May 22
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In the News: Nature health check finds UK wildlife to be in trouble

A groundbreaking study by the UK’s leading wildlife organisations has found that 60% of the species in the region are in decline.

Common seal image

The common or harbour seal has declined by nearly a third in Scottish waters as a result of pollution, disease and lack of food

Health check for UK wildlife

In the first study of its kind in the UK, scientists from 25 wildlife organisations, including the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, RSPB, Buglife and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. The final report has revealed startling results, with a large proportion of UK species showing declines over recent decades, and more than one in ten of all the species assessed being at risk of disappearing from the UK altogether.

The ‘State of Nature’ report will be launched by UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London this evening, with the help of Sir David Attenborough, who highlighted the incredible diversity found on UK shores. “Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals,” he said. “We should all be proud of the beauty we find on our own doorstep; from bluebells carpeting woodland floors and delicately patterned fritillary butterflies, to the graceful basking shark and the majestic golden eagle soaring over the Scottish mountains.”

Golden eagle image

Illegal killing, disturbance and intensive management practices threaten the majestic golden eagle and other animals

Assessments

The State of Nature report looked at the UK’s major taxonomic groups and habitat types, from woodland and farmland to wetlands and coastal areas, in an attempt to formulate an accurate representation of the situation across the UK’s four constituent countries. Data on trends in abundance and distribution of 3,148 species were collected, but while this is an impressive feat, it represents just 5% of the estimated 59,000 or more terrestrial and freshwater species in the UK. Yet 60% of these species were found to have declined over the last 50 years, and 31% have declined strongly.

As part of the study, a new Watchlist Indicator was developed, which measures how conservation priority species are faring, based on a set of 155 of the UK’s most threatened and vulnerable species for which there is sufficient data. Worryingly, the indicator shows that overall numbers of these species have declined by 77% in the last four decades, with little sign of recovery.

Ascension frigatebird image

The Ascension frigatebird is a UKOT endemic which has benefitted from conservation action

UK Overseas Territories

The report has also embraced and highlighted the wealth of globally important wildlife found in the UK’s Overseas Territories, from the Caribbean to the Antarctic. A worrying 90 species from these areas were found to be at high risk of global extinction. The incredible array of species found within these regions, from elephant seals and penguins to parrots and iguanas, includes some 180 endemic plants, 22 endemic birds, 34 endemic reptiles and amphibians, and an impressive 685 endemic terrestrial invertebrates – 16 times the number found in the UK.

Taxonomic groups

When looking at the results of the study by taxonomic group, it becomes clear that some groups are faring far worse than others. Invertebrate groups appear to be struggling the most, with a reported 65% decline in moths.

This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble – overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate,” said Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report. “These declines are happening across all countries and UK Overseas Territories, habitats and species groups, although it is probably greatest amongst insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles. Other once common species like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.”

Heath fritillary image

The heath fritillary is one of the UK’s rarest butterflies

Continued pressure, but increasing hope

Pressures on the UK’s wildlife, from climate change to pollution and habitat loss, continue to grow. However, with the alarming results of The State of Nature report comes a positive message, with conservationists and wildlife organisations rising to the challenge to protect, reintroduce and translocate species, and to create and restore dwindling habitats where resources allow.

Sir David has described the groundbreaking study as both a stark warning and a sign of hope, saying, “For 60 years I have travelled the world exploring the wonders of nature and sharing that wonder with the public. But as a boy my first inspiration came from discovering the UK’s own wildlife. This report shows that our species are in trouble, with many declining at a worrying rate. However, we have in this country a network of passionate conservation groups supported by millions of people who love wildlife. The experts have come together today to highlight the amazing nature we have around us and to ensure that it remains here for generations to come.”

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Jan 22
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Guest blog: The weather’s cold, but the welcome is warm

My garden has never been more popular. It’s a hotbed of activity at the moment… well, the little part garden with the bird feeder is. Though perhaps hotbed is the wrong word, since it’s absolutely freezing!

When the temperature dropped a week or so ago the birds started visiting my garden in huge numbers, in a fever of feeding. The snow has made natural sources of food more difficult to find and they expend so much energy just trying to keep warm in these freezing conditions that they need to feed often.

Photo of robin perched on tree branch in snow

Robin in snow

Fatty food is best in the cold, so putting out things like fat balls, good quality nuts and seed, or even grated cheese is a real help. I use sunflower hearts in a seed feeder and they love it. In the last week I’ve had great tits, blue tits, goldfinches and robins, the occasional blackbird pecking around on the floor and even a nuthatch.

Here at the RSPB we’ve had stacks of calls from people telling us about the fieldfares in their gardens too. Not usually known for visiting gardens, fieldfares are being driven into them in their desperate search for food in these harsh conditions.

Photo of redwings and fieldfare perched on snow covered tree feeding on berries

Redwings and fieldfare feeding on berries

So, all of this garden activity could mean an exciting year for the RSPB’s 34th annual Big Garden Birdwatch, taking place in the UK on Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 January. It’s the world’s biggest wildlife survey and everyone can join in by spending just one hour at any time over the weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their garden or local park at any one time, then submitting the results to the RSPB. Schoolchildren and teachers will be doing the same in their school grounds as part of Big Schools’ Birdwatch between now and Friday 1 February.

Given the extra birds using my garden due to the cold at the moment I’m expecting to have plenty to report.

Photo of blue tits on a bird feeder

Blue tits on bird feeder

You can find out more about taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, enter your results online and help with identifying the garden birds you see at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch.

Wendy Johnson, RSPB

Apr 21
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In the News: Iconic capercaillie under serious threat in Scotland

The capercaillie remains under serious threat in Scotland, despite intensive conservation efforts to save the species, according to newly released figures from RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

Photo of male capercaillie displaying

Male capercaillie displaying

A second extinction?

One of Scotland’s most iconic bird species, the capercaillie went extinct in the UK in the early 18th Century, but was reintroduced to Scotland in the 1830s.

The most recent survey of the capercaillie population has revealed worrying trends, with an estimated 1,228 individuals thought to remain at just a few locations. Data shows that almost three-quarters of capercaillies in Scotland are restricted to just two major strongholds, Badenoch and Strathspey.

Since the 1970s, capercaillie numbers have declined sharply, falling drastically from around 20,000 individuals to around 1,908 birds in 2004. Despite targeted conservation action for the capercaillie, the newest figures show a continued decline, sparking worry amongst conservationists working to protect the species from a second UK extinction.

Photo of male capercaillie displaying

Concerted conservation efforts

Current conservation work involves efforts to create or improve areas of its favoured habitat and to minimise disturbance to the species at leks and breeding sites, as well as legal predator control. Other measures include removing or marking fences around key capercaillie sites to prevent collisions, which have been identified as significantly increasing adult capercaillie mortality.

Management and conservation action is carried out as part of the capercaillie Species Action Framework (SAF) and the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), in cooperation with private landowners, countryside users, and conservationists, supported by the Scottish Government.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said, “It is disappointing that the capercaillie has experienced a drop in its numbers in some areas since the last survey was conducted. However, there can be little doubt that this decline would be a good deal worse were it not for all the huge efforts of many public and private forestry managers, gamekeepers and land managers backed by the European LIFE funding programme, to save this charismatic species.”

Photo of female capercaillie in threat posture

Female capercaillie in threat posture

“We particularly need to focus our efforts on further habitat creation and positive management for this species, especially in key areas like Deeside and Perthshire where the problems are most acute,” continues Mr. Housden.

Find out more about RSPB Scotland and Scottish National Heritage

Find out more about the capercaillie on ARKive

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author

Mar 22
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In the News: Oil spill threatens island’s endangered penguins

Hundreds of seabirds have been found covered in oil after a cargo vessel was wrecked on Nightingale Island, part of the Tristan da Cunha UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic.

Conservationists are warning of an environmental disaster, as the island supports huge numbers of seabirds, including nearly half of the world’s population of the northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi), which is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Photo of northern rockhopper penguin pair at nest

There are more than 200,000 northern rockhopper penguins breeding on Nightingale Island.

Some 1,500 tonnes of heavy crude oil from the MS Olivia, which was shipping soya beans between Rio de Janeiro and Singapore, is leaking into the sea. According to the RSPB, oil now surrounds Nightingale Island and extends in a slick 8 miles offshore, threatening wildlife as well as an economically important rock lobster fishery. 

The consequences of this wreck could be potentially disastrous for wildlife and the fishery-based economy of these remote islands,” said Richard Cuthbert, an RSPB biologist. 

The Tristan da Cunha islands, especially Nightingale and adjacent Middle Island, hold millions of nesting seabirds as well as four out of every ten of the world population of the globally endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguin.”

Photo of northern rockhopper penguin colony

A colonial species, northern rockhopper penguins nest on cliffs and rocky gullies, usually near to freshwater.

Concerns surround not only the oil spill, but also the risk of any rats on the vessel colonising the mammal-free island, which would further endanger the nesting birds. 

The Tristan Conservation Department – which rapidly deployed nine people to the island – has already placed baited rodent traps on the shore where the bulk of the vessel has grounded. 

Trevor Glass, Tristan conservation officer, said: “The scene at Nightingale is dreadful as there is an oil slick encircling the island. The Tristan conservation team are doing all they can to clean up the penguins that are currently coming ashore. It is a disaster.”

Photo of great shearwater in flight over sea

Large numbers of great shearwaters also breed on Nightingale Island.

A salvage tug is currently en-route from Cape Town with an experienced crew and environmental experts, but it is not due to arrive at the island until Monday.

View ARKive for more species found on Tristan da Cunha. 

Read the BirdLife International press release. 

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

Feb 10
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In the News: Cross-border conservation vital to protect African birds

African countries need to increase co-operation over conservation if birds and other wildlife are to be protected in an era of climate change, according to a new continental-scale study. 

An international research team has established a new conservation index of protected areas in Africa, to show how conservationists might deal with climate change and the shuffling distributions of wildlife that it will cause.

Photo of grey crowned-crane courtship close up

The grey crowned-crane is a non-migratory species. However, local movements occur in response to the availability of water, food and nest sties.

One third of Important Bird Areas to undergo upheaval 

Birds are a key indicator for conservationists because they respond quickly to climate change and are relatively easily monitored. 

The research team used climate change projections from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to show how African bird species will fare in 803 Important Bird Areas (IBAs), if climate change continues as predicted. Climate change impacts on African birds over the next 100 years were simulated for each of the IBAs, to identify which areas could be expected to sustain which bird species. 

The research, funded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and published in the journal Conservation Biology, suggests that hundreds of bird species in Africa will become emigrants, leaving one part of the continent for another in search of food and suitable habitat. It is predicted that one third of the IBAs will undergo significant upheaval this century, in terms of the species that live there, due to climate change.

Photo of secretarybird, view from below

A fairly nomadic species, the secretarybird will often travel widely in search of food, or in response to rainfall, fires and other changes in environmental conditions.

Gap in current conservation network 

The study shows that there are substantial geographical gaps in the current conservation network and that international cooperation is essential to protect bird species. 

There are large areas of Africa lacking protected status and many of these areas are predicted to be critically important for bird conservation in the future. We need to be ready to protect remnant populations of birds while also preparing for new colonists.” Team leader, Dr Stephen Willis, Durham University. 

The new index is designed to assist governments across the world to protect wildlife and help species as climate change forces them to move to new areas. It should also offer policy-makers essential information to allow them to manage and adapt habitats in coming decades. 

The bird map of Africa is set to change dramatically and we need conservation policies that see the bigger picture,” said Dr Willis. 

To read more, see the Conservation International article. 

Explore ARKive’s African birds.

Alex Royan, ARKive Species Text Author

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