Henry oop north again.

Weds 27th May Copy

Welcome to Richmondshire? Then why is the sign pepperesd with shotgun pellet wounds?


You be careful Henry. It’s a wildlife crime scene.





Mulling eagles

Yesterday I was on Mull looking for eagles like many other tourists, and today I was reading about tourists going to Mull to look for eagles in the Guardian.

Yesterday we passed two Germans who gave us a big grin and a thumbs up as they looked at a Buzzard. I looked around for an eagle to show them, but since there wasn’t one handy, it seemed right to leave them happy.

With most views, there is no mistaking the fact that you are looking at an eagle, if you are looking at an eagle. If you think you might be looking at an eagle, then it’s probably a Buzzard.

We didn’t find any Golden Eagles but saw two White-tails; a very fine adult and a scruffy immature. Both were flying barn doors of birds. Massive and looking powerful. Seeing them made us all happy. That’s largely what we had come for on our day-trip from Oban.

We would have liked to have seen Marsh Fritillaries and Otters too but it was a bit cold and windy for butterflies, and our Otter sighting was as we drive through Morvern later in the day.

We spent our tourist pounds on Mull, in Oban and with Caledonian MacBraynes and much of that was spent because of those eagles.  Wildlife is a massive asset to this part of the world, bringing in money to restaurants, petrol stations, hotels and just about everyone.

I spent some time mulling on the success of the White-tailed Eagle reintroduction.  This year, I read in today’s Guardian, the population is going to pass 100 pairs. That seems quite successful considering 38 years ago, when I was a student on Rhum, there were no pairs but the first birds were soon to be released.

The RSPB played a part, quite a large part, in that conservation success story  no doubt Ian Botham is preparing a panegyric on the subject – to be followed by others on Stone Curlew, Corncrake, Bittern, Red Kite, preventing loss of wildlife sites, improving agri-environment schemes, influencing wildlife legislation etc etc.  Or maybe his campaign, funded by the British grouse industry, isn’t.

I enjoyed Mull and mulling.




What’s a gin trap?

Tues 26 May Copy

‘What’s a gin trap?’asks Henry? ‘Is it a place where you people drink gin?’

Not exactly Henry. I’d steer clear of them, if I were you! But this is a nice Norfolk pub.





Northern Bald Ibis

This morning’s discussion about the Northern Bald Ibis on the Today programme was a bit pathetic and maybe exemplifies the BBC’s inability to deal accurately and seriously with wildlife stories.

Jim Naughtie couldn’t pronounce ‘ibis’ properly and neither he nor the reporter could manage to say ‘ornithologist’. Hardly the worst crime in the world, even the world of broadcasting, but imagine the shock if they had mispronounced the capital of Burundi or its President.

The story was about the imminent extinction of the species if it is lost from Syria in the fighting that is blighting so many human lives in that region. The most perfunctory search on the internet would show that there are hundreds of Northern Bald Ibis in Morocco (thanks to a recovery project by BirdLife International, including RSPB).

The Northern Bald Ibis isn’t on the brink of extinction, but thinking that it was,  the BBC trotted out its usual undermining question ‘Does it really matter?’

On ‘Bald Ibis Radio’ the question was asked ‘All this violence and people killing each other – does it really matter? After all, people are nowhere near extinction,  there seem to be c7 billion of them.’.

So it all seemed slightly inept – in a way that would embarrass the BBC if the subject were sport, politics or literature – but since this is only the future of a species on the planet then it doesn’t really matter to get the facts right or to treat it seriously.


Henry at Cley

Mon 25 May Copy

Henry chillaxing at Cley.





Beefy loses his line and length

Last week the You Forgot the Birds campaign disclosed that their ‘campaign’ was funded by the British grouse industry.

Today, in the Mail on Sunday (prop P Dacre, grouse moor owner) YFtB is described as a grassroots campaign of farmers and conservationists.

59-year old Ian Botham has been brought back into the bowling attack. He attempts to get a few balls on target but only succeeds in unfairly stripping RSPB Chief Exec Mike Clarke of his doctorate  with a glancing blow to the helmet when Mike was looking the other way.

Botham, the self-styled champion of gamekeepers, appeals to the umpire that the RSPB accused him of killing birds of prey on the BBC last week.  I missed that – I wish I’d heard it – I only heard Martin Harper on Farming Today.

Botham also accuses the RSPB of ‘constantly slurring gamekeepers as criminals’ which seems to me to be rather unfounded – even rather a slur itself, particularly when followed by an apparent attack on the motives of the RSPB who do this as part of their class war and to help raise funds. Sir Ian asks if the RSPB has heard of libel – I suspect they have actually

The danger is, that the RSPB might be content with picking up a few runs from these wides and no balls from Beefy rather than remembering  to despatch the ball to the boundary. The British grouse industry, who fund the Botham campaign, are in the pavilion, having had their second innings and having amassed a feeble score. There is a Test series to be won here. When will RSPB start swinging the bat, delighting the crowd and winning the game?




Sunday book review – The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy

isbn9781444792775-detailNice cover!

This is a book about loss – and about joy, and about wonder, and about hope. There’s a lot about the loss of nature over the last few decades and the author mixes this with memories of personal loss. A love of nature can be a support and strength during one’s life.

And it’s a book about wonder.  The loss of nature matters, at least in part, because we lose the opportunity to have ‘Wow!’ moments where we see things that we couldn’t have imagined and that are so beautiful and are part of our, yes our, world. Our only world.

And it’s a book about hope, because Michael McCarthy offers the hope that if only we loved nature more, and faced up to that love, and acted on that love, then we wouldn’t make such a mess of the world we live in, and it would be a better place.

The author is maybe best at writing about the joy that nature has brought to his life, from the time he was a small boy on Wirral, to his travels as environment editor of the Independent.  He recounts the people he has met and the sights of nature which have given him joy; from the discovery of a small colony of House Sparrows in London to the first sight of a Morpho butterfly in the Amazon, and much else besides.

Mike writes really well and he tells a good tale. I smiled once or twice when I read accounts which I have also heard from the author’s own mouth as we have quaffed claret with others over a good dinner.

But there was plenty that was new to me and I’ll be asking him about the woman with the heart-stopping face and fire-red hair some time soon (for there is more in this book than just nature).

This is a very good read from one of our finest writers about the natural world. I think Mike could write well about anything – certainly anything he cared about. But notice, that he is not, and would not claim to be, an expert on nature. Maybe that’s one reason why he sees the joy more clearly than some of us who ‘know’ more. Perhaps that knowledge compromises how much we can feel for nature. Does the head too often get in the way of the heart? I hope not, but if it does then this book reminds us of the richness of nature from an emotional point of view as well as an intellectual one.

George Osborne should read this book – but he just wouldn’t get it. Or maybe he would – it is very engagingly written.


The Moth Snowstorm: nature and joy by Michael McCarthy is published by John Murray.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will be published by Bloomsbury at the end of July.


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill



Henry occupies yet another butt

imageHenry encourages you to get yourself photographed in a grouse butt.




Henry in Bowland 3


Henry’s ears should have been burning last night because he kept coming up in conversation at the launch of Michael McCarthy’s book, The Moth Snowstorm, in the Linnaean Society in Piccadilly.

This was a gathering of the friends of one of the country’s finest writers about environmental matters and the natural world – it was an evening of friendship and snatched half-conversations.  But Hen Harriers and grouse shooting kept coming up. People asked what was happening on Hen Harrier Day and when there would be another e-petition. They talked about the impacts of the new government on the environmental agenda and they talked about three male Hen Harriers disappearing fromm the Forest of Bowland. They asked why I hadn’t brought Henry along with me.

Hen Harrier Day is coming together well, I gather.  Another Peak District event is being organised, by BAWC this year, for 9 August, and I know that plans are well advanced  – it won’t rain. And plans are also well-advanced for an event celebrating the Hen Harrier in Buxton on the evening of 8 August too.

I will launch another e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting asm soon as the government e-petition websuite wakes up after the general election. On that subject, I was heartened by one through-and-through conservationist who told me that he hadn’t signed the e-petition last time around but after the ‘disappearing males’ incidents in Bowland, where Henry is pictured above, he’d lost patience too. ‘These people are taking the p***. It’s got to be war‘ he said rather dramatically and only half way down his first glass of wine.

The Library of the Linnaean Society, with its high ceiling and dark wood, is a long way from the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire with its heather moorland and tumbling streams, and the pretty bridge over the River Wyre at Abbeystead, but when shots ring out in Bowland they are heard in places like yesterday evening’s gathering and they cannot be ignored.

The Moth Snowstorm will be reviewed here on Sunday.