Wildlife in unexpected places

This is a black grouse video.

From Wildlife Extra in Britain:

Wildlife thrives in the most unlikely places

Mystery of seal found five miles inland

The recent discovery of a young seal wandering down a road in Lancashire made us start thinking about other unlikely places where wildlife is found, and even thrives.

Many of these locations have one thing in common, humans are unwelcome, or keep well clear, for one reason or another.

Chernobyl [in Ukraine]

The region surrounding the devastated nuclear reactor has become a complete no-go for humans, and yet despite this, in fact almost certainly because of it, it has turned into a positive wildlife haven [but see also here].

Those animals and birds that were already found there (badger, elk, fox, otter, aquatic warbler, black grouse & white-tailed eagle) began multiplying in number, and many species that had not been seen there for years moved back in.

Wild boars have multiplied in numbers, and consequently wolf numbers have climbed in a similar fashion.

Lynx and eagle owls have both re-colonised the area, despite not having lived there for decades, and traces of bears have been found too.

Amazingly, there seems to be very little obvious side effects from the radiation amongst the wildlife.

A less optimistic view on this is here.

Incredibly there is evidence that many birds have taken to nesting in and around the damaged reactor site.

Salisbury plain

The major training region for the British army covers some 45,000 hectares is out of bounds to the public and thus a haven for wildlife in the UK.

The plain includes 13,000 hectares of agriculturally ‘unimproved’ chalk grassland, one of the largest areas of this kind of habitat in Europe.

That military training sites are not crowded may have its benefits for nature.

However, we should not forget the problems of military use, especially for chalk grasslands, which, eg, this article shows.

The large area of untouched grassland is an absolute boon for populations of invertebrates, and they provide a plentiful and varied diet for many of the birds and animals.

The area is home to a number of scarce and rare bird populations including nationally important numbers of birds, such as quail, whinchat, stonechat, grasshopper warbler and skylark as well as grey partridge, hobby and merlin.

The Salisbury plain was also chosen as the region to re-introduce the Great bustard to the UK, being by far the largest and least disturbed area of its kind (by a happy co-incidence the Great Bustard is the county bird of Wiltshire, appearing on the county flag.)

Flag of Wiltshire, with great bustard

The area is also of major importance for UK populations of the marsh fritillary butterfly and the stone-curlew, which had one of its best breeding year in 2006 for many years.

De-militarised Zone, Korea.

The narrow strip of land that separates North and South Korea is 150 miles long, but just 2.5 miles wide, heavily mined and covered with barbed wire.

Mostly mountainous but with some grassland and rivers too, and is one of the least likely wildlife havens anywhere.

Yet a combination of a complete lack of human presence combined with increased human activity on both sides of the zone forcing wildlife into its narrow strip has turned this no-go zone into an important wildlife area, to such an extent that there is talk of making into a wildlife reserve.

Bears and leopards are relatively common, and there are reports that a few tigers may hang on here too.

Many birds thrive on this former battlefield, including Black-faced Spoonbill, spotted greenshank, Black vultures, Red-crowned cranes and White-napped cranes and even a few Steller’s sea eagles.

Motorway verges and Railway tracks

Yes, when you drive at speed along the motorway you collect plenty of insects on your windscreen and radiator, and many smaller mammals and birds end up as ‘roadkill’, but the untouched grasslands along the side of major transport arteries provide perfect conditions for many insects and even small mammals, and also are perfect conduits for helping spread species form one area to another.

Recently Network Rail won a top conservation award.

It was nominated by the charity Butterfly Conservation for work carried out along a stretch of track in Somerset to help the Large Blue, one of Britain’s rarest butterfly species.

Falklands Islands Mine Fields

30,000 mines are still hidden in some parts of the Falklands, and they have benefited the various penguin species.

The mines keep humans well clear, but the penguins are not heavy enough to set them off.

The penguins are declining due to lack of their usual food (read details here), but the minefields are providing a small haven.

Roof Gardens night club

Not strictly in the same category, but an unusual and surprising place to find a few flamingos and ducks.

The London nightclub on top of the huge department store in Kensington has a 1.5 acre garden where a few flamingos are kept and a few other species have made it their home too.

Water Voles

Upland areas, agricultural ditches, industrial sites and urban fringes are all proving to be unexpected water vole havens.

These habitats had not been previously surveyed by conservationists because of the traditionally healthy water vole populations along main rivers. Read more here.

Tate modern

A pair of Peregrine falcons took to using the huge towers of the Tate Modern as a hunting roost. See the story here.

Kennedy space centre

The Kennedy Space Centre [in the USA] shares a 35 mile long island with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

This is a particularly rich area for wildlife where healthy populations of manatees, sea turtles, alligators and raccoons.

Some 350 species of bird have been recorded here, including Florida scrub jays, Bald eagles, Roseate spoonbill, painted buntings, snail kites and red-cockaded woodpeckers are all notable sights.

The Horniman museum’s eco-roof

ONE of the earliest pioneering green roofs to be built in London has undergone a scientific survey for unusual species of plant and insect life before receiving its annual trim.

More than 50 insect species were identified, including the smallest species of British Ant and Britain’s largest Hoverfly.

Several other unusual species were found including a nationally scarce beetle and ground bug normally associated with dry, sandy coastal regions.

Designed to provide an oasis for wildlife, the energy saving CUE building was constructed in 1995 using environmentally friendly materials and now supports a unique wildflower meadow that keeps the building cool in the summer and provides insulation in the winter.

This video is called Musk-Mallow (Malva moschata).

The roof requires minimal maintenance and is only watered occasionally by gardeners during the height of summer.

Every autumn after the flowering season, the meadow is cut to encourage biodiversity and make sure any young tree seedlings that have taken root are removed, including conkers planted by squirrels.

On the lush north side, meadow grasses – which can reach almost a metre-high – and flowers like Musk Mallow and Wild Carrot, grow alongside deep cushions of mosses.

And on the shallower but warmer south-facing aspect are examples of Field Pansy, the sage-scented Wild Clary and Kidney Vetch.

Meanwhile, visitors are treated to a swathe of Cowslips in spring and a carpet of Ox-Eye Daisies in early summer.

Coleoptera (beetles) 18
Diptera (flies) 12
Hemiptera (bugs) 9
Hymenoptera (bees, wasps etc) 11
Lepidoptera (butterflies & moths) 1
Orthoptera (grasshoppers etc) 1

Fifty-two species is not a good number for any ‘normal’ habitat, but compares very well with other roofs surveyed.

Otters in English town centre: here.

In this series that looks at the relationship between mankind and wildlife, Andrew Cooper explores the natural history of the Dart Valley Railway and details the way in which the arrival of the steam train affected not only the landscape, but also the plants and animals that call the trackside their home: here.

Birds in Chernobyl are adapting to long-term exposure to radiation, ecologists have found. The catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which took place in April 1986, has given scientists an accidental ecological experiment to study the effects of ionizing radiation on wild animals: here.

Some birds adapt to Chernobyl’s radiation: here.

7 thoughts on “Wildlife in unexpected places

  1. Huge areas of Detroit have been abandoned. It is now possible to see deer and ring necked pheasants in former working class residential areas of the city.


  2. I believe that all deer east of the Mississippi River are White Tail deer. Here, in the west there are populations of White Tails but I always see Mule Deer. Near here there are also introduced populations of Axis and Fallow deer. North of me, there are elk. I have a good, scary, angry bull elk story that you might hear someday.


  3. Hi, I saw a mule deer once in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Here, roe deer are the most common deer. There are also, less common, red deer; and fallow deer (introduced). Red deer are called “elk” in North America. In England, “elk” is the name for “moose” (of North America and the northern European continent).


  4. http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/06/07/chernobyl.environment.ap/index.html

    Wildlife populates Chernobyl site

    POSTED: 9:23 a.m. EDT, June 7, 2007

    PARISHEV, Ukraine (AP) — Two decades after an explosion and fire at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant sent clouds of radioactive particles drifting over the fields near her home, Maria Urupa says the wilderness is encroaching.

    Packs of wolves have eaten two of her dogs, the 73-year-old told a visitor in May, and wild boar trample through her corn field. Meanwhile, she said, fox, rabbits and snakes infest the meadows near her tumbledown cottage.

    “I’ve seen a lot of wild animals here,” said Urupa, one of about 300 mostly elderly residents who insist on living in Chernobyl’s contaminated evacuation zone.

    The return of wildlife to the region near the world’s worst nuclear power accident, first reported more than a decade ago, is an apparent paradox that biologists are still trying to measure and understand.

    Many assumed the 1986 meltdown of Reactor Number Four, and the release of hundreds of tons of radioactive material, would turn much of the 1,100-square-mile (2,850-square-kilometer) evacuated area around Chernobyl into a nuclear dead zone.

    It certainly doesn’t look like one today.

    Dense forests have reclaimed farm fields and apartment house courtyards. Residents, visitors and some biologists report seeing wildlife — including moose and lynx — rarely sighted in the rest of Europe. Some birds even nest inside the cracked concrete sarcophagus shielding the shattered remains of the reactor itself.

    Wildlife has returned despite radiation levels in much of the evacuated zone that — although they have fallen significantly since the accident due to radioactive decay — remain 10 to 100 times higher than background levels, according to a 2005 U.N. report.

    Some researchers insist that by halting the destruction of habitat, the Chernobyl disaster helped wildlife flourish. Others say animals may be filtering into the zone, but that they appear to suffer malformations and other ills that threaten to send their tenuous populations crashing.

    Both sides say more research is needed into the long-term health of a variety of Chernobyl’s wildlife species, as governments around the world consider switching from fossil fuel plants, blamed for helping drive global climate change, to nuclear power.

    Biologist Robert J. Baker of Texas Tech University was one of the first Western scientists to report that Chernobyl had become a wildlife haven. He says the mice and other rodents he has studied Chernobyl since the early 1990s have shown remarkable tolerance for the region’s elevated radiation levels.

    But Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, a biologist who studies barn swallows at Chernobyl, says that while wild animals may filter into the area from outside, they have struggled to build new populations here.

    Far from thriving, he says, a high proportion of the birds he and his colleagues have examined suffer from radiation-induced sickness and genetic damage. Survival rates are dramatically lower for those living in the most contaminated areas.

    In explaining their starkly differing views, Baker and Mousseau criticize each other’s studies as poorly designed.

    But their disagreement also reflects a deeper split among biologists who study the effects of exposure to radiation. Some, like Baker, think organisms can cope with the destructive effects of radiation up to a point — beyond which they begin to suffer irreparable damage. Others believe that even low doses of radiation can trigger cancers and other illnesses.

    In the Journal of Mammology in 1996, Baker and his colleagues reported that the disaster had not reduced either the diversity or abundance of a dozen species of rodents — including mice, shrews, voles, rats and weasels — near the Chernobyl plant.

    “Our studies show that a dynamic ecosystem is present in even the most radioactive habitats,” they wrote.

    Baker’s group reported sighting red fox, gray wolf, moose, river otter, roe deer, Russian wild boar and brown hare within a 10-kilometer (six-mile) radius of the crippled plant — the most heavily contaminated area. Outside of 30 kilometer (18.6 miles), they saw just one live animal, a brown hare.

    Genetic tests showed Chernobyl’s animals suffered some damage to their DNA, Baker and his colleagues reported. But they said overall it didn’t seem to hurt wildlife populations.

    “The resulting environment created by the Chernobyl disaster is better for animals,” Baker told the Associated Press in a phone interview.

    Critics of Baker point out that his work has been funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, which some view as pro-nuclear. Baker defended the government connection, saying “we have never been asked to come up with any specific conclusions, just do honest work.” He also said his work has been peer-reviewed.

    Mousseau and his colleagues have painted a far more pessimistic picture.

    In the journal Biology Letters in March, a group led by Anders Moller, from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, said that in a study of 7,700 birds examined since 1991 they found 11 rare or unknown abnormalities in a population of Chernobyl’s barn swallows.

    Roughly one-third of 248 Chernobyl nestlings studied were found to have ill-formed beaks, albino feathers, bent tail feathers and other malformations. Mousseau was a co-author of the report.

    In other studies, Mousseau — whose work is funded by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society — and his colleagues have found increased genetic damage, reduced reproductive rates and what he calls “dramatically” higher mortality rates for birds living near Chernobyl.

    The work suggests, he said, that Chernobyl is a “sink” where animals migrate but rapidly die off. Mousseau suspects that relatively low-level radiation reduces the level of antioxidants in the blood, which can lead to cell damage.

    “From every rock we turn over, we find consequences,” he told the Associated Press in a phone interview. “These reports of wildlife flourishing in the area are completely anecdotal and have no scientific basis.”

    While the experts debate, Maria Urupa, one of about 350 so-called “self-settlers” who defied authorities and moved back to their homes inside the exclusion zone, harvests tomatoes from her garden, buys fish from the nearby Pripyat River and brews her own moonshine vodka.

    Eating locally-produced food is risky, health experts agree, because plants and animals can concentrate radioactive materials as they cycle through the food chain. Doesn’t she fear the effects of her exposure to radiation?

    “Radiation? No!” she said. “What humans do? Yes.”


  5. Pingback: Scottish city wildlife | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  6. Pingback: Chernobyl, Ukraine wildlife on camera traps | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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