Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill


What they said about the Natalie Bennett car-crash interviews:

  1. this blog
  2. Natalie Bennett in the Daily Telegraph
  3. Natalie Bennett in the Guardian
  4. Zoe Williams in the Guardian
  5. Daily Mail
  6. The Daily Mirror on car-crash interviews

Cartoonist Ralph Underhill has an exhibition of his work in Aberdeen Central library next week as part of Aberdeen Climate Action group’s Climate Action Week.




A round up

Some things that caught my eye this week:


This month’s Birdwatch

I travelled into London yesterday which meant that I could read this month’s Birdwatch (the one with the Crane on the cover).

My ‘political birder’ column is about vicarious liability.

Usually,I look through the accounts of the rarities in Birdwatch and think to myself a mixture of ‘I’d never have realised what that was’, ‘I wish I had seen that one’, and ‘I wonder when one of those will turn up at Stanwick Lakes’, but this time I looked at the photo of a gull and thought ‘that looks familiar’ and so it was. It was the Laughing Gull that I had seen on Sunday, but I also recognised the cafe behind it!

My friends Alan Davies and Ruth Miller currently hold the record for the number of birds seen in a calendar year – an amazing 4341 species (read about it in the new edition of their book The Biggest Twitch (foreword by me)) but this year, I read, a young American, Noah Strycker, is aiming to pass the 5000-species mark. He started the year in the Antarctic, and there is another Antarctic article in Birdwatch – about birds seen in Shackleton’s footsteps.

Elsewhere, as well as all these penguins, there is more about gulls. For a few weeks my daughter had seen Bonaparte’s Gull and I hadn’t, but then I went to the US and saw one on Memorial Day with friends in New York State. There is an excellent article on how you might pick out a Bonaparte’s amongst the Black-headed Gulls on your local patch, or maybe just in the park. I’ll be looking harder from now on.

And there is more –  Cranes, book reviews, reintroductions, optics reviews. vegetarianism and much more. There is even a guide to what birds you might see in the Upper Derwent Valley – but it doesn’t mention the fact that it might be raining very hard.

Birdwatch is always a good read, but sometimes I just don’t get around to reading it as much as I have this month. Subscribe here.



Green belt

An interesting piece by Simon Jenkins in the Daily Telegraph.

Does the Green Belt need a re-think? I’m never quite sure where it is or what it is, myself.


PR on either side of Kew

I’m a little bit puzzled by Kew Gardens. I’ve been asked a few times to sign e-petitions asking for their budget not to be cut but so far  I haven’t done that.

Here are two rather contrasting e-petitions:

Urgently reverse existing, proposed, and further cuts to RBG Kew’s annual operating grant in aid (105000 signatures)

Save Kew Gardens ‘World Heritage Site’ (2 signatures)

I need some help. Why should I leap to the defence of Kew? I’m not saying I shouldn’t but I’m not quite sure why I should. I’ll be happy to sign the top e-petition if someone can explain why.

There is a link in the first e-petition which will take you here. This shows the allocations of cuts for all Defra arms-length bodies after the Comprehensive Spending Review in autumn 2010 within a few months of the coalition government coming to power. The proposed cuts for Kew seemed to be more or less in line with those proposed for other Defra agencies though, as anyone who has had to implement a programme of cuts will know, there are special circumstances attached to every line of every budget.

I wish I could show you a similar table for how those cuts have actually been implemented for all the defra arms-length bodies but I can’t find one.  But I can show you what has actually happened to Kew according to these figures. So that is quite different from what was planned. I wonder what the similar figures would look like for NE etc? Maybe I should dig them out.

But it is slightly more difficult to feel sorry for Kew when seeing what has actually happened to its grant in aid rather than, as the very successful e-petition does, looking at the plans.

Q is right between P and R in the alphabet and Kew seems to have got its PR well-honed too. The union which is behind the successful e-petition may have chosen as the home for its e-petition because that might be the easiest way to get signatures from across the world from non-UK nationals and non-UK voters who have very little skin in the game (eg see here). That was a very smart move.

So, if you were in charge of the Defra budget and had to make cuts, would you really exempt Kew from those cuts?  If so, please explain that to me.

Should Kew get off scot free?  I’m not so sure. But I was interested to read about the origin of the term scot free here.





Signing e-petitions

Do you find that you get asked to sign lots of e-petitions? And do you bother?

Well, here are a few rules to help you on your way.

  1. Don’t sign an e-petition unless you’ve read it
  2. Don’t sign an e-petition unless you agree with it
  3. Don’t sign more than two e-petitions a day
  4. Don’t sign more than five e-petitions a week
  5. Don’t sign more than 50 e-petitions a year
  6. Don’t be put off by badly worded e-petitions if you agree with the gist of them
  7. Don’t find one small thing with which you disagree and decide not to sign the e-petition on those grounds – again, see if you agree with the gist
  8. Don’t forget to spread the word to friends and colleagues if you have signed an e-petition
  9. Don’t expect the world either to fall in on your head or to be made of milk and honey just because you have signed an e-petition – it may be the beginning of a long campaign
  10. Do sign this one to ban driven grouse shooting please.

Maybe you have some suggested rules too?




Protect our protected areas

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre at the end of my walk (c1015). If I had taken a photo at the beginning too (c0745) the grass and roof would both have been frosted. Home of an excellent bacon sandwich - but not for me today.

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre – in a SSSI and an SPA.

My local patch of Stanwick Lakes is actually a small part of an EU SPA  – a Special Protection Area for Birds, notified under the EU Birds Directive. But to me, it’s simply my local patch where I go for a walk to see birds, ignore plants, and to think about the world.  It is very important to me. Really! Very important.

A scientific paper published yesterday in the open access journal PLOS Biology looks at the tourism value of protected areas.

Apparently my 50+ visits to Stanwick Lakes each year are 50 of 8 billion visits to the world’s protected areas each year. I’m certainly getting more than my fair share because Stanwick Lakes is not the only SSSI, SPA, SAC or National Park I visit in the year.  I suspect I visited about 10 last weekend!  This study suggests that about 80% of these visits are in Europe.

The authors of the study say that this number of visits could generate as much as US$600 billion of tourism expenditure annually – a huge economic benefit which vastly exceeds the less than US$10 billion spent safeguarding these sites each year.

Scientists and conservation experts describe current global expenditure on protected areas as “grossly insufficient”, and have called for greatly increased investment in the maintenance and expansion of protected areas – a move which this study shows would yield substantial economic return – as well as saving incalculably precious natural landscapes and species from destruction.

It’s fantastic that people visit protected areas so often, and are getting so much from experiencing wild nature – it’s clearly important to people and we should celebrate that,” says lead author Professor Andrew Balmford, from Cambridge University’s Department of Zoology.

These pieces of the world provide us with untold benefits: from stabilising the global climate and regulating water flows to protecting untold numbers of species. Now we’ve shown that through tourism nature reserves contribute in a big way to the global economy– yet many are being degraded through encroachment and illegal harvesting, and some are being lost altogether. It’s time that governments invested properly in protected areas.

By Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons

Yosemite Valley – another protected area. By Jon Sullivan via Wikimedia Commons


Car crash on the radio

Natalie Bennett’s loss of thought in an interview today is what has happened to most of us who have been frequent public speakers. Such excruciating moments tend more often to win friends than to drive them away. In an age when people don’t want slick (I’ve always thought that Malcolm Rifkind was rather slick) then the occasionally stumbling, normal person of a politician has a lot to offer.

I’m looking forward to this event when Natalie Bennet, Barry Gardiner (the only MP who was one of the ‘Sodden 570′), Rupert de Mauley (a Defra minister), Kate Parminter (former chief exec of CPRE (amongst other things)) and Eilidh Whiteford will be getting their heads and their tongues around some environmental issues.  I’ll be there and will blog about it if you can’t be there yourself.

By the way, this is the Green Party’s mini manifesto for change.


A laughing matter


Birdwatching is such a laugh. Standing for 4-5 hours in the rain (which occasionally turned to sleet just to show how cold it was) and a biting wind is our idea of fun.  I blame that Findlay Wilde for having a birthday and luring us all there with the promise (richly fulfilled) of cake.

Just a couple of kids eating cake. Photo: Heather Wilde

Just a couple of kids eating cake. Photo: Heather Wilde

But to celebrate Findlay’s birthday, the RSPB had what we used to call a ‘showing people birds’ event coinciding with a high spring tide and a rugby-free weekend. It was, of course, the lure of the chocolate cake that really did it, but a few birds would be good too.

I’d never been to Parkgate on the Dee Estuary before, I’d hardly ever been to The Wirral really (it isn’t on the way to anywhere after all – that is rather the essence of a peninsula).

We gathered by the side of the road and looked west. Behind us there were pubs (excellent!), fish and chip shops (excellent!) and an ice-cream parlour (excellent! – but not quite catching the mood of the day). In front of us, there were the wide expanses of the Dee Estuary with Flint and Wales on the far shore. Sometimes we could see Wales (when it was about to rain) and sometimes we couldn’t (when it was raining).

There were birds about – aren’t there always? There were Little Egrets and Teal, Oystercatchers and Lapwings, and a few of those irritating and generally quite unpleasant Linnets too. But the best bird, honorary bird, was probably the very large Brown Rat, which already looked like a semi-drowned rat, but he (or she) may have thought the same about us, as the rain was pretty well incessant.

There were not many ‘ordinary people’ passing by, and most that did, were hunched against the wind and just looked at us as if we were a bit bonkers – it was hard to disagree with them, really.

But a growing band of birders assembled and spent more time chatting than looking for birds. We did see a distant Great White Egret amongst the Little Egrets and a Peregrine perched on a post out in the marsh.

We offered to show a passing couple the Peregrine through the telescope. The man looked, and didn’t look impressed. The woman didn’t look as she said she’d seen one before. Crikey! I once had a really delicious steak and that made me think I’d like another one, one day. Then there was that distant glass of Rioja that made me think that one day I’d have another one. I put ‘seeing a Peregrine’ right into the category of ‘I’d like to do that again’ when I saw my first. Still, I’m clearly a bit odd and this woman had drunk deeply enough of the pleasure of Peregrines without wanting to take another sip.  Maybe she goes through life with no repetition, no deviation and perhaps no hesitation. I’m sure you can all make your own list of things that seemed interesting enough the first time you tried them to give them another go – but not Peregrine viewing for this woman.

Most of the people gathered around were birders, and most seemed to be friends of Findlay (and Harley, Heather and Nigel Wilde too).  There were some of the ‘Sodden 570′ and so we were well-accustomed to getting wet together.

Ringtail Hen Harrier. Photo: Heather Wilde

Ringtail Hen Harrier. Photo: Heather Wilde

As high tide approached, the sleety rain (and rainy sleet) subsided and it was just very cold, rather than very wet and very cold.  The incoming tide pushed the waders out of their feeding grounds and also concentrated the small mammals in the remaining areas of grass.  Three ringtail Hen Harriers passed by heading up the estuary – it was good to see them and wonder where they might have been raised and where they might try to nest.  Considering the amount of time I have spent talking to Findlay about Hen Harriers, it seemed odd that these were the first we had seen together.

The estuary was now as full as it was going to be and not quite as full as it had to be to deliver the most spectacular show when small mammals are running and swimming for their lives as the water rises and they flee to escape drowning and the threat from gulls and raptors above them.  But the semi-drowned Brown Rat made another appearance and ran the gauntlet of a flock of Black-headed Gulls that dived at it. I wonder what they would have done had they caught it?

It was a good morning spent with the lovely Wilde family and a bunch of birders, some of whom I knew, some of whom knew me and some of whom were on Twitter. The chips were good, and the chocolate cake was excellent, and the birds were good, and the weather was bad but we had a laugh.

And I saw the Laughing Gull at New Brighton marine lake at the beginning of the day – another laugher!


You should now ‘like’ this blog and go and read Findlay’s blog too – we seem to be having something called a blog-off!



A read on the Wilde side


Two kids and chocolate cake. Photo: Heather Wilde.


Here’s a really good blog by young Findlay Wilde.


My version of the same events will be posted tomorrow at 0600.


The chocolate cake was very good.