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December 2018 £4.25 US $11.50 CAN $12.50 Volume 36 Number 13


ANTARCTIC MAJESTY Superb images of emperors taken over 10 years at the pole



CAVE DWELLERS Weird creatures from a world with no light WILDLIFE CHAMPION



MONARCH OR MENACE? Does the UK have a red deer problem?

WILDMONTH Seven essential wildlife events to enjoy this month, compiled by Ben Hoare.


TWEET OF THE DAY Weekdays at 05.58


Mike Lane/FLPA

Frozen out When the ‘Beast from the East’ brought Siberian weather to much of Europe in March this year, a photograph of an unlucky kingfisher frozen solid in the ice of a Dutch canal was widely published in newspapers and went viral on social media. Ice looks pretty, but it’s a killer. For some birds, freezing spells lasting any longer than a couple of days can be a major cause of mortality. Kingfishers are particularly susceptible, as are grey herons, barn owls (because their rodent prey stays underground), and insectivorous species such as goldcrests and Dartford warblers. A big freeze sends their populations tumbling, though numbers recover after a run of mild winters.

Data from the UK’s BirdTrack citizen-science project shows the impact clearly, explains Dawn Balmer, Head of Surveys at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). “Since the cold snap in March, the reporting rate for kingfishers has been well down on both 2017 and the long-term average.” Other surveys can back this up and provide further insight, Dawn says. “We’re eagerly awaiting the results of the Breeding Bird Survey, due in April 2019, as they’ll give us some numbers based on volunteers visiting their survey squares.”

GET INVOLVED Use BirdTrack to share your records and learn about UK birds:

Words Peter Cairns Photos Scotland: The Big Picture



Monarch or menace? Scotland’s largest land mammal is also one of its most contentious. The 'deer problem' divides conservationists, land managers and the public like no other.


Scotland's red deer numbers are at a record high. Many deer survive in marginal uplands, so are smaller than those in richer wooded areas.

Talking point

Dormouse: Andrea Zampatti/Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards 2017; termite illutration by Ethan Kocak

The 'laughing dormouse' was one of the winning images from the Comedy Wildlife Photography awards 2017. Opposite: discover how digestive gas effects termites in Does it Fart?



Literature dating from the Middle Ages and beyond is peppered with animal jokes.

hat words do you most associate with books, articles and programmes about the natural world? If someone asked you to describe a few well-known writers and presenters who cover this important subject – say, beer. Studies into the effects of humour in David Attenborough, Chris Packham, science communication and education have Kate Humble, George Monbiot, Rachel found that it boosts enjoyment of content. Carson and John Muir – which words One study found that humour significantly would you use? Distinguished, engaging, increased pupils’ attention in lessons. knowledgeable or passionate, maybe. But I Could these techniques be used more in our natural-history programming and would be willing to bet that ‘funny’ wasn’t a writing? We know that people find animals word you thought of. funny – literature dating back to the Middle Nature writing and broadcasting, both Illustrations byand Michelle Thompson/Handsome Ages and beyond is peppered with animalhistorical contemporary, on the whole Frank based jokes. The rise of the internet has has been a rather serious affair, with heralded a new era of animal-based comedy, prominent figures focusing on either the as evidenced by the huge boom in ‘viral’ beauty of nature or serious environmental content and popular ‘memes’ featuring threats. There have been calls for more species from cats and honey badgers to humour, but attempts to make information octopuses and sharks – and everything in about the natural world funny have more often been met with criticism. The BBC’s

i E R S OUS? Should humour be used more often when we're talking about the natural world and how to protect it? Or does laughter detract from important conservation messages? By Dani Rabaiotti

wildlife programming has come under particular scrutiny, receiving a barrage of complaints over joking between presenters on both Springwatch and Countryfile. Some more light-hearted wildlife films on The One Show, while reaching huge audiences, have also not been to everyone’s taste. Yet in other areas of life humour is a well-established communication technique. Laughter has been found to reduce blood pressure, decrease the body’s inflammatory response and reduce anxiety and stress in cancer patients. The use of humour has been linked to everything from shorter recovery times in hospital patients to boosting the effectiveness of adverts for

between. But is this style of communication appropriate for what is often worrying news about the state of the natural world? The serious messaging in wildlife documentaries, books and other media may be down to the fact that, more often than not, stories about the natural world involve bad news. Current extinction rates are calculated to be 100–1,000 times background level, and we are losing natural habitats at an unprecedented rate, with an estimated 160,000 sq km of forest being lost each year. One would hope that these stark figures relating to the degradation of our planet are not something that anyone would find amusing. There is understandable concern that



They may be a rare sight in Britain but long-eared owls aren’t so shy and retiring elsewhere. By Miriam Darlington


ˇ ˇ Ceda Vucković

Long-eared owls can be identified by their large, feathery ear tufts and bright orange eyes.



The secret mission of the Octonauts A hit cartoon about a team of underwater ecowarriors has been teaching pre-schoolers about the wonders of the deep. If you haven’t encountered them before – meet the Octonauts! By Paul McGuinness


The Octonauts follow an unusual song and find a humpback whale who is lonely because he doesn’t sound like other whales. These aquatic adventurers have been on our screens since 2010.


round 6 o’clock in the evening a shout of “Bath time!” eventually brings my four-year-old son running. While he’s getting washed we play a number of games, most of which involve me getting drenched. The most popular is when we fill the bath with Octonauts toys, and various models of sea creatures, and have an aquatic adventure

with them. Dried and dressed, he snuggles up on the sofa with me and his mum to watch an episode of his favourite TV show. Octonauts, a smash-hit on the BBC’s preschool channel, CBeebies, consumes our household. We’ve got roughly 130 episodes recorded now and there isn’t a duffer among them. It’s not only my boy’s favourite show; his mum and I love it, too. If we’d had Octonauts when I was young I’d be a marine biologist by now, which is what my son wants to be when he grows up.

For the uninitiated, the Octonauts are a crew of seven animals and one ‘vegimal’ (part vegetable, part animal, and the only fictitious species in the show), who dedicate themselves to exploring and protecting the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes, and the creatures living in them. Led by the fearless Captain Barnacles (a stout-hearted polar bear), the Octonauts sail their ‘Octopod’ craft to every aquatic environment on Earth. Each episode focuses on a different sea creature, whose particular adaptations

Answering the call

of the wild

Report by James Fair

Ten thousand people marched through London on 22 September, highlighting action for wildlife. What did they achieve?


rom the organisers’ point of view, there are things that could have gone better. The main BBC or ITV news programmes and websites could have covered the event, and more than two MPs could have showed their support – step forward the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas and Labour’s Kerry McCarthy. There were also comments on Twitter from, among others, Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance: “Once you get beyond the amusement at the pathetic turnout for @ChrisGPackham’s march, there is a serious issue. The nasty, divisive politics he and his camp followers promote is only negative for wildlife and the countryside.” “Perfect doesn’t happen,” Packham says, a couple of days after the event, “but 10,000 people with polite banners turning out on a rainy September morning, and kids dressed up in funny costumes and walking through the streets of London to the sound of birdsong – the 44 million birds we have lost over the past five decades – has to be a good first step.” Especially, perhaps, given the whole thing was organised by this one man and an assistant, in just two months, and was paid for out of his own pocket – a high, five-figure sum.

Political importance

Left: it may have rained on their parade but a damp day didn't hold back the crowds during The People's Walk for Wildlife.

Right: adults and children alike took to the streets of London during the walk – some with impressive costumes and banners.

Dividing opinion It’s not just the Countryside Alliance and the broader field-sports community that felt antagonised by the walk. A week before the march took place, Emily Ellis, a blogger from the Yorkshire Dales, posted on her website how her love of the moors was being destroyed. “It takes passion to transfer passion, but as soon as you talk about the moors someone will insist on drowning the flames in politics,” she wrote. “Enjoying the moors, apparently, equates to condoning brutal murder… of protected species.” Ellis is someone who does not shoot (though she has worked as a beater), but she lives among people who do. So how does Ellis feel about the Walk for Wildlife and its manifesto? She responds with praise for the good ideas within the manifesto: “Encouraging more outdoor access, diversity and involvement of young people are all so important right now,” she says. But she is highly critical of other aspects. “The most shocking part was, for want of a better phrase, the ‘Highland clearances’

Andy Rouse (x 2)

But the big question is: what has Chris Packham’s ‘Walk for Wildlife’ and publication of the ‘People’s Manifesto for Wildlife’ – containing “200 ideas to make a difference in UK conservation” – actually achieved? In the long run, how will it be remembered and what, if anything, will be its legacy? Well, Mark Avery, the campaigner and former RSPB director of conservation, reports on his website the reaction of an unnamed MP who responded to the manifesto thus: “I read it, and I think I got to page 67 before I found something I could agree with. No wonder wildlife is at risk with this sort of level of political understanding.” Is the manifesto politically naive? Martin Spray is chief executive of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and a former civil

servant who worked in the Treasury, so he is someone who has an appreciation of realpolitik. He laughs at the notion that the manifesto lacks political understanding. “It’s a little rough and ready,” he concedes, “but it was written and edited by 20 people [21, if you include Packham] who brought together a whole lot of issues that relate to wildlife loss. It has come to a point where we need to be more outspoken. Of course, we recognise the importance of politics, but politics is not delivering.”


DA RK N E S S By Megan Shersby

Discover an underground world filled with little-known species that are slowly coming to light, thanks to the work of cave divers and scientists.


tanislav, our guide to Postojna Cave, reassures us: “I'll only turn the lights off for a minute or so.” Still, it’s a shock when we are plunged into pitch-black. My eyes strain to pick up even the faintest hint of light, but there is none. We were warned it might be a bit overwhelming, and I’m starting to feel a little disorientated. The only thing I can hear is the quiet breathing of those with me, and the only thing I can feel is the cool metal rail that I’m gripping to steady myself. I feel completely inadequate in terms of being adapted for the dark, and it’s bizarre to think that anything could live in this kind of environment, but Stanislav assures me that there are over 100 species found in this cave system, including a ‘dragon’. Postojna Cave is world-famous and is located in Slovenian’s karst region – a limestone plateau that stretches from southwest Slovenia to northeast Italy. The cave was carved by the Pivka River across millions of years, and many parts of the cave system are still flooded. Graffiti dating to 1213 shows that the caves have been used

Wild Wonders of Europe/Hodalic/NPL

Known as everything from 'baby dragon' to 'human fish' the olm continues to reveal new surprises for those studying this cave-dwelling salamander.

by humans for centuries. The system is over 24km long, with at least four caves, connected by the river, and home to a variety of breathtaking rock formations, and to the secretive ‘dragons’. But forget about any images you might have of fire-breathing beasts. The ‘dragons’ in question are actually olms, cave-dwelling salamanders, which have been surrounded by mystery for centuries. Local people often saw the olms after heavy rains washed them from the caves, and believed they were the offspring of 'cave dragons'. With the olm's sinuous body and external gills, it’s not too difficult to understand this particular case of mistaken identity.

Adapting to the dark Unlike the majority of amphibians, the olm is completely aquatic, and like all troglobites (true cave-dwelling creatures), it is adapted to living its whole life in the darkness of caves. It lacks any pigmentation in its skin, resulting in it being a pink or yellow-white colour. This led to it being described as a ‘human fish’ by locals, due to the similarity of its coloration to their own skin colour.

This touching image demonstrates the adult emperor penguins’ efforts to raise their single chick in the Gould Bay colony in Antarctica’s Weddell Sea. The adult has returned from feeding at sea and prepares to regurgitate a meal of fish, krill or squid to its hungry offspring, after homing in on the chick’s unique call and frequent, plaintive entreaties for food.



Photographer Sue Flood


Photo story


Emperor penguins are perfectly adapted to thrive in the extreme conditions of Antarctica, one of the Earth’s most remote places. These intimate portraits show the challenges they overcome to live their lives and raise their young.

BBC Wildlife December 2018  
BBC Wildlife December 2018