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


Rural crime costs up 20% despite 'fortress farms' - NFU

The cost of rural theft has risen sharply in the first half of 2017, despite some businesses ‘turning their farmyards into fortresses’.

New figures from NFU Mutual show a 20% increase, prompting fears of a new wave of targeted crime in the countryside. The insurer’s Rural Crime Report tracked a 4% decrease in costs nationally during 2016, with successful joint initiatives involving several police forces and improved on-farm security playing important roles. But the Ł39.2 million claims total for 2016 will be outstripped by a substantial margin if the trend for January to June 2017 continues.

Being ‘staked out’ is the biggest worry for country people, followed closely by longer police response times in rural areas, according to the leading rural insurer. Criminals continue to target Land Rovers, quad bikes, tractors, tools and livestock.

“While the fall in rural theft in 2016 is welcome news, the sharp rise in the first half of 2017 is deeply worrying,” said Tim Price, NFU Mutual rural affairs specialist. “Countryside criminals are becoming more brazen and farmers are now having to continually increase security and adopt new ways of protecting their equipment.  In some parts of the country, farmers are having to turn their farmyards into fortresses to protect themselves from repeated thieves who are targeting quads, tractors and power tools. They are using tracking devices on tractors, video and infra-red surveillance in their farmyards and even DNA markers to protect sheep from rustlers. The threat of becoming a victim of rural crime, and regular reports of suspicious characters watching farms is causing high levels of anxiety amongst farmers who know their rural location makes them vulnerable to attacks.”

Download the Rural Crime Report (PDF)


‘Ratty’ has returned to Meon valley - South Downs National Park

Water voles, which were once extinct in the Meon Valley in Hampshire, are now thriving again on the river and its tributaries following a five-year project to reintroduce the animal which inspired the character Ratty in Wind in the Willows.

Water vole about to be placed in release pen (image: South Downs National Park)Water vole about to be placed in release pen (image: South Downs National Park)

The first water voles were released at Titchfield Haven, managed by Hampshire County Council, in 2013 as part of an ambitious project to reintroduce them to the river. Five years and 2,548 water voles later there are clear signs that the animals are thriving on early release sites and breeding on all eleven release sites as well as five additional self-colonised sites.  The final water voles will be released this August at new sites at Frogmore, East Meon and Riplington, with additional animals also released at a self-populated colony at Meonstoke.

Once a common sight in the Meon Valley, water voles are thought to have become locally-extinct by 2008. The plan to bring them back, all the way from the mouth of the river on the south coast to the its source, has been the largest-scale water vole release ever attempted in the country.

Adam Cave, a Biodiversity Technical Specialist at the Environment Agency, said: “This has been a fantastic project to work on. We have been delighted to provide funding and share conservation knowledge for this iconic wetland species. It is great when people tell me that they have seen a water vole on the Meon, or heard the classic “plop” of one entering the water. This has been a real team effort and I’m grateful for the dedication and commitment of all the other partners.”


Giving something back earns prestigious award for Lakes volunteer - Lake District National Park

After nearly four decades in aerospace and defence industry management roles Barry Capp turned his attention to help sort out deteriorating Lake District fell paths.

http://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/aboutus/news/news-pages/giving-something-back-earns-prestigious-award-for-lakes-volunteerThat was nine years ago. Since then he has completed at least one mission a week, notching up over 2,000km of work over 1,000 days, earning himself a prestigious volunteer award from the Lake District National Park.

Lake District lengthsman hero Barry Capp. (image: LDNPA)

While the Ulverston champion says it is very much a team effort, Fix the Fells ranger, Richard Fox, described Barry’s contributions as exceptional.    He said: “In giving Barry the Bryan Stilling Award for significant and outstanding services to the Lake District National Park, we have also recognised his excellent leadership skills, pin-sharp, organised mind and amazing computer skills. He has constantly looked at ways to improve the programme and was instrumental in forming the Fix the Fells management group. It’s fitting Barry has been given this award during the lengthsman scheme’s 10th anniversary.

Barry decided to join up after hearing a radio piece saying volunteers were needed to help with fell path maintenance.  He explained: “I’d taken early retirement and in retrospect some of my background experience has helped in supporting the development of Fix the Fells systems.  For me, it was giving something back.  The award is an honour and privilege. However, the biggest achievement for me is what we have collectively done. It’s a total team effort, with a great sense of camaraderie.”


And the bad news for bees just keeps coming…

Bumblebees risking extinction from neonicotinoid pesticides – Royal Holloway University of London

Bumblebees are less able to start colonies when exposed to a common neonicotinoid pesticide, which could lead to collapses in wild bee populations, according to new research published today (Monday 14 Aug) in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

A bee forages on Royal Holloway's campus (credit, Dr Emily Bailes)Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, and the University of Guelph have found that exposure to thiamethoxam, a common pesticide, reduced the chances of a bumblebee queen starting a new colony by more than a quarter.

A bee forages on Royal Holloway's campus (credit, Dr Emily Bailes)

Building on field studies, the researchers used mathematical models of bumblebee populations which showed that thiamethoxam exposure significantly increases the likelihood that wild bee populations could become extinct.

“Queens exposed to the pesticide were 26% less likely to lay eggs to start a colony,” said Dr Gemma Baron, from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway. “Creating new bee colonies is vital for the survival of bumblebees – if queens don’t produce eggs or start new colonies it is possible that bumblebees could die out completely.”

Access the paper: Gemma L. Baron, Vincent A. A. Jansen, Mark J. F. Brown & Nigel E. Raine.  Pesticide reduces bumblebee colony initiation and increases probability of population extinction  Nature Ecology & Evolution doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0260-1


New survey: Hedgehog Housing census launches today! – Hedgehog Street

Today (Tuesday 15 Aug), the first ever national Hedgehog Housing Census has been launched by Hedgehog Street, a nationwide Image: Steve Kidgellcampaign set up by wildlife charities the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), to help combat the ongoing decline in native hedgehog population numbers.  This survey is in partnership with the University of Reading and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust.

Image: Steve Kidgell

Between now and the 31st October 2017, the Hedgehog Housing Census will dig a little deeper into the world of hedgehogs, and aims to answer several questions about how they live and in particular, hedgehog houses, which, until now, have not been previously studied, despite thousands of people having one in their garden. The information will be gathered via an online survey, and the data then analysed by scientists at the University of Reading. It is hoped the results will help the Hedgehog Street team find out what the best type of hedgehog house is and how they can be used to support the conservation of these animals, and enable wildlife enthusiasts across the UK to further help their spikey garden residents.


Gardens and Health Week – National Gardens Scheme

August 12th – 20th marks our first ever Gardens & Health Week, dedicated to promoting the positive impact gardens have on people’s health and wellbeing.Image: National Gardens Scheme

Image: National Gardens Scheme

All of the gardens taking part will open free of charge for a visit by a small group of people organised by local and national charities. This important new venture follows on from the publication by The King’s Fund in May 2016 of the ground-breaking report, Gardens and Health: Implications for Policy and Practice, commissioned by the National Garden Scheme.

The new initiative run by the National Garden Scheme has been created in partnership with its beneficiary charities. In 2016 the National Garden Scheme donated Ł3 million to its beneficiaries, all of which are nursing charities. They include Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Queen’s Nursing Institute, Parkinson’s UK and Carers Trust. Each of these charities have invited groups to take part in Gardens and Health Week, other visiting groups have been organised locally or by a variety of other nursing and healthcare charities such as Maggie’s and the Alzheimer’s Society.


Frogs that adapt to pesticides are more vulnerable to parasites - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Wood frogs that develop pesticide tolerance become more susceptible to dangerous virus

Amphibians can evolve increased tolerance to pesticides, but the adaptation can make them more susceptible to parasites, according to a team that includes researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The research, led by Binghamton University, showed that wood frogs that evolved increased tolerance to pesticides showed greater susceptibility to a dangerous virus, although they also demonstrated reduced susceptibility to a parasitic worm.

“We have only recently begun to understand that amphibians can rapidly evolve tolerance to chemicals like pesticides, which on the surface is good news,” said Rick Relyea, a professor of biological sciences and director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute at Rensselaer. “But now comes the bad news: with that tolerance there is a tradeoff, which is that they become more susceptible to parasites that, in the case of ranavirus, can wipe out entire amphibian populations.”

The results showed that amphibian susceptibility to parasites was related to their proximity to agriculture and their evolutionary responses to pesticide. For the trematode, wood frogs living closer to agriculture with high baseline tolerance had lower trematode loads than populations living far from agriculture with inducible pesticide tolerance. In contrast for ranavirus, a highly virulent pathogen capable of decimating amphibian populations, populations living close to agriculture with high baseline tolerance had higher viral loads than populations far from agriculture with inducible tolerance. 

Access the paper: Hua J, Wuerthner VP, Jones DK, et al. Evolved pesticide tolerance influences susceptibility to parasites in amphibians. Evol Appl. 2017;00:1–11. doi: 10.1111/eva.12500


Dragonfly Challenge - the Results are in! - British Dragonfly Society

The results of The Dragonfly Challenge have arrived. Participants from Scotland in the north to Devon in the south all got involved, with a total of 25 dragonfly and damselfly species seen across the country.

Top spot goes to Common Blue Damselfly which was found in 48% of the sites surveyed. Close on its heels was Common Darter seen at 43% of sites.  Emperors scored well, as did both Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies, with Emerald Damselflies at 30% of all locations not far behind.

With the Dragonfly Challenge taking place during Dragonfly Week (15th to 23rd July), Large Red Damselflies were still flying at 20% of all sites. Broad-bodied Chaser, another essentially spring species, was observed at almost as many places. The timing was a little too early, though, for Migrant Hawkers and Willow Emerald Damselflies, with the latter only seen at one site and the former at three. It was still mid-season for Brown and Southern Hawkers however, with plenty of each seen at a quarter of all locations.

Click here to see more surveys in need to participants and records.


University of Stirling team discovers new plant in Shetland - University of Stirling

Scientists at the University of Stirling have discovered a new type of plant growing in Shetland – with its evolution only having occurred in the last 200 years.

Shetland Monkeyflower (photo: University of Stirling)Shetland Monkeyflower (photo: University of Stirling)

The new plant is a descendant of a non-native species, the yellow monkeyflower (Mimulus guttatus), which colonised the United Kingdom in Victorian times. It has evolved through the doubling of the number of chromosomes, known as genome duplication or polyploidy.  The plant, referred to as ‘Shetland’s monkeyflower’, produces yellow flowers with small red spots. It is larger than the typical monkeyflower and its flowers are more open.

Researchers say the finding is significant as it shows that a major evolutionary step can occur in non-native species over a short period of time, rather than over thousands of years. Associate Professor Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin said: “Evolution is often thought to be a slow process taking thousands or millions of years. Yet we show that a major evolutionary step can occur in a couple hundred years.”


Hard work pays off at the last Welsh home of a rare orchid - Natural Resources Wales

Fen Orchid (image: NRW)The rare Fen Orchid is starting to strengthen its presence at Kenfig Special Area of Conservation (SAC) after years of partnership work between Bridgend County Borough Council, Plantlife and Natural Resources Wales.

The uncommon plant thrives in young, wet dunes and used to be found at eight sites across South Wales.  Today, if you want to see the Fen Orchid in Wales the only place you can do so is Kenfig SAC, which is also a National Nature Reserve.  The plant’s population at Kenfig was at risk having dropped from as high as 21,000 recorded plants in the early 90’s to as few as 10s of plants in recent years.  Luckily, there has been a large amount of work done to restore the habitat which was being lost because of natural changes.

Fen Orchid (image: NRW)

Emma Brown, senior conservation officer for NRW, said: “It’s vital we don’t lose the things that make Wales’ environment so special and managing our sites to protect struggling species is a part of that work. The work being done at Kenfig SAC has been a real success, having recorded 1012 Fen Orchids across the site. This is not only amazing news for this rare orchid but also for all the invertebrates and other plant species it benefits.”


Finally for Wednesday one close to home:

Proposed draft restoration plan for the Cinder Track - Sustrans

Using a grant from the Coastal Revival Fund, we have developed a draft plan for a sympathetic restoration of the old railway line between Scarborough and Whitby for consideration by Scarborough Borough Council. 

The draft ‘Restoration Plan’ for the popular 21 mile long shared-use route, known as the Cinder Track, recognises that the pathway needs substantial investment and proactive management to protect it for future use by all those that use it. The route is used for recreation, tourism and daily transport by lots of people including walkers, horse riders, cyclists, runners and dog owners.

Broad principles for improving the track in relation to drainage, path construction, vegetation, vehicle use and improved multi-user access are set out in the plan, along with 41 section-by-section maps depicting proposals and suggestions.  An initial assessment of ecological issues has been made, but the plan acknowledges that more information needs to be gathered and further work undertaken to ensure that the Cinder Track thrives as a wildlife corridor and ancient woodland is protected.

Image: Sian, our Irish wolfhound, on the Cinder Track in 1982, ©CJSInformation about the economic and wider benefits of restoring the Cinder Track is also included in the plan. There is also a summary of a cost benefit analysis showing that the proposed works would deliver ‘very high’ value for money, especially in terms of health, journey quality and local economy benefits.  A separately commissioned study for the Whitby end of the Cinder Track has been completed and incorporated into the plan.

Click through to see the proposals in full. 

CJS Ed: as a very small person my family and I often walked the old railway line and in autumn collected tonnes (well it seemed that much!) of brambles to make pots of gloriously glowing purple bramble and apple jelly.   It looks a little different now!

Image: Sian, our Irish wolfhound, on the Cinder Track in 1982, ©CJS


Butterfly Conservation report reveals some butterflies are thriving at National Trust sites - Butterfly Conservation

A Butterfly Conservation report has revealed that some of the UK's most threatened butterflies are thriving at National Trust sites.

Marsh Frit (image: Butterfly Conservation)The study revealed that species like the Marsh Fritillary are bucking nationwide declines, with some habitat specialists seeing their numbers grow at National Trust sites since 1992.

Marsh Frit (image: Butterfly Conservation)

The findings follow decades of work by National Trust advisers and rangers to protect the specialist habitats demanded by struggling butterfly species like the Duke of Burgundy and Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

Butterfly Conservation researchers used results from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) to compare butterfly numbers at National Trust sites to those under other ownerships.

They found that ‘habitat specialist’ butterflies such as the chalk grassland-loving Adonis Blue have increased in abundance by 13% on National Trust land since 1992.  Overall, scarcer butterflies have declined by 25% in the UK countryside in the last 25 years.

Professor Tom Brereton, Head of Monitoring at Butterfly Conservation, said: “The results are highly encouraging and demonstrate that with targeted and tailored habitat management we can turn around the fortunes of many threatened butterfly species.”

Matthew Oates, National Trust butterfly specialist, said: “Many of Britain’s scarcest butterflies are doing relatively well at our places, with rangers and tenant farmers working together to protect important habitats."

The report revealed  that the Marsh Fritillary has seen its numbers grow by 5% year-on-year at National Trust sites over the last 25 years.

The Trust will work closely with Butterfly Conservation to better manage butterfly sites and to monitor progress on these ambitions.


Norfolk chalkstream still under threat from pollution - Salmon & Trout Conservation UK

Fisheries charity, Salmon & Trout Conservation UK (S&TC) has just completed the second year of its unique three-year national Riverfly Census. The census aims to assess the health of our English and Welsh rivers through monitoring the invertebrate communities that live below the surface.

Blue-winged Olive Female Dun copyright Stuart CroftsThis important research has revealed that nationally no significant improvement in the condition of our rivers and chalkstreams has occurred on the 12 rivers included in the study over the past two years. The results from the River Wensum indicate that pollution is a significant concern for this precious chalkstream.

Blue-winged Olive Female Dun copyright Stuart Crofts

According to S&TC the threat to our rivers has moved from industrial pollution to a range of more subtle but equally damaging impacts from excess phosphates and fine sediments. These enter our watercourses from sources such as agricultural and road run-off, poorly treated sewage, septic tanks, new developments and in certain areas discharges from watercress and fish farms.

Five sites were surveyed on the Wensum: Doughton Bridge, Fakenham Common, Pensthorpe Park, Sennowe Bridge and Bintree Mill. Mayfly species richness is under the level that would be expected for the middle reaches of a healthy chalkstream at all sites. In spring and autumn, sediment was at or above the level considered to have a detrimental impact on the invertebrate community for all five sites. Phosphorus levels were also at or above the level of concern at four sites in spring and two in autumn. Taken together, the spring and autumn results in 2016 show the Wensum’s water quality is under severe pressure from sedimentation and phosphate.


In search of Edwards’ Pheasant - Newcastle University

Genuinely extinct or just not worth looking for? Scientists set out to discover just how endangered certain species are.

Scientists are heading off in search of a rare species of bird which has not been seen for 17 years.

The research team, led by Newcastle University, are to search for Edwards’s Pheasant, a bird that was listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2012.

First recorded in 1895, Edwards’ Pheasant is endemic to central Vietnam but excessive hunting and loss of habitat means it is now on the brink of extinction.

Or at least that is what scientists assume.  Now a team of experts from the universities of Newcastle and Bangkok have compiled data of all known sightings and recordings of this rare species of Galliform and have identified two locations where it may still exist in the wild.

Publishing their findings today in the academic journal Oryx, the team are now using this information to aid in the search for Edwards’ Pheasant to find out if it really is as endangered as scientists believe or if we just haven’t been looking for it in the right places.

“For well-known, easily-detectable species like the Bornean Orangutan or the Giant Otter we have good data which provides a sound basis for conservation,” explains lead author Dr Matthew Grainger, from Newcastle University. “But some species that are believed to have the highest probability of extinction are also amongst the most poorly known."

Access the paper: Grainger, M., Ngoprasert, D., McGowan, P., & Savini, T. (2017). Informing decisions on an extremely data poor species facing imminent extinction. Oryx, 1-7. doi:10.1017/S0030605317000813


New tale trail for South Walney Nature Reserve - Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Darwin, the little eider chick is a bit scared. Newly hatched on the shingle beach at South Walney Nature Reserve, his brothers and sisters rush off to explore, but he’d rather stay in the safety of the nest.  He doesn’t know what to make of the bigger animals surrounding him: “They make strange noises and some of them look frightening too, especially the black dinosaur bird on The Great Ocean.”

Pearl Douglas (aged five) inside the hide with the new Eiderling Tale (image: Cumbria Wildlife Trust)Pearl Douglas (aged five) inside the hide with the new Eiderling Tale (image: Cumbria Wildlife Trust)

Darwin is the diminutive hero of The Eiderling, an engaging new family story trail all about South Walney Nature Reserve. The easy-to-follow interactive trail is 5km long (including a short cut if little legs are getting tired!) It is available free of charge to all visitors at South Walney Nature Reserve.  Children visiting South Walney can now borrow a new Wildlife Watcher backpack too.

Amy and Iain Douglas from Newby Bridge visited South Walney Nature Reserve recently with their daughters Daisy, aged two and Pearl, five. The tale trail and Wildlife Watcher backpacks were a great hit with both youngsters, as Amy said: “Having the spotter sheet gave us the opportunity to put names to things we have seen before and also look out for things we haven't. The girls loved the tale trail and I really do think it’s great for keeping small ones entertained." 


Scientific Publications

Brieger, F. et al (2017) Do roe deer react to wildlife warning reflectors? A test combining a controlled experiment with field observations. European Journal of Wildlife Research


Welch, J. N. and Leppanen, C. (2017), The threat of invasive species to bats: a review. Mam Rev. doi:10.1111/mam.12099


Eren Turak, et al  Using the essential biodiversity variables framework to measure biodiversity change at national scale, Biological Conservation, Volume 213, 2017, Pages 264-271, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2016.08.019.


Warwick-Evans, V., Atkinson, P.W., Walkington, I. and Green, J.A., Predicting the impacts of windfarms on seabirds: an Individual Based Model. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12996


Matthew S. Savoca, Chris W. Tyson, Michael McGill, Christina J. Slager Odours from marine plastic debris induce food search behaviours in a forage fish Proc. R. Soc. B 2017 284 20171000; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1000.


Sparling C, Lonergan M, McConnell B. Harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) around an operational tidal turbine in Strangford Narrows: no barrier effect but small changes in transit behaviour. Aquatic Conserv: Mar Freshw Ecosyst. 2017;1–11. doi: 10.1002/aqc.2790 


Noel D. Preece, et al A guide for ecologists: Detecting the role of disease in faunal declines and managing population recovery, Biological Conservation, Volume 214, October 2017, Pages 136-146, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2017.08.014.


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