I missed this one

MarthanewcoverIn the February Birdwatch there was a very kind review of A Message from Martha by Rob Hume, a former colleague if mine in the RSPB whom I haven’t seen for many years.

His [that’s me] strength of feeling comes through on every page, but so does the strength of his arguments‘.

No doubt, that’ll be what the Telegraph and Times say about Inglorious too (not).







Inglorious: conflict in the uplands will be available for Hen Harrier Day (9 August), the Inglorious 12th and thereafter.

Published by Bloomsbury in late July – but you can order it now on World Book Day.




Coming soon – Behind the Binoculars

9781784270506This is my next book, and we (it is a joint production with Keith Betton) have just gone through the proofs.  It should be out in early June despite the publisher’s website saying August!

The book is a series of interviews with birders about how they got into birds, what birds mean to them, and in many cases, their professional involvement in birdwatching, ornithology, writing about birds and bird conservation.

Behind the Binoculars includes interviews with: Chris Packham, the late Phil Hollom, Stuart Winter, Lee Evans, Steve Gantlett, Mark Cocker, Ian Wallace, Andy Clements, Mike Clarke, Debbie Pain, Keith Betton, Roger Riddington, Ian Newton, Steph Tyler, Mark Avery, Stephen Moss, Alan Davies and Ruth Miller, Rebecca Nason and Robert Gillmor (who also provided the lovely cover).

You’ll be surprised at some of the things that our interviewees said, and some of the things that they have done.



Still Fighting

Fighting for Birds smallThis week is World Book Week, apparently, and Thursday is World Book Day, apparently. I guess the other weeks and the other days are World ‘let’s not read a thing’ Weeks and Days.  Still, it lets me remind you of some books, including this one of mine.

I recently had a lovely email from someone senior in British nature conservation who wrote about Fighting for Birds thus:

Brilliant book and can’t think why it took me so long to get around to read it – brim full of sound analysis and reflection, and some great ideas to boot.’

Fighting for Birds had a string of glowing reviews and its first 26 reviews on Amazon were 5-star ones, until it picked up a 3-star review after Christmas.

Fighting for Birds is published by Pelagic.



Same old song


A reader of this blog was shocked, and somewhat horrified, to find this leaflet flutter out of his Farmers Guardian last week. He cancelled his subscription.


This would be an excellent leaflet to give to a mixed group of students – biology students and media studies students – and ask them to analyse it.

They would quickly, perhaps, notice that the Magpie population increase of 100% is over an unspecified time period, and that the Magpie national population seems to have been more or less level for the last 30 years.

They might need a bit of help to realise that one of the most recent studies in this area was funded by Songbird Survival and found precious little evidence of any impact at all of predators on songbird populations.

It’s a rather special-looking Yellow Wagtail though isn’t it? And that Lesser Redpoll has a shifty look about it…

No doubt, regular reader and commenter to this blog, and boss of Songbird Survival, Keith Cowieson, will explain this to us all.





Four weeks to go

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddIn the eight months since I launched an e-petition on the government website to ban driven grouse shooting I have become more and more convinced that it is the right thing to do – and even that it is inevitable.

Standing just short of 21,000 signatures, this e-petition now has four weeks to gather a bit more support. Please tweet it, send it to friends and sign it yourself if you agree with it. Every signature sends a stronger message to the next government to act on this subject.

Since May, the grouse-shooting industry has shown itself to be intransigent and has turned down a generous offer from the RSPB in the Hen Harrier sub-group to adopt brood management once Hen Harrier populations recover from their parlous current state.

Since May, an authoritative study has demonstrated that the management of grouse moors leads to water discolouration (pushing up water bills), increases greenhouse gas emissions, may increase flood risk and results in losses of aquatic invertebrates,

IMG_2604Since May, another authoritative report has rubbished the claims of economic benefits of grouse shooting.

Since May, hundreds of people demonstrated on Hen Harrier Day to publicise the plight of the Hen Harrier – reduced in numbers to fewer than a handful of pairs in England when the science says there should be 330+ pairs according to the available habitat.

Since May, M&S reversed their decision to sell grouse in two of their London stores because they felt unable to speak for its sustainable production.

Since May, the RSPB has called for the licensing of grouse moors in a hardening of its attitude (although licensing won’t  work – but if you think it will then signing this e-petition makes licensing more likely too).

IMG_2638Since May, Ethical Consumer magazine called for a boycott of businesses associated with grouse shooting.

Since May, Lush cosmetics’ customers signed over 20,000 postcards which were delivered to Buckingham Palace in the autumn.

Since May, Sky and Hope went missing.

Since May, Birdwatch, British Wildlife and Nature’s Voice magazines have featured Hen Harriers on their covers – the debate has so grabbed the imagination.

Since May, there has been a Rally for Nature which highlighted the issue of wildlife crime.

Be part of this movement for change - please sign this e-petition calling for the banning of driven grouse shooting now.


Guest blog – Food security by Roderick Leslie

DSCN0186 Roderick LeslieAlthough I worked as a forester I actually studied Agricultural & Forest Science under the great agricultural educationalist Mike Soper. Even back in the 70s I remember the question ‘where does it all end?’ was being asked – the risks of flash-over resistance to antibiotics from pigs to humans as a result of them being fed as routine feed supplements had already been recognised. I’m actually a huge fan of technology – and equally terrified by its misuse.


The NFU are at it again waving the scary ‘Food Security’ flag. And, in the spirit of the times it is ‘over-emphasised environmental rather than production outcomes’ that are to blame. So what’s the real story? Well, when I hear food security mentioned it is starvation that springs to mind, and of course that is what NFU intend. Britain’s self-sufficiency is slipping, we are at the mercy of world markets.

What the ‘food security’ message carefully avoids is that self-sufficiency is only slipping in terms of our super-luxurious diet: most of the grain from the arable prairies of central and eastern England, the heart of NFU’s agri-business support, goes to feed animals to produce meat, not directly to feed people. At best (if you can call a factory chicken shed ‘best’), grain converts to nutritional value in meat at a ratio of 4 to 1 but 6 to 1 is more realistic. The extraordinary reality is that Britain today would be at least 100% self-sufficient under the famous ‘wartime diet’. And before we get too excited about world trade, it’s worth bearing in mind that France next door produces nearly 3 times as much food for roughly the same population size.

Food security is also rather selective: was it mentioned when biofuels looked like the next big opportunity? In the end, thanks amongst others to RSPB, super-inefficient oils seed rape for biofuels only covered 60,000 hectares – but suggest that area for nature and there’d have been an outcry! What about solar panels covering the countryside? Or Defra’s comment that it is ‘opening up record numbers of international markets to export our produce’. But wasn’t this meant to be all about food for us to eat here, in Britain?

And there is the secret, and this is where I do have some sympathy with NFU: volatile international trade under our present no-holds barred (unless you’re a tax-dodging mega-corporation, in which case you’re exempted) capitalism. It is a real threat: dairying in the UK is under immediate danger from a world glut in milk products and the stock-market driven battle between our supermarkets. There is a real and huge issue here but it is nothing to do with already inadequate ‘green’ rules for farming: should our food security really be at the mercy of an increasingly frenetic and irresponsible commodity trading? I don’t think so. I think we need to renew the pact society made with farming in 1947: never again to allow our farming – and food security- to slump into the terrible decline of the 1930s, despite the warnings of WW1. But I believe passionately that it should not be on the basis of increasingly single minded production-only attempts to beat a threatening world market.

There is another way – and we’ve seen it at Hope Farm and through the farming heroes featured on this blog. Actually, I think they are double heroes. Remember that to think about the environment you have to start by being an above average farmer – and many above average farmers will decide to bank the proceeds – but not these guys. They are putting exceptional skills and their own money into the sort of countryside we all want and they deserve our wholehearted gratitude – and political support. And the worst thing of all is just how tiny the percentage of production is that has to be given up to dramatically reverse the decline in farmland birds – nowhere near the generous 10% in RSPB’s Fair to Nature standard, nor the 20% NFU reckons self-sufficiency has fallen by since the 1980s – just imagine what 5% of our farmed area could do not just for birds but for flood prevention, places for people, reduction in diffuse pollution and our still beautiful countryside. Then picture what NFU are asking for: further stripping out what little is left. Surely a stark, and easy, choice.

Photo: adactio via wikimedia commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Food#mediaviewer/File:Sunday_roast_-_roast_beef_1.jpg

Photo: adactio via wikimedia commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Food#mediaviewer/File:Sunday_roast_-_roast_beef_1.jpg


Oscar Dewhurst – Fox

RMSGC 28-10-12_0049-Red-Fox

Oscar writes: this image is one from a project on Foxes a couple of years ago. I stumbled across them by chance more than anything, and over the next few months was able to build up a nice portfolio of images of them as they were very confiding. This was taken fairly early on.

Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR lens

Sunday book review – What Nature does for Britain by Tony Juniper


Is nature beautiful or is it useful? Should we protect nature for its own sake or for our own sakes? Is nature priceless or can it have a value put on it?

The answer to these questions can all be ‘Yes to both’ but we don’t treat the natural world as though we would say ‘yes’ to any of them.  We aren’t acting as though we love and respect nature, and we aren’t acting as though it is of financial value to us; we are acting as though it is pretty much expendable.  In the past we have tended to go down the ‘love and respect’ route and that hasn’t worked too well. Many now propose we should go down the ‘financial value’ route because that might work better.  It might, in particular, work better with finance ministries, business and economists.

My own view is that we need to use both approaches and that the second deserves a bigger shot than it’s had so far, but the chances of HM Treasury being won over very quickly, particularly with Gideon Osborne in charge, are pretty slim.

But this book doesn’t set out to champion one route or the other, it is a well-written primer so that we – maybe including Mr Osborne – can understand better the value of nature to us. And so we hear about the value of peatbogs as carbon sinks and as sponges that moderate water flows and therefore moderate flooding downstream. All of this will be bad news for grouse moor owners who are not only bumping off our Hen Harriers through acts of wildlife crime but also bumping up our house insurance and water bills through mismanagement of the uplands.

That’s just one example, there are many others, and this book covers the ground in an engaging manner that is very accessible. Tony Juniper, the former director of Friends of the Earth (and birder and parrot expert), knows his stuff about the environment and about British wildlife, he knows his stuff about politics and about campaigning, he knows his stuff about climate change and about renewable energy.

And he can write.  It’s not a dry book, it’s a pretty easy read and if you are a regular reader of this blog then you might be surprised by how many topics covered or touched on here are found within the pages of this book.  They include: beavers, wind farms, grouse moors, the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon, Hope Farm, ancient woods, farming, marine protected areas and many more.

I recommend this book to the thoughtful naturalist (despite the two typos on the inside back cover, one of which is a bit embarrassing and is repeated in the text of the book).

What Nature does for Britain by Tony Juniper is published by Profile Books.


Fighting for Birds by Mark Avery is published by Pelagic

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill


What they said about the Natalie Bennett car-crash interviews:

  1. this blog
  2. Natalie Bennett in the Daily Telegraph
  3. Natalie Bennett in the Guardian
  4. Zoe Williams in the Guardian
  5. Daily Mail
  6. The Daily Mirror on car-crash interviews

Cartoonist Ralph Underhill has an exhibition of his work in Aberdeen Central library next week as part of Aberdeen Climate Action group’s Climate Action Week.