Author Archives: Aaron Swann

Interview with Siobhan Thompson – Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership

Interview with Siobhan Thompson – Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership

Blog by Joanna Martin

I am interested in finding out what is being done to help the Curlew, so I approached Siobhan Thompson the Natural Heritage Officer at the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership.  I had heard about a dramatic event she was involved in last year when Curlew eggs had to be rescued from burning peatland.

In September 2016, in a 130 hectare site, the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership was established with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund to manage, conserve and enhance the wetlands.  Lough Neagh is the largest inland freshwater lake in the British Isles covering an area of 151 square miles; it is situated in the centre of Northern Ireland with five of the Province’s six counties touching its shores and is a haven for wildlife.

The aim of the project was the restoration of peatlands and wet grassland, but it wasn’t until March 2017, when Siobhan heard the call of several Curlews flying overhead, that she realised the area was an important breeding site for this endangered bird.  Since then the area of 3-4 nesting pairs has been monitored from a distance with birds being tagged with GPS devices.  Electric fences are erected allowing a 25m area around each nest to keep ground based predators away.  The team work closely with local farmers who are keen to be involved. 

Siobhan explained “I wait like an anxious mum for the Curlews to return each Spring and hearing their call is so uplifting…”  In March the courtship displays begin, followed by the birds building a nest on the ground called a ‘scrape’.  By the end of April to the beginning of May the first clutch of eggs will have been laid.  

Chicks hatch after 26 days, and at this point the female parent leaves and the male takes over.  Chicks leave the nest within hours of hatching, walk under the electric fence and literally run off as fast as their legs will carry them.  Siobhan remembers “I stood on a fence post watching in dismay as a tiny chick ran off across several fields disappearing into ditches and reappearing on the other side…”   

In 2020 there were a number of fires on the peatland which continued on and off for three weeks.  It became obvious that the Curlew’s breeding area was going to be affected, so Siobhan and her team applied for a licence from the NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) to lift two clutches of eggs from nests and move them to safety, the first time this had been done in Ireland.

With the help of Dr Kendrew Colhoun and Kerry Mackie of KRC Ecological, the eggs were placed in an incubator and then moved to a secure location for hatching and hand-rearing. They were kept in a pen at RSPB’s Portmore Lough Reserve, and out of seven eggs, five birds were reared to adulthood and released in September 2020.

I asked Siobhan what hope there was for the Curlew in Northern Ireland going forward, and she explained that Northern Ireland is way behind the rest of the UK and Ireland in support.  England, Scotland and Ireland all have funding for habitat restoration and emergency response packages for the Curlew in place.  The plight of this iconic species has been recognised as one of the UK’s most urgent conservation issues and the NIEA desperately needs more financial help from the government.  Curlew numbers have dropped by 80% in Northern Ireland “if the situation isn’t prioritised this beautiful bird will be lost from our landscape in 5-10 years.”

Photography: Siobhan Thompson

For the original blog and much more, check out: Curlew Cottage Design



Curlew chicks are enjoying a new lease of life around the shores of South Lough Neagh after their eggs were rescued from a peatland blaze.

The team at Lough Neagh Partnership has been delivering the National Lottery Heritage Fund supported “Saving Nature” project in the area under the Lough Neagh Landscape Partnership since 2016, but this year things on the Moss took a dramatic twist when a fire ignited on a large block of peatland habitat and, as the local Northern aIreland Fire and Rescue Service worked around the clock to put the fires out, the temperate weather conditions, lack of rain and fanning winds reignited the fire on other areas of the site.

Forced to undertake frontline conservation work after the fires which smouldered for weeks burned over 50% of their site and removed vital nesting habitat for the adult curlews and destroyed essential food supplies for the still to hatch vulnerable ground nesting chicks, the Lough Neagh Partnership team alongside partner organisations RSPB NI and NIEA, took emergency lifesaving steps to save the eggs. For the first time in Ireland the partners acquired a licence to remove the fragile eggs from their natural habitat and maximise their chances of survival, as these birds are one of Northern Ireland’s most endangered species, having declined by 85% since 1985.

The eggs were placed in an incubator and transported to a secure location for hatching and hand rearing. The chicks were then transferred to the RSPB’s Portmore Lough reserve where they were kept in a pen on soft rush pastures providing ideal feeding habitat for curlews.

Dr William Burke of Lough Neagh Partnership said: “These birds are so vulnerable and incubation was crucial for the survival of these chicks. This project became a real labour of love for our project officer Siobhan Thompson who, alongside Dr Kendrew Colhoun, and Kerry Mackie of KRC Ecological, completed the works on behalf of Lough Neagh Partnership. Kerry’s experience in incubating eggs and hatching chicks championed an innovative solution in record time to ensure the successful moving of the eggs and he then monitored the hatching of these eggs during some of the most difficult times we have ever experienced. The growth of the chicks has been miraculous and we are overjoyed to be able to release them at Portmore Lough RSPB reserve.”

Dr Neil McCulloch, Ornithologist at Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said: “Curlew have declined catastrophically over the past 30 years and the plight of this iconic species is now recognised as one of the UK’s most urgent conservation issues. The decline has been particularly severe in Northern Ireland, with over 80% of our Curlew having been lost. One of the main problems has been the poor survival of young birds and every chick is now precious. The Lough Neagh Partnership are therefore to be congratulated for their prompt action in ensuring the survival of these broods and NIEA is delighted to have been able to assist this project. We now hope to see these young birds returning to the Lough Neagh area in future years and becoming part of an increasing Curlew breeding population. The fact that this project was necessary also highlights the danger to wildlife posed by fires in the countryside, most of which are avoidable.”

Seamus Burns, RSPB NI Area Manager, said: “When asked by this community-led project to make Portmore Lough Nature Reserve available as a safe and secure place in this emergency response to save these curlew chicks, RSPB NI was happy to support.”

Kendrew Colhoun said: “This was a big step for us to take. As conservation scientists, our key job is to work with the local community to gather information on these special birds to help inform their protection. It is clear that our love for them is shared by the community and we simply could not be bystanders to the acute threat of burning this season. In the wild we have thankfully seen some young birds successfully fledging elsewhere in this area this year and further boosting the Lough Neagh population, albeit by unconventional means.”

The curlew chicks have now been released as they are able to fly and survive independently and it is hoped they will continue to thrive and breed in the Lough Neagh landscape.

Curlew Chick Flight
Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands

Guest Blog by Michael McCoy

One of the most extraordinary types of plant in the world is grass. Grass covers about one-quarter of life on Earth and is virtually indestructible. Some species of grass can grow 2 metres in a day while others endure fire, ice and floods. Grass goes through a cycle of growing in abundance, then destruction, followed by recreation. As a result of the endurance grass has, it is able to support and host a wide variety of animal species all over the world.

Grass is very important to Saiga deer as they not only feed on grass, but also utilise the plant for hiding their new-born calves. This give the calves a chance to quickly learn how to stand up by themselves and be able to move with the rest of the herd. Saiga always give birth to twins so they can multiply at a faster rate when the grass is plentiful. Saiga will travel many miles to find new patches of grassland and can detect any new growths with their specialised nose. Most Human civilisations rely on grasslands for use of food. In todays age, we cultivate grasslands to grow crops which are sold to general public for consumption. The Prairies in the United States of America is exposed to some of the most intense agriculture in the world.

The Okavango is a grassland in Botswana that is home to many great species. Storms release large amounts of rain which floods the surrounding land. Most plant species would drown when submerged in the flood water, however, grass thrives and grows at a rapid rate above water level. Many herbivores take advantage of the rapidly growing grass although flooding can also hinder some predators. Lions find it difficult to hunt as the water prevents them from getting any traction for running while also making noise which alerts nearby prey. One advantage that the flooding does have for Lions is bringing in large gatherings of prey including Buffalo. These herbivores are very deadly with their heavy bodyweight, thick hide and sharp horns. In order for Lions to defeat such a beast, they must act cautiously and work together. Many years ago, Humans like Lions would have travelled and lived on floodplains for the same reason; flooded grasslands attracted large numbers of herbivore. This allowed humans to hunt the herbivores for protein and fat.

Some grass species can transform from first shoot into their flowering period in a matter of days. The flowers on top of these grass species provide food for a number of species including the Harvest Mouse. Harvest Mice will utilise the tall grass to help build a nest. The nest will be spherical, made out of tightly woven grass and built high above the ground in the grass to prevent attacks from predators on the ground. Harvest Mice will climb across long grass in search of food using a prehensile tail which allows for agile climbing. The most nutrient-rich food is at the top of the canopy, unfortunately, this exposes Mice to top predators such as Barn Owls. To evade predation, Harvest Mice often fall to the ground level and must make their way back to the nest. The Mice can read patterns of stems like a map and will be able to find home safely. Both Mica and Humans have what is called a Hippocampus, which is a brain structure that helps greatly improve memory and can create a mental map of areas. Humans have a more developed Hippocampus and so have produced many maps of sites with some even showing the entire planet. The use of maps have great importance in finding new habitats and in todays age, helps with positioning of cities for trade and transport.

In the African Savannah, grassland can be very rich in nutrients, however, this does not last as drought will cause the grass to die out. In some conditions the grass begins to burn due to the extreme heat. As the drought intensifies, the conditions become harsher for everyone. Animals with permanent territories such as Lions can tough it out and so stay put while other species travel across the Savannah chasing the rain and with it good grasslands. Jackson’s Widowing birds seek fresh grassland as it is not only vital for food but also for attracting a mate. The males use the grass and create a stage by evening out the surface by picking out grass shoots while leaving a centre piece of tall grass. In order to get the females attention, the males jump up and down in the tall grass. The winner is the male who can not only jump the highest but also the longest period of time. Females will then judge the males on how tidy the stage is build. In Humans, relationships can be made or broken depending on how tidy the partner is at home. There normally needs to be some compatibility with the lifestyle each has chosen. Most people prefer clean, tidy living spaces in which everything is organised.

Millions of grazers are supported by grasslands all over the world, with one species having by far the greatest impact. Grass-Cutter Ants made an ingenious discovery millions of years ago which is cutting down grass which is indigestible and feeding it to Fungus in their ant hills. This in turn allows Fungus to grow which the Ants then feed upon. As Ants have large numbers within their colonies they require the transport of huge quantities of grass. This practice is essentially pasture farming, which involves feeding and sustaining a living food source with another type of food. Humans have followed in this practice with the likes of feeding Cows grass in order to acquire good healthy beef.

Some grassland experience extreme cold conditions with much of the vegetation covered in at least three metres of snow. In the Prairie lands, Bison search for vegetation which would be buried under the snowy blanket. They use their brute strength and massive neck muscles to push through snow. This method is not always the most effective as it requires a lot of energy with little payoff. Foxes on the other hand use a bit more precision to pinpoint food as they seek mammals which move beneath the snow. Foxes have sensitive hearing to listen for movement and must be patient in order to be successful. This proves that it is often more beneficial to use intelligent behavioural tactics than rely on brute strength.

In conclusion, Grasslands have become a key plant group with a wide variety of species that have created many different ecological niches around the world. Grass along with its inhabitants has been able to survive by being resilient and able to overcome whatever the environment throws at it. Perhaps we could follow their example and make the best of our current situation.





Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2- Deserts

Guest Blog by: Aine Mallon


This report will be discussing the diversity of species found living within the desert and many of their survival skills that they have learnt to successfully hunt and survive in such a barren area of landscape where little precipitation occurs and, consequently, living conditions are hostile for plant and animal life. I will also be linking the adaptations that the animal kingdom has made to thrive here with society, and how we can all learn from these documentaries to get through COVID-19 together. I will also be concluding with how the impact of climate change is altering these desert landscapes.

Namib Desert located in Southwest Africa

Within all deserts, there is no escape from sun, wind, and dust. They make up a third of the lands of our planet, and this desert has been drying for almost 55 million years and yet a pride of lions has managed to survive living here. The desert lions of Namib have adapted to their surroundings and conditions and are able to survive because they can go long periods of time without water, getting most of their moisture from the blood of their kills. And they behave distinctly than other lions as prides are smaller, they have bigger home ranges and travel further and there is no infanticide.


To find their prey, they need to travel very long distances in search of food. Hunger will drive them to take some risks when hunting larger prey. Desperation drove the lion to hunt a giraffe, however a giraffe could kill a lion with one kick therefore the whole pride must work as a team to do so. We have seen today in society where people are also coming together for volunteering to help deliver food and supplies to the elderly and more vulnerable people who cannot go to the shops on their own. From how the lions work together to find food, we may not realise at first, but the work society is doing and everyone playing their part is helping to save and bring food to others who need it most.

American West Desert

This desert is more prone to storms, there is a period of drought (roughly 10 months) and then the desert gets heavy rainfall, tonne of rain is dropped in under an hour, during their spring season in October and November. This will bring a sudden bloom of the flowers ‘hibernating’ beneath its surface. Although some plant species have adapted to the long drought period within the desert which allows them to dominate the American deserts.

Deserts 2
Formation: Sand & gravel carried by flood will carve the channel into solid rock. Some have widened until land between them is sculpted into table lands and isolated pinnacles

The cacti plant has water locked within its tissues, by storing water in swollen stems. It can protect its water with a barricade of spines. Like the cacti, humans have been able to make the ultimate adaptation; that of making the environment adapt to us. We have domesticated crops and livestock, we irrigate, we wear clothes, build shelters, air-condition, or heat our homes. We have learnt new ways to survive such drastic changes to our lifestyle and we are now learning to do so during COVID-19. We are learning how to adapt to working from home lifestyle, we are learning to appreciate the benefits technology has brought us by seeing our loved ones and family. We are growing to acknowledge the outdoors for both our mental and physical, as well as bringing new changes to our back gardens to help support wildlife around us.

Hunting grounds around the cacti

As this plant dominates the desert, many species have acquired special techniques for hunting around this plant. The spines that cover almost every in the desert provides protection and shelter for many animals, such as the ground squirrel. However, the Harris Hawk has a tactic for driving this prey out into the open. By hunting in packs, each hawk will land on the area and ‘tip-toe’ around the cacti by continuously lifting its feet to avoid the sharp spike. The hawks will therefore drive the prey out from the shelter.

Deserts 2

The butcher bird is also another species who takes advantage of the cacti. Carcasses are left hanging on the spikes of this plant because the butcher bird uses the hooks to dissemble prey to feed its young. Another benefit of this is that is keeps the prey from scavengers on the ground floor.

The cacti are predominantly a threat to species and can harm them, however it is evident that the animal kingdom has learnt to use everything in its surroundings for survival. Survival within the animal kingdom is not easy, they face many challenges but arise to overcome. This provides us with hope to be able to get through COVID-19 by adjusting our lifestyle and helping to save the lives of others.

The impact of climate change

This lack of water makes desert landscapes vulnerable. Climate change is reducing the melting of glaciers that provide freshwater to desert communities. Increasing evaporation and dust storms are pushing deserts out into communities at their edges. Human activities have also impacted the desert biome in that they have polluted the atmosphere. This affects all biomes, including the desert. People have also drilled for many fossil fuels, such as oil, in the desert. This causes pollution and is harmful to the animals living near the oil wells.

As with any landscape, to protect it and all the species that thrive within, the key to this is further decrease climate change. Many examples of mitigation techniques include;

  • Reducing energy demand by increasing energy efficiency,
  • Phasing out fossil fuels by switching to low-carbon energy sources,
  • Removing carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere.
Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Deserts

Guest Blog by Aiobhe McCarron

In Madagascar, locusts which are normally solitary creatures come together in extreme numbers when the smell the smell of newly sprouting grass. They devour everything and devastate the land causing soils to turn to dust with no plants to bind them, producing vast new stretches of desert every year. This causes struggles for human communities who have lost their livelihoods due to the mass destruction. To me, this is reflective of what we as a species have done to the natural world, devastating animal habitats and food sources for our own benefit.

The Earth’s deserts are getting hotter and expanding at a faster rate than ever before due to global warming caused by humans, this leaves desert creatures short on time to adapt to their ever changing environments and their fate is uncertain. This is not dissimilar to the devastation COVID-19 is causing the human race currently, due to our own actions; we have cause our demise and we cannot catch up with this rapidly growing disease.

Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Deserts
Guest Blog by: Sophie Gregson

No escape from sun, wind or dust, almost no food or water. These are the conditions in one-third of the lands of our planet. In order to survive here you must have the most extraordinary survival strategies.

The Namib in southwest Africa is the oldest desert in the world, it has been dry for fifty-five million years. Life for a hunter here is as hard as it gets, with no cover for a1n ambush the lions must chase their prey in hopes they may catch them. Each failed hunt brings the lions closer and closer to starvation, in order to prevent this the pride continually search an area the size of Switzerland. Just like the lions, humans will gather food from across large distances of areas even importing them from over seas to gather a certain product. If you walk into any supermarket you cannot look anywhere without seeing fruit or meat imported from France or even Thailand. Big fast food chains are extremely guilty of this with McDonald’s getting the majority of its chicken from Thailand in order to save on expenses.

Vast expanses of the Namib Desert | Nick Lefebvre

It does sometimes rain in the desert, in the American West storms can strike with devastating force. After ten months of no rain millions of tons of water and dumped on the land in under an hour. Salt canyons fifty metres deep carved out by sand and gravel carried by the gushing water, have formed some of the most dramatic landscapes on the planet. The Harris hawk has developed a special technique for hunting amongst cacti, they are the only birds of prey that hunt in packs and they use this to flush their prey out of hiding. Humans use this same technique when hunting foxes or badgers with dogs, they train the dogs to surround the animal cut off all escape routes then slowly close in to flush the animal out of hiding or out of their den.

Deserts 2
Harris hawk © Marcel ter Bekke / Getty

The butcher bird uses the spines of the cacti to hold its prey while it tears it into pieces for its young. He also uses the spines as a stock pile, hanging his prey out of the reach of other animals means he will always have food for his young. This can be seen as a way of preserving food something humans do a lot of, we store our food correctly in order to stop insects and bacteria contaminating our supply always thinking ahead to ensure we will have our next meal.

Duncan usher /solvent news

Humans and animals have similar ways in which we hunt and in a way we know that we both know that preserving food is important for survival. Especially in the harshest conditions there is no room for mistakes or slip-ups, every stolen meal, every missed opportunity could result in death.


Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2 – Deserts – Michael McCoy

Planet Earth 2- Deserts
Guest Blog by: Michael McCoy

Deserts cover around one third of the land on planet Earth. In order to survive these ecosystems, you must be able to adapt to the dry and warm conditions which are extremely harsh. The two main challenges of the desert is being able to cope with a lack of water and endure very hot conditions.

Some Lions survive in the scorching sun in the Namib desert by having a very light-coloured, thin coat of fur to reduce the amount of heat stored. When hunting, Lions work together in what is known as a pride to capture any prey it comes across. The whole pride must work together in order to succeed as each have their own role. Some individuals chase the targeted prey while others move ahead to cut off any escape routes. Lions would travel long distances in search of food and can go many, many days without eating. Similarly, years ago, Humans hunted in groups and built traps of their own to capture prey. In today’s age however many animals that are consumed will be domestically raised on farms. This takes away the need to waste energy and time on hunting.

Cactus plants are the most successful vegetation in the desert. Many plants require a large amount of water and so cannot live during long periods of drought. However, the Cacti have found a way by storing large amounts of water in the stems of the plant. They also have no visible leaves as they want to greatly reduce the amount of water lost through rapid evaporation. To prevent animals from stealing the water stored and herbivores from consuming them, the Cacti developed spines to block any attempt of feeding. Spines also have a secondary use as they provide shade and so lower the surface temperature of the cactus, preventing loss of water. Although humans must excrete a lot of water as waste and thus cannot retain high amounts, we have been able to contain large quantities of water externally for drinking. We have been able to create large tanks of water to store with pipes which transfer water to people’s homes. Many people even collect rain water and utilise this for domestic purposes.

While it is rare for rain to occur in the desert, there are times when watering holes are created, drawing in many animals. Sandgrouse are one of these species that benefit from the watering holes. When the Sandgrouse chicks are born, they rely on the father to obtain water for them. The father flies miles to reach a watering hole along with an entire flock of males who share the same purpose. The Sandgrouse use their feathers which have been specialised for soaking up water and storing it like a sponge. The only problem is that it takes time to store the water and so many predators use this as an ideal opportunity to strike. Goshawks are the main birds that prey on the Sandgrouse, however, as the Sandgrouse travel in large flocks it is difficult for the Goshawk to select a target. By staying in large numbers the Sandgrouse are less likely to be attacked by their predators. Although Humans nowadays who live in wealthy countries usually have easy access to water, this was not always the case as years ago, tribes had to collect water in large containers from nearby rivers. These containers were heavy and had to be carried on their back for miles. In economically poor countries, this is still the case as children would have this vital duty to help their families survive in warm climates.

The island of Madagascar is very unique with many different habitat types, one of these is a dry desert. However, heavy showers lasting short spells can help create a greening of the land, resulting in a large diversity of plants and animals. One species which takes advantage of this greening is Locust. These insects swarm together in large numbers and destroy almost all vegetation in their path. The Locust become even more efficient and travel further when they grow wings and take to the sky. Once in every decade a super swarm can come about which covers two square miles and have over several billion individuals. These super swarms can leave lands barren and they can also destroy crops that local farmers are growing. This can cause many countries like Madagascar to have food shortages which could create a National emergency. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) helps to try and stop these Locust plagues before the land can be destroyed. Humans must adapt fast to plagues and act quickly if they are to minimise the impact. Experts are able to track locust movements and predict where the swarm will move next. The use of helicopters help with transportation and identify the swarm size. Many crops now have been sprayed with chemicals known as pesticides to get rid of unwanted insects feeding on their crops.

Many civilisations have adapted to the conditions of the desert. For example the use of light clothing to produce less heat as well as the need to find shade. Humans would also build houses and roofs to create shade and stay cool. This idea was based on animals behaviour. The Shovel-snout lizards would spend little time out in the open and would bury themselves below the surface of the sand where it is cooler.

Due to Climate change the world deserts are heating up and so are expanding across many continents, especially Africa. This will be interesting to see how humans and animals who are not familiar with the changing landscape, adapt in order to survive to an ever increasingly hostile environment.

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aine Mallon

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aine Mallon

Episode five-Grasslands – Aine Mallon


Throughout this report I will be discussing the range of species that thrive within grasslands and how their survival skills have enabled them to adapt these habitats, as grasslands are prone to fires, flood and frost and still flourish. Within this, I will be relating these adaptation skills from the diversity of species to the human world and how we can look to the animal kingdom for hope and new ways to help us through this difficult time. I will be concluding my report with the issue of climate change in relation to the grasslands and how the impact of human activities which increase the rate of climate change are destroying the grassland areas.

Northern India

Grasslands create a unique world, within them there is a continuous cycle of abundance, destruction, and rebirth. Within Northern India, the Saiga antelope is a common herd found here during springtime mainly for the new grassland, but also for giving birth to their young. The tall grassland is a perfect place to hide their young as they remain hidden from the surrounding predators. The Saiga antelope is well adapted for the continuous changes in the grassland due to the different seasons as they have ‘lanky legs’ built for life on the move. As well, they have noses which can detect the smell of grass from hundreds of kilometres away. Other species have also adapted to grassland life such as the harvest mouse. They can climb to the top of grass for food source as their prehensile tail acts as a fifth limb.

AM Grasslands

We are witnessing how this species have adapted to its surrounding habitat. Due to COVID-19, we are facing some restrictions, however from this species, we should consider how important our surrounding landscape is for our survival during this time too. One must not neglect the outdoor world and remember how to make the most of the natural world for our emotional, physical, and mental health.

How the weather impacts species within the grassland

All the rain that grasslands need for survival will arrive all at once, it was recorded that thirty centimetres of rain landed in the space of a day, which causes the grassland to undergo radical change. Within Southern Africa, when rainwater arrives it transforms the Okavango grassland, where almost 8,000 square kilometres are flooded. This causes problems for the predators (lion pride) as big cats are not very fond of water, and their usual prey such as antelopes and zebras are much quicker in the water than they are. However, to overcome this the lion pride came together to attack a larger species, which the growth of grassland attracts, a buffalo. This is a much bigger prey but when the lions come together, they have strength in numbers.

AM Grasslands

Today, farmers can relate to this issue as weather will affect their work and food source availability. The projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability may all result in reduced agricultural productivity. Farmers face challenges as they supply food to the supermarkets for society. Therefore, they work together continuously and come up with new ideas to mitigate the loss of their crop yields.

It is important to remember that when we are faced with challenges in life, there is no need to panic as there will always be another option to overcome the issue. During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen countless efforts from all the key workers, as well as volunteers working together to deliver goods and services to those who need. Just like the animal kingdom, success can be achieved from working together.

Grass cutter ants

These ants can be found anywhere that grass grows on the planet, some grassland blades are so tough that no large grass eaters will eat them. However, the ants ‘harvest’ these blades underground where the blades are placed into a garden of fungus, the rotten grass feeds fungus and the fungus feeds the ants. It is a continuous cycle of life here. In Northern Australia, termites memorialise their industry in sculpture and they are built on the north-south axis to protect them from extreme heat and flood. However, the ant eater can destroy these sculptures with their claws and their 60-centimetre length tongue with hook like features to scoop up ants from under the ground.

AM Grasslands

The impact of human activities and climate change on the grasslands

Bigger animals are not the only reason for the destruction of these sculptures for the ants. Natural fires are generally started by lightning, with a very small percentage started by spontaneous combustion of dry fuel such as sawdust and leaves. Fire destroys their homes and the exposed grassland, however the stems remained unharmed and the grass can grow again and regenerate.

Although grasslands can grow again after fires, frost, and flood, as climate conditions shift geographically so will the distributions of many plants and animals. The relatively flat terrain of grasslands increases vulnerability to climate change impacts because habitats and species must migrate long distances to compensate for temperature shifts.

Land practices are converting grasslands to cropland which increases soil erosion and surface runoff, and therefore attributing to habitat loss for many species depending on it for survival. It is important to protect and restore wetlands, for species as well as being an important part of grassland ecology. We can protect these grasslands by promoting more activities such as rotating agricultural crops to prevent the sapping of nutrients. As well as planting trees as windbreaks to reduce erosion on farm fields.

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Aoibhe McCarron

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands

Guest Blog by Aoibhe McCarron

This week’s episode focused on grasslands. Grass covers around a quarter of all land on earth and can grow half a metre a day in the right conditions, creating a unique habitat which hosts a vast range of creatures. Rain in the grasslands is sporadic, meaning grasses are extremely hardy; they thrive in floods and can grow very quickly to get out of the water and have more access to sunlight, an adaptation to life in an environment which can be dry or drenched. Many grassland animals follow a nomadic lifestyle, following the scent of the rains to avoid starvation.

The Eurasian steppe is the largest grassland on earth taking up about a third of land on our planet. These grasslands can go for many months without rain, and when rain finally arrives it brings new growth and with it new life. Saiga antelope give birth to their babies on these grasslands; a mother antelope leaves her twin babies hidden in the grass while she grazes, where they are safe within the cover of the grass. These babies must learn to walk quickly as the herd is constantly moving on to find fresh grass. They have long lanky legs which are an adaptation to life on the move, and a uniquely shaped nose specialised to detect new growth from up to 100km away, an adaptation to their diet and nomadic lifestyle. This is not dissimilar to how people have grown and adapted quickly to thrive even in quarantine.

In Europe, the little harvest mouse makes her nest on grass fronds. The tall meadowland grasses are like a mini jungle habitat for her. She is specially adapted to life here and can climb grass fronds with ease, she has a prehensile tail which can grip like a hand and act as an extra limb in emergencies. She climbs to the very tops of the grass to find food in flowers, but there is danger here.  An owl approaches and she escapes by falling to the ground. The mouse seems lost here but she can read the stem pattern above to find her way home, an adaptation to life in the grass which can all look the same. This is reflected in us humans essentially hiding in quarantine, like the mouse amongst the fronds, to keep ourselves safe from the virus and navigating our lives from home using technology.

In the African Savannah, Carmine bee-eaters are aerial hunters excellent at catching insects in flight. Their problem is that they have no means of flushing insects out of the grass. To combat this they ride on backs of larger animals like ostriches and elephants which are bulky enough to kick up insects from the grass as they walk. This way they can catch the insects flushed out by the larger animal. This is a learned adaptation to their habitat, similar to how humans have adapted to our current situation, people who are vulnerable or in need receiving help from family and friends to get essentials like food.

In the dry season, predators that hold year round territories must be specially adapted to find prey as it is scarce, since many nomadic animals will have left to follow the rains. The Serval cat has long legs providing it with a high vantage point to spot prey , and hunts with radar ears so that it can pinpoint prey hiding in the grass. However, her rodent prey is just as well adapted, it knows that she can detect sustained movement and moves in short bursts to escape.

Perhaps like our cousins in nature, we could learn to move and adapt to changes, like those nomadic animals. Or to help each other out and tolerate one another’s needs, like the ostrich and the little carmine bee-eaters, rather than acting selfishly during this crisis.




Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands – Sophie Gregson

Planet Earth 2 – Grasslands
Guest Blog by Sophie Gregson

One quarter of all the land on earth is covered by a single type of plant: grass. It is almost indestructible and can grow half a metre a day. The grass in northern India is the tallest grass on the planet, home to some of the most impressive creatures on the earth. The cycle of abundance, destruction and rebirth affects every creature on the grassland; once the grass is gone they must move on.

The largest grassland on the Earth is the vast Eurasian Steppe, stretches one third of the way around the planet. Spring rain brings fresh grass and with that an abundance of new life. Baby Saigon antelopes are left hidden in the grass until they are able to walk, the grass is their home and gives them security from predators. As along as they remain quiet they will be safe, however they will soon have to move on in search of the freshest grass if they wish to survive. The antelopes are similar to humans in the sense that they wish to provide security for their young, many see animals as pointless beings but it is clear to see they have a strong paternal instinct when it comes to their young.

SG Grasslands
Credit to BBC America

In Southern Africa water transforms one of the most remarkable grasslands on Earth, the Okavango. Every year eight thousand square kilometres of grassland are flooded, for lions this poses a major problem. There may be plenty of prey but the water makes it difficult for the lions to hunt them down, however with the attraction of floods new possible prey arrives. Buffalo arrive in herds of two thousand, the biggest bulls don’t run, they don’t fear the lions. The lions hunt in a group, one goes out front to distract the bull while the rest attack from behind. Distraction is used by humans for many things usually in day to day life, the fact that the lions are smart enough to adapt this and use it to their advantage demonstrates at their hunting technique is a lot more complex than first suspected.

SG Grasslands
Credit to istock

On the African Savannah, seasonal grasslands are filled with life. Carmine bee eaters are amazing aerial hunters, experts at catching insects in mid air however they have no way of flushing their prey out of the grass. Once insects are alarmed they tend to stay put therefore the bee eaters rely on someone else coming along and stirring things up a bit for them. A kori bustard is the worlds heaviest flying bird, therefore it should easily stir up some insects. As the kori walk through the grass, the bee eater will sit on its back waiting for the insects to try and escape, once they fly up the bee eater quickly snatches them before they can escape. Working together in order to survive is also a key feature in the human world, without teamwork and the dedication of others humans would not survive. We rely so heavily on each other to provide food, heat and security that without each other we would be lost.

The main theme demonstrated in the animal world and human world is that we both work together in order to survive, from lions hunting together to humans collecting fruit together, it’s all the same. Without one another, we would have nothing.