A round up of the top countryside, conservation, wildlife and forestry stories as chosen by the CJS Team.
Artificial shelters could help trees survive climate change – Aberystwyth University
Catherine Duerden with a tree shelter (Aberystwyth University)
It is a common sight to see plastic shelters placed on young tree saplings to protect them when growing, but new research suggests that this may also prepare them to survive climate change.
Aberystwyth University graduate Catherine Duerden unearthed the truth about tree shelters while writing her MSc dissertation and the findings have been published in the Quarterly Journal of Forestry.
In it she sets out to determine the long term effects of tree shelters used for protecting young tree saplings against the environment and herbivores.
Speaking of her research Catherine said: “It was surprising that we have used so many of these shelters without really knowing what they do to trees in the longer term. Several million are produced and used in the UK alone each year. There are so many used that wherever you go in the developed world you are likely to be within just 1 km of a tree shelter.”
As part of her dissertation Catherine tried to identify past experimental sites where the tree shelters had been tested. But this proved a challenge as decades had passed, experiments had been abandoned, paper records lost and many experimenters retired.
However, in a filing cabinet in a broom cupboard in the Llandovery Forestry Commission offices, detailed records were unearthed from a comprehensive study of Welsh oak trees established in 1994.
Catherine said: “I then revisited this site, which had tested 20 tree shelter types, and was able to look at the success of the sessile oaks after 20 years of growth. What I discovered was that 17 of the 20 shelter types promoted survival, and 12 of the shelter types had significantly increased trees’ stability compared to those grown without tree shelters.”
Basking sharks seek out winter sun – University of Exeter
The winter habits of Britain’s basking sharks have been revealed for the first time.
Scientists from the University of Exeter have discovered some spend their winters off Portugal and North Africa, some head to the Bay of Biscay and others choose a staycation around the UK and Ireland.
Little was known about basking sharks’ winter behaviour as they spend little time at the surface and are often far from land, so the researchers used cutting-edge satellite tracking to carry out the most detailed ever study of their migrations in the north-east Atlantic.
It was once thought that the giant, plankton-eating fish hibernated in the waters off the UK and Ireland, but evidence in recent years has undermined this theory.
“Knowing where these animals are all year round allows us to understand the threats they face,” said lead author Philip Doherty, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.
The primary drivers behind basking shark migrations are still unclear. Image courtesy of Philip Doherty.
“This is essential information if we want to protect them, especially as they swim far outside UK waters, meaning any conservation efforts must be international. In terms of man-made threat they may face, we tend to think of commercial fishing as the only danger to these animals, but other issues such as boat strike, marine litter, civil engineering and ocean noise might also have an effect.”
The researchers tagged 70 sharks and, of the 28 tags which continued transmitting for more than five months, they found most sharks either stayed near the UK or swam to the waters off Spain, Portugal and North Africa. A smaller number spent the winter in the Bay of Biscay, west of France.
Those which swam south left in late summer and autumn, and returned in spring and early summer.
Mapping our special places in Wales - Natural Resources Wales
People can now ‘walk’ some of Wales’ iconic trails and paths from the comfort of their armchair after Natural Resources Wales (NRW) teamed up with Google to add our special sites to Google Street View.
These give people a 360̊ panoramic view, so anyone with internet access can virtually ‘walk’ the trails using Street View on Google Maps.
This project is part of NRW’s commitment to help more people get active and enjoy the outdoors.
Max Stokes, Natural Resources Planning Officer said: “We look after loads of sites across Wales where people can go running, walking and mountain biking. Launching the digital maps with Google means we can now showcase these special places on a global platform. We hope that this ‘virtual warden’ experience will encourage more people to get out and enjoy the outdoors."
Winning in a changing climate: a jewel wasp new to Britain found in Kent – Kent Wildlife Trust
The jewel wasp is a species new to Britain and new to Kent, found on our reserves and most likely enabled by a changing climate – we always think of climate change as bad, but as species are pushed out of their continental range and expand north, they have to find stepping stones of habitat further north or go extinct. We are going to lose species to climate change, but also gain them.
Hedychrum nobile by Grant Hazelhurst
Hedychrum nobile is a jewel wasp, a large one at that and a
truly stunning little beast. Jewel wasps are members of the cuckoo wasp
family Chrysididae, and are generally parasites or cleptoparasites
(parasitism by theft). They lay their eggs in the nests of other
insects, where their larvae consume the host egg or larvae alive. They
are aptly named, generally being vibrant shades of bright metallic
colours, and with minutely detailed and sculptured bodies. Most species
in the family are found in desert regions of the world, as they are
typically associated with solitary bee and wasp species, which are also
most diverse in such places. This particular jewel wasp is a parasite of
another wasp, the weevil hunting wasp Cerceris arenaria. The
jewel wasp sneaks into the burrow of the weevil hunting wasp while she
is away hunting weevils and lays her eggs. The weevil hunting wasp
larvae consume the provisioned weevils, only to then be consumed
themselves, a grim but exquisite intricacy of the struggle for life in
the natural world.
CEH-led €3 million EKLIPSE project supporting policy on Europe’s biodiversity and ecosystem services launches first report – Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
Experts from the Centre of Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) are playing a key role in a major EU-funded project to provide policy makers with the information needed to make decisions on conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services and solve environmental problems across Europe.
CEH scientists are coordinating the EKLIPSE project which consists of a consortium of international scientists who invite policy-makers to put in requests that answer their information needs.
The European Commission-funded project works by sending out 'calls for expertise' to scientists and other knowledge holders who then share their knowledge to help inform Europe’s policy-makers on environmental challenges.
EKLIPSE has now reached a landmark in its four-year cycle by producing its first report, published by CEH.
Walkers and climbers asked to assist campaign against wildlife crime – Mountaineering Scotland
Walkers and climbers out in the countryside are being asked to report any dead birds of prey they may come across to Police Scotland. The call comes as part of a campaign, by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland, to counter raptor persecution.
Birds of prey are widespread over Scotland's varied landscape. In general, golden eagles favour remote, mountainous regions while buzzards, red kites and peregrine falcons prefer lower wooded ground or cliff faces.
Dead Golden Eagle near Bridge of Orchy. Photo courtesy of RSPB
A Scottish Government study indicates that the public are covering large areas of the countryside. The report, “Let's Get Scotland Walking: The National Walking Strategy" (published in 2014) shows that, in 2012, visitors took 2.2 million walks (of up to two miles or up to one hour) and 1.8 million long walks (more than two miles or more than one hour) in Scotland.
This makes the walking community, from the adventurous hill walker down to the weekend family stroller, a valuable resource as "eyes on the ground,” in tackling wildlife crime. It also means that walkers are getting to places which criminals think are out of sight.
Greener UK coalition launches manifesto urging government to use Brexit to restore and enhance the environment – Wildlife Trusts on behalf of the coalition
The Greener UK coalition of 13 major environmental organisations, including WWF, the National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts, has today (22/2) launched its manifesto calling on the government to restore and enhance the environment as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
The Greener UK coalition of 13 major environmental organisations, including WWF, the National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts, has today launched its manifesto calling on the government to restore and enhance the environment as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.
It is the first time so many environmental organisations across the UK have come together to express such a wide range of concerns, across all environmental policy areas. They say, “We are depleting our soils and water supplies, generating mountains of food and plastic waste, changing our climate and making the air in our cities dangerous to breathe. Our wild places are dwindling, and we face the sadness of once familiar animals and plants fading away from our gardens and countryside.”
The Greener UK manifesto follows a House of Lords report last week, which identified the risk of a vacuum in the the oversight and enforcement of environment legislation, and the challenge of effectively maintaining the extensive existing environmental protections through the Repeal Bill.
However, the coalition also says that Brexit offers the chance for the government to make a greener UK a reality, by:
194 MPs from across the UK’s political parties have so far signed up to the Greener UK coalition’s Pledge for the Environment.
Download the manifesto (PDF)
Coca-Cola to back deposit return scheme in major U-turn
- Holyrood magazine exclusive
Coca-Cola gives its backing to a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles in Scotland – Marine Conservation Society
In what appears to be a U-turn by the soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, the firm says the "time is right" to try new measures "such as a well-designed deposit scheme for drinks containers, starting in Scotland where conversations are under way".
The statement comes just weeks after Sky News said it had seen an internal document that revealed the extent of Coca-Cola's opposition to the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme in the UK.
MCS has welcomed the move from Coca-Cola. Dr Sue Kinsey, MCS Senior Pollution Policy Officer said: “We’re delighted that Coca Cola has decided that a Deposit Return System for Scotland is a positive step forward. MCS believe that a properly designed system will reduce litter on our beaches and in our seas as well as increase recycling rates, reduce carbon emissions and deliver good value for local authorities and tax payers. We also believe a system, custom made for Scotland, will benefit companies such as Coca Cola, providing them with a steady supply of clean recyclate, and smaller businesses will benefit from increased footfall and handling fees.”
Calum Duncan, MCS Head of Conservation in Scotland added: "A deposit return system for drinks containers is the easiest next step we could take to reduce plastics in the marine environment. It's great to see Coca-Cola recognise the advantages for them, and for society more generally, and we welcome their support for this campaign."
John Mayhew, director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS), said: "This is truly a landmark moment and we are very pleased to add Coca-Cola to the list of companies which agree that Scotland needs a deposit return system for drinks containers."
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: "We very much welcome this move by Coca-Cola and encourage other drinks manufacturers, retailers and businesses to follow their lead. Well-planned deposit return systems have a major role to play in helping to cut wasteful use of resources and preventing marine pollution."
Response: Positive step by industry to tackle litter – Keep Scotland Beautiful
Derek Robertson, Chief Executive of Keep Scotland Beautiful, said: The announcement by Coca Cola is a positive step in the right direction and I am pleased that they have acknowledged the need for new, innovative solutions to tackle litter and littering behaviour. However, it is clear that a deposit scheme won’t be the silver bullet that solves Scotland’s litter problem. We should also not underestimate the hard work and challenges that that lie ahead if such a scheme is to be implemented in Scotland. It is vital that all stakeholders are fully engaged in the design and development of any scheme to ensure delivers for Scotland."
Response: Coca-Cola U-turn on opposition to bottle deposit schemes - Greenpeace comment
Campaign to Protect Rural England this morning welcomed news that major drinks multi-national Coca-Cola has changed its global position on deposit return systems, with an announcement that the company will support a deposit return system in Scotland. The decision comes after the soft drinks giant took a fresh look at the evidence and agreed that only a deposit system for drinks containers can deliver the step-change in recycling and litter reduction that is needed.
Samantha Harding, CPRE Litter Programme Director, says: ‘This is fantastic and heartening news. It’s admirable that Coca-Cola has been bold enough to change its position after seeing the benefits of deposit return. Our hope is that such positive progress in Scotland will encourage England’s ministers to follow the success of the carrier bag scheme with the best solution for drinks litter – a deposit return system.’
Ministers in Westminster are also considering the same opportunity, with England facing the same challenges with regard to plastic pollution, wasted resources and high levels of littered bottles and cans.
Wintering ducks connect isolated wetlands by dispersing plant seeds – Utrecht University
Plant populations in wetland areas face increasing isolation as wetlands are globally under threat from habitat loss and fragmentation. Erik Kleyheeg and Merel Soons of Utrecht University show that the daily movement behaviour of wintering mallards is highly predictable from the landscape they live in and that their daily flights contribute to maintaining the connections between wetland plant populations across increasingly fragmented landscapes. The researchers and co-authors are publishing their results today in the academic journal Journal of Ecology.
Mallards are among the most numerous and widespread duck species in the world, their global population estimated at approximately 19 million individuals. They are strong flyers, able to cover long distances at great speed (about 80 km/h) and part of the population migrates over long distances from their breeding areas to their wintering areas. Mallards are omnivorous and in their non-breeding range, during autumn and winter, they feed largely on plant seeds. Many of these seeds are not digested and survive gut passage. In this way, the mallards play an important role in transporting the seeds between wetland feeding and resting areas.
Access the papers:
E. Kleyheeg, H.J. Treep, M. de Jager, B.A. Nolet and M.B. Soons (2017) Seed dispersal distributions resulting from landscape-dependent daily movement behaviour of a key vector species. Journal of Ecology, online early DOI: 10.1111/1365-2745.12738.
E. Kleyheeg, J.B.G. van Dijk, D. Tsopoglou-Gkina, T. Woud, D. Boonstra, B.A. Nolet and M.B. Soons* (2017) Movement patterns of a keystone waterbird species are highly predictable from landscape configuration. Movement Ecology, online early DOI: 10.1186/s40462-016-0092-7.
Rare species discovered at ‘lost world’ estate near Loch Ness – Trees for Life
Surveys at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Conservation Estate near Loch Ness have revealed a range of rare species, including a midge never recorded in the United Kingdom before – underlining the site’s growing reputation as a ‘lost world’ for biodiversity.
The discovery of the non-biting midge (Chironomus vallenduuki) by entomologist Peter Chandler last August brings the total of UK biodiversity firsts found at the estate in Glenmoriston in Inverness-shire to 11.
Peter Chandler sweep-netting for fungus gnats by lone pine (image: Trees for Life)
Other key findings during the charity’s 2016 survey season included two rare gnats whose larvae feed on fungi. One of these (Sciophila varia) is only known from four other UK sites. The other (Mycomya nigricornis) is only known in the UK from a handful of Scottish sites and had not been seen since 1990.
The charity also found two parasitic wasps (Homotropus pallipes and Diphyus salicatorius), for which there are very few Scottish records, and – for the first time in Scotland north of the River Tay – a pseudoscorpion called the knotty shining claw (Lamprochernes nodosus).
A micro-moth, the small barred longhorn (Adela croesella) – only documented at three other locations in Scotland, and never before this far north – was found by volunteer Richard Davidson. Richard had been taking part in one of Trees for Life’s popular volunteer Conservation Weeks at Dundreggan when he found the moth.
New species for the UK discovered on the estate in recent years were three sawflies (Nematus pravus, Nematus pseudodispar and Amauronematus tristis), an aphid (Cinara smolandiae), two aphid parasitoids (Ephedrus helleni, Praon cavariellae), three fungus gnats (Brevicornu parafennicum, Mycomya disa, Sceptonia longisetosa), and a mite (Ceratozetella thienemanni).
Protection extended for mid Cornwall’s wildlife-rich landscape – Natural England
Rare butterflies and birds will benefit from a much larger area of protected land in mid Cornwall from today, says Government wildlife adviser Natural England.
Marsh fritillary butterfly (image: Natural England)
The new Mid Cornwall Moors site of special scientific interest (SSSI) merges the six original SSSIs which previously dotted the landscape either side of the A30 and east of Indian Queens, extending their boundaries and protecting around 50% more of the countryside. The SSSI includes several closely located patches of land, connecting important habitats and helping wildlife to withstand pressures from climate change in the future, creating a stronger refuge and network for rare plants and animals.
The countryside across the Mid Cornwall Moors is a rich and varied mix of heathland, woodland, and wildflower meadows; a vital sanctuary for wildlife, as well as an important asset for local people, visitors, and businesses. Fens and mires in the headwaters of the Fal and Par catchments also help to provide clean water and have the potential to reduce flood risk to homes and properties located further downstream.
Natural England has joined forces with landowners, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Butterfly Conservation, building on the successes of the Mid Cornwall Moors LIFE project to create the perfect conditions for the rare marsh fritillary butterfly, which should see its fortune improve as a result. The wet woodlands throughout the area are important for the diminutive willow tit, which has virtually disappeared from large parts of the UK and declined by an estimated 81% since the mid-1990s. The new areas added to the SSSI include important breeding sites for both of these special species.
New wildlife record for WWT Washington – The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust
The regionally rare avocet has made its earliest ever return to one North East wetland reserve.
An unringed female adult was spotted on Wader Lake at WWT Washington Wetland Centre yesterday morning (21 February 2017) – two days earlier than the site’s previous record of 23 February set in 2014.
Avocet on Wader Lake (image: David Dinsley)
Reserve warden David Dinsley said: “It’s always very exciting to see the first avocets return each season and we’re thrilled that a new record has been set this year.
“We now expect numbers to start gradually building as more birds move further north during this mild weather and we’ve already begun reducing the water levels on Wader Lake in anticipation of their arrival.
“This creates more habitat and also exposes the invertebrate-rich mud on which avocets feed; picking prey from the surface or foraging by sweeping their long, up-curved bill from side to side through the sediment.”
Avocets began breeding at WWT Washington in 2006 and since then numbers have steadily increased; hitting an all-time high of 42 on site in June 2016.
New online tool makes broadleaves management easier
– Forestry Commission Scotland
An online tool that helps land managers get the right tree in the right place has been upgraded to include key productive broadleaved species as well as conifers.
The move means that forest managers and land owners can now make even better use of this IT-based “ready-reckoner” to optimize their forestry investment
Broadleave Planting (image: Forestry Commission)
Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) has funded the £30,000 upgrade, being carried out by Forest Research (FR), to the Establishment & Management Information System (EMIS). FCS funding reflects that most hardwood is grown on private sector land, but Forest Enterprise Scotland (FES) is looking to play an increasing role in that market.
Accessible to all land managers, this upgraded version of EMIS will
help resolve many of the restrictions, concerns and fears identified by
forest managers in growing productive broadleaved species.
A pilot session on the upgraded tool is being organized by FES for
March 2017. Anyone wishing to take part should contact
Odgaard, M. V. et al (2017) A multi-criteria, ecosystem-service value method used to assess catchment suitability for potential wetland reconstruction in Denmark. Ecological Indicators. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.12.001
Broome, A., Long, D., Ward, L. K. & Park, K. J. (2017) Promoting natural regeneration for the restoration of Juniperus communis: a synthesis of knowledge and evidence for conservation practitioners. Applied Vegetation Science. DOI: 10.1111/avsc.12303
Cornwallis, C. K., Botero, C. A., Rubenstein, D. R., Downing, P. A., West, S. A. & Griffin, A. S. (2017) Cooperation facilitates the colonization of harsh environments. Nature Ecology & Evolution 1, Article number: 0057 doi:10.1038/s41559-016-0057
Emily Rall, Claudia Bieling, Sharon Zytynska,
Exploring city-wide patterns of cultural ecosystem service perceptions
and use, Ecological Indicators, Volume 77, June 2017, Pages 80-95,
ISSN 1470-160X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.02.001.
Emily Rall, Claudia Bieling, Sharon Zytynska, Dagmar Haase, Exploring city-wide patterns of cultural ecosystem service perceptions and use, Ecological Indicators, Volume 77, June 2017, Pages 80-95, ISSN 1470-160X, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.02.001.
Davidson, K. E., Fowler, M. S., Skov, M. W., Doerr, S. H., Beaumont, N. and Griffin, J. N. (2017), Livestock grazing alters multiple ecosystem properties and services in salt marshes: a meta-analysis. J Appl Ecol. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12892
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