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


UK pledges protection for corals - defra

The UK has officially joined the Coral Reef Life Declaration, committing to safeguarding coral reefs.

Coral (image: defra)An image of tropical coral. (image: defra)

The UK has joined a global battle to safeguard the world’s coral reefs from climate change and rising sea temperatures, Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey announced today.

International work to protect these vital marine habitats is gathering momentum as coral reefs come under increasing pressure from climate change and human activity – and today the UK officially joined the Coral Reef Life Declaration, committing to safeguard coral reefs and bolster scientific research into the threats they face.

The announcement comes just one week ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, where member states will gather in London to agree further global measures to protect our oceans. From Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef, to 8,000 year-old cold-waters corals off the coast of the UK, the countries of the Commonwealth account for nearly half the world’s coral reefs – and over 250 million people across the Commonwealth depend directly on coral reefs for food and income.

Speaking from the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, where High Commissioners and members of the UK’s science community gathered today to celebrate marine science across the Commonwealth, the Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: "Few people know the waters around the UK contain riches to rival the tropics – with our waters home to a vast array of cold water coral reefs that protect important marine life. Through tapping into the UK’s world-leading marine science and working with our partners across the Commonwealth, we will help to safeguard this vital habitat and protect our oceans for future generations."


"It's better in the forest" – sport study reveals remarkable success - Forestry Commission England

A three-year pilot programme by Forestry Commission England and Sport England saw an increase of 246% in sporting visits to five sites in the nation’s forests. Creating a sporting habitat for life is a key commitment for the Forestry Commission and the success of the pilot has allowed them to develop the programme to a total of 14 sites across England thanks to National Lottery funding from Sport England.volleyball (Image: Forestry Commission)

You wouldn’t normally expect to play table tennis, football and volleyball in forests, but these were introduced as part of the programme, alongside the forests’ core activities such as cycling and running.

(image: Forestry Commission)

Being physically active in nature was the main motivation for people to get involved in these activities (85%) and results have shown that what greatly enhanced the experience for many visitors were the aesthetics of the forest. Participants talked about the atmosphere of the forests; the beauty, scenery, wildlife and the opportunity it gave them to be in the fresh air, and the sense of freedom this gave.

One visitor said: “Yes its better in the forest, it would be boring otherwise. This is lovely; I think being in the forest adds to the enjoyment. You can hear the birds; there are changes in the seasons. You are more observant of what is around you; you look and listen for things.”

The programme also demonstrated the forests’ ability to get less active people doing more frequent activity with 49% of people changing to being active once a week or more. Another benefit was participants began to change their behaviour, making social and family connections and enhancing their wellbeing.


Species hitch a ride on birds and the wind to join green roof communities - University of Plymouth

New research suggests that species that live on green roofs arrived by hitching lifts on birds or by riding air currents.

While green roofs are seen as being great for biodiversity, adding habitat to what would otherwise be a bare roof, they can be harsh environments with high winds and extremes of temperature that make them vulnerable to drought. Because they are high, they can also be inaccessible to species that can’t fly, in particular soil organisms which are crucial for nutrient cycling and sustainable plant growth.

Yet previous research shows that these species do live on roofs. So how do they get there?

The study, by Dr Heather Rumble, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Paul Finch and Professor Alan Gange from Royal Holloway, University of London, aimed to find out whether soil organisms, such as mites, springtails (tiny insect-like creatures), bacteria and fungi are introduced to green roofs in their building materials or arrive on a green roof via other mechanisms, like travelling on birds or in “aerial plankton” (tiny creatures riding air currents).

Moss on the green roof. (image: University of Plymouth)Moss on the green roof. (image: University of Plymouth)

Dr Rumble said: “We found that while there was a healthy soil community in construction materials, most species died off soon after the roof was constructed due to the harsh conditions. This means that green roof soil species must arrive via another mechanism, such as by hitching lifts on birds or by coming in the aerial plankton.”

The researchers provide two important recommendations from the study. The first is that engineering soils for green roofs needs more work to ensure that not only the physical aspects (like the soil structure) are right, but also that the biology is right. Ensuring soil biology is adapted to green roofs from the start could make green roofs more sustainable.

Access the paper: Heather Rumble, Paul Finch, Alan C. Gange, Green roof soil organisms: Anthropogenic assemblages or natural communities?, Applied Soil Ecology, Volume 126, 2018, Pages 11-20, ISSN 0929-1393, doi: 10.1016/j.apsoil.2018.01.010.


Minotaurs unearthed in Ayrshire - Scottish Wildlife Trust

Minotaur beetle © Jonathan Groom via Scottish Wildlife TrustRare dung beetles have been unearthed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust at two locations in North Ayrshire. 

The minotaur beetles were found at Dundonald Links and at Gailes Marsh Wildlife Reserve near Irvine. The species has only been recorded a handful of times in Scotland in the past 50 years.

Minotaur beetles are found in sandy grassland and heathland. They are most active at night and feed on dung, particularly rabbit droppings. They use their strong front legs to push dung into deep burrows where they feed their larvae. 

Minotaur beetle © Jonathan Groom via Scottish Wildlife Trust

Gill Smart, Reserves Manager, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “It’s really exciting to find a new rare species on our reserve. I’d heard from local naturalists that they are present on the Ardeer peninsula and that they were also likely to be found around Irvine. Once I learned the giveaway signs, I knew I’d seen their burrows before. We set up pitfall traps surrounded with rabbit poo to confirm that they were there and sure enough, two fell into our traps on the very first night." 

Click through to watch footage of the beetles.


A local council ignores national outcry by ploughing ahead with plans that threaten one of the last bastions for nightingales in England – The Wildlife Trusts

Chris Gomersall / 2020VISIONLocal Plan that continues to designate land at and around Lodge Hill as being suitable for thousands of new houses.

Chris Gomersall / 2020VISION

Last year over 12,000 people wrote to Medway Council to object to proposals that could see thousands of houses built at Lodge Hill, the most important site for nightingales in the UK

With nightingale numbers in the UK declining by around 90% in the last 50 years Lodge Hill is hugely important to preventing the much-loved songbirds from disappearing from the UK completely

Lodge Hill is already recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest specifically for its nightingales, and the latest plans could not only jeopardise the rare wildlife at Lodge Hill but threaten beauty spots and wildlife sanctuaries across the UK

This month Medway Council in Kent has responded to the 12,000 plus people that objected to Lodge Hill being made available for housing by publishing a new draft Local Plan that continues to designate land at and around Lodge Hill as being suitable for thousands of new houses.

The decision to include Lodge Hill flies in the face of national planning rules designed to protect important natural spaces, and the local authority’s own pledge to protect important wildlife sites, sparking concerns that other protected sites could be under threat.


Pioneering new approaches to Exmoor’s invasive species problem – Exmoor National Park Authority

Castration and electrocution are two ground-breaking new ways of tackling invasive plant and animal species being trialled in Exmoor National Image: Exmoor NPAPark, highlighted as part of Invasive Species Week this week.

Japanese and Himalayan Knotweed are two of Britain’s most invasive weeds and have caused extensive damage to several of Exmoor’s most precious watercourses, such as the Lyn, Heddon and Barle - all Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

Image: Exmoor NPA

A ten year collaboration between Exmoor National Park Authority, the Environment Agency, Natural England and the National Trust to try and control the problem has proved highly successful, with the plant now being controlled across an area the size of six Wembley football pitches, thanks to the support from local landowners.

Exmoor is now among a handful of UK sites where a pioneering new method of control is being trialled, involving electrocuting the weed’s root system. It is hoped the new approach will avoid the need for repeat spraying with herbicides, which can impact the environment, although not nearly so much as the plants themselves.


Epic mystery of Lancashire’s willow tits Lancashire Wildlife Trust

The discovery of Britain’s most endangered small bird on two nature reserves in Preston has delighted conservationists.

Willow tit by Peter Smith NW Wild ImagesAfter a decline of more than 90 per cent in 15 years the willow tit has been described as Lancashire’s Siberian tiger.

Willow tit by Peter Smith NW Wild Images

However, Wigan and South Lancashire is where hopes of a revival of this remarkable tiny bird are the highest.

In recent years, willow tits have appeared in woodland at Brockholes and at the nearby Fishwick Bottoms Local Nature Reserve near the Ribble at Preston.

Wildlife Trust Project Officer Chris Taylor said: “We know the Wigan Flashes area is a stronghold for willow tits, but Wigan to Preston would represent a journey of epic proportions to a willow tit. They stick to their territory, travelling just a couple of miles in their lifetime.”

The willow tit is black, pale brown and white tit with a pale panel on the wings and a dull black cap. It has a distinctive nasal zee, zee, zee call which is often the most reliable way to identify the bird.

Wigan Projects Manager Mark Champion believed that there must be populations between Wigan and Preston after finding historic records and from more recent anecdotes from local birders. But there was little real evidence to prove that these secretive birds lived in areas like Chorley and Coppull.

The Wildlife Trust, supported by a grant from the Lancashire Environmental Fund, recruited a team of volunteers to survey likely sites.

Chris said: “In our first year we found willow tits, in Yarrow Valley Park, Cuerden Valley Park, Great Knowley and a number of other sites. Plotted on a map they formed that chain between Wigan and Preston we had been hoping for. The willow tits in Preston, the ones that had started the whole process, had vanished, nothing at Brockholes, Fishwick or Preston Junction, which had had a breeding record in 2012. We spent the following winter, installing nesting logs and planting small willow patches in all of the areas with positive results, with a small team of brilliant volunteers, who planted a lot of willow and cut back a lot of brambles that winter.”

During the next survey season, they found willow tits in all the same spots and a couple of new ones, but still nothing in Preston. By the time the project finishes this month, they will have planted over 1,000 trees.


Butterfly revival dashed by wet, gloomy weather – Butterfly Conservation

Two declining butterflies suffered their worst year on record in 2017 after hopes of a butterfly revival were dashed by a chilly snap in spring and a gloomy, wet summer, a study has revealed.

Grayling and Grizzled Skipper recorded their lowest numbers since records began as difficult weather conditions caused problems for some of the UK’s species.

There had been hopes that UK butterflies would bounce back after the summer of 2016, the fourth worst on record.

And although butterfly numbers last year were up on 2016, they were still way below average with 2017 being the seventh worst year on record, the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) led by Grizzled Skipper by Iain H LeachButterfly Conservation, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), British Trust for Ornithology(BTO) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) revealed.

Grizzled Skipper and Grayling had their worst year on record for the second year running. Grizzled Skipper was down 9% compared to 2016 and the population has now more than halved since the 1970s. Grayling declined by 6% compared to 2016; its numbers have shrunk by 63% over the last decade.

Grizzled Skipper by Iain H Leach

The threatened Dingy Skipper saw numbers fall by 22% compared to 2016 and the rare Marsh Fritillary experienced a decline of 12% over the same period.

But it wasn’t just rare species that struggled – the Large White one of the UK’s most well-known and widespread butterflies - saw its numbers tumble by 19%. This common butterfly is now also in a state of long-term decline.

There had been hopes for a good butterfly year as many spring species emerged earlier than usual following a warm start to 2017. Butterflies need warm, dry weather during their flight periods in order to feed and mate.


New Peak District woodland set to bring big benefits for people and wildlife – RSPB

RSPB staff and volunteers at Dove Stone have created a new woodland in a valley at the Peak District site that will provide a range of public benefits, as well as help local wildlife.

Over the past three months, the team at Dove Stone, including 15 hardy volunteers has planted more than 12,000 trees across 20 hectares (49 acres). The mixture of native UK trees including oak, birch and willow will help stabilize the soil and prevent erosion, which in turn will improve water quality, help lock up harmful carbon in the ground and reduce the risk of downstream flooding.

In the long term, the trees will also provide a home to a range of woodland birds including redstarts and flycatchers, as well as butterflies, bumble bees and even deer.

The RSPB project has been supported by land owner United Utilities, Peak District National Park Authority, Natural England, Forestry Commission and the local tenant farmer. 

Kate Hanley, the RSPB warden who led the project, said: “It's exciting that so many people have come together to help deliver a landscape-scale conservation project, and our amazing volunteers should have special mention as they have worked so hard in all weathers to help us plant over 12,200 trees. Nothing stops them, not even the Beast from the East! The valley is going to be transformed, and we're looking forward to seeing the woodland grow to support some of our declining woodland wildlife.”


Record numbers of toads helped across the road to Bodenham Lake - Herefordshire Wildlife Trust

A dedicated team of volunteers has been patrolling the lane alongside Bodenham Lake Nature Reserve all spring, helping over 1,000 toads safely across to the lake to breed.

Toad (Image by Sophie Cowling)Following the Go Toads project begun by Herefordshire Wildlife Trust in 2016 with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, toad patrols have been running each year in Bodenham between February and April to try and prevent them from being run over as they cross the lane from where they have overwintered in the woodland on the way to the lake where they mate and spawn.

Toad (Image by Sophie Cowling)

Toads instinctively head to the same ponds and lakes each spring on the migratory routes followed by their ancestors. As the roads which these routes cross become busier each year, the toads find themselves in mortal danger as they make their migration. In addition to this peril, many ponds are also being lost from our landscapes through development and because they are largely redundant as watering ponds for livestock on farms. This has led to a serious national decline in toad numbers: a recent study by Froglife and partners from The University of Zurich and using data collected by Toads on Roads volunteer patrollers has shown that on average common toads have declined by 68% over the last 30 years in the UK.


Droughts mean fewer flowers for bees – The University of Manchester

Bees could be at risk from climate change because more frequent droughts could cause plants to produce fewer flowers, new research shows.

Droughts are expected to become more common and more intense in many parts of the world, and researchers studied the impact on flowering plants using a field experiment.

They found that drought roughly halved the overall number of flowers. This means less food for bees and other pollinators, which visit flowers for the nectar and pollen that they provide.

The research was carried out by scientists at the Universities of Exeter and Manchester, and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“The plants we examined responded to drought in various ways, from producing fewer flowers to producing flowers that contained no nectar,” said lead researcher Ben Phillips, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. But overall there was a very clear reduction in the number of flowers that were available – and obviously this means less food for flower-visiting insects such as bees.”

Bees are already under pressure from a variety of threats including habitat loss, the use of particular pesticides, and the spread of diseases and alien species.

“Not only are these insects vital as pollinators of crops and wild plants, but they also provide food for many birds and mammals,” said joint lead researcher Dr Ros Shaw, also of the University of Exeter.


Snakes alive! ZSL ranks the world’s most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered reptiles – ZSL

Turtles that breathe through their genitals and chameleons the size of a human thumbnail are amongst the weird and wonderful reptiles heading for extinction unless urgent action is taken, according to the latest ranking from international conservation charity ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) pioneering EDGE of Existence programme

Mary River Turtle (Copyright: Chris Van Wyk)Backed by a study published in journal PLOS ONE, ZSL’s EDGE Reptiles List uses a complex formula to highlight species that are particularly Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE), providing wildlife scientists worldwide with a scientifically rigorous way of focusing their conservation efforts on those animals that effectively represent their own distinct branches of the Tree of Life. 

Mary River Turtle (Copyright: Chris Van Wyk)

Iconic species featuring on ZSL’s EDGE Reptiles List include the world’s largest sea turtle, the leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) which weighs in at #85, and the Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus), which can stay underwater for up to three days by breathing through its reproductive organs and sits at #30. Other stand-outs include the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus), a freshwater crocodile once common across much of Asia but now confined to a handful of rivers in northern India and Nepal. Classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, fewer than 235 are believed to survive in the wild, contributing to its EDGE ranking of #16. 


Be ‘frog friendly’ and let nature take its course this spring - Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust

Gardeners and wildlife lovers are being urged to be ‘frog friendly’ and leave frogspawn alone. Please do not be tempted to move it as you could be spreading potentially fatal diseases to frogs and other wildlife.

A female frog may lay thousands of eggs each year but only a tiny percentage will survive into adulthood. This is because spawn, tadpoles and froglets have numerous natural predators, including some of our favourite garden birds, and they are also very susceptible to disease and pollution. 

In the late 1980s, unusual mortalities of common frogs were reported in the south east of England. Frogs were found to be suffering from a variety of symptoms, sometimes with secondary bacterial infections. The culprit was identified as Ranavirus*, possibly spread from North America through the commercial importation of bullfrogs or goldfish.

Trust Senior Conservation Officer Neil Pilcher says, “If you think there’s a huge amount of frogspawn in your pond you may be tempted to move some to another pond or stream, particularly local ones that already have spawn. But this can be extremely damaging to frogs, toads and other wildlife too.  Diseases such as Ranavirus are a very real concern, but also is the fact that the contents of your bucket could accidentally transfer invasive non-native plant species to new locations where they could do significant damage to the natural environment.  

“It’s a tough life being a frog, but nature knows best. Please help by doing absolutely nothing!”


LI publishes new vision for Green Belt - Landscape Institute

The briefing calls for completely fresh thinking on the future of the controversial planning policy

The Landscape Institute (LI) has published a new briefing on the future of the Green Belt.

The briefing seeks to address the housing crisis, lead debate on the UK government’s 25-year environment plan, and inform revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

It calls for fresh thinking on Green Belt policy that:

  • addresses pressing issues such as flood risk, air pollution, and health and wellbeing
  • considers societal need for climate change mitigation, biodiversity enhancement and sustainable expansion
  • is clear on what Green Belt is, and what it is for

Green Belt policy predates the NPPF ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.  ‘As a single-issue designation’, the briefing argues, ‘Green Belt does not sit well with current evidence-based policy-making’.

The LI advocates a strategic review of Green Belt policies and guidance. It urges the UK Government to use the proposed revision to NPPF to align Green Belt policy with current planning guidance.  We also call on the Welsh Government and Scottish Parliament to undertake a strategic review of Green Belt policies and guidance.

While successful in its original aim to keep land around urban areas permanently open, Green Belt requires ongoing re-evaluation to ensure its continued relevance.

 ‘The public deserve a system for protecting the Green Belt that they can trust’, said LI President Merrick Denton-Thompson. ‘We all want beautiful, functional green land around our towns and cities. A review that firmly reestablishes Green Belt principles might allow new development in some areas. But it equally could mean new Green Belts in places that don’t have them.’

Read the briefing document here. 


Picking wild flowers is a good thing? - Plantlife

This Spring, Plantlife launches this year’s Great British Wildflower Hunt, with 21 new spring species to spot and a new code of conduct on when it is OK to pick wild flowers…

Wildflower HuntLast year, from the Channel Islands to the Orkney Islands, more than 15,200 wild flowers were spotted by the British public in the first year of this annual Hunt. Over 60 common species were included last summer and this year, Plantlife is adding 21 spring woodland flowers, including anemone, ramsons and early purple orchid. Despite an arctic winter and a cold spring so far, celandines, primroses, violets and stitchwort are all in bloom!

Plantlife’s Botanical Specialist Trevor Dines commented ‘Research we carried out with YouGov within the last year shows that 70% of the public want to know their wild flowers better, and this is such an easy way to do it: 15% of our hunters started out saying they couldn’t name any wildflowers and were ‘unsure’ of their identification abilities so that was particularly thrilling when they completed the Hunt. At the other end of the scale, thirteen of our hunters scored a full house, finding all the species on their spotter sheets and scoring the maximum 37 points.’

This year, the charity has also highlighted a dozen species within the Hunt that are so abundant that they are OK to pick and is publishing a new Code of Conduct to give people confidence when picking

Read Plantlife’s “Code of Conduct” for picking wildflowers here.

Find out more about the Wildflower Hunt here 


Crowded urban areas have fewer songbirds per person - University of Exeter

People in crowded urban areas – especially poor areas – see fewer songbirds such as tits and finches, and more potential “nuisance” birds, such as pigeons, magpies and gulls, new research shows.

The University of Exeter and the British Trust for Ornithology examined ratios of birds-to-people and found areas of high-density housing have fewer birds overall – and the birds people do see are just as likely to cause a nuisance as to make them happy.

woodpecker (image: University of Exeter)(image: University of Exeter)

Meanwhile, people in green and leafy suburbs see up to three and a half times more songbirds and woodpeckers – which are associated with a positive impact on human wellbeing – than birds whose behaviours can cause a nuisance.

Previous research has suggested that people living in neighbourhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress.

“For most people, birds provide their most common encounter with wild animals,” said research fellow Dr Daniel Cox, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “Understanding the relationship between the numbers of birds and people is important for how we manage nature and wildlife in towns and cities to promote positive nature experiences, while minimising the potential for conflict. There are many ways for people to attract birds to the garden to gain positive nature experiences, not only for you and your family but also for the households around you who will also have an increased chance of seeing these birds."

Read the paper (open access): Daniel T. C. Cox, Hannah L. Hudson, Kate E. Plummer, Gavin M. Siriwardena, Karen Anderson, Steven Hancock, Patrick Devine, Wright & Kevin J. Gaston Covariation in urban birds providing cultural services or disservices and people. Journal of Applied Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13146 


Scientific Publications 

Vicky Bérubé, Line Rochefort, Production and decomposition rates of different fen species as targets for restoration, Ecological Indicators, Volume 91, August 2018, Pages 105-115, ISSN 1470-160X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2018.03.069.


Marcelino Fuentes, Trends of biodiversity and species richness at local and global scales, Biological Conservation, Available online 8 April 2018, ISSN 0006-3207, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2018.03.032.


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