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


Ten fantastic trees vying to be England's Tree of the Year – Woodland Trust

Several mighty old oaks dominate the shortlist, including Liverpool’s Allerton Oak that takes pride of place in Calderstones Park, the Isle of Wight’s Dragon Tree which truly is a monster specimen, and London’s Fallen Tree which is a fantastic example of nature beating the odds.

The Isle of Wight's Dragon Tree is the stuff of legends. Photo: Sienna AndersonThe Isle of Wight's Dragon Tree is the stuff of legends. Photo: Sienna Anderson 

But there are also some interesting oddities worthy of winning the title, including Norfolk’s twisted conifer and Colchester Castle’s Sycamore that has been on top of the stronghold since the 1820s.

The Woodland Trust’s annual competition is designed to highlight and celebrate the best trees in the country. Once again it’s being supported by the award winning horticulturalist and TV personality David Domoney.

A carefully chosen panel of eager and knowledgeable judges spent a day debating the positives of hundreds of trees to find the very best trees that England has to offer. Ten visually stunning trees all with wonderful stories have made the shortlist.

We’re asking the public to go online at woodlandtrust.org.uk/treeoftheyear to choose their favourite, to ultimately find England’s Tree of the Year for 2019.

David Domoney said: “The Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year celebrates the marvel and beauty of trees in our country. They are such an important part of our cities and countryside, not only for their beauty, but also for the health benefits they offer to all living creatures. Choosing the one tree that stands out from the rest is a hard decision, take a look for yourself. Vote for your favourite on the Woodland Trust’s website to crown England’s Tree of the Year for 201


Community can get involved in new Swindon urban meadows project – Swindon Borough Council

A project to enhance urban meadows and forest habitats while improving people’s health and wellbeing is about to be launched in Swindon.

Swindon Borough Council has teamed up with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust (WWT) to deliver the three-year programme, the Forest Meadows Project, which will include 12 sites within the borough covering more than 170 hectares.

Most of the meadow and forest sites are located along the corridor of the River Ray, but the project will also link to other areas including Sevenfields, the Lawns and WWT reserves where wonderful meadows already exist.

The project, which is being funded by the Council with £80,000 in Section 106 developer contributions and other biodiversity grants, will be led by WWT, who will work with the Council, parish councils and local community groups.

It will involve sustaining existing meadows by establishing annual maintenance programmes to form traditional ‘hay meadows’ as well as more intensive management of other locations such as stripping existing vegetation and re-sowing and planting wildflowers.

Grazing animals such as cattle could also be introduced on some of the areas in order to improve biodiversity and sustain the management of the sites.

Some community groups, such as those in Highworth, Hreod Burna and Rivermead, already manage the sites and the project will support them to improve their meadows and hopefully recruit new members.,

Where there is limited or no current community activity, such as at Mouldon Hill, WWT and the Council will work with parish councils to establish new community groups.

One of the main focuses of the project will be to link in with existing health and wellbeing groups in Swindon to encourage their members to get involved in a wide range of activities from the sowing and planting of wildflowers through to the biological monitoring of sites for wildlife such as butterflies and moths.


Pioneering study into microplastic levels in UK water supplies - Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has carried out a comprehensive study of microplastics for the UK and Irish water industry.

Until now, there has been limited information about the levels at which microplastic particles are found at different points in the water cycle.

But, in the first comprehensive research of its kind to date, CEH carried out sampling at a total of 16 different water company premises across the country in order to assess how much of the microplastic material was removed by treatment plants.

Half the sites tested were water treatment works (WTW), which take water from upland reservoirs, aquifers or rivers and turn it into drinking water. The other eight were wastewater treatment works (WwTW), which treat wastewater before it is discharged into rivers.

The study was commissioned by UKWIR – the UK and Irish water industry’s research body – so it could better understand where and in what quantities microplastic particles exist within the wastewater treatment and water supply systems. This will support the water companies’ aim to provide safe, healthy drinking water supplies while protecting the environment. The study will also help to determine the future direction and research needs in and around the water and terrestrial environment.

Standard approaches to measuring microplastic particles in water, wastewater and the solid residues from the associated treatment processes (sludge) do not yet exist, and the CEH study will support the development of a robust approach to the sampling and detection of microplastic particles in the treated water cycle. 


NFU unveils its plan for British farming to deliver net zero – National Farmers Union        

The NFU will today (10 September) unveil its vision of how British farming hopes to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.

The NFU's new report, Achieving Net Zero: Farming’s 2040 Goal, sets out three pillars of activity that will help the industry to reach its ambitious goal. These are:

  • Improving farming’s productive efficiency
  • Improving land management and changing land use to capture more carbon
  • Boosting renewable energy and the wider bio-economy.

The first of these pillars is about reducing emissions, using a wide variety of techniques to enhance productivity and deliver the same output or more from every farm, and working smarter to use fewer inputs.

The second is about increasing farming’s ability to capture more carbon though bigger hedgerows, more trees and woodland, enhancing soil organic matter and conserving existing carbon stores in grassland and pasture.

The third pillar involves displacing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through bioenergy and bio-based materials such as hemp fibre and sheep’s wool.

NFU President Minette Batters said: “There is no doubt that climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time and rising rapidly on the political agenda both at home and globally. Representing British farming, we recognise our unique position as both a source and a store for greenhouse gas emissions and, importantly, how we can build on our work so far to deliver climate neutral farming in the next 20 years. We aspire to be producing the most climate-friendly food in the world. The carbon footprint of British red meat is only 40 per cent of the world average. And we can go further, whether that is through improving our productivity, using our own land to take up and store carbon, planting hedgerows and trees to capture even more, and boosting our renewable energy output. We know that there is no single answer to the climate change challenge facing us all.”


Wildlife and wind farms: Are British gulls staying safe in the winter sun? – BTO

New research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, shows that Lesser Black-backed Gulls breeding in Britain could be vulnerable to collisions with wind turbines whilst on migration and during the winter months, as well as during the breeding season.

Lesser Black-backed Gull, by Gary Clewley / BTOLesser Black-backed Gull, by Gary Clewley / BTO

There are now estimated to be more than 341,000 wind turbines installed and spinning on the planet as part of global initiatives to tackle carbon emissions. It is important to understand how these structures might affect wildlife. In this study, BTO researchers fitted state-of-the art GPS tags to Lesser Black-backed Gulls breeding at three major UK colonies in order to track their movements throughout the year. By combining the data from the tags with information on wind turbine locations they were able to establish how vulnerable this species might be to collisions.
The GPS devices recorded how fast and how high birds fly, as well as the time birds spent in particular areas. This information was used to estimate the risk of birds colliding with wind turbines when flying at altitudes swept by the turbines’ blades. The results showed that Lesser Black-backed Gulls are vulnerable during the breeding season, when birds are tied to feeding areas close to their colonies, many of which are also in the vicinity of wind farms. Furthermore, the scientists also found the birds to be at risk once the breeding season is over and they disperse south to Spain, Portugal and north Africa, where they overwinter.
Dr Chris Thaxter, Senior Research Ecologist at the BTO and the paper’s lead author, said “We knew that Lesser Black-backed Gulls were at risk of colliding with wind turbines, but what we didn’t know was where and when birds from specific breeding colonies may be most vulnerable across their annual life cycle. The fact that we have been able to answer some of these questions is testimony to the advances in tracking technology we have seen in recent years. Mapping vulnerability to collision risk in this way can also help identify where may be best to site new wind farms in the future to minimise any harm to wildlife.”

Access the paper: Thaxter, C. B. et al.  Avian vulnerability to wind farm collision through the year: Insights from lesser black-backed gulls (Larus fuscus) tracked from multiple breeding colonies. (open access) Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13488


Defra responds to Wild Justice challenge: releasing gamebirds on protected sites - Defra

Defra will review the way in which the release of gamebirds on or near protected sites in England is managed following a proposed legal challenge.

The way in which the release of gamebirds on or near protected sites (Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation) in England is managed will be reviewed following a proposed legal challenge, Defra has today (11 September 2019) confirmed.

This will not result in any immediate changes for owners or occupiers of land.

In response to a pre-action protocol (PAP) letter from Wild Justice, Defra accepted in principle the annual release of non-native gamebirds, specifically the Common Pheasant and Red-legged Partridge, can be considered a ‘plan or project’ requiring appropriate assessment within the meaning of the Habitats Directive.

While not accepting the argument that current laws do not provide for appropriate assessment in such cases, Defra proposes to undertake a review to consider the legislative arrangements around the relevant activities and whether there are ways in which their effectiveness could be improved. The detail of this review will be developed over the coming weeks.


OWSMRF - Working together to understand the impact of offshore wind energy on marine birds - JNCC

© Matt ParsonsWith UK offshore wind ambitions set to increase by 2030, an industry-led forum to better understand how large-scale development may impact marine birds was launched today.

The Offshore Wind Strategic Monitoring and Research Forum (OWSMRF) led by six offshore wind developers – EDF-Renewables, Equinor, Innogy, Ørsted, ScottishPower Renewables, and Vattenfall – is being delivered by JNCC.

© Matt Parsons

With UK offshore wind power to increase capacity to 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, there is a need to better understand the potential impact of such development on marine birds. OWSMRF will enable government nature conservation advisors, NGOs, experts and regulators to highlight critical knowledge gaps to developers. This collaborative approach will help to identify, prioritise and develop further research and evidence. In its pilot year the focus will be on marine birds, specifically kittiwakes.

JNCC’s Director of Marine, John Goold, said: “This forum offers a unique opportunity to rapidly identify and progress high quality research that will facilitate future offshore wind development while ensuring long-term sustainable use of the marine environment. We are looking forward to the opportunities this pilot year brings.”


Booming year for bitterns - RSPB

Record year for booming bitterns

Britain’s loudest bird has battled extinction not once but twice.

(credit: Andy Hay)Bitterns completely disappeared from Britain in the 1870s. Although the shy bird with a booming voice made a comeback in the 20th century, bitterns were back at the brink of extinction by 1997 when numbers dropped to just 11 males.

(credit: Andy Hay)

Two EU-funded projects helped revive bittern (a type of heron) numbers once again. This year the RSPB is celebrating the bitterns’ best year since records began, with over 100 male booming bitterns recorded on the charity’s reserves for the first time and almost 200 across the UK.

Despite its claim to fame as Britain’s loudest bird, bitterns are highly secretive. With their well camouflaged, pale, buffy-brown plumage, bitterns spend most of their time hiding in dense stands of reed and are so elusive scientists count them by listening for the males’ distinctive booming call.

Simon Wotton, RSPB Senior Conservation Scientist, said: “Bitterns are one of our most charismatic birds. Their astonishing recovery from the brink of extinction is a real conservation success story and example of what is possible through targeted efforts to restore wildlife habitat.

“It’s a delight to hear their distinctive booming call echoing across the reedbeds every year as more and more bitterns are making new or restored wetlands their home.”

Since 2006, there has been a year-on-year increase in the number of bitterns making their home in Britain. This year numbers reached record levels once more with 198 males recorded at 89 sites. This compares to 188 at 82 sites in 2018.


Badger cull expansion makes no sense - Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Defra has announced an expansion to the badger culls in Cornwall and horrifyingly, 83% of Cornwall is now in a badger cull zone.

Badger by Richard Birchett This is one of ten new badger cull areas covering a huge area across the UK. The culls are Government policy and are being carried out by cull companies in an effort to reduce TB in cattle. However, opinion is divided on how effective the culls are and whether they should be happening at all. There is huge frustration amongst wildlife groups because badger vaccination, which is a viable alternative, is not being sufficiently recognised or funded by Defra.

Badger by Richard Birchett

Cheryl Marriott, Head of Conservation at Cornwall Wildlife Trust says, “The cull expansion is hard to stomach. We have shown in Cornwall that roll-out of badger vaccination in partnership with farmers is practical and viable and we are here ready and willing to expand it. Vaccination is in everyone’s interest and is supported by the public who are ultimately the customers of our farmers. Why continue to drive a wedge between the farming community and the wider public with more badger culls when we have a non-lethal alternative ready to go?”

Cornwall Wildlife Trust has already started to vaccinate badgers on their nature reserves and in an area of mid-Cornwall in partnership with farmers. There is also a vaccination programme happening in Penwith led by Zoological Society of London. These vaccination programmes will continue and the Trust would like to hear from farmers and landowners who are interested in joining them. 


Fundamental shift away from single use packaging necessary, say MPs - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has today called for the government to focus on reducing all single use packaging – not just plastic – in its latest report on Plastic food and drink packaging.

Reusable and refillable packaging systems should be reviewed

The Committee, which looked specifically at food and drink packaging, has recommended that the Government should conduct a review of reusable and refillable packaging systems to determine what works and where Government intervention might be appropriate.

In addition, Parliament should lead by example, with the ambition to remove single use packaging from all its catering facilities.

The Committee also supported Government proposals to improve the recycling rate with extended producer responsibility, a Deposit Return Scheme and consistency in recycling collections.

The Committee has called for a modulated plastic packaging tax, with lower fees for higher levels of recycled content. Furthermore, imported, filled packaging should not be exempt from the tax as this could damage UK manufacturing.

Reaction: Disappointment at UK Government inaction to tackle root causes of plastic pollution - Environmental Investigation Agency

A report published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA) criticises the UK Government for not placing enough emphasis on reducing single-use plastic food and drink packaging.

It states that prevention is the most important way to reduce waste and greater effort needs to be put into this: “A fundamental shift away from all single-use food and drink packaging, plastic or otherwise, is vital for the future protection of the environment.”

It further notes “it is disappointing that comparatively little emphasis has been placed … on reducing plastic waste [by the Government].”

The report, Plastic Food and Drink Packaging, recognises that recycling is not enough, despite this being the main focus of industry and Government initiatives to date, and states it is “shocking that [the Government] does not know how much plastic packaging is placed on market in the UK, nor how much is really recycled.”

Plastic Food and Drink Packaging also warns against a simple substitution of one single-use material for another, noting that “all food and drink packaging materials, whether plastic or another material, has an environmental impact”. This includes non-conventional plastics such as compostable packaging, which the report does not support a general increase in use.

A shift towards reusable and refillable packaging ranges will be critical for achieving an absolute reduction in packaging waste and the report welcomes the trials and ‘zero waste’ initiatives seen to date. It notes, however, that “these changes are unlikely to enable a revolution in the way most consumers shop unless they are widely available” and encourages greater emphasis to be given to scaling up these solutions.

Read the full report: Plastic food and drink packaging


University of Saskatchewan led study shows insecticides threaten survival of wild birds - University of Saskatchewan

New research at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) shows how the world’s most widely used insecticides could be partly responsible for a dramatic decline in songbird populations.

The study, to be published in the journal Science on Sept. 13, is the first experiment to track the effects of a neonicotinoid pesticide on birds in the wild.
The study found that white-crowned sparrows who consumed small doses of an insecticide called imidacloprid suffered weight loss and delays to their migration—effects that could severely harm the birds’ ability to survive and reproduce. We saw these effects using doses well within the range of what a bird could realistically consume in the wild—equivalent to eating just a few treated seeds,” said Margaret Eng, a post-doctoral fellow in the USask Toxicology Centre and lead author of the study.

“Our study shows that this is bigger than the bees—birds can also be harmed by modern neonicotinoid pesticides, which should worry us all,” said biologist Bridget Stutchbury of York University one of the research collaborators.

The researchers exposed individual sparrows to small doses of the pesticide—imidacloprid—in southern Ontario during a stopover on the birds’ spring migration. Each bird’s body composition was measured before and after exposure, and a lightweight radio transmitter was attached to the bird’s back to track its movements in the wild.  Birds given the higher dose of the pesticide lost six per cent of their body mass within just six hours. That one dose also caused birds to stay 3.5 days longer, on average, at the stopover site before resuming their migration, compared to control birds.

Access the paper:  By Margaret L. Eng, Bridget J. M. Stutchbury, Christy A. Morrissey. A neonicotinoid insecticide reduces fueling and delays migration in songbirds.  Science13 Sep 2019 : 1177-1180   


The Year of the Painted Lady - Butterfly Conservation 

In just three weeks this summer, nearly half a million Painted Lady butterflies were counted as part of the 10th UK-wide Big Butterfly Count, run by Butterfly Conservation and sponsored by B&Q.  The wildlife charity can confirm that 2019 has been a ‘Painted Lady Year’ – a natural phenomenon that happens about once in a decade, when unusually high numbers of this migratory butterfly arrive in the UK.

Painted Lady butterfly (image: AndrewCooper / Butterfly Conservation)Painted Lady butterfly (image: AndrewCooper / Butterfly Conservation)

It is too early to tell how 2019 compares to the last ‘Painted Lady Year’ in 2009, but the number seen in this year’s Big Butterfly Count was almost 30 times greater than in the 2018 survey, equating to an increase per Count of 2498% on the year before. 

Several other common species have experienced a bumper summer, helped by the fine weather. 

The Peacock had its best summer since 2014, with counts up a massive 235% on last year. The Marbled White experienced a 264% increase and there was a 64% rise in counts for the colourful red and black Six-spot Burnet moth. 

Populations of Red Admiral and Gatekeeper were up 138% and 95% respectively compared to the same period last year and the beleaguered Small Tortoiseshell had its best Big Butterfly Count result since 2014, with around 70,000 spotted this summer. 

Despite this, scientists remain concerned about the Small Tortoiseshell’s long-term future - this once common and widespread butterfly has declined by 78% since the 1970s.

The Big Butterfly Count results can be found at www.bigbutterflycount.org and these will be used by scientists to see how the UK’s common species are faring and where to target future conservation work.


General licences: survey marks new phase of review - defra / Natural England

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers launches public survey as part of planned review of general licences to manage wild birds in England.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers today (12 September) launched a public survey as part of a planned review of general licences to manage wild birds in England.

The aim of the review is to ensure the licensing system is robust, striking the right balance between the protection of wild birds and the activities people such as landowners and farmers need to carry out for specific purposes, such as protecting livestock or crops and for conservation purposes. Defra is leading this review in close partnership with Natural England.

As a first step, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers has launched a 12-week online survey to gather evidence on the control that stakeholders consider is required under general licence. This is one strand of the review, with a series of stakeholder workshops also planned to run in parallel.

In parallel with the survey, Defra and Natural England will be conducting a series of workshops with interested groups in the autumn, covering particular topics such as activity on protected sites.

General licences for wild birds: survey on management measures in England - defra / Natural England consultation

Seeking views on what general licences to kill or take wild birds should cover. We're also asking for evidence on issues like record keeping.
This survey is seeking views and evidence on how we should use general licences for wild birds. In particular, how they should be used to:

  • kill or take wild birds to conserve wild birds and to conserve flora (plants) and fauna (other animals)
  • kill or take wild birds to preserve public health or public safety
  • kill or take wild birds to prevent serious damage to livestock, foodstuffs for livestock, crops, vegetables, fruit, growing timber, fisheries or inland waters

The consultation closes at: 11:45pm on 5 December 2019, take part here.


Woodland sounds boost wellbeing, according to new study - The National Trust 

The crunch of snapping twigs underfoot. Lilting birdsong from above. The rustling of trees in the breeze. Woodland sounds have been shown to have a direct impact on our wellbeing, making us more relaxed, less stressed and less anxious.

A new mental chronometry study commissioned by the National Trust explored how soaking up the sounds of the natural world affects people, and found it relaxes us more than if we listen to a voiced meditation app, and in the tests, reduced feelings of stress and anxiety by over a fifth.

The data highlights how being immersed in the sounds of woodlands can positively affect our overall levels of wellbeing, and shows that time spent listening to the sounds of the natural world has a direct impact on how we feel.

Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, Lecturer in Environmental Psychology, University of Surrey, comments: “There is a large body of scientific evidence demonstrating that experience of nature can benefit health and wellbeing, including recovery from everyday psychological stress. Much of this research has focused on visual experiences, but more recent work has shown that the sounds of the outdoors, such as birdsong, wind, and water, can also improve mood and reduce stress. These sounds offer a way to connect with nature no matter where you are.”

Nation’s Favourite Woodland Sounds

1. Birdsong
2. A running stream
3. Wind rustling tree leaves
4. Silence
5. Twigs snapping underfoot
6. Animal noises
7. Wind whistling through trees
8. Rain falling on leaves
9. Conkers hitting the ground
10. Squelching of mud 


Bicycles, traffic cones, fridge components, underpants and safes - Canal and River Trust

One of the country’s biggest canal clean-ups removes 1.8 tonnes of rubbish, comprising 809 Kgs of plastic (almost 50% of rubbish).

1.8 tonnes of rubbish, comprising 809 Kgs of plastic waste has been removed from a 10-mile stretch of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in one of the country’s biggest canal clean-ups.

Almost 300 colleagues from Asda House took time out to make a difference and help tackle the plastic pollution crisis, supported by us here at the Trust.

Bicycles, traffic cones, spare tyres, safes, men’s underpants, shoes, and even the inside of a fridge, were among the hundreds of items removed by volunteers, with many taking the opportunity to get afloat on the water by canoe and boat.

Rubbish and plastic waste collected over five days (2-6 September) by Asda and the Trust was taken to a nearby responsible waste disposal company in Leeds. Maltings Organic Treatment Ltd weighed the rubbish daily and the company will also be recycling the plastic items collected from the canal into a bench. Colleagues originally predicted that the amount of plastic collected throughout the week would be enough to make one bench, however the 809 Kgs found on the litter pick actually equates to nine whole benches.

Sean McGinley, our Yorkshire & North East director, added: “It’s amazing to see what lurks beneath our waterways and I wonder how some of these items have ended up in our waterways. Our charity spends around £1million a year dealing with litter and fly-tipping, money that could be better spent elsewhere. We’re delighted to see the difference Asda volunteers have made and hope the experience has helped people to get to know their local canal and how we look after it.”


Peatland restoration of the Cheviot reaches new heights in battle against Climate Change! - Northumberland National Park Authority

A major peatland restoration project covering an area roughly the size of 241 football pitches, has just got underway on the summit of the Cheviot, the highest peak in Northumberland National Park to help in the fight against climate change.

England’s peatlands play a significant role in storing carbon and are capable of capturing and storing large amounts of carbon dioxide, as well as being wonderful habitats in their own right. Erosion caused by weather, grazing or land use can expose the peat and lead to the release of carbon into atmosphere.  The project is one of the largest peatland restoration projects in the North of England covering 151 hectares and will prevent an estimated 585 tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere each year, once restored – equivalent to the greenhouse gases emitted by an average car travelling 1.43 million miles.

Digger working to restore peatland (image: Northumberland National Park)Digger working to restore peatland (image: Northumberland National Park)

(Ed: I recognise the name on that digger!, Terra Firma regularly advertise with us)

Following considerable preparation and planning due to the remoteness of the area and sensitivity of the site, work has just started. The summit plateau, usually home to a few hardy walkers, species of birds and insects, will have specialist diggers working to reshape the peat haggs to enable plants to grow and prevent further erosion.  Later in the year native plants, including heathers, cottongrass and sphagnum mosses will be harvested from the valley below and flown up by helicopter to be planted and help protect the bare peat.

Gill Thompson, ecologist at Northumberland National Park, explains “The peatland restoration on the Cheviot is the highest altitude project to be undertaken as part of The North of England Peat Partnership, and it does present a number of challenges – not only in terms of getting machinery to the summit but also people, as every day the team working on the project need to walk an hour up Northumberland’s highest hill to get to work, but the views are stunning!"


Scientific publications

Rose, D. C. et al. Calling for a new agenda for conservation science to create evidence-informed policy (open access) Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108222


Bas Boots, Connor William Russell, and Dannielle Senga Green Effects of Microplastics in Soil Ecosystems: Above and Below Ground Environ. Sci. Technol DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.9b03304


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