Will BOOM bring wider economic benefits to the region?
The reintroduction of species and restoration of landscapes will be widely promoted through the BOOM project, with the potential to draw tourists away from the honeypots in the central lakes and generate income for local businesses and supply chains across a wider area.
BOOM will enhance the employability of community volunteers by offering them a range of opportunities to engage with all levels of the project, including training events, learning new skills, and opportunities to network with local employers.
BOOM will work with communities high on the index of deprivation, supporting community mental wellbeing, building confidence and connecting communities. By providing a wide range of accessible and fully-funded nature-based activities the BOOM project could help reduce social isolation and improve physical and mental health of people in the area.
BOOM will support the connectivity and collaboration between environmental organisations and land managers across the area leading to increased investment through grants and other funds.
BOOM will provide The University of Cumbria with a practically applied setting for students in conservation, forestry and outdoor studies, as well as students at other campuses studying art and media. This will contribute to and diversify their skill set, increasing chances of employability as well as encouraging more new students to invest in and chose to study at The University.
What does it have to do with me?
The Living Planet Report in 2020 identified that there had been a global decline in species abundance of nearly 68% since 1970. This biodiversity crisis impacts all life on earth. For centuries, we have influenced and manipulated the planet and its inhabitants in ways which have come to jeopardise our own survival and well-being as a species. Animals and plants have evolved over millions of years, creating a delicate balance of life that is intertwined with intricate relationships, some of which are still beyond our understanding. The pollination of the crops we eat, microbes in the soil providing nutrients for plants to grow, trees protecting us from floods and absorbing excess carbon dioxide are all examples of systems that we need to live the way we do. We depend on the systems and services that these balanced ecosystems naturally provide. We call these ecosystem services.
However, through over-consumption and industrial intensification we have caused disruptions and gaps in the ecosystems in a way that is no longer sustainable and threatens the services we need to survive. As humans we are directly and indirectly the leading driver of biodiversity loss across the world, we therefore have a moral duty to replace what has been lost and restore species that are important not only for these ecosystem services, the wellbeing of the planet and the benefit of future generations but also because these they have intrinsic and cultural value as individual species themselves.
BOOM will focus on Morecambe Bay in South Cumbria – a heritage area which is incredibly biodiverse and includes many nationally and internationally important sites as well as an extensive network of linking priority habitats. Between them, this network supports a wide range of species and the area is a recognised biodiversity hotspot for a range of taxa, including vascular plants, birds and butterflies. Over 195 species (20% of all the listed species) on the S41 national list of species of principal importance have been recorded in the project area, spread across 32 different priority habitats.
Following other successful habitat management projects over the last 10 years including the Headlands to Headspace Landscape Partnership Scheme (Morecambe Bay Partnership), Dynamic Dunescapes (Cumbria Wildlife Trust) programme and work by Butterfly Conservation and other nature conservation charities, many of the habitats are in good condition and therefore perfectly placed to support the next step of species reintroduction. BOOM will reinforce ecosystem function in these restored habitats.
What is the main aim of the project?
The main aims of the BOOM project are highlighted below:
- Improve natural heritage in South Cumbria through nationally important species reintroductions, reinforcements or habitat improvements.
- Engage and train people from local communities to be a part of solution-based conservation actions.
- Improve people’s confidence, health and wellbeing through engagement with nature.
- Practically involve underrepresented groups in natural heritage to facilitate knowledge and participation in nature.
- Celebrate renewed biological diversity and cultural heritage to build a sense of place and develop local custodianship.
- Raise awareness of the biodiversity crisis and potential solutions.
Ultimately, BOOM aims to create a biologically richer South Cumbria championed by communities. BOOM is unique compared to other species re-introduction programmes, focusing on an ambitious and far-reaching engagement plan with local communities from day one. The community will be included in all aspects of the project including practically managing sites, growing and breeding species of plant and butterfly, collecting seed, planting trees, as well as monitoring how well they are doing into the future.
How will BOOM engage local people?
For BOOM to succeed, it is really important that local people discover these species and have the opportunity to get involved in learning about and caring for them.
The project needs to connect with people and aims to enhance learning and to support mental and physical health through outdoor activity. To achieve this, BOOM will be offering a wide range of training events, volunteer activity days, schools programmes, talks, walks, family days and creative arts sessions.
We’ll also be delving into the cultural heritage of these species – learning about changing farming practices, past industries and gathering memories and information about how the south Cumbrian landscape has changed.
We’ll also be working with young people’s and mental health charities, colleges, prisons, community growing sites, and volunteers.
Importantly, we're aiming to get new audiences passionate about Cumbria’s nature too, especially people who have never had the opportunity to spend much time outdoors but who would like to.
We’re aiming to achieve high-quality, regular, meaningful engagement over the 4 years within our communities, offer new skills and also find long-term champions who will be ambassadors for these species in the future.
Is the habitat suitable?
Some of the BOOM project sites have been chosen for reintroductions as they have already undergone restoration and management work that has brought them back into a favourable condition. Others have been chosen on the basis of their potential to become favourable with realistic and achievable management prescriptions through the project, working with local groups and individuals.
In addition to this, all sites will be surveyed prior to any reintroductions taking place to ensure that they provide suitable habitat for each species based upon the best and most recent knowledge available for their requirements. Equally important will be ensuring that these sites also have viable and secured long term management plans to at least sustain, and ideally, further improve, their condition.
To what extent will BOOM restore habitats?
The habitat management is species specific:
Many of the habitats are being well managed and are ready to re-introduce the plants and animals we are working to bring back; others still have more work to do, such as with the butterfly species. The Duke of Burgundy and Small Blue Butterflies rely on very specific heights of grass and scrub, as well as specific plants such as primrose and kidney vetch to feed from, lay eggs and shelter in. The vegetation needs continuously managing in rotation: what was perfect habitat one year, may grow and become less butterfly and flower friendly the next. We will assist Butterfly Conservation to create new patches of appropriate habitat for the butterflies to move to, as the numbers of butterflies increase, we create corridors to link them to new suitable areas, encouraging them to expand their territories.
There are already regular community volunteers managing habitats, but more help and more work is always needed, so the BOOM team will aim to support and expand the help, with the hope to build a bigger army of volunteers for the future, supporting our expanding populations of species working in partnership with organisations co-ordinating volunteers such as Butterfly Conservation, Cumbria Wildlife Trust, Arnside and Silverdale AONB and many others.
Does BOOM contribute to national species reintroduction and landscape restoration initiatives?
BOOM is part of national and international efforts to use reintroduction as a tool to halt biodiversity decline. As a ‘multispecies’ project it is the first UK attempt to bring back range of species into a discrete geographical area. The project is collaborating with other national species restoration projects including the People’s Trust for Endangered Species for hazel dormouse and Vincent Wildlife Trust for the pine marten feasibility study. Through our close working relationships with Natural England, RSPB, National Trust and Cumbria Wildlife Trust among others, the project will be part of a nationwide network of organisations committed to knowledge and experience exchange in their work on species translocation.
Does BOOM contribute to restoring ecosystem structure/function?
Many of the spectacular protected sites within the BOOM project area have been restored through the hard work of partner organisations, landowners and community volunteers. However, those ecosystems will not be fully functional unless we reinforce populations of threatened species and reintroduce species that are locally extinct at those sites.
BOOM reintroductions will help to re-establish links in food webs and ecological interactions between species to restore ecosystem function and resilience. Aspen trees for example support a number of rare insect species and are the favourite food of beavers which may also one day also be reintroduced to South Cumbria.
The BOOM project is only one of a number of national projects that are collaborating to use reintroduction as a tool to restore populations and ecosystems. However, the majority of initiatives have a single species focus and therefore BOOM will provide proof of concept for other large scale multispecies reintroduction initiatives with wide-reaching benefits for ecosystem function and resilience.
Is there any point in reintroducing species and restoring landscapes if climate change is going to change everything?
While it is clear that on a global scale climate change poses a catastrophic threat to biodiversity, on a regional and local level the effects can be less predictable. Species that are currently at the northern extent of their range may benefit from the changes predicted by climate change forecasts, while others may lose out to competition or loss of interdependent species.
There has also been research predicting that Cumbria may actually be less affected by climate change than other areas of the UK. If this is the case it could be that Cumbria becomes a refuge for species ubiquitous across the north but vulnerable to changes in climate and habitat composition. In both cases it feels important to ensure the ecosystems and species assemblages that are surviving and possibly expanding their range are as complete as is possible.
Why this range of species?
Each species on the BOOM project list represents an extinct, or threatened, part of what was once one of the most extensive and diverse species assemblages in the UK. The full list of lost or disappearing species for South Cumbria reaches well into the hundreds.
Those chosen by BOOM to be reintroduced were done so based on a number of factors:
- There was little or no chance of natural recolonisation due to loss of seed banks, fragmentation of habitat or existing populations being small and dispersed.
- The reintroduction was feasible within the timescales of the BOOM project (4 years).
- The species presented an opportunity to engage with local communities about the causes of and solutions to biodiversity loss.
- The potential for long-term adoption and ownership by local groups and individuals to ensure a lasting legacy.
What benefits do the BOOM species bring?
Each species will once have occupied and exploited a niche among the flora and fauna found in its range. Each species is a functioning part of a complex process which forms what we know of as an ecosystem. The ongoing loss of species from habitats removes essential links and connections from these systems. Eventually the loss of enough connections can leave plants and animals vulnerable to disease, habitats vulnerable to disease or being overrun with invasive or aggressive monocultures. If we can replace these connections, we can strengthen these habitats and build something called ‘Ecosystem Resilience’ – the ability for a natural system to survive and thrive through the challenges it faces both from nature and humans.
Through working with communities to perform these reintroductions BOOM hopes to help communities, and indeed ourselves, understand, build and protect these connections better.
Are the species connected?
Yes, there are many ways of connecting the BOOM species:
- They are all native to the project area in South Cumbria and have therefore evolved as part of the ecosystem through natural processes without human intervention. Historic records exist for all the species at the Cumbria Biodiversity Data Centre in Carlisle.
- Given the conservation status of the BOOM species as threatened or locally extinct, many are protected in national and European conservation legislation such as the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) or the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006).
- Some BOOM species are connected by the habitat in which they live. The chalk grasslands and base-rich soils around Morecambe bay are rich in wildflowers and provide suitable habitat for no less than four of the BOOM plant species (goldilocks aster, spiked speedwell, maidenhair fern and green-winged orchid).
How will you ensure the long-term success of the reintroduced species?
All the reintroductions will be carefully planned and discussed with the stakeholders involved prior to implementation.
We are also working hard to ensure ongoing community involvement within the project to embed a sense of custodianship over the landscape and species.
We hope that this will provide a legacy for the reintroduced species to be monitored and cared for beyond the project term. Arrangements for ongoing monitoring will be made with landowners/managers and management prescriptions will be incorporated into management plans and agri-environment schemes.
Will the reintroductions have a detrimental impact on native species at the recipient sites?
Our native animals and plants came over from mainland Europe after the last ice age and moved into their various historic ranges. Since then, all animals and plants have evolved over time to co-exist in certain areas and habitats throughout the UK. All BOOM reintroductions put back missing species within their natural ranges in order to restore native assemblages. This re-establishes historic ecological networks and connections, including the natural checks and balances which evolved over millennia. While we have been careful to ensure there will be no detrimental impact, moving a species does carry a potential bio-security risk. Full evaluations of these risks have been performed including disease risk assessments. Where identified as a potential vector for disease, mitigation procedures have been put in place, such as screening and quarantine with the hazel dormouse.
Will the translocations result in negative impacts on donor populations?
In all cases wild donor populations within and beyond the BOOM project area will be surveyed using standardised survey methods to assess their size, health and in some cases genetic diversity. The decision to harvest a surplus of animals or plant materials from a donor population will be based on survey results, a knowledge of the reproductive biology of the species and expert opinion from project partners.
In some cases, such as the hazel dormouse reintroduction, the donor population will be captive bred with no detrimental impacts on wild populations. In the case of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, the eggs will be harvested from the donor population for a captive breeding programme. Under controlled conditions the percentage of eggs surviving in captivity will be far greater than those in the wild. Furthermore, only half of the captive bred adult butterflies will be used to establish new colonies and the other half will be returned to reinforce the donor population.
Will you consider local provenance?
As part of the translocation and reintroduction process, we will follow the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidelines, part of which state:
“Source populations physically closer to, or from habitats that are similar to, the destination may be more genetically suited to destination conditions."
“Genetic considerations in founder selection will be case-specific....”
“Founder selection should aim to provide adequate genetic diversity.”
Therefore, where applicable and in situations in which the species continue to exist in the wild the BOOM project will select release sites that are: areas within the natural geographic range of the donor species, within close proximity (when suitable) to the donor population, a similar habitat or environmental niche that is specific to the survival needs of that taxa and an area with a similar climate and/or has similar future climatic predictions.
However, as highlighted above all translocations will be case specific and therefore the decisions we make as part of the BOOM project will need to be researched carefully and chosen with the success and survival of the translocated species as the maximum priority. For example, when selecting donor plant or animal from a small and isolated population, it may be necessary to introduce a combination of genetics that is not considered local. The increased genetic variation will improve the fitness of the species (I.e., increased vigour, reproductive output and survival) and enable adaptation during times of environmental change. Other reasons why local provenance may not be appropriate are highlighted below:
Considered benefits of local provenance:
- The donor and reintroduced taxa are likely to be genetically suited.
- Climatic and environmental factors will be similar to those to which the taxa is likely to be adapted.
- Local provenance selection decreases the chance of disease, pathogen or invasive pest transmission.
- It provides opportunity for the formation of a ‘metapopulation’ (e.g. a large collection of small populations that are all connected by habitat, food source, pollination networks, etc., and will therefore begin to function sustainably).
- It limits disruption and confusion of abundance data of naturally occurring populations of that species.
Reasons why local provenance may not always be appropriate:
- Habitats are dynamic and continuously changing. A habitat that was considered suitable within a local geographic range may no longer be.
- Habitat suitability and quality is considered a more important predictor of survival than proximity to the donor site.
- The local donor population may be small and isolated and should therefore not be considered appropriate for translocation as it will be lacking in genetic diversity. Non ‘local’ sources may need to be introduced to increase the genetic diversity and survival of the population.
- Climate change is causing species to adapt and change within their ‘climatic envelope’ and translocation projects should look to predict areas of climatic suitability rather than assuming local provenance or local areas will be best.
- There is no definitive definition of the range and particular qualities of what ‘local provenance’ implies and this may also vary across species.
Why was the red squirrel not chosen as a BOOM species?
International IUCN guidelines require a full assessment of the social and biological risks to any species being reintroduced. Risks can include their interaction with more recently introduced non-native species. For example, mink predate water voles and so water voles should not be reintroduced into an area where mink are present. For red squirrels, the threats posed by grey squirrels, such as resource competition and squirrel pox, need to be fully removed before a reintroduction can be considered.
Should translocations be used to secure new populations or to reinforce existing populations?
A metapopulation is a term for a group of geographically separated populations of the same species that move and interact with each other in the wider landscape. The decision to reinforce an existing population by adding individuals to it or to establish a new population and expand the metapopulation structure through reintroduction is a complex one.
There are potential ecological costs and benefits to reinforcements and reintroductions. Reinforcement of a single site is like putting all your eggs in one basket. One unpredictable catastrophe such as a bush fire or disease epidemic could result in the loss of the entire local population. By contrast if you create a network of new sites only some may be impacted by the environmental catastrophe. Of course, nature is never as simple as that, and sound ecological theory predicts that many small populations are often more prone to extinction than a single large population with more suitable habitat.
Ultimately these decisions will be made at a species level using information from regional experts, the published literature, habitat surveys and in some cases population models.