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


Scotland’s Landscape Alliance launches – John Muir Trust

Trust joins with 60 organisations to increase the public and political profile of landscapes

Photo by Blair Fyffe shows visitors on the summit of Ben NevisPhoto by Blair Fyffe shows visitors on the summit of Ben Nevis

The John Muir Trust was one of 60 organisations at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh yesterday for the launch event of Scotland’s Landscape Alliance (SLA), which aims to ensure that Scotland cares for, improves and benefits from its landscapes.

The SLA will seek to make a strong case for landscapes in Scotland and how they contribute to all our lives and to people’s well-being. It includes organisations that represent a wide spectrum of interests including environmental and health, public bodies, charities and the private sector - all with an interest in the protection and promotion of Scotland’s landscapes and places.

The keynote speech at the event from Chris Dalglish - Director of Glasgow-based heritage organisation Inherit and Chair of the Landscape Research Group - focused on the link between human rights and the quality of the places in which people live. He made it clear that there is a need for a more democratic context for landscape work, both in terms of policy and in the way people can influence that policy. 


Biodegradable bags can hold a full load of shopping three years after being discarded in the environment – University of Plymouth

Researchers from the International Marine Litter Research Unit publish new research in Environmental Science and Technology

Biodegradable and compostable plastic bags are still capable of carrying full loads of shopping after being exposed in the natural environment for three years, a new study shows.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth examined the degradation of five plastic bag materials widely available from high street retailers in the UK.

They were then left exposed to air, soil and sea, environments which they could potentially encounter if discarded as litter.

The bags were monitored at regular intervals, and deterioration was considered in terms of visible loss in surface area and disintegration as well as assessments of more subtle changes in tensile strength, surface texture and chemical structure.

After nine months in the open air, all the materials had completely disintegrated into fragments.

However, the biodegradable, oxo-biodegradable and conventional plastic formulations remained functional as carrier bags after being in the soil or the marine environment for over three years.

The compostable bag completely disappeared from the experimental test rig in the marine environment within three months but, while showing some signs of deterioration, was still present in soil after 27 months.

Writing in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers from the University’s International Marine Litter Research Unit say the study poses a number of questions.

The most pertinent is whether biodegradable formulations can be relied upon to offer a sufficiently advanced rate of degradation to offer any realistic solution to the problem of plastic litter.


A core issue: National Trust plans to help halt dramatic decline of traditional orchards as blossoms start to bloom – National Trust

The National Trust will dramatically increase the number of some of the rarest and most time honoured habitats in the UK by planting dozens of traditional orchards.

The conservation charity currently looks after nearly 200 orchards, mainly planted with traditional apple varieties, but also plum, pear and damson.

But as part of an ambitious plan to encourage wildlife and halt the dramatic decline in orchards – 63 per cent since 1950 – the Trust will create 68 new orchards across England and Wales by 2025.

The loss of one of Britain’s most symbolic habitats is largely a symptom of changes in agricultural practices, market forces, neglect and pressures from development. 

The estimated area of traditional orchards currently in the UK is 25,350 hectares, making it one of the rarer priority habitats and the Trust is keen to reverse their decline.

Traditional orchards are far better for wildlife than commercial ones because they often contain very old trees, are given more space and wildflower meadows are often encouraged to grow underneath the trees to encourage pollinators to pollinate blossom when the trees burst into bloom.

They also aren’t treated with any pesticides.  Rangers and their volunteer teams keep a close eye on the trees and encourage tits and other insect eating birds to nest in the trees to help keep pests down.

Dr David Bullock, Head of Species and Habitat Conservation at the charity said: “We launched a new wildlife and nature strategy in 2015 which included an ambition to create 25,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2025. We identified traditional orchards as being of particular importance because they provide the perfect for home for a variety of birds, pollinators and insects, as well as being great for people. Every tree is precious because it can become a home for birds such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, bats and mistletoe moth.  The amazing number of apple and other traditional fruit varieties that we can plant reflects the wonderful diversity of life. Older trees spaced widely provide sunlight, shade, grasslands, wild flowers, blossom and their resulting fruit.  The characterful trees, also often have dead wood, are very attractive to a range of insects and their prey; birds and bats.”


Investing in Scotland's mountain biking success – Scottish Government

Funding to deliver health and economic gains.

Scotland’s reputation as a destination for adventure tourism will be further strengthened thanks to Scottish Government investment of £185,000 to support the expansion of mountain biking.

The funding builds upon the £1 million invested in the sector by the Scottish Government and by Forestry and Land Scotland last year. It was announced by Tourism Secretary Fiona Hyslop ahead of the publication of the new Scottish Mountain Biking Strategy

Speaking at the award-winning Glentress centre for mountain biking near Peebles, Ms Hyslop said: “Scotland has much to offer those who want to enjoy physical, exhilarating challenges in a beautiful setting and the Tourism Scotland 2020 Strategy highlights the growth potential of adventure tourism. By using our natural terrain and the expertise of organisations such as the Mountain Bike Consortium, we can further develop mountain biking opportunities to grow the sector and attract even more visitors, particularly to our rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway, and the Borders. This funding - alongside the strategy it supports - will unlock a number of benefits, getting people more active and increasing the economic contribution of mountain biking to Scotland. It is particularly timely as we build up to hosting the UCI Cycling World Championships in 2023 - the first time all 13 cycling disciplines will be held in one place at one time.”

CJS is working on a Focus on Recreation publication looking at how more people can be encouraged in to outdoor activity. With articles from Scottish Natural Heritage, Mersey Forest & Lee Valley Park amongst others. Accepting adverts now


Pesticide exposure causes bumblebee flight to fall short - Imperial College London

Bees exposed to a neonicotinoid pesticide fly only a third of the distance that unexposed bees are able to achieve.

A bee attached to a 'flight mill' credit: Daniel KennaFlight behaviour is crucial for determining how bees forage, so reduced flight performance from pesticide exposure could lead to colonies going hungry and pollination services being impacted.

A bee attached to a 'flight mill' credit: Daniel Kenna

Foraging bees are essential pollinators for the crops we eat and the wildflowers in our countryside, gardens and parks. Any factor compromising bee flight performance could therefore impact this pollination service.

A study by Imperial College London researchers, published today (29 April) in the journal Ecology and Evolution, reveals how exposure to a common class of neurotoxic pesticide, a neonicotinoid, reduces individual flight endurance (distance and duration) in bumblebees.

The study shows that bees exposed to the neonicotinoid imidacloprid in doses they would encounter in fields fly significantly shorter distances and for less time than bees not exposed, which could reduce the area in which colonies can forage for food by up to 80 percent.

Intriguingly, exposed bees seemed to enter a hyperactive-like state in which they initially flew faster than unexposed bees and therefore may have ‘worn themselves out’.

Pesticide exposure affects flight dynamics and reduces flight endurance in bumblebees’ by Daniel Kenna, Hazel Cooley, Ilaria Pretelli, Ana Ramos Rodrigues, Steve D. Gill, Richard J. Gill is published in Ecology and Evolution.


Road verges can be key for pollinator survival - Buglife

A new report launched by Buglife has looked in detail at the role road verges play for pollinators across the UK. It concludes that road verges are important habitats for pollinators, providing food and shelter and connecting many habitats though they also present the threat of collisions and pollutants.

Across the UK there are almost 400,000 kilometres of roads (397,025km) roughly the distance from earth to moon and 238,000 hectares of road verges. It is how these verges are managed that is the main factor affecting the value of road verges for pollinators and other wildlife.

Road verges can provide important habitats for pollinators in our landscape, and due to their linear nature, can play a role in connecting habitats; contributing to networks for nature – like B-Lines.  Road verges tend to be managed at two extremes: they’re either cut too often, taking all the flowers away during the peak flowering times, or not cut enough, resulting in grasses and scrub taking over and swamping the wildflowers. We need to direct management towards cutting before or after the key flowering and pollinator activity periods (March-September).

Read the report here


Miniature transponders to be used in the war against ocean plastic -  Newcastle University

Low-cost acoustic tags attached to fishing nets are being trialled as part of a major new project to reduce marine litter and ‘ghost fishing’.

Lost fishing gear – known as ghost nets – are a major threat to life in our oceans.  Choking coral reefs, damaging marine habitats and entangling fish, marine mammals and seabirds, they are also a danger to boats, catching in the propellers.  And they are a key source of plastic pollution, gradually breaking up and disintegrating to add to the growing volume of microplastics in the ocean.

Often lost during storms or in strong currents, the nets can travel long distances and can continue to fish for years afterwards – hence the phrase ghost fishing.  Because of this, locating and removing the nets is both highly desirable and a major challenge.

Reducing marine litter

The new NetTag project has been set up to try to reduce and prevent marine litter by developing new technology for the location and recovery of lost fishing gear based on miniature transponders – acoustic devices that pick up and automatically respond to an incoming signal. The project also aims to promote improved practices for the management of fishing waste.

Newcastle University lead Jeff Neasham, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering, explains: “By attaching miniature, low-cost, subsea acoustic transponders to fishing nets or other gear, the aim is to be able to precisely locate lost gear from a search vessel and to investigate how underwater robots may be used to aid recovery where necessary.”


Countryside Alliance supports calls for revision of draft Environment Bill - Countryside Alliance

A committee of MPs has warned of “significant regression” on environmental standards under the Government’s proposals for environmental principles and governance outside the EU.

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s Report on the Government’s draft Environment Bill has been published today (30 April) following an inquiry into the draft Bill, to which the Countryside Alliance submitted evidence.

The Report reflects concerns raised by the Countryside Alliance that the provisions set out in the draft Bill are not equivalent to the current environmental protections provided by membership of the EU. The Committee recommends considerable revision of the draft Bill, if it is to ensure that the level of environmental protection is not weakened when we leave the European Union.

The Report notes the need for the proposed Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) to be properly independent both in its membership and funding; and to have stronger enforcement powers. The Committee also accepted our view, which is widely shared, that the current judicial review process is not sufficient.

The Committee also recommends that the OEP become a UK wide body, rather than England only as currently proposed, to avoid gaps in the implementation of environmental policy across the UK.


Conservation charities welcome legal protection for beavers in Scotland - Scottish Wildlife Trust

The lead partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial – the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) – welcome the introduction of European Protected Species status for the Eurasian beaver in Scotland.

Harris, a beaver released in Knapdale in March 2018. © Ben Harrower, Scottish BeaversFrom today  it is illegal to carry out a range of activities, including lethal control of beavers and destroying established dams and lodges, without a licence. Legal protection for beavers is an important step that should enable the species to expand its range within Scotland.

The Trust and RZSS are urging land managers to show restraint in controlling beavers while young kits are dependent on their parents. This period runs from 1 April until 16 August.

Harris, a beaver released in Knapdale in March 2018. © Ben Harrower, Scottish Beavers

Jo Pike, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Beavers are unrivalled as ecosystem engineers. They have the potential to greatly increase the health and resilience of our natural environment by creating new habitats. Granting beavers protected status is an important milestone for the return of the species to Scotland’s lochs and rivers. It follows decades of work by countless organisations and individuals to demonstrate the positive impacts that beavers can have. We accept that land managers need to have the ability to deal with localised negative impacts caused by beavers. However, it is equally important to ensure lethal control is only used as a last resort, and this does not threaten the successful spread of beavers into other areas of Scotland.”


Wildlife thriving at Cambridgeshire fenland oasis - National Trust

A corner of England that has more species of plants and wildlife than anywhere in the UK is celebrating its 120th anniversary – with the arrival of never seen before animals.

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire has been managed as a nature reserve by the National Trust since its acquisition, making it the charity’s first.  It has since become a rich oasis of wildlife, yet it started as just a two-acre patch of fenland in 1899.

Having embarked on one of the most ambitious plans of its kind, the conservation charity has since expanded the area to cover 1,941 acres (786 hectares) through a series of acquisitions, working with nearby landowners; and proactive wildling.

As a result, it has been officially registered as the most species-rich area of the country – with more than 9,300 recorded as living in this unique and special landscape.

The latest species discovery, Silvanus recticollis a flat bark beetle, joins the illustrious list of 25 completely newly discovered species to the UK recorded since Trust ownership, with seven species declared as being new to science.

Several other species including cranes, Norfolk hawkers and otters have returned to the landscape after an absence of several decades. 

The fen is also home to 188 endangered (red listed) species including the cuckoo,  great crested newt, soprano pipistrelle bat, milk parsley and the fen violet; and 483 nationally scarce (amber listed species), including the marsh pea, marsh fern, bittern, reed bunting and marsh harrier. 


Funding will protect priority birds at Holme - Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Ringed plovers, little terns and oystercatchers are three of the important species to be better protected at NWT’s coastal National Nature Reserve as a new summer warden post is made possible thanks to generous funding.

Norfolk Wildlife Trust has received more than £9,000 from the Borough Council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Habitat Monitoring and Mitigation (HMM) Fund to protect the nesting and breeding sites of these priority birds at NWT Holme Dunes NNR. It has enabled NWT to employ a summer warden to prevent disturbance to the birds and hopefully improve breeding success by reducing the impacts of by increasing visitor numbers.

The project includes clearly designated areas where public access is restricted to protect breeding birds; improved monitoring of species populations, monitoring of visitor numbers using the beach and wider area; and the training of volunteers.

The UK's birds can be split in to three categories of conservation importance: red, amber and green. Red is the highest conservation priority, with species needing urgent action. It means there has been a severe (at least 50%) decline in UK breeding population or range. Ringed plovers are on the red list. 


New study finds river wildlife contain cocaine, pharmaceuticals and pesticides - King’s College London

For the first time, researchers at King’s, in collaboration with the University of Suffolk, have found a diverse array of chemicals, including illicit drugs and pesticides in UK river wildlife.

The study published today in Environment International, looked at the exposure of wildlife, such as the freshwater shrimp Gammarus pulex, to different micropollutants (chemicals found at exceptionally low levels) and the levels of these compounds in the animals.  

Consumer products, medicines and drugs can end up in rivers after use and comprise thousands of different chemicals which have the potential to cause environmental harm. The team collected samples from five catchment areas, and 15 different sites across the county of Suffolk. Surprisingly, cocaine was found in all samples tested, and other illicit drugs such as ketamine, pesticides and pharmaceuticals were also widespread in the shrimp that were collected.

Access the paper here


Phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to end UK contribution to global warming - Committee on Climate Change

The UK can end its contribution to global warming within 30 years by setting an ambitious new target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today.

Ten years after the Climate Change Act became law, now is the right moment to set a more ambitious goal. Achieving a ‘net-zero’ target by the middle of the century is in line with the UK’s commitment under the Paris Agreement; the pact which the UK and the rest of the world signed in 2015 to curb dramatically the polluting gases that cause climate change.

Scotland has greater potential to remove pollution from its economy than the UK overall, and can credibly adopt a more ambitious target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by 2045.

Wales has slightly lower opportunities than the UK as a whole, and should adopt a target for a 95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, compared to 1990 levels.

This is a crucial time in the global effort to tackle climate change. Global average temperature has already risen by 1°C from pre-industrial levels, driving changes in our climate that are apparent increasingly. In the last ten years, pledges to reduce emissions by the countries of the world have reduced the forecast of global warming from above 4°C by the end of the century to around 3°C.  Net-zero in the UK would lead the global effort to further limit the rise to 1.5°C.

Read the report here

Reaction: UK needs 50 million new trees per year to hit net zero carbon emissions by 2050 - Woodland Trust

The Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) report published today outlines the stark increase in woodland expansion needed to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The report recognises that neither internally legally binding targets (as enshrined in the Climate Change Act) nor externally binding commitments (the Paris Accord) will be met given the current trajectory in the reduction of carbon emissions.

A huge increase is needed in woodland creation rates (Photo: Jill Jennings/WTML)The CCC analysis outlines that 32,000 hectares annually of net woodland increase is required for the next 30 years, moving the UK from 13% to 17% woodland cover. This equates to a million new hectares of woodland cover, and some 1.5 billion trees.

A huge increase is needed in woodland creation rates

(Photo: Jill Jennings/WTML)

Beccy Speight, CEO, Woodland Trust said: “There is a potential win-win here.  It is essential to address the climate and natural environment crises together - recognising them as being interconnected and not two separate challenges. Climate change is the biggest long-term threat faced by our natural environment and our ecosystem, and thus our own life support system. Woods, trees and their associated wildlife and the landscapes in which they sit are being impacted by climate change in a multitude of ways." 


Britain's birds hit by weather double whammy in 2018 - JNCC

The latest results published today in the 2018 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) report, suggest that the Beast from the East and Saharan winds may have had a big impact on both resident and migrant birds.

The short, sharp impact of the snow and ice that came with the Beast from the East may have affected some of our smallest birds in particular. Goldcrest, the smallest UK bird, saw a population decline of 38% and Wren and Long-tailed Tit were both down by 21% and 22% respectively in comparison with 2017 figures. As a group these birds are the real lightweights of the bird world, weighing in at between 5-10g. As such they can be particularly vulnerable to cold weather, and even though the Beast delivered a brief shock, it appears this was enough to hit these birds hard.

Kingfisher©NE Julian DowseKingfisher©NE Julian Dowse

It looks as though the very cold spell also hit one of UK’s most colourful birds, the Kingfisher. The sudden freezing of shallow water can prevent them from accessing the small fish they feed on; the 2018 breeding population was down by 38% on the previous year.

While all this was unfolding in the UK, our summer visitors were safely ensconced in sub-Saharan Africa, thousands of miles from any snow and ice. However, when the time came to head back to the UK, the Sahara desert was experiencing strong northerly winds, seemingly hampering the northward return journey and many were late back or arrived in lower numbers. This appears to have had quite an impact on the number of returning birds and House Martin was down by 17%, Sand Martin down by 42% and Swift down by 20% during the 2018 breeding season surveys. It wasn’t just the aerial feeders that were affected; two of our commonest warblers, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were down too, by 18 and 23% respectively. Whilst some of these birds may have been affected by the weather during migration, it is unknown what effect conditions in their over-wintering grounds might have had on these year-to-year population changes.

The full report can be accessed here


UK’s wildlife police unit launch public awareness drive with WDC to counter increasing dolphin disturbance - Whale and Dolphin Conservation

As the holiday season approaches, increasing reports of dolphin disturbance incidents in the waters around the UK involving members of the public have prompted WDC to launch a new public information drive in partnership with the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) - a dedicated British police department that gathers intelligence on wildlife crime.

Of particular concern is the lack of awareness of the existing laws around disturbance by members of the public using boats, jet skis, or who attempt to jump in and swim with dolphins in the seas around the UK. This leads to a worrying lack of reporting of incidents, which are on the increase but thought to be much higher because many boat users and holiday makers simply do not know what the rules are or how to report incidents they witness.

Surprisingly, the only region where incidences of disturbance are recorded to the appropriate level of detail currently is in Cornwall, where 136 incidences were reported to the Cornwall Marine and Coastal Code Group hotline in 2017. Prosecutions are rare, yet disturbance is a regular occurrence over the summer months when the waters are busy and coastal wildlife is most accessible.

WDC staff and volunteers regularly witness disturbance first-hand and receive many reports from concerned marine wildlife enthusiasts, which has prompted the new awareness drive.

‘Our key aim is to stop disturbance before it happens by raising awareness of the issues’, says Alice Walters, WDC policy officer.

Further reading:

Alice has written a blog post for Wildlife and Countryside Link launching the new It's Rude to Intrude campaign here.

Read about the new awareness drive and see the promotional video here.


Tractor tyres, plastic bottles and fishing equipment collected in National Trust litter pick at sea - National Trust

Pitching in to help with the litter pick (image: ©National Trust images)Pitching in to help with the litter pick (image: ©National Trust images)

Tractor tyres, lobster pots and plastic bottles are just some of the items National Trust rangers have collected from the stunning coastline near Giants Causeway.

Swimmers, jet skis and small boats were enlisted to help reach bays at the bottom of steep cliffs close to the Unesco World Heritage Site.  It is the charity’s third litter pick at sea, an area teeming with wildlife from pods of dolphins to breeding seabirds, porpoises and even the occasional orca.  Although this year’s litter pick has not yet been weighed, last August volunteers lifted more than two tonnes of rubbish and it is thought a similar amount may have been removed this time round.

The initiative came after National Trust rangers noticed litter gathering on the remote beaches from cliff top paths close to the Giant's Causeway, while carrying out daily litter picks.

Fiona Bryant, coastal officer for the National Trust in Northern Ireland, said they enlisted local outdoor activity providers to help. "With the mixture of different clubs - coasteering, surf and a dive school - along with fishing vessels, it has been really helpful to get into each of the bays and make an impact by lifting the litter there," she said.


Science research programme launched to inform Defra policy making - defra

Defra appoints six new Academic Fellows to lead Systems Research Programme  

A new Systems Research Programme will look at some of the UK’s most pressing environmental issues to inform and shape key future policy decisions.

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has appointed six senior academic Fellows to focus on five key areas: Rural Land Use, Food, Air Quality, Marine, and Resources and Waste.

The Programme will be led by Professor Ian Boyd, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, and will be delivered in close partnership with the research community.

Each of the five systems will be covered by a senior academic Fellow, taking a so-called ‘systems mapping’ approach to identify how a policy change in one area might affect another, and make sure the connections between environmental issues are properly considered.

A sixth Fellow, the ‘design authority’, will look at broader methodology and make sure that cross-cutting themes are identified.

The new project will support Defra’s extensive EU Exit work and will ensure that future policies are informed by the best possible research.

Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser said: "It is important that government policies and decisions are informed by the best scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking. The Defra’s Systems Research Programme is important to delivering this aim by bringing together multidisciplinary science in a policy-relevant manner."

The successful candidates are based at universities across the UK and will spend part of their time supporting Defra in this project alongside continuing their academic roles. They will take up their role for Defra by the start of May.


Woodland Trust supports calls to halt HS2 site clearance

The Woodland Trust has welcomed calls by more than 40 local councils to stop advance site clearance for HS2.

Buckinghamshire County Council, Aylesbury Vale District Council and Chiltern District Council as well as 41 town and parish councils along the route of the first phase of the project, from London to Birmingham, say the enabling works should be put on hold until Notices to Proceed are issued.

A Notice to Proceed is a letter to a contractor informing them of the date they can start work. The date mentioned will be the official start of the contract.

Woodland Trust ecologist Luci Ryan said: “We fully understand the concerns of the councils as they mirror our own in respect of the ancient woodland due to be cleared later this year. While the enabling works are legal we question whether they are right given the project is under review. If huge swathes of ancient woodland are destroyed and HS2 is then scrapped then we will have lost a rare, irreplaceable habitat for nothing. The fact we are losing ancient woodland at all is terrible. To lose it needlessly would be a travesty.”


Scientific publications

Froidevaux, J. S. P., Boughey, K. L., Hawkins, C. L., Broyles, M. & Jones, G. Managing hedgerows for nocturnal wildlife: do bats and their insect prey benefit from targeted agri-environment schemes? Journal of Applied Ecology. D10.1111/1365-2664.13412



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