Happy New Year for 2021, I wonder what it will bring? A return to normal for our Teme Valley Wildlife group meetings, I hope. One of the talks we had to postpone last year was about a project to re-introduce beavers into a number of sites in Wales, so I thought I would write about the increasing use of this method to boost wildlife numbers in the British Isles.
One of the most successful and certainly most obvious wildlife re-introductions has been that of the red kite. In 1989 Spanish birds were set free in the Chilterns and later to three other areas, including, nearest to us, the hills of mid-Wales. Anyone who has taken a Chiltern Line train or driven down the M40 will have noticed how they have since prospered. We now enjoy seeing these beautiful birds powering up and down the Teme valley, although they fly with such grace and precision that they are never in view for long. Other introductions, of great bustards to Salisbury Plain, storks to the West Sussex Knepp estate, cranes to the Somerset Levels and golden eagles from the Highlands to southern Scotland, prove that breeding animals in captivity, or relocating them from countries where they are abundant, can boost or replace populations that in other places are in decline.
Of course, the availability of suitable habitat is key to these projects and wildlife organisations make detailed plans to ensure that their subjects have the greatest chance of success. Last year I saw a report of a golden eagle (rather unprosaically dubbed “Beaky” and recently moved to lowland Scotland), taking a 90-mile flight to check out the Pennines. This was the first English sighting for many a long year, and as she was female, it is to be hoped that she was looking for somewhere suitable to build a nest here.
Mammals too, are finding themselves being assisted into new territories. Hazel dormice and water voles bred in captivity are currently being released into many habitats from which they had previously been lost. Pine martens, larger animals who thrive in the north of Britain, have recently been released in Wales and in the Forest of Dean. These elusive characters have already begun to breed in their new homes. Beavers are a bit controversial, hence our hoped-for talk, but the need to alleviate flood-risks has given them and their pond-creation activities a boost and some animals illegally re-introduced have recently been given permission to remain.
Insects have also benefited from naturalists’ attentions. The large blue butterfly has been successfully re-introduced to former sites, although it’s early days yet to determine success. Often a considerable amount of research needs to be done to establish the exact conditions for creatures to thrive. The large blue requires the presence of particular ant colonies and grass grazed to a specific height before it can settle happily into a new home. What complex requirements!
Watch this space for the Welsh beaver story, which we hope to be bringing you later in the year.