Category Archives: Birds

Save Britain’s Barn Owls

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A petition has been launched to save Britain’s Barn Owls, which are dying off in their thousands. The changing climate and a loss in their natural habitat is part of the picture, but these iconic birds are also being killed by powerful rat poisons used on farms across the country.

In 2013 across Britain, the number of Barn Owl nests varied between 45 and 95% lower than normal. Changing climate and habitat loss is part of the picture but Barn Owls are also being killed by powerful rat poisons used on farms across the country. Indeed, the latest scientific research shows that 84% of Britain’s Barn Owls feed on poisoned prey. Some die as a direct result.

The Barn Owl Trust has launched a petition which calls on the Government Minister responsible for the review, Mike Penning, and the Health and Safety Executive to impose stricter controls on these powerful poisons, restricting where and how they are used and throwing a lifeline to our owls.

So please sign to stop the petition and help protect one of the best-loved symbols of Britain’s wildlife.

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Pic: The Barn Owl Trust

Bad weather causing problems for seabirds

Ed Brown Photography

Looks like a lot of seabirds around the coast of Wales are suffering due to the weather we’ve been having, this little guy was taken in Skomer, one of the areas affected and somewhere I hope to visit again later this year.

Atlantic Puffin - Fratercula arctica

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14 winners in our Photo Competition in December

This great pic of a Robin is one of the winners of the Exmoor 4 All photo competition

Exmoor 4 all

WINNER - Clayton Jane 1 dec

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Cutting edge conservation helps wildlife

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The Softrack, a new-state-of-the-art cutting machine, is helping the RSPB to give wildlife a home in Blackloftands, the largest tidal reed bed in England.

The light and agile vehicle that is able to cut reed quickly and efficiently and can easily access the wettest areas at the heart of the reedbed. This means the RSPB is able manage the site more effectively, by creating open areas across the reedbed that benefit a huge range of wildlife including rare bitterns, bearded tits and water voles.

Pete Short, Humber Reserves Manager, says: “In the past we used a tractor with hay mower to cut the reed but the weight of the vehicle meant that it sank in the wetter parts of the reserve. This meant we had to resort to using a heavy-duty strimmer called a brush cutter, which was hard physical work and pretty miserable as we used to get very wet and cold.

“With its caterpillar rollers and lightweight design, the Softrack can get anywhere in the reedbed and cut about four times as much reed as a team of three people using brush cutters. It is saving us a lot of time, money and energy.”

As well as benefitting plants and animals, the RSPB also plans to use the Softrack to harvest reed for use as a low carbon fuel. Funded by landfill tax charity WREN, the Softrack is part of Back to the Future, a five-year RSPB project that will restore wetlands to their former glory and manage them sustainably for wildlife through modern conservation techniques.

Over the past few centuries, large areas of the Humberhead Levels’ important wetlands have been lost due to drainage schemes, which have had a devastating effect on wildlife.

Big Garden Birdwatch 2014

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Pic: RSPB

More than half a million people are expected to be watching their garden birds the weekend (25-26 January), for the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.

It’s the biggest wildlife survey in the world and this year participants are being asked to log some of the other wildlife they see in their gardens too, including deer, squirrels, badgers, hedgehogs, frogs and toads.

Also new for 2014, is the RSPB’s LIVE bird counter, making it even easier to take part. The counter can be accessed from the RSPB website and doesn’t even need to be downloaded – simply take your laptop, tablet or smartphone to the window, enter the birds you see as you see them, while the clock counts down your hour.

Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director says: ”Winter has felt more like autumn for many of us and this could have a significant impact on the number of birds in our gardens.

“Birds come into gardens for food when they can’t find it in the wider countryside but if insects and berries continue to be available long into winter, numbers visiting gardens may be down. The Big Garden Birdwatch will be really interesting this year and will be a good indication of just how much the weather affects their behaviour.

“The key thing for the RSPB is that even if you feel you don’t have as many birds in your garden compared to normal, we still desperately need your results. We will be able to compare results to other mild winter years and compare regional trends, so if you don’t see many birds, we still need to know, it’s really useful information.

“The more people that take part, the greater our understanding of the threats and the solutions will be.”

Starlings hit an all time low in the 2013 Birdwatch with their numbers sinking by a further 16 per cent from 2012. Numbers of house sparrows, which are of high conservation concern, dropped by 17 percent in gardens compared to 2012, whilst numbers of bullfinches and dunnocks were down by 20 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

The data gathered on the mammal and amphibian species will be shared with conservation partners so they can add it to their own records and will be used to help the RSPB tailor its advice on giving nature a home so people can help their wild visitors nest, feed and breed successfully.

To take part, people are asked to spend just one hour at any time of the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend noting the highest number of each bird species seen in their gardens or local outside space at anyone time. They then have three weeks to submit their results to the RSPB, either online or in the post.

Participants don’t have to actually count the other species like hedgehogs and frogs during the birdwatch hour; just tell the RSPB whether they have ever seen them in their gardens, at any time of year.

Bird lovers rally to save Christmas icon

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Conservationists, farmers and wildlife enthusiasts have rallied to the cause of one of England’s most threatened birds, the turtle dove, which has seen its worst year yet.

Numbers have crashed by 85 per cent since 1995 according to the State of the UK’s Birds report released last week, and sightings this summer were the lowest ever. The British Trust for Ornithology’s recent Bird Atlas has revealed that the turtle dove’s range has shrunk dramatically by 52 per cent between 1970 and 2010, but this year a campaign to save the turtle dove has taken off in a big way.

More than 1,250 people rang in to the Operation Turtle Dove hotline in 2013 to report sightings, helping conservationists build up a vital picture of the birds’ nesting and foraging areas. The top county for sightings were Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent.

Operation Turtle Dove, a partnership project between the RSPB, Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England, has been busy visiting farms in the South and East of England to help them put in place measures to help turtle doves bounce back. Advisors have helped unlock £16 million worth of funding for farmers to carry out agri-environment schemes which will benefit the birds.

Simon Tonkin, farmland advisor for Operation Turtle Dove, said: “Although we sing about turtle doves at Christmas, in fact they are in their African wintering grounds at this time of year. But closer to home we believe it is the loss of arable plants from our countryside which is having a major impact on them. These birds spend the summer in England where they rely on wild plants for food – but the way we farm has meant there is often no room for them at the edge of fields.

“Turtle doves are a symbol of enduring love from Chaucer to Shakespeare and their unmistakable purr is an intrinsic part of the English summer. We must act urgently to save these beautiful creatures now while we still can – because if we don’t they will disappear from England entirely within a generation.

“It has been truly heart-warming this year to see the way the public and farmers have rallied to their cause by putting conservation measures in place, raising money and spreading the word. Together we may be able to save this very special species.”

House sparrow numbers stabilise

Country Diary : Two male house sparrows

Pic: Alamy / The Guardian

There was some good news last week when new figures from the BTO Garden BirdWatch survey revealed that the decline in house sparrow numbers appears to have levelled off.

Populations of house sparrows across the UK have fallen from about 12 million pairs in the 1970s to between 6 and 7 million pairs today, with a greater reduction in urban and rural areas than in suburban ones.

But the latest data from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Garden BirdWatch, a citizen science survey in which birdwatchers and householders monitor gardens across the country throughout the year, suggests that the decline in gardens has stabilised since 2009.

Figures from the trust show that in 1995, the proportion of gardens reporting one or more house sparrows was about 80%. This fell steadily to 60% in 2009, and has remained at the same rate since.

“It’s too soon to say that they are increasing but the decline has definitely levelled off since 2009 and hopefully this means they’ll start to increase again,” said Clare Simm, BTO’s Garden BirdWatch development officer.

The house sparrow is a “red-listed”conservation species which has been in long-term decline, particularly in urban environments. Its populations across Britain have been hit by a loss of nesting sites and food sources, especially insects to feed their young.

In rural areas, changes in farming practices are thought to have affected house sparrows. But in urban and suburban areas the causes have been more complex, with everything from cats to air pollution and pesticides being blamed.

The BTO has recommended five simple measures for gardeners to encourage house sparrows:

• Let an area of your garden go wild to encourage insects.

• Plants like hawthorn and ivy provide thick vegetation for sparrows to hide in.

• Provide them with a home, using either a house sparrow terrace or nest boxes near the eaves of your property.

• Feed them with a suitable seed mix that includes large grains.

• Regularly clean your feeding stations to prevent disease.