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


Government publishes new anti-littering strategy - Defra & Department of Transport

 New Government Litter Strategy for England to curb littering with proposals for new enforcement, education and community engagement

Litter louts could be hit with £150 fines as part of ambitious new plans to tackle rubbish in England.

Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom unveiled the Government’s first Litter Strategy for England to reduce the near £800m burden to the taxpayer of clean-up costs.

Under the new measures, the most serious litterers could be hit with the £150 fines, while vehicle owners could receive penalty notices when it can be proved litter was thrown from their car – even if it was discarded by somebody else.

The new motoring rules, which are already in force in London, make owners liable even if they didn’t throw the litter themselves.

Further new measures drawn up by environment, transport and communities departments include:

  • Issuing new guidance for councils to be able to update the nation’s ‘binfrastructure’ through creative new designs and better distribution of public litter bins, making it easier for people to discard rubbish.
  • Stopping councils from charging householders for disposal of DIY household waste at civic amenity sites (rubbish dumps) – legally, household waste is supposed to be free to dispose of at such sites.
  • Recommending that offenders on community sentences, including people caught fly-tipping, help councils clear up litter and fly-tipped waste.
  • Working with Highways England to target the 25 worst litter hotspots across our road network to deliver long-lasting improvements to cleanliness.
  • Creating a ‘green generation’ by educating children to lead the fight against litter through an increased number of Eco-Schools and boosting participation in national clean-up days.
  • Creating a new expert group to look at further ways of cutting the worst kinds of litter, including plastic bottles and drinks containers, cigarette ends and fast food packaging.

Download the Litter Strategy for England (PDF)


Reducing litter: penalties for environmental offences - Defra Open consultation 

Seeking views on increasing fines for littering, graffiti, fly-posting and introducing new fines for throwing litter from vehicles.

We want to know what you think about whether to increase the on-the-spot fines for littering, graffiti and fly-posting in England. We are also proposing new fines for the owners of vehicles from which litter has been thrown.

This consultation closes at: 11:45pm on 18 June 2017 

Take part in the consultation here.


Response: We welcome country’s first-ever Litter Strategy - Tidy Britain Group

We have welcomed the launch of the Government’s Litter Strategy for England. 

The Strategy identifies Eco-Schools, the world’s biggest environmental education programme, which is run by Keep Britain Tidy in England, as a key mechanism to educate children and young people about the impact of litter. 

Last month more than 300,000 people, including thousands of school children, took part in Keep Britain Tidy’s Great British Spring Clean, clearing more than half a million bags of rubbish from our streets, parks, beaches and countryside.   

The Government has recognised the value of this initiative in the Strategy, not simply to remove litter from the environment but also to raise awareness that a growing number of people want to see an end to littering and are prepared to take action.

The charity also welcomes the Government’s pledge to introduce regulations that will allow local authorities to issue penalty charge notices to the registered keeper of a vehicle if litter is thrown from it, which will make it easier for local authorities to tackle the problem of roadside litter, which is difficult and costly to clear. 

Keep Britain Tidy has been at the forefront of developing and testing innovations to tackle littering, some of which are identified in the Strategy, and we are delighted that the Government has pledged to set up a Litter Innovation Fund to support the development of affordable and scalable solutions that are proven to make a difference.


Response: New national litter strategy will forge a more beautiful and resourceful England - CPRE

The Government has today launched its National Litter Strategy, which includes a concrete pledge to look into deposit return systems for drinks containers, measures to tackle roadside littering and greater analysis of packaging design.

With annual litter costs estimated at around £1 billion, it was essential that the Government sought to tackle this social, environmental and economic blight more effectively.

The strategy was led by Defra in partnership with DCLG and DfT, with input from an advisory committee of which Samantha Harding, CPRE’s litter programme director, was a member. Samantha today welcomes the Government's strategy as a strong vision that paves the way for a cleaner and more resourceful England.

The headline proposals include a Voluntary and Economic Measures Working Group to study the potential effectiveness of a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and other drinks containers, as well as measures to tackle other types of commonly littered packaging. CPRE hopes that the group's investigations will provide clear recommendations to the Government on which measures will deliver the type of positive, universal change in behaviour delivered by the plastic carrier bag charge.

In similarly significant moves, the strategy lays out plans for an independent assessment of roadside cleanliness on trunk roads where responsibility is shared by Highways England and local councils. The strategy makes it clear that if litter clearance doesn't happen properly after these assessments then the Government will look at transferring all responsibility to Highways England.

As part of efforts to tackle superfluous, poorly designed or single-use plastic packaging, the strategy pledges to investigate better packaging design via a task force set up by the Advisory Committee on Packaging. This will include looking at design aspects such as detachable caps on plastic beverage bottles.


Related story: 2.5 tonne ocean plastic sculpture installed on doorstep of Coca-Cola HQ - Greenpeace

Coca-Cola Receive Ocean Plastic Pollution Sculpture in London (image: Greenpeace)This morning (10/4/17)Greenpeace activists have installed a 2.5 tonne ocean plastic sculpture on the doorstep of Coca-Cola’s London HQ, in protest at the company’s role in ocean plastic pollution.

Coca-Cola Receive Ocean Plastic Pollution Sculpture in London (image: Greenpeace)

The artwork, Plasticide, was created by renowned underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor and features seabirds regurgitating plastic amidst a family beach picnic. Up to 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enters the sea every year, and plastic bottles and bottle tops form a major source of the plastic packaging found washed up on the world’s shorelines. But major companies like Coca-Cola are failing to take meaningful action.   

Download Greenpeace’s report on Coca-Cola’s plastic footprint (PDF)


Puffins that stay close to their partner during migration have more chicks - University of Oxford

Many long-lived birds, such as swans, albatrosses or indeed, puffins, are known for their long-lived, monogamous, ‘soulmate’ pairings. Scientists have long understood that in these species, reproductive performance is influenced by pair bond strength and longevity, with long-established pairs usually better at rearing offspring. However, in species like puffins which have to migrate to distant wintering grounds during the non-breeding season, very little is known about how mates maintain their pair-bond and behave.

Over the course of six years, the team from Oxford’s Department of Zoology, in collaboration with the London Institute of Zoology, used miniature tracking devices called geolocators to track the migratory movements and behaviour of 12 pairs of Atlantic Puffins, breeding on Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire. Billing puffins (Image credit: Dr Annette Fayet)

Billing puffins (Image credit: Dr Annette Fayet)

While pair members migrated separately, their routes were notably similar during the first part of the winter. Partners would then follow separate paths at the later end of the season, but synchronised their timings of return to the colony in spring.  A key finding of the study is that pairs which followed more similar migration routes bred earlier and more successfully the following spring, showing that there is a clear benefit for puffins to migrate close to their mates. This proximity may make it easier for pairs to synchronise their return to the colony in spring.

The findings also reveal that while migrating close to its partner is key to a puffin’s reproductive success, there are other factors at play. Female puffins were found to forage more than males, proving critical to their breeding success the following season. Female puffins that foraged more over winter were able to lay eggs earlier and rear pufflings more successfully, most likely because they were in a better pre-breeding condition.

Download the open access publication (PDF): Annette L. Fayet, Akiko Shoji, Robin Freeman, Chris M. Perrins & Tim Guilford. Within-pair similarity in migration route and female winter foraging effort predict pair breeding performance in a monogamous seabird. Marine Ecology Progress Series Vol. 569: 243–252, 2017  DOI: 10.3354/meps12083


Police and RSPB appeal for information after red kite found shot in Bedfordshire - RSPB

Bedfordshire police and the RSPB are appealing for information after a dead red kite was found near Toddington, Bedfordshire, containing as many as 10 pieces of shot. 

The bird was discovered by a member of the public at Daintry Wood and sent for post-mortem examination. Radiography using X-rays, carried out by Zoological Society of London (ZSL) revealed 10 pieces of lead shot lodged in the body.

Inspector Mark Farrant, who leads the Operation Sentinel Rural Team which has responsibility for all Bedfordshire wildlife crime matters, says: “This is a particularly worrying incident against a bird that is fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. I would ask anyone with information relating to this or similar incidents to call Bedfordshire Police.”


Major rights of way deal signed - Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has assumed responsibility for an extra 300 miles of rights of way, following a legal agreement signed with Cumbria County Council.  A further 150 square miles of Cumbria, including Orton and the northern Howgills, became part of the National Park when its boundaries were extended in August last year.

The agreement, which came into effect on the 4th of April, means that National Park rangers are now formally the first port of call for any enquiries about rights of way in the extension area.

Cumbria County Council will make a one-off payment of £150,000 to the Authority, to help it carry out its new duties.

The YDNPA’s Chairman Carl Lis, said: “This has been a sensitive negotiation and it has been well handled. Cumbria County Council have been exceptionally good to work with, and I would like to thank them for their co-operation.  Now the National Park Authority can get on with maintaining and improving the rights of way network in this beautiful part of Cumbria. Well maintained rights of way are often cited as one of the advantages of being in a National Park. Everyone should benefit, as excellent footpaths help support the local economy and protect local facilities such as shops, pubs and cafes.”

The YDNPA has opened an office in Orton to provide a base for a newly created Western Ranger team. It has the task of making sure the surface of footpaths, as well as bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic, are safe and easy to use. 


CJS In-depthNational Gardening Week - RHS

Theme this year is: Help New Gardeners to Grow

During National Gardening Week, 10-16 April 2017, we are encouraging new gardeners to get involved

In Goathland we like to start them young! Our local primary school recently had a groundforce day which involved the parents, teachers and children clearing an area of the playground to make a fenced gardening area. The new plot will have raised beds with vegetables, sensory plants and herbs.  Seating will provide the chance to enjoy the quiet. 

In his article, Wildlife Gardening – for biodiversity and people Dr Steve Head, Wildlife Gardening Forum Coordinator wrote: Gardens are where most children get their first experience of biodiversity and develop real sympathy and understanding of environmental issues.  Much more needs to be done to help parents and teachers make the most of this opportunity and for all, turn a developing interest into action for their local environment to develop sympathy and understanding of environmental issues in the young.   Studies in many countries are beginning to confirm the importance of contact with greenspace for mental and cardiovascular health.  Recent case studies have shown that enhancing biodiversity within cities can reduce vandalism and misbehaviour, while increasing human interaction and perceptions of wellbeing.  Getting these messages through to health agencies and planners is a timely and important task.



New ‘top dog’ at New Forest National Park – New Forest National Park Authority

A new four-legged ‘apprentice’ is learning how to be a forest friendly dog with the National Park Authority ranger team.

Cooper the cocker spaniel has his own twitter account where people can see him going through his puppy training and New Forest adventures, learning how to behave around the Forest ponies and cattle and not disturbing rare birds.

Research shows an estimated 25% of homes in the South East have dogs and thousands of dogs are walked in the Forest every day. 

Cooper with owner Dawn Rayment, New Forest National Park Authority People and Wildlife Ranger (New Forest NPA)Cooper with owner Dawn Rayment, New Forest National Park Authority People and Wildlife Ranger (New Forest NPA)

Cooper’s owner Dawn Rayment, New Forest National Park Authority People and Wildlife Ranger, said: ‘As rangers we ask that people are responsible dog owners – but we often assume people know what that means. This is a great opportunity to help highlight certain situations, and people can share the highs and lows of training a forest friendly puppy with me. Our dogs have many distractions in the New Forest such as ponies and cattle roaming free on the land. There are also many visitors enjoying the Forest and not all want to be bothered by other people’s dogs (and dog mess!). The New Forest is home to some of the UK’s rarest ground nesting birds which are easily disturbed by dogs running loose. So it’s important to train our dogs to remain close by and be able to recall them at all times.’


CJS had an interesting article from Stephen Jenkinson ‘Walkers with dogs: new approaches to better management’ in CJS Focus on Access & Rights of Way Read it here


Eat wild venison to support native woodland birds, says ecologist – University of Newcastle

Wild deer in Britain should be hunted for venison to drastically reduce their populations and support the re-emergence of our native woodland birds, according to an academic at The University of Nottingham.
The comments follow the publication of a new study in the Journal of Applied Ecology which suggests that huge deer populations in England Deer (University of Newcastle)are damaging the important natural habitat which many ground-nesting woodland birds require.

Deer (University of Newcastle)

Dr Markus Eichhorn in the University’s School of Life Sciences, an expert in ecology, said: “Deer populations are at extraordinarily high levels due to a combination of factors including the absence of large predators, a decline in hunting and the autumn sowing of crops that produce winter food for foraging animals. It is clear from our research that if we want to encourage more woodland birds then we need to take action to restore the woodland structures they require but in many areas it will need a drastic reduction in deer to have any real impact.”

Read the paper Effects of Deer on Woodland Structure Revealed Through Terrestrial Laser Scanning is published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.


Latest figures reveal current state of UK's birds – RSPB

Golden eagle numbers have increased by 15% in the last 14 years Image: Bill PatonMore than one quarter of UK birds are in need of urgent conservation effort with curlew, puffin and nightingale joining the growing list of threatened species – but there is good news for some, a new report has highlighted.

Golden eagle numbers have increased by 15% in the last 14 years (Image: Bill Paton, RSPB)

The state of the UK’s birds 2016 (SUKB) report - the one-stop shop for all the latest results from bird surveys and monitoring studies - highlights how more than a quarter of the UK’s regularly-occurring bird species are now what conservationists refer to as ‘Red-listed’.

Many of these are due to severe recent declines in numbers and/or range in the UK.  And eight are considered at risk of global extinction.

Downward trends for upland species continue, with five added to the Red List; giving cause for concern. Europe’s largest and most distinctive wader – the curlew – has been added to the Red List and is joined by dotterel, whinchat, grey wagtail and merlin. This highlights the fact many of the UK’s upland species are in increasing trouble with the total number of upland birds red-listed now 12. 


Response: National Trust response to State of the UK Birds report

Responding to the report David Bullock, head of nature conservation at the National Trust, said: “Many British birds are in trouble. But the report also shows is that where conservationists and farmers work together to restore habitats we can bring beautiful birds like the cirl bunting, manx shearwater and red kite back from the brink.”

The National Trust last month committed to creating 25,000 hectares of new ‘priority’ wildlife habitats across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Why green spaces are good for grey matter – University of York

Walking between busy urban environments and green spaces triggers changes in levels of excitement, engagement and frustration in the brain, a study of older people has found. Researchers at the Universities of York and Edinburgh say the findings have important implications for architects, planners and health professionals as we deal with an ageing population.

One of the volunteers taking part in the experiment. (University of York)The study is part of a larger project looking at mobility, mood and place and the role of the urban environment in promoting lifelong health and wellbeing.

One of the volunteers taking part in the experiment. (University of York)

The aim of the study was to understand how older people experience different urban environments using electroencephalography (EEG), self-reported measures, and interviews.

As part of the experiment, eight volunteers aged 65 and over (from a wider sample of 95 people aged 65 and over) wore a mobile EEG head-set which recorded their brain activity when walking between busy and green urban spaces.

The research team also ran a video of the routes the people walked, asking the participants to describe “snapshots” of how they felt. The volunteers were also interviewed before and after. The volunteers experienced beneficial effects of green space and preferred it, as it was calming and quieter, the study revealed.


Newcastleton Wildlife Watch Group is best in Britain – Scottish Wildlife Trust

Newcastleton Wildlife Watch Group has been named Group of the Year 2016.

Newcastleton Wildlife Watch with their bug hotel (c) Gilly Fraser The group is an after school club that has met every Friday since 2013. Most of the members are aged 5-12, with a number of young people aged from 14-20 also taking a leadership role. They won the award by impressing a panel of expert judges with their enthusiasm for the natural world.

Newcastleton Wildlife Watch with their bug hotel (image ©  Gilly Fraser via SWT)

Our People and Wildlife Officer Catherine Leatherland said: “The judges were blown away with the entry and a number even asked if they could join the group! Newcastleton Wildlife Watch is a shining example of how to engage young people with the outdoors, by giving them a say in planning sessions and involving them fully in their activities.”

In 2016 they took part in a wide range of activities including guddling for fish on Liddel Water, building bug hotels, and maintaining a wildlife-friendly garden in the grounds of the village primary school.

Leader Wendy Patterson said: “Our group gives youngsters an opportunity to re-connect with nature. Not only are they learning about their local wild places and how to conserve our native wildlife, they are all learning life skills like cooking on an open fire, safe tool use, problem solving and team work.


Butterflies Crash In Fourth Worst Year On Record - Butterfly Conservation 

UK butterflies suffered their fourth worst year on record in 2016 with the majority of species experiencing a decline in numbers, a study has revealed. 

A mild winter followed by a cold spring contributed to conditions that saw both rare and widespread species struggle despite many parts of the UK enjoying a warm and dry summer. 

Some 40 of the 57 species studied recorded a decline compared with 2015, the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) led by Butterfly Conservation, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) revealed. 

The highly threatened Heath Fritillary had its worst year on record for the second year running, while the Grizzled Skipper, Wall, Grayling, White-letter Hairstreak and White Admiral all recorded their worst ever years.

Heath Fritillary (image: Will Langdon, Butterfly Conservation) Heath Fritillary (image: Will Langdon, Butterfly Conservation) 

Research suggests that the UK’s increasingly mild winters are having a negative effect on butterflies as they may lead to increased disease, predation or disruption of overwintering behaviour.   Cold springs can also cause problems for butterflies by reducing or delaying emergence leading to shortened lifespans. 

Some species bucked the trend to record reasonable years. The previously extinct Large Blue, one of the UK’s rarest butterflies, recorded its second best year on record with numbers up 38% on 2015. The butterfly has responded to conservation work to improve the specific grassland habitat that it relies upon to thrive and has showed a significantly increasing population trend since its reintroduction in 1983. 

The widespread and migratory Red Admiral recorded a rise of 86% compared to 2015 and the Clouded Yellow, another mainly migrant species, saw its numbers rise by 35%.   

Professor Tom Brereton, Head of Monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “Worryingly, not even the pleasant summer weather of 2016 was enough to help butterflies bounce back from a run of poor years. The results show that butterflies are failing to cope with our changing climate and how we manage the environment. As butterflies are regarded as good indicators of environmental health this is hugely concerning for both wildlife and people.”  

Footage of the Large Blue and Wall, (credit: Butterfly Conservation) 


Proposed merger between LEAF and FACE announced - FACE

A proposed merger between two of the leading farming and food educational organisations,   LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) and FACE (Farming & Countryside Education), has been announced today (Wednesday 12th April).

The vision for the proposed merger is to increase the impact and capability of the two charities’ work in improving education and understanding of farming, food and the environment.

The proposed merger will serve to combine the strength and expertise of the two organisations, to help drive forward an efficient and effective strategy that will directly improve education in and appreciation of, agriculture and food production.

Both organisations have charitable status, have worked on projects together such as Countryside Classroom and LEAF’s Open Farm School Days and share many common goals.  LEAF and FACE are working closely together to ensure that the proposed merger meets all necessary legal requirements and complies with all the required procedures and recommendations set out by the Charity Commission.  It is currently anticipated that subject to contract, due diligence and the proposed merger meeting all the necessary legal requirements, that the agreement will be signed during the summer of 2017.

Download the full press release (PDF)


Tracking Scotland’s changing landscape - Scottish Natural Heritage

A new way of tracking and reporting on Scotland’s ever-changing landscapes has been launched today (Wednesday) by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Scotland’s Landscape Monitoring Programme (LMP) is accessible on SNH’s website allowing anyone to follow how our dynamic landscapes change over the years.

Scotland’s landforms have been shaped over thousands of years by a combination of natural processes and human activities. Over time, this has helped create the regional character and strong sense of place that the different parts of Scotland have, as well as the diverse and wonderful scenery that we see today and for which Scotland is rightly famous around the world.

Landscapes continue to evolve, strongly influenced by the choices that society makes about built development and land management. The LMP will set out a robust baseline and the information gathered through time will provide an accurate picture of change and help our understanding of Scotland’s changing landscape.

Led by SNH, the national programme has been developed working closely with a wide range of partners, through research, data review and pilot project work.

Pete Rawcliffe, SNH’s People & Places Unit Manager, said: “Our landscapes are an important part of our natural and cultural heritage. In contributing to our health and well-being, they help make Scotland a better place to live, work and visit. Our spectacular scenery is also an important economic asset, attracting investors, businesses, visitors and tourists, even Hollywood film makers, and providing jobs and helping to grow the economy.

“Scotland’s Landscape Monitoring Programme will help us to maximise these benefits and allow us to better assess how our landscapes are changing in a meaningful, practical and economical way. This will help us to identify key trends and their causes, and their significance in terms of how people feel about them and respond to them.”


Environmental DNA helps protect great crested newts - University of Kent

Research by the University has revealed how tiny amounts of DNA (eDNA) released into water by great crested newts can be used to monitor the species. This can bring benefits for its conservation, and help protect great crested newts from major construction projects.

Pair of Great Crested Newts (image: Brett Lewis, University of Kent)Pair of Great Crested Newts (image: Brett Lewis, University of Kent)

It has also revealed, for the first time, how great crested newt eDNA varies throughout the year in relation to population size and environmental factors.

PhD student Andrew Buxton and a team from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology in the University’s School of Anthropology and Conservation studied great crested newts on the Canterbury campus, where there are eight identical ponds.

Surveying the newts every 14 days throughout the year, Andrew Buxton and his team mapped the amount of DNA in the water as it changed through the seasons in relation to the number of newts and their behaviour – from their arrival in March through their breeding season in May, until the start of hibernation in October. During breeding, the newts are very active and release a lot eggs, sperm and DNA into the water. This results in a peak in DNA towards the end of the breeding period, which may be the best time to take water samples to detect the species. 

Read the paper: Andrew S. Buxton, Jim J. Groombridge, Nurulhuda B. Zakaria & Richard A. Griffiths Seasonal variation in environmental DNA in relation to population size and environmental factors. Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 46294 (2017)  doi:10.1038/srep46294


National Forest Inventory: tree cover outside woodland in GB - Forestry Commission (official statistics)

 Areas under canopy, numbers of features and mean sizes of wooded features and individual trees outside National Forest Inventory woodland.

Reports on the areas and numbers of small woods, groups of trees, lone and hedgerow trees outside of main National Forest Inventory (NFI) woodland, with statistics broken down by category and sub-category (NFI woodland has a minimum size of 0.5 hectares.) Areas and lengths of hedgerows are also covered. Statistics are reported for GB, England, Scotland, Wales, individual NFI regions within England and Wales, and separately for urban and rural areas. Overall purpose is to quantify and characterise tree features outside woodland in GB for use in such areas as carbon sequestration, resource evaluation, tree pest and disease modelling and characterisation of urban and rural environments.

Visit the National Forest Inventory summary and statistical analysis reports on tree cover outside woodland in Great Britain  


Online analytical tool launched to aid invertebrate conservation - Natural England

Natural England and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology launch analytical tool to aid conservation efforts on almost 12,000 invertebrates.

Natural England and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) have launched a new online database and analytical tool called Pantheon, which helps us better understand conservation status and habitat-related traits of invertebrates.

Green tiger beetle on Thursley Common National Nature Reserve (image: Natural England)From the weevils perched on the leaves of our trees to worms burrowed deep in the earth beneath our feet, invertebrates play a crucial role to improve the ecology of our natural environment.

Green tiger beetle on Thursley Common National Nature Reserve (image: Natural England)

James Cross, Chief Executive at Natural England said:

Pantheon is a fantastic example of how we are pushing the boundaries of science and IT to benefit invertebrate conservation. Researchers, ecologists and land managers will have access to a wealth of data.

This database will play an important role in identifying trends to better protect our natural environment.

Pantheon was developed to assist invertebrate nature conservation in England. Users import lists of invertebrates into the database, which then analyses the species, attaching associated habitats, resources and conservation status against them.

This information can then be used to assign quality to sites, assist in management decisions and prompt further other ecological study. This database will help site managers, researchers, ecological consultants and is also available to the public.


Easter survey reveals the need for faster action on peat-free gardening  - The Wildlife Trusts

As the nation’s gardeners prepare for spring, a new survey reveals a lack of real choice for consumers looking for peat-free composts at garden centres and other outlets. It highlights the need for more determined action to phase out peat use from the gardening industry and to protect wild peatlands.

Gardening (image: Tom Marshall)Gardening (image: Tom Marshall)

In March, 238 volunteers responded to a survey by Friends of the Earth, Plantlife, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts. They found that:

• only 19% of almost 1,300 products on sale were clearly labelled as peat-free;

• a third of respondents did not find peat-free compost clearly available;

• half of respondents who checked prices found peat-free compost to be more expensive than peat-based options;

• there was often little awareness or concern about the impact of peat among retail staff;

• most respondents reported a lack of product choice, price incentive or clear labelling to encourage consumers to buy peat-free.

The survey results show how difficult it still is for amateur gardeners to buy peat-free. This is despite the high profile of the peat-free gardening issue in the 1990s and early 2000s, the availability of quality peat-free alternatives and repeated commitments by the garden industry and UK government to phase out peat use.

While commercial peat extraction from Britain’s bogs has been reduced, our use of peat in gardens is now degrading bogs elsewhere. In 2015, more than half of our peat came from Ireland and around 7% from elsewhere in Europe (primarily the Baltic States) – leaving a third (around 700,000 tonnes) from peatlands in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Peatland is home to a variety of scarce and unique wildlife, and provides vital services for people. Peat bogs store vast amounts of carbon, which must kept in the ground to avoid contributing to climate change. A loss of only 5% of UK peatland carbon would be equal to the UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. These bogs also act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater, and can help to reduce flood risk.


Hare today gone tomorrow: can you tell your mad march hare from your Easter bunny? – The Mammal Society

Join in the Mammal Society’s annual hunt for Easter Bunnies and Mad March Hares this Easter weekend. The Mammal Society is appealing for the public to record sightings of rabbits and hares and help target conservation efforts in the UK.

Rabbit (image: Padraig Kavanagh)Both rabbits and hares are a regular sight in the countryside and are relatively easy to spot compared with many other mammals.

Rabbit (image: Padraig Kavanagh)

Dr. Fiona Mathews, Chair of The Mammal Society, says ‘Rabbits and hares have formed an important part of our ecosystem for a very long time.  The native mountain hare was joined by the Brown Hare in the Iron Age, when it was brought over by the Celts; and rabbits seem to have been introduced by the Romans.  Reports of local population collapses – whether caused by disease, over-hunting – are therefore worrying.  We also need to find out whether hares are suffering the same general long-term declines as many other farmland species.  The public can help, by joining in our annual Great Easter Bunny Hunt.  We are interested in every record, whether it’s from a local park or a mountain-top.’

The Mammal Society is currently reviewing the conservation status of all British Mammals and is also producing a new Atlas – the first in 20 years – showing where mammals are found. In addition, the Moors for the Future Partnership are monitoring long term changes in the distribution of rabbits, brown hares and mountain hares on the moorlands of the Peak District and South Pennines, potentially providing a very visual indication of the impact of climate change on our uplands.


BASC Scotland warns against tighter legislation on deer population management - BASC 

BASC is warning against tighter controls on deer population management in Scotland after a parliamentary report outlined recommendations that could radically affect the current voluntary approach.

Despite a decline in deer numbers in the last 10 years, the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Land Reform and Climate Change Committee has recommended consideration of a “statutory duty of sustainable deer management”.

This move, facilitated by the immediate effect of the use of powers under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, could mean that Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) would intervene or lead on deer management planning, requiring land owners and deer managers to submit numbers to be culled.

Dr Colin Shedden, BASC Scotland director, said: “This report recognises the progress that has been made in recent years with respect to sustainable deer management, both in the uplands and the lowlands. However, it also states that a “step change” is still needed especially with respect to reducing deer impacts on the natural heritage. The prospect of new legislation, moving away from the current voluntary approach, may see land managers compelled to cull more deer than they would have otherwise wished as well as a review of the current close season for red deer stags."


Fields in Trust welcomes new API report into playgrounds

Fields in Trust welcomes a new report from the Association of Play Industries (API) into the state of England's playgrounds and supports calls for increased investment that will positively impact the health and wellbeing of children and young people.

Playground (image: Fields in Trust)Playground (image: Fields in Trust)

Fields in Trust Chief Executive, Helen Griffiths, said: "Play is the first step children take towards physical literacy and an active lifestyle and therefore investing in play spaces and securing their future should be a priority in combating the negative health impacts of a sedentary population. Parks and playgrounds are vulnerable to closure in these challenging times and it's important that we revalue the enormous contribution they make to our communities."

The report, published on Thursday (13/4), cites findings from the State of UK Public Parks 2016 report which found that 92% of local authority park departments have experienced budget cuts in the past three years and 95% of parks managers expect there to be further reductions in the next three years.

New research by the API found that 65 local authorities closed a total of 214 playgrounds between 2014 to 2016 whilst a similar number of closures were reported to be planned for the period to 2019. Reasons cited for closures included budgetary concerns, outdated equipment and anti-social issues.

Read the Nowhere to Play report from the Association of Play Industries 


New £10 million fund to restore peatland - Natural England

A £10 million grant scheme to restore England’s iconic peatlands has been launched by the Government today (14/4).

Peatlands cover 11 per cent of England’s landscape and provide a fantastic habitat for a wide range of birds such as the merlin, dunlin and golden plover.  They also provide 70 per cent of our drinking water and reduce greenhouse gases by locking away at least 3.2 billion tonnes of CO2.

The £10 million will be available for wildlife trust and charity projects to re-wet mosses, bring back missing plants and restore a thriving habitat to our peatlands across the country. This is in addition to the £4 million Defra has already allocated to existing Natural England peatland restoration schemes in England.  The funding will be available for projects that restore upland and lowland peatlands to their natural state, increasing their capacity to prevent carbon entering the atmosphere, reduce flood risk by slowing the flow of rain water and create habitats for vulnerable wildlife.

The scheme will open in May and funding will target sites with the greatest potential for greenhouse gas reduction. Projects that deliver better value for money and maximise environmental benefits will be favoured for funding.  Funding will be available for three years from April 2018 as part of Defra’s £100 million of capital funding for direct investment in projects that support the natural environment. More details, including how to bid for grants, will be provided when the scheme opens for bids.


Red-listed thrushes turn to gardens - BTO

Blackbirds were the most commonly seen bird in gardens during 2016, according to the annual results of British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch. Good numbers of the Red-listed species Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush during the winter also provided a treat for Garden BirdWatchers. However, some birds did not fare as well and 2016 saw the lowest ever numbers of Greenfinches in gardens.

Mistle Thrush (Image: Jill Pakenham)Mistle Thrush (Image: Jill Pakenham)

The weekly records of BTO’s Garden BirdWatch allow us to track the yearly peaks and troughs of garden wildlife, and the annual results show a mixed picture for garden birds in 2016. The year started well, with a lot of bird activity and a bumper year for Siskins, which were reported in 27% of gardens in March, compared to an average (of all previous years) of only 18%. The proceeding mild winter is likely to have helped overwinter survival and high numbers of Wrens and Coal Tits were seen in gardens early in the year.

However, in early summer we were hit by outbreaks of rain, which we believe had a detrimental effect on our breeding birds. We know that many birds suffered from a poor breeding season in 2016, and preliminary results of the BTO Nest Record Scheme show that 12% fewer Blue Tits fledged the nest compared to the five year average. From the summer onwards, there were fewer sightings of some commonly seen species such as Blue Tits and Great Tits in gardens and we are interested to see whether numbers will recover in 2017.
It was also a bad year for seeing Greenfinches, a species which has been in severe decline. From October onwards counts dropped below one per garden on average for the first time. The main contributory factor in this decline is thought to be disease. 

BTO Garden BirdWatch annual results for 2016 are available here.


And finally just because - well Easter and meerkats!

Meerkats and their Easter Egg hunt, London ZooEaster surprise for meerkats - ZSL London Zoo

Meerkats and their Easter Egg hunt, London ZooAnimals enjoy egg-citing Easter hunt at ZSL London Zoo 

Zookeepers have shelled out on an egg-stravagant surprise for ZSL London Zoo’s meerkat mob to enjoy – as they get ready to celebrate the Easter weekend. 

While children all over the country will scramble to indulge in chocolate eggs this Sunday, the Zoo’s meerkats (Suricata suricatta) woke up today (April 13) to find their own Easter treats: hollowed out papier mache eggs hidden all over their enclosure, filled with tasty fresh veg. 

Zookeeper Veronica Heldt, said: “While there was no chocolate for our inquisitive meerkats, we prepared an Easter egg hunt for the clan. This encourages them to seek out treats hidden in the foliage and forage for food, mimicking how they would seek their food in the wild. We like to find fun ways for the animals to join in the festivities.”

(images: © ZSL London Zoo)


Scientific publications

Støstad, H. N., Aldwinckle, P., Allan, A. & Arnold, K. E. (2017) Foraging on human-derived foods by urban bird species. Bird Study http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2017.1311836


Morganti , M., Rubolini, D., Caprioli, M. Saino, N. & Ambrosini, R. (2017) Rainfall, but not temperature, negatively affects the growth of Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus nestlings. Bird Study http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2017.1309006


Warren, P., Hornby, T. & Baines., D. (2017) Habitat use, nest-sites and chick diet of Grey Partridge Perdix perdix on hill farms in north east England. Bird Study http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2017.1306485


Steger, C., Butt, B. and Hooten, M. B. (2017), Safari Science: Assessing the reliability of citizen science data for wildlife surveys. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12921 


Jacob M. Peters, Nick Gravish, Stacey A. Combes Wings as impellers: Honey bees co-opt flight system to induce nest ventilation and disperse pheromones  Journal of Experimental Biology 2017 doi: 10.1242/jeb.149476


L. M. Aplin, J. Morand-Ferron Stable producer–scrounger dynamics in wild birds: sociability and learning speed covary with scrounging behaviour . R. Soc. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2872


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