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


Air quality research supersites set for Manchester, Birmingham and London - NERC

A new network of advanced air quality monitoring instruments will detect harmful air pollutants and their sources in greater detail than ever before at existing research sites in three UK cities.

Image: NERCImage: NERC

Three urban air pollution research laboratories, or 'supersites', are expected to be operational in London, Birmingham and Manchester by the end of 2018. The new equipment will allow researchers to gather higher-quality data on the content of harmful urban air pollution and where the gases and particles that pollute our air are coming from.

Funded by NERC, the 񋳷 million investment will see eight universities led by the NERC Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) set up and run the new equipment. As well as sensors to detect toxic air pollutants, the investment will include new instruments to detect a variety of greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting chemicals, at a range of UK tall tower and coastal observatories run by the universities of Bristol, East Anglia and Edinburgh, and so help the UK also comply with legally-binding targets set out in the Climate Change Act.

On top of NERC's funding through the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Department for Transport (DfT) has funded 600,000 for new training and research posts to work on the enhanced air pollution monitoring sites and vehicle emission testing equipment.

Science & Research Minister Sam Gyimah said: "The establishment of the air pollution research supersites highlights our commitment to improving air quality, enhancing our public health as well as tackling the growing threat of climate change to our environment. We have put research and development at the heart of our modern industrial strategy by increasing R&D funding by 񋌟 billion to 2022 and these enhanced laboratories, spread across the country, will showcase our world class scientific expertise in developing solutions to global challenges."


Corvid control can improve fledging success of farmland hedgerow-nesting birds Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Image: wwwdavidmasonimagescomNEW research undertaken by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) shows that predation control of corvids can improve the breeding success of farmland hedgerow-nesting songbirds.

Image: wwwdavidmasonimagescom

Scientists at the Trust carried out a large field experiment between 2011 and 2014, which is described in a recently published scientific paper. Over the four years, they worked with farmers and estate managers in southern England at 32 paired sites each around 4 km2 in area, studying four different pairs per year.

At random within each pair of sites, crows and magpies (corvids) were removed at one site by gamekeepers or other trained staff during the breeding season using best-practice trapping techniques; no removal took place at the other site.  The nesting success of breeding birds was measured by the GWCT research team using a new fledged-brood counting method.

The key finding was that overall nest success of the hedgerow-nesting songbird community was down by 10 per cent in non-removal sites on average relative to removal sites over the four years.  Excluding 2012 data because of exceptionally high spring rainfall that year, in the other three years nest success was down 16% in the non-removal sites on average relative to removal sites.

Previous research has indicated that, in these habitats, corvid control benefits songbirds.

Lead scientist on the experiment Dr Rufus Sage, head of lowland game bird research at the Trust, said: 揥e know that corvids, particularly crows, can reduce breeding output in some ground-nesting birds.  Our field experiment indicates for the first time that controlling corvids can improve breeding success in hedgerow-nesting songbirds as well.  For some, but not all, species this can affect population size.  We suspect (but did not show) that magpies are probably more predatory of hedgerow-nesting songbirds than crows because they are smaller and more adept in this habitat.

Full link to paper here: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.2981/wlb.00375


Rethinking environmental legislation to include the conservation ideas of tomorrow - ZSL

Rewilding has potential to help address the current global biodiversity crisis, but its impact will be limited unless agreed definitions can be reached, backed by further scientific research and helped by a policy backdrop that enables greater integration with current environmental legislation.

Image: ZSLImage: ZSL

These are the key findings of a new study into the controversial technique, led by international conservation charity ZSL and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. 

Rewilding a philosophy that aims to encourage greater diversity of wildlife through practices including land abandonment and reintroducing native species has become increasingly fashionable amongst conservation commentators and policymakers in recent years. 

However, this popularity has also led to increasing misunderstanding about what the term 憆ewilding actually involves, which in turn is limiting the potential for this technique to deliver positive impacts. In particular, the lack of a clear and agreed definition of the term has made it difficult to identify and address barriers to the integration of this thinking into government policy. 

Scientists are now calling for key pieces of legislation concerning biodiversity, land-use, and conservation to be reshaped to make it easier for innovative ideas like rewilding to be included. 

Lead author Dr Nathalie Pettorelli from ZSL抯 Institute of Zoology said: 揟o date, conservation efforts have focused mainly on restoring ecosystems to their historic state, with the aim of preserving particular wildlife populations and habitats. However, the extent of global environmental change is now driving some ecosystems beyond their limits, meaning that for these systems restoration is no longer an option. 

Access the paper here: Pettorelli N, Barlow J, Stephens PA, et al. Making rewilding fit for policy. J Appl Ecol. 2018;00:112. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13082


RSPB ends involvement in failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative RSPB

The RSPB has ended its involvement with the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative, following the partnership project抯 continued failure to improve the fortunes of raptors in the Dark Peak.

Involving five land management and conservation organisations, the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative was set up in 2011 in a bid to boost bird of prey populations in the Dark Peak, the northern part of the Peak District. 

In response to low numbers, poor breeding success and illegal persecution of birds of prey, the initiative set five-year targets for healthy sustainable breeding populations of three species- merlin, peregrine and short-eared owl, and from 2016 expanded these targets to include hen harrier and goshawk.

However, the Initiative failed to meet any of these targets and for some species the situation has continued to worsen. Last year, no peregrines successfully bred in the Dark Peak for the first time since 1984.  

Richard Barnard, the RSPB抯 Area Conservation Manager for Yorkshire and the Peak District, said: 揥e have committed a lot of time and energy to make this project a success but it抯 clear that this is not going to happen. Despite five years of monitoring data, and the presentation of clear evidence from local raptor groups and the RSPB, some members of the group are still failing to acknowledge that the main reason birds of prey are doing so badly in the Dark Peak is because of illegal persecution such as shooting, trapping and poisoning. By refusing to admit the scale of the problem, and its clear link with land used for driven grouse shooting, which is highlighted in numerous studies and reports, these members have frustrated any possibility of progress. 

Bird of prey persecution has cast a shadow over the Dark Peak for many years. The RSPB抯 2006 Peak Malpractice Report and the 2007 Update chronicled numerous confirmed incidents against birds of prey and charted serious declines of several raptor species such as goshawks, which pointed to sustained and widespread persecution in the area. Despite the paucity of birds of prey, illegal activity has continued in the Dark Peak since the formation of the Initiative. For example, in May 2015, a covert camera recorded four shots being fired at an active goshawk nest in the middle of the night in the Derwent Valley. In February 2016, footage was published which showed an armed man crouched close to a plastic hen harrier decoy on a grouse moor, thought to be positioned to lure in a female hen harrier that had been seen the previous day. 


Welcome boost to save UK抯 rarest butterfly National Trust

The High Brown Fritillary, the UK抯 most endangered butterfly, has been thrown a lifeline for 2018 in a new conservation project by the National Trust and partners.

The charity is embarking on ambitious plans to develop 60 hectares of lowland heath and wood pasture the butterfly抯 principle habitat to give it a fighting chance for the future.

High Brown Fritillary on a green leaf in the sun (image: National Trust/Matthew Oates)The project has been made possible as part of a generous award of 750k made to the National Trust by players of People抯 Postcode Lottery.

High Brown Fritillary on a green leaf in the sun

(image: National Trust/Matthew Oates)

Over the last 50 years, the UK population of High Brown Fritillaries has declined rapidly, due to changes in woodland management and, more recently, the abandonment of marginal hill land. Butterflies, including High Browns, need large areas of the countryside to survive in good numbers, and their populations have struggled where these habitats have been overwhelmed by pressures from agriculture and development.

Now, climate change and nitrogen deposition from the atmosphere are almost certainly contributing to the High Brown抯 demise. Overall, the UK population has declined by 66% since the 1970s.

The exquisite Heddon Valley, on the Exmoor coast, is one of the few remaining strongholds where the Trust, with partners including Butterfly Conservation, has been working for years to save the species from extinction.

The 100k project will focus on restoring parts of the natural landscape along the Exmoor and North Devon coast to make it more suitable for the butterfly. Other wildlife including the Heath Fritillary, Nightjar and Dartford warbler will also benefit. High Brown Fritillaries can also be found on Dartmoor, in South Lakeland, Cumbria and at Morecambe Bay, Lancashire.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature expert and butterfly enthusiast, said, 揥e抳e witnessed a catastrophic decline of many native butterfly populations in recent decades but initiatives like this can really help to turn the tide. Combined with increased recording and monitoring efforts, there is significant hope for some of our most threatened winged insects. 


Farmers soiling their undies for good grass in Cornwall Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Farmers in West Cornwall have been burying their underpants to help with their grassland management. Cotton underpants are made from organic matter, so an attractive feast for soil microbes and earthworms. Cornwall Wildlife Trust抯 farm advisers, working on South West Water抯 Upstream Thinking project, have encouraged eight farmers to bury pants under their grass. After two months, the holiness of the underpants gives an indication of soil health.

This enterprising idea came from the Canadian Soil Association as a #soilmyundies challenge but is more than just a bit of fun. Biologically active soils grow better grass for beef and dairy herds because microbes and earthworms help to break down plant and animal matter which releases essential nutrients. Worms also bring nutrients up to the soil surface, where they are more available for grass growth. Their burrows create pores, improving aeration and drainage which makes for more fertile soil.

Farmers soiling their undies for good grass in Cornwall (image: Jan Dinsdale)Soil structure can be destroyed by livestock out-wintering and excessive machinery movement, which close up the beneficial open-spaces. Ploughing also reduces the number of useful earthworms by breaking up their burrows.

Farmers soiling their undies for good grass in Cornwall (image: Jan Dinsdale)

The experiment highlighted this effect; a recently ploughed and seeded field revealed relatively intact underpants, indicating low activity and poor soil health. This contrasted with fields receiving a healthy dose of farmyard manure, which had excellent activity and produced heavily degraded pants.

As well as protecting the rivers healthy and active soils also support a wider ecosystem. In particular, worms and insects in the soil are critical for the survival of farmland birds. The lapwing feeds exclusively on worms and insects and has sadly declined by 58% since 1970 in the UK. Soiling undies is one way of protecting Cornwall抯 soil ecology to help reverse this decline.


Ancient forest project wins royal approval - Natural Resources Wales

A major project to rejuvenate Wales largest ancient woodland has won a prestigious award.

The project a joint initiative between Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) will make Wentwood forest near Newport an even better place for people, wildlife and the local economy. 

This will create a network of forest conservation projects across the Commonwealth conserving indigenous forests for future generations and helping to address climate change. 

Now it has been accredited under the Queen抯 Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) initiative. QCC projects must demonstrate sustainable forest conservation practices and encourage local people to help manage the project where possible. 

Wentwood forest抯 location close to Newport means it is an important community woodland enjoyed by people for recreation, is a haven for wildlife and a sustainably managed source of timber.  NRW and the Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) will work with stakeholders and the local community to explore opportunities that will generate more well-being benefits.   

Wentwood forest near Newport (image: NRW)These could include for example recreational activities such as horse-riding & cycling, improving access, and using Wentwood as an open space to improve people抯 mental health and well-being. 

Wentwood forest near Newport (image: NRW)

Wentwood has a long history of conifer planting dating back to the 1800s. 

It is now a combination of commercial conifer forest and ancient native woodland. 

The challenge now is to restore Wentwood to a more natural state, gradually removing the conifers and converting it back to native broadleaves.  

This will recreate, enhance and then conserve a native woodland supporting a range of species and ecosystem services. 

The project at Wentwood is exceptional because it is one of the largest examples of its type Britain, and the largest in Wales, covering 1,000 hectares. 


The State of UK抯 Bats monitoring the stars of the night Bat Conservation Trust

As nocturnal flying mammals, bats are often out of sight and therefore out of mind for the majority of people. Thanks to the hard work of Image: BCTthousands of dedicated volunteer citizen scientists involved in the National Bat Monitoring Programme (NBMP), we are able to see how 11 of the 18 resident bat species found in the UK are faring.

Image: BCT

The NBMP has been running since 1997 and today (25 January) sees the launch of the latest State of UK抯 Bats report. The latest trends indicate that populations of the bat species we are able to monitor are stable or recovering, which suggests that current legislation and conservation action to protect and conserve bats are having a positive impact on bat populations and should be continued. It should be remembered that these trends reflect relatively recent changes in bat populations (since 1999 for most species). It is generally considered that prior to this there were significant historical declines in bat populations dating back to at least the start of the 20th century. Many pressures on bat populations still remain, including roost and habitat loss, increased urbanisation, impacts of artificial lighting, and wind turbines, where they have been installed and managed inappropriately.

The data used in The State of UK抯 Bats have been collected by a volunteer force of over 1000 people who count bats in a number of different surveys across the UK. Anyone can take part, since different surveys are suitable for different levels of experience, from beginners to experts. Many of the species monitored are found in both urban and rural areas which means you can get involved regardless of whether you live in a large city like Manchester or the remotest part of Scotland.

Think of honeybees as 憀ivestock not wildlife, argue experts University of Cambridge

Contrary to public perception, die-offs in honeybee colonies are an agricultural not a conservation issue, argue Cambridge researchers, who say that manged honeybees may contribute to the genuine biodiversity crisis of Europe抯 declining wild pollinators.

Commercial honeybee hives in the Teide National Park, Tenerife, Spain. Credit: Eric WardCommercial honeybee hives in the Teide National Park, Tenerife, Spain. Credit: Eric Ward

The 慸ie-off events occurring in honeybee colonies that are bred and farmed like livestock must not be confused with the conservation crisis of dramatic declines in thousands of wild pollinator species, say Cambridge researchers.

Writing in the journal Science, the conservationists argue there is a 搇ack of distinction in public understanding fuelled by misguided charity campaigns and media reports between an agricultural problem and an urgent biodiversity issue.

In fact, they say domesticated honeybees actually contribute to wild bee declines through resource competition and spread of disease, with so-called environmental initiatives promoting honeybee-keeping in cities or, worse, protected areas far from agriculture, only likely to exacerbate the loss of wild pollinators.

揟he crisis in global pollinator decline has been associated with one species above all, the western honeybee. Yet this is one of the few pollinator species that is continually replenished through breeding and agriculture, said co-author Dr Jonas Geldmann from Cambridge University抯 Department of Zoology. 揝aving the honeybee does not help wildlife. Western honeybees are a commercially managed species that can actually have negative effects on their immediate environment through the massive numbers in which they are introduced.

揕evels of wild pollinators, such as species of solitary bumblebee, moth and hoverfly, continue to decline at an alarming rate. Currently, up to 50% of all European bee species are threatened with extinction, Geldmann said.  

Honeybees are vital for many crops as are wild pollinators, with some assessments suggesting wild species provide up to half the needed 損ollinator services for the three-quarters of globally important crops that require pollination.


Sea butterflies repair shell damage from ocean acidification British Antarctic Survey

A new study of tiny marine snails called sea butterflies shows the great lengths these animals go to repair damage caused by ocean Sea butterflies have evolved 憌ings instead of a foot, enabling them to swim through the ocean  credit Vicky Peckacidification. The paper, led by researchers at British Antarctic Survey, is published this month in the journal Nature Communications.

Sea butterflies have evolved 憌ings instead of a foot, enabling them to swim through the ocean credit Vicky Peck

The ocean absorbs around one quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted into the atmosphere and this CO2 reacts with seawater, causing the pH to fall, a phenomenon called ocean acidification. It has been feared this acidification is detrimental to certain organisms as corrosive waters could dissolve their shells or skeletons. Sea butterflies, also known as pteropods (Limacina helicina), are mm-scale animals that are prevalent in the polar regions. They have evolved 憌ings instead of a foot, enabling them to swim through the ocean. Their delicate shells are made from aragonite, the least stable form of calcium carbonate, and are so thin they are completely translucent.


New research determines the best ways to count Scottish mountain hares - Scottish Natural Heritage

Mountain hares are a well-known species in Scotland but counting these elusive animals can be challenging. Gathering accurate information is important so their numbers can be effectively monitored and managed.

A Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) report published today (26 January) recommends ways to count mountain hares. The scientific study compared a range of methods to count individuals, and determined the most effective, reliable and cost-effective methods for estimating hare populations in upland areas at local and national levels. The research concluded that two methods can do this: systematically counting hares at night using a spotlight, and measuring dung accumulation over four to six months during the winter.

Eileen Stuart, SNH抯 Head of Policy & Advice, said: 揗any people enjoy seeing mountain hares in the Scottish hills. Our priority is to make sure mountain hares remain a common sight. To do that, we need a better understanding of the existing population something which this report will make possible. We hope that the counting methods recommended in the report will be adopted by those who manage land around Scotland, and the information made available to us. This will give us a better picture of mountain hare numbers, both regionally and nationally and support local decisions about how to maintain and conserve our native hare population.


National Parks: living, working places where beauty drives the economy National Parks England

New analysis of economic data obtained from the Office of National Statistics reveals that National Park economies have prospered since the last analysis in 2013. These living, working landscapes are home to rural communities and businesses that are contributing to national prosperity and wellbeing and depend on a high quality natural environment and the special qualities of the National Parks to achieve this growth. These results were discussed by Defra Minister for National Parks, Lord Gardiner when he met with National Park Chairs yesterday (January 25th).

The figures show that between 2012 and 2016:

  • the Gross Value Added (GVA) of National Park economies grew in real terms in the range 1.4bn to 2.4bn;
  • the number of businesses in National Parks grew by 10% (to more than 25,000);
  • more than 21,000 jobs were created; and
  • business turnover was 13bn (up from 10.4bn in 2012).

National Park Authorities have a duty 憈o seek to foster the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities within the National Park in pursuit of their purposes. This economic data indicates that National Park Authorities are successfully delivering on this duty. There are policies and practices in National Parks that could be used to replicate these results in other rural areas.

The National Parks, National Assets infographic published by National Parks England highlights the scale of the economic  contribution from National Parks and some of the special qualities which support these rural economies. In total, businesses in the English National Parks contribute between 5.5 to 8.7bn to the economy - equivalent to the UK textiles industry or a city the size of Coventry.


Scientific publications

Trevathan-Tackett SM, Wessel C, Cebri醤 J, Ralph PJ, Masqu P, Macreadie PI. Effects of small-scale, shading-induced seagrass loss on blue carbon storage: Implications for management of degraded seagrass ecosystems. J Appl Ecol. 2018;00:19. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13081


Kaiser MJ, Hormbrey S, Booth JR, Hinz H, Hiddink JG. Recovery linked to life history of sessile epifauna following exclusion of towed mobile fishing gear. J Appl Ecol. 2018;00:111. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13087  

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