Beavers in Britain


This July 2014 video from England is called Wild beaver kits born in Devon‘s River Otter.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Frosty’s Ramblings: Back from 500 years of oblivion

Friday 6th February 2015

Beavers’ engineering endeavours are examples of outstanding environmental practice. It’s time we accepted it, says PETER FROST

A complete about-face from the government, Defra and Natural England has saved a small colony of wild beavers on the River Otter in Devon near the village of Ottery St Mary.

It is believed to be the first population of wild beavers in the English countryside for over 500 years.

Local and national environmental campaigners had feared the small colony would end up in a zoo or even culled like the badgers.

The Devon beavers were first caught on film a year ago but rumours and sightings had been happening for some time before that.

Nobody knows where they came from.

Last summer, coalition farming minister George Eustice and Defra said they wanted to get rid of the Devon beavers by capture or cull.

Defra claimed beavers were an invasive non-native species and could carry a rare parasite called Echinococcus multilocularis (EM).

A vigorous public campaign by Friends of the Earth and Devon Wildlife Trust has changed the government’s mind. Even I wrote in support of the Devon beavers back in July of last year.

Now clearly embarrassed by the expensive fiasco of the badger cull Eustice has seen sense and listened to expert opinion.

Defra has now decided that the Devon Wildlife Trust can manage a reintroduction programme for the beaver as part of a carefully regulated five year trial.

Friends of the Earth campaigner Alasdair Cameron told us: “This is great news for Devon’s beavers. If, as seems likely, they can now remain in the wild.”

Natural England, which is part of Defra, has approved a five-year scientific study of the beaver and this could open the way to the wider reintroduction of what was once a common species across England.

Meanwhile beavers have been reintroduced into Scotland and are breeding happily on several Scottish rivers where their dams make a spectacular addition to the river-scape.

The first significant recent Scottish population of wild beavers became established on Scotland’s River Tay as early as 2001.

The hugely intelligent European beaver (Castor fiber) is the largest rodent in Europe. They build amazing architectural structures for their dams and lodges.

This fascinating and historically much hunted animal is coming back to its natural homes all over Europe and it’s time we made much bigger efforts to bring it back to the rivers and countryside of Britain.

I first saw wild European beavers and the good they can do for the wetland environment on a visit to the Biesbosch National Park in the Netherlands where they were reintroduced in 1988 after being completely exterminated in the 19th century.

After the reintroduction in the Biesbosch the overall Dutch population has spread considerably, supported by additional reintroductions.

The beaver was once widespread all over Europe and Britain. The animal was hunted to near-extinction for both its luxurious fur and an extract from its anal glands known as castoreum. This is used in the perfume industry and was once believed to have magical medical properties.

Beavers typically grow to 80–100cm (31–39in) and the tail adds another 25–50cm (10–20in). Adults weigh between 11–30kg (24–66lb), with an average of 18kg (40lb).

They usually have one litter of three kits per year. Unlike most other rodents, beavers are monogamous, staying together for many breeding seasons.

Beavers help support wetland ecosystems by creating sustainable wet landscape with lakes and pools, which increase biodiversity and provide habitat for threatened and rare species such as water voles, otters and water shrews.

They gnaw branches from waterside trees and shrubs so that they re-grow denser, which provides useful cover for birds and animals.

Their dams trap sediment and improve water quality and can help regulate river flows and reduce flooding.

Last July I wrote in these pages: “Now is the time to encourage the reintroduction of beavers to suitable sites in both England and Wales.”

That message is even more true today.

Yesterday the only known wild beavers in England were released back to their Devon home river, after they were cleared by officials of any diseases that could harm humans. The beavers — four adults and one juvenile — were set free alongside the River Otter after having been temporarily captured last month so they could be tested for health issues that included bovine tuberculosis and a parasitic tapeworm harmful to humans called Echinococcus multilocularis: here.

Beavers good for bluethroats: here.

Beavers of Maastricht, the Netherlands


This Dutch video is about beavers in nature reserve De Kleine Weerd near Maastricht city.

The beavers of River Otter in Devon are allowed to stay if they are disease free, Natural England has announced. The beavers were first spotted in February 2014 and it is unknown how they got there: here.

Good cirl bunting news from England


This video is called Cirl Bunting singing (Emberiza cirlus).

From Wildlife Extra:

Cirl buntings make a comeback in south Devon

The cirl bunting once faced extinction in the UK. However, it is now making a comeback in its south Devon stronghold.

In November 2008 the RSPB purchased Labrador Bay in Devon from Teignbridge District Council.

A contributing sum of £100,000 towards the purchase came from Devon County Council as compensation for what had been predicted to have a significant impact on cirl bunting habitat – the South Devon Link Road.

The plan for Labrador Bay was to have a reserve that would provide a safe-haven for this colourful bunting, providing all the vital elements it needed to flourish: safe nesting habitat and plenty of food, seeds in the winter and insects in the summer.

Cath Jeffs, cirl bunting project manager said: “At the time of purchase, we estimated that there were three pairs of cirl buntings on site.

“There are now 21 pairs breeding and over 50 birds that winter on the site – we are well ahead of our projected target, which is a fantastic achievement.

“The RSPB has done lots of habitat improvements including hedge and grassland restoration, and it seems that the cirl buntings approve.”

It was hoped that by providing a very productive cirl population on the reserve it would help fuel expansion to other areas.

Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Environment and Communities, said: “We wanted to ensure that the construction of the South Devon Link Road maintained a balance between the economy and the environment, and by helping the RSPB buy this wonderful reserve it will improve its value for wildlife and preserve it for future generations.

“This has provided a positive impact for the cirl bunting population as a whole, as well as other wildlife such as bats.”

A key component of the cirl bunting success story has been community involvement and the support of local volunteers.

The farmer who cultivates the land adjacent to the reserve holds wildlife as a key consideration, and the cirl bunting population that lives off the reserve and around the village of Stokeinteignhead is benefitting as a result.

Labrador Bay nature reserve is now acknowledged as one of the best sites to see cirl buntings in the UK and visitors are rarely disappointed.

For more information visit here.

There will be guided cirl bunting identification walks on the reserve at 9.30am, Sat 26 July, Sun 26 Oct 2014, and Sun 25 Jan 2015.

Wild beavers back in England after 200 years


This video from England says about itself:

Beaver in Devon

30 sep. 2013

Beavers are a vital missing link in the UK’s ecosystem and the wetland environment is suffering from the loss of beaver activity. In principle we support the EU’s call for governments to reintroduce lost endemic species and note that England is one of the few remaining countries not to reintroduce beavers.

From Wildlife Extra:

Wild beavers spotted in Devon

European beavers are back in the wild

February 2014: After an absence of more than 200 years a small population of European beavers, Castor fiber, has been seen wild in the English countryside. A family group of three were filmed by Tom Buckley on the River Otter in East Devon. They are believed to be the result of an escape or unsanctioned release.

It is highly significant because it strongly suggests that a small breeding population of beavers now exists outside of captivity. This would be the first time since the 18th century that European beavers had been breeding in the wild in England. Beavers were finally hunted to extinction during the 18th century as a result of being highly valued fur, medicinal value and meat, not because they were viewed as a nuisance species.

“We believe that releases of European beavers should be properly planned. We do not support unlicensed releases of any animals or plants, said Devon Wildlife Trust in a statement.

“However, now that a small European beaver population has established itself in East Devon we believe that they should be left alone and observed, using a rigorous monitoring programme. This group of beavers provides us with a unique opportunity to learn lessons about their behaviour and their impact on the local landscape.

“We believe that, given the right conditions, the return of the European beaver, a formerly native mammal, will be of overall benefit to river and wetland habitats in the UK.”

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Good English red-backed shrike news


This video is about red-backed shrikes in Bulgaria, May 2010. A female, and then a male.

From Wildlife Extra:

Successful fledging for England’s only red-backed shrikes – Butcher birds

England’s only nesting “butcher birds” successful on Dartmoor

September 2013. RSPB have announced the fledging of two youngsters from the England’s only nesting pair of red-backed shrikes in 2013. The birds, at a secret location on Dartmoor, have been under close watch to guarantee their safety in a project managed by the RSPB with support from Dartmoor Study Group, Devon Birds, Devon & Cornwall Police, Forestry Commission, Dartmoor National Park Authority and Natural England.

First bred here in 2010

Kevin Rylands from the RSPB said; “This is now the fourth year they have returned to Dartmoor, (Read about how they first bred in 2010) but last year they failed to breed successfully, probably due to the awful weather. A lone male visited the previous breeding site in May this year but failed to find a mate. Fortunately though a pair was found at a new site in June and this bodes well for the future of the species on Dartmoor.”

Extinct in UK

Red-backed shrikes were driven to extinction in the UK at the end of the last century and egg collecting remains a major threat.

“As in previous years we used a combination of volunteers, staff and sophisticated wildlife surveillance equipment as part of site protection and monitoring. Although it’s been hard work, the efforts have been rewarded with two youngsters fledged. We are particularly grateful to the volunteers involved and to Devon Birds for funding some of the cameras used on site as part of Devon & Cornwall Police’s Operation Wilderness.”

Wildlife Crime Officer, PC Josh Marshall, said “I deployed Operation Wilderness cameras to assist with the protection of the birds. Cameras were downloaded at regular intervals to ensure the security of the site”.

Butchers

Red-backed shrikes are a migrant species who return from Africa in spring. They are also known as “butcher birds” due to their uncompromising eating habits, which involve catching small creatures and often impaling them on sharp thorns or barbed wire. These ‘larders’ can hold caterpillars, beetles, bees, lizards and even small mammals. Once a familiar breeding bird across the country, they declined to extinction, last breeding in England (East Anglia) in 1992, before their return to Dartmoor in 2010.

“The red-backed shrike is a beautiful bird with striking feeding habits,” explained George Harris, Chairman of Devon Birds. “Its loss from Devon last century was tragic, which is why we are so keen to support initiatives such as this, with necessarily wide-reaching partnership involvement, intended to see this bird’s recovery in Devon. It’s a big aspiration, but success will be worth the effort!”

Kevin Rylands concluded “We hope red-backed shrikes will continue to re-colonise Dartmoor but that is dependent upon birds returning next year, finding suitable habitat and not being disturbed. In addition to facing threats from egg-collectors, red-backed shrikes, along with many other migratory birds, are in great danger when travelling between the southwest and wintering grounds in Africa, with many trapped and killed en route.

The extent of habitat and amount of large insects and other available prey on Dartmoor has no doubt contributed to the recent success of this species. Surveys have shown that Dartmoor (and other SW uplands) holds a wealth of species previously widespread in lowland areas such as cuckoo, meadow pipit and whinchat and the RSPB is working with conservation partners to ensure that this important upland and its fringes can provide the food and nesting sites that birds need.

Hybrid Red-backed Shrike at Hidd (Bahrain) – Bird record by Jehad Alammadi: here.

Good British seabird news


This video from Britain says about itself:

7 June 2012

A documentary about Lundy Island. A place of peace and tranquillity, where a wealth of wildlife and stunning scenery attracts vistors from all around the world all year round……But with plans for a new offshore wind farm, named the Atlantic Array, the unique wildlife of Lundy could be in jeopardy.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Lundy bird populations soar after rats eradicated

Findings will give encouragement to a similar project due to get under way this autumn on two of the isles of Scilly

Steven Morris

Tuesday 30 July 2013

A project to eradicate rats from a rocky island off Devon has resulted in a tenfold increase in the population of an endangered burrowing seabird that nests there, conservationists have revealed.

Wildlife charities are delighted that the removal of rats from Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, has apparently led to a dramatic boost to the number of Manx shearwaters and other birds on the island.

A similar project costing £750,000 is due to get under way this autumn on two of the isles of Scilly, St Agnes and Gugh, to wipe out the descendants of brown rats that swam to shore from shipwrecks.

Survey teams from the RSPB who returned to Lundy 10 years after the launch of the seabird recovery project found that the number of breeding pairs of Manx shearwaters had leapt from 300 to 3,000. Puffin numbers had increased from just five birds to 80, while razorbills and shags had also made substantial gains.

Helen Booker, RSPB senior conservation officer in the south-west of England, said: “This is such an exciting result, better than we expected, and the rate of increase is an indication of just how important rat-free islands like Lundy are as breeding site for seabirds.”

David Bullock, head of nature conservation for the National Trust, which owns Lundy, said “Once the rats had gone from Lundy, the number of pairs of shearwaters went from hundreds to thousands in matter of a few years.”

He said such a rapid recovery must have been aided by birds from other colonies, probably including those on islands off the Pembrokeshire coast, settling to breed on Lundy.

The results will provide encouragement for a similar project on St Agnes and Gugh, 28 miles off the south-west tip of mainland Britain. Here an estimated 3,100 brown rats are blamed for preying on Scilly shearwaters as well as storm petrels, terns and the Scilly shrew, a rodent found only on the archipelago.

From this autumn, poison bait will be laid for the rats as part of a 25-year Isles of Scilly seabird recovery project, which is being run with cash from the National Lottery, the EU’s Life fund and other sources.

It follows a 25% fall in bird numbers in recent years. The project is deemed feasible because the islands are surrounded by deep water, and so it is thought unlikely once the rats there are removed that others will be able to repopulate it.

It is deemed particularly important because St Agnes and Gugh are close to the uninhabited island of Annet, which has significant colonies of seabirds.

Jaclyn Pearson, project manager for the Isles of Scilly recovery project, said it had the backing of the 75 residents of St Agnes, though some of the children had taken some convincing.

She said the bait stations were designed to be accessible only to rats, and a stock of the antidote had been ferried across in case a cat or dog got to the poison.

See also here.

The world’s biggest rat-killing campaign underway on South Georgia Island: here.