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


Cranborne Chase AONB becomes an International Dark Sky Reserve

Cranborne Chase becomes the first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the country to be designated in its entirety as an International Dark-Sky Reserve

Chasing Stars logo: Cranborne Chase AONB Dark Skies ReserveCranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), one of the UK’s finest landscapes, has today (18th October 2019) been formally designated an International Dark-Sky Reserve (IDSR) by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) based in Tucson, USA.

Cranborne Chase AONB becomes the 14th Reserve across the globe, and joins an exclusive club of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Areas to gain international recognition for its dark skies.

“Some people are lucky enough to recognise ‘the Plough’, but for others, seeing stars and their constellations is often impossible because of light pollution. Here in Cranborne Chase we can see the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, if the clouds allow!” said Linda Nunn, Director of Cranborne Chase AONB.

Adam Dalton, International Dark-Sky Places Program Manager at the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), said: “Cranborne Chase has the largest central area of darkness of any International Dark-Sky Reserve in the UK. It is a huge area of land at almost 1000 sq kms, and less than 2 hours from London and Bristol. For those living and visiting this beautiful area, this is something to be celebrated and enjoyed.” 


Citizen scientists help Rewilding Europe analyse camera trap photos - Rewilding Europe

Wildlife enthusiasts can now contribute to rewilding efforts wherever they are. ZSL’s (Zoological Society of London) groundbreaking ‘Instant Wild’ platform allows everyone to collectively identify animals in camera trap photos. A research partnership with Rewilding Europe has already seen a wide range of species tagged in imagery from the Central Apennines rewilding area.

What do wolves and wild boar, pine marten and porcupine all have in common? Yes, they are all animals found in the Central Apennines rewilding area. But more than this, they have all recently been spotted in camera trap photos from the area by netizens using ZSL’s free and pioneering Instant Wild platform and app.

The pilot collaboration between ZSL and Rewilding Europe has seen camera trap imagery from the Central Apennines rewilding area fed into Instant Wild since August. The initiative may soon be scaled up to include imagery from other Rewilding Europe areas.

“With camera trap photos and videos from locations around the world posted online, Instant Wild lets citizen scientists take part in vital global conservation work,” says Kate Moses, a project manager with ZSL’s Conservation Technology Programme. “We’re really excited to be working with Rewilding Europe and seeing Instant Wild advance the cause of rewilding.”

Open collaboration: Every day tens of thousands of photos are generated by camera traps, but it takes far longer to study each of these images and correctly identify any wildlife that may be present. Such cameras are widely employed across Rewilding Europe’s rewilding areas, which means many of our partner foundations have significant backlogs of photos that need processing.

Instant Wild features a feed of imagery uploaded from participating conservation projects around the world

When we checked today the Featured Project was: Thames Estuary. Help conservation scientists to understand how seals use a popular haul-out site in the Thames Estuary.

Get involved here.

Cover of the Bat Crime Report 2018 

Bat Crime Report released - Bat Conservation Trust

On Friday Bat Conservation Trust launched Bat Crime 2018 – our annual report on levels of bat crime recorded, investigated and sometimes prosecuted. 2018 saw the smallest number of allegations of offences against bats being recorded for some years and a significant decrease in the number recorded in 2017. The reasons for this are far from clear, the number of cases in 2019 already surpass the 2018 figures.

Our report looks at why bats are protected and how the police and others deal with allegations of offences. It reveals which police forces deal with the greatest number of allegations and also provides analysis of the information we hold. We look at how each case is investigated and explain the various ways in which they are finalised.

Download the bat crime report 2018 here  


‘Rice breast’ in wildfowl increasingly prevalent, new research finds - British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) 

Peer-reviewed research coming from a joint British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) survey, has found the wildfowl disease sarcocystosis is both more prevalent and more widely distributed than previously thought.

Sarcocystosis, otherwise known as ‘rice breast’ because of how the disease appears in the breast of the birds, is a parasitic disease that infects the muscle of wildfowl and can cause weakness, potentially impacting survival rates and reproductive success.  Prevalence of the disease was recorded in several ways including surveys of wildfowlers who recorded the disease impacting ten different species, with mallard, wigeon and teal seemingly being the most affected.

Based on samples also provided by shooters, the authors were able to confirm that the disease was the parasite Sarcocystis rileyi. This parasite is relatively common in America where it passes between skunks and ducks. In Europe the assumption is that foxes and introduced raccoon dogs play the host role.

Dr. Matt Ellis, head of science at BASC and co-author of the paper, said: “This vital piece of work highlights an emerging issue to European wildfowl. As little is known of the health and fitness impacts of wildfowl who contract this parasite, this paper provides a useful baseline for further research."

The paper ‘Sarcocystis rileyi in UK free-living wildfowl (Anatidae): surveillance, histopathology and first molecular characterisation’ which represents a collaboration between BASC, WWT, Royal Veterinary College and Liverpool University, has been published in the Veterinary Record journal and is available here.

Any sightings of rice breast should be reported here.

UK wetlands get a health check - BTO

Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) Alerts, published today, highlight how well protected wetland sites in Great Britain and Northern Ireland are working for wintering waterbirds in the short-, medium- and long-term.

Wetland by Anne CottonWetland by Anne Cotton

Many of the UK’s wetlands are given protected status as a result of the number of ducks, geese, swans and waders that use these sites during the winter months. The WeBS Alerts system provides a method for identifying protected sites with notable changes in these numbers. The Medium and High Alerts provide evidence for notable declines, flagging-up issues that may require further investigation.
To trigger a Medium Alert a species must show a decline of at least 25%, whilst a High Alert is triggered by a decline of 50% or more in either the short-term (5 year) period, the medium-term (10 year) period, or the long-term (25 year) period.
WeBS Alerts assessed change for 471 site-species populations on 82 Special Protection Areas (SPAs) of international importance. Long-term High Alerts were triggered for 118 of these and Medium Alerts for a further 110. This means there is evidence of long-term declines of 25% or more for almost half of the featured species on our most important wetlands. In the previous health check six years ago, just a third of the featured species were flagged with long-term alerts. 

Some of these declines are because of large-scale changes in global waterbird distributions due to climate change. Others may be due to problems at the site itself.
Several declining ducks and waders such as Scaup, Goldeneye and Purple Sandpiper are becoming increasingly reliant on the SPAs designed to protect them. One species, the Pochard, Red listed under the UK Birds of Conservation Concern and IUCN Global Red List, clearly demonstrates the immense value of these protected areas. Whilst overall winter numbers in the UK are half what they used to be, numbers at protected sites have declined at a comparatively slower rate, so that protected sites now hold up to 40% of the British wintering Pochard population, compared to just 15% in the 1970s and 1980s. Almost no Pochard now occur in Northern Ireland outside the protected areas.To view the full report, please visit: www.bto.org/webs-alerts


No place like home: species are on the move, but many have nowhere to go - University of York

Many insects moving north in response to climate change find they have nowhere to go in Britain’s intensively managed landscapes, according to new research.

The Bog Bush Cricket is highly specialised and has been slow to expand its range. Photo by Gilles San Martin. Since the 1970s, insects in the warmer half of Britain have been flying, hopping and crawling northwards at an average rate of around five metres per day. Landscapes that were once too cold for them have been warming up, allowing many species to expand their ranges.

The Bog Bush Cricket is highly specialised and has been slow to expand its range.

Photo by Gilles San Martin.

However, the new study, led by researchers at the University of York, suggests that expansion rates have been limited by insufficient habitat in the areas that are becoming climatically suitable.

Limited by habitat

The study analysed 25 million recorded sightings of 300 different insect species and found there is huge variation in the rates at which they are moving and that not all species are able to keep pace with the warming conditions.

Scientists and conservationists have always assumed that species’ responses to climate change would be limited by habitat, but this is the first study to measure and quantify the effect across a large and diverse set of species.

Read the paper: Philip J. Platts, Suzanna C. Mason, Georgina Palmer, Jane K. Hill, Tom H. Oliver, Gary D. Powney, Richard Fox & Chris D. Thomas Habitat availability explains variation in climate-driven range shifts across multiple taxonomic groups, Scientific Reports, 10.1038/s41598-019-51582-2


Widespread drying of European peatlands in recent centuries - University of Exeter

Many of Europe’s peatlands are currently the driest they have been in the last 1,000 years, new research shows.

Scientists examined 31 peatlands across Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia and continental Europe to assess changes in peatland surface wetness over the last 2,000 years.

(image: Stephen Barclay)They found that nearly half of the study sites are now the driest they have been for a millennium.

(image: Stephen Barclay)

While changes to temperature and rainfall have significantly contributed to peatland drying, 42 percent of the sites had been significantly damaged by human activities.

The peatland sites in Britain and Ireland had the most extensive degradation compared to the other sites, with cutting, drainage, burning and grazing all contributing to peatland drying.

“Peatlands that are ‘healthy’ have an exceptional potential for the capture and storage of carbon from the atmosphere, and are one of Earth’s most important carbon sinks,” said Dr Thomas Roland, of the University of Exeter. “However, our study found that many European peatlands have been drying out over the last 300 years, most likely in response to climate change and human impacts, like draining, cutting and burning. This may transform these ecosystems from sinks to sources in the global carbon cycle, highlighting a vital need to protect, conserve and restore our peatlands.”

Study lead author Dr Graeme Swindles, from the University of Leeds, said: “Our study sites include some of the least damaged peatlands in Europe, but it is clear that almost all European peatlands have been affected by human activities to some extent.


Scientific Publication

Hilbers, J. P., Huijbregts, M. A. and Schipper, A. M. (2019), Predicting reintroduction costs for wildlife populations under anthropogenic stress. J Appl Ecol. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.13523


N.M. McHugh, B.L. Bown, J.A. Hemsley, J.M. Holland, Relationships between agri-environment scheme habitat characteristics and insectivorous bats on arable farmland, Basic and Applied Ecology, Volume 40, 2019, doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2019.09.002.


Daniel W. Montgomery, Stephen D. Simpson, Georg H. Engelhard, Silvana N. R. Birchenough & Rod W. Wilson Rising CO2 enhances hypoxia tolerance in a marine fish, Scientific Reports, 1038/s41598-019-51572-4


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