The Big Garden Birdwatch just celebrated its 40th anniversary and is an opportunity for people from every walk of life and age to count the number of birds that visit their gardens, helping the RSPB develop some kind of understanding of exactly how the birds are doing. This year, nearly 500,000 people throughout the UK participated and an astonishing 7.5 million birds were counted.
Last weekend of January
The Big Garden Birdwatch takes place every year on the last weekend in January and the results found that the number one species of bird in the UK continues to be the house sparrow. There were some decreases in sightings of long-tailed tits and wrens, both of which experienced double digit percentage drops after a large number of sightings in 2018. Their populations may have been affected by the cold weather last year known as the Beast from the East, and at this stage it is still to early to say whether this is a single blip or the start of a broad trend.
Working out the winners and losers
Over forty years the Big Garden Birdwatch has told us who the winners and losers are in the world of garden birds. The survey alerted the RSPB to the fact that thrush numbers were falling. The species used to be regularly ranked in the top ten during the seventies but by 2009 their numbers were half those recorded by 1979.
The rankings remain the same
The survey has recorded the good fortunes of some species such as the wood pigeon and goldfinch, whilst also demonstrating the alarming decline of house sparrows and starling. The news for these two species though does seem to be good. The house sparrow continues to remain the number one most commonly seen garden bird with over 1.2 million sightings of the species over the weekend of the Big Garden Birdwatch. Starling came in at second and the blue tit moved into third position.
School children took part
The country’s schoolchildren participated in RSPB’s Big Schools Birdwatch during the first half of Spring term. 60,000 school children participated in a UK-wide survey of birds on school grounds. Blackbirds ended up being the species of bird that most frequently seen with an average of eight per school and was seen in 89 per cent of the schools that participated.
Highlighting the crisis
Over the last half century there has been a crisis with the loss of over 40 million wild birds from the UK. In order to bring the crisis to the public attention RSPB released a special track of birdsong titled ‘Let Nature Sing’. The single contains some of the most recognisable birdsongs that could well disappear forever. It is a complication of beautiful sound recordings of bird songs plus some particularly resonant conservation stories. RSPB wants the public to download, stream and share the single to help it get it in the charts for the first time.
Most people seem to think that wildlife is the enemy of fruit of and vegetable patches. Some species are even considered to be pests. It is however possible and perhaps beneficial to welcome wildlife into your vegetable patch according to WWF. Unfortunately, the UK is one of the world’s most nature depleted countries but harmonious gardening with nature can give species particular to gardens a large helping hand as well as creating wild habitats that not only help endangered species but humans as well.
Connecting with nature
You should leave areas for long grass to grow as well as wild flowers and nettles around the edge of your garden which will serve as shelter and food for insects that benefit the patch like ladybirds, hoverflies and wasps. The wasp is the true friend to the gardener because they eat a wide range of invertebrates that feed on vegetables such as ants, caterpillars and ants.
You could also create a pond that will attract toads and frogs or construct a log pile that hedgehogs will be enticed by. This will encourage them to feed on slugs that may devour young plants. They also feed on beetles, worms and insect pests. Fruit bearing trees and shrubs can serve as both shelter for birds that feed on caterpillars, aphids and other insect that chow down on your greens. A single baby blue tit can consume up to 100 caterpillars every day getting rid of the daily requirement to put plastic nets over brassicas.
Grow different species
A more wildlife-friendly vegetable patch obviously means more habitat for wildlife and less work for you. Plus, it acts as a regular food supply putting natural food on the plate without incurring the carbon emissions associated with buying from the supermarket. There are a number of things you can do to get started. Bush tomatoes are easier for example than other tomatoes. There are varieties of salad leave can be sown easily in the ground or pots and harvested if kept well-watered. Courgettes are the easiest crop to grow and purple sprouting broccoli takes a while to harvest but worth the effort.
Oxfam is concerned that there could be a resurgence in the world’s worst outbreak of cholera with aid agencies unable to reach approximately 40,000 people believed to be affected by the disease. Conflict and constraints placed on agencies seeking access such as check points and permits that warring parties have imposed have made it next to impossible to reach areas that have been affected. The arrival of the rainy season will mean the disease will spread as a result of flooding and contaminated water.
Worst outbreak on human history
During the final couple of weeks of March roughly 2,500 cases of cholera were being reported daily up from about 1,000 in the previous month. That is a 1,000 per cent increase from the same time period in the previous year. Since the outbreak began three years ago, more than 3,000 people have died. When the cholera epidemic reached its height a year later, 7,000 new cases were being reported daily and the outbreak was described by the WHO as the worst in human history.
Oxfam’s representative in Yemen says the people of the country have already endured the outbreak of this disease set against the back drop of a four-year-old conflict and the collapse of Yemen’s economy. Oxfam says this disease shouldn’t spread throughout the country again and continue to cause more unnecessary deaths. The organisation says the international community should ensure that agencies get safe and unfettered access to deliver humanitarian aid to people throughout the country.
Aid agencies cannot reach people
So far this year an estimated 195,000 people are believed to have contracted cholera and of them, 38,000 are in locations that aid agencies have difficulties reaching. Oxfam has been forced to relocate one of its provincial offices after the fighting reached the outskirts of the city it was located in. The office was being used to deliver clean water and money to buy food for more than half a million people living in the surrounding districts.
The fighting continues
The fighting continues across multiple fronts throughout the country including three governates where the majority of the deaths associated with the disease have been reported. The conflict and restricted access means 14 million people in Yemen face the prospect of famine with more than half of all children in the country aged between six months and five years chronically malnourished. In Yemen, less than half of the health care facilities are functional and many people cannot afford to pay for treatment Oxfam and its partners on the ground are working hard to prevent the spread of cholera in the three governates where the disease in most widespread.
The cost of polluting the world’s oceans is in the billions of dollars every year in terms of damaged and lost resources according to the latest research. Plastic pollution negatively affects fisheries, recreational activities and global well being. It is also estimated that the benefit lost from the decline humans receive from the oceans is between 1-5 per cent and the cost of such benefits of the marine ecosystem could be up to an astonishing $2.5 trillion a year according to a study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.
Millions of tons enter the ocean every year
It is thought that the waste generated by plastic costs as much as $33,000 per ton in reduced environmental value and about 8 million tons of plastic enter into the world’s oceans each year. Dr Nicola Beaumont who led the study says the study was the first to investigate the social and economic impact of plastics in the oceans. She adds the calculation was the first attempt at pricing plastic.
The true cost could be much higher
More research is required to refine the calculation but Dr Beaumont says the team is convinced the current figure is an underestimate of the real cost to global society. This is because they do not account for the direct and indirect impacts on the tourism, transport, fisheries health and human health. Plastic pollution is a global problem and can be found everywhere from the most populated coastlines on the planet to the most remote.
The creation of invasive species
Plastic negatively impacts all species from zooplankton all the way up to mammals and birds. Plastic continues to float for decades and can’t travel more than 3,000 kilometres from its point origin. The result is the creation of new habitats for bacteria and algae which risk the spread of invasive species and diseases. Experts say the research is the first attempt at showing the holistic impact of plastic pollution. There has been a massive increase in US plastic waste shipments to developing countries after China banned imports.
By putting a value on the huge tangible and intangible costs that are associated with marine plastic waste, it becomes possible to develop a strategy for devoting resources and attention to protecting the oceans do that future generations can enjoy them in the same way we have. Dr Beaumont says she hopes the study would push services to streamline themselves and address the problem of plastic pollution by making better informed decisions.
The cost of recycling is minimal
It costs just a few hundred dollars to recycle a ton of plastic compared to the thousands of dollars into the marine environment. Carbon is now traded in order to price it and cut the amount that is released into the atmosphere. This means it should be possible to do the same thing with plastic. The authors of the study hope that the results will highlight the reality of the problem that is plastic pollution in human terms.
The European Diploma for Protected Areas has been granted since 1965 and is a very prestigious international award issued by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The award is given in recognition of areas considered to be of exceptional importance for Europe in order to preserve biological, geological, and landscape diversity that have been managed in an exemplary way. Minsmere is one of only five sites in the United Kingdom to have received the award.
Five sites in the UK
The other areas in the UK that have received the award include the Peak District National Park, Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Purbeck Heritage Coast and Fair Isle National Scenic Area. According to the Council of Europe, Minsmere is considered to be the UK’s most important bird reserve. The European Diploma is not a perpetual award and the sites that have received the award continue to be monitored and are subject to regular renewal. Minsmere has had its diploma renewed on four occasions since 1979.
The Council of Europe is concerned
In a report issued in June last year Minsmere an expert from the Council of Europe highlighted that the council was worried by the uncertain information in relation to the environmental impact of the prospect of a third reactor at the Sizewell nuclear power plant. For that reason, the most recent renewal for Minswere had a condition attached to it. Adam Rowlands a spokesperson for the RSPB says the caveat highlights how important it is for EDF Energy to provide detailed information on the expected impact of the new reactor at Sizewell.
Mr Rowlands says the conditions that have been attached to the draft renewal this year have been designed to send a clear signal. That the value to biodiversity and nature attached to Minsemere should not be taken for granted and depends on how we it is looked after. If EDF cannot make sure there any adverse impacts from Sizewell cannot be mitigated adequately the ability to ensure Minsmere remains valuable for nature at its present high level may become compromised. RSPB says it has no intention of allowing that to happen. EDF says it is consulting with the RSPB and claims it will take into consideration any feedback before they publish their final plan.
WWF has partnered with Sky Ocean Rescue to launch an autonomous marine robot that will be used to clear the North Devon Ilfracombe harbour of waste. The vehicle is known as The WasteShark and will travel up to 5 kilometres in the water where it will scoop up pollutants such as oils, microplastics and plastics. If WasteShark is used five days every week it has the ability to scoop up more than 15 tonnes of waster every year and the plastic it collects can be recycled.
This is the first time an autonomous robot is being used in the UK, though WasteShark has been successfully deployed in five countries. The robot was developed and built by RanMarine Technology and is the first autonomous marine robot with the capability to consume waste and collect data. The robot has been designed not to impact the environment as is navigates its way through the water. It emits zero carbon, noise or light pollution and does not pose any threat to wildlife.
Plastic pollution is catastrophic on wildlife
Eight million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the ocean every year and that is nothing short of catastrophic for wildlife. 90 per cent of the planet’s seabirds have plastic pieces contained in their stomachs. The work WWF is doing with Sky Ocean will improve the health of the seas around the UK. This also includes Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) which despite their official designation as being environmentally important faces a number of threats from issues such as plastic pollution.
Marine Protected Area
Ilfracombe Harbour is located within an MPA that serves as home to a diverse range of species and boasts some of the most beautiful and incredible wildlife in the UK. This includes grey seals, pink sea fan corals. The effort to collect all the waste that pollutes the harbour will help prevent the immediate area from being damaged and being taken out to sea which would pose a threat to the important wildlife in the surrounding MPA’s.
The WasteShark has the ability to do its job for up to eight hours on a single charge. It runs on GPS which allows it to navigate towards hotspots where waste collects and operators can program and monitor its path remotely. Not only does the autonomous robot remove waste, but the WasteShark is able to collect important data about the marine environment.
Oxfam and its partner the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) are urging donors and governments to give more money to provide assistance to Syrians trying to recover from eight years of civil war and who are trying to rebuild their lives. Both agencies have also urged the Syrian Government to allow humanitarian organisations into the country and help everyone that is need. This comes against the backdrop of the civil war entering its eighth year.
Conflicting starting to subside
Whilst the conflict in most parts of Syria has started to subside or ended, there are still 11.7 million people who depend on humanitarian aid with almost two thirds living in government-controlled areas. Many schools and homes have been obliterated, entire neighbourhood have no access to sanitation or clean running water and people are unable to provide for their families. More than 80 per cent of the population now live below the poverty line and over two million children are not in school according to UN statistics.
Money is urgently needed
Despite the scale of the problems faced by the people of Syria, governments and donors do not seem to want to fund projects they think will be contributing towards rebuilding Syria, especially in parts of the country controlled by the government. This means millions of Syrians depend on aid and many of those will be in that position for quite some time to come. A spokesperson for Oxfam, says money is urgently needed to help the millions of Syrians that have had to bear the brunt of brutal and bitter civil war recover. These people aren’t seeking handouts, they want a helping a hand to become self-reliant and rebuild their lives.
Syrian government preventing delivery of aid
The Syrian Government has not made it easy to deliver a helping hand. It has placed many restrictions on access and directly engaging with communities in need. The approvals process is both complex and opaque which makes it very hard for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance to the millions of people in need across the country. A spokesperson for DRC says the needs of the people of Syria should be at the forefront of the response.
Without help people will continue to suffer
Donors should be willing to fund a humanitarian response that covers all parts of Syria so that ordinary people can rebuild their lives with dignity. Simply because control of an area now belongs to the government doesn’t mean people in those areas no longer need help. In order for the people of Syria to recover from all the devastation, money is needed for essential services such as healthcare, education and water. Humanitarian agencies need to have access to deliver these services and without the support ordinary Syrians will continue to suffer well into the future.
Category: Help For Heroes
A military veteran who successfully battled back from two strokes is preparing for a fundraising effort that will raise money for Help for Heroes and another charity. John Owens who served during the first Gulf War says running helped him deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder which he says he experienced following the death of a friend and former comrade.
One of the youngest soldiers to serve
Mr Owens has been nominated for a Soldiering On Awards. He says after his medical discharge from the army, he developed a passion for running which aided him in his recover. Aged only 17 Mr Owens was one of the youngest soldiers to have served in the first Gulf War. During his twenties Mr Owens suffered a stroke without realising and continued with the Royal Highland Fusiliers. A decade later when Mr Owens suffered a second stroke, he understood his military career was over.
Running is therapy
Despite the devastation wreaked by the strokes, Mr Owens was able to recover. He says the running was very therapeutic following the suicide of his best friend in 2016. As a result Mr Owens will be running 1,000 miles this year in memory of his friend whilst he raises money for Help for Heroes and Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland both of which played a vital role in his recovery. His efforts have not gone unnoticed and as a result he has been nominated for awards.
Mr Owens says the nomination itself speaks volumes especially in terms of his own recovery. Although his journey has been challenging he has overcome it and he has his eye on future goals. After leaving the military Mr Owens said he had to open his eyes and step into what can be a very difficult world without the support of the military. Discharge was the end of everything he had ever known and he had to come to terms with the fact that he had overcome major health issue and find a way to move forward.
Category: National Trust
The puffin population living on the remote islands of Northumberland Farne Islands that are cared for by the National Trust is stable according to the results of a survey conducted once every five years. Last year there was speculation that the low numbers on the outlying islands were because of a long, harsh winter and lack of readily available food and there were fears that this could well be the case across the entire island chain.
Fears were unfounded
It now appears that the low numbers initially reported were the result of a robust seal population that resulted in puffin burrows being crushed on the outer islands. On the inner isles though more birds were nesting in response. The results of the survey suggest that the population of puffins has stabilised across the archipelago at around 44,000 pairs, an increase of nine per cent since the previous count which took place in 2013.
A lot of angst
Over the last quarter century, the population has steadily increased and peaked in 2003 before suddenly crashing in 2008. The population has started to slowly recover. Thomas Hendry of the National Trust says initially there was a lot of anxiety following the count on the group of outer islands, however after further investigation and a count of the population on the inner group of islands, the numbers appeared to be much more positive.
National Trust responsible for robust population
Puffins have been successful on Farnes largely as a consequence of the good work done by National Trust rangers who have increased the level of protection of the marine areas surrounding the islands as well as a lack of predators and availability of suitable nesting areas. The big risk is that climate change will eventually put the squeeze on the population in Farnes forcing the birds to travel further to feed as well as increase the number of storms during winter affecting the population at sea. As a result, surveys will now take place annually.
Possible to tackle the challenges faced
Harriet Reid another National Trust ranger who is one of 11 that reside on the islands between March and December says annual monitoring will allow the team to better track numbers against likely causes of population change. It is important that the UK contributes to the global population picture so that experts can better understand and discover what the key factors that affect these birds are and what more can be done to help. If the root cause behind the decline is what is suspected, it is possible to prevent overfishing, cut down on single use plastics as well as reduce dependence on non-renewable energy.
Police are investigating the disappearance of a rare bird of prey and treating it as suspicious. It is believed that the male hen harrier is dead after its satellite tag ceased transmitting a signal in Wiltshire. The chick which has been named Vulcan was one of five that hatched in Northumberland last year that the RSPB tagged. This is the eleventh sudden disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier since last summer RSPB says.
Disappearance is baffling
RSPB says it tracked the movements of the young bird as it made its way from Northumberland down to the Peak District. However, at the start of the year the tag just stopped transmitting South of Calstone Wellington. What is baffling is that neither the remains of the protected birds or any damaged tags have been found. A spokesperson for RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project said Vulcan’s tag had been working just fine, so for it to suddenly cease transmission makes the charity very suspicious that something untoward has happened to him.
Rare species of bird
The hen harrier is one of the rarest species of birds in the UK and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 are protected by law. Unfortunately, they are also the most intensely hunted species of all of UK birds of prey largely because of the threat they pose to free-range fowl and game birds. A spokesperson for the Wiltshire Police said the rural crime team is partnering with the RSPB to try and determine the circumstances.
Hen harrier persecution needs to end
The spokesperson adds that there is no trace of the bird does raise some valid concerns about what happened to it. Gareth Cunningham another spokesperson from the RSPB says the suspicious disappearance of Vulcan is serious cause for concern of the safety of any planned reintroduction of this magnificent species. RSPB says it believes deeply in ending the persecution of hen harriers in order to restore the species population in the UK.