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


Organic farming methods favour pollinators - Lund University

Photo: Kennet RuonaPollinating insects are endangered globally, with a particularly steep decline over the last 40 years. An extensive 3-year study from Lund University in Sweden has found that organic farming methods can contribute to halting the pollinator decline. This beneficial effect is due to both the absence of insecticides and a higher provision of flower resources.

Photo: Kennet Ruona

Organic farming is known to promote pollinator diversity in crop fields. However, it has also been suggested that organic fields might simply attract pollinators from other habitats in the landscape, and therefore not sustain their populations in the long run.
The 3-year field experiment, conducted by researchers from the Centre for Environmental and Climate Research at Lund University, found that the number of bumblebee species in organic farms was higher and more stable over time and space than in conventional farms. 
“This is the first large-scale study over the course of several years to show that organic farming has a consistent, stabilizing effect on pollinator diversity ”, says Romain Carrié, a postdoctoral researcher at CEC.


Major report finds law is failing to control damaging vehicle tracks in Scotland’s finest landscapes – Scottish Environment Link

Environment charities unite to call for stronger oversight of ‘out of control’ tracks
A coalition of nine leading Scottish environmental organisations is calling for stronger laws to protect the country’s most iconic landscapes from damaging vehicle tracks.

Scottish Environment LINK Hilltracks sub-group has today (Tues 18 Sept) published its Changing Tracks report – following three years of gathering evidence into whether planning legislation is effectively managing the development of the highly-visible tracks.

The group argues that the proliferation of controversial upland tracks is ‘out of control’ and is calling for permitted development rights for ‘agricultural’ tracks to be withdrawn as part of the new Planning Bill now being considered at Holyrood.

Currently, no planning permission is required if tracks are claimed to be for agricultural purposes, yet Changing Tracks finds evidence that many are almost certainly built mainly to support field sports, such as deer stalking and grouse shooting – which aren’t classed as agriculture.

Helen Todd, co-convenor of LINK Hilltracks group and Ramblers Scotland’s campaigns and policy manager, said: “This major new report makes a compelling case for removing permitted development rights for agricultural tracks – to improve local democracy and help safeguard our most precious landscapes for future generations.”


High tech system promotes wildlife around Devon and Cornwall roads – Highways England

Images from space and computer wizardry help Highways England develop a ground breaking approach

Two very sleepy dormice (Highways England)Two very sleepy dormice (Highways England)

Images from space and computer wizardry have helped Highways England develop a ground breaking approach to promoting wildlife habitat along trunk roads in Devon and Cornwall.

Satellite photos and earth observation techniques have been combined with Highways England wildlife data in a software system that can predict areas where biodiversity schemes will pack the biggest punch.

And the system is proving so successful it has been nominated for an environmental award from CIRIA Big Diversity Challenge.

Highways England’s ecologist, Leo Gubert, explained: “It sounds complicated but essentially the software crunches our data on habitats and species together with information on the surrounding landscape to find the best locations for habitat creation and enhancement schemes as well as landscape management projects. We look at the populations and habitat connectivity for wildlife such as dormice, bats, endangered butterflies and also species of plants that are of conservation priority and then decide which schemes to prioritise.”

The system has been used to deliver a vast woodland and hedgerow connectivity scheme at 21 sites along the A30 and A38 in Devon and Cornwall with 10,000 native trees and shrubs filling or reducing gaps in hedgerow and woodland along the roadside. In total the planting has connected over 105 miles of habitat on the verges and wider landscape adjacent to the roads.


Surviving plants and insects are tougher than we think – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Insect pollinators that have survived the impacts of agricultural intensification may have a greater ability to resist future environmental changes than previously thought, a new study has found.

Pollination by insects, particularly bees, is vital to food production and humans because it affects the yield or quality of 75% of globally important crop types, but in recent years there has been increasing concern about the long-term stability of this service due to widespread declines in some species.

Despite the negative impacts of agricultural intensification on plants and insect pollinators, researchers at Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the University of Reading found the species that remain in parts of the UK with a higher proportion of farmed land are more likely to survive a variety of potential environmental changes.

However, the research, published in the Ecology Letters journal, suggested that was because these landscapes have already lost their most vulnerable species, retaining those insect and plant species that are more able to take whatever is thrown at them.


The nocturnal pollinators: scientists reveal the secret life of moths – University of York

Elephant Hawkmoth with Greater Butterfly Orchid pollen on its eyes. Image credit: John BebbingtonScientists have discovered that moths may play a much broader role as plant pollinators than previously suspected.

Elephant Hawkmoth with Greater Butterfly Orchid pollen on its eyes. Image credit: John Bebbington

A joint study from the Universities of York, Newcastle and Hull suggests moths have an important but overlooked ecological role – dispensing pollen over large distances under the cover of darkness.

The team of scientists, working with collaborators from Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, observed moths at a farm in East Yorkshire, using a new method of pollen detection called DNA metabarcoding to identify the different types of pollen they carried.

New insight

The study revealed that moths supplement the day-time work of bees and other pollinating insects, suggesting that plants with the capacity to be pollinated by both moths and bees may be at an advantage.

Lead author Dr Callum Macgregor, from the University of York’s Department of Biology, said: “Using cutting-edge techniques to distinguish between different pollen types allowed us to gain new insight into the species of plants which are important nectar resources for moths – and therefore might benefit from pollination after dark. Over half of the plant species we detected were not previously known to be visited by moths. It was particularly interesting that moths were carrying pollen from many of the same plant species that are visited by bees, hoverflies and butterflies.”


Globally endangered Large Blue butterfly enjoys best numbers for 80 years - National Trust

Upper side of a female Large Blue butterfly (image: National Trust / David Simcox)A previously extinct butterfly has had its best summer on record with the south west of England recognised as having the highest numbers anywhere in the world.

Upper side of a female Large Blue butterfly (image: National Trust / David Simcox)

The exquisite Large Blue Butterfly – officially recognised as having died out in the UK in 1979 – has become synonymous with Collard Hill, Somerset since being reintroduced in 2000.

And this year, thanks to three consecutive years of optimal weather conditions and important conservation work by the National Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation and the Royal Entomological Society, numbers have hit a record high.

The butterfly – which contrary to its name, is actually relatively small in size – was recorded at 40 sites across the country in June and July with three key nature reserves, two in Somerset and one in the Cotswolds, found to support 85 per cent of the UK population.

Its population is believed to have doubled in the last year alone at Collard Hill in Somerset, cared for by the National Trust, with this 17.4 hectare (43 acre) site providing the perfect habitat and conditions to support 22 per cent of the UK’s population.

Creating the ideal habitat for the Large Blue at Collard Hill has been achieved by planting wild thyme plants and introducing ponies and cattle to carefully graze the site with help from the Trust’s tenant grazier, to manage growth.

Ian Clemmett, Lead Ranger for the National Trust’s Somerset Coast and Countryside said: “By working with our grazier we’ve been able to introduce tailor made management of the land.  The livestock carefully graze the hill in the autumn and early spring, which isn’t always easy to achieve, punctuated with a fallow period in summer that allows insects to thrive and plants to flower. Breeding was initially confined to one corner of Collard but has now increased five-fold. The grazing regime also helped to provide optimal conditions for the red ant Myrmica sabuleti which is vital for the butterfly’s survival.”


Wales is the first country to have a complete B Lines map - Buglife

Dowrog Common (c) Steven FalkBuglife Cymru’s Welsh B-Lines initiative will help our bees and other pollinating insects by restoring and connecting wildflower-rich areas across the country.

Today the wildlife charity is launching the new Wales B-Lines map which provides a solution to our declining pollinators. 

Dowrog Common (image: © Steven Falk via Buglife)

Bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other pollinators are a vitally important part of our wildlife and essential to people.  It is estimated that 84% of our crops benefit from insect pollination along with approximately 80% of wildflowers.  Strawberries, apples, pumpkins, peas and oilseed rape all depend on insect pollinators.

However, many of our pollinators are in serious decline, the numbers of threatened species are rising, and the sheer abundance of insects in our countryside is in sharp decline.  One of the key reasons for this is the loss of wildflowers from our countryside on which our pollinators depend.

The Wales B-Lines Map identifies opportunities for restoring and connecting habitats  such as meadows, heathlands and ffridd, linking existing wildlife areas to create a wildflower-rich network across our countryside and through our towns and cities.

Buglife has been working with local authorities, wildlife charities, local record centres, AONBs, National Parks and others to map B-Lines across the whole of Wales.  The South and West Wales B-Lines were mapped in 2016 and thanks to funding from the Welsh Government, and with additional support from the North and Mid Wales Trunk Road Agent we have now completed mapping of the B-Lines network across Mid and North Wales too. 


Numbers of Britain’s loudest bird reach record high - RSPB

Britain’s loudest bird – which was on the brink of extinction in Britain 20 years ago – has enjoyed its best year since records began, according to a new survey by the RSPB.

Since 2006, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of bitterns making their home in Britain. This year numbers reached record levels once more with 188 males recorded at 82 sites. This compares to 164 at 71 sites in 2017, a positive sign that bitterns are back from the brink and thriving in Britain.

With their well camouflaged, pale, buffy-brown plumage, bitterns are highly secretive birds that spend most of their time hiding in dense stands of reed. They had completely disappeared in Britain by the 1870s, before recolonising early in the 20th Century. However, they found themselves back on the brink in 1997 when numbers dropped to 11 males.

Simon Wotton, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist, said: “We count bitterns by listening for their distinctive booming call, and every year more and more bitterns are making newly created or restored wetlands their home and to raise young. The recovery of this elusive bird is a remarkable conservation success and shows what can be achieved through targeted efforts to restore and create more of their favoured habitat. To go from being on the brink of extinction to having close to 200 booming males in 20 years – at a time when many other species are in decline – highlights how effective this project has been.”


Why do we love bees but hate wasps? – University College London

Both bees and wasps are two of humanity’s most ecologically and economically important organisms. They both pollinate our flowers and crops, but wasps also regulate populations of crop pests and insects that carry human diseases.

(image: University College London)“It’s clear we have a very different emotional connection to wasps than to bees – we have lived in harmony with bees for a very long time, domesticating some species, but human-wasp interactions are often unpleasant as they ruin picnics and nest in our homes,” explained study author, Dr Seirian Sumner (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment). “Despite this, we need to actively overhaul the negative image of wasps to protect the ecological benefits they bring to our planet. They are facing a similar decline to bees and that is something the world can’t afford.”

For the study, published today in Ecological Entomology and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the European Commission through the Marie Curie fellowship, 748 members of the public from 46 countries were surveyed (70% of respondents were from the UK) on their perceptions of insects, including bees and wasps.

(image: University College London)

Responses revealed that wasps are indeed universally disliked by the public and this is most likely due to a low-level interest in nature and a lack of knowledge about the benefits wasps bring to our planet’s health and function.

How much research is being done to better understand these misunderstood creatures was also investigated. The team found that wasps are an unpopular choice of insect for researchers to study which likely compounds their negative image as little effort is being made to comprehend and communicate their positive role in the ecosystem.

Read the paper: Sumner, S. , Law, G. and Cini, A. (2018), Why we love bees and hate wasps. Ecol Entomol. . doi:10.1111/een.12676


Forest butterfly survey provides hidden surprise - Forestry Commission Scotland

Proposals to reintroduce a population of rare and endangered butterflies to the Trossachs have been shelved - after preparatory survey work this year found a ‘secret’ population!

(image: Forestry Commission Scotland)(image: Forestry Commission Scotland)

The Pearl-bordered Fritillary butterfly, which is now very rare in England and Wales, but more widely found in the north of Scotland, was thought to be locally extinct in the Trossachs. With only one butterfly having been seen in the area over ten years ago, Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) was working with Butterfly Conservation Scotland, RSPB, Woodland Trust Scotland & CLEAR Services to explore the possibility of a reintroduction programme.

Paul Maplebeck of Butterfly Conservation Scotland said; “As part of the preparation for a possible Pearl-bordered Fritillary reintroduction, a team of volunteers was recruited to carry out a large-scale survey to visit the sites that were most suitable for the butterflies. Ideal habitat consists of sunny, south facing slopes with well drained soils and light woodland cover. Cutting edge scientific modelling was used to predict where these might be found - and it worked! You can imagine our surprise and delight when the surveys revealed that FES sites within the Great Trossachs Forest NNR housed a secret population.  At least 45 butterflies were recorded at ten different locations in May this year.”


No time to lose: forestry sector launches plan to work together to adapt to climate change - Royal Forestry Society

Actions to address significant gaps in forestry policy, research and practice are necessary to deal with the unprecedented pace and scale of environmental change, say forestry organisations launching a new action plan  today at APF, the UK's largest forestry show.

Climate change is threatening the health of trees and woods and requires a co-ordinated response to help them adapt and become resilient to its current and projected impacts. The Forestry Climate Change Working Group (FCCWG) – public and private organisations representing the 35 signatories to the 2015 Forestry Climate Change Accord - have identified 13 priority actions and pledged to work together on them over the next five years. 

The Action plan for climate change adaptation of forests, woods and trees in England address major gaps in current forestry policy, research and practice. The 13 priority actions are the result of a rigorous process of consultation carried out over the last three years, and are consistent with Defra’s Tree Health Resilience Strategy published earlier this year.

The plan also recognises that, in the face of climate change, many traditional forest and woodland management practices need to be revised. Some of the gaps identified include: lack of woodland management by owners; insufficient diversity of planting stock from nurseries; limited uptake of silvicultural practices which limit risk; and, the need for better education and information.


A new vision for forestry - Forestry Commission Scotland  

Views are being sought on a new draft Forestry Strategy for Scotland which aims to make the most of precious forestry resources and help cement the country’s reputation as a responsible global citizen.
The draft strategy sets out a long-term vision to inspire and stimulate a shared national endeavour to sustainably grow more trees to enhance our woods and forests both to make a greater contribution to Scotland’s climate change ambitions and to deliver more economic benefit for years to come.
The launch of the consultation, which runs for 10 weeks, is a key element in the delivery of this year’s Programme for Government.

The draft strategy, once finalised in 2019, will act as a 10 year framework for action, concentrating on three key areas:

  • increasing the contribution of forests and woodlands to sustainable and inclusive economic growth, especially in rural communities; 
  • protecting and enhancing Scotland’s valuable natural assets, ensuring they are resilient and contribute to a healthy high quality environment; and
  • ensuring that more people are empowered to use forests and woodlands to improve their health, well-being and life chances.

The draft consultation will be open online until 29 November 2018. 

Take part in the consultation here.


Plastic pollution hitchhiking into the skies inside flying insects - University of Reading

Plastic has found a previously unknown pathway to pollute the environment and enter the food chain, scientists have discovered.

A new study at the University of Reading found tiny fragments of plastic are getting inside flying insects that lay their eggs in water, as they are able to transfer from the larvae to the adult form.

The scientists found that microplastics consumed by larvae crucially remain in the mosquito through metamorphosis to a non-feeding pupa and then adults. Flying insects like these are eaten by birds and bats, providing a potential new pathway for plastics to enter the food chain.

Microplastic particles visible (bright green) in the abdomen of the adult mosquito under a microscope (image: University of Reading)Microplastic particles visible (bright green) in the abdomen of the adult mosquito under a microscope (image: University of Reading)

Professor Amanda Callaghan, biological scientist at the University of Reading and lead author, said: “Much recent attention has been given to the plastics polluting our oceans, but this research reveals it is also in our skies.

“This is eye opening research, which has shown us for the first time that microplastics are able to navigate several life stages in flying insects, allowing them to contaminate all kinds of living creatures who would not normally be exposed to them. It is a shocking reality that plastic is contaminating almost every corner of the environment and its ecosystems.”

Read the paper (open access): Al-Jaibachi, R., Cuthbert, R., Callaghan, A. (2018); ‘Up and away: ontogenic transference as a pathway for aerial dispersal of microplastics.’; Biology Letters; doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0479


Unusual rescue of manx shearwater found in Newport – RSPCA

A manx shearwater has been rescued in Newport miles away from where they are usually found after being blown off course.

The islands of Skomer and Skokholm in Pembrokeshire have around 50% of the UK’s Manx shearwater population – the largest known concentration of the species in the world. In August and September the adults and juveniles leave the islands to migrate thousands of miles away to the coast of South America, but strong winds can blow them off course and they can struggle on dry land.

RSPCA inspector Christine McNeil said she was surprised to see a manx shearwater in a garden in Langstone, Newport. “It is certainly not a usual find in Newport,” she said. “Manx shearwaters are known to be blown off course at this time of year and my colleagues in West Wales are dealing with daily calls about them. But we don’t usually see the seabirds in Newport. This one has been blown off course quite a way!" 

The RSPCA regularly receive calls at this time of the year about troubled manx shearwaters with the charity already receiving calls to respond to around 100 stranded seabirds with them being transferred to wildlife centres as the storms have hit the area. There are around 40 manx shearwaters at RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre, with a further 20 expected on Thursday. After a short spell of rehabilitation 12 were released on Wednesday.


Basking sharks can jump as high and as fast as great whites - Trinity College Dublin

A collaborative team of marine biologists has discovered that basking sharks, hundreds of which are found off the shores of Ireland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Scotland, can jump as fast and as high out of the water as their cousins, the famously powerful and predatory great white shark.

Basking sharks are the second largest fish in the world, reaching lengths of up to 10m (33ft). Until now, they have previously had a reputation for being slow and languid as they scour the sea for their staple diet of plankton.

Breaching basking shark. (image: © Youen Jacob via Trinity College)Breaching basking shark. (image: ©Youen Jacob via Trinity College) 

However, a new study, recently published in leading international journal Biology Letters used video analysis for both species and estimated their vertical swimming speeds at the moment at which they left the water. Furthermore, they attached a data recording device to one large basking shark to measure its speed and movement, and also to store video footage.

At one point, in just over nine seconds, and with 10 beats of its tail, the basking shark accelerated from a depth of 28 m to the surface and broke through the water at nearly 90 degrees. The shark cleared the water for one second, and its leap peaked at a height of 1.2 m above the surface. 

Assistant Professor in Zoology at Trinity College Dublin, Dr Nick Payne, was a co-author of the journal article. He said: “The impressive turn of speed that we found basking sharks exhibit shows how much we are yet to learn about marine animals – even the largest, most conspicuous species have surprises in store, if we’re willing to look.”  

Click through for video footage and Read the paper (open access): Emmett M. Johnston, Lewis G. Halsey, Nicholas L. Payne, Alison A. Kock, Gil Iosilevskii, Bren Whelan, Jonathan D. R. Houghton Latent power of basking sharks revealed by exceptional breaching events Biol. Lett. 2018 14 20180537; DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2018.0537. Published 12 September 2018


Plastic pollution impact of UK’s summer heatwave: Thames bears the brunt - Thames21

Thames21 and #OneLess plastic litter research suggests Londoners switched from fizzy drinks to still water as a result of the extremely hot weather, highlighting the increasing need for free water refill points in the city

September 20 2018, London: London’s largest plastic waste monitoring event, the annual Big Bottle Count, saw more than 100 volunteers count and remove the plastic bottles from the Thames yesterday in the biggest action of the programme so far.  

3,249 bottles were counted and removed at 18 sites along the Thames (see map attached) as part of the ongoing investigation into the impact of single-use plastic bottles on the capital’s iconic river, organised by waterway charity Thames21 and the #OneLess campaign to reduce single-use water bottle consumption in London.

Londoners have removed a total of 36,667 plastic bottles from the Thames in the past year alone, once the latest count is included. In addition to the annual Big Count, volunteers count and remove bottles from key sites throughout the year as part of the ongoing plastic monitoring programme run by Thames21 and #OneLess.

’In the wake of the BBC’s Blue Planet Londoners are engaging with the plastic issue like never before,’ said Alice Hall, one of the programme’s coordinators. ‘They’re concerned about plastic impacts on the Thames, its wildlife and the wider ocean. And we’re seeing Londoners’ massive clean-up efforts starting to have an impact. But people want the problem tackled at source. We need more refill points and fountains, alongside increased effective recycling.’


Deputy First Minister encourages action for EUROPARC Youth Manifesto - Cairngorms National Park

The EUROPARC Youth Manifesto was launched today (Friday 21 September) to over 400 delegates at EUROPARC 2018 in Aviemore. Deputy First Minister, John Swinney addressed the conference and supported the call for the protected areas in Europe to take action.

Young people are keen to be involved in the decision making processes when it comes to sustaining the rural landscape. All summer young people from across Europe have been working together to put together their vision on the most important aspects of living, learning and working in protected areas and rural communities and this Manifesto offers practical ways for change.  

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister said: “It is fantastic to see the Cairngorms National Park Authority taking forward the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto by establishing a Youth Council for the National Park, with support from the Cairngorms LEADER programme. Scotland’s young people have an important voice and vital role to play when it comes to sustaining our rural landscape. I’m delighted to see that the Youth Council will be run by and for young people which will help to deliver their vision for the future of the Cairngorms National Park.”

Laura Peters is the Youth+ Representative on the EUROPARC Council. She explained: “Young people just want to be heard and entrusted to help protect and conserve their local environments. We want to be involved in helping to make thriving, sustainable communities with training and job opportunities so that we can remain in our local areas and not lose touch with our cultural heritage. This Manifesto must be the catalyst to making that happen in Scotland and across Europe.”

The Youth Manifesto can be viewed here.


NRW confirms position on shooting - Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) will not renew leases on its land for pheasant shooting rights when they come to an end in March 2019 as part of its final position statement on the use of firearms on land it manages.

The statement, agreed today (21 September) by NRW Board Members, will make sure that firearms are used for the right reasons, in the right circumstances and in the best way possible.

In reaching its conclusions, the Board considered the Welsh Government’s position, as the landowner, that it does not support pheasant shooting, the breeding of gamebirds or the birds being kept in holding pens on the Welsh Government Woodland Estate. 

NRW Board Members agreed that NRW will: 

  • Stop leasing of pheasant shooting rights on the Welsh Government Woodland Estate (WGWE) with effect from March 2019 when the current leases expire. NRW will not offer any extension to existing leases
  • Consider requests for permissions to drive birds from the WGWE, provided it is not in connection with shooting activity
  • Review the leasing of wildfowl shooting rights when the potential impacts on conservation species is known. This is pending the work being undertaken by NRW’s ornithologists on the impact of wildfowling on rare bird species
  • Continue to consider applications for permission to carry out control of wild species, impacting on neighbouring land management objectives, using firearms on the land we manage 

The review had been carried out to assess firearms use against NRW’s role and purpose, to manage Wales’ natural resources in a sustainable way. The Board had previously agreed an evidence- based set of recommendations regarding the use of firearms on the land it manages.  The Board today agreed that NRW would consider applications for permission to carry out control of wild species using firearms on the land it manages and that applications for firearms use for other pursuits such as clay pigeon/ target shooting would be considered on a case by case basis.


Response: BASC statement on decision by NRW to ban shooting on public land

BASC is astounded that the position of Natural Resources Wales (NRW), an evidence-based organisation, can be changed by the radical petitioning of extremist groups. Today’s decision strikes at the very credibility of NRW.

The Environment Minister for Wales, Hannah Blythyn AM, has pandered to animal rights extremists and has then imposed their position onto NRW, contrary to the evidence produced by a comprehensive review and public consultation into the future of shooting on Welsh public land.

This decision has serious implications for jobs and the environment in Wales. It should be derided by every individual who believes in the right of the individual to undertake lawful shooting. This is not just an issue for Wales; it is an issue for the very future of shooting in the UK.

BASC will consider the long-term implications of today’s decision before making further comment.


Scientific publications

Mancini, F., Coghill, G. M. & Lusseau, D. (2018) Quantifying wildlife watchers’ preferences to investigate the overlap between recreational and conservation value of natural areas. Journal of Applied Ecology doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13274


Baker, R., Scott, D.M., Keeling, C. et al. Overwinter survival and post-release movements of translocated water voles: implications for current mitigation guidance Eur J Wildl Res (2018) 64: 56. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10344-018-1216-8

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