How Britain is getting its wildlife back

Reply Thu 28 Jun, 2007 01:12 am
From today's The Guardian, online report and pages 41 & 44-47


Home to roost

Twenty years ago, the red kite was more or less extinct in Britain; today, 2,000 are flying free. Conservationists have also successfully reintroduced sea eagles, ospreys, great bustards and ladybird spiders. What's next - wolves? Stephen Moss

Thursday June 28, 2007
The Guardian

A red kite sails past the Angel of the North, heading across the Gateshead skyline towards the Metro Centre. On the Isle of Mull, two sea eagles perch on a tidal mudflat, dwarfing the local gulls. And on a hill overlooking Glastonbury Tor, large blue butterflies flit over a sunlit meadow, amid the scent of wild thyme.

Three typical snapshots of Britain's natural heritage, but with one crucial thing in common: just a few years ago, they would have been impossible. Each of these wild creatures has been successfully reintroduced to its native habitat after many years' absence. As recently as the 1970s, red kites were confined to a few wooded valleys in mid-Wales, sea eagles were a rare visitor to our shores from the Baltic and Scandinavia, and the last few colonies of large blue butterflies were heading towards oblivion. Now, thanks to the efforts of a handful of conservationists, they are all once again part of the British fauna.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 28 Jun, 2007 01:13 am
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Thu 28 Jun, 2007 01:13 am
Other fauna and flora reintroduced to Britain

1) Natterjack toad

This handsome amphibian - distinguished from the common toad by the yellow stripe down its back and its loud, ratchet-like call - is currently confined to sand dunes and heaths in north-west and south-east England. Over the past five years Natterjacks have been released at four sites in Cumbria, where they may well benefit from a milder climate as a result of global warming.

2) Cirl bunting

Once found across southern Britain, this rare relative of the yellowhammer has retreated to its final UK stronghold, the south Devon coast. Birds from the thriving Devon population are now being released in nearby Cornwall, however, and have already bred successfully. The next step is to return them to traditional farmland throughout southern England and Wales.

3) Water vole

Britain's fastest-declining mammal badly needs a helping hand, and is being released at suitable sites throughout the country. However, the inspiration for Kenneth Grahame's Ratty will only thrive if the non-native North American mink is kept under strict control.

4) Lady's slipper orchid

Famous as Britain's rarest flowering plant - represented by a single specimen at a secret site in the Yorkshire Dales - the lady's slipper orchid is now being bred in a laboratory at Kew Gardens. In the longer term, it is hoped to reintroduce the orchid throughout its former range.

5) Freshwater pearl mussel

Following a steep decline, caused by pollution of rivers, habitat loss and a reduction in fish populations, this unique shellfish is currently being raised in captivity in the hope that it can be reintroduced into selected rivers in England and Scotland.

6) Field cricket

By 1990, loss of its grassland habitat meant that this once-familiar insect was confined to a single site in West Sussex. But thanks to a captive breeding programme run by Natural England in partnership with London Zoo, the field cricket has now been returned to six sites in south-east England.

7) Dormouse

One of our favourite mammals, the dormouse has suffered in recent years from the loss of coppiced woodlands and hedgerows, and has vanished from much of its former range. Since 1994, a combination of woodland restoration and careful reintroductions has allowed the population to begin to recover.

8) Fen ragwort

Once found in wet ditches throughout East Anglia, this perennial plant seemed to have become extinct in the mid-19th century due to the drainage of the fens. Then, in the 1970s, a single specimen was discovered in a ditch beside a busy main road in Cambridgeshire. Seeds were taken from this original plant, and the ragwort was reintroduced to five fenland sites, including Woodwalton and Wicken Fens, where it now thrives.
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