Gyrfalcon catches rodent, video


This video from the USA says about itself:

27 January 2016

A Gyrfalcon flying above the snow, catches a small rodent in Idaho. Though these large falcons may take mammals, they usually hunt birds, especially ptarmigan.

Beavers may help against flooding


This video is about an Eurasian beaver at the Dyje river (Czech Republic).

By Peter Frost in Britain:

Beavers – the ultimate environmentalists

Friday 19th February 2016

Early last year PETER FROST suggested beavers could make our river systems less likely to flood. Now it seems scientists are starting to agree but some gun-wielding landowners are not.

Our winter floods continue. The reasons are many and complex. First of course is the unprecedented heavy rains we have been having as a result of climate change.

The straightening of rivers and tributaries has speeded river flow and land drainage. Add to that the stripping of tree cover and scrub from hill farmland and the huge amount of building on flood plains replacing absorbent agricultural meadow with paved roads, car parks and building roofs that shed rain instantly.

More than a year ago I wrote in these pages that one strategy that could help a little would be the re-introduction of the European beaver (Castor fiber). These were a native species until they were hunted into oblivion 400 years ago. They are a completely different species from the north American beaver (Castor canadensis), which never lived in Britain or Europe.

The beaver was once widespread all over Europe and Britain. It 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.

More recently, controlled reintroductions, escapes from captivity and some unauthorised releases have seen a number of beaver colonies established in England and Scotland.

When a small colony settled on the River Otter in Devon a temporary five-year licence from Natural England allowed scientists from the University of Exeter to study beavers close up, including the effect they might have on river flow and flooding.

Professor Richard Brazier, a leading hydrologist at the university, has started a study of what is England’s only breeding population of wild beavers in order to understand their impact on pollution, flooding and water quality.

He discovered that the chain of small dams and the ponds those dams created slowed river flow after a heavy storm from minutes to many hours. This could level out flow and reduce flash floods downstream. This research continues.

Meanwhile north of the border beavers have been reintroduced into several sites in Scotland and are breeding happily on several rivers.

One such colony on Scotland’s flood prone River Tay has existed since as early as 2001. Today its population is believed to top 150. At least it did until some trigger-happy shooting types realised the beavers had no legal protection in Scotland.

Now it seems some Scottish landowners and farmers have declared open season on the small but growing population, shooting them at will, while the Scottish government and its wildlife agency look the other way.

Beavers that were heavily pregnant or had recently given birth are among those shot by these unpleasant landowners on Tayside.

The slaughter has led to demands for restrictions on shooting during the breeding season and renewed calls for Scotland’s beavers to receive the same legal protection as the animal enjoys in England.

Experts at Edinburgh Zoo have carried out post-mortem examinations on 23 beavers from Tayside — 21 had been shot. Local environmental groups believe that the death toll is much higher.

A freedom of information request by BBC Scotland revealed that two pregnant animals were shot with foetuses very near full term. Two other females which were shot had recently given birth. Once the mother has been killed, newly born kits will not survive.

Beavers have one litter per year. Most do not reproduce until they are three years old. Beaver pairs are monogamous, staying together for multiple breeding seasons when they average three kits per litter.

There were concerns about the length of time it would have taken some of the 21 shot animals to die. At least one corpse contained lead shot. It is against the law to use lead shot to kill any animal in water.

In a statement, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland said: “In our capacity as advisors to the Scottish government on beaver management, we have written both to Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish government to raise welfare concerns.”

Scottish Natural Heritage has asked land managers not to shoot beavers in Tayside but to little effect.

Scotland actually has two wild beaver populations. An official reintroduction trial has been conducted at Knapdale Forest in Argyll. No shootings have been reported here.

Just as important as helping to reduce flood damage, beavers also help support wetland ecosystems by creating sustainable wet landscapes with pools, which increase biodiversity and provide habitat for threatened and rare species such as water voles, otters and water shrews.

Beavers 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.

What is urgently needed is a moratorium on the shooting of beavers in Scotland pending an early decision to afford the animals the legal protection they certainly deserve.

There are a number of online petitions where you can show your support.

Beavers ‘can save Scottish communities from flooding’: here.

Birds and squirrels in Cornwall, video


This video from Britain says about itself:

Woodland Birds and Squirrels

Birds in the video are: Robin, Jay, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit

Filmed in January 2016

Video Produced by Paul Dinning – Wildlife in Cornwall

The squirrel is a grey squirrel.

Beavers washing, video


This video shows two beavers washing their fur.

René Sluimer made the video in the Rhoonse Grienden nature reserve in the Netherlands.

Good Dutch beaver news


This 2011 video says about itself:

The European beaver (Castor fiber) was hunted almost to extinction, both for fur and for castoreum, a secretion of its scent gland believed to have medicinal properties. However, the beaver is now being re-introduced throughout Europe. Several thousand live on the Elbe, the Rhône and in parts of Scandinavia. In northeast Poland there is a thriving community of Castor fiber. They have been reintroduced in Bavaria and The Netherlands and are tending to spread to new locations.

Translated from the Dutch ARK Natuurontwikkeling conservationists, 7 February 2016:

After more than two hundred years of absence about twenty years ago beavers emerged spontaneously in Limburg province. These were some individuals from Germany. Their number was too small, and mutual distance too large to form a viable population within the foreseeable future. Therefore thirty beavers were freed in the region between 2002 and 2004. There was enough habitat by river restoration and nature reserve management in the Meuse Valley. Meanwhile beavers live, with numbers estimated at five hundred animals, in nearly the whole of Limburg. In wet, wooded nature beavers play a key role.

Mice live longer with cell therapy


AGE STAGE By about 2 years old, mice that age normally (back left) are hunchbacked and nearly blind. A treatment that removes decrepit “senescent” cells makes mice the same age (front right) healthier: They look and act younger and live longer. Photo: Mayo Clinic

From Science News:

Removing worn-out cells makes mice live longer and prosper

Antiaging treatment shows promise for lengthening life span

By Tina Hesman Saey

1:00pm, February 3, 2016

Killing worn-out cells helps middle-aged mice live longer, healthier lives, a new study suggests.

Removing those worn-out or “senescent” cells increased the median life span of mice from 24 to 27 percent over that of rodents in which senescent cells built up normally with age, Mayo Clinic researchers report online February 3 in Nature. Clearing senescent cells also improved heart and kidney function, the researchers found.

If the results hold up in people, they could lead to an entirely new way to treat aging, says gerontology and cancer researcher Norman Sharpless at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. Most prospective antiaging treatments would require people to take a drug for decades. Periodically zapping senescent cells might temporarily turn back the clock and improve health for people who are already aging, he says. “If this paper is right, I believe it will be one of the most important aging papers ever,” Sharpless says.

Senescent cells are ones that have ceased to divide and do their usual jobs. Instead, they hunker down and pump out inflammatory chemicals that may damage surrounding tissues and promote further aging. “They’re zombie cells,” says Steven Austad, a biogerontologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. ”They’ve outlived their usefulness. They’re bad.”

Cancer biologist Jan van Deursen of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues devised the strategy for eliminating senescent cells by making the cells commit suicide. A protein called p16 builds up in senescent cells, the researchers had previously discovered. The team hooked up a gene for a protein that causes cells to kill themselves to DNA that helps turn on p16 production, so that whenever p16 was made the suicide protein was also made.

The suicide protein needs a partner chemical to actually kill cells, though. Once mice were a year old — 40 to 60 years old in human terms — the researchers started injecting them with the partner chemical. Mice got injections about every three days for six months. Mice that got the cell-suicide cocktail were compared with genetically engineered mice that were injected with a placebo mix.

Senescent cells were easier to kill in some organs than others, the researchers found. Colon and liver senescent cells weren’t killed, for instance. But age-related declines in the function of organs in which the treatment worked — eyes, fat, heart and kidney —were slowed.

Genetic engineering and regular shots would not be feasible for use in people, but several companies are developing drugs that might clear the zombie cells from humans, Austad says. Some side effects to the treatment in mice also would be important to consider if those drugs are ever used in people. Senescent cells have previously been shown to be needed for wound healing, and mice that got the killing cocktail couldn’t repair wounds as well as those that didn’t get the treatment. Once treatment stopped, the mice were able to heal normally again. That result suggests that people undergoing senescent-cell therapy might need to stop temporarily to heal wounds from surgery or accidents.

Previously, the researchers had killed senescent cells in mice with a mutation that caused them to age prematurely (SN: 12/3/11, p. 11). Removing the worn-out cells helped the prematurely old mice live longer, but other researchers weren’t convinced that the results applied to normal aging. “It’s great when you find something that helps prevent premature aging, but there’s always this nagging doubt,” says Judith Campisi, a researcher at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, Calif. It’s gratifying that the treatment works to extend life and health in normally aging animals, she says.

Campisi also studies the effect of senescent cells on aging, but doesn’t think the cells are entirely to blame for the ills of old age. “We don’t believe senescence is the only thing that drives aging,” she says. “That would be stupid. If this were the magic bullet, Jan’s mice would live forever, but they don’t.”

Red squirrel searches nut, video


This video shows a red squirrel in the garden of the maker of this video, Marike Gerritsen in the Netherlands.

The squirrel is looking for a nut which Ms Gerritsen had hidden in a Chinese lantern lily flower. This plant species, by the way, is originally from South africa, not China.

Pallas’s squirrels in the Netherlands: here.