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

 

Bird-eating raptors reap rewards of city life – Nottingham Trent University           

Bird-eating raptors are adapting just as well – and in some cases better – to life in towns and cities than their natural habitats, research by Nottingham Trent University suggests.

Peregrine falcons are thriving in towns and cities (Nottingham Trent University)Peregrine falcons are thriving in towns and cities (Nottingham Trent University)

A plentiful supply of food means specialist bird predators such as peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks and northern goshawks are thriving in their new urban environments. 
It’s not such good news for their mammal-eating counterparts, however, who typically struggle to adjust to their new urban homes where food is more scarce. 
Bird-eating raptors are breeding more successfully, with bigger clutch sizes and more chicks fledging the nest, the researchers found.
The study – led by the university’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences – involved comparing more than 30 studies of urban and rural populations of raptors across the world.
While mammal-eating birds, such as kestrels and owls, might flourish in rural environments, they fared less well in urban surroundings due to a lack of available prey and – in some cases – increased human activity, the study suggests.

Access the paper: Kettel, E. F., Gentle, L. K., Quinn, J. L. & Yarnell, R. W. (2017) The breeding performance of raptors in urban landscapes: a review and meta-analysis. Journal of Ornithology

 

New techniques allow scientists to predict the impacts of climate change on marine non-native species – CEFAS

Climate change is expected to create conditions for marine non-native species to survive further north around northwest Europe in the future, with a range of economic and ecological consequences according to predictions developed through new modelling approaches developed by scientists. 

New research by a cross-disciplinary team from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Met Office, The University of Exeter and the University of East Anglia increases the chance that marine non-native species, that have caused damage in other Pacific oyster (Paul Brazier)regions, can be identified earlier as they are able to become established in areas which were previously unsuitable.

The marine non-native species identified in the paper include the slipper limpet which can reduce biological diversity and can affect growth of commercial shellfish, and the Pacific oyster, which could offer potential commercial opportunities.

Pacific oyster (Paul Brazier)

This new study, published in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, modelled how marine climate change could affect future establishment of the potentially most impactful species in northwest Europe, to enable scientists to understand the potential impacts to anticipate and plan for such establishing populations. Marine species can be accidentally transported via a range of activities but can only become established if environmental conditions are suitable.

 

Aberdeen bypass to provide safe wildlife travel – Transport Scotland

Image: Transport ScotlandSpecial wildlife bridges, the first of their kind on a Scottish trunk road, are being constructed by Aberdeen Roads Limited on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route/Balmedie-Tipperty (AWPR/B-T) project to ensure animals can safely access areas on either side of the road once it opens to traffic. 

Image: Transport Scotland

Two dedicated wildlife bridges are being constructed over the new road at Kingcausie and Kirkhill, where there are large surrounding areas of woodland habitat. Mammal-proof fencing will guide animals towards the bridges providing them with safe crossing points which will join up habitats and connect colonies. Small trees and shrubs will also be planted on and around the bridges to provide cover for wildlife.

The decking areas of these two bridges will be covered with topsoil in varying depths, with planting to replicate the natural habitats of deer, badgers and red squirrels and encourage wildlife to use the routes.

 

Why aren’t house sparrows as big as geese? – Norwegian University of Science & Technology

A group of researchers spent twelve seasons making some house sparrows bigger and others smaller. Their experiment yielded some important answers.

Why are house sparrows (Passer domesticus) the exact size they are? Why aren’t they hummingbird size or as large as geese?

Biologist Henrik Jensen releases a house sparrow in Namsos, in an area where house sparrows are confirmed to exist. Photo: Thomas Kvalnes, NTNUBiologist Henrik Jensen releases a house sparrow in Namsos, in an area where house sparrows are confirmed to exist. Photo: Thomas Kvalnes, NTNU

It sounds like a strange question to ask, but it’s actually an overarching question of evolution. It may be able to tell us something about how we adapt to changes in the environment. Our planet is changing and we need to change with it.

Why have we evolved as we have? Evolution theory says that we’ve adapted to our conditions. So sparrows are probably as big as they should be, according to their living conditions.

But can we prove that? Researchers have run experiments in laboratories, but never in nature. Could it be done?

Fiddled with evolution

A group of researchers at NTNU wanted to attempt that exact experiment. First they would tamper with evolution to see if they could change the size of the sparrows. They would do that by capturing wild birds on islands and rejecting individuals with undesirable characteristics.

After releasing the selected birds back into the wild, the researchers wanted to see if their size would revert back to normal through evolution’s natural selection process.

“It’s the first time in the world that anyone has conducted artificial selection on birds from a wild population,” says Thomas Kvalnes, a postdoctoral fellow at NTNU’s Department of Biology.

 

Government pledges £500,000 for new action group to grow future of public parks – Gov.uk

New Parks Action Group launched to help England’s public parks and green spaces meet the needs of communities now and in the future.

Parks and Green Spaces Minister Marcus Jones today (19 September 2017) launched a new Parks Action Group to help England’s public parks and green spaces meet the needs of communities now and in the future.

Image: Gov.ukThe new Parks Action Group will include experts from the world of horticulture, leisure, heritage and tourism, and will be tasked with bringing forward proposals to address some of the issues faced by public parks and other green spaces across England. To support them, government is providing £500,000 funding to kick start their work.

Image: Gov.uk

The action group will propose what steps can be taken in line with the government response to the recent House of Common’s Communities and Local Government Select Committee report into the future of parks and green spaces.

Parks and Green Spaces Minister Marcus Jones said: We recognise the value of parks and green spaces to local communities – including reducing loneliness, increasing wellbeing, and revitalising town and city centres. But we need to do more to make sure future generations are continuing to enjoy their benefits. That is why we have announced a new expert-led Parks Action Group to work closely with the sector to find the right solutions.”

 

The reds are back! – Forestry Commission Scotland

Recent feeder box monitoring and camera trapping carried out in Countesswells and Foggieton Woods, near Aberdeen, indicates a rosy future for red squirrels.

Image: Forestry Commission ScotlandThe work by Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) and Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels (SSRS) builds on many years of conservation work and monitoring and indicates that red squirrel numbers in the area are increasing - and that the woods are free from non-native grey squirrels!

Image: Forestry Commission Scotland

Philippa Murphy, Environment Manager for the FES team in the area, said “We put some sticky tape on the feeder boxes to collect hairs and these, once analysed, showed that the number of red squirrels recorded in these woodlands are increasing year on year, suggesting more and more red squirrels are taking advantage of the free treats on offer. But the best news is that we’ve got no trace of grey squirrels, which tend to drive reds away from local habitats. It’s a great pat on the back for all the hard work that has been put into this project by all the SSRS partners. It’s a great reward for us too – it’s like getting a thumbs up from the red squirrels for our sensitive management of the forests around Aberdeen.”

As well as following best practice to manage the woodlands for red squirrels, other measures taken include minimising the amount of large clearfell sites and maximising the tree species favoured by red squirrels.

 

Report suggests love of the seas could be the key for plastic pollution solution – Plymouth University

The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, builds on research demonstrating marine litter can undermine the benefits of coastal environments

Tapping into the public’s passion for the ocean environment could be the key to reducing the threats posed to it by plastic pollution, a new report suggests.

Millions of tons of plastic particles accumulate in our seas each year as a result of human behaviour, and once there they have a potentially detrimental effect on marine life.

But reversing this trend, and finding ways to maintain both the health of our oceans and the human benefits associated with it, is a complicated task.

Writing in Nature Human Behaviour, academics from the University of Plymouth and the University of Surrey identify recent examples where public pressure has led to policy change, including levies on single-use plastic bags and bans on the use of microbeads in cosmetics.

But while these are steps in the right direction, they are not addressing either the root causes or lasting effects of the problem, with the report saying there needs to be a more joined-up and interdisciplinary approach going forward.

Dr Sabine Pahl, Associate Professor (Reader) in Psychology and lead author on the report, said: “The public’s love of the coast is obvious, so it stands to reason that they would play a role in preserving its future. Plastic pollution is a problem for all in society and while there are solutions out there, they must be socially acceptable as well as economically and technically viable. We need to work together across disciplines and sectors to build on the strength of humans to facilitate change.”

 

Partnership Project Releases Britain’s Rarest Lizard Back into the Wild in Surrey – Amphibian & Reptile Conservation

As part of efforts to restore Britain’s biodiversity, the sand lizard conservation partnership led by Marwell Wildlife and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, has released 80 juvenile sand lizards onto Eelmoor Marsh Site of Special Scientific Interest, near Farnborough.

Credit: Paul N DraneThis is the first stage in a three-year release plan, which will see these rare animals restored to their natural habitat and historic range, as part of the sand lizard reintroduction strategy.  

Credit: Paul N Drane

Working alongside the University of Southampton and the Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group, the sand lizard population will be closely monitored after their release by Marwell Wildlife and University of Southampton PhD student, Rachel Gardner, who is working hard to continually assess the existing reptile community on site and the habitat suitability.  Rachel hopes the exercise will not only offer the opportunity to return the species to its indigenous range but also help answer some key questions surrounding its dispersal, use of microhabitats and survivorship: “As part of the close monitoring of the lizards after the release we hope to radio tag a portion of the population next year, in order to follow individuals more closely. In total we intend for 240 individuals to be released during this reintroduction programme to establish a self-sustaining population at the site indefinitely.”

Despite occurring widely across Europe and Asia, the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis) is threatened in the north western part of its range and had disappeared from much of its former habitat in England and Wales prior to concerted conservation efforts.

 

New report shows worrying increase in dolphin deaths in Cornwall – Cornwall Wildlife Trust

A worrying increase in dolphin deaths has been observed in Cornwall in the last year, highlighted by Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s 2016 Marine Common dolphin stranded on Maenporth beach (Emma Theobold)Strandings Network (MSN) report which has been released today (Tuesday 19  September).

The report, summarising the work of the vital marine conservation project in Cornwall and available to download off the Trust website, has highlighted an astounding 50% increase in cetacean (dolphins, porpoises and whales) deaths in 2016 compared with 2015.

Common dolphin stranded on Maenporth beach (Emma Theobold)

A total of 205 animals stranded in Cornwall in 2016, compared with only 10 in 2015. Amongst the 205 recorded, 113 were short-beaked common dolphins and 61 were harbour porpoises. Of particular stranding interest in 2016 were both a female sperm whale which stranded and was post mortem on Perran Sands, north Cornwall, in July 2016, and a bottlenose dolphin which stranded on the Isles of Scilly and was recorded on the 30th November 2016. A minke whale also stranded further north at Compass Point near Bude on the 13th July 2016.

Abby Crosby, Marine Conservation Officer at Cornwall Wildlife Trust, says “The Trust has been collecting data on marine mammal strandings for over 25 years, so we can clearly identify peak levels of strandings. Seeing this recent increase is extremely worrying and highlights the importance of ensuring this work continues into the future whilst we discover what is happening out at sea.”

 

Future sea-level rise will increase potential flood risks in Firth of Clyde area - Scottish Natural Heritage

Sea levels will rise by up to 0.47m by 2080, a new report published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has highlighted.

Sea-level rise will present a challenge in terms of managing potential effects on certain low-lying coastal areas of the Clyde. The report identifies more than 100 developed areas, designated sites, and roads and railways where action should be taken to avoid potential impacts.

And planning is already underway in many areas to identify ways in which the risk can be managed. This includes making use of the natural coastline where possible.  Coastal communities which could be affected are areas within Greenock, Gourock, Campbeltown, Lochgilphead, Dunoon, Faslane, Inverkip, Largs, Stevenson, Irvine, Troon, Prestwick, Ayr, Girvan, Rothesay and Kelburn. Major elements of coastal infrastructure could be at risk in the long term.

These include parts of the Faslane naval base, home to the Trident nuclear weapons system, and pressure on Prestwick International Airport railway station, and potentially, the airport car park.

There are potential impacts at protected areas important for nature including the Inner Clyde Special Protection Area (SPA). Birds use the mudflats and saltmarsh in this area for feeding and nesting and the risk of losing these important habitats is higher because of climate change.

The report also considers opportunities for managed realignment at four sites in the Firth of Clyde. Three of these were considered to have potential for phased realignment: Erskine South, Newshot Island, and Holy Loch.  Managed realignment is a technique in which river, estuary and or coastal water is deliberately allowed to extend beyond current flood defences. This procedure has been followed in Scotland at Nigg in the Cromarty Firth.

 

Appeal to save ice age heritage of Scotland’s national tree - Trees for Life

Trees for Life has launched an initiative to save ancient Scots pines across the Highlands of Scotland from becoming the last generation in a lineage of trees dating back to the last ice age.

Image: Gleann na Ciche & Loch Affric © Alan Watson Featherstone; Trees for LifeThrough its Caledonian Pinewood Recovery Project, the conservation charity wants to help restore 50 areas of remnant and neglected pinewoods – mainly made up of lone, ancient ‘Granny’ pines which are over 200 years old but dying as they stand, with no young trees to succeed them.

Image: Gleann na Ciche & Loch Affric © Alan Watson Featherstone; Trees for Life

The fragments – scattered over a large area – face growing threats from overgrazing by deer, tree diseases and climate change, and are at risk of disappearing forever over the next few years. If they are allowed to die, the extraordinary wildlife dependent on them – such as crossbills and capercaillie – will be lost too.

Thanks to support from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Trees for Life has already raised £150,000 for the ambitious project. It now needs to raise at least £20,000 from the public to be able to start the work.

“The Scots pine is Scotland’s national tree and symbolizes the Caledonian Forest – but the last fragments of these ancient pinewoods are dying. Without action, the chance to bring back the wild forest could slip away forever, with only the skeletons of these special trees revealing where a rich woodland once grew,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive.

 

Flood risk reduced and wildlife brimming over on the Ribble - Natural England

Combining 2 nature reserves at Hesketh in Lancashire marks great step forward for conservation and flood resilience.

Redshank (image: © Nick Goodrum Flickr)A new scheme that will improve flood protection, boost wildlife habitats and create 160 hectares of new saltmarsh, was opened today (Thursday 21st September).

Redshank (image: © Nick Goodrum Flickr)

The new reserve not only creates new saltmarsh habitat but strengthens sea defences. The £6 million scheme at Hesketh, in Lancashire, is a partnership project between the RSPB, Natural England and the Environment Agency.

The RSPB’s Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve and Natural England’s Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve (NNR) are a real world demonstration of the newly-launched joint strategy for NNRs. The Environment Agency has breached the banks at Hesketh Out Marsh East. This important work has been made possible by:

  • almost £2 million funding from Landfill Communities Fund monies from FCC Environment through WREN
  • £3.7 million government funding to reduce flood risk

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey said: "Hesketh is an inspiring project, creating fantastic new habitats for wildlife and providing increased flood protection for hundreds of people living around the Ribble Estuary. This £6 million scheme shows how embracing new ideas and working with partners can create tremendous benefits for the environment." 

Natural England’s Chairman, Andrew Sells, said: "England’s National Nature Reserves are the most special places for nature, which also help improve the wellbeing of people making more than 17 million visits every year. Uniting these two reserves on the Ribble will create wonderful new habitat, reduce the risk of flooding and enhance the area’s appeal to wildlife."

On completion, the full RSPB Hesketh Out Marsh Reserve will include 340 hectares of saltmarsh, making it the largest site of its kind in the north of England. Natural England will designate the reserve as part of the existing Ribble Estuary NNR later in 2017. The RSPB and Natural England will then jointly manage both sites as effectively one large reserve. Ribble Estuary NNR is already England’s third largest National Nature Reserve.

 

Awards: Search to find the UK's Best Park, as voted by YOU! 2017 launched – Fields in Trust

Do you think that your local park, playground or playing field is the best in the country? Here's your chance to prove it. National charity Fields in Trust have launched this year's campaign to find the UK's Best Park, as voted by YOU! This unique award is open to all public green spaces across the UK through a simple online nomination. It might be that your local park is great for a Sunday afternoon stroll, your neighbourhood playground is a hive of activity for children, or a nature reserve provides a stress-free space to relax. This is your chance to help your favourite space gain the recognition it deserves.

In advance of hosting the Awards Ceremony, sports presenter and journalist Jacqui Oatley launched the campaign saying: "I am delighted to be hosting this year's Fields in Trust Awards and can't wait to hear stories of the fantastic work being done on green spaces across the UK."

Nominations for the UK's Best Park open as new research from Fields in Trust is published which demonstrates a direct and statistically significant link between publicly accessible parks and green spaces and health and wellbeing. Based on new analysis of existing data from Defra and Natural England and a new primary data (sample size 4,033) Fields in Trust have established, for the first time at the national level, a link between an individual's use of parks and greenspaces and an improvement in health and wellbeing (covering General Health and the four ONS wellbeing questions - life satisfaction, sense of worth, happiness and anxiety).

UK's Best Park is a unique award open to all local green spaces across the UK. A simple online nomination form allows anyone to suggest their favourite local green space. This will be followed by a public vote with the winner announced at the Fields in Trust Awards ceremony on Wednesday 29th November.

 

Releasing butterflies at weddings – Butterfly Conservation

Butterfly Conservation has several major concerns about the growing interest in releasing butterflies at weddings and other functions:

(image: Butterfly Conservation)Interference with recording - Releases affect butterfly recording and the efforts of thousands of people who submit records, by making it unclear if any future record of the species is truly wild or has been seen as a consequence of such a release. 

(image: Butterfly Conservation)

This has the potential to divert limited conservation resources as it makes accurate mapping and h conservation work for that species difficult, as we don’t then know where it occurs naturally.

This concern has been largely addressed by ‘confetti’ releases by the use of widespread and migratory species, however any research on the fascinating phenomenon of migration is now far more difficult.

Genetic concerns - The released specimens have been bred in captivity and therefore each generation of butterfly is more genetically suited to breeding in captivity and not in the wild.  Therefore when released specimens breed with wild individuals they have the potential to affect the genetic makeup of the species in the wild. This is probably a small threat, particularly in northern Europe where the species released don’t survive the winter, although with global warming this threat is likely to increase.

Spread of disease - There is a major concern over the potential for natural diseases to be more prevalent in the high butterfly densities present in rearing cages, diseases that are then spread to wild populations.

Sending the wrong message - Butterflies are declining drastically through loss of habitat and intensification of farming and forestry.  Releases deflect attention from this and large scale releases may risk changing public attitudes to the conservation of ‘wild’ populations.  This is a major concern of Butterfly Conservation and we feel that using butterflies as confetti may encourage a dangerous attitude to wild creatures that are boxed, transported and released into areas whatever the suitability.

 

Study to expand knowledge of ectomycorrhizal fungi in Scotland – The James Hutton Institute

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute and the University of Aberdeen are exploring the relationship between ectomycorrhizal (ECM) fungi and native tree species in Scotland. The study will also determine which climatic and environmental factors influence their distribution.

ECM fungi form beneficial associations with the roots of many plant species, in particular trees: the fungi take up nutrients from the soil and pass on some of these to the host plants in return for sugars. The fungi are therefore essential components of many terrestrial ecosystems.

The data recorded from the study will contribute to the limited information currently available on the subject in Scotland. Existing records show that there are approximately 900 ECM species recorded in Scotland. This is only about one-half of the species recorded in Scandinavia.

A combination of traditional morphological approaches as well as modern molecular analyses will be used to identify the fungi. The project will provide valuable information for forest management and woodland expansion policies.

 

Project celebrates churring storm petrels on the Shiants – RSPB

Calling storm petrels have been recorded for the very first time on the Shiants this summer, an important milestone for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project, which is working to attract these small seabirds to nest on the islands. The characteristic “churring” call of storm petrels was heard from burrows, their breeding habitat, an encouraging sign that the project’s conservation work is paying off.

The EU LIFE+ funded partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Nicolson family, the custodians of the islands, began in 2014 to provide safe breeding grounds for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds on this cluster of islands in the Minch, five miles off the coast of Harris. A population of invasive non-native black rats on the islands were thought to be limiting the breeding success of the colonies of puffins, razorbills and guillemots, whilst storm petrels and Manx shearwaters were not found there at all.

Following a rat eradication programme in the winter of 2015/16 the project has been focused on monitoring how the wildlife has responded, ensuring the biosecurity of the islands, and attempting to attract storm petrels and Manx shearwaters to breed, as there is ideal nesting habitat for them. It will be March 2018 before the islands can be officially declared free of rats, provided none are found between then and now.  

 

Squirrel Nutkin thrives again: Conservation project revives squirrel population from 99% grey to 100% red – National Trust

Threatened red squirrel numbers are thriving against the odds on one of Britain’s largest estates after painstaking work by a National Trust ranger.

image: National Trust

image: National Trust

The population of reds at Wallington, Northumberland, almost disappeared entirely in 2011 after grey squirrels moved into the area, bringing with them the deadly squirrel pox virus.

However, the estate is now home to over 170 red squirrels and is one of the most popular places to visit by tourists eager to spot the animal made famous by Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Squirrel Nutkin.

Across Britain, the plight of red squirrels is rife and, with only 15, 000 left in the England, conservation projects are the only way to safeguard their future.

Threatened by disease and a loss of habitat, red squirrel numbers have fallen in the UK from approximately 3.5 million and those that remain are constantly under threat from non-native greys. 23rd September marks the beginning of Red Squirrel Awareness Week, designed to highlight the decline.

The National Trust’s largest agricultural estate was overrun by grey squirrels until a conservation initiative transformed it to contain only reds. Wallington Hall is one of the last remaining strongholds for red squirrels in England.

In Glen Graham, the Trust recruited its first red squirrel ranger to head a new conservation project to revive the native reds. Former neighbourhood investigation officer Glen began monitoring the numbers of both species and co-ordinated grey squirrel control. The work had dramatic effects, the red squirrel population gradually began to resurface, and greys were eventually eradicated entirely.

 

Plenty to be chirpy about, Slimbridge survey reveals – WWT

Small birds have had a fantastic year, according to our latest year’s ringing at our Constant Effort Site (CES) in the decoy at Slimbridge.

WWT volunteers and staff catch and ring passerines (perching birds) throughout spring and summer as part of a national scheme organised by the British Trust for Ornithology which contributes to the overall monitoring of populations and breeding success.

The latest results have put huge smiles on the faces of our conservationists.

WWT long-term volunteer Maurice Durham has organised the Slimbridge effort since the early 1990s. He said: “Slimbridge is famous for its geese and swans, but it’s also home to a wealth of other wildlife as these results show. We are very pleased to have recorded one of our best years since the study started in 1990. It is important that we record bird populations so that we can ensure our conservation work is well targeted.”

The key factors logged are the number of juvenile birds, the number of adult birds and year to year survivals. These figures are then used to calculate the changes which are happening and to look for the stage of life cycles most affected by environmental change.

Our experts handled a record number of ‘new for year’ birds, ringing 556 birds – 208 adults and 348 juveniles – and beating our previous best of 529 birds in 1992. This was closely followed by 525 in 2004.

The standout species was the chiffchaff. 90 juvenile chiffchaffs were caught, exceeding the previous best of 76 (in 1990 and 2011) by some margin.


Scientific publications

Ferrer, M., Morandini, V., Baguena, G. & Newton, I. (2017) Reintroducing endangered raptors: a case study of supplementary feeding and removal of nestlings from wild populations. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13014. Journal of Applied Ecology

 

Thompson, M. S. A. et al (2017) Large woody debris ‘rewilding’ rapidly restores biodiversity in riverine food webs. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13013

 

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