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


Scottish MSP launches campaign to clean up marine plastic in the North East – Scottish Natural Heritage

St Cyrus Reserve Manager Therese Alampo, MSP for Angus North and Mearns Mairi Gougeon and Reserve Assistant Simon Ritchie launch Take 3 For the Sea © Pauline SmithSt Cyrus Reserve Manager Therese Alampo, MSP for Angus North and Mearns Mairi Gougeon and Reserve Assistant Simon Ritchie launch Take 3 For the Sea © Pauline Smith

Mairi Gougeon, MSP for Angus North and Mearns, today launched an initiative to encourage people in the North East to battle the effects of marine litter on wildlife.

Part of an international campaign, Take 3 For the Sea, the initiative will operate on two Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) national nature reserves, St Cyrus and Forvie. The campaign encourages people to remove three small pieces of rubbish from the beach every time they visit. They then can place litter in the bins at the reserve car parks or take plastics and other recyclables home to recycle.

Ms Gougon said: “Forvie and St Cyrus both have wonderful beaches, which many people enjoy and which support all kinds of wildlife. Marine plastic poses a dangerous threat to these birds and animals. That’s why I’m so enthusiastic about this grassroots campaign to get us all involved in keeping our marine wildlife safe. And of course you don’t have to stop at three: every item you pick up will make a big difference!”


Brokenshire orders house builders to protect wildlife - Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government 

  • Developers have been ordered to do more to protect Britain’s cherished wildlife.
  • ‘Hedgehog highways’ recommended for new housing estates for the first time
  • Swifts and other wildlife to coexist with new homes during building
  • Rules recommend ways developers can identify new habitat for wildlife

Developers have been ordered to do more to protect Britain’s cherished wildlife, Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP announced today (Sunday 21 July).

For the first time the government has set out its expectations on how developers can protect specific species, including using ‘hedgehog highways’ and hollow swift bricks – which are installed into the walls of new build homes, allowing the birds to nest safely. This follows public interest for protecting these much-loved animals, with one petition receiving support from over half a million people.

From submitting proposals to councils to then building new homes, house builders should think about the long-term impact of their developments on the local ecosystem, both during and after construction.

This includes greater emphasis on using innovative ways to allow nature to thrive - such as drainage areas to create attractive wetlands for birds and amphibians to live alongside people.

Communities Secretary Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP said: “Building the new homes this country needs must not come at the detriment of our natural heritage. It’s right that as we deliver houses for people, we must also provide homes for wildlife too - whether that’s for hedgehogs, frogs, newts or birds. The public have told us that protecting wildlife is important to them – so my message to house builders is to harness this support and get building in a way that protects the environment for the next generation.”


New study reveals huge decline in bird species when grouse management ends – Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Ending grouse moor management risks declines - and possible local extinctions - of a range of ground-nesting bird species, a new study has revealed.

Published by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), the new research looks at the impact of stopping grouse management on birds such as curlew, golden plover, lapwing, black grouse, hen harrier and merlin in the south west of Scotland.

Its conclusions are drawn from studies in two Special Protection Areas, Muirkirk & North Lowther Uplands and Langholm/Newcastleton Hills (which will shortly be the subject of a report from the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project). A Special Protection Area (SPA) is a designation under the EU Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds. Under the Directive, member states have a duty to safeguard the habitats of migratory birds and certain particularly threatened bird species.

Among the key findings in the report are;

  • Red grouse bags have declined, with 42% of 31 moors now no longer shooting red grouse.
  • Increases in the numbers of hen harriers during the keepered phase of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project contrasted with a collective decline in other SPAs in south west Scotland where there was almost no grouse keepering
  • The numbers of black grouse attending leks declined by 80% during an approximate 15-year period from the early 1990s onwards. However, twice as many lekking males found where gamekeepers were employed to provide driven grouse shooting.
  • In Muirkirk & North Lowther Uplands, where keeping has sharply declined, an 84% drop in golden plover population, 88% drop in lapwing and 61% drop in curlew.

The research mirrors an equivalent study carried out in north Wales which examined the end of grouse moor management within the Berwyn SPA. That research showed a local extinction of lapwing, 90% loss of golden plover and a 79% reduction in curlew between 1983-5 and 2002 (Warren & Baines 2014). Over the same period, substantial increases in carrion crows, ravens and buzzards were noted.


Do not disturb! The growing threat to our seals - Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust

As the summer holidays begin, millions of British and international visitors flock to popular coastal destinations around the British Isles. The increasing popularity of ‘staycations’ and higher numbers of visitors from overseas, crowding around our coasts adds huge pressure onto our wildlife, especially seals.

A new report released today (Sunday 21 July) entitled ‘Please Do Not Disturb! – issues of seal disturbance in the United Kingdom’, along with shocking and dramatic film footage and photographs, highlights the growing, harmful impact that human activity is having on our globally rare and important seal populations.

Funded by the Seal Protection Action Group (SPAG) and the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust (CSGRT) for The Seal Alliance, the report documents case studies around the British coast where our protected seal populations are suffering chronic disturbances from human activities, deliberate or accidental, often causing serious injury and with potentially fatal consequences.

The report catalogues serious incidents in the South-west of England; North-west Wales; North-east England and North-east Scotland at sites of critical importance to these beautiful and intelligent marine mammals – key areas seals use for resting, socialising, breeding and moulting.

The researchers found compelling evidence that our seal population is suffering chronic disturbance issues from human intrusion, both accidental and deliberate, through recreational activities as well as expanding tourism. These disturbances come from motorised vessels, jet-skis, kayaks, paddle -boarders, wildlife watching tours on land or sea, anglers, walkers, dogs on and off leashes, drones, light aircraft, helicopters and even commercial wildlife photographers.  People trying to feed seals is also of growing concern.

You can download the report by clicking here


First Local Plan for the South Downs National Park is adopted - South Downs National Park Authority

Landscape and the needs of local communities are central to the South Downs National Park’s Local Plan which was adopted by Members this month.

The Plan covers the entire National Park for the next 14 years and rather than being “target driven”, the policies in the Plan are based on the nationally-designated landscape. The Plan sets out measures to mitigate climate change including that any major new developments should seek to be carbon neutral, have better drainage schemes to reduce flood risk and limit water consumption for new developments.

Margaret Paren, Chair of South Downs National Park Authority, said: “This is a significant moment for the South Downs National Park and our local communities. Our adopted Local Plan puts our nationally important landscapes first and ensures that they sit at the heart of every planning decision we make. But, while our first priority is to conserve and enhance the landscape, this Local Plan goes one step further by clearly outlining how we will nurture a living, thriving landscape that benefits local people and looks to increase resilience to climate change.”


Stronger protections for the environment move closer as landmark Bill takes shape - Defra

New measures to enhance wildlife, transform our waste system and improve the resilience of water supplies set out in Environment Bill policy statement.

New measures to enhance wildlife, transform our waste system and improve the resilience of water supplies have been set out today by Environment Secretary Michael Gove (Tuesday 23 July).

In an update on progress towards the introduction of the landmark Environment Bill – the first for 20 years – the government has published firm positions, following a range of consultations, on issues ranging from trees to water to recycling, to boost our natural environment.

Mr Gove has set out the government’s ambitions for the full Environment Bill in an updated summer policy statement, including commitments to legislate on environmental governance, air, biodiversity, water, and waste and resource efficiency.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “We know we must do all we can to protect our precious natural environment. There is a clear need to act to ensure we do not leave this planet to the next generation more polluted, more dangerous and denuded of its natural riches. The measures in our Environment Bill will position the UK as a world leader, ensuring that after EU Exit environmental ambition and accountability are placed more clearly than ever before at the heart of government. As we have set out today, our plans will improve air quality so that our children live longer, restore habitats and increase biodiversity, strive towards a more circular economy and ensure we can manage our precious water resources in a changing climate.”


Free mammal tracking app turns amateurs into ecologists – The Mammal Society

Mammal Mapper App logoHow often have you been a passenger in a car and counted the foxes, badgers, deer and rabbits that you’ve seen (alive or dead) on the roadside? What about all the mammals you’ve seen whilst you’re out on your morning dog walk or weekend stroll? These sightings feel significant, but how can you report them? The Mammal Society have developed a user-friendly app, Mammal Mapper, that enables you to capture these records on your phone, as you go, recording not only species details but also time and location.

Mammal Mapper App logo

The Mammal Society have just launched a brand new version of their free Mammal Mapper app, with easier recording and merging of the functions of their two older apps, Mammal Tracker and the original Mammal Mapper. The updated app, which previously allowed users to map an entire route and the mammals seen along it, also now allows users to log one-off sightings.

Users of the app are therefore able to build a library of the mammals and mammal signs they have spotted, as well as the routes they have followed. This information can then be submitted to help scientists and data analysts understand more about the distribution of mammals across Britain.


Cash incentive for landowners to restore UK peatland - IUCN

OF&G (Organic Farmers & Growers) have teamed up with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) UK Peatland Programme to offer a new certification scheme to landowners that will support the protection and improvement of UK peatlands.

The Peatland Code sets out best practice for projects seeking to market the climate and environmental benefits of peatland restoration. It helps landowners secure private funding for projects, offering an additional revenue stream, by providing investors with assurance through third-party verification that expected climate benefits are credible and deliverable.

“A recent report from Green Alliance suggests we have an opportunity to achieve the 2030 reduced emissions targets, in part, by restoring the UK’s 2.7m hectares of peatland by at least 26%,” says Roger Kerr, chief executive at OF&G, who certify over half the UK’s organic land. “Together with the IUCN UK Peatland Programme, we aim to help landowners restore much of the UK’s peatlands, which cover 12% of the total UK land area, reverting damaged peatlands from large sources of carbon to fulfilling their carbon sequestration potential, and support the wider environment”


Rathlin could be a ‘Love Island’ for corncrakes as two pairs recorded for first time since the ‘80s - RSPB

Two pairs of the rare ground-nesting birds recorded on island for first time in 30 years, with one of the males potentially ‘coupled up’ with two female birds

For the first time in 30 years it’s been confirmed that there are two pairs of corncrakes on Rathlin Island.
The corncrake is one of our rarest and most secretive birds and is a red-listed species (a bird of high conservation concern). While many people can fondly remember hearing its call in years gone by, Rathlin is the only place in Northern Ireland where the birds have been heard in recent years.
A male has been heard calling in one location on Rathlin each year since 2016 and now RSPB NI staff have recorded two breeding males in two separate sites on the island this summer.
Known for their unmistakeable ‘crex-crex’ call, corncrakes are highly secretive and like to settle in early growing tall vegetation like nettles, cow parsley and irises. One of the sites - in Church Bay - is on land owned by an islander but managed by RSPB NI that has had nettles planted by staff and teams of volunteers to encourage the birds - summer migrants from western Africa - to return to Rathlin.


Climate change occurring faster than birds can adapt - University College Cork

Climate change is occurring so rapidly that many animals may be unable to adapt, according to findings of an international study published in Nature Communications.

Copyright: Bernard CasteleinAn international team of researchers evaluated more than 10,000 published scientific studies, and found that while animals are adjusting to climate change, these responses appear insufficient to cope with future rapid warming. The study focused mainly on birds and included common European species such as the magpie (Pica pica), the great tit (Parus major) and European pied flycatcher (Ficedula hypoleuca).

Copyright: Bernard Castelein

“These are common birds that were previously thought adaptable to climate change, so this is quite worrying” stated the co-author of the study, Dr Thomas Reed, Senior Lecturer in Zoology at University College Cork (UCC).

In wildlife, the most commonly observed response to climate change is an alteration in the timing of biological events such as hibernation, reproduction or migration (phenological traits). Changes in body size, body mass or other morphological traits have also been associated with climate change, but – as confirmed by this study – show no systematic pattern. The researchers extracted relevant information from the scientific literature to relate changes in climate over the years to possible changes in phenological and morphological traits. Next, they evaluated whether observed trait changes were associated with higher survival or an increased number of offspring. 

“The findings are both good and bad”, continued Dr Reed. “On the one hand, the data show that many species are changing in ways that increase survival and reproductive success. But on the other, the models show that this may not be enough for populations to stay in the game long term, because the rate of adaptive change is too slow. The fear is that the prognosis for species of conservation concern, for which we had little data, could be even worse”.

Read the paper: Radchuk V et. al (2019:) Adaptive responses of animals to climate change are most likely insufficient. Nature Communications doi:10.1038/s41467-019-10924-4


London's last working shire horses drafted in to protect zone 4 meadows - National Trust

The National Trust is replacing heavy machinery with a 17th-century technique of using shire horses to cut rare hay meadows in the heart of the capital.

London’s last remaining herd of working heavy horses have been called in by the conservation charity to cut the hay on its Ham House estate, near Richmond, as part of efforts to manage the land in a more sustainable way. 

The towering horses, which belong to charity Operation Centaur, weigh up to a tonne each but are a lighter alternative to tractors, reducing compaction of the soil which encourages wildflowers to grow and in turn provides habitats for wildlife. 

Horse-powered mowing also reduces noise pollution, carries a lower carbon footprint and controls flooding, something that’s especially relevant in the tidal setting of Ham. 

“Horses have been used in this way for hundreds of years,’ explains Ham House Head Gardener Rosie Fyles. We know these flood meadows have been part of the London landscape since the 17th century and would have been used for grazing and ploughed for hay and feed.  We’ve come back to using these traditional methods of managing the land because they have so many benefits for nature, and the community. And there’s something really special about witnessing the sights and sounds of this centuries-old rural tradition in the heart of London today.”


TRUSTwoods can help landowners in ten pilot areas get more trees in the ground (Photo: Jill Jennings)New grants available for local landowners to plant trees with the Woodland Trust - Woodland Trust

A pilot Woodland Trust scheme is offering expert advice and grants of up to £4,000 to landowners who want to create small, new native woods.

TRUSTwoods is open to people looking to create between one and three hectares of woodland in a trial area of Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.

TRUSTwoods can help landowners in ten pilot areas get more trees in the ground (Photo: Jill Jennings)

Director of woodland outreach John Tucker said: “We need new woodland like never before. Government has recently committed to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The expansion of the UK’s tree canopy cover from 13% to 17% is an essential part of the solution, but for the country to reach that target we need to see a three-fold increase in current woodland creation levels. Locking up carbon isn’t the only reason to plant trees though. The right tree in the right place can improve soil quality and stability, reduce the impact of flooding, provide shelter for crops or livestock, vital habitat for wildlife or a place for us to simply get away from it all.”


Avon Wildlife Trust begins vaccinating badgers against bovine TB - Avon Wildlife Trust

Avon Wildlife Trust has today begun vaccinating badgers for the first time on one of the conservation charity’s nature reserves, as a way to help tackle the problem of bovine tuberculosis (bovine TB) in badgers, and demonstrate an alternative to the cull policy which has so far killed 68,000 badgers over the last few years across England.

The Trust – which manages 30 nature reserves across the Avon region – is initially vaccinating badgers at one woodland site but aims to roll out an extensive programme of vaccination over the next four years, working with farmers and landowners to jointly find a way to control the risks of bovine TB. The charity is launching a fundraising campaign to pay for the vaccines, equipment and training needed to continue protecting badgers through this work and needs to raise at least £20,000 to cover the programme.

Unlike large parts of England including the rest of the South West, culling has so far not taken place in Avon but it’s possible that culling licences may be issued by DEFRA in the future which would mean thousands of wild badgers being killed.  Avon Wildlife Trust remains opposed to the policy of culling badgers, believing that vaccination provides a viable, cost effective and long-term alternative to control the spread of bovine TB.


Five new wildflower trails open across Scotland - Scottish Natural Heritage

Five new wildflower trails - specially designed to benefit Scotland’s vital pollinators – have opened at Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) nature reserves this year.

(image: credit Caroline Anderson SNH)(image: credit Caroline Anderson SNH)

The trails have been created on national nature reserves across Scotland from Forvie National Nature Reserve in Aberdeenshire, St Cyrus in Angus and Creag Meagaidh in the Highlands to Taynish in Argyll and Bute.  The trails are short walks and easily accessible.  There are information signs along the paths for visitors, telling them more about pollinators and wildflowers and giving tips on how to help pollinators.

David Pickett, SNH's Forvie reserve manager, said: "Whenever I stroll along our trail, I'm astonished by the number of wildflowers, such as bluebells, wood anemone, violets, stitchwort and celandine.  It's wonderful to walk among flowers and see all the insects that are benefiting from the trail - and to take time to smell the flowers!  There's lots of fascinating information about the important work pollinators do as well."

Stuart MacQuarrie, SNH's National Nature Reserve Manager, added: "These wildflower trails are not only beautiful for visitors to our national nature reserves, but they're critical for pollinators like bees, butterflies and ladybirds.  There's so much work going on to bolster pollinator populations by so many individuals and organisations in Scotland.  We're thrilled that these trails build on these many efforts to help our pollinators."


Little litter pickers help look after the Peak District National Park - Peak District National Park

Children aged between 2 and 4 years have been learning to look after their local environment with the help of a Peak District National Park ranger.

Bamford Pre-School children and staff with Peak District National Park ranger Tom Lewis collected litter from around their village (image: PDNPA)Bamford Pre-School children and staff with Peak District National Park ranger Tom Lewis collected litter from around their village (image: PDNPA)

Youngsters who attend Bamford Pre-School carried out a litter pick around their village led by National Park engagement ranger, Tom Lewis.

The children, kitted out with yellow vests and litter-pickers, collected rubbish from around their Pre-School, the village green and from the recreation ground.
Working together, ranger Tom Lewis and the Pre-School staff helped the children understand the importance of taking litter home and being good citizens.
Tom Lewis said: “Helping children from an early age to connect with nature and learn about the environment is vital for enthusing the next generation about protecting their local area and community. The children did a great job clearing litter and had a really fun day!”


Confor pressure secures doubled funds for forestry in Wales - Confor

A grant pot of £2 million for new woodland creation was announced yesterday by Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, following pressure from Confor to demonstrate Welsh Government commitment to planting trees.

Speaking at an event marking 100 years of Welsh Forestry at the 100th Royal Welsh Show, Ms Griffiths said that the funding was a mark of their commitment to meet targets of 2000 hectares new woodland creation each year. The extra funding pledge signals intent on the part of Welsh Government to meet these targets. 

Anthony Geddes, Confor National Manager for Wales, said, “This is a welcome step forward, Confor have been working closely with the minister and her forest policy team to turn warm words on forestry into trees in the ground. New woodland creation in Wales is vital to provide timber for housing, meet planting targets, create wildlife habitats and strengthen our natural capital.

“The grants need to reflect planting targets and other barriers to planting and management remain to be addressed, before Welsh woodlands deliver these benefits to the level required. However, this extra funding as a signal of intent is exactly what we have been asking for from Welsh Government. I would urge Confor members to take advantage of this opportunity and apply for these grants, to create the first of a new generation of Welsh Forests.”


Peatland ACTION announces first funding for Outer Hebrides to mark International Bog Day - Scottish Natural Heritage

A new peatland restoration project aims to improve water quality, tackle climate change and help protect Black Throated Divers and Great Skua in the Outer Hebrides.

Great Skua © Lorne Gill SNHGreat Skua © Lorne Gill SNH

Funding for the first Peatland ACTION project in the islands has been confirmed in celebration of International Bog Day this Sunday (28th).

Working alongside Scottish Water, the project will focus on restoring 11 hectares of damaged and eroding peatland within the Loch Orasaigh drinking water catchment area which serves the North Lochs Water Treatment Works on the Isle of Lewis.

The restoration aims to re-profile peat hags, block drainage ditches and encourage the stabilisation of vegetation around the edge of the loch.

At a cost of £1,700 a hectare, the project offers a relatively inexpensive way of tackling climate change, as well as potentially reducing water treatment costs by minimising the amount of peat being washed into the loch - helping secure a strategically important drinking water supply in the Outer Hebrides.

The project will also help preserve the local environment, with a recent survey confirming the loch is home to two of Scotland’s protected species – Black Throated Divers and Great Skua.


Transforming the NBN Atlas into a world-leading source of environmental data – National Biodiversity Network 

We are delighted to announce that the National Biodiversity Network Trust has today received funding from Esmée Fairbairn Foundation to help transform its data sharing website, the NBN Atlas, into a world-leading source of environmental data.

The funding, of £375,000 over three and a half years, will enable the further development of the NBN Atlas to meet the needs of its audiences, both current and new, and to help with global environmental issues.

Currently the NBN Atlas holds over 223 million occurrence records across 45,000 species, spanning five centuries. The data come from over 140 different data partners including government agencies, research bodies, local environmental records centres, conservation charities, commercial companies and volunteer wildlife recording groups.

Correctly resourced, through the help of funding such as this Esmée Fairbairn Foundation Grant, the NBN Atlas aims to be the single source of high-quality wildlife data at the national level.

On a larger scale, and in aiming to help address UK and global environmental concerns, the NBN Trust has identified three ‘needs’, which will be addressed through this grant:

1) engaging more people with the natural world,

2) making the data needed for evidence-based decisions more accessible, and

3) developing the NBN Trust’s organisational sustainability to be able to deliver on the first two needs.


Scientific publications

Spelt, A., Williamson, C., Shamoun-Baranes, J. Shepard, E., Rock, P. & Windsor, S. Habitat use of urban-nesting lesser black-backed gulls during the breeding season (open access). Scientific Reports DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-46890-6


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