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


Banned toxins passed from mother to young in European dolphins – University of St Andrews

Dolphins in the northern Adriatic contain high levels of PCBs – highly toxic chemicals banned in the 1970s and 1980s – and are passing the pollutant to their young, according to new research led by a marine scientist at the University of St Andrews.

Image courtesy of Tilen Genov; infographic courtesy of Genov et al, Morigenos – Slovenian Marine Mammal Society (Slovenia)Image courtesy of Tilen Genov; infographic courtesy of Genov et al, Morigenos – Slovenian Marine Mammal Society (Slovenia)

An international team of researchers evaluated PCB and other organochlorine contaminants in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) living in the Gulf of Trieste (northern Adriatic Sea), the northernmost part of the Mediterranean Sea and one of the most human-impacted areas in the Mediterranean.

They found that, overall, 87.5% of dolphins had PCB concentrations above the toxicity threshold for the onset of physiological effects in marine mammals, while 65.6% had concentrations above the highest threshold published for marine mammals based on reproductive impairment in seals. Such high contaminant levels are of concern, particularly in combination with other threats to dolphins, including bycatch in fisheries, disturbance by boat traffic, and prey depletion.

The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, involved Morigenos – Slovenian Marine Mammal Society (Slovenia), the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews (UK), the Zoological Society of London’s Institute of Zoology (UK), the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS, UK) and the Institute of Marine Sciences of the Italian National Research Council (Italy).


Trees can help mitigate farm ammonia emissions – Forest Research

A new calculator and planting guidance have been developed to help farmers decide which trees to plant, and in what formation, to mitigate the impact of ammonia emissions from animal housing and grazing areas.

The free, online tool and guidance are the result of a collaboration between Forest Research scientists and the Natural Environment Research Council’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), funded by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

Image: Forest ResearchImage: Forest Research

Agriculture is the main source of ammonia emissions in the UK, and animal housing units are responsible for around a quarter of the total ammonia produced by the industry.

Effects of ammonia

Locally, ammonia emissions can lead to excess nitrogen levels in sensitive habitats, which can in turn lead to a decline in the diversity of lichens, mosses and flora.

It can also lead to acidification of soils, create an unpleasant odour and combine with other pollutants to produce fine particulate matter pollution, which is harmful to human health.

Benefits of the new tool

The calculator is designed so farmers, regulators and planning authorities can maximise the benefits of planting tree shelterbelts for ammonia recapture. It provides an estimate of the percentage of ammonia that will be recaptured by the various planting options over different timespans.  


Public urged to have their say on National Parks and AONBs – Defra

The public have days left to have their say on what the future of England’s cherished designated landscapes will look like.

Credit: Lake District National Park In October, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and writer Julian Glover invited the public to respond to a Call for Evidence, which forms part of the government’s Designated Landscapes Review.

Credit: Lake District National Park

The Call for Evidence, ending on December 18, gives businesses, visitors, residents and community groups invested in our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) the opportunity to make their voices heard.

The public can input on whether England’s 10 National Parks and 34 AONBs meet the nation’s needs, and whether there is scope for the current network to expand.

The Call for Evidence also focuses on whether housing and transport in protected landscapes could be improved, the role they play in our cultural heritage, and how these iconic areas can boost habitats for wildlife.

The responses will form part of the ongoing review into protected landscapes – led by Julian Glover – which is ensuring our National Parks and AONBs can be fit for the 21st century.

Lead Reviewer Julian Glover said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for the public to help shape the very lay of the land when it comes to the future of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. By sharing your thoughts on what is and isn’t working in these cherished landscapes you are ensuring that they can be best enjoyed by us, and by generations to come.”


'Huge opportunity to change the future of our country' says Euan Hall as Land Trust publishes 2017-18 annual review - The Land Trust

Land Trust Chief Executive, Euan Hall, says there is ‘a huge opportunity to change the future of our country’ as the national land management charity publishes its 2017-18 annual review.

As the Land Trust looks back on a year which has seen 1.3 million people spend time on their green spaces spaces, 40,000 volunteer hours completed and 13,200 individuals taking part in educational and training activities, the Trust is now turning its attention to areas such as public health, economy and the environment.

The review is available to read online here.

Writing in the review, the organisation’s chief executive, Euan Hall, says: “As the 15th anniversary of the Land Trust rapidly approaches it is incredible to see how far we have come and how many people’s lives we are positively affecting. We are an organisation with big ambitions and we recognise that we now have an opportunity to help tackle some of the biggest issues currently being faced by our country. It has been well documented that the NHS is struggling financially, crippled under the growing weight of preventable, long term and non-communicable diseases, caused in part by inactivity. In 2019 and beyond the Trust is committed to working with our communities to help them take more responsibility for their own health, thereby relieving the NHS of unaffordable expenditure.”


Reports confirm importance of Orkney’s seas to waterbirds - Scottish Natural Heritage

The importance of Orkney’s seas for wintering waterbirds, including ducks, divers, grebes and shags, is highlighted by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) surveys published today.

Reports confirm importance of Orkney’s seas to waterbirds: Eiders (image: Scottish Natural Heritage)The surveys covered the Scapa Flow proposed Special Protection Area (pSPA) and the North Orkney pSPA. The population estimates for the species surveyed were the highest yet recorded, totalling over 11,460 birds in North Orkney and 9,680 birds in Scapa Flow.

Reports confirm importance of Orkney’s seas to waterbirds: Eiders

(image: Scottish Natural Heritage)

The surveys confirm the international importance of these waters to wintering waterbirds indicated by previous surveys, dating back as far as the 1970s. In fact, the work found that Orkney holds more than 40% of great northern divers, Slavonian grebes and long-tailed ducks wintering in Great Britain.

Sally Thomas, SNH’s Director of People & Nature, said: “Orkney is a special place for wildlife, including wintering waterbirds. These surveys vividly illustrate how important Orkney’s seas are to these birds, some of which migrate long distances from breeding grounds in Northern Europe to winter here. It’s remarkable that more than 40% of some of waterbirds overwintering in Britain are found in Orkney waters.”


Scientists identify 66 alien species that pose the greatest threat to European biodiversity - Centre for Ecology and Hydrology 

Scientists have identified 66 alien plant and animal species, not yet established in the European Union, that pose the greatest potential threat to biodiversity and ecosystems in the region.  From an initial working list of 329 alien species considered to pose threats to biodiversity recently published by the EU, scientists have derived and agreed a list of eight species considered to be very high risk, 40 considered to be high risk, and 18 considered to be medium risk.

The research, led by Professor Helen Roy of the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and involving 43 people from across Europe and funded by the European Commission, is due to be published on 13 December in the journal Global Change Biology.  

Species considered included plants, terrestrial invertebrates, marine species, freshwater invertebrates and vertebrates. 

The research provides a basis for full risk assessments that can comprehensively evaluate the threat posed by these species to EU biodiversity.

Professor Helen Roy of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said: “Preventing the arrival of invasive alien species is the most effective way of managing invasions. Predicting which species are likely to arrive and survive in new regions involves considering many interacting ecological and socio-economic factors including climate but also patterns of trade."

Read the paper: H.E.Roy, S. Bacher et al. (2018). Developing a list of invasive alien species likely to threaten biodiversity and ecosystems in the European Union. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14527 (open access)


Survey reveals record number of UK’s tallest bird - Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

2018 has been the most successful year for Britain’s tallest bird – the Eurasian crane – since the 17th Century, according to figures released today.

cranes (image: WWT)A record 54 pairs produced 25 chicks, bringing the national total population up to around 180 birds. The last time there were that many was the 1600s – before large areas of Britain’s wetlands were drained for farming.

cranes (image: WWT)

The success is the result of a near decade-long conservation plan to bring back the species – the Great Crane Project. This involved creating new wetland habitat, better managing existing wetlands, and hand-rearing birds to release into the wild to kick start the British population again.

Baz Hughes, WWT’s Head of Conservation Action said: “As part of the Great Crane Project, we reared 93 young cranes in purpose-built facilities at WWT Slimbridge and released them at the Somerset Levels and Moors over five years. The cranes adapted to life in the wild more successfully that anyone predicted and by the end of 2018, we have had nearly 60 nesting attempts events from which 18 chicks have successfully fledged, effectively doubling the UK population.”


Tree TLC on the radar for iconic Grantham Oak - Woodland Trust 

One of Grantham’s iconic trees is getting some Tree-LC to keep it safe for future generations.

The Woodland Trust and South Kesteven District Council are working together to install a protection zone around the Grantham Oak on Belton Lane after concerns were raised about vehicles parking too close and damaging its roots.

As part of that work Peter Barton, one of only four expert root radar surveyors in the country, has been mapping the spread of the tree’s roots.

Denise Tegerdine and Joseph Coles from our street trees team are shown the radar survey by expert Peter Barton, watched by South Kesteven District Council's senior enforcement officer for planning, Jonathan Short, and housing officer Robin Atter. (Photo: Patrick Astill)Denise Tegerdine and Joseph Coles from our street trees team are shown the radar survey by expert Peter Barton, watched by South Kesteven District Council's senior enforcement officer for planning, Jonathan Short, and housing officer Robin Atter. (Photo: Patrick Astill)

Last year a utility company parked vans and stored equipment against the tree, resulting in concerned residents contacting the Trust. The charity got in touch with the council, who sent a tree officer to inspect the site and ordered the company to remove its equipment.

Joseph Coles, who leads on the Trust’s Street Trees project, said:
“This amazing tree is not only important for wildlife and a valued public amenity, it’s also helping to improve air quality at the side of a busy road. It’s recorded on the ancient tree inventory as needing special recognition, and that’s what we aim to give it, especially as Grantham is also the home of the Woodland Trust. Most tree roots grow within the first few feet of soil, so the weight of a car can easily crush them. Preventing damage to the most important structural and feeding roots will ensure the Grantham Oak remains a tree the town can continue to be proud of.”


Grouse moor regulation vital to end illegal killing of Scotland’s raptors - RSPB 

A new RSPB Scotland report published today has further reinforced the need for grouse moor regulation to be introduced in order to bring to an end to the widespread persecution of raptors in Scotland. The Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey in Scotland 2015-17 details the clear associations between the decline or absence of these birds in parts of Scotland’s uplands, intensive grouse moor management and wildlife crime.

The report brings together evidence from police investigations, scientific research and eye-witness accounts and shows that the vast majority of these raptor persecution incidents are occurring in areas of Scotland’s uplands managed for intensive driven grouse shooting. 

Poisoned Buzzard (image: RSPB)Poisoned Buzzard (image: RSPB)

During the three-year period covered, there were 38 confirmed, detected incidents of illegal killing of protected birds of prey, including shooting, trapping, illegal poisoning and nest destruction. However, the evidence makes clear that the crimes being recorded are a fraction of what is actually taking place, despite claims by some in the grouse moor industry that raptor persecution is falling.  

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Scotland’s birds of prey are for many a source of national pride, but there are some who are persistently intent on doing them harm, in flagrant disregard of the law and the public interest. There is clear and repeated evidence that this criminal activity is largely taking place on Scotland’s grouse moors, but the grouse industry has not addressed this long-standing and endemic problem; instead we are seeing increasing signs of a culture where some grouse moor managers feel, and act, as if they are untouchable. We believe that the majority of the Scottish public have had enough; repeated warnings from Government have not been heeded, and the time must be right for tougher action”.

The report can be downloaded here.


Reaction: New report on the killing of birds of prey should spur action on wildlife crime - Scottish Wildlife Trust (blog)

Our Director of Conservation Susan Davies explains why a new report on crimes against birds of prey highlights the need for targeted action including a new system of licensing for moorland management.  


Response: Statement on RSPB call for grouse moor licensing regime - Scottish Land and Estates

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The Scottish Wildlife Crime Report published annually by the Scottish Government has reported a significant decline in raptor persecution." He continued: “There is an independent review of grouse shooting ongoing and that should be allowed to take its course. We do not believe that a licensing system is the most effective away forward and such a scheme could put rural livelihoods at risk without achieving what it is intended to do.”


New project could help young people make lifelong connection to nature - North York Moors National Park

The North York Moors National Park Authority has been given initial National Lottery support* for a grant to help encourage families and young people to learn more about nature. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant, made possible by National Lottery players, would allow the Park to double its current outreach provision, reaching more than 300 additional children over the duration of the project.

The North York Moors Explorer Club provides families with the opportunity to learn more about the special habitats of the North York Moors, whilst undertaking practical conservation work to protect and enhance them. The Club has been so successful that a waiting list has been introduced. For older children and teenagers there’s the Young Ranger initiative, which combines practical volunteering tasks (such as clearing vegetation and path repair) with fun activities and learning. Again, the popularity of the group means it now needs to expand, so the National Park Authority is delighted to have been given the green light from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to further develop its Education programme.  

Heather McNiff, Head of Education and Youth Engagement at the National Park, said:

“Thanks to National Lottery players, this initial development grant of £13,300 from the HLF will allow us to reach out to schools and community groups who might benefit from our youth engagement work, so this is really excellent news. We’ll also be providing additional training to staff and gathering further evidence of just how much difference these groups make to families living in North Yorkshire and Teesside.”


Spotted ray given second chance at Kimmeridge Bay - Dorset Wildlife Trust

When we found a Spotted ray egg case at Kimmeridge recently we weren’t at all surprised… until we took a closer look.  It seemed really fresh and in good condition and upon examination we couldn’t find any openings; it was still sealed, which meant the embryo must still be inside.  Further inspection revealed a slight movement, so not only was the embryo still inside, it was still alive!  To return the egg case to the sea at this point wouldn’t have helped as it was floating due to a small amount of air inside and would have only washed on again on the next tide.  The decision was made to take the egg case back to the Wild Seas Centre where it could be placed in a tank to continue its development and hopefully hatch into a healthy juvenile Spotted ray. 

A bit of research on the species discovered that Spotted rays typically lay their eggs between April and July in shallow waters around our coastline and the embryos take around 5 to 6 months to develop (Read more here). Without knowing exactly when the egg case was laid, we weren’t sure when it was likely to hatch.  It’s been amazing to watch the embryo developing inside the eggcase.  We’ve seen its tail wriggling to pump oxygenated sea water through the egg case  (watch this here) and by the end of October we could also see that its body was nearly filling entire the egg case so knew it must be close to hatching!

Two months after discovering the stranded eggcase, the wait was finally over and the ray hatched on 23rd November.  Measuring in at 12cm long (including the tail) and 7cm across its wings this miniature ray was already an expert at camouflage and with a little flutter of the wings it would disappear into the sand of its tank. When the weather conditions settled, the ray was released back into the sea at a sheltered site known to be a ray nursery area and we captured the moment the ray swam to freedom after being given a second chance. See the video here


Scientific Publications

Eric Harvey, Isabelle Gounand, Emanuel A. Fronhofer and Florian Altermatt. Disturbance reverses classic biodiversity predictions in river-like landscapes Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences DOI:1098/rspb.2018.2441 (open access)


Zorrozua, N. , Aldalur, A. , Herrero, A. , Diaz, B. , Delgado, S. , Sanpera, C. , Jover, L. and Arizaga, J. (2018), Breeding Yellow‐legged Gulls increase consumption of terrestrial prey after landfill closure. Ibis. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/ibi.12701


Rush, G. P., Clarke, L. E., Stone, M. & Wood, M. J. (2018) Can drones count gulls? Minimal disturbance and semiautomated image processing with an unmanned aerial vehicle for colony-nesting seabirds. Ecology & Evolution DOI: 10.1002/ece3.4495 (open access)


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