Tag Archives: birds

60% of UK species in decline, warns new report

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UK nature is in trouble – that is the conclusion of a groundbreaking report published this week by a coalition of leading conservation and research organisations.

Butterflies and moths have been particularly badly affected – almost three quarters of UK butterfly species have decreased in population during the last decade and the number of the UK’s larger moths has crashed during the past 40 years.

Scientists from 25 wildlife organisations have compiled a stock take of our native species and found that 60% of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from the UK altogether.

The unique report, based on scientific analysis of tens of millions of observations from volunteers, shows that from woodland to farmland and from freshwater streams to the sea, many animals, birds, insects, fish and plants  are in trouble.

The causes include the intensification of farming, with the consequent loss of meadows, hedgerows and ponds and increased pesticide use, as well as building development, overfishing and climate change.

The State of Nature report was launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation charities at the Natural History Museum in London on Wednesday, while simultaneous events were held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

Sir David Attenborough said: “This groundbreaking report is a stark warning – but it is also a sign of hope. 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.

“Our islands have a rich diversity of habitats which support some truly amazing plants and animals. 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.

“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.”

Dr Mark Eaton, a lead author on the report, said: “This report reveals that the UK’s nature is in trouble – overall we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate.These declines are affecting our insects, such as our moths, butterflies and beetles, the most, but other once common species, like the lesser spotted woodpecker, barbastelle bat and hedgehog are vanishing before our eyes.

“Threats including sweeping habitat loss, changes to the way we manage our countryside, and the more recent impact of climate change, have had a major impact on our wildlife, and they are not going away.

“None of this work would have been possible without the army of volunteer wildlife enthusiasts. Our knowledge of nature in the UK would be significantly poorer without these unsung heroes. And that knowledge is the most essential tool that conservationists have.”

Freezing weather endangers British wildlife

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Britain’s long cold spell is threatening ever greater numbers of animals, birds and insects. The length of the current cold spell is unprecedented, with temperatures are unlikely to return to their average level until the end of April. By that time, a great deal of harm could have been done to the nation’s wildlife.

A report in The Observer warns that the freezing weather is particularly affecting creatures that are already struggling to survive the loss of their habitats and changes in climate, including:

  • Hedgehogs that are still hibernating. “The weather is not yet warm enough to wake them,” said Fay Vass, Chief Executive of the Hedgehog Preservation Society. “Usually they would be up and about by now. The problem is that the longer a hedgehog remained asleep, the weaker it gets and the less energy it has to restore itself to wakefulness. In general, the longer the cold weather lasts, the greater the number of animals that will not wake up at all. Hedgehogs that have already woken up are having a hard time finding any food.
  • Seabirds along the east coast are also badly affected, struggling to catch fish in the current stormy conditions. Puffins, guillemots, razorbills, cormorants and gulls are all affected.
  • Owls and small birds, such as goldcrests, long-tailed tits and wrens, which mainly feed on small insects, are finding the current cold weather very tricky.
  • Frogs have spawned only for their ponds to have frozen over, while many plants and insects are emerging late, which has a knock-on effect on species that feed on them.
  • Butterflies wake-up in April and, if it is still freezing, that could have very serious consequences for their ability to get food.

The RSPB says everyone can help by making sure their bird feeders are regularly topped up, and The Hedgehog Preservation Society recommends that nature lovers leave plentiful water supplies and food, either meaty cat or dog meals or specialist hedgehog food.

RSPB calls for action to prevent seabird deaths

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Pic by Graham Catley, RSPB

The RSPB has called for tighter international regulations to prevent a substance that is lethal to seabirds from being released into our seas.

The substance, polyisobutene (PIB), was identified by scientists at the University of Plymouth from samples taken from seabirds washed up along the south-west coast of England. PIB is believed to have been responsible for over 4,000 seabird deaths in at least four incidents around European coasts in recent years, yet is currently given one of the lowest hazard classifications under The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.

The RSPB raises questions about the validity of this classification, as the effects of the chemical are only tested under laboratory conditions which do not take into account harmful effects on seabirds and the marine environment when it mixes with seawater.  As a result, PIB can still legally be dumped into the sea when vessels wash out their tanks.

Alec Taylor, the RSPB’s Marine Policy Officer, said: “Given that this substance is used for making chewing gum, adhesive tape and cosmetics, millions of people safely come into contact with it every day. However, it’s when it mixes with seawater that this chemical can become lethal for seabirds, covering them in a sticky goo, and preventing them from flying, feeding and ultimately surviving.”

The RSPB is calling on the International Maritime Organisation to urgently review the hazard classification of PIB, and implement regulations that prevent any further tragic and avoidable incidents.

Struggle to save stricken seabirds continues

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The mystery substance found on hundreds of seabirds washed up on the south coast is a “mixture of refined mineral oils”, says the Environment Agency.

Wildlife experts have warned many more birds could be affected by the waxy substance. Hundreds of birds were found on beaches from Sussex to Cornwall on Thursday. Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “Every effort is being made to identify the cause of this problem. I’d like to thank everyone involved in helping the seabirds affected and it’s thanks to their efforts that many have been cleaned up and now have a chance of survival.”

The total rescue count so far is 162 alive and rescued, but 200 are dead, including a juvenile puffin, a fulmar and 3 razorbills. It is thought the substance may have been dumped into the English Channel by a ship. Most birds have been found in Dorset but others are appearing in Sussex, Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall.

Wildlife crime fighters saved by new funding

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Good news! Government Ministers have confirmed that the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) will be fully funded in 2013.

The Home Office and Defra have committed £136,000 each for the next financial year, securing the future of the unit. The current funding arrangement was due to run out at the end of March.  No decisions have been taken for funding the unit beyond 31 March 2014.

NWCU is at the forefront of the UK’s fight against the growing illegal wildlife trade. Through effective intelligence-led enforcement, it targets key criminals engaged in serious and organised crime.

Announcing the funding, Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “Wildlife crime is a very serious issue with organised gangs using the proceeds from illegally traded items like rhino horn to fuel other illegal activities. It’s right that a specialist unit supports the police in bringing these people to trial.”

The unit has been instrumental in  combating the illegal trade in rhino horn, which now has a blackmarket value in Asia as high as gold.

RSPB Conservation Director, Martin Harper, welcomed the announcement, saying: “The continued support for the unit is great news. The illegal killing of birds of prey is threatening the security of some species, with the hen harrier facing imminent extinction in England as a nesting species. The unit is a vital part of the UK’s fight against wildlife crime, and we’re relieved these crime fighters have been given a further year to provide the protection our wildlife deserves.”

Wildlife crime unit faces extinction over cutbacks

There is growing concern that funding problems may result in Britain’s National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) being axed.

The NWCU is a national police unit that gathers intelligence on wildlife crime and provides investigative support to police services. Defra has agreed its own share of the funding, but the Home Office has yet to sign off the £136,000 required to ensure the unit’s survival. There are fears it may fall foul of the 20 per cent cuts in police budgets being implemented by the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

More than 100 MPs have already signed an early day motion calling on the Government to secure the future of the NWCU, which combats everything from rhino-horn theft and illegal trade in reptiles to persecution of birds of prey. The unit, whose funding runs out on 31 March, has been busier than ever in the last few months. Wildlife crime of all types is rapidly growing across the world, with elephant and rhino poaching hitting new highs last year.

The Badger Trust said it is very concerned and has called on its supporters to both sign a petition and write to their MP, asking for their support. The RSPB is also backing the unit. Spokesperson Grahame Madge said: “With the future of some birds of prey hanging in the balance, it’s imperative that the NWCU  itself has a secure future.”

How to give wildlife a helping hand this winter

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The coldest months of the year can be  a challenging time for birds, hedgehogs, squirrels and other wildlife.

Every winter between one and two thousand wild animals are brought into RSPCA wildlife centres suffering from dehydration, hunger and cold. As a result, the charity is giving nature lovers some great tips on how to help. Here are seven simple things you can do to try and reduce these casualties:

  • Make your garden wildlife-friendly. Leave undisturbed ‘wild’ areas in your garden and provide piles of   leaves or brushwood as nests for hedgehogs to rest and hibernate in.
  • If you have a frozen pond, make sure you check it every day for ice, as toxic gases can build up in the water of a frozen pond and kill fish or frogs. If a pond freezes over, carefully place a saucepan of hot water on the surface to gently melt a hole in the ice. Never tip boiling water on to the pond as this may harm fish.
  • Feed  the birds in your garden. They may have difficulty finding normal food supplies so any alternative extra food you can put out will help. Try giving a range of seeds, fresh unsalted peanuts and table scraps and fruit. Garden birds love dried mealworms or waxworms, which can be bought from bird food suppliers.

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  • Keep a close eye on outdoor pets, such as guinea pigs and rabbits, and put extra bedding in their home and be prepared to move them into a shed or unused garage for extra shelter.
  • If horses and ponies are kept outside during the winter they must have access to shelter at all times.
  • Help squirrels survive the coldest times of the year by offering hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds, plus some chopped apple, beans, carrots or spinach.
  • Don’t ignore your pets needs while celebrating. Try to keep a regular routine of feeding and exercising them, it will keep them happy and healthy. Give your pets a treat over the festive season but remember that too much rich food isn’t good for animals. Grapes, sultanas,  raisins and chocolate are toxic to dogs.

RSPCA wildlife expert Nicola Cunningham said: “We can all struggle when the weather takes a turn for the worst, and our wildlife friends are often the most vulnerable. They just need a bit of a helping hand.”