Rare flamingo hatch shines spotlight on threat to wild population

Staff at WWT were overjoyed as the second
lesser flamingo ever bred by them in captivity hatched this week.

But the mood was tempered by news that three quarters of the wild population in Africa is threatened by industrial development.

In the wild, as in captivity, lesser flamingos’ fastidious nature can hamper their breeding. They only breed well when in large flocks of thousands and are sensitive at nesting stage.

It can take as little as a slight change in water level or for something to pass overhead and the birds can abandon their nests.

So plans to build a soda ash extraction plant at Lake Natron in Tanzania, where the vast majority of lesser flamingos gather to breed, is alarming conservationists at WWT.

The skills and techniques developed with captive flamingos can pay dividends to wild populations. For example, building artificial nest mounds for wild flamingos has been used with great success at sites in Europe and Africa.

Tens of thousands of flamingos have hatched in the wild directly as a result of this technique pioneered in captivity. Conservation breeding programmes also help develop vital skills for re-introduction projects for endangered birds.

Rebecca Lee, WWT Senior Species Conservation Officer and Chair of the IUCN-SSC/Wetlands International Flamingo Specialist Group says: “It’s partly a numbers game. In the wild they breed in very large flocks of tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of birds. Flock density seems to play an important role in encouraging birds to display and initiate nest building.

“In captivity, it’s well known that flocks of less than 40 flamingos will rarely breed. At WWT we use mirrors to give the birds a sense of a bigger flock.”

Threat to main breeding site

The lesser flamingo is currently classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List – but that situation could change very quickly.

At the moment about three-quarters of the global population live in the Great Rift Valley in Africa, and almost all of these breed at only one site – Lake Natron, in Tanzania.

Plans to build a soda ash extraction plant at the lake are placing the future of this critical breeding site under threat.

Four years ago, plans for the plant were shelved following worldwide concerns over its environmental impact both from the extraction of soda ash and its associated infrastructure.

Commercial industries require soda ash in the production of pharmaceuticals, glassmaking and even making everyday washing powders.

But now the Tanzanian president, Jakaya Kikwete, has revived the plans – which could see 200,000 tonnes of soda ash being extracted from the lake each year – despite his government accepting an award for shelving them at the Nagoya biodiversity summit last year.

Disturbance from the soda ash extraction has been identified as one of the greatest threats to the flamingos’ future survival.

The development and associated infrastructure would potentially displace around 75% of the world population of lesser flamingos.

WWT chief executive Martin Spray concluded: “The breeding colony of flamingos on the caustic Lake Natron is truly one of nature’s greatest spectacles and this site has been designated by Tanzania and internationally for its importance to wildlife and people.

“Lesser flamingos lay only one egg at each attempt – and we know that disturbance can have a marked effect on breeding success. Any changes at Lake Natron could very quickly bring about a catastrophic decline.”

Footage of the lesser flamingo egg being incubated by parent prior to hatching yesterday

Photo of flamingos and chick at top of page by William Wattling
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New wetland created by WWT partner Glengoyne

WWT has attended the opening of a brand new wetlands area created by corporate partner Glengoyne Highland Single Malt, which will help with processing distillery waste and make the area a haven for wildlife.

Glengoyne Distillery has invested £170k on the facility which deals with the effluent from the spirit stills called Spent Lees.

This reduces waste by around 25% and deals with it in an environmentally friendly manner.

The wetland plants were bedded in early May to acclimatise and have now begun processing waste liquid from whisky making.

As a further commitment to wetlands, the distillery has promised a minimum contribution of £5,000 to WWT in the first 12 months of a long term partnership, to be raised through contributions from sales of special bottles.

 

Glengoyne is donating £3.00 on all personalised bottles and £4.50 on all standard bottles of the core range purchased online using this link.

The agreement will also see other joint marketing and fundraising initiatives with the charity including limited edition bottlings, on-pack promotions and joint events.

The partnership kicked off in early June with a special Father’s Day promotion.

Robbie Hughes, Distillery Manager at Glengoyne said: “We are always looking at options for improving our waste management and wetlands seemed like the perfect solution.

“It allows us to reduce waste, cut down on waste transportation, be more environmentally friendly and will attract a huge range of wildlife to the area, which is already renowned for its geese.”

John Creedon, WWT’s Corporate Relations Manager said “New wetlands like this quickly become home to moths and beetles and even water voles, which in turn start to support and attract birds and potentially larger mammals like otters.

“WWT were keen to link with Glengoyne because of their commitment to the environment and because the name ‘Glengoyne’ means “Glen of the Wild Geese” in Gaelic, and WWT’s Caerlaverock Wetland Centre in Dumfriesshire, within easy reach of the distillery, is the winter home of tens of thousands of barnacle geese from Svalbard.”

Glengoyne Distillery is situated just 30 minutes outside Glasgow, in the Trossachs National Park at the start of the West Highland Way and has been producing single malt whisky for nearly 200 years.

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Launch of WWT’s 2011-2012 Photography Competition in celebration of the Scott Antarctic Expedition Centenary

1 September 2011 will see the return of WWT’s popular Photography Competition.

The 2011-2012 competition is being held in celebration of the Scott Antarctic Expedition Centenary and offers an amazing first prize of a trip to Antarctica.

The competition will run for 12 months with seasonal heats held regionally at each of WWT’s nine wetland centres.

Winner of the ‘Quirky’ category of WWT’s 2010 competition. ‘Tough Guy’ by Robert Falcon

When the competition closes on 31 August 2012, all seasonal, regional heat winners will go forward to the national grand final and be judged by a panel including photography experts and celebrities in the autumn.

WWT’s founder the late Sir Peter Scott was the son of the Antarctic explorer Captain Scott and it was he who told his wife, Sir Peter’s mother, to “make the boy interested in nature”, quite possibly providing the inspiration for the creation of WWT and the conservation and education work carried out by the Trust over the past 65 years.

The grand first prize is a 12 day Antarctic Explorer trip, courtesy of Exodus in partnership with Quark Expeditions.

A whole host of other exciting prizes for the national winners of each category are also on offer, including activity and adventure holidays, photography workshops or birding holidays in the UK and overseas.

Full details will be added to the photo competition website shortly.

‘Wetland Wildlife’ winner of the 2010 competition. ‘A Moment’s Peace’ by Noami Roper

Following on from the success of last year’s competition which saw 6,000 online entries and a staggering 60,000 votes in the People’s Choice category, the 2011-2012 competition will reprise the ‘Wetland Wildlife’, ‘Wetland Landscapes’, ‘Wildlife & People’ categories, as well as the ‘People’s Choice’ category where members of the public can go online and choose their favourite entry.

Whilst all photographs entered into all the other categories must have been taken at one of WWT’s nine wetland centres across the UK, a new category ‘World Wetlands’ invites entries taken of wetlands anywhere in the world.

Finally, ‘Under 18s’ can enter each category with a separate prize awarded to the ‘Junior’ winner of each, plus an overall prize awarded to the ‘Junior Photographer of the Year’.

The competition opens to entries on 1 September 2011.

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First spoon-billed sandpiper chicks hatch in captivity

The first critically endangered
spoon-blled sandpiper to hatch in captivity in the world was always going to be a spectacular sight, but when a Heritage Expeditions boat docked in Anadyr last night not one, not two, but an incredible 17 tiny, hatched spoon-billed sandpiper chicks emerged.

The incredibly ambitious mission to collect eggs from the rapidly dwindling number of nests on the breeding grounds in Chukotka  and transport them thousands of miles via land, sea and air to the conservation breeding facility at WWT Slimbridge hatching has reached an important milestone.

Incredibly eight of the chicks actually hatched just as the team were preparing to leave Chukotka.

Describing his elation on docking safely in Anadyr, WWT’s Head of Conservation Breeding, Nigel Jarrett said: “We boarded the boat with the eight newly hatched chicks, 12 fertile eggs, considerable anxiety about the trip on rough seas and a great deal of hope.

“We got off the other end with only three eggs, but an amazing 17 chicks and the remaining eggs poised to hatch any day, so I am as happy as happy can be.”

Things have gone as well as could possibly have been hoped for so far, but saving this species is still going to be an uphill battle.

A couple of the hatchlings aren’t quite as strong as the others and we will have to accept that we will lose some.

The survival rate for spoon-billed sandpiper chicks in the wild is extremely low. On average just four chicks fledge out of around 20 eggs laid and only one of these would survive to recruit into the adult population two years later.

Taking these newly hatched chicks from hatching to fledging will be enough of a challenge on its own. However, even this is dwarfed by the work that we and our partners need to do to tackle the threats to the species in the wild.

Elizabeth Tambovtseva from Birds Russia is part of the team on the expedition. She said: “The excitement from the team when the first egg hatched and a tiny chick appeared was off the scale – we haven’t slept for days with the stress and worry so it was a pretty emotional experience.

“All the partners have been working hard as a team to pull off this very important stage of the mission and it’s paid off. I didn’t get a chance to celebrate my birthday last week, but this belated present more than makes up for that!”

The conservation breeding expedition, led by staff from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Birds Russia, has support from the RSPB, BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona, the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force and Moscow Zoo.

The project is funded by WWT and RSPB, with additional financial contributions and support from BirdLife International, the East-Asian Australasian Flyway Partnership, the Convention on Migratory Species, Heritage Expeditions and the Australasian Wader Study Group of Birds Australia.

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Somerset’s got wetland talent! Yatton councillor wins WWT’s Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation

At a special wetland conference this week, Councillor Tony Moulin received the Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation and a prize of £1,000.

WWT gives the Marsh Award to recognise the good work and talent of people who create and look after wetlands.

This spring, WWT asked for nominations from all over the country for the wetlands that people enjoy visiting and think benefit their community. WWT then searched out the people behind the scenes.

Of those shortlisted, the judges chose Tony Moulin in Yatton, North Somerset for his role in managing and enhancing the Strawberry Line and Biddle Street Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Jo Winyard of the Marsh Christian Trust presents Tony Moulin with The Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation L-R: Faith Moulin, Tony Moulin, Jo Winyard, Rob Shore (WWT)

WWT Head of Wetland Conservation, Rob Shore, presented the prize with Jo Winyard of the Marsh Christian Trust.

He explains: “In parks and green spaces across the country, wetlands quietly look after us. People enjoy walking there, children play and learn about the natural world and they are a haven for wildlife. What’s more, they store floodwater, protecting our homes and businesses; and they keep our waterways clean, providing us with the clean water that is vital for our survival.

“So we set out to find the unsung heroes who look after the wetlands. The wetlands at Biddle Street on The Strawberry Line are such a place and Tony Moulin is a fine example of why the people who manage them deserve recognition.”

Tony Moulin said: “I am very grateful to receive this award and for the encouragement, help and inspiration of many people over the past twenty years. In particular I am thankful for all the people who have supported the achievements of Yatton and Congresbury Wildlife Action Group (YACWAG) in making a difference and enabling people to enjoy and learn about our local wetland wildlife.

“I truly believe that volunteers working locally have an impact which cumulatively has a global significance. People have a lot to gain through getting involved – we never know what the results of our work will be but it gives us hope and this award will help me spread that message.”

The Biddle Street wetlands on the Strawberry Line are a patchwork of rhynes, ponds and ditches that are rich in water insects and plants.

Tony Moulin at the Biddle Street wetlandTony Moulin has worked hard to manage it so that it looks great and is well used and loved by the local community.

Rob Shore continues: “Tony shows that one person with a passion really can make a difference. We hope that he is an inspiration to others.

“Since the start of the industrial revolution it is estimated that as much as 90% of the wetlands in England have been lost and we are now paying the price with more floods, less wildlife and land that is less resilient to drought. Anybody with a garden or any business with a bit of land, however small, can make a difference by creating wetland habitat.”

The Marsh Award 2011 goes to the person who is judged to be mainly responsible for managing the wetland in recognition of their unsung contribution to creating a wetland for everyone to enjoy.

The things WWT looked for to help judge the award were:

  • Accessible to as many people as possible
  • Attractive and brings a wide range of benefits to the people who live nearby
  • Home to a wide variety of wild plants and animals
  • Managed by someone who makes a real difference by caring for the wetland, and/or improving the benefits it provides to local people. They could do this either themselves or through organising and inspiring others

The Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation was presented at the Wetland Futures conference on 28 June.

The Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation is part of a portfolio of awards run by the Marsh Christian Trust.

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Wetland loss threatens wildlife and people, leading conservationists warn

More wetlands need to be created across the UK to safeguard wildlife and human health and prosperity, according to leading experts.

Nearly one hundred of the country’s top wetland conservation scientists met last week to discuss the threat to wetlands, the wildlife they support and their ability to treat water and prevent flooding.

With drought and flooding scares hitting the headlines and consumers facing rising water bills, the need for more wetland creation and restoration is urgent said experts at this week’s Wetland Futures conference co-hosted by WWT, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts.

Wetland habitats have declined by 90 per cent in the UK since Roman times, causing the extinction of iconic species like beaver and crane and leaving us with polluted waterways.

Opening the conference Martin Spray of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) said: “Water – the amount, distribution and quality for humans and wildlife – is the big issue in these challenging times. Healthy wetland habitats are vital if we are to have enough clean water to survive and prosper in the future.

“The financial crisis has brought cuts and austerity and now the threat to remove legislation that gets in the way of economic development. The environment has become marginalised, viewed as a luxury that we only concern ourselves with in times of prosperity. But the natural environment and wetlands in particular, underpins that prosperity and our well-being.

“Innovative partnerships between business, charity and government that are restoring wetlands are the way to solve this problem and we need more of them.”

Decisions made now to affect cost of water services in future

Martin Ross, Environmental Manager of South West Water presented the Upstream Thinking approach. He said: “Changes happening right now are going to affect the cost and reliability of water services in the future.

“As we move forwards, we can either stop pollution getting into our rivers in the first place, or we can continue to invest in technical solutions to remove pollution downstream. All the big technical changes drive up costs.

“At South West Water we believe that managing a whole catchment sustainably is the best way of securing long-term water supplies. And this means having healthy, working wetlands.

“Effectively we are dealing with the source of the problem, not the symptom.

“And with the water industry as a whole looking to improve the sustainability of its business, there is a great opportunity for us and the environmental movement to work together to achieve this common goal.”

Where there’s water there’s wildlife

Mike Shurmer, RSPB wetland advisor, said: “Conservationists often say that where there’s water there’s wildlife – and that’s definitely true for the UK’s wetlands.

A healthy wetland is alive with nature – but so much of these areas have been drained and developed over the years that many of the species that rely on them are now under threat.

“There are some great examples where conservationists are working with farmers, landowners and government agencies to restore wetland habitats. The bittern is a classic example of a wetland bird that has been saved from the brink. However, many species are still in decline, such as wading birds like redshank, lapwing and snipe.

“The Government has vowed to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 and restoring wetlands is essential if we are to achieve that target. Their support is vital to ensure we bring wetlands and wildlife back to our landscape.”

Paul Wilkinson, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Landscape, added: “Working with nature to enhance watercourses and wetlands across whole river catchments means that the range of issues impacting on the natural environment can be tackled in a more joined up way. Our experience of working at catchment-scale has demonstrated that it often elicits strong interest from landowners, business and communities.

“All working together, we have the potential to support a significant increase in this kind of work across England, improving the quality of rivers for wildlife and protecting and improving the vital services that wetlands can provide for people, such as flood management and alleviation.”

The Wetland Futures 2011 conference was co-hosted by WWT, RSPB and The Wildlife Trusts.

Leading bodies also represented included the Environment and other Government Agencies, Water Companies, Wildlife and Reserve Trusts from across the UK, Heritage organisations and environmental companies.

It was attended by over 90 of the UK’s foremost wetland conservationists and scientists.

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Somerset’s Got Wetland Talent!

Yatton councillor wins £1,000 for his work at the Strawberry Line and
Biddle Street SSSI

Jo Winyard of the Marsh Christian Trust presents Tony Moulin with The Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation, L-R: Faith Moulin, Tony Moulin, Jo Winyard, Rob Shore (WWT)

At a special wetland conference this week, Councillor Tony Moulin received the Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation and a prize of £1,000.

WWT gives the Marsh Award to recognise the good work and talent of people who create and look after wetlands.

This spring, WWT asked for nominations from all over the country for the wetlands that people enjoy visiting and think benefit their community. WWT then searched out the people behind the scenes.

Of those shortlisted, the judges chose Tony Moulin in Yatton, North Somerset for his role in managing and enhancing the Strawberry Line and Biddle Street Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

WWT Head of Wetland Conservation, Rob Shore, presented the prize with Jo Winyard of the Marsh Christian Trust. He explains: “In parks and green spaces across the country, wetlands quietly look after us. People enjoy walking there, children play and learn about the natural world and they are a haven for wildlife. What’s more, they store floodwater, protecting our homes and businesses; and they keep our waterways clean, providing us with the clean water that is vital for our survival.

“So we set out to find the unsung heroes who look after the wetlands. The wetlands at Biddle Street on The Strawberry Line are such a place and Tony Moulin is a fine example of why the people who manage them deserve recognition.”

Tony Moulin said: “I am very grateful to receive this award and for the encouragement, help and inspiration of many people over the past twenty years. In particular I am thankful for all the people who have supported the achievements of Yatton and Congresbury Wildlife Action Group (YACWAG) in making a difference and enabling people to enjoy and learn about our local wetland wildlife.

“I truly believe that volunteers working locally have an impact which cumulatively has a global significance. People have a lot to gain through getting involved – we never know what the results of our work will be but it gives us hope and this award will help me spread that message”.

The Biddle Street wetlands on the Strawberry Line are a patchwork of rhynes, ponds and ditches that are rich in water insects and plants. Tony Moulin has worked hard to manage it so that it looks great and is well used and loved by the local community.

Rob Shore continues:

“Tony shows that one person with a passion really can make a difference. We hope that he is an inspiration to others.

“Since the start of the industrial revolution it is estimated that as much as 90% of the wetlands in England have been lost and we are now paying the price with more floods, less wildlife and land that is less resilient to drought. Anybody with a garden or any business with a bit of land, however small, can make a difference by creating wetland habitat.”

The Marsh Award 2011 goes to the person who is judged to be mainly responsible for managing the wetland in recognition of their unsung contribution to creating a wetland for everyone to enjoy.

The things WWT looked for to help judge the award were:
• Accessible to as many people as possible
• Attractive and brings a wide range of benefits to the people who live nearby
• Home to a wide variety of wild plants and animals
• Managed by someone who makes a real difference by caring for the wetland, and/or improving the benefits it provides to local people. They could do this either themselves or through organising and inspiring others

The Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation was presented at the Wetland Futures conference on 28 June.

The Marsh Award for Wetland Conservation is part of a portfolio of awards run by the Marsh Christian Trust www.marshchristiantrust.org

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Billy the bruiser rules the roost

Little Billy the bruiser rules the roost

A small crane, who makes slugs and worms his dish of the day, has emerged as the surprise leader of the pack at this year’s Crane School at WWT Slimbridge in Gloucestershire.

Billy is one of the class of cranes being reared in the second year of the Great Crane Project.

As the cranes start to develop their personalities one nicknamed Billy has exhibited some rather unusual characteristics. Although he is among the smallest, it is the most dominant of the cranes. 

Billy runs at the other cranes barging them out of his path and struts around the exercise field.  He has also developed a strange taste for slugs and worms. As they begin to forage, most cranes learn early on to avoid eating slugs as they ooze a sticky substance which temporarily glues their beaks together. 

But when rain starts to fall Billy excitedly starts to dash around the field picking up any slugs or worms he spots until his beak becomes stuck together for 15 minutes or so.

These cranes are being reared by humans disguised as adult (‘mum’ or ‘dad’)cranes at Slimbridge Wetland Centre, so they are well-equipped for life in the wild and learn to fear people. 

Pensthorpe Conservation Trust warden and Crane dad, Roland Digby, said: “You would normally expect one of the larger cranes to be the most dominant so it is a funny situation.   We’ve nicknamed him Billy the Bruiser as he chases or tries to fight any crane in his path, they are all scared of him!

“None of the other cranes would touch a slug or a worm so it is funny seeing Billy sprint around hunting for them – he really is one of a kind.“

The Great Crane Project, a partnership between WWT, RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, with major funding from Viridor Credits Environmental Company hopes to re-introduce and establish a wild population of this iconic species in Somerset over the next ten years.

Using WWT’s renowned specialist conservation breeding expertise, the cranes were brought over as eggs collected from sustainable wild populations in Germany to WWT’s Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, back in April.  They will be released to join the cranes from the first year of the project in autumn this year.

While these cranes are being reared behind-the-scenes at Slimbridge, visitors are able to see plenty around the grounds.

Somerset Art Works has installed a number around the grounds featuring wire work, paper mache sculptures and over 60 life size painted crane cut-outs.  SAW engaged artists Fiona Campbell, Kitty Hillier and Hilda Vaughan to lead a series of art workshops inspired by the Great Crane Project.

School and community groups also had the opportunity to discover the wonders of cranes by visiting the RSPB’s wetland reserves in the area, appreciate the importance of the Somerset Levels habitat and learn about the re-introduction of this fascinating species which has missing from our wetlands for nearly 400 years. 

To keep up to date with the Great Crane Project follow the news on the project’s website: www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk.

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