Thursday, 15 March 2012

50 years of predatory bird monitoring, and how you can help!

Barn owl
 Our colleagues who work on the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme (PBMS) have celebrated 50 years of long-term monitoring by refreshing the look of their website to provide even more information and background on their hugely important research which assesses the impact of chemical contaminants on birds of prey and the wider environment.

The PBMS relies on members of the public to send in deceased birds of prey and addled and deserted eggs (from licensed egg collectors only - it is against the law to interfere with bird nests and remove an egg without a licence). The PBMS scientific team hopes that the new website will help spread the word about how the scheme operates, the research they undertake, and encourage many more members of the public to send in samples!

A brief history

The PBMS is the longest running record of its kind: a long-term, large-scale monitoring scheme that quantifies a range of contaminants in the livers and eggs of certain species of predatory and fish-eating birds in Britain.

It started in 1962 when work began at the Monks Wood Experimental Station in Cambridgeshire to investigate the role of some insecticides and fungicides in the decline of several bird and mammal species. By 1966 the researchers were monitoring polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in predatory bird tissues and eggs and by 1970 they were also monitoring total mercury in the tissues and eggs. In subsequent years, the PBMS has focused on other chemicals.

Why is this important?

Chemicals are used to protect animal and human health, food security, and economic sustainability. It is important, however, to quantify any effect these substances may have on wildlife and the wider environment. Some pesticides, biocides and substances used in industry and manufacturing (for instance, polybrominated diphenyl ethers - PBDEs) can be accumulated by non-target wildlife species and have adverse effects.

The PBMS monitors the concentrations of contaminants of concern that are accumulated in the livers and eggs of sentinel species (a species whose well-being in a particular environment is indicative of the health of that environment as a whole). This provides information on the extent of risk to vertebrate wildlife (and potentially humans) in terrestrial, freshwater and marine environments, and how contamination varies temporally and spatially.

Through its monitoring the PBMS provides underpinning scientific evidence that informs policymakers and regulators in their decisions to authorise, restrict or withdraw pesticides, biocides and other chemicals. A current example is that PBMS monitoring of second generation anticoagulant rodenticides in wildlife is used as an evidence base by regulators to assess the occurrence and importance of the impacts of these biocides on wildlife. This monitoring is also used by rodenticide manufacturers and suppliers to help them promote to their customers the importance and need for responsible use of rodenticides.

How you can help

Engagement with the public, in particular volunteer collection of carcasses and eggs, is crucial to the success of the PBMS. On average the PBMS receives some 400 birds of prey carcasses and 200 eggs per year. Body tissues and egg contents are stored in the PBMS archive at Lancaster. This now contains more than 40,000 tissue samples and 10,000 eggs – a tremendous resource that can be used to analyse long-term trends in contamination. The website contains details of what species the PBMS currently analyses and how to send in samples.

The Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme is currently funded by a consortium that comprises CEH, Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Campaign for Responsible Rodenticide Use and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). It has also recently been instrumental in establishing a network between various different UK surveillance schemes that monitor disease and contaminants in vertebrate wildlife called the Wildlife Disease & Contaminant Monitoring and Surveillance (WILDCOMS) network. Where appropriate, samples, data and other resources will be shared between the network’s partners. The network will help to ensure an even more coordinated approach to detecting current and emerging chemical threats to the environment.

Be sure to check out the new PBMS website here. If you are interested in following their work, you can also like them on Facebook.

Posted by Paulette Burns, with thanks to Lee Walker, Jacky Chaplow and Richard Shore of the PBMS.

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