In 2019, the various campaigns and operations coordinated by Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS) once again saved countless migratory birds from doomed fate being killed, caught or prematurely destined for a cooking pot. As ever, our main field campaigns focused on the bird poaching hotspots in the Mediterranean region, with CABS teams active in Italy, Malta, France, Spain, Cyprus and Lebanon during the migration period. The primary aim of our fieldwork is the same everywhere: Take direct action to stop poachers, document illegalities and to persuade authorities to intervene, with public support and international political pressure.
In 2019 we completed a project to help the Small Blue Butterfly on the Surrey Downs. The project has helped to create an extensive network of sites between Guildford and Box Hill, with individual butterflies now more able to move between different areas and sites, enabling the creation of a strong and sustainable metapopulation.
Building work needed on the old neglected and abused Victorian house took priority, then in March 2018, I built a small wildlife pond into the middle of the garden. From the start, it was aimed at dragonflies plus other insects, plant life and nature in general.
Butterflies fluttering, a kittiwake diving into ice-blue waves and the sweet song of skylarks first thing in the morning. These sights and sounds are becoming even rarer with 41 per cent of species in decline since 1970. We need to act now to stop this loss, creating more homes for wildlife and calling on governments to introduce stronger environmental protections.
As our climate increasingly warms, the UK’s peatlands are put under ever greater pressure.
Long dry spells are predicted to become more commonplace, raising the question of whether future predicted climate scenarios will maintain the wet conditions needed in some areas for continued peat formation.
Short-eared owls appear to be nomadic, breeding almost prolifically in suitable habitat in some years, yet in others appearing to be absent. Adults owls can be seen flying during daylight hours when they have dependent young, but at other times they can be largely nocturnal, making the population hard to monitor. The best evidence that we have suggests that the population has declined, perhaps by as much as 50%. The reasons underlying these changes are poorly understood, but recent advances in technology have presented new opportunities for research.
Our work seeks to help the development of new land management support schemes by combining the latest scientific evidence and Butterfly Conservation’s practical experience of working with farmers and land owners on the ground.
Six new species of dragonflies that lived about 50 million years ago (early Eocene epoch) have been identified from fossils found in the Okanagan Highlands, an elevated hilly plateau area in British Columbia, Canada, and the U.S. state of Washington.
At the end of the summer, vast numbers of waders leave Norway, Sweden and Finland, heading southwest, south and south-east for the winter. In a 2019 paper by Lindström et al, we learn what is happening to these populations of Fennoscandian breeding species, as diverse as Temminck’s Stint and Curlew. The news for the period 2006 through to 2018 is basically pretty good – most populations have been stable and there are even some that have increased – but there are worrying signs for Broad-billed Sandpiper, Red-necked Phalarope and Whimbrel.
The State of European Cetaceans is ORCA’s report series, documenting the results of its survey findings, and more importantly, drawing conclusions about what this means for whales, dolphins and porpoises in the wild.
The start of December, and a dip in temperatures, has seen the first ‘swanfall’ at WWT Slimbridge, with more than 50 majestic Bewick’s swans arriving at the end of the final leg of their migration. This year’s ‘swanfall’ was bang on time, as it traditionally heralds the beginning of winter, which officially started on 1st December.
The BTO’s BirdTrends report is a one-stop shop for information about the population status of the common breeding birds of the wider UK countryside. The report is based on data gathered by the many thousands of volunteers who contribute to BTO-led surveys.
For each of 121 species, users can quickly access the latest information on trends in population size, breeding performance and survival rates, as measured by our long-term monitoring schemes.
The finch family boasts many popular garden birds, including Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Bullfinch. More recently, a growing number of people have been able to add Lesser Redpoll to this list. Results collected through the year-round BTO Garden BirdWatch survey show a 15-fold increase in the use of gardens by Lesser Redpolls during early spring over the past five years.
If you walk around a woodland in the winter you may be forgiven for wondering where all the birds have gone. In fact, there are likely to be plenty of birds about, but instead of being evenly spread throughout the area, several species group together in a loose, mixed feeding flock. Flocking together in winter improves the chances of locating food and huddling together during the critical night-time period helps conserve body heat.
Autumn and winter is when most female grey seals haul themselves ashore to give birth.
It seems like a strange time to do it, when icy winds are blowing and the nights are long. One explanation is that after a summer of catching fish, the females are simply in great shape to feed their young.
Bird songs are common sounds to us all, but why do birds sing? Imagine you’re a male willow warbler, and you’ve just flown 2,400 miles (4000 km) from Africa. It’s spring, and you need to find a mate quickly. However, your home is a woodland and you’re the colour of leaves. What better way of advertising to a passing female that you are here and would make a fine father for her chicks than by having a clear, loud and recognisable song?
These birds are residents, and most never leave us. However, this number almost doubles every winter with the arrival of thousands more birds from Eastern Europe. Hard weather there forces them to migrate west in search of food.
Ring-necked Parakeet by Howe Park Wood, April 2012, by Harry Appleyard
Their bright green feathers and unmistakable squawk make ring-necked parakeets a striking addition to British park wildlife, but the question of how the tropical birds were first introduced has been a subject of contention.
An acoustic camera has captured never-before-seen footage of the endangered fish setting off on its journey from the Gloucestershire wetlands to the Sargasso sea. This success story comes at a time of turning fortunes for the mysterious and fascinating animal.
Unlike mammals and birds, butterflies and moths rely mainly on external sources of heat to warm their bodies so that they can be active. Although many are adept at increasing their body temperature way above ambient air temperature by basking in sunshine or shivering (vibrating their flight muscles), when their surroundings are really cold, most butterflies and moths are forced to remain inactive.
Butterflies are rather like Goldilocks, preferring conditions to be neither too hot nor too cold, but “just right”. Under climate change, the temperature at any given time of summer is, on average, getting warmer, leaving butterflies (and their nocturnal cousins, the moths) with the challenge of how to remain in their optimal temperature window.
Nitrogen in the air is one of the greatest threats to our wild plants, lichens and fungi, yet few people have even heard about it. Plantlife’s new report We need to talk about Nitrogen raises the alarm about its devastating impacts.
Anyway, after some fun time with my Dictionary of Entomology, (which is much more of an encyclopaedia than a dictionary), and of course Google, I have great pleasure in presenting my one stop shop for those of you who wonder how insect orders got their names. Here they are, all in one easy to access place with a few fun-filled facts to leaven the mixture.
“I have loved nature for as long as I can remember, certainly before I was old enough to go to school. I used to spend hours peering into our garden pond in the 1960’s and marvelling at the different creatures to be found living there. There were many frogs, toads and newts that used the pond for spawning and I would watch the progress of their tadpoles each year. There was much invertebrate life there too which was also a fascination to me. We lived about a mile from Gatwick airport and one negative aspect of this was that I often had to use newspaper on the surface of the pond to take off the thin coating of oil that accumulated, presumably from fuel dumping.
There are around 650 species of spider in the UK alone. That’s a lot! Some spiders can be identified by eye, others require hand lenses and many even require microscopes to correctly identify them to species level. Most people find spiders creepy though, so never get close enough to identify them in the field, let alone choose to look at them down a microscope. Earlier this year, however, I attended the Tomorrow’s Invertebrate Recorders course run by the FSC Biolinks team during which I chose to spend a whole day learning microscopic identification of spiders.
Stephen Moss has written a round-up of nature books for many years and this is the second year when it has appeared here on this blog. Stephen is course leader of the MA Travel & Nature Writing at Bath Spa University.
Since 2019 is the Year of the Fly I thought it was time to dust off my boyhood interest in flies and see how many families of flies I could see through the year. Each time I see one from a new family I will write a post, and by the end of the year I hope to know my way around them.
The days are shortening and the temperature is falling. This is a signal to deciduous (broadleaf) trees that it is time to close down for the winter, conserve energy and prevent it from losing precious nutrients.
There are two issues in dormouse conservation that need addressing – population decline and range decline.
The rate of population decline, stated most recently in People’s Trust for Endangered Species State of Britain’s Dormice 2019 report is that populations of hazel dormice have fallen by half since 2000. The range decline refers to the 17 counties where dormice are now extinct since the end of the 19th century.
In a fascinating comparison of weight gained by Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone during spring migration in Delaware Bay, on America’s east-coast flyway, Anna Tucker and colleagues show that Knot are far more vulnerable to annual variations in their main food supply than more flexible Turnstones, which target the same food if it is available. Given that changing weather patterns, associated with a warming climate, are expected to make resource availability harder to predict, the authors suggest that populations of migrant shorebirds (waders) that rely on a specific resource being available at the right time are likely to be more vulnerable – as has become apparent for Delaware Bay Knot.
Lion populations across Africa have declined by 43% over the past 21 years, due range of factors, including conflict with cattle farmers, loss of prey and habitat, and at times, unsustainable trophy hunting, according to the wild cat conservation charity Panthera. They are now facing a new threat – poaching for body parts.
The latest Wild Bird Populations in the UK, 1970-2018 report has been published by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), analysing the populations of British birds. Skylarks and song thrushes show short-term increases, but some birds such as turtle doves are in steep decline.
White-faced Darter is a specialist of lowland peatbogs, and spends most of its life as aquatic larvae living in deep bog pools. Unfortunately, lowland peatbogs in England have experienced decades of decline as a result of human activity, including drainage to create farmland, as well as the planting of commercial forests. As peatbogs disappeared, so did the White-faced Darter, until only a handful of their original sites remained, and the species became one of the UK’s rarest dragonflies. White-faced Darter were absent from Cheshire for over a decade, until Cheshire Wildlife Trust developed an ambitious project to help bring the species back.
He is the most beloved figure in Britain, and, at 93, a global superstar. His films long shied away from discussing humanity’s impact on the planet. Now they are sounding the alarm – but is it too late?
We asked Dr Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society, and Thomas Stanton, a PhD researcher at the University of Nottingham, questions about microplastics and what society can do to combat the problems they cause.
There’s a growing body of evidence that shows access to high-quality green spaces and an environment rich in biodiversity brings benefits for human health and well-being. But what if you live in an estate where there is a lot of housing? Or an urban area dominated by road infrastructure? It might be difficult to even see a green space, let alone spend time in one. Everyone should have an opportunity to support wildlife in their local area and get the same benefits associated with urban green space.