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


Wildlife that inspired Beatrix Potter tales thriving in Lake District meadows - National Trust

Hay meadows that were among Beatrix Potter’s favourite beauty spots and provided the inspiration for some of her much-loved characters have been restored to their former glory thanks to a 25-year National Trust project.

Beatrix Potter's hay meadows provide a haven for pollinators (National Trust / John Malley)Beatrix Potter's hay meadows provide a haven for pollinators (National Trust / John Malley)

As Britain marks National Meadows Day, the conservation charity has revealed that three meadows (covering 11 acres) at Hill Top Farm in the Lake District are once again providing a haven for wildlife, including many of the animals that inspired Beatrix Potter’s writing.

Hill Top Farm was the country home of the author for almost 40 years and is thought to have played a large part in the creation of Jemima Puddle-Duck and Samuel Whiskers. 

During the First and Second World War efforts, the hay meadows surrounding the site were intensively ploughed for crops to meet increased demand for home grown food, which left populations of wildlife and pollinators depleted.

But now the conservation charity has restored the land to how Beatrix Potter would have first known it, following decades of careful management. 

Rangers surveying the meadows found the grass and flower-packed fields were offering a valuable source of food and shelter for mice, field voles and barn and tawny owls, personified by Potter in stories such as The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse. 

The survey also showed that plants including eyebright and great burnet, which were classified as ‘rare’ when the fields were first assessed in the 1990s are now in abundance. 

Flowering plants such as black knapweed, kingcup, oxeye daisy, yellow rattle, red clover and lady’s mantle were also found to be prospering, making the fields some of the most species-rich in the National Trust’s care.

The meadows also host a diverse range of bees, birds and insects, including painted lady butterflies which migrate from North Africa each year. 

Paul Farrington, Area Ranger for the National Trust, said: “It’s fantastic to see the hay meadows here at Hill Top in such good health. As well as being beautiful, these meadows provide a huge food and nectar source for hundreds of species of wildlife. We manage the land using the same traditional practices that would have been used in Beatrix Potter’s day. This includes avoiding artificial fertiliser and cutting the grass later in the summer to allow the plants to flower and set seed.”


Cumbria receives a new National Nature Reserve - Natural England

Bolton Fell and Walton Mosses is declared a new National Nature Reserve by Natural England.

Natural England has today (Tuesday 9 July) announced the declaration of a new National Nature Reserve in Cumbria – Bolton Fell and Walton Mosses National Nature Reserve, home to one of Western Europe’s rarest and most threatened habitats, the lowland raised bog.

Located near Carlisle, the new reserve encompasses the recently restored Bolton Fell Moss Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the pristine condition Walton Fell Moss SSSI.

The restoration of Bolton Fell by Natural England follows 50 years of extensive damage from the removal of peat and peat-forming vegetation for horticulture, which created unsuitable conditions for specialist bog plants and wildlife such as curlews and redshanks to thrive.

Now restored, Bolton Fell Moss is recovering and is on track to develop important peat forming vegetation which can be already found at Walton Moss. In time, the site will become an active carbon sink, capturing and storing carbon to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the earth’s atmosphere.

To mark the occasion, Chair of Natural England Tony Juniper has today officially declared the National Nature Reserve.

Speaking at Bolton Fell, Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England says: “Since the ice age, our active lowland raised bogs have been storing large amounts of carbon and now play a vital role in combatting the impacts of climate change. I am therefore delighted to officially declare Bolton Fell and Walton Moss a National Nature Reserve, set to serve the local community and wildlife for future generations to come.”

Cumbria, home to almost half England’s lowland raised bogs, has seen over 500 hectares of lowland raised bogs restored under Natural England’s Cumbrian BogLIFE+ Project and funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


Bringing Children Closer to Nature – Sylva

In a report published today (Monday 8 July), educators and woodland owners from across the UK provide a much-needed snapshot of how they are bringing children closer to nature through Forest School practice and outdoor learning. This report reveals how practitioners overcome significant barriers to bringing children closer to nature and how this can be sustained.

The report is the result of an online survey undertaken in late 2018 by adults who work with children outdoors, particularly Forest School practitioners. A total of 1,171 people took part, mostly educators (1,080), alongside private woodland owners (94) with an interest in bringing children closer to nature.

The most common barriers to sustaining Forest School described by educators were funding, time, and access to woodland sites. Contributions from parents were important for funding in many schools, except among deprived schools, indicating that greater targeted support is required to ensure all children are brought closer to nature. Challenges of the school timetable and curriculum can be overcome when the Head Teacher and senior leadership understand and make Forest School a priority. For sites, the majority of schools in the survey used their own school grounds for Forest School, therefore reducing barriers arising from location and cost. Woodland owners in this survey were found to play a critical role in providing free access to woodland for educators not based in schools.


UK credibility on climate change rests on Government action over next 18 months - Committee on Climate Change

The UK has legislated for net-zero emissions by 2050 – now the UK Government must show it is serious about its legal obligations to tackle and prepare for climate change, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) says today.

UK action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is lagging far behind what is needed, even to meet previous, less stringent, emissions targets. Over the past year, the Government has delivered just 1 of 25 critical policies needed to get emissions reductions back on track, its new report shows.

Meanwhile, action to prepare our homes, businesses and natural environment for a warming world is less ambitious than it was ten years ago. Of 33 key sectors assessed by the Committee in a second, related report published today, none show good progress when it comes to managing climate change risk.

Lord Deben, CCC Chairman, said: “The UK is the first major economy to set a net-zero emissions target and intends to host the world’s leaders at next year’s landmark climate conference (COP26). These are historic steps forward and position the UK at the forefront of the global low-carbon transition. But international ambition does not deliver domestic action. It’s time for the Government to show it takes its responsibilities seriously. Reducing emissions to net zero by 2050, requires real action by Government now.”


Environment Agency tells water companies to clean up their act and protect the environment from pollution - Environment Agency

Water company efforts to protect the environment were described as ‘simply unacceptable’ in an Environment Agency (EA) report published today (10 July) with only 1 of the major water and sewage companies in England performing at the level expected.

Overall water company performance has deteriorated which reverses the trend of gradual improvement in the sector since the rating system began in 2011. Serious pollution incidents increased in 2018 causing damage to the rivers and wildlife.

Environment Agency Chair Emma Howard Boyd, who has previously warned water companies they would face a tougher regulatory approach with increasing inspections, is pledging that the Environment Agency will continue to work with Ofwat to look at financial penalties to drive better environmental performance given fines are currently only a fraction of turnover. Writing in the report’s foreword she said:

Companies should be reflecting on their environmental performance and long-term resilience, if this is poor they should be asking themselves whether dividends are justifiable.

The annual report rates each of the 9 water and sewerage companies in England as either green, amber or red on a range of measures including serious pollution, pollution per km of sewer pipes, supply resilience, self-reporting of pollution and complying with permits – and also compares individual company performance to highlight the best and worst.

Northumbrian Water was the only company achieving the highest 4 star rating, showing that it is possible to bring in good environmental practices and limit the impact of operations on nature. The Environment Agency report said this improvement is to be applauded which had only been possible with focus from the top of the organisation and ongoing effort from operational teams.

The report is available hereEnvironmental performance of the water and sewerage companies


Investing in nature could boost UK economy - Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

A new report, which explores land use options post-Brexit, suggests that increasing the area of semi-natural habitats could increase economic growth by up to 5% and employment by up to 8%.

In Dorset alone, investing in habitats such as chalk grassland and heathland could deliver a £0.8 billion boost in the local economy and create more than 25,000 jobs – a substantial increase on the £1.5 billion and 30,000 jobs that the environment is estimated to currently contribute to the county.

In contrast, the expansion of agricultural land would increase economic growth and employment by less than 0.3%, according to the research by Bournemouth University and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH).

The findings come as a new Agriculture Bill is passing through the House of Commons, which would provide incentives for different forms of land use after Brexit. This includes payments not just for increasing agricultural productivity, but also protecting and enhancing the environment, which could lead to farmers being paid for improving wildlife and habitats, enhancing air and water quality plus tackling climate change.

The report concludes there is a strong case for investing in natural capital - natural assets such as plants, soil and water that provide benefits for humans, often referred to as ecosystem services. It calls for funding of initiatives such as rewilding and ecological restoration, which are increasing in popularity.

Access the report: Newton, A.C., Watson, S.C.L., Evans, P., Ridding, L., McCracken, M., Anger-Kraavi, A., and Bullock, J. (2019). Trends in natural capital, ecosystem services and economic development in Dorset. Bournemouth University, Poole, UK. 


Boost for endangered barn owls as new nest site discovered - Ulster Wildlife

Northern Ireland’s tiny barn owl population has been given a much-needed boost with the discovery of a new nest site in Co. Down.

Two fluffy white chicks made their first appearance this week from a nest box erected almost five years ago outside Downpatrick, much to the delight of wildlife friendly farmer David Sandford and conservationists from Ulster Wildlife who installed it.

“About two weeks ago, I thought I heard snoring sounds coming from one of the nest boxes,” said Mr Sandford, who chairs the Nature Friendly Farming Network and has won awards for his sustainable farming work. This is a distinctive begging call made by hungry chicks, so you can imagine my excitement after years of occasional sightings. I contacted Ulster Wildlife immediately to take a look and was ecstatic when we found chicks.”

This now brings the number of active barn owl nest sites in Northern Ireland back up from two to three; a welcome addition to our tiny barn owl population, which is estimated to be fewer than 30 to 50 breeding pairs.


No butts when it comes to filters say MCS and ASH Scotland - Marine Conservation Society

(image: Marine Conservation Society)MCS and ASH Scotland say that cigarette filters must be considered alongside straws and cups in the Cabinet Secretary’s brief to the Scottish Government Advisory Expert Panel on Environmental Charging and Other Measures which advise on sustainable changes in consumer and producer behaviour.

(image: Marine Conservation Society)

The two charities have today (June 11 2019) written to the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, explaining that with cigarette butts clearly identified as one of the key components of single-use marine litter, it is hard to see how a credible action plan to reduce single-use plastic waste in our oceans could possibly exclude them.

In the letter, MCS and ASH Scotland - the charity that takes action to reduce the harm caused by tobacco - said almost all of the four billion cigarette butts discarded each year in Scotland are made of a cellulose acetate plastic. They said: ‘Whilst this form of plastic does degrade in certain conditions, it can take up to 12 years, breaking down into progressively smaller pieces while at the same time leaching out thousands of chemicals, many of which are toxic to marine life.’

Last year’s MCS-organised Great British Beach Clean saw volunteers record over 1,500 cigarette stubs on the 135 Scottish beaches they cleaned and surveyed in just one weekend, whilst globally a staggering 2,412,151 were recorded by volunteers on the Saturday of the International Coastal Clean-up last September.


 Rare butterflies and orchids on abandoned wildlife site boosted by Natural England funding - Natural England

Common Moor SSSI is officially brought into a recovering condition, following improved site management for the rare Culm grassland.

Rare species including the marsh fritillary butterfly, lesser butterfly orchids and Cladonia lichen communities have been given a boost as their home in Common Moor Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Devon, is improved through funding from Natural England.

Following more than a decade of decline - which saw scrub encroach on the rare delicate grassland - a partnership between Natural England, Putford Parish Council, and Devon Wildlife Trust (DWT) has today brought the site back into ‘unfavourable recovering’ condition through Countryside Stewardship (CS) funding. This condition means that the necessary management is now in place for the site to reach favourable condition.

Common Moor SSSI, spanning 55 hectares or more than 60 football pitches, is centrally situated within an arc of six other SSSIs in the North Devonshire countryside, and holds a vital role in connecting green corridors of habitat that allow threatened species to move between locations.

The site is home to an array of rare wildlife – including the charismatic and colourful marsh fritillary butterfly – once widespread in Britain but now threatened across the UK and Europe.


£2 billion boost to the economy from ‘all-in’ deposit return system - CPRE

The economic benefit of a deposit return system, which included every drinks can and bottle – both plastic and glass – would be eight times greater than the economic benefit of a watered-down system, according to a government analysis, as highlighted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

£2 billion boost to the economy from ‘all-in’ deposit return system (image: CPRE)£2 billion boost to the economy from ‘all-in’ deposit return system (image: CPRE)

The countryside charity, which has campaigned for a deposit system for more than ten years, highlights that, of the two systems currently proposed by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), an ‘all in’ deposit return system could generate £2 billion for the economy over ten years, according to the government’s own impact assessment. This is compared to just £250 million that would be generated by a so-called ‘on-the-go’ system, which would collect just a fraction of drinks containers produced.

A reduction in the amount of waste sent to landfill, littered drinks containers and their associated clean-up costs, reduced air and water pollution, as well as fewer carbon emissions caused by the extraction and production of raw materials needed to produce new drinks containers, will result in huge savings for the Treasury, local councils and tax payers.

The introduction of a deposit return system would boost recycling rates for drinks containers to more than 90%, and make the producers of drinks and its packaging financially responsible for the full collection and clean-up costs of the waste that they produce.


Seeing greenery linked to less intense and frequent cravings – University of Plymouth

Led by the University of Plymouth, the study is the first to demonstrate the benefits of passive exposure to nearby greenspace

Being able to see green spaces from your home is associated with reduced cravings for alcohol, cigarettes and harmful foods, new research has shown.

The study, led by the University of Plymouth, is the first to demonstrate that passive exposure to nearby greenspace is linked to both lower frequencies and strengths of craving.

It builds on previous research suggesting exercising in nature can reduce cravings, by demonstrating the same may be true irrespective of physical activity.

Researchers say the findings add to evidence that points to the need to protect and invest in green spaces within towns and cities, in order to maximise the public health benefits they may afford. They also suggest the causality of this link needs to be investigated further.

The study, published in the journal Health & Place, is the first to investigate the relationship between exposure to natural environments, craving for a range of appetitive substances and the experiencing of negative emotions or feelings.

It involved academics from the University’s School of Psychology, with support from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter.

Leanne Martin, who led the research as part of her Master’s degree in Plymouth, said: “It has been known for some time that being outdoors in nature is linked to a person’s wellbeing. But for there to be a similar association with cravings from simply being able to see green spaces adds a new dimension to previous research. This is the first study to explore this idea, and it could have a range of implications for both public health and environmental protection programmes in the future.”

The full study – Natural environments and craving: The mediating role of negative affect by Martin et al – is published in Health and Place, DOI: doi: 10.1016/j.healthplace.2019.102160. It is now being expanded by Leanne Martin and Dr Sabine Pahl through a PhD studentship funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.


New plans to improve the New Forest for wildlife and people – New Forest National Park Authority

New Forest organisations are considering how outdoor recreation activities can be better managed in the future to both protect the Forest and improve facilities.

The Forest is protected for its international importance for wildlife. At the same time, it is experiencing unprecedented numbers of people using it every day and with widespread housing development planned in the region this is set to increase further.

22 proposed actions aim to make the Forest more resilient to rising levels of public recreation. These are based on the results of Future Forest public consultations completed last year in which 2,500 people gave their views on managing recreation.

The proposals have been devised by the Recreation Management Strategy Steering Group which comprises seven organisations with a remit for managing recreation in and around the area: New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry England, Hampshire County Council, Natural England, New Forest District Council, Test Valley Borough Council and the Verderers.

Top priorities for the new strategy are:

  • respect – helping people to understand why the New Forest is special and how to care for it
  • resilience – locating the right recreation facilities in the right places
  • resources – increasing the level of funding available.

To ensure the Forest is resilient into the future, one of the tasks is to develop a spatial strategy for where facilities should be located in order to protect rare wildlife and provide a better experience for people. This would include car parks, walking trails and cycling routes, and both small and large green spaces in and around the National Park.

To progress these ideas, the Steering Group asked the National Park Authority, as the planning authority, to consult the public and other bodies to help design a ‘Local Development Order’ (LDO). The LDO would establish criteria to help review where recreation facilities, including car parks, could best be located.

Members of the New Forest National Park Authority today (11 July) unanimously gave the go-ahead for exploring the creation of an LDO with other partners and the public.

Many of the 22 actions are already being progressed, usually through joint-working between organisations. This includes raising awareness of how special the New Forest is, improved educational campaigns, securing more funds, further research and greater coordination between local authorities as they plan housing developments.


Birmingham bids to become a Tree City of the World – Birmingham City Council

Talks to establish Birmingham as the first officially designated “Tree City” of the UK are set to be held between the city council and an international foundation on Friday (July 12).

Council officers and Cabinet Members Cllr John O’Shea and Cllr Waseem Zaffar are due to meet a delegation from the US-based Arbor Day Foundation about the possibility of becoming a member of the Tree Cities of the World Network.

The bid is being formally launched during the talks, which come on the first day of Love Parks Week (July 12-21). Achievement of the status requires the city and the council to meet five core standards.

If achieved, the status opens up access to a wealth of knowledge on urban tree management through the Arbor Day Foundation and the global network of Tree Cities. This would help further develop the city’s Urban Forestry programme.

Birmingham currently has over one million trees (equivalent to one per citizen). There are 1,398 hectares of woodland (equivalent to 2,097 football pitches) within Birmingham’s 591 parks and open spaces. Across the city, tree canopies cover 48.81 sq km.

In addition, Birmingham’s woodlands scrub over 7 tonnes of harmful PM2.5 particulates from the air each year.

Cllr John O’Shea, Cabinet Member for Street Scene and Parks at Birmingham City Council, said: “The people of Birmingham know that our parks and open spaces are some of our greatest assets. They add huge value to all aspects of our daily lives. That isn’t recognised enough outside our city, but becoming a world “Tree City” would raise our green profile and hopefully attract many more visitors to our great city, to see what we have to offer. Following the review of our tree policies in early 2018, linked to a developing tree and woodland strategy, we feel we meet the required standards and are confident that the status is within our reach.”


Impact of wildfire on pollination by moths revealed – Newcastle University

Scientists show how wildfires disrupt important pollination processes by moths and increase extinction risks.

Researchers have shown for the first time the detrimental effect of wildfires on moths and the ecological benefits they provide by transporting pollen, making interacting plant and insect communities more vulnerable to local extinctions.

Publishing their findings today (12 July) in the journal Functional Ecology, an international team of experts, studied the impact of a large wildfire in Portugal on flowers, moths and the complex ways in which they interact.

Previous studies have shown the flush of pollen-producing wildflowers after a fire can benefit the day-time pollinators such as bees and butterflies. In contrast, the team found that night-time moths, which are important but often overlooked pollinators, were much less abundant and with fewer species found after the fire.

The team found that 70% of the moths caught in Portugal were transporting pollen, but in spring over 95% of moths were found to be involved in this important ecological process. In total, moths carried the pollen of over 80% of flowering plant species in the study area. However, the total amount of pollen transported by moths was five times lower at burned sites, suggesting that more frequent wildfires may disrupt night-time pollination and increase the risk of extinction of these key species.

The researchers, from Newcastle University, the University of York, A Rocha Portugal and Universidade de Évora, Portugal, working with collaborators from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Butterfly Conservation, also found that the moth community changed significantly at burned sites, likely due to the moths’ inability to breed in burned areas if host plants are destroyed by fire.


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