The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Fordingbridge, United Kingdom

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust

Fordingbridge, United Kingdom

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Clay G.D.,Durham University | Worrall F.,Durham University | Aebischer N.J.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
Journal of Hydrology | Year: 2012

Prescribed burning of moorland, heathland and blanket bog vegetation on peatlands in the UK is a contentious issue. Given the large carbon store in these peatlands, concern has been raised over land management and its effect on the carbon dynamics of peat ecosystems. In particular the spatial and temporal link between burning and concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in waters draining these catchments has received particular attention. This study investigates water colour and DOC concentrations in soil pore water and runoff water at the plot-scale over a chronosequence of burn ages. Results from this study show that there is an elevated water colour in the few years immediately following burning but that this is not matched by a rise in DOC concentration. Therefore we propose that burning appears to affect the composition of the DOC rather than the absolute DOC concentration. This study also highlights that in some cases the use of water colour as a proxy for DOC concentration should be treated with caution. © 2012 Elsevier B.V..


Wood T.J.,University of Sussex | Holland J.M.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Goulson D.,University of Sussex
Oecologia | Year: 2015

Agri-environment schemes have been implemented across the European Union in order to reverse declines in farmland biodiversity. To assess the impact of these schemes for bumblebees, accurate measures of their populations are required. Here, we compared bumblebee population estimates on 16 farms using three commonly used techniques: standardised line transects, coloured pan traps and molecular estimates of nest abundance. There was no significant correlation between the estimates obtained by the three techniques, suggesting that each technique captured a different aspect of local bumblebee population size and distribution in the landscape. Bumblebee abundance as observed on the transects was positively influenced by the number of flowers present on the transect. The number of bumblebees caught in pan traps was positively influenced by the density of flowers surrounding the trapping location and negatively influenced by wider landscape heterogeneity. Molecular estimates of the number of nests of Bombus terrestris and B. hortorum were positively associated with the proportion of the landscape covered in oilseed rape and field beans. Both direct survey techniques are strongly affected by floral abundance immediately around the survey site, potentially leading to misleading results if attempting to infer overall abundance in an area or on a farm. In contrast, whilst the molecular method suffers from an inability to detect sister pairs at low sample sizes, it appears to be unaffected by the abundance of forage and thus is the preferred survey technique. © 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


Wood T.J.,University of Sussex | Holland J.M.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Goulson D.,University of Sussex
Biodiversity and Conservation | Year: 2016

Changes in agricultural practice across Europe and North America have been associated with declines in wild bee populations. Bee diet breadth has been associated with sensitivity to agricultural intensification, but much of this analysis has been conducted at the categorical level of generalist or specialist, and it is not clear to what extent the level of generalisation within generalist species is also associated with species persistence. We used pollen load analysis to quantify the pollen diets of wild solitary bees on 19 farms across southern England, UK. A total of 72 species of solitary bees were recorded, but only 31 species were abundant enough to allow for formal diet characterisation. The results broadly conformed to existing literature with the majority of species polylectic and collecting pollen from a wide range of plants. Pollen load analysis consistently identified pollens from more plant species and families from each bee species than direct observation of their foraging behaviour. After rarefaction to standardise pollen load sample sizes, diet breadth was significantly associated with frequency of occurrence, with more generalist bees present on more farms than less generalist bees. Our results show that the majority of bee species present on farmland in reasonable numbers are widely variable in their pollen choices, but that those with the broadest diet were present on the greatest number of farms. Increasing the diversity of plants included in agri-environment schemes may be necessary to provide a wider range of pollen resources in order to support a diverse bee community on farmland. © 2016 The Author(s)


Wood T.J.,University of Sussex | Holland J.M.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Goulson D.,University of Sussex
Biological Conservation | Year: 2015

In order to reverse declines in pollinator populations, numerous agri-environment schemes have been implemented across Europe, predominantly focused on increasing the availability of floral resources. Whilst several studies have investigated how bees and wasps (aculeates) respond to management at the scale of the scheme (i.e. within the flower patch) there has been little assessment of how schemes affect diversity at the farm scale. In the current work we assessed whether farms implementing flower-rich schemes had richer aculeate communities than farms without such habitats. A total of 104 species of bee and 44 species of aculeate wasp were recorded. Farms providing flower-rich habitats had significantly greater floral abundance but there were no differences in the total number of aculeate or flowering plant species recorded compared to farms without these habitats. After accounting for differences in sample size, and contrary to expectations, farms without flower-rich habitats were significantly richer in aculeate and flowering plant species. Bumblebees (. Bombus spp.) and honeybees (. Apis mellifera) foraged strongly from sown flowers, but the majority of bee species preferred wild plants that are not included in flower-rich schemes such as Heracleum sphondylium, Hypochaeris radicata and Tripleurospermum inodorum. The creation of pollinator-friendly habitats has not increased the diversity of flowering plants and such schemes will consequently only benefit a limited suite of aculeate species. If diverse aculeate communities are to be retained and restored on farmland, agri-environment schemes that provide foraging and nesting resources for a wider range of pollinator species must be developed. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.


News Article | January 30, 2015
Site: www.theguardian.com

Is there anything more stupid than the government’s plan to kill grey squirrels? I ask not because I believe – as Animal Aid does – that grey squirrels are harmless. Far from it: they have eliminated red squirrels from most of Britain since their introduction by Victorian landowners, and are now doing the same thing in parts of the continent. By destroying young trees, they also make the establishment of new woodland almost impossible in many places. As someone who believes there should be many more trees in this country, I see that as a problem. A big one. No, I oppose the cull for two reasons. The first is that it’s a total waste of time and money. Here’s what scientists who have studied such programmes have to say: “To date, there has been no successful method developed in the long-term control (nor indeed the eradication) of grey squirrel populations ... a recovery in numbers was found to take place within 10 weeks of intensive culling programs.” You pour the money in and it pours out the other side. The government’s plan to sponsor an “eradication programme” to the tune of £100 per hectare per year is futile; though it will have the effect of transferring even more public money to rural landowners. I doubt you’ll be surprised to hear that the idea was approved by the former environment secretary Owen Paterson, whose primary mission in office appears to have been showering his chums with gold, while ruthlessly cutting any spending that might have delivered wider benefits. This was the man, remember, who almost doubled the subsidy for grouse moors. My second reason for opposing the cull is that there is another way of dealing with grey squirrels, which requires hardly any expense, indeed hardly any human intervention at all. Unlike trapping, shooting or poisoning, it works. It is happening with extreme prejudice in Ireland at the moment. There is a scientific term for this method. Pine martens. Pine martens are predators native to Britain and most of Europe. They are members of the otter, badger and weasel family (the mustelids), that are at home both on the ground and in the trees. They are, to my eye, exceptionally beautiful. They look like sinuous chestnut cats with yellow bibs. Like many predators they turn out to be essential to the survival of healthy living systems. It now seems that many exotic species, like grey squirrels, that appear to present intractable problems do so only because they are moving into depleted ecosystems. They become invasive and destructive because there is nothing left to restrain them. American mink, for example, are a major problem in Europe where there are no otters, proliferating rapidly and wiping out water voles, birds and other species. But when otters, which are highly territorial, move in, they drive the mink out. White-tailed eagles, which have recently been reintroduced to the Hebrides, but once lived throughout Britain, prey heavily on mink and, according to a study in Finland, keep them out of areas they would otherwise occupy. There might be no grey squirrel problem – in fact there might be no grey squirrels here at all – had pine martens not been eliminated across most of their range, primarily by gamekeepers. If you love grey squirrels, look away now, for Ireland has become a bloodbath. The North American rodents that once occcupied the whole island east of the River Shannon are now in full-scale rout, and the reds are pouring into the territory they have abandoned. While until recently the greycoats looked invincible everywhere, in around 20 years the frontier has shifted 100km to the east. At this rate, in another 20 years the last of them will have been driven into the Irish Sea, and Ireland will have been reclaimed by the reds. (No political metaphor is intended.) So what’s going on? Well it now seems that the reason why grey squirrels never got past the Shannon is not that they couldn’t cross the river. They can swim, and there are plenty of places in which they could move through the trees without getting their feet wet. It’s because the far side of the Shannon was pine marten territory. And pine martens love grey squirrels – in the strictly carnal sense. Red squirrels have a simple adaptation to pine martens: they are small and light enough to get to the ends of the branches, where the martens can’t follow. But grey squirrels, which did not co-evolve with these predators, are, by comparison, lumps: slower and heavier than the native species. They are also more terrestrial than the reds – more dependent for their survival on foraging on the woodland floor. Meals on legs, in other words. As people in Ireland have mostly stopped killing pine martens, which are now legally protected, they have begun to recolonise their former ranges. And the grey squirrels appear to have vanished into thin air. You have to read the paper published on this phenomenon last year to believe just how rapid and comprehensive this process has been. But in case you don’t, here are some extracts. “The grey squirrel population has crashed in approximately 9,000 km2 of its former range and the red squirrel is common after an absence of up to 30 years.” “Grey squirrel sightings accounted for less than 8% of animal sightings in [the Irish Midlands], which is remarkably low considering that they are a much less elusive species than either the red squirrel or the pine marten, and are also more commonly associated with human settlements.” The health and weight of grey squirrels in the pine marten zone is “extremely poor,” while squirrels in an area without martens “are thriving”. “This is the first documented evidence of a grey squirrel population retracting, without any human intervention, subsequent to having established itself as an invasive species.” Two aspects of this story jump out at me. The first is the greys’ astonishing speed of retreat. The numbers just don’t add up: the martens simply couldn’t eat that many squirrels. As the paper points out, “it would be unlikely that a low-density pine marten population could impact a high-density grey squirrel population by direct predation alone.” The second is that grey squirrels in the region haunted by pine martens are much thinner than those elsewhere. At first sight this makes no sense: with fewer competitors, you would expect the survivors to be fatter and healthier. So what’s going on? Though the paper doesn’t speculate, there seems to be a likely explanation. The pine martens are creating a “landscape of fear”, rather like the one that some ecologists (though others have now challenged the claim) believe wolves have generated among deer in Yellowstone National Park in the US state of Wyoming. It’s not just that pine martens are eating the squirrels: they are terrifying the living daylights out of them. If grey squirrels have no defences against martens, they must spend much of the time they would otherwise have spent feeding trying to avoid them. They are likely, metaphorically or perhaps literally, to spend so much time looking over their shoulders while they should be foraging during the summer that they don’t accumulate sufficient fat to get through the winter. The pine martens are starving them out. The lesson is obvious – to everyone except the dunderheads administering public policy in Britain. If, as they claim, their aim is to eliminate grey squirrels, rather than to pour money into the laps of the landed gentry, they should abandon the useless programme of trapping, shooting and poisoning, and instead bring back a native predator. While pine martens are once again thriving in parts of Scotland (and, surprise, surprise, these are the places in which red squirrels also survive and grey squirrels are absent), across England and Wales they are functionally extinct. This means that while there are some tiny remnant populations in a few areas (Cumbria, Snowdonia and the North York Moors for example), due to intense persecution by gamekeepers, and others in the past, their genetic base is too narrow to allow them to expand. Re-establishing pine martens means reintroducing them: bringing new genetic stock both to the pockets in which they survive and to places from which they have been eradicated. That is what the Vincent Wildlife Trust, among others, hopes to do. Meanwhile, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which I see as a greenwashing agency for the shooting industry (how many conservation groups do you know that teach children to use shot guns and run courses on snaring, lamping and trapping?), is campaigning to reduce pine marten populations in Scotland. Yes, reduce. It claims that it wants to do so to protect capercaillies: the giant grouse that also once lived across much of Britain but are now confined to a few glens in Scotland. But there is no evidence that pine martens are implicated in the capercaillie’s decline: in fact the capercaillie is doing best where pine martens are also thriving, and doing worst where the predator continues, illegally, to be persecuted. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s attitude is typical of the views that have long prevailed amongst shooting interests: all too often estate owners would rather cut their own throats than tolerate the presence of predators, even when those predators are protecting them from massive problems, like grey squirrels or (due to the absence of lynx) exploding roe and sika deer populations. Unfortunately, it is these entrenched interests and attitudes that still dominate government policy. The futile plan to cull grey squirrels was hatched at a symposium of chinless wonders convened by the Prince of Wales and Owen Paterson in one of Charles’s many properties, Dumfries House in Scotland. This meeting took place several months after the Irish study was published. But the British establishment is almost impervious to new thinking and new information, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that this confederacy of dunces decided to pour millions into a futile gesture, rather than to do something useful. I dare say that most of them still regard pine martens as vermin anyway. Like the army and navy in the 18th century, the governance of the countryside is still dominated by titled amateurs, while those with professional knowledge and expertise are frozen out. So perhaps there is a political metaphor here after all. Isn’t it time that these grey and ponderous relics of the Victorian era were pushed out of policy-making, and replaced by bright-eyed and bushy-tailed people who are agile enough to respond to new situations?


Fletcher K.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Howarth D.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Kirby A.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Kirby A.,AMEC Environment and Infrastructure Ltd | And 3 more authors.
Ibis | Year: 2013

Upland birds are predicted to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, yet few studies have examined these effects on their breeding phenology and productivity. Laying dates of Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica in the Scottish Highlands advanced by 0.5 days/year between 1992 and 2011 and were inversely correlated with pre-laying temperature, with a near-significant increase in temperature over this period. Earlier clutches were larger and chick survival was greater in earlier nesting attempts. However, chick survival was also higher in years with lower May temperatures and lower August temperatures in the previous year, the latter probably related to prey abundance in the subsequent breeding season. Although laying dates are advancing, climate change does not currently appear to be having an overall effect on chick survival of Red Grouse within the climate range recorded in this study. © 2013 British Ornithologists' Union.


Bunnefeld N.,Imperial College London | Reuman D.C.,Imperial College London | Baines D.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Milner-Gulland E.J.,Imperial College London
Journal of Animal Ecology | Year: 2011

1.The effect of selective exploitation of certain age, stage or sex classes (e.g., trophy hunting) on population dynamics is relatively well studied in fisheries and sexually dimorphic mammals. 2.Harvesting of terrestrial species with no morphological differences visible between the different age and sex classes (monomorphic species) is usually assumed to be nonselective because monomorphicity makes intentionally selective harvesting pointless and impractical. But harvesting of the red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus), a monomorphic species, was recently shown to be unintentionally selective. This study uses a sex- and age-specific model to explore the previously unresearched effects of unintentional harvesting selectivity. 3.We examine the effects of selectivity on red grouse dynamics by considering models with and without selectivity. Our models include territoriality and parasitism, two mechanisms known to be important for grouse dynamics. 4.We show that the unintentional selectivity of harvesting that occurs in red grouse decreases population yield compared with unselective harvesting at high harvest rates. Selectivity also dramatically increases extinction risk at high harvest rates. 5.Selective harvesting strengthens the 3- to 13-year red grouse population cycle, suggesting that the selectivity of harvesting is a previously unappreciated factor contributing to the cycle. 6.The additional extinction risk introduced by harvesting selectivity provides a quantitative justification for typically implemented 20-40% harvest rates, which are below the maximum sustainable yield that could be taken, given the observed population growth rates of red grouse. 7.This study shows the possible broad importance of investigating in future research whether unintentionally selective harvesting occurs on other species. © 2011 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2011 British Ecological Society.


Sage R.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Cunningham M.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Haughton A.J.,Rothamsted Research | Mallott M.D.,Rothamsted Research | And 3 more authors.
Ibis | Year: 2010

We compared birds in a group of established and well-managed miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus) fields in Somerset and East Devon, southwestern England, with plots of short rotation coppice (SRC) willow, arable crops and grassland in two winters and one summer. Following early spring cutting, 19 miscanthus fields grew taller, initially produced greater cover and were less weedy than SRC. As stubble in May, the miscanthus contained broadly similar species at similar densities to arable and grassland comparison plots. By July, at 2-m-tall, miscanthus held higher densities of birds but of fewer species, most of them characteristic of woodland and scrub. SRC, previously identified as being a beneficial crop for many birds, always contained more species and individuals than miscanthus. Throughout each of two winters, 15 miscanthus plots remained unharvested and contained more wood/scrub species such as Blackbirds Turdus merula, tits, Reed Buntings Emberiza schoeniclus and Woodcock Scolopax rusticola than the comparison plots, which held more corvids and Skylarks Alauda arvensis amongst others. Similar overall mean densities of birds in the miscanthus and the comparison plots masked relatively low density variance in miscanthus and very high variance in the comparison plots. Unharvested miscanthus crops grown in place of habitat types supporting flocks of wintering birds would displace these flocks. Miscanthus plantations with open patches attracted more finches and waders in winter. The two previous studies of birds in miscanthus in the UK found more species and more individuals than we did in summer and winter. Both these studies documented high levels of weediness and patchy crop growth. In the context of this previous work our data suggest that bird use of miscanthus in summer and winter is likely to be variable, affected by region, weediness, crop structure and patchiness. While large-scale cropping of SRC in England is likely to have a positive overall impact on a suite of common farmland and woodland birds, our data suggest that miscanthus in the southwest of England may have an approximately neutral effect. However, some open farmland specialist species may be lost when planting either crop. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 British Ornithologists' Union.


Buner F.D.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Browne S.J.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Aebischer N.J.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
Biological Conservation | Year: 2011

Large-scale declines of grey partridges (Perdix perdix) since the 1980s have led to local extinctions in the species' range. As part of a UK recovery programme, we aimed to identify the best methods of re-establishing grey partridges through releasing in areas of extinction where a suitable environment has been restored. In East Anglia and southern England we followed the fates and breeding success of radio-tagged (one site per region) and colour-ringed birds (12 sites per region) of individuals released using five different techniques. The average resighting rate after the first 6. months post-release was 20% for bantam-reared and artificially-reared fostered young, 7% for unfostered young, 10% for full-grown birds in autumn-released coveys and 9% for spring-released adults. For birds that survived the first 6. months, the percentage resighted after a second 6-month period averaged 35%. Across both regions, 65% of grey partridge losses were due to predation of which 58% were killed by mammalian predators and 37% by raptors. Of birds still alive during the breeding season, 88% established their breeding territory within 1.5. km of the release location. There were no detectable differences in breeding success between release methods, but the proportion of females with broods among released birds was a third lower than among wild birds. We recommend re-establishing grey partridges by first releasing autumn coveys, followed by fostering. However, where wild birds are still present, the conservation focus should be on habitat improvements and predation control. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.


Fletcher K.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Aebischer N.J.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Baines D.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Foster R.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust | Hoodless A.N.,The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust
Journal of Applied Ecology | Year: 2010

An 8-year-field experiment on moorland in northern England manipulated the abundance of legally controllable predators whilst maintaining consistent habitat conditions. Subsequent changes in both the breeding success and abundance of five ground-nesting bird species were monitored: lapwing Vanellus vanellus, golden plover Pluvialis apricaria, curlew Numenius arquata, red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus and meadow pipit Anthus pratensis and the abundance only of snipe Gallinago gallinago and skylark Alauda arvensis. Control of fox Vulpes vulpes, carrion crow Corvus corone, stoat Mustela ermina and weasel Mustela nivalis reduced the abundance of fox (-43%) and crow (-78%); no changes were detected in already low stoat or weasel abundances. Reductions in foxes and crows led to an average threefold increase in breeding success of lapwing, golden plover, curlew, red grouse and meadow pipit. Predator control led to subsequent increases in breeding numbers (≥14% per annum) of lapwing, curlew, golden plover and red grouse, all of which declined in the absence of predator control (≥17% per annum). Synthesis and applications. Controlling predators is a potentially important management tool for conserving a range of threatened species. Considerable sums of public monies are currently spent on habitat improvement for conservation and some of these public funds should be used to underpin habitat works with predator removal. © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 British Ecological Society.

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