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


Stepping Stones for Surrey’s Small Blue – Butterfly Conservation

Patches of wildflowers are being grown in Surrey as part of a project to help join up areas of habitat where the county’s smallest butterfly is found.

In Surrey, the Small Blue is restricted to just a handful of patches of chalk grassland on the North Downs where Kidney Vetch is found - the Small Blue Butterfly by Rob Solomononly plant the butterfly’s caterpillar will feed upon.

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation (BC) is launching a project to link up these habitats by growing additional areas of Kidney Vetch and other nectar sources.

Small Blue Butterfly by Rob Solomon

Larger linked habitats will provide Surrey’s rare Small Blue with more options to breed and feed and for its population to grow, spread out and cope with the pressures of a changing climate.

The project will focus on the area between Guildford and Dorking to enhance and create a series of habitat ‘stepping stones’ that are rich in Kidney Vetch and other nectar plants.

BC is working in partnership with Surrey Wildlife Trust, the National Trust and local farmers to create this network of flower-rich patches.


Water vole revival at Malham Tarn – National Trust

Rare water voles are flourishing against the odds in England’s highest freshwater lake following a reintroduction programme last summer

More than a hundred water voles, which were the inspiration for Wind in the Willows’ Ratty, were released onto streams around Malham Tarn Volunteers help with the water vole release at Malham Tarn (National Trust)in the Yorkshire Dales in August last year. It was the first time water voles had been seen on the lake in 50 years.

And, in an adventure worthy of Ratty, Mole and Toad from the Kenneth Grahame classic, the water voles are spreading across the lake – in ways that our rangers could never have dreamed.

Volunteers help with the water vole release at Malham Tarn (National Trust)

Survey work has shown that the water voles – which are the UK’s fastest declining land mammal – have spread up to a kilometre from the original release site.

Roisin Black, ranger at Malham Tarn, says: 'With a mild, wet winter, we were worried that the water levels around the tarn may rise too high and flood the burrows. But it turns out that the voles have spread out across one side of the tarn.'


Big fish in big trouble in Europe – University of Aberdeen

An international team of scientists led by the University of Aberdeen have discovered that large fish, which include many of the sharks, rays and skates of Europe, are the most at threat from extinction.

Marine fish are a diverse group of animals that play important roles in marine ecosystems, but are also a major food source for marine and terrestrial mammals, most notably humans.

A new study, published today (Friday, May 26) in Nature Ecology & Evolution, has shown that the bigger the fish, the more likely it is to be threatened with extinction. This is because they are more susceptible to threats such as overfishing due to growing slower, taking longer to mature and having fewer offspring, as well as being more sought after for food consumption or sport.

The team, which was made up of 44 researchers from all around the world, received funding from the European Commission (DG Environment) and the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS) to carry out the study.

The study was part of a major effort to assess the extinction risk of fish carried out by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to produce the European Red List of Marine Fishes and saw the team assess over 1000 different species and the status of commercial fish ‘stocks’. Further to this, the team aimed to find out if their data agreed with advice received from other government fisheries agencies.

Read the paper here: Fernandes, P. G., Ralph, G. M. & Carpenter, K.E. (2017) Coherent assessments of Europe’s marine fishes show regional divergence and megafauna loss. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1 doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0170


Climate change can alter the impact of forest pathogens in trees - University of Helsinki

New research on projected climate changes from the University of Helsinki indicates that climate change has an alarming potential to increase the damage caused to Norway spruce trees by a naturally circulating disease spreading fungus.

– This study shows the potential for future climate changes to alter the impact of forest pathogens, and the need to incorporate disease effects into future forestry planning as of now. As this is one of the first experimental tests of projected climate changes on a forestry host-pathogen system, there is an urgent need for further research on this topic, highlights Dr. Riikka Linnakoski from the department of Forest Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry.

While much research has addressed the effects of projected climate changes on tree species distributions and their productivity, the potential impacts of pests and pathogens have received far less attention. However, these represent some of the most important threats to global forest health, particularly in regions where climate change is expected to be most severe, such as northern Europe. To mitigate the impacts of climate change, understanding the factors that trigger the development of forest tree disease epidemics and host susceptibility is essential.

The researchers found that future climate changes have the potential to increase disease severity in fungal infected trees, with the most distant projections likely to be the most detrimental to tree health. However, an interesting result was that the effects of climate change on disease severity can vary markedly among fungal strains i.e. genetic variations of the same fungal species.

Read the paper: Linnakoski R, Forbes KM, Wingfield MJ, Pulkkinen P and Asiegbu FO (2017) Testing Projected Climate Change Conditions on the Endoconidiophora polonica / Norway spruce Pathosystem Shows Fungal Strain Specific Effects. Frontiers in Plant Science doi: 10.3389/fpls.2017.00883 


Golden eagle deaths. Extra measures to protect Scotland’s birds of prey - Scottish Government

Almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances, scientists have found.

The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) research identified that the majority of cases were found where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham confirmed to the Scottish Parliament she will now set up an expert group to look at managing grouse moors sustainably and within the law.  Following a request by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee the group will also advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.  
The report studied the movements of 131 young golden eagles over a 12 year period, and found more than 40 had disappeared in suspicious circumstances. It also found there was no link between fitting satellite tags and the disappearance of the birds of prey and ruled out any connection with the position of wind turbines. 
In response Ms Cunningham outlined a package of new measures designed to protect birds of prey, the wider Scottish environment and the reputation of those who abide by the law.

Ms Cunningham said:  “The findings of this research are deeply concerning and will give rise to legitimate concerns that high numbers of golden eagles, and other birds of prey, continue to be killed in Scotland each year. There is every reason to believe that similar levels of persecution affect untagged golden eagles, as well as those we are able to track via satellite tags.  We have already targeted wildlife criminals, and those who sanction such crimes, by introducing measures such as vicarious liability and restrictions on the use of general licences. But Scottish Ministers have always said they would go further if required – and that is what I am doing today. The continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and indeed the country as a whole. Those who carry out these crimes do so in defiance of the will of Parliament, the people, and their own peers. That must end. This report identifies specific problem areas which will allow Police Scotland to adopt a targeted approach and I would also encourage members of the public to report any suspicious activity to the police."


Analyses of the fates of satellite tracked golden eagles in Scotland - SNH Commissioned Report

This report provides a major review of the movements and fates of golden eagles satellite tagged during 2004 - 2016. It proposes reasons for the disappearance of satellite tagged golden eagles by analysing associated factors, including the impact of wind farms, natural mortality of tagged birds, tag reliability, effects of tagging on bird survival and illegal persecution. The report highlights illegal persecution is a major factor in artificially restricting the golden eagle population in Scotland, and provides a population model for Scotland's golden eagles in the absence of persecution.

Download the report (PDF)


Golden eagle satellite tagging review - Scottish Wildlife Trust response

Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “We welcome the publication of this extensive investigation into the fate of satellite tagged golden eagles in Scotland. The report leaves little doubt that human interference is stopping golden eagles from expanding into their full natural range. It is also highly likely that illegal persecution is causing the disappearance of golden eagles around some grouse moors in the Highlands. This is further proof of the need for a step change in the way our uplands are managed, including the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse moor management to address wildlife crime and encourage more sustainable stewardship of these areas.”


1976 drought revealed as worst on record for British butterflies and moths - University of York

Scientists at the University of York have revealed that the 1976 drought is the worst extreme event to affect butterflies and moths in the 50 years since detailed records began. 

The summer of 1976 saw standpipes in the streets and billions of seven-spot ladybirds swarming in search of food. It was the hottest English summer since records began over 350 years ago - the mercury topped 32 °C for 15 consecutive days across much of southern England, and some regions received no rain for 45 days straight.

Since then, the UK has warmed by a full degree Celsius and experienced numerous bouts of extreme weather, from heavy rainfall and flooding to heatwaves and drought; yet no single year has caused so many butterfly and moth species to crash simultaneously.

Measuring 50 years of butterfly and moth data against extreme weather events since 1968, scientists looked for years in which an unusual number of species responded in synchrony, with 1976 found to be the most devastating.

“It was the culmination of a two-year event.” said Dr Phil Platts, Postdoctoral Research Associate in York’s Department of Biology and co-author of the study. “Hot and dry conditions stretched back to the spring of 1975. This was initially good for butterflies and moths, and their numbers boomed. But then extreme heat and sustained drought in the summer of 1976 tipped the balance, causing numbers to plummet across at least 50 different species.”

The study also looked at the impact of extreme weather on birds, determining that the cold winter of 1981-82 had the biggest effect on their numbers. A third of bird species crashed as temperatures fell as low as -26 °C. 

Researchers concluded, however, that for many of our widespread species, occasional extreme weather events have not, to date, had a lasting impact on population trends.

“This seems to be truer of short-lived species that can multiply rapidly, like butterflies and moths, than of the birds we studied.” said Professor Tom Brereton, co-author and Head of Monitoring at Butterfly Conservation. “For most species, current evidence suggests long-term declines are being dominated by factors such as habitat loss and intensive farming methods.”

Access the paper: Georgina Palmer, Philip J. Platts, Tom Brereton, Jason W. Chapman, Calvin Dytham, Richard Fox, James W. Pearce-Higgins, David B. Roy, Jane K. Hill, Chris D. Thomas.  Climate change, climatic variation and extreme biological responses. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 2017 372 20160144; DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0144.  


CJS In-DepthIt's Volunteers Week, 1-7 June.

Volunteers’ Week is an annual celebration of the fantastic contribution millions of volunteers make across the UK. Find out more here.

We all know how important volunteers are to the countryside sector, doing everything from manning stalls at events raising funds and awareness to litter picking and ditch digging.

Find out more about countryside volunteering by reading some of our in depth articles from CJS Focus on Volunteering dating back to 2005.   Articles cover everything from the benefits of volunteering to how organisations can best set up volunteering programmes.

When waders and bankers combine the results can be wonderful says Steven Gauge writing about Employee Action Days with The Conservation Volunteers Read on.


Volunteering needn't be a huge commitment (unless you want it to be!).  How about a stroll along a beach? And while you're there look for nurdles - for what? Nurdles.

Nurdles are small plastic pellets about the size of a lentil. Countless billion are used each year to make nearly all our plastic products but many end up washing up on our shores.

Join The Great Nurdle Hunt this weekend (2-5 June)

We need your help to find out how widespread nurdle pollution is around Scotland.

New nurdles are washing up on our shores but we don't have detailed evidence of where they are coming from or how widespread the problem is. Findings from The Great Nurdle Hunt will help us show the local plastics industry the extent of the nurdle pollution on our shores. So please visit your local beach and join the Great Nurdle Hunt!

If you're not in Scotland or near a beach never fear, there are surveys for many different species being run nationwide.  Have a look at our listings to see if there's something near you or in your area of interest.


If small pieces of plastic are not your thing how about invasive flatworms, puffins or butterflies & moths?

 Aberdeen scientists need your help to track the spread of New Zealand Flatworms - University of Aberdeen

New Zealand flatworm (image: University of Aberdeen)Scientists at the University of Aberdeen need members of the public to help them to better understand how far the New Zealand Flatworm has spread and what effect this species is having on the local environment.

New Zealand flatworm (image: University of Aberdeen)

Introduced to the UK on imported plant material in the 1960s, the New Zealand Flatworm eats our native earthworms, which are essential for good soil quality and the food chain.

Since 2015, 1,500 people throughout the UK have contributed to our knowledge of where the New Zealand Flatworm is residing by submitting their observations via the OPAL New Zealand Flatworm survey. However, the team from the University of Aberdeen and the James Hutton Institute now want to gain an even better picture of how wide spread the problem is.

Take part here.


Puffarazzi wanted to help puffin conservation efforts - RSPB Scotland

Puffin carrying sandeels (image: Nigel Blake, RSPB)Puffin carrying sandeels (image: Nigel Blake, RSPB) 

This summer RSPB Scotland is asking visitors to puffin colonies around the UK and Ireland to play a vital role in an innovative project aimed at helping puffin conservation. The conservation organisation is asking people to become Puffarazzi in aid of discovering more about what puffins feed their chicks.

Puffins are one of our best loved birds and over the summer months as they breed along our shores many people visit their colonies to catch sight of these birds, with their colourful bills and eye markings. However, puffin numbers have plummeted in recent years across the UK and Europe, leading to the species being declared vulnerable to global extinction.

Now, visitors to these colonies can play a part in a new citizen science project by photographing puffins carrying fish for their chicks in June and July and uploading the images to a dedicated webpage www.rspb.org.uk/projectpuffin. Here RSPB Scotland will analyse the photos and identify the fish to build up a picture of what puffins around the UK and Ireland are feeding their chicks.


Find the UK’s most pollinator-friendly county - Butterfly Conservation

ButterflyGardeners are being asked to help the UK’s beleaguered butterflies, bees and moths by making their county the most pollinator-friendly in the UK.

Butterfly Conservation is trying to discover which UK county is home to the most butterfly-friendly gardens after it was revealed that butterflies are declining faster in urban areas than in the countryside. 

Image: (Butterfly Conservation)

The wildlife charity is urging nature lovers and gardeners to take part in their ‘Plant Pots for Pollinators’ campaign and provide nectar sources for pollinating insects in their outdoor spaces.  

To take part visit: www.plantpotsforpollinators.org 


On with the rest of the week's news

New poll reveals city-dwellers love nature but don’t get enough of it - The Wildlife Trusts

30 Days Wild challenge from The Wildlife Trusts helps people enjoy nature every day

Go wild in June! Image (c) Ben Hall / 2020 VisionA new poll of over 2,400 people living in major cities across the UK reveals that city-dwellers have a strong affinity for nature and think that it’s important to help care for it. But the poll also highlights a conflict: while city-dwellers feel that nature is important to them, they struggle to connect with it as much as they’d like and a high proportion of people want to see more nature in cities.

Go wild in June! Image (c) Ben Hall / 2020 Vision

The survey comes at a time when we have stronger evidence than ever before that nature is good for us and makes us happy. However, people feel increasingly disconnected from nature and large numbers want cities - the places where most people actually live and work - to have more wildlife. The poll reveals:

  •  89% of city-dwellers surveyed feel that nature is important to them but 80% of them don’t think that they spend enough time in nature
  • Just 21% said that the last ‘wow’ moment they had with nature was in their local city area – while 60% of people’s most recent special moments with nature was from elsewhere, such as television, holidays and visits to the countryside. Only 9% have enjoyed visiting a wild place as part of their working day in the last week .
  •  92% of adults think it’s important to help nature – 56% report doing something to help it in their garden, and 78% of adults want to see more nature in their cities.

The poll results are released as The Wildlife Trusts launch their 30 Days Wild challenge which runs throughout June encouraging people to commit Random Acts of Wildness – daily connections with nature – every day for thirty days. More than 40,000 have pledged to do this so far including 3,000 schools and 1,000 businesses.

Lucy McRobert of The Wildlife Trusts says:
“The poll clearly shows that nature means a lot to people living in cities. People love nature so much that a very high proportion say they are doing something to help care for it. The fact that so many adults want to see more nature in their cities is a wake-up call to us all.  Only a fifth of city-dwellers have experienced a special moment where they were amazed by wildlife they’d seen or heard in their local area recently even though the beauty of wild plants and sounds of bees buzzing, and birdsong are available to us all. Those ‘wow’ wildlife moments are all around us and taking part in 30 Days Wild is the perfect way to help you find them.”


Most comprehensive ever North-East mammal atlas launched - Scottish Natural Heritage

The most comprehensive description ever of land mammals in North-East Scotland was launched in Aberdeen this week, showcasing animals as varied as pine martens, wildcats, bats, deer, seals – and even humans.

NE Mammal Atlas - Grey Seal haulout at River Ythan photo by Martyn GormanThe Mammal Atlas of North-East Scotland and the Cairngorms, compiled by the North East Scotland Biological Records Centre (NESBReC) and supported by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Aberdeenshire Council, is a fully-illustrated atlas. It maps 43 mammals found in the North East, using 77,592 records from 1,472 observers from all over the area and beyond.

NE Mammal Atlas - Grey Seal haulout at River Ythan photo by Martyn Gorman

It tells some fascinating stories of the many amazing mammals found throughout North-East Scotland, including the recovery of red squirrels, the recent significant spread of pine martens eastward to the outskirts of Aberdeen, and the discovery of a new bat species for the area.  The project, which began in 2013, encouraged the public to report animal sightings. Almost 1,500 people, from those who had never before submitted a mammal sighting through to experienced biological recorders, helped with the atlas. Organisers used novel ways to encourage wildlife reporting, including asking cat owners to report what prey their pets had brought home. People were also encouraged to report roadkill, camera trap sightings and locations where molehills were present. Records of scat and footprints were accepted from more experienced recorders.

The information gathered is depicted in distribution maps for 43 mammal species covering the time periods 1960-2000 and 2001-2015. Each map is accompanied by a photograph of the mammal and a short account of its ecology, conservation and status, in both the local and British Isles contexts. The book also includes information on mammal habitats, species conservation and analysis of distribution patterns.


Northumberlandia gets tops marks for educational efforts at the Land Trust Awards 2017 - Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Northumberlandia has been named Educational Site of the Year at the Land Trust Awards 2017.

(Image: Northumberland Wildlife Trust)The 19-hectare park, which features a unique piece of human landform sculpture known as The Lady of the North, was recognised for the broad range of activities and events it organises and hosts to help people learn about the world around them.

(Image: Northumberland Wildlife Trust)

From sessions giving toddlers the chance to get hands-on with nature and visits from local Girlguiding groups, to a new Woodland Trail and signage that tells the story of land use and restoration, Northumberlandia has a lot to offer.

The idea for the site originated in 2004 when the Blagdon Estate and the Banks Group were applying for permission to dig for coal and fire clay (for bricks) on farmland near the new town of Cramlington. They recognised this also provided a unique opportunity to create a spectacular art form that would provide a legacy for future generations. They contacted the internationally renowned artist Charles Jencks and funded the project, and in 2010 work began.


The Land Trust acquires new sites to protect and enhance valuable community green space across the UK - The Land Trust

Image: Wildflower verge - green infrastructure lrNational land management charity, the Land Trust is delighted to announce the acquisition of new public open spaces in Warrington, Cheshire; Ketley, Telford and has confirmed contracts to manage the substantial green space around new housing developments at Waverley, South Yorkshire and New Lubbesthorpe, Leicestershire.

Wildflower verge - green infrastructure (image: The Land Trust)

Spanning over 16 hectares, the green space at Ketley is an area enhanced as part of Telford Millennium Community which includes a stream, grassland, woodland and a network of paths to explore. Acquisition by the Land Trust means that this site next to the new residential development will continue to remain as public open space with long term management and funding plans in place.  The Omega Greenheart has been added to the extensive portfolio of public open space that the charity already manages in Warrington. The 22 hectare site, in the centre and edges of the new Omega development to the south of the M62, will initially continue to be used by the developers, but over the next three years will be remodelled to create a new park, providing valuable green space to local residents and workers alike. 

Additionally, at the end of March, the charity signed agreements with Harworth Group Plc and Drummond Estates to manage the greenspaces around new residential developments at Waverley in Rotherham – Yorkshire’s largest ever brownfield redevelopment that includes 350 acres of public open space and New Lubbesthorpe a completely new community west of Leicester which includes 75 acres of woodland and 250 acres of public open space and parkland.


Scientists reveal: Floodplains face uncertain future - University of Salford 

Experts predict that flooding will worsen unless we act to reverse the damage, as 90% of floodplains no longer exist in their natural state.

90% of floodplains across the country have been so severely changed that they no longer work properly, according to a new report, released today by Co-op Insurance and The University of Salford.

Having been on the ground in the aftermath of Storm Desmond, which disrupted five thousand homes and hundreds of communities, Co-op Insurance has seen first-hand the impact floods can have on lives.

For that reason, Co-op Insurance has funded environmental experts at the University of Salford to find out why flooding is getting worse and what impact this has on communities.

The study, the first of its kind conducted across Cumbria reveals that as 90% of floodplains are no longer able to withhold water, water now flows downstream more quickly. This puts greater pressures on towns and villages, where flood defences are now not able to cope.

How floodplains have changed:

  • 65% have been modified meaning they’re now man-made, smoother surfaces
  • 9% have been lost to urban and suburban developments
  • 4% is occupied by open water
  • 6% is occupied by woodland and rough grassland
  • 0.5% is occupied by wetland

Highlighting the impact that floods have on communities, Co-op’s latest claims data reveals that the average buildings claim due to the effects of Storm Desmond amounted to £44,000.


Sea level rise may drive coastal nesting birds to extinction - Australian National University

Rising sea levels and more frequent flooding events may drive coastal nesting birds around the world to extinction, a team of international researchers say following their 20-year study of Eurasian oystercatchers.

Lead researcher Dr Liam Bailey from The Australian National University (ANU) said one of the main reasons for the strong decline in birds that used coastal habitats was because they had shown no response to tidal floods, which are predicted to become more frequent and severe due to climate change.  He said this view was corroborated by other international research.

"Sea level rise and more frequent flooding are major drivers of this steep decline in coastal birds," said Dr Bailey, a PhD graduate from the ANU Research School of Biology. "Our study species, the Eurasian oystercatcher, lives in an area where flooding is becoming more common, posing a threat to the survival of the population. Our study found no evidence that Eurasian oystercatchers have increased the elevation of their nests, even among birds that lost a nest during a flood. Factors including the presence of predators or unsuitable vegetation might discourage birds from nesting higher."

Read the paper: Liam D. Bailey, Bruno J. Ens, Christiaan Both, Dik Heg, Kees Oosterbeek, Martijn van de Pol. No phenotypic plasticity in nest-site selection in response to extreme flooding events Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 2017 372 20160139; DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2016.0139.


Scientific publications

Crosti, R., Arcangeli, A., Romeo, T. et al. Assessing the relationship between cetacean strandings (Tursiops truncatus and Stenella coeruleoalba) and fishery pressure indicators in Sicily (Mediterranean Sea) within the framework of the EU Habitats Directive. Eur J Wildl Res (2017) 63: 55. doi:10.1007/s10344-017-1111-8


Watts, G. (2017) The effects of “greening” urban areas on the perceptions of tranquillity. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2017.05.010


Threlfall, C. G. & Kendal, D. (2017) The distinct ecological and social roles that wild spaces play in urban ecosystems. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2017.05.012


Daniel Wohlgemuth, Martin Solan, Jasmin A. Godbold Species contributions to ecosystem process and function can be population dependent and modified by biotic and abiotic setting Proc. R. Soc. B 2017 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2805     


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