Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

#SciFri

#SciFri: The potential for damage from the JNCC 7th Quinquennial Review

Something happened this week but it’s taken a few days to sink in. There was news from the Amphibian and Reptile Groups UK (ARG UK), that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) was recommending the removal of protections to species listed under Schedules 5 and 8 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (WCA) 1981. This is part of a review that takes place every five years where the country nature conservation bodies (consisting of Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and NatureScot for those that aren’t familiar with them). The review then provides recommendations to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to Ministers for the Environment in the Scottish Government and Welsh Government for changes to these schedules. This is known as the Quinquennial Review (QQR). The original point that my mind focussed on was that with the removal of the protections, all of our widespread amphibians and reptiles would be no longer be protected from harm, sale or intentional killing. As someone working in the conservation of these animals, you can imagine that this made my heart sink. However it goes further than just that.

The 2021 review seeks to change the ‘Eligibility Criteria’ of species (both now and in future times), listed under Schedules 5 and 8, such that the country-based nature conservation bodies will only pursue scheduling of a species when an animal or plant is in danger of extinction in Great Britain. Whilst I can see the sense behind this, there are a lot to species that will lose their protection due to this shift in focus. Only those facing the imminent threat of extinction in will be protected, which is a huge cause of concern as a number of species are in decline but are yet to be regionally red listed. It makes sense that as an island nation, our wildlife is in a far poorer state than that of the continent as it is much harder (if not impossible) for new individuals of most species to fill the gaps when populations decline or go extinct.

With all of that in mind, this will effectively remove any form of protection from many of our well-loved widespread species. This doesn’t just include amphibians and reptiles (as I first thought) but could also include red squirrels and hedgehogs, which are both suffering serious declines. The amphibians and reptiles that will lose their protections include the common frog, common toad and the small newts (smooth and palmate), the slow-worm, grass snake, adder and viviparous lizard. The changes will mean that it will be legal to trade or sell these animals (which is currently illegal), and worse still the reptiles will lose their protection from killing and injury. This means that it will once again be legal to persecute adders, pine martens and mountain hares – despite all of the costly efforts to try and conserve these vulnerable species. The persecution of species like this in my mind is completely barbaric, especially seeing as a whole range of conservation organisations have spent so much time and energy on trying to reverse people’s perceptions of these animals.

Another thing that comes to mind is the risk of the emergence of a number of potential diseases in British amphibians and reptiles, which we know are lurking in the shadows. The salamander chytrid fungus known as Bsal which has been implemented in the decline of fire salamanders in Western Europe, is present in Great Britain but only in captive collections. If wild caught newts were brought into contact with infected animals in these collections or their enclosures accidentally, in the process of being captured and sold, then this could act as a pathway to the spread and spillover of the disease in wild amphibians. The same could also be true of Perkinsea, another emerging disease which has just been found in a captive collection of treefrogs. I’m also worried about how and why this decision was made. There are wide-reaching implications into the planning process which will allow developers to bulldozer further areas of green belt without having to consider those species protected under Schedules 5 and 8, something with terrifies me. As someone who is going to be looking for a job in career in a year’s time after the completion of my PhD, this whole situation is my worst nightmare.

However there is some good news. The review is currently in the early stages so there is still time to question the process, with the submission of final recommendations to Governments not happening until November to December 2021.  So, if you’ve read this blog and you too are terrified by the potential implications to the nature that you know and love, then I implore you to write to your MP and let them know. If you’d like some more information or a draft letter, thankfully ARG UK has your back covered and both can be found here. I suspect that a number of other conservation organisations will start speaking out about this potential radical change over the coming days, as it will affect us all.

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