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Planet Earth Under Threat

Chris Sperring reporting for Planet Earth Under Threat in Sweden

  • Jody Bourton
  • 17 Aug 06, 05:25 PM


Beatrice and I have just returned from Sweden and to be quite frank my head’s still buzzing from the experience. After landing in Stockholm we met with Professor Tom Arnbom, who immediately took us out to watch Red Foxes. Of course this is an animal which I am very familiar with here in England, but in this part of Sweden the Red Fox is a relative newcomer, and one which is steadily marching north.

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Global warming is enabling the tree line to expand northwards into the tundra habitat, which allows animals like the Red Fox to exploit new areas. Another mammal which appears to be clawing its way back from scarcity in Sweden is the European Lynx, a medium sized cat which is now recovering its numbers by colonising the new scrub and woodland habitat which is appearing in the north of the country.

As Sweden warms up the Red Fox and European Lynx are real winners, but where there are winners there must also be losers, in this case the Artic Fox which depends on the open tundra habitat. It feeds mainly on Lemmings, as well as prey remains left by larger predators, and is being squeezed further and further north by the expanding tree line. In addition the Lemmings themselves continue to have poor breeding seasons in Sweden, the cause of which no one really knows.

What is clear though is that as the tundra decreases so does the Artic Foxes chances of survival. And as Tom explains, this is not just a Swedish issue as the status of the Artic Fox population in Sweden is of European importance. As we look at a map of Sweden I realise that time is running out; Tom puts the time left for the Artic Fox at just 50 years, and there is very little that can be done.

Other species threatened by this changing landscape include the Gyr Falcon and the Snowy Owl, but then of course there are those that will benefit. Ahead of the tree line comes a scrubland habitat, bringing with it a greater diversity of invertebrate life and with it song birds which feed on the insects and nest in the scrub. Tom also points out that new species of Bat are being recorded, some of which are migratory and return south each winter.

Tom is very careful to look back in time at global changes, and from our Red Fox vantage point high above a steep-sided, wooded valley he paints a picture of how this scene would have changed from the ice age until now. But he warns of the sheer speed of change in the present day, which is a cold reminder of what is really happening now.

We are about to give up watching for red foxes, when Tom says “Chris, quick, I bet you have never seen one of these before”. Directly below us in the lush grasslands of the valley floor is an adult Moose. This amazing, prehistoric-looking mammal was as big as a Cart Horse. I wondered how this animal would fair in the Global Warming steaks, but Tom assured me that the Moose would remain stable as it would be able to follow the tree line as its southerly population is forced to move north.

The Owl Prowl Series - On Radio 4 in January 07

Sweden has 10 native species of owl, ranging in size from the largest, the European Eagle Owl, to the smallest the Pygmy Owl.

Tom escorts Beatrice and I to a secret location north of Stockholm where the mighty Eagle Owl breeds. Here we met one of Sweden’s foremost Eagle Owl experts, Alar Broberg, who proceeded to give me the encounter of a life time. On first inspection the Eagle Owl nest was nothing but a scrape at the foot of an impressive rock face. The owlets were not present as they were sheltering from the heat of the day, so Alar set off in search of them. This gave me time to inspect the nest in detail, and look for evidence of what the parents had been feeding the owlets. The first obvious things were Mallard Duck feathers, then I came across a skull that was very familiar to me, it was that of a Water Vole. But there was no water nearby. It was at this point that I learned something interesting about Water Voles in Sweden, that unlike their cousins here in England, Swedish Water Voles do not need to live near water, but are quite happy on dry land.

After much searching the two huge downy Eagle Owlets were located and began to snap their beaks angrily at our intrusion. Alar picked one up and passed it to me to hold; and my first wild Eagle Owl encounter was complete. WOW!

Alar carefully attached a ring to each owlet, which would give him vital information about how long they live and how far they travel. He told me of a female Eagle Owl living near Stockholm that he knows is 25 years old, and that she has produced some 50 owlets in her life so far.

My last evening in Sweden is spent with Tom in his gardening listening to the familiar sound of Tawny owlets. After only three days it’s time to leave, and as I fly out of Stockholm I gaze down at the amazing array forests and lakes below me, and before I have even left the country I find myself longing to return and encounter more of Sweden’s rich diversity of landscape and wildlife.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 10:27 PM on 20 Aug 2006,
  • faith moulin wrote:

Is there going to be an Owl Prowl series from Sweden? That would be interesting, with so many species there. Global warming could be more dramatic in cold countries I suppose than in our temperate climate. But I have also read that the Gulf Stream could shift, and if that happens we could be colder, and Sweden uninhabitable....
Interesting about the dry land water vole... why do the same species behave differently in different places? (I first heard of this when I was told that robins are not friendly birds seen in gardens in continental Europe, only in UK).
Any ideas?

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Note to Chris: I would like to contact you in regards to providing some additional information to you about the owls on Earth.... perhaps for your Jan. Owl Prowl, or perhaps for a subsequent program. The Global Owl Project has some 150 folks working in 49 countries, on some foundational science work on owls (survey techniques, DNA, owl vocalizations, morphology, mapping, etc.)
We have just yesterday posted vocalizations of 20 rare owl species ... as free downloadable ring tones for cell phones. See:
Also, there will be an international owl conference from 31 Oct through 4 Nov, 2007 in Groningen, Netherlands. We only have one every few years. This would be a good chance for you to learn about the status of science and conservation of owls around the globe. see:
Keep up the wonderful work, and please know that there a lot of caring hearts out here that truly applaud your efforts.
Sincerely, David

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