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Control of Horses Bill set to become law

The RSPCA have announced that the Control of Horses Bill will become law before the General Election.

Every year, the charity receives more than 22,000 calls every year about horse welfare, so along with other welfare charities and countryside and farming organisations, they are delighted to welcome the passing of the Bill by the House of Lords which took place on the 18th March.

Two horses looking over a fence © RSPCA

The end of fly-grazing
The new law will deter and help to swiftly resolve cases of ‘fly-grazing’ – the practice of placing horses on private and public land without permission. It will bring England into line with Wales, which introduced a similar law in early 2014 and may have led to the practice growing in England. Charities estimate that the number of horses fly-grazed to be more than 3,000, causing misery for horses, communities and taxpayers.
RSPCA currently have more than 600 horses in our care and receive more than 600 calls each week about abandoned, neglected or mistreated horses, ponies and donkeys.  Many of these are grazed illegally on other peoples’ land.

This problem has worsened in recent years with factors such as the economic climate, falling prices of horses at market and irresponsible ownership all contributing to horses being left to breed indiscriminately and without enough food or the right sort of care.

Responsibility back with the owner
The new legislation will make it easier for landowners and authorities to deal with illegally grazing horses. It should also put the responsibility back onto owners to comply with other legislation such as compulsory microchipping as any horse that is being fly grazed will only be returned if it has been it microchipped.
RSPCA assistant director of public affairs David Bowles said:

We’re delighted that Julian Sturdy MP’s Private Members Bill has successfully been passed and will become law before the election.  This law will make a big difference to horse welfare as landowners can more quickly deal with fly-grazing animals, instead of them having to leave them on unsuitable land without grazing, shelter or additional food, which is all too often the case.

We know the Welsh legislation has made an enormous difference in its first year and we know this law could reduce the suffering of many horses and make owners face up to their responsibilities.

RSPCA’s #HomesforHorses campaign launches on 27 March. Could you adopt or foster one of the 640 horses, ponies or donkeys in their care?

Article taken from: http://www.rspca.org.uk/utilities/aboutus/news/details/-/articleName/NEWS_horses_bill?source=150327_CAMPNL_EnglandSeg1&utm_source=CAMPNL&utm_medium=email&utm_content=LinkHorses&utm_campaign=150327_CAMPNL_EnglandSeg1&spMailingID=7617800&spUserID=MTQ2MTQ1MDI4OTkS1&spJobID=642449520&spReportId=NjQyNDQ5NTIwS0

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New drive to tackle Scottish wildlife crime

More police officers are being trained to identify wildlife crime as the number of reported incidents continues to increase.

Nearly 250 wildlife crimes were recorded between April 2014 and last month, including bird poisoning, badger baiting and trading in endangered species.

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Police Scotland has launched a new awareness campaign to tackle wildlife crime in Scottish cities, towns and rural areas.

A network of wildlife officers investigate incidents but more than 100 additional officers have now had wildlife crime training, with further courses to be held, to “substantially increase the number of officers with specialist knowledge”.

The public are also being urged to report any suspicious activity involving wildlife with a series of online and newspaper adverts aimed at raising awareness.

Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: “Scotland’s natural heritage is under threat from criminals preying on the country’s iconic wildlife, either for sport or many cases for their own gain.

“Wildlife crime doesn’t just happen in the countryside, it also occurs in urban areas. We have evidence of badger baiting metres from housing estates, deer being poached from city parks and bat roosts being destroyed. Wildlife crime occurs across all of our communities.

“Tackling wildlife crime is not just about law enforcement, it is about working with partners and the public to raise awareness, and to prevent it happening.

“By the time we are involved it is too late, that creature is lost and our landscape is poorer for the loss.

“We are committed to investigating wildlife crime. Our detection rate is increasing but investigations into wildlife crime can be difficult and prolonged, and the areas covered can be vast and remote.

“Our new campaign calls on the public to help us put an end to wildlife crime, to keep their eyes open and reporting suspicious activity and, by working together, protecting Scotland’s wildlife heritage.”

Environment minister Dr Aileen McLeod said: “In Scotland we have long recognised the value of our wildlife and the importance of protecting it.

“Today sees the launch of this important campaign by Police Scotland which will play a key role in raising awareness about wildlife crime and what people should do if they encounter it.”

Article taken from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/new-drive-to-tackle-scottish-wildlife-crime-1-3726235

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Is the robin too ordinary to be Britain’s national bird?

Britain is unusual in not having a national bird. But all that’s set to change, thanks to a campaign by leading ornithologist, David Lindo.

Britain's Favourite Bird

After a first round of public voting, a shortlist of Britain’s 10 most popular birds has been drawn up, comprising the robin, kingfisher, barn owl, blue tit, wren, blackbird, puffin, mute swan, red kite and hen harrier.

But which one gets your vote?

The online voting is now live, and closes at midnight May 7, 2015 – the same date as the General Election. Click here to cast your vote!

Robin

One of the most-loved birds in any garden, robins have long been admired for their melodious voices and beautiful red breasts.

But despite their cuddly appearance, they are aggressively territorial, and will not tolerate another robin invading their patch; they will happily die defending it.

One of the only birds to be heard singing on Christmas Day, robins retain their territories all year round.

In winter, they puff up their plumage to insulate themselves against cold winds.

Nearly three-quarters of robins in Britain die before they are one year old, either caught by predators or unable to fend for themselves.

Kingfisher

Britain’s most colourful bird is a familiar sight in their favourite habitat of lowlands next to canals, rivers and lakes.

Small, with their unmistakeable bright blue and orange plumage, kingfishers are a common sight in Britain and can be seen all year round.

“A flash of electric blue darting over a wetland will undoubtedly be a fast-flying kingfisher using their pointy bills to catch small fish such as minnows,” says Kane Brides, an ornithologist at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT). “And before eating its prize catch, the kingfisher cleverly turns the fish around in its bill so the fish is swallowed head first, this prevents the fish’s scales getting stuck in the bird’s throat.”

Barn owl

The barn owl is one of the most widespread bird species in the world, occurring in every continent except Antarctica.

With their heart-shaped faces, striking wings and pure white underside, barn owls are incredibly attractive birds who mate for life, unless their mate is killed, when they will search for another.

Contrary to popular belief, the barn owl does not hoot like the tawny owl but instead produces an eerie, long-drawn-out shriek.

They are mainly nocturnal creatures, beginning their hunt for food at dusk and continuing it in total darkness, feeding on mice, voles, bats and rabbits. They can, however, occasionally be seen hunting in daylight during the breeding season to provide more food for their chicks.

Around 75 per cent of barn owls die in their first year. Most live just a few years. The oldest known barn owl in Europe is 21 years old.

Blue tit

With their colourful feathers of blues, yellows, whites and greens, blue tits are one of Britain’s most-spotted birds, appearing in three out of four gardens.

Experts believe their growing ubiquity is thanks to the boom in garden feeders, which allow blue tits to survive the winter.

Small, active and acrobatic, blue tits move in roving flocks and are always flitting around, at all times seeming hard at work.

They are real woodland specialists, and excel at feeding in the upper branches of trees and shrubs, often hanging upside down.

Wren

A tiny bird with a stout figure and a surprisingly loud voice, wrens are easily recognised by their rich brown plumage and short cocked tail, which they flick repeatedly.

The wren is Britain’s most common breeding bird, but their small size and reliance on insects means they perish easily during prolonged periods of cold weather.

They sing at dawn to deter intruding males, and attract female wrens in the process.

“Male wrens build several beautifully crafted dome-shaped nests made of moss and dried leaves, and the female gets to choose which one she wants to lay her eggs in,” says Brides.

Blackbird

The song of the blackbird is arguably the most beautiful and best-loved of any British bird, as well as being the most familiar.

With their bright orange beaks, jet black feathers and attractive eye-rings Blackbirds are one of the most striking birds too.

They are also one of the most common, with around four million breeding pairs in Britain.

The secret of their success is their adaptability – they are resourceful birds just as at home in a woodland as an urban car park.

Puffin

Puffins are incredibly unique-looking birds, with black backs, white cheeks and stunning multi-coloured bills.

They are also excellent fliers. Flapping their wings at up to 400 beats per minute, puffins can reach speeds of 55mph.

They congregate in colonies, which have recently been threatened by over-fishing.

“Puffins are also known as the parrots of the sea,” says Brides, “their colourful beaks give them this name and their dashing rainbow-like bills are used to show off and attract mates.”

However their beaks, which are made of keratin – the same protein as our hair and nails are made of – don’t retain their colour all year round: “Come the winter their bill goes completely dark”.

Mute swan

The mute swan is a large white water bird with an S-shaped neck and an orange bill bordered with black.

One of Britain’s largest and heaviest flying birds, with a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres, despite their name mute swans can make noises and regularly do when threatened. Highly territorial, the mute swan forms an impressive striking pose with their wings arched over their back before charging at the intruder.

Red kite

With its reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail, this magnificently graceful bird of prey was saved from national extinction by one of the world’s longest running protection programmes, and has now been successfully re-introduced to England and Scotland.

“Red kites are scavengers mainly eating carrion and road kill, however they don’t just scavenge food,” says Brides. “It’s well known that red kites like to decorate their untidy nests with odd items such as dummies, tennis balls, paper and even human clothing.”

Hen harrier

One of Britain’s rarest breeding birds, which preys on grouse, the hen harrier faces extinction in England, in part because it is being illegally shot and trapped to maximise grouse populations for hunting.

During the breeding season, males perform a spectacular sky dance, with a series of steep climbs, twists and rolls.

Hen harriers exhibit a degree of polygyny, nesting in loose colonies, with males simultaneously raising several broods with as many as seven females.

“It would be fantastic if the hen harrier did become the national bird because it would then increase its chances of survival,” says David Lindo, the ornithologist driving the campaign to find Britain’s national bird.

Voting for Britain’s National Bird closes at midnight May 7, 2015. Click here to register your vote: votenationalbird.com

Article taken from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/wildlife/11475029/Is-the-robin-too-ordinary-to-be-Britains-national-bird.html

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UK’s first big hedgehog sanctuary

The first large-scale hedgehog sanctuary in the UK is being opened today in Solihull, West Midlands.

The 90-hectare refuge has been created by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust in response to a crashing hedgehog population. The aim is for it to be the model for hedgehog conservation across the whole of Britain.

hedgehog-07

In the 1950s, 36 million of the animals used to snuffle in UK gardens. There may be less than a million now.

The Hedgehog Improvement Area stretches across a nature reserve, a public park and the surrounding streets. More than 100 “footprint tunnels” have been created to show where the hedgehogs have been. Not only will they be placed in the wide green spaces, but also in the gardens of willing local people. Hidden cameras are being installed and volunteer ‘wildlife guardians’ will help to protect the spaces.

According to the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, the most important part is involving the community.

Simon Thompson is the organisation’s hedgehog officer: “We’re asking the local people to really get involved with the scientific survey.

“We’re going to be looking at distribution using the footprint tunnels and abundance via a capture, mark and recapture scheme. Hedgehogs will be trapped overnight and in the morning we will give them a unique colour code. We’ll aim to recapture them again, and from the results we will be able to estimate the population numbers in the area.”

Hedgehogs need to roam to forage for worms and insects and to find shelter. An adult male can cover more than three kilometres a night. More often than not, their path is blocked by solid garden boundaries.

At the request of the conservationists, some Solihull residents within the reserve are also now starting to adopt the most simple and effective way of helping a hedgehog. They are creating wildlife corridors by making a small hole – no bigger than the size of a CD – in their garden walls or fences.

Brian Llewellyn has just cut the reserve’s first new wildlife corridor – in his garden fence. “I have been living on housing estates for many years now and I had never seen a hedgehog until recently. I would just love to be able to allow them to travel around the back gardens here, which they need to be able to do. It’s so simple. Anyone can do it, you just need a saw.”

Sally Marjoram runs the Solihull Happy Hogs Hedgehog Rescue. She commented: “This is a double-edged sword. I think it’s really sad that we have to go to these lengths, and that people go around their daily business without realizing how they are affecting wildlife. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone. At the moment the future is very very bleak, but it’s not too late to turn it around. People only need to do little things to make a big difference. This reserve is an amazing start.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31913453

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Call for Edinburgh Zoo to halt “party” nights

Edinburgh Zoo is under fire from an animal rights charity over plans to re-introduce “party” nights this year.

Pressure group ‘People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA), has written a letter to Edinburgh Zoo calling for the event to be called off as they believe it will create a stressful environment for the animals.

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At a similar recent event at London Zoo, one reveller reportedly poured beer on a tiger, and another allegedly attempted to undress and enter the penguin enclosure

In a letter to Chris West, Chief Executive of Edinburgh Zoo, the charity noted that at a similar recent event at London Zoo, one reveller reportedly poured beer on a tiger, and another allegedly attempted to undress and enter the penguin enclosure.

Edinburgh Zoo Night’s are described as an “adult only” event, where visitors can enjoy street food and drinks in a “relaxed atmosphere.”

Kirsty Henderson, writing the letter on behalf of PETA said: “Scientific research shows that during normal opening hours, the presence of zoo visitors can have a detrimental impact on the animals’ welfare. ‘Zoo Nights’, which take place outside normal opening hours, while animals would normally be resting, are likely to have an even greater negative impact on animal welfare, particularly if the visitors behave in a manner that stresses the animals.”

The letter added: “Zoos are responsible for the safety of the animals in their care, and they must make that a priority. Allowing these late-night events – in which visitors will be permitted to consume alcohol in a “relaxed atmosphere” and enjoy other after-hours entertainment to “kick start” their Friday nights – does not demonstrate adequate consideration for animal welfare, as it puts profits before the animals’ well-being.”

A spokeswoman for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs Edinburgh Zoo, said: “Edinburgh Zoo Nights visitors have never shown behaviour of this nature, which we totally concur is unacceptable. Although alcohol is available in moderation, there is absolutely not a ‘drunken’ atmosphere.”

She added: “The events, of which there are only four, are planned in conjunction with our animal experts. Our keepers are very careful to monitor our animals’ behaviour at any evening event and these events are tailor-made to ensure there is no disturbance to them, with all entertainers and bars situated away from animal enclosures, even our disco is a silent one. Simply put, there is no one that cares more about the animals in our care than our keeping staff. The animals can also enjoy the added stimulus of visitors to the park with enrichment activities, evening feeds and later access outside in some cases. We would like to reassure you that we are confident that there are no welfare complications and the animals are always our priority. As a charity that receives no public funding we rely on gate attendance, events and sponsorship for our resources to care for animals and manage conservation, research and education programmes. This does mean exploring ways to increase our income in a world with escalating conservation challenges. We are also very much about education and Edinburgh Zoo Nights is very popular with younger people who enjoy being at the Zoo and are fascinated by the animals and engaged with keepers and other staff about our work.”

Article taken from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/call-for-edinburgh-zoo-to-halt-party-nights-1-3717457

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Buying a pet – from Gumtree to pedigree, where do you stand?

A petition has been created calling on Gumtree to stop the sale of pets through its UK website. Currently sitting at nearly 24,000 signatures, it’s gaining increasing attention as more people sit up and listen to the issues it raises.

We’ve all heard the horror stories about pets sold through Gumtree. Billed as a network of unscrupulous breeders out for no other reason than to make a profit, the stories which make it into the news are as worrying as they are heartbreaking. Pets are passed from pillar to post with illnesses, diseases and even deformities. Puppies are frequently separated from their mothers at far too early an age and families up and down the country are left devastated when the beloved pet they purchased in good faith passes away all too early. Most recently, we had the awful story of Kai, the gorgeous Shar Pei cross who was dumped at a railway station as he didn’t look the way the buyer expected him to. Undoubtedly, the Gumtree pet trade is simply not working.

The petition can be found here. It specifically cites the fact that pets are sold to order on what is ultimately an unregistered website, while many more languish desperately in shelters up and down the UK. It also suggests that many of the pets purchased could potentially be used for horrific acts such as dog fighting or live baiting, such as we discovered a few weeks ago in Australia.

Recently, I visited a well known Edinburgh pet shop which was selling gorgeous kittens at only eight weeks old. By the time I got there only one kitten was left, mewing pathetically from its cage on the cold floor. I asked the shop owner where the kitten(s) had come from and she told me proudly that she had bought them off Gumtree. The owner genuinely believed she was doing the cats a favour. She said that she bought them, wormed them, de-flea’d them and then sold them on to her customers who she ‘always met face to face’. She told me she did this to ‘rescue’ the cats from being sold on elsewhere.

The tiny kitten found in the Edinburgh pet shop

The tiny kitten found in the Edinburgh pet shop

At the time I couldn’t decide whether she was the cats’ saviour or their downfall. Undoubtedly the fact she looked after the kittens in her care and vetted any prospective buyers was preferable to the fate which undoubtedly faced them otherwise, but I couldn’t help feeling that by buying the kittens, she was simply encouraging the breeders to produce more to increase profits even further. Where there is a market, people will fill it. I personally do not believe all pet sellers on Gumtree care where the litters end up – whether it’s a well meaning pet shop swooping in to ‘save’ them or just someone wanting a cheap pet, it’s all the same to the breeder. Each animal comes with a pound sign.

As I’m sure you’ll not be surprised to hear, I am wholly supportive of the call to ban Gumtree from pet trading. Any operation which has zero vetting policy and enables absolutely anyone to sell live, sentient animals without any checks or monitoring is abhorrent in my mind. Slightly separately, I was encouraged to see that in Maryland an outright ban on puppy farming has recently been introduced, with pet shops being forced to sell rescue animals only from now on. I can think of very few people who wouldn’t welcome such a move in the UK.

At the same time, I am acutely aware that – after a lifetime of giving a home to some of the sweetest rescue animals I’ve ever known – today I own two purebred, pedigree Ragdolls; both of which I paid for. Neither cat came from a shelter. Is purchasing a pet really any different whether it’s from a shelter or a website?

Personally, I would suggest that it is – and not just because I’m their owner. Both my beloved cats were purchased at no earlier than 16 weeks – strict GCCF rules – from registered breeders in the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (the official registration body for pedigree cat breeders in the UK). Both cats were acquired following full checks, conversations, photo exchanges, meetings to ascertain the environment they were being raised in, and visits to meet both parents of each cat. With both my cats, I had to sign various contracts to ensure I would adhere to the strict rules they came to me with. I had to register these adorable critters in my name once I got them home and I had to promise that, within the next four months, I would both microchip and neuter them. I also was encouraged to remain in contact with both breeders and to send regular updates as to how my new kittens were settling in. In the end, I have ended up with two wonderful, loving, loyal cats who I’d chop my arms off before live without. I specifically chose the Ragdoll breed as it suited my lifestyle – it meant cats I knew would fit right in with me and the quirky little life we’d live together.

For various reasons at this point in my life, rescue cats were simply not appropriate.

Crumble and Puff - my ridiculous Ragdolls

Crumble and Puff – my ridiculous Ragdolls

But it’s easy for me to defend pedigree cats as I have the two faces above staring down at me first thing in the morning and last thing at night. What about you? How do you feel about purchasing your pets? I’m sure you’re with me in supporting the Gumtree ban – but where do you stand on the wider issue of paying money, any money, for an animal? Is there a difference if you carry out extensive research, planning and care as opposed to clicking a link online? Or is a purchase a purchase?

t shirtThis morning I came across this t-shirt and it made me think about this whole issue even more. I wholeheartedly agree you can’t buy love – in any form. Yet I know, hand on heart, that I made the right decision in choosing my Ragdolls. Every day they make me smile – and I hope I do the same for them. My older cat, Crumble, is a registered Therapet and has made dementia patients cry tears of happiness. Both cats can be fully trusted left at home all day long with my ever increasing menagerie of 13 other animals. We currently share our little home with a plethora of birds, rodents and fish – yet what would be perfect miniature morsels for normal cats, Crumble and Puff couldn’t care less about. My budgies fly around the room and neither cat bats an eyelid. When my hamster recently escaped, Crumble found him and sat with him, mewing, until I collected his bedraggled but breathing heap from behind the sink. To me, my cats are perfect – and their pedigree has nothing to do with it. I haven’t ‘bought love’, but in making the decision to go to a registered breeder I have ensured that the cats I share my home with are healthy, happy and fully protected by both myself and the breeders I chose.

I bring up my kitties safe in the knowledge that if anything happens to me both warm, friendly breeders have informed me they’d happily, and genuinely, take the cats back in a heartbeat. I’m not sure you can say the same for Gumtree.

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Mixed fortunes for Scottish raptors

A new report from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) shows some of the most complete statistical trends ever for birds of prey in Scotland.

The report shows emerging trends in the numbers and breeding success for 13 species, and finds mixed results: most species are rising, but some are falling. It ultimately lays the groundwork to gain even more information about raptor populations in the future.

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Certain birds of prey, such as goshawk, common buzzard and sparrowhawk, have shown signs of recovery over the past seven years from past lows, thanks to efforts to combat persecution, habitat loss and pesticides.

Not all birds of prey have increased, however, and some declines have been stark. Numbers of kestrel, a once common and widespread breeding bird, have declined to the point that they’re now becoming scarce in many parts of Scotland.

Ron Macdonald, SNH’s director of policy and advice, said: “I’d like to say a huge thank you to the hundreds of volunteer specialists who have helped us present, for the first time, a clear picture of what’s happening to birds of prey across Scotland.

“Some birds of prey are faring well, but our report also shows that we still have lots of work to do to make sure that all birds of prey flourish in Scotland. We need even more volunteers to help us monitor raptors in Scotland though, so contact the Scottish Raptor Study Group if you could lend a hand.”

Gordon Riddle, from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, added: “We’re unsure exactly why kestrels have declined. Recent harsh winters may have led to a high mortality, but even before then kestrels were declining.

“It’s likely that these changes are due to a combination of factors, including habitat changes with the loss of rough grassland foraging areas and prey availability. Secondary poisoning due to rodenticides, and the impact of competition and predation from the recovering raptor populations on Kestrels may also be factors. A group led by the RSPB is currently analysing the situation. Although the level of monitoring has improved, there is still a great need for more coverage of this species.”

Amy Challis, the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Coordinator, commented: “This report paves the way for us to gain a greater understanding of the health of raptor populations in Scotland. The existing dedicated raptor monitoring volunteers have already provided a wealth of information, and it is now a priority for the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme to build on their work. In light of the findings from this report, we will look at how we can enhance monitoring for, in particular, some of the less rare raptor species, such as Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and owls.”

To download the full report, see http://bit.ly/1GpMTPl.