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!”