Oct 17

Large numbers of British children are missing out on engaging with nature, according to a new study.

Red squirrel image

Red squirrel

First of its kind

The ground-breaking study, led by the RSPB, marks the first time that connectivity between children and nature has been studied in the UK. Following 3 years of research, the project concluded that only 21% of children between the ages of 8 and 12 were ‘connected to nature’ at a level which is considered to be both realistic and achievable for all young people.

The report stems from growing concerns over the distinct lack of contact with and experience of nature among modern children, which some have argued is having a negative impact on their education, health and behaviour. In addition, this disconnection is viewed as being a very real threat to the future of UK wildlife.

Horse chestnut image

Horse chestnuts in autumn

Connecting to nature

Around 1,200 children from across the UK took part in the study, which was based on a specially developed questionnaire. Analysis of the results revealed several statistically significant differences in children’s connection to nature across the UK, including between boys and girls, and between urban and rural homes.

This report is ground-breaking,” said Rebekah Stackhouse, Education and Youth Programmes Manager for RSPB Scotland. “It’s widely accepted that today’s children have less contact with nature than ever before.  But until now, there has been no robust scientific attempt to measure and track connection to nature among children across the whole of the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.”

Scotland come out top in the regional comparisons, with 27% of children in the country being found to have a particular level of connection to the natural world, while children in Wales had the lowest score across the UK, with just 13% achieving the basic level of exposure to nature.

Perhaps surprisingly, the study revealed that the average score was higher for London than the rest of England and that, overall, urban children were slightly more connected to nature than those living in rural areas.

European starling image

European starling flock in flight

Gender differences

Interestingly, this latest research found that girls were more likely than boys to be exposed to nature and wildlife. While only 16% of boys were at or above the ‘realistic and achievable’ target, 27% of girls were found to be at the same level.

We need to understand these differences,” said Sue Armstrong-Brown, Head of Conservation Policy at the RSPB. “Whether boys and girls are scoring differently on different questions, are girls more empathetic to nature than boys, for instance? We need to analyse the data to find that out.”

Positive impacts

The aim of the study was to create a baseline against which connectivity of children to nature in the UK can be measured and monitored, so that recommendations can be made to governments and local authorities on ways in which this can be increased. In turn, it is hoped that children will reap many benefits from a higher level of interaction with the natural world, including positive impacts on education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and social skills.

To further underline the importance of engaging young people with wildlife, the RSPB has signed up to The Wild Network, a unique and pioneering collaboration between organisations which is working to reverse the trend of children losing touch with their natural surroundings and is encouraging them to play outdoors.

Hedgehog image

Hedgehog

Influential attitudes

The RSPB says that some adults perceive nature to be dangerous or dirty, and that these attitudes could be having a significant effect by holding children back.

There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging. In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that’s an attitude that won’t help a young person climb a tree,” said Armstrong-Brown.

In addition to the benefits reaped by young people, Armstrong-Brown believes that an improvement in the engagement of young people with wildlife is a vital component in ensuring the future of nature conservation in the UK, saying, “If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Just one in five children connected to nature, says study and RSPB News – Just one in five UK children ‘connected to nature’, groundbreaking study finds.

View photos and videos of UK species on ARKive.

Get connected with nature with ARKive’s fun educational activities.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Oct 1

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 20

The number of red squirrels in northern England has risen for the first time in 140 years, according to a new survey.

Photo of a red squirrel

The red squirrel is a much-loved species in the UK

Foreign invaders

The native red squirrel was almost wiped out across the United Kingdom after the grey squirrel was introduced from North America in the 1900s. As well as being larger and more adaptable, the grey squirrel carries a pox virus to which the red squirrel is susceptible.

As a result of the grey squirrel’s success, the native red squirrel is now restricted to just a few parts of northern England, the Isle of Wight and Scotland.

Photo of grey squirrel collecting leaves in mouth

The grey squirrel is native to North America, but was introduced to the UK in the 1900s

Red squirrel rise

Now, after years of decline, the red squirrel may be starting to make a comeback. A recent three-month study in 300 woodlands across northern England found that the number of red squirrels has risen by 7% compared to the same period last year. It also found that grey squirrels in the area were declining.

According to the wildlife group Red Squirrels Northern England (RSNE), which carried out the survey, the increase in reds is likely to be a result of conservation efforts to improve their woodland habitats.

Conservationists have also been trapping squirrels, releasing the native reds but killing the non-native greys.

Photo of red squirrel

Although widespread across most of Europe and into northern Asia and Siberia, the red squirrel has undergone a serious decline in the UK

Good for tourism

As well as increasing in number, the red squirrels have also been returning to areas from which they had disappeared. For example, the survey found the species in Ambleside and Rydal in Cumbria for the first time in ten years.

The monitoring has helped us learn that there are now 20 squirrels close to our home here which inspires us to continue our efforts to save this native species,” said Phil Bailey of the Brampton Red Squirrel Group in Cumbria.

Photo of red squirrel feeding

Red squirrel feeding

The involvement of local people has been seen as crucial in helping the red squirrels to return, and this popular species is also an important draw for tourists. According to Simon O’Hare of the RSNE, “The effect on tourism is immeasurable. People never forget seeing red squirrels.”

 

Read more on this story at The Telegraph – After 140 years, red squirrels are fighting back and BBC News – Red squirrels rise by 7% in North after decline.

View more images and videos of the red squirrel on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jul 19

Bumblebees imported from Europe infected with parasites pose a serious threat to the UK’s wild and honey bee populations, according to a new study.

Honey bee image

Honey bees are vital pollinators

Deadly imports

Each year, more than a million bumblebee colonies are imported by countries across the globe to pollinate a variety of crops, with the UK alone importing between 40,000 and 50,000. Although the colonies are said by the global suppliers to be disease free, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Ecology has found that more than three-quarters of those imported into the UK each year are riddled with parasites.

Bees and disease

Scientists purchased 48 commercially produced bumblebee colonies, each containing up to 100 bees, from three different European suppliers during 2011 and 2012, and screened each one for parasite DNA. The results showed that an alarming 77% of the colonies were infected with parasites, a situation which has serious implications for the health of the UK’s native wild bees and honey bees, many of which are already suffering severe declines.

These parasites will undoubtedly be spilling over into wild and honey bees and very probably having negative effects on them,” said lead researcher Professor William Hughes, from the University of Sussex. “It is no great leap to think that damage is already being done.”

Honey bee worker image

Parasites carried by imported bumblebee colonies may pose a serious risk to the UK’s native bee populations

Parasites

The results of the study revealed that the imported bumblebee colonies carried several different parasites, five of which were found in the bees themselves and three in the pollen provided by the suppliers as food. These parasites included three main bumblebee parasites (Crithidia bombi, Nosema bombi and Apicystis bombi), three honey bee parasites (Nosema apis, Ascosphaera apis and Paenibacillus larvae), and two which infect both bumblebees and honey bees (Nosema ceranae and deformed wing virus).

With the decline of pollinating insects in the UK in recent years, food producers are becoming increasingly reliant upon imported bees.

Over a million colonies are imported globally – it’s a huge trade,” said Professor Hughes. “A surprisingly large number of these are produced in factories, mainly in Eastern Europe. We couldn’t grow tomatoes in this country without these bumblebees. We sought to answer the big question of whether colonies that are being produced now have parasites and, if so, whether those parasites are actually infectious or harmful.”

Buff-tailed bumblebee image

Scientists are calling for stricter regulations regarding the import of bumblebees

Severe consequences

The potential impacts on native wild bee and honey bee species could be extremely severe, from harming the bees’ ability to learn, which is vital for finding food, to killing them outright. In Argentina, native bee species are already being driven to extinction as a result of imported parasites, and the authors of the recent study are recommending that urgent action is required in the UK to improve the effectiveness of disease screening and to close damaging loopholes.

Call for action

Scientists are calling for authorities to strengthen measures to prevent the importation of parasite-infected bumblebee colonies, by introducing proper colony checks upon arrival in the UK. While there are strict regulations in the UK regarding the import of non-native bumblebees, including ensuring that the colonies are disease free and are only kept in hives from which the queens cannot escape, no such regulations apply to imported colonies of native bee subspecies.

Bees and other pollinators are responsible for the production of three-quarters of the world’s food crops, but heavy pesticide use, rising disease, and starvation due to habitat destruction are all contributing to worrying declines in many species.

The introduction of more or new parasite infections will, at a minimum, exacerbate this, and could quite possibly directly drive declines,” said Professor Hughes.

Honey bee image

Honey bee in flight, laden with pollen

Pesticide ban

Earlier this week, the EU voted to successfully suspend the use of fipronil, a common pesticide, due to the serious risk it poses to bees. Currently used in more than 70 countries, this insect nerve agent will be banned from use on corn and sunflowers in Europe from the end of 2013.

Tonio Borg, European Commissioner for Health, said, “In the aftermath of the restriction on use of neonicotinoids, I pledged to do my utmost to protect Europe’s honey bee population, and today’s agreement with member states not only delivers on that pledge but marks another significant step in realising the commission’s overall strategy to tackling Europe’s bee decline.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – Imported Bumblebees pose ‘parasite threat’ to native bees and The Guardian – Imported bumblebees pose risk to UK’s wild and honeybee population – study.

Find out more about honey bees on ARKive.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Jun 1
Photo of violet click beetle

Violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceus)

Species: Violet click beetle (Limoniscus violaceus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The violet click beetle is named for its ability to right itself by leaping into the air with an audible clicking sound.

The violet click beetle is a rare insect found only in a few locations across Europe, including just three sites in the UK. The adult violet click beetle is black with a faint blue sheen, and grows to just 1.2 centimetres in length. Like other click beetles, the violet click beetle possesses a ‘groove’ and ‘peg’ system on its underside which allows it to right itself or to leap into the air if threatened. By slamming the peg into the groove, the beetle is thrown into the air with a clicking sound. Adult violet click beetles are thought to be nocturnal and to feed on plant nectar, while their larvae live only in wood mould inside old, decaying trees, usually in large cavities in the trunks.

Although quite widespread across Europe, the violet click beetle is rare throughout its range, and has become extinct in some areas, such as in Denmark. The particular conditions it prefers are not common, and are becoming rarer as old trees are felled and removed by unfavourable forest management methods. This rare beetle is legally protected in the UK and in Hungary, and the sites where it occurs are also protected. Various conservation measures are underway to protect the violet click beetle, including preserving old-growth trees and providing artificial breeding sites by creating suitable cavities in trees.

Find out more about the violet click beetle at the Natural History Museum and The Wildlife Trusts.

Find out more about insect conservation in the UK on the Buglife website.

See images of the violet click beetle on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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