Inspirational wildlife conservation stories from around the UK

In Planet Earth II in 2017, Sir David Attenborough made an impassioned appeal. Surely, we can find room to accommodate the beautiful, fascinating and wonderful diversity of wildlife with whom we share our planet? Can we not develop our cities to accommodate that diversity, and isn't it also to our benefit to do so? It is up to us. We can continue as we pretty much always have, taking more and more of the land to meet our many needs for housing, transport, shopping and leisure, irrespective of what we displace and harm; or we can acknowledge that we are part of a rich and beautiful - and vital - independency of living creatures and give the needs of other species the recognition that we give to those of our own species. We are at a tipping point: we are now inflicting catastrophic harm to many species around the world. England, with its high population density and intensive agriculture, and continued pressure for more housing and development, is suffering from appalling declines in its natural biodiversity, with so many species having declined and continuing to do so, through loss of food and habitat.

Below are links to examples that show that we can act in different ways to live in greater harmony with our wildlife. The actions of individuals do matter, and can make the difference between a species' decline and its survival. We can't, and shouldn't, wait for government to solve these problems for us: it isn't a high national priority.

This is a truly inspirational story of how a small number of people, who took interest in the turtle dove, a species driven to the point of extinction in England, decided to create their own sanctuary for it.

Living with wildlife
A new housing development, Kingsbrook, nearly Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, has been built by the developers in consultation with the RSPB to put nature at the heart of the development. Swift bricks were built into the houses, providing permanent nesting sites for this bird of conservation concern, and the entire development is connected by wildlife meadow, hedge and grassland corridors so that wildlife is provided for and sustained. Why are all our housing developments not built with these provisions?

Thinking of the RSPB, it was action by two women, who campaigned to save birds from the murderous trade in plumes for fashionable women's hats in the 1880s that was the foundation stone for what later became the RSPB. https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/our-history/

There are thought to be fewer than a million hedgehogs left in the UK, when in the 1950s there were an estimated 30 million. They have been the casualties of loss of habitat, intensive farming, being run over (perhaps 100,000 a year), and, some suggest, badger predation (though not everyone agrees with this). Now communities around the country, such as in Dorset and East Yorkshire, are trying to become more hedgehog-friendly, in an attempt to reverse this shocking decline.

The campaigning group Hedgehog Street has just issued a report "The State of British Hedgehogs" (download here) assessing the reasons for the decline in population numbers.

Swifts
Mark and Jane Glanville became aware of swifts in 2005. When painting a bedroom window, Mark noticed a swift "disappear" under a raised roof tile. He began researching swifts and became fascinated by them. He started making his own nesting boxes to put under the eaves of their roof, improving their design over the years. Mark and Jane now have 23 boxes festooned around their house in the summer, and in 2017 had 14 pairs of swifts which succcessfully raise 20 young. Their colony is now the largest known in Bristol. They also do a great deal of work to raise awareness about swifts and the loss of nesting sites in the UK.

Bumblebees
In 2006, Professor Dave Goulson, a Professor of Biology then lecturing at the University of Stirling, established the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. The BBCT aims to provide practical advice and support to improve bumblebee habitat in the UK, and engages with national policy makers (e.g. The National Pollinator Strategy https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-pollinator-strategy-2014-to-2024-implementation-plan), farmers and the public. Bumblebees are in decline in the UK: two species have become extinct and eight others (a third of the remaining species) have suffered large scale declines. This is because of the loss of flower-rich meadows with the post-war advent of intensive farming: 97% of the flower-rich meadows on which bumblebees depend have gone. (See https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/threats-and-pressures/ ). Professor Goulson was also one of four people to work on a project to re-introduce the Short-haired bumblebee (one of those made extinct through loss of habitat in the 1980s) to habitat created for it at Dungeness and Romney Marsh in Kent. Fifty healthy queen bumblebess from Sweden were introduced between 2012 and 2016. Currently the created habitat of 850 hectares has been increased to over 1,300 hectares as the result of the collaboration of sympathetic farmers. Excitingly, several non-target and threatened species of bumblebee are increasing in numbers as a direct result of this work. Evaluation of the success of this project for the target species is currently being carried out. For the full story: https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/short-haired-bumblebee-reintroduction-project/

YACWAG, or Yatton and Congresbury Wildlife Action Group are really inspirational. With the strapline "nature as your neighbour", the group, which set up in 1999 as a charity, has purchased land on Congresbury and Kenn moors to rewild for the benefit of wildlife. Their first field, Ten Acres of Congresbury Moor, was purchased - with a grant fom the Heritage Lottery Fund - in that same year. In the nine years that followed, further 9 fields of varying sizes were purchased to create a large reserve, and in 2017 another two pieces of land were added to this. Their successes are impressive: many species of bird, bat, mammal, reptile and amphibian visit or live in this new sanctuary, and many rare plants flourish there. YACWAG have received SSSI awards from English Nature for management of their reserve.

This butterfly, the largest of the blue butterflies in the UK, became extinct in 1979, under the twin onslaughts of butterfly collecting and loss of habitat through changes in agricultural practice. It has an extraordinary life-cycle, which, at the time of its extinction, was only just beginning to be understood. Thanks to the painstaking work of Jeremy Thomas, then a PhD student and now professor of ecology at Oxford University, the dependence of this butterfly upon a single species of ant was uncovered. It was then observed that this ant was itself becoming rare, and further understood that changes in land use had resulted in a loss of conditions favourable to the ant's survival. Thanks to many years of research, and the subsequent restoration of habitat suitable for both ant and butterfly, the butterfly was able to be re-introduced from a Swedish population in the mid-1980s. Now, it has successfully re-established at a number of carefully managed sites in Devon and Somerset. The Large Blue is declining throughout its range, and is still rare in England, but in the south west of England are now the highest population numbers of this species anywhere.

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