Birds in the Channel Islands – an update

A little later than most years, well 2020 has had its challenges; we are pleased to update the list of the bird species recorded in the Channel Islands. As in previous years, the list has been updated to include all birds recorded across the islands up to the end of the last year, in this case 2019. So no bearded vultures yet.

Firsts and other notable records

One species, booted warbler, joined the list after sightings in both Guernsey and Alderney in September. This warbler, more at home in eastern Europe and Central Asia, was the 378th species on our list.

There were further firsts for individual islands, a pallid harrier in Guernsey and a desert wheatear in Jersey while Alderney saw its first dusky warbler, barred warbler, thrush nightingale and olive-backed pipit.

Sark saw its second ever mute swan, Jersey a second pallid harrier and Caspian tern and Alderney its second common rosefinch. Jersey’s second and Guernsey’s third glossy ibis may be the sign of things to come as this waterbird increases its range and numbers, following on from all those egrets.

A good year for some

There were some notable arrivals in the islands with common cranes seen in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney in October although numbers varied suggesting that while the birds may have all been from one migrating flock it didn’t seem that the same individuals were moving between islands.

Another much wanted species, European nightjar, was recorded on all four of our main islands in 2019 with one staying ten days in Sark in spring. The one autumn record was, sadly, of a dead bird picked up in Jersey. Cirl bunting continues to breed in Jersey but this year bred in Guernsey too where birds were present for much of the year: a single was seen in Alderney.

Updates

Away from the birds themselves, the latest report details local birding groups and how to contact them. A pleasing addition this year is the Facebook group Sark Bird Sightings

Competition?

There’s no way birders ever become competitive, but for the record there have been 338 bird species recorded in Jersey, 331 in Guernsey, 303 in Alderney and 227 in Sark. Alderney passed the magic 300 mark with their olive-backed pipit in April.

Download the updated report A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands here

If you thought biodiversity looked bad in the UK, Europe isn’t looking any better

From BirdLife International

Following the news of the UK’s disappearing biodiversity, a new report from the EU does not give great grounds for hope. Europe’s nature is disappearing under unsustainable farming and expanding towns.

The European Environment Agency’s and the European Commission’s new report on the State of Nature in the EU is released. This is an important document and dataset that will help guide decision- and policy-making in many sectors over the next decade.

The State of Nature report gathers the information reported by Member States under the Birds and Habitats Directives. It showcases analyses and insights based on this information and describes the state of nature in the EU between 2013 and 2018. This includes the EU population status of birds and the conservation status of habitats and non-bird species, and the very serious pressures and threats all face. It also highlights the successes and shortcomings of current measures being undertaken in nature conservation, and the urgent need for restoration to improve specific species and habitats. The report also looks at the contribution of the Natura 2000 network to protecting and conserving habitats and species, and evaluates the EU’s progress towards Target 1 and Target 3 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020.

State of Nature in the EU – overall highlights

Overall the statistics in the State of Nature report tell a sorry tale. It shows that with regard to birds, four in ten bird species in Europe have a poor or bad status, with almost a third of all bird species experiencing continuous declines over the last 12 years.

At the top of the list of the pressures and threats responsible for this sad state of biodiversity in the EU are unsustainable agriculture and forestry practices, urbanisation and pollution. Each of these threaten species and habitats, and when combined can cause even greater damage. Looking at birds in particular, unsustainable agriculture tops the bill, closely followed by urbanisation and then unsustainable forestry practices.  Many EU protected species and habitats, such as the saker falcon, the Danube salmon, grasslands and dunes, face an uncertain future unless more is urgently done to reverse the situation.

On top of this, environmental laws and policies such as the EU Nature Directives, are often not well implemented in certain Member States. The fact that eight in ten habitats and over six in ten non-bird species which are protected under Annex I of the Habitats Directive as well as four out of ten bird species in the EU have a poor or bad EU status means that not enough is being done to ensure their protection and conservation and it is high time for everyone to up their nature conservation game if we are to survive.

Reasons to worry – genuine and non-genuine changes, top pressures and threats causing declines in birds

Regarding birds, initially the situation could be seen as more positive than for other species groups or for habitats, but these groups are not comparable as only species and habitats protected on Annex 1 of the Habitats Directive were assessed compared to all birds species.  Around half of the bird species in the EU having a good EU status, however, this proportion is actually slightly smaller than that from the last reporting period (State of Nature in the EU 2007-2012). Reflecting this, the proportion of bird species in poor and bad status has slightly increased in the last six years, now reaching 40%; and although some of this change is due in part to a mix of changes in data quality and survey and analysis methods, genuine species deterioration is also a key factor.

Examples from case studies

Not all the news is bad however. Conservation efforts all over the world have shown that species can bounce back from the brink and conservation in the EU is no exception. Thanks to huge policy and on-the-ground conservation effort including LIFE projects, the elaboration of international Species Action Plans, international Memoranda of Understanding on specific species under the Bonn Convention for Migratory Species, and protection under the Natura 2000 Network, species like the aquatic warbler that almost entirely disappeared from the EU as fens and mires were drained, ploughed over and lost to agriculture, have seen population improvement since 2011. The red kite has made a spectacular comeback after suffering huge declines in the past due to persecution, pesticides and changes in agricultural practices. Although still small, thanks to supplementary feeding and specific captive breeding and reintroduction schemes, the population of bearded vultures is also on the increase in the EU.

These examples show however that a huge amount of resources need to be invested to improve these species’ plight. Nature restoration will always be more demanding and expensive than maintaining nature in a good state, and it is therefore doubly important, not just on an ecological level but  economically, to make the most of the healthy patches of nature we have left and make sure we do not lose or degrade them further.

Nevertheless, we are overall losing species on a large scale and fast. Birds of prey for example, such as harriers and falcons, are seeing their numbers decline, with half of the harrier species present in the EU and six out of ten falcon species having decreasing population trends.

Seabirds are also suffering from an increasing number of pressures and threats. Although some seabirds have improved in status, most are not only pressured by invasive species and bycatch, but also by disturbance from recreational activities and marine harvesting of fish and shellfish, the latter which also impacts them by decreasing the overall availability of food, and all of which have led to many seabirds species having a poor or bad EU status.  

This is why we need to take immediate action to tackle the most widespread and concerning threats to biodiversity. On top of these widespread threats, more species-specific or upcoming threats like those specific to marine species, or those related to climate change can quickly tip the scales and add to the myriad of other widespread threats already present. Governments need to take action immediately and efficiently if we do not want to see the trends we are seeing now precipitate our European species and ecosystems to the point of no return.

The State of Nature in EU and the EU biodiversity Strategies

It is clear from the new State of Nature report that the aims of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 have not been achieved, with only the non-bird species group almost meeting the set target whilst the habitats and birds targets are still well behind.

The new EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the Farm to Fork Strategy, both of which are core elements of the European Green Deal set new ambitious targets for the coming decades and bring hope in the form of new goals and targets. The biodiversity strategy in particular, with its new aims to strengthen and enlarge the existing network of protected areas, and restore and maintain healthy ecosystems, will help ensure that bird and non-bird species alike will continue to have a sustainable home in the EU.

Download the complete report State of nature in the EU: Results from reporting under the nature directives 2013-2018 here

 

UK on course to miss most biodiversity targets

From The Guardian

The UK is failing on its long-term biodiversity targets and seeing “relentless” declines in wildlife, according to UK Government data that shows public sector investment in conservation falling in real terms by 33% in five years.

Out of 24 biodiversity indicators, 14 showed long-term decline, including continued deterioration of UK habitats and species of European importance, as well as a decline in priority species, according to the 2020 UK biodiversity indicators report, which gives the most comprehensive overview of the action the government is taking on the most pressing wildlife issues.

“The picture is a painfully familiar one of relentless decline in species and habitats,” said Dr Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link. “Unfortunately, there were no surprises in this report – I would have liked to be surprised. It’s an alarmingly familiar picture.”

A lot of the data was used in the RSPB report that found the UK government failed on 17 out of 20 UN biodiversity targets agreed in Japan in 2010. The data was also part of the 2019 State of Nature report, which found that populations of the UK’s most important wildlife had fallen by 60% in 50 years.

The report showed that in 2018/2019, government funding for UK biodiversity was 0.02% of UK gross domestic product. “One thing that jumps out is the rather worrying decline in public sector spending on biodiversity,” said Prof Richard Gregory, head of monitoring conservation science for RSPB. “With the climate and biodiversity crisis, nature-based solutions are part of what we should be doing, so it’s crazy we’re not investing in this.”

Natural England, which is sponsored by Defra, has seen its budget cut by £180m since 2008, and continued cuts are having a huge impact on the protection of habitats, conservationists warn. “It’s a real ski-slope decline in funding. Government agencies cannot act to do the really great things they want to do … They need to put money there to have real action,” said Gregory.

Generally, habitat “specialist” species do worse than generalists; farmland birds have declined by 55% since 1970 and woodland birds have declined by 29%. These declines are not just historical – numbers have continued to drop in the past five years.

The report did show some improvement in the designation of protected sites, such as an increase in sustainably managed forests and fisheries.

Conservationists say that if the new Environment Land Management programme is designed well, it could bring a significant boost to nature funding, but it is not being rolled out until 2024. The issue has been worsened by the significant financial losses many charities have faced and projects being put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This report shows just how far we have to go,” said Green Party peer Natalie Bennett. “Not only are we running out of time to tackle the climate emergency, there is also increasingly little time left to reverse this catastrophic decline in nature and wildlife.”

Joan Edwards, director of public affairs at the Wildlife Trusts, said: “There’s a loss of woodland and farmland birds, long-term decline of pollinators, and the condition of important habitats is deteriorating. We need investment and action on the ground to put nature into recovery and we need it now.”

A Defra spokesperson said the report showed positive signs in terms of the contribution of UK forests in mitigating climate change and the increase in bat populations. “However, there remain huge ongoing pressures on the country’s biodiversity, and many of our native species are in decline, which is why we must continue to act to restore and enhance nature.”

Read the report UK Biodiversity Indicators 2020 here 

Join The Global Bird Weekend 17 & 18 October 2020

From Global Birding

Global Birding would like to have as many people as possible join in the Global Bird Weekend 17 and 18 October.

Covid-19 Lockdown meant many people became more aware of their local natural surroundings.  They want everyone to celebrate the love for nature and birds across the world in their own local areas or “patch”.

Part of the weekend event will include eBird’s October Big Day when it is aimed to create a world record for the largest number of birds seen by the greatest number of people on this peak migration weekend.

It is hoped that at least 25,000 participants will go out birdwatching on Saturday 17 October 2020 and report what they see using eBird. The goal is to record more than 6,000 bird species!

How do I take part?

Global Birding are working in association with eBird, which is a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA. 

  1. Get an eBird account – this is free to all users
  2. On Saturday 17 October 2020, go out birdwatching and enjoy what you see – with family, friends, groups or just take time out on your own (register here).
  3. Enter what you see and/or here on eBird
  4. Watch the sightings roll in on eBird’s Global Bird Weekend October Big Day page
  5. Keep posting your photos and videos during the day on our social media pages #globalbirdweekend #globalbirding
  6. On Sunday 18 October 2020, add your own photos, videos, field sketches and messages to share your experiences with the global audience. Keep up to date on Global Birding’s social media pages over the weekend and beyond #globalbirdweekend #globalbirding,

This year, Global Birding is supporting BirdLife International’s vital conservation project to stop the illegal trade in birds. Did you know there are now more birds in cages in Java than in the country’s natural habitat?

The Inter-Island Environment Meeting 2020 is this week

The Inter-Island Environment Meeting 2020 (IIEM) will be held this week

Due to travel restrictions to Guernsey, this year’s IIEM will be held via Zoom.

It is a special year as 2020 marks; the 20th Anniversary of the IIEMs, the end of the UN’s Decade of Biodiversity and the beginning of the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. We do hope you can join us to help celebrate these landmarks.

The meeting will be held over two days: Thursday 17th 09:40-14:30 and Friday 18th September from 10:00-14:30.

There will be series of short talks in the morning and a workshop in the afternoon.

For full details, timetables, and to register for the event, please visit the Eventbrite links below:  

https://iiem2020day1.eventbrite.co.uk

https://iiem2020day2.eventbrite.co.uk

In order to attend the meeting you are required to register to both days using the above links. Please note – you are still required to register through Eventbrite even if you have already emailed to request a place at the IIEM.

Familiar faces at the coastal places

By Cristina Sellarés 

If you head to the north-west of the Island today, and you stop by Grève de Lecq, you might want to pop in to Colleens Cafe, where a familiar face is waiting to greet you. Not a human face mind you, but that of one of our local puffins in fact.

The puffin in question is one of Jersey’s breeding birds, a population of only four pairs, and its photo, featured in a new information board, was taken by a local photographer just around the corner from the cafe. The board, produced by Birds On The Edge as a part of our seabird conservation  campaign, is really the brainchild of puffin enthusiast and owner of Colleens Cafe, Emma Machon. When we heard that Emma was thinking of having a board about puffins at the cafe, we approached her to offer our input, which she graciously accepted (to our delight!).

The board provides global and local insights about puffins and other seabirds breeding in the area, with information on their ecology, populations and present threats, as well as measures to stop their declines (you can look at the sign here). We have used photos taken locally in most cases, so you’re looking at our actual birds from Jersey, and in the settings and behaviours we are most likely to observe: flying, standing on the rocks or bobbing on the water. In Jersey we are not likely to see puffins perched on the rocks or walking about on the slopes and burrows, like we might in the large colonies of the north. The slopes in Jersey are too accessible to potential predators, such as rats and ferrets, so our puffins only breed in rock crevices on the cliffs, below the slopes.

On the board you will also find a small map of the Seabird Protection Zone, which is the area to avoid between March and July in order to keep puffins and other endangered birds safe from disturbance; and the Seabird Trail (coming soon!), which is the route to follow in order to observe the puffins in a safe and unobtrusive way.

Map showing Seabird Protection Zone (red) and Seabird Trail (green line)

At the other end of the trail you will find another copy of the board, just outside Plémont Cafe. As it happened, only a few weeks ago we were approached by the cafe’s owner Paul McDermott , who was wondering if we had any nice puffin pictures or posters that he could put up, and as you can guess, now there are two boards, one at either end of the forthcoming Seabird Trail.

So here’s a little plan for you: pick a sunny day, grab your binoculars and head to Plémont. Have a nice breakfast at the cafe, whilst admiring the beach from the bar. Take a quick look at the seabird board (it’s behind you…!). Once you’ve brushed up on identifying puffins and other birds, find your way up to the top car park and start on the Seabird Trail, following the public footpath to Grève. Keep your eyes on the sea below for puffins, razorbills, gulls and fulmars, and see how many you can identify of each. Once you arrive at Grève de Lecq, you deserve a good lunch, so treat yourself at Colleens, where you can check on their seabird board how many birds you got right.  After enjoying the food and the views, and maybe even the beach too, make your way back to Plémont, noticing the other side of the cliffs and the changing views, and don’t forget to keep scanning the water with your binoculars, as seals or dolphins are a common sight in this area too.

Now that you’ve made it back to Plémont, having learnt about our seabirds and tested your skills, you deserve an ice cream, slice of cake or a cool drink.  What better way to celebrate some time well spent with our beautiful seabirds.

Thanks go to: Emma from Colleens Café for her initial idea, and for allowing the Birds On The Edge takeover of the seabird board; Paul from Plémont Cafe for jumping on the board bandwagon; graphic artists at Durrell (Will and Rich) for their inspired design; and the photographers Romano da Costa and Mick Dryden for letting us use their beautiful photos.

Have a sneaky look at the full sign here

Plastic found lining UK seabird nests on a worrying scale

From The Conversation

From the packaging our food comes in to the clothes we wear, plastic is everywhere. We know that seabirds eat it and get tangled in it, but we are only just beginning to explore the impacts this has on their health and survival. This is really important, particularly in the UK and Channel Islands where many species, such as the northern gannet and Manx shearwater, breed in greater numbers than anywhere else in the world.

Many seabird species are in drastic decline. A recent report found that in the last 18 years, the UK population of European shags has fallen by 24%, kittiwakes have reduced by half and Arctic skua populations have shrunk by 70%.

But what is behind these declines remains something of a mystery. Overfishing and climate change are thought to be key drivers, but despite knowing that plastic is widespread in their environment, we currently lack even the most basic data on which seabird species are affected by this pollution and how.

Before we can effectively deal with any threat posed by plastic pollution, we need to understand the scale and type of effects it’s having. A new study is a first step towards this, uncovering evidence that Scottish seabirds are not only ingesting plastic, but they appear to be accumulating it in their nests.

Unpicking the impact of plastic

The study looked at five European seabird species – cormorants, European shags, great black-backed gulls, herring and lesser black-backed gulls. The latter four of these are of “Conservation Concern” in the UK according to the RSPB, while cormorant, shag and herring gull are included in Jersey’s ‘red list’ due to their declining or vulnerable populations.

Plastic pollution was intimately intertwined with the nesting behaviour and daily lives of these species, possibly affecting their breeding success and survival. 32% of herring gull nests, 53% of great black-backed gull nests and, worryingly, 80% of European shag nests contained plastic. Even worse, 39% of herring gull pellets – regurgitated bits of indigestible food – also contained plastic.

Plastic in nests is known to ensnare adults and chicks, often with fatal consequences. For some species, the nest must keep the egg warm and dry. It’s not clear whether plastic could be altering how well the nest warms its occupants or allows liquids to drain, but any changes could affect hatching success. Equally, the range of colours plastic comes in may affect the nest’s camouflage, making eggs and chicks more vulnerable to predators.

The study found clear differences in the type of plastic in herring gull nests from that contained in their pellets. This may reflect differences in where this species collects its food and its nest material. The ingested plastic was a variety of colours and types, including fibres, packaging and hard fragments, suggesting it might be found in an urban environment or in a landfill. But the nest plastic found was only sheet packaging, the sort more likely to wash up on the shore closer to their home.

This kind of information can help us begin to understand how effective different efforts might be. If the plastic used for making nests is collected from the shore before nest building begins in early spring, like during beach cleans, it could limit the impact on particular seabird species.

As nationwide lockdowns have eased during the COVID-19 pandemic, unprecedented levels of plastic waste have been left on UK beaches. We’re only just peeling back the surface on how this pollution harms wildlife. But as the evidence mounts, the urgent need to prevent plastic entering the environment becomes ever clearer.

The study The prevalence and source of plastic incorporated into nests of five seabird species on a small offshore island can be seen here

 

Most wild bee and native plant species networks lost over last 100 years

From EurekAlert

Climate change and an increase in disturbed bee habitats from expanding agriculture and development in north-eastern North America over the last 30 years are likely responsible for a 94% loss of plant-pollinator networks a new study has found. Despite this study being from North America it is hard to imagine that Jersey has fared very differently.

The researchers looked at plant-pollinator networks from 125 years ago through to the present day. The networks are comprised of wild bees and the native plants they historically rely on, although most of those have now been disrupted.

About 30% of plant-pollinator networks were completely lost, which translates to a disappearance of either the bees, the plants or both. In another 64% of the network loss, the wild bees, such as sweat or miner bees, or native plants, such as sumac and willow, are still present in the eco-system, but the bees no longer visit those plants. The association is gone.

The remaining 6% of the plant-pollinator networks are stable or even thriving with pollinators such as small carpenter bees, which like broken stems for nest making.

“There are several reasons for the losses in the networks. Climate change is likely the biggest driver. We know that over the last 100 years or so annual temperatures have changed by two and a half degrees. This is enough to alter the time when certain native plants bloom,” says author Professor Sandra Rehan.

“For a bee that’s out for months on end or is a generalist pollinator, this isn’t such a critical mismatch, but for a bee that’s only out for two weeks of the year and only has a few floral hosts, this could be devastating.” An increase in non-native species of bees and invasive species of plants, which have displaced some of the native species, is another reason for the decline in networks. “We are getting a lot of invasive species and new records of invasive species every year. This is usually accidentally through trade and through ornamental plants,” says Rehan.

A lot of these bees live in stems, so it’s easy to import plants with non-native bee species without knowing it. “We can actually show routes and means of invasion biology,” she says.

These bees are following shipping routes from one continent to the other around the world, including North America through ornamental plants for our gardens.

The researchers say an increase in habitat restoration and native flowering plants in agricultural landscapes are critical for improving wild bee biodiversity, but also food security for humans.

Bees and other pollinators are worth hundreds of billions of (US) dollars globally by pollinating the crops we eat, and wild bees are at the top of the list believed to pollinate more than 87% or 308,006 flowering plant species. Many of these are economically important commercial crops, such as apples and blueberries.

“There is an urgent need to gain a deeper understanding of the environmental circumstances affecting these wild pollinator populations and their specialised, evolutionary relationships with plant communities,” says Rehan. “Plant pollinator webs are dependent on changes in the landscape, so knowing how these networks are shaped is important for all regional habitats.”

Previous recent research by Rehan and team looked at 119 wild bee species over 125 years and found 14 declining and eight increasing species. All of the wild bee species in decline are native (to North America) and over half experienced significant range (latitude and elevation) shifts.

Paper Wild bee declines linked to plant-pollinator network changes and plant species introductions

 

Wall lizard – a true Jersey resident

By Nina Cornish

The common wall lizard Podarcis muralis is one of four species of reptile in Jersey with green lizard Lacerta bilineata, slow worm Anguis fragilis and grass snake Natrix helvetica. The green lizard and wall lizard are found nowhere else in the British Isles except for recently introduced populations of green lizards in Guernsey and England and around twenty separate introduced wall lizard colonies in the UK.

Wall lizards in Jersey live mainly in relatively small, fragmented populations around the east and north east coast, with some very small colonies found on the south coast. Their largest population is at Mont Orgueil Castle, St Martin.

Wall lizards are small and agile, with adults an average snout to vent length of 58.5mm but can grow up to 75 mm. They live for approximately 38 months in the wild and mate in April or May. Wall lizards are oviparous (produce young by means of eggs), with most females laying two clutches per year with an average of five eggs, typically in June and July under low growing vegetation exposed to sunshine. Adult males are the first to emerge from hibernation, generally in February, although unseasonably warm spells of weather can tempt them out in any of the winter months. The females tend to emerge later, usually in early March. In these early months the males become aggressive, chasing and fighting for territory and females.

 

Wall lizards exhibit tail autonomy, a function which allows the tail vertebrae to break by the lizard contracting it muscles in the tail. This is an important anti-predator mechanism in lacertid lizards, with tails being shed more easily in populations where levels of predation are high. In Jersey the wall lizards’ main predators are rats, certain birds like corvids and kestrels and domestic cats. The older an individual, the more likely it will have suffered the loss of its tail during its lifetime.

Wall lizard populations vary greatly in terms of colouring across their range, although males and females are do have different coloured patterns which allows identification in adults possible. Jersey female lizards can usually be identified as having pale back and side streaks, whereas males have more dark spots and blotches.  Both sexes have camouflage markings and coloration, on top of beige – olive coloured background, and with a lighter throat and belly, which can vary in colour from cream to bright orange, pink or red in males. Red throats and belly coloration are commonly observed in breeding males in Jersey.Habits

During the day, wall lizards constantly ‘shuttle’ between areas of light and shade, with the amount of time spent basking per day decreasing as the strength and duration of sunlight increases. As a result, in the early morning one can expect to see the most lizards as they emerge to bask, conversely the least at around midday when most are foraging or inactive in the shade.  Activity will then peak again in the late afternoon. Body temperature is regulated utilising this ‘shade mosaic’, i.e. the dappled light effect produced by partial vegetation cover. This means that an ideal situation in terms of vegetation cover would be partial cover in some areas, suitable for foraging and protection from predators with an adjacent area on which to bask and display social, sexual and territorial behaviour. 

 

Wall lizards spend much of the day foraging. In Jersey they feed mainly on Hemiptera (true bugs), Isopoda (woodlice), Hymenoptera (bees, ants etc), Arachneae (spiders), Dermaptera (earwigs), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Lepidoptera larvae (caterpillars) and Annelids (earthworms). The type of prey varies between sites, not as a matter of preference, more of whatever types of invertebrates are prevalent at each location.

The story behind their distribution and origins

Wall lizards on Jersey are near the northern limit of their geographical range. The species has a wide distribution in continental Europe including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and the Balkan region, with the northernmost limit of distribution being Maastricht in the Netherlands.

As the name suggests, the wall lizard is most often seen on vertical surfaces including cliffs, rock piles and walls and are especially associated with human habitations. The Jersey populations are typical of other northern European localities in that they are mainly restricted specifically to walls of houses, gardens, fortifications and castles and are widely used provided they are south-facing and have refuges like holes, piles of debris and some form of vegetation cover nearby. Outside the foraging home range of around 15-25 m2, sightings of wall lizard rapidly decrease from the exterior of the forts that they inhabit.

The distribution of wall lizards on Jersey has never really been explained. Despite some intensive local research, no-one has been able to prove why they have such a fragmented distribution or why they have not spread over the Island despite there being large areas of suitable habitat on the north and west coasts. Jersey’s wall lizard presence and distribution was first mentioned in Ansted & Latham’s 1865 The Channel Islands. It stated that wall lizards (although first mistaken for sand lizards), were comparatively rare and were limited to certain districts in the Island. By 1907, Sinel (Notes on the Lizards of the Channel Islands) recorded wall lizards from the cliff, rocks and walls off a thin coastal belt from the east to the north-east coast of Jersey (Le Sueur, 1976). Sinel (1908: The Reptilia, Batrachia, and Mammalia of the Channel Islands, their Origin and Modification by Isolation) also mentions a very interesting historic account concerning French prisoners being held in the Napoleonic forts after the Battle of Jersey (1781) when France attempted to invade Jersey. During this period French prisoners were imprisoned in the Napoleonic forts and it was suggested that they kept wall lizards as pets. Whether these were pets they bought with them or lizards they captured while being imprisoned is uncertain. Alternatively, colonisation could have occurred subsequent to Jersey becoming isolation via rafting (lizards hitching rides on natural materials blown out to sea) or the transportation of quarried granite, between France, Chausey and Jersey.  It has been documented that lizards in Jersey were part of a wider pet trade, with lizards being sent from Jersey to England as far back as 1761. Sinel stated in 1908 that ‘The Green lizard is becoming very scarce. This is partly due to the dealers, who have set a price upon its head’. Pyecraft (1927: Jade green lizards of Jersey) wrote ‘The wall lizard, in the locality where I found it, swarmed, but wild horses will not drag from me the place of its retreat, lest a demand be created for specimens.  The consequent exploitation by dealers could exterminate it in a single summer!’ By 1947, the pet trade in lizards had reached such proportions that the States of Jersey passed the Wildlife Protection (Jersey) Law 1947, which prohibited the buying, selling, exportation or killing of all reptiles and amphibians of Jersey, as a measure to control the roaring trade for these animals as pets destined for England.

In 1976, Frances Le Sueur published the first distribution map of wall lizards (included below) demonstrating their distribution to be substantially the same distribution as recorded by Sinel in 1907. Since 1976, the wall lizard has been recorded in an additional three-kilometre squares.

In 1988, Chris Perkins (1989: The biology and conservation of the green lizard and wall lizard in Jersey) carried out an Island survey of both wall and green lizards and in 1997, Rosie Smith (2000: Census of Jersey wall lizards Podarcis muralis and ecological correlates of distribution at fort sites in Jersey) studied their distribution and ecology. In 2008 the States of Jersey carried out a public survey to determine the distribution of green and wall lizards. Both St Aubin’s Fort and some very small populations in public and private gardens along the south coast were added to their known distribution. Presence in these areas is thought to be through accidental introductions carried out sometime in the 20th Century.

Distribution map 1965-2005

The lizards fragmented distribution could be partially due to Jersey being on the extreme edge of their distribution. Jersey’s wall lizards may only be able to utilise small areas of suitable habitat due to its northern range (Strijbosch et al. 1980) or their patchy and restricted distribution on the north-eastern, eastern and south coast could have been through introduction following the construction of these forts and towers.

To determine Jersey’s wall lizards’ origins and genetic fitness, a study was carried out to investigate the phylogeography and genetic structure of peripheral populations on Jersey (Channel Islands) and the French Chausey archipelago. In 2014, mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome b gene) from 200 individuals was sequenced to infer the phylogeography of the island populations using Bayesian approaches. In addition, 484 individuals from 21 populations at 10 polymorphic microsatellite loci were genotyped to evaluate the genetic structure and diversity of island and mainland (Western France) populations.

The data provided strong evidence that the wall lizard populations on Jersey and Chausey belong to a single origin. Furthermore, the analyses suggest that this mtDNA clade was isolated from mainland Europe for a long period of time and should be considered native. The origin of the wall lizards on Jersey and Chausey Islands appears to result from increasing sea levels 7,000 BP, isolating island populations from each other, creating independent population histories and hence divergence. It remains possible, however, that there has been occasional gene flow between islands. This could explain the presence of lizards on very small islets in the Chausey archipelago which are unlikely to be large enough to sustain populations for thousands of years independently. In addition, the presence of the most common haplotype (genetic ancestor) in mainland France appeared on the island of Chausey. This might provide evidence of occasional geneflow between mainland France and the islands via retention of ancestral genetic variation or a more recent introduction.

Anecdotal evidence also suggested that human mediated dispersal might be the most likely explanation for one of the four current locations in Jersey, the population on St. Aubin Fort. Although our mtDNA data revealed a different haplotype from other Jersey populations, the nucDNA clusters all Jersey populations together. This suggests that the source population was most likely animals from other Jersey populations and that the difference in haplotype represents a founder effect (the loss of genetic variation that occurs when a new population is established by a very small number of individuals from a larger population). Overall, these results confirm the suspected native status of Jersey and Chausey wall lizards. Thus, the lower genetic diversity of island populations compared to the mainland populations is expected given the lack of gene flow. This may have significant implication for the long-term persistence of the species on Jersey and Chausey Islands. However, since our data suggests the species have been present on the islands for thousands of years it might have already been subject to a severe genetic bottleneck. The species might also have undergone a substantial reduction in abundance more recently.

As this study clarified the native status of the wall lizard population on Jersey, it validates its current full protection status sunder the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000 (as amended). The law prohibits the unlicensed taking, sale, keeping, injury and destruction of places for shelter (e.g. nest, dens or burrows) and disturbance of any resident animals. Given our results, it is important that Jerseys conservation planners recognise the wall lizard’s restricted distribution, vulnerability to future inbreeding depression, susceptibility to disease, predation and the island’s ever-increasing urban development when determining species management strategies. For instance, should the granite walls and ramparts of historic fortresses where lizards are at highest abundance be developed or destroyed, the population’s continued survival could be at risk. The lizard’s long-term conservation status will depend upon increasing habitat connectivity, especially via coastline protection, connecting their north-eastern and eastern coast populations on the island.

How they are doing?

The most current population estimates were made by Perkins (1988) and Smith (1997) at specific Jersey forts and towers. Due to their protection, restricted distribution and vulnerability there is a need to monitor populations. In 2007 the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) was launched in Jersey by the States of Jersey Department of the Environment (now Natural Environment) as part of its integrated ecological monitoring programme. The scheme was developed by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) and has been run in partnership with Natural Environment and Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group (JARG) over a 12-year period (2007-2018) to assess and detect changes in the conservation status of Jersey’s native amphibians and reptiles.

In 2019 12-years of NARRS data was analysed to determine changes in occupancy and distribution of Jersey’s native amphibians and reptiles. The result of these analyses determined wall lizard are still restricted to coastal localities. The scheme was not able to determine the wall lizard’s detectability due to their restricted distribution and during the 12-year survey period their occupancy on the island decreased.  Additional data was sourced from the Jersey Biodiversity Centre which showed occupancy to have remained stable. The restricted distribution combined with uninformative detection and occupancy results indicate NARRS is not well suited to monitoring wall lizards being better for more widespread species. As a result, the agile frog, grass snake and wall lizard, being rarer and / or more restricted in their distributions, require monitoring with separate surveys. Therefore, future monitoring should (i) apply survey methods specific to the species, (ii) focus on determining species occupancy status at known and suspected sites and (iii) aim to better understand the factors driving species occupancy and detection.

In 2019 new monitoring schemes were designed for amphibian and reptiles with robust and practical data collection in mind. Reptilewatch JE was created with the aim to detect changes in the conservation status of Jersey’s reptiles, through changes in occupancy (levels 1 and 2 surveys) and detect site-level population changes (level 3 surveys). Level 2 Wall Lizard Survey was created to specifically consider Jersey’s wall lizards’ restricted distribution.

 How can you help?

We are looking to recruit ‘Wild Volunteers’ to join our Reptilewatch JE team and search for wall lizards at known and suspected wall lizard sites. Wall lizard surveyors are required to carry out six surveys, between March and October, spending 30 minutes at each site visually searching (either walking or looking from a fixed vantage point). You will need training at one of our training events, but no previous experience is needed. Please contact wildaboutJersey@gov.je  or go to the Jersey Amphibian Reptile Group (JARG) Reptilewatch JE webpage for more information. There are opportunities for everyone to get involved, with three levels of surveys depending on your interest, available time and experience.

Download the report Phylogeography and conservation genetics of the common wall lizard, Podarcis muralis, on islands at its northern range here 

JBatS 2020 training and surveys

From WildAboutJersey 

The dates have been set for the 2020 training sessions and survey period!

The Jersey Bat Survey 2020 (JBats) is a pilot study for an island-wide citizen science scheme.  Each volunteer will get a detector to record bat echolocation calls throughout the survey period. Using the latest automated call recognition systems, data is extracted from these recordings which provides information towards the long-term monitoring of bats in Jersey.  This scheme is still in a pilot phase as we develop the scheme and links with the British Bat survey.

JBatS 2020 survey period: 1st -31st July

JBatS Training: Tuesday 23rd June 7pm

This year training will take place in your own home via Zoom !!

We will be providing some background to the project and an update on the progress we’ve made so far. We’ll also let you know how you can be involved with the 2020 fieldwork should you be interested. Even if you participated in the 2019 JBats surveys, we encourage you to join the training session. 

This year we can’t get together for a more traditional training event and practical field session but there will be a chance for volunteers to familiarise themselves with the equipment when they collect their kit pack. We will be arranging kit collections that meet Covid-19 guidance and physical distancing measures. So if you can’t make the training session online but would still like to get involved please do let us know. 

In 2020, the survey period is the month of July. We are asking volunteers to deploy an audiomoth detector at three different locations during the survey period. Deploying the detectors is quick and easy to do, and provides a great chance to explore the island!   

This year we are collaborating with the Bat Conservation Trust’s BBats project. The BCT BBats project will process a sample of the data we record this season to test a new system of providing feedback to volunteers. 

If you are interested please contact WildAboutJersey on wildaboutjersey@gov.je  You will receive a follow up email with more details of the event.