A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
Posidonia oceanica seagrass –an endemic marine phanerogam with an important ecological role in the marine environment- can take and remove plastic materials that have been left at the sea, according to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports. The article’s first author is the tenure-track 2 lecturer Anna Sànchez-Vidal, from the Research Group on Marine Geosciences of the Faculty of Earth Sciences of the UB.
The study describes for the first time the outstanding role of the Posidonia as a filter and trap for plastics in the coastal areas, and it is pioneer in the description of a natural mechanism to take and remove these materials from the sea. Other authors of the study are the experts Miquel Canals, William P. de Haan and Marta Veny, from the Research Group on Marine Geosciences of the UB, and Javier Romero, from the Faculty of Biology and the Biodiversity Research Institute (IRBio) of the UB.
A trap for plastics in coastal areas
The Posidonia oceanica makes dense prairies that make a habitat with a great ecological value (nutrition, shelter, reproduction, etc.) for marine biodiversity. As part of the study, the team analysed the trapping and extraction of plastic in great seagrasses of the Posidonia in the coasts of Majorca. “Everything suggests that plastics are trapped in the Posidonia seagrass. In the grasslands, the plastics are incorporated to agglomerates of natural fiber with a ball shape –aegagropila or Posidonia Neptune balls- which are expulsed from the marine environment during storms”, notes Anna Sànchez-Vidal, member of the Department of Ocean and Earth Dynamics of the UB.
“According to the analyses –she continues- the trapped microplastics in the prairies of the Posidonia oceanica are mainly filaments, fibers and fragments of polymers which are denser than the sea water such as polyethylene terephthalate (PET).”
The effect of extreme drought on Scots pine trees has been examined as part of a University of Stirling study, which could have implications for climate change efforts across the world.
The research – led by Tom Ovenden of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Ecology – considered how resilient Scots pine trees are to extreme drought events.
Scots pine is the cornerstone of Scotland’s Caledonian pinewoods and is a critically important species, both ecologically and economically, in the UK and across Europe. The new research provides a significant understanding of its vulnerability to, and recovery from, drought – a particularly important topic as drought events are expected to increase in intensity, duration, and frequency due to climate change.
Programmes such as the BBC’s Blue Planet and Hugh’s War on Plastic, have drawn attention to the threat plastics pose to sea-life. However, little is known about the impacts on Britain’s land-based species, such as hedgehogs, rabbits and voles.
A team of researchers from the Mammal Society have set out to assess the exposure of wild mammals to waste plastics across Britain. By analysing the droppings of some of our most widespread species, including squirrels, mice, rats and shrews, they aim to uncover the extent to which these plastics are eaten, and understand the health threats posed by different types of plastic, through both ingestion and entanglement.
In the UK, food packaging accounts for 67% of plastic waste, which is far higher than that of many other EU countries. Reports suggest that contamination by microplastic (tiny particles of plastic) in terrestrial habitats may be as much as 30 times higher than in marine habitats, yet most attention has focused on sea-life. Studies conducted so far on terrestrial ecosystems have mostly focused on worms, soils and chickens and, worryingly, these results have suggested that microplastics are present in high quantities.
By focusing on small mammals, researchers will be able to assess the health of ecosystems as a whole. If small mammals, which are vital prey for a wide variety of species such as foxes, weasels, barn owls and kestrels, are ingesting microplastics, this would have a knock-on impact throughout the food chain. By studying mice, rats, shrews, rabbits, hedgehogs, squirrels and voles the Mammal Society hopes to better understand the current situation and raise awareness of the effects of microplastics on Britain’s terrestrial wildlife.
The Mammal Society was our featured charity last year, we ran an article about this project in March. See all articles at https://www.countryside-jobs.com/charities
The Ramblers has written to the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Defra to express grave concerns about the government’s proposals to change trespass rules. This would be a major change in the law - and could have a significant impact on people’s ability to access the countryside.
The Ramblers previously raised alarm about the proposals in response to a Conservative Party manifesto commitment to ‘criminalise intentional trespass’ and subsequent Home Office consultation on police powers. The latest letter comes ahead of the publication of the Police Powers and Protections Bill and is written together with a range of other organisations - including CPRE, the countryside charity, the Open Spaces Society, British Mountaineering Council, Friends of the Earth, British Canoeing and Cycling UK.
Gemma Cantelo, head of policy and advocacy at the Ramblers, said: “Government’s priority should be to make it easier for people to get outside, enjoy the benefits of walking and connect to the natural environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted just how critical this is our physical and mental health.”
ZSL London Zoo releases online gallery of archive images to mark this year’s Winnie-the-Pooh Day – as historic zoo renews fundraising appeal during lockdown
ZSL London Zoo will mark Winnie-the-Pooh Day this Monday (18 January) with the release of rare archive images taken during its almost 200-year history – as the historic zoo renews its urgent call for public support to feed and care for its 18,000 animals during the nationwide lockdown.
The fascinating online gallery gives a heart-warming glimpse into past life at ZSL’s world-famous zoo and includes an heartwarming image of the inspiration behind the classic children’s story – a Canadian black bear called Winnie, much loved by author A. A Milne's son, Christopher Robin, who often visited her at the zoo.
The images - including that of Winnie with Christopher - are a keen reminder of the role the zoo has played in both science and culture in the last two centuries, and of the need to safeguard its future, following the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
ZSL London Zoo’s Chief Operating Officer, Kathryn England, said: “Winnie-the-Pooh Day is not just a celebration of the classic childhood story – to us it’s a mark of the important place that London Zoo has in the country’s cultural history: it’s where Darwin and Huxley developed much of their thinking, where Sir David Attenborough first began working as a wildlife TV presenter and where millions have been inspired with a love for wildlife.”
Walkers and farmers must work together to avoid damage to crops and wildlife habitats; so use a pair of wellies and stick to the footpaths, says rural body
Crops are being damaged nationwide as a result of walkers not keeping to public footpaths, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has said.
With the nation still in lockdown, many people are finding solace in taking a walk in the countryside; but farmers across the country are reporting increasing damage to crops and wildlife habitats caused by walkers not following the Countryside Code.
Mark Bridgeman, President of the CLA, said: “It is perfectly natural, in times such as these, for people to want to enjoy the countryside. They are genuinely welcome and we encourage people to enjoy the thousands of miles of footpaths available to them. But we need to work together to ensure the public can have an enjoyable time while also protecting farmland, animals and wildlife. Land is very wet at the moment and likely to get worse before the Spring, with heavy rain forecast, and with so many walkers enjoying the countryside, public footpaths have become very muddy. Unfortunately, that means many are circumnavigating the mud and walking over planted crops, damaging food crops and impacting farmers’ businesses. Our advice is to use a decent pair of wellies - or walking boots - and stick to the route of the footpath. It’s always best when we work together. Farmers are working hard to feed the nation so let’s help them by sticking to the public right of way and following the Countryside Code.”
A study – the first of its kind in the UK – has provided quantitative evidence of the natural capital benefits of planting new woodlands.
Natural capital is the stock of natural resources, including plants, soils, air, water and greenspace, which all combine to provide benefits to people.
Commissioned by Scottish Forestry, Tilhill and SEPA, the study assessed a newly planted mixed woodland site at Larriston near Newcastleton which is managed by Tilhill. The woodland was then valued to measure its natural capital potential over the next 50 years.
In addition to future revenues from selling harvested timber, the analysis revealed substantial benefits for society through CO2 removals, flood alleviation and biodiversity from modern-day forestry.
The key future benefits were valued at around £20 million in today’s prices, which included almost 200,000 tonnes of timber, just under 150,000 tonnes of CO2 removals, and almost 3 million m3 of water stored in the forest.
The analysis showed timber to provide the largest source of financial revenue for the project at £2.5M over the next 50 years. The value of net carbon sequestration to society was estimated at around £9 million over the same period.
Dr. Pat Snowdon, at Scottish Forestry, who led the study said: “This is a fresh approach to working with businesses in the forestry sector by putting a value on a range of natural capital benefits from planting new woodlands. The survey provides important evidence about how woodland creation and nature supports a green recovery and will contribute towards our challenging climate change targets. The study will also be of interest to those in the forest products chain who will be able to see how well designed woodland planting is a win-win for the economy, local communities and nature.”
Farmers have helped to produce a new interactive map showing the location of important habitats in the Yorkshire Dales National Park – and are encouraging fellow land managers to use it to spot opportunities for new income streams and conservation work.
The mapping tool – named ‘Re:Cover’ – is designed to help people looking to protect, expand and connect habitats such as flower-rich hay meadows, wildlife-rich wetlands and ancient woodlands.
It uses information gathered from surveys every year since 2010 by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, as well as information collected by Natural England and the Forestry Commission.
Re:Cover has been developed by the National Park Authority in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales Farming and Land Management Forum
Craven farmer Anthony Bradley, who is a member of the forum, tested the map as it was being developed.
He said: “The Farming and Land Management Forum and the steering group for the National Park Management Plan were keen to have this habitat map. The great thing about the map is that it shows you what you’ve got and the possibilities that can come from that. It’s a really good starting point if you’re thinking of doing some stewardship scheme or other work like that, giving a factual basis for informed discussion.”
Public concern mounts over decision to allow emergency use of banned neonic
In just a few days, more than 26,000 people have signed The Wildlife Trusts’ petition urging the Prime Minister to overturn the authorisation for the emergency use of a bee-killing pesticide, thiamethoxam. Additionally, 645 Members of Parliament have been contacted by petitioners as public concern mounts over the threat to bees, wildflowers, river wildlife and the impact on soils.
Thiamethoxam is a neonicotinoid that is known to kill bees, but has been authorised for farmers to use on sugar beet crops in England this year. It was banned across the EU in 2018 because of the widespread harm it causes although some exemptions have been allowed.
The Secretary of State, George Eustice, made the decision on 8th January in response to the problems caused by beet yellows virus to farmers growing sugar beet – despite a similar application being refused in 2018 by the UK Expert Committee on Pesticides because of “unacceptable environmental risks.”
With the Covid-19 pandemic highlighting inequity in accessing nature, Sustrans and our partners are calling for the Environment Bill to prioritise better access to the great outdoors for everyone.
Nature for health
Over the past year, with far fewer opportunities to see friends, families and colleagues indoors, more people than ever have headed to the outdoors, to walk, cycle, horse ride, canoe, hike, camp or just clear their head.
For many people, access to nature provided a lifeline for their physical and mental health.
Indeed, countless studies show that better access to nature and greener environments is associated with reduced levels of depression, anxiety, and fatigue.
Being outdoors is also great fun.
Unequal access to nature
In this sense, the Covid-19 outbreak brought into sharp focus just how important it is for us to have easy access to nature, and how much people value the natural habitats around them.
Unfortunately, it also highlighted that access to nature for all is far from guaranteed.
Because, while some people were able to access nature either from their doorstep or by travelling, others don’t have that opportunity.
Figures from Natural England, for example, show that 12% of children do not visit the natural environment each year.
They also show that people living in the most deprived areas of England tend to have significantly less green space than wealthier areas.
It can also be more difficult for disabled walkers, horse riders and cyclists to access nature, and we need to do more to ensure that access is equitable for everyone.
An extensive and impartial study to assess people’s views about the possible reintroduction of Eurasian lynx to the Scottish Highlands is being launched this month by a new partnership of charities SCOTLAND: The Big Picture, Trees for Life and Vincent Wildlife Trust.
Ecological research has shown that extensive areas of Scotland could support lynx, but the charities say
returning the shy and elusive animal is less about science and more about people’s willingness to live alongside a species that’s become forgotten on these shores.
The year-long Lynx to Scotland consultation will impartially and accurately assess public and stakeholder attitudes around the idea of lynx reintroduction, including in rural communities.
“With a global biodiversity crisis, we have a responsibility to have open and constructive conversations around restoring key native species to the Scottish landscape – and science shows that apex predators like lynx play a vital ecological role in maintaining healthy living systems,” said Peter Cairns, Executive Director of SCOTLAND: The Big Picture.
Lynx are now expanding in range and numbers across mainland Europe as hunting laws are enforced and public attitudes to large predators soften. Several successful lynx reintroductions since the 1970s have brought ecological and environmental benefits to countries more densely populated than Scotland, and in areas used for farming, hunting, forestry and tourism.
As a shy and solitary woodland hunter, lynx are rarely glimpsed and attacks on humans are virtually unknown. Research suggests the Highlands has sufficient habitat – and more than enough roe deer, the cat’s preferred prey – to support around 400 wild lynx.
Steve Micklewright, Chief Executive of Trees for Life, said: “Scotland has more woodland deer than any other European country, and their relentless browsing often prevents the expansion and healthy regeneration of our natural woodlands. By preying on roe deer, lynx would restore ecological processes that have been missing for centuries, and provide a free and efficient deer management service.”
The Seal Spotter project on the Epicollect app enables people to log an individual seal's location, appearance, behaviour and condition
People are being encouraged to report seal sightings as part of efforts to learn more about the local grey seal population and engage more citizen scientists in marine conservation.
The University of Plymouth and The Seal Project have joined forces to launch the Seal Spotter project on the Epicollect app through which people can log an individual’s location, appearance, behaviour and condition.
The app, which is free to download, features advice from the project team on how members of the public can report sightings and how they should behave around the seals themselves.
It then enables people to record whether the seals are alone or in a group, if they are resting, feeding or fighting, or whether they have become entangled in plastics or are showing other signs of injury or ill-health.
The resulting data will be used by the charity to accurately map the health of the local population.
It will also be shared with similar charities, including the national Seal Alliance and The Seal Research Trust, and used to create a clearer picture of seal communities right across the UK.
The project came about as a result of discussions between Lecturer in Physiology and Behaviour Dr Katherine Herborn and Duncan Kenny, Co-founder of The Seal Project, about how to monitor the impacts of an injury or short-term environmental stressor on seals’ long-term health and behaviour.
It has since been taken forward by Laura Cook, a Masters student in Zoo Conservation Biology within the School of Biological and Marine Sciences, who developed the app project and has been monitoring the responses.
Since it was launched over the Christmas break, more than 60 sightings have been recorded on both well-known South Devon individuals and new pups recruiting to area, while others have also come in from across Devon and Cornwall and elsewhere in the UK.
Damage by non-native grey squirrels is a major risk to the health of woodland.
Grey squirrels have an appetite for stripping the bark of young trees, an act which can kill the trees outright or damage them enough to allow infections in.
A new report by some of England and Wales’s largest forestry organisations, estimates grey squirrels will cost the sector at least £1.1 billion over the next 40 years – in damaged timber, lost carbon revenue, and tree replacements.
Land managers report a trend to avoid planting broadleaved tree species that are most vulnerable to grey squirrel damage, including oak, beech and sycamore. They argue the risks of grey squirrel damage and cost of mitigation can be too high to justify against final timber values for trees which often take 80-100 years to mature. This shift could also have impacts for woodland biodiversity.
Woodland owners have named the grey squirrel as the number one threat to their broadleaf woods, and the organisations say previous calculations of the costs of squirrel damage (£6-10m per annum) are a huge underestimate.
The report, Analysis of the Costs of Grey Squirrel Damage, was commissioned by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) in partnership with Forestry Commission, National Resources Wales, the National Forest Company and Woodland Trust. It developed a repeatable methodology for calculating grey squirrel damage by taking into account not just lost timber value but reduced carbon capture, as well as damage mitigation and the costs of trees to replace those have died as a result of grey squirrel bark stripping.
The results show a wide range of values depending on assumptions. The ‘probable scenario’ estimates that grey squirrels are costing a total of £37m a year to the sector in England and Wales. Even this does not include a range of more hard-to-measure impacts such as on landscape, public health or treasured wildlife caused by tree loss and damage.
Introducing tree leaves to a sheep’s diet could play an important role in reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, suggests research presented at this today's Intercropping for Sustainability conference.
Scientists from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) monitored four groups of six Aberfield x lambs, half of which were fed around 200g of goat willow leaves each per day. When their urine patches were monitored, they found significant reductions in both nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide in those groups which fed on willow leaves. The work, part-funded by the Woodland Trust, also found lower emissions of ammonia from urine patches where lambs were fed willow.
While cutting branches to feed to livestock is labour-intensive, a move towards agroforestry with livestock (also known as silvopasture) would allow the direct browsing of coppiced trees if livestock access is managed to ensure sustainability. The use of tree fodder as an alternative source of food during periods of drought may become increasingly relevant as the climate changes, but these results suggest that a supplementary benefit of incorporating willow into grazing ruminant systems may be a contribution to climate change mitigation, as well as air quality improvement.
Defra has recently made it clear that agroforestry is eligible for support through the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), including both silvoarable (trees planted at wide spacings and intercropped with a cereal or bio-energy crop) and silvopasture (trees combined with forage grassland and livestock production). The Committee on Climate Change estimates that agroforestry could result in carbon emissions savings of 5.9 MtCO2e per year by 2050, approximately 13% of the total current emissions from the agriculture sector.
Scientists are using cutting-edge technology along Britain’s 20,000-mile rail network, as part of Network Rail’s new action plan for sustainable vegetation management.
The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has used high-resolution imagery from satellites and aircraft to produce a detailed national map of all the habitats found alongside the rail network, which dates back almost 200 years. By combining this information with millions of records of species, UKCEH has predicted what animals and plants are likely to be present in these lineside habitats including grasslands, heathlands and woodland.
This information will ensure Network Rail workers and contractors are aware of the possible presence of rare species when carrying out vegetation management, plus inform the company’s conservation measures to increase biodiversity. It also provides a baseline for monitoring future trends in biodiversity.
This initiative is part of Network Rail’s new Biodiversity Action Plan – drawn up in collaboration with UKCEH scientists – which is an important step in achieving a sustainably managed lineside.
Since the 1960s, there have been large changes in vegetation associated with the railway, which has resulted in the loss of biodiverse, flower-rich habitats. In its plan, Network Rail has committed to end net loss in biodiversity on its land by 2024 and achieve a net gain by 2035.
Today marks Red Squirrel Appreciation Day, a time to celebrate one of our most treasured native species and those that have been working selflessly to protect them. Our conservation efforts would not be possible without the tremendous help of our enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers, and today our gratitude is echoed in an open letter from HRH The Prince of Wales to all volunteers fighting for the survival of the red squirrel.
HRH The Prince of Wales is Patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, one of our project partners, who are working closely with volunteers and members of regional and local red squirrel groups across the UK. Today the Red Squirrel Survival Trust shared the kind words received from His Royal Highness.
HRH The Prince of Wales wrote: “21st January 2021 is Red Squirrel Awareness Day and, as Patron of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust, my thoughts turn naturally to all those throughout the United Kingdom who volunteer their skills and their time to fight for the survival of the red squirrel, and for native British trees, the natural woodland habitat in which it evolved. Without your efforts, we simply could not hope to succeed in the task we have set ourselves. Generations to come would be denied the pleasure we take for granted in the healthy woods that are now threatened as never before, and of which the red squirrel is both the symbol and, by its presence, the benchmark. As you will all know so well, these charming and intelligent creatures never fail to delight. I take enormous pleasure in having them around – and in! – the house when I am at home in Scotland. They are such inquisitive and delightful characters; they have even been known to hunt down a few of their favourite nuts left out in an unguarded jacket pocket! I need hardly say that it is most encouraging when I see the thirty-nine organizations that make up the U.K. Squirrel Accord working together in harmony, and when I read of the Accord’s advancing research into practical grey squirrel control. Above all, it is enormously heartening to encounter the passionate enthusiasm of the men and women who volunteer their time to protect woods and red squirrels against destruction. I am so very grateful to all of you, as volunteers, for the crucial role you play in this ongoing battle to protect and restore a precious part of our natural heritage. This brings you all my warmest good wishes, together with every possible encouragement for the task ahead.”
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