CJS Logo & link to homepage

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


10,000 new trees to boost roadside wildlife habitat in the South West – Highways England

Highways England is starting a major programme of tree and shrub planting along the A30 and A38 in a bid to connect a 105 mile corridor of wildlife habitat.

The work is taking place at 21 sites in Devon and Cornwall and involves the planting of 10,000 native trees and shrubs to fill or reduce gaps in hedgerow and woodland along the roadside.

In total the planting will provide around three extra miles of vegetation and connect over 105 miles of habitat on the verge and land adjacent to the A30 and A38.

The scheme is being delivered under Highways England’s national Biodiversity Plan which is being supported by a £30 million national investment programme over the next five years.

The plan recognises road verges and associated land can be managed to provide areas of habitat, relatively free from human access, that may be scarce in the surrounding landscape.

These road verges can also be used to connect fragmented habitats in the wider landscape, enabling plant and animal populations to move and interact, and so become stronger and more resilient.

Ecologist Leonardo Gubert said: “Highways England is committed to protecting the environment through its biodiversity plan and improving the connectivity of habitats along our roads is one of our top nature conservation priorities. The main aim of this improvement scheme is to reconnect wildlife habitat and ecosystems on a significant scale across our road network in the South West allowing species to move between core areas. The work is expected to have a huge benefit for a wide variety of species of animals including insects, birds, and mammals, such as butterflies, bees, flies and dormice, suitable places to forage, shelter and breed.”


Marine mammals under threat from micro plastics – ORCA

Marine pollution is continuing to present a serious threat to marine life, with a new study suggesting that the risk from micro plastics to whales, some sharks and other marine species is increasing.

Some marine mammal species, such as baleen whales and basking sharks, have evolved to swallow thousands of cubic metres of sea water a day, and feed by filtering it for plankton and other small organisms. Microbeads (image: ORCA)They are now ingesting the tiny particles of plastic which are now spread across the world’s oceans, which stops their ability to absorb nutrients and may even cause toxic side effects.  The authors of this new study have warned that some species of marine mammals could be at threat of extinction with the damage caused by micro plastics combined with other threats such as bycatch and over fishing. 

Microbeads (image: ORCA)

The study, which has been published in the journal, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, has advised that more research needs to be done into large marine animals so that the effect of micro plastics can be better understood. We know from necropsies of marine life that larger plastic is causing huge damage, the impact of microplastic is less apparent but just as significant.

One of the co-authors of the study, Elitza Germanov has told the Guardian ‘Despite the growing research on micro plastics in the marine environment, there are only a few studies that examine the effects on large filter feeders. We are still trying to understand the magnitude of the issue. It has become clear, though, that micro plastic contamination has the potential to further reduce the population numbers of these species, many of which are long-lived and have few offspring throughout their lives.”

Maria Cristina Fossi, who is also a co-author of the study added that, though filter feeders don’t seem to be killed by microplastic alone, they could produce “sub-lethal effects” which would still damage their health.


A good life for all within the planet’s means - University of Leeds

A study led by the University of Leeds has found that no country currently meets its citizens’ basic needs at a globally sustainable level of resource use.

Image: University of LeedsThe research, published in Nature Sustainability, is the first to quantify the sustainability of national resource use associated with meeting basic human needs for 151 countries.

Each country’s resource use and well-being achievements have been made available as a website built by the academics involved in the study.

Image: University of Leeds

Lead author, Dr Daniel O’Neill, from the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds, said:  “Almost everything we do, from having dinner to surfing the Internet, uses resources in some way, but the connections between resource use and human well-being are not always visible to us. We examined international relationships between the sustainability of resource use and the achievement of social goals, and found that basic needs, such as nutrition, sanitation, and the elimination of extreme poverty, could most likely be achieved in all countries without exceeding global environmental limits. Unfortunately, the same is not true for other social goals that go beyond basic subsistence such as secondary education and high life satisfaction. Meeting these goals could require a level of resource use that is two to six times the sustainable level.”

Co-author, Dr Andrew Fanning, also from the Sustainability Research Institute, said: “Our results suggest that some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as combating climate change and its impacts, could be undermined by the pursuit of other goals, particularly those focused on growth or high levels of human well-being."


New alien species invasions still rising globally – University College London

Up to 16% of all species on Earth could qualify as potential alien species and if they invade new regions, impacts will be difficult to predict, according to new research involving UCL.

Mandarin duck (credit: Professor Tim Blackburn)Mandarin duck (credit: Professor Tim Blackburn)

The study shows that the number of newly emerging alien species – those never before encountered as aliens – continues to rise, posing a significant challenge to biosecurity interventions worldwide.

Approaches to tackle the growing issue largely rely on knowledge of species’ invasion history elsewhere, giving new previously unrecorded alien species a higher chance of slipping through border controls and eluding early response management.

The study, published today in PNAS and led by scientists at Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F), the University of Vienna and UCL, analysed a global database of 45,984 records detailing the first invasions of 16,019 established alien species from 1500 until 2005 to investigate the dynamics of how alien species spread worldwide.

Between the years 2000 and 2005, one quarter of records are of species that had not previously been found anywhere as an alien, which is a worryingly high proportion. 

For plants, mammals, and fishes, the proportion of newly emerging alien species has remained constant during the last 150 years but the total number of alien species has increased.

Insects, molluscs and other invertebrates have the highest proportion of emerging alien species. Birds are the only group exempt from the trend, showing the lowest proportions of emerging alien species, with a distinct decline noted recently.


Duck faeces shed light on plant seed dispersal – British Ecological Society

Mallard - Attila Molnár V, University of DebrecenMallards are among the most abundant and widespread duck species in the world, yet little attention has been paid to date to their role in spreading plant seeds. A new study in the Journal of Ecology reveals a number of plants that were not previously known to be part of the diet of waterbirds.

Mallard - Attila Molnár V, University of Debrecen

Mallards pick up seeds when feeding on or below the water surface, or on land within a few metres of water. Many of these seeds are not digested and survive gut passage intact, and as a result these dabbling ducks transport and disperse seeds and spores of a broad range of aquatic and terrestrial plants in a process called ‘endozoochory’.

Ducks are usually thought to disperse seeds primarily on the outside when stuck in the feathers, or in mud on their feet or their bill.

To study which plants are dispersed by mallards during their autumn migration period, researchers from the University of Debrecen (Hungary) and Estación Biológica de Doñana (Spain) collected over 200 faecal samples in two protected wetland regions of Hungary, one of which is at Lake Balaton, central Europe’s largest freshwater lake.

They recovered seeds of 21 flowering plants (including 13 terrestrial species), many of which were not previously known to be dispersed by ducks. These new species include the brown galingale (Cyperus fuscus), which is threatened in the UK but common in Hungary.

Even more excitingly, the ecologists also found viable spores of floating watermoss (Salvinia natans) in 32 samples, providing the first field demonstration of endozoochory of ferns by birds.


New research expands the potential of environmental DNA techniques in river monitoring – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Environmental DNA survives for less than two days in small fast-flowing rivers, providing highly localised and current information on species composition, new experimental research has shown. This is crucial new evidence as biologists turn increasingly to new DNA sampling techniques to assess aquatic ecosystem health.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling is being adopted more and more by government agencies and commercial contractors in biodiversity assessments because it uses far less manpower, needs less expertise and could reduce costs. The technique involves taking water samples The research team is now testing these methods in natural river systems (Daniel Hauck)from aquatic habitats and screening for remnants of DNA (e.g. cells and secretions) originating from the species present. The hope is that this rapid approach could be automated to replace more laborious methods of sample sorting and identification that are currently needed.

The research team is now testing these methods in natural river systems (Daniel Hauck)

But questions have remained: how long has the eDNA been in the water? And from how far up-river might it have come? An international team of scientists working on the LOFRESH project, led by Bangor University and including the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, have now provided answers. Their findings are published in the first issue of a new academic journal from Nature, Communications Biology.

Project coordinator Prof Simon Creer of Bangor University said, “This eDNA technique has been used far more widely over recent years, and has already contributed to conserving species in the UK such as the Great Crested Newt. While the technique can identify creatures ranging from the microscopic to larger fish and mammals, we could not say with certainty how long ago any creature had been present. Was this 'zombie' eDNA persisting from a long-dead creature or was it more recent?"


Walking project at Edinburgh drug rehabilitation centre hailed a success - Ramblers

An innovative new trial scheme has been hailed as a success, after introducing staff and service users at a Lothian drug treatment testing centre to the benefits of walking.
During the last 12 months, Ramblers Scotland has been working with the City of Edinburgh Council and NHS Lothian’s Drug Treatment Testing Order office (DTTO) to offer walking routes to people undergoing drug treatment – as well as to busy NHS staff – via its Medal Routes project.
The Medal Routes project offers maps for 15, 30 and 60-minute circular walks at 80 locations throughout Edinburgh and the Lothians. 

Organisers of the project are delighted with the popularity of the scheme. They awarded certificates and book tokens to the most active staff and service users at a prize-giving event at The Grindlay Court Centre in Edinburgh on Thursday 1 February.
Cllr Ian Campbell, vice convener of culture and communities at the City of Edinburgh Council said: “We have been delighted to be involved with this pilot and our staff and services users who have been involved have been very positive about their experiences. To name just a few

benefits - walking boosts your mood, helps you sleep better and reduces stress and anxiety.”


Wildlife partnership between charity and university pays dividends – Cumbria Wildlife Trust

A review of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the University of Cumbria and Cumbria Wildlife Trust has praised the partnership and called for a further agreement to be drawn up.

The three-year plan began in 2014 and pulled together informal links established between university staff and the charity. The initial aim was to provide learning placements for undergraduate conservation and wildlife media students but this expanded and resulted in postgraduate students also making use of the Trust’s nature reserves and staff.

The report highlights how the professional development of staff has benefitted from the agreement through ‘mutual working and cross-fertilisation of theory and practice.’ Cumbria Wildlife Trust pays tribute to the presence of students who it’s claimed have ‘contributed a huge amount to a two-way learning process deriving from practical conservation work.’

“This link has brought significant benefits to students and staff at the university who have been able to make the most of the wealth of experience and expertise on our doorstep,” Dr Elspeth Lees, head of the university’s department of science, natural resources and outdoor studies, said. “We’re delighted Cumbria Wildlife Trust have welcomed this association and we look forward to closer working in the future.”

This is the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at cementing the university’s position as a leading centre for outdoor study. In September 2017 the university’s new Centre for National Parks and Protected Areas was launched with the aim of providing a research hub for the UK and international national parks.


Launched Today: The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs – Hedgehog Street

Photo by Hedgehog Champion Liza GriffithsPublished jointly by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).  This report is the only comprehensive review of the status of Britain’s hedgehogs in the UK.

Photo by Hedgehog Champion Liza Griffiths

It shows that hedgehogs in the countryside are in a serious decline.  However, the picture is not so bad for our towns and cities.  Although the species has declined by a third in urban areas since 2000, the rate of decline is slowing, and where hogs are found, numbers appear to be growing in some places.  This shows why campaigns like Hedgehog Street are so important, and could actually help bring this species back from the brink.

Access the report here 


Rare high-altitude money spider discovered near Loch Ness – Trees for Life

Surveys at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness have revealed a rare money spider in a find described by experts as “spectacular”.

The discovery of an adult male of the species Hilaira nubigena at the native forest restoration site in Inverness-shire is the first record of the spider west of the Great Glen for more than 25 years. 

Rare money spider Hilaira nubigena © Jens-Kjeld JensenThe rare arachnid has been recorded from damp moorland above 400m and up to 700m, but little is known about its habits. It may be characteristic of high-altitude habitats such as ‘montane woodland’ – a waist-high mini-forest found on mountainsides, which is home to a unique range of species. Unfortunately this important habitat is overgrazed, and most of it has already disappeared in Scotland.

Rare money spider Hilaira nubigena © Jens-Kjeld Jensen

“This really spectacular find shows that the habitat at Dundreggan is rather special,” said Edward Milner, who identified the spider, and who has been studying spiders in Scotland for over 20 years.

“Some of the spider species that we find in the montane woodland on the estate are also found in the Arctic. They are adapted to surviving the extreme conditions that we can experience here. I last saw this spider near the summit of Liathach in Wester Ross in June 1986.”

The few recent records of Hilaira nubigena in Scotland are all from south of the Great Glen, with a few records from mountains on the west coast. It has only been recorded from 14 sites throughout Scotland, including a recent one above 500m in the Carrifran Valley near Moffat.


Citizen scientists are the future! – ORCA

Citizen scientists are the future and even though this is nothing new, recently it has been catapulted into the public consciousness! For hundreds of years amateur scientists have collected data and information to help us understand the environment.

In the UK alone, organisations such as the RSPB and The National Trust have millions of members and thousands of active volunteers that help us to protect the countryside. From regular weekend beach cleans on the Isle of Man to recreational divers documenting the levels of marine litter, volunteers are more important than ever, to help limit damage to the environment and identify the threats it faces.

Recreational divers make a contribution. In Norfolk, whilst collecting information about marine conservation zones, volunteer divers have discovered a submerged prehistoric forest and in the Isle of Man they were the first to find a horse mussel reef.  Citizen scientists were hugely important in getting the basking shark onto the UK protected species list, and the satellite tagging of these species has recorded the first transatlantic crossing by a basking shark.  The UK is home to some phenomenal wildlife and habitats and it houses some species that need a huge amount of help to safeguard their future. We know from more than fifteen years work that citizen science has a crucial role to play at the highest level and how impactful it can be, particularly when used alongside traditional publicly funded research.


Hand-reared godwits found safe and sound in Portugal - Wildfowl & Wetlands

Two of the first ever British wading birds to be released into the wild under a new conservation technique have been spotted alive and well – 1,200 miles away in Portugal.

Project Godwit chicks shortly after hatching (c) Bob Ellis WWTThe two black-tailed godwits from Norfolk were among 26 that conservationists hatched and reared by hand before releasing into the wild, a process known as ‘headstarting’.

After release the birds joined wild flocks and this is the first time any of them have been outside the UK.

Project Godwit chicks shortly after hatching (c) Bob Ellis WWT

Dutch ornithologists reported seeing the birds among a flock on the Tagus Estuary near Lisbon.

The team from RSPB and WWT behind “Project Godwit” has welcomed the news that their protégés have migrated safely.

Project Godwit manager Hannah Ward said: “Bird migration is an amazing feat and it’s fraught with dangers. These two godwits were last seen on opposite sides of the UK, one in Essex and the other in Somerset. It’s a huge relief to hear they have both made it to the same spot in Portugal safe and sound. “They’re still less than a year old, so they probably won’t attempt return to the UK to breed this year, but older godwits should be setting off right now. We’re appealing to all birdwatchers to keep their eyes out for marked birds. “Project Godwit birds have coloured leg rings so that we can identify individual birds. Every bit of news helps us create a brighter future for the UK black-tailed godwits.”

Project Godwit is a partnership between RSPB and WWT with major funding from the EU LIFE Nature Programme, The HSBC 50th Anniversary Fund, Natural England and the Heritage Lottery Fund through the Back from the Brink programme. The project aims to secure the future of black-tailed godwits in the UK.


2017 squirrel survey reveals Scotland’s red squirrels are holding on strong - Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels

Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has published the results of its 2017 annual survey, which indicate that overall Scotland’s red squirrel populations have stabilised, with significant gains in the North East.

Squirrel at feederbox © Raymond LeinsterSince 2011, Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels has been monitoring squirrel populations in the parts of the country where red squirrels are most under threat from the spread of non-native grey squirrels. Grey squirrels, which were introduced to Britain from North America in the 19th Century, out-compete red squirrels for resources, and can also carry squirrelpox, a virus that doesn't harm them but is deadly to reds.

Squirrel at feederbox © Raymond Leinster

The 2017 survey results show that red squirrel populations have remained stable in the past year, a sign that with continued effort from conservationists and volunteers, their decline can be halted.  The most positive results were found in North East Scotland, where red squirrels have significantly increased their range, particularly around Aberdeen. This correlates with a recent flurry of red squirrel sightings reported increasingly close to the city centre.

In Tayside and the Central Lowlands, red squirrels have maintained their range, indicating that the project, which was awarded a £2.4m National Lottery grant last year, is successfully protecting Scotland’s largest red squirrel population north of the Highland Boundary Line.

Mary-Anne Collis, Red Squirrel Conservation Officer for Argyll, the Trossachs and Stirling said: "In the Central Lowlands, red squirrels are holding their ground and as a result we’ve started to see them in areas where they haven’t been seen for a long time. This is particularly noticeable to the south and east of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which is now predominantly a red-only zone.

Access the report here


RSPCA campaign success as Wales’ council land becomes ‘no fly zone’ for sky lanterns - RSPCA

RSPCA Cymru is celebrating as the final local authority to ban the release of deadly sky lanterns on their land approved restrictions on their use on Wednesday, effectively making Wales a no-fly zone for the devices on council land.

Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council unanimously approved plans to restrict sky lantern use on land controlled by the local authority in a vote.

The charity has long highlighted the dangers these devices pose to public safety and to animal welfare.

In 2013, the Welsh Government challenged councils across Wales to implement bans on their land – and RSPCA Cymru supporters have been contacting their local authority urging them to take action.

Twenty-one local authorities in Wales had already taken action – and Merthyr Tydfil CBC joined the list on Wednesday evening, as a meeting of full Council unanimously approved “a voluntary ban of the release of sky lanterns and balloons from Council owned land and property with immediate effect”.

In addition, Merthyr CBC also supported instructing all Councils tenants of the ban, which also extends to the sale of sky lanterns on local authority land.

RSPCA campaigns assistant Charlie Skinner said: “This has been long-fought and tireless campaign, and we’re delighted that Merthyr Council’s action means all 22 local authorities across the country have acted on the real danger posed by sky lanterns.

“Council land in Wales is now a no fly zone for sky lanterns. These devices can have deadly consequences for pets, farm and wild animals; and it’s huge step forward for animal welfare that these restrictions now exist in all corners of our nation. We’re so grateful to all of our supporters who have campaigned tirelessly on this topic. It’s a great example of what the RSPCA, our supporters and others can do when working together for the good of animals."


Scientific Publication

Matthew Geary, Paul F. Haworth & Alan H. Fielding Hen harrier Circus cyaneus nest sites on the Isle of Mull are associated with habitat mosaics and constrained by topography. Bird Study. doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2017.142161


CJS is not responsible for content of external sites.  Details believed correct but given without prejudice.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in these news pages do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CJS.