This is where you’ll find all the latest updates from Restore Our Planet.

Wilding Profile: European Sea Sturgeon

August 31, 2023

Growing to lengths of up to 5 meters and with a potential lifespan of 60 years, the European sturgeon (Acipenser sturio) was a familiar presence in British rivers as recently as the 1950s. However, it has now earned the unfortunate distinction of being one of the IUCN’s critically endangered Red List species.

Sturgeon populations experienced a substantial decline during the 19th century due to factors such as excessive harvesting for meat and caviar, along with infrastructure and agricultural developments impeding their access to vital freshwater spawning habitats.

The anadromous species (found in both fresh and saltwater) is part of an ancient family of fish often referred to as “living fossils” as they have swum Earth’s waters close to their current form for as much as 200 million years – a testament to their remarkable ability to adapt to diverse aquatic environments.

The return of sturgeon to British rivers could catalyse a chain of positive ecological benefits. With the decline of sturgeon populations, some British rivers have experienced an overabundance of certain fish species lower down the food chain. This can lead to imbalances in the ecosystem, as unchecked populations of smaller fish can negatively affect water quality and even impact vegetation growth along riverbanks. By reintroducing sturgeon, a natural apex predator, a more harmonious balance can be restored, preventing the unchecked proliferation of certain species and promoting healthier aquatic environments overall.

Another crucial ecological aspect influenced by sturgeon is nutrient cycling. Sturgeon play an important role in this cycle by consuming prey and releasing waste into the water. This waste is rich in nutrients that can be taken up by aquatic plants and smaller organisms, providing an essential source of sustenance.

Sturgeon also exhibit unique migratory behaviors. These fish are known for their epic journeys between freshwater rivers and the open sea. Reestablishing sturgeon migration routes within British waters can positively impact entire river ecosystems. As sturgeon move between saltwater and freshwater environments, they transport essential nutrients, contributing to the health of both. These migrations can also help to redistribute sediments and detritus, which reshape riverbeds creating more diverse habitats for other aquatic species.

In addition to their ecological contributions, sturgeon can also help stimulate economic benefits for local communities through sustainable fishing. As attributed to their downfall sturgeon are highly valued for their meat and roe, which is processed into caviar. Sustainable harvesting practices could be established to ensure that any fishing activities are conducted in a way that doesn’t harm the sturgeon populations. Furthermore, the presence of sturgeon in British waters could attract tourists interested in witnessing these ancient creatures in their natural habitat.

Successfully reintroducing sturgeon to Britain has a number of obstacles. Efforts should focus on habitat restoration and water quality improvement as pollution and degraded river systems are currently among the biggest challenges.

In the face of adversity and against the backdrop of dwindling sturgeon populations, the story of the European sturgeon carries a message of hope, resilience, and the potential for revival.

While the challenges that led to the decline of sturgeon populations are complex, they are not insurmountable. The ancient lineage of sturgeon, spanning millions of years, attests to their extraordinary adaptability and potential to reestablish themselves across British ecosystems in abundance.

European Sea Sturgeon ( Acipenser sturio )

European Sea Sturgeon
Encyclopædia Britannica

Wilding Profile: Golden Eagle

August 18, 2023

Once majestically soaring as a defining element of the British terrain, golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) saw their populations plummet during the 18th and 19th centuries. This decline was orchestrated by a combination of trophy hunting and apprehension among sheep farmers, who worried for their livestock. However, despite only being able to target and carry away the youngest lambs, this relentless pressure led to their extinction in England and Wales by 1850. While the notion of reintroducing these avian monarchs might carry a touch of romanticism, it holds within it a substantial potential to help reinstate the balance of British ecosystems.

In their role as apex predators situated at the pinnacle of the food chain, golden eagles exercise a top-down influence on prey populations. Much like the Eurasian lynx, their mere presence across a landscape instils caution in potential prey known as the “Landscape of Fear”, discouraging prolonged stays in any single area. This behavioural shift curbs excessive grazing by herbivores, thereby upholding the well-being and richness of plant ecosystems.

Golden eagles also predate and regulate the populations of foxes and small mammals using their acute vision and formidable talons. This cascading effect would play a crucial  part in fostering stability within the broader ecological network.

The presence of golden eagles can also have a positive impact on scavenger communities. They are known to leave remains of their prey providing valuable food sources for species such as ravens and crows. This in turn contributes to nutrient-cycling through the breakdown of carcasses to return essential nutrients to the soil.

The reintroduction of golden eagles comes with challenges and concerns that need to be carefully addressed. One major consideration is the potential impact on local livestock farming. Golden eagles are opportunistic predators and might target young lambs or other livestock. Collaborative efforts between conservationists, farmers, and local communities would be essential in implementing effective measures to mitigate any conflicts that might arise.

Golden eagles evoke a profound sense of awe and can serve as a catalyst for conservation initiatives and nurturing a stronger connection between humanity and the natural world. The advantages stemming from their resurgence surpass any conceivable disadvantages. This presents a unique prospect, not solely for reinstating a vanished fragment of the British wilderness but also for enhancing the intricate tapestry of the entire ecosystem, leaving a lasting legacy for generations ahead.

Golden Eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos )
Carolina Raptor Centre

Golden Eagle
Tony Hisgett Birmingham, UK

Wilding Profile: European Flat Oyster

August 2, 2023

Capable of purifying 140 litres per day, the unassuming European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis) plays a vital role in removing toxins from seawater, however, a 95% population loss over the past two centuries due to overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction makes it more vital than ever to boost their numbers to restore British marine ecosystems.

Offering a variety of benefits to their home environments of estuaries and coastal habitats, the role oysters play cannot be overstated. As natural filters, their gills constantly pump water removing tiny particles such as plankton, algae and other organic matter. This process maintains water clarity by reducing the levels of suspended sediment and pollutants.

Clean water naturally benefits all species within the affected ecosystem. Oysters remove excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus (often a result of agricultural activities) which cause algal blooms leading to ‘dead zones’ due to oxygen depletion killing wildlife.

Where possible oysters prefer to bunch together creating extensive oyster reefs which themselves form a crucial part of British ecosystems. These complex and three-dimensional structures provide essential habitats for a variety of marine species. Many fish seek shelter and breeding opportunities within the nooks and crannies, while numerous invertebrates attach themselves to the oyster shells, creating thriving microhabitats. Oyster reefs serve as essential nurseries and refuges, promoting biodiversity and supporting the life cycles of many marine organisms.

Though their populations remain heavily depleted, once established oysters are incredibly adaptable and resilient. For example, most individuals begin life as males becoming females as they mature. Some even switch back and forth each year to match reproductive demands.

The protection offered by oyster reefs is particularly valuable in the face of environmental challenges such as rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Oysters possess the ability to attenuate wave energy, reducing the impact of storm surges and tidal forces on coastlines. By creating a natural buffer, they help to stabilize shorelines and protect vulnerable coastal habitats, including marshes and seagrass beds which are currently home to other critical species in Britain such as curlews and seagrass itself.

Furthermore, the economic benefits of oyster ecosystems cannot be overlooked. Oysters have been popular as a food source in Britain since the Roman era with thriving fisheries. These contribute to local economies and provide a valuable source of livelihood for coastal communities. Sustainable oyster harvesting practices, combined with appropriate management strategies, ensure the continued prosperity of these fisheries while maintaining the ecological balance.

In addition to their economic value, oysters offer exciting opportunities for habitat restoration and conservation efforts. In some areas such as The Thames Estuary and The Solent, oyster restoration projects have been implemented to help revive declining populations and rebuild oyster reefs.

In recent years, oysters have also become a focal point in discussions about climate change mitigation and adaptation. Oyster reefs, along with other coastal ecosystems, have the potential to sequester significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Underwater oyster in habitat.
Marten Hanson

European Flat Oyster from Loch Fyne, Scotland

Wilding Profile: Pine Marten

July 13, 2023

During the Mesolithic era (9,000 – 4,500 BC) the pine marten ( Martes martes ) was Britain’s most abundant carnivore with numbers estimated at almost 150,000 with the post-ice-age archipelago being almost fully wooded.

These vast connected forests are often referred to as the prehistoric ‘Wildwood’. However, today pine martens only number 3,700 in Scotland and 2,700 in Ireland. They are almost extinct across England.

Their first major persecution came with the passing of The Preservation of Grain Act, signed by Henry VIII in 1532 making it compulsory for ‘every man, woman and child to kill as many creatures as possible that appeared on the official list of vermin.’ They were finally almost completely wiped out by gamekeepers in the early 20th Century.

Pine martens (group name: ‘a richness’) are members of the Mustelids which include weasels, badgers and otters – a globally successful family of species occupying many different niches – otters: aquatic, badgers: burrowers, pine martens: arboreal.

The reintroduction of pine martens can help regulate populations of small mammals. Rodents sometimes experience population explosions, leading to negative impacts on habitats and agricultural land. Through predation pine martens act as natural pest controllers, helping to maintain a healthy balance. This method is far healthier than using harmful pesticides and rodenticides which can have wider polluting effects on ecosystems.

Pine martens play an important role in woodland seed dispersal by inadvertently carrying seeds in their fur. This dispersal mechanism promotes the establishment of new vegetation and enhances biodiversity.

The presence of pine martens can have a positive impact on bird populations. As skilled double-jointed climbers, they often create tree cavities to use as den sites. Once abandoned these nesting spots are popular among owls, woodpeckers and various songbirds.

Red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) have been severely impacted by the introduction of non-native grey squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) which took place across southern Britain in the 1870s. Greys outcompete reds for resources and carry a deadly pox virus (Parapoxvirus) which they are largely immune to but reds are not.  Pine martens are natural predators of greys and can help control their populations creating a more favourable environment for red squirrel populations to recover.

The presence of apex predators like pine martens has a cascading effect on the entire food web. They can influence the behaviour and distribution of prey species. This can result in changes in the feeding patterns of herbivores, altering their browsing and foraging habits as they become more skittish and afraid of predation thus moving on before consuming more seeds/saplings. Consequently, vegetation dynamics may shift, leading to a more diverse and balanced ecosystem following positive trophic cascades.

The reintroduction of pine martens can also bring economic benefits through wildlife tourism. Pine martens are charismatic creatures, attracting nature enthusiasts and tourists who are eager to catch a glimpse of these elusive mammals. Increased tourism can generate revenue for local communities and encourage conservation efforts in the long run. Nature-based tourism has the potential to support sustainable development and provide economic incentives for the conservation of natural habitats.

Wilding Profile: Plants

June 28, 2023

Over four-hundred species of flora have become extinct in Britain over the past 200 years with numerous plants still at risk today. Many are keystone species providing essential resources such as food and shelter for other organisms. Reintroductions can help reestablish the intricate webs of ecological reactions that have been disrupted.

The British Isles is home to a diverse range of ecosystems, from ancient woodlands to sprawling meadows. Reintroducing endangered plants could restore ecosystems to their former glory. These can take place in a variety of habitats, such as wetlands, grasslands, and forests, each with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities.

An example of a successful reintroduction is the Lady’s Slipper Orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). This magnificent species was on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and over-collection. However, through careful conservation efforts, including seed propagation and habitat restoration, it has been successfully reintroduced to several sites in England. Its return has not only delighted botanists and nature enthusiasts but has also had significant ecological effects such as boosting crucial pollinator interactions.

This orchid relies on specific insects, such as bees and wasps for pollination. By reintroducing the plant these pollinators can thrive and fulfill wider ecological roles. This ripple effect benefits other plant species that rely on similar pollinators. These restored networks contribute to increased biodiversity and more resilient ecosystems.

Another remarkable example of reintroduction efforts is the restoration of seagrass meadows along the British coastline. Seagrasses are vital habitats that provide shelter and food for numerous marine species. However, pollution, coastal development, and trawling have resulted in the widespread decline of seagrass meadows. Reintroducing seagrass species such as Zostera marina has proven to be an effective way of rejuvenating these crucial habitats.

Seagrass meadows act as nurseries for commercially important fish species, offering protection and abundant food sources for young fish. As seagrass beds recover, fish populations can rebound, benefiting both the local ecosystem and the fishing industry. Moreover, seagrass meadows act as carbon sinks, absorbing and storing significant amounts of carbon dioxide. Reestablishing these carbon-absorbing habitats contributes to mitigating climate change and its impacts.

Many natural areas in Britain have become isolated and disconnected due to urbanisation and expansions in agriculture. Plant Reintroductions can help bridge these gaps and create corridors for wildlife movement. For instance, the reintroduction of native tree species like the black poplar (Populus nigra) has enabled the reestablishment of woodland corridors, facilitating the movement of birds, mammals, and insects across the landscape.

These projects are not without their challenges. Successful reintroduction requires careful planning, monitoring, and ongoing management. Factors such as habitat suitability, availability of suitable pollinators or dispersal agents, and the presence of suitable host plants or symbiotic organisms must be considered.

The reintroduction of endangered plants in Britain has the potential to have profound ecological effects. By restoring plant species to their natural habitats, we can revive pollinator networks, rejuvenate seagrass meadows, and reconnect fragmented landscapes. These efforts not only promote biodiversity but also contribute to the overall health and resilience of ecosystems. As we continue to prioritise conservation and restoration, the reintroduction of endangered plants stands as a powerful tool to safeguard the future of Britain’s natural heritage.

Lady`s Slipper Orchid

Crested Cow-Wheat-metampyrum cristatum

Sea grass- zostera
Colin Faulkingham

Wilding Profile: Lynx

June 8, 2023

Lynx ( Lynx lynx ) are an elusive species that became extinct in Britain 1,300 years ago following human hunting and habitat loss, with the final population holding out in Scotland. Though sparsely populated throughout their northern hemisphere territories, which can span from 20 to 450 km2 depending on habitat and food availability, these apex predators are classified as a species of Least Concern in the regions they still inhabit.

Lynx play a crucial role in the landscape by enforcing an ‘ecology of fear’, causing potential prey species to adapt their behaviours to avoid predation. They primarily feed on herbivores such as deer and rabbits, which prevents overgrazing and allows for the proliferation of saplings and vegetation. This regeneration, in turn, supports a wide array of other plant and animal species.

Reintroducing lynx populations to Britain could also lead to a decrease in small predators like foxes through competition for food, allowing smaller prey species, such as rodents, to thrive. This increase in prey availability can attract other threatened predators, contributing to a more diverse and balanced ecosystem.

These shy and mostly nocturnal felines prefer densely forested areas suitable for ambush hunting and safely raising their young (kittens). They are considered an indicator species, meaning their presence or absence reflects the overall health and integrity of an ecosystem. Therefore, focusing on lynx conservation has positive trickle-down effects on other species.

Currently, there are no wild lynx populations in Britain, and conservationists have faced obstacles due to local concerns over threats to livestock, potential disruption to current ecosystems, and human-wildlife conflict issues more generally. However, attitudes are slowly changing as other countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, and Slovenia, have successfully reintroduced lynx in recent years.

Wilding Profile: Beavers

June 1, 2023

Beavers ( Castor fiber ) became extinct across the island of Great Britain in the 16th Century because of overhunting for fur, meat and castoreum – a secretion in popular use for the perfumes and medicines of the day.

So sort after were the materials of the world’s second-biggest rodent that large numbers of European opportunists were drawn in search of its wealth during the settling of the New World. This is where the largest beaver populations still remain today as a species of Least Concern at approximately fifteen million.

In Britain, a beaver family of unknown origin colonised the River Otter in Devon in 2008. It is believed to be the first in the wild since their previous nationwide extinction ∼400 years ago. A pair was introduced into the colony in 2016 to improve genetic diversity.

Beavers are believed to now number ∼800 across England and Wales reaching perhaps as many as 1,000 in Scotland alone. In 2022 the British government awarded them nationally protected status “making it illegal to capture, kill, injure or disturb them.”

Given this legal status, widespread public support and positive influences on ecosystems, beavers are set to be a permanent fixture in British wildlife for many generations to come.

Beavers famously build dams – but why? The deep pools they form provide shelter and protection against predators (mainly foxes in Britain) for both adults and babies (kits). These ‘beaver lodges’ are only accessible underwater.

Beavers are a keystone species meaning they are a central influence in forming the ecosystems around them.

Dams, also known as impoundments, naturally create deep and slow-moving water which attracts insects, fish and amphibians. These species bring predatory birds and small mammals such as otters.

Adjacent areas are soaked with nutrients and are more likely to remain hydrated in times of severe drought such as the British summer of 2022. These surrounding areas often transform into fertile meadows inviting large herbivores including deer, wild horses, boar, cattle and bison. These mammals in turn bring about important large-scale ecological processes of their own.

The shift in water patterns drowns some surrounding trees providing perfect habitats for fungi and insects which bring birds such as woodpeckers, kingfishers and ospreys.

Where beaver fells many trees through gnawing, species such as willows have adapted to resist and regrow stems. This natural form of coppicing allows the tree to rejuvenate.

Dams also help to prevent the flooding of human settlements by breaking up heavy water flows during high precipitation weather events. Underground water tables are given a chance to refill.

Beavers are quickly reintegrating into British ecosystems and given the desperate need for ingenuity to fight climate change, the return of this native species working for free can only be a positive!

Wilding Profile: Bison

May 26, 2023

Having gone extinct thousands of years ago, Europe’s largest land mammal was reintroduced to Britain last year.

Bison are believed to have disappeared due to human activity following the end of the last ice age which saw these islands cut off from Europe due to rising sea levels. These intelligent and adaptable beasts are set to transform the countryside using ancient, still not entirely understood behaviours.

As herbivorous bovine species, their diet consists mainly of grasses, fruits and woody material. Unlike their cow cousins which chew the ends of branches, bison take from the trunks, particularly in winter.

Known widely as ‘Wisent’ across the continent they practise ‘ring-barking’, a process of using their horns to tear bark to eat. They often target and kill invasive tree species which then fall bringing sunlight through the canopy to the forest floor where small plants can thrive. The deadwood attracts insects which in turn bring birds.

Cow wheat is the main food source of heath fritillary butterflies which only grow in cleared patches of woodland which bison create. The butterfly is also known as the ‘Woodsman’s Follower’.

They enjoy sand bathing and the patches they create invite pioneer plants, insects and reptiles.

Birds such as magpies love to perch on bison to inspect them for insects and use their fur as nesting material.

They disperse seeds caught in their fur and passed through to their dung. Their dung attracts insects which feed and breed.

Their large size and thick skin allow them to break through thick vegetation creating corridors for other species to pass through.

Males can weigh up to a tonne and 7ft at the shoulder and both genders can live up to 25 in the wild. They reach sexual maturity between four-six with a rutting season lasting between Aug-Oct. Their gestation period lasts, like humans, for nine months.

Their herds vary in size but are matriarchal, meaning led by an older female. Males are usually quite nomadic and return to herds to breed/rut with other males.

Bison are a keystone species meaning they define entire ecosystems – much like beavers, wolves and bees. Their behaviours are still being studied. For example, rangers in the Netherlands who have pioneered much wilding knowledge and practices have witnessed individuals trampling invasive rhododendron before urinating and rolling in the mixture. The plant’s sap is toxic and it is believed to form a type of insect repellent when mixed with bison urine.

Though slowly at first while being carefully managed, British bison numbers are expected to continue to grow. Last October saw the first calf born on these islands for thousands of years!

Maasthorst. Netherlands
Evan Bowen-Jones

Sea Ranger Service

April 28, 2023

Is it time to train a generation of British sailors to fight climate change on the high seas?

In the Great Depression, US President Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservative Corps in 1933 which oversaw the mobilisation of three million men to plant billions of trees, construct 800 US national parks and fisheries, and restore river systems.

The US Army led these men into nature as they performed the largest-scale restoration event in human history. Equipped with technical skills they returned home and revitalised local communities creating economic prosperity across a poverty-stricken society.

The Dutch-founded conservation and social change organisation Sea Ranger Service (SRS) is bringing this vision to the modern era training underprivileged youths in deprived port cities across Europe.

While Britain has seen large increases in degree and postgraduate degree holders in recent years, many industries have been left with skilled labour shortages. SRS identified this lack of capacity and combines it with the needs of coastal communities with poor job prospects to create lasting social impacts.

“Think of this island nation and its maritime heritage. It’s so rich in its history. If you think of Grimsby for example, it was one of the biggest fishing ports in Europe. It was a really rich community. There was wealth and then there was change. The mechanisation of the processes in ports. Fish processing became cheaper overseas.” Says SRS Founder and CEO Wietse van der Werf.

It is not just coastal communities in need of intervention. There are currently over 17,000 areas of ocean designated for protection across the globe. Research shows only 0.6% of these regions are sufficiently protected.

“I worked as an engineer on research ships going to Antarctica, worked on fisheries issues undercover to help investigate illegal fishing. I’ve seen that while there is the notion of increased protection for the ocean in reality a lot of that protection is primarily on paper.” Says Wietse.

With research revealing the potential economic benefits of marine conservation, SRS is looking to use this incentive to raise funds across Europe.

“Except for starting an airline or going out into space, to have ships and go out to sea is one of the most expensive things you can do.” Says Wietse.

Recruits do not require any previous education and SRS is often the first place many encounter maritime life and the possibility of a career. If they complete the highly structured one-week boot camp they can be employed full-time by SRS and receive another year of additional training involving climate research, seagrass restoration and testing water quality. Upon reaching 180 ‘Sea Days’ recruits receive a rating deck sailing endorsement – a qualification which allows individuals to work on ships.

A key area of focus for SRS has been seagrass restoration in the Netherlands and France. As the only flowering plant that grows in a marine environment, it is crucial for biodiversity and acts as an important source of carbon sequestration.

We asked Wietse what it’s like being out at sea for long stretches of time. “This question makes me smile because it is spellbound. It is absolutely on the one hand incredible, and on the other hand incredibly challenging at the same time.”

He has worked in Antarctic weather systems larger than England which take weeks to get through as there is no land mass to break them up. “There are extremely tough days and you are in a little tin bobbing around on the ocean. You are part of a team and as an engineer, I had my role. It is a microcosm of society. There is so much beauty, freedom and purpose.”

Having come to Britain SRS is currently looking to replicate its success in Grimsby, Portsmouth and Port Talbot.

Bringing the world`s heaviest flying bird back to the UK

March 31, 2023

Started in 1998 as a hobby interest by former police officer David Waters, the Great Bustard Group (GBG) has gone on to foster a tentative but growing population of the world’s heaviest flying bird on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire.

However, the organisation had to overcome cultural shifts in conservation attitudes that today might seem outdated.

“There was a philosophy that because something has gone extinct it is because it can’t cope with prevailing conditions so it’s pointless to try and bring it back.” Says Waters. “The most common argument was that money should be spent on existing wildlife instead.”

The GBG changed minds by raising its own funds directly from the public revealing a willingness to back species reintroductions.

“It’s an attractive prospect to donate funding to the heaviest flying bird in the world.”

Though going extinct in the UK during the latter 19th Century, the great bustard still carries much cultural significance appearing on the Wiltshire county flag and coat of arms. This heritage and pride from the community have led GBG to receive sponsorship from local construction companies, brewers, farmers and other local volunteers.

Bustards make up a family of 26 species across all continents outside the Americas and migrate as far as the poles. The Great Bustard is the heaviest at over 20kg and though previously believed to be close relatives of the crane due to their shape, genetic discoveries now place them between cuckoos and flycatchers. They thrive in wide county arable farming areas and are particularly fond of oil seed rape.

The Enclosure Acts sounded the death knell of the Great Bustard as their remnant unfenced common land habitats were broken up into smaller fields for more intense public usage.

Given the widespread enthusiasm for species identification and classification of the Victorian Era, it is believed collectors also played a large part in the Great Bustard’s extinction.

“If you were an ornithologist you went round and collected birds and their eggs. And certainly long-lived birds like Great Bustards which are slow to mature and breed… The ethos of the Victorian collectors with rarer birds being more desirable, meant the last of a dying species would be the best one to have.”

The GBG’s work began with a commissioned feasibility study for reintroductions. A steering group was convened with English Nature (then Natural England), DEFRA and RSPB. Special licensing had to be obtained as the bird was now considered non-native. The government did not respond for two years.

Once licensing was finally obtained sourcing of birds became the main question. ICUN guidelines state wild stock rather than captive-bred stock should be used. A suitable source population was found in Saratov, Russia. The GBG embarked on a ten-year egg rescue programme among the vast fields collecting from natural Great Bustard nests.

“Russia isn’t a particularly easy place even for most Russians to live, but it was certainly quite challenging for an Englishman out there, particularly one with a police background. But we did manage to source many eggs with a reasonable hatch rate.”

The first batch of Wiltshire reintroductions established a small population with a high post-release attrition rate over the first few months. However, survival rates increased significantly once birds rode out their first winter demonstrating the Great Bustard could once again live and breed in southern England.

In support of the GBG, Chester University carried out a genetic study of each European Great Bustard population. In a first, researchers included genetic material taken from the under-foot of extinct English Great Bustards. Samples were taken from old museums hosting stuffed birds.

The closest living match was found in the Iberian (Spanish) gene pool. This surprised academics as this population was previously seen as too distinct owing to the vastly different Pyrenean climate. This was also a fortuitous find as the Iberian peninsula hosts half the globe’s Great Bustard population. This came at a good time as political shifts in Russia made working there increasingly difficult.

Following UK government licensing approval GBG began working alongside the Spanish local governments of Castille de Leon and Castille de la Mancha. Both issued licenses for eggs to be directly collected from nests over a timeframe allowing for natural breeding levels to be minimally affected.

Having been carefully transported back to the UK with the help of Madrid Zoo then Birdworld and Cotswold Wildlife Park, chicks were hand-reared at the GBG centre in Wiltshire.

Today the Wiltshire Great Bustard population numbers almost 100 and given the high death rate of captive-bred chicks, GBG’s focus is on supporting these wild-release birds through ongoing monitoring and support.

“Now reintroductions, translocations, and restorations are pretty mainstream activities for conservationists. Twenty-five years ago they weren’t, they were very unpopular.”

As the population continues to increase and stabilise, GBG hopes the bird can spread back to regions it previously called home, particularly Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and East Anglia.


Innovative poverty-reduction programmes integrating family planning and conservation meet success in Uganda

February 27, 2023

Across the globe 218 million women and girls in low and middle-income countries have an unmet need for family planning. These are women of reproductive age, either married or in a union who want to stop or delay childbearing but are not using any method of contraception (United Nations. 2014).

No country has transitioned into a higher income bracket without investment in women’s education and making modern family planning methods available. Female-centred policy approaches offer more choices for potential mothers who can then delay or space childbirth to advance their education, work more hours and have more free time.

There is a crossover between parts of the world in need of quality health service provision, including rights-based, voluntary family planning programmes and experiencing environmental challenges.

Founded in 1968 by its British namesake family planning pioneer, the Margaret Pyke Trust has been implementing innovative programmes that incorporate conservation needs alongside reproductive education in southwestern Uganda.

“A traditional conservation project would lead to only conservation outcomes, what’s different about this is the added value of integration, those health messages and conservation messages are delivered in an integrated manner.” Says Advocacy and Projects Manager Carina Hirsch based in London.

The DEFRA-funded project oversees wetlands conservation of the Ugandan national bird, the great crowned crane while improving health services provision and education. Traditional gender roles remain deeply embedded within the Sub-Saharan nation’s society, however, the Trust’s approach has found success.

“Men would only attend community training on a subject felt traditionally relevant to him such as alternative and sustainable livelihoods.” Says Midwife and Uganda Country Lead Sarah Uwimbabazi. “Women might be forbidden from attending such events. But when delivered in an integrated manner you are receiving all of that information.”

Cohorts of the population previously unreachable are now receiving the information they would not have through single-sector programmes.

“This approach leads to greater gender outcomes, greater health outcomes, greater livelihood outcomes, greater environmental outcomes.” Says Hirsch, adding that the Trust works at the programmatic level and as a national and global advocate.

In 2022 the Trust hosted the Integrated Crane Festival.

“This festival was an exciting event and when they arrived there was a mobile health clinic set up and many accessed the services.” Says Uwimbabazi. “They came for the festival and found the clinic set up too. Most outreaches are integrated. People from the environment sector, people from the health sector and then all [the community] are there.”

Having seen community improvements, locals are keen to access wider resources and the Trust acts as a vehicle for a host of other services such as preventative care, vaccines, dental care and eye clinics. Individuals of both sexes often come with a single issue and leave having had full body checkups – something that otherwise would prove expensive in terms of cost and work hours missed.

Women and girls who are able to access services and therefore exercise reproductive choice, have more time to work in the fields and so can help generate more profits. Most children now go to school because their parents can afford it.

Prior to engaging with the programmes, communities held many misconceptions about modern methods of contraception often encouraged by conservative elders or religious leaders. Beliefs such as that implants can move through the bloodstream to the heart or brain and cause death. Interruptions of hormonal patterns can cause haemorrhaging/bleeding to death. Condoms cause cancer. Increases in partner infidelity.

Locals are trained in climate-smart agricultural techniques such as the use of the calliandra plant which works as a carbon sink and prevents soil erosion. They are taught how to manage wetlands alongside the great crowned crane which can breed and thrive in its natural habitat.

They also undertake habitat restoration to protect soil and water sources for both communities and native wildlife. Breaking the cycle of poverty following the introduction of maternal and newborn health services and information and fewer unintended pregnancies, locals have more time to invest in conservation and so act as stewards equipped with the knowledge and tools with the resilience to build independence and resilience to Climate Change.

Before men would not attend family planning initiatives viewing them as a women-only issue. Now the Margaret Pyke Trust oversees workshops integrating family planning, conservation, farming and land use, community sanitation, communicable/incommunicable disease prevention and more to both sexes.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body that advises the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change highlighted family planning as a climate adaption and resilience building strategy.” Says Hirsch adding that Uganda is ahead of the curve in the region.

In the coming years, she would like to see similar programmes integrating reproductive health rolled out across other East African nations learning from the programmatic and broader national experience of Uganda.

“Family Planning is not the be-all and end-all for development, but it is a crucial element that contributes to the acceleration of many development objectives, including climate resilience. Decades of research have shown that for every dollar spent on family planning, six or seven dollars are saved on other development interventions.”

Uwimbabazi was asked what she would like to see for the communities she works with. “People could continue to get rid of poverty, communities with enough food, two meals a day not one, able to sell their own food, not just buy. More children in schools. Fewer teenage pregnancies, teen marriages. More trained health workers.”

Red Squirrels in the UK: where are we now?

February 1, 2023

The United Kingdom is host to two species of squirrel, the indigenous red (Sciurus vulgaris) and invasive grey (Sciurus carolinensis) from North America.

As the maps show, the story for red squirrels over the past seven decades has been disastrous following the introduction of invasive greys, allegedly introduced to the UK in the 1870s as ornamental species, expanding rapidly through native territories.

Nature England in 2018 published estimates that The British Isles hosts populations of 287,000 reds and 2.7 million greys. While outnumbered over 10 to one, reds maintain a number of strongholds across the country. Apart from western Ireland, Scotland and the north more generally, islands have naturally become important havens such as Brown Sea Island, The Isle of Wight and Anglesey.

Anglesey reds are a remarkable story of recovery becoming almost extinct by 1997 with 40 individuals remaining in one woodland from one female bloodline. Through systematic efforts to eradicate greys from the island alongside reintroductions, the red squirrel population now sits at around 700-800 individuals.

In Scotland, a recent survey shows the number of reds is on the rise thanks to efforts from local conservation groups. The fourth annual survey of 659 participants reported sightings of 255 grey and 659 red squirrels respectively across the Highland Boundary Fault Line stretching from Argyll to Aberdeenshire.

Greys outcompete reds by carrying a strain of viruses known as Parapoxvirus, the adverse effects of which they appear to be immune, unlike reds which perish from the disease. Greys also consume vast quantities of ‘unripe’ fruits which reds cannot, denying the latter a staple food source they have evolved to depend upon. Reds also reproduce at a far slower rate when exposed to stressful conditions.

Given the high numbers of greys as well as much public opinion against specific eradication methods, new techniques such as ‘fertility controls’ have been trialled over past years with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) currently in its fifth and final year of the research phase for oral contraceptives.

Though the story for red squirrels over the past several decades has been bleak, these small victories, as well as a groundswell of organisations and volunteer groups across the UK, push towards a tipping point in favour of reds in coming years.

A combination of efforts to repopulate forest corridors linking up isolated red populations, effective grey squirrel fertility controls and supporting monitoring groups on the ground, shows that reds could be on the verge of making a gradual but promising return.

Maps by Shuttleworth C. @ Red Squirrel Survival Trust.

Red Squirrel © Allan Potts

Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary: Saving Apes in Sierra Leone

December 7, 2022

Walking through a remote village in 1985, Sri Lankan Bala Amarasekaran and his wife came across a sick baby chimp tied to a tree. Horrified to see the distressed ape they bought ‘Bruno’ for $20.

Due to the high demand for trafficked animals for bushmeat and as exotic pets along with severe poverty exacerbated by the civil war (1991-2002), Bala soon found himself housing seven rescued chimps. Over the years he has managed to secure new premises and expand facilities. Now Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary cares for over one hundred chimps with a large team of scientists, vets and rangers.

‘When we meet the chimps they are often in deplorable conditions, tied-up, maltreated’. – Daniella Samura, Head of Comms for the Sanctuary. She says captive chimps sell for around $200. ‘In the wild, they stay with their mothers until seven years old, so when humans capture them they keep them in unethical conditions, and don’t give them proper food.’

Being the only major wildlife sanctuary in Sierra Leone, the organisation advocates for not only chimps but for a range of animals, habitat protection, conservation policy and research.

The west-African nation has seen severe large-scale deforestation over the past decades as locals claim more land leading to the depopulation of wildlife pushing chimps onto the endangered species list.

People continue to encroach into the Western Area Peninsula National Park where Tacugama is located, fell trees and sometimes poaching animals.

Worsened in recent years by the effects of the pandemic, destructive practices have spread to other national parks where Tacugama work such as the Loma Mountains, Gola Rainforest and Outama-Kilimi.

‘Sometimes we get a call from right out in the provinces where people see a chimp.’ Says Samura. ‘We are always in the field, especially in the outreach department, always there are guys in the field talking with people from different organisations to ensure that things get done.’

The sanctuary was closed to visitors during the pandemic as chimps are vulnerable to human-borne diseases as they share 98.6% of our DNA. Staff are diligent with hygiene safety and still use facemasks.

‘It’s also fun to work here, I take pictures of them for social media. But they are very intelligent, if they don’t know you, they throw rocks at you. Sometimes it’s just beautiful to look at them.’

‘We do large amounts of outreach to build awareness and educate.’

With growing advocacy, Sierra Leonians are beginning to embrace pride in their national animal – a flagship species, meaning the protection of chimps means greater sustainability for the wider ecosystem.

Support for the sanctuary comes from eco-tourism such as tours, bird-watching and hiking as well as donations from well-wishers and an ‘adopt a chimp’ initiative.

It`s time to replant our lost elm trees.

November 11, 2022

Ulmus minor can be cross-bred with naturally immune Asiatic species to create robust hybrids for mass large-scale elm reintroductions into our woodlands.

Thirty elm species ranged across the northern hemisphere from the Arctic to The Middle East and tropical Pacific. Believed to have emerged from somewhere in Asia, Dutch Elm Disease, or sac fungi, Ophiostoma novo-ulmi (DED), would by the 1990s have killed up to 25 million UK elms.

The first strain was identified in mainland Europe in 1910 as it spread across the continent sparing Finland and Greece. However, being much milder, few elms would perish as most infections claimed only a few branches. This first wave would die out naturally in the forties.

Asian elms developed natural immunity, but the accidental introduction of the disease into Europe through ports on Canadian elms used as timber, popular in the small-boat industry, in 1967 had devastating consequences.

Spread by elm bark beetles, spider-like feeding galleries begin to pepper the outer surfaces of the trees. Symptoms first appear with the arrival of summer beginning with the wilt and browning of leaves before they fall prematurely. Shoots die back and can curl to form ‘shepherd’s crooks’.

The microfungus triggers the tree’s immune response by blocking xylem with gum to stop its spread. This prevents the flow of nutrients and fluids eventually killing the tree.

The largest surviving concentration of elms can be found in Amsterdam. As for those that have survived in the UK, some ancient individuals being hundreds of years old can be found in areas such as Brighton and Cambridgeshire. It is unclear how they have managed to survive and is something researchers are keen to determine.

As for younger elms, hedgerows provide safe havens as they shield roots which then send up ‘suckers’ which are protected by vegetation until reaching rarely more than 5m before succumbing to attacks by DED. Established hedgerows maintained through low clipping have guarded elms in this manner for more than forty years.

Leading UK organisations on the issue believe the most appropriate way forward would be to fully sequence the elm genome of all variants, especially Ulmus minor, being the most DED-resistant. These can then be cross-bred with naturally immune Asiatic species to create robust hybrids for mass large-scale elm reintroductions into our woodlands.

Gene programmes throughout North America have already bred European elm varieties with DED-resistant cultivars (genetic strains). Though English elms can grow more than 40m these new hybrids are much shorter and better suited to tougher sites where other trees cannot grow.

According to a report from the Future Trees Trust, “The common goal is to provide resilient, British-grown elms for conservation, amenity and forestry plantings. The key to this is identifying elms with high tolerance/resistance to DED. It is also necessary to determine whether there is sufficient commercial demand to move elm from its current niche as a very minor nursery tree crop to more of a mainstream species.”

Elms play a crucial role in ecosystems. Their seeds and buds provide an abundance of food for birds and attract many butterfly and caterpillar species. This is particularly important for birds and elms are particularly favoured by warblers.

Elms would also be good news for lichen which live on both elm and ash bark, the latter of which have been perishing at the hands of ash die-back infections. Lichens provide a crucial food source, netting material and shelter for many invertebrates.

Though large-scale initiatives are yet to be put into practice across the UK, some smaller projects using the hybrid Ulmus New Horizon cultivar raised by Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation have been slowly taking shape.

Elms4London and National Tree Week are two such initiatives. Hillier, the Nursery and Gardens company launched a campaign with Dame Judi Dench in 2019 to restore elms across the UK.

If you are interested in finding elms in your area The Conservation Foundation has put together this database of recorded mature elms across the country.

‘What is known is that through the determination, dedication and passion of those involved in elm and their work over the past decades, the timing for elm to make a comeback has never been better.’ – Future Trees Trust.

Salisbury Cathedral from Lower Marsh Close, John Constable, 1820, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Dutch elm disease on a golden elm

Beetle feeding galleries on wych elm trunk

A Wood Warbler in Inversnaid, Loch Lomond, Scotland

The Nigerian sanctuary saving trafficked and injured wildlife

November 4, 2022

‘There are animals in our textbooks that don’t exist here anymore.’

In 2012 Chinedu Mogbo opened a wildlife sanctuary in eastern Lagos. Now after a decade, Green Fingers Day saw hundreds of young people come together for seminars and celebrations to meet and learn about some of the 54 resident species.

‘Wildlife education is the problem we have here in Nigeria. It’s as if the issues are almost non-existent.’ Chinedu says over a Zoom call with limited bandwidth. ‘There is a great disconnect between what is written in books and the reality on the ground. There are animals in our textbooks that don’t exist here anymore.’

The Green Fingers Conservation Initiative (GFC) hosts rescued species such as pangolins, African grey parrots, white-throated guenons, bateleur eagles, turtles and vultures.

Chinedu and his team of growing volunteers lack capacity and often have to conduct their own research to understand species’ requirements regarding feeding and care etc. Limited resources are the sanctuary’s main drawback as they receive no government funding and previously relied on small donations and Chinedu’s second job as a teacher.

However, they have started raising funds and awareness with campaigns ‘Race for Wildlife’ and ‘Play for Pangolins’. Pangolins are believed to be the world’s most trafficked species of which Chinedu has housed a number – at first for a few weeks but now up to 10 months as staff have been trained in conducting medical interventions and caring for babies.

There are various wildlife networks across the country such as Friends of Wildlife Nigeria organised by the British Consulate that meet to discuss opportunities and share knowledge.
This crucially provides a pool of vets that the GFC relies upon. But zoos are privately or government-owned and ‘are for business with conservation not being what they do.’

Despite challenging circumstances in an isolated setting, this year the GFC was awarded for service to the Environment and Mankind by The Art of Living Foundation presented by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. ‘It was mindblowing to receive the award from him.’

Many of the species arriving at the GFC located on the southern coast do so from inland Nigeria where ethnic and religious disputes are rampant. ‘ISIS are still present, and huge numbers of poachers have conflicts with rangers in national parks. There’s a lot of kidnapping in the north especially.’

The conflict displaces many animals through habitat destruction and though the GFC offers sanctuary, certain species are not endemic to coastal climates. ‘We always have to find a way to get them back there but it’s almost impossible because of the kind of threats they face…imagine taking an animal to be released and being kidnapped on the road.’

Due to the presence of bandits and the breakdown in rangers’ capacity to monitor national parks, species reintroductions risk essentially putting animals back into the hands of the criminal-groups organisations like the GFC save them from.

Speaking on the effects of the war in Ukraine Chinedu says that the Nigerian economy and therefore street prices are extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in global currencies. ‘We are almost a non-productive state where everything is imported.’ For the GFC this means supplies for animals such as food and milk.

But despite the plethora of obstacles, Chinedu is optimistic with plans to continue training staff, expanding capacity and building more training programmes for youngsters.

‘One strength we have here in Nigeria is utilizing the force of young people.’

More information can be found at:

Chinedu Mogbo. Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria

Green Fingers Sanctuary. Lekki, Lagos, Nigeria.

Chinedu teaching students.

Chinedu with his new friend.

Hope for Malawi: Sustainable Fisheries and the Growth of Freshwater Aquaculture

October 11, 2022

Sub-Saharan African aquaculture projects are bolstering semi-subsistence sustainable food economies for poor rural consumers and markets. Targeted supply chain interventions, such as sourcing fingerlings (baby fish) and expanding hatcheries have created more jobs for nations with high food insecurity, and are vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Land-locked Malawi is beset by economic challenges having no ports or access to sea trade routes. ‘It doesn’t have great reserves of minerals compared to its neighbours. Mozambique has one of the largest natural gas reserves, Zambia has huge reserves of copper.’ Says David Bargh, development specialist for the German Government (GIZ) funded Aquaculture Value Chain Development project. ‘It relies on tobacco, coffee, tea, pigeon peas, cowpeas, none of which are of significantly high quality to demand a price premium.’

Bargh‘s consultancy group has trained 4,500 smallholder farmers with pond areas from 200m² to 5ha and being farmer-led, the methods used are traditional techniques which avoid damaging ecosystems to produce healthy fish batches.

Locals were forced to import feed but now five native producers cover sourcing needs increasing overall productivity by over 100%. The project was launched in 2019 and now 37 hatcheries annually produce 1.5/ 2 million tilapia fingerlings for breeding to help support the industry.

Though Malawi has seen steady economic growth in recent years historical factors have left the nation with deep-rooted obstacles. ‘The country has moved backwards since one-party rule after it gained independence from Britain in 1966 and gained democracy in 1994.’ Says Bargh. ‘The first president, Hastings Banda, gave himself the presidency for life. He created a lot of stability, healthcare, education, and infrastructure, and people’s basic needs were met. Since then Malawi has moved towards “My Turn” politics, as in “My Turn Now”. From corruption to corruption.’

Colonialism brought terrible consequences to native populations in many Sub-Saharan countries, however, some have benefited from the legacy of more advanced structures and systems where Malawi has not.

Though having generally positive business relations with its neighbours owing in part to a widespread diaspora, Malawi has challenging regulatory and legal frameworks for trading goods making transfers expensive. This has led authorities to search for other sources of prosperity.

Lake Malawi is a huge resource and oil companies have been prospecting for reserves. However, there are great fears that this could not only damage the nation’s greatest natural resource but cause water to drain out through subterranean cracks bringing fatal consequences for wildlife and the country. National debates are still ongoing.

Aquaculture is being increasingly viewed as a more reliable industry for developing nations due to its ability to be integrated into the challenges of local populations as long as targeted interventions are maintained. Projects continue to spread across southern Africa with 10 similar varied-sized schemes from $100,000 to $10/15 million being implemented.

When asked how international crises such as the Ukraine conflict or the economic fallout from the covid pandemic have affected society, Bargh says prices have increased dramatically but Malawians are blaming domestic forces rather than being open to the wider picture. This insular mindset is preventing organisations from looking for cooperative solutions with neighbours and the outside world.

Bargh mentions that 15-20% of pond area was lost due to flooding and mud burials brought on by the annual cyclone season. ‘However, I feel positive about the future of aquaculture owing to a lot of space for innovation… Where I currently work on smaller integrated systems locals can now buy less meat, they can save money, send their kids to school, university, there is a lot of potential.’

Small Mammal Reintroductions: Hazel Dormice

September 29, 2022

UK native hazel dormice numbers have halved over the last two decades mainly owing to the decline in hedgerow and woodland habitats, as well as the wider influences of increment climate change.

As K-Strategists, dormice have slower breeding cycles with one annual litter but can live up to five or six years in the wild. This differs from R-Strategists such as water voles which breed every three weeks though only live for a couple of years. This has made dormice more vulnerable to habitat changes especially given their low population density of one breeding pair/20ha.

“They are a sensitive species that need warm, dry summers and constantly cold winters because they hibernate” said Hazel Ryan, Senior Conservation Officer at the Wildwood Trust. “Summers are getting wetter which is not good for dormice because their fur is not particularly waterproof. This means they can lose heat rapidly.”

Warmer winters can cause dormice to emerge from hibernation before the natural arrival of spring food such as nuts and berries. Their primitive digestive systems and reliance on diverse diets mean they are ‘indicator species’ and are evidence of healthy surrounding habitats. They are also believed to play a role in pollination.

Alongside the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) which secures sites for release, Wildwood Trust has been running a captive breeding programme since 1993 which has reintroduced over 1,000 individuals into the countryside.

Sites are generally located in areas of particularly low dormice populations such as across the north of the UK.

Breeding individuals are sourced from captive populations, often rescued, injured, caught by pets or often found orphaned by members of the public in hedgerows.

“We try to keep the conditions as near as to the wild as possible” said Ryan. “We use 6x6ft enclosures outdoors with logs for insects and camouflage with nest boxes similar to bird boxes but with holes in the back. They are then fed on seed mixes and fruit, [for example] blackberries, plums, and mealworms.”

Being outdoors the temperature is consistent with natural dormice surroundings, though indoor facilities are used in the case of medical emergencies.

New individuals are quarantined for thirty days before being brought to enclosures following screens for disease.

They are paired in spring to match their natural breeding cycles and checked for litters throughout summer by staff or licenced volunteers.

“Genetic diversity is important, there is a national stud book to record bloodlines and pair up individuals. We need to source new bloodlines every one to two years to make the captive population more diverse” said Ryan.

Once breeding has begun the family, along with the father who teaches survival basics, are moved to open soft release sites which are closely monitored and supplied with food for the first 10 days.

It takes around 18 days for dormice eyes to open which is slow compared to other small mammals. They are slow to mature and can stay with their parents for two/three months. During this time they learn to navigate their environments, find food and avoid predation.

Natural dormice nests are woven and distinctive. In the centre, they place shredded tree bark, particularly honeysuckle, covered in layers of leaves. Wherever possible they stay off the ground and like to nest in tree hollows or hedgerows. Only during hibernation do they build nests on the warmer more humid soil which protects against frost.

Across the UK licenced volunteers check on local populations and all released individuals are microchipped for monitoring. “Chipless animals are good news as we know they have been born at that site” said Ryan.

Adaptions from single family releases in previous years to more recent ‘cluster’ releases with many families released in groups, have shown improved results in overall dormice populations and genetic diversity.

“These are followed up with reinforcement releases of up to 40 individuals to further boost genetic bloodlines” said Ryan.

Hazel dormouse in hand
Photo: Terry Longley

Weighing hand reared dormouse
Photo: Hazel Ryan

Dormouse eating blackberries
Photo Hugh Clark © Wildwood Trust

How the UK’s Landmark Bison Release Ecological Impacts are Being Monitored

September 20, 2022

The bison release this July into Kent’s Blean Wood is being monitored by robust collars, chlorophyll detecting drones and a UK first in new Wi-Fi technology.

‘Think of it as an Excel spreadsheet with a map attached.’ Said Robbie Still, Digital Transformation Officer at Kent Wildlife Trust (KWT), explaining the Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

‘The data that feeds back is location and time, we can see how close [the bison] are to each other. It monitors XYZ coordinates so we can recognise behaviour patterns.’ Bison are known to ‘ring-bark’ non-native trees causing them to die off. They dust-bathe and create new corridors through thick, tangled undergrowth. All should contribute to a mosaic of new ecosystems.

Only a ten-minute drive from Canterbury centre, Blean Wood is surprisingly off the beaten track. The dense forest canopy and near-constant mud obstruct radiowaves blocking telephone signals and access to Wi-Fi.

To address these challenges KWT partnered with SmartParks, a Netherlands-based company that specialises in remote sensing technology used in remote African game reserves. The group worked with bison on a separate Dutch sand dune project. The rough and tumble of bison life led them to develop specialised tough collars.

In the unlikely event of breakouts, staff must track the bison every 5/20 minutes. However, this requires a 4G database or radio receivers to ping coordinates, both of which are not viable in Blean. The KWT team implemented ‘Long Range Low Power Wi-Fi’ or LoRaWAN in a UK first. Three stations across Blean send small packets of data over several miles in a closed network. This technique delivers simple information through rough and remote terrain at a minimal cost.

‘We are taking samples in areas the bison are and are not. In Blean, we’ve got longhorn cattle in another area as a proxy. Then another area with no grazing at all as a control. We’ll also be taking drone samples and comparing how they change.’ Said Still. ‘We can overlay that with GPS tracking in bison collars to see where they are being most effective.’

Drones with multispectral cameras, which detect specific wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum, can now detect phenomena such as chlorophyll content in leaves and levels of ground moisture. In Blean, these will be used to monitor how bison impact flora and subsequently small mammals, birds and invertebrates.

‘We collect data using the Zenmuse XS5 [camera]. It’s like where you see things online showing how much the Amazon has shrunk. NDVI is a metric of infrared bands that detects greenness in plants outside our visible light spectrum.’ Said Lawrence Ball, GIS and Data Officer for KWT.

Conducting Drone Remote Sensing. Blean Wood
© Lawrence Ball