All posts by Heather

HS2 wood clearance to go ahead as Chris Packham legal bid fails

The Guardian reports the clearing of ancient woods for HS2 is to proceed this month after the high court refused an emergency injunction and judicial review of the government’s decision to proceed with the high-speed railway.

HS2’s felling of woodlands in spring when birds are nesting has been widely condemned by wildlife charities but the conservationist Chris Packham’s attempt to halt “enabling” works was rejected after the court decided there was “no real prospect of success” for a judicial review. 

Photo by Birmingham Friends of the Earth under creative commons.

On the face of it, mice can show their emotions just like us

The Times reports more than a century ago Charles Darwin broached the idea that animals could display emotions as plainly as people do. The notion has been controversial. Does a hang-dog expression really show that a canine is ashamed? Will a cockatoo in a state of ennui look crestfallen? Researchers have offered support for Darwin’s proposal by training a computer to decipher expressions in mice.

In a paper published in Science, they showed that the countenance of a mouse can be read like that of a human. Mice grimace in pain and look forlorn when nauseous. It is also possible to tell if they are afraid or delighted.

Nadine Gogolla of the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, who led the study, said: “A happy mouse tends to move every part of their face towards the stimulus, towards the front. Their face looks almost a bit squished. Their ears lay down and point forward; their nose moves towards the mouth. And they stick their tongue out and smack their lips.” 

Photo by Fenners1984 under creative commons.

Declining house sparrow shows signs of feeling chirpy again

The Times reports the cheering chirruping of house sparrows, once common in gardens, has declined drastically over the past four decades. A generation after numbers plummeted, however, there is hope.

At the 41st annual birdwatching weekend held in January an average of 4.7 house sparrows were seen, prompting hopes that they have turned the corner. Almost 1.3 million house sparrows were seen over the weekend. Experts believe the mild winter may have helped smaller birds, which are susceptible to cold conditions. 

‘The losses could be profound’: how floods are wreaking havoc on wildlife

The Guardian reports as rivers and wildflower meadows in the UK struggle to recover from repeated flooding, the ecosystems they support are collapsing. 

The damage flooding does to humans has been well-documented, but wildlife populations are unseen casualties, with some ecosystems taking decades to recover. “It is frightening to think that we have only just begun to see what might be ahead with our climate. The losses could be profound,” says James Hitchcock from Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. 

Photo by willi_bremen under creative commons.

UK wildlife enjoys humans’ lockdown but concerns raised over conservation

The Guardian reports animals are getting some peace and people are reconnecting with nature, but wildlife crimes may be going unnoticed. Moles are daring to clamber above ground to hunt for worms, oystercatchers are nesting on deserted beaches, and overlooked plants such as ivy-leaved toadflax are gaining new friends.

The shutdown of modern life as we know it is liberating British wildlife to enjoy newly depopulated landscapes. But conservationists say the impact is not all positive, with wildlife crimes going unreported and vital work including monitoring impossible to carry out. 

Mole photo by Link576 under creative commons.

Help needed to rescue UK’s old rainfall records

The BBC report. At a loss to know what to do with your self-isolation time? Well, why not get on the computer and help with a giant weather digitisation effort? The UK has rainfall records dating back 200 years or so, but the vast majority of these are in handwritten form and can’t easily be used to analyse past periods of flooding and drought. 

The Rainfall Rescue Project is seeking volunteers to transfer all the data into online spreadsheets. You’re not required to rummage through old bound volumes; the Met Office has already scanned the necessary documents – all 65,000 sheets. You simply have to visit a website, read the scribbled rainfall amounts and enter the numbers into a series of boxes. 

Photo by Alison Day under creative commons.

Interview: Sir David Attenborough on the lost world he grew up in

The SUNDAY TIMES reports as he approaches his 94th birthday, Attenborough finds himself on a very different planet to the one he grew up on. We need to reconnect with nature, he tells Nick Rufford, for our own health – as well as the Earth’s.

After a lifetime of bringing nature into our living rooms, David Attenborough wants us to get out of our armchairs and help save the natural world we’ve enjoyed watching on television. Decades of relentless industrialisation, urbanisation and intensive farming have driven a wedge between us and our animal ancestors, he warns, and the disconnection between modern families and nature is getting worse.

Sir David Attenborough photo by ukhouseoflords under Creative Commons.

Garden birdwatching: the wildlife travel drama on your doorstep

THE GUARDIAN reports we may be stuck indoors but the skies are a source of ornithological wonder. Experts reveal what’s out there, where to look – and how to get competitive about it.

Some of us have always scrutinised the skies above our homes and gardens but the Covid-19 crisis has turned this activity into something of a movement, sparked by Matteo Toller of Udine in north-east Italy who recently se up #BWKM0 (birdwatching at zero km) on Twitter to help people record their sightings, share knowledge and show solidarity during the country’s lockdown.

Matteo himself recorded 51 species from his windows in 12 hours earlier this month, including brambling, black stork, goshawk and the first house martins migrating north. 

Nottingham Trent University study to assess impact of traffic on hedgehogs

The BBC reports researchers are investigating how many hedgehogs are killed on our roads in a bid to help the UK’s declining population. A Nottingham Trent University team will also study whether tunnels under roads could reduce the number of deaths. Experts believe the animals are struggling with lost habitats, increased competition and traffic. Researchers hope this study could help stop the creatures’ decline and provide guidance for planners and developers.