Conservation Land Management: Spring 2021

The cover of the CLM Spring 2021 issue

The magazine that went on to become Conservation Land Management (CLM) first went to print in the spring of 1993. At this time it was named enact, and was published by English Nature (the predecessor of Natural England). The aim then was to promote land management for nature conservation and provide easy-to-understand advice on useful techniques – an objective that CLM still stands by today, but now covering a much wider variety of conservation issues. Here, Assistant Editor Catherine Mitson highlights the key articles of the latest Spring 2021 issue.

The UK’s departure from the EU offers a number of opportunities for the environment, and in particular for the future of farming in the UK. And so, agricultural policy is undergoing a reform and a new payment scheme, the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM), has been introduced to England.

ELM will pay farmers based on the public goods they provide, such as habitat restoration or flood management, as a means of contributing to the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan. But is ELM up to the task of delivering its aim? In this issue Alice Groom, RSPB’s senior policy officer, provides an up to date overview of what we know about ELM so far, the proposed timeline of the seven-year agricultural transition period, and, importantly, highlights the pitfalls and challenges that need to be addressed in order for ELM to be a success.

Staying within the theme of farming, exciting new approaches are being trialled in the The Great Fen, which stretches between Huntingdon and Peterborough, and is undergoing landscape-wide restoration to improve the sustainability of the fens for both people and wildlife. Within this vision, the Great Fen team are in the midst of the three-year Water Works project that is focused on a ‘wet farming’ approach. Wet farming is a type of agriculture on wetter soils, a much more suited approach for the natural conditions of the fens; this will help to protect peat, lock in carbon, support wildlife and provide local farmers with new economic opportunities.

Novel crops, such as gypsywort, bulrush, sphagnum moss and watercress, chosen for their potential uses for food, flavourings and medicine, are currently being trailed in specially prepared planting beds. Data is simultaneously being collected to measure the rate of carbon capture and loss in these trial plots – it is hoped that not only will carbon loss be reduced within the Great Fen, but also that these changes in fenland agriculture will help sequester carbon too.

Ribble Rivers Trust (RRT) also seeks to improve the condition of existing habitats, and uses an evidence-based approach to target land management where it will have the biggest benefits for wildlife, people, and the environment. Focused in the Ribble catchment in north-west England, Ellie Brown, GIS data and evidence officer at RRT, demonstrates how the use of mapping and data analysis has helped the charity to identify key areas for conservation projects.

One example of this has been along Bashall Brook. Using solar radiation maps RRT identified a particular stretch of the watercourse that was at risk of overheating. The main reason behind the increase in water temperature in this area was a lack of surrounding vegetation providing enough shade, and so it was decided to create a woodland running along either side of the bank. RRT is conscious to only ever plant trees where it is appropriate, and the resulting vegetation has helped to create much-needed shade along the brook.

In some circumstances all it takes is just a handful of people in a local community with a shared passion to come together to make a difference. In 1970 the Bristol section of the M5 motorway was opened and, during this work, a particular stretch of St George’s Hill had the topsoil removed from the roadside verge. Giles Morris, a conservation volunteer with St. George’s Flower Bank, describes how a dedicated team of volunteers from the local villages worked together to clear the encroaching scrub on this verge, and how this led to the establishment of a species-rich grassland. This on-going management project has been a huge success, and the site has since been declared a Local Nature Reserve.

Conservation success stories, such as that of St George’s Flower Bank, make for an inspirational read. And staying on a positive note, beavers are certainly grabbing the attention of many in recent years and have been reintroduced to a number of different sites across the UK. For our Introducing feature it was a delight to have Eva Bishop discuss how the Beaver Trust came to be, what it is trying to achieve, and the exciting projects it has been involved in.

In every issue you can expect to see Briefing and On the ground, but other features that regularly appear include Viewpoint, a similar length to our main articles, but here authors can voice their own views on various conservation issues; Introducing, a feature focused on organisations involved in conservation, and here they can discuss their aim and describe specific conservation projects they are involved in; and Review, which can include letters from readers or updates from our authors.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £18 per year. Previous back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in writing for CLM feel free to contact us – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

Conservation Land Management magazine

Conservation Land Management (CLM), a quarterly magazine published by NHBS since 2016, is widely regarded as essential reading for all who are involved in land management for nature conservation in Britain. Here, CLM’s Assistant Editor Catherine Mitson introduces the magazine and describes how CLM came to be.

The magazine that went on to become CLM first went to print in the spring of 1993. At this time it was named enact, and was published by English Nature (the forerunner of Natural England). Enact aimed to promote land management for nature conservation and provide easy-to-understand advice on useful techniques; the magazine featured a wide variety of topical articles written by those working in the field, as is still the case today.

English Nature went on to publish enact for a further ten years, but in 1995 production of the magazine was handed to British Wildlife Publishing (BWP). BWP was established in 1989 by Andrew and Anne Branson, and by 1995 had gained a reputation as a well-respected small publishing house specialising in natural history, already well known for publishing British Wildlife magazine (also now published by NHBS).

The cover of CLM 15.3 (Autumn 2017), before its redesign in 2018.

Fast forward to the spring of 2003 and enact was relaunched as Conservation Land Management and received a complete makeover. The themes and topics covered remained the same, but new features such as Briefing (listings of relevant events and publications) and On the ground (updates and advice on the latest products) made their first appearances. Conservation has changed greatly over the past 28 years, and CLM today covers a wider variety of practical conservation issues than did enact. It continues to be an invaluable source of information about good conservation land management practice.

NHBS acquired CLM in 2016, and it was decided in 2018 that the time was ripe for the magazine to be updated once more. CLM was given a complete redesign and volume 16.1, published in spring 2018, was the first to display the new look. But despite the change of appearance, the core aim of CLM is still the same: to continue to serve those people on the ground working to conserve nature in the British countryside.

The articles in CLM focus on a wide range of topics, using up-to-date case studies to support practical solutions. Some places and themes covered by CLM in recent issues have included: considerations for lichens and bryophytes in the management of riparian woodlands; moorland grazing in the heart of Galloway; the options for wildflower seed harvesting; evidence-based decision making in conservation and land management; the development of the ‘amphibian ladder’; raising the standards of veteran tree management in Europe; wilding hedgerows in modern landscapes; conservation of native black poplar using seeds; and many more!

Even just this small selection of previous articles demonstrates the core purpose of CLM, to provide our readers with practical advice. CLM’s readership is diverse – encompassing staff working for statutory agencies and government departments, local authorities, charities, universities and research institutes, as well as ecological consultants, university and other higher education students and lecturers, volunteers, farmers and other private landowners, and individuals with an interest in how best to care for Britain’s wildlife and habitats.

Our upcoming Spring 2021 issue marks the beginning of volume 19 and the selection of articles cover a wide variety of topics and techniques. Here is a sneak peek of what is included:

  • The new Environmental Land Management scheme: what do we know so far?
  • Introducing… Beaver Trust
  • Using location-based evidence to prioritise catchment-wide land management
  • St George’s flower bank Local Nature Reserve: thirty years of road verge management by a local community
  • Wet farming in the Great Fen

In every issue you can expect to see Briefing and On the ground, but other features that regularly appear include Viewpoint, a similar length to our main articles, but here authors can voice their own views on various conservation issues; Introducing, a feature focused on organisations involved in conservation, and here they can discuss their aim and describe specific conservation projects they are involved in; and Review, which can include letters from readers or updates from our authors.

CLM is published four times a year in March, June, September and December, and is available by subscription only, delivered straight to your door. Subscriptions start from £18 per year. Previous back issues are also available to purchase individually (subject to availability).

If you are involved in a conservation project and think your experiences could be useful to other practitioners, we would love to hear from you. If you are interested in writing for CLM feel free to contact us – we will be happy to discuss your ideas with you.

The CIEEM Awards 2020

CIEEM (the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management) is the leading professional membership body in the UK, representing and also supporting ecologists and environmental managers. Here at NHBS, our core purpose is to support those who strive to understand, protect, and conserve the natural environment. And so, we are thrilled to partner with CIEEM and to support the 2020 CIEEM Awards.

The CIEEM Awards is a wonderful celebration of those working tirelessly within the environmental sector, and this is a fantastic opportunity for the individuals, projects, businesses and organisations making significant contributions to the natural world to be rightfully recognised for their efforts.

Image by CIEEM

As a supplier and manufacturer of wildlife, ecology and conservation equipment and books, we are proud to be sponsoring two categories: Small-Scale Nature Conservation and Large-Scale Nature Conservation. We recognise the value of both small-scale initiatives as well as regional and national projects for studying and improving all aspects of the natural world. Other categories include Project Mitigation (Large-Scale and Small-Scale), Stakeholder Engagement, Member of the Year, NGO Impact, and many more. You can find out more about each Award here.

“We are delighted to have NHBS sponsoring our ‘Best practice’ award for our 2020 awards event. We at CIEEM are extremely grateful for the ongoing support that NHBS provide and look forward to continuing to work with them in the future.” – CIEEM

Congratulations to all the individuals and organisations nominated for this year’s CIEEM Awards – we wish you all the best of luck with your endeavours during 2021.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 20th January 2021

A newly published study has shown that octopuses are able to withstand changes in ocean-acidity levels – this research is an exciting contribution to our current understanding of the impacts of climate change.

More than 50 countries across six continents have pledged to protect at least 30% of the planet to prevent the mass extinction of wildlife and halt the destruction of the natural world.

A study in Yellowstone National Park has shown that lactating grizzly bear mothers are more susceptible to heat stress, and take baths in cool water to help regulate their body temperature.

156 new species of plants and fungi were documented during 2020, six of which were found in the UK. Other discoveries from across the globe include two new Aloe species, ‘the world’s ugliest orchid’, and a sweet potato relative which could be a potential future food source.

Scientists from the University of Bristol have recently published their research explaining why crocodiles have changed so little in 200 million years.

Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust Friends’ Day 2020

British Wildlife’s Assistant Editor Catherine Mitson joins the supporters of the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) for their annual Friends’ Day. With exclusive site visits and Q&A sessions on the agenda, this year’s Friends’ Day was set to be a great event. Here, Catherine shares with us some of the highlights.

Thankfully, with the existence of Zoom, the ARC Friends’ Day 2020 could go ahead, albeit not its usual format. The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust planned a jam-packed Saturday afternoon to give their supporters the opportunity to see what ARC has been up to and to learn more about Britain’s native reptile and amphibian species.

Woolmer Forest is one of the most extensive and diverse lowland heathlands in Hampshire and home to 12 out of our 13 native reptile and amphibian species, including the rare Smooth Snake and Sand Lizard. Excitingly Blackmoor Heath, a 20ha site in Woolmer Forest, has become ARC’s newest nature reserve after a year-long fundraising appeal. Once introduced to the ARC team (most of whom were sporting fun animal-themed virtual backgrounds) the first video began, and we were taken on a virtual tour of the new reserve.

A priority at Blackmoor Heath is to reintroduce the Natterjack Toad, extending its range in Hampshire. Reducing tree cover and creating ponds are a few examples of the work being undertaken here to support a reintroduced population of Natterjacks. Not only is this vital management for Natterjacks and many other heathland species, this has also led to the exposure of bronze age barrows, or burial mounds – Blackmoor Heath is not only important for wildlife, but historically too.

Blackmoor – by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust

Next, Field Officers Ralph and Bryony took us to Crooksbury Common in Surrey, an important breeding site for Natterjack Toads. Bordered by a pine plantation, one of the major tasks here is to prevent the encroachment of pine trees, which if left unmanaged, would soon smother valuable heathland habitat. In the hope to restore good numbers of Natterjack Toads, the ARC team are also busy creating and maintaining large shallow ponds, critical for Natterjack breeding and egg-laying, as well as providing shelter for Natterjack adults during the cold winter months. We were also shown key Natterjack identification features, such as the distinctive yellow stripe that runs down the middle of their back.

Natterjack – by Chris Dresh

Moving away from heathlands, we suddenly found ourselves on the dunes of Aberdovey, Wales to discover all about the Connecting the Dragons project. ARC staff and volunteers have been working hard to create exposed sand patches on the dunes here (socially distanced of course) to provide the reintroduced population of Sand Lizards with basking spots and egg-laying sites, as well as making next year’s surveying much easier!

Perhaps not common knowledge to many, there are actually two races of Sand Lizard: the Northern dune race and the Southern heathland race. The morphological differences between the two races were described, highlighting the distinctive identification features. For instance, the males of the Northern dune race tend to be much lighter when they first emerge from hibernation compared to those of the Southern heathland race.  

Image by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust

The final site visit video took us to Dorset. Designated as a Special Area for Conservation and a SSSI, Great Ovens, an ARC nature reserve in Wareham Forest since 1996, is a truly special site. Similarly to Crooksbury Common, a surrounding pine plantation and the threat of scrub invasion means that a sensitive management programme is necessary to maintain the important mix of wet and dry heathland. This is not only beneficial for the amphibians and reptiles on the site, including Adders, Smooth Snakes and Sand Lizards, but also for other species such as Dartford Warbler, Silver-studded Blue, and Scarce Chaser. This was a common theme – habitat management for reptiles and amphibians will have a positive knock-on effect for other species, particularly in declining heathland habitats.

Dartford Warbler – by Guy Freeman
Great Ovens – by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust

Finally, Public Engagement Officer Owain took us out to find the rare Smooth Snake. Owain was successful in his search, and was able to show us a male Smooth Snake curled up safely underneath refugia (note that a license is required to monitor or handle this species). Owain went on to describe ARC’s ambitious four-year long Snake in the Heather project. Working in partnership with landowners, site managers and wildlife conservation charities, Snakes in the Heather endeavours to conserve the Smooth Snake across its range in southern England, as well as the lowland heathland habitat on which it, and many other species, depends.

Smooth Snake – by Chris Dresh

Throughout the Friends’ Day there were many opportunities for questions during the Q&A panel sessions; we learnt even more about ongoing ARC projects, the management of ARC’s nature reserves and the ecology of UK reptile and amphibian species. Many of the attendees were keen to know what they could do to help Britain’s reptiles and amphibian species and the ARC team enthusiastically provided us with information on how to get involved.

The ARC team – by Catherine Mitson

If you’re interested in becoming an ARC volunteer, or would like to become an ARC Friend to support their fantastic conservation work, you can find out more on their website.

This Week in Biodiversity News – May 20th

Research carried out over a three-year period during a reintroduction project has shown that Pine Martens seem to establish their new territories more quickly with the presence of Pine Marten neighbours, but spend more time investigating their new habitat before settling when there are no other Pine Martens nearby.

A new study has hailed the rainforest fjords of southeastern Alaska as a global lichen hotspot. Over 900 lichen species have been documented in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, 27 of which are new to science. 

Researchers estimate that urban insect abundance would need to increase by a factor of at least 2.5 for urban Great Tit breeding success to match that of Great Tits living in forests. Providing nutritional supplementary food, such as mealworms, can help to boost urban Great Tit breeding success. 

Sauvages de ma rue (“wild things of my street”) is a chalking campaign that began in France to increase the awareness of plants growing in urban areas, encouraging the connection between people and surrounding wildlife. Botanical chalking has gone viral and can now be seen on the pavements of London, but chalking without permission is illegal in the UK.

Little is known about the threatened African Forest Elephant and this lack of knowledge hinders conservation efforts. A new study led by an international research team estimates that their population is between 40-80% smaller than previously thought.

This Week in Biodiversity News – May 6th

Until now, it was not known how Koalas drink in the wild, but now the mystery has been solved. For the first time, Koalas have been observed licking the water running down smooth tree trunks during rainy weather. 

An animatronic spy hummingbird has been used to film the mass flight of Monarch butterflies as they leave their wintering grounds in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. 

Animals that do not hibernate often use more energy to maintain their body temperatures during the winter. Common Shrews, however, do not need to increase their metabolic rate and instead maintain an equally active metabolism in both the summer and winter months.

Sinharaja is a lowland rainforest and a designated UNESCO world heritage site in Sri Lanka. It is here that a rare new orchid species has been discovered. This new species has been named Gastrodia gunatillekeorum after the two renowned forest ecologists Nimal and Savithri Gunatilleke. 

With the help of camera traps, a Brown Bear has been spotted in the Invernadeiro national park in Spain for the first time in 150 years. The Brown Bear has been a protected species in Spain since 1973.

This Week in Biodiversity News – April 22nd

A new species of bent-toed gecko has been described at the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Cambodia. This new discovery has been named Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis after Phnom Chi mountain where it was found. 

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis embryos are able to communicate with each other from within the egg. Studies have shown that eggs exposed to predator alarm calls hatch later than eggs that are not. Newly hatched chicks also produced less noise and crouch more than chicks that were not exposed to sound while in the egg. 

A five-year study looking at four species of flamingos at the WWT Slimbridge Wetlands Centre has shed light on the long-lasting social bonds flamingoes can form. Not only do they spend time with their mate, but they also regularly socialise with three or four others and have been shown to avoid certain individuals. 

A report by the National Capital Committee explains why poorly-planned tree planting on peat bogs could result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 

The use of pheromones has been seen for the first time in a primate – male Ring-tailed Lemurs Lemur catta produce a fruity ‘perfume’ from the scent glands in their wrists to attract a mate.

This Week in Biodiversity News – April 8th

 

Seven new defence behaviours have been reported for the False Coral Snake Oxyrhopus rhombifer, one of which is the first registered for all Brazilian snakes. Cloacal discharge, body flattening, and false strikes are just a few examples of the variety of defence behaviours demonstrated by this species. 

The average wing size of two Nightingale populations in central Spain has fallen over the last twenty years. Nightingales migrate over vast distances from Sub-saharan Africa to Europe, where they breed. But, after their first journey to Africa, those with a shorter wing length are less likely to return to their breeding grounds. Climate change is the accused culprit; the timing of spring has changed and droughts are lasting longer in central Spain. Scientists believe this is having a knock-on effect on a series of adaptive traits that enable Nightingales to migrate effectively. 

Two new studies have shed light on the best way to achieve long-term success after giraffes are translocated for conservation. A founding population of at least 30 females and 3 males is amongst the recommendations given by scientists to achieve long-term population viability post translocation. 

The longevity of the largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark Rhincodon typus, has up until now proven difficult to determine. But past atomic bomb testing has given rise to an identifiable ‘time marker’ that can allow scientists to estimate the age of specimens. 

Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting 2020

Wind farms, conflicts in conservation, and the use of photo identification as a population monitoring technique were amongst the many themes covered at the 2020 Herpetofauna Workers’ Meeting. Running for over 30 years, this popular event attracts ecological consultants, academics, students, and conservation organisations from far and wide. As the weather worsened with the arrival of Storm Dennis, we settled in for a jam-packed two days filled with presentations, workshops, and poster displays.

Scout Moor wind farm, image by Stephen Gidley via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

So how is a talk on wind farms relevant at a herpetology conference? Wind farms cover a large expanse of land and, as Jeanette Hall from the Highland Biological Recording Group explained, could provide a conservation opportunity for Adders Vipera berus. Birds of prey are typically the main predator of Adders, but these predators are present in low numbers on wind farms. If managed correctly, wind farms could offer a suitable refuge for Adders. To test this Jeanette and her team used clay snake models to measure avian attack rates both within the wind farm and on a control site roughly a kilometre away. The models were made to roughly the same size as a yearling Adder, and the attacks were recorded by the presence of talon marks on the clay models.

Despite observing raptors in both sites, they found that attack rates were significantly lower on the wind farm. Interestingly, attack rates were higher in areas where grazing sheep were present.

Sheep grazing, image by David Pics via Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

With grazing and habitat management in mind, could these vast areas that wind farms cover offer an opportunity for reptile conservation? 

 Clay snake models are one simple but effective approach for measuring attack rates. Suzanne Collinson, from the University of Cumbria and the Cumbria Amphibian & Reptile Group, discussed another interesting technique that she used when studying Slow Worms Anguis fragilis. She used photo identification to study the size and dynamics of a Slow Worm population in a churchyard in Dalston, Cumbria. Slow Worms are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 due to their overall decline, therefore this population in the village of Dalston is of great interest, especially to the locals. Due to their morphology and cryptic behaviour, mark and recapture is a difficult method to use to survey Slow Worms. In addition to this, the markings on the neck and chin of a Slow Worm are unique to the individual and so, photo identification could offer a viable monitoring method.

Slow Worm, image by Bernard Dupont via Flickr,(CC BY 2.0)

In order to take a photograph of an individual, the Slow Worm would be placed on a clear tray, enabling photographs of the Slow Worm’s ventral surface to be taken quickly. The Slow Worms were found at various shelters or ACO’s (artificial cover objects) that were positioned across the churchyard. Suzanne also measured the body length of each new individual that she photographed and recorded the ambient temperature and the number of ant nests and snails present at the ACO. Suzanne counted 25 individuals in total (the original population estimate was 18) and found that as temperatures increased, Slow Worm encounters decreased. Ending on this note, Suzanne discussed the potential implications of climate change and how future monitoring will be necessary to understand what these future impacts could be on the population. 

 On both days there was a choice of five different workshops, all on very different topics, that we could take part in. On the first day, we attended ‘Managing habitats for conflicting species’ led by Jim Foster and Andrew Hampson from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. Faced with a real-time scenario, we discussed in small groups the potential conflicts that could arise and what approach should be used to move forward – our scenario was based at the dunes of Sefton coast, and focused on the population of Natterjack toads that reside there. This was an interesting opportunity to hear what lessons had been learnt from previous conservation projects and how this knowledge can be used for effective conservation planning in the future. 

Sand dunes on the Sefton Coast, image by Natural England, Flickr, (CC BY 2.0)

Of course, this is just a snapshot of the range of topics discussed over the duration of the conference. Hearing first hand what organisations such as the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust and Amphibian and Reptile Groups of UK are doing to conserve reptile and amphibian species in the UK, plus the ongoing research on both British species and those of other countries was fascinating. 

Catherine on the NHBS stand, image by Catherine

You can visit the NHBS website here to browse our selection of herpetology books, as well as a range of equipment required for the surveying or monitoring of reptiles and amphibians