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


Scottish nature at greatest potential to benefit people and economy this century, study shows – Scottish Natural Heritage

Scotland’s plants, wildlife, air, water, and land – known as natural capital – are delivering stronger benefits to people and business across Scotland than in the previous two decades, according to the first study of its kind.

Scotland’s Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) assesses the quality and quantity of land-based habitats in Scotland and their theoretical contributions to human wellbeing.

Now in its 8th year, the study shows that after decades of decline until the 1990s, there has been steady improvement since 2012. Important drivers to the rise include expansion in forest habitats, improvement of freshwaters, and recovery of heath and peatlands. 

Mike Cantlay, Chair of SNH, said: “Natural capital is vitally important for our nation’s economy and our own quality of life. It’s encouraging to see Scotland’s natural capital has been recovering in recent years. As we work to protect and enhance our nature and landscapes in the coming years, we want to see this trend continue.”


Government crackdown on litter louts - Defra

Councils will have the power to almost double on-the-spot fines for litter louts from today, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey Image: Defrahas announced.

Image: Defra

The maximum on-the-spot fine for littering and graffiti almost doubles from £80 to £150. For the first time, local authorities can also use these littering penalties against vehicle owners if it can be proved litter was thrown from their car.

Keeping the country’s streets clean cost local councils almost £700 million last year. Much of this is avoidable litter, and money that could be better spent in the community.

The Government is clear however that councils must not abuse the power to impose penalties. Councils should take into account local circumstances, like local ability to pay, when setting the level for these penalties. Government guidance is available to ensure the new powers are used in a fair and proportionate way by local authorities.


Osprey nesting platform installed to attract rare species to Bodenham Lake - Herefordshire Wildlife Trust

An osprey nesting platform has been erected at Bodenham Lake nature reserve in the hope that osprey, whose migratory path passes over the lake, will stay to nest and breed at the site.

Platform being installed (image: Herefordshire Wildlife Trust)Platform being installed (image: Herefordshire Wildlife Trust)

The platform has been stalled as part of Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s Lugg Wetland Gem project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund which is improving the wildlife habitat at the nature reserve with the help of volunteers from the local community.

In the wild, osprey prefer tall trees which have been damaged and have broken tops caused by storms, heavy snow, or lightning strikes which provide a secure base for their nests but these are increasingly rare in the modern landscape.

The nesting platform is forged from steel and was forged by Downey Engineering, The platform sits on top of a 30 foot pole which gives osprey a clear view of their hunting territory and any potential predators who may threaten the nest generously funded by Herefordshire Wildlife Rescue, Herefordshire Ornithological Club and the National Gardens Scheme,

Sophie Cowling who is managing the Lugg Wetland Gem project said: “It is so exciting to have this installed at the lake – it looks ideal so thanks so much to everyone who helped to make it happen! We think the placement of the platform will be perfect for osprey and later this year we will be securing a perch and live stream camera so that we can watch and see if we get Osprey visiting or nesting! The platform is in the wildlife refuge area where there is restricted access so any osprey are not disturbed but there will be great views from the bird hides.
“More work will be taking place at the reserve this autumn when we are reprofiling the lake to create shallower banks and establishing 7500m2 of reed bed. This type of habitat is becoming increasingly rare but is fantastic for all sorts of wildlife species – including fish so there will plenty of meals available for any osprey!”


RSPCA rope rescue team save sheep in “extremely challenging rescue” in Gower - RSPCA Cymru

A sheep has been successfully winched to safety by RSPCA Cymru rescuers after becoming stuck 100 feet down sea cliffs in the Gower.

A RSPCA rope rescue team was mobilised on Tuesday 27 March after the sheep was spotted down the steep sea cliffs between Mewslade Bay and Fall Bay.

RSPCA inspector Nic de Celis said: “The rescue was particularly challenging as the sheep was really far down and not directly below an area that we could use for our usual rope rescue set up. We therefore had to set three separate rope systems up – which is two more than usual – so those working at the top of the cliff were able to do so safely and it meant we could also haul the sheep up at 90 degrees further along the cliff. Inspectors Vicky Taylor and Mark Roberts abseiled down the cliff and I was with inspector Rohan Barker and Selina Griffiths at the top where we hauled the sheep up once it was safely in the bag.”

The sheep – which was uninjured – was released at the top and happily walked away.

Click through to watch video footage of the rescue. 


Coastal Warden scheme celebrates first anniversary - Essex Wildlife Trust 

This year there will be more than 40 dedicated volunteer Coastal Wardens working to safeguard our coast.

Volunteer Coastal Warden Suki Swindale (image: Essex Wildlife Trust)Volunteer Coastal Warden Suki Swindale (image: Essex Wildlife Trust)

Our Living Seas program has been proactively addressing the issue of coastal pollution with the help of dedicated volunteers. One year ago, this citizen science scheme started when a group of enthusiastic volunteers were trained as Coastal Wardens, in a project supported by the Environment Agency.

These incredible volunteers have spent the last year collecting baseline water quality data all along our coastline, to monitor nutrient levels and trends. To identify potential landward pollutants, water samples are taken from borrow dykes, areas that were dug out to construct the seawalls. Good water quality is fundamental to biodiversity and with an ever-increasing population in the country, the environment is under increasing pressure.

Although the project is still in its infancy, the data will help us identify pollution incidents and problem areas. The information collected will also help facilitate discussions between stakeholders and help bring a co-ordinated approach to issues in your area. 


Suspected Squirrelpox outbreak near Dumfries threatens local red squirrel population - Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels

Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels has received multiple reports of red squirrels with suspected Squirrelpox virus in Heathall Forest on the outskirts of Dumfries. Locals are urged to remain vigilant as this fatal disease could have serious consequences for the local red squirrel population. 

Within the past fortnight, several individual red squirrels have been spotted by both project staff and members of the public which appear to display classic symptoms of the deadly disease.

Squirrelpox is a virus that is carried by grey squirrels without them being affected. Native red squirrels do not typically have immunity. Symptoms include weeping lesions on the face, paws and genitalia, which prevent the red squirrel from eating, drinking or moving. As a result, it is usually fatal within two weeks and an outbreak can cause local numbers to crash.

Wildlife feeder boxes and garden bird tables are a common cause of Squirrelpox outbreaks, as they bring squirrels of both species into closer contact with one another.   

Dr Stephanie Johnstone, Conservation Officer for Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels said: "In conjunction with Forestry Commission Scotland, who manage Heathhall, we have deployed emergency Squirrelpox outbreak response measures.  All feeder boxes found on site have been removed and trapping has commenced to isolate any sick red squirrels and remove any grey squirrels.  Captured sick red squirrels will be taken to a local veterinary clinic in Dumfries where they will be assessed and either treated or euthanised. There are very few instances of red squirrels surviving the disease.  Nonetheless, the South West Scotland Wildlife Hospital is on standby to receive any sick red squirrels into their isolation unit if a vet deems that they may have a chance of recovery."   

Local residents have created a Facebook page 'Save Heathhall Red Squirrels' to keep the public informed of the current situation.


Increase of plant species on mountain tops is accelerating with global warming - Aarhus University

Over the past 10 years, the number of plant species on European mountain tops has increased by five-times more than during the period 1957-66. Data on 302 European peaks covering 145 years shows that the acceleration in the number of mountain-top species is unequivocally linked to global warming.

It is not as lonely at the top as it used to be.  At least not for plants which, due to global warming, are increasingly finding habitats on mountain tops that were formerly reserved for only the toughest and most hardy species.

A large international research team has not only ascertained a considerable increase in the number of plant species on 302 European mountain peaks over the past 150 years; they have also found that this increase is accelerating. Moreover, it is certain that this development is linked to rises in temperatures; changes in precipitation and nitrogen input could not explain the increase.  Therefore, the researchers have demonstrated that the flora is trying to keep pace with the consequences of accelerating anthropogenic impacts on all the Earth's system. 

During the decade from 1957-66, the number of species on each of the 302 mountain tops increased by 1.1 species on average. Since then, the trend has accelerated: From 2007-16, on average 5.5 new species moved up to the 302 summits.  The researchers have only been able to count the plant species that have already responded to the temperature rise and actually have moved upwards. They have not studied the number of species that might be on the way upwards.

Access the paper: Manuel J. Steinbauer et al Accelerated increase in plant species richness on mountain summits is linked to warming  Nature (2018)  doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0005-6


Will it be fifth year running for osprey chicks at Foulshaw Moss? - Cumbria Wildlife Trust 

A pair of breeding ospreys has returned to South Lakeland’s biggest nature reserve, Foulshaw Moss near Witherslack, giving rise to the hope that chicks will be soon be hatching. This would be the fifth consecutive year that this pair of breeding ospreys has raised chicks at this site – a total of 11 chicks have been successfully raised so far.

Blue 35 and White YW ospreys at Foulshaw Moss nest (image: Cumbria Wildlife Trust)Blue 35 and White YW ospreys at Foulshaw Moss nest (image: Cumbria Wildlife Trust)

Blue 35 and White YW, the two ospreys who successfully raised and fledged two chicks last year, returned to Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve this week. The female, Blue 35, returned on Good Friday (30 March), following weeks of speculation and anticipation, especially among the online osprey-watching community! A tense few days followed as osprey-watchers waited for Blue 35’s mate to return, and it was with relief that he appeared on Wednesday afternoon (4 April).

Paul Waterhouse, Reserves Officer for Cumbria Wildlife Trust, says: “It’s always a hugely exciting event when the breeding ospreys return to Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve. As one of only a small handful of breeding sites in Cumbria, it’s wonderful to have these magnificent birds returning to us year on year. Ospreys are on the whole faithful to both their mate and their nest site, with some nests known to have been in use for 20 years. So we hope to welcome them back to Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve for many more years to come!” 


Single use plastic to be phased out at the National Trust - National Trust

The National Trust announces it will phase out selling single use plastics at its places by 2022.

The conservation charity has already eliminated plastic from its disposable cups and cutlery, instead choosing plant based biodegradable products, and will withdraw from sale throwaway plastic bottles across its 343 cafes and tea rooms.

Lizzy Carlyle, Head of Environmental Practices at the National Trust said: “As an organisation committed to creating and maintaining a healthy and more beautiful natural environment, we are committed to using every opportunity to minimise our use of non-renewable resources and cut down our waste. The impact single use plastics have on the natural world is particularly alarming. Our latest focus has been on how we can eliminate the use of single use plastic in our 343 cafes and tea rooms, whilst ensuring that any disposable packaging we do use has as little impact on the environment as possible.”

Over 150 of the Trust’s coastal properties are also adjacent to beaches, many of which suffer greatly from plastic litter. The Trust is organising numerous beach cleans over the coming months. 


Pesticides give bees a hard time- University of Würzburg

Scientists from the University of Würzburg have investigated the impact of a new pesticide on the honeybee. In high doses, it has a negative impact on the insects' taste and cognition ability.

In February 2018, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) confirmed that the pesticide group of neonicotinoids is harmful to bees. A novel pesticide manufactured by Bayer AG is therefore being discussed as an alternative; it contains flupyradifurone from the class of butenolides. The product goes by the brand name of Sivanto.

Sivanto is assumed to be effective against various sucking insects such as aphids and whiteflies and can be used on a number of fruit and vegetable crops but also on cocoa and coffee plants. Advertised as bee-friendly, the pesticide can even be applied on flowering fields. It has been available in the US market since 2015. In the EU, it is approved but not yet available.

A honeybee on a cornflowerMeasurable impact on honeybees 

In high doses, a new pesticide impairs the taste and learning capabilities as well as the memory of bees. (Photo: Ricarda Scheiner)

Scientists from the University of Würzburg have now investigated the effect of flupyradifurone on honeybee behaviour. The study is led by Ricarda Scheiner, Professor for Neuroethology of Arthropods at the Department of Behavioural Physiology and Sociobiology (Zoology II) and Hannah Hesselbach, her PhD student. The scientists have published their findings in the current issue of the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

"Our data show that non-lethal doses of flupyradifurone after a single application to collecting honeybees have a negative impact on the bees' taste, learning and memory capability," Ricarda Scheiner sums up the study result.

The experiments prove the following: "Whereas the two smaller doses did not exhibit any adverse effect, a flupyradifurone amount of 1.2 microgrammes per bee results in significantly reduced perception and learning performance," Hannah Hesselbach says.

The good news, however, is that the collecting honeybees will probably not come into contact with such high doses when the pesticide is applied properly. But the scientists believe that further research is necessary to determine the pesticide's influence on motor function, waggle dance or orientation.  

Read the research: Effects of the novel pesticide flupyradifurone (Sivanto) on honeybee taste and cognition. Hannah Hesselbach & Ricarda Scheiner. Nature Scientific Reports DOI:10.1038/s41598-018-23200-0,


Children help to save our ‘plastic planet’ - New Forest National Park

A staggering 13,500 children from over 60 primary schools are looking at ways they can reduce plastic waste in the New Forest, its rivers and the sea.

The New Forest's unspoilt natural beauty is one of the things that people value most about the National Park. Sadly, a minority of people deliberately throw food packaging from their cars, leave litter in parking areas and even deliberately dump quantities of waste materials.

Now the New Forest National Park Authority’s education staff and rangers have begun visits to over 60 primary schools to teach children about the impacts littering has on their local environment.

They are demonstrating how easily plastic can go from the heathlands and woodlands to the ocean and back again, with potentially disastrous consequences through each stage of its journey.
From the Forest to the food chain and rare birds to marine wildlife, pupils learn how plastic pollution does not just affect the animals roaming the Open Forest and how important it is to reduce, re-use and recycle, and take litter home.

Jane Flood, Head of Learning at Netley Marsh Infant School, said: ‘The children loved the story of the plastic bag in the New Forest and what can happen when the animals come across plastic in their environment. Thank you to the education team for making this problem come alive. Maybe these children can keep our Forest beautiful.’

The New Forest National Park Authority’s Lead Education Officer, Sue Palma, said: ‘The response from schools has been so encouraging. Throughout the New Forest, and from Southampton to Bournemouth, schools are doing their best to eliminate single use plastic from homes, classrooms and school kitchens. For example Katie Whitcher and Adele Jackson, cooks at Sopley Primary School, spoke proudly of working with school dinner providers HC3S to replace single use plastic dishes and cups with reusable ones, and teaching the children to separate food waste from other waste. Redbridge Primary School is one of many determined to discontinue the use of plastic straws. All the children we have met care about the environment, and are considering ways in which they themselves can ensure that the world will be free of single use plastic before too long.’


Sign of the times, National Park to trial boundary signs - South Downs National Park

Over the eight years since the South Downs was designated we’ve often been asked why there are no signs telling people that they’ve arrived in the National Park. But what would they look like? Bespoke signage that creates a sense of arrival at the UK’s newest National Park is to be piloted in 19 locations around the South Downs this summer.

National Park signs (image: South Downs National Park)National Park signs (image: South Downs National Park)

Before we could consider putting up boundary markers we first needed to develop an identity for the South Downs. Now this is in place we’re looking forward to joining all 14 other UK National Parks in proudly signalling our presence to visitors and people who live here.

The 19 pilot signs will be placed at specially chosen locations at, or near, the National Park’s borders – carefully selected as places in which there is a real sense of arrival in the National Park and each sign’s size and design will be tailored to fit with that particular location.

“In a recent survey only 39% of people in the South East of England were aware that the South Downs is designated as a National Park*,” says Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive for the National Park Authority. “These boundary markers are just one part of a strategy to increase awareness and add to its value as a destination to visit; for the quality of delicious local food and drink produced here; and as a landscape to be treated with care and respect.”


Expeditions to study health of whales in Hebrides using pioneering laser photography - Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has announced details of its 2018 surveys, in which volunteers and marine scientists will carry out pioneering research into the health of whales, dolphins and porpoises off Scotland’s west coast using photogrammetry – the science of making measurements from photographs. 

Photographing a minke whale for species ID (image: HWDT)Photographing a minke whale for species ID (image: HWDT)

The trust has been collecting data on cetaceans from its specialized research yacht Silurian for 15 years. Photo-identification research over this time has catalogued 230 minke whales, some of which have returned to the same feeding grounds every year for over a decade.

This year, new laser photogrammetry equipment used by the crew will enable volunteers participating in the surveys to help collect vital new information to assess the overall health of whales in the Hebrides.

The bespoke equipment made for the conservation charity works by placing two dots of light – of a known distance, typically around 10 centimetres – onto the body of an animal at the same time a photograph is taken.   The technique will be used to measure the length of the animals – helping to determine numbers of young whales, assess body conditions for parasites such as sea lice, and classify marks and scars from interactions with marine plastic and fishing gear.

“Monitoring by volunteers onboard Silurian has shown how Scotland’s west coast is an important feeding ground for migratory minke whales. This new equipment will help build a greater understanding of individual whales’ movements, behaviour and overall health, and help us evaluate their interactions with manmade items in the marine environment,” said Becky Dudley, Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Marine Biodiversity Officer.


Scientific Publications 

Pauline Pierret, Frédéric Jiguet, The potential virtue of garden bird feeders: More birds in citizen backyards close to intensive agricultural landscapes, Biological Conservation, Volume 222, June 2018, Pages 14-20, ISSN 0006-3207, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.033.


Brian A. Crawford, Clinton T. Moore, Terry M. Norton, John C. Maerz, Integrated analysis for population estimation, management impact evaluation, and decision-making for a declining species, Biological Conservation, Volume 222, June 2018, Pages 33-43, ISSN 0006-3207, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.023.


Philip G. Desmet, Using landscape fragmentation thresholds to determine ecological process targets in systematic conservation plans, Biological Conservation, Volume 221, May 2018, Pages 257-260, ISSN 0006-3207, doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.025. 


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