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


PAW Scotland warns of risky dolphin and whale encounters in Scotland this summer - Scottish Natural Heritage

Several incidents in Scotland this summer involving dolphins, orcas and humpback whales have endangered not only the animals, but also boat operators.

The Scottish Government-led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) is urging boat and marine craft operators to respect Scotland’s marine wildlife or they could risk endangering themselves and the animals, as well as face criminal charges.

Bottlenose dolphins at Chanonry Point, Moray Firth (image: ©  SNH / Lorne Gill)Bottlenose dolphins at Chanonry Point, Moray Firth (image: ©  SNH / Lorne Gill)

This follows a number of incidents around Scotland this summer which are being investigated by Police Scotland: in Shetland, a photographer in a boat circled a pod of killer whales too closely and then split the pod; and there have been boats causing problems with dolphins at Chanonry Point and at Aberdeen Harbour. There have also been a number of other incidents in Shetland where boats near busy marinas or harbours have been too close or going too fast to pods of killer whales, and ongoing issues on the Tay with jet skiers and dolphins, particularly near Broughty Ferry. Members of the public have also raised concerns about boats going to close to humpback whales seen recently at St Cyrus National Nature Reserve. 

Whales, dolphins and porpoises which frequent our coastline are protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats) Regulations 1994. This includes protection from disturbance (whether it be reckless or deliberate), harassment, killing and injury, with offences subject to a fine of up to £5000.   Warmer weather leads to an increase in marine craft operating around Scotland’s coast and this naturally leads to an increase in the likelihood of a lucky encounter with a cetacean.

Sgt. Andrew Mavin, Police Scotland Wildlife Crime Co-ordinator explained, “We’ve received several reports of boat operators getting far too close to cetaceans, sometimes apparently following them to get a good photograph. These animals are extremely powerful and people shouldn’t get too close for obvious reasons; there is also a possibility of injury to the animals themselves from boats and other marine craft. There are clear guidelines available for watching marine wildlife, so ignorance of the law is not an excuse.  I encourage anyone witnessing a suspected crime to contact police Scotland on 101 as soon as possible.  Details of the boat or craft are essential to help us identify the operator.”


New fund launched to reduce litter through innovative projects - Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Local communities urged to get 'smart' on tackling litter with launch of the new Government Litter Innovation Fund

New, innovative community projects against litter will be able to bid for new funding (image: gov.uk)New, innovative community projects against litter will be able to bid for new funding (image: gov.uk)

Almost £500,000 will be awarded to community projects to tackle the blight of littering, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey announced on 26 August.

The money will support the development of new innovation and approaches for tackling litter, from behavioural research for better positioned bins and recycling points so more people throw their rubbish away, to digital technology. This includes apps and ‘smart-bins’ that can text alerts to rubbish collectors when they are full, stopping nasty litter from spilling out onto our high streets or leading people to litter nearby.

Cleaning up the country’s streets costs the tax payer almost £800 million a year when much of this is avoidable litter, and money that could be better spent in the community.

Despite this, a worrying 1 in 5 people have admitted to dropping litter in the past.  The Litter Innovation Fund will support local areas to crack down and reduce littering in our communities by enabling local authorities, community groups, charities, educational institutions, and small and medium enterprises to apply for funding towards innovative and creative solutions to the problem.

All projects will be measured and evaluated to assess their effectiveness and the most successful could be rolled out more widely. This will ensure local authorities and communities make the best use of a host of innovative solutions in focussing their resources to tackle the scourge of litter.

In addition, some £45,000 of the fund will be exclusively dedicated to projects designed to address marine littering and help prevent the amount of plastic entering our oceans.

Information for applicants to the Litter Innovation Fund can be found on WRAP’s website 


First ever floating aviary to save world’s rarest duck - Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

A flock of tufted ducks will spend the next ten days in the world’s first known floating aviary at the WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Gloucestershire as part of a trial that could save their cousins on the other side of the world, the Madagascar Pochard. 

Floating aviary (image: Sam-Stafford / WWT)Floating aviary (image: Sam-Stafford / WWT) 

No attempt to reintroduce a diving duck species into the wild has ever been successful, so WWT conservationists have had to think outside the box.

Visitors to WWT Slimbridge will be able to watch the young ducks settle into their new home on the wetland centre’s South Finger Reedbed lake.

If the floating aviary succeeds in easing the ducks’ transition from captivity to life in the wild, the same method will be used to release the Madagascar pochard – the world’s rarest duck – back into the wild in 2018.

Madagascar pochards spend almost all their time on water and, importantly, feed underwater, so WWT conservationists came up with the original idea of adapting salmon-farming cages as pre-release aviaries. To ensure the method is safe for the birds, it is being trialled on UK native tufted ducks.  The ducks will be housed in the floating aviaries for five to ten days while they adjust to their new surroundings. Once they are comfortable, conservationists will open a door in the aviary to allow them to come and go as they please. The tufted ducks in the Slimbridge trial will be closely monitored by scientists, who will use radio tags to ensure that they adapt successfully to life in the wild.


Proposed Badger Cull in Cheshire - Cheshire Wildlife Trust

There has been a lot of talk over the last few months about a badger cull potentially taking place in Cheshire soon.

We have heard from number of sources across the region that a badger cull could start in Cheshire East as soon as the end of this week (1st September); but have still not had any confirmation from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs or Natural England – despite asking a number of times.

The last response that we received from Natural England explained: “A licence to control badgers for the prevention of disease would only be issued in the worst affected areas of the country – areas currently under annual routine TB testing (predominantly within the West and South West of England). We appreciate your reasons for wanting to know the locations where licensed operations will take place, however we are unable to release exact details or maps of any of the control areas, individual land holdings or participants because of concerns for public safety. The culling of badgers is a sensitive issue and we are withholding this information on the basis that publication may cause both unnecessary or unjustified distress or damage to the individuals; and may increase the likelihood of groups opposed to the policy disrupting control activity.”

We are continuing to seek confirmation and have also submitted a freedom of information request around this issue. The Trust will update this page, as we hear more.

Whilst we are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community we remain firmly opposed to the Government’s continued strategy of putting badger culling at the heart of efforts to tackle the disease. We do not believe that a cull is the answer. 


Thousands of fish rescued from canal - Natural Resources Wales

Over 15,000 fish have been rescued from a canal in Newport following a leak.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) teamed up with Newport City Council and local angling clubs to save the fish on Saturday 26 August at Fourteen Locks, a land-locked section of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.

Fish rescue (image: NRW)(Image: NRW)

A breach in this section of the canal caused water to leak out and drop to a critically low level, putting the lives of the fish in danger.

The mixed coarse fish, such as roach, carp, bream and rudd, were captured using nets and some being stunned using electric fishing techniques. They were then transported safely further up the canal in a large tank towed by a NRW truck.

Jon Goldsworthy, Operations Manager for Natural Resources Wales, said:  “We knew we had to act quickly to rescue the fish as the water and oxygen levels were falling quickly. With the help of our partners and volunteers, we manged to save thousands of fish.  They may not have survived for much longer in those conditions. Newport City Council, who own the site, will continue to monitor the canal and put plans in place to fix the leak and move any remaining fish.”


Otters learn by copying each other - University of Exeter

Otters can learn how to solve puzzles by watching and copying each other, new research shows.

Scientists created a series of puzzles baited with food, and found smooth-coated otters watched and copied each other’s problem-solving techniques – with young otters more likely to copy than their parents.

But another species – Asian short-clawed otters – showed no sign of copying each other.

Smooth-coated otters (credit Dr Nicole Duplaix)Smooth-coated otters (credit Dr Nicole Duplaix)

Many otter species are classified as threatened, vulnerable or endangered, and the researchers say their study may help improve efforts to reintroduce otters into the wild.

“Social learning has been studied in many species, but never in otters,” said Dr Neeltje Boogert, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “Our results suggest smooth-coated otters adopt a ‘copy when young’ strategy. The offspring in our study learned how to solve these puzzles much quicker than their parents – more than six times faster. The order in which the young otters solved the puzzles followed the strength of their social ties. This indicates that the juveniles copied those siblings they spent most time with.”

The otters, which were studied in zoos and wildlife parks in the UK, were given puzzles such as Tupperware containers with clips on the lid, screw-top lids or pull-off lids. The puzzles were baited with treats such as peanuts or fish heads.  The most difficult task was one where a block of frozen shrimp was attached to a bamboo cane that had to be moved upwards and to the right to extract from a box – and less than half of the otters managed to solve it.   

Read the paper (open access): Zosia Ladds, William Hoppitt, Neeltje J. Boogert. Social learning in otters. R. Soc. open sci. 2017 4 170489; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170489.


DWT Protect Internationally Important Sunderland Grassland – Durham Wildlife Trust

Durham Wildlife Trust have acquired an internationally important habitat in the form of Herrington Hill.

Herrington Hill SSSI (image Durham Wildlife Trust)In between Houghton-le-Spring and the city of Sunderland, Herrington Hill comprises 17.3acres (7 ha) of Magnesian Limestone Grassland. The area, also SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), came on the market earlier this year with a clear need for protection.

Herrington Hill SSSI (image Durham Wildlife Trust)

There is only 270 ha of Magnesian Limestone (Mag-lime) Grassland in the world, County Durham is home to 75% of this. Durham Wildlife Trust already owns or manages a number of Mag-lime grasslands but Herrington Hill represents an example of ‘Primary’ Mag-lime grassland.  Primary Mag-lime grassland has never been modified, improved for agriculture or quarried and is a habitat under threat from natural succession and poor management. Herrington Hill accounts for 10% of our national Primary Mag-lime grassland resource.

Secondary Mag-lime grasslands, areas which have seen development but have since been recolonised, include DWT Bishop Middleham Quarry and Trimdon Grange Quarry Nature Reserves.

Whilst the purchase of the land has been covered, the Trust will begin fundraising in order to ensure future management costs can be met. It is very unusual for a habitat such as this to become available, in part because it is so rare. Herrington Hill is a significant acquisition for Durham Wildlife Trust and becomes our 36th Nature Reserve, protected for wildlife and for people. Species of grasses and wildflowers found on Herrington Hill include Blue Moor Grass, Quaking Grass and Crested Hair Grass as well as Common Rock Rose, Wild Thyme and Carline Thistle.


Glimmer of hope for Curlew – British Trust for Ornithology

The UK holds almost a third of the global breeding population of Curlew. Declines here have been greatest in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in Ireland the breeding range has contracted by a massive 78%. As a result of this the Curlew has been proposed as the UK’s highest avian conservation priority. By analysing long-term monitoring data, collected by thousands of volunteer birdwatchers from across the country as part of the BTO/RSPB/JNCC Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has, for the first time, documented how a range of different pressures may be responsible for this national decline.Curlew (image: Tommy Holden / BTO)

Curlew (image: Tommy Holden / BTO)

Curlews breed at highest densities in areas of semi-natural grassland and on moorland, and are particularly associated with the uplands. The study, led by Dr Samantha Franks, found that Curlew declines have been greatest in landscapes where these habitats have been afforested, and where populations of generalist predators (crows and foxes) are high. Being ground-nesters, this probably reflects the vulnerability of Curlew nests and chicks to predation. They also seemed to have declined more in warmer, drier areas, potentially through impacts on their invertebrate food.
The results also provide important information for conservationists aiming to protect the species. Positive associations between Curlew densities and both measures of game management and the extent of nature reserves suggest that these areas, which may be most likely to be managed favourably for the species, are increasingly important for the continued maintenance of breeding Curlew.

Read the full press release here (pdf)  and the paper here: Franks, S.E., Douglas, D.J.T., Gillings, S. & Pearce-Higgings, J.W. 2017 Environmental correlates of breeding abundance and population change of Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata in Britain Bird Study. DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2017.1359233


Campaigners call for more trees, less tarmac, in the Government’s forthcoming roads strategy - Campaign for Better Transport

An alliance of 17 environmental groups is proposing a fresh approach to the Government’s second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2) focused on improving existing roads and motorways rather than building new ones.

Their joint report, Rising to the challenge: a shared green vision for RIS2, co-ordinated by Campaign for Better Transport, calls for funding to be prioritised for a ‘green retrofit’ of the strategic road network ahead of new road capacity, and for the Road Investment Strategy to be assessed against the UK carbon budget.

Stephen Joseph, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The Government’s Road Investment Strategy needs to focus on how existing roads can be improved, not on building new road capacity. Our joint report sets out a clear case for a greener RIS2. With a focus on green retrofit and better integration with the rest of the transport network, Highways England can reduce the impact of roads to benefit people and the environment alike.”

The report sets out three key principles for RIS2:

  • Fix it First, focusing on making improvements to the existing network, including green retrofit
  • An integrated strategy, including better links with local and non-motorised transport
  • Environmental leadership, prioritizing cutting carbon & air pollution, and protecting the landscape and biodiversity.

The report builds on the 2014 report Better not bigger, which led to the £900 million designated funds for environmental improvements in the first Road Investment Strategy. The new report calls for these funds to be retained and expanded to deliver a green retrofit of the network in the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2).


Satellite-tagged hen harrier disappears on Deeside grouse moor - RSPB Scotland

Rare bird of prey vanishes on 12th August

Hen harrier Calluna with tag (image: RSPB Scotland)Hen harrier Calluna with tag (image: RSPB Scotland)

RSPB Scotland has issued an appeal for information after a young hen harrier, fitted with a satellite tag as part of the charity’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project, disappeared on an Aberdeenshire grouse moor. 

“Calluna”, a female harrier, was tagged this summer at a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, near Braemar. Her transmitter’s data was being monitored by RSPB Scotland and showed that the bird fledged from the nest in July. She left the area in early August, with the data showing her gradually heading east over the Deeside moors. However, while the tag data showed it to be working perfectly, transmissions abruptly ended on 12th August, with no further data transmitted. Calluna’s last recorded position was on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park. 

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors and the 2016 national survey results released earlier this year showed that even in Scotland, the species’ stronghold, these birds are struggling. The number of breeding pairs in Scotland now stands at 460, a fall of 27 per cent since 2004, with illegal killing in areas managed for driven grouse shooting identified as one of the main drivers of this decline. 

David Frew, Operations Manager for the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge Estate, said: “It is deeply saddening to learn that Calluna appears to have been lost, so soon after fledging from Mar Lodge Estate. Hen harriers were persecuted on Deeside for a great many years, and we had hoped that the first successful breeding attempt on Mar Lodge Estate in 2016 would signal the start of a recovery for these magnificent birds in the area.  Only one month after fledging, and having travelled only a relatively short distance, it appears that we will no longer be able to follow the progress of our 2017 chick. We hope however that the data her tag has provided will help to inform a wider understanding of the lives and threats faced by hen harriers.” 


Response: SGA urges members to assist Police with missing harrier - Scottish Gamekeepers Association

In response to an RSPB media release seeking more information regarding a tagged Hen Harrier which has gone missing in Deeside, the SGA has asked any members who know anything to assist Police Scotland.

A Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: "The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland. This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing. The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation. We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the Police immediately.”


World's longest coastal footpath one step closer - Natural England

100% of the England Coast Path is now either being worked on or complete.

Tourists from around the globe will soon be able to step foot on the longest coastal walking route in the world as work is officially underway along every stretch of the England Coast Path.

View of Staithes from route in North Yorkshire (credit: Natural England)View of Staithes from route in North Yorkshire (credit: Natural England)

Natural England is now working on 100 per cent of this 2,700 mile walking route, which when completed will allow people to explore new and improved routes along the entire length of the English coastline – taking in iconic sights like the White Cliffs of Dover, the beaches of Norfolk and the picturesque North Yorkshire coast.

England’s spectacular coastline already attracts 300 million visits a year, with people spending up to three times more than at any other holiday destination.

And with the South West stretch already worth £400 million to the economy, by offering new and improved access to some of the country’s best tourist hot spots, the England Coast Path will bring a huge boost to tourism – an industry already worth £106 billion.

So far Natural England has opened just over 300 miles of coastline, helping thousands of people access some of England’s most spectacular coastal scenery.

Response: One step closer to the England Coast Path - Ramblers

Ramblers’ director of advocacy and engagement, Nicky Philpott said: “This is a huge milestone in the story of the England Coast Path and one we should celebrate. Building sandcastles on the beach, dipping toes in the sea and taking a stroll along clifftops are favourite activities that cross generations and bring us all together.  So it might surprise you that until recently, a third of England’s coastline was inaccessible. The Ramblers has long dreamed of a country where everyone can freely enjoy our beautiful coast, so we were pleased that after years of campaigning, in 2010, work started on the England Coast Path.” 

Response: Coastal access ‘unnecessary use of public money’, says CLA - Country Landowners Association

CLA President Ross Murray said: “It is disappointing that the Government is spending so much time and public money unnecessarily on a project which largely replicates existing access to the coast. The money is being spent to solve a problem which didn’t exist in the first place. There was already access to 84% of the coast before Natural England began the project and as the rollout is showing, access to the rest is often not possible because of crucial conservation sites, ports, harbours or military bases. If the Government wanted to spend money on the coast it would have been better allocated to improving maintenance, signs, toilets and car parks on already established paths. Natural England’s reassessment of existing access is unnecessary. A path is a path. We would urge the Government to follow the coastal access model successfully delivered in Wales which achieved an 870-mile complete coast path in a shorter timescale and at a cost of less than £10 million to the taxpayer.”


New research by the University of Stirling on our Dementia Friendly Walking project - Paths for All

 “I am walking to keep myself alive”

Earlier this year, Paths for All commissioned The University of Stirling’s Faculty of Social Science to evaluate the progress of the Dementia Friendly Walking project. The research team spent time visiting a number of dementia friendly health walks and carried out interviews and focus group discussions with walkers and volunteers.

The research found that health walks play an important part in enabling people living with dementia to access the outdoors, engage in physical activity, and meet other people within a largely safe and secure outdoor environment. Support in the form of volunteer walk leaders was crucial to delivering dementia friendly health walks.

Five key themes emerged from the research:

  • Being with other people Walking groups give people with dementia opportunities to socialise with other people, in a safe and comfortable environment.
  • Being outdoors Walking groups give people the opportunity to access the outdoors and a safe and secure environment.
  • Ethos and atmosphere Attending walking groups enabled people with dementia to demonstrate what they could still do, rather than the problems they faced due to their condition.
  • Feeling secure Walks improved people’s confidence as they were able to participate, but also knew that help would be available if required.
  • Leadership and organisation The role of walk leaders was essential to the running of groups, organising and facilitating walks and supporting walkers.

The report also made some specific recommendations around ensuring adequate support and training is given to volunteer walk leaders to fulfil their role. In addition, volunteer walk leaders should also be given recognition for the wider activities that they perform on top of just leading walks. The study highlighted the benefits of an inclusive model based on mixed groups including people with and without dementia as the main model for walks. While walks should be promoted as dementia friendly, a model based exclusively on walks for people with dementia may be less successful in facilitating the overarching sense of inclusiveness that those participating valued. 

You can download and read the full report and the executive summary both PDF: Dementia Friendly Evaluation 2017 and Dementia Friendly Evaluation Executive Summary 2017  


We've just vaccinated the 100th badger of the year! - Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

Our dedicated team of vaccinators have been out vaccinating badgers all week and have now brought the total number of badgers vaccinated this year in Derbyshire to 104! 

We are ensuring badgers in the county are vaccinated against Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in a bid to convince the Government that vaccination is far more effective and ethical than the badger cull.

100th badger to be vaccinated this year, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (image: Mike Bryant, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust)100th badger to be vaccinated this year, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust (image: Mike Bryant, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust)

The Trust developed the badger vaccination programme with a number of partners including the National Trust and the Derbyshire Badger Groups, and have been working with famers and landowners to vaccinate badgers across Derbyshire since 2014. Last year the Government supply of Tb vaccine was pulled because of a global shortage. The vaccine was needed to vaccinate humans and couldn’t be spared for badger vaccination programmes in the UK.

Undeterred, we managed to source a supply of the Bovine TB vaccine from Canada earlier this year and twelve dedicated volunteers were trained in the new vaccine delivery system so Derbyshire’s vaccination programme could continue.

Tim Birch,  Head of Living Landscapes North said, “All the hard work is paying off. Sourcing the vaccine at the start of the year has now meant that our dedicated volunteers have been able to vaccinate over 100 badgers across Derbyshire. We have more vaccinations scheduled in other areas of Derbyshire in the coming weeks so this total is set to continue to rise. Progress is also being made on a national level with ongoing discussions about restarting the Government vaccination programme for 2018, how this would work and how it would be funded.” 


And finally for this week: is your park worth shouting about? 

Which is your favourite park? The People's Choice vote is open now - Green Flag Award

People's Choice vote to find the UK's top 10 favourite parks is now open.

Following the huge success of #LoveParks, here is another chance to show how much your favourite park means to you. Vote for your favourite park in the People's Choice Awards 2017.

You can vote anytime from 1st -30th September. All the UK's 1,797 award winning Green Flag Award parks are eligible and voting is simple.

Simply use the map to find to your favourite park and click the vote button. It's really that simple. Once you've voted, don't forget to encourage others to get involved too.

The top 10 winning parks will be announced on 11th October

If your favourite park is worth shouting about, make your voice heard - vote now.


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