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


Badger cull areas more than triple under new government licences


The number of areas where badgers will be culled to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis is to more than triple under licences issued by the government on Tuesday.

Licensed shooters could begin killing badgers within days in Herefordshire, Cornwall and Devon, which have been added to the culling already taking place in recent years in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

Ministers say the culling is essential to stop the spread of bovine TB to cattle, which cost the taxpayer £100m in 2015 to compensate farmers for slaughtered cattle. But experts have said the culls “fly in the face of scientific evidence” and could even make the problem worse.

George Eustice, the farming minister, said the cull’s expansion was vital to tackle the “reservoir” of the disease in badgers. “Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB in England is delivering results, with more than half the country on track to be free of the disease by the end of this parliament.”

In total, 10 areas have now been licensed for culling, up from three areas previously. Ministers also announced the provision of more information and advice on cattle movements and biosecurity measures and a consultation on the use of more sensitive tests.

The National Farmers Union welcomed the move. Meurig Raymond, the NFU president, said: “Farmers facing a daily battle against bTB in those areas that have been granted licences for badger control operations this year will welcome the news that finally action is being taken to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife in these areas.

“Today’s announcement means that badger control will now be taking place in 10% of the area where cattle are at the highest risk of contracting bTB.”

But scientists, Labour and animal welfare groups condemned the expansion and said it would not stop the disease. Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Institute of Biology in London, said: “This is a huge disappointment for evidence-based policy making. The scale of the rollout is huge: farmers will be required to kill almost 10,000 badgers at a minimum before the end of November. And yet the government has released no evidence that farmer-led culling is helping to control cattle TB.”

Rachel Maskell, shadow environment secretary, said: “The decision to extend the badger cull flies in the face of the government’s own evidence that shows the killing of thousands of badgers has not reduced the number of cattle contracting bovine TB. The government promised when they embarked on the cull that it would be an evidence based approach, yet they are failing to take any notice of the facts.”

Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, said: “Defra statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise in and around the cull zones. We could kill ever badger in Britain but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor bio security controls.

“The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern livestock industry. The badger cull has failed on scientific, humaneness and cost grounds. For Andrea Leadsom to extend the badger cull to seven new areas defies belief and is a national disgrace,” he said.

Chris Pitt, deputy director of campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: “It is ludicrous that given all the evidence collated over the last four years, the government plan to roll out their misguided badger cull even further. Killing badgers is not only disastrous for badgers, but it’s also calamitous for cattle and a dead end for farmers, because all the unbiased scientific opinion suggests that we’ll never get rid of bovine TB this way.”

Claire Bass, executive director of the Humane Society International UK, said: “It is both shocking and sad that the government is expanding this cruel ‘pilot’ policy to three new counties.”

The cost to taxpayers for the cull, described as “industry-led” by the government, was £17.6m for the three years from 2013 to 2015, including £6.7m on policing and £6.6m on independent monitoring of effectiveness and humaneness. The lmonitoring, which found the first year of culls were not effective or humane, has been discontinued. The expenditure is equivalent to many thousands of pounds for each badger killed.

The government funding needed for each new culling area is estimated at £1.2m a year, meaning the seven news areas will cost a total of £33.6m in total over the planned four years of culling.

The government’s original value-for-money assessment of the badger culls showed they would cost more than they saved in TB reduction. But a new assessment from the government finds that the benefit of future culls will exceed the costs, due to “to more cost-effective monitoring and policing”.

The government expects policing costs to “disappear” over time, “following further successful badger control operations without security incident”, but protesters say they intend to take direct action to drive up policing costs.

Recent research showed that bovine TB is not passed through direct contact between badgers and cattle, but through contaminated pasture and dung.

Article taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/30/badger-cull-areas-more-than-triple-under-new-government-licences

RSPCA are urging people to write to their MP and ask for an end to badger suffering. MPs are encouraged to attend the Westminster debate on 7th September and seek alternatives to this unnecessary and ineffective cull.

*** Ask your MP to take action for badgers – click here ***


‘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


Badger Trust backs MP’s call for proof that culls are working as TB rates rise

The Badger Trust has backed calls from Parliament’s Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee for the government to provide clear evidence that the badger culls are working as the latest figures show TB in cattle is rising in and around the cull zones.


The move follows the release of new data from DEFRA for Somerset which shows that in the 12 months to September 2014 the level of new TB incidents in cattle was 297 but in the 12 months to September 2015, this jumped to 320 a 7.75% increase, despite badger culling having now taken place in Somerset for the last 3 years.

This is in stark contrast to claims made by NFU President Meurig Raymond in his speech at their annual conference in Birmingham in February that cattle TB incidents in the Somerset cull zone had decreased from 34% to 11% between 2013 and 2015, which he claimed could only be due to the culling of badgers.

Responding to the EFRA Select Committee and the latest DEFRA bovine TB data Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust said,

“The government is attempting to bury bad news by releasing the 2015 badger cull figures on the day of the Christmas Recess in Westminster. Despite claiming all the cull contractors have met their targets for 2015, there is no evidence the killing of badgers is reducing the level of bovine TB in cattle

I am pleased to see that the EFRA Select Committee has called on DEFRA to establish a thorough evidence base for underpinning policy formulation on bovine TB and for this to be communicated in a fully transparent manner. They are also right to call for an urgent release of data on the level of bovine TB in the badger cull zones.

The claims by the NFU and pro-cull politicians that badger culling is delivering a significant reduction in bovine TB are looking increasingly bogus and the exact opposite of the truth. £20 million of taxpayers’ money has been spent killing thousands of badgers and yet cattle TB in Somerset is on the rise. To put this in context, TB rates in cattle outside of the cull zones have been dropping consistently for five years due to improved testing, bio-security and movement controls.

Chairman of the Badger Trust Peter Martin added,

“The government’s own risk assessments stated before the culls began that there was a high probability that cattle TB rates would rise following the badger culls and this was backed up by the country’s top scientists in the field. In practice the culls have been condemned by independent scientists and vets as inhumane and the sub-optimal way they are being conducted means they have mostly failed to achieve even their basic targets.

The EFRA Select Committee is absolutely right to call on DEFRA to take greater account of the alternative TB reduction strategies of the devolved administrations. The Welsh Government’s approach has been far more successful by focusing on improved testing and movement controls in cattle. New incidents of bovine TB in cattle are now down by 28% in Wales with a 45% cut in the number of cattle being slaughtered. This now leaves 94% of the Welsh heard TB free, without killing any badgers.

Unless the government can prove the culling of badgers is working in terms of lowering TB in cattle, this cruel, ineffective and hugely costly policy must be stopped immediately.”


State of Britain’s wildlife ‘increasingly fragile’

Britain’s wildlife is in an increasingly fragile state, with animals carrying out vital jobs for farmers being lost more rapidly than others, say scientists.


Species that pollinate crops or fight pests are at risk of disappearing, putting food production in jeopardy, according to the team.

The research brings together millions of wildlife records spanning 40 years.

It suggests conservation efforts should focus on certain areas, they add.
Dr Tom Oliver of the University of Reading, who led the research, said it was the biggest and most comprehensive report ever assembled for any country in the world.

“By standardising records from an army of amateur biologists across the country, we have amassed an impressive array of data, giving us our most complete picture yet of the state of Britain’s wildlife,” he told BBC News.
“The picture that emerges is of an increasingly fragile system, particularly in species that do vital jobs for humans.

“Unless efforts are made to reverse some of these declines, we face a future where we will be less confident that we can effectively grow our food.”

The researchers looked at records of the changing fortunes of more than 4,000 types of plant and animal living in England, Wales and Scotland between 1970 and 2009.

Species such as bees, dragonflies, grasshoppers, ladybirds, plants and mosses were put into groups based on the role they play in nature.

The oak bush cricket was among 10 types of cricket and earwig analysed
Groups providing pollination and pest control benefits had undergone declines while those involved in functions such as decay or mopping up carbon emissions were more stable.

Plants and animals regarded as of cultural importance to humans, such as birds, butterflies and hedgehogs, also fared badly.

Prof James Bullock, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire, a co-researcher on the study, said conservation efforts should focus on the areas where there was strong evidence of declining fortunes.

“Conservation actions, such as wildlife friendly farming, can avoid the loss of biodiversity and the resulting erosion of the pollination, pest control and other benefits we derive from nature,” he said.

And Dr Oliver said there were a number of measures that individuals could take to help to improve the future for wildlife in the British Isles

They include:
– Making gardens wildlife friendly
– Purchasing food grown in a sustainable way to wildlife
– Helping to collect data on wildlife.

The study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35039662


Scotland’s moorland ‘decimated by unthinking policies’

Scotland’s iconic moorlands are being decimated by “unthinking” government policies that ignore the “defining role” they have played in the nation’s history and psyche, gamekeepers have warned.

curlew preening - Mark Hamblin

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) published a report attacking the failure of SNP ministers and their predecessors to ever draw up a strategy to protect the country’s “signature treasure”.

They estimated that 20 per cent of heather moorland disappeared between 1940 and 1970 and a further 500,000 hectares is under threat from the Scottish Government’s forestry strategy of having trees planted on a quarter of land by 2050.

But they argued this afforestation strategy fails to take into account the “significant economic benefit” that moorland provides Scotland through industries such as farming, tourism and renewable energy.

Neither does it pay any heed to the preservation of species such as the curlew, they argued, which last week was put on the “red list” of birds conservationists consider are at greatest risk.

With 75 per cent of the world’s heather found in the UK, and most of that in Scotland, the SGA also highlighted how the country’s unique landscapes had inspired artists, writers and filmmakers.

The 34-page report, written by ecologist Dr James Fenton, maps the extend of the moorland left in Scotland and divides them into four categories – core areas, subsidiary areas, fragmented areas and scattered remnants.

Core moorland was found to cover 2.7 million hectares, 39 per cent of mainland Scotland, with a further 160,000 hectares classified as subsidiary.

Launching the report in Edinburgh, Alex Hogg, the SGA’s chairman, said MSPs “didn’t have a clue” about the importance of moorland and he hoped the document prompted a political debate about its value.

He said: “This report is not a ‘no trees’ policy, but a ‘where trees’ policy. It acknowledges competing demands on land use and makes sensible suggestions as to where moorland must be retained and where we can afford to lose bits without breaking the whole thing.

“We need to value these special landscapes again instead of paying lip service, and place them at the heart of our land use strategy.”

Mr Hogg warned that if Scottish policymakers “continue to stumble blindly and allow our moorlands to disappear” then species such as the curlew will disappear.

The report said curlew numbers are down 59 per cent over the past 20 years, while the peewit population has fallen 59 per cent and golden plovers are down 29 per cent.

Dr Fenton said Scotland’s moors and hills are “our speciality which discriminates us from our European neighbours” and it was surprising that its loss “in an ad hoc manner” was being accepted.

The ecologist, who previously worked for quango Scottish National Heritage and the National Trust for Scotland, was also highly critical of claims Scotland’s landscape should be fashioned in the image of Norway.
“If you look closely at Norway, the vegetation isn’t the same. There’s a different land use system, a different social system, different climates,” he said.

“Instead of saying let’s make Scotland like Norway, we should be saying ‘why is Scotland the way it is and let’s keep the best parts.”

The Scottish Government said the SGA report was a “welcome contribution” to a consultation it has launched on a new land use strategy in which ministers will consider the “need for a strategic vision for Scotland’s uplands.”

Article taken from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/12040194/Scotlands-moorland-decimated-by-unthinking-policies.html


Work on new A9 Spey crossing ‘to consider wildlife’

The potential effects on wildlife will be considered in the design and construction of a new crossing on the River Spey, the government has said.

The new bridge is needed near Kingussie as part of the £3bn project to upgrade the A9 to dual carriageway between Inverness and Perth.
The River Spey is a Special Area of Conservation.

Otters, Atlantic salmon, sea lamprey, fresh water pearl mussels are among wildlife found on the watercourse.

Three options for the design of the new bridge have been made public by Transport Scotland (shown below).

Option one for River Spey crossing

Option two for River Spey crossing

Option three for River Spey crossing

Infrastructure, Investment and Cities Secretary Keith Brown said: “The River Spey is a Special Area of Conservation supporting important populations of Atlantic salmon, sea lamprey, fresh water pearl mussels and otter.

“Any crossing of the river as part of a dualled route will require either a new bridge or an additional or extended bridge to take the extra carriageway.

“In developing the crossing options at this point we are considering factors such as the local environment, proximity to Ruthven Barracks and its location within the flood plain.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-34856726