Tuesday 3 June 2014

Wild Days Conservation

Wild Days Conservation

Wild Days Conservation is a new way of learning about and contributing to the conservation of British Wildlife.  They offer comfortable holidays with lovely accommodation and really nice food where you will learn about British Wildlife and get outdoors as part of a team working for wildlife.  On one of their holidays you will learn about landscapes and species, how to shape habitats, and how to survey for signs of some of our most elusive small mammals.  You will then get out there and undertake some of the work, removing invasive plant species, studying the wildlife, and generally having a good time in nature.

To celebrate the return of Springwatch to the BBC this year they are offering a free place on our 2 day taster experience in Dorset, running from Thurs 26th to Saturday 28th June.  You can join them as they collect data for the UK Mammal Atlas project and help to manage the landscape at one of Dorset Wildlife Trust's most beautiful protected areas.

Click on the link and complete the form with 100 words on what inspires you in the British countryside.  Entries must be received by midnight on Sunday 8th June to take part.  They will notify people on 9th June if they have been shortlisted and will invite them for a telephone interview during that week.  The winner will be announced on Wild Days Conservation website on Friday 13th June.

Monday 11 November 2013

David Attenborough at the The Open University - free ecology course

November 2013: Legendry naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough features in the The Open University’s first free, Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), called Introduction to Ecosystems. The six-week course starts on 18 November on the FutureLearn social-learning platform and is aimed at those who are new to the subject.

Sir David features in video case studies used in the course and said: “It’s tremendously important for us all to understand the world we live in and our own place in nature.  I am delighted to play a part in helping The Open University teach people about the delicate balance of our ecosystems.”

Dr David Robinson, who developed the course, said: “Understanding ecosystems transforms our view of the natural world. Those taking this course will discover how organisms are linked together by complex interrelationships, how such links are studied and the adaptations that organisms have to the physical properties of a particular habitat. It’s an exciting development to be able to extend this course free to anyone in the world who wants to learn.”

The course requires no special knowledge and is a commitment of just three hours per week.  Using high-quality video case studies throughout, OU academics illustrate how individual ecosystems function and the impact of humans on the natural world.

Registration is open now, and a trailer of the course is available to view at:

Fossil prehistoric giant toothed platypus discovered in Australia

 November 2013: A giant carnivorous platypus with razor sharp teeth once roamed the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland, Australia, researchers from the University of New South Wales have discovered. Named Obdurodon tharalkooschild it is believed to have lived around 15 million years ago and was about one metre in length, twice the size of its modern day relative the peculiar looking, egg-laying, otter footed, beaver tailed duck-billed platypus. And unlike today’s relation it had functional, sharp teeth, which were used to slice and chew crayfish, frogs and small turtles.

The discovery of the new species’ tooth in a limestone deposit was made by Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and former UNSW Honours student, and Professor Mike Archer and Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, of the UNSW School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences.
 “A new platypus species, even one that is highly incomplete, is a very important aid in developing understanding about these fascinating mammals,” says Rebecca Pian.

 It is believed that, like other platypuses, it was probably a mostly aquatic mammal, and would have lived in and around the freshwater pools in the forests that covered the Riversleigh area millions of years ago.
“Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree of platypuses was a relatively linear one,” says Mike Archer. “Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic.”

The name Obdurodon tharalkooschild derives from the Greek for "lasting tooth" and an Australian folk story about the genus' origin that features a strong-willed female duck who ignored her parents' warnings and was set upon by Bigoon, a water-rat, leading to unusual-looking offspring.

Thursday 24 October 2013

New Government figures chart decline of UK wildlife

Leading wildlife groups have welcomed the publication of new official statistics charting the state of a range of threatened species in the UK.

Today (Thursday October, 24) the Government has unveiled a new indicator for priority species – described by conservationists as the FTSE Index for threatened wildlife. The official statistic uses records dating back 40 years for 210 native species, including birds, bats, moths, butterflies, hares and dormice, to build a picture of the health of our wildlife.

The figures show that priority species have declined on average by 58% since 1970. This echoes the findings of the State of Nature report, launched in May by Sir David Attenborough and 25 wildlife groups.

The list of species included features many of those deemed a priority because of the threats they face, and were chosen to represent wildlife in all four countries of the UK. Some have benefitted from conservation efforts in recent years, such as red kites and greater horseshoe bats, but others, including the high brown fritillary butterfly and the skylark have declined.

The Government has previously published indicators for individual wildlife groups including birds, bats and butterflies – but never before has there been a wider view of our most precious wildlife.

Several wildlife species groups have not been included in the current indicator, such as plants, molluscs and fungi due to the difficulties of recording long-term trends. However the story is the same for these groups – for example conservationists estimate 97% of the UK’s of wild flower meadows have been lost and 1-in-5 of all UK flowering plant species are threatened with extinction.

Richard Gregory, RSPB Head of Species Monitoring, said: “This new indicator is like the FTSE Index for threatened species – and it is showing a steady, and very worrying decline.

“What this new official biodiversity statistic does is act as an indicator of the health of our countryside. Every year the Government will be publishing these figures in the same way that they publish school league tables and crime statistics. We hope they will be a powerful new tool in the fight to halt the loss of our threatened native wildlife.

“These species were chosen mainly because they are under threat. Some of them are safer now than they were 40 years ago because of the hard work of conservationists, volunteers and government agencies – and we must celebrate some fantastic success stories - but the trend is downwards for 70% of the species on this list.

“There is a great deal of wildlife not included in this list including endangered species like the freshwater pearl mussel. We will be working with the Government to ensure data for these species are included in future to build a full picture of the state of our wildlife.”

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said: “The State of Nature report earlier this year showed that 60 per cent of the UK species assessed were in decline, and over one in ten threatened with extinction.  We hope that this official indicator for priority species takes that one step further and ensures that the problems facing our native species are factored into Government decision making.

“But we must remember the unsung heroes here – the legions of skilled amateur nature enthusiasts who have given up their spare time over many years to conduct surveys into everything from bees to basking sharks. Without them this would simply not be possible.”

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Christmas Island, Australia

A random photograph of a crab posted by a tourist on Facebook has resulted in the rediscovery of a species.

“Imagine my surprise at coming eye-to-eye with a critter in cyber-space that eluded me for over twenty-years on the ground,” exclaims Max Orchard, a veteran ranger of Christmas Island National Park when he noticed a striking photograph of the rare White-tripe crab staring back at him from the Christmas Island Tourism Association’s page last week. 

The photograph of a medium-sized, purple-coloured crab scurrying amongst forest foliage near the island’s remote Dolly Beach was snapped earlier this year by tourist Chris Bray, and subsequently posted on the island’s tourism Facebook page. 

Both Bray and the island’s tourism authorities were blissfully unaware of the significance of the photo until Orchard logged onto the site last week.

“It was only on a whim that I checked the Facebook page,” says Orchard, who in over twenty years of fieldwork on the Australian island located 2 600km north-west of Perth, only once caught a fleeting glimpse of the mysterious crab. “I remember vividly - two bright yellow eyes looking at me around a tree trunk in the middle of a rainstorm, but unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me,” laments Orchard.

“The last known specimen was collected in 1989 and it hasn’t been photographed since,” says Orchard, a leading authority on the island’s crabs, having earlier this year published the encyclopaedic “Crabs of Christmas Island” which chronicles the island’s 33 eye-popping crabs, some as big as coconuts.
Bray, a keen photographer, is cock-a-hoop with his discovery. “It was a series of chance events really. Firstly, that I paused to snap the photo of a random crab, secondly that I decided to send it to the island’s tourism Facebook page and finally that Max Orchard, one of a handful of people in the world who would recognise it, just happened to see it,” remarks Bray.

On noticing the Facebook image, Orchard immediately alerted two of the world’s pre-eminent carcinologists [scientists who study crustaceans], Professor Peter Ng of the Raffles Museum of Biological Research in Singapore and Dr Peter Davie of the Queensland Museum. “Both have now confirmed that the critter is in fact the elusive White-Stripe crab (Labuanium vitatum)” exclaims a jubilant Orchard.

“Christmas Island provides critical habitat for the most diverse and abundant land crab fauna on earth. This exciting find reinforces the conservation significance of the island’s biodiversity – it is great news,” declares Mike Misso, Manager of Christmas Island National Park, a spectacular spread of jungle, cliffs, pinnacle fields and beaches which covers over two-thirds of the island.

But the rediscovery of the medium sized crab with a carapace up to 40 mm wide, hasn’t only sent park rangers and scientists in a flap, many of the tropical island’s 1500 residents, many of whom are reliant upon a growing eco-tourism market are abuzz with the news.

“How many places in the world can you go for a holiday, and make a discovery like this,” says Karen Singer, Manager of the Christmas Island Tourism Association, adding, “It’s the sort of stuff, dreams are made of.”
Bray turned to his own Facebook page to boast of his find. 

“It was apparently feared this beautiful and elusive little crab may have become extinct…and now the world’s most eminent carcinologists are extremely happy at the find and are looking to get this critter listed as critically endangered under the ICUN red list… How amazing is that!”

Friday 9 August 2013

How much profit is there is wildlife extinction?

 536 rhino have been killed in poaching incidents in South Africa in the first half of 2013. This year-on-year escalation is unbelievable to most people and appears to be unstoppable. Sensible & decent folk would think that as wildlife numbers decline poaching would logically slow down as there is less profit from fewer animals. 

But are unscrupulous criminal speculators hoarding stockpiles with the anticipation that rhino extinction will make their stockpiles priceless? This is the type of economic advice that morally bankrupt stockbrokers & hedge fund managers would provide to criminals to maximise their profits. These are the same people that wrecked the global economy & the lives of millions of people so its not hard to imagine this scenario.

Here is part of the current debate occuring on Wildlife Conservation Society Linked-In page:

Joe Shelnutt Banking On Extinction - (Mason, Bulte, & Horan, 2012) examined speculator behavior with regard to wildlife commodities such as tiger bones, bear bladders, ivory, and rhino horn. There is evidence that when there are competing supplies between private stores and wild populations, and when speculators collude, an extinction strategy may be optimal. Specifically, they conducted a simulation study and applied the model to the critically endangered black rhino and its conservation.

There was evidence that extensive stockpiles of rhino horn exist. Individuals holding on to these stockpiles while black rhino and other rhino species dwindle due to poaching has the potential to yield significant dividends. As wild rhinos become more rare, horn prices rise and poaching pressures on extant populations increase. The authors postulate that extinction may be and incentive-driven process and that it is exacerbated when agents hold significant horn stockpiles (Mason, et al. 2012). Agents actively engage in the strategic behavior of  “banking on extinction.” Banking on extinction was defined as: the behavior of private parties investing in private stores of renewable resources (including endangered species), hoping that the combination of ill-defined (or enforced) property rights and high prices on consumer markets will deplete in situ stocks in the immediate future (Mason, et al., 2012). In this process, rhino horn, a renewable resource, is converted into a non-renewable resource, able to be stockpiled. With extinction, competition from the wild is eradicated.

The researchers developed a model where there were two kinds of economic agents. 1) The Speculator: possesses a preexisting stockpile of the resource (horn). 2) The Poachers: collect horn under open access, gaining instant profits. An important caveat concerning open access in this paper is that speculators could induce poachers to take horn more rapidly by adding speculator demand to market demand. This hastens the demise of the species (black rhino).

The authors proposed that there are two solution routes to the profitability of banking on extinction: 1) The speculator operates as a traditional non-renewable resource monopolist; 2) The speculator actively participates as a buyer to increase stores while encouraging poaching to drive the species below Minimum Viable Population (MVP) size. The profitability of these two routes depends upon the initial level of private and wild stocks.

At the time of publication, rhino horn was worth approximately $60,000/kg. It was thought that such value justify and compensate for the loss in interest, for stockpiling. Crime syndicates killed more than 800 black rhino between 2009 and 2012 (Mason et al. 2012). The black rhino population level has dropped significantly from the 1970’s when levels were more than 65,000 breeding individuals to 2012 levels of 4,000 to 5,000 total individuals.

I am interested in the escalating incidence of wildlife poaching and it relationship to ecosystem decay, organized crime, nation security, and human/wildlife conflict around the world. I believe the article was very well planned and explored aspects of poaching that most individuals have not given thought to. Exploring how traders in illicit wildlife commodities might collude to maximize profits is a level of economic sophistication few know exists. The general assumption that wildlife poaching occurs at the local level to provide the impoverished with sustenance is being replaced with the reality that highly organized criminal syndicates are using every tool available to extract funds, even if, and in many cases with intent to destroy entire species. Joe

Mason, C. F., Bulte, E. H., & Horan, R. D. (2012). Banking on extinction: endangered species and speculation. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 28(1), 180-192.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

National Marine Fortnight is approaching (27 Jul - 11 Aug)

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said:  “Many people see the sea simply as a huge expanse of water, but under the surface lie habitats every bit as varied as those on land – kelp forests, seagrass meadows, mud plains, rocky reefs, deep-water corals and more. These richly varied habitats support thousands of plants and animals, from sea horses to basking sharks.”

The Big Watch Weekend is a landmark whale and dolphin data collection event on Sat 27 and Sun 28 Jul.  It is the biggest event of its kind to take place along the North Sea coast.  Coastal watches take place to collect vital information about whales and dolphins in this area.  Experts from wildlife and conservation charities, including North Sea Wildlife Trusts, Sea Watch Foundation, MarineLife and ORCA will lead public watches throughout the weekend. Volunteers can set up their own whale watch or join one of the organised watches taking place across the region.  
                                                                             Sea Otter

“We want this year’s National Marine Week to be very much a celebration of the wonderfully varied wildlife we have in our seas.  We want to inspire people to find more to enjoy, more to learn and more to value in the fantastic marine life around our shores,” said Joan Edwards.