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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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Beavers back for good in Scotland

(Adult beaver at Knapdale by Steve Gardner)

The two lead partners in the Scottish Beaver Trial – the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) and the Scottish Wildlife Trust – have warmly welcomed today’s (24 November 2016) announcement from the Scottish Government that the Eurasian beaver is to be formally recognised as a native species, 400 years after being hunted to extinction in the UK.

Returning beavers to Scotland’s lochs and rivers is the first formal mammal reintroduction in UK history. Today’s announcement is a major success story for conservation, and the culmination of nearly two decades’ work.

The project partners are delighted to be given the green light to reinforce the existing population in Knapdale, Argyll, and welcome the news that the established population on the River Tay will be allowed to remain in place. However, in order for the species to have a long-term future in Scotland and recolonise across much of its former range, further releases – following the Scottish Translocation Code and with the full support of a range of stakeholders – will be necessary over the next few years.

The Scottish Beaver Trial has set the standard for species reintroductions in the UK. Today’s announcement from the Scottish Government underlines the widespread benefits beavers can bring both to habitats, other species and the local economy.

These benefits include creating new wetlands that support a wide range of other species such as otters, water voles, fish and dragonflies; creating more diverse woodlands through naturally coppicing trees; and helping to regulate flooding and improve water quality. An increase in beavers is also certain to boost wildlife tourism in Scotland, helping to grow a sector that is already worth £127 million per year to our economy.

(Beaver at Loch of the Lowes by Ron Walsh)

The project partners recognise that beaver activity needs to be carefully monitored and managed, particularly where it impacts on other land uses. RZSS and the Scottish Wildlife Trust are committed to working closely with government, farmers, landowners and other key stakeholders to establish an effective management framework for the species, something which we would seek to put in place ahead of the next breeding season in March.

Barbara Smith, Chief Executive of RZSS, said: “Today is a truly historic day for Scottish conservation. Returning a keystone species to the wild for the first time in 400 years is a tremendous achievement for RZSS and our partners the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and we welcome the government’s commitment to the species both in Knapdale and further afield.

“Establishing a clear and comprehensive management plan for the species should now be our top priority, drawing upon IUCN best practice guidelines and bringing together stakeholders from across the conservation, land management and farming spectrum. We would urge government to take a lead on this issue and firm up plans ahead of the breeding season next spring.

“We also feel strongly that further release sites will need to be considered in the short- to medium-term if the species is to fully re-establish itself as part of the Scottish landscape.”

Jonathan Hughes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: “This is a major milestone for Scotland’s wildlife and the wider conservation movement. Beavers are one of the world’s best natural engineers. Their ability to create new wetlands and restore native woodland is remarkable and improves conditions for a wide range of species including dragonflies, otters and fish.

“The return of beavers also has great potential for education and wildlife tourism. We have already seen at Knapdale how their presence is a tremendous draw for visitors from all over the world, which in turn brings social and economic benefits to the rural economy.

“We’re now looking forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government and partners in the next phase of this initiative. The Scottish Beaver Trial is a textbook example of how to approach the reintroduction of a keystone species that should set the standard for future projects.”

The Scottish Beaver Trial was a five-year partnership project between the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and host Forestry Commission Scotland to undertake a time-limited, five-year trial reintroduction of Eurasian beavers to Knapdale, Mid-Argyll. It concluded in 2014.

Article taken from: http://www.rzss.org.uk/news/article/12236/beavers-back-for-good/

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Scottish pine martens breeding in Wales

Pine martenTwenty pine martens were captured in the Scottish Highlands for release in woodland in Wales

Scottish pine martens have started raising young in Wales for the first time in a six year-long conservation project.

Twenty pine martens were captured and released into the Welsh countryside last year.

The animals, one of Britain’s rarest carnivores, were caught by the Inverness, Ross and Skye team at Forestry Enterprise Scotland (FES).

At least three of the 10 females captured recently gave birth to kits.

The capture and release of the Scottish martens forms part of the Welsh Pine Marten Recovery Project.

The animals were introduced to woodland owned by Natural Resources Wales and their behaviour is radio tracked.

Behavioural changes indicated that birthing might be imminent and images from remote cameras have now confirmed that at least five kits have been born.

‘Amazing animals’

Giles Brockman, of the FES team involved, said: “The pine marten carries the title of Britain’s second rarest carnivore after the wildcat, so these births in Wales are excellent news.

“These amazing animals are comparatively common in Scotland compared with Wales, where they were on the point of being extinct. In fact our research into these animals on the national forest estate indicates that there are healthy populations in many forests.

“Conservation is a big part of our remit so once The Trust had obtained the correct licence from SNH we were more than happy to help and to donate some of our pine martens to the project and help them take their plans forward.”

‘Danger list’

A further 20 pine martens will be relocated from Scotland in the autumn of this year to forests in Wales and also England.

Mr Brockman said: “Pine marten were about to disappear from the Welsh countryside altogether so this project is a good result for all concerned.

“Hopefully, with a further boost later this year, these amazing animals will be taken off the danger list.”

Article taken from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-36498518

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‘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

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Press release: ‘Protecting our natural world’ – UK government

Press release from Marine Management Organisation, 5th October 2015

Over millions of years, natural life has evolved to live together in communities. In the different regions of the world – on land and in seas – there are different natural communities with distinct characteristics.

Brown crab

If animals, including fish and birds, or plants, from a distant community get into the UK or its seas, they may not fit harmoniously into the local natural community.

For example, American lobsters and Dungeness crabs live in communities off the coast of North America. Some of these non-native creatures were released into the sea near Brighton in June 2015.

There’s a risk that such non-native species could spread quickly, establishing breeding populations. These could threaten the UK’s native lobsters and crabs by introducing diseases to which they have little resistance or by out-competing them for food and shelter.

Any loss of our native lobsters and crabs could seriously affect the livelihoods of individual fishermen and the viability of local businesses. Losses would also disrupt the wider marine ecosystem. Following the release near Brighton, fishermen have been trying to catch the American lobsters and Dungeness crabs to minimise damage to the communities of native crabs and lobsters they rely on for their income.

In the interests of protecting the natural environment, it is a criminal offence in the UK to release non-native species into the wild. This includes mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, lobsters and crabs, as well as plant communities. The release of any non-native species can cause the death of native species through competition or disease.

Releasing native species, for example European lobsters and brown crabs into the seas around the UK means that they fit into the local sealife community. Anyone wanting to release lobsters, crabs, or any other species, should first check that they are species that will live harmoniously in the UK’s natural communities.

Article taken from: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/protecting-our-natural-world

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Call of the rewild: new charity wants to see nature bounce back

A new charity has been launched to transform Britain by hepling it return to a wild state.

Rewilding Britain, the first organisation of its kind, wants to bring back missing species, allow native forests to grow once more on the hills, let rivers run wild and help the sea recover from industrial fishing.

It will seek to restore species that used to live here but have since become extinct or very rare.

These include beavers, wild boar, bison, cranes, pelicans, sturgeon, bluefin tuna, lynx and eventually wolves, grey whales, humpbacks and sperm whales.

Rewilding Britain hopes to establish at least three core areas of rewilded land by 2030, which means, in each case, 100,000 hectares or more.

Rebecca Wrigley, programme manager for Rewilding Britain, said: “An important part of our work will be to inspire and inform, and build a wider movement for rewilding. Rewilding projects on the ground will be locally owned and locally run. Our new website features a selection of fantastic rewilding projects that are already up and running across Britain.

“We hope we can gather a groundswell of support. We want to amplify the message that some pioneers have been putting out for decades, and attract new support. Rewilding is really for everyone who cares about our future. Our ecosystems need us.”

Rewilding Britain was inspired by environmentalist George Monbiot’s book Feral: rewilding the land, sea and human life. Organisers say this tapped into a hitherto-unnoticed public desire for change. Monbiot will be a key supporter of the organisation.

He said: “The overwhelmingly positive response to Feral was quite unexpected. It seems the book put into words what many people were thinking and longing for. I am thrilled that it has led to the formation of Rewilding Britain.

“The changes we’re calling for would be considered unexceptional almost anywhere else in Europe, where in many countries populations of beavers, boar, lynx and wolves are already recovering rapidly.

“So far the public appetite for change here has had few outlets. We want to change that, and to restore the living world and our relationship with it.”

Rewilding Britain has been founded with the support of key organisations such as Friends of the Earth, the Forestry Commission, Trees for Life, John Muir Trust, Cairngorms National Park, the National Trust and The Ecology Trust among others.

Scotland has been the site of several reintroduction projects, going back to the 1970s with a pioneering, and ultimately successful, programme to release white-tailed eagles on Rhum.

A later scheme involving red kites has also been successful and there are on-going trials involving beaver and lynx.

Below are some of the species which could return to the UK:

 

Dalmatian pelican

Call of the rewild: new charity wants to see nature bounce back

Rewilding Britain has listed pelicans as one of the animals it would like to see returned, presumably referring to huge Dalmatian pelicans which, from archaeological evidence, are known to have bred until the Iron Age. It now breeds no closer than south east Europe, and there are only around 10,000 to 20,000 birds left in the wild.

Atlantic sturgeon

Call of the rewild: new charity wants to see nature bounce back

This species of sturgeon, which can grow up to 11 feet, once travelled up rivers throughout Britain, but it is believed to be effectively extinct as a UK animal, with pollution and over-fishing being the prime cuplrits. It was prized for the table in medieval times and is classified as a royal fish, which becomes a crown possession when caught.

Burbot

Call of the rewild: new charity wants to see nature bounce back

The burbot is the only freshwater member of the cod family and was once found in river systems in England. It is thought pollution caused their decline, with the last recorded specimen being taken in 1969 in the Great Ouse, Cambridgeshire. An angling magazine put up a reward for any further catches – but it is still unclaimed.

Humpback whale

Call of the rewild: new charity wants to see nature bounce back

Rewilding Britain lists the mighty humpback as one of the species it would like to see back in the UK. While a reintroduction of these massive mammals would be technically impossible, it could return of its own accord if its populations recover from hunting and if our seas are cleaned up sufficiently to support its prey food. Perhaps it’s a good omen that one was seen in Auchalick Bay at Loch Fyne last week!

Article taken from: http://thirdforcenews.org.uk/tfn-news/

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Wariness over plan to reintroduce lynx to Scotland

A Siberian lynx. Proposals to reintroduce the predator to Scotland has been met with a cautious reception by Scottish Natural Heritage. Picture: TSPL

The reintroduction of lynx to Scotland would need “considerable planning”, the government’s wildlife agency has admitted.The big cats became extinct in the UK 1,300 years ago.

Lynx UK Trust wants to reintroduce the animals to selected locations in the UK and has requested a meeting with Scottish Natural Heritage.

In a statement, SNH said reintroductions were “complex” and needed “considerable planning” to meet UK and international guidelines.

An area near Huntly in Aberdeenshire has been indentified as a potential location for releasing Eurasian lynx.

SNH has been involved in the reintroduction of sea eagles and rare woolly willows and also a £2 million trial release of European beavers at Knapdale in Argyll. The Scottish Government is to make a decision on beavers being allowed back into the wild later this year.

The lynx is one of the most enigmatic, beautiful cats on the planet. The British countryside is dying and lynx will bring it back to life.

“If we received an application to reintroduce lynx,” SNH said, “we would be looking for the applicant to provide information on how the project would address ecological issues such as habitat availability, as well as the views of the public, livestock and land managers, the wider UK perspective, and any socio-economic impacts.

A lynx in an enclosure at London Zoo. Picture: PA

“The views of the Scottish Government would need to be taken into consideration. A significant amount of evidence is required to support an application.”

It added: “The Lynx Trust have requested a meeting with SNH to discuss how these conditions might be met.”

Last October, other conservationists argued that efforts to “rewild” parts of Scotland should involve the reintroduction of lynx.

Alan Watson Featherstone, of Trees for Life, said the predator could “play a crucial top-down regulatory role in ecosystems” by helping to control red and roe deer numbers.

Known as the Keeper of Secrets, the elusive forest-dwelling creature would be part of the most ambitious “rewilding” project ever attempted in the UK.

If the Lynx UK Trust’s scheme is approved, the large cats, which prey on deer as well as rabbit and hare, will be released onto three privately-owned, unfenced estates in Norfolk, Cumbria and Aberdeenshire.

“The lynx is one of the most enigmatic, beautiful cats on the planet,” Dr Paul O’Donoghue, a scientific adviser to the trust said. “The British countryside is dying and lynx will bring it back to life.”

The Eurasian lynx is the largest lynx species, with powerful, long legs, with large webbed and furred paws. Due to its solitary and secretive nature, lynx does not present a threat to humans.

The trust launched a public consultation – which closed in March – to determine public reaction to the plan, after which it will lodge a formal application with Natural England and SNH, the government agencies that license such releases.

The trust had over 9,000 responses to its consultation and said the overwhelming majority were in favour.

“The survey is just the first stage of our public consultation process which will also include talks and face to face meetings with interested members of the local community and other stakeholders, based around the proposed reintroduction sites,” said the trust.

If the plan is given the green light, four to six Eurasian lynx wearing GPS tracking collars would be released later this year at each of the sites, all of which are rich in deer and tree cover.

Tony Marmont, a businessman who owns Grumack Forest, near Huntly in Aberdeenshire, said earlier this year that lynx will have an “extremely beneficial effect” on forest ecosystems. He added that lynx would serve as “ambassadors for wider conservation projects”.

However, not everyone is as enthusiastic, as the economic impact of reintroducing large predators remains controversial.

Previous reintroduction plans have been opposed and sometimes blocked by farmers arguing that creatures such as lynx and birds of prey attack livestock and gamebirds.

The reintroduction of lynx may raise fears of attacks on sheep, although these are rare in areas such as Romania and Poland, where lynx live naturally and a subsidy programme would be set up for farmers.

The National Farmers’ Union is sceptical, with a spokesman for the organisation saying: “We would be concerned about the reintroduction due to its high cost and failure risk. We believe budgets are better focused on developing existing biodiversity.”

In Germany, 14 lynx were reintroduced to a site in the Harz mountains in 2000 and have since bred and colonised other areas. Another reintroduction, in Switzerland in the 1990s, has also seen animals breed and spread.