Nov 11
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In the News: Eradication of invasive brown rats from the Isles of Scilly

A project has begun on the Isles of Scilly to eradicate the invasive brown rat population in an attempt to secure the future survival of 14 seabird species.

The Isles of Scilly are composed of 5 inhabited islands and over 300 smaller uninhabited islands, which provide extremely important breeding habitats for many seabirds. There are 14 different seabird species which use the islands to breed, including the common tern, razorbill, lesser black-backed gull, puffin, shag and the European storm-petrel. In total, the breeding seabird population on all of the islands is around 20,000 individuals.

European storm-petrel image

The European storm-petrel is one of the 14 bird species which breed on the Isles of Scilly

An unwelcome visitor

The brown rat was first introduced to the Isles of Scilly from shipwrecks in the 18th century, which subsequently led to the establishment of a wild population. The brown rat is known to be one of the most successful and harmful invasive species in the world and causes tremendous damage to habitats it has been introduced to. On the Isles of Scilly, brown rats are known to predate the eggs and young of nesting birds, and they also carry and transmit various diseases. The total population of brown rats on the Isles of Scilly is thought to be around 34,500.

Brown rat image

Brown rat feeding on hen’s egg

How, where and when?

The project, starting at the beginning of November 2013, will cost over £755,000 and aims to eradicate the brown rat population on St. Agnes and Gugh, which are two of the inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. The company conducting the project is using techniques which have proven to be successful at eradicating brown rats in other areas while not causing damage to non-target species. Once all the brown rats are thought to have been eradicated from the two target islands, a long-term monitoring programme will begin and the local community will be encouraged to take precautionary measures to ensure that the areas remain rat free.

Puffin image

The Isles of Scilly provide an important breeding habitat for the puffin.

Taking responsibility

Johnny Birks, Chair of the Mammal Society, said, “Brown rats are not native to Britain… it’s our own fault they are so widespread and that makes it right for us to repair the damage we’ve caused.” The Heritage Lottery Fund and the EU Life Fund have both awarded money to the project, as have the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Beauty Sustainable Development Fund and Natural England.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Isles of Scilly rat eradication to ‘save seabirds’ begins.

View photos and videos of bird species found in the UK on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content Officer.

Oct 1
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In the News: High cost of defending UK against invasive species

Defending the United Kingdom against invasive, non-native species costs as much as £1.7 billion each year, according to a report by the BBC Countryfile programme.

Photo of a captive American mink on riverbank

The American mink has contributed to a rapid decline in the native water vole in the UK

Threat to native wildlife

The programme highlights the threats that so-called ‘alien’ species are posing to the UK’s native animals and plants, and the high cost of tackling the problem.

Invasive, non-native species are those which have been introduced by humans to areas outside of their natural range and, in the absence of natural predators and parasites, increase and spread to the detriment of native species and human interests. Worldwide, invasive species are considered to be the largest cause of biodiversity loss after humans.

Photo of common carp being fed on by an invasive species, the American signal crayfish

The signal crayfish is a voracious predator and has a negative impact on native crayfish species in Europe

Alien invaders

An example of a problematic invasive species in the UK is the zebra mussel, which arrived in the UK around ten years ago on the hulls of ships from Europe. This species reproduces so rapidly that it smothers native mussels and can block water systems. At Rutland Water in Leicestershire, England, the local water company has to spend around half a million pounds a year dealing with the species, and has installed filters to the reservoir to prevent the zebra mussels from spreading through and choking their water pipes.

Other well-known invasive species in the UK include the American mink, implicated in the decline of the water vole, and the grey squirrel, which is held largely responsible for the decline in native red squirrels.

Photo of grey squirrel collecting leaves in mouth

Introduced to the UK from North America, the grey squirrel has caused a decline in native red squirrels

Foreign plants are also causing major problems. Japanese knotweed alone is estimated to cost the UK economy £165 million each year to eradicate, and mortgages are being turned down due to the damage this species can do to properties. Of the £1.7 billion spent each year on dealing with invasive species in the UK, around £3 million goes towards clearing non-native weeds which can block canals, rivers and ponds.

Threats to health

As well as threatening native species and having an economic impact, invasive animals and plants can also pose risks to human health. For example, the sap of giant hogweed can cause painful blisters, while the hairy caterpillars of oak processionary moths can trigger allergic reactions.

Photo of bluebells in oak wood

Native UK bluebells are threatened by hybridisation with introduced Spanish bluebells

According to BBC Countryfile’s investigations reporter, Tom Heap, “From the grey squirrel, American crayfish, mink driving water voles from our river banks and the small but scarily named ‘killer shrimp’, a whole host of animals and plants are playing their part in colonising our countryside. Luckily, of the 2,000 non-native species living among us, only a few hundred are actually harmful.”

 

Read more about this story at The Telegraph – Defending UK from foreign species costs £26 per person.

Find out more about invasive species in the UK at the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS).

View photos and videos of species from the United Kingdom on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Sep 5
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In the News: Invasive species threaten Europe’s towns and cities

Europe’s towns and cities are particularly vulnerable to the threats posed by invasive alien species, and experts say that action needs to be taken to control them.

Close up photo of a northern raccoon

Native to North America, the northern raccoon is an invasive species in parts of Europe

Invasive alien species are plants or animals that are not native to an area and which therefore lack natural predators, meaning they are able to spread rapidly.

Urban areas are at high risk from invasive species because of their large number of transport links, with many non-native animals and plants arriving accidentally at ports and airports. Some species also arrive through the plant and pet trades.

Threats to native wildlife

Invasive alien species can pose a significant threat to native wildlife, often through competition or predation.

Photo of red-eared slider ssp. elegans on rock

Abandoned pet turtles such as the red-eared slider can threaten native turtle species

According to Chantal van Ham, European Programme Officer for IUCN, “These non-indigenous species represent one of the main threats to the world’s biodiversity. This threat is set to increase unless meaningful action is taken to control their introduction and establishment.”

Non-native species can also cause problems for humans living in urban areas. For example, common ragweed, which is native to North America, is spreading rapidly across Europe and can cause hay fever and asthma-like symptoms. Other plants, such as Japanese knotweed, can cause structural damage to buildings.

IUCN conference

IUCN has recently released a publication entitled Invasive Alien Species: The Urban Dimension, which lists case studies from more than 15 European countries which show action being taken on invasive species in urban areas.

Photo of harlequin ladybird

The harlequin ladybird is an invasive insect that threatens native species in Europe and elsewhere

To address the issues posed by invasive alien species in Europe, IUCN is also hosting a conference today in Gland, Switzerland. The aim of the conference is to bring together local authorities, scientists, NGOs and policymakers to analyse the problem of invasive species in urban areas, and to discuss potential solutions.

Chantal van Ham said that local authorities have a key role to play in taking action to reduce the risk of invasive species becoming established. However, she added that it will be important for local authorities to have the support they need to do this.

European action

Photo of American bullfrog sitting on grass at the water's edge

The American bullfrog has been named one of the top 100 most invasive alien species in the world by IUCN

Next week, the European Commission is expected to publish its plans on tackling invasive species across Europe and to announce a legal framework which will require action to be taken on the issue in all EU member states. It will also look at the control methods which are available and the ways in which established invasive species populations can be managed.

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – Invasive alien species threaten urban environments and IUCN – Invasive alien species: the urban dimension.

You can also find out more about invasive species at the GB Non-native Species Secretariat and the IUCN/SSC Invasive Species Specialist Group.

Do you teach 11-14 year olds? Take a look at the invasive species teaching resource on ARKive’s education pages!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 11
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In the News: Controversy over planned poison drop in habitat of endangered frogs

New Zealand’s Department of Conservation is facing criticism over its plans to use a controversial poison in the habitat of two unique and endangered frog species.

Photo of Archey's frog, dorsal view

Archey’s frog, an unusual and unique New Zealand frog

The poison, known as 1080, is used in New Zealand to eradicate invasive mammals such as possums, rats and stoats, which threaten the country’s native wildlife. Initially developed as an insecticide, 1080 naturally biodegrades in the environment over time and eventually becomes harmless. However, it is highly toxic and has no antidote, and many countries have banned its use.

New Zealand uses 80 to 90% of the world’s 1080, aerially dropping bait laced with the poison. Its use is highly controversial, with critics claiming that it can also kill native species such as birds and frogs.

Unique frogs

The Department of Conservation (DOC) plans to use 1080 on Moehau Mountain, on New Zealand’s North Island. However, one of the main concerns about the planned drop is the potential effects it could have on two unique and endangered frog species, Archey’s frog and Hochstetter’s frog.

Photo of Hochstetter's frog

Hochstetter’s frog is another primitive and unique frog found only in New Zealand

One of only a few surviving species from an ancient frog family, Archey’s frog is considered a ‘living fossil’, with primitive features such as a lack of eardrums or vocal sacs, and muscles to move a tail despite the frog having no tail to move. Unfortunately, this unusual frog is under threat from predation by non-native mammals and by the deadly amphibian disease chytridiomycosis, and is now considered to be Critically Endangered.

Hochstetter’s frog is also a primitive and unique species, and is found in just ten fragmented and isolated populations. Listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, it is under threat from chytridiomycosis as well as the destruction of its habitat.

Unclear impacts

It is not known for certain whether 1080 has any impact on frogs. The DOC says that the poison has been used previously in areas of frog habitat and that rather than harming the frogs, it has benefitted them by removing predatory mammals.

Last year DOC started a controlled experiment in the Whareorino forest and dropped 1080 in an area where the frogs (Archey’s and Hochstetter’s) had been well monitored and excluded it from another well-monitored area,” said Phil Bishop, a scientist at the University of Otago. “The data has yet to be fully analysed as its still early days and still being collected, but the results are looking good and the frogs seem to be doing as well if not better in the area that received the 1080 drop.”

Photo of common brushtail possum on tree trunk

The common brushtail possum has been introduced to New Zealand, where it is threatening native wildlife

However, others believe that insects may feed on the poisoned bait, and the frogs may therefore ingest the poison when they eat the insects. There are also fears that 1080 could have less direct impacts, with chronic exposure to the poison potentially making the amphibians more vulnerable to disease or affecting their circulatory or nervous systems. This adds to a growing body of research worldwide showing that the non-lethal effects of pesticides can cause considerable harm to wildlife and humans.

Further fears

There is also concern that native birds could be affected by 1080, although others point out that this threat is outweighed by the benefits to the birds of removing non-native predators. Local people are also concerned for the safety of livestock and pets, with dogs being particularly vulnerable to the lethal effects of the chemical.

Some opponents argue that safer, less controversial pest control measures could be used, and accuse the government of self-interest as they own the factory which produces the 1080 pellets.

Photo of Archey's frog, anterior view

Archey’s frog is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Invasive pest mammals comprise an obvious threat to New Zealand biodiversity. But to dismiss out of hand suggestions that 1080 might harm native species through sublethal physiological effects and thereby contribute to long-term population declines is just foolish,” said Bruce Waldman, an expert on New Zealand’s frogs. “Until we know why Archey’s frogs are dying… we cannot just proceed on the assumption that dangers that they incur by exposure to 1080 drops have been sufficiently mitigated. To do proper studies on 1080′s effects on frogs would not be difficult, so why have they not been done?

Despite the controversy, the DOC has stated that the poison bait drop is still to go ahead, with the aim of saving native frogs and birds from invasive predators.

 

Read more on this story at Mongabay – Saviors or villains: controversy erupts as New Zealand plans to drop poison over Critically Endangered frog habitat.

View photos and videos of amphibian species on ARKive and find out more about endangered amphibians at EDGE of Existence – Amphibians.

Find out more about amphibian conservation on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jan 10
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In the News: South Georgia to cull invasive reindeer

Invasive reindeer are to be eradicated from South Georgia in an attempt to save the unique environment of this sub-Antarctic island.

Reindeer are normally found in the Arctic

As well as being home to 3,000 reindeer, the island of South Georgia has many endemic species of fauna and flora that evolved in the absence of grazing pressures. These species are now struggling to survive in the reindeer’s overbearing presence, and the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has announced plans to eradicate the population in an effort to save the island’s unique species.

Habitat destruction

Reindeer were first introduced to South Georgia by the Norwegians in the 1900s to provide fresh meat on whaling missions in Antarctica. The population was originally managed by regular hunting, but when whaling stations were shut down in the 1960s, all hunting ceased.

Since then, the reindeer population has increased dramatically to a point where the island’s flora and fauna can no longer cope. Reindeer trample the indigenous plants, threaten king penguins and other local birds by destroying their nests and habitat, and cause substantial soil erosion.

King penguins are just one of the species threatened by the presence of reindeer

The reindeer herd is currently restricted by glaciers to the only suitable grazing habitat, which is also the most biologically productive. However, the impending threat of climate change and glacial recession will serve to increase the damage caused by opening up access to the rest of the island.

The government has decided to eradicate the reindeer population on South Georgia on the grounds of responsible environmental management practices.

Reindeer are grazing on the most biologically productive parts of the island

Island restoration

The reindeer cull will be led by the Norwegian Sami herdsmen whose expertise will ensure the programme goes smoothly, and it is estimated that it will take place over two summers. Meat from the cull will not go to waste and will be sold on the Falkland Islands, since South Georgia has no permanent resident population.

The Sami herdsmen are experienced in handling reindeer

Scientists hope that this, alongside a rat eradication programme currently in progress, will restore the island of South Georgia by allowing native plant species and bird populations to recover. Two native bird species which scientists hope will benefit from the removal of rats and reindeer are the South Georgia pipit and the South Georgia pintail, a subspecies of the yellow-billed pintail.

The endemic South Georgia pintail will benefit from the eradication of rats and reindeer

 

Read more on this story at BBC News – South Georgia prepares to cull its invasive reindeer.

Find out more about the invasive reindeer population from the IUCN Species Survival Commission Invasive Species Specialist Group newsletter.

View photos and videos of reindeer on ARKive.

Kaz Armour, ARKive Text Author

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