Bird flu found in South Georgian penguins
Following the discovery of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in subantarctic mammals (Brit. Birds 117: 122–123), HPAI has now also been detected in penguins on South Georgia. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) reported that ‘several individual penguins have tested positive for HPAI’ – including five Gentoo Penguins Pygoscelis papua and five King Penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus (www.bas.ac.uk/media-post/penguins-test-positive-for-avian-flu-on-south-georgia).

The BAS is working closely in collaboration with the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, who govern the territory, and fieldwork involving close contact with impacted species has been suspended. BAS staff continue to follow strict biosecurity measures of enhanced cleaning of clothing and field equipment when moving between sites with high densities of wildlife, as well as remaining vigilant for signs of disease.

Norman Ratcliffe, bird ecologist at BAS, said: ‘The highly pathogenic form of bird flu has been present in South Georgia since October and we are surprised penguins have only just become infected given their high nesting densities and proximity to other species that have been affected. The mortality this has caused for Gentoo Penguins has been localised and brief, but we will continue to monitor the spread and impacts of the disease. Macaroni Penguins [Eudyptes chrysolophus] will remain vulnerable as they gather in large concentrations to moult but subsequently will disperse to sea where transmission will be low. Gentoo and King Penguins, however, continue to form communal roosts or to breed, respectively, throughout the winter and so may remain at risk.’

BAS also reported that, following the detection of HPAI in Southern Elephant Seals Mirounga leonina and Antarctic Fur Seals Arctocephalus gazella in early 2024, Antarctic Terns Sterna vittata and Snowy Albatrosses Diomedea exulans also tested positive for the virus. However, the Survey added that the effects of infections appear to remain highly localised so far.

Arctic Skua migration tracked
New research led by the BTO (https://bit.ly/3xthNsG) has revealed the stop-off sites used in the Atlantic Ocean by Arctic Skuas Stercorarius parasiticus. This new information will help to better understand the bird’s conservation needs away from its breeding grounds.

Birds nesting in Norway, the Faroes, Svalbard and northern Scotland were fitted with loggers that allowed researchers to determine the routes that the skuas took during both spring and autumn migration. The findings revealed that, although birds in the study nested and wintered in widely separate places, many headed for, and spent at least some time in, the same areas during migration.

These remote areas of ocean attract migrant seabirds of several species as they provide a convenient stop-off point rich in food sources. While some of these migration hotspots have Marine Protected Area status, other areas are not currently designated and could be worthy of further investigation to help protect important sites for this declining species.

Nina O’Hanlon, senior research ecologist at the BTO, said: ‘By identifying the various routes and stopping-off points these wide-ranging seabirds use we can start to identify threats they may encounter along the way and further safeguard these areas. By revealing how extensively skuas mix during migration we can also now better understand how their experiences during this period can impact the fate of multiple breeding populations.’

Still no lead-shot ban
The European Commission has once again delayed action on tackling environmental lead poisoning from hunting, shooting and fishing (https://bit.ly/3TQ2FgS).

In February, the EU Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) Committee held one of its regular meetings on how to protect human health and the environment from the potential risks associated with chemicals – yet lead poisoning in the environment has, once again, been left off the agenda. If the issue remains unmitigated, an estimated 44,000 tonnes of lead will continue to be released into the environment annually from these sources.

On 28th February, BirdLife and other organisations sent a letter to Commissioner Thierry Breton and Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius urging them to present the draft restriction proposal without further delay. Non-toxic solutions that are safe for people, wildlife and the environment have already been shown to be viable replacements for lead shot. 

Youth in Nature Summit 2024
Hundreds of enthusiastic young people gathered at the David Attenborough Building in Cambridge this February to help shape the future of the conservation sector. On 17th and 18th February, organisations, speakers and conservation-charity leaders from across the environmental sector came together at the Youth in Nature Summer 2024 (https://bit.ly/4ah2hPr).

The event was organised by a partnership of young volunteers from the BTO, the RSPB and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The summit showcased the work of inspirational young volunteers and highlighted some of the challenges and barriers that young people face when engaging with conservation and nature. Speakers at the event included TV presenter and zoologist Megan McCubbin, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link Richard Benwell, and Butterfly Conservation Youth Engagement Officer Emma Dakin.

Juliet Vickery, BTO Chief Executive, said: ‘At the 2022 [Youth in Nature Summit], leaders were challenged to act beyond organisational boundaries. The three-way collaboration to deliver the second summit is a sign we listened and acted. The youth voice is ambitious for nature, because that is what nature needs. It’s a voice full of energy and new ideas and it’s getting louder all the time – BTO is determined to hear it.’

Freddie Emms, aged 17, a member of the RSPB’s Youth Council, said: ‘The Youth in Nature Summit brought together young people and leaders from across the conservation sector into one room with some phenomenal speakers to foster a tangible atmosphere of shared passion, determination, and hope. We inspired collaboration and empowerment in what was an uplifting and hopeful weekend, and hope that the common ground we discovered will ultimately enable us all to come together to achieve some fantastic change in the very near future.’

Beccy Speight, RSPB Chief Executive, said: ‘It was incredibly inspiring to see the passion these young people have for nature and their desire to change things for the better. It is crucial they are given a platform for their voices to be properly heard and that they are at the heart of efforts to tackle the nature and climate crisis. Only by everyone working together can we deliver the change that nature needs.’

Norfolk man illegally collected almost 3,000 eggs
A prolific egg-collector has admitted illegally hoarding thousands of rare birds’ eggs in Norfolk.

Daniel Lingham, 71, of Newton St Faith, appeared at Norwich Magistrates Court in February 2024, where he pleaded guilty to five offences, including taking eggs from a non-Schedule 1 wild bird (a European Nightjar Caprimulgus europaeus) and possessing an egg or its parts of a non-Schedule 1 wild bird (possession of 2,429 eggs of a range of species as of July 2023), possessing an egg or its parts of a Schedule 1 wild bird – namely 22 Schedule 1 bird eggs on July 2023. 

Lingham, who has two previous convictions for similar crimes and who was jailed for ten weeks in 2005 after police found a collection of almost 4,000 eggs in his home and for 18 weeks in 2018, when he was found with over 5,000 eggs, was captured on a wildlife camera-trap on 9th June 2023 stealing two eggs from a Nightjar nest in Holt Lowes, Norfolk. Investigators were shown the footage and were able to identify Lingham by his distinctive walking stick, which is seen in shot.

A police search of his home in July 2023 subsequently revealed the extent of his hoard. Within the property, a total of 2,995 eggs were found. A large collection was in his bedroom, including some of non-native species, alongside 2,429 eggs of native species protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Of those, 548 were from native birds on the Amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC) and a further 546 were of BoCC Red-listed species, including Common Linnet Linaria cannabina, European Greenfinch Chloris chloris, Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella and House Sparrow Passer domesticus.

A further collection of eggs – which all appeared, on examination, to have been collected relatively recently – was found behind the bath panel, including a box containing a pair of Nightjar eggs with a label ‘Nightjar 2, Holt Lowes, June 9.’

Officers also found egg-identification guides, binoculars, and an egg-blowing kit.

During interview, Lingham said that all of the eggs – bar the Nightjar eggs – had been collected before his previous conviction in 2018, although the way the eggs were stored suggested otherwise. He further claimed that a collection on display in a cabinet in the bedroom had come from an Essex house clearance and he had not taken them himself from the wild.

He said he had been looking for Adders Vipera berus and tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) when he was ‘tempted’ by the Nightjar eggs due to his ‘egg-collecting addiction’.

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: ‘The scale of egg theft that Lingham has committed over the last 20 years is shocking. Sadly, his obsession with collecting wild birds’ eggs has ultimately resulted in thousands of breeding birds, which have invested huge amounts of energy into rearing young, to fail. We’re relieved that this type of crime is now relatively rare in the UK, but this latest case has revealed that the breeding success of the Nightjar, a species of conservation concern, has again been targeted in Norfolk by Lingham’s illegal actions. We’d like to thank Norfolk Police for an excellent investigation which has again led to Lingham’s prosecution.’

Lingham will appear for sentencing on 3rd May 2024.

Eagles and other wildlife to benefit from landmark Scottish legislation 
The Scottish Parliament has passed a raft of measures set to herald the end of raptor persecution in the country and improve the condition of upland habitats (www.gov.scot/news/wildlife-management-and-muirburn-bill-passed).

The passing of the Wildlife Management & Muirburn Bill marks a significant moment in the history of land management in Scotland and is a huge win for nature. Many organisations have been campaigning for decades for greater powers to tackle crime against raptors and to better protect wildlife.

The new legislation aims to put a stop to the illegal persecution of birds of prey, such as Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetosand Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, through the stronger regulation of grouse shooting.  

RSPB Senior Land Use Policy Officer Andrew Midgley explained: ‘This is very welcome. We hope that the new licences for grouse shooting will finally provide a meaningful deterrent that will eradicate raptor persecution. The Bill will allow grouse shooting to continue but provide a mechanism that allows Ministers to remove a licence to shoot grouse where a raptor persecution incident can be linked to the management of the land.  

‘We know that this industry has been let down by a minority; there are many that adhere to good practice. We believe that the majority have nothing to fear from the change in the law, but we hope that the threat of this sanction will ensure good practice is universal and bring an end to the criminal destruction of birds of prey in our uplands.’

The Bill also bans the use of snares, tightens regulations for the use of other types of wildlife traps, and gives greater investigating powers to Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in relation to wildlife crime.

A new system of licences will also be introduced for muirburn – the practice of burning vegetation, usually for sporting and farming purposes. RSPB has long-backed better regulation and has warmly welcomed the new licencing system.  

By passing the Wildlife Management & Muirburn Bill, the Scottish Parliament is offering a blueprint that could also herald the end of raptor persecution and improve the condition of upland habitats in England.  

‘Nocturnal’ activities of Little Auks revealed from sound recordings
A collaborative study conducted by researchers from the Arctic Research Center at Hokkaido University, Japan, and the Department of Ecoscience at Aarhus University, Denmark, has looked into the daily activities of the Little Auk Alle alle during the Arctic summer (https://bit.ly/4aDxbkz). The study sheds light on the bird’s rhythmic behaviour during the 24 hours of daylight and improves our understanding of avian behaviour in continuous daylight environments. 

The research team employed passive acoustic and imaging technologies in Greenland, where approximately 60 million Little Auks breed. The study revealed a ‘nocturnal’ surge in vocalisation after midnight (02.30–03.30 hrs), when there is a high colony attendance, and a minimum in the afternoon (14:00–16:00), when there is lower colony attendance.

Lead author Evgeny Podolskiy said: ‘These findings provide a fascinating glimpse into the intricate rhythms of Arctic life and remind us that bird counts depend on the time of day. Under the perpetual daylight, Little Auks exhibit an acoustic pattern that mirrors their behavioural cycles – such as attendance, feeding, and fledging – offering valuable insights into their ecological dynamics.’ 

Spurn Bird Observatory raising funds for Kew Villa
Solar panels will be installed onto the newly built Kew Villa building at Spurn Bird Observatory, Yorkshire. This will provide clean and cheap power for the building, as well as conforming with local planning regulations. However, a considerable initial outlay is required to purchase and install the panels, and this has resulted in an unexpected additional cost to the project. Around £3,000 more is needed to complete the installation, and donations can be made to the Spurn Bird Observatory Trust via their Go Fund Me page (www.gofundme.com/f/project-kew-villa).

Somerset nature reserves given £800,000 boost
Hundreds of hectares of wetland habitat will be restored or enhanced across WWT Steart Marshes and Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve (NNR) thanks to more than £800,000 in funding from the Government’s Species Survival Fund (https://bit.ly/49nnBRO).

The funding will be used to boost local biodiversity, improving the condition across more than 370 ha of coastal floodplain grazing marsh and freshwater habitats, which species like Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta and Great Crested Newts Triturus cristatus rely on.

As well as creating new saline lagoons, scrapes and ditches across both nature reserves, the project, ‘Wetter for Waders’, will restore at least one pond lost on the land and improve a further six ponds.

A new boardwalk across the saltmarsh at WWT Steart Marshes will help visitors to get closer to nature and learn about the specialist wildlife of the saltmarsh ecosystem. Predator-proof fencing will help to protect new areas to support vulnerable breeding waders, while ‘no fence’ collars will enable cattle to graze areas across 290 ha of saltmarsh without the need to traditional fences.  

On top of improvements to the landscape, the sites will host a series of willow and art workshops for the local community, producing huge wildlife sculptures and murals, and hold sessions for local landowners on how to create wetland features. Four new members of staff will deliver and champion the work done at WWT Steart Marshes and Bridgwater Bay NNR.

Volume: 
Issue 5
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226
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