Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.

 

It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.

 

This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Colombian environmental protestors ‘see off’ one of the world’s biggest gold mining companies

When a bunch of residents in a small town of Tolima, Colombia decided to take a vote on whether they wanted a mega gold mining project in their backyard, it did not mean much – at first – to the AngloGold Ashanti (AGA), a multinational company famous for its mega-projects. After a decade-long exploration phase, AGA was just waiting for a couple of remaining environmental concessions before starting to dig the Cajamarcan Mountains in pursuit of gold.

But things didn’t go as planned… after the local authorities acknowledged the democratic and sovereign decision of those potential mega-project victims who voted NO, AGA – the world’s third-largest gold producer – is now packing to leave the area, empty-handed but full of hollow threats to divest its investments in Colombia.

Background Analysis

Colombia’s natural resource abundance is world-famous, but it is also associated with the so-called ‘resource curse‘ due to high levels of corruption, recurrent human rights violations and escalating civil conflicts. There are more than 120 documented civil conflicts concerning various environmental justice issues. Among these, conflicts related to mining activities dominate. In a similar vein, one underlying reason for so many conflicts is distinguishing; within the various levels of government, ‘closing deals with multinationals behind closed doors’ has sadly become a common practice. This is fundamentally unlawful, because Colombia is a signatory to the International Labor Organization’s Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (aka Convention 169, or C169) since 1991 and also ratified it, meaning that, by law, any project regarding Indigenous lands or rights must be consulted about with community leaders and get public consent before launching. All that being absent, the government has run into multiple conflicts with the communities so far.

Amid such conflicts, several multinational companies including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Drummond are operating large-scale extraction plants. Many of them have even obtained highly contested fracking concessions. A couple of months ago public concern reached its peak when 43 new fracking concessions were unveiled. Right now, even the Colombian Ministry of Environment is publicly opposing the National Hydrocarbon Agency and advising the government to refrain from handing out additional fracking permits. In terms of policy and regulations, the mining frenzy is fuelled by the 2001 Mining Code, which opened Colombia’s doors to the world of mega-mining whilst severely lacking in rigorous rules and restrictions that would protect the environment from the impacts of large-scale mining. Colombian ‘laissez faire’ has (arguably) permitted a mining frenzy.

Locals have been protesting and calling for environmental justice – the resistance, mostly non-violent, has ranged from road blockades to collaborating with environmental NGOs and signing an open letter calling on President Juan Manuel Santos to take action on particular issues, such as declaring a moratorium on fracking. However, none of these actions, top date, has been enough to convince the Government to reconsider its liberal and regulation-free economic policies, many of which are causing environmental injustices.

 

It is against this backdrop that one community recently won its battle against AGA. Cajamarca, an agricultural town in central Tolima, went to the ballot box and 6,165 out of 6,296 voters said “No” to all exploration and excavation activities. As a result, the municipality has legally banned all mining activities within its boundaries. Naturally the main concerns were over land and and water pollution, and over the irreversible destruction of lush forests that ‘La Colosa’ might cause.

“[The project will] disappear mountains, contaminate soils, water, air and put at risk collective rights for a clean environment for present and future generations, affect the food production of this region and to completely terminate the dynamics of the ecosystem.” says Renzo García, a biologist at the University of Tolima. On top of environmental concerns, locals also expressed their fear from cultural identity loss that is most likely to follow the environmental destruction. In the words of a local activist, Camila Méndez: “Dignity has no price; a farming culture won’t be sold because of pressures by the Government and foreign companies.”

In fact, popular vote is nothing new to the residents of Tolima. The same story happened before, in July 2013, when the first ever popular vote on a large-scale mining project was held in another town of Tolima. Then too, residents interrupted AGA’s plans to build a processing plant. In the end, plans for the processing plant only changed location, to Cajamarca.

When the result of the popular vote was announced in Cajamarca, the central government backed the mining company, not its citizens with the Mining Minister, German Arce, stating: “The licenses have already been granted and referendum decisions do not apply retroactively. That’s why exploration licenses retain their validity. Residents’ referendum holds no legal weight and not legally binding.”

The Minister even accused the locals of exaggerating the environmental impacts and risks of gold mining. At the end, the referendum result puts a clear end to the project. Remarkably, AGA then cancelled the whole project stating: “Diverse reasons which range from the institutional, the political and particularly the social, with the recent referendum, oblige us to take the unfortunate decision to stop all project activities and with it all employment and investment, until there’s certainty about mining activity in the country and in Tolima.”

That decision was the result of strong community opposition and legal wrangling over environmental regulations, which have now prompted the Environment Minister Arce to promise new legislation, (albeit half-heartedly), that will reconcile existing mining permits with judicial authorities and local bodies.

‘La Colosa’ is a historic victory against transnational mining giants, since the Constitutional Court (for the very first time) overturned the central government’s sole authority by allowing provincial governors and mayors to challenge exploration permits. In fact, the ‘La Colosa’ victory has already inspired Colombians in the same situation that will now be voting against mining interests on their lands.

In any case, this is a clear message to the powers-that-be – especially to the Central Government – signaling that Colombia will continue to embrace; call it a “butterfly effect”, “ripple effect” or simply a “copycat effect” of a more peaceful but still effective way of implementing environmental action.

 

This Author

Burag Gurden is a postgraduate student at Lund University. He is also a freelance writer and contributor to the British ‘International Development Journal‘, Turkish ‘Dunya Gazetesi‘ and the international ‘Words in the Bucket‘ community. Currently he is working at the EnvJustice project

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Conservation Exclusive: People’s Trust for Endangered Species complete a secret and successful hazel dormice release into the wild

A top secret woodland location on the outskirts of Royal Leamington Spa became the brand new home for some charming yet endangered inhabitants.

The hazel dormouse – now extinct in 17 English counties – was reintroduced to Warwickshire on Tuesday (June 20) as 18 breeding pairs, plus one extra female, were released by People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and some dedicated and willing volunteers.

These dormice will spend the next 10 days in their purpose-built mesh cages where they will be checked and fed by volunteers whilst they learn to gather food themselves. When they are ready to be released, a small door will be opened in the cage to allow them to access the woodland, whilst still benefiting from the safety of their nesting boxes.

Given that hazel dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius) will generally only produce one litter a year averaging just four young, it’s no surprise these charismatic little creatures are struggling for survival.

They face pressures from lost habitats and changes in woodland and hedgerow management – as the practice of coppicing trees such as hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut has become more rare, so too have the dormice.

This secret Warwickshire location was selected based on its excellent suitability for the new residents. Being both arboreal, and nocturnal, the dormice rely on tree cover, using the branches to travel through the canopy and through shrub layers.

As they were released into their new homes, they were given a selection of berries, dried fruits, mealworms, and other dormouse delicacies but over coming weeks, they will learn to forage for themselves.

Since 1993 PTES has reintroduced more than 898 hazel dormice in 22 different sites across England.

Leading this latest reintroduction, Ian White, PTES’ Dormouse Officer said: “Climate change is one factor having a serious impact the dormice population, but the biggest issue is woodland management.

“At this site the management of woodland will have to continue to ensure the dormice can thrive. They need successional vegetation and all the video evidence we have shows they actively look for that arboreal cover.”

Before the dormice were released they had to be reared, quarantined and health checked by various volunteers and organisations. They were captive bred by members of the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group, of which Neil Bemment is the chairman. Neil has been rearing dormice and attending release events since 2000. He says: “When the dormice are two years or under we pair them up, ensuring they are genetically matched – as far from being related as we possibly can. We aim to release 18 pairs each year. We are trying specifically to reinstate them in the counties where they would have originally thrived.”

The dormice underwent thorough health checks with vets at the Zoological Society of London and Paignton Zoo in Devon, ensuring they would had the very best chance of survival and also in a bid to prevent the accidental introduction of any new diseases to the wild. They will continue to be closely monitored and it is hoped that they will have settled and paired up in just two weeks – with baby dormice born by the end of the year.

And funding of £1 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund will ensure that this reintroduction programme can continue for the next four years, as part of a bigger project – the Princethorpe Woodlands Living Landscape Scheme – whose stated objective is to bring ancient woodlands back into management, to work with landowners to better connect the woodlands, to restore hedgerows, and to engage the public.

Chris Redstall, Scheme Manager, explained: “There are 300 nest boxes around the wood and they will be checked by volunteers who have a dormouse licence. Long term we just want to see a stable population. There is likely to be a growth spurt at around three years, and then the population stabilises. That is what we hope for.”

PTES manages the National Dormouse Monitoring Programme, which is co-funded by Natural England. Dormice can be monitored by checking nesting boxes and by checking nut consumption since the way a dormouse chews a hazelnut is unique. (They will open the nuts whilst still green and on the tree, and the shells only turn brown once they are discarded and fall to the ground.)

The reintroduction is a timely event as it coincides with the publication of new research by the University of Exeter highlighting the creature’s steep decline over the past 20 years. With numbers plummeting by more than 70 per cent, the study – published in the journal Mammal Review – shows that the cause of decline is not well understood but that woodland management could be a significant key factor. The paper entitled Voluntary recording scheme reveals ongoing decline in the United Kingdom hazel dormouse population was supported by the Forestry Commission and Natural England, and further supports the importance of reintroduction schemes such as the one I witnessed this week.

In a county where this delightful animal was once extinct, this latest reintroduction hopes to build on the success of earlier ones but also to foster better engagement between landowners and wildlife organisations, encourage better management of the land and to eventually see the native hazel dormouse quietly thriving.

This Author

Laura Briggs is a regular contributor to the Ecologist. Follow here here: @WordsbyBriggs

 

 

Ecologist Special Report: Community Farm takes local council to High Court this Solstice

Popular Sussex community farm, The Crossing, is in last chance saloon this Solstice when it goes before the High Court for a Judicial Review after local Wealden council declined to determine a second planning application for the community food growing scheme.

A previous review in January 2017, showed the local planning authority to be ‘unlawful’ in declining to determine the application.  

“I say it’s deeply ignorant that the local council is failing to recognise the benefits to local ecology and wellbeing of our community.  They’re public servants.  How is The Crossing causing harm? Show us… we say?”, says Lucy Martin, director of The Crossing CIC – a community interest company.

“What is the council thinking? We have Food Banks in our local town and there is a national food production crisis being reported on the news. We offer practical solutions to the converging crises we face: food shortages, climate change and soil loss. We need more small farms!” says founder of the Crossing Farm, Emma Goodwin.

 Struggling for food and land access

The Goodwin family and the surrounding community have mounted a determined legal appeal to the Wealden council planning system, which if successful could strengthen a precedent that helps improve access to land and food production for other small holders in the UK.

The project hit uncertain times in last November after the local Wealden council issued a total of four enforcement notices ordering the project to close – labelling it a ‘threat’ to the nearby Ashdown Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – despite assessments from conservationists that since the farm began, the land has become drought resistant and wildlife and biodiversity has increased by over half.  

The Secretary of State’s view from the Planning Inspectorate, which was ordered to be made publicly available, is the project was unlikely to have any effect on the SSSI.

 “This isn’t just about The Crossing, this is about supporting the right to farm for good food, not for profit.  It’s about teaching our children that we are part of the solution. It’s about creating a resource for their community and generations to come,” says Emma, who is also the South East representative of The Land Workers Alliance.

In 2010, Stuart and Emma Goodwin bought 8.5 acres of unimproved pasture next to a cycle track 10 mins from Forest Row, East Sussex. In 2014 they crowdfunded a 13m x 8m wooden shed to act as agricultural administration building, wwoofer accommodation, class room and affordable housing for agricultural workers.

“My investigation into how low impact food can strengthen communities and mitigate the dangers of climate change came about after my children became extremely ill due to dietary reasons, it was critical that I changed our eating habits to fresh local organic food to improve the family’s health,” says Emma.

A smallholder in the corridors of power

Motivated by the benefits of small-scale regenerative agriculture, the Goodwin family entered the planning process by submitting a business plan with the first Planning Application in October 2014 for a Community Supported Agriculture scheme and small livestock farm.

In December, 2014, Wealden council gave a flat refusal. The plan was refused on the basis that it 1) It had: “No Functional need”, 2) Nitrogen depositions caused by car fumes are a danger to the Ashdown forest and 3) it was not planned on a sound financial footing.

In April 2015 the family received an enforcement notice leaving Emma Goodwin with two options.

“Compliance with the enforcement notices will destroy this community asset and make my family homeless, while non-compliance makes me a criminal,” sighs Emma.

Emma swiftly made an appeal. In response the Council issued more enforcement notices in May 2015 leaving them with 15 days to find fees of £6,000 to appeal on the grounds that planning permission should be given. The Land Magazine spoke out at the time denouncing the council’s move as “a corrupt and dirty tactic”. In March 2016, the first appeal received a hearing and two months later it was dismissed.

Refusing to give up the fight for access to land and food for their family and community, a High Court appeal was lodged and a second planning application was submitted in August 2016 along with a second business plan, which Wealden council again declined to determine.

In November 2016, a Judicial Review concluded that the council’s refusal to determine the second planning application was “unlawful”.  In the same month, the council proceeded to issue more costly enforcement notices.

“The Crossing is, literally, crossing a line of institutional inflexibility about planning issues that hasn’t yet caught up with the pulse of the people it is accountable to,” adds Emma.

Today, (21st June, 2017) the Goodwin family and supporters of The Crossing farm will attend a judicial review hearing at the High Court. “If we win this Judicial Review: Wealden council must look at our second planning application and we’re back in the planning system with professional help. If we lose this Judicial Review. I will be deemed a criminal,” she adds.

 When farmers become activists

 The dire condition of Britain’s soil caused the National Farmers Union earlier this year to forecast “there are less than 60 harvests if we continue to abuse the soil and water with industrial agricultural practices.”  Soil experts also project that based on current rates of soil degradation the Earth has about 60 years of topsoil left.

“At The Crossing, we are using regenerative agriculture to create resilience. Resilience means adaptability in times of climate change. Using regenerative agriculture – any human can live in Eden because it lets all life thrive.  Just watch One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts online, if you need convincing – regenerative agriculture is profitable and more intensive than ‘intensive’!” says Emma.

Helping husband a resilient landscape are pigs, sheep, and chickens – livestock that are considered to be co-workers as well as food producers – while swales and reservoirs catch water and hold it onsite letting it soak slowly, raising the water table and protecting downstream areas from floods. Recently installed is a stove to produce soil-transforming Biochar to sequester carbon.

In 2016, ‘The State of Nature’ report concluded more than 120 species of wildlife in Britain are facing extinction due to intensive farming methods, while hundreds more could also be at risk due to the ‘industrialisation’ of agriculture, driven by EU subsidies.”

“We’ve seen so many Great Crested Newts, which are on the endangered list, so far this year. We provide them with habitat, and they certainly wouldn’t be here if we had not created the ponds,” enthuses Goodwin.

Last year, Landmatters, an eco- community in Devon was given permanent planning permission after it had its first application for dwellings on the land rejected in 2006, three years after it bought the land.

As growing numbers of land based initiatives committed to sustainability and low impact living come up against the inflexibility of UK’s planning authorities – Emma Goodwin is convinced a sea change is coming where “appeals for planning permission are evaluated on a case by case basis with greater emphasis on contribution to community wellbeing and land regeneration as a high priority.”

Emma adds: “Let’s remember that Wealden council have the power to become a visionary and forward thinking public body. They admitted to us, off the record, that we were 10 years ahead of our time. They are working for the good of the public, many members of the public see the benefit of the work we are doing at The Crossing, and the council are public servants.”

In January this year, a High Court Judicial Review ruled that Wealden Council has been unlawful in their dealings with The Crossing’s planning application. 

“I will defend myself from being labelled ‘criminal’ when my main aim is to grow nutrient-dense food for my local community.”

*In order to challenge these notices, and continue farming at The Crossing, Emma Goodwin has launched a Crowdfunder campaign to raise £30k to protect herself from legal costs, and defend the right to live and work on a smallholding; donations can be made on the home page of their website

For more information contact info@thecrossingforestrow.com

Emma 07976 296 364

www.thecrossingforestrow.com

This Author

Matthew Newsome is a freelance journalist and writer. His written work can be found in The Guardian and New Internationalist. He has also produced radio features for broadcasting services: BBC World Service and Radio France International

 

 

Collaboration and communication: how science and environmentalists can fight climate change together

Science: the global endeavour of humans to understand the universe. People carrying out this endeavour – scientists – are defined by the UK Science Council as: “someone who systematically gathers and uses research and evidence, making a hypothesis and testing it, to gain and share understanding and knowledge.”

The intent to share scientific research is a crucial distinction; it defines science as a public good, as much about method as it is about values.

At a pro-science march in London, climate scientist Chris Rapley, say science is about valuing “investigation and internationalism.”

Marching in Berlin, Jurgen Kurths, a physicist and mathematician at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says “science is international…We collaborate with China and Russia and the UK. We are all international scientists; there is only one physics and one climatology, not, say, an English one and a German one.”

Rapley and Kurths marched because they felt the values of investigation and international collaboration are under attack.

The US is eradicating environmental science, the UK is “sick of experts“, and turning to climate change deniers for leadership. Be it pulling out of the Paris agreement, or renewable energy cuts, “there is a strong move in the English-speaking world against rationalism,” says Rapley, “we must defend against it.”

This need to defend rationalism has morphed into a global ‘pro-science’ movement. Dashing the introverted stereotype, the scientific community donned lab coats, painted placards and chanted in the streets. Marches took place in 600 cities across the world, from Manilla to Amsterdam. Kurths says he couldn’t remember a time before the nuclear weapons demonstrations in the 1950s when scientists united to protest in such large numbers.

Taking place on 22 April, the marches deliberately coincided with Earth Day. Many placards and chants focused on climate change – with environmentalists marching alongside climate scientists.

The pro-science movement “speaks to the ethos” of environmental organisations like Greenpeace, says Paul Johnston, principal scientist at Greenpeace Research Laboratories.

Grassroots environmental group, Friends of the Earth (FoE) backs “the purpose” of the pro-science movement “100%” says Mike Childs, head of science, policy and research. This is because FoE frequently works alongside scientists, “on a case-by-case basis…to make sure we get our facts right,” says Childs.

As well as working on projects together, there are shared values between environmentalists and scientists; FoE is “aligned with the value of international collaboration” and has “always been informed by scientific research, together with the values of social justice and intergenerational justice,” says Childs. Greenpeace is also “committed as an organisation to working collaboratively with people across the world,” says Johnston.

Seeing eye to eye

But while there are good relationships and shared values, “that doesn’t mean we see eye to eye with all scientists,” says Childs, “not all scientists consider the social and economic impact of their research.”

There are disagreements on a multitude of issues between scientists and environmentalists, from fracking and pesticides, to nuclear power and GMOs.

Whether caused by hypes of ‘world-saving’ technology, corporate sponsored science or vested interests, scientific disputes should not be ignored, says Childs, “we mustn’t pretend that ‘science’ has one clear view.”

Using GMOs as an example, Childs says although GMOs are scientifically proven to be safe for human consumption, there are still important questions environmental groups ask, such as, “who has control of our food chain?”

These differences in approach seem to balloon into conflict most often when scientific work is translated into policy. Like when the UK government championed fracking on the basis of one scientific paper (which has since been discredited), or when US scientists caution themselves on researching geoengineering, in fear that their work is misused to justify delayed action on climate change. Scientists “need to inform policy, but they also need to stand up and say if a policy is not informed by the best science,” says Johnston.

Scientists need to lose the “naive”, “ivory tower” perception of not getting involved in politics, as “once you’ve informed policy, you are involved in the political process…[science] defacto becomes political, you can’t get away from it…Value-free science doesn’t exist,” says Johnston.

Rapley puts much of the confusion between environmentalists and scientists – and politicians and the public – down to communication. “The classic way science delivers its message is doomed to fail,” says Rapley.

“We need to engage people and engage emotions; generally, scientists strive to eliminate emotions, but the subject of climate change can be alarming and scary. The story of climate change has clearly raised anxiety and cognitive dissonance, which has then been [politically] exploited.”

While there is “an obligation to speak up” about scientific findings such as polar ice melting, says Rapley, scientists should also offer their opinions publicly, as “an off-duty comment.”

“The role of science in society is to offer positive answers to positive questions. Not to use scientific authority to muddle statements. If I’m asked what is dangerous climate change, for example, I can’t answer as a scientist [as danger is subjective], but I can give my own opinion, as a human,” says Rapley.

To continue raising the public’s awareness and literacy of environmental issues, both movements have a role to make their work “accessible and truthful,” says Johnston. “How does their work relate to the public? What captivates [the public]?” Environmentalists and scientists, Johnston says, should be repeatedly asking these questions to avoid some of the “nightmare” of explaining the nuances within climate science.

Scientists finding a “joint language” they can use to communicate with environmentalists would also aid climate science literacy, says Kurths.

One barrier Johnston identifies as halting this joint language is a reluctance from mainstream academics to be associated, or funded, by environmental groups such as Greenpeace. Scientists should reconsider, and “do more work” with environmentalists, says Kurths.

Both scientists and environmentalists need to “look more deeply at the interests related to environment and climate change,” to identify overlapping values, says Johnston. Collaboration, on the basis of shared interests, could lead to more scientific solutions and greater political will in the fight against climate change.

If neither the environmentalist movement, nor the pro-science movement is working to identify and communicate based on shared values, says Johnston, “people don’t realise this synergy exists, and then they don’t exploit it.”

This Author

Lucy EJ Woods is a freelance journalist specialising in energy and environment reporting. Currently based in London she has reported on environmental issues from Russia, Mongolia, Indonesia, Nepal and the Philippines and has been published in various titles, including The Guardian, Climate Home, Mongabay and many others. You can find more of her work at: lucyejwoods.com, or follow her on Twitter: @lucyejwoods