Rare bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land on Isle of Wight

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A rare bee-eater on the Isle of Wight; part of a breeding pair. Credit: Andy Butler

A pair of colourful and rare bee-eaters that have set up home on National Trust land on the Isle of Wight have become only the third record of this European bird to breed successfully in the UK in the last century.

Bee-eaters, which would normally be found nesting in southern Europe, were last recorded breeding in the UK in 2002, when a pair nested in a quarry in County Durham and two young successfully fledged. Before that, two pairs were recorded raising seven young in a Sussex sand-pit in 1955.

Bee-eaters, with their kaleidoscopic plumage, are one of the most beautiful birds in Europe.

The bee-eaters, which were discovered on the Island in mid-July, have set up home in the sandy hills of the Wydcombe Estate on the south of the Island in a small valley where the soft ground, rolling landscape and stream access provides ideal conditions for their nest burrow. The burrow could be up to three metres long.

Ian Ridett, National Trust Isle of Wight Ranger, said: “We have set up a 24-hour surveillance operation around the site to protect these rare visitors, as any unhatched eggs could be a potential target for egg thieves.

“We have had incredible support from the RSPB, Isle of Wight Ornithological Group and our volunteers and staff, some of whom have travelled from the mainland to help.

“The hot temperatures since spring have helped an above average arrival of bee-eaters, with more than ten seen along the south coast since May. With rising temperatures, the varied landscape and bountiful supply of insects on the Wydcombe Estate was obviously enough to tempt the bee-eaters to nest here.”

The adult birds have been spotted delivering food into the nest which indicates that the eggs have hatched. The chicks will not leave their underground nest site for another fortnight or so, so the number of chicks hatched is still not known. Bee-eaters traditionally lay clutches of four to nine eggs, and the first chick sighting is eagerly anticipated.

Matthew Oates, National Trust nature and wildlife expert, said: “The bee-eater is arguably the most stunning bird on the British list; it looks tropical.

“It’s really exciting to have these bee-eaters breeding on National Trust land, and we are pulling out all the stops to help the chicks safely fledge, whilst keeping the public up-to-date with their progress. As our climate changes it’s likely that we’ll see increasing numbers of new visitors on our shores.”

Keith Ballard, the site manager at the RSPB’s Brading Marshes reserve on the Isle of Wight, said: “It’s the stuff of dreams to have a rare nesting event like this on the Isle of Wight; and it’s looking like the initiative by the National Trust rangers to make the nest site safe is going to lead to success for these birds.

“There was a very real threat that these nesting birds could have been targeted by egg thieves, so it’s been quite a nervous period over the last 12 days. It has been a pleasure for the RSPB staff and volunteers to help with this operation.”

Further information on the Wydcombe bee-eaters can be found on Ian Ridett’s blog or by calling the estate office on 01983 741020.

A designated public viewing point has been identified overlooking the birds’ favourite feeding area so that visitors can get the best possible sightings of the exotic looking creatures. This will be carefully managed though, as the birds’ wellbeing and welfare takes priority.

Change the clocks and give yourself some more wild time

To celebrate the arrival of British Summer Time and the first day of spring, The Wild Network is encouraging parents to use the extra hour of daylight to take the kids outdoors and get some more ‘wild time’.

Children playing at Belton House, Lincolnshire. Credit NT Images

Children playing at Belton House, Lincolnshire. Credit NT Images

During the colder winter months the battle to get our children away from their gadgets can be a challenge, but with the arrival of spring it’s time to reunite them with the outdoors.

 

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Recognising the heroes connecting young people with nature

Today marks the start of a two month search for the heroes connecting young people with nature across the UK.

The Wild Network and BBC Countryfile Magazine are spearheading a search for the volunteers, professionals and groups who are committing time, energy and resource to sparking young people’s interest in nature and the outdoors. Continue reading

National Trust joins countryside groups to challenge fracking rules

Poorly regulated fracking risks harming threatened species and polluting our waterways, according to a report produced by the National Trust and other leading wildlife and countryside groups.

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry ©National Trust Images/David Noton

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry ©National Trust Images/David Noton

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English farmers visiting Westminster call for greater share of farming budget to go to the environment

Farmers from across England will be taking a strong environmental message to Westminster later today [Wednesday 23 October, 2013], when they meet MPs to highlight the need for a greater share of funding to help threatened species, landscapes and heritage features.

Within weeks Owen Paterson MP – the Environment Secretary – will have to finalise his budget and priorities for the future of the countryside. A key decision the Secretary of State has to make is how much funding to dedicate to so-called agri-environment schemes, which fund farmers to manage their farms in wildlife-friendly and environmentally-friendly ways. With a finite amount of money available under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), he has the power to transfer up to 15 per cent of direct subsidies to these and other rural development schemes, and farmers attending today’s event are calling for the maximum transfer.

With many species continuing to decline this funding is needed more than ever. Figures released last week by the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) revealed that the number of birds reliant on farmland have halved in number since 1970. Additionally, the State of Nature report launched by Sir David Attenborough, in May, shows that 60 per cent of 1064 species monitored on farmland have declined, and a third of the total, including the small skipper butterfly, have declined strongly.

As well as addressing wildlife declines, agri-environment schemes can also help promote more sustainable farming and deliver wider public benefits, such as tourism and jobs. The National Trust, the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and Conservation Grade believe these schemes are vital for competitiveness and long-term viability of the sector, as well as the encouraging the growth and vitality of rural communities.

Richard Morris Farm Manager at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire said: “Farmers have to ensure a return from their land so that their businesses remain viable. With no other support this requires field corner-to-corner production. A successful alternative that has delivered huge benefits to nature are agri-environment schemes.  If farmers sign up to these, they receive income support for the land they take out of production to replant hedges, establish margins, field corners and habitats which are rich and varied. 

“Without continued support for the cost of management and forgoing income from these areas they are likely to return to production with the resulting degradation of nature’s resource. I believe the public would want to see more investment in this ecological friendly and more sustainable type of production. We need to ensure funds to deliver these schemes that protect biodiversity, habitat and healthy living landscapes both for today, and for future generations.”

Sheep grazing ont he Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.

Sheep grazing ont he Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.

The partnership of organisations helping with today’s event know from experience it is possible to reverse the declines of some of our most threatened wildlife, and to date a broad coalition of farmers, NGOs, scientists and Government have played a key role in some important conservation success stories. But the organisations believe if these successes are to be repeated in the future, continued support for environmental schemes is essential.

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprise Director at the National Trust, remarked:  “Farming needs to be more in-tune with the natural characteristics of the land and rural economies in which it operates, recognising both its dependence on environmental resilience and sustainable land management, as well as the multiplier effect it can have both culturally and economically. 

“We cannot emphasise strongly enough the importance of maximising modulation and securing a high agri-environment spend in mitigating the impact of EU cuts and securing a positive outcome for the countryside and taxpayers.  Only then can we rise to the challenge of producing enough food, safeguarding our precious natural resources, and ensuring an economic future for farming and their communities.

“Our Government needs to show real leadership in Europe and send a clear signal that environmental sustainability has to be put at the heart of farming in the UK.”

My Farm Project - Home Farm, Wimpole Estate (21st April 2011)

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s conservation director. He said: “Three-quarters of England is farmed, and that means farmers have a huge responsibility to look after a great proportion of our wildlife, landscapes and cultural heritage.

“Over the last two decades, an increasing number of farmers have embraced the challenge and taken the step to enter agri-environment schemes, working hard to get results on the ground. I’m delighted we are working alongside farmers today to try and secure a better deal for these schemes in the future.

“Together we hope that Owen Paterson MP will keep his pledge to help wildlife and the wider environment by shifting farming budgets in favour of those farmers seeking to farm in wildlife-friendly ways.”

The Wildlife Trusts Head of Living Landscape, Paul Wilkinson commented:  “Wildlife Trusts across the country work with farmers delivering the current agri-environment schemes.

“We know how important it is for those famers who make a long-term commitment to delivering effective schemes to receive appropriate financial support. In many parts of the country, agri-environment schemes play a crucial role in shaping the landscapes that underpin rural economies and communities.

“We believe that the public appreciate that and we hope that the Government will therefore put the public funding in place to support those farmers who do the most for the environment.”

Today’s lobby of Parliament, includes 28 farmers, from various parts of England, working alongside the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and Conservation Grade.

A light at the end of the burrow?

“Within a generation, island seabird colonies in south west England could be thriving and free from the threat of rats”. That’s the view of conservationists this week as they reveal the amazing results of the Seabird Recovery Project on Lundy ten years after the project started, and embark on a similar major new project to eradicate rats that threaten burrow nesting seabirds on St Agnes and Gugh on the Isles of Scilly.

Puffins on Lundy (James Wright)

Puffins on Lundy (James Wright)

Survey teams from RSPB with funding from The National TrustThe Landmark Trust and Natural England returned to Lundy this spring and found a tenfold increase in Manx shearwater numbers since the rat removal operation a decade ago.

Helen Booker, RSPB Senior Conservation Officer in the South West said: “This is such an exciting result, better than we expected, and the rate of increase is an indication of just how important rat free islands like Lundy are as breeding site for seabirds”

The Lundy Seabird Recovery Project was a partnership initiated in 2003 between the National Trust, English Nature (now Natural England), RSPB, and Landmark Trust. The aim of the project was to recover the Manx shearwater population, which was then at a very low level with around just 300 breeding pairs. Ten years on, there are over 3,000 pairs.

Puffin numbers have also increased from 5 to 80 birds and guillemots, razorbills and shags have also seen substantial increases. Anecdotally, other species such as pygmy shrew and wheatear are also more numerous.

Derek Green, Lundy General Manager said: “We are delighted with this result which is showing benefits for a range of species on the island and shows just how much can be achieved. Lundy has been a wildlife haven for many years, although rats were always a problem we had to live with.

Their removal has transformed the island for both wildlife and visitors alike, and we’re watching with great anticipation and excitement as the cliffs and slopes of Lundy fill with the eerie calls of thousands of birds once again. “

Dr. David Bullock, Head of Nature Conservation for the National Trust said “Once the rats had gone from Lundy, the number of pairs of shearwaters on Lundy went from 100s to 1000s in matter of a few years which is outstanding news.

“Such a rapid recovery is unlikely to have been due to “home bred” birds. Shearwaters from other colonies must have settled to breed on the island. We do not know where these birds came from, but there is a massive shearwater colony on the islands off Pembrokeshire in Wales. So was Lundy repopulated in part by the Welsh?”

The striking results from Lundy are an indication of what can be expected a couple of hundred miles to the south west as the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project gets underway this summer.

This ambitious project seeks to also secure a legacy for similar seabirds and the Scilly shrew, as well as the community that lives and works not just on the islands of St Agnes and Gugh, but across the Isles of Scilly.

The Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project, now the largest community-based island restoration project of its kind in the world, will provide a raft of benefits in the islands for the 25 years of the project’s life, and beyond. It is managed by a coalition of groups including RSPB, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Natural England, Duchy of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) partnership and a representative from the islands of St Agnes and Gugh, with support from the Isles of Scilly Bird Group.

Jaclyn Pearson, Project Manager for the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project said: “Lundy has pioneered this type of project in the UK and it demonstrates just what devastating effects the rats were having on the island’s wildlife. Lundy is now the most important place in England for Manx shearwater, leaving the Isles of Scilly in its wake. This really has thrown down the gauntlet and in years to come it will be very exciting seeing the changes here.”

David Appleton of Natural England, who has been involved in both these projects, said: “Following Lundy’s example, in the 25 year lifetime of the Isles of Scilly project we can only imagine what the population of Manx shearwater and storm petrel will be in the South West of England.”

The first phase lasts five years and represents a significant investment of time and money. The funding has come mainly from the EU LIFE fund for environmental work – a dedicated pot that makes up just a fraction of a percentage of the EU budget – and the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) which aims to sustain and transform a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy.

Alongside the removal work, the project will also work with residents and visitors to highlight the importance of the islands for seabirds.

Darren Mason, a volunteer with the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project, is already working alongside local businesses, telling people about the important seabirds, the threats they face and what we can do to help. “Our seabirds are amazing, long-lived birds but species like the Manx shearwater and storm petrel are particularly vulnerable as they nest in burrows and crevices where rats like to forage. It is amazing to think that the storm petrel is a relative of the albatross, as they weigh the same as a few coins. I hope we will soon hear the delightful “purring” of these tiny ocean wanderers from many more places in the future as the result of the project.”

Counting the cost on nature

Fears that the cold and wet summer has had a negative impact on some of our favourite bird species has been confirmed by the RSPB today.

Results from the Make Your Nature Count survey have revealed that less baby blackbirds, song thrushes and robins were seen in gardens of the 78000 participants in June. The cold and wet weather could be to blame, making finding sufficient food difficult. Let’s hope that later broods have done better.

In my garden I was lucky enough to have robins and blackbirds breed successfully (although the single chick of the latter species was lucky to escape the clutches of one of the dozen or so cats that prowl the garden). It’s possible that these species managed to fare better due to them nesting in the dense ivy that clothes an oak tree.

More worrying has been the almost total lack of swifts in my vicinity.  Usually in late summer dozens of young and adults indulge in frenetic aerial chases, screaming as they tear across the sky. This year though my local swifts have been silent, solitary and almost mournful. The lack of breeding success seemingly crushing their normal joie de vivre.

Hopefully the fact that swifts are relatively long lived (twenty years or more in some cases), means that like some of our seabirds a blank year need not have a catastrophic impact on populations.

So what has done well in this dreadful summer? Slugs, snails, midges and mosquitoes have loved the wet and we might be able to add another ‘pest’, the cranefly. Using the strictly unscientific analysis of how many I’m gently removing from my house, I’d say daddy long-legs are more common than in any of the last five years. Gardeners may disagree but for birds and bats it could be good news as they attempt to fatten up for migration, hibernation or braving the cold of winter. Or will winter, like summer,  be cancelled too?

 

By Peter Brash, National Trust Animal Ecologist