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


Fresh insight into invasive plant that blights UK rivers – University of Stirling

New research into the behaviour of an invasive plant seen on riverbanks across the UK could help improve the management of the problem, experts have found.

The University of Stirling study provides clues as to why the abundance of Himalayan balsam – which has an adverse impact on native plants and river habitats – varies dramatically from place to place.

The work could help mitigate the impact of the pink-flowered plant, which outcompetes native species, causes shading and reduces the stability of riverbanks, enabling silt to enter the water.

Dr Zarah Pattison, of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, led the research, published in Ecosystems.

She said: “Our research has found that Himalayan balsam dislikes overly moist conditions, unlike the native plants – such as nettles, butterbur and canary grass – which dominate our lowland riverbanks. It prefers drier, steeper riverbanks where it can compete more effectively with the native plants. This knowledge offers a gateway to managing Himalayan balsam indirectly, by manipulating conditions on riverbanks.”

River engineering often involves straightening and over-deepening rivers and, combined with the abstraction of water, this leads to drier riverbanks during the summer, benefitting Himalayan balsam growth. This effect of riverbank drying may also be exacerbated with future climate change and drought conditions, as seen this summer across the UK.

In contrast, the restoration of rivers often results in gently sloped banks, meaning water is retained and riverbanks are therefore moister, favouring native species.

The authors also found that riverbanks with a large abundance of native plants are more likely to resist invasion by Himalayan balsam.


Study reveals severe decline of mountain hares – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Mountain hares turn white in winter Picture: Tom Marshall/RSPBMountain hare numbers on moorlands in parts of the eastern Highlands in Scotland have declined to less than one per cent of their levels in the 1950s, according to a long-term scientific study led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Mountain hares turn white in winter Picture: Tom Marshall/RSPB

Counts of the mammal on moorland managed for red grouse shooting and on neighbouring mountain land from the past seven decades were analysed for the paper by CEH and the RSPB.

The study, published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology shows that, from 1954 to 1999, the mountain hare population on moorland sites fell by nearly five per cent every year. This long-term moorland decline is likely to be due to land use changes such as the loss of grouse moors to conifer forests, and is reflective of wider population declines that mountain hares are facing across their range.

However, from 1999 to 2017, the scale of the moorland declines increased dramatically to more than 30% every year, leading to counts in 2017 of less than one per cent of levels in 1954. The dominant land use in these sites was intensive grouse moor management. The unregulated practice of hare culling as a form of disease control, ostensibly to benefit red grouse, has become part of the management of many estates since the 1990s.

On higher, alpine sites numbers of mountain hares fluctuated greatly, but increased overall until 2007, and then declined, although not to the unprecedented lows seen on moorland sites.

Dr Adam Watson, a Fellow of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who has been studying mountain hares in the eastern Highlands for 75 years, is the lead author of the new paper entitled, Seven decades of Mountain Hare counts show severe declines where high-yield recreational game bird hunting is practised.

“I find the decline in numbers of these beautiful animals both compelling and of great concern” - Dr Adam Watson


GWCT's response to mountain hare study

In response to the publication of the Watson and Wilson (2018) paper on mountain hare populations, David Noble, Chairman (Scotland) of GWCT, said: “We are delighted that the authors of this paper recognise that that mountain hares thrive on heather moorland managed for red grouse, that their numbers can increase quickly in such areas and that the long-term threat to their population is from landscape scale habitat change, especially coniferous tree planting.”

Catastrophic declines of mountain hares: what RSPB Scotland believes should happen next - RSPB Community.

James Silvey, Species and Habitats Officer (All Nature) at RSPB Scotland takes a look what a recent paper on mountain hare numbers means for the species 

SNH response to mountain hares report: Here's our position on recent mountain hare research


Housebuilder supports bumblebees of Ashbourne – Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Image: Bumblebee Conservation TrustAn East Midlands housebuilder has partnered with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) to support the conservation of bumblebees in Ashbourne.

Redrow Homes East Midlands’ Henmore Gardens, which is situated on Wyaston Road, has joined the plight of the bumblebee by introducing pollinator-friendly habitats across its grounds.

The development is one of Redrow’s pollinator flagship projects, created with the intention of helping to boost the number of bumblebees, as well as other wildlife, across the UK.

Image: Bumblebee Conservation Trust

Building awareness with new residents, Redrow Homes East Midlands is also offering all completions at the development membership to the BBCT. Each membership includes factsheets, bee-friendly wildflower seeds, a car window sticker, postcards and a fold-out bumblebee identification guide.

As well as a wildflower meadow area, the housebuilder is working in partnership with the Trust to ensure the wider planting plans meet the needs of the bumblebee. This will include plants that are rich in nectar, as well as those with flowering times which range across the year to ensure a good supply of nectar from early summer, when the bees emerge, throughout the year.

Residents will be encouraged to create a haven for bumblebees in their own gardens, introducing flowers rich in pollen and nectar, such as sedum, lavender, alliums, herbs and wild roses.


Pine marten returning to Kielder Water & Forest Park - Forestry Commission

Camera footage has confirmed pine marten in Kielder Water & Forest Park for the first time since planting in 1926. This is great news for the partnership of organisations working together for pine marten conservation in northern England, including Forestry Commission England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Aberdeen University and Vincent Wildlife Trust.

The cameras are in a remote area of Kielder Water & Forest Park as part of a red squirrel monitoring project and while many other species are frequently captured this is the first time pine marten have been spotted. The images were first seen by John Hartshorne, who manages the fieldwork and ecology education organisation Albion Outdoors and has been helping with the squirrel surveys as part of the Red Squirrels United project for several years now.

John says: ”It is very common to see wildlife other than squirrels on the cameras I use. Badgers, foxes, deer and birds of all sorts are regular visitors. This July I have caught some excellent pictures of red squirrels but also an unexpected visitor – a pine marten, sitting on top of one of the squirrel feeders. This was most unexpected but I now have both still pictures and a short piece of video firmly placing pine marten in Kielder Water & Forest Park. Historically, pine martens were commonplace but habitat clearance and persecution has led to them being eliminated from nearly all of England".

Pine martens are elusive members of the weasel family and their biggest UK stronghold is in Scotland.

Read about Pine Marten and how volunteers helped with their re-introduction in Wales in this article by our Featured Charity, The Vincent Wildlife Trust


Native crayfish make a comeback in Lincolnshire - Environment Agency

(image: Environment Agency)The first transfer in the county of white-clawed crayfish has been hailed a success as the protected species is now breeding in its new location.

(image: Environment Agency)

A threatened species of crayfish is making a comeback in Lincolnshire thanks to efforts by the Environment Agency and local conservation groups.

Last July, 600 white-clawed crayfish were moved from locations in the River Witham – where they’re at risk of being wiped out by invasive signal crayfish – to new remote locations including a chalk stream in the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Now, surveys show the transfer – the first in the county – has been successful, and the crayfish have started to breed.

Native white-clawed crayfish have been in decline since non-native American signal crayfish escaped into UK waters in the 1970s. These larger, invasive crayfish outcompete native species for food and habitat and carry a disease fatal to the UK species.

But working with partners such as the Lincolnshire Chalk Streams Project (LCSP) and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency is seeking to secure their future by relocating them to areas free of the invaders in a scheme known as the ‘ark project.’

Richard Chadd, senior environmental monitoring officer with the Environment Agency said: These crayfish are a vital part of our ecology, so preserving them is yet another example of how we’re protecting our environment for the future”.


Wasp new to UK found on nature reserve - Worcestershire Wildlife Trust

A wasp that has never been recorded in Britain before has been found on a new nature reserve in Worcestershire’s Wyre Forest.

The parasitoid wasp Diphyus latebricola was discovered by a member of the Wyre Forest Study Group at the Helen Mackaness nature reserve. The group had been contracted to survey the site by its owner Worcestershire Wildlife Trust as a first step in managing the new reserve.

Andy Harris, conservation officer responsible for the nature reserve, explained “This is a fantastic find on one of our newest nature reserves. It’s only a small grassland that includes wet flushes and dry meadow with a stand of mature oak trees and an old orchard so to have found something this rare is a really pleasant surprise.”


Discovering why basking sharks come to Scotland - Scottish Natural Heritage

Discovering why basking sharks come to Scotland: Basking shark (c)Alex MustardScientists seeking to discover whether Scotland’s seas are a mating ground for basking sharks have gathered new footage showing the sharks being sociable, including a first look at groups forming on the seabed. These data have been gathered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Exeter as part of a new camera tagging project which launched earlier this month.

Discovering why basking sharks come to Scotland: Basking shark (image: © Alex Mustard via SNH)

Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, reaching lengths up to 10m. Despite their size and prevalence in Scotland’s seas, little is understood about their social behaviours.

“A large number of sharks appear each year just off the western coast of Scotland in the Sea of the Hebrides. However, there’s been limited research to show exactly what they’re doing here: do they come solely to feed on plankton, or are they courting each other and using our coast as a mating ground?” said Dr Suzanne Henderson, Policy and Advice Officer at SNH.

Researchers from SNH and the University of Exeter spent a week off the coast of Tobermory tagging three basking sharks using towed camera tags – the camera tags trail slightly behind the attachment point at the base of the main dorsal fin. It is believed this type of tag has never before been used on basking sharks. The video footage collected by the tags will give scientists a new understanding of basking shark group behaviour.


New generation of pesticides can reduce bumblebee reproduction - Royal Holloway, University of London

A study published by researchers from Royal Holloway has concluded that newly developed pesticides, which could potentially replace neonicotinoid insecticides, may reduce the reproductive success of bumblebees.

PhD student Harry Siviter, alongside Professor Mark Brown, and Dr Ellouise Leadbeater, all from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway, tested the effects of a sulfoximine-based insecticide – which is currently licensed for use in 47 countries around the world, and is under review for licensing in the UK - on bumblebee colonies.

In their experiment, exposure to sulfoxaflor, the first branded sulfoximine based insecticide, reduced both the size of bumblebee colonies and the number of male offspring they produced, with a 54% reduction in the total number of sexual offspring produced in exposed colonies. Their study is pre-emptive, because sulfoxaflor is a new product and we currently have limited data about the levels to which bees are likely to be exposed in the pollen and nectar of sprayed crops. However, such impacts identify that broad use of sulfoxaflor pesticides could have the potential to harm wild bumblebee populations, under certain conditions.   


University of Hull gives marine life a voice as new study reveals concerns over marine pollution - University of Hull

A striking protest that gives marine life a voice and helps initiate positive change to protect the future of our rivers and oceans has been launched by the University of Hull.

The Don’t Be Shellfish initiative has seen a stretch of the Humber Estuary, in the shadow of the landmark Humber Bridge in Hull, East Yorkshire, transformed into an arresting picket line. The University, which is leading on a series of research projects to address environmental issues of global importance, has created the protest to raise awareness of the harmful impact of plastic pollution and the rising acidity levels on marine life in oceans, and encourage people to take positive action.

A series of slogan carrying placards have been planted in the water to highlight the challenges facing different types of marine life. The protest has been made to look like it has been organised by marine life who have banded together to protest against the conditions in which they are forced to live and the threat this poses to their livelihoods.

As part of the campaign, a new study by the University of Hull and YouGov has revealed that Brits are concerned about the effect of marine pollution on both marine and human life.


Rare jumping spider discovered in UK for the first time ever in Warrington - Cheshire Wildlife Trust

An exciting discovery has been made this summer at Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s Holcroft Moss Nature Reserve, in Warrington. Arachnologist, Richard Burkmar, discovered a special tiny jumping spider, just half the size of a matchstick head, during a survey visit to the Cheshire bog in June. His discovery turned out to be a rare Sibianor larae – a species never recognised before in the UK. The sighting was confirmed following an invitation for fellow arachnologist, Richard Gallon, to accompany him on a return visit to the site where they were able to find more examples of the rare spider. After studying the spider under a microscope, they both agreed it fitted the description of the continental species Sibianor larae.

Their next step was a visit to Manchester Museum to see world jumping spider expert, Dmitri Logunov, Curator of Arthropods at the museum, who confirmed that it was a Sibianor larae and was the first recognised sighting in Britain. He had originally described the species when it was new to science in 2001, naming it after his wife Larisa Logunov (Lara is an abbreviated form for Larisa).

Cheshire Wildlife Trust has carried out lowland raised bog restoration work at the site and is continuing to improve its condition. “We were delighted to hear about all the special discoveries that have been made at our Holcroft Moss Nature Reserve,” said Sarah Bennett, Area Manager West, part of the conservation team at Cheshire Wildlife Trust. “The site is particularly special as it has never been exploited and cut for peat; something which is unusual for most peatland in the UK. A number of other rare bog spiders were also discovered during the surveys, including the jumping spider Heliophanus dampfi, making it the only site in England where this has been recorded. It is definitely a special site for bog loving wildlife.”


Light aircraft used to target illegal abstraction investigations - Environment Agency

Information gathered from the air is helping the Environment Agency protect nature and wildlife.

The Environment Agency in the East Midlands is the first area in the country to use digital imaging collected by light aircraft to put a stop to illegal abstractions from rivers and streams.  The information obtained from the operation is now helping the Environment Agency to effectively target high invasion areas and carry out targeted abstraction patrols to catch illegal abstractors and put a stop to illegal abstraction that can cause harm to the environment and wildlife.  The Environment Agency manages abstraction to balance the needs of the environment with the rights of existing lawful water users during periods of dry weather.

Aerial image of an irrigation boom, used by farmers to water their crops. (image: Environment Agency)Aerial image of an irrigation boom, used by farmers to water their crops. (image: Environment Agency)

93 abstraction licences in the East Midlands have had restrictions placed on them in the last few weeks to reduce abstractions and 16 licence holders have been told to cease abstracting completely.  To ensure abstractors are complying with the new restrictions, Environment Officers will be carrying out high visibility patrols throughout the East Midlands to check that abstractors keep within the conditions of their licence and do not cause harm to the environment.


RSPCA issue warning to ‘well-meaning’ public about returning beached dolphins to sea - RSPCA

The RSPCA has issued a warning about how to respond to finding unwell or beached cetaceans, after two dolphins were inappropriately returned to the sea by members of the public in West Wales in recent weeks.

Officers say “well-meaning” beach-walkers have sought to help beached dolphins by moving them back into the water, but that this is the “wrong thing to do for the animals, and their welfare”.

Last Sunday (5 August), a dead striped dolphin was found on Coppet Hall beach in the Saundersfoot area.  The RSPCA had previously responded to calls in the local area about the troubled striped dolphin – who had been beaching on a member of the public’s property. Unfortunately, in seeking to help the dolphin, members of the public refloated the unwell, thin and emaciated dolphin.  An RSPCA officer inspected photos of the dolphin and could “clearly see” that the dolphin was suffering and should not have been returned to the wild in this way.

In a separate incident, the RSPCA was alerted after a washed-up, skinny dolphin was found on a Newgale beach last Tuesday (7 August). The animal welfare charity arrived to find a dolphin in poor bodily condition, which had recently died. Unfortunately, well-meaning members of the public had tried on several occasions to return the dolphin to the water.

RSPCA Cymru say dolphins tend to beach for a reason – often because they have major welfare complications, or even because they are dying. A summer plea has been issued urging anyone who finds a beached cetaceans to contact the RSPCA immediately, and not seek to refloat the animal. Ellie West, RSPCA animal collection officer (ACO), said: “In many ways, it is a source of great pride that people across West Wales love wild animals and want to help.  But returning a beached cetacean to the sea can be hugely counter-productive. People are obviously well-meaning in doing this – but usually it is the wrong thing to do for the animals, and their welfare."

ACO West added: “If anyone sees a beached cetacean, they should ring the RSPCA’s emergency line on 0300 1234 999, and provide as much information as possible about the location of the animal, and their condition. We can then do whatever we can to help – or at least alleviate the animal’s suffering as quickly as possible.


Plans to cut harmful pollution from domestic burning set out - defra

Ways to promote cleaner domestic burning and cut harmful pollution by stopping the sale of the most polluting fuels are set out in a consultation issued today (17/8/18).

Proposals to promote cleaner domestic burning and cut harmful pollution by prohibiting the sale of the most polluting fuels have been laid out in a government consultation published today. The burning of wood and coal in the home is the largest single contributor to particulate matter pollution - identified by the World Health Organization as the most damaging air pollutant.  Domestic burning contributes 38% of particulate matter pollution, compared with 16% from industrial combustion and only 12% from road transport.

The government therefore plans to ensure that, in future, only the cleanest fuels are available for sale. Delivering a commitment in the government’s Clean Air Strategy, the consultation proposes preventing 8,000 tonnes of harmful particulate matter from entering the atmosphere each year by:

  • Restricting the sale of wet wood for domestic burning
  • Applying sulphur standards and smoke emission limits to all solid fuels
  • Phasing out the sale of traditional house coal

The government’s Clean Air Strategy - welcomed by the World Health Organization who said it was “appreciating actions taken by the United Kingdom government to protect its citizens from this silent killer” - also set out proposals to tackle air pollution from a range of other sources including:

  • Publishing new guidance for farmers, advisors and contractors to help them reduce ammonia emissions and invest in infrastructure and equipment
  • Working with international partners to research and develop new standards for tyres and brakes to enable us to address toxic non-exhaust emissions of micro plastics from vehicles which can pollute air and water. A call for evidence was launched last month.

This is in addition to our £3.5 billion plan to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from road transport.


Air quality: using cleaner fuels for domestic burning - defra Open consultation

The consultation closes on 12 October.

Take part in the consultation here.


By coincidence also published today: Particulate pollution's impact varies greatly depending on where it originated - Carnegie Institution for Science via EurekAlert

Impact aerosols have on the climate varies greatly depending on where they were released

Read the paper: Geeta G. Persad et al, Divergent global-scale temperature effects from identical aerosols emitted in different regions, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05838-6


Scientific Publications

Stefanie L. Becker, Gregor von der Wall, Tracing regime influence on urban community gardening: how resource dependence causes barriers to garden longer term sustainability, Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 2018, ISSN 1618-8667, DOI: 10.1016/j.ufug.2018.08.003.


Barré, K., Le Viol, I., Bas, Y., Julliard, R. & Kerbiriou, C. (2018) Estimating habitat loss due to wind turbine avoidance by bats: Implications for European siting guidance. Biological Conservation doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.07.011


Chavez VA, Gilligan CA, van den Bosch F. Variability in commercial demand for tree saplings affects the probability of introducing exotic forest diseases. J Appl Ecol. doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13242


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Disclaimer: the views expressed in these news pages do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CJS.