Category Archives: Conservation issues in the UK

Cleaner rivers in the UK

Otters, water voles and fish are all benefitting from the improved quality of the UK’s waterways, now described as the cleanest since the industrial revolution.  Since almost disappearing from the wild in the 1970s, otters are thriving, particularly in the south west of England, Cumbria and Northumberland.  The population of water voles, highly precarious  in the 1990s, is also beginning to recover.   The good results of stricter pollution controls and extensive conservation work are set to continue in the new year with the introduction of new European water quality directives.  Guardian

Deer eat nightingales out of home

A key reason for the dramatic decline in England’s nightingales is the rise in the deer population, particularly the small muntjac, a prolific all-year breeder.  By eating their way through the understorey of woodland, deer effectively destroy the nightingales’ habitat.

Between 1994 and 2007, nightingale numbers in England – the bird is absent from Scotland and Wales – dropped by 60 per cent, and its range shrank towards the South-east, with concentrations limited to Kent, Sussex, Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.


Swift survey

The RSPB is gathering extensive information about exactly where swifts are nesting in the UK.  It is suspected that their rapid decline in recent years is linked with a drop in suitable nesting sites, as buildings are modernised.

The first year’s survey reveals that of the houses where swifts are nesting:

  • Over half (51%) were built before 1919
  • Exactly a quarter were built between 1919-1944
  • Over half (52%)had been known swift nesting sites for more than 10 years
  • Almost a fifth (16%) were considered threatened
  • Almost 5% of swifts were recorded in churches

The data will be used to make sure that exhilarating displays of screaming swifts continue being part of British summers.

New Forest conservation

A new generation of commoners will receive financial support to ensure animals continue to graze in the New Forest and so conserve its rich biodiversity.

Commoning has shaped the New Forest over hundreds of years. It is because of it that we have this beautiful landscape, a mosaic of pasture, heath and lawn. And it needs to be encouraged – Lyndsey Stride, commoner.


Magpies: Not guilty

The clamour for magpie culls is like the baying of a crowd at a witch trial.  There’s no basis in fact for the claim that magpies are threatening British songbirds, only entrenched irrational ideas about corvids.

Organisations like the Songbird Survival Trust have in the past made badly misjudged calls for such culls. The real cause of population declines of species such as the bullfinch and yellowhammer is human activity: unsustainable land management, unecological farming practices and rampant urbanisation.  A new large-scale study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology has confirmed this. Continue reading Magpies: Not guilty

Tackling bovine TB without killing badgers

A letter has been published in the Guardian from Hilary Benn, the Secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, outlining the government’s strategy for combating bovine TB.  Rather than badgers being culled, which evidence suggests would not control the spread of TB in cattle, they will be vaccinated:

We are . . .  trying an alternative approach to the problem, by investing £20m over three years to develop badger and cattle vaccines. We will start vaccinating badgers in six areas of England, working with farmers, later this year. We are also taking steps to try to reduce the incidence and spread of bovine TB, working with the industry and vets through the Bovine TB Eradication Group, and I have accepted all the recommendations of its first report. This includes providing better support to affected farmers.

Lundy Island becomes first marine conservation zone in England

National Trust Lundy island, Devon

The waters around Lundy Island today became the first marine conservation zone in England as part of a project to create a network of protected areas. The Guardian

Lundy is the largest island in the Bristol Channel, and lies 19 km off the coast of Devon. The number of puffins on the island which may have given the island its name, declined in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, with the 2005 breeding population estimated to be only two or three pairs, as a consequence of depredations by brown and black rats (Rattus rattus) (which have now been eliminated) and possibly also as a result of commercial fishing for sand eels, the puffins’ principal prey. Since 2005, the breeding numbers have been slowly increasing. Adults were seen taking fish into four burrows in 2007, and six burrows in 2008. More on Wikipedia

See also

RSPB say golf courses can by good for wildlife

The RSPB has just published a report on the role Britain’s 2,600 golf courses can play in providing sanctuaries for birds and other wildlife, especially in rough and out-of-bounds areas, which account for some 140,000 hectares across the country. Golf has been heavily criticised by green groups for excessive water, pesticide and fertiliser use, but according to the RSPB’s Nigel Symes, “Golf courses may have gained a bad reputation, perhaps not always justified, amongst environmentalists in the past but that is changing.” Continue reading RSPB say golf courses can by good for wildlife

10-year review of British birds

The good news is that several of Britain’s most endangered species are no longer on the red list: bittern, avocet, osprey, stone-curlew and cirl bunting have all benefited from targeted conservation.  Red kites and sea eagles are recovering rapidly thanks to successful reintroduction programmes. The bad news is that four out of every ten common birds in Britain are declining, notably the nightingale, skylark, swift, guillemot and house sparrow.

This is the conclusion of the State of the UK’s birds report produced by a coalition of Britain’s leading conservation bodies.  The challenge for the next decade will be to understand why so many species are dwindling, with an emphasis on international cooperation.  And hopefully there’s still time to save the common scoter from disappearing.  RSPB

Four new bird species added to pest list

The government body Natural England have added four non-native species to the list of birds that can be shot without having to apply for an individual license: Ring-tailed parakeet, Monk parakeet, Canada goose and Egyptian goose.

The Ring-tailed parakeet, a conspicuous resident in the south of London, is often a scourge for farmers in its native terrain (ranging from Africa to the Himalayas), as large flocks wreak mass destruction on crops.  So far only a few isolated incidents of crop-damage have been reported in England, so its inclusion in the list would seem to be a precautionary move. There is also concern about the impact of this rapidly expanding species on native wildlife, particularly other tree hole-nesting birds, such as woodpeckers.

Any species on the general license list can only be culled with legitimate justification.

More in Independent and RSPB

Vanishing hedgerows

Until about 20 years ago, farmers could obtain government grants to remove hedgerows from their land. In these more enlightened times, grants are now given to maintain them. Yet despite this, a survey has found that 16,000 miles of managed hedgerows disappeared between 1998 and 2007.

The English Hedgerow Trust on the importance of hedgerows:

Hedges are complex ecosystems, and are essential habitats for a wide range of flora and fauna; 21 out of 28 lowland mammal, 69 out of 91 bird and 23 out of 54 butterfly species breed in hedges. In countryside with little or no woodland they are essential for the survival of many bird species. They provide valuable sheltered routes along which wildlife can move more freely across the country between fragmented woodlands, function as screens against bad weather, provide cover for game, contain and shelter stock and crops, act as windbreaks and help control soil erosion.

The English Hedgerow Trust is dedicated to planting and regenerating hedgerows, and need donations and volunteers for their local conservation groups. The photograph shows a newly laid hedge in Home Farm, Bentworth, Hampshire

Sea eagles in Suffolk

Sea eagles in Britain are associated with the wild sea cliffs of Scotland, where they are being successfully re-introduced. What about the lowland wetlands of Suffolk? The vast wingspan of this magnificent bird of prey was also part of this landscape until the raptors were hunted to extinction in the 19th century. Conservationists are now laying plans to re-introduce the Sea eagle to East Anglia, but with great caution. British Nature and the RSPB are carefully gauging public opinion. The presence of Sea eagles, or White-tailed eagles as they are also known, would be a boost for tourism, but farming and shooting interests will need a lot of persuasion.  RSPB Photograph by Niall Benvie

RSPB chop down forest shock

Some quarters, particularly the forestry sector, are reacting with indignation and protest. In these times of climate change, it is argued, surely woodlands should be preserved, not eliminated. But what the RSPB are doing in Farnham, Surrey, by felling the conifer plantations, is restoring heathland, an increasingly rare habitat in Britain. What’s more, they are lobbying the government to clear more non-native conifers, a move that would favour biodiversity and species such as the nightjar, woodlark, sand lizard and adder, which thrive in more open shrubby areas.

As project manager Mike Coates succinctly puts it, “It should be the right tree in the right place. A field of barley is a field of grass, but it’s not a meadow; it’s a crop. In the same way, these are areas of land dominated by trees, but they are not woods, they are crops.”  Photograph: Graham Turner  Guardian

Bittern recovery

After the successful breeding season of Scotland’s sea birds and an increase, at least temporary, of British butterflies this summer, comes the good news about Bitterns. Their recovery is remarkable because they were close to extinction as recently as 12 years ago. Extensive conservation work in wetland areas has paid off, particularly the restoration of dry reedbeds and creation of wet reedbeds. At least 82 booming males have been recorded in 2009, a high point since their total extinction at the end of the 19th century. Read more at the RSPB. Photo by Andy Hay.