Condition of wildlife habitat to be assessed through insect DNA

Harry Bellew

Thursday 9 March 2017

• Recent State of Nature report revealed that over half of UK species studied had declined in the last 50 years, prompting a rallying call from conservations for individuals, Governments and businesses to help reverse the declining fortunes of nature.
• As a part of the partnership between CEMEX UK and RSPB, a new project will see the natural health of wildlife habitats assessed through insect DNA.
• First stage of project took place at Rugeley quarry in West Midlands where 475 different species of insects were discovered, including two nationally rare species.

With UK wildlife struggling to survive, Europe's largest conservation charity and one of the UK's leading building materials supplier have collaborated on a new project that for the first time used insect DNA to test the natural condition of wildlife habitat on a CEMEX quarry site.

The recent State of Nature report revealed that more than half of species assessed in the UK, including well-known species like starlings, sand lizards and hedgehogs have declined in the last 50 years. Off the back of the groundbreaking report, which was launched by Sir David Attenborough, conservation organisations issued a rallying call for individuals, governments and businesses to help reverse the declining fortunes of nature.

Providing first class natural habitat for wildlife is one aim of the partnership between CEMEX and RSPB, which was launched in 2009 to look at, amongst other projects, how worked-out areas in quarries could be turned into nature havens. Working together with the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario (BIO) and Systems Applications Products (SAP), this new project saw insects collected in a Malaise trap - a mesh tent with an opening for insects to fly in to - and their DNA sequences taken to be compared to BIO database of 5.5 million specimens to create a digital map of species found on the quarry site.

Sam Tarrant, RSPB Business Conservation Manager, said: "It's amazing to see these former quarry sites returned to nature and to watch the flocks of birds, wild plants and insects slowly take over. To think a few years ago CEMEX was excavating minerals from some of these areas to use in construction and now they are beautiful nature reserves alive with wildlife for everyone to enjoy.

"This new innovative project is another brilliant example of how conservation and business can effectively work together to help build a brighter future for nature. Using the insects' DNA we'll are able to establish the natural condition of these sites and then work with CEMEX on how best to move forward in turning them into first class homes for nature."

The first pilot stage of the project took place at CEMEX Rugeley Quarry, on the heathland close to Cannock Chase in the West Midlands. Using the Malaise trap 475 species of insect were found on the site, including two nationally rare fly species (Eurthyneura albipennis and Platypalus pulicarious), only be found on three other UK sites, plus two nationally scare species (Meromyza mosquensis and Rhaphium micans).

Andy Spencer, Director of Sustainability at CEMEX UK, said: "Both this ground breaking technology and the results are of tremendous importance and it has been fascinating to find such rare species present at Rugeley. The DNA analysis of insects could offer the next generation of solutions to managing and conserving the biodiversity around the company's 400 operational sites."

It is hoped the project will help map out the species found on these sites to allow conservationists to develop plans to create the perfect habitat for wildlife found in the area.

For more information about the RSPB's partnership with CEMEX UK -

1. The insects identified were:
Euthyneura albipennis a Nationally Rare fly that according to last taxonomic review in 2005 only occurs in three UK sites and is mostly associated with ancient woodland
Meromyza mosquensis a Nationally Scarce fly
Platypalpus pulicarius a Nationally Rare fly that according to last taxonomic review in 2005 only has three post-1960 UK sites
Rhaphium micans a widespread but Nationally Scarce fly

2. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
3. CEMEX is a global manufacturer of building materials and the biggest Mexican investor in the UK, with 3,000 people employed across 450 sites nationwide. In this country, we are a leading provider of aggregates, cement, ready-mixed concrete and rail sleepers with annual sales of around £1 billion.

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: England Country: UK Topic: Conservation Topic: Site conservation Topic: Species conservation