Nature conservation is an uphill challenge as human-induced climate change and the way we manage land degrades wild habitats and disrupts wildlife migration, breeding and feeding patterns. Now nature conservation could face another human activity issue in terms of the Right to Roam campaign. Their goal of “free, fair and informed access to nature throughout England” came a step closer when the Labour Party pledged to introduce a Scottish-style right-to-roam law in England. But while we might welcome the freedom to access nature regardless of wealth, how do we balance people’s health and recreational needs with nature’s health and survival?
Human survival depends on nature yet economic growth is destroying ecosystems and biodiversity. Should we put a price on nature?
Putting a price on nature isn’t a new idea. In Natural Capital: Valuing the Planet, Sir Dieter Helm measures and values natural capital in terms of nature’s renewable and non-renewable resources. Helm acknowledges that human survival and wellbeing depend on protecting and restoring biodiversity and ecosystems, and proposes a framework for sustainable economic growth that is politically and economically viable. It makes no sense to judge a thriving economy on GDP alone and ignore the impact of economic growth on natural assets. The Dasgupta Review: The Economics of Biodiversity says we need to account fully for our interactions with nature if we want to stop the overexploitation of natural resources, the decline in biodiversity, and the destruction of ecosystems we depend on.
Walking by the lake on the Blickling National Trust estate, I was spellbound by a flock of seventy or so swifts. In the distance, lightning lashed while at the lake’s edge, swifts feasted on clouds of insects. Watching silhouettes of scythe-like wings and forked tails whirling over my head, I wondered if these long-distance migrants were passing through or nesting nearby. Other times, I’ve seen swifts swoop across the lake and dip their head in the water before pitching upwards and shivering to shake droplets from their feathers.
Each summer, I head out to Winterton to see the little terns nesting. On a warm afternoon in July, I’m heading across the heath to the beach, excited about seeing these remarkable birds again. One year, I arrived too late and most of the birds had left. Another year, the terns were mostly breeding at Eccles. Once, I decided to go after the breeding season, but the beach felt so empty. Winterton is best when the electric fence is up and the terns are back from Africa!
Having grown up on a council estate with tiny gardens and a father who thought birds were best eaten, it wasn’t until I had my own family that I started walking in the countryside and watching birds.
It was only recently though, having moved to Norfolk, that I had the pleasure of seeing a pair of curlews. I wondered how I could have missed this enchanting bird in the past.
I wanted to find out more about curlews and what better way than to read a nature memoir! Unlike me, nature writer and campaigner Mary Colwell is no stranger to the curlew call, nor why they may be hard to see. Continue reading →
Humans have a complex relationship with animals, ranking them in a hierarchy of utilisation and affection according to human cultures and values. While some animals are saved, others are slaughtered.
Depending on where you live in the world, elephants, rhinos and lions might be seen as endangered species to be protected or they might be used for pseudo-medicine, trinkets and trophies. Cats are beloved pets for some but for others, they are bird killers or meat. It can be difficult to balance cultural differences, species conservation status and ethics to find the best outcome.
But questionable cultural practices aside, even evidence-based conservation science faces an ethical dilemma.Continue reading →
Terra Incognita Travel’s first Wildlife Blogger of the Year competition was a resounding success with stories from nature writers around the world. I’m delighted to have my story included in their new wildlife blog eBook alongside other personal stories of wildlife encounters and conservation insights. The team at Terra Incognita describe below the idea behind the collection and what the judges—renowned conservationists, scientists, nature writers and filmmakers—said about the top stories. Continue reading →
Huddled behind the hide at the far end of Sandfly Bay, we shelter from winds whipping sand across the dunes. The sun is yet to break as we wait for yellow-eyed penguins to make their way from the headland to the rocks below. It’s a perilous journey from forest nests to ocean feeding grounds, and I wonder why a penguin makes this long trek across farmland each day. Continue reading →
Yellow-Eyed Penguin, native to New Zealand. Credit: David Brighten
Sponsored by Swarovski Optik, ecotourism social enterprise Terra Incognita Travel have organised a competition (details below) to find the wildlife blogger of the year. How exciting is that!
Thank you to James Common, Director of New Nature Magazine, for sharing his red squirrel encounter on social media that led me to Terra Incognita. Reading the variety of wildlife experiences and stories, I was inspired to enter my own: ‘Jewel in the Crown: New Zealand’s Yellow-Eyed Penguin‘. What an opportunity to be read by judges that include highly regarded nature writers, wildlife filmmakers, conservation scientists and environmental campaigners—that’s a prize in itself! Continue reading →
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency says pipes washed ashore in Norfolk pose no danger of pollution. Are they unaware of, or simply ignoring plastic fragments scattered along the coast?
The MCA’s announcement on the pollution risk from four gigantic plastic bore pipes washed up on Norfolk’s east coach beaches was reported by The Guardian. Twelve pipes were being tugged from Norway to Algeria when they came loose after a collision with a container ship. While there are reports that the recovery operation is underway, no-one is talking about the plastic fall out on pristine beaches used by seals and rare seabirds. Continue reading →
Human settlement pushes New Zealand’s yellow-eyed penguin to the brink
Yellow-eyed penguin feeding chick at Penguin Place, Otago. Image credit: David Brighten
The Emperor penguin is arguably the most familiar penguin in the world, the poster penguin for climate change as global warming melts the Antarctic ice they depend on. Indeed, this magnificent penguin’s survival in such an inhospitable environment is well-reported in films and documentaries such as March with the Penguins and the BBC’s Dynasties.
Migrating turtle doves will be shot down as they fly over Malta.
The Maltese government has sanctioned the slaughter of 5,000 European turtle doves as they fly over Malta in the last stages of their 5,600 km journey from wintering grounds in West Africa to breeding grounds in Europe.
Our fascination with intelligent parrots has a catastrophic impact on wild populations
When we’re looking for an animal to keep as a pet, we think about food, exercise and affordability. But how much thought do we give to where the animal comes from? When we buy exotic birds through online ads or breeders, we may unknowingly support the plunder of wild species. The African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) is one such species. Continue reading →
A profile of volunteer Sylvia Durrant who has been caring for sick and injured birds on Auckland’s North Shore for over twenty years
Sylvia Durrant found her calling when she replied to an advert for an SPCA bird rescue volunteer. Sylvia’s previous career as a nurse had prepared her for this life-saving work with birds and educating the community. She is an inspiration, as I found out when I had the pleasure of meeting her.Continue reading →
Imagine British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had been invited to give a speech at a university conference on sustainability. Imagine her topic was the discrepancy between the clean, green image created by the ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign and the environmental reality. Imagine she wanted to inform the audience of this discrepancy; to persuade them it is economically damaging as well as morally unacceptable; and to motivate them to take action. As a scientist and politician, she knew the importance of commerce, government and environmental groups working together, and as an effective public speaker, she knew the power of words. Imagine this was her speech.Continue reading →
Tanzania’s National and Transnational Serious Crimes Investigation Unit (NTSCIU) had been surveilling Yang Feng Glan for over a year, before arresting the 66-year-old for her 14 year involvement in ivory trafficking Continue reading →
Scientists suggest reintroducing the Tasmanian devil to mainland forests could restore ecological systems and save native species from extinction
Rewilding is being hailed in Europe and the U.S. as a potential solution to restore ecological systems that have become unbalanced, often from human impacts including habitat loss, animal culling or hunting, and introduced predators.
Australian researchers from the University of New South Wales and the University of Tasmania have conducted the first study to look at the feasibility of reintroducing the Tasmanian devil to mainland Australia. Continue reading →
Legal trade of “conservation ivory” could end black market trade in “blood ivory”, but opponents say stigmatisation and a trade ban is the only solution
African elephants are in crisis, threatened by extinction like the woolly mammoth wiped out by man in the Arctic. Farmers attack when they roam on land that was once elephant habitat; zoos remove them to an unnatural life as exhibits; and trophy hunters take pride in slaying this ‘big five’ giant.
Lions may be king, but let’s not forget the elephants with five dead from poaching in Kenya last week.
The American dentist who lured Cecil from the protection of a national park in Zimbabwe, is reported to have asked for a massive elephant after shooting the GPS-collared lion. Fortunately, the professional hunter who arranged Walter Palmer’s trophy hunt, wasn’t able to find one large enough, so the dentist promptly left Zimbabwe.
While trophy hunting is an abhorrent sport, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that poaching is a much greater problem, and that elephants rather than lions are in the firing line. Continue reading →
Big game hunters have a perspective on wildlife slaughter that is difficult for the uninitiated to comprehend.
“Of course, it is a personal achievement to harvest any big-game animal with a bow and arrow,” said Glen Hisley of the Pope and Young bow hunting organisation in The Telegraph. “It is a way of honouring that animal for all time.”
This is an interesting perspective and one reserved for the animal kingdom. After all, the desire to honour a person by murdering them, posing beside the body, and keeping the head as a trophy would surely be considered psychopathic. And deriving pleasure just makes matters worse.
If it’s the chase and the thrill of danger that drove Palmer, then killing might have been replaced by capturing living images of “the magnificent, mature lion,” described by his accomplice. But there isn’t the same sense of mastery that must come with a deadly weapon. Continue reading →
The genetic blueprint for New Zealand’s national bird reveals the kiwi’s adaptation to a nocturnal, ground-dwelling lifestyle around 35 million years ago has meant poorer eyesight, but superior smelling powers
Published online in Genome Biology, the study by researchers in Germany identified genetic mutations that have deactivated genes related to colour vision, as well as other mutations that have enhanced the kiwi’s sense of smell compared to other birds.
The kiwi is an evolutionary phenomenon, and an endemic species to New Zealand, a land that was geographically isolated after its separation from Godwana 80 million years ago. This isolation makes New Zealand ideal for studying evolutionary processes. Continue reading →
Scientists in New Zealand unearth an ancient bat fossil, revealing a new bat species that once scurried the forest like its much smaller modern relative, the short-tailed bat
In the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers reveal a new species of bat, Mystacina miocenalis, and its close association with Mystacina tuberculata, the lesser short-tailed bat that still inhabits New Zealand’s temperate old-growth evergreen forests.
The fossilised remains were excavated in Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island, from sediment left over from Lake Manuherikia that existed in the Miocene era, around 16 million years ago. Continue reading →
Research suggests owners are reluctant to accept the cat predation risk to wildlife and a cat welfare approach may be needed
Domestic cats have been introduced by humans across the world and growing cat populations are placing local wildlife under greater pressure. Cat predation compounds the survival problem by adding to habitat loss and food scarcity for some species.
Free-roaming cats on islands have contributed to the extinction of native bird, mammal, and reptile species unable to fend off this introduced predator. In mainland environments, cats are impacting local bird and mammal populations, with large numbers killed each year. Continue reading →
The Mexican government makes a late bid to save the world’s smallest marine mammal, while New Zealand lets the world’s rarest dolphin drown
The vaquita porpoise population has declined as a result of drownings when porpoises are unable to reach the surface to breathe after entanglement in gillnets used in shrimp fishing. More recently, the gillnet threat has increased with the illegal fishing of the endangered totoaba fish, whose swim bladder is a Chinese delicacy fetching up to $10,000 a kilogram, smuggled to China via California. Continue reading →
Fewer turtle doves will now survive their epic 3,000 mile migration from Africa to European breeding grounds, leaving conservationists stunned
Hunters have won a Malta referendum allowing them to continue the tradition of shooting turtle doves and quail in spring, from April 14 until April 30. The margin of victory was slim, reflecting widespread Maltese opposition to this tradition. Hunting of these birds is banned elsewhere in the European Union. Continue reading →