RSPB demands cash for farmland birds as populations plunge

 Numbers of yellow wagtails, a farmland generalist, have fallen by 65 per cent since 1970

Numbers of yellow wagtails, a farmland generalist, have fallen by 65 per cent since 1970

Wildlife-friendly farming schemes should be given more Government funding, conservation groups have said, after the latest wild bird survey showed continuing declines.

Farmland specialist species were particularly badly hit, falling to a new low 56 per cent below the 1970 figure.

That prompted the RSPB to demand more work to help the survival of specialist species, building on work that has seen the rate of decline slow in recent years, to nine percent since 2007.

But that still puts them worst off against woodland or marine cousins, with the overall picture showing a 12 percent decline in the longer-term, slowing to 5 per cent since 2007. Continue reading

Incredible Technology: How to Bring Extinct Animals Back to Life

This photo shows a museum worker inspecting a replica of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), a relative of modern elephants that went extinct 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. Scientists in Russia and South Korea have embarked on an ambitious project to try to create a living specimen using the DNA-storing nucleus of a preserved mammoth cell and an Asian elephant egg. Credit: Photo by Jonathan S. Blair/National Geographic

This photo shows a museum worker inspecting a replica of a woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), a relative of modern elephants that went extinct 3,000 to 10,000 years ago. Scientists in Russia and South Korea have embarked on an ambitious project to try to create a living specimen using the DNA-storing nucleus of a preserved mammoth cell and an Asian elephant egg. Credit: Photo by Jonathan S. Blair/National Geographic

The passenger pigeon, the dodo and the woolly mammoth are just a few of the species wiped off the Earth by changing environments and human activities.

Now, advances in biotechnology could enable scientists to bring extinct animals back from the grave. But critics argue the practice would only hinder conservation efforts, by resurrecting creatures that could not survive in the wild.

First popularized by Michael Crichton’s novel “Jurassic Park,” the process of de-extinction has become more than a sci-fi concept. In 2003, biologists brought back a Pyrenean ibex by making a clone of frozen tissues harvested from the last of these goats. The clone died within minutes of its birth due to a lung deformity, but the experiment proved de-extinction was possible.

“We can use some of these techniques to actually help endangered species improve their long-term viability,” said ecologist Stanley Temple of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Where it gets controversial is when we start talking about species that have been extinct for a very long period of time,” Temple said.

Reviving the passenger pigeon

The passenger pigeon filled the skies of North America in flocks of millions during the 19th century. But hunting and habitat destruction steered the birds to extinction. The world’s last passenger pigeon, Martha, died in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio.

But what if scientists could bring them back? Writer and environmentalist Stewart Brand, founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, and his wife Ryan Phelan, founder of the genetics company DNA Direct, wondered if it were possible. Working with Harvard biologist George Church, they figured out a possible way to revive passenger pigeons.

You can’t simply clone a passenger pigeon museum specimen, because they no longer have fully intact genomes. But there could be another way: Using fragments of the passenger pigeon DNA, scientists could synthesize the genes for certain traits and splice the genes together into the genome of a rock pigeon.

The cells containing the passenger pigeon DNA could be transformed into cells that produce eggs and sperm, which could be injected into rock pigeon eggs. The pigeons that hatched would be rock pigeons, but their offspring would resemble passenger pigeons. Scientists could then breed these birds and select for specific traits, as a dog breeder might. Eventually the resulting offspring would appear very much like the passenger pigeon.

But that’s not the only extinct animal scientists have their sights on reviving.

Woolly mammoths next?

Other scientists dream of bringing back a beast that roamed the Earth millions of years ago: the woolly mammoth. Well-preserved mammoths have been dug out of the Siberian tundra containing bone marrow, skin, hair and fat. If a living mammoth cell were found, it could be grown in a lab and coaxed to form an embryo. The embryo could be implanted into the closest living relative of mammoths, an elephant, which would give birth to a baby mammoth.

Finding a living mammoth cell is very unlikely. But South Korean biomedical engineer Insung Hwang hopes to find just a cell nucleus and produce a clone from it, like Dolly the sheep. The nucleus would be implanted into an elephant egg whose nucleus had been removed. But this is no easy feat — no one has yet successfully harvested an elephant egg.

The challenges aren’t trifling. Even if researchers succeed in creating a mammoth, passenger pigeon or other extinct creature, it has to survive in the wild. This means having the right food and habitat, and evading predators — especially humans.

Conservation controversy

Critics of de-extinction say reviving extinct animals would do more harm to conservation efforts than good.

“I don’t think it has any merit at all,” said conservation ecologist Stuart Pimm of Duke University, N.C. “It totally ignores the very practical realities of what conservation is about.”

The prospect of bringing species back from extinction would lead Congress to support the destruction of natural habitats, because animals that go extinct could be revived in a lab, Pimm told LiveScience.

Most species are going extinct in tropical forests, Pimm said. Saving a species through de-extinction when humans are burning forests and destroying native communities is a joke, he said.

Biologist David Ehrenfeld of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, agrees de-extinction would impede conservation. “It’s very negative, very expensive and not going to achieve any conservation goal as far as I can see,” Ehrenfeld said.

For example, the passenger pigeon was a very social bird known to form flocks of millions. When their numbers dwindled to a few thousand, the birds stopped breeding, Ehrenfeld told LiveScience. De-extinction methods would produce just a handful of birds, so “who’s to say they would reproduce?” he said.

What’s more, the pigeons that raised them would be a different species, with differing mothering techniques. “The environment is different in every respect,” Ehrenfeld said.

Temple took a more moderate view. “If we’re going to try to do this seriously, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest that the early attempts have a high probability of success,” he said.

Resurrecting a creature like the passenger pigeon or woolly mammoth has a strong appeal to the public’s imagination, Temple said. “But the species that are often hyped don’t meet those criteria at all,” he said.


RSPB in fracking objection over bird reserve fears

Fracking close to an important wildlife site could disturb birds and current rules are not “robust enough”, the RSPB warned as they lodged an objection to the planned scheme.

The Cuadrilla Resources site in Lancashire  Photo: PA

The Cuadrilla Resources site in Lancashire Photo: PA

The charity has lodged a letter of objection with Lancashire County Council to proposals by Cuadrilla, which is also facing protests over drilling for oil in Balcombe, West Sussex, for shale gas exploration at a site at Singleton, near Blackpool.

The Lancashire site, where controversial fracking would be used to explore for gas, is close to an internationally important protected area for pink footed geese and whooper swans and could disturb the birds, the RSPB said.

Morecambe Bay special protection area is designated under EU legislation because of its importance as a habitat for a range of breeding and overwintering bird species.
Cuadrilla announced last month it intended to apply for planning permission to frack the existing exploration site at Grange Hill, Singleton.

The RSPB called on Lancashire County Council to ensure Cuadrilla has carried out a full environmental impact assessment before it goes ahead with any work at Singleton.

The wildlife charity is also officially objecting to the plans to explore for oil and gas in Balcombe on the grounds no environmental impact assessment has been carried out there.

And it raised concerns that increasing gas and oil use would undermine efforts to tackle climate change.

Harry Huyton, RSPB head of climate and energy policy, said: “Balcombe has hit the headlines as the battleground in the debate over fracking.

“The public there are rightly concerned about the impact this new technology will have on their countryside. These are not just nimbys worried about house prices – there is a very real public disquiet about fracking.

“We have looked closely at the rules in place to police drilling for shale gas and oil, and they are simply not robust enough to ensure that our water, our landscapes and our wildlife are safe.”
Opponents of fracking, in which water and chemicals are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas, fear it could harm water resources, cause small earthquakes and that development of the sites will cause noise and traffic.

But the Government has thrown its weight behind development of shale gas across the country, claiming it will create tens of thousands of jobs, increase the UK’s energy security and could bring down energy prices.

Former energy secretary Lord Howell caused a furore recently when he said fracking should go ahead in the North East because it had “large and uninhabited and desolate areas”, before claiming he had meant the North West.

Mr Huyton said: “Singleton in Lancashire is right in the heart of the North West and is on the doorstep of an area which is home to thousands of geese and swans who will arrive from as far away as Siberia to roost and feed next month and stay for the winter.

“There may not be as many local residents as in Sussex, but this area is protected by European law because it is so valuable for wildlife and Cuadrilla has done nothing to investigate what damage their activities could do to it.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted shale gas exploration should be embraced across the country. But the RSPB has joined other wildlife and environmental groups to urge the Government rethink its shale gas policies.

It was “very difficult to believe” the development of large numbers of sites and wells in northern England would not have an impact on the countryside, Mr Huyton said.
He added: “Fracking is technology largely untested in the UK and we really have no idea what the impact will be on our wildlife.

“We do know, however, that concentrating our resources on extracting fossil fuel from the ground instead of investing in renewable energy threatens to undermine our commitment to avoiding dangerous levels of climate change.”


Wildlife centre ends bird’s suffering

File photo: A seagull pecks at a whale in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The gull was found on the sand by Oppenheimer Estate manager Paul de Swart who had been trying unsuccessfully to catch the bird.

File photo: A seagull pecks at a whale in the southern Atlantic Ocean. The gull was found on the sand by Oppenheimer Estate manager Paul de Swart who had been trying unsuccessfully to catch the bird.

Durban – A Cape gull found on an uMhlanga Beach with an injured wing last week has been put down at the Centre for Rehabilitation of Wildlife (Crow).

The gull was found on the sand by security officer for Milkwood House, Paul de Swart who had been trying unsuccessfully to catch the bird.

He alerted Crow, which sent a team to help.

Crow communications officer Paul Hoyte said they managed to safely catch the injured bird and take him back to the centre for examination and treatment.

This revealed that the bird’s wing was shattered beyond repair.

“The team had to make the difficult decision to end its suffering. Despite this, we would like to thank Paul and his staff for showing such care in helping our local wildlife.

“This gull might not have made it, but with the help of caring people, we will continue to successfully save thousands of other animals in distress,” Hoyte said. – Daily News


Grand Bahama’s rarest bird highlighted at conservation conference in Grenada

grenada1-aGRENADA, West Indies — Dr. Howard Nelson, President of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB), the largest organization devoted to wildlife conservation in the Caribbean, has described the Society’s 19th international meeting in Grenada a resounding success.

The theme of the conference, held recently on the St. George’s University campus on the island of Grenada, was “Bird Conservation in a Changing Climate”.

Dr. Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of the Society, noted that more than 560 species of birds call the Caribbean region home. She also said that the islands provide a critical habitat for hundreds of long-distance migratory bird species that spend the winter in our forests and wetlands or use them as refueling stops en route to their final destinations in Latin America.

Over 200 delegates from 37 countries attended the meeting from across the Americas, Europe, the Caribbean and the Bahamas. The meeting provided an unparalleled opportunity for sharing of information and dialogue of science, management, education and community outreach and engagement needed to conserve Caribbean birds and their habitat.

grenada2-aAmong the many discussions and workshops throughout the week were a variety of subjects like Effects of Climate Change on Biodiversity Conservation, Invasive Species Eradication, Birding and Nature Tourism with a focus on the development of the “Caribbean Birding Trail”, an unprecedented effort lead by the Society to connect many countries, islands and languages in a seamless interpretive trail attracting visitors through birding, history, culture and birds!

Grand Bahama had hosted this conference in 2011 at Pelican Bay Resort and this year in Grenada our island was in the spotlight once again when Zeko McKenzie from Grand Bahama, a biology teacher at the College of the Bahamas, Northern Campus, Freeport, gave a well-received presentation on the “Taxonomic and Conservation Status of the Bahama Nuthatch” one of the rarest and most threatened birds in the Caribbean, only to be found in the Pine forests of Grand Bahama Island.

grenada3-aThis bird was widespread in the 70’s but recent surveys which Zeko conducted together with Professor William Hayes of Loma Linda University, California, suggest that only a few hundred pairs exist.

Among the many sponsors of the conference were: St. George’s University of Grenada, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, London, The Association for the Conservation of Threatened Parrots, Berlin, U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, Bermuda Audubon Society and Grand Bahama Nature Tours, corporate sponsor of Zeko McKenzie.

grenada4-aPhoto 1: Erika Gates, Dr. Howard Nelson, President of SCSCB, Carolyn Wardle, Bahamas Outdoors, Zeko McKenzie, Biologist, Dr. Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director SCSCB.

Photo 2: St. George’s University campus in Grenada.

Photo 3: Opening ceremony and welcome address by Grenada’s Minister of Tourism, Alexandra Otway-Noel and Senator Simon Steil, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

Photo 4: Zeko presenting the Conservation Status of the Bahama Nuthatch.



Authorities puzzled by paralyzed birds in B.C.’s north

The discovery of several paralyzed crows and ravens in northern B.C. remains a mystery to wildlife officials. Further examinations are underway.

The discovery of several paralyzed crows and ravens in northern B.C. remains a mystery to wildlife officials. Further examinations are underway.

Authorities have ruled out the West Nile virus and avian flu, but are still puzzled why dozens of black birds in the Peace River region were found paralyzed last month.

Necropsies on eight crows and ravens taken from a Dawson Creek wildlife rehabilitation centre proved that they weren’t suffering from any common bird viruses, as previously suspected. However, all were juveniles suffering from broken bones, which a veterinary radiologist will now examine over the next week and a half, according to wildlife veterinarian Helen Schwantje.

“West Nile virus has never been seen north of the North Okanagan in British Columbia and, if you look across the country, it’s not been found that far north at all,” said Schwantje, who works for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. “All we know is that these birds could not fly and could not walk.”

This year might have been “really good for crows,” resulting in more young crows being born and subsequently “getting into trouble” as they grow up, Schwantje theorized.

“Unfortunately with young birds, at this time of year, we weren’t there so we don’t know whether they were recently fledged — just recently left the nest — whether they were pushed out of the nest, whether they fell out of a tree,” she said. “We don’t know.”

Leona Green, who runs the Hillspring Wildlife Rehabilitation facility in Dawson Creek, told The Sun last month that she has received dozens of reports of ravens and crows being found sitting on the ground unable to use their feet since May.

Meanwhile, similar tests on at least 50 black grackles found dead last week in Winnipeg ruled out West Nile and other viruses as responsible for the birds dying, according to the CBC.

The province of B.C. has had a dead bird surveillance program for West Nile virus since 2011, and Schwantje said if anyone sees a rash of dead birds, they can call the provincial hotline at 1-866-431-BIRD (2473).

The virus, which is spread to humans by mosquitoes that bite infected birds, arrived in North America in 1999. It has killed 42 people in Canada since 2002. The last confirmed case of human infection in B.C. was in 2010, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

There were no positive tests in 2011 or last year.