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CJS News, Headlines from week beginning 6 July 2020

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

Young farmers challenged to find net zero solutions in new competition - National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs

NFYFC is launching a new challenge, supported by Defra, to encourage positive climate change action by asking young farmers to share their solutions for reaching net zero emissions by 2040.

Working with industry partners, including the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Championing the Farmed Environment (CFE), the challenge puts YFC members and next generation farmers in charge of their future by becoming a climate change advocate for the industry and the UK.

The challenge involves sharing ideas or practical examples – that might already be in use – to help reach the NFU’s ambition of achieving net zero emissions by 2040. Judges aren’t looking for a final polished solution but want to hear thoughts on future mitigation methods for any farming and growing sectors or machinery development.

Topics to consider include on-farm applications for carbon capture and storing, auditing, energy efficiency and renewable on-farm energy.

So many people are already playing their part to help enhance the environment and tackle climate change. British agriculture plays a key role and it is hoped that young farmers can show how committed the industry is towards the changes needed.

NFYFC’s YFC AGRI Chairman George Baxter said: “By taking part in the video challenge, YFC members and next generation farmers can play an active part in helping to achieve the net zero ambition, share ideas and most importantly, have their voices heard in high places. I would encourage those entering to be creative, bold and brave. If you have ideas for the future that you’d like taking seriously, start filming and get ready to share. As we emerge from the current Covid-19 restrictions, you could be representing the voice of UK young farmers at home and internationally.”

Public urged to report whale and dolphin sightings in Hebrides - Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust

Basking Shark © HWDT
Basking Shark © HWDT

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is calling on members of the public to record their at-sea excursions and sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises and endangered basking sharks off Scotland’s west coast to boost monitoring efforts and strengthen understanding of the coronavirus lockdown’s impact on these animals.

With wildlife around the world reported to be taking advantage of reduced human activity, the Trust wants to discover more about what has been happening in Hebridean seas, which are globally important for cetaceans – the collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises – and basking sharks.

But the Trust’s ability to gather crucial scientific evidence for the effective conservation of these remarkable animals has been hit hard by the global Covid-19 pandemic – leaving it facing the biggest gap in its data collection for two decades.

The charity’s regular at-sea scientific research expeditions by scientists and volunteers onboard its specialised yacht, Silurian, are cancelled. There has also been an 80 percent decrease in reported sightings of cetaceans by members of the public compared to 2019.

With lockdown restrictions easing, the Trust is appealing to people living and working on the west coast to log their excursions, report sightings and submit photographs through its quick and easy-to-use Whale Track website at whaletrack.hwdt.org or free smartphone app, which works in the most remote areas of the Hebrides without network coverage or WiFi.

Boost for picturesque landscapes as Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty extended - Defra

Government gives green light for expansion of Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB.

The government has today (7 July) confirmed the expansion of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (SC&H AONB).

The move sees the AONB expand by around 38 square kilometres, taking in a rich tapestry of attractive river valleys, ancient woodland, reed beds, wildlife-rich estuaries, and windswept beaches. The area includes the Stour estuary – one of the most important wildlife estuaries in Europe and of international importance for wildfowl and waders.

The last time an AONB was extended was the nearby Dedham Vale in 1991. The new designation means that a greater area of nationally significant landscape will be managed to conserve and enhance its natural beauty.

The newly designated area will benefit from the AONB’s advice and guidance, as well as the funding which is made available to designated landscapes to deliver their statutory purpose. The area will also benefit from the greater focus on natural beauty in national planning policy to help protect and enhance its precious landscape.

The move will bring significant benefits to the local area, enabling local businesses and tourist sites to promote the area as an AONB and access relevant grants, including for sustainable tourism.

The announcement also marks a significant step in implementing the recommendations of the Landscapes Review - spearheaded by Julian Glover in 2019 – which called on the government to take bold action to make our national significant landscapes greener, more beautiful and open to everyone.

Defra Secretary of State, George Eustice MP, said: “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Parks are among the most treasured places in our great English countryside, and this landmark decision demonstrates our commitment to designating even more places for people and wildlife to enjoy.”

New report calls for ambitious pesticide reduction target - Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust

Credit: Andy Stevens
Credit: Andy Stevens

Nation of insect champions needed to reverse insect decline

Today The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report ‘Reversing the Decline of Insects’ which shows how people, in every part of society, wherever they live, can take action to bring back insects. Everyone, everywhere, is being asked to become an insect champion.

The report cites examples of farmers, communities, councils and charities that are boosting insect populations and proving that it can be done.

The report comes at a critical time for insects. There is ongoing evidence for insect declines and the future of insects – and all life that depends on them – hangs in the balance as trade deals threaten to increase the use of insect-harming pesticides. Furthermore, the Agriculture Bill is progressing through Parliament presenting a unique opportunity to ensure farmers pursue insect-friendly farming methods.

Today’s publication follows the ‘Insect declines and why they matter’ report, launched last year, which examined mounting evidence that insect populations are close to collapse and concluded that “the consequences are clear; if insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.”

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Government to reverse the decline of insects by:

  • Setting an ambitious pesticide reduction target, as good as, if not better than, the EU’s target to reduce by 50% the overall use of – and risk from – chemical pesticides by 2030
  • No weakening of UK pesticide standards through future trade deals
  • Support for farmers to adopt insect-friendly farming practices

Nature fund to tackle ‘most at risk and vulnerable’ species - Scottish Natural Heritage

(image: RSPB)
(image: RSPB)

Plans are underway to take urgent action to save more than 40 of Scotland’s most vulnerable coastal and island species, including the natterjack toad, Scottish primrose and little tern.

Species on the Edge, a bold and ambitious partnership project by Scottish Natural Heritage involving Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, The Bat Conservation Trust, Buglife, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife Scotland and RSPB Scotland will catalyse conservation action along Scotland’s coasts and islands.

Initial development of the project is estimated to cost £0.5 million and has been kick-started by a National Lottery Heritage Fund award of over £260,000, ensuring crucial work could go ahead.

In 2020 the project will combine expertise and resources to develop a four and a half year programme for seven project areas, from the Solway to Shetland, benefitting over 40 vulnerable species including vital pollinators like the great yellow bumble bee, rare Scottish moths such as the slender scotch burnet, wading birds such as lapwing and curlew and the ‘jewel of the north’, the Scottish primrose.

Working with some of Scotland’s most geographically remote and diverse communities, expert partners will develop plans based on best scientific knowledge and local expertise and experience to create opportunities for people and communities to provide a vital lifeline for some of our most nationally vulnerable and internationally important coast and island fauna and flora. The project will also explore use of the arts and new technology to encourage the involvement of communities, land managers, crofters and tourism operators.

Countryside holds key to tackling the climate emergency - CPRE

On the cusp of the government’s ‘mini-budget’ today, 8 July, CPRE is calling for a radical rethink of the role of the countryside in tackling the climate emergency

We believe that the Chancellor has an historic opportunity to tackle the climate emergency in the ‘mini budget’. We are calling for the countryside to be at the forefront of climate action so that rural communities do not bear the brunt of the climate emergency in our new report: ‘Greener, better, faster: countryside solutions to the climate emergency and for a green recovery’. The report sets out how the countryside can be at the centre of the transformation to a net-zero society, to make sure we tackle the climate emergency in a way that benefits people living and working in rural communities.

‘Greener, better, faster’ was launched at a virtual panel discussion with Rebecca Pow MP, Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Luke Pollard MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, Former Leader of the Green Party; and Freddie Northcott, youth climate activist in attendance.

‘Greener, better, faster’ sets out how the government can best achieve this with five key recommendations:

  • Farming: Introduce an action plan for the land use sector to rapidly re-wet and restore peatland, expand woodland and agroforestry, drive uptake of agroecological practices to boost soil health and drive down emissions from inefficient use of synthetic nutrients;
  • Hedgerows: Invest in the restoration and planting of England’s hedgerows, to achieve at least a 40% increase in their length by 2050;
  • Planning and building: Radically tighten up building regulations to ensure that new buildings meet zero carbon standards. Existing buildings should also meet zero carbon standards in terms of heat and space;
  • Energy: Invest in a new generation of renewables, including solar, wind and hydro that are strategically planned at the national, sub-regional and local levels. This should be done in a way that benefits the rural economy, forming a cornerstone of local enterprise and jobs; is supported by or owned by local communities; brings net benefits to wildlife; and minimises impacts on landscape, tranquillity and cultural heritage and;
  • Transport: Divert £27 billion planned road spend to a ring-fenced rural transport fund to support low carbon public transport services for rural communities that need to be better connected.

Reactions to the Chancellor’s mini budget announced today

National Trust reacts to Chancellor's mini budget on 8 July 2020 - National Trust

Patrick Begg, Outdoors and Natural Resources Director at the National Trust reacts to the Chancellor's mini-budget and plans for re-starting the UK economy.

“The Chancellor’s announcements fail to meet the scale of ambition needed to tackle the nature and climate crises. With the Prime Minister also proposing radical changes to the planning system, which safeguards heritage and nature, we question how they live up to Government promises about building back greener. Lockdown has reminded us how important nature and green space is to people – and how unequal access to it is. Our research shows a £5.5BN investment in green infrastructure is needed to tackle these inequalities and unlock huge economic benefits, so it is disappointing that this wasn’t reflected in today’s speech. The Green Recovery Challenge Fund is good news and means previously promised money for nature and climate will be available sooner. But £40 million represents only a fraction of the scale of the challenge we face in restoring nature across the country – conservation charities together recently highlighted the need for a £350M fund to ensure existing nature projects can go ahead. The £3 billion package for energy efficiency is a great first step to meeting the Government's manifesto commitments. However, with 22 per cent of England's housing stock built before 1919, a specific plan is needed for the rollout of appropriate measures for traditional and historic buildings.”

The Wildlife Trusts’ response to the Chancellor’s economic recovery package - The Wildlife Trusts

• Lost opportunity to create nature recovery jobs
• Government fails to invest in nature and natural solutions to the climate crisis

Today’s announcement by Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has disappointed hopes of a green recovery – his only reference was to energy efficiency in homes. The Wildlife Trusts recently published a report which highlighted the role that restoring nature can play in tackling the climate crisis, creating green jobs and benefitting people’s wellbeing. Nature is in sharp decline and restoring it can have multiple benefits.

Commenting on the Chancellor’s economic recovery announcement today, Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The money allocated in the Government’s recovery package to help restore nature falls embarrassingly short of what is needed tackle the twin emergencies we face – climate change and nature loss. While other countries are setting out bold green stimulus packages, the Government is investing just 0.15% in nature projects compared to the £27bn investment in destructive new road building schemes. “The Government’s own advisor on climate change has said investment in nature should be a priority as we seek to rebuild from the Covid-19 pandemic - offering a quick route to opportunities for highly-skilled employment, while improving people’s lives and tackling climate change. It’s clear that this advice has been largely ignored and that the recovery will come at nature’s expense. Proposals to rip up vital environmental protections in the planning system and repeated delays to the Environment Bill – once described by the Prime Minister as the “huge star” of the Government’s programme – means the Government is a long way off track in keeping its promise to build back greener. The Wildlife Trusts, alongside other environmental charities, have submitted over 300 ‘shovel-ready’ green recovery projects to Government. These could start immediately and would help protect vulnerable species and tackle climate change, and create thousands of jobs in the process. They’d also provide better access to nature communities and improve people’s lives. It’s time the Government committed a green recovery and properly invested in nature’s recovery to deliver it.”

Almost 2 million acres of GB grassland lost as woodland and urban areas expand - UK Centre of Ecology & Hydrology

A major loss of grassland and significant increases in urbanisation and woodland in Great Britain since 1990 have been revealed in a new scientific analysis of land cover changes across the country.

Using high-resolution satellite-derived data, the UK Centre of Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has calculated the overall net gains and losses in land cover over 25 years in Great Britain between 1990 and 2015. These show:

  • a net reduction in all types of grassland (both farm use and recreational areas) of 7,668 km2 or 1.9 million acres – greater than the size of Suffolk and Sussex combined
  • a net increase in woodland area of 5,236 km2 – almost the equivalent of the size of Norfolk – with the majority of this increase in Scotland
  • a net increase in urban areas of 3,376 km2 – an area almost the size of Cornwall – with the majority in England
  • a net reduction in arable farmland of 782 km2, with Scotland accounting for almost all this net loss. East Anglia also lost significant amounts of arable land, but there were increases elsewhere in England
  • 2,505km2 of grassland (about the size of Dorset) and 1,121 km2 of arable farmland (almost the size of Bedfordshire) were converted to urban use

Kent had the largest net rise in urban land cover in terms of geographical area (136km2) between 1990 and 2015, while Edinburgh had the largest percentage increase (6 per cent).

Argyll & Bute lost the largest amount of grassland (739 km2) in Great Britain and gained the largest area of woodland (662 km2). This was symptomatic of the significant differences between England and Scotland, which lost a similar total net area of grassland between 1990 and 2015. In England, grassland was largely replaced by urban development, while in Scotland, there was a massive expansion in woodland at the expense of grassland and also arable farmland, with much less urbanisation. In Wales, the picture was more balanced, with a similar increases in urban and woodland cover.

Fine words, but insufficient action – Audit judges EU’s efforts to halt insectinction as failing - Buglife

(image: Buglife)
(image: Buglife)

On Thursday 9 July 2020, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) will publish the Special Report “Protection of wild pollinators in the EU: Commission initiatives have not borne fruit”.

It is expected that despite the good intentions and fine words from the Commission the ECA will conclude that there has been insufficient progress on the key factors that are causing the decline of bees and other pollinators. In particular:

  • There has been a deadlock between EU institutions on making the pesticide approval process pollinator friendly, the process being stuck on first base with Member States blocking the protection even of wild bees, and the European Commission failing to push through regulations to bring the EU into compliance with its own laws, despite a motion from the European Parliament in October 2019 urging strong action. The secretive process for making pesticide decisions has already been described as “maladministration” by the European Ombudsman and is now subject to a legal challenge from French NGO Pollinis.
  • The Common Agricultural Policy has not committed sufficient resource or impetus to improve agricultural habitats and restore and reconnect high nature value grasslands.
  • The European Commission (EC) has failed to properly resource the Pollinator Initiative which depends on a single officer to coordinate the delivery of 31 EU wide actions.

There has been good work by the EC, for instance the publication of new guidance for local authorities and importantly the development of an EU wide pollinator monitoring scheme remains on track, but there has been slippage on several actions and some, such as the development of a pollinator friendly Ecolabel for plants, have been put on hold.

The recently published EU Biodiversity Strategy has committed the EU to reverse the decline in pollinators by 2030, but there is still no indication that the resources needed to achieve this, and other actions such as a 50% reduction in pesticide harm to bees, will materialise.

“The decline in bees and other insects across the EU is dreadful and must be rectified, while we welcome the target to reverse the declines in pollinators, the resources must now follow the words so that we restore the environment to state where the little animals can again thrive” Matt Shardlow CEO Buglife.

RSPB Scotland supports Crofters and Farmers to protect corncrakes -

RSPB Scotland is launching an ambitious £738k project to protect corncrakes with the help of a £375k grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The “Corncrake Calling” project aims to save one of Scotland’s rarest and most secretive birds.

Once widespread, older generations still remember the distinctive crex-crex song which rang out across UK meadows until corncrake populations fell dramatically with the intensification of farming. They are now confined to a few Scottish islands and a few isolated areas on the North West coast.

Corncrake Calling will work closely with farmers, local communities and national audiences to provide these iconic birds with the best possible chance of future success.

In the UK, the corncrake is red listed (the highest level of conservation concern). Their population fell catastrophically during the 1900s due to mechanisation and earlier mowing of grass crops. By the 1990s they bred only in the Hebrides, North West Highlands and Orkney in Scotland.

Action by the RSPB, other conservation charities and government resulted in a significant increase in the corncrake population between 1993 and 2007. It was a major success story for evidence-based conservation, for partnership working and for agri-environment measures promoting species conservation.

But the birds’ fortunes have declined more recently. The UK population fluctuated at just over 1000 calling males until 2017 when only 866 were recorded, a drop of 33% since 2014 and the lowest number since 2003. Numbers recovered slightly in 2018 with 899 males recorded but decreased again in 2019 to only 870 calling males.



Scientific Publications

Salinas, C. et al (2020) Seagrass losses since mid‐20th century fuelled CO2 emissions from soil carbon stocks. Global Change Biology (open access) DOI: 10.1111/gcb.15204


Marques, P.S. et al (2020) Urbanization can increase the invasive potential of alien species. Journal of Animal Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.13293


Finch, D. et al Effects of Artificial Light at Night (ALAN) on European Hedgehog Activity at Supplementary Feeding Stations. Animals (open access) 2020, 10(5), 768; DOI: 10.3390/ani10050768

Read more about The Mammal Society’s work with hedgehogs in one of their featured charity articles here

Cooke, S.C., Balmford, A., Donald, P.F. et al. Roads as a contributor to landscape-scale variation in bird communities. Nat Commun 11, 3125 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-16899-x



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