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


Recharging Rural research announced - The Prince’s Countryside Fund 

The Prince’s Countryside Fund is thrilled to announce it has appointed Professor Sarah Skerratt of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to conduct vital research into what can make rural communities in the UK sustainable, in spite of the adversities they face.

These communities are facing an increasing number of seemingly insurmountable challenges. An ageing and disconnected population is experiencing a reduction in local amenities and services; younger people are being priced out of living in rural areas thanks to rising housing costs and lower wages; added to this, urban dwellers are becoming increasingly distanced from the rural way of life.  Farming and agriculture, the beating heart of many of these rural communities, is about to undergo its most profound series of changes in a century which will prove challenging for the rural economy.  Yet rural communities have always been many of our most resilient, taking challenges and change in their stride and welcoming the influx of new blood, which brings energy and new ways of thinking to their communities. They foster independent businesses, encourage tourism and an active leisure population, and many are well positioned to benefit from new inclusive technologies, with a focus on the power of the collective and local.

Professor Skerratt’s Recharging Rural report is to look at these challenges, as well as those which may arise in the future, with a focus on communities currently not engaged in “empowerment networks”.

The research will be published in July, to coincide with The Prince’s Countryside Fund annual awareness campaign, National Countryside Week, Monday 30th July to Sunday 5th August 2018.

To find out more about Recharging Rural, visit the Research section of PCF's website here.


2017 Survey Roundup! - ORCA

We have finished collating all the data from our 2017 surveys and what an amazing year it has been!

Here are our survey statistics for 2017:

  • An incredible 85 surveys were conducted, our highest number yet. 
  • These consisted of 71 ferry surveys across 11 different routes and 14 cruise surveys, involving 10 different shipping partners in total. 
  • Our Marine Mammal Surveyors travelled 57,286.42km on effort across 9 sea regions and recorded 28,175 individual animals across 2,797 sightings, including 462 calves. Of these, 13,817 individuals were cetaceans, observed during 2,303 sightings and consisted of an amazing 24 different positively identified cetacean species. 
  • Excitingly we had our first ever recorded sightings of a North Atlantic right whale and rough-toothed dolphin.

All this data is added to our long-term, extensive dataset and utilised to inform cetacean conservation and is all thanks to our volunteer Marine Mammal Surveyors.


Norwegian Lessons on Dangers of Predation - NFU Scotland

Study trip hears more than 20,000 sheep lost to predators in 2016
NFU Scotland remains crystal clear that any proposals to re-introduce predators such as lynx or wolves are of huge concern to Scottish farmers and crofters.
On a recent study trip to Norway, an NFUS delegation heard that, in 2016, Norwegian authorities paid out compensation on nearly 20,000 sheep lost to predators.  Of the total amount of sheep killed in Norway, wolverine accounted for around 34 per cent of losses with the lynx, bear and wolf accounting for 21 per cent, 15 per cent and 9 per cent respectively.
Feverish press coverage of the proposals to reintroduce lynx to Kielder Forest on the border between Scotland and England saw a welcome commitment recently from Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing that he would never support such a reintroduction in Scotland.  Through its membership of the National Species Reintroduction Forum (NSRF) in Scotland, NFU Scotland has sought and received assurances from Natural England - the body currently assessing the application for a trial reintroduction of six lynx to Kielder - that the NSRF would be kept informed and be consulted on the proposals.
In early 2018, NFU Scotland will be making its views known directly to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove MP. He has decided that he, rather than Natural England, will make the final decision on the current trial reintroduction application.
Commenting after his Norwegian trip, NFU Scotland Vice President Martin Kennedy said: “Easily the biggest challenge Norwegian sheep farmers face is predation by large carnivores. Although sheep are housed for at least 6 months of the year, depending on which part of Norway you farm, when they graze up through the trees after lambing then they are extremely vulnerable.  Predation has reduced over the past 10 years, but this isn’t because of fewer predators, but more to do with the fact that a number of hill farmers have simply stopped keeping sheep.  The Norwegian NFU believe that around 1,000 hill farmers have given up keeping sheep in the last decade as they simply cannot carry on at the levels of predation."


Harbours at 26 locations win environmental awards - Keep Scotland Beautiful

Harbours and slipways across Argyll & Bute, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, the Highlands and the Western Isles have been recognised for environmental excellence following audits by our team of assessors.

The environmental accolades acknowledges  the commitment  of both CMAL, which owns the harbours and ports, and CalMac Ferries Ltd which operates them, to improving environmental quality.

Our audits looked at the maintenance of the buildings, cleanliness standards, waste management and engagement with the local community at 26 locations, and each site was accredited with a Bronze, Silver or Gold level.

Colin Hegarty from Keep Scotland Beautiful presented the awards. He, said: “Keep Scotland Beautiful is working closely with businesses and organisations across Scotland, helping them take direct action to improve their local environmental impact. the awards provide an exciting opportunity to assess and reward their efforts. We are delighted with the achievements of CalMac and CMAL. Both organisations have set a high bar for other transport operators across the country.” 


Birds learn from each other’s ‘disgust’, enabling insects to evolve bright colours - University of Cambridge

A new study of TV-watching great tits reveals how they learn through observation. Social interactions within a predator species can have “evolutionary consequences” for potential prey – such as the conspicuous warning colours of insects like ladybirds.

Many animals have evolved to stand out. Bright colours may be easy to spot, but they warn predators off by signalling toxicity or foul taste.  Yet if every individual predator has to eat colourful prey to learn this unappetising lesson, it’s a puzzle how conspicuous colours had the chance to evolve as a defensive strategy. 

Now, a new study using the great tit species as a “model predator” has shown that if one bird observes another being repulsed by a new type Great tit watching television (image: Credit: Per Tillmann, University of Cambridge)of prey, then both birds learn the lesson to stay away.  By filming a great tit having a terrible dining experience with conspicuous prey, then showing it on a television to other tits before tracking their meal selection, researchers found that birds acquired a better idea of which prey to avoid: those that stand out.  

Great tit watching television (image: Credit: Per Tillmann, University of Cambridge)

“Our study demonstrates that the social behaviour of predators needs to be considered to understand the evolution of their prey,” said lead author Dr Rose Thorogood, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. “Without social transmission taking place in predator species such as great tits, it becomes extremely difficult for conspicuously coloured prey to outlast and outcompete alternative prey, even if they are distasteful or toxic. There is mounting evidence that learning by observing others occurs throughout the animal kingdom. Species ranging from fruit flies to trout can learn about food using social transmission. We suspect our findings apply over a wide range of predators and prey. Social information may have evolutionary consequences right across ecological communities.”  

Click through to watch a video of great tits learning.

Access the publication: Rose Thorogood, Hanna Kokko & Johanna Mappes, : Social transmission of avoidance among predators facilitates the spread of novel prey Nature Ecology & Evolution (2017) doi:10.1038/s41559-017-0418-x


Cyclically-changing environments could be the key to earth’s diversity - University of Glasgow

A new study, led by the University of Glasgow and published today (Monday 18 Dec) in PNAS, found that cyclical changes in nature, such as Image: University of Glasgowseasons and tides, may create suitable conditions for the coexistence of a large number of species.

Image: University of Glasgow

The study, conducted in collaboration with ecologists from Texas A&M University and The University of the Aegean, focused on phytoplankton – microscopic algae that thrive in the world’s oceans, lakes and rivers. How such staggeringly diverse communities persist over time has been a long-standing question for ecologists since the dawn of ecological thinking.

Phytoplankton affects ecosystems by fuelling the entire ocean food chain, and is also critical in stabilising the climate because they remove huge quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reducing its impact on global temperatures.


New report highlights value of whales to the planet - WDC

A new report, supported by WDC, has been released today (Tuesday 19 Dec) and reveals the enormous ecological benefits that whales provide to the environment.

The report is the product of a workshop supported by the Chilean and Belgium governments that took place during the 2017 International Congress for Conservation Biology in Colombia, the first time the issue of how whales are essential contributors to a healthy marine eco-system had been discussed at such an international conference.

The report documents how whale faeces, rich in iron, nitrogen and other nutrients, trigger phytoplankton blooms in the ocean that increase the productivity of the entire marine food web.

Even in death, whales sustain life. When whales die naturally they sink to the seabed, where they become mini-ecosystems sustaining all manner of marine life. Whale carcasses fight climate change, taking huge amounts of carbon with them to the ocean floor and researchers estimate that as a direct result of whale hunting, large whales now store approximately nine million tons less carbon than before large-scale whaling.

The report also explores how these and other ecological services provided by whales could be used in national and international conservation policy, including within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the International Whaling Commission (IWC – the body that regulates whale hunting). In 2016, the IWC adopted a ground-breaking resolution recognizing the ecological contributions made by whales to the ecosystem.


New spiders found in Northern Ireland - Buglife 

Three new spiders have been discovered in Northern Ireland during surveys undertaken by wildlife charity Buglife which were funded by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

The Arcane tongue spider (Centromerus arcanus), Tree Comb-foot Spider (Anelosimus vittatus) and  Tree H-weaver (Episinus maculipes) have not previously been recorded in Northern Ireland, and will now be added to the list of 292 spider species known from the country.

spider (image: Buglife)(image: Buglife)

Adam Mantell, Buglife Northern Ireland Manager said “These are some exciting finds, and show how there is so much more to discover about Northern Ireland’s wildlife.  Our protected sites are vitally important for the conservation of invertebrates, our surveys are helping to manage them in the right way to conserve their wildlife riches”

These finds also show the importance of monitoring invertebrate populations so that we understand more about how our smallest animals are changing in the wild.  Good habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented in the modern landscape which isolates populations and makes them vulnerable to change and extinction. Buglife is working with NIEA and others to ensure that our invertebrates have a brighter future.


New research reveals England’s only resident bottlenose dolphins - The Wildlife Trusts

A new study of bottlenose dolphins in the southwest of England reveals a unique community.

The southwest of England is known as a hotspot for cetaceans but until recently little was known about the bottlenose dolphins glimpsed off the coast. Now new research reveals that the southwest of England is home to a resident population of bottlenose dolphins, the first and only such community to be identified in English waters.

Bottlenose dolphin (©Dan Murphy via Wildlife Trusts)Bottlenose dolphin (©Dan Murphy via Wildlife Trusts)

Ruth Williams, Marine Conservation Manager at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “This research is proof that we have a resident population and is incredibly exciting. Further work is needed but this is a huge step forward and I am proud of what our partnership between Cornwall Wildlife Trust, scientists and boat operators has achieved. The future of these iconic animals is in our hands and we need to make sure the few we currently have in the southwest are given the protection not just to survive, but to thrive.”

Rebecca Dudley, MRes at University of Plymouth, who has been analysing sightings and photographs of dolphins in the region, has gathered data from a large number of collaborators between 2007 and 2016, studying their social structure and distribution. Individual dolphins can be recognised by their dorsal fin, with its distinctive shape and markings. From thousands of records, Rebecca Dudley identified 98 individuals and was able to define a distinct social group of 28 resident dolphins, present throughout the year in shallow coastal waters around the southwest.

This discovery could have significant implications for the conservation of these animals, which currently receive no specific protection in their home range. As dolphins are so wide-ranging, strong evidence is needed to show that an area is important before protection can even be considered. The UK’s two other resident bottlenose dolphin populations (in the Moray Firth, Scotland, and in Cardigan Bay, Wales) have both received protection.

A summary fact sheet of this research can be found at: http://www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/living-seas/bottlenose-dolphin-project


Scientific Publication

Gaywood, M. J. (2018), Reintroducing the Eurasian beaver Castor fiber to Scotland. Mam Rev, 48: 48–61. doi:10.1111/mam.12113


And to finish the year:

Oldest living member of Slimbridge swan dynasty has arrived from the Arctic - Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust

Croupier, the 26-year-old leader of one of the biggest Bewick’s swan families ever studied at Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s famous Swan Lake at Slimbridge, arrived on Wednesday to the excitement of researchers.

Croupier (image: WWT)Croupier (image: WWT)

The ‘cobfather’ was sadly minus his long-term partner, Dealer, who is mum to 29 cygnets that they have brought back together over the years.  Researchers hope that Dealer has become separated from her mate on the long migration and is still out there somewhere. But as Bewick’s swan numbers have plummeted in the last two decades, they fear the worst.

Croupier’s grandfather Nijinsky began wintering at Slimbridge in 1969. His mum Casino, at 27, was one of WWT’s longest living wild swans, safely escorting 34 cygnets on the 2,500 mile journey from Russia to Slimbridge during her lifetime.

WWT’s swan research assistant Steve Heaven said: “Families tend to be the dominant groups on our Swan Lake and Croupier is from one of the oldest dynasties, which have ruled Slimbridge since the sixties. We can trace the legacy of these powerful swan families as we’ve been studying them closely for decades and drawing up family trees, using their distinctive bill patterns to identify each member. Our long-term study of the Bewick’s swans at Slimbridge has shed light on their ecological needs, important for survival. This information is crucial for helping us to understand why the population has been struggling”. 

For more information on Croupier, visit WWT’s swan expert Julia Newth’s blog here.


This was the final update for 2017.


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