Left – Tansey Beetle Chrysolina graminis, Female Tansey Beetle, Black Tansey Beetle. All images copyright: Geoff Oxford.

“Jewel of York” Tansy Beetle populations are shining!

For over 10 years, local volunteers organised by the Tansy Beetle Action Group (or TBAG for short) have been pacing the banks of the River Ouse, counting beetles one by one on clumps of Tansy – its foodplant.

2023 proved to be a record year for the Endangered Tansy Beetle (Chrysolina graminis) in its heartland along the river Ouse. The annual survey, carried out by volunteers, revealed a population estimate of 91,000 – nearly double the previous highest estimate of 46,000 back in 2016.  Nobody could have predicted the surge in numbers of this striking iridescent green leaf beetle in 2023 – with one lucky volunteer counting more than 20,000 beetles!

Conservationists have welcomed the positive news and say it demonstrates the success of changes to the riverbank’s management. Working together with local landowners they have made sure that its essential Tansy foodplant is left growing to help the beetles complete their lifecycle. However, despite the record numbers, there are still concerns about how the Tansy Beetle might cope with the increase in summer flooding events that are expected with climate change; as well as the threat of Tansy being outcompeted by invasive plants, such as Himalayan Balsam.

Vicky Wilkins, Programmes Manager at the Species Recovery Trust says, “It’s wonderful news to hear how well our Tansy Beetles have fared in 2023 – in fact their numbers have grown seven times in just one year! But it is only through the hard work of dedicated local volunteers over many years that we have been able to see the difference that better riverbank management has made. There is still a lot more to do to secure the future of this stunning beetle.

Karim Vahed, England Manager at Buglife, says, “Against the backdrop of widespread insect declines, it is very welcomed for there to be a success story. The improved fortunes of the Tansy Beetle show just how careful we need to be in caring for nature – Tansy is their main food plant on the river Ouse, and if a clump is cut, the beetles have to walk to find the next patch as they are poor fliers. So, all of the work in York to maintain its precious food plants are paying off.”

The Tansy Beetle has been hailed for its beauty as far back as the Victorians who used their shiny wing cases as sequins.  In recent years the beetle has been the subject of a York mural, by street artist ATM, and has inspired countless other artistic endeavours.

Once widespread in Britain, the Tansy Beetle is currently Endangered in the UK, it is now only found along the banks of a 45km stretch of the River Ouse around York, with much smaller populations in East Anglia.

Conservation of this threatened species is steered by the Tansy Beetle Action Group, a collaboration of local and national organisations seeking to save the species and support more resilient habitat.

If you would like to learn more about these vibrant bejewelled beetles of York please visit the Species Recovery Trust and Buglife websites.  We are looking for businesses to sponsor Tansy beetle conservation work, if you are interested, please contact info@speciesrecoverytrust.org.uk

Read the latest news from the Seahorse Trust here>> Seahorse Trust Spring-2024

Wildlife at risk on farms as vital hedge and river rules vanish

The National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts say rivers and hedgerows are at increasing risk as UK Government fails to enshrine basic protection for nature on farms

Wildlife is under even more pressure than ever as basic rules which protect hedgerows and stop farmers from causing excessive river pollution ended on 31st December 2023. The National Trust, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts are calling for immediate action to fill the gaps left by these vital protections.

Basic regulations known as ‘cross compliance’ had to be followed by farmers in order to receive rural payments between 2005 and 2023. The rules included not farming the land right up to the edge of rivers to ensure farm pollution and soil was not washed into the water – as well as protecting hedgerows and maintaining green cover on soils.

Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the UK Government announced these rules would cease to exist after 31st December 2023 and be replaced by new UK ones. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has not confirmed if protections for nature will be maintained – and the absence of rules means that farmers are free to cut hedges in the spring and summer which risks harming nesting birds. It could also mean that more farm pollution and soil is washed into rivers which are already under huge pressure from excessive nutrients caused by manure, soil and other pollutants.

Rosie Hails, Nature and Science Director at the National Trust says:

“Ending Cross Compliance rules without sufficient replacement provisions places nature, water courses and historic hedgerows at increased risk. This is because some farmers may choose to withdraw from important practices such as providing buffers around watercourses, maintaining soil organic matter or taking action to minimise soil erosion. Farmers might also decide to trim hedges later in the spring and earlier in the autumn with impacts for birds and other wildlife.

“For the benefit of nature and to give farmers clarity, it’s vital that that Defra addresses this regulatory gap with urgency as well as ensuring farmers are better able to access to the right advice, helping them adopt practices that best protect the environment while maximising opportunities through nature-friendly farming.”

Alice Groom, Head of Sustainable Land Use Policy at RSPB England, says:

‘’In just the last five years, farmland bird species have declined by 8%, but loss of protections for hedgerows now means cutting can take place during this year’s nesting season. This could have a catastrophic impact upon iconic farmland species such as Yellowhammer, Cirl Bunting and Turtle Dove. Species already pushed to the brink urgently need these gaps in protections to be filled, and monitoring and enforcement to be stepped up.

“For nearly twenty years, farmers and land managers have applied the basic good practices of cross compliance. Whilst it is right that the Westminster Government is switching from direct payments to a public money for public goods approach, this transition must be underpinned by effective regulations to protect the environment. The end of this long-standing regulatory baseline has created new gaps in protections for our watercourses, hedgerows and soils. Government’s failure to set out a plan for a new regulatory baseline sows confusion for farmers about their obligations, and creates an uneven playing field for those who continue to do the right thing for the environment.’’

Barnaby Coupe, Land Use Policy Manager of The Wildlife Trusts, says:

“The situation is desperate. The UK Government has ripped up important rules that help protect hedgerows and require buffer strips to prevent river pollution. This danger is compounded by low levels of uptake into new farming schemes which incentivise only the most basic green practices on farm, leaving nature at a net loss.”

“The Environment Improvement Plan published just this year stated “This government is committed to leaving the environment in a better state than we found it” – but this promise rings hollow now that safeguards against damaging farming practices have vanished. We need to see a firm commitment from Government that protections for nature will be at the very least maintained this year at the same level as the old regulations.”

In a response about a regulatory gap in August 2023, Defra stated that ‘‘the majority of rules under cross compliance are already in domestic law’’. However, the removal of cross compliance from 1st January 2024 leaves regulatory gaps across hedgerows, soil cover and watercourse buffer strips that are not covered by existing regulation.

Defra issued a consultation on hedgerows in 2023, but delays in the Government’s response mean that regulatory gaps between January 1st and the bringing in of new protections are now inevitable. There are over 400,000km of hedgerows in England alone, which is still around 50% less than there were in the 70 years ago. A report by the RSPB, Mind the Gap, found that even with high uptake of new farming schemes, over 120,000km of hedgerows could be at risk from damaging practices due to the removal of cross compliance.

The Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and RSPB urge the UK Government to uphold protections for nature while providing much better support for farmers to take a ‘whole farm’ approach to nature-friendly farming through new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, rather than simply receiving payments for one-off actions with isolated benefits for wildlife. Critical to this is increasing support for farmers to access independent advice for the best actions to take on their farm.

Park Authority welcomes licence decision, bringing beavers back to the Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms National Park Authority has welcomed the announcement from NatureScot, approving the organisation’s licence application to translocate Eurasian beavers to the Upper Spey catchment in the National Park, with the first three sites receiving beavers in the coming weeks and months.

Beavers are a keystone species, with the potential to help tackle the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. This will be the first out of range translocation in Scotland and will make a significant contribution to the delivery of the Scottish Beaver Strategy.

The Park Authority, working with a range of partners and landowners, submitted the licence application in October, following extensive consultation with the agricultural community, fishing interests, the public and other key stakeholders.

Photo: Eliot McCandless, Beaver Trust

The translocation licence from NatureScot allows for up to six beaver families to be released in the Upper Spey catchment in the first year. The first three release sites are on land owned by Rothiemurchus Estate, Wildland Scotland and the RSPB.

Sandy Bremner, Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority said: “We are pleased that NatureScot has granted the licence, allowing for the translocation of beavers to the Upper Spey catchment. This is a significant moment in the history of the National Park, with the licence allowing us to return beavers to the area after an absence of 400 years.

“I want to thank the Park Authority staff and everyone who has helped us reach this point. I am especially grateful to the National Farmers Union of Scotland, Scottish Land and Estates, the Spey Fishery Board, RSPB and NatureScot who have been with us since the very first Cairngorms Beaver Group meeting back in 2017 – and to all those who have expressed concerns and worked with us to shape further mitigation measures.”

Grant Moir, Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority added: “This is a milestone moment and we’re grateful to over 500 people who took part in our public consultation. As an organisation we are mindful that whilst the majority of respondents were supportive there remains some concerns about the impacts from beavers on some farms in the area. We have listened carefully to those concerns and adjusted our approach to provide further reassurance to the farming community, with that dialogue continuing. We have effective mitigation measures in place with the work being led by the Park Authority Beaver Officer, who can react quickly to minimise any negative impacts.

“Beavers will provide many positive benefits for the area both environmentally and economically but as the applicant we need to work to maximise the benefits whilst managing any impacts.”

The beavers will come from the Tay catchment having been humanely trapped before undergoing veterinary health screening. Once healthy pairs and families are available for translocation, they will be brought to the Cairngorms National Park and released in locations that have been identified as highly suitable and where the local landowner has been keen to welcome them. The sites chosen have also been carefully considered for their suitability from both a beaver and human standpoint.

Dr Roison Campbell-Palmer of the Beaver Trust explained: “We are delighted NatureScot have approved the licence to release beavers into the National Park. Actively expanding the beaver population into appropriate areas is an important step towards realising the vision of Scotland’s National Beaver Strategy.

“Having carried out detailed modelling of the Spey catchment with the University of Exeter, we are confident beavers will thrive here due to the abundance of suitable habitat. This project has been exemplary, with well-planned local engagement, carried out by an exceptional team, which we’re proud to have contributed to.”

Ollie Mackay, Head Ranger, Rothiemurchus Estate said: “We look forward to supporting the Scottish Government in its strategy to bring back beavers to the Cairngorms. Rothiemurchus is excited to be selected by the Cairngorms National Park Authority as one of the initial reintroduction sites for this project. We are working with the Park Authority on providing visitors with information on being in the vicinity of beavers without disturbing them.”   

Tim Kirkwood, Chief Executive of Wildland Limited commented: “Wildland Limited continues to be committed to habitat rehabilitation on a landscape scale. Beaver are a keystone species in ecosystem regeneration and we are pleased to support the Park Authority in this project. We look forward to the progress being monitored and future stories of success.”

Karen Birkby, the Site Manager at RSPB Scotland Insh Marshes nature reserve, said: “We are very pleased that a licence to move beavers into the Cairngorms National Park has been granted allowing us to be one of the three initial release sites. The return of beavers should ultimately help us achieve our long-term vision for Insh Marshes – to improve the functioning of the river Spey and its floodplain for nature and people. We look forward to welcoming beavers back to Insh Marshes at some point next year – they will bring many benefits to other wildlife and naturally adapt the nature reserve in ways we could never hope to replicate.”

Availability of beavers and weather conditions depending, the first families are expected to be released in the Cairngorms National Park very soon.

For more information please visit the Cairngorms National Park website: https://cairngorms.co.uk/caring-future/cairngorms-nature/priority-species/beaver/

To learn more about the licencing process, please go the NatureScot website: https://www.nature.scot/professional-advice/protected-areas-and-species/licensing/species-licensing-z-guide/beavers-and-licensing