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


Feed the birds? Scientists highlight risks of disease at garden bird feeders - BTO

Wild birds are at risk of a number of serious diseases at our garden bird feeders, according to a collaborative study led by scientists from international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

The study found that while there are multiple benefits of additional food resources for wild birds, particularly during the harsher winter months, Greenfinch by Jill Pakenhamgarden feeding can also promote the transmission of some diseases – not least by encouraging birds to repeatedly congregate in the same location, often bringing them into regular contact with other species they wouldn’t otherwise interact with so closely in the wider environment. Risks can be increased if hygiene at feeding stations is poor, allowing stale food, food waste and droppings to accumulate.

Greenfinch by Jill Pakenham

The research, conducted in partnership with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Fera Science Ltd, analysed more than 25 years’ worth of data on the occurrence of wild bird health threats, focusing on protozoal (finch trichomonosis), viral (Paridae pox) and bacterial (passerine salmonellosis) diseases. Members of the public contributed their observations via national ‘citizen science’ projects, highlighting the ongoing importance of these surveys in helping scientists track the evolving health threats facing garden wildlife.

Commenting on the study, lead author Dr Becki Lawson from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology said: “Our study shows how three of the most common diseases that affect British garden birds have changed both dramatically and unpredictably over the past decade, both in terms of the species they affect and their patterns of occurrence."

You can read the full review paper here:  Health hazards to wild birds and risk factors associated with anthropogenic food provisioning


Birds of prey persecution: the evidence – Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

‘Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, gives police officers and National Park staff an insight into illegal trapping methods at the Wildlife Crime seminar day in Bainbridge on 21 Feb 2018’ (YDNPA)‘Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, gives police officers and National Park staff an insight into illegal trapping methods at the Wildlife Crime seminar day in Bainbridge on 21 Feb 2018’ (YDNPA)

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has published an ‘evidence report’ on birds of prey persecution – which was first presented to a wildlife crime summit held at the Authority’s offices in Bainbridge.

The report assesses the populations of a number of key upland raptor species nationally and in the Park and quantifies the confirmed incidents of persecution.

It says, “The collation of breeding data, the number of confirmed persecution incidents and the absence of some species from large areas of potentially suitable habitat provide compelling evidence that illegal persecution is limiting the populations of peregrine and hen harrier in the National Park, and is preventing the colonisation of the area by red kites.  

“There has not been a successful Peregrine nesting attempt on any of the monitored grouse moor sites since 1997, with birds now absent from the majority of sites that were occupied in the 1990s. This is in stark contrast to the success of nest sites away from grouse moors.   There is no natural explanation for this difference.

“Despite large areas of potentially suitable nesting habitat, there has not been a successful hen harrier nesting attempt in the National Park since 2007.   In addition, 11 (19%) of the 59 hen harriers that were satellite tagged by Natural England at sites across northern England and Scotland between 2002 and 2017 are classed as ‘missing, fate unknown’ in the Yorkshire Dales.”

The report – which draws on a wide range of sources – was presented at a Wildlife Crime seminar organised by the YDNPA, which took place at Yoredale in Bainbridge on 21 Feb. More than 50 people attended the event, including police officers from the North Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire forces.    

The full link for the report here


Leading tech companies unite to reduce online wildlife trafficking by 80% in next 2 years - WWF 

Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Ebay are among companies brought together by WWF, TRAFFIC and IFAW to form the global coalition to end wildlife trafficking online - WWF

The world’s top e-commerce, technology and social media companies are joining forces to put an end to the online illegal wildlife trade. Convened by WWF, wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) the companies have committed to bringing down the online illegal trade in threatened species by 80 per cent by 2020.

21 global technology giants - including Google, Microsoft, eBay, Etsy, Facebook and Instagram – are part of the first-ever Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online. As members of the coalition, the companies pledge to work together and for each company to develop and implement policies to help end wildlife trafficking online.

It takes just minutes to find illegal wildlife products for sale online, from elephant ivory carvings to live tigers and cheetah cubs. These sales are generally illegal and in breach of a site’s rules. However, the internet’s global connectivity and relative anonymity of sellers, combined with rapid transport, enable wildlife traffickers to buy, sell and ship animals and wildlife products with just a few clicks. The challenge has been that inconsistent policies across the web have meant where an ad is removed from a site it simply pops up elsewhere. As more traders and consumers move online globally it is a critical time to ensure that social media and e-commerce platforms cannot be exploited by the loopholes to detection created by wildlife traffickers.


More must be done to make sure everyone can benefit from our National Parks – Campaign for National Parks

Campaign for National Parks is calling for more to be done to enable everyone to access our National Parks, including the quarter of households who do not own a private car.

In a new report, published today (Monday 12 March), we set out the importance of everyone being able to access and benefit from the National Parks. National Parks for all: making car-free travel easier makes the case for improving sustainable travel options to open up tTraffic in Brockenhurst in the New Forest National Park. Photo credit: New Forest District Council.he Parks to new visitors as well as reducing the ongoing environmental damage and considering what alternative solutions could be made available.

Traffic in Brockenhurst in the New Forest National Park. Photo credit: New Forest District Council.

Ruth Bradshaw, Campaign for National Parks’ policy and research manager, and author of the report, explains “in some places high volumes of traffic can have a negative impact on the landscapes and wildlife, the very things that attract people to the Parks in the first place. But unfortunately the severe cuts to rural bus services in recent years have made it increasingly difficult to reach many parts of the Parks without a car.”

An example of some of the challenges people without cars face travelling to the Park, is the limited options for bus or coach journeys between the National Park visitor centres and major towns. In Exmoor National Park, for example, a return journey between Exeter and Dulverton, a distance of 29 miles, would involve a cost of £22 and two changes of bus each way. Unsurprisingly 96% of visitors to Exmoor arrive by car. In the North York Moors National Park, there is a direct bus to the visitor centre at Ravenscar from Scarborough but it costs £7.80 for a journey of 10.8 miles.


Overcoming barriers to green infrastructure investment is a major opportunity for the UK – Aldersgate Group

Today (Monday 12 March), the Aldersgate Group publishes a new report Towards the new normal: increasing investment in the UK’s green infrastructure. This report, which concludes a one-year research project underpinned by multiple interviews with businesses and investors, argues that overcoming the barriers currently limiting private investment in green infrastructure is essential to delivering the Government’s economic, industrial and environmental policy objectives. It sets out key recommendations for government, businesses and investors to unlock greater volumes of private investment to meet the objectives of the Clean Growth Strategy, Industrial Strategy and 25 Year Environment Plan. Increasing private investment in green infrastructure represents a huge opportunity for the UK. It is a growing market for the professional services industry, and is a crucial way of reducing the cost of capital to meet the UK’s environmental and industrial policy objectives, presenting a significant opportunity in terms of job creation and potential exports. There is real urgency: up to £693bn investment in low carbon infrastructure will be needed by 2031 in the UK to deliver policy objectives, with $90tn needed worldwide over the next 15 years.

The report, which comes shortly ahead of the publication of the government’s Green Finance Taskforce recommendations, brings together findings from the Aldersgate Group’s year-long project on green finance with the Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP).

Read the report here


UK rivers heavily contaminated with microplastics, study finds – University of Manchester

Researchers from The University of Manchester are calling for tighter regulations on waste flowing into urban waterways, after the first study of its kind found that microplastics from urban river channels are a major contributor to the pollution problem in the oceans.

Image: University of ManchesterImage: University of Manchester
Microplastics are very small pieces of plastic debris including microbeads, microfibres and plastic fragments which enter river systems from multiple sources including industrial effluent, storm water drains and domestic wastewater.
These particles pollute the environment and pose a threat to ecosystem health. Although around 90% of microplastic contamination in the oceans is thought to originate from land, not much is known about their storage and movements in river basins.
In the first detailed catchment-wide study anywhere in the world, Rachel Hurley, Jamie Woodward and James Rothwell from the Department of Geography at The University of Manchester examined the microplastics in river sediments from 40 sites across Greater Manchester, including rural streams in the hills and urban rivers in the city centre.
They discovered microplastic contamination in all parts of the network - including a site on the River Tame at Denton which had the highest levels so far recorded anywhere in the world.

The study is available to view on Nature Geoscience.


Welsh-first as captive-bred crayfish reproduce in the wild – Natural Resources Wales

Image: Natural Resources WalesA Welsh conservation programme to save a highly endangered species is celebrating a major milestone after a captive-bred population has successfully spawned in the wild for the first time.

Experts from Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) released native white-clawed crayfish in a tributary of the river Irfon near Builth Wells between 2012 and 2014.

Now they have found first-generation wild crayfish in the area – demonstrating that a new population has been established.

Image: Natural Resources Wales

The white-claw is Britain’s only native crayfish and without intervention the species could become extinct in mainland Britain in 20 to 30 years. 

Over the last decade the species has declined by up to 80 per cent world-wide.

In the wild they have less than a 10 per cent chance of surviving to adulthood, compared to around 80per cent in the hatchery.

To date more than 5,000 captive-reared crayfish have been released into carefully selected ‘Ark’ sites in Wales.

The programme aims to offset the damage caused to the native crayfish population by the non-native American signal crayfish, climate change, habitat degradation and the impact of pollution on water quality.

The American signal crayfish, introduced for food production in the 1970s and 80s, carries a plague which affects only the white-clawed species.


Decreased oxygen levels could present hidden threat to marine species, study suggests - University of Plymouth

The research was led by Dr Manuela Truebano and Professor John Spicer with contribution from students from the marine biology programmes

Species living in coastal regions could face a significant future threat from reduced levels of oxygen in the marine environment, according to research published in Nature Scientific Reports.

The prevalence of hypoxic (low oxygen) areas in coastal waters is predicted to increase in the future, both in terms of their scale and duration. And while the adults of many estuarine invertebrates can cope with short periods of hypoxia, it has previously been unclear whether that ability is present if animals are bred and reared under chronic hypoxia.

A study by the University of Plymouth showed that exposure to even moderate hypoxia can have markedly different effects on metabolic performance, depending on whether adults are exposed to short-term hypoxia or undergo the whole of their development under hypoxic conditions.

Scientists warn that these differing reactions could result in the number of vulnerable species in an affected region currently being underestimated, and ultimately lead to vastly reduced biodiversity in ways that are not immediately obvious.

Lecturer in Marine Molecular Biology Dr Manuela Truebano and Professor in Marine Zoology John Spicer, from the University’s Marine Biology and Ecology Research Centre, led the study with contribution from students from the marine biology programmes.

Access the paper: Manuela Truebano, Oliver Tills, Michael Collins, Charlotte Clarke, Emma Shipsides, Charlotte Wheatley & John I. Spicer Short-term acclimation in adults does not predict offspring acclimation potential to hypoxia Nature doi:10.1038/s41598-018-21490-y  


Climate change risk for half of plant and animal species in biodiversity hot-spots - University of East Anglia

Up to half of plant and animal species in the world’s most naturally rich areas, such as the Amazon and the Galapagos, could face local extinction by the turn of the century due to climate change if carbon emissions continue to rise unchecked.

(image: University of East Anglia) The Amazon, Miombo Woodlands in Southern Africa, and south-west Australia are among the most affected places in the world, according to new research.

Even if the Paris Climate Agreement 2°C target is met, these places could lose 25% of their species according to a landmark new study by the University of East Anglia (UK), the James Cook University (Australia), and WWF.

(image: University of East Anglia)

Published today in the journal Climatic Change and just ahead of Earth Hour, the world’s largest environmental event, researchers examined the impact of climate change on nearly 80,000 plant and animal species in 35 of the world’s most diverse and naturally wildlife-rich areas.

The report explores a number of different climate change futures – from a no-emissions-cuts case in which global mean temperatures rise by 4.5°C (relative to pre-industrial times), to a  2°C rise, the upper limit for temperature in the Paris Agreement. Each area was chosen for its uniqueness and the variety of plants and animals found there.

It finds that the Miombo Woodlands home to African wild dogs, south-west Australia and the Amazon-Guianas are projected to be some the most affected areas. If there was a 4.5°C global mean temperature rise, the climates in these areas are projected to become unsuitable for many the plants and animals that currently live there meaning:

  • Up to 90% of amphibians, 86% of birds and 80% of mammals could potentially become locally extinct in the Miombo Woodlands, Southern Africa
  • The Amazon could lose 69% of its plant species
  • In south-west Australia 89% of amphibians could become locally extinct
  • 60% of all species are at risk of localised extinction in Madagascar
  • The Fynbos in the Western Cape Region of South Africa, which is experiencing a drought that has led to water shortages in Cape Town, could face localised extinctions of a third of its species, many of which are unique to that region.


Another satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’ in Inverness-shire - RSPB

Conservationists are concerned about the safety of a young pair of eagles after news emerged that another satellite-tagged golden eagle has disappeared in the northern Monadhliath Mountains of Inverness-shire. 

Data from the two-year old male’s transmitter showed that he had been living in an upland area, mainly managed for driven grouse shooting, north of Tomatin, since early last year. He had stayed almost exclusively in this area until mid December, when his tag, that had been functioning as expected, inexplicably stopped transmitting.

A follow-up investigation by Police Scotland has not yielded further clues as to the bird’s fate, and no further data has been received from the satellite tag.

The young bird, fitted with a tag sponsored by SSE, before it fledged from a nest in the Cairngorms National Park, was paired to a 2 year-old female, coincidentally also fitted with a transmitter. Data from her tag shows that she left the same area for several days following the male’s sudden disappearance, possibly searching for her missing mate, before returning to the territory. She has subsequently been joined there by another young male, also reinforcing the case that the two year old bird has disappeared.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “A report published by the Scottish Government last May, prompted by the regular disappearance of satellite-tagged eagles in this same area, provided unequivocal evidence that the sudden disappearance of these birds is highly suspicious. This is now the twelfth tagged eagle to go missing in this “black hole” in just seven years and is entirely consistent with the systematic and ongoing illegal persecution of eagles in this area.”

Response: Smearing of grouse moors ‘undermining’ investigations into satellite-tagged birds - Scottish Land and Estates

Scottish Land & Estates has issued the following statement in response to a RSPB media release on the alleged disappearance of a satellite-tagged golden eagle in Inverness-shire.

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “RSPB has stated today that a young golden eagle fitted with a satellite tag disappeared three months ago in the Northern Monadhliath mountains. We have no hesitation in urging anyone who can provide information on the matter to contact Police Scotland.

“We are, however, deeply concerned by the assumption by RSPB that this eagle is most likely the victim of a wildlife crime perpetrated on a grouse moor. Yet again, we see RSPB acting unilaterally as judge and jury without waiting for those professional experts in the police and the procurator fiscals’ office to reach an informed decision as to the actual facts. We believe this continual smearing of grouse moors actually runs the risk of being counterproductive and directly impacting all the good, productive collaboration that has taken place in recent years.

“Incidents such as this absolutely do need to be investigated but it is for Police Scotland to lead investigations. They have very extensive powers to gather evidence as they see fit, and we would expect all our members to assist them in their enquiries.


Boaty completes first under-ice Antarctic mission - NERC

The National Oceanography Centre's autonomous underwater vehicle Autosub Long Range (ALR), known affectionately around the world as Boaty McBoatface, was successfully recovered last week following its first under-ice mission beneath the Filchner Ice Shelf in West Antarctica. This success marks a significant milestone in proving the vehicle's capability.

From January to February 2018, the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) was deployed in the southern Weddell Sea during Research Vessel (RV) Polarsterncruise PS111 as part of the Filchner Ice Shelf System (FISS) project - a collaboration involving leading UK research institutions including the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), National Oceanography Centre (NOC), Met Office Hadley Centre, University College London, University of Exeter and Oxford University, and international partners including Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany, and University of Bergen, Norway.

The AUV plays a critical role in the project that aims to investigate and describe the current state of the complex atmosphere-ice-ocean system. Boaty spent a total of 51 hours under the Antarctic ice, travelling 108km over the duration of the deployment. The vehicle reached water depths of 944m, and spent 20 hours exploring beneath a section of the ice shelf that was 550m thick.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said: "Global warming is one of the greatest challenges we face today. Boaty's maiden under-ice voyage provides scientists with a greater understanding of the changes that are occurring in Antarctica, which could have a colossal impact on our planet - but, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The government is committed to doing more and, through its ambitious industrial strategy, we are revolutionising industries and society by shifting to clean growth economies - ensuring the UK is leading the way in tackling climate change."


UK gardens at risk from game changing plant disease – Royal Horticulture Society

  • Bacterium Xylella fastidiosa infects a huge variety of plants causing death in many instances
  • Popular garden plants such as cherry, lavender, hebe and rosemary considered high risk
  • Charity calls for sourcing of host plants from UK-grown stock to help mitigate threat

The quintessential UK garden, bursting with a wide variety of flowers, fruit and vegetables, could be lost to an unprecedented new disease in 2018, warns the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

Xylella fastidiosa – a bacterium which restricts water movement in plants resulting in eventual death – has already caused widespread devastation on the continent and threatens to arrive in the UK through the importation of infected plant material.

Unlike most pests and diseases which are plant-specific, Xylella affects more than 350 different plant species with garden favourites such as lavender, hebe, rosemary and flowering cherry at high risk because of their popularity, susceptibility to different strains of the disease and association with outbreaks on the continent.

The disease, which is spread by insects including leafhoppers and froghoppers is difficult to identify meaning it could advance unnoticed. Infected plants either show no symptoms or exhibit ones which may be confused with other common problems such as drought or frost damage. If found in the UK, all host plants within 100m would be destroyed and there would be restrictions on movement of plants within a 5km radius for five years - striking a death knell for surrounding nurseries and garden centres.

In light of the threat, the RHS is calling on gardeners and the industry to future proof gardens by purchasing host plants that are UK-sourced and grown – that is, propagated from seed in the UK or grown in the UK for a minimum of 12 months - maintaining varied plantings and reporting potential cases of Xylella to Defra.


Wildlife charity launches Woodland Wonders Appeal – Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Woodland at Bakethin, photo Matt WilliamstonWith woodland cover in England currently standing at just 10%, and Northumberland being one of the counties with the least remaining areas of native trees, Northumberland Wildlife Trust is calling on members of the public to help it improve and expand what remains of the region’s precious wooded areas by supporting its Woodland Wonders Appeal.

Woodland at Bakethin, photo Matt Williamston

Trees support a wider range of wildlife; as well as providing food in the form of flowers, fruits and seeds; they provide cover, shelter and nesting sites for animals, insects and birds. They also reduce flooding and pollution with trees planted on hillside slowing rainwater runoff and holding the soil in place, reducing the risk of flooding and preventing water pollution by filtering out pollutants from the rain.

Often overlooked by people as they go about their daily lives, woodlands are places of tranquillity, beauty and inspiration with research showing that spending time in woodlands and around trees reduces stress, improves mental health and encourages physical activity.

In this region, teams from Northumberland Wildlife Trust is creating Kielderhead Wildwood to restore the only native Scots pine woodland in England. This will be an upland woodland landscape, similar to that which existed in prehistoric times. It is an isolated and challenging spot and just the first year of work requires 5,300 native trees to be planted and protected.


England's first 'Moss Tree' to tackle city centre pollution Newcastle City Council 

England’s first pollution-busting “moss tree” has been installed in Newcastle, where it will purify air in the city centre and create opportunities for research intoEngland's first Moss Tree being installed in Newcastle (Newcastle City Council) the benefits of the plants’ natural filtering abilities.

England's first Moss Tree being installed in Newcastle (Newcastle City Council)

Northumbrian Water Group (NWG) has been working on the plans since July 2017, when it held its first ever NWG Innovation Festival, working with a range of partners to identify ways it can tackle a wide range of social and environmental problems.

The company reached an agreement with Newcastle City Council to site the tree at the Haymarket, close to the city’s bus interchange and busy main roads.

The moss cultures involved in the “tree” have the ability to filter certain pollutants, by binding them to the leaf surface and then integrating them permanently into their own biomass. This makes them ideal air purifiers. The moss is built into the “Moss Tree” structure, which provides the water – largely harvested from the rain – and the shade the moss needs to survive, creating an intelligent combination of technology and nature.

The results achieved will be made available for universities and other bodies on an ongoing basis, to feed into their own research on tackling pollution. Built-in sensors will gather information on pollution including Nitrogen Oxide, Nitrogen Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide, as well as monitoring air humidity, temperature and rainfall.

The NWG Innovation Festival involved Northumbrian Water working with 140 partner organisations, including headline sponsors IBM, Microsoft, Ordnance Survey, BT, CGI Group and Reece Innovation. More than 1,000 people took part during the course of the week-long event.


Groundwork teams up with the Royal Navy to engage local school children with redesigning their local parks and greenspaces - Groundwork

Community charity, Groundwork, has teamed up with the Royal Navy to offer school children in Birmingham and London the opportunity to get involved in a unique design competition to revamp local parks and greenspaces to help improve their local area.

Image: GroundworkImage: Groundwork

The 'UGarden' project encourages young people to work in teams to plan, agree and present their ideas around developing part of a local greenspace to a Dragon’s Den-style panel of local stakeholders. The winning team will be the one who successfully meets the brief given and presents design proposals with the potential to be considered to be used in the local plans for the greenspace.

This exciting collaboration for Groundwork with the Royal Navy will continue in March and will focus on ensuring spaces are attractive and usable by whole communities as well as addressing air quality concerns, biodiversity, sustainability and climate change adaptation. Groundwork will provide guidance in designing the gardens for maximum environmental benefit, while the Royal Navy teams will mentor the students to improve their planning, communication and presentation skills.

In Birmingham, two Year 9 school groups (13 -14 year olds) from Eden Boys School and Handsworth Wood Girls Academy,  will come together to work on the project. They will focus their creativity on a corner of Handsworth Park, which was identified by the Constituency Park Manager and poses many design challenges.


New solution to harmful algal blooms raises hope of economic and environmental benefits – John Innes Centres

A cheap, safe and effective method of dealing with harmful algal blooms is on the verge of being introduced following successful field and lab Benefits of research - Broads National Park - Photo by Dr Martin Rejzek, John Innes Centretests.  

Benefits of research - Broads National Park - Photo by Dr Martin Rejzek, John Innes Centre

Moves to adopt use of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as an effective treatment against toxic algae are already underway following the results of new research by a team from the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia (UEA.)  

Successful trials last summer showed that H2O2 was effective against the golden algae, Prymnesium parvum. This is responsible for millions of fish kills worldwide each year and a threat to the £550m economy of the Broads National Park where trials are taking place.  

Now follow up lab tests have demonstrated that controlled doses of the versatile chemical compound could be even more effective in dealing with cyanobacteria commonly known as blue green algae - a major public health hazard and potentially fatal to dogs and livestock.  

Some of these exciting results are published today (Friday 16 March) in the journal Biochemical Society Transactions along with a series of other scientific developments related to algal communities in the Broads National Park; one of the UK’s most popular and environmentally important network of waterways.  


Scientific publications

Dall’Ara, E. et al (2018) Green Mobility Infrastructures. A landscape approach for roundabouts’ gardens applied to an Italian case study. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2018.03.011


Lerman, S. B., Contosta, A. R., Milam, J. & Bang, C. (2018) To mow or to mow less: Lawn mowing frequency affects bee abundance and diversity in suburban yards. Biological Conservation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.01.025


Gribben, P. E. et al (2018) Below-ground processes control the success of an invasive seaweed. Journal of Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12966

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