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


Plans unveiled for 50 million tree new Northern Forest – Woodland Trust

Map showing how the new Northern Forest will span the width of the country, from Liverpool to Hull (Woodland Trust) 

Map showing how the new Northern Forest will span the width of the country, from Liverpool to Hull (Woodland Trust) 

The Woodland Trust and The Community Forest Trust plan to create an exciting new Northern Forest that will comprise over 50 million trees over 25 years and will stretch from Liverpool across to Hull with the M62 as its spine, has received Government backing this morning.

The project will embrace the major cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Chester and Hull as well as major towns across the north. It will deliver major environmental, social and economic benefits that complement the significant growth, investment and new infrastructure that is planned for the north of England.

The Northern Forest will both accelerate the creation of new woodland and support sustainable management of existing woods right across the area. Many more trees, woods and forests will deliver a better environment for all by: improving air quality in our towns and cities; mitigating flood risk in key catchments; supporting the rural economy through tourism, recreation and timber production; connecting people with nature; and helping to deliver improvements to health and wellbeing through welcoming and accessible local green spaces.

With a population in excess of 13m that is expected to rise by 9% over the next 20 years and with woodland cover at just 7.6%, below the UK average of 13%, and far below the EU average of 44%, the North of England is ripe to reap the benefits of such a project.

Tree planting rates are dramatically low with tree planting in 2016 being only 700 hectares against the Government’s target of 5000 hectares a year; there is a need for drastic change.


Extend post Brexit incentives to existing woodlands - Royal Forestry Society

The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) has welcomed Environment Secretary Michael Gove's plans post Brexit to incentivise farmers who enhance the natural environment, including planting trees but warns incentives must also include bringing existing woods back into management as well as to planting new woods.


Safety fears cited as main reason why more children don’t travel actively to school - Sustrans

Fears over physical safety has been cited as the main barrier preventing parents from allowing their children to travel actively to school, new Twenty nine percent of parents said a lack of cycle routes was a barrier for their child travelling actively to school each day (Sustrans)research has revealed.

Twenty nine percent of parents said a lack of cycle routes was a barrier for their child travelling actively to school each day (Sustrans)

The findings come from the School Travel Survey for Parents, released today by Sustrans Scotland and the Scottish Parent Teacher Council.

It found that 42.4% of parents felts that unsafe walking and cycling routes, a lack of or inadequate pavements, ineffective or lack of crossings, unsafe school entrances and dangerous driving were all major factors which prevented their children from walking, cycling or scootering to school.

Twenty nine percent of parents also said a lack of cycle routes was a barrier for their child travelling actively to school each day.

The survey, of 1,232 parents from across Scotland, also revealed that convenience for parents was a key factor in influencing whether or not their children travelled actively to school (32.0% of responses). A lack of time (24.7%) was also the third highest barrier for parents when it came to active travel for their children.

Safety concerns were the common theme for parents in urban and rural areas along with areas of high and low deprivation in Scotland. In rural and deprived areas these concerns manifested themselves in higher levels of driving and bus travel, along with more children being accompanied  to school by an adult in areas of high deprivation.


Boost for north Shropshire’s bees thanks to Shropshire Council’s new countryside membership scheme – Shropshire Council

North Shropshire’s bees are set for a brighter future thanks to money raised from Shropshire Council’s new countryside membership scheme.

The Bee Metropolis at The Mere in Ellesmere (Shropshire Council)The ‘Shropshire’s Great Outdoors’ scheme was launched in December 2016 with all membership fees put towards the maintenance of Shropshire Council’s countryside parks and sites.

Now, the money raised in the first year of the scheme is to be used to improve and enhance the Bee Metropolis that sits alongside The Mere at Ellesmere and provides a home to solitary bees and other invertebrates. (see notes)

The Bee Metropolis at The Mere in Ellesmere (Shropshire Council)

The planned work includes enhanced wildflower beds and new information boards showing types of British bees and the food plants they require to survive.

It will be carried out in early summer 2018, and the start of work will be marked with a special bee-themed day of events and activities at the site, including a bee safari run by the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. Further details will be announced shortly.

Meanwhile, the Shropshire’s Great Outdoors scheme has been developed for its second year to appeal to a greater range of people, and the list of member benefits has also been revised and improved.


World-leading microbeads ban takes effect - Defra

Today (Tuesday 9 Jan) the government's ban on microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products comes takes effect.

A ban on the manufacture of products containing microbeads has come into force today – a landmark step in the introduction of one of the world’s toughest bans on these harmful pieces of plastic.

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey has announced that manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products will no longer be able to add tiny pieces of plastic known as ‘microbeads’ to rinse-off products such as face scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels.

These damaging beads can cause serious harm to marine life, but the UK’s ban – praised by campaigners as one of the toughest in the world – will help to stop billions of microbeads ending up in the ocean every year. Alongside the success of the government’s 5p plastic bag charge – which has taken nine billion bags out of circulation – the ban puts the UK at the forefront of international efforts to crack down on plastic pollution.

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: “The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets and I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life.”


Agricultural fungicide attracts honey bees, study finds - University of Illinois

When given the choice, honey bee foragers prefer to collect sugar syrup laced with the fungicide chlorothalonil over sugar syrup alone, Fungicides are among the top contaminants of honey bee hives and can interfere with the bees’ ability to metabolize other pesticides. Photo by L. Brian Staufferresearchers report in the journal Scientific Reports.

Fungicides are among the top contaminants of honey bee hives and can interfere with the bees’ ability to metabolize other pesticides. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

The puzzling finding comes on the heels of other studies linking fungicides to declines in honey bee and wild bee populations. One recent study, for example, found parallels between the use of chlorothalonil and the presence of Nosema bombi, a fungal parasite, in bumble bees. Greater chlorothalonil use also was linked to range contractions in four declining bumble bee species.

Other research has shown that European honey bees have a very limited repertoire of detoxifying enzymes and that exposure to one potentially toxic compound – including fungicides – can interfere with their ability to metabolize others.

“People assume that fungicides affect only fungi,” said University of Illinois entomology professor and department head May Berenbaum, who led the new research with postdoctoral researcher Ling-Hsiu Liao. “But fungi are much more closely related to animals than they are to plants. And toxins that disrupt physiological processes in fungi can also potentially affect them in animals, including insects.”

The paper “Behavioral responses of honey bees (Apis mellifera) to natural and synthetic xenobiotics in food” is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-15066-5         


Study suggests exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong in cities beneficial for mental wellbeing – Kings College London

Researchers at King’s College London, landscape architects J & L Gibbons and art foundation Nomad Projects have used smartphone-based technology to assess the relationship between nature in cities and momentary mental wellbeing in real time. They found that (i) being outdoors, seeing trees, hearing birdsong, seeing the sky, and feeling in contact with nature were associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing, and that (ii) the beneficial effects of nature were especially evident in those individuals with greater levels of impulsivity who are at greater risk of mental health issues

Kings College LondonImage: Kings College London

Their paper, ‘Urban Mind: Using Smartphone Technologies to Investigate the impact of Nature on Mental Wellbeing in Real Time’ has been published in BioScience today (Wednesday 10 January).

The researchers developed a smartphone-based app, Urban Mind, to examine how exposure to natural features in cities affects a person’s mental wellbeing.

The Urban Mind app monitored 108 individuals who collectively completed 3,013 assessments over a one-week period.

In each assessment, participants answered several questions about their current environment and momentary mental wellbeing. GPS-based geotagging was used to monitor their exact location throughout the 1-week trial.

The results showed significant immediate and time lagged associations with mental wellbeing for several natural features: trees, the sky and birdsong. These associations were still evident several hours after exposure to trees, the sky and birdsong had taken place, indicating time-lasting benefits.


Ship noise affects ability of marine species to communicate – The University of Auckland

University of Auckland scientists have carried out the first-ever large scale investigation into the effects of ship noise in the waters of the Hauraki Gulf.

The research shows a significant reduction in the amount of “communication space” available for at least two key marine species.

Rosalyn Putland and colleague installing a hydrophone in the Hauraki Gulf (The University of Auckland)PhD candidate Rosalyn Putland and Associate Professor Craig Radford from the Institute of Marine Science combined sound recordings from four hydrophone “listening stations” over a nine month period with automatic ship tracking data to track underwater noise contributed by shipping.

Rosalyn Putland and colleague installing a hydrophone in the Hauraki Gulf (The University of Auckland)

Suspended 1m to 2m above the seafloor, the hydrophones recorded two minutes of data every 20 minutes.

The study focused on two species which use sound to communicate, Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera edeni) and the common reef fish, bigeye (Pempheris adspersa).

It found noise from cargo, container and tanker vessels overlapped their vocalisations up to 20 percent of the time.

Every time a vessel passed within 10km of a listening station, it reduced communication space for bigeyes by up to 61.5 percent and by up to 87.4 percent for Bryde’s whales. Research has shown bigeyes can communicate over distances of up to 31 metres, so a passing ship will reduce this to less than 12 metres.

The concept of “communication space” can be likened to the hubbub of a cocktail party where the ability to hear what is going on is reduced the louder the party becomes, says study co-author Associate Professor Craig Radford. “Communication space is the range at which two species can hear each other and this study has found the range at which bigeyes and Bryde’s whales can communicate is significantly reduced when a ship comes past.”

The reduction of communication space for marine species is becoming an increasing concern for scientists worldwide as more is learned about how sound is used among groups of species to ensure survival including finding a mate, defending territory and warning of predators.


Blanket Bog Track Trial Success – The Moorland Association

For years land managers have faced the challenge of trying to protect one of the UK’s most prized environmental landscapes as they work.

Image: The Moorland AssociationNow, new research has provided a big boost to safeguarding fragile upland blanket bogs along access routes.

Image: The Moorland Association

A study has been published that demonstrates that it is possible to use some vehicles on blanket bog habitats while minimising damage.

Blanket bog is internationally important for plants and animals and has an impact on drinking water quality.

Blanket bogs are an integral part of uplands in the UK and are managed for sheep grazing, grouse shooting, and support other leisure activities such as fell running, walking, bird watching and orienteering.

Vehicle access is primarily required for shepherding and grouse moor management activities including predator control, vegetation management and transporting shooting visitors to areas of moorland on shoot days. They can also be used to access the moors for restoration work.


Government's vision for a greener future launched - Defra

Today the government has published its 25 Year Environment Plan.

A pledge to eliminate avoidable waste, introduce new safeguards for wildlife and connect more children with nature are among the ambitious plans for a greener future outlined by Prime Minister Theresa May and Environment Secretary Michael Gove today.

In a major speech today, the Prime Minister has launched the government’s landmark 25 Year Environment Plan, setting out how we will improve the environment over a generation by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and curbing the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.

(image: Defra)“A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment” sets out how over the next quarter of a century the government will:

  • Crackdown on plastics by eliminating all avoidable plastic waste through extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate, supporting the water industry to significantly increase water fountains and working with retailers on introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles.
  • Help wildlife thrive by creating 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species, supporting farmers to turn fields into meadows and other habitats, replenishing depleted soils and providing £5.7 million to kick-start a [new Northern Forest] (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-northern-forest-gets-government-backing).
  • Be a world leader in environmental protection by investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, committing overseas aid to help developing nations combat plastic waste, and extending the UK’s network of marine protected areas
  • Deliver a Green Brexit by consulting on a new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards, and setting out a new approach to agriculture and fisheries management
  • Seek to embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle so development delivers environmental improvements locally and nationally, enabling housing development without increasing overall burdens on developers
  • Connect people with nature by creating ‘nature friendly schools’ and reviewing National Parks to see how they can improve and whether the network should be extended.

In a world-first, the 25 Year Environment Plan also sets out how we will use a natural capital approach to help us see the additional benefits – whether that is improved health and wellbeing, or national prosperity – in every part our environment, helping improve and direct decision making, and guiding new development.

Response: CPRE reaction to 25-year Environment Plan - CPRE

CPRE is delighted at the Government’s commitment to improving the environment shown in the 25-year plan launched today.

But it warned that to Government needs to follow up its vision with actions to make sure we use resources better, from plastics to land, if its vision is to be delivered.

Belinda Gordon, Head of Government and Rural Affairs at the Campaign to Protect Rural England said:

“The introduction of a 25-year Environment Plan is a fantastic commitment to long-term investment in the health, protection and enhancement of our countryside. We are delighted to see the Government taking measures to improve our National Parks, Green Belts and wider landscapes.

“However, despite the Government’s best intentions, we are concerned that the plan does not adequately address the growing development pressures on England’s countryside. England’s land is a finite resource – it is vital that we ensure we have a planning system that ensure the best use of land, while protecting our landscape and the wider natural environment. We look forward to working with the Government to make sure our planning system delivers what our communities and environment need.”

Reaction: Trusts chief Stephanie give cautious welcome to green plan - Lancashire Wildlife Trust

Prime Minister Theresa May has recognised the importance of the environment and young people in her speech today but will her Government be able to these follow these fine words with actions?

Commenting on the speech on the environment and the publication of the 25 Year Plan today, Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The PM’s speech shows that, at last, a Government is seeing how much the environment means to people, not least young people.

"There are fantastic words and ambitions for land and sea that raise the spirits - but the lack of legal underpinning is a fundamental flaw. What is the point of gently urging the horticulture sector to phase out the use of peat, when for decades it has been plundering the beautiful moors and mosses of the UK and now of Eastern Europe? What hope can we draw from a promise to return wildlife to our land when there could be a change of mood in a few weeks, or months’ time?

"There must be an ambitious Environment Act in the next Parliament or all this is simply the Government saying what the voluntary sector has been saying for a long time. It needs to act.

“It's good to hear that this new plan is, in theory, meant to work across Government departments. In practice though, there is no commitment from the Ministry of Housing that planning permissions will be granted only if there is high quality green infrastructure included, or from the Department of Health to implement green prescribing across the nation. A Nature Recovery Network is certainly essential but it must be in law, and work across urban and rural areas.

“Unless more Government leadership is shown, our wildlife will continue to decline and with it our mental health as even more people become isolated from the benefits of day to day contact with nature."

Reaction: 25 Year Environment Plan promises meadows for bees – Buglife

Buglife welcomes the great intentions of the Government’s new 25 Year Environment Plan, particularly in relation to restoring pollinator populations, and urges the Government to bring forward the enabling legislation before BREXIT. 

The 25-Year Environment Plan, launched today by the Prime Minister, is a broad and considered agenda to address many of the key issues that are currently causing environmental harm.   

The plan commits not only to stop environmental degradation but to reverse it, recognising that we must value wildlife “for in its own right” as well as its economic importance and acknowledging that a new approach is needed “to agriculture, land use and fisheries which puts the environment first.”

For the bugs and bees the most significant commitment in the Plan is to restore wildflower habitats and a ‘Nature Recovery Network’ involving 500,000 hectares of additional wildlife habitat.  Such a programme could help fill Britain’s B-Lines with wildflower meadows.

Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife said: “The destruction of 97% of wildflower meadows has left our countryside bereft; it is fantastic news that there will be a serious national mission to restore meadows to the countryside.  It is essential for the survival of bees and other insects that we rebuild a functioning network of wildflower corridors across the UK”.


New guidelines call for homes for people and wildlife - The Wildlife Trust

Why and how to build nature-friendly housing developments

New guidelines published by The Wildlife Trusts today show how new housing developments can be built in a way that provides people with greener, inspirational homes which help to reverse decades of wildlife and habitat decline. 

‘Homes for people and wildlife - how to build housing in a nature-friendly way’ is published at a time when the Government has recently committed to building a further 300,000 homes a year until 2022. This means that about 36 square miles will be given over to new housing developments annually – that’s an area larger than Brighton & Hove every year*. The Wildlife Trusts believe that the natural environment must be put at the heart of planning in order to give the government a chance of meeting its commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and to build new homes and communities that people enjoy living in.

Rachel Hackett, Living Landscapes Development Manager for The Wildlife Trusts says:

“A huge challenge lies ahead – thousands of new houses are to be built yet we need to restore the natural world. We’re calling on the government and local authorities to build beautiful, nature-friendly communities in the right places. Over the past century we have lost natural habitats on an unprecedented scale. Yet nature has its own innate value. It also makes us happy and we depend on the things that it gives us. Our new guidelines show that it’s possible to have both, so people can enjoy birdsong, reap the benefits of raingardens which soak up floodwater, and plants that bees and other pollinators need to survive. With good design the costs of doing this are a tiny proportion of the overall cost of a housing development, but represent a big investment for the future.”

The Wildlife Trusts are calling for the current focus on numbers of new homes to be replaced by a visionary approach to where and how we build.

Response: LGA responds to new Wildlife Trusts guidelines - Local Government Association

(image: Local Government Association)“Councils are committed to seeing housing developments that protect and enhance the natural environment and enable wildlife habitats to thrive and flourish."

(image: LGA)

Responding to new guidelines published by the Wildlife Trusts on building nature-friendly housing, Cllr Martin Tett, the Local Government Association’s Housing spokesman, said: “Councils are committed to seeing housing developments that protect and enhance the natural environment and enable wildlife habitats to thrive and flourish.

“But they need the planning tools to make sure developers build good quality homes in the right places.

“Government should work with councils to establish a clear, robust and transparent viability procedure which ensures the delivery of affordable housing, infrastructure and other amenities that communities need to back development and create great places to live.”


Tackling marine litter - Scottish Government

Proposal to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic cotton buds.

Plans to introduce legislation to ban the manufacture and sale of plastic stemmed cotton buds have been announced by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

The proposals will be put to public consultation and would position Scotland as the first country in the UK to legislate against these environmentally damaging items.

Plastic cotton buds are consistently listed in the top ten forms of beach litter in surveys by the Marine Conservation Society and Scottish environmental charity Fidra has been working with industry to promote biodegradable alternatives. 

Announcing the Scottish Government’s latest move to tackle the main sources of marine plastic pollution, Ms Cunningham said:

“Banning plastic cotton buds would be a clear sign of our ambition to address marine plastics and demonstrate further leadership on this issue. Despite various campaigns, people are continuing to flush litter down their toilets. This has to stop.

“Scotland’s sewerage infrastructure collects and treats some 945 million litres of wastewater each day. These systems are not designed to remove small plastic items such as plastic buds which can kill marine animals and birds that swallow them.

“These products are completely unnecessary as biodegradable alternatives are readily available. The need for action is clear and I would encourage everyone with an interest in safeguarding our natural environment  to take part in the consultation when it opens.”


New record for seal pups born at England’s largest colony – National Trust

Grey seal pups stay on land until they shed their white fur  (National Trust / Jemma Finch)The final count is in and National Trust rangers have confirmed it’s a record-breaking year for the number of seal pups born this winter.

Grey seal pups stay on land until they shed their white fur  (National Trust / Jemma Finch)

This year’s count of 2,700 seals at the National Trust’s Blakeney Point National Nature Reserve, England’s largest seal colony, has broken all previous records. The tally is a far cry from 2001 when just 25 pups were born. 

The grey seal colony had grown every year since recordings began in 2001, up until 2014/15. Last year, the team recorded 2,366 pups.

Each year, rangers from the conservation charity spend several months monitoring the success rate of the breeding seals, which is crucial to understanding how the population is faring. This year’s count, which began on 23 October 2017, was also a record, as it was the earliest recorded date for a grey seal birth on the Point.

National Trust Ranger, Ajay Tegala, said: “Blakeney Point is the perfect breeding site for grey seals, not least because of the absence of predators and relative remoteness which keeps disturbances to a minimum. 

“There’s also plenty of space to support the large numbers of seals on the sandy beach, with sheltered sand dunes further inland providing additional protection from bad weather. The east coast has escaped some of the worst storms to hit the UK this winter, with reserves on the west coast faring less well following Hurricane Ophelia in October.”


Avon Wildlife Trust Response to Bristol City Council’s Consultation on Parks and Green Spaces

Avon Wildlife Trust has today responded to Bristol City Council’s public consultation on the future of funding for the city’s parks, and voiced concerns that the proposed budget cuts could lead to habitats and wildlife being harmed - including wildflower-rich hay meadows being lost forever. AWT is encouraging others to respond to the consultation and put forward their views on the planned cost-cutting.

The consultation is underway as Bristol City Council seeks ways to reduce annual spending on parks by £2.8 million by April 2019. One approach the council is putting forward is to increase income from parks including through allowing more commercial events, concessions and advertising to take place within parks. In addition, the council is also consulting (proposal 8 of the consultation) on a plan to decrease the amount of money spent on maintaining the parks, and reduce or in some cases stop grass cutting, pruning shrubs and hedges, collecting fallen leaves, and cutting hay meadows.

AWT understands the stark funding reality Bristol City Council faces and the need to reduce costs for parks. We also recognise how much work the council is doing to explore new and creative approaches to managing these green spaces into the future and we’re keen to continue supporting them to do this. However, AWT is concerned that reducing the current level of maintenance work will result in less diverse habitats for wildlife within our parks – spaces where currently otters, kingfishers, slow worms, and a host of other birds, insects and mammals thrive.

AWT is firmly against the proposal to reduce the number of meadow sites having hay cuts, and fear this will lead to Bristol losing a rare and valuable habitat for wildlife and a beautiful landscape for people to enjoy. Wildflower-rich meadows are now a rare habitat -with the UK having just 3% of the areas of meadow we had in the 1930s, and Bristol City Council has a responsibility to look after and enhance the meadows it owns.


New studies aim to boost social science methods in conservation research – University of Exeter

Scientists have produced a series of papers designed to improve research on conservation and the environment.

A group of researchers, led by the University of Exeter, have contributed to a special feature of the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution to examine commonly used social science techniques and provide a checklist for scientists to follow.

Traditional conservation biology has been dominated by quantitative data (measured in numbers) but today it frequently relies on qualitative methods such as interviews and focus group discussions.

The aim of the special feature is to help researchers decide which techniques are most appropriate for their study, and improve the “methodological rigour” of these techniques.

Qualitative techniques are an important part of the curriculum for most undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies in biodiversity conservation and the environment,” said Dr Nibedita Mukherjee, of the University of Exeter, who coordinated the special feature of the journal. “Yet the application of these techniques is often flawed or badly reported.”

Dr Mukherjee, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, added: “In putting together this special feature, we urge greater collaboration across the disciplines within conservation, incorporating rigorous use of qualitative methods.


Scientific publications

Nathan J. Kleist et al., "Chronic anthropogenic noise disrupts glucocorticoid signaling and has multiple effects on fitness in an avian community," PNAS (2017). www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1709200115 


Border, J. A., Atkinson, L. R., Henderson, I. G. and Hartley, I. R., Nest monitoring does not affect nesting success of Whinchats Saxicola rubetra. Ibis. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/ibi.12574


Alison M. Bell, Rebecca Trapp, Jason Keagy. Parenting behaviour is highly heritable in male stickleback R. Soc. open sci. 2018 5 171029; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.171029.


Keng-Lou James Hung, Jennifer M. Kingston, Matthias Albrecht, David A. Holway, Joshua R. Kohn. The worldwide importance of honey bees as pollinators in natural habitats Proc. R. Soc. B 2018 285 20172140; DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.2140.


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