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


Thousands of species at risk from native oak decline – The James Hutton Institute

Oak trees have long had a reputation for supporting a range of biodiversity, however, research published today (Monday 15 April) has uncovered just how many species depend on British oak to survive. The decline of these iconic trees, currently threatened by pests, diseases and climate change, could put a total of 2,300 species at risk.

British oak trees support a rich biodiversity © James Hutton InstituteBritish oak trees support a rich biodiversity © James Hutton Institute  

A £1.25m study called ‘Protecting Oak Ecosystems’ has produced the most comprehensive list yet of all species known to use native oak trees. The 2,300 total species are made up of invertebrates, birds, mammals and fungi, to name just a few. This figure does not include any of the bacteria and other micro-organisms that are associated with oak so the real number, although unknown, is likely to be much greater.

Lead author Dr Ruth Mitchell, of the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences group, said: “Our really old large oak trees support the greatest number of species. We are currently benefiting from trees established hundreds of years ago. We hope that this work will help us start thinking now about how our woodlands could look in hundreds of years and the biodiversity they might support.”

The project found of the total number of species affected, 326 were completely dependent on oak, with 229 being highly reliant on the tree. Examples of such species included the moth oak lutestring, fungi oak polypore and the beetle oak leaf-roller. These 555 species were considered most at risk from a decline in oak health.

The work has been published in the journal Biological Conservation and is available here


Increase in seagrass meadow good for marine life – Natural Resources Wales

A marine survey has shown an increase in the area of seagrass off Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire. 

Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) team of marine scientists conducted repeat surveys between 1997 to 2018, to monitor the health of seagrass within the Skomer Marine Conservation Zone.

A team of volunteer divers supported the survey, monitoring both the size of the seagrass meadow and the density of the seagrass plants.

Phil Newman, NRW Senior Marine Conservation Officer said: “Seagrass meadows provide nursery areas for commercially important species such as cod, pollack and flat fish but are declining by 7% per year globally. Our survey showed that the seagrass meadow was healthy, it had both expanded and the density of plants is the highest ever recorded at this site. This is a great result, bucking the trend and giving a boost to marine life. Seagrass meadows act as vast filters, recycling nutrients and reducing microorganisms that can cause disease in our seas. We lost 90 per cent of seagrass through disease, across the whole of the North Atlantic in the 1930s. This resulted in massive declines in clams, lobster, scallops, crab, cod and flounder. Seagrass is also an effective breakwater and sediment stabiliser and its loss causes coastal erosion and increased pollution.”


Computer games for fish uncover why some prey lead and others follow – University of Bristol

Generic image of sticklebacks Image credit: Alex PollFor the first time, researchers have shed new light on the evolution of different social roles within animal groups by exploring how fish predators target and attack groups of virtual prey. The study, led by the universities of Bristol and Oxford and published today [Monday 15 April] in the journal PNAS, found leaders in groups of animals are more vulnerable to attack from predators.

Generic image of sticklebacks Image credit: Alex Poll

Leadership offers both opportunities and risks. Fortune may favour the bold when it comes to leaders influencing group decisions about what to do and where to go next, but these individuals will also be the first to run into any danger that awaits.

Behavioural scientists have long suspected that leaders in groups of animals are more vulnerable to attack from predators. This new research now provides the first experimental evidence to confirm this long-standing assumption.

By studying real predatory fish attacking groups of virtual prey, Dr Christos Ioannou and colleagues showed that the risk of an individual being targeted is strongly influenced by its relative position within a group. Prey leading from the front were more likely to be attacked by predators than followers situated in safer positions towards the group’s centre.


Park Protector and Year of Green Action awards seek out projects making a difference - Campaign for National Parks

Campaign for National Parks has joined forces with the Government’s Year of Green Action to seek out the very best projects making a difference in the National Parks.

Winning projects will receive either a £1500 or £2000 boost in recognition of their work safeguarding the most beloved landscapes in the country in the first ever joint Park Protector and Year of Green Action Awards. 

Minister for National Parks, Lord Gardiner of Kimble said: “National Parks are incredibly important and it is essential that we celebrate the people who work hard to protect these special landscapes for all of us, and future generations, to enjoy.

“These awards are open to anyone making a difference to the future of these fantastic natural spaces.”

Nominations are open until Friday 31 May. Nominated projects must be seeking to connect people with the environment, conserve or enhance the biodiversity or a heritage site, improve access to the Parks, or protect an area in a National Park. 

More information and nominations form. 


The Forestry Commission is inviting people to join the largest ever survey of England’s forest wildlife - Forestry England

The Big Forest Find is taking place in the nation’s forests, as volunteers and visitors embark on a journey of discovery through England’s wooded landscapes. The project is launched as part of the Forestry Commission centenary in 2019.
From birds and butterflies to insects and plant life on the forest floor, the information recorded will paint a better picture of England’s forest biodiversity today.

Tawny owl (credit: Forestry Commission / Simon Bound)With wildlife facing challenges including climate change, pests and diseases, these records will help the Forestry Commission to enhance its forests for wildlife for generations to come.

Tawny owl (credit: Forestry Commission / Simon Bound)

From seasoned naturalists to budding wildlife enthusiasts, the Forestry Commission is encouraging people from all walks of life to take part. The Big Forest Find will be also supported by specialists from a host of other wildlife organisations including Plantlife, the Hawk & Owl Trust and Butterfly Conservation.
Big Forest Find activities will include nocturnal wildlife surveying at Maybeck, Yorkshire, and bug hunting at Drinkwater Park, near Manchester.
As part of the project, the public is being encouraged to record forest wildlife through the seasons using the free app iNaturalist. To find out how to take part visit www.forestryengland.uk/bigforestfind


Help us enjoy a starry night says CPRE, as cosmic census reveals the scale of light pollution - Campaign to Protect Rural England 

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is calling for action to tackle light pollution and enable more people to enjoy the beauty of a starry sky, as it publishes the results of CPRE’s Star Count 2019. A record 2,300 people took part in this year’s star count, which ran for the first three weeks of February.

stargazing in Snowdonia National Park by Joshua Earl (on unsplash)Results of the survey, published today (16 April) by CPRE, reveal that just 2% of participants experienced the wonders of a truly dark sky full of stars, due to the impact of light pollution caused by street lighting and other artificial lights, even in the countryside.

stargazing in Snowdonia National Park by Joshua Earl (on unsplash)

The cosmic census, which was supported by the British Astronomical Association, aimed to promote dark skies and engage people in the wonders of stargazing. Star-spotters submitted the number of stars that they could see within the constellation of Orion and the results used to create an interactive map displaying people’s view of the night sky. But it also demonstrated the impact that light pollution is having on people’s view of the stars.

Well over half of all participants (57%) failed to see more than ten stars, meaning that they are severely impacted by light pollution. In contrast, only 9% of people experienced ‘dark skies’, counting between 21 and 30 stars, and just 2% experienced ‘truly dark skies’ and were able to count more than 30 stars – half the proportion of people able to do so during the previous Star Count, in 2014.

The countryside charity suggests the results show we can do more to combat light pollution. Given its detrimental impact – not just on people’s view of the night sky, but also the behaviour of nature and wildlife, as well as human health – CPRE is urging the government, local councils and general public to do more to limit the impact of artificial light from streets and buildings. 


Environment Agency announces new green legacy for £2.6bn flood and coastal risk management programme. - Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has announced a set of new supplier arrangements and partnerships which will increase efficiency, value for money and the green legacy of its £2.6 billion capital investment programme. The programme aims to better protect 300,000 homes from coastal erosion and flooding up to 2021 and beyond.

Effective from April 2019, the Environment Agency’s Next Generation Supplier Arrangements (NGSA) will form the basis of new ways of working which will help better protect people and the environment whilst ensuring that sustainable development is at the core of Environment Agency projects.

The new NGSA arrangements have been developed using the EA’s long experience in the Flood and Coastal Risk Management sector as well as learning from other leading public and private infrastructure providers. The new arrangements promote innovative ways of collaborative working with delivery partners and local communities from the initial planning stages of a project right through to its completion.

The new supplier arrangements will also lead to longer term team working and new ways of engaging with local organisations and communities. This closer working will ensure that homes, communities and businesses are receiving the best possible flood and coastal management for the challenges facing their area. At the same time flood and coastal defence projects will promote economic growth, social wellbeing and will seek to enhance levels of natural capital within the local community, making sure that each scheme brings long-lasting benefits for future generations.


National Park visitors urged to ‘take it home’ as litter and rubbish collection costs hit £37,000 per year - Peak District National Park

National Park rangers are asking visitors to think twice before leaving litter in the Peak District, as figures estimate more than 60 tonnes of rubbish a year is being removed from some of the most popular locations.

The Peak District National Park Authority, who manage 45 car parks and seven visitor centre and cycle hire facilities, say more than 50 tonnes of general waste and 10 tonnes of recyclable waste is collected by teams each year.  The costs of dealing with litter and rubbish at National Park Authority-managed sites have now been estimated at almost £37,000 a year.

National Park rangers say that simple measures such as visitors taking home what they bring into the National Park means that money can instead be spent on looking after the same locations where litter is the biggest problem.

A Sheffield Hallam University graduate study undertaken in 2018, suggested that one in four items of plastic-based litter observed by visitors in the Peak District were single-use plastic bottles, with around one in five items being crisp or sweet wrappers, or plastic bags. Over 80% of visitors said they had seen plastic litter at some point during their visit.


Beavers arrive for Yorkshire trial - Forestry England

Forestry England has brought a pair of Eurasian beavers from Scotland to Cropton Forest in Yorkshire for a revolutionary trial in natural flood management.

Beaver being released from crate at Cropton Forest (image: ©Forestry England / Sam Oakes)Spanning five years the trial will assess will the impact of the beavers’ activity on the long-term sustainability and maintenance of the “slowing the flow” artificial wooden dams. The dams have been helping to protect areas including nearby Pickering from flooding. This will be the first time in the United Kingdom that the effects beaver have on artificial dams has ever been studied.

Beaver being released from crate at Cropton Forest (image: ©Forestry England / Sam Oakes)

The pioneering project between Forestry England, Forest Research, Exeter University, and beaver experts Dr Roisin Campbell-Palmer and Derek Gow is building on the “Slowing the Flow” project, north of Pickering. Slowing the flow has been hailed as a big success and a potential model for other flood prone areas across the country.
Forestry England expect that the beavers’ activity in Cropton Forest will improve biodiversity in their new 10-hectare home and may have the potential to reduce the impact of flooding locally. Monitoring will continue on site throughout the five-year project to assess these ecosystem benefits.

Over 40 volunteers have been involved in the project so far doing baseline wildlife surveys, including birds, butterflies, bats, small mammals, otters, fungi, aquatic and terrestrial plants, fish, spiders and reptiles.  The surveys will be repeated every year after release.  

RZSS wrote an article for us in 2015 discussing Roisin's work on the Scottish Beaver Trial  read it here


Revealing the true value of Orkney’s marine environment - Scottish Wildlife Trust

A new approach to valuing the marine environment will be piloted in Orkney by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, in collaboration with Heriot Watt University, over the next two years. 

The Oceans of Value project aims to highlight the important link between a healthy marine environment and human prosperity, and investigate how combining two different ways of valuing the marine environment can collectively provide useful insights for decision makers in marine planning.Our Marine Planning Manager Dr Sam Collin said: “Marine planning is increasingly recognised as an essential approach to managing the many pressures on our environment. To ensure management is effective, it is essential to understand and identify the different values of the marine environment. This project will provide opportunities to incorporate local knowledge, identify ‘hidden values’, and improve our ability to tailor marine plans to meet societal, economic and environmental needs. Ultimately we want to identify opportunities for coastal communities to thrive alongside healthy living seas.”


Scientific Publications

Matthiopoulos Jason, Field Christopher and MacLeod Ross. Predicting population change from models based on habitat availability and utilization. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences doi:10.1098/rspb.2018.2911


Ikin Karen, Barton Philip S., Blanchard Wade, Crane Mason, Stein John ,and Lindenmayer David B. Avian functional responses to landscape recovery Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.0114


Fabien Claireau, Yves Bas, Julie Pauwels, Kévin Barré, Nathalie Machon, Benjamin Allegrini, Sébastien J. Puechmaille, Christian Kerbiriou, Major roads have important negative effects on insectivorous bat activity, Biological Conservation, Volume 235, 2019, Pages 53-62, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.04.002.


Catry, T. & Catry, I. Nest-site provisioning re-shapes species interactions within bird assemblages. (open access) IBIS DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12731


We're ending the week with this lovely coati at London Zoo enjoying some Easter treats.


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