Natures Good News : Recent Conservation Successes

March 29, 2020

Due to the current corona virus crisis, there is worry, fear and uncertainty all around the world. I'm very lucky that I am able to work from home, but have still been feeling anxious and lonely as I'm far away from family and friends and not sure when I will next see them. So I decided now was a good time to take a break from reading the news and worrying, and focus on some recent conservation successes. Hopefully this post will allow a few moments of positivity for anyone that needs it!

Powerful owls (Ninox strenua), native to southeastern Australia, don't build nests, they use hollows in old trees. But the removal of trees means the owls are struggling to nest and breed. Conservationists attempted to rectify this by building nest boxes, but the attempt was unsuccessful. A group of designers and ecologists from the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and Deakin University have undertaken the challenge of 3D printing artificial nests. The team were inspired by a photograph of owls nesting in a termite mound, and have so far printed one wooden and two hemp concrete nests. Data is still being collected, but the team are optimistic as early results are promising. Although still to attract owls, the nests have been visited by other species including rainbow lorikeets. 

Camera traps hidden in secret areas in Vietnam have revealed numerous threatened species previously considered wiped out by poaching. One particularly exciting discovery was the endangered Sunda pangolin, one of the world's most trafficked mammals. Fauna and Flora International will prioritise working with the Vietnamese government to hopefully increase the protection of areas where threatened species reside.

It was great to see an uplifting story about England's reintroduced species in National Geographic this month! The UK's 25-year Environment Plan includes the reintroduction of native species, and states that this is the key to nature's recovery. This includes the beaver, currently the subject of trials in the south west; the chequered skipper butterfly, part of a restoration project in Northamptonshire; the white-tailed eagle, which were released in the Isle of Wight in August 2019; and the pine marten, relocated in 2019 with the hope of more releases in 2020 and 2021. 

Last year, 3,014 sites were monitored by volunteers for the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, and results have revealed that more than half of Britain's butterfly species have increased in number! This includes the ringlet, having its second-best year on record, the meadow brown having its fifth best year, and a 138% increase on the year before for the rare Lulworth skipper.

The Picos de Europa National Park recently registered their first bearded vulture birth since the species went extinct there in 1956. The chick was born to Deva, a female reintroduced to the park in 2010 as part of the bearded vulture recovery project, and Casanova, a male from the Pyrenees. National Park staff will monitor the progress, and there is hope that the reintroduction project will result in a stable population in the area.

The Humpback whale population in the Francisco Coloane Marine Park near the southern tip of Chile has increased from 40 individuals in 2003, to 190 in 2019. This is in part thanks to the commercial ban on whaling. Although numbers have increased, they are still not as high as they were pre-commercial whaling, partly due to the species' slow rate of reproduction as females only give birth to one calf every two to three years. Humpbacks still face threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, water contamination, noise pollution and ships, but nevertheless, this steady increase in numbers is a step in the right direction.

During their 2020 expedition to the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, a team of scientists led by the British Antarctic Survey observed 55 Antarctic blue whales - an unprecedented number! Blue whales in the area were almost made extinct due to commercial whaling, but the population appears to be bouncing back with scientists predicting it is a long-term trend. They also recorded 790 humpback whales and estimated there to be more than 20,000 individuals. 

In Monte Alén National Park, wild western lowland gorillas have been captured on camera traps - the first time they have been seen on film in over ten years, though local communities had reported sightings. This is an exciting time for researchers in the area, as it means they are still present despite heavy hunting pressure. Young gorillas of around four years old were also caught on film, meaning there is a whole new generation thriving in the area.

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