Public urged to help save mammals, birds and insects whose habitats and food supplies have come under pressure. The Guardian reports
Britain‘s continued freezing weather is threatening ever greater numbers of wild animals, birds and insects across the country, experts have warned. The current cold spell – one of the longest on record – is particularly affecting creatures that are already struggling to survive the loss of their habitats and changes in climate.
Examples include the hedgehog, which has already suffered a devastating loss of numbers over the past three decades and is now badly affected by the cold weather. In addition, threatened reptiles such as the grass snake and slowworm require sunny, warm conditions when they emerge from hibernation. Such a prospect is still remote, say meteorologists.
Even birds such as the barn owl and tawny owl are facing problems. “Owls like the tawny and barn rely on hearing their prey – mainly voles, shrews and mice – as they scuttle across the ground. But in snow or hardened ground that is very difficult,” said Ben Andrew of the RSPB. “As a result, owls need to hunt during the daytime, leaving them open to attacks by other birds or collisions with motor vehicles.”
Wild animals can deal with harsh weather, experts acknowledge, but the length of the current cold spell is unprecedented, with forecasters warning that 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. 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.
Storms are also having an unwelcome impact. “Seabirds along the east coast of the UK – in particular, puffins – are struggling to catch fish in the current conditions,” said Andrew. “They become malnourished and weak and eventually die and are being washed up on shores in their hundreds. Guillemots, razorbills, cormorants and gulls are also affected. In addition, small birds such as goldcrests, long-tailed tits and wrens, which mainly feed on small insects, are finding the current cold weather particularly tricky.”
For hedgehogs, the prolonged cold weather has had a particularly severe impact. “Many animals that went into hibernation in November or December last year are still sleeping,” said Fay Vass, chief executive of the Hedgehog Preservation Society. “The weather is not yet warm enough to wake them. Usually they would be up and about by now.”
The problem was that the longer a hedgehog remained asleep, the weaker it got and the less energy an animal had to restore itself to wakefulness, added Vass. “It depends just how healthy and well-fed an animal was when it went into hibernation. But in general, the longer the cold weather lasts, the greater the number of animals that will not wake up at all.”
The problems facing those hedgehogs that had already woken up from hibernation were no better, said Vass. “They are having a hard time finding any food and we are getting increasing numbers of reports of animals appearing in gardens in daytime desperate for something to eat.”
In the 1980s, there were estimated to be around 30m hedgehogs in the UK. Today, there are fewer than a million, thanks to major erosion of the animals’ habitats. The impact of this year’s long winter and the prospect of continued grim conditions only worsens prospects for this once ubiquitous mammal.
For the nation’s butterflies the situation is less perilous, at least for now. However, continued icy weather could have serious implications. “April is wake-up time for butterflies,” said Richard Fox, surveys manager at Butterfly Conservation. “If they do that when it is still freezing, that could have very serious consequences for their ability to get food. Many could starve if these conditions persist.”
Species that will be the worst affected include the high brown fritillary (Fabriciana adippe). This is Britain’s most threatened butterfly, found in only a few scattered locations in the south and west of England. “Persistent cold weather is only going to makes things even harder for the high brown,” added Fox.
Other species of butterfly that are seriously threatened in the UK and are vulnerable to continued cold weather include the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) and the pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne).
Experts stress that the public can help. The RSPB has urged householders to keep bird feeders regularly topped up with high-energy, high-fat food and to keep water dishes filled. Similarly, the Hedgehog Preservation Society recommends leaving plentiful water supplies and also food, either meaty cat or dog meals or specialist hedgehog food.
- British butterflies suffer devastating year after 2012′s wet summer (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Butterflies ‘hurt by cold, wet 2012′ (bbc.co.uk)
- ‘Catastrophic’ 2012 rain means Britain’s butterfly populations drop (rawstory.com)
- Hundreds of dead puffins found on the east coast could have died of starvation due to wintry weather (dailyrecord.co.uk)
- UK & World News: 2012 ‘catastrophic’ for butterflies (journallive.co.uk)
- UK News: 2012 ‘catastrophic’ for butterflies (walesonline.co.uk)
Conservationists object to housing in one of UK’s key habitats for the birds. The Independent reports
Plans for one of Britain’s biggest housing developments, of 5,000 homes worth hundreds of millions of pounds, may have to be abandoned because of the presence of nightingales, the birds which sing in the night and have long been a favourite of poets.
The case, which centres on a disused army site in Kent, presents the conflict between the need to build new houses and people’s wish to preserve Britain’s threatened countryside and wildlife in its sharpest possible form. It is likely to lead to a bitter struggle.
The site at Lodge Hill, Chattenden, on the Hoo peninsula north of Chatham, has been earmarked by Medway District Council for what is in effect a new town, which besides its enormous housing quota is intended to provide 5,000 new jobs. The main developers are to be Land Securities, Britain’s biggest commercial property company.
Yet last year scientists discovered that Lodge Hill is probably the best site in the country for the nightingale, which is rapidly disappearing from Britain – its numbers have dropped by more than 90 per cent in the last 40 years.
Today the case came to a head when Natural England, the Government’s wildlife watchdog, declared Lodge Hill to be a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) because of its nightingale population, which means that development will be much more difficult, and may ultimately be impossible.
The move provoked a furious response from Medway Council, which said it was “deeply unhappy” and was considering its options.
“This is very disappointing news to receive from unelected quangocrats at Natural England,” said the leader of the Conservative-controlled council, Rodney Chambers. “As a local authority we are eager for this scheme, which is on Government-owned land, to progress and deliver the houses and jobs we badly need.”
He added: “What hope does the country have of beating the economic downturn when infrastructure and housing projects like this are being stalled all over the country by the Government’s own agencies?” Land Securities also said it was disappointed with the decision.
However, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds gave the decision its full backing. “Natural England is right to designate Lodge Hill as a SSSI in the face of extreme economic pressure,” said Martin Harper, the RSPB director of conservation. “We think it is time for Medway Council and Land Securities to go back to the drawing board and think about where they should build their houses.”
The case is likely to raise strong feelings because the nightingale is one of Britain’s most beloved birds, famed for the midnight song which males sing to attract females, from mid-April to June, after their migratory return from Africa.
So many poets have written about it, in many countries and civilisations from the classical world onwards, that it has been called “the most versified bird in the world”. In English literature, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Clare and most famously, John Keats, all wrote nightingale poems.
But in England – the nightingale is not found in the rest of Britain – the bird has been undergoing a remorseless decline. The latest estimate is that its population dropped by 52 per cent between 1995 and 2010, yet an examination of earlier records by the British Trust for Ornithology has suggested that over the last 40 years, the bird’s population has actually fallen by more than 90 per cent.
In a recent paper, scientists from the BTO said the nightingale would have been placed on the Red List of birds of conservation concern if this figure had been known about when the list was last revised.
The bird’s range is steadily contracting and the nightingale is now concentrated mainly in the south-east corner of England, especially in the counties of Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Surrey and Sussex.
It was known that Lodge Hill held nightingales, but its real importance was not discovered until last year, when the BTO carried out a national nightingale survey. It was found the core of the site held 69 singing males, and in total the figure was 84.
BTO scientists estimate that Lodge Hill contains about 1.3 per cent of the total national nightingale population, which the survey provisionally estimated to be between 6,250 and 6,550 pairs.
“If there is a better nightingale site in Britain, we don’t know of it,” said the BTO’s Dr Chris Hewson.
Mr Harper said: “Lodge Hill is probably one of the most important sites in the country for nightingales. We expect more than 80 singing males to return to this site in less than a month ready for the breeding season, and they need to have a secure home to come back to.”
- Thousands quizzed over future of airport (kentonline.co.uk)
- Sharp drop in bird poisoning cases (bbc.co.uk)
- WILDLIFE UPDATE : Budget cuts may trigger ‘perfect storm’ of threats to UK nature (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Britain’s wildlife facing ‘disastrous’ threats over budget cuts (telegraph.co.uk)
from The Independent: Thousands of seabirds may have been harmed by a pollutant in the waters off the south coast of the UK, conservationists warned on Friday.
Tests by the Environment Agency have established that the problem has been caused by some sort of refined mineral oil, not palm oil as had been suspected.
Hundreds of birds have been found coated in the substance. Some have died and washed up on beaches from Hampshire to Cornwall, while others have been rescued and are being cleaned up. The bird charity the RSPB has branded the incident a “disaster” and some experts fear thousands of birds could be suffering out at sea.
The problem was first noticed on Tuesday, when a few birds were found coated in a sticky white substance. By Thursday the numbers coming ashore, often with their wings pinned to their sides by the substance, had increased substantially.
About 100 birds were found on Chesil beach in Dorset, 60 a little further west at Brixham and many other individual birds and smaller groups elsewhere along the coast. Fears grew on Friday morning when 20 birds were found dead on Chesil Beach and another 10 later at Bournemouth.Many more birds were reported to have been in distress out to sea.
Most of the birds affected are guillemots, which spend most of their life out at sea, making them vulnerable to oil spills.
Some rescued guillemots are in breeding plumage, which suggests they are residents of the south-west. Others are in winter plumage, meaning they are from further north, probably Scotland and Norway.
A spokeswoman for the RSPB said staff and volunteers were making spot checks around the south-west coastline. She said: “The information gathered will help us assess the scale of any impacts and inform discussion on whether to undertake an emergency beached bird survey.”
She described Lyme Bay as “internationally important for seabirds”, adding: “Currently we know the area is being used for 25,000 guillemots, although we don’t know how many will be affected by this disaster. The area is also used by rare seabirds, including scoter, divers and grebes. Impacts on these species could have higher conservation significance.”
Many of the surviving birds are being treated at the RSPCA’s West Hatch centre, where there are more than 200 birds. Supervisor Paul Oaten has been cleaning them in the centre’s dedicated cleaning room using vegetable oil and margarine, followed by detergent.
“The birds that have been deemed fit enough and bright enough to wash have had margarine massaged into the areas of feathering where this very sticky contaminant is,” he said. “We’ve left that for half an hour, maybe a little bit more, to break down the contaminant and now what we are doing is putting them through our usual wash process with washing detergent.”
He said many more birds would be affected out at sea. “There will be thousands affected in the Channel. We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg. There are lot more out at sea that are dead or coming ashore. It can affect thousands and thousands of birds depending on the number of birds passing through and the size of the slick out there.”
Kevin Rylands, an RSPB conservation officer who spent Friday in Devon, said that when the cargo ship MSC Napoli beached in 2007 it was several days before it became clear how many birds had been affected. Some were eventually found not just on British beaches but on French ones.
On Friday Stan Woznicki, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency‘s head of counter-pollution, said: “Initial analysis indicates that the contaminant is a refined mineral oil and further analysis results are awaited.”
Simon Boxall, associate lecturer at the school of ocean and earth science at the University of Southampton, said such a substance could have come from a ship’s engine but the apparent range of the problem suggested it might have come from a cargo that had been accidentally spilled or deliberately discharged.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has had a spotter plane up looking for a slick but found nothing so far.
Tim Birkhead, who has studied the guillemots on the Welsh island of Skomer for the past 40 years, said: “My first thought on hearing the news about this incident was that this will have affected some Skomer guillemots – including some of my ringed birds that I’ve known for many years.
“The priority is to find a way of cleaning the birds’ plumage. The other priority is to find out who is responsible. For those suffering from this unknown pollutant, what an ignominious end for a long-lived seabird.”
- Thousands of seabirds may be harmed by oil off UK coast (guardian.co.uk)
- British seabirds fall victim to mystery goo (guardian.co.uk)
- Seabird ‘pollution’ incident probed (express.co.uk)
- South coast seabirds in a sticky ordeal: Hundreds wash up on coast covered in … – Daily Mail (dailymail.co.uk)
- Mystery deepens as increasing numbers of stricken birds wash up on Dorset coast (independent.co.uk)
- Seabird ‘Pollution’ Substance May Be Palm Oil (news.sky.com)
- Rescue for birds covered in ‘wax’ (bbc.co.uk)
Will the Government ever learn NOT to meddle with something when it’s working?? Some of Britain’s most precious landscapes are in danger of being built on under the Government’s latest plans to weaken protection of the countryside by scrapping environment quangos. From The Guardian
The Wildlife Trusts fear this will lead to a cut in staff and budgets, threatening key programmes to protect rare species.
Even more seriously, the review suggests that Natural England should “support and contribute to the Government‘s aims and priorities as effectively as possible”.
But legal advice commissioned by the RSPB points out that this clashes with NE’s original purpose, that is “to ensure that the natural environment is conserved.”
Mike Clarke, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said the review threatened the independence of NE and therefore its ability to stand up to the Government on controversial planning decisions.
“Natural England is one of the most important defenders our wildlife has in this country.
“It is critically important that it is free to provide impartial and scientific advice on matters within its expertise. If it is expected to factor in economic considerations before giving ecological advice, there is a serious danger that this will lead to ill-informed decisions and a failure to safeguard our most important sites for wildlife.”
In a foreword to the reveiw, Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, described the work of his department as: “growing our economy, improving the environment and safeguarding animal and plant health.”
Earlier in the year the Government attempted to make economic development more of a priority in planning.
Mary Creagh, Shadow Environment Secretary, said the review is just the latest attempt to allow development in the countryside.
“Merging the Environment Agency with Natural England, when both are sacking large numbers of staff to deliver government cuts, will leave strategic weaknesses in our environmental management, as ash dieback has shown. Whether it is planning reforms, or cuts to flood defences and National Parks, this weak and incompetent Tory-led government has failed every environmental test.”
It is also in charge of thousands of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), where many endangered species survive, in areas including Richmond Park, the New Forest and the Peak District.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes at The Wildlife Trusts, said Natural England is already struggling to maintain SSSIs.
He feared that merging the body with EA would mean years of concentrating on administration rather than conservation, leaving wildlife at risk of dying out.
“There is a huge risk that if you do collide those organisations together at this point you lose good staff and expertise, you slow things down and you look inwards rather than outwards.
“Millions of people across country want the protection and restoration of wildlife. They do not want the continual demise and erosion of natural assets.”
The Wildlife Trusts are also concerned that the Government is failing to protect the oceans.
Following an £8.8 million two-and-a-half year discussions, 127 sites around the coast were recommended to be made Marine Conservation Zones in 2011.
Some 59 of the sites are in danger from human activity, such as dredging, and all contain rare sea creatures like dolphins and seahorses.
But it is believed the Government will suggest just 31 MCZs should be created next year in a consultation to be launched today (Thurs).