What the SHELL! Plan hatched to bring turtle back to UK waters 5,000 years after they became extinct
- First step would involve a large enclosure with 60 turtles in eastern England
Conservationists have hatched a plan to bring back turtles to British waters – 5,000 years after they became extinct.
They want to reintroduce the European pond turtle, pictured, a species they say will also tackle pollution by eating dead fish, dispersing rare plant species and reducing stagnancy by disrupting sediment.
The first stage of the reintroduction would be to create a large enclosure in eastern England to see how a large population of 60 turtles would cope here.
The conservationists have launched a crowdfunding drive on GoFundMe to help support the turtle habitat and are being supported by prominent environmentalists, including Ben Goldsmith, a former board member of the Department for the Environment.
The enclosure would have several ponds to allow naturalists to study how the turtles cope with life in the UK as well as their effects on plants, insects and other life.
Harvey Tweats, co-founder of Celtic Reptile and Amphibian, the conservation company behind the project said he wanted to compensate for the current time of ‘immense biodiversity loss’
Conservationists want to reintroduce the European pond turtle (pictured) a species they say will also tackle pollution by eating dead fish, dispersing rare plant species and reducing stagnancy by disrupting sediment
Fossils of European pond turtles, dating back to between 5,000 to 8,000 years ago, have been found in Wretham, Norfolk – a time when Britain had hotter summers and colder winters, which were more favourable conditions for turtles.
Britain was then connected to continental Europe by a tract of land, known as Doggerland, which became submerged under the sea.
Harvey Tweats, co-founder of Celtic Reptile and Amphibian, the conservation company behind the project, said: ‘I want to bring back the European pond turtle because we are at the current time of immense biodiversity loss.
‘The species will help to make wetlands in Britain more resilient to further impacts of climate change than they are in their current state.’
As the turtles do not rely on the oxygen content of water – they breathe in air – they can survive when water becomes de-oxygenated, for instance, at times when algae bloom heavily and fish die – and they will eat the dead fish.
European pond turtles were not believed to be capable of breeding in the recent British climate.
But Mr Tweats said that conservationists have found that they can successfully be bred in our weather – although temperatures may not be high enough every year.
As turtles can live as long as 70 years, so as long as they breed every three years, it would be enough to sustain a population.
Despite originally being thought not to be capable of breeding in the recent British climate, experts have fond that they can, even though temperatures may not be high enough every year
By 2040, the UK will be hitting similar temperatures to central France, where the turtles exist in the wild.
Mr Tweats has about 60 pond turtles which have been brought to the UK from Bavaria and his company is looking to create an enclosure in East Anglia where they can study the turtles.
‘There are many unknowns about this reintroduction,’ Mr Tweats said.
He has carried out a feasibility study, bringing together NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and experts, which suggests that the turtles would be a good addition to the UK’s fauna.
Mr Tweats said: ‘We’ll create an enclosed population in East Anglia and work out the unknowns before we release them.’
Releasing the turtles into the wild would need the approval and licensing of government body Natural England.
The UK will have a similar climate to central France by 2040, where turtles live in the wild
Turtles reintroduced in other European countries, including Switzerland in 2010, have not had a detrimental impact on other animals.
‘They are not a very predatory species,’ Mr Tweats said. He added: ‘The more complexity we reintroduce to our countryside, the more species we restore – and the better in terms of our ecology in Britain.’
Mr Tweats is hopeful that the turtles could be reintroduced into the UK in as soon as five years.
Jonathan Spencer, a visiting geography professor at Southampton University, who has held senior roles at the Forestry Commission, said: ‘The fact that European pond turtles were native to the UK is not widely appreciated.’
He added: ‘It is a very interesting project but there’s a lot of background investigation that needs to be carried out to see what role the turtles will have.’
Source: Read Full Article