Category Archives: UK

Nature-related news from Britain

An Increase in Tick Bites and Lyme Disease in the UK

Walkers in Britain are being urged to take extra precautions against tick bites this summer because an epidemic of blood-sucking ticks is likely, following a mild, wet winter that gave them perfect breeding conditions.

The warning was delivered by Richard Wall, Professor of Zoology at Bristol University, who says there’s no definitive data on how many ticks are in the country. Some areas have none. Others – usually woodland and heath areas – may have more than 100 per square metre. However, the general consensus among rural communities is they are on the increase, largely as a result of the warmer and wetter weather (good breeding conditions) and the growing number of wild deer (ticks like living on their skin).

Dog walkers are also being advised to check their pets thoroughly as well, because ticks spread other diseases too, not just Lyme Disease.

The number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease — the most serious bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks — has also increased, according to Dr Tim Brooks, head of the Rare and Imported Pathogens Laboratory. He says laboratory proven cases have risen from about 200 in the late 1990s, to 1,200 last year, although the actual number of cases is probably three times that. Awareness and testing of the disease has also gone up, so the figures have to be seen in that context, he adds.

Lyme disease is treatable with antibiotics if it’s diagnosed early. But neurological problems and joint pain can develop months or years later if it’s left untreated. In the worst cases, it can be fatal.

Typical bulls-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick.  Source: Wikimedia Commons
Typical bull’s-eye style of rash around a bite from a Lyme-disease carrying tick. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most common symptom is a pink or red circular “bull’s-eye” rash that develops around the area of the bite, but it doesn’t appear in everyone. Flu-like symptoms and fatigue are other noticeable signs of infection.

Eddie adds:

Before feeding on the blood of their victim, the ticks are extremely small and difficult to see.  What is grimly worse is the fact that they actually burrow into their host’s flesh and become very difficult to remove.  The best way to do so is with forceps, pulling gently, directly upwards but it is extremely imortant not to squeeze too hard and burst the tick as that may leave its mouthparts embedded and can add to the subsequent infection.

Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host's flesh (which is painless) and swell as  and they suck the blood.  You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons
Ticks are tiny when they first bite but dig themselves into the host’s flesh (which is painless) and swell as and they suck the blood. You will NOT feel them doing it and MUST check your body. Source: CDC and Wikimedia Commons

The longer the tick is on its victim the larger it gets as it fills with the blood it is feeding on.  The illustration on the left shows the different life-stages.  (The American ‘dime’ coin that is used for scale is smaller than a British ‘penny’ and significantly smaller than a British ‘one pound’ coin.)

However, the good news — as established over many decades of this problem here in the USA — is that if the tick is removed within 36 hours of first attaching itself, the chance of a person getting Lyme Disease is somewhere between very low and zero, so the crucial task is checking oneself very carefully each day after being outdoors in relevant areas.

Get your partner or a family member to check your back, too, because even though some say the ticks only bite up to an adult person’s waist height, this is actually goverened by the height of the vegetation in the area.  Tall grass or brush raises the waiting insects higher and any resultant bites can therefore be higher on one’s body.  The back of one’s neck and shoulders should certainly be included if you’ve been through tall vegetation, and if you are wearing a short-sleeved top, check your armpits as well.

Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal's presence by the increase in carbod dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim.  At this stage, the ticks are minute.  Source: Wikimedia Commons
Ticks climb onto tall or overhanging vegetation in wait for a suitable host. They sense a suitable mammal’s presence by the increase in carbon dioxide and get agitated, ready to climb onto their unwitting victim. At this stage, the ticks are minute. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Some people in the USA advocate wearing light-coloured clothing so you can see any ticks that are on the outside of such (where they are harmless) before they potentially find an opening and get inside.  Similarly, if you are in a bad area for ticks it is a good idea to tuck your trouser legs into your socks — another way to stop them getting in, even if it won’t win you any points in a fashion competition.

This is certainly a problem I take very seriously and the fact that I always wear insect-repellent shirts and trousers, from early spring until winter sets in properly, undoubtedly helps.

Are such garments available in Britain?  I don’t recall ever seeing them there.  If you are planning an outdoorsy vacation anywhere warm, I would certainly recommend you search for such clothing online as it also stops mosquitoes and other biting insects from spearing you through your shirt!

One good source is Ex Officio and the relevant page is:  http://www.exofficio.com/search/bug-repellent%20clothing but there are several other sources that I know of so just do searches for ‘bug-repellent clothing’ and ‘insect-repellent clothing’.

 Eddie Wren

 


Sources:

  • http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article4078667.ece
  • http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-27255853
  • http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/epidemic-ticks-hit-britain-summer-3484449
  • http://www.examiner.com/article/mass-health-officials-warn-residents-about-dangers-of-lyme-disease
  • http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bullseye_Lyme_Disease_Rash.jpg

 

 

Live cameras watch for first Eurasian Crane chick to hatch in Britain for 400 years!

Eurasian Cranes (Grus grus), last known to have nested in Britain in the 16th Century.  (Wikimedia Commons)
Eurasian Cranes (Grus grus), last known to have nested in Britain in the 16th Century. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

An attempt by a pair of cranes to raise the first wild-hatched crane in western Britain in 400 years is being filmed on a webcam.

The webcam has been installed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at its Slimbridge reserve in Gloucestershire.

The 4ft (1.2m) tall cranes… first tried to nest at the centre last year but their chick died.

The one or two eggs are due to hatch mid-May and can be watched by internet users via the trust’s website.

The cranes are part of a reintroduction programme to re-establish the once-common birds in the UK….

Read the full article, from the BBC.

 

Britain’s Farmland Butterflies Bounce Back from Low Numbers

Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) on barley - Tim Melling - Butterfly Conservation
     Small tortoiseshell butterfly (Aglais urticae) on barley – Tim Melling – Butterfly Conservation

Farmland butterflies have flourished thanks to last year’s hot summer, the charity Butterfly Conservation says.

The annual Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) recorded almost double the number of insects compared with the previous year.

Long, sunny periods provided perfect breeding conditions for some of the UK’s brightest species, it suggested.

But experts warned the mild winter could reverse the insects’ fortunes if they emerged too early for spring.

The survey has been run by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology [BTO] and The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology since 2009….

Read the full, very interesting article from the BBC, at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/26242496

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Eddie’s comment:  This is excellent news!  For the past few years, there has been a dismaying scenario of butterfly numbers falling, throughout Britain.  This has largely been attributed to inappropriately long periods of cold and/or wet weather, so it is nice to see that a warmer, drier summer brought numbers back up, perhaps to a larger extent than one might have dared hope.

As for the excellent photograph by Tim Melling, some experts say that the European Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) is actually the same species as North America’s “Milbert’s Tortoiseshell” (Aglais milberti).*

The other two North American tortoiseshells (‘California’ and ‘Compton’) are in a different genus — Nymphalis — the same as the Mourning Cloak.

* National Audubon Society Field Guide to Butterflies

More Disease Problems for Bees in the US and Worldwide

An article published today in Britain, by the BBC, under the heading of ‘Bumblebees infected with honeybee diseases’, might not seem to be cause for alarm among nature lovers in America, but there can be no doubt that it is.

Honey Bee on Birds-foot-trefoil. Copyright 2013, Eddie Wren
Honey Bee on Birds-foot-trefoil. Copyright 2013, Eddie Wren

Given that bees are a massive factor in the viability not only of the wild flowers that we all enjoy but also of many important food crops, the rise of Deformed Wing Virus [DWV] and of the microsporidian ‘Nosema ceranae‘ should be of concern to anyone who has an interest in the health of our environment, and not least to bee keepers, whose livelihoods are once again being threatened.

When I read the above article, I did a search for these two problems in the USA, and sure enough I found this this report from the American Society for Microbiology, about DWV here in the States.

As for the ‘Nosema ceranae‘, Wikipedia has plenty to tell us about the spread of this pathogen, not only in the Americas but worldwide.

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Fox News in the USA has now run a version of this story, here.

Where to watch wildlife in the UK – BBC Nature

Where to watch wildlife in Britain

To most in the UK, the word ‘safari’ conjures images of the African savannah filled with an array of exotic creatures. But nature lovers are now being encouraged to look closer to home and experience the wonders of the UK’s wildlife stars….

via BBC Nature – Where to watch wildlife in the UK.