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


‘Why invest in nature?’ Short Film Competition launches for 2019 – Scottish Natural Heritage

Young filmmakers with a passion for nature are being sought for a new competition that aims to encourage businesses to see the benefits of the natural world.

Image: SNHImage: SNH
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital (SFNC) have joined forces with business, education and the arts industry to offer young people the opportunity to share work inspired by Scotland’s nature.

The short film competition is seeking entries that combine passion and creative talent with the latest facts to make a powerful case for why businesses should invest in nature. 

It aims to reinforce the message that as well as gaining customer loyalty and goodwill by being environmentally-conscious, businesses are also dependent on a healthy natural world, often relying on nature to provide goods and services.

Entries will show that investing in Scotland’s natural assets benefits the whole of society by improving public health and well-being, with businesses an important potential source of innovative ideas to help us all live more sustainably.

Films can use animation, imagery featuring Scotland’s natural capital, interviews or any other video material, and will be judged on how well they make the case for businesses to invest in nature, as well as creativity, innovation and attention to detail.


Government sets out plans to overhaul waste system - Defra

The government launches a series of consultations to overhaul the waste system.

  • Government launches consultations to overhaul the waste system, cut plastic pollution, and move towards a more circular economy.
  • Packaging producers set to pay the full cost of dealing with their waste, more consistent household recycling, and a Deposit Return Scheme for cans and bottles, subject to consultation.
  • Consultation also launched for a world-leading tax on plastic packaging which does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content.
  • New analysis published today (Monday 18 Feb) shows the net benefit to UK economy of the changes will run into millions.
  • Plans for a major overhaul of the country’s waste system have been set out in a suite of consultations launched today by Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Building on commitments made in the government’s landmark Resources and Waste Strategy published in December, the consultations provide detail on plans to make packaging producers pay the full cost of dealing with their waste and to introduce a consistent set of materials collected across England from households for recycling, and bringing in a Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for cans and bottles, subject to consultation.

The changes will make up a key part of the government’s upcoming Environment Bill, to be introduced early in the second session of Parliament.

As well as making businesses and manufacturers pay the full cost of recycling or disposing of their packaging waste, householders will see the existing complicated recycling system simplified. A consultation has launched today on a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and consistent labelling on packaging so consumers know what they can recycle.


Response: The 40 year deposit debate: ‘Don’t let history repeat itself’, warns CPRE

CPRE urges the Government to support an ‘all-in’ deposit return system that collects every drinks can and bottle as it launches a new consultation.

England is one step closer to getting a deposit system that could boost recycling for bottles and cans to more than 90%, as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) launches a new consultation today on two design options for what the system will include and how it will operate.


Finally some good news for parks

Brokenshire champions parks with over £13 million new funding - Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government

Councils across the country are to benefit from more than £13 million funding to breathe new life in to our green spaces for the benefit of all.

  • Government announces £9.7 million for local authorities to improve their parks and green spaces
  • A further £2.75 million confirmed for the Pocket parks plus programme
  • £1.2 million invested in the National Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Future Parks Accelerator initiative

Councils across the country are to benefit from more than £13 million funding to breathe new life in to our green spaces for the benefit of all, Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP confirmed today (Sunday 17 February).

From day-to-day maintenance costs to essential playground repairs and the creation of new green spaces, £9.7 million of new funding will give local leaders and communities resources to better maintain, protect and increase their recreational spaces.

An additional £2.75 million will also be made available for the pocket parks plus programme to support communities to take the lead in transforming their neglected and derelict spaces.

A further £1.2 million has been provided to the National Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Future Parks Accelerator initiative. The partnership supports local authorities to test new and innovative approaches to managing and funding parks, ensuring the benefits of public parks and green spaces are enjoyed by future generations.

With this latest set of actions, this government reaffirms its commitment to creating great places to live and work and ensure communities are able to enjoy the benefits parks and green spaces bring to local life.


Helping hedgehogs in our towns & cities: a free guide from Hedgehog Street - PTES

Hedgehogs are declining: the State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 report revealed that the population of the nation’s favourite mammal has fallen by half in the British countryside since 2000. Now, the two wildlife charities behind this report, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) and People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), who together run Hedgehog Street, have published a free guide aimed at land managers to help halt the decline in urban environments.

The guide, titled ‘Hedgehog Ecology and Land Management’, is aimed at those involved in the management of both public spaces and private amenity land. So for anyone working in green spaces within a town or city, including parks, schools, churchyards and recreational spaces, this illustrated booklet will provide some useful pointers about how you can help. Offering clear and detailed advice, it shows the different ways land can easily be managed to become more hedgehog-friendly.

Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer at Hedgehog Street says: “Even though hedgehogs are listed as a UK ‘Priority Species’ under the NERC Act 2006, there’s no current legislation addressing the causes of their decline. In order to help support wild hedgehog populations in both urban and rural areas, and ultimately halt the ongoing decline, we need to change the way we manage our land. Small management changes can dramatically improve areas of land for hedgehogs and other species, potentially reversing the dramatic decline we’re seeing and also enriching biodiversity more broadly. The decline of hedgehogs in our towns and cities appears to be slowing, but we have still lost around a third since the millennium. We want to work with managers of all types of urban green spaces and encourage them to make those few changes to land management practices that will help to bring hedgehogs back to the urban landscape – making hedgehogs a common sight once again.”


New sites for rare beetle discovered – Butterfly Conservation 

One of the UK’s most highly threatened and unusual beetles has been discovered in a number of new locations in the Cotswolds thanks to an innovative conservation scheme.

Image: Butterfly ConservationThe Rugged Oil Beetle, which is said to resemble a walking black olive, has been found in six new sites in Gloucestershire over the last year, following conservation work which is part of the Back from the Brink (BftB) project.

Image: Butterfly Conservation

The beetle, which secretes a toxic oil from its legs to deter predators, is notoriously difficult to spot as it is restricted to just a handful of sites in Southern England and Wales and only comes out at night in late autumn and winter.

The Back from the Brink project, made possible thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and People’s Postcode Lottery, aims to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more through 19 projects that span England.

Funding for the BftB project has paid for workshops in which volunteers have been trained to identify the beetles.

Over the autumn and winter these volunteers set out under the cover of darkness, armed with torches, to scour promising sites for the beetle.

Despite several fruitless searches, six new sites for the beetle were discovered taking the total number of Rugged Oil Beetle locations known in the Cotswolds to 17.


World's biggest terrestrial carbon sinks are found in young forests – University of Birmingham

More than half of the carbon sink in the world’s forests is in areas where the trees are relatively young – under 140 years old – rather than in tropical rainforests, research at the University of Birmingham shows.

Image: University of BirminghamImage: University of Birmingham

These trees have typically ‘regrown’ on land previously used for agriculture, or cleared by fire or harvest and it is their young age that is one of the main drivers of this carbon uptake.

Forests are widely recognised as important carbon sinks – ecosystems capable of capturing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide – but dense tropical forests, close to the equator have been assumed to be working the hardest to soak up these gases.

Researchers at the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) have carried out fresh analysis of the global biosphere using a new combination of data and computer modelling in a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). Drawing on data sets of forest age, they were able to show the amount of carbon uptake between 2001 and 2010 by old, established areas of forest.

They compared this with younger expanses of forest which are re-growing across areas that have formerly experienced human activities such as agriculture or logging or natural disturbances such as fire.

Previously it had been thought that the carbon uptake by forests was overwhelmingly due to fertilisation of tree growth by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

However, the researchers found that areas where forests were re-growing sucked up large amounts of carbon not only due to these fertilisation effects, but also as a result of their younger age. The age effect accounted for around 25 per cent of the total carbon dioxide absorbed by forests. Furthermore, this age-driven carbon uptake was primarily situated not in the tropics, but in the middle and high latitude forests.


Funding boost for rare reedbed wildlife - RSPB

Contribution from SUEZ Communities Trust will support bearded tits, water rails, marsh harriers and more

RSPB Scotland is today celebrating a £7,716.00 funding boost from SUEZ Communities Trust for the RSPB Scotland’s Tay Reedbeds – Habitat Restoration project.

The project will work to restore habitat across the newly expanded area of the Tay Reedbeds that are managed by RSPB Scotland to benefit a range of wildlife including water rails, marsh harriers, reed buntings and one of the UK’s largest populations of bearded tits.

The funding will support cutting the reedbeds on rotation and rolling areas to create variation in reed age and structure that helps these species as well as supporting a long tradition of reed cutting in the area.

Vicky Turnbull, RSPB Scotland’s warden who is looking after the Tay Reedbeds restoration project, said: “We are really grateful to SUEZ for funding for this management work. The Tay reedbeds are an incredibly important home for wildlife including bearded tits and we’re excited to be able to deliver more for these reedbed species.”

Marek Gordon, Chairman of SUEZ Communities Trust added “SUEZ Communities Trust provides funding awards through the Scottish Landfill Communities Fund – an important source of funding which came into effect in April 2015. The scheme is linked to the Scottish Landfill Tax and encourages landfill site operators to provide contributions to approved bodies, who can then pass the funds onto community and environmental projects. We were delighted to be able to offer funding to RSPB Scotland.”


Brighton seafront by Olle Åkesson Sussex by the Sea wins National Lottery Heritage Fund support - Sussex Wildlife Trust

Sussex Wildlife Trust has been awarded a development grant of £59,000 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund for its Sussex by the Sea project, it was announced today. 

Brighton seafront by Olle Åkesson

The Heritage Grant will cover 72% of the total eligible development work cost of £81,716, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players.

The project is about positively influencing human behaviours that are contributing to the decline of marine life off the Sussex coast. 

Working with four project partners, Marine Conservation Society (MCS), Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA), National Trust, and Sea Life Centre, Brighton, the project will focus on the marine and coastal environmental heritage of Sussex, with an emphasis on the stretches of coastline adjacent to the communities of Hastings, Bexhill, Eastbourne, Brighton and Worthing. 

The project will link people to the wealth of amazing marine life to be found in Sussex and show how it can be protected and how we can all play a part in the recovery of our seas.


Following the epic migration of the Brent goose - Essex Wildlife Trust

Satellite tags are allowing us to gain an insight into the 2,500-mile migration of these geese like never before.

A quarter of the world’s population of Dark-bellied Brent geese spend the winter months around the Essex coast, having travelled 2,500 miles from their Siberian breeding grounds. To gain a full insight into the annual migration and movements of these birds, Essex Wildlife Trust and the Southern Colour Ringing Group have launched a satellite tagging project.

The pilot ringing project launched in 2018, when 18 Dark-bellied Brent geese were ringed under a BTO license at Blue House Farm nature reserve on the river Crouch. This was the first time the species had been ringed in Essex for over 40 years and would allow the geese to be identified and recorded during their long-haul migration to their Siberian breeding grounds.

During spring 2018, two of the birds were spotted – one on Ameland and the other on Terschelling, islands north of the Netherlands. Later there were further sightings in Hallig Hooge Lkr Nordfriesland and Langenwerder, small islands off the north coast of Germany. When the geese started returning in October 2018, several of the ringed individuals were recorded off of Shoebury and Leigh-on-Sea, before returning to Blue House Farm nature reserve in December. 

To gain more comprehensive data on the location of the geese, Essex Wildlife Trust and the Southern Colour Ringing Group attached satellite tags to five geese this year. The devices are solar powered and can upload multiple data points throughout the day to log the birds’ locations. 


High Court accepts BBOWT's claim against the government over OxCam Expressway - BBOWT

The High Court has accepted Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust’s (BBOWT) claim against the government regarding the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway at an oral hearing at the High Court today.

After having been refused permission in January to bring a claim against the government, the charity applied to the court to revisit their decision at today’s hearing, and they are delighted that the original decision has been overturned.
In November 2018, BBOWT issued a claim in the High Court, challenging the government’s failure to commission a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) or a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) as part of the process of selecting a ‘Growth Corridor’ (within which the Expressway and associated housing will be built).
BBOWT is therefore arguing that the government has failed to assess the environmental impact of its plans, before choosing the corridor of land within which the Expressway and related housing will be built.


UK homes unfit for the challenges of climate change, CCC says - Committee on Climate Change

Government must act now to improve the quality of UK homes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to safeguard our comfort, health and wellbeing as the climate changes, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today.

In a new report ‘UK housing: Fit for the future?’ the CCC warns that the UK’s legally-binding climate change targets will not be met without the near-complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from UK buildings. The report finds that emissions reductions from the UK’s 29 million homes have stalled, while energy use in homes – which accounts for 14% of total UK emissions – increased between 2016 and 2017.

Efforts to adapt the UK’s housing stock to the impacts of the changing climate: for higher average temperatures, flooding and water scarcity, are also lagging far behind what is needed to keep us safe and comfortable, even as these climate change risks grow. Around 4.5 million homes overheat, even in cool summers; 1.8 million people live in areas at significant risk of flooding; and average UK water consumption is higher than in many other European countries. Cost-effective measures to adapt the UK housing stock are not being rolled-out at anywhere near the required level, the report finds.

Read the report: UK housing: Fit for the future?


National Nature Reserves offer £36 million of benefits to society - Natural England

Natural England research demonstrates the economic value of National Nature Reserves

(image: Natural England)New research published highlights that National Nature Reserves (NNRs) managed by Natural England offer huge value for money, with a wide range of economic, environmental and societal benefits totalling £36 million.

(image: Natural England)

Our NNRs are some of the most important sites for wildlife and geology in England. They conserve biodiversity and geodiversity, provide an outdoor space for education, learning and research, and opportunities to access, enjoy and engage with our natural heritage, championed within the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

A new Natural Capital Accounts report published today provides an innovative insight into the health of our NNRs as natural assets, as well as demonstrating the ecosystem services, benefits and value they provide to society in one extended balance sheet. The report will provide a new perspective to inform investment and management decisions around NNRs.

The report shows the most significant benefits provided by our NNRs are wildlife, positive cultural impacts, and climate change reduction through carbon sequestration. The report estimates that the 141 NNRs managed by Natural England will remove up to 185,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from our atmosphere providing an annual benefit of approximately £12 million. NNRs are an important recreational resource, attracting an estimated 5.5 million visits a year. NNRs do not charge for access so these visits represent free recreational experiences which we estimate are worth £22 million per year.

Access the report here


Tilbury adds to insect catastrophe - Buglife

Buglife is appalled at the announcement that the Secretary of State has granted permission for the Tilbury 2 project which will see the Port of Tilbury expand and destroy one of the UK’s best brownfields for invertebrates. The former Tilbury Power Station site supports at least 1,397 species of invertebrate, among them 159 species of conservation importance and 31 which are rare or threatened, including the Shrill carder bee (Bombus sylvarum), Brown-banded carder bee (Bombus humilis), Sea aster mining bee (Colletes halophilus) and Five-banded weevil-wasp (Cerceris quinquefasciata).

This outstanding assemblage and the unique habitats which support it are now expected to be lost for ever. This threatens the long-term future of the nationally important invertebrate fauna of the Thames Gateway, which supports brownfields long-known to offer unique opportunities for rare and threatened species. The scale of expected loss motivated 75,000 people to sign a Buglife led petition to save the wildlife on the site. This public outcry hasn’t stopped the project being given the go ahead.


Gove unveils new covenants to protect nature - defra

A consultation on conservation covenants, voluntary agreements to protect nature, has been launched by the government.

Conservation covenants will unleash a new wave of legal safeguards for England’s wildlife and natural environment, subject to a consultation launched by Environment Secretary Michael Gove today (22 February).

The government is seeking views on how best to introduce conservation covenants, fulfilling a commitment made in the 25 Year Environment Plan. They are voluntary but legally-binding agreements which enable landowners to leave a permanent conservation legacy on their land for future generations.

The covenants, already used successfully in other countries, would allow landowners to make a public commitment to take positive actions to preserve and improve treasured features on their land such as trees, woodland or flower-rich meadow. They would be binding on future owners of the land and would be overseen by responsible bodies to ensure land management obligations are delivered.

Legal covenants already exist to prevent certain types of actions, but by encouraging positive environmental actions, a conservation covenant may achieve a lasting legacy for land management for generations to come.

The main scenarios likely to involve the use of conservation covenants:

  • Altruistic uses
  • Securing heritage sites
  • An alternative to land purchase by conservation organisations
  • Disposals of land by conservation organisations
  • Payment for ecosystem services
  • Net gain for biodiversity

They might also be used in a business context to secure the long-term maintenance of existing or newly created wildlife or heritage assets.

Access the documentation and take part in the Conservation Covenants Consultation.

Closes 22 March 2019 


Earthworm research spurs farmers to act - Rothamsted Research

Mixed findings from first comprehensive worm survey of England's farmland. 

A study of England’s farmland has found key earthworm types are rare or absent in two out of five fields and has led to the majority of farmers affected vowing to change the way they farm.

The results indicate widespread, historical over-cultivation, and may explain observed declines in other wildlife, such as the song thrush, that feed on these worms.

topsoil and earthworms (Rothamsted)

(image: Rothamsted)

The #60minworms project was the first comprehensive worm survey concentrating solely on farmland and was carried out by farmers themselves – 57 percent of whom said they would now change their soil management practices as a result.

In Spring 2018, the average field had 9 earthworms in every spadeful of soil, with top fields having three times that number. One in 10 fields had high earthworm numbers of more than 16 worms per spadeful. 

However, the study also revealed that 42 percent of fields had poor earthworm biodiversity – meaning either very few or none of the surface dwelling and deep burrowing worms were seen.

The absence of deep burrowing worms on 16 percent of fields is concerning, says Dr Jackie Stroud, the scientist behind the survey, because they are 'drainage worms' with vertical burrows that aid water infiltration and ultimately helps combat waterlogging.

“The deep burrowing worms have slow reproduction rates so recovery in their populations could take a decade under changed management practices.  In fact, we know very little about earthworm recovery rates.”

More than 1300 hectares were surveyed from all over England for the project, including fields managed under arable, potatoes, horticulture and pasture.   


Farnes puffin numbers rally after initial concern in five-yearly survey results - National Trust

Results from a five-yearly survey reveal puffin numbers are stable on the remote Northumberland Farne Islands, cared for by the National Trust.

Last May concerned rangers speculated that the initial low numbers from the outlying islands of this threatened seabird were due to the particularly harsh, long winter and a decline in readily available food.  The fear was that this could be the case across the islands.   However, it now seems the lower numbers were an unfortunate consequence of the thriving grey seal population which has resulted in puffin burrows being inadvertently crushed on the outer islands, with more birds therefore nesting on the inner isles. The final results, which involved checking a proportion of burrows on eight of the 28 island archipelago, show that puffin numbers have stabilised at around 44,000 pairs, nine percent higher since the last count in 2013.  Numbers of puffins on the islands have increased over the past 25 years.  37,710 pairs were recorded in 1993 with numbers peaking at 55,674 pairs in 2003 before a sudden crash in 2008 when numbers dropped by a third, before slowly recovering.

Searching for puffins - the National Trust ranger team on the Farne Islands. (Credit Paul Kingston and NNP)Searching for puffins - the National Trust ranger team on the Farne Islands. (Credit Paul Kingston and NNP)

National Trust ranger, Thomas Hendry says: “When we started the count in the outer group of islands we were very anxious that numbers were down, especially as we know puffins are struggling for survival across the globe.   After further investigations on the inner group of islands, numbers seemed to be much more positive.  This could be due to the islands being more sheltered, providing an ideal habitat for the puffins to successfully breed and raise their young.  Another factor for the lower bird numbers on the outer islands could be the success of our grey seal population.  We have seen seal pup numbers growing from 1,704 to 2,602 in the last five years.  A rather unfortunate consequence of this growth is the seals are competing with puffins for areas to raise their young.  Although the two species are in residence and breed at different times of year, the weight of the seals could be crushing the puffin burrows and eroding surrounding vegetation.”


Shot beaver found dead on wildlife reserve - Scottish Wildlife Trust

The Trust is calling for the urgent introduction of legal protection for Scotland’s beavers following the discovery of a dead beaver on a wildlife reserve in Tayside.

Examination of the female beaver showed that it is likely to have died from an infection after being shot in the chest.

Our Chief Executive Jonny Hughes said: “We believe that this animal was shot elsewhere while foraging and then died from its wounds after returning to its home territory. Sadly, this beaver is likely to have suffered a slow and painful death, and the loss of the resident female may mean that the complex network of dams and lodges that have developed on the reserve will be abandoned. Without legal protection beavers are subject to unregulated culling. There is no clear picture of how many beavers are being shot or whether this is being done humanely." 


Scientific publications

Lamb, A. et al. The consequences of land sparing for birds in the United Kingdom. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13362


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