Saturday 31 March 2012

S.Africa mulls new trophy hunt rules to fight rhino poaching

South Africa may impose new limits on trophy hunts as it combats a devastating surge in rhino poaching, with 150 killed illegally so far this year, the environment ministry said Thursday.
Big game hunters are allowed to kill a limited number of rhinos every year, with their horns exported as mounted trophies.
But a Thai man was arrested this week and accused of manipulating the system, making bogus trophy hunts to feed the demand for rhino horns in the Asian traditional medicine market.
His was the fourth arrest in an alleged syndicate that hired Thai strippers and prostitutes to pose as hunters and export the horns.
The ministry "will pursue a halt to the issuance of hunting permits to hunters coming from countries that do not have appropriate legislation to monitor whether the trophy is used for the purpose as reflected on the permits," it said in a statement.
The ministry is also in talks with Vietnam's agriculture department on how the countries can work together to address the matter of hunting permits and ways to stop possible abuses.
South Africa has also asked Vietnam "if they could conduct inspections and verify that the white rhinoceros trophies exported from South Africa to Vietnam are still in the possession of the hunters," the statement said.
The animals' distinctive horns are hacked off to be smuggled to the lucrative Asian black market, where the fingernail-like substance is falsely believed to have powerful healing properties.

Maquech Brooches: Living Beetle Jewelry

In Mexico, some art really moves right off the shelves.
Maquech brooches have women swarming to pick up one of the hottest accessories: live beetles covered in small gems that are worn as jewelry. The pet-cessories may seem shocking to some, but they're actually part of a centuries-old tradition that stems from the Mayans.
When the artists glue small, colorful gems onto the bugs, they also frequently add bits of gold trim chain, attaching a clip that can be used to wear the beetle on clothing.
While the unique live-art pieces are steeped in tradition, you might not want to try to bring them back to the United States. According to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth, one woman tried to cross the border from Mexico into Texas while wearing her little brooch friend and ended up getting detained by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement officials. Evidently just because they're bedazzled doesn't mean they aren't still foreign animals. As the station noted, you must have appropriate paperwork to bring a living thing -- including pests -- into the country.

Millions of fat cats and dogs are being 'killed with kindness'

More than a third of dogs (2.9million) are overweight or obese while 25 per cent of cats (3 million) suffer the same problem, according to figures from the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, PDSA.
Overweight pets run the serious risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, and have a lower life expectancy than healthy pets.
But despite the consequences of a poor diet, 90 per cent of dog owners admit to feeding their pets treats such as cheese, crisps, cakes, biscuits, toast and takeaways.
Sean Wensley, PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon, said: “Excess pounds can contribute to a number of serious health conditions and, sadly, it does reduce life expectancy.
“We have found that many owners are unaware that their pets are overweight, which suggests there is widespread misunderstanding about what a healthy-sized pet looks like.

Anglers' fears over killer shrimp on Norfolk Broads

The Broads Authority earlier this month issued a call to water users to help control the spread of the voracious predator dikerogammarus villosus after a few specimens, smaller than a 20p piece, were found at Barton Turf on the edge of Barton Broad.
A working party set up by the authority in co-operation with the Environment Agency and Natural England has now discovered the shrimp in all parts of the broad, along the River Ant and spreading into the River Bure.
John Currie, regional organiser for the Pike Angling Club of Great Britain, said: “We are at the start of something which is going to have an impact on angling and the whole leisure economy.
“We don’t yet know how big that impact will be on the Broads, but we could be in big trouble.”
A spokesman for the Angling Trust described the latest news as a “devastating blow for anglers”.
The authority’s senior ecologist, Andrea Kelly, said the shrimp, which has spread from eastern Europe over the last 15 years, was now top of the Broads Most Wanted list of invasive species threatening its delicate ecosystem.

Six-legged calf wins Swiss hearts

Seven-week-old cow with two extra limbs doing well despite vet's predictions that she would not survive.

A six-legged calf has defied the odds by thriving despite a vet's prediction at birth that it would not survive.
Seven-week-old Lilli is a minor celebrity in her native Switzerland after local media were splashed with images of the calf frolicking in a sunny field.
Farmer Andreas Knutti from Weissenburg, 19 miles south of the capital, Bern, says he couldn't bring himself to euthanise the animal because she was "so full of life".
He told Swiss daily Blick on Thursday that a curve in her spine means that Lilli may never become a normal milk cow.
But Knutti says that if the calf stays healthy she will still be allowed to join the others when they head for alpine pastures this summer.

Scientists Clone 'Survivor' Elm Trees

ScienceDaily (Mar. 29, 2012) — Scientists at the University of Guelph have found a way to successfully clone American elm trees that have survived repeated epidemics of their biggest killer -- Dutch elm disease.

The breakthrough, published March 29 in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research, is the first known use of in vitro culture technology to clone buds of mature American elm trees.
"This research has the potential to bring back the beloved American elm population to North America," said Prof. Praveen Saxena, a plant scientist who worked on the project with Professor Alan Sullivan. Both are from Guelph's Department of Plant Agriculture.
"It may also serve as a model to help propagate and preserve thousands of other endangered plant species at risk of extinction across the globe."
Majestic American elms were among the most popular and recognizable trees in Ontario, lining boulevards and adorning city centres. But more than 95 per cent of the population in Eastern Canada and the United States has now been wiped out by Dutch elm disease.

Man claims attack by lion, saved by a bear

A Paradise man says he is lucky to be alive after an attack by a mountain lion Monday morning.

Robert Biggs, 69, often hikes in the Bean Soup Flat area, which is about a mile and a half above Whisky Flats. He came across a mother bear, a yearling and a newborn, which were about 40 feet from where he was standing.
After watching the bear family for a few minutes he decided to leave them be and turned to walk back up the trail. As he turned, a mountain lion pounced on him grabbing hold of his backpack with all four paws.

"They usually grab hold of your head with all four paws, but my backpack was up above my head and (the mountain lion) grabbed it instead," Biggs said. "It must have been stalking the little bear, but it was on me in seconds."

He wrestled with the cat, striking it in the head with a rock pick. The cat screamed when it was hit with the pick, but didn't let go, Biggs said. Before he knew it, the mother bear came from behind and pounced on the cat, tearing its grip from the backpack.

The bear and the cat battled for about 15 seconds, Biggs said, until the cat finally ran away. The bear went on its way as well. Biggs ended up with bite marks, scratches and bruises to his arm, but was otherwise uninjured.
Biggs, a naturist, has hiked that same trail several times and has seen the mother bear and its cub last spring and fall. He said the encounters with the bears were friendly.

"(The cub) stood up on its hind legs and put its paws up and Igot to play patty-cake with it," he said.

Tyson the vicious swan forces boat users to abandon river

Ready to rumble: Tyson is a fearsome sight as he lands among canoeists on the Grand Union Canal (Picture: SWNS)

The bird – which has a 2.4m (8ft) wingspan – targets rowers, canoeists and even walkers strolling on the river bank. 
Keen kayaker Joe Davies, 20,  capsized after Tyson was pictured  battering him with his huge wings on Tuesday afternoon. 
‘He went for me as I was falling in, which really made me panic,’ he said.

‘I’ve been kayaking on this stretch of canal for five years. I’d heard the  rumours about Tyson but I’ve never seen him before. I won’t be going back.’

Tyson has claimed a 3km (two-mile) section of the Grand Union Canal in Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, while he rears his young. 
Linda Sgoluppi, 34, who lives near the waterway said: ‘He recently forced three canoeists out of the water. Anything that is rowed down the canal he sees as a threat.’

Swans can be particularly territorial during the March to May breeding  season. Tyson may now be moved 80km (50 miles) away to stop the attacks.

Read more:

Most Exe-cellent cash boost for wildlife

Thanks to money from Viridor Credits Environmental Company, through Pennon Environmental Fund, the RSPB has given their top Devon nature reserves at Exminster Marshes and Matford a make-over. 
The money has enabled the RSPB to install new signs and bicycle racks and a new viewing screen that will greatly enhance the reserve and improve the experience for visitors. Located on the National Cycle Route 2, both Exminster and Matford reserves are popular destinations for many casual cyclists, and the provision of cycle racks is both a recognition and appreciation of this.
Sally Mills, RSPB Site Manager on the Exe Estuary said: “As a large open flat landscape it can be difficult to provide people a good visitor experience, when footpaths through the site and poor viewing facilities will disturb the very wildlife people visit the site to see.
“However, the funding has enabled the RSPB to develop a corner of the reserve which provides a new nature trail, linking from the existing public footpath leading to a perfect location for a viewing screen, soon to be installed.”
The provision of a viewing screen in the chosen location, has a reed fringe along its path and leads visitors to a site that provides an opportunity to ‘see into’ the wetland and get good views of the many thousands of wintering birds for which the reserve is specially protected.
Viridor Credits was established in 2001 to distribute money from landfill taxes generated by landfill operator Viridor. The landfill tax is levied on landfill operators for every tonne of waste put into landfill in a bid to encourage higher levels of recycling and waste prevention.  Landfill operators are able to use a percentage of the Landfill Tax to provide funding for environmental bodies, such as Viridor Credits, who can then distribute these funds to qualifying local community projects across the UK. In the ten years of its existence, Viridor Credits has distributed £80million to projects like these.
Lisa Nelson, General Manager of Viridor Credits said: “The RSPB have once again demonstrated their commitment to providing havens for wildlife, as well as quality access for the public to enjoy the wildlife they protect. I am proud that Viridor Credits has helped to support such a scheme” 
Viridor Credits is looking for further projects to fund located within 10 miles of Viridor-managed landfill sites. Community groups can, call 01823 624656, email or write to Viridor Credits Environmental Company, Aintree House, Blackbrook Park Avenue, Taunton, Somerset TA1 2PX for more information.
For more information and to arrange an interview please contact:
Tony Whitehead, RSPB South West Press Officer 01392 453754, 07872 414365,

Elephant makes escape bid from circus in Ireland

An elephant which escaped from a circus in Ireland has been re-captured in Cork but not before she went walkabout in the city centre.
The Indian elephant, called Baby, shocked passers-by when she appeared outside a large shopping centre.
Mark Simpson reports.

Australian developers see red as rare bird foils plans

SYDNEY // One of the world's most endangered birds, the orange-bellied parrot, is becoming famous for the wrong reasons in its native Australia. Not because of its rarity - there are believed to be just 50 individuals left in the wild - but because the tiny, shy bird has foiled a series of multi-million-dollar developments.

A few years ago, the parrot, which conservationists call the OBP, almost stopped a big wind farm being built in Victoria. Last month, it forced the development of a A$50 million (Dh194 million) marina near Melbourne to be put on hold while the federal government assesses its impact on OBP habitat - although no parrots have been spotted in the area for 25 years.
The OBP is a migratory bird, which is unusual for a parrot. It breeds in the Tasmanian wilderness, then flies to the mainland to feed, mainly in the Victorian coastal flats. Its numbers have declined dramatically over the past decade. Habitat degradation, introduced predators and the infertility of many females, possibly the result of inbreeding, have caused the decline.
A ground-feeding bird with a brilliant green, yellow and blue plumage - plus an orange patch - the parrot first achieved notoriety in the 1990s, when proposals to relocate a Victorian chemical plant sparked controversy because the site jeopardised its habitat. The then state premier, Jeff Kennett, branded it a "trumped-up corella". The corella, a type of cockatoo, is common in Australian backyards.
In 2006, the OBP was back in the limelight, after the federal government vetoed a Victorian wind farm amid fears that migrating birds might collide with the turbines. The decision was later reversed. Now Canberra has stepped in again, declaring that the marina expansion at Western Harbour, south-east of Melbourne, could threaten the parrot's survival.

Rare animal-shaped mounds discovered in Peru by MU anthropologist

For more than a century and a half, scientists and tourists have visited massive animal-shaped mounds, such as Serpent Mound in Ohio, created by the indigenous people of North America. But few animal effigy mounds had been found in South America until University of Missouri anthropology professor emeritus Robert Benfer identified numerous earthen animals rising above the coastal plains of Peru, a region already renowned for the Nazca lines, the ruined city of Chan Chan, and other cultural treasures. "The mounds will draw tourists, one day," Benfer said. "Some of them are more than 4,000 years old. Compare that to the effigy mounds of North America, which date to between 400 and 1200 AD. The oldest Peruvian mounds were being built at the same time as the pyramids in Egypt."
Benfer identified the mounds, which range from five meters (16.5 feet) to 400 meters (1,312 feet) long in each of the six valleys he surveyed in coastal Peru. The mounds pre-date ceramics and were probably built using woven baskets to carry and pile up rock and soil.
Like the Nazca lines, which include a series of giant animal outlines drawn on the ground to the south, the animal mounds were best observed from a higher vantage point. Google Earth images of the mounds revealed the shapes of birds, including a giant condor, a 5,000 year-old orca, a duck, and a caiman/puma monster seen in bone and rock carvings from the area.
"The finding of animal effigy mounds where there were none before changes our conception of early Peruvian prehistory," Benfer said. "That they probably represent the Andean zodiac is also a new find. A controversial interpretation of some Nazca figures as representations of the zodiac is supported by these mounds."
Benfer suggested the structures may have been built as terrestrial manifestations of constellations the ancient Peruvians saw in the stars above. The mounds not only represented the stars, they aligned with them. So far, Benfer has found astronomical orientations at every giant mound.

Friday 30 March 2012

Huge Hamsters and Pint-Sized Porcupines Thrive On Islands: Researchers Test 'Island Rule' of Rodent Evolution

ScienceDaily (Mar. 23, 2012) — From miniature elephants to monster mice, and even Hobbit-sized humans, size changes in island animals are well-known to science. Biologists have long believed that large animals evolving on islands tend to get smaller, while small animals tend to get bigger, a generalization they call "the island rule."

A new study by researchers at Duke University and the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in Durham, N.C. puts that old idea to the test in island and mainland rodents.
"Some of the size changes observed in island animals are pretty dramatic," said Paul Durst, a doctoral student at Duke and the lead author of a study appearing in the April issue of The American Naturalist. The fossil remains of dwarf elephants found on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, for example, suggest that they shrunk by more than 90 percent over evolutionary time. Island giants are impressive too -- an extinct group of West Indian rodents known as giant hutias are estimated to have weighed up to 440 pounds, or as much as an American black bear.
But some animals still prove a puzzle. "Large animals like elephants and deer have a pretty consistent pattern. They all tend to get small. But it's more complicated for other animals such as rodents," Durst said.

Bottlenose dolphins: 'Gangs' run society, scientists say

Male bottlenose dolphins organise gang-like alliances - guarding females against other groups and occasionally "changing sides".
A team studying dolphins in Shark Bay, western Australia, say the animals roam hundreds of square kilometres, often encountering other dolphin groups.
The researchers observed the dolphins there over a five-year period, recording their movements.
Dr Richard Connor, a researcher from the US who took part in this study, first began his studies of the Shark Bay dolphins in the early 1980s.
This latest study reveals that these highly intelligent marine mammals live in an "open society". Rather than males guarding a specific territory, groups have what Dr Connor described as a "mosaic of overlapping ranges".
The fact that the dolphins travel in their troops and frequently encounter strangers reveals a great deal about their intelligence, because when one group meets another, the animals have to decide how to respond.
Shark Bay dolphins deal with this by organising themselves into three different types of alliances.
The first is pairs or trios that work together to capture and herd fertile females. "These consortships can last over a month," Dr Connor explained.
In a "second-order alliance", the animals form "teams" of between four and 14 males which mount attacks on other groups to take their females, or to defend against attacks.
In a third level, the dolphins have "friendly relations" between these larger teams; they join forces to form larger dolphin armies, working together to defend their females against other large, aggressive groups.
Read on:;postID=1153991544644509296

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch reveals starling decline

The RSPB's annual wildlife survey has recorded the lowest number of starlings in UK gardens for 30 years.
Since the Big Garden Birdwatch began in 1979, the average number of starlings spotted by participants has dropped from 15 to just three.
Although the species was the number two "most spotted" bird, it was seen in fewer than half of UK gardens.
The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) confirmed that starlings were a "conservation concern".
The RSPB and its partners are currently carrying out research to find out the reasons behind the decline.
As Dr Rob Robinson from the BTO explanied, studies so far point to a decline of traditional, established pastures as a major threat to the birds.
Intensively farmed land, he told BBC Nature, made it more difficult for the birds to find their favourite food - cranefly larvae that live in undisturbed soil.
"These days, farmers are tending to cultivate in short rotations," he explained, "putting a field down to grass for three to five years and heavily fertilising it.
"Another factor... is harvesting efficiency. Thirty years ago, the farmer would leave 1% of grain on the field. But now the harvesting efficiency is 99.9%, which leaves very little for the birds."

Ancient Beluga Whales Enjoyed Warm Waters

An ancient beast related to today's Arctic-loving beluga whales and narwhals seemed to prefer toasty, tropical waters.
Called Bohaskaia monodontoides, the new species of toothed whale lived some 3 million to 4 million years ago during the Pliocene in warm water. Researchers aren't sure why modern belugas have left these tropical destinations and strayed pole-ward, where life would seem to be more difficult.
The fossil had been sitting in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History since its discovery in a mine near Hampton, Va., in 1969. The nearly complete skull represents the only fossilized remains known of the new species. Before it was closely examined, the skull's discoverers loosely identified it as a beluga whale and left it in storage.
In 2010, Jorge Velez-JuarbeSmithsonian pre-doctoral fellow from Howard University, finally took a close look at the skull. He compared it with the skulls of closely related toothed whales, like modern Arctic belugas and narwhals (also called unicorns of the sea for their twisted horn). While the skull shared many features, particularly in the face and snout, with modern toothed whales, the researchers say there are enough unique features to merit its placement in a new genus and species.
"We realized this skull was not something assignable to a beluga, and when we sat down, comparing the fossil side by side with the actual skulls of belugas and narwhals, we found it was a very different animal," study researcher Nicholas Pyenson, of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, said in a statement.
This and a second temperate example of a beluga-related whale indicate that the love of frosty water developed recently in these whales. [Image Gallery: Life at the North Pole]
"The fact is that living belugas and narwhals are found only in the Arctic and sub-Arctic, yet the early fossil record of the monodontids extends well into temperate and tropical regions," Pyenson said. "For evidence of how and when the Arctic adaptations of belugas and narwhals arose we will have to look more recently in time."
Velez-Juarbe said the narwhals and belugas may have changed habitats due to oceanic changes that affected the food chain: Either competition with other animals or the movement of a preferred prey species could have driven them north.  
The new analysis of the whale skull is published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

Vets say dogs, cats turn old halfway through life

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Age may creep up on man, but his best friend gets there at warp speed.
Going from pup to grandpup doesn't leave much prime time under American Veterinary Medical Association labels that cats and small dogs are geriatric at 7 — and large dogs at 6.
But not everyone agrees, and rescuers say those definitions can be a death sentence to older animals in need of homes.
Dr. Emily Pointer, staff internist and medical coordinator at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York, said she considers the last third of life the sunset years.
"That seems fairly crazy," she said of the AMVA designations. "I would never consider a person in their 40s or 50s to be senior."
The AVMA said the oldest cat on record was 34, the oldest dog was 29.
Forget the notion that seven dog years equal one human year, the AVMA said. A 7-year-old dog weighing less than 50 pounds is like a 44- to 47-year-old human; 10 equals 56- to 60-year-old humans; 15 is like a 76- to 83-year-old; and 20 is like a 96- to 105-year-old human, the group said.
Pet health improved in the 1950s and '60s when commercial dog food and vaccinations became popular and spaying and neutering increased, said Stephen Zawistowski, ASPCA executive vice president and science adviser.
Technology has advanced and today's owners are more willing to go the distance for their pets, Pointer said.
"In the past, if your cat was diagnosed with diabetes, the recommendation was probably to euthanize the cat. Now, a lot fewer people are willing to do that because it's a treatable disease," Pointer said.
Kristin Dewey of Los Angeles has an 18-year-old Ragdoll cat named Cokie. He fell from an 80-foot palm tree 16 years ago and seemed OK until four years ago when something temporarily paralyzed him and left him incontinent.
"Indoor-only cats that are loved and treated like family start to get old around 15 but can still live good lives until 19 or more. They may be a little creaky and have some health issues, but so do we all," Dewey said.
Pointer agreed: "Well-loved pets live longer than unloved pets."
"We find that most dogs become geriatric after age 12, and that at 12-ish they are like humans at 65," said Judith Piper, founder and executive director of the rescue group Old Dog Haven in Lake Stevens, Wash.
Most shelters consider dogs old at 8, Piper said, so Old Dog Haven works with dogs 8 and up.
The group tries to place the 8- to 12-year-olds they rescue from shelters and find final refuge homes for those over 12.
At age 14, Solomon is one of those final refuge or hospice dogs. Part Dalmatian and part German shepherd, he has been with Lisa Black for 30 months.
Black owns the Stardust Salon and Spa in Seattle and Solomon goes to work with her every day to greet customers. "If they don't like him, it's not the place for them," Black said.
"Old dogs are usually good with other dogs and housebroken. They are easy and don't require a lot of trips to the park. They are usually happy with us and do whatever we want," she said.
Losing them is hard, she said, but you focus on the dog. "It's what Old Dog Haven does so they don't end up alone in a shelter. We give them a happy ending," Black said.
"Even if the time they have with the dog is short, it's worth it," Piper added.
Dori Repuyan of Columbus, Ohio, says Tucker, a 60-pound German shepherd-beagle mix her family rescued nine years ago is between 11 and 13.
She worries that calling dogs old so young will cost them good homes because "people don't want old dogs."
Tucker started showing his age a few years ago, Repuyan said. He stopped running with her, limited his walking and had trouble jumping on the bed. He started going gray and when he tore a ligament, developed weight problems. Repuyan and her husband had two children and it seemed to depress Tucker, she said.
They rescued Phoebe, a small, young dog that brought Tucker out of his funk. However, Tucker now sees the vet more often, gets a supplement for arthritis and is no longer allowed on the stairs.
"It's not so much that pets are living longer than their life expectancy, although they are, but we are taking better care of them and they are surviving longer. Sixty is the new 40 is true for pets," said Fadra Nally, a writer and blogger from Raleigh, N.C.
Nally figures large dogs should be old at 8 and small dogs and cats old at 9 or 10.
Tracie Hotchner of Bennington, Vt., author of "The Dog Bible" and "The Cat Bible," believes the AVMA's numbers are right.
"It raises people's awareness of the need to get more frequent and more thorough wellness checks," she said. "Not enough people respect the fairly serious physical changes that take place in older cats and dogs and the kind of preventive care that's available."
Dogs don't have middle age, she said.
At 6 or 7, pets can experience kidney failure, digestion problems, arthritis, obesity, teeth trouble or other ailments that can be treated.
Hotchner has two older dogs with knee problems. They had surgeries, are on medication and undergoing stem cell therapy harvested from their own belly fat, she said.
The quality of their lives has been extended decisively because of those things, she said.

DNA Traces Cattle Back to a Small Herd Domesticated Around 10,500 Years Ago

ScienceDaily (Mar. 27, 2012) — All cattle are descended from as few as 80 animals that were domesticated from wild ox in the Near East some 10,500 years ago, according to a new genetic study.

An international team of scientists from the CNRS and National Museum of Natural History in France, the University of Mainz in Germany, and UCL in the UK were able to conduct the study by first extracting DNA from the bones of domestic cattle excavated in Iranian archaeological sites. These sites date to not long after the invention of farming and are in the region where cattle were first domesticated.
The team examined how small differences in the DNA sequences of those ancient cattle, as well as cattle living today, could have arisen given different population histories. Using computer simulations they found that the DNA differences could only have arisen if a small number of animals, approximately 80, were domesticated from wild ox (aurochs).
The study is published in the current issue of the journalMolecular Biology and Evolution.

Lyme disease warning after herbicide banned

SCOTS outdoors enthusiasts are being warned to be extra vigilant against tick bites after a herbicide ban raised concerns that the insects' population is likely to soar.
The number of cases of Lyme disease – a potentially debilitating condition transmitted by ticks – has already risen from 28 in 2001 to 308 in 2010, but an EU ban on the herbicide Asulam has left nature watchers fearful that the increase in infections could accelerate.
Asulam is used to control the spread of bracken which provides a perfect habitat for ticks. It was withdrawn from sale at the end of 2011 and its use will be prohibited from December this year.
Lyme disease is transmitted via the bite of an infected tick and can lead to complications, including damage to the nervous system and heart.
Tick-borne disease charity BADA-UK has now expressed fears that the Asulam ban will lead to a rise in cases of the disease.
The charity's patron, survival expert Ray Mears said: "The spread of bracken as a result of the Asulam ban will lead to increased tick numbers making it all the more important that the public takes precautions against tick bites when out and about in rural areas."
Wendy Fox, chairwoman of BADA-UK, was left disabled as a result of Lyme disease. She said: "Increased interest in outdoor pursuits, combined with an increasing tick population is resulting in a year-on-year rise in cases of tick-borne disease."
The charity is backing a Scots research firm which is seeking hillwalkers to help them assess whether there would be a market for a device which removes ticks. Roslin-based Xeroshield is looking to develop the gadget.

Gulls play the field in UK schools

A UK-wide survey of wildlife in schools has revealed that playing fields provide decent stomping grounds for some of UK gulls including the ‘red-listed’ herring gull.

40.4% of schools taking part in the RSPB’s Big Schools’ Birdwatch reported seeing black headed gulls, 21.7% saw common gulls and 10.3% saw herring gulls.

Herring gull numbers reported in schools have been steadily increasing and this year reached the top 20 at no. 17. 

Open playing fields in schools can provide a rich area of feeding for birds, the short-cropped grass is ideal for birds to find natural food supplies.

Gulls are resourceful birds and forage for food by stamping their feet on the ground to bring invertebrates to the surface. 

As a species suffering serious decline within the UK, it is great that schools are providing a haven for herring gulls. (see note 1)

Almost 90,000 school children and teachers stepped up for nature by counting birds in this annual survey.  Nearly 3000 classes from over 2000 schools were involved across the UK in the last two weeks of January (see note 2).

Over 110,000 birds were counted in this year’s survey alone and since its launch in 2002, more than 70 different species have been recorded in school grounds, ranging from starlings and house sparrows to kestrels.

Top of the league table again in 2012 was the blackbird, which holds onto the top spot for the fourth year running.  85.6% of schools saw an average of 5.4 birds per school.  Blackbirds are also munchers of invertebrates including worms and grubs, which they can find more easily in milder winter conditions.  [See note 3 for full table of results]

This year, the starling just pipped the woodpigeon into second place, with both birds averaging sightings of 3.46 birds per school.

Faye Mackender, RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch project manager, said; “The Big Schools’ Birdwatch is a brilliant way of getting young people interested in nature and excited about what they can see through the classroom window.

“It’s all too easy for them to miss those opportunities to get outside and understand the world around them.  Big Schools‘ Birdwatch gives children the chance to step up for nature”.

The benefits of contact with nature are now widely recognised as playing an important role in a child’s education and social development. Independent research has found that such activities can have a positive impact on children’s mental and physical health. [note 3]

The Big Schools’ Birdwatch can be integrated into many curriculum areas. Increasingly schools are making the activity the centrepiece of a whole week devoted to learning about wild birds. Some schools hold Birdwatch breakfasts or after school wildlife clubs, while others transform classrooms into bird hides.

Since its launch, the survey has grown in popularity and the RSPB has also introduced the Little Schools’ Birdwatch, especially designed for 5’s and under and the Really Big Schools’ Birdwatch for 11-14 year olds.

Sarah Butcher, Class Teacher and head of KS2, St. Andrew's Primary School, Cullompton, Devon said of her class; "Taking part in the Big School's Bird Watch has become an annual event in my class. We feed the birds all year round with a feeding station right outside the classroom window, so by the time of the birdwatch the children are experts at identifying the birds that we get around the school grounds.

“This year's Big Schools Birdwatch was the best yet: we had a record number of species but also an amazing amount of enthusiasm amongst the pupils! It was an icy cold day, but the children turned up with coats, hats, scarves and gloves and even binoculars, ready to see what we could find. Once the birdwatch was over we used the results for making graphs in maths, making an information book about the birds we found and presented an assembly to spread the good news! I've already had requests to do it again next year.”.

For the full UK-wide Big Schools’ Birdwatch results visit:

Related Posts with Thumbnails