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Scottish Natural Heritage has announced a comprehensive package of measures to help Orkney farmers and crofters tackle crop damage by greylag geese.
Working with the Orkney Goose Management Group, SNH is supporting the following initiatives:
Volunteer shooters will be available again this year in August and September to undertake goose control on farms which are experiencing issues with geese. Farmers may contact the SRUC Kirkwall Office (01856 872698) for more information and support.
An expert in corralling geese will visit, and advise farmers on how this might be implemented on Orkney.
Open training for egg-oiling will be available. SNH will also fund contractors to carry out egg oiling on specific areas next season.
A study will be completed to help create an Orkney–wide plan to reduce geese numbers. This will consider the practicalities, cost, and locations for a number of possible measures to bring the population to 5,000 birds, including shooting, egg oiling, corralling, and any other measures that could be effective.
Greylag Geese, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries
A new Orkney-specific licence will cover the period from 1 February to 30 June, outside the open shooting season and the time covered by the General Licence. This means farmers will no longer be required to apply to the SNH Licensing team for an out-of-season licence, but can make a quick call to the Kirkwall office for permission. (Currently, greylag geese can be shot under the General Licence from 1 July until 31 August, and during the open season from 1 September to 31 January.)
SNH is considering further changes to licences, in particular a mechanism to increase bag limits, and a possible extension to the General Licence currently available in July and August to include May and June.
SNH will also continue to work with the Scottish Government to extend the current Orkney goose meat pilot Scotland-wide, and to secure consent to sell goose meat after the UK’s expected exit from the EU.
Graham Neville, SNH’s Northern Isles and North Highland area manager, said:
“We understand increases in greylag goose numbers have seriously impacted on farmers and crofters on Orkney. Working closely with the local goose management group, we have committed to measures that will help protect crops, while still maintaining the balance between conservation, farming and hunting.”
An elusive butterfly which disappeared from Norfolk half a century ago, has officially returned, wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation (BC) can reveal.
The Purple Emperor, which has declined by 31% across the UK in the last 10 years, was last recorded in Norfolk in 1961 and declared extinct there in the early 1970’s, but experts from BC’s Norfolk Branch have revealed the butterfly is back and could be breeding in the area.
The last known breeding colony of the butterfly was at Foxley Woods near Bawdeswell, but in recent years the Emperor has been recorded consistently in places near the county’s north coast, like Sheringham Park, Beeston Common and Holt Country Park.
Purple Emperor, copyright Tony Davison, from the surfbirds galleries
Volunteer for BC’s Norfolk Branch, Kiri Stuart-Clarke, said: “The return of the Purple Emperor to Norfolk takes the total number of butterfly species found in the county to 37. We are keen to chart the Emperor’s progress, so we’d love for people to help us look for them this summer. The Emperor likes areas of woodland where mature oak and sallow grow together and the best time to see them is in the morning, when they come down from the canopy to take minerals and salts from things like animal droppings and mud. As well as in north Norfolk, it might be possible to spot the butterfly anywhere along our southern border with Suffolk, where it is already resident, so please let us know if you see any.”
The Purple Emperor is one of the UK’s largest butterflies – second only to the Swallowtail – and has a wing-span of up to 8.4cm.
The butterfly appears to have black wings intersected with white bands, however in the sunlight, the wings of the male butterfly display a brilliant purple sheen.
The Purple Emperor closely resembles the White Admiral – but is distinguishable by an orange-ringed eyespot located under the forewing.
The butterfly emerges in late June to early July and is mostly found in woodland in central southern England. In Norfolk, the Purple Emperor can be seen flying a little later than its southern counterparts.
The Purple Emperor caterpillar feeds on types of sallow, which were traditionally viewed by foresters as a weed and rooted out.
Kiri added: “Loss of habitat was the main reason for the Purple Emperor’s disappearance in Norfolk, but thanks to the support of landowners and changes to way we manage our woodlands, we’re once again creating the type of habitat that this butterfly needs to survive. With your help, we can continue to chart the Purple Emperor’s progress in Norfolk and I’m confident that this time, the butterfly is here to stay.”
The breeding and release of Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges for commercial gamebird shoots sees some 41–50 million birds released into the UK countryside annually, a figure significantly higher than that seen in other European countries. In order to ensure a reliable shooting resource, there is significant investment in accompanying management to enhance habitat and food availability for gamebirds, and to reduce predation upon them in the area around release sites.
Whilst such game management activities have been reported to have benefits for wider biodiversity, such as the creation of woodland rides of benefit to butterflies, the impacts of the releases themselves have received little attention. The release of these gamebird species, which are not native to the UK, could negatively impact other, native, species through increased competition (for food), altered habitat structure, the spread of disease or changes in predator-prey relationships
This new research has identified positive associations between the occurrence patterns of gamebirds and the abundance and population growth rates of several generalist predators, including Common Buzzard and various members of the crow family. If, as the research suggests, gamebird releases are increasing the numbers of these predators, then this may alter predator-prey dynamics in areas where large numbers of gamebirds are released. This may, in turn, have implications for other species; for example, predation pressure has been identified as a conservation issue for declining breeding waders like Curlew.
Pheasant, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries
Lead author Dr Henrietta Pringle commented “The idea that gamebird releases might enhance populations of generalist predators is not new, but our results are the first to indicate this may actually be happening on a national scale. While gamebirds are only one of the factors that could shape predator populations, our work emphasises the need to better understand the impacts of releasing roughly 46,000 tonnes of gamebird biomass into the countryside annually. For context, the estimated total biomass for all native UK breeding bird species is just 19,500 tonnes”
Dr Pringle continued “Investigation of indirect effects of gamebird releases on species for which predation is a key concern is needed to establish whether
regulating the numbers of gamebirds released could be an effective conservation tool. A good starting point would be to secure the compulsory recording of releases and of the numbers of predators killed”
Conservationists the world over are celebrating the decision to grant key sites along the Chinese coast of the Yelow Sea world heritage status. The news was announced following discussions at the World Heritage Committee meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan this morning. The mudflats of the Yellow Sea are vitally important for the survival of more than 17 globally threatened migratory shorebirds species, including the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea (Critically Endangered) and Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis (Endangered).
Birdlife Australia has played a crucial leading role in advocating for this decision. The Yellow Sea is at the centre of the East Asian–Australasian Flyway, a migration ‘super highway’ which supports the world’s greatest diversity and overall numbers of migratory birds. It links the bird populations of more than 22 countries, with Australia being the non-breeding destination of many species which pass through the region.
Far Eastern Curlew, copyright Waderworld, from the surfbirds galleries
“The Australian Government should be congratulated for playing a significant leadership role in ensuring this World Heritage listing; reflecting the global importance of this site for our migratory shorebirds and the strength of China’s nomination,” said BirdLife Australia CEO Paul Sullivan.
Long-term monitoring by BirdLife Australia has shown that the number of Far Eastern Curlews visiting Australia has crashed by more than 80 per cent in the last 30 years.
The listing will help protect important areas of coastal wetland habitat still remaining after decades of reclamation and conversion to industrial land. BirdLife Australia and its global partner BirdLife International applauded the decision in Baku to permanently protect and manage key sites in the Yellow Sea.
“BirdLife International would like to commend the government of China for its central role in protecting the Yellow Sea and safeguarding birds across the entire flyway. Today’s success, which is in line with China’s eco-civilisation policy, shows what can be achieved when governments choose to lead the way in global conservation,” said Chief Executive of BirdLife International, Patricia Zurita.
“China has shown real global leadership by announcing a moratorium on coastal reclamation and securing World Heritage listing for the Yellow Sea ecosystem,” added Mr Sullivan. “We hope the decision will also help to expedite the inscription of other important sites in South Korea next year, China in 2022 and, hopefully, North Korea.”
Australia has bi-lateral agreements in place with China, the Republic of Korea and Japan to protect migratory shorebirds.
Mr Sullivan said the decision in Baku is also significant because China will host the 15th Conference of the Parties of the United Nation’s Convention for Biological Diversity in 2020. BirdLife International and its country partners are calling on all governments to embrace a ‘New Deal for Nature’ with ambitious targets at the meeting.
“It’s our last chance to save nature,” Mr Sullivan said. “A recent UN Global Assessment reported that business as usual will result in the loss of a million species, as well as food and water shortages.”
We hope that today’s decision is a promising sign of things to come as governments worldwide wake up the environmental challenges of the coming years.
The Blue-throated Macaw is only found in one place on earth – the Beni Savanna of Bolivia. Unfortunately, human-induced fires in the region which are used to stimulate new grass growth have frequently eradicated trees that the Blue-throated Macaw uses for nesting. The species has been declining for the last century due to habitat loss, and in the 1980s its population was decimated to near extinction by the international pet trade. Asociación Armonía (BirdLife Partner in Bolivia) has been fighting diligently against this decline, and this past year they received an encouraging sign when a record number of Blue-throated Macaw chicks fledged from nest boxes at Asociación Armonía’s Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Reserve in Bolivia
“We see macaws that fledged from our nest boxes returning to breed in these artificial nests in numbers never seen before. This means that adults are identifying the nest boxes as safe places to breed, while juveniles are copying the habit from their parents,” says Rodrigo W. Soria-Auza, Executive Director of Asociación Armonía. “We are witnessing the results of twenty years of hard work.”
Blue-throated Macaw, copyright Paul Jones, from the surfbirds galleries
Armonía first installed 20 artificial nest boxes in 2005 to facilitate the reproduction of Blue-throated Macaws. The Laney Rickman reserve was established in August of 2018 with the support of four leading conservation groups — American Bird Conservancy, International Conservation Fund of Canada, IUCN Netherlands, and World Land Trust — to protect the critical breeding habitat of the southern subpopulation of Blue-throated Macaws. This 1,680 acres (680 ha) of protected savanna and tropical forest is named after Laney Slator Rickman, an avid supporter of the macaws.
After 13 breeding seasons, and with a total of 80 nest boxes set up in the present, 81 Blue-throated Macaws have so far fledged from the nest boxes. In the 2017/18 breeding season, for the first time ever, a pair of macaws that fledged from the nest boxes returned to breed themselves in the nest boxes, completing the cycle and demonstrating the program’s long-term success.
“This is a bright result of a common effort. A perfect example of what local conservationists can achieve with support from global partners. Now we have the most important portion of the macaws breeding habitat under full protection,” added Bennett Hennessy, Development Director of Armonía.
With support from World Land Trusts’ Keepers of the Wild Program, Armonía hired reserve ranger César Flores, a longtime local expert on nest boxes who worked on the program for decades and himself developed and fabricated nest boxes.
Today a total of 80 nest boxes awaiting the breeding macaws at the two reserves of Armonía: Barba Azul Nature Reserve protecting the north western — while Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw protects the southern population of the Blue-throated Macaw. With these two reserves the species is protected in 28,862 acres (11,680 ha).
“At the Laney Rickman Blue-throated Macaw Reserve we established a safe haven for the breeding population of the Blue-throated Macaw. Armonía’s next goal is to provide local education through the establishment of an interpretation center where school groups and local visitors can see this rare and magnificent species as well as understanding its national and local importance,” added Tjalle Boorsma Conservation Program Director for Armonía.
Mem Mai kicks his motorbike into gear, rear tyre squirming in sandy soil as he accelerates, binoculars proudly hooked over his shoulder catching the hot, dry air of northern Cambodian forest. This motorbike would look more apt on the busy streets of Phnom Penh, but if you’re skilled it is the best way to negotiate the rooty, open terrain of Western Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Cambodia. Today Mai can often be found monitoring the state of the forest pools which are the lifeline for wildlife during the dry season, including the two Critically Endangered ibis species that live here. Later he halts near a tree with a Slender-billed Vulture nest: still one healthy chick today, he records in his pocket notebook.
Out in the forest Mai is in his element: his eyes scan the undergrowth like a startled deer, yet his posture and face radiate calmness. It’s well known that Mai’s attuned ears can pick out the calls of specific songbird species above the noise of a moving motorbike, but such skills can’t be mastered during a university degree. Born in a rural village where most inhabitants live under the poverty line, Mai used to be a hunter.
Tiger, copyright Szabolcs Kokay, from the surfbirds galleries
This is his story…
“I was born to a very poor family in the village of Khes Svay, just next to the Western Siem Pang Wildlife Sanctuary. With the willingness to support myself and my family, as a young adult I enrolled in the army in 1988. There, for two years, I learned how to use weapons and, after I returned home, became a hunter. At that time, the most popular hunting equipment consisted of a rifle, traps and snares, all of which we would build ourselves. The handmade rifle we used for hunting wild pig, sambar deer, red muntjac, Eld’s Deer, Water Monitor, Bengal Monitor, civet, rabbit, turtle, and more [some of which are Endangered]. But our most precious target was the tiger (widely present in Cambodia at the time, before becoming nationally extinct in 2007).
“To this day I still remember the horrible sound it made when it died. The meat of the kill fed my family, some was shared with neighbours, and the remains such as the skin were exchanged in the village for basic necessities. I quickly became a middleman, killing and selling wildlife to neighbouring Laos. Sadly, I saw the last tiger in the area back in 1993, between O’koul and O’kampha (around 18 km from the present-day Siem Pang BirdLife office). I can vividly remember the encounter; it was around 3pm and I saw it for several minutes not so far away.
Then, in 2003, I heard about a work opportunity with the NGO, BirdLife International. They were looking for bird researchers and needed people with an in-depth knowledge of the Wildlife Sanctuary. I was really interested and ended up being recruited. I left my life as a hunter behind to become a conservationist.
Before, my only option was to kill wildlife to earn an income but, even though at the beginning I only received $20 per month for a few small tasks, now I could contribute to a positive change. I somehow realised that if we did not change, soon all the wildlife would be hunted to extinction and my children would never be able to see the same wonderful things in nature as I have. In the past 15 years, I have learned all about wildlife ecology, characteristics of a productive season, incubating, hatching, feeding, and the general activities of wildlife.
Today I am a full-time Senior Field researcher for BirdLife, and I can recognise hundreds of bird species just by hearing their call. I have a profound love for nature and I wish to help protect it. Wild animals are not so different from human beings so why should we kill them?
This unexpected path in my life has led me to become a well-known and respected person in my village. They elected me as Deputy Village Chief, and then as Deputy Commune Chief, but I turned down both positions. I know my heart belongs to the field, and to the conservation of wildlife.
I hope that at least one or two of my sons will also find a job in nature conservation. As my father told me: “The life of a tree is often close to the trunk”. However, in the end it is up to my children to decide what they want to do in life, and I accept that. It is important that we continue to educate the young generation in nature conservation, as it is easier for them to learn how to appreciate our forest and all the animals. We have to try harder to make them love wildlife.”
BirdLife International is unequivocally condemning the recent poisoning of 537 Critically Endangered vultures by elephant poachers in the Central District of Botswana. This devastating incident has resulted in the country’s highest recorded death toll of vultures associated with a single poisoning incident and is one of the worst killings of vultures on the continent, rivaling a similar incident in the Caprivi area of Namibia in 2013, where between 400-600 vultures were killed.
Although the Botswana government appears to be stepping up its anti-poaching initiatives, catastrophic vulture mortality continues to occur because of poisoning by poachers. Poachers poison vultures to stop them circling above carcasses — thus signaling their illegal activity. Targeted and non-targeted poisoning of vultures is escalating at an alarming rate across the continent, with a high number of incidents focused on southern Africa.
“These incidences are devastating,” says Motshereganyi Virat Kootsositse, BirdLife Botswana’s Executive Director. “Agrochemicals used illegally to poison vultures should be banned, and the use of safer alternatives encouraged. Although legislation is in place to manage agrochemicals in Botswana, enforcement is lacking, resulting in widespread misuse. The government should up its efforts to revise and enforce legislation and increase public awareness of the use of hazardous chemicals.”
Lappet-faced Vulture, copyright Nik Borrow, from the surfbirds galleries
Vultures play a vital role in our environment by cleaning up rotting carcasses that pose health risks and can contain harmful diseases such as tuberculosis and rabies. By doing this, vultures can help prevent the spread of diseases amongst humans and animals, and they do it for free. BirdLife Botswana works tirelessly to tackle vulture poisoning in the country. In collaboration with other BirdLife partners and organisations in the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) region, they are working to address increasing elephant poaching; the main threat to the region’s declining vulture populations. Improving cross border collaboration, enforcement and building capacity for wildlife crime prosecution and improving the availability of information are crucial to these efforts.
However, illegal poisoning is something that community support systems, education and awareness alone may not be able to combat. The government needs to use legislative action to help save vultures and wildlife in Botswana, and across the KAZA region.
“If such catastrophic episodes continue to occur across Africa, we may lose the race to save these iconic and vitally important species,” says Beckie Garbett from the BirdLife International Africa Partnership Secretariat. “Vultures are currently not receiving the global conservation support and recognition that many other highly threatened species are, which puts them on a back foot in terms of conservation organisations having the capacity to halt and reverse their declines.”
BirdLife International calls upon the Botswana government and other key influential stakeholders to pay attention to the desperate plight of African vultures at relevant international policy forums. With the 18th CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) meeting due to take place in August this year, international Governments of CITES member states have the opportunity to pass relevant policy decisions that will help to address the plight of vultures and other wildlife species.
Only through high-level driven actions will African vultures get the attention and protection that they deserve from sentinel poisoning. It is the duty of those with the power to make a change, to stand up and make themselves heard on behalf of all wildlife species impacted by illegal activities in Africa.
A previously extinct butterfly has bred successfully in an English woodland for the first time in more than 40 years as part of the ambitious conservation project, Back from the Brink.
Freshly emerged Chequered Skippers have been regularly spotted over the last few weeks at a secret location in Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire, and it is hoped they will become the foundation of a new English population of the butterfly.
The butterflies are the offspring of adults collected in Belgium and released at the Northants site last spring as part of the project by wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation, working in partnership with Forestry England.
In recent weeks, ecologists from Butterfly Conservation have successfully released a further batch of Belgian Chequered Skippers at the Rockingham Forest site.
Chequered Skipper, copyright Iain H Leach, from the surfbirds galleries
It is hoped that the three-year project will build a large, resilient and sustainable population of Chequered Skipper across the whole landscape.
Butterfly Conservation’s Dr Nigel Bourn said: “Seeing my first ever English-born Chequered Skipper, just as we were about to release the ones we had bought back from Belgium was an incredible moment, as a scientist I was surprised by the sheer emotion of the moment.
“I saw in one tiny butterfly the result of so many peoples’ hard work and dedication that has got us to the point where we have achieved this major milestone in the return of the Chequered Skipper to England.
“Reintroducing a species is not a quick fix, and the challenge now is to make sure that woodland management across the landscape can provide the habitats the Chequered Skipper needs into the future.”
The Back from the Brink project, made possible thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and People’s Postcode Lottery, aims to save 20 species from extinction and benefit over 200 more through 19 projects that span England.
The Chequered Skipper, although always scarce, became extinct in England in 1976 as a result of habitat loss due to changes in woodland management that saw a decline in coppicing and management of long, narrow tracks (rides) and an increase in conifer plantations which were unsuitable for the butterfly. In recent years, Forestry England have adopted different land management practices to help improve wildlife habitats, making them the ideal partner for this reintroduction project.
The Back from the Brink project has been successful in parts of the Chequered Skipper’s former stronghold Rockingham Forest that have been restored by Forestry England to ideal conditions with wide, flower-filled rides.
Forestry England Ecology and Heritage Manager for the Central England District, Adrienne Bennett, said: We are thrilled that the hard work by Forestry England staff over many years has created the ideal habitat for the reintroduction of the Chequered skipper on our site. We hope the butterfly thrives and the population is able to spread from here.”
Chequered Skipper - YouTube
Last month Butterfly Conservation ecologists travelled to Belgium to collect Chequered Skipper adults from the Fagne-Famenne region in the south of the country, where they are widespread, with the help of Belgian experts from the Research Institute for Nature and Forest and the Department for the Study of the Natural and Agricultural Environment.
Adults were chosen from Belgium rather than the only other UK population in Scotland as the Belgian Chequered Skippers are found in a similar landscape to Rockingham Forest and share the same caterpillar foodplant, False Brome that the English colonies used prior to their extinction.
The reintroduction forms part of the Roots of Rockingham project which is working across a network of sites to restore the forest to its former glory helping many woodland species including the Willow Tit, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Barbastelle Bat.
It is hoped that once the butterfly population is secure, the public will be able to visit and enjoy seeing Chequered Skippers fly in England again.
Back from the Brink Communications Manager James Harding-Morris said: “Whilst these are only the first steps towards re-establishing the Chequered Skipper in England, it still feels like a wrong has been righted. We are delighted that through Back from the Brink so many species are being given this ‘second chance’ to survive – and hopefully thrive – alongside humanity.”
Collectively, the UK’s gardens cover an area larger than the county of Suffolk, and, as towns and cities become more densely populated, gardens are becoming an increasingly vital refuge for wildlife. It is hoped that the volunteers taking part in Gardenwatch could help BTO researchers understand how birds, mammals and soil invertebrates use gardens and their resources.
So far, nearly a quarter of a million Gardenwatch missions have been completed, across more than 100,000 individual gardens. Placed side by side, these gardens would cover approximately 9.5 square miles, an area roughly equivalent in size to the city of Bath!
Birds were seen in nearly all of the gardens surveyed with 98.4% of participants reporting at least one bird, and 25,086 gardens reporting at least one bird nest. Blackbird, Blue Tit, Robin and House Sparrow were the species most commonly reported nesting in people’s gardens.
Blue Tit, copyright Tony Davison, from the surfbirds galleries
What’s outstanding is the extent that those completing the survey are providing help for wildlife, even in the smallest of spaces. Early results are already showing approximately 65,000 bird boxes, 37,000 bug hotels, 19,000 hedgehog houses, and almost 50,000 ponds and other natural water sources.
Jamey Redway, of the BTO Garden BirdWatch Team, said, “Scientists at the BTO are already getting some exciting results; however, it would be great if we could get even more people to take part in Gardenwatch. All gardens, no matter how big or small, can provide valuable data, as can those recording from a balcony or a local public green space. These areas are so important for wildlife, and it’s vital as many people take part as possible. We particularly want to expand our knowledge of the wildlife found in urban areas, so we are hoping Gardenwatch participants will help us do so.”
The missions close at the end of July, so there is still plenty to time to ensure your garden is included in the final results!
Unless you work in conservation, ‘bycatch’ is probably not a word you hear very often. In fact, it may be something you’ve never heard of before. And yet bycatch — when animals get unintentionally caught and killed in fishing gear — is one of the biggest threats to seabirds in the world.
Collectively, seabirds are one of the most threatened group of birds on the earth. Nearly one third of all species are Globally Threatened with extinction, and nearly half are experiencing population declines. Bycatch is a big part of these statistics.
Fortunately, there are some very effective measures that mitigate the problem of bycatch. Setting fishing lines at night is one way to ensure that birds like albatrosses and petrels, which feed during the day, don’t get caught on hooks and drowned. Another is to attach bird scaring or ‘Tori’ lines with bright streamers to vessels to frighten birds away. Fishers can also attach weights to lines so that they sink quickly, so birds can’t reach the bait.
Wandering Albatross, copyright Peter Aley, from the surfbirds galleries
When used, these methods can result in over a 90% reduction in bycatch. The problem, though, is that these mitigation methods are not always used. A recent study using satellites and algorithms to measure whether boats were setting lines at night found that less than 15% did. The statistic highlighted a persistent problem with mitigation methods: they are only effective when actually put in place. All too frequently, these methods aren’t being utilized.
That’s why BirdLife International is joining with other leading environmental NGOs to call for 100% independent observer coverage of tuna fisheries. If Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) require 100% observer coverage — either human and/or electronic — on industrial tuna vessels problems like illegal fishing, misreported or unreported catch, and bycatch of threatened species like albatrosses will all substantially decrease. You can read the full Statement of Support for 100% observer coverage here and sign the petition to support the campaign here.