Putting the focus (back onto) the marine world – Experts believe the colony of Limaria hians in Loch Alsh, a sea inlet between Skye and mainland, is the largest of its kind. The Guardian reports
The discovery of a large shellfish reef on the west coast of the UK could be the biggest find of its kind in the world, experts believe.
The reef, made up of more than 100 million brightly coloured and rare flame shells, or Limaria hians, was found in Loch Alsh, a sea inlet between Skye and the Scottish mainland. It covers an area of 4.6 sq miles (7.5 sq km) and was discovered during a survey commissioned by Marine Scotland. It is the largest known colony of flame shells in the UK and possibly the world, say experts.
“With Scottish waters covering an area around five times bigger than our landmass, it’s a huge challenge to try and understand more about our diverse and precious sea life.
“This important discovery may be the largest grouping of flame shells anywhere in the world.
“And not only are flame shells beautiful to look at, these enigmatic shellfish form a reef that offers a safe and productive environment for many other species.”
Flame shells have a similar shape to scallops, with many neon orange tentacles that appear between the two shells. They group together on the sea bed and their nests create a living reef to support hundreds of other species.
The Loch Alsh survey was carried out by Heriot-Watt University on behalf of Marine Scotland. Dr Dan Harries, from the university’s school of life sciences, said: “Too often, when we go out to check earlier records of a particular species or habitat we find them damaged, struggling or even gone.
“We are delighted that in this instance we found not just occasional patches but a huge and thriving flame shell community extending right the way along the entrance narrows of Loch Alsh. This is a wonderful discovery for all concerned.”
Ben James, marine survey and monitoring manager at Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “Whilst we had some records of flame shells in Loch Alsh, we had no idea how big the bed was.
“It’s great to have this new information and it’s yet another example of the fantastic diversity of Scotland’s marine environment.”
Hatton Bank, near the Isle of Lewis, covers about 9,752 sq miles (15,694 sq km) and features a large volcanic bank which is home to a large variety of corals.
WWF Scotland spokesman Lang Banks said: “These surveys highlight that Scotland’s seas and coasts are home to a truly amazing range of stunning wildlife.
“Who needs space travel when we’ve still to fully explore and understand the oceans and seas here on planet Earth?”
- Shellfish reef off UK’s west coast could be biggest in world (independent.co.uk)
- ‘Huge’ flame shell bed discovered (bbc.co.uk)
- World’s biggest shellfish reef found in Britain (telegraph.co.uk)
- Shellfish reef ‘huge and thriving’ (standard.co.uk)
- Scottish Shellfish Reef ‘Is World’s Largest’ (news.sky.com)
- Shellfish reef ‘huge and thriving’ (belfasttelegraph.co.uk)
- Scottish News: Shellfish reef ‘huge and thriving’ (acadvertiser.co.uk)
‘Birds of prey, I have heard it said, swoop down and kill sheep….so people might be next’…. Misconceptions about the natural world, based on ignorance, can spark worries and produce total myths. |LearnFromNature |
Improving our appreciation and awareness of the natural environment, comes from learning the real facts about the creatures we share the planet, and clarifying the misconceptions that are often created based on ignorance. The BBC and First News brings this report
For my blog post, see this
For factsheet , click here
In The Independent on Sunday: A decade after the first legal moves to protect them, they are still under attack – and now they could fall victim to spending cuts
They are the living seams that have typified the British countryside for centuries. But now hedgerows are disappearing fast, and a report published tomorrow will say we are not doing enough to protect them.
Although “important” hedgerows are protected by law, the majority can be taken down if a landowner wishes, which has resulted in many being dug up to create larger fields that are easier to harvest. For the past 20 years, the Government has provided financial help to landowners to restore and manage hedgerows. But most have still been left unmanaged, sometimes growing into larger trees offering fewer benefits to wildlife because they are less dense at ground level.
The CPRE study focused on England, but the picture nationwide is similarly grim.
Nigel Adams, vice-chairman of the National Hedgelaying Society, said: “The hedgerow is the unsung hero of our countryside. It’s often overlooked, but visitors to England say it’s what makes it so special. The majority are not used for their original purpose [as an animal barrier], but people recognise their importance in terms of wildlife and history.”
Since 1998, the number of legally protected hedgerows has risen by 18 per cent. Currently, 42 per cent of the UK’s hedgerows are protected, but the CPRE fears that the narrow criteria required to register a stretch of hedge as “important” will mean many more are lost.
To qualify for legal protection, a hedge must be at least 20 metres long, 30 years old and meet strict criteria on heritage and numbers of animals and plants relying on it. Some hedges were easy to register, such as Judith’s Head in Cambridgeshire, which is Britain’s oldest, having stood for more than 900 years. But for non-celebrity hedges, the future is dicey. More than two-thirds of local authorities surveyed by CPRE said that the current Hedgerow Regulations needed to be simplified to make them more effective.
Emma Marrington, author of the report, said: “The length of hedgerows in the country is declining, which is worrying. They’re a part of our heritage, but they also offer huge benefits to wildlife and the environment in general. It’s over a decade since the introduction of the Hedgerows Regulations, and the time is ripe for the Government to make improvements that give local authorities the power they need to better protect the great diversity of England’s hedgerows.”
The CPRE is concerned that hedgerow protection programmes could be at risk when the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) makes spending cuts in the autumn. “The Defra spending cuts could affect the money for schemes like this,” Ms Marrington said. “I can see how hedgerows could be overlooked; they’re taken for granted as being a part of the English countryside, and people don’t realise how much they’re at risk.”
If hedgerows in Britain decline further, so too will those species that depend on them. Jim Jones of the People’s Trust for Endangered Species is running a study of the impact of disappearing hedgerows on dormice, a species whose population has declined by 40 per cent in 20 years. “Dormice have disappeared from seven counties where they existed in the 1800s, at the same time as hedgerows have declined,” he said. “Hedgerow corridors are crucial because they allow them to forage and move around.”
Species in peril: An ecosystem teeming with life
Dormice, harvest mice, hedgehogs, six species of bat, and polecats are all at risk as hedgerows decline. They rely on the covered corridors that allow them to move around.
The copse bindweed and the Plymouth pear are among the plants that flourish in hedgerows.
Fungi and lichens
From the sandy stilt puffball to the weather earthstar fungus, many fungi do particularly well in hedgerows. Lichens such as the orange-fruited elm lichen and the beard lichen are also at risk.
Stag beetles, brown-banded carder bees and large garden bumblebees are among those at risk. More than 20 of Britain’s lowland butterfly species breed in hedgerows, including the brown hairstreak and the white-letter hairstreak butterfly.
Reptiles and amphibians
Hedgerows connecting with ponds are vital for great crested newts to move through the countryside. The common toad, grass snake, slow worm and common lizard are also at risk.
Many woodland birds rely on taller hedges for breeding. The turtle dove, grey partridge, cuckoo, lesser spotted woodpecker, song thrush, red-backed shrike and yellowhammer are all in danger.
Research from the Campaign to Protect Rural England has found that though hedgerows enjoy more protection than ever before, in England their overall length fell by 26,000 kilometres between 1998 and 2007. The study, England’s Hedgerows: Don’t Cut Them Out!, calls for current legislation to be strengthened.
As well as having a nostalgic place in the aesthetics of the countryside, hedgerows are a vital part of the ecosystem. Research by Hedgelink, a network of British hedge conservation groups, shows that without them some 130 species – from the hedgehog and the dormouse to stag beetles and the cuckoo – would be under threat.