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Australia's Fires Harmed 3 Billion Animals, New Report Finds
Unprecedented bushfires that ravaged Australia in 2019 and 2020 killed or displaced almost 3 billion animals, according to an interim report released Tuesday.
Compiled by scientists from several Australian universities, the survey said the blazes impacted an estimated 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs.
The report, commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), did not specify how many animals may have died. But the prospects for those that escaped the fires "were probably not great" because they lost food sources, native habitat and shelter from predators, report co-author Chris Dickman said.
The bushfires that swept across Australia between late 2019 and early 2020 scorched 115,000 square kilometers (44,000 square miles) of bush and forest, killing 30 people and destroying thousands of homes. It was one of the worst bushfire seasons on record.
Experts say prolonged drought and climate change will likely make such events longer lasting and more frequent.
A previous study released in January had estimated that around 1 billion animals perished in the hardest-hit states of Victoria and New South Wales in eastern Australia. But the survey published Tuesday was the first to assess fire zones across the entire country, lead scientist Lily van Eeden of the University of Sydney said.
The survey's results are preliminary, with a full report to be released next month, but scientists said the estimate of 3 billion animals affected was unlikely to change.
"The interim findings are shocking," WWF Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman said. "It's hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals."
"This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history," he added.
Arnulf Köhncke, species protection expert at WWF Germany, warned that horrific bushfires could become a common occurrence: "The record fires in Australia could become the new normal, just a taste of what's to come, if we don't manage to limit the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit)," he said.
Limiting temperature increases to 1.5 C above pre-industrial averages, as stipulated in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, is seen as crucial to preventing catastrophic global warming and worsening weather events.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Naomi Larsson
For centuries, the delicate silver dove has been a symbol of love and fidelity.
Biodiversity and Habitat Loss<p>Their near extinction is a symbol of the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/global-biodiversity-outlook-targets-extinction-summit-new-york-pledge/a-54932895" target="_blank">biodiversity crisis</a> in the UK, largely driven by habitat destruction. Britain is now one of the countries with the most <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/future-of-UK-nature#:~:text=The%20UK%20is%20one%20of,than%20half%20are%20in%20decline" target="_blank">depleted nature</a> in the world according to the World Wildlife Fund. Half its plant and animal species are in decline and more than <a href="https://www.rspb.org.uk/about-the-rspb/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/let-nature-sing-wales/#:~:text=a%20natural%20tragedy.-,Over%2040%20million%20birds%20have%20vanished%20from%20UK%20skies%20in,unaware%20of%20the%20impending%20danger" target="_blank">40 million birds</a> have vanished in just half a century.</p><p>"[Turtle doves] are the canary in the [coal] mine because there are all these other species before it and after it," said Tree. "It's an umbrella for all the other species that are heading that way."</p><p>Turtle doves migrate south through Europe to sub-Saharan Africa between July and September, ending up in dry woodland and farmland areas of countries like Mali and Senegal for winter. </p><p>Droughts in West Africa and the Sahel region are believed to have contributed to the fall in turtle dove species recorded in northern Europe, with low rainfall reducing supplies of the seeds and insects the birds rely on for energy for the long journey home.</p>
Conservation and Farming<p><a href="https://www.operationturtledove.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Operation Turtle Dove,</a> a partnership project of charities including the Essex Wildlife trust, works with landowners and farmers to actively build turtle dove habitat.</p><p>Outten works with <a href="https://www.ebws.org.uk/birdsites/blue-house-farm-ewt-north-fambridge" target="_blank">Blue House Farm</a>, a 660-acre nature reserve in the UK county of Essex, where they have replicated weedy fallow plots. </p><p>"We work on it every year to make sure it's in the condition it needs to be with plants such as clovers and black medic," Outten said. "These plants are native to the landscape and produce the seed the birds feed on." </p><p>The birds eat a wide range of seeds from various plants that would have been abundant 50 or 100 years ago, added Guy Anderson, program manager for species recovery with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). </p><p>"But it's simply true that with the gradual process of <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/farming-without-pesticides-how-can-we-make-agriculture-greener/a-52216796" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">intensifying our agricultural production</a>, the availability of those seeds has dropped and dropped," said Anderson.</p><p>Part of the project includes supplementary feeding — providing sources of food in the form of seed or grain. Under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme in England, farmers can receive financial support to create a turtle dove habitat. </p><p>Though they haven't recorded an increase in doves across the sites in the four years of working on the project, Outten said they are seeing improvements in how landowners and farmers manage habitat for the birds. </p>
A Turtle Dove Haven<p>The 3,500-acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex is another project taking a different approach and one of the few places where turtle dove numbers are increasing.</p><p>Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell converted their intensively farmed land into a rewilding project almost 20 years ago. They have let the land return to nature.</p><p>Just one year after they'd finished <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/uks-most-talented-architects-are-not-human/a-35952128" target="_blank">rewilding</a> the southern part of their property, they heard turtle doves for the first time. It's now a breeding hotspot for the birds with an estimated 19 pairs. Knepp is also home to <a href="https://www.rewildingbritain.org.uk/rewilding/rewilding-projects/knepp-estate" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2% of the UK's population</a> of nightingales. </p><p>Tree is critical of supplementary feeding schemes that, in her view, are short term. She questions the chances of turtle doves getting to feed on scattered seeds before other mammals eat them first.</p>
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