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


Sea snail shells dissolve in increasingly acidified oceans, study shows – University of Plymouth

Species living in regions with predicted future levels of CO2 were on average around a third smaller than those living in present day conditions

A heat-map demonstrating where differences are most likely to occur in shell shape among gastropods exposed to raised CO2 levels (with red indicating a greater degree of change)

Shelled marine creatures living in increasingly acidified oceans face a fight for survival as the impacts of climate change spread, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, and the University of Plymouth, UK, assessed the impact of rising carbon dioxide levels on the large predatory “triton shell” gastropod (Charonia lampas).

They found those living in regions with predicted future levels of CO2 were on average around a third smaller than counterparts living in conditions seen throughout the world’s oceans today.

However there was also a noticeable negative impact on the thickness, density, and structure of their shells, causing visible deterioration to the shell surface.

Writing in Frontiers in Marine Science, scientists say the effects are down to the increased stresses placed on the species in waters where the pH is lower, which reduce their ability to control the calcification process.

And they have warned other shellfish are likely to be impacted in the same way, threatening their survival and that of other species that rely on them for food.

Plymouth graduate Dr Ben Harvey, now Assistant Professor in the University of Tsukuba’s Shimoda Marine Research Center, said: “Ocean acidification is a clear threat to marine life, acting as a stressor for many marine animals. Here we found that the ability of the triton shells to produce and maintain their shells was hindered by ocean acidification, with the corrosive seawater making them smoother, thinner, and less dense. The extensive dissolution of their shells has profound consequences for calcified animals into the future as it is not something they can biologically control, suggesting that some calcified species might be unable to adapt to the acidified seawater if carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise unchecked.”


New map shows endangered water voles thriving across threatened wetlands – The Wildlife Trusts

Map of reported water vole sightings since their reintroduction to Magor Marsh, Gwent Levels, in 2012. Data collected by Gwent Wildlife Trust and other organisations.Campaign launched today (15 October) to save the Gwent Levels

Map of reported water vole sightings since their reintroduction to Magor Marsh, Gwent Levels, in 2012. Data collected by Gwent Wildlife Trust and other organisations.

Water voles have been discovered thriving across the Gwent Levels after bouncing back from extinction on the internationally-important wetlands of south Wales. Six years ago, Gwent Wildlife Trust reintroduced the endangered species to Magor Marsh nature reserve on the edge of the Levels. New mapping shows that they have bred successfully and spread up to 10 kilometres.

The water vole is the UK’s most rapidly declining mammal and has been lost from 94% of places where they were once prevalent; earlier this year a report* revealed an ever-worsening situation.  Thus, the new map created by Gwent Wildlife Trust is very heartening and shows water voles are reclaiming their historic range.

Unfortunately, the news comes at a time when the Welsh government is due to announce a decision which will decide the fate of the Gwent Levels. A new 14-mile-long six-lane motorway is proposed; it will cut across six protected wildlife havens and destroy or damage a historic landscape which is Wales’ equivalent to the Amazon rainforest. Rare wildlife such as water voles, otters and cranes will be badly affected.

Ian Rappel, chief executive of Gwent Wildlife Trust says: “The fantastic success of the water vole reintroduction project is a wonderful testament to all the great efforts of volunteers and staff working to enhance the Gwent Levels for wildlife. This beautiful landscape is a nature-lover’s paradise and people really enjoy its peace and tranquillity. But the success is bitter-sweet. If the new road gets the go-ahead billions will be spent destroying a very special place for the sake of saving ten minutes of commuting time.”


The people have spoken – and voted for their ten favourite UK parks – Green Flag Award

More than 65,000 votes cast as the nation picks the best of British

Image: Green Flag AwardImage: Green Flag Award

Today (15 October), Green Flag Award is announcing the winners of the 2018 People’s Choice vote for the UK.

With more than 1,800 sites to choose from – all of which meet the high standards demanded by the Green Flag Award, the international quality mark for parks and green spaces – the public have chosen their top ten favourites.

The ten winners of the 2018 People’s Choice Award are:

  • Cassiobury Park, Watford Borough Council
  • Clifton Park, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Elsecar Park and Local Reservoir Nature Reserve, Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Saltwell Park, Gateshead Council
  • Strathaven Park, South Lanarkshire Council
  • Telford Town Park, Telford and Wrekin Council
  • University of Essex Wivenhoe Park, University of Essex
  • Victoria Park (Tower Hamlets), London Borough of Tower Hamlets
  • Victoria Park (Widnes), Halton Borough Council
  • Warley Woods (Sandwell), Warley Woods Community Trust

Included in this year’s list of winners are a university campus, a town park, a woodland and a nature reserve.

Paul Todd, Green Flag Award manager, said: “We know that parks matter to people and that those tasked with looking after them have faced and are facing some significant challenges with shrinking resources. The number of people that took the time to vote for their favourite park is testament to how much they are valued and we would like to congratulate all the winners.”


Recorded cases of bird of prey poisonings at record low – Scottish Government

2017 saw only one recorded incident of illegal bird of prey poisoning in Scotland, according to new maps published by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland.

This is the lowest total in a single year since PAW Scotland began compiling data for 2004 onwards. 

Despite the drop in recorded incidents, data from satellite tagged raptors continues to show birds disappearing in unexplained circumstances, with persecution strongly suspected in many cases.

There was a further 36% fall in all recorded bird of prey crimes during 2017. The new figures show 9 confirmed crimes compared to 14 the previous year.

Species illegally killed in 2017 incidents included buzzards, owls, and a hen harrier, while the golden eagle, osprey and merlin were victims of disturbance cases. In addition to the poisoning incident, there were two shootings, two illegal trappings and three cases of disturbance. 

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “While I welcome this further reduction in recorded bird of prey crimes, including our lowest ever total for poisoning incidents, reports from early 2018 indicate that this remains a problem in some parts of Scotland. It is extremely frustrating that some criminals continue to undermine the good work that has been done by conservationists and land managers in recent years, with much of that work being done through the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW Scotland).”


Image: The Mammal SocietyCall for public to help wildlife conservation – The Mammal Society

The Mammal Society, the only organisation dedicated to the study and conservation of all mammals in Britain and Ireland, launched its new Mammal Mapper app today.

The charity wants members of the public to help record when and where they see mammals.

Image: The Mammal Society

Most wild mammals, including rabbits and iconic species like hedgehogs and mountain hares, are very poorly monitored. This makes it difficult to know which regions or habitats are most important, or to detect changes in their population sizes.

The Mammal Mapper app is designed to record information on the location and number of animals spotted on walks or bicycle rides. 

Fiona Mathews, Chair of the Mammal Society and Professor of Environmental Biology at Sussex University explains “What we need people to do is to go on a walk or bike-ride (an evening outing of about 45 minutes is ideal) and record the mammals they see. By recording the route taken, the App will let us work out the densities of animals in different habitats. This is a unique feature of the Mammal Mapper app and will be hugely valuable for conservation. Previously we had no way of working out whether a sighting was submitted because an animal was common, or because people were excited to see it because it was rare. It was also difficult to pin down the precise habitat where the mammal was seen. New technology means that this is all now really easy on a smart-phone”.


Hedgehog Street reveals which counties are recording the most hedgehog sightings - PTES

For the first time we can revealed the counties across the British Isles who are recording the most (and least!) number of native hedgehog sightings. The Hedgehog Street team are calling for more people to record their sightings of Britain’s favourite mammal online, to ensure the BIG Hedgehog Map reflects the most accurate picture of hedgehogs that have been seen in Britain.

The data, which is from Hedgehog Street’s BIG Hedgehog Map, shows all recorded sightings of hedgehogs (dead or alive) since 2015. Hedgehog Street, which we run along side the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, has collated these sightings to create a ‘heatmap’ showing where in the British Isles the public are most actively recording sightings of hedgehogs:

The top five hedgehog spotting counties are:

Top rank


Number of records








Greater Manchester








Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for Hedgehog Street says: “We’re so pleased that people across the country, from rural Hampshire to urban landscapes such as Greater Manchester, are actively recording sightings of hedgehogs when they see them. While the heatmap does not reflect actual hedgehog distribution, the more data we can gather, the better picture we have of where hedgehogs are located across the British Isles, which helps us to protect these beautiful but endangered animals.”


First record of Myxomatosis in Hares - Essex Wildlife Trust

Photo by Robin LowryEssex Wildlife Trust is urging the public to record and send any sightings of hares in Essex.

Photo by Robin Lowry

Myxomatosis is historically a disease that affects rabbits, caused by the myxoma virus. It was introduced into Australia in 1950 in an attempt to control the rabbit population. The disease first reached the UK in 1953, where it was originally considered an effective rabbit bio-control measure, before 99% of rabbits were killed by the disease in just 3 years and the intentional introduction was banned.

The disease is spread by direct contact with an affected animal or from biting insects and in rabbits they usually die within 14 days of contracting the disease, developing skin tumours, blindness, fatigue and fever.
The myxomatosis virus is known for its ability to mutate from year to year. However, this is the first time it has ever mutated into another species. The last few weeks have seen several cases of hares suffering with the disease or found dead in Suffolk and Norfolk, but now the first case in Essex has been recorded, near Halstead.

Hares have suffered from an 80% decline since the late 19th century and their population is not as robust as rabbits. Over time many rabbits develop a resistance to the disease, however there won’t be any resistance in hares yet so this outbreak could be extremely detrimental.


2018’s Tree of the Year winners revealed - Woodland Trust

A beech tree created to woo a sweetheart 100 years ago, which is still a meeting place for lovers today and a popular place to pop the question, has been crowned England’s Tree of the Year.

The public voted overwhelmingly to crown Nellie’s Tree in Aberford, Leeds, its 2018 winner.  The tree was grafted from three saplings to form an N by Vic Stead who would make a daily walk to see his girlfriend Nellie. They would later marry.

England's winner, Nellie's Tree (Photo: Rob Grange)England's winner, Nellie's Tree (Photo: Rob Grange)

The winning trees for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland were also revealed live on the BBC’s The One Show on Wednesday evening (17 October).

Northern Ireland: The Giant Sequoia, Castlewellan Forest Park, County Down

England: Nellie’s Tree, Aberford, Leeds

Scotland: Netty’s Tree, Eriskay, Outer Hebrides

Wales: Pwllpriddog Oak, Rhandirmwyn, Carmarthenshire

Now in its fifth year, the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year contest aims to showcase the UK’s best trees to help drive up interest in their value and protection. The charity is now asking the public to whittle the four national winners down to ONE to represent the UK in February’s European Tree of the Year competition. 


Dartmoor reserve wins top national award - Devon Wildlife Trust

A project which has seen the restoration of bog habitats in Dartmoor National Park has taken home the prestigious Park Protector Award. The project has been recognised for its important role in improving one of Dartmoor’s most beautiful valleys for wildlife and increasing its visitor access.

Opening up Emsworthy Mire nature reserve, which is owned and cared for by the Devon Wildlife Trust, took home the £2,000 prize, which was presented at a parliamentary reception last night [17 October]. The annual Award is run by Campaign for National Parks to recognise, celebrate and support projects that make a difference within the English and Welsh National Parks. President of Campaign for National Parks, the actress Caroline Quentin, and Julian Glover, who is leading the Government’s review of England’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks, addressed guests and parliamentarians at the reception.

Peter Burgess, Director of Conservation and Development at the Devon Wildlife Trust said: “Opening up Emsworthy Mire, is a wonderful example of what can happen when dedicated, passionate people come together to make a difference to our natural world. Through determination and hard work we have completely transformed the mire from an impenetrable and formidable landscape to somewhere both wildlife and visitors can enjoy.”


UK Government failed to designate sufficient sites to protect Europe’s smallest cetacean species says European Court of Justice - WDC

The European Court of Justice has today ruled that the UK Government failed to propose sufficient numbers of sites that would protect harbour porpoises in waters off the Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish coastline. The European Commission now will ask the UK government what measures they will put in place to comply with the EU Habitats Directive.

Harbour Porpoise St Lawrence Canada © Ores Ursula Tscherter Harbour Porpoise St Lawrence Canada © Ores Ursula Tscherter

The Commission had previously brought action against the UK for failing to designate Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for harbour porpoises, which led to six sites being designated. However, scientific evidence has demonstrated that additional sites were required in the northern North Sea and Celtic & Irish Sea Management Units in Scottish waters, before the network of SACs for harbour porpoise could be considered complete.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation has campaigned for 20 years to get more protection for this important but vulnerable species and was delighted when Scottish, English and Welsh Harbour Porpoise Special Areas of Conservation were submitted originally to the European Commission.

More than 8,500 people contributed to the consultation in 2016 and supported these sites and WDC’s campaign to make these sites a reality. However, whilst the efforts of the UK to designate these SACs are welcome, more needs to be done.

The ruling by the European Court of Justice today only relates to site designation and doesn’t consider important management measures regarding activities that take place within these areas where the harbour porpoise feed and breed, and so might threaten their future survival.


Work begins on developing next priorities for South Downs National Park - SDNPA 

Conservation and heritage organisations, rural economy representatives, water companies, farming groups and volunteer networks are just some of the groups being challenged to help set out the priorities for the South Downs National Park for the next five years and the practical action they will take to help achieve them. The work is part of a five-year review of the Partnership Management Plan for the National Park.

The first South Downs National Park Partnership Management Plan was published by the National Park Authority in 2014 following extensive consultation. The plan sets out a shared vision for how the SDNPA and the partner organisations would like the National Park to be in the future and identified the key priorities for how they would work together over five years to achieve this. It’s now time to put together an action plan for the next five years.

Margaret Paren, Chair of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “The Partnership Management Plan is about conservation and enhancement not preservation. In setting priorities for the next five years we must do all we can to respond to both the opportunities and challenges that face this wonderful living, working landscape to keep it thriving. Everyone who cares for or benefits from the National Park has a role to play and we will be engaging with partners, communities and other stakeholders over the coming months to put together an exciting future for the National Park.”

The new Partnership Management Plan will launch in autumn 2019 alongside a campaign encouraging members of the public to get involved in caring for the National Park.


Rare snails introduced to Pentland Hills - Buglife

Conservation experts have hailed the first ever release of rare Pond mud snails in the Lothians as a “vital step” in efforts to save the species.

Pond mud snails (image: Buglife)Native to Europe, Pond mud snail populations in the UK have almost halved over the past twenty-five years due to habitat loss. Measuring a little over a centimetre in length and classed as a vulnerable species, the snails were previously found in only seven locations within the central belt of Scotland, a fraction of their former range.

Pond mud snails (image: Buglife)

More than 80 snails have now been introduced to a specially created habitat near the Pentland Hills, having been bred at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo key partners of the Marvellous Mud Snails project being run by Buglife Scotland, this project is working to ensure this species doesn’t disappear from Scotland.

Ben Harrower, the charity’s conservation programme manager, said, “It is very encouraging that we now have this new Pond mud snail site, which means there are currently eight populations in Scotland. We were able to release 87 snails in total."


UK Research and Innovation launches major programmes to tackle climate change and drive clean growth - UK Research and Innovation

Leading research teams will join businesses and government departments to tackle the impacts of climate change on our towns and cities and the countryside.

Four research programmes established with £60 million of funding have been announced by Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, today, Friday 19 October, to protect the environment and communities from the effects of climate change and support a move to a low carbon economy by:

  • Producing better data on climate risks to the UK
  • Building a digital picture of our natural environment for greater monitoring and analysis of the impact of climate change
  • Reducing air pollution and protecting vulnerable groups from its effects
  • Ensuring better use of land, for the benefit of the environment and communities
  • Development of options to adapt to climate risks, and understanding behaviour change

The programmes, will be funded through the Strategic Priorities Fund, delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said:  “The recent IPCC report is a timely reminder of the challenges we face in tackling climate change. Storm Callum has highlighted the impact that extreme weather events can have on our communities.  It is vital that the evidence generated by research is used effectively to navigate and mitigate the effects of climate change, and new technologies are developed to support a move to a low carbon economy. The Strategic Priorities Fund is important in supporting UKRI’s mission, allowing us to bring collective expertise from a wide range of disciplines and sectors to bear on addressing important matters affecting all of society."


Tree Champion: we must preserve our urban trees - defra 

The government’s Tree Champion, Sir William Worsley, has called for stronger protections for England’s street trees with the launch of an ‘Urban Tree Manual’.

Aimed at local authorities, charities and community groups, the manual provides advice on selecting the right tree for the right place in towns and cities – ensuring the views of local communities are at the heart of decision-making and residents are properly consulted before street trees are felled.

avenue of trees (image: defra)(photo: defra)

Government Tree Champion Sir William Worsley said:" Whether they’re rooted in countryside woodland or in urban cityscapes, trees make our environment more attractive and a healthier place to live and work – which is why expertise in the planting and maintenance of urban trees is vital. I hope this Urban Tree Manual will help to improve decision-making around the country to make sure our invaluable trees are preserved now - and for future generations."

The toolkit builds on work already underway by local authorities to help trees flourish, featuring case studies such as the planting at The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which focused on choosing climate change resilient trees, and Observatree - a collaborative citizen science project which aims to spot new pest and disease threats to UK trees.

The release of the Urban Tree Manual forms part of the government’s wider work to protect and promote our precious trees, including our commitment to plant one million trees in our towns and cities and eleven million trees nationwide over the course of this parliament.

Access the Urban Tree Manual here.


Scientific Publications

Al Vrezec & Irena Bertoncelj (2018) Territory monitoring of Tawny Owls Strix aluco using playback calls is a reliable population monitoring method, Bird Study, DOI: 10.1080/00063657.2018.1522527 (open access)


Sandom CJ, Dempsey B, Bullock D, et al. Rewilding in the English uplands: Policy and practice. J Appl Ecol. 2018;00:1–8. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13276 (free access) 


Zuzana Musilová, Petr Musil, Jan Zouhar, Matyáš Adam, Vladimír Bejček, Importance of Natura 2000 sites for wintering waterbirds: Low preference, species' distribution changes and carrying capacity of Natura 2000 could fail to protect the species, Biological Conservation, Volume 228, 2018, Pages 79-88, ISSN 0006-3207, DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.10.004. 


Callaghan, C. T., Major, R. E., Lyons, M. B., Martin, J. M. & Kingsford, R. T. (2018) The effects of local and landscape habitat attributes on bird diversity in urban greenspaces (open access) Ecosphere. DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2347 


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