RSPB records successes and declines of species on its reserves
Although best known for their work to conserve birds, the RSPB in fact monitors a broad range of species. They have recorded a staggering 16,006 species across their 212 reserves covering 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of wildlife habitats in the UK, and a very substantial 97 per cent of these species are not birds.
The organisation has reviewed how the diverse wildlife on its reserves has fared during 2014, and has reported instances of both successes and species declines.
It has been a good year for the rare Ladybird Spider, which has benefitted from good numbers of its beetle prey. The spider, which gets its name from its bright red body and the black spots of the male spider, was thought to be extinct until a small number were rediscovered in 1980 at a site in Dorset. They have been reintroduced to several more sites in Dorset, including at RSPB Arne, where a higher number of the spiders’ distinctive webs were observed.
There has also been success for the Water Vole in Scotland where they have recolonised RSPB’s Insh Marshes. Their numbers decreased by a concerning 90 per cent over the past four decades due to the introduction of the American Mink, who preys on the small mammal. Their increase in numbers at Insh Marshes is thought to be a result of work done by the Scottish Mink Initiative, who are working to remove the mink from northern Scotland and have put in place measures to control mink in Cairngorms National Park.
There was also a noticeable increase of Irish Lady’s Tresses on some RSPB reserves. The flower is a rare orchid more commonly seen in North America, but has been seen in higher numbers in northwest Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The last success story reported by the RSPB was of the Marsh Fritillary, which saw a good year on the Scottish island of Islay where two reserves provided the lightly grazed meadows needed by the insects.
But the news wasn’t all positive, and there were a number of declines of certain species reported.
The Great Yellow Bumblebee, one of Britain’s rarest bees, is found on 13 RSPB reserves in the north and west of Scotland. It is reported to being doing well on Tiree in the Inner Hebrides, but the population on the island of Coll has decline. RSPB scientists think that it is due to a lack of early flowers such as red clover at the time the queens emerged in June.
Britain’s most endangered butterfly, the High Brown Fritillary, was also found to be in decline, with numbers down by around 80 per cent since the 1970s. It is now found at 50 sites in Wales and in the west of England, where the caterpillars feed on violets. Last year a count of these butterflies in Leighton Moss found 78, but during 2014 only four were found. The reason for this dramatic decline is not clear as the habitats appear in good condition.
Numbers of black-and-blue striped Southern Damselfly also saw a drop at several sites in East Devon, while on Havergate Island in Suffolk the nationally scared Yellow Vetch (a member of the pea family) vanished from the area following severe winter storms.
Commenting on the findings, RSPB Conservation Director Martin Harpersaid: “Last year’s State of Nature report showed that 60% of UK species are declining. This year some have done well, largely because of a combination of good weather and the right management of a network of protected areas, such as our nature reserves. These can help wildlife flourish even if the intervening countryside is inhospitable. Climate change is already having an impact on wildlife and this affects decisions on our reserves. It also intensifies the call for more, bigger and better connected protected areas. Our best sites must be protected and budgets to support wildlife-friendly farming must be bolstered.”