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


Frustratingly low tree planting rates continue in England - Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is disappointed by the continued low rate of new woodland planting confirmed in official figures on Friday (15/6/18).

The figures show only 1500ha of woodland was planted in England last year, far below the Government and Forestry Commission aim of 5000ha. Since announcing the aspiration to increase England’s woodland cover to 12% by 2060, planting has fallen well short of the levels needed to achieve this goal. 

Brackfield Wood newly planted sapling (Photo: Michael Cooper via Woodland Trust)Brackfield Wood newly planted sapling (Photo: Michael Cooper via Woodland Trust)

John Tucker, director of woodland creation, Woodland Trust said: “These figures are all the more shocking considering the growing evidence of the importance of trees and woods in tackling air pollution, improving water quality and offering scope to deliver natural flood management, not to mention what they offer for wildlife and their productive potential for the rural economy. Something is drastically wrong with the way various government departments that share responsibility for trees and woods are failing to get enough new woodland created. Poor planting rates, woodland losses, and weak protection of ancient woods mean that in England, we are highly likely to be in a state of net deforestation, with some areas of woodland canopy felled or destroyed and not replanted. Despite repeated requests there is little sign of government effort to accurately quantify the cumulative losses of woodland resulting from planning, infrastructure, tree disease and intensive land use.”

Poor planting figures are partly due to significant delays in grant agreements, and low uptake due to changes in the system. The Trust says more flexible programmes are needed to grant aid to both smaller and larger areas of woodland creation and attract a wider range of landowners willing to plant.

The Trust hopes the Government’s forthcoming framework for its 25 year plan for nature will herald a fresh approach, and genuinely new and practical solutions to address these issues. 

 Midhope Moor Track (image: Peak District National Park)

A retrospective planning permission for a track on Midhope Moor has been refused - Peak District National Park Authority

Midhope Moor Track (image: Peak District National Park)

Paul Ancell, chair of the Peak District National Park Authority’s planning committee, said: “National Park designation is given to the best and most important landscapes in the UK and Midhope Moor contributes to this quality landscape. In fact, this area is protected by both UK and European law: it is in the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation, and forms part of the Peak District Moors Special Protection Area, and is in the Dark Peak Site of Special Scientific Interest. This means it is internationally important for the habitat it provides and it is our job to help protect it.  Today’s decision to refuse the retrospective planning application for a track on Midhope Moor was taken due to the overriding need to protect the open moorland habitat and because of the unacceptable impact the track has in the landscape of the Peak District National Park."


Exotic invasions can drive native species extinct - University of Southampton

Latest research from the University of Southampton has revealed the impact of exotic species upon native wildlife, which could potentially lead to native plant species extinctions within their natural habitats.

The study, published in Nature Communications, underlined that even though competing species have typically lived together following past migration periods, human introduction and assistance may turn today’s invaders into agents of native species extinction.

Jane Catford, Principal Investigator of the study, titled ‘Introduced species that overcome life history trade-offs can cause native extinctions’, said: “It is well established that introduced pests, parasites and predators can result in native species extinctions, but whether the introduction of exotic plants can lead to native plant extinctions has been hotly debated. Our research shows that introduced exotic plants that are free from their natural enemies or are widely planted in agriculture and gardens can competitively exclude natives.” 

Read the paper (open access): Jane A. Catford, Michael Bode & David Tilman Introduced species that overcome life history tradeoffs can cause native extinctions Nature Communications volume 9, Article number: 2131 (2018) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04491-3


RSPCA rescues terrified buck tangled in netting - RSPCA

The RSPCA is issuing a warning about the dangers of netting to wildlife after a terrified buck became entangled in some which had been left discarded. 

Deer caught in netting in Lincolnshire (image: RSPCA)A member of the public spotted the “distressed” deer with his head and antlers in a twisted tangle of plastic netting at the side of Castle Bytham Road in Swayfield, Lincolnshire last week. 

Deer caught in netting in Lincolnshire (image: RSPCA)

RSPCA Inspector Andy Bostock rushed to the scene to help the terrified animal which was running around in circles while his head was trapped.

Inspector Bostock said the netting had been left behind from when the land used to house pens for rearing game birds and said this incident highlights the importance of clearing netting and plastic away because it is very damaging to wildlife. 

The RSPCA receives hundreds of calls every year to rescue animals – often wildlife – who have become tangled in netting, sport or garden nets or fishing litter. 

Inspector Bostock added: “Netted fencing and netting used for gardening or in sport can be really dangerous for animals and also poses a risk for those of us who are trying to rescue any entangled animal. This is a situation which could have been avoided if the netting had been discarded safely.” 

Other forms of garden netting, like pond or fruit netting, can be a real hazard to wild animals like hedgehogs and the RSPCA recommend replacing them with solid metal mesh. 


Ambitious project launches to halt alien invasion – Scottish Natural Heritage

The £3.34 million Scottish Invasive Species Initiative is officially launched today (Tuesday 19 June) by Scottish Natural Heritage with the help Image: Scottish Natural Heritageof pupils from Ben Wyvis primary school.

Image: Scottish Natural Heritage

The initiative, led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and funded by The National Lottery, was set up to tackle one of the countryside’s biggest problems – invasive non-native (alien) species.

On the River Conon, it was a case of many hands make light work, as the P6 class from Ben Wyvis Primary School (Conon Bridge) gamely rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in to helping pull out the invasive Himalayan balsam plant.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “Scotland’s habitats and wildlife are internationally important, but they are being threatened in some places by an invasion of non-native species. The Scottish Government has been working hard to tackle this problem for many years so I am very happy to support the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, through Scottish Natural Heritage funding. The initiative will rely on one of our greatest resources – volunteers – in order to put long-term solutions in place. I would like to thank the volunteers who work so hard on a wide range of environmental projects right across Scotland – they have my respect and admiration.”


Sister species of birds reveal clues to how biodiversity evolves – Imperial College London

Extensive new datasets about the world’s birds are helping to solve the riddle of how life on Earth diversified.

New insights into ecology and evolution are coming from global datasets focused on avian ‘sister species’, including the familiar blue tit Parus [Cyanistes] caeruleus and its closest living relative the azure tit Parus [Cyanistes] cyanus. Photos: gardenbird.co.uk and Krzysztof Blachowiak (Internet Bird Collection).New insights into ecology and evolution are coming from global datasets focused on avian ‘sister species’, including the familiar blue tit Parus [Cyanistes] caeruleus and its closest living relative the azure tit Parus [Cyanistes] cyanus. Photos: gardenbird.co.uk and Krzysztof Blachowiak (Internet Bird Collection).

By combining global datasets on bird characteristics, citizen-science species sightings and genetics, researchers have begun to answer some key questions in biodiversity. The results are published today in Nature Ecology & Evolution, in two parallel studies that include Imperial College London researchers.

“Understanding the factors controlling patterns of geographic overlap between species takes us one step closer to understanding how complex ecosystems are formed and predicting what they may look like in the future as a result of changing climates and land uses.” Dr Joseph Tobias

The first paper compiles body measurements and estimates of evolutionary history for hundreds of closely related bird species (called ‘sister species’) to study how new species evolve.

In most cases, new bird species begin to emerge when one population is isolated geographically from others, such as by a mountain range. Later, the diverging species may extend their geographical ranges, bringing them back into contact.

These encounters can play out in one of three ways: the species can interbreed and form a single species again; they can stay separated but with hard borders between their two ranges; or they can continue to expand their ranges until they coexist over a wide area.


Beavers breeding in Cornwall! – Cornwall Wildlife Trust

Cornwall Beaver Project announced some fantastic news last week with the arrival of at least two kits (juvenile beavers) at the 5 acre fenced site at Woodland Valley Farm in Ladock near Truro. These are the first beavers to be born in Cornwall for over 400 years!

Beaver kit by Nina ConstableBeaver kit by Nina Constable

Farmer Chris Jones alerted project partner Cornwall Wildlife Trust after his first view of one of the kits at the beginning of the week. The Cornwall Beaver Project team were all hoping for some good views during their regular Wednesday night beaver walk and invited filmmaker Nina Constable in the hope of getting some footage for BBC Springwatch. The kits did indeed come out and were enjoyed by thousands nationwide on the last episode of Springwatch 2018.

The Cornish beaver pair have been busy since their release last summer making themselves at home in their 5-acre enclosure on the farm. The Cornwall Beaver Project has witnessed the first beaver lodge being built in Cornwall for hundreds of years. As well as this, a smaller lodge appeared on site earlier in the year which initially caused confusion. However, it was soon realised this was the male beaver building a temporary bachelor pad, as he had likely been asked to leave the lodge while the female was nursing. All the signs were there and the team have sat poised for the last month waiting in anticipation for the first glimpse of a beaver kit.


NRW to invest £2.6 million in innovative projects to improve the environment – Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) is set to invest £2.6 million in projects to improve the environment across Wales.

The successful projects will help some of our most threatened wildlife, improve habitats plus increase access to some of Wales’ most spectacular landscapes and will deliver real improvements for the Welsh environment, people and economy over the next two years.

The projects selected will help meet the challenges identified under the four themes of reducing the risk from environmental hazards such as flooding and pollution; improving habitat management, biodiversity and connectivity; improving access to the outdoors and using the natural environment to support the economy and develop skills. 

Rhian Jardine, NRW’s Chair of Strategic Funding Board said: “Improving the natural environment, and the wildlife that lives there is incredibly important for us and for Wales, its wildlife and people’s quality of life. We have been delighted at the quality and innovation of applications in response to this funding opportunity that will help us to achieve that. Our commissioning approach, where we set out the challenges for specific areas of Wales generated interest across all sectors and we have several partners who receive funding for the first time including the National Farmers Union and Denbighshire Housing Department.”

Discussions between NRW and the successful bidders over the next few weeks will refine this year’s projects before contracts are signed over the summer.


Scientific papers

Plomion, C. et al (2018) Oak genome reveals facets of long lifespan. Nature Plants 


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