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


Are ripe berries a warning for wildlife? – Woodland Trust

Wacky weather could mean early berry batches, but browning and weakened trees, warns Woodland Trust.

The first ripe sloe has also been recorded (credit: WTML/Ben Lee)The first ripe sloe has also been recorded (credit: WTML/Ben Lee)

The Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar project is already receiving records of ripe berries in the current heatwave – but the dry weather could spell danger for this year’s wild fruit crop, and the animals that feed on them.

So far the Trust has received 59 records of blackberries ripening, and six records of rowan berries ripening. The baseline average for these events is 27 August and 1 September, meaning the earliest sightings this year have come in around two months earlier than this, and about two weeks earlier than our expected date range. The first ripe sloe was also recorded on 12 July (baseline average for this is 19 September). The heatwave could also trigger other changes in UK flora, with tree leaves browning earlier as well.

These early changes in summer scenery could, however, suggest something more sinister. If the hot weather continues, the lack of water could mean that berries may be smaller or drop from trees and shrubs altogether. Migratory birds like fieldfare and redwing (arriving in the UK around October) could be left with less food if the resident wildlife has taken their share first. Furthermore, trees may tint earlier as they try to preserve water and can also be more susceptible to threats such as tree pests and diseases.  The Trust, therefore, is urging the public to take note of seasonal changes and report them via Nature’s Calendar.


Beavers arrive in the Forest of Dean – University of Exeter

A pair of Eurasian Beavers will return to the Forest of Dean today (24 July) for the first time for about 400 years.

It is expected that the beavers’ activity will improve biodiversity in their new 6.5-hectare home and may have the potential to reduce local flood Beavers arrive in the Forest of Dean (University of Exeter)risk.

Regular monitoring will continue throughout the three-year project to assess these ecosystem benefits.

Beavers arrive in the Forest of Dean (University of Exeter)

The release will be attended by Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who will also announce £20,000 of new funding for the Devon trial reintroduction of beavers to understand further the impact of bringing back one of England’s native species.

Mr Gove said: “The beaver has a special place in English heritage and the Forest of Dean. This release is a fantastic opportunity to develop our understanding of the potential impacts of reintroductions and help this iconic species, 400 years after it was driven to extinction. The community of Lydbrook has shown tremendous support for this scheme and the beavers will be a welcome addition to local wildlife. The project is an example of our wider approach to enhancing biodiversity. It is another step towards our aim of leaving the environment in a better state for future generations.”

Professor Richard Brazier, a hydrologist from the University of Exeter, said: “We have monitored the hydrology of the Greathough Brook for over a year now and shown quite clearly that the brook contributes to the flooding problems experienced in the village of Lydbrook. We now have a unique opportunity to study the impacts of beaver dams on the flood flows from this flood-prone landscape. The study will be a valuable and important opportunity to quantify the benefits that beaver dams might deliver and therefore contribute to natural flood management in an upland, wooded catchment.”


Microclimates may provide wildlife with respite from climate change – University of York

Sheltered pockets of cooler and more variable conditions in the British countryside may help native species of flora and fauna survive warming temperatures caused by climate change, researchers have found.

Boggy, cool and damp habitats can also act as refugia. Credit Marcus Rhodes.Boggy, cool and damp habitats can also act as refugia. Credit Marcus Rhodes.

As global temperatures rise, some species of butterfly, beetle and plant are already beginning to disappear from the warmer parts of their geographical range.

By the end of this century, many of our native species will be experiencing intolerable temperatures, forcing some of them to move northwards and uphill.

Alternative habitats

However, researchers based at the Universities of York and Exeter suggest that locally variable habitats such as hummocky hillsides or shaded valleys could help a range of native species survive this modern warming episode – in much the same way as species such as red deer and squirrel survived the Ice Age by seeking refuge in pockets of warmer conditions sheltered from the extreme cold.

Analysing five million records of plants and animals collected by members of the public in England, the researchers found that a number of these microclimates or “refugia” are already being used as alternative habitats for many species sensitive to warming.

For some species, the beneficial effect of refugia could be substantial; for example, the researchers estimate that refugia have reduced the probability of extinctions of Dark Green Fritillary butterflies (Argynnis aglaja) by 63% in the parts of the country that have warmed the most.


Caught on camera: identity crisis for blue tit chicks after being raised by the wrong parents – RSPB

Wildlife cameras in nest boxes often reveal a fascinating glimpse into the private world of birds.

Image: RSPB

Image: RSPB

But one such camera at The Lodge Forest Visitor Centre in Aberfoyle uncovered a truly remarkable family situation this summer, as a pair of great tits were recorded raising both their own chicks, and two blue tit chicks at the same time.

The nest was first discovered in early June, and two of the eggs in the clutch were quickly identified as belonging to a different species. The eggs all hatched together, but despite being dwarfed by the much larger great tits, the two blue tit chicks fought their way to the front at feeding time, and managed to not only survive, but thrive, fledging at the same time as their adopted siblings. 

This behaviour is not unknown amongst blue tits and great tits, but it is rare to catch it on film.

Territorial arguments for good nesting sites are thought to lead to the larger great tits displacing their smaller rivals, sometimes after they’ve already laid their eggs. But blue tits have also been recorded sneaking back in after the takeover and adding a few eggs of their own, perhaps as a last ditch breeding strategy.

Ami Kirkbright, RSPB Scotland Wildlife Information Officer, said: “Watching this little great tit nest with a mixed brood of chicks has just been incredible. It’s something that no one here has ever seen before, it was really fascinating to research what was happening, and then follow their progress over the weeks.


NRW sets out a fresh approach to wildlife in Wales

A report is launched today (Tuesday 24 July) which aims to secure long-term improvements in Wales’ habitats and wildlife.

Vital Nature” sets out Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW’s) priorities for protecting and restoring Wales’ biodiversity, the variety of habitats and species and the ecosystems they depend on.

It outlines NRW’s goals and ways of working and a series of high-level actions and commitments up to 2022.

It also sets out how NRW will work with other public authorities as they play their part in improving the environment.

The goals include helping people, communities and businesses to connect more with nature, to raise awareness, understanding and interest in biodiversity and to make sustainable use of the wealth of opportunities and resources that the natural environment provides.

The goals also focus on improving the links between protected sites, to enhance wildlife and habitats and make them more resilient to pressures including climate change. They also include ensuring that the consideration of biodiversity is at the heart of all our activities, and working with others to support them to do the same.

Central to the report is the principle that everyone’s wellbeing depends on a healthy environment, which in turn depends on healthy biodiversity.


Black-tailed godwit's are also one of the species in decline in Germany and Senegal © Aron TantiHow fast is too fast? Population declines of mammals and birds linked to rapid warming of climate – ZSL

The rate at which our planet is warming has been found to be a critical factor in explaining the decline of bird and mammal species, reveals new research published today in Global Change Biology by international conservation charity ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) Institute of Zoology.

Black-tailed godwit's are also one of the species in decline in Germany and Senegal

© Aron Tanti

Scientists studied 987 populations of 481 species across the globe, to investigate how the rate of climate change and land-use change (from natural to human-dominated landscapes) interact to affect the rate of decline on mammals and birds, as well as whether species located in protected areas and body size had an influence. The rate at which our climate is warming was found to be the best explanation for the observed rate of population declines.

Birds were one of the worst affected by rapid climate warming, with effects being twice as strong in birds over mammals, as well as populations located outside of protected areas being more severely impacted. Species such as the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) in Germany and Senegal, pink-footed Geese in Canada (Anser brachyrhynchus) and black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) in Tanzania were just some of the species highlighted to be in population decline.


Some protection reinstated for at-risk Local Wildlife Sites - The Wildlife Trusts

Today the Government has published a revised version of its National Planning Policy Framework which now includes some reinstated protection for Local Wildlife Sites following a campaign supported by 25,000 people.

The National Planning Policy Framework guides thousands of planning decisions every year - from a new 5,000 home estate, a business park or two houses at the end of your road. Local Wildlife Sites are some of our most valuable wildlife areas. They are identified and selected locally using scientifically-determined criteria and surveys [following Defra’s guidance]. The only type of protection that Local Wildlife Sites have is through national planning policy. More than 25,000 people supported The Wildlife Trusts’ campaign to call for protection for Local Wildlife Sites which were omitted from the previous version of the National Planning Policy Framework, published in April.

We called for the framework to include Local Wildlife Sites in a list of types of sites on which development would be restricted. We also asked that Local Wildlife Sites should be identified and mapped as part of a network of wildlife-rich habitats. Finally, we wanted the framework to require local councils to protect Local Wildlife Sites from harm.


New accord launches to enhance National Parks and woodland - Defra

National Parks Minister backs new agreement to create new woodland, protecting wildlife and connecting people with nature.

The Accord, announced at the New Forest Show, will expand and protect woodland (image: Defra)A new Accord that aims to expand and enhance woodland in National Parks to protect wildlife and connect people with nature has been launched today at the New Forest Show.

The Accord, announced at the New Forest Show, will expand and protect woodland (image: Defra)

The Accord, a statement of a shared ambition between the Forestry Commission and National Parks England, will bring together decision makers to ensure woodland is managed sustainably and in line with a natural capital approach. This will take into account the environmental, social and economic impact of trees and forests and the statutory purposes of our National Parks.

National Parks are already home to a third of the Public Forest Estate in England, and the Accord will also consider how woodland creation grants can be used to sensitively expand wooded areas across these landscapes. The partnership ensures all woodland will be managed to the highest standards so they are rich in wildlife and protected for future generations to enjoy. The Accord was launched at the New Forest National Park today, where National Parks Minister Lord Gardiner joined Margaret Paren, Chair of National Parks England and Ian Gambles, Director of Forestry Commission England to plant a tree and demonstrate the benefits woodland can bring. Its launch comes during ‘Discover National Parks Week 2018’, which celebrates the UK’s 15 National Parks. With over half of people living within an hour of a National Park, the week encourages people to get outside and discover them for themselves.


Hot weather continues to affect nature reserves - Northumberland Wildlife Trust

The hot weather, although glorious, is having an effect on Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s 60 reserves, resulting in staff receiving telephone calls from concerned members of the public.

Although it may not appear so at first glance, the water level of the pond on its Holywell Pond reserve is starting to run low.

The low water level will result in the water being more stagnant as the nutrients will be concentrated into a small area. Stagnant water will cause algal blooms that are very dangerous to dogs jumping into the pond, toxic to wildlife such as foxes and deer drinking from the pond. It is deadly for plants in the pond, as they will be smothered and die, and, in the event of it completely drying up, the wildlife living within it will start to die very quickly.

Elsewhere, the peat is cracking on the Trust’s Whitelee reserve a cause of great concern to the Trust’s estates team. Once peat starts to dry out it reduces the ability to absorb water, thereby shedding carbon dioxide into the atmosphere exacerbating climate change and increasing the risk of flooding in the event of heavy rain. It also burns very easily.

The plants at Whitelee are very bleached with sphagnum which is normally bright red bleached almost white.

The wildlife charity is repeating its call for visitors to its reserves to take their cigarette butts and lighters home with them and to be on the lookout for broken bottles which, in the current high temperatures, act as magnifying glasses and can spark a fire in a couple of hours.


Celebrating a Year of Whale Track! - HWDT

Now a year on from its launch, Whale Track, HWDT’s community sightings app and website, is going from strength to strength, creating a growing community of citizen scientists monitoring whales and dolphins on the west coast of Scotland. 

The HWDT team are jumping for joy over Whale Track's success! The new infrastructure has helped almost double the rate sightings are reported to HWDT and Whale Track now has a staggering 651 users, who have recorded over 3,550 sightings and 24,055 animals. The sightings reported are helping to track the movements of coastal species like bottlenose dolphins and unravelling the mysteries of more elusive species like humpback whales and killer whales. The project was made possible thanks to a generous grant of £79,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The HWDT team are jumping for joy over Whale Track's success!

Whale Track is a first of its kind smartphone app using the technology we all carry in our pockets to allow anyone to quickly and easily record sightings of marine mammals in the Hebrides. The app is free to download (Google Play, App Store) and uses GPS to accurately track excursions at sea and record locations of sightings. Crucially, the app works without phone signal or WiFi, meaning sightings can be recorded even in the most remote areas. 


Sky teams up with Imperial academics to tackle plastic waste - Imperial College London

Leading experts from Imperial College London and global media company Sky Plc are to work together to prevent an avalanche of ocean plastic waste.

Sky Ocean Ventures and Imperial’s Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, have agreed to work together on their common goals to protect the environment by supporting promising business and scientific innovations and sharing inspiring messages about the benefits to our planet of eliminating plastic waste.

Internationally-renowned academics and enthusiastic entrepreneurs from the Grantham Institute will explore solutions at all stages of the problem that sees more than 5 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year. On current trends, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, according to sailor and campaigner Dame Ellen MacArthur.

The partnership is led at Imperial by the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, and harnesses the academic expertise of the College's Ocean Plastic Solutions Network. Grantham Institute experts gave evidence to the UK government that was instrumental in bringing about a UK-wide ban on micro-plastic particles in cosmetic products in 2016.

Sky Ocean Ventures is on a mission to find ideas that will help save our oceans from drowning in plastic. Its impact investment model, anchored with a £25 million commitment from Sky plc, is committed to fostering an innovation ecosystem to achieve this goal.


Time is running out in the tropics - researchers warn of global biodiversity collapse - Lancaster University

A global biodiversity collapse is imminent unless we take urgent, concerted action to reverse species loss in the tropics, according to a major scientific study in the prestigious journal Nature. 

In their paper ‘The future of hyperdiverse tropical ecosystems’ an international team has warned that a failure to act quickly and decisively will greatly increase the risk of unprecedented and irrevocable species loss in the most diverse parts of the planet.

The study is the first high-level report on the state of all four of the world´s most diverse tropical ecosystems – tropical forests, savannas, lakes and rivers, and coral reefs.

The authors found that although the tropics cover just 40% of the planet, they are home to more than three-quarters of all species including almost all shallow-water corals and more than 90% of the world’s bird species. Most of these species are found nowhere else, and millions more are as yet unknown to science.

“At the current rate of species description – about 20,000 new species per year – it can be estimated that at least 300 years will be necessary to catalogue biodiversity,” said Dr. Benoit Guénard, Assistant Professor of the University of Hong Kong and an author of the study.

And across tropical ecosystems, many species face the ‘double jeopardy’ of being harmed by both local human pressures - such as overfishing or selective logging - and droughts or heatwaves linked to climate change.


Plastic bag sales in 'big seven' supermarkets down 86% since 5p charge - Defra

New figures show sales of 5p bags in England continued to fall in 2017/18.  

Plastic bag sales in England’s ‘big seven’ supermarkets have dropped by 86% since the Government introduced its 5p plastic bag charge in 2015, helping to tackle the devastating impact of plastic waste on our environment.

New figures reveal customers of the country’s biggest supermarkets bought nearly a quarter fewer plastic bags last year compared to 2016/17 - a decrease of nearly 300 million bags.

This is equivalent to just 19 bags per person in England, compared to 140 bags since the government introduced a 5p charge in 2015 – a dramatic reduction of 86%.

Welcoming today’s figures, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: "These figures demonstrate the collective impact we can make to help the environment by making simple changes to our daily routines. We want businesses to continue to look at what they can do to help improve our environment to leave it in a better state than we found it. It is only by working together we will reverse the rising tide of plastic waste finding its way into our rivers, seas and oceans and the catastrophic impact this is having on our marine environment."

Plastic bags have a significant impact on the environment. Government scientists believe plastic in the sea is set to treble in a decade unless marine litter is curbed - with one million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals dying every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

A recent study by Cefas revealed since the 5p charge on plastic bags was introduced, which has taken over 9 billion plastic bags out of circulation, there has been an estimated 50% reduction in plastic bag marine litter.

Access the Defra Research and analysis: Carrier bag charge: summary of data in England, A summary of the data on single-use plastic carrier bags in England.


Environment Minister announces National Park funding to continue at same level - Welsh Government

To mark National Parks Week, the Minister for Environment, Hannah Blythyn, has today announced that Welsh Government funding for Wales’ three National Parks will continue at the same level as last year. 

The confirmation of the funding will provide financial security for the National Park Authorities through an additional £1.5million over the next two years. 

The Minister has also published Valued and Resilient: the Welsh Government’s Priorities for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks.  

The document outlines the Minister’s priority areas and provides clarity for the National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs), following a period of review and in preparation for the UK’s exit from the EU.

It calls on the managing bodies to deliver on a number of priorities, including the Nature Recovery Plan, a refreshed woodland strategy for Wales and Cymraeg 2050. 
Earlier this year, the Minister confirmed all of Wales’ National Parks and AONBs will be retained and their role will not be weakened. The Minister has also allocated £3.4million to support a wide range of additional projects, including improving access, promoting conservation and regenerating some of their most fragile areas. 


App helps ecologists map vulnerable ecosystems within minutes - University of New South Wales

A mapmaking app created by UNSW scientists harnesses the power of Google and NASA to empower ecologists to create a view on ecosystems without any specialist equipment. 

The UNSW scientists built the program to allow quick analyses of Landsat satellite data gathered by NASA and the US Geological Survey. Landsat is a series of satellites imaging the whole Earth every two weeks since the 1970s - it is one of the longest continuous space-based record of global change. The database of images is free, and when pieced together forms an intricately detailed image mosaic of the Earth.

Dr Murray explains that just half a decade ago, building a map from raw satellite data from scratch required extensive work. “In the past it has been a technical process to produce high-quality maps suitable for tracking environmental change such as deforestation and ecosystem loss. It really has been sitting in the hands of experts,” says Dr Murray. “We aimed to remove the technical steps required to monitor ecosystems from space. Now, if I want to map an area the size of Sydney using satellite data that would require a fraction of the time in REMAP."

The REMAP program allows users to identify ecosystems, shown here mapping deforestation. Credit: REMAPThe REMAP program allows users to identify ecosystems, shown here mapping deforestation. Credit: REMAP

REMAP was designed to be user-friendly, making it accessible for everyone at the frontline of environment conservation, from national park rangers and ecologists to citizen scientists. The program gives users a high level of control and ability to map an ecosystem type, analyse specific areas and even the timeframe of their choosing.

The app uses machine learning to develop a map: users train REMAP to classify specific ecosystems types by identifying a few pixels from Google Earth, or by uploading their own field data. From that little bit of data, REMAP can apply that information to recognise ecosystems in a selected area and then returns results that let users know the final extent of the ecosystem and how much it has changed over time. It is possible to tailor the program to detect ecosystem changes, such as witnessing the boundaries of forests shrink over the decades due to deforestation.


Scientific publications

Creel, S. et al. (2018) Changes in African large carnivore diets over the past half-century reveal the loss of large prey. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13227


Prévot, A. C., Cheval, H., Raymond, R & Cosquer, A. (2018) Routine experiences of nature in cities can increase personal commitment toward biodiversity conservation. Biological Conservation. Doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.07.008


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