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

 

Feeding red squirrels peanuts may make natural diet a tough nut to crack – University of York

New research suggests a population of red squirrels on the Lancashire coast may have developed weaker bites after snacking on peanuts.

Red squirrel Photo by NON on UnsplashThe researchers suggest that the changes in bite strength of the squirrels in Formby could have been brought about by their softer diets, reducing their ability to gnaw through the tough-to-crack nuts they eat naturally – such as pine cone seeds, hazelnuts and beech nuts.

The findings have important implications for conservation efforts for red squirrels, which were once widespread across mainland Britain. They have suffered severe population decline from the 1920s onwards due to a loss of woodland as well as viruses and competition from grey squirrels.

Photo by NON on Unsplash

Bite force

The researchers, from the University of York and National Museums Scotland, compared the lower jaws of red squirrels from surviving population pockets in the UK (which are mainly in northern areas and on offshore islands) as well as a sample from central Europe.

Their analysis has indicated that Formby squirrels, which are managed by the National Trust and the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, appear to have a less efficient temporalis muscle than all the other red squirrel populations. In rodents this muscle is used for rapid closing of the jaws to generate a powerful bite force.

 

Fifty-year study shows climate change is pushing UK wildlife 'out of sync' – Rothamsted Research

Climate change has advanced the breeding season of many species in the UK – but just how much varies markedly across the country.

The first in-depth analysis into the seasonal timing of certain bird and insect behaviours has confirmed that spring is indeed getting earlier each year – but that exactly how much earlier these events now start depends on where in the UK and in which habitat they occur.

The authors of the report have warned these trends could have serious ramifications for ecosystems, as significant variation between groups of animals in the rates of advance means populations are becoming “out of sync” with the life cycles of their prey.

The fifty-year study into natural cycles of egg laying and migration has also dashed environmentalists’ hopes that shaded habitats such as forests are shielding some populations from the destabilising effects of global warming.

Lead author Dr James Bell, who heads up the Rothamsted Insect Survey, said: “There was already good evidence that spring is coming earlier each year, but what we didn’t expect to find was that it was advancing as much in forests as it is in open areas such as grassland. Equally, in areas where we’d expect to see much greater acceleration, such as urban parkland, the rates of advance appear to be the same. This all points to a complex picture emerging under climate change, which makes ecosystem responses hard to predict, and even harder for conservationists to prepare for.”

An earlier study by the group looking at a 30-year period had shown the average rate of advance varied from about a week earlier for birds and a month earlier for aphids, but this new paper reveals an even more complex picture.

Read the publication: Spatial and habitat variation in aphid, butterfly, moth and bird phenologies over the last half century

 

Climate Change Threat to Dolphins’ Survival – University of Zurich

An unprecedented marine heatwave had long-lasting negative impacts on both survival and birth rates on the iconic dolphin population in Shark Bay, Western Australia. Researchers at UZH have now documented that climate change may have more far-reaching consequences for the conservation of marine mammals than previously thought.

Dolphin mother with her calf (Sonja Wild)Dolphin mother with her calf (Sonja Wild)

Shark Bay in Western Australia in early 2011: A heatwave causes the water temperatures to rise to more than four degrees above the annual average. The extended period caused a substantial loss of seagrass, which drives the Shark Bay ecosystem, in this coastal area, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Researchers from UZH have now investigated how this environmental damage has affected survival and reproduction of dolphins. They used long-term data on hundreds of animals collected over a ten-year period from 2007 to 2017. Their analyses revealed that the dolphins’ survival rate had fallen by 12 percent following the heatwave of 2011. Moreover, female dolphins were giving birth to fewer calves – a phenomenon that lasted at least until 2017. 

Negative influence of the heatwave is unprecedented

“The extent of the negative influence of the heatwave surprised us,” says Sonja Wild, former PhD candidate at the University of Leeds and first author of the study. “It is particularly unusual that the reproductive success of females appears to have not returned to normal levels, even after six years.” There are several possible explanations for this phenomenon, for instance neglect of calves, increased newborn mortality, delayed sexual maturity or a combination thereof, but researchers have not yet been able to investigate them in detail.

 

Project will see the birds return to the Isle of Wight after an absence of almost 240 years - Forestry England

Plans to return white-tailed eagles to the South of England have taken a step forward after a licence was issued by the Government’s wildlife licensing authority, Natural England.  The licence to reintroduce Britain’s largest bird of prey was granted to The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Forestry England who will undertake a five year reintroduction programme based on the Isle of Wight.

White-tailed eagles were once widespread across Southern Britain until the eighteenth century when persecution and human activity lead to the birds being wiped out.  The last known breeding place in the region was recorded at Culver Cliff on the Isle of Wight in 1780.

The project could give a significant boost to the Island economy after a similar scheme on The Isle of Mull was found to have boosted its local economy by up to £5 million a year.

Roy Dennis, Founder of The Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said “White-tailed eagles were once a common sight in England and southern Europe but were lost centuries ago. This project aims to reverse that situation by restoring the eagles to their ancestral nesting places. I can remember as a lad walking along Culver Cliffs to see where the eagles had once lived. It is incredible now to be able to play a part in returning these birds back to their home. We look forward to working with a range of organisations on the Island, and in the Solent area, to help make this exciting project a success.”

Bruce Rothnie, South Forest Management Director, at Forestry England, said, “Our woodlands provide a haven for wildlife and we hope that they will become home to these incredible birds on the Isle of Wight. This long term project is a great opportunity to help to restore the white-tailed eagle to the South Coast of England and we are proud to be involved in helping to bring back this rarest of birds to Britain.” 

Reintroducing these birds is a priority in the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. Implementation of the licence will be closely monitored by Natural England. Public support for the project has been high with 76 per cent of local people surveyed supporting the reintroduction of the birds to the area.

 

CIEEM and RSPB advise against netting on hedges and trees – CIEEM

CIEEM and the RSPB are aware of the recent rise in the use of netting on trees and hedges to prevent birds from nesting in vegetation needing to be removed from development sites during the breeding season. Whilst not illegal, we have considerable concerns about the use of this practice and we advise against its use.

Netting is an overly simplistic approach that has become more prominent recently. There is an understandable negative reaction from both the public and from professional ecologists to the real and potential harm that it may cause to wildlife.

Forward planning and early engagement of a competent ecologist by developers can often mitigate the circumstances that require netting to be used and avoid unnecessary delays to development projects. In line with planning guidelines, developers should be aiming to retain trees and hedges in the landscape design of their develop projects wherever possible. In the first instance vegetation should be removed outside the nesting bird season and should be checked by a competent ecologist. Where this is not possible, the developer should seek to compensate any removal by planting replacements.

 

Natural England in firing line for loss of unique wildlife site - Buglife

Buglife is set to challenge Natural England on its extraordinary failure to protect West Tilbury Marshes, a wildlife site,  within the Thames Estuary Important Invertebrate Area, that it has described as “irreplaceable” and claimed was being added to its SSSI designation pipeline.

Tilbury Fort Road (c) Matt ShardlowThe way our supposed protector of the natural environment has acted means it is not practicable to challenge Chris Grayling’s recent decision as Secretary of State at the Department of Transport to consent the development of a port at Tilbury, Essex on land considered to be of SSSI quality for endangered species of insects.

Tilbury Fort Road (c) Matt Shardlow

Buglife considers the huge destruction of endangered insect life associated with the port development to be illogical and immoral, but lawyers have advised the charity that the highly restricted grounds available to challenge such decisions under the process of judicial review would make it difficult to show that the decision to grant consent was as such unlawful, so legal action would be unlikely to save the site from destruction.

The approval of the port development was partly based on a “mitigation plan” for this incredible site that relies on unproven and untested methods that experts do not believe will save the endangered species, and is also planned to be carried out on a site that is already due to be converted into wildflower habitat as part of the restoration plan for a landfill site (the “mitigation” site is managed by Essex Wildlife Trust who were not consulted on the proposal). So even if the methods work it will be a case of double counting. 

“We are deeply, deeply saddened not to be able to challenge the gross environmental harm that this development will cause, we are mortified and feel as if we are abandoning these endangered species, but we must listen to advice: if we cannot feasibly challenge the decision, it would be a waste of resources to try. However we are now fully determined to take Natural England to task here. They have been complicit in the destruction of Thames Gateway wildlife sites that were home to huge numbers of exceptionally rare species. This must stop and we need a plan that can sustain the remaining threatened species.”, said Matt Shardlow, Buglife CEO.

 

Osprey lays first egg of 2019 at Loch of the Lowes - Scottish Wildlife Trust

Female osprey LF15 laid her first egg of the season at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve in Perthshire yesterday evening (Thursday 4 April).  

Following an afternoon of fidgeting and nest renovations she began to show signs of laying her first egg in the early evening. Contractions and heavy panting were observed accompanied by a series of soft chirps, before the egg was finally laid just after 8:30 pm.

LF15 lays her first egg of 2019 © Scottish Wildlife TrustLF15 lays her first egg of 2019 © Scottish Wildlife Trust

Sara Rasmussen, Perthshire Ranger, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “At first LF15 seemed a bit bemused by the whole affair. She took a while to settle down, but she has sat tight throughout the night, nestling down on the egg to begin incubation.  LF15 and her mate LM12 have successfully fledged 10 chicks since 2015. With 2019 marking 50 years of both the reserve and breeding ospreys we can't wait to see what the rest of the season has in store. Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery our team of staff and volunteers are watching around the clock to see what unfolds and protect these amazing birds from disturbance.”

A video is available on Youtube: https://youtu.be/Js1ytJFn1ro    

 

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch results show mixed picture for UK’s garden birds

  • House sparrow remains at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings with almost 1.2 million sightings throughout the weekend but for many species fewer birds were recorded than in 2018.
  • Almost half a million people across the UK spent an hour watching the birds that visit their garden or outdoor space as a part of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, counting more than 7.5 million birds in total.
  • For many people, garden birds remain an important link to nature and the RSPB wants to do more to increase this connection to help both wildlife and people.

Sparrows on bird feeders (Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha)The latest results from the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch have revealed a mixed picture for the UK’s garden birdlife with 15 of the top 20 species returning fewer sightings in gardens across the country than in 2018.

Sparrows on bird feeders (Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha)

Daniel Hayhow, RSPB Conservation Scientist, said: “Over its long lifetime, the survey has shown the increasing good fortunes of birds such as the goldfinch and wood pigeon and the alarming declines of the house sparrow and starling. But there appears to be good news for one of these birds. While the overall decline in house sparrow numbers, reported by participants, since the Big Garden Birdwatch began is 56% (1979 – 2019), in the most recent decade (2009-2019) numbers appear to have increased by 10%. Giving us hope that at least a partial recovery may be happening. This year’s survey also highlighted a rise in the number of sightings of redwings and fieldfares on last year’s figures.

The house sparrow remained at the top of the Big Garden Birdwatch rankings at the most commonly seen garden birds with more than 1.2 million recorded sightings throughout the weekend. Starling held down the second spot once more, with the blue tit moving up one spot to round off the top three.

 

New Forest stream restoration shortlisted for prestigious UK award - Forestry England

An environmental scheme to return New Forest streams and wetlands to their natural state has been chosen as one of the UK’s most important river restorations. Shortlisted as a finalist in the 2019 UK River Prize, the project has restored natural bends or meanders to over nine miles of streams in the New Forest National Park over the last nine years.

The prestigious UK River Prize celebrates the achievements of individuals and organisations working to improve rivers and recognises the benefits to society of having a healthy and natural environment. The restoration of the wetlands in the New Forest, one of the largest environmental improvement schemes in England, was chosen by the judges as one of the four finalists from a strong field of entries from right across the UK.

Started in 2010, the ten year project aims to reverse the damaging impacts of the artificial straightening of streams and digging of drainage channels, carried out since the Victorian era, by reinstating the waters meanders and natural bends. Straightened channels can cause bogs to dry out, stream banks to erode and increases the risk of flooding downstream all of which damage critically important habitats for rare and endangered wildlife and plants.

By returning the streams to their naturally flowing state the project is helping to make sure the surrounding habitats are more resilient in both winter floods and summer droughts. Allowing the water to meander through the landscape also slows it down during periods of high rainfall, limiting erosion and reducing the risk of flooding further downstream and in built up areas.

 

30×30: Groundbreaking scientific study maps out how to protect a third of the world’s oceans by 2030 - Greenpeace 

 Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Credit: © Ralf Kiefner / GreenpeaceAs governments meet at the UN to negotiate towards an historic Global Ocean Treaty, a groundbreaking study by leading marine biologists has mapped out how to protect over a third of the world’s oceans by 2030, a target that scientists say is crucial in order to safeguard wildlife and to help mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). Credit: © Ralf Kiefner / Greenpeace

The report, 30×30: A Blueprint For Ocean Protection is the result of a year-long collaboration between leading academics at the University of York, University of Oxford and Greenpeace. In one of the largest ever studies of its kind, researchers broke down the global oceans – which cover almost half the planet – into 25,000 squares of 100×100 km, and then mapped the distribution of 458 different conservation features, including wildlife, habitats and key oceanographic features, generating hundreds of scenarios for what a planet-wide network of ocean sanctuaries, free from harmful human activity, could look like.

Negotiations at the UN towards a Global Ocean Treaty could pave the way for the protection of oceans outside of national borders, that cover 230 million square kilometres. This research explores what it would mean to fully protect 30% and 50% of the global oceans, both widely discussed ambitions for conservation targets. Various scenarios for protection, as well as wildlife hotspots and threats to the ocean, can be explored using this interactive map. 

Click through for comments by: Prof Callum Roberts, marine conservation biologist at the University of York, UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Louisa Casson, Greenpeace UK campaigner,  Prof Alex Rogers, Visiting Professor, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford and Dr Sandra Schoettner of Greenpeace’s Protect the Oceans campaign 

30×30: A Blueprint For Ocean Protection  download executive summary and full report

 

Scientific Publications

Lilian Lieber et al. Localised anthropogenic wake generates a predictable foraging hotspot for top predators, Communications Biology (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s42003-019-0364-z (open access)

 

Van Strien, A. J., van Swaay, C. A. M., van Strien-van Liempt, W. T. F. H., Poot, M. J. M. & WallisDeVries, M. F.  Over a century of data reveal more than 80% decline in butterflies in the Netherlands (open access) Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.03.023

 

Humann-Guilleminot, S., Binkowski, Ł. J., Jenni, L., Hilke, G.,  Glauser, G. & Helfenstein, F. A nation-wide survey of neonicotinoid insecticides in agricultural land with implications for agri-environment schemes. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13392

 

Rodríguez-Muñoz Rolando, Boonekamp Jelle J., Fisher David, Hopwood Paul ,and Tregenza Tom Slower senescence in a wild insect population in years with a more female-biased sex ratio (open access) Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences http://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2019.0286

 

Riebel Katharina, Odom Karan J., Langmore Naomi E. ,and Hall Michelle L. New insights from female bird song: towards an integrated approach to studying male and female communication roles (open access) Biology Letters http://doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0059

 

Downie, JR, Larcombe, V, Stead, J. Amphibian conservation in Scotland: A review of threats and opportunities. Aquatic Conserv: Mar Freshw Ecosyst. 2019; 1– 8. https://doi.org/10.1002/aqc.3083

  

Both, C. , Ubels, R. and Ravussin, P. (2019), Life-history innovation to climate change: can single-brooded migrant birds become multiple breeders?. J Avian Biol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/jav.01951

 

Gemma Jerome, Danielle Sinnett, Sarah Burgess, Thomas Calvert, Roger Mortlock, A framework for assessing the quality of green infrastructure in the built environment in the UK. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2019.04.001

 

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