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CJS News, Headlines from week beginning 3 February 2020

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

Scotland in world first for genetic diversity - Scottish Natural Heritage

Scientists have developed a world-first method to help understand and conserve genetic diversity in some of our most iconic wild species.

Heather, red squirrel, golden eagle, Scottish bluebell and Scots pine are among those assessed in a new report published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Genetic diversity is the differences among individuals due to variation in their DNA.

Red Squirrel © Lorne Gill/SNH
Red Squirrel © Lorne Gill/SNH

Conserving the genetic diversity of plants, animals and wild species is the focus of one of the 20 international Aichi biodiversity targets.

But while there are strategies in place to assess and report on genetic diversity in agriculture, horticulture and forestry, there is a gap when it comes to wild species.

Researchers identified a list of target species of particular importance for Scotland and developed a “genetic scorecard” for each, assessing their genetic diversity and any associated risks.

The species were chosen for their conservation or cultural value, importance for food and medicines or because they provide crucial ecosystem services such as carbon storage.

The research found that four of the assessed species - wildcat, ash, great yellow bumblebee and freshwater pearl mussel - were classed as being at risk of severe genetic problems as a result of factors including non-native species, disease, habitat loss and pollution.

Harebell (Scots bluebell) ©Lorne Gil / SNH
Harebell (Scots bluebell) ©Lorne Gil / SNH


David O'Brien, SNH Biodiversity Evidence and Reporting Manager, said: “Often when we talk about biodiversity the focus is on species and ecosystems, but genetic diversity is also essential for nature to be resilient in the face of pressures such as climate change, and it’s great that Scotland is leading the way in this field. For the first time, this report sets out a clear ‘scorecard’ method for assessing the genetic diversity of wild species and applies this to some of our most important plants, animals and birds. Not only does it fill a major gap in addressing the international target for genetic biodiversity conservation but importantly it can be expanded to cover many more species, and adapted for use in any country in the world.”

New report reveals hedgehogs, yellowhammers and dragonflies at risk post-EU Exit - The Wildlife Trusts with RSPB & WWF

New report reveals that there are no clear plans on how regulation gaps will be plugged to protect nature.

A new report published today (3/2/2020) - commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and WWF - highlights big gaps in environmental protections post-EU Exit and argues that a new system of regulation is needed to maintain and improve farming and environmental standards.

The Agriculture Bill, which will be debated in the House of Commons on Monday 3rd February, presents a welcome transformative vision for agriculture in which payments will be made to farmers to tackle the climate and nature crisis. However, it misses the need to improve the way Government will ensure farmers meet minimum environmental standards post-EU Exit. This puts the natural world – from hedgerows and soils, to ponds and the wildlife that depends on them, at risk.

The three wildlife charities are calling on the Government to close the gaps in regulation and include a power in the Agriculture Bill to introduce and enforce a new regulatory framework for agriculture which addresses the gaps.

Risks and opportunities of a post-EU environmental regulatory regime for agriculture in England, the new report by the Institute of European Environmental Policy (IEEP), examines the risks to nature of losing the current conditions that are attached to farming support. It also reveals the gaps in domestic legislation which need filling. Without additional legislation, we stand to lose regulations which ensure that:

  • Hedgerows are not cut during the bird nesting season, protecting birds like yellowhammers and small mammals such as hedgehogs
  • Wild ‘buffer’ strips alongside hedgerows are not ploughed or sprayed with pesticides, protecting bees and other pollinating insects
  • Bare soils are protected from blowing away or draining into rivers, preserving our ability to grow crops in future and locking in carbon
  • Ponds are safeguarded, providing important stepping-stones for wildlife including frogs and dragonflies

Read the report in full: Risks and opportunities of a post-EU environmental regulatory regime for agriculture in England, (PDF)

Evidence on options for transformative change needed to sustain people and the planet - Natural Resources Wales

A report by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) starts to scope out the potential for transformative changes to the way we live, to ensure that our natural environment will be able to sustain us in the future.

NRW is gathering evidence for its second State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR), due to be published in December 2020. The report is Wales’ national evidence base for natural resources, ecosystem resilience and wellbeing.

Caerfai Bay (image: NRW)
Caerfai Bay (image: NRW)

It will be used to inform action and decisions by a range of decision makes across Wales and through such routes as Area Statements and the Natural Resources policy.

An interim report has been published, which outlines the evidence from the United Nations on the linked nature and climate emergencies. The UN are calling for ‘transformative changes’ to society and the economy to deal with these emergencies. The report describes some examples of the type of action which could be taken.

We need your help this year to gather together the evidence for Wales around these two emergencies and the options we have to address them. We need your views on what we have set out in terms of the challenges Wales faces and how we measure progress.

NRW is actively looking for individuals and organisations to help contribute to the next report. If you think you can help NRW with information needed to assess the sustainable management of natural resources, please get in touch sonarr@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk

Details are published in the State of Natural Resources Interim Report 2019 on NRW’s website here.

Survey reveals nature concern - Scottish Natural Heritage

Public concern about biodiversity may be on the rise, a new survey suggests. The 2019 Scottish Nature Omnibus survey found that 65% of people agree there will be less variety of life in Scotland over the next 50 years, compared to 63% in 2017. Over the same period, the proportion of adults concerned about Scotland’s biodiversity has increased from 68% to 71%.

Bumblebee (c) Lorne Gill/SNH
Bumblebee (c) Lorne Gill/SNH

In 2019 just over half of respondents (54%) said they felt nature was personally relevant to them, compared to 52% two years ago. The online survey of 1,101 people reveals a rise in the proportion of people gardening for wildlife (from 42% to 46%) and volunteering (from 21% to 23%). However there was a slight drop in the percentage saying they were taking action to be a green consumer (72% to 70%) and a green traveller (66% compared to 65%).

The survey found that while a majority of people have heard of SNH, awareness of the organisation’s remit remains relatively low with respondents most likely to associate it with protecting or looking after Scotland’s heritage, culture or history. From May 1 SNH will rebrand to NatureScot to be more recognisable to the general public as Scotland’s nature agency and the organisation responsible for restoring and enriching our biodiversity.

It’s official – the Wren is our most common bird. - British Trust for Ornithology

Wren by Alan Drewitt
Wren by Alan Drewitt

In the latest report looking at the size of our bird populations the Wren tops the list with 11 million pairs across the UK

The latest report, Population estimates of birds in Great Britain and the United Kingdom shows that the Wren continues to hold the title of our commonest bird – the last report in 2013 also had Wren at the top of the list but with a population of just over 8.5 million pairs. Wren numbers are known to fluctuate according to environmental conditions and it may be that generally milder winters are benefitting one of our smallest birds.

The top five are made up of Wren, Robin (7,350,000 pairs), House Sparrow (5,300,000), Woodpigeon (5,150,000) and Chaffinch and Blackbird share the number five spot at 5,050,000 territories each.

It is estimated that there are around 85 million breeding pairs of birds in the UK altogether, just over one and a quarter pairs for each of us. This is similar to the last estimate calculated in 2013. There are also 20 species whose populations are more than 1 million pairs.

As always there have been winners and losers. One of the most shocking falls in numbers is that seen by the Turtle Dove, down from 75,000 pairs in 1997 to an estimate of just 3,600 pairs in the latest report, and, there are now no breeding waders in the UK that have a breeding population greater than 100,000 pairs, with Lapwing and Oystercatcher falling below this for the first time.

Almost as surprising is the fall in number for one of our most familiar of birds, the Chaffinch. Since the last report, seven years ago, the Chaffinch breeding population has fallen by 1.15 million pairs - the drivers of which are unclear and need further investigation.

The full report is published in the journal British Birds but a summary of the report, containing the core information on population sizes, is available on the BTO website here.

Growing not planting trees is the key to unlock climate change benefits - Royal Forestry Society

Recent calls to plant millions more trees are missing a raft of opportunities to maximise impact on climate change, warns the Royal Forestry Society (RFS).

The charity fears planting millions of trees risks being a short-term indulgence if we don’t then commit to long term sustainable management. And it says this must start with recognising timber as a carbon store.

As it publishes its Forestry and Climate Change policy, RFS Chief Executive Simon Lloyd says: “Climate change is now a national priority and should rightly be at the core of governments’ forestry policies. Such a policy focus will drive real change while delivering multiple environmental benefits of trees, woods and forests. But to be truly successful, climate change policies for forestry must not overlook the enormous carbon capture potential in developing markets such as switching to more timber-based construction. Planting millions of trees risks being a short-term indulgence if we don’t then commit to long term sustainable management. For many land managers, the costs of planting and maintaining trees and woodland will generate income from timber and woodfuel in 50 or 100 years’ time to re-invest in more trees. We need to be developing markets geared to this growth in home grown production.”

Forestry and Climate Change policy
Forestry and Climate Change policy (cover)

The charity emphasises the need for a clearer policy focus which underlines the cumulative benefit of planting resilient species, maintaining newly created woodland and sustainably managing woodland that already exists.

Managing climate adapted woodland for the future, it says, will require greater flexibility in choice in tree species, including site-suitable productive timber species. With so much uncertainty, those choices will need to be supported by research-based evidence and decision support tools.

To reach the target to grow 50 million trees every year for the next 30 years, and to adapt existing woods to be more resilient to climate change requires considerable investment in people, training and knowledge sharing. There is already a skills shortage in forestry at all levels which is exacerbated by lack of teaching provision in schools and colleges which must be reversed.

Read the full Forestry and Climate Change policy here.

Losing coastal plant communities to climate change will weaken sea defences - University of Plymouth

The research was led by the University of Plymouth and is published in a special edition of the journal Annals of Botany

Coastal plant communities are a crucial element of global sea defences but are increasingly threatened by the human-induced effects of climate change, according to new research.

Rising sea levels and the increased frequency and intensity of extreme storm events are having a visible, global impact on beaches, cliff faces and coastal infrastructure.

But a new report suggests their impact on coastal plants, an integral part of shoreline defences, needs to be placed in greater focus.

The research was led by the University of Plymouth, in conjunction with scientists at Utrecht University and Manchester Metropolitan University, and is published in a special edition of the journal Annals of Botany.

It follows a recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2019), which asserted that anthropogenically-driven climate change poses a severe environmental threat to estuarine and coastal ecosystems.

This report not only reviews how the flood and erosion threats posed by a combination of sea level rise and storms can affect coastal sub-, inter- and supra-tidal plant communities, but also highlights the contribution that habitats like saltmarshes, mangrove forests, sand dunes and kelp beds make to coastal protection.

As well as highlighting that the threats posed by extreme weather to coastal plant communities are undoubtedly severe, the study calls for biologists and ecologists to work alongside coastal scientists, environment agencies and land managers to identify the key species and habitats for coastal defence and how they can be both promoted and protected in the future.

Central to that objective, the authors argue, is the need to develop and combine long-term monitoring with flood risk models to better predict where and how storms and other climate change-driven phenomenon influence coastal ecosystems and services.

The full study – The gathering storm: optimizing management of coastal ecosystems in the face of a climate-driven threat by Hanley et al – is published in a special edition of Annals of Botany, doi: 10.1093/aob/mcz204.

Grey seals discovered clapping underwater to communicate - Newcastle University

Seal diver Ben Burville with one of his dive buddies - a wild grey seal off the Farne Islands, UK. Photo by Ben Burville.
Seal diver Ben Burville with one of his dive buddies - a wild grey seal off the Farne Islands, UK. Photo by Ben Burville.

A grey seal has been captured on camera clapping its flippers underwater for the very first time.

Dr Ben Burville, a researcher at Newcastle University, UK, has been trying for 17 years to film a seal producing the gunshot-like ‘Crack!’ sound which they make underwater during the breeding season.

Used by bull seals as a sign of strength to ward off competitors and attract potential mates, the loud high-frequency noise cuts through background noise, sending out a clear signal to any other seals in the area. Previously believed to be a vocal sound – like the calls and whistles produced by many marine mammals – this new underwater footage clearly shows a male grey seal repeatedly clapping its flippers to produce the loud noise.

Newcastle University’s Dr Burville – explains: “I was diving off the Farne Islands when I first saw a large male clap underwater. The effect of the clap was instant and the rival males rapidly dispersed. The clap was incredibly loud and at first I found it hard to believe what I had seen. How could a seal make such a loud clap underwater with no air to compress between its flippers? I’ve heard the distinctive shotgun-like cracks! many times over the years and I felt sure this clapping behaviour was the source, but filming the seals in action has eluded me for 17 years."

Flagship Agriculture Bill moves a step forward - Defra

Agriculture Bill moves forward as Environment Secretary leads Second Reading in Parliament

Legislation that will transform British farming moves a step forward today, with Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers leading the Second Reading of the Agriculture Bill in the House of Commons.

The Bill was introduced on 16 January and will replace the EU’s flawed Common Agriculture Policy with a system where farmers are rewarded with public money for public goods, such as cleaner air and water or improved animal welfare standards. At the same time, it will help to boost productivity and maximise the potential of land for sustainable food production.

Today, just under three weeks after the Bill was introduced, the primary legislation is being brought forward for Second Reading in the House of Commons. This is the first opportunity for the new Bill to be debated by MPs.

The Environment Secretary will open the session with a speech setting out how the Bill will help safeguard nature in England and protect our countryside, with the future Environmental Land Management scheme already being tested and trialled with farmers in many parts of the country.

Secret report exposes 'toxic cocktail' found in sewage spread on farmland - Greenpeace

Government-commissioned report finds fertiliser contaminated with pollutants that could “pose a risk to human health”

The UK government’s environment watchdog has failed to take action on a still-unpublished report, submitted to it over two years ago, which warns of a cocktail of contaminants found at potentially harmful levels in sewage sludge used as fertiliser on farmland.

The report, which was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Greenpeace UK’s investigative journalism unit, Unearthed, details the results of an investigation into the “landspreading” industry - the use of sewage sludge, mainly human waste, as fertiliser on farmland - carried out on behalf of the Environment Agency.

As part of the investigation, sewage sludge and soil samples were tested at more than 54 farms and eight sludge treatment sites across the UK. Results found evidence of widespread contamination from plastics and microplastics that could ultimately leave the soil “unsuitable for agriculture”, as well as pollutants such as dioxins, furans, benzo(a)pyrene, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) at levels that could “pose a risk to human health” in a number of the samples. The tests also found salmonella and “high concentrations of e-coli” - both bacteria can cause serious or even fatal infections.

This report can only now be made public after it was obtained by Unearthed under freedom of information laws. Unearthed has shared the document with the Telegraph newspaper and the BBC’s File on 4, which will air a documentary on the sludge spreading industry tonight (4/2).

Read the full story here.

Read The Telegraph's report here.


Telegraph coverage of sewage sludge being used as fertiliser - defra response on the Defra in the media blog

The Environment Agency is currently working on a sludge strategy which is due to be published later this year, looking to find solutions to sludge pollution and how toxins can be removed from our natural environment.

Our sludge strategy will also assess how the EA can continue to find waste recovery activities that work as an alternative to manufactured fertilisers whilst counteracting the damaging pollutants that have been introduced.


Thousands ask Prime Minister to stop and re-think HS, high speed rail plans risk devastating environmental damage. - The Wildlife Trusts and Woodland Trust

Today (4/2) a letter from The Wildlife Trusts, signed by over 66,000 people will be delivered to 10 Downing Street highlighting the huge risks that HS2 poses to the environment, and asking the Prime Minister to ensure that the impact on nature is properly assessed as a matter of urgency.

The Woodland Trust is also handing over 42,000 comments, including 7,000 handwritten responses condemning the potential loss of ancient woodlands and thousands of trees which will be impacted or felled to make way for the line.

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy says: “People want a commitment to ensure that nature does not pay the price for HS2. In only three weeks over 66,000 people have signed our letter to the Prime Minister showing that they care deeply about the risks to wildlife such as barn owls, and precious plants like the endangered lizard orchid. Current plans could devastate irreplaceable meadows, designated ancient woodlands and internationally important wetlands, creating an environmental scar that will not heal. We’re calling on the Prime Minister to stop and re-think HS2; the fate of hundreds of treasured wild places and the wildlife that depend on them, is in his hands.”

Head of Campaigning at the Woodland Trust, Adam Cormack says: “Government needs to realise that HS2 will cost far more than money, and that destroying our precious ancient woodlands is a grave mistake that will be looked back on in shock by future generations. “Our ancient woodlands and the unique species they support are on borrowed time. We need the Prime Minister to stop the clocks and listen to the views of thousands before it’s too late to save these sites from destruction. It’s time to rethink HS2.”

A recent report published by The Wildlife Trusts, including data from the Woodland Trust, revealed evidence of the vast scale of destruction and impact that HS2 could cause to nature. ‘What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much’ is the most comprehensive assessment of potential environmental damage.

The letter that over 66,000 people have signed to the Prime Minister is here.

Beaver back in Sussex - Sussex Wildlife Trust

After an absence of over 400 years, the beaver is coming back to Sussex.

These natural ecosystem engineers, which help so much with natural flood management and water quality, were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 16th Century.

beaver swimming (©David Plummer/Sussex Wildlife Trust)
beaver swimming (©David Plummer/Sussex Wildlife Trust)

But, thanks to The Sussex Beaver Trial, a partnership led by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the rewilding project at the Knepp Estate near Horsham, there will be a re-introduction of two pairs of beaver in either late spring 2020 or in the autumn, in Knepp’s Southern Block.

The beavers will be released under Natural England licence in two locations within a large enclosed area for a five-year period to see how they settle into and adapt to their new environment. The beavers will have over 250 hectares of land, including extensive swathes of willow, available to them, where they can roam and do what they do best – natural coppicing and natural flood management.

Beavers are extraordinary hydrological engineers, able to build leaky dams and lodges, and create channels and deep pools. This activity will provide natural flood management benefits within the Adur catchment, as well as maintaining a base flow of water in drought conditions.

Isabella Tree, co-owner of Knepp Estate said ‘This is a dream come true for us. We know beavers are one of the biggest influences missing from our landscape. Not only are they masters of water management, they’re hugely beneficial to biodiversity. Insects, birds, aquatic plants, fish will all gain from the intricate habitats they create. I am longing for the day when I hear a beaver tail slapping on Hammer Pond.’

Building for bats in an urban world - British Trust for Ornithology

A new study by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the University of Turin shows how to minimise impacts of urban growth on bats at a time when the need for new housing often hits the headlines.

Urbanisation is amongst the most ecologically damaging changes in land use, posing significant threats to global biodiversity. Most bat species are threatened by urbanisation, although urban areas can also offer important roosting and foraging opportunities. Could developers consider how bats are likely to respond to urbanisation, and take steps to minimise negative impacts?

Whiskered Bat by Jan Svetlik (via BTO)
Whiskered Bat by Jan Svetlik (via BTO)

In a paper just published in the international journal Biological Conservation, scientists used bat calls collected by volunteer citizen scientists taking part in the Norfolk Bat Survey to address this question. The huge acoustic dataset, consisting of over one million recordings gathered between 2013 and 2016, was used to show the importance of habitat features, including buildings and roads, waterbodies and trees, to bats in urban areas. This is especially important given that parts of the study region have been identified as target areas to create new, affordable housing. The researchers also considered possible future scenarios of urban development, assuming an increase in either urban habitat or woodland.
Barbastelle, Brown Long-eared Bat and Myotis species emerged as the species most vulnerable to urbanisation. Overall, lakes and woodland patches were the most important habitat types for bats, while urban areas were often avoided. The results suggest that to build for bats, urban growth should expand on existing urban blocks, rather than create new urban patches. This would minimise impacts on areas that bats use for commuting or foraging. The study also showed that creating bat-friendly habitats of an area at least equal to any new urban settlement could provide mitigation for the negative effects of urbanisation. New patches of woodland should also be encouraged, while preserving unmanaged areas within large commercial coniferous plantations would support their use by bats.

Read the paper: Fabrizio Gili, Stuart E. Newson, Simon Gillings, Dan E. Chamberlain, Jennifier A. Border, Bats in urbanising landscapes: habitat selection and recommendations for a sustainable future, Biological Conservation, Volume 241, 2020, 108343, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108343. (open access)

National Trust set to fund ‘biggest ever conservation spend’ of £3m a week in its 125th year - National Trust

The National Trust is set to spend an average of £3m every week this year on conservation for the first time as it continues to invest more in houses, collections, coastline and countryside.

The news comes as Europe’s biggest conservation charity lays out plans for its biggest ever sustained investment in protecting nature and the environment as it continues to tackle the “crisis caused by climate change which is leaving nature in peril”.

Last month, Director General Hilary McGrady announced in a landmark speech that by 2030 the Trust will become carbon net zero. To achieve this, the Trust has outlined several major steps, including: planting and establishing 20 million trees, moving its heating and electricity entirely to renewable energy, continuing to spend millions on improving rivers and greatly improving the energy efficiency of many of its historic buildings.

To help fund this ongoing commitment to protecting the environment, and the Trust’s increasing investment in houses, collections and gardens, the charity has announced that from March its membership fees will increase by a maximum of 65p per month.

During 2018/19 the National Trust spent £148.4m on conservation - £10m more than the previous year. This included £112.7m looking after historic buildings, collections and gardens, plus £35.7m on coast and countryside.

Size matters! What drives zoo attendance and how does footfall impact conservation? - Trinity College Dublin

Scientists from Trinity, Species360 and NUI Galway have quantified what drives attendance to zoos by assessing how variations in animal collections affect footfall.

(image: Trinity College Dublin)
(image: Trinity College Dublin)

Crucially, they link their findings to the contributions made to conservation efforts in situ (in the wild), and find that zoos are making significant, positive impacts on our attempts to conserve biodiversity as our planet enters its sixth mass extinction.

Among the headline findings are that zoos with lots of animals, lots of different species (particularly mammals), and with large animals such as elephants, tigers and pandas attract higher numbers of visitors. It is difficult for zoos to fulfil all of these requirements simultaneously however as large animals take up a lot of space and resources meaning relatively few can be accommodated.

The research found that instead of a “one size fits all” approach to a zoo collection there are several different strategies that can be used to encourage attendance, including the inclusion of unusual animals.

This research used a global data-set for 458 zoos in 58 countries, including species holdings data from the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS) managed by Species360. More than 1,200 wildlife institutions curate and share animal data as members of Species360, contributing real-time demographic, medical, genetic, and population insights for more than 22,000 species and 10,000,000 individual animals, both living and historic.

Read the paper: Mooney, A., Conde, D.A., Healy, K. et al. A system wide approach to managing zoo collections for visitor attendance and in situ conservation. Nat Commun 11, 584 (2020). doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-14303-2

Oxford-Cambridge rail scheme’s “net gain” commitment shows HS2 failing nature - RSPB

Transport Secretary’s announcement of preferred route for East West Rail timely reminder of HS2’s failure to protect environment

Responding to the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapp’s announcement on 30 January of the preferred route for the proposed East West Rail connection between Oxford and Cambridge, the RSPB has said the scheme highlights the environmental shortcomings of its more (in)famous peer, High Speed 2.

In publishing it’s preferred route option for the section of the line between Bedford and Cambridge, East West Rail Co. restated its commitment to achieving “biodiversity net gain” from the project – something HS2 Ltd has so far failed to adopt.

Notwithstanding concerns about the potential impact of the final alignment of the line, and the “unfathomable decision” not to electrify the route, the RSPB claims East West Rail’s net gain ambition marks a line in the sand for large national infrastructure projects to protect and restore nature.

RSPB Operations Director Jeff Knott: “Given the very negative response of HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport to the numerous concerns that have been raised about the scheme’s impacts on wildlife, it is something of a revelation that another national rail scheme right next door is making such positive noises about its intent towards nature. Everything we understand about HS2’s likely environmental impacts points to the high price it will exact from nature. Given the enormous challenges we are facing with the loss of wildlife and habitats, climate change and the threat to ecosystems, it’s not a price we should even be considering making nature pay.”

HS2 Ltd, the public company responsible for building HS2, has never subscribed to biodiversity net gain, instead opting for the less beneficial goal of “no net loss”.

The consensus among conservation organisations is that it is likely to fail to achieve even this target, with impacts on irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland and birds like the barn owl a major concern.

Entries open for the 'Oscars of the waterways' - Canal and River Trust

Categories range from construction and environment to culture, education and community

The search is on for the best schemes, projects and initiatives that are helping to make life better by water. Now in our seventeenth year, our Living Waterways Awards celebrate the most exciting and inspiring waterway-based projects across the UK.

Getting the recognition you deserve

Sue Wilkinson, chair of the Awards and one of our trustees, said: “We know there are hundreds of brilliant projects taking place along our waterways and we want to shine a light on the incredible contribution that those involved are making to the lives of many thousands of people living near these canals, rivers, lakes and lochs. We urge those involved in these initiatives to enter the Awards and get the recognition they rightly deserve.”

The Awards

The Living Waterways Awards are judged by an independent panel of experts from the heritage, arts, environment, community and engineering sectors and are sponsored by Amco Geffen, CPC Civils, Fountains and Land & Water.

From inspirational education programmes and innovative construction projects, to exciting community-binding environmental initiatives, these awards have celebrated hundreds of organisations and individuals over the years.

Rewilding can help mitigate climate change, researchers highlight after conducting global assessment - University of Sussex

A new study has shown that rewilding can help to mitigate climate change, delivering a diverse range of benefits to the environment with varied regional impacts.

Research led by the University of Sussex and published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, provides a global assessment of the potential for trophic rewilding to help mitigate climate change.

(image: University of Sussex)
(image: University of Sussex)

Trophic rewilding restores lost species to ecosystems, which can have cascading influences over the whole food web. This typically means reintroducing large herbivores (e.g. elephants) and top predators (e.g. wolves), or species known to engineer more diverse and complex habitats and benefit biodiversity (e.g. beavers).

But reintroducing species not only influences the local environment, it can also influence the climate. Animals, particularly megaherbivores (like elephants) and large ruminants (like bison and cattle) produce methane - a greenhouse gas. Big herbivores also eat large quantities of vegetation which can prevent trees growing. This stops trees capturing carbon, but on the other hand, it can also prevent trees from reducing albedo in the far north and so mitigate warming. Big herbivores also distribute large seeded trees that are particularly good at capturing carbon.

The influence big herbivores have is also partly dependent on the effects of big predators. The larger the predators present, the bigger the herbivore species regularly on the menu. But because of past extinctions the surviving species that can be reintroduced is limited and this changes the number and type of large herbivores that are more likely to reach relatively high densities and so have bigger impact on their environment.

According to this new research, all of these interacting relationships mean applying trophic rewilding in different parts of the world will have different outcomes for climate mitigation.

Read the paper: Christopher J. Sandom, Owen Middleton, Erick Lundgren, John Rowan, Simon D. Schowanek, Jens-Christian Svenning and Søren Faurby Trophic rewilding presents regionally specific opportunities for mitigating climate change. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0125

Fish and Chips - Tracking Salmon - Environment Agency

The Environment Agency is delighted to be involved in an independent, ground-breaking project tracking Atlantic salmon in the River Derwent, starting in April 2020.

Atlantic salmon are in decline internationally meaning fewer and fewer of these iconic fish are returning to rivers to reproduce than have done previously. This cutting edge project is the first of its kind for Cumbria and will uncover more about the movement of fish from the River Derwent to the Irish Sea as well as the issues they face along the way. Through partnership with the University of Glasgow the project aims to open avenues to improve the declining salmon stocks on the Derwent.

Phil Ramsden from the Environment Agency said “We are very excited about this project. This is a huge opportunity for the River Derwent salmon population, and all those who are interested in it. Using special tracking technology, this project aims to shed light on the journey our salmon make through the River Derwent and into the Irish Sea as well as highlighting the issues they face along the way. This is a pioneering project for Cumbria, and one of only a few ever conducted worldwide.”

The Environment Agency have formed a strong partnership with the University of Glasgow, who will be leading this study, through a PHD studentship. With strong links to other key salmon tracking projects, such as “The Missing Salmon Project” this is a huge opportunity for the River Derwent to be on the forefront of scientific understanding in this area.

New Scottish Forestry spatial data hub - Scottish Forestry

Scottish Forestry Open Data

Scottish Forestry  (SF) has launched a new web portal that provides access to a huge volume of information that will be helpful to foresters, land managers, developers, teachers, students, researchers and anyone with an interest in how Scotland’s land is managed.

The Open Data hub, developed as part of SF’s Improvement Programme, is easy to use and clearly laid out and offers 70 geospatial data sets.

David Signorini, Scottish Forestry Chief Executive said; “This is one of Scottish Forestry’s first big milestones in our Improvement Programme. Our team has put in a sterling effort to bring this project to life and I think everyone who needs to access this information will find the new website a great help. The principles of open information have been behind the design at every step of the way so the portal is easy to find, read and use. As well as making life simpler for land managers, these qualities make it attractive for non-professionals, too, with links to Scottish Forestry’s Map Viewer and Scotland’s Environment Land Information Search helping to paint a comprehensive picture of Scotland’s landscape.”

£2 million for world’s first rewilding centre near Loch Ness - Trees for Life

Trees for Life is to establish the world’s first rewilding centre near Loch Ness in the Highlands – thanks to more than £2 million of support from The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), The National Lottery Heritage Fund and other funding.

The groundbreaking centre will be at Dundreggan, the charity’s 10,000-acre estate in Glenmoriston. It is expected to welcome over 50,000 visitors annually – allowing people to explore stunning wild landscapes, discover Gaelic culture, and learn about the region’s unique wildlife including golden eagles, pine martens, red squirrels and wood ants. The centre will boost the rural economy by providing a new attraction on the journey between Loch Ness and Skye, and benefit the local community through at least 15 new local jobs.

Pine marten, Scottish Highlands © Mark Hamblin, scotlandbigpicture.com
Pine marten, Scottish Highlands © Mark Hamblin, scotlandbigpicture.com

“Dundreggan Rewilding Centre will showcase how rewilding and nature can give people amazing experiences, create jobs and really benefit local communities. It will celebrate one of the Highlands’ greatest assets – the wild landscapes and unique wildlife being returned through rewilding,” said Steve Micklewright, Trees for Life’s Chief Executive. “Dundreggan has become a beacon of how to rewild a landscape. With this centre, it will become a beacon for rewilding people too.”

The Rewilding Centre has been developed following extensive consultation with the local community. 10 per cent of local residents responded to requests for feedback, and all were overwhelmingly positive. Planning permission in principle was granted by Highland Council in April 2019, and Trees for Life will apply for full planning permission this year. Construction should begin in early 2021, with the centre opening in 2022.

At Dundreggan, Trees for Life is protecting and expanding globally important fragments of Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest. The estate is home to over 4,000 plant and animal species – including several never recorded in the UK before or once feared extinct in Scotland.

MCS calls for ban of 'forever chemicals’ lurking in bathroom cabinets - Marine Conservation Society

Following an investigation into some of the most popular bathroom and cosmetic staples, MCS has identified many which contain invisible ‘forever chemicals’ PFAS, which remain in the marine environment for many years and can have a detrimental impacts on the ocean and the animals within it.

PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are fluorinated chemicals which remain in the environment without breaking down for many years; they are highly polluting and extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove once they enter the environment.

PFAS chemicals can be found in:

  • Make-up products, particularly eyeshadow and foundation
  • Face masks
  • Facial cream
  • Hair care
  • Face wash
  • Shaving foam and similar shaving products
  • Nail care

MCS is concerned about PFAS presence in cosmetics and bathroom staples due to their direct pathway into water sources and eventually the ocean. PFAS also currently escape classic wastewater treatment systems because, amongst other reasons, they remain dissolved and therefore are difficult to filter out like solids.

Organisations including MCS are working to demystify PFAS chemicals and to introduce better legislation in manufacturing. CHEM Trust is advocating for a ‘grouping’ approach in chemical regulation, allowing regulation of the entire group of PFAS to accelerate the phasing out of the chemicals in products. Environmental charity Fidra is conducting a study looking at the use of PFAS in UK food packaging. Fidra is calling for UK supermarkets to follow the example set by Denmark and take a lead in removing these harmful chemicals from our food shelves, setting the stage for wider legislative change. The use of PFAS chemicals in manufacturing is so prolific that improved legislation would likely have the most impact on stemming the flow of PFAS chemicals into the environment.

More about PFAS can be found here.

New study: are teen seabirds safe? - Birdlife International

Seabirds have an exploratory adolescent phase, often looking for food in ocean areas quite different to breeding adults. A new collaborative BirdLife study warns that current seabird protection measures should not neglect such crucial stages of seabird development.

Juvenile Wandering Albatross wearing tracking device on Bird Island, South Georgia © Alex Dodds
Juvenile Wandering Albatross wearing tracking device on Bird Island, South Georgia © Alex Dodds

Whether it’s to get space from their parents, ‘find themselves’ or see more of the world before they settle down, human teenagers and young adults tend to have an exploratory phase. The same could be said for young seabirds, which have been tracked for long periods wandering great distances at sea. And just as this crucial stage in a person’s psychological development can sometimes take them down dangerous alleys, the paths taken by young and non-breeding albatrosses and petrels may well be leading them towards dangerous interactions with fishing vessels. To counter this, a recent study led by BirdLife scientists provides a new and improved method for identifying seabird hotspots for at-sea conservation measures.

Lightweight tracking devices attached to the backs or tails of seabirds, or to a ring on their legs, have given us a completely new insight into their movements and lives – insight that is crucial to, for example, set measures for long-line fisheries in certain important zones to prevent seabird deaths. Yet, despite major recent advances in tracking technology, studying at-sea movements of juvenile, immature, and non-breeding adult seabirds remains particularly challenging, because they can be gone for months or years, returning to colonies only for short periods – making it difficult to retrieve devices and download data.

“Often, approaches to identify seabird hotspots at sea are based on breeding adult distributions”, says lead author Ana Carneiro, Seabird Science Officer at BirdLife. “As a result, evaluation of risk is likely to be biased or an underestimate.”

Read the paper: Carneiro, APB, Pearmain, EJ, Oppel, S, et al. A framework for mapping the distribution of seabirds by integrating tracking, demography and phenology. J Appl Ecol. 2020; 00: 1– 12. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.13568 (open access)

8 steps to woodlands for climate, nature and people - Wildlife and Countryside Link

Heading towards COP 26, the UK Government have designated 2020 ‘a year of climate action’, during which the UK will be setting the pace to deal with CO2 emissions and deliver net zero as soon as possible. Trees and woods are right at the top of the agenda for 2020, and we have today published a set of eight principles that we think can help make sure more woods and trees in England benefits the climate, people and nature.

Wildlife and Countryside Link welcomes the spirit of positive action heading into global climate negotiations, so we have set out to provide a set of principles for woodland and tree cover expansion in England that will help to achieve net zero and nature’s recovery. We’ve pulled out the headline points below.

  1. A significant net expansion in trees and woodland cover is needed to respond to the climate and biodiversity crisis, deliver net zero commitments and compensate for the loss of diseased trees. To drive nature’s recovery, the majority of new woodland should be native.
  2. Funding and support must be made available by Government to deliver the woodland expansion, tree planting and management needed. A role for the private sector is also crucial.
  3. New trees and woodland expansion should favour native trees and woodland, naturally regenerated or from UK-sourced and grown planting material except in exceptional circumstances and where rigorous safeguards are put in place.
  4. A new spatial strategy is needed to guide woodland expansion, as part of a broader land use strategy for England.
  5. New woodlands and tree rich landscapes should deliver multiple benefits for climate, nature and people and be sustainably managed.
  6. Better protection of existing species, habitats and potential restoration sites and sensitivity to existing public access, archaeology and cultural landscapes must accompany expansion of our tree and woodland resources, underpinned by project-level surveying prior to conversion to woodland.
  7. A more ecological approach to commercial forestry is needed which delivers biodiversity enhancement alongside other benefits, with the nation’s forests managed as an exemplar.
  8. High standards of delivery for new trees and woodland should be backed up by transparent monitoring and reporting on woodland expansion and its benefits, including regular national canopy surveying.

Read the full report (PDF)

Renewed General Licence brings greater protection for Scotland’s wild birds - Scottish Natural Heritage

Eleven species of birds, including rooks, black-headed gulls and collared doves will have stronger protection from April 1, when they will be removed from General Licences, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) announced today.

All wild birds are protected by law. General Licences allow certain birds to be killed without the need to apply for individual licences - for example, to prevent serious damage to crops, to protect public health and to help prevent predation of other, at-risk bird species. General Licences can only be undertaken where non-lethal means have been tried and proved ineffective. They cover relatively common situations when there’s unlikely to be any conservation impact on a species.

Lesser black-backed gull (image: SNH-Lorne Gill)
Lesser black-backed gull (image: SNH-Lorne Gill)

In six weeks’ time, the renewed licence rules mean those seeking to control birds not included on the updated list will be legally required to apply for a licence.

The amendments to General Licences follow a public consultation which received over 700 responses. An additional SNH review of the latest available evidence shows that while many wild bird populations are in a healthy condition, a range of pressures, including climate change, means others have decreased, and are in need of greater protection.

The licence review also concluded that the control of greylag geese, a species already listed on the licence, should be extended to year-round control, to help minimise widespread agricultural damage to grass pasture and emerging crops.

Robbie Kernahan, SNH’s Head of Wildlife Management, said: “We want to make sure our licences remain relevant, evidence based and fit-for-purpose and our new General Licences will better balance current conservation research with the needs of licence users. Our role is to help wild birds thrive, but we must also safeguard the public from health and safety risks, as well as make sure farmers can protect their crops.”

SNH has also introduced greater transparency around the use of traps, which require individual users to register to increase understanding of how General Licences are used.

More detail on the changes planned for new 2020 General Licences are available here.

New Scottish general licences provide both certainty and concern - British Association for Shooting and Conservation (plus response from Scottish Gamekeepers Association)

Dr Colin Shedden, BASC Scotland director, said: “It is of vital importance that users of the general licences in Scotland make themselves aware of the new terms and conditions. BASC is opposed to the revocation of general licences on certain designated sites, a list of which can be found here. We do not believe these changes are required and that this could over-burden the licensing process. We do not believe applying for permission in this instances is required and that this could over-burden the licensing process. We are meeting SNH next week and will seek to ensure that the process will be adequate and allow our members operating on protected sites to act as and when required .”

In response to the changes, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The changes as regards SPAs are nothing other than a cave-in to Wild Justice who are motivated by causing as much disruption and frustration to shooting as possible. SNH itself has admitted there is no evidence to suggest General Licences are causing adverse impacts on SPAs but that ‘potentially’ they could. This is not justifiable or proportionate. There are lots of things in life that could ‘potentially’ happen. That doesn’t justify licensing everything. This is a response, in our view, motivated more by fear of legal challenge than the conservation of wildlife.

Read: Renewed General Licence brings greater protection for Scotland’s wild birds - Scottish Natural Heritage

Biodiversity yields financial returns - ETH Zurich

Farmers could increase their revenues by increasing biodiversity on their land. This is the conclusion reached by an interdisciplinary research team including the fields of agricultural sciences, ecology and economics at ETH Zurich and other universities.

Many farmers associate grassland biodiversity with lower yields and financial losses. “Biodiversity is often considered unprofitable, but we show that it can, in fact, pay off,” says Nina Buchmann, Professor of Grassland Sciences at ETH Zurich. In an interdisciplinary study at the interface of agricultural sciences, ecology and economics, Buchmann and her colleagues were able to quantify the economic added value of biodiversity based on a grassland experiment that examined different intensities of cultivation. Their paper has just been published in the journal Nature Communications.

“Our work shows that biodiversity is an economically relevant factor of production,” says Robert Finger, Professor of Agricultural Economics and Policy at ETH Zurich. If 16 different plant species grow in a field instead of just one, the quality of the forage remains more or less the same, but the yield is higher – which directly correlates to the income that can be made from milk sales. “The resultant increase in revenues in our study is comparable to the difference in yield between extensively and intensively farmed land,” says Sergei Schaub, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Finger’s and Buchmann’s groups.

Access the paper: Schaub S, Finger R, Leiber F, Probst S, Kreuzer M, Weigelt A, Buchmann N and Scherer-​Lorenzen M. Plant diversity effects on forage quality, yield and revenues of semi-​natural grasslands. Nat. Comm. (2020). doi 10.1038/s41467-​020-14541-4



Scientific Publications

Alexandre Génin, Steven R. Lee, Eric L. Berlow, Steven M. Ostoja, Sonia Kéfi, Mapping hotspots of potential ecosystem fragility using commonly available spatial data, Biological Conservation, Volume 241,2020, 108388, ISSN 0006-3207, doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2019.108388. Open Access

  

Madalena Vaz Monteiro, Phillip Handley, Kieron J Doick, An insight to the current state and sustainability of urban forests across Great Britain based on i-Tree Eco surveys, Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research, , cpz054, doi:10.1093/forestry/cpz054 (open access)

  

Sonja Vospernik, Arne Nothdurft, Lauri Mehtätalo, Seasonal, medium-term and daily patterns of tree diameter growth in response to climate, Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research, , cpz059, doi: 10.1093/foresj/cpz059

 

Billard Pauline, Schnell Alexandra K., Clayton Nicola S. and Jozet-Alves Christelle Cuttlefish show flexible and future-dependent foraging cognition Biol. Lett. doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2019.0743


Carneiro, APB, Pearmain, EJ, Oppel, S, et al. A framework for mapping the distribution of seabirds by integrating tracking, demography and phenology. J Appl Ecol. 2020; 00: 1– 12. doi.org/10.1111/1365-2664.13568

 

Richardson, S., Mill, A.C., Davis, D., Jam, D. and Ward, A.I. (2020), A systematic review of adaptive wildlife management for the control of invasive, non‐native mammals, and other human–wildlife conflicts. Mam Rev. doi:10.1111/mam.12182


Carlos Abrahams, Matthew Geary Combining bioacoustics and occupancy modelling for improved monitoring of rare breeding bird populations. Ecological Indicators. doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2020.106131


Gagné TO, Reygondeau G, Jenkins CN, Sexton JO, Bograd SJ, Hazen EL, et al. (2020) Towards a global understanding of the drivers of marine and terrestrial biodiversity. PLoS ONE 15(2): e0228065. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0228065

Julie A. Mustard, Anne Gott, Jennifer Scott, Nancy L. Chavarria, Geraldine A. Wright Honeybees fail to discriminate floral scents in a complex learning task after consuming a neonicotinoid pesticide. Journal of Experimental Biology 2020 : jeb.217174 doi: 10.1242/jeb.217174 Published 6 February 2020



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