Month: September 2015

Britain’s pine martens receive a boost as recovery project begins

It has taken quite some time, but pine martens are making a come back in southern Britain. One of our rarest and illusive species, the pine marten, has been isolated for decades in tiny pockets, mostly in Scotland, with a few individuals believed to be dotted throughout parts of England and Wales. This week it was announced that the first carnivore recovery project to take place at this scale in the UK has begun.  The Vincent Wildlife Trust will be translocating 20 pine martens from Scotland, and placing them in the forests of the Cambrian mountains, Wales, with a future translocation of a further 20. The hope is to create a self-sustaining population in the area, that could eventually spread throughout Wales and into England.

Pine Marten in Scotland

Pine marten are a wonderful native species, they are perfectly adapted to living in the forests of the UK. As a predator the pine marten is an essential part of the ecosystem, and the translocation of the species could have a large benefit on other native species. A self-sustaining pine marten population across England and Wales could provide our woodland with a much-needed boost. Studies in Ireland have shown that a rise in the pine marten population has been followed by a rise in red squirrel numbers. Red squirrels are threatened by the invasive grey squirrel, a species that has taken over most of the UK. The grey squirrel as an invasive species however, is not adapted to living with pine martens, they are easy prey because of their size and speed, so an increase in pine martens has often caused a decline in grey squirrel. This has opened up an ecological niche that the red squirrel, who is perfectly adapted to living with pine martens, can fill. A rise in pine marten numbers in England and Wales could eventually pave the way for a return of our red squirrels.

This is at the very early stages in England and Wales, but it is definitely a fantastic step towards re-establishing one of our best native mammals.

Have a look at the project here – http://www.pine-marten-recovery-project.org.uk/news/pine-martens-arrive-in-wales

Highlighting the Great Bear Rainforest, Canada’s western wilderness

1045018_675586829123902_1374837421_nSpread along the north-west coast of British Columbia the Great Bear Rainforest is one of Canada’s greatest natural assets, and is of global importance. When we talk about rainforest, Canada is not often the first place that comes to mind, the word rainforest usually conjures up images of the tropics, most famously the Amazon rainforest. There are however two types of rainforest, tropical and temperate, the tropical rainforests are found across the Equator whilst the temperate are found in places such as Canada, New Zealand, Tasmania and Japan. The tropical rainforest tends to get the most coverage, especially with regards to deforestation, it is however the temperate rainforest that has seen the largest decline due to deforestation. The Great Bear Rainforest is one of the largest areas of temperate rainforest left in the world.

The area is one of the greatest wildlife destinations in the world, it is both Canada’s Amazon and Great Barrier Reef, from the forest to the sea the Great Bear Rainforest is teeming with life. Here are just a few of the iconic species that rely on the Great Bear Rainforest:

Spirit Bear

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Legends of the local First Nations people describe that the creator (the raven) made 1 out of every 10 black bears white, to remind the people of when the area was covered in glaciers, and to encourage them to be thankful for the green forests today. The spirit bear is also believed to have super natural powers, which describes the name, the spirit bear. The spirit bear is a black bear, they are not albino, they have a double recessive gene, which leads to their fur being white, it is very similar to people, we have different hair colours, so do the black bears. This gene however is unique to the Great Bear Rainforest, there are no spirit bears anywhere else in the world.   

Grizzly Bear

 Female Grizzly Bear

At one time grizzly bear were found throughout the west coast, from Alaska to California. However the population has declined dramatically and now the Great Bear Rainforest is one of the last strongholds for this species. The bears rely on the rivers, estuaries and fjords of the Great Bear Rainforest to catch their main prey, salmon. Growing to a huge size, grizzly bear can weigh in at almost 500 kg. They are recognisable by their impressive size and the large hump of muscle between their shoulders.

Coastal Grey Wolf

The wolves found in the Great Bear Rainforest are sometimes referred to as coastal wolves. These wolves behave in a way that is different to wolves found inland. The key differences include smaller size and stature, fewer wolves within a pack and their food source, coastal wolves are often seen eating salmon, as well as crustaceans. This trait in particular is unique, and is only seen in coastal British Columbia and Alaska. Similar to the grizzly bear, wolves have seen large declines across North America and the Great Bear Rainforest is a vital habitat for this species.

Sea Otter

Sea otter

After almost being hunted to extinction, sea otters are making a return in British Columbia. This species relies on the kelp forests found along the coastline of the Great Bear Rainforest. As I said the sea otters rely on the kelp forests, but the kelp forests also rely on the otters, the sea otter eats species such as sea urchins, who feed on the kelp. When the ecosystem is missing sea otters, there are too many sea urchins which causes a decline in the kelp, however when there is a healthy otter population the ecosystem is nicely balanced. Sea otters spend most of their lives in the water. They have some of the thickest fur on the planet and do not have an insulating fat layer, like most marine mammals, so they depend entirely on their fur for warmth.

Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest is not safe, although partly protected the area is still at risk from unsustainable logging and the oil industry. Plans are in place to increase oil tanker traffic in the waters around the Great Bear Rainforest. Whilst the wildlife itself is also threatened by trophy hunting. There are a number of charities and first nations groups fighting for the protection of the forest, I have linked below a few, but there are many more. The area is one of the last remaining wildernesses in North America, it is the same now as it was thousands of years ago, it contains the oldest trees and unique species, it is incredibly important that we are aware of the Great Bear Rainforest and work towards protecting this incredibly significant place.

Pacific Wild- http://pacificwild.org/

Raincoast- http://www.raincoast.org/

Vancouver Island ‘book’ Canada’s wild isle

http://issuu.com/connelbradwell/docs/vancouver_island_iss/1

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So I feel I may be a little behind but I have only recently discovered a brilliant website http://issuu.com, it allows you to read various uploaded publications and quite excitingly, make your own. On the website there are some excellent wildlife publications, which are well worth a read. I also did my own mini picture ‘book’ highlighting some of the great wildlife and habitat across Vancouver Island.  The link is above if you fancy having a look, my point was to celebrate the diversity of wildlife and habitat on Vancouver Island.

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Best way to be healthier? Go outside, nature is proven to significantly benefit our health

Are you looking for something that will help you be healthier, fitter, feel better, whilst also being stimulating, flexible and not cost you a small fortune? Well, it is right outside your door.  Nature is proven to be good for your health, studies have shown that spending time in nature can help with conditions such as depression, ADHD, cancer, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and more. Being outside in nature is said to boost your immune system and improve your mindset.  Yet so few of us do it. Even just a brisk walk outside once a day has been shown to have great benefits, I however find myself walking through my local wild patch alone, perhaps meeting the odd dog walker, jogger or birdwatcher. However there is no doubt that if I went to my local gym, it would be filled with people trying to be healthier. I am not saying there is anything wrong with the gym of course, but I often wonder how different our attitude towards nature would be, and how our health would improve, if the same number of people went for a walk outside, as attend the gym each day.

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At a time when people live busy and stress filled lives, nature is possibly our most overlooked solution to a growing health crisis. Despite all its proven benefits it is often not factored into health policies or even housing policies. Studies have even found that just living on a tree lined street can make you healthier. So it brings us to the big question, why are we not encouraging people to go outside more? There are adverts and campaigns constantly telling us how we should exercise more at home, go to the gym, buy a treadmill or sign up to some fitness class, when actually we could be campaigning for people to go to a local park, nature reserve, wood or beach. Exercise has become big business, but surely government health groups such as the NHS should be consistently championing nature and the benefits of being outside, especially when good health benefits them. In school Physical Education is a key part of the curriculum, and so it should be, but along side that, perhaps we should make space to get children outside, learning how to fit nature into their daily lives.

Getting more people out into nature is good not only for our health, but for nature itself, the more people that are outside, the more connected we will be with our local patch.  It is a win-win, and we should all be encouraged to spend a portion of our day outside. So we should save money and scrap the gym membership, cancel the fitness classes and send back the treadmill and instead go and explore the natural areas around us.

Fracked off, as government puts key wildlife sites at risk

408294_521294197886500_1121213975_nIt is still early days, but the latest plans from the government regarding fracking do not look good for wildlife sites across the country, a further 1000 square miles of land has been earmarked as potential areas for fracking. These are now going to incorporate 293 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).  SSSIs are designed specifically to protect endangered, threatened and rare species and habitat, each SSSI has been purposefully chosen for protection because it stands out as an area in need of conservation.

This latest move from the government is a real blow and certainly threatens species and habitat across the UK as well as highlighting failure from the government to protect wildlife, it also shows a u-turn on their pre-election promise to protect SSSIs. As well as SSSIs nine RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) reserves are included in the area, reserves such as Bempton Cliffs, which was recently highlighted on Springwatch as a vital site for seabirds.

Fracking is a controversial topic of which I am no expert, but I fail to see why the government could not provide full protection to SSSIs and other wildlife reserves, doing this would not greatly reduce the land available for fracking, it would however offer some protection to our already declining wildlife.

Baby boom and cautious optimism for the endangered southern resident killer whale

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Wildlife enthusiasts all over Vancouver Island and Washington state rejoiced as it was confirmed that a new baby orca was spotted off Sooke, BC.  This calf is the fifth to be born in the past year and takes the number of southern resident killer whales up to 81. This is significant as the unique southern resident killer whale is listed as endangered and is only found in the Pacific North West.  This type of killer whale is classified differently due to its diet, behaviour and breeding history.  Southern residents only breed with other southern residents and only eat fish.

Southern resident killer whales are threatened by a number of different factors including population decline of its food supply, predominantly salmon, toxins in the ecosystem and disturbance from boat traffic in their habitat.  This recent baby boom however has meant that there can be cautious optimism.  The news has been welcomed after a bleak couple of years which saw two calves die in 2013, four in 2014 and in December a pregnant whale washed up dead on a beach on Vancouver Island, which led scientists to fear the worst for the whales.  There is still a lot of work to do to protect the southern residents, they are in need of habitat protection, an increase in salmon numbers and a reduction in boat traffic, these latest additions to the population however can definitely be seen as a huge positive going forward.

Autumn is coming, and so are the migrant birds

Autumn is almost upon us and for British wildlife this means one of the most amazing natural phenomenons is about to take place, the arrival of millions of migrant birds from across the globe.  We might think of autumn as being a little grey and chilly, but it is actually one of the best times to see birds right across the UK.

So why do these birds migrate to the UK?

Despite what we may think, winter in the UK is actually somewhat tropical when compared to northern Europe and the Arctic circle, where the migratory birds spend their summers.  During the winter in the far north snow and ice cover the ground, and daylight hours are limited, this causes there to be a major lack of food.  However, in the UK, our relatively mild winters with little snowfall and adequate daylight means that food is much more abundant.  It really all comes down to food.

What species migrate to the UK for winter?

Here is a look at just some of the species that will be travelling thousands of miles to our shores for the winter:

Brent Goose

BRENT GEESE Branta bernicla                                                                          

This remarkable bird travels 1,900 miles from the high Canadian Arctic to the UK.  The majority of the population begins to arrive in the UK in October and stays with us until April, when they set off on another 1,900 mile journey back to the Canadian Arctic.  The number of brent geese that winter in the UK is listed as globally important, with the wintering population estimated at a massive 120,000 geese. 

   Fieldfare

  Fieldfare                

Fieldfares are one of the most common migrant birds to visit the UK in winter.  They travel over 1,200 miles from northern Europe.  They are distinguishable from our native thrush species by their grey heads and brown/red back. They can be seen in huge numbers across the countryside, mostly in farmer’s fields, they also love hawthorn berries and can be occasionally found in towns and cities looking for gardens with fruit trees.  Like most migrants they come to the UK in October and remain until April.

Redwing

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Redwings travel from Iceland, Russia and Scandinavia, spending the winter right across the country. Probably the most commonly seen migrant, redwings are often found in parks and gardens, they are easily distinguishable by their white eye stripe, speckled front, small size and of course that red patch nestled beneath the wing.  On their migration this little bird can fly 500 miles from the coastline of Scandinavia across the North Sea to the UK in one go!

Bewick’s Swan

WWT Slimbridge: Bewick's Swan (Gloucestershire)

So the migration of the redwing is certainly amazing, and pretty tiring, but it is nothing compared to the ridiculous 2,500 plus miles traveled by the Bewick’s swan, this bird migrates from the tundra of northern Siberia to the estuaries and farmland of the UK.  During its lifespan the Bewick’s swan could travel over 50,000 miles, which is enough to fly the entire circumference of the Earth, twice.  The Bewick’s swan does not come to the UK in as large numbers as the other migrants, around 7000 birds spend the winter, the rest (around 23,000) are found in other parts of Europe such as the Netherlands. The best place to see this brilliant bird in the winter is along the east coast and reserves such as RSPB Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire.

 

This is just a handful of amazing migrant species that visit the UK each winter. As I said earlier, autumn is a fantastic time to grab your waterproof coat and wellies and go outside to see wildlife up and down the country!

Plastic Pollution

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The ocean is something we all have an affinity to, it feeds us, it has been our gateway to the rest of the world, and it affects the climate we rely on to live.  It is so undiscovered, and even the parts we know about can still surprise us.  We also treat it like it is our dustbin, an endless resource that we can just abuse without any consequences, because as much as we like the ocean, we do not physically live in it and seem to care little about what happens to it.

However we are reaching a point where it is getting out of hand, today I shall focus on one topic which was highlighted in the news last week, plastic pollution.

There can be no doubt and no argument, plastic is strangling our seas.  Plastic shows up in every ocean and sea across the planet.  It accounts for 80% of marine litter and is a huge contributor to the ecological disaster taking place in our oceans.  A study released last week highlighted this issue, it looked into the number of seabirds that have ingested plastic.  The study found that the majority of seabirds tested for the study had plastic in their gut, this statistic was not a surprise given the levels of plastic found in the oceans.  The study also showed that in the 1960s the number of birds with plastic in their gut was just 5% as oppose to 2010 where it was at 80%.  The researchers then used current data and trends to determine that by 2050, 99% of seabirds will be affected by plastic ingestion.  This is a horrifying statistic, something made by man and dumped into the ocean will be affecting almost all seabirds by 2050.  The effect of this plastic is often life threatening for seabirds, who often mistake pieces of plastic for food; choking, weight loss and intestinal issues are just some of the problems associated with plastic ingestion.

This was just one study released recently about one type of animal, the reality is that plastic could lead to the extinction of nearly 700 species.  To be specific 693 species have been documented as being directly at risk due to plastic pollution. Entanglement, ingestion and ecosystem damage are just some of the main ways plastic affects our wildlife.

Even today when I was on my local beach, I collected a large amount of plastic that had washed up, it is everywhere; when I worked in killer whale research we would spend half our time picking out plastic waste from the sea around Vancouver Island.  Now, I am certainly not perfect, I have bought plastic bottles, used plastic bags, have plastic lids etc. it is often hard to escape from its use and it is even in micro form in face wash and toothpaste, which of course goes straight into, you guessed it, our oceans.  Like most conservation issues, large scale solutions require government and companies to take action, something that is easier said than done.  However there are ways we can reduce our plastic pollution.

So here are some easy ways for us to reduce plastic pollution and help the oceans:

So there you have it, just a few simple ways to reduce plastic pollution, even if you only do one of the above you are contributing to a more positive future for our oceans.

International Vulture Awareness Day

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Vultures are certainly not the most glamorous of birds, they will not win any prizes for their beauty and they are not the most cuddly of animals; they are however one of the most important.  So yes, they do look a little ugly, and they do behave a little disgustingly, in fact even Charles Darwin said they were ” a disgusting bird.”  But, vultures are incredibly important for the ecosystem, they are scavengers who feed on dead animals, by doing this they are cleaning the environment and reducing disease.  They are actually pretty amazing birds, the vultures in North and South America, including the turkey vulture, which is found across Vancouver Island, use smell to locate their food.  This is something that is unusual for birds to do.  In order to eat animal carcasses, vultures have an amazingly acidic stomach acid, it is even more corrosive than acid rain, they have this to ease the digestion of rotting meat, they can even feed on a diseased animal without being affected.  On Vancouver Island the turkey vulture is common, and spends the summer here, the best places to see them are on the sides of the motorway, smelling for roadkill.  They migrate from Vancouver Island for the winter and spend it down in Central America.  So there we have it, just a few reasons to love vultures this International Vulture Awareness Day, they clean up the environment, stop disease and have some incredible adaptations.

Oh, and they also poop on their legs to kill any bacteria they may have picked up standing in a carcass of a dead animal. Amazing, right!

 

Out of the blue- blue whale spotted in English waters

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Photograph: National Oceanography Centre. Showing what is believed to be the first blue whale photographed in English waters.

After the BBC’s brilliant Big Blue Live series came to a dramatic close with an amazing live on camera blue whale in Monterey Bay, California; it seemed very apt that a team of oceanographers claim to have photographed the first blue whale seen in English waters since they were hunted to near extinction.  Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to exist, measuring a whopping 30 plus metres and weighing the same as 40 elephants.  This exciting discovery has given naturalists hope that the species is beginning to recover, after its population was dramatically reduced due to ruthless whaling.  This year has been a bumper year for marine mammal sightings in British waters, it is certainly adding to calls to the government about the importance of introducing marine protected zones around the UK.  As Steve Backshall said so truthfully last week ” if we protect places, they will come back, and they will come back in dramatic style.”  Lets hope this proves the case for blue whales around the British coastline.

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