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Study suggests two million ancient and veteran trees in England - ten times as many as previously recorded - University of Nottingham

A new study has shown there could be around eight to ten times as many ancient and veteran trees in England than currently recorded, with estimates ranging from 1.7 to 2.1 million, compared to the 115,000 currently on record.

As many of these trees are yet to be recorded, most are not likely to be protected by conservation methods, policy or legislation, and therefore we don’t know how many are at risk, why, or where. New location mapping, developed by experts at the University of Nottingham, means work towards recording and mapping them could become easier.

The new research builds upon work carried out by the Woodland Trust, Ancient Tree Forum and the Tree Register, which has currently mapped 180,000 trees.

In this new study, published in Ecological Applications, experts from the School of Life Sciences at the University teamed up1 with the Woodland Trust, to develop the first robust nationwide estimate of ancient and veteran trees in England.

An ancient tree is a tree that shows exceptional age in relation to other trees of the same species. Most ancient and veteran trees display similar features such as a hollowing trunk, dead wood in the canopy or the presence of other organisms such as fungi or plants on its structure. They may also have irreplaceable historical or cultural value. Veteran trees share similar features and values to ancient trees, but they may not be old enough to be considered truly ancient for their species.

Birch trees for example, are fast-growing and could be classed as ancient at 150 years old, while a yew tree might receive the same accolade at 800 years of age. These trees are very important sources of dead wood that are valuable natural assets important for wildlife. They also have cultural and historical links, and some of the oldest trees in the country e.g. the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, are busy tourist spots.

Urgent action needed as peat burning ban and restoration measures miss the mark - Wildlife and Countryside Link

New figures have revealed that despite a partial ban in 2021, the climate-polluting and nature-damaging practice of burning vegetation on upland peat has continued at scale. Warnings in the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) report also highlight that: peat restoration rates are well below the levels needed to achieve Net Zero by 2050, peatland under restoration management actually declined last year, and that damaged peat is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions from land use.[1] Conservation and climate experts are demanding urgent Government action.

Figures for 2021, obtained through FOI requests by Wildlife and Countryside Link, reveal that:

  • One large site of 50 hectares, the size of 50 rugby pitches, was licensed for burning
  • No licences for sites under 10 hectares of size were granted in 2021. Burns taking place on these smaller sites do not usually come under any site protection rules and therefore take place without being officially recorded

Defra released data for licences to burn on SSSIs granted under The Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021 in response to a parliamentary question in June 2022, revealing the Secretary of State received and refused only one application for a licence to burn.

This contrasts with data collected by Wild Moors and Unearthed which suggests that 51 burns took place on land protected by multiple conservation designations (and which Natural England’s latest available map identifies as deep peat) in the 21/22 season. Separate RSPB data suggests 70 burns took place on protected sites. The disparity between the official number of zero burns on protected areas in 21/22 and data suggesting 50-70 burns in protected areas during the same time period suggests that the 2021 regulations are being breached on a significant scale. The Wild Moors and Unearthed and RSPB data sets suggest more than 250 incidents of peatland burning overall during the 21/22 season.

Call for urgent action to adapt forests to climate change - Sylva Foundation

Forestry, conservation and government organisations have come together to reaffirm their commitment to work together to promote the importance of adapting trees, woods and forests to climate change.

The Forestry and Climate Change Partnership (FCCP) has published the Forestry and Climate Change Adaptation Accord which sets out a collective vision that Britain’s trees woods and forests are resilient to climate change and therefore able to meet their full potential to provide environmental, social and economic benefits.

Climate change and the associated environmental impacts including drought, flooding, fire, pests and pathogens present serious threats to the health of our trees woods and forests. There is an urgent need to improve the resilience of both newly created and existing woodland to climate change. This requires significant change to widely accepted and practised systems of woodland and land management. Greater awareness is needed for the importance of adopting a broader range of species, diversity of genetics, age and stand structure, and improved connectivity in the landscape.

The FCCP is working to communicate the case for adaptation, to provide training and education, inform research priorities and contribute to policy development.

And finally ... great news for octopus and kittiwake populations

Octopus numbers boom in Cornwall - Cornwall Wildlife Trust

The large body of a Common Octopus sighted on the Lizard peninsula in June 2022, Image by Shannon Moran
The large body of a Common Octopus sighted on the Lizard peninsula in June 2022, Image by Shannon Moran

Huge numbers of octopus have been seen along Cornwall’s coastline this month in what experts are describing as a “bumper year” for sightings.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s marine conservation officers now believe this could be evidence of an octopus population boom – an event last recorded along England’s south coast more than 70 years ago.

Divers and snorkellers have reported an increase of Common Octopus in Cornwall, particularly around the Lizard peninsula.

Despite its name, this large species of octopus is rarely seen in UK waters and has been recorded by the wildlife charity just twice a year on average.

Matt Slater, Marine Conservation Officer at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, said: “I got really excited when I started receiving messages from our Seasearch divers – not only because sightings of these striking animals are few and far between, but because they’d seen several of them on one dive. They are such amazing, alien creatures – one of the most intelligent animals in our oceans – and to witness a population explosion in our local waters would be incredible.”

Local fishers along Cornwall’s south coast have also witnessed large numbers of octopus in their lobster pots and cuttlefish traps. One Mevagissey fisherman reported catching 150 octopuses in a day, compared to his usual catch of one or two a year.

The Common Octopus is known for its large eyes, soft bag-like body and tentacles which can span up to one metre. Like other cephalopods, their populations fluctuate dramatically as scientists attempt to learn more about their behaviour and abundance.

Final call for kittiwakes on the Isles of Scilly? - Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust is encouraged by news that at least ten pairs of kittiwakes are showing signs of nesting on the island of Gugh, after an archipelago-wide absence of breeding attempts in 2021.

Gugh, which is attached at low-tide to the bigger island of St Agnes, has previously hosted several nests of kittiwakes, but last year there was a complete absence of nests from these special seabirds across the whole Isles of Scilly. Whilst the birds are showing signs of a more successful year in 2022, the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust is clear that this is only a temporary reprieve, and many seabird species around the islands are showing a worrying downward trend.

The islands are home to breeding populations of thirteen seabird species, but overall, the number of pairs around Scilly have declined by 9.8% since 2006 and by nearly a third (31.5%) since 1983. Data from annual surveys shows that kittiwakes show the most concerning downward trend, with an 89% decline between 2006 and 2016. They are one of five species whose populations have fallen by more than a fifth in this time, including common terns, lesser black-backed gulls, herring gulls and shags.

Kittiwakes are a dainty species of gull, so named for their distinctive, nasal ‘kitti-wayke’ call. They have an elegant appearance, with a small yellow bill and a dark eye. In summer plumage, the wings are all-white apart from the very tips, which look they have been 'dipped in ink'.

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