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


Hidden heritage of burial grounds to be revealed – HLF

Conservation charity Caring for God’s Acre, is set to put burial grounds on the heritage map, thanks to £586,700 National Lottery funding.

Meadow Saxifrage at Bridgenorth Cemetery Credit: Dan WrenchMeadow Saxifrage at Bridgenorth Cemetery Credit: Dan Wrench

The Beautiful Burial Ground project will highlight the valuable buildings, landmarks and wildlife to which thousands of burial grounds across England and Wales are home.

Burial grounds are widespread, free, and often fully accessible. Due to their unique environment, they are also important places for history and wildlife.

The undisturbed grassland found in these sites, which is now rare in the wider countryside, provides a sanctuary for all kinds of colourful flowers and meadow grasses, which in turn support an extraordinary variety of animal life, from birds, bees and butterflies to frogs, toads, mice and voles.

Gravestones are of supreme importance for lichen conservation. Of the 2000 British species over 700 have been found in churchyards. Almost half of these are rare and seldom, if ever, occur in other places. Many sites have well over 100 species.

Despite their importance, most burial grounds are under-recorded and relatively unknown.


Derbyshire Wildlife Trust opposes Hen Harrier Brood Management announcement by Natural England

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is strongly opposed to any human interference in the nesting of hen harriers, one of England’s rarest nesting birds.

Hen Harrier chick, Tim BirchOn 16th January, Natural England, the government's adviser for the natural environment, announced they have issued the first licence to allow the removal of hen harrier chicks and eggs in Northern England to a hatching and rearing facility.

Hen Harrier chick, Tim Birch

Natural England announced the chicks would be hand reared and then released in the uplands of Northern England in the future in an attempt to protect them from illegal persecution.

But Derbyshire Wildlife Trust believe hen harriers are currently too rare for this approach. 

Tim Birch, Head of Living Landscapes North at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said, “Brood management for hen harriers should not even be considered until there's a strong and sustainable population.”

He added, “In 2017 there were no hen harriers breeding at all in Derbyshire and there were just a handful of sightings of this magnificent bird. Across Northern England the numbers of breeding birds were pitifully low.”

“One of the reasons for the birds struggle is illegal persecution linked to grouse moors. Given that the hen harrier is virtually extinct in many areas of our uplands it is even more shocking that brood management of these birds has now been sanctioned by a Government body. The problem is the plan does not address the bigger picture of wildlife persecution – Where could wild hen harriers raised in captivity be safely released to in our uplands if illegal persecution still continues? Until there is a commitment and real evidence that illegal and unacceptable persecution of hen harriers has ended to allow the population to recover, brood management should not be an option.”


PARTRIDGE flower blocks are attractive for Skylarks and Partridges – Interreg North Sea Region

The PARTRIDGE flower blocks, half of which are cultivated in spring while the other half remain untouched, are proving not only to be attractive for grey partridge, but to a wide variety of other farmland bird species too.

Skylark Nest (yellow) and areas where the pair of skylarks landed for foraging (red) during June 2017. The majority of foraging activity was found to be in the PARTRIDGE flower block (Interreg)Skylark Nest (yellow) and areas where the pair of skylarks landed for foraging (red) during June 2017. The majority of foraging activity was found to be in the PARTRIDGE flower block (Interreg)

During an investigation on skylarks, Manuel Püttmanns (Department for conservation biology, university of Göttingen in Germany) recorded the foraging behaviour of a skylark pair that was breeding in one of the PARTRIDGE flower blocks. The pair used almost the entirety of the large flower block for foraging which demonstrates the importance of this habitat measure.

The nest was situated at the edge of the flower block which was surrounded by a wheat field (see photo). It was evident that the pair of Skylarks highly favored the insect-rich and well-structured vegetation, which provides all the necessary conditions for the breeding season. Interestingly the larks did not only forage in the annual type of vegetation but also in the area which remained untouched by cultivation in spring. This particular flower block has been cultivated for 14 years in this form. In time, a clear heterogeneity of vegetation has set in. The flower block has not been fertilized during that time, so even in the established and undisturbed vegetation some areas are open enough for skylarks.


HS2 second reading today: Phase 2a will destroy the heart of a Defra-funded Nature Improvement Area – The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts believe the impacts on wildlife and wild places are severely underestimated by HS2 Ltd. The level of proposed mitigation Image: The Wildlife Trustsand compensation is simply not good enough if the Government is to keep its promises on the environment.

Image: The Wildlife Trusts

The Hybrid Bill required to construct Phase 2a of HS2 – the 36-mile route from the West Midlands to Crewe expected to be operational in 2027 – is having its Second Reading in the House of Commons today (30 January).

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the Environmental Statement – published in July 2017 to accompany the Hybrid Bill documents – is incomplete and an inaccurate picture of the likely impacts. This is a repetition of the inadequacies of the statement produced for Phase 1 and is a cause for grave concern. If the Environmental Statement is inaccurate it has repercussions for the mitigation measures and funding.

Today’s reading affects important wildlife sites in Staffordshire and Cheshire and, based on the information provided in the Environmental Statement, the proposed compensatory habitat is insufficient to address the damage.

In Cheshire, for example, the route will result in the loss of a 100 hectare wildlife site - Randilow and Bunker Hill Local Wildlife Site - which forms an integral part of the Meres and Mosses Nature Improvement Area (NIA). This NIA received £568,470 from Defra between 2012 and 2015 to create joined up and resilient ecological networks on a large, landscape scale and Cheshire and Shropshire Wildlife Trusts (and others) have continued the work since that time. It is, therefore, extremely disappointing that HS2 has failed to acknowledge or address the impact that the loss of this site will have on this area.


New project - Data Science of the Natural Environment – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Scientists from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology will play a key role in a new £3.1M ‘Data Science of the Natural Environment’ project, announced today (29 January) by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). 

The project brings together statisticians, computer scientists and environmental scientists alongside an array of public and private sector stakeholders to effect a step change in data culture in the environmental sciences.

John Watkins, Head of Environmental Informatics at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, “Our role in the project is to turn modern advances in data science, such as machine learning, into practical solutions that work in the natural environment for management challenges such as the land use tradeoff between food, timber, energy, recreation, urban settlement, employment and aesthetic benefits.”

The grant focusses on three Grand Challenges in the area of environmental sciences – predicting ice sheet melt, modelling and mitigating poor air quality, managing land use for maximal societal benefit. The project team will create an integrated suite of novel data science tools – a modular platform which can be used by data scientists but also by environmental scientists and stakeholders without data science training.

Dr Paula Harrison, Principal Natural Capital Scientist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, will lead the work on land use management. This part of the project will include our partners: Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Government, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Environment Agency, DEFRA, and JBA. 


Successful Branching Out project to launch in Dumfries and Galloway – Forestry Commission Scotland

An award-winning project, designed to improve the health and well-being of adults experiencing low mental wellbeing or mental health conditions, is to launch in Dumfries and Galloway for the first time in February.

Forestry Commission Scotland’s (FCS) Branching Out project will be delivered by social enterprise Instinctively Wild in partnership with DG Health & Wellbeing (NHS Dumfries & Galloway and Dumfries & Galloway Council) and the Stewartry Locality Health Improvement Team. 

The 12-week programme is designed to help improve people’s confidence, wellbeing and communication skills through a range of outdoor activities with each session adapted to meet the needs of each individual group. The sessions will take place in a woodland setting near Dalbeattie and will be led by experienced leaders from Instinctively Wild. Volunteers from the local area are also involved in the project, as part of the social enterprise’s volunteer programme.

Nathalie Moriarty, Forestry Commission Scotland’s Branching Out programme manager, said: “Branching Out has proved a hugely successful programme across 11 of Scotland’s regions and we are delighted it is launching in Dumfries and Galloway. The programme is designed to build confidence and skills to allow people to integrate with society again. Everybody who takes part is also encouraged to get involved in other local activities to ensure they continue moving forward with their progress out with the programme itself. For many, it can be a life changing experience.” 


Yorkshire Water announces pledge for one million trees for Yorkshire

Yorkshire Water has today (30 January) made an ambitious pledge to plant one million trees across its land in Yorkshire over the next ten years in a bid to reduce flood risk, offset carbon emissions and support the creation of a Northern Forest.

Image: Yorkshire WaterImage: Yorkshire Water

Richard Flint, Yorkshire Water’s Chief Executive, made the pledge this morning (Wednesday 31st January) at Gorpley reservoir near Todmorden, where the company is already working with volunteers from the local community to plant up to two hundred thousand trees as part of a pilot Natural Flood Management scheme.

The work at Gorpley is part of an initiative to help slow the flow of water during flood events like the devastating floods of Boxing Day 2015, which had a massive impact on the Calder Valley. The planting of two hundred thousand trees at Gorpley was originally due to take ten years, but as part of today’s announcement Yorkshire Water has also pledged to dramatically accelerate this scheme by aiming to plant all the trees over the next two years.

Yorkshire Water is one of the biggest landowners in Yorkshire and has been working with the White Rose Forest Partnership to map Yorkshire Water’s 28,000 hectares of land to assess where planting more trees will have the most impact on flood attenuation, carbon, recreation and wildlife.

Making the one million trees pledge, Richard Flint said: “As one of Yorkshire’s biggest landowners we need to make sure that we manage our land in a way that makes the most of the benefits that a healthy natural environment can provide.”


UK chalk-stream salmon genetically unique – University of Exeter

Salmon from the chalk streams of southern England are genetically unique, researchers have discovered.

The fish are classified as Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), but research by the University of Exeter and the Game and Wildlife Conservation This is the Frome -- a chalk stream (University of Exeter)Trust shows their genes are distinctly different from others of the species.

This is the Frome -- a chalk stream (University of Exeter)

The researchers studied five chalk streams in Hampshire and Dorset - habitats they said were under "massive pressure" from human activity.

Classifying chalk-stream salmon as a separate sub-species could make it easier to protect them.

"Our study provides evidence of the genetic distinctiveness of chalk-stream Atlantic salmon in southern England," said Dr Jamie Stevens, of the University of Exeter. "They are as different from their non-chalk cousins as the salmon of the Baltic are, and people have suggested the Baltic fish should be classified as a sub-species. While we found distinct differences between chalk and non-chalk salmon, we found little genetic differentiation within chalk-stream populations."

Chalk streams - which originate in chalk hills and are generally wide and shallow with clear water - are fed by underground aquifers and have steadier flow rates and more stable temperatures than most other rivers, and are less acidic.


Striking Thermal Images Reveal How Animals Cope With Changing Environments – University of Glasgow

Thermal imaging can detect how animals are coping with their environment, avoiding the need for capture, according to new research.

The technique, which could transform how biologists investigate responses of wild animals to environmental changes, was tested on a Image: University of Glasgowpopulation of a small songbird – the blue tit – at the University of Glasgow’s Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment (SCENE) at Loch Lomond.

Image: University of Glasgow

The thermal imaging technique means biologists can learn how animals are responding to their surroundings without having to capture and measure them (necessary with current methods). This is because body temperature can change when animals make physiological adjustments to preserve energy or deal with environmental stressors

The study, published in Scientific Reports, found that skin temperature around the eye in the blue tit is lower in birds in poorer condition, and in birds with higher levels of stress hormones in their bloodstream.

In challenging circumstances, such as during poor weather, or when food is scarce, animals need to save energy. One way they can achieve this is by reducing heat production. Challenging conditions also trigger a stress response, which is associated with changes in blood flow around the body – blood is diverted to the areas with the greatest need, increasing core temperature and reducing surface temperature. So, both processes lead to a lower surface temperature.

Corresponding author Dr Paul Jerem, from the University’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine (IBAHCM) said: “These findings are important because understanding physiological processes is key to answering the questions of why animals behave the way they do, and how they interact with each other and their environment.”


Devon’s Special Species unveiled - Devon County Council

Devon is renowned for having beautiful wildlife-rich landscapes and habitats. Less well known is the huge number of rare species which Nothophantes horridus female egg cocoon (Devon County Council)Devon supports, including some such as the Horrid Ground-Weaver spider which are found nowhere else on the planet.

To shine a spotlight on the matter, Devon County Council has worked with the Devon Biodiversity Record Centre and species experts to produce a list of the county’s most threatened species.

Nothophantes horridus female egg cocoon (Devon County Council)

The work shows that among the tens of thousands of species in Devon, at least 1,600 are considered to be nationally rare or scarce and many are threatened with extinction.

Devon’s experts have also shortlisted 96 ‘special species’ for which Devon has a particular responsibility.

Many of these species are not currently afforded any protection, and unless action is taken, they are at risk of disappearing from Britain.

Devon’s ‘special species’ are found in a variety of habitats. They range from the greater horseshoe bat, Britain’s largest bat, to the tiny apple lace bug.


State of Scotland's Greenspace Report – Greenspace Scotland

Scotland’s towns and cities are more green than grey

The State of Scotland’s Greenspace report published by greenspace scotland today [Thursday 1 February 2018] shows that Scotland can rightly claim to be a nation of green towns and cities. Urban Scotland is more green than grey, with greenspace covering over half (54%) of the urban land area.

The total area of greenspace in urban Scotland is 1,593 square kilometres – that’s equivalent 22 Loch Lomonds or one-third of the area of the Cairngorms National Park. At a more human scale, that translates into a tennis court sized area of ‘publicly accessible’ greenspace per person.

The State of Scotland’s Greenspace report provides data on the amount and type of greenspace for all of urban Scotland. It also examines changes and trends in people’s use and attitude to greenspace, and looks at the resourcing of Council parks and open space services.

Access the report here  


New Scottish MPA funding confirmed in important habitats for cetaceans - ORCA

The Scottish government have announced new funding for the protection for whales and dolphins in Scottish waters after agreeing additional funding to support the development of four marine protected areas (MPAs).

In welcome news for marine wildlife in the region, the potential MPAs would include protection for minke whales, Risso's dolphins and basking sharks. There are currently no MPAs for these three species anywhere in the world.

A Risso's dolphin, one of the species that will benefit from new protection (Credit: Lauren Horncastle)The four areas benefitting are Sea of the Hebrides, Shiant East Bank, North-East Lewis and Southern Trench, and will also provide support for sand eels, sea fans and sponges in the regions that have been identified.

A Risso's dolphin, one of the species that will benefit from new protection

(Credit: Lauren Horncastle)

The new proposals have been welcomed by conservation organisations across Scotland, and ORCA are delighted to see progress on protecting these important habitats.

Excitingly, if confirmed two of the MPAs (North-East Lewis & Sea of the Hebrides) will be covered by the new programme of surveys in the region with CalMac that ORCA will be delivering for the first time in 2018, giving a fantastic opportunity for volunteer citizen scientists to contribute directly towards marine conservation policy in the region.


Dyb dyb dyb – Vote Vote Vote! – The Woodland Trust

Will Scouting’s Gilwell Oak be the model candidate for European Tree of the Year?

The Woodland Trust is hoping the UK’s entry in the European Tree of the Year competition will be the model candidate to take the crown.
Caroline Pantling and Tim Feron with the Tree of the Year award (Photo: WTML)The Trust is calling on the public to support the Gilwell Oak – a tree synonymous with the Scouting movement - when voting opens on Thursday 1 February. The oak has already caught the eye of a model making company which has recreated it in miniature form.

Last year, Wales’ Brimmon Oak came second in the competition, securing 16,200 votes - just 1,400 shy of taking the top spot. This year, it’s hoped the Gilwell Oak will finally reign supreme on behalf of the UK.

Caroline Pantling and Tim Feron with the Tree of the Year award (Photo: WTML)

Run by the Environmental Partnership Association, the voting mechanism for European Tree of the Year is straightforward – the tree with the most public votes at the end of February will win.

Visitors to the competition website will be able to see how many votes each entry has amassed until a week before the voting deadline when the race to the finish becomes secret until a ceremony in March.

The Gilwell Oak was chosen as the UK entry by a panel of experts at the Woodland Trust after a public vote supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery, declared it to be England’s Tree of the Year.


Environment Agency completes £10 million flood storage basin on World Wetlands Day – Environment Agency

The new flood defence, which includes urban wetland, will help protect 2,000 properties from flooding.

The new £10m Salford flood scheme includes urban wetland and was opened on World Wetlands Day (Environment Agency)The new £10m Salford flood scheme includes urban wetland and was opened on World Wetlands Day (Environment Agency)

A £10 million flood scheme which will protect almost 2,000 homes and businesses, hold more than 250 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water during a flood and includes more than 5 hectares of urban wetland habitat, has been officially completed today (Friday 2 February).

The Environment Agency has marked the completion of its Salford Flood Improvement Scheme to coincide with World Wetlands Day.

The Salford scheme delivers on a long-held vision to not only create a flood storage basin in Salford – to reduce the risk of flooding from the River Irwell – but also to provide a boost to local wildlife populations by including a high quality urban wetland habitat.

Wetlands provide many benefits to society and help us to be more resilient to the effects of our changing climate. They provide multiple benefits such as slowing the flow of water, reducing flood risk, filtering water and capturing carbon. Their importance is increasing as a result of climate and land use change.

Emma Howard Boyd, Chair of the Environment Agency, said: "The £10 million Salford flood scheme will reduce flood risk to almost 2,000 homes and businesses. In addition, we have created more than 5 hectares of urban wetland, bringing attractive landscapes for people and wildlife. People in the area can also enjoy a new footpath around the site and links to existing footpaths that now provide a green route to and from the centre of Manchester. This excellent partnership project is a fine example of the multiple benefits our work brings to the local community."


ORCA announce new partnership with Noble Caledonia - ORCA

Small cruise ship specialists Noble Caledonia have announced the introduction of a new partnership with ORCA, one of the UK’s leading marine conservation charities with more than fifteen years’ experience of delivering conservation projects at sea.

Humpback Whale (Michael J Tetley)Humpback Whale (Michael J Tetley)

ORCA gives members of the public the chance to play a hands on role in protecting the ocean, as well as having a wealth of experience training seafarers to play their part in marine conservation. Noble Caledonia are partnering with ORCA to create a unique and innovative marriage between these two areas of expertise that will give crew members, expedition staff and passengers the chance to work together to collect crucial sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the incredible habitats Noble Caledonia ships visit.  The data collected will go into a collective record of where these animals are being found or migrating to, giving a better understanding of their behaviour that is crucial in helping to effectively protect them.

In announcing this partnership, Noble Caledonia’s Head of Expedition Field Operations Pamela Le Noury said : “We are keen to offer Citizen Science as part of our expedition product.  This will be an opportunity for our passengers to participate in data collection for scientific research as well as other projects, such as beach clean-ups and wildlife monitoring, whilst on board one of our expedition voyages, many of which are operated in the some of the most remote places on the Planet”.


Celebrating 10,000 Bags of Help projects - Groundwork

Look around you anywhere in London and you’ll find people working hard to benefit their communities – with projects ranging from food banks, community gardens or after school clubs to tree planting and litter picking. Tesco’s Bags of Help grant scheme has been a source of Image: Groundworksupport for many of these projects, and today we’re celebrating a huge milestone: 10,000 projects funded by the scheme across the Great Britain.

Image: Groundwork

Bags of Help is Tesco’s community grant scheme run in partnership with Groundwork, using the money raised from the carrier bag charge to fund local projects across Great Britain. Since 2015 the scheme has awarded £43 million of funding to 10,000 local projects across the UK. In London, over £3 million has been awarded to more than 750 projects.

Bags of Help awards funding for all kinds of projects and activities that benefit local communities, from improving community buildings and outdoor spaces, to new equipment, training coaches and volunteers, and hosting community events. You can use this interactive map to see where funding has been awarded near you, and you can read some of the inspiring stories from London’s Bags of Help funded projects here.


Geese reduce metabolic rate to cope with winter – Anglia Ruskin University

New study shows heart rate and body temperature falls in the coldest conditions

New research shows that geese cope with the harsh winter climate by reducing their heart rate and body temperature.  
Greylag geese - photo by Dr Claudia WascherThe study, led by Dr Claudia Wascher of Anglia Ruskin University and carried out at the University of Vienna’s Konrad Lorenz research station in Austria, is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Greylag geese - photo by Dr Claudia Wascher

Birds are endothermic meaning they maintain a constant body temperature, typically by increasing their energy expenditure in colder weather.  However, this new research indicates that geese exhibit ‘winter hypometabolism’, which sees them reduce their heart rate and tolerate a lower core body temperature.
The scientists studied 25 birds, part of a flock of approximately 170 wild greylag geese, by fitting small transmitters to measure heart rate and body temperature over an 18-month period.  Heart rate can be used as an estimate of an individual’s energy expenditure.
In all geese studied there were profound seasonal changes of heart rate and body temperature, with peaks in summer and troughs in winter.  Daily mean heart rate was on average 22% lower during December and January than at the summer peak, whereas daily mean body temperature was 1°c lower in the winter trough compared to the summer peak. 


Scientific publications

Krah, F.-S., Seibold, S., Brandl, R., Baldrian, P., Müller, J. and Bässler, C. (2018), Independent effects of host and environment on the diversity of wood-inhabiting fungi. J Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.12939


Scholten, J., Moe, S.R. & Hegland, S.J. Red deer (Cervus elaphus) avoid mountain biking trails. Eur J Wildl Res (2018) 64: 8. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-018-1169-y


Komonen, A. and Müller, J. (2018), Dispersal ecology of deadwood organisms and connectivity conservation. Conservation Biology. doi:10.1111/cobi.13087

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