nature

How collaboration is saving rhinos

Early last week I attended one of the most inspiring events that I’ve ever been to. It was the launch of Remembering Rhinos, a collaboration in book form of some of the world’s best wildlife photographers with the collective goal of raising much needed funds for rhino conservation. Not only is the book a stunning collection of breath-taking photos highlighting the five species of rhino in Africa and Asia, but it has so far to date raised £115,000 of which 100% is going directly into helping these prehistoric creatures in the areas where protection is needed the most.

The book

The book itself is the second in the series following last year’s Remembering Elephants. This ran on the same principle and has since raised £135,000 which has gone directly into elephant conservation in Kenya, Mali, Malawi, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

After seeing a poached elephant first hand, founder Margot Raggett decided to spring into action and really do something to help; not wanting to be someone who sees the destruction in the world and simply despairs about what to do before going back to her everyday life. After speaking out to photographer friends and getting in touch with some of the current leaders in the industry, she quickly found that everyone was willing to help when it came to an initiative to protect these creatures that are so terribly running out of time. All of the photos in the book were donated by the photographers, and the initial funding of the book printing was raised by a Kickstarter campaign back in February, meaning that 100% of the money spent on purchasing a copy of Remembering Rhinos goes straight into conserving them on the ground.

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Why do we need to protect rhinos?

Rhinos are in dire need of our help. We hear about their declining numbers but do we really know the full extent of the problem? There are currently five species of rhino left in the world, two in Africa and three in Asia, of which one of the species, the Javan rhino, have less than 60 individuals remaining.

The preposterous reason behind the slaughter of so many of these huge mammals is for their characteristic horn. Rhino horn is made out of keratin, which is the same substance that makes up our own human hair and nails. Yet there is a huge market for it in Asia, both for medicinal use, of which it has none, and for use as a status symbol.

There have been countless claims from these markets where there is demand that rhino horn can be used as a cure for everything from a hangover to cancer. Together with this, the rhino horn market has recently had a huge shift with the demand being more for use as a status symbol. Yes, people would gain a product that a precious animal has lost its life for to be used to brag to friends, in the form of carved bracelets and jewellery pieces, as well as ground down as an alternative to cocaine.

Poaching

Poaching has now got so bad that for one species, the northern white rhino, there are only three individuals left in the entire world, two females and a male, all of which are incapable of reproducing. Anti-poaching patrols work tirelessly to protect these animals, but it is simply not enough. There is not enough funding to sustain it, and purchase the technology needed to aid these heroes in protecting these wonderful animals. But that is where Remembering Rhinos is doing a terrific job.

Rhino horn trade

During the event, I was honoured to be in the presence of great conservationists who risk their lives to protect these precious creatures. But unfortunately, that also means learning about the horrendous rhino horn trade. I was absolutely astonished to learn about the prices that people in Asia would pay for something that is exactly the same as the nails on their own hands; $80,000/kg for a rhino horn bracelet, $50,000/kg for a slice of rhino horn, and $120,000/kg for a rhino horn wedding ring, to name just a few of the many preposterous items.

To legalise or not

There is currently debate occurring about whether to legalise the sale of rhino horn or not. The thinking behind this is that rhino horn, unlike ivory from elephant tusks, grows back. Rhino horn is not connected to a rhino’s skull, and if done properly, it does not cause much harm to the rhino to “trim” the horn just as we would do our nails and hair. So why not just legalise the sale of rhino horn to eliminate the illegal market and stop the killing of rhinos?

This is the argument of some people, but unfortunately it is highly flawed. In a perfect, imaginary world perhaps harvesting rhino horn would work, but sadly, not in our world. If rhino horn was sold legally for, $50,000/kg, poachers would sell it for $40,000. If rhino horn decreased to $40,000, the poachers would sell it for $25,000. At those prices, there is still an enormous profit to be made. We must also remember that the poachers on the ground are not the problem, and would do a lot of things to earn some money to feed their families; it is the heads of the poaching syndicates that are the cause of this market and the killing of the rhinos.

Together with this, well calculated figures have shown that “rhino farmers” who harvest rhino horn do not have nearly enough to sustain the market, meaning that poaching would still continue to fill the current demand. Added to this the fact that the same idea was thought about legalising the ivory market a while back, thinking that this will eliminate the killing of elephants as demand for ivory was met with stockpiles. They were incredibly wrong which had a disastrous effect on elephant populations.

I’ll never forget the time that I was working in South Africa with an anti-poaching unit and they told me that even if a rhino has had its horn safely removed by its owner, this will not deter the poachers and they will kill the animal anyway. It takes a lot of effort to poach a rhino, sometimes trekking for many days, cutting fences and risking their lives unseen, whilst tracking a rhino day and night. If the poachers then finally get to the animal to find that all they have is a small stump of a horn, they will kill it regardless and hack out that stump, knowing that that small part will still earn them more money than they would ordinarily make in years.

How can you help?

It’s simple. Spread awareness. Share articles, images and videos that highlight the plight of our rhinos, how crucial it is to protect them and how important it is to educate people about the non-existent medicinal uses of rhino horn.

Chew your nails. Save a rhino.

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From town to countryside, British hedgehogs need our help

Hedgehogs are a much loved species. Their distinctive and unique appearance makes them a favourite of many wildlife lovers across the country. Considered by many to be the British national animal, hedgehog numbers have declined rapidly in recent years. In the mid 1950’s it is believed that 36.5 million hedgehogs lived in Britain. The number today sits at just under a million. Most startling of all is that a third of this loss has occurred in the last ten years.

The biggest threat to hedgehogs is habitat loss, mostly brought on by the change from pastoral farming to arable crops over the last 30 years. Most arable farmland is unsuitable for hedgehogs, with limited availability of foraging or nesting sites. In addition, the increase in building developments in rural areas has led to a further reduction of habitat. These factors combined not only make it harder for hedgehogs to survive the long winters, but also force them to share limited space and resources with predatory badgers.

The harsh chemicals increasingly used in farming are also a threat as they kill the animals hedgehogs rely on for food, and in many instances can poison the hedgehogs themselves. An analysis by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species in 2015 showed that rural hedgehog populations had dropped by at least a half since 2000. Increased road traffic has also had a huge impact on hedgehog numbers, with an estimated 50,000 killed on our roads each year.

In urban areas there are many issues too. The “State of Britain’s Hedgehogs” survey found that urban hedgehog numbers dropped by a third from 2000 to 2015. An annual survey by BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine found that 51% of people did not see a hedgehog at all in 2016, up from 48% in 2015. Just 12% saw a hedgehog regularly. These numbers make for depressing reading when you consider that hedgehogs were once considered a common sight in British gardens.

The main threats to urban hedgehogs, other than roads, are mostly found within our own gardens. Chemicals found in pesticides and slug pellets can be fatal to hedgehogs, as well as other wildlife, and should be replaced by natural, humane alternatives. Wild gardens and messy areas can be havens for hedgehogs, but it is vital that gardeners check compost heaps before turning them over, and piles of logs, leaves and other similar materials before burning them. The same consideration should be given to strimming tall grass as hedgehogs often rest there during the day. If you have a pond in your garden then this could be a hazard too and will need to be made hedgehog friendly. This can be achieved by making it easy for a hedgehog to climb out of the water using stones, a climbing net or even a makeshift hedgehog ladder!

Another important and effective way of helping hedgehogs in built up areas is to create a “Hedgehog Highway“; a series of holes in garden fences to create easy access for hedgehogs across neighbouring properties. According to online campaigners Hedgehog Street, “we now know that one of the main reasons why hedgehogs are declining in Britain is because our fences and walls are becoming more and more secure, reducing the amount of land available to them…ensuring hedgehogs can pass freely through your garden is the most important thing you can do to help them“. Because hedgehogs are nocturnal and travel up to a mile each night looking for food, it’s important that you make it easy for them to make their nightly commutes. Even if you don’t have a hedgehog in your garden, working with your neighbours to create a clear access across several gardens is really important.

As well as making your garden generally safer for hedgehogs, you may wish to make it an inviting haven for them to stay in. Turning all or part of your garden into a suitable habitat for hedgehogs is easy, and is a great way to do your part for the survival of the species. Neat and tidy gardens do not make good hedgehog homes, so consider letting an area of your garden grow wild, or creating a log pile or overgrown area for them. You can also supplement their existing diet by leaving out a small amount of good quality dog or cat food for them each evening. This not only makes your garden a more inviting place to stay, but helps the hedgehog get the much needed calories it needs in order to hibernate. Make sure not to give them fish-based foods, bread or milk though, as these are not good for hedgehogs and can cause sickness. It’s also important to leave some drinking water for them too, especially during spells of hot weather.

If you are lucky enough to see a hedgehog in your garden then you shouldn’t pick it up unless you suspect it being sick or injured. Any hedgehog out in the open during the day is likely to be in poor health or injured, and should be taken to your nearest wildlife rescue centre. If a hedgehog looks particularly thin, especially in the months leading up to winter, then it may need to be treated by a professional. In any situation it is generally best to contact a wildlife rescue centre before handling the animal, in order to get professional advice.

If you don’t have a garden, or are unable to create a hedgehog haven, there are still several ways you can help. By supporting groups such as The British Hedgehog Preservation Society and Hedgehog Street you can help others make a difference. Hedgehogs are a much beloved species in Britain, and one that we can all do our bit to protect. By working together to educate, spread awareness and increase direct action we can do exactly that.

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Newlands Corner: commercialisation of the countryside

Newlands Corner is a natural area of outstanding beauty set in the Surrey Downs just off the A25, and owned by the Albury Estate. Thanks to an agreement between the landowners and Surrey County Council, the public have had access to this site since the 1970s. Maintained by Surrey Wildlife Trust on behalf of SCC this beauty spot is a very popular place to visit. It covers approximately 255 acres of open chalk downland and peaceful woodlands. The woodlands are made up of a mixture of deciduous trees like oak and birch and evergreen yew, some of which are hundreds of years old. Shady pathways meander through woods that shelter roe deer as well as being home to green woodpeckers, nuthatches and tawny owls.

I began visiting Newlands corner over thirty years ago when my four children were small. We spent hours walking the meandering trails, stopping to climb suitable trees on the way or playing hide and seek. At other times we picnicked out on the open hillside, taking in the amazing view. Thirty years on I am visiting Newlands Corner with my grandchildren who love it just as much as my children did. I also regularly visit Newlands Corner with my art group to attempt to paint the landscape spread out in the valley below.

I can’t emphasise enough just how wonderful Newlands Corner is. Unchanging, beautiful and a haven for wildlife. It’s not just me who feels this – an estimated 550,000 people visit Newlands Corner every year from all walks of life. With a good size car park, a burger stand with outside picnic tables, a small visitors centre, a little play area and toilets, it caters for every need.

Of course a place like Newlands Corner needs to be maintained and cared for, which is done by Surrey Wildlife Trust. Such maintenance covers activities such as litter picking, clearing paths, dog bins, tree safety and car park maintenance.

So what has changed?

Surrey County Council have decided that Newlands Corner needs upgrading so that the site is more accessible and attractive to people of all ages and abilities. This is a fair point, as everyone from babies in pushchairs to the disabled in wheelchairs should be able to enjoy Newlands Corner. They also plan to refurbish the toilets, another good point as the toilets are tired and run down. Plans also include more benches, again a worthwhile change.

So far so good.

Unfortunately, they also plan to impose parking charges, as detailed below.

Charging details:

  • A 20 minute period with no charge
  • £1 per hour to a maximum of £4 for 4 hours or more
  • An annual season ticket for regular visitors costing £40
  • No charge for Blue Badge holders when parking in the marked disabled bays

As this appears to have been passed, we will soon see parking meters installed on the site.

As well as charging to park SCC also plan to install:

  • 6 timber and rope play structures with metal fixing bolts. Each play structure is to be located in existing woodland clearings, adjacent to the existing Easy Access trail.
  • 8 brass rubbing and magnifying posts placed at different locations also on the Easy Access trail

Parking fees is part of a bigger plan to turn Newlands Corner into a ‘visitors attraction’ that will make money. In these days of austerity it seems ridiculous that SCC are prepared to use funds to install parking meters, when the money could be better used to fund the NHS or to keep libraries open. Will they make their money back from parking fees? Not necessarily. A lot of people who appreciate somewhere beautiful to visit that is free will stop visiting altogether. The whole point of Newlands Corner is that it is free. You can spend money if you want (I like nothing nicer than a cheese burger and chips for lunch) but the choice is yours. Charging to park could also possibly increase problems in the local area as visitors decide to park outside Newlands Corner and walk in.

Assuming that traffic does increase as a result of commercialising Newlands Corner, and people are prepared to pay the parking fees, the impact on the A25 could be horrendous. The entrance on the hill is already an accident waiting to happen and increased traffic will just add to the risk. Consequently more money will have to be spend on a road safety scheme to slow traffic past the entrance and exit to Newlands Corner. And while the changes will be funded separately by the Guildford Local Committee and not the SCC, it is still money that could be better used elsewhere.

I am also disappointed that SCC feel the need to install play structures of any kind at Newlands Corner. The whole point of Newlands Corner is that generations of children have learnt to enjoy the outdoors without the need of play structures. If visitors really need this kind of entertainment they can go to Alice Holt.

There is a lot of opposition to the commercialisation of Newlands Corner, a lot of which SCC have chosen to ignore. The Save Newlands Corner group have fought long and hard to save Newlands Corner, and continue to do so. Their site has in depth information on just what SCC has proposed and how they plan to expedite it. They need the support of us all.

Newlands Corner is not a money making venture, it is a place of tranquillity where nature can be seen at it’s best. We don’t want it turned into  a ‘visitor attraction’ that we can’t afford except on the odd occasion. We don’t want parking meters and pay-and-display signs marring the view. We don’t want or need artificial play structures along the trails. We just want Newlands Corner to be properly maintained and left exactly as it is.

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Sites to visit for the full picture from all sides.

Save Newlands Corner

Surrey County Council

Surrey Wildlife Trust


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Why should we care about bees?

The end of June brought with it the end of this year’s Great British Bee Count. And what a tremendous count it was.

It is increasingly becoming common knowledge that bees are in dire need of our help, as their rapid decline also hinders our own survival as a species. With an increased usage of pesticides and other chemicals that are hugely damaging to the lives of bees, as well as other important insects, together with the tremendous effects of climate change, it is evident that there is a lot going against them.

What is the Great British Bee Count?

The Great British Bee Count is a six week-long annual event that encourages people from all over the UK to spend some time outdoors, looking at nature, and searching for bees. Run by environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, this year’s bee count, which finished just a few days ago, was met with huge success. A total of 16,282 individuals took part in counting bees this year, recording a staggering 320,337 bees all over the UK, from the Isles of Scilly to the Shetland Islands.

It is believed that there are currently 35 species of bee that are at risk of extinction in Britain, and the nationwide bee count allows bee specialists to evaluate whether this is still the case, and precisely which species of bee need our help the most.

For those who don’t know, the bee count involved using the concise photo gallery on the Bee Count app to identify which bees you have seen and tally those up, before sending the results on to Friends of the Earth along with the location that the bee was seen. Bees were counted in various spaces, including gardens, forests and parks. My personal bee count was a huge success, with a total of 41 bees found from 6 different species with just one walk around my garden.

Although these numbers may sound reasonably high, this only averages to 20 bees per person, only half the amount that I saw with one walk around my garden, during the height of summer when bee populations are at their most plentiful. I should also add that I live in an area away from big cities and built up areas, meaning that a higher bee population would be expected.

bees

© Jessica Murray

So what’s so special about bees anyway, and why do we need them?

Did you know that around 75% of the food that we all eat needs to be pollinated, and bees are arguably the most efficient and hardest workers when it comes to pollination?

Since the beginning of the 1900s, the UK alone has lost 13 species of bee, with a further 35 currently considered to be under threat of extinction.

Climate change is a result of human impact and not taking as much care and consideration in our daily lives as we should. It is now our responsibility, as a species, to make sure that the animals that we share the planet with are best equipped to deal with the changing climate.

The Great British Bee Count is an incredible way of bringing people together to spend more time in nature, which is reflected in the fact that 97% of participants from last year’s count were inspired to help bees – in the garden, community or via social media.

If humans were to be entirely wiped out from planet Earth, it is believed that the world would eventually rejuvenate and become abundant with nature as it once was. However, if bees were to disappear from the planet, worldwide ecosystems would collapse.

How can you help?

Whilst we know a reasonable amount of information about bees, there is still a huge amount that we don’t know, which is merely heightened by bees changing their behaviour due to climate change. Bee experts are currently tallying up and analysing the results of the count to reveal which bee species are most endangered, and therefore what we can do to help them. After analysing if certain species are declining, they will then be able to study whether this is due to a lack of certain plants, a strong use of pesticides in the area where they normally occur, or changing temperatures.

Monitoring bee populations helps a huge variety of people, from the government and business owners to farmers and gardeners. And through the analysis of this gathered information, we will be able to determine how best to help bees thrive for the future.

Together with species population gathering, taking part in the annual bee count and being conscious of protecting bees sends a vital message to the government about how much we care about their survival. The awareness raised will help the government, as well as the public, to see how crucial a problem this is that urgently needs to be addressed.

Bees need the same things that we do to survive – a safe climate and clean air. So by each of us doing what we can to create the ideal environment to aid bee survival, we are also creating a better environment for ourselves. And if that doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what will.

Here are 3 simple things that you can do today to help bees:

  • Don’t use pesticides that are harmful to bees
  • Plant flowers in your garden that bees love
  • If you see a bee that looks like it’s struggling, give it some sugary water

To learn more about how we can collectively reverse the bee decline, not just in the UK but worldwide, head to Friends of the Earth.

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