CJS News, Headlines from week beginning 13 January 2020

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

New maps reveal hotspots of seabird activity during breeding season - RSPB Scotland

  • The RSPB has used hotspot mapping techniques to learn more about the life of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags as they forage at sea during the breeding season.
  • Seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds globally and many seabird species are declining at an alarming rate in Scotland. Conservation efforts are needed to halt declines and restore our internationally important populations of seabirds.
  • The new maps will be hugely important as they identify the most important areas at sea for seabirds, providing the vital information needed to make informed decisions on how we can best protect them.
Scientists at the RSPB have produced new maps identifying, for the first time, the location of marine hotspots for some of our most threatened seabirds, based on tracking data.
Razorbills and a Puffin (image: Nicolas DC on unsplash)
Razorbills and a Puffin (image: Nicolas DC on unsplash)

A five-year RSPB project previously tracked the movements of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags from colonies around the UK during the breeding season. This is an important time for seabird colonies as parents search for food to feed their young. The RSPB has now applied hotspot mapping techniques to these data to identify the most important areas used during this crucial time.

The four seabird species are all classed as Birds of Conservation Concern; guillemots and razorbill are Amber-listed while shag and kittiwake are both Red-listed due to their serious population declines. These seabirds are found in internationally important numbers in Scotland but are under threat from climate change, which is causing a reduction in the availability of their food, and also from human activity.

The new research, published in the journal Biological Conservation, demonstrates the large areas of sea used by seabirds and comes at a time when there is a vital need to understand more about them as decisions are being made relating to fishing, offshore wind farms and how we can best protect our seas.

The mapping reveals that for kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, the importance of the Scottish coast (particularly the East coast) was apparent. For shags, hotspots were smaller than observed in the other three species and were typically found in inshore coastal waters centred on the locations of their breeding colonies.

The results highlight the importance of large areas of Scottish waters for breeding seabirds demonstrating the urgent need, alongside effectively managed protected areas, for strategic, spatial marine planning and standardised industry-level regulations, to protect wide-ranging seabird species particularly in the context of increased efforts to decarbonise energy generation in Scottish waters.

Ash dieback project launches International Year of Plant Health - Defra

The Ash Archive initiative is a major step towards maintaining and restoring ash in the British landscape.

Three thousand trees have been planted in Hampshire as part of a pioneering project to tackle the devastating tree disease, Ash Dieback.

Ash tree leaves. Credit: Forestry Commission.
Ash tree leaves. Credit: Forestry Commission.

The UK’s first Ash Archive has been established using £1.9 million of government funding and is the culmination of projects spanning 5 years to identify ash with a high tolerance to the disease.

The archive is a major step towards maintaining and restoring ash in the British landscape. It is intended that it will provide the basis for a breeding programme of tolerant ash over time and will enable the development of orchards producing commercially available seed.

Today (17 January 2020), the government’s Chief Plant Health Officer will visit the project to plant one of the last trees in the archive. The ceremony marked the beginning of the International Year of Plant Health – a global initiative to raise awareness on the importance of healthy plants and trees to protecting nature, the environment and boosting economic development.

Ash dieback is a highly destructive disease which was first identified in the UK in 2012. The fungus penetrates the leaves of ash trees, before growing inside the tree eventually blocking its water transport systems and causing it to die. Spores of the fungus travel in the wind, meaning the disease spreads easily and making it difficult to limit its impact. However, projects to identify trees which are tolerant to the disease mean that the population could recover over time.

Rising sea-levels and increased storms pose threat to coastal communities - University of Plymouth

The report was written for the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership by world-leading researchers from the University of Plymouth

The rate of coastal erosion around the UK is expected to increase substantially in the future, according to a new study by the University of Plymouth.

The report, prepared for the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP), highlights that 17% of coastlines in the UK and 19.9% in Ireland are being affected by a range of issues including sea-level rises and the increased frequency and intensity of extreme storms.

England and Wales are the worst affected UK regions, with 28% of their 3700km of coast experiencing erosion greater than 10 cm per year, while more than three-quarters of Scotland’s coast is unlikely to erode at perceptible rates.

The report was written by world-leading researchers from the University of Plymouth, Scottish Natural Heritage, Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Cambridge.

As well as reference to studies by scientists in Plymouth, it includes forecasts based on the Met Office’s UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18) report which suggests sea levels could increase by as much as 80cm by 2100 with wave height rises of up to 20%, particularly in the south-west of the UK and Ireland.

However, it emphasises that while climate change and sea-level rise are both gradual and global events, coastal erosion and flooding are highly episodic and short-term processes and normally very localised in terms of impact.

Agriculture Bill to boost environment and food production - Defra

A future where farmers are properly supported to farm more innovatively and protect the environment is a step closer today following the introduction of the Agriculture Bill.

The landmark legislation introduced today will provide a boost to the industry after years of inefficient and overly bureaucratic policy dictated to farmers by the EU.

It sets out how farmers and land managers in England will in the future be rewarded with public money for “public goods” – such as better air and water quality, higher animal welfare standards, improved access to the countryside or measures to reduce flooding. This will contribute to the government’s commitment to reaching net zero emissions by 2050, while at the same time, helping to boost farmers’ productivity.

This will replace the current subsidy system of Direct Payments which pays farmers for the total amount of land farmed, skewing payments towards the largest landowners rather than those farmers delivering specific public benefits.

Instead, the new measures will provide a better future for agriculture in this country, maximising the potential of the land for food production and for delivering public goods.

The reforms set out in the Bill are supported by the manifesto commitment to maintain overall annual funding for farm support at current levels for the duration of this Parliament.

Landmark legislation to boost productivity and reward environmental improvements in the farming sector for decades to come.

New protections for thousands of seabirds - Natural England

Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow, announces new protections for the breeding and foraging grounds of rare and vulnerable seabirds.

Ambitious plans to help protect England’s rare and vulnerable seabirds will today (16 January 2019) be announced by Environment Minister Rebecca Pow.

New and extended special protection areas, designated to protect rare and vulnerable seabirds from human activity, such as fishing or outdoor recreation, will be designated in the Solent and near Middlesbrough.

common tern
common tern

Close to 1,000 pairs of three species of tern will benefit from a new Solent and Dorset Coast Special Protection Area (SPA) which will span more than 891 km2, equivalent to more than 125,000 football pitches. The area is the fifth most important foraging site in the UK for little tern and seventh most important for common tern during their breeding season.

The Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast SPA will also be extended by 109 km2, bringing the total area size to more than 122 km2, which equals more than 17,000 football pitches. With the extension in place, more than 35,000 individual birds such as pied avocet, ruff and migratory red knot will be protected.

The new and extended locations join 47 existing sites in English waters.

The Environment Minister will also confirm a comprehensive Seabird Conservation Strategy, which will be published in December 2020. This will assess the vulnerability of each species in light of the pressures they are facing and will propose actions to address them.

Beaver trial gets go-ahead in Cumbria - Cumbria Wildlife Trust

We're delighted that scientific trial to release beavers into enclosure gets go-ahead in Cumbria

Beavers, a native species in Britain which became extinct in the 16th century, will soon be reintroduced to Cumbria in an enclosed scientific trial. Cumbria Beaver Group (CBG), which includes Cumbria Wildlife Trust, has announced that a licence application by a landowner in Cumbria has just been approved by the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

David Harpley, Chair of Cumbria Beaver Group and Conservation Manager at Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: “It is great news that Eurasian beavers will be returning to the county. Evidence from trials elsewhere in the UK shows that they offer great benefits, including flood risk alleviation, improved water quality, habitat creation for other wildlife and increased revenue for the local economy through nature-based tourism.

“This is the first beaver trial in the North West of England. We’re looking into the feasibility of setting up a camera to live stream the beaver activity once they’ve been released. This would mean people could watch them close up from the comfort of their laptop or phone.”

The enclosed trial will take place at Lowther Estate in the Eden Valley. David Bliss from Lowther Estate said: “This will be a trial release to assess how beavers can restore small, modified streams within a farmed landscape and will be done under the conditions of a licence from DEFRA. We are delighted that Lowther Estate has been granted a licence for this exciting project and look forward to finding out the results from this scientific trial. There have been trials elsewhere in the country, but this trial will look specifically at how beavers fare in an upland environment.”

Reconnecting with nature key for sustainability - University of Exeter

People who live in more built up areas and spend less free-time in nature are also less likely to take actions that benefit the environment, such as recycling, buying eco-friendly products, and environmental volunteering.

Developing urban green spaces could help sustainability of the planet (image: University of Exeter)
Developing urban green spaces could help sustainability of the planet (image: University of Exeter)

The finding of a new study led by the University of Exeter indicates that policies to preserve and develop urban green spaces, and support urban populations reconnect with nearby nature, could help meet sustainability targets and reduce carbon emissions.

The study, published in Environment International and funded by NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Change and Health, analysed survey responses from more than 24,000 people in England. The team looked at people’s exposure to nature in their local area, their recreational visits to natural environments (parks, woodlands, beaches etc.), and the extent to which they valued the natural world.

The team, including collaborators from the University of Plymouth and Public Health England, found that many green choices were more common in people who lived in greener neighbourhoods or at the coast, and among those who regularly visited natural spaces regardless of where they lived. The relationships were the same for men and women, young and old, and for rich and poor.

Lead author Dr Ian Alcock, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Over 80 per cent of the English population now live in urban areas and are increasingly detached from the natural world. Greening our cities is often proposed to help us adapt to climate change – for example, city parks and trees can reduce urban heat spots. But our results suggest urban greening could help reduce the damaging behaviours which cause environmental problems in the first place by reconnecting people to the natural word.”

Time to step up and save our ocean - Defra

In the ‘super year’ for the ocean, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow issues urgent call for global action to halt damage to marine habitats.

Environment Minster Rebecca Pow has called for governments around the world to join the UK-led 30by30 initiative to protect at least 30% of the planet’s ocean by 2030.

2020 is a critical year for ocean protection, with the UK government pressing for higher marine protection targets, currently set at 10%, to be agreed as part of a new global biodiversity framework in October 2020.

Speaking at the Greenpeace launch later today (15 January) of an animated film depicting endangered marine life, the Minister is expected to say: Climate change is ocean change. The blue lungs that cover our planet underpin all health and wealth worldwide – yet we’re on track to lose the coral reefs that support over a quarter of marine species. In my lifetime we’ve lost a shocking half the population of our marine species, half our coastal wetlands, and half our Arctic ice, imperilling hundreds of millions of people living less than 10 meters above current sea levels. So those of us who can help must step up to support the ocean to adapt to climate change. Our government is already rolling out nature-based solutions to tackle it, for example our work to maintain and enhance 20,000 hectares of mighty mangroves in Madagascar, Indonesia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. But change requires collective effort. That’s why we’re calling for at least 30% of the world’s ocean to be safeguarded by Marine Protected Areas in the course of this decade.”

HS2 – new report reveals exorbitant cost to nature - The Wildlife Trusts

A new report published by The Wildlife Trusts today reveals, for the first time, the vast scale of the destruction and impact that HS2 will cause to nature. 'What’s the damage? Why HS2 will cost nature too much’ is the most comprehensive assessment Drawing on data from 14 Wildlife Trusts affected by the current plans, other charities and landowners* along the route, the report shows that HS2 will divide and destroy huge swathes of irreplaceable natural habitat and important protected wildlife sites up the length of England.

This will cause permanent loss of nature, increased fragmentation of wild places, and the local extinction of endangered species.

The report finds that HS2’s current proposals will risk the loss of, or significantly impact:

  • 5 Wildlife refuges of international importance, protected by UK law
  • 33 Sites of Special Scientific Interest which are protected by UK law
  • 693 Classified Local Wildlife Sites
  • 21 Designated Local Nature Reserves
  • 26 Large landscape-scale initiatives, including:
    • 4 Nature Improvement Areas awarded £1.7 million of public money
    • 22 Living Landscapes – partnership schemes to restore nature
  • 18 Wildlife Trust Nature Reserves – many are also designated wildlife sites
  • 108 Ancient woodlands, an irreplaceable habitat
  • Other irreplaceable habitats such as veteran trees, wood pasture, old meadows
  • Extensive further areas of wider natural habitat
  • Barn owls and endangered wildlife such white-clawed crayfish, willow tit and lizard orchid. Rarities like dingy skipper may become locally extinct.

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of campaigns and policy says: “The figures are grim and the reality is worse. The potential loss of so many really important wild places and the wildlife that depends on them has never been revealed before – nor has the damage that will be done to taxpayer-funded, nature recovery projects. HS2 will destroy precious carbon-capturing habitats if it’s allowed to continue in its current form – it will damage the very ecosystems that provide a natural solution to the climate emergency."

Number of threatened ancient woodlands tops the thousand mark - Woodland Trust

The number of ancient woods under threat in the UK from built development has topped the thousand mark for the first time since records began.

Protection for our irreplaceable ancient woods and trees must be given high priority. Credit: Ben Lee / WTML
Protection for our irreplaceable ancient woods and trees must be given high priority. Credit: Ben Lee / WTML

Figures released today by the Woodland Trust show it is aware of 1,064 ancient woodlands at risk of damage or destruction - the highest number since it started compiling the data in 1999. But this may just be the tip of the iceberg as there may well be others it has not been notified of.

Of these cases 801 are live planning applications while the remaining 263 are included in various council site allocation plans – areas outlined for future development such as housing, business use or leisure facilities.

Site allocations are the main nature of threat, followed by housing (175), utilities (148), railways (112), roads (91), agriculture (78) and leisure or sport (49). The biggest single development project threatening ancient woods is HS2. At least 108 ancient woodlands will be lost or damaged by the project in its current form.

As well as development, our ancient woodlands are facing threats like deposition of nitrogen from poultry farms near ancient woods and there’s an alarming growth in threats of tree disease from imported plants and wood.

The charity is calling on the new Government to ensure protection for our irreplaceable ancient woods and trees is a high priority.

Scientific Publications

Soga Masashi and Gaston Kevin J. The ecology of human–nature interactions Proc. R. Soc. B

Smart Ioan E., Cuthill Innes C. and Scott-Samuel Nicholas E. In the corner of the eye: camouflaging motion in the peripheral visual field Proc. R. Soc. B doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.2537

Tidbury, H, Taylor, N, van der Molen, J, et al. Social network analysis as a tool for marine spatial planning: Impacts of decommissioning on connectivity in the North Sea. J Appl Ecol. 2020; 00: 1– 12.

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