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


One good tern deserves … four others as rare birds hatch on the Welsh coast - RSPB

Good news on The Skerries, off Anglesey, where four roseate tern chicks have hatched to two pairs of the elegant seabirds

  • This is the highest number of roseate chicks on The Skerries for 29 years
  • The successful hatching and fledgling is the result of the hard work of RSPB staff 
    who look after the areas where the birds nest

For the first time in 29 years roseate terns, the UK’s rarest nesting seabirds, hatched four fluffy chicks on The Skerries, off Anglesey. The chicks arrived in late June, with two pairs of roseate terns each having two hungry beaks to feed. More good news has come as the four chicks have now successfully fledged.

Roseate terns have long tails, and beautiful pale feathers with the slight rosy flush that gives them their name. These endangered birds, affectionately called "rosys", fly each spring from western Africa to nest at just a handful of coastal spots in the UK and Ireland.

In Wales, nesting roseate terns are rare. So, 2018’s successful nesting attempt of a single pair on the Skerries for the first time in 12 years was an exciting development. The arrival of this year's second pair is an encouraging sign that numbers of these birds are growing.

The Skerries are a group of small rocky islets which lie just off the northwest corner of Anglesey, Wales. Due to its sparse vegetation and rough terrain, it is inhospitable to humans. However, the islands are an extremely important sanctuary for nesting seabirds, especially terns. The largest Arctic tern colony in the UK, depends on these islands: in 2018 over 3,000 pairs of these birds raised their young here, along with more than 300 common tern pairs. During the summer, the islands are also home to nesting puffins, along with herring, lesser, and great black-backed gulls.


(image: Peter Withers)Blue Butterfly Boom in Summer Heatwave - Butterfly Conservation

A beautiful blue butterfly which has been struggling for the last 40 years could be making a comeback, wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation can reveal.

(image: Peter Withers)

The Common Blue is the most widespread of the UK’s blue butterflies and during the record-breaking hot weather in 2018, the butterfly’s numbers soared across the UK, increasing by 104% on the previous summer.

Now, with the country experiencing another heatwave and the Met Office forecasting above average temperatures throughout August, experts are predicting the Common Blue could see its best ever summer.

As part of this year’s Big Butterfly Count, Butterfly Conservation has teamed up with Campaign for National Parks to ask the public to look out for and record the Common Blue at the 13 parks they work to protect across England and Wales.

The butterfly is not typically found in gardens, preferring unimproved grassland such as downland, woodland clearings, heathland and even sand dunes – all habitats that can be found across National Parks sites, like those in the New Forest, the Peak District and on the Pembrokeshire Coast.


New study shows charred vegetation remains help to lessen overall carbon emission from wildfires - Swansea University

The extensive outbreak of wildfires in the arctic and the vast amounts of CO2 they are emitting have been hitting the headlines across the world with their extent being unprecedented since satellite observations of fire began.

Decades of satellite observations show that in an average year, wildfires around the world burn an area equivalent to the size of India and emit more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere than global road, rail, shipping and air transport combined.

As vegetation in burned areas regrows, it draws CO2 back out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis. This is part of the normal fire-recovery cycle, which can take less than a year in grasslands or decades in fire-adapted forests.

In extreme cases, such as arctic or tropical peatlands, full recovery may not occur for centuries.

This recovery of vegetation is important because carbon that is not re-captured stays in the atmosphere and contributes to climate change.

Deforestation fires are a particularly important contributor to climate change as these result in a long-term loss of carbon to the atmosphere.

Now a new study by wildfire researchers at Swansea University and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has quantified the important role that charcoal created by fires - known as pyrogenic carbon - plays in helping to compensate for carbon emissions.

Their paper Global fire emissions buffered by the production of pyrogenic carbon, has just been published in Nature Geoscience. DOI 10.1038/s41561-019-0403-x


Robot cameras reveal secret lives of basking sharks in UK marine conservation first – Scottish Natural Heritage

Basking shark feeding ©Alex Mustard 2020VISIONBasking shark feeding ©Alex Mustard 2020VISION

An autonomous ‘SharkCam’ has been used in the UK for the first time to observe the behaviour of basking sharks in the Inner Hebrides.
The ground-breaking technology is set to reveal the secret lives of the world’s second largest fish - a species that little is known about, despite being prevalent in the waters off the west coast of Scotland.

Scientists hope the stunning images captured by the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) will reinforce the case for creating the world’s first protected area for basking sharks in this part of the sea.

The REMUS SharkCam technology is owned and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

The project is funded by WWF/Sky Ocean Rescue, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), WHOI and the University of Exeter.

The team used the AUV to follow basking sharks below the surface of the water and collect high-quality oceanographic data and wide angle high-definition video of their behaviour from a distance. Initial footage from the innovative REMUS-100 metre rated SharkCam Robot deployed off the coast of Coll and Tiree last month shows the sharks moving through the water column, potentially searching for food, feeding near the surface and swimming close to the seabed.

It is hoped that further analysis of the many hours of video footage from the AUV, as well as visuals from towed camera tags attached to the sharks and the deployment of advanced sonar imaging, will uncover more about the underwater behaviour, social interactions, group behaviour and courtship of the species.


CABI offers global guidance to help protect the world’s trees and forests from harmful pests and diseases – CABI

CABI’s expert scientists in the field of ecosystems management and invasion ecology have presented new guidance on ways to help protect the world’s trees and forests from harmful pests and diseases such as the box tree moth and ash dieback.

Dr René Eschen led an international team of researchers who suggest that a number of important factors should be considered when monitoring for non-native pests that can pose a serious threat to forest resources and have significant negative economic, biodiversity and livelihood impacts.

The team, which includes scientists from the Slovenian Forestry Research Institute, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, UK, the University of Belgrade, Serbia and the Croatian Forest Research Institute, say more information about organisms associated with imported woody plant is needed to support authorities to be better prepared for the arrival and spread of new pests.

They stress that the increase in intercontinental trade is coinciding with an increase in the number of potentially serious pests in all parts of the world, and stronger border biosecurity is needed to minimise the risk of additional pests being introduced.

Dr Eschen and PhD student Iva Franić, in the new research published in the Journal of Biogeography, conducted a literature review and analysed case studies in Serbia, Croatia and Switzerland. They set out to determine inter and intra annual and spatial patterns in insect diversity, spatial patterns in diversity of seed-borne fungi, as well as spatial and temporal patterns across and within regions, locations and years.


Road verges provide refuge for pollinators – University of Exeter

Roadside verges provide a vital refuge for pollinators – but they must be managed better, new research shows.

With many pollinator species in decline, the University of Exeter study shows verges can provide food and a home for pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies.

But the study emphasises that not all verges are equal. It found pollinators prefer less busy roads and areas deeper into verges.

It also found that cutting verges in summer, which removes wildflowers, makes them useless for pollinators for weeks or even months.

“Road verges can provide a fantastic home for wildflowers and pollinators, which is often lacking in our vast agricultural landscapes,” said lead author Ben Phillips, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall. “But management is key – some road verges need to be cut for safety, but at the moment we cut far more than we need to. Most verges are cut in summer – the peak of flowering – but where possible they should be left until autumn, when pollinators are less active. Our results show that the part of the verge within two metres of the road contains the fewest pollinators. This is often the most important part to cut for road safety and visibility, so where possible only this part should be cut in summer.”


Land managers vital to the success of rewilding in the Scottish uplands – The James Hutton Institute

Rewilding in the Scottish uplands could take decades without the intervention of land managers, a new long-term grazing experiment at Glen Finglas has shown. The experiment, the first of its kind in Scotland, was set up in 2002 to explore how changes to Common Agricultural Policy, particularly decoupling of support from livestock numbers, might affect upland biodiversity.

The grazing experiment assessed the impact of intensification (tripling sheep numbers), abandonment (removal of sheep) and grazer diversification (partial replacement of sheep by cattle) on vegetation composition in a diverse area of grassland. It investigated how species respond to different grazing treatments and how responses at lower levels of the food chain affect those higher up.

Professor Robin Pakeman, of the James Hutton Institute, and part of the research team responsible for the experiment, explained: “We were interested in how changes in grazing might cascade through a system from the direct impacts of the grazers on the plants to indirect impacts on other parts of the system (invertebrates, birds and voles). The responses of individual plant species to the experiment took a minimum of 12 years and often 15 years to become apparent, with some species showing no detectable changes. In contrast, the meadow pipits responded within a year of the treatments being imposed.”

The research can be used to explore the concept of rewilding, which refers to the restoration of an ecosystem, where nature takes care of itself. Rewilding aims to encourage natural processes and, if required, introduce missing species, allowing them to shape the landscape naturally.

Robin said: “We were interested in the impacts of grazing on birds, so plots had to be big enough to have multiple territories of the most common breeding bird – the meadow pipits. We established the experiment on a mixture of uplands habitats: wet heath, wet and dry grassland and sedge mire.”


£8 million nature boost for urban communities - Scottish Natural Heritage

Almost £8 million of funding has been announced to help people and nature thrive in some of the most deprived parts of Scotland.

Painted Lady butterfly in Leith © Mike Shepherd/SNHPainted Lady butterfly in Leith © Mike Shepherd/SNH

The latest round of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)’s ambitious Green Infrastructure Fund will support seven major projects in cities and towns across the central belt.

The fund aims to tackle socio-economic issues such as poor health and high unemployment as well as mitigate the impacts of climate change through creating and improving greenspaces in urban communities.

The latest projects will improve habitats and biodiversity, transform derelict land, tackle flood risk and create new active travel routes, community gardens and play areas in Glasgow, Bishopbriggs and Dunfermline.

The Green Infrastructure Fund is part of the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme and is being delivered in two phases.

Projects that were successful in the first phase of funding are already well underway and include seven major capital infrastructure schemes and 12 community engagement projects.

When match funding is included, the overall programme is expected to reach £40m.

Announcing the funding, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “This investment will bring significant benefits to communities across seven more urban areas, repurposing and revitalising land to create green spaces and infrastructure which will not only make communities more attractive for people to live and work in, but also attract jobs, businesses and further investment.


Five in a row for Northumberland Hen Harriers - Northumberland National Park Authority

The Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership is pleased to announce that this year nine young have fledged from three nests on Forestry England and nearby private land.

2019 was another successful year for rare and threatened hen harriers in Northumberland with birds successfully breeding here for the fifth year in row, making it the most consistent nesting place in England for this rare bird of prey. The Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership is pleased to announce that this year nine young have fledged from three nests on Forestry England and nearby private land.

Early on in the season, the partnership was braced for a record year, perhaps passing last year’s total of 11 fledged young from 3 nests, but unfortunately, it was not to be. Originally 6 nests were located but torrential rain, when the chicks were small, saw young in two nests perish. One clutch did not hatch and natural predation by a fox took a further three young from a nest, leaving nine survivors in total.

The Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, which is made up of Forestry England, RSPB, Northumberland National Park Authority, Natural England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Ministry of Defence, Northumberland Police and Local Raptor Experts, worked together to find and monitor all of the nests. Prior to fledging, a number of chicks were satellite tagged by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team and Natural England, to learn more about their movements.


Land is a Critical Resource, IPCC report says - IPCC

Land is already under growing human pressure and climate change is adding to these pressures. At the same time, keeping global warming to well below 2ºC can be achieved only by reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors including land and food, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in its latest report on Thursday.

The IPCC, the world body for assessing the state of scientific knowledge related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options, saw the Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) approved by the  world’s governments on Wednesday in Geneva, Switzerland.

It will be a key scientific input into forthcoming climate and environment negotiations, such as the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (COP14) in New Delhi, India in September and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December.

“Governments challenged the IPCC to take the first ever comprehensive look at the whole land-climate system. We did this through many contributions from experts and governments worldwide. This is the first time in IPCC report history that a majority of authors – 53% – are from developing countries,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.

This report shows that better land management can contribute to tackling climate change, but is not the only solution. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from all sectors is essential if global warming is to be kept to well below 2ºC, if not 1.5oC.

The Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL) is available here.

Reaction: National Trust responds to latest IPCC report on climate change - National Trust

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has released its latest Special Report on Climate Change and Land.

In response to the report, Patrick Begg, National Trust's Director of Outdoors and Natural Resources, said: “One of the biggest opportunities to be seized is through the large-scale creation and restoration of natural habitats like native woodlands, peatlands and mudflats that can store carbon and provide new habitats for nature. In places such as the Peak District, we’re returning peatlands that were previously drained into resilient eco-systems that will reduce emissions and provide a home for scarce species. As a major landowner, the National Trust is determined, in partnership with our farm tenants,  to be at the forefront of showing how restoring nature and adopting nature-friendly farming can play a major role in capturing carbon. This is starting with our commitment to create or restore 25,000 hectares of habitat by 2025. If the UK Government is to play a world-leading role for the environment and is to meet the new net zero target by 2050 then it needs to provide the funding and legislation that will restore nature, starting with the Agriculture Bill and a much stronger Environment Bill. At BBC Countryfile Live last weekend it was good to hear the new Secretary of State Theresa Villiers MP saying on the National Trust stage that she wants to see these Bills back in parliament as soon as possible to get them into law."


Top threats to seabirds identified - BirdLife International

Scientists reviewed more than 900 studies and found that seabirds face big threats both on land and at sea. This helps explain why they are one of the most threatened group of vertebrates.

Wandering Albatrosses, which are globally Vulnerable to extinction, on Bird Island © Stephanie PrinceWandering Albatrosses, which are globally Vulnerable to extinction, on Bird Island

© Stephanie Prince

Seabirds are in danger. Taken as a whole, they are one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates in the world. Steep declines in seabird populations have been noticed almost everywhere, from albatrosses in the southern ocean to puffins in the North Atlantic. Even once abundant species, including some penguins, are now facing extinction. What is causing these declines? A new study is providing some answers.

For a long time we have known the general threats to seabirds – fisheries, invasive species, pollution – but we haven’t known which threats are the most dire, or had a big-picture understanding of how all seabird species are affected. A new study led by BirdLife scientists in collaboration with researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, the Centre for the Environment, Fishery and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the University of Washington and the Global Penguin Society, has changed that, by analyzing the problem at a global scale. For the study, scientists reviewed publications on threats to all 359 seabird species worldwide, identified the main drivers of seabird declines and quantified the magnitude of the impact of each threat.

Access the paper: Maria P. Dias, Rob Martin, Elizabeth J. Pearmain, Ian J. Burfield, Cleo Small, Richard A. Phillips, Oliver Yates, Ben Lascelles, Pablo Garcia Borboroglu, John P. Croxall, Threats to seabirds: A global assessment. Biological Conservation ISSN 0006-3207 doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.06.033.


A young eagle at a reintroduction site in the South of Scotland has been attacked by another eagle in behaviour not observed before. - Issued by Scottish Natural Heritage on behalf of The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project
C19, the eagle which died. Credit: South of Scotland Golden Eagle ProjectC19, the eagle which died. Credit: South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project
The South Scotland Golden Eagle Project is reinforcing the golden eagle population in South Scotland. In early August, three young satellite-tagged male eagles were released. This followed the highly successful practices adopted last year and in other eagle release projects.

One of two female eagles released last year (Beaky) who had been about ten miles from the release site, returned to it and was seen to be aggressive and domineering towards the young males.  She immediately began treating the release area as her territory, which is exceptional for such a young bird.

It appears Beaky caused the death of one of the released young males (which is now undergoing a detailed, post-mortem investigation) and another young male is missing nearby. 

The third young male is safely secured in the aviary at the release area.

One of the Project Directors, SNH’s Professor Des Thompson, commented: “This is distressing and extremely surprising. We have never heard of such incidents before, despite having worked with eagle release projects in other parts of Europe.  For the project team, and the estates which kindly allowed us to take these male eagle chicks, this is very difficult. Our project has been 11 years in the making because it is crucial to ensure everything possible is done to protect the health and wellbeing of these birds. Such projects are very challenging, and we are determined for this project to succeed, having involved the best experts in this field to do this, and will share what we learn with other similar projects.”

  (image: The Outdoor Partnership)

“Mountains aren’t just for visitors”: £3 million grant to help Brits make the most of areas of natural beauty on their doorsteps - the National Lottery Community Fund

A project designed to open local people’s eyes to the areas of natural beauty around them and the employment, health and leisure opportunities they present, is to be rolled-out across the UK thanks to a nearly £3 million National Lottery grant.

The sum has been awarded to The Outdoor Partnership - a Snowdonia-based project – that has already successfully encouraged local people in North Wales to get healthier and to find work by enjoying the landscape. After blazing the trail in North Wales for the last 14 years, the project will now use the money, raised by National Lottery players, to launch bases in five regions, starting with East Ayrshire (Scotland), Newry (Northern Ireland) and Cumbria (England). 

(image: The Outdoor Partnership)

According to The Outdoor Partnership, although the mountains are right on the doorstep of economically disadvantaged communities in Wales, local people were not benefitting from the opportunities they offered. In fact, research by Bangor University found that many local people said the “Mountains were for visitors”, something that The Outdoor Partnership has set out to address. 

The project has helped communities in North West Wales to set up clubs for different outdoor pursuits, including kayaking and climbing. It has encouraged local families to get involved and provided equipment and training. The opportunities provided, including the chance to gain coaching qualifications, have led to many in the community finding work in the outdoor activities industry.


New research reveals that UK seas are a service station for migrating ocean giants - Published by Emily Cunningham (one of the research authors) Marine Conservation Research & Consultancy

A new study uncovers the travel history of a humpback whale spotted near Edinburgh thanks to members of the public sharing their sightings on Facebook

Keen-eyed volunteers have used photos shared on social media to reveal the travel history of a humpback whale that spent last winter near Edinburgh. The whale, nicknamed “vYking” by local whale watchers, was one of 4 humpback whales seen regularly in the Firth of Forth in winter 2018. Sightings of humpback whales in UK seas are increasing year on year, with Scotland’s Firth of Forth emerging as a winter hotspot for these ocean giants.

Humpback Whale Fluke Svalbard 2017 (credit: Iain Rudkin Photography)Humpback Whale Fluke Svalbard 2017 (credit: Iain Rudkin Photography)

Armed with a photograph of the unique markings on the underside of vYking’s tail fluke, enthusiasts from the local community worked together with scientists to see if it had been photographed elsewhere. When the whale wasn’t found in any scientific catalogues, volunteers began to trawl the internet… only to find a photo of “vYking” on social media! The image was taken 2,610km away in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago in the high Arctic, the previous summer by a wildlife photographer. This is the first ever record of a UK-sighted humpback whale in their summer feeding grounds.

Humpback whales make vast migrations between their breeding and feeding grounds, but the origins and destinations of the humpback whales visiting UK waters is not well understood. Excited by the photo from Svalbard, a team of marine biologists began to interrogate the sightings and photos of humpback whales in the Firth of Forth shared on the Forth Marine Mammals Facebook group. They have now published their exciting findings based entirely on the data collected by the local whale watchers. This research suggests that some humpback whales are using UK seas as a service station, a place to rest and feed, on their long migration from their Arctic feeding grounds to their tropical breeding grounds.

Read the paper: O'Neil, K.E., Cunningham, E.G. and Moore, D.M., 2019. Sudden seasonal occurrence of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the Firth of Forth, Scotland and first confirmed movement between high-latitude feeding grounds and United Kingdom waters. Marine Biodiversity Records, 12(12). (open access)

Read the full media release (pdf)


Scientific Publications  

Goumas M, Burns I, Kelley LA, Boogert NJ. 2019 Herring gulls respond to human gaze direction. Biol. Lett. 15: 20190405. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0405


Letessier TB, Mouillot D, Bouchet PJ, Vigliola L, Fernandes MC, et al. (2019) Remote reefs and seamounts are the last refuges for marine predators across the Indo-Pacific. PLOS Biology 17(8): e3000366. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000366


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