The Guardian seems to have decided that climate change is the most significant problem for insect life, despite its own articles suggesting that other factors represent much greater problems. I observed in a comment on “What’s The Buzz”i that the headline to a Guardian articleii recently warned us that “Climate crisis could lead to rise of smaller bees” despite the article itself saying that:

One in six species of bees have gone regionally extinct somewhere in the world.

The main drivers of extinction are thought to be habitat loss and pesticide use.

Discussion followed from my comment, with JIT pointing out (I paraphrase) that the bald claim in the headline was overly simplistic. Important though his intervention was, I am perplexed at the determination of some to push the climate agenda in the face of much bigger issues. Climate change may or may not be a problem for insects such as bees. But if one-sixth of bee species are known to have become regionally extinct due to habitat loss and pesticide use, that’s a real problem, and it should concern us. Why do we not have anguished Guardian headlines about that?

Similarly, in “Glow-Worm Waning”iii I drew attention to a Guardian articleiv which sought to blame climate change for a collapse in UK glow-worm numbers. I established, to my own satisfaction at least, that the claim was over-done, and that many other factors are behind the decline. Indeed, I found that the Guardian itself wrote that:

Habitat loss, light pollution, and pesticide use were regarded as the most serious threats [to firefly population and species persistence].

And yet, as always, it’s climate change that carries the can.

Moths declining faster in British woods than farmland or cities

When I read the above headline to yet another Guardian articlev about the problems of insect life I was fairly confident that a climate change angle would be introduced, regardless of the reality that would be revealed by reading the entire article. The sub-heading tells us that “Insect’s forest populations have halved over past half-century despite increased woodland habitat”, which is intriguing, to say the least. And so I read on. And this is what I found:

Moths are a well-studied indicator of wider insect declines that recent research has often linked to presticide [sic] use by industrial farming, habitat loss and urban light pollution – none of which directly affect woodlands.

So far, so good. A clear acknowledgement that insect declines have been linked to pesticide use, habitat loss and urban light pollution, as we saw above in connection with glow-worms. But:

Moths have declined faster in British woods over the last half-century than on farmland or in cities, despite woodlands having increased and moths being shielded from chemical and light pollution by the trees.

Well, that’s a mystery. Woodlands have increased, moths are thus shielded in these areas from chemical and light pollution, and yet their numbers are down in these areas by a greater amount than in those areas where they lack such protection from those destructive problems. What gives? Climate change, of course!

The loss of moths from woodland could be partly because of climate change…

Those last words form an embedded link to the Guardian article at endnote iv here, so that’s hardly conclusive. In fairness, the sentence I cut short above went on to offer other possible explanations, but then dismissed them for what seem like sound reasons:

…or less woodland management such as coppicing, leading to more shading or increased deer density causing more intensive grazing. However, the team of scientists found moths whose caterpillars fed on shade-intolerant plants or shrubs and woodland flowers grazed by deer did not decline any more than species relying on unaffected grasses, trees and lichens.

So, it’s a mystery. I decided to look at the papervi on which the Guardian article was based, and I think this is probably the critical paragraph:

Finally, climate change is known to have contributed to the national decline in moths (Martay et al., 2017) and it is likely that this has driven at least part of the decline observed in woodlands. However, this cannot explain why the declines have been worse in broadleaf woodland compared to other habitats. Indeed, we might expect the shade provided by woodlands to help buffer against the effects of climate change (De Frenne et al.,2013). However, the interaction between climate, habitat and moth abundance trends remains to be tested.

And the final point in the abstract makes it clear that no definite cause has been identified:

…the primary cause of the decline of moths in woodlands remains unclear.

In fairness, the Guardian headline didn’t blame climate change, but part of the article did, even though the two penultimate paragraphs did posit possible alternative explanations:

…other possible causes of woodland moth decline could include the spread of invasive shrubs such as rhododendron or laurel and habitat fragmentation, with woodland moths still affected by agricultural intensification beyond the woods.

He said: “Although the amount of woodland in the UK hasn’t declined since the 1960s there might be more fragmentation due to the loss of hedgerows and trees outside woodlands so that could be something for future studies to look at.”

Climate change to blame, or not? Who knows? The situation seems to be as clear as mud, but in the absence of any sure knowledge, what the hell? Let’s give it a substantial mention.

Swallows and martins head back to the UK but a changing climate threatens their future

It’s not just insects, of course. According to the Guardian articlevii bearing the above headline, it’s also swallows and martins. And yet, given that the Guardian has been telling us for agesviii that spring is arriving earlier and earlier in the UK (and that this is causing wildlife all sorts of problems), something about the headline and the sub-heading (“Migrating birds were delayed by poor weather on their 6,000-mile journey from southern Africa, shortening their breeding season”)failed to make much sense to me. Surely that poor weather was because spring arrived later in crucial parts of the northern hemisphere? And indeed, that is exactly what the Guardian reports:

But this spring, the swallows didn’t arrive back at the workshop until 10 April – the latest they have ever returned in nearly 40 years. Numbers are down, too. At the turn of the millennium, at least 20 pairs nested here; nowadays, there are just five.

Swallows were late back to my village, too. In the 16 springs we have lived here, the average return date has been 8 April – but this year I didn’t see one over my garden until the 25th. How different from that gloriously fine lockdown spring of 2020, when the first swallow appeared a full three weeks earlier than this year.

At Portland Bird Observatory in Dorset, where many of our swallows make their first landfall in the UK, Martin Cade, a warden, confirms that this has been a very slow year for spring migrants. “The first half of April was rubbish,” he tells me. “There were virtually no birds – and a lot of very grumpy birders.” Some may have been passing overhead thanks to fine weather, but nevertheless numbers of birds were far lower than usual.

There’s more:

Cade estimates that, this year, the main arrival of migrants has been roughly 10 days later than usual, peaking in late April, rather than the middle of the month. The latest nationwide figures from BirdTrack, organised by the British Trust for Ornithology, confirm this, showing that swallows, sand martins and house martins are all arriving between one and two weeks later than expected this spring.

In the Scottish Highlands, house martins usually arrive by mid-April, with swallows a week or so afterwards. But the conservationist and nature writer Sir John Lister-Kaye tells me that, this spring, neither have yet returned to their breeding sites

There are two reasons for the lateness of the swallows and martins. Unlike many other migrants, which fatten themselves up before they depart, these species feed as they travel, replenishing lost energy by catching flying insects. For that reason, they are especially vulnerable to bad weather en route. And the weather in southern Europe this spring – notably in southern Spain, which these birds cross after leaving Africa – has been very unsettled, with heavy rainfall, strong winds and even falls of snow across parts of Andalucía.

The second reason is that, here in Britain, although the weather has been mainly dry, there have been persistent easterly and north-easterly winds, which also slow down the birds’ progress as they head north.

Checking my notes, I see that I spotted house martins while on holiday in Glencoe on 12th April 2010. If they’ve just arrived in Scotland at the very end of April 2022, then that seems to be rather inconvenient in terms of the ongoing narrative that spring is arriving earlier, thanks to climate change, and that it’s causing chaos for bird-life. Now we find it arriving later this year (as it did last year too) and I suppose we have to wonder if that’s due to climate change too? Or is it just weather?

Don’t be silly. Whatever happens, it’s climate change:

Yet I am concerned that rapid changes in the world’s climate – including more frequent and extreme weather events – pose a real threat to these birds’ long-term future. Disturbingly, this year some swallows even attempted to overwinter in Cornwall, suggesting that the climate crisis is already having a major impact on their behaviour.

Conclusion

In some quarters there seems to be a quasi-religious belief that however strong the evidence for non-climate-related explanations for the decline of any particular species, it can safely be set aside or its significance minimised and all ills blamed on climate change. All I can do is keep testing and analysing the strength of the evidence, and share my findings here.

Endnotes

i https://cliscep.com/2021/10/22/whats-the-buzz/

ii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/21/climate-crisis-smaller-bees-bumblebees-study

iii https://cliscep.com/2022/01/11/glow-worm-waning/

iv https://www.theguardian.com/news/2022/jan/11/climate-change-insect-world-global-heating-species

v https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/29/moths-declining-faster-in-british-woods-than-farmland-or-cities

vi https://resjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/icad.12578

vii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/apr/30/swallows-martins-birds-head-back-to-uk-changing-climate-threatens-future

viii https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/feb/13/early-spring-changing-behaviour-flora-fauna-climate-change

39 Comments

  1. Regarding the swallows and martins, one should keep in mind that spring arrives when the days achieve the required length — the last time I checked, climate change had not impacted the Earth’s tilt. However, what the weather is like in spring is quite another matter. I tend to holiday in Scotland at this time of year and it struck me this year that the weather was every bit as unpredictable as ever.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I’ve always assumed there was a “model” in which one would input, say, Thomson’s Gazelle” or “Dung Beetle”, pressed Enter and, lo and behold, out came “less Thomson’s Gazelles” or “less Dung Beetles”. For added excitement a random response would be, “Extinct”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There was a program that simulated the populations of foxes and rabbits on the ZX Spectrum. I seem to remember it going into stable limit cycles.

    Regarding the woodland moth issue, I thought I should weigh in with something authoritative, but the fact is I don’t know the answer.

    Top of the list for me would be the end of coppicing (as is mentioned), which leads to a reduced amount of light reaching the woodland floor. It has certainly caused trouble for violet-feeding fritillaries. This does not just starve the larval host plant of light (they may persist in the seed bank) but it also removes a lot of nectar opportunities from the adults (the ones that actually have mouthparts, that is – some adult moths don’t feed at all, including, counter-intuitively, some of the largest). You may argue that coppicing ended a long time ago. This is true and would be a blow to the theory.

    Second in line we have island biogeography. Woodlands in the UK are now very fragmented. The extinction rate of species in small woodlands is high, and the colonisation rate is commensurately small. After habitat is fragmented, it will take an unknown length of time to reach a new equilibrium.

    Then we have development and the increasing amount of light in the environment, which presumably would not affect local flights within woodland, but would affect migration. (Though this applies to the other habitats too.)

    I do not rate the prospects of a degree of warming causing any trouble very highly. Here is the text about the Clifton nonpareil at UKmoths.org:

    Wingspan 75-95 mm.

    This is the Victorian collector’s classic all-time favourite, the ‘Blue Underwing’. In the British Isles it was formerly resident in certain parts of Kent and Norfolk during the middle part of the 20th century, but it became extinct as a breeding species and for many years was only recorded as an occasional immigrant.

    In recent years it has been increasing again and is now considered to be recolonising and once again is a breeding species in some southern counties.

    The large greyish caterpillar feeds mainly on aspen (Populus tremulosa).

    An interesting storyline for the climate alarmed, I’m sure you’ll agree.

    Finally on this, we must realise that we are not dealing with “real” numbers here. The Rothamsted Insect Survey’s moth trap network has locations coming into and going out of use all the time, depending on the local volunteers. Somehow this data has to be spliced together to make a robust time series. I’m sure the authors have done their utmost, but there will always be a question mark hanging over the sausage itself.

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  4. It’s worse than we thought and moths are just the canary in the coalmine. The Guardian is facing extinction. Though present as an invasive species in Australia and North America, sightings have become rare in its natural habitat north of Kings Cross station. Key Guardian climate content is threatened by a decline in the number of environmental correspondents, facing catastrophic conditions brought on by readers being distracted by war, pestilence, inflation and other trivialities. The disappearance of this key species in the ecological food chain may lead Guardian readers to revert to their traditional interest in the politics of global peace and social justice, with grave consequences for a generation of climate activists.

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  5. Geoff my town must still constitute a Guardian refuge. I told the tale some time ago. My true blue town (where Labour placards are rarer than hen’s teeth) has a Waitrose where you might expect loyal Borisites to selectively gather. Spend more than a certain sum and John Lewis gives you a daily paper. Commonly and completely unexpectedly I would find my Waitrose would have no remaining Guardians, they having been selectively chosen earlier in the day. I am informed that this behaviour continues and thus previously hidden Guardianistas still thrive here. Perhaps it’s time for a preservation order.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I was out for a walk up Blake Fell today, in the western lakes, seeking to avoid the bank holiday crowds. While I was out, I heard my first cuckoo of the year. They might have arrived here before today, but I doubt it, as I’ve been out walking a lot over the last few days, and haven’t heard a cuckoo call before today. Is it early, late, or normal? According to the RSPB, perhaps it’s late:

    https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/cuckoo/

    “Adults arrive in late March or April and depart in July or August, with young birds leaving a month or so later.”

    According to this website, it’s late, but not so late as the RSPB website might suggest:

    https://www.birdspot.co.uk/first-cuckoo

    They say that cuckoos are arriving early due to climate change, so it’s a bit inconvenient that seem to be late this year:

    “The cuckoo migrates north from Africa and the date of its arrival, although traditionally the 14th April, varies in different parts of the country.

    The first sighting is often in the far South West, in the Isle of Scilly and then gradually moves northwards. In recent years the cuckoo has tended to arrive on average five days earlier than usual, likely due to climate change.”

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  7. Mark – that head post pic is amazing for the detail it reveals, what a marvel life on planet earth is.

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  8. dfhunter, I can’t take any credit, and I’m ashamed to say that I don’t know what type of moth it is. Occasionally I use one of my own photos to accompany an article (e.g. the devastation going on at Shetland in For Peat’s Sake, or Harlech Castle in the Sands of Time, more recently) but generally I just select something that I hope is appropriate from a copyright-free resource to which I have access.

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  9. Can someone tell me how many species became extinct during the Neolithic deforestation or the 18th and 19th century enclosures in England?

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  10. Mark,

    As it happens, I was on the Isle of Skye this last week and a cuckoo could be heard from our property on most days. Also, on the way home, we stopped off at Pitlochry and watched a swallow swooping over the river Tummel. No science, just pleasant memories.

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  11. Bill, a very good question. Nobody likes to think of species going extinct, especially if it’s the fault of humankind. But context, as always, is lacking. I suspect that 99.9999 per cent of all species that have ever existed on the planet are now extinct, and in the billions of years to come, new diversity will be extraordinary. One of the problems with alarmists is that they view this planet through a very short term lens.

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  12. This very morning I heard my very first cuckoo in this part of deepest, darkest Norfolk (cannot claim it to be the FIRST however). Perhaps it was the first and mates were not around, it “sang” for a long time. If it prayed on our local blackbird chorus, I shall be upset. This year the blackbird dawn chorus (and well into the day) is truly magnificent. My granddaughter says she doesn’t hear it – perhaps it’s her ear-buds.

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  13. No wonder that Australian child is terrified. I think I might be if a gigantic hairy moth had settled down on my hair. I remember my sister, when a girl, being deathly afraid of getting moths in her hair, and they were tiny ones.

    Below is a scary paddling race between Green teachers and a paddle welding polybear.

    Good grief, this site is full of horrors.

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  14. Mark,

    I think you will find that Charles P. Pierce of Esquire Magazine has got your number. In a piece charmingly titled “We Can Now Be Confident That Future Generations Will Spit at the Mention of Our Names”, he reports upon a paper in Nature claiming that models suggest climate change will kill us all due to viruses spreading from other species. He concludes with this revelation:

    “One of the most dangerous, and most frustrating, elements of our inability to respond to the climate crisis is our deliberate attempt to obscure the obvious fact that all the consequences of the crisis are connected to each other through the overall crisis. Think of all the cheap political points scored by denialists who scoff at the “church of climate change” and by people who jive around about how “some people blame everything on the climate crisis.” Everything actually is involved in the existential threat. Everyone is, too.”

    Charles is obviously not a fan of Climate Change Only Connect, otherwise he would know that the very notion of there being a ‘deliberate attempt to obscure the obvious fact that all the consequences of the crisis are connected to each other through the overall crisis’ is just plain silly. In fact, the internet is bending under the weight of these ‘obvious’ facts.

    I just wonder where these journalists get their ideas from sometimes.

    https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a39849365/climate-change-pandemics-viruses-migrating-species/

    Liked by 2 people

  15. John, rather than dwell on your depressing last comment, may I instead express my envy of you having just returned from Skye. One of my favourite places. So far this year my trips north of the border have extended no further north than Glen Lyon.

    Happily, today I saw (as opposed to simply hearing) a cuckoo, and I also saw my first swallows of the year.

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  16. Mark,

    Just to clarify: When I referred earlier to the internet “bending under the weight of these ‘obvious’ facts”, I should, of course, have said “these ‘obvious’ connections” – because it is a connection that is being made every time. Mr Pierce sees such connections as obvious because he is fully sold on the idea of there being an overall cause (and one that is very much at the root of an existential crisis). With such an underlying causation, nothing can be ignored.

    The problem, however, is not whether or not there is an ‘overall’ cause but whether the causation is sufficient and necessary in any given case. All too often, close inspection reveals that the necessity and the sufficiency are both a matter of probabilities, and the competing factors and associated uncertainties make the connection anything but obvious. Take, for example, the speculations regarding future, zoonotic pandemics. The paper that Pierce referred to was making predictions based upon a model, and words like ‘might’, ‘if’, ‘risk’ and ‘possible’ featured in the account. These are the sort of words I ‘jive’ about, and if Pierce had any genuine respect for the science, he would be doing the jitterbug along with the rest of us.

    Also, the only time we ‘deniers’ talk of “the church of climate change” is when we see ‘might’, ‘if’ and ‘possible’ morph into ‘will’, ‘when’ and ‘definitely’.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. John my reading of this is that in parts of the wood, favoured perhaps by being more exposed to spring sunshine, the tits lay eggs up to 3 weeks earlier than in the 1940s, in other parts egg laying is more delayed. I suspect that the early mass of egg laying varies from year to year but this information has been obscured from us, by highlighting this particular season.

    Anyway, what’s the problem? Surely everyone knows and accepts that the climate has warmed? What we don’t accept is that man-made carbon dioxide plays the major role in this change. The Oxfordshire wood offers an interesting measurement of the magnitude of the change.

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  18. Further thought about the Great Tits reveals the changes in the Oxfordshire wood are more significant than just affecting the egg laying timings of those birds. The birds would not lay their eggs earlier unless they anticipate an earlier abundance of caterpillars upon which they can feed their hatchlings. Earlier caterpillars imply an earlier appearance of tree leaves. Thus the whole ecosystem moves in-sync. Perhaps later in the year sparrowhawks will lay their eggs earlier, feeding their chicks upon Great Tits and their earlier appearing chicks.

    Because Great Tits are not a migratory species, this long term study cannot address the problem of how migratory species will adapt to climate change. Will insect-eating birds migrate northwards as a result of increased temperatures in their winter residences only to find their summer homes not so far advanced and insect populations still too low to feed the incoming insectivores.

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  19. Alan,

    “The Oxfordshire wood offers an interesting measurement of the magnitude of the change.”

    Indeed it does. But the point I am making is that the magnitude will be due to many causal factors and will also be subject to statistical uncertainty. The headline of the cited article boldly states without qualification: “Climate change: Spring egg-laying shifts by three weeks”. Note, no other possible factors are mentioned and no quantification of the uncertainties is provided. And yet, we are then told, “In some parts of this wood, egg-laying has shifted by three weeks.” So apparently the effect doesn’t even extend over the whole of the area studied. The reasons for this may be as explained by yourself, or they may not. As stated in the link given below:

    “Many factors affect egg laying, such as fitness, day length, food abundance and environmental temperature. If one of these variables changes, the seasonality of egg laying may shift as well.”

    Clearly there is a spatial pattern to the effect within the Oxfordshire wood, but which of the above factors are at play, and to what extent? Wouldn’t it have been sensible to have conditioned for the spatial patterns so that a climatic signal could be discerned from the noise? It doesn’t look as though they have done this. In fact, for all I know, there was a normal distribution from which they are just quoting the upper range to exaggerate the magnitude! This is the whole point I am making: Headlines are bold and clear but the detail is always messy. No one is denying that there will be an impact, but I wouldn’t expect its quantification to be straightforward.

    https://sciencing.com/time-wild-birds-lay-eggs-5194461.html

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  20. John. Are you perhaps searching for complexity where it may not exist? Your reference regarding the timing of bird egg laying mentions fitness, day length, food abundance and environmental temperature. Unless the study site has moved like Birnam Wood, day length will not have changed. Food abundance (=caterpillars) will be controlled by caterpillar food supply (= the timing of tree leafing) so also will be controlled by any favourable climate change, especially by temperature. Interestingly the study started in 1947, so the study was most unlikely to be set up to investigate climate change.

    This only leaves parent fitness as a possible variable. There is perhaps some evidence for this. There was a study comparing Great Tits from the Netherlands and Britain. They found British Great Tits had slightly altered beaks that allowed the birds to access bird-feeders more efficiently. Britain apparently spends as much on bird feed as the rest of Europe combined. (Isn’t Wikki wonderful). But I cannot believe that the fitness of over a thousand birds in the wood changed sufficiently and in concert to alter the date at which the first clutches were laid. I’m sure that there is data on altered timings for tree leafing and for caterpillar abundance (the news item showed researchers sweeping for caterpillars), so links could be made between egg laying and food supply.

    I see absolutely no reason why this 75 year study should not be illustrating the magnitude of climate warming. What I am reasonably sure of is that this warming didn’t occur monotonically. Springs in England are notoriously variable and Spring 2022 has already been fickle. Early spring was exceptionally warm, then it turned cool again, now we have warmth. If the early Spring warmth set tree leafing foreword, this would advance timing of caterpillar appearance and then Great Tit egg-laying. Not only would 2022 be the 75th year of the study, but also an exceptional year involving an earlier than usual warm Spring. Good ol’BBC, always willing to push global warming to the limit. This time with some evidence but overblown as usual.

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  21. Alan,

    >”Are you perhaps searching for complexity where it may not exist?”

    Not really. I’m just questioning the simplicity of the claim that, as a result of studying Great Tits in this particular Oxfordshire wood, we can say that climate change is 100% responsible for a three week shift in their egg-laying season. It can’t be that simple if the effect varies from one part of the wood to another. I’m sure that if the causal diagram for egg-laying were to be drawn up, it would feature climate change as a driving cause but there would be enough detail to explain the discrepancies. Whatever the case, I don’t think it is good enough to state that there are spatial patterns in the effect without attempting to explain them.

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  22. John and Alan,

    I’ve been out and about today, and have just returned to read your discussion about the implications of the findings from the Wytham Woods project. I was, of course, aware of the news, since I’ve been in the car with the radio on, and the BBC has deemed this to be a top news story, featuring on the Radio 4 news every hour.

    The cynic in me noted that the studies commenced in 1947 – which was of course the year of the great freeze, with spring massively delayed. I am afraid that I am now so mistrustful of the BBC that my first thought was that of course spring is earlier today than it was in 1947, which was very much an outlier year.

    Then I told myself not to be so cynical, and go and see for myself what the study findings are, rather than hearing about them through a BBC filter. Unfortunately, I find that the story on the BBC website doesn’t provide a link to the study. Never mind, the great thing about the internet is that these things are rarely difficult to find, and here it is:

    http://wythamtits.com/

    The first thing to note is that my worries about 1947 being the start year may be misplaced, but then so are claims about it being a 75 year project. Actually, the bulk of the project seems to have commenced in the early 1960s:

    “The Wytham Tit Project was set up in 1947 by John Gibb and David Lack, inspired by pioneering work by Kluijver in the Netherlands, in order to study the breeding biology of the great tit. Lack initially put up 100 nest boxes in Marley Wood, one section of Wytham Woods; the study was later expanded around 1960 to cover the entire 385-hectare woodland using over 1000 fixed location nest boxes. Over the last 61 years, we have monitored all the breeding attempts in these boxes and individually-marked all parents and offspring (spanning over 40 generations), making this one of the longest running ecological studies of marked wild individual animals in the world.”

    To find out more, the interested visitor then needs to look here:

    http://wythamtits.com/research

    It’s well worth a look, IMO. Having looked at it, I have no idea where the BBC gets its headline claim of spring egg-laying being 3 weeks earlier. I think the crucial paragraph in the research findings is this:

    “Using our tit breeding records spanning the last 6 decades, we have shown that the tits are now laying about 2 weeks earlier than they did in the 1960, inline with climate change (read more here). However, our recent research has revealed that this shift in the timing in response to climate change varies considerably across the woodland with the slowest nesting sites only having advanced egg laying by 7.5 days, whilst the fastest sites advanced by 25.6 days. This variation is linked to the health of nearby oak trees – birds breeding in areas with healthy oaks have advanced their laying by 5.4 days more than those breeding in areas with unhealthy oaks…”.

    It offers another link (the “read more here” note) to this:

    https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13857-great-tits-enjoying-the-warmer-weather-so-far/

    “Since 1961, ecologists have been tracking the population of great tits that breed in Wytham Woods, near Oxford, UK. “It’s only in the past 30 to 35 years that you see this increase in temperature in early spring to which the birds have responded,” says study leader Ben Sheldon of the University of Oxford.

    The birds now lay their eggs 2 weeks earlier than they did in the 1970s, tracking a 2-week shift in the emergence of their favoured food – the caterpillars of the winter moth.”

    Which is a bit different from the BBC’s claim.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. And I might as well leave this here:

    “Flying insect numbers have plunged by 60% since 2004, GB survey finds
    Scientists behind survey of car number plates said drop was ‘terrifying’, as life on Earth depends on insects”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/05/flying-insect-numbers-have-plunged-by-60-since-2004-gb-survey-finds

    “The number of flying insects in Great Britain has plunged by almost 60% since 2004, according to a survey that counted splats on car registration plates. The scientists behind the survey said the drop was “terrifying”, as life on Earth depends on insects.

    The results from many thousands of journeys by members of the public in the summer of 2021 were compared with results from 2004. The fall was highest in England, at 65%, with Wales recording 55% fewer insects and Scotland 28%.

    With only two large surveys so far, the researchers said it was possible that those years were unusually good ones, or bad ones, for insects, potentially skewing the data, and so it was vital to repeat the analysis every year to build up a long-term trend. But the new results are consistent with other assessments of insect decline, including a car windscreen survey in rural Denmark that ran every year from 1997 to 2017 and found an 80% decline in abundance.

    Participants in the British survey downloaded an app, Bugs Matter, which enabled them to record their journeys and the number of bugs squashed on their registration plates. The next survey will run from June to August.”

    Public participation in science is great, but I’m far from convinced that this way of doing things will offer up meaningful results. What gets the blame for the decline? The usual suspects, including – of course – climate change:

    “The information gathered by the survey did not address why the decline was significantly lower in Scotland. But Shardlow said the factors known to harm insects, including habitat fragmentation, climate change, pesticides and light pollution, were less intense in Scotland.”

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  24. And then there’s this:

    “‘Canaries in the coalmine’: loss of birds signals changing planet
    Billions of birds are disappearing because of humanity’s impact on Earth, global review finds”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/05/canaries-in-the-coalmine-loss-of-birds-signals-changing-planet

    Inevitably, climate change is listed along with a whole load of other factors, as being behind the decline, but it rates little more than a passing mention, and lots of other factors seem to be far more important:

    “Bird populations are also affected by all the damage caused by human activity, from the destruction of wild habitat, the climate crisis, and pesticides and other pollution, to over-hunting and impacts of alien species and disease. This makes them the best living indicators of global change, the scientists said….

    …Birds are affected by all the impacts of human activity. For example, 2.7m are estimated to die every year in Canada alone from eating pesticides, while domestic cats may kill 2.4bn a year in the US. The most threatened families of birds are those which are larger and take longer to reproduce, including parrots, albatrosses, cranes and stocky birds like the Australian brushturkey. All countries host at least one globally threatened bird species and 10 nations have more than 75, the review found….

    …But the review concluded: “The growing footprint of the human population represents the ultimate driver of most threats to avian biodiversity. A lack of progress in conserving [birds] usually reflects a lack of resources or political will, rather than a lack of knowledge of what needs to be done.”

    Prof Stuart Pimm, at Duke University, US, said the review was excellent and authoritative, even with the sparse availability of data in some regions. “What is certain is that about two-thirds of all bird species live in tropical forests, and human actions are shrinking those habitats,” said Pimm….”.

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  25. Mark,

    Thanks for digging out the paper — I was too lazy to do so myself. It’s interesting that the health of the oaks has such a massive influence. Is this something that has been subject to change over time, I wonder. Still, it’s odd that a two week shift turned into three by the time the beeb had finished with it 😕

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  26. John – “Still, it’s odd that a two week shift turned into three by the time the beeb had finished with it “.

    Indeed. Where are the several members of the BBC Climate Misinformation team when you need them?

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  27. Mark my thanks also for identifying the summary paper that can be used to access the primary papers upon which the summary is based. Interesting that the study involves all the tit species and that the great majority of the nest boxes were only put in from 1960. This reference has allowed me to concoct Wytham woods climate change 2.0.

    The important sentence is “great tits nesting in territories containing lots of oak trees begin laying earlier and are more successful breeders.”. As the paper suggests it appears that great tits are able to assess the health of neighbouring oak trees. Successful birds are able to determine the best located nest boxes and occupy them early. Less successful pairs must search for suitably located sites, so already are behind those already occupying the better placed nest boxes. This might explain the variation in the timings of egg laying and hatching. Less successful pairs must continue searching before beginning to construct a nest and could be more than a week behind.

    In order to assess the possible influence of climate warming upon Wytham
    Wood using egg-laying timings one would need to compare like with like, I.e. the very same nest boxes and hope that 1) increasing the number of nest boxes has not had a major effect, and 2) neighbouring trees remain as healthy as they were in the past.

    I remain unrepentant. I think the change in the date of egg laying is a reasonable estimate of the effect of climate warming at Wytham Wood. But like many studies of similar ilk, actual temperature changes are never given, or even estimated.

    Researching and thinking about this subject has suggested to me why we don’t have Great Tits in our garden. When I lived next to UEA we were often delighted by the contortions our visiting tits displayed. Since we moved we no longer see them, and now I know why – there are no oak trees in our vicinity. What a shame.

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  28. Another misleading headline?

    “Muck in to help nesting birds during UK heatwave, says RSPB
    People urged to leave out mud pies and dishes of fresh water for migrating birds as temperatures rise”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/05/mud-water-to-help-nesting-migrating-birds-during-uk-heatwave-rspb-aoe

    “The RSPB is urging the public to get their hands dirty this weekend and create mud pies to help endangered birds such as house martins, swifts and swallows get enough sludge to build their nests.

    A nine-day mini-heatwave is hitting the UK, which coincides with the return of migratory birds here to breed. Many of these birds have flown thousands of miles on their journey. But conservationists are concerned that the ground is getting so hard it could stop them from being able to make their nests.”

    I’ve just checked the online BBC weather forecast for where I live in Cumbria, and over the next 14 days, the highest forecast temperature is 18C, which I don’t exactly rate as a heatwave (as an aside, those temperatures are reached, supposedly, towards the end of the week after next, not during the next 9 days as the article suggests. As a further aside, the forecast for more than the next day or two is in my experience hopelessly unreliable anyway). According to the forecast, we are looking at quite a lot of rain and high temperatures of around 12C next week. Heatwave?

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  29. Remarkably balanced, for a pleasant change, by Guardian standards:

    “How worried should we really be about ‘insectageddon’?
    Jane Hill
    Although most researchers are worried about insect decline, we should be wary of the hyperbole of impending doom”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/08/worried-about-insectageddon-insect-decline

    “… Analysis of nearly 50 years of insect data reveals long-term declines in moths but not aphids, and that there is evidence of shorter-term periods of recovery – a decidedly more optimistic picture than you might imagine.

    It illustrates the complexity of the landscape when reporting on the wellbeing of insect populations. Understanding why some species are losers but others are winners is key for developing action plans to help all nature thrive.

    Another problem is that the types of datasets that are analysed, such as the number of species at a site or types of species present, and the measurements that are taken may not always tell the same story. Deciding which historical baselines to compare changes against is also important, given that short-term reporting may not reflect long-term trends, especially in insects whose populations can respond very quickly to their environment. This high variability of insect populations means we need gold-standard data to distinguish between long-term trends and normal year-to-year variation.

    Let’s be clear: most researchers are concerned about insect declines, but most will also caution against the increasingly common hyperbole of impending doom. Instead, we should be focusing our efforts to ensure the actions we are taking to combat the climate crisis are also benefiting biodiversity. Given the current focus on tree planting and increasing woodlands in the UK, it is concerning that moth declines are worst in woodlands, for instance….”.

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  30. In a comment above on 5th May about the Wytham Woods Project, I said (inter alia):

    “The cynic in me noted that the studies commenced in 1947 – which was of course the year of the great freeze, with spring massively delayed.”

    I then went on to say that my fears appear to have been misplaced. But – not so fast! Today I received my email delivery of the Oxford Alumni bulletin, “Quad news”, and it included a link to an article about the Wytham Woods project:

    https://www.alumni.ox.ac.uk/article/oxford-celebrates-75-years-of-great-tit-research-at-wytham-woods

    It contains this gem:

    “Professor Ben Sheldon, Luc Hoffmann Chair in Field Ornithology and Director of the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology in the University of Oxford’s Department of Zoology, notes that in 2022 the first eggs to be observed were laid on 28 March, just one day short of a month earlier than in 1947 – an observed effect of climate change leading to earlier springs, he says.”

    It’s a pity he didn’t also note that the spring of 1947 was an astonishingly cold outlier, such that pretty much every spring (barring a handful, perhaps) for a century either side of it are likely to have seen bird nesting activity weeks earlier than in that year when all activity was almost certainly hugely delayed.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_1946%E2%80%9347_in_the_United_Kingdom

    It’s a pity that academic rigour at my alma mater doesn’t including pointing out such obvious facts when making claims like “an observed effect of climate change leading to earlier springs”.

    As Alan K has pointed out springs may be occurring a little earlier than half a century ago (though I’ve seen little evidence where I live), but claims of them being one day short of a month earlier than in the bitterly cold and delayed spring of 1947 are desperately lacking in vital context.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Wow – not a mention of climate change:

    “Rare UK seabirds put at risk by ‘alarming loophole’, say campaigners
    Ministers accused of ‘giving up’ on birds as they explore exemptions from duty to protect the animals”

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/13/rare-uk-seabirds-put-at-risk-by-alarming-loophole-say-campaigners

    “Seabird numbers in the UK and have fallen almost 25% in less than four decades – a loss of more than 2 million seabirds compared with 1986. Things are at their worst in Scotland where population numbers have almost halved in this time.

    Reasons for seabird decline include the fishing industry hoovering up the sandeels and other small fish they like to eat, invasive species being introduced to the islands on which they breed, and birds being caught accidentally by fishing trawlers.”

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  32. Late to the party as usual… looking through an old bird and mammal report for something else, I found a relevent nugget of info – see below the Wytham quote.

    On the 27th April, 1947, the year’s first great tit egg in Oxford University’s Wytham Woods was counted. It was the start of a deep and ongoing relationship between the bird population and generations of researchers.

    Seventy-five years later, 2022, the year’s first great tit egg was counted on the 28th March – almost exactly a month earlier than its 75-year predecessor.

    https://www.biology.ox.ac.uk/article/wytham-woods-great-tit-study-celebrates-75-years-part-2

    Jeepers, that sounds scary professor!

    The nesting season was prolonged. A great tit at Sprowston [north of Norwich] had five eggs by Feb. 21st and a full clutch of nine a week later.

    The year was 1960. https://norfolknaturalists.org.uk/wp/publications/bird-and-mammal-report/ [select the one for 1960.]

    What I was actually looking for was the arrival date of swifts – because I have been watching the sky and listening out in vain for them the last week or two. Then this afternoon I heard a shrill cry and ran outside. The swifts were back – two of them at least. Everything was all right in the world after all.

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  33. Jit, interesting finds. Spring came early in 1960, eh? But very late in 1963, as in 1947.

    I saw swifts here for the first time this year a few days ago. Looking out of the window and high in the sky, I can see them now.

    I am not long back from a walk along the river Cocker, where I spent a happy few minutes watching a family of treecreepers. This really is a wonderful time of year.

    Like

  34. Mark – “and birds being caught accidentally by fishing trawlers.”

    reminded me about “Deadliest Catch” television series which follows crab fishermen aboard fishing vessels in the Bering Sea during the Alaskan king crab season.

    it always amazed me that whatever the weather & time of day or night, the gulls were always present, having learned a easy meal can be had (with risks it seems).

    Like

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