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


Government launches world leading plan to tackle air pollution - Defra

Government has launched an ambitious new strategy to clean up our air and save lives.

Clean Air Strategy logo (defra)Environment Secretary Michael Gove today (Monday 14 January) launched an ambitious new strategy to clean up our air and save lives.

Clean Air Strategy (defra)

Air pollution is one of the biggest threats to public health in the UK - behind only cancer, obesity and heart disease - and the measures set out in the Clean Air Strategy will cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030.

The UK will set an ambitious, long-term target to reduce people’s exposure to particulate matter (PM), which the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified as the most damaging pollutant. To inform development of this new target, the government will publish evidence early this year on what action would be needed to meet WHO guidelines.

This comes on top of a commitment to halve the number of people living in areas breaching WHO guidelines on PM by 2025. The UK is the first major economy to adopt air quality goals based on WHO recommendations, going far beyond EU requirements.

Launching the Clean Air Strategy, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “The evidence is clear. While air quality has improved significantly in recent years, air pollution continues to shorten lives, harm our children and reduce quality of life. We must take strong, urgent action. Our ambitious strategy includes new targets, new powers for local government and confirms that our forthcoming Environment Bill will include new primary legislation on air quality. While air pollution may conjure images of traffic jams and exhaust fumes, transport is only one part of the story and the new strategy sets out the important role all of us - across all sectors of work and society - can play in reducing emissions and cleaning up our air to protect our health.”

Read the policy paper: Clean Air Strategy 2019

This strategy sets out our plans for dealing with all sources of air pollution, making our air healthier to breathe, protecting nature and boosting the economy.


Response: Clean Air Strategy: Progress For Wildlife And People On Ammonia - The ‘Poor Cousin’ Of Air Pollution - Plantlife 

Twelve nature charities, including Plantlife, RSPB and Friends of the Earth, have welcomed new regulations to cut ammonia emissions announced in the Clean Air Strategy today.

This move is vital and long overdue given the ravaging effect ammonia has on wild plants, woodlands and meadows, and the wildlife that rely on them, and the disastrous impact of ammonia on people’s health. Cutting ammonia emissions by 50% could prevent the equivalent of around an estimated 250,000 premature deaths globally each year. 

Jenny Hawley, Senior Policy Officer at Plantlife, said: "Air pollution from farming has been neglected by policymakers for too long – with year-on-year increases in ammonia emissions. Voluntary measures haven’t worked, so the commitments to new regulation are a positive step forward. But the devil will be in the detail and the Clean Air Strategy must be translated into legislation without delay if it is to protect some of our rarest plants, lichens and fungi from extinction. Runaway ammonia emissions are contributing to unnaturally nutrient-rich soil conditions that are having a chilling impact on plant diversity. Many rare and threatened wildflowers like harebell and bird's-foot trefoil are being crowded out of the countryside by a marauding gang of 'nitrogen guzzlers' such as brambles and stinging nettles. The knock-on effects of habitats becoming nitrogen-rich ‘badlands’ can be lethal, for example the marsh fritillary butterfly feeds almost exclusively on Devil's-bit scabious, a plant that simply cannot survive in these conditions."


Research provides quality check on air pollution strategy  - CEH blog response 

Environmental Physicist Dr Eiko Nemitz of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who was involved in hosting the launch of the UK Government’s Clean Air Strategy, explains the role of the BT Tower Observatory in air pollution monitoring.


Roaming cats prey on their owners’ minds – University of Exeter

Many cat owners worry about their pets wandering the streets, but perceive cats hunting mice and birds to be unavoidable instinct, researchers at the University of Exeter have found.

Owners often dislike their feline companions’ compulsion to catch wildlife but feel unable, or unwilling, to control it.

Credit Jennifer BarnardCredit Jennifer Barnard

The researchers interviewed cat owners about their pets’ roaming and hunting behaviour, what worried them, and what they felt responsible for.

Hunting, and the resulting corpses on the kitchen floor, were seen as natural behaviour outside owners’ control. Those who did want to limit hunting felt this was difficult to achieve without locking cats indoors – and hardly any owners wanted this.

“We found a spectrum of views on hunting, from owners who see it as positive for pest control to those who were deeply concerned about its consequences for wild animal populations,” said lead author Dr Sarah Crowley, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “However, because hunting is a natural cat behaviour, few owners believed they could effectively control this without negatively affecting their cats’ welfare.”

Cats vary in the amount they hunt, with some catching multiple birds and small mammals every week, while many others stay indoors or rarely lift a predatory paw. 

Read the paper: Crowley SL, Cecchetti M, McDonald RA. Hunting behaviour in domestic cats: An exploratory study of risk and responsibility among cat owners. People Nat. 2019;00:1–13. doi: 10.1002/pan3.6 (open access)


Cities could play a key role in pollinator conservation – University of Bristol

Given the pressures that pollinators face in agricultural land, cities could play an important role in conserving pollinators, according to a new study. The research, carried out by scientists at the Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading in collaboration with Cardiff Image credit: Nadine MitschunasUniversity and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), has revealed that gardens and allotments are good for pollinators, and lavender and borage are important garden plants that pollinators use as food sources.

Image credit: Nadine Mitschunas

The study, published today [Monday 14 January] in Nature Ecology and Evolution, has assessed all major urban land uses for pollinators.  While there have been a few small-scale studies on pollinators in some urban land uses, this is the first-time scientists have considered cities in their entirety.

The research found that residential gardens and allotments (community gardens) are particularly good for pollinators, and lavender, borage, dandelions, thistles, brambles and buttercups are important plant species for pollinators in urban areas. 

The team also designed a new measure of management success, based on community robustness, that considers the stability of whole communities of pollinators, and not just individual species.  Robustness is a measure of how a community responds to species loss; robust communities can survive the disappearance of some species but species loss in fragile communities leads to a domino effect of other extinctions.

Read the paper: Baldock, K. C. R. et al (2018) A systems approach reveals urban pollinator hotspots and conservation opportunities. Nature Ecology & Evolution (2019) DOI: 10.1038/s41559-018-0769-y (open access)


Spring 2019 arrived in November 2018, says Woodland Trust - Woodland Trust

Flowering snowdrops are among the early records (Photo: Philip Formby/WTML)The Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar project has received over 64 records of early spring activity that started in November 2018 – including insects that have been spotted active up to 5 months earlier than normal.

Flowering snowdrops are among the early records (Photo: Philip Formby/WTML)

Mild weather seems to have temporarily disturbed insects from hibernation. A small tortoiseshell butterfly appeared flying outdoors on Christmas Day in Merthyr Tydfil, and a red tailed bumblebee on Boxing Day in Somerset. The average date for small tortoiseshells is 14 April, and bumblebees 26 March – making both over three months early. Even earlier still, a red admiral was seen on 17 December in Cambridgeshire; the average emergence date is 7 May, making it nearly five months ahead of schedule.1

Members of the public have sent in many other signs that spring has sprung:

  • Flowering snowdrops were spotted in Southampton on 30 November – over a month earlier than expected - and there have been 24 records of this in total
  • There have been 23 hazel flowering records, beginning 1 December. This usually happens in early March
  • A flowering oxeye daisy was seen in Gloucestershire on 28 December, despite normally blooming from mid-April to early June.

Even birds have made an early appearance. The song thrush has been heard in eleven locations since 5 December and is increasingly reported singing all winter, though expected mid-late March.  Blue tits were also seen exploring a nesting box on 26 December, though the UK average date for nesting is 4 April.


Committee urges Government action to stop using seas as a sewer - Environmental Audit Committee

The Environmental Audit Committee Sustainable Seas Report highlights action needed on climate change, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, and marine conservation. The MPs call on Government to bring forward the UK’s 2042 target date for achieving zero avoidable plastic waste and to rapidly decarbonise our economy to meet net-zero emissions by 2050.

Committee urges Government action to stop using seas as a sewer

  • Plastic pollution in oceans is set to treble in the next 10 years
  • UK must drive global efforts to protect the oceans with a legally binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’
  • Our seas face a triple threat from climate change causing warming, deoxygenation and acidification – which threatens all coral reefs
  • Deep sea mining risks catastrophic impacts on seafloor species and habitats
  • Long-term harm from plastic pollution is unknown according to the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser ‘because we haven’t looked hard enough’

The Government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ treatment of the oceans puts marine resources at great risk. Climate change poses a triple whammy of threats to oceans from warming, deoxygenation and acidification.

Read the full report: Sustainable seas


Map of chemicals in jellyfish could be the future to protecting UK waters and marine life - University of Southampton

Jellyfish caught in UK waters were used to map chemical variations in marine life (image: University of Southampton)Scientists at the University of Southampton have developed maps of chemicals found in jellyfish which could offer a new tool for conservation in British waters and fisheries. The maps will also be able to detect fraudulently labelled food in retail outlets by helping to trace the origins of seafood.

Jellyfish caught in UK waters were used to map chemical variations in marine life (image: University of Southampton)

The Southampton based research team including Dr Clive Trueman, Dr Katie St. John Glew and Dr Laura Graham, built maps of the chemical variations in jellyfish caught in an area of approximately 1 million km2 of the UK shelf seas. These chemical signals vary according to where the fish has been feeding due to differences in the marine environment’s chemistry, biology and physical processes.

Dr Katie St john Glew explains “The chemical differences detected in the jellyfish are also present in other animals throughout the food chain, like seabirds, seals and fishes. This means that we can measure the same signals in, for example feathers from seabirds or fresh fish fillets, then match them back to the jellyfish map and work out where the birds have been feeding or where the fish was most likely caught.” 


Big Farmland Bird Count returns to Scotland - GWCT

(image: GWCT)Farmers, landowners and game keepers across the country are being urged to take part in the Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC), which is back for the sixth successive year.

Chaffinch (image: GWCT)

The nationwide citizen science project calls on farmers, land managers and gamekeepers to spend 30 minutes spotting species on their patch of land between the 8 and 17 February 2019 and the results will aim to establish which farmland birds are thriving due to good conservation efforts whilst identifying the ones in need of most help.

Dave Parish, GWCT Scotland’s Head of Lowland Research said: “Many farmers do a lot on their farms to encourage birds and other wildlife, but the wider public doesn’t yet really seem to appreciate that. All we want is for as many individual farmers as possible to spend just half an hour counting birds on a part of their farm so that we can tell everyone about the good work that is going on.”

Last-year saw a record-breaking 1,000 responses to the UK count, recording 121 species across 950,000 acres.


New study shows nationally important New Forest wildlife sites under pressure - New Forest National Park

A new study calculates that the New Forest now has over 15 million recreational visitor days each year – up 12% from the last study in 2004.

This means there are more visitor days per square mile of protected conservation area than any other English national park.

The visitor research by RJS Associates was commissioned by the National Park Authority and its partners*. It predicts that by 2037 there will be over 17 million recreational visitor days a year to the National Park.

Over half (56%) of the New Forest National Park is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – areas which are protected because of their rare habitats and wildlife. This is a higher proportion than all the nine other English national parks (the next highest is the Peak District at 35%). The new visitor calculations therefore equate to an average of 39,000 visitor days a year per square mile of protected habitat.

New Forest National Park Authority Chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: ‘I think people will be surprised to read just how much pressure the New Forest is under and the huge number of visits to these protected habitats. There are important health and economic benefits to this recreational activity. The New Forest is also home to some of the UK’s and Europe’s rarest wildlife species and habitats. This is why all the organisations responsible for caring for this precious area are working together to manage it for both people and wildlife. This new study will help inform future decisions.’ 

Further survey work is currently under way, with thousands of people being interviewed about how they use the New Forest for recreation.

Download the study and comparisons with other English National Parks.


South Scotland Golden Eagle Project news release: Scottish Scouts launch new initiative to safeguard the future of golden eagles in the UK - Scottish Natural Heritage

Working closely with the groundbreaking South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project, a Scottish Scout group is launching the first ever Golden Eagle Champions initiative to help safeguard the future of golden eagles in the UK.  

SSGEP eagle sketch (via SNH)SSGEP eagle sketch (via SNH)

The Scottish Borders Innerleithen Scout Group will become the UK’s first-ever Golden Eagle Champions, learning from experts and getting to see some of these iconic birds themselves.  The Borders’ Scouts will also be designing a special badge that the group can earn as part of their work on this project.

Speaking on the launch of the initiative Philip Munro, Community Outreach Officer for the South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project said: “It is fantastic to see our golden eagles thriving and fending for themselves only five months after their release. Significant community support has been key to this early success and will continue to play a vital role in ensuring that golden eagles truly flourish in the south of Scotland.

“We are absolutely delighted to be working with the Scottish Borders Scouts, and their trailblazing Innerleithen Group, on the UK’s first ever Golden Eagle Champions initiative. The future of conservation depends on initiatives like this that encourage young people to get involved and make a difference.  Their involvement will truly lead the way for other local Scout Groups and make a huge contribution to helping to safeguarding the future of this iconic species in the south of Scotland and beyond.”  

For the latest news on the project visit: www.goldeneaglessouthofscotland.co.uk


Local focus could help tackle global problems - University of Exeter 

People’s love for their local areas could be harnessed to tackle global environmental problems, researchers say.

Parochialism (a focus on a local area) is often viewed negatively, and is sometimes seen as being akin to “nimbyism” – characterised by insularity and selfishness.

But researchers from the University of Exeter argue that “positive parochialism” could be a foundation for environmental concern and action.

Their study revisits the Parish Maps project instigated in 1987 by UK arts and environment charity Common Ground, and finds the project offers a “foundation for ecological concern that remains relevant today”.

“The Parish Maps project was hugely popular at the time, but has been somewhat overlooked since it ended,” said Professor Patrick Devine-Wright, of the University of Exeter.

“It led to a huge upswell in local environmentalism and the creation of thousands of maps across the UK and beyond. We argue that it represents parochialism without the negative connotations many people associate with that word.

Read the paper (open access pdf): Devine-Wright P, Smith J, Batel S. “Positive parochialism,”local belonging and ecological concerns: Revisiting Common Ground's Parish Maps project. Trans Inst Br Geogr. 018;00:1–15. doi: 10.1111/tran.12282


Salmon found in River Don at Sheffield - Environment Agency

adult salmon has been found in the River Don at Salmon Pastures confirming the species’ return to Sheffield city centre after an absence of 150 years.

The body of the 79cm (31 inches) salmon was reported to the Environment Agency by a member of the public on Wednesday 2 January. It appears to have died from natural causes.

Fisheries officer Jerome Masters with the salmon at the River Don in Sheffield (image: Environment Agency)Fisheries officer Jerome Masters with the salmon at the River Don in Sheffield (image: Environment Agency)

Coincidentally, January marked the beginning of the International Year of the Salmon, an initiative to support the conservation and restoration of wild salmon species.

Following the recent push to improve water quality and introduce more fish passes to facilitate the migration of our native fish, the re-colonisation of salmon in the Don is now becoming a reality.  The Environment Agency’s partnerships with the Don Catchment River Trust, Yorkshire Water, Canal and River Trust and Sheffield City Council has introduced multiple new fish passes.

Examination by Environment Agency fisheries specialists confirmed the female fish had recently spawned. Salmon often die after spawning, consequently, there is no reason to suspect anything other than a natural cause of death. Prior to spawning, the fish probably weighed between 10 to 12 lbs (4.5 to 5.5 kg).  Growth patterns in the scales showed the salmon spent two years in freshwater before spending two years at sea. Most salmon return home to the river where they were born, but some will stray up the ‘wrong’ river. This is how they can recolonise rivers where they may have become locally extinct, such as the River Don.


Scientific Publications

Santini, L. , Butchart, S. H., Rondinini, C. , Benítez‐López, A. , Hilbers, J. P., Schipper, A. , Cengic, M. , Tobias, J. A. and Huijbregts, M. A. (2019), Applying habitat and population‐density models to land-cover time series to inform IUCN red list assessments. Conservation Biology. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/cobi.13279


MacDonald MA, Angell R, Dines TD, et al. Have Welsh agri-environment schemes delivered for focal species? Results from a comprehensive monitoring programme. J Appl Ecol. 2019;00:1–12. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13329


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Disclaimer: the views expressed in these news pages do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of CJS.