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


Street light switch-off benefits night-time pollinators – University of York

Switching off street lights in the middle of the night to save money and energy could have a positive knock-on effect on nocturnal pollinators, according to new research.

Light pollution significantly alters moth activity and this in turn is disrupting their role as pollinators (University of York)Light pollution significantly alters moth activity and this in turn is disrupting their role as pollinators (University of York)

The study, led by experts from the universities of York and Newcastle, has shown that turning off street lights even for just part of the night is effective at restoring the natural behaviour of moths.

The important role moths play in the pollination of plants – potentially even including key food crops such as peas, soybean and oilseed rape - is often overlooked.  But recent studies show that moths supplement the day-time work of bees and other pollinating insects.

Night-lighting disrupts nocturnal pollination by attracting moths upwards, away from the fields and hedgerows so they spend less time feeding and therefore pollinating.

However, the research team behind the study found there was no difference in pollination success between part-night lighting and full darkness.

Read the paper: Macgregor, C. J., Pocock, M. J. O., Fox, R. & Evans., D. M. (2019) Effects of street lighting technologies on the success and quality of pollination in a nocturnally pollinated plant. Ecosphere DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.2550

(open access)


Record-breaking year seals 30 years of breeding success at Blakeney Point – National Trust

A seal pup at Blakeney Point (National Trust / Ian Ward)Rangers at the National Trust’s Blakeney National Nature Reserve in Norfolk have confirmed that this year’s grey seal pups have surpassed 3,000 for the first time.

A seal pup at Blakeney Point (National Trust / Ian Ward)

With 3,012 pups born this winter, it’s the highest number since records began 30 years ago. 
The first grey seal pup was observed on Blakeney Point in 1988 and it then established itself as a rookery (breeding ground) in 2001 when 25 pups were born. Since then the colony has gone from strength to strength, with over 1,000 pups born in 2012, 2,000 in 2014 and numbers peaking at over 3,000 in December.

It’s believed that the remoteness of the reserve and limited disturbance is creating the perfect habitat for what has become the largest grey seal colony in England.

National Trust rangers monitor the colony by counting and recording seal pups throughout the winter. Ranger Leighton Newman, says: “The count, which began on 25 October started slowly with fewer numbers born in the early days compared to previous years; but by the last week of November, births were in full swing with an average of 150 pups being born every day. We’d like to say a really big thank you to all of our amazing and dedicated volunteers who have spent their time helping us to monitor the colony and speak to visitors this winter, in often cold and windy conditions. We are also fortunate to have a really supportive local community and visitors to the reserve. They have helped keep disturbance of the seals to a minimum, sticking to waymarked routes, staying clear of fenced off areas and ensuring that the seals have the space they need. This all helps ensure the colony can thrive.” 


Antarctic krill population contracts southward as polar oceans warm – British Antarctic Survey

Image: British Antarctic SurveyThe population of Antarctic krill, the favourite food of many whales, penguins, fish and seals, shifted southward during a recent period of warming in their key habitat, new research shows.

Antarctic krill are shrimp-like crustaceans which occur in enormous numbers in the cold Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. They have a major role in the food web and play a significant role in the transport of atmospheric carbon to the deep ocean.

Image: British Antarctic Survey

Important krill habitats are under threat from climate change, and this latest research – published today (21st January 2019) in Nature Climate Change – has found that their distribution has contracted towards the Antarctic continent. This has major implications for the ecosystems that depend on krill.

An international team of scientists, led jointly by Dr Simeon Hill at the British Antarctic Survey and Dr Angus Atkinson at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, analysed data on the amount of krill caught in nets during scientific surveys. The data covered the Scotia Sea and Antarctic Peninsula – the region where krill are most abundant. The team found that the centre of the krill distribution has shifted towards the Antarctic continent by about 440 km (4° latitude) over the last four decades.


Shoots urged to pay more attention to release pen locations, says new GWCT study – Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Advisors from GWCT are urging shoots to pay more attention to release pen locations and limit pheasant releasing density to reduce negative impacts on woodland flora.

Image: GWCTImage: GWCT

The advice follows a new study carried out by GWCT scientists that looked at the long-term effects of pheasants on the plant community.

Andrew Hoodless, Rufus Sage and Lucy Capstick studied sites which had previously been used as release pens for between 10 and 20 years but had not been used in the past three years.

Sixty-five of these sites were identified in woodland across Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex and Wiltshire.

For each of the disused pens, a reference, or “control” site, was identified in the same piece of woodland but away from the pen itself and from areas where pheasants tend to gather.

At each pen and its control pair, the plants were surveyed at points within the site. These vegetation surveys were carried out between April and July of 2006, 2008 and 2011, where they recorded the amount of bare ground, percentage of ground covered by each plant species and the vegetation cover between ground level and up to 2m in height. Soil samples were also taken at each site visited.

All these measurements were examined to identify any differences between the disused pens and their control sites, considering how long it had been since the pen was used, as well as the typical stocking density when birds were in the pens.

Interestingly, results showed that the changes in soil chemistry and plant species that are known to occur in pheasant release pens, such as an increase in ruderal plants and a decline in woodland specialist plants, continue to affect the area after pheasant release is no longer carried out.

Read the paper: Capstick, L. A., Sage, R. B. & Hoodless, A. (2019) Ground flora recovery in disused pheasant pens is limited and affected by pheasant release density. Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2018.12.020


North Sea rocks could act as energy stores – University of Edinburgh

Rocks in the seabed off the UK coast could provide long-term storage locations for renewable energy production, new research suggests.

An advanced technique could be used to trap compressed air in porous rock formations found in the North Sea using electricity from renewable technologies.

The pressurised air could later be released to drive a turbine to generate large amounts of electricity.

Meeting demand

Using the technique on a large scale could store enough compressed air to meet the UK’s electricity needs during winter, when demand is highest, the study found.

The approach could help deliver steady and reliable supplies of energy from renewable sources – such as wind and tidal turbines – and aid efforts to limit global temperature rise as a result of climate change.

New processes

However, the amount of energy produced by many renewable technologies varies depending on weather conditions.

There is a need for new processes that can store energy cheaply and reliably for months at a time, researchers say.

Energy potential

Engineers and geoscientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde used mathematical models to assess the potential of the process, called compressed air energy storage (CAES).

The team then predicted the UK’s storage capacity by combining these estimates with a database of geological formations in the North Sea.

Porous rocks beneath UK waters could store about one and a half times the UK’s typical electricity demand for January and February, they found.


Strengthened protection for Poole Harbour's unique range of wildlife – Natural England

The extension of the Poole Harbour Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) will see a further 1,800 hectares (ha) of land and sea brought within the site to help protect the entire harbour - an increase of 40 per cent.

Poole Harbour from Arne (Credit: Sue Macpherson ARPS)Poole Harbour from Arne (Credit: Sue Macpherson ARPS)

One of the country’s best-loved coasts will be better protected following the expansion of a major wildlife protection area in Dorset.

Natural England has confirmed the extension of the Poole Harbour Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The move will see a further 1,800 hectares (ha) of land and sea brought within the site to help protect the entire harbour - an increase of 40 per cent. It is the first SSSI specifically to include subtidal areas, which will protect the feeding areas of internationally important tern populations.

The beautiful Poole Harbour is a magnet for both people and wildlife.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove said: “Part of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex landscape, this protection of a large part of Poole Harbour will continue to ensure that generations to come can enjoy the Dorset coast. Through this action, Natural England is making a vital contribution to our nation’s cultural and environmental heritage. Our 25 Year Environment Plan includes a commitment to develop a Nature Recovery Network to protect and restore wildlife. Improving our protected areas will play an important role as we develop this network and work to realise our ambition to become the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”

This SSSI extension connects to a wide network of important habitats. The Dorset Heaths are one of the best examples of lowland heath in the world and Poole Harbour opens out onto outstanding marine habitat protected under the Bluebelt programme, including Poole Rocks Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ), and Studland Bay proposed MCZ.


Hen harrier ‘River’ disappears in suspicious circumstances - RSPB

This is the ninth bird tagged last summer to vanish in similar circumstances.

Last transmission showed the bird on a driven grouse moor in North Yorkshire. Police and the RSPB are concerned that the bird may have been illegally killed.

The police and the RSPB are investigating the sudden disappearance of yet another satellite tagged hen harrier in North Yorkshire, the county with the worst reputation for bird of prey persecution.

The bird, named River, was one of several hen harrier chicks in England fitted with a satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project last summer (2018). These lightweight tags allow the RSPB to monitor the birds after they fledge.

Her tag’s last known transmission came from a driven grouse moor between Colsterdale and Nidderdale – an area with a history of bird of prey persecution – on 14 November. She was known to have been hunting and roosting in the area for several weeks. RSPB Investigations staff and North Yorkshire Police searched the area, but there was no sign of the bird or the tag. She has not been heard from since.


New study demonstrates benefits of undervalued saltmarsh - University of Exeter

Credit Dr Katrina Davis A new tool which helps land managers assess the costs and benefits of re-introducing valuable saltmarsh, has been developed by economists and environmental scientists from the South West Partnership for Environmental and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP) at the University of Exeter.

Credit Dr Katrina Davis

Saltmarshes can be found in sheltered coastal areas and are expanses of salt water tolerant grassland, exposed at low tide. The study shows that saltmarsh has a positive effect on the local and wider environment by providing an important habitat for wading birds, nursery grounds for fish, and natural flood defences.

Yet the habitat is in decline with around half being lost around the world because of sea level rise, changes to water nutrient levels from agricultural run-off, and land development – saltmarsh competes with the high-value of coastal land for grazing or property development.

The SWEEP study, which was produced alongside partners from the North Devon Biosphere, promotes a new way for land managers and planners to appraise coastal land to fully capture the benefits saltmarsh brings to the environment and local economy.


WWF Welcomes Call by Sir David Attenborough for Global Environmental Action - WWF

WWF ambassador calls on global leaders to take action to protect the natural world in conversation with HRH Duke of Cambridge on-stage at the 2019 World Economic Forum

WWF welcomes today’s call from Sir David Attenborough, made in conversation with the Duke of Cambridge, in which he urged political and business leaders to protect the natural world. His call reinforces the urgent need expressed by WWF and other organizations for a new deal for nature and people in 2020 – an agreement which would aim to halt and reverse the loss of nature, and protect our planet.
WWF ambassador Sir David Attenborough joined the Duke of Cambridge in a conversation on-stage at WEF 2019, after Sir David was presented with the WEF Crystal Award on the opening evening. They discussed Sir David’s decades of work, from his first ever documentary series sixty years ago to his upcoming Netflix Original Documentary series Our Planet, which will be released on 5th April. The pair also watched a short clip about the impact of climate change on the Arctic from the series. The ground-breaking, eight-part series has been created in collaboration with Silverback Films, and WWF, and will showcase the planet's most precious species and fragile habitats.
Sir David spoke of his lifelong ambition to create societal affinity with the natural world through his work, and the need now for this affinity to translate into real, collective action to protect our planet. The pair discussed the urgent, environmental challenges that our generation is currently faced with, and the opportunities for global leaders and citizens to tackle them – before it’s too late.
Sir David Attenborough said: “We have to recognize that every breath of air we take, every mouthful of food we take comes from the natural world. And that if we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves…We have the power. We have the knowledge to actually live in harmony with nature.”


National Whale and Dolphin Watch 2018: the results are in! - Sea Watch Foundation

Last year’s event, which took place 28th July – 5th August, revealed striking biodiversity with an impressive thirteen species of cetaceans seen around the British Isles in just those few days, a number which was only been recorded once before. The total number of sightings collected was larger than last year, and the highest reported so far.

Bottlenose dolphins photographed off Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, on July 31st. Photo credit: Amber ThomasThe 2018 event totalled 1,328 hours of watches conducted, over 100 hours more than in 2016. Over 43% of the total amount of hours spent collecting effort-related data came from land-based locations.

Bottlenose dolphins photographed off Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, on July 31st. Photo credit: Amber Thomas

2018 marked the seventeenth year of Sea Watch Foundation’s National Whale and Dolphin Watch event, a citizen science project which has gained tremendous popularity over the years. “I am very proud of what we achieved with the help of wildlife enthusiasts and conservation and recording organisations around the country, who have contributed data collected from boats (inshore and offshore) and from land stations in different parts of the UK”, says Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli, Sightings Officer for Sea Watch and organiser of last year’s national event.

Access the full 2018 National Whale and Dolphin Watch report here


New contract extends fisheries partnership with the Angling Trust - Environment Agency

The Angling Trust has been awarded a new contract to undertake essential angling services including tackling illegal angling and encouraging more people to go fishing across the country.

Following a competitive procurement process, the Environment Agency awarded the contract as part of a continued drive to work with partners to ensure freshwater fisheries thrive and encourage more people to go angling throughout England.

The contract will run for up to 4 years and is worth £1.15 million a year. It is funded by income from fishing licence sales.

The priorities for the contract include:

  • recruiting and retaining more anglers,
  • providing expert advice on tackling non-native or invasive species, reducing predation and discouraging littering,
  • sharing important information with anglers on the fisheries issues that matter to them through social media and face-to-face forums; and
  • building effective enforcement partnerships with the police, angling clubs and fishery owners through the Voluntary Bailiff Service and Building Bridges project (aimed at educating and integrating migrant anglers about England’s angling laws and rules). 


£5,000 donation makes it even easier to get on your way in Ullswater - Lake District National Park

The Lake District National Park is thrilled to receive a generous donation of almost £5,000 for essential path restoration work on the popular Ullswater Way.

With New Year’s resolutions still forefront of many people’s minds, this is a great route to do as one 20 mile walk or as a series of shorter walks over a few days or weeks.

This fantastic donation from the Lake District Foundation charity and Ullswater Steamers will fund surfacing and drainage projects between Pooley Bridge and Gowbarrow Fell to improve ground conditions.

Lake District National Park rangers will carry out this work over the coming months. Dylan Jackman, Project Ranger said: “We have identified a number of sections of the Ullswater Way which are in need of improvement and are continually seeking funding for works to make the route an even greater success.  The generous support of Ullswater Steamers and Lake District Foundation allows us to continue to improve areas, meaning that this special area remains accessible and enjoyable for visitors.”

The £5,000 donation is the result of visitors to the area and local residents digging deep and donating to the Lake District Foundation. The money has been raised mainly through visitor giving on Ullswater Steamers coupled with wider donations from the local community since Storm Desmond in 2015.


Collaborative research led by the University of East Anglia has identified one of the causes of recent deaths in UK European brown hare populations. - University of East Anglia

Working together with diagnostic laboratories in England, Scotland and Germany, the first UK cases of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) have been detected in dead hares found in two locations – Essex and Dorset. 

Researchers from UEA joined forces with Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex Wildlife Trusts, the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the APHA Surveillance Intelligence Unit to investigate the cause of hare deaths following reports of sick and dead hares from members of the public.

Wild European Hare (image: Vlad Sokolovsky, Shutterstock via UEA)Wild European Hare (image: Vlad Sokolovsky, Shutterstock via UEA)

Lead researcher Dr Diana Bell, from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences, said: “RHDV2 normally affects rabbits, but the disease is known to have jumped to European brown hares in Italy, Spain, France and Australia. This is the first time that RHDV2 has been found in hares in the UK."

The research team are continuing to collect dead hares for post mortem. If you find a freshly dead hare please report it to Dr Bell by emailing d.bell@uea.ac.uk. 

‘First cases of rabbit haemorrhagic disease virus type 2 (RHDV2) confirmed in European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) in the UK’ is published today in Vet Record 


SGA calls for satellite tag accountability - Scottish Gamekeepers Association 

Scotland’s gamekeepers are calling for accountability regarding satellite tags fitted to wildlife.

The call comes after The Scottish Gamekeepers Association learned that a tagged Hen Harrier, reported as disappearing ‘suspiciously’ in Angus last May, was re-sighted in Perthshire afterwards, according to investigators.

An eagle in Angus photographed with a tag dangling below its head.  Image: Mike Groves.An eagle in Angus photographed with a tag dangling below its head.  Image: Mike Groves.

Anti-grouse moor campaigners who owned the tag’s data publicly blamed the grouse industry, urging Scottish Government to license the sector.

However, no media statements were issued to correct the accusations, leaving local estate employees living with the burden of criminal suspicion.

The SGA has also learned of a sea eagle currently flying around Grampian with a tag dangling from its body, potentially endangering its welfare.  The female sea eagle, pegged with yellow wing markings and the letter ‘E’, has been spotted by concerned land managers.  In recent times, four golden eagles have also been independently photographed in the Angus glens with displaced tags; one clearly hanging from a bird’s neck.  Another eagle was observed in Perthshire last week with the bird’s feathers completely obscuring the tag; something manufacturers acknowledge will distort readings.

Gamekeepers believe tags are now being deployed by campaigners as political weapons, aware there is no independent scrutiny.  Whilst the SGA is not advocating a ban, they believe Scottish Government must act to make fitting and monitoring of the devices accountable.


Scientific Publications 

Isabel Afán, Joan Navarro, David Grémillet, Marta Coll and Manuela G. Forero. Maiden voyage into death: are fisheries affecting seabird juvenile survival during the first days at sea?  Royal Society Open Science Volume 6, Issue 1 doi: 10.1098/rsos.181151



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