Breaking news – Malta halts hunting season until 10 October

Only_Malta_Island_mapSee here

Well done to the Maltese Prime Minister!

That will make Prince William’s visit to celebrate 50 years of independence less controversial.



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill


Ralph writes: Maybe if we had a more accountable and representative political system we would secure a better future for nature and wildlife.




Keep going!

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

I’ve given the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting a bit of a breather for the last few weeks but it keeps gaining signatures – 20,000 by Christmas? Might that be possible?

The grouse shooting season ends on 10 December.  Wouldn’t it be great if it never opened again?

I had a nice chat to the office of the Sergeant at Arms in the Palace of Westminster last week.

Discussions are under way for what might happen on Hen Harrier Day 2015!

Other discussions are planned, with a range of folk, on how to move the Hen Harrier issue forward over the next few months.

The RSPB magazine, Nature’s Home, will have a feature on Hen Harriers in its next issue  – arriving through your letterbox in early- to mid-October.



Och No!


A great debate, a massive turnout (84.6%) – but nothing changes?

No – everything changes a bit.

You can’t have such an important debate, held with such passion, and then life goes on the same. It just isn’t possible.

Cameron has entered that dangerous ‘I haven’t got much time left to do something good’ period as Prime Minister and his statement this morning to move things on in England at the same pace as Scotland looks over-ambitious. His legacy should be to start things on a better footing not to get it all fixed before the General Election next year.

If anything were to change quickly, then why not give younger people the right to vote in Westminster elections?

The result keeps being described as decisive – but isn’t it decisively divisive? A 55:45 split is pretty much as close as one can get to a divided country.  Mind the gap!

If you give people a real choice about their future then they become energised – will we be given a choice in the General Election next May?

There will be ‘Yes’ voters who, today, are feeling relieved that the vote went the other way, and ‘No’ voters regretting that they hadn’t had the courage to vote the other way. And there will be distraught ‘Yes’ voters and delighted ‘No’ voters too, of course.  Sometimes you only really know how you feel when you get the result. Have you ever felt relieved that you weren’t offered a job?  How do you feel about the result, now it is a result (and where do you live?)?

I feel a mixture of relief and disappointment.  Living in England, my life would have been made worse by a Scottish ‘Yes’ vote but if I had been a voter in Scotland I would have been greatly attracted by the radical option.  My hope would be that the ‘No’ vote opens up better radical alternatives throughout the whole of the UK – but, we’ll see.

The other emotion I have is the one that one often has after winning money on a bet – wishing one had invested more! Still, my return on investment in six months would have taken about 25 years to earn in the building society so that’s not  bad (nay bad!).

As I walked through Edinburgh on Tuesday afternoon, and again on Wednesday morning, there was an air of excitement in the air. People were talking about the referendum and there were stickers and posters everywhere – even on Adam Smith’s shoulder (see photo below). It felt like Scotland might well be going to take a dramatic and decisive step out of the UK. That’s how it felt. But looking at the betting, for the last few weeks the odds have consistently shown that little money was being invested in a ‘Yes’ vote – in fact the odds on a ‘No’ continued to shorten.  That seems to me to be an example of how one’s partial, anecdotal experience is less reliable than the collected views of many.  Adam Smith, on his statue in the Royal Mile, would have heard much talk of the coming independence in the conversations of the people passing by him, but he would probably, as an economist, have followed the money to make his decisions.


Adam Smith sports a 'Yes' sticker by Parliament Square, Edinburgh, on Wednesday morning.

Adam Smith sports a ‘Yes’ sticker by Parliament Square, Edinburgh, on Wednesday morning.  Is it still there this morning?

A few paces further down the Royal Mile

A few paces further down the Royal Mile

photo 2








Results of that ornithological teaser


I gave you a list of 73 bird species that I saw or heard on five visits to my local patch of Stanwick Lakes in early September and asked you to pick 5 species that I had seen on all five visits and 5 species I only saw on a single visit.

This was a brain teaser and it seems that your brains were teased! Over 50 of you hazarded a guess (or well thought-through selection).

These are the species you ought to have picked from (and, because I know some will want to inspect them, the others are listed at the foot of this post):

Seen all five times: Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Gadwall, Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Great Crested Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Woodpigeon, Green Woodpecker, Magpie, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Great Tit, Cetti’s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren, Blackbird, Robin, Chaffinch, Bullfinch and Goldfinch.

Seen on just one visit: Pochard, Pheasant, Sparrowhawk, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Snipe, Peregrine, Sand Martin, Willow Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Treecreeper, Starling, Spotted Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail and Meadow Pipit.


And the winner is…

There were two correct answers.  Second prize (of nothing at all!) goes to Steve Fisher who correctly surmised that he might have been disqualified had he have won since he was standing next to me when I saw some of these species!  In fact, he pointed out the only Little Ringed Plover of the visits. Steve knows Stanwick better than I do but he still might have got it wrong. Indeed, had I been asked to do this task in a few months time, when the memories had weakened in my weak brain, I’m not sure that I would have got it right!

But that just makes it all the more impressive that, on the basis of pure ornithological genius (assuming that he didn’t look it up on the Birdtrack database (and I’m sure he didn’t)), the winner is Nick Moran of the BTO. Those BTO staff certainly know their birds and I’m delighted to say that the copy of the book, A Sparrowhawk’s Lament by David Cobham, is in the post to The Nunnery.

I ‘phoned Nick to tell him the good news yesterday  and we had a chat about the joys of patch birding. He is a worthy winner.


The wisdom of crowds.

Crowds, even non-expert crowds, are very good at making decisions – there’s even a book about this. The 50+ folk taking part in this little brain-teaser acted like a very clever crowd. Here are some data to prove it (it took quite a while to do this but I won’t swear to the absolute accuracy of all the figures that follow, but they aren’t far out (I will swear that!)).

There were 33 species that were seen by me on every visit. The respondents to this little brain-teaser, in their 260 separate selections, chose 36 species, of which 27 were correct (and therefore 9 were incorrect). I find that pretty impressive in itself. Of the 260 total selections of species, 234 were correct and only 26 incorrect – impressive!

When you look at 26 votes for the 9 species wrongly selected to have been seen on each visit, 15 of those 26 votes were for species seen four times (Blue Tit, Swallow and Dunnock), one for Kingfisher (seen three times), four for species seen twice (Red Kite, Herring Gull, Whinchat and Linnet) and six votes for Starling which I only saw once (but might easily have seen every time on other days – it’s all or nothing with Starlings though!).   So, most of the wrong selections were near misses.

And the six species that were never selected but would have been correct answers were: Great Black-backed Gull, Green Woodpecker, Cetti’s Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, Blackcap and Bullfinch – all risky species to choose given the number of more obvious species that you had at your disposal.

In brief, all 15 of the correct species were selected (and amassed 143 votes in all), 23 species were correctly ignored and 35 species were wrongly chosen but they only collected 116 votes. So again, even in this very tricky half of the teaser, most votes went to those few species which were correctly identified.

I think you are a very clever bunch. It makes you believe more strongly in democracy – or does it? And later today, the results of the Scottish independence referendum.



And the other species that were seen, and how many times they were seen

Four visits: Wigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kestrel, Blue Tit, Swallow, Reed Warbler, Dunnock, Pied Wagtail and Reed Bunting.

Three visits: Buzzard, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, Stock Dove, Kingfisher, Whitethroat, Song Thrush and Greenfinch.

Two visits: Shoveler, Red Kite, Herring Gull, Jay, Rook, Sedge Warbler, Whinchat and Linnet.




Nothing earth-shattering


  • I read quite a lot about grouse shooting and its history
  • I watched a Red Admiral feeding on ivy in my garden
  • I ‘phoned a friend
  • I sat in the garden enjoying the sunshine
  • I booked train tickets to go to London on the People’s Climate March on Sunday



  • I will reveal the results of my ornithological brain teaser
  • We will learn whether the Scots have voted for independence or not (I am pretty sure they won’t have done)
  • I will give a talk on Passenger Pigeons near Woodstock in Oxfordshire
  • I hope to spend some time sitting in the garden in the sunshine again


A question:  both filbert cobb and Doug Mack Dodds have experienced problems posting (long) comments today. Anyone else had any, having any, problems?  I am not aware of any problems with the site. Please let me know – by a comment (1) or by an email (


Last chance…

…to have a go at this little ornithological brain twister.  Entries close at midday.  A copy of A Sparrowhawk’s Lament to the winning entry.


LUSH customers sign 20,000 Hen Harrier cards

Postcards - Hen Harrier campaign 2

LUSH stores spent a week featuring the plight of the Hen Harrier back in August.  I was really impressed when I went into several stores to talk to the staff, starting with Martyn and Joe in Northampton and Amy, Grace, Helena, Hayley and Dave in Peterborough. My office still has the aroma of bath-bombs in it!

LUSH’s customers signed 20,000 postcards to bring the plight of the oft-persecuted Hen Harrier to the attention of Her Majesty the Queen.

In a strange coincidence, the satellite-tagged Montagu’s Harrier, whose disappearance was reported on the One Show on Tuesday evening, not very far from the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, was named after the wife of the owner of Lush, Mo Constantine.

Mark and Mo Constantine are offering a reward of £5000 for information leading to the conviction of anyone for the killing of Mo the Monty.

Paul Morton from LUSH said “I can’t believe that just as we were gathering the last of the postcards from our recent campaign to send to Her Majesty, we get the news that another rare bird of prey, a Montagu’s Harrier, has gone missing near Great Bircham in Norfolk…it never ends! Luckily the bird was satellite tagged as part of a larger research project so the RSPB know exactly where the bird was right up until the last few seconds. Birds of prey are some of the most beautiful of any bird in world, I can’t understand what thrill people get from shooting them”.

LUSH’s Ethics Director, Hilary Jones added “It seems it is not a moment too soon that our customers are asking the Queen to intervene in this madness.  It is time to preserve our wild heritage with the same respect we treat our other institutions. Our once abundant birds of prey are being Harry’d to extinction and we need to act now before it becomes too late”.

LUSH will be handing the 20,000 signatures over to Buckingham Palace in the coming weeks in the hope the Royal Family take note of these atrocities and help put a stop to this slaughter once and for all.

And thank you to LUSH for supporting our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting which is still gathering signatures and recently passed the 17,000 milestone. Please sign here.






Just like a Hen Harrier

Circus_pygargus_(Naumann)A female Montagu’s Harrier looks very similar to a female Hen Harrier. They can be rather difficult to tell apart unless you are familiar with the two species (or one of them very well). Both are brown, the same shape and with a white rump.

Did you see the item on the One Show yesterday about Montagu’s Harriers?  Aren’t they lovely birds?!

Montagu‘s Harriers are being satellite-tagged – as are Hen Harriers – so that we can understand more about their movements and their longevity.  Two British-tagged birds have already moved to West Africa.

Mike Dilger’s report was all about how he hoped that we would  be able to follow the movements of ‘Mo’ as she migrated to Africa and then returned to the UK. However, ‘Mo’ (named after LUSH’s owner’s, Mark Constantine’s, wife) has suddenly disappeared in north Norfolk  – in the area near  Great Bircham (where the windmill is).  Either she was taken by a Red Fox (and the tag taken underground) or the bird may have experienced some calamitous event which stopped the transmitter from working – perhaps like being shot.  We’ll probably never know what happened but it is rather unusual.

Ben Koks of the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation, who fitted the tag, said: “Since 2005 we have tagged 58 Montagu’s harriers, and a sudden loss of signal is exceedingly rare. It is very unusual that an experienced bird like this would abruptly disappear, especially whilst the tag was in the process of sending data, as it had done successfully for the previous few weeks.” And these people know what they are talking about – look at the tags they have on other birds and what fascinating information they are disclosing.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, said: “There are very few possible reasons for Mo’s disappearance, either she was caught by a fox and the tag was immediately taken underground, or she suffered illegal persecution and her tag was deliberately destroyed. With only seven pairs in the UK the loss of a breeding female is a serious setback to this threatened bird of prey.

Mike Dilger said: “It’s a very sad situation. I personally helped to tag Mo: she was a beautiful, healthy harrier and by now she should be zipping through the skies of Senegal. This is a tragic loss of an amazing, and rare bird.

The tag fitted to this bird was sponsored by owner of LUSH Cosmetics, Mark Constantine, who has offered a reward of £5,000 for information on the missing harrier.

The Norfolk Constabulary has launched an investigation into the bird’s disappearance. Anyone with any information about the missing bird is asked to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

For those of you who don’t know north Norfolk, Great Bircham is close to the Sandringham Estate, and quite close to the Holkham Estate too.



Do you tweet? – re-revisited

Photo: Findlay Wilde

Photo: Findlay Wilde

In April 2013 and October 2013 I listed the Twitter followings of a range of wildlife organisations in the UK.  I thought it would be fun to revisit that list now.

Here are the 17 organisations listed with, in brackets; their number of Twitter followers (in thousands), their previous ranking in October 2013’s list and the change in number of Twitter followers.


  1. @national trust  (264; 1st; +39%)
  2. @natures_voice  (120; 2nd; +40%)
  3. @wwf_uk (83; 4th; +131%)
  4. @woodlandtrust  (64; 3rd; +56%)
  5. @wildlifetrusts (40; 6th; +100%)
  6. @Birdlife_news (32; 5th; +39%)
  7. @_BTO_ (31; 7th; +55%)
  8. @savebutterflies (24: 9th; +71%)
  9. @_BCT_ (21; 10th; +62%)
  10. @WWTworldwide (19; 8th; +27%)
  11. @buzz_dont_tweet (18; 12th; +50%)
  12. @markavery (16; 13th; +45%)
  13. @mcsuk (15; 11th; +25%)
  14. @loveplants (13; 15th; +63%)
  15. @worldlandtrust (12; 14th; +9%)
  16. @BASCnews (9: 16th; +50%)
  17. @gameandwildlife (4; 17th; +33%)

The overall rankings may not mean very much – but even if they do , they haven’t changed very much. Everyone is increasing their number of Twitter followers considerably: between 9% and 131% over the period.  Unless you are growing at around 40% per annum then you are falling behind!

It’s like the Red Queen – you have to run quite fast to stand still.  “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

However, those organisations towards the bottom of this list, and those which have fallen a place or two since last October, may well have decided that social media, and Twitter in particular, are not that important for their mission. On the other hand, it certainly looks as though organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts and WWF UK have actively decided to increase their Twitter presence as they have both at least doubled their number of followers.

Many organisations (and individuals) have multiple Twitter accounts (eg for individual nature reserves (eg @RSPBMinsmere) or schemes (eg @Birdtrack)) and so the ‘main’ accounts listed above do not encompass their whole Twitter presence.

Just for interest, here are some other Twitter accounts and their numbers of followers (in thousands):

@katyperry 57,028

@BarackObama 46,573

@BBCnews 3,200

@ClarenceHouse 406

@BrianMay 204

@rspca_official 171

@chrisgpackham 107

@georgemonbiot 102

@tonyjuniper 11

@bobfornature 4

Clearly, number of followers is a poor measure of worth – but it is a measure, a flawed measure no doubt, of popularity.