A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
The summer of 2019 has provided a welcome boost to butterfly population levels, according to the latest results from the annual UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) led by Butterfly Conservation, the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).
In their best year since 1997, just over half of UK butterfly species showed higher population levels in 2019 compared with 2018, making it the 8th best year out of the 44-year series.
Butterflies most likely benefited from an unusually warm and wet summer conducive respectively to both a strong emergence of adults and successful development of the immature stages preceding this emergence.
Summer flying species which benefited included the Marbled White, which had its best year in the series with annual abundance up by 66%, Ringlet (second-best year in the series, up by 23%), Dark Green Fritillary (third-best year, up 51%), and Meadow Brown (fifth-best, up 38%). The rare Lulworth Skipper, restricted to the Dorset coast which has been in freefall in recent years rallied with its annual abundance up by a whopping 138%.
It wasn’t all good news for summer flying butterflies though as the Common Blue dropped in annual abundance by 54%, Adonis Blue by 40%, Green-veined White by 43% and Large White by 40% with all four species having below-average years. Of particular concern is the rare Heath Fritillary, which is restricted to a tiny number of sites in southern England. This butterfly saw its annual abundance drop by 34%. This ongoing decline raises fears for the long-term future of the butterfly whose numbers have fallen by a shocking 91% due to the cessation of traditional management practices.
However, 2019 was an excellent year for two of our three regular migrant butterflies which undergo periodic influxes, with Red Admiral annual abundance up by 195% (making it the fifth-best year in the series) and Painted Lady numbers up by a massive 1993% (third-best year in the series).
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is calling on people to take up jobs on farms to save this year’s harvest. Travel restrictions and illness could leave a shortage of up to 80,000 agricultural workers. The UK Government should help by encouraging those who have lost their jobs to work on farms, help identify new opportunities and classify agricultural workers as ‘key workers’. These measures will keep viable businesses afloat.
Government and industry figures show that over 60,000 seasonal labourers come to the UK each year to help complete annual harvests. Yet travel restrictions are expected to make it almost impossible for farmers to access the labour they need.
The CLA is estimating that 75% of these workers will be unable to enter the UK due to coronavirus-related restrictions on the freedom of movement. This leaves a shortage of 45,000 workers. Once a potential infection rate of 20% is factored in for all workers on farm, another 35,000 people could be removed from the workforce. To cope with these changes, the entire industry will require 80,000 employees.
Time is of the essence: vegetable growers are already beginning to crop, lambing season has reached its peak and soft fruit – which must be picked within a 3 day time period – is due to begin in April.
Demand for labour comes at a time when thousands of people find themselves suddenly out of employment. We are urging people to seriously consider taking up an important role in Britain’s agriculture and food processing sectors, which offer decent rates of pay and more varied roles than people think.
Following calls from the CLA, the UK Government has announced that workers in agriculture and food processing are to be included as ‘key workers’ and offered emergency childcare provision. This is an immediate issue: the closure of the schools is limiting labour supplies for sites such as poultry units, fruit and vegetable planting and harvesting. These workers must be able to travel for work to avoid short-term animal welfare issues, but also ensure longer-term food production.
Scientists at the University of Sheffield have found that plants are able to co-exist because they share key nutrients, using grasslands from the Peak District.
In a study published in Nature Plants, the team investigated how some ecosystems can have high biodiversity when all of these plants are competing for the same nutrients. They looked especially at ecosystems which are high in biodiversity but low in phosphorus, an essential nutrient for plant growth.
To do this they used soil taken from Peak District limestone grassland which is low in phosphorus. They then injected different types of phosphorus into the soil which allowed them to track which plants took up which type of phosphorus.
Their findings show that plants are able to share out the phosphorus by each preferring to take it up in a different form. This sharing is known as resource partitioning.
Professor Gareth Phoenix, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, who led the study, said: “The plants had different preferences for the various phosphorus compounds. Some showed greater uptake from the inorganic phosphorus form of phosphate, some preferred to use a mineral bound phosphorus compounds such as calcium phosphate, and others were better at using the organic compound DNA. Critically, this means the plants can co-exist because they are using different chemical forms of phosphorus in the soil. In other words, they are sharing the phosphorus. Our research answers the global question of how we get very high levels of plant species biodiversity, especially in ecosystems with very low amounts of soil phosphorus. By helping to understand how we get high levels of biodiversity, we can also better protect ecosystems and conserve their biodiversity.”
To thrive in urban environments, birds need to either have large brains, or breed many times over their life, according to a new study involving UCL.
The study, published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, suggests that birds have two alternative strategies for coping with the difficulties of humanity’s increasingly chaotic cities.
“The expansion of cities is a major driver of biodiversity loss and even extinction, and yet some animals are able to thrive in cities. We hope that by identifying which species are better able to adapt, we can also predict which species may be at risk and how to support them with targeted conservation efforts,” said co-author Dr Alex Pigot (UCL Centre for Biodiversity & Environment Research).
“The species that can tolerate cities are important because they are the ones that most people will have contact with in their daily lives, and they can have important effects on the environment within our cities,” he added.
The study’s lead author, Dr Ferran Sayol (University of Gothenburg and the Gothenburg Global Biodiversity Centre in Sweden) added: “Cities are harsh environments for most species and therefore often support much lower biodiversity than natural environments.”
Past studies have shown that birds with larger brains have a number of advantages, such as being better able to find new food sources and to avoid human-made hazards. But researchers haven’t yet been able to explain why some species with small brains – such as pigeons and swifts – also are able to flourish in cities.
To understand what allows birds to adapt to urban life, a research team from Sweden, Spain and the UK analysed databases containing brain and body size, maximum lifespans, global distribution and breeding frequency.
Read the paper: Sayol F, Sol D and Pigot AL (2020) Brain Size and Life History Interact to Predict Urban Tolerance in Birds. Front. Ecol. Evol. 8:58. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2020.00058
The Peak District National Park have today (25 March) called on land managers to stop any prescribed or controlled burns at this time within the Peak District moorlands.
The call comes as a period of dry weather and unseasonably mild temperatures has increased the fire risk in parts of the National Park.
Regional fire and rescue services and gamekeepers have already responded to a number of fires involving moorland and other vegetation in recent days, with one blaze stretching along a fire line of over a mile.
Chief executive Sarah Fowler said: "At a time when our emergency services are already under enormous strain as a result of COVID-19, it is vital that we do not add to this pressure. The Moorland Association who represent many of our upland land managers, has already advised its members of the current wildfire risks and associated implications under COVID-19 restrictions and support a suspension of heather burning and to use cutting instead. At this time it is not acceptable that emergency services be drawn away to deal with otherwise avoidable incidents, as well as the damage that uncontrolled fires can have on the important habitats of our Peak District uplands – at a time when many wildlife species are at the beginning of their breeding season. With these services already stretched, we cannot expect our fire crews to attend incidents that are putting their teams in close proximity to each other, as well as the risk placed on moorland managers not being able to heed the need for social distancing, and taking fire crews to often remote locations. Our focus must rightly be on supporting the coronavirus response for all our local communities. This comes alongside our call yesterday (24.03.20) for visitors to stay away from the Peak District to adhere to government restrictions to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives. Individual actions now will make a crucial differences in the weeks ahead."
It’s more important than ever that we take a collective pause and use this time to reflect, evolve and strengthen our relationship with ourselves, with each other and with nature.
On Saturday, March 28, Earth Hour, one of the world’s largest grassroots movements for the environment, will once again inspire individuals, businesses and organizations in over 180 countries and territories to renew their commitment to the planet.
In the midst of the global COVID-19 health crisis, Earth Hour marks a moment of solidarity as global communities unite for each other and for the planet. We advise participants to join Earth Hour at home or online following CDC guidelines. Given the unprecedented circumstances, the global health emergency we are facing today is an alarming signal that we need to urgently transform our relationship with nature and the ecosystems we live in.
Earth Hour 2020 draws attention to the immediate need for halting nature and biodiversity loss for our health and well-being. During these challenging times, it’s more important than ever that we take a collective pause to reflect, evolve and strengthen our relationship with ourselves, with each other and with nature.
Shauna Mahajan, social scientist at World Wildlife Fund, said, “Individual actions can add up to create a movement. As Americans are spending more time at home during these challenging and unprecedented times, we can take an hour to reflect on how we as individuals can make our planet safe and healthy for both people and nature. The best opportunities for creating change come when we align our passions with our actions – so this Earth Hour, let's pause to reflect on how our individual passions can be aligned with action to help us collectively create a green and fair future.”
Burial grounds can be poorly understood in terms of their biodiversity when compared to other public green spaces. Many people feel that they need permission to search for and record wildlife within burial grounds and as a result, they are unaware of the interest of these sites.
Until now there has been no national database of biological records in burial grounds. Anyone interested in burial grounds has had to contact both individuals and groups to find the information they wanted; and in many cases, the information cannot be found, even by a dedicated searcher!
Thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the hard work of the team at the NBN Atlas, we are glad to share the launch of a new system which makes it easy for anyone to learn more about the wildlife found at different burial grounds across England and Wales.
Over the past few years we have been designing and creating our burial ground portal with the NBN Atlas team. The Burial Grounds Portal is part of the much larger NBN Atlas, and it focuses solely on records known to be from within burial grounds.
Guidance on using green spaces and protecting yourself and others.
The government’s priority is to save lives and the best way to protect yourself and others from illness is to stay at home.However, exercise is still important for people’s physical and mental wellbeing, so the government has said people can leave their homes for exercise once a day.
Please use the following guidance in order to stay safe:
Please see the latest government guidance on social distancing.
Information and data on operations to control bovine tuberculosis in parts of England in 2019.
These documents provide:
HS2 Ltd has confirmed to the Woodland Trust it will begin the futile act of attempting to move the soil from five ancient woodlands during April.
The move goes against both conservation principles and guidance from Natural England.
The five sites are Broadwells Wood, Birches Wood, Crackley Wood, and Ashow Road, all in Warwickshire, and Fulfen Wood in Staffordshire. The work will take around eight weeks.
Trust ecologist Luci Ryan said: “Instead of bursting into life, these irreplaceable ancient woodlands now face imminent death. Attempting to move ancient woodland soils from one site to another is flawed. Attempting it in April doubly so. Add into the mix that the contractor doing it has never translocated ancient woodland nor visited a translocated site and it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s like getting a bike mechanic to service a Boeing.”
Translocation is defined as the physical removal of a habitat from one location to another in an attempt to offset the impact of development on the ecological interest of a site. Unfortunately, it is increasingly being suggested as a form of environmental compensation for proposed developments. However, translocation is not feasible for ancient woodland because ancient woodland is defined as an irreplaceable habitat. Natural England guidance clearly states that an “ancient woodland ecosystem cannot be moved”. It is therefore not an appropriate alternative to conservation in situ.
The National Trust is asking people to celebrate the blossom season – emulating Hanami the ancient Japanese tradition of viewing and celebrating blossom as the first sign of spring.
The conservation charity is encouraging those who can see a tree in flower to take a moment to pause, actively notice and enjoy the fleeting beauty of blossom, and share their images on social media for those who can’t see blossom themselves - to kick off a new British tradition of #BlossomWatch. The move is part of the Trust’s campaign to help people of all ages to become more connected with everyday nature.
The charity said that blossom sweeping the country is one of nature’s key moments that could help lift the spirits during these uncertain times and enable people to celebrate nature and history together. The charity is asking those with trees in bloom in their gardens and on their streets to share pictures on social media using #BlossomWatch and tagging their location, so everyone can enjoy this year’s blossom season. And next year there are plans to develop a #BlossomWatch map.
The move follows the launch of the Trust’s Noticing Nature report last month, which demonstrated that for people to do more to protect nature, they need to have a closer everyday connection to it.
The Trust will be encouraging those who’d like to get involved to share and tag their images via @nationaltrust on Instagram and Twitter using the #BlossomWatch and also inserting the name of the place where they live. And plenty of blossom facts and images can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk
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