Category Archives: UK

Extinction threat to Scots bird

BBC News

The Scottish crossbill, the UK’s only endemic bird which is native to the Highlands of Scotland, faces extinction, according to a new report.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds warns that unless action is taken to halt a rise in global temperatures, the species is under severe threat.

The bird, which lives only in Scots pine forests, is already on the conservation body’s endangered list.

Other Scottish species, such as the capercaillie, could also suffer.

The Climatic Atlas of European Breeding Birds – published by the RSBP – shows that three quarters of all of Europe’s nesting bird species are likely to suffer declines in range.

The results of the study have hastened calls by the RSPB for urgent action to cut greenhouse gases.

Professor Rhys Green, an RSPB scientist and one of the authors, said: “Climatic change and wildlife’s responses to it are difficult to forecast with any precision, but this study helps us to appreciate the magnitude and scope of possible impacts and to identify species at most risk and those in need of urgent help and protection.”

Red and black grouse, ptarmigan and snow bunting are other birds likely to be affected in Scotland. The birds could be left with few areas of suitable climate and populations could drop.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: “We must heed the wake-up call provided by this atlas and act immediately to curb climate change.”

He claimed that some investment should also be made to help wildlife adapt to an “inevitable” level of climate change.

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Toads In A Hole? Fungal Disease Threatens UK Toad Population

Science Daily

ScienceDaily (Nov. 30, 2007) — The UK’s toad population could be facing a bleak future because of a deadly fungal disease, according to a new study.

The deadly chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) is highly effective at causing extinctions among local populations of amphibians and it has already wiped out vast numbers of amphibians in areas including Australia and South America. In the UK, the chytrid is found only in Kent, but researchers fear that in time it may spread across the country.

The fungus lives in the water and on the skin of host amphibians and the new study shows that the length of time that is able to survive on its own in water is key to determining what its impact might be.

One reason suggested for its devastating impact is that it is able to survive in water for long periods of time, allowing it to infect large numbers of amphibians as they pass through. However, the amount of time that the chytrid is able to survive outside the host is not known.

The researchers at Imperial College London and the Institute of Zoology used mathematical models to see the effects of introducing the chytrid into a breeding population of common toads (Bufo bufo), varying the amount of time that it survived outside the host.

The new models showed that if the chytrid was able to live outside the host for a year, the impact on UK toads would be considerable, with severe declines in the numbers of toads and, in some cases, extinction in 10 years within infected areas.

Research has demonstrated that the chytrid is able to live for at least seven weeks outside the host. However, the rapid declines in amphibian numbers elsewhere in the world support the idea that the chytrid may be able to persist for a much longer period of time than has so far been demonstrated in the laboratory.

Dr Mat Fisher, corresponding author of the research from the Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College, said: “We don’t know enough about the chytrid to predict how it is going to behave in the UK, but we start to see dramatic effects if the chytrid lives for longer than 7 weeks outside the host. We strongly suspect that it can live for longer because of the devastating effect it has had elsewhere, and the new models show that this would be very bad news for toads in this country.”

The models showed that there was little effect on the UK toad population size if the chytrid was only able to live outside the host for seven weeks.

Bd infects the skins of amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders and newts and is thought to interfere with their ability to absorb water. More than 140 species of amphibians are known to be affected by it. Some are very susceptible and die quickly while others, which are more resistant, are carriers of the pathogen. One lucky species, the common British frog (Rana temporaria), appears to be completely resistant to Bd.

Journal reference: Kate M. Mitchell, Thomas S. Churcher, Trenton W.J. Garner, Matthew C. Fisher, “Persistence of the emerging pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis outside the amphibian host greatly increases the probability of host extinction” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 28 November 2007

Adapted from materials provided by Imperial College London.

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Toads may [become] extinct in 10 years in UK areas due to infection

China View

BEIJING, Nov. 28 (Xinhuanet) — Scientists predict that Britain’s toad population could face extinction in some areas within 10 years due to an infectious fungal disease Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, media reported Wednesday.

The big unknown is just how long the fungus, which lives on the skin of host amphibians, can survive on its own in water. Scientists fear it may be a very long time.

“We start to see dramatic effects if the chytrid (fungus) lives for longer than seven weeks outside the host,” said Mat Fisher of Imperial College in UK.

“We strongly suspect that it can live for longer because of the devastating effect it has had elsewhere, and the new mathematical models show that this would be very bad news for toads in this country.”

If the fungus is able to live outside the host for a year, there would be a severe decline in the overall population of the European common toad (Bufo bufo) in Britain and, in some places, extinction in 10 years.

The disease has already destroyed entire amphibian populations in Central and South America, and Australia, and is a growing problem in some parts of Europe. Scientists have linked its spread to global warming.

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Back from verge of extinction only to face a new threat

The Scotsman – John Ross

A FARMING crisis in Scotland could again threaten a rare bird that has fought back from the brink of extinction.

Corncrake numbers have risen to their highest in nearly three decades of monitoring, according to RSPB Scotland.

The population here now stands at 1,273 calling males, but bird numbers have seriously declined throughout most of western Europe.

The turnaround in Scotland follows a recovery programme started by the RSPB and crofters in 1993, when there were only 470 calling males in the UK and the species was in danger of being wiped out.

But experts say the species continues to be threatened by changes to agricultural support systems and a growing crisis in Scottish livestock farming.

The environmentally-fragile, peripheral areas in the north and west, particularly the islands, have already suffered some loss of cattle farming, as it has become ever more economically marginal and, in some cases, unviable.

The June agricultural census shows the number of cattle in Scotland has fallen to 1,898,280, from 2,078,900 in 1997. Sheep numbers have also dropped, from 9,563,190 to 7,490,870.

The RSPB says the environmental consequences of losing cattle from these areas would be severe. In addition to the grazing benefits these systems of farming produce, loss of cattle also means declining hay production and mixed farm practices, depriving corncrakes and other wildlife of the food resources and habitats they need.

Livestock diseases, and the restrictions that have resulted from disease control elsewhere in the UK, along with uncertainty for the future of support systems, are threatening to accelerate the decline into a “freefall”.

Stuart Housden, the director of RSPB Scotland, said: ”

The corncrake and many other important species are very much dependent on extensive cattle rearing practices that characterise much of the Highlands and Islands.

“This type of farming has become ever more economically marginal because of changes in agricultural support systems. If we are to see this wildlife flourish, funding streams like the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme and Rural Stewardship Scheme must be both retained and targeted to ensure that these extensive farming systems continue to produce benefits for the rich array of species and biodiversity found here.”

The corncrake’s strongholds are in the inner Hebridean and Argyll islands. Tiree’s population of calling males has increased by 23.4 per cent from 316 in 2006 to 390 in 2007.

Together with Coll, Iona, Mull, Oronsay, Colonsay and Islay, this area accounts for 59 per cent of the total Scottish population. The calling male population in the Outer Hebrides was also up by 22 birds, compared with last year.

• CORNCRAKES migrate to Scotland in April and May from sub-Saharan Africa, where they spend the winter.

They are found in herbs and tall grass, particularly in hay meadows.

Numbers of the birds began to fall towards the end of the 19th century. Although it was recognised that numbers varied from year to year, a link was noticed between the decline of bird numbers and the increase in the mechanisation of mowing.

By 1972, the corncrake had disappeared from most of mainland Britain, and population declines continued, except in Lewis, Coll and Tiree, where suitable hay meadow habitats and late mowing dates allow successful breeding.

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£70,000 to save mussels from extinction

Northern Echo – Ian Noble

A MAJOR £70,000 project aims to provide a lifeline for North York Moor’s under-threat freshwater pearl mussels.

They are virtually extinct in many parts of the country and the last remaining mussels on the North York Moors can be found in the River Esk, above Glaisdale.

High levels of sediment in the Esk are making it difficult for the mussels to breed.

So the North York Moors National Park Authority has brought in the Environment Agency, Natural England and Durham University to help.

The team will use the funding to help farmers and landowners work to protect the mussels by fencing off the river from their land.

At present erosion and farm animals have led to a high level of sediment upstream of Glaisdale.

Fraser Hugill, the park’s senior farm conservation officer, said: “It is important that we act now as the pearl mussels in the River Esk are an ageing population and unless we can improve conditions they will become extinct.

“It is important that we act now as the pearl mussels in the River Esk are an ageing population and unless we can improve conditions they will become extinct..”
Fraser Hugill, senior farm conservation officer

“Fencing off the riverbanks not only helps the environment but will also be beneficial to farmers by helping them with stock control.

“The funding is time limited so I ask that any farmers who border the Esk upstream of Glaisdale contact me as soon as possible so we can discuss what is required.”

The funding to support for the work was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Yorventure.

Fiona Spiers, regional manager for the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: “This project will improve the habitat of this threatened species, ensuring its survival for many years to come.”

In September the Environment Agency took some River Esk mussels for a captive breeding scheme.

The mussels were taken to Windermere in the Lake District and it is hoped to re-introduce them to the River Esk at some point.

1:21pm Wednesday 31st October 2007

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Beetle could become Britain’s first extinction of new millennium

 Independent

Efforts are being made this week to prevent Britain’s first species extinction in the new millennium – of a beetle that was discovered only two years ago.

The streaked bombardier beetle is officially the UK’s rarest insect, known from only one colony, on a brownfield site on the Thames estuary in east London. However, the site is about to be redeveloped for housing, and the rubble-strewn habitat it has found congenial is to be obliterated.

In an attempt to save the beetle, the developers have created an alternative site on the edge of the housing area, and this week volunteers from the London Wildlife Trust have tried to relocate the insects. Otherwise, disappearance looms for Brachinus sclopeta, which only a month ago was added to the UK’s list of priority endangered species.

“This isn’t an extinction in a remote rainforest on the other side of the world,” said Jamie Roberts of Buglife, the invertebrate conservation charity. “It’s happening right here on our doorstep, and could have been avoided if the site had been protected. It’s very sad that a deliberate choice has been made to plough on with this development, regardless of the consequences to wildlife.”

Bombardier beetles are among the insect world’s more remarkable creatures. They possess an effective defence mechanism, which comprises their ability to fire a boiling chemical spray from the tip of the abdomen. This is fatal to other insects and discouraging to larger potential enemies, including humans.

There are about 250 species of bombardier beetle, but in Britain there was thought, until recently, to be only one – the common bombardier, Brachinus crepitans, which, despite its name, is scarce. But in May 2005, one of Britain’s leading entomologists, Richard Jones, discovered the colony of streaked bombardiers while conducting a survey for the developers of the building site, which is near the Thames Barrier.

The insect was regarded as “missing, believed extinct”, as it had not been seen in Britain since 1928, and before that the last reliable records were from the mid-19th century, so it immediately became Britain’s greatest invertebrate rarity.

Mr Jones has been instrumental in persuading the company to create an alternative site nearby, and he has led the way in finding and moving the insects, so far having moved about 10. A search on Monday with a dozen volunteers produced only one more.

One of the difficulties with translocation is the beetle’s life cycle; the larvae of bombardiers are known to prey on specific examples of other beetle species, especially of the ground beetle genus Amara, but it is not known which Amara species is the prey of the streaked bombardier. To provide for this eventuality, Mr Jones has also been translocating examples of Amara beetles from one site to the other.

Matt Shardlow, the director of Buglife, said the charity was sceptical of the possibilities of success, but wished the enterprise well.

A number of insect species are believed to have become extinct in Britain in recent years, including the short-haired bumblebee, last seen on the Kent coast in 1988, and the large blue butterfly, which died out in 1979. However, the large blue has been reintroduced successfully and is now thriving at a number of sites in the West Country

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Vultures vanishing – even scavengers face extinction

The Globe and Mail

Global crisis growing more grim, World Conservation Union says, adding new threatened species to its death watch

Even the vultures are in trouble. They are drowning in water troughs, colliding with power lines and going hungry because there are fewer dead animals to feed on.

The World Conservation Union released its annual Red List of Threatened Species yesterday, the most authoritative catalogue of species on the brink. The 2007 report contains sobering news about the escalating global extinction crisis, and the increasingly tenuous hold of vultures, great apes and other creatures and plants.

Of the 41,415 vulnerable species on the list, 16,306 are in danger of disappearing forever, up from 16,118 last year. At least 785 plant and animals species have already been wiped out, and now the white-headed vulture, found in sub-Saharan Africa, could follow them into oblivion.

“Threats include reduction in carrion, including medium-sized mammals and wild grazing mammals,” the report says. Habitat loss is also a factor, as are encroaching humans; the birds will abandon their nests if they are disturbed by people. Vultures have also died after eating carcasses deliberately laced with insecticides, which were intended to kill hyenas, jackals and other livestock predators.

Two other African species – Ruppell’s griffon and the white-backed vulture, are also at risk, although are not considered in such imminent danger. In Asia, the red-headed vulture is now considered critically endangered, the World Conservation Union’s red alert category.

The “vulture crisis,” as it has been dubbed, is part of a grim trend.

“This year’s IUCN Red List shows that the invaluable efforts made so far to protect species are not enough. The rate of biodiversity loss is increasing and we need to act now to significantly reduce it and stave off this global extinction crisis,” says Julia Marton-Lefevre, director-general of the World Conservation Union. It used to be known as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and has kept its old acronym, IUCN.

This year, scientists reassessed the status of the great apes, which includes six species of gorillas, chimps, orangutans and bonobos, and a number of subspecies. They found our closest relatives are moving more swiftly toward extinction than previously believed.

The western lowland gorilla has lost 80 per cent of its population in three generations. The gorillas have been hit by the commercial bush meat trade and the Ebola virus. About one-third of the animals living in protected areas were killed by Ebola in the past 15 years.

A vaccine is being tested and might help, says Mike Hoffmann, a program officer with the IUCN in Washington. The gorillas are more vulnerable to Ebola than humans; 95 per cent of infected animals die, compared with the 50- to-85-per-cent mortality rate in people.

But Ebola is only part of the picture. Habitat destruction is a major factor in the decline of the gorillas and the other great apes, Dr. Hoffmann says.

Habitat protection is also key to saving many of the 50 plants and animals that live in Canada and are on the 2007 list, including the shortnose sturgeon, the whooping crane and the sea otter. But most threatened birds, mammals and amphibians live in the tropics. Australia, Brazil, China and Mexico have particularly large numbers of threatened species.

The World Conservation Union has been evaluating species on a global scale for 30 years. More than 10,000 scientists from 147 countries work on the inventory. They put plants and animals into one of nine categories: extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, least concern, data deficient and not evaluated.

They added corals to the list for the first time this year, including 10 species from the Galapagos Islands. Seventy-four species of Galapagos seaweed were also put on the list.

The only species to be declared a goner in 2007 was the woolly stalked begonia, a Malaysian herb that has not been seen for 100 years.

HUMANS THREATEN LIFE OF PLANET

Of all the species found by the World Conservation Union to be threatened, 99 per cent are at risk from human activity.

There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List and 16,306 of them are threatened with extinction, up from 16,118 last year. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation.

Almost one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List are in jeopardy.

NEAR THREATENED

The Breede River Redfin declines in Africa are the result of alien invasive species and agricultural practices.

ENDANGERED

The great hammerhead shark is found in tropical waters throughout the world and is threatened by demand for its fins and by being accidentally caught by fishermen.

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Floreana coral, native to the Galapagos Archipelago. Colonies disappeared from all known sites after the 1982-1983 El Nino.

Increased sea temperatures are thought to be responsible.

PLANTS

In 2007, 70 per cent of the species evaluated were considered threatened:

1996/98: 5,328

2007: 8,447

VERTEBRATES

Number threatened in 2007, as a percentage of species evaluated:

Mammals: 22%

Birds: 12%

Reptiles: 30%

Amphibians: 31%

Fish: 39%

1996/98: 3,314

2007: 5,742

INVERTEBRATES

Number threatened in 2007, as a percentage of species evaluated:

Insects: 50%

Mollusks: 44%

Crustaceans: 83%

Corals: 38%

Others: 51%

1996/98: 1,891

2007: 2,108

SOURCE: IUCN – THE WORLD CONSERVATION UNION

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