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


Summer holiday washout wipes out bumper season for wildlife - National Trust

The summer holiday washout wiped out a bumper season for wildlife, National Trust experts said. Family holidays were not the only victims of recent wet weather, with wildlife suffering from extensive summer rain.

2017 was on course to being the best summer for wildlife in over a decade – ending a long run of cool damp summers after mild winters – until the jet stream jumped south just when the summer holidays began. The conservation charity is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025. The weather, of course, influences this ambition, both positively and negatively.
Nature and wildlife expert Matthew Oates, said, “After a highly promising spring and early summer, the good weather was disrupted and the rains came down. This was especially damaging for warmth-loving insects, including many butterflies and bees. It means we haven’t had a genuinely good summer since 2006 – the wait goes on.  However, much of our wildlife certainly benefited from fine weather during April, May, June and the first half of July.” 

Click through to see reports on how many other species fared. 


After this depressing news from the National Trust this one is even more important: Can autumn offer a butterfly boost? - Butterfly Conservation 

Gardeners are being asked to look out for butterflies this autumn after species struggled during the cold and wet summer holiday season.

Butterfly numbers fell during August but the warm conditions in spring enabled many species to emerge and breed early this year.

Red admiral (image: Butterfly Conservation)Red admiral (image: Butterfly Conservation)

These good spring and early summer conditions enabled more butterflies to fit in an extra generation, so we may be poised for an impressive autumnal emergence of species such as Comma, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood in the coming weeks.  A warm spell of weather this month could provide a timely boost to garden sightings as butterflies fly in to take advantage of the abundant blooms in garden borders while most flowers in the countryside have gone over.

Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation wants gardeners to keep butterfly spotting over the autumn and early winter by taking part in the Garden Butterfly Survey, sponsored by B&Q, to help find out just how late in the year butterflies can still be regularly seen.

Butterfly Conservation Head of Recording Richard Fox said: “Gardens become increasingly important for butterflies at this time of year. “Nectar, the flight fuel for most of our butterflies, is in short supply in the countryside as we move into autumn, yet many of our garden flowerbeds and borders are still full of colour. For some butterflies it is a matter of life and death; species such as the Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma, which hibernate as adult butterflies, have to feed up and lay down substantial fat reserves in their bodies in order to survive the winter. If they can’t find enough nectar they simply won’t make it through to breed next spring. Others, such as the Painted Lady and Red Admiral will be taking on fuel reserves that they need to migrate south to warmer climes around the Mediterranean.”

The aim of the Garden Butterfly Survey is to assess the changing fortunes of butterflies in gardens and, ultimately, to understand how important gardens are for our butterfly populations and what gardeners can do to help.

Take part in the Garden Butterfly survey here 


However, it's not all doom and gloom! Isle of May breeding success - Centre for Ecology & Hydrology blog

Mark Newell, Isle of May Field Manager, reports on a successful 2017 season for the main study species

With the final checks completed by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) after the 46th season on the Isle of May we can now reveal the state of the breeding season. 

The 2017 season proved to be successful for all the main study species. Click through for results in full.


Earlier budburst linked to warmer springs says research - Woodland Trust

budburst is linked to warmer springs according to new research

A collaborative study between the Met Office and Woodland Trust has revealed that the timing of UK budburst for nine out of the eleven tree species studied is significantly related to average temperature in March, with considerable variations in the magnitude of the temperature responses between species and regions.

The study found that a 1 °C lower (or higher) temperature during March was associated with later (or earlier) budburst of between three days for alder in the south-east and six days for European larch in the north-east.

Budburst in native trees is happening earlier (Photo: WTML/Margaret Barton)Budburst in native trees is happening earlier (Photo: WTML/Margaret Barton)

These results back up earlier studies revealing an overall long-term trend of earlier budburst in the UK as average spring temperatures have warmed. Such observations of the timing of natural events and their relationship to climate is known as phenology and are recorded on the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar survey.

This phenological study looked at the relationship between various daily climate observations– temperature, rainfall and sunshine hours – and the timing of budburst each year between 2000 and 2016.

Rachel Abernethy is the lead author on the study from the Met Office. She said: “Although there is a tendency for budburst to occur earlier, there was a later than average budburst of most species in 2016 associated with cooler March and April temperatures in the UK.”

The 2016 March temperature was 0.3 °C below, and April 1.5 °C below the average between 2000 and 2016. The March to April temperatures for the 2000 to 2016 period have been on average 1.1 °C warmer than the 1961 to 1990 climatological average.  

Access the State of the UK Climate reports from The Met Office

The State of the UK Climate report is an annual publication which provides an accessible, authoritative and up-to-date assessment of UK climate trends, variations and extremes based on the latest available climate quality observational datasets.

The 2016 report includes a phenology supplement which presents observations of the timing of budburst for 11 tree species in the UK, and explores simple relationships between budburst and climate across different species and regions.

Download the Phenology supplement Published online 1 September 2017 (PDF)


For more surveys and sightings requests see the current list here. 


Osprey raises hopes of a Brockholes nest - Lancashire Wildlife Trust

One of Britain’s most spectacular birds of prey has been exciting visitors at our Brockholes nature reserve in Preston.

Osprey (image: © Emma Sharples via Lancashire Wildlife Trust)Osprey (image: © Emma Sharples via Lancashire Wildlife Trust)

An osprey is spending a little time at Brockholes, before it starts a long flight to Africa for winter. It has certainly delighted both dedicated birders and visitors to The Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve.  The osprey won’t have been fazed by the attention this week, as ospreys are often scrutinised by nestcams in Scotland, Wales and at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Foulshaw Moss – all sites where they breed.

Brockholes general manager Donalda Williams said: “We built an osprey platform on an island at the Meadow Lake two years ago to attract nesting birds. Over the past couple of summers single ospreys have definitely spent time at the reserve raising our hopes even higher"


Deposit returns to be a reality for Scotland – Marine Conservation Society

System for bottles and drinks cans announced

Image: Marine Conservation SocietyThe Marine Conservation Society (MCS) welcomes the commitment to a bottle deposit return system made by Scottish Government, as reported by the Daily Mail and Sky News this morning (Monday 4 Sept).

Image: Marine Conservation Society

Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer said: “As a founding partner in the Have You Got The Bottle campaign, we are absolutely thrilled with today’s announcement. We are extremely hopeful, having seen the thorough investigation of options for deposit return systems done by Scottish Government to date, that we'll hear the First Minister give a green light for a full working Deposit Return System in Scotland. We see this as the simplest next step to help turn the tide on plastic, glass and metal drinks containers on our beaches. We hope that this will inspire similar systems throughout the UK.”


Anchors Away – Living Coasts

Boats dropping anchor in the Bay's protected seagrass beds are threatening our local seahorse population.

Image: Seahorse (Duane Elliott)Two important discoveries made beneath the protected waters of Tor Bay have brought renewed calls for safe and responsible anchoring by boat owners. The first find was a pregnant seahorse; the second, close by, was damage to the seabed caused by the anchors of small boats. Both were inside the Torbay Marine Conservation Zone.

Experts at Living Coasts, Torquay’s coastal zoo, say that anchoring in the wrong place can damage vital habitat and threaten the seahorses. The seagrass areas in the Bay are voluntary no anchoring zones.

Image: Seahorse (Duane Elliott)

Designated in 2013, the Torbay Marine Conservation Zone is an inshore site running from Oddicombe Beach to Sharkham Point, protecting an area of approximately 20 square kilometres. Beginning at the shore, the boundary extends between 1 to 2.5km out to sea and includes Hope’s Nose and Berry Head.

This is the second seahorse to be found in the Torbay MCZ in two months. Both were found during seagrass surveys by volunteer divers from the Community Seagrass Initiative, a citizen science project aiming to raise awareness of seagrass habitats in the South West of England. Living Coasts is one of the project partners.

Seagrass evolved about 100 million years ago and can flower underwater; seagrass meadows are highly diverse and productive ecosystems. Some of the Bay’s seagrass seems healthy and full of life, but some is damaged and needs to be nurtured back to health.


Britons know mythical creatures better than real-life fantastic beasts - Zoological Society of London

ZSL survey highlights lack of public awareness of some of the world’s most endangered wildlife species

Axolotl  (image: ©ZSL)Axolotl  (image: ©ZSL) 

Britons have greater awareness of mythical creatures like mermaids, Ewoks and the Yeti than some of world’s most unique and irreplaceable real-life species, according to a new survey commissioned by international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London).  

The survey of 1,000 people was commissioned by ZSL to mark the 10-year anniversary of its EDGE of Existence programme, which was established in 2007 to identify and conserve the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species – from mammals that lay eggs, to frogs that give birth through their skin.   Asked to identify animals they recognised from a list combining both fantasy creatures from literature and film with real-life EDGE species, it was found that whilst 78 per cent of respondents had heard of the Gruffalo – immortalised in the eponymous children’s book – just one per cent were aware of the hirola (Beatragus hunteri), one of the world’s rarest and most threatened antelope species.   Similarly, the mythical unicorn scored 88 per cent in terms of awareness, but just three per cent of respondents were familiar with solenodons – burrowing, insect-eating animals that live on just two Caribbean islands and hold the distinction of being one of the world’s only venomous mammals.  Other fantastical beasts scoring high for public awareness are the Jabberwocky (65%), the Sasquatch (62%), and the Wookiee (58%) – vastly overshadowing real-life wonders including the axolotl salamander (20%), shoebill stork (12%) and numbat (8%), an Australian marsupial species.  

ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme manager Dr Nisha Owen, said: “This survey, although light-hearted, perfectly highlights the importance of the work of the EDGE of Existence programme, as we’re working tirelessly to save remarkable creatures which, in many cases, the public might not have even heard of. "

To learn more about ZSL’s EDGE of Existence programme, visit http://www.edgeofexistence.org/


Rothiemurchus harvesting to tackle tree disease and restore natural habitats - Forestry Commission Scotland

Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) is to start a major felling programme in a Glenmore forest, near Aviemore, later this month in a bid to protect the Caledonian pinewood from a damaging tree disease. 

McAlpine Plantation (image: Forestry Commission)McAlpine Plantation (image: Forestry Commission)

The 308ha McAlpine plantation, part of the area bought from Rothiemurchus Estate in 2013, will be cleared of trees infected with Dothistroma needle blight (DNB), a widespread disease that has caused widespread decline in non-native pine varieties.

As well as tackling the disease, the operation will kick-start a substantial native woodland regeneration project that will have the additional benefit of restoring a range of habitats.

Giles Brockman, for the FES team in Inverness, Ross & Skye, said; “Scots pine has demonstrated some tolerance to the disease but we don’t want to take any chances with the Caledonian pinewoods. By removing the more heavily infected non-native pine we hope to reduce the overall level of infection. The management strategy for the pinewood as a whole is achieving good results and these works will contribute to the long-term transition to native habitats.  It’s all been very carefully planned to minimize the risk of the tree disease spreading and also to minimize disruption for any capercaillie that might be in the area.”

The project area contains Lodgepole pine, non-native conifers that were planted in the early 1970s, and that are now infected with Dothistroma needle blight. These trees are being harvested to reduce the risk levels to the wider Caledonian pinewood.

The aim for is that the McAlpine plantation will be free of non-native conifers by 2021/22. Native woodland will then be established through a combination of natural regeneration of Scots pine (P. sylvestris) and planting of native broadleaves (birch, aspen, alder).


Extinct plant rediscovered in the Peak District National Park - Peak District National Park and Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

Leek-coloured hawkweek (image: Peak District NPA)A rare plant previously thought to be globally extinct has been rediscovered in the Peak District National Park.

Two small populations of the leek-coloured hawkweed, 62 plants in total, have been found flowering on the banks of the Monsal Trail, in Chee Dale.  Leek-coloured hawkweed flowers are yellow, similar to a dandelion but smaller. The plant gets its name because its leaves are the same chalky-green as the vegetable, leek.  The discovery of Hieracium subprasinifolium, to give the plant its botanical name, was made by Dr Tim Rich whilst collecting seeds for Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank.

Leek-coloured hawkweek (image: Peak District NPA)

Dr Rich said: “Leek-coloured Hawkweed has not been seen in Derbyshire for over 60 years and is thought to have died out at its only other known world site in Staffordshire a few years ago, so I was very, very pleased to find these two small but healthy populations growing near the Monsal Trail. Hawkweeds are fascinating and unusual plants, we know of more than 400 species of hawkweed in Britain. Many are very uncommon or rare, and include British hawkweed, Dales hawkweed and Derby hawkweed, which are unique to the Peak District.”

But this is the first time leek-coloured hawkweed has been officially identified and recorded in the area since the 1950s. It is native to Britain but has only ever been recorded at four sites in the Peak District. It is not known anywhere else in the world.


Diverse Landscapes Are More Productive and Adapt better to Climate Change - University of Zurich

Ecosystems with high biodiversity are more productive and stable towards annual fluctuations in environmental conditions than those with a low diversity of species. They also adapt better to climate-driven environmental changes. These are the key findings environmental scientists at the University of Zurich made in a study of about 450 landscapes harbouring 2,200 plants and animal species.

The dramatic, worldwide loss of biodiversity is one of today's greatest environmental problems. The loss of species diversity affects important ecosystems on which humans depend. Previous research predominantly addressed short-term effects of biodiversity in small experimental plots planted with few randomly selected plant species. These studies have shown that species-poor plant assemblages function less well and produce less biomass than species rich systems.

Access the publication: Jacqueline Oehri, Bernhard Schmid, Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, and Pascal A. Niklaus. Biodiversity promotes primary productivity and growing season lengthening at the landscape scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1703928114


International protection for UK’s second largest seabird colony - Natural England

A section of Northumberland coastline supporting 200,000 seabirds gets greater protection.

Atlantic puffin © Natural EnglandThe newly designated Northumberland Marine Special Protection Area (SPA) stretches 12 miles from the coastline into the North Sea, and covers an area of more than 120,000 football pitches.

Atlantic puffin © Natural England

It’s the most important site in the UK for Arctic, common and roseate terns, the second most important site for sandwich tern, and the third most important site for Atlantic puffin.

International designation will help ensure any disturbance to the birds’ essential open water feeding areas is minimised, so the birds have a safe space to feed in.

It builds on the protection already afforded to important breeding sites via the network of SPAs at Coquet Island, Farne Islands, Lindisfarne and Northumbria Coast. Today’s designation will help to protect the full range of habitats needed by the birds.

Along with the new Northumberland Marine SPA, Natural England also announced extensions to Hamford Water SPA in Essex and Morecambe Bay and Duddon Estuary SPA in Cumbria.

These designations add an area of more than 150,000 football pitches (450 square miles) to the existing Marine Protected Area network. This gives international protection to feeding habitats for over 425,000 seabirds for the first time.


Latest Update: Proposed Badger Cull in Cheshire - Cheshire Wildlife Trust

7/9/17:  A meeting is being held at Cheshire East Council on Tuesday (September 12) where it is expected that the motion to prevent the protected animals from the cull and instead embark and support vaccination – will be rejected. However, the authority is expected to continue to oppose any such culling on council owned land.

The Animal Plant Health Authority (APHA) has advised that the North Region (including Cheshire) has 10 applications for culling to consider and in all likelihood all 10 areas will be granted permission to proceed.

Read the first news here. 


Glass fronts can be acoustic illusions for bats - Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

Bats fail to detect smooth, vertical surfaces when they are in a rush

Sometimes bats perceive a smooth, vertical surface as an open pathway. A dangerous error in times of buildings with glass facades, shown by injured or dead bats next to birds found underneath. The smooth surface reflects the echolocation calls away from the bat until shortly before collision and therefore acts like an acoustic mirror. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen studied echolocation and flight behaviour of three bat species experimentally and in the wild. They observed them trying to fly through a smooth, vertical plate. However, bats seemingly also manage to avoid these collisions. Here, the number of echolocation calls and the time the animals spent in front of the surface influenced the probability of collision.

Bats mostly rely on their echolocation calls for foraging, orientation and navigation. In our modern world, however, they encounter many sensory traps that lead to dangerous errors in interpreting their environment.

Mouse-eared bat image: © MPI f. Ornithology/ S. GreifThe greater mouse-eared bats and other bats often detect smooth glass surfaces only at the last moment. This is why there are frequent collisions with glass façades of buildings.  (image: © MPI f. Ornithology/ S. Greif)

In a former study, the researchers showed, that smooth, horizontal surfaces are perceived as water by bats. The smooth surface is easy to recognize by echolocation calls as it acts like a mirror, reflecting calls away from the bat except for a strong perpendicular echo from below. In a natural landscape, lakes and rivers are the only spatially extended, smooth surfaces a bat might encounter. This information for water seems to be so hardwired that bats in the study did not give up trying to drink from a metal plate the researchers presented, despite of several unsuccessful trials.

Now, a new study, that smooth surfaces placed in a vertical position can be perceived as open flyways and not as obstacles when bats approach them. To this end, the researchers studied greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) in a flight room. They put a smooth, 1,2x2m metal plate against the wall and, with infrared-cameras and microphones in the dark, observed that 19 out of the 21 studied bats collided at least once with the plate within the first 15 minutes they spent in the room. None of the animals tried to drink from it. When the researchers placed the plate on the ground, however, they did not observe any collision but 13 animals tried to drink from the surface.

Click through for video of the experiments.

Access the paper: Stefan Greif, Sándor Zsebők, Daniela Schmieder, Björn M. Siemers. Acoustic mirrors as sensory traps for bats.  Science DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7817


Major drive to beat the pine weevil - Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales has embarked on the largest programme in the UK to tackle a pest that lives on conifer trees in an environmentally friendly way.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) will spray microscopic worms known as Nematodes into and around conifer tree stumps to combat the pine weevil.

The work starts in the Tywi Forest, near Llandovery in Powys before moving northwards to the Hafren Forest, and finishing in Clocaenog Forest in Denbighshire.  The total area covered will be nearly 500 acres – an area the size of 276 football pitches.  The programme is due to be completed next week.

Neil Muir, Forest Manager for NRW said: “Pine weevils can have a devastating impact on young trees. We are trying to move increasingly towards using this biological control method to combat them and create more resilient forests. The nematodes eat the weevil grubs tackling the problem at source. Reducing the overall population of weevils in the forest block which will reduce the damage to young trees and create a more resilient forest. We will monitor the work closely to see if the method can be applied even wider in future, cutting down further on the use of chemicals.”


National Parks for National Health - National Parks England

England’s National Parks are vital resources that will sit at the centre of plans to improve physical and mental wellbeing thanks to a new partnership between Public Health England and the nation’s ten National Parks. Free to access and open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, these inspiring protected landscapes are key to improving people’s physical and mental wellbeing.

The partnership – in the form of a Joint Accord – follows recent research showing that six million people in the country are not even managing to take a ten-minute brisk walk once a month. It will build on work already being carried out to encourage more people to experience the many health benefits of getting out and active in National Parks. The Joint Accord was launched by Steve Brine MP, Minister for Public Health in the South Downs National Park on Friday 8 September.

Public Health Minister Steve Brine said:

“Physical activity helps to prevent and manage over 20 chronic conditions, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, mental health problems and musculoskeletal conditions. So I am delighted to help launch this Accord, and I cannot think of a better place to get active than in our National Parks.”

National Parks Minister Lord Gardiner said:

“England’s National Parks are not only some of our most stunning landscapes – they connect people across the country with nature and have a crucial role in improving our physical health and mental wellbeing. This accord is a great step forward and shows how we can harness our natural environment to keep our communities well and healthy.”

Download the National Parks England and Public Health England Joint Accord 


Natural water management scheme could be important new source of profit for upland farms post-Brexit, and protect vulnerable communities from flooding - Green Alliance

England’s struggling upland livestock farmers could earn over £15,000 profit a year by entering into private water management contracts with businesses and organisations in areas susceptible to flooding, according to new analysis by Green Alliance and National Trust. 
Upland farmers are losing £10,800 a year, on average, and it is feared that many will go out of business when Common Agricultural Policy subsidies end in 2022. But a new report shows that a new private market in water management services could be a source of profit for upland farmers, ensuring they can continue as the stewards of some of the UK’s most treasured and inspiring landscapes. The market would be based on a new model called a Natural Infrastructure Scheme, first proposed by Green Alliance and the National Trust in 2016, centred on the provision of ecosystem services such as natural flood management. 
Drawing on the latest data and modelling, the analysis uses a hypothetical scheme in north west England to demonstrate how it could work and who would benefit. This area is home to nearly 1,800 upland livestock farms.  The new report urges the government to help this new market to take off, including encouraging alternative approaches to flood risk planning and procurement and setting a framework and targets in the forthcoming 25 year plan for the environment to stimulate the market.
There is also a key role for post-Brexit agricultural policy, in nurturing new market-based mechanisms to support sustainable farming and land management. In 2017-18 the National Trust and Green Alliance will be working with leading land managers and water companies to test the NIS concept in a real setting.


Scientific Publications

Myczkoa, Ł. et al (2017) Effects of local roads and car traffic on the occurrence pattern and foraging behaviour of bats. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trd.2017.08.011


Fourcade, Y., Besnard, A. G. and Secondi, J. (2017), Evaluating interspecific niche overlaps in environmental and geographic spaces to assess the value of umbrella species. J Avian Biol. doi:10.1111/jav.01153


Piotr Tryjanowski, et al, Bird diversity in urban green space: A large-scale analysis of differences between parks and cemeteries in Central Europe, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, ISSN 1618-8667, doi: 10.1016/j.ufug.2017.08.014.


Georgia Titcomb, et al Interacting effects of wildlife loss and climate on ticks and tick-borne disease Proc. R. Soc. B 2017 284 20170475; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.0475.


Virkkala R, Lehikoinen A. Birds on the move in the face of climate change: High species turnover in northern Europe. Ecol Evol. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.3328  


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