20 good news stories from 2020

Tasmanian devils had something to shout about in 2020 (Aussie Ark)

1. Tasmanian devils returned to mainland Australian for the first time in 3,000 years as part of a rewilding project between Global Wildlife Conservation, Aussie Ark and WildArk to help restore natural ecosystems – 26 of the marsupials were released into a 400-hectare wildlife sanctuary on Barrington Tops in New South Wales, with the hope that many more will follow.
Source Global Wildlife Conservation

2. Summer brought a gorilla baby boom to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, with five new additions born in six weeks over July and August – taking the total born by September to seven. Last year three youngsters were born in the park, home to around 400 individuals – roughly half the world’s population of the mountain gorilla, which is a subspecies of the critically endangered Eastern gorilla.
Source Reuters

Ema Elsa and her newborn calf (Chester Zoo)

3. In Britain, Chester Zoo welcomed its own new addition in November – a female eastern black rhino calf. The big moment was captured on CCTV as Ema Elsa, who arrived at the zoo in 2005, gave birth after her 15-month pregnancy – the new arrival was on her feet and suckling within ten minutes. There are thought to be fewer than 1,000 eastern black rhinos remaining worldwide – primarily due to poaching for their horns – but thanks to concerted conservation efforts numbers are slowly increasing.
Source Chester Zoo

A survey of green sea turtles off the Great Barrier Reef brought good news (David Mark/Pixabay)

4. Drone footage revealed the world’s largest nesting population of the endangered green sea turtle is almost twice as big as previously thought – the survey by Australian scientists estimated around 64,000 turtles travelling to Raine Island on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef to lay their eggs.
Source Reuters

5. In September a bar-tailed godwit broke the world record for avian non-stop flight, travelling more than 7,500 miles in just 11 days. The epic migration started in south-west Alaska, United States, on September 16 and finished near Auckland, New Zealand, after a total flight time of around 224 hours.
Source The Guardian

6. The number of endangered Iberian lynx grew to 885 in the latest census, up from 94 recorded during the first count in 2002 – populations of the wild cat plummeted in the second half of the 20th century due to food scarcity and habitat loss, but concerted conservation efforts between the Spanish and Portguese authorities and NGOs are now paying off.
Source The Guardian

7. In May, white stork chicks were born on the Knepp estate in West Sussex – the first to hatch in Britain in more than 600 years. The proud parents first attempted nesting on Knepp in 2019, and returned this year to successfully raise their brood – Knepp is part of the White Stork Project, which aims to introduce a population of around 50 breeding pairs to the south of England by 2030.
Source Knepp

Voeltzkow’s chameleon was rediscovered after more than a century (Kathrin Glaw)

8. News emerged of the rediscovery of several species in 2020, including Voeltzkow’s chameleon and the giant fox-spider. Voeltzkow’s chameleon, not seen since 1913, was discovered during an expedition in northwestern Madagascar in 2018 – the research team’s paper, published in October, also revealed that females have striking colouration which changes according to mood. It is the sixth species to be found from Global Wildlife Conservation’s ‘Most Wanted’ list – another, the Somali sengi, was rediscovered in Djibouti in August. 

In Britain, two years of searching paid off for Surrey Wildlife Trust’s Mike Waite after he discovered a number of giant fox-spiders on local Ministry of Defence training grounds – the eight-eyed arachnid, named after its hunting style, had not been seen in the country for three decades.
Source Global Wildlife Conservation/Surrey Wildlife Trust

9. The small archipelago of Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic created one of the world’s biggest marine reserves, declaring almost 700,000km2 of its waters – 1,700 miles west of Cape Town – as a no-take zone, preserving the habitat of seabirds, whales, sharks, seals and a host of other marine life. Sustainable fishing areas have been drawn up around two of the islands, home to a population of 245 people. The no-take zone is the fourth-largest on the planet.
Source tristandc.com

10. A breakthrough for conservation monitoring arrived in November with the unveiling of BearID, a facial recognition app able to identify individual grizzly bears – traditionally identification has been difficult due to their lack of markings and weight fluctuations throughout the year. Further development is required, but the technology has many potential applications across the conservation field, including in population counts and assessing conservation efforts.
Publication Ecology and Evolution

Blue whales remain endangered but their numbers are increasing (JaneB13/Pixabay)

11. Endangered blue whales are returning to waters around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia half a century after being driven close to extinction by whaling. A survey in February recorded 58 sightings, while 41 individuals have been photo-identified in the area since 2011 – 31 sonobuoys deployed have all detected blue whale vocalisations. Once common in the seas around the island, commercial whaling in the 20th Century up until 1971 killed more than 42,000.

In December, researchers reported what they believe to be a new population of blue whales in the western Indian Ocean.
Publication Endangered Species Research 

12. A study published in January revealed the discovery of five species and five subspecies of bird on three islands off the coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia, in an area known as Wallacea – named after British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who independently proposed a theory of evolution following his study of the region in the 19th Century. The new species include the Peleng leaf-warbler, Taliabu grasshopper-warbler and Peleng fantail. The findings represent the largest description of new species from such a small area in over a century.
Publication Science

The first dam built by beavers released on Exmoor (National Trust)

13. A pair of Eurasian beavers released on Exmoor in January completed their first dam in October – thought to be the first built in the area for 400 years. The male and female pair were introduced on the Holnicote estate as part of efforts to manage flooding and improve biodiversity. Beavers are often referred to as ecosystem engineers – while the dams and pools they create offer shelter and food for the animals themselves, they enhance habitats for myriad other wildlife, and also help to prevent flooding by slowing, storing and filtering water.

In July, a pair of Eurasian beavers released on the Spains Hall Estate gave birth to two healthy kits.
Source National Trust/Essex Wildlife Trust

Say hello to the newest comb jelly – no relation to jelly fish

14. In December, NOAA researchers unveiled a new species of comb jelly discovered during a 2015 dive – Duobrachium sparksae. Reminiscent of a hot air balloon, it has eight rows of cilia that refract light into bright colours as they pulse. Duobrachium sparksae is a carnivore, eating small arthropods and larvae.

What a video of the new species here.
Publication Plankton and Benthos Research 

Conservation efforts are paying off for the European bison (Rafal Kowalczyk)

15. An end of year update from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature revealed European bison are no longer classified as Vulnerable following long-term conservation efforts. Population numbers rose from 1,800 in 2003 to more than 6,200 in 2019, but further measures will be required to continue progress.

In July, the Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust unveiled a project to reintroduce European bison to Britain, with a male and three females to be released in Blean woods near Canterbury in 2022.
Source IUCN/Kent Wildlife Trust

16. Invertebrate conservation charity Buglife, supported by Defra, launched its B-Lines network across the UK, strategically mapped ‘highways’ of potential and existing wildflower habitat to benefit pollinators and help insects – and other wildlife – move across the country. It is hoped the project will connect wildflower-rich habitats by creating new ones to bridge the gaps.
Source Buglife

17. In July, Rewilding Argentina released five red-and-green macaws as part of ongoing conservation efforts to reintroduce the species. The juveniles, bred in captivity, were introduced in Yerbalito, in the protected wetlands of Iberá in the northeast of the country. As seed dispersers, macaws play a vital role in their ecosystem. The organisation is reintroducing ten native species to the wetlands, including the jaguar and river otter, with the aim of increasing nature-based tourism to sustainably boost local economies.
Source Rewilding Earth

Large blue butterflies are making a comeback (Sarah Meredith/National Trust)

18. An effort to reintroduce the large blue butterfly to Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons in Gloucestershire has been hailed as a success after an estimated 750 individuals were counted this summer following the release of 1,100 larvae on the site in 2019. The species was declared extinct in Britain in 1979 – and had not been seen on the commons in 150 years – but conservation projects have enabled a number of populations to thrive.
Source National Trust

Approximately half of the world’s grey seal population lives around the British coast (Gabster33/Pixabay)

19. In November, England’s largest grey seal colony in Blakeney National Nature Reserve, Norfolk, was predicted to welcome around 4,000 new pups in 2020 – in 2001 there were just 25, with the first pup spotted on the beach in 1988. With so many new arrivals expected, staff and volunteers at the National Trust have had to change the methods by which they count them, switching from an individual count by eye to a sample of one area.
Source National Trust

20. Conservation efforts introduced since the formation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1993 have prevented between 28 and 48 species of bird and mammal from becoming extinct, according to a review of efforts in the journal Conservation Letters. Species including the Vancouver Island marmot, Javan rhino, orange-bellied parrot and spoon-billed sandpiper are among the species still in existence following prolonged, concerted conservation efforts, but the authors highlight that many remain at risk of extinction – roll on 2021 and more vital conservation work!
Publication Conservation Letters

Happy new year from Environmental News Bulletin!

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