About


Nature Matters is a wildlife and environmental magazine and website covering a wide range of news items, particularly concerning technology and research.

I started the magazine in 2003 and in 2008 I developed a website to support it.

Membership is now global and includes members of the public, academics and those employed by wildlife charities and 'green' industries.


NEWS & MEDIA


SCOTTISH BREEDING SUCCESS!!

First white-tailed eagle chick in Orkney for over 140 years

RSPB

A white-tailed eagle chick has successfully hatched in Orkney for the first time in over 140 years, RSPB Scotland has announced. One chick has been seen, however local RSPB Scotland staff believe from watching the parents’ behaviour that there may be two.

Also known as sea eagles it’s been five years since these birds reappeared in Orkney after an absence of 95 years. The species were wiped out in the UK when the last bird was shot on Shetland in 1918, and it’s thanks to a reintroduction programme begun in the 1970s that the birds are once again found in Scotland.

A pair have been seen in Hoy every year since 2013 but nesting attempts in 2015 and 2016 were both unsuccessful, a common occurrence for young birds. It’s thought to be the parents’ first year and nesting attempt together, with a female from previous years pairing up with a new male.

Lee Shields, RSPB Scotland’s Hoy Warden said: “It’s fantastic that the eggs laid in spring have hatched, the first successful breeding season here since the 19th century. This breeding attempt is still at the early stages, with young often in the nest for up to 14 weeks. Everybody was so excited when the first pair arrived and we’ve been keeping our fingers crossed for this ever since. We were hugely disappointed when a previous pair abandoned the territory last year, so to have at least one chick now is even more special.

“Even though they hadn’t nested here since 1873, white-tailed eagles have long been associated with Orkney’s natural and cultural heritage. Our RSPB Scotland reserve in Hoy is already home to hen harriers, great skuas, red-throated divers and more, so to see the eagles return backs up just how special this environment is. Now we’re just hoping that the chicks do well as it’s always uncertain with first-time parents.”

After the last white-tailed eagles in the UK were driven to extinction in the early 20th century, 82 birds were re-introduced from Norway between 1975 and 1985. They first bred successfully in 1985 on the Isle of Mull and established territories on a number of islands on the west coast. Additional releases in Wester Ross and Fife in subsequent decades further expanded their range and there are now over 100 breeding pairs of the UK’s largest bird of prey in Scotland.

It is not known whether the pair in Hoy are from the Scottish mainland or if they have travelled from Scandinavia. The nest, known as an eyrie, is perched high on a cliff face well hidden from the naked eye. RSPB Scotland is running “Eaglewatch” every day in the nearby Dwarfie Stone car park to allow people to catch a glimpse of them without disturbing the new parents and their young. Another male eagle has also been observed on the island and is estimated to be around three years old.


R E N E W A B L E S

Record year for wind energy – Government releases official figures

[RenewableUK]

RenewableUK is highlighting new Government statistics which show that wind generated 15% of the UK’s entire electricity demand in 2017 – the highest annual amount ever - up from 11% in 2016. Renewables overall provided 29.4% - up from 25%.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s “UK Energy Statistics Report” reveals for the first time that onshore wind generated 8.5% (up from 6% in 2016) and offshore wind provided 6.2% (up from 5%), due to increased capacity and higher wind speeds. The report noted that “falls in the amount of electricity generated by coal and gas were offset by renewables, primarily wind generation”. These are the first official Government figures on energy production for 2017, in which wind generated enough electricity to power 12.7 million UK homes.

RenewableUK’s Executive Director Emma Pinchbeck said: “These official figures confirm that it’s been another record-breaking year for wind energy, which generated 15% of the UK’s electricity in 2017. The move to a smart, renewables-led energy system is well underway.

“The cost of new offshore wind halved in 2017 and onshore wind is already the cheapest of any new power source in the UK. So it’s vital that new onshore wind should be allowed to compete in the market for the sake of consumers.”

The Government also published figures today showing that in the final quarter of 2017, wind reached 18.5% of the UK’s electricity.


Neonicotinoid Update

Conventional pesticides should be the last line of defence

[Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH)]

In April 2018, EU member states voted for a near-total ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, following a review of the evidence linking their use with a reduction in honeybee and wild bee populations.

Scientists at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) published a large-scale pan-European field study in June 2017. Professors Richard Pywell and Richard Shore, who lead the CEH Biodiversity and Pollution science areas respectively, look at the future of crop protection following the ban.

The new extension to the ban on neonicotinoids to include widely planted crops, such as cereals and sugar beet that are not attractive to bees, reflects concerns about persistence of these compounds in the soil.

There is a risk that some of the neonicotinoid from the seed coatings on wheat and sugar beet will persist in the soil after the crop has been harvested. If a mass-flowering crop, such as oilseed rape, is planted in soils with neonicotinoid residues there is a possibility that the pesticide will be present in the nectar and pollen of the crop, thus potentially exposing bees to the pesticide.

These concerns are justified by the recent findings from the CEH Honey Monitoring Scheme that detected widespread neonicotinoid residues in honey associated with oilseed seed rape crops despite the moratorium on their use.

While the European Commission has carried out a review of changes in farmer behaviour in light of the restrictions on neonicotinoid use, it is important that the alternative means of crop protection are carefully monitored to assess their impacts on a wide range of environmental indicators.

This will require continued monitoring of the impacts of pesticide on pollinators and other groups. An example of this is the recently launched CEH Honey Monitoring Scheme, working with beekeepers across the UK to collect and analyse honey samples for a range of pesticides.

CEH suggests that now would be a good time to rethink our strategies for crop protection. In future, effective and resilient crop protection strategies will need to be truly holistic, requiring the integration of a range of pest and disease control methods.

These might include improved diagnostic and forecasting of pest outbreaks, use of techniques like gene editing to more rapidly produce crop varieties with durable disease resistance, use of traditional control strategies like crop rotation, enhancing underlying natural pest control and the deployment of new biopesticides.

This doesn't mean no pesticides, but rather that conventional pesticides need to be the last line of defence rather than the first line, as they are currently.


The loss of a parent is the most common cause of brood failure in blue tits

British Ecological Society/Max Planck Institute for Ornithology press release

Complete brood failure in blue tits is almost always associated with the sudden and permanent disappearance of one of the parents. Peter Santema and Bart Kempenaers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen show in their study that the remaining parent substantially increased its effort to raise at least some of the chicks, which turned out to be successful in two thirds of the nests.

Single parent males generally do worse, probably because they are not able to keep their chicks warm. Their findings are published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology. Apart from being a popular garden feeder visitor, blue tits have been the focus of much research on the causes and consequences of variation in reproductive success. Blue tits typically lay between 8-15 eggs, of which a varying number of young will survive to leave the nest. In some nests, however, all the offspring die before they are old enough to leave the nest.

Finding out what causes these cases of complete brood mortality has proven challenging. Does one parent leave all the care to its mate? Can a single parent not cope with the demands? Do both parents decide to desert their brood? To find out, we need to know exactly when parents stop bringing food and when the offspring perish.

Therefore, Peter Santema and Bart Kempenaers from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen equipped all adult blue tits in their study site with a tiny, passive integrated transponder.

They also designed nestboxes with a built-in, automated monitoring system that recorded every visit of a transpondered bird throughout the entire year. With this system, they could analyse all parental visits of 277 nestboxes and determine when a parent was last present at the nest. In case of sudden parental disappearance, they also measured how often the remaining parent visited, both before and after the disappearance of its partner.

Of the 684 nests analysed over seven years, 13 percent suffered complete brood failure. The researchers found that in almost all of these nests, one of the parents had disappeared while the young were still alive.

“This raises the question whether one of the parents deserted and left all the care to its partner, or whether the parents were exhausted and simply gave up,” says Bart Kempenaers, who was leading the study.

Both scenarios are unlikely, because the researchers found that – with one exception – all birds that had disappeared were never observed again in the study area.

Moreover, their nest visit rates were normal up to the moment of disappearance, suggesting that these were otherwise healthy individuals.

“All the evidence suggests that death by predation is the most likely cause for the disappearance of a parent”, says Peter Santema, first author of the study.

The constant flying to and from the nest makes them vulnerable to predation by aerial predators, in particular the sparrowhawk.


Review of British wildlife by The Mammal Society and Natural England

British mammals’ fight for survival


Almost one in five of British mammal species face a high risk of extinction, according to the first comprehensive review of their populations for more than 20 years launched today by The Mammal Society and Natural England.

The red squirrel, wildcat and the grey long-eared bat are all listed as facing severe threats to their survival.

The review – commissioned by Natural England working in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural Resources Wales – also found other mammals such as the hedgehog and water vole have seen their populations decline by up to 66% over the past 20 years.

Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and road deaths are all putting pressure on some of the best loved and most recognisable of Britain’s 58 terrestrial mammals, whose current status, historical and recent population trends, threats, and future prospects have all been assessed in the review. The work will prioritise conservation actions and also sets an agenda for future research efforts.

Prof Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society Chair and professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex, said: “This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever.”

The Mammal Society is now calling for more research to be carried out urgently to get a clearer and more accurate picture of Britain’s mammal populations. For many species, including common animals such as rabbits and moles, very little information is available.

Last month, the Society launched a Mammal Mapper app so that any nature lover could record sightings of local mammals using just their smartphone.


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NATURE MATTERS BACK ISSUES

A selection of recent Nature Matters issues

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PUBLICITY CAMPAIGN SUCCEEDS

PG Tips ditches plastics from its teabags

I started a petition in the summer of 2017 on the 38 Degrees 'Campaign by You' pages. It was widely publicised by the media, gained over 232,000 signatures and was instrumental in persuaded the UK's largest teabag manufacturer, PG Tips (owned by Unilever) to remove plastics from their teabags.

I now want to call on all the other major teabag manufacturers - Taylors (Yorkshire Tea), Twinings, Typhoo - to follow suit.

With your support, I intend to press the other leading UK teabag manufacturers to make a positive difference to the environment by removing plastics from their teabags, too.

This campaign has already shown that the public wants to see biodegradable teabags that do not contribute to the massive plastic waste problem.

TO SIGN NEW PETITION TO VIEW OLD PETITION

BIO

Mike Armitage


I studied Design and Photography. After graduating, I freelanced and did commissions for some well-known companies including Kodak, Commercial Union, the RSPB and the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales (CPRW). Most of the images used in Nature Matters are taken by the editor. He has had work published in Kodak's acclaimed 'Exposure' publication and got him his first commission. He was also awarded a Licentiateship of the Royal Photographic Society.

After working has worked as editor on other magazines including Clwyd Badger Group's magazine for four years and Bardsey Bird Observatory's 'Beacon' for two and has had articles published in titles such as the RSPB's Birds magazine, CPRW's Rural Wales and the WI's Home and Country magazines.