Down your lane…


I was driving down a country lane not far from home, a couple of months ago, when I noticed that the hedge on one side of the road was rather sparse; and then I noticed it was completely lifeless.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

And it wasn’t just a few metres, it went on and on and on for, I reckon, over a mile.

I stopped and took a photo on the good side of the road…

good side

…that looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

And then I took a photo on the other side of the road…


…and that looks pretty awful doesn’t it?

It is almost as though one side of the road was sprayed out, for a length of, as I say, and as I recall, over a mile. Incredible?

I did stop and mouthed at the man in the distant tractor in the top image ‘What happened there?’ but he shrugged and looked away, and I got the impression he wasn’t keen to talk.

Now, this is not a road I know well, but I talked to a few locals who said that they hadn’t noticed anything until this spring when one side of the road just never greened up.  The local belief is that a contractor drove down the road with his spray still running after spraying an autumn wheat field with herbicide last autumn. Farmers I have spoken to think this would be very difficult to do by accident with modern day machinery.  Nobody blames the farmer who actually owns most of this hedge and people say he is puzzled and upset too.

It’s a bit of a mystery. Anyone got any ideas?

Just in case you are wondering, locals tell me that the ‘bad’ side of the road now was, if anything, even better than the ‘good’ side of the road in previous years. I can’t  corroborate that but I have checked this very spot on Google Maps, at street view (amazing what you can find on the web ain’t it?), and in June 2009 I can attest that the two sides of the road look equally luxuriant and species-rich.  What a shame?

I wonder how long this long stretch of hedge will take to recover?  Any ideas on that please?


Fair to Nature farming award

Every year we are reminded in various ways about the fact that there are some really fantastic farmers – out there. And it’s so much easier to believe that now that  we don’t hear the NFU spouting anti-environment nonsense every few days.

This year there is a new farming award on the block – the Conservation Grade Fair to Nature farming award.

The short-listed farmers all look like great guys (and they are all guys) and any of them would make a deserving winner, of course.

Have a look at the list and make your own mind up. I chose Graham Birch.  His sounds like a wonderful farm and if I lived anywhere near it I’d certainly visit on Open Farm Sunday, in the hope of seeing some of his orchids, even though it would be a bit early for the best of his butterflies, I guess.

Make your own mind up and vote here – the more votes, the more we are showing that we support those good guys in the farming industry.


St Martha’s day

In Northampton Waterstones earlier today

In Northampton Waterstones earlier today

St Martha is the patron saint of cooks – and this is her day.

Page 148 of A Message from Martha will give you details of stewing, baking, frying and broiling of  Passenger Pigeons  – but first, catch your Passenger Pigeon, which might be a tad difficult today.

Yesterday I saw the proofs of my article for September BBC Wildlife magazine on Passenger Pigeons and today I’ve been in touch with BirdLife International about artwork to accompany an article for their magazine World Birdwatch.

Also today I went into the BBC Northampton studio to record some words for a radio programme on Passenger Pigeons that is planned to broadcast later this year.

And Waterstones in Northampton have a copy of A Message from Martha on their shelves – at least they did at 1115 today.

I’ve been humming the tune from the Corner Laughers all day today – it’s very catchy I think.

It all seems quite appropriate for St Martha’s Day – although because I am on the 5:2 diet I‘m not eating much today – can’t have everything!  Patron Saint of cooks indeed!



Guest Blog – Pop songs and pigeons by Karla Kane of The Corner Laughers


Left to right: Charlie Crabtree, Karla Kane, Khoi Huynh, KC Bowman. Photo: APW Photography

The Passenger Pigeon went extinct in 1914, the same year the Great War began. To commemorate the centenary of those two events, my band, The Corner Laughers, has released an ode to the last Passenger Pigeon, Martha, in the style of a First World War-era song (but with synthesizers, for no good reason, really).


kkmidsomm1Bassist Khoi Huynh, who wrote “Martha,” has been an avid birder since childhood, when he formed his own group and corresponding publication, the intriguingly titled “Save-the-Birds-Club Bird Club Book of Birds.”

I was voted “most likely to hug a tree” in high school and earned my master’s degree with a dissertation on the California Condor, a bird which came very close to extinction in the 1980s but has since made a comeback of sorts. The California Condor is the topic of another song. We’ve been lucky enough to witness a few condors being released into the wild. We’ve also made the long trip to an annual vulture festival several times and for five years were volunteers with a local wildlife-rescue clinic.

I’d Rather Count Cormorants With You” was inspired by guitarist KC Bowman declaring he’d rather go birding with us than watch the Super Bowl (we prefer the superb owl). Incidentally, KC, all-American boy that he is, named the Bald Eagle as his favorite bird (drummer Charlie Crabtree is partial to penguins).

Birds appear in the artwork of many of our records, illustrated by fellow bird-enthusiast Anna Saccheri. “Poppy Seeds” sports our official state bird, the California Quail, while “Ultraviolet Garden” has a hummingbird. “Tomb of Leopards” has our rock-dove logo and the motto “Be kind to pigeons.” And “Transamerica Pyramid” boasts San Francisco’s famous wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.

We love touring in the UK and when we aren’t on stage you can find us traipsing through parks, searching for birds, foxes, and hedgehogs.
Midsommar”, the A-side to “Martha,” was partially inspired by one such trip to England. It’ll be part of our next full-length record, too.

We’re midway through recording that album and haven’t yet decided which creature to feature in the artwork this time around. Any suggestions?


Corner Laughers Midsommar Band Photo


Hen Harrier Day update

Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxNot a great deal of news this week.

We are ‘good to go’ for the event at Fairholmes Visitor Centre at 10am on 10 August.  This event is FULL – the car park is likely to be full to overflowing and there is no chance of extra capacity.  If you can come by bus, or train and then bus, then that would be a great help (click here for details).

If you are registered for the event then you should have received an email from me yesterday. And dogs on leads are allowed.

I have ordered a megaphone for the event which should arrive tomorrow. I deliberately chose the type where your face is not obscured by it so that you can all see Chris Packham’s face when he says a few words.  Tomorrow I will be looking for a field in which to practice my megaphone diplomacy.

I have ordered my T-shirt to be printed for the day (click here for details) and, rather spookily, the people I spoke to said that a lady had come in asking for the same Hen Harrier Day design to be printed only today. Provided they do a good job for me I will give the company a plug in a later blog!

Do sign up to the Hen Harrier Day ‘thunderclap’ if you use Twitter, Facebook and/or tumblr.  It is very close to having a social reach of 1,000,000 people – you could be the person who pushes it over the landmark total.

Only one more Monday update after this until the event itself.




Bee-eaters on IoW


Pair of nesting Bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight

The National Trust has announced that there is a pair of Bee-eaters (the only bird with three consecutive ‘e’s in its name? Probably not, though I can’t think of another) nesting on the Isle of Wight.

As someone who spent six summers studying bee-eaters in the Camargue, I must say I am delighted.  The birds have been seen carrying food down their nesting tunnel so this indicates that the young have hatched – or at least the first of them as they are asynchronous hatchers – one egg a day will hatch on average (I told you I studied them!).

What the team on 24-hour round the clock watch can expect to see is that the parent birds, pretty equally, will bring small prey – guess what! – mostly bees – to the chicks at first and then will be bringing more and more larger prey with dragonflies making up a large proportion of them (depending, of course, on what’s about).

In France, we always knew when the rice harvest had begun because the Bee-eaters started bringing Great Green Bush-crickets (or Great Green Googly insects as we called them) Tettigonia viridissima to the nestlings then.

beeWhat does this Bee-eater, one of the pair concerned, have in its beak do you think? Is it a very large fly? Someone will tell me, I’m sure.

This bird looks like the male – lots of orange on the wing – the females have more green but there is quite a lot of overlap (I told you, I used to study them).

Bee-eaters have nested successfully in the UK only twice before – this isn’t yet the third one. Those successful nests were in Sussex in 1955, and in Co Durham (rather surprisingly) in 2002.

There was an unsuccessful nesting attempt in Herefordshire, predated by foxes, in 2005.

Have you seen a Bee-eater? If so, I bet you said ‘They are smaller than I expected’ when you did see them – didn’t you?

As a Bee-eater lover I used to smile every time the afternoon play on BBC Radio 4 played idyllic rural bird noises in the background, as one often heard the pruit-pruit of a Bee-eater – this summer it’s true!



Letter to my MP – please ask Ed to join the Hen Harrier thunderclap

To Andy Sawford MP


Dear Andy

photoI haven’t written to your for a while.  I thought you deserved a bit of a rest from me and I know you weren’t too pleased that I voted Green in the euro-elections so I’ve been keeping my head down.

However, as I’ve always said, you can rely on my vote in the next general election as you are an excellent constituency MP and this is a marginal seat.

You signed up, unasked, to the ‘thunderclap’ on Hen Harriers that will go out to the world on 10 August – and for that I’m grateful.  I wonder how many other MPs have followed suit? I’d love to know – maybe you are the only one.  Thank you again.

Thunderclap-requestAs you know, the thunderclap merely states that ‘We’re missing our Hen Harriers’ drawing attention to the fact that this fully protected species is sadly depleted because of illegal persecution by the grouse shooting industry.  No-one, surely, supports wildlife crime.

And therefore, I’m asking you in this letter to spend a little time asking your Labour colleagues to sign up to the thunderclap too. Maybe the Labour Press team, after promising us all an owl by accident (or actually through hacking of their twitter account) could now send a message of support to the oppressed and downtrodden (sometime literally) Hen Harrier.  If this isn’t a bird that Labour should support then what is?

photoI’m still a fan of Ed Miliband but if he feels he needs something to bolster his image then there is nothing much that would go down better with birders across the UK, in marginal seats as well as safe ones, than a message of support to Hen Harriers.

There is no need to reply to this email but now the cat is out of the bag I hope Ed beats David Cameron and, what’s his name?, oh yes, Nick Clegg, to sign up to the Hen Harrier thunderclap.

best wishes




Oscar Dewhurst – Hoatzin


Oscar writes: Hoatzin were one of the most common birds around the oxbow lakes in the lowlands. They would perch on the bushes surrounding the lake in small groups, and usually allowed a fair close approach before clumsily flying off.
Nikon D300s, Nikon 200-400mm f4 VR

Join the Hen Harrier ‘thunderclap’


‘Thunderclaps’ occur when lots of people sign up to the same message on social media and it is then automatically sent out to all their followers (on Twitter), friends (on Facebook) and ‘whatevers’ (on tumblr – sorry, I don’t have a clue about tumblr).

The message for Hen Harrier Day is simply ‘We’re missing our Hen Harriers – show your support for #HenHarrierDay’ – so, nothing the least bit contentious there. Nothing political. Nothing about what should happen next. Just an outpouring of support for a marvellous threatened icon of our uplands that is illegally persecuted.

Who wouldn’t sign up to that?

The most thunderous voices to sign up so far are: Sea Wild Earth, RSPB, Chris Packham, the Green Party of England and Wales, the Wildlife Trusts and the League Against Cruel Sports (updated 28 July).  But every voice counts – so please add yours if you do social media.

Here are some suggestions:

The Green Party was quick to sign up – what about the Labour Party, the Conservatives, the LibDems, UKIP, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and many others?  Well, who’s on the side of wildlife? The general election is not that far away – your support, or lack of it, will be remembered (by this blog at least it will).

My MP, Andy Sawford, has signed up too – has yours? Why not ask them?

Let’s please see solidarity from other wildlife groups for this – Greenpeace, WWF-UK, FoE, Buglife, Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation and the rest. We’re not asking for blood – just a single message to your supporters on a serious conservation issue – wildlife crime is wildlife crime whether it affects birds, mammals, plants or insects.

M&S did a good thing last week – they said they won’t sell Red Grouse in their shops this year because of worries over being sure that their sources are ‘harrier-friendly’ (my words) – surely they would like to do one small thing and be the first big supermarket to sign up to this thunderclap – or will they be beaten to it by a competitor?

Shooting organisations are quick to say that they abhor the killing of Hen Harriers – how many of BASC, GWCT, Moorland Association, NFU, CLA, Countryside Alliance will sign up to a simple message in support of a protected wildlife species that is threatened by illegal activity? Let’s see shall we? Note added later: GWCT have signed, they tell me. Good for them.

And those other landowners and land managers in affected areas  -what about the Peak District NP, NYork Moors, Yorkshire Dales, Forest of Bowland AONB, Yorkshire Water, Severn Trent, United Utilities and, of course, the National Trust?  Just join the thunderclap to send a message that you care about legally protected, but actually endangered, wildlife, please.

I will be happy to mention significant organisations who sign up to the thunderclap on this blog.  I’ll be happy to keep pointing out who hasn’t too.

But whatever they do – you can add your voice. Please do by clicking here.



A good week for the friends of the Hen Harrier

It’s difficult to keep up – there’s so much going on:


1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddSevern Trent say ‘yes’ to Hen Harrier Day in Peak District.

Hen Harrier Day in Peak District reaches capacity - any more attendees will jam the car parks…

August Birdwatch has ‘Stop killing our Harriers’ on cover.

M&S shelve plans to sell Red Grouse because of fears of consumer boycott – big piece in Friday’s Times and Daily Mail online and BBC.

RSPB spells it out to pro-shooting groups on lack of agreement on ‘joint’ plan for Hen Harriers – grouse shooting must do better (and see comments on Martin’s blog – many more than usual not surprisingly).

E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passes 9200 signatures – will we get to 10,000 by the Inglorious 12th?  Or maybe even by Hen Harrier Day? It’s looking possible although not certain.

Sunday Times publishes article on grouse shooting which mentions Hen Harrier Day protests – because it has to this year – and quotes Chris Packham.

Hen Harrier Day ‘thunderclap’ (a coordinated sending out of social media messages on Twitter, Facebook and tumblr) passes 600,000 recipients – sign up here.

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons