Tag Archives: Climate change

Will Climate Change cause Red Grouse Populations to suffer?

A twenty year study by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) shows that red grouse are laying eggs 0.5 days earlier each year, potentially harming their survival chances. As an endemic species, red grouse only exist in the British Isles, where they are an important game bird, and are managed due to loss of their heathland habitat.

The main concern earlier hatching raises for red grouse populations is trophic mismatch. This is where changes in population cycles occur, causing prey and predator species to be ‘out of sync’, with prey populations being lower than previously when predator populations are higher. Predator starvation or reduced survival prospects may result, as less food is available when needed. If red grouse chicks’ prey doesn’t coincide with chick hatching, the young red grouse may be left hungry. The warm weather seems to be driving craneflies – a key chick food – to be emerging even earlier than the chicks. This means even though chicks are hatching earlier, they may not be early enough for their prey and may still miss out. Even worse, early cranefly hatching can mean less survive to lay eggs for the following year.

Red grouse, Lagopus lagopus scotica - Alistair Young

Red grouse, Lagopus lagopus scotica, have been laying eggs earlier due to climate change. Image: Alistair Young.

As is often the case when climate change is considered, the effects on survival are even further complicated. The warmer springs produce more vegetation for red grouse hens to feed on, allowing them to produce more eggs. GWCT have found that hens laying earlier tend to have larger clutches, which could save the birds from decline.

As of yet, no overall effect on red grouse populations has been found.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Wind turbines are notorious bird-killers, so why are the RSPB building one?

Clashes between bird conservationists and wind farm supporters first arose in the early eighties, when deaths by collision blackmarked the sustainable energy ‘solution’ as a major threat to larger bird species. Species most at risk are be birds of prey and waterbirds, both of which are more likely to die from collisions, and have lower population growth rates and poorer manoeuvrability in flight. Bird charities such as the RSPB have since campaigned against many wind farm proposals, so why are they now building a turbine in their own headquarters?

Barnacle goose, Branta leucopsis, are particularly vulnerable to collisions

 Since the first wind farms were designed, much effort has been ploughed into reducing their impacts on nature. Whilst deaths of larger bird species are concerning, the RSPB has only objected to around six percent of wind farm applications across the country – the main cause of concern being migration routes.

It is still true that turbines cause fatalities, however studies have shown that, for every bird killed by wind farms, 5820 are killed by striking buildings. The RSPB stress that it is still important to monitor the risk of turbines, and appropriate precautions should be employed – locations away from populations of endangered species should be preferred, and those away from migration routes. Set to arise in Autumn 2013, the RSPB turbine will provide over two thirds of the RSPB’s electricity usage across the UK from its location in Bedfordshire. It will stand as a statement that wind energy, when harnessed appropriately, can be a useful tool in fighting climate change and providing a sustainable future.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Conserving the Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus): trading bans and native hunters

The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) stands as a flagship species for conservation action, with its climate-change related habitat loss well publicised, but the problems it faces are more complex than just melting ice. Concern has been rising amongst organisations such as the NRDC – the Natural Resources Defence Council, with over 1.3 million members – about trade of polar bear body parts, a currently legal activity, along with regulated hunting.

Polar bears are considered vulnerable species, with population decline estimated at >30% over the last half-century, and predicted decline by 2/3rds by 2050, primarily due to climate change. Their position as a mammalian carnivore may encourage human interest, but also means they exist in small numbers, reproduce at lower rates and rely on longer food chain, reducing species resilience.

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus), Unknown

Hunting of polar bears is a tradition of Arctic people, but increased rapidly as technology advanced. First firearms, and later snowmobiles and airplanes were used, increasing annual kills from an estimated 400-500 to 1300-1500 in the early 1900’s. As concern grew, regulations on hunting were formed, beginning with the Soviet Union (1956), and culminating in the International Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears (1973). Signed by the five nations with the biggest polar bear populations (U.S, Canada, Russia, Norway and Greenland), the agreement allows killing by local people using traditional methods, but prevents trade for commercial purposes. Data is shared between these countries, which meet every 3-4 years and are responsible under the agreement to protect polar bear ecosystems using research-based conservation practices.

With species-specific hunting regulations and high public interest, the polar bear is in a much more favourable position than many other endangered animals. However, threats to polar bears are particularly high. Climate change directly reduces sea-ice, reducing feeding ability and causing drowning, and could lead to their underground dens collapsing. Toxic pollutants accumulate in polar bears from longer food-chains, illegal hunting occurs, and disease may increase as bacteria survive better in warmer conditions. It is these issues which cause groups such as the NRDC to be so concerned about trading, which could potentially increase hunting incentive by making them profitable and available to the public, adding to polar bear decline.

Hunting is still legal, however, in small, highly regulated conditions by local people. Such hunting has existed for centuries, a traditional part of many cultures which also provides income. This raises the question of whether local cultures should suffer for globally-caused climate change, and has become the topic of much debate. At the most recent CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) meeting, the United States supported the ban of commercial trade of all Polar bear parts, but the issue remains contentious. Opinion is still divided on the impact of regulated killing, whilst some deny even the decision to list the Polar bear as threatened. CITES will meet again in March 2013, meanwhile the issue highlights the problems caused when multiple threats affect a species, and the conflict between traditional culture and modern environmentalism.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized