Countryman Diary - July 2009
In a bid to map all of Britain’s birds by the end of 2011, including those that have been introduced from captivity, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) is asking people to tell them about any black swans that they see.
I can do just that… on a visit to Guernsey in early June there was a black swan swimming serenely on the island’s main reservoir.
The black swan was originally introduced to the UK from Australia to brighten up ornamental wildfowl collections. Inevitably, some escaped.
A little smaller than a mute swan, this mainly black bird has a deep red bill with a white band near the tip and when seen in flight has largely white wings, making identification easy.
At the last count in 2003, it was estimated that at least forty-three of these striking birds were at large. Several breeding attempts have been made but it seems that the black hasn’t been able to establish a self sustaining population.
Dawn Balmer, Atlas 2007-11 organiser at BTO, says: “We receive a lot of information from our volunteers about our native birds but we get very little about escaped ones. Collecting this information is important as non-native species can pose a serious threat to our natural biodiversity. So if you see a black swan or any other exotic birds please let us know.”
The black swan is only one of forty-eight species of non-native birds that have bred in the wild in Britain. The BTO is currently undertaking work sponsored by Defra to understand fully the extent of non-native species that are at large in the UK.
To find out more, visit the website www.nonnativespecies.org. Records can be submitted as part of the mapping project at www.birdatlas.net.
Birds of conservation concern
The BTO is asking members of the public to report any sightings of the black swan.
Photo by Michelle Wake
The latest assessment of the status of the UK’s 246 regularly occurring birds — Birds of Conservation Concern 3 — shows fifty-two are now of the highest conservation concern and have been placed on the assessment’s ‘red list’. The red list now includes even more familiar countryside birds, including the cuckoo, lapwing and yellow wagtail, joining other widespread species such as the turtle dove, grey partridge, house sparrow and starling.
Red-listed species now account for more than one-in-five of all the UK’s bird species. This is a far higher proportion than compared to the last assessment in 2002, when forty species were on the most-threatened list.
Amongst the species new to the red list is a suite of birds visiting the UK in summer, notably the cuckoo, wood warbler and tree pipit. These birds are widespread, but rapidly declining, summer visitors to the UK.
The 2009 assessment also contains some good news. Six species — bullfinch, reed bunting, woodlark, quail, Scottish crossbill and stone curlew — have been moved from the 2002 red list to the amber list, largely because of a recovery in their numbers or range, or a better understanding of their populations.
Phoenix from the flames
One year on from a fire which devastated six acres (2.5 ha) of rare heathland at Studland in Dorset, National Trust wardens say it could take up to thirty years for rare wildlife to return to the affected area.
A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), National Nature Reserve and Special Area of Conservation, the 1,850 acre (750 ha) area of heath is one of the few places in Britain where all six of our native reptiles are found, as well as several rare species of birds and invertebrates.
It is feared as many as 500 reptiles, including the endangered sand lizard and smooth snake, were killed either in the fire or eaten by predators as they tried to escape. The bird population was also severely affected with many nests and broods of birds such as the linnet, shelduck and the rare Dartford warbler destroyed.
Angela Peters, Purbeck ecologist for the National Trust, says: “The fire was particularly devastating because the heathland was very mature and a perfect habitat for both birds and reptiles.
“Renewal will take such a long time because the fire occurred in the key growing and breeding season.
“As predicted, aggressive plants like bracken and gorse have done very well from the fire. The area will need to be very carefully managed in the future so that they don’t smother other species needed to attract the diversity of wildlife which previously lived there.”
David Hodd, countryside manager at the trust’s Purbeck Estate, adds: “With long-range weather forecasts predicting a lengthy, hot summer, we are delighted that people will be able to enjoy scenic areas like Studland, as there is still plenty of heathland for people to enjoy. But it is not only on warm days where we need extra vigilance regarding fires.”
Even before June there were several large fires, one on Talbot Heath in Dorset which destroyed twenty-two acres (9 ha) of heathland. Fire also devastated other trust-owned moorland at Marsden Moor, near Huddersfield — an SSSI and Special Protection Area (SPA) bird site — where a massive 200 acres (81 ha) of the 5,000 acre (2,023 ha) site were wiped out. Early reports suggest that this fire was started by a cigarette, despite there being a perceived ‘low risk’ of fire due to low winds and cool days.
A rare slowworm photo
Jane Bywater of Radnorshire snapped this rare photograph of mating slowworms. She tells me: “I was looking for a slowworm to show to my friend’s little girl. I found a slowworm but it didn’t move so got a twig and touched the creature. I said ‘It’s dead’ so lifted it up but then realised that a larger, darker male was holding on to it.”
Scottish wildcat website
In a piece on the Scottish wildcat in last month’s Diary we accidentally missed off the website address. Anyone interested in finding out more should visit www.highlandtiger.com.