Weekly Roundup 14/12/14

In a week where the UK has been braced for a weatherbomb which brought disruptive weather and  inconceivably large waves to the Scottish coastline, the world of conservation has also been battered by many bleak news stories this week. If you missed the Biodiversity: Life Status Report, the disappearance of puffins, or the latest developments in the badger cull then this is the place to catch up.


Good Year for Summer Breeders

The British Trust for Ornithology have released data showing that the country’s generally settled and warm spring and summer has allowed our breeding birds a respite. 

Poor weather in 2012 and 2013 have seen population numbers struggle for summer breeders, however 2014 seems to have produced the perfect weather conditions for many species to bounceback. Many species laid their eggs a few weeks earlier than usual due to the warmer spring conditions and as the mild conditions continued into summer many songbirds produced more offspring than normal.

Not only were species gifted with better breeding weather, but also easier access to food. Voles have been abundant in 2014 and this has allowed birds of prey such as the tawny owl to have the most productive breeding season on record, with species producing up to 40% more young than usual.

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Disappearing Puffins

Winter storms have caused around 5,000 puffins usually found on the Pembrokeshire Coast to have died. The storms last winter brought prolonged gale force winds and swells which made it harder for the birds to catch enough fish to survive.

Unfortunately the winter storms have also had an affect on the breeding of the puffins. The birds appear to be breeding later than normal with chicks hatching weeks after they usually would.  The chicks are also being fed only a third of what they were in 2013.

Despite this bleak outlook it is believed that the puffin populations can recover. Sea birds are very resilient and populations can bounce back very quickly after mass decreases, therefore it is believed that as long as there is no repeat of last winter soon the population will be able to recover.

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Wales Gets First Marine Conservation Zone

Despite suffering a bleak winter last year, the island of Skomer off the coast of Pembrokeshire has been designated as a Marine Conservation Zone; the first in Wales.

Skomer Island is a breeding ground for many rare and endangered birds, including puffins and Manx shearwaters. It is hoped that this new classification will give the species added protection against human activities such as fishing and tourism.

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Badger Cull Developments

Those behind the controversial government badger cull aimed at curbing TB in cattle seem to be aiming for bad press. This week new plans have been released which will ensure the cull meets it’s targets. Targets which thus far the culls have failed to meet.

The next cull will take place in the summer of 2015. This will make it easier to reach the minimum kill targets as easier to kill badger cubs are more abundant in the summer months compared  to the autumn when the culls have previously taken place.

Whilst campaigners have branded the plans as desperate, scientists are warning against the idea. Cubs have less chance of carrying TB so killing them instead of adults will have less impact upon reducing the disease.

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The Fall of Emperor Penguins?

Genetic analysis has shown that Emperor penguins may not be able to handle climate change as well as their more adaptable cousins the Adélie penguins. 

The genetic analysis, undertaken by David Lambert of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia has studied how the two separate populations have changed between warm and cool phases throughout their history. 

Their study showed that during warm periods Adélie penguin populations expanded whilst in comparison Emperor penguin populations stayed consistent. This is likely due to the fact that Adélie penguins nest on ice free ground by building rock nests, whereas Emperor Penguins nest on sea ice. 

With a warming climate, the results of this study paint a potentially bleak outlook for the future of Emperor penguins. However scientists are not sure how the penguins behaviour could change in the short term. For example this year they were seen nesting on ice shelves instead of sea ice for the first time.

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Biodiversity: Life – A Status Report

The scientific journal Nature has released a report on the status of life on Earth, and the outlook is not good. According to their analysis we are marching towards a mass extinction, which will be man-made.

41% of all amphibian species are set to go the way of the dodo. They will be joined by 26% of mammals and 13% of all birds. The cause of this is a multitude of causes, yet the finger of blame is firmly pointed at us; humans. Marine ecosystems are under threat from overfishing and pollution, whilst the spread of agriculture and urbanization is systematically removing species habitats around the globe.

This problem is being exacerbated by changing climates across the globe. Whilst habitat destruction and overfishing can leave a species population weakened, in future decades the threat of climate change can potentially wipe out any surviving members of the population.

The next problem is that we still have huge gaps of knowledge regarding the planets biodiversity. The estimates for how many species there currently are on Earth vary from 2 million to 50 million, the estimates for current rates of extinctions are just as variable. However Nature claims that if there are 5 million animal species disappearing at a rate of 0.72% a year, there will be a mass extinction by 2200.

A mass extinction is when 75% of existing species are lost. This has only happened five times before, most notably the Cretaceous-Jurassic extinction which wiped out the dinosaurs. The journal thus calls for organizations and governments alike to begin an urgent and accurate census of numbers of species on the planet.

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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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