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WARBLER WONDERLAND Finding punky heads & perky tails in Suffolk

February 2017 Volume 35 Number 2



GOLDEN JACKALS O the On h move and d breaking all the rules N E WS A N A LYS I S

Are animals a laughing matter?


One man’s solution to our vanishing rainforests


What happens when birds take over an Italian town

HOME-GROWN LILO H How fermenting leaves help sloths to swim h

FREEZE FRAME Winning pictures of life above the Arctic Circle






WELCOME GET YOUR DIGITAL COPY Buy a digital edition of BBC C Wildlife Magazine for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, PC or Mac. Visit iTunes, the Goog gle e Play store, Amazon or www w. to find out more.

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CHECK OUT OUR WEBSITE Find breaking news, fascinating facts and amazing photos:

Find out more on p62

Get in touch EDITORIAL Tel 0117 314 7366 Email Post BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN

Edward Kopeschn/Barcroft Images

Welcome... In several articles this issue we’re highlighting wildlife that comes in from the wild to make itself at home with city dwellers. Lesser kestrels are a case in point. To them towns, especially older ones, are a kind of cave system with lots of ledges and nooks and crannies in statuary providing near-perfect nest sites. I say near-perfect because, as the people of Matera in Italy know (p20), it’s not uncommon for chicks to fall from their

lofty quarters and have to be fostered. Luckily, there is a great willingness in the town to do this. Elsewhere in Europe golden jackals are moving in (p36) and making a living from urban rubbish dumps, as are brown bears in Turkey (p114), co-existing happily with other landfill users because the pickings are so good. Such examples of metropolitan wildlife contribute to the question posed in our talking point article (p30): is it time to designate some major cities as types of national parks? One to ponder... Sheena Harvey Editor

Contributors MARIANNE TAYLOR Marianne is a wildlife writer. She says, “The lesser kestrels that make their homes in the glowing sandstone walls of ancient Matera present an irresistable picture of urban wildlife.” See p20

February 2017

JO PRICE BBC Wildlife production editor Jo spent a weekend in Suffolk as a wildlife volunteer. “You don’t need to travel far to encounter exciting species and do your bit for conservation,” she says. See p46

JOHN BURTON John Burton started the World Land Trust in 1989. “We identified a niche in the market,” he says. “No one was doing land conservation at that time.” See p74

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ON THE COVER: Jackal: Janez Tarman; warbler: Andy Rouse/2020VISION/NPL; sloth: Suzi Eszterhas; sea stars: Audun Rikardsen

BBC Wildlife




CONTENTS February 2017



The adaptable golden jackal could soon be spotted all over Europe





Woodies’ comeback Chris Packham has good news about woodpeckers



February highlights Spot badgers, crossbills, herons, mating frogs, pintails and celandines

20 Hitchcock’s dream

Hidden Britain

30 Urban wildlife

Everything you need to know about pseudoscorpions


Wild events February events and reasons to visit WWT Llanelli Wetlands Centre

14 Latest science research Eggs in danger near garden bird feeders. Plus, how humans may be ‘wired’ to spot snakes 4

Exclusive reader holiday Join expert guides for a wildlife-watching treat in Wales this spring

BBC Wildlife

What happens when lesser kestrels take over a town London could become the first National Park City

34 In a flash Why click beetles put on a glow show

36 Golden wonder Jackals are quietly moving across Europe

Agenda 46 Warbler wonderland Connecting with nature and helping conservation efforts in Suffolk

68 Home-grown lilo What motivates treedwelling sloths to swim?

74 Buy it! John Burton on the development of the World Land Trust

80 Freeze frame Magical images of Arctic Circle wildlife both above and below the water

a city be a 30 0 Can national park?

55 Scottish beavers to stay Species to be protected

56 Giraffe extinction threat Devastating drop in numbers over past 30 years

57 My agenda Mary Tayler, river warden

58 Conservation insight Moves to protect the koala

61 Mark Carwardine Alien species

62 Analysis Is it right to find humour in wildlife?


A historic Italian town has become a haven for lesser kestrels

to know a 68 Getting small, slow swimmer images of wildlife found in the Arctic Circle 80 Incredible

EDITORIAL Editor Sheena Harvey Features Editor Ben Hoare Environment Editor James Fair Section Editor Sarah McPherson Production Editorr Jo Price Art Editor Richard Eccleston Designer Benedict Blyth Picture Editor Tom Gilks Editorial Assistant Megan Shersby Contributors Liz Turner, Anna Harris, Samantha Stocks ADVERTISING Group Ad Manager Tom Drew 0117 933 8043 Ad Manager Neil Lloyd 0117 300 8276 Brand Sales Executive Sophie Mills-Thomas 0117 314 8816 Junior Brand Sales Executive Tara Hennell 0117 314 7357 Senior Classified Executive Dan Granville 0117 314 7397 INSERTS Laurence Robertson 00353 876 902208 MARKETING Subscriptions Directorr Jacky Perales-Morris Digital Marketing Manager Mark Summerton Direct Marketing Manager Aimee Rhymer Internal Communications Manager Carolyn Wray LICENSING & SYNDICATION Rights Manager Emma Brunt 0117 314 8782; Director of Licensing & Syndication Tim Hudson PRODUCTION Ad Co-ordinator Paul Thornton Ad Designer Rachel Shircore Production Director Sarah Powell Production Co-ordinator Lily Owens-Crossman IMMEDIATE MEDIA COMPANY BRISTOL LTD Publisher Marie Davies Publishing Assistant Rosa Sherwood Managing Director Andy Marshall Chairman Stephen Alexander Deputy Chairman Peter Phippen CEO Tom Bureau

Every month 19

Chris Packham Chris’s latest unsung hero


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Jackal: Janez Tarman; kestrel: Stefano Unterthiner; sloth: Suzi Eszterhas; humpback: Audun Rikardsen; wood mouse: Scott Tilley/Getty; illustration by Elly Walton

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Book reviews


TV and radio Filming up-close using realistic robo-animals

100 Q&A Do magpies catch mice?

106 Your feedback 108 Inside the image Top photography tips


Your photos




Tales from the bush

February 2017


Take a break and make a difference for UK wildlife

BBC WORLDWIDE, UK PUBLISHING Director Editorial Governance Nicholas Brett Director of Consumer Products and Publishing Andre Moultrie Head of UK Publishing Chris Kerwin Publisherr Mandy Thwaites UK Publishing Co-ordinator Eva Abramik;

BBC Wildlife e provides trusted, independent travel advice and information that has been gathered without fear or favour. We aim to provide options that cover a range of budgets and reveal the positive and negative points of the locations we visit. The views expressed in BBC Wildlife are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the magazine or its publisher. The publisher, editor and authors accept no responsibility in respect of any products, goods or services that may be advertised or referred to in this issue or for any errors, omissions, mis-statements or mistakes in any such advertisements or references. © Immediate Media Company Bristol Limited 2017. All rights reserved. No part of BBC Wildlife e may be reproduced in any form or by any means either wholly or in part without prior written permission of the publisher. Not to be resold, lent, hired out or otherwise disposed of by way of trade at more than the recommended retail price (subject to VAT in the Republic of Ireland) or in mutilated condition. Printed by William Gibbons Ltd.

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Laurie Campbell


While drumming, a woodpecker survives impacts to its head that would kill most vertebrates. Its cranial bone structure and beak arrangement act as a natural shock absorber, preventing damage to or lethal rotation of the brain within its case.


Maximum number of strikes during a burst of drumming, according to expert Gerard Gorman. Both sexes drum, and the rate of drumming accelerates then fades away.





ith spring just around the corner, pairs of great spotted woodpeckers are already on their territories, and woods and parks are beginning to reverberate with their trademark drumming. British populations of this handsome species have increased by over 400 per cent since the 1970s. The remarkable upturn is due to several factors, not least a substantial increase in the availability of dead wood, which the birds require for nesting and feeding. This trend began as a result of Dutch elm disease, then continued as forests matured and woodland managers were increasingly inclined to leave dead or moribund trees in situ. Also working in the woodies’ favour is the severe decline in numbers of starlings, which are ‘cavity kleptoparasites’ – they steal nest holes from other species, principally woodpeckers. Climate change is helping great spotted woodpeckers as well: it enables them to begin breeding a week or two earlier than in the mid-20th century – and because food availability declines as spring advances, early broods tend to be more successful than late ones. One final factor is likely to be the increased provisioning of birdfeeders with woodpecker favourites such as peanuts, mealworms and fat balls. GET INVOLVED Take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch on 28 to 30 January:





BROCK OC STARS S S Newborn badgers – many of which have arrived by February – weigh only about 100g, but already sport their stripes. It will be April before they venture above ground, but in the meantime the sett is far from safe: aggression between adults peaks in early spring, when dominant sows and mature males also kill many cubs. Breeding sows (pictured) can mate again at any time, regardless of cub survival, but the embryos will not develop until they implant in the uterus, usually in December. FIND OUT MORE


BRIGHT SPARK celandine yellow to trigger a sense of spring, the dazzling hue of this bloom enhanced by its exceptionally reflective petals. The carotenoid pigments that give the flowers their colour absorb mostly green and blue light, but bounce back almost all of the yellow. They also reflect UV wavelengths, making the species even more spectacular to animals with vision in that part of the spectrum. TOP TIP Look for lesser celandine in damp

Badger: Drew Buckley/Alamy; crossbill: Steve Round; herons: Laurie Campbell; moth: John Bebbington; fox:; frogs: Alex Hyde; pintail: Steve Round; celandine: Genevieve Leaper

spots p in woodlands and hedgebanks g in spring. p g


The essential wildlife highlights to enjoy this month, compiled by Amy-Jane Beer


LOOK SHARP The majority of almost 30,000 pintails currently occupying estuaries, coastal flats and inland lakes across Britain are winter visitors – look for the males’ tapered tails now before the birds return to their breeding grounds in Iceland and Scandinavia. This fast-flying, elegant duck commonly forms mixed flocks with other species, and the fluting whistles of the males carry well in the crowd. Pintails feed mainly at night, their daytime activity limited to dabbling and preening interspersed with bouts of sleep. FIND OUT MORE Listen to the pintail's call at


BBC Wildlife

February 2017


EARLY STARTER Comm mon crossbills are increasing in Britain thanks to the expansion of coniferous woodlands to which this hefty finch is adapted. The distinctive overlapping mandibles are used for tweaking seeds from cones. A good proportion of our crossbills arrive during irruption years, when poor conifer crops elsewhere in Europe and especially Russia force the birds to disperse in search of food. Recent research suggests that in good habitat crossbills are extremely early breeders: in Wales the average date on which the first egg is laid is 13 February. Compared with the similar redpoll, which breeds in May, this seems remarkable. The early start is perhaps possible because the crossbill’s food of choice is readily available in winter, helping parent birds achieve peak condition. TOP TIP To spot crossbills, head to


HERON HIGH-RISE Perhaps because they are usually seen in solitary hunting mode, the sight of a dozen herons peering from untidy nests is a single tree is an incongruous one. Yet each February these waders return en masse to regular heronries to breed. Numbers of the birds are increasing thanks to improved water quality, reduced persecution and new habitat in the form of flooded gravel pits. GET INVOLVED Take part in the BTO's Heronries Census:

woodlands such as Thetford Forest or RSPB Lake Vyrnwy reserve.


ON THE HOP All over Britain, frogs are on the move. Their emergence from hibernation is temperature dependent, but a run of nights warmer than 5°C is usually enough to rouse them – and breeding is their first priority. They head instinctively for wetlands (some hibernate in ponds, but many use damp, frost-free hidey-holes a surprising distance from water), usually favouring a site where they’ve bred before, or the place where they themselves hatched. Males are first on the scene, ready to ambush females with a mating embrace when they arrive a few days later. GET INVOLVED Download Froglife’s Dragon Finder app: dragonfinder/app/

ALSO LOOK OUT FOR… HIGH FLIERS The flight season for the pale brindled beauty is well underway, but you’ll see only males on the wing. Like many other winter-flying moths, females are completely wingless, summoning suitors by crawling up tree trunks and emitting pheromones that spread widely to guide in the males. CLOCKWORK KITES Like most scavengers, red kites are quick to catch on to the schedules of feeding stations – and demonstrate an impressive ability to tell the time. The scarcity of food in late winter means that these spectacular birds often arrive en masse at these stations, showcasing their spectacularly elegant flight. NEST BEFORE RE DATE National Nestt Box Week takes place every 14–21 February, con nveniently falling in half--term week for many schools. This is about the late est week to install a nestb box if you want your local tits s, sparrows or robins to m move in. For advice, visit w www. utbirds/nnbw AD RED NOT DEAD They might sound like a murderr in progress, butt the bloodcurdling g screams and shrieks of foxes on wintter nights are rou utine parts of the species s’ vocal repertoire. Th he ‘waaaow’ scream of both sexes, and the shriek – g given mainly by vixens – are subtly differe ent but equally horre endous.






y first encounter with pseudoscorpions was a revelation. On the edge of my compost bin, apparently engaged in remote-controlled manoeuvres, were armour-plated miniature scorpions – just minus the stinging tail. Sedate forward progress was broken by sudden reversing or sideways swerves. One look and I was hooked! In Britain we have 27 species of these immensely engaging invertebrates – varying in length from an impressive 4mm in the large tree chernes to just 1.3mm in the book scorpion. Like spiders and true scorpions they are arachnids, with four pairs of jointed legs and another pair of jointed appendages (pedipalps) each side of their jaws (chelicerae). They usually have one or two pairs of eyes but these are sensitive only to changing light levels; navigation relies on long, sensitive hairs

(trichobothria), and on tastes and scents that guide them to good habitats and sources of prey.

Armed and venomous Relative to the size of the animal, the pedipalps are huge, and end in scorpion-like pincers which give rise to their name. This formidable weaponry is, unsurprisingly, used for defence and prey capture, as well as for grooming. Displaying their arachnid credentials, some species produce venom, ejected from glands at the tips of the pedipalps and capable of subduing prey substantially larger than themselves. Lying between the pedipalps, the tooth-edged chelicerae are also pincer-like – they provide a powerful bite and filter food. In bizarre contrast to spiders, which produce silk from spinnerets at the rear of the abdomen, some pseudoscorpions produce it from

DID YOU KNOW? OBeautifully preserved

pseudoscorpions are found in Baltic amber but the oldest known fossils date back 380 million years.

Sandra Doyle/The Art Agency

OMore than 2,000 years

ago, Aristotle, in his History of Animals described finding book pseudoscorpions in his library. OPseudoscorpions

move between temporary habitats by ‘hitch-hiking’. Hanging on with

February 2017

their pincers they ‘steal’ lifts from other animals. OThe arachnids have the

ability to store sperm and fertilise eggs at a later date, an adaptation to temporary habitats that enables single females to start new colonies.

Dendrochemes cyrneus catches a lift from a longhorn beetle, behaviour known as phoresy.

a tiny projection (the galea) at the tip of the chelicera. Pseudoscorpion silk is restricted to peaceful uses; food is captured by stealth rather than entrapment in silken webs. The all-important pedipalps vary in shape and size depending on the favoured prey, which could include beetles or insect larvae. Their sex lives are discreet in the extreme to avoid conflict between well-armed parties. The male often has no contact with the female, instead leaving her to collect a tiny, silk-wrapped packet of sperm (a spermatophore) deposited on the ground on a silken stalk just a millimetre high. In some species spermatophore production follows a courtship ‘dance’, sometimes holding ‘hands’ – the pincers. Motherhood is a serious commitment. Pseudoscorpion eggs mature internally and the embryos are ‘laid’ into a brood-sac under the female’s body where they are protected and nourished. They emerge as perfect miniatures of

the adults, undergoing several moults before they mature. In some species the mother continues to feed the free-living nymphal stages with secretions from her mouth. In others she shares a silk chamber with her brood until they mature.

Helpful house guests Despite their low profile in every sense, pseudoscorpions are found in most terrestrial habitats. Some species exploit transient places such as rotting wood, compost heaps and bird nests, while others prefer the relative permanence of soil, leaf litter and grass tussocks. Some live dangerously, in crevices on the shore, coming out to feed as the tide recedes, while others enjoy the comfort of our homes, feeding on less welcome guests such as carpet beetle larvae, booklice and house dust mites. Once you’ve focused down and been charmed by your first pseudoscorpion, identification can be challenging. But help is at hand from a new, illustrated key from the Field Studies Council (FSC). You can find out more at By HELEN SMITH Ecologist and arachnid expert

BBC Wildlife




WHERE Llywynhendy, Llanelli, SA14 9SH SENIOR RESERVE WARDEN Brian Briggs

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT Fill your lungs with Atlantic winds blasting up the estuary and experience huge open skies. Visitors can enjoy the cold winter days from the warmth of our viewing tower.

Visit WWT Llanelli in February to see short-eared owls (pictured), waders and wildfowl.

TOP WILDLIFE SPOT I like to sit in the Heron’s Wing hide and watch wildfowl feeding in Deep Water Lake, while keeping an eye out for short-eared owls hunting.

JOIN ITS EVENT Get up close to wildlife at our bird feeds, which occur every Sunday at 3.30pm until 26 March. Join our warden to find out about how we care for wildlife at the reserve.

WHAT YOU CAN SEE Listen to the haunting sound of curlew while watching skeins of brent geese. Knot and dunlins wheel overhead, and lapwings and golden plovers rise from the saltmarsh when they are spooked by a peregrine falcon.

HOW TO VOLUNTEER We’re currently looking for roaming engagers to help enhance our visitors’ experience. Visit volunteer-with-wwt for more information.



Feb X

This exciting event will celebrate science, conservation, and marine life at ExCeL London. It will feature London International Dive Show and Whalefest. The latter arranges family-friendly activites and talks to promote marine conservation. Adult day ticket costs £16 to £18.

4Feb -12 Mar

18 Feb

Visit Royal Botanical Gardens Kew to see amazing winning images from the 10th IGPOTY competition. The contest highlights the diverse beauty of life found in gardens.

Join award-winning wildlife photographer Sam Hobson for an outdoor workshop that will focus on how to get up close to wildlife responsibly. Meet at Bristol’s M Shed at 2.30pm. Adult ticket costs £25.





14-21 Feb T

Short-eared owl: Russ Myners; fox: Sam Hobson (Wildlife Photographer of the Year is developed and produced by the Natural History Museum, London); ant: Vyacheslav Mishchenko/IGPOTY; nuthatch: Edmund Fellowes/BTO; Dan Challender: Lydia Tiller



Take part in NNBW by putting up a nestbox and join in the BTO’s Nest Box Challenge. This survey involves monitoring your nestbox throughout the breeding season and reporting what you see.


BBC Wildlife




DAN CHALLENDER WHAT Pangolins: what are they, where are they? WHEN 6pm on 21 February WHERE Huxley Lecture Theatre, ZSL

Dan Challender will be talking about the evolution, morphology, ecology and behaviour of pangolins at this ZSL London Zoo talk. The co-chair of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group will be exploring the range of threats faced by the endangered mammals and what is required to conserve them. He says, “A range of key actions are needed to save pangolins. These include a combination of effective law enforcement, reducing demand for pangolin products in consumer markets and engaging local communities that live with or close to wildlife in pangolin conservation.” This talk is free to attend. Find out more at http:// Discover more about the work of the IUCN SSC Pangolin Specialist Group at February 2017




Red squirrels are thriving on Anglesey.

6–10 May 2017

Princes Arms has wonderful views of the Conwy Valley.

Black guillemots, cormorants and kittiwakes share Puffin Island with its namesake.

Local experts, Ruth Miller and Alan Davies, have created a Welsh holiday tailored to BBC Wildlife Magazine readers, promising views of puffins, lekking grouse, red squirrels and grey seals, all in breathtaking scenery.


● Four nights’ accommodation in double en suite rooms at the Princes Arms, Trefriw ● All meals, including soft drinks from lunch on day one to lunch on day five ● All excursions and entrance fees ● Transport throughout the tour ● Use of field guides and top-of-the-range Leica telescopes ● Checklists of birds and mammals


● Evening presentations from the experts ● Transfer from Llandudno Junction railway station to and from the hotel can be arranged at no extra cost Excludes: Alcoholic drinks and extra drinks and snacks outside meals; transport to and from Princes Arms, Trefriw, other than Llandudno Junction; travel/medical insurance; items of a personal nature.

Price: £989 per person (no single supplement) The full itinerary for this trip is available at For more information visit and O To book: email or call 01492 872407 quoting BBC Wildlife Reader Holiday

BBC Wildlife


Puffin: Mike Warburton Photography/Getty; squirrel: Ben Queenborough/Getty

supported by a team of professional guides with expertise in their own particular areas. At RSPB Conwy, you can enjoy warblers, waders and wildfowl at close range, and the dramatic limestone headland of the Great Orme, with its many seabirds and famous Kashmir goats. On the beautiful island of Anglesey, home to red squirrels and RSPB South Stack, there’s an excellent chance of seeing puffins and Atlantic grey seals. There will be the opportunity to witness black grouse lekking on the high moors, and waders and raptors on the Dee Estuary at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands. You can visit North Wales’ only little tern breeding colony. Orchids bloom nearby, and there Ruth Miller and Alan Davies are R is a possibility of spotting professional wildlife guides with p the elusive sand lizard and many years’ experience. Alan is m natterjack toads. author of Best Birdwatching Sites in a One day, weather permitting, North Wales and Ruth has published N there will be a boat trip around A Anglesey: Birds, Boots and Butties ((a series of walking/birdwatching/ Puffin Island, where you can ttearoom guides. Both worked for look out for cetaceans, including tthe RSPB before setting up their harbour porpoises, in the waves, wildlife tour company in 2009. w and seals on the rocks.

ou are invited to join an exclusive Welsh holiday created especially for readers of BBC Wildlife Magazine from 6 to 10 May 2017. This trip will be restricted to just six guests, staying at the comfortable Princes Arms Hotel in the Conwy Valley. May is a wonderful time to visit North Wales, with its exciting blend of resident and migrant birds and charismatic mammals, all particularly active in spring, in varied habitats and stunning scenery. You will have the best opportunities to spot wildlife in the company of your hosts, local experts Ruth Miller and Alan Davies,

February 2017



DISCOVER RIES The latest in scientific reseearch from all over the animal kingd gdom.


The greenfinch is a regular garden visitor that likes to feast on sunflower hearts. Q BIRDS


Graham Prentice/Alamy


wo independent studies – one in England, the other in North America – have found that feeding birds doesn’t have wholly positive outcomes for the birds themselves. Researchers at the University of Reading used artifical nests filled with quails’ eggs to gauge the extent of predation. “About 10 per cent of the nests survive if they are near a feeder and 50 per cent survive if they are not,” said Mark Fellowes, who led the work. Camera-traps trained on the nests revealed magpies, grey squirrels and jays were the main culprits. 14

BBC Wildlife

guards designed to Jennifer Malpass DID YOU KNOW? exclude predators had and colleagues at QAbout half the little effect. Ohio State University households in the “We think predators monitored the fate of UK and USA provide supplementary food are attracted by the American robin and for wild birds. In the presence of food, even northern cardinal UK alone, this food if they can’t get to it, nests over a four-year could sustain 30m and then they forage period. The effect birds and improve overwinter survival in opportunistically was inconsistent, but a number of species. around the feeder,” arose especially when said Fellowes. feeders and predators Guards can help in other were numerous. ways, though, he said. “There’s Fewer than one per cent of evidence that, with unguarded American robin nests survived in feeders, squirrels are taking neighbourhoods with the most more than half the food. So feeders and crows compared to all that’s doing is fuelling the up to 34 per cent when these production of more predators.” were most infrequent. Other precautions available Using feeders fitted with

to householders include setting feeders away from trees and hedges. The danger zone around a feeder is hard to pin down, but Fellowes estimates it is between 10 and 50m. The content of the feeders also matters. “Niger seed is better because magpies and squirrels won’t go for it like they go for peanuts,” said Fellowes. In a statement the RSPB said that nest predation “does not significantly impact on the overall populations of our UK garden birds.” SOURCE: Ibis and The Condor LINK: and

February 2017





Monkey: Thomas Marent/Minden/FLPA; hare: Don Johnston/Alamy; boa: Claudio Contreras/; salamander: James Hanken/Harvard University

SENSING SNAKES Failing to spot a snake hidden in the leaf litter can be more than startling – it can be fatal. And yet, it doesn’t happen as often as it might, according to new research, because our visual systems are specially tuned to detect them. It would make perfect sense for evolution to have equipped us with a snake early-warning system as it is crucial for survival. And now Japanese researchers have tested the idea by applying computer-generated “camouflage” to pictures of snakes and other, harmless, animals such as birds and fish. For each animal, they produced a series of 20 pictures that became increasingly more recognisable. They found that people were typically able to spot the snakes by about the seventh image, compared to the ninth or tenth for the harmless creatures. “This suggests that humans are primed to pick out snakes even in dense undergrowth, in a way that isn’t activated for other animals that aren’t a threat,” said co-author Hongshen He of Japan’s Nagoya University.

Humans are ‘wired’ to detect snakes even when they are barely visible.



Snub-nosed monkeys show compassion when another is dying.


MOURNING MONKEY Biologists in China have documented the touching behaviour of a male Sichuan snub-nosed monkey as he nursed his dying mate through her final moments. The scientists were observing a family group of four females, two juveniles, two infants and an adult male. When one female, who was already showing signs of illness, suddenly fell 25m from a tree, hitting her head on a rock, her agitated family gathered around as she twitched and groaned faintly. But it was her mate who

seemed most concerned. As the family dispersed, he remained by her side, touching and grooming her, until she died 90 minutes later. Even then he seemed reluctant to leave, and returned to the spot the next day, although her body had been removed. These observations, write the team of scientists, “suggest that compassionate caretaking is not unique to humans and great apes, at least when dying individuals and survivors share an emotional bond.”

SOURCE: Current Biology LINK:

The size and density of a species’ population can determine whether it grows or declines in the future. Such density dependent effects play out elegantly in the dramatic population cycles of snowshoe hares and lynx in North America. When hares are plentiful, lynx eat well and increase in numbers. But more predators mean fewer hares. And fewer hares mean less food for lynx, so they decline in turn. This allows the hares to bounce back only for the process back, to start all over again.

The cycle of life: lynx are dependent on snowshoe hare populations in North America.



HEROIC MINUTE SALAMANDER WHAT IS IT? With adults shorter than a matchstick and not much thicker, minute salamanders are the world’s smallest terrestrial vertebrates with a tail. Unfortunately, they are also contenders for the world’s most endangered genus of amphibians. The heroic minute salamander (right) is one of three newly described species. WHERE IS IT? All 29 species of minute salamander are endemic to Mexico. The latest additions are from forests of Oaxaca. Minute salamander populations have declined rapidly over the last 30 years. SOURCE: PLoS ONE LINK:

February 2017

The entire minute salamander genus could be extinct before 2100.


BBC Wildlife




New research reveals that sailfish use a unique form of group hunting to improve the catch for all involved.


SAILFISH HUNT IN PACKS Sailfish made news in 2014 when biologists showed that they use their sword-like snouts to slash at schools of fish to injure them for ease of capture. Now, the same team has found that the technique is even more successful when the predators hunt in groups rather than alone. “They catch more prey per unit time if hunting together,” said James Herbert-Read of Uppsala University, who led the research in the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s because a bout of slashing injures more prey than a sailfish can catch. When several sailfish hunt together, injured fish accumulate to the point that they become very easy to pick off. Each sailfish is simply doing what it does when hunting alone – no organisation between the hunters is required. But that very simplicity could be essential to how group cohesion arises initially among

normally solitary predators. Herbert-Read believes the success of these current tactics could lead to more complex forms of group hunting. He said: “Some co-ordination between hunters may occur when the sailfish try to herd the sardine ball. This would be a very interesting aspect of the hunt to investigate further.” SOURCE: Proceedings of the Royal Society B LINK:


Sailfish: Brandon Cole/; puffin: Richard Costin/FLPA; bat: Rolf Nussbaumer/; bonobo: Frans Lanting/FLPA

TO SEABIRDS, PLASTIC SMELLS Too much of the plastic waste that ends up in the world’s oceans finds its way into the stomachs of marine creatures. In fact, new Plastic debris research suggests that certain seabirds are emits a scent that actively attracted to it. attracts seabirds, “It’s important to consider the such as puffins. organism’s point of view in questions like this,” said Matthew Savoca of the University of California, Davis, who led the study. DMS is released naturally by marine algae “If we want to truly understand why animals are under attack so it is a reliable aromatic signpost eating plastic in the ocean, we have to think about for species hunting a meal of crustaceans. how animals find food.” Indeed, further experiments showed that seabird Savoca’s team found that plastics exposed species that use DMS to find food are six times to seawater emit a chemical – dimethyl sulfide more likely to ingest plastic waste. (DMS) – that is used by albatrosses, petrels and SOURCE: Science Advances LINK: shearwaters when foraging.


BBC Wildlife

RAPID FLYER Forget running cheetahs or stooping peregrine falcons, the world’s fastest animal may be the Brazilian free-tailed bat. Writing in Royal Society Open Science, scientists report they can reach 160kph in horizontal flight without the assistance of gravity or wind. FRESH LEGS A new species of millipede has been discovered in a cave in California’s Sequoia National Park. Described in the journal Zookeys, Illacme tobini boasts 414 legs, 200 poison glands, hairs that secrete silk and four ‘penises’. FIRST CASE OF LEAF MIMICRY IN A SPIDER An unnamed spider from China is the first arachnid known to mimic a leaf – or, rather, two leaves. From below, it resembles a dead leaf; from above, a live one. The Journal of Arachnology y reports that it even has an uncanny leaf stalk projecting from its rear end. LONG-SIGHTED APES Ageing bonobos could do with reading glasses – not for reading, but for picking parasites from their friends’ fur, which ch they must do with in ncreasingly straight arms to o be able to focus s. According to Current Biology y, it is evidence th hatt human agerelated longsightedness is not a product of modern life.

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y university days were a stark contrast between exciting academic progress and a social disaster zone. I loved the course to the extent that I only missed one lecture in three years, but for most of that time I barely spoke to anyone, merely uttering “20p please” to the bus conductor N AT U R A L H I STO R Y twice a day. I didn’t fit in… so despite the enormous value of the education it was a very lonely time for me. Of course with green, blue, black, or blonde and black stripy hair (I was studying badgers at the time, so I matched their markings), skin tight zippy trousers, white brothel creepers and a studded biker’s jacket, I didn’t look like your typical 1970s zoology student. Not A Suffolk wildlife stalwart who saw beyond a punk rocker that this perturbed most of my lecturers or my tutor, Dr exterior to the dedicated naturalist inside. Rory Putman, who smiled wryly at my flamboyances and was enormously supportive of both my inadequacies and Thus, on a hot Saturday We went for a walk, did a bit my ambitions. Nevertheless, in June of 1982, Mr Ron of nest finding, talked about when I left university I felt Hoblyn, and his wonderful woodlarks and nightjars, like I was at war with most of wife Maureen, probably got the listened to F-111 planes the world and found respite shock of their lives when my roaring overhead, and ended from the battle on the heaths father dropped me at their neat up gawping in mutual of the New Forest where my cottage door and sped off back admiration at a male redfavourite bird of the moment, to Southampton. I backed shrike. the red-backed shrike, was was sporting an I learned that Ron was sadly similarly imperilled. It absurd yellow ‘Nestfinder General’, and all had been in long-term decline quiff, leather about birds and forestry. I had but was finally finished off trousers, and found myself in the company by the nefarious attentions my trusty of one of the greatest of egg collectors. During the binoculars. naturalists I’ll ever know. I summer that followed my think Ron learned that the graduation, none arrived on 10x50 binoculars were the sunny, coconut-scented the critical element of sandlands that had been their my attire, and that I southern stronghold. I was was always keen to bereft, but not beaten. listen to someone I wrote to a man who lived who knew more in the Suffolk Brecks, who than I did. So over I had been told was ‘Mr the next couple Shrike’. I got a very neat of weeks that I handwritten reply by return spent sleeping Ron and Chris inviting me to come and in a tick-infested worked together help warden the remaining to protect redtent beneath the backed shrikes. pairs in Thetford Forest. shrikes, diligently


Unsung heroes + +


East Anglian Daily Times


February 2017

and daily repelling a posse of egg-collectors, we began to share our passion for wildlife. One of Ron’s secrets is his eyes: small, sparkling and keen; he is a brilliant watcher. He is patient, of course. But he also, quite simply, sees more than most – the quick details, the subtle clues that combine with a lifetime of ingenuity honed quietly in the shady nooks of Suffolk to unravel nature’s curiosities. In between he worked for the Forestry Commission and together with his team helped to reshape its conservation policy in the East of England. A great number of nightjars, woodlarks, stone curlews and goshawks are the better off for that. On a warm evening during one of the last of the shrike summers I spent with Ron, he drove me down to a layby opposite Lakenheath airbase where, on the sand alongside a burned out van, he showed



me the sand catchfly – a curious little plant living on dry disturbed ground. A car pulled up and I’ll never forget the look on the driver’s face: incredulous, confused, startled, as he took in the sight of a prostrate punk rocker and his mentor musing over the minutiae of life. Without prejudice, Ron offered me a chance when few others did, and I remain very grateful for that. Top bloke. CHRIS PACKHAM is a conservationist and presenter. OWould you like to comment or name a conservation hero? Let us know: email

BBC Wildlife


Photos by y Stefano Unterthiner

The city of Matera, southern Italy, is famous for two things: its stone houses, carved out of the cliffs and caves, and its growing population of lesser kestrels, which are building homes in nooks and crannies all over this historic city.

Matera, one of the prettiest Italian hilltop towns, hosts Europe’s largest colony of lesser kestrels. Marianne Taylor reports.


The elegant forms of lesser kestrels often interrupt the geometry of Matera, frequently spotted perching on the wires that bisect the city's narrow walkways.


he Scillonian ferry carried more birdwatchers than usual from Penzance to St Mary’s, Scilly, in May 2002. The attraction was a visiting lesser kestrel, only the fifth to have arrived in Britain since 1950. Some birders didn’t even have to disembark to tick off this rarity – as the ferry chugged into port, the little raptor was already in full view, hovering over Peninnis Head in true kestrel style. Apart from the occasional lost wanderer like this, lesser kestrels are not British birds. They prefer a Mediterranean climate, and are much less abundant in Europe than our familiar common kestrels. The pair are similar in appearance – both are small, graceful falcons with bright chestnut plumage, accessorised with dove-grey in the adult males. But they are worlds apart when it comes to lifestyle, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Matera. This city lies just north of the heel of the boot that is Italy, in the Basilicata region. It’s difficult to imagine a prettier


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place than its historical centre, Sassi, designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1993. Cobble steps lead you along higgledy-piggledy streets of pale limestone buildings and cave dwellings chiselled out 9,000 years ago, up the flanks of a hillside that’s surmounted by a fine cathedral. The whole scene looks purpose-built to be bathed in golden-hour light – a photographer’s dream.

CITY LIVING Matera’s various ledges and crevices provide ideal nest sites for the usual town-dwelling birdlife: swifts, jackdaws, feral pigeons and, in spring and summer, Europe’s largest breeding colony of lesser kestrels. The prominent, noisy presence of lesser kestrels in towns like this has amazed many a holidaying British birdwatcher. No other raptor on the continent breeds in such close-knit colonies, nor so closely alongside humankind. Stefano Unterthiner came to the Sassi area of Matera for the summer of 2016 to photograph and document the lives of Matera’s winged citizens, which have created their own bustling city among all those beautiful buildings. He arrived in April, when most of the kestrels had already returned from their African winter quarters. Some 1,000 pairs nest in this part of town, setting up homes on window ledges, balconies, behind satellite dishes and tucked in between the feet of church-wall statues. The sheer numbers were overwhelming at first, though it was soon clear that, for photography, the best views were from the highest points. “Yes, I climbed from roof to roof for some of these photos,” confirms Stefano. “An unusual environment for me to work in, but very exciting. And my neighbours were very kind and understanding!” These daredevil exploits allowed him to watch and photograph the falcons eye-to-eye as they went about their daily lives. The kestrels are more or less oblivious to their human February 2017

Clockwise from top left: A high-rise windowbox provides a safe and secure home; males can be recognised by their smart grey heads; an adult provisions the edglings in a nest on the narrow moulding above a balcony; grasshoppers, procured outside the city walls, are the species' preferred prey.



BBC Wildlife

February 2017


Left: Though the town tries to protect its statues and monuments from nesting kestrels, the birds occasionally manage to find suitable homes among the stonework. Above: Most nests are out of reach of feral cats – fallen chicks are at most risk of predation.

February 2017

neighbours, but what about vice-versa? “They are interested,” says Stefano, “because the kestrels live so close to the people here – on windowsills, under roofs. But there are also problems sometimes – when people hang out laundry, for example.” Lesser kestrels enjoy full legal protection in Italy but occasionally nests are destroyed, or important roosting trees where pre-migratory flocks gather are felled. However, most Materan people are fond of their kestrels, and many of the hundreds of chicks that fall from their nests to the streets below are rescued and returned to their nests or hand-reared. Overall, urban kestrels enjoy better breeding success than their country cousins.

FOOD FURTHER AFIELD Historically, lesser kestrels established their colonies on cliffs and ravine walls, but find cityscapes to be acceptable alternatives. To find prey they leave town and head out into the surrounding countryside, particularly open grassland. Lesser kestrel ecology is really more like that of cliffnesting seabirds than typical raptors – with nesting sites and foraging grounds so well separated there is no point defending a large territory around the nest, so the colonies can live in close proximity. The birds then benefit from group vigilance, teaming up to mob other birds of prey that could threaten their nests, or (more likely in urban areas) marauding feral cats.

Group living brings conflict too, of course. At the start of Stefano’s photography project, the action was already frenetic. “There is a lot of competition for nest sites,” he says. “I saw male fighting against male, female against female.” And then there are the troublesome adolescents. Diego Rubolini, an orthithologist studying the Matera kestrels, has recorded very high numbers of nonbreeding b di birds bi d spending di their th i summer around dM Matera. t Most are two-year-olds – too young to breed, but not too young to get in the way. “We have camera-trap images from outside a nestbox, showing up to 10 second-year kestrels hanging around, seeing what the adults are doing,” Diego says. This continues over the nine to 10 weeks it takes the paired birds to lay eggs, incubate and rear their young to fledging age. The two-year-olds may disrupt breeding attempts, but it’s also possible that some could help breeding birds feed their chicks. Co-operative breeding hasn’t yet been observed here but might be expected in situations like this. However, fights to the death between adult kestrels over nest sites do occasionally happen, and the town’s other birds can also get involved. “The jackdaws are a problem,” Stefano says. “And the pigeons – they are not as aggressive, but they are persistent. They never give up!” Winning a nest site isn’t the end of the battle, either. Because the kestrels have to travel well away from the town to hunt (up to 20km in some cases), nests may be unguarded for long spells, as Stefano observed. “The jackdaws are very clever. When they see a kestrel leaving a nest, they go straight in to take the eggs.” The lesser kestrel is dainty and lightweight – it's not a tough cookie. Its Italian name, falco grillaio, translates as ‘cricket-eating falcon’ and it is indeed mainly insectivorous. “It is much less aggressive than other falcons, even than the common kestrel,” notes Diego, who has handled BBC Wildlife


Clockwise from top left: a deep, circular windowsill offers shelter from the elements; broods of four to six chicks are fed by their parents for up to four weeks; aerials provide vantage points and feeding perches when the young start to fly; locals often rescue fallen chicks.

plenty of both. It’s smaller than the pigeons and jackdaws with which it competes, and it is at a disadvantage in terms of numbers, too. Steep and long-term declines in the 20th century led to the lesser kestrel being designated Vulnerable by the IUCN in 1994. Owing to a loss of nesting and hunting habitat, along with direct persecution, it had become probably the most threatened raptor in Europe. A Species Action Plan was initiated in the EU in 1996, prescribing both agricultural tweaks to boost prey abundance and diligent safeguarding of all known nesting sites in both town and country, as well as protection for the birds themselves. The measures quickly began to pay off: in 2011, the lesser kestrel’s status was downgraded to Least Concern, because populations had largely stabilised. “People used to harvest the eggs and chicks in Basilicata, for eating,” says Stefano. “But things are better today, and there are also more natural fields around for the kestrels to hunt.”

SAFE AS HOUSES Purpose-built nestboxes help greatly to tackle the pigeon and jackdaw problem (as well as reducing the risk of fatal falls for youngsters) as their openings are too small to be accessible to other species. In Matera, 70 per cent of the nestboxes put up by Diego and his team in 2016 were occupied by kestrels. With Matera probably as full of kestrels as it can be, the goal now is to help the birds 26

BBC Wildlife

spread to new regions. “Colonies have appeared recently in central Italy, and even around Rome,” says Diego. "The species has been expanding quite a lot in Italy.” In western Europe as a whole, the lesser kestrel is now on the increase, helped in Spain (its main stronghold) by some successful reintroductions. However, it continues to decline over parts of Eastern Europe, and has been lost completely in some countries. In Bulgaria, a reintroduction project is bringing it back. Lesser kestrels also breed over parts of Asia, but here the bird’s status is less well-studied – and it faces some different problems. Author and ornithologist Erik Hirschfeld says: “I have seen wild lesser kestrels being caught in Arabia, where I lived in the 1990s. They were sold in the souk, and often given to kids for falconry.” Stefano’s time in Matera came to an end in late summer 2016, when the young kestrels had fledged and the town was full to bursting with the elegant little raptors. They



MYSTERY TOUR How lesser kestrels travel to and through Africa is not yet known, but a new generation of tracking studies is underway to find out. Researchers in Europe are fitting kestrels with data loggers that record changes in ambient light levels, allowing accurate global positioning. The loggers will be recovered when the birds return from migration in spring. The data will reveal the detail of their routes, where they spend the winter months, and when and where they pause on migration. Diego Rubolini and his team in Matera are eagerly awaiting the return of their first test subjects in spring this year. Researchers measure and geotag a female.

February 2017

festooned every television aerial, lined up along narrow ledges, and chased around in great swarms over the summit of the city at sunset before flocking to their roosts in favourite trees. With the stresses of nesting behind them, the playful side of their character seems to come to the fore at this time of year. “They are really gregarious at the end of the breeding season,” Stefano tells me. “The chicks follow the adults to learn social behaviour, and where and how to hunt.”

Three chicks, unseen – and seemingly unfazed – by the trio of teenage girls almost within arm's length of their stonecrevice nest.

SAFE PASSAGE Restlessness increasingly pervades the gatherings, though, and soon the birds will be gone. They migrate together to sub-Saharan Africa, where they overwinter in open countryside across a broad swathe of the continent. There is evidence that some of the most easterly birds may move to southern Asia instead, and a few individuals at some colonies don’t migrate at all, for reasons we’ve yet to uncover. Nevertheless, for the vast majority, Africa is the destination, and here they (hopefully) find in abundance the large-bodied insects that make up much of their diet. It’s vital for ongoing conservation work to identify and protect the species' most important wintering areas and migration ‘stop-off’ sites. Lesser kestrels are countryside birds in winter. Writer Mike Unwin regularly saw them “lined up in their hundreds on overhead wires”, as he drove through the BBC Wildlife


LESSER KESTRELS A male is released by a representative from a local wildlife rescue centre. The bird was taken in after arriving in Matera exhausted from the arduous spring migration.

HOW TO SEE LESSER KESTRELS Matera is not the only picturesque old Mediterranean settlement to host a thriving lesser kestrel colony. The birds also nest on isolated rural buildings, in quarries and on inland cliffs. Visit from April to July to see breeding in full swing.

gardens, designed by the convent's artist-in-residence, Geraldine Zwanikken. Now, some 65 pairs arrive in March to breed. Birds & Nature Tours Portugal ( organises short holidays that include Mértola.

PORTUGAL Mértola (Beja district). The birds were once common in Portuguese towns, but now the country's only urban population is in the medieval hilltop settlement of Mértola. The 14th century Convento Sao Francisco on the outskirts of the town has had a conservation project running since 1985 that has included the building of a lesser kestrel nesting tower in the

SPAIN Trujillo (Extremadura); Tarifa and Seville (Andalusia); Alcalá de los Gazules (Cádiz). Limosa (www.limosaholidays. runs birdwatching trips to Extremadura and Andalucia. FRANCE Saint-Pons-de-Mauchiens (Languedoc-Roussillon). Plan a weekend break to SaintPons-de-Mauchiens with France-Voyage ( ITALY Gravina and Altamura (Puglia region). Citalia ( offers ff city breaks to Matera and HF Holidays (www. organises walking tours at Altamura.

Geraldine Zwanikken

White storks also find this purpose-built lesser kestrel nesting tower irresistible.


BBC Wildlife

GREECE Ioannina (Epirus); Galaxidi (Phocis). Sunvill ( can take you to Ioannina and the Epirus region, staying in the heart of Zagori NP.

high veld in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The bright chestnut-coloured kestrels were often accompanied by similar-sized but dusky-plumaged Amur falcons from north-east Asia. These two long-distance migrants come together at the southern tip of Africa to exploit a huge seasonal proliferation of grasshoppers on the high plains. “I remember seeing them, especially in November and again in March – each side of the southern summer,” says Mike. “They hunted over farmland and grassland, and on plantation edges.” The lesser kestrel’s most striking trait – its great sociability – never deserts it, whether it is nesting, hunting or migrating. It’s a great strength for the species, allowing it to live where other birds of prey cannot, and in larger concentrations. But it is a potential weakness, too – clustered populations are more vulnerable to wholesale destruction. Small colonies occupying a lone derelict building will be wiped out in one fell swoop if that building is demolished – which happened innumerable times across Europe through the 20th century. But the birds are bouncing back from near disaster now – and it is Stefano and Diego’s streetwise kestrels of Matera that are leading the way. Perhaps they somehow realise that building their cities on top of ours, and allowing us to get to know them in return, will help to keep them safe.

MARIANNE TAYLOR is an author and keen birder. Her many books include RSPB British Birds of Prey (Bloomsbury, £24.99).

+ FIND OUT MORE See Stefano's photography at Visit basilicata/matera.html for more information on Matera.

February 2017


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CONCRETE conservation Illustrations by Elly Walton

Our urban landscape offers great opportunities to wildlife of all kinds, so why not create the world’s first National Park City, asks Daniel Raven-Ellison. 30

BBC Wildlife


ast year I walked 1,500km across all of the UK’s 15 national parks and 69 cities. Crossing over moorlands, between mountains, through wild abandoned industrial areas and hundreds of miles of suburbia, the journey gave me a chance to explore a question I had posed three years earlier. What would happen if we made London a National Park City? After all, the Environment Act of 1995 set out two statutory purposes for a national park in England and Wales: “To

conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage” of an area, and “promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public”. In Scotland the aims of national parks also include conserving the natural and cultural heritage of an area, and promoting sustainable use of natural resources and the economic and social development of local communities. So why not apply these principles to a major city? Urban areas cover approximately three per cent of the world as a whole, and seven per cent of the UK. They are a distinct habitat that, in the case of large cities, can stretch across entire landscapes. As you’d expect, our largest, most diverse, most complex and influential of these habitats is to be found in London. Covering around 1,600km2 it’s larger in area than the Peak District, and it’s not just home to 8.6 million Homo sapiens. It doesn’t matter how often I spot a red fox, my heart skips a beat every time. I see them a lot where I live in Hanwell, west London. It may seem counter-intuitive, but the capital is the most species-rich region of the UK. The February 2017


human population shares the city with almost as many trees as there are people, and over 13,000 other species. Peregrine falcons launch attacks from the Houses of Parliament, stag beetles breed in Nunhead Cemetery and endangered black redstarts make the most of the current surge in green roofs.


ver since the Romans arrived nearly 2,000 years ago, the people in this corner of Britain have been conserving, enhancing and enjoying an urban natural and cultural heritage. National, regional and local government policy, royal decrees, investments by progressive Victorians and hundreds of years of everyday grass roots activity by thousands of organisations and millions of Londoners have resulted in the capital being one of the greenest cities in the world for its size. Although domestic buildings occupy only a small percentage of London, 47 per cent is made up of gardens, parks, woods and meadows, and a further 2.5 per cent is rivers, canals and reservoirs. All-in-all there February 2017

are 3,000 parks, 30,000 allotments, four UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 37 Sites of Special Scientific Interest, 142 local nature reserves, and 3.8 million gardens. According to National Parks UK, there are 113,000 national parks and similarly protected areas around the world, representing every major kind of terrestrial habitat apart from one: a major city. Sure, there are ‘urban national parks’ inside, around and beside cities, such as the Rouge National Urban Park in Canada, but as yet no national park directly acknowledges the value of the entire city. Why? Why be prejudiced against the habitat that most of the world’s population is closest to and has the power to influence? A city’s landscape is very different from a rainforest, just as rainforest is very different from moorland, desert or mangrove. But it is no less important, it’s just distinctively different. At a time when the Earth’s rapidly urbanising population is becoming increasingly dislocated from nature, it surely cannot be right to promote psychological, political and ecological boundaries that may

IT MAY SEEM COUNTERINTUITIVE, BUT LONDON IS THE MOST SPECIESRICH REGION OF THE UK. unintentionally alienate urban dwellers from investing in and protecting wildlife, not just on their doorstep but internationally. I’m not proposing that London should be designated as a national park as it stands within current legislation, nor that it should have any formal planning powers. But it should be declared a National Park City. This new kind of national park would be a close cousin to the UK’s established national parks, but with its own distinct status. We should, as Paul Hamblin, executive director of National Parks England says: “Focus on the similarities and opportunities this idea presents - and not be blinded by the differences.” The purpose of making London a National Park City would be to improve life for people and wildlife in the capital and beyond. It would do this by working with Londoners to make the urban area both more enjoyable to live in and physically, ecologically, BBC Wildlife


culturally, emotionally, psychologically and economically greener and wilder, both in quality and scale. Currently 47 per cent of London is physically green, and one aim is to make that figure 51 per cent and to radically improve ecological connectivity and species richness. Another is to connect 100 per cent of London’s children to nature. And this is not just about London. Having walked across all of the UK’s cities I have seen many strong candidates for following soon after: Glasgow, Swansea and Bristol are just three great cities that spring to mind. Just imagine a future where growing up, living in, enjoying and contributing to your city as a National Park City is part of the next generation of children’s collective identity, outlook and pride. There are already millions of people and thousands of organisations doing significant things across London and other UK cities, but not all of these successes are spread evenly and, in some cases, they are simply not delivering the change that is needed quickly enough. There is the space and expertise to make


BBC Wildlife

something extraordinary happen in London, but more capacity, investment and local leadership is needed. A National Park City movement would be independent from, but work with, government, businesses, charities and groups across the capital. One of the things that would distinguish this from a traditional national park would be the millions of people who will live inside it and their collective power to contribute towards it. Architect Sir Terry Farrell has described the movement as “one vision to inspire a million projects”, explaining that it’s “a large-scale and longterm vision that’s achievable through lots of small and achievable actions”. The role of the National Park City would be to inspire and support these actions not just across the green, blue and open spaces, but the entire built-up environment. According to the State of Nature Report 2016, nationally one in seven species is at risk of extinction. The majority of citydwellers have the power not just to protect life, but actually allow it, invite it, and grow it in their own neighbourhoods. While debates about city trees tend to focus on public spaces, more than half of London’s trees are in private ownership. It is arguably those spaces where there is both the greatest risk of decline and the opportunity for new growth.

Similarly, there are more than 300,000 homes at risk of flooding in London. While a quarter of London’s footprint is domestic gardens, it’s estimated that a third of these are now paved over. Replacing this paving with greener and wilder spaces would not only reduce the likelihood and severity of flooding, potentially saving Londoners billions of pounds, but also make the landscape better for wildlife. Again, while politicians and government agencies influence decisionmaking in the public space, a National Park City would be a powerful way to influence changes in private areas.


esearch has also shown that one in seven of the capital’s children has not visited a natural environment, not even a park, in the last year. Spending time exploring, playing and learning outdoors is not only an important part of a healthy childhood, it also increases the likelihood of those youngsters caring for nature in the future. The potential for something truly transformative to happen is very real. Judy Ling Wong is honorary president of the Black Environment Network and a trustee of the charitable foundation that is being established to make this initiative a success. “The National Park City intends to pay attention to every bit of space, and continually ratchet it up so that more and more the whole city is in the presence of nature,” she says. “Many council estates actually have more green space than all the local parks and gardens, but February 2017

REPLACING PAVING WITH GREENER AND WILDER SPACES WOULD MAKE THE LANDSCAPE BETTER FOR WILDLIFE. they’re of the lowest quality. There are acres and acres and they’re right outside the most disadvantaged groups’ windows. Imagine what we can do with that, by changing the atmosphere, and getting social landlords to be inspired by this whole idea of creating green space that allows people to have true contact with wild nature.” Making London a National Park City will not only bring new investment into Greater London, but would create what the IUCN calls an “urban gateway” that would have the potential to benefit national parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and other protected areas in the UK. Visitors to this country, perhaps through a new protected areas’ Visitor Centre in the heart of London, would be encouraged to travel beyond the city to enjoy some of the country’s most incredible landscapes. Simultaneously, the National Park City would work to inspire Londoners to visit, invest in and learn from our national parks.

February 2017

The economist Andrew Simms has argued that, “making London a National Park City will root the home of government and finance in ecology, just as we must all things.” Wouldn’t that be a powerful thing?


eveloped following three consultations, crowdfunded by 347 individuals and organisations, and published in 2015, the National Park City proposal makes clear that under current legislation a city cannot become a national park. But the idea is not for London to become a national park or for a change in legislation. Instead what the proposal sets out is a working definition for a National Park City as: “A large urban area that is managed and semi-protected through both formal and informal means to enhance the natural capital of its living landscape. A defining feature is the widespread and significant commitment of residents, visitors and decision-makers to allow natural processes to provide a foundation for a better quality of life for wildlife and people.”

As Trevor Sandwith, director of the Global Protected Areas Programme for the IUCN said at an event at London’s Royal Festival Hall in September: “This could be something that transforms the way that societies think about themselves in the future...” As there is no precedent for creating a National Park City, through consultation it was decided that if the Mayor of London, London Assembly and two-thirds of London’s electoral ward teams (436 of 654) declared their support this would be a sufficient political mandate to declare the capital the first National Park City and establish an independent organisation to make it effective. So far the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, and 210 ward teams have declared their support, which is nearly half of the campaign’s target. With a fair wind, London could have decided to become a National Park City soon and we may see a big leap forward in promoting the welfare of urban wildlife. DANIEL RAVEN-ELLISON is coordinator of the Greater London National Park City initiative.



Cristobal Serrano

CLICK BEETLES turn on the lights to find a mate. It may resemble a doodle using some sort of digital drawing tool, but this bright yellow looping pattern is in fact the light trail of Pyrophorus noctilucus, a click beetle that can be found from southern Mexico to south-east Brazil. The light is beamed from two headlamp-like bioluminescent organs (a third is located on its underside, visible in flight) as the insect meanders around a leaf. Like fireflies and other creatures that glow, click beetles bioluminesce by combining two substances – luciferin and luciferase – to produce a lightemitting chemical reaction. The primary purpose of the light is thought to be for communicating

sexual identity and receptiveness. receptivene “In this species, the males fly just below the canopy, flashing as they fly,” says expert Paul Johnson. “When a female in the herbage below is stimulated by a display, she responds with her own flashes, a signal that the suitor can make his move.” Each click beetle species flashes with a unique rhythm and duration. P. noctilucus can emit a steady glow as well as flash patterns, like fairy lights. Males in flight often enter steady-glow mode, followed by a short burst of flashing, then a spell of darkness, repeating the cycle until a female responds. OPaul Johnson is Prof of entomology at South Dakota State University.


Glowing – which can be sustained for over an hour – is also thought to serve as a startle mechanism for click beetles.

Photos by Janez Tarman

GOLDEN WONDER Meet the golden jackal – the charismatic carnivore whose adaptability is enabling it to quietly conquer Europe, reports Stuart Blackman


BBC Wildlife

February 2017

Golden jackals are highly versatile creatures, able to adapt to and exploit a variety of feeding niches. Though this image was taken in daylight, the species is largely nocturnal.

February 2017

BBC Wildlife



hen photographer Janez Tarman set up a camera-trap at a fox den near his home in Slovenia in October 2012, he got a lot more than he bargained for. He achieved a picture of a canid, as he had hoped for – but this was no fox. What Tarman had photographed was a golden jackal, a carnivore that most people associate with Africa or perhaps Asia – but not central Europe. “At the time there were only rumours,” says Tarman. “We didn’t know if these animals were establishing territories in this region, or just passing through. We didn’t know much at all.” Tarman’s photograph was further evidence that the species is indeed on the move – spreading north and west from its refuges in the south, and east into territory it has never previously occupied. “Ten years ago, the animals hadn’t got much further than Austria and Italy,” says Miha Krofel, a carnivore biologist at Slovenia’s University of Ljubljana. “Since then, though, they have turned up as far


BBC Wildlife

Above left x 2: this Croatian rubbish dump supports a large jackal population. Social structure is distinct here, with the animals forming packs of 10 animals rather than the usual two to six. Centre: a jackal picks out a choice meal from among the waste. Right: hearing the clicks of Tarman’s camera, a female leaps in an attempt to see what is making the noise.

north as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. And in 2016 we had the first records for the Netherlands and Denmark.” So, it seems, this is the day of the jackal. And Krofel and his collaborators are hot on its trail, trying to work out just what is driving its rapid and remarkable rise. The golden jackal (or more strictly, the Eurasian golden jackal, to distinguish it from its African counterpart that has recently been declared a separate species) is smaller than a wolf but bigger than a fox, and has much in common with both canids. “Genetically and taxonomically, the golden jackal is closer to the wolf,” says Krofel. “Ecologically, it is more similar to the fox.” Take its hunting niche. It is well established that there is a size threshold for predators, above which they are able to focus on prey bigger than themselves. Typically, the cut-off is around 20kg – about the size of a Eurasian lynx. At 40kg-plus, wolves come in well above it. But jackals (14kg) and foxes (7kg) are significantly below, and are therefore considerably more reliant on much smaller mammals, such as rodents. February 2017



wolves, for example, but largely shun pack-life in favour of fox-like nuclear family groups. The fact is that while Europe’s other charismatic carnivores – the brown bear, lynx, red fox, and, of course, wolf – are among the most intensively studied animals on the planet, golden jackals remain shrouded in mystery. According to Krofel, they were virtually ignored by researchers until about five years ago – and, even then, the little data that existed turned out to be virtually useless. “The majority of studies into behaviour and sociobiology were carried out in Africa. So what we thought we knew about the European animals actually applies to a completely different species,” says Krofel.


Source populations Known presence in 2010

Golde jackal Golden movement veme from the Caucasus auca to the Baltics tics

Sightings after 2010 New territory Areas showing decline

Black Sea


Mediterranean Sea

February 2017


What is clear is that golden jackals are more than a simple pick-and-mix of fox and wolf characteristics. According to Tarman, it’s the jackal’s character that sets it apart from either of its relatives. “It’s really its own animal,” he says. “Once you get to know it, you couldn’t say it is similar to a fox or a wolf. It’s completely different.” What stands out for him is the golden jackal’s adaptability. “Whatever situation the animal finds itself in, it makes it work,” he says. For jackals, rules are there to be broken. Their body size may incline them towards small prey, but they are also able to work cooperatively to bring down larger animals such as roe deer. They are browsers and scavengers too, eating insects, vegetation and human refuse. “Their dietary niche is one of the widest known in the animal kingdom,” says Krofel. In Serbia, the single largest component of a jackal’s diet is the remains of animals slaughtered for human consumption. The country has just a single carcass processing plant, and most waste is dumped in unofficial middens close to towns and villages. If it wasn’t for the BBC Wildlife



Above: a jackal finds itself in the same spot as an Indian mongoose, a species introduced to the Balkans to control snakes. A chase is unlikely, since the two do not compete for food or territory.

BBC Wildlife

BULLETPROOF DOGS Other signs of jackals’ flexibility include their willingness to adopt a nocturnal or diurnal existence according to circumstance. Likewise, they are equally at home in a forested wilderness or a town rubbish dump. They are also apparently highly adaptable reproductively. “In south-east Europe, where we have the most jackals, they are hunted in huge numbers,” says Krofel. In Bulgaria, some 30,000 per year are shot. “But unlike wolves, jackals seem to be very resistant to hunting.” Indeed, a study in Israel has shown that it’s possible to shoot more than 50 per cent of the population without affecting the density of animals. “We suspect that they respond to being hunted by increasing their reproductive rate and producing bigger litters,” says Krofel. In which case, even large-scale culling is unlikely to hamper the jackals’ current advance. Such adaptability – known as ‘behavioural plasticity’ – is likely to be one of the keys to their current success. “Species that have wide ecological niches and high plasticity are the very ones that are pre-adapted to take advantage of changing, human-dominated landscapes,” says Krofel. “We could have predicted that the jackal would prosper. And this is exactly what’s happening now.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME? Traditionally, three dog species go by the name ‘jackal’: golden, side-striped (below) and blackbacked. Their mutual similarity, in terms of both appearance and ecology, is a striking case of convergent evolution: each shares more recent common ancestors with other members of the dog family than with each other. The Eurasian and African populations of the golden jackal are now recognised as distinct species and have been renamed the Eurasian golden jackal and the African golden wolf. The latter is more closely related to the grey wolf, coyote and Ethiopian wolf than it is to the Eurasian line. In the New World, a similar ecological niche is filled by the coyote, or American jackal.

Side-striped jackal: Paul Souders/Getty


jackals – which are estimated to remove more than 3,000 tonnes of discarded meat annually – this practice could pose a serious hazard to human health. “It’s an ecosystem service that was originally provided by vultures,” says Krofel. “But in most of Europe, the vultures are basically gone, and the jackals are taking over.”

February 2017


February 2017

BBC Wildlife



CROSS PURPOSES Golden jackals and domestic dogs have long been known to interbreed in captivity. The Russian airline Aeroflot has had a line of sniffer dogs bred from a cross between the golden jackal and the Lapponian herder, a domestic dog breed used in Finland to herd reindeer. These socalled Sulimov dogs, named

Clockwise from top: the front pads of a jackal’s paw grow together, forming a heart shaped print; an old male exposes his teeth in a sign of aggressive possession over his meat – unfortunately it wasn’t enough to ward off a younger rival; a breeding pair in Slovenia, returning from a morning hunt.


BBC Wildlife

Adaptability is only part of the story, though. For one, it doesn’t account for the sheer speed of the jackal’s progress across the Continent, which might have something to do with its knack for long-range dispersal. “Jackals can suddenly show up without warning, 300 or even 400km from the closest breeding pair,” says Krofel. “And if they show up somewhere one year, they appear with greater frequency the next. If they reached Holland in 2016, why not France in 2017? Or Finland?” Since most initial sightings are of single animals either shot by hunters, caught in camera-traps or killed on the roads, it’s hard to see how long, speculative migrations undertaken by individual animals could lead so quickly to new breeding populations. It’s possible that these journeys are not always undertaken alone. The first jackals ever recorded in Slovenia, in the 1950s, consisted of a group of at least three animals, 200km from the nearest breeding population in Croatia. Unfortunately, the visitors were immediately shot by hunters, and on this occasion the jackals did not return until the 1980s.

after the breeder, have an excellent sense of smell and an ability to work in freezing weather conditions. The first wild dog-jackal hybrids were only recorded in 2015, from Croatia, and were found to be fertile. It’s not yet known how common such hybridisation is and whether it poses a threat to the jackal population.

Not everyone is comfortable with the species’ dramatic and rapid grabbing of territory. In 2011, when jackals turned up out of the blue in the Baltic States, the governments of Estonia and Latvia declared them an invasive species and planned a complete extermination. However, genetic detective work soon revealed that the newcomers had originated from the Caucasus Mountains in Russia, arriving under their own steam via a route to the east of the Black Sea. “If you look at the definition of invasive species, the first requirement is that it is an alien,” says Krofel. “Native species cannot be invasive species, no matter what happens to their population dynamics. Alien species can only be brought from abroad by humans. These jackals walked to the Baltics, so they are not aliens. And if they are not aliens, then they cannot be invasive.” Fortunately, the Baltic States came round to that way of thinking and dropped the designation. But the case still serves to highlight the fact that in this age of ecological shifts and re-shuffles, we have no term to describe species that colonise new ground by natural means.

FORSEEING THE SPREAD The potential for conflict arising from the sudden appearance of a breeding population of a novel carnivorous mammal on your doorstep might be minimised if only we had an indication of where the February 2017

animals might pop up next. “All that’s certain now is that there will definitely be further expansion,” says Krofel. “One of the big projects currently underway is to collect and examine data from jackal surveys all over Europe in order to analyse which habitats are good for jackals, and which are not. We can then use this knowledge to predict the areas that are prone to colonisation.” Another crucial question is this: why are golden jackals only making their moves now? It’s probably safe to assume that these canids have always been adaptable and capable of long-distance dispersal, and man-made landscapes have dominated Europe for centuries. In which case, what has been stopping them? A clue might be found in the vicinity of Krofel’s home in the Dinaric Mountains to the south of Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. “I live inside the northernmost wolf territory in Slovenia,” he says. “We can hear wolves howling at night, and they have come to within 20m of my house.” What he doesn’t see, though, are jackals. To do that, he must leave the wolf territory, a journey of about 10km as the crow flies, since the two species rarely

Above: golden jackals often approach built-up areas at night to scavenge for leftovers, either among garbage or on compost heaps.


February 2017

overlap. This is unlikely to be due to mutually exclusive habitat requirements – the jackal certainly doesn’t seem particularly picky in that respect. Neither is it a simple case of the wolves killing the jackals (though they can, and do) because we already know that jackals can sustain a high mortality rate.

AFRAID OF THE BIG BAD WOLF? Krofel believes that, for jackals, there’s a significant difference between wolves and human hunters. Eons of aggressive interactions between the two canids have instilled jackals with an overriding fear of their larger cousins. “The spread of the jackal coincides neatly with the decline of wolves in southern Europe,” he says. As wolves have been progressively exterminated, the jackals have been free to fill the vacuum. Most convincingly, perhaps, Krofel’s team has identified eight regions in southern Europe where wolves have re-colonised old haunts. In seven of these, the jackals were driven out once the wolves re-established themselves. That said, after a long history of being overshadowed, dominated and suppressed by its nemesis, it seems that the golden jackal is now having the last laugh. STUART BLACKMAN is a science writer who regularly contributes to the Discoveries (see p14) and Q&A (see p100) sections of BBC Wildlife Magazine. BBC Wildlife


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ho wants to empty this trap?” asks Andy Jefferies, our expert guide and leader during a wildlife conservation holiday. In the spirit of making the most of my volunteering weekend I enthusiastically stepped forward. What happened next was one the best encounters I’ve had with a UK species to date. I carefully emptied the trap into a clear plastic bag and a miniature rodent appeared before our eyes. The trickiest task followed: I had to catch it so we could record its sex. I cornered the creature in the bag, picked it up by the scruff of its neck and held it so we could take a closer look. It was a female field vole and she weighed 21.5g. To my surprise, when her weigh-in was concluded she didn’t leap off my hand in a bid for freedom. Instead, she sat contentedly on my palm and groomed herself to get her mussed-up fur back in order. The five other volunteers laughed in amazement, and even more so when she finished her toilette and decided to run up my arm and hide in my hood. Once she had been retrieved from my clothing, we returned her to the site where we she had been caught and she darted off into the bracken.


This small mammal survey was just one of the tasks that we volunteers were involved in during the April 2016 Bank Holiday. We had joined a Wild Days Conservation trip in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The weekend involved taking part in practical group tasks outdoors that were related to wildlife. In addition to enjoying our experiences with nature, our aim was to gather valuable data on species and habitats that could be used by established conservation organisations. Our work began at Dunwich Heath, a National Trust


BBC Wildlife

Volunteers head towards the Bittern Hide at RSPB Minsmere, hoping for a glimpse of that elusive heron.

reserve and a beautiful area of coastal lowland d heath covered by heather and bright yellow gorse. “Our objective over the past 30 years has beeen to preserve good quality heathland and extend it,”” says senior ranger Richard Gilbert. He explained that the heather is cut each yeaar on rotation in strips. After 30–40 years the purrpleflowering plant dies back so the open habitat neeeds to be maintained. Once the heather has been cut back, b the surface of the soil is scraped to help the seeeds to germinate again. “We want to get different growth stages and mix m them up to create a patchwork habitat that can support a variety of species,” he says. The reserve provides the perfect environmentt for reptiles, supports rare birds and is the homee of muntjac and red deer. But our job was to focus on o surveying the smaller mammals that live on the heath. In order to record their numbers we prepared 50 BioEcoss mammal traps by filling them with dog g meat,

You don’t need to travel far to help wildlife. Jo Price spent a long weekend in Suffolk getting close to nature and discovering how volunteers can make a difference to UK conservation efforts.

February 2017

Field vole: Jo Price; Bittern Hide: Andy Jefferies; Rhodri and Katie: Kathy Gill

Above left: a field vole sits calmly on Jo’s hand. Left: Volunteer Rhodri Andrews holds up pirri-pirri burr, a non-native plant that he has dug up. Right: RSPB warden Katie Fairhurst shows volunteers how to conduct a quadrant survey at Minsmere reserve.

seeds, meallworms and straw. A pygmy shrew can eat up to 125 per ceent of its bodyweight daily so the food and bedding had d to be included to ensure that the mammals we caught would w not go hungry or cold while they were confined in the traps. The traps were then placed in five locations across the reserve in a range of habitats, which included wetland edge, heathlland edge, scrub and woodland, hollow surrounded by woodland and woodland farmland. Wrapped up u warm and bleary-eyed at 6.30am the following mo orning we listened to the sound of a booming bittern as we retrieved the traps from the dewy undergrowth with anticipattion. Forty-six had not been triggered but four had and we were w really keen to find out what was inside. The scrub and a woodland habitats were the most successful sittes. In total we recorded one pygmy shrew weighing 3.5g g, two male wood mice weighing 28g and 19.5g and the female field vole that sat on my hand. The data wee collected was uploaded to the iRecord website (www, a central repository 47


The patchwork habitat on the National Trust reserve of Dunwich Heath supports many interesting bird species.

RSPB MINSMERE IS FACING A BIG CHALLENGE – HOW TO KEEP THE ENCROACHMENT OF A NONNATIVE PLANT SPECIES AT BAY. many walkers stroll past them on the designated paths, completely unaware that they were in the presence of a heathland superstar. Throughout the morning my group recorded 10 Darties, two stonechats and one woodlark. Our sightings g g will be used by the National Trust to build up an accurate picture of pairs and territories on this heathland and the data will be combined with similar surveys carrieed out during the season.

Dartford warbler: Alan Williams/NPL; birdwatching: Andy Jefferies; wood mouse: Scott Tilley/Getty; Andy Jefferies: Cathy Smith; stonechat: Sandra Standbridge/Getty

BATTLING THE BURR for all biological recording data, established by the UK Biological Records Centre. Gilbert and a group of volunteers carry out four to five surveys of the birds at Dunwich Heath in March, April and May when they are breeding. In addition to our small mammal survey we were asked to record Dartford warblers, stonechats and woodlarks. Why these three species? “They are good indicators of a healthy system and whether or not the management of the habitat is working,” says the senior ranger.

HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT The Dartford warbler is a small, dark, long-tailed resident of the UK that has suffered during severe winters in the past. In Suffolk, we were at the northern limit of the species’ range. Its population crashed to a few pairs in the 1960s but it has gradually recovered since. Fellow volunteer Cathy Smith accurately described the species as having a “punky head and a perky tail”, after spending a morning documenting her sightings at Dunwich Heath using grid references. Dartford warblers, also known as ‘Darties’ to keen birdwatchers on the reserve, will perch on top of a gorse stem to sing, or will bob between the bushes. I saw 48

BBC Wildlife

Top left: There are about 3,200 breeding pairs of Dartford warblers in the UK. Above left: wood mice are essentially nocturnal but some may venture out in daylight. Far right: male stonechats have an orange-red breast and a black head.

Down the coast from Dunwich Heath is RSPB Minsmere, a reserve that boasts a stunning mix of o woodland, wetland and coastal habitats and is weell known for its successful reed bed management. However, the home of BBC Two’s Springwatch h is facing a big challenge – how to keep the encroach hment of a non-native plant species at bay. The invasive plant is called pirri-pirri burr and its hooked seed pods m make it very effective at dispersing rapidly. Pirri-pirri burr originates from Australia and N New Zealand and its seeds are designed to be spread b by animals and humans on fur and clothing, which h is likely how it came to this country. However, it is no use to UK pollinators and its distribution is changing the landscape at RSPB Minsmere. A chemical called Forefront T has been used in the past to try and get rid of it in the fields (thee chemical does not kill the grass just the pirri-pirrri burr) but the plant has returned. We visited an acid grassland area of the reserve – where we spotted two nesting stone curlews – to carry out a quadrant survey of a treated area (the survey plot) and an untreated area (the control plot)). On our hands and knees we studied the groun nd




Step 1: Prepare

Fill 50 BioEcoss traps wit h food and bedding to ensure the mammal sta ys warm and fed during the night if they are caught.

Step 2: Site Choose a suitable location for your trap. Look for surface tunnels through vegetation that small mammals may use .


Step 3: Record


Mark where you have pla ced your trap with a flag and draw a map of the location to help you find it again.

Prepare, Site, Empty and Release: Jo Price; Record: Kathy Gill; Weigh: Andy Jefferies

Step 4: Empty py Handle the trap with car e. Op pen it in a clear plastic bag so the mamm al d does not escape. Remove the food and bed ding from the bag.

Step 5: Weigh 3


Use a large plastic bag to we eigh the mammal and deduct the weiight of the bag from the total.

Step 6: Release Catch the mammal by the scruff u of its neck to determine its sex and rele ase itt at the same site where you caught it.

and counted d the different species that were present in each quadraant. Many areas we looked at were dominated by the unweelcome non-native plant, but using guides we also identifi fied wildflowers such as common storksbill, crane’s bill, common mouse-ear and cudweed. “The use of a fixed, marked plot enables us to replicate that data collection, and we are building up a good set of data,” says RSPB R warden Katie Fairhurst. To help find fi out how to manage pirri-pirri-burr effectively, we w also hand-pulled an experimental plot. Using troweels we got our hands dirty, the work being more difficu ult than we had thought it was going to be. To get to the taproots of the plants and remove tthem in large bundles we had to dig deep. Fairhurst wanted to see how long it would tak ke the invasive species to re-establish itseelf where we had pulled it up and discover wheether or not this would be a viable method for remo oving it in the future. RSPB Minsmere has found that a few chemicals knock the species back but notthing kills it outright. The reserve is currently trialling a combination of digging up plants and then treating th he re-growth.

“It will take many years for the species’ richness to return to the fields we have treated,” says Fairhurst, “However, the option of having a field which is dominated only by pirri-pirri-burr would be just as poor a habitat for native British species.”

SEASIDE SWEEP The small seaside town of Dunwich was our base for the duration of the trip and on our final morning we collected litter from its beach. Walking in a line up and down a dedicated stretch of shingle (100m x 40m), armed witth bin bags and litter pickers, we volunteers removved 1.4kg of waste. The most common rubbish h items we found were bits of fireworks and d dog faeces. We ran the survey according tto protocols established by the Marine Conseervation Society’s (MCS) Beachwatch (thee national beach cleaning and litter surveyiing programme) and the raw data w was uploaded to its online database. The information is analysed b by the charity to identify the quantities,

types and sources of litter affecting the UK coastline, and the impacts of litter on marine life, human health and local economies. The data is then used to target specific polluters and pollutants at local, national and international levels and becomes part of the MCS’s annual review. Justine Millard, head of volunteer and community engagement at MCS, says, “Our long-term dataset has been vital in developing the marine litter strategies for Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as plastic bag levies in all the devolved countries.”

See more wildlife, learn some new skills and help pprotect species p and threatened habitats with these great opportunities.

JO PRICE is Production Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine. She joined a Wild Days Conservation holiday. Find out more at

include clearing the rivers and canals of rubbish, bricklaying, maintaining towpaths or even driving dumper trucks. OFind out more at www. camps/canal_camp_dates or call 01494 783 453

FOREST RESTORATION SEASIDE SURVEY WHAT? Wild Days Conservation WHERE? Cornwall HOW LONG? Four nights HOW MUCH? £590 WHAT’S INCLUDED? Meals and accommodation Enjoy the southwest’s most beautiful beaches while undertaking valuable conservation work alongside a representative from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the Natural History Museum, and National Trust rangers. Field training will be provided to conduct surveys, and data will be submitted

to the MCS and the Natural History Museum. OFind out more at https:// holidays/cornwalls-beautifulbeaches or call 01603 505731

CANAL MAINTENANCE WHAT? Waterway Recovery Group WHERE? Wolverhampton and Essex HOW LONG? Two and seven nights HOW MUCH? £13 and £70 respectively WHAT’S INCLUDED? Food and accommodation Britain’s network of canals and waterways are a huge, linear national park and a vital wildlife sanctuary. On a Canal Camp break you’ll be helping to maintain these waterways. Taking place over a week or a weekend, your day could

WHAT? Trees for Life WHERE? Scottish Highlands HOW LONG? One week HOW MUCH? £385 WHAT’S INCLUDED? Accommodation and meals Plant trees to expand and restore Scotland’s beautiful Caledonian Forest. In addition to this valuable work, you’ll also be learning about the local wildlife, using camera-traps to discover which species call the area their home, and staking out pine martens from a hide. You might also catch a glimpse of an osprey, black grouse, or even a golden eagle. OFind out more at http:// conservation-weeks or email

ESCAPE TO THE ISLAND WHAT? Lundy Field Society WHERE? Lundy Island, Devon HOW LONG? One week HOW MUCH? £60. Additional £70 charge if travelling by helicopter WHAT’S INCLUDED? Boat fare and accommodation Work with Lundy’s warden to preserve the island’s unique flora and fauna and natural beauty. Duties can include clearing rhododendrons, drystone walling, path maintenance and more, all while enjoying Grey seals fantastic sea views. can be seen OFind out more around Lundy. at www.lundy. conservationwork.php or email + FIND OUT MORE Visit british-wildlife/be-conservationvolunteer for more information on other volunteering opportunities.

Canals are home to mute swans.


Sorting litter: Andy Jefferies; litter picking: Jo Price; Mute swan: James Warwick/Getty; grey seal: Alex Mustard/2020VISION/NPL

Volunteers collect, sort and record the litter found on Dunwich beach.

Some of the species that I helped record over the weekend can be found throughout Britain but are rarely seen. Others are unique to a precious declining habitat that needs to be managed. And one is not welcome. “Volunteers make a massive difference to wildlife conservation,” says Fairhurst, “Without them we could only undertake a fraction of the work that we achieve every year.” The other volunteers and I may have only spent a few days having fun and recording data but all the information we collected has been valuable. It is being used to determine approaches to habitat management, to conserve British species, report population trends and build an accurate picture of the state of our coastal environments. A rewarding result to come out of a spare weekend exploring Suffolk’s wild places.

February 2017


Photo courtesy of G. Cutolo

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islands that stir the soul

Warebeth Beach, West Mainland

sights and sounds of Orkney’s nature this spring. With over 70 islands and a wide range of habitats, it’s easy to understand why wildlife is very much at home here. Stroll along miles of spectacular coastline to spot seabirds, marine wildlife and more. Uncover 6,000 years of Neolithic history and indulge in the true tastes of Orkney, from succulent seafood to award-winning beers and whiskies. Plan your escape and be at one with Orkney’s elements. At One with wildlife After the stormy days of winter, Orkney comes alive again in spring. An abundance of wildlife can be spotted on 13 RSPB nature reserves spread across the islands. From nesting seabirds on Marwick Head to rare sightings of ‘sky-dancing’ hen harriers, bird calls can be heard wherever you travel. Take a walk along the coastline and keep your eyes peeled for otters, curious seals and even orcas.

Puffins, Isle of Westray The Old Th Olld Man O M off Hoy Hoy, O H Orkney k

© Neil Ford

Be at one with Orkney’s elements. Check out our new video and eBook and plan your trip at


Orkney Ceilidh Weekend APRIL 21-23

Orkney Jazz Festival Sands of Wright, South Ronaldsay

Th The he Neolithic Neol Ne olit lith hic Village hic Vill Vi llag ag ge off S Skara kara ka ra B Brae raee ra

MAY 15-21

Orkney Nature Festival

At One with nature

At One with History

This spring explore the unspoilt natural landscapes of these islands.

Step back in time and hear the voices of the past at some of the oldest and best preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. From the Ring of Brodgar standing stones circle to the ancient village of Skara Brae, both part of the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

Cycle across the Churchill Barriers with splendid views across the vast natural harbour of Scapa Flow. Take a relaxing walk along white sands at the Bay of Skaill, explore rockpools by the causeway at the tidal island of Brough of Birsay, or snap a picture of dramatic sea-stacks, such as the impressive Castle o’ Burrian on the Isle of Westray or the world-famous sea-stack of the Old Man of Hoy.

Celebrate Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and take a selfie of your favourite Orkney historical landmark using #facethepast!

MAY 25-28

Orkney Folk Festival JUNE 16-21

St Magnus International Festival JUNE 17-25

Orkney Garden Festival

Join Arctic Wildlife Tours for specialised wildlife photography expeditions and hides: Svalbard photographic journeys On our photography holidays you will have a chance to photograph one of the last great Arctic frontiers on earth under the cover of ice and snow around the Svalbard Archipelago.

Raptor photo hides in Norway Arctic Wildlife Tours has established three places for Golden Eagle and Gos-Hawk photography in Norway. Easy access with airport close to all hides and accommodation.





Though the Scottish Beaver Trial was largely successful, some farmers may still see beavers as “an expensive nuisance”.




eavers are to be protected in Scotland under European nature legislation, the Scottish Government has confirmed. It means that beavers in Knapdale, where the official trial took place, and Tayside, where they were unofficially introduced, will be allowed to stay. It also means that further reintroductions will be permitted under licence. But environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham said limiting the impact of beavers on farmers “will require careful management”, so they will have the right to remove or cull animals where they create problems. February 2017

for Life – a Scotland-based NGO Conservationists gave a mixed that restores native Caledonian reaction to the news. While pine forest – said he was remaining largely positive, the excited about the potential for chief executive of the Scottish restoring beavers to areas of the Wildlife Trust, Jonny Hughes, Highlands north-west of Tayside, said a lot of work needed to be such as Dundreggan. done, such as reassuring farmers “We need to work with who might see beavers as “an landowners, fishing expensive nuisance”. interests and all the “The Government people with a stake needs to identify areas in this, and that will where new colonies take a long time, can be released, Beavers are also living wild on so we want to start [though] some of these the River Otter the process now,” might be ‘recycled’ in South Devon Micklewright said. animals from the – there are some 20 animals now, But Derek Gow, a Tayside population,” and they’ve been conservationist and Hughes said in a blog. living there since vocal campaigner for Steve Micklewright, about 2007. reintroducing beavers chief executive of Trees


to the UK for many years, said there was little sense of urgency, either within Scotland or England and Wales, about the importance of getting beavers back into our landscape. “With Brexit looming, we need to look at how we reshape the landscape, particularly the river corridors,” he said. “We need dynamic wetlands to address issues such as toxic runoff and nitrates, and for that we need beavers and we need to do it fast.” James Fair

+ FIND OUT MORE Scottish Beaver Trial www.

BBC Wildlife


A genetic study suggests the Masai giraffe should be reclassified as one of four separate giraffe species.

GIRAFFE CENSUS SHOCK Population has been in steady decline for years and numbers are now fewer than 100,000.

Rhino (captive): Mark Carwardine/NPL; Attenborough: John Phillips/Getty; bearded tit: Gert-Jan Ijzerman/NIS/Minden/FLPA

Some 200 years ago, there were 1 million giraffes wandering over most of sub-Saharan Africa – today, there are fewer than 100,000, and the IUCN says they are threatened with extinction. Illegal hunting – both for meat and trophies – is having an impact on the world’s tallest mammal in some parts of its range such as the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Tanzania, according to Dr Julian Fennessy, co-founder of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. “But the biggest issue is the loss, fragmentation and degradation of habitat,” he said.

CONSERVATION RHINO HOPE? WWF-Malaysia says there may still be Sumatran rhinos in Malaysian Borneo. But the species has been declared extinct there, and the Borneo Rhino Alliance said the odds that a footprint found in the Danum Valley belonged to a rhino were small.


BBC Wildlife

New survey results released by the IUCN have revealed there are 97,562 giraffes in the wild, a 36–40 per cent decline on a population estimated to be 150,000–160,000 in 1985. As a result, the giraffe has been reclassified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Fennessy said that were the giraffe to be split into four separate species, as a study he contributed to that was published in 2016 recommended, then the northern giraffe would number fewer than 5,000 animals and be Critically Endangered. There are other issues to consider, too. “Giraffes are key pollinators and seed dispersers,” Fennessy said. “When they are feeding on leaves, they get

covered in inflorescence and then move on to the next tree. We know so little, and we mess things up so quickly.” Fennessy said there were some examples of good practice. Numbers have been as low as 50 in the whole of West Africa, but intensive conservation work in Niger alone has raised the population there to 550. “Niger put its dollars on the line, changed legislation and is doing a great job,” he said. “And the same is true of Uganda.”

Hundreds of birds – especially golden plovers, but other waders too – are being illegally trapped on Malta where they overwinter, according to the Committee Against Bird Slaughter (CABS). CABS says that hunters are flouting government regulations that only permit trapping to be done during the day and under strict supervision, and as a result the quota of 700 golden plovers is being massively exceeded. “The season should be closed with immediate effect,” said a spokesperson. Golden plovers overwinter in Malta from October to March, arriving from breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Russia.

James Fair

+ FIND OUT MORE Giraffe Conservation Foundation https://

Golden plover trapping quotas are being exceeded.



Sir David Attenborough’s rallying call on humanity’s responsibility at the end of the final programme of Planet Earth II.

February 2017

Giraffe: Denis-Huot/; plover: CABS; seal: Paul Sawer/FLPA





IRISH SEALS MYSTERY Carcasses with corkscrew injuries suggest increasing cannibalism by adult males.

Conservationists in Ireland say they are seeing increasing numbers of dead seals with distinctive ‘corkscrew’ injuries. Until a couple of years ago, experts believed these were caused by ships’ propellers. Then in 2014, a team of researchers from the University of St Andrews identified adult bull grey seals as the culprits. John Woodlock, of the Irish Seal Sanctuary (ISS), said he did not come across any seals with corkscrew injuries until 2015. “Then, I went back through our


dead seal database, and realised there were some from 2012 and 2013 that were suspicious.” If there is an increasing trend for cannibalism by male grey seals, the ISS says it is important to understand why. “It could be a sign of something happening in the environment that we should know about,” Woodlock said. “Are they doing it because there is a shortage of food or because of a shortage of space on breeding beaches? It’s certainly most unusual.”

+ FIND OUT MORE Irish Seal Sanctuary www.

The number of hedgehogs in Regent’s Park, the last known ones in Central London. ZSL says plans to turn its car park into a facility for HS2 lorries threatens their existence, but a House of Lords committee said their plight did not justify disrupting HS2’s plans.

I had just retired when I noticed something in our parish magazine saying they needed volunteer river wardens. I went on a course on how to do riverfly monitoring, and now we have seven people in the village who do it regularly. The main thing we do is the ‘kick test’ in which you kick up the river sediment, and see what invertebrates you disturb. We’re mainly looking for Gammarus shrimps and the nymphs of blue-winged olive mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies. We might see other species such as bullheads, and we also look out for things that shouldn’t be there, such as American signal crayfish. And we test the water for its ph level and for nitrates and phosphates. All our records go onto an online database, which the Environment Agency monitors to make sure the river is in a healthy condition.

We also assess the state of plant and tree cover on the riverbanks, whether there’s algae, the colour of the water and whether it’s clear or cloudy. At the same time, we look out for slurry on fields, flytipping, run-off and for any collapsed riverbanks. There are some horses grazing in the fields behind the section I walk, and one time I noticed some horse manure was being shoved down the riverbank. I was able to go round to the people who rent the land with my river warden hat on and say we’d noticed it. We see otter spraint underneath the bridge quite regularly. We’ve examined it in the past and established that our otter’s been eating ‘signals’. We don’t have them here, but they are seven miles away.

+ FIND OUT MORE Essex Rivers Hub www.

Gammarus shrimp – there’s one prawn every minute.


February 2017

Nature Photographers Ltd/Alamy

have reached their highest level since monitoring began in 1995, with 772 pairs recorded in 2014, including 250 on the Humber Estuary. The species lives in reedbeds, and is not a member of the tit family or closely related to any other songbirds.

BBC Wildlife






Jouan & Rius/


n recent history, the koala has been mainly confined to the east coast region of mainland Australia, with a few scattered populations in the centre, but there’s really not much habitat there. Its range has shrunk a little bit since European settlement, largely because of habitat loss and fragmentation caused by urbanisation and clearing trees for farmland. As this happens and populations become smaller and more fragmented, they are more likely to be hit by disease. We are seeing that happen in the populations in Queensland and New South Wales. There are two main ones: a leukaemia-like virus which seems to lower their immunity, and chlamydia, which can cause infertility. Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves, but not from all species. Resident koala range Introduced koala range


They will generally have between one and five favourite eucalyptus trees they feed from, and another five to 10 secondary ones. The species differ depending on which part of Australia they are in. Climate change is set to have an impact. Because it’s hotter in the more northern part of their range, as temperatures increase you won’t find them as far north or west as you do now, while their southern ranges will stay about the same. The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) is trying to pass an act through the national parliament to protect its habitat, because, at the moment, this is largely protected at a state level. The Government does fund a lot of research into genetics, ecology and behaviour. AKF had to remove free access to their KoalaMap due to unauthorised use but members of the public can still record their sightings. This helps scientists to get a clearer picture of whether numbers are declining or increasing in certain areas. Shannon Kjeldsen is an evolutionary biologist at James Cook University, Australia.



+ FIND OUT MORE Tasman Sea


BBC Wildlife

Australian Koala Foundation

Eucalyptus leaves that koalas feed on are highly toxic but the marsupials have evolved to cope with the problem.

February 2017





HABITAT Forests and woodlands with predominantly eucalyptus species. In drier, inland areas, koalas occur mainly in riparian woodlands DIET Mainly leaves from eucalyptus trees, but also from other species such as myrtle THREATS Habitat loss and fragmentation, disease and climate change


February 2017



BBC Wildlife





Over 30 years experience in creating exceptional wildlife holidays Expert led small group naturalist tours Over 30 European destinations Specialist photography trips Discover our incredible range of new wildlife and birdwatching holidays for 2017 REQUEST OUR BROCHURE TODAY 01305 267 994


Mark Carwardine’s 12



WHAT IS AN ALIEN SPECIES? An alien species is any non-native plant, animal or other organism introduced into a place that was never part of its natural range. Sometimes known as invasive, introduced or exotic species, alien species are a major threat to wildlife and wild places around the world.

WHY ARE THEY SUCH A THREAT? They have evolved separately from the native wildlife in their new homes, which are consequently ill-equipped to cope with the onslaught of a new predator or aggressive competitor, and the upshot is often devastation for local ecosystems.

WHAT ARE THE WORST EXAMPLES? There are thousands of shocking examples, from Nile perch in Lake Victoria to cane toads in Australia. The problem is so severe in New Zealand, where rats, stoats, possums and other introduced predators kill 25 million native birds every year (many of them flightless) that the government recently announced a project to try to make the nation alien predator-free by 2050.

Stephan Morris/Alamy

HAVE WE ESCAPED ALIEN SPECIES IN THE UK? Far from it. There are some 2,000 established alien species in the UK, including edible dormice, muntjac deer, ring-necked parakeets and yellow-tailed scorpions. Many are harmful. American mink, February 2017

for instance, are responsible for a collapse in our water vole population, while Japanese knotweed completely overwhelms other plants. A more recent concern is the harlequin ladybird, which has a voracious appetite not only for other ladybirds, but also the eggs of butterflies and moths.


harmful alien species, using anything from pesticides to trapping, and to prevent future invasions through education, research and legislation. The EU Regulation on Invasive Alien Species came into force on 1 January 2015, for example. But very often, alien species go unnoticed until it is too late. American mink were imported and farmed for their fur

Usually with the help of people, accidentally or intentionally. Stowaways on ships, disastrous attempts to control unwanted pests and escapes from captivity are all to blame. Alien species even hitch rides in the ballast tanks of ships – this is how Eastern European zebra mussels travelled to the Great Lakes of North America, where they are wreaking havoc among native fish populations and coastal communities.

ARE THE PROBLEMS ALL ECOLOGICAL? No. Alien species can also have economic implications. Every year £1.7bn is spent trying to control them in Britain – and that doesn’t include the direct economic losses caused by damage to infrastructure, goods and crops – while Australia faces an annual bill of £20m just to eliminate introduced fire ants.

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO TACKLE THE PROBLEM? The ultimate aim is to remove or at least control



MARK CARWARDINE is a frustrated and frank conservationist. O Every month he demystifies some of the most important issues affecting the world’s wildlife and assesses the organisations that protect it.

SO IS IT HOPELESS? Not necessarily. There are some impressive success stories. Rats have just been eradicated from South Georgia, in the South Atlantic, using poisoned bait scattered from helicopters. They had been eating birds’ eggs and chicks, but five years and £7.5m later, the last rat has gone and birds are returning.

ARE THERE MORE NATURAL SOLUTIONS? In some cases, yes. In Britain, five million grey squirrels do £10m worth of damage to native trees every year and have displaced most of our red squirrels. Their numbers recover within months of extensive culling. But native pine martens – which were largely eradicated by gamekeepers – could be the solution. Since greys were introduced from North America in 1876, they are not as adept as red squirrels at escaping these agile predators. It could be a rare chance for a native species to fight back. O For more information on invaders


BBC Wildlife


Deep humour? The fox didn’t mean to be funny, it was just after its dinner.



ome of the biggest talking points from Planet Earth III were about story lines that veered unsettlingly towards tragedy – the marine iguanas running for their lives from the racer snakes in Islands or the hawksbill turtle hatchlings crawling heart-breakingly towards artificial light sources on Barbados in Cities. But arguably it was the moments of comedyy that left audiences coming back for more – especially the 16–34-yearolds who, the BBC announced triumphantly, tuned in to the series in greater numbers than they did to ITV’s The X Factor. r Think of the back-scratching bears and synchronised flamingos in Mountainss and the fruit-and-veg stealing macaques in Cities. My two children – aged eight and five – couldn’t stop laughing at these sequences. Mountains producer Justin Anderson says he’s been itching to film the bear footage for many years, so was delighted to finally nail it for this series. “I have two kids aged four and six, and I know as a dad that I can 62

BBC Wildlife

get their attention if I can make them laugh,” he says. “For me, humour is more universally appealing than a dramatic chase or action sequence.” COMIC RELIEF If that’s true, it does make you wonder why wildlife films, photography and even writing – and magazines – don’t include more humour. In fact, this was part of the thinking of wildlife p photographer g p Paul JJoynsony Hicks when he set up the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards (CWPA) in 2015. Co-organiser and fellow photographer Tom Sullam says the thinking was to have a



competition that wasn’t serious and provided less of a barrier to amateur photographers. Joynson-Hicks and Sullam knew from their own experience p of taking gp pictures of wildlife – mainly in Tanzania where they both live – that they frequently snapped funny moments that would never find an outlet, but they had no idea whether the images they received for the competition would be any good or if it would strike a chord with the public. “But after we got massive press coverage in 2015, we realised people do like this,” Sullam says. Most of the winning or shortlisted images rely either on animals doing something that looks human, such as appearing to laugh or wave at the camera, or in them appearing to have goofed in some way – the brown bear

that’s missed a leaping salmon (right) is a good example. “It’s very anthropomorphic,” Sullam admits. “We recognise human behaviour in the animals, but it removes anyy cultural barriers. It’s not Asian humour or North American humour, it’s cross-cultural.” To emphasise this point, Sullam says that newspapers and websites from every country in the world apart from North Korea have used the photos. The 2016 awards had 2,200 entries from people in 75 different countries. Mark Carwardine, a noted wildlife photographer who chaired the judging panel of Wildlife Photographer of the Year for many years, says there’s no problem in finding human characteristics in animal behaviour, as long the animal hasn’t been manipulated February 2017

AGENDA ANALYSIS It’s a steal: monkey thieves were a hit with audiences of Planet Earth II.

Miss of the day: the bear hasn’t really goofed, it just looks to us as though it has.

to ach hieve i this. hi “You “Y can’t ’ help h l but an nthropomorphise, and if it helpss to make a connection with wildliife, that’s a good thing,” he says. “If kids love watching a bear scratching s g its back, what’s wrong with that?” FOSSILISED FUN But itt’s not just footage or photo os of wildlife looking inadvvertently foolish that make peoplle laugh. Film-maker and conservationist ervationist Matt Brierley took a show to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2009 in which he aimed to convert audiences to his hypothesis that T rex was a pack-hunter not a scavenger. It’s not the most obvious subject for a stand-up routine, but Brierley was getting 90 people a day at the fringe, and subsequently performed a 12-night sell-out run at a small theatre in Bristol (this February 2017

i now available is il bl online). li ) The Th humour is gentle rather than ‘laugh-your-head-off’ funny, but Brierley takes the audience on an absorbing journey around the world. He travels to Cremona, in Italy, to protest against the notion that T rex scavenged for its supper and later to the town of Dinosaur, in Colorado, to inveigle the mayor to sign a petition supporting his theory. “I think people liked the fact that it was funny and it’s a true,” Brierley says. “And they like dinosaurs in general.” With his conservationist’s hat on – he’s currently making a film about shark-finning – the comedian believes there is good reason to include more humour. “If you give people messages that are all unhappy, they just won’t work. There are hundreds of causes I should care

ANIMAL MAGIC For millions of children growing up from the 1960s to the early 1980s, their first taste of wildlife on TV was Johnny Morris’ humorous voiceovers on Animal Magic. The programme unashamedly made the zoo animals talk, and, perhaps because such anthropomorphism is much rarer these days, looking again at the few episodes still freely available, it’s almost impossible not to smile. WALK ON THE WILD SIDE In 2009, the BBC effectively updated Animal Magic with Walk On The Wild Side, a series of 30-minute programmes featuring wildlife footage with

voiceovers by well-known comedians. If you can’t locate your inner child then you probably won’t find a marmot saying, “Alan, Alan, Alan – Oh, no, it’s Steve!” or a puffin putting on a Mexican accent the slightest bit rib-tickling. I’m afraid I did. SPRINGWATCH UNSPRUNG In 2010, Springwatch gained Unsprung, an informal, eccentric and often humorous accompaniment to the main event. It has featured interviews with guests ranging from the celebrity academic Germaine Greer to the comedian Ed Byrne, quirky quizzes and host Chris Packham’s occasionally acerbic critiques of viewers’ wildlife photographs.

Magic man: the incomparable Johnny Morris.

Fox: Angela Bohlke/Barcroft Images; monkey: BBC; bear: Rob Kroenert/Barcroft Images; Johnny: Frank Barratt/Getty


AGENDA ANALYSIS Intellectual humour: Brian Cox and Robin Ince of BBC Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage.

about, but I’m more likely to stop at something that makes me smile.” Helen Pilcher, a science-writer who has also done stand-up, says a similar argument applies to communicating science ideas. “You reach audiences you would not be able to otherwise,” she says. “I hope it means they are learning about stuff and being coaxed into your world.” STANDING UP FOR SCIENCE There’s an appetite for more intellectually driven humour, Pilcher points out, citing both Radio 4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, hosted by Prof Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince, and Bright Club. Bright Club is a one-off – a comedy club that features professional stand-ups talking to scientists tists amusingly abou ut their research. If that soundss unlikely, then so o does Pilcher’s book, Bring Backk the King: the New Science of De-extinction, a humorous look at how technological advances could enable humans to bring g longgone species bacck from the dead. In the book, Pilcher writes ab bout attempts to revivve all manner of curreently 64

BBC Wildliffe

defunct species – the Pyrenean subspecies of the Spanish ibex known as the bucardo, the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, the northern white rhino and the Christmas Island rat are all put under the microscope. De-extinction is not an easy subject to write about because both the science and ethics of it are complex; making it funny can entail contriving jokes out of subjects that are not replete with obvious humour. The story of the bucardo is a good example. Before the last female died in 2000, scientists took samples of her skin cells, and in 2002 cloned a single offspring. Sadly, the kid survived only seven minutes, with an autopsy later revealing its lungs were deformed and it could never have lived. “The bucardo, so s briefly back in the worrld, went extinct all oveer again, giving it the honour h not just of being the first animal to be brought back from extinctiion, but the ignominy of being the first animal eveer to go extinct twice,” Pilcher notes. Perrhaps you don’t find that t funny or even consider it a sub bject meriting a joke, but it made me m cchuckle, as Never a scavenger: Matt Brierley’s fringe view of T rex.



If we imagine the cheetah is feeling challenged by the 40mph sign, we are giving it human characteristics, but does that matter?

did much of the writing. More importantly, it tempted me to read on, knowing that on most pages there would be a little gift of a joke or a humorous aside that would lighten the otherwise serious subject matter. NO LAUGHING MATTER? So, should conservationists, film-makers and writers try to be funnier? Though Matt Brierley clearly finds humour in much of what he does, he can see why others don’t. “If you know what’s happening to the planet, it weighs very heavily on your mind, and 2016 has been a very taxing year,” he says. “I can see why people have a ‘doom and gloom’ outlook – it’s because they care about what’s happening.” Plus, it’s not always easy to be funny. Just because you are an expert in why kittiwakes are declining in the North Atlantic

or the socio-economic factors affecting lion conservation in affecting East Africa doesn’t mean you have any talent for making people laugh. Which is, perhaps, where the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards come in, because there’s no need for razorsharp wit to explain what’s funny about them. Personally, my favourite’s the image of the cheetah gazing down a track at a 40mph sign. “Don’t tempt me,” you can imagine the cheetah thinking to itself. That the cheetah is, of course, doing no such thing doesn’t make the image any less humorous.

+ FIND OUT MORE CWPA www.comedy Matt Brierley’s T rex show is online: www.mattbrierley. com/comedian.html

February 2017



GUIDE There can’t be anything more rewarding for an ardent wildlife watcher than to be involved with animals, contribute to conservation and help increase mankind's knowledge of global habitats and species. The key to a meaningful job in natural history, biology, zoology or the environment is top-class training. Here, we showcase a number of educational establishments that specialise in life sciences to give you a good start on the road to a career in nature.

Field Studies Council Learn about and be inspired by the natural world


ield Studies Council (FSC) has launched its popular programme of UK courses and holidays for 2017. Experiences with FSC are great fun and help you discover more and make the most of the outdoors, including walking, photography, animal and plant identification, family holidays, art and craft holidays. Courses range from one day to a week, with comfortable, full board accommodation included in the price of all residential courses. The programme includes opportunities at all levels, from those which are perfect for IA THE V beginners right up to more K O BO advanced training. O “Great fun, great tutor, fab T S U NTACT OR CO T COURSE food, decent accommodation and ES the centre staff were absolutely REQU S. HURE smashing,” participant on Lake BROC District Spring Photography in 2016.

“Brilliant course! Tutor was excellent, informative, helpful and fun, and sure knows his stuff! I wished I could have stayed for longer. I look forward to being back again for another bird-related course in the future,” Participant on Mainly Migrants in 2016 Locations can be found in stunning settings around the UK like the Pembrokeshire coastline, Yorkshire Dales and Suffolk. As well as beautiful views they all have plenty of exciting wildlife to come across in their surroundings too. FSC is a charity, passionate about its aim to help people of all ages to discover, explore and understand the environment. Visit us to enjoy experiencing nature at first-hand while relaxing in the welcoming atmosphere of one of our centres.


Contact Details 01743 852100


University of Aberystwyth Learn and Live in an exceptional environment


tudying for a degree in the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University is a second-tonone chance to learn and live in an exceptional environment. We offer a wide range of degree courses to suit all your interests, including:

• • • • • • • • • •

MRes Biosciences MBiol (Zoology) BSc Microbiology BSc Biochemistry BSc Genetics BSc Biology BSc Marine and Freshwater Biology BSc Zoology BSc Conservation/Countryside Management BSc Ecology

Aberystwyth is a stone’s throw from internationally recognised habitats: the UNESCO Dyfi Biosphere, two RAMSAR wetlands, two marine Special Areas of Conservation, two National Nature Reserves and several Sites of Special Scientific Interest, providing fabulous field work and recreational opportunities. You will be taught by expert researchers and benefit from fantastic modern laboratories and aquaria amongst other state-of-the-art facilities. IBERS was awarded 91% student satisfaction in 2016 (NSS 2016) and 92% of our graduates are in employment or further education six months after graduating. Wish you were here?!

Contact Details 01970 621904 / 621986

OPEN DA YS 12th July 16th Sep tember 14th Oct ober 11th Nov ember


University of Exeter Online short courses –




ove Nature? Love Learning? Want to develop your knowledge, enhance your skills, or pursue a personal interest? With an online short course from the University of Exeter you can explore our planet, discover the natural world, and learn how to conserve the environment at a time and place that suits you! Our non-accredited short courses offer an exciting range of environmental studies topics, such as: Business and Environmental Sustainability, Oceanography, Climatology, Bird Life, Mammalogy, Marine Biology, Palaeontology, Ecology, Conservation and Habitat Management, and Geological Heritage and Geodiversity. Each course is written and taught by university tutors, PhD students and other specialists, providing stimulating introductions (as well as more advanced

content for those who like to be challenged!) to a wide variety of subjects. We welcome learners of all ages from around the world, particularly those who have never studied with a university before. More importantly, most of these introductory courses have no academic pre-requisites – all you need is enthusiasm for the subject. So, if you’re thinking of exploring a possible career change, or simply taking up a new hobby, you can discover more with the help of University tutors and other subject experts, online, at a time that suits you. Courses are also available in a range of other subject areas, including: Archaeology, Art History, Creative Writing, Digital Media, Egyptology, Film, History and Heritage, Literature, Music History, Theology, and Interdisciplinary Studies. You can choose to study a single course or several, and in any combination!

Our courses are particularly suitable if you: •

have not studied for some time and are looking for a gentle reintroduction to study

wish to pursue an interest with guidance and feedback from an experienced tutor

are unsure about studying with a university

would like to see how much you can take on before committing time and money to a more demanding accredited course

need a flexible mode of study to suit your lifestyle

Contact Details

do not wish to take assessments education/nature

do not wish to work towards an award

A pygmy three-toed sloth swims in a mangrove forest. The species can only be found on the tiny island of Escudo de Veraguas, Panama.

Swimming in the slow lane

Although superbly adapted to a secret life in the rainforest canopy, sloths don’t spend all their lives hanging upside down, as zoologist Becky Cliffe has discovered. Photos by Suzi Eszterhas


hen we think of ocean-going mammals we’re likely to imagine 15m humpback whales breaching above the waves, or orcas gliding under the surface, or slinky otters winding their way through kelp forests. What we don’t often think of are sloths. Although a trifle ungainly, a sloth swimming in the sea is an amazing sight. When I first saw one, I thought it was seaweed floating on the surface. It was only on closer inspection that I realised the ‘clump’ was in fact a pygmy three-toed sloth moving steadily through the clear waters of a Panamanian lagoon. Superficially, sloths just don’t look like they should be in the water. The soaked fur gave the individual I saw a bedraggled, dishevelled look, but in demeanour it seemed perfectly calm and content. Therefore, I suppressed my natural urge to scoop the poor creature up and ‘save’ it from a watery fate. This was clearly a wild animal in its environment and I was the peculiar, out-of-place human in the scene. Free from the tug of gravity and surprisingly buoyant thanks to an oversized and gassy stomach, the sloth bobbed across the sea’s surface, pulling itself along with its forelimbs in a slow-motion doggy paddle. Sloths are very well adapted for an energy-efficient life hanging upside down in the rainforest canopy, from

February 2017


their long gangly limbs with elongated hook-like fingers, to their dense, shaggy coats. However, all six sloth species are actually fantastic swimmers, while certainly not winning any medals for speed or grace. Indeed, a submerged sloth can move up to three times faster in water than it can move on land. At first, a sloth in water may seem about as appropriate as a fish in a tree, and swimming a futile ability for an animal that spends the majority of its time high up in the canopy. But if you’re living in the rainforests of Central and South America, swimming is an essential survival skill. In these regions, vast and dynamic rivers fragment the forest – they can be a paltry trickle at times but then turn into a ranging torrent after heavy bouts of rain. Being unable to leap from branch to branch to traverse breaks in the canopy as a monkey would, swimming becomes a sloth’s effective strategy to avoid geographic isolation. Sloth fossils tell the story. Modern sloths converged into tree-dwellers from two separate lineages of ground sloths, separated by millions of years of evolution, and we know these bear- to elephant-sized sloths were also capable swimmers. One genus of fossil sloth in particular, Thalassocnus, appeared not just capable of swimming, but was specifically adapted for a

Above: Pygmy three-toed sloths are arboreal folivores that eat the leaves of a variety of trees. Right: The species has evolved a much smaller body size compared to its mainland relatives.



BBC Wildlife

Spending a lot of time hanging upside down, as sloths do, presents several physical problems. One of these comes from the constant weight of the internal organs pressing down on the lungs and diaphragm, making breathing difficult. Considering that a sloth’s oversized stomach can account for up to a third of its body weight, this is particularly problematic for

an animal that doesn’t have much spare energy to play with. Sloths, however, have established an ingenious solution to this issue. Research has uncovered that sloths bind all of their organs to their rib cage and pelvic girdle using internal adhesions. These anchors prevent the lungs from being squashed and can reduce a sloth’s energy expenditure by seven to 13 per cent when they are hanging.

marine lifestyle. So while modern sloths don’t strike us as particularly adept in the water, they’re in good company within the Xenarthra group of mammals. Taking a closer look at some modern sloth traits reveals a number of unusual features that facilitate their aptitude for swimming, and that explain their ease in the water. Due to their incredibly slow digestive rate, all sloths boast an enormous multi-chambered stomach which can account for up to a third of their body weight. This big bag of fermenting leaves creates a lot of gas and therefore acts as a giant flotation device. Once freed from the need to invest effort and energy in staying afloat, the sloth can simply bob along using its long arms to control the direction of travel. February 2017


Alongside having a lilo-like stomach, three-toed sloths possess nine cervical vertebrae, two more than any other mammal. When in the canopy this extra-long neck provides the animal with an unusual ability to turn its head through 270° (in contrast to our ability to look left and right in a 180° arc), allowing the world to be viewed the right way up despite hanging upside down. When swimming, this long neck has further benefits, allowing the sloth to keep its nose high above the water, much like a swimming elephant uses its trunk as a snorkel. While all sloth species share a similar fondness for water, the enigmatic pygmy three-toed sloths are quite unique as, outside of the fossil record, they are the only species known to swim in salt water.

February 2017

Above left: Becky Cliffe (left) and Sarah Kennedy take hair samples from a pygmy three-toed sloth. Above right: the Critically Endangered species has a tan-coloured face with a distinctive dark band across the forehead.

Recognised as a distinct species in 2001, these little sloths are found exclusively on the small, remote Isla Escudo de Veraguas. Lying 16km off the Caribbean coast of Panama, this hidden world is home to a number of other endemic species including the solitary fruit-eating bat and the Escudo hummingbird. On this island 3.3km2 of impenetrable jungle are fringed by mangrove forests and pristine lagoons, all sheltered from the unrelenting force of the Caribbean Sea by a vast coral reef.

ISLAND CASTAWAYS Being confined on the tiny landmass since it broke away from the mainland 9,000 years ago has forced pygmy three-toed sloths to develop some unusual adaptations to island life, with perhaps the most obvious being their small size. As their name suggests, pygmy sloths are 40 per cent smaller than their mainland counterparts and an excellent example of insular dwarfism. This strange phenomenon occurs when larger species react to being isolated in a confined ecosystem by becoming smaller. There can be numerous ecological pressures responsible for this shrinking, such as a release from predatory pressure, but in the case of the pygmy sloths limited food and resource availability are thought to be key. While all three-toed sloths have a predominantly folivorous (leaf-based) diet and consume material with a notably low caloric content, pygmy sloths have taken this a step further. They feed predominantly, if not exclusively, in the red mangrove swamps that fringe the island. These leaves are nutritionally poor and incredibly tough to digest compared to the trees favoured by the mainland species. So the small size of the pygmy may be due to an even more calorie-deficient diet than a typical sloth. Despite being one of the most biologically productive ecosystems on earth, mangroves are an unusual habitat of choice for any mammal. Perched precariously between the land and the ocean, these trees are exposed to extreme variations in conditions; from scorching tropical temperatures to suffocating mud and intolerable salt levels. Exactly why this species of three-toed sloths seems to favour the mangroves over the virgin rainforest covering the interior of the island is one of the mysteries that scientists are still trying to unravel. BBC Wildlife


All sloths utilise camouflage as their main form of defence. Predators tend to track movement, so taking life slowly and allowing green algae to grow on their hair are tactics that make it frustratingly difficult to spot a sloth in the rainforest canopy. While this is an outstandingly successful strategy for the sloths, combined with the remoteness of the island and the denseness of the forest it makes direct observational research particularly difficult. As a result, nobody really knows for sure what the pygmy sloths are doing, or where they are doing it. It is entirely possible that the sloths have been considered by people to live exclusively in the mangroves simply because they are easier to spot there.

MYSTERIOUS MAMMALS Another consequence of low observations of the animals is that nobody really knows how many pygmy sloths are on the island. Current data suggests there could be fewer than 500 of these little animals, but the figure could be as low as 100. They are currently ranked number 16 on the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) EDGE of Existence Mammals List, and are recognised as Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered. However, new research being carried out by ZSL’s EDGE of Existence Programme is beginning to shed light on these small mammals. The project involves the first long-term study into the distribution, movement patterns, 72

BBC Wildlife

Above: sloth hair grows in the opposite direction to most animals so water runs away from the skin when they are upside down. Below: sloths move slowly to conserve energy.

and habitat use of the pygmy sloths. Twice a year a team of conservationists visit the island and walk transects through the mangroves and dense interior forest, counting sloths. By completing these regular surveys the team is able to monitor any changes in the overall size of the population as well as map the distribution of sloths. Through this work, the first pygmy sloth living deep in the interior forest has been discovered, adding evidence to the theory that the animals may not be entirely reliant on the mangroves.

PYGMY SLOTHS Right: female pygmy three-toed sloths may carry their babies for six to 12 months. Below: sloths use their forelimbs to move through the water.

Becky Cliffe releases a sloth that is wearing a ‘backpack’ in a sanctuary.

SLOTH ‘BACKPACKS’ Due to their enigmatic nature and ability to blend seamlessly into the rainforest canopy, sloths are notoriously difficult to study. As a result, very little is known about wild sloth ecology. In order to shed light on what these mysterious mammals are getting up to, scientists are equipping wild sloths with made-to-measure ‘backpacks’. Weighing in at just 60g, these ‘backpacks’ contain small data loggers

called ‘Daily Diaries’ that record eight different parameters of movement and environmental data up to 40 times per second. With a battery life of 10 days, each deployment collects almost 300 million data points. By combining this information with data from high frequency radio-tracking transmitters, scientists are beginning to understand exactly what wild sloths are doing and where they are.


The team has also tagged a number of pygmy sloths with very high frequency (VHF) radiotracking collars and hope to employ a collection of miniature GPS loggers attached via backpack-style harnesses. Unlike collars you might have seen deployed on larger mammals, these harnesses are built specifically for the sloths so they don’t hamper their range of movement or add excessive weight that would force the animals to burn more calories while climbing. From the resultant data, researchers will be able to see exactly where each animal travels and how they are utilising each type of habitat. Information like this is essential for the long-term protection of pygmy sloths. Without knowing the particular habitat requirements of a species it is very difficult to develop effective conservation strategies that target those areas.

MINIMISING DISTURBANCE Ecosystems exist in a delicate balance. Unfortunately, it does not take much to tip the scale and the pressures of an ever-expanding human population are beginning to take their toll. Although the island of Escudo de Veraguas is technically uninhabited, fishermen frequent the area and seasonal settlements are becoming more prevalent. As a February 2017

+ FIND OUT MORE Planet Earth II DVD has footage of a swimming pygmy sloth on Escudo: https:// planet-earth-ii

result, logging is a rapidly growing threat as people use increasing amounts of mangrove timber for firewood and construction. Furthermore, there is a worrying increase in the number of tourists illegally visiting Escudo, and the island is difficult to police. Tourists, however well meaning, inevitably disturb the wildlife and add more pressure to a fragile ecosystem. While many wildlife-watching activities take reasonable steps to prevent bringing harm or disturbance to the animals of interest, we are learning more and more that there is no way to visit the land of the swimming sloth without having an impact. In an attempt to minimise the effects of human encroachment on the pygmy sloth’s habitat, there are numerous on-going projects aimed at improving environmental education in the local communities and working with authorities to develop conservation solutions. This approach, combined with scientific research and an increased awareness of the nature of the pygmy sloth, provides hope for the future of this enchanting island. Sloths may lack the majesty we associate with other, more charismatic mammals, but they are fascinating creatures. Careful research will continue to unravel their mysteries so that no more of their kind enter the fossil record. BECKY CLIFFE is a British zoologist, currently studying for a PhD, who has spent many years assisting with research at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. BBC Wildlife



bought the concept of buying an acre of rainforest to protect it. As he steps down from running the World Land Trust, he talks to James Fairr about conservation, s. eco-colonialism – and cats.


John Burton: David Bebber/WLT; newsletter: WLT


ack in May 1989, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and General Manuel Noriega was nullifying an election that had ousted him as president of Panama, down the road in the tiny Central American country of Belize, plans were afoot to buy 44,000 hectares (ha) of land for the purpose of conserving the rainforest and its wildlife. John Burton, a 45-year-old British conservationist who had recently quit his role as head of Fauna & Flora International (FFI), was asked by a contact at the US Audubon Society to help raise the $6.5m (then about £4m) needed for the purchase. John approached the now defunct newspaper Today, which promised him £25,000 for a six-page feature on the condition that he got the plan endorsed by the three most notable conservationists in the country: David Attenborough, David Bellamy and Gerald Durrell. “I think it took Viv [Burton, John’s wife] all of half an hour,” John recalls. “I don’t think they realised how much of a network we were. These were people I’d known a long time, so it simply wasn’t a problem.” In the end, the Burtons raised £250,000, much of it through asking the British public, including readers of BBC Wildlife Magazine, to donate


BBC Wildlife

John Burton is stepping down from running the WLT after almost three decades. It all began with a campaign to buy land in Belize for the purpose of conserving the rainforest in 1989.


JOHN BURTON money by ‘buying an acre’. While John admits that it wasn’t his idea – “It came from America, and Friends of the Earth had done a similar thing with Alice’s Meadow in Oxfordshire” – this was one of the earliest uses of the model. On the back of this success, John set up the Worldwide Land Conservation Trust, later shortening the name to the World Land Trust (WLT) “because David Bellamy kept getting it wrong”. In the intervening years, the WLT has raised more than £25m and been instrumental in the purchase and protection of some 500,000 acres (more than 200,000 ha – an area greater than all of the RSPB’s reserves in Britain) of tropical rainforest and other threatened habitats. Strategic purchases that connect isolated habitats have helped ensure that some 1.6m ha are actively managed and protected.

John & Sir David: David Bebber/WLT; Mocona: Marco Guoli; elephants: Ramith M/WTI; tree: Silvia Centron/WLT

GROWING AWARENESS John was born in Streatham, south-west London, and says his earliest memory is of finding a common lizard in his sandpit at the age four or five. He was fascinated by wildlife – and reptiles, especially – had a vivarium by the age of eight or nine and started reading books by David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell. “They were all collectors, so I started catching hedgehogs in the woods and selling them to Harrods at five shillings each,” he says. “I collected crayfish from local rivers when I was about 15 and sold them to the school for dissection.” Thereafter, his career path was inevitably going to be entwined with animals: he joined the Natural History Museum after leaving school, worked in natural history publishing – including on this magazine when it was still called Animals – wrote a field guide to reptiles and amphibians, helped found the wildlife-trade monitoring group Traffic and then joined what was then the Fauna & Flora Protection Society, later to become FFI. It was around this time that naturalists around the world first realised that wildlife was in trouble. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was founded in 1961, and Friends of the Earth in the early 1970s. In the 70s, Greenpeace began its long-running campaign against whaling that eventually led to the ban in 1986. The conservation movement – initially more of a club for educated, often wealthy amateur naturalists – was slowly becoming democratised, leading to the anti-road-building campaigns in Britain in the mid-1980s. Inviting John began collecting after the public to reading books participate in by Sir David saving species Attenborough.


BBC Wildlife life

around the world from extinction by purchasing acres of rainforest was the next, perhaps in hindsight inevitable, development. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. While John felt he was tapping into a zeitgeist, he couldn’t get backing from the now-established conservation groups. “We felt we had identified a niche in the market,” he says. “No one was doing land conservation, but WWF wouldn’t support us, and Friends of the Earth opposed us, saying governments should do this. But governments weren’t doing it, so we said we would.”

CULTURE CLASH While the original (and still main) focus of the WLT’s work has been largely in countries such as Ecuador, Belize, Costa Rica and Brazil in Central and South America, it is also involved in conservation projects in areas such as Georgia in the Caucasus and an island in the Philippines, and in creating elephant corridors in India. One central tenet of its operation, however, is that WLT doesn’t actually buy any land itself – it works with grassroots conservation groups in the relevant countries, thereby at least partially avoiding accusations of ‘eco-colonialism’ that have dogged the ‘buy-an-acre’ model in recent years. One particular issue highlighted by groups such as Survival International and the Forest Peoples Programme is where indigenous, tribal people are evicted from their land, or stopped from carrying out activities such as hunting when western conservationists move in. To an extent, this is a criticism that’s always been made about the developed world’s approach to conservation, but most conservation groups are more sensitive to this now than they were when they began operating in the 1960s and 70s. WLT, John says, has mainly stayed away from purchases where people are living on and from the land, although a project (the Misiones Rainforest Corridor) that he describes as the highlight of his career did involve negotiating with a local tribe of Guarani people in Argentina. A tract of land owned by a logging company and that connected a state park in Brazil with a provincial park in Argentina came up for sale, and the trust immediately expressed its interest. “The owner was a young man who had grown up on Attenborough films and he was really keen to do the right thing,” John says. “But after two years of getting these people round the table, we’d got nowhere. How do you get the Guarani people to trust you when they’ve had 500 years of lies?” Eventually, WLT and its local partners realised the Guarani February 2017


Far left: land purchased in the Chaco has been recognised by the Paraguayan government as the Campo Iris Private Nature Reserve. Above: Guarani people in Argentina wanted to continue hunting in Mocona. Left: although WLT's main focus has been South America, it is working to develop corridors in India to stop elephant populations becoming isolated.


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The number of Andean bears confirmed to inhabit Antisanilla Reserve in Ecuador.

acres – equivalent to a county the size of Leicestershire – bought and protected by the WLT.


£25m The average amount the WLT spends on an acre of land.


acres – an area greater than Lancashire and Yorkshire under active protection because of the WLT.

Land purchase in the Americas could help the powerful harpy eagle to survive.

not only wanted stricter protection for the forest than that afforded by national park status, t t th they also l wanted t d the th right i ht to t hunt. h t “Some sustainable forestry would have been acceptable to us, but they wanted no trees cut down and help with policing it. And while I have serious reservations about the way they hunt – killing a monkey with a bow and arrow can take about an hour – the alternative is to give them guns to make it clean, and then they wipe out everything.”

Eagle: Nick Garbutt/; John & Chris: WLT

WORLD'S WEIRDEST FOREST Another project close to John’s heart is in Paraguay, and involves an ecosystem most of us have never heard of – the Chaco. “Chaco is forest, but it’s the world’s weirdest forest,” he says. “For nine months of the year, it’s bone dry and 50˚C, then for three it’s a wetland and up to 1m deep in water. It’s got jaguars, condors and peccaries. Everything’s got spines on and is vicious.” Because it’s so different, there are many Chaco endemics (because it covers three separate countries – Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia – they are not country endemics) but it’s also under threat from cattle ranchers and soya farmers. “You don’t need to take my word for it,” John says. “Just look at it on Google Earth February 2017

The amount of money put into buying land for conservation purposes across the world.

– straight lines where they are going to chop down the forest, pale, greeyish yellow where they have already. Eventually, it will just beecome a huge desert.” With local Paraguayan NGO Guyra Paraguayy, WLT has helped purchase 3,500ha in th he Chaco, but this is not without controversyy. Tom Griffiths, of the F th Forestt P Peoples l P Programme (FPP) says the organisation has questioned whether the principle of “free, prior and informed consent” was properly adhered to. “We were assured that everything was above board, but we still think the mechanics of the land purchase were questionable on legal grounds because the land is owned by the NGO, not the community,” he says. FPP questions the whole basis of ‘buy-an-acre’ schemes in areas where there are indigenous people. He says: “There is a risk you could be infringing on the rights of the people who live on the land, and most people [buying into a scheme] wouldn’t want to do that.” John will be stepping down from running WLT full time in 2017, but will still have an active role within the organisation. He takes a simple and uncompromising Chris Packham became a approach to WLT patron in conservation and 2013, and joins annual debates.


“JUST TAKE A LOOK ON GOOGLE EARTH STRAIGHT LINES WHERE THEY ARE GOING TO CHOP DOWN THE FOREST.” says any NGO that has more than 50 or 60 employees has got too big (WLT has 23, and not all are full-time). WLT spends less than 18 per cent of its income on overheads, he says, the rest goes into buying land. “I have seen so many plans, strategies and biodiversity action plans that never did anything and could never have done anything for political reasons,” he says. “Why worry about something in the Amazon if the land isn’t for sale when you’ve got 20,000ha of land in the Patagonian steppe that’s goes for $9 an acre? If you have 20,000ha anywhere in the world, there’s going to something [worth saving] there.” Money can be wasted on monitoring, he says. The IUCN draws up hundreds of actions plans that are hugely costly but achieve nothing. “How much research do we need to do for half these species? We don’t need any more – if you get big enough areas, on the whole, things look after themselves. If I have £100,000 to spend, why would I do more monitoring when I can buy land?”

CHILDREN AND CATS By his own admission, John has ruffled feathers all his life, and he’s not going to stop now. From claiming we should put a tax on children (“rather than dishing out grants to have them”) to arguing that no cat should be allowed outside off a lead (“There's no evidence that cats are taking only sick and injured animals, the RSPB has to say that, it needs the old ladies' money.”) he’s quite prepared to voice opinions that run counter to prevailing orthodoxies. Still, it’s hard to argue with what he’s achieved. “I am a pessimist,” he says. “The world is not in a good w state, but is there any aalternative to trying to do ssomething? I work in cconservation because I ccan’t think of anything else aand because I like doing it. I hope other people like what I do, too.” w JAMES FAIR is Environment Editor at BBC Wildlife E BBC Wildlife


A brindled ochre moth highlighted by the Northern Lights. Larvae live from May to July, ďŹ rst in the stems and later in the roots of hogweed and other plants. Mating takes place in the autumn and only females overwinter. The ecotherms will search for favourable microhabitats and become inactive and/or initiate hibernation. The colder it is, the slower they become.


BBC Wildlife

February 2017




Despite freezing conditions, many species thrive in the Arctic Circle. Photographer Audun Rikardsen has captured their behaviour above and below the waves in Norway as they feed, spawn and play beneath the aurora borealis. February 2017

BBC Wildlife



BBC Wildlife

February 2017

A white-tailed eagle swoops to pick up fish guts discarded by local fishermen in Steigen, a municipality where Audun grew up. During the winter the waste supplements their diet. The species is Europe’s largest eagle and a dense population can be found in Northern Norway. The raptors are abundant here because there are plenty of fish for them to prey on.


BELOW In May 2014 a young 500kg male walrus arrived on a beach outside Tromsø. Most bulls only become physically and socially mature enough to mate when they are about 15 years old. The species can dive to depths of up to 180m in search of prey such as molluscs and crustaceans. BOTTOM Playful harbour seals are one of the most widespread of the pinnipeds. The eastern Atlantic harbour seal is a subspecies that can be found from Brittany to the Barents Sea and north to Svalbard where this image was taken. Harbour seals at this group of Arctic islands are protected under the Norwegian National Red List.

February 2017

BBC Wildlife


ABOVE In recent years, herring shoals have started to overwinter in a fjord outside Tromsø. And wherever they go, humpback whales follow. The cetaceans often hunt fish by corralling them towards the surface and taking huge mouthfuls out of the swirling mass. Each leviathan can be identified by a distinctive pattern on its fluke. LEFT During an extreme high tide event at Brennviksanden beach in December the North Atlantic Ocean scoured the roots of grass growing above sea level. The plants could not compete with the powerful waves and were washed away. FACING PAGE Orcas are intelligent predators that work together to hunt their prey but they are also opportunists. Looking for an easy meal in the winter, this one and its pod followed a fishing boat as it dragged a net full of herring into a harbour near Tromsø.


BBC Wildlife

February 2017


February 2017

BBC Wildlife



BELOW Common starfish are widespread in shallow waters in the north. They feed on other echinoderms, worms and molluscs. The species prizes bivalve shells apart, using the suckers on its tube-feet. It then inserts the lobes of its stomach inside the shell and digests its prey.

AUDUN RIKARDSEN is a professor of fish biology at the University of Tromsø. The awardwinning lensman started photographing wildlife in 2009 and is fascinated with the Arctic coastline. Find out more at www. 86

BBC Wildlife

February 2017

ABOVE Herrings migrated into a fjord outside Tromsø in mid-November and were pursued by orcas. For a few magical days, the sun was just on the horizon, striking the waves at such an angle that the light shone through the surface. This male swam past Audun before joining the pod to herd the shoal of fish. LEFT An anadromous brown trout swims in the shallows of the Signaldalen River in late autumn. After spending the summer at sea, it has returned here to spawn. The fish gather and create hollows called redds in the riverbed where they deposit their eggs. They tend to do this at night to avoid predators such as eagles, which gather along the banks to feast on them.

February 2017

BBC Wildlife




The early work of the Vincent Wildlife Trust focused on otter surveys – where were the few remaining animals?




A tribute to the big achievement of one small charity.

From Mallards to Martens: Forty Years of the Vincent Wildlife Trust By Hilary Macmillan The Vincent Wildlife Trust £28.99

I started with a painting of mallards It sskimming a marsh, by Sir Peter Scott. Propped in a newsagent’s window, the P iimage sparked a lifelong passion for nature in the schoolboy John Vincent n Weir, who went on to work with Scott W on many conservation projects. o Developing a special in interest in otters, Weir used his own wealth to establish a charity, whose initial aim was to understand and reverse the decline in the British otter population. As that goal began to be realised, the remit of the Vincent Wildlife Trust grew, and it has since led on the conservation of water voles, Bechstein’s and horseshoe bats, polecats and, recently, pine martens, purchasing reserves, contributing to the volume and quantity of surveying data, and carrying out translocations and reintroductions. This book, beautifully illustrated with superb artwork and photographs, is a timely a reminder that conservation really can make a difference. Amy-Jane Beer Nature writer 88

BBC Wildlife

WINTER: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons

Deadly Oceans: In Search of the Deadliest Sea Creatures

Edited by Melissa Harrison Elliott & Thompson £12.99

By Nick & Caroline Robertson-Brown New Holland £35

A glorious compendium of winter delights completing the set of seasonal editions compiled by Melissa Harrison. With contributions from celebrated naturalists and thinkers from the past as well as dazzling new voices, the collection takes the reader to intimate and heartlifting views of the British landscape in all its frosted detail. From glistening mulberry leaves to inquisitive robins and even angelic hosts of insects hidden within Christmas pinecones, the naturalist’s lens misses nothing.

An evolutionary arms race is taking place in oceans across the world. In this eat-or-be-eaten environment, it pays to stay ahead of the game, be it through speed, supersized teeth, camouflage or sheer trickery. This large-format photographic tome opens a window on an array of fascinating marine creatures and their adaptations to life at sea, from reef dwellers such as blue-ringed octopuses, sea snakes and mantis shrimps to open-ocean predators including orcas, seals, barracudas and sharks.

Miriam Darlington Nature writer

Matt Doggett Marine biologist

February 2017


Lisa Hooper The seven-spot ladybird is one of our most common.

A Natural History of Ladybird Beetles By Michael Majerus

Otter: Frank Greenaway; ladybird: Getty

Cambridge University Press £44.99 Out 31 January 2017

Ladybirds are fun – we all love them. But, as this book shows, they are also serious, and with the recent arrival (2004 is only yesterday in terms of island biogeography) of the invasive harlequin, loyalties are tested. The detail here is immense –

Nature’s Temples: The Complex World of Old-growth Forests By Joan Maloof Timber Press £20

we now know a lot about the genetics, ecology, behaviour and distribution of these colourful beetles – but a coherent picture emerges of why they are so brazenly familiar (unlike their other more secretive beetle brethren). It’s also enlightening. Research reveals, for instance, that captive birds, who can afford to be fussy, will reject these distasteful beetles, yet their wild, hungrier counterparts eat a lot of them during winter. Majerus was taken from us too early, aged just 55, but this book stands as a tribute to his work – to make ladybirds fascinating and fun. Richard Jones Entomologist

Dangerous Years: Climate Change, the Long Emergency, and the Way Forward By David Orr Yale University Press £20

This should be required reading for any misguided developer who believes that planting trees can mitigate the destruction of ancient woodland. Maloof, director of the US Old Growth Forest Network, combines an engaging writing style, scientific rigour and an advocate’s skills to document the complexity of the interactions of organisms that have evolved together in forests that have never been felled and replanted, making a powerful case for treating pristine forests as sacred for people and wildlife.

The worse thing about climate change is that it makes nuclear warfare more likely. Orr sets out an argument to address global warming in the hope that we can avoid our own destruction, going on to describe the rate at which the world is already accelerating global warming through our use of fossil fuels. Thankfully, he has an answer. He sets out a way to reform society from the bottom up by radically changing our economics, our education system – even our evolutionary traits.

Phil Gates Botanist

Louise Gray Environmental journalist

February 2017

The award-winning wildlifee artist takes us behind the sceness of her printing studio. What sort of printing do you specialise in?

All sorts, including etching, woodcut, linocut, collagraph and monotype. My current favourite is reduction linocut, a technique that involves using a single printing block to create colour layers in an image. You print over your design several times, cutting out different areas of the block and re-inking it each time.

linocut of hooded crows on Islay that hit all the right notes for me (below). What techniques are effective for wildlife?

They all offer different things. Etchings are good for low-colour, highly graphic subjects with subtle tonal

How do you come up with your designs?

I work from my own photos and produce a series of drawings before settling on a final composition. Then I transfer the image to the plate, lino or woodblock using carbon paper before starting the process of etching or cutting. I use water-based inks, which are transferred to the lino or wood by roller before printing, either by hand burnishing or with a press. What inspires you most?

Seabirds and waders. These are often gregarious birds and I’m fascinated by the patterns created in their flocks. They also tend to be fairly large, so are easy to watch and photograph. Which piece of work are you most proud of?

My vision of the end point isn’t always fully realised, but I did a three-plate

variation; linocuts are the opposite, lending themselves to simple, bold designs with lots of contrast. What equipment can you not be without?

A wooden egg that I use for hand burnishing – it fits my grip perfectly. I also bought a Victorian Columbian relief printing press two years ago. It has transformed my work and is my pride and joy. Why is art important to nature and conservation?

Art celebrates a love of the natural world, and reminds us of the solace and wonder it offers to those who look and listen.

O PRINTING WILDLIFE: APPROACHES TO PRINTMAKING takes you step-by-step through a range of printing techniques (Langford Press, £20): BBC Wildlife


An Indian langur in Rajasthan inspects Spy Baby Monkey. When it later falls to the ground, the device incites a display of grief-like behaviour among the troop.




Meet the animal spies infiltrating packs, troops and flocks across the globe. Spy in the Wild TV BBC One

Four parts, starts 12 January, 8pm. Catch up on iPlayer

They’ve made cameras disguised as turtles and squid for Spy in the Pod; as rockhoppers and Humboldts for Spy in the Huddle, and as icebergs and snowballs for Spy on the Ice. Now, John Downer Productions has created a new fleet of all-singing, all-dancing 4K animal spycams to star in their 9th series, Spy in the Wild. This time, the devices are deployed to infiltrate the lives not just of a select animal group, but of a variety of species across the globe, investigating the extent to which they demonstrate the human characteristics of love, intelligence, friendship and mischief. “Our spy technology has evolved with every series – it’s come a long way since Boulder Cam, which we used to film lions in Spy in the Den (2000),” says producer Rob Pilley. “The original aim of the concept was to step away from filming purely with long lenses – these 90

BBC Wildlife



are great film-making tools, but only allow for so much intimacy. We wanted to really immerse viewers in the animals’ worlds.” Enter the spycams, which not only record behaviour, but are increasingly becoming part of it. “Over three decades of making Spy films, we’ve realised that cameras that blend in with an environment allow for more natural behaviour, but can also end up in the firing line,” says Rob. “Our spycams have been pawed at, played with, hunted and even displayed to, and by evolving them into Spy Creatures that move and behave like real animals, we have entered a unique middle ground between us and the subjects we’re filming.” Spy in the Wild’ss 34 animatronic stars include Spies Bushbaby, Tortoise, Baby

Monkey, Pup (right) t and Orangutan. Around each protagonist is a network of support spycams, also working undercover as eggs, rocks, twigs, logs – even grubs and nuts. “We have eight–10 cameras in each location, which enable us to cover all the angles that you can’t see if you’re shooting from one perspective,” says Rob. “The spies are all essential. They can go where we can’t – we could never have that many camera people on the ground, as we’re too big and too scary. By filming in this way we capture neverbefore-seen behaviour time and again.” The new line-up appears to be upholding the tradition. In episode one, for instance, a crack team led by Spies Bushbaby and Tortoise penetrates the forests of Senegal to capture extraordinary scenes of an adult chimp February 2017


King cobras star in the series.

BEYOND THE BEAC CH Thailand: Earth’s Tropical Paradise

iPLAYER Available until 1 Febrruary

Close views of a female crocodile gathering her babies in her throat pouch.

February 2017

Langur & chimp: Mathew Gordon/John Downer Productions/BBC; crocodile: Rod Clark/John Downer Productions/BBC; pup: Steve Downer/John Downer Productions/BBC; cobra: BBC/Shutterstock; Gillian Burke: BBC

the natural riches and spectacular natural beauty of this famous corner of South-East Asia, with highlights including the hermit crabs on the Surin Islands that rummage among rubbish to find new homes in discarded tin cans; the longtailed macaques on Koram Island that use rocks to hammer into shellfish, and the Bryde’s whales feeding on anchovies against the backdrop of Bangkok.


Caught on spycam: a chimp relaxes with his pet genet.

adopting an orphaned genet kitten as a ‘pet’, a rare demonstration of empathy in the animal kingdom. “We’d heard anecdotal accounts of this behaviour, but never expected to see it for real,” says Rob. “We were in the right place at the right time, and the spies had it covered.” Also filmed for the first time in the wild is a mother crocodile – here on the River Nile in Uganda – using her mouth to scoop p up p her newly hatched young and relocate th hem from nest to water. “Female crocs are noto oriously nervous on land,” says Rob. “But using spycams keeps interference to a min nimum. We located a good, resilient female, and managed to position two Spy Hatchlings in her nest, plus various other spycams around it. When the devices filmed her digging up her babies, I was elated. She even gatherred up one of our spies, which carried o on filming inside her jaws. “There’s nothing you can do to make any of this happen – these are wild animals and all is stacked against you. But by becoming part o of their worlds we can capture someth hing unique.” Sarah McPherson

It’s known across the world as a tourist paradise and receives 25 million visitors a year, but there’s more to Thailand than full-moon parties, exotic food and palm-fringed beaches, as this new series reveals. “Few wildlife sequences have ever been filmed in Thailand, and when we started looking for stories and researching the country, we were constantly surprised by the wildlife and people living there,” says producer Lara Bickerton. This three-parter explores in depth for the first time

Winterwatch TV BBC Two

Due to air late January. See RT.

Spy Pup’s mission is to film the emotional dynamics of a wild dog pack. To fit in, he performs submissive gestures, playbows and wags his tail.

Our seasonal favourite Winterwatch h returns this January, with HQ once again at RSPB Arne reserve in Dorset. The harbour here has its own microclimate, making it one of the warmest places in the UK and thus a refuge for many animals seeking g to escape the worst of the weatheer. Wildlife to look forward to includes overwintering g wader flocks,

with the team hoping to deploy a robotic spoonbill camera; hedgehogs, our favourite mammal, which are reacting to our increasingly warmer winters by rearing their young later in the year – with knock-on and potentially devastating consequences for the following year’s hibernation; Montagu’s harriers, which were tagged back in the summer; and otters on the west coast of Scotland, which are preparing for the chilliest months.

Presenter Gillian Gil Burke joins tthe Winterwatch team.

BBC Wildlife


Limited-edition botanical prints Choose from a selection of beautiful prints by photographer Andrew Montgomery



We are delighted to offer the opportunity to buy these gorgeous prints, taken by photographer Andrew Montgomery. The photographs of flower arrangements, created by Anne Townley of Ascott Gardens (, originally featured in an article on cut flowers in Gardens Illustrated d Plant Special issue [issue 229, page 52]. The photographs are reproduced as archival quality giclée prints on Hahnemühle Photo Rag 310gsm paper, which gives a warm, textured matte finish. Small (363 x 297mm) £75 Large (533 x 420mm) £105


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Visit to order Telephone 0344 245 8098† quoting code WL422 Terms & conditions Prints are limited to a run of 50 prints per image in each size. All orders for photographic prints are subject to a P&P charge of £6.65 per order. Please allow 15 working days for delivery on prints. †The cost to call 0344 numbers is the same as calling a normal local or national landline. If your tariff or call package offers free or inclusive calls to landlines, numbers starting with 03 will be included. Your personal information will be used as set out in our Privacy Policy, which can be viewed at

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OUR EXPERTS MIKE TOMS is an author and associate director at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO).

HELEN ROY is a community ecologist at the CEH with a passion p for ladybirds.

HELEN SMITH is an ecologist and former president of the British Arachnological Society.


RICHARD JONES is a writer and entomologist with a fondness for dung beetles.


Magpie: Rosl Roessner/Minden Pictures/FLPA

is an evolutionary biologist who specialises in both primates and skeletons.

Magpies have tough little beaks with a sharp cutting edge – helpful when slicing into carrion.



How often do magpies eat small mammals?

A The magpie is an opportunist, with a broad diet encompassing a wide range of plant and animal material. In general, magpies mainly take animal prey during the summer months and adopt an increasingly vegetarian diet as winter sets in. Much of the animal material taken is scavenged rather than captured and killed by the magpie itself; roadkill, in particular, can be an important larder. Small vertebrates, such as amphibians, lizards, mice, voles and birds, feature fairly commonly in the magpie’s diet, but only a small proportion of these will have been actively predated rather than scavenged. Nearly one in five of the magpie gizzards – the thick-walled muscular pouch in the avian digestive tract within

which food is ground up – examined in Hungary contained small mammals; roughly one in 10 of the samples obtained from a study in Manchester contained such remains. Observations of magpies chasing and catching small mammals are occasionally reported, underlining that the species will attempt to catch mice and voles if the opportunity arises. Mike Toms


wildquestions@ or post to Q&A, BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media Company, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN




y ladybirds like houses? A

The British winter is a tough time for ladybirds. Not only does the cold weather slow down these cold-blooded animals, but food is also scarce. To survive, ladybirds become dormant, a state triggered by the cooling temperatures and fading light. Each species has favourite hibernation quarters, and many hibernate en masse. In their native range, harlequins ascend mountains when temperatures drop. It seems that they try to mimic this in new territories

by making a beetle-line for buildings, with a particular preference for upstairs rooms, attics and towers – thousands of individuals can be reported in just one house. They’ve even been observed on the tops of wind turbines. As well as the cold and food shortages, ladybirds have to contend with other threats: parasites and pathogens. One of these is a fungus that is transmitted sexually in the summer, and also through the close proximity of the huddling ladybirds. Helen Roy




What’s the world’s most poisonous tree? A This dubious honour must go to the manchineel tree Hippomane mancinella, found in brackish habitats in northern South America, the Caribbean and Florida. It bears an apple-like fruit, which, along with its sap, contains an eye-poppingly strong poison that can cause severe blisters if it makes contact with human skin. Such toxicity in its fruits means that the tree can’t rely on mammals’ digestive systems to disperse its seeds, dependin ng instead on the tides s and currents of its coastal home. SM

Raindrops pick up the manchineel’s toxins as they hit the leaves.


Why do bowhead whales have such large heads?

A denizen of Arctic waters, the bowhead whale is second only to the blue whale in size.

February 2017

A An adult bowhead’s head accounts for approximately two fifths of its body length. These Arctic giants specialise in particularly small crustacean prey, so they need a large amount of baleen to filter sufficient quantities from the water. About 640 baleen plates hang from its upper jaw and, at 4m in length, they are the longest of any whale’s – hence the need for

ladybirds: Alex Hyde/; mancineel sign: Chris Bott/Alamy; mancineel fruit: Shakzu/Getty; bowhead: Paul Nicklen/Getty

Harlequin ladybirds were introduced to Europe to control aphids and arrived in the UK in 2004.

a super-sized head. Calves don’t develop these frontheavy proportions until they have been weaned. Their bodies virtually stop growing for a few years as they channel resources into their front ends. The youngsters even dismantle bone tissue laid down in their ribs while they were suckling and redistribute it to the skull and baleen areas to accelerate growth. Stuart Blackman

BBC Wildlife



Q&A Webs serve to catch prey – and also as meals in themselves.


Caterpillar: Bob Cammarata; spider: Marcin Rogozinski/Alamy; egret: fotolincs/Alamy

Meet the spun glass caterpillar.

It may resemble a cross between some sort of bizarre alien plant and a funky Christmas decoration, but this is neither. This is a spun glass caterpillar, a North American member of the slug moth family – a name that clearly flatters terrestrial pulmonates. The adults are rather unremarkable little brown jobs, but the larvae… oh, the larvae! Many of the family’s 1,700-odd species are adorned with all manner of extravagant, intricate spines, bristles and protuberances. What they do have in common with shell-less molluscs is that they glide rather than crawl. Their fleshy walking legs have been all but lost and they lubricate their passage over the vegetation with a slippery trail – not of slime, heaven forbid, but liquid silk. SB



Why do spiders eat their own webs? A Only 17 of Britain’s 37 families of spiders use webs to capture their prey. These webs come in many different forms – from the much-admired orb webs of garden spiders and their relatives, to the much less welcome tangle webs of daddy-long-legs spiders. Some types of webs are enduring structures – the often extensive funnel webs of large house spiders, for example, can last for years and accommodate a succession of different occupants. By contrast orb webs, produced by just four families of British spiders, are more

fragile. Wind and rain damage their structure, while the gluey coating on the spiral thread that ensnares flying insects is rendered ineffective by pollen and dust. As a result the webs are often rebuilt every night – an operation requiring the manufacture of some 20 metres of silk. To recycle the amino acids that make up the silk proteins, some orb-web-spinners ingest the silk as they systematically dismantle their damaged webs. Other species simply discard the old silk but one American species uses it to wrap its egg sac. Helen Smith


A The yellow or greenish-yellow feet of the little egret are characteristic of this small heron, the coloration developing while the young are still in the nest. Little egrets usually feed in fairly shallow water, moving forward with slow and deliberate steps, interspersed with frequent halts. It is during these stops that an egret may extend one leg forward and, with a rapid vibrating motion, stir up the muddy or vegetated bottom of the water in which it is hunting. This action disturbs hidden prey, such as small fish, amphibians 102


BBC Wildlife

or invertebrates, flushing them m into the open where the shaarp-eyed bird can strike at them. It iss thought that the yellow feet aid this pro ocess, being more obvious to potential preyy than all dark feet would be in the sed diment-filled water. The little egret is the only European heron to specialise in small prey – typically no more than a co ouple of inches in length – which requ uire a more active approach to hun nting than seen in our other herron species. Mike Toms

Little egrets first bred in Dorset in 1996. The species lives at numerous south coast sites in the UK.



HOW CAN I HELP... The Great Bustard Project What does the charity do?


We work to increase the population of great bustards on Salisbury Plain.


When are you busiest?


May, June and July, when chicks need to be hand-reared. It's very intensive work – the youngsters have to be bill-fed with a puppet, and exercised. Staff have to wear 'dehumanisation' suits so that the birds don't get too attached to them.

What else needs to be done? Preparing and maintaining the landscape; building pens and fences; monitoring newly released (and wild) birds and their nests; website support and fundraising.

5 4

Do your volunteers ever travel? Yes. Our volunteers travel to Castilla-La Mancha in Spain to undertake survey and census work and to collect eggs under licence. We collect early in the season to encourage the females to lay a second clutch. The eggs are taken first to Madrid Zoo, then to Birdworld – a specialist bird park in Surrey – where they hatch. The day-old chicks then come here to Wiltshire.

W H AT C A N I S E E I N . . .

Comprising thousands of islands scattered across the Aegean Sea, Greece offers great wildlife-watching opportunities.

domesticated animals were e e introduced t oduced here ee thousands of years ago, and their descendants are now regarded as living fossils.

How much time do you need?

LOGGERHEAD TURTLE Zakynthos National Marine Park There are six turtle beaches along the Bay of Laganas, and every year some 1,200 female loggerheads come here to lay their eggs. It's the most important nesting area in the Mediterranean.

The establishment of the UK great bustard population, which is now at the point of being self-sustaining, would not have been possible without our brilliant volunteers. The project is completely dependent on them. ODavid Waters

5 GREATER FLAMINGO Lake Kerkini It’s hard to pick out a single avian highlight for Lake Kerkini – as well as the elegant greater flamingo, it’s also an important winter site for the Dalmatian pelican, plus a host of waders and wildfowl.

Illustration by Dawn Cooper; bustard: David Kjaer/NPL


MEDITERRANEAN MONK SEAL Alonissos Marine Park Alonissos was created, in part, to protect this rare marine mammal. The island of Gioura is the best place


February 2017

for a sighting. Also look out for bottlenose, common and striped dolphins. JERSEY TIGER MOTH Petaloúdes, Rhodes Wrongly called ‘Butterfly Valley’, Petaloúdes attracts Jersey tiger moths in their thousands between May and September.


CRETAN WILD GOAT Samariá Gorge, Crete The Cretan wild goat, or agrimi, has a reputation for elusiveness, but keep your eyes peeled – primitive


EGYPTIAN VULTURE Northern Pindos NP Conservationists are working to secure the future of the Egyptian vulture in both Greece and Bulgaria. Northern Pindos and Dadia Forest are good places to see this beautiful bird.

It can vary, but regular commitment is more important than number of hours.

What’s a recent achievement by your volunteers?


Thanks to volunteer support, great bustards have returned to Salisbury Plain.

BBC Wildlife


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How many butterfly eggs reach adulthood?


too. Some, like the small skipper (left), leave small clusters of 3–5, perhaps hedging their bets against the loss of lone eggs. In contrast, small tortoiseshells, large whites and peacocks are unusual in laying large batches of about 100 eggs. However they are spread out, a female lays around 100–200 eggs. Mortality is often very high, but there is also the potential for a 100–fold population increase in a single season. This fecundity is part of insect success across the planet. RJ

Can animals get addicted to drugs? A

Chimps, vervet monkeys, fruit flies, pigeons and many others are partial to alcohol, whether it’s in fermenting fruit or tourists’ cocktails, and experiments show it is often the alcohol itself they are after. Harder drugs can prove moreish, too. In Australia, domestic dogs seem to get a kick from the hallucinogenic secretions of invasive cane toads; reindeer seek out magic mushrooms, and rodents, crayfish and honeybees can develop cocaine and heroin habits. It was found recently that carpenter ants given morphine in their food develop habits driven by neuro-chemical reward pathways similar to those controlling addictive behaviour in humans, suggesting it has a long evolutionary history. SB

Reindeer enjoy magical moments.


Do any non-human primates swim? A

Apart from baboons wading in intertidal rockpools for food and capuchins foraging in mangroves at low tide, very few primates other than humans actually swim well or regularly. There are two exceptions, though. First, proboscis monkeys, which leap from branches high up over rivers and plunge into the slow-flowing water beneath, where they are able to swim up to 20m below the surface; and second, the crab-eating macaques from Indonesia. These are expert

February 2017

aquatic primates, swimming underwater with their eyes open in search of shellfish and fruits that fall from the trees overhanging the rivers in their jungle home. They are capable of holding their breath for up to 30 seconds. There is also a theory (which has been widely discredited) that states that human ancestors passed through an aquatic stage, which accounts for our bipedal (two-legged) movement and lack of dense body hair. Ben Garrod

Swimming is also a useful predatoravoidance strategy for crab-eating macaques.

BBC Wildlife


Butterfly: Richard Becker/FLPA; reindeer: Aflo/; macaque: Anup Shah/

A Standard population dynamics would suggest that, on average, two eggs from each female need to Small survive. Thus skippers two parents lay low. from one generation are succeeded by two offspring in the next (though this may be complicated by males mating with multiple females). Being unprotected and immobile, eggs are easy prey, so most butterflies lay them singly, widely scattered on the foodplants. Often the first act of the hatchling caterpillar is to eat its own eggshell, so cannibalism is a possibility



Want to get something off your chest? This is the place.





WRITE TO US BBC Wildlife, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN


Do female dung beetles get to drive?

Having a ball

The brown longeared bat is common throughout Great Britain and Ireland.

NETTING AN EASY MEAL I was amazed to find a bat snacking on moths in my moth trap in early December. I took photos and had it identified as a brown long-eared bat by our local mammal recorder, Sorcha Lewis. From counting the number of wing pieces in and on the trap, I was able to add an additional five December moths the bat must have eaten to my total of 12. I also identified three other species, including a yellow-line quaker. How unusual is it to find a bat in a moth trap? Ian Standon, via email

Bat: Marko König/imagebroker/Alamy

The Bat Conservation Trust responds: We have heard of bats being attracted to moth traps. Although we might expect the light to be off-putting, it seems they provide a feast that’s hard to resist. Bats can be active on milder winter evenings, and brown long-eared bats are more active in winter than most species.

At rest, the long ears curl back like rams’ horns.

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BBC Wildlife

I was fascinated by your dung beetle article in the December 2016 issue. When I was in Tanzania in February, I took this photo of two dung beetles. I was told locally that the female always hitches a ride and does nothing to help. Your article says that frequently two beetles will co-operate to move a dung ball. Is it possible that ‘my’ dung beetle passenger, who certainly did not appear to do anything, was in fact helping to reweight the dung ball? Venetia Caine, Somerset Entomologist Richard Jones responds: Exactly who does what with the ball will depend on the situation. Two beetles pushing head down would probably get in each others' way, but there is no doubt that they both take to pushing and shoving when they encounter rough ground or some obstacle to be overcome. In species where a beetle stands guard over the buried brood balls, while the larvae develop inside them, it is inevitably the female.

BLOGGER OF THE MONTH Georgina Bray, a zoology student at University of Nottingham, writes about deer in her local park and conservation issues. Read her blog at https:// To join our Local Patch Reporters project, visit

February 2017




O Enter our monthly online photographic competition at your-photos/photo-contest

using the front part of his body (similar to a child stamping its feet) when rebuffed by a female. Mick White LRPS, via email


Marine expert Ben Burville says: Yes this 'body-slapping' behaviour is a dominance display by large adult bull seals – the seismic vibrations can be detected up to 126m away! As far as I'm aware, the behaviour has only ever been seen at Donna Nook NNR.


The End Game?

1 KESTREL in Kimberley, Nottinghamshire by Steve Adams 2 GREY SQUIRREL in Pontypridd, Wales by Rhiannon Miles 3 BLUE JAY in Ontario, Canada by Pamela Beale

I suspect the notion of a female doing ‘nothing to help’ is a tired stereotype based more on human male interpretation.

A view of Planet Earth Planet Earth II: superb filming, but puerile storylines, atrocious music and some absolutely appalling editing. It quite defeats me how anybody could put together clips of grizzly bears scratching themselves to the accompaniment of such loud, intrusive, distracting, ridiculous and demeaning dance music. Horrible! Furthermore, it should be pointed out to the Planet Earth II team that there is a plague of only one species on Madagascar – and that is a plague of humans. The locust swarm was an amazing natural phenomenon, the destruction of which should not be a cause February 2017


for celebration or expressions of relief. Janet Graham, via email What did you think of Planet Earth II? Let us know. Should we laugh at bears scratching themselves? See Analysis p62.

Killer in the woods I was walking through some woodland bordering Ennerdale Water in the Lake District around mid-October, when I came across this wonderful display of fungi and would like to determine the variety. John Parker, via email

Botanist Phil Gates responds: It's notoriously difficult to identify toadstools with certainty from photographs unless they show the stipe (stem) and the gills under the cap, and it's also important to know the species of tree it was growing on. However, this looks like a species of honey fungus Armillaria, which is a notorious killer of trees.

Slapping seals

While photographing grey seals at Donna Nook National Nature Reserve in Lincolnshire, I observed a large male seal body-slapping the sand. There were females nearby with pups and some smaller males a fair distance away from him. Was this was a display of Honey fungus does not have a dominance to the other sweet nature. males warning them to stay away or a display to the females of his size and power? Also, I observed another male do something similar, but only

No thrush sings in the garden now. No blackbird looks to bully the thrush And no swifts shrill above the town. No kestrels hover over the motorways; No cheeky sparrows fly up when a car goes by And no skylarks sing above the barren meadows. The martins abandoned their nest under the eaves years ago. Early predictions have come true: ‘Silent Spring’ is here; there is ‘No Room for Wildlife’. What do we have instead? The roar and unhealthy smell of the motorways. Green fields, quiet lanes and woods turned into Fly-tips, housing estates, business parks and recreation grounds. Trees and plants stressed or dying in summer heat and drought. Collectors begging us to ‘Save the Children’. For what? A world destroyed by their elders? Soon, we too will be gone, ‘Gone With the Wind’ – Unless…? Derek Gould, Kent


O The web address given in On The Trail of Cape Carnivores (January 2017) was incorrect. For details on volunteering with Biosphere Expeditions visit, email or call 0870 4460801. O Gombe is in Tanzania and not in Nigeria as stated in the Animals on Screen feature (January 2017).

QUIZ ANSWERS (see p113) The Wild Words are: 1B, 2A, 3C, 4B, 5B, 6A

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INSIDE THE IMAGE HUMPBACK WHALES KINGDOM OF TONGA There are no hides or blinds in the ocean. The animals know where you are and what you are doing at every turn. They can out-swim, out-dive and out-last you with no effort. The only consistent method for capturing special moments is to establish trust so that your subjects feel at ease. I’ve spent 15 years documenting humpback whales and have discovered there are many ways to achieve mutual respect. Establishing eye contact is one of them. As the saying goes, ‘Eyes are windows to the soul.’ The calm, gentle gaze of this female humpback whale in the South Pacific speaks volumes.


Tony Wu

GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER Humpback whales raising their calves are by nature cautious, as you would expect. But what most people may not realise is that cetaceans, like humans, have individual personalities, as well as distinct moods. When I took this image the adult female had a trusting demeanour and the male calf was energetic and playful. I had to invest a substantial amount of time getting to know the pair, which also allowed the whales to familiarise themselves with me. This involved a lot of swimming for me, as well as extended periods spent observing and assessing each other. When the time came, she allowed me to dive down, approach to within a few metres, and share this priceless moment with her and the resting calf.


3 DATA FILE CAMERA Canon 5D Mark III LENS Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens FOCAL LENGTH 15mm EXPOSURE 1/320, f5.6, ISO800


NOTES Stray objects can interfere with the composition when you use a wide-angle lens

108 BBC Wildlife

February 2017



Underwater lensman Tony Wu owns more pairs of fins than he does shoes and describes himself as a photo-naturalist. Visit for more amazing photos and stories of marine life.



Natural lighting is usual when photographing large marine mammals. On this day, diffuse light from overcast conditions was helpful in minimising dynamic range. Sunny days can result in harsh shadows and a challenging range of exposure values.







An adult female humpback whale can be 14m in length. Seawater contains particles and absorbs light, so getting near to your subject is vital to achieve optimal image quality. For large animals, this means using wide-angle lenses. In this case, I used a fisheye lens. This allowed me to approach closely and capture the scene I had visualised.

I had several opportunities to photograph this pair, but chose this specific time because they settled in an area with a clear background. There was no reef or other object to detract from the primary subjects.


Understanding what the marine mammals are likely to do is a prerequisite for knowing when to be where. This male calf was full of energy and almost never stopped moving. Being able to predict when the calf was likely to settle for a moment beneath his mother resulted in this heartwarming composition.



Taking this photo required swimming for a long time over a distance and freediving to 15m. Getting close to the leviathans required relaxed, natural movement. I train year-round to stay in top physical condition.

+ FIND OUT MORE For more photo advice visit wildlife-nature-photography/ tips-and-techniques

BBC Wildlife 109



PHOTO E CHOIC is the place to see and share wildlife photos. LIZARDSS LO OUNGE A photography tour of the Galápag pagos o Isl Island ands s took took me to Fe Ferna rnand ndina n Island, which is home to thousand a s of mariine e igu iguana anas. s Aftter wal w kin ng through h some some ma marsh r es and mangroves, I found d myse yself lf on som some e volc volcanic rock whe here many of the rept ep iles were basking in the sun. I lay lay dow d n nex ext to them them an and d took took severral shots as the oc ocean ea wa aves cr crash ashed ed in the backgroun nd. Out of all the ima images I too ok that that da day, y thi th s one ne is my fav favour ourite ite. Kenneth Ariza, Florida, USA


After a November frost and forecast sunny skies I went out at sunrise with the aim of capturing a winter wildlife shot. It was -7°C at RSPB Lochwinnoch, Scotland, and I spent about two and a half hours wandering around in the cold taking photos of other species before I got this opportunity. The robin gave a perfect pose as the light broke. Joe Knapman, South Lanarkshire, UK

ENTER TO WIN A PAIR OF OPTICRON BINOCULARS Opticron Discovery WP PC 8x32 binoculars, worth £169, are perfect for wildlife watchers of all ages. They are among the smallest waterproof roof prism binoculars available, with wide field eyepieces and close focus to 2m.


As the sun rises over the Long Island river wetlands, New York, USA, the birds arrive to feed in the pools created by the tides. But the green herons, snowy egrets, and greater yellowlegs all scatter when a great egret spreads its wings. I noticed that the wader would often land here so took my chance to capture this shot. I think it must be its favoured feeding spot. Frank Izzo, New York, USA

SUBMIT YOUR PHOTOS O Enter our Your Photos competition and your image may run in the magazine: www.


Waterbucks are really interesting to watch. They remind me of big, stocky donkeys but have beautiful ridged horns and a funny white ring around their tail. I was watching a herd of them in Kruger National Park, South Africa, when this male caught my eye because he was making some amusing expressions. I love this shot of him with his tongue out! Jessica Murray, Surrey, UK


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February 2017


This red deer remained still and watchful as it rested among the golden foliage of Richmond Park, London, despite the jackdaws playing chaotically around him. Two of the crows flapped about over the stag’s hindquarters while another perched on his neck as if it was whispering something in the mammal’s ear. On its own, the relaxing deer would have been a great subject but the burst of activity that the birds created made the image extra special. Liam Thomson, Devon, UK


I am inspired by the micro world that surrounds us. I spent a few hours in the woodlands near my home, photographing various fungi. To my surprise, as I was focusing on mushrooms, a wonderful soldier beetle stepped into the frame. I love this photograph because to me the insect seems to be contemplating the long journey ahead. Geraint Radford, Swansea, UK

February 2017

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WILD WORDS Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty


Win a prize with our brain-teaser.

Answers in our April 2017 issue

1) the definition for morling A the pendulous skin under the

throat of cattle or dogs


Across: 1 Blister, 5 Swallow, 9 Yucca, 10 Dromedary, 11 Nighthawk, 12 Phyla, 13 Mali, 15 Pectoral, 18 Asphodel, 19 Kite, 22 Ramie, 24 Pistachio, 26 Bush mango, 27 Grimy, 28 Spinney, 29 Turkeys. Down: 1 Bryony, 2 Itchgrass, 3 Tuart, 4 Redcapped, 5 Stock, 6 Aleppo oak, 7 Leafy, 8 Whydah, 14 Ichneumon, 16 Coltsfoot, 17 Antshrike, 20 Grebes, 21 Polyps, 23 Masai, 24 Pansy, 25 Auger.


ACROSS 6 The ___ crow, Corvus corone, is a widespread relative of the jackdaw and rook (7) 7 My Family And Other ___ was a 1956 memoir by naturalist and conservationist Gerald Durrell (7) 9 Island nation, home to birds including the Pacific golden plover, the blue-crowned lorikeet and the koki (5) 10 Colloquial name for mosquito larvae or writhing animalcules (9) 11 Mediterranean herb of the mint family (7) 13 Shrub of the genus Atriplex, also known as saltbush (6) 15 Small songbird, named after an 18th-century Italian zoologist (6, 7) 19 Subalpine plant with soft, hairy leaves, used in herbal medicine (6) 20 Edible fruit of the evergreen tree Annona muricata (7)

23 Small squirrel-like mammal of Southeast Asia (4, 5) 24 Relating to birds (5) 26 The ___ marmoset is a whitish grey monkey of the Amazon rainforest (7) 27 Scavenging raptor, widely reintroduced throughout the UK (3, 4) DOWN 1 Small, feisty songbird with a distinctive cocked tail (4) 2 Insect notable for the loud ‘song’ it makes (6) 3 North American waterfowl that breeds in Greenland, Canada and Alaska (4, 5) 4 Large, 10-legged crustacean (4, 4) 5 Fast-growing aquatic plant, known for its piquant flavour (10) 6 Fibre that grows around the seeds of plants of the genus Gossypium (6) 7 Continent to which the tiger, orangutan

and reticulated python are native (4) 8 The RSPB reserves Medmerry and Pagham Harbour are in the English county of West ___ (6) 12/17 Tree-like succulent plant of South America (4, 6/6) 14 Flightless bird of New Guinea and Australia (9) 16 Common name for a plant with adhesive seeds (8) 17 See 12 18 Soft-bodied marine creature of the phylum Porifera (6) 21 African country noted for its gorilla and elephant populations (6) 22 The ___ heron is a common sight on UK lakes and waterways (4) 25 Flowering plant that shares its name with the Greek goddess of the rainbow (4)

WIN A WACACO MINIPRESSO ESPRESSO MACHINE NE HOW TO ENTER This competition is only open to residents of the UK (including the Channel Islands). Post entries to BBC Wildlife Magazine, February 2017 Crossword, PO Box 501, Leicester, LE94 0AA or email the answers to by 5pm on 10 February 2017. Entrants must supply name, address and telephone number. The winner will be the first correct entry drawn at random after the closing time. The name of the winner will appear in the April 2017 issue. By entering participants agree to be bound by the general competition terms and conditions shown on this page. Immediate Media Company Limited (publisher of BBC Wildlife Magazine) would love to send you newsletters, together with special offers, and other promotions. If you would not like to receive these please write ‘NO INFO’ on your entry. Branded BBC titles are licensed from or published jointly with BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of the BBC). Please tick here m if you’d like to receive regular newsletters, special offers and promotions from BBC Worldwide by email. Your information will be handled in accordance with the BBC Worldwide privacy policy:

February 2017

The new Wacaco Minipresso NS is a compact espresso machine, worth £49.99, 9.99, that can be taken with ith you on your travels. The hand-operated device requires no batteries or electricity ity and is compatible with Nespresso capsules. s. mation visit O For more information

B wool from a dead sheep C a worm used as fishing bait

2) the animal you associate with the adjective ursine A a bear B a chimpanzee C a goldfinch

3) the offspring of a ferret A a keet B a farrow C a kit

4) the sound made by blackbirds Find out the answers on p107

A a twitter B a whistle C a tweet

5) the name for a male antelope A a stag B a buck C a hart

6) the collective noun for doves A a piteousness B a huddle C a plump

Questions set by ADAM JACOT DE BOINOD General competition terms and conditions 1. The BBC Code of Conduct for competitions can be found at and all BBC-branded magazines comply with the Code. 2. Competitions are open to all residents of the UK, including the Channel Islands, aged 18 years or older, except employees or contractors of Immediate Media and anyone connected with the promotion or their direct family members. 3. By entering a competition, the participants agree: to be bound by these terms and conditions; that their surname and county of residence may be released if they win a prize; and that should they win the competition, their name and likeness may be used for pre-arranged promotional purposes. 4. Entrants should follow the instructions for each competition carefully in order to enter. Entries received after the specified closing date and time will not be considered, and cannot be returned. 5. Entrants must supply their full name, postal address and landline telephone number. We will use entrants’ personal details in accordance with the Immediate Media Privacy Policy at www. 6. Only one entry will be permitted per person, regardless of method of entry. Bulk entries made by third parties will not be permitted. 7. The winning entrant will be the first correct entry drawn at random after the closing time, or, in creative competitions, the one that in the judges’ opinion is the best. 8. There is no cash alternative and prizes will not be transferable. Prizes must be taken as stated and cannot be deferred. We reserve the right to substitute the prize with one of the same or greater value. 9. Our decision as to the winner is final and no correspondence relating to a competition will be entered into. The name and county of residence of the winner(s) will be available (by sending an SAE to BBC Wildlife Magazine, Immediate Media, 2nd Floor, Tower House, Fairfax Street, Bristol BS1 3BN) within three months of the closing date of the promotion. 10. The winner(s) will be notified by telephone or email within 10 days of the close of the promotion. 11. We reserve the right to amend these terms and conditions or to cancel, alter or amend a competition at any stage if deemed necessary in our opinion, or if circumstances arise outside our control. 12. If we cannot reach you, or if we have not received a response within two working days of the initial date of contact, we may re-offer the prize to a runner-up or in one of our future competitions. The prize will only be reassigned three times before it is given to charity. 13. We exclude liability to the full extent permitted by law for any loss, damage or injury occurring to the participant arising from his or her entry into a competition or occurring to the winner(s) arising from his or her acceptance of a prize. 14. The competitions are subject to the laws of England. 15. Promoter: Immediate Media Co Bristol Ltd.

BBC Wildlife 113

Tales Tal

bush b h from the

Brown bears’ picnic: the species gorges on food at this landfill site in Turkey to survive the cold winter.

A WILD WORLD OF RIPPING YARNS WHO? STEPHEN STARR is an Irish journalist and author who has reported from Turkey, Syria and the wider Middle East for nearly 10 years.




Cagan Sekercioglu


ost of eastern Turkey is a beautiful mix of stunning mountains and empty, open steppe. But where I am right now it stinks. In the pitch black of night, our creaking SUV has barely made it across the railway track and now faces combat with mounds of wet rubbish. This is the Sarikamis dump in Kars province, Turkey, where I’ve come, not for a spot of recycling but to see brown bears before they hibernate for the winter. Two tiny lights appear in the headlights, then two more, moving. It’s the glowing eyes of a female and her cub and, 20m to our left, a pair of wild boar is rummaging through plastic bags. In my mind I recall my childhood and a scene from The Jungle Book – animals of all kinds just hanging out and not eating each other – before a chilly breeze blows the scent of foulsmelling rubbish through the jeep again. For a moment I had half expected the bears and boars to strike up a conversation. Beyond this scene, on the other side of a hill, feral dogs

bark furiously, but the wild animals aren’t unduly worried. And nothing takes any much notice of us, or our headlamps. There are few brown bears in Turkey, but these are surely the laziest. Recently, at least 10 have been recorded staying close to the dump all year round. Another six occupying the same area are now known to migrate between breeding and feeding territories – a first for the species. The new findings by academics and a local conservation group called KuzeyDoga show that bears have been migrating between forests close to the dump outside Sarikamis where they hibernate, and the eastern Kaçkar mountains along the Georgian border, 249km to the north. In the spring the bears head away from the town to look for food and to link up with potential mates, some of whom travel from

Georgia; in late summer they return south to Sarikamis, where they know they can pig out on a ready supply of discarded vegetables and bones at the landfill site. This will prepare them for winter when temperatures can reach minus 35 degrees Celsius. While there’s nothing new about bears hanging out around rubbish dumps, the research shows the bears’ behaviour is increasingly being shaped by human activity. The upside is that conservationists, together with the Turkish authorities, are planning to establish a wildlife corridor that will see the bears’ migration route fall inside a protected area. What will this mean for the bears who’ve decided to take up permanent residence at the dump? With local authorities planning to close the site, they may have little choice but to join in the migration north. The alternative is that the bears may head for the nearest homes in search of food – a troubling prospect for all concerned.



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February 2017

BBC Wildlife – February 2017