A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
Plants that can “bounce back” after disturbances like ploughing, flooding or drought are the most likely to be “invasive” if they’re moved to new parts of the world, scientists say.
Invasive plants cause harm to people, industry, livestock, wildlife and natural ecosystems worldwide – but predicting which plants could become invasive is very difficult.
A team of scientists from across Europe, led by the University of Exeter, developed and analysed a global database of plant life cycles to tackle this puzzle.
“What we found was a real surprise,” said senior author Professor Dave Hodgson, from the University of Exeter. “Invasive plant populations grow fast in their invaded range, but not in their native range. So you can’t use population growth to predict invasiveness. However, invasive plant species have an amazing ability to bounce back from disturbances, and we can see this in both their native range and their invaded range. Based on this finding, we should avoid the export of plant species that grow well in disturbed environments.”
PhD student and ecological consultant Kim Jelbert, lead author of the paper, said: “The kinds of species that bounce back from disturbance tend to be species that produce lots of seeds from large flowers.
“This is a real problem, because large flowers are popular with gardeners all over the world. These species should not be traded internationally.”
Access the paper: Jelbert, K. et al (2019) Demographic amplification is a predictor of invasiveness among plants (open access) Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 5602 (2019)
Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) have been found at Eycott Hill Nature Reserve, the first known record at this site in recent recording history.
A recent electrofishing survey carried out by West Cumbria Rivers Trust has monitored the fish populations in a stretch of Naddles Beck, which falls largely within Eycott Hill Nature Reserve. The surveys were carried out in September 2019, with the aim of providing follow-up surveys to those carried out at the start of The National Lottery Heritage Fund project in September 2015.
Electrofishing is a common method used to survey fish, which involves creating an electric field in the water in order to temporarily immobilise and net the fish. All fish species are counted and identified and then returned, unharmed, to the river. Additional information on size and age class is also collected for Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and brown trout (Salmo trutta), known collectively as salmonid species, in order to measure yearly variations of the juvenile populations and spawning success.
The surveys were carried out at six different points along Naddles and Barrow Beck, two tributaries which flow in a south westerly direction and eventually converge with the River Glenderamackin. Five of the six sites are within the boundary of Eycott Hill Nature Reserve and the Barrow Beck location is further downstream. It is unknown how long salmon have been absent from Naddles Beck but they have been present in the River Glenderamackin at Mungrisdale for a long time.
The loss of oxygen from the world’s ocean is increasingly threatening fish species and disrupting ecosystems, a new IUCN report warns. Ocean oxygen loss, driven by climate change and nutrient pollution, is a growing menace to fisheries and species such as tuna, marlin and sharks, according to the report released today (Saturday 7 December) at the UN Climate Change conference in Madrid.
"With this report, the scale of damage climate change is wreaking upon the ocean comes into stark focus. As the warming ocean loses oxygen, the delicate balance of marine life is thrown into disarray,” said Dr Grethel Aguilar, IUCN Acting Director General. “The potentially dire effects on fisheries and vulnerable coastal communities mean that the decisions made at the ongoing UN Climate Change Conference are even more crucial. To curb ocean oxygen loss alongside the other disastrous impacts of climate change, world leaders must commit to immediate and substantial emission cuts."
The review report, "Ocean deoxygenation: Everyone's problem", is the largest peer-reviewed study so far into the causes, impacts and possible solutions to ocean deoxygenation. Ocean regions with low oxygen concentrations are expanding, with around 700 sites worldwide now affected by low oxygen conditions – up from only 45 in the 1960s. In the same period, the volume of anoxic waters – areas completely depleted of oxygen – in the global ocean has quadrupled, according to the report.
"We are now seeing increasingly low levels of dissolved oxygen across large areas of the open ocean. This is perhaps the ultimate wake-up call from the uncontrolled experiment humanity is unleashing on the world’s ocean as carbon emissions continue to increase," said Dan Laffoley, Senior Advisor Marine Science and Conservation in IUCN's Global Marine and Polar Programme and a co-editor of the report. "Ocean oxygen depletion is menacing marine ecosystems already under stress from ocean warming and acidification. To stop the worrying expansion of oxygen-poor areas, we need to decisively curb greenhouse gas emissions as well as nutrient pollution from agriculture and other sources."
Wildlife, hedgerow conservation and hydro electricity projects are the first to benefit from funds through the new Peak District National Park Foundation.
Grants have been awarded through the Foundation’s #70kfor70 campaign, which launched during National Parks Week in April.
The Fairer for Nature gardening project in Fairfield, Buxton has been awarded £2,043. It aims to get young people excited about wildlife by encouraging them to improve their own - and other peoples’ - gardens as wildlife habitats.
Pinder’s Meadow charity in Hope has received £671 towards the costs of planting 300 mixed hedging plants to restore and enhance hedgerow and to provide nesting sites and food sources for birds.
Meanwhile, Bradwell Hydro Project has been granted £800, helping it to refurbish, upgrade and extend its water-powered Christmas lights. The project works in conjunction with Bradwell Junior School, teaching children about renewable energy and sustainable power sources.
The South West Peak Landscape Partnership has also received a grant of £2,500 from a generous donor, via the Foundation, to support the Elkstonian Society’s project to upgrade their village website and digitise archive material about the history of village life.
Jen Lowthrop, chair of the Peak District National Park Foundation, said: “We’re thrilled to be awarding our first grants to fantastic projects which care for our National Park and inspire the next generation to connect with nature. We believe the Peak District National Park should be a vibrant, colourful and safe home for the wildlife we all love. Our right to enjoy the National Park was hard won by ordinary folk. So we want to support projects to make it more accessible, for everyone to enjoy. But it is also unique and very fragile; we must always strive to keep it special. We’ve had a fantastic response to our #70kfor70 campaign from supporters who share this ambition. These projects are the first of many we want to fund and, with the love that exists for the Peak District, we’re looking forward to funding many more.”
A study led by Dr Sabine Lengger measured the stable isotopes of organic carbon in sediment cores taken from the ocean floor
‘Dead zones’ within the world’s oceans – where there is almost no oxygen to sustain life – could be expanding far quicker than currently thought, a new study suggests.
The regions are created when large amounts of organic material produced by algae sinks towards the seafloor, using up the oxygen present in the deep water.
Computer models can predict the spread of these zones, with the aim being to provide an insight into the impact they might have on the wider marine environment.
However, a study published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles suggests that dark carbon fixation – caused by the presence of anaerobic bacteria in the deeper water column – needs to be incorporated into these models.
The research was led by Dr Sabine Lengger, a scientist at the University of Plymouth, and involved researchers from universities in the UK and the Netherlands.
They measured the stable isotopes of organic carbon in sediment cores taken from the floor of the Arabian Sea, one of the world’s large natural dead zones, in order to get a clear understanding about what is contributing to the organic matter contained within them.
This value is a mixture of all the distinct signatures from all the organisms that produced this carbon – thought to be mostly algae and bacteria living in the oxygen-rich, light, surface ocean where it sinks from.
However, using a distinct biomarker produced by anaerobic bacteria, they suggest that around one fifth of the organic matter on the seafloor could in fact stem from bacteria living in or around these dead zones.
A groundbreaking bid to help save Scotland’s almost-vanished mountaintop forests and their wildlife is being launched by Trees for Life, with the creation in the Highlands of what is thought will be the country’s largest planted area of rare high-altitude woodland.
Centuries of overgrazing by sheep and deer have left most of Scotland stripped of the once-common, tough, waist-high ‘wee trees’ such as dwarf birch and downy willow – known as ‘montane’ species because they can grow near mountain summits, despite harsh conditions.
In a major expansion of action to reverse the loss of these unique woodlands – home to wildlife such as golden eagle, ring ouzel and mountain hare – Trees for Life is establishing a 700-acre mountaintop woodland of 100,000 trees at its Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness.
The site – Carn na Caorach, meaning ‘sheep cairn’ – lies at 450-600 metres above sea level on Dundreggan’s northeastern edge, with sweeping views over Glenmoriston and Glen Affric. It is thought to have been an important place for grazing livestock for hundreds of years.
“Montane woodlands are a vital part of Scotland’s precious Caledonian Forest, but are often restored over only small areas if at all. To bring these special ‘wee trees’ back from the brink, and create habitats for the wildlife that depends on them, we need something bigger – and that’s what we’re setting out to achieve at Carn na Caorach,” said Doug Gilbert, Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Manager.
This month Trees for Life has erected its largest-ever exclosure – a fence designed to protect young trees by keeping grazing animals out – at the site, supported by funding from the Scottish Natural Heritage Biodiversity Challenge Fund.
The conservation charity’s volunteers will begin the first phase of planting next spring – with trees including downy willow and dwarf birch on the higher ground, and Scots pine and juniper on the lower slopes. Further planting will continue over the next few years, and self-seeded saplings will also be able to thrive in the grazing-free exclosure.
The initiative will also see the return of plants including wood cranesbill, globeflower and alpine sowthistle, in turn supporting mammals, birds, and pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies.
It will benefit people too, with the new forest helping to tackle climate change by locking away carbon dioxide, and reduce flooding by improving the soil’s capacity to retain water.
The European Green Deal sets out how to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, boosting the economy, improving people's health and quality of life, caring for nature, and leaving no one behind
The European Commission today presented The European Green Deal – a roadmap for making the EU's economy sustainable by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities across all policy areas and making the transition just and inclusive for all.
President Ursula von der Leyen said: ‘The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy – for a growth that gives back more than it takes away. It shows how to transform our way of living and working, of producing and consuming so that we live healthier and make our businesses innovative. We can all be involved in the transition and we can all benefit from the opportunities. We will help our economy to be a global leader by moving first and moving fast. We are determined to succeed for the sake of this planet and life on it – for Europe's natural heritage, for biodiversity, for our forests and our seas. By showing the rest of the world how to be sustainable and competitive, we can convince other countries to move with us.'
Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans added ‘We are in a climate and environmental emergency. The European Green Deal is an opportunity to improve the health and well-being of our people by transforming our economic model. Our plan sets out how to cut emissions, restore the health of our natural environment, protect our wildlife, create new economic opportunities, and improve the quality of life of our citizens. We all have an important part to play and every industry and country will be part of this transformation. Moreover, our responsibility is to make sure that this transition is a just transition, and that nobody is left behind as we deliver the European Green Deal.'
The European Green Deal provides a roadmap with actions to boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean, circular economy and stop climate change, revert biodiversity loss and cut pollution. It outlines investments needed and financing tools available, and explains how to ensure a just and inclusive transition.
Today rewilding organisations from 15 different European countries are calling for a wilder Europe and the inclusion of rewilding in the European Green Deal and EU Biodiversity Strategy post-2020. This has the potential to significantly mitigate climate change and reverse biodiversity decline.
Rewilding combats climate change
Yesterday EU commissioner Frans Timmermans presented the European Green Deal in Brussels. While this document is very ambitious on climate actions, Rewilding Europe believes the deal should place far more emphasis on nature-based solutions and large-scale nature recovery to help tackle both the current climate and biodiversity emergencies.
By providing and enhancing nature-based solutions, rewilding can help to mitigate and overcome a whole range of societal challenges. Working with nature can – in a timely and cost-effective way – protect us from flooding and coastal erosion, minimise the threat of wildfire, secure drinking water supplies, ensure human health and wellbeing, and drive economic growth. Rewilding is also one of the most practical and cost-effective ways of mitigating climate change, and helps to boost climate resilience.
Two sides of the same coin
According to a 2017 report on natural climate solutions, the restoration of carbon-rich natural ecosystems such as wild forests, natural grasslands, seabeds, coastal habitats and particularly peatlands could provide at least 37 percent of the greenhouse gas mitigation required if we want a good chance of keeping warming below 2°C until 2030. Despite this, only a tiny fraction of climate change investments is currently allocated to such solutions.
Queen Mary researchers have used geographic profiling to uncover the truth behind how the non-native birds arrived and spread in Britain.
The study published today in the Journal of Zoology shows that Britain’s booming parakeet population has grown from numerous small-scale accidental and intentional pet releases dispelling common myths about the bird’s origins in the UK.
Lead author Dr Steven Le Comber and Queen Mary colleagues used geographic profiling – a statistical technique originally developed in criminology to prioritise large lists of suspects – to analyse spatial patterns of parakeet sightings.
Dr Le Comber said: “The ring-necked parakeet has become a successful invasive species in 34 countries on five continents. The fun legends relating to the origins of the UK’s parakeets are probably not going to go away any time soon. However, our research only found evidence to support the belief of most ornithologists: the spread of parakeets in the UK is likely a consequence of repeated releases and introductions, and nothing to do with publicity stunts by musicians or movie stars.”
Debunking the myths
Stories have circulated in recent years about how parakeets have become one of Britain’s most successful alien species.
Despite sightings dating back to the 1860s, many insist that Jimi Hendrix first released a pair on Carnaby Street. Others claim a flock was let go from the set of the Bogart and Hepburn classic The African Queen when filming wrapped in 1951.
The research found that none of the ‘suspect sites’ connected to origin myths showed up prominently in the geoprofile of more than 5,000 unique records dating from 1968 - 2018. The findings were backed by an extensive search of archived newspaper articles conducted at Goldsmiths, University of London, which found thousands of pages of news stories about parakeets written between 1804 and 2008 but failed to locate a single item of news coverage documenting the escape or release of parakeets in the context of the four main origin myths.
We've enlisted the help of 30 students from Gloucestershire College to create new habitat for the great crested newt.
Their work to dig out seven tonnes of earth and landscape a pond, at Saul Junction on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal, reached a key stage when it was filled with 12,500 litres (or nearly 1,000 buckets full) of water this week (11 December).
Since September the students from the Cheltenham and Forest of Dean campuses of Gloucestershire College have been working with us on a ‘build a pond’ project, through support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery. The students from Foundation Studies, who have mild learning difficulties, have been involved in a wide range of activities including: clearing the site, fence-building, digging out the pond and preparing it for filling with water. They will also be planting wildflowers on the surrounding bunds.
Laura Mullholland ecologist for the Trust explains: "Great crested newts are a protected species and we know they are in the local area. They cannot survive in the canal alone so, by creating this pond specifically for them, we hope they will take up residence. We’ve tailored it for them, including having plants with large leaves in which they like to wrap their eggs. Whilst we wait for the newts to get settled-in, we can look forward to dragonflies and damselflies making the pond home and we’re excited to see what other exciting creatures are attracted.
Building employability skills
All the tasks have given the young people invaluable experience of volunteering within their community, as well as building employability skills. Madeleine Burgess, employability development coordinator at the college describes what the experience means: "Through this challenging pond project, the students have had to listen and follow instructions to work as a team. Without working together, the project could not have been completed. They have had to build up their resilience, as the task at times was really difficult when it rained continuously.
Wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation has revealed that one of the UK’s rarest butterflies had an exceptional year in Kent in 2019.
The Heath Fritillary, which is found in only four locations in the UK, produced a stunning spectacle in Kent’s Blean Woods, north of Canterbury. This was one of the best years on record for this threatened butterfly, with 2,292 of them being recorded on single-day counts.
The butterfly’s success is down to the combined conservation efforts of a variety of organisations including the RSPB, Kent Wildlife Trust, Forestry Commission, private woodland owners and South East Water who also own part of the Blean complex.
Guided by the data collected by Butterfly Conservation these organisations have been managing the woodlands to encourage the spread of the Heath Fritillary’s foodplant, Cow-wheat, and also created open sunny areas where the adult butterfly can fly and flourish.
These efforts have helped to take Heath Fritillary numbers from once worrying lows to record numbers in 2019.
Reserve Warden Sam Richardson said: “2019 was a great season and truly felt like one of the best nature spectacles I have ever seen when the sun hit the woodland floor and the butterflies rose in their hundreds. The combination of perfect weather conditions and plenty of suitable habitat all contributed to the success.”
The recovery of pine marten in Ireland and Britain is reversing native red squirrel replacement by invasive grey squirrels, according to new research presented at the British Ecological Society’s annual meeting in Belfast today (13/12/19)
Researchers at Queens University, Belfast and National Museums Northern Ireland have found red squirrels are responding positively to the increased presence of pine martens across Northern Ireland. So, where pine martens occur, it increases the chances of red squirrels occurring, simultaneously reducing the likelihood of grey squirrels being present.
Historically, persecution of pine marten and loss of their preferred habitat led to severe declines across Ireland and Britain. In Northern Ireland, small, remnant populations were all that remained, but today, the species is recovering, and this comeback may help ensure the long-term future of the red squirrel in Ireland.
Joshua Twining, who will be presenting the research at the conference, commented: “the red squirrels ‘positive response’ is likely due to grey squirrel disappearance rather than red squirrels and pine martens working together.”
Pine martens eat both red and grey squirrels, though the key difference is that red squirrels have evolved alongside pine martens over millennia, making them able to coexist.
Twining said, “The ability of the pine marten to control the grey squirrel and help red squirrel recovery in Ireland and Britain is limited by three things; its ongoing recovery, the lack of forest cover on the island and the presence of urban areas.” Twining and co-authors suggest that grey squirrels will persist in the latter as results show pine marten are forest specialists and avoid urban areas." Although the red squirrel population is increasing in Northern Ireland, the researchers warn that: “unless the issue of control within populated areas is addressed, we risk creating a situation where marten-savvy grey squirrels could recolonise the wider landscape in the future.”
If pine marten are to extend their positive impact on red squirrels, issues impeding pine marten recovery need to be addressed. At present, Ireland and Britain are among the least forested countries in Europe with only 11% and 13% of forest cover respectively. The pine martens’ sphere of influence is limited to its forested havens. Increasing forest cover, would lead to concurrent increases in the pine marten’s ability to control grey squirrels and aid in recovery of the red squirrels.
People convicted of wildlife crimes such as deer poaching, hare coursing, killing badgers or birds of prey should receive bigger fines and longer prison sentences than currently available says Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), the organisation which represents landowners and rural businesses.
Following an evidence session with the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform Committee today (10 December 2019), SLE says that those who undertake illegal acts should face strong penalties proportionate to the crime and in line with those for similar crimes, with sanctions applied consistently & clearly to act as a real deterrent.
SLE also says that to successfully fight wildlife crime, education of what wildlife crime is and the impact, awareness of the possible maximum penalties along with more training and support for police officers to assist with detection are vitally important.
Karen Ramoo, Policy Adviser at Scottish Land & Estates who gave evidence today at the committee, said: “We need to send out a clear message that wildlife crime of any kind is absolutely unacceptable, and these reckless acts will not be tolerated. That is why we are calling for longer prison sentences and bigger maximum fines for the most serious wildlife crimes, to act as a deterrent.
Chaniotis, P. D., Robson, L. M., Lemasson, A. J., Cornthwaite, A. L. & Howell, K. L. (2019) UK deep‐sea conservation: Progress, lessons learned, and actions for the future (open access) Aquatic Conservation. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.3243
Bidari Subekshya, Peleg Orit and Kilpatrick Zachary P. Social inhibition maintains adaptivity and consensus of honeybees foraging in dynamic environments R. Soc. open sci.
Johan Ekroos, David Kleijn, Péter Batáry, Matthias Albrecht, András Báldi, Nico Blüthgen, Eva Knop, Anikó Kovács-Hostyánszki, Henrik G Smith, High land-use intensity in grasslands constrains wild bee species richness in Europe, Biological Conservation doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108255
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