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


Call to help save rare skate - Scottish Association for Marine Science

Scientists are calling on Scotland’s anglers to help save one of the largest and rarest creatures in British waters.

Skate can be identified by examining the distinctive spot patterns on their backs and studying their movements (Scottish Association for Marine Science)Skate can be identified by examining the distinctive spot patterns on their backs and studying their movements (Scottish Association for Marine Science)

The common or flapper skate can grow more than 2m in length and weigh more than 90kg but despite its name, the fish is classified as critically endangered - making it more at risk of extinction than the giant panda.

Anglers throughout Scotland are being encouraged by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) to send any photographs of common skate to Skatespotter, a new online catalogue launching today.

The project aims to help conserve this remarkable diamond-shaped species through identifying individual fish by the distinctive spot patterns on their backs and studying their movements.

Dr Jane Dodd, Marine Operations Officer at SNH, said: “We’re launching Skatespotter with more than 1,500 images of nearly 800 individual flapper skate, taken by volunteer anglers in the Loch Sunart to the Sound of Jura Marine Protected Area (MPA). This MPA has a healthy population of the endangered fish, which made it easier to collect photographs, and anglers have been fundamental in providing the data to designate the area as an MPA – but to understand skate movements and populations we want to see anglers’ photographs of skate from all over Scotland.”

Common skate have been listed as critically endangered since 2006 as a result of overfishing. In 2009 it became illegal to land skate in most of Europe which means any skate caught as bycatch should be released unharmed.

All angling for this species in Scotland is on a “catch and release” basis. Recapturing previously identified skate suggests there is no harm to the fish when released. However, common skate are still at risk from unintentional capture in mobile gear such as trawls and dredges.


UK National Parks Volunteer Awards Announce Inspiring Winners – National Parks UK

The UK’s 15 National Parks are delighted to announce the winners of the National Park Volunteer Awards 2018, sponsored by Columbia Sportswear. The awards were given out on stage at the Kendal Mountain Festival and recognised the outstanding contribution that volunteers Osian Wilson and Katherine Clarke from the Peak District National Park accept the Young Person's Award (National Parks UK)make in helping to care for National Park landscapes and inspiring others to safeguard them for future generations to experience and enjoy. Winners were presented with their Award on stage in the lively ‘basecamp’ area of the Kendal Mountain Festival, and had a chance to talk to the audience about what volunteering means to them.

Osian Wilson and Katherine Clarke from the Peak District National Park accept the Young Person's Award (National Parks UK)

There were four categories of award: individuals, young people, groups and projects. The judging panel this year was made up of the volunteer coordinators from all of the National Parks and they made the following statement: “We’d like to congratulate the four fantastic winners and we would like to thank everyone who is volunteering to help our staff look after National Parks! Judging these awards is a humbling experience as it gives us the opportunity to learn about so many people and projects that are making an immense contribution to the 15 National Parks across the UK. It was a difficult choice this year as there were so many inspiring entries.”

Lord Gardiner, the UK Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, is keen to encourage volunteering in the National Parks and said: “I would like to congratulate all those nominated, and commend the winners on these well-deserved awards. The dedication and hard work of volunteers is what makes our National Parks the inspiring places they are today.National Parks play a key role in conserving exceptional parts of our beautiful countryside and enabling communities, people and businesses to prosper and grow. Through our ongoing designated landscapes review, we want to ensure these vital areas are protected and enhanced for future generations. Volunteers of all generations do so much to make a positive difference, long may that continue.”


Frogs breed young to beat virus – University of Exeter

Frogs from groups exposed to a deadly virus are breeding at younger ages, new research suggests.

Scientists studying European common frogs in the UK compared groups (“populations”) exposed to ranavirus and those free from the disease.European common frogs. Image courtesy of Lewis Campbell. 

European common frogs. Image courtesy of Lewis Campbell

While the youngest breeding frogs in disease-free populations are four years old, frogs in virus-exposed groups breed as young as two.

The reasons for this are not yet clear, but the team – led by researchers from the University of Exeter and ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) Institute of Zoology – warn that this decrease in breeding age means disease-exposed populations are at greater risk of local extinction sparked by environmental changes.

Frogs gather at breeding spots such as ponds and then disperse, but most return to the same ponds year after year.

“Our research shows that the ages of the frogs that return to breed varies between populations which are known to have ranavirus and those which don’t,” said Dr Lewis Campbell, who conducted the research during his PhD at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “We found significantly fewer old frogs and significantly more young frogs at populations which have ranavirus. It’s possible that the more times an older frog returns to the same infected breeding pond, the more likely they are to become diseased and die. The absence of older frogs may then create an opportunity for younger – and therefore smaller and less competitive – frogs to successfully breed. With high mortality among older frogs, it’s also possible that natural selection pressure has favoured those that are genetically disposed to breed younger.”


Launching today a new campaign: Thinking Outside the Box aiming at increasing awareness of the potential impact on local native species by exotic pets.  The two may seem far removed but it's becoming increasingly obvious that exotic pets, especially amphibians and reptiles, can expose native species to new virus and fungal diseases and can even cause local mass mortalities.   This campaign has been designed to improve awareness and education in terms of biosafety for the benefit of public health and nature conservation.

 Thinking Outside The Box poster

In the last decade, there is been a dramatic decline in amphibian and reptile populations in Europe. Many studies reveal that viral, fungal and fungal-like diseases are responsible for these mass mortalities. Human activities such as pet trade (both legal and illegal trade), research and tourism play an important role in the spread of these diseases.

Pet owners, with particular attention to reptiles and amphibians, spend high amounts of money in pet care. On the other hand, exotic pets may carry diseases, and these diseases can be spread accidentally (escapes) and voluntary (releases) becoming the main reasons to the reduction of European reptile and amphibian species populations. Thus, two very different realities coexist; the attention and care paid to pets, whereas the local species are declining as a result of the latter.


Cross contamination can happen so easily, not just through escapes but disposal of vivarium substrate into waste destined for landfill or the water from your tropical fish tank (which may have frogs in it) into the general sewer system both of which risk exposing the natural environment. Researchers are not exempt either the Campaign Team are highlighting the risk of contaminated research equipment.  It's been shown that African clawed frog (Xenopus laevis) which is often used in research projects can carry the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis fungus which has caused mass mortalities of Common toad (Bufo bufo) in Europe; simple use of the same dip nets or holding tanks is all it takes and remember to clean and disinfect your boots and car tyres too!


The campaign website went live this morning, find out more: http://unboxingdiseases.eu/


(image: WWT)Annual ‘swanfall’ begins as Slimbridge welcomes over 50 migratory Bewick’s swans – WWT

The annual ‘swanfall’ at WWT Slimbridge has kicked off with a flurry of Bewick’s swans checking in for the winter.

(image: WWT)

A total of 51 birds completed the final leg of their migration during the recent crisp nights. They join Indri, the first of the Bewick’s to arrive at the reserve, who appeared in October with the first cold snap of the season.

Among the wild winter visitors is old timer Croupier, aged 27, the leader of one of the biggest Bewick’s swan families ever studied. The ‘cobfather’ was sadly minus his long-term partner, Dealer, who is mum to 29 cygnets that they have brought back together over the years.

Swan Research Assistant Steve Heaven helps conserve the Bewick’s swans, which have been in decline in Northwest Europe since the 1990s. He said: “The arrival of lots of Bewick’s swans is a traditional harbinger of cold weather and it feels truly wintry here at WWT Slimbridge with chilly, clear days and more and more migratory birds crowding onto the lake at dusk. It’s always a fantastic spectacle over the Christmas period. Sadly, there’s a serious side and the number of Bewick’s swans in Europe has dropped by over a third. However everyone who visits us is supporting the conservation of these beautiful wild birds. We’d also like to thank players of People’s Postcode Lottery, as their support will allow Indri, Croupier and their friends to rest comfortably at the reserve through the cold months.”


With 15% of terrestrial and 7% of marine areas now protected, world on track to meet conservation targets – UN Environment

  • More than 20 million km2 of the earth’s land surface and nearly 27 million km2 of marine areas are designated as ‘Protected Areas’
  • These figures indicate that the world is on track to meet important conservation targets.

Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, 19 November 2018 - Around 15% of the world’s terrestrial area is better safeguarded by conservation measures, as well as over 7% of the world’s oceans, ensuring the world is on track to meet important conservation targets, according to the latest Protected Planet Report. “The continued growth in protected areas around the world is essential for the future of biodiversity,” said Neville Ash, Director of United Nations Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). “In particular, the great increases in protection of the marine environment over the past two years will play a key role in restoring the health of the ocean, and is thanks to a strong collaboration between countries, Non-Governmental Organisations and international organizations. We look forward to discussions this week at the UN Biodiversity Summit further strengthening protection for nature, as well as recognizing the need to ensure protected areas are well resourced, and that wider action is taken to combat the multiple threats faced by biodiversity in and beyond protected areas.”

The Protected Planet Report, put forth by the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the National Geographic Society, reviews the progress of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, which aims for the effective and equitable management of 17% of terrestrial and 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020.


European shags on the Isle of May Picture: Gary Howells Dramatic change in seabirds’ winter food source - Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

The availability of a key prey for seabirds has changed dramatically over the past three decades, particularly in winter, with possible consequences for their population numbers, a new study has found.

European shags on the Isle of May Picture: Gary Howells

In the first long-term study of its kind, led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, researchers looking at the diet of a North Sea seabird, the European shag, found that the birds’ food source has altered substantially throughout the year.

In 1988, shags’ diets comprised almost 100 per cent sandeel, but by 2014 this had reduced to just 13 per cent, while the number of prey types increased from six to 12, the study of regurgitated pellets all-year-round over three decades at the Isle of May, Firth of Forth, has found.

Climate change may be an important mechanism driving the observed patterns, since ocean warming is having pronounced impacts on fish populations in the North Sea.

The availability of prey and change in diet can affect seabirds’ survival rates and therefore populations because food is a key determinant of their biology, affecting their general health and condition plus the number of chicks they raise. As sandeel were considered one of the most favourable prey types in the North Sea, the increasing contribution of other fish to the diet may have important implications for shags and other seabirds.

Read the paper: Howells RJ, Burthe SJ, Green J, Harris MP, Newell MA, Butler A, Wanless S, Daunt F (2018) Pronounced long-term trends in year-round diet composition of the European shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis. Marine Biology. DOI: 10.1007/s00227-018-3433-9


The RSPB demands governments stop talking and start acting to save nature - RSPB

Over half of British people (63%) want stronger laws to protect our environment

Seven out of ten British people (68%) would like to see an independent body set up in their country to enforce environmental laws

And, nine out of ten (88%) feel we have a shared responsibility to protect our environment

After more than a year of closed door meetings between environment ministers, including a meeting this week, the RSPB is calling on the governments of the UK to provide more details about their plans for what leaving the EU will look like for our environment. Thus far there have been positive words about the implications for nature – but few positive actions.

No one could deny that we all benefit from a healthy environment that is rich in wildlife. According to a new YouGov survey for the RSPB, when asked about the laws to protect our nature and wildlife 63% of people want stronger legislation and safeguards. And this is something that we can achieve in the next 12 months.

Next year will be critical for our environment as the laws, protections and targets are written and set by the governments of the UK. As part of the Brexit process the UK will need to set out its laws for ensuring the environment is healthy and vibrant for people and wildlife. And, alongside that, they must overhaul our agriculture system so that it


Unsustainable kelp dredging banned in Scotland - Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Trust has welcomed a vote in the Scottish Parliament today that puts a stop to damaging plans to dredge thousands of tonnes of kelp from Scotland’s seas each year.

Kelp Forest © George Stoyle, SNHKelp Forest © George Stoyle, SNH

Bruce Wilson, Public Affairs Manager said: “Scotland’s kelp forests are rightly protected as priority marine features. They are ecosystems in their own right, providing nursery grounds for many fish, and shelter for marine mammals including otters and seals. There is also growing awareness of their importance as a store of blue carbon. There are no guarantees that kelp will recover from being dredged. Allowing these habitats to be intensively harvested could cause irreversible harm to a system that is already under threat from climate change and ocean acidification. We believe that Scotland has the potential to be a leader in sustainable aquaculture and support further investigation into techniques that allow seaweed to be harvested with minimal environmental impact. However, it is clear that the damage to the natural environment of introducing mechanical dredging on an industrial scale is too high a price to pay, both environmentally and economically. The Scottish Parliament has listened to the concerns of experts in marine conservation and coastal communities and we welcome the principled stance that MSPs have taken today.”


Nature heroes celebrated at Nature of Scotland awards ceremony - RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage

Kate Humble hosts presentation dinner announcing Nature of Scotland Awards 2018 winners

With all eyes on the future of our nature and wildlife, RSPB Scotland celebrated some of the country’s nature heroes at their annual Nature of Scotland Awards presentation dinner last night (Thursday 22 November) with co-sponsor Scottish Natural Heritage.

The evening was a celebration of the passionate and dedicated people fighting to save Scotland’s wildlife and our unique and special places. 

This is the full list of winners:

  • Food & Farming Award (sponsored by The James Hutton Institute): Common Farm
  • Business Award: Barratts provides new homes for people and wildlife in Aberdeen
  • Innovation Award (sponsored by Balfour Beatty): CuanTec
  • Sustainable Development Award (sponsored by The Ardmore): European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre Scientific Research Programme
  • Community Initiative Award (sponsored by GreenPower): Ninewells Community Garden: therapeutic gardening for all
  • RSPB Young Nature Champion Award (sponsored by ScottishPower): Xander Johnston and Kathleen McMillan 
  • SNH Youth and Education Award: Reviving Rossie – Awakening a secret wood
  • Nature Tourism Award (sponsored by Scottish Water): The Argaty Red Kite Project
  • Political Advocate of the Year: Dr Tom Dargie

Sir John Lister-Kaye OBE was recognised with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his work as a naturalist, conservationist, author, and educator.


Environmental charities receive over £2.2 million from businesses which broke environmental laws - Environment Agency

Environmental charities and projects will benefit from more than £2.2 million in payments thanks to enforcement undertakings agreed with the Environment Agency.

Companies and individuals will make the payments for environmental offences including pollution of rivers or the sea, not meeting permit conditions or not taking reasonable steps to recover packaging waste.

A total of 15 charities and projects will benefit from the £2,223,121.54 with the money to be spent by local groups on projects that benefit the environment including cleaning up and enhancing parks, rivers and beaches.

As well as making a payment to an appropriate charity or project, these companies have accepted liability, demonstrated restoration of harm and will make improvements to avoid future offences.

Peter Kellett Director of Legal Services from the Environment Agency said: "When companies damage the environment whether it is through polluting our waters or breaching permit conditions, we will take enforcement action against them including civil sanctions. We take these environmental incidents very seriously and these payments of more than £2.2 million direct to charities will help them carry out vital projects to improve our environment right across England.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager, The Wildlife Trusts said: "Obviously, we would have been happier if these incidents hadn’t occurred at all. However, it’s a good principle that polluters should offer redress for the damage they cause. The money will enable work which will benefit wildlife and wild places, and which otherwise wouldn’t be funded. We hope these payments serve as a reminder to business of its responsibility towards a clean and healthy environment; and also have a deterrent effect as it’s clearly cheaper to do things cleanly, rather than risk creating pollution."

Details of some of the payouts:

Water company to pay a record £975,000 towards environmental improvements following sewage spills on Dorset coast

Wessex Water has offered to pay £975,000 to achieve equivalent environmental benefits following a series of sewage spills in Swanage Bay, Dorset.

Image: Swanage Bay, Dorset (Environment Agency)Image: Swanage Bay, Dorset (Environment Agency)

More than 142,000 cubic metres of sewage was discharged into the sea during illegal spills in 2016 and 2017. The windfall will be used to fund environmental improvements in and around the coastal town of Swanage.

The package offered by Wessex Water, the highest ever in the UK, includes £400,000 towards a local authority flood defence scheme in Swanage, £400,000 to Dorset Waste Partnership to fund the development of a doorstep recycling service for domestic fat, oil and grease, £100,000 towards the Dorset Litter Free Coast and Sea Project, £75,000 to the Durlston Country Park and Nature Reserve.

The company also offered £25,000 compensation to Swanage RNLI Lifeboat Station as an impacted third party, taking the total pay-out to £1 million.

Campaign to cut plastics around the coast gets boost thanks to Environment Agency

Firm agrees to pay nearly £25,000 to the Marine Conservation Society following breaches

A campaign aimed at reducing waste pollution in our oceans and on beaches has been given a boost of more than £24,000 after the Environment Agency accepted an enforcement undertaking from a group of companies for failing to comply with waste and recycling regulations. 

See the full list of Enforcement Undertakings.


Scientific Publications

Cacabelos E, Thompson RC, Prestes ACL, Azevedo JMN, Neto AI, Martins GM. Patchiness in habitat distribution can enhance biological diversity of coastal engineering structures. Aquatic Conserv: Mar Freshw Ecosyst. 2018;1–9. Doi:10.1002/aqc.2972 


Hass AL, Brachmann L, Batáry P, Clough Y, Behling H, Tscharntke T. Maize- dominated landscapes reduce bumblebee colony growth through pollen diversity loss. J Appl Ecol. 2018;00:1–11. Doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13296 (open access)


Pavón-Jordán, D. et al (2018) Habitat- and species-mediated short- and long-term distributional changes in waterbird abundance linked to variation in European winter weather. Diversity & Distributions. DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12855


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