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


Volunteers step up battle against balsam with Stitch in Time project - Pembrokeshire Coast National Park

Volunteers have contributed more than 400 hours to battling invasive non-native species (INNS) in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park since April this year.

In the six months to September 2017 volunteers took part in a series of ‘balsam bashes’ supported by the Park Authority’s Stitch in Time project, which is targeting three invasive species in Pembrokeshire’s Gwaun and Clydach Valleys - Himalayan balsam, Japanese knotweed and rhododendron ponticum. 

Volunteers balsam bashing (image: Pembrokeshire Coast National Park)Volunteers balsam bashing (image: Pembrokeshire Coast National Park)

Stitch in Time Project Coordinator Matthew Tebbutt said: “The bad news is, invasive species such as Himalayan balsam are widespread throughout Pembrokeshire and have negative impacts on biodiversity.  The good news is, eradication is not impossible and the project has identified source sites of Himalayan balsam in both catchments, with management continuing with the help of staff, contractors, volunteers and landowners. Prevention is better than a cure. Please be ‘plant wise,’ know what you grow, especially if you live near water. INNS have a negative impact on ecosystem health and the cost of control can spiral if they are left unchecked.”

One particular site was adopted by the Friends of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park in 2015 and has seen a dramatic recovery, with the group working alongside Park Authority staff and the landowner.  Vicky Pearson of the Friends said: “It’s very satisfying to see what can be achieved with hard work and commitment and we look forward to working on two new sites next year and continuing the battle against balsam. Three members of the work party have recently undertaken a training course through the Stitch in Time project on the use of brushcutters. This will allow them to tackle large areas of balsam next spring.”


Gove: tree planting rates have not been good enough - Woodland Trust 

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has given a strong indication that the Government’s 25 year plan for the environment, due in the New Year, will tackle the issue of woefully low tree planting.

Speaking at the Woodland Trust's Parliamentary launch on Wednesday (December 6) of a series of essays outlining its vision for a post Brexit integrated land use policy, the Secretary of State said: “There is a responsibility for us to plant for the future. Compare us to the rest of Europe and the amount of woodland cover we have is pathetically small. The rates of tree planting in the UK, and England in particular, have not been good enough. There is a beauty and a poetry to a landscape decorated and indeed rooted with trees. If we have a care for our environment and if we have a view of this country that goes beyond the utilitarian and the practical, and which is viewed in a proper sense of beauty, romance, history and a desire to ensure future generations can enjoy what past generations have cherished, then we need to plant more trees. And with the publication of our 25 Year Plan for the Environment in the New Year, I hope we can say more on how we intend to meet that ambition. But we won’t be able to meet that ambition without the continued advocacy that comes from the Woodland Trust because it’s only by you holding us to the highest standards that we will make sure that the next generation inherit the woodlands, forests and trees they deserve.”

The speech was met with optimism by the Trust which has been calling for more action on tree planting rates and ancient woodland protection.

Its CEO Beccy Speight said 2017 has been a low point for the UK’s trees and woods: “In England, new planting rates are at the lowest for a generation. At the same time, we see continued loss of existing woodland at an accelerated rate due to weak planning laws. The lack of effort to quantify these losses means England is surely slipping unnoticed into a state of deforestation. This is an appalling and dire position for a developed country to be in.”


Marine organisms can shred a carrier bag into 1.75 million pieces, study shows - University of Plymouth

Researchers believe this is an example of marine wildlife actually contributing to the spread of microplastics within the marine environment. 

A single plastic carrier bag could be shredded by marine organisms into around 1.75million microscopic fragments, according to new research.

Marine scientists at the University of Plymouth examined the rate at which bags were broken down by the amphipod Orchestia gammarellus, which inhabits coastal areas in northern and western Europe.

They discovered the organisms shred the material, with researchers believing this is an example of marine wildlife actually contributing to the spread of microplastics within the marine environment, rather than them simply being emitted from the water supply or forming through the physical and chemical break down of larger items.  The study's main aim was to discover whether different types of plastic and the presence of a biofilm – a layer of organic material which accumulates over time – altered the rate at which such organisms broke down plastic debris.

Through monitoring in the laboratory and on the shoreline, researchers demonstrated the bags were torn and stretched by Orchestia gammarellus, with microplastics subsequently being found in and around their faecal matter.

The type of plastic (conventional, degradable and biodegradable) had no effect on the rate of ingestion, however the presence of a biofilm meant the shredding took place around four times as quickly.  This, the researchers say, is consistent with recent studies into the feeding behaviour of seabirds and suggests marine life might be increasingly attracted to marine debris as a source of food regardless of the potential harm caused.

Previous studies led by the University have shown that more than 700 species of marine life have been found to have encountered plastic debris, with clear evidence that ingestion and entanglement causes direct harm to many individuals.

Access the paper: D.J. Hodgson, A.L. Bréchon, R.C. Thompson, Ingestion and fragmentation of plastic carrier bags by the amphipod Orchestia gammarellus: Effects of plastic type and fouling load, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 127, February 2018, Pages 154-159, ISSN 0025-326X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2017.11.057.


Two success stories from British Divers Marine Life Rescue 

Entangled seal in Outer Hebrides 

On the evening of Sunday 26th November 2017 BDMLR medics in the Outer Hebrides received a message from Head Office asking them to be ready at first light on the Monday morning.  Reports had come in to Head Office from a concerned member of the public detailing a badly entangled seal, possibly creel lines on the beach at North Tolsta on the Isle of Lewis.

Area Co-ordinator David Yardley and medic Lyndsey Dubberley responded at first light on the Monday morning making their way to North Tolsta primarily, in an attempt to locate the reported seal.  On arrival at North Tolsta main beach they came across a seal pup which was not entangled but was checked and deemed to be a healthy pup.  With no sign of any entangled seal they then made their way to Traigh Ghioradail, Tolsta, further south along the coastline.  At this point it was still unclear as to whether they were dealing with an adult seal, a pup or both.

entangled grey seal pup (BDMLR)netting cut free the seal (BDMLR)Walking the beach at Traigh Ghioradail they came across what looked like a large pile of green netting until it began to attempt to move!  A young Grey seal pup!  The Grey seal pup was completely entangled in the netting and although tired and exhausted still feisty, a good sign!  It was mid tide so the pair had time on their hands.  David managed to contain the feisty seal pup whilst Lyndsey took her knife and began to cut through the huge amount of netting wrapped around the pup.  The netting was completely wrapped around the seal pup, in particular around its neck.  It took Lyndsey more than 15 minutes working constantly to cut the netting free.

(Both images BDMLR)

A detailed assessment of the seal pup was carried out whilst David had it contained.  Remarkably it had only sustained one minor abrasion to its side and was in a healthy state despite its ordeal.  They released the pup and it made its way straight back into the sea looking rather relieved.

Lyndsey returned to the location the following two mornings and saw the seal pup quite happily feeding in the sea with an adult (possibly Mum) close by.  Happy Days!  

Entangled seal pup at Crackington Haven, Cornwall BDMLR Cornwall Assistant Coordinator
Michelle Robinson

BDMLR received a call on 12-10-17 from the Cornwall 101 police non-emergency number regards an entangled seal pup in trouble on the North Coast at Crackington Haven.

I was called to the scene immediately once arrived at the beach I was met with finders Rhiannon, her partner Freddie, and family, who took me direct to where the seal pup was, on the beach amongst the rocks and boulders.

I was looking at a huge trawler net which also had a dead Sea bird in the entanglement around the neck, almost like a head dress.

After cutting off the net we were pretty shocked to discover that the netting hadn’t cut or damaged the skin. It just left a fine indent on the fur around the neck.  The pup was brought onto the beach where we could assess her health in more detail and safely, she was a good weight, good temperature and had good feistiness,

We needed confirmation from our BDMLR vet Darryl Thorpe that he agreed pup was fit for release. Thankfully it was all agreed, but he suggested a tube feed of Life Aid to help her on way, of which I administered with assistance from Sharon who also disposed of the filthy trawler net.  I rang Dan Jarvis, Field support officer, and BDMLR medic, that he was happy with the location & conditions on beach to release. Pleased to say that he confirmed it was all was good to go. 

This was a very rewarding day to witness, as this doesn’t happen often!!


Radar tracking reveals how bees develop a route between flowers – Queen Mary University London

As bees gain foraging experience they continually refine both the order in which they visit flowers and the flight paths they take between flowers to generate better and better routes, according to researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

Despite this, bees can be tricked into taking tempting shortcuts between flowers even at the cost of increasing the overall distance they have A bumblebee eats a food reward presented on an artificial flower. Five such feeders each contain 1/5 of the amount required to fill her up and the bee must learn a route to take her to all five. Visible in the background are a Landrover from which researchers monitor the harmonic radar and a shed which contains the bee’s nest. Copyright: Joseph Woodgateto fly.

A bumblebee eats a food reward presented on an artificial flower. Five such feeders each contain 1/5 of the amount required to fill her up and the bee must learn a route to take her to all five. Visible in the background are a Landrover from which researchers monitor the harmonic radar and a shed which contains the bee’s nest. Copyright: Joseph Woodgate

Animals that travel between multiple destinations and return to a home base – like bees, birds, primates and humans - face a predicament known to mathematicians as the Travelling Salesman Problem.

The challenge is to find a route that visits each destination while travelling the shortest possible distance. Previous research, looking only at the order in which animals arrive at each destination, has shown that animals often find a good, or even optimal, solution but little is known about how they find that solution.

Lead author Joseph Woodgate, from Queen Mary’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, said: “Animals cannot simply inspect a map to find out where the best food sources are or plan how to get between them.”


Red List 2017: seabirds starving, songbirds trapped, hope for pelican and kiwis – Birdlife International

Overfishing and climate change are pushing seabirds such as Black-legged Kittiwake and Cape Gannet closer to extinction, according to the latest update on the conservation status of the world’s birds by BirdLife International for The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

On land, the Snowy Owl is also struggling to find food in the North American Arctic. The once super-abundant Yellow-breasted Bunting could soon go extinct if illegal trapping (for food) in China is not halted. And the Kea is threatened by predation from introduced mammals, with tourists in New Zealand feeding junk food to these inquisitive parrots being a factor preventing successful conservation.

However, there is also hope, with Dalmatian Pelicans in Europe recovering thanks to artificial nesting rafts and disturbance prevention; and in New Zealand, where two species of kiwi are now less threatened thanks to dedicated control of introduced predators, egg-rearing and community work.

In the UK RSPB reports on the fall of the kittiwake

Kittiwake joins the red list of UK birds facing risk of global extinction - RSPB
The kittiwake (a small species of gull), has been added to the list of birds considered to be facing the risk of global extinction.

The latest annual revision of birds on the IUCN Red List, which has been announced by BirdLife International on behalf of the IUCN, brings the total number of UK bird species considered to be facing the risk of extinction to nine.

Image: RSPBGlobally, the species is thought to have declined by around 40% since the 1970s, justifying its uplisting from Least Concern to Vulnerable. Climate change and fishing that sets aside too little for the birds are pushing the kittiwake closer to extinction. 

Image: RSPB

Alarming trends have been recorded in the UK’s kittiwake numbers, particularly in Orkney and Shetland where breeding birds have declined by 87% since 2000, and on St Kilda in the Western Isles where as much as 96% of the breeding population has been lost.

Laura Bambini, the RSPB Scotland’s seabird recovery officer said: “Some efforts are underway to protect important seabird foraging areas in international waters, but there is much more we could do around the UK to protect


Council brownfield registers miss land that could provide an extra 200,000 homes – CPRE

CPRE finds current process isn’t spotting enough small brownfield sites

Local authorities routinely disregard small brownfield sites, despite the fact that these usually have existing infrastructure (CPRE)Local authorities routinely disregard small brownfield sites, despite the fact that these usually have existing infrastructure (CPRE)

Brownfield Land Registers are failing to record the small brownfield plots that could provide space for an extra 188,734 homes across England, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has found. A more proactive process and access to Land Registry data could help build homes without wasting precious countryside.

Every local planning authority is due to publish an accurate and up-to-date register of brownfield sites that are available and suitable for development  by 31 December 2017, which will be used by developers and community groups looking to find land on which to build homes. In his autumn budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond set out a proposal that 20% of new homes be built on small sites so ‘that brownfield and urban land be used as efficiently as possible for housing development’.

But CPRE says the Government needs to amend brownfield policy and guidance to encourage the identification of the full range of appropriate brownfield sites for housing if that aim is to be met.

An initial audit of already submitted brownfield land registers by CPRE shows that less than 4% of current registered brownfield land is on small sites of up to 10 homes. If councils are to meet the Chancellor’s 20% small site target on brownfield, an additional 188,734 homes across England could be unlocked.


Seabed landscape crucial for fish conservation University of Glasgow

Conservation and fisheries management strategies should take into account seabed landscape in order to maintain fish conservation.

Image: University of GlasgowImage: University of Glasgow

A new study led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Strathclyde and Marine Scotland Science and that is published in PLOS ONE, demonstrates the importance of protecting different seabed landscapes in order to maintain a healthy and diverse stock of fish, including cod, haddock and whiting.

Currently nature conservation and fisheries management often focus on protecting a single seabed type that is considered to be important to a commercial species, but do not routinely consider the importance of a mixture of seabed types on the marine ecosystem.

In particular, the authors highlighted the importance of a diverse and varied seabed landscape for the health and protection of Atlantic cod.

Researchers used predictive mapping and examined a 250 square kilometre area south of Arran in the Firth of Clyde from June to September in 2013 and 2014.

Lead author of the study Sophie Elliott, from the University of Glasgow, said: "The interaction of species within their landscape is rarely taken into consideration. This investigation highlights the importance of looking at landscape measures in the conservation and management of mobile demersal fish. Our work has shown that the mixture of seabed features matters to juvenile fish of commercial importance and understanding this could improve our ability to protect marine ecosystems and support fisheries.”

At present our marine conservation policies focus on protecting particular features such as seagrass and coralline algae beds. These policies do not consider the mixture of different features and how they could be of benefit to the wider ecosystem.


Major new project will collaborate to help the Marsh Fritillary cross borders – Butterfly Conservation

Work is underway in the border counties of Ireland to improve Marsh Fritillary habitats in as part of a ground-breaking conservation initiative spanning three countries.

Image: Butterfly ConservationThe five-year, European funded ‘Co-operation Across Borders for Biodiversity’ (CABB) project spans Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland and will work to improve habitats for birds, butterflies and other species.

Image: Butterfly Conservation

The £4.9m initiative is supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme and managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).  CABB will be delivered through a unique partnership between RSPB NI, RSPB Scotland, BirdWatch Ireland, Butterfly Conservation, Northern Ireland Water and Moors for the Future.

Butterfly Conservation’s role in the project is to develop partnerships with landowners and volunteers to improve the habitat and breeding conditions for the Marsh Fritillary across the north counties of the island of Ireland.  CABB operates on both the north and south of the Irish border, and this presents a unique opportunity for cross border collaboration and action.

Head of Conservation for Butterfly Conservation in Northern Ireland, Catherine Bertrand explains, “CABB presents our first practical project to actively conserve the Marsh Fritillary on the island of Ireland.  The butterfly doesn’t know about borders, and many of the networks of sites where this species are found have land in the jurisdictions of both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  As the butterfly must have a well-connected network of sites in good habitat condition in order to survive, it’s always been important to look at the landmass as a single entity rather than only working on one side or the other.  We will only save this species for the future if we work together.”


Nine year olds’ knowledge of trees betters twenty somethings - Woodland Trust

Nine-year-olds are more likely to identify Britain’s most iconic trees such as the oak and holly than people in their twenties, a survey shows.

When asked to identify leaves from the oak, 59 per cent of nine year olds correctly identified the tree, as opposed to just 47 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds and 42 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds.  Late teens and twenty somethings fared little better when identifying leaves from the holly tree, with 94 per cent of nine year olds correct, as opposed to 84 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds and 83 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds.

The results come from a survey commissioned by the Woodland Trust and carried out by You Gov testing people’s knowledge of trees, as the charity celebrates a ten year partnership with Pearson – the world’s leading learning company.

Over the course of a decade Pearson has funded the planting of tens of thousands of trees to mitigate carbon through the charity’s Woodland Carbon scheme which will benefit young people for years to come.

It has also contributed to boosting youngsters’ knowledge of trees by providing curriculum materials to schools and tree seeds to 4,000 primary schools.

The Trust’s Director of Fundraising Karl Mitchell said: “Pearson’s commitment to our Woodland Carbon scheme has helped plant thousands of trees, bringing wide reaching benefits to the environment – and of course to people and wildlife for years to come.  The survey clearly alludes to the fact that children’s knowledge of trees is on the increase and Pearson’s additional funding for tree seeds to primary schools and curriculum materials – which backs up all the work we do with schools across the UK - must play a part in this.”


Play Wild project helps parents be more confident outdoors - Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

A project designed to help disadvantaged families from deprived areas feel confident playing in wild spaces has had a significant positive effect, a report by the University of Derby reveals.

The Play Wild project was designed to help families from deprived areas learn how use the outdoors for play after research showed that many parents, especially in towns and cities, don’t take their children to wild places; often because they didn’t know about them, or because they weren’t confident about knowing what they could do there.


The University of Derby monitored the participants to evaluate the project’s outcomes and impact; their report states the project had a statistically significant effect on parent’s confidence in their ability to take their children outdoors to play, as well as more confident in knowing where to go, knowing what to do and in their level of nature connection.

Several parents have stated their intention to get outdoors with their children more often since taking part in the project. “We love being outdoors, this has been great, and we will be visiting Carsington again over the holidays and weekends” said one participant, while another said they had “been given lots of ideas that we can do outside and looking forward to getting out more”. 

The results from the project show that just one session in nature can help families to improve their skills, information and knowledge about playing outdoors with their families. Spending time outdoors has been shown to increase people’s sense of connection to nature and is beneficial for health and wellbeing in both adults and children. Projects like Play Wild demonstrate that nature-based interventions could help to improve the health and wellbeing of families from deprived areas. 


Golf course plans threaten bird haven - RSPB

RSPB Scotland and local wildlife groups add their voices to save Coul Links

RSPB Scotland has today submitted its objection to proposals to build a golf course on globally important wildlife site at Coul Links in East Sutherland. Local wildlife groups have also expressed their desire to see the site saved from the plans put forward by developers American multi-millionaires Mike Keiser and Todd Warnock.

Throughout the year Coul Links is home to many species of birds – right now the flooded dunes provide a refuge for wigeon and teal which have come to seek shelter over the colder months. In spring the call of curlew, drumming snipe and the song of skylarks can be heard over dunes and a wide range of red and amber listed species of conservation concern nest amongst the dunes including grasshopper warbler, whinchat and reed bunting.

Yet, all this would be destroyed should the proposals be given the go ahead. The birdlife would suffer as important wetland habitat would be effectively drained and replaced by golf greens.  RSPB Scotland’s objection highlights that plans to translocate or move dune habitat would not be successful as the habitat that has taken thousands of years to form cannot be artificially recreated. 

Alison Searl, conservation officer at RSPB Scotland said: “There’s a reason why Coul Links is so heavily protected through national and European designations – it’s an outstanding place for nature and an incredibly rare habitat. It cannot be moved or replicated elsewhere; should these proposals be given the go ahead the amazing place would be lost forever and the impact on the birds currently found here throughout the year would be serious.”

Mining company refuses to take National Parks seriously – Campaign for National Parks

Campaign for National Parks and the North Yorkshire Moors Association believe the changes proposed by Sirius Minerals PLC for the development of the Woodsmith Mine take insufficient regard of the special status of the North York Moors National Park.

Revised proposals for the site undermine previous efforts to minimise the impact on the North York Moors, by including:

  • Development at the mine showing the visual intrusion into the landscape. Photo credit: Tom ChadwickA significant increase in the size of a shaft building leading to a more pronounced industrial impact on the National Park landscape.
  • The replacement of the temporary winding towers by rigs and a crane increasing the visual and audible intrusion in the surrounding area.

We are also concerned over the lack of information about other changes to the development, particularly as this could lead to an increase in the size of spoil heaps.

Development at the mine showing the visual intrusion into the landscape* Photo credit: Tom Chadwick

Ruth Bradshaw, Policy and Research Manager at Campaign for National Parks said: “We have raised concerns over the Woodsmith potash mine since the idea was first proposed in 2013. It’s really disappointing that the latest plans undermine the company’s previous work to reduce the impact of the development on the North York Moors.

Once again Sirius have failed to take account of the extra care that must be taken in this sensitive location and therefore continue to put at risk our treasured National Park.”

Tom Chadwick of the North Yorkshire Moors Association, said: “Building a mine of this scale in a National Park is simply at odds with the whole purpose of National Parks. The changes that are now being proposed will degrade the special qualities of the National Park still further and we are beginning to see the impact of the development at the mine head site at what was Doves Nest Farm.”

[*the mine is floodlit and the light pollution is visible over a wide area. It's not far from CJS, we see the tower rigs from across the valley every time we head into 'town' (Whitby) and the lights at night outshine the MOD station at Flyingdales - Ed]


New report estimates the cost of creating a wildlife-rich countryside for future generations – The Wildlife Trusts

New report shows how much Government might need to pay farmers and land managers for their role in looking after our natural heritage

A new report “Assessing the costs of environmental land management in the UK” commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the National Trust, shows how much Government might need to pay farmers and land managers for their role in looking after our natural heritage. Agriculture has had the biggest impact on the UK’s wildlife than any other factor, and there is an urgent need to reverse the fortunes of wildlife and the natural assets (the soil, water and habitats) which we all rely on.

The Wildlife Trusts advise thousands of farmers each year about managing land for wildlife, and between us, the RSPB and the National Trust, we own or manage thousands of hectares of land directly. There is a risk that the £3 billion currently spent per year by the Government through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could be lost after Brexit. We believe it must be redeployed.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager, of The Wildlife Trusts says: “Farmers can sell the food they grow through the market. But they can’t sell a whole range of services that society needs them to provide, whether it’s reducing the risk of floods downstream, creating habitat for bees or improving the health of our soils. The Wildlife Trusts believe that farmers should be paid for this as it benefits us all. A healthy, wildlife-rich natural world is valuable in its own right and is also at the core of people’s wellbeing and prosperity. We must be prepared to pay for these benefits.”

The report estimates that meeting existing government commitments to improving natural assets such as water quality, soil health and biodiversity will cost £2.3 billion per year. But meeting existing commitments will not be sufficient to halt the decline of the UK’s wildlife and reverse this trend. £2.3 billion is five times more than is currently spent through agri-environment schemes – the source of most current environmental land management funding. This figure does not include wider financing required in the farming sector, for example for research and development or providing advice to farmers.

Ellie Brodie continues: “We propose that future farming and land management budgets need more than the £2.3 billion for environmental land management alone. If we invest now, we’ll see a return of species that were once common but are now rare, the return of hedgerows for wildlife, rich soils for capturing carbon, and woodland that is not only beautiful, but can help to reduce flood risk.”


London Wildlife Trust awarded £1million to transform the wild heart of King’s Cross - London Wildlife Trust

Heritage Lottery Fund backs plan for ‘ecological knowledge hub’ at Camley Street Natural Park, with further support pledged by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Thames Water, Garfield Weston Foundation and the Taurus Foundation.

A new visitor and learning centre will be created at Camley Street Natural Park in King’s Cross after London Wildlife Trust was awarded £1,098,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Made possible by National Lottery players, the fully accessible building will include an education studio with multi-functional learning space, a café and facilities for volunteers. Exterior features will include wildlife-friendly spaces for nesting swifts and bats, and there will be new views across the nature reserve and the Regent’s Canal.

The development of this project has also been supported by a contribution of around £400,000 in Section 106 funds from the King’s Cross Central development.

For more than 30 years, Camley Street Natural Park has been an inspirational place to learn about wildlife, less than ten minutes’ walk from King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations. More than 20,000 people visit the park every year, where they can see species that are rare for central London – including birds such as Cetti’s warbler and kingfisher; and amazing insects such as willow emerald dragonfly.

Each year, an estimated 40,000 visitors will explore the reserve and have the opportunity to learn about nature and wildlife conservation. Although surrounded by the city, the nature reserve, which is about the size of a football pitch, boasts a mosaic of thriving habitats including wetland, woodland, meadow and invertebrate ‘zones’.


Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs single departmental plan - Defra Corporate report

Published 14 December 2017 

Our single departmental plan sets out our objectives and how we will achieve them.

The environment is fundamental to all that we do, and we must protect and enhance it. The job of Defra group is to make our country a great place for living. We do this by supporting our superb food, farming and fisheries industries, enhancing our beautiful rural environment, and better protecting against flooding, disease and other natural threats.

Our objectives

1. A smooth and orderly exit from the EU

2. A cleaner, healthier environment, benefiting people and the economy

3. A world leading food and farming industry

4. A rural economy that works for everyone, contributing to productivity, prosperity and wellbeing

5. A nation better protected against floods, animal and plant diseases and other hazards, with strong response and recovery capabilities

Our finances


Industry calls for ‘Gove guarantee’ on agri-environment schemes - Wildlife Trusts, on behalf of coalition of organisations*

Farming and green organisations have come together to seek a guarantee from Michael Gove that farmers and land managers who sign up to agri-environment schemes before the UK leaves the EU are not penalised post-Brexit.

The CLA, NFU, TFA, CAAV, FWAG, GWCT, the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the National Trust have jointly written to the Environment Secretary calling for a commitment to ensure those in England with a Countryside Stewardship agreement are not at a disadvantage when the Government launches a new and improved system of environmental land management payments after EU exit. 

Defra Ministers have suggested that post-Brexit, there will still be support for achieving environmental outcomes which will be simpler and more effective. Due to this expectation, the organisations argue that some farmers and land managers do not want to limit their ability to access improved schemes in the future by committing to five-year agreements under the current Countryside Stewardship.

The organisations ask for a guarantee from Mr Gove to provide confidence to the sector and to ensure farmers and land managers continue to engage in schemes which deliver positive environmental results.

Read the letter to Michael Gove in full.

*The organisations supporting this call are the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), National Farmers Union (NFU), Tenant Farmers Association (TFA), RSPB England, The Wildlife Trusts, Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV), Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), National Trust and Farm Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG).



Making sense of clicks and squeaks: Mammal Society launches Ecobat - Mammal Society

Bats make high pitched calls inaudible to the human ear. These secret sounds can be recorded using specialised equipment, and the approach is frequently used to help determine whether bats are likely to be adversely affected by proposed developments such as new housing or roads. However, there are currently no standardised techniques interpreting these data. This makes it difficult to assess the likely impacts of developments, or to choose between two alternative locations for a development.

Pipistrelle bat by James MillerPipistrelle bat by James Miller

The Mammal Society is launching a new Web-based tool, Ecobat, which addresses the need for a more robust way of interpreting the results from acoustic surveys for ecological assessments.

Ecobat offers users an easy, standardised, and objective method for analysing bat activity data. It allows ecologists to compare data across sites on both a regional and national basis, generating a numerical indicator of how important surveying results, such as a bat activity are for that site. It can therefore enable better decision to be made about the development potential or conservation value of the location.

A key aspect of Ecobat is that it has been made available free and open-source and as the underlying algorithms are already developed it could be easily expanded to new geographic regions and species groups. Prof Fiona Mathews, Chair of the Mammal Society says “A big incentive to use Ecobat is that it gives ecologists — for free — ready to use graphs that help them assess how likely it is that a roost is close by. The system is built on the data submitted by the ecological community, so the more Ecobat is used, the better the outputs become”.

Ecobat can be accessed at www.ecobat.org.uk

Read the research paper (open access): Lintott PR, Davison S, van Breda J, et al. Ecobat: An online resource to facilitate transparent, evidence-based interpretation of bat activity data. Ecol Evol. 2017;00:1–7. Doi: 10.1002/ece3.3692


New raptor persecution maps to help tackle wildlife crime - defra

New technology will help crack down on crimes against raptors in England and Wales.

A buzzard in flight (image: defra)A buzzard in flight (image: defra)

Raptor persecution maps for England and Wales have been published to enable the police to clearly see where the highest incidents are taking place and focus enforcement efforts in the areas that need it most.

The maps present the number of shootings, trappings, poisonings and nest destructions that took place across England & Wales between 2011 and 2015 and will be updated annually, providing an invaluable intelligence tool to help fight crimes again birds of prey.

North Yorkshire will be a priority area as the most incidents occurred there (39), followed by Norfolk (17), Cumbria (11), Derbyshire (11), Lincolnshire (10), Suffolk (8) and Northumberland (8).

Wildlife Minister Thérèse Coffey said: "Birds of prey are a vital part of our animal landscape, icons of our cultural heritage and key to boosting local economies by attracting visitors to England and Wales. These maps highlight hotspots across the country for crimes against these precious birds, enabling the police to crack down with increased enforcement in areas where it’s needed most – building on the valuable work land management, conservation and shooting organisations are already doing to help protect iconic birds of prey."

These maps build on this valuable work and will help boost the fight against those who continue to commit crimes against raptors. In the five year measurable period there have been 262 incidents in England and Wales: 146 of these caused by shooting and 66 by poisoning.

The majority of incidents took place against buzzards (108), followed by owls (40), red kites (39) and peregrine [falcons] (34). 


Response: New maps a ‘valuable tool in fight against raptor crime’, says BASC - British Association for Shooting and Conservation

BASC believes the publication of the first comprehensive raptor persecution map for England and Wales will allow enforcement to be effectively targeted.

While a previous map showed only incidents involving the poisoning of protected raptors, the new interactive map also now includes for the first time incidents of shootings, trappings and nest destruction.

 Christopher Graffius, BASC’s acting chief executive, said: “For the fight against raptor persecution to be successful, it is essential that credible intelligence is available to enable enforcement to be focused in the most effective manner. This map should serve as a wake-up call for those who are doing a disservice to the entire shooting community by committing crimes against birds of prey. The message should now be heard loud and clear that illegality has to stop. BASC fully supports the publication of this map and hopes it will prove to be a valuable tool in the fight against raptor crime.”

BASC, as members of the RPPDG, has worked with other rural organisations, the RSPB, the police and government agencies to publish the information.

Ian Grindy, chair of BASC’s game and gamekeeping committee, said: “For too many years, the extent of persecution has been hidden. BASC hopes that by pulling together all the available data in this interactive map, organisations are in a better position to put an end to this illegal activity once for all. A clear step has been taken towards driving these criminals into full view.”


Scientific Publications

McDonald, J. A., Helmstedt, K., Bode, M., Coutts, S., McDonald-Madden, E. and Possingham, H. P., Improving private land conservation with outcome-based biodiversity payments. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13071


Anna María Pálsdóttir, Ulrika K. Stigsdotter, Dennis Perqsson, Petra Thorpert, Patrik Grahn, The qualities of natural environments that support the rehabilitation process of individuals with stress-related mental disorder in nature-based rehabilitation, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, ISSN 1618-8667, doi:10.1016/j.ufug.2017.11.016.


Wood, K. A., Nuijten, R. J. M., Newth, J. L., Haitjema, T., Vangeluwe, D., Ioannidis, P., Harrison, A. L., Mackenzie, C., Hilton, G. M., Nolet, B. A. and Rees, E. C. (2017), Apparent survival of an Arctic-breeding migratory bird over 44 years of fluctuating population size. Ibis. doi:10.1111/ibi.12521f


Lead author, Kevin Wood of Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, wrote about the finding on the British Ornithologist Union's blog: . The changing survival of Bewick’s Swans,  A long-term mark-resight study gives insight into falling swan numbers 


Riordan, J. and Birkhead, T., Changes in the diet composition of Common Guillemot Uria aalge chicks on Skomer Island, Wales, between 1973 and 2017. Ibis. doi:10.1111/ibi.12570  


John Lusby, et al., Breeding ecology and habitat selection of Merlin Falco columbarius in forested landscapes Bird Study  doi: 10.1080/00063657.2017.1408565


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