May 27

Here at ARKive, we’re not just researchers, writers and website designers – we are also passionate about the natural world, and many of us enjoy getting outside and learning more about the wildlife around us.

While not writing and editing species profiles for the ARKive website, I have been busy setting up and helping to run the UK’s first national ‘Garden Bioblitz’ event. It takes place across the country this weekend (1st-2nd June) and everyone can get involved!

Photo of hedgehog in grass

Hedgehogs are common garden visitors, but are in decline in the UK

What is a BioBlitz?

The idea of a BioBlitz is to bring together scientists and members of the public to identify and record as many species as possible in a particular area over a limited time period, usually 24 hours.

The first BioBlitz was held in Washington, D.C. in 1996, and since then the idea has spread across the world, with more events being added every year.

Photo of buff-tailed bumblebee

Growing nectar-rich plants can help attract bees, butterflies and other insects

Most BioBlitzes work together with environmental records centres to ensure that the data collected will have the maximum value for science. As well as collecting scientific records, the events also give the public the opportunity to learn about biodiversity, be inspired by experts, and experience their local wildlife.

Why a Garden Bioblitz?

The idea of a Garden Bioblitz came about last year when a couple of wildlife enthusiasts got together online and decided it would be fun to record the wildlife in our gardens. We had so much interest from others who wanted to join in that we decided to turn it into a national event.

The Garden Bioblitz initially ran as a trial event in 2012 and was a huge success, with more than 2,231 records entered for 966 species by just 24 volunteers. This year, the event is open to everyone, and we hope that as many people as possible will take part.

Photo of robin singing

Putting out food and water can attract birds into your garden

Gardens cover a large area of the UK and are an important habitat for many native species. The only way for scientists to thoroughly survey the wildlife living in people’s gardens is through ‘citizen science’, with members of the public helping to collect this valuable information. The records collected will be made available to national recording schemes, which help researchers and local governments make conservation and land management decisions.

However, although these records are important, the main aims of the event are to get people outside, engaging with the species on their doorsteps, discovering something new, and hopefully being inspired to encourage more wildlife into their gardens. Above all, it’s about having fun!

How to take part

To take part in the Garden Bioblitz, all you need to do is choose a 24-hour period over the weekend of 1st-2nd June, then get outside and rummage through your flowerbeds, watch birds on your feeders, dip nets into ponds or crawl across your lawn to see what you can find.

Photo of slow worm

Compost heaps can provide shelter for many species, including slow worms, the UK’s only legless lizards

You don’t need to be a wildlife expert or have any special skills, and you don’t even need to count for the full 24 hours. The team are interested in all records – just go out, write down what you see, take lots of photos and submit your records online. There is even a downloadable ticksheet of 20 top species to spot, for those who want a bit more help with where to begin. Or you can view some of our handy hints and tips on how to go about your Bioblitz.

Experts will be online over the weekend to help identify finds, and anyone can take part in the event, whether they have a large garden or a tiny patio – it’s amazing what you can discover when you take a closer look. And if it seems a little daunting, why not get friends, family or neighbours to join in and help out?

Photos of daisies in flower

Lawns can be home to a surprising variety of wildflowers

Here are the five simple steps to taking part:

  • Go out into your garden and see what you can find! Use the downloadable tick sheet if you’re not sure where to start.
  • Take lots of photos – these can help with species identification.
  • Identify your finds – you can use books, online field guides, or ask the experts on iSpot or Twitter.
  • Upload your records to iRecord.
  • Have fun!

Although the Garden Bioblitz is currently based in the UK, you are welcome to take part wherever you are, and to submit records to your own local recording schemes.

Let us know how you get on!

Garden Bioblitz logo

To find out more about the Garden Bioblitz and how to take part, visit the Garden Bioblitz website or follow the Garden Bioblitz team on Twitter @GardenBioblitz.

You can also find out about other BioBlitz events on the National BioBlitz website and Encyclopedia of Life – BioBlitz.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author and Garden Bioblitz team member

May 22

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

May 21

The first common crane egg in the western United Kingdom in over 400 years has been laid at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, England.

Photo of common crane tending to eggs on nest

Common crane with eggs on nest

A round-the-clock guard has been set up to protect the egg from collectors, as despite egg collecting being illegal in the UK it is still practiced by an unscrupulous minority. Video cameras are in place to allow the public to view the nest, as well as to provide important footage for conservation scientists. Lucky visitors can also view the nest from the centre’s bird hides.

Reintroducing cranes

The common crane was once widespread across the UK, but became extinct in the region by the early 1600s as a result of hunting and the destruction of its wetland habitats. In the 1980s, a tiny group of birds began breeding in eastern England, but this population remains small.

Photo of a group of common cranes feeding in a field

Common cranes were once widespread in the UK, but were wiped out by hunting and the destruction of wetlands

In an attempt to re-establish breeding cranes across the UK, The Great Crane Project has been working to reintroduce common cranes to western England since 2010. Chicks have been reared in captivity before being reintroduced to the wild, and the oldest have now begun to reach maturity.

Although one pair of cranes from the project built a nest at the reintroduction site on the Somerset Levels, it was sadly abandoned. The pair of birds at Slimbridge are the first of the released birds to have laid an egg.

Absolutely momentous

This first egg is an exciting step forward in bringing back the common crane as a breeding species across the UK. Most cranes don’t usually breed successfully until they are five years old, so more breeding attempts are likely in the coming years.

Photo of common crane hatchling at nest with unhatched egg

Common crane eggs take around 28 to 31 days to hatch

According to Nigel Jarrett, Head of Conservation Breeding at WWT, “Cranes are an iconic part of British wildlife and one that was all but lost for centuries. There is a long way to go before cranes become widespread again, but it is absolutely momentous to see this egg laid at Slimbridge.”

The parents of this egg were hand-reared here at Slimbridge and have thrived through their first three years on the wetlands of the Somerset Moors thanks to the help and support of the local community, particularly the farmers.”

The Great Crane Project aims to introduce around 100 resident birds by 2015 to help secure the future of this magnificent and iconic species.

 

Read more on this story at WWT – 24 hour guard for western Britain’s first crane egg in four centuries and BBC – First crane egg in 400 years laid at Slimbridge.

Find out more about The Great Crane Project.

View more photos and videos of common cranes on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Apr 17

One of the great things about living in the UK is that as an island nation we are never too far away from the coast! What is even better is that we fortunate enough to have a huge coastline which is as diverse as the species that inhabit it. Though less popular with tourists compared to a sandy beaches, rocky shores are rich in biodiversity and just as accessible. Rocky coasts are dynamic environments, always changing according to the weather and the tide.

http://www.arkive.org/eco-regions/rocky-shores-uk/image-H301

A snapshot of the large range of species of the rocky shore

One wave changes everything – species have to be able to adapt

The species that live there have to be able to cope with these ever changing conditions and vary dramatically with depending on what past of the rocky coast they are found in. In the permanently submerged areas (called the sublittoral zone) several species of fish and seaweeds can be found if you’re brave enough to go for a snorkel… you may even be lucky enough to see something a bit bigger.

A common octopus – not actually a common site in Britain

The common lobster can be found in shallows of rocky shores

If the sea is a bit too cold for you the UK’s rocky coasts have an abundance of rock pools to explore. What you will actually find in these pools depends on how close to the sea they are. Pools that are further away and more isolated from the sea are generally a harsher place for species to live. That said you’ll always find something – there are usually several anemones and smaller crustacens in most rock pools.

Rock pools provide habitats for numerous species

A common sight in many rock pools across the UK – the aptly named common prawn

Walking on the cliff tops in many parts of the UK will quickly introduce you to some breathtaking scenery, if you are lucky you may see a dolphin or a whale that has come in. Some of the UK’s best bird watching can be found on the cliffs high up above the sea puffins, gannets, petrels and a host of other birds attract budding ornithologists from across the world.

Sea cliff provide a habitat for numerous bird species

Britain’s most distinctive sea bird? Often seen on rocky cliffs in breeding season

To find out more about the rocky shore head over to our new rocky shore habitat page.

George Bradford, ARKive Media Researcher

Mar 7

Around half of the United Kingdom’s deer population needs to be shot each year to prevent damage to woodlands and other wildlife, according to a group of scientists.

Photo of female roe deer standing alert

Native roe deer are increasing in the United Kingdom

The scientists carried out a census of roe deer and muntjac deer populations across 234 square kilometres of woodland and heathland in East Anglia in the UK, and the results suggest that current management strategies for deer are failing. Although deer numbers in the area appeared stable, it was only because thousands of individuals were being pushed out into the surrounding countryside.

The study indicated that a cull of 50 to 60% of the deer would be necessary to keep their populations under control – much higher than the 20 to 30% that had previously been recommended.

Deer damage

There are six deer species in the UK, of which four are introduced. The current UK deer population is thought to stand at around 1.5 million, meaning there are more deer in the country now than at any time since the last Ice Age.

In the absence of natural predators, deer populations are continuing to expand and are believed to be damaging woodlands, as well as causing road traffic accidents and damage to crops.

Photo of dead roe deer in road

Many deer are killed on the UK’s roads each year

According to Dr Paul Dolman, an ecologist at the University of East Anglia and one of the authors of the study, “We know deer are eating out the… vegetation of important woodlands, including ancient woodlands. Deer are implicated as the major cause of unfavourable conditions in terms of woodland structure and regeneration. There is evidence that deer reduce the number of woodland birds – especially some of our much loved migrant bird species like blackcap and nightingale, and resident species like willow tit. We have a problem.”

Dr Kristin Wäber, another of the study’s authors, said, “Native deer are an important part of our wildlife that add beauty and excitement to the countryside, but left unchecked they threaten our woodland biodiversity…. Current approaches to deer management are failing to contain the problem – often because numbers are being underestimated. Cull targets are often too low.”

Photo of red deer stag roaring during rut

The red deer is the largest native land animal in the UK

Venison market

The researchers have suggested creating a market for venison to make a cull more ethically and economically acceptable.

What we are advocating isn’t removing deer from the countryside – what we are advocating is trying to get on top of the deer population explosion and try to control the problems that are being caused. And in a way, [venison] provides a sustainable food source where you know where it comes from, you know it is ethically sourced, you know it is safe to eat, and that puts food on people’s tables,” said Dr Dolman.

Photo of Chinese water deer running

The Chinese water deer is one of four deer species introduced to the UK

However, others are opposed to a cull. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said that it was “opposed in principle to the killing or taking of all wild animals unless there is strong science to support it, or evidence that alternatives are not appropriate.” It also added that any cull must be carried out in a controlled and humane way.

The study also reopens a debate about whether natural predators such as lynx and wolves should be reintroduced to the UK, but this remains a complex and controversial issue.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Deer: 50% cull ‘necessary to protect countryside’ and UEA Press Release – First in-depth deer census highlights need for increased culls.

View photos and videos of UK deer on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

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