UK Bans Imports and Exports of Shark Fins

The 12th May was a landmark day for sharks, and their advocates, in the UK as the government banned the trade of shark fins. While the practice of shark finning has long been banned by the UK, a loophole in European law has meant that anyone is legally allowed to bring up to 20kg of shark fins into the country. The law has now changed in the UK to mean this will no longer be the case. 

Kris Mikael Krister, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Why is it important?

Sharks around the World are experiencing population declines – many to the point where they are facing extinction. The main threat to sharks is overfishing – for their fins and meat, and as bycatch (caught by fishing gear intended for other species).

Shark fins are used in a variety of products, the most common and widely known being shark fin soup. Demand for fins is higher than ever, and this demand is driving the value of each fin upwards. This value is understandably appealing, to those who make a living from fishing around the World. As a result, sharks are being fished to unsustainable levels (more are being taken, than the populations can support).

There are more than 1,000 species of sharks and rays, all playing their unique role in ocean ecosystems. Our actions are altering the balance, by removing these top predators. It is estimated that around 73 million sharks are killed globally each year by  fishing fleets. We are driving individual species towards extinction, and in turn having impacts on the rest of the ocean ecosystems to which they belong. 

What can be done?

The move to make the trade in shark fins illegal in the UK is a big step – it sends a clear message around the World. It is also the positive result of years of campaigning by organisations such as Bite Back, and all the people who have supported their campaigns, indicating the high level of public support for improved protection and conservation measures for sharks. 

Ultimately what is needed is a reduction in demand for the product. This will drive the value down, and make fishing of sharks less productive. However, this is culturally very difficult to achieve. In the meantime policies, and their effective implementation, are what is needed to improve conservation efforts. As a result, people power really can make a difference, as has been seen in this case. 

If you would like to help, one of the quickest and most effective things you can do, is to educate others of the ecological importance and beauty of sharks. Then raise awareness of the issues, and take positive action. Support campaigns and organisations which are working on shark conservation, and help them to engage with people and politicians to make change. 

There are many worthy organisations out there – but head to Bite Back and WWF for two great examples.

White Stork Chicks About To Hatch In Britain

The White Stork is a bird that for most of us in Britain has been simply a feature of stories and history books. It hasn’t been a common sight here for centuries, not since the days when it would feature in banquets (medieval times). It is therefore quite big news, that this spring the first wild stork chicks in Britain for hundreds of years are about to hatch!

White Stork – not one of the birds from the project

This has not come about randomly. While a handful of wild storks do appear in Britain during the summer each year, they are visiting birds which do not breed. The success of this breeding attempt is from concerted conservation efforts by a project called the White Stork Project, involving the partnership of different conservation organisations and land owners in West Sussex, East Sussex and Surrey.

The project has worked to introduce wild fledged storks from Poland and France into large pens in different areas over the past three years. This includes Knepp, where a pair of birds has now formed a nest in a large oak tree near, but separate from, the pen. In addition to the 5 eggs laid by this pair, a second pair has nested nearby. It is hoped that the birds from this programme will go on to form at least 20 breeding pairs, leading to a wild population becoming established in Britain.

Find about more about the storks, the project, and the progress of the chicks on the White Stork Project website.

Carbon Trading Helps Mangrove Conservation

26 July 2019 was International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem – or Mangrove Day, for short! People and organisations celebrate the importance and wonder of these special ecosystems and the work being done to protect them. One such project was announced by the UN Environment Programme earlier in the week, and it’s all about using carbon credits to help to protect mangroves. 

Mangroves are trees that grow in the intertidal zone (the area of the shoreline that is covered at high tide and exposed at low tide) of some tropical coastlines. They have distinctive, funny looking roots that stretch into the water. These roots slow the water down, causing sediment (like mud) to settle and creating the perfect hiding and breeding place for fish. They also help to prevent flooding of coastal areas and, crucially, to store carbon.

Carbon storing refers to keeping carbon in such a form that it is essentially locked away, and is not going to be released into the atmosphere as CO2, which is a harmful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and climate change. The soils of mangrove forests, which settle and are stabilised by the funny mangrove roots, are packed full of carbon. When these forests are destroyed all of that carbon gets released into the atmosphere as CO2.

Because of their threatened status and importance in combating climate change, stabilising coastlines, and providing a source of food and income for many communities, governments and organisations are trying to protect mangrove forests. 

The Vanga Blue Forests Project in Kenya, aims to do this by trading carbon credits for mangrove conservation. This essentially means that the community will earn money for maintaining and protecting the mangroves, because it is valuable as a carbon store. The community has been able to put this money towards important every day services such as schools, healthcare and having access to drinking water. 

This project will conserve 4000 ha of mangrove and support the income of over 8000 people in the local area. That’s in addition to helping to fight the battle against climate change, habitat loss, biodiversity loss and coastal erosion. It’s a win, win win win win! 

To find out more, check out the UN Environment Programme’s press release here, including a video to show the importance and impact of this project. 

The Importance of Insects

Red Admiral butterfly © Catherine Leatherland

A study published this week has revealed that populations of insects across the World are in severe decline, with a third of species being endangered (at risk of going extinct). The study, which was carried out by scientists at the University of Sydney in Australia, highlights the need for us to act now to protect our insects. 

Insects are a very large group of animals – they outnumber mammals and birds by far, both in terms of number of species and individuals! Many people aren’t fond of them (which is a shame!) but insects are really really important. They are a key part of the food chain, providing energy to animals such as birds and mammals but also breaking down the nutrients from dead animals, plants and even poo – returning those nutrients to the soil. 

We might hate to admit it, but we also need insects. A very high proportion of the foods that we eat come from plant species that rely on insects to reproduce. This is because many insects are pollinators – they take pollen from a male plant to a female plant, allowing the plant to produce seeds, which then grow into new plants! Without the pollinators, that wouldn’t happen – we would lose those plants and therefore the food made from them. 

The main cause of these declines is stated to be the intensification of agriculture  – the way in which we grow crops. This has become less wildlife friendly over the years, with things like hedgerows removed to make more space and increased use of insecticides (poisons that kill insects). When this way of farming is happening on a large scale, across the World, it can have these big negative effects. 

We need to act now to protect insects. One way you can do this directly, is to learn a bit about them and tell everyone how important they are. A great place to start is the Buglife website. Another good one is the Amateur Entomologist Society.

And remember – even if you find them a bit scary at first, be kind to insects!