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Have a nature-friendly Bonfire Night

RSPB Scotland is encouraging everyone to remember wildlife when planning bonfires and firework displays this weekend.

The nature charity is urging people to mark Bonfire Night carefully to avoid harming animals and birds, but is also suggesting they make the most of such a dramatic time in nature’s calendar, by watching some of Scotland’s favourite wildlife spectacles.

Event organisers and people having their own parties should leave bonfire-building as late as possible, says RSPB Scotland, as this will avoid hedgehogs and other wildlife mistaking the woodpiles for cosy winter quarters.

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Bonfire makers are asked to look out for frogs, toads, newts, slow worms and lizards which all use log piles for shelter and to sleep in during the winter months.

“Bonfires and fireworks are great fun and we want people to enjoy them responsibly.” said Keith Morton, Species Policy Officer for RSPB Scotland, “The trick with a bonfire is to build it with leaves, twigs and logs on the day to avoid wildlife moving in overnight. Generally birds can cope with the disturbance caused by thunder and lightning, so firework displays are not a big issue, but it is best to avoid areas where they are known to be roosting.”

“As well as – or maybe even instead of – watching the fireworks this year, we’re urging people to take in some of Scotland’s most exciting wildlife sights, which we think are more than a match for any pyrotechnic display. There are no damp squibs when it comes to nature at this time of year.”

To encourage people to watch a wildlife display as well as the fireworks this year, RSPB Scotland has come up with a top five list of nature spectacles to enjoy this weekend:

  1. There are plenty of “oohs” and “aahs” as people look up to the skies for a spectacular seasonal display. Starling murmurations involve tens of thousands of birds wheeling and swooping in vast clouds as they settle into their evening roosts in trees, reedbeds or even under piers. Starlings form breathtaking patterns in the skies before swirling downwards to find a safe place to perch for the night.
  2. Many of us will be creating a “fun Guy” for our bonfire, but there’s plenty of fascinating fungi popping up all over the place at this time of year. Look out for the famous red and white fly agaric toadstools.
  3. Sparks fly as massive red deer stags battle over groups of hinds in parks and moors. The deer rut is a feast for the ears as well as the eyes: the bellows and roars of the stags carry for miles over open land. Watch from a safe distance and enjoy one of the most impressive wildlife displays in the UK.
  4. Who needs Roman candles when you can have ‘Roman noses’? The owners of these noses are grey seals which will be raising their pups around the shores of the Orkney Islands of Sanday and Copinsay Even if you can’t make it there you can still watch them on sealcam! http://www.orkneynaturefestival.org/
  5. No flames are needed for the explosions of rust and bronze as trees like beech and hazel are ablaze with colour. At this time of year, leaves have switched from greens to reds as the green chlorophyll drains from the tree into the roots.

As well as avoiding wildlife disturbance on Bonfire Night, RSPB Scotland is asking people to consider providing food and shelter for garden wildlife as the weather becomes colder, as part of the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign. The campaign is aimed at tackling the housing crisis facing the UK’s threatened wildlife. The charity is asking people to provide a place for wildlife in their own gardens by planting pollen-rich plants to attract bees and butterflies, putting up a nestbox for a house sparrow or creating a pond that will support a number of different species. The RSPB hopes to inspire people across the whole UK to create a million new homes for nature. So far 299,226 people have pledged to give nature a home in their gardens. A free guide is available at rspb.org.uk/homes

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Happy National Black Cat Day!

Launched by the Cats Protection League, Black Cat Day aims to celebrate all that is wonderful about these beautiful creatures, while working to dispel many myths which still exist around black cats and their perceived unsuitability as loving pets.

Black cats have been associated with superstition and folklore for centuries and incredibly, many people still believe them to be unlucky. As a result, black cats are one of the hardest types of moggy to rehome and thousands of them languish in lonely adoption shelters up and down the country.

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As I’m sure you’ll agree, black cats are amazing. Loving, gentle natured and endlessly entertaining, these stunning felines make a wonderful addition to any home. They also, from personal experience, make wearing dark clothes much more possible – they moult, but no one notices it. Ideal.

I’ve known many a black moggy in my time and they have all been just as special and unique as their multi coloured counterparts. So please take a moment to spare a thought for black cats, maybe tell someone you know how special they are, and if you can donate a few pounds please send it to the CPL so they can carry on protecting these magnificent animals.

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BBC News: Do people know where their chicken comes from?

Campaigners say chicken meat needs better labelling. How much do people really know about the life of a chicken before it reaches their plate?

A long, low, metal shed, fed by large plastic drums, pipes and chimneys – to the layman it looks like a small chemical plant. Hidden in the folds of the Peak District, it’s an incongruous sight. The only hint that living things are housed inside is the pungent smell from the extractor fan – like a mixture of a pet shop and manure.

The facility is not a paint or fertiliser factory. It is called Lower Farm and produces chickens. In a period of between 33 and 38 days, the chicks grow to an average weight of 2.2kg – ready to be slaughtered. Lower Farm, just outside Chesterfield, is not what most of us would think of as a farm. It is run by a poultry company called Applied Group, which operates two other farms. The chickens never go outside. Everything happens in four large sheds. The interiors of the sheds are continuously filmed and key statistics recorded – every litre the birds drink, every 10kg of feed that has been dispatched by the feeder mechanism, how much the birds weigh. Lower Farm produces 1.25 million chickens a year.

Nearly all chicken meat eaten in the UK comes from a place like Lower Farm. “This intensive chicken farming goes on behind closed doors,” says Dil Peeling, campaigns director at charity Compassion in World Farming (CWF) . “It’s hidden from people. They still have this image of chickens scratching around in a farmyard.”

Cockerels drinking from drinkers in rearing shed, Cumbria

Free-range accounts for 5% and organic 1% of UK chicken production, according to the British Poultry Council. The remaining 94% comes from intensively reared birds.

This is in stark contrast to eggs, where free-range and organic togethermake up 45% of UK production. Of the eggs bought in shops by consumers – as opposed to eggs used in processed food – free-range is now half of the market.

Egg-buying habits have changed radically. Farmers respond to consumer demand and free-range eggs accounted for just 11% of production in 1994. Ten years ago it was still only 27%. There’s been no such shift on meat chickens. It’s not uncommon to see free-range eggs advertised in sandwiches. Pret A Manger uses them. But its chicken sandwiches are not free-range but “higher welfare” indoor-reared chicken.

Egg production and chicken meat are separate industries. Since the 1950s two distinct chickens have been bred by the farming industry – laying hens for eggs and broiler chickens for meat. Sophisticated breeding means that every year a broiler chicken lives one day less to deliver the same weight of food, the RSPCA estimates.

They may be separate industries, but why do so many more people buy free-range eggs than free-range chickens? CWF recently ran a 39-day campaign – the average lifespan of an intensive broiler – to call for a chicken’s method of production to be clearly labelled.

Packets of Simply M&S skinless & boneless thighs

Cost is probably the main reason. There is a bigger price hike in free-range for chicken meat than for eggs. At Sainsbury’s, breast fillets – the most commonly bought chicken – vary from £6.95 per kg for Basics fillet portions, to £12.99 for standard, to £14.95 for free-range, to £19 for organic free-range.

Excluding the fillet portions, there is still a difference of almost £2 per kg between intensive and free-range, and more than £6 per kg between intensive and organic. Six Basics eggs cost 90p, while half-a-dozen free-range eggs cost £1.35 and organic £2. This means it costs 50% more for free-range eggs – a significant price hike.

But because eggs are fairly cheap items, it perhaps doesn’t seem so bad, just an extra 45p to go for free-range. Opting for free-range chicken breasts works out at £1.96 more expensive. “You’ve probably got to be quite committed to trade up for meat – not to mention affluent – but the difference in eggs isn’t so painful to the pocket,” says Richard Griffiths, director of policy at the British Poultry Council.

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Chicken statistics

Chicken on supermarket shelf
  • 50 billion chickens worldwide
  • 116 million broilers in the UK and 29 million laying hens
  • 750 million broilers slaughtered annually in the UK

Sources: CWF, Defra

To read the full article, click here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-29219843

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The mystery of the 1,000 greyhounds who retire and then vanish


Every year, one in eight greyhounds “disappears” at the end of its racing career, with some dogs being sold for research and dissection, a leading animal welfare charity claims.

The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) estimates that around 1,000 of the approximately 8,000 greyhounds retiring from racing annually are not rehomed and are unaccounted for.

Although the industry’s governing body, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), requires owners to register retirements and provide information on the fate of each dog, they are not obliged to provide any supporting evidence that a new home has been found. Some unwanted dogs are known to be returned to Ireland, where the majority were originally bred.

A report to be published this week reveals that some unwanted greyhounds were sold to a university which slaughtered them and used them to teach anatomy to veterinary students.

University College Dublin admitted buying 33 dogs last year, the report by the LACS and GREY2K USA (an American greyhound protection organisation) found.

The majority of former racing dogs are rehomed by the Retired Greyhound Trust, which is part-funded by the racing industry and independent charities, or directly by owners and trainers. However, while the GBGB said the industry was “striving to ensure that no greyhound is unnecessarily put down once its racing career is over”, its retirement form includes the category “injury not treated on economic grounds” as a reason to euthanise a dog.

The report also raises concerns about overbreeding, as some pups will never make it to the track because they are too slow or they will not chase the mechnical lure.

The charity is launching its report on Tuesday at the House of Commons and is calling for independent scrutiny of the industry, alongside the tracking of dogs from “cradle to grave”.

“We are releasing this report as self-regulation of the industry hasn’t worked,” said Michael Stephenson, director of campaigns at the LACS. “They had their chance and they have failed. We think the industry needs proper scrutiny. The public are completely unaware of what happens behind the scenes – it is an industry shrouded in secrecy.”

It is estimated that around 1,000 of the approximately 8,000 greyhounds retiring from racing annually are unaccounted for

In 2006, there was a national outcry over the treatment of racing greyhounds after The Sunday Times reported that more than 10,000 healthy greyhounds had been shot and buried in a mass grave in County Durham over a period of 15 years.

This prompted two inquiries: the cross-party Associate Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, which called for an independent regulator, and one by the greyhound industry, chaired by Lord Donoughue of Ashton. The Government accepted Lord Donoughue’s view that the industry could self-regulate.

Lord Donoughue told The Independent on Sunday that conditions had improved since 2006. “More could have been done, but in a difficult industry, progress has been made,” he said.

While the greyhound racing industry is in decline, there are still 33 tracks in the UK of which 24 are regulated by the GBGB. Another nine “flapping” tracks are not licensed by the GBGB and therefore do not need to abide by the same rules of racing.

Last year, owners registered 7,520 greyhounds to race in Britain, of which 6,203 were Irish-bred.

The LACS is also concerned at the conditions in which some greyhounds are being kept during their racing careers. Many are now being kept at off-track kennels and are only let out of for short periods.

Earlier this month, a trainer and a track were fined by the GBGB for failing to prevent the death of a dog. The greyhound, Harry’s Queen, died last year at Henlow racing stadium from suspected heat stroke. A hearing was told that the air flow into the kennels was uneven and that an exposed, hot metal duct would have raised the temperature. Henlow was fined £5,000, while the trainer, Hazel Kemp, was ordered to pay £500.

A spokesman for the GBGB said: “No registered greyhounds are unaccounted for. However, we do not make public all the data we have pertaining to them.” He added that “non-chasers” were rare and “usually detected before registration”, which would mean they do not come under the GBGB’s care.

Defending self-regulation, the spokesman said they worked with animal welfare groups such as the Dogs Trust and the RSPCA to “improve welfare standards”.

Article taken from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-mystery-of-the-1000-greyhounds-who-retire-and-then-vanish-9818554.html

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Scottish Government releases second annual wildlife crime report

The Scottish Government has today published its second report on wildlife crime, which details wildlife offences in Scotland in 2013, including information on incidences and prosecutions during the year, and on research, advice and other work relevant to wildlife crime.

This report covers wildlife crimes offences from 2013, and draws on information from previous years where appropriate. Data is included from various sources including Scottish Government Justice Analytical Service, Police Scotland, Crown Office, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and other partner organisations.

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The report includes:

  • five year summary data on wildlife court proceedings and recorded crimes for 2008/09 to 2012/13
  • information on the six wildlife crime priority areas – badger persecution, bat persecution, CITES, freshwater pearl mussel crime, poaching and coursing, and raptor persecution – including incident data where available
  • updates from the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime (PAW) Scotland
  • information on the work of investigative bodies, agencies and other partner organisations
  • details of relevant legislative changes in 2013.

The Scottish priorities remain for the second year as being:

  • Badger persecution
  • Bat persecution
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna
  • and Flora (CITES)
  • Freshwater pearl mussels
  • Poaching (including deer poaching, hare coursing, fish poaching)
  • Raptor persecution

In response to the publication this morning, Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland Head of Species and Land Management, said, “RSPB Scotland welcomes the publication by the Scottish Government of this second annual report on wildlife crime, and commends in particular the Minister for Environment and Climate Change for the deep personal commitment he has made in announcing measures to try to tackle particular issues such as raptor persecution. It is clear, however, from the statistics published, that there continues to be a considerable threat to some of our rarest birds of prey such as red kites, golden eagles and hen harriers by a number of individuals who pay little regard to the laws protecting our wildlife.”

If you’d like to read the report (warning: it makes for pretty grim reading in places), it can be found here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0046/00461141.pdf

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