This Week in Biodiversity News – 31st July 2023

Science and Research

An Oxford University study has revealed that eating less meat would be like taking 8 million cars off the road. Low meat-eaters were found to produce 5.37kg of greenhouse gases per day, almost half of the 10.24kg that big meat-eaters produced. Fish-eaters and vegetarians produce 4.74kg and 4.16kg respectively while vegans produce only 2.47kg. The results, which also detail land use, water use and biodiversity impacts, show the benefits that a low-meat diet can have for the planet. It has long been established that meat production has a bigger carbon footprint than plant production, but the level of detail seen in the study is unprecedented according to scientists.

Various vegetables at a market.
Vegetables at market. Image by Open Grid Scheduler via Flickr.
Climate Crisis

Thousands of people have been evacuated from Greece following intense wildfires on the island of Rhodes. Strong winds blew fires that had been raging in the island’s interior towards the coast threatening hotels and tourist areas. Meteorologists have warned that temperatures are forecast to reach a 50-year high for the month of July in Greece, with extremes of up to 45°C. Brutally high temperatures have been seen across southern Europe this July, including Italy where most major cities have been put on red heat alert.

The former head of the UN climate body the IPCC has warned that the world will miss the 1.5°C warming limit target. Leading British climate scientist Professor Sir Bob Watson told the BBC that he is “pessimistic” about even achieving a 2°C limit. The 1.5°C limit was agreed at the UN conference in Paris in 2015 and has become a focus for global efforts to tackle climate change. The IPCC has said that failing to meet the 1.5°C threshold could expose millions more people to losing their homes to rising sea levels, increased water insecurity, and devastating coral reef biodiversity losses. To meet the 1.5°C or 2°C targets, greenhouse gases need to be reduced; however, emissions are continuing to rise.

Extinction Risk

The world’s most endangered large whale is closer to extinction than experts thought. In a blow for whale biodiversity, only a few hundred North Atlantic right whales are estimated to remain in the world’s oceans according to the NOAA. With only 70 reproductively active females remaining, the species is fast approaching extinction. Unexpectedly high mortality since 2017, in large part from human activity, has resulted in a catastrophic decline in right whale numbers. Research by the New England Aquarium has suggested that vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglements are the greatest threat to the 100 ton marine mammal; 86% of identified whales were found to have been caught in fishing gear.

Pod of five North Atlantic right whales from birds-eye-view.
Pod of North Atlantic right whales. Image by Sea to Shore Alliance/NOAA via Flickr.

Golden paintbrush has been removed from the endangered species list following recovery efforts. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has taken the flowery yellow plant off the endangered species list after more than 25 years. The flower can be found in the Pacific Northwest where its native range stretches from Oregon to southwestern British Columbia. Golden paintbrush numbers shrunk significantly due to pressure from invasive species, recreational picking and fire suppression. However, following replanting efforts, the number of sites the species is present in has increased from 10 to 48. In a boost for local biodiversity, the plant’s recovery could also benefit associated species such as the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly and Mazama pocket gopher.


The south of England saw its first white-tailed eagle birth in 240 years. White-tailed eagles were once widespread across England but became extinct due to human persecution. The birds, also known as sea eagles, are Britain’s largest birds of prey with a wingspan approaching 2.5 meters (8.2 ft). A Forestry England and Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation project re-introduced the birds to the Isle of Wight from northern Scotland in 2020. Licensed ornithologists have ringed the chick and fitted it with a tracking device.

White-tailed eagle flying.
White-tailed eagle in flight. Image by Per Harald Olsen/NTNU via Flickr.

In a similarly successful re-introduction programme, pine martens saw a third successful breeding year in the Forest of Dean. The initiative led by the Gloucester Wildlife Trust introduced 35 individuals to the forest between 2019 and 2021 with numbers now swelling to close to 60. Pine martin populations at one point were pushed to the remote corners of Scotland due to hunting and deforestation; however, recent recovery programmes in Wales and England have seen the elusive mammal returning from the brink of extinction south of the Scottish border.


G20 countries failed to reach an agreement on cutting fossil fuels following recent meetings in India. The summit saw disagreements over a goal of tripling renewable energy capacity by 2030 which Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, South Africa and Indonesia are known to oppose. G20 members account for more than three-quarters of global emissions and so efforts by the group to reduce carbon emissions are essential if global warming targets are to be met.

New Discoveries

A study has found that post-menopause orca mothers protect their sons from other orcas. Using data from the Center for Whale Research’s annual photographic census, researchers found that if a male orca’s mother was still alive and no longer reproducing, the male would have reduced scarring when compared to peers with a mother still reproducing or without a living mother. Females can live up to 90 years in the wild with an average of 22 years after menopause. Previous studies have shown that post-menopause mothers also aid their families by sharing food.

Orca surfacing near coast
Orca surfacing in Washington State. Image by Maya Sears via Flickr.
Read More

See our previous biodiversity news stories covering topics from corvid behaviour to capercaillie populations.

Author interview with Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall: Black Ops & Beaver Bombing

Black Ops & Beaver Bombing: Adventures with Britain’s Wild Mammals is a captivating and entertaining deep dive into many of the mammals of Britain. Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall explore mines inhabited by great horseshoe bats, go on overnight stakeouts in search of pine martens and travel from Scotland to the Isles of Scilly in search of their elusive subjects. This book puts animals at the heart of the story, revelling in their peculiarities and exploring the threats to their survival and the struggles that plague their conservation in Britain. The depth of knowledge, witty commentary and obvious enthusiam creates a beautifully written book that is difficult to put down.

Each chapter focuses on a different UK mammal, from wild boars and beavers to red squirrels and grey seals. Fiona and Tim explore the history, ecology and current conservation of these species, focusing on what is threatening them and what should or is being done to protect them. They do not shy away from giving criticism and sharing their frustration when the attitudes of policy makers stand against environmental protection and restoration. In search of answers to the problems that beset our wildlife, the authors reveal the wonder of creatures that are worth fighting for.

Fiona Mathews is a professor of environmental biology at the University of Sussex and the founding chair of Mammal Conservation Europe. Tim Kendall is a professor of English Literature at the University of Exeter and edited Britain’s Mammals 2018. They have kindly agreed to an extended interview with us, where we discuss the role of public education in conservation projects, how climate change may be impacting population recruitment in bats and seals, whether there is hope for the reintroduction of top mammalian predators, and much much more.

Could you tell us how you both became interested in mammals and what inspired you to create this deep dive into the mammals of Britain?

Tim: I grew up right next door to Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth. I was obsessed with spotting mammals as a child, but the only ones I ever saw were grey squirrels. When I was 8 or 9, I wrote a poem for school about seeing a badger, describing the joy and excitement I felt. It was all made up: I didn’t see a live badger until after I left for university. Luckily, I had the good sense to marry a mammal biologist and carry out fieldwork with her, which means that I’ve now seen all but three of our native mammal species.

Fiona: I’ve been interested in mammals for as long as I can remember, but I decided it should become my career after I went on my first bat walk. Black Ops and Beaver Bombing was partly inspired by my work reviewing the population status of Britain’s mammals and drawing up the Red List with the Mammal Society.

The preface, I-Spy, makes an interesting point about the interconnectedness of species as well as the focus of conservation: “If you want to save the barn owl, start by saving the field vole”. Do you believe the focus on ‘charismatic’ species, which are often higher up in the food chain, more often aids the conservation of prey species (such as by increasing or improving habitats) or harms these species by increasing the population of their predators? Should more conservation projects take a more ‘grassroots’ focus, by helping species lower down on the food chain?

We ignore the small species at our peril, and the fact that they’re almost all in decline is deeply worrying. Of course, wolves and wild cats grab the headlines, but if we don’t pay attention to the bioabundant species, everything across the food web is affected. We talk a lot in the book about the Scilly shrew, and if we’d thought anyone would read it, we’d have included a chapter on field voles.

In Chapter 3 ‘On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine Marten’, you discuss the extensive work done to win over the local people before the ‘recovery’ project began. Do you believe the public will become more and more open to these types of projects or will public education always need to play such an extensive role?

The general public is already becoming more welcoming, but the people who control landscapes are a small subset of the population, and they often have their own priorities that they believe (rightly or wrongly) will be damaged by reintroduction and recovery projects. One of the unfortunate things about rewilding is that it’s becoming as divisive as Brexit. We should all be working together to reverse the biodiversity crisis.

Wild mammals only make up between 2–4% of the world’s mammal biomass, decreasing by more than 85% since the rise of humans. In contrast, livestock makes up more than 63% of mammal biomass. How has this drop in wild mammal biomass impacted ecosystems and do you think we’ll be able to repair this?

High intensity livestock production is undoubtedly a massive contributor to biodiversity loss, but we mustn’t perceive farmers as the enemy. We need good farmers producing good food and getting rewarded for sustainable and wildlife-friendly production. Progress towards reforming agricultural subsidies has moved at glacial speed. Our government, like most across the globe, is much too heavily influenced by the lobbying of large agribusinesses which want to preserve the status quo.

In Chapter 5 ‘Hanging Out with Greater Horseshoe Bats’, you mention that Fiona is working on a long-term plan to re-establish the British population of the greater mouse-eared bat. Could you tell us a little bit more about how this process would work?

Fiona: Historically, the greater mouse-eared bat has been found in Dorset and Sussex, but with climate change we would expect its range to shift northwards. There are large and thriving colonies in Brittany and Normandy at the moment. We have to work out whether they will arrive in England under their own steam, or whether we need to give them a helping hand. Translocating bats isn’t easy. I’ve set up a working group at Eurobats to bring together experts looking at the best way forward.

You mention that the greater horseshoe bat population has stabilised and is now increasing in Britain. Why do you think this is happening?

The species is struggling across mainland Europe but it has responded well to a series of mild winters in England and Wales. Organisations like the Vincent Wildlife Trust have done a fantastic job to protect and improve roosts. We should remember, though, that greater horseshoes once had a range that extended to the east of England, and it’s estimated that there was a population of 300,000 at the end of the nineteenth century. The current population is about 4% of that total, which is a remarkable recovery from their lowest levels, but we need to be aware of shifting baseline syndrome before we celebrate the good news too enthusiastically.

Chapter 5 also mentions a new system for monitoring bats, which monitors the flight paths using radio receivers. Do you think that, by highlighting important flight paths, this system will be able to be used to reduce the impacts of new developments?

Although legislative protection means that we now know a lot about bat roosts in buildings, there’s not much point protecting a roost if the animals lack places to forage or mate. New techniques such as static radio tracking allow us to identify important sites and protect them for the future.

As cool weather in spring can have an impact on the growth and development of young bats, has climate change impacted juvenile survival rates and population recruitment?

We know that baby bats grow less well, with short- and long-term consequences, when weather conditions are poor in the breeding season. We would expect to see negative effects from climate change, and this is something we are currently looking at in a European-wide project. The challenge is that few researchers have datasets that span at least 20 years, which is the timeframe you need for analysing these long-term trends. So we’re also conducting other research on shorter timescales to assess whether mother bats are moving around their roosts to select different temperatures.

Chapter 6 ‘Tiggywinkle Goes Rogue’, mentions how ‘tidiness’ harms biodiversity. Do you think the growth in recent campaigns such as No Mow May will help to reduce society’s obsession with garden ‘neatness’?

Yes! It also requires us to hassle our local councils until we outnumber those strange people who complain about overgrown verges. Councils will take the path of least resistance, which should be to do as little ‘tidying’ as possible.

A common threat for several of the species you cover in Black Ops & Beaver Bombing is light pollution. Is there momentum at the moment that would see light pollution effectively combated in the coming years?

No, and the problem is worsened by the fact that lighting is getting cheaper and more intense. It’s frustrating because light is one of the few pollutants that simply disappears as soon as you flick a switch.

In chapter 7, ‘Who Cares What Colour the Squirrels Are?’, you mention that certain conservation strategies, such as the culling of grey squirrels to protect red squirrels, are unlikely to receive funding due to fears of adverse publicity. How much do you think conservation strategies are affected by how palatable they are to the public? Do you think this impacts the effectiveness of some conservation projects?

The biggest issue is the insatiable appetite for novelty over longevity. Nobody wants to fund routine maintenance. You may get grant money to reintroduce water voles, but will you still be funded to cull American mink a decade later?

As storms often lead to the deaths of many seal pups, will the increased occurrence of extreme weather due to climate change have a significant effect on population recruitment for seals on our shores?

We don’t know. In our seal chapter, we call the recovery of grey seals the great mammal conservation story of the twentieth century. Their numbers increased from about 500 during the First World War to well over 100,000, which makes up around 40% of the global population for the species. Storms and tidal surges can wipe out entire colonies of pups in any given season, but thankfully so far that doesn’t seem to have dented their population growth. Shout out to the amazing volunteers who rescue and raise pups for 6 months before they’re strong enough to be released!

The government recently released England’s first Marine and Coastal Wildlife Code, do you think this guidance will significantly help to protect wildlife such as grey and harbour seals from the impacts of visitors? 

Yes. It was long overdue, and it’s vital. Some people will remember seeing the footage of a runner deliberately chasing a colony of seals into the sea in Yorkshire. If that happens to a moulting seal or a pup, they can die. We’re all tempted to take selfies next to wildlife, but it’s rarely a good idea.

This book ends by asking why Britain cannot seem to accept mammalian predators in the way that European countries have. Do you think there is hope for change in attitudes that could see the re-introduction of species such as lynx, wolves and bears within the coming decades?

We end the book in the Abruzzo National Park, 90 minutes drive from Rome, where there are now about 11 active wolf packs and 50 bears. The Cairngorms is ten times bigger, and has roughly the same human population. So much for the argument that we’re a crowded island! So we could and should reintroduce these apex predators, but we have to deal with misinformation from (for example) the current President of the National Farmers’ Union, who claims that lynx would pose a threat to ramblers. No wild lynx has ever attacked a human. Cattle, on the other hand, kill 8-10 people a year in Britain.

Do you have any future plans that you could tell us about?

We’ve just started a podcast, ‘Mammals R Us’ ( We have very different working habits, so our big question is: can we finish another book without getting divorced?

Black Ops & Beaver Bombing by Fiona Mathews and Tim Kendall was published by Oneworld Publications in April 2023 and is available from

Author interview with Lee Raye: The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife

The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife is a ground-breaking volume compiling the observations of early modern amateur naturalists, travellers and local historians for the first time. Drawing on over 10,000 records, this book looks at the early modern state of wildlife in Britain and Ireland, the era before climate change, before the intensification of agriculture, before even the Industrial Revolution. The book presents maps and notes on the former distribution of 153 species, providing a new baseline against which to discuss subsequent declines and extinctions, expansions and introductions. This remarkable resource will be of great value to conservationists, archaeologists, historians and anyone with an interest in the natural heritage of Britain and Ireland.

Lee Raye is an associate lecturer at the Open University and a Fellow of the Linnaean Society, specialising in the history of wild animals and plants in pre-industrial Britan and Ireland. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak with them about what inspired them to write this atlas, what the most difficult aspect of creating this book was, what their future plans were and much more.

What inspired you to write this atlas?  

Several years ago I worked for the RSPB. I went on a weekend induction to The Lodge in Sandy, Bedfordshire, and had a walk around with the reserve archaeologist. He explained that, although it was simple enough to know which animals had declined and gone extinct in the historical period, there was a lack of clarity about how and when this happened. I realised that I already had some of the answers he needed. Around that same time, as a research project, I was translating and analysing the records of wild animals and plants from a single 17th-century natural history book, Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata (1684). That source is really valuable because it was contributed to by so many people and contains so many important records. For example, there are records of the Great Auk, the Bustard and the Angel Shark amongst the animals and Darnel, Shepherd’s Needle, and Greater Water-parsnip amongst the plants. While doing this project, I started making a list of other comparable texts from the same time period, and to my surprise I realised there was a whole understudied genre of them! I realised that if I combined all of these sources together I could give a decent estimate of the distribution of species in the 16th-18th centuries. 

Greater Water-Parsnip by Jeremy Halls via Flickr

Do you think it’s possible for us to restore our wildlife to the condition it was in early modern Britain or has our landscape changed too drastically? 

When we are doing conservation work it’s really important that we have a strong baseline to work against, otherwise we don’t know when we are restoring biodiversity and when we are just adding species to an environment. I think the early modern period is a good choice of baseline for two reasons. First, it comes before some of the most alarming declines in biodiversity which followed trends like the industrial revolution, the 20th century agricultural revolution, and the gamekeeper culls of raptors and mammalian predators of the nineteenth and early 20th century. But it was still a period when all of Britain and Ireland was managed for human needs, including some big cities. Secondly, there are a lot of sources available from the time period, so the Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife could reconstruct the fauna found at the time. But we are never going to be able to perfectly return to that baseline. The islands of Britain and Ireland are even more intensively managed and exploited now, and we need to keep that up to provide for the human population. The early modern period was also a time when there was a temporary climate change, the Little Ice Age, which meant that the so-called ‘northern species’ were doing really well, and the ‘southern species’ had a more restricted range. Modern global heating is going to become much more severe than the Little Ice Age was, and is likely to magnify the differences so that Britain and Ireland in the 21st century is going to have significant differences in its flora and fauna to the 17th century, no matter what we do. 

The distribution trend for the majority of species mentioned in this book was either uncertain or unchanged, compared to 24 increases and 26 decreases. Did this surprise you? 

I knew that there would be lots of uncertainty in the data from the time period, but I was a bit surprised that so few species showed a decline in distribution. We know that we are in a biodiversity crisis now, but the declines in abundance we are currently facing are going to take some time to result in declines in distribution at a regional level, which is the rather crude metric I was able to track in the Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife. It’s also true that there have been official and unofficial reintroductions in the modern period, which have restored species like Beaver, Otter and Greylag Goose across much of their early modern range, meaning that comparing early modern and present distribution hides what happened to these species in between. 

Greylag goose by ianpreston via Flickr

You mention that there was a bias towards recording exploitable species in the early modern period and a bias towards recording birds now. Did this affect which species you were able to include in this book? 

Yes, with the exception of a few species of conservation concern, I included only the best-recorded species in my Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife. That means that there is a bias towards certain groups of species. For example, I was able to map the past distribution of 18 freshwater fishes but only five small songbirds. Don’t ask me about the distribution of the Sparrow or the Great Tit in the early modern period, because my sources don’t offer much data about them! 

What was the most difficult aspect of creating this book? 

The most complicated part of the Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife has been trying to solve the recorder-effort problem. I needed to be able to tell when species were not recorded because they were absent (like the Wolf, which seems to have been extinct in England and Wales already by this time period), and when animals were not recorded simply because not enough effort had been put into recording them (like those Sparrows and Great Tits which no-one really cared about). My solution was to statistically compare how many records I had for each species from different regions of Britain and Ireland with a figure of how well-recorded each different region was in the early modern period. I also used some habitat suitability modelling to try and establish patterns behind absences, but this has been complicated, speculative work! 

Do you have any future plans that you can tell us about? 

I think I could take this project further in the future. It should be possible to map the distribution of wild plants 250-500 years ago, or to join up the distribution of Britain and Ireland’s wildlife with the distribution of wildlife in other parts of Europe from the same time period. But I also want to work a bit more on poetry from the early modern period. There are a few very strange poems written c.1580-1650 that protest environmental destruction and are told from the perspective of animals which I think deserve to be much more widely known. 

The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife by Lee Raye is due to be published by Pelagic Publishing in July 2023 and is available for pre-order from

This Week in Biodiversity News – 17th July 2023

Science and research

Dutch scientists have revealed that corvids are using anti-bird spikes to build their nests. Anti-bird spikes are often attached to building ledges to prevent birds from nesting, and this discovery was prompted when nests constructed almost entirely from the sharp metal objects were found in Rotterdam and Antwerp. It has been suggested that the spikes may help protect their nests and could even be used as a display to impress potential mates.

Crow in a tree. Image by Stanze via Flickr.

Salinity changes are threatening marine ecosystems, according to researchers at the University of North Florida. Changes in salt content can occur due to land use and climate change and are expected to intensify with warming oceans. Vital estuarine and coastal zones could quickly face ecosystem collapse as groups such as corals, plankton and seagrass are affected by the changes.

Climate crisis

Global average temperatures reached a new high for the third time in a week at the start of July. A record of 17.01°C early in the week was broken twice more with average temperatures reaching 17.23°C on the Thursday. While unofficial, the record points a concerning trend in recent decades of higher year-on-year global temperatures. Scientists have attributed the cause of the unprecedented temperatures to a combination of human-induced global warming and the El Niño climate pattern.

The global shipping industry has agreed to a goal of net-zero by 2050. Industry voices and small island nations have largely welcomed the deal, but it has provoked fury among environmental groups who believe the plan will do little to keep temperatures below the 1.5°C threshold set out as part of the Paris climate agreement in 2015. Shipping is responsible for around 3% of CO2 emissions and campaigners are warning that emissions targets set out in plan will see the shipping industry exhaust its carbon budget by 2032.

Container ship. Image by Derell Licht via Flickr.

Severe flooding in Spain’s north-eastern city of Zaragoza swept away cars following storms and torrential downpours in early July. Video footage shows people desperately clinging to the top of cars and climbing trees while awaiting rescue by the authorities. The incident follows a worrying trend of extreme flooding seen across the world this summer.


One of the UK’s rarest and most threatened birds continues to thrive at Newport Wetlands National Nature Reserve in Wales. This year’s nest sites have seen the fledging of six Bittern chicks due to the provision of high-quality reedbed habitat. Bitterns were previously driven to the point of extinction following persecution and habitat loss. The reserve’s wetlands are managed by Natural Resource Wales in partnership with Newport City Council and the RSPB. Wetlands are also valuable in the battle against climate change acting as important carbon stores.

Bittern in flight at RSPB Minsmere, Suffolk. Image by Caroline Legg via Flickr.

The launch of a free online hub, which provides free advice for grassroots projects, hopes to mobilise communities for nature recovery. The Wildlife Trusts’ Nextdoor Nature Hub provides a range of ‘how to’ guides which aim to provide information and advice on creating and running nature recovery groups. The Wildlife Trusts is also running a programme of more than 50 events across the UK, coinciding with the release of the Nextdoor Nature Hub.

Extinction risk

Cairngorm Capercaillie numbers have increased for the first time in eight years following this spring’s lek counts. The results from Cairngorms National Park have shown an increase in 19 male birds following a Capercaillie biodiversity action plan involving RSPB Scotland, NatureScot, Forestry and Land Scotland among others. The positive news comes as the previous year’s counts revealed that only 542 Capercaillies were left in Scotland’s fragmented pine forests, a decline from 2015/16’s survey when the population was estimated to be 1114 birds.

Male Western Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus). Image by Ron Knight via Flickr.

A phasing down of fossil fuels is inevitable and essential, Cop28’s president has said. Sultan Al Jaber has called for a ramping up of renewable energy capacity to enable fossil fuel use reductions. He will host the climate talks which will be held in the United Arab Emirates in November where a Cop28 plan for a target of tripling of global renewable energy production is expected to be announced.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd July 2023


A new study indicates that megalodon, the extinct shark species, were warm-blooded. The researchers found that Otodus megalodon may have had a body temperature that was significantly higher than other sharks, more consistent with having a degree of internal heat production similar to that of modern warm blooded animals. The higher metabolic costs associated with this may have contributed to its vulnerability to extinction.

Climate crisis

Heat waves are occurring across North America, leaving millions without power and under heat and air quality alerts. Much of the south and southwest of the US are experiencing temperatures into the triple digits (Fahrenheit), with at least 13 deaths in Texas due to heat-related illnesses. A record-breaking heat dome is covering Mexico and Texas, with some states in Mexico seeing temperatures exceeding 113F. At least 112 heat-related deaths have been recorded in the country so far this year.


Joshua trees are officially protected in California, after the passing of the Western Joshua Tree Conservation Act. This law bans the removal of Joshua trees without a permit, creates a fund to protect the species and mandates consultation on the rule’s implementation with Native American tribes. According to scientists, by 2100 just 0.02% of the tree’s habitat in Joshua Tree National Park will remain viable without mitigating climate change.

A new study has found that bats thrive in restored wetlands. Researchers from the University of Turku measured the impact of wetland restoration on bats. The Hydrology LIFE project has successfully restored more than 5,000 hectares of wetlands across more than 100 locations. The study, which is part of this project, showed that wetland restoration can significantly increase the activity of bats. By monitoring bat activity in 21 sites across Finland over four summers between 2018-2022, the researchers were able to attribute this notable increase in activity to the improved abundance of insects in these areas.

Natural England has designated a Cornish moorland as a nature conservation area. The 59 blocks of land in Penwrith Moors in Cornwall are now sites of specific scientific interest, a move aiming to preserve precious flora and fauna. There has been criticism from farmers, as this would mean further restrictions. Natural England decided this area, which covers around 3,000 hectares, should be designated an SSSI because it is an important habitat for rare birds, plants and insects.

A new funding partnership between Beaver Trust and the Ecological Restoration Fund will help to support the restoration of and co-existence with beavers across Britain. This £150,000 grant will be used to support two key areas of Beaver Trust’s work: releasing beavers into new sites and providing their team with the equipment and resources they need to carry out mitigation and trapping.

Extinction risk

Reef sharks are facing a heightened extinction risk. A new study has revealed that overfishing is pushing reef sharks towards extinction, with a global decline of 63% on average in five of the main shark species living on coral reefs. After studying 22,000 hours of footage from stations across 391 reefs in 67 nations and territories, the researchers found that grey reef, blacktip reef, white tip reef, nurse and Caribbean reef sharks are all in decline.

Rainforest loss accelerated last year compared to 2021, despite the pledge signed by 100 international leaders to end deforestation by 2030. Brazil led in rainforest loss, with a 15% increase over the prior year. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the country with the second-most rainforest, also had major losses last year, much of which was agriculture related.

Brazilian authorities have announced the seizure of almost 29 tons of shark fins, coming from an estimated 10,000 blue and shortfin mako sharks. It is believed that the vessels used fishing gear specifically for targeted shark fishing, which is prohibited. Shortfin mako sharks were placed on the country’s endangered species list in May and blue sharks are under consideration for inclusion.

New discoveries

The Victorian grassland earless dragon has been rediscovered, having been thought to have been extinct in the wild since 1969. This species was once widespread in the native grasslands west of Melbourne but the population declined due to habitat loss and predation. Zoos Victoria had been actively searching for the dragon since 2017 and, now a surviving population has been found, are working to establish a plan to ensure the species’ survival.

African-painted dogs have been spotted in Uganda after four decades.  The species had become extinct in Uganda in the 1980s but were spotted in the far northeast of the country. In 2020, the population of African-painted dogs was estimated at around 6,000 adults.

Author interview with Tim Blackburn: The Jewel Box

Interwoven throughout with tales of his experiences moth trapping on his London rooftop and in the Devon countryside, The Jewel Box by Tim Blackburn introduces us to a range of ecological theories and explains some of the where, why and hows that anyone curious about the natural world might tend to ponder upon. Beautifully and engagingly written, it manages to be both an ode to both the moths themselves and the activity of moth trapping, as well as a wider ranging exploration of the relationships between humans, other species and habitats.

Professor Tim Blackburn is a scientist with thirty years of experience studying questions about the distribution, abundance and diversity of species in ecological assemblages. He is currently a Professor of Invasion Biology at University College London, where his work focuses on alien species. Before that, he was the Director of the Institute of Zoology, the research arm of the Zoological Society of London.

In this Q&A we chatted with Tim about The Jewel Box as well as about moths in the UK, the things we still have to learn about them, and the species that he’s hoping to see in the flesh.

What struck me most about your book was how you manage to write about complex ecological theories in a very accessible way, while at the same time conveying your very personal admiration and fascination for these insects. What was it that convinced you that this book in particular needed writing?

For a few years now I’d wanted to write a book that presented the natural world in the way that ecological scientists tend to think about it. There is a lot of very fine writing about nature, but most of it is more natural history than science, or is very much focused on a specific organism or location. While The Jewel Box does use moths to illuminate and illustrate the rules that we (ecological scientists) think underpin how nature works, it is very much about those rules, rather than the moths themselves. I’m very happy to hear that you thought I explained the science in an accessible way – that was my fundamental goal.

Within the UK, we have a rich history of recording and studying moths. Where do you think are the big gaps currently in the research? Are there things about moths that we still know little about?

There are still lots of gaps in our knowledge of UK moths – hardly surprising given that we have 2,500 or so species here. For some, we still don’t know their natural food plant. For others, we don’t know if they still exist here. In this latter regard, it seems incredible to me that we are still arguing about the scale of insect declines in the UK, and what the causes of those declines are. We think moth numbers have probably dropped by 30% since 1970, but that information is only available for the commoner species of larger moths, and may be biased in various ways. While we have a rich history of moth recording, and some good data for moth population changes, we could really do with more.

Why do you think it can be so addictive to observe, identify and list the species that we find, whether it’s birds, plants or moths?

I don’t know! For me, it’s pretty much a hard-wired instinct. My mother says I was pointing at birds before I could talk. I’ve been a birder all my life. More generally, there is something deeply satisfying about observing and identifying species – a series of puzzles to work out. Yet unlike most puzzles, the solution is not a product of the human mind, but something more profound. It’s the start of an exploration into understanding millions of years of evolution and ecology. I love a cryptic crossword, but identifying moths gives me so much more joy.

As someone who was trapping before, during and after the Covid restrictions, did you observe any significant differences in the numbers or species of moths that were attracted to your trap during the periods of lockdown?

I wouldn’t say I noticed obvious differences due to lockdowns, although the first lockdown period itself was a very productive one for my moth trap. That was because I was in the Devon countryside when lockdown happened, rather than my upstairs London flat. The countryside is so much better for moths (numbers of species and individuals) than the city, and that spring was notably warm and sunny, which the moths loved. The 2020 lockdown was my most intensive period of trapping to date.

We are generally well informed about planting wildflowers for pollinators such as bees and butterflies and providing food for our garden birds. But what can we do to encourage moths?

The same really! Butterflies are just showy, diurnal moths. Moths are as good pollinators as bees, and like flowers and pollen just as much. So anything you do for the butterflies and bees will likely help the moths too. You just won’t see the impact as obviously, because most of the moths are using your garden while you’re sleeping.

Are there any species that you’ve yet to trap but are on your mothing ‘bucket list’ so to speak?

In The Jewel Box, I spoke about dreaming of catching a Death’s-head Hawk-moth, one of the largest and most iconic British moth species. Last October, I opened my moth trap on Blakeney Point in Norfolk to see that that dream had come true. It’s a moment that will stay with me forever. Now, Oleander Hawk-moth– the species that inspired the book’s cover – would be the dream, albeit even less likely than catching the Death’s-head.

Finally, what’s in store for you next? Do you have plans for further books?

I’m mulling on the next book, but still enjoying all that’s new and interesting in my life as a result of publishing The Jewel Box. But watch this space…

The Jewel Box by Tim Blackburn was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in June 2023 and is available from

Author interview: An Identification Guide to Garden Birds of Britain and North-West Europe

An Identification Guide to Garden Birds of Britain and North-West Europe is a photographic guide to 75 species of bird most commonly found in or over the gardens of Britain and North-West Europe. The text combines scientific facts with affectionate descriptions of the birds’ identifying features, including sex and age differences, habits, nest types, eggs and calls. The introduction contains tips on how to identify birds, how to look after garden birds, which species can be seen throughout the year, a glossary and anatomy details. For each species, there are two or three photographs labelled with distinguishing features where appropriate, a calendar showing the time of year when the adult can be seen and star facts that give further proof of the birds’ fascinating features.

Dominic Couzens

Dominic Couzens is an award-winning nature writer with 40 books and hundreds of published articles to his name. His best-known books include An Identification Guide to Garden Insects of Britain and North-West Europe, The Secret Lives of Garden Birds, Britain’s Mammals (WildGuides) and Save Our Species. Carl Bovis is a nature photographer with a particular passion for birds. The advent of digital photography has given him the opportunity to capture the birds he sees and share them with the world.

We were lucky enough to ask both Dominic and Carl a few questions about what inspired them to produce this guide, what the process was like to assemble it and the importance of providing habitats for birds in our gardens.

What inspired you to produce this introductory guide to garden birds?

Dominic: As a regular Twitter follower I quickly became aware of Carl’s work. What stood out for me was his wonderfully giving attitude, really helping “ordinary” people connect with birds and birdwatching with the use of clever and funny bird photos, as well as wondrous ones. He encourages everyone to get involved and to enjoy nature, and he does it in a unique way.

So from my (Dominic’s) point of view, it was a no-brainer to cooperate with Carl on an entry-level guide to garden birds, with his own special take.

This book follows on from a book on garden insects published with another first-time author, Gail Ashton, last year. In both guides we have used light-hearted introductions and mentioned star facts about each species, to helve delve into the subject’s life.

Blue tit by Carl Bovis

How did you choose which species to include in this guide?

Our subject was garden birds, and since we wanted to cover northern Europe we had a good range to choose from. Most species pick themselves, but the guide will stand or fall on what we include.

This guide is full of many wonderful and illustrative photographs. What was the process like to assemble these? Where there any species that were particularly difficult to attain clear photos of?

Carl Bovis

Carl: I’m known for taking photos of the common birds, a lot of which many serious bird photographers turn their noses up at! So a book about garden birds was perfect for me, as I have taken many photos of them over the last few years and had many to choose from. I also have a passion for catching birds in flight, the shape and angles of their wings and tail fascinate me. Obviously this is an ID book, so perched birds are essential, but we’ve included lots of flight shots too.

It’s very rewarding for me to have my photos in this guide. A couple of years ago I was talking to a serious birder at Steart Marshes and he said to me; ‘your photos of birds are very engaging, but they’d never be in a mainstream bird book’. I didn’t take offence, I like that many of my photos are different to the norm, but at the same time, I’m happy now to have proved him wrong!

It’s also an honour to collaborate with Dominic on this, as before I even knew him personally, I had bought and enjoyed many of his previous books, and had attended one of his fascinating talks on bird behaviour. He is nature-writing ‘royalty’ as far as I’m concerned.

The shy and rarer garden birds were obviously toughest to get clear photos of, especially ones that don’t visit my own little Somerset garden where many of the photos were taken. So birds like Bullfinch, Treecreeper and Redstart were a challenge. If you get them in your garden, consider yourself lucky!

Included with this interview are a few of my favourite photos from the book.

Given the many pressures facing our garden birds, are there any species in this guide that you think won’t be so common in coming years?

Dominic: We have included a number that are declining, such as Marsh and Willow Tits, Chaffinches and Greenfinches. The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is in serious trouble, and both House Martins and Swifts are on the wane. There are others, too.

Swift by Carl Bovis

But I do think it’s very important to let people just discover and enjoy birds. I hope the book inspires first and foremost.

This guide includes a section on looking after garden birds, giving tips as to how people with gardens can help. How important is it that people make their gardens into good habitats for birds?

Dominic: Gardens are incredibly important for two reasons. They are the best place for people and birds to meet, and for people to get excited about birds and love them.

Secondly, gardens are where everybody can be a conservationist. The overall fortunes of birds and other wildlife often feel as though they are outside our control, but in gardens we can make decisions that directly affect wildlife. If enough people realised how important their backyard decisions were to wildlife, they might be inspired to do more.

House sparrow by Carl Bovis

Are there any plans to continue this series and, if so, which other species groups that you would like to make an identification guide about?

Dominic: Yes, a book on Trees is already well in production. Any others in the series may require us to get John Beaufoy, our publisher, drunk so that we can persuade him to do some more.

An Identification Guide to Garden Birds of Britain and North-West Europe by Dominic Couzens and Carl Bovis is published by John Beaufoy Publishing in June 2023 and is available from

Author interview with C. Philip Wheater and Helen Read: Animals Under Logs and Stones

Logs, stones and the like provide an interesting interface between the damp depths of the soil and the drier open ground surface, offering refuges for a fascinating array of animals. The communities of organisms that live beneath them are little noticed and even less studied, yet the potential for ecological work here is great. Animals Under Logs and Stones is number 22 in the popular Naturalists’ Handbook series and is a greatly expanded and updated version of the first edition which was published 27 years ago. It provides comprehensive information about these unique habitats and includes a range of easy-to-use and illustrated identification keys to help both amateur and experienced naturalists identify their findings.

Philip Wheater is Professor Emeritus of the School of Science and the Environment, at Manchester Metropolitan University. His interests include ecology and management of human-influenced environments, especially urban systems; invertebrate conservation and management; access to, provision and assessment of environmental education; environmental monitoring, especially fieldwork and the use of statistics.

Helen Read is a Conservation Officer for the City of London Corporation based at Burnham Beeches, a post held for over 30 years. She has written numerous books and papers on a variety of subjects, the majority being on the management of veteran trees and topics relating to invertebrates. She has also been an active committee member in various invertebrate societies.

With the upcoming publication of Animals Under Logs and Stones, we were fortunate to chat with Philip and Helen about the book and about the importance of these unique habitats in supporting a range of invertebrates and larger animals through various stages of their life histories.

The first edition of Animals Under Logs and Stones was published 27 years ago. What inspired you to write the second edition, and what do you think are the key things that have changed during this time in terms of our knowledge and research techniques?

There have been many changes in taxonomy over the last few decades, not least because of major advances due to the use of molecular techniques more recently. Also, more information is now available on the distribution of many species that are found under logs and stones. Because of increased interest in many of the groups found under logs and stones, it is now possible to expand the range of the book from the original 17 identification keys to 25 in the new edition. With modern publishing techniques we are now able to include many photographs to illustrate both the species and habitats covered by the book.

What benefits do the cryptozoan communities living under logs and stones bestow on their surrounding ecosystems?

Soil and leaf litter dwelling communities are important in decomposition, nutrient cycling, and soil formation and maintenance. In addition to logs and stones being microhabitats where some species live, others that can be found in soil and leaf litter use them as refuges. And it is possible to find many of these animals more easily than it would be by searching within the soil and leaf litter layers.

As children we’re fascinated by turning over rocks and seeing what’s underneath. Then, for the most part, we grow up and become increasingly distracted by other pursuits. Why do you think it is important that we value these often-overlooked microhabitats and ensure that they are explored and studied.

Even though many of the animals found under logs and stones are rather small and may not be quite as showy as butterflies or dragonflies, they are fascinating in their own right. Many of these animals may be found at times of the year when other invertebrates (especially flying insects) are not present. They are also not restricted to special sites; a wide range of species can be found in anyone’s back garden and observed without the need for specialist equipment. In addition, their ecology and life histories are generally less well known to the general public and can be very interesting to study.

In our modern world where there is often the pressure to make everything social media-worthy and aesthetically pleasing, it is easy to become obsessed with tidiness, both in our gardens and in other wild spaces. How important do you think it is that management strategies recognise the benefits of dead wood and stones which might otherwise be seen as unnecessary debris?

Leaving logs and stones in situ is increasingly acknowledged as being important to provide a wider range of refuges for animals. These days this is even the case in quite formal parks and gardens. There is a wider understanding of the reasons for more natural approaches to the management for wildlife. Similar initiatives such as No Mow May are spreading the concept of naturalistic management to a wider audience. Environmental interpretation and education will be key to continuing to spread this message.

As with all the fantastic Naturalists’ Handbooks you provide lots of information on designing and undertaking research projects as well as analysing and presenting the final data. For any enthusiastic naturalists who are not currently in education or working in a research environment, is it still of benefit for them to record their findings? And how could their records add to the general body of knowledge about these animals and habitats?

All well thought out studies can provide useful and interesting information, especially where there is little current knowledge about particular species and their natural history. Anyone can contribute records through apps such as iRecord and iNaturalist. Even information about relatively common species can be useful in looking at changes in distribution due to environmental change such as climate change. Those with a particular interest in a specific group of species can find like-minded people who organise field days, collate information and publish (often on-line) records and ecological information. Often species recording schemes or wildlife trusts are a good place to start. Our book lists many places where people can get more information about such groups.

Finally, what’s next for both of you? Any more books in the pipeline?

We are currently working together again on a book, to be published by Pelagic, on the ecology and management of Burnham Beeches which is a National Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation in South Bucks. This will cover the range of plants and animals found at this important nature reserve, together with background on the history and management of an area that was set up as one of the first “green lungs” of London to provide a public open space. Helen is also finishing an update to the Synopsis of the British Fauna on millipedes for the Linnean Society with her colleague, Paul Lee.

Animals Under Logs and Stones by C. Philip Wheater, Helen J. Read and Charlotte E. Wheater is published by Pelagic Publishing in July 2023 and is available from

This Week in Biodiversity News – 19th June 2023


A new report has shown that numbers of grassland butterflies across Europe declined by 36% between 2010-2020. The results have huge implications for wildlife, as butterflies are good indicators of other insects, which are vital for ecosystems to function properly. The decline in these species put the future of vital habitats, such as wildflower meadows, in peril.

Research has found that trees have been growing at record-breaking heights in Scotland’s mountains. The research, led by the University of Stirling, showed that a rowan is growing at 1,150m, near the top of Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, and a sitka spruce growing at 1,125m on Braeriach. In total, the research found 11 new altitudinal records for tree species in Britain.

Climate crisis

Fears of hottest year on record as global temperatures spike. Preliminary global average temperatures taken so far in June are nearly 1?C above previously recorded June levels since 1979. It is thought that the gathering El Niño event may propel 2023 into becoming the hottest year ever recorded. This naturally recurring phenomenon will likely add heat to the long-term warming conditions already caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

An ‘unheard of’ marine heatwave is currently occurring off the coasts of the UK and Ireland, posing a serious threat to marine species. Sea temperatures are several degrees above normal, with global sea surface temperatures in April and May reaching an all-time high for those months according to records dating back to 1850. Scientists believe that continued high temperatures over the summer could trigger mass mortality in fish and oysters.


Devon’s Wildlife Trust (DWT) is planting a temperate rainforest near Totnes with its share of a £38 million Aviva fund. The 30-hectare site has a 105-year lease, which will allow DWT to plant two-thirds of the land with native tree species. Rainforests of the British Isles have been largely destroyed over hundreds of years, now covering less than 1% of Britain. DWT will create new rainforest close to existing examples of the ancient, wooded landscapes in the Dart Valley and on the southern edges of Dartmoor.

Rare hazel dormice will be reintroduced into the National Forest near Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. This native species has seen a 51% decline nationally since 2000 and is locally extinct in the area. People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), which will release 38 individuals, is working as part of Natural England’s Species Recovery Programme. Since 1993, 1,078 dormice have been reintroduced to 25 different woodlands in 13 countries.

Around 20 captive-bred wildcats are being released in secret locations across the Scottish Highlands. The animals were raised in captivity as part of a breeding programme run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which aims to release up to 60 individuals over the next three years. Scottish wildcats are functionally extinct in the wild in the UK, therefore it is hoped that these reintroductions will help to save the species.

Extinction risk

Campaigners fear that East West Rail will lead to the loss of rare species. A new route between Bedford and Cambridge has been confirmed, with the spokesman for the line saying that chosen route would offer an “environmentally sustainable solution”. However, local campaigners believe the scheme could threaten Red List species, such as skylarks and yellowhammers. They believe an ancient woodland which provides habitats and a local wildlife corridor will be dramatically impacted by the route. The company has committed to a 10% net biodiversity gain target across the whole project, however, and has already established 20 ecological compensation sites across the first stage.

A new study is warning that the mass “sixth extinction” is well underway, with nearly half of the world’s animal species now in danger of becoming extinct. The study, More Losers than Winners, examined global population trends from approximately 71,000 animal species. They aimed to determine how many are at risk due to threats such as loss of habitat, harmful use of pesticides and herbicides, and the long-term impact of the climate crisis. The researchers found that only 3% of animal species were growing, while 49% showed stagnant population growth. 48% showed declining populations.

New discoveries

A new flying gecko species has been discovered in northern India. The Mizoram parachute gecko is one of 14 geckos known to take to the air, using a combination of skin flaps and webbed feet. The researchers hope that this new discovery will highlight the underappreciated biodiversity of northern India and encourage greater efforts to document its wildlife.

The bones of an extinct giant shingleback skink have been discovered in Australia. The research found that Tiliqua frangens roamed Australia during the Pleistocene, around 2 million years ago, before they went extinct 47,000 years ago.  The species was 1000 times bigger than the Australian common garden skink.

Author Interview with Mike Pienkowski: When the Kite Builds

When the Kite Builds…: Why and How We Restored Red Kites Across Britain is an informative and comprehensive examination of the project to reintroduce red kites to England and Scotland. Mike Pienkowski, the chairmen of this project, describes why the decision was taken and how it was implemented, as well as examining the success of the experiment and exploring the outcomes from this success. Chapters cover how nestlings were collected and imported, how the kites were reared, the initial survival after release, education and public awareness, and much more.

Mike Pienkowski

Below is our interview with Mike Pienkowski, where we discuss how he became involved in this project, whether population recovery would have been possible without reintroduction, how the increase in red kites has impacted or enhanced the British countryside, and more. When the Kite Builds… was published in February 2023.

Dr Mike Pienkowski will be signing copies of his book at the NHBS stand, number S107, in Swallow Marquee at Global Birdfair on Saturday 15th of July between 2–3pm.

When the Kite Builds… is a comprehensive overview and analysis of the project to restore red kites to Britain. How did you become involved in this project and why did you decide to write this book?

From the mid-1980s, I was Head of Ornithology at the Nature Conservancy Council (then the UK Government conservation agency). NCC was struggling to implement legislation which it had not drafted, and which tended to give the false impression that conservationists were always negative to others. Among a review of all the projects we needed to meet bird conservation needs, I wanted to include something clearly positive and cooperative. There were at the time three globally threatened bird species which occurred in Britain. One was red kite, whose range was now restricted to Europe, and declining across most of it. Red kites had been common across Britain in the Middle Ages, and valued as the recycling agents of the time, clearing bodies from city and countryside, but had later been exterminated from England, Scotland and Ireland, with just a tiny isolated and interbred population surviving in central Wales involving intense protection. Could we restore red kites across Britain? Colleagues in RSPB had been thinking along similar lines, and we formed a joint project team, which I chaired. From 1984, we researched all aspects and began an experimental introduction in 1989. When this proved successful by 1995, we encouraged others to use our methods in other appropriate locations across the country.

I wanted to document the process, the full story of what one reviewer described as “a mixture of science, politics and luck” – especially as there have been few books addressing all aspects of science-based conservation projects. I had started the book in the mid-1990s – but various things intervened. I went back to it a couple of times and finished it during lockdown. It is actually a much better book now than it would have been 25 years ago, both because we can see the real outcomes and I can be more open now than would have been possible then.

Fully grown kites ready for release. Image credit: Dr Mike Pienkowski

Chapter 10 discusses education and public awareness, especially among landowners and gamekeepers. Do you believe that population recovery would have been possible without reintroduction through extensive campaigns to educate the public to reduce persecution and increase suitable habitats or was the existing population too small to be viable?

I think that the two elements worked together. In fact, we planned in the hope that they would. Although we considered that, in much of the country, illegal persecution was much reduced, making releases viable, we knew that this was not the case everywhere and, especially when the young kites dispersed, that we would probably lose a few to this vile activity (which by far the majority of land-owners and game-keepers deplore). We found that the public were horrified by deaths from such causes, particularly of birds imported to correct previous human errors. We are grateful to the public, police and public health authorities for securing several successful prosecutions. These and the campaigns did lead to a reduction in such activity. This has allowed not only red kites but also other species, such as buzzard and raven, to repopulate some of their former ranges.

There have been reports that the illegal killings of birds of prey have been surging across the UK in recent years. Has this affected the red kite populations, and do you think it will impact the success of any other bird of prey species’ reintroductions?

Despite the overall positive trend in decent decades, illegal killings have continued, particularly in certain regions of the country, particularly those with many moorland shooting estates. Whilst most estates are probably law-abiding, it does not take many to devastate a bird of prey population. This is not limited to reintroduction projects but applies strongly to some species, such as the hen harrier, which would be doing so much better without this activity. In the same areas that hen harriers suffer, individuals of other species, including red kite and buzzard, do not survive long. Such higher mortality is why the red kites released in the Black Isle in the north of Scotland increased in population size at a much slower rate than did those in the Chilterns in the same experimental phase of the project. Despite these problems, red kites in the UK now account for well over 10% of the world population. Hen harriers suffer because they are more restricted in habitat than red kites, and this habitat is the centre of most remaining illegal persecution.

Kite nestling being placed in a travel box in Spain. Image credit: Dr Eric Bignal

How has the increase in red kite populations across Britain impacted or enhanced the countryside?

I may be biased, but I see that most people seem to agree that it is an enhancement. The fact that the red kites increased at a rate at the upper limit of our models shows how well they still fit in, after their absence of over 100 years. In general, it does not seem to be at the cost of other species, The nearest in ecology to them, buzzards, have been spreading as well, as I mentioned earlier. In a few urban areas, there have been complaints about kites diving at people. However, it seems that this has occurred only in certain town areas where some people have ignored our advice not to provide food. This leads to a range of problems for the kites and other humans. Overall, people seem to be delighted to experience such beautifully coloured birds of prey, with their amazing aerobatic ability, due to their huge wing area but relatively small, light bodies.

Kite flying free from rearing cage. Image credit: Dr Mike Pienkowski

Chapter 12 discusses the reintroductions and recovery programmes of other species of wildlife. Are there any species that you hope will be reintroduced to the UK soon?

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution; each species needs individual study, assessment and outreach. I think that beavers have largely proved the case for themselves (with a little help from open-minded humans), and a human-led exercise for white storks seems very promising. I think that the cases are strong for pine marten (especially if, like me, one would like to see the range of red squirrels restored) and for lynx (a medium-sized cat very shy of humans, which might help address the problems that the over-population of deer pose to tree saplings). As the book indicates, there are others waiting in line, once we build further confidence with these. Britain’s wildlife populations are hugely depleted due to human actions, and we now have the methods to bring some back, if we have the will.

What do you believe are the key barriers to successful reintroductions and species restorations in the UK? How have these changed since the red kite restoration began?

Kite boxes on a plane. Image credit: Dr Mike Pienkowski

The red kite restoration faced the problem in attitude that many people thought that such things could not be done, and certainly not in densely populated south-eastern England. That is now overcome. However, we must always start from the objective: reintroduction is one of a range of methods that can be deployed. It is best (and least expensive!) not to lose species in the first place. But we are still doing so, whether it be hen harriers or breeding waders (just staying in the world of birds). We need to reverse the serious habitat changes, such as excessive drainage or illegal persecution, as immediate priorities. Even for those species lost to Britain (or elsewhere) and which we wish to reintroduce, before doing so, we need to ensure that there is suitable habitat. The book gives examples of where habitat needed restoration first. One also needs to meet other internationally agreed criteria including avoiding threat to the source population.

Do you have any future projects that you can tell us about?

Most of my work nowadays is as the honorary Chairman of the charity UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. Britain is internationally important for wildlife, but its Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are even more so. However, these are small places, with small human populations and small economies – so they are hugely underfunded. In fact, all proceeds from the sale of ‘When the Kite Builds…‘ are going in support of this charity’s work. UKOTCF encourages others to undertake conservation work in support of UKOTs, such as the marine protected zones of Pitcairn, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension and St Helena, and the restoration of South Georgia and Ascension. UKOTCF’s in-house projects, always with local partners, include both liaison work across UKOTs and projects with individual territories, such as our current project in Montserrat, ‘Adopt a Home for Wildlife’, empowering local residents and communities to take a lead in managing areas to support conservation.

When the Kite Builds…: Why and How We Restored Red Kites Across Britain was published by UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum in February 2023 and is available from