Nov 30

Happy St. Andrews Day! It’s Scotland’s national day, and as we celebrate with shortbread, oatcakes, and clootie dumplings, we thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to appreciate some of the greatest wilderness areas in the United Kingdom. From the Shetland Islands to the Scottish Borders, Scotland is home to some incredible species, many of which are found nowhere else in the UK.

Pine marten (Martes martes)

Pine marten (Martes martes)

One of Scotland’s most elusive species, the pine marten was once persecuted to the edge of extinction in the UK. Although it remains one of our rarest mammals, the pine marten is becoming more widespread in Scotland, and sightings are being investigated in Wales.

Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus)

Male capercaillie displaying photo

These unexpectedly large birds are famed for the male’s spectacular spring display, during which they produce a series of odd calls, including sounds like the popping of corks. Wide-scale forest clearance and hunting caused the capercaillie to become extinct in Britain in the 18th century. Birds from Sweden were reintroduced in the 19th century, and this bird now survives in the Cairngorm region of Scotland.

Mountain hare (Lepus timidus)

Mountain hare in winter coat eating berries

The mountain hare is another mammal native to the Scottish Highlands, and the only species in the Leporidae family (hares and rabbits) native to the UK. Populations have been released elsewhere in the UK, mainly for shooting, and mountain hares can now be found in the Scottish Borders, south-west Scotland, the Peak District and the Isle of Man.

Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

Ptarmigan female camouflaged on rock

The ptarmigan is possibly Britain’s hardiest bird, living high on Scottish mountainsides in rocky terrain with very little vegetation. The ptarmigan is the only bird in Britain to turn white during winter, enabling this bird to blend in perfectly with a snowy winter’s landscape.

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

Female Atlantic salmon leaping up waterfall

The Atlantic salmon run is a spectacular sight in Scotland. As the fish head upstream against the current to spawn, they display spectacular feats of strength to leap up waterfalls and many other obstacles. Sadly for this charismatic species, Atlantic salmon numbers are only reasonably healthy in four countries: Norway, Ireland, Iceland and Scotland.

Heather (Calluna vulgaris)

Flowering heather on heathland

With heather dominating Scottish heaths, bogs and moorland, it’s no wonder this resilient shrub is an iconic symbol of Scotland. Heather has been used as fodder, fuel, thatch, bedding for livestock and humans, a packing material, and to make ropes, brooms and even beer.

Unfortunately, a lack of reliable pictures and footage means that the most renowned Scottish species has yet to be profiled on ARKive. We couldn’t write a blog about Scotland’s wildlife without mentioning the Loch Ness Monster though!

Happy St. Andrews Day!

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Nov 28

Organic horticulturist, Andy Dean, shares his views with us on Christmas trees and how to have a green Christmas…

In 1841, Queen Victoria’s new husband Albert, introduced a German Christmas tradition into the British royal household. From that point on the popularity of the Christmas tree has been on the up in the UK, Western Europe, America and most other parts of the world.

The custom of putting up a decorated fir tree in your home at Christmas began in Germany in the 17th century.

Unlike in England, the fir tree is native to Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, being part of the natural biodiversity and offering habitat for native wildlife. Even in its native Germany, the fir tree has been through periods of threat, with legislation being passed to protect it from harvesting due to the popularity of having a cut tree indoors during the festive holiday season.

Photo of American red squirrel searching for fir cones at top of Douglas fir tree

Fir trees are important to wildlife: American red squirrel searching for fir cones at the top of a Douglas fir tree

I am in no way a ‘bah humbug’ person about Christmas and love the celebrations, but it breaks my heart to see the cut trees that are discarded after two weeks, laying outside almost every household, browning on their sides.

It strikes me as evidence of our detachment to source and, in our innocent excitement for the season, we forget that it is not just the one tree that we have cut, but many trees – almost one for each household. In fact, it is reported that 7 million real fir trees were sold in England last year alone.

With the approaching festivities, I would like to set a challenge to everyone. Instead of spending good money on a cut tree that will be tossed aside once the festivities are all over – putting a strain on both the environment and local amenities – why not gather up your family and take a walk in the countryside to pick a couple of sprigs of holly or ivy and perhaps a broken branch that could be decorated.

Common holly photo

Common holly

So long as this is done sympathetically, without greed and with good common sense, there is no reason why this should hamper the environment at all. In fact a gentle prune will help promote growth of the plant, and in gathering it ourselves we have both filled our lungs with fresh air and stretched our legs.

If you do want a real tree and have the outside space to accommodate it, why not grow one in a pot and enjoy it all year round, bringing it indoors for the holiday season?

With the money saved every year, you could even plant a native tree – either on your own land or even by making a donation to charities like the Woodland Trust  who strive to plant, proliferate and protect our native broadleaved woodlands. These are the very woodlands that add beauty to our landscapes and support our native wildlife.

Photo of a  subalpine fir forest

The beauty of a subalpine fir forest

And if you’re looking for something a little different this year, have a look at my post on alternatives to the cut tree .

Andy Dean, NOCN, is an organic horticulturist and owner of landscape & garden design company, Blue Sky Landscapes .

Nov 28

Kia Ora! This means ‘hello’ in Maori, the native language in New Zealand. Comprised of two main land masses known as North and South Island, New Zealand is well-known for its diverse geography, from majestic snow-capped mountains to evergreen rainforests, fresh lakes, open grasslands and beautiful beaches. Large numbers of tourists visit each year, yet many may not be be aware of all the amazing and unique wildlife that New Zealand has to offer. Whether you are exploring the forests of Abel Tasman National Park, hang-gliding over Lake Taupo or abseiling into a cavern, you will no doubt see or hear some of the fascinating species found in this beautiful country.

Long-legged Wader

New Zealand black stilt photo

The New Zealand black stilt, or Kakï, is one of the most threatened wading birds in the world. An elegant and distinctive species, it has black plumage, slender red legs and a long refined bill. Once widespread on both islands, this rare bird is now restricted to the Mackenzie basin, an area where several scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy were also filmed. Now Critically Endangered, this species’ decline is primarily attributed to the introduction of mammalian predators such as cats, ferrets and stoats.

Brothers everlasting

Brothers Island tuatara photo

One of the oldest animals in the world today, the Brothers Island tuatara is the only remaining species in the order Rhynchocephalia, including ancient reptiles that existed 200 million years ago. Tuataras are of great interest to biologists, who must travel to the small North Brother Island off the coast of New Zealand to study them.

Looks that hook

Hooker’s sea lion photo

Hooker’s sea lion, also known as the New Zealand sea lion, is one of the most threatened sea lions in the world. In common with lions on land, adult male Hooker’s sea lions have a distinct light-coloured ‘mane’ that reaches down to their shoulders. This species has a very restricted range and breeds only on the sub-Antarctic islands off New Zealand. As breeding colonies are very large, a mother uses a distinct call to find her pup in the masses.

Spelunking spider

Nelson cave spider photo

The Nelson cave spider is New Zealand’s largest and only protected species of spider. It possesses an impressive leg-span of 13 cm, with long claws on their first two pairs of legs. As formidable as this arachnid may be, it is also quite rare and only found in the caves of the Nelson region. This impressive hunter feeds on large grasshopper-like insects called weta within the caves by descending upon them from above.

Dark Knight Down Under

New Zealand long-tailed bat photo

The New Zealand long-tailed bat is one of only three extant land mammals native to New Zealand. The long tail, for which it is named, is nearly as long as its body. This little bat is found on forest edges and in caves on both islands, yet due to deforestation and invasive species it is considered Vulnerable, and is the focus of a national bat recovery plan at present.

Wingless royalty

North Island brown kiwi photo

How can we highlight this enchanting country’s wildlife without introducing its true celebrity? The North Island brown kiwi is New Zealand’s national bird, and it is unique not only because it is flightless, but unlike other flightless birds it is also wingless!  This national icon is one of five species of kiwi found in New Zealand, and sadly it is considered an Endangered species. This is primarily due to the introduction of predators such as dogs and cats.

This is just a sample of all the wonderful wildlife you can hope to see if you visit New Zealand. Why not explore ARKive’s species found in New Zealand, or discover the wildlife seen in the surrounding waters by using ARKive to explore Google Earth.

Maggie Graham, ARKive Program Assistant

Nov 26
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Species: Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: Despite its common name, the green of the green turtle is not initially obvious – it actually derives this name from the green colour of its fat and connective tissues.

The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) is one of the largest and most widespread of all the marine turtles. Found throughout the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, these marine reptiles undertake tremendous feats of navigation and may travel thousands of kilometres across the open ocean to return to a particular beach to breed. Unlike other marine turtles, the adult green turtle is almost completely herbivorous, grazing on sea grasses and algae. Juveniles will typically feed on jellyfish, molluscs and sponges.

The green turtle is overharvested in many areas for both its meat and eggs. By catch, habitat degradation, and disease also threaten this species. International legislation, including its listing on Appendix I of CITES, has reduced the direct impact we are having on green turtle populations. However, a lack of monitoring of fisheries and continued habitat degredation still pose problems to protecting this, and the six other species of marine turtle.

For more information about green turtles and their conservation see the WWF website.

See videos and images of the green turtle on ARKive.

Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Researcher

Nov 24

The UK’s largest annual tree celebration, National Tree Week 2012 runs from today until 2nd December and serves to highlight the importance of trees to human wellbeing and the environment.

Run by The Tree Council, National Tree Week involves hundreds of tree-planting events around the UK and is a great opportunity for communities to do something positive for their local area.

Every tree matters

Although planting a single tree may seem like a small step, The Tree Council believes that every tree matters. As well as helping to combat pollution, flooding and climate change, trees provide great habitats for wildlife and have also been shown to have positive effects on human health.

To celebrate National Tree Week here at ARKive, we thought we would share a few of our favourite UK tree species, and find out what makes them special…

The mighty oak

Photo of pedunculate oak tree in leaf

The commonest tree in broadleaved woodlands of southern and central UK, the English or pedunculate oak has a special place in the country’s heart, being a much-loved symbol of strength and duration. A fully grown oak can produce around 50,000 acorns in a good year, and can live for hundreds of years. The widest oak tree in the UK would need about nine adults, stretching fingertip to fingertip, to reach around its trunk!

Ash under threat

Photo of ash leaf opening

The ash is one of the tallest native UK trees, and is one of the last trees to produce leaves in spring. Despite being the third commonest tree species in the UK, the ash is currently threatened by a serious disease known as ‘ash dieback’. There are fears this disease could wipe out as much as 90% of the UK’s 80 million ash trees.

Beech is best

Photo of a beech wood in autumn

The beech is a magnificent large tree with surprisingly little folklore surrounding it. Its timber has a variety of uses, and its nuts were used in the past as an important source of food for pigs and cattle. Beech woodlands often have a dense canopy that shades out other plants, and the leaves of the beech tree take some time to rot, meaning the woodland floor is often carpeted in a deep layer of leaf litter.

Quintessential conkers

Photo of fallen horse chestnuts in autumn

Despite not being native to the UK, the horse chestnut is a quintessential sight in the nation’s village greens and city parks. This species is best known for its seeds, known as ‘conkers’, which are famous as part of a popular children’s game. The horse chestnut is thought to get its name from the horseshoe-shaped leaf scars that are left on the twigs after the leaves have fallen.

Magical elder

Photo of elder flowers

The elder was once regarded as one of the most magically powerful of all plants. Although its heartwood is very hard, its branches are weak and filled with pith. The elder’s name is thought to come from the Anglo-Saxon ‘aeld’, meaning ‘fire’, as the pith could be used as tinder or the hollow stems could be used as bellows. Elder berries are poisonous eaten raw, but can be made into jellies, jams and wines, while elder flowers are used to make elderflower cordial and champagne.

Hardy pine

Photo of Scots pine forest with silver birch, autumn colours

One of only three native conifers in the UK, the Scots pine is an evergreen tree that is also found across northern Europe and Asia. This hardy species originally formed extensive forests across most of the UK, but a warming climate some 5,000 years ago favoured deciduous trees and pushed the range of the Scots pine northwards. The Scots pine has strong timber that is used in constriction and joinery, while its resin is used to make turpentine.

Find out more about the UK’s trees at the Woodland Trust Tree Guide.

View more photos of trees from around the world on ARKive.

Do you have a favourite tree? Have you taken part in any tree-planting events? Wherever you live, we would love to hear about the trees near you!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author


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