This Week in Biodiversity News – 17th August

The government announced it will allow England’s first wild breeding population of beavers to remain in Devon. After five years of groundbreaking work by Devon Wildlife Trust, they celebrate their success story. 

In an analysis for Mongabay, agroforestry expert Patrick Worms suggests that while news reports show forests burning in many places, trees are in fact retaking busily vast swaths of farmland globally through agroforestry. 

A butterfly once extinct in the UK has been reintroduced to another part of the Gloucestershire countryside. The successful breeding means it is the first time in 150 years the large blue butterfly – the largest and rarest of all nine British blue butterflies – has been recorded at Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons.

Bird Photographer of the Year 2020 – in pictures. The Bird Photographer of the Year 2020 received more than 15,000 entries. Take a look at a selection of photos from the winners here. 

Experts and volunteers scramble to save Mauritius’s wildlife after oil spill. International experts and thousands of local volunteers were making frantic efforts on Sunday to protect Mauritius’s pristine beaches and rich marine wildlife after hundreds of tonnes of oil was dumped into the sea by a Japanese carrier in what some scientists called the country’s worst ecological disaster.

CIEEM Online Conference Review

CIEEM’s summer conference this year discussed the urgent need to address the interlinked climate emergency and biodiversity crisis for the sake of the planet, the species and habitats it supports and for future generations. Due to lockdown and social distancing restrictions, the conference took place online, with speakers and participants attending from their homes via Zoom.

Wildlife Equipment Administrator Claire Graham attended the conference and has summarised her experience of the event and the talks below.


Logging into Zoom to take part in my first online conference, I couldn’t help but wonder if this is going to be the future of large events for a while… But, given the topic of the CIEEM conference ‘Climate and Biodiversity Crises: Professional Approaches and Practical Actions’, maybe there are positives to this! Certainly, creating a way to hold important conferences, without the need for everyone to have to travel (often long distances by plane or car) has its upsides.

So, with everyone speaking and listening from home, the day began with an introduction from Max Wade, the president of CIEEM. Following a quick mention of the unusual circumstances being dealt with by everyone this year and a reference to the growing importance of issues such as climate change and biodiversity loss, it was time for the first talk.

Diana Pound from Dialogue Matters opened with the keynote presentation: ‘Seize this Moment and Get Fresh Momentum’. She took us straight into a positive and inspiring talk, encouraging people to shift from an attitude of fear and doubt to one of optimism and hope. Diana asked us to highlight strengths instead of problems in conversations and dialogue, as a more effective way of motivating people to change, rather than focusing on everything that is being done wrong. Diana stated that the world is starting to wake up and a recent survey showed that 97% of those surveyed thought climate change was serious and 70% thought it was very serious. It also showed that 77% of people believe we should make as many lifestyle changes to stop climate change as we are doing to stop Covid-19. Overall, we were reminded to remain hopeful and be inspired to action; a quick poll demonstrated the power of this.

This led us into the next talk by John Box (from the CIEEM Action 2030 group) which discussed the actions that CIEEM are taking to deal with the interlinked climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. He provided lots of advice about offsetting carbon emissions and explained that CIEEM aim to achieve net zero carbon emissions in all its activities by 2030. John also emphasised the importance of environmental organisations sharing knowledge and building relationships.

Penny Anderson (a member of the Action 2030 group and Ecological Restoration and Habitat Creation SIG) followed with a talk about ‘Habitats and Carbon, Storage and Sequestration’. She explained that, to meet the latest 2050 net zero target, the Committee on Climate Change have recommended tree planting, peatland restoration and green infrastructure. Penny explained that around half of emissions from human activity are absorbed by land and oceans and the rest in the atmosphere. Surprisingly, there is globally 3-5 times more carbon in soils than in vegetation and 2-3 times more than in the atmosphere. All semi-natural habitats hold more carbon than arable or improved grassland and these types of habitats are also better for biodiversity. Therefore, we need to concentrate on diversity within habitats and not just think about trees; there is a simultaneous need to protect remaining habitats and minimise losses in soil while also undertaking habitat creation or restoration.

The next talk was by Ben McCarthy, the Head of Nature Conservation and Restoration Ecology with the National Trust. He explained the role the National Trust are going to play in the climate change and biodiversity crises, as well as the challenges they face as the largest land-owning NGO in Europe. Ben explained the organisations plan to repurpose farmland and create 20,000ha of new woodland and 25,000ha of new priority habitat, including restoring peatlands – a big challenge, but one they are determined to achieve! The National Trust recognise the significance of their land which is home to 44% of UK species including 737 that are threatened with extinction. Half of their properties have priority habitats that are highly sensitive.

Continuing on the subject of peatland restoration, the next talk was by Clifton Bain from the IUCN Peatland Project Programme. His talk on ‘The Peatland Code: Business Funding and Environmental Assessment’ discussed the importance of peatlands and their many benefits and gave an overview of the Peatland Code. The Peatland Code is a voluntary certification standard that helps to gain funding for peatland restoration projects by giving assurance to buyers; they fund the projects in exchange for climate benefits and mitigation. He compared the ecosystem services in healthy vs damaged peatland and discussed how damaged peatlands emit carbon rather than acting as a carbon sink. He also mentioned the loss of unique biodiversity that comes with damaged peatlands.

After lunch we jumped back into the next talk with Richard White from NatureBureau with his fascinating talk ‘Blue Carbon – The Sea, the Coast, and the Climate Crises’. Richard discussed ocean warming and acidification, sea level rise, shifting species distribution and methods of mitigation. He reviewed the role that ocean and coastal ecosystems have in the carbon cycle and the link between protecting and restoring marine biodiversity and mitigating our carbon emissions. Seagrass beds and saltmarshes act as globally significant carbon stores but only 21% of these habitats are currently protected by our Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). There is a need to work to protect these habitats and support restoration projects.

Richard Lindsay from East London University continued with more information about the importance of peatlands with his talk ‘Peatland Restoration and Carbon: Sphagnum, Carbon and Timescales’. He advised that, despite many peatlands and blanket bogs being damaged and emitting carbon, restoration projects can sometimes be challenged as successful carbon mitigation due to them being thought of as slow-growing systems. However, Richard discussed the use of adding Sphagnum to peat restorations due to it being a significant carbon sink and advised that it can be grown rapidly in optimum conditions.

The next talk was David Holland from Salix on ‘Soft Engineering Approaches to River, Wetland & Swale Projects’. He talked about the high carbon cost and negative ecological impacts of traditional hard engineering techniques and discussed low carbon solutions that can be used instead. Using natural materials and processes, rather than materials such as concrete, rock or metal, generates less waste, needs less future maintenance and improves the water quality and habitat, as well as providing vegetation that will continue to absorb carbon and benefit the environment.

The closing talk of the day was by Lee Dudley, Head of Environmental Carbon with the Woodland Trust and focused on ‘Carbon and Woodland Creation’. He explained that the Woodland Trust aim to conserve, restore and re-establish trees; their vision is a UK that is rich in native woods and trees for wildlife and people. The fact that woodland creation is now being recognised as a cost-effective method of climate change mitigation enables the potential for more woodland creation projects. Lee also discussed the importance of matching the right species to the right sites for the best outcomes and reminded us that it is not just about trees, but about the whole environment.

The day was wrapped up with a quick conclusion from David Parker from CIEEM. He thanked the speakers for all their extremely important and interesting talks and with that the event was over. My first experience of an online conference was positive all round; the talks were fantastic, and everyone enjoyed them from the comfort of their own homes with few technical difficulties. Hopefully the next conference can be attended in person but, if not, this experience has demonstrated there are definitely ways to keep talking and learning about these important issues.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 3rd August

Small Crustacean can fragment microplastics in four days, study finds. Environmental scientists at University College Cork (UCC) Ireland studying the 2cm-long amphipod Grammarus duebeni unexpectedly found that microplastic beads are fragmented incredibly quickly into nanoplastics. The finding is significant as harmful effects of plastic might increase as particle size decreases. 

New native Hawaiian land snail species discovered, first in 60 years. Pacific island land snails are among the world’s most imperilled wildlife, with more recorded extinctions since 1600 than any other group of animals. Scientists  have now discovered a new native land snail species, sounding a rare, hopeful note in a story rife with extinction.

Quarter of UK mammals ‘under threat’ according to the first Red List of UK mammals – a comprehensive review of the status of species, including wildcats, red squirrels and hedgehogs. 

‘Plan bee’ for cities: new report sows seeds for insect-friendly urban areas. Research published by the scientific journal Plos One suggests that urban gardens, parks and roadside verges play a vital role in boosting bee and other pollinator numbers thanks to their diversity of blooming plants and absence of pesticides.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 13th July

First signs of success in bid to reintroduce pine martens to England. The first pine martens to be reintroduced to England have had kits, marking a milestone in efforts to boost their recovery, conservationists said. Conservationists say at least three females have produced offspring in the Forest of Dean. 

Growing evidence suggests that native bees are also facing a novel pandemic. Researchers at CU Boulder have found there is growing evidence that another “pandemic,” as they call it, has been infecting bees around the world for the past two decades and is spreading: a fungal pathogen known as Nosema.

Rare Gunther’s toad sighting highlights farms as biodiversity hotspots. The sighting of the rare Gunther’s toad in the rock pools of farmlands in Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh puts the focus on the presence of diverse species in farmlands. Experts say it is time that these lands are seen as systems that contribute to ecology rather than just areas for food production.

Almost a third of lemurs and North Atlantic Right Whale now critically endangered – according to the most recent update of the IUCN’s Red List. This update completes a revision of all African primate assessments, concluding that over half of all primate species in the rest of Africa are under threat. This update also reveals that the North Atlantic Right Whale and the European Hamster are now both Critically Endangered.

This Week in Biodiversity News – June 29th

This Phillipine butterfly had a mistaken identity for years, until its ‘rediscovery’. A pair of scientists have discovered a new subspecies of butterfly whose only known habitat is at the peak of a potentially active volcano in the central Philippines.

Koala’s will be driven to extinction before 2050 in New South Wales, major inquiry finds. State parliamentary investigation finds the biggest threat to the species’ survival is habitat loss – but logging and clearing has continued.

Forest loss escalates biodiversity change. New international research focusing on biodiversity data spanning 150 years and over 6,000 locations, published in the journal Science, reveals that as tree cover is lost across the world’s forests, plants and animals are responding to the transformation of their natural habitats, revealing both losses and gains in species.

Dolphins learn how to use tools from peers, just like great apes. A new study upends the belief that only mothers teach hunting skills, adding to growing evidence of dolphin intelligence, experts say. It is the first known example of dolphins transmitting such knowledge within the same generation, rather than between generations.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 15th June

The UK’s barn owl is growing in numbers thanks to humans. Up to 80% of these distinctive birds now nest in man-made boxes, though encouraging them to set up home takes time. 

New research by an international research team at Kobe university finds eels can act as comprehensive surrogate species for biodiversity conservation in freshwater rivers. It is hoped that conducting activities to restore and protect eel populations will contribute greatly to the recovery and conservation of freshwater ecosystems.

Conservationists successfully track red pandas in the mountains of Nepal by satellite. The mammals are endangered, with numbers down to a few thousand in the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China, find out more here about the factors driving them towards extinction. 

Thousands of tons of microplastics are falling from the sky. New research helps unravel how vast amounts of plastic particles travel both regionally and globally by wind. 

Research finds hummingbirds can see diverse colours humans can only imagine. A research team trained wild hummingbirds to perform a series of experiments that revealed that the tiny birds also see combination colors like ultraviolet+green and ultraviolet+red.

This Week in Biodiversity News – June 1st

The discovery of a new breeding pair raises hope for the survival of the world’s rarest primate, the Hainan Gibbon. Ravaged by deforestation and poaching, the ape now lives only in a patch of forest on China’s Hainan island. A comprehensive rescue programme was put in place, including patrols and monitoring, research into the apes’ ecology and behaviour, and the planting of thousands of trees to provide food and shelter.

Scientists have discovered a new behaviour amongst bumblebees that tricks plants into flowering early. New research reveals that when pollen is in short supply, bumblebees damage plant leaves in a way that accelerates flower production.

Can video games make people care about wildlife conservation?  Eager to use his tech skills for wildlife conservation, Shah—a National Geographic explorer—founded a game company called Internet of Elephants in 2016. The Kenya-based start-up designs digital experiences to tell real conservation stories based on real data.

Rare UK wildlife thriving in lockdown, reveals National Trust. The National Trust is reporting that emboldened wildlife, from raptors and warblers to badgers, otters and even orcas, appear to be enjoying the disappearance of humans from its gardens, castles and waterways across the UK.

This week, the Wildlife Trusts launched their 30 day wild campaign, encouraging thousands to take part in daily “random acts of wildness”. Find out more and how to get involved here

This Week in Biodiversity News – May 20th

Research carried out over a three-year period during a reintroduction project has shown that Pine Martens seem to establish their new territories more quickly with the presence of Pine Marten neighbours, but spend more time investigating their new habitat before settling when there are no other Pine Martens nearby.

A new study has hailed the rainforest fjords of southeastern Alaska as a global lichen hotspot. Over 900 lichen species have been documented in Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, 27 of which are new to science. 

Researchers estimate that urban insect abundance would need to increase by a factor of at least 2.5 for urban Great Tit breeding success to match that of Great Tits living in forests. Providing nutritional supplementary food, such as mealworms, can help to boost urban Great Tit breeding success. 

Sauvages de ma rue (“wild things of my street”) is a chalking campaign that began in France to increase the awareness of plants growing in urban areas, encouraging the connection between people and surrounding wildlife. Botanical chalking has gone viral and can now be seen on the pavements of London, but chalking without permission is illegal in the UK.

Little is known about the threatened African Forest Elephant and this lack of knowledge hinders conservation efforts. A new study led by an international research team estimates that their population is between 40-80% smaller than previously thought.

This Week in Biodiversity News – May 6th

Until now, it was not known how Koalas drink in the wild, but now the mystery has been solved. For the first time, Koalas have been observed licking the water running down smooth tree trunks during rainy weather. 

An animatronic spy hummingbird has been used to film the mass flight of Monarch butterflies as they leave their wintering grounds in the Sierra Madre mountains of Mexico. 

Animals that do not hibernate often use more energy to maintain their body temperatures during the winter. Common Shrews, however, do not need to increase their metabolic rate and instead maintain an equally active metabolism in both the summer and winter months.

Sinharaja is a lowland rainforest and a designated UNESCO world heritage site in Sri Lanka. It is here that a rare new orchid species has been discovered. This new species has been named Gastrodia gunatillekeorum after the two renowned forest ecologists Nimal and Savithri Gunatilleke. 

With the help of camera traps, a Brown Bear has been spotted in the Invernadeiro national park in Spain for the first time in 150 years. The Brown Bear has been a protected species in Spain since 1973.

This Week in Biodiversity News – April 22nd

A new species of bent-toed gecko has been described at the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Cambodia. This new discovery has been named Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis after Phnom Chi mountain where it was found. 

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis embryos are able to communicate with each other from within the egg. Studies have shown that eggs exposed to predator alarm calls hatch later than eggs that are not. Newly hatched chicks also produced less noise and crouch more than chicks that were not exposed to sound while in the egg. 

A five-year study looking at four species of flamingos at the WWT Slimbridge Wetlands Centre has shed light on the long-lasting social bonds flamingoes can form. Not only do they spend time with their mate, but they also regularly socialise with three or four others and have been shown to avoid certain individuals. 

A report by the National Capital Committee explains why poorly-planned tree planting on peat bogs could result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 

The use of pheromones has been seen for the first time in a primate – male Ring-tailed Lemurs Lemur catta produce a fruity ‘perfume’ from the scent glands in their wrists to attract a mate.