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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

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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

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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