Global Nor­folk:

Nor­folk Wildlife Trust am­bas­sador Ben Gar­rod tack­les the hot topic of mi­grants

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE - nor­folk­wildlifetr­

Wildlife knows no bound­aries, says the Nor­folk Wildlife Trust

What­ever side of the po­lit­i­cal fence you may sit on, or even if you’re bliss­fully apo­lit­i­cal, there’s no es­cap­ing the fact that a fun­da­men­tal sense of be­ing British is a hot topic in the UK right now. The idea of be­ing ‘quintessen­tially British’ has been ex­plored and chal­lenged from var­i­ous quar­ters, but it seems that na­ture her­self and mi­gra­tion might pro­vide us with a rather apt para­ble.

As a bi­ol­o­gist, when I hear the term mi­grant, my thoughts are of cer­tain in­sects, ma­rine mam­mals and birds. We are a na­tion of an­i­mal lovers and birds hold a par­tic­u­larly spe­cial place in our hearts. A quick look at the data re­veals that around 40% of the birds in the UK are mi­grants, here to take ad­van­tage of our mild win­ters and in­creased food avail­abil­ity.

Some of our most iconic, en­dear­ing and fa­mil­iar birds are only here vis­it­ing. Al­though we do have a res­i­dent pop­u­la­tion of gold­crest for ex­am­ple, the num­bers swell each year when they are joined by many more from across Scan­di­navia. That our small­est British bird can make this 700km jour­ney was just too hard to be­lieve for some, earn­ing them the nick­name the ‘wood­cock pi­lot’, as peo­ple be­lieved they could only make this jour­ney by hitch­ing a ride on larger wood­cocks, which are also mi­grants.

Many of us look for­ward to huge, mes­meris­ing flocks of star­lings each win­ter but these mur­mu­ra­tions are in fact an avian cul­tural melt­ing pot, with birds fly­ing in from as far as East­ern Europe and Rus­sia to dou­ble the pop­u­la­tion al­ready res­i­dent in the UK.

One of the most prom­i­nent mi­grants in Nor­folk is the pink­footed goose, vis­it­ing our county each au­tumn. Ev­ery year, around 85% of the world pop­u­la­tion de­scends onto lo­cal farm­land and sur­round­ing habi­tats, with Nor­folk be­ing the epi­cen­tre of this mag­nif­i­cent gath­er­ing. De­spite the treach­er­ous 5,000 km jour­ney from Ice­land and Green­land, num­bers have quadru­pled in the last 50 years, with an es­ti­mated 200,000 birds ar­riv­ing now an­nu­ally.

In ad­di­tion to so many mi­grants, many more are

here as the re­sult of hu­man in­tro­duc­tions, which may or may not be done in­ten­tion­ally. Both Egyp­tian and Cana­dian geese, pheas­ants and golden pheas­ants are all here as the re­sult of be­ing in­tro­duced, as is the lit­tle owl, even. There are even leg­endary (and al­most en­tirely false) sto­ries of pur­ple-hazed rock stars re­leas­ing psy­che­delic, roseringed para­keets into the Lon­don skies, al­low­ing these rau­cous par­rot wannabes to be­come an in­deli­ble part of the British wildlife scene.

But if we re­ally want to find the ‘most British’ bird, where do we need to look? Past the blackbird, song thrush and even the robin and up to the chilly Scot­tish high­lands, to find the only ter­res­trial ver­te­brate species unique to the UK. The cross­bill is a bird that many peo­ple may not have heard of but is the only ex­am­ple of a bird (or mam­mal, rep­tile or am­phib­ian) found here and nowhere else. If we want to find the most British an­i­mal, then it’s a rather lonely group of one, I’m afraid.

What about the mam­mals then? The story is much the same and as well as mi­grants, there ap­pear to be even more ex­am­ples of in­tro­duc­tions, where species have been in­tro­duced by hu­mans at some point.

The ear­li­est of these in­tro­duc­tions ap­pears to have been the hum­ble house mouse, which came over with Ne­olithic hu­man set­tlers thou­sands of years ago. Many of our deer, in­clud­ing the sika, munt­jac and Chi­nese wa­ter deer are also in­tro­duc­tions, as are a good pro­por­tion of the red and fal­low pop­u­la­tions.

Most peo­ple know that grey squir­rels were in­tro­duced (from the USA in 1876) but fewer know that our rab­bits started out over in Spain and Por­tu­gal and fewer still are aware that it was the Ro­mans and not the Nor­mans who brought them across. We now know that some

‘To pro­tect this diver­sity of wildlife we need to work in part­ner­ship in­ter­na­tion­ally’

of the ear­li­est ev­i­dence of Ro­man rab­bits comes from Lyn­ford in Nor­folk, where cut marks on the bones shows they were very def­i­nitely not be­ing kept as pets.

Ad­mit­tedly, the UK rab­bit story does get a lit­tle more con­fus­ing be­cause they were here around 500,000 years ago but were prob­a­bly seen off by the ef­fects of the last ice age, be­fore be­ing rein­tro­duced as Ro­man fast food.

With at least 3,000 in­tro­duced and mi­gra­tory species in the UK, it’s pretty clear that many of our most iconic and wellloved species orig­i­nated in main­land Europe or in­deed fur­ther afield. To pro­tect this diver­sity of wildlife in Nor­folk we need to work in part­ner­ship in­ter­na­tion­ally. Our lo­cal wildlife, just like our­selves, needs a whole healthy planet to thrive.

With a turbulent his­tory of land bridges, glacia­tions and hu­man in­tro­duc­tions, our British wildlife is a rich ta­pes­try of species from all the hab­it­able con­ti­nents of the world. It doesn’t al­ways run smoothly and there’s the oc­ca­sional squab­ble or two but over­all, we man­age and are proud of our wildlife. Re­gard­less of where it might have come from, it’s all British now.

Pic­ture: Ian Davis

Chi­nese wa­ter deer wad­ing through flooded marsh near St Benet's Level and Thurne wind­mill

Pic­ture: Richard Wood­house

BE­LOW: Cross­bill

Pic­ture: David Ti­pling - 2020VISION

Pink-footed Geese

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