Something for the weekend #5

The latest in a regular series of posts to biodiversity-related* items that have caught my attention during the week:

  • The British Government’s official line on the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on bee health is largely based on a widely criticised study conducted by the UK’s Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) which concluded that there was no link to bumblebee pesticide exposure and colony performance.  Professor Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex has now reanalysed the original data and shown that in fact there was a significant effect of the pesticides on those nests.  You can read the study in full here.  How could the FERA scientists get it so wrong?  Were they influenced by Defra’s desire to come to a particular conclusion?
  • It will be interesting to see how FERA responds to this criticism of their work, though it may take a while to get a full answer: the lead scientist on the study now works for agrochemicals firm Syngenta….
  • The story has also been picked up by some media outlets, notably the Guardian.  Pity they confused honey bees with bumblebees though – managed honey bees use human-made hives; bumblebees use nests (even artificial ones).
  • The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, which I talked about in a post earlier this year, has reported its results.  There seems to be good news for some species, but for others it was bad: for example, there’s been an 80% drop in observations of starling since the scheme began in 1979.  Starlings are now RSPB Red Status due to their worrying decline; whilst they are still common, they are not anywhere near as common as they used to be.

Feel free to recommend links that have caught your eye.

*Disclaimer: may sometimes contain non-biodiversity-related links.

5 thoughts on “Something for the weekend #5

  1. Steve Hawkins

    I think starling numbers are picking up now.

    When I first trained in my grapevine years ago, I rarely got any ripe grapes because I would wake to the sound of starlings that would strip the lot before they were fully ripe.

    Over the last few years (When I’ve been too ill to pick them myself.) the vine has been loaded down with grapes and covered my whole garage, but nothing ate them at all, and they were still there from one year to the next.

    I used to have such a battle to keep any fruit for myself, but it is quite disturbing to realise that the birds one used to curse have all gone. There were even cherries on the tree at the bottom of the garden!

    However, last Autumn, there was another bumper crop of grapes, and a flock of starlings did show up to eat them. They are still here, and know exactly what time my neighbour throws bread up on his garage roof.

    A similar story with the sparrows. They used to wake me up with their incessant cheeping from the eaves and gutters of the house, but then disappeared for maybe a decade or more. There is a small flock of them back in the neighbourhood now though, and I like to hear the cheeping!

    My garden maybe a bit of a refuge, because, having spent most of my life trying to prepare it for perfection by retirement, I can now only see its overgrown wilderness from my bed, but this means there is space for wildlife that nearly all the other gardens have tidied away.

    Also saw my first Small Tortoiseshell, for many years, in the garden the other day, from my window, and there are still 4 chrysalis hanging in my bathroom from when their caterpillars must have swarmed up my house wall last year.

    All the best,


    1. jeffollerton Post author

      Thanks Steve, glad to hear that the wildlife is coming back to your garden. In contrast I now rarely get starlings in the garden (in fact I don’t think there were any all winter). But that’s the value of schemes such as BGBW, it gives us an overall picture rather than just a snapshot.

  2. navasolanature

    Have just seen one starling today on the fat feeder in West London. In Spain we have spotless starlings! Was there some mention that they are changing their habits? Many here seem based on a large underused grass recreation field but the local school has dug up all its grass for an all weather pitch. So one football field of grass has been lost in West London recently and am sure a hell of a lot more as schools go for this option.

  3. Pingback: Should biodiversity scientists be campaigners and polemicists? | Jeff Ollerton's Biodiversity Blog

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