Tree Killing Beetles

Tree Killing Beetles

Did you know that elm trees were nearly wiped out by a fungal disease carried by beetles?Before elm was disseminated by beetles carrying a microfungi, it was the second most important broad leaf timber in Britain to oak. Like oak, it was of great landscape importance and formed an important component of our native woodland, supporting a wide range of fauna and flora.Elm hosts around 80 species of invertebrates such as the rare White-letter Hairstreak (Satyrium w-album) and in spring, its early pollen is sought after by many insects including honey bees. Elms are also a very important food source for songbirds, game birds and squirrels as their seeds develop long before many other seeds are available.Over the past century there have been two pandemics of Dutch Elm Disease (DEM) caused by two separate but related species of Asian microfungi, Ophiostoma ulmi and O. novo-ulmi. The non-native microfungi are dispersed by bark beetles of the genera Scolytus and Hylurgopinus. These beetles are no larger...
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Britain’s Beavers

Britain’s Beavers

The Eurasian beaver (Castor fibre) is native to the UK and used to be widespread across England, Scotland and Wales. Beavers became extinct here in the 16th century, because of hunting for their pelt, meat and a secretion called castoreum which they use to mark their territory. The latter was once highly prized for use in perfumes, food and medicine. Over the past decade major efforts have been underway to reintroduce beavers into the British countryside. As a result, the Eurasian beaver has shown good recovery across much of its range. The National Trust recently announced that two pairs of beaver will be released in the south of England next spring, after their plans were approved by Natural England. These releases are part of the National Trust's wider plan to restore 25,000 hectares of "wildlife-rich" habitats by 2025. One pair is to be released into a fenced woodland in Holnicote near Exmoor in Somerset. The other pair is to be...
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Insect Declines Matter!

Insect Declines Matter!

We are witnessing the largest extinction event on earth since the late Permian… in other words, 250 million years ago. Over the past 50 years we have reduced Earths wildlife abundance dramatically and many of the species that were once prevalent are now few and far between. Much of our attention is given to large charismatic animals and little is given to the smaller, some say, less attractive animals. There are around one million known insect species, 41% of which are threatened with extinction. Staggeringly, there are estimated to be another four million insect species that we have yet to discover [1]. Although we are decades away from cataloguing the insect diversity of this planet, it is likely that many species will be lost before we ever recognised they existed. More recently, evidence suggests that insect abundance has fallen by more than 50% since 1970, yet most people are unaware and have not even noticed that anything has changed....
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Pangolins ‘Scaly Anteaters’ – The Worlds Most Trafficked Mammal

Pangolins ‘Scaly Anteaters’ – The Worlds Most Trafficked Mammal

Pangolins are rare, secretive, slow-moving, solitary and nocturnal scaly mammals - the world's only! They have a tapered body shape, varying in size from 30-100cm, with males being larger than their female counterparts. Covering their body and tail are sharp, overlapping keratin scales - the same material as human fingernails. Although pangolins share similar characteristics with Xenarthrans (anteaters, armadillos and sloths), they are actually more closely related to to the order Carnivora (cats, dogs, bears, etc.) [1]. They are also insectivorous and it has been estimated that an adult pangolin can consume an excess of 70 million insects per year! ‘Pangolin’ originates from the Malay word ‘penggulung’ which means ‘rolling ball’. As a defensive posture, pangolins curl up into a tight sphere, projecting their sharp-edged scales. There are eight extant species. Four species are native to Asia and include the Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla), Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), Malayan Pangolin (Manis javanica) and Palawan Pangolin (Manis culionensis). The other four species are native...
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The Devil’s Fingers Fungus

The Devil’s Fingers Fungus

A rare and spooky looking fungus called the Devil’s Fingers (Clathrus archeri) was discovered on Halloween at a Nature reserve near Bristol. The Devil’s Fingers is a saprotrophic fungus (soil-forming mushroom) native to Australia and New Zealand [1]. This organism lives off decaying matter and is part of a family of death reeking funguses known as stinkhorns. The Devil’s Fingers was first recorded in Europe in France, 1914. Presumably, this species was transported to Europe with Australian wool or, alternatively, with military supplies at the beginning of the First World War [2]. Its first recorded presence in Britain was in Cornwall, 1946. This was a surprising identification by an Avon Wildlife Trust conservation team on October 31st as there have only been two known records in this region, both from 1999. Also known as Octopus Fungus, this fungal species sprouts red tentacle-like arms from a partly buried white gelatinous ‘egg’. These arms stand vertically and are initially joined at the tip before unfolding backwards into a star shape. 5-7 (sometimes up...
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A Creepy Crawly Crisis?

A Creepy Crawly Crisis?

A new in German study published in the journal, Nature, confirms that some insect species are being pushed to the brink of extinction! Invertebrates make up 97% of the Earth’s animal species [1] and range in size from microscopic mites and almost invisible flies to giant squids with football sized eyes. Invertebrates are the most diverse group of animals and so far around 1.25 million invertebrate species have been described, most of which are insects. Indeed, every day new invertebrate species are being described by morphological and molecular data [4]. The success of insects comes from their ability to reproduce quickly and their adaptability to environmental change. Despite this, more than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered worldwide – with an extinction rate eight time faster than that of birds, mammals and reptiles! New research has found insect and spider populations to be declining rapidly in forests and grasslands across Germany, scientists describe these findings as ‘alarming’ [3]. This...
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