December volunteer activity

Sunday 8th December 2019 –– St Martin Village 10:00-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers 

Task Join the National Trust for Jersey’s countryside rangers this Sunday for a morning of hedge and tree planting in St Martin.

National Trust for Jersey has recently been working alongside The Jersey Royal Company in an ambitious hedge-planting scheme. Over the last couple of months, staff from Jersey Royal, ably coordinated by the NTJ’s Conrad Evans, have been busy planting on land leased and managed by Jersey Royal. The aim for this year is to plant 10 miles of hedging trees between St Catherine’s Woods and Jersey Zoo, amounting to over 20,000 hedging trees. And this is where the JCV can lend their seasoned hedge planting skills to the cause. The next link in our chain of hedgerows is a large agricultural field in St Martin, which is currently very bare and in desperate need of some ‘tree TLC’. So come along and help us continue with the planting of these vital wildlife corridors.

If you have any questions, or if you wish to be added to the Jersey Conservation Volunteers email list, please contact either Julia Clively (tel: 441600; j.clively@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site St Martin Village (Jersey Phone Directory Map 10, GG 11 and Google maps here )

Parking  St Martin’s village green carpark opposite the school. Please also consider car sharing or cycling.

We will meet earlier than usual at 9:45 for a 10:00 start. We will be finished by 12.30.

Tools needed As always, we can supply some tools, but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, and cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you. Gloves and tools will be provided but please bring your own spades if you have them.

Clothing needed  As ever decent footwear and wet weather gear is recommended to cope with whatever the weather throws at us.

Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.

Refreshments Down tools at around 12.30 for well-earned tea and cake!

Wilder Islands

By Liz Corry and Glyn Young

This year’s Inter-Island Environment Meeting (IIEM) was held in Alderney hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust and the States of Alderney. We had two days of presentations, participatory bioblitzs, and workshops. A new Wilder Islands conference ran on the third day bringing scientists, conservation practitioners, and policy makers together. This extra day was used to discuss the role of islands as biodiversity hot spots in a response to global environmental decline. Each day was introduced by AWT’s indefatigable Roland Gauvain.

There were over 120 delegates in attendance representing the Channel Islands, UK, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and France. Quite a crowd and quite a diversity of subjects.

For an island just shy of 8km2 Alderney did pretty well to accommodate us all. We took over the independent cinema and Island Hall for presentations and workshops, nipping into the Georgian House for coffee breaks and sustenance (there was also a divine three-course meal cooked by The Blonde Hedgehog staff using locally sourced products. We won’t talk about that since Glyn was only there for Day 3).

Presentations

Topics included invasive species control, citizen science, rewilding, and species monitoring. We will just mention a few to give you a flavour of the event.

Bob Tompkins talked about how Jersey is tackling the Asian hornet problem. We also heard from delegates about the Bailiwick of Guernsey’s approach. It is a daunting task; one that depends enormously on volunteers and public awareness. One take-home message, maybe unintentional, was just how amazing and socially intricate hornets are. 

Bob Tompkins explaining the intricate architecture of a late stage Asian hornet nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Asian hornets are considered a pest because they predate honey bees; a species already in peril. As are many of our pollinating species be it bird, bat, or beetle.

At last years IIEM we heard from Barry Wells about the success of the newly created Pollinator Project. His team’s efforts (and enthusiasm) are now being replicated in Jersey in order to connect the Channel Islands together to achieve greater success.

Barry Wells talking about the success of the Pollinator Project. Photo by Liz Corry.

Barry highlighted an interesting fact – around 27% of Guernsey is designated as gardens. If you can convince homeowners to set aside just 10% of that land to pollinating plants it would be the equivalent of 200 football pitches. On one tiny island! Think how many insects that would help.

This is another example of how volunteers can be a huge benefit to biodiversity by making subtle changes. Sometimes a huge shift in public attitudes is needed and is harder to achieve. Cristina Sellarés touched upon this when she discussed the impact of dogs chasing wading birds on beaches. 

Cristina Sellarés discussed the concept of islands within islands. Photo by Liz Corry.

Some impacts are harder to notice unless you dedicate your time to monitoring them. Take eelgrass for example. It is considered a priority marine habitat in the Channel Islands due to the wonderful array of ecological functions that it has. Yet we don’t really know anything about our own eelgrass.

Pacific halibut resting on a bed of eelgrass. Photo by Adam Obaza (NOAA)

Step forward Dr Melanie Broadhurst-Allen (member of the Guernsey Seasearch team) positively glowing with passion for the sheer number of species eelgrass supports (including brent geese).

Just some of the invertebrates that rely on eelgrass.

Lack of public awareness has meant urban development, dredging, pollution, and sediment runoff has significantly degraded this habitat. A joint collaboration between partners from Guernsey and Alderney led to a citizen science project to monitor eelgrass. Data from this will hopefully be used by policy makers to apply protection and conserve eelgrass beds.

How to segway from eelgrass to choughs? Monitoring – sea eagles – reintroductions – choughs. Seamless.

Jamie Marsh, Reserves Manager for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, talked about the white-tailed sea eagle recent release on the Isle of Wight. Three-pairs of birds were released in August as part of a reintroduction project. With an 8ft (2.5m) wingspan it is not surprising that the birds’ GPS trackers have shown some interesting results. One eagle, named Culver, excelled itself and was spotted by a father and son in London! Jamie shared the tracking data which confirmed Culver flew over Westminster at the end of August, over to Essex, before returning to Hampshire.

Movements of a reintroduced white-tailed eagle marked in red) across the south west of England. Photo by Liz Corry.

If this particular project is successful it will help pave the way for other reintroductions on the Isle of Wight; cirl bunting? beaver? chough?!

Potential reintroductions in the Isle of Wight will help boost biodiversity. Photo by Liz Corry.

Keynote speaker

Public opinion has been divided over returning sea eagles to England. Not helped by the often skewed and in some cases fake news coverage. Something Dr George McGavin raised in his lecture on the first evening.

George McGavin gave the keynote speech of the Inter-Island Meeting. Photo by Liz Corry.

George’s talk entitled Where have all the insects gone? touched upon the tendency for the media to extrapolate headline grabbing facts from reports and not consider the finer detail. Audience members were treated to a brief lesson in statistical significance and bias in survey sampling. Luckily George went about it in an engaging manner.

On the subject of insect numbers, George referenced the 2004 Big Bug Count led by the RSPB. Similar to their Big Garden Birdwatch, people were asked to count the number of insects seen on their vehicle registration plate using a ‘Splatometer’. It made people reminisce of days gone by when you would have to stop the car to wipe splattered flying insects off your windscreen.

Of course windscreens are different from number plates. Maybe the ‘splats’ are more likely on a larger, higher up surface? We won’t know unless the survey is repeated on an annual basis allowing us to see trends. We do it for birds, why not for insects? Well if you live in Kent you can! Kent Wildlife Trust reinstated the scheme this summer. What results would we get for Jersey? An island with more cars than people!

Wilder Islands

On the third day, the conference took on a new role and focused on the role islands have to play in a rapidly changing world where ecosystem collapse seems inevitable and considered how we can work together to meet this challenge. Again hosted by Dr George McGavin, each session involved a series of short presentations putting forward the speaker’s position with the speakers then forming a panel to debate the issue, with questions and input from the floor.

The keynote speaker today was Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England who talked on why islands and island biodiversity are so important globally and for the UK.

Session 1 looked at how we prioritise our response to the impacts of climate change on island ecosystems with Rob Stoneman (Rewilding Europe), Glyn Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Birds On The Edge) and Dr Louise Soanes (University of Roehampton).

Glyn’s talk was nattily entitled Islands: threatened engines of evolution and covered the importance of islands in the ‘creation’ of new species, current threats to the world’s islands and novel solutions looking at Durrell’s work in the Galápagos Islands. 

Session 2 looked at the role of marine protected areas within islands in securing marine biodiversity with Dr Bryce Beukers-Stewart (University of York), Dr Jean-Luc Solandt (Marine Conservation Society), Farah Mukhida (Anguilla National Trust) and Jim Masters (Fishing into the Future).

Blue Islands Charter
Political representatives at the conference stepped out to take part in the Blue Island Summit, to sign a charter committing islands to work together in their response to the environmental threats they face.

The signed Blue Islands Charter. Photo by David Nash

The natural environment knows no boundaries

Acknowledging that the natural environment has no boundaries, Ministers and other representatives from the UK family of small islands agreed the Blue Island Charter. The Charter provides a statement of principle on a number of initiatives previously discussed by the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Environment Ministers Council as well as other islands. These stressed working together on common issues which we all face.

Some key issues which the UK family of territories intend to pursue include moving towards a ban on single use plastics and, in general, controlling the impact of the Island’s activities upon the terrestrial and marine environment. Crucially, this would be facilitated by supporting each other through open communication and education.

The various territories are further actively exploring the possibility of creating a joint biodiversity fund to support inter-island work. This fund would also be open to contributions from other parties, including governmental, corporate and private sources. 

This charter demonstrates the will and intent of islands to work together for the benefit of all, to safeguard the environment and promote active collaboration on matters such as climate change. It portrays a level of commitment in promoting environmental governance in a manner rarely seen on a global scale. See the media release here

Session 3, after lunch, Hon. Claude Hogan (Minister, Montserrat), Dr Mike Pienkowski (UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum) and Dr Keith Bensusan (Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society) looked at the roles NGOs and government might play in the response to climate change and biodiversity loss across our islands.

And finally, the outcome of the Blue Islands Summit was announced by delegates from Alderney (Andrew Muter, CEO) and Gibraltar (Dr Liesl Mesilio, Director of the Environment) to the room at large and attendees were asked to approve as a whole a statement of unity and a request for collaborative working.

Safe returns

And so, on a wet and very windy Sunday we returned home to Jersey, our flight home in doubt until the last minute. Thank you Aurigny. Before the flight I took time to walk down to Braye and watch the weather, to quietly thank our hosts, AWT and particularly Roland, Lindsay and Justin and listen to Wales beat Australia. What better way to end a great and productive weekend.

Tree planting morning, dust off your spade and book your place now!

In May this year, Jersey’s States Assembly declared a Climate Emergency (see subsequent report here). As you know, trees and hedgerows play a vital role in capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide as well as providing an important habitat for our local biodiversity.

To celebrate National Tree Week the Government of Jersey Natural Environment Team are joining forces with Jersey Trees For Life and Jersey Conservation Volunteers to plant as many trees and as much hedgerow as we can in one morning. We’d love to get lots of people involved so it would be fantastic if you’d join us.

Date and time: Saturday, 23 November 2019 from 9.00-13.00

Place: We are planting at the Jersey Motocross site at Sorel, St John. They have kindly allowed us use of their car park but we’d ask you to think about travelling as sustainably as possible.

Jersey Phone Directory Map 3, R2)  and Google maps here

Equipment: Please bring a garden spade if you have one, though we will have some spares.

Clothing: Good thick gloves (we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, and common sense clothes to cope with the north coast elements

Children are welcome to attend this task as long as they are directly supervised by a parent or guardian.

IMPORTANT We are asking people to sign up using this Eventbrite link so that we can make sure we have enough people to supervise and enough tools.   

For more information about this event please contact Beverley Dallas-Chapman at Jersey Trees for Life. Email: beverley@jerseytreesforlife.org Mobile:  07797 713 321

Highlights from the 5th International Chough Conference

By Liz Corry

The 5th International Chough Conference was held in Segovia, Spain from the 3rd to 5th October. Held at the Palacio Episcopal building adjoined to Casa de Espiritualidad San Frutos. A very religious affair! And very inclusive events with delegates from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France and all around the UK. And Jersey!

There were two days of talks focused on red-billed choughs and yellow-billed (Alpine) choughs and a field trip to Hoces del Duratón Natural Park on the final day. Being the chough geeks that we are, the evenings were spent staking out chough roosts in ‘downtown’ Segovia. More on that later.

Question time after each set of talks.

Segovian chouvas

Segovia is a 25 minute train journey north of Madrid and famous for it’s gothic cathedral, roman aqueduct, and Disney-esque Alcázar Palace. It also happens to be home to a large population of red-billed choughs.

A census carried out this year by José González del Barrio and his team recorded 123 choughs roosting in the city. They seem to have a penchant for architectural masterpieces; its not hard to see why. The cathedral is home to half the population with the alcazar and churches accommodating another 30%.

Segovia Cathedral is home to half of the city’s red-billed choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

It stands to reason that they also have a considerable number of nest sites in Segovia. José’s team recorded 94 nests this year ranging from natural caves to guttering in the cathedral. Bell towers seem to be a particular favourite.

It is not unusual for Spanish choughs to nest in man-made structures, but researchers have noticed an increase in numbers of birds switching from natural mountain caves or crevices to these urban sites.

Just outside of the city (1-3km) there are cereal crops, fallow fields, and grazing cattle and sheep on land they refer to as ‘wasteland’ i.e. can’t grow commercial crops. These provide foraging sites for the choughs (and jackdaws). This is probably why the urban areas are more appealing to raise young rather than up in the mountains where temperatures fall below zero.

However, there is a rather unappealing element to urban living. I’m not referring to the flea-riddled stray cats that prowl the cathedral like a gang of hooded youth. Although cats and rats do predate the birds and eggs. 

Cathedral cats prowl the chough territories but don’t be fooled, its hiding a flick knife somewhere. Photo by Liz Corry

The problem is Segovia’s human inhabitants and their dislike of pigeons. Pigeons roost and nest in the same places as choughs. So when someone puts up a deterrent to stop pigeons pooping on an historic monument, it also stops the choughs. Nine nests failed this year due to human disturbance. The worse cases seeing chicks and/or adults blocked in and starving to death. 

Blocking off building access to combat pigeon problems can be fatal to choughs.

This behaviour is largely due to a lack of awareness over choughs in general. One reason why organisers selected Segovia to host the conference. Our presence in the city (especially on the roost visits) gives the choughs some ‘air time’.  We also had local government officials sit in on the talks. Hopefully public attitudes will change towards choughs. The real challenge will be how to pigeon-proof a structure whilst still giving access to a similar sized species.

City life or country living?

Despite the perils of city living, the choughs have been switching their country cliff-side dwellings for urban development over the last 10-15 year in central Spain. Guillermo Blanco presented data that showed the number of cliff nesting pairs had dropped by 180 pairs over a twenty-eight year period. Switching limestone or clay cliffs for farm buildings and human dwellings.

Jesús Zúñiga had a similar tale to tell in the Sierra Nevada National Park of southern Spain. The chough population has declined by 60% compared to data collected in 1980-1984. This also coincides with an increased use of buildings for roost and nesting.

Choughs in central Spain are switching from cliffs for buildings when it comes to nesting and roosting.

Some choice of nest sites may look familiar to Birds On The Edge readers. Others are a little more suited to the pages of Homes & Gardens magazine.

Kitchen corvids

Affordable homes

Many of the buildings the birds are choosing to nest in are abandoned and nowhere near as intricate as the cathedral and churches of Segovia. Ledges and boxes have been erected by conservationists to support nest construction. They are seeing some amazing results.

As eluded to earlier, predators are more of a problem in these areas. Cats, rats, pine marten and genets. A team from Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi have come up with a genius idea – “ugly nests” (patent pending). They have used reclaimed materials such as water containers (too slippery for the mammals to grip) and installed them so they are out of reach from predatory paws.

Installation of artificial nests built with recycled materials.

Wild chough chicks reared in reclaimed artificial nests.

The team were so proud of their ugly nests that we were treated to a demonstration of how easy it is to make one (we had the priest on standby if it all went wrong). We even had an auction with the winning bidder becoming the proud owner of a bespoke ugly nest!

Practical demonstration of how to make a chough nest-box from a water container.

Food availability for choughs

The main reason for the ‘cultural shift’ in Spanish choughs has been the change in agriculture surrounding the limestone cliffs and gorges. Irrigation of the land for maize and fruit growing instead of traditional dry cultivation means a reduction in suitable foraging habitat for the birds.

Places like Segovia on the other hand have livestock grazing within a kilometre of the city walls. This is perfect foraging habitat for choughs (and several hundred jackdaw).

Cattle grazing outside Segovia’s train station provides perfect foraging habitat for choughs and jackdaws.

We know dung is a favourite food source for UK choughs. Gillian Gilbert (RSPB) explained how the Scottish birds particularly like to rummage through dung between July and October in search of invertebrates. In the 1980s, choughs were finding lots of beetles from the Aphodius family. Nowadays, Aphodius numbers have declined and the choughs are more reliant on species of Geotrupes beetles. So what is the problem? Well Geotrupes are soil-boring dung beetles, they drag the dung down into the ground, whereas Aphodius live in the dung. The birds have to work more to probe soil compared to dung which means Geotrupes have less nutritional value.

Eric Bignal feeding choughs in Islay as part of their conservation management.

Food availability (or lack thereof) was a common theme across all countries. In the UK, the Islay choughs began receiving supplemental food eight years ago when researchers noticed a population crash. This extra food, provided by farmers and chough-champions Eric and Sue Bignal, is crucial during the months of September and October. 

In the past few years, several of the Cornish birds have been visiting garden bird feeders to score some free food. This may be more opportunistic than essential for survival, but certainly something researchers should keep an eye on in case things change. 

Yellow-billed (or Alpine) choughs are known to be opportunistic feeders. Mention choughs to anyone who skis in the Alps and they will probably regale tales of over-friendly, black birds hanging around their restaurant table. Alpine choughs have a broader diet then their cousins.  In winter, as temperatures drop they start to forage on juniper berries, seeds, and après-ski leftovers.

Alpine choughs foraging. Spain 2014. Photo by Glyn Young

Cristina Vallino, University of Turin, has undertaken a novel approach to observing the feeding behaviour of these birds around ski resorts. Using the free-access public webcams from ski-resorts in three different Alpine countries she has clocked up 13,704 recordings and analysed flock size, stay time, food intake, vigilance distance and flushing distance. She then combined this with genetic studies of the diet to determine variation in diet. Her concerns for the Alpine chough are the long term effects of eating leftovers. Will this ‘fast food’ be effecting their health?

Frequent flyers

Conservation of European choughs can be a little tricky compared to the UK because the birds can travel long distances. For example, in some years individuals roosting in Segovia may nest in Madrid. Subsequent juvenile dispersal from those nests plays an important role in range expansion. Not just moving within country but between countries too.

Personally speaking, the two most anticipated conference presentations focused on the first use of solar-powered GPS tags on choughs. One on an Alpine chough in Aragon, Spain, the other on red-billed chough in central Spain.

Both studies used transmitters built by a Lithuania company, Ornitrack. The tags transmit data using the 3G mobile network. So as long as you have coverage you can receive data anywhere in the world…roaming charges apply. No joke – just ask the Russians!

Solar-powered GPS tag on a red-billed chough.

The tag is solar-powered which explains the bulky size; the panel needs to be above the feathers in order to charge. The weight of the tag requires harness attachment rather than just gluing on to the body. Juan Manual Pérez-Garcia and his team fitted harnesses to six birds this summer and had some interesting results.

One bird covered a distance of 173km in two days. Another flew 85km on its first flight (in under 3 hrs) then took another 15km journey before settling down for 12 days. Sadly it was then predated by a booted eagle. They know this because an accelerometer fitted in the tag gives an activity pattern. You can detect feeding events, roosting events, and sadly the shaking around and eventual immobility from a predation event. And then the carrying off to the nest to feed the eagle chicks event!

Data from the GPS can provide information on whether the bird is in flight or at rest. Or caught by a booted eagle!

These studies are in their infancy stage. A lot of work is needed looking at the welfare implications of tag attachment. Cost is a small hurdle to overcome considering each tag is about £1,200 plus a data transfer fee. There is definite potential and something we are keen to explore in Jersey.

Future prospects for choughs

The scope of work and tireless dedication evident from everyone in the room (any associates that could not be there in person) is promising for the future of choughs. Whilst classed as least concern, due to their global range, the species appears to be in decline. By sharing data, collaborating on research, and undertaking well-planned translocations or re-introductions we will hopefully halt any further decline. In the process, as several talks showed, this can have a far wider impact for global biodiversity because species restoration works in partnership with habitat restoration.

Helmut Magdefrau put forward their proposal to re-introduce choughs to Slovenia.

And finally

There was far too much to cover in one post. I will end with a photo gallery of chough sightings in Segovia and a couple of videos. All of which may help you plan your 2020 holidays!

La Palma island wildlife recovery centre: choughs often end up at the centre after collisions with power lines or collisions with cats mouths.

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November volunteer activity

Sunday 3rd November 2019 – Parc de la Petite Falaise, Trinity – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Please note that November’s task is a week earlier than normal to avoid clashing with Remembrance Sunday

Task Join us this Sunday for hazel coppicing and dead-hedge creation. Coppicing means to cut back (a tree or shrub) to ground level periodically to stimulate growth. Did you know the word ‘coppice’ is derived from the French ‘couper’ which means ‘to cut’?

If you have any questions, or if you wish to be added to the Jersey Conservation Volunteers email list, please contact either Julia Clively (tel: 441600; j.clively@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site Parc de la Petite Falaise (Bouley Bay Common), La Rue de la Petite Falaise, Trinity (Jersey Phone Directory Map 5: BB 7. Google maps here

Parking  Parking is available on site but please also consider car sharing or cycling.

Please arrive in time to start work at 10.30. We will be finished by 13.00.

Tools needed As always, we can supply some tools, but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, and cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you.

Clothing needed Good thick gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, and common sense clothes to cope with whatever the weather throws at us.

Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.

Refreshments Down tools at around 12.30 for some of Kim’s homemade cakes and a cuppa!

See you there!