Winter wonderland

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It’s not too late to catch up with this year’s instalment of Winterwatch, broadcast in January from the Sherborne estate in the Cotswolds.

It’s the familiar format, with good-humoured knockabout exchanges between the three main presenters, cameras installed in key hotspots across the estate and recorded inserts from around the country, with Gillian Burke on the road once more, coming live from Islay in the Scottish highlands.

But beyond enjoying the repartee between Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan, the argumentative badgers, majestic eagles and the site of Martin Hughes-Games dabbling in the brook to find baby trout and marvelling at the size of a horseshoe bat’s penis, it’s an opportunity to be briefly reunited with a team who have done more than most to boost ordinary people’s interest in the natural world.

The programmes may lack the breathtaking drama of David Attenborough’s Blue Planet series, but it’s the BBC’s largest outside broadcast event and nowadays incorporates a range of behind-the-scenes clips, extra footage, blogs from the team and articles frompartner organisations which delve deeper into the stories and science on the show.

Unmissable! Roll on the spring bank holiday and the return of Springwatch…

Hedgehog numbers ‘halved’

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Hedgehogs are continuing to decline in the UK, according to a new report.

Surveys by citizen scientists show hedgehog numbers have fallen by about 50% since the turn of the century.

Conservation groups say they are particularly concerned about the plight of the prickly creatures in rural areas.

Figures suggest the animals are disappearing more rapidly in the countryside, as hedgerows and field margins are lost to intensive farming.

But there are signs that populations in urban areas may be recovering.

David Wembridge, surveys officer for the conservation charity, People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), said two surveys of the number of hedgehogs in gardens and one of numbers killed on roads show an overall decline.

But he said there is “a glimmer of hope” that measures to create habitat for hedgehogs in urban areas are paying off.

“Numbers haven’t recovered yet but in urban areas at least there’s an indication that numbers appear to have levelled in the last four years,” he said.

In rural areas, the number of hedgehogs killed on roads has fallen by between a third and a half across Great Britain, The State of Britain’s Hedgehogs 2018 report found.

Emily Wilson, Hedgehog Officer for the campaign group, Hedgehog Street, said the apparent decline in the rural population of hedgehogs was “really concerning”

Sunrise scoops top award

_99904091_'cerradosunrise'bymarciocabral-174986Marcio Cabral’s award-winning Cerrado Sunrise

A picture of the vast ecological region known as the Cerrado in Brazil has won first place in this year’s International Garden Photographer of the Year.

Marcio Cabral of Brasilia, Brazil, scooped the award with his winning image entitled Cerrado Sunrise.

Tyrone McGlinchey, managing director of IGPOTY said: “Marcio has captured a spectacular vision of plant life in the Cerrado, displaying the beautiful flowers of Paepalanthus chiquitensis, stretching out on countless filaments towards the first light of the rising sun.”

Gardens and landscape scenes from all around the world have also been commended in the competition, showing nature in all seasons, from rolling hills of golden rice in China to a flower-smelling hamster in Austria.

_99907935_'earlydinner'byhenrikspranz-160598Early Dinner by Henrik Spranz shows a wild hamster smelling a flower in Vienna, Austria

Arctic tide of plastic waste

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The seas north of Norway and to the east of Greenland are a one-way street for the plastic waste created by communities along the east coast of the USA, the UK, Scandinavia, and the rest of north-west Europe.

Plastic waste is transported by ocean currents to the Arctic Ocean where it can affect the sensitive Arctic ecosystem, with knock-on effects for humans as the area is home to large fisheries.

These are the findings of a large research collaboration between twelve institutions from eight countries.

“We found that the Barents Sea is the terminal site for ocean plastic pollution, with high loads also encountered in the Greenland Sea,” says co-author Carlos Duarte, a professor in marine biology at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, and the Arctic Research Center at Aarhus University, Denmark.

“It happens to be also the site of one of the most productive cod fisheries in the world. So the concern is that plastic accumulated there could enter the food web, to which humans are linked via fisheries. Other animals can also ingest the plastic, particularly sea birds, which are very abundant in the Arctic,” he says.

The new results are published in the journal Science Advances and are the last piece in the puzzle that now completes the global map of plastic pollution in the ocean.

Scientists collected and analysed some of this plastic waste during a five-month-long cruise of the Arctic Ocean and compared this with plastics collected during similar studies in oceans and seas around the world. They discovered that most of the plastic waste that had collected in the Arctic Ocean was not local and must have come from far away.