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.

No let-up in loss of UK’s nature

The UK’s wildlife continues to decline according to the State of Nature 2019 report. The latest findings show that since rigorous scientific monitoring began in the 1970s there has been a 13% decline in average abundance across wildlife studied and that the declines continue unabated.

Following the State of Nature reports in 2013 and 2016, leading professionals from more than 70 wildlife organisations have joined with government agencies for the first time, to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our species across land and sea.

The State of Nature 2019 report also reveals that 41% of UK species studied have declined, 26% have increased and 33% shown little change since 1970, while 133 species assessed have already been lost from our shores since 1500. 

Butterflies and moths have been particularly hard hit with numbers of butterflies down by 17% and moths down by 25%. The numbers of species, such as the high brown fritillary and grayling, that require more specialised habitats have declined by more than three quarters.

The UK’s mammals also fare badly with greater than 26% of species at risk of disappearing altogether. The wild cat and greater mouse-eared bat are among those species teetering on the edge of disappearing.

Much is known about the causes of decline and about some of the ways in which we could reduce impacts and help struggling species. The evidence from the last 50 years shows that significant and ongoing changes in the way we manage our land for agriculture, and the ongoing effects of climate change are having the biggest impacts on nature.

Pollution is also a major issue. Whilst emissions of many pollutants have been reduced dramatically in recent decades, pollution continues to have a severe impact on the UK’s sensitive habitats and freshwaters, and new pollutant threats are continuing to emerge.

Daniel Hayhow, lead author on the report, said: “We know more about the UK’s wildlife than any other country on the planet, and what it is telling us should make us sit up and listen. We need to respond more urgently across the board if we are to put nature back where it belongs. Governments, conservation groups and individuals must continue to work together to help restore our land and sea for wildlife and people in a way that is both ambitious and inspiring for future generations”

“In this report we have drawn on the best available data on the UK’s biodiversity, produced by partnerships between conservation NGOs, research institutes, UK and national governments, and thousands of dedicated volunteers. It’s through working together that we can help nature recover but the battle must intensify.”

Whilst the data that the report shows are alarming there is also cause for some cautious hope. The report showcases a wide range of exciting conservation initiatives, with partnerships delivering inspiring results for some of the UK’s nature. Species such as bitterns and large blue butterfly have been saved through the concerted efforts of organisations and individuals.

Reflecting growing concern about the environmental and climate emergencies, public support for conservation also continues to grow, with NGO expenditure up by 26% since 2010/11 and time donated by volunteers having increased by 40% since 2000. However, public sector expenditure on biodiversity in the UK, as a proportion of GDP, has fallen by 42% since a peak in 2008/09.

The report has a foreword by a collective of young conservationists who are passionate about conservation and the future of our wildlife and nature to preserve it for future generations.

Dan Rouse, a young conservationist said, “Nature is something that shaped my childhood, that allowed me to be free to use my sense of wonder, and to gain an insight into the wonderful world of nature! It’s young people that are now picking up the baton to save our nature – we’ve already lost Corn Buntings and Nightingales in Wales – how long until they’re gone from the rest of the UK? Along with the eerie calls of curlew and the gentle purr of the turtle doves.”

Sophie Pavelle, a young conservationist said “What a huge wake-up call 2019 has been! I have felt the loss of nature more acutely this year than any other. A dawn chorus less deafening, hedgerows less frantic, bizarre, worrying weather…it seems that in a more complex world nature is tired, muted and confused. People protect what they love, and if we can find quirky, empowering ways to encourage young people to connect with nature emotionally and see it as something they can truly champion – only then can we dig deep to find real hope for a brighter, sustained future for our natural world.”

Locally, partners in the report include Channel Islands representatives (see the list below) and Guernsey’s Andy McCutcheon, Principal Environment Services Officer, Agriculture, Countryside & Land Management Services (ACLMS) “Guernsey welcomes the opportunity to be part of the State of Nature report.  The report paints a picture which should concern everyone. We have had a Biodiversity Strategy in place for nearly four years and this report forces us to face facts. It is only by understanding what we are losing and how we are losing it that we can begin to reverse the serious decline in our species rich habitats such as unimproved grassland.”

Download a full copy of the State of Nature 2019 report here and to find out how you can do your bit to save UK wildlife. Reports and summaries for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also available here

  1. The State of Nature 2019 UK partnership includes: A Focus On Nature, A Rocha, Action for Conservation, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC), Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC), Badenoch & Strathspey Conservation Group, Bat Conservation Ireland, Bat Conservation Trust (BCT), Biodiversity Ireland, Biological Records Centre (BRC), Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, British Arachnological Society (BAS), British Bryological Society (BBS), British Dragonfly Society (BDS), British Lichen Society, British Mycological Society (BMS), British Pteridological Society (BPS), British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Chester Zoo, Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Continuous Plankton Recorder, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Durrell), Earthwatch, Freshwater Habitats Trust, Friends of the Earth, Froglife, Isle of Man Government, iSpot (The Open University), Jersey Government Department of the Environment, John Muir Trust, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Local Environmental Records Centre Wales, Mammal Society, Manx BirdLife, Marine Biological Association (MBA), Marine Conservation Society, Marine Ecosystems Research Programme, MARINELife, National Biodiversity Network (NBN), National Forum for Biological Recording, CEDAR Centre for Environmental Data and Recording, National Trust, National Trust for Scotland, Natural England (NE), Natural History Museum, Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Northern Ireland Bat Group, Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), ORCA, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), Plantlife, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Scottish Badgers, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Environment Link, Scottish Wild Land Group, Shark Trust, States of Guernsey, The Fungus Conservation Trust, Trees for Life, Ulster Wildlife Trust, University of Plymouth, University of Sheffield, Vincent Wildlife Trust, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), Wildlife Trusts, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust, WWF, Zoological Society of London (ZSL).