CJS News, Headlines from week beginning 6 February 2023

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

Sussex researchers find pesticide use is linked to garden bird decline - University of Sussex

Pesticide use by British gardeners is playing a significant role in the declining populations of our songbirds, as shown by the first study of its kind, published in ​​Science Of The Total Environment. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex, shows that gardeners who use pesticides can expect to see fewer birds. This is especially true of house sparrows, whose numbers were 25 percent lower in gardens where commonly-available glyphosate was used (known by their brand names such as Roundup or Gallup). However, the research confirms positive news that providing bird-friendly habitats in gardens increased the number of species recorded, and the abundance of individual species.

The study, supported by charity, SongBird Survival, drew on data gathered by the British Trust for Ornithology which organises Garden BirdWatch – a citizen science garden bird recording scheme. It examined information on pesticide use and garden management from 615 garden owners. The owners recorded which brands or products they used, revealing that 32 percent of gardens used pesticides, and that glyphosate-based herbicides made up over half of those applications (53 percent). In gardens where metaldehyde slug pellets were used, house sparrow numbers were down by almost 40 percent.

Professor of Biology at the University of Sussex, Prof Dave Goulson, known for his work on bee ecology and insect-friendly gardening, supervised the research.

Professor Goulson of the School of Life Sciences, at the University of Sussex explains: “The UK has 22 million gardens, which collectively could be a fantastic refuge for wildlife, but not if they are overly tidy and sprayed with poisons. We just don’t need pesticides in our gardens. Many towns around the world are now pesticide free. We should simply ban use of these poisons in urban areas, following the example of France.”

£200 million to improve walking and cycling routes and boost local economies - Department for Transport

New fund to help local authorities make improvements that enable more people to choose active travel.

  • millions of people in England will benefit from improved walking, wheeling and cycling routes thanks to a £200 million government fund
  • funding will improve crossings and junctions to increase safety, in consultation with local residents and businesses
  • investment in active travel will grow the economy by improving transport links, boosting high streets and creating skilled jobs

Schools, high streets and main roads will benefit from improved crossings and junctions to support walking and cycling, reduce emissions and boost local economies, thanks to a £200 million fund announced today (6 February 2023).

Active Travel England is today inviting local authorities in England to apply for funding to make improvements to enable people to choose active travel, which can help them save money and stay healthy. Schemes could include:

  • creating more paths in rural areas
  • developing safer routes for children to walk to school
  • improved safety at junctions for people walking and cycling

Funding will also be used to support people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters by making street designs more inclusive.

In response:

‘Funding must be delivered where it is needed most’ - LGA responds to walking and cycling routes fund

"Transport is the biggest source of carbon emissions in the UK and thousands of people are prematurely killed every year from traffic related pollution. As a country, we can’t meet our climate change targets and clean our toxic air without increasing levels of walking and cycling within our local communities."

Additional chances to gain training in the sector is great news

Fancy a career change? Free practical forestry training courses made available - Forestry Commission

Courses will help grow our skilled domestic forestry sector, which is worth over £2 billion to UK economy, and deliver Government tree planting and net zero ambitions.

Courses funded by government teaching skills like chainsaw maintenance, coppicing, woodland management, and marketing and selling timber are available from today.

The Forestry Training Fund is for people considering a change of career or those who are seeking to build and diversify their skills in forestry. The UK forestry and primary wood processing sectors support 32,000 jobs and contribute £2 billion to the economy every year, whilst secondary wood processing businesses support a further 60,000 jobs.

The government has committed to increasing tree-planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares a year by the end of the Parliament to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The short, practical training courses will be paid for a by £700,000 allocation from the £750m Nature for Climate Fund and will help grow the forestry sector so that we have enough people with the right skills to plan, plant and manage new woodlands.

Examples of courses which are covered by the fund include:

  • coppicing
  • chainsaw maintenance and cross-cutting
  • managing your woodland
  • planning and planting a new woodland
  • marketing and selling timber
  • fence and hedge laying

Improvements made to the Tree Health Pilot following a successful first year - Defra

Innovative pilot provides grants, guidance and advice to reduce the impacts of tree pests and diseases and build the resilience of England’s trees, woodlands and forests

The Tree Health Pilot is today (Tuesday 7 February) being updated to improve the support available to farmers and land managers dealing with tree pest and disease issues.

The innovative Pilot, running between 2021 and 2024, provides land managers with grants, guidance and advice to reduce the impacts of tree pests and diseases and build the resilience of England’s trees, woodlands and forests ahead of the roll-out of a future nationwide Tree Health Scheme. The Pilot is currently available in London, the South East, the North West and the West Midlands.

Following a successful first year, in which more than 80 expressions of interest were received, Defra has worked with the Forestry Commission to evaluate user feedback and make several key changes to the scheme. These include simplifying the payments process, introducing higher payment rates, implementing a new advice package, and improving guidance.

In line with changes being made across the Countryside Stewardship and the England Woodland Creation Offer schemes, payment rates for standard capital cost items - which are one-off projects such as installing deer fencing and tree shelters – are increasing. Maintenance rates, which help ensure newly planted trees are growing healthily, will increase from £300 to £350 per hectare per year for trees planted in woodland. And to help cover coordination costs for group applications, the fee paid to the group facilitator will rise to £24 per hour.

Today’s announcement follows the publication of the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan, which committed to the publication of a revised Tree Health Resilience Strategy to improve the baseline diversity, health and condition of our trees, woods and forests, and drive the long-term changes needed to adapt to climate change and disease pressures such as ash dieback.

Chief Plant Health Officer Nicola Spence said: “This Pilot supports land managers to deal quickly and effectively with tree health issues. By funding innovative methods to fell and restock diseased trees, for instance, using skylines or horse loggers to reach larch trees in remote areas, and encouraging group collaboration to deal more efficiently with roadside ash – it ensures a comprehensive and targeted approach to better protecting our trees.”

New report reveals that HS2 Ltd got its nature figures wrong - The Wildlife Trusts

UK Government must require re-evaluation of nature loss and compensation say The Wildlife Trusts

A new evidence report, ‘HS2 double jeopardy: how the UK’s largest infrastructure project undervalued nature and overvalued its compensation measures’ reveals fundamental flaws in the way HS2 Ltd has assessed the value of nature along the construction path of HS2.

It finds that HS2 Ltd has hugely undervalued natural habitats and the wildlife that is being destroyed by the construction along the route – while simultaneously overvaluing the impact of its nature compensation measures.

For example, Phase 1 which covers 140 miles of track between London and the West Midlands, will cause at least 7.9 times more nature loss than accounted for by HS2 Ltd. The new analysis finds that HS2 Ltd has hugely undervalued wild places being destroyed along the route – while simultaneously overvaluing the impact of its nature compensation measures.

The evidence report is a review of the No Net Loss* data for HS2 Phases 1 and 2a and was commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts. It reveals:

  • Across Phase 1 of HS2 (2021 scheme): at least 7.9 times more biodiversity loss than that calculated by HS2 Ltd
  • Across Phase 2a of HS2: at least 3.6 times more biodiversity loss than that calculated by HS2 Ltd

HS2 Ltd promised that nature would not lose out when much-loved natural areas and important habitats were destroyed to make way for construction of the high-speed rail line. It made a commitment to No Net Loss of biodiversity for replaceable habitats along Phase 1 and 2a of the route, and a net gain for biodiversity along Phase 2b.

Compensating for nature losses relies on accurate baseline assessments of the value of wildlife habitats along the route – for example, by looking to see how species-rich the grasslands are or how diverse woodlands are in terms of the mix of native tree species and complexity of woodland structure, the quality of the understorey and woodland plants.

Discovery by wildlife watcher in Ashford described as ‘exciting and significant’ by conservation charity - Kent Wildlife Trust

Image: Ian Rickards – Beaver signs Conningbrook
Image: Ian Rickards – Beaver signs Conningbrook

An eagle-eyed wildlife watcher captured a video of a beaver on the river at Conningbrook Lakes Country Park, Ashford.

This is the first time a wild beaver has been spotted in the area, known to live on the River Stour, some of the Little Stour, and at Ham Fen nature reserve between Sandwich and Deal.

The rare sighting has sparked hopes that a beaver colony may have formed in the Ashford Country Park. A follow-up visit by Kent Wildlife Trust and the Environment Agency, confirmed there is evidence of wild beavers in the area. This has been labeled a ‘significant’ and ‘exciting’ find by experts.

Kent Wildlife Trust’s Amy Fitzmaurice said: ‘This is a hugely significant and exciting discovery and the first documented case of a wild beaver in the Ashford area. It is incredibly hard to see beavers in the wild as they tend to be nocturnal, but on this occasion a wildlife watcher was able to not only see the animal, but film it too.’

‘On receipt of the footage we set up a site visit and there is clear evidence of beavers in the area with chewed sticks and branches laying around, footprints in soft mud and bark peeled from tree stumps.’

‘Kent Wildlife Trust is a member of the East Kent Beaver Advisory Group (EKBAG) and this discovery will now form part of the Kent Beaver survey, commissioned by Natural England and delivered by us and the Beaver Trust.’

Beavers are a keystone species and manage habitats in a unique way. They build dams which act as a natural filter, cleaning the water of silts and pollutants. The dams also create localised flooding in areas that are appropriate, away from urban areas, which creates a buffer which holds water and slows the flow.

Good news for dolphins

Success! Tidal turbine project that could harm dolphins is halted - Whale and Dolphin Conservation

Following years of campaign work to halt a tidal turbine development in Wales that could seriously injure porpoises and dolphins, we are delighted to report that the scheme has now been halted.

Nova Innovation, the company behind the turbine development has revealed that its Enlli Tidal Project will now be mothballed, a move that lifts the threat of significant impacts on a population of Risso’s dolphins, and harbour porpoises and their ability to feed, breed and raise their young in the sea off Bardsey Island.

In recent years, we have consistently lobbied Welsh MPs and called for the Crown Estate to remove the lease area as a site for development due to concerns about the threat to these marine mammals. Using this technology in such a sensitive site would be inappropriate.

‘Generally, we welcome the development of well-considered marine renewable energy, and any projects that help to mitigate climate change’, says WDC campaigner Vicki James. ‘But when we first heard of plans for a tidal development in Bardsey Sound we were alarmed that the location was directly in a designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC), and in the key feeding area and nursing ground for porpoises and dolphins.'

There is currently very little information about how whales and dolphins interact with tidal energy devices. What little exists gives a real cause for concern, including high encounter rates with turbines and collisions with rotating blades likely to cause direct injury, and in some cases death. Of equal concern is how these devices change the tidal flow and disrupt feeding patterns.

Back in 1999, WDC started research into the harbour porpoise and Risso’s dolphin populations off Bardsey, the small island in north Wales (Welsh: Ynys Enlli). The data we have collected over the years demonstrates how important this unique island is for the harbour porpoise and Risso’s dolphin, as well as short-beaked common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins.

We recognise the importance of trialling renewable energy solutions in the fight to combat climate change, but the importance of these porpoise and Risso’s populations for a healthy marine ecosystem and in fighting the climate and biodiversity crises are just starting to be understood

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