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More than a quarter of UK birds face extinction risk or steep decline

More than a quarter of UK birds, including the puffin, nightingale and curlew, require urgent conservation efforts to ensure their survival, according to a new report on the state of the UK’s birds.

Since the last review in 2009, an additional 15 species of bird have been placed on the “red list”, a category that indicates a species is in danger of extinction or that has experienced significant decline in population or habitat in recent years. The total number of species on the red list is now 67 out of a total of 247.

On top of this, eight species are considered at risk of global extinction: the balearic shearwater, aquatic warbler, common pochard, long-tailed duck, velvet scoter, slavonian grebe, puffin and turtle dove.

“We’ve been putting these reports out since 1999 – I think it is one of the worst we’ve seen,” said David Noble, one of the authors of the State of the UK’s Birds study and principal ecologist for monitoring at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

Noble said a variety of factors led to the classification of an increased number of species in danger, including land use change, such as afforestation and drainage of fields for farmland, and increased numbers of predators, such as foxes. He also pointed to the global impacts of climate change, which affect migratory birds.

The report is produced by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds(RSPB), the BTO and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, in partnership with the UK’s statutory nature conservation bodies. It collates material from other studies and bird surveys to give a thorough report on the status of various avian species.

There is particular concern among conservationists for the curlew, Europe’s largest wader, which has seen a population decline of 64% from 1970 to 2014 in the UK, largely due to habitat loss. The UK supports up to 27% of the global curlew population, and due to its “near threatened” global status, a research plan has been created to help understand the causes of the species’ decline.

Curlew (Numenius arquata) population in the UK has declined 64% from 1970 to 2014, largely due to habitat loss.
Curlew ( Numenius arquata) population in the UK has declined 64% from 1970 to 2014, largely due to habitat loss. Photograph: Thomas Hanahoe/Alamy Stock Photo

“Curlews are instantly recognisable on winter estuaries or summer moors by their striking long, curved beak, long legs and evocative call,” said Dr Daniel Hayhow, conservation scientist at the RSPB. “They are one of our most charismatic birds and also one of our most important.”

There was good news in the report for some species, including the golden eagle, whose numbers have increased 15% since 2003, and for cirl buntings, which now have more than 1,000 breeding pairs, up from 118 in 1989. Another success story is the red kite, once one of the UK’s most threatened species, which is now on the green list – the lowest level of concern – after years of efforts by conservationists.

Noble said the improvement in the red kite and golden eagle population had to do with a slow rebuilding of populations that had been decimated by attacks from people keen to protect their grouse moors and egg collectors taking their eggs.

In the case of the red kite, he said monitoring of nest sites and the reintroduction of the birds into new areas of the UK were reasons for the recovery of the species.

“Now they’ve spread right across the UK from the strongholds they were reduced to in Wales and some parts of Scotland. Now you can see them in East Anglia occasionally,” he said.

In addition to these successes, a number of species, such as the bittern and nightjar, have moved from the red list to the amber list. Species are placed on the amber list if they are considered at threat of European extinction or have seen a moderate decline in population or habitat. An additional 22 species have moved from the amber to the green list.

Article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/apr/11/more-than-a-quarter-of-uk-birds-face-extinction-risk-or-steep-decline-study

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Bird species vanish from UK due to climate change and habitat loss

Rising temperatures and crop farming mean birds are disappearing from parts of England, says study, while butterflies and dragonflies are faring better

Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis) have disappeared from sites in south england.
Meadow pipit have disappeared from sites in the south of England. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Climate change has already led to the vanishing of some bird species in parts of England, where intensively farmed land gives them no room to adapt to warming temperatures. The revelation, in a new scientific study, contradicts previous suggestions that birds are tracking global warming by shifting their ranges.

The research found that birds that prefer cooler climes, such as meadow pipits, willow tits and willow warblers, have disappeared from sites in south-east England and East Anglia, where intensive crop growing is common.

“Birds are facing a double-edged sword from climate change and declines in habitat quality,” said Tom Oliver, at the University of Reading, who led the new study. “In England, birds really look like they are struggling to cope with climate change. They are already being hit with long-term reductions in habitat quality and, for the cold-associated birds, those losses are being further exacerbated by climate change.”

“Climate change is with us, here and now, and its effects on wildlife are increasingly well documented,” said Mike Morecroft, principal climate change specialist at Natural England, and part of the research team.

Simon Gillings, at the British Trust for Ornithology, and another member of the research team, said: “Intensive [land] management is making it harder for cold-associated birds to find cool corners of sites, or to disperse away from warming regions.”

But Oliver noted that showing the impact of climate change on wildlife is affected by the availability of good habitats means action can be taken: “We are not completely at the mercy of climate change.” Creating larger natural areas in strategic places will help species cope with a changing climate, the scientists said.

A family of willow warblers at a summer nest site in Scotland.
A family of willow warblers at a summer nest site in Scotland. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

The study, published in Global Change Biology, analysed both bird and butterfly data from more than 600 sites monitored between 1964 and 2009. It found butterflies were adapting much better to climate change than birds, although cold-associated butterfly species also suffered if the area around the site was poor in natural habitat.

But while many of the butterfly species that enjoy warmer weather were thriving, birds associated with warmer temperatures were not, due to lost or degraded habitat.

Oliver said butterflies were faring better as they require much smaller areas of natural land, which are more likely to be available. Good habitat means more suitable food plants and more microclimates in which species can thrive in good years and survive in poor ones.

The ringlet butterfly, for example, suffers badly in drought years. But they can hang on if there are patches of broadleaf woodland available, as these resist droughts and keep soils more moist than treeless landscapes.

Butterflies can also produce many generations in a single year when conditions are favourable, whereas birds reproduce more slowly. The small copper butterfly can have up to five generations a year, Oliver said.

The large white-faced darter is one of eleven new dragonfly species to arrive in Britain since 1995. It made its first ever appearance in 2012.
The large white-faced darter is one of eleven new dragonfly species to arrive in Britain since 1995. It made its first appearance in 2012. Photograph: Christophe Brochard/British Dragonfly Society

Like butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies are generally adapting well to climate change and warming has brought 11 new species to Britain since 1995, according to a new report from the British Dragonfly Society. Newcomers include the stunning large white-faced darter and Genevieve Dalley, at the BDS, said: “These unprecedented events currently happening in the dragonfly world are exciting but also act as a warning: the natural world is changing.”

But global warming is also threatening the northern damselfly, restricted to a few small lochs in Scotland, and the black darter, which is becoming less common in the south of Britain.

The scientists conducting the bird and butterfly research determined the temperature favoured by each species by looking at the average warmth of their ranges across Europe, with those preferring heat found mostly in southern Europe and vice versa.

Stopping the destruction of habitat such as hedgerows and old orchards and creating new nature reserves can give opportunities for wildlife to adapt to global warming said Oliver. But biodiversity across England continues to fall, he said, despite a landmark review of wildlife sites for the government in 2010.

A field planted of winter wheat in Suffolk.
Meadow pipits, willow tits and willow warblers have disappeared from sites in East Anglia due to crop farming. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

“That report called for a step change in nature conservation,” said Oliver. “We are still waiting for that step change and until we see it we can’t really expect the fortunes of our wildlife to change.”

Richard Bradbury at the RSPB and not involved in the new research said: “Making use of the tremendously rich wildlife data collected by dedicated UK volunteer observers, this study provides further compelling evidence that climate change is already affecting the UK’s species.”

A major report in 2015 found that one in six of the world’s species faces extinction due to climate change unless action is taken to cut carbon emissions rapidly.

Article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jan/11/birds-vanish-england-climate-change-habitat-loss

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Golden eagle numbers rise by 15 per cent since 2003, according to RSPB

Golden eagle numbers have risen by 15 per cent since 2003, bringing the population back towards numbers thought to be present in Scotland historically, according to a survey from RSPB Scotland.

Golden Eagle

The fourth national golden eagle survey shows the population has increased to 508 golden eagle pairs – up from the 442 pairs recorded in the last survey.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham welcomed the figures, but labelled recent disappearances of satellite-tagged birds on or near grouse moors as “disturbing and disappointing”.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, put the rise down to increased monitoring and satellite tagging of eagles, as well as stronger sanctions against wildlife crime.

Orr-Ewing added: “However, the continued absence of golden eagles in some areas of eastern Scotland remains a real cause for concern and suggests that much more work needs to be done.”

Roseanna Cunningham described the population increase, which means the golden eagle meets the requirements for ‘favourable conservation status’ in the UK, as “extremely heartening”.

She said: “The successes have been down to partnership work and this is continuing with the South of Scotland Golden Eagle project, which aims to boost populations even further.

“But it is clear from this national survey that there are still areas of Scotland, which are ideal habitats for golden eagles to breed and hunt, where there has not been a recovery in population despite a lot of hard work to protect these birds. This seems like a missed opportunity.”

Referring to recent eagle disappearances, Cunningham said: “That’s why I’ve ordered a review of the information being gathered by these tags, to get to the truth about how, where and why raptors are vanishing. This evidence will be a significant factor in deciding the next steps for tackling wildlife crime.”

The survey was based in surveyors from the voluntary Scottish Raptor Study Group conducting a minimum of three visits to over 700 known traditional golden eagle sites, with support also provided by landowners and farmers.

Tim Baynes, director of the Scottish Moorland Group, part of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Our members are passionate about the golden eagles on their land and it is in large part a tribute to their management and collaboration that the population has increased. They have helped the surveyors and worked with Scottish Natural Heritage in the interest of golden eagles for many years.

“The east Highlands still have the highest level of productivity (young per pair) and a stable number of occupied territories over more than three decades. The south central Highlands, which includes significant areas of driven grouse moor has shown by far the greatest increase in range occupancy – 70 per cent – since 2003.”

The national survey was carried out during the first six months of 2015 and was co-funded by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Article taken from: https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/

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Grouse shooting estates shored up by millions in subsidies

England’s vast grouse shooting estates receive millions of pounds in public subsidies according to an investigation by Friends of the Earth.

Grouse shooting

Thirty of the estates received £4m of taxpayer’s money between them in 2014, the year examined by the pressure group, including one owned by the Duke of Westminster, the richest landowner in Britain with land holdings estimated to be worth £9bn

The campaigners, who argue that grouse moor management harms the environment and wildlife, found the moors cover over half a million acres, an area equivalent to all the land within the M25, Greater London and parts of the home counties.

The estates are owned by a mixture of lords, dukes, earls and barons as well as bankers, businessmen and firms based in offshore tax havens.

MPs will debate the issue of grouse shooting on Monday, as the result of an official petition backed by more than 120,000 people which demands a ban on driven shooting, where beaters flush birds towards the guns.

The petition claims the management of grouse moors leads to the illegal killing of birds of prey such as hen harriers, which prey on grouse, and the legal killing of foxes, stoats and mountain hares. It adds that the heather burning involved could worsen flooding and climate change.

“These shocking new figures reveal the true, horrifying scale of grouse moors in England and the madness of the current farm payments system that subsidises them,” said Guy Shrubsole of Friends of the Earth.

“Instead of handing out taxpayers’ money to billionaires and offshore firms to indulge in an elite sport, the government must reform farm payments so public money is spent on public goods – like tree-planting, restoring wildlife habitats, farming sustainably and preventing flooding downstream,” he said. The future of the £3bn a year the UK receives in EU agricultural subsidies is a key part of the Brexit debate.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said driven grouse shooting played an important role in conservation: “Almost two-thirds of England’s upland sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) are managed grouse moors. Management has helped conserve this unique landscape, whereas elsewhere in Britain it has been lost to afforestation, windfarms or overgrazing.”

Grouse shooting in England and Wales leads to more than £15m a year being spent in rural areas and supports more than 1,500 jobs, according to Anderson. She said: “There is no place for the illegal killing of any wildlife and no place in the Moorland Association for a grouse moor owner or manager found to have broken the law.”

The Friends of the Earth investigation took a Moorland Association map showing “keepered grouse moors” in England and compared it with government datasets and satellite images, which show where burning has taken place, to calculate the area. It found 550,000 acres of grouse moor, all in the north of England.

FoE then used Land Registry data to identify 30 of the grouse moor estates, which cover 300,000 acres of the total. These estates received £4m of taxpayer subsidies in 2014 via the EU common agricultural policy (CAP).

The largest subsidy was given to the Lilburn estate in Northumberland, owned by Duncan Davidson, the founder of housebuilding giant Persimmon Homes. In 2014, the estate received £1.6m in CAP subsidy, with another £1.3m in 2015.

The Abbeystead estate in Lancashire – owned by the Duke of Westminster’s Grosvenor estate – received £7,200 in farm subsidies in 2014 and £203,000 in 2015. The Grosvenor Estate describes Abbeystead as “one of the premier sporting estates in the UK” and it is reputed to hold the record for most grouse shot in a single day: a total of 2,929 birds killed by eight shooters on 12 August 1915.

The Mossdale estate in the Yorkshire Dales, owned by the Van Cutsem family, obtained £54,000 in subsides in 2014 and £170,000 in 2015. In June, the estate resigned from the Moorland Association after a keeper was filmed setting illegal pole traps.

Records in Companies House show that some of the 30 estates identified by Friends of the Earth are owned by firms registered in offshore tax havens, such as the British Virgin Islands, Liechtenstein, Jersey and Guernsey.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) does not support the petition to ban driven grouse shooting, but argues that new laws are needed. “As currently practised, intensive driven grouse shooting is a negative environmental impact,” said the RSPB’s Jeff Knott. “Grouse shooting can deliver benefits [for some birds], but not enough grouse moors are delivering to the highest standards.”

The RSPB wants grouse shoots to require licences, which can be removed if the moors are not managed properly or if wildlife crimes occur. “Voluntary approaches clearly haven’t worked,” said Knott. “There is denial that there is any problem and anyone who says otherwise is called anti-shooting.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We continue to work with conservation groups and landowners to ensure sustainable grouse shooting balances both environmental and economic needs.”

The UK’s forthcoming departure from the EU has sparked a fierce debate about the future of agricultural subsidies. It was revealed in September that a billionaire Saudi prince received £400,000 a year to subsidise a farm where he breeds racehorses.

The National Trust and many green NGOs have argued for a complete overhaul, ending payments for simply owning land and only rewarding farmers who improve the environment and help wildlife. The suggestion is opposed by the National Farmers Union, which says food production is vital.

Article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/28/grouse-shooting-estates-shored-up-by-millions-in-subsidies

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Rare birds thriving on Scilly Isles after scheme rids islands of rats

A scheme to kill rats on two of the Isles of Scilly, backed by Prince Charles, has led to a resurgence in rare sea birds.

Numbers of Manx shearwaters are rising

The number of Manx shearwaters has risen to 73 nesting pairs this year, the highest in living memory and almost triple the number of nesting birds just three years ago. The birds appear to be breeding successfully, with 30 chicks spotted on the popular holiday islands. Another species of rare ground-nesting birds, storm petrels, have also returned to the Scillies.

The Manx shearwater shares the burrows of rabbits on the tussocky slopes of the Scilly Islands of St Agnes and Gugh, while the storm petrel nests in cracks in rocks, beneath the local pub. But this made them vulnerable to rats, which ate both their eggs and chicks.

But it was the rats rather than the Duchy that caused the birds’ decline. It is thought that brown rats arrived on the islands in the 17th century, from the many shipwrecks that dot the coast of the Scillies.

By 2014 there were only 24 nesting pairs of Manx shearwaters left and a chick had not survived in some 100 years.

In 2013 the 84 islanders worked together to eradicate the rats under a £750,000 scheme backed by Prince Charles. Farmers cleaned out sheds and barns. New, sturdy refuse bins were supplied to every household. And islanders started taking waste to the local tip just once a week.

All 11 children at the school on St Agnes were taught about rats, storm petrels and shearwaters.

Then for three weeks in November 2013 more than 1,000 baiting boxes were laced with poison. Some 3,000 rats were killed. Now, with the islands rat-free, the rare migratory birds are flourishing.

Jaclyn Pearson from the RSPB, who managed the project said: “We are thrilled that these seabirds are thriving since the rat removal.

“All the hard work which everyone has put into the project has been well worth it when you know that a species has been returned to a habitat which is rightfully theirs,” she said.

The sparrow-sized storm petrel is the smallest seabird in the world, and the Isles of Scilly is just one of two places in England where they are found. But, because of the rats there had been no sighting of them in St Agnes and Gugh in living memory.

There are an estimated 280,000 Manx shearwaters in the world, and Britain acts as home to the majority of them during summer months. The birds make an annual 20,000-mile migration from South America to breed on the islands, finding their way by star-gazing.

Chicks are said to spend several days at the mouth of their burrows on the Scilly Isles gazing at the stars before making their perilous first flight south, and are then believed to find their way back to that same burrow by following the alignment of the stars above it.

Plans are underway to extend the scheme to the islands of Tresco, St Martin’s and Bryher, if funding can be found. “We know it’s feasible,” said Jaclyn. “The birds are coming here, so we have a responsibility for them.”

Article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/21/rare-birds-thriving-on-scilly-isles-after-scheme-rids-islands-of-rats

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Red kite populations taking off slowly in the north due to killings

Slow growth of one of Scotland’s four populations of reintroduced red kites is down to illegal killing, according to a new report from the country’s nature agency.

A new report suggests poor population growth of red kites in the north of Scotland is down to illegal killings. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The study, carried out by RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science for Scottish Natural Heritage, shows the number of birds colonising the north of Scotland is much lower than at comparable release sites elsewhere.

From an original 93 individuals released there are now a total of 70 breeding pairs, far fewer than the 1,500 experts believe there could be.

The red kite was once widespread across the UK but persecution by humans drove the species to extinction in Scotland and England by the end of the 19th century.

A UK-wide re-introduction programme was launched in 1989, when young birds taken from Sweden, Spain and Wales were released at two sites – at the Black Isle, near Inverness, and in the Chilterns in England.

In addition, another seven new populations have been established across the country, three of them in Scotland and the rest in England. The scheme is considered a major success, with numbers on the rise in most areas.

The latest Scottish count showed at least 283 pairs in 2015. But the new report has found the population in north Scotland, although not at risk of decline, continues to grow more slowly than at other reintroduction sites.

It updates earlier work and suggests persecution is still the main reason numbers are not higher in the region.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management for RSPB Scotland, said: “Illegal killing is the principal threat, despite the fact that the red kite poses no threat to any land use interests. “We call on responsible landowners to work with the police to help stamp out criminal practices which continue to cause such damage to important parts of our natural heritage.”

The latest study shows survival rates and the proportion of illegally killed birds being found remained at similar levels to previous years. Of 57 dead red kites recovered between 2007 and 2014, 42 per cent were confirmed to have been illegally killed. This compares to 40 per cent from 1989 to 2006.

Sporting estates have come under fire over illegal killing of birds of prey but the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) insists efforts are being made to end the problem. “Red Kite conservation is a huge success story in Scotland and many SGA members are playing an active part in this,” said an SGA spokesman. “If a tiny minority continue to take part in illegal practices, this is through no encouragement whatsoever from the SGA and all our members know they will be expelled from the organisation if convicted of wildlife crime.”

Article taken from: http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/red-kite-populations-taking-off-slowly-in-the-north-due-to-killings-1-4271184

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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