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


Major boost for Trust’s marine work – Scottish Wildlife Trust

Launch event for the North Harris Snorkel Trail © Daryll BrownThe Scottish Wildlife Trust’s marine conservation work has received a major boost thanks to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. A £771,417 grant from the Foundation will allow the Trust to expand its Living Seas project over the next five years.

Launch event for the North Harris Snorkel Trail © Daryll Brown

This support will allow the Trust to continue and increase its advocacy for a healthier marine environment and establish a hub of excellence for marine community engagement in Ullapool – building on work in the North West Highlands started in 2015, which included the development of Scotland’s first-ever snorkel trail and an innovative remote litter station.

Living Seas Communities Manager Noel Hawkins said: “Initiatives like our North West Highlands Snorkel trail and the litter station at Dun Canna have generated interest from coastal communities all around Scotland’s coastline.


Seeds of success as agri-environment scheme benefits bird species on NI farms – RSPB

Yellowhammer photo (C) Alan BatesThree key farmland bird species increased in number over a five-year period in response to an agri-environment scheme (AES), according to a study by the RSPB.

Yellowhammer photo (C) Alan Bates
Yellowhammers, house sparrows and tree sparrows rose in abundance in farms taking part in the project across east County Down. Yellowhammers – a red-listed species (a bird of high conservation concern) which had been in sharp decline – were up by an impressive 78% between 2006 and 2011. Yet yellowhammer numbers continue to decline in the wider countryside where measures are not in place.
With the opening this week of the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS), RSPB NI is encouraging farmers to sign up for this scheme that compensates landowners for undertaking work to enhance biodiversity and water quality.
EFS, administered by the Department of Agriculture, the Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), is open to all active farmers who have management control of at least three hectares of eligible farmland. Key options in EFS highlighted by RSPB NI are provision of winter feed crop for wild birds, retention of winter stubble, creation of arable margins and creation of pollinator margins.
The RSPB farmland bird study, the first of its kind to be carried out on the island of Ireland, included face-to-face advisory work and showed that AES land management can improve the population status of farmland bird species. As well as the surge in yellowhammer numbers on farms taking part in the AES, house sparrows were up 46% and tree sparrows up 207% in the five-year period.
Kendrew Colhoun, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist, said: “Our study was designed to evaluate whether the last AES options led to increases in the priority species the options were targeted at - and our conclusion was a resounding ‘yes’.”


Greater species diversity boosts meadows’ resistance to parasitic invaders, university ecologists find – Manchester Metropolitan University

Research findings may influence land management policy of grasslands

Yellow rattles from the Manchester Metropolitan University study into genetic and species diversity in plants (Manchester Metropolitan University)Yellow rattles from the Manchester Metropolitan University study into genetic and species diversity in plants (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Grasslands enjoying a wider biodiversity have more resilience against parasitic plants, university researchers have found, in a study that could have important ramifications for active land management and conservation.

The Manchester Metropolitan University-led team explored how the survival and spread of the common parasite yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) was affected by the species diversity of its host plants - a controlled mix of grasses, legumes and forbs reflecting those typically found in Britain’s hay meadows – and by genetic diversity among the yellow rattle plants themselves.

The study, co-authored by lead academic Dr Jennifer Rowntree, Senior Lecturer in Ecological Genetics and Applied Conservation at Manchester Metropolitan University, and PhD student Hayley Craig of the University of Manchester, was published online today (Tuesday 21 August) in the Journal of Ecology.

Its findings may influence how landowners, conservationists and farmers manage their grasslands to promote parasitic plants, which leads to greater biodiversity in the long term, or reduce or eliminate them, according to land management needs.

Access the paper: Rowntree, J. K. & Craig, H. (2018) The contrasting roles of host species diversity and parasite population genetic diversity in the infection dynamics of a keystone parasitic plant. Journal of Ecology. doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13050


Research identifies all the different ways the sea supports human wellbeing - University of Liverpool

A study led by the University of Liverpool that catalogued all of the links between marine biodiversity and the different ways we rely on the sea found more than 30 ways it supports well-being including providing a source of nutrition, supplying raw materials and supporting recreational activities.

A team of researchers explored the different ways that European seas including North East Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea support and link to human wellbeing.

It is known that marine biodiversity supports human wellbeing in many ways and that people benefit from links between the flora and fauna of the sea and the ‘ecosystem services’. However, such an extensive catalogue of the links between marine ecosystems and human wellbeing has not previously existed.

The study found 31 different ecosystem services including providing a source of nutrition through supply of seafood, providing raw materials, for example marine plants used in cosmetics, producing oxygen (the sea is estimated to produce half of the oxygen we breathe), providing natural flood defences and also providing opportunities for recreation, artistic inspiration and enhancement of spiritual wellbeing.

Some of these, like seafood, have significant economic value and others enrich our lives in other essential and non-essential ways.

Read the paper: ‘Linking marine ecosystems with the services they supply: what are the relevant service providing units?’ is published in the journal Ecological Applications and can be found here.


Study reveals 'intriguing' data on popular bird - The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Breeding woodcock are more common in larger, better connected and more varied woodland areas in Britain, a new study has shown.

Researchers looking to understand how management could affect woodcock breeding success have discovered that a mixture of different tree types create an ideal environment for the much-loved wading bird.

GWCT PhD student Chris Heward  tagging a woodcock (image: GWCT)Habitat correlates of Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola abundance in a declining resident population is a new paper that compares a wide range of different woodland sites across the UK with relation to the number of breeding woodcock present.

GWCT PhD student Chris Heward  tagging a woodcock (image: GWCT)

Birch trees formed a key part of much of their preferred habitat, possibly because their dense trunks create safe feeding ground and their leaf litter support more earthworms on which woodcock can feed. The combination of mixed woodland, interspersed with open spaces, provides a variety of habitats for the various stages of the breeding season. This information could help to inform future woodland management advice. Hundreds of volunteers visited pre-selected woodland sites across the UK and recorded ’roding’ woodcock at dusk during May and June – the period when this unique display behaviour is at its peak.

Access the paper here


Record-breaking year for UK’s rarest seabird - RSPB

The UK’s rarest breeding seabird, the roseate tern, has enjoyed its most successful nesting season in the last 40 years on RSPB Coquet Island with 118 pairs raising chicks at the Northumberland site.

This beats the previous joint record of 111 pairs in 2015 and 2017 and tells the story of saving the species from a brink of extinction. 

Roseate terns were once widespread with breeding colonies in each of the four UK countries. However, their population crashed a staggering 80% in the 1970s, when only 16 pairs were left on Coquet Island. Currently, this small island, off the Northumberland coast, is their only regular UK breeding colony.

This breeding success at RSPB Coquet Island is owed to a programme of ongoing conservation work over the past 18 years on the island, aimed at reversing the fortunes of the threatened seabird. 

Roseate terns (affectionately known as rosys) have elegant tail streamers and handsome, light, rose-coloured breast feathers. 

Unlike other tern species, which nest in the open, roseate terns prefer to nest in crevices and small holes. For this reason, the RSPB introduced nest boxes on specially created shingle terraces in 2000 when the breeding population was only 34 pairs. This improved the birds’ chances of nesting and raising chicks by providing shelter against predators and bad weather. 

The conservation efforts have been given a boost over the past three years through the EU-funded Roseate Tern LIFE Recovery Project. This initiative has provided over 200 new nest boxes, as well as a special hide, which enables wardens on the island to protect and monitor the nests.


£900k awarded to engage young people with heritage parks - Groundwork

Leading community, greenspace and youth charities, Groundwork, Fields in Trust and National Youth Agency, have today launched 'Future Proof Parks', a £900k National Lottery-funded programme that will engage friends of park groups with young people in an innovative bid to protect heritage parks.  

Future Proof Parks will engage 880 young people across the UK in the West Midlands, East of England, West of England, North West and North East, to learn more about their local historic park heritage, encourage young people to join their local friends of park groups and volunteer to preserve the local spaces that matter to the communities they live in.

The programme will work with 60 friends of park groups to give them informal youth work skills to engage and work with young people, in order to share ideas and combine the talents of established friends of park groups, with the passion and skills of young volunteers.

The three-year programme has been awarded funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Kick the Dust programme, which aims to enable more young people to be involved in the UK’s heritage.


National Park seeks seed collectors for major tree project - North York Moors National Park

The North York Moors National Park Authority is looking to recruit a team of volunteer seed gatherers to help build a collection of native seeds from ancient woodlands and veteran trees. The project will see up to 40,000 seeds collected from species including oak, hazel, holly, juniper and rowan. Following collection, the seeds will be grown on by local nurseries, and then used in future woodland creation projects in the National Park.

Evidence shows that the North York Moors was almost entirely covered in woodland before humans started clearing them; now, only 4% of the area is woodland of ancient origin. The planting of new woodland habitats is a key element of the National Park Authority’s conservation efforts. However, sourcing seeds of local provenance - those that are genetically similar to the native trees of the local area - is extremely challenging.

Alasdair Fagan, Woodland Creation Officer at the North York Moors National Park Authority, explains the importance of provenance: “Planting seedlings of local provenance has long been encouraged, as it is generally believed that these trees will be genetically adapted to best cope with local climate, pests and diseases. In particular, we are interested in collecting as many seeds as possible from ancient and veteran trees, sometimes aged up to 400 years old, as the genetic makeup of these trees has clearly allowed them to withstand the test of time. Having said that, the threat of climate change means that planting for current local conditions may no longer be the best approach, not if we wish to maximise  the chances of these trees living for 100 years plus. We are therefore aiming to plant all our new woodlands with a healthy mix of local provenance trees, along with trees from other areas of the UK, particularly further south.”


Nuthatches arrive at Loch of the Lowes - Scottish Wildlife Trust

A small woodland bird which is spreading northwards through the UK has been recorded at Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve near Dunkeld for the first time.

Nuthatch at Loch of the Lowes (photo: Marion Moore via Scottish Wildlife Trust)Nuthatch at Loch of the Lowes (photo: Marion Moore via Scottish Wildlife Trust)

Nuthatches were first recorded in Scotland in 1989 and they are gradually increasing their range northwards. This spring a nesting pair was recorded in Inverness-shire. Their spread is believed to be a result of climate change.

Paul Anderson, Assistant Ranger at Loch of the Lowes said: “We regularly see climbing birds including tree creepers and greater spotted woodpeckers at the reserve but these colourful new arrivals have been causing quite a stir at our viewing window. The nuthatch has been increasing its range north for decades. We were aware that they had been seen relatively close by at Killiekrankie in recent years so it was really just a matter of time until we started to see them at Loch of the Lowes and it is a delight to have our first pair. However, while it’s great to have another colourful and interesting bird to show visitors we are conscious that their presence here is likely down to climate change, something which could have other less welcome effects on our native wildlife as temperatures increase.”  


Home to roost: largest hibernation of pipistrelle bats recorded at Seaton Delaval Hall - Bat Conservation Trust

The largest common pipistrelle bat winter roost in the UK has been found at Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, revealing previously unknown information about the bats’ hibernation habits.

Sixty-one pipistrelle bats were recorded in stone crevices and in the arches of a balcony at the hall earlier this year.

Common Pipistrelle bat (image: Chris Damant / National Trust Images via BCT)Common Pipistrelle bat (image: Chris Damant / National Trust Images via BCT)

Significantly, the discovery also turns on its head ecologists’ long held belief that the pipistrelle prefers to hibernate in very dark, damp conditions, with these bats found hanging out in a dry, arid, relatively well-lit area of this grand 18th Century building.

The discovery comes following a £3.7million award from the National Lottery to repair and conserve the 18th-century Hall. The National Trust commissioned an ecological survey ahead of the work starting in November.

Tina Wiffen, bat ecologist said: “We discovered the bats when we were undertaking an ecological survey to assess the possibility of introducing new art and visitor information installations into the Central Hall of the building – a project being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund. On finding the bats, we conducted a formal survey and at least 61 bats were counted in early March – with more visits then needed for verification. It’s likely that even more bats are here, hidden in deeper crevices. As a result the site will now be even more closely managed and monitored to ensure that the bats can continue to use the hall as their winter roost.”


The first test for the National Planning Policy Framework - Woodland Trust blog

By Victoria Bankes Price, Planning Advisor 

The Government's revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is already making big waves. Published in July, it puts the protection of ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees in England on par with the best of our built heritage. Damage or destruction is now only permitted in ‘wholly exceptional’ circumstances. But while this has already resulted in rejected applications, other cases might be more of a challenge.

Councils are already turning down applications where no wholly exceptional reasons justify the loss of ancient woods and trees. For example, Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has refused an application for the erection of a detached dwelling and associated works. It stated that ‘the application site falls within…an area of ancient semi-natural woodland…there are no wholly exceptional reasons for such loss in this instance. The development is therefore contrary to Section 15 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2018).’

It's great to see local planning authorities using the NPPF. But some applications are more complicated.   Maidstone Borough Council is wrangling with one such application. Click through to read more.


Scientific Publication 

Pessarrodona A, Foggo A, Smale DA. Can ecosystem functioning be maintained despite climate driven shifts in species composition? Insights from novel marine forests. J Ecol. 2018;00:1–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13053


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