The last Passenger Pigeon on Earth died on 1 September 1914 in Cincinnati Zoo.
100 years earlier this was the commonest bird on Earth – with a population of billions.
Why did this abundant species die out?
Should we care?
What are the lessons for today?
Book Mark Avery to speak to your Bird Club, RSPB Group, WI, lunch club, conference, evening class etc from 1 July 2014 onwards.
And the book of the talk will be out in July 2014.
I wrote to my MP last week and received a very prompt reply from him on Monday this week! That’s impressive and I am very grateful for the speed and content of his reply.
Mr Sawford has written to Owen Paterson on my behalf asking the Secretary of State ‘the extent to which Defra use the Farmland Bird Index, which covers 19 species reliant on the farmed countryside, as a basis for setting environment-related targets?’ and ‘At what level does the department want the Farmland Bird Index to reach by 2020, given the index has just seen a five year decline of eight per cent?‘. Both Mr Sawford and I wait, with breath bated, for Mr Paterson’s reply which will, no doubt, take a while to get back to us but which will be posted on this blog.
Mr Sawford also wrote to Maria Eagle, the Shadow Secretary of State, and says ‘In his email to me, Dr Avery challenges the Labour Party to set out how a future Labour Government would deliver this form of compact and what measures we would take, therefore, to improve the public vlaue of CAP spending. He adds that he believes that there are many rural Labour supporters who feel that Labour should have a much stronger rural and countryside agenda.‘.
But Mr Sawford went further than that. He suggested meeting up to discuss these matters further – and I will certainly take him up on that offer.
Now I know my MP well enough to be on first name terms with him, which I wasn’t with his predecessor Louise Mensch (but I did have a brilliant argument with her at one of her surgeries once), and he does know that I am a Labour Party member and a supporter of his. And he does know that I write this blog and so, sorry Andy, his replies to me will be under a bit more scrutiny and under a spotlight than would be the case for most constituents – the power of the blog! But I am grateful to him for taking my concerns seriously and promoting them to both the Government and the Labour Party.
Why not write to your MP about wildlife matters and see what sort of response you get? If you do, then I’d consider posting extracts of your letter and your MP’s reply on this blog if that would show your MP in good light or bad. Please make sure in your letter that you tell your MP that you will consider publishing his/her reply (that’s only fair). If enough of us write and get (or don’t get) answers then we will build up a picture of how seriously our political parties take our concerns about the natural world, and we will, I promise you, help raise the matter up the political agenda, bit by bit. Get emailing!
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting started on Monday and has already attracted over 900 votes.
I’m always on the look out for Guest Blogs on subjects that are relevant to nature conservation.
Advice to people submitting a blog to this website:
- get in touch before submitting your blog so that we can discuss it
- any blog should be of interest to readers of this blog and of an environmental bent
- word count is up to you
- only submit a blog that you are happy to see published as it is submitted – I might correct spelling, typos etc but it’s your job to get these things right and, no, you can’t keep fiddling about with it after sending it in
- submit a few sentences about yourself as well as your blog
- send a jpg image of yourself so that we can all have a look at you
And thank you to all those who have already contributed – you have stimulated some very interesting comments and debates.
Here is a list of Guest Blogs from 2013 – oldest first because you may have forgotten the more distant ones:
Not the BTO thrush survey – Hugh Brazier (January)
Good v Bad science. Good v Bad birdwatching – David Christian Rose (January)
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding – Colin Williams (January)
‘Muzzled watchdog’ to ‘Toothless terrier’? – Helen Kirk (January)
The flight of the neonicotinoids - Matt Shardlow (February)
You can be a member of the RSPB & a gamekeeper – Rob Yorke (April)
BTO & CLO – Andy Clements (May)
Facebook Nature – Lucy McRobert (May)
Action Wins! – Jonny Rankin (July)
George Monbiot’s Feral – Aggie Rothon (July)
Birds of a feather - Frances Hurst (August)
Saving Nature with Faith Communities – Simon Marsh (August)
Why should we care about Jon Snow? – Ralph Underhill (August)
Never let a good crisis go to waste – Nick Molho (September)
Kids and Nature – by Andy Simpson (October)
Why Butterfly Conservation deserves your support -Martin Warren (November)
Why MARINElife deserves your support - Andrew McLeish (November)
Why the BTO deserves your support – Andy Clements (November)
Why Plantlife deserves your support - Joanna Bromley (November)
Why the RSPB deserves your support – Mike Clarke (November)
Why the Wildlife Trusts deserve your support - Stephanie Hilborne (November)
Why Buglife deserves your support – Matt Shardlow (November)
The Age of Can Do – Miles King (November)
Birdwatching as a Political Act – by Matt Adam Williams (November)
Guests at Nature’s Table – Findlay Wilde (November)
So, who wants to be next?
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting has already attracted over 900 votes.
Andy Atkins, executive director, Friends of the Earth
Andy has been a key player in campaigning and research for human rights and development NGOs including the Chile Committee for Human Rights, CAFOD and CIIR (now Progressio). While at CIIR Andy established a ground breaking programme of work on the developmental implications of the illegal drugs trade and co-founded and chaired the European NGO network on Drugs and Development. Before joining Friends of the Earth, Andy was Advocacy Director at development charity Tearfund, where he established the policy and campaigns department and made advocacy a key focus for the organisation. He initiated Tearfund’s work on climate change which led Tearfund to become the first major UK development agency to identify and launch successful campaigns on climate change as a ‘poverty’ issue.
Andy’s childhood was spent in the tropical Torres Straights Islands of Australia and his teenage years in the East End of London. After reading Geography at University College London, he completed a Masters in Development Studies, focussing on Latin America. This led to volunteering in Argentina for nine months shortly after the Falklands War, which grew his passion for the environment and social justice.
Andy is married to solicitor Sarah and they have three children. He is a keen amateur painter, reader of world literature and cyclist.
From the first morning there whilst I was sitting on the terrace overlooking the Vezere river in the town of La Bugue, I was pleasantly shocked – over and over again. I saw nature I’d not seen for years.
A swirling cloud of swallows and martins skimmed the river for insects. My young-adult son asked what they were. He said he’d never seen them before. I felt guilty – have I brought him up so badly?
Wherever we went in the Dordogne, large birds of prey soared above, crossing valleys and forest, river and town. Were they buzzards? Too high for me to tell, but impressive in their constant numbers.
We moved for the second week to the Vendée region, to a ramshakle place by the small river in the medieval village of Sanxay. Almost every morning I opened the sitting room shutters to find linnets and siskins on the bay tree in the courtyard – birds I used to see all the time when I lived in rural Worcestershire in my early teens.
We went to explore the ‘Green Venice’ of Marais Poitevin, an area of swampy forest and marshland, criss-crossed by canals. It’s famous for wildlife. Ironically we saw nothing at all as we punted down dark tree-lined channels. But on the way home, driving through mile after mile of arable farmland, we were joined by a hen harrier – with its distinctive long blue-grey wings – flapping idly over the wheat fields to our right. In the UK you have to go to an RSPB reserve to stand a chance of seeing one.
We hired kayaks one morning. Approaching a fair-sized town, a small, graceful, wader-like bird flitted across the river in front of us and took up position on a low branch on the opposite bank. Whatever it was, I’d never seen one before, anywhere. My trusty Collins Bird Guide showed it was a wood sandpiper. Apparently they used to be common in the UK.
We visited a small local chateau. As we crossed the old stone bridge over the moat, a small, narrow wave rippled the water and apparently headed for the opposite bank. I hadn’t seen that unmistakeable sign since childhood in tropical Australia: a snake swimming!
Ever-present nature was a delightful bonus to the holiday, and not one I had given a thought to before we set off. I was struck by two things though.
First, I was seeing nature all around me – without even looking for it. This included some species I saw frequently in my early teens in rural UK countryside, but which you would struggle to spot now.
Secondly, it hit me that my children – now young adults – had little idea what they were looking at, even with birds I regard as ‘common’. Contrast this, say, with my father. Without thinking of himself as a birdwatcher, he would probably have been able to name most of the birds we saw, simply because he absorbed the knowledge of that nature around him, where he grew up, in the Vale of Evesham.
The scary truth is that in the space of a couple of generations, once common species have become rarities. The majority of the public is losing all knowledge of them. With that we are losing our delight in nature and the richness it can give our lives. We’re also losing our defences against further loss: all the research suggests that people don’t protect what they do not value, and they do not value what they do not know.
The key challenge for those of us who want to protect the environment is to turn that tide and help people know and value nature again. I’m proud that Friends of the Earth has made great strides recently with The Bee Cause – to reverse the decline in bees and other pollinators – and through this campaign, to re-engage more people with nature. The challenge is being taken up by others too, including the film industry – Project Wild Thing, on national release now, is an ambitious film-led movement to get kids outdoors.
But to achieve faster and widespread progress, politicians must transform their own thinking. All parties’ action on the natural environment is way behind what nature, people and our economies require.
As manifestos are developed ahead of the next election, it’s critical that we persuade the political parties to raise their ambition and commitment to restoring nature in the UK. Indeed future government action will be crucial to us achieving one of our 10 year strategic goals – to see the UK firmly on the path to restoring key aspects of nature.
I wish I could send our entire political class on a holiday where they would be stunned by the abundance of nature, and then commit them to reversing its decline in Britain. But I can’t. So I’ll have to campaign instead.
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting started Monday and has already attracted over 900 votes.
Recently a paper was published, by scientists, about the 20 things that politicians should understand about science.
It’s a bit of an irritating list and I was just about to sit down and write about the 20 things that scientists should know about politics and policy-making when, partly to my relief and partly to my disappointment, I found that somebody had done it already.
Chris Tyler is the Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and his article is well worth a read.
By the time you read this short blog I will have taken part in a discussion about whether science is policy-led or policy is science-led, so I am thinking about these issues right now.
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting started yesterday and has already attracted over 800 votes.
The new President of the CLA is Henry Robinson – well, he’s no longer that new, he’s been in post a couple of weeks.
I’ve always liked Henry (though I don’t know him that well – maybe I’m too quick to like). Anyone who I occasionally meet at Cheltenham racecourse starts with a slight advantage in the ‘liking’ stakes.
Henry doesn’t have that far to travel to the races at Cheltenham, he farms his 1000 acres of wheat and oilseed rape nearby. His land, at least some of it, is in HLS, he has been involved with FWAG, he was Treasurer of the National Birds of Prey Trust, and he is described, and I can believe it, as being committed to conservation.
He’ll be just the right type of CLA President to be in the job when Labour come back into ‘power’ in 2015.
The CLA has 34,000 members and they must own quite a large chunk of the country between them. Less strident, more urbane, and only slightly less effective than the NFU at getting their way, this is a force to be reckoned with.
The CLA, although often wrong-headed, is at least consistent and somewhat principled in its lobbying. Through sound policy advice in the past it has stuck to a few Tory principles of faith in the market, letting people (particularly the people who own land) get on with it, removing red-tape and taking a long-term view. CLA members are likely to talk about ‘stewardship’ more often than are NFU members.
The CLA are nicely predictable. We have been able to see Henry coming for years as he was Vice-President and then Deputy President before becoming President. Ross Murray is the current Deputy President and Tim Breitmeyer, Vice-President.
CLA Presidents are traditionally, and tradition is important, seen to issue lots of press releases in their first few weeks in office just to tell the world, and the world of the CLA, that they are around and working very hard.
Henry has opined on cutting red tape, flood liability, biodiversity offsetting, reform of compulsory purchase, the threat of climate change and the importance of Warfarin in the war against Grey Squirrels so far.
I wish him well. I wonder who the NFU will choose as their new President – Ladbrokes don’t seem to have priced it up – but my money would be on someone with a difficult to pronounce Welsh name (or at least, it’s easy to pronounce, but everyone seems to have their own version of it). How Henry and Meurig (if it is him) get on is of some importance in how the farming/land-owning views get put across. For some time, CLA Presidents have been in the shadow, or somewhat overshadowed, or slightly eclipsed by the outgoing NFU President, Peter Kendall. Maybe it’s time for the CLA to take back the leading role.
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting started yesterday and has already attracted over 700 votes.
We’re all told that Scotland is different but it appears that its politicians aren’t that different really.
The Environment, Rural Scotland, Energy and Resources chapter of Scotland’s Future forgets to leave a place for nature.
It’s all about energy, energy prices, Scottish fishermen and Scottish farmers but very little about the Scottish landscape or wildlife on which much of Scotland’s tourism industry is built.
I’m not Scottish but I have great affection for Scotland. I have a PhD from a Scottish university (Aberdeen), my first job in nature conservation was as a warden of a Scottish National nature reserve (St Cyrus), I did my first bit of real research fieldwork (and met my wife) on Rhum, my first job with the RSPB was based in Caithness and Sutherland and if I were Scottish I would wonder what Scotland’s Future offered in terms of Scotland’s environment. Despite being a 700 page document, natural beauty and richness hardly finds a place or gets a mention.
Wildlife and the natural environment get little treatment in the question and answers at the back of the document either – it’s all about money and jobs.
What this historic document says about the environment is uninspiring, lacking in details and also lacking in vision. It’s lax and lacking.
In fact, what this document says about us, we British, is that our politicians are short-sighted and they think that we are mean and selfish. They appeal to us simply through telling us that we might get a bit more money if we vote for them. There is nothing much here about creating a better world, it’s simply about making sure that the people of Scotland get at least their share of whatever is going. If this document sums up the aspirations of a nation then that nation is uninspired and uninspiring – and that doesn’t sounds like the Scotland or the Scots that I know.
Now, I wonder whether those politicians further south in the UK could do a better job? Not much evidence I admit – but that doesn’t mean that Scottish politicians are offering Scottish people a good deal for Scotland’s environment.
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting started yesterday and has already attracted over 600 votes.
Sign of the times?
The rspb is following other farmers into the rapeseed oil business. I visited Ian Dillon at Hope Farm last week and had a chat about it with him.
Regular readers of this blog might recall that the rspb bought Hope Farm when I was Conservation Director and so I have a quasi-proprietorial interest in it.
But we also talked about birds. I’d seen Ian in the summer, and he gets a mention in my Passenger Pigeon book (believe it or not). the last time I saw him he was bemoaning the harvest and also the fact that bird numbers, farmland birds, had dropped a bit at Hope Farm for the second year in a row.
Between 2011-12 there was quite a big drop in numbers of Yellowhammers, Whitethroats and Greenfinches at Hope Farm but in 2013 at least Yellowhammers and Whitethroats had recovered a bit. But there had been no Kestrel, Corn Bunting, Turtle Dove or Lapwing at Hope Farm in 2013 and that set the index falling a bit further.
The good news is that it is miles above the national index and if every farm in the country had bird increases like Hope Farm’s since it was established then we wouldn’t be worrying too much about farmland birds. It is so sad that the poorly-led farming industry has not repeated the fairly easy and fairly spectacular increases in wildlife achieved at Hope Farm.
The rspb has bottle?
But Hope Farm is a ‘proper’ farm, not a nature reserve, and the mantra that farmers have been told for years is to seek to add value to their produce, rather than simply market commodities. It’s easier for a livestock farmer, perhaps, to see how he (or she) could market cuts of beef, pork or lamb at the farm gate than how an arable farmer could sell us some special wheat or barley.
But it was a farmer down the road from me, Duncan Farrington, who first, I believe, spotted the opportunity to market specially pressed oil from rapeseed as a healthy alternative to other oils. Farrington’s Mellow Yellow is loved by Nigella Lawson (unlike Charles Saatchi) and is available in many slightly up-market supermnarkets.
Now the rspb is following suit – and good for them! Hope Farm produced 90 tonnes of rapeseed last year and four of those have been crushed and bottled by George Munns near Chatteris. A tonne of rapeseed produces 300 litres of what is described as extra-virgin rapeseed oil.
The rspb oil (naughtily nutty) is available from rspb shops and from the rspb online shop.
Ian told me that the rspb had decided to go down this route for a number of reasons: to raise the profile of Hope Farm even further, to make a little bit more money (fingers crossed), to publicise wildlife-friendly farming and also to give rspb members a nudge further towards wildlife-friendly shopping. I hope it works on all levels.
Do remember to vote in the poll to pick the Westminster MP who did the best job for wildlife in 2013. Voting started yesterday and has already attracted over 400 votes.
A field – not yet ready for bottling.
Following my review of them, seven Chief Executives writing Guest Blogs (Mike Clarke (rspb), Stephanie Hilborne (Wildlife Trusts), Martin Warren (Butterfly Conservation), Matt Shardlow (Buglife), Joanna Bromley (Plantlife), Andrew McLeish (MARINElife)), readers of this blog voting on the Guest Blog they favoured most – a pair of Minox 10x43HD binoculars were auctioned on eBay and raised £622 for the RSPB.
Thank you to Minox for the idea and the binoculars.
Thank you to those seven organisations for joining in.
Thank you to everyone who voted.
And thank you to someone I know in Cambridgeshire for buying the binoculars.