Biodiversity News

Pine martens released into the Forest of Dean

The Pine marten was once a common animal in British woodlands, but they were driven to near extinction by habitat loss and hunting.  Pine martens belong to the same family as otters and weasels, and have experienced such a dramatic decline that they are now Britain’s second-rarest carnivore after the Scottish wildcat. Recently, a major milestone for recovery of the species has been reached; 18 individuals have been released into the Forest of Dean.
Between August and September this year, these individuals were trans located from healthy populations in Scotland, to Gloucestershire. Their reintroduction may be vital to preventing complete extinction in England, as well as benefiting the entire forest ecosystem.

Burrowing birds create islands of rich plant life in deserts

Tiny patches of rich plant life can be found dotting the deserts of Peru, and burrowing birds may be responsible. Mounds of sand shoveled out by nest-digging burrowing owls and miner birds encourage more seedlings and exclusive plant varieties to grow compared to the undisturbed ground surrounding. Deserts are very hard places for seeds to germinate, not just for lack of moisture but for the crusty, cyanobacteria-covered soil that is commonly found. This crust is a problem for seeds because seeds stranded on top of the soil are exposed to the harsh conditions and the crust forms a barrier for water to reach the seeds below. Burrowing birds break through this tough barrier to build their nests, providing an area of sand and soil that water can pass through, allowing seeds to germinate.

After a 50-year conservation effort, songbird flies off U.S. endangered species list

For as long as there has been an Endangered Species act, the Kirtland’s warbler has required protection- until this year. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the US announced on October 8th that it is removing the Kirtland’s warbler off the endangered species list after active management over the past 50 years. FWS cited the work done by Michigan state and federal agencies to boost breeding habitats and combat brood parasitism. Although, they are no longer classified as endangered, the Endangered Species Act notes that they remain a ‘conservation-reliant species’ in order to maintain their success in the future.

The deeper those octopuses live, the wartier their skin

Deep beneath the surface of the north Pacific ocean lives the warty Pacific octopus, a rather cute, pink and warty creature that wanders the seafloor. Scientists have been studying how the appearance of this octopuses changes with depth and have made some interesting discoveries. Using a manned submersible vehicle, ALVIN, researchers from the Field Museum, Chicago, took 50 specimens from depths ranging from 3,660 to 9,000 feet below the surface of the Northeast Pacific, along with other donated specimens. Despite the octopuses looking very different to one another it was discovered, through DNA analysis that they were all warty pacific octopuses.

Rewilding

 

Rewilding  provokes great debate among conservationists and the recently published book Wilding: The Return of Nature to an English Farm is likely to provide more fuel for future discussion.

British Wildlife editor Guy Freeman has sketched out the framework in which this debate takes place, and we have picked out some key books on this exciting new approach to nature conservation.

 

Rewilding – the process of returning land to nature – is rapidly gaining momentum. The concept itself is fairly simple, but its delivery is complicated by the question: ‘what exactly are we hoping to achieve?’ There is general agreement that rewilded landscapes should replicate those which existed before major human interference (i.e. prior to the development of farming during the Neolithic, around 6,000 years ago), but the significant point of contention comes when trying to establish what those landscapes looked like. The accepted view has long been that Britain became covered in a blanket of dense woodland – the ‘wildwood’ – as trees recolonised after the last glacial period.

This has been questioned however, and other theories have emerged, including one compelling alternative proposed by ecologist Frans Vera. Based on observations at the Oostvaardersplassen, a nature reserve in the Netherlands, Vera suggested that grazing animals would have dictated the distribution of different vegetation types and maintained a landscape that was far more open than previously thought.

This ongoing debate has important implications for rewilding and, in particular, the role that grazing animals should play. Based on the ‘wildwood’ or ‘closed-canopy hypothesis’, rewilding need entail little more than just leaving land untouched – Lady Park Wood, in Monmouthshire, provides a fascinating insight into how woodland develops without human intervention. Under Vera’s hypothesis, however, grazing animals need to be at the heart of the process – the Knepp Estate, in Sussex, is an impressive example of how nature responds when such an approach is taken.

Understanding historic vegetation patterns is important, and our knowledge is improving as analytical techniques develop and new strands of evidence are revealed. In reality, however, we will probably never know exactly what Early Holocene Britain was like, and we should not let the debate distract from the task at hand – in the many degraded parts of our landscape, any form of rewilding will be good news for nature.

Guy Freeman is the editor of British Wildlife  The Magazine for the Modern Naturalist

 

Further Reading

We have selected some further reading around the subject of Rewilding.  We suggest our top five below and you can click on the link to view our complete selection.

Feral: Rewilding the Land, Sea and Human Life
Paperback | June 2014
£7.99 £9.99

 

 

Wilding: The Return of Nature to an English Farm
Hardback | May 2018
£16.99 £19.99

 

 

Woodland Development: A Long-Term Study of Lady Park Wood
Paperback | Sept 2017
£34.99

 

Trees, Forested Landscapes and Grazing Animals: A European Perspective on Woodlands and Grazed Treescapes
Paperback | June 2017
£36.99

 

Rewilding European Landscapes
Paperback | Oct 2016
£44.99

 

 

Browse all our suggested further reading for Rewilding.

Please note that prices in this article are correct at the time of posting (April 2018) and may change at any time.

 

Britain’s Butterflies: some good news but mostly bad

Marsh Fritillary
The Marsh Fritillary is just one of the species currently experiencing long-term decline. Image by Mark Searle.

News that three-quarters of the UK’s butterfly species have declined in the last four decades despite intensive conservation efforts comes as a disturbing jolt.

Climate change and pesticides may be playing a more harmful role than previously thought, according to The State of the UK’s Butterflies 2015, which can be read here.

Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, behind the annual report, also blame habitat deterioration due to agricultural intensification and changing woodland management, particularly for those butterflies who only live in particular habitats.

This year’s findings reveal a clear north-south split, with butterflies in England declining and those in Scotland showing no long-term trend. Less severe habitat loss in the north and different effects of climate change are thought to be among the reasons.

Image by Mark Searle.

For some species the situation is stark. The long-term decline of Wood White, White Admiral and Marsh Fritillary shows no sign of slowing, while once widespread species such as the Essex Skipper and Small Heath are now amongst the UK’s most severely declining butterflies.

The Wall, once a common farmland butterfly in southern Britain, has suffered a 25 per cent decline since 2005, the once abundant Gatekeeper a 44 per cent decline in the same period, while numbers of Small Skipper have been below average every year this century.

Sorry reading but there is a silver(ish) lining – and the report’s authors believe conservation efforts may be beginning to help.

The UK’s most endangered butterfly, the High Brown Fritillary, has been fairly stable in the last decade, while numbers of threatened Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Dingy Skipper and Silver-Studded Blue have increased.

Red Admiral
Image by Mark Searle.

Many common migrant species such as Clouded Yellow, Red Admiral, and Painted Lady, have increased dramatically. While rarer migrants such as the Scarce Tortoiseshell and Long-Tailed Blue have also been arriving in the UK in unprecedented numbers.

 

State of the Planet assessments

End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth

Ever since George Perkins Marsh’s seminal 1864 work, Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, books assessing the state of the planet have become a staple part of the environmental literature. Marsh’s magnificent work spawned some valuable retrospectives, including Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth (1956) and The Earth as Transformed by Human Action (1993).

But, since 2000, most of the really good stuff on biosphere and ecosystems science has been beyond the reach of many, behind the paywall of scientific journals (e.g. John Estes’ superb Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth, Dirzo’s Defaunation in the Anthropocene, and Diffenbaugh’s Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions).

Following his 2012 paper in Nature, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere, Anthony Barnosky might well have followed the same route – but thankfully this brilliant and passionate scientist is also a believer in reaching out to a broader public: see his latest book, End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth.

Another leading light of planetary ecological assessment is the Swedish scientist, Johan Rockstrom, inventor of the ‘planetary boundaries’ concept, and author of perhaps the most influential peer-reviewed paper of the last decade (A safe operating space for humanity). He also has a new book just out, Big World, Small Planet.

Other notable recent publications on this theme include: The God Species (Lynas), The Sixth Extinction, an Unnatural History (Kolbert), the magisterial Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Eaarth (McKibben), The Living Planet report 2014, (WWF), Here on Earth (Flannery), and Global Environmental Outlook 5.

The Week in Review – 12th December

Dragonfly
Dragonfly use neurological calculations which allow them to actually predict the movements of their prey. Photo by John Flannery.

News from outside the nest

This week…we learned why pufferfish build sandcastles and how it has taken us such a long time to observe this particular behaviour.

A study published this week in Nature showed us how dragonflies go beyond mere reflexive responses and actually predict the movements of their prey as they are hunting.

This short guide helped us to address the most common questions posed by “climate change challengers”.

We discovered the OceanAdapt website which lets members of the public search and download geographic data of more than 650 species of fish and invertebrates and track how these have changed over time…a hugely valuable resource for fishermen and scientists.

Camouflage in the natural world is incredibly common and well understood. However, a paper published this week by the Royal Society revealed a new kind of camouflage exhibited by the beautiful harlequin filefish: smell camouflage.

And finally…we were amazed by this extraordinary bird that disguises itself as a caterpillar.

New arrivals at the warehouse

Useful and fun: these cute animal head torches are a great stocking filler for young outdoor enthusiasts.

 

 

The Week in Review – 5th December

Trawler
The Global Fishing Watch Project has made satellite data from fishing vessels freely available online to raise citizen awareness of overfishing. Image by Winky.

 

News from outside the nest

This week…we read a great article about the “Send us your Skeletons” project and learned about the power of citizen science in gathering valuable data.

We also learned about the importance of citizen awareness in the Global Fishing Watch project. This amazing new scheme uses satellite data to make global issues of overfishing much more transparent, as well as making huge quantities of fisheries science data available to researchers.

These beautiful images hosted by Rough Guide showed us some incredible views of forests around the world.

With temperatures in 2014 now reported to be the hottest on record, we took a look at how different places around the world have experienced these heatwaves.

We learned about the feeding behaviour of the aptly named killer whale – and discovered why they are suddenly preying on humpbacks.

And finally…Martin Litton, one of the great pioneers of the environmental movement, sadly died on Sunday. In this article from the National Geographic we read about his life and legacy.

New arrivals at the warehouse

The 5th edition of the Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Great Britain and Ireland contains stunning illustrations and photographs. It also features descriptions, distribution maps and site guides alongside a whole host of other great information.

The Barnacle Goose, the new Poyser Monograph, contains more than 25 years worth of research on these fascinating and sociable birds.

These Haglof Increment Borers are made from high quality Swedish steel – just the job for all your tree core sampling needs.

 

The Week in Review – 21st November

Sea turtles
Six of the world’s seven species of sea turtle are now endangered, making rehabilitation of injured individuals extremely important. Image by Dominic Scaglioni.

News from outside the nest

This week we learned all about…

The importance of protected areas for conserving the planet’s diversity. Many of our reserves are failing to live up to their promised potential through poor management

The strange wasting syndrome that is affecting many important species of starfish and the scientists that are working to manage this problem.

Rehabilitation of sea turtles over 400 miles from the ocean. At the Second Chance Program, located in Pittsburgh, injured turtles are prepared for reintroduction to the wild.

A new theory which suggests that life could exist on planets in the absence of water, thriving instead on supercritical carbon dioxide.

Flying under the influence: A drunk tank for birds, situated in the Yukon territory, opens for business.

And finally…the UK’s first number two bus (quite literally). Powered entirely by human sewage and food waste, this bus is now in service between Bristol and Bath.

New arrivals at the warehouse

This new Programmable Heated Bat Box lets you set maximum and minimum daily temperatures for each month of the year, as well as letting you set up and monitor up to four boxes remotely via an online interface.

The Nest Box Camera Starter Kit contains everything you need to start filming birds in your garden. It includes an FSC timber bird box pre-fitted with a camera and 30m cable. Simply plug into your TV and start watching the action.

The long awaited new addition of Docks and Knotweeds of Britain and Ireland features additional hybrids and adventives, new distribution maps and keys, as well as 67 outstanding illustrations by Anne Farrer.

Animal Weapons by Douglas Emlen lets us take a look at the extreme weapons of the natural world: teeth, horns and claws, alongside the weapons developed by humans since battle began.

 

The week in review – 14th November

This week we studied the formation of snowflakes
The complex and beautiful shapes formed by snowflakes are caused by the specific conditions experienced during their formation. Photo by bkaree1.

News from outside the nest

The Convention on Migratory Species in Ecuador, which closed on Sunday, approved greater protection measures for 31 species. These included the much loved polar bear, currently at risk from a warming arctic climate.

The world’s first solar bike lane, connecting the Amsterdam suburbs of Krommenie and Wormerveer, opened in the Netherlands.

In this documentary by William Douglas McMaster, we learned all about the man that single-handedly created a forest.

A study released this week showed that European bird species are declining at an alarming rate. This is a loss both for our world and in our hearts.

We took a look at the new trend for urban farming projects in Los Angeles.

A new antibiotic found in a mushroom living on horse dung may help to provide valuable information on antibiotic resistance.

And finally…with winter rapidly approaching (for us folk in the northern hemisphere) we discovered the fascinating world of snowflakes.

New arrivals at the warehouse

The Book of Beetles offers glorious lifesize photographs of six hundred beetle species along with distribution maps and other important information for each.

This new Bradt Guide to the Wildlife of Madagascar celebrates the unique fauna of a marvellous island.

These Sapphire ED Binoculars from Hawke Optics are winners of the Best Birding Binoculars 2013 Award.

The EasyLog Mini USB Temperature Logger is pocket-sized and affordable and will log temperatures for up to a month with one battery.

 

The Week in Review – 7th November

Emperor Penguins
PenguinBot has helped researchers gain crucial information about emperor penguins. Image by Lin Padgham.

News from outside the nest

This week we learned about PenguinBot, a remote controlled “penguin” used to collect information from micro-chipped birds without the need for the stress caused by contact with human researchers.

We read all about arctic ground squirrels, who bulk up on steroids for their winter hibernation period and have evolved to avoid the negative effects of steroids seen in humans and other mammals.

We pondered the question: Is music governed by biology or culture? following this research showing that the male hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus) uses melodies which have the same harmonic intervals used in many of our well recognised music scales -the first time that this has been observed in any animals outside of humans.

Hummingbirds are notoriously beautiful and delicate, so it was intriguing to see a more combative side to these tiny birds and to discover how male aggression has played a role in the evolution of beak shape.

A newly discovered fossil found in Madagascar, described as a huge groundhog-like creature, has provide fascinating insights into early mammalian evolution.

A paper published this week in the journal Science showed us how the Mexican free-tailed bat uses acoustic calls to jam the echolocation of other bats competing for the same prey item.

And finally…zero gravity fun with a GoPro – NASA astronauts submerge a GoPro camera inside a floating ball of water.

New arrivals at the warehouse

Get ready for a brand new year of birdwatching with the Birdwatcher’s Yearbook 2015.

Compact, portable, yet packed with illustrations and information, the Birds of Costa Rica is the only guide you need for this wonderful birding destination.

The EasyLog Professional USB Temperature Logger is a great new addition to the range. This big brother of the EasyLog family is more robust and will last for even longer in the field, recording temperatures of up to 125ºC.

This Double Globe Planetarium is a great way to learn about our solar system. Project planets or stars onto your ceiling and listen along to the commentary. Great for kids (and lots of fun for us adults too).

 

The Week in Review – 31st October

Blood drop
Extremely rare blood types affect the lives of patients, donors, doctors and scientists around the world. Image by Mattia Belletti.

News from outside the nest

This week we took a Trip Around the World in 92 Minutes with this wonderful collection of images taken from the International Space Station by Chris Hadfield.

From there we took a visual journal on a different scale, and were mesmerised by the winning photos from the Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition.

In Ethiopia, a tree and shrub planting program which has already transformed the landscape is set to continue following a pledge to restore an additional 15m hectares by 2030.

In this fascinating article we learned all about rare, and extremely rare, blood types, and how these affect the lives of patients, donors and surgeons, as well as the scientists that study them.

This new research has shown that bats hang out with their “friends” when roosting in woodlands, and that social groups are surprisingly distinct.

And finally…this image of the sun, taken from NASA’s Solar Dynamic Observatory spacecraft, helped to get us in the mood for Halloween.

New arrivals at the warehouse

These Zeiss Victory Binoculars are high performance and have a handy one touch rangefinder to measure distance.

The Reconyx UltraFire records 8MP images and 1080p videos. It has invisible night vision illumination and a preview screen, allowing you to view your footage in the field.