than 13,000 photographs of bumblebees and had them identified as one of 22 species in the UK, either by experts or collaboratively by the BeeWatch community.

bee and flower (image: University of Aberdeen)This valuable information has allowed scientists to monitor the occurrence of different bumblebee species across the UK in a manner that would not be feasible without the public’s help.

(image: University of Aberdeen)

BeeWatch is now launching the interactive ’Planting for Pollinators’ tool which aims to increase awareness about the environmental needs of the different bumblebee species and offers practical recommendations on which flowers are attractive to these pollinators throughout the season. Doing this gives people the opportunity to get involved and take simple positive actions that can increase the diversity of bumblebee species in their gardens to the benefit of those important pollinators and the wider environment.

Take part in the BeeWatch survey and find information on more surveys and citizen science projects here.


Scientific publications

Woodworth, B. K., Wheelwright, N. T., Newman, A. E., Schaub, M. & Norris, D. R. (2017) Winter temperatures limit population growth rate of a migratory songbird. Nature Communications doi:10.1038/ncomms14812


Ellison, D. et al (2017) Trees, forests and water: Cool insights for a hot world. Global Environmental Change. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2017.01.002


O’Brien, L. et al (2017) Cultural ecosystem benefits of urban and peri-urban green infrastructure across different European countries. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2017.03.002


Dijkstra, J. A., Harris, L. G., Mello, K., Litterer, A., Wells, C. and Ware, C. (2017), Invasive seaweeds transform habitat structure and increase biodiversity of associated species. J Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12775 


Collas, L., Green, R. E., Ross, A., Wastell, J. H. and Balmford, A. (2017), Urban development, land sharing and land sparing: the importance of considering restoration. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12908


Sutter, L., Jeanneret, P., Bartual, A. M., Bocci, G. and Albrecht, M. (2017), Enhancing plant diversity in agricultural landscapes promotes both rare bees and dominant crop-pollinating bees through complementary increase in key floral resources. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12907 


David J. Siveter, Derek E. G. Briggs, Derek J. Siveter, Mark D. Sutton, David Legg A new crustacean from the Herefordshire (Silurian) Lagerstätte, UK, and its significance in malacostracan evolution Proc. R. Soc. B DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0279.


Pyke, G. H. and Szabo, J. K. (2017), Conservation and the four Rs, which are rescue, rehabilitation, release, and research. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/cobi.12937 


Lizeth Lacharme-Lora, et al (2017) B lymphocytes play a limited role in clearance of Campylobacter jejuni from the chicken intestinal tract. Scientific Reports, DOI: 10.1038/srep45090 


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