The Wild Flower Page Conserv@tion - the monthly review of wildlife conservation in Britain
The Wild Flower Page
February 2000
The Wild Flower Page


Page 2 

Page 3 

Page 4

GM crops

Books Reviewed

Back Issues

First steps

Finding flowers




Flower links

In touch



Wildlife links


Naturenet: The Ranger's Award


Mating hedge for squirrels in Jersey

Red squirrelThe States of Jersey Government has started to plant more than 16,000 trees and bushes in a diagonal line linking a colony of red squirrels at St Brelade, in the south-west of the island, with another at St Martin, in the north-east.

The imaginative scheme is intended to allow native populations to mix and share their genes. The existing groups are at risk of extinction due to their dwindling territories. 

Red squirrels are not native to Jersey - they were introduced from England and France - but they are much loved locally. The competitive north American grey squirrels have never been introduced but there are now only about 400 red squirrels left. They have suffered from the loss of thousands of trees from Dutch elm disease and the ravages of the great storm of 1987 which destroyed much of the red squirrels' habitat. Remaining woods are too small and fragmented to support colonies of the squirrels. Traditional varieties of trees and hedgerow shrubs have been chosen for the new mating corridor to provide habitats and food supplies.

Louise Magris, the state biologist in charge of the project, said that the corridor was the best way to solve the problem: "We hope that the new tree corridor will secure the future of our red squirrels."

Pioneering purchase spearheads new coastal vision 

The Essex Wildlife Trust is leading a joint venture to purchase Abbotts Hall, a 700 acre arable farm on the Blackwater Estuary near Colchester. The Trust is supported by its national body The Wildlife Trusts and an impressive range of conservation partners.

As global warming leads to rising sea levels around Britain, important habitats such as salt marsh and grazing marsh will be squeezed out. The Essex Trust plans to revert more than 200 acres of arable land back to marshes to support wildfowl like Brent geese which overwinter here, wading birds like redshank and lapwing which nest, and birds of prey like the Hen Harrier. It is a visionary project, of national importance, which, if successful, will link together over 25 kilomteres of Essex coast.

Over 300 acres of Abbotts Hall will remain as arable land. The Trust plans to farm this in as wildlife-friendly way as possible by restoring hedgerows, copses, ponds, ditches and grass strips to show how farmland wildlife and particularly birds like songthrush and skylark, which are in such desperate decline, can flourish alongside profitable arable farming. This will be one of the first of a network of arable farms which The Wildlife Trusts aim to establish in the UK to influence grant aid for other farmers who want to farm in a way which is more environment friendly than the current subsidy systems dictate.

Simon Lyster, Director General of the Wildlife Trusts said "Abbotts Hall will be a national flagship for The Wildlife Trusts as the largest coastal management project we have ever undertaken and it will be the largest area of arable land a Wildlife Trust manages anywhere in the UK".

John Hall, Director of Essex Wildlife Trust said "This is a tremendous opportunity to show habitat restoration on the coast and to show that both farming and wildlife can be supported, but we will need a lot of support from our members, the public and the local community to ensure the potential for wildlife and people at Abbotts Hall is fully realised."

The Essex Wildlife Trust has been able to consider this ambitious project because of the legacy left by the late Joan Elliot and crucially further support is required from public donations to raise the last £60,000 towards the purchase and £170,000 for conservation works.

Essex Wildlife Trust

Coastal defences to protect 2000 acres of Norfolk

A £1.25 million project, the first in a programme to protect coastal wildlife reserves from rising sea levels and more frequent and violent storms, will be constructed at Burnham Overy and Wells on the north Norfolk coast. 

The new defences will mean that occupiers of 52 homes can sleep at night - and so can 10,000 wildfowl and breeding birds, including avocet and brent, pink-footed and white-fronted geese. The 2,175-acre area will benefit from a £1 million central government grant, the first under the revised system which now takes account of the conservation value of endangered areas, under EU rules.

The announcement is seen as a precursor to other schemes which will be needed to protect wildlife reserves, including the Cley-Salthouse area. John Sharpe, the RSPB's conservation officer, said yesterday: "This vital decision sets a precedent that will ensure funding is found for schemes such as the urgently needed Cley-Salthouse sea defences." 

100 Londoners need our help

The London Biodiversity Action Plan was launched recently, with a list of one hundred animals and plants which will need special protection to thrive in the future.

The London Biodiversity Partnership says that the 100 species signify the health and wealth of wildlife in the London region. The list includes not only well known favourites such as the hedgehog, skylark, and water vole but also black redstart, pipistrelle bat, large garden bumblebee, small blue butterfly, and hornet robberfly. 

"Despite huge urban development, London is one of the best cities in the world for wildlife," said Lesley Hilton, chairman of the London Ecology Committee. "However, many species are declining. The London biodiversity action plan will help to manage and protect wildlife so future generations can continue to enjoy nature in the city." 

London is the first British city to have a mayor with a statutory responsibility to draw up a biodiversity action plan. The report is intended to assist the new mayor in meeting his environmental responsibilities under the Greater London Authority Act when he or she takes office. The project also imposes a duty on companies, councils and organisations to take into account the 100 species and their habitats when building roads and railway lines to redevelopment sites. 

Like all great cities, London has a network of lakes, meadows, gardens, derelict land, rail embankments and overgrown cemeteries, which are surprisingly rich in wildlife, with more than 2,100 flowering plants and ferns growing wild. The scarce emerald damselfly can be seen at Rainham marshes and the rare hornet robberfly is found on grazed land along the east Thames corridor. 

Other little-known species found in the capital include the German hairy snail, which grazes on Thames-side rubbish, and London rocket, a plant that was common around the time of the Great Fire and can still, it is believed, be found near the Tower of London, although it was last recorded in 1974.

London Biodiversity Action Plan

Slimbridge restored

A £6 million scheme to renew facilities at one of the world's best-known wild bird centres has turned it back into one of the most popular tourist attractions in the south-west.

The Millennium Commission grant, covering half the cost of the project, enabled the building scheme to be launched. It includes a viewing tower giving views across the reserve to the river Severn and beyond to Wales and the Forest of Dean. It has proved so popular that visitors have to book a place on a tour of the tower to ensure they get to the top. The building uses sustainably sourced timbers, recycled metals and other materials chosen for their energy efficiency and low impact on the environment.

The complex now boasts a spectacular visitor centre, reached by a boardwalk over a lake, a much bigger shop, wildlife art gallery and the Water's Edge restaurant, where local produce is on the menu. A reedbed filtering scheme processes and cleans all water-borne visitor waste and even the electricity is bought from a renewable source.

Trust spokeswoman Claire Warner said: "None of us could believe how smoothly it all went. We have two full-time teachers and schoolchildren can come to study as part of their curriculum.

"But we still have a link with the earlier days of the trust as the original cottage which Sir Peter lived in when he came here in 1946 is still in the grounds and we hope to turn it into a museum ... The response to the project has been overwhelming. Some regular visitors cannot believe the transformation. We are currently working on an official opening in February but we are open now for anyone to come and see what a difference the project has made."

Saving Cannock 

Staffordshire County Council has announced that it will launch a five-year plan to restore Cannock Chase to its former glory in Spring.

The programme, 'Saving Cannock Chase', will cost £725,000, of which £522,000 will come from the National Lottery, the remainder being funded by a partnership of the county council, English Nature and the Countryside Agency. The project has already begun with cutting back the bracken which invaded the Chase during the 20th century and ruined most of its native heathland. Spraying with an approved herbicide has been trialed in the Oldacre Valley and Brindley Heath areas over the past few months and the results of the programme are expected in the Spring, when the project will be launched officially.

Sue Sheppard, project officer for Saving Cannock Chase, said that the country park was Staffordshire's most significant area of heathland and that as such should be preserved. However, she said activities such as farming and forestry as well as the invading bracken were all threats to the traditional landscape. 

"The heathland vegetation on the Chase has been managed since 1974, but there has never been the resources to fully reverse the decline, which is what Saving Cannock Chase aims to do," she said.

Otters at home in Stafford town centre

Following recent evidence of otters living in the centres of Gateshead and Edinburgh (Conserv@tion December 1999), the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust has recorded evidence of otters in Stafford over the past 23 months. The general improvement in river water quality has led to otters returning to town centre waters where they have not been seen for decades.

"Otters are enjoying a recovery at the moment and expanding their range from traditional strongholds in Wales and Shropshire," says Trust Otters & Rivers Project Officer, Nick Mott. "Stafford is extremely significant in terms of otter activity and represents a major focal point as they explore out from the west. The Sow and Penk rivers that drain most of western Staffordshire actually meet up in the town of Stafford before going on to join the River Trent at Shugborough."

"What's exciting is that otters have become resident in the area, using Doxey Marshes to the west and Baswich Meadows to the east as major feeding areas for their night time forays," Nick added.

The Otters & Rivers Project is working in partnership with the Environment Agency and Severn Trent Water to restore stretches of suitable habitat for otters with the aim of providing secure resting and breeding sites along the Sow and Penk river corridors. There is also an opportunity for Stafford Borough Council and its 'Riverscape' project to undertake enhancements for otters, fish species and water voles.

Staffordshire Wildlife Trust

Free trees for Burnley

The 'Forest of Burnley' project is offering trees free to landowners.

The deal is available to anyone able to help the project by providing at least a quarter-acre of land and manage the trees for ten years. "It is an exceptionally good offer and we hope people will join the scheme," said Burnley council's project officer Simon Goff. "We will also organise a Tree Spree later this year to enable householders to plant trees in their gardens."

The initiative is intended to get the Forest back on target in its aim to plant one million trees, which has met setbacks recently.

English Nature has objected to the foresting of 150 acres of North West Water land at Worsthorne. The land concerned is part of the South Pennines Special Protected Area, which is an important bird habitat which EN feels would be damaged by planting. The original £250,000 scheme is likely to be much curtailed by any negotiated solution.

At a 460 acre site at Dunnockshaw the Forest project has spent £20,000 drawing up a major study on the impact the scheme would have on wildlife and the environment, including widespread consultation with bodies such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Forestry Commission. It hopes that 250 acres of the 460 acre site may be planted but this depends on Woodland Grant support and a decision is expected soon.

The Forest scheme, which has already had £1.7million grant support from the Lottery Millennium Fund, has so far planted 275 acres of land - a quarter of a million trees. 

New SSSI for Cleveland 

The latest Site of Special Scientific Interest to be named in Cleveland is one of only two to be listed for its invertebrate importance.

Lovell Hill Pools is the result of mining subsidence. The combination of shallow ponds, swamp vegetation, willow carr and scrub is a rich habitat because it provides sheltered breeding and feeding sites. Dragonflies and damselflies, including the rare Variable Damselfly, are found here.

"Thirteen species of dragonfly may not be unusual for the New Forest but very uncommon if you live in the North-East," says Ken Smith, a consultant with the Industry and Nature Conservation Association, a partnership of industrialists and conservationists on Teesside. "Even so, there are 13 species to be found at the ponds. Several are migrants, but nine species breed there."

"I think there may be one other SSSI in the country designated for the protection of invertebrates. You usually get SSSI's designated for areas which have birds and flowers so this is quite an achievement."

Not all local residents appreciate the area for its invertebrates. Rita Skillcorn, a resident of the nearby village of Dunsdale, near Guisborough, said: "It is a beautiful area and from your window looks the perfect place to have a picnic, but there are always too many flies.''


Northern Ireland birdwatchers can help new web site

A birdwatchers' web site, launched in late 1999, is asking for assistance with the best places to watch birds in Northern Ireland. 

www.birding.uk.com is run by Stella Baylis and Phil Rennett. The site provides information on the best places to watch birds, all over Britain. But Stella and Phil can only run the site in their spare time and are asking for information from other birders in order to complete the site in the shortest possible time. 

"We want to hear from birdwatchers who can provide us with details of the best birding locations in their area," says Phil Rennett. "We're particularly interested in hearing from birders in Northern Ireland, a birding region which is still developing," he added. 

Anybody interested in helping with the site should check out some of the other location reviews and then complete the online location review form with as many details as possible of the major sites in their own area. 

Plastic wrapper will protect fen

The Pollardstown Fen nature reserve is to be protected by wrapping the proposed Kildare bypass in plastic, to prevent dewatering of the sensitive fen.

The £68 million project is dependent on EU funding to provide traffic with an alternative to the notorious Kildare bottleneck. Last year the hydrology of the fen became an issue, delaying implementation of the engineering (Conserv@tion September 1999). The fen at Pollardstown is a rich environment for, among other things, the rare snail Vertigo angustior, and construction will involve draining millions of gallons daily from the water-rich Curragh Aquifer to facilitate the bypass through it and drying-out the fen.

Now 1.5km of the road will be lined with a plastic membrane at an extra cost of at least £5m to prevent any serious de-watering of the Fen and flooding of the motorway. It remains to be seen if the EU will accept the revised plan - the National Roads Authority has been instructed to recommence work but Duchas, the state heritage service, has only reluctantly gone along with the futuristic method.

European study confirms Irish algal pollution

Evidence has been building, over the last few years, for an increasing problem with algal build-up in many of Ireland's best known loughs. Now a major study has confirmed this.

Where modern farming has led to nitrogen runoff into water courses the increase in nutrients in the loughs produces an algal 'bloom', which can lead to poisonous scums. At least one dog was killed last summer by drinking such a fatal bloom.

The Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a European Regional Development Fund study during 1996-98 period. It was coordinated by Dr Andrew Petersen of Cork Institute of Technology. More is now known about the key area of concern, harmful toxins associated with bloom formation, even if the exact environmental conditions for their production still escape scientists.

The most disturbing conclusion is perhaps the ease with which cyanobacteria "achieve plankton dominance" in what are essentially lowland limestone lakes, which account for some of Ireland's most important lakes. "This tendency is endemic," it concludes, "and readily manifested by quite mild levels of eutrophication." In short, with Irish lakes generally there is a strong tendency to bloom formation.


AlderScots alders falling under mystery disease

Scots alders are dying, not from the phytophthora fungus outbreak which is slowly moving up England and Wales (Conserv@tion June 1999), but from a novel form of 'dieback'.

Dr Stephen Hendry, of the Forestry Commission's northern research station, aims to find the cause of the disease, which has become widespread in certain parts of Scotland. Whilst alder is still a common tree, cases are becoming increasingly frequent.

"One of the things we want to find out is just how extensive this is across Scotland, but we already know that locally it can be quite devastating," said Dr Hendry. "In previous outbreaks in certain glens, alders were virtually wiped out by dieback. In the mid 1980s and early 1990s, there were outbreaks of this dieback in many parts of the north and west of Scotland. At that stage, pathologists from the Forestry Commission studied the problem, but did not reach any conclusions about what the cause or causes might be.

"We are examining material from infected trees to see what we can find, but dieback can be a knotty problem to solve: there is often a number of interacting factors which bring about the condition."

The alder is a key species in Scotland's so-called "wet woodlands" close to rivers, lochs and flood plains. It not only sustains its own range of bird and insect species, but it is also vital for the health of rivers. Alder leaves feed a host of stream invertebrates and the shade the trees provide prevent water temperatures from rising too high. The root systems are also useful for reinforcing river banks and stopping erosion.

Riverbank owners are being especially encouraged to examine trees for dieback as the widespread loss of alders would seriously affect the stock of fish in their rivers. The disease causes the crown and uppermost branches of the tree to wither and die. Some trees are able to produce new growth from their roots, but in many cases it proves fatal.

Draft National Park bill launched for Scotland

Scottish Transport and Environment Minister Sarah Boyack has announced the consultation period for the first National Park in Scotland, in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

"Scotland has come late to the concept of National Parks, but this has given us the benefit of learning from others - both from the success stories and from the mistakes," said Ms Boyack, speaking at The Trossach's Discovery Centre at Aberfoyle. "Initiatives in other countries have demonstrated to us just how communities benefit through balanced approaches to National Park development. We are now in the enviable position of being able to develop our own way forward which reflects both local and national needs, learning from the experience of countries throughout the world." 

The National Parks (Scotland) Bill will provide the enabling power to set up National Parks in Scotland. Each park will be set up through secondary legislation which will specify the boundary of the park. The provisions are wide-ranging, conferring power on a National Park authority to charge for services, provide advice, conduct research, make grants, acquire land either by agreement or compulsorily with the authorisation of The Scottish Ministers, pursue private legislation, and make byelaws and management rules.

The boundaries of a National Park are to be set to define an area 'of outstanding national importance because of its natural heritage or the combination of its natural and cultural heritage,' where 'the natural resources of the area have a distinctive character and a coherent identity.' The aims of designation are: 

  • to conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the area, 
  • to promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the area, 
  • to promote understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the area by the public, 
  • to promote economic and social development of the area. 
"I look to Scotland's National Parks to become living, working examples of the true integration of the rural economy with the conservation of natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of all Scotland's people," said Ms Boyack.

Consultation on the National Parks (Scotland) Bill

Cairngorms SPA extension

Scottish Natural Heritage is carrying out consultations on behalf of the Scottish Executive to extend the existing Cairngorms SPA to include the pinewood at Glenmore Forest (1,430 hectares) and a further 50 hectares of ground on the western slopes of Fiacaill a' Choire Chais.

"The Cairngorms SPA was established in 1997," says SNH's area officer in the Cairngorms, Eileen Stuart. "The pinewood at Glenmore Forest supports important populations of the Scottish crossbill and Capercaillie. These species are listed under the EC Wild Birds Directive, so it is appropriate for this area to be included in the SPA. Also, The western slopes of Fiacaill a' Choire Chais are used regularly by foraging raptors, such as golden eagle, peregrine and merlin which means this area also qualifies for protection under the Directive."

The three month consultation on the proposed extension of the Cairngorms SPA closes on 24 March 2000. If classified, the extended SPA will form part of Natura 2000, the network of sites across the EU that support vulnerable populations of wild birds, habitats and other species.

The existing Cairngorms SPA is a large upland site in north-east Scotland extending over 49,000 hectares. It is of outstanding importance for its Caledonian pine forest, moorland and montane plateaux and supports a range of bird species (Scottish crossbill, Golden eagle, Peregrine, Merlin, Osprey, Capercaillie and Dotterel).

Loch Lomond pollution "disastrous"

A recent report into pollution of Loch Lomond has called for a major study to assess the problem.

Recently there has been a rapid increase in algal blooms in the Loch, which indicate a move towards more eutrophic conditions. "The impact of algal blooms in Loch Lomond is hard to overstate," says the report, by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. "The tourist industry in the area depends on the natural beauty of the loch. The newly-formed national park centres on the loch and its wildlife interest. The wildlife includes several unique or rare species and significant areas of the catchment are designated by Scottish Natural Heritage."

There are fears that a serious deterioration in water quality could disrupt the household supply system and damage rare fish species, such as powan and lamprey. The rare, eel-like lamprey is protected in the Endrick Water and around islands in the loch, which have collectively been designated a special area of conservation. There are also a number of sites of special scientific interest in the area.

Dr Richard Dixon, head of research at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said it would be "disastrous" for the environment, the local economy and the tourism industry if Loch Lomond was allowed to deteriorate. "Loch Lomond is the centrepiece of the national park plans and the centrepiece of the Scottish tourist industry. Sepa has identified an urgent problem and set up a task force to deal with it. In their own words, it is impossible to overstate how important it is to get this right."

Alien crayfish threatens resurgent salmon

An American alien is threatening the renaissance of the Clyde as a salmon river. The North American signal crayfish has become established in the upper Clyde at Elvanfoot, Lanarkshire. The population is thought to number several hundred.

The statutory agencies, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), have been investigating the danger to fish stocks. The crayfish is notoriously active and is likely to spread at a rate of one kilometre each year. 

"There is concern that the voraciously omnivorous signal crayfish may pose a serious threat to native freshwater flora and fauna, including fish stocks. In addition, their burrowing activities can cause extensive damage to river banks," says the Sepa report. It holds out little hope for the native residents of the Clyde: "SNH's view is that the population is now too well established to consider total eradication and that attempting to control numbers would be difficult to justify on cost grounds. It therefore seems inevitable that the species will spread throughout the Clyde with time." 

SNH freshwater biologist Dr Willie Duncan said: "The reason for having a look at this was to determine if it was feasible to mount any eradication measures, but the work has revealed that is not possible. Once the genie is out of the bottle and they become established, it is virtually impossible to have any meaningful control or eradication measures."

Uist invaders - now it's hedgehogs!

The seemingly unstoppable spread of north American mink in the Western Isles has been news for months (Conserv@tion July, August, November 1999 and January 2000) , endangering the special bird life of the area, but now it's another, less notorious, foreigner which threatens the wading birds of the Isles.

Research carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has shown that a big decline in the number of wading birds in the islands is attributable largely to egg predation by hedgehogs. It is feared that if action is not taken hedgehogs will outnumber some species of bird in the Uists within a few years. Just four hedgehogs were introduced to the southern end of South Uist as recently as 1974 and a further three in 1975. There are now thought to be about 5,000 adults which have invaded large parts of the machair areas.

A £200,000 project will reduce the numbers of hedgehogs in bird areas. Whilst mink will be ruthlessly hunted down and killed, the RSPB and SNH aim to create 'exclusion zones' for birds by extending hedgehog-free areas as a practical conservation measure. In 1983 the Uists and Benbecula were home to about 17,000 pairs of breeding waders, including dunlin, ringed plover, redshank, snipe, oystercatcher and lapwing. However, by 1995 the populations had shown a large decline. Ringed plover showed a 57 per cent drop, dunlin 63 per cent, snipe 43 per cent and redshank 40 per cent.

A previous study of 74 nests suggested that nearly seven per cent had lost eggs or chicks to hedgehogs, while up to 11 per cent of nests on uncultivated machair were considered lost to the animals.


Ramsey IslandRamsey rats threaten birds 

The rats on Ramsey Island, the tiny nature reserve off the west coast of Pembrokeshire, have been thriving - so much so that the RSPB has decided that their time has come. RSPB volunteers have laid out more than 1,200 poison stations around the island in an eradicationprogramme. The poison stations, designed to put no other creature at risk, will be checked every day for at least three months. 

It is believed that the Ramsey rats came ashore from ships wrecked there two centuries ago. They were no threat to the birds in the past and when farming on Ramsey ceased in the 1960's they began to decline, but when the RSPB bought the islans two years ago mixed farming was reintroduced to support the birds and the rats have prospered. 

"Unfortunately along with the farming came the return of the rats too," said Ian Bullock, leading the volunteers. "The rats are now more numerous than they have ever been. It's got to such a state that they are posing a serious problem to the birds." 

The rats nest in the same burrows as the famous Manx shearwaters and eat eggs and chicks. Ramsey has rats and just 1,000 shearwaters; Skomer, a few miles south, has no rats and 100,000 pairs of Manx shearwaters and colonies of puffins. "It's a very daunting but also very exciting project," said Mr Bullock. 

"The biggest single contribution we can make to the island's ecology is to get rid of the rat. It does not belong here. If we manage to eradicate it, we hope the island can then return to its former rich, natural glory."

Turbines threaten black grouse

The black grouse is probably the most-threatened bird in Wales. It has suffered a dramatic fall in numbers in Wales, causing the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to launch a £500,000 rescue scheme. 

Now plans for a wind-farm in Denbighshire put at risk this investment. Borders Wind Ltd of Northumberland has applied for permission to place 33 wind turbines on Tir Mostyn and Foel Goch, near Denbigh. The towers would stand 164ft tall to their hubs and hold aloft blades of more than 150ft diameter, with access tracks and a substation building. Members of the public have until the end of February to express their views on the proposal. 

"The black grouse is the bird which is probably in the worst position in Wales, alongside the lapwing," said Tony Prater, conservation manager for RSPB Cymru. "Between the mid-1980s and 1997 the numbers of black grouse in Wales declined by over 50 per cent. It's a bird on a very precarious edge. The ones that breed best tend to be on the Denbigh Moors. When we're talking about the wind farm affecting several pairs in this area, that's certainly of importance." 

"One of the black grouse sites includes the area around this wind farm and we're very concerned about the implications for the birds on this site."

He said the noise emitted by the turbines would be low but could be enough to disrupt the birds' unusual mating rituals. "They display by making a low bubbling noise. We feel the noise from the wind farm would cause a significant disruption of their breeding." 


Your emails are welcome. Please write to editor@wharfe.demon.co.uk