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


Mammalian carnivores stage a comeback in Britain – Vincent Wildlife Trust

A new paper assessing the changing fortunes of Britain’s native mammalian carnivores has been published in the journal Mammal Review, led by VWT PhD student Katie Sainsbury. Katie is completing her PhD focusing on polecat recovery at the University of Exeter, with VWT and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).

Polecats and pine martens are recolonising parts of Britain, having become very rare at the turn of the 20th century © Anne Newton / Robert CruickshanksPolecats and pine martens are recolonising parts of Britain, having become very rare at the turn of the 20th century © Anne Newton / Robert Cruickshanks

For the study, Katie and other researchers from VWT, University of Exeter, CEH, and Scottish Natural Heritage, collected and reviewed survey reports from the last 40 years and compared changes in the distribution extent and population sizes of Britain’s mammalian carnivores. They also reviewed human activities that have helped or hindered native carnivores in recent decades.

The study found that once-endangered species such as otters, polecats and pine martens have staged a comeback in recent decades and overall, the status of Britain’s native mammalian carnivores (badger, fox, otter, pine marten, polecat, stoat and weasel) has markedly improved since the 1960s. The only exception is the wildcat, which is now restricted to small numbers in isolated parts of the Scottish Highlands.

Hunting, trapping, control by gamekeepers, use of toxic chemicals and destruction of habitats contributed to the decline of most predatory mammals in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. However, most of these species have now largely recovered by themselves, as harmful human activities have been stopped or reduced.

Otters have almost completely recolonised Britain and badger populations have roughly doubled since the 1980s. Polecats have expanded across southern Britain from Wales, and pine martens have expanded from the Scottish Highlands and are now re-establishing in Wales and northern England. Fox numbers have risen since the 1960s, although have declined in the last decade. The status of stoats and weasels remains obscure.

Read the paper: Sainsbury, K. A., Shore, R. F.. Schofield, H., Croose, E., Campbell, R. D. & Mcdonald, R. A. Recent history, current status, conservation and management of native mammalian carnivore species in Great Britain (Open access) Mammal Review DOI: 10.1111/mam.12150


Pharmaceutical residues in fresh water pose a growing environmental risk – Radboud University

Over the past 20 years, concentrations of pharmaceuticals have increased in freshwater sources all over the world, as research by environmental experts at Radboud University has revealed. Levels of the antibiotic ciprofloxacin have reached the point of potentially causing damaging ecological effects. The research is the first to examine the risks of two particular medicines in global freshwater sources, and is being published in Environmental Research Letters on 22 February. “The study calls for more widespread data gathering to measure the problem around the world.”

“Getting an accurate picture of the environmental risks of pharmaceuticals around the world depends on the availability of data, which is limited,” says Rik Oldenkamp, lead author of the article. “It's true that there are models, such as the ePiE model, which can give detailed predictions of pharmaceutical concentrations in the environment, but these are often only applicable to places where we already have a lot of information, such as rivers in Europe.”

The new model developed by the researchers, which builds on an existing model with a lower resolution, makes it possible to come up with worldwide predictions for individual ecoregions.

Damaging concentrations

For the two pharmaceuticals investigated in the study – carbamazepine, an anti-epileptic drug, and ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic – the environmental risks were found to be 10 to 20 times higher in 2015 than in 1995. The increased human use of ciprofloxacin was found to have a particularly high impact globally.

“The concentrations of this antibiotic can be harmful for bacteria in the water, and these bacteria in turn play an important role in various nutrient cycles,” says Oldenkamp. “Antibiotics can also have a negative impact on the effectiveness of bacteria colonies used in wastewater treatment.”


University leads first UK-wide assessment of changes in plankton community – University of Plymouth

A study led by Dr Abigail McQuatters-Gollop used an 11-year time-series of data to create a snapshot of plankton communities

Scientists have completed the first ever assessment of how plankton communities are changing in coastal waters and shelf seas around the UK.

Using an 11 year time-series of data, the findings create a snapshot of how plankton communities have changed and shows that the patterns of change differ spatially in UK waters.

Writing in the Ecological Indicators journal, researchers say the study offers an important preliminary insight into the status of the plankton, which play a pivotal role in the health of our seas.

The study was conducted by a network of world-leading scientific institutions and government bodies, led by the University of Plymouth, and also including: Plymouth Marine Laboratory; National Museum of Natural History, France; Environment Agency; Marine Scotland Science; National Oceanography Centre; Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science; Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS); The Marine Biological Association; Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute; Trinity College Dublin. 

The full study – Plankton lifeforms as a biodiversity indicator for regional-scale assessment of pelagic habitats for policy by McQuatters-Gollop et al – is published in Ecological Indicators, DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2019.02.010.


Strengthened protections for Isles of Scilly seabirds - Natural England / defra

Natural England announces plans to extend Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area by almost 13,000 hectares.

  • New plans to extend Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area
  • Thousands of seabirds including Manx shearwaters, European shags and great black-backed gulls are offered greater protection
  • Public invited to have a say on proposals

Home to a greater diversity of breeding seabirds than anywhere else in England, the existing Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area (SPA) supports over 8,000 pairs of 13 different seabird species – including the European storm petrel and lesser black-backed gull - and is one of only two places in England where Manx shearwaters breed.

Lesser black-backed gull. (Credit: Natural England)Lesser black-backed gull. (Credit: Natural England)

Natural England has outlined plans to extend the SPA by almost 13,000 hectares, helping maintain healthy and productive breeding colonies for generations to come. The extended boundary now recognises the importance of additional species for the first time, including the European shag and great black-backed gull, and includes not only seabird nesting sites but also nearby sea areas used for feeding, resting, preening and other social interactions. 

Take part in the consultation

Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area extension: comment on proposals

Natural England is seeking views on the proposal to extend the Isles of Scilly Special Protection Area (SPA) to protect important birds.

This consultation closes at 11:45pm on 21 May 2019  


Understanding the rich social lives of animals benefits international conservation efforts - University of Exeter and University of St Andrews

An international group of researchers working on a wide range of species, from elephants and crows, to whales and chimpanzees, argues that animals’ cultural knowledge needs to be taken into consideration when planning international conservation efforts.

A paper to be published in leading journal Science makes a compelling case that growing scientific evidence on social learning across a wide range of species, which can lead to unique animal cultures, is important for both conservation practice and conservation policy.

Insights into animal cultures can provide valuable information on ‘what’ groups of animals to conserve, and on ‘how’ best to conserve them. For example, understanding how grandmother killer whales pass on valuable information to their offspring, or why some groups of chimpanzees have a culture of cracking nutritious nuts with stone tools while others do not, can be key to evaluating conservation challenges for such species.

Young chimpanzee watching nut cracking behaviour. (Credit: Tetsuro Matsuzawa Primate Research Institute, Kyoto)Young chimpanzee watching nut cracking behaviour. (Credit: Tetsuro Matsuzawa Primate Research Institute, Kyoto)

To protect ‘social capital’, some populations may be best delineated by their cultural behaviour, rather than using the traditional approach of assessing genetic diversity or the degree of geographic isolation. Moreover, for some species, protecting individuals that act as ‘repositories’ of social knowledge, such as experienced elephant matriarchs, may be just as important as conserving critical habitat.

“Beyond genes, knowledge is also an important currency for wildlife. As well as conserving genetic diversity, we must work towards maintaining cultural diversity within animal populations, as a reservoir for resilience and adaptation. This is an important reframing of our understanding of the natural world, which will necessitate changes in international wildlife law,” said the lead author of the paper, Philippa Brakes, from the University of Exeter, UK.


National Sheep Association suggests the National Trust choose sustainable wool as a replacement for synthetic fleeces.

 “Wool is the most sustainable fibre on earth”. That is the key message the National Sheep Association (NSA) has for the National Trust in its search for a more sustainable garment for staff and members to replace its current reliance on synthetic materials.

NSA is building on its promotion of the benefits of wool as a natural fibre by encouraging the National Trust to use wool as its new fleece or alternative garment materials. It is further reemphasising the animal welfare reasons behind shearing following suggestions from ‘animal rights’ groups that shearing sheep is cruel.  NSA has written to the National Trust encouraging it to consider wool as a viable product for its fleeces, promoting wool as a renewable, natural and reliable British product.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “The vast majority of sheep in the UK are extensively grazed on grass that grows on little more than sunshine, rain and soil nutrients. In doing so grassland soils sequester carbon and help combat global warming. I would argue that wool is the most sustainable fibre on earth and that it is the ultimate in renewable technology. It seems ironic that we call that garment – the fleece – after a sheep fleece yet most ‘fleeces’ are manufactured from plastic materials and when washed contribute to polluting our oceans and environment. The truth is that British wool has largely become a by-product from sheep farming. Although there are specialist wool producers that buck the trend, most of the wool is shorn in the early summer to improve the welfare of the sheep and to prevent flies laying their eggs within the fleece and causing serious welfare problems. Wool grows back naturally and by the winter the sheep has a well-insulated and protective weather proof coat.  It seems to me that the interests and philosophy of the National Trust align perfectly with the properties of British wool and I’d challenge the Trust to either choose wool or invest in wool based garment development that could contribute significantly to the sustainability agenda.”


Protected great crested newt populations expand due to under-road tunnels - Froglife

Habitat loss and fragmentation due to urbanisation and road developments have considerable negative impacts on amphibian populations. However, little research has examined the effectiveness of amphibian mitigation road tunnels. In this unique study we used specially adapted time-lapse recording cameras and a custom image analysis script to monitor the amphibian usage and effectiveness of tunnels at a site in northern England over 4 years.

We monitored four amphibian species, including the European protected great crested newt (Triturus cristatus). Our results show that most amphibians entering tunnels successfully used them to move between the different parts of the site separated by the road. The local population of newts increased rapidly over the 4-year study period, suggesting that the provision of tunnels, along with suitable pond and terrestrial habitats, have successfully promoted population growth. We found that newts mainly used tunnels in the autumn, rather than the spring, by both adults and juveniles for dispersal. This indicates it is extremely important that road tunnels connect suitable pond habitats on both sides of the road as opposed to terrestrial habitat on one side and aquatic habitat on the other side.

To see the full paper click here 


New international report sets out how Scottish wildcats can be saved from extinction – Scottish Wildcat Action

(image: Scottish Wildcat Action)lans for the essential next steps to give the wildcat a sustainable future are underway, following a report by members of The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Cat Specialist Group.

The report, published today, reviews all evidence collected and concludes there is no longer a viable wildcat population living wild in Scotland.

(image: Scottish Wildcat Action)

The wildcat – also known as the Highland tiger – is one of the UK’s most endangered mammals. Previous studies have cited hybridisation – the breeding of domestic pet and feral cats with wildcats – as the major threat to their survival in the wild. It is thought hybridisation began to affect the wildcat severely between the 1950s and 1980s, with limited food sources and persecution resulting in the few remaining wildcats breeding with domestic cats.

Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, today (27 February 2019) welcomes the publication of the report at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park, near Aviemore. “This report presents us with further evidence of the serious challenges that wildcat conservation faces in Scotland. The wildcat is an iconic Scottish species and, as such, I will consider every possible action the Scottish Government can take to save it, including an increased focus on captive breeding and reinforcement of the Scottish population with wildcats from elsewhere. We have in place a partnership of scientists and specialists with the knowledge and expertise to give us the best chance of restoring the Highland Tiger as a distinctive and charismatic species in the Scottish countryside, and I look forward to working with them to make this a reality.”

The full report is available here


Nearly two thousand locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland breaching air pollution limits – Friends of the Earth

A data audit by Friends of the Earth has revealed the 1,758 sites across the UK that have breached the annual Air Quality Objective for Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) levels, which is set to protect health.

High levels of NO2 can cause a flare up of asthma or symptoms such as coughing and difficulty breathing. A leading cause of NO2 pollution is emissions from road traffic.

With toxic air above limits affecting huge swathes of the UK, Friends of the Earth is campaigning for Clean Air Zones to be rolled out in far more places than are currently being planned, supported by measures such as improved infrastructure to support safe cycling and walking. This would see fewer polluting vehicles on our roads and would ultimately improve public health. Removing such vehicles would also contribute to reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change.


National Trust response to Marsden Moor fire - National Trust

After working closely with the emergency services through the night and into the day of the 26 and 27 February, National Trust rangers, volunteers and partner organisations will shortly begin to assess the impact of the devastation and take the first steps to help the landscape and wildlife to recover. The area affected covers approximately three square kilometres.

“We would like to thank the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue services (WYFRS) for working so quickly together with our team of 10 staff and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to contain the fire as much as possible” said Mike Innerdale, Regional Director for the National Trust in the North of England.  “The land does remain at risk of re-ignition and the WYFRS are continuing to monitor the situation with specialist crew”. 

Craig Best countryside manager for the National Trust in West Yorkshire said: “The area affected was primarily molinia dominated grassland (tussocky grass) (including sphagnum and cotton grass). We are getting close to the time of year when moorland fires can occur and cause most damage. Dry and hot weather makes the peat more flammable and moors more combustible.  If it’s windy, it can spread very quickly."

Marsden Moor is a special place for upland birds, including merlin,  which nest on the ground.  It’s likely that the biggest loss of wildlife will be nesting birds such as curlew and mountain hares that inhabit this area of the moorland.


Northumberland-born hen harrier vanishes - Northumberland National Park

A young male hen harrier from Northumberland has disappeared in suspicious circumstances in Wiltshire, south west England.

Hen Harrier Vulcan - photo by RSPBHen Harrier Vulcan - photo by RSPB

The harrier, named Vulcan, was one of 11 chicks to fledge from nests in Northumberland last summer, which were being protected by the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership. He was fitted with a satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project, which enabled the nature conservation charity to track his movements.

Vulcan is the second satellite-tagged hen harrier from Northumberland to disappear since last summer. In August 2018, female hen harrier Athena vanished in suspicious circumstances in Inverness-shire.

Vulcan was tracked by the RSPB moving from Northumberland down to the Peak District where he remained throughout September. He then continued to head further south through Hampshire and Dorset. On 16 January 2019, Vulcan’s tag sent out its final transmission, from a location south of the village of Calstone Wellington, in Wiltshire.

RSPB Investigations staff searched the area, which is farmland and heavily managed for pheasant and partridge shooting, but there was no sign of Vulcan or his tag. He has not been heard from since and the matter was reported to Wiltshire Police.


The £1 Billion Challenge: Scottish Conservation Finance Project aims to drive significant investment into Scotland’s natural environment - SEPA

An ambitious new initiative aims to pioneer new ways of funding nature conservation in Scotland through the launch of the £1 Billion Challenge.

Led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), the Scottish Conservation Finance Project aims to generate new forms of investment in Scotland’s stocks of natural capital in ways that will deliver significant environmental, social and economic benefits, as well as returns for investors.

The project brings together a dynamic mix of organisations from the private, public and non-profit sectors to develop cutting-edge investment and funding models for large-scale nature conservation activities, for example planting native woodlands, restoring oyster reefs and creating urban green spaces.


New for newts: better for wildlife, business and people - Natural England

An innovative approach by Natural England to protect great crested newts and encourage sustainable development was today (28 February) launched in Kent.

Developers in Kent can now apply for a licence under District Level Licensing (DLL) for great crested newts (GCN). It follows our announcement of a nationwide roll-out of great crested newt District Level Licensing in 2017.

GCNs are widely distributed throughout lowland England. However the species has suffered enormous declines, with approximately 50% of ponds in the UK lost in the 20th Century and 80% of current ponds in a poor state. The current licensing system is focused on management to prevent harm on individual development sites rather than addressing the wider health of GCN populations. Our new approach seeks to redress this balance, encouraging targeted efforts towards provision of GCN habitat in areas where surveys show it will most effectively connect and expand GCN populations.

This new approach will increase GCN populations at a county level. It will also reduce delays for developers. Under the current licensing approach, developers who want to build on land which is home to GCNs need to trap and relocate the species before starting work. Seasonal restrictions, where these are not effectively planned for, can lead delays and create uncertainty over the costs and scheduling of planned development.

Through the District Level Licensing scheme in Kent, developers no longer need to do this. Instead developers can make a conservation payment which will cover creating or restoring ponds in areas away from the development. These areas, mapped by Natural England, represent the best places for newts to thrive and habitat created here will be maintained and monitored for 25 years, all funded by developers.

As well as being good for GCN, it is estimated that District Level Licensing will reduce delays and costs for developers and regulators across England, saving hundreds of millions of pounds. 

For information about the Great crested newts: district level licensing schemes access the Guidance from Natural England Click here. 


Bags of Help for many paths well travelled - Greenspace Scotland

Many places throughout Scotland have become more accessible to the public thanks to investment from Bags of Help. Since early 2017 many miles of pathways have opened routes to discovery in and around cities, towns, villages and in the countryside encouraging people to get outdoors and enjoy the environment.

All ages and abilities have been catered for with projects organised by a diverse range of groups including residents’ associations, community councils and development trusts, walking and sports groups, over 50’s, parent councils, schools and nurseries. Footpaths, cycleways, wheelchair and buggy access, including accessible toilets, have been created. Upgrades and maintenance have also been undertaken to help all in the community benefit from sports clubs, community buildings and gardens, parks, rural environments and wildlife.

Aims of the pathway and access awardees are to link areas, increase awareness of active travel, open gateways to and learning in the environment. Projects tackled improvements for safety, fitness and access for all alongside installations of signage and artworks adding value to the routes. Interpretive paths offer opportunities to learn about nature, the arts and heritage and some of the pathways have been in unusual locations, such as through the graveyard Glasgow Necropolis.

Click through for sample access projects and links to case studies.


Scientific Publications

A. J. Jamieson,  L. S. R. Brooks,  W. D. K. Reid,  S. B. Piertney,  B. E. Narayanaswamy and  T. D. Linley Microplastics and synthetic particles ingested by deep-sea amphipods in six of the deepest marine ecosystems on Earth (open access) Royal Society Open Science https://doi.org/10.1098/rsos.180667 


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