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


Eye in the sky reveals hidden alien invaders – SNH

The Spey Fisheries Board and the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative have located hidden patches of the invasive non-native Giant hogweed and Japanese Knotweed plants, thanks to a high-tech drone flying over the River Spey.

Aerial photograph of woodland below Fochabers. Giant hogweed can be seen as areas of white dots, and Japanese knotweed showing as bright lime green colouring between the trees. © Matthew Harmsworth@ROAVRAerial photograph of woodland below Fochabers. Giant hogweed can be seen as areas of white dots, and Japanese knotweed showing as bright lime green colouring between the trees. © Matthew Harmsworth@ROAVR

The comprehensive aerial photography survey of the lower stretch of the River Spey from Fochabers to Spey Bay was funded by Crown Estate Scotland.

Brian Shaw, biologist with the Spey Fisheries Board explained: “We’ve been tackling invasive species along the River Spey for a number of years now, particularly working on Giant hogweed, and we have made excellent progress upstream of Fochabers. We are confident that the upper river is now clear of these pesky plants and we’ve gradually been working our way downstream. We are now turning our attention to the lower Spey - but the woodland alongside the river is really dense and finding the plants is extremely difficult, it’s like fighting through a jungle! By using aerial photography, we are able to ensure we aren’t missing anything.”

Despite the good results so far, Spey Project Officer for the Scottish Invasives Species Initiative, James Symonds, pointed out there’s still more work to do: “The survey was fantastic, but it did reveal some huge stands of Knotweed and Hogweed that we were previously unaware of so there will be a lot more hard work over the next few years until we can get these areas under control - but I’m up for the challenge!”


Native crayfish make a comeback in Lincolnshire – Lincolnshire Wolds AONB

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. 
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. Having personally worked on this project – physically picking up these crayfish, measuring them, checking their health and relocating them to their new homes – I'm thrilled that our efforts at protecting them have been so successful. Previously the crayfish were only present in two locations in the county, so we've potentially doubled their habitat in the space of a year – and Lincolnshire's rare, protected chalk streams are the perfect home. They're remote, clean, and the water is high in calcium, which helps crayfish form strong exoskeletons and makes them more robust."


Red light at night: A potentially fatal attraction to migratory bats - Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research

Flying bat © Christian GieseFlying bat © Christian Giese

Night time light pollution is rapidly increasing across the world. Nocturnal animals are likely to be especially affected but how they respond to artificial light is still largely unknown. In a new study, scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin, Germany, tested the response of European bats to red and white light sources during their seasonal migration. Soprano pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) and, to a lesser degree, Nathusius’ pipistrelles (Pipistrellus nathusii) were recorded more frequently near red LED light, indicating that the animals might be attracted to red light during their migration. In contrast, the scientists did not observe such behaviour near white LED lights. The wavelength of the experimental red LED lights was similar to that of red safety lights used for indicating the presence of wind turbines or tall buildings to aircraft pilots. Warning lights such as these might therefore lure migrating bats precisely towards the danger which the lights help people to avoid. Switching to more bat friendly lights or deploying on-demand lighting – which only turns on if an airplane approaches – would most likely reduce bat collisions and bat casualties at wind power stations. The study has just been published in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution.

Each year, light pollution increases by around six per cent worldwide. In particular, energy efficient and cheap LEDs are more and more used. Light is an important cue for orientation used by many animals, and also influences their diurnal rhythms and behaviour. It is well established that bats are sensitive to light while hunting at night. While some species are attracted to artificial light sources because of the insects nearby, most bat species generally avoid artificial light. Most previous studies examined the response of bats to artificial light during non-migratory periods. It is already well-known that artificial light causes disorientation in birds that migrate at night. Does the same apply to bats? Many bat species also travel for several hundred or even thousand kilometres during their annual migration, yet we know virtually nothing about their response to artificial light.

Access the paper: Voigt CC, Rehnig K, Lindecke O, Pētersons G (2018): Migratory bats are attracted by red light but not by warm-white light: Implications for the protection of nocturnal migrants. Ecology and Evolution.


Wales' Celtic Rainforests to be restored - Snowdonia National Park Authority

Thanks to European and Welsh Government funding, this autumn will mark the start of a new chapter for Wales’ Celtic rainforests which are currently in an unfavourable condition. Through the eradication of invasive alien plant species and the implementation of proactive management the aim is to bring these woodlands back to their former fertile state.

(image: Snowdonia National Park Authority)Celtic rainforests, which are mainly found in the UK, are considered of European importance owing to their open structure, and the mild and humid conditions within them that provide a perfect habitat for a wealth of vegetation.

(image: Snowdonia National Park Authority)

The woodlands are currently in an unfavourable condition and are continuing to deteriorate. The spread of the Rhododendron ponticum is primarily responsible for the deterioration because it alters the soil condition, prevents sunlight from reaching the woodland floor, and outcompetes and suppresses the regeneration of native vegetation. Other factors that affect the woodlands are over or under grazing, lack of management and atmospheric nitrogen pollution.

Four areas within Wales, including Snowdonia, Cwm Einion, Cwm Doethie and the Elan Valley, will benefit from funding by the EU LIFE programme, the Welsh Government’s Green Infrastructure Capital Grant and other partners to address these issues. The Snowdonia National Park Authority will lead the project on behalf of its partners that include RSPB Cymru, Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Water, the Woodland Trust, and the National Trust. The €9.5 million project will run between August 2018 and July 2025.

The project’s main aim is to improve the habitat of lower plant assemblage such as mosses and liverworts within these woodlands by tackling the issue of invasive species, especially the Rhododendron ponticum, that threaten the conservation status of the woodlands. The project will also develop active management of the woodland including demonstrating active grazing and woodland restoration techniques which in turn will improve habitat condition, demonstrate best practice, increase resilience and enhance the woodlands’ ecosystem function.


The more pesticides bees eat, the more they like them - Imperial College London

Bumblebees acquire a taste for pesticide-laced food as they become more exposed to it, a behaviour showing possible symptoms of addiction.

Bumblebee eating from a flower (Image credit: Andres Arce)This study of bumblebee behaviour indicates that the risk of pesticide-contaminated food entering bee colonies may be higher than previously thought, which can have impacts on colony reproductive success. In research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a team from Imperial College London and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have shown that bumblebee colonies increasingly feed on pesticide-laced food (sugar solution) over time.

Bumblebee eating from a flower (Image credit: Andres Arce)

The researchers tested the controversial class of pesticides the ‘neonicotinoids’, which are currently one of the most widely used classes of pesticides worldwide, despite the near-total ban in the EU. The impact of neonicotinoids on bees is hotly debated, and the ban is a decision that has received mixed views.

Lead researcher Dr Richard Gill, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “Given a choice, naïve bees appear to avoid neonicotinoid-treated food. However, as individual bees increasingly experience the treated food they develop a preference for it. Interestingly, neonicotinoids target nerve receptors in insects that are similar to receptors targeted by nicotine in mammals. Our findings that bumblebees acquire a taste for neonicotinoids ticks certain symptoms of addictive behaviour, which is intriguing given the addictive properties of nicotine on humans, although more research is needed to determine this in bees.”

Access the paper:Foraging bumblebees acquire a preference for neonicotinoid treated food with prolonged exposure’ by Andres N. Arce, Ana Ramos Rodrigues, Jiajun Yu, Thomas J. Colgan, Yannick Wurm and Richard J. Gill is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.


New study reveals reasons for huge decline of rare seabird - RSPB

Lack of food driving loss of Arctic skuas

Arctic skuas could become extinct as a breeding species in the UK a new study by the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science, published in the Journal of Animal Ecology, has revealed. The study found that the main driver of an 81% population decline is a huge decrease in breeding success, caused by a reduction in the food, particularly sandeels, available to the birds at the crucial time of year they need to feed their young.

Conservation scientists studied data from 33 Arctic skua colonies between 1992 and 2015. These colonies hold around a third of the UK’s breeding population of Arctic skuas, all of which are found in Scotland.

Dr Allan Perkins, Senior Conservation Scientist at RSPB Scotland and the study’s lead author said: “We’ve known for many years that Arctic skuas numbers have been going down in Scotland but this study reveals just how bad the declines have been at some of their most important breeding sites. Lack of food has been the biggest pressure for these birds and shows just how vulnerable our seabirds and marine life are; as sandeel numbers have declined around these key north-east areas in Scotland the whole food chain is impacted. If these sharp declines continue, it’s possible that Arctic skuas will be lost as a breeding species in Scotland.”

Arctic skuas are medium sized seabirds with pointed falcon-like wings and long pointed tail feathers. Unusually, there are two colours types; dark brown all over, or a dark brown back with white face and chest. They are rare red listed breeding birds in the UK; Scotland lies at the southern edge of their global breeding range, and their UK stronghold is in Shetland and Orkney. The loss of them as a breeding species here would not only mean a loss for UK biodiversity but also a contraction in the global range of these birds.

Read the paper here.


Dig for victory… against tree pests and diseases - Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust has created an accreditation scheme to highlight when nurseries sell trees of UK provenance (Photo:  Phil Formby)The Woodland Trust is preparing for this year’s tree planting season by asking businesses and individuals across the UK to make sure any trees put into the ground are from – and have been grown on – home soil.

The Woodland Trust has created an accreditation scheme to highlight when nurseries sell trees of UK provenance (Photo:  Phil Formby)

The conservation charity has created an accreditation scheme to highlight when nurseries sell trees of UK provenance. This means that tree planters and garden lovers can make sure saplings have come from a safe source, and will not be contributing to the spread of pests and diseases from other countries. 

Between 1970 and 2013, 267 introduced plant pathogens became established in Great Britain – and two thirds of these were native to continental Europe. More recently it has been announced that a new pest, the zigzag elm sawfly, has entered the country – presumably on imported tree stock. The same can be said for ash dieback, which was first confirmed in the UK in 2012.

Lee Dudley, projects manager for the Woodland Trust, said:  “The Woodland Trust has been exclusively planting UK trees since 2012, but we need more people to follow suit. Essentially we want to create a consumer movement geared towards planting trees of UK provenance. Together we can protect our countryside land against tree pests and diseases. “Our UK Sourced and Grown accreditation scheme is a stamp of approval; it allows trees to be bought with peace of mind, and means saplings can be traced back to where they came from. We want more people to ask where their trees come from, and nurseries can ask to join the 21 nurseries that are already part of the programme.”


Wildlife flourishes with return to sustainable farming - National Trust

A pioneering new project that involves reverting back to traditional 1940s farming methods has transformed a stretch of coastline into a haven for rare animals, birds and wildflowers – boosting numbers in some instances by more than 300 per cent.

The tried and tested ‘strip field’ farming involved flower crops being planted alongside more traditional arable crops and wildflower meadows across 45 hectares (111 acres) of farmland near the spectacular Worms Head in Rhossili, South Wales, cared for by the National Trust.

And, just two years after the project started, the stretch of coastline has been restored to its former glory and boasts a stunning array of rare birds such as the grasshopper warbler, common linnet and hen harriers.

Butterflies such as the small blue, grayling and wall brown butterflies have also returned to their former habitat.

It is hoped this approach to farming could be used by larger, more intensive farms.

Four National Trust rangers and 80 volunteers have spent the last 12 months faithfully recreating the 12th Century patchwork of fields on The Vile, creating 2,000 metres of new banks and new hedges which had previously been removed after the Second World War in favour of modern, intensive farming methods.

Instead of just six fields, there are now 17 which have been purposely planted with specially selected flowering crops to include 400,000 sunflowers, poppies, lavender and lupins which punctuate the crops of millet, wheat, oats, buckwheat, spelt, linseed and barley with ribbons of vibrant colour. 


Helping the pearl mussel to survive through sustainable forest management - Forestry Commission Scotland

(Photo credit Ian Mckee)Fresh water pearl mussels aren’t something you’d normally think about when you enter a forest. But most of the world’s remaining populations of fresh water pearl mussels live in rivers and streams in partially or wholly forested catchments. This means sustainable forest management has a pivotal role to play in conserving this globally threatened population.

(Photo credit Ian Mckee)

The FES North Highland Forest District has the largest concentration of extant pearl mussel rivers in both Scotland and the UK, and the Environment Team has led efforts to conserve pearl mussel populations.

Work has been developed and implemented to aid the protection and recovery of this species. This started with a series of targeted surveys to find out where the pearl mussels were living and numbers. The results then helped inform forest management plans, including how to harvest a 30ha site of trees which blocked light from the water and provided large quantities of needles and cone litter directly into the water, which in turn blocked water space and nutrients available. 20 dams were carefully installed across the forest ditches and once harvesting began, surveyors monitored the effects and where necessary, installed additional dams.


University and Chester Zoo join forces to fight global extinction of threatened species - University of Manchester

The University of Manchester has teamed up with the UK’s number one zoo to help prevent the extinction of threatened species across the planet.

The new partnership will deliver high-impact scientific research to ensure effective population management of some of the world’s most endangered animals. The collaboration will see more than £1.1 million invested across two major research areas. The first focuses on improving the future outlook for some of Africa’s most endangered and emblematic mega herbivore species - such as highly threatened Eastern black rhinos and Grevy’s zebra.

More than 60% of mega-herbivores are facing extinction as a result of range collapse, degradation of habitat and persecution. The highest diversity of mega-herbivore is found in African savannahs, making them a crucial ecosystem to study.

Rhino and zebra populations have both become highly fragmented over the past decades and are under pressure from hunting and livestock competition. A joint research initiative will investigate how health varies across wild populations of these species– in order to reveal how they are affected by environmental change and human disturbance.


Next generation of leaders to join fight against plastic pollution - defra

Government has announced new partnership with UK Scouts to inspire and empower young people to tackle plastic pollution.

Young people across the country will join together to tackle plastic pollution through a new partnership between the UK Scouts and Government.  Harnessing the enthusiasm of the UK’s girl and boy Scouts, the Government will create and distribute a new Plastics and Marine Environment Activity Pack to help them in efforts to slash the amount of single-use plastics in our oceans. Recognising the need for global action, this toolkit will be supported by a new international exchange programme, allowing Scouts from the UK and Kenya to visit one another and learn how important the issue of plastics is in different parts of the world.

Litter collection in Limehouse Cut (Credit: Leigh Thompson, UK Scouts via defra)Litter collection in Limehouse Cut (Credit: Leigh Thompson, UK Scouts via defra) 

The announcement was made by the Prime Minister during her visit to Africa this week, where she also pledged almost £40,000 for a new Girl Guides and Scouts Plastic Challenge Badge This will help an estimated 50,000 young people in Kenya and two further African countries, to better understand the importance of reducing plastic consumption.

The new partnership will build on the work the Scouts are already doing as part of their A Million Hands programme which gives young people the chance to take action with issues they care about.  This summer Scouts have been working with the Canal & River Trust to collect plastic and other litter from canals and rivers across the country. By doing this they have already built better outdoor spaces to bring communities together all across the UK.


Drones and wildlife: Operators warned against misuse - Issued by SNH on behalf of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland

 Specialists have warned that those operating drones could be causing stress to wildlife.

Drones have become increasingly popular for taking aerial photographs and for conservation work, such as scientific surveys. But your drone could put you on the wrong side of the law, if you fly it too close to wildlife. The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland says there are some important do’s and don’ts to avoid disturbing protected species.

The law protects the nests of wild birds from any form of damage or obstruction, including even our most common garden birds. Some birds, like the golden eagle and mammals, like dolphins and whales, are protected from disturbance at any time, not just within the breeding season.

Andy Turner, Wildlife Crime Officer with SNH, says, “There have been several incidents involving drones disturbing seals at designated haul-out sites. Likewise. there have been anecdotal reports of drones being used to film sea bird colonies and raptors. While the footage from drones in these circumstances can be very spectacular, the operator must be mindful of the effect on wildlife. Birds of prey in particular can see drones as a threat and act aggressively towards them, causing both injury to themselves and damage to the drone.  We would encourage anyone wishing to film wildlife with a drone to contact SNH for advice and, if necessary, apply for a licence.”

Detailed guidance on wildlife photography and licensing can be found on the PAW Scotland website here.


SEPA to end exemptions for burning farm plastics - Scottish Environment Protection Agency

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has announced its next steps to stem the plastic tide by confirming it will end exemptions for burning most types of agricultural waste from 1 January 2019.

Whilst a change in Scotland’s environmental regulations in 2013 meant farmers could continue burning plastics only under an exemption, the agency is moving to reduce the environmental impacts of farm waste.

The move, which will affect silage wrap, crop covers, fertiliser bags and containers, follows extensive engagement between SEPA and Zero Waste Scotland. SEPA has also worked closely with NFU Scotland to roll out the change which will feature ongoing dialogue with farmers and crofters over the coming months.

Ending the exemption will not only align with the legal requirement for all Scottish businesses to present plastics and other items separately for collection, but will help boost the Scottish market for recycled plastics.

SEPA, NFU Scotland and Zero Waste Scotland have developed a simple set of resources for Scottish farmers, including a list of Scottish recyclers who stand ready to help farmers get plastic waste sorted.

Further information is available from www.sepa.org.uk/farmplastics. 


Bewick’s cygnet numbers in Arctic early sign of bumper breeding season - Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

Bewick Swan (image: WWT)Our experts made the exciting discovery during their annual 2000-mile trip to the Arctic to ring the critically endangered birds.

After spotting just one cygnet last year, Conservation Scientist Kane Brides and Reserve Warden David Dinsley sighted 24 cygnets and ten families during the successful expedition.

(image: WWT)

The young birds were well-sized and expected to fledge, hopefully adding to the numbers that will visit us over the winter.

Kane said: “This is a definite indication of a better breeding season than last year when spring was late and the birds didn’t have as much of a window to breed. Thankfully the weather was OK this year, allowing the swans to get on.  In the next four weeks the Bewick’s will begin leaving the Arctic to begin their epic journey through Europe. We hope this snapshot means there will be more cygnets in tow with their families.”

The team managed to tag 74 birds including 60 Bewick’s swans, ten of which had been ringed before. Amazingly, two of the swans were known to visit Welney on the Ouse Washes. Nine mutes were also ringed as well as five whoopers.

The team will then carry out three assessments over winter in the UK and collate the details to establish how successful the breeding season was. The yearly Arctic trips give our conservationists an early idea of how it’s gone.


Scientific Publications

Ülo Väli, Jaanus Elts & Hannes Pehlak (2018) Are common bird monitoring schemes and opportunistic observations appropriate for estimating raptor trends?, Bird Study, DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2018.1506422


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