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


Wildflowers could be key in reversing swallow declines – Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Image: Game & Wildlife Conservation TrustAdding wildflowers to arable field margins could provide a larder of insects for Europe’s declining barn swallow population, a new study has found.

Image: Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Extensive fieldwork undertaken by Dr Niamh McHugh of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) shows that barn swallows, commonly known as swallows in the UK, were more likely to forage along arable field margins sown with wildflowers.

Almost all existing research on the link between agri-environment scheme (AES) measures, such as wildflower margins, and birds focuses on seed-eating species which tend to forage on the ground, which made Dr McHugh even more keen to fill this knowledge gap.

Written by Dr McHugh and her farmland ecology team at the GWCT, the paper titled Use of field margins managed under an agri-environment scheme by foraging Barn Swallows was published in Bird Study. The paper also considers where margins should be sown to improve their effectiveness for swallows and suggests that placing them alongside hedgerows and verges increases the positive impact shown elsewhere.

Access the paper: McHugh, N. M., Bown, B. L. & Clark, J. E. (2018) Use of field margins managed under an agri-environment scheme by foraging Barn Swallows Hirundo rustica. Bird Study DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2018.1506736


Seeing star potential with ‘Big Dipper’ campaign – Northumberland National Park Authority

Northumberland National Park Authority is supporting a nationwide campaign aimed at raising the public awareness of light pollution in a bid to conserve our region’s starry dark skies.

Image: Northumberland National Park AuthorityImage: Northumberland National Park Authority

The ‘Big Dipper’ campaign, which officially launches this month, is the brainchild of the Dark Sky Alliance, a national group made up of conservationists, astronomers and tourist operators, including a number of National Parks, who all have an interest in protecting our night skies from excess light pollution.

Many outside lights, especially LED floodlights and security lights, can be too bright and are installed in such a way that much of the light is directed up into the night sky, contributing to the orangey-white sky glow above our towns and cities, which spreads out into the countryside.  With the dark nights drawing in, the campaign aims to encourage property owners with outside lighting to assess how much lighting they have and to ensure where possible that lamps are dipped downwards.

 The move is backed by Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, who said: “It’s important that efforts are sustained to cut light pollution further so we can all marvel at the night sky wherever we may live. This campaign deserves wide support.”

Northumberland National Park has been hailed as “one of the best places in England” to enjoy the beauty of the night sky.


Agriculture Bill vital to nature's recovery – Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust

The recovery of wildlife in the UK depends on an Agriculture Bill that enables farmers to create and restore natural habitats.

Image: Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife TrustImage: Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust

The Wildlife Trusts, including Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, believe that now is the time for agricultural policy to lead nature’s recovery. HM Government published its Agriculture Bill last month and, as the Bill progresses through Parliament, The Wildlife Trusts will be highlighting:

  • The recovery of wildlife in the UK depends on an Agriculture Bill that enables farmers to create and restore natural habitats.
  • Farmers should receive public money for producing benefits to society, such as creating habitats for wildlife, conserving soils for future generations and protecting communities against flooding.
  • Successful farms need thriving wildlife because crops depend on pollination, natural pest control and healthy soils.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager of The Wildlife Trusts said: “We support the Agriculture Bill’s intention to change how taxpayers’ money will be spent towards environmental ‘public goods’. Spending on these is vital if we are to restore uplands to hold water and prevent flooding in towns, create new wildflower meadows for pollinators and improve the fortunes of farmland wildlife like barn owls and brown hares. However, we need an ambitious Bill to arrest decades of wildlife decline and allow natural ecosystems to recover.” 
Agriculture policy does not have to choose between wildlife versus food production. Farming that works with nature makes sense – for now and for the future. Our ability to produce food in this country relies on us having healthy soils and the things that nature gives us for free – if they are allowed to recover – from pollination to natural pest control. The European Red List for Bees reports that almost one in ten species of wild bee face extinction, and over the past 50 years, half the bee, butterfly and moth species studied in the 2013 State of Nature Report have declined. We can directly link these declines to changes in the way we farm. The intensification of agriculture has led to the destruction of habitat, and what is left is becoming increasingly fragmented. 


£1million fund brings Scotland’s communities closer to nature – Scottish Natural Heritage

Image: SNHFrom creating homes for frogs to discovering hidden gardens in our cities, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) is awarding almost £1m to projects set to bring local communities closer to nature.  

Image: SNH

The 11 projects will help communities take an active role in managing their local green spaces and benefit from the improvements in health that come from connecting with the natural world.

Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, today (Tuesday 2 October) visited the ‘Recovery Though Green Infrastructure’ project, ran by the Cyrenians at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital - the main hospital for mental health treatment in the Lothian area.

The project is to receive £48k to provide patients and volunteers with more therapeutic opportunities to grow and cook their own food.

Ms Gougeon said:  “Through Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Government is proud to support the delivery of the Green Infrastructure Fund, which helps communities to utilise Scotland’s natural environment for a huge range of health and social benefits. This funding is going towards fantastic projects like the one I’m visiting at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital today, which provides therapeutic community growing and cooking events for patients.” Lucy Holroyd, Cyrenians Gardens Manager said: “We are incredibly grateful for the support from Scottish Natural Heritage as it allows us to provide even more patients in hospital with the opportunity to participate in therapeutic nature-based activities.”


Be kind to hornets - Devon Wildlife Trust

Devon Wildlife Trust is hoping to bring the plight of the humble hornet to the public’s attention.

Devon Wildlife Trust is worried that a spate of recent news stories about the threats to native nature by the invasive Asian hornet (Vespa velutina) is resulting in the persecution of our home-grown hornets.

Asian hornets are devastating to honey bees, with the invasive insects raiding and destroying colonies. There is now growing fear among the UK’s beekeepers who are worried that the presence of Asian hornets threatens the future of the honey bee.

Confirmed reports of Asian hornet nests in North Devon in 2017 and in Cornwall in September have fuelled these concerns.

However, the charity Devon Wildlife Trust believes that fears over the arrival of the Asian hornet is now leading to the misguided persecution of another separate species, the native European hornet (vespa crabro).

The Trust’s Steve Hussey said: “We’ve had several people telling us via social media that they think they have an Asian hornet nest on their property and asking can they destroy it? Other people have told us that they have already gone ahead and destroyed nests, suspecting them of belonging to Asian hornets. Unfortunately, where we’ve been able to do further investigation all the cases have proved to be European hornets and not the invasive species.”


More big companies commit to addressing environmental impacts - University of Oxford

Image credit: OUSome of the world’s biggest private sector companies are committing to address their environmental impacts and factoring biodiversity into their sustainability reports, according to new Oxford University research.

The perhaps surprising observation, comes as part of a new study conducted by researchers in Oxford’s Department of Zoology, in collaboration with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent, which assessed the top 100 of the 2016 Fortune 500 Global companies' (the Fortune 100) sustainability reports, for the first time, including, Sainsbury’s, Walmart and Apple.

Image credit: OU

The findings published in Conservation Biology, sit as a direct contrast to UN experts previous description of big business as ‘soulless corporations and a cancer on society,’ and suggest that the private sector is taking note of the public’s growing concerns around corporate responsibility for environmental issues, like plastics, marine pollution and deforestation.

The study is the first of its kind, and offers a global snapshot of some of the biggest corporations around the world, across multiple sectors of large businesses, that publicly disclose their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity. Understanding these varying levels of commitment will allow the team and others in the field to better work with these businesses to shape their biodiversity goals, help them be more effective in managing their impacts, and ultimately better protect the environment.

Of the top Fortune 100 companies, 86 have publicly available sustainability reports. A review of this data revealed that almost half (49) of the Fortune 100 companies mentioned biodiversity in their reports and 31 made clear biodiversity commitments and an additional 12 made clear fishing or forestry commitments. However, only five of these companies made biodiversity commitments that could be considered specific, measurable and time-bound. This is unlike the much greater adoption of science-based climate commitments made by companies committing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement within the next decade, emphasising that biodiversity loss remains a less pressing issue to the private sector compared to climate change.


Turning the tide on marine plastics - Scottish Government

More support for innovative projects aimed at tackling marine plastic pollution has been announced by Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.

A total of £1 million – double the initial commitment of £500,000 set out in the Programme for Government – is now available to support solutions in marine plastics capture, collection and recovery.

This includes funding from Marine Scotland to trial demonstration technologies in Scotland, aimed at addressing the issue of litter sinks and the removal of plastics from our seas.

Announcing the funding at the Scottish Resources Conference, Ms Cunningham said: “By making £1 million available to support innovative projects aimed at tackling marine plastic pollution, we are doubling our previous pledge - further demonstrating our absolute commitment to tackle the scourge of marine plastic pollution. We want to attract and invest in innovative projects which prevent plastics entering the marine environment or propose operational solutions to capture, collect, recover and reprocess marine plastic waste. I believe that investment of this nature has the potential to benefit our environment, economy and our coastlines which suffer from the unintended consequences of modern day lifestyle choices.”


Warmer springs can actually reduce overall plant growth, study finds - University of Leeds

An extensive study on the effects of warmer springs on plant growth in northern regions shows substantially reduced plant productivity in later months.

(image: University of Leeds)(image: University of Leeds)

The results call into question the validity of current climate models that include plant productivity when assessing the amount of carbon captured by vegetation and what remains in the atmosphere.

Using 30 years of satellite images, an international team led by the University of Leeds examined 41 million km2 of land in northern regions. They found that the early onset in plant productivity caused by warmer springs does not continue into the summer and autumn months.

Previously, it was believed the earlier start to the growing season due to increasing global temperatures extended the growing season for vegetation allowing it to gain more biomass during its lifecycle and therefore causing a boost in the photosynthesis process and therefore an increase in the amount of carbon captured and stored.

Now, the team has found the adverse effects caused by a warmer spring, particularly those linked to depleted water supply, substantially reduced any benefit from longer warm seasons. In many areas plant biomass decreased in the summer and autumn months, significantly limiting carbon capture.


Fourth release of water voles a great success - Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Volunteers releasing water voles into Kielder, photo Joe ChristieA further 245 voles have been released into streams flowing into the north shore of Kielder Reservoir, Deadwater Burn near the Kielder campsite and Kielder Burn by the ‘Restoring Ratty’ water vole reintroduction project.

Volunteers releasing water voles into Kielder, photo Joe Christie

This year alone, 405 water voles have been released into the Kielder area, taking the total released from June 2017 to 965.

The released voles have been bred in captivity from individuals captured in the Pennines and North Yorkshire in 2017 and over the border in Scotland in 2016.

This release, the fourth since the project started, was supported by Northumbrian Water’s ‘Branch Out’ Fund and staff from Kielder Water & Forest Park who were able to see and handle the water voles in their holding pens prior to release.

Gary Storey, General Manager of Kielder Waterside who released his first water vole said: “This was a great experience to get involved with and our staff thoroughly enjoyed seeing this rare animal up close, personally it is the first time I’ve seen a water vole and the fact visitors to the area have the opportunity to look for these wonderful creatures is fantastic. It’s great that we’ve been able to support this project through our Branch Out scheme, which has awarded over £300,000 in funding for projects which benefit the natural environment, wildlife and local communities since 2013.”


New Government data backs CPRE Green Belt figures - CPRE

New statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show the largest increase in the amount of Green Belt land released for housing to date

An analysis of the new Government data released today (4 October) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that since 2012 almost 10,000 hectares of Green Belt land have been released from ‘protected’ Green Belt boundaries by local councils. Ten councils have together released more than 5,000 hectares in the past year alone.

CPRE claim that a combination of unrealistic housing targets set by the Government, capacity of the housebuilding industry and slow build out rates on land already granted planning permission has created a perfect storm that has resulted in this consistent erosion of the Green Belt.

Green Belt land is some of the most profitable for developers to build on due to it being ‘shovel ready’, surrounded by countryside and within commuting distance to major towns and cities – making its release for development extremely desirable for housebuilders. This leaves councils to foot the bill for resulting infrastructure requirements, such as schools, shops and roads.

CPRE is calling on the Government to follow through on its commitment to protect the Green Belt and develop clear guidance for local authorities on housing requirements to protect designated land.

Read the Green Belt Statistics from Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.


Relocating snakes not as helpful to their conservation as previously thought - University of Kent

A pioneering study by the University on the effects of relocating adders due to development has found that males will disperse from their release site – with one even going so far as to return to his original home.

Adder being tracked (image: University of kent)Adder being tracked (image: University of Kent)

All native reptiles are protected by law, which means that animals found to be present on sites scheduled for development are often moved to alternative habitats. Reptiles are frequently the targets of these translocations but there is little information on their fate or how their behaviour compares to individual animals that are left where they are.

For the study, researchers Darryn Nash and Professor Richard Griffiths from Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, tracked adders (Vipera berus) translocated from a development site in Essex (UK) in 2014.

Some of the snakes were fitted with external radio tags and tracked for a period of 10 days during the spring and summer.  The movements of the translocated adders were compared to those of ‘resident’ snakes already present at the release site.

Translocated males exhibited significantly greater average daily movements than the resident ones. Furthermore, all translocated males undertook long-distance, unidirectional movements away from the release site.

One of the males even returned to the site from which it had been moved, a distance of over half a kilometer which involved crossing large areas of unsuitable short grassland habitat. This could have exposed the snake to predators. 

Ranging behaviour of adders (Vipera berus) translocated from a development site by Darryn J. Nash & Richard A. Griffiths, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, School of Anthropology and Conservation, is published in the Herpetological Journal. (open access)


Scientific Publications

Jakes, A. F., Jones, P. F., Paige, L. C., Seidler, R. G. & Huijser, M. P. (2018) A fence runs through it: A call for greater attention to the influence of fences on wildlife and ecosystems. Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.09.026


Gattuso J-P, et al (2018) Ocean Solutions to Address Climate Change and Its Effects on Marine Ecosystems. Front. Mar. Sci. 5:337. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00337 (open access)


José Vicente López-Bao, Floor Fleurke, Guillaume Chapron, Arie Trouwborst, Legal obligations regarding populations on the verge of extinction in Europe: Conservation, Restoration, Recolonization, Reintroduction, Biological Conservation, Volume 227, 2018, Pages 319-325, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.09.027.

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