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


New film from Sir David Attenborough and The Wildlife Trusts calls for nature’s recovery – The Wildlife Trusts

In the film Sir David calls for powerful new laws to ensure the UK’s wild places can thrive once more and for a Nature Recovery Network.

Sir David Attenborough says in the film: “A wildlife-rich natural world is vital for our wellbeing and survival. We need wild places to thrive. Yet many of our systems and laws have failed the natural world. We now live in one of the most nature depleted places on the planet. Nature urgently needs our help to recover – and it can be done. By joining up wild places and creating more across the UK we would improve our lives and help nature to flourish - because everything works better when it’s connected. Now is the time to tell our politicians that we need a Nature Recovery Network set in law. A legally binding network for nature would mean that wildlife is prioritised when managing our land and planning our towns. Powerful new environmental laws can ensure habitats are expanded and reconnected meaning all life will thrive once more.

“It’s time to turn things around. Nature is capable of extraordinary recovery but we must act now!  Tell your politicians now is the time to put nature into recovery. Everything works better when it’s connected.”


Extra 20,000 trees for Highland nature reserve – Scottish Natural Heritage

Scots pines at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill SNHAn additional 20,000 trees will be planted in and around Beinn Eighe next year as part of work to expand native woodlands on some of Scotland’s finest National Nature Reserves (NNRs).

Scots pines at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve ©Lorne Gill SNH

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) made the commitment at the start of Climate Week to build on a long-running tree planting programme at the Wester Ross reserve.

Woodland expansion is part of the solution to the climate emergency, helping to increase biodiversity, conserve Scottish species and help our society and economy adapt to climate change, for example by reducing potential for flooding and reducing the effects of heatwaves.

Beinn Eighe with its stunning ancient Caledonian pine forest was designated as the UK’s first NNR in 1951.

Since its establishment, some 800,000 trees have been planted at the reserve. Most have been Scots pine as well as additional broadleaf species such as birch, aspen, holly, rowan and oak.

The tree planting is designed to supplement wider management work to encourage natural regeneration at Beinn Eighe NNR and also at Creag Meagaidh NNR in the Highlands, which allows the woodlands to expand by natural ecological processes in the presence of wild deer.

Meanwhile Rum NNR marked one million trees planted back in 1997, with the full benefit of these trees now beginning to be realised, including the building up of natural seed sources around the reserve.

The precious native woodlands in SNH’s nature reserves capture more than 30,000 tonnes of ‘greenhouse gases’ annually in total.  This is the equivalent of removing around 10,000 vehicles from the roads every year.

The economic value of this carbon sequestration was estimated to be around £2.2 million in 2017.

Stuart MacQuarrie, SNH Head of Nature Reserves, said: “Beinn Eighe is renowned for its beautiful ancient pinewoods and we have long managed the reserve to expand and enhance this special woodland. Planting a further 20,000 native trees will help increase the nature reserve’s biodiversity, restore habitats to healthy ecosystems and provide greater resilience against the effects of climate change.”


GWCT statement on Langholm Moor Demonstration Project final report - Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

The final report of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (2008 – 2017) has now been published and is available to download online.

Teresa Dent, chief executive of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust and GWCT Director for the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project board commented: “This final report concludes a period of more than 25 years of study at Langholm. The partnership working on this moor has delivered profound and practical insight into what it takes to sustain our moorlands. We all hoped that reaching a moorland balance would be easy and some seemed to think it would be. It was not, especially within the current policy framework which needs to adapt to new habitat and predation circumstances if we wish to keep our moors. The project has demonstrated that where numbers of red grouse have fallen to low levels (perhaps because habitat management has reduced or has been abandoned, or predators are no longer controlled by gamekeepers, it is exceptionally difficult to recover that moor to a state where driven grouse shooting can take place.  Without driven shooting we know active management declines, exposing ground nesting birds of prey to predation themselves, and losing heather cover. The clear message from this final report is not one of a binary choice of red grouse or birds of prey, but that we need both to be balanced if we value our moorlands and their ecosystems. Once grouse numbers fall the reason for cost-effective investment in the management of this ecosystem is also lost, jeopardising habitats and biodiversity. This project shows we need adaptive management measures so that game shooting remains an incentive for managing a moorland balance.”


Rare plant blooms on Cornish Urban Buzz site – Buglife

Nature conservationists are surprised and excited by the unexpected appearance of a rare plant in parks in Falmouth and St Austell.  The Small-flowered catchfly is an endangered plant in the UK, and to find it in a park is very unusual.

Last year, Buglife’s Urban Buzz project, funded by Biffa Award and the Eden Project, worked with local councils and communities to create new wildflower-rich habitats for pollinating insects across Falmouth, Truro, Wadebridge and St Austell.

As part of Urban Buzz, several new wildflower meadows were created in each town, and they are just starting to flower for the first time. Upon surveying the Falmouth meadows, Buglife volunteer Charlotte Rankin and Kevin Thomas from Falmouth Nature discovered the rare and endangered plant, Small-flowered Catchfly.

Charlotte said “Discovering Small-flowered Catchfly at two Urban Buzz sites in Falmouth was greatly exciting! This arable plant is a rare sight to see both in Cornwall and nationally, so I certainly wasn’t expecting to see it in an urban setting on my doorstep. As its name suggests, it is a really small plant and easily overlooked, so it was only when I knelt down to photograph a visiting pollinator that I discovered it amongst the meadow’s annuals. When visiting the other Urban Buzz meadows in Falmouth, I kept my eyes peeled and to my delight, another was found! It’s amazing what species can be discovered when they are given a chance."


Rare moth returns to Cornwall after 10-year absence – Butterfly Conservation

A rare moth has returned to Cornwall for the first time in more than ten years, wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation can reveal.

Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth caterpillar found by Cerin PolandNarrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth caterpillar found by Cerin Poland

A caterpillar of the elusive Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth was found on Goss Moor National Nature Reserve near Victoria in late June.

The discovery is confirmation the moth is breeding in the county again and is the first record of the species in Cornwall since 2008, when the moth was seen on Bodmin Moor.

Butterfly Conservation’s Jenny Plackett said: “This amazing find is all down to one of our young volunteers, Cerin Poland, who was trained as part of our All the Moor Butterflies project on how to identify the caterpillar. To have our volunteers discovering new sites for our rare butterflies and moths is really amazing and thanks to the dedication of people like Cerin, we are increasing our knowledge about the distribution of these species.”

24-year-old Cerin from Zelah in Cornwall said: “I was at Goss Moor helping to carry out a habitat survey for Natural England, who manage the National Nature Reserve. I was recording Devil’s-bit Scabious plants and saw the head of a caterpillar poking above one of the leaves looking up at me. I turned over the leaf and saw the distinctive pink horn on its tail and I knew straight away what it was! Due to my training from Butterfly Conservation I was informed on the signs to look out for and how to identify the species, but I still can’t quite believe I found one. It is a great addition to the diversity at Goss Moor and I have high hopes we will discover the Narrow-bordered Bee Hawk-moth in other locations across Cornwall.”

Minister Launches Cairngorms Youth Action Team – Cairngorms National Park Authority

Mairi Gougeon MSP, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment officially launched the Cairngorms Youth Action Team on Monday 7 October at the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) offices in Grantown on Spey.

Cairngorms Youth Action is an empowering and inspiring platform for young people to engage with the natural and cultural heritage of our local rural communities.  The Cairngorms Youth Action Team will be the youth voice of the platform and will enable young people to tackle issues and create positive change across the Cairngorms National Park.

The launch is the culmination of two years work.  Last year the Youth Manifesto was created which voiced some of the hopes and fears that young people have for the future of their communities. The CNPA pledged to set up this Youth Action Team to ensure that the views of the next generation are listened to on matters which concern them.

Ms Gougeon spent time with some of the young people who have been instrumental in forming the Team, she said: “It is vital that Scotland’s young people are listened to and included in decisions that affect their future, and the Cairngorms Youth Action project will do just that: empowering young people to play a strong role in creating a sustainable future for the Cairngorms – a vital piece of our natural heritage. I was involved at the start when the Youth Manifesto was launched last year and I am delighted to launch the Cairngorms Youth Action Team. I have been impressed with the energy and commitment of the young people I have met today and would encourage any 14-26 year old who cares about the future of the National Park to apply to join the Team”


Badger behaviour inside the cull zone - ZSL

ZSL study shows survivors of culls cover 61% greater areas, potentially increasing risk of transmission to cattle.

A study led by researchers from ZSL and Imperial College London has found that culling drives badgers to roam 61% further afield – helping to explain why the practice, intended to reduce bovine TB transmission, can sometimes exacerbate the problem instead. 

Published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, the paper reveals that, after a population was culled, surviving badgers covered 61% more land each month than they had before the cull began, leading researchers to conclude that badgers explore new areas as individuals are removed from neighbouring groups and territories open up. 

Badgers were also found to visit 45% more fields each month, and the odds of a badger visiting neighbouring territories each night increased 20-fold – potentially increasing the risk of TB transmission both to cattle and to other badgers. These changes were witnessed as soon as culling began, meaning even badgers that were killed may have first spread the infection over wider areas while management was being implemented.

Badgers however spent less time outside of their setts in culled areas – spending on average 91 minutes less per night out and about. ZSL scientists believe this could be linked to reduced competition and increased food availability as badgers are removed from the population. 

The research group from ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, and Imperial’s MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, studied 67 badgers across 20 cattle farms in areas with and without farmer-led culling in Cornwall, collecting GPS-collar data between 2013 and 2017.

Read the paper: Ham, C, Donnelly, CA, Astley, KL, Jackson, SYB, Woodroffe, R. Effect of culling on individual badger Meles meles behaviour: Potential implications for bovine tuberculosis transmission. J Appl Ecol. 2019; 00: 1– 10. doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13512


Study recommends special protection of emperor penguins - British Antarctic Survey

Emperor penguins need sea ice to breed. Photo credit: Peter FretwellIn a new study published this week (Wednesday 9 October) in the journal Biological Conservation, an international team of researchers recommends the need for additional measures to protect and conserve one of the most iconic Antarctic species – the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri).

Emperor penguins need sea ice to breed. Photo credit: Peter Fretwell

The researchers reviewed over 150 studies on the species and its environment as well as its behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology. Current climate change projections indicate that rising temperatures and changing wind patterns will impact negatively the sea ice on which emperor penguins breed; and some studies indicate that emperor populations will decrease by more than 50% over the current century. The researchers therefore recommend that the IUCN status for the species be escalated to ‘vulnerable’; the species is currently listed as ‘near threatened’ on the IUCN Red List.  They conclude that improvements in climate change forecasting in relation to impacts on Antarctic wildlife would be beneficial, and recommend that the emperor penguin should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a Specially Protected Species.

Lead author Dr Philip Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at British Antarctic Survey, says: “The current rate of warming in parts of the Antarctic is greater than anything in the recent glaciological record. Though emperor penguins have experienced periods of warming and cooling over their evolutionary history, the current rates of warming are unprecedented. Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat – sea ice. They are not agile and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult. For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat.”


New report shows pilot scheme farmers boost environment outcomes - Defra

Farmers and land managers in a “Payment by Results” pilot are more motivated to succeed, delivering “exceptional results” for the environment.

The first major assessment of a “Payment by Results” pilot has shown the project is boosting local wildlife and motivating farmers to develop nature-friendly practices.

Unlike the prescriptive approach of the current national agri-environment schemes – which pay a flat rate for actions taken rather than results achieved – the 34 farmers taking part in the Payment by Results pilot have had the freedom to choose how they manage their land to enhance the environment.

A new report published today by project partners Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority shows these farmers have recorded 43% increased score for number and diversity of seed bearing plants than nearby sites under conventional funding schemes – providing a rich food source for farmland birds during the winter months.

The trial areas for species-rich meadows also recorded a greater number of important plant species, such as pignut and eyebright, benefitting bumblebees, butterflies and birds. Participating farmers have also reported they felt more motivated to manage their land in a way that enhances the environment.

The report concludes the result-based approach has “considerable potential” for the design of the future Environmental Land Management scheme – the government’s future vision for farming outside the EU.


New report reveals that prescribing nature is excellent value for money - The Wildlife Trusts

Call for green prescribing to become widespread

A new report published today reveals that prescribing contact with nature for people who have low levels of mental wellbeing is excellent value for money by improving people’s health and wellbeing.

Researchers at Leeds Beckett University analysed the social value of Wildlife Trusts’ nature conservation projects which offer outdoor volunteering opportunities and programmes that support people experiencing problems such as anxiety, stress or mild depression.The report draws on the conclusions of three years research which found that people participating in both sorts of outdoor nature conservation activities felt significantly better, both emotionally and physically, as a result. They needed, for example, fewer visits to GPs or felt more able to get back into work.

Simon says: “Before coming to MyPlace, I would close myself off from the world. They offered me encouragement, support and how to expand my social skills. MyPlace has made my transition back into life far easier and it’s helped my confidence and self-esteem. I thought my life was going to go one of three ways, I was either going to end up in a hospital, in a prison cell or on a slab. I did not imagine that I would be here, being able to offer what I do today.”

The new report – Social return on investment analysis of the health and wellbeing impacts of Wildlife Trust programmes – calculates the social return on investment for every £1 invested in the two types of project and found that they are excellent value.


Over 700 responses to SNH General Licence consultation - Scottish Natural Heritage

The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) consultation about wild birds ended yesterday, garnering over 700 responses.

SNH will now consider this feedback, along with all other evidence about wild birds. Any changes to the current set of licences will be announced later this year. These changes would apply to all 2020 licences.

Lesser black-backed gull-copyright Lorne Gill-SNHLesser black-backed gull-copyright Lorne Gill-SNH

The consultation covers circumstances when wild birds can be controlled under General Licence. All wild birds are protected by law. But in some circumstances, SNH allows wild birds to be controlled – for example, to prevent serious damage to crops, protect public health, and ensure air safety when flocks of birds are liable to get in flight paths. 

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “We’d like to thank everyone for their feedback. We’ll be looking at all these responses carefully over the next months to ensure that our licences are clear, proportionate and fit-for-purpose. Our role is to make sure that wild birds thrive, but we must balance this with making sure the public is safe from health and safety risks, as well as ensuring that farmers can protect their crops.”

General Licences cover relatively common situations – such as preventing agricultural damage and protecting public health and safety – when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species. They avoid the need for people to apply for individual licences for these specific situations. General Licences must strike the appropriate balance between species conservation and a range of other legitimate interests.


 Partnership wins National Lottery support to help protect chalk grassland - South Downs National Park Authority

(image: South Downs National Park Authority)A partnership of 10 organisations has received initial National Lottery support for the Changing Chalk project. Made possible by National Lottery players, the partnership will work with local communities and landowners to connect people with nature and address challenges facing the Sussex Downs to protect this fragile chalk grassland landscape for future generations.

(image: South Downs National Park Authority)

Development funding of £138,300 has been awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund  to help the Changing Chalk partnership progress their plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant of £2,234,600 in 2021.

Changing Chalk is focused on the chalk grassland landscape of the Sussex Downs and the communities of the coastal urban fringe of Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Lewes. This distinctive landscape has 746,000 people living within the perimeter, it is one of the most densely populated coastal areas in Northern Europe bordering the fragile chalk grassland.

The majority of the 392sq/km2 project area falls within the South Downs National Park, which was designated for the nation in 2009. Chalk grassland and its abundance of wildlife, including an array of rare butterflies, were a key part of the designation.


A new website to improve open access to research data on Scotland’s natural assets - James Hutton Institute

Scientists based at the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen have developed a brand-new, web-based portal to improve access to spatial data on Scotland’s natural assets, including soils, land, biodiversity and cultural heritage.

(image: James Hutton Institute)(image: James Hutton Institute)

The new Natural Asset Register Data Portal, or NAR-DP for short, facilitates access to open-access datasets created through the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme that otherwise wouldn’t be readily available to stakeholders, other researchers or the wider public.

Kit Macleod, from the Institute’s Information and Computational Sciences group and co-developer of NAR-DP together with colleague David Donnelly, explains: “A key aim of the Strategic Research Programme funded by the Scottish Government is to improve our understanding and management of natural resources. The aim of NAR-DP is to create an accessible and easy to use online resource for a wide range of people, from organisations to members of the public. The web pages contain datasets on specific aspects of Scotland’s natural assets including socio-economic features, soils and biodiversity.”


Birds benefiting from climate change may find their boost short-lived - RSPB

The climate crisis has had a profound impact upon bird populations across Europe and the US, scientists say.

Climate change is a major global threat to humanity and nature. It threatens to undermine our water and food supplies, it’s fueling extreme weather and some mega-cities are predicted to disappear under rising sea levels.

Lapwing (photo Andy Hay)Lapwing (photo Andy Hay)

So conservationists were flummoxed by studies which showed climate change is having a stronger effect upon species which benefit from climate change compared to those which suffer negative impacts.

The authors of a major study investigating 525 bird species over 30 years and across two continents believed there could be a time lag in the response of populations to climate change, creating an ‘extinction debt’. They were also concerned most studies cover time spans too short to pick up on shrinking habitat ranges and focused on changes in range, rather than change in numbers.

But the most detailed report of its kind to date has turned theories about the effects of climate change upon birds on their head.

Despite carefully examining the population trends of over 500 bird species over three decades, the researchers found no evidence climate change has a more profound effect upon birds which should cope well with climate change compared to those which might struggle. Climate change is causing widespread population change in birds.

The researchers called for further research into the long-term consequences of climate change on wildlife to be commissioned urgently.

Read the paper: Mason LR et al (2019) Population responses of bird populations to climate change on two continents vary with species’ ecological traits but not with direction of change in climate suitability. Climatic Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-019-02549-9.(Open Access)


New Mental Health First Aid Network within Forest Research

Communicative, open, and safe are three organisational values that we champion within Forest Research.  As part of our values, we have recently developed a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Network, and now have 21 trained Mental Health First Aiders spread across the UK.  This is a new initiative for us and is part of a wider approach to supporting the wellbeing of our staff, both physical and mental – keeping our staff safe and well.  It is also a recognition and willingness, as an organisation, to support open conversations on mental health, and to break down the barriers of any associated stigma in its many guises.

The aims of any first aid programme are to preserve life; to prevent deterioration; to promote recovery; and to provide comfort to someone who is ill, injured, or distressed.  Over the years, it has been shown that MHFA training also improves knowledge, reduces stigmatising attitudes, and increases first aid actions towards those who need it and we look forward to growing these benefits for our staff.

We are using the training of Mental Health First Aiders to complement our existing physical First Aid network and the wider mental health awareness sessions that we have been rolling out to our managers. 

Click through for details of the courses.


Saving heather will help save our wild bees - RBG Kew

A new study published in the journal Current Biology from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Royal Holloway has discovered that a natural nectar chemical in Calluna heather called callunene can act as a medicine to protect bumblebees from a harmful parasite.

  • Study finds medicinal properties of heather nectar protect bumblebees from disease
  • Discovery shows the vital importance of protecting plants like heather to help address bee decline
  • Heather in UK is facing rapid decline due to changes in land use. 

Bumblebee foraging on heather, Calluna vulgaris. (Credit Hauke Koch)A new study published today (11/10/19) in the journal Current Biology from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Royal Holloway, University of London, has discovered that a natural nectar chemical in Calluna heather called callunene can act as a medicine to protect bumblebees from a harmful parasite. The parasite, Crithidia bombi, is common among wild bumblebees and can be transmitted between bumblebees on flowers or within the nest.

Bumblebee foraging on heather, Calluna vulgaris. (Credit Hauke Koch)

The scientists have been studying several different UK plants for medicinal properties in nectar that might help naturally protect bees against disease, as this is a major contributing factor in bee decline. They found that the species with the highest medicinal value was heather – the UK’s second most productive nectar plant, which is found across Europe.
This discovery is extremely important – around 90% of the world’s plants, including many important food crops, rely on animals for pollination. Bees’ contribution to these pollination services are by far the most important and are vital, but they are in decline due to interacting effects of diseases, climate change and habitat destruction.

Read paper: Hauke Koch, James Woodward, Moses K. Langat, Mark J.F. Brown & Philip C. Stevenson. Flagellum removal by a nectar metabolite inhibits infectivity of a bumblebee parasite. Current Biology  DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.08.037 (open access)


logo: Canal and River TrustAnd finally: Our featured charity Canal and Rover Trust announced the Living Waterways Awards 2019

The winners of the 2019 Living Waterways Awards, were announced at a gala ceremony in Birmingham on 10 October 2019.

The winners of Canal & River Trust’s 2019 Living Waterways Awards were announced at a gala ceremony in Birmingham last night (10 October 2019). 

The Living Waterways Awards, sponsored by Kier, Amco Giffen, Arcadis, CPC Civils, Fountains, Land & Water and Vinci, recognise the most exciting and inspiring waterway-based improvement projects across the UK.   

Sue Wilkinson, Canal & River Trust trustee and chair of the Award’s assessment panel, explains: “Canal & River Trust is once again proud to announce the winners of our annual national Living Waterways Awards. These awards give us the opportunity to celebrate the tireless efforts of those who are helping to transform the nation’s rivers, canals, lochs, lakes, and reservoirs, making life better for millions of people across the UK.” 

A rigorous assessment process saw the expert judges travel across England, Wales and Scotland before selecting the finalists for the 2019 Living Waterways Awards.

Click through for video reports and interviews with the winners. 


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