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


Moorland management: New group to focus on sustainability of driven-grouse moors - Scottish Government

Membership of an independent group to ensure grouse moor management practices are sustainable and legally compliant has been confirmed.

The new group will be led by Professor Alan Werrity, who previously chaired a Scottish Natural Heritage review into sustainable moorland management. It includes scientists, moorland managers, regulatory experts and advisers from SNH, Scottish Wildlife Trust, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.

The group has been set up in response to SNH research that found almost a third of golden eagles being tracked by satellite died in suspicious circumstances and that the majority of cases were where land is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

The group will look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls and advise on the option of licensing grouse shooting businesses.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “We have been clear that the continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and the country as a whole. This new group will look at what we can do to balance our commitment to tackling wildlife crime with grouse moor management practices, so it continues to contribute to our rural economy, while being sustainable and compliant with the law. The group membership reflects the complex nature and wide range of issues that need to be considered and I look forward to hearing their advice in due course.” 


Reactions from Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB Scotland & Scottish Raptor Study Group, and Scottish Wildlife Trust

Scottish Land & Estates statement on grouse moor management review

Scottish Land & Estates has issued the following statement regarding the Scottish Government’s announcement on the grouse moor management review.

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The announcement of the membership of the expert group to look at grouse moor management is a significant step forward in establishing a base of independent research to inform the future of the sector. The moorland management community will engage constructively with the group throughout the review and we will be writing to them in the near future to outline the key areas in which we intend to make evidence-based submissions to the review."


RSPB and SRSG welcome announcement of grouse moor enquiry - RSPB Scotland

The remit of the panel includes consideration as to how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law.

RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Raptor Study Group have welcomed today’s announcement by the Scottish Government on the grouse moor enquiry panel.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland said: "We very much welcome the announcement of this enquiry and of the independent panel. We look forward to giving evidence to the panel in due course.  The remit of the panel includes consideration as to how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. There are significant public concerns about how grouse moors are currently being managed in Scotland, including clear evidence gathered over decades of the illegal killing of birds of prey.  In recent years these concerns have broadened to encompass wider grouse moor management practices, as commercialisation has taken place, with an emphasis on producing very large and unsustainable grouse numbers for sport shooting. These practices include muirburn on peatland habitats which are important as carbon stores for combating climate change, the culling of mountain hares and the medication of ‘wild’ red grouse, both designed to prevent grouse diseases and artificially boost grouse bags."


Moorland management under review - Scottish Wildlife Trust

Commenting on today’s announcement by the Scottish Government that an independent panel has been appointed to carry out an inquiry into the management of grouse moors, Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, Scottish Wildlife Trust said:  “Currently, over 10% of Scotland’s land area is managed for shooting grouse. While this activity brings income into rural communities we have to ensure a balance is struck, and that any benefits are weighed against long-term environmental damage and the persecution of wildlife that are often linked with intensive moorland management.  Scotland’s uplands have an important job to do as stores of carbon and clean water. Unsustainable moorland management including intensive burning and drainage have a serious effect on these functions. There is growing evidence linking grouse moors to wildlife crimes, including the recent report on the fate of 131 satellite tagged golden eagles, between 2004 and 2016, which concluded that a third of these young eagles probably disappeared under suspicious circumstances in areas connected to contemporary records of persecution.  Also, despite a number of calls for restraint, mountain hares continue to be culled in large numbers on some estates. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has been consistently calling for better regulation and a move towards more sustainable management of Scotland’s uplands. Taking a land stewardship approach would have clear benefits for Scotland’s wildlife, but also our economy and society."


SNH steps in to help #SaveCoulLinks - Scottish Wildlife Trust

Proposals to build a golf course on one of Scotland’s last remaining coastal dune habitats have been dealt a major blow from an objection lodged by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The plans to turn the internationally protected sand dunes near Dornoch into a luxury golf course now face a major hurdle due to the statutory nature conservation body’s strong objection to the plans.

SNH has warned that the proposed development:

  • causes the permanent loss of more than 16 hectares of the sand dunes
  • raises natural heritage issues of national importance
  • could cause significant impacts to a nationally and internationally designated wildlife site

The proposal has been strongly opposed by a number of conservation organisations due to its location within a globally important wildlife site which supports many rare plants and insects and over 20,000 wintering birds.

The alliance of conservation organisations made up of Buglife, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, Marine Conservation Society, Plantlife, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust has already submitted a joint objection due to significant environmental damage that could be inflicted if the plans were approved.

The organisations welcome the strong objection made by the IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, the world’s premier network of protected area expertise with 2,000 members from over 140 countries.  They also welcome the responses from Ramblers Scotland and the National Trust for Scotland, who have recently voiced objections to the proposals.

Nearly 700 objections from both members of the public and organisations have been submitted to Highland Council so far.


First steps taken to tackle puffin decline – RSPB

The RSPB’s Project Puffin has taken the first steps in solving the mystery of why some puffin colonies in the UK are in decline after scientists analysed more than 1400 photos sent in by the public, helping them to build a better picture of

UK coastlines come alive each spring with the sight, sound and smell of puffins nesting and raising their young, known as pufflings. With their bright orange bills and distinctive eye markings people from around the world visit puffin hotspots in the UK and Ireland to photograph the bustling colonies. However, in recent years puffin numbers have plummeted at some colonies, and experts estimate that without help more than half the global puffin population will disappear within the next forty years.

Image: Chris Taylor

Image: Chris Taylor

In the summer RSPB scientists set out to understand more about the differing fortunes of puffins around our coasts. The project aimed to capture a snapshot of what puffins are feeding their young at as many colonies as possible, as it is thought their food supply has been negatively impacted by warming seas and shifting ocean currents. By enlisting the help of the public, also known as the ‘Puffarazzi’, 1402 photos of puffins bringing food to their chicks were sent to the team.

The photos have helped scientists identify areas where puffins are struggling to find the large, nutritious fish needed to support their chicks. Early results suggest that the diet of puffins vary significantly around the UK - in the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, where serious puffin declines have been seen, puffins appear to be consistently finding smaller prey compared to most other colonies. 


Wildlife crimes going unpunished without proper reporting - Wildlife and Countryside Link

Crimes against wildlife are going unpunished, as crime figures aren’t properly recorded and assessed, warns a wildlife coalition as it launches a new report  ‘The Recording of Wildlife Crime in England and Wales’.

Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wales Environment Link are major coalitions of wildlife and environment NGOs. The coalitions have commissioned new research among key stakeholders revealing frustration with the current system and overwhelming support for wildlife crime to be made recordable. The research also collates and reports on data collected by NGOs on various types of wildlife crime, which provides an idea of the scale and nature of offences. Wildlife crime is a significant threat to conservation, animal welfare and the wider environment. However, unlike in Scotland, most wildlife crimes in England and Wales are currently recorded as ‘miscellaneous’ offences and they are therefore invisible crimes in police records. Enforcement officers are working hard to tackle this area of crime, but they are hindered by the lack of a proper recording and reporting process.

The research shows that there were more than 4,000 wildlife crime offences between 2010 and 2015. However this figure vastly underestimates the scale of the problem as details of many types of offences are not collected by NGOs, and they use different methods to collect the data.

Dr Elaine King, Director of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘'Wildlife crime officers do a great job, but they are being forced to fight wildlife crime with one hand tied behind their backs. The lack of proper recording, reporting and analysis of wildlife crime figures hampers the setting of priorities and allocation of resources. Animals are paying the price with their lives and criminals are going unpunished. We want to urgently discuss these findings with ministers and get firm commitments that wildlife crimes will be properly recorded and assessed.’ 

As part of the research for this report, the views of law enforcement and Government representatives, environment and wildlife organisations and academics were sought on these issues. This research showed that:

  • 87% of stakeholders believe that all wildlife crime should be recorded
  • Experts said that that the current practice of recording wildlife crime under a ‘miscellaneous’ crime category was ‘of no use at all’
  • These stakeholders, including police officers, said that recording by specific wildlife crime codes would cause very little extra administrative burden.

There is a clear case for more effective recording of, and reporting on, wildlife crime in England and Wales. These actions are essential to help safeguard wildlife and nature and to enable more effective enforcement. The coalition is seeking meetings with Home Office ministers and officials to discuss the report’s findings.

Download the report: ‘The Recording of Wildlife Crime in England and Wales’.


Whilst in Scotland:  Project sees highest number of fledged hen harriers - Scottish Natural Heritage

As part of efforts to conserve hen harriers, 21 estates across Scotland have now joined the Heads Up for Harriers project in 2017.

Heads up for Harriers - nest camera (image: SNH)This year has seen a bumper number of 37 young successfully fledging from nests located on 7 of the 21 participating estates. This is the highest number of fledged birds ever for the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW) Scotland project, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Heads up for Harriers - nest camera (image: SNH)

As in previous years, estates have agreed to have cameras installed on their land to monitor nesting hen harriers and help determine reasons affecting survival. A total of 11 nests were monitored, with nine nests successfully fledging 37 young and two nests failing.

Fox predation was responsible for one of the nest failures, while the second nest failed as a result of natural causes, according to analysis of the eggs by the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme.

Significantly, this second nest was located on a grouse moor in the southern Angus Glens, an area that hasn’t recorded any hen harriers for some time. The Heads Up for Harriers project will be working with the estate again in 2018 and hope to see a nest successfully fledging some young harriers.


Scotland’s colleges benefiting from wild places - John Muir Trust

Trust’s engagement scheme proves popular in Further Education establishments  

Colleges in Scotland have seen over 400 students and staff achieve a John Muir Award during the 2016-17 academic year, with 84% of these Awards being achieved by people facing some form of disadvantage.

Across Scotland, further education colleges are using the John Muir Award to give structure to programmes, support the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence, build skills for learning, life and work and improve health and wellbeing outcomes for both young people and adult learners.  A recent report from the John Muir Trust has revealed that 75% of the colleges in Scotland were involved in delivering the John Muir Award during 2016-17. The report highlights how the Award is used to deliver on a variety of themes including employability, childcare, healthy living and adventure studies.

Lucy Sparks, John Muir Award Scotland Inclusion Manager, said: “We’re delighted to see colleges across Scotland using the Award to help reach a wide range of audiences, from those who face barriers to learning to those at risk of disengaging with their education.  Getting out of the classroom and experiencing wild places first-hand can create diverse learning opportunities, allowing students to build confidence, develop their skills and enjoy the wellbeing benefits that being in nature can bring.” 

Read the John Muir Award in Scotland’s Colleges 2016-17 report.  


Iceland Foods and the Co-op come out in support of a UK Deposit Return Scheme - Greenpeace

Other UK supermarkets challenged to follow suit after Greenpeace survey

Iceland and the Co-op have become the first supermarkets to back a UK-wide bottle deposit return system (DRS) as a way of tackling the growing threat of ocean plastic pollution.

The announcements came in a response to a Greenpeace survey of supermarkets views about the introduction of a UK-wide DRS system. Scotland has already decided to introduce a DRS and England and Wales are currently considering the option.

In response to the survey Iceland stated that it ‘fully supports Greenpeace’s call for the Government to impose a bottle Deposit Return Scheme’. The supermarket chain also offered to host a DRS reverse vending machine within a number of its stores for the Government to trial.

The Co-op described themselves as ‘in favour of creating a deposit return scheme which increases the overall recycling of packaging and significantly reduces litter and, importantly, helps tackle marine pollution’ in their response.

However, all other national supermarkets surveyed, including Tescos, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S, LIDL, ALDI and Morrissons, were either non-committal or expressed reservations about DRS in their replies to Greenpeace 

For the full text of all other replies from supermarkets received by Greenpeace, please see here. (google doc)


Response: CPRE delighted two major retailers will back a Deposit Return System

Iceland and the Co-op have become the first supermarkets to publicly back a UK-wide deposit return system (DRS) for drinks containers as a way to tackle plastic pollution in the countryside and oceans.

The announcement follows a survey of major UK supermarkets and their views on the introduction of a DRS in the UK, and a national campaign for a DRS by many environmental groups, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE)



England's largest woodland planting scheme gets green light - Forestry Commission

The Forestry Commission has approved planting at Doddington North Moor in Northumberland, England's largest woodland planting scheme for 30 years. More than 600,000 trees are set to be planted across Northumberland over the next two years, with England’s largest woodland planting scheme in decades given the go-ahead by the Forestry Commission today (Thurs 30/11).

Doddington North Moor (image: Forestry Commission / Defra)Doddington North Moor (image: Forestry Commission / Defra)

Thanks to government funding, Doddington North Moor has been given consent to plant a new 350-hectare forest near Wooler in Northumberland – the largest of its kind to be planted in England for over 30 years.  The forest, which will span the equivalent of over 650 football fields, will help to enhance populations of the iconic red squirrel, while storing over 120,000 tonnes of carbon and helping to manage flood risk in the area. With the forestry and timber processing industry a major employer in the region, the project is also set to bring a boost to local businesses and will generate a number of new jobs.  It joins another successful project that has just been approved this week in the Lake District, with government funding helping the Lowther Park Estate plant more than 200,000 trees over 170 hectares of their land.

Planting at Doddington is expected to begin in March 2018 and will be phased over the next two to three years.


Great British Beach Clean 2017 results - Marine Conservation Society 

Almost 7,000 people took part in the Great British Beach Clean in September 2017. Together, we removed 255,209 pieces of litter from 339 beaches, and recorded every bit for this report.

On average, that makes 718 pieces of rubbish for every 100m stretch of beach we cleaned. Sadly, that’s a 10% rise compared with the previous year.

As with previous years, tiny bits of plastic were the most common items found, and in greater numbers than last year.

Litter from foods and drinks, usually used just once and thrown away, made up at least 20% of all of the rubbish we picked up. 138 pieces of “on the go” litter were found, on average, for every 100m of beach surveyed.

Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2017 (PDF)


Migration makes breeding harder for seabirds - University of Oxford

An international collaboration has for the first time revealed the key drivers of seabird migration. The new study suggests that puffin colonies that travel great distances during the winter often find it more difficult to breed than others, and that escaping your habitat with far-flung migration therefore carries a cost.  

Puffin in flight in the Norwegian Sea  (Image: Tycho Anker-Nilssen)Puffin in flight in the Norwegian Sea  (Image: Tycho Anker-Nilssen)

Published in Current Biology, the work was led by researchers from the Department of Zoology of the University of Oxford and conducted in collaboration with eight international partners,

Over the course of eight years the team studied the seasonal behaviours of a wide range of puffin colonies across the species’ range, covering 270 individual birds in total. By combining data from multiple colonies the researchers were able to build an accurate picture of the migration behaviours of Atlantic puffin colonies across the world.

While previous research has focused on individual colonies and seabird species, the study marks the first time that seabird migration behaviour has been studied on this scale in such comprehensive detail.

Dr Annette Fayet, lead author and a Junior Research Fellow of Queen’s College, Oxford and of the Department of Zoology at Oxford University, said: ‘By comparison to other migratory species we know very little about puffin migration. Previous studies have tended to focus on individual colonies, particularly British and Irish colonies, and actually that is only a very small percentage of the puffin population – the biggest colonies are found further North, e.g. in Norway and Iceland.

‘Working collaboratively to study multiple colonies allowed us to pool our results to build a broad picture, comparing behaviours between populations and mapping multiple migration routes. In doing so we were able to better understand lesser known colonies such as Canadian and Icelandic puffins. Strategies seem to vary from colony to colony and there is a huge range of difference in these patterns. Some puffin populations, such as US colonies, never stray very far from their colony, travelling a few hundred km away at most. While others, such as Irish puffin colonies, travel vast distances across the Atlantic during the winter months.

Access the paper: Annette L. Fayet et al Ocean-wide Drivers of Migration Strategies and Their Influence on Population Breeding Performance in a Declining Seabird. Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.11.009


‘Tree Power’ blasts off to reach more schools! - International Tree Foundation

A new teaching resource aiming to inspire children about the vital importance of trees locally as well as globally has been published today (1/12/17), as part of ITF’s Tree Power Programme for Schools.

The Tree Power Teachers’ Resource Pack is a free downloadable activity pack which gives primary schools the tools to engage the next generation in protecting and caring for the natural world.

It brings together the two educational strands of global and outdoor learning, to enable children to become both informed ‘Tree Explorers’ and active ‘Tree Guardians’.

There is growing recognition of the importance of both global and outdoor learning for children’s development. Research shows

that children benefit in a range of ways from outdoor learning, such as persevering for longer with tasks, attempting a greater number of new tasks and showing more enthusiasm. At the same time, children spend much less time playing in natural places than they did in previous generations. Global learning has been shown to improve attainment and skills.

ITF has been running Tree Power with schools across England since 2012. The course has received enthusiastic feedback from teachers and children, which has helped shape the new Resource Pack.

Anyone can download and use the pack for free – click here to start the download.


Drone captures footage as Wildlife Trust and partners complete latest phase of heathland re-creation - Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, the County’s largest locally based environmental charity, has recently completed the latest phase of work to re-create large areas of heathland habitat in Sherwood Forest.

Heather brash at Vicar Water (image: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust)Heather brash at Vicar Water (image: Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust)

The Trust, is working alongside Harworth Group plc to enhance and re-create lowland heathland habitat, once wide-spread across the Sherwood Forest landscape, on the spoil tip at the site of the former Thoresby Colliery. Harworth is also redeveloping the former pityard site at Thoresby into a new mixed-use development comprising an eventual 800 homes and 250,000 sq.ft employment space, complemented by over 90ha of open space which will have a variety of wildlife habitats that are special to Sherwood Forest, including heathland, acid grassland and oak woodland.

The latest phase of the work involved harvesting large quantities of heather seed heads from well-established heathland at Vicar Water Country Park, cared for by Newark & Sherwood District Council, and itself re-created on the former Clipstone Colliery Spoil Tip 20 years ago. This seed was then spread using a machine usually used as a muck-spreader over specially prepared areas of the former colliery site. The work at both sites was filmed by EMEC Ecology using a high tech drone.  Seed has also been harvested from Budby Heath which is managed by the RSPB.

The footage can be seen on the Trusts You Tube channel.


Scientific Publications 

Enrique Murgui Railways as a potential bird census tool in citizen-science projects: a preliminary study Bird Study DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2017.1400518


Nakashima, Y., Fukasawa, K. and Samejima, H., Estimating animal density without individual recognition using information derivable exclusively from camera traps. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13059


Söderquist, P., Elmberg, J., Gunnarsson, G. et al. Admixture between released and wild game birds: a changing genetic landscape in European mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) Eur J Wildl Res (2017) 63: 98. Doi: 10.1007/s10344-017-1156-8


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