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


Drones can detect protected nightjar nests – Cardiff University

Thermal-sensing cameras mounted on drones may offer a safer and more cost-effective way to locate nests of the elusive European nightjar in forestry work and construction areas, finds new research by Cardiff University.

The team from the University’s School of Biosciences conducted a pilot study in Bryn, a Natural Resources Wales conifer plantation in South Wales, to test the suitability of drones to detect nest sites of the protected bird.

“The current methods of searching for nightjar nests on foot are expensive and can pose a health and safety risk for people, particularly when accessing clearfell worksites,” said Mike Shewring, a PhD student from Cardiff University. “Nightjars are camouflaged to look just like a fallen log or dead wood. They nest on the ground and ‘sit tight’ when approached to avoid detection, which makes it nearly impossible to spot them during the day when they are inactive,” he added.

To test the new method, the team used the drones to take thermal photographs at nest sites, where observations and radio tracking previously showed European nightjars were breeding between May and August. Images were taken at various heights (10, 20 and 50 metres) at dawn, midday and dusk. The nests were observed from a distance to see if the drones caused any disturbance.


Baby seals at risk from chemicals in mothers’ milk - Abertay University

Baby seals around the UK coast are at risk from toxic chemicals present in their mothers’ milk, new research has found

Image: Abertay UniversityImage: Abertay University

Long-lasting chemicals from man-made contaminants have been recognised as harmful to wildlife since the 1970s, with marine mammals facing the biggest threat because they feed at the top of the food chain.

A substance ban designed to stop the damage has been in force since the early 2000s and helped reduce the levels of these chemicals, which enter the environment from the likes of paints, sealants, industrial lubricants, electrical transformers and pesticides.

However a new study, led by Abertay University in Dundee, in partnership with the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews and colleagues in Belgium, has now shown that ban may not go far enough to protect wildlife.

The team found that the chemicals - known as PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and DDT (Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) - can interfere with the way seal blubber tissue works, even at low exposure levels, potentially altering the way pups gain fat vital to their survival.

Part of the so-called “dirty dozen” marine pollutants, these chemicals are banned from production and release into UK waters under the Stockholm Convention, but still make their way into the sea through incineration, effluent and landfill, and can travel a long way from where they were released.


Gove launches landmark blueprint for resources and waste - Defra

Businesses and manufacturers to pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste under government’s Resources and Waste Strategy

Businesses and manufacturers will pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste, under a major new government strategy unveiled by the Environment Secretary today (Tuesday 18 December 2018).

The move will overhaul England’s waste system, putting a legal onus on those responsible for producing damaging waste to take greater responsibility and foot the bill.

The announcement forms part of the government’s ambitious new Resources and Waste Strategy, the first comprehensive update in more than a decade. It will eliminate avoidable plastic waste and help leave the environment in a better state than we found it for future generations.

Producers will also be expected to take more responsibility for items that can be harder or costly to recycle including cars, electrical goods, and batteries.

Householders will also see the existing complicated recycling system simplified, with new plans for a consistent approach to recycling across England. Timings for introduction will be subject to discussions at the Spending Review.


Reaction: Resources and waste strategy ‘a step in the right direction’, says CPRE

CPRE welcomes the long-anticipated launch of a Resources and Waste Strategy by the Department for En© CPREvironment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) today (18 December). It includes the commitment, previously made by environment secretary Michael Gove, to a deposit return system, for which CPRE has been campaigning.


The strategy aims to overhaul England’s waste system by valuing the resources that go into packaging, and make those who produce the packaging responsible for the cost of its recycling or disposal. CPRE warns, however, that it’s vital to ensure they are also responsible for the cost of its collection – otherwise, the whole system could be undermined.


£140,000 to help more children learn outdoors – Scottish Natural Heritage

Image: Scottish Natural HeritageSeven projects have been awarded a total of £140,000 to encourage more children in Scotland to enjoy and learn about the outdoors in their local area.

Image: Scottish Natural Heritage

The grants have been given in the second and final round of the two-year Outdoor Learning in Nature (OLIN) fund, which has now awarded over half a million pounds to 23 projects. It is administered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

The projects will work with around 40 schools to deliver regular outdoor learning activities to around 1600 pupils in their local greenspaces, as well as providing professional learning to approximately 400 teachers.

Pete Rawcliffe, SNH’s People & Places manager, said: “These programmes will make a real difference to children from the most deprived areas of Scotland, giving them regular, structured time outdoors. This is so important to set them up for heathy life-long habits. It will not only help them appreciate, learn about and connect with nature, but also spending time in nature has been proven to improve mental and physical health for people of all ages.”


Three yellowhammers, two turtle doves and a song thrush in a blackthorn – North York Moors National Park Authority

The North Yorkshire turtle dove project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is seeking land owners large and small who may be able to give the gift of improved habitat to native bird species in 2019.

Turtle Doves by Richard BennetTurtle Doves by Richard Bennet

Turtle doves, those symbols of love and friendship that we sing about each Christmas, are now critically endangered in the UK. Due in part to modern farming practices, the dense patches of scrub in which they nest and the wildflowers that provide them with seed have been lost. The North York Moors National Park is fortunate to be one of the few remaining strongholds for the species, and the turtle dove project is seeking individuals and community groups who can help restore some of the birds’ natural habitat.

“This autumn, nine different landowners and tenants have established 17 new turtle dove wildflower plots,” said Richard Baines, Turtle Dove Project Officer. “These include the Sawdon Community Nature Reserve Group, which has also planted a mixture of hawthorn, blackthorn and hazel to create a thicket of scrub, perfect to protect the delicate nests of turtle doves in future years. It’s a great start, but we need many more reserves if we are going to have a chance of making a difference.”


Hen harriers and red grouse: Finding common ground in a persistent conflict – University of Aberdeen

A conflict between those working to conserve numbers of hen harriers and those maintaining commercial shooting of red grouse in the English uplands has existed for decades with little sign of progress.

Image: University of AberdeenImage: University of Aberdeen

Drawing on work conducted in psychology, a new study published today in the journal People and Nature investigated the underlying values that hunters and conservationists hold that make it so hard to find shared solutions.

Ecological studies over the last 30 years have shown that hen harriers and other birds of prey are capable of reducing the number of grouse to such an extent that driven grouse shooting can become economically unviable. Consequently, hen harriers, although protected under UK legislation since 1952, are killed illegally on grouse moors.

Researchers from Bangor University and the University of Aberdeen surveyed a range of organisations that represent the interests of field sports (i.e. hunting, shooting, fishing) or nature conservation in England to assess their values and attitudes towards hen harriers, grouse shooting and potential management interventions.

Dr Freya St John from Bangor University said: “We found that people who are involved in field sports and those engaged in bird conservation hold more or less opposing views about human relationships with nature, challenging our ability to find shared solutions. Although there is general agreement about the evidence of the ecological relationships between hen harriers and grouse, there is much less agreement about the best approach to manage them.”

Read the paper: St John, F. A. V., Steadman, J., Austen, G. & Redpath,S. M. (2018) Value diversity and conservation conflict: Lessons from the management of red grouse and hen harriers in England. People & Nature. DOI: 10.1002/pan3.5 (open access)


Cairngorms writing project set to be a real page turner – Cairngorms National Park Authority

Image: Cairngorms National Park AuthorityAn exciting literary project for the Cairngorms National Park is set to come to life in the New Year with funding support from Creative Scotland. Anyone can get involved in the various aspects of the 12 month initiative with people encouraged to put pen to paper to share and explore the ways in which people and nature thrive together in the Park.

Image: Cairngorms National Park Authority

‘Shared Stories: A Year in the Cairngorms’ has been organised – and part funded – by the Cairngorms National Park Authority with a funding award of £8,000 from Creative Scotland and £10,000 from the Woodland Trust.

The financial support from partners has allowed the project to appoint the first ever Writer in Residence for the Cairngorms National Park, Merryn Glover from Kincraig.


Single-use plastics: Commission welcomes ambitious agreement on new rules to reduce marine litter - European Commission

The European Parliament and the Council of the European Union have reached a provisional political agreement on the ambitious new measures proposed by the Commission to tackle marine litter at its source, targeting the 10 plastic products most often found on our beaches as well as abandoned fishing gear.

Today's agreement is based on the Single-use plastics proposal presented in May by the Commission as part of the world's first comprehensive Plastics Strategy, adopted earlier this year, to protect citizens and the environment from plastic pollution whilst fostering growth and innovation. The new rules contribute to a broader effort of turning Europe into a more sustainable, circular economy, reflected in the Circular Economy Action Plan adopted in December 2015. They will place Europe's businesses and consumers ahead as a world leader in producing and using sustainable alternatives that avoid marine litter and oceans pollution, tackling a problem with global implications.

First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, responsible for sustainable development said: "I warmly welcome today's ambitious agreement reached on our Commission proposal to reduce single use plastics. This agreement truly helps protect our people and our planet. Europeans are conscious that plastic waste is an enormous problem and the EU as a whole has shown true courage in addressing it, making us the global leader in tackling plastic marine litter. Equally important is, that with the solutions agreed upon today, we are also driving a new circular business model and showing the way forward to putting our economy on a more sustainable path." 


(image: Neil Hulme)Volunteers recognised for work on butterfly conservation - South Downs National Park Authority

Work by the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service to support local butterfly populations around Winchester and Petersfield has been recognised by Hampshire & Isle of Wight branch of Butterfly Conservation.

(image: Neil Hulme)

Volunteer John Walton, who volunteers at the western end of the National Park, collected the branch Conservation Award 2018 ‘in recognition of an outstanding contribution to Lepidoptera conservation’. The award is for chalk grassland management tasks that the volunteers have carried out on Butterfly Conservation reserves.

The Volunteer Rangers can often be spotted on sites such as Magdalen Hill Down and Bentley Reserve where their work to conserve rare chalk grassland habitat supports 34 species of butterfly, including major breeding colonies of brown argus, green hairstreak and chalkhill blue.


First ever Eagles’ Schools initiative raises young conservationists - Scottish Natural Heritage

(image: Scottihis Natural Heritage)News release from the Golden Eagles in South Scotland Partnership

The groundbreaking South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project has launched what is believed to be the UK’s first-ever Eagles Schools initiative to help safeguard the future for Golden Eagles in Scotland.

(image: Scottish Natural Heritage)

Sixteen primary schools in the Scottish Borders and the Highlands are among the first to take part in the new initiative, which gives pupils the opportunity to learn first hand from experts working with the golden eagles about this iconic species and its importance to the natural environment.

Since the launch of the new scheme 324 pupils have had the opportunity to take part in a range of fun and inspiring activities, which reflect the Curriculum for Excellence and take an innovative approach to individual learning. Some even got to meet a golden eagle. The project is also now facilitating links between Eagle Schools in the south of Scotland and those in the north to provide exciting opportunities that are beneficial to both schools.


New environment protections set out in flagship bill - Defra

Draft clauses for the first Environment Bill for 20 years have been published by the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove

Today the Environment Secretary published draft clauses on environmental principles and governance to be included in an ambitious, broader Environment Bill set for introduction next year.

(image: Defra)(image: Defra)

Announced by the Prime Minister in July, the Environment Bill will be an essential step to put environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government.

It will create a new framework for environmental governance, demonstrating this government’s strong commitment to maintain environmental protection as we leave the EU.

The body will provide independent scrutiny and advice, and hold government to account on development and implementation of environmental law and policy. The government believes the independent body should have a clear remit, acting as a strong and objective voice for environmental protection.

It builds on one of the largest responses to a Defra consultation on the requirements for this draft legislation. The level of public interest in the Environment Bill is clearly demonstrated through the 176,746 responses.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said: “Today we have published our draft clauses for the Environment Bill which place our environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government. They set out how we will create a pioneering new system of green governance, placing our 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing. We will explore options for strong targets to improve our environment, and provisions on air quality, waste and water resource management, and restoring nature. Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than that in which we found it. We will keep building on our successes by enhancing our environmental standards and delivering a Green Brexit.”


Reaction: Draft Environment Bill Published Today - The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts call for major improvements to draft Environment Bill to put nature into recovery

The draft Environment Bill published today by the Government does not go far enough to tackle the serious environmental challenges we face or provide legal certainty for the future of our natural world, say The Wildlife Trusts. And nor does the accompanying policy note.

The Bill and policy note fall short in a number of ways:

  1. The proposed green watchdog is too weak.  Much more is needed if it is to bear any comparison to the environmental enforcement powers currently held by the European Commission and Court.  To do this the watchdog would need to be more independent and able to hold the whole Government to account, including through having powers to issue fines if the Government fails to implement environmental legislation properly.
  2. The Policy Note misses out nature recovery networks.  We are disappointed that it fails to propose key measures needed to secure nature’s recovery; not least requiring the production of nature recovery network maps and compliance with these. (See The Wildlife Trusts’ Wilder Britain proposals)

The Government has committed in its manifesto to being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it. Leaving the E.U. and then introducing a weak Environment Bill will not achieve this.  The Wildlife Trusts believe that this Bill, so far, is not good enough.


High-altitude forest to save rare trees and help mountain wildlife - Trees for Life

A new high-altitude forest of 10,000 rare mountain trees supporting wildlife including golden eagles and mountain hares is to be planted near Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands by Trees for Life next spring.

Image: Golden eagle © Mark Hamblin scotlandbigpicture.comThe waist-high trees form a unique and important wildlife-rich habitat called montane scrub. This should be common between woodlands and open hilltops, but it has now almost disappeared from Scotland – largely due to grazing pressure from sheep and high deer numbers over the centuries.

Image: Golden eagle © Mark Hamblin scotlandbigpicture.com

The project involves collecting seed from trees such as dwarf birch and downy willow on precipitous mountain ledges and rocky crags, sometimes with the help of qualified climbers.

Planting the woodland itself will be challenging because the location – at Beinn Bhan on the charity’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston – lies at more than 500 metres above sea level. But the site is perfect for the tough small trees – known as ‘montane’ species because they can grow near mountain summits, despite high winds and dramatic temperature changes.


Seal pup numbers increase on Farne Islands - National Trust

Atlantic grey seal pup numbers at one of the largest colonies in England have reached a record high thanks to a good supply of food and lack of predators, the National Trust can reveal.

The number of seal pups born on the Farne Islands, off the Northumberland coast, has increased by 50 per cent from 1740 in 2014 to 2602 this year.

The grey seal is a protected sea mammal with global numbers estimated to be around 300,000 half of which live in British and Irish waters.

The rangers, who live on the Islands for nine months of the year, count the seals every four days in the autumn once pupping season begins, weather permitting. Once born, they’re sprayed with a harmless vegetable dye to indicate the week they are born.  Using a rotation of three or four colours allows the rangers keep track of the numbers. 

Ranger Thomas Hendry commented: “Once all the seabirds leave in late summer, our attention turns to the seals.  The seal breeding season on the Farnes is usually mid to late September until December, with the majority of pups being born in October and November.  


HS2 Ltd approach to natural environment is derisory - The Wildlife Trusts 

The Wildlife Trusts condemn HS2 Phase 2b draft Environmental Statement. Public consultation closes Friday 21st December.

On Friday 21st December 2018 the public consultation into likely environmental impacts of the building and operating of Phase 2b of HS2 closes – it covers Crewe to Manchester and the West Midlands to Leeds.

HS2 Ltd’s own figures for the latest phase of the Phase 2b route show it will have a devastating impact on important places for wild plants and animals. 12 highly protected areas for nature conservation known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 111 Local Wildlife Sites and 19 ancient woodlands will be seriously damaged.

Katherine Hawkins, Senior Living Landscapes Officer at The Wildlife Trusts says: “HS2 Ltd’s work on this latest phase of the HS2 route is derisory in its assessment of the environmental impact. It is incomplete, there isn’t enough detail, there are significant omissions, it lacks sufficient proposals to compensate for nature’s loss, and to make matters even worse, there’s very little information about the impact on species. On the evidence, we have been given, this phase will result in an unacceptable level of damage to wildlife along the route.”

Wild and precious landscapes including ancient woods and rare peat bogs are under threat from the latest phase of the high-speed rail link – wildlife such as barn owls, otters, skylarks and endangered water voles will lose their homes as 176 miles of track is constructed.

Today (21/12) The Wildlife Trusts challenge HS2 Ltd to create and restore more wild places than are being destroyed and damaged by the construction of the route, and to save irreplaceable habitats like wetlands, and ancient woodlands from destruction.

Katherine Hawkins continues: “Due to the inadequate environmental statement, it’s hard to understand how HS2 Ltd will compensate for the damage that it will cause. Furthermore, it is unacceptable that HS2 Ltd has only committed to ‘no net loss’ for biodiversity.  At this rate, there will be a huge loss of wild habitats and species along the entire route of this £56 billion project at a time when HS2 Ltd should be committing to creating a ‘net gain’ for nature." 

 Beaver at Loch of the Lowes © Ron Walsh

Call for progress on protected status for Scotland’s beavers - Scottish Wildlife Trust

Several leading Scottish wildlife charities and individuals with an interest in conservation have signed an open letter to the First Minister calling for a firm commitment to finally granting protected status to beavers in Scotland. This comes one year after the announcement that legislation to secure European Protected Species status for beavers would be laid down in the Scottish Parliament in the first half of 2018.

Beaver at Loch of the Lowes © Ron Walsh

Click through to read the Open Letter: Scotland’s beavers need protection


Industrial fishing in marine protected areas poses significant threats to endangered sharks and other species - Dalhousie University 

What began as a Dalhousie PhD student’s investigation into North Atlantic shark populations turned into an eye-opening discovery that shows a number of European Union-designated marine protected areas (MPAs) are falling short of protecting threatened biodiversity. The research will be published in the leading international Science journal this week (Dec. 21).

While governments are rapidly expanding MPA networks across the globe — and that’s considered a positive step for ocean health — this Dalhousie-led research team is recommending the development and enforcement of minimum biodiversity protection standards for MPA designation in light of their findings. 

The biologists investigated a network of 727 MPAs in European Union territory. They show that industrial fishing activity is present in at least 432 of the 727 MPAs, or 59 per cent. That’s approximately 43,812 square kilometres of protected ocean.

“Industrially-fished marine protected areas will not adequately protect the species that most require it, such as sharks, skates and rays. These are among the most endangered marine animals today,” says first-author Manuel Dureuil, who is also president and co-founder of ShARCC. “Even though many of these MPAs were not established to protect sharks and rays, our findings question their effectiveness for biodiversity protection under current policy.”
The team was surprised to find that industrial trawl fishing, one of the most disruptive fishing practices, was 38 per cent higher per area in protected ocean zones when compared with non-protected zones. Dureuil was also able to show that shark, skate and ray populations decline by 69 per cent in heavily trawled areas, adding to the evidence that supports a call for improved MPA policies and minimum standards worldwide. 

Read the paper: Manuel Dureuil, Kristina Boerder, Kirsti A. Burnett, Rainer Froese, Boris Worm. Elevated trawling inside protected areas undermines conservation outcomes in a global fishing hot spot Science21 Dec 2018 : 1403-1407


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