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


Invasive species the biggest pressure on nature sites - Scottish Natural Heritage

The majority of Scotland’s natural features are doing well but some face significant challenges from invasive species and other threats, new figures suggest.
Official statistics published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) show that almost 8 in 10 (78.9%) of more than 5,000 features on protected nature sites – including habitats, species and earth sciences such as fossil beds and caves - were assessed as in a favourable or recovering condition in 2019.

The figure represents a slight drop of 0.8 percentage points since last year but is up 2.9 percentage points from 2007.

bracken (image: pixabay)Only around two-thirds (65.5%) of features were found to have reached favourable condition, reflecting the many challenges nature still faces in Scotland.  However a further 13.4% have been assessed as on the road to recovery.

Over the year, the condition of 47 natural features improved to favourable or recovering condition, while 76 deteriorated to unfavourable condition.

bracken (image: pixabay)

Many of those in unfavourable condition have no on-site remedy as they are influenced by wider factors, for example declining seabird populations which are thought to be related to changes in prey distribution. Climate change is also believed to be a factor in the decline of a number of sites and poses a long-term threat to Scotland’s nature.

The report, which coincides with Invasive Species Week, shows that invasive species remain the single biggest reason for features being in unfavourable condition, representing 21% of all negative pressures, followed by overgrazing (17.6%).

The full statistical publication can be accessed here. 


A UK first for ground-breaking Shropshire curlew project - Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

A curlew that has been incubated as an egg and reared in its local landscape – a process known as headstarting - has successfully returned home for the first time ever.

The bird is one of six chicks reared as part of the UK Lowland Curlew Recovery Project, better known as Curlew Country, in 2017 – another UK first – and is already displaying breeding behaviour.

The Curlew Country project, hosted by leading conservation charity the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, hopes that this historic occasion is the first of many.

Project manager Amanda Perkins said: “Seeing the result of all our hard work – not just the project team, but farmers, landowners, fundraisers and the local community – is a proud moment, but we must make sure it isn’t wasted. Now we have shown that this process can work, we need a policy that allows those managing the land to give all curlew a fighting chance.”

This situation for curlew is critical, with a 46% decline across the UK from 1994 to 2010. Curlew was added to the UK red list in in December 2015, and it is argued to be the bird of greatest conservation concern within the UK.

More information about the project can be found on www.curlewcountry.org, along with updates throughout the season.


Scientists use historical data for assessment of human impacts on biodiversity - University of Plymouth

Researchers will work with colleagues at Historic England and the University of Birmingham on a new project funded by the Leverhulme Trust 

The way humans use land across the British Isles has changed beyond recognition during the past 8,000 years.  But what impact has that had on biodiversity and are there lessons from the past that could enhance conservation practices now and in the future?

Those are among the key questions being posed through new research led by the University of Plymouth, in conjunction with Historic England and the University of Birmingham. Funded by the Leverhulme Trust, it hopes to compile the first ever comprehensive database of both land use change and its impact on plant and insect life. The three-year project will involve collating existing archaeobotanical datasets, which will be used to generate a detailed picture of how land use has changed at regional levels. Historical pollen and insect data will then be used to demonstrate what impact those changes had on crops, and many of the creatures that came to rely on them. The ultimate aim of the research is to place current trends in their long-term context, examining whether changes in land use can predict patterns of biodiversity across different spatial scales. This information will then be presented to conservation agencies, giving them a holistic picture of biodiversity in the British Isles over the past eight millennia which can be factored into future policy. 

Professor Ralph Fyfe, Principal Investigator on the project, said: “A lot of modern thinking on biodiversity is based on datasets collected by ecologists over the past 50 years, based on what people have observed and might remember from these earlier times before later agricultural intensification occurred. There is a danger that the middle of the 20th century is thus seen as some kind of hotspot. But while change has certainly happened, archaeological studies enable us to assess this in the light of much longer time frames and provide people with a bigger picture. Through that, we can show more precisely how our landscapes have been shaped and this can be factored into future debates on conservation and biodiversity management.”


What happens when pollinators lose their flowers? UON research suggests answers - University of Northampton

Cuckoo bumblebee feeding on a knapweed flower. Photo credit Paolo BiellaPollinators such as bees and butterflies are highly dependent on flowers to provide nectar as food; at the same time, those plants are reliant on the pollinators for reproduction. Over the past few decades, declines in both flower and pollinator diversity and abundance have prompted University of Northampton ecologists to wonder about the consequences of flower loss for pollinator communities and for plant pollination.

Cuckoo bumblebee feeding on a knapweed flower. (Photo credit Paolo Biella)

In a ground breaking new study, a team from institutions in the Czech Republic and the University of Northampton in the UK have published the results of experiments that seek to answer these questions.  The results are published today in the journal Scientific Reports and provide the first demonstration of the ways in which pollinators flexibly adjust their behaviour when faced with a loss of resources. This flexibility is constrained by the type of flowers they visit, however:  pollinators will tend to switch to flowers of a similar shape to the ones that have been lost.  From the plant’s perspective, things are less clear: the patterns of pollination for the remaining species were idiosyncratic and not as predictable.  Some plants received more pollination during the experiment than before, others less.

One of the study’s authors, Prof. Jeff Ollerton, Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Northampton, said of the research: “For the first time we are seeing the consequences of sudden loss of flowers for both the pollinators and the plants in a habitat.  That the pollinators can respond flexibly to this loss is a welcome indication that these insects might be more resilient to sudden changes than we had thought.  However, the erratic pollination of the flowers shows that there is a great deal of random chance within these ecological systems that is not easily predictable.

Biella P., Akter A., Ollerton J., Tarrant S., Janeček Š., Jersáková J. & Klecka J. (2019) Experimental loss of generalist plants reveals alterations in plant-pollinator interactions and a constrained flexibility of foraging. More information is available on the Nature website. (open access)


Kite flying in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (image: YDNPA)New initiative launched to connect 20,000 young people with nature in our National Parks - National Parks

The UK’s National Parks and Forest Holidays have announced the launch of ‘National Parks Futures’. The new 5-year initiative will connect 20,000 young people with nature and deliver at least 15 flagship education projects across the UK.

In the 70th anniversary year of the UK’s National Parks, ‘National Park Futures’ will help to tackle one of the major barriers for young people to experience outdoor learning – the cost of travel.

Kite flying in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (image: YDNPA)

Over the next 5 years ‘National Parks Futures’, a joint initiative between the UK National Parks and Forest Holidays will deliver at least 15 flagship education projects reaching 5,000 young people as well as covering the travel costs of an estimated 15,000 National Park visits for young people.

A successful pilot year in 2018 funded the involvement of 5,000 young people in activities run by their local National Park and included many from disadvantaged backgrounds. One pilot year location was the Brecon Beacons National Park. Simon Hosking, a teacher at Ysgol Y Cribarth Primary School says “By receiving the travel grant our pupils have been able to access a learning opportunity in the great outdoors. We have loved learning more about the Brecon Beacons National Park and what makes our local area so special.”


Help our puffins; join the Puffarazzi - RSPB

RSPB’s innovative citizen science photography project returns

The RSPB’s ground-breaking project Puffarazzi is back and once again needs the public’s help to find out more about one of our best loved seabirds. As in 2017, visitors to puffin colonies around the UK and Ireland in spring and summer 2019 and 2020 are asked to join the Puffarazzi by photographing these colourful seabirds with fish in their bills. The project is now also asking for historical photos to be submitted as well to aid conservation efforts. All these images will help scientists learn more about what puffins are feeding their chicks, known as pufflings.

With their colourful bills, distinctive eye markings and somewhat comical walk, puffins are a firm favourite for many people. Yet, these birds are in serious trouble with their numbers plummeting in former strongholds in the UK and Europe and the species is now classed as vulnerable to extinction. This project aims to find out the causes of these UK declines which are likely to be related to a reduction in food availability caused by climate change.  Scotland is one of the most important places for puffins, with 80 percent of the UK and Ireland population breeding here.

The public response in 2017 was incredible; 602 people joined the Puffarazzi and sent in 1,402 photos, with 517 of these taken at Scottish sites. Pictures came from almost 40 colonies around the UK, including many in Scotland such as the Isle of May, Fair Isle, Lunga, and Noss National Nature Reserve. The photos have helped scientists identify areas where puffins are struggling to find the large, nutritious fish needed to support their pufflings. They revealed variations around the UK with some areas having far smaller fish for the puffins to feed on.


150th osprey chick hatches at Rutland Water Nature Reserve - The Wildlife Trusts

Maya and her 150th osprey chick (image: The Wildlife Trusts)Historic moment for Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust’s pioneering project bringing extinct species back to England 150 years after it was wiped out

Late last night - at 22.58 - the Rutland Osprey Project celebrated a major milestone and welcomed its 150th chick into the world. 

The Rutland Osprey Project has pioneered the reintroduction of ospreys, a magnificent bird of prey, back into England where they had been extinct for over 150 years. The partnership between Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and Anglian Water has successfully restored a population to the skies of central England.

Maya and her 150th osprey chick (image: The Wildlife Trusts)

Ospreys were wiped out in England by persecution – through egg-collection and taxidermy – and by habitat loss. They ceased to be a breeding species in England in the 1840s even though they had once been widely distributed across areas such as the Fens which had good breeding and feeding habitat for these spectacular fish-eating birds.

Between 1996 and 2001, 64 six-week-old Scottish ospreys were released at Rutland Water reservoir in England’s smallest county. The first translocated osprey returned to breed at its adopted home in 2001 and the number of breeding pairs has gradually increased since then.  There are now 25 ospreys in total in the area and eight breeding pairs among them.


The Riverfly Census: Full Report - Salmon & Trout Conservation

“The Riverfly Census Report has been central to S&TC’s work for the past three years and coincides with the United Nations’ recent statement on the catastrophic state of the global environment. The results should worry everyone. Our message is simple; unless there is radical change our rivers will soon become lifeless.  With ever increasing mainstream public interest in environmental health and a desire for real change, government must use this opportunity to incentivise businesses to place the protection of our rivers, wild fish and all other water-dependent life at the very centre of what they do.” Paul Knight, Chief Executive, Salmon & Trout Conservation

Milestone Salmon & Trout Conservation study reveals that sediment, sewage and commercial salad washing, are causing dramatic declines of keystone aquatic invertebrate life throughout England’s lifeblood rivers.

Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) initiated The Riverfly Census to collect high-resolution, scientifically robust data about the state of our rivers and the pressures facing them.

The Riverfly Census highlights worrying declines of aquatic insects in English rivers as a direct consequence of industrial, agricultural and domestic pollution.  Aquatic insects are the equivalent of “the canary in the coal mine” when ascertaining the health of individual rivers. Declines of up to 58% in some species have been observed in the last thirty years, with no sign of the trend reversing.

 Three-year high-resolution study, The Riverfly Census, employed standardised monitoring of aquatic invertebrate life in key English rivers to reveal dramatic changes in water quality and ecosystems.

The Riverfly Census data provides an overview of how pollution affects a particular river. The aquatic insect community is shaped by the quality of the water at each sample point and scientists are then able to decode this bug-based information. Armed with these biological snapshots, we are able to zoom in on particular problems and if necessary, carry out further invertebrate or chemical sampling.

To download the full report: Click Here


First review of 25 Year Environment Plan published - Defra

The first progress report of the landmark 25 Year Environment Plan is published during the Year of Green Action.

The government has today published the first progress report of its landmark 25 Year Environment Plan indicating that, in the first year alone, 90% of the plan’s actions have been delivered or are being progressed.

Launched in January 2018, the 25 Year Environment Plan sets out how we will improve the environment over a generation by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and curbing the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.

Over the last 12 months, the government has:

  • Cracked down on plastic waste by setting out plans to ban plastic straws, cotton buds and stirrers and extend the 5p plastic bag charge, and overhauling our waste system with a comprehensive Resources and Waste Strategy.
  • Laid our landmark Agriculture Bill before Parliament to introduce a fairer, more sustainable system of environmental land management.
  • Committed to plans for the first Environment Bill in 20 years.
  • Safeguarded our forests and woodlands by kick-starting the creation of a Northern Forest and appointing a Tree Champion.
  • Protected precious wildlife habitats by launching a review to strengthen and enhance England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
  • Protected our marine environment by launching our flagship Fisheries Bill, introducing one of the world’s toughest bans on microbeads and consulting on 41 new Marine Conservation Zones.
  • Put the UK at the forefront of combatting the illegal wildlife trade through introducing one of the world’s toughest ivory bans and hosting the global Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in London.

Response: Government 25 Year Environment Plan progress report published today - The Wildlife Trusts

Joan Edwards, Director of Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, comments on the 25 Year Environment Plan progress report

Today the Government published its 25 Year Environment Plan progress report.

Joan Edwards, Director of Public Affairs at The Wildlife Trusts, comments: “We welcome the publication of this progress report and congratulate Defra for substantially raising its ambition over recent years.  Securing nature’s recovery will take decades, however, as the very small amount of progress shows.  Other Government departments need a total rethink.  And irrespective of Brexit challenges, there is no justification for the massively destructive road proposals currently being driven through by central government and its agencies. This is in their gift and needs to change. Specifically, we have failed to meet Good Environmental status in our seas. The Agriculture and Fisheries Bills have stalled in Parliament with no date for their return. This means we are missing the opportunity to help the 75% of our land that is farmed do more to help nature recover – and at sea the publication of the UK Marine Strategy has demonstrated that we are only meeting 4 out of 15 targets to achieve cleaner, healthier marine ecosystems. The Government confirmed that they are making biodiversity net gain mandatory for development that requires planning permission. This is progress but not the full solution even on land, as some species need wide open expanses.  Most unjustifiably it does not apply to large infrastructure projects such as HS2 and new roads.”


Stanford researches map symbiotic relationships between trees and microbes worldwide - Stanford University

Forests and microbes are symbiotically connected globally. (Image credit: Sora Hasler)Data collected from over 1 million forest plots reveal patterns of where plant roots form symbiotic relationships with fungi and bacteria

In and around the tangled roots of the forest floor, fungi and bacteria grow with trees, exchanging nutrients for carbon in a vast, global marketplace. A new effort to map the most abundant of these symbiotic relationships – involving more than 1.1 million forest sites and 28,000 tree species – has revealed factors that determine where different types of symbionts will flourish.

Forests and microbes are symbiotically connected globally. (Image credit: Sora Hasler)

The work could help scientists understand how symbiotic partnerships structure the world’s forests and how they could be affected by a warming climate.

Stanford University researchers worked alongside a team of over 200 scientists to generate these maps, published May 15 in Nature. From the work, they revealed a new biological rule, which the team named Read’s Rule after pioneer in symbiosis research Sir David Read.

In one example of how they could apply this research, the group used their map to predict how symbioses might change by 2070 if carbon emissions continue unabated. This scenario resulted in a 10 percent reduction in the biomass of tree species that associate with a type of fungi found primarily in cooler regions. The researchers cautioned that such a loss could lead to more carbon in the atmosphere because these fungi tend to increase the amount of carbon stored in soil.

Access the paper here


The government's response to the Natural Capital Committee's sixth annual report - defra Policy paper

The government is grateful for the expert advice the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) has provided in its sixth annual report. The NCC is a world first and its expertise has placed us at the leading edge of natural capital thinking.

As a result of the NCC’s work, we:

  • better understand England’s natural assets and benefits we get from nature
  • recognise that the environmental assets that provide our clean air and water, opportunities for recreation, and our food and fibre, are an essential component of our nation’s infrastructure
  • are able to make better decisions about how we interact with and manage our natural environment to ensure its health and resilience
  • published the 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP), in 2018 - the first 25 YEP progress report, which will report on progress against the 25 YEP goals, has also been published
  • made progress in other areas including developing local natural capital planning approaches such as the Oxford – Cambridge Arc, natural capital accounting, and plans to better measure and protect marine natural capital

We agree with the Committee that in order to achieve the goals set out in the plan and meet the objective set in 2011 to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it, substantive action is essential.


Major EU funded project helps protect UK seabird islands - National Trust (with RSPB)

A project to help protect the UK’s internationally important seabird islands is going public on Friday 17th May 2019 with the launch of its new campaign Save Our Seabirds from Invasive Predators.

The Biosecurity for LIFE project, which was awarded £700,000 of funding from EU LIFE last year is a partnership between the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland.

Puffins have returned late to the Farne Islands this year. (Image: Paul Kingston and NNP)Puffins have returned late to the Farne Islands this year. (Image: Paul Kingston and NNP)

This campaign aims to raise awareness of the risk to seabirds such as puffins, Manx shearwater and European storm-petrel from predators such as rats, stoats and mink – and the measures people can take to avoid accidentally transferring them to important seabird colonies on islands.

Measures include encouraging boat owners to check their boats, cargo and baggage, and for day trippers to check their bags and keep any foodstuffs in animal proof containers.
The UK is home to an estimated eight million breeding seabirds, with up to half of the EU populations of seabirds breeding here. 

Many of our most important seabird breeding colonies are on islands that are naturally free of predators.  Around the world predation of seabird eggs and young by invasive, non-native predators is one of the leading causes of their decline. Over the last few centuries, many seabird colonies in the UK have suffered from falls in population or been lost completely in this way. 

Tom Churchyard, Biosecurity for LIFE Project Manager said: “Putting good biosecurity measures in place for seabird islands will reduce the risk of new predators arriving and having a negative impact on breeding birds. Good biosecurity entails prevention and early detection of new invasive species, and being able to respond rapidly to incursions if they do occur."


NWCU launch ‘Undisturbed’ – a social media initiative to raise awareness for wildlife photographers and drone users of their responsibilities to wildlife - UK National Wildlife Crime Unit

The affordability of modern digital camera technology has produced an ever-growing interest in capturing photographs of wildlife. A number of leading UK wildlife photographers and charitable organisations have now expressed concern at the amount of wildlife disturbance being caused by prospective photographers seeking natural history subjects. Unlicensed disturbance of mammals and birds may result in a conviction under wildlife or marine legislation attracting sentences up to £5,000 fine or 6 month’s imprisonment.

Leading photographer Laurie Campbell has over 40 years’ experience in photographing wildlife and has seen a gradual increase in the number of wildlife disturbance incidents by members of the public with cameras. Click through for Laurie's advice.  

Further information on how to photograph wildlife safely can be found at:

British Birds – bird photography code of practice

Royal Photographic Society – the Nature Photographers’ Code of Practice


Scientific Publications

Mario A. Giraldo, Shawna Dark, Patricia Pendleton, Eric D. Stein, Raphael Mazor, Josh Andreas, Environmental predictors of stream flow in semi-arid watersheds for biological assessments ,Ecological Indicators, Volume 104, 2019, Pages 429-438, ISSN 1470-160X, doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2019.05.019.


Chan, WY, Hoffmann, AA, Oppen, MJH. Hybridization as a conservation management tool. Conservation Letters. 2019;e12652. doi: 10.1111/conl.12652 (open access)


Tonn, B. , Densing, E. M., Gabler, J. and Isselstein, J. (2019), Grazing-induced patchiness, not grazing intensity, drives plant diversity in European low-input pastures. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13416


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