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


Last chance for Sussex butterfly – Butterfly Conservation

Hundreds of Sussex schoolchildren and college students have joined forces to save a rare butterfly from local extinction, wildlife charity White-letter Hairstreak butterfly by Bob EadeButterfly Conservation (BC) can reveal.

White-letter Hairstreak butterfly by Bob Eade

Volunteers aged from six to 18 are creating new habitat for the rapidly declining White-letter Hairstreak at Lancing College near Shoreham airport.

The butterfly, identified by a distinctive ‘W’ marking on the underside of its wing, has experienced a 93% decline in numbers across the UK since the 1970’s and is at risk because its caterpillar will only feed on elm.

Millions of elm have been lost across Sussex and other parts of the country over the last 40 years due to Dutch elm disease, an infection first brought over to the UK on imported logs from Canada.

At least 550 disease-resistant elm trees will be planted to help the White-letter Hairstreak as part of the Elms for Adur Hairstreaks project by BC’s Sussex Branch, with support from the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service and local young people.

Children from Sussex primary schools, special educational needs schools, cubs and scouts groups, college students and teenagers working towards their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award will all be involved in tasks from planting to learning more about the butterfly.


Illegal songbird trapping in Cyprus at ten year low on UK military base – RSPB

  • Latest report suggests a continued decline in the number of birds being illegally killed on British military base in Cyprus.
  • The continued reduction is due in large part to work by the RSPB, BirdLife Cyprus and the Sovereign Base Area Administration using covert surveillance methods to catch trappers in the act, leading to stronger court sentences.
  • Killed songbirds are sold via the black market to restaurants in the Republic of Cyprus for diners to eat, with criminal gangs earning hundreds of thousands of Euros from this illegal activity.

An estimated 121,000 songbirds, such as blackcaps and robins, are estimated to have been illegally killed on a British military base in Cyprus last autumn, according to a new report by BirdLife Cyprus and the RSPB. However, this number was down from 260,000 in 2017 and 880,000 in 2016.

The success in the reduction of illegal trapping on the base is believed to be primarily due to the impact of covert surveillance work undertaken by the RSPB and BirdLife Cyprus with the Sovereign Base Area (SBA) Administration. Since the work started in 2016, some 21 trappers have been caught on camera and prosecuted, with courts imposing three years suspended jail sentences and fines as high as 6000 Euros. More individuals caught in 2018 are due to appear in court later this year. The Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) have also continued to provide crucial support in identifying trapping sites as highlighted by TV Presenter and campaigner, Chris Packham, during the last three autumns.

Along with increased enforcement and heavier sentences, the SBA authorities are also using a range of civil and criminal sanctions against the trappers meaning they now face a double deterrent.

Songbirds are illegally trapped and killed to provide restaurants with the main ingredient for the local and expensive delicacy of ambelopoulia - a plate of cooked songbirds. Organised criminal gangs are driving this illegal activity on a huge scale and it is estimated they earn hundreds of thousands of Euros every year from the songbirds they kill on British territory.


Rivers of plastic: Photographs reveal UK river wildlife habitats invaded by plastic pollution – Greenpeace

A new collection of photographs show iconic British wildlife like otters, voles and kingfishers surrounded by plastic pollution in UK rivers;

Common Kingfisher perched above discarded litter near Deptford Creek, London. © Tomos BrangwynCommon Kingfisher perched above discarded litter near Deptford Creek, London. © Tomos Brangwyn

Greenpeace is carrying out the most thorough survey of plastic in UK rivers to date – testing river water in 13 rivers nationwide and analysing the plastics found with state of the art technology;

Campaigners, scientists, actor Bonnie Wright and 70,000 members of the public are urging the government to set and enforce reduction targets for single-use plastics  

The world has seen the impacts of plastic pollution on our oceans – turtles eating plastic, seabirds feeding plastic to chicks. Now a new collection of photographs published today (Monday 18 March) by Greenpeace UK shows that plastic pollution is also invading the habitats of Britain’s most iconic river wildlife.

The pictures – some of them new, some rarely-seen or previously unpublished – show otters swimming through plastic bottles, voles eating plastic, and swans, moorhens and coots with plastic in their nests.

The images are released as Greenpeace is carrying out the most thorough survey of plastic in UK rivers to date. Campaigners are gathering water samples from 13 rivers across the UK and scientists will be analysing the plastics found using state of the art infrared technology at the University of Exeter.


World's largest study to monitor air quality exposure of 250 children – Kings College London

A new study by King's scientists will monitor air quality exposure of 250 children on their way to school and in the classroom. The announcement was made today at Haimo Primary School in Greenwich by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who is funding the study.

Image: Kings College LondonImage: Kings College London

Led by Dr Ben Barratt from the Environmental Research Group at King's, the study will use state-of-the-art toxic air monitoring backpacks developed by Dyson, to help monitor and better understand the levels of toxic air young Londoners are exposed to during their journeys to school and in the classroom.

250 pupils from five London primary schools, situated across five boroughs (Southwark, Richmond, Greenwich, Haringey and Hammersmith and Fulham) will take part in the project, wearing specially adapted backpacks to and from school for a week.

Weighing just over 1kg, the sensors fit into lightweight bags and measure particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels. The children involved will use the backpacks like a normal bag (the monitor takes up one pocket, leaving plenty of room for school equipment), allowing the monitors to record pollutant levels on each child’s journey to school and throughout the school day.

The data from this study will allow King’s scientists to analyse at which point of their journey to school (or which part of their school day) children are exposed to the most pollution. They will also be able to the compare the exposure of children who have similar journeys but take different routes and travel modes and then make recommendations of how children can reduce their exposure in future.


Capturing the arrival of spring in a nationwide crowd-sourced nature diary – National Trust

Led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), researchers from the Land Lines research project examining the history of nature writing, and supported by the National Trust, Natural England and the Field Studies Council, the digital diary aims to encourage people across the UK to document their observations of wildlife, their favourite places, and what spring means to them.

For generations, poets and prose writers have put pen to paper to express the importance of the arrival of spring and the burst of colour and busyness in the animal kingdom.

Entries could be a description of an early morning encounter with an urban fox on the way to work or capturing the wonderful sounds of birdsong when walking in the woods.

All of the diary entries, which can be up to 150 words, will be live curated from dawn to dusk, and could take the form of a poem or something about the symbolism or meaning of spring.

People can upload their diary entries and any accompanying images to the AHRC website and also share them on social media using the hashtag #springnaturediary.

Writer Abi Andrews will then select the entries from across the UK that best capture the arrival of spring for a specially produced ebook.

Dr Pippa Marland, part of the Land Lines research team, based at the University of Leeds, said: “The crowd-sourced spring diary will give nature lovers around the country the chance to participate in an event that combines the best traditions of citizen science with the opportunity to produce their own nature writing. 

“It will offer a unique snapshot of the beginning of spring this year and mark an important moment in the history of nature writing in the UK.”


Beavers arrive in Essex to play their part in flood prevention – Environment Agency

After an absence of 400 years, the Eurasian beaver is back in Essex, with a pair now released into an enclosure on a historic country estate.

The mixed pair of beavers are now getting to know their new home - a fenced enclosure covering 4 hectares of woodland (image: Environment Agency)(image: Environment Agency)

The mixed pair of beavers are now getting to know their new home - a fenced enclosure covering 4 hectares of woodland on the Spains Hall estate in Finchingfield, near Braintree.

It is hoped the beavers, sourced from an established fenced colony in Devon, will help reduce the risk of flooding in the village by building dams along the brook flowing through the enclosure.

The beavers are expected to get to work quickly, but the results of their labour may take a few months to be felt downstream.

Their enterprising activities are being complemented by a man-made natural flood management scheme on a second strand of Finchingfield Brook, which features a ‘leaky dam’ approach. This consists of securing tree branches or trunks across a watercourse, which helps slow the flow after heavy rain. The scheme should also create wetland that will release water in drier periods.

Eventually, using data collected by Environment Agency equipment stationed along the watercourses and other sensors installed around individual leaky dams and the beaver enclosure, scientists will be able to establish if this approach is more successful than more conventional flood prevention methods.


Study suggesting widespread illegal killing of hen harriers on English grouse moors published – Natural England

Image of a brown he harrier flying across a field (image: Natural England)Research published today in Nature Communications shows the likelihood of hen harriers dying, or disappearing is ten times higher in areas covered by grouse moor

Image of a brown he harrier flying across a field (image: Natural England)

A new study reveals that young hen harriers in England suffer abnormally high mortality compared to populations in Orkney and mainland

Scotland and the study provides compelling evidence that the most likely cause is illegal killing in areas associated with grouse moor management.

Published today in Nature Communications this paper represents the culmination of a 10-year Natural England study involving 58 satellite tagged hen harriers. The analyses have been led by the University of Cape Town and Aberdeen University with the provision of land use data by the RSPB.

The study showed the likelihood of hen harriers dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within areas predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moor. The study revealed that 72% of tagged harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.

Response: No viable alternative land uses for Scotland’s grouse moors, says BASC – BASC

BASC has welcomed the results of a study which shows there are serious limitations to alternative uses of land currently used for driven grouse shooting in Scotland.

The association was involved in the research project commissioned by the Scottish Government to examine the socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors in Scotland.

BASC Scotland director Dr Colin Shedden said the research, carried out by the James Hutton Institute and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), showed that the land, identified in the study by the presence of grouse butts associated with driven grouse shooting, has a low capability for agricultural use.

He said: “Sheep grazing on unimproved pasture could be considered but is unlikely to be feasible. Improving the land for permanent pasture would be expensive and could be in conflict with the many conservation designations associated with heather moorland used for grouse shooting.

“The other alternative land uses for grouse moors that are frequently referred to are commercial forestry and rewilding, but the report clearly states that ‘the areas considered unsuitable for trees with any expectation of delivering harvestable timber are substantially greater than the areas considered as having very little agricultural value’.

“It also states that there is limited evidence of the socio-economic benefit of rewilding”.

Read the paper: Megan Murgatroyd, Stephen M. Redpath, Stephen G. Murphy, David J. T. Douglas, Richard Saunders & Arjun Amar Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors (open access) Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 1094 (2019)


Peak District National Park bird of prey project wins National Lottery support - RSPB

A nature conservation project aimed at reversing the fortunes of birds of prey in the Peak District National Park has received National Lottery support.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded a development grant of £91,900 to a partnership made up of the RSPB, National Trust, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust and Peak District National Park Authority. This funding will enable the partnership to progress plans for the Upland Skies project and apply for a full National Lottery grant next year.

Birds of prey should be a common sight on the hills and moors of the Peak District National Park but they are in trouble. For some species - most notably peregrines, goshawks and hen harriers - there is mounting evidence showing that illegal persecution is an important factor affecting these birds. 

For other birds of prey such as merlin and owls, the picture is less clear with declines potentially linked to habitat quality and climate change.

Taking place in Sheffield and the Peak District National Park, Upland Skies will raise public awareness of the threats these birds face and inspire local people and visitors to take action to help increase the numbers of birds of prey in the Peak District National Park. The project will inspire, educate and engage children and young people about this precious wildlife, the landscapes on their doorstep.  Upland Skies will also champion positive land management techniques, which will provide habitats to help birds of prey thrive once again.


Public fears for countryside and environment over devastating Oxford-Cambridge development plan - CPRE

River Ivel in Bedfordshire (image: Derry Brabbs)Three-quarters (74%) of residents living on a corridor between Oxford and Cambridge believe that plans for major new development across the region will lead to damage of the local countryside and environment, according to new public polling published today (21 March) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

River Ivel in Bedfordshire (image: Derry Brabbs)

The poll, which was carried out by research company Survation on the behalf of the countryside charity, interviewed 1,500 residents across five counties (Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire) on development proposals known as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The plans could see one million new homes built across the region by 2050.

A CPRE analysis from last year demonstrated that in order to build the one million new houses, an area of countryside greater than the size of Birmingham would be lost to development. Despite the scale of the development, the government has given the project its backing without a formal public consultation, or weighing up its impact on the countryside, people’s health, and climate change.


The Wildlife Trusts call for more investment in badger vaccination - The Wildlife Trust

The Wildlife Trusts' response to new figures released by the government.

Today the government released figures on the numbers of badgers vaccinated last year, in 2018. Their figures show that 641 were vaccinated – with half of these through the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS), the government-sponsored badger vaccination programme.

There is robust scientific evidence to prove that badger vaccination reduces the transmission of bTB in badgers. Several studies demonstrate that vaccinating badgers reduces the progression, severity and the likelihood that the infection would be passed on, once a badger is infected.

Whilst the data released today indicates progress of sorts, when compared to the numbers of badgers culled in 2018 – at least 32,602 – it represents a very small proportion. Vaccination has the potential to reduce bTB infection prevalence in the badger population, and hence bTB risks to cattle, without the harmful effects associated with culling such as increased prevalence of TB in badgers plus spreading the disease.

Much more needs to be done – and The Wildlife Trusts have demonstrated that badger vaccination is do-able. Twelve Wildlife Trusts across England and Wales conducted badger vaccination programmes between 2011-2015. In this time, we vaccinated more than 1500 badgers. The largest programme is run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust who also hosted training for lay vaccinators carried out by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) in 2018.


Survey enables better understanding of pressures on UK’s plant species - Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

The dedication of volunteers across the UK is creating an impressive resource on plant communities, thereby assisting scientific investigations into changes to our countryside.

Bluebells are the most frequently-seen wildflower in the woodlands surveyed as part of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme Picture: Beth Newman/PlantlifeBluebells are the most frequently-seen wildflower in the woodlands surveyed as part of the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (Picture: Beth Newman/Plantlife)

The National Plant Monitoring Scheme, run by a partnership of organisations including the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, relies on hundreds of people across the country – including walkers, amateur wildlife enthusiasts and mountaineers – recording the different wildflowers they see in their local area. It oversees the UK’s biggest wild plant survey, taking place from the Spring Equinox – which this year is March 20 – to the end of September.

Although the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) was only set up four years ago, the early records collected by members of the public are already helping to improve scientists’ understanding of the environmental pressures on plants and habitats.

The annual survey covers about 30 types of habitat found in the UK, from woodland and hedgerows to blanket bog, flushes, heathland and streams, plus more than 400 species of wildflowers.

Dr Oli Pescott, an ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), says: “The National Plant Monitoring Scheme helps us to detect pressures on habitats and may also allow us to understand how these vary across time and space.

“Early findings are already providing much-needed data on the abundance of wild plants at local levels. We very much hope that, over time, the NPMS will allow us to understand more about how our wild flora is changing in response to pressures such as nitrogen pollution and invasive species.”


Urban meadow trial to reach new sites – Rugby Borough Council

A more environmentally friendly way of managing grasslands introduced to parts of Rugby last year has seen significant improvements for wildlife and is to be extended to more parts of Rugby.

Boughton Road urban meadow (Rugby Borough Council)Urban meadows that were created in Rugby last year saw new species of plants, moths, butterflies and dragonflies on the sites for the first time, and now the council is to create urban meadows in other areas of the town.

Boughton Road urban meadow (Rugby Borough Council)

Cllr Lisa Parker, Rugby Borough Council portfolio holder for the environment and public realm, said: “While regularly mowed areas of short grass are appropriate for roadside verges and parks, longer grass and meadow areas are better for the environment and support wildlife. On some of the sites we will leave longer grass around the edge of the site, while at other sites we will create larger grassland meadows with pathways cut through to follow footpaths and desire lines. We hope that this new approach will help support wildlife such as insects, bees and hedgehogs, many of which have had a hard time in our towns and cities in recent years.”


The Guardian reports that the UK will miss almost all its 2020 nature targets, according to an official report

The UK will miss almost all the 2020 nature targets it signed up to a decade ago, according to a report by the government’s official advisers JNCC


Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency on Tuesday warned that England is set to run short of water within 25 years, as reported in The Telegraph

An idea for water conservation from University of East Anglia

Highlighting social identity and peer group norms can increase water conservation – University of East Anglia

New research suggests that targeted use of behavioural ‘nudges’ can encourage people to conserve water.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) found that rather than giving people general information about the importance of saving water, emphasising the water conserving actions of others in the same social group - for example university students or local residents - encourages similar behaviour changes and reduces water demand.

Water scarcity is a growing global issue and within the UK water shortages are recognised as one of the greatest climate change-related threats. This week the UK’s Environment Agency warned that England will not have enough water to meet demand within 25 years.

The new study explored the use of social norms in campaigns to motivate people to save water. Previous research has found that these behavioural-based approaches, or ‘nudges’ can impact on other pro-environmental behaviours, for example around saving energy and encouraging recycling.


Scientific publications

Finch, T., Green, R. E., Massimino, D., Peach, W. J. & Balmford, A. Bird conservation and the land sharing-sparing continuum in farmland-dominated landscapes of lowland England. Conservation Biology. DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13316


Termaat, T. et al. Distribution trends of European dragonflies under climate change (open access) Diversity & Distributions DOI: 10.1111/ddi.12913

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