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


Help protect our amphibians from disease - Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust

The emergence of diseases is increasingly recognised as a threat to amphibians. In 2013 researchers in the Netherlands described a new type of fungus, Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans, often called “Bsal”, that eventually led to a 99% decline in fire salamanders in that country. Since then, we are gradually learning more about the fungus and the disease it can cause.

So far as we know, this fungus does not occur in the wild in the UK. It has unfortunately been found in some captive amphibian collections in the UK, as well as in the international pet trade. This is clearly a perilous situation, with the risk of the fungus being introduced to the wild via traded or captive animals.

Click through for information summarising and providing links to further advice on what you can do to limit the risk of this pathogen entering the UK and causing disease. 

If you see signs of sick or dead amphibians, please report them to the Garden Wildlife Health project, which acts as the UK reporting centre for this project.


2,500+ people vote for the UK's favourite tree species in Biology Week poll - Royal Society of Biology

The Horse Chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum) has been crowned the UK’s Favourite Tree after winning a public poll of over 2,500 votes in Biology Week 2017.

The tree, surged ahead of the other contenders, securing more than a quarter of all votes cast.

The Horse Chestnut was introduced to the UK and is a well-loved feature of parks, gardens and village greens. The tree is famous for its seeds, which are used in the game of conkers.

Dr Laura Bellingan FRSB, RSB Director of Policy and Public Affairs, said of the result: “Trees are a valuable part of our culture and economy as well as the environment. They provide us with cleaner air, building materials, food and fuel, flood management; they are home to a wide range of wildlife, from insects to mammals; and they are beautiful. Urban trees can brighten up our cities, whilst many woodlands are beneficial and relaxing environments for thousands of visitors.  However, trees are at risk from a range of threats, including pests and disease. This includes a number of iconic species and we need to be alert to the possibility that our wild and green spaces could be significantly altered. It was tremendous to see so many people join the conversation and take part in this year’s poll.”

The Horse Chestnut beat 14 other trees to claim the title.


National Parks delivering a better environment today and for future generationsNew Forest National Park

Larger National Parks and more young people learning in these spectacular landscapes. These are just some of the highlights in a new report published by National Parks England today (Monday 23 Oct).

image: New Forest National ParkImage: New Forest National Park Authority

The report shares the work that has been achieved to take forward the ambitions of the 8 Point Plan for England’s National Parks that was published by Ministers last year. 

  • Amongst many achievements, the report highlights:
  • Almost 100,000 – the number of young people who have been directly supported in visiting a National Park by the National Park Authority teams
  • 94 million – the number of visits to England’s National Parks
  • 5.5% - the increase in volunteer days achieved in one year
  • Announcements that have seen the expansion of the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District National Parks
  • The opening of the Northumberland Landscape Discovery Centre with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the country’s first
  • The decision by UNESCO to add the Lake District to the list of World Heritage Sites because of its cultural significance
  • A ground-breaking new partnership between the ten National Parks of England and Public Health England to promote health and well-being.

This work demonstrates the value that National Parks continue to provide society and their relevance as the Government looks to enhance the environment over the next 25 years.

Read the report here.


New steps to tackle littering announced – Defra

Maximum litter fines are to almost double to £150 from April next year as well as new fines introduced for owners of vehicles from which litter is thrown

Image: DefraNew steps will be taken to deal with litter louts and those few who mindlessly throw rubbish from their vehicles, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey announced today.

Image: Defra

Cleaning up our streets and countryside currently costs the taxpayer almost £800 million a year and so maximum on-the-spot fines for dropping litter will almost double from April next year - from the current limit of £80 to £150 - in order to deter and punish the anti-social minority who continue to drop rubbish.

In future councils will also be able to impose these fines on the owners of vehicles from which litter is thrown, even if it was discarded by someone else. The government is clear these fines should not be abused simply as a means of raising money, so guidance on how fines should be applied will be issued to councils.

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey said: “Littering blights our communities, spoils our countryside and taxpayers’ money is wasted cleaning it up. Throwing rubbish from a vehicle is just as unacceptable as dropping it in the street and we will tackle this antisocial behaviour by hitting litter louts in the pocket. These new fines will make sure the perpetrators, not the local community, bear the cost of keeping our streets and roads clean.”


Clock change increases deer risk on roads – Scottish Natural Heritage

As the clocks turn back this weekend, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is warning motorists that collisions between deer and vehicles peak at this time of year.

With night falling earlier, the peak commuting time coincides with deer coming out to feed on grass verges near roadsides.

Because of this, SNH – in conjunction with Transport Scotland and Traffic Scotland – are placing warning messages on electronic variable messaging signs (VMS). From Monday, 30 October to Monday, 20 November, the signs will warn motorists at key locations on the main trunk roads. These messages will be seen on signs on the A9, A87, A82, A85 and the A835.

A report released earlier this year commissioned jointly by SNH and Transport Scotland revealed collisions between vehicles and deer have increased by 10% in Scotland since previous figures were collated.

The report showed that from January 2013 to December 2015 over 4,600 recorded collisions between vehicles and deer on Scottish roads were submitted. However, taking into account the many incidents which go unreported, the report estimates that the true figure could be as high as 9,000 per year, resulting in 50 to 100 human injuries. The highest number of collisions occurs in early evening through to midnight, with a slightly lower peak from 6am to 9am.

Over the past 50 years, the number and range of wild deer in Scotland have increased, while the volume of road traffic has almost doubled in the same period. This combination has led to higher deer-vehicle collision rates across the country, with the greatest increase occurring in Aberdeenshire, Fife and the central belt. This corresponds with the rise in the populations of roe deer, which are highly adaptable to lowland habitats. 


Tens of thousands of pink-feet counted at Montrose Basin – Scottish Wildlife Trust

Pink-footed geese at Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve. © Harry BickerstaffUp to 80,000 pink-footed geese have been counted so far this season at Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve and Visitor Centre.

Pink-footed geese at Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve. © Harry Bickerstaff

Volunteers led by Montrose Basin Ranger Anna Cheshier took part in the annual UK-wide Icelandic-breeding Goose Census at first light on Sunday 22 October. They counted a total of 50,309 geese, compared to last year’s return of 42,840.

However, geese are still arriving from Iceland, and rangers estimated their numbers at 80,000 on Monday 23 October.

Anna Cheshier said: “The noise of the geese has been building on the Basin and in the skies over Montrose as more and more birds arrive from the Arctic. Their continued high numbers show that the surrounding farmland is providing plenty of food. The number of the geese on the Basin at any one time is highly variable. Most of the geese at Montrose Basin are passing through on their way south. While geese are still arriving here, many have already taken advantage of the recent strong winds to help them move on.”

Pink-footed geese make an annual 1,200km migration from Iceland to the UK. Montrose Basin is one of the first suitable stops for the geese after crossing the North Sea, and tens of thousands of birds use the reserve as a stopping point to rest and refuel before leaving for estuaries in the east of England.


Unique moment to save our seas – The Wildlife Trusts

Common cuttlefish, Devon ©Alex Mustard/2020VISIONNew report urges Government to tackle five challenges simultaneously

Common cuttlefish, Devon ©Alex Mustard/2020VISION

Today, The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report that identifies five unprecedented challenges for our seas which must be addressed before the UK leaves the European Union. The Government must ensure there is a clear vision for our marine environment. Its first responsibility is to ensure that we bring across existing European regulations which provide protective measures for our seas and sea-life – we need to safeguard existing protective law, as promised in the Withdrawal Bill. With that done, the following five challenges remain:

  • There are not enough protected wild places at sea – the network needs to protect the whole range of wildlife in our seas.
  • Fishing – after the significant reform of the Common Fisheries Policy we have begun to see some of our fish stocks recover. But there are still significant discard issues. We need to make sure that this process is continued which will benefit jobs, consumers and wildlife.
  • Lack of planning of competing interests – fishing, oil rigs, wind farms and gravel extraction from the seabed all take a huge toll on UK seas, fragile seabed habitats and the wildlife that lives in them; we need to plan our seas so that we have space for wildlife to recover and to provide certainty to industry as to where they can develop and fish.
  • Severe pollution – sewage, farming chemicals, plastic litter washed out to sea, abandoned fishing nets and noise pollution from new developments at sea are killing wildlife and adversely affecting human health.
  • Human behaviour – our success in tackling these threats ultimately rests on people’s understanding and accepting the need for change.

The Wildlife Trusts’ Director of Living Seas, Joan Edwards, says: “We are witnessing unprecedented pressures on UK seas and their fragile seagrass meadows, reefs and mud plains on which fish, dolphins and whales depend."

Download the new report by The Wildlife Trusts, The way back to Living Seas (PDF)


Scottish SPCA successfully release three otters back into the wild – Scottish SPCA

Otter (image: Scottish SPCA)The Scottish SPCA has released three otters, named Eddy, Stream and Smoult, back into the wild following their rehabilitation at the charity’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross.

We have cared for 105 otters since opening our centre in Fishcross in 2012, 96 of which were cubs.

Otter (image: Scottish SPCA)

With the land owner’s permission we were able to release the trio into a freshwater loch at a secret location on Woodland Trust property in the Highlands.

Centre Manager Colin Seddon said, “We were successfully able to release Eddy, Stream and Smoult into the Highlands after they spent several months in our care.

“Otters were driven to near extinction throughout the UK between the 1950’s and 1970’s, however due to improvements in water quality and with otters now being protected they can be seen once again in Scotland and other parts of the UK.

Colin went on to say, “All three otters were orphaned as youngsters and came into the centre at around eight to ten weeks old. They were hand reared by staff who even had to play with them individually to prevent boredom before they were introduced to each other. There are many factors that need to be met before we can release otters back into the wild; the weather, site location, otter population in the area and land owners’ permission. All of these must be in place to ensure the best chance of survival. With help from the Woodland Trust we were able to access the remote release site in the Highlands in order to successfully release the otters. Without their help we would not have been able to access this site. Support feeding and shelter has been provided for Eddy, Stream and Smoult and they will be monitored using camera traps in the hope we will get some feedback about how well these otters are doing. This method was successfully used last year, at a release on Mull, and those otters are still doing well several months after their release.”


New report on the exposure of barn owls to rat poisons – Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Second generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) are used to control commensal rodents (rats and mice) throughout the world. However, wildlife species are also exposed to these poisons, both through consuming bait and by eating poisoned rodents.

Concerns in the UK about effects on wildlife have resulted in stewardship for anticoagulant rodenticides. This is led by an industry consortium, the Campaign for Responsible Use (CRRU) UK. The aim is to change user behaviour so that unintentional wildlife exposure is reduced. 

Changes in wildlife exposure are assessed by measuring liver SGAR residues in the barn owl, a sentinel rodent-feeding species. Residue levels are compared with those in a pre-stewardship "baseline" period (2006-2012). Measurements are made on carcasses submitted to the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme (PBMS); most of the owls have died from starvation or in traffic collisions.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has now published its report of SGAR residues in barn owls that died in 2016, the year that stewardship was introduced.

The main findings were:

  • no significant change from "baseline" years in most indicators of SGAR exposure, although there was a decline in low level difenacoum residues
  • the most frequently detected SGARs in barn owls in 2016 were bromadiolone, difenacoum and brodifacoum, as in the 2006-2012 "baseline years"
  • overall in 2016, 78% of owls had liver residues of at least one SGAR, similar to "baseline years" but lower than in 2015

Lee Walker, coordinator for the PBMS, said, "The results for 2016 are generally consistent with the baseline years. Given stewardship was launched only part way through the year, it is probably too early to expect changes from baseline levels in liver SGARs in 2016.  If stewardship is successful, we expect to see reductions in liver SGAR concentrations in barn owls in future years."

The monitoring of SGARs in barn owls is conducted independently by CEH. It is funded by CRRU UK, who recently announced the publication of CEH’s report. All activities conducted under the stewardship scheme are reviewed by a government oversight group led by the Health and Safety Executive.


Restoration of 50 former quarry sites creates 1,000ha of land for nature - RSPB

  • Working in partnership CEMEX and the RSPB have transformed 1,000 hectares of former quarry site into grassland, woodland, heathland and more to provide much needed habitat for some of the UK’s most threatened species
  • Originally planned to take a decade the partnership has achieved its target in just eight years, with sites already providing homes to almost 50 species of birds that conservationists have identified as at risk of being lost in the UK
  • In addition to providing urgently needed new habitat for threatened species the former quarry sites are also attracting nature lovers and conservationists, with over 750,000 visitors enjoying the sites that are already open to the public

This month the restoration of Hopwas Quarry near Tamworth marks the completion of an ambitious project to create 1,000 hectares of land for wildlife from former quarry sites.

In 2010 building materials company CEMEX and the UK’s largest conservation charity, the RSPB, made a commitment to create 1,000 hectares of priority habitats within a decade. A combined area of land over twice as big as the 2012 Olympic Park in London.

As a priority habitat special attention was paid to restoring the land in such a way that would make it appealing and suitable for some of the UK’s most threatened species. The restoration has included 50 sites across England, Scotland and Wales and has created a diverse range of much needed habitats to encourage nature to return. 

1,000 hectares, has resulted in a diverse range of habitats including nearly 600 hectares of grasslands, over 177 hectares of woodland, 100 hectares of heathland and 190 hectares of ponds and open water.

The work of specialists at the RSPB and CEMEX has successfully transformed these sites, which are already providing homes for 46 threatened species of bird, including twites, choughs and turtle doves. The sites area also creating homes for other rare species such as otters, red squirrels and water voles along with plants, amphibians and more.  


£4M ‘Water, Mills and Marshes’ projects get the green light from the National Lottery – Broads Authority

The Broads Landscape Partnership has received a confirmed National Lottery grant of £2,437,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) through its Landscape Partnership (LP)programme for the Water, Mills and Marshes project, it was announced today.

This valuable funding, made possible by National Lottery players, will be matched alongside £1,519,999 from other partnership contributions to provide £3,957,499 enabling 38 individual projects over a 5 year period which will enrich and promote heritage sites in and around the Broads National Park.

Stones Mill © Broads AuthorityThe projects will not only help identify, preserve and improve the incredible heritage, environmental and archaeological assets within the Broads, they will provide opportunities for people to learn about them, contribute in practical ways to their upkeep and ensure access for future generations.

Stones Mill © Broads Authority

Water, Mills and Marshes will provide countless opportunities for thousands of people to connect with the unique landscape by deepening their understanding of how it came about. There will be many chances to gain new skills and hands-on experience from helping to restore historic mills to surveying wildlife habitats.

Trails, guided walks, events and exhibitions will be created and there will also be a small grants scheme introduced so local people can apply for funding for Broads heritage projects of their own.

Together all these projects will help conserve the breath-taking landscape of the Broads National Park for people to enjoy in the future.


Exhibition highlights shocking cup and bottle waste in Scotland - Keep Scotland Beautiful

Thousands visit our exciting exhibit #SipDontTip in the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow on the 24 and 25 October highlighting the issues of litter and waste associated with single use beverage containers.

The exhibit aimed to raise awareness of the issues linked to our relationship with drinks packaging and to promote a step change in everyday consumption and disposal habits. Single use drinks containers are an almost inescapable part of modern life, and the exhibition aimed to shock visitors with the amount of litter and waste associated with these.  With drinks related litter noticed by 55% of people in their community and our recent audits highlighting that 74% of roads are spoilt by drinks related litter – we know it is a huge problem.

(image: Keep Scotland Beautiful)The centre piece exhibit was created by respected Littoral:sci-art project artist Julia Barton, depicting a massive sculpture made from coffee cups – highlighting the 208million single use coffee cups we use in Scotland each year. 

(image: Keep Scotland Beautiful)

Working in partnership with industry, Simply Cups and Recoup provided information and installations to showcase the recycling journey of both coffee cups and plastic bottles in to other useful items which were on display.  Visitors, from Scotland and further afield, were promoted to share their thoughts on single use drinks containers and pose potential solutions to the growing issue.  More critically, they were asked to commit to changing their behaviour following the exhibit.  The results will be summarised and shared in due course.


Twists and ‘terns’ for one of the UK’s smallest and rarest seabirds - RSPB

One of the UK’s smallest and rarest seabirds has battled against the odds to record a remarkable breeding season after fledging more than 600 chicks in 2017.

Weighing no more than 55g – roughly the same as a tennis ball and half the weight of a blackbird – these seabirds undergo an epic migration journey every year flying more than 3000 miles from West Africa to raise their chicks on our single beaches. Sadly, the number of little terns in the UK has plummeted by 18% since 2000.

Arriving on our shores in April, the survey of key sites revealed 1077 adult birds battled through a number of natural and non-natural threats during the summer to raise 617 fledglings. The Norfolk coast remained a stronghold for the seabird with 260 chicks raised on sites across Winterton and Blakeney Point, while Gronant Beach in Wales also had a successful season with 202 young.

Susan Rendell-Read, RSPB Little Tern Project Manager, said: “You wouldn’t think when looking at it but every year this tiny bird, against all the odds, travels thousands of miles from Africa to raise a family here in the UK. Sadly, like many of our seabirds, the little tern is in trouble. Their numbers have dropped dramatically in recent years and they are at risk of disappearing completely from our shores.”

Little terns lay one to three camouflaged eggs on the beach, often close to the sea. This means that nests regularly get washed away if big tides are combined with stormy weather. Laying their eggs on the ground also makes the tern nests vulnerable to disturbance and damage.   As the nests blend into the beach substrates they can often be accidently disturbed by people walking by. Additionally, as this year proved, deliberate nest disturbance is one factor that is preventing tern numbers from making a full recovery. Colonies at Crimdon, near Hartlepool, and Kessingland in Suffolk, suffered acts of deliberate nest destruction with more than 60 eggs lost – decimating the number of fledglings at both sites. Tidal surges proved destructive to nests at Blackwater Estuary in Essex and Scolt Head Island in Norfolk, while chicks at Long Nanny in Northumberland suffered from predation by other species. 


Ancient ferns highly threatened in Europe – IUCN Red List

A fifth of European fern and lycopod species, a group of vascular plants that underpins healthy ecosystems, are threatened with extinction and declining, as a result of urbanisation and expanding infrastructure, according to a new report published today by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Thelypteris pozoi (Hottentot Fern) - assessed as LC (©Fred Rumsey via IUCN)Thelypteris pozoi (Hottentot Fern) - assessed as LC (© Fred Rumsey via IUCN)

The new IUCN report – European Red List of Lycopods and Ferns – assesses, for the first time, the extinction risk 

 of all 194 European lycopod and fern species, 53 of which only exist in Europe. It shows that a fifth of these ancient species, which date back to over 400 million years ago, are at risk of extinction, with the same proportion showing a declining trend. Aquatic ferns and lycopods have been found to be more at risk than terrestrial species. This report shows that ferns and lycopods are the most threatened plant group of those assessed by IUCN so far in Europe. Previous European assessments have covered medicinal plant species, all other aquatic plant species and wild relatives of crop plants.

The findings reveal that European fern and lycopod species are primarily threatened by urbanisation and expanding infrastructure, which leads to the fragmentation and reduction of their habitats. For example, the Dwarf Moonwort (Botrychium simplex) is found in several countries including France, Sweden and Austria, and is now listed as Endangered as a result of habitat loss through land conversion to forest plantations or tourist developments.

Pollution from urban and agricultural waste also poses a serious threat to many ferns and lycopods. As a result, many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems suffer from eutrophication – an increase in nutrients which causes local species to be outcompeted by other native or invasive alien species. This threatens aquatic species in particular, including the Critically Endangered Piedmont Quillwort (Isoëtes malinverniana). This species is endemic to Italy and has declined by more than 80% in the last 30 years, mainly as a result of pollution through inappropriate irrigation channel management.

Download the European Red List of lycopods and ferns report


Proposals for a third National Park in Argyll & Bute - Scottish Land & Estates

Earlier this week it was announced that Argyll & Bute Council seeks to explore the potential to lobby the Scottish Government to consider designation of a new National Park focused on the western seaboard of mainland Argyll and extending west to include the Argyll islands. 

There is currently no firm proposal for a fixed boundary, though some initial work has been undertaken by the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP) and the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS). 

Click here for  more detail on the proposal.


Vital role in carbon sequestration maintained - Utrecht University

Plant communities in peat bogs are affected by global change, but their ecological function is robust

If all peat bogs in the world were to disappear, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would increase by two-thirds. A group of European biologists under the leadership of Utrecht University Prof Jos Verhoeven has studied how peat bogs react to climate change and increased levels of sulphur and nitrogen in the air. To their surprise, they discovered that these changes may cause plant species to disappear, but that these are replaced by others with a similar function in the ecosystem.

Peat bogs cover only 3 percent of the earth’s surface, but they are estimated to store around 500 billion tonnes of carbon. That is the equivalent of 67 percent of the amount of carbon in the earth’s atmosphere. “We know that the changing climate and increases in nitrogen and sulphur in the atmosphere cause certain plant species to disappear from areas. That may also have strong consequences for certain biological functions in the area, like carbon sequestration by peat bogs”, explains first author Bjorn Robroek. 

Recent research, however, has shown that the biodiversity of peat bog plant communities is less affected by climate change than, for example, in grasslands or dune ecosystems. “Our research confirms this, and may also provide an explanation for it”, according to Robroek, who worked on the study for four years.  

Access the paper: Bjorn J. M. Robroek et al  Taxonomic and functional turnover are decoupled in European peat bogs Nature Communications,  DOI 10.1038/s41467-017-01350-5 

Blog from CEH: Peat bogs ‘tougher than we thought’ but may still be vulnerable to rapid or extreme environmental change

Plant communities in European peat bogs are affected by environmental change, but their ecological functioning remains intact. Read it here. 


Scientific Publications

Franziska Komossa, Emma H. van der Zanden, Catharina J.E. Schulp, Peter H. Verburg, Mapping landscape potential for outdoor recreation using different archetypical recreation user groups in the European Union, Ecological Indicators, Volume 85, February 2018, Pages 105-116, ISSN 1470-160X, doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.10.015. 


Nora-Charlotte Pauli, Jana S. Petermann, Christian Lott, Miriam Weber Macrofouling communities and the degradation of plastic bags in the sea: an in situ experiment R. Soc. open sci. 2017 4 170549; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.170549.   


Biró, M., Bölöni, J. and Molnár, Z. (), Use of long-term data to evaluate loss and endangerment status of Natura 2000 habitats and effects of protected areas. Conservation Biology. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/cobi.13038   


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