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Environment News Round-up: June 2022

Great skua

Our environment news round-up for June begins with the devastating bird flu outbreak affecting seabirds, here and abroad. But there are some nuggets of good news too, with greater marine protection in the offing for five trial areas in England and a boost for the Flow Country’s bid for UNESCO World Heritage status.

Avian Flu Devastating Bird Populations

June’s biggest story was the continuing impact of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) on seabirds in the UK and other North Sea colonies. This comes after a third of the Solway Firth’s wintering population of barnacle geese died last year.

Avian influenza ecology news
Gannets have been one of the hardest hit species so far this summer

By early June it was clear that hundreds, possibly thousands, of birds were dying across Scotland alone. Two of the worst affected species so far are great skua and gannet. With 60% of the world’s great skuas breeding in Scotland, and 46% of breeding gannets, this is extremely worrying. The number of species succumbing, though, is increasing.

Shetland began the month as one of the worst hit locations. As June wore on, reports from sites around the North Sea painted an increasingly bleak picture elsewhere. Bird flu usually disappears in the summer, re-emerging in the autumn and scientists are not sure why this hasn’t happened this summer.

Although bird flu very rarely affects humans, if you find a sick or dead bird, do not touch it. Call the DEFRA helpline on 03459 335577 to notify them of your find.

Greater Protections Planned for Five English Marine Areas

Five areas of sea around the English coast could be in line for greater protections. The Guardian revealed that consultations had begun on a pilot project, creating five highly protected marine areas (HPMAs). These areas would be no-take zones with all fishing, including bottom trawling and dredging, banned completely. Current marine protected areas can still be fished.

This came in the same month that experts working with World Oceans Day revealed that three quarters of the British public think oceans need better protection. They also found that over half of Britons think bottom trawling should be banned completely in marine protected areas.

UK Minister for Scotland Supports UNESCO Flow Country Bid

The Flow Country Partnership’s bid to gain UNESCO World Heritage status for the region has received support from the Scotland Minister, Iain Stewart MP. Following a recent visit, he acknowledged the area’s importance in the fight against climate change, as well as its unique beauty.

Red-throated diver
Red-throated divers are a Flow Country specialty

Caithness and northern Sutherland’s Flow Country is the largest blanket bog system in the world and covers over 400,000 hectares. These peatlands act as a huge carbon sink, trapping over 400 million tonnes of carbon. In addition, the Flow Country is home to an array of rare wildlife including red-throated divers, curlews and hen harriers.

The partnership hopes to submit a full nomination package by the end of 2022. They expect a decision to be made by mid-2024. UNESCO status would give the area a range of benefits, including enhanced environmental protection, increased sustainable tourism and funding for community-led projects.

Latest Breeding Bird Survey Results Published

The joint BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey for 2021 was published this month. This annual survey uses data collected by an army of over 2,500 volunteers to monitor changes in British breeding bird populations. The survey for last year enabled population trends for 118 species to be calculated. This in turn is vital for understanding how to conserve the UK’s bird species.

Breeding Bird Survey results little egrets
Little egret populations have risen by 2380% in the last 25 years

Long-term declines were found in 43 species, including a number of waders. Curlew, redshank and lapwing, for example, showed population decreases of close to 50% over the last 25 years. In contrast, there were increases of 2,380% over the same period for little egrets; a sign of how well this recent colonist has adapted to UK life. The full survey results can be accessed here.

Herring Gulls Nest on Police Car

This story actually broke at the end of May, but it only reached us in June, and it is too much of a classic ‘…and finally’ story not to feature. A pair of herring gulls have chosen the unorthodox nesting site of a police squad car roof in Bridport, Dorset. The car had been unused for long enough to allow the pair to build the nest, wedged up against the blue top lights.

Urban herring gull nest ecology news
Urban herring gulls usually nest on buildings rather than car roofs

Being upholders of the law, the police were well aware that it is illegal to destroy a bird’s nest during the breeding season. Consequently, the car has been cordoned off and is out of action until any young fledge, probably sometime in July. Love them or loathe them, herring gulls are in decline and need all the help they can get, so it is good to see Dorset Police are doing their bit for the species.