Tag: UK (page 1 of 4)

Scottish orcas return to Iceland

Today I saw some fantastic news from a good friend Marie, who runs Orca Guardians, an independent conservation non-profit dedicated to the protection of orcas in Iceland.

For the first time this winter season, they spotted Vendetta/Mousa (SN069) and her core group back along the Icelandic shoreline! These individuals travel between Iceland and Scotland. The orcas spend time off the coast of Iceland between November and March, returning to the Scottish coast (including Shetland and Orkney) numerous times starting in May and throughout the summer.

Orca Guardians have put together a fantastic ID catalogue, which helps them to keep track of the orcas that visit the waters of western Iceland, they work collaboratively with organisations in Scotland and have been able to match individuals that are spotted off Scotland in the summer with individuals they have been seeing in Iceland, giving us a greater understanding of their behaviour, movements and migration. You can find all the information on the groups as well as their matching IDs here: http://orcaguardians.org/id-matches/

Beautiful bee-eaters found in East Midlands quarry

European Bee-eater merops apiaster near Tiskanias River estuary Lesvos 11/05/10

European Bee-eater (picture not taken in Nottinghamshire).

This past week I have had some major bird envy, as just 10 minutes from my hometown in the UK, a small flock of European bee-eaters have been spotted. European bee-eaters are possibly one of the most beautiful birds you could hope to see. Found across mainland Europe and parts of Africa, they are not birds you often think of spotting in a quarry in Nottinghamshire, most excitingly the bee-eaters are showing signs that they could breed on the site. Bee-eaters live up to their name by feeding on bees and other invertebrates such as butterflies, moths and dragonflies.

There have been lots of people visiting the site to see the bee-eaters and I am so happy to see the coverage of them and of wildlife in the area. I may be a little biased, but I think the East Midlands has some of the best wildlife in the UK and can often be a little overlooked, I hope our newest arrivals stick around for the foreseeable future (at least until I am home next so I can see them!).


It has been a while since I last blogged, and I shall be doing a big round up from my trip to the UK. But I just wanted to share the snake’s-head fritillary, there are quite a few around my hometown in Leicestershire, and I think they are just beautiful! They are stunning with the sun shining through, the little squares of pink and purple line up like a mosaic, the flowers delicately hang from their stem which rises above the other flowers in the meadow. These are along the verge of a path off a car park, and are a wonderful example of how nature can thrive, even in an urban environment. This time of year the area comes alive with wildflowers, butterflies and birds!

New calf for Scottish/Icelandic orcas!

Have a look at this beautiful picture from Iceland, where a new orca calf has been spotted! According to the non-profit Orca Guardians, the new calf is a member of an orca population that spends their time in Iceland and Scotland. The new Scottish/Icelandic orca calf was seen swimming close to its mother, which has been identified as orca 012 in Scotland and SN200 in Iceland. The orcas spend this time of year in Iceland and can be seen around northern Scotland in the summer. Orca Guardians is partnering with groups in Scotland, and will continue to keep track of the calf, as well as the rest of the pod. Orcas are fairly rare around the UK, with Scotland being the best place to see them.

Study finds that yellowhammer songs which have disappeared in the UK still exist in New Zealand

The yellowhammer is a small, bright yellow farmland bird, found throughout the UK (and Europe). A beautiful little bird, and one I have been lucky enough to see quite regularly in the Midlands, they tend to perch on bracken, hedgerows or small shrubs and sing. The famous expression for the yellowhammer song is ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’, with a number of additional notes either side; each male has its own distinct notes and many regional dialects have formed throughout the country.

However, due to a population decline, that now sees the yellowhammer red listed, a number of the regional dialects have disappeared. But this week, a new study showed that the lost birdsongs of some yellowhammers are still alive and well, not in the UK, but on the other side of the world, in New Zealand. In the 1860s and 70s, 600 yellowhammers were introduced to New Zealand, and a population still exists today. A group of scientists began comparing recorded calls from the UK and New Zealand, and to their surprise they found that the New Zealand birds had almost twice as many dialects as the birds in the UK. The lead author described the findings in The Guardian as the “avian equivalent of what happens with human languages. For example, some English words, which are no longer spoken in Great Britain, are still in use in the former British colonies.”

The findings are now believed to show that the birds in New Zealand have retained a number of songs and dialects, that were originally from the UK, but have since been lost in their native land. Listening to the songs of the yellowhammers in New Zealand is almost like travelling back in time and hearing one of the sounds of the UK countryside 150 years ago.

Nature needs a wIN. Why I will be voting for the UK to stay in the European Union.

I am blogging from my personal perspective. For me nature is a key area and something I focus on when making political decisions. I do believe that there are many other positives for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union, and a leap into isolation is a backwards step that will stifle us.

So why does nature in the UK need us to REMAIN in the European Union? Well, to put it bluntly, the environmental record of the UK is poor. Prior to the European Union we were the dirty man of Europe, our beaches were filthy, our air was polluted and our wildlife conservation laws were weak. The European Union has tough environmental laws which have forced the UK to clean up our act. So much so that now we have some of the cleanest beaches in Europe, with 95% clean enough to swim from, a large jump since the 90s, when over a quarter of British beaches were too dirty to swim from. In fact the EU has introduced even tougher legislation on this issue which will further improve the standard.

The EU has the single largest body of environmental legislation in the world. Evidence shows that this has had an exceptionally positive impact. A new scientific study released this week has shown that the EU Nature Directives (laws that protect wildlife, habitat and environment) are vital to Europe’s ability to protect its wildlife. The Nature Directives work; not only have they benefited wildlife, but they benefit all of us. Natura 2000 is a network of nature protection areas in the EU, 98% of EU citizens now live within a 12 mile radius of these sites, these sites not only offer us a chance to connect with nature, they also give us more practical benefits such as clean water, flood protection, cleaner air and help to mitigate climate change.

Cleaner beaches, cleaner air and more wildlife sites not only have a positive impact on nature, but also on our health and economy.


I find the idea that the UK government after a Brexit would introduce environmental and conservation laws of a similar level to the EU laughable. The damage this government continues to do even with restrictive EU laws is frightening. Take fracking under national parks as an example of this. I cannot even think of the disastrous outcomes a Brexit would cause. It has even been argued that a Brexit could be a positive thing for wildlife throughout the EU, because the UK consistently drags it’s heals and attempts to dismantle almost every environmental law put in front of it.

Globally nature is not in a good place at the moment. Climate change is a real threat to our way of life, habitat is being destroyed at an alarming rate and wildlife is increasingly becoming endangered. At this time we need more collaboration between nations, nature sees no boundaries and the importance of strong cross-border environmental laws cannot be underestimated.

Environmental groups have strongly backed the Remain campaign, nature is an asset to our country and one that needs protection. In order for us to truly protect our wildlife and our countryside, I believe Britain needs the European Union.

Bearded vulture baffles British birders!

When you think of seeing vultures what places come to mind? The hot plains of Africa or southern Europe perhaps, but this week birders in the UK have spotted the first ever wild vulture in the country. The bearded vulture or lammergeier was filmed at the Severn Crossing and was seen in the skies above Dartmoor on Monday. The sighting has sent birders scrambling to the South West to try and catch a glimpse of this incredible bird (I would be joining them if I could). Bearded vultures are often found in the high mountains of southern and eastern Europe, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Tibet. The bird feeds on bones and bone marrow, it has a highly acidic stomach in order to digest the bones. They are a large species, one of Europe’s largest raptors with a 9 foot wingspan. What this bird is doing in the UK is unknown, but I imagine it is a little lost, and will probably be moving south into Europe soon, but for now we can celebrate having this wonderful bird in the UK!

Endangered Scottish orca dies from entanglement

The endangered resident orca population in Scotland has been dealt a huge blow, after a female ‘Lulu’ was found washed up dead on a beach in the Western Isles. Lulu is a member of the only resident orca population found off the UK and Ireland. The population are at risk of extinction and are not believed to have had offspring for over two decades, the current population stands at just 8 individuals.

Tragically a necropsy by the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme gives convincing evidence that the orca died as a result of entanglement. They state that deep, granulating wounds around the tailstock and tell-tale twin linear abrasions on the underside of the tail fluke are consistent with a rope entanglement around the tail and trailing behind the animal, probably still attached to something at the other end. This entanglement would have made swimming very difficult and ultimately would have caused the orca to drown. As no ropes or fishing gear were found on the orca it cannot be concluded whether entanglement was due to fishing gear, abandoned or ‘ghost’ gear, or other marine debris.


The number of marine mammals worldwide reported to be entangled or to have died as a result of marine debris is increasing, they are often a result of fishing gear, rope, or rubbish found in the ocean. On Christmas Eve an orca washed up in South Africa, and was found have yoghurt cups, food wrappers and a shoe in its stomach. This problem is being seen everywhere, and is a huge issue for marine mammals around Vancouver Island as well as the UK. For one of the UK’s only resident orcas to die as a result of entanglement must be a wake up call for us to clean up our waters. For many years the ocean has been used as a giant rubbish bin, there is support for change, a petition is currently running to propose a ban on plastic microbeads, and The Wildlife Trusts are pushing for more protected marine zones around the UK coast. Even so, protected areas will not be able to escape the huge amounts of marine debris, and only stricter measures on what can be put and left in the ocean will make a difference for wildlife.

Nature gifts us the endless opportunity to learn about it

Part of the A Focus on Nature advent series, find more blogs from other young naturalists here: http://www.afocusonnature.org/category/advent-calendar/

As a wildlife educator and mostly as a naturalist, one of nature’s greatest gifts is the endless opportunity to learn about it.

The sheer vastness of the natural world and its processes mean that we can study it for a lifetime and yet not scratch the surface. Wildlife always has the ability to shock and surprise us, species are always changing and evolving, and even some of our most familiar species and habitat can do something out of the ordinary. When wildlife watching there is no such thing as a typical day, even visiting the same spot over and over we encounter something different each time. Yes there are patterns, the salmon always come upstream, the birds always come and go in the spring and autumn and the leaves change colour.

But every year we learn something new about even the most ‘predictable’ species. For example this year we saw an early arrival of one of our more predictable migrants, the Bewick’s swan. There are population changes, the rise in the goldfinch is a perfect example of this, for years they were a rare visitor to our gardens, however recently their population has increased and now they are now often seen brightening up our bird feeders across the country. Each year a host of unusual and unexpected wildlife turns up in places we would never expect, few could have predicted that this year an albatross would show up at Minsmere and orca sightings would be high in Scotland, or a beluga whale would be spotted off the coast of Northern Ireland.

This constant change is not only exciting, it keeps us nature lovers on our toes, it is one of the few topics that we can become experts in and yet still not really know much about it.  A naturalist could know everything there is to know about birds in Britain, and yet still have mammals, insects, fish and plants to study, and outside of that, each country has its own unique wildlife, all of which behave in a slightly different way. This is a gift for us because it stops nature from becoming monotonous, it can never be boring, because no matter where you look there will always be another species to examine, observe and study. This is why I believe it is so important for young people to be given the opportunity to connect with nature.

That is one of my favourite things about nature, I feel as though everyday I learn something new, either by discussing it with other people, reading about it, seeing documentaries or mostly just being outside watching wildlife.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest to be protected from fracking

I did a blog in September about the UK government going back on it’s pre-election promise of protecting Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) from fracking. Back then the government had released some plans for fracking locations, and had failed to include SSSIs on the list of protected areas, which include national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. 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.

However it was announced this week that the government would be taking a double U-turn on this issue, and will be adding SSSIs to the list of protected areas; thus preventing fracking to take place on the sites.

It should be noted however, there is nothing stopping companies from starting their drilling from the edge of a site and then moving underground to drill directly beneath the sites. Ultimately fracking is not good news for the environment, the amount of money and investment going into fracking, at the expense of renewable energy, which has seen huge funding cuts, shows the government has no intention of taking the country in a greener direction. But, the protection of SSSIs is a win and this is definitely some much-needed good news for wildlife conservation in the UK.

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