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


Extending the badger cull could result in the killing of thousands of healthy badgers, risk spreading bovine TB and waste taxpayers’ money – BBOWT

The Government’s proposed extension of the badger cull to Oxfordshire and Berkshire could result in thousands of healthy badgers being killed, put more cattle at risk of contracting bovine TB by forcing movement of infected badgers, and will waste taxpayers’ money already committed to vaccinating badgers in these counties, says the Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust. Vaccinating a badger costs less than £100; culling a badger costs £6,000. Pic: Tom Marshall

Vaccinating a badger costs less than £100; culling a badger costs £6,000. Pic: Tom Marshall

In response to the Government’s consultation to issue local badger cull licences, Julia Lofthouse, the Mammal Project Officer, stated: “From 2002 to 2005 in Government trials in the ‘high risk area’ where bovine TB is more prevalent, the majority of badgers culled, 83%, were tested TB free; only 17% of the badgers culled were infected. In Oxfordshire and Berkshire the infection rate in our local badgers is likely to be significantly lower than 17%. A recent study carried out by the University of Surrey, which analysed more than 100 local road-killed badgers revealed that none tested positive for TB.”

Julia Lofthouse added: “Culling activity could also potentially put our own and our graziers’ livestock at increased risk of contracting bovine TB. The Randomised Badger Culling Trial from 1998 to 2006 showed how the perturbation effect of badgers, which leave the culled area because of the disturbance, could cause the spread of bovine TB into new areas currently unaffected by the disease.”

In 2014 the Wildlife Trust set up a programme to trap and vaccinate badgers on its own land in Oxfordshire and Berkshire. Over the last four years, and with the support of neighbouring landowners, this has expanded to include private estates and farms.

The Wildlife Trust receives funding from Defra to vaccinate badgers: “Last month Defra awarded us a £66,000 grant to continue and expand our vaccination work for the next four years. This will be wasted if the cull goes ahead and badgers that have been vaccinated are killed,” said Julia Lofthouse.


Great Welsh science helps solve pollinator puzzle – Swansea University

Eristalis tenax hoverfly - Kevin BandageWelsh scientists piecing together the giant jigsaw puzzle of plant pollination are a step closer to knowing how it all fits thanks to a new paper led by PhD researcher Andrew Lucas from Swansea University. The findings are published  in Journal of Animal Ecology.

Eristalis tenax hoverfly - Kevin Bandage

Andrew Lucas has spent the past seven years studying a much under-appreciated and regularly mis-identified player in the complex world of pollinators: the hoverfly.

Vital behaviours are revealed in his study, which forms part of the ‘Saving Pollinators’ programme run by the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Dr Natasha de Vere, Head of Science at the Botanic Garden and lead researcher of ‘Saving Pollinators’ says: “This is a great example of Welsh science. It involves co-operation in research between Swansea and Aberystwyth universities, with an international element from Emory University, Atlanta, in the USA. And it has all been led from Carmarthenshire by the National Botanic Garden of Wales.”

Read the full article (freely available for a limited time): Lucas A, Bodger O, Brosi BJ, et al. Generalisation and specialisation in hoverfly (Syrphidae) grassland pollen transport networks revealed by DNA metabarcoding. J Anim Ecol. 2018;00:1–14.  DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12828


Experts shine a light on invisible wildlife crime with a new annual report – Wildlife & Countryside Link

The first ever annual wildlife crime report for England and Wales is being launched tomorrow (Weds 18 April) by 18 NGOs, co-ordinated by Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wales Environment Link. Wildlife and conservation experts are committing to publishing a report each year on the number of crimes against wild animals and birds they record, in the absence of government and police data. They aim to shine a light on the hidden deaths, suffering, and conservation impacts of wildlife crime in England and Wales. 

The report shows that there were almost 1,300 wildlife crime incidents recorded by NGOs in 2016 (the most recent data available). However, this figure is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. Most wildlife crimes are not officially recorded through the Home Office crime recording system, so the best available data is information that comes through directly to NGOs. However, many types of offences are not collected by NGOs, and wildlife organisations use different methods to collect the data. Some types of wildlife crimes are also less visible than others and therefore are more likely to go unreported.


Timing is everything : How climate change is affecting predator-prey interactions - University of Ottawa

Shifts in the timing of life cycle events – known as phenology - of interacting species, such as predator versus prey and plant versus Herd of Caribou (University of Ottawa)pollinator, are often listed as a consequence of climate change.

Herd of Caribou (University of Ottawa)

New research by University of Ottawa professor Heather Kharouba shows that shifts in the relative timing between key biological events are greater in magnitude than before recent climate change began. This suggests that there will be widespread climate change-related shifts in the synchrony of species interactions in the future.

“We were able to show that on average the relative timing between key biological events, such as the date of first flower vs. when insects emerge in the spring, is different than it was before the early 1980s,” explains Dr. Kharouba.

Using a new global database they put together on the seasonal timing of biological events for pair-wise species interactions, Kharouba and colleagues compared changes in the relative timing of 54 interrelating species pairs, both terrestrial and aquatic, between 1951 and 2013. The authors found that on average, individual species shifted their phenology four days earlier per decade after 1981, compared to 2.7 days per decade before 1981. Synchrony between species pairs has changed on average from 0.97 days/decade pre-1981 to 6.1 days/decade post-1981.

“Changes at the bottom of the food chain could have a domino effect. For example, the relative timing of the blooms of unicellular plant-like organisms and microscopic animals at the bottom of Lake Washington, WA, US is now off by almost 34 days,” adds Dr. Kharouba.


Honeybees are struggling to get enough good bacteria – Lancaster UniversityHoneybees - picture credit Dr Philip Donkersley

Modern monoculture farming, commercial forestry and even well-intentioned gardeners could be making it harder for honeybees to store food and fight off diseases, a new study suggests.

Honeybees - picture credit Dr Philip Donkersley

Human changes to the landscape, such as large areas of monoculture grassland for livestock grazing, and coniferous forests for timber production, is affecting the diversity of the ‘microbiome’ associated with honeybees’ long-term food supply.

Scientists at Lancaster University’s Lancaster Environment Centre and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) examined the mix of bacteria, known as a microbiome, of bee bread – which is the long-term food supply stored within a hive for young bees.

They found that the bee bread within hives close to agriculturally improved grasslands, made up of single grass varieties, and those near coniferous woodland contained lower bacterial diversity than hives near habitats with more plant variety such as broadleaf woodland, rough grasslands and coastal landscapes.


Engineering a plastic-eating enzyme - University of Portsmouth

Global blight: Plastic bottles take centuries to biodegrade, but new enzyme discovery brings hope Credit: David JonesScientists have engineered an enzyme which can digest some of our most commonly polluting plastics, providing a potential solution to one of the world’s biggest environmental problems.

The discovery could result in a recycling solution for millions of tonnes of plastic bottles, made of polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which currently persists for hundreds of years in the environment.

Global blight: Plastic bottles take centuries to biodegrade, but new enzyme discovery brings hope Credit: David Jones

The research was led by teams at the University of Portsmouth and the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Professor John McGeehan at the University of Portsmouth and Dr Gregg Beckham at NREL solved the crystal structure of PETase - a recently discovered enzyme that digests PET - and used this 3D information to understand how it works. During this study, they inadvertently engineered an enzyme that is even better at degrading the plastic than the one that evolved in nature.

The researchers are now working on improving the enzyme further to allow it to be used industrially to break down plastics in a fraction of the time.

Professor McGeehan, Director of the Institute of Biological and Biomedical Sciences in the School of Biological Sciences at Portsmouth, said: “Few could have predicted that since plastics became popular in the 1960s huge plastic waste patches would be found floating in oceans, or washed up on once pristine beaches all over the world. We can all play a significant part in dealing with the plastic problem, but the scientific community who ultimately created these ‘wonder-materials’, must now use all the technology at their disposal to develop real solutions.”


New research reveals nature’s beauty increases happiness – Norfolk Wildlife Trust

  • 30 Days Wild pioneers action to connect people with nature
    The Wildlife Trusts’ annual nature challenge 30 Days Wild encourages people to do something wild every day for the month of June. 250,000 people took part in 2017
  • Research reveals 30 Days Wild helps people to connect to nature and that noticing natural beauty makes people happier and want to care for it

The 30 Days Wild challenge from The Wildlife Trusts encourages people to notice nature on their doorsteps every single day and gives them a multitude of exciting and fun ways of doing it: the Random Acts of Wildness.
The University of Derby’s evaluation of 30 Days Wild 2017 included new measures, and reveals that people’s perception of beauty in the natural world is a key ingredient to unlocking the benefits of wellbeing and happiness experienced by participants in the challenge.
Dr Miles Richardson, Director of Psychology, University of Derby explains: “Over the past three years we’ve repeatedly found that taking part in 30 Days Wild improves health, happiness, nature connection and conservation behaviours. Now we’ve discovered that engagement with the beauty of nature is part of that story. Tuning-in to the everyday beauty of nature becomes part of a journey which connects us more deeply to the natural world. As people’s appreciation of natural beauty and the wild world around us increases, so does their happiness.  We respond to nature - it restores us and balances our emotions. This, in turn, encourages people to do more to help wildlife and take action for nature.”  
The latest set of results from the study of 30 Days Wild also confirms that the benefits of the challenge last well after the month has ended. There are indications that the beneficial impact of taking part could last an entire year.


New hedgerows boost Danbury's rich wildlife - Essex Wildlife Trust

A collaborative project run by Essex Wildlife Trust has planted over a kilometre of hedgerows throughout the Danbury Ridge Living Landscape area, for the benefit of wildlife.

(image: Essex Wildlife Trust)The Danbury Ridge, east of Chelmsford, is home to many amazing species of wildlife, including the adorable Hazel Dormice, shy Brown Hares and beautiful Yellowhammers, but continued fragmentation of their habitat here and elsewhere in Essex means they need our help. Wildlife needs to move to survive – to find food, to find shelter, to breed and to escape threats. Planting hedgerows helps them to do it.

(image: Essex Wildlife Trust)

So, over the winter, 7,000 native species saplings, covering close to 1,500 metres, were planted across private land in Danbury, by staff from Essex Highways, Ground Control Limited, the Environment Agency and the Danbury Ridge Living Landscape volunteers. Their hard work will help recreate lost wildlife corridors and reconnect isolated and vulnerable woodlands.

The project, part of the thriving Essex Wildlife Trust Danbury Ridge Living Landscape, saw collaboration between a variety of organisations, including Essex Wildlife Trust, the British Naturalist Society, Little Baddow Conservation Society, the National Trust, Danbury and Little Baddow Parish Councils, Chelmsford City Council and Essex County Council.

It was conducted as part of The Wildlife Trusts’ Living Landscapes initiative to restore, recreate and reconnect important wildlife habitats, so wildlife can move freely through the Essex landscape.


UK Government rallies Commonwealth to unite on marine waste with ambitious plan to end sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds – Defra

The Government will launch a consultation on banning single use plastic products later this year.

The Government has announced the end to the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds at the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit.

The Prime Minister will also call on all other Commonwealth countries to join in the fight against plastic pollution.

Subject to the consultation, which the Environment Secretary will launch later this year, the Government is prepared to ban the sale of these items in England under plans to protect our rivers and seas and meet our 25 Year Environment Plan ambition to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. This forms part of the wider government waste strategy – including the government’s current call for evidence on how we can use the tax system to address single use plastics waste.

In order to eliminate these items from use the Government will work with industry to develop alternatives and ensure there is sufficient time to adapt. It will also propose excluding plastic straws for medical reasons.

Single-use plastic items such as straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds have a significant impact on our environment, both on land and in our seas and rivers when they are either littered or discarded incorrectly after use – with a recent study showing 8.5 billion plastic straws are thrown away each year in the UK.


Pathway to Healthy Peatlands Set out in UK Peatland Strategy – IUCN UK Peatland Programme

The UK’s first collaborative Peatland Strategy has been launched today, setting out a shared vision for a brighter future for our vital, but damaged peatlands. In developing the strategy, the IUCN UK Peatland Programme has involved stakeholders from across Government, third sector, scientific and land managing communities. All are coming together to celebrate this momentous step forward in the conservation of UK peatlands and to discuss implementation of the strategy to bring about positive change at an event in York.

Irish peatland - credit Clifton BainIrish peatland - credit Clifton Bain

Dr Emma Goodyer, strategy lead and Programme Manager of the IUCN UK Peatland Programme said: “Collaborative action to bring about healthy peatlands is essential if we are to achieve the landscape-scale change required. That is why it was important to develop this strategy as a collective spanning across those involved in their management. Only by working with others towards a shared vision will we be able to realise our target of two million hectares of peatlands in healthy condition by 2040, and so ensure benefits not just for the animals and plants that depend on them, but for society as a whole.”

Peatlands are among the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. Occupying just 3% of the Earth’s land surface, peatlands are our largest carbon store on land. They provide clean water and food, and can act as buffers for environmental disasters, such as flooding. They are also globally significant for wildlife.

Whilst our knowledge of this habitat continues to improve, there is clear scientific evidence of the often immediate benefits to be gained for water, climate change, wildlife and land management. Only healthy, functioning peatlands can deliver these benefits.


RSB and University of Gloucestershire spider citizen science project leads to publication - Royal Society of Biology

New research, fueled by thousands of sightings recorded by the public, has shed new light on UK house spider behaviour.

Despite not always receiving the warmest of welcomes, spiders are frequently spotted within UK households from late autumn onwards, with this influx often being referred to as the annual “spider season”.

Now, analysis of the biggest data set ever gathered on UK house spiders has shed new light on the behavioural patterns of these spiders as they come crawling inside looking for a mate.

Researchers at the University of Gloucestershire and the Royal Society of Biology analysed the data, collected via a free mobile phone app, with their findings published in the journal Arachnology.  They found that spider sightings peaked around mid-September, with most sightings occurring around 7.30 in the evening. The distribution of sightings across the UK also showed that spider season actually advances northwards and westwards from late August onwards.

More than 80% of sightings were of males; with autumn being their mating season, males roam around looking for females, who tend to stay in one place.  The team also found that females were more likely to be found on ceilings, doors and windows, with males frequently spotted on walls as their smaller bodies allow them greater mobility.

Although many are not spider fans, as predators they are a crucially important part of the ecosystem, keeping other invertebrate populations in check and encouraging biodiversity.


Boosting livelihoods and conservation practices among small-scale fishermen - University of Plymouth

round the UK, there are hundreds of coastal communities supporting the livelihoods of hard-working small-scale fishermen.

Enabling them to secure a sustainable income has always been a major challenge, even without endeavouring to meet national and international conservation goals.

Now a major new research project led by the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) and the University of Plymouth’s Marine Institute aims to identify the tools through which fishermen across the country can contribute to those dual aims.

The research is being funded thanks to a generous donation made to BLUE from Superdry co-founder, Julian Dunkerton. It will build on the existing project in Lyme Bay, on the south coast of Devon and Dorset, which for the past decade has proved it is possible to deliver conservation gains while benefitting small-scale fishermen.

BLUE and the University have worked together on that project, and it was also featured in the 25-year Environment Plan, the Government’s long-term vision for protecting the environment for future generations.

The new project will aim to use the blueprint developed at Lyme Bay to potentially support other coastal communities while addressing some of the many and complex challenges being faced by policy makers.


Appeal for help to save vulnerable corncrakes - BIAZA

Members of the public are being encouraged to listen out for one of the world’s most distinct bird cries in a bid to gauge the success of a local breed and release programme.

Corncrakes, which were once widespread across the UK, are in decline with numbers now at their lowest since 2003.

Corncrake (image: Mike Powles)After making the 8,000-mile migratory round trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, where corncrakes spend the winter, the birds will start to return to the UK at the end of April and into May. 

Corncrake (image: Mike Powles)

The Wensum Valley is an area expected to attract a number of the returning birds thanks to a breed and release programme spearheaded by the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust based at Pensthorpe Natural Park near Fakenham in Norfolk.

Last year, 154 corncrakes were hatched and reared by the Pensthorpe Conservation Trust team, including a dedicated ‘corncrake nanny’ who lived on site to help with late night feeding. The birds were released from a location within the Wensum Valley in the summer of 2017 and it is hoped that 15 to 20 percent of these birds will return to the area in spring, ready for the breeding season.

Success of the 2017 release can only be determined by listening out for and recording the location of the “crex crex” call of the male birds which is characteristically loud and made at night. By keeping a record of the numbers of detected birds, Pensthorpe can calculate how many of the birds from its breed and release programme have survived the winter and migration to return to the area.


Cause for celebration over crane chicks - WWT

Spring has arrived along with the pitter patter of tiny feet at WWT Welney Wetland Centre, where the common crane has bred successfully for the first time.

Crane Chick (image: Mark Hughes)These scarce birds are shy and secretive during the breeding season, but to the delight of staff and visitors two chicks arrived on March 21.

Crane Chick (image: Mark Hughes)

The baby birds are just six inches tall (15cm) when they hatch, and are quickly able to walk, swim and run.  Over the next 10 weeks both the parent birds will protect these precious chicks from predation and teach them how to find the food they need to grow.

Leigh Marshall, Centre Manager, said: ‘The area of wetlands that the cranes have chosen to nest on is less than ten years old, and was previously arable farmland.  The development of this habitat was specifically for wet springs, such as the one we have experienced this year, when the Ouse Washes are storing water to protect the surrounding land and communities.  This most recent breeding success is adding to an increasingly impressive list of species which include the black-winged stilt and black-tailed godwit.’

Mum and dad both take an active role in the incubation process, sharing the responsibility of brooding the eggs, swapping over every couple of hours.

Hetty Grant, Warden, said: ‘The cranes have done well to protect the eggs from the cold, wet weather we have had this spring. Staff and volunteers monitored the cranes and their nest, this meant we could glean insight into some of their most secret behaviours, ensure that they weren’t disturbed, and react quickly to prevent the nest from flooding.’

In recent years crane sightings have become more regular at WWT Welney as the Fens population increases and begins to expand across the region.  Up to 30 cranes gathered in a post-breeding flock last autumn, feeding on the Ouse Washes right in front of the birdwatching hides.  This may mean that the family group will stay close to the wetlands at WWT Welney even after the chicks have fledged.


Scottish Wildcat Action report theft and vandalism of conservation equipment to Police - Scottish Wildcat Action

An investigation is currently underway into vandalism and the theft of property belonging to Scottish Wildcat Action in Aberdeenshire’s Clashindarroch Forest, near Huntly.

On Wednesday 27 March 2018 Scottish Wildcat Action contacted Police Scotland after finding evidence that several of its trail cameras had been vandalised or stolen as well as the theft of valuable information.  The project also discovered evidence that a cage trap (inactive at the time) used for the live humane trapping (for neutering and health screening) of feral and obviously hybridised cats, had been vandalised.

This was discovered by staff and volunteers during routine visits to wildlife monitoring sites that are part of a winter wildlife survey, undertaken with all appropriate licenses from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and access permission from Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS). The various incidents took place between 1 March and 27 March in Clashindarroch Forest, near Huntly.

Anyone who may have witnessed anything is asked to contact Police Scotland quoting reference number 2301 of 27 March. Alternatively anyone can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

SWA Priorities Area Manager, Dr Roo Campbell, commented: “We are extremely disappointed by what has happened in Clashindarroch. Our conservation work is crucial to the continued survival of the critically endangered Scottish wildcat. Those responsible have not only damaged our equipment and robbed the project of vital scientific information but they have also curtailed work crucial to the conservation of the Scottish wildcat.  “What is particularly disappointing is the theft of our volunteers’ information. We have nearly 50 local people generously giving their time to help the project and they are devastated that their hard work has been stolen. We would appeal to anyone with information to get in touch with the Police.”


DNA breakthrough for wildlife crime - Scottish Government

Recovery of human DNA to help solve bird of prey offences.

Wildlife crime investigations could be supported by new research into retrieving human DNA found at the scene, even days after the incident has taken place. 

The research was initiated by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland and carried out by the Scottish Police Authority’s (SPA) Forensic Services, the Scottish Government and the University of Strathclyde.  It found DNA can be traced on traps that have been outside for at least 10 days, and from rabbit baits and bird carcasses at crime scenes after at least 24 hours.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham, who is also chair of PAW Scotland, said: “Poisoning, trapping and shooting are all methods used to illegally target birds of prey, however investigations can often be hampered by a lack of evidence.  This new research will unlock the potential of using DNA profiles to track criminals and could play a crucial role in helping secure convictions for wildlife crime.  We continue to prioritise wildlife crime and are working to develop new ways to protect our precious birds of prey, including through a new wildlife crime detective post at Police Scotland HQ and a new team of special constables to tackle rural crime in the Cairngorms National Park.”

Steven Ferguson, Lead Forensic Scientist at SPA Forensic Services, said: “This exciting research in support of tackling wildlife crime demonstrates that DNA profiles can be obtained from items exposed to the elements in Scotland's sometimes harsh climate.   In recent years, over £6 million has been invested in new forensic capability in Scotland including DNA24, robotics and powerful software to successfully obtain DNA profiles in support of the Scottish justice system. The research undertaken by PAW has demonstrated that these same techniques, used in crimes ranging from housebreaking to murder, can also be used to identify those involved in persecuting birds of prey.”


Mysterious mushroom mixture set to boost reforestation of the Highlands - Trees for Life

In an innovative trial beginning this spring, Trees for Life will harness the power of local mushrooms to boost reforestation at its Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness.  The conservation charity’s experts and volunteers are to introduce a special mix of spores collected from mushrooms on the Highland estate when planting native trees on the hills and when growing seedlings in Dundreggan’s tree nursery during this spring.  A pinch of the black granules containing the spores will be added to the planting holes of 20,000 trees in one section of the estate, and will also be applied to a selection of seedlings. 

Trees for Life's mysterious mushroom mixture (image: Trees for Life)The results of this trial will be monitored to see if treating selected trees and seedlings in this way improves their growth and decreases the need for fertiliser application. It is hoped the trees will have greater resistance to drought and heat, and protection against pests.

Trees for Life's mysterious mushroom mixture (image: Trees for Life)

“In tough, windswept environments such as those where we plant, newly planted trees need all the help they can get – especially in their early years. This magical mushroom mixture could speed up the return of the Caledonian Forest and its wildlife,” said Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s Operations Manager at Dundreggan.

Natural forest soils are full of these important fungi. But in very deforested areas such as the Highlands, forests still containing mushrooms are rare, small or fragmented, and are often separated by huge swathes of farmland and moorland. This means it can take years for fungi spores to land in the right place by newly planted trees – by which time the trees may be stunted or dead.  Last autumn, the first batch of a new mycorrhizal fungi treatment was made containing 59 species collected from the old-growth forests at Dundreggan by expert Jacob Whitson. Commercially available mycorrhizal treatments for trees are usually made from only a few mushroom species that may not be adapted to conditions in Scotland


Scientific publications

Bauer, S., Lisovski, S., Eikelenboom-Kil, R.J.F.M., Shariati, M. & Nolet, B.A. (2018) Shooting may aggravate rather than alleviate conflicts between migratory geese and agriculture. Journal of Applied Ecology. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13152


Louis G. O'Neill, Timothy H. Parker, Simon C. Griffith Nest size is predicted by female identity and the local environment in the blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), but is not related to the nest size of the genetic or foster mother  R. Soc. open sci. 2018 5 172036; DOI: 10.1098/rsos.172036.  


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