A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
We’re launching a £380,000 grant programme to encourage people from disadvantaged and marginalised communities across Wales to get in touch with nature.
The Local Places for Nature - Breaking Barriers programme is being funded by the Welsh Government.
Offering grants of between £30,000 to £100,000, the funding will encourage communities including BAME, refugee, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller groups to connect with the nature on their doorsteps.
The grant programme will also be able to provide funding for people in the top 30 per cent most deprived and disadvantaged communities in Wales. They are worst hit by issues including poverty, unemployment, ill health and poor housing.
To encourage projects or groups who have never applied for grants before, the programme will be employing expert facilitators to help them apply for funding.
The new grant is part of the Welsh Government’s Local Places for Nature programme which is committed to creating, restoring and enhancing nature.
“Looking after nature, helping people to understand it, spend time in it, and value its importance, has never been more important”, said Andrew White, Director of The Heritage Fund in Wales.
"That is why we’re thrilled to be working with the Welsh Government to deliver the Local Places for Nature - Breaking Barriers grant programme, to help reconnect people from minoritised and disadvantaged communities with the natural world. The programme will seek to engage a wider range of people with nature, and will also help us gain a better understanding of the barriers to engaging with nature and identify potential solutions.”
Sir James Bevan discusses need to address environmental inequalities as part of the "levelling up" agenda
Tackling the stark inequalities in exposure to pollution, climate shocks and access to green and blue space in cities should form an integral part of the “levelling up” agenda, Environment Agency Chief Executive Sir James Bevan will urge the government today (Tuesday 20 July).
Speaking at the launch of the Environment Agency’s State of the Urban Environment report, hosted by Global Action Plan, Sir James will highlight how poorer communities have higher exposure to air pollution, flood risk and poor water quality in rivers.
Highlighting the environmental inequalities that remain hidden and overlooked within our cities, he is expected to say:
“The inequalities in this country are not just economic. Levelling up the environment so that it is better for everyone is as important as levelling up the economic opportunities.”
“The 59% of the highest earning households in this country are within a 10-minute walk of an accessible, natural green space compared with just 35% of those in the lowest-earning households. There are also racial disparities: city communities with 40% or more residents from minority ethnic backgrounds have access to 11 times fewer green spaces locally than those comprising mainly white residents.”
“Investing in a better environment, whether that’s a park, a flood defence or a clean river, will create jobs and growth. Since the worst environments tend to be in the poorest places, tackling them is a double win it will make poorer communities both greener and richer. And because of the link between your environment and your health, environmental inequalities contribute to associated inequalities in health and wellbeing too.”
Children and young people’s proximity to woodlands has been linked with better cognitive development and a lower risk of emotional and behavioural problems, in a study led by UCL and Imperial College London scientists that could influence planning decisions in urban areas.
In what is believed to be one of the largest studies of its kind, researchers used longitudinal data relating to 3,568 children and teenagers, aged nine to 15 years, from 31 schools across London. This period is a key time in the development of adolescents’ thinking, reasoning and understanding of the world.
The study, published in Nature Sustainability, looked at the links between different types of natural urban environments and the pupils’ cognitive development, mental health and overall well-being.
The environments were divided into what planners call green space (woods, meadows and parks) and blue space (rivers, lakes and the sea), with green space separated further into grassland and woodland. Researchers used satellite data to help calculate each adolescent’s daily exposure rate to each of these environments within 50m, 100m, 250m and 500m of their home and school.
After adjusting for other variables, the results showed that higher daily exposure to woodland (but not grassland) was associated with higher scores for cognitive development, and a 16% lower risk of emotional and behavioural problems two years later.
A similar but smaller effect was seen for green space, with higher scores for cognitive development, but this was not seen for blue space. The researchers note though that access to blue space in the cohort studied was generally low.
Examples of other explanatory variables considered included the young person’s age, ethnic background, gender, parental occupation and type of school, e.g., state or independent. The level of air pollution might have influenced adolescents’ cognitive development, but researchers did not feel these observations were reliable or conclusive, and these require further investigations.
It is already estimated that one in 10 of London’s children and adolescents between the ages of five and 16 suffer from a clinical mental health illness and excess costs are estimated between £11,030 and £59,130 annually for each person. As with adults, there is also evidence that natural environments play an important role in children and adolescents’ cognitive development and mental health into adulthood, but less is known about why this is.
The New Forest National Park Authority has been awarded £100,000 to develop a project that will drive private investment in nature and help tackle the climate crisis.
Working in partnership with Palladium, a company specialising in identifying innovative solutions to environmental issues, the National Park Authority will use the funding to develop and trial a new model that can contribute to restoring nature in the National Park, with potential to replicate the approach across the UK.
The pilot project involving the Barker-Mill and Cadland Estates will look at where arable farmland and low-quality grasslands could be turned into woodlands and wetlands to enhance nature, capture carbon, improve water quality and extend these benefits to the Open Forest.
The project will then work out how much economic value these environmental benefits provide for people, what they cost to deliver, and how much investment is needed to get started. This model will contribute to the creation of a green market for environmental services and will stimulate private sector funding for nature improvements in the National Park.
The New Forest NPA is one of 27 organisations across England awarded up to £100,000 each as part of this ground-breaking £10 million Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund from Defra, the Environment Agency and Natural England.
The funding will be used to develop the projects to the point they can provide a return on investment by capturing the value of carbon sequestration, water quality improvements, biodiversity and other benefits provided by natural assets such as woodlands, peatlands, river catchments and landscapes.
WWT is today launching a major new public campaign Wetlands Can! urging people to get behind our call for the creation of 100,000 hectares of healthy wetlands in the UK to help combat the climate, nature and wellbeing crisis. The public can do this by signing a pledge to press the UK government to prioritise and invest in more wetlands.
Backed by WWT president Kate Humble, as well as actor Sir Mark Rylance, the campaign comes as new online research commissioned by WWT shows more than three quarters (77%) of the British public think that there should be more investment in natural solutions to tackle the climate emergency.
The YouGov polling also showed people thought taking effective action against climate change was now most important for the future (39%), in comparison to tackling the coronavirus pandemic (31%) or ensuring economic growth (23%).
These results validate the recent Climate Change Committee’s Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk report, which highlights that government needs to prioritise and invest more in natural solutions to tackle climate change. The committee cited healthy wetlands, alongside woodlands, as key to helping government reach its net zero targets by 2050.
Wetlands are the most effective carbon sinks on the planet, locking away huge amounts of carbon to mitigate climate change. Wetlands also help deal with the effects of climate change by increasing biodiversity and protecting communities from flooding. On top of that, they clean water to bring life back to degraded rivers, lakes and ponds, and help improve our mental health.
The YouGov polling also shows that around 60% of the public want to do more personally to fight climate change (58%) and protect nature and wildlife (61%) in their local areas. In response, the WWT campaign is encouraging people to get practical and help make up for the almost 50% of ponds that have been lost in the UK in the twentieth century by getting outside this summer and creating mini-wetlands, including ponds and drainpipe gardens, in their backyards and communities. These can be built in even the smallest of outdoor spaces. A toolkit on how to create these is available from the campaign website.
High temperatures are forecast to continue this week across parts of the UK, with the Met Office issuing its first ever extreme heat weather warning in some parts.
While we enjoy the sun, our favourite garden birds, like blackbirds, robins, and blue tits could be left struggling as the heat dries up natural water sources.
The RSPB is asking people to leave out a fresh supply of water in their outdoor space to help our feathered friends through the extreme conditions.
With temperatures already reaching 30C in parts of the UK, the RSPB is asking people to give birds a helping hand in the hot conditions by leaving out a supply of fresh water in their gardens or outdoor space.
Birds need water for two reasons; drinking and bathing. Unlike mammals, birds don’t have sweat glands, but they still lose a lot of water through respiration and in their droppings in the extreme heat. Most small birds need to drink at least twice a day to replace the lost water, so it’s crucial they have access to fresh water to rehydrate.
In addition to drinking water, water to bathe in is just as important for birds. Bathing is essential to their daily routine, helping them to keep their feathers in good condition and cool them down,
The hot conditions could leave the countryside depleted of its natural water sources, meaning birds will be left desperately searching for alternatives. By leaving out a supply of fresh, clean water, gardens can offer birds and other wildlife, such as hedgehogs with the vital resource they need to survive the arduous conditions.
Charlotte Ambrose, RSPB Wildlife Enquiries Manager, said: “In these high temperatures our garden birds will struggle to remain cool as natural water sources dry up. Birds such as robins, blue tits and blackbirds will be in desperate need of a drink. Turning your outside space into a home for nature by doing simple things like topping up your birdbath, creating a make-shift pond from a washing-up bowl or putting down a saucer filled with water could offer a vital lifeline to some of our much-loved garden birds. Our wildlife is already struggling so anything we can do to help revive our world is important.”
Defra, England Community Forests and local councils across the North East area are today announcing the creation of a new Community Forest to bring people closer to nature in the North East.
The North East Community Forest sees six local authorities joining forces with environmental organisations to plant trees across the region.
The initiative aims to plant up to 500 hectares of trees by 2025, with a long-term goal to increase canopy cover across the north east to 30% by 2050 – almost double the current national average.
The partnership will work with people in the community, businesses and landowners with the aim of bringing forests and woodlands to those most in need across Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Sunderland and Durham.
Thousands of trees will be planted in the first year - up to 25ha, or around 35 football pitches – thanks to £480,000 in funding from Defra’s Nature for Climate Fund.
Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “I am delighted to welcome the North East Community Forest to the expanding network of Community Forests across England. Supported by our £640 million Nature for Climate Fund, we will plant many thousands of trees and help rewild areas that are most in need. Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all rely on nature, and tackling the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss are at the heart of this project. Spending time in nature – particularly around trees – is proven to boost our physical and mental health and wellbeing, so I am pleased this project will be accessible to communities in Newcastle, Gateshead, North and South Tyneside, Sunderland and Durham.”
Storm petrels have been confirmed breeding on NatureScot’s Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR) for the first time.
NatureScot, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and the Isle of May Bird Observatory have suspected there may be a colony on the island since 2019, when storm petrels were first spotted displaying and calling.
The species is notoriously difficult to monitor due to its nocturnal habits and the team have been using a variety of techniques to survey areas of the island, including playing a recording of the bird’s calls over potential nest holes in the hope of eliciting a response.
After several efforts a bird was finally heard calling underground during daylight hours when they could only be incubating or brooding a chick.
UKCEH researcher Ella Benninghaus was the lucky individual to confirm with play-back a bird was underground, after smelling the presence of their strong body odour.
She said: “Since storm petrels were first detected on the Isle of May in 2019, it has been an exciting but frustrating three years. We carried out some playback surveys with no success last year, but we were determined to try again this year. Sure enough, as I was lying on the ground I heard the storm petrel call back to me very quietly. It is a very exciting find and amazing to be able to prove what has been suspected for a few years.”
Mark Newell, of UKCEH, added: “To confirm the presence of these mystical, magical birds 200 miles from the nearest known colony is one of the highlights of my many years on the isle.”
Storm petrels are small oceanic birds that breed in the UK during the summer months but spend their lives out at sea. The vast majority of the population can be found on remote islands, especially in the north and west of Scotland.
David Steel, Reserve Manager for NatureScot’s Isle of May NNR, said: “These special seabirds come ashore under the cover of darkness and nest underground in crevices, burrows, cairns or stone-walls. They will raise a single chick before eventually departing once again. During that time their nocturnal activities - singing away in total darkness - and unique smell contribute to make these birds so fascinating and mysterious. We’re delighted to have confirmation of storm petrel breeding after such a great team effort over the last three years by so many people. The Isle of May National Nature Reserve is hugely significant for its breeding seabird assemblage and this exciting news adds greatly to the importance of this special place.”
Over the years, volunteers at Scotland’s oldest bird observatory on the island have been ringing non-breeding storm petrels and tracking their subsequent movements. Recoveries of ringed birds have shown links to much of the traditional range, mainly to the north and west of Scotland and Ireland.
A survey on herpetofauna and climate change is being conducted by Drs. Wolfgang Wüster and Stuart Graham (Bangor University), John Wilkinson (ARC), Ana Togridou, James Hicks and Catharine Wuster (independent researchers).
We know that Earth’s climate is changing. The major, relevant, parameters of climate change (e.g., air and sea surface temperature, solar radiation, UV, humidity, cloud cover, precipitation, extreme weather event frequency, and sea level rise) have implications for biodiversity. It will almost certainly be beyond the ability of some species to adapt to or evolve rapidly enough to keep up with the rate of change in environmental conditions.
Within the next century, species with sufficient mobility are likely to experience elevational and latitudinal shifts as a result of climate change. Predicted lower levels of change may not be insurmountable, but upper bounds may present enormous distances for species to shift. Amphibians and reptile species, with low mobility but specific habitat requirements, are likely to be especially affected. Being an island, the UK is likely to suffer from a lack of space to allow required latitudinal or altitudinal range shifts, resulting in the potential extinction of native species due to climate change. In addition, dispersal is likely to impeded in many places by habitat fragmentation, making reptiles and amphibians especially susceptible to localized climate effects even if potential refugia are available. The same is likely to be true for amphibian and reptile species found throughout Europe. The UK may, however, provide refugia for European species to escape impacts of climate change by providing space for additional latitudinal or altitudinal shift.
Leading UK rural organisations have today (23rd July) announced the launch of a formal partnership to promote the multitude of conservation and community benefits that make the countryside a better place for all to enjoy.
‘Aim to Sustain’ has been formed to highlight the crucial role that sustainable game shooting plays in delivering biodiversity net gain through preserving and protecting cherished rural landscapes and a tremendous array of wildlife.
The partnership will also focus on showcasing the contribution that game management makes to sustaining rural communities, providing high quality food and making the countryside a place that visitors treasure year in, year out.
The organisations committed to the Aim to Sustain partnership include the Countryside Alliance (CA), British Game Alliance (BGA), British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), Country Land & Business Association (CLA), Game Farmers’ Association (GFA), Moorland Association (MA), National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) and Scottish Land and Estates (SLE). The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) are acting as advisors.
The organisations will work together to communicate to the public and decision-makers how sustainability is at the core of progressive game management. The partnership will also promote the highest standards of self-regulation and produce credible, robust and focused research.
Aim to Sustain launches with a 10-week ‘Have Your Say’ consultation that will seek the opinions of the quarter of a million-strong combined membership of the individual organisations.
The Aim to Sustain partnership issued the following joint statement to mark the launch of this new initiative: “Aim to Sustain is dedicated to protecting, preserving and promoting the many wide-ranging conservation, biodiversity and community benefits that make the countryside the place we love. So many people enjoy the great landscapes and tremendous array of wildlife and there is a colossal effort made to make that happen.
Visiting the British countryside has improved the physical and mental health of people living in towns and cities across Britain over the past year, according to a recent survey by Censuswide.
The survey spoke to more than 2,000 British people who live outside of rural areas across England and Wales.
This comes at the same time as a separate survey by Savanta ComRes for Farmers Guardian, as part of its ‘#FarmingCAN’ campaign, which shows 71% of people feel fortunate to be able to access the British countryside and over half of people (53%) are now more likely to seek out leisure and tourism in the UK countryside than travelling abroad.
NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts, pictured above, said: “As farmers, we love to see walkers out enjoying our landscape and asking questions about what’s happening in the fields or what food we’re producing from our farms. In particular, more people are visiting for the first time and beginning to truly understand how farming works in this country. It’s this patchwork of food and farming landscapes that farmers and their families work hard to maintain and care for that is providing the backdrop to these visits. I hope this increased appreciation leads to better long-term understanding of what the countryside delivers for the nation. Recognition for the role farming plays, and importantly as government sets new agriculture policies, is essential if we are serious about levelling up rural Britain and truly valuing the role rural Britain plays in the overall health and wellbeing of our nation.”
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland has revealed the three endangered Amur tiger cubs born at Highland Wildlife Park in May are two girls and a boy.
Keepers and veterinary staff at the wildlife conservation charity carried out the nine-week old cubs’ first health check this week and say the trio, who are doing well, will be named soon.
The youngsters remain in an off-show cubbing den with mum Dominika at the moment while visitors can still see dad Botzman in the outdoor viewing area at the park.
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