Friday, 31 October 2014

Careless And Improper Disposal Of Plastic Bags A Danger To Water Birds

RSPB Scotland has spoken out to urge people to take extra care when disposing of their plastic bags. The appeal came after a visitor to a Loch in North Uist, Western Isles, photographed a Red-Throated Diver with a plastic bag in it's beak.

The Red-Throated Diver is the smaller of the two breeding divers in the U.K, occurring on large bodies of water in Scotland. The bird has grey-brown plumage, and an up-tilted bill that makes it distinguishable from it's Black-Throated counterpart.

Jamie Boyle, site manager of the RSPB’s Uist reserves, said, “We urge people to take great care in the way they dispose of plastic bags or, indeed, any other rubbish, particularly balloons and Chinese lanterns. They pose a direct threat to our wildlife and it is depressing to think that plastic bags are even reaching remote lochans in a place like North Uist.
“Marine birds such as red-throated divers are particularly at risk both at sea and on their breeding grounds where they can mistake the bags for fish or mistakenly use it for nesting material. If it becomes entangled on their legs or heads it can prove fatal.”

 RSPB Scotland welcomed the Scottish Parliament's approval earlier this year of new regulations that will introduce a compulsory charge for single-use carrier bags. The 5p charge, applying to all retailers from October this year, will aim to reduce use of single-use carrier bags by 80%. The charge will apply to most single-use carrier bags (excluding some types of bag such as paper bags for prescriptions, and also 'bags for life') and is mainly aimed at tackling plastic bag usage. In Scotland, around 740m carrier bags were used in 2011 - or around 12 bags per person per month. A similar charge introduced in Wales in 2011 has led to a massive reduction in the use of plastic bags, and also generated significant funds for good causes. Scottish Regulations will be followed by a similar voluntary agreement between retailers to donate money raised to good causes, including schemes to tackle litter prevention.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Green coalition urges Executive to bridge funding gap

A number of leading environmental organisations have joined forces to urge the Northern Ireland Executive to provide vital funding to support farmers and the wildlife on their land.

In a letter to the First and Deputy First Ministers, RSPB Northern Ireland, the Woodland Trust, Ulster Wildlife, Northern Ireland Environmental Link and the National Trust have outlined the consequences the zero per cent transfer of Rural Development Programme (RDP) funding may have on farm businesses and the environment.

In its letter the coalition, which represents more than 100,000 members across Northern Ireland, stresses that investment should be prioritised in schemes which provide value for money for the taxpayer, ensure Northern Ireland is able to meet EU Directives, help keep farm businesses viable and address declines in biodiversity, habitat loss and water quality.

If adequate funding is not made available, 8,000 farmers will drop out of agri-environment schemes by 2015/16, resulting in a significant reduction in income for many farm families and impacting on the sustainability of the wider countryside

The Executive’s own sustainable development targets will also be seriously undermined if a solution to the funding shortfall is not delivered and failure to meet EU targets could result in significant fines, something which the NI Executive cannot afford.

The coalition is urging Peter Robinson and Martin McGuiness to use their influence to ensure that core RDP funding, and the match funding provided by the Executive prioritises agri-environment schemes to support our local economy and meet our European legal obligations, while helping us to remain a first class tourist destination and reversing the decline in our iconic species and habitats.

James Robinson, RSPB Northern Ireland Director, commented: “Agri-environment was one of the only sources of funding helping to improve the sustainability of the wider countryside. Without vital funding support from the Executive, NI will struggle to protect the productive base of agriculture on which we all depend.”

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Government avoiding responsibility toward nine out of ten British threatened wildlife species

A cross-party group of MPs has today accused the Government of failing to adequately protect the globally-significant wildlife of the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories.

The Environmental Audit Committee’s report: Sustainability in the UK Overseas Territories has been broadly welcomed by the RSPB, which is campaigning for the conservation of nature in the UKOTs.
Dr Tim Stowe is the RSPB’s International Director. Commenting on the committee’s report, he said: 'The UK’s far-flung Overseas Territories are jewels of conservation, containing hundreds of threatened species – in fact they contain 90 per cent of the UK’s threatened wildlife. 

'However, rather than treasuring these jewels, we agree with the Committee that the UK Government is avoiding its shared responsibility towards the wildlife of these exotic territories.
We agree with the Committee that the UK Government is avoiding its shared responsibility towards the wildlife of these exotic territories.

'Put together, these territories contain many species, from giant frogs to albatrosses and from blue iguanas to resplendent angelfish, found nowhere else on earth. These British species are all unique, yet the UK Government doesn't know what we have or what is needed to save them. 

'But the committee’s recognition of the Government’s failure to adequately protect this globally-important wildlife couldn’t be clearer.

Heed this warning

'We believe the Government must heed this warning now and take the action necessary to: protect the UK Overseas Territories’ unique wildlife; honor its international obligations; and play its part in curbing the current global extinction crisis.'

In a previous report, the RSPB has identified that the UK Government needs to budget £16 million annually over a five-year period to ensure the continued protection of hundreds of British species. Last year Defra spent only £1.5 million (equivalent to 0.3 per cent of its biodiversity conservation budget).

There are currently 32 species of bird which are recognised as facing extinction in the UK Overseas Territories (more than on the entire European continent): 21 of these are found nowhere else in the world.

The RSPB is urging the UK Government to adopt the following points:
  • Accept that it has a shared responsibility for the protection of this threatened wildlife, rather than implying that the Territories’ own Governments need to take all of the burden. For example, the Pacific Territory of Pitcairn has a human population of only 50 people, but it is responsible for more than 70 unique species and a threatened UK World Heritage Site;
  • Extend the UK’s ratification of international environmental agreements to protect biodiversity and be transparent with environmental information;
  • Establish a comprehensive research plan to save the wildlife of the UK Overseas Territories;
  • Explore creation of a 500,000 square-kilometre marine protected area around Ascension Island, home to the second largest green turtle nesting site in the Atlantic;
  • Ensure that the proper amount of funding goes to conservation projects in the UK Overseas Territories: some of the most cost-effective conservation that money can buy.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Tiny tag reveals record-breaking bird migration

A tracking device, which weighs less than a paperclip, has helped scientists uncover one of the world’s great bird migrations.
It revealed that a Scottish bird migrated thousands of miles west across the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, a journey never recorded for any other European breeding bird.

In 2012, the RSPB, working in collaboration with the Swiss Ornithological Institute and Dave Okill of the Shetland Ringing Group, fitted individual geolocators to ten red-necked phalaropes nesting on the island of Fetlar in Shetland, in the hope of learning where they spend the winter.

After successfully recapturing one of the tagged birds when it returned to Fetlar last spring, experts discovered it had made an epic 16,000 mile round trip during its annual migration - flying from Shetland across the Atlantic, south down the eastern seaboard of the US, across the Caribbean, and Mexico, ending up off the coast of Peru. After wintering in the Pacific, it returned to Fetlar, following a similar route.

Prior to this, many experts had assumed that Scottish breeding phalaropes joined the Scandinavian population at their wintering grounds, thought to be in the Arabian Sea. Yet the destination of this Scottish red-necked phalarope was the Pacific Ocean.
The red-necked phalarope is one of the UK’s rarest breeding birds. It is now only found in Shetland and the Western Isles, and numbers fluctuate between just 15 and 50 nesting males. Scotland marks the southern limit of its breeding range, with the species far more abundant further north where it occupies wetlands around the northern hemisphere.

Winter Plumag
Famed for turning the tables on traditional gender roles, in summer, male birds can be found incubating eggs and raising young, whilst the female uses her brightly coloured plumage to attract new partners. In winter, phalaropes congregate in large flocks at sea in regions where currents create upwellings of cold, nutrient-rich water and support blooms of plankton on which the birds feed.

By continuing the project and retrieving more tags from phalaropes after the next winter migration, experts hope to learn the extent to which the Scottish population may be impacted by future changes at sea, how the species might respond to any change and whether any negative impacts in these wintering areas can be mitigated by conservation management here in Scotland.

Malcie Smith of the RSPB said: “To think this bird, which is smaller than a starling, can undertake such an arduous journey and return safely to Shetland is truly extraordinary. This tiny tracker has provided a valuable piece of the puzzle when building a picture of where phalaropes go when they leave our shores. 

We hadn’t realised that some Scottish birds were travelling thousands of miles to join other wintering populations in the Pacific Ocean. Intriguingly, if the usual wintering area of Scottish red-necked phalaropes is indeed in the eastern Pacific, then this Scottish breeding bird may be directly affected by periodic ‘El Nino’ events when these Pacific waters become warmer and the supply of plankton is greatly reduced.

With that in mind, the project, which we will continue, will be vital when considering any future conservation of this rare and special bird.”

Friday, 10 October 2014

Fears for iconic seabird as breeding colonies disappear

Early reports of seabird breeding performance indicate continuing problems for Scotland's internationally important kittiwake population with one breeding colony now extinct and others predicted to disappear within three years.
Although one of the world's most abundant seabirds, kittiwakes are declining at an alarming rate. Numbers have more than halved since the mid 1980s across the UK, and the Scottish breeding population has declined by almost two-thirds.
Some of the steepest declines have been in the far north of Scotland, particularly in Orkney and Shetland where around one-fifth of the UK population return to breed each year.
Counts by RSPB Scotland and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) of Orkney's 'seabird cities' revealed a staggering 82 per cent decline in breeding pairs of kittiwakes in just over a decade. Populations on the Orkney mainland fell from nearly 11,000 pairs in 2000 to under 2,000 this year.
At Mull Head on the Orkney mainland, the once bustling cliffs were empty this year as kittiwakes failed to return to the colony to breed. The cliffs at Costa Head and Birsay held less than 200 breeding pairs while three other colonies hung on by a thread with fewer than 90 nests each - indicating possible local extinction within the next three years.
RSPB Scotland's Marwick Head nature reserve hosted most of the breeding kittiwakes with 1,134 pairs. However, numbers were 75 per cent lower than in 1999, when there were 5,400 pairs nesting.
'To think of Orkney without thriving colonies of these fantastic birds is a sad prospect'
Doug Gilbert, RSPB Scotland Head of Reserves Ecology, said: 'The counts this year are deeply shocking, especially the loss of kittiwakes at Mull Head. We know that kittiwakes in other parts of Orkney are equally affected, and to think of Orkney without thriving colonies of these fantastic birds is a sad prospect.
'It now appears undeniable that the declines in kittiwake and other seabirds are being driven by changes in the marine environment related to climate change. The food chain of the North Sea is being profoundly affected, and seabirds, at the top of the chain, are suffering.
'Everyone with an interest in our seas and their health should be paying attention to this.
'Seabirds remain largely unprotected at sea and have been marginalised in the identification of new Marine Protected Areas- this obvious gap needs to be filled if Scotland is going to prove it is serious about protecting threatened wildlife.'
Elsewhere in the country, kittiwakes are experiencing mixed fortunes. RSPB Scotland's Sumburgh Head nature reserve in Shetland reported a poor year with only a small number of chicks fledging. In contrast, the kittiwake colony at RSPB Troup Head on the Moray Firth has experienced its best season in years with over 500 chicks fledging.
The charity's Fowlsheugh nature reserve on the Aberdeenshire coast reported a halt in the long-term decline in kittiwake numbers. The colony had been in freefall – 20 years ago there were over three times as many nests, but the number of chicks raised in recent years is encouraging.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

A home for Mammals

Everybody seems to love birds but not many give a thought to our mammals, who also go hungry in many case, especially during winter months. It's not that people don't care, it's just they don't think about them, or they don't know how to help them, so species such as the Hedgehog have dropped off massively in recent years, a needless decline in a garden favorite.

Hedgehogs are probably the easiest mammal to help in the U.K. so to see them decline the way they have is quite sad. In days gone by, most gardens were separated only by hedges or other bushes, allowing Hedgehogs  to travel between inter-connected gardens in order to find more food, but as more and more people prefer to use walls or fences, their freedom to travel is limited meaning they can't find enough food to sustain themselves or their young. The best way to help hedgehogs is to cut a square gap in your fence, about large enough that you can put your fist through is normally O.K. but obviously common sense should tell you if the gap is too small.  This enables them to find enough slugs and snails to eat and thus will increase their population.

This isn't just beneficial for Hedgehogs, it also allows Field mice or even Dormice to travel with more freedom as they search for fruit and seeds to eat, and given how rarely most of us get to see these 2 beautiful but evasive creatures, they would surely be a welcome visitor to any wildlife enthusiasts garden.

So what about food? What would encourage them to visit your garden?

A safe and easy place to find food is a welcome treat to any wild animal, so if you scatter fruits and seeds on the floor in a shaded area, cover them with a hollow log, or even a small wooden shelter with a hole cut into the side about 2 inches by 2 inches, you may well get these elusive animals visiting your garden.

Also if you have a an old wooden barrel or cylinder why not cut it in half so as your left with a "Half-pipe" pop it under a hedge or a bush cover it with leaves and soil, pop a few live meal worms or other food in there (even wet dog food would do the trick) and see if you cant tempt a fox or even a badger to shelter and feed in your garden!

Again I would highly recommend becoming a member of the RSPB and your local Wildlife Trusts as i have stated before the information they give and the work they do is invaluable, and without them much of the wildlife we do see might not be here anymore.

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