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


UK’s second rarest seabird terns the tide with best numbers since 1990 – National Trust

Little tern chick at the Long Nanny shorebird site credit David WoodfallA colony of one of the UK’s rarest breeding seabirds has had its most successful season in almost 30 years thanks to National Trust rangers who camped out for three months to protect its nesting site.

Little tern chick at the Long Nanny shorebird site credit David Woodfall

The little tern has been in serious decline since the 1980s, with fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs now left in the UK.

Last year, no little terns fledged from the Trust’s Long Nanny shorebird site after Storm Hector brought high winds and torrential rain to the Northumberland coastline - forcing the 40 breeding pairs of birds to abandon their nests.

But 2019 has seen a welcome boost to the threatened species, with 54 fledglings leaving the beach to start their long migration to West Africa.

A combination of round-the-clock watches by rangers, spells of favourable weather conditions and the creation of a high spit over the winter has resulted in the highest number of little tern chicks since 1990.
Since May 7, five National Trust rangers camped out in tents next to the breeding site - enduring high winds, torrential rain and record-breaking heat to conduct a 24-hour watch on the site.

Predators including foxes, peregrine falcons, crows and gulls were kept at bay by the rangers who used a thermal scope to detect intruders before warning them off with a torch or by simply shouting and waving their arms.

As well as scaring away predators, their role on the site also involved educating visitors on the little and Arctic terns and ringed plovers and collecting data to feed into a national report on breeding seabirds. 

Fey Young, Assistant Ranger at Long Nanny said: “We've had a fantastic year for little terns at the Long Nanny Shorebird site. From keeping predators at bay to dealing with high tides, we have protected the site night and day for almost three months. We're extremely proud to have such a high number of fledglings and hope to see them again in a few years when they return to breed.”


Coarse fishing close season retained following public consultation - Environment Agency

The Environment Agency has decided to retain the current coarse fishing close season on English rivers.

The decision follows a detailed review of the evidence and responses provided to a public consultation which indicate that removing the close season would pose a risk to coarse fish in some locations.

The close season for coarse fishing on rivers was introduced in 1878 and is in force from 15 March to 15 June. It aims to reduce risks to spawning fish caused by angling.

The review also showed that amending the start and end dates of the close season would increase protection for some fish that spawn later but would increase risks for those that spawn early.

Support among anglers for retaining a close season and removing it is finely balanced. The 8 week public consultation received 13,680 responses with 38.8% of anglers supporting retaining the current close season; 9.2% support retaining a close season, but changing the dates to 15 April to 30 June; and 49.8% support removing the close season altogether. 2.2% were undecided or didn’t respond.

The responders were invited to provide evidence to support their view and the Environment Agency has assessed that evidence, alongside other considerations, and determined that there is not a case for changing the current close season.


Endangered crayfish rescued during Victorian viaduct strengthening – Network Rail

Work to reinforce a 173-year-old railway viaduct is providing a more reliable railway for passengers and helping protect endangered crayfish in Cumbria.

Water erosion means the Grade II listed Docker Garths viaduct in Lambrigg needs to be repaired and strengthened.

Endangered crayfish rescued during Victorian viaduct strengthening: Docker Garths viaduct and white clawed crayfish composite (Network Rail)Endangered crayfish rescued during Victorian viaduct strengthening: Docker Garths viaduct and white clawed crayfish composite (Network Rail)

The £750,000 investment as part of the Great North Rail Project required the Flodder Beck river to be diverted* and wildlife safely moved so the viaduct’s foundations could be reinforced.

Two hundred endangered white clawed crayfish, along with another 400 less rare fish, were caught and moved downstream**.

Andrew Campuzano, ecologist at Network Rail, said: “We are refurbishing Docker Garths viaduct as part of a £750,000 Great North Rail Project investment. This will help ensure it continues to be safe and reliable for economically important Anglo-Scottish passenger and freight trains for years to come. We take our environmental responsibilities very seriously and ensured we removed the endangered white clawed crayfish and other fish before work started.”

White clawed crayfish have nearly been wiped out after American signal crayfish were introduced into the UK in the 1970s as food for trout farms but escaped into the wild.

The larger invasive species not only competes for the same food, but also carries a disease which is deadly for the native crayfish.

The Docker Garths viaduct carries Europe’s busiest mixed-use railway - the West Coast main line - over the Flodder Beck valley between England and Scotland.


Green space is good for your mental health – the nearer the better! - University of Warwick

Living within 300m of urban green space such as parks, nature reserves or play areas is associated with greater happiness, sense of worth, and life satisfaction - according to a new study by researchers at the University of Warwick, Newcastle University and the University of Sheffield.

Sheffield greenspace (image: Gary Butterfield on unsplash)It has long been understood that individuals feel positive emotions when exposed to natural environments, and successive Governments have enshrined this in planning guidance – but how much green space is needed and how close does it need to be to people’s homes to make a difference?

Sheffield greenspace (image: Gary Butterfield on unsplash)

Dr Victoria Houlden, Professor Joao Porto de Albuquerque, Professor Scott Weich and Professor Stephen Jarvis set out to apply new geospatial research techniques to create an accurate measure of the relationship between green space and 3 different aspects of mental wellbeing.

The study, published in the August issue of Applied Geography, found:-

  • Overall there is a very strong relationship between the amount of green space around a person’s home and their feelings of life satisfaction, happiness and self-worth
  • Green space within 300m of home had the greatest influence on mental wellbeing
  • An increase of 1 hectare – about the size of an international Rugby Union pitch – within 300m of residents was associated with an increase of 8 percentage points in a life satisfaction, 7 in worth and 5 in happiness.
  • Green space was less important for mental wellbeing in Central London and East London

Dr Victoria Houlden of University of Warwick said: “We believe this it is the first study to demonstrate how urban greenspaces may improve a broader definition of mental wellbeing. A lot of research focuses on poor mental health, or single aspects of wellbeing like life satisfaction. What makes our work different is the way we consider multi-dimensional mental wellbeing, in terms of happiness, life satisfaction and worth. While government guidelines recommend minimum amounts of greenspace in residential developments, our study was able to establish more specifically where greenspace may be most valuable.”

Scott Weich, Professor of Mental Health at the University of Sheffield, said: "Contrary to popular opinion, up until now the evidence for the link between green space and mental wellbeing has been pretty circumstantial. By combining advanced statistical and mapping methods, we've shown that the effect is real and substantial. Basically we've proven what everyone has always assumed was true." 

Access the paper: Victoria Houlden, João Porto de Albuquerque, Scott Weich, Stephen Jarvis, A spatial analysis of proximate greenspace and mental wellbeing in London, Applied Geography, Volume 109, 2019, 102036, ISSN 0143-6228, DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2019.102036.


City Parks Lift Mood as Much as Christmas, Twitter Study Shows - University of Vermont (research published by British Ecological Society)

The greener the greenspace, the happier and less self-absorbed people are, Vermont team reports

Feeling unhappy and cranky? The treatment: take a walk under some trees in the park. 

That may not be the exact prescription of your doctor, but a first-of-its-kind study shows that visitors to urban parks use happier words and express less negativity on Twitter than they did before their visit—and that their elevated mood lasts, like a glow, for up to four hours afterwards.

The effect is so strong—a team of scientists from the University of Vermont discovered—that the increase in happiness from a visit to an outpost of urban nature is equivalent to the mood spike on Christmas, by far the happiest day each year on Twitter.

With more people living in cities, and growing rates of mood disorders, this research may have powerful implications for public health and urban planning. 

The new study was published August 20 in People and Nature, an open-access journal of the British Ecological Society.

For three months, a team of scientists from the University of Vermont studied hundreds of tweets per day that people posted from 160 parks in San Francisco. “We found that, yes, across all the tweets, people are happier in parks,” says Aaron Schwartz, a UVM graduate student who led the new research, “but the effect was stronger in large regional parks with extensive tree cover and vegetation.” Smaller neighborhood parks showed a smaller spike in positive mood and mostly-paved civic plazas and squares showed the least mood elevation.

In other words, it’s not just getting out of work or being outside that brings a positive boost: the study shows that greener areas with more vegetation have the biggest impact. It’s notable that one of the words that shows the biggest uptick in use in tweets from parks is “flowers.”

Read the paper:  Schwartz, AJ, Dodds, PS, O'Neil-Dunne, JPM, Danforth, CM, Ricketts, TH. Visitors to urban greenspace have higher sentiment and lower negativity on Twitter. People Nat. 2019; 00: 1– 10. DOI: 10.1002/pan3.10045  (open access) 


BASC urges cabinet secretary to improve tagging schemes - British Association for Shooting and Conservation

BASC is calling for satellite tag data to be “transparent and accountable” following a series of raptor persecution allegations against Scottish estates.

In a letter to Roseanna Cunningham MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, BASC – along with Scottish Land and Estates and the Scottish Countryside Alliance – is appealing for the Scottish government to implement the following measures:

  • Public register of satellite-tagged birds.
  • Licensing scheme for placing tags on birds.
  • Open and transparent data on the movements of tagged birds.
  • Improved procedures and protocols surrounding the search for tags which have stopped transmitting and the associated publicity.

Ross Ewing, BASC’s Political and Press Officer in Scotland, said: “Satellite tag data in its entirety must withstand the test of public scrutiny if it is to meaningfully inform allegations of criminality. To do that, the processes around the securing and publication of that data must be transparent and accountable."

Click here to view the letter sent to Roseanna Cunningham by BASC


Own goal: Government considering badger cull in new areas where they have funded successful vaccination programmes - The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts call for national badger vaccination programme to help combat bTB as an alternative to culling.

The government is due to announce a new round of badger culls in England and is considering new cull areas where they have been paying for successful badger vaccination programmes. The government’s advisor, Natural England, is said to have received 14 applications from prospective culling companies to cull badgers in ‘high risk’ (of bovine tuberculosis - bTB) and ‘edge area’ counties of England. It can approve 10 of these areas. This would increase the number of cull zones stretching from Cornwall to Cumbria to over 40.

Derbyshire is one of the 14 new areas being considered for a cull zone. Over the last five years, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has been running the UK’s largest badger vaccination programme with over 100 volunteers to help stop the spread of bTB in the badger population as an alternative to culling. They have been demonstrating that there is a humane way to tackle bTB that is cheaper per badger than culling.  Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has had £280,000 worth of government funding from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) towards this work - yet the government is still considering applications to bring the cull to Derbyshire.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager, The Wildlife Trusts says: “It is unacceptable that the government is planning to forge ahead with another year of ineffective and expensive badger culling. It is absurd that the government are paying to protect badgers through vaccinating them, while also considering applications to kill them, as they are in Derbyshire. The badger cull is a dangerous distraction from addressing the main route of bTB transmission in cattle which is between cattle – as the findings from their own independent review has confirmed.”


WHO calls for more research into microplastics and a crackdown on plastic pollution - World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) today calls for a further assessment of microplastics in the environment and their potential impacts on human health, following the release of an analysis of current research related to microplastics in drinking-water. The Organization also calls for a reduction in plastic pollution to benefit the environment and reduce human exposure.

“We urgently need to know more about the health impact of microplastics because they are everywhere -  including in our drinking-water,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Public Health, Environment and Social Determinants of Health, at WHO. “Based on the limited information we have, microplastics in drinking water don’t appear to pose a health risk at current levels. But we need to find out more. We also need to stop the rise in plastic pollution worldwide.”

According to the analysis, which summarizes the latest knowledge on microplastics in drinking-water, microplastics larger than 150 micrometres are not likely to be absorbed in the human body and uptake of smaller particles is expected to be limited.  Absorption and distribution of very small microplastic particles including in the nano size range may, however, be higher, although the data is extremely limited.

Access the report: Microplastics in drinking-water. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2019. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO. 


Help conservationists fill the gap in hedgerow knowledge - People’s Trust for Endangered Species

A dense, well-managed hedgerow with trees. Credit Megan GimberHealth-check a hedge as part of the Great British Hedgerow Survey, launched this week on BBC Countryfile

A survey to health-check Britain’s hedgerows

A dense, well-managed hedgerow with trees. Credit Megan Gimber

The hedgerows that criss-cross our countryside are not only an iconic sight, but a vital habitat and corridor for many of our native species. However, they are becoming increasingly fragmented which is threatening the wildlife that depends on them.

So, this August, wildlife charity People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), is launching a new national survey, the Great British Hedgerow Survey, encouraging the UK to health-check the nation’s hedgerows in an attempt to safeguard the future of this important habitat.

The survey offers instant feedback about the health of each hedge, as well as tailored advice on what type of management will ensure it thrives in the future. The results also provides conservationists with vital data helping build a national picture of the health of Britain’s hedges.  


First white-tailed eagles released in conservation project set to return this lost species to England - Forestry England

The first white-tailed eagles to be reintroduced to England have been released on the Isle of Wight. The six young birds, the first to be returned to southern England for 240 years, are part of a five-year programme to restore this lost species led by Forestry England and the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation.  

The young birds were collected under a Scottish Natural Heritage licence from the wild in Scotland and brought to the Isle of Wight. Here they have been fed and monitored by a team of experts and dedicated volunteers whilst becoming familiar with their new surroundings. All six birds have made good progress and have now been successfully released. The team will initially continue to provide feeding sites for the birds to encourage them to settle along the south coast. 

Before being released the birds were fitted with small satellite trackers so their progress can be closely monitored. Data on their movements will be available on the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation website and once the birds are well established it is hoped that they will become a familiar site over the skies of the Island and nearby mainland coast. 

Roy Dennis, Founder of the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation said: “I have spent much of my life working on the reintroduction of these amazing birds and so watching them take to the skies of the Isle of Wight has been a truly special moment. Establishing a population of white-tailed eagles in the south of England will link and support emerging populations of these birds in the Netherlands, France and Ireland, with the aim of restoring the species to the southern half of Europe. The team is pleased that the project fulfils one of the specific aims of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan. We have seen from other reintroduction programmes that returning lost species offers real benefits for nature and the health of our environment, and to people and local economies. I would like to thank everyone from the local community who is working with us to support and manage this project including our volunteers and project officer who are all Isle of Wight residents. We are also very grateful to the private donors who are supporting the project.”


National Nature Reserve named ‘Dragonfly Hotspot’ - Natural England

Thursley National Nature Reserve in Surrey recognised as an excellent site for dragonflies and damselflies.

Thursley National Nature Reserve’s unique wetland habitat has today been officially recognised as a ‘Dragonfly Hotspot’ by the British Dragonfly Society (BDS). 

Dragonfly Hotspots are sites carefully chosen by the BDS as ideal places for dragonfly and damselfly species to live and thrive. They provide easy access for everyone to visit, and offer opportunities for the local community to learn and engage with the natural environment.

Thursley National Nature Reserve is a RAMSAR site of international importance for wetland wildlife, and has long been known as a haven for these beautiful insects, with 26 species of dragonfly and damselflies recorded on site.

The celebration, involving local partners, stakeholders, decision makers and Thursley’s volunteers, was led by Natural England’s Deputy Chairman Lord Blencathra.

Natural England’s Deputy Chairman Lord Blencathra said: It’s fantastic to receive this badge of honour from the British Dragonfly Society. Recognition as a Dragonfly Hotspot will make Thursley an open secret, helping to put it on the map for the rich and varied wildlife that call it home, while opening up opportunities for people to engage and learn from it.”


Angry birds: loud aeroplane noise causes birds to become aggressive - Manchester Metropolitan University

Aircraft affect chiffchaffs’ communication with mates and rivals – new insight for airports and wildlife conservation

Loud noise from aeroplanes landing and taking off causes birds to become more aggressive and potentially impairs their hearing, a study published today (August 22) shows.

Common chiffchaffs living close to airports were five times more likely to attack a speaker emitting bird song than their counterparts who lived away from airport noise.

Birds living close to airports are exposed to extreme noise levels from jet engines that interfere with their ability to communicate with possible mates or potential rivals.

Noise from aircraft landing or taking off can reach 100 decibels at a distance of 100 metres – noise levels which can cause permanent hearing damage to humans as well as birds.

In addition to becoming more aggressive, the birds at the two airports studied for the research also changed their songs by singing at a lower frequency, indicating possible hearing loss.

The research was led by Manchester Metropolitan University and published in The Journal of Animal Ecology.


Work starts on exciting new wetland projects at RSPB Saltholme - RSPB

Work to create two exciting new wetland areas at RSPB Saltholme, the popular nature reserve in Teesside, will start on Tuesday 27 August. This is the third phase of a programme of improvements to enhance the experience for wildlife and visitors by refurbishing visitor infrastructure and creating new habitat. 

The package of work that will start this month involves re-landscaping the main lake to create more islands for nesting spring migrants, such as common tern, and installing a new sluice. 

Chris Francis, RSPB Saltholme’s Senior Site Manager, said: “This will allow staff to lower the water levels in the late summer to create a fantastic muddy area for wading birds, such as black-tailed godwit, who pass through the UK on their autumn migration.  In the spring, we will raise the water level to create the islands on which the common terns will breed when they return from Africa.” 

The second part of this major project is to create thirty new ponds designed to benefit dragonflies and damselflies. In addition to the pools there will also be the creation of new footpaths, installation of interpretation panels and brass rubbing points, and a magnificent new dragonfly life cycle sculpture. 


GWCT’s plea to save much-loved wading birds teetering on the brink - Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

An ambitious tracking project that will monitor the whereabouts of three red-listed birds is being launched by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT).

Curlew, lapwing and woodcock – all much-loved wading birds which are disappearing at a rapid rate of decline from our British countryside – will be tracked and tagged.

Tagged woodcock (image: Steve Round / GWCT)Tagged woodcock (image: Steve Round / GWCT)

It’s the Trust’s biggest tracking project to date, which will be led by Andrew Hoodless, who is head of wetland research at GWCT.  “The fate of these red-listed species cannot change without a better understanding of their declines,” he said.  Dr Hoodless and his team of scientific experts hope to tag 20 curlew, 20 lapwing and 50 woodcock next year.

Breeding curlews are disappearing fast, particularly in Ireland, Wales and lowland areas of England and Scotland.  Adult curlews will be fitted with a GPS tag which gives scientists more information about the importance of habitat, food availability and predation in areas where these birds are disappearing fastest.

Similarly, lapwing numbers are in sharp decline – falling by a third in just ten years.  Although the main cause of the decline is poor breeding success, little is known about the movements of lapwing during the winter and the importance of links between breeding and wintering sites.  To better understand lapwing survival, GWCT needs to investigate the connections between breeding and wintering sites, assess fidelity to winter sites, and compare the impact of cold and mild winters.

Our current research through the Woodcock Watch tagging project has provided an insight into the migrations of woodcock wintering in Britain and Ireland.


Scientific Publications

Simpson Kimberley J., Olofsson Jill K., Ripley Brad S. and  Osborne Colin P. Frequent fires prime plant developmental responses to burning 286 Proc. R. Soc. B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2019.1315 


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