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13 wildlife species in danger of disappearing from East Anglia

PUBLISHED: 11:13 20 May 2019 | UPDATED: 16:57 20 May 2019

Stone curlew at Minsmere  Picture: Jon Evans

Stone curlew at Minsmere Picture: Jon Evans

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Experts from the RSPB, Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Buglife and the Suffolk Biodiversity Information name species they believe could become extinct from our region.

Paula Baker, with Lily the rescue hedgehog  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPaula Baker, with Lily the rescue hedgehog Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A major study published by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) earlier this month warned that wildlife and habitats are declining at an "unprecedented" rate worldwide and that up to a million species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction, a greater number than ever before in human history. Many could vanish within decades, the United Nations-backed global assessment of 50 countries revealed.

But what of East Anglia, how are species faring here?

According to Martin Sanford, manager at the Suffolk Biodiversity Information Service, this worrying global trend is mirrored in our region with species and habitats under threat.

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Norfolk hawker  Picture: Falk/BuglifeNorfolk hawker Picture: Falk/Buglife

Human activity

"Whether you measure it [the biodiversity in East Anglia] at the eco-system level, or the species or genetic level - the complexity of the life we have is reducing," he said.

For Mr Sanford, the problem starts with the damage human activity has caused to the worms and mites in our soil and other smaller creatures in our rivers and stream

"If we compare the soil of an ancient meadow or woodland, where you will find a vast wealth of microscopic life, with the range of life in an agricultural soil - it is tiny by comparison. That's a result of us continually spraying it with pesticides and fungicides," he continued.

Shrill carder bee   Picture: Falk/BuglifeShrill carder bee Picture: Falk/Buglife

"Other human induced causes such as pollution and the amount of effluent we are putting into our water system are having a radical impact on the ecology of freshwater systems - and then as it flows out into the marine system it continues to pollute at that scale."

Habitat destruction

Experts from Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Buglife and the RSPB have all pointed to species higher up the chain that they say are in danger of disappearing from East Anglia if these trends continue. They include stone curlew - only 202 pairs nested in the East of England last year; the shrill carder bee - common in the region 25 years ago but now found only in the Thames Gateway area; and the crested cow-wheat - a plant limited to a small number of roadside verges because grassland has disappeared to farming or construction. Indeed, habitat destruction and human disturbance are cited as the two most common reasons these species are on the brink.

Hazel dormouse Picture: Hattie Spray/PTES/PA WireHazel dormouse Picture: Hattie Spray/PTES/PA Wire

Less resilient

Climate change is having an impact also - small populations with a reduced genetic diversity as less resilient to change, says Mr Sanford, so temperature fluctuations can have a huge impact.

Conservation manager at the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, Simone Bullion, points out that the four species she believes are in danger of extinction from East Anglia - the adder, toad, dormouse and hedgehog - are all hibernators.

She said: "With climate change we are seeing fluctuations during our winters, with mild spells followed by colder spells. The dormouse for example, needs to have enough body fat to hibernate but with a mild winter they wake up more and burn more fat. When they come out of hibernation they are in poor condition, and less able to survive."

Here is a list of species that are on the brink:

Turtle Dove at Titchwell RSPB Nature Reserve, Norfolk Picture: LES BUNYAN/RSPBTurtle Dove at Titchwell RSPB Nature Reserve, Norfolk Picture: LES BUNYAN/RSPB

Turtle dove

Once a common sight in East Anglia, turtle doves are now rarely spotted having suffered a 91% UK population decline since 1995 - and there are fears that at this rate the bird's' UK extinction as a breeding species is a real possibility.

Loss of habitat and food shortages, disease and over-hunting on their long migratory route from West Africa are thought to be key reasons for the drastic fall in numbers.

Crested Cow-wheat  Picture: SBISCrested Cow-wheat Picture: SBIS

Stone curlew

This summer migrant favours sandy soils for its ground nests but its habitat is dwindling and last year, possibly as few as 202 pairs of stone curlews are thought to have nested in the East of England. The majority - around 165 pairs - were in the Brecks, with a small number of birds breeding in other parts of the region, including the Suffolk Coast close to RSPB Minsmere nature reserve.

This figure represents a fall of 30% from a peak of 290 breeding pairs in 2012, a "troubling trend" according experts at the RSPB.

Norfolk Hawker

Fen Orchid    Picture: Andrew JefferyFen Orchid Picture: Andrew Jeffery

While the range of the Norfolk hawker has extended further south into Suffolk in recent decades, Buglife say the existence of the dragonfly in East Anglia remains under threat as most of the unspoilt grazing marsh systems that it relies on has been drained and gone under the plough.

Crested cow-wheat

Limited to small parts of West Suffolk, North Essex and a slither of Cambridgeshire, the crested cow-wheat now only exists in small numbers on roadside verges because most of its grassland habitat has gone. Another reason for its scarcity is its complex biology - this niche specialist relies on ants to disperse its seeds, which are shaped like ant eggs and prefers clay soils.

Little tern and chick   Picture: RSPBLittle tern and chick Picture: RSPB

Fen orchid

Now only found in a couple reedbed fens in Norfolk and recently reinstated at one secret site in Suffolk, the extremely rare fen orchid is vulnerable because it is only found in a very limited number of locations. If a catastrophic event should occur at these spots, the chances are it would be wiped out from the region.

Little tern

Little terns are one of the UK's rarest seabirds, and rely heavily on the east Norfolk coast, which supports around 20% of the national population.

An adder at RSPB Minsmere  Picture: Paul SmithAn adder at RSPB Minsmere Picture: Paul Smith

But busier beaches mean there is less space for this ground-nesting species while climate change is thought to be causing a reduction in the number of sand eels on our shores - a mainstay of the little tern's diet.

Adder

At one time adders could be seen on the old heaths around Sudbury in west Suffolk but today the UK's only venomous snake is most likely to be found on heaths and coastal areas in the east of the county. But research from the Amphibian and Reptile Groups UK (ARG UK) has found that 90% of the small populations of adders are in decline - this shy creature suffering from human disturbance.

Hazel dormouse  Picture: Alison LooserHazel dormouse Picture: Alison Looser

Hazel dormouse

Already under threat because of fragmented woodland and the ongoing loss of hedgerows, numbers of dormice have declined by 72% in 22 years, according to figures from the People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES).

The lack of management of woodlands, meaning taller trees are crowding out the shrub level where the dormouse thrives, is one reason for the fall.

Hedgehog

Wormwood Moonshinner  Picture: John WaltersWormwood Moonshinner Picture: John Walters

People of a certain age grew up seeing hedgehogs on a regular basis but nationally, numbers of this iconic mammal in rural areas have halved since 2000 and continue to fall with a lack of food and dangerous roads major problems.

In urban areas hedgehog numbers are down by a third but there are signs this decline is slowing as awareness of the importance of wildlife friendly gardens spreads.

Wormwood moonshiner

As the name would suggest, this exotic sounding Breckland beetle is dependant on the seeds of the Wormwood plant, which wildlife charity Buglife says is fast disappearing due to farming, afforestation and grazing habits. With a very restricted UK distribution and highly specialised habitat requirements, the nocturnal moonshiner is extremely vulnerable to change.

Swallowtail butterfly  Picture: John Feltwell / Garden MattersSwallowtail butterfly Picture: John Feltwell / Garden Matters

Shrill carder bee

A bumblebee once very common across the region but now restricted to the Thames Gateway area due to habitat loss and climate change, the shrill carder bee has suffered from the wide scale use of herbicides in farming, which Buglife says has turned much of the landscape into a barren wilderness for this late season insect, which has gone from common to scarce in a 25-year population crash.

Swallowtail

Common toad  Picture: Tom MarshallCommon toad Picture: Tom Marshall

The UK's largest butterfly, native swallowtails are now found only a few locations in the Broads. This is because this stunning creature is dependent on a single plant species - milk parsley - for reproduction. In other areas, milk parsley has been lost to building and other works as southern reaches of the Broads have become commercialised. Elsewhere in the UK, conditions are not right for milk parsley to grow.

Toad

A recent study by Froglife found that the number of toads making their annual spring migration has fallen by two-thirds in 30 years. Just why there has been this drop remains unclear although pollution and a reduction in insect numbers, the toad's main food source, are thought to be causes.

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