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Southport & Mersey Reporter® covering the news on Merseyside.

Date:- 19 November 2007

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Autumn becomes spring: Confusion in nature's calendar

AS trees across the UK are coming into full colour, Nature's Calendar has received sightings from across the UK of plants flowering in autumn.  These quirks of nature include daffodils in Devon and Cardiff, primroses flowering across the UK from Surrey and Hampshire up to Inverness and the Moray Firth. There are crab apple trees flowering in Nottingham, alder and foxgloves in full bloom in Somerset, apple blossom in West Sussex and Northamptonshire, and wild strawberries in Cardiff and Carmarthen.  Pond life is active with recordings including dragonflies mating, reports of live tadpoles in Fife and young newts in Edinburgh. All of these are traditionally considered to be spring events, the only question is, are they really late or really early?

Dr Kate Lewthwaite from the Woodland Trust explains:- "With such mild weather it seems that some plants have been fooled into the flowering cycle for a second time. Unfortunately it is unlikely that the plants will fruit again as it will be too cold. Plants react to the current weather and as such aren't aware that winter is just a round the corner. In the case of the tadpoles and dragonflies the mild conditions have been favourable to allow them to survive."  She continues:- "Autumn seems to be stretching from summer to Christmas. We've had a bumper crop of blackberries as early as July and in many circumstances we're still waiting for trees to go into full autumn colour which is a week or so away. Nature's Calendar even has reports of hawthorn showing both autumn leaves and out of season flowers at the same time and elderflowers still blooming in the hedgerows"

Autumn is nature's way of treating us to one last burst of colour before the winter cold sets in. Trees across the UK are now going into full colour creating displays of wonderful yellow, gold and red shimmering leaves for all 'leaf peepers' to see. People all across the world in Japan and the USA flock to see the spectacle, and we've got our own on our doorstep.  While you are out 'leaf peeping' you could help take part in the Nature's Calendar project run by the Woodland Trust. The project - the world's leading study into phenology - researches how climate change is affecting our seasons and wildlife by analysing data collected from thousands of volunteers across the UK.

To see these wonderful oddities of nature or if you'd just like to go and enjoy striking autumn colour where you live, or to become a Nature's Calendar recorder visit and follow the autumn woods link to find a wood near you. Get out now before we're all sweeping up those leaves ready for winter.

New report identifies that gamekeepers help wild birds to thrive

THE shooting season is underway but the role of gamekeepers in conserving many non-gamebirds is not widely understood. Many songbirds and other bird species have dramatically declined in recent decades but a new report shows that where land is managed by gamekeepers many species thrive.

The report 'Singing fields' compiled by Dr Stephen Tapper, director of policy and public affairs with the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (formerly The Game Conservancy Trust), highlights the contribution that gamekeepers have made in protecting many of our most threatened birds from starvation and attack from generalist predators such as foxes, magpies and crows.  'Singing fields' draws on recent research by the Trust's own wildlife biologists as well as other experts and assesses the evidence that shows the species that do and do not benefit from game management activities, such as predator control, habitat creation and feeding techniques.

Dr Tapper explains:- "Gamekeepers manage large parts of the countryside for pheasants, partridges and grouse and in so doing, create conditions that benefit other birds too. Game management delivers a very considerable net conservation gain and without this conservation work, carried out by the 3,000 gamekeepers working in our countryside, the prospects for many declining wild bird populations would be much worse."

A 10-year study on the Trust's Allerton Farm project at Loddington provides compelling evidence to support this view and shows how farmland birds benefit from game management. Over the study period habitat improvement and predator control boosted the number of wren (from 47 to 141 pairs), dunnock (46 to 144 pairs), blackbird (66 to 143 pairs) and song thrush (14 to 56 pairs). The most noticeable beneficiaries of this regime were the resident seed-eating finches who took advantage of the pheasant feeders and set-aside cover crops. Interestingly, many of these species declined after predator control was stopped in 2002.  In the uplands, gamekeepers burn heather and control crows, foxes and stoats which provide ideal nesting areas for waders. Lapwings are at least twice as common on grouse moors. On the North Pennine moors there are at least 700 pairs of golden plover and 3,900 pairs of curlew. Raptors like merlin also thrive and occur at much higher densities on grouse moors than on other moors.

Dr Tapper concludes:- "Gamekeepers make an often unappreciated contribution to the richness of bird life in the countryside. Intensive farming and forestry means that wild birds often struggle to find shelter and food in modern crops. Conservation is not just about creating nature reserves. It must also be about economic land use and how this can be made to support increased biodiversity. Game management for pheasants, partridges and grouse is a good example of this as it supports a variety of other species as well."

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