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


30 Days Wild challenge reaches new record! – The Wildlife Trusts

Over 400,000 people went wild every day in June

The Wildlife Trusts’ annual 30 Days Wild challenge was more popular than ever this year – 400,000 people carried out well over 10 million Random Acts of Wildness over the 30 days of June. 

© Matthew Roberts© Matthew Roberts

Throughout June, The Wildlife Trusts’ challenge participants to do something wild and enjoy nature every single day. In response, people have been sharing their heart-warming stories and colourful photos and videos across social media channels.  As well as the 50,000 individual households who signed up for their free packs of ideas, wall chart, stickers and wildflower seeds, over 9,000 schools, 1,300 businesses and 570 care homes also took part.  

It’s been fantastic! I’ve loved the small, sometimes unexpected random acts that have inspired and will continue to inspire me every day

The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Communications, Joanna Richards says:

“It’s been an extraordinarily wild month! We’ve loved seeing the creative and inventive activities of people taking part right across the UK - getting up close to bugs, butterflies and birds, rewilding a garden or making a daisy chain.  You don’t need to go far to appreciate wildlife and often the simplest interactions can bring us the most joy.”  


‘Restoring Ratty’ water vole project wins prestigious conservation award – Northumberland Wildlife Trust

The ‘Restoring Ratty’ conservation project to restore water voles to Kielder Water and Forest Park has won a prestigious award at the Chartered Institute of Ecology an Environmental Management (CIEEM)’s 2019 Awards. The project, which has reintroduced 1,205 water voles to the banks of Kielder’s watercourses, won the award for best practice in large-scale nature conservation.

Water voles are considered ‘ecosystem engineers’ which means they alter habitats and availability of resources for other wildlife. They create burrows in the rivers banks which changes the soil, drying it out and changing the nutrients available. This promotes plant growth and changes plant communities to be more diverse, creating different habitats for more wildlife. They also ‘garden’ by grazing the plants and allowing other plant species to grow.

To improve the success of water vole reintroduction, Forestry England changed the management of the forest to restore the banks along the watercourses, encouraging more varied plant-life to create the perfect habitat. The presence of mink, which hugely contributed to the water voles’ disappearance, has been monitored by the project partners and volunteers to ensure protection of the new vole population.

Kevin May, Forestry England’s Forest Management Director for North Forest District, said: “To win this prestigious award is testament to this strong partnership across our organisations, which includes the energy and enthusiasm of a number of keen volunteers. Positive habitat management and the reduction and ongoing monitoring of mink populations will ensure the resilience of this reintroduction. Telling the story of Restoring Ratty supports not only the interest in water voles, but supports a general awareness of ecology and our environment. Winning an award or not, seeing the smiles on local children’s faces involved in the actual release of water voles is prize enough!”


Baby Boomers at RSPB Leighton Moss – RSPB

Rare bitterns have bred successfully at RSPB Leighton Moss in Silverdale once again, following the introduction of new methods of managing the nature reserve’s vast reedbeds. After an absence of breeding for almost a decade, the elusive birds nested in 2018 as a result of a four-year programme to rejuvenate the wetlands, and this year, they have continued to thrive, raising three chicks.

As an unusual cousin of the more familiar grey heron, bitterns rely on reedbeds to live in - a now rare habitat in the UK, with Leighton Moss being the largest one in North West England.

Jarrod Sneyd, Site Manager at Leighton Moss said: “Leighton Moss has always been synonymous with bitterns but they stopped breeding here ten years ago. The reasons why are complex. Leighton Moss is an old reedbed, having formed after the First World War and aging reedbed tends to be quite dry. Bitterns like young, wet reedbeds where they can catch fish, so RSPB staff and volunteers spend a lot of time managing the site in a way that halts its aging process and creates the conditions that bitterns and lots of other wildlife need to thrive.”

Reedbed is very important to conserve in the UK as a lot of it has been lost through drainage for agriculture and development. In the late 1990s, bitterns were almost wiped out in this country, due to the loss of the reedbed habitat on which they depend. At that time Leighton Moss was one of only a few sites in the country where bitterns were clinging on. Just eleven booming male bitterns were left, with three of those at Leighton Moss and the majority of the others in East Anglia.  Since then, the RSPB and other nature conservation organisations have been working hard to save the species and it has been successful, with 188 booming males recorded in the UK in 2018. 


New suite of publications explore services provided by urban trees – Forest Research

Urban trees are increasingly recognised for the services they provide to support sustainability and quality of life in our towns and cities.

Now a newly published suite of Forest Research publications investigates how the services provided by urban trees, such as the capture of carbon, and flood risk reduction (so called ‘ecosystem services’), varies with the stature and age of trees common to the urban environment of Great Britain.

The publications detail how large and medium sized tree species provide more environmental and social benefits than small tree species.  However, they also explain that small and medium sized trees are important for adding species and structural diversity, as well as providing ecosystem services in areas where large trees are unsuitable. 


The forest will see you now! Why a walk in the woods is just what the doctor ordered – The Woodland Trust

A forest packaged in a packet of pills will highlight the natural medicinal benefits time spent in woodland can have on our mental health at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival this week.

The garden highlights nature's benefits to our health and wellbeing (Photo: Dee Smith)The garden highlights nature's benefits to our health and wellbeing (Photo: Dee Smith)

Landscape designer and horticultural therapist Michelle Brandon has created The Forest Will See You Now, a cool shaded space with trees, banks of woodland ground cover and perennials. The message conveyed links with the work of the Woodland Trust. 

Michelle, who when not designing gardens works with schools and charities to provide horticultural therapy to adults and children with disabilities, said: “Connection to nature, plants and trees is essential for a happy, healthy human. Nature has provided us with the means of alleviating many 21st century ailments but our values are at odds with our heritage.
Many of the UK’s woods and forests are under threat. But this natural resource has huge health benefits for us all – time spent in a forest environment is soothing, forges a connection to nature, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, increases concentration and improves mood.”

Trees and plants emit a chemical compound known as phytoncides to help defend themselves from bacteria, fungi and insects. Studies in Japan and Korea have showed levels of phytoncides in the forest air have a positive impact on natural killer cells which occur in the human body, effectively strengthening our immune systems.

The garden features linear trunks of native silver birch (betula pendula) and Scots pine (pinus sylvestris) bordered with hazel (corylus avellana) and field maple (acer campestre).  A compacted earth path snakes through the forest and leaf litter and fallen branches cover the forest floor.


Increases in generalist predator populations are associated with Pheasant releases – British Trust for Ornithology

New research from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), just published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, has revealed that the release of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges for commercial shoots may be boosting numbers of the avian predators and scavengers that feed upon them. This has implications for other species that might also fall prey to these predators.

The breeding and release of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges for commercial gamebird shoots sees some 41–50 million birds released into the UK countryside annually, a figure significantly higher than that seen in other European countries. In order to ensure a reliable shooting resource, there is significant investment in accompanying management to enhance habitat and food availability for gamebirds, and to reduce predation upon them in the area around release sites.
Whilst such game management activities have been reported to have benefits for wider biodiversity, such as the creation of woodland rides of benefit to butterflies, the impacts of the releases themselves have received little attention. The release of these gamebird species, which are not native to the UK, could negatively impact other, native, species through increased competition (for food), altered habitat structure, the spread of disease or changes in predator-prey relationships
This new research has identified positive associations between the occurrence patterns of gamebirds and the abundance and population growth rates of several generalist predators, including Common Buzzard and various members of the crow family. If, as the research suggests, gamebird releases are increasing the numbers of these predators, then this may alter predator-prey dynamics in areas where large numbers of gamebirds are released. This may, in turn, have implications for other species; for example, predation pressure has been identified as a conservation issue for declining breeding waders like Curlew.
Lead author Dr Henrietta Pringle commented "The idea that gamebird releases might enhance populations of generalist predators is not new, but our results are the first to indicate this may actually be happening on a national scale. While gamebirds are only one of the factors that could shape predator populations, our work emphasises the need to better understand the impacts of releasing roughly 46,000 tonnes of gamebird biomass into the countryside annually. For context, the estimated total biomass for all native UK breeding bird species is just 19,500 tonnes"


Change tree-felling laws to help save threatened red squirrels! - Red Squirrels United

MPs debate future of Squirrel Nutkin today Today, Wednesday 3 July, MPs will debate how to prevent the extinction of red squirrels in the UK. Red Squirrels United is calling on government to change outdated tree felling legislation and increase funding to save the native red squirrel which faces extinction in the UK without urgent action.

Tree felling laws are failing to protect rare wildlife

Red squirrels have become extinct across large parts of the UK and today it is estimated that less than 140,000 remain across the country. More than three quarters are found in Scotland with smaller populations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Not only is their future survival threatened by squirrel pox virus, a disease that is fatal to them, red squirrels can be further endangered by poorly timed tree felling. Outdated laws allow trees to be cut down during their breeding season and this means that red squirrel babies – known as kittens – can lose their homes or die when the trees that are home to their nests (dreys) are cut down.

Currently, in England and Wales, under the 1967 Forestry Act local authorities cannot refuse tree felling licenses in order to conserve or enhance vulnerable flora and fauna. In contrast, Scotland can refuse licences to protect wildlife populations where necessary. Red Squirrels United wants the law to be changed so that licences can be refused or granted with 'enforceable wildlife protection conditions' added to safeguard vulnerable flora and fauna where appropriate. This could include the need for thorough pre-felling checks and preventing felling within 1km of breeding red squirrels. In Wales, the Welsh Government is committed to revising the outdated 1967 Forestry Act, but in England there is no current plan for change.


Peregrine young take to the skies – Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Peregrine falcon young take to the skies by Dave DimmockFour peregrine falcons born at Malham Cove this spring have taken their first flights, creating a spectacle for people visiting a free viewpoint at the base of the Cove.

Peregrine falcon young take to the skies by Dave Dimmock

Initially only three downy heads could be seen popping up as the adult female fed them, but as the chicks got older and started to wing flap, better views confirmed there were four of them and not three.

Over the past two weeks the young have taken to the skies but will be dependent on the adults for food for quite some time.  They will spend the next few weeks staying close to the nest site, practicing their flying skills.

Anthony Hills from the RSPB said: “It’s so exciting to see four peregrine chicks taking to the skies. Last year we had two so to have double that number this year is incredible. These famously fast falcons provide daily drama, so why not bring your family along to the viewpoint to spot the peregrine family practice their hunting skills, encouraged by their watchful parents.”


UK’s rarest bee discovered at site in southern England - Woodland Trust

Shrill carder bee (Photo: Bumblebee Conservation Trust)Conservationists are celebrating a “major find” after the UK’s rarest bee - the shrill carder bee - was discovered at a site in the south of England.

Claire Inglis, the Woodland Trust’s assistant site manager at Victory Wood in Kent, found the bee with Bumblebee Conservation Trust staff during a wildflower training session for volunteers at the site.

The diminutive creature, which measures only a centimetre long, feasts on a diet of wildflowers - its population has been in decline due to a reduction in meadows and over grazing.
Shrill carder bee (Photo: Bumblebee Conservation Trust)
Claire said: “We were delighted to spot this little bee - it’s a major find! We have long thought it existed at the site after a suspected recording a year or so back. To see it for myself is great. We have been working hard to protect and enhance the wildflower meadows at the site, an environment which provides a rich food source for the bees. Now it is about enhancing the wood further and helping the bee to breed further.”
The shrill carder bumblebee (Bombus sylvarum), so known because of its high pitched buzz, is the UK’s rarest bumblebee, now known only from a handful of sites in south Wales and southern England and generally scarce even there. It’s a relatively late forager so is generally spotted between June and October.


National Trust announces it will divest from all fossil fuel companies - National Trust

The National Trust has today (04 July) announced it will cease any investment in fossil fuel companies.

The charity will introduce a series of new measures to ensure its investment strategy continues to support its aims as a conservation charity. 

Previously the Trust had required that no investment be made directly in companies which derived more than 10 per cent of their turnover from the extraction of thermal coal or oil from oil sands.  Fossil fuel investments comprise just 4 per cent of its current portfolio.

Hilary McGrady, Director General of the National Trust said: “Returns from our investments are vital for helping us protect and care for special places across the nation.  They enable us to look after the natural environment and keep our membership fees affordable to the millions of people who are part of our organisation. The impacts of climate change pose the biggest long-term threat to the land and properties we care for and tackling this is a huge challenge for the whole nation. We know our members and supporters are eager to see us do everything we can to protect and nurture the natural environment for future generations.  This change is part of our ongoing commitment.”


Young peregrine falcon illegally shot - RSPB

A young peregrine had to be euthanised after it was found with a broken wing and a shotgun pellet in its chest.

The bird was found in the road at Aldford, part of the Grosvenor Estate in Cheshire, on 17 April 2019 and taken to Lower Moss Wood Wildlife Hospital. An X-ray by Northwich Vets confirmed it had a broken wing and piece of shot in its chest.

Knowing it would not recover from its injuries, the vets took the sad decision to put the bird to sleep.

Peregrine falcons are the world’s fastest birds, able to reach speeds of 200mph when diving for prey. They nest on moorland, on cliffs and increasingly in towns and cities, usually producing two-four chicks each spring. There are thought to be around 1,500 pairs in the UK.

Like all birds of prey, peregrines are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Cheshire police are now appealing to the public for information.

Only a month before, in March 2019, a raven was found shot dead near Delamere Forest, Cheshire. Police investigated the incident but no leads were identified.


Shhh! It happens…National Park aim to get people talking about poo in the outdoors – Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority

It may be the most natural thing in the world but that doesn’t mean its ok to ‘dump’ it anywhere. That is the message from Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority as it launches bold, new pilot scheme to encourage campers to toilet responsibly in the outdoors.

How to dispose responsibly of human waste can be a bit of a ‘ta-poo’ subject but the National Park Authority is hoping to take the embarrassment out of something everyone does, by launching a trial project to help people know what to do when they need a poo in the National Park.

Image: Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park AuthorityImage: Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authority

The National Park is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life and get close to nature. However when nature calls, many people are unsure of how to ‘do their business’ without leaving a lasting impact on the environment when no facilities are available.

The trial is being rolled out over July and August in three popular visitor sites within the National Park, with each location using a different way of trying to change behaviour and reduce irresponsible toileting. This will be supported by wider awareness raising on social media and the National Park’s website.

Sites in Loch Earn, the Trossachs and West Loch Lomond have been chosen as locations for the trial due to their ongoing issues with human waste.

Eye catching, awareness raising posters will be displayed at Loch Earn, using the nudge effect to encourage people to do the right thing and including information on where the nearest public toilets are.

At Three Lochs Forest Drive in the Trossachs, trowels will be available for campers to borrow with advice on how to bury their poo in line with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code guidance.


How trees could save the climate - Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich

Around 0.9 billion hectares of land worldwide would be suitable for reforestation, which could ultimately capture two thirds of human-made carbon emissions. The Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich has published a study in the journal Science that shows this would be the most effective method to combat climate change.

The Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich investigates nature-based solutions to climate change. In their latest study the researchers showed for the first time where in the world new trees could grow and how much carbon they would store. Study lead author and postdoc at the Crowther Lab Jean-François Bastin explains: “One aspect was of particular importance to us as we did the calculations: we excluded cities or agricultural areas from the total restoration potential as these areas are needed for human life.”

Reforest an area the size of the USA

The researchers calculated that under the current climate conditions, Earth’s land could support 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover. That is 1.6 billion more than the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares. Of these 1.6 billion hectares, 0.9 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by humans. This means that there is currently an area of the size of the US available for tree restoration. Once mature, these new forests could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon: about two thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution.

According to Prof. Thomas Crowther, co-author of the study and founder of the Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich: “We all knew that restoring forests could play a part in tackling climate change, but we didn’t really know how big the impact would be. Our study shows clearly that forest restoration is the best climate change solution available today. But we must act quickly, as new forests will take decades to mature and achieve their full potential as a source of natural carbon storage.”


Plantlife research shows the value – and vulnerability – of Britain’s last remaining meadows

  • Rewilding can provide great opportunities for plants, retaining ‘disturbance’ is key
  • Dr Trevor Dines: “We need a roots up as well as tooth down approach to rewilding”
  • Plantlife research reveals 40% of wild plants would decline in a decade if land is abandoned entirely
  • © Matt PittsOver 97% meadows lost since 1930s and remaining fragments remain unprotected
  • Petition calling for better protection of meadows approaches 500,000 signatures

© Matt Pitts

Meadows face mounting risks from poor legal protection, and from land abandonment and undergrazing, sometimes in the name of rewilding according to Plantlife research released today (Friday 5 July).

Wildflower meadows are some of our rarest and most species-rich habitats, home to nearly half our entire flora but occupying less than 1% of the UK’s land cover. 'Early succession’ habitats such as these require sufficient levels of grazing and management to keep them viable. The research reveals that 611 plant species of 1,543 analysed (40%) will decline within a decade if the land is entirely abandoned, with 127 of these (16.4%) declining within three years. Three quarters of our most threatened species - including burnt-tip orchid, pasqueflower and crested cow-wheat - decline or disappear within three years if all management and grazing is removed.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Trevor Dines, Botanical Specialist, Plantlife, said: “Total land abandonment now poses the greatest threat to plant diversity as it removes the brake on succession: left entirely to their own devices most open landscapes in the UK will change from grassland to scrub and, ultimately, to woodland as large plants reach for the light and outcompete smaller, more delicate species. Grazing and disturbance ‘re-set’ this ecological clock, allowing these fabulous early-succession flowers to thrive in open ground flooded with sunlight.

“Too much interference can be just as damaging as abandonment”, noted Dines. “Our most intensively managed farmland – 46% of land cover - provides the bleakest arena for plants, supporting just 85 species.”

The eradication of wildflower meadows, botanically richer than any other habitat, has been staggering; 97% have been lost since the 1930s. 75% of remaining meadows occur in small fragments and remain vulnerable to destruction.


Scientific publications

Learmonth, M. J. Dilemmas for Natural Living Concepts of Zoo Animal Welfare (Open access) Animals 2019, 9(6), 318; DOI: 10.3390/ani9060318


Chen, Q. , Howison, R. A., Bakker, J. P., Alberti, J. , Kuijper, D. P., Olff, H. and Smit, C. (2019), Small herbivores slow down species loss up to 22 years but only at early successional stage. J Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2745.13236


Pringle, H, Wilson, M, Calladine, J, Siriwardena, G. Associations between gamebird releases and generalist predators. J Appl Ecol. 2019; 00: 1– 12. doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13451


Huntingford, C, Mitchell, D, Kornhuber, K, Coumou, D, Osprey, S, Allen, M. Assessing changes in risk of amplified planetary waves in a warming world. Atmos Sci Lett. 2019;e929. doi.org/10.1002/asl.929


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