Conservationists: Polecats ‘spreading across Britain’

Polecats, which were almost wiped out in Britain in the last century, have made a remarkable comeback, conservationists say.

The results of a nationwide survey reveal that the animals are spreading into areas where they have not been seen for 100 years.

The research was carried out by the Vincent Wildlife Trust.

Lizzie Croose, who led the survey, said: “It’s brilliant, it’s a real conservation success story.”

She added: “This is something we really need to celebrate, the recovery of a native carnivore that we once almost lost completely.”

Naturalist and BBC presenter Chris Packham added: “It’s one of the great natural recoveries.”

Polecat distribution

European polecats (Mustela putorius), with their bandit-like face masks and lush brown fur, are found across the continent.

But in Britain, 100 years ago, they were pushed to the brink of extinction.

The creatures, which are members of the weasel family, were considered a pest because of their appetite for chickens and small game birds. Thousands were killed.

Miss Croose, who is the mustelid conservation officer at the Vincent Wildlife Trust, said: “They had a really tough time from humans.

“They were really hated – probably one of our most hated mammal species. And that resulted in them having a very extensive decline.”

The last survivors retreated to Wales and remote parts of Scotland.

But the results of the survey show that the animals have now made a significant comeback.

PolecatThe polecat is moving into areas where it has not been seen for more than 100 years

They have moved east into Suffolk and Norfolk, and north into South Yorkshire. A population that was introduced into Cumbria in the 1980s also continues to do well.

“Polecats are turning up in areas where they haven’t been seen for over 100 years, so they have re-colonised really extensive parts of England,” said Miss Croose.

“The main reason for their comeback is that they are not being persecuted so much now.

“Polecats are legally protected, so that has resulted in a real reduction in trapping and killing, so polecats have been able to recover and spread across the country once more.”

In Scotland, however, polecats are mating with their domestic cousins – ferrets – and many animals there are now hybrids.

Other threats include growing numbers of polecats dying after eating poisoned rats. More are also being killed on the roads.

And in Europe, where polecats have generally been doing well, numbers have declined – although scientists do not know exactly why.

Polecat spotting

However, conservationists are optimistic that polecats will continue to recover in Britain.

Naturalist and BBC presenter Chris Packham said: “Fingers crossed over the next 25 years we should see polecats continue to spread and consolidate their population.

“I love the idea that polecats could be living out there. I don’t necessarily need to see them, I just need to know they are there – maybe just seeing their poo, or footprint or prey remains.

“The fact they are now out there, back in England, in my lifetime, that has to be counted as a success.”

At the British Wildlife Centre polecat keeper Matt Binstead added: “Working so closely with the polecats here, you get a real feel for their character and what a fantastic mammal they really are.

“The comeback is a huge success story for conservation groups everywhere.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35386042


Beavers and young suffering slow painful deaths in landowner shooting cull

Farmers and landowners have been inhumanely shooting beavers causing them to suffer slow, painful deaths, and their babies to starve, according to official port-mortem reports.


Autopsies of 21 beavers shot dead around Tayside since 2010 reveal that two were pregnant and two were feeding their young. Three were shot with low-calibre guns, or from too far away to ensure instant death.

Roisin Campbell-Palmer, the conservation projects manager at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), has described the figures in a private email as just “the tip of the iceberg” of a “growing” and “depressing” tendency to kill beavers. RZSS, which conducted the post-mortems, had to buy “a new freezer for beaver bodies”, she said.

The revelations have shocked campaigners and politicians, who are demanding urgent action by Scottish ministers to end the cruelty. Farming and landowning groups have defended the need to kill beavers, but say it should be done humanely.

Beavers were hunted to extinction in Scotland in the 16th century, but some escaped captivity or were illegally released into the wild on Tayside about ten years ago. There are now reckoned to be over 150 living on the Tay, the Earn, the Isla and other rivers and burns.

But because they were not legally introduced, there are no rules preventing them from being killed in the breeding season, or specifying the type of firearms that should be used. Such rules, including closed seasons for shooting, are common to prevent unnecessary cruelty when culling other wild animals.

Internal emails released under freedom of information law to BBC Scotland reveal that RZSS has been unsuccessfully urging the introduction of a closed season for beavers since last summer. In a letter on August 12 to the government’s wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), RZSS highlighted a series of “disturbing findings” from recent post-mortems.

One adult female autopsied was found to have recently given birth to four young, known as kits. “We wish to flag up the welfare concern that these kits most likely later died through starvation,” said RZSS, which is based at Edinburgh Zoo.

An autopsy report for another female beaver on July 15 2015 concluded that it had been shot from too far away to ensure an instantaneous kill. “It may have taken several minutes to die,” the report said.

Other post-mortems found dead foetuses in female beavers that had been killed. RZSS told the Sunday Herald that it had raised “welfare concerns” directly with the Scottish Government, but it was still awaiting a response.

Libby Anderson, policy advisor to the animal welfare group OneKind, pointed out that the beavers were not to blame for their unauthorised presence on Tayside. “It is shocking to hear of these harmless animals being inexpertly shot and suffering slow, painful deaths, and that young kits have been left to starve,” she said.

“Further delay in deciding their legal status only exposes more animals to suffering due to mis-shooting or killing during the breeding season. We urge the Scottish Government to step in and give them legal protection as a matter of urgency, before the next season’s kits are born.”

Summary information on the shot beavers was obtained by Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone, the deputy convener of Holyrood’s cross-party group on animal welfare. “Animal cruelty is simply wrong, and there can be no excuses for inhumane killing of wild creatures in 21st century Scotland,” she said.

“Scottish ministers need to get off the fence, accept that beavers have a positive role to play in terms of biodiversity, and that they deserve legal protection. The poor treatment of these amazing creatures will shock many people.”

Concerns have also been expressed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and by SNH. “We share welfare concerns about beavers shot with inappropriate firearms and ammunition, and those with dependent young,” said SNH’s director of operations Nick Halfhide.

“We have asked land managers not to shoot beavers in Tayside but instead seek advice from us on mitigation, such as protecting trees and discouraging dam building. However, if they choose to use lethal control, we have offered them advice on how to do so humanely.”

The National Farmers Union in Scotland said the failure to remove illegal beavers from Tayside had pushed the responsibility onto farmers. Farmers had been refused permission to trap the animals, and mitigation methods had not proved effective.

“They have therefore had to carry out legal lethal control as a last resort in order to protect very productive farmland from damage due to drainage systems being blocked by beaver activity,” said the union’s deputy director Andrew Bauer.

“In the vast majority of cases, those beavers that have been shot have been killed humanely. In a very small number of cases, beavers may not have been killed humanely – a sad outcome and one that no farmer would wish for.”

Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners, criticised the Scottish Government for failing to issue advice on controlling beavers. “Our own advice to farmers and landowners has been to control only where it is necessary, to look at all options and, if lethal control is the only reasonable option, to carry this out in the most humane way possible,” said the group’s Ann Gray.

Following a trial with beavers at Knapdale in Argyll, Scottish ministers originally promised a decision in 2015 on whether or not to allow their reintroduction in Scotland. But the decision, which could give the Tayside beavers legal protection, has still to be made, and may be months away.

The environment minister, Aileen McLeod, “will be taking time to consider the issue carefully and listen to the views of stakeholders before making a decision on the future of beavers in Scotland,” said a Scottish Government spokeswoman.

“There is currently no legal protection for beavers in Scotland. We are aware that farmers on Tayside are experiencing issues with beavers and encourage land managers to consult with SNH on mitigation measures rather than resort to lethal control.”

Article taken from: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14242587.Beavers_and_young_suffering_slow_painful_deaths_in_landowner_shooting_cull/


Protection boost for red squirrels

The conservation of one of Scotland’s most loved wild animals has been given a boost.


A network of volunteer-led red squirrel protection groups will be set up, with the aim of securing the survival of the species in Scotland, thanks to Scottish Wildlife Trust securing £37,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The trust says the groups are an important part of a programme of protection work required to secure the long-term survival of the remaining core red squirrel populations.

The Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project aims to raise awareness of the threats to red squirrels, holding red squirrel events, encouraging public involvement in red squirrel conservation and training hundreds of volunteers.

Once widespread, red squirrels have undergone a catastrophic population decline primarily due to competition and disease from the non-native invasive, American grey squirrel.

There are now only around 160,000 red squirrels remaining in the UK with 75% of the remaining UK red squirrel population found in Scotland. Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels was formed to reverse this decline.

Project manager of Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels, Dr Mel Tonkin, said: “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support.

“Our work over the last seven years has shown that it is possible to reverse the decline of our much-loved red squirrels and safeguard them for future generations, but to do this we need to keep up the protection work for a long time to come.

“People love red squirrels – we want to harness that enthusiasm and get communities involved in their conservation. This Heritage Lottery Fund grant will give us the chance to share our expertise with a range of people who are passionate about their local red squirrel population.”

Lucy Casot, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in Scotland, said: “Catching a glimpse of an elusive red squirrel is a magical experience.

“Thanks to players of the National Lottery we are able to give our initial support to a project which will protect this rare creature.

“By working together, communities will give red squirrels the best chance of survival, so that their antics are a source of delight for all long into the future.”

Article taken from: http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/tfn-news/protection-boost-for-red-squirrels?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Weekly%20Third%20Force%20News%20-%20environment-and-development&utm_content=Weekly%20Third%20Force%20News%20-%20environment-and-development+CID_73b3f076479c2e9c59e966b42bd02448&utm_source=Email%20marketing%20software&utm_term=Protection%20boost%20for%20red%20squirrels#q5pSq4wRlpji6fGo.99


‘Blue Belt’ extended to protect 8,000 square miles of UK waters

Twenty-three new areas along the UK coast were today announced as the latest Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) to be awarded environmental protection by the government, extending the country’s ‘Blue Belt’ to cover over 20% of English waters and providing vital protection for the diverse array of wildlife in our seas.

Marine Environment Minister George Eustice announced the new sites, which will protect 4,155 square miles of our most stunning and rich marine habitats and bring the total number of MCZs in waters around England to 50, covering 7,886 square miles – an area roughly equivalent to the whole of Wales, or 13 times the size of Greater London.

The new MCZs will cover areas across the country from as far north as Farnes East off the coast of Northumberland down to Land’s End in the South West, and will protect 45 different types of habitat, geological features and fascinating species – including stalked jellyfish and spiny lobsters.

Welcoming the designation of the new sites, Marine Environment Minister George Eustice said:

As an island nation, the UK is surrounded by some of the richest and most diverse sea life in the world – from the bright pink sea-fan coral colonies off the south-west coast, to the great chalk reef stretches in the east. It’s vital that we protect our marine environment to ensure our seas remain healthy, our fishing industry remains prosperous and future generations can enjoy our beautiful beaches, coastline and waters.

By designating these new Marine Conservation Zones and creating a Blue Belt of protected areas around the country, we can better protect our environment through careful marine management in years to come.

The 23 additional sites are the second of three planned phases of MCZs; the first phase covered 3,731 square miles of water over 27 sites, while a third phase of proposed MCZs will be put out to wider public consultation in 2017, and designated in 2018.

The announcement has also been welcomed by a number of campaign groups. Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ head of Living Seas, said:

Marine protection is vital to us all, no matter where we live. Our seas provide the oxygen for every second breath we take, the fish on our plates and so much more. The designation of 50 Marine Conservation Zones to date is a strong step forward but there is much still to do. It is vital that appropriate management is implemented as soon as possible. We will continue to work with government to ensure that this happens and to achieve the much-needed ambitious and comprehensive third and final tranche.

Marine Conservation Zones protect a range of nationally important marine wildlife, habitats, geology and geomorphology, and can be designated anywhere in English waters. They were introduced to halt the deterioration of the UK’s marine biodiversity and provide legal means to deliver the UK’s international marine conservation commitments.

Today’s announcement supports further work by government to protect the marine environment, as new consultations on Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for harbour porpoise and Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to protect feeding and bathing areas used by iconic birds, such as spoonbills in Poole Harbour and puffins on the Northumberland coast, are expected to launch later this month. This adds to the 37 SACs and 43 SPAs already designated in English waters.

Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) provided the environmental advice and evidence that underpins these designations. Natural England Chairman, Andrew Sells, said:

This is a fantastic outcome for the marine environment and brings us a great step closer to achieving the ambition of a ‘Blue Belt’ – a network of marine areas protecting wildlife surrounding the UK.

JNCC Chief Executive Marcus Yeo said:

This is another major step forward in protecting the diverse range of habitats and species found in the seas around England. JNCC look forward to working with public authorities to achieve effective management of the new sites.

For more information contact Defra press office on 020 7238 6600 or out of hours on 0345 051 8486.

Article taken from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/blue-belt-extended-to-protect-8000-square-miles-of-uk-waters


MSPs consider greater protection for pet rabbits

MSPs have considered a call for pet rabbits to be given greater protection from neglect and abandonment.


Holyrood’s public petitions committee has been taking evidence on a 2,044-name petition seeking improved legal protection of the animals.

The petition has been closed following its third hearing by the committee.

MSPs were told that the Scottish government would consider rabbits’ welfare as part of wider review of regulation protecting pets.

Campaign group Rabbits Require Rights Scotland raised the petition.

It called for rabbits to be given the same protection as cats and dogs as well as regulations on breeding and the minimum size of housing.

The group hopes a tightening of the rules would also reduce the numbers of abandoned rabbits.

A spokeswoman for Rabbits Require Rights Scotland said campaigners were pleased to have had their call heard by MSPs.

Last year, animal welfare charity the Scottish SPCA said it rescued 728 rabbits in 2014 and took 669 into care last year. These included abandoned, unwanted and escaped pets.

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said many of the rabbits the charity rescued last year had either been abandoned or given up by their owners.

He said: “A common excuse we hear is that the children in the family, who asked for the rabbit in the first place, have become fed up now the novelty of the new pet has worn off.
“Another reason is that the owner simply doesn’t have the time to look after their rabbit.”

Mr Flynn added: “One of the biggest issues is rabbits being left in a hutch with no interaction other than a brief visit from their owner to bring food and water.

“These poor rabbits are literally suffering in silence, living a miserable and lonely life.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-35282203


Dead orca is one of Scotland’s last says charity

One of the last killer whales frequenting British and Irish seas has been found dead, a Scottish charity has confirmed.

Lulu killer whale alive cropped

The animal was found dead and stranded on Tiree on Sunday 3 January and has now been identified as Lulu, a member of the west coast community of orcas.

This small and well-known group is Britain and Ireland’s only known resident population of killer whales and is feared to be at risk of extinction.

They are unique in that their diet primarily comprises other marine mammals. A second type of killer whale is occasionally seen in UK waters, but these feed primarily on fish and seals and are far more wide-ranging, living between the Hebrides and Iceland.

The identity of the animal was confirmed by Dr Andy Foote, an orca specialist and Dr Conor Ryan of Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT).

Using photos from the trust’s photo ID catalogue the pair were able to identify Lulu from the distinctive eye and saddle patches which are unique to each individual.

Photos taken of the stranded orca by John Bowler, RSPB Scotland Tiree officer, were crucial to allow HWDT to identify the animal.

Dr Ryan, HWDT’s sighting and stranding officer, said: “It is particularly sad to know that another one of these killer whales, unique to the British and Irish Isles, has died. There may be as few as eight individuals remaining in this population, which has not produced calves since studies began.”

HWDT has been studying orcas in the Hebrides since 1992 and Lulu was last photographed by the charity from its specialised research yacht Silurian off Waternish, Isle of Skye in July 2014.

During this encounter she was seen with a large male, John Coe and another female named Moneypenny.

Dr Foote said: “It is very sad to lose a member of this unique group. There are lots of potential contributing factors, many of them man-made. It may also be part of a very natural process. It highlights the importance of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme and the members of the public who help by providing sightings, photographs and reporting strandings.”

Article taken from: http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/tfn-news/dead-orca-is-one-of-scotlands-last-says-charity?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Your%20Friday%20digest&utm_content=Your%20Friday%20digest+CID_07a8d2aa4893a4d94aaafad7973fae50&utm_source=Email%20marketing%20software&utm_term=Dead%20orca%20is%20one%20of%20Scotlands%20last%20says%20charity


Sick storm-hit turtle stranded on Cornish beach

A sick sea turtle believed to have been pushed towards the UK by stormy seas has been found stranded on a beach.

Loggerhead turtle

The rare juvenile loggerhead turtle was discovered on Gwithian Beach near Hayle, in Cornwall, on Wednesday.

Steve Matchett, from the Blue Reef Aquarium, said a vet, who was an expert in marine turtles, was trying to stabilise the animal.

He said the species was used to warm seas and becomes lethargic in the UK’s cold waters.

The aquarium, based in Newquay, said most loggerheads were born along the coast of Mexico, Florida, in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Loggerhead turtles
– The loggerhead’s name refers to its extraordinarily large head, which houses powerful jaw muscles and large beak for crushing crustaceans.
– The species is listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
– They nest at sites in the Mediterranean and along the coasts of Oman, South Africa, Australia and southeast USA.
– Adults can weigh up to 28st 4lb (180kg)and grow to over 3ft (1m) long.

Mr Matchett said the turtle, which is about 8 inches (20cm) long, could have been washed up in Cornwall following a severe storm, causing it to be pushed out the warmer water of the Atlantic and further north.
He said: “Turtles only strand in UK waters when there is something seriously wrong with them.

“They tend to fall victim to our chilly waters and gradually become more and more lethargic until they lapse into unconsciousness.”

The turtle is now receiving emergency treatment.

“The next few days are absolutely crucial but we have to face the fact that it has been through a lot and the fact it has stranded means it was no longer able to swim or fend for itself,” he said.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-35251385