15th April 2014
Save our disappearing grasslands
Under threat from development, changes in land-use and farming practices, neglect and mismanagement, new evidence from Wildlife Trusts across the country tells a story of vanishing grasslands and vanishing wildlife.
Staff at Shropshire Wildlife Trust have noticed the ploughing of permanent grassland taking place in Shropshire over the last two years. Around the Upper Clun for instance at least 80 hectares of semi-natural grassland has already been destroyed or is under threat from ploughing. However grasslands are also declining in wildlife value. Twenty five per cent of semi-natural grasslands surveyed last year had declined in condition.
Nationally, 5632 people have already signed the Wildlife Trust’s e-petition to persuade government to take the protection of grasslands seriously.
In addition to being vital for bees and pollinators, grasslands are also essential for: wild grasses and flowers, butterflies and barn owls, skylarks and slow worms, for protecting precious soils, protecting rivers from pollutants and for storing water and carbon, for preserving ancient meadows and pastures - living museums of social history and for supporting sustainable farming systems
Our wildlife-rich grasslands are fading away – and with them the precious wildlife and wild plants of our countryside. The Wildlife Trusts have been collecting information on the state of valuable grassland sites in England such as ancient meadows, pastures and road verges. The information gathered so far has provided a snapshot of the situation on the ground. The data is startling. For example:
• Nottinghamshire: out of 392 Local Wildlife Sites containing neutral grassland 99 (25%) have been de- selected since 2005.
• Worcestershire: in this county renowned for its classic traditional lowland hay meadows, it is estimated that 48 sites (24%), comprising around 240 hectares, out of a total of 200 grassland Local Wildlife Sites have been lost, damaged or reduced to sub-optimal condition since 2005.
• Cumbria: surveys of upland hay meadow Local Wildlife Sites between 2008-2011 led to the de-selection of 35 (27%) out of a total of 128 sites. At 15 of the sites the traditional hay meadows previously present had completely disappeared. In the Lake District National Park surveys of 223.47 hectares of hay meadow wildlife sites between the late 1970s and early 2000s led to a staggering 183.26 hectares (82%) being de-selected as Local Wildlife Sites.
25th March 2014
Wildlife Trusts urge government to rethink bTB control with new campaign
The Wildlife Trusts today ask David Cameron - via an e-action petition - to drop the Government’s failed badger cull policy and develop an alternative strategy for tackling bovine tuberculosis.
We are today launching an e-action to ensure the Prime Minister feels the weight of serious public concern that any plans for continued and extended culling will make matters worse
Despite strong public opposition, a string of Government failures and MP recognition that an alternative strategy to deal with bovine TB is needed, plans to continue - and extend - badger culling - are expected this week.
The Wildlife Trusts today launch an appeal aimed at the Prime Minister to bolster support for alternatives.
According to yesterday’s edition of The Sunday Times, the Government’s badger culls are to restart this summer, with a third zone in Dorset added to the existing areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“We are today launching an e-action to ensure the Prime Minister feels the weight of serious public concern that any plans for continued and extended culling will make matters worse.The Government must take a long hard look at its policy and drop the failed culling approach to effectively tackle this disease.The justification to continue, and further extend, culling in other counties will be totally unacceptable.
“If the news reported yesterday is confirmed later this week, it will reinforce serious unease that lessons are not being learned; that the basic facts and strong public opinion are falling on deaf ears with what can only be dire consequences.We continue to push for badger culling to be dropped from the Government’s bTB strategy.It must prioritise badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine.
According to The Sunday Times, an announcement by the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), is expected this Thursday (27 March) along with the publication of the Independent Expert Panel report.The newspaper also reported Defra is “planning another three years of culling in Gloucester and Somerset, for which licences have already been issued, and four years of culls in Dorset. Proposed culls in Cornwall and Devon are understood to have been dropped for now.”
Paul Wilkinson, added:
“Earlier this month, MPs overwhelmingly backed a motion calling on the Government to drop culling.They listened to the views of the public, took into account the facts and backed alternatives. It is long overdue for the Government to do the same.”
17th March 2014
Have your say on Shropshire’s future housing plan
Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) are calling on people throughout the county to get involved in the planning process. More than 50,000 new houses are set to be built by the mid 2020s across the county and it is essential that people make their views known now, if they wish to influence which areas are built on.
A public meeting arranged by the Trust and CPRE is to be held at the Lord Hill Hotel, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury on Thursday 3rd April, to inform and encourage people on how to get engaged in the consultations. Expert advice will be offered from three speakers. Niall Blackie, senior partner at Shrewsbury solicitors’ firm FBC Manby Bowdler, will discuss the National Planning Policy Framework, within which local councils have to operate. David Parker, planning consultant (formerly of Oswestry Borough Council), will interpret the planning changes at a local level and Colin Preston, director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, will advise on how people can work together to get the best deal for Shropshire.
Up to 30,000 houses are set to be built in Telford and a further 25,000 in the rest of Shropshire. Building will occur mainly in the market towns, with Shrewsbury likely to increase by 10 – 20% in size within a decade. “This is development on an unprecedented scale,” said Colin Preston. “We have a great challenge on our hands to make sure these houses go in the right place and that damage to our fragile environment and its wildlife is minimised.”
Shropshire Council is due to publish a draft version of the SAMDev (Site Allocations and Management of Development) plan shortly. This will set out proposals for the use of land and policies to guide future development in Shropshire up to 2026. It covers the whole of the administrative area of Shropshire Council. Telford & Wrekin’s housing development plan, Shaping Places, will also be announced in the near future.
14th March 2014
Are we fit to frack?
Poorly regulated fracking risks harming threatened species and polluting our waterways, according to a report produced by the UK’s leading wildlife and countryside groups.
The report,Are We Fit to Frack?, was launched today by the Angling Trust, the National Trust, RSPB, the Salmon & Trout Association, The Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust. It is supported by a cross party group of MPs including Zac Goldsmith, Alan Whitehead and Tessa Munt.
The report contains ten recommendations for making fracking safer as the Government continues its push to get companies to apply for licences to explore and drill for shale gas.
The recommendations are based on a full technical evidence report which has been peer reviewed by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, one of the UK’s leading ecological research institutes.
The countryside groups are calling for all protected wildlife areas, nature reserves and national parks to be frack-free zones, for full environmental assessments to be carried out for each drilling proposal, and for the shale gas industry to pay the costs of its regulation and any pollution clean-ups.
The report highlights a lack of regulation around shale gas exploitation which could cause serious impacts for a range of threatened species including pink footed geese, salmon and barbastelle bats. It also raises serious concerns about the impact of drilling and water contamination on some of our most precious natural habitats such as chalk streams. These crystal clear waterways are known to anglers and wildlife-lovers as England’s coral reefs – 85% of the world’s chalk streams are found here.
Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “The Prime Minister has been a great advocate for the shale gas industry. He has said we have the strongest environmental controls in this country and nothing will go ahead if there are environmental dangers.
“Our report puts a spotlight on these risks and reinforces the growing concern about the impact fracking could have on our countryside and wildlife. We argue that more needs to be done to ensure fracking rules are fit for purpose.”
Simon Pryor, National Trust Natural Environment Director, said: “The debate on fracking needs to be evidence based. The evidence from this detailed research clearly reveals that the regulation of shale gas needs to be improved if it’s to offer adequate protection for sensitive environments.
“Whilst the Government is keen to see rapid roll out of fracking, there’s a real danger that the regulatory system simply isn’t keeping pace. The Government should rule out fracking in the most sensitive areas and ensure that the regulations offer sufficient protection to our treasured natural and historic environment.”
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The Government’s dash for shale gas must not run ahead of our ability to effectively regulate, minimise or eliminate the serious risks fracking poses. This report clearly identifies a range of deficiencies which mean we’re not currently fit to frack without unacceptable risks to wildlife, special places and local communities across the country.”
Martin Spray, Chief Executive of WWT, said: “A single frack can use more water than 1,000 people use in a year and if it goes wrong it could contaminate drinking water and ruin wetland habitats. That’s a big burden on communities and it’s a risk we want managed. Today’s report clearly sets out the safeguards that need to be in place before this relatively new industry can operate in our countryside with a degree of safety.”
Martin Salter, National Campaigns Coordinator for the Angling Trust said: “A poor fracking operation has the potential to pollute groundwater supplies and to cause damage to fragile ecosystems in our chalk streams and other rivers. That is why we need the strongest possible regulatory framework, funded from the profits of the industry rather than from taxpayers’ pockets.”
Janina Gray, Salmon & Trout Association Head of Science, said: “The water use of the UK shale gas industry could exacerbate pressure on rivers and wetlands, particularly on sensitive water bodies and those already suffering from over-abstraction, such as chalk streams, and this adds yet further pressure on declining fish populations - the Atlantic salmon being a prime example.
“This, coupled with the risk of water pollution – including groundwater contamination – could, if not correctly managed, be significant - possibly irreversible. Action must be taken now to ensure all necessary environmental protection and regulatory frameworks are in place before extraction goes ahead.”
Shropshire Wildlife Trust would be deeply concerned about the potential harm that could be caused by fracking. A large area of north Shropshire - roughly corresponding with the Meres & Mosses - has already been highlighted as having fracking potential. Shaped by enormous glaciers in the Ice Age, the distinctive hummocks and hollows of the area were formed some 12,000 years ago. The land has changed over the centuries; most peat bogs have been ploughed and drained, but relics, such as Fenn’s Whixall and Brown Moss, have survived along with astonishing rarities such as the least water lily, found nowhere else in England.
The outstanding value of the area was recognised when the Government designated it as one of England’s first Nature Improvement Areas (NIAs) and the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership was also awarded a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The demands of fracking would place great pressures on this fragile environment. Water pollution would be likely and construction of the fracking infrastructure would potentially lead to the fragmentation and destruction of wildlife habitats. It would also require vast quantities of water, a resource that is already over-extracted for domestic and industrial use.
Download the report
5th March 2014
Dismay as 20 years of wildlife restoration ploughed up
Several incidents of ploughing of permanent grassland in the Clun uplands in south Shropshire have caused great concern to Shropshire Wildlife Trust. This change in management is likely to impact severely on breeding populations of curlew, a bird already in steep decline, while the rare small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly and numerous uncommon wildflowers, including marsh orchids and bitter-vetch, are also at risk.
The ending of the Clun Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) scheme, which has run for 20 years, appears to have prompted this development. Over 90% of the area was protected by ESA agreements which all had compulsory hedge management and restoration programmes in place.
Two areas have already been ploughed and a third is soon to follow amounting to 26 hectares of land. A further 54 hectares of permanent grassland is awaiting the same fate within the area.
For 20 years, farmers signed up to the ESA scheme were paid to manage their land in a low-intensity way which allowed grasslands to recover their species-diversity. The results were encouraging: land was slowly recovering from past habitat destruction, wildflowers were reappearing and butterflies and farmland birds returning as the land once more became suitable for these species. Ploughing these fields means destruction of the last 20 years’ good work and calls into question how agricultural regulations can allow this to happen. “Significant amounts of public money were invested in this scheme which brought real benefits for wildlife, the environment and farmers,” said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust. “Now all those valuable gains may be undone.”
The vision of the ESA was that if whole landscapes could be managed sensitively, the environmental benefits would be much greater than if a piecemeal approach was adopted. Shropshire Wildlife Trust entirely supports that approach, but it must be underpinned by a strong, long-term commitment, secure funding and good regulation.
“Grassland is very vulnerable to change,” said Colin. “It is easier to overlook its value for wildlife than other forms of vegetation such as hedgerows and trees.” The Environmental Impact Assessment (which must be sought before permission to plough older grassland is granted) recognises the value of only certain species – not the whole habitat – and this puts the recovering land at risk.
The consequences of ploughing extend far beyond the field itself. Soil is quickly eroded and washed into rivers and streams, causing siltation problems. Water runs off ploughed land much more quickly than from permanent grassland, contributing to the problem of flooding downstream. The UK also runs the risk of incurring multi-million pound fines from the EU if species are lost through poor land management. This is a very real possibility in the Clun area – and yet the organisations entrusted with looking after the environment are not empowered to protect it effectively.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust has developed strong relationships with many farmers in the area over many years and fully appreciates the good work that they are undertaking. Ploughing is unlikely to yield significant financial rewards on marginal farmland such as this and the Trust hopes very much that farmers will take up alternative agri-environmental support schemes, enabling them to continue managing their land in an environmentally sensitive way.
26th February 2014
Revised figures show fall in bTB cases in cattle
In light of revised figures showing bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is declining in UK cattle herds, The Wildlife Trusts repeat their call on the Government to drop badger culling from its bTB strategy.
The Government’s justification for a badger cull in England has been seriously undermined by the release by Defra of revised bTB statistics at the weekend. The statistics show that the overall number of UK cattle herds infected with bTB in 2012-13 fell by 3.4%, rather than increasing by 18% as previously stated.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, said: “This is a very embarrassing mix up and raises serious questions about Defra’s competence on this issue and the quality of its record keeping. What is now clear is that the Government’s decision to licence pilot badger culls in England was based on inaccurate data and false claims that the disease is spreading out of control. The new figures show that improved cattle measures have actually been more effective than previously thought.
The greatest reduction in bTB in 2012-13 was seen in Wales, where an independent strategy of strict cattle measures coupled with badger vaccination has achieved a significant 23.6% decrease in the number of infected cattle herds – without culling badgers. In contrast, bTB incidence in England increased by 1.7% during the same period.
Paul Wilkinson continues: “The Welsh example provides clear evidence that the Government’s bTB strategy in England must change if real gains are to be made in tackling this disease.”
The Wildlife Trusts continue to urge the Government to drop badger culling from its bTB strategy and prioritise badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust will continue its vaccination programme in north Shropshire, now in its third year. Volunteers will assess badger activity, deploy the cage traps and bait them and then assist with the vaccinations later in the summer. We will also be contacting people in the area to see if there is interest in widening the area covered by the programme.
11th February 2014
Telford dormice given a helping hand
Volunteers for TWWiG (Telford West Wildlife Group) helped to install 50 dormouse tubes at Lightmoor Nature Reserve on Sunday this week to help us discover whether one of our cutest and most elusive small mammals are present at the site . The tubes, donated by SWT, have been installed in suitable habitat of hazel coppice and mixed woodland with the hope that they will be used by any local dormice as summer nests. They are made from correx plastic and offer a cheap alternative to the wooden nest boxes often used. 20 wooden small mammal boxes were also donated by Ricoh to offer Lightmoor's small mammal population a larger choice of nesting locations.
Dormice are another of Britain's declining species and are listed as protected. Shropshire lies very near to the northernmost point of their European distribution and has plenty of good habitat for these cute little mammals, but they are still under-recorded in the county. There are plans to create more dormice monitoring schemes across the county in 2014 to discover whether or not dormice are actually more common here than we thought.
The boxes at Lightmoor will be checked every few months for signs of dormice by the TWWIG volunteers and dormouse licence holders. Unlike other mice (wood mice and yellow-necked mice), dormice prefer to make a nest using fresh leaves as insulation and signs of their presence will be immediately noticeable. There are confirmed dormouse records throughout Ironbridge Gorge; just a stone’s throw from Lightmoor and it is anticipated that because of good connectivity of habitat, there should also be a population in this green oasis.
6th February 2014
Wild future for old war tower
A World War Two RAF control tower will become a home for wildlife as part of a project to preserve the building.
The former control tower which sits at the heart of Butterfly Conservation’s Prees Heath nature reserve near Whitchurch, Shropshire, will be painted in camouflage colours as the building reverts closer to its original 1940s appearance.
As part of the renovations the inside of the control tower will be made accessible for birds, bats and insects looking for roosting and nesting sites.
Prees Heath reserve is the only site in the county for the rare Silver-studded Blue butterfly, but during the war the site was a key RAF airbase.
Originally known as RAF Whitchurch Heath but later changed to RAF Tilstock, the airfield was built by Alfred McAlpine and opened in August 1942. It was a training airfield for pilots and aircrew to learn how to fly bombers rather than an operational facility. The airfield closed after the war and eventually, after a long-running campaign involving the Prees Heath Commoners and many local residents, the western half of the common was purchased by Butterfly Conservation in 2006.
Work on the tower is due to start later this month and is scheduled to be completed by the end of March.
Butterfly Conservation’s Prees Heath Warden, Stephen Lewis said: “This is an exciting development which will see an important historical artefact and a landmark in the local landscape conserved
“The building is an integral part of the restoration of the western half of Prees Heath Common, much of which was previously used to grow crops in the postwar period, being carried out by Butterfly Conservation, and already a great deal has been achieved to transform the site into a sanctuary for wildlife and an important public amenity”.
Renovations will see the roof repaired and coated with asphalt as it was originally. All the windows will be bricked up except one which will have a steel shutter, and a secure door will be installed. The external render will be repaired and replaced where necessary and the building will be painted in camouflage colours as it was during the war.
A series of information panels explaining the wartime, social, geological and natural history of Prees Heath Common will be installed on the outside of the building for the benefit of visitors. The Common was also a large training camp in World War One, and the centenary of the outbreak of the war falls this year. World War Two also saw the Common used as an Internment Camp and a Prisoner of War Camp.
As well as becoming a home for wildlife the building will be made accessible for members of the public on guided walks, school and college educational visits and community group outings.
The work is being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Meres & Mosses Landscape Partnership Scheme (www.themeresandmosses.co.uk) , a partnership of 10 statutory and charitable organisations working at conservation, raising awareness, engaging communities, improving access and providing opportunities for people to learn skills associated with the landscape, and by Natural England. Funding for the information panels was provided by Northern Marches LEADER.
31st January 2014
Down House Visit
Ellie , Matt, Sara, John and Mike from SWT travelled Down to Down House on the 19th January and were shown around, not a museum of Darwin’s life, but a warm and lively family home. Our tour guides were a bit special. Randal Keynes (Darwin’s great-great grandson) , Irene Palmer (Vice President, Kent Wildlife Trust) and Rowan Blaik (Head gardener at Down House).
The Darwins were not a conventional Victorian family. They hardly used doors. Large windows on the ground floor were always open, so they climbed through these to get into the garden. The Darwin children used to climb out of a first floor window into an old Mulberry Tree and out, away from their strict governess, Miss Thorley.
The Darwins didn’t use the stairs in a conventional way either. The whole family were rather good at surfing down the stairs on a specially made wooden Stair Slide.
It seemed as though the Darwin family only ever came indoors to eat. Even their dinner plates were illustrated with plants and scenes from the natural world.
The overall impression was one of a close, loving family, full of love, laughter and playfulness.
The most powerful room to walk into was the Old Study. In here was the very chair that Charles sat on to write his world famous “Origin of Species”. No one is allowed to sit on this chair, with the arms worn down and frayed. When Sir David Attenborough visited to film a documentary on the great man’s life, even he was given a replica to sit on! The Old Study smelled as you would expect it to; musty and dusty. The shelves were full of natural history and tales of exploration, and the tables were covered in specimens, bones, birds and pots. It would have taken an entire day just to look at all the things in this room.
The garden, again, was unconventional. Charles had flowers in his vegetable garden, holes dug in the lawn and carnivorous plants and orchids in his greenhouse. A watercolour painted during the Darwins’ time at Down depicted a beautiful house, colourful garden and a mess of children’s toys scattered all over the lawn.
The visit was made all the more special by Randal’s stories handed down through five generations. Randal Keynes seems to have inherited the Darwin’s warmth and openness. Walking around the house and gardens with him was something to treasure. Rowan Blaik, the estate’s Head Gardener, was so informative and passionate on his subject, showing us the sites of experiments that he continues to this day.
We have taken all that we learned from that day and layered it into our plans for the section of Darwin’s Garden in Shrewsbury. Our garden will be beautiful, not too tidy, unconventional and playful. This is the greatest opportunity we have to celebrate the formative years of a great scientist and a great man.
23 January 2014
Darwin’s garden purchased
Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s campaign to buy a wooded remnant of Charles Darwin’s garden in Shrewsbury has succeeded.
A major fund-raising effort by the Trust brought in donations from 435 individual donors and significant contributions from the Jean Jackson Trust, Shropshire Horticultural Society, Shropshire Masonic Charitable Association and the Daniell Charitable Trust. Students at Harper Adams held a fundraising event for the appeal. £75,000 has been raised which not only pays for the land but for essential restoration and safety work and ongoing care.
The Trust is also very grateful to John and Sharon Leach for their generous support and co-operation throughout the campaign.
“No other part of Darwin’s childhood home is accessible to the public, so when we were offered the chance to buy this slip of woodland next to the river, we were thrilled at the opportunity to open up a cherished corner of his world,” said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust.
While much of the formerly extensive grounds attached to The Mount, his birthplace and childhood home, disappeared under housing, other parts survived in private gardens. This was the case with the land the Trust has bought.
Through the wood, alongside an ice house once used by the Darwins, runs a path with views down to the River Severn. It was here 200 years ago, that the young Darwin was sent every day before breakfast to walk the path at the bottom of the garden. It was known as the Thinking Path and provided a regular time for thought and reflection. The habit became ingrained in Darwin’s daily routine and when he and his wife Emma bought Down House in Kent, they made their own Sandwalk through the grounds, carrying on the tradition of morning walks with their children.
The Trust intends to restore the Thinking Path, open up views and carry out essential boundary and safety work. The garden will be opened for group visits at various times throughout the year and schoolchildren will have the chance to walk in Darwin’s footsteps, inspiring them to enjoy and explore the natural world.
The next tours of the garden will take place during the Darwin Festival, on Friday 15th and Saturday 16th February. For further details and to book your place, please ring 01743 284280. Advance booking is essential. See www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk for full details.
December 20 2013
CAP decision announced
Yesterday, the government announced plans for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the next seven years. Their decision is to initially transfer only 12% from farmers’ direct payments to the budget for environmental and rural growth schemes. The Wildlife Trusts describe the announcement on agricultural funding for 2014-2020 as a missed opportunity to boost investment in wildlife-friendly and progressive farming.
The new system favours large-scale farms but will greatly impact Shropshire’s small farms. Hill farms will be hit hardest. In May this year, The State of Nature report revealed that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades.Iconic upland wildlife species of the Shropshire Hills such as Curlew and Lapwing are examples of our disappearing wildlife and the government’s decision not to increase funding means that the future of farmland wildlife cannot be assured. Farm-environment schemes don’t just ensure that wildlife thrives on farmland: the schemes play a vital role in sustainable farming systems, protecting soil, water quality and allowing pollinators such as bees the flourish – these factors are crucial in underpinning agriculture in this country.
Although it is a relief that the status quo is being maintained for which Defra should be congratulated, the fact remains that this is insufficient to meet the huge challenges facing the natural environment.Farmland covers 69% of the English landscape. The Government needs to embed environmental protection and enhancement at the heart of agricultural activities to ensure that the good work achieved by farmers for nature over the last 25 years can be built upon.
December 10 2013
Completion of improvement work on River Perry
This week has seen the River Perry improvement project reach completion. The project has been overseen by Rivers Project Manager, Pete Lambert, with the aim of repairing a section of this north Shropshire river back to its former glory.
After one month of works, the final sign off on the re-instatement works took place on Monday and now we must let nature take it's course. The new riffles and gravel shoals will already be attracting fish and burrowing aquatic invertebrates. The sprightly rush of water is driving oxygen into the river and creating new opportunities for riparian wildlife to thrive. Pete said of the support for the project: "We must now thank PGL Young Adventure and Mr Anthony Prince who have so generously supported the creation of the new river channel, we would also like to thank Hafren Water for their expert assistance in developing the design concept and the team from Salix for working so hard to turn it all into a reality. And finally a big thank you to Alan Jones and the Environment Agency for supporting and funding this exciting river restoration project."
November 29 2013
Annual Corporate Event a Roaring Success
Shropshire Wildlife Trust held an event for its corporate partners in Whitchurch on Wednesday 20th November. The Trust has worked with a range of businesses over many years to help deliver corporate social responsibility, biodiversity plans and community engagement programmes and has taken an increasingly strategic role with large corporate projects across the county.
The event this year was run in partnership with Befesa; Europe’s leading aluminium waste recycler, who have a factory in Whixall and have been corporate partners of the Trust for a year. Over 60 delegates attended, including representatives from Veolia, Saint Gobain, Lafarge Tarmac, Tudor Griffiths Group and Ricoh to name just a few.
During the event, 4 companies joined as new corporate members and will receive support from Shropshire Wildlife Trust with biodiversity planning at their Shropshire based sites.
More information about corporate membership can be found here
November 15 2013
National Harvest Survey Launched
Volunteer surveyors are being sought from across England for an exciting new project to record the current distribution of harvest mice in the UK. Little is known about the status of our smallest mouse species, although it is assumed that numbers will have plummeted since the last large scale surveys of the 1990s.
Harvest mice are dependent on habitat that provides suitable nesting potential, which has declined dramatically as farming has intensified. Numbers will have also been negatively impacted by the recent extreme winters and wet summers, with much of the suitable habitat becoming waterlogged in recent years. These factors combined, plus the impact of agricultural chemicals has left our countryside far from ideal for harvest mice.
Finding harvest mice can be very challenging and unlike surveys for other small rodents, the use of small mammal traps has been largely unsuccessful, despite various attempts at testing new methods of attracting the mice into traps. However, finding evidence of their presence is possible. This tiny species (only weighing up to 3g) has the ability to weave intricate tennis ball sized nests in areas of reed and long grass and this latest survey aims to encourage more people to look for nests when they are out and about in potential habitat areas.
Participants will be given an instruction pack including the precise methodology, details of obtaining landowner permission where appropriate and other useful information. There is a limited timescale for this survey, with volunteers being asked to conduct searches in November and December this year and in 2014. If you are interested in getting involved with the survey, members of Shropshire Mammal Group are coordinating things in Shropshire. This provides an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in native mammals to try their hand at field survey work and the data they collect will be invaluable in determining whether these tiny mammals occur more commonly than expected!
November 1 2013
Wildlife quiz winners
“Cool!” was the response from children invited to take part in summer holiday fun quiz sheets at the Boathouse in Ellesmere. The hugely popular quiz sheets, devised by David Farncombe, chairman of the Ellesmere branch of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, were designed to encourage children to discover more about nature and have fun at the same time. And they certainly achieved their aim: “We were astounded by the depth of knowledge and imagination shown by the participants,” commented Cath Price, one of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust Membership and Interpretation Officers based at the Boathouse.
It was a close run thing, but two very worthy winners emerged: Finlay Holden in the 8 – 12 category from Leeds but visiting family in Oswestry at the time, and Isla Macpherson aged 6 (pictured), from Shrewsbury in the 7 and under category. Lady Cossons, President of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, offered her hearty congratulations to them both and presented Isla with a certificate and a prize of wildlife books at the Boathouse.
Visitors to the Boathouse can find out information about their local wildlife and wild places, talk to Shropshire Wildlife Trust staff and join as a member, 10.30 – 3.30 daily. Throughout the half term and summer holidays there are lots of events to participate in. Autumnwatch Returns
Autumnwatch returned to our screens this week and there have been several appeals for members of the public to send in their sightings of species such as hen harriers, urban foxes and general mammal sightings. We have a wealth of amazing wildlife in Shropshire, so it would be great for us to contribute our records to some of the great recording schemes happening across the UK. You might only have seen something as common as a robin or rabbit, but you can guarantee that someone out there will be collecting the records in. With all of those records combined, experts are able to examine the health of British wildlife and make sure that improvements are made to ensure that key species will be around for future generations to enjoy. Visit the Autumnwatch website for more details.
October 18 2013
Pilot badger culls fail
As the latest results from the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire are announced, The Wildlife Trusts are renewing calls for the Government to drop badger culling from its proposed strategy to tackle bovineTB in England.
In the six weeks of the pilot cull in Gloucestershire, 708 badgers were killed, representing just over 30 per cent of the estimated local badger population of 2,350. The Government’s pilot culls had aimed to remove at least 70% of the population. Estimates of the badger population in each pilot area have been significantly reduced twice and still the pilot culls have failed to meet the conditions set out in Defra’s guidance to Natural England. The original population estimate in Gloucestershire was 3,644 in autumn 2012.
Both pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’. In both areas, the removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period has not been achieved. It is possible for the bovineTB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’.
With an extension granted in Somerset and under consideration for the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire, The Wildlife Trusts believe this failure to meet required targets should lead the Government to abandon its culling policy.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:
“Defra’s flawed badger cull policy remains a tragic distraction from tackling this devastating disease.
“The pilot culls have clearly proven that the necessary criteria cannot be met; there has been a failure to cull the target numbers of badgers and a failure to do so within the set timeframe. These failures, combined with huge uncertainties over the badger population’s true size in the cull zones, carry very real implications for remaining badger populations. They also run the risk of further spreading the disease from disrupted social groups of badgers, known as the perturbation effect. The granting of extensions to licences to cull by Natural England is simply not justifiable. Defra set out its strategy for a six week period; it has been a complete failure and the cull should be pulled.
“We are reiterating our calls for the Government to focus efforts on badger and cattle vaccination, stricter cattle movement controls and improved biosecurity.”
The Wildlife Trusts strongly oppose the pilot badger culls and any proposals for rolling out culls beyond this year. This scale of culling of a native mammal, which is a valuable part of the ecosystem, is simply not justified by the small potential reduction in bovine TB incidence in cattle.
Badger cull extension application in Gloucestershire
The badger cull in Gloucestershire ended this week. The cull company has applied for an extension to Natural England.
The pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire ended this week.
In the six weeks of the the pilot cull 708 badgers were removed. This represents just over 30 per cent of the revised local badger population of 2,350.
The Chief Veterinary Officer has advised that the period of culling this year should be extended to achieve the earliest and greatest possible impact on bovine TB in Gloucestershire. Natural England is therefore considering an application for an extension from the cull company in Gloucestershire.
The pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have been testing the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of controlled shooting as a means of reducing badger numbers and therefore reducing the high levels of disease in these areas.
The early indications from Gloucestershire are that, as in Somerset, the pilot has been safe and humane. The Independent Panel of Experts will now consider all of the information from these pilots before the government decides on next steps.
Natural England are currently considering the application to extend the licence in Gloucestershire and a decision is expected shortly.
October 7 2013
Shropshire in 50 years: a green and pleasant land?
Shropshire Wildlife Trust had its 50th birthday last year, so it got us thinking: what will Shropshire be like in 50 years? Will it be a mass housing estate or will nature win back some ground? Will children visit the countryside through 3D computer glasses or will they be out there with our People and Wildlife team playing in the mud?
We’ve set out what we think might happen in Making space for nature: a 50 year vision for Shropshire’s natural environment but we want to hear your views. Please download a copy of the draft document and let us know what you think.
September 16 2013
TB – an alternative to the cull
Shropshire and Cheshire Wildlife Trusts are carrying out a badger vaccination programme in part of north Shropshire and south Cheshire.This is to demonstrate a viable alternative to the government’s proposed cull for tackling bovine TB in badgers.
No one wants TB.Not in cattle, badgers, people or any wildlife.Unfortunately it has become prevalent in dairy herds and the case for eradication is beyond doubt.Today’s solution?Shoot badgers.But wildlife experts, leading scientists and a growing army of people say it will just make matters worse.
To understand why, you need to understand badgers.They live underground in social family groups of, on average, five animals.They are loyal to their defined territories that provide their favourite food, earthworms, which are plentiful in cattle pastures.
In studies of badger populations disease spread is limited.Some groups have TB, some don’t.TB doesn’t readily spread between groups – unless there is severe disturbance
Culling destabilises badger populations, creating unoccupied territories causing more badger movements and a higher rate of TB transmission between ‘stressed’ badgers. This then increases the likelihood of transmission to cattle.This is known as the “perturbation effect”.
What we know is that with a cull there will be a short-term increase in TB in cattle in some areas.What we don’t know is what, if any, will be the net benefit after five years of culling as the method being used this time is different from that in previous culling trials.
A lot is made of disease reduction programmes in other countries.It is simply bad science to assume that these lessons can be applied to the UK when there are different wildlife hosts and different cattle management strategies.
So with a basic understanding of badger ecology culling, as a TB containment strategy, flies in the face of all logic.It will cause badgers to roam further causing more badger to badger and badger to cattle infections.
Vaccinating badgers – in the absence of a cattle vaccine – is most effective in reducing infection in badger populations.This is why we are vaccinating badgers.
We are working in partnership with government, local vets and farmers, plus other wildlife organisations.This summer we have vaccinated badgers on 1000 hectares and are delighted that a growing number of farmers see this as a better option than culling.As we gather evidence it is becoming clear that the costs of culling and vaccinating are similar, taking into account the cost to the taxpayer of policing in cull areas.
Considering this, the estimated £6 million cost of the culls would achieve better results if invested in vaccination.Culling will give us fewer badgers, but a higher prevalence of TB in those remaining.Vaccination would be a massive step towards TB herd immunity in badgers.
We recognise that vaccination alone won’t solve the problem so we’d also like to see more support for biosecurity on farms.This is a range of measures to keep badgers away from housed cattle and feed stores.
If the pilot cull is deemed to be a humane and effective badger control method it is likely to be rolled out to other TB hot spots.Owen Paterson is calling for it to come to Shropshire.
This would be disappointing as there will have been scant time to assess its impact on TB in cattle and the perturbation effect of free shooting.If the cull does reach Shropshire we will certainly not allow culling on Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves.However, we will continue to support Defra by providing data on the vaccination of badgers to be fed into their TB eradication strategy.
Culling badgers is clearly far from being the best long-term, sustainable solution to bovine TB in cattle and badgers.The methods used in the culling pilots hold the potential to exacerbate the problem.Science and logic tells us that the social structure of badger setts needs to be left intact and the problem – TB not badgers – is best tackled by vaccination and improved biosecurity.We agree with Lord Krebs who led previous government badger culling trials: “culling is not a viable policy option”.
Bovine TB is a complex issue.For more scientific information visit http://www.shropshirewildlifetrust.org.uk/Badgers+and+bovine+TB
Helen Trotman is a zoologist working for Shropshire Wildlife Trust, leading on badger vaccination.She previously worked on MAFF’s randomised badger culling trials and Defra’s badger vaccine field trials.
July 22 2013
T&W local plan
Time is running out to respond to the draft local plan produced by Telford & Wrekin Borough Council. The Trust has prepared a response and details are in the attached document. We would encourage residents to take part and have their say. Comments summary
June 4 2013
Don't cull the carrier
Shropshire Wildlife Trust says it is ‘bitterly disappointed’ as the Government confirmed a trial cull of badgers will go ahead this summer, but added that its own alternative vaccination programme in the region will now be expanded.
Environment Secretary and Shropshire MP Owen Paterson made the announcement at the NFU annual conference, confirming that the trial postponed from last autumn will now proceed from 1st June 2013.
The culls are designed to test the 'controlled shooting' method of culling badgers, even though free shooting of badgers will be also permitted. The pilot culls will not measure the impact on bovine TB. They are due to take place in Gloucestershire and Somerset and a reserve area has also been identified in Dorset.
Shropshire Wildlife Trust however, says the move goes against a vote of almost 150 MPs, and 160,000 members of the public who last year backed plans for a re-think on the issue of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle and are opposed to a cull of wild badgers.
The Trust undertook a successful deployment of the BCG badger vaccine at a nature reserve in north Shropshire last autumn, and say the process will be rolled out across additional locations this summer, with several more landowners in on-going discussions to vaccinate badgers on their land.
Helen Trotman of Shropshire Wildlife trust said “It’s heartening to see the interest in vaccination as an alternative method of controlling transmission risk from badgers and we will continue to work to support those that want to deploy it on their land. We know it reduces the disease burden in badgers without any of the detrimental effects seen from culling”.
“What we want to see is a raft of measures, with vaccination sitting at the centre, allowing us to maintain stable badger populations and build badger immunity to bTB from within, whilst continuing to break the link through other measures like monitoring and the development of an effective cattle vaccine.”
The Trust is continuing with its public appeal to support its vaccination programme in Shropshire, which already has the backing of Chester Zoo who have provided trapping equipment, and local veterinary practice, Lambert, Leonard & May.
May 22 2013
State of Nature - 60% of UK species in decline, groundbreaking study finds
UK nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of a groundbreaking report published today by a coalition of leading conservation and research organisations.
Scientists working side-by-side from 25 wildlife organisations have compiled a stock take of our native species – the first of its kind in the UK. The report reveals that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.
The State of Nature report will be launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London this evening (Wednesday, May 22), while simultaneous events will be held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
Sir David Attenborough said: “This groundbreaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope.
“For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife.
“Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals. We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.
“This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”
Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble - overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate.
“These declines are happening across all countries and UK Overseas Territories, habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.
“Reliable data on these species goes back just fifty years, at most, but we know that there has been a historical pattern of loss in the UK going back even further. Threats including sweeping habitat loss, changes to the way we manage our countryside, and the more recent impact of climate change, have had a major impact on our wildlife, and they are not going away.
“None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts who spend their spare time surveying species and recording their findings. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes. And that knowledge is the most essential tool that conservationists have.”
Visit The Wildlife Trusts for full details of State of Nature coalition partners and download the document and supplements for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
April 30 2013
Bees face a brighter future as pesticides banned
A decision to restrict the use of neonicotinoids, has today been welcomed by The Wildlife Trusts.
The European Commission has placed a temporary suspension on these dangerous insecticides. It is expected that the ban will come into effect from 1 December 2013 and will restrict the use of the three most common neonicotinoids (Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam) on crops which are ‘attractive to bees’.
Paul Wilkinson, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Landscape, said:
“The EU’s ban on three neonicotinoid insecticides is extremely welcome. Whilst it provides some respite for our bees, we need more action to reverse the decline in bees and other vital pollinators. The continued opposition of the UK Government is very disappointing and of great concern to those of us who value the natural environment and its contribution to food production.”
The European Commission will review the conditions of approval of the three neonicotinoids within the next two years to take into account relevant scientific and technical developments. In January, a report by the European Food Safety Authority identified a ‘high acute risk’ to honeybees from Imidacloprid, Clothianidin and Thiamethoxam, and an unknown risk to other pollinators such as bumblebees and hoverflies.
17th April 2013
Run for the wild
The Bluebell Run for fell runners and an optional route for walkers takes place in Church Stretton on Sunday 12th May and funds raised will be shared between Shropshire Wildlife Trust, The Gorilla Organisation and AfriCat.
"Our hopes are that this event will raise awareness of the plight of wildlife both in the UK and around the world," said Anna Bartlett, one of the event's organisers.
Full details of Run for the Wild
5th April 2013
Save our bees
Shropshire Wildlife Trust welcomes today’s report by MPs that the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids should be suspended.
Members of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee are calling for a moratorium on the use of these sprays. Since their introduction in 1991, a growing body of scientific evidence has been amassed, indicating that neonicotinoids have a detrimental effect on insect pollinators.
"Bees are a vital part of nature, beautiful and varied in themselves, and essential for the pollination of at least 30% of plants. They also form a vital part of the food chain for other species such as birds and amphibians," said Colin Preston, Director of Shropshire Wildlife Trust. "Insect pollinators provide a vital ecosystem service to the UK’s farmers and fruit growers. It is estimated that a collapse in pollinators would cost the UK economy c. £1.8 billion per year,"
"Shropshire Wildlife Trust is calling on Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary, to end his opposition to a Europe-wide ban on these chemicals," said the Trust’s director. "We believe a precautionary approach is vital to protect both wildlife and farm crops. "The Commons Committee has accused the Department of the Environment of "extraordinary complacency" in its handling of this issue.
Meres & Mosses Nature Improvement Area celebrates its first anniversary
Representatives from a conservation project in Shropshire and Cheshire are attending a special event in London today (26th March) to mark the first anniversary of England’s Nature Improvement Area (NIA) programme. Peter Moss OBE, Programme Manager for the Meres & Mosses NIA will be presenting the main achievements of the project to an audience which includes Wildlife Minister Richard Benyon, Professor John Lawton and Natural England chair Poul Christensen.
Commenting on the first year of the Meres & Mosses NIA, Peter Moss said: “Our team has been working closely with all of the partners and we’ve got to grips with a very complex and busy programme to protect and enhance the Meres & Mosses landscape. The groundwork is now in place, and a huge amount of conservation work and community work has already begun with more just around the corner. People will be seeing and hearing more about the NIA’s work over the next few months. Meanwhile, if anyone would like to find out more about how to get involved, or about how to apply for our community or farm grants, then please visit their website.
This is one of only 12 NIAs awarded funding by DEFRA from over 70 applications. Set up through the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper, it is a Defra-led initiative for which Natural England is now responsible. The Meres & Mosses NIA covers 400 sq km of North Shropshire and South Cheshire with a small area of Wales and Staffordshire.
Ninety five per cent of all UK’s wetlands have disappeared due to urbanisation, drainage and agricultural use. The Meres & Mosses area holds some of the best remaining examples of this special landscape, with habitats which support some of the rarest plants and wildlife in England. Several mosses are the strongholds of Britain’s biggest spider, the raft spider. Cole Mere is the only place in England where a real glacial relic thrives; the Least Water Lily. However, this habitat remains under threat from continued human pressure, coupled with lack of awareness about its international importance.
The NIA’s purpose is to:
- Enhance the natural environment
- Create more and better-connected habitats over large areas
- Unite local communities, landowners and businesses through a shared vision for a better future for people and wildlife, and to engage more people with nature
The Meres & Mosses NIA programme officially started in April 2012, and is being enhanced by a five-year Heritage Lottery Funded Landscape Partnership Scheme – the aim of which is to deliver similar outcomes in a slightly smaller geographical area. Our team has hit the ground running, despite atrocious ground conditions caused by last year’s excessive rainfall. Conservation work has begun on the three core sites of Cole Mere, White Mere and Brown Moss.
Habitat restorationOur farm adviser and wetlands restoration officer are working with landowners and partner organisations to mitigate diffuse pollution and identify opportunities for conservation work and habitat restoration. As a result, work is underway on seven other non-designated peatland sites and wildlife sites in Shropshire and Cheshire. This work is focused on restoring and improving the condition of habitats, habitat restoration and gaining a better understanding of how to manage sites in the future through the monitoring of water levels. They have also identified training opportunities for farmers in the NIA.
Landscape scale conservation
We are particularly excited about the prospect of working with the Cholmondeley Estate in Cheshire, as this is the main conservation effort within our NIA. The estate consists of parkland, woods, meres, degraded peatland and tenanted intense dairy farms. We believe this will give us a great opportunity to put into practice all aspects of the ‘landscape scale’ approach – which means improving the environment for everyone’s benefit over a large area, crossing farm boundaries, involving local communities and establishing the conditions for wildlife to thrive alongside intense agriculture. A proposal has been agreed between the NIA and the estate which will see work implemented in stages. The first stage will be habitat restoration and a feasibility study to tackle water quality (already underway). The second stage will focus on two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) meres. It will provide a holistic approach to conservation throughout the catchments of these meres, working with farming businesses to maximise their business potential at the same time as providing a balance between agriculture and conservation. The third stage will provide a longer-term integrated plan for the whole estate. It will take into account biodiversity, farming, landscape, historic and community issues as resources allow. Training in diffuse pollution will also be provided for farm workers and apprentices. This project will then be a model which can be imitated and rolled out on a larger scale anywhere in the UK in the future.
Improving accessIn order to improve public access into some of the special places within the NIA, six circular extensions off the Shropshire Way and Sandstone Trail long distance paths have been completed. Three will be celebrated with guided walks during the Meres & Mosses sponsored Whitchurch walking festival in May this year. This will encourage local people to explore the special features of the Meres & Mosses landscape, such as Wem Moss (the home of carnivorous plants and the raft spider), Fenn’s Whixall Moss (the site of large scale peat digging until 1990 and also a reconstructed WW2 decoy for German bombing raids on Liverpool) and Bettisfield Moss where you might be lucky enough to see hobbies catching white-faced darter dragonfly. Details can be found at www.whitchurchwalkers.co.uk, www.shropshirewalking.co.uk and www.cheshirewildlifetrust.org.uk
Engaging local communities so they can learn more about the environment on their doorstep has produced some great results. A working group was formed at Cole Mere after a NIA-led community consultation, and it meets monthly to manage this special site. A survey group has been set up within it, trained to conduct otter surveys and water vole surveys. This group will monitor populations and explore previously un-surveyed sites where it is thought these creatures may be found. A similar consultation event is planned for Brown Moss.
Our community officer has formed a Down to Earth steering group in Whixall which will record local history, supporting the work of Natural England on Bettisfield Moss, and it will work with a local business to provide Corporate Social Responsibility days. He is also working with local councils going through town plans in Ellesmere and Whitchurch and the parish plan in Welshampton to encourage greater emphasis on the environment in all aspects of community development. In Ellesmere we are recruiting more people to join the existing four volunteer community conservation groups. In Welshampton we are helping to design and promote a local walking festival and a ‘green day’ event – to make it easier for local people to get out and explore their surroundings. In Whitchurch we are giving the water vole group resources to recruit more volunteers along with the Chesire water vole group. We are also working with Whitchurch Infants School to create new forest school activities on Wem Moss.
Awards and EducationMatch funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will enable us to award community grants on a regular basis, which local project groups can apply for. Over the next four years we have a total of £50,000 to award. The first grant will be awarded this month and is supporting a project to help locals get more out of the Mere at Ellesmere by giving them greater access to boating.
Primary school education focusing on the special qualities of the Meres & Mosses has got off to a flying start with the delivery of our first John Muir Award package for Tilston School in Cheshire. A further seven schools will receive this education package up until 2017. To support this, a new hide and learning centre has just been opened at the Shropshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve at Wood Lane.
New interpretation boards will be on site at the Boathouse Visitor Information Centre in Ellesmere, and the distribution of information leaflets and grant application packs throughout the region will now commence. A Meres and Mosses NIA and Landscape Partnership Scheme website will be launched in April explaining how landowners, farmers and the general public can benefit from the NIA scheme, and how to get involved.