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


The University of Manchester launches new interactive tree trail - University of Manchester

Image: University of ManchesterThe University of Manchester has launched a new interactive Tree Trail to encourage people to get outside and discover more about the trees around them.

The University is encouraging staff, students and the local community to get out and enjoy the physical and mental health benefits associated with nature and the outdoors and learn something new about the trees they may see every day.

Image: University of Manchester

The new Tree Trail is a project led by the Environmental Sustainability team which has worked closely with Urban Green and City of Trees to develop three distinct trails that highlight 50 of the 1,500 trees across Oxford Road Campus, North Campus and Whitworth Park. This initiative is part of the University’s Campus Masterplan, a ten-year project creating world-class facilities for staff, students and visitors to enjoy.


One of Dorset's rarest plants set to return to Dorset – Dorset Wildlife Trust

Starved Wood-sedge may not be one of the most striking plants to look at, but it is famed for not only having been one of the UK’s rarest plants, but also having made one of the most impressive comebacks.

This shy plant of woodland glades was actually feared extinct in the early 1980s, when the entire British population fell to just one plant.  Another © Dominic Pricepopulation reappeared in Surrey shortly after the great storm of 1986, and since then conservationists have worked tirelessly to get the population back over 100 plants.

© Dominic Price

The final piece of this work is set to happen this October, when plants reared at Kew Gardens are to be re-introduced to their former site in Dorset.  Starved Wood-sedge was last seen in Cranborne Chase in the 1920s, which only came to light when a specimen collected somewhere near Damerham was found in a University herbarium.  This find became somewhat of a holy grail to botanists who have combed the area over the last few decades looking for any live plants, but to no avail.

Bringing it back to Dorset is a key step in saving the species long-term

Director at the Species Recovery Trust, Dominic Price, said: “Despite our success with increasing the numbers of this plant in recent years it still remains at perilously low levels, and bringing it back to Dorset represents a key step in saving the species in the long-term. It will still take a lot or work to ensure this re-introduction works, but we are getting a lot better at looking after this species and are optimistic for success”


River transfer project gives local communities more say – Environment Agency

Public drop-ins are launched for river transfer project, which will bring 'new wave' of responsibility for local communities.

A project designed to give local organisations and communities more say over the management of local watercourses has entered a new phase with the launch of public drop-ins in four pilot areas throughout October 2017.

The project is exploring the potential to re-designate several sections of selected ‘Main Rivers’ as ‘Ordinary Watercourses,’ (a process known as ‘de-maining’) where - in agreement with the Environment Agency - partners such as Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs) or Lead Local Flood Authorities (LLFAs) are keen to take on the lead role of local watercourses.

The project is piloting these changes in 5 locations. 4 of these locations are now approaching the consultation stage of the process and drop-in events will be held in:

  • areas of Norfolk and Suffolk
  • Stour Marshes in Kent,
  • The Isle of Axholme in the East Midlands
  • South Forty Foot Catchment in Lincolnshire

The final pilot at Wormbrook and Allensmore Brook in the West Midlands will be running to a different timeline.

The project aims to bring significant benefits to local communities, allowing those who know the layout of their land to take control of their local watercourses, and could help pave the way for further de-maining opportunities throughout England.


40% of rivers in England and Wales polluted by sewage – WWF

River health is one of the UK’s most urgent environmental crises.

Britain’s bountiful rivers offer refuges for people as well as a source of food to countless natural wonders. But far too many of our rivers are polluted with sewage, and water companies and government are not doing enough to prevent it.

On Monday 16 October we released the results of a nine-month investigation into the state of rivers in England and Wales. ‘Flushed Away' provides a river health check and reveals that, shockingly, 55% of our failing rivers are polluted with sewage. That’s about 40% of all our rivers in England and Wales.

Constant discharge from outdated sewage treatment plants is the main problem. These discharges are legal but the levels of treatment are not sufficient to protect river health.

What’s more, there are over 18,000 sewer overflows across England and Wales – and about 90% of them discharge raw sewage (mixed with rainwater) directly into rivers. Overflows are supposed to happen only during extreme rainfall, to prevent sewage backing up into homes. But we found 8-14% of overflows are spilling sewage into rivers at least once a week, and between a third and a half at least once a month.

Sewage pollution causes rapid algae growth, starving the river of the oxygen that wildlife needs to survive. This affects animals like otters and kingfishers that prey on aquatic life.

Regulations are clearly not good enough, and people are flushing things we shouldn’t down drains and sinks – including wet wipes, kitchen fats and sanitary products as well. These block sewers, increasing the frequency of overflows.


Whales and dolphins have rich 'human-like' cultures and societies - London School of Economics and Political Science

Whales and dolphins (Cetaceans) live in tightly-knit social groups, have complex relationships, talk to each other and even have regional dialects – much like human societies.  

A major new study, published today (Monday 16th October) in Nature Ecology & Evolution, has linked the complexity of Cetacean culture and behaviour to the size of their brains.

The research was a collaboration between scientists at The University of Manchester, The University of British Columbia, Canada, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and Stanford University, United States.

The study is first of its kind to create a large dataset of cetacean brain size and social behaviours. The team compiled information on 90 different species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises. It found overwhelming evidence that Cetaceans have sophisticated social and cooperative behaviour traits, similar to many found in human culture. The study demonstrates that these societal and cultural characteristics are linked with brain size and brain expansion – also known as encephalisation.


Gravel bringing salmon back to Devon river – Westcountry Rivers Trust

New spawning habitats are bringing salmon back to a stretch of the River Avon. In a five-minute spot survey this autumn, the Westcountry Rivers Image: Westcountry Rivers TrustTrust counted 21 juvenile salmon on a stretch of river where no salmon or trout were counted four years ago.

Image: Westcountry Rivers Trust

Over the last three years, the Westcountry Rivers Trust has added 700 tonnes of granite gravel to a 2.5 mile section of the River Avon, near Shipley Bridge on Dartmoor. Like many rivers, the Avon has lost a number of natural gravel beds because of obstacles, such as weirs or dams, which prevent stones from travelling down the river.

Funded by South West Water, as part of the National Environment Programme, the project aims to increase the number of salmon and trout by creating new gravel beds. Adult salmon lay their spawn in freshwater gravel beds, known as ‘redds’, in the autumn and the eggs hatch in the winter.

Matt Healey, Land and Fisheries Officer for the Westcountry Rivers Trust said: “We are absolutely delighted to have counted 21 juvenile salmon in a stretch of river where they were previously completely absent. These were juvenile fish, which hatched this year, so we know salmon are now spawning in our new gravel beds. This is an incredibly positive result.”


Major drive to bring new life to precious habitats – Natural Resources Wales

Image: Natural Resources WalesA major conservation project to improve some of Wales’ rarest and most important habitats gets under way this week.

Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) £4 million project will bring new life to Welsh raised bogs - rare habitats created over thousands of years when plants in the bog turn into peat and build up into a raised dome.

The project will improve the condition of seven of the most important sites in Wales.

Image: Natural Resources Wales

These have been altered by centuries of peat cutting and drainage.

But, in peak condition, they help tackle climate change by storing vast amounts of carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere.

The drive to repair them will also improve drainage systems, cut invasive species, remove scrub and introduce light grazing – all in partnership with local communities, landowners and contractors.

NRW manages this site as well as Cors Fochno in north Ceredigion, the two largest sites in the project.

Restoration work will also take place at sites near Trawsfynydd, Fishguard, Crosshands, Crickhowell and Builth Wells.

Funding for the four-year project has come from an EU LIFE programme grant and NRW, with support from Welsh Government and the Snowdonia National Park Authority.


We launch a new litter partnership with Coca-Cola - Keep Britain Tidy

We are delighted to work with Coca-Cola to boost litter prevention and support our country’s #LitterHeroes. Coca-Cola will be a key partner in next year’s 2018 Great British Spring Clean, helping to support a network of #litterheroes to get outdoors and active cleaning up the country. 

Working together, we want to inspire volunteers to clean up not only our villages, towns and cities but also our rivers and beaches, creating a chain of litter picking activity from #Street2Sea. With 80% of marine litter originating from land, everybody can play their part in preventing littering not only in their local area but also in our rivers, beaches and seas.

Alongside this,  Coca-Cola is also supporting our award-winning Centre for Social Innovation to research beach litter and littering behaviour around the country. The research will help develop new solutions to the problem, which can be scaled up around the country, changing the behaviour of the small minority who enjoy visiting the beach but think nothing of leaving their rubbish behind. 

Keep Britain Tidy Chief Executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “We are thrilled that Coca-Cola Great Britain is giving the Great British Spring Clean a helping hand so that we can realise our ambition to mobilise up to half a million people next year. Littering blights every corner of our country and the help of partners is vital if we are to support all the #LitterHeroes who are willing to get out and clean up after those who still think it is OK to drop their rubbish on the ground.”


Warwick students help pull three motorbikes, 28 cycles and 40 trolleys from Leamington canal - University of Warwick

Volunteers and tyre (image: University of Warwick)Students from the University of Warwick were among the volunteers working to clear a stretch of the Grand Union Canal in Leamington Spa at the weekend

In addition to tyres, fishing line and plastic bags, the team pulled three motorbikes, 28 bicycles and 40 shopping trolleys from the watery depths, as well as several pushchairs, a pram, a complete ‘Pay and Display’ sign on a pole and the street sign for Llewellyn Road. The team were working with the Inland Waterways Association and the Canal and River Trust to remove rubbish that has been dumped in the waterway.

Volunteers and tyre (image: University of Warwick)

The 16 students are part of Warwick Volunteers, the organisation which gives students the opportunity to help and become involved with the local community by putting them in touch with organisations across the area. They joined two scout troupes and members of the local community to make an eighty-strong workforce at the weekend.

Olivia Hookings, a third year Law and Business student, said: “This was my third canal clean-up with Warwick Volunteers. It has been a great opportunity to meet like-minded people and it’s so rewarding to visually see how much we are helping as we drag motorcycles, bicycles and trolleys out of the canal. Any excuse to get stuck in and dirty!” 


Pannage season extended in the New Forest - Forestry Commission 

Pigs in the new Forest (image: Forestry Commission)The Forestry Commission’s Deputy Surveyor announced today that the pannage season will be extended past the usual 60-day period until Sunday 17 December because there are so many acorns (this year pannage started on 11 September and was due to end on 12 November). Pannage is an ancient custom that is still used today by New Forest Commoners, who turn out their pigs into the Forest during the season.  

Pigs in the new Forest (image: Forestry Commission)

Pigs do a vital job of eating many of the acorns that fall at this time of year – acorns are tasty for them, but poisonous for the ponies and cattle that roam the area freely.

This autumn is a bumper year for acorns in the New Forest. Oak trees have produced more acorns than usual, one of nature’s mysterious events known as ‘masting’. This is a natural phenomenon where some tree species produce very large crops of seeds in some years, compared to almost none in others. 

It’s not known exactly why mast years occur, however they have been linked to various causes over the years, including weather and climatic.


Bee-friendly in Wild About Gardens Week - Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust

White-tailed bumblebee. Credit Penny FrithCan you imagine a garden without wild bees? The sights and sounds of bumblebees buzzing among pollen-laden anthers in open roses or sipping nectar from foxgloves are so evocative of a happy and friendly garden. Wild About Gardens Week from 23 to 29 October is a perfect time for people to plant up their gardens to give food sources for wild bees and bumblebees this winter and into next summer.

White-tailed bumblebee. Credit Penny Frith

Historically, bumblebees have thrived in the countryside, but the use of pesticides on crops and the loss of fields, hedgerows and woodlands to development, means there are fewer flowers for bees and other pollinating insects to feed from, and fewer places for them to breed and hibernate.

Autumn is the best time to plant shrubs that flower at different times of the year, giving bees nectar when they need it. These include winter-flowering honeysuckle, mahonia and pieris for instant scent and colour in the coming months. Hibernating bumblebees will emerge on warm and sunny days, when they need a top-up of nectar from these flowers to give them energy and help them go back into a dormant state.

You can also plant bulbs such as daffodils and crocuses that give bees nectar in springtime, and perennial summer flowers like foxgloves, lavender and hollyhocks. Plant roses now, especially single-flowered varieties to attract the buzz-pollinating bumblebees.


Petals produce a 'blue halo' that helps bees find flowers – University of Cambridge

New study finds “messy” microscopic structures on petals of some flowers manipulate light to produce a blue colour effect that is easily seen by bee pollinators. Researchers say these petal grooves evolved independently multiple times across flowering plants, but produce the same result: a floral halo of blue-to-ultraviolet light.

(image: Univeristy of Cambridge)Latest research has found that several common flower species have nanoscale ridges on the surface of their petals that meddle with light when viewed from certain angles.

(image: University of Cambridge)

These nanostructures scatter light particles in the blue to ultraviolet colour spectrum, generating a subtle optical effect that scientists have christened the ‘blue halo’.

By manufacturing artificial surfaces that replicated ‘blue halos’, scientists were able to test the effect on pollinators, in this case foraging bumblebees. They found that bees can see the blue halo, and use it as a signal to locate flowers more efficiently.

While the ridges and grooves on a petal surface line up next to each other “like a packet of dry spaghetti”, when analysing different flower species the researchers discovered these striations vary greatly in height, width and spacing – yet all produce a similar ‘blue halo’ effect.

In fact, even on a single petal these light-manipulating structures were found to be surprisingly irregular. This is a phenomenon physicists describe as ‘disorder’.

The researchers conclude that these “messy” petal nanostructures likely evolved independently many times across flowering plants, but reached the same luminous outcome that increases visibility to pollinators – an example of what’s known as ‘convergent evolution’.

The study was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Cambridge’s departments of plant sciences, chemistry and physics along with colleagues from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Adolphe Merkele Institute in Switzerland.

Acces the paper: Edwige Moyroud, Tobias Wenzel, Rox Middleton, Paula J. Rudall, Hannah Banks, Alison Reed, Greg Mellers, Patrick Killoran, M. Murphy Westwood, Ullrich Steiner, Silvia Vignolini, Beverley J. Glover. Disorder in convergent floral nanostructures enhances signalling to bees. Nature, 2017; DOI: 10.1038/nature24285


Three-quarters of insect population have been lost in nature reserves over three decades - University of Sussex

 The loss of bees, butterflies and other flying insects from within protected nature reserves has been even more severe than previously feared, a new report has revealed.

The total biomass of flying insects in 63 nature reserves has decreased by more than 75 per cent since 1989 and above 80 per cent in the height of summer.  Researchers believe insect populations are becoming trapped on nature reserves surrounded by inhospitable farmland. Ecologists from Radboud University, who worked together with German and English colleagues including Professor Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex, said the rate of loss was not sustainable.

Hans de Kroon, project leader at the Radboud University in Nijmegen in The Netherlands, said: “The fact that flying insects are decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery.”

Entomologists in Krefeld, Germany, collected data over the past 27 years in 63 different places within nature reserves across Germany.  The researchers discovered an average decline of 76 percent in the total insect mass while in the middle of summer, when insect numbers peak, the decline was even more severe at 82 percent. 

Caspar Hallmann, from the Radboud University who performed the statistical analyses, said: “All these areas are protected and most of them are managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

The exact causes of the decline are still unclear with changes in the weather, landscape and plant variety not sufficient to explain the rapid downward trend.

Caspar Hallmann added: “The research areas are mostly small and enclosed by agricultural areas. These surrounding areas attract flying insects and they cannot survive there. It is possible that these areas act as an ‘ecological trap’ and jeopardize the populations in the nature reserves.”

Investigators believe the results are representative for large parts of Europe and other parts of the world where nature reserves are enclosed by a mostly intensively used agricultural landscape. 

Access the publication:Hallmann CA, Sorg M, Jongejans E, Siepel H, Hofland N, Schwan H, et al. (2017) More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas. PLoS ONE12(10): e0185809. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185809/2656.12770 


Life in the city: Living near a forest keeps your amygdala healthier - Max Planck Institute for Human Development

MRI study analyzes stress-processing brain regions in older city dwellers

A study conducted at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development has investigated the relationship between the availability of nature near city dwellers’ homes and their brain health. Its findings are relevant for urban planners among others.

Noise, pollution, and many people in a confined space: Life in a city can cause chronic stress. City dwellers are at a higher risk of psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia than country dwellers. Comparisons show higher activity levels in city dwellers’ than in country dwellers’ amygdala — a central nucleus in the brain that plays an important role in stress processing and reactions to danger. Which factors can have a protective influence? A research team led by psychologist Simone Kühn has examined which effects nature near people’s homes such as forest, urban green, or wasteland has on stress-processing brain regions such as the amygdala.  The researchers found a relationship between place of residence and brain health: those city dwellers living close to a forest were more likely to show indications of a physiologically healthy amygdala structure und were therefore presumably better able to cope with stress. This effect remained stable when differences in educational qualifications and income levels were controlled for. However, it was not possible to find an association between the examined brain regions and urban green, water, or wasteland. With these data, it is not possible to distinguish whether living close to a forest really has positive effects on the amygdala or whether people with a healthier amygdala might be more likely to select residential areas close to a forest. Based on present knowledge, however, the researchers regard the first explanation as more probable. Further longitudinal studies are necessary to accumulate evidence.

"Our study investigates the connection between urban planning features and brain health for the first time,“ says co-author Ulman Lindenberger, Director of the Center for Lifespan Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. By 2050, almost 70 percent of the world population is expected to be living in cities. These results could therefore be very important for urban planning. In the near future, however, the observed association between the brain and closeness to forests would need to be confirmed in further studies and other cities", stated Ulman Lindenberger.


Great tits may be adapting their beaks to birdfeeders - University of East Anglia

A British enthusiasm for feeding birds may have caused UK great tits to have evolved longer beaks than their European counterparts - according to a new study involving UEA researchers.

The findings, published in Science, identify for the first time the genetic differences between UK and Dutch great tits which researchers were then able to link to longer beaks in UK birds.

Using genetic and historical data, the research team also found that the differences in beak length had occurred within a relatively short time frame. This led them to speculate that there may be a link with the relatively recent practice of putting out food for garden birds.

Great tit (image: Lewis Spurgin, via UEA)Great tit (image: Lewis Spurgin, via UEA)

The findings are part of a long term study being carried out on populations of great tits in Wytham Woods, in the UK, and in Oosterhout and Veluwe, in the Netherlands. The team screened DNA from more than 3000 birds to search for genetic differences between the British and the Dutch populations. These differences indicate where natural selection might be at work.

Researchers at Oxford University have been studying the Wytham Woods great tit population in Oxfordshire for 70 years and so the team had access to a wealth of historical data which clearly showed that the British great tits’ beaks were getting longer over time. They were also able to access data from electronic tags fitted to some of the Wytham Woods birds, which enabled them to track how much time was spent at automated bird feeders.

“Between the 1970s and the present day, beak length has got longer among the British birds. That’s a really short time period in which to see this sort of difference emerging,” says Professor Jon Slate, of the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield. “We now know that this increase in beak length, and the difference in beak length between birds in Britain and mainland Europe, is down to genes that have evolved by natural selection.”

The team also found that birds with genetic variants for longer beaks were more frequent visitors to the feeders than those birds which did not have that genetic variation.

Dr Lewis Spurgin, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “In the UK we spend around twice as much on birdseed and birdfeeders than mainland Europe – and, we’ve been doing this for some time. Although we can’t say definitively that bird feeders are responsible, it seems reasonable to suggest that the longer beaks amongst British great tits may have evolved as a response to this supplementary feeding.” 


Minister describes concerns over Future Landscapes proposals as ‘mischief -making’ - Snowdonia Society

Lesley Griffiths AM is Welsh Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs.  On 18th October during Assembly questions she was questioned about National Parks and AONBs.  In her answer she referred to concerns raised recently as ‘a lot of mischief-making’. This dimissive comment reveals a serious situation.  The concerns which the minister brushed aside as ‘mischief-making’ don’t come from crackpots.  They come from  respected organisations across Wales, and from thoughtful scrutiny of the ‘Future Landscapes Wales’ proposals and process for which she is responsible.  We provide a few examples of those concerns below.

The minister’s flippant comment suggests a lack of interest in the future of our National Parks and AONBs, unless she believes that she knows better than the organisations listed below.  It is time for proper oversight and governance of the Future Landscapes process.  The Future Landscapes report is shoddy and ill-conceived.

The finest landscapes of Wales are too important to be put at risk by the inadequate and illegitimate Future Landscapes process and its flawed report.

What the Royal Town Planning Institute Cymru has to say: ‘With the Future Landscapes Wales Working Group tasked with considering and advising on the way forward with the Marsden Report, it is difficult to understand how these key considerations, linking the Sandford Principle, the Silkin Test and the planning functions of National Parks came to be absent from the Future Landscapes: Delivering for Wales report. Accordingly, it would not be reasonable to accept that this report could provide the blueprint for the future of our landscapes. With such critical omissions, there are concerns that the Future Landscapes: Delivering for Wales report could expose the future of our designated landscapes to unacceptable risks.’ 

Click through more responses and a full list of consultees 


One million reasons for action on fly-tipping now - Keep Britain Tidy

As the year's fly-tipping statistics are released today - the fact this rising problem has topped one million fly-tips in 2016/17 is shocking but perhaps not surprising. That is why we are calling for more cash for councils to tackle this national epidemic.

Fly tipping this year has topped 1,000,000 incidents across England, with associated clean up costs of £58 million (up from £50 million last year). Two-thirds of these incidents comes from household waste, with a third being a small van-load size of waste dumped.  

Fly tipped rubbish (image: Keep Britain Tidy)Fly tipped rubbish (image: Keep Britain Tidy)

The continuing cuts to local authority budgets present huge challenge for councils who are tackling this rising tide of waste at the same time as trying to provide social care, education and all the other services that people demand. 

We believe it is time to give councils the resources they need to educate the public on their responsibilities, keep household waste recycling centres open, offer an affordable bulky waste collection service and investigate and prosecute fly-tippers.  

Keep Britain Tidy Chief Executive Allison Ogden-Newton said: “Enough is enough. It is time to give councils the resources they need to tackle this problem head-on, using some of the proceeds of the landfill tax.  We also need the people of Britain to stop treating our country like one giant tip, to take responsibility for their unwanted stuff and make sure that, if they give their waste to someone else to dispose of, they are going to dispose of it legally."

Scientific publications

Brown, P. M. J. & Roy, H. E. (2017) Native ladybird decline caused by the invasive harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis: evidence from a long-term field study. Insect Conservation & Diversity. DOI: 10.1111/icad.12266


Roy, H. E.et al (2017)  Developing a framework of minimum standards for the risk assessment of alien species. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13025


Posledovich, D., Toftegaard, T., Wiklund, C., Ehrlén, J. and Gotthard, K., Phenological synchrony between a butterfly and its host plants: experimental test of effects of spring temperature. J Anim Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12770


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