A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
The Forestry Commission calls on public to report sightings of tree pest oak processionary moth caterpillars.
The Forestry Commission today (Monday 19 April) urged the public to report sightings of oak processionary moth (OPM) caterpillars.
Oak processionary moth, which is a tree pest, was first identified in London in 2006 and has since spread to some surrounding counties. The caterpillars and their nests contain hairs which can cause itchy rashes, eye and throat irritations, and should not be touched under any circumstances.
The greatest risk period is May to July when the caterpillars emerge and feed before turning into adult moths.
The pest is established in London and surrounding areas although most of Britain has Pest Free Area status, meaning the pest is not known to be present in much of England.
The Forestry Commission runs an annual programme in place to tackle OPM, and works with partners to monitor, treat and research the pest, in order to slow the spread and reduce the intensity of the pest.
Andy Hall, Forestry Commission Operations Manager, said: “At this time of year, many people are enjoying green spaces and it’s really important for the public to be aware of the risk of tree pests like oak processionary moth and to report any sightings via our TreeAlert website or by contacting the Forestry Commission. This will help us with our programme of treatment and enables us to slow the spread of this pest. Any sightings should be reported to the Forestry Commission via its Tree Alert online portal. Alternatively, people can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0300 067 4442.”
Now that we can travel around more freely, why not get some vitamin-sea and watch out for one of the 30 species of whale and dolphin that visit UK waters as you walk along our stunning coastline?
Researchers at Bangor University have teamed up with wildlife charity Sea Watch Foundation and tidal energy technology developer Nova Innovation to develop Sea Watcher, a free mobile phone app that allows anyone to recognise and register a sighting of whales, dolphins and other megafauna spotted from land or a boat in UK waters.
Launched at the end of 2020, almost 1000 sightings have already been recorded by more than 100 users of the app in their local areas over the winter.
Jenny Bond, heading up the research project for SEACAMS 2 at Bangor University said: “While we are being encouraged to move about safely and avoid ‘honey-pots’ or very busy areas, we hope that people are enjoying coastal walks. What better way to enjoy the fresh air and enjoy spotting for whales and dolphins around the UK, an activity where you can learn and relax at the same time. We have developed the Sea Watcher app so that anyone can identify what they see and contribute to marine mammal research in the UK.”
Relax and enjoy some vitamin-sea!
The latest Wetland Bird Survey Report (WeBS) published today shows that for some species of waterbirds, crossing the North Sea for a winter holiday in the UK may not happen every winter.
As parts of northern Europe begin to experience warmer and wetter winters more regularly, species that traditionally crossed the North Sea in search of milder winters in the UK are now spending their winters much further north and east than they were, and none more so than the Scaup. Scaup is a diving duck, similar to the more familiar freshwater Tufted Duck, but found in shallow marine waters or very large freshwater lakes.
Britain and Ireland were an important wintering area for this northern-breeding seaduck, but during the last 50 years overwinter numbers have been falling. According to the latest annual WeBS report the number of Scaup wintering in the UK has declined by three quarters since the peak in the 1973/74 winter. At the same time, Scaup counts in the winter have increased in northern and eastern Europe. However, this may not be to the species’ advantage in the long-run, as Scaup are being lost in fishermen’s nets and struggling to find food in areas that are being overfished around the Baltic Sea.
With the winter of 2019/20 being the warmest on record in Europe, part of an ongoing warming trend, it is not just Scaup that are opting for short-haul options nearer their breeding grounds. Goldeneye and Bewick’s Swans from the northwest European breeding population are also remaining on the other side of the North Sea in increasing numbers during the winter months - these species declined by 58% and 88% respectively between the winters of 1993/94 and 2018/19. Surprisingly perhaps, given its ubiquity during the breeding season, the number of Coots that come here for winter has also fallen, down by 15% over the same period.
Results from the International Waterbird Census and International Swan Census, which WeBS feeds into for the UK, give the bigger picture for the population declines being seen here. Whereas the European populations of Coot and Goldeneye appear to be stable overall and the observed changes are due to redistribution of wintering areas, the breeding populations of Scaup and Bewick’s Swan have declined, as well as experiencing changes in their winter distribution.
In Northern Ireland, Scaup has fallen by 60% between 1993/94 and 2018/19, although Lough Neagh remains the wintering stronghold in the UK. Goldeneye has declined by 89% and for the Bewick’s Swan Northern Ireland is no longer a winter destination, with no birds being recorded during WeBS Counts for over ten years.
Natural England study reviews carbon storage impact from England’s habitats, including native woodlands, saltmarshes, grasslands, heathlands and peatlands.
Researchers from Natural England have developed a picture of the impact that different UK habitats can have in taking carbon out of the atmosphere and helping us hit net zero by 2050, whilst delivering for both biodiversity and conservation.
In the most comprehensive report to date on the impact of the nation’s landscape on carbon storage and sequestration, researchers found that peatlands and native woodlands are habitats which have the greatest capacity to store carbon, but that many others, including coastal and marine habitats such as saltmarsh and sea grass meadows have a significant role to play a role in helping the UK hit net zero by 2050.
The report also highlights the importance of protecting traditionally managed habitats such as hedgerows, hay meadows, heathlands and old orchards as a way of preserving carbon stocks and wildlife that may have taken centuries to develop. There are also good opportunities to create new patches of habitat and hedgerows within farmed landscapes for biodiversity and carbon storage.
Future environmental land management schemes for farmers and land managers will reward farmers for the creation and maintenance of habitats, such as native woodlands and peatlands, with the Landscape Recovery scheme being designed to incentivise major land management changes and habitat restoration within our wooded and peatland areas across England.
Scientists are celebrating the rediscovery of a rare bug not seen in Scotland for over 30 years.
The cow wheat shieldbug was recently spotted in a woodland in Strathspey by a field worker from the Rare Invertebrates in the Cairngorms partnership project. The bug is an attractive little insect, with a black body featuring two distinctive white spots.
This is only the 8th ever record for the bug in Scotland, with previous records being made between 1866 and 1989. Four of the historic records have come from Strathspey, one from Perthshire (1879), one from Argyll and Bute (1890) and one from Loch Rannoch (1989).
This rare insect is considered to be Nationally Scarce across the UK, with worrying declines in the south-east of England over recent years.
As the name suggests, this bug relies on cow wheat as a food plant. Like many insects, this is a warmth-loving animal. Although cow wheat is common in many parts of Scotland, the bug needs it to grow in a sheltered, warm micro-climate, usually on sunny rides and glades in woodlands.
These warm micro-climates rely on traditionally managed woodlands with diverse structures, creating sheltered open areas. It is believed that a decline in such woodlands is one of the reasons why the bug has fared badly over recent decades.
The Wildlife Habitat Charitable Trust (WHCT) has agreed a £75,000 grant to help restore the breeding curlew population in Southern England.
The grant has been awarded to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust’s (WWT) ‘Combating the Curlew Crisis Project’, which forms part of the WWT’s overall Eurasian curlew recovery work. This project focuses on securing the breeding population in the Severn and Avon Vales. The aim is to see the curlew’s local breeding population increase to 50 pairs in five years’ time.
The money will cover funds for a project officer to provide engagement with local communities including farmers and land managers, and the monitoring of released birds.
The WHCT, set up by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) in 1992, provides grants to help support and maintain Special Protections Areas and undertake research for the public benefit in the conservation of wildlife.
Paul Williamson, secretary of the WHCT, said: “The plight of the curlew in Southern England is well documented, without the necessary help they could easily become extinct. This project will not only counter the decline in the region, but the lessons learnt will help provide a model to protect the species nationally. Our support and belief in this project has led us to award the WWT with the one of the largest grants ever given by the Trust, and we are excited to see it progress.”
Following feedback from the first survey in 2020 the researchers have produced a ‘Helping Hedgehogs’ information leaflet
Researchers from NUI Galway and the National Biodiversity Data Centre are once again calling on citizen scientists to help to record data and movements of the humble hedgehog. This year, the researchers have planned a more involved hedgehog survey with volunteers invited to conduct assessments in their local area between May and September.
The methodology follows that developed by the Mammal Society of the UK, which uses footprint tunnels to determine if hedgehogs are present in various habitats. Researchers are asking volunteers to place ten footprint tunnels, a small tunnel made from corrugated plastic containing two sheets of paper and ink in the centre to capture the footprints of the hedgehogs, within a 1 kilometre square area for five nights and check them each morning for signs of hedgehogs.
The Irish Hedgehog Survey was launched in the summer of 2020 with members of the public asked to submit records of hedgehog sightings online. The response to the survey saw over 2,000 hedgehog sightings reported for the year from all over Ireland, with many reporting hedgehogs regularly visiting their gardens through the summer.
Hundreds of people have contributed to a new piece of nature poetry, published today, that reveals the nation’s feelings about the arrival of spring after a year living under coronavirus restrictions.
The poem Spring, An Inventory by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett weaves together observations made by 400 members of the public on the first official day of the season, 20 March 2021.
Presented as a tally of spring sightings, the poem reflects the frequency of words that appeared in the submissions, with lines such as ‘fifty-one blossoms on the cherry swell’ and ‘thirty-five suns in the speckled moss’.
The National Trust and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the organisations behind the initiative, said they aimed to shine a spotlight on the quiet but constant role nature has played in our daily lives during an extraordinary year. The contributions were collected via the National Trust’s social media channels over the weekend of 20 March.
People of all ages shared observations from their gardens, local countryside and even through windows, with many expressing feelings of relief – ‘Spring arrives like an exhaled breath’ (Josephine Corcoran) – and describing encounters with wildlife – ‘I hushed my breath and willed it to stay, Just going about as it may. For I felt it comforting to share, To coexist together there.’ (Sarah Hawkins, The Robin).
Elizabeth-Jane Burnett said: “It was a privilege to share in so many people's experience of spring in this way. I chose the form of an inventory for the poem as a way of mapping common themes across submissions and presenting a more hopeful tally of numbers than we have been used to seeing in the past year - in fact, the word hope itself recurred fifty-four times."
New analysis by CPRE has found that local authorities are increasingly planning major developments in AONBs, largely consisting of executive-style housing – with only 16% classed as affordable. We’ve found government pressure to increase housing numbers is forcing local authorities to prioritise new building over landscape protection.
In calling for special controls over development in areas of ‘special beauty’, CPRE’s founding manifesto of 1926 marked the origins of our campaign for protected landscapes.
By 1949, we’d helped bring about the National Parks Act – which also allowed for the creation of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) to safeguard landscapes deemed not wild or large enough for National Park status, but considered equally beautiful. Beginning with the designation of the Quantocks AONB in 1956, 34 AONBs (covering 15% of England) have put natural beauty within 30 minutes of two-thirds of the population.
Thanks to previous CPRE lobbying, government planning guidance recommends that ‘major development’ (10 homes or above) on AONB land should only happen under exceptional circumstances, and only when it can be demonstrated that it is in the public interest. But our new research has found that local authorities are increasingly allowing development in AONBs.
Government pressure to increase housing numbers is completely undermining AONBs’ legal purpose to ‘conserve and enhance natural beauty’. Every year since 2017/2018, we’ve seen an average of 1,670 housing units approved in AONBs – representing an annual loss of 119 hectares of supposedly protected landscape.
Today, on 21st April 2021, work on England’s largest seagrass planting programme is taking place in Plymouth Sound National Marine Park.
A total of 16,000 seagrass seed bags and 2,200 seedling bags are being planted by the Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT) as part of the LIFE Recreation ReMEDIES project being led by Natural England to help support and improve the resilience of our marine environment.
The four-year project aims to plant a total of eight hectares of seagrass meadows – four hectares in Plymouth Sound and four hectares in the Solent Maritime Special Area of Conservation.
This work is extremely important as it is estimated that the UK may have lost up to 92 per cent of its seagrass1. Factors including wasting disease, pollution and physical disturbance have been identified as contributing causes.
By planting seagrass in the Sound, the project hopes to create more seagrass meadows which provide homes for juvenile fish and protected creatures like seahorses and stalked jellyfish. Seagrass also has an integral role in stabilising the seabed, cleaning the surrounding seawater and capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon.
The OCT has been leading the restoration work as a project partner. All the seagrass seeds have been bagged at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth by Aquarium and OCT staff, as well as volunteers. Seedlings have been growing in the Aquarium’s special seagrass laboratory since January.
ReMEDIES is funded by the EU LIFE programme and led by Natural England in partnership with Ocean Conservation Trust (OCT), Marine Conservation Society, Royal Yachting Association and Plymouth City Council/Tamar Estuaries Consultative Forum.
Mark Parry, Development Officer at Ocean Conservation Trust, said: “Our first successful planting effort is only possible because of all the hard work of the partners in the LIFE ReMEDIES project. These events have taken over 12 months of planning and include a combination of volunteers who have visited the National Marine Aquarium creating our planting units and our dive volunteers. This truly is a community effort. It is incredible to see the support from
Wildlife Trusts in Wales launch a youth climate change project, Stand for Nature Wales
For the next three years, Wildlife Trusts in Wales will work to empower and inspire young people to take action for nature and wildlife in their local area in a bid to tackle climate change. From urban Cardiff to rural Montgomeryshire, young people are standing for nature and their futures.
There has never been a more important time to take action for nature. We are currently facing a climate and nature emergency, with 17% of species in Wales at risk of extinction. But we can change this. By putting nature into recovery, we can tackle climate change. Thriving habitats can safely lock up vast amounts of carbon, while providing other vital benefits that help us adapt, such as flood prevention, clean water and improved health and wellbeing.
Ellen, a young person on the Montgomeryshire Stand for Nature Wales youth forum said: “I think the project is important because it gives young people power to make a change. There are many problems to overcome; loss of habitat, species and tackling climate change but I am confident we can make a difference together.”
Through this vital project, Wildlife Trusts in Wales will amplify young voices and give them the skills and tools to deliver climate action in their areas. Youth forums across Wales will lead the way by harnessing the potential of nature to tackle the climate crisis. From reinstating wildflower meadows to raising awareness of the importance of our oceans and blue carbon, young people are securing a Wilder Future for Wales through local climate action.
Chris Baker, Stand for Nature Wales Project Manager said: “We know that young people are the future. This is why we are delighted to be able to empower the young people of Wales to take climate action not only for nature and wildlife, but for their own wellbeing too.”
The Wildlife Trusts are calling for at least 30% of our land and sea to be connected and protected for nature’s recovery by 2030. Making more space for nature to become abundant once again will give our struggling wildlife the chance to recover and also restore beautiful wild places - places that store carbon and help to tackle the climate crisis. But to achieve this, we need to stand for nature.
The RSPB headquarters has welcomed six new team members - Dartmoor ponies! And this is far from the first time the RSPB has called on larger grazing animals for their help in restoring spaces for conservation. The British Isles has lost most of its large wild herbivores, apart from deer, so we sometimes recruit them in to help restore habitats at RSPB reserves. Here we look at some ways they can help transform landscapes for everything from bugs to birds, and at how these new Dartmoor ponies will help conservation at the heart of the RSPB.
Dartmoor ponies keeping heathland in check at RSPB headquarters
On 5 April six Dartmoor ponies, named Kevin, Podkin, Pook, Barramoor Tom, Black Magic, and Roger, travelled all the way from their home in Dartmoor to RSPB headquarters, The Lodge nature reserve in Bedfordshire. Their job will be to help make the space an even more attractive home for everything from bugs to birds.
Dartmoor ponies are an endangered native breed of pony that are prized for their hardiness, even temperament, and ability to eat plants that other ponies and horses might balk at. This ability to nip, nibble, and stamp thick gorse and brambles brings in light and opens whole new pathways for them to poo in. This creates space for plants to grow, and the poo provides food for insects and bugs which themselves are tasty morsels for reptiles and birds. The dung invertebrates also play a vital role in returning nutrients back into the soil – it’s a whole circle of life revolving around pony poo.
Last year Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust wrote an article for CJS, read it here 'The Dartmoor Pony - Combining Conservation and Heritage'
The very first Earth Day, in 1970, brought 20 million people together to learn about the environment, the threats it faces and how to tackle those issues. Fifty-one years later, and education is still key to tackling the Climate and Biodiversity Crisis and the human threats imposed. Earth Day’s theme for 2021 is ‘Restore Our Earth’. Sadly, the UK is a prime example of a nation’s biodiversity in desperate need of restoration. A report by The Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) highlighted that in the UK 41% of species are declining, with 1 in 10 species threatened with extinction. Meanwhile, the critical habitats that allow UK fauna and flora to flourish dwindle into non-existence. This includes habitats intricately linked to the health and wellbeing of UK cetaceans: salt marshes are in poor condition; estuaries are heavily polluted and have suffered a 95% reduction in native oysters; and 90% of our coastal seagrass meadows have been lost. The RSPB report states that while 28% of land and 24% of the sea are protected in the UK, in reality, as little as 5% is being properly cared for.
Here at Sea Watch Foundation, we play our part in protecting the UK’s environment and ensuring it is restored to its former glory. This is exemplified by our critical role in establishing the Cardigan Bay Special Area of Conservation (SAC) in 2003. Today, Sea Watch and its army of dedicated volunteers remain on the front lines in New Quay, ensuring the SAC regulations and guidelines are upheld and that it is properly protected.
Part of the ‘Restore Our Earth’ theme for Earth Day 2021, is focused on ‘Clean-Ups’. Plastic waste in oceans is just one of the ways humans have heavily impacted the planet. At Sea Watch, possibly our favourite thing to do, albeit second to actually spotting a cetacean, is picking up a piece of plastic and knowing we’re protecting one! We take this form of pollution very seriously because of the direct threat it imposes on cetaceans and other marine organisms, upon which Cardigan Bay’s semi-resident population of Bottlenose Dolphins rely. We have all mistaken one thing for another at some point, but for cetaceans it’s fatal. Whales and dolphins are susceptible to mistaking plastic for food, with eyesight and echolocation that has evolved to perfectly identify fish and jellies but not to distinguish man-made materials. Plastic ingested by dolphins and whales is no short of horrific. Not only are their stomachs being filled by indigestible material, leaving less and less space for real food, but the plastics act as a perfect carrier of harmful ‘hitchhiking’ bacteria and microbes. Starved, choking, and diseased, these whales and dolphins are suffering unnecessarily. This is something we don’t want to see on our watch, which is why cleanups are so important to us. They provide an immediate improvement to the environment and the effective removal of a very serious threat to our marine species.
Despite Covid-19 restrictions affecting access and conservation work in the first half of the year, 2020 proved to be an amazing year for wildlife on RSPB reserves with many threatened species having a record breeding season and many other species doing well.
The new Wildlife on RSPB nature reserves 2020 report brings together all the information about the wildlife on the RSPB’s nature reserves and it reports on the ups and downs of the bird breeding season, together with other wildlife highlights. The RSPB currently manages 224 nature reserves across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The area of these reserves covers 160,358 hectares, an area 4 times the size of the Isle of Wight.
The reserves, perhaps best known for the birds found there, are also crucially important for many other kinds of plants and animal. In 2020, the number of species recorded on RSPB reserves exceeded 18,500 species with more than 3000 of these being of conservation concern.
The RSPB’s Director of Conservation, Martin Harper said “Last year was exceptionally difficult for everyone. Like every part of society, nature conservation was affected by the coronavirus and the restrictions that dealing with it required. Vital conservation work had to be paused and much of the monitoring work that we would normally carry out was not possible, however, many of the species that call our reserves home managed to have a successful year.”
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