A round up

A few things that caught my eye:

There are lots of excellent comments on this morning’s blog about feral daffodils (from many points of view) – what do you think?

At the suggestion of a reader of this blog I have become an affiliate of Blackwell’s Bookshop – that means that if you get to Blackwell’s website through this link then I’ll get a little bit of money when you buy things.  I notice that some of my own books are cheaper from Blackwell’s than on A*az*n at the moment – which surprised me.



Guest blog – Defending our Birds by BirdLife Malta

Each springtime as birds begin their migration north from their wintering grounds in Africa, BirdLife Malta starts to rally together volunteers from across Europe to participate in Spring Watch, a conservation camp working to monitor migration and tackle wildlife crime.

Situated along one of the main migratory routes, Malta provides an ideal spot for birds to rest whilst on their arduous migratory journey to their breeding grounds. However, the Islands’ spring hunting season can put many of these birds at risk of even passing through safely. In fact, Malta is the only country in the European Union that derogates from the Birds Directive to open a spring hunting season for Turtle Dove and Common Quail.

This year, the spring hunting season will be open only for Quail, following the moratorium on Turtle Dove in 2016 after the species was uplisted to a ‘vulnerable’ status by the IUCN. However, the season is still that of much controversy, given that studies commissioned and paid for by the government show that during autumn, there is a sufficient passage of Quails during the first two months of the hunting season to oppose the justification for a season a spring. Not to mention that wildlife crime including the targeting of protected species, the use of modified shotguns and hunting taking place in protected areas still occur despite the regulations, namely being recorded when the season is open.

This is where Spring Watch comes in. Organised during the peak of migration, the camp of dedicated volunteers and staff work together across various points in Malta to collect important data on bird migration as well monitoring the countryside for any potential illegalities over a three-week. With early morning shifts and long hours, the group works tirelessly to work against the threats of spring hunting to migratory species and their conservation status.

Spring Watch is an essential part of BirdLife Malta’s work and is only possible with the support of volunteers and with funds raised through memberships and donations. To help BirdLife Malta continue this vital work or if you are interested in participating, please visit the website.

BirdLife Malta will always continue to work against the unsustainable practice of spring hunting which takes place and ensure that the law is properly enforced in the case of any illegalities.


Feral Daffodils – don’t you just…?

Lovely Daffodils – though these were going over a bit

I have a love-hate relationship with daffodils. Our wild daffodil Narcissus pseudonarcissus is a native species (although even that is somewhat doubtful and disputed) whose world range stretches south from Britain to Spain and Portugal and east to Germany. It is a woodland plant that occurs in carpets that add splashes of spring yellow to the woodland floor as the trees begin to green up in March.  The native plant has pale yellow petals framing a deeper yellow trumpet of tepals.  It’s a subtle flower whose emergence marks a stage of the unfolding of spring in those rather scattered locations in which it is native or at least long-established.

Village daffodils in their natural habitat – lovely!

A lot of my love for daffodils goes out to these native plants – but I rarely see them. I can feel quite a lot of love for the brighter, brasher garden varieties too.  When my daughter was born I filled the house with bright yellow bunches of ‘daffs’ to welcome her into her home and for her mother’s homecoming.  Daffodils, jonquils, narcissi in the garden are fine too – I have love for them too. But where this love switches into extreme irritation bordering on hate is when these garden flowers pop up deep in the countryside as roadside splashes of colour.

Rather than thinking ‘Oh, what lovely flowers!’ I think ‘Look, someone’s planted some daffodils here’ and resent them.  I know that the less these planted daffodils resemble the wild native species, the more I will resent them. If they have white petals, or any red or orange on the trumpet then my resentment will be all the greater. And this is because I see them as planted intruders into the ‘natural’ countryside rather than aspects of nature.

I know this is a feeling bordering on the irrational, or perhaps stepping well into that realm, as we are talking about a roadside verge in lowland England not a wilderness far from habitation. There is nothing in my view, or for miles in any direction, that is wholly natural: everything has the touch of mankind on it. For heaven’s sake we are talking of a roadside verge: I’m in a car, driving along a road, with hedges, fences or walls separating me from fields growing planted crops or grazing domestic animals, and there are signs of human settlement, electricity pylons and road signs all within view, and I am irritated by a bunch of pretty flowers? Yes, I am.

Intrusive feral daffodils – like graffiti in the countryside

The thing about those roadside garden daffodils is that I know that someone has planted them. The reason they are here, in their irritating straight line or small pointless clump, is that someone has put them there. That’s why they aren’t on the other side of the road, or further on or further back; they are where they are because someone put them there and I find their beauty much diminished as a result. And that’s why I like them all the less, the less they resemble our native wild daffodil, because that rubs it in even more.

And the fact that they often represent the only splash of plant colour out in the countryside in early spring deepens my irritation. It just makes it all the more obvious that these flowers represent a human intrusion rather than an encounter with natural beauty.

If I thought that these flowers have arrived under their own steam, as it were, and struggled to establish themselves in this spot, I know I would feel differently about them, but they feel to me akin to a gaudy pot plant plonked into the countryside. That’s why I have a love-hate relationship with daffodils. In the right place they are lovely; in what I consider to be the wrong place I dislike them.  The right place for garden daffodils is in our gardens, in our houses brightening up our rooms, and even on roadside verges in built up areas. They should be restricted to grow inside the 30mph zones of built up areas and if I ruled the world the daffodil police would be out there digging them up from our country roadsides.

Feral Daffodils – as welcome as fly-tipping


Mine’s a pint of Hen Harrier


Get your Hen Harrier here from the excellent Bowland Brewery.


And what might Prince Charles have said when necking a Hen Harrier?










GM crops

Genetic modification after Brexit is now being discussed and I’ve just listened to Princess Anne’s opinions on Farming Today. What she said wasn’t very controversial despite all the hyping by the BBC yesterday.  The benefits of genetic modification were all hypothetical ones in the future rather than ones that are available now and being held back from British farmers.

Professor Anne Glover and Tony Juniper had a very sensible discussion about these matters on the Today programme yesterday (click here about 1hr 50min into programme).  We might all be rather better off listening to the discussion between two experts on the subject than the views of a former amateur jockey and Olympian with no formal scientific training (or her brother).  Yesterday’s discussion between Juniper and Glover suggested that there might be some future advantages to us all from GM crops but only from some GM crops and we haven’t seen very many of those benefits so far.  The claimed benefits of GM crops have so far been much greater than their realised benefits (there’s always a large pile of distant jam in this topic) and we should be a bit sceptical of the claims of the industry that benefits most from their production.

What wasn’t said, but is also true, is that we should also be a bit sceptical of the claims of environmental disaster made by some about the harm of GM crops.

A long time ago I was part of a scientific review process, chaired by the then Government Chief Scientist, Prof David King, which looked at these issues and produced two large reports (Report 1, Report 2) one on either side of the completion of the farm scale evaluations of GM crops – a big study which showed that the environmental damage that the RSPB and others had claimed would result from using pesticide-resistant GM crops was indeed true.  The media like to look at GM discussions as being between cutting-edge science to help the world and a bunch of luddite environmentalists who are standing in the way of progress. There has been an element of that in the debate. But, because I was there, and the RSPB played a significant role in these matters, I remember the GM debate as being a victory for environmentalists who knew their stuff, correctly predicted the impacts of pesticide-tolerant GM crops on farmland ecology and were vindicated by a massive field experiment despite the denial and claims of the rather untrustworthy industry.

The massive debate over pesticide-tolerant GM crops around 20 years ago was a scientific victory for the environmentalists – let’s remember that. To believe the biotechnology company claims would have been as foolish as to believe the claims of grouse moor managers about the environmental impacts of their industry.  And if there had been an e-petition process back then there would have been a massive signature count against pesticide-tolerant GM crops from the public and yet, I’m sure, a bunch of Conservative MPs would have packed Westminster Hall to support the industry with their speeches.

My personal opinion hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. We probably should embrace some GM crops, but as with anything else and anyone else we are thinking of embracing, we should have a good look at it first.



PS I thought Anna Hill was very amusing in asking Princess Anne about family businesses where the senior members don’t hand over the business to their children until the last possible moment.