Race is on to save our threatened creatures
Some of Britain’s best-loved wildlife species are under serious threat, but efforts are being made to reverse their alarming decline
THE People’s Trust for Endangered Species has drawn up an ambitious list of projects to help raise awareness of the threats posed to some of our best-loved and most at-risk wildlife through the year ahead.
With a mixture of initiatives aimed at both individual species and the habitats they occupy, the PTES aims to give a helping hand to creatures that were once common and are now anything but.
The UK conservation charity created in 1977, has global reach, trying to ensure a future for endangered species throughout the world. But in the UK it seeks to protect some of Britain’s most threatened wildlife species and habitats, providing practical conservation support through research, grant-aid, educational programmes, wildlife surveys, publications and public events.
In setting its goals for 2019, the charity says: “Our current priority species and habitats include hazel dormice, hedgehogs, water voles, noble chafers, stag beetles, traditional orchards, native woodlands, wood pasture and parkland and hedgerows.”
It has enlisted the support of MPs as ‘species champions’ for three of its priority species. Transport Minister Chris Grayling looks after hedgehogs, Hilary Benn, MP for Leeds Central and chairman of the Brexit select committee, takes responsibility for water voles, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock supports dormice.
The priority for hedgehog conservation in 2019 is shared between PTES, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society and the campaign Hedgehog Street. It encourages householders to create hedgehogfriendly neighbourhoods, liaising with developers to have new housing estates built with wildlife in mind, and monitors hedgehog numbers.
It also advises farmers on how to manage land for the benefit of hedgehogs, following studies that show that while numbers appear to be recovering in urban areas, they are still in decline in the countryside.
Research blames the intensification of agriculture resulting in fewer nesting sites and a drop in the availability of food – mostly insect larvae and earthworms – for hedgehogs to eat. It also points to roadkill, with rural roads often having poor lighting and higher speed limits, as a major problem, as well as predation by badgers and foxes.
Hazel dormice have been monitored for 29 years by PTES experts under the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, co-funded by Natural England. It is the longest running small mammal monitoring project in the world with more than 1,600 volunteers – and it has found the UK dormice population has declined by over a third in the last 18 years alone.
To reverse the decline, PTES manages the annual dormouse reintroduction programme across 12 English counties and almost 10,000 dormouse have been released over the past 25 years. Exeter University is also carrying out research into dormouse hibernation.
Water voles are in even greater trouble with numbers plummeting by around 90 per cent – the fastest and most dramatic loss of any British mammal ever. In 2015, the PTES National Water Vole Monitoring Programme established where water voles remain and the work will continue through the spring, with members of the public urged to record their sightings via the PTES website.
Projects concentrating on habitats will include a campaign to preserve traditional orchards, which have also declined by more than 90 per cent over the past 70 years. The rise of the community orchard, which involves people caring for an orchard and benefiting from its fruit, is helping preserve those that are left, with almost 1,000 community orchard groups now in existence.
PTES is also planning to establish a database on hedgerows and provide landowners with detailed advice on managing their hedgerows for the benefit of wildlife.
The charity says: “Hedgerows are a priority habitat but knowledge of their extent and condition is incomplete with no current central information repository capable of providing a useful insight to landowners on how to manage their hedgerows sympathetically.”
And in a rather grisly extension to the idea of citizen science, the PTES is proposing to survey mammals on roads – dead and alive – in an attempt to show the distribution of species and long-term changes in the numbers.
“Sightings of mammals, dead and alive , are recorded by volunteers on road journeys,” the charity says. “The GPS function of the phone or mobile device identifies the location of the sighting and the distance travelled, showing the distribution of species and long-term changes in their abundance.”
For more details go to: ptes.org.
The dormouse (far left), water vole and hedgehog all have theirchampions in Parliament