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Beavers back for good in Scotland

(Adult beaver at Knapdale by Steve Gardner)

The two lead partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial – the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust – have warmly welcomed today’s (24 November 2016) announcement from the Scottish Government that the Eurasian beaver is to be formally recognised as a native species, 400 years after being hunted to extinction in the UK.

Returning beavers to Scotland’s lochs and rivers is the first formal mammal reintroduction in UK history. Today’s announcement is a major success story for conservation, and the culmination of nearly two decades’ work.

The project partners are delighted to be given the green light to reinforce the existing population in Knapdale, Argyll, and welcome the news that the established population on the River Tay will be allowed to remain in place. However, in order for the species to have a long-term future in Scotland and recolonise across much of its former range, further releases – following the Scottish Translocation Code and with the full support of a range of stakeholders – will be necessary over the next few years.

The Scottish Beaver Trial has set the standard for species reintroductions in the UK. Today’s announcement from the Scottish Government underlines the widespread benefits beavers can bring both to habitats, other species and the local economy.

These benefits include creating new wetlands that support a wide range of other species such as otters, water voles, fish and dragonflies; creating more diverse woodlands through naturally coppicing trees; and helping to regulate flooding and improve water quality. An increase in beavers is also certain to boost wildlife tourism in Scotland, helping to grow a sector that is already worth £127 million per year to our economy.

(Beaver at Loch of the Lowes by Ron Walsh)

The project partners recognise that beaver activity needs to be carefully monitored and managed, particularly where it impacts on other land uses. RZSS and the Scottish Wildlife Trust are committed to working closely with government, farmers, landowners and other key stakeholders to establish an effective management framework for the species, something which we would seek to put in place ahead of the next breeding season in March.

Barbara Smith, Chief Executive of RZSS, said: “Today is a truly historic day for Scottish conservation. Returning a keystone species to the wild for the first time in 400 years is a tremendous achievement for RZSS and our partners the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and we welcome the government’s commitment to the species both in Knapdale and further afield.

“Establishing a clear and comprehensive management plan for the species should now be our top priority, drawing upon IUCN best practice guidelines and bringing together stakeholders from across the conservation, land management and farming spectrum. We would urge government to take a lead on this issue and firm up plans ahead of the breeding season next spring.

“We also feel strongly that further release sites will need to be considered in the short- to medium-term if the species is to fully re-establish itself as part of the Scottish landscape.”

Jonathan Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a major milestone for Scotland’s wildlife and the wider conservation movement. Beavers are one of the world’s best natural engineers. Their ability to create new wetlands and restore native woodland is remarkable and improves conditions for a wide range of species including dragonflies, otters and fish.

“The return of beavers also has great potential for education and wildlife tourism. We have already seen at Knapdale how their presence is a tremendous draw for visitors from all over the world, which in turn brings social and economic benefits to the rural economy.

“We’re now looking forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and partners in the next phase of this initiative. The Scottish Beaver Trial is a textbook example of how to approach the reintroduction of a keystone species that should set the standard for future projects.”

The Scottish Beaver Trial was a five-year partnership project between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and host Forestry Commission Scotland to undertake a time-limited, five-year trial reintroduction of Eurasian beavers to Knapdale, Mid-Argyll. It concluded in 2014.

Article taken from: http://www.rzss.org.uk/news/article/12236/beavers-back-for-good/

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New phase in Scottish red squirrel relocation project

Seventy red squirrels are to be trapped and then relocated to woodland in the north west Highlands as part of a scheme to boost numbers of the animals.

Trees for Life began the project in March when it released 33 red squirrels from Forres and Strathspey around Shieldaig in Wester Ross.

The Findhorn-based charity is now preparing to introduce 70 reds near Kinlochewe and Plockton.

The sites currently have no squirrels, Trees for Life said.

The charity, which is doing the work under a licence from Scottish Natural Heritage and with landowners’ consent, hopes to establish 10 new populations.

‘Long-lost homes’

The areas involved are too isolated for the squirrels to reach themselves.

But the locations do have habitat, and food, favoured by reds and may have supported populations of the animals in the past.

The areas are also free of non-native grey squirrels, which compete with the smaller reds for food and carry diseases fatal to the native species.

Becky Priestley, Trees for Life’s wildlife officer, said: “We are giving red squirrels a helping hand to return to some of their long-lost forest homes.

“Many Highland woodlands offer the species excellent habitat far from disease-carrying grey squirrels – but because reds travel between trees and avoid crossing large areas of open ground, they can’t return to isolated woodlands without our help.”

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Furry flit: How do you get a squirrel to move house?

Red squirrel

The squirrels are transported in nest boxes lined with hay and with food and water available, Trees for Life said.

Small numbers of the animals are moved from where they are trapped so as to avoid harming the survival of “donor populations”.

The captured squirrels are also checked for diseases before being transported.

At the new sites, the nest boxes are fitted to trees and the exit holes are opened and filled with grass, which the squirrels can push their way through to get outside.

Food is provided for several months while the animals become accustomed to their new habitat.

There are an estimated 138,000 red squirrels in the UK, Trees for Life said.

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Trees for Life said red squirrels introduced to woods around Shieldaig in March have bred and raised young.

The new phase of the project will involve animals trapped on land owned by Forestry Enterprise Scotland and others in Moray and near Inverness.

They will be relocated to the privately-owned Coulin Estate next to Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, near Kinlochewe in Wester Ross, and to Plockton in Lochalsh.

Landowners involved include conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland.

Snack tubes

Red squirrels are not the only native species to be moved from one area to another in the interests of wildlife conservation.

In June it emerged that Scottish pine martens were raising young in Wales for the first time in a six year-long project.

Twenty pine martens were captured and released into the Welsh countryside last year.

Pine martenScottish pine martens are said to be thriving in Wales

The animals, one of Britain’s rarest carnivores, were caught by the Inverness, Ross and Skye team at Forestry Enterprise Scotland.

At least three of the 10 females captured were thought to have given birth to kits.

The capture and release of the Scottish martens forms part of the Welsh Pine Marten Recovery Project.

The animals were introduced to woodland owned by Natural Resources Wales and their behaviour is radio tracked.

Water voles have also been trapped in Scotland and relocated to England.

The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland staff and conservationists have used empty cardboard snack tubes for catching and handling feisty voles.

“Sometimes they can be a bit nippy,” said Roisin Campbell-Palmer, of RZSS, referring to the mammals’ bite.

RZSS is involved in vole conservation projects in England and previously worked on one in the Trossachs.

Water vole in a food snack tubeA “feisty” Scottish vole in a snack tube

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-37835177

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Pigs can be pessimists, University of Lincoln tests find

Pigs have personalities and can be pessimists or optimists, much like humans, new research has suggested.

Pig 628x363

Scientists at the University of Lincoln tested 36 animals, offering them bowls containing chocolate or less appealing coffee beans in two fixed locations.

Pigs were considered optimists if they investigated a third bowl, placed in the middle of the two bowls, even though it might not contain treats.

Dr Lisa Collins said it suggested the judgment of pigs was similar to humans.

The research, which has been published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, saw some pigs treated to improved living conditions with more living space and extra-deep layers of straw.

The other animals, with less space and no straw, tended to be negative and pessimistic, the research suggested.

They were, however, found to have been cheered up by an improvement in their living conditions.

Dr Collins, from the University of Lincoln, and colleagues wrote: “Reactive pigs in the less enriched environment were more pessimistic and those in the more enriched environment more optimistic.

“These results suggest that judgment in non-human animals is similar to humans, incorporating aspects of stable personality traits and more transient mood states.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37996361

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RSPCA should be stripped of prosecution powers, say MPs

The RSPCA should be stripped of its powers to routinely prosecute animal welfare cases, according to MPs.

greyhound

The Commons environment committee said there was a “conflict of interest” between the charity’s power to prosecute and its role in investigating cases, campaigning and fundraising.

But the RSPCA defended its work and said the move was not supported by the government or animal welfare groups.

The government says it will consider the committee’s recommendations.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee called on ministers to change the law concerning the RSPCA’s powers.

Everyone in England and Wales has the right to bring a private prosecution against someone who they believe has committed an offence.

The Committee recommends the RSPCA should continue its work investigating animal welfare cases, but “withdraw from acting as a prosecutor of first resort” and let the Crown Prosecution Service or other statutory bodies carry out this role.

If there were no statutory alternatives – and where a private prosecution would further its charitable aims – the RSPCA could still be allowed to bring a case, said the committee.

But the cross-party committee was not unanimous; the call to transfer powers was opposed by three Labour MPs and one SDLP MP, and carried by the five Conservatives and one SNP MP.

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RSPCA prosecutions

  • Complaints of cruelty investigated by the RSPCA rose from 153,770 in 2013 to 159,831 in 2014 in England and Wales
  • In 2014, this led to 1,132 prosecutions
  • The charity’s prosecution success rate is 98.9%, according to 2014 RSPCA figures
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Opposing committee members stressed that anyone had a right to bring forward a private prosecution and “to single out the RSPCA as not being able to do this would be invidious, as it has the experience and skills and it furthers its charitable objectives”.

But Conservative MP and chairman Neil Parish said the committee was not convinced the charity was in any better position to prosecute than the CPS.

“It should step back from making prosecutions itself, continuing instead to work closely with the police and prosecution service to protect the welfare of animals,” he said.

Evidence heard included testimony from the Self-Help Group (SHG) for farmers, pet owners and others experiencing difficulties with the RSPCA which said some pet owners felt alienated by the charity’s “targeting of vulnerable, ill or elderly people” and the removal of their animals.

Maximum penalty

RSPCA chief executive Jeremy Cooper rejected the MPs’ criticism.

“We are extremely proud of our near 200 years of experience investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty and our 92% success rate – which is currently a higher percentage than the CPS,” he said.

“For us the key test will be if the recommendation improves animal welfare and we suspect the answer in this case would probably be no.”

But Tim Bonner, Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, who have been critical of the RSPCA, told the Today Programme: “The RSPCA is in a position that no other private organisation is.

“They retain this prosecution role which all other charities and private individuals gave up in the 80s when the CPS was formed.”

Speaking to BBC Breakfast the RSPCA’s head of public affairs, David Bowles, said most of the charity’s work was “about educating people to take care of their animals much better”.

Last year the RSPCA spent £4.9 million on legal fees and cases. Mr Bowles said that represented about 3% of the charity’s budget.

He added: “Investigations was the number one reason people gave us money for and prosecutions was the number two issue.”

In a joint statement, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Blue Cross, Cats Protection, the Dogs Trust and the PDSA said they feared that without the RSPCA, “many cases of unacceptable animal abuse would go unprosecuted”.

The committee also recommended the maximum penalty for animal welfare crimes should be increased from 51 weeks to five years.

And it called for a ban on the third party sale of dogs, so they would only be available from licensed, regulated breeders or approved rehoming organisations.

Neither the SSPCA (the Scottish equivalent of the RSPCA) nor the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) bring prosecutions, as the RSPCA does in England and Wales.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37987213

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Washed-up rare turtle species confirmed as Olive ridley

A rare tropical turtle which was washed on to an Anglesey beach has been identified as an Olive ridley.

Experts at Anglesey Sea Zoo said it was the first time this type of turtle has been seen on UK shores since records began.

It was discovered at Tan-y-Foel on Saturday close to the zoo and staff took it to a vet.

The turtle, believed to be female, has been nicknamed Menai and is undergoing rehabilitation at the zoo.

Menai is being rehydrated and gradually warmed, but zoo staff warned that while the turtle was responding well to treatment, she remained in a serious condition and may not survive.

Olive ridley turtles are classified as vulnerable and are usually found in warm and tropical waters as far north as Mexico and the southern part of the US, but would not be expected to survive in the cooler seas around Wales.

'Menai' the turtle at Anglesey Sea Zoo ANGLESEY SEA ZOO
'Menai' the turtle at Anglesey Sea ZooANGLESEY SEA ZOO

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-north-west-wales-37980343

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Golden eagle numbers rise by 15 per cent since 2003, according to RSPB

Golden eagle numbers have risen by 15 per cent since 2003, bringing the population back towards numbers thought to be present in Scotland historically, according to a survey from RSPB Scotland.

Golden Eagle

The fourth national golden eagle survey shows the population has increased to 508 golden eagle pairs – up from the 442 pairs recorded in the last survey.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham welcomed the figures, but labelled recent disappearances of satellite-tagged birds on or near grouse moors as “disturbing and disappointing”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, put the rise down to increased monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as stronger sanctions against wildlife crime.

Orr-Ewing added: “However, the continued absence of golden eagles in some areas of eastern Scotland remains a real cause for concern and suggests that much more work needs to be done.”

Roseanna Cunningham described the population increase, which means the golden eagle meets the requirements for ‘favourable conservation status’ in the UK, as “extremely heartening”.

She said: “The successes have been down to partnership work and this is continuing with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project, which aims to boost populations even further.

“But it is clear from this national survey that there are still areas of Scotland, which are ideal habitats for golden eagles to breed and hunt, where there has not been a recovery in population despite a lot of hard work to protect these birds. This seems like a missed opportunity.”

Referring to recent eagle disappearances, Cunningham said: “That’s why I’ve ordered a review of the information being gathered by these tags, to get to the truth about how, where and why raptors are vanishing. This evidence will be a significant factor in deciding the next steps for tackling wildlife crime.”

The survey was based in surveyors from the voluntary Scottish Raptor Study Group conducting a minimum of three visits to over 700 known traditional golden eagle sites, with support also provided by landowners and farmers.

Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, part of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Our members are passionate about the golden eagles on their land and it is in large part a tribute to their management and collaboration that the population has increased. They have helped the surveyors and worked with Scottish Natural Heritage in the interest of golden eagles for many years.

“The east Highlands still have the highest level of productivity (young per pair) and a stable number of occupied territories over more than three decades. The south central Highlands, which includes significant areas of driven grouse moor has shown by far the greatest increase in range occupancy – 70 per cent – since 2003.”

The national survey was carried out during the first six months of 2015 and was co-funded by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Article taken from: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/

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Mountain hare day of action – invitation to mass lobby of the Scottish Parliament

Scotland’s mountain hare are culled in huge numbers on grouse moors, even in our National Parks. OneKind are asking supporters to join forces on the 17th November 2016 to call on the Scottish Government to end the culls.

In one year, as many as 25,000 mountain hares were killed in Scotland. Why? For blood sports and the unfounded belief that their eradication could mean more red grouse to shoot. OneKind are calling on the Scottish Government to urgently introduce greater protections for the mountain hare, starting with a complete ban of culls and driven hunts in our National Parks. The Scottish Government has the powers to do this tomorrow – we just need to put the pressure on to make it happen!

Show you care for the mountain hare: join OneKind on the 17th of November at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh for a mass lobby against mountain hare culling. They will be rallying in front of Parliament at 12:00. Join the team for a fun and worthwhile afternoon speaking up for Scotland’s embattered wildlife.

When?

Thursday 17 November from 12 -2PM or for as long as you can spare.

Where?

In front of the Scottish Parliament in central Edinburgh.

What?

This will be a small, fun and good-natured event that will send a powerful signal to our elected representatives that they must take action and end the killing. The group will gather at 12:00 for a media photocall and rally, when you will hear from MSPs on what they think should be done about the culls, and leading mountain hare advocates. OneKind have invited all MSPs to drop by and meet us at any time between 12:30 and 2:00 to receive a special present and, if they wish, to show their support for the campaign. Please invite your MSP to come along by signing this e-action.

What do I do next?

Let OneKind know you’re coming by signing up here. This gives them an idea of numbers and once you’ve signed up they will email you more information about the day.

You can also find out more about the campaign and sign OneKind’s petition here.