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

 

Insect decline a major global crisis – Buglife

Ameletus inopinatus (c) Stuart CroftsA new paper - ‘Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers’ by Francisco Sánchez-Bayo and Kris A.G. Wyckhuys - paints a grim picture of the decline of essential insects across the planet. it concludes that current declines could lead to the extinction of 40% of the world's insect species over the next few decades. Butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, and dung beetles are amongst the most at risk along with freshwater dependent dragonflies and damselflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and mayflies.

Ameletus inopinatus (c) Stuart Crofts

Matt Shardlow, Buglife’s Chief Executive commented. “It is gravely sobering to see this collation of evidence that demonstrates the pitiful state of the world’s insect populations. It’s not just about bees, or even about pollination and feeding ourselves, the declines also include dung beetles that recycle waste and insects like dragonflies that start life in rivers and ponds. It is becoming increasingly obvious our planet’s ecology is breaking and there is a need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends – allowing the slow eradication of insect life to continue is not a rational option”.

Read the paper: Sánchez-Bayo, F. &  Wyckhuys, K. A. G. Review: Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.01.020

 

Skyglow over key wildlife areas – University of Exeter

Light pollution affects the skies over most of the world’s key wildlife areas, new research shows.

The study, by the University of Exeter and Birdlife International, focussed on “skyglow” – light scattered and reflected into the atmosphere that can extend to great distances (University of Exeter)The study, by the University of Exeter and Birdlife International, focussed on “skyglow” – light scattered and reflected into the atmosphere that can extend to great distances (University of Exeter)

Researchers found less than a third of the world’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) have completely pristine night skies, and more than half lie entirely under artificially bright skies.

Night-time light has been shown to have wide-ranging effects on individual species and entire ecosystems.

The study focussed on “skyglow” – light scattered and reflected into the atmosphere that can extend to great distances

“These results are troubling because we know many species can respond even to small changes in night-time light,” said lead author Dr Jo Garrett, of the University of Exeter. “Night-time lighting is known to affect microbes, plants and many groups of animals such crustaceans, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. It has an enormous range of effects, including causing trees to produce leaves earlier in the season and birds to sing earlier in the day, changing the proportion of predators in animal communities, and changing the cycling of carbon in ecosystems. Some effects can occur at very low light levels.”

KBAs are places identified by the KBA Partnership as being important for preserving global biodiversity, and the new study uses a recent atlas of skyglow to see how KBAs are affected.

“Pristine” skies were defined as those with artificial light no more than 1% above the natural level.

At 8% or more above natural conditions, light pollution extends from the horizon to the zenith (straight upwards) and the entire sky can be considered polluted.

Read the paper (open access): Garrett, J. K., Donald, P. F. & Gaston, K. J. Skyglow extends into the world's Key Biodiversity Areas. Animal Conservation. DOI: 10.1111/acv.12480

 

Strengthened protection for Essex and Suffolk countryside – Natural England

Natural England outlines proposals to extend Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Looking north across the Stour from Copperas Woods (Natural England)Looking north across the Stour from Copperas Woods (Natural England)

  • Proposals to extend Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • Parts of Essex to be recognised for its natural beauty for the first time
  • Public invited to have a say on new protections

Parts of Essex and new parts of Suffolk could be recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for the first time under plans outlined today (Tuesday 12 February).

Natural England has put forward proposals to extend the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB, the first extension since it was designated in 1970.

The move would see approximately 15 square miles brought within the protected area, including the Stour Estuary, Samford Valley and Freston Brook Valley, increasing the AONB by nearly 10% - a size equivalent to 3,800 international rugby pitches.

The UK’s 46 AONBs represent some of country’s finest countryside, spanning from Cornwall to the North Pennines, offering a wealth of opportunities for both people and wildlife to benefit from the countryside.

 

Grazing in the New Forest – New Forest National Park Authority

TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham has called for fewer animals to be allowed to roam the New Forest and claims that overgrazing is destroying it.

New Forest National Park Authority Chairman Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre said: ‘The animals are the architects of the Forest and this ancient system of commoning is guided by the Verderers, advised by Natural England, and working with the Forestry Commission as land manager. We work in partnership with these organisations to ensure the ancient practice and culture of commoning survives in the future. The farming subsidy schemes will be changing when we leave Europe and all these organisations are working together to design a new bespoke subsidy scheme specifically for the Forest, which pays for the good that the commoners do for the unique landscape and wildlife.’

A number of organisations we work with to care for the Forest have issued the following statements in relation to this debate. Read what our partners are saying below:

Verderers of the New Forest

Forestry Commission

Deputy Surveyor for the New Forest, Bruce Rothnie, at the Forestry Commission, said: ‘Those who work every day within the New Forest and observe its cycles of management know that its condition is best judged over decades of time and not year by year.  Its diversity of plants and animals comes from traditional practices that have been continuing for hundreds of years including the grazing by animals and burning of heathland.  Without the New Forest’s unique grazing system and land management we could not sustain the quality and nature of the landscape we all enjoy today.'

 

Butterfly monitoring project will enable improvements to Europe’s environment – Butterfly Conservation

A major new EU Pilot Project will monitor population trends of butterflies to assess the health of the environment and to inform EU biodiversity Image: Butterfly Conservationand agricultural policies.

Image: Butterfly Conservation

Butterfly populations are highly sensitive to environmental change, providing an early warning of impacts on ecosystems. The new study of population trends in different habitats across Europe will assess biodiversity loss and the impact of climate change and land use intensification.

The project, ABLE (Assessing ButterfLies in Europe), is a partnership between Butterfly Conservation Europe, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UK), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (Germany), Dutch Butterfly Conservation (The Netherlands) and Butterfly Conservation (UK). The team will work with partners across the EU. It is being funded by the EU for an initial period of two years.

Butterflies are already regularly monitored with the help of thousands of volunteers in 11 EU countries. The new project will build on the data collected by these existing networks and expand monitoring to cover at least eight additional EU countries, focusing on those in southern and eastern Europe. This will provide more representative trends across Europe from which to assess the health of the environment and inform EU policies, including the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 and the Common Agricultural Policy. The data will also contribute to the assessment of the health of Europe’s pollinators as part of the EU Pollinator Initiative.

 

Batty trade-offs between survival and reproduction – WildCRU

There’s no such thing as a free lunch which, as David Macdonald reports, is a punishing truth for mammals, and especially for small ones. 

© Denise Foster© Denise Foster

Survival and reproduction are worthy goals in the evolutionary race, but both require energy, and in deference to the laws of physics, the smaller you are, the greater the handicap of heavy fuel-consumption in that race. That’s why the WildCRU, blessed with a 12 year data set thanks to the extraordinary efforts of Dr Dani Linton, thought to ask two species of bat, both resident in Wytham Woods, how they dealt with their fuel bills. Their answers are published in Journal of Animal Ecology.

The idea of living fast sounds appealing until you consider the flip side of dying young. There are choices to be made and in principle, there is inevitably a trade-off between the present and the future: the investment of energy into current reproduction can reduce chances of survival and / or the success of future reproduction. Such costs of reproduction are often more pronounced in immature animals that are relatively inexperienced in acquiring resources, and so sometimes they opt to delay reproduction if they have the luxury of a potentially long lifespan.

Access the paper: Culina, A., Linton, D. M., Pradel, R, Bouwhuis, S. & Macdonald, D. W. (Open access) Live fast, don't die young: survival reproduction trade-offs in long-lived income breeders. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12957

 

New scheme could make developers help reverse wildlife declines - The Wildlife Trusts

The Wildlife Trusts call for all new developments to contribute to a Nature Recovery Network

The Government consultation into a new legal requirement which could make developers actively improve nature closed at the weekend. It is an attempt to help wildlife recover following the severe decline of over half our wild species in the last 50 years.

The new approach, known as ‘net gain,’ would ensure wildlife gets a better deal from new developments.  It would mean that developers not only compensate and mitigate for any damage caused to the natural world, they would have to measurably add to it and improve it – by creating additional new nature-friendly spaces that enable bees, butterflies, and birds to recover and thrive.

 

The world's insect populations are plummeting everywhere we look - Natural History Museum

The number of insects is falling at such a perilous rate that if nothing is done to halt the decline, our own future could be at risk.

This is the conclusion published in a new paper in the journal Biological Conservation.

The review looked at 75 different studies covering a range of insect groups from around the globe, and the results are startling.

It has revealed that over 40% of all insects are declining, and a third are endangered. The data suggests that the rate of decline is at least 2.5% per year. According to the researchers' analysis, a quarter of insects could be wiped out within just a decade - although with so few insects populations having been studied, exact figures are hard to come by.

Specialist insects, while perhaps more sensitive to change, are not necessarily those most at risk. According to the study, all groups are on the decline, even common and generalist species which are often thought of as being more resistant to such disturbances.

Dr Gavin Broad, Principal Curator in Charge of Insects at the Museum, says, 'In a way it is logically inevitable that we are seeing these declines, as the habitats now remaining are so small and so fragmented compared to a century ago. There is just not the space for insects to live anymore.'

Read the paper: Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, Kris A.G. Wyckhuys, Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological Conservation

 

High number of farmland birds spotted on Welsh farm - Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

Farmer and conservationist Terry Mills hosted a bird count at his farm in Cruglas, near Swyddffynon in Ceredigion to mark the start of this year’s Big Farmland Bird Count (BFBC).

As well as providing valuable information on wildlife in the Welsh countryside, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust-led count highlights farmers’ fantastic efforts to reverse the decline in farmland birds.

Cruglas boasted an impressive 30 species on the day, including several in serious decline such as starling, house sparrow, redwing and fieldfare, a tribute to the effort Terry Mills has put into improving habitat on his farm.

Wales advisor Matt Goodall said: “We want to encourage all farmers in Wales to spend 30 minutes bird-spotting on their farms this week. It’s easy to do, simply jot down any birds you see and submit the count by post or online at www.bfbc.org.uk. Cruglas is a wonderful example of how, with a mix of tree planting, fencing and pond digging and supplementary feeding, the wildlife will return.”

This year, the count is sponsored for the first time by NFU Cymru and aims, in part, to identify what support farmers need to help provide food and habitat for wildlife on their farms.

  

University of Sussex rallies to rescue rare butterfly - University of Sussex

A Life Sciences technician at the University of Sussex led efforts to successfully save the eggs of an elusive butterfly species before a disease-stricken Elm tree was felled on campus.

© Peter EelesCrispin Holloway worked with a team of volunteers and experts from the Sussex Branch of Butterfly Conservation and Brighton and Hove arborist, Alister Peters to search for and save the eggs of the White-letter Hairstreak from branches as they were cut and removed.

© Peter Eeles

The eggs found (which look like miniature 1950s UFOs) will be kept so the caterpillars can be reared in captivity or transferred to a healthy Elm tree elsewhere on campus, helping to save the local population of this rare butterfly.

Although rearing the species in captivity is difficult, it would provide the eggs with protection from predators and allow researchers a rare chance to monitor the early stages of the butterfly’s life cycle.

Crispin Holloway, who is a volunteer for the UK charity Butterfly Conservation and runs butterfly surveys on campus, said: “This rescue project was a valuable exercise to confirm if the butterflies are breeding on campus grounds and gives us even more reason to look after the existing Elm trees and the butterfly population.

“The planting of disease-resistant Elm trees on campus will be important but it may take several years before these are mature enough to produce blooms and seed which the caterpillars of the butterfly will prefer to feed on.

“Future butterfly and egg surveys on the university grounds will help us learn more about this butterfly and how to help it.”  

 

Edinburgh primary school children receive award for citizen science - British Trust for Ornithology

Pupils at Broughton Primary School have been recognized by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and EDF Energy for their contribution to What’s Under Your Feet?, a national citizen science project.
BBC Winterwatch presenter Chris Packham visited the school in Edinburgh to thank the pupils for their work on What’s Under Your Feet?, a unique citizen science project to understand how climate affects the number of invertebrates in the soil. The children took part in the What’s Under Your Feet? project, digging up a small part of the school playing field and identifying and counting any invertebrates they found, with the aim of helping scientists at the BTO understand more about these incredibly important creatures.
Hundreds of schools across Britain have taken part in the project and have provided a huge amount of information about the numbers of invertebrates that live under our feet, such as earthworms, beetle grubs and ants, and how they vary through the year, and with the weather and climate.
Already this project has shown how the numbers of earthworms in the surface of the soil declines during the summer, and is linked to rainfall, potentially affecting the ability of birds that feed on them to find food. This work is now helping BTO scientists investigate whether there is a link between the abundance of these soil invertebrates, and declines in some of our bird populations.

New study to predict and monitor the response of forests to drought and temperature change. - Forest Research

The ForeSight project will anticipate how forests will be adversely impacted as the climate warms and becomes more extreme, hampering tree growth, and causing dieback and mortality.

Professor Alistair Jump, of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Stirling, will lead the study, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and involving colleagues at Forest Research, Durham University, the Technische Universität Dresden and the Technical University of Munich. Forest Research’s role is to integrate their web-based Ecological Site Classification decision support system into the work.

“More intense drought and increased temperatures reduce tree growth and drive tree dieback and mortality across the globe,” explained Professor Jump. “While this problem has been recognised for some time, the processes and geographical extent of forest growth reduction and die-off are not well understood. “Predicting the response of Europe’s forests to drought and temperature change is a key challenge because forests have enormous economic and ecological benefits that will be impacted as climate warms and becomes more extreme. This new funding will allow us to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to address these issues by predicting and monitoring drought-linked forest growth decline across the continent.”  Professor Jump added: “This work will contribute major new scientific insights into forest growth reduction and die-off in response to drought, with substantial benefits for improving our understanding of impacts on our ecosystems and atmosphere.”

 

Bringing rural policy into the mainstream - Scottish Government 

Delivering rural commitments.

A new group tasked with bringing the rural economy to the forefront of policy making has been announced.

The new Rural Economy Action Group will guide how Scottish Ministers drive forward recommendations of a recent report by the National Council of Rural Advisers (NCRA).

These recommendations include ensuring rural policy is embedded in all decision making and ensuring national economic plans and industry-led strategies are joined up and promote the rural economy.

Announcing the chair of the Group while visiting Great British Bake Off 2015 star Flora Shedden’s Aran Bakery in Dunkeld, Rural Economy Secretary said: “As we edge ever closer to leaving the EU at the end of March and the risk of leaving with no deal in place growing, there has never been a more important time to ensure that our rural economy is mainstreamed into everything we do. That is why, having listened to the National Council of Rural Advisers, I am delighted to announce that Carol Tannahill has agreed to chair the new Rural Economy Action Group, which will immediately seek to guide how Scottish Ministers drive forward the Council’s recommendations to grow a vibrant, sustainable and inclusive rural economy. Scotland’s rural economy is bursting with talent and potential. By ensuring effective mainstreaming of rural policy into all of our policy thinking and delivery, I am determined to ensure that our rural economy becomes the driving force behind, not just our national brand, but also our national prosperity.”

Download the National Council for Rural Advisers final report: A new blueprint for Scotland’s rural economy

 

Partnership tree planting in Nottinghamshire - Environment Agency

Staff from the Environment Agency and Trent Rivers Trust have been showing their love of nature this Valentine’s Day, helping plant over 1,700 trees on farmland.

A BBC cameraman captures the tree-planting in fields near Lambley and Lowdham (image: Environment Agency)A BBC cameraman captures the tree-planting in fields near Lambley and Lowdham (image: Environment Agency)

The green-fingered team has been spending the day planting native trees in fields near Lambley and Lowdham to support a £1million Natural Flood Management (NFM) scheme. The project aims to use a mixture of oak, alder, cherry and hawthorn trees to naturally slow the flow of surface water in times of flood, reducing the amount of water entering the Cocker Beck.

Today’s activities are just part of a £15million national NFM programme which, in addition to reducing flood risk and enhancing the environment, aims to contribute to the growing evidence base for NFM as a tool to reduce flood risk. Work on the ground started in November 2018 and will continue across 15 sites upstream of Lowdham. Measures include constructing ‘leaky’ wooden barriers to help reduce the amount of water that enters the Cocker Beck. The barriers slow and store water within the existing ditch network, reducing the rate it travels to the downstream communities. They will also help to trap sediment to improve water quality downstream.

 

Scientific Publications 

Angelier, F. & Brischoux, F. Are house sparrow populations limited by the lack of cavities in urbanized landscapes? An experimental test. Journal of Avian Biology DOI: 10.1111/jav.02009

 

Marques, A. T., Santos, C. D., Hanssen, F. , Muñoz, A. , Onrubia, A. , Wikelski, M. , Moreira, F. , Palmeirim, J. M. and Silva, J. P. (2019), Wind turbines cause functional habitat loss for migratory soaring birds. J Anim Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12961 

 

María V. Laitano, Nicolás M. Chiaradia, Jesús D. Nuñez, Clam population dynamics as an indicator of beach urbanization impacts, Ecological Indicators, Volume 101, 2019, Pages 926-932, ISSN 1470-160X, doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2019.02.006.

 

Cao Y, Hawkins CP. Weighting effective number of species measures by abundance weakens detection of diversity responses. J Appl Ecol. 2019;00:1–10. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13345 (open access)

 

Erica Henry, Elizabeth Brammer-Robbins, Erik Aschehoug, Nick Haddad, Do substitute species help or hinder endangered species management?, Biological Conservation, Volume 232, 2019, Pages 127-130, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.01.031.

 

And finally:

Winner revealed in breath-taking photo competition to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of National Parks - Campaign for Parks and UK National Parks 

The UK National Parks and Campaign for National Parks are delighted to announce the winner, runners up and shortlist for our joint photography competition to celebrate the 70th anniversary of National Parks in the UK.

Around the theme of a ‘Moment in time’, this competition is 70 years since the 1949 Act of Parliament that began the family of National Parks in the UK, that today includes beloved landscapes such as the Peak District, Brecon Beacons and Loch Lomond.

The winning shot, from graphic designer Kieran Metcalfe, depicts a tolkein-esque landscape in the Peak District National Park. Kieran said: “I was thrilled to hear the image had been shortlisted, but I’m completely bowled over at it being selected by the judges as the overall winner. It’s a real encouragement for me as a landscape photographer that they felt the image captured something of the spirit of the UK’s National Parks, especially for the 70th anniversary.” 

   

 

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