January 2008

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2008 |  January 2008

Loss of set-aside threatens farmland bird recovery

The RSPB warns that wildlife such as skylarks and stone-curlews could be under threat due to large areas of set-aside farmland going under the plough this winter.
Last year the RSPB predicted that high prices for wheat, caused in part by the worrying government incentives to grow biofuels, would prove impossible for farmers to ignore, but the sheer scale of the habitat loss shown in Defra’s announcement today comes as a unwelcome shock.
The issue was highlighted by the RSPB when the European Commission announced its plans for the amount of set-aside land to be at 0% last summer.
RSPB research suggests that the loss of uncropped land on this scale, especially if mirrored across Europe, could have significant impacts on wildlife.
The RSPB’s Gareth Morgan, Head of Agriculture Policy, says: 'We are extremely worried about what this means for wildlife, especially as the European Commission have failed to put a realistic proposal on the table for anything to replace the wildlife benefits of set-aside.
'We applaud Defra for undertaking this research but these results are a wake-up call. They must now act to ensure a measure is adopted on all farmland in England'
The current 'Health Check' of the CAP provides an ideal opportunity for the UK to take the lead and convince other European countries that a measure to replace the wildlife benefits of set aside across the whole of Europe is needed.

Unique woodland conservation scheme helps black grouse recovery

The population of black grouse has dramatically increased over the past six years at two upland sites involved in projects undertaken by the Scottish Forest Alliance (SFA) - a unique woodland conservation project uniting BP, RSPB Scotland, Forestry Commission Scotland and the Woodland Trust Scotland.
Numbers of the striking, charismatic game birds have increased from 35 to 57 at the RSPB's Corrimony reserve from 2002 to 2007. Numbers at Forestry Commission Scotland's Glenmore Forest are also thought to have at least doubled over the same period, with the most recent count spotting 28 birds in the area.
SFA funding has contributed to extensive conservation management at both sites. Protecting and enhancing the black grouse habitats has brought about a significant upturn in the fortunes of the species.
In the UK the black grouse has experienced massive declines in both range and numbers since the early 90s due to loss and degradation of its favoured open woodland habitat. As recently as 1991 there were estimated to be 25,000 pairs. At the last census there were only 5,000 pairs counted.
Black grouse are now confined to remoter upland areas with the great majority of birds found in the Highlands, but with small pockets remaining in Dumfries and Galloway, the northern Pennines of England and a small population in Wales.

At Corrimony deer fences were removed and exotic plantation trees were felled - opening up the woodland structure and creating areas for planting with native trees. Areas of damaged wetland were also restored and numbers of deer lowered to reduce their browsing on young saplings and natural regeneration.

Since 2006 about 40 hectares - equivalent to 65 football fields - have been planted at Corrimony with 14,000 native Scots pine and 27,000 native broadleaves including birch, willow, rowan, hazel, alder and aspen - providing more ideal habitat for black grouse that will further boost their numbers in coming years.
Glenmore Forest's one remaining deer fence was marked to make it more clearly visible to black grouse and lessen the collision risk. Natural regeneration increased the upper tree line at the site, creating new areas of young woodland at higher elevations.
It is hoped that further work funded by the SFA will continue to help black grouse recover, giving them a mosaic of linked, varying habitats that allow them places to feed, display and roost in safety.
Andrew Fairbairn, development manager at the Woodland Trust Scotland and chairman of the SFA communications group, said: 'It's fantastic news that the huge benefits of the SFA project and BP's investment are starting to pay rich dividends. Black grouse are one of our most threatened species - on the UK Red List of conservation species due to their massive decline in range, listed as a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and included within the Scottish Executive's Species Action Framework.
'These increases are a real measure of the additional benefits to biodiversity and wildlife that the SFA project is bringing. Across Scotland we have planted millions of trees, and encouraged millions more to regenerate. We hope that this success will be mirrored at all SFA sites in the coming years, and play a major part in helping the recovery of this species.'
A spokesman for Forestry Commission Scotland said: 'The welcome increase in black grouse numbers at Glenmore is very encouraging. Conservation of habitats and species is a major part of the Commission's work and it is great to have our efforts rewarded with progress like this. We'll certainly be building on this success and we're looking forward to seeing even more black grouse in Glenmore years to come.'

First Polish ponies arrive in Northern Ireland to assist RSPB conservation work

The ponies, believed to be the first released in Ireland, have travelled from the Netherlands as part of a project to enhance and restore the wetland habitat at Portmore Lough Nature Reserve. The project has been made possible through funding from the Biffaward landfill community fund.
The koniks originated in Eastern Europe and were the closest living relative of the last breed of western European wild horse, the tarpan, which is now extinct.
Speaking today, John Scovell, RSPB warden at Portmore Lough Reserve said:
“We are very excited by the delivery of a herd of konik ponies to the RSPB reserve at Portmore Lough and are delighted to have the support of Biffaward for this innovative project. As far as we are aware, they are the only Konik’s in Northern Ireland and they will have an important role to play in helping to deliver our conservation goals.
“The ponies have been introduced to graze the reserve to help keep down areas of scrubland which can have a detrimental impact on species including lapwing, redshank, and curlew. The koniks are truly wild and hardy animals, which are perfectly suited to wetland conditions and will be an important part of the RSPB’s plans to protect an important biodiversity rich wildlife reserve.
“The koniks are already well established on RSPB reserves in England, including on Minsmere and it is a fantastic boost for conservation in Northern Ireland and has also bolstered the local Polish community by nine!”

Ian takes on a new life on the edge

The RSPB's Bempton Cliffs nature reserve has a new man in charge. Ian Kendall takes on the role of site manager at the reserve near Bridlington, home to one of the UK's largest and most important seabird colonies.
He previously worked for Natural England as site manager at Castle Eden Dene national nature reserve in County Durham.
Before that he was country parks manager at Lee Valley, where he managed two country parks and another half-a-dozen green spaces. One of the parks alone attracted more than a million visitors.
Lee Valley Park covers 25 miles of north London, stretching from the Thames to Ware in Hertfordshire. The largest park under his management was the 400-hectare River Lee Country Park, home to the national bittern watchpoint and the country's only dragonfly sanctuary.
Ian's hobbies include birdwatching, gardening, music and walking his two collies. He succeeds Trevor Charlton as Bempton Cliffs site manager.
Ian said: 'Bempton Cliffs really is one of nature's wonders. More than 200,000 seabirds are here during the breeding season and a walk out on the cliffs is a real assault on the senses, as you see, hear – and smell – life in our seabird city.
'Whenever I'm out on the reserve, even during the last few weeks when the weather has been less than kind, I marvel that I'm here, helping the Bempton team of staff and volunteers playing such a vital role in the future of this amazing place and the wildlife that depends on it.'
This spring and summer, one of Ian's tasks will be to help in a census of the birds and to contribute to research which will increase conservationists' knowledge of birds such as kittiwakes.

Wanted: sightings of Itchy and Scratchy

A nationwide appeal was launched today by RSPB Scotland for sightings of two white-tailed eagles that featured in the first BBC Springwatch series on the Isle of Mull in 2005.
The two young chicks, named Itchy and Scratchy by pupils from Dervaig Primary School, captured the hearts of millions of viewers each night as live pictures from their nest were beamed into homes across the UK.
Now, the RSPB wants to try and track them down in time to feature in the next series of the popular BBC series when it returns to our television screens in May.
Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan, who presented Fox Diaries, one of the highlights of Springwatch 2007, said: 'I filmed Itchy and Scratchy for Springwatch in 2005 and would love to find out where they are.
'They would now be sub-adults - teenagers in the world of sea eagles and may be looking to pair up soon. I'd really like to know if they've got their first girlfriends yet! If you can find them, I'll try and film them.'

The original film captured by Gordon followed presenter Simon King and the eagle family as they endured gales, rain and midges through a live week-long broadcast. At one point the chicks were almost blown out of the nest, but ultimately, both fledged successfully.
RSPB Scotland's Mull Officer, Dave Sexton, said: 'We have had numerous sightings of the two chicks in the years since they fledged, some on Mull, others on the mainland and other islands.
'Scratchy went to Skye for a while but was seen on Morvern and then near Arisaig just before Christmas. Itchy was last seen on Mull but we've had no sightings of him for about a year now. I hope they're both still out there, alive and well.'
Both birds were fitted with red tags before they fledged, Itchy with the letter 'I' and 'Scratchy with the letter 'S'. These letters should be visible through binoculars, or even with the naked eye, to anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of the two celebrities.
Young white-tailed eagles, sometimes called sea eagles, wander far and wide in their first five years, so the pair could be almost anywhere, though the west coast of Scotland is most likely.

'Bird map' can help north-east farmers reap a harvest of birds

An initiative has been launched in North East England that can help farmers boost their incomes and reap a bigger ‘harvest’ of wildlife from their land.
The ‘Volunteer & Farmer Alliance’ is organised by the RSPB and offers farmers a free survey of the breeding birds on their land, carried out by a local volunteer.
Sarah Dullage is running the project in the North East and is inviting the region’s farmers to take part in the new scheme, she says: 'Helping countryside birds such as lapwings, skylarks and tree sparrows can be surprisingly easy, but the vital first step is to identify what wildlife is already present on the farm.
'The Volunteer & Farmer Alliance initiative offers a free and no-strings-attached bird survey, which saves farmers money and is a great way to identify and then start helping the birds on the farm.'
The results of the survey are plotted on a unique ‘bird map’ that farmers can use to help boost local wildlife. The information on these bird hotspot maps can also help bring in new income, as the wildlife data can be used in applications for agri-environment grants such as the Government’s Higher Level Scheme.
The RSPB’s Volunteer & Farmer Alliance project was launched in southern England in 1999 because of concerns over declines in the numbers of many farmland birds. Since then more than 4,000 farms across the UK have been involved, and around 500 farms are visited every year.
With the launch in north east England, the scheme now covers the whole country. Thanks to the enthusiasm of farmers who are already involved in the project, the RSPB has seen recent increases in birds such as reed bunting, song thrush and tree sparrow.
Sarah added: 'This project provides valuable information and support for farmers who want to do more to help wildlife on their farms. The scheme combines the knowledge and enthusiasm of birdwatchers with the interest of farmers to learn more about the birds and other wildlife present on their land. Better still, it’s a free service!'
Reaping the rewards
Farmers throughout the UK are already reaping the reward for getting involved in the initiative. A survey at Michael and Susan Parker’s Manor House Farm at Nateby in Lancashire last year discovered an incredible 40 species of birds on the farm.
Mr Parker said: 'Being part of the RSPB V&FA project has opened our eyes to the amazing amount of wildlife on the farm. I knew that we had skylarks nesting in our fields, but had not realized how many. The results have supported our application for agri-environment schemes, which has helped to increase our income.'

50,000 new year boost for Oxfordshire wildlife

The year has started on a high for Oxfordshire's wildlife thanks to a £50,000 boost from Biffaward, a major environmental fund.
Wetland birds, dragonflies and water voles are just some of the wildlife that will benefit from the funding at the RSPB's Otmoor nature reserve, Beckley.
More than 200 shallow pools and a large lagoon with 30 islands will be created this year by the RSPB.
Biffaward is one of the most respected Landfill Communities Fund schemes and has awarded nearly £100 million to worthwhile projects since 1997. This is the first funding towards Otmoor.
David Wilding, RSPB Otmoor warden, said: 'Biffaward's contribution to nature conservation in the county is essential. Their support is another big step forward to making the reserve something very special.'
Martin Bettington, Chairman of Biffaward, said: 'It is vital that our natural environment is supported and allowed to flourish. We are delighted to be able to help by awarding funding to the RSPB for its valuable work in Oxfordshire.'

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | UK Bird News | Bird News for United Kingdom 2008 |  January 2008

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