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


Gove sets out proposals for greener developments - Defra

The government is consulting on mandating biodiversity net gain in development to ensure habitats are protected and enhanced for the future.

Government proposals to place the environment at the heart of new development have been unveiled by Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

In plans published today (2 December 2018) for consultation, developers could be required to deliver a ‘biodiversity net gain’ when building new housing or commercial development – meaning habitats for wildlife must be enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development.

The proposed new rules require developers to assess the type of habitat and its condition before submitting plans. Car parks and industrial sites would usually come lower on this scale, while more natural grasslands and woodlands would be given a much higher ranking for their environmental importance.

Developers would then be required to demonstrate how they are improving biodiversity – such as through the creation of green corridors, planting more trees, or forming local nature spaces. Green improvements on site would be encouraged, but in the rare circumstances where they are not possible the consultation proposes to charge developers a levy to pay for habitat creation or improvement elsewhere.

These proposals would help to achieve better outcomes for nature and people with the millions of pounds invested in environmental impact mitigation by developers every year.

While some developers have already been following a biodiversity net gain approach voluntarily, the proposed standardised, mandatory approach would give them clarity and certainty on how to improve the environment through development, while also considering whether any sites – such as small and brownfield sites – should be exempt from the rules. It will still deliver the homes the country needs – making the Government’s vision of delivering 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s a reality – at the same time as contributing to the goal of passing on our environment in a better condition.


Largest i-Tree Eco survey in UK highlights the £33million annual value of Greater Manchester’s trees to the economy & that 1million trees are at risk - Manchester City of Trees

City of Trees has completed the biggest i-Tree Eco survey outside the United States.

Image: Manchester City of TreesImage: Manchester City of Trees

Data has been collected from more than 6,000 trees across Greater Manchester by a team of 57 surveyors who visited nearly 2,000 plots – to help calculate the environmental and economic benefits that trees provide, as well as highlight any risks to tree health.

The results show that there are an estimated 11,321,386 trees with 15.7 per cent of Greater Manchester beneath tree canopy.

The data also highlights that approx. 1 million trees are in danger of being lost in Greater Manchester due to pests and diseases such as Ash Dieback and Horse Chestnut Bleeding Canker.

Greater Manchester’s trees act as a filtration system for harmful air pollutants – removing 847 tonnes of pollutants each year.

They assist with excessive storm water, intercepting 1,644,415 cubic metres of storm water run-off per year.

Added to this they sequester 56,530 tonnes of carbon each year and the current carbon of all the trees in the region is 1,573,015 tonnes.

The total annual economic value of air pollution filtration, stormwater attenuation and carbon sequestration in Greater Manchester’s trees is £33,298,891.


‘Payment by results’ farm pilots a ‘success’ – Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Putting farmers in control. A panel of Wensleydale farmers, all of whom have been taking part in the RBAPS pilot, are introduced at the one-day 'payment by results' conference (Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority)Putting farmers in control. A panel of Wensleydale farmers, all of whom have been taking part in the RBAPS pilot, are introduced at the one-day 'payment by results' conference (Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority)

Figures and analysis revealed at a farming conference in the Yorkshire Dales this week (wb 26 Nov) have suggested that a payment by results approach to agri-environment schemes can produce ‘amazing’ environmental enhancements and strengthen trust between farmers and government agencies.

Held at the Key Centre in Middleham, the conference marked the end of a three year EU-funded project to test the payment by results approach in Wensleydale and in Norfolk – although the government has since stepped in to directly fund the pilots for a further two years.

One of the key findings announced at the event was that hay meadows and wader habitat in the Wensleydale pilot had performed better that those in conventional agri-environment schemes.  

A panel of four local farmers spoke at the conference in support of the payment by results approach.   And one of the senior civil servants at Defra tasked with designing a new post-Brexit Environmental Land Management system, James Le Page, told the127 delegates that Defra was “really interested” to explore the potential for expanding on the model.


Business and community leaders mark first anniversary of environmental partnership – New Forest National Park Authority

A partnership looking to boost the natural environment by putting it at the heart of decisions about the environment, economy and communities has marked its first anniversary.

One of the first of its kind in the UK, the Green Halo Partnership brings together organisations from across central southern England to protect and enhance our ‘natural capital’. This is the term given to the benefits we derive from nature such as clean air and water, protection from flooding, food and healthy outdoor activities.

More than 70 representatives from dozens of Green Halo partner organisations attended a conference at Ordnance Survey, Southampton on Tuesday 27 November to mark a successful first year.

The partnership has received wide ranging support over the last 12 months, with architects, wildlife charities, councils, utility businesses, health bodies, universities and civil engineering firms among 70 organisations signed up so far.


Set your teeth on EDGE: world’s weirdest sharks and rays on the brink of extinction – ZSL

From guitarfish to angel sharks the EDGE of Existence highlights the most ancient fish sinking into extinction

Largetooth sawfish  © Simon Fraser UniversityLargetooth sawfish  © Simon Fraser University

Sharks that use a whip-like tail to stun their prey, rays with saws on their faces, and river rays half the length of a bus are among the most unique species at risk of extinction according to the latest ranking from our pioneering EDGE of Existence programme.

The new list revealed today (Monday 3 Dec) ranks the world’s 50 most Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) sharks, rays and chimeras – known collectively as Chondrichthyes.

These mythical-sounding (but very real) creatures have no bones in their bodies, only cartilage and appeared more than 400 million years ago, roaming the seas when dinosaurs lived. Each species on this list has few or no remaining close relatives, effectively representing distinct branches of the tree of life and making each of them truly irreplaceable. If they go extinct, we will have nothing like them left on the planet. 

Topping the new list, at number one is the largetooth sawfish (Pristis pristis), which also holds the distinction of being the highest-ranking EDGE species in the world. Using an elongated snout (rostrum) lined with teeth on each side to slash at its prey, the large-tooth sawfish is facing threats from unsustainable fishing activities as it’s often caught as by-catch in nets.


Prescribed burning not as damaging as previously thought – University of Liverpool

Prescribing burning at Moor House National Nature Reserve (University of Liverpool)New research by the University has found that prescribed burning, a controversial technique where fires are intentionally used to manage vegetation, is not as damaging to peat growth as previously thought if carried out on a sensible rotation, and can produce several positive outcomes.

Prescribing burning at Moor House National Nature Reserve (University of Liverpool)

In a study published in Nature Geoscience, scientists analysed data from a long-term ecological experiment at Moor House National Nature Reserve which contained areas of moorland that only been burned in 1954, or since 1954 had burned either every ten or every twenty years. These were compared with “control” areas unburned since the 1920s.

Analysis of changes in vegetation composition, led by Emeritus Professor Rob Marrs from the University’s Department of Earth, Oceans & Ecological Sciences, found that the areas which hadn’t been subjected to any prescribed burns were dominated by heather, and other low-level, peat-forming species, and contained less good peat-forming species such as Sphagnum mosses and cotton grasses.

New stratigraphical data collected on the rate of peat and carbon accumulation led by Professor Richard Chiverrell from the University’s Department of Geography & Planning measured numerous peat profiles sampled from the different prescribed burn areas.

Professor Chiverrell said: “This is first time that stratigraphical techniques have been used within the structure of a designed experiment. Our data show only limited reduction of peat and carbon accumulation with increased burning treatments. Crucially, there was continued peat and carbon accumulation even in the areas that had undergone the regime of most frequent burning.”

The paperExperimental evidence for sustained carbon sequestration in fire-managed, peat moorlands’ is published on 3rd December 2018 in Nature Geoscience (doi: 10.1038/s41561-018-0266-6.)


Women encouraged to apply for hi-tech conservation opportunities – Forestry Commission Scotland

Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) is getting behind a Scottish Government drive to attract more women into the technology and science sectors.

The move, which offers four hi-tech and science based placements, is part of a national effort to address the gender imbalance in the workplace, and will also boost the career prospects for the four successful applicants.

Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing said: “People with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills are increasingly in demand amongst a wide range of employers. Forestry is no different. Modern forestry is a hi-tech industry that offers fantastic opportunities to develop skills in a number of challenging technical roles. However, only around 25 per cent of STEM jobs are filled by women, so there is clearly a latent pool of technical talent, creative thinking and new perspectives that could be tapped to help Scotland stay at the forefront of innovation.”

The three-month placements will see three successful candidates work on data science projects with FES’s Geographical Information Systems (GIS) team, which uses state-of-the-art technology to support forestry and land management operations across the country.

A fourth successful candidate will work with the lead ecologist in FES supporting high profile species conservation work. 


New trees to breathe fresh life into fire and drought ravaged moorland – Woodland Trust

More than 5,500 trees will be planted as a site continues its rebirth following a summer of devastating wild fires and drought.
Evidence of the fire is still clear at the site (Photo: Russell Hedley/WTML)Winter Hill in Bolton hit the headlines in July after a fire - thought to have been lit by arsonists – ripped through moorland and trees.
Evidence of the fire is still clear at the site (Photo: Russell Hedley/WTML)

The Woodland Trust was gamely assisted by troops of volunteers and firefighters as they battled the fire by land and by air at the Smithills Estate (1,700 acres). But sadly a third of the site was damaged with dozens of species – such as brown hares and common lizards - pushed out or incinerated if they could not flee in time.

Coupled with this, the site also suffered one of its biggest ever droughts putting extra strains on the ecosystem. 
Now, as the charity prepares to plant new trees – the first since the fire - life really is beginning return to a land that just a few months ago was charred, blackened and still smoking.

Chris Waterfield, general manager at the site said: “The fire seems like yesterday and when it hit, it was a massive state of emergency – something that as a charity we had not handled before. We worked round the clock with local services to bring it under control. Unfortunately we did lose 2,000 trees to the flames and since then we have been busy looking at how to restore the land and try and mitigate future disasters. Planting these trees is another step as we help the land recover from its troubled summer.”


UK-wide consortium to combat serious threat to plant health - BBSRC

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Right Honourable Lord Henley, announces funding for a major bacterial plant diseases research programme supported by UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

(image: BBSRC)The first phase of this investment initiates a UK-wide consortium to prepare for the possible introduction and spread of the devastating plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa into the UK.

(image: BBSRC)

BRIGIT, a consortium co-ordinated by the John Innes Centre, will work to enhance UK surveillance and response to Xylella fastidiosa. BRIGIT brings together ten leading UK research organisations, in a £4.85m programme aiming to improve methods of diagnosis and detection of Xylella, to identify factors that could lead to its spread, and to prepare to minimise the risk of the pathogen to the UK.

The bacterial plant diseases programme is a £17.7m collaboration between UK Research and Innovation Councils, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) - together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Scottish Government who are providing £1.1m of additional funding.

Professor Nicola Spence, Chief Plant Health Officer and Deputy Director for plant and bee health at Defra said: “I am delighted that UKRI, together with co-funders Defra and the Scottish Government, has agreed to fund this crucial research which will help us to better control bacterial plant diseases in the future. Protecting the UK’s plants from pests and diseases remains one of my Department’s highest priorities, and we need robust science to underpin our actions to combat these threats. Xylella fastidiosa is one such bacterial disease and will form the focus of the first phase of the research programme. The knowledge gained through this programme should assist us in further optimising our ongoing surveillance and ensure that our contingency plans are underpinned by the most up-to-date evidence available.”


State of Birds in Wales 2018 - BTO

Produced jointly by RSPB, BTO, Natural Resource Wales (NRW) and the Welsh Ornithological Society (WOS) , this report provides a current overview of the state of breeding and wintering bird populations in Wales, as well as information about recent conservation initiatives.

The State of Birds in Wales 2018 was published on 6 December 2018.

Chough by Jill PakenhamThis report includes an update of the latest Wales BBS trends for terrestrial and freshwater species, as well as the latest Wales WeBS trends for wintering waders, wildfowl and other waterbirds. Notable among the BBS results are the positive trajectories of Wales urban populations of House Sparrow, Feral Pigeon and Collared Dove relative to in the UK overall. Welsh House Martins are holding their own but Starlings are in steep decline.

Chough by Jill Pakenham

The Wales wild bird indicator, based on BBS results, tracks the declines since 1994 in both lowland and upland farmland bird species, as well as an upturn in woodland bird populations, the latter most notable over the past seven years.

Patterns of change

A special feature of this report is a section called ‘Patterns of change in Welsh birds’ in which key Wales-specific outputs of the 2007-11 Bird Atlas (Balmer et al. 2103) are highlighted. These include measures of the importance of Wales in supporting the UK breeding populations of Chough (76%), Pied Flycatcher (69%), Redstart (47%) and Honey Buzzard (47%) as well as significant proportions of the UK wintering populations of coastal species such Common Scoter and Guillemot as well as rarer winter visitors such as Brambling and Great Grey Shrike. 

Read the full report here  


Towns and cities benefit the same animals and plants everywhere - Natural History Museum

Human habitat modifications are favouring the same species everywhere, while unique species are disappearing, according to a new paper.  Man-made changes to habitats generally have a negative effect on the plants and animals living there - but not all species are affected equally by land use.

A study, published in PLOS Biology, was led by Dr Tim Newbold, a research fellow at University College London (UCL), and Prof Andy Purvis, a research leader at the Museum.

It used data from 81 countries to show that when humans modify natural habitats through farming, forestry or building, animals and plants that are unique to particular locations decline, replaced by those common to many places.

For instance, pigeons and rats benefit from cities and farms all over the world.  Researchers studied the area inhabited by nearly 20,000 different species of animals and plants. They showed that species already occupying a large area increased in places where humans use the land, while species occupying a small area are more likely to be lost.

Crucially, this pattern was seen in every kind of human land use - not just arable farms or urban areas, but also pastures, plantation forest and even land that is recovering from human use. This means that human actions are favouring the same species everywhere, while the many species that are unique to specific places are disappearing.

The findings suggest a disruption to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, which support our natural environment and are critical in our efforts to grow food.

Access the paper: Newbold T, Hudson LN, Contu S, Hill SLL, Beck J, et al. (2018) Widespread winners and narrow-ranged losers: Land use homogenizes biodiversity in local assemblages worldwide. PLOS Biology 16(12): e2006841.  


Forestry Commission act on tree pest detected in Kent - defra

The tree pest eight-toothed spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) has been discovered in Kent

Woodland managers, land owners, the forest industry and tree nurseries that supply mature conifer specimens are being urged to remain vigilant after the Forestry Commission identified a breeding population of the eight-toothed spruce bark beetle (Ips typographus) in Kent. This was as part of routine surveillance activity.

The tree pest eight-toothed spruce bark beetles (Ips typographus) (image: defra)The tree pest eight-toothed spruce bark beetles (Ips typographus) (image: defra)

The beetles have been discovered in a woodland setting, the government contingency plan has been initiated and the Forestry Commission has been designated the competent body for the outbreak.

Movement restrictions have been served on-site to minimise the risk of onward spread, while further investigations and surveillance of the area is conducted. Adult beetles will be dormant and hibernating at this time of year.

The eight-toothed spruce bark beetle does not affect human health but can be a serious and destructive pest of the spruce tree species across Europe, although it generally prefers weakened or damaged trees.

It has never been discovered in the wider environment in the UK before. Smaller spruce trees (less than fifteen years old), including domestic Christmas trees, are too small to be susceptible to infestation and very unlikely to be affected by this finding.


Otter cub washed away by storm to be rehabilitated by RSPCA

A thin otter cub suffering from hypothermia has been taken into RSPCA care.

The otter was found by a member of the public collapsed and very unwell at the side of the busy A470 in Ganllwyd, Gwynedd, and was rushed to a veterinary practice in Dolgellau.

otter cub in recovery (image: RSPCA)The vets found the otter to be seriously hypothermic and dehydrated, but luckily the vets managed to warm up and rehydrate the little otter, which weighed just 1.3kg, before contacting RSPCA for assistance.

otter cub in recovery (image: RSPCA)

RSPCA inspector Andy Broadbent said: “It is likely that the young otter cub was washed away during the flooding following storm Diana and ended up strung out at the roadside desperately in need of help.

“I collected him from the vets and transferred him to RSPCA Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre who will continue with treatment and will continue to monitor him closely. They will care for him until he is fit and healthy when he will be released back into the wild where he belong


Support for collaborative woodland management - Sylva

From today (7/12), users of our myForest service can query resource information across multiple properties which can help support collaborative woodland management.

Suited equally to woodland co-operatives or managers with multiple clients, the new functionality aims to improve efficiency by enhancing collaboration, with the main outcomes that more woodlands are managed well, and more home-grown timber reaches the market.

Most of Britain’s large plantation forests are managed as part of a crop rotation, but there are many smaller woodlands across the country, often part of mixed farms and estates under separate ownership, which are not being managed as costs can be prohibitive at small scales.

There can be distinct opportunities from scaling-up, such as: combining timber volumes to meet a new market demand; mixing timber from multiple small parcels to reduce haulage costs; or by undertaking similar operations at the same time of year to reduce costs. However, it can be complicated for agents managing data between clients, or for a co-operative project knowing enough about the resources managed by different members.

The new collaborative woodland management functionality in myForest aims to overcome these barriers by allowing users to query information across multiple clients/members


Survey reveals bovine TB in a fifth of roadkill badgers in Cheshire - University of Nottingham

The first study to test for bovine tuberculosis in badgers on the edge of the cattle TB epidemic in England, has shown that one in five badgers tested positive for the disease.

The pilot survey was carried out on road-killed badgers collected in Cheshire in 2014 through a local stakeholder TB Group that included farmers, wildlife groups and vets. Scientists from the Universities of Nottingham, Liverpool and Lancaster tested the carcasses for the bacteria that cause bovine TB, Mycobacterium bovis (M.bovis), and found that around 20% were infected.

Furthermore, the strain of M.bovis found in Cheshire badgers (SB0129 or genotype 25) was the same as that found in cattle in the same area. The results of the study have been published today, Thursday 6th December 2018, in Scientific Reports.

Although there have been several published studies of bovine TB (bTB) in badgers in the South West of England, where the infection is endemic in both cattle and badgers, this is the first study of infection in badgers on the expanding edge of the cattle epidemic. Previous studies in Cheshire, from between 10 and 30 years ago when bovine infection was rare in the area, found only a few infected badgers in the south-east of the county. 

However, while these findings strongly suggest that both badgers and cattle were part of the same geographically expanding epidemic in Cheshire, the direction of any cross-species transmission and the drivers of this expansion cannot be determined from this study. 

Read the paper: Elsa Sandoval Barron et al A study of tuberculosis in road traffic-killed badgers on the edge of the British bovine TB epidemic area Scientific Reports volume 8, Article number: 17206 (2018)  doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-35652-5 (Open access)


Butterfly sets up in the city - Butterfly Conservation 

A butterfly once restricted to a small part of Scotland is making a comeback by expanding its range in the countryside and moving into cities, wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation (BC) can reveal.

Scottish Speckled Wood (image: Butterfly Conservation)Just 50 years ago the Speckled Wood could only be found in small numbers on the west coast and around Inverness, but since then, its population has expanded rapidly.

Scottish Speckled Wood (image: Butterfly Conservation)

In the last five years the butterfly has colonised Edinburgh’s green spaces and has recently moved into Aberdeen.

The Speckled Wood has experienced an extraordinary 71% increase in distribution and 84% increase in abundance across the UK in the last 40 years as a result of the warming climate.

Anthony McCluskey, BC Scotland’s Urban Butterfly Project Officer, said: “Until this year, the only sighting of a Speckled Wood in Aberdeen was in 2015 at Hilton Woods, but now it’s been seen all over the city, including south of the Dee at the Kincorth Hill Nature Reserve.

“This is really exciting news because it’s now clear the butterfly has become established here and Aberdonians can officially add a new species of butterfly to the list of insects found flying throughout the city.”


Scientific publications

Donkersley, P. (2018) Trees for bees. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2018.10.024  (Open access)


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