Nature loss linked to farming intensity

More than 50 conservation groups say the “policy-driven” intensification of farming is a significant driver of nature loss in the UK.

The State of Nature report assessed 8,000 UK species and found that one in 10 are threatened with extinction.

More than half of farmland birds (56%) including the turtle dove and corn bunting are in danger of extinction.

The National Farmers Union said the report ignored progress made by farmers on conservation in the last 25 years.

Mark Eaton is the lead author of the paper. He said: “We now know that farming practices over recent decades have had the single largest impact on the UK’s wildlife.

“The great majority of that impact has been negative. This isn’t deliberate, it is a by-product of changes in farming to make it more efficient.”

‘Squeezed out’

“There have been big changes in farming which has made it much more efficient. This is great for putting food on the table. But nature has been squeezed out. Our research for the first time has quantified that.”

Farmland makes up three quarters of the UK’s landscape. The report assessed the risk of extinction for 1,118 farmland species. Of 26 bird species almost half (46%) are in danger of going extinct including the corn bunting and the turtle dove and their numbers are still declining. Skylark numbers are down 60% since 1970.

Plants, insects and butterflies have also suffered, with the abundance of butterfly species such as the high brown fritillary having diminished by 57% since 1990.

High brown fritillary on plant

Some 12% of farmland species are now on the Red List, including plants such as the Shepherd-needle and corn marigolds.

Mr Eaton pointed to the increasing use of pesticides and herbicides, increased fertiliser use, the loss of hedgerows from farms and changing farming practices.

Crops are now mostly sown in autumn instead of spring, and this has had a negative impact on some birds, although it has been good for other species, such as the woodpigeon.

“A lot of these things we can’t go back on. Autumn-sowing is much better for farmers, so we can’t expect them to change tack. But we need to find a way within these new systems – finding the tweaks that will let nature back in. We don’t want to go back to Constable country, we know it’s not possible.”

“We do know that farming and nature can co-exist. There are agri-environment schemes – farmers can farm in environmentally friendly ways. So we can do both.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) vice-president Guy Smith said: “As the report acknowledges, agricultural policies of the past did focus on maximising food production, resulting in the intensification of farming in the years after World War II.

‘Demand for food’

“However, since the early 1990s, in terms of inputs and in terms of numbers of livestock and area of crops grown British agriculture has not intensified – in fact it’s the reverse. Therefore it makes little sense to attribute cause and effect to ‘the intensification of agriculture’ in the UK in the last quarter of a century when there hasn’t been any.

“Other causes acknowledged in the report, such as urbanisation, climate change or increasing predator pressure need greater attention.”

The NFU says that farmers have planted or restored 30,000km of hedgerows, and given over the borders of their fields to plant wildflowers for birds and bees. It adds that it is “using less fertiliser and pesticides than ever”.

Mr Smith also pointed out the fundamental need for farmers to produce food. “There is now a high degree of academic consensus that the world will also need to increase food production significantly to meet the needs of a growing population.

“This increased demand for food will have to be met using finite agricultural land, while our climate continues to change, which will inevitably place further constraints on production in many parts of the world.”

Hay field at dawn

Attenborough: ‘Our nature is in serious trouble’

In a foreword to the report, Sir David Attenborough said: “Escalating pressures such as climate change and modern land management mean we continue to lose the precious wildlife that enriches our lives and is essential to the health and well-being of those who live in the UK, and also its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. Our wonderful nature is in serious trouble and needs our help as never before.”

Among the 50 conservation and research organisations that have contributed to the report are the National Trust, Buglife, Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. It was the last State of Nature report in 2013 that highlighted the dramatic loss in wildlife from the countryside: turtle dove numbers having fallen by over 90% since 1970, and hedgehog numbers declining by a third since the turn of the century. Three years later, the picture is almost as bleak. The report states: “There was no statistical difference – no change in the proportion of species threatened with extinction.”

The State of Nature report does not go into detail on the EU subsidy system, but blames the current damage being done to nature on “policy-driven” intensification.

Fiona Mathews, chair of the Mammal Society and associate professor at the University of Exeter, and an author of the report, said: “The reality is that our human population is expanding and we need urgently to work out how we can live alongside our wildlife.”

Matt Shardlow, chief executive of BugLife, said: “Government investment in wildlife conservation has dropped by a third in the last six years. This makes it even more crucial that the wishes of the public are respected and Brexit results in the maintenance of current wildlife protection and the introduction of new environmental framework legislation that will set the foundation for reversing wildlife loss.”

‘Broken’ system

The National Trust, one of the charities involved in this report, believes that Brexit provides an opportunity to reform the current “broken” system. Subsidies should be maintained but wildlife and the environment should be put at the centre of how this public money should be handed out.

Tim Breitmeyer, from the Countryside Land and Business Association, said: “As we start to develop policy for a UK outside of the EU, it is critical that a proper understanding is established between farmers and environmental groups. As landowners, our starting point is clear: only a profitable, resilient farming sector can realistically invest time and resource in environmental management.”

Marine plant species and also some vertebrates such as small fish are faring slightly better. Almost 70% of the species surveyed are increasing in number. However, marine invertebrates such as plankton are suffering – with 75% of species declining.

The report also highlighted the “many inspiring examples of conservation action that is helping to turn the tide”, such as restoration and reintroduction projects.

The authors also assessed British species found in woods, moors and mountains and in freshwater and marine environments.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37298485


Dormice in Britain ‘vulnerable to extinction’

Britain’s native dormouse has declined by more than a third since the year 2000 according to a new report by wildlife charity, the People’s Trust for Endangered Species.

The State of Britain’s Dormice report also shows that hazel dormice are extinct in 17 English counties.

The researchers assessed more than 100,000 records gathered from across the UK over 25 years.

The report says the dormouse is now vulnerable to extinction in Britain.

Since 1998 trained volunteers around the country have been gathering data on the tiny hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius). It is one of the longest-running small mammal monitoring projects in the world.

The creatures live mainly in hedgerows and woods, weaving ball-like nests in the undergrowth from bark in the summer and hibernating on or near the ground in winter between October and May.

They are extremely tricky to locate – a populated area the size of two football fields will only contain four dormice. A giveaway sign is a nibbled hazelnut.

Dormouse on twigHazel dormice are 6-9cm long and weigh 17-20g – although this can double before hibernation.

‘Dramatic decline’

Today’s report shows that they are more difficult to find than ever. Over the last 16 years, the population has declined by almost 40%. Populations are now restricted to the Welsh borders and southern England. They have never been recorded in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Ian White is dormouse officer at the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. He has been monitoring the species for the last decade and describes the decline as “dramatic”. He says: “Dormice have been around for 40 million years, but their future in Britain is now precarious and there’s a pressing need for action to ensure their long-term survival.”

In 1885, dormice were present in 49 English counties; today, they’re known in 32 – excluding those counties where they have been reintroduced.

Mr White said the evidence pointed towards a few key factors in their decline. They are a woodland animal and there has been a loss of woodland and hedgerows. Their habitats are more fragmented and they can’t disperse through the landscape.

The management of farmland and woodland has also changed making it harder for them to survive. They are also vulnerable to changes in the weather, in particular wetter springs and summers, when foraging for food becomes harder. Warmer winters also interrupt successful hibernation.

Ian White holding dormouseDormouse officer Ian White helps to reintroduce a dormouse to the Yorkshire Dales.

Mr White said: “This is a sad tale, the raw data is a bit doom and gloom but my personal experience is that there is a lot more interest in what we can do about this and a lot of enthusiasm from the public to help.”

There have been efforts to bring hazel dormice back to the wild. More than 850 animals have been reintroduced at 26 sites. The latest was at Aysgarth in Wensleydale in June. At five of these release sites the population has died. The others have shown signs of success, such as breeding or dispersal to new areas beyond the site.

PTES monitors 400 sites regularly along with building a national dataset from the information that the public sends in. They also help to train woodland managers and landowners.

Sleeping dormouseIf the weather is cold and wet and there isn’t much food, dormice curl in to a ball and sleep.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37290176


Scotland to Become First UK Country to Ban Wild Animals in Circuses

Scotland is to become the first part of the UK to ban wild animals in traveling circuses. The move is being welcomed by animal rights activists who call the practice “a Victorian anachronism.”

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined her plans in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday (September 6), which include intentions to introduce a Wild Animals in Circuses Bill.

The new Scottish Bill follows a public consultation two years ago, in which 98% of the Scottish public overwhelmingly backed a ban.

Also in 2014, it was revealed that five large cats — three tigers and two lions — were being kept in tiny cages on a farm in the far northeastern corner of Scotland, even during the Scottish winter. Photos showing the large animals repetitively pacing in their small cages caused uproar, highlighting the failure of any part of the UK to pass legislation banning the use of wild animals for public display attractions.

Now, Scotland has taken the lead, in a move that has been welcomed by animal welfare charities.

“By their very nature, traveling circuses cannot provide animals with the exercise or facilities they need. Animals in circuses are severely restricted in every aspect of their lives — small spaces, barren environments; their life is one of boredom and frustration, often punctuated by abuse. They spend almost their entire lives on the road, moving from one makeshift encampment to another,” Devon Prosser from Animal Defenders Internationaltold Sputnik.

“Once a circus animal is broken, it’ll probably spend the rest of its life performing more or less the same routine. The public don’t get to see the animals in training, but only in rehearsal when they are performing the same tricks they may have done for five, ten or more years.”

Calling the practice of wild animals being forced to perform for the public, “a Victorian anachronism,” Mr. Prosser called for the rest of the UK to follow Scotland’s example.

“We hope that England and Wales will follow suit with Scotland. The government announced in 2012 its intent to ban the use of wild animals in circuses in England, with legislation drafted the following year and manifesto commitment made last year.

“Although a timetable for bringing in the new law has yet to be announced the government has repeatedly reiterated its commitment to legislate. Wales has also stated its intention to take action on the issue but again no timetable has yet been announced for legislation to be passed.”

Wild animals that are currently licensed for use in England include: camels, foxes, macaws, raccoons, reindeer, and zebra.

Worldwide, there are currently 30 countries which have some sort of ban on the practice.

Mr. Prosser said that animal rights activists see more countries following suit, thanks to the success of non-wild animal circus entertainment.

“In 2006, 20 circuses toured with around 100 wild animals including 19 elephants and 38 lions & tigers. Today there are only two circuses with 17 wild animals.

“The sharp decline in animal circuses has been matched by an increase in animal-free circuses. As shown by their huge popularity, shows like Cirque du Soleil are far more entertaining than animals performing pointless tricks.”

A wild animal ban is also supported by the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe who have urged nations to:

“Prohibit the use of wild mammals in travelling circuses across Europe since there is by no means the possibility that their physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met.”

Article taken from: https://m.sputniknews.com/europe/20160907/1045067137/scotland-circus-animal-ban.html


Badger cull areas more than triple under new government licences


The number of areas where badgers will be culled to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis is to more than triple under licences issued by the government on Tuesday.

Licensed shooters could begin killing badgers within days in Herefordshire, Cornwall and Devon, which have been added to the culling already taking place in recent years in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

Ministers say the culling is essential to stop the spread of bovine TB to cattle, which cost the taxpayer £100m in 2015 to compensate farmers for slaughtered cattle. But experts have said the culls “fly in the face of scientific evidence” and could even make the problem worse.

George Eustice, the farming minister, said the cull’s expansion was vital to tackle the “reservoir” of the disease in badgers. “Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England is delivering results, with more than half the country on track to be free of the disease by the end of this parliament.”

In total, 10 areas have now been licensed for culling, up from three areas previously. Ministers also announced the provision of more information and advice on cattle movements and biosecurity measures and a consultation on the use of more sensitive tests.

The National Farmers Union welcomed the move. Meurig Raymond, the NFU president, said: “Farmers facing a daily battle against bTB in those areas that have been granted licences for badger control operations this year will welcome the news that finally action is being taken to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife in these areas.

“Today’s announcement means that badger control will now be taking place in 10% of the area where cattle are at the highest risk of contracting bTB.”

But scientists, Labour and animal welfare groups condemned the expansion and said it would not stop the disease. Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Institute of Biology in London, said: “This is a huge disappointment for evidence-based policy making. The scale of the rollout is huge: farmers will be required to kill almost 10,000 badgers at a minimum before the end of November. And yet the government has released no evidence that farmer-led culling is helping to control cattle TB.”

Rachel Maskell, shadow environment secretary, said: “The decision to extend the badger cull flies in the face of the government’s own evidence that shows the killing of thousands of badgers has not reduced the number of cattle contracting bovine TB. The government promised when they embarked on the cull that it would be an evidence based approach, yet they are failing to take any notice of the facts.”

Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, said: “Defra statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise in and around the cull zones. We could kill ever badger in Britain but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor bio security controls.

“The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern livestock industry. The badger cull has failed on scientific, humaneness and cost grounds. For Andrea Leadsom to extend the badger cull to seven new areas defies belief and is a national disgrace,” he said.

Chris Pitt, deputy director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “It is ludicrous that given all the evidence collated over the last four years, the government plan to roll out their misguided badger cull even further. Killing badgers is not only disastrous for badgers, but it’s also calamitous for cattle and a dead end for farmers, because all the unbiased scientific opinion suggests that we’ll never get rid of bovine TB this way.”

Claire Bass, executive director of the Humane Society International UK, said: “It is both shocking and sad that the government is expanding this cruel ‘pilot’ policy to three new counties.”

The cost to taxpayers for the cull, described as “industry-led” by the government, was £17.6m for the three years from 2013 to 2015, including £6.7m on policing and £6.6m on independent monitoring of effectiveness and humaneness. The lmonitoring, which found the first year of culls were not effective or humane, has been discontinued. The expenditure is equivalent to many thousands of pounds for each badger killed.

The government funding needed for each new culling area is estimated at £1.2m a year, meaning the seven news areas will cost a total of £33.6m in total over the planned four years of culling.

The government’s original value-for-money assessment of the badger culls showed they would cost more than they saved in TB reduction. But a new assessment from the government finds that the benefit of future culls will exceed the costs, due to “to more cost-effective monitoring and policing”.

The government expects policing costs to “disappear” over time, “following further successful badger control operations without security incident”, but protesters say they intend to take direct action to drive up policing costs.

Recent research showed that bovine TB is not passed through direct contact between badgers and cattle, but through contaminated pasture and dung.

Article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/30/badger-cull-areas-more-than-triple-under-new-government-licences

RSPCA are urging people to write to their MP and ask for an end to badger suffering. MPs are encouraged to attend the Westminster debate on 7th September and seek alternatives to this unnecessary and ineffective cull.

*** Ask your MP to take action for badgers – click here ***


Water voles: National Trust releasing 100 in Yorkshire Dales


About 100 water voles are to be released in the Yorkshire Dales.

Ecologists from the National Trust plan to release the new colony into Malham Tarn, England’s highest freshwater lake.

It will be the first time voles have been in high Yorkshire Dales in 50 years.

Vole numbers have dropped by almost 90% in recent decades, and they have become one of the UK’s most threatened mammals.

The animals being released have been bred in captivity and will be introduced in batches over five days.

They will spend two days in cages along the banks of the lake, before the cage doors are opened on the third day.

‘Perfect habitat’

Ecologists will place apples and carrots on floating rafts near the cages to tempt the voles out into their new environment.

Once fully introduced into the wild, they will largely eat grass, reeds and roots.

Roisin Black, a National Trust ranger at Malham Tarn, said: “In the rest of Europe, water voles are common. In Britain, the creatures are incredibly rare.


“We know water voles have thrived at Malham Tarn in the past and thanks to work by the National Trust, the habitat here is perfect for water voles again.”

The UK’s water vole population was decimated in the 1960s, largely by American mink that had escaped from fur farms.

Water voles live in burrows dug into banks along slow-moving rivers, streams or ditches.

The population has been unable to recover, largely due its natural habitat being destroyed by intensive farming, pollution and flood plains being concreted over.

American minkNorth American mink, escaped into the wild in the UK from fur farms, are predators of water voles

Mink have not been seen in the region of Malham Tarn for 10 years.

Rangers say they will closely monitor the area for any signs of the predators by setting devices that can capture their footprints.

Natural predators

Ecologists hope the voles being released at Malham Tarn will improve the local ecosystem, saying their burrowing should provide the space for rare species of moss and liverwort to thrive.

They will also be food for struggling predators such as barn owls and otters.

National Trust rangers will monitor the colony over the coming year.

They should produce between two and five litters every year, with up to eight pups in each litter.

If the water voles in the reintroduction project flourish, ecologists say they plan to breed and release another 100 next year.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37127152


Satellite tagged Aberdeenshire raptor missing in Highlands

Hen harrier ElwoodThe hen harrier, known as Elwood to conservationists, fledged at a nest site in Aberdeenshire

A satellite tag fitted to a hen harrier has stopped transmitting in the same mountains where eight tagged eagles “vanished”, RSPB Scotland has said.

The hen harrier fledged at a nest in Aberdeenshire in July.

The RSPB said its tag last sent information on 3 August from moorland in the Monadhliath Mountains managed for grouse shooting.

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said there was “no independent information” on the situation.

Last week, RSPB Scotland and the Scottish Moorland Group, whose members include landowners and gamekeepers, clashed over the loss of the eight golden eagles between 2011 and July this year.

The wildlife charity believes they were killed illegally around grouse moors, and their satellite tracking tags destroyed.

The Scottish Moorland Group said it condemned wildlife crime. It added that the RSPB had not considered other reasons for the loss of the tags.

Golden eagleEight tagged golden eagles have vanished since November 2011, says RSPB Scotland

The hen harrier, known as Elwood, was being monitored under a scheme run by the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland.

After fledging at a nest site in Aberdeenshire the bird spent time near Tomatin, south of Inverness.

The bird’s tag last transmitted information a few miles from the Slochd Summit on the A9.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: “This latest disappearance of a satellite tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area.

“The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey.

“The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.”

‘Appropriate action’

A spokesman for SGA said: “As with other recent allegations, the SGA will work with Police Scotland and Scottish government in an attempt to get to the bottom of this. It is clearly a situation which cannot go on.

“We have no independent information, at the present time, so getting the facts will be the first step. Speculation, at this stage, will not help.

“The SGA does not, and will never, condone wildlife crime. As an organisation we advocate legal solutions, solely, as the means to resolve conflicts. If there is any evidence of illegal activity by an SGA member, appropriate action will be taken.”

Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, added: “We are as concerned as anyone when a satellite tagged bird goes missing and particularly in this case because the bird was part of a project involving Scottish Land and Estates and our members.

“This bird was tagged on one of our member estates as part of the Heads Up For Harriers.”

He added: “Estates in the area where the bird went missing are also concerned but have not been approached by RSPB to help in any search. They are unaware of any incident and would be willing to help.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-37107652


Hunt members will not face police action over video showing hounds kill fox

There is ‘not enough evidence’ to prosecute members of a hunt – despite shocking footage showing a fox being killed by their hounds.

Even though hunt members admitted the fox was killed after the video was released by a hunt saboteur group, the hunt will not face police action.

The graphic clip, filmed at Fields Farm in Grendon, Warwickshire last November, shows a pack of dogs chasing a fox while members of the Atherstone Hunt follow on horseback.

One of the dogs wrestles the fleeing animal to the ground before the rest of the group pounce on the fox.

The hunters, wearing traditional gear, are then confronted by a protester, but turn and ride away.

FILE PICTURE - A pack of dogs appearing to chase a fox. No action will be taken against a Warwickshire hunt despite video footage being released of a fox being killed by its hounds. See NTI story NTIHUNT. Warwickshire Police said there was ënot enough evidenceí to prosecute members of the Atherstone Hunt over accusations the fox had been illegally killed - despite the video, witness statements and the hunt itself admitting that it killed the fox. The video footage was taken by West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs and shows members of the Atherstone Hunt on horseback as a pack of about 20 dogs chase down the animal in a field. As the hounds attack the fox, a member of the hunt reaches down and pulls the lifeless body of the animal from underneath the pack and slings the carcass over the back of a colleagueís horse. The group then rides away towards colleagues in the distance with the limp body of the fox clearly visible. But despite the footage, a spokesman for Warwickshire Police said: ìFollowing an investigation by Warwickshire Police, the decision has been made that there is insufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of a conviction in relation to any hunting offences connected to the Atherstone Hunt in Warwickshire.î
Footage shows the dog catching the fox (circled) (Picture: SWNS)

The hunting ban

It has been illegal to hunt foxes with dogs since 2005.

But anyone caught hunting will get away without a prison sentence.

The maximum penalty is a £5,000 fine, but any dogs used in hunting could be destroyed.

Despite the release of the footage, Warwickshire Police said their investigation has ended without charges being brought.

A spokesman for Warwickshire Police said: ‘Following an investigation, the decision has been made that there is insufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of a conviction in relation to any hunting offences connected to the Atherstone Hunt in Warwickshire.

‘Warwickshire Police thoroughly investigate all reports of wildlife crime, we have specialist wildlife crime officers who investigate rural crime and work very closely with a range of partners to raise awareness.

‘Our campaign ‘Rural Matters’ seeks support from the public to help put an end to wildlife crime and to report suspicious activity.’

A statement released by Atherstone Hunt last year read: ‘Unfortunately while riding across an open field between trails, what we strongly suspect was an injured fox appeared in front of the Hunt within yards of the hounds who very quickly dispatched it.

Police officer gets points for taking Lamborghini on ‘joyride’

‘The incident was immediately reported to Warwickshire Police.’

At the time, West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs said the group was ‘blatantly hunting’ and the incident was not a ‘one off’.

FILE PICTURE - A huntsman (L) rides off with the fox draped over his saddle. No action will be taken against a Warwickshire hunt despite video footage being released of a fox being killed by its hounds. See NTI story NTIHUNT. Warwickshire Police said there was ënot enough evidenceí to prosecute members of the Atherstone Hunt over accusations the fox had been illegally killed - despite the video, witness statements and the hunt itself admitting that it killed the fox. The video footage was taken by West Midlands Hunt Saboteurs and shows members of the Atherstone Hunt on horseback as a pack of about 20 dogs chase down the animal in a field. As the hounds attack the fox, a member of the hunt reaches down and pulls the lifeless body of the animal from underneath the pack and slings the carcass over the back of a colleagueís horse. The group then rides away towards colleagues in the distance with the limp body of the fox clearly visible. But despite the footage, a spokesman for Warwickshire Police said: ìFollowing an investigation by Warwickshire Police, the decision has been made that there is insufficient evidence to support a realistic prospect of a conviction in relation to any hunting offences connected to the Atherstone Hunt in Warwickshire.î
The man dressed in black appears to have the dead fox over his saddle (Picture: SWNS)

Article taken from: http://metro.co.uk/2016/08/09/hunt-members-will-not-face-police-action-over-video-showing-hounds-kill-fox-6057735/