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


Learning at Work Week15-21 May is Learning at Work Week

an annual event in May organised by the Campaign for Learning since 1999. It aims to put a spotlight on the importance and benefits of learning and development at work.

CJS in-depthThis year's theme is  'Curious & Creative'.  If you're curious about countryside skills or feeling creative (in a wall building way perhaps?) read this CJS In Depth feature : Rural skills – their importance and how we can preserve them By David Molloy, Rural Skills and Grants Officer, first published in CJS Focus on Rural Skills (traditional and modern) in May 2016.

The purpose of providing rural skills training however, should not be limited to the development of expertise alone. Here in the Cotswolds AONB, we have been running rural skills training courses for over 14 years. In that time it has been noticeable how the interest in heritage crafts has increased. Why the sudden clamour for traditional skills you might think? From our experience, many people attending our courses do so out of an intrigue for the skills in question. ‘I’ve always wanted to give it a go’ is a phrase I often read when the feedback forms come in. While their interest may seem short-term and somewhat wistful, this ‘give it a go’ crowd are integral to the long term survival of rural skills.


Retailers urged to act after pesticides linked to bee decline discovered in “pollinator friendly” garden plants - Friends of the Earth

Garden centres and retailers are being urged to take urgent action after new research, revealed today , found some outlets were selling garden plants grown with pesticides linked to bee decline – including plants carrying ‘pollinator friendly’ labels.

Thousands of people have already taken part in a Friends of the Earth online action  launched earlier this week, calling on Homebase and Wyevale to ensure their plants are free from neonicotinoids linked to bee decline.  The action was launched after B&Q announced  it was to ban neonicotinoid pesticides from all its flowering plants from next year.   

Next week Friends of the Earth launches its Great British Bee Count (19 May-30 June), which enables people to find out more about the bees that visit their neighbourhoods and to take action to help these under-threat pollinators – such as creating bee-friendly gardens and other spaces.

The research on neonicotinoids and plants, the first of its kind to be carried out in the UK, was led by leading bee expert Professor Dave Goulson. Of 29 plants examined at Sussex University, over 70% contained neonicotinoid pesticides – including three pesticides restricted across Europe that have been found to pose a ‘high acute risk’ to honeybees.

Today’s article says “the report concludes: ‘All of the retailers we tested were selling plants containing highly variable combinations of potentially harmful chemicals, so that any purchaser is playing “Russian roulette” with their garden pollinators.’ “

Friends of the Earth bee campaigner Nick Rau said: “Green-minded gardeners will be understandably concerned that some stores and garden centres are selling plants treated with pesticides linked to bee decline - including some plants that are labelled as ‘pollinator friendly'. Retailers should urgently investigate their supply chains and make it clear to growers that they don’t want these chemicals in their plants." 


Conservation partnership launches "floating islands" in bid to save rare duck - RSPB

Flock of common scoters sleeping (Image: Graham Catley, RSPB)Flock of common scoters sleeping (Image: Graham Catley, RSPB)

An unprecedented partnership of organisations from industry and the conservation sector has come together in a bid to save the common scoter as a breeding bird in the Highlands of Scotland. The birds, which breed on the edges of a small number of lochs, will be helped by the creation of artificial floating islands made from redundant materials from fish farms. It is hoped that the scoters will choose to nest on the islands and this will make the nests safer from the unwelcome attention of predators and the risk of being flooded.

RSPB Scotland’s Dr Alison MacLennan said, “Within the last forty years the population of the now inappropriately named Common Scoter has fallen from several hundred pairs, with a wide distribution over the north and west of Scotland, to around fifty pairs found in a few isolated lochs. We are in real danger of losing this lovely bird as a breeding species in Scotland and I am delighted that this partnership has come together to help provide them with a future.”

Research has pointed to a number of causes for this decline, many of which are linked to changing uses in the landscape. In addition, mammalian predators have been identified as having a significant detrimental effect on the survival of common scoter nesting attempts and their success in hatching ducklings.  In an attempt to address this problem in some of the Inverness-shire lochs, the partnership group joined forces with Fusion Marine and Marine Harvest to produce floating islands that will provide the ducks with safer nest locations with a reduced risk of predation. 

Two of these islands have now been sited in common scoter breeding lochs in Inverness-shire as a trial to see if their use can boost the ducks’ success in rearing their young. 


NGO helps get wildlife officers back on the beat in Wiltshire - National Gamekeepers Association

The NGO has been instrumental in getting dedicated wildlife officers back on the beat in Wiltshire after police budget cuts led to them being removed.

The NGO Regional Chairman Nick Stiff met the Police and Crime Commissioner to say that wildlife officers were an absolute necessity, not least because of a surge in poaching and hare coursing in the county since the cuts.  Officers from the force had been provided with training free of charge by the NGO, in a one day course which covered, among other things, the Wildlife and Countryside Act, the Poaching Prevention Act, trapping and the economic benefits of shooting.

A Rural Crime Partnership group was established by Wiltshire police to bring together representatives from a number of organisations with a vested interest in tackling rural crime in the county. As a result funding has been secured to train up to 20 Wiltshire Rural and Wildlife Crime Officer. They will enhance the work already carried out by the six existing force Wildlife Crime Officers across the force. The new officers will work as part of the community policing teams to offer support and advice on rural matters to the local community.  The NGO worked alongside the National Farmers' Union and the Country Land and Business Association and other partners to achieve this result and communicated with its local members by email throughout the process.

NGO Regional Chairman Nick Stiff said: 'We are very encouraged that Wiltshire Police has worked with us and other organisations to help in the fight to tackle rural crime, which unfortunately has affected many of our members in the county. We will continue to help the police in reducing rural criminality and would urge members to report all incidents by calling 101. This will help police in helping the keepering community.'


CJS In-DepthFor National Walking month read about how North York Moors National Park manage the Lyke Wake Walk, a 40 mile walk crossing the high moors a few miles away from the CJS office.

The North York Moors National Park Authority looks after around 1400 miles (2200km) of public rights of way within its boundary. This network of paths enables people to venture out and explore every nook and cranny of the North York Moors but, with close to 25,000 residents in the National Park and visitor days numbering around the 10 million mark every year, the potential wear and tear on the area’s rights of way is considerable.  

The damage that can be caused by lots of feet tramping the same route can be illustrated by The Lyke Wake Walk. This 40 mile walk crosses the National Park from Osmotherley in the west to Ravenscar in the east following a line of ancient burial mounds high on the moorland ridges. It was devised by local farmer, mountaineer and journalist Bill Cowley in 1955 and quickly became a test of stamina for walkers to complete the route within 24 hours. In 1955, 191 people completed the walk; by the 1970s, 15,000 people were walking the route each year.


Northern Powergrid To Get ‘Buzzy’ Helping Make B-Lines - Northern Powergrid

Northern Powergrid, the company responsible for keeping the lights on for 8 million customers across the North East, Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, is set to help wildlife charity Buglife create a network of wildflowers stretching across the UK to help pollinators.

The electricity distributor, with its network of more than 63,000 substations and some 60,000 miles of overhead power lines and underground cables spanning 9,650 square miles, is looking at how it can help Buglife’s campaign to create more ‘B-Lines’ across the region.

B-Lines are a network of wildflower rich areas which provide important habitat for bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators, enabling wildlife to move across the landscape and making local areas more attractive for people to live and work in.

Paul Evans, B-Lines Manager at Buglife, said: “It’s fantastic to be working with Northern Powergrid and exploring the opportunities its extensive power network holds to help us create vitally important areas for our pollinators and other wildlife.  One of every three mouthfuls of our food and eight out of ten of our wildflowers depends on pollination by bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators, but we are losing many of these creatures as the wildflowers they depend on for food disappear from our countryside and towns.  It’s more important than ever to ensure that we are able to link wildflower rich areas together to  provide food, homes and networks for our pollinating insects and other wildlife.” 


Huge volume of debris discovered on remote Pacific Island - Marine Conservation Society

Henderson Island, part of the UK's overseas territory in the South Pacific, has been found to be littered with an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic. 

Beaches around the island were thoroughly surveyed between the end of May and middle of August 2015 by researchers from the University of Tasmania and the RSPB. The researchers found up to 671 items of plastic for every square metre of beach surveyed.

Plastic littered beach (Image: Jennifer Lavers, MCS)Plastic littered beach (Image: Jennifer Lavers, MCS)

This huge density of litter is despite Henderson's extremely remote position, and the fact that it is not inhabited by humans. However, it is close to the centre of the South Pacific Gyre, the circulatory ocean that carries huge volumes of floating litter on the sea's surface.

Dr Jennifer Lavers, lead researcher, said "Far from being the pristine 'deserted island' that people might imagine of such a remote place, Henderson Island is a shocking but typical example of how plastic debris is affecting the environment on a global scale. Based on our sampling at five sites we estimated that more than 17 tonnes of plastic debris has been deposited on the island, with more than 3,570 new pieces of litter washing up each day on one beach alone."

Dr Laura Foster, MCS Head of Pollution, says "This truly highlights the global problem of marine litter which is why, through our Beachwatch project, we not only encourage beach cleans to remove litter but we also ask our volunteers to survey what they find. This data can then be used on a local, national and global level to stop litter getting into our oceans and ending up in places like this."

Access the paper: Laversa, JL & Bond AL (2017). Exceptional and rapid accumulation of anthropogenic debris on one of the world’s most remote and pristine islands PNAS doi/10.1073/pnas.1619818114


A quarter century of saving Sand lizard - ARC Trust

Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC), Natural Resources Wales and Natural England have formed a partnership to run an important rescue programme to safeguard the future of the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis). One of Britain’s rarest reptiles, sand lizards are only found in two habitats: sand-dune and lowland dry heath; both of which have declined in area in the UK over the past 100 years, due to development and land use changes. As a result of this large-scale habitat loss and fragmentation, sand lizards have been lost from large parts of their former range including: North and West Wales, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex, Berkshire, Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall; and native populations now only remain in Merseyside, Surrey, and Dorset. Even here, losses of 97%, 95% and 90% have occurred respectively.

Sand lizards (image: ARC Trust)Sand lizards (image: ARC Trust)

The strategy for sand lizard recovery has three main aims: to protect existing sites, to manage these sites for sand lizards and, to reintroduce sand lizards to well-managed and suitable sites in their former historic range

Currently there are ten captive breeding centres for sand lizards; these centres have special outdoor enclosures or ‘vivaria’ that mimic the sand lizard's natural environment. From here, the captive bred juveniles are released onto suitable reintroduction sites in early September to allow the animals to gradually get used to their new surroundings before hibernation in October.

We are delighted to be able to report that the findings of this important programme, which has been running for 28 years, have now been published.

Access the paper: Woodfine, T., Wilkie, M., Gardner, R., Edgar, P., Moulton, N., & Riordan, P. (2017). Outcomes and lessons from a quarter of a century of Sand lizard Lacerta agilis reintroductions in southern England. International Zoo Yearbook.  doi:10.1111/izy.12155


Phenomenal success story celebrates first birthday - Lake District National Park

An innovative joint mission to establish a walking route in one of the Lake District’s most spectacular valleys is celebrating the first year of a phenomenal success story.  With the potential to become one of the national park’s most loved and respected classic routes, Ullswater Way has been hailed as remarkable.

Chair of the Ullswater Association, Heather James, said the 12-month milestone heralded classic partnership working and an amazing outcome. She explained: “The enthusiasm with which locals and visitors alike have embraced the Ullswater Way has exceeded all our expectations. You get the feeling people have taken it to their hearts and already regard it with great affection.”

The multiplicity appeal of a 20-mile serious hike, or gentler five or 10-mile sections, along with glorious unexpected vistas, have brought widespread acclaim. Enthusiastically supported by the Ullswater community, businesses and public bodies, the route was established from upgraded existing rights of way and quiet roads which circumnavigated the lake.


Cities need to “green up” to reduce the impact of air pollution on residents as well as buildings - University of Surrey

The harmful impact of urban air pollution could be combated by strategically placing low hedges along roads in a built-up environment of cities instead of taller trees, a new study has found.

The study, just published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, points out that low hedges reduce the impact of pollution from vehicles in cityscapes where there are large buildings close to roads, far more effectively than taller trees. In some environments, trees actually make the pollution more concentrated depending on prevailing wind conditions and built-up configurations.  The study is a collaborative effort by partners from the UK, Europe and USA, led by the University of Surrey’s Professor Prashant Kumar, under the umbrella of H2020 funded project, iSCAPE: Improving Smart Control of Air Pollution in Europe.

Higher trees only have more of an impact in reducing air pollution in areas which are more open and are less densely populated by taller buildings.

Urban air quality continues to be a primary health concern as most of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas (54% in 2014), and percentage is projected to rise to 66% by 2050; this is coupled with the fact that one of the main global sources of air pollution in cities is traffic emissions.

Professor Prashant Kumar, who is Chair in Air Quality & Health at the University of Surrey, said future urban planning need to consider designing and implementing more “green infrastructure”, such as trees or hedges in the built environment to create a more healthy urban lifestyle.

Access the paper: Abhijith, K.V., Kumar, P., Gallagher, J., McNabola, A., Baldauf, R., Pilla, F., Broderick, B., Di Sabatino, S., Pulvirenti, B., 2017. Air Pollution Abatement Performances of Green Infrastructure in Open Road and Built-up Street Canyon Environments – A Review. Atmospheric Environment, DOI: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2017.05.014


Complete the Parks Alliance survey about the state of the UK’s parks - The Parks Alliance

The recent Communities and Local Government Inquiry into Public Parks found Parks “at a tipping point and face a period of decline with potentially severe consequences unless their vital contribution to areas such as public health, community integration and climate change mitigation is recognised.” The Inquiry encouraged local authorities to evaluate what they are doing, and share the learning across the country to encourage innovation and new ways of working. The Parks Alliance wants to develop its role and services to meet these challenges in a way that makes it sustainable as an organisation and ensures its supporters get the benefits they require.

The Parks Alliance would therefore be very grateful if you could complete a short survey, which includes 16 questions about you, about parks and about The Parks Alliance itself. Your responses will help The Parks Alliance to develop its offer and continue to promote and protect parks into the future. The survey should take no longer than 10 minutes to complete.

Take part in the survey by clicking here


State of the World's Plants – Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens

New plant species discovered in 2016 (image: Kew)Kew Science has launched its second State of the World's Plants report, providing a cutting-edge horizon scan and taking stock of the world's most valuable and vulnerable plants.

New plant species discovered in 2016 (image: Kew)

The 2017 State of the World’s Plants report aims to provide an overview of current knowledge of the world's plants. Building on the success of last year's report, this year we look not only at the numbers of plants, but also why they are important and what makes some plants more resilient than others to threats of climate change, wildfires and pests.

Scientists from around the globe have worked in collaboration with Kew Science to scrutinise databases, published literature, policy documents, reports and satellite imagery to synthesise the latest discoveries and knowledge into this horizon-scanning report.

Explore the data and download the State or World's Plants report here.


National Bat Monitoring Programme Annual Report 2016 - Bat Conservation Trust

We are pleased to announce the release of the National Bat Monitoring Programme Annual report for 2016. It’s thanks to the 960 volunteers who surveyed 1,984 sites in 2016 (equating to approximately 17,700 hours) that we are able to present these findings for 11 of Great Britain's 17 resident bat species.

Of 11 species surveyed, all are considered to have been stable or to have increased in comparison to the baseline year of monitoring (1999 for most species). It should be remembered that these trends reflect relatively recent changes in bat populations. It is generally considered that prior to this there were significant historical declines in bat populations dating back to at least the start of the 20th century. This suggests that current legislation and conservation action to protect and conserve bats is being successful, and it is vitally important that this continues.

Read the full report here.

If you would like to find out more about how to contribute to the National Bat Monitoring Programme please see http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/nbmp.html


Yellow Wagtail by Jill PakenhamBird Indicators just published - British Trust for Ornithology

The latest updates of the UK and England bird indicators based on population trends of wild birds, were published on 18th May 2017.

Yellow Wagtail by Jill Pakenham

These indicators are part of the government’s suite of biodiversity indicators and show how the fortunes of birds of farmland, woodland, waterways and wetlands, and marine and coastal areas have fared between 1970 and 2015.

The full report shows it’s not all bad news.

Key messages for the UK:

  • There has been little overall change in the UK all-species indicator since the early 1990s (Figure 1). However, between 2014 and 2015 there was a significant increase of 5%, such that the unsmoothed indicator was 2% below its 1970 level in 2015.
  • In 2015, the breeding farmland bird index in the UK was less than half of its 1970 level – a decline of 51%. Between 2009 and 2014 the smoothed index, which takes into account annual fluctuations, showed a significant 8% decline. However, between 2014 and 2015 the unsmoothed UK farmland bird index showed a significant 6% increase.
  • In 2015, the breeding woodland bird index in the UK was 18% lower than its 1970 level – up slightly from the second lowest level ever recorded in 2013 (27% below the 1970 level). In the short term between 2009 and 2014, the smoothed index showed no significant change.
  • In 2015, the breeding water and wetland bird index in the UK was 7% lower than its 1975 level and between 2009 and 2014 the smoothed index, which takes into account annual fluctuations, also showed a significant 7% decline. However, between 2014 and 2015 the unsmoothed breeding water and wetland bird index showed a significant 6% increase.
  • In 2015, the breeding seabird index in the UK stood at 22% below its level in 1986 – a small improvement on the lowest level ever recorded in 2013 (27% below the 1986 level). Most of the decline has occurred since 2003; there has been an ongoing decline of 5% in the short term between 2009 and 2014.
  • In the winter of 2014-15 the wintering waterbird index in the UK stood at 88% higher than its 1975-76 level. The index peaked in the late 1990s, and has declined since, with the smoothed index falling by 8% in the short term between the winters of 2008-09 and 2013-14.


Protection for living reef - Scottish Government

Loch Carron flame shell beds designated as Marine Protected Area.

An endangered seabed habitat off the north west coast has been designated as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

The protection for Loch Carron’s flame shell beds follows an investigation by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Government into claims the vulnerable habitat had been damaged by scallop dredging.

The inquiry confirmed damage to the flame shell beds was consistent with the impact of scallop dredging.

The investigation also found there was a viable prospect of recovery because part of the bed had survived and another nearby bed had remained intact.

Flame shells are orange coloured molluscs which hide in nests they build on the seabed, providing a rich and diverse habitat for other creatures. 

The MPA means any proposed development or use of the sea will have to take the need for recovery into account. To manage fishing activity, an urgent Marine Conservation Order will be put in place to prevent mobile gear fisheries, such as dredging, in the area - initially for one year.


See more about the assessment and the including comparative video from 2009 & 2017 in this blog from Scottish Natural Heritage: SNH divers assess Loch Carron flame shell bed damage


Response from Marine Conservation Society - New protection measures for Scottish Sea Loch announced. MCS says action for Loch Carron must be just the start of further protections

“The decision shows how crucial the efforts of dedicated Seasearch divers were rapidly recording video footage and submitting records shortly after the event. It's good to see this response from Scottish Natural Heritage and Marine Scotland Science to the harm done to Loch Carron, corroborating the citizen science  evidence, " says Calum Duncan. MCS Head of Conservation Scotland


Environmental first as Glenmorangie reintroduces native oysters to the Dornoch Firth - Marine Conservation Society

MCS is part of a ground-breaking environmental project which has seen Native European oysters reintroduced to coastal waters around Dornoch Firth after a century's absence.

In 2014 MCS forged an ambitious partnership known as the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP), with project funders Glenmorangie Distillery which is based on the banks of the Firth, and Heriot-Watt University.  The re-introduction of the oysters to the Dornoch Firth comes as Glenmorangie officially opens its €6million anaerobic digestion plant at its Distillery in the Highlands of Scotland today.

Oysters (image: MCS)Oysters (image: MCS)

Underlining the Distillery’s commitment to a ‘susTAINable’ future, the project’s vision was to restore long-lost oyster reefs to the Firth, to enhance biodiversity and also act in tandem with the anaerobic digestion plant to purify the by-products created through the distillation process – an environmental first for a Distillery.

Calum Duncan, Head of Conservation Scotland for the Marine Conservation Society said “Great strides have been taken in recent years to put in place new sites and measures to help improve the health of Scotland’s seas. Active re-instatement of living seabed habitats such as oyster reefs can play a crucial role in ocean recovery, which is why we are delighted to be part of this partnership and look forward to a successful trial paving the way for larger-scale restoration.” 


Corporate Plan 2017-2018 - Scottish Natural Heritage

Our Corporate Plan describes how we support the Scottish Government's Purpose to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth.

Download the plan (PDF) 


And let's finish the week with a happy ending.

‘Pressure hose’ otter returned to wild in Llandovery after RSPCA rehabilitation - RSPCA

An otter has been returned to the wild in the Llandovery area, after a period of rehabilitation with RSPCA Cymru.

Video footage captures the moment the otter was returned to the wild, after a one-month spell in RSPCA care.

The otter was reported to the charity after being found by a member of the public on 17 April, curled up in a puddle of water from a pressure hose.

(Image RSPCA)(Image RSPCA)

She was very weak, quiet and extremely tired – and was struggling with a fever and dehydration.

The otter was rehabilitated at a specialist RSPCA wildlife facility – West Hatch in Taunton – where she recovered, ready for the return to the wild.  She was released on 15 May – with the extent of her recovery highlighted by her gain in weight – from 2.8kg when found, to 4.8kg when returned to the wild.

RSPCA animal collection officer Ellie West said: “This beautiful otter turned up at a Llandovery property in a deeply worrying state – dehydrated, appearing confused, and desperately tired. She was so exhausted, she simply collapsed in a pool of water left from a pressure hose. It was clearly no place for such a beautiful wild animal. Fortunately, she was taken into RSPCA care and rehabilitated. She’s gained more than 70% in weight, which is testimony to her turnaround at a specialist wildlife facility. It was a fabulous feeling to be able to safely return her to the Llandovery wild. Happy endings like this are the best part of the job, and rescuing and rehabilitating animals like this is such an important part of what RSPCA Cymru does.”


Scientific Publications

Heard, G. W., Scroggie, M. P., Ramsey, D. S. L., Clemann, N., Hodgson, J. A. and Thomas, C. D., Can habitat Management Mitigate Disease Impacts on Threatened Amphibians?. Conservation Letters. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/conl.12375


Michael V. Bell and John Calladine The decline of a population of farmland breeding waders: a twenty-five-year case study Bird Study Vol. 64 , Iss. 2,2017 DOI:10.1080/00063657.2017.1319903 


Josh A. Firth, Bernhard Voelkl, Ross A. Crates, Lucy M. Aplin, Dora Biro, Darren P. Croft, Ben C. Sheldon Wild birds respond to flockmate loss by increasing their social network associations to others  Proc. R. Soc. B 2017 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0299.     


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Disclaimer: the views expressed in these news pages do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CJS.