I’ve had a reasonable, in an unreasonable sort of way, amount of abuse over my position that we should ban driven grouse shooting. Most of it is anonymous, most of it on Twitter, and almost all of it from people who have a tiny Twitter following. This reassures me that the people who don’t like me are mostly too scared and ashamed to admit who they are and don’t have many friends.
But here is a translation of some of the things that are printable and said about the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting:
Mark Avery is:
divisive – ‘I don’t agree with him, and I’m going to keep saying so’
an academic – ‘we don’t trust clever people’ [but I'm not an academic]
a townie – ‘if you haven’t killed something in the countryside today then you don’t have a right to comment on what happens there even though you are paying for it through your taxes’
divisive – ‘I’m never going to agree with Mark Avery so he’ll have to agree with me – it’s the only way’
adversarial – ‘he doesn’t look like he will give in before I do’
divisive – ‘he does seem to be able to find a lot of people who agree with him so we had better pretend that he can’t’
an anti – ‘I’m going to ignore the fact that he is campaigning about one sort of shooting, even one type of grouse shooting, and pretend he is against all fieldsports of all types, everywhere and always, because it is much easier for me than to address the issues’
unemployed – ‘freelance’
rich – ‘not rich’
employed by people to carry out this campaign – ‘not employed by anyone – we all need a hobby’
naive – ‘doesn’t agree with me’
vegetarian – ‘someone who has been vegetarian four days a week for several years’
And yet, the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting keeps growing - please sign here.
This book has had mostly good reviews, and some very good reviews, and a couple of stinkers. Obviously, as an author one tries to believe the good reviews and tries to dismiss the bad ones, but the bad ones tend to stick in one’s mind – or is that just me?
This review is a very good review, so I’ll try to believe it!
Here are some extracts:
‘This absorbing book is an engaging and wistful, yet measured, chronicle about the tragic loss of one very special, iconic, species, the passenger pigeon.‘
‘Avery sets out on a quirky and often amusing five-week road trip — a quest if you prefer — around the eastern portion of the United States where he visits the precise locations where passenger pigeons were reported more than one hundred years ago. He finds the flight paths followed, their roosts and of course, recorded nesting locations. Although this sounds like a daft idea, it’s appealing. It instills a sense of propinquity, of place. And it works. Along the way, Dr Avery shows that the extinction of the passenger pigeon was just one of many casualties resulting from a suite of social and economic changes occurring in the United States at the time; geographic and population growth, wars, the abolition of slavery and the wanton destruction of natural resources on a massive scale. Altogether, it’s an interesting and expansive look at the history of the region, the first history of the US that I’ve read that bothers to include ecology.’
‘…you might wonder how three books about the passenger pigeon could possibly have been published this year — and, iconic or not, what more could possibly be said about an extinct species one hundred years on? Yet each book brings something new to the table. But my favourite of this trio of passenger pigeon books is Mark Avery’s A Message from Martha: The Extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and its Relevance Today [Bloomsbury Natural History, 2014; Guardian bookshop; Amazon UK hardcover/paperback; Amazon US hardcover/kindle US].’
Book reviews are personal things. There is no reviewer who can tell you whether you will like or hate a book, only whether they did, and something about its style and content that will either whet your appetite or get you wrinkling up your nose. I know which of the three of this year’s books about Passenger Pigeons I like best – it’s mine! And it would be odd if it were otherwise – it would mean that I ought to have written a different book.
So when a reviewer says they like a book of mine I imagine that they are a person with whom I would get on, and whose company I would enjoy, because we seem to be on the same wavelength. And if a reviewer doesn’t like a book of mine then, honestly, I tend to shrug my shoulders and put it behind me as much as one can (but it does tend to gnaw away a little in the back of one’s head).
Click here to buy.
Most of it is a series of e-mails trying to fix dates for meetings but there are just a few interesting bits too.
The information will also be published on www.govuk – good luck to you if you can find it.
You’ll remember that the GWCT ‘launched’ an e-petition to muddy the waters on the subject of driven grouse shooting at the Game Fair back in July. They wanted Defra to publish the agreed plan straight away and claimed that it could have been published in January this year.
How strange then, that as late as 7 September the GWCT’s Chief Executive, Teresa Dent, was not asking Defra to publish the agreed plan but asking for ‘the latest version’ so that she could ‘make sure’ she was ‘working from the right version’. Hardly the description of a document that is ready for publication. GWCT were just playing silly games with their e-petition.
Just in case you have any doubt about this (and, surely, you cannot) then the letter I received from Defra explains that:
‘We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosure of the draft minutes of the sub-group meeting held on 24 March 2014, the draft Joint Action Plan and the draft narrative as this would provide transparency in the process of workings of the sub-group. On the other hand, there is a strong public interest in withholding the information because these documents are working documents and therefore still subject to change, through discussion and agreement with all sub-group members. It is important that the sub-group members have time for further discussion on each of these draft documents to agree an appropriate way forward on a recovery plan to restore hen harrier populations in England and the messages they wish to convey. Therefore, we have concluded that the information currently in draft should be withheld. The minutes of the 24 March meeting will be signed off by the sub-group during its next meeting on 4 November. Please note that any subsequent request for information would be considered afresh.‘
I wouldn’t complain about that, but it is interesting that the minutes of a meeting of 24 March are not even agreed. And the non-joint non-plan is still (as of 28 October) ‘subject to change’. This confirms that the draft Joint Action Plan is still a working document – or a non-joint non-plan as I have always described it.
However, in the same correspondence released to me by Defra, the Moorland Association describes the GWCT e-petition on the Government website as ‘An HM Government e-petition’ (e-mail from Amanda Anderson to Elaine Kendall of Defra dated 4 August) which also exhorts Moorland Association members to ‘Sign the HM Government e-Petition’. Despite all these tricks with words, the e-petition for the non-joint non-plan has been a terrible flop.
Here’s an e-petition that is what it says it is – a request to the next government to ban driven grouse shooting.
The continuing decline of farmland birds in our countryside (red line) is a clear sign that we are farming unsustainably (there are plenty of other signs – but this is a pretty good one). Yes 2012-13 was a pretty bad period for resident birds (and we are mostly talking residents here) but hardly one out of the range of many previous years. maybe we will see an increase in next year’s figures – but then, we always hope that and the overall trend is solidly down.
The graph is at its lowest point since 1970 – but then, it often has been (particularly if you take the smoothed curve in the graph above (which I never do – as it adds nothing to the data)). That line has been going down under all administrations and in times of economic success and hardship. And yet we know that it needn’t do so as the same graph (over a shorter period) for the RSPB’s Hope Farm looks like this:
What the publication of last year’s BBS data does to the graph just above is add another point to the blue All-England line (a point a bit lower than all the others).
So it’s not a law of nature that wildlife must decline on farms – it’s just that not enough farmers are doing the things that would make the graph go up.
It wouldn’t be so bad, but it would be almost as bad, if you and I weren’t pouring millions, in fact hundreds of millions, of pounds into farming that are supposed to stop the graph going down and put it on an upward path. we are paying for this failure not only in a less beautiful countryside but also through our pockets.
Imagine that the red line in the top graph were a measure of educational achievement, or of health levels in the population – wouldn’t we all be moaning like hell? So should we be that Defra cannot produce enough graphs like Hope Farm’s a cross the country so that the farmland bird index rises.
So Ms Truss – what’s your plan?
I had a response (yesterday evening) from Defra to my request for information on the Hen Harrier Sub-group.
Most of it is a series of e-mails trying to fix dates for meetings but there are just a few interesting bits too.
The information will also be published on www.govuk – good luck to you if you can find it.
These were some thoughts from the ‘Protected Landscapes’ (PL – which I take to mean National Parks and AONBs) representatives which were forwarded to all members of the group by Defra on 9 April 2014. They are interesting in setting out where National Parks had reached in their thinking.
Action 1: Monitoring of populations in England and UK
PLs support the continuation of monitoring of numbers in England, and the satellite tagging and tracking by NE and RSPB. Pls would also welcome data sharing that will enable them to contribute more to the co-ordinated monitoring of populations and protection of important Hen Harrier habitat.
Action 2: Diversionary Feeding
PLs welcome the research that is currently being undertaken and, where appropriate, will look to work with other organisations and landowners to implement the research findings when breeding attempts occur in PLs and where this is felt to be a requirement for successful breeding.
Action 3: Work with Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group CRPPDGl to analyse monitoring information and build intelligence picture
PLs welcome the collation of raptor persecution data, and where appropriate, support work with other organisations and landowners to implement the advice on the most effective enforcement and deterrent measures, including involvement in publicity and raising awareness – with local agreement between partners. We would wish to see longer term surety for the NWCU and further prioritising of the Hen Harrier in its work.
Action 4: Nest and winter roost protection
Where appropriate and locally agreed, PLs will work with statutory agencies, NGOs & landowners to provide a co-ordinated approach to nest and winter roost monitoring.
Action 5: Lowland Reintroduction
PLs welcome any conservation measures that will improve the conservation status of Hen Harriers in England. However, the action plan needs to ensure that any measures undertaken in the lowlands of southern England do not detract from the prioritisation of funding and focus in the uplands. The objective of re-establishing breeding Hen Harriers populations in the uplands of the north of England must be the priority for any available funding ahead of any introduction programme. The objective of re-establishing breeding Hen Harriers populations in the uplands of the north of England, including the protected landscapes is critical.
Action 6: Trial Brood Management Scheme
PLs agree with the principle of brood management but only as part of an integrated strategy, that includes the use of other measures such as diversionary feeding, for the conservation of Hen Harriers. The scheme would only be supported once numbers have increased to pre-agreed minimum thresholds that are appropriate for the conservation of Hen Harriers, and without significantly restricting the breeding range across northern England.
From RSPB (name withheld) to Chris de Grouchy, Defra on 21 May 2014.
Following your chat with [name blanked out] last week, we’ve now had chance to discuss your suggestions for the Hen Harrier Action Plan (HHAP). We think your thoughts and ideas could lead to the genuine recovery of the hen harrier population in England and are keen to explore them further. Here are some comments on taking this to the next stage:
1. A crackdown on persecution
In 2007-08, Operation Yatta (based within the National Wildlife Crime Unit) focused on utilising seconded Detectives to target wildlife crime enforcement efforts towards the serious and organised element of bird of prey persecution. As part of the HHAP, our ‘red line’ is that we want to see a number of Detective-level Wildlife Crime Officers in persecution ‘hotspot’ areas and a Coordinator to work on raptor persecution. We would be prepared to consider part-funding of this activity and we know such a scheme will be costly.
2. A two-tier approach to the Brood Management Scheme (i.e. within SPAs, the hen harrier population target is the SPA designation level, and the BMS can only apply after it is reached. Outside, the BMS could begin earlier with a presumption that this is still triggered by reaching a threshold and that diversionary feeding is in place first)
As you know, we accept that a brood management scheme could be included in the HHAP and merits experimental investigation in England in the future, but only once hen harrier numbers have recovered to a pre-agreed level nationally and less interventionist approaches, particularly diversionary feeding, have been widely attempted. This is our ‘red line’. We would like to see further details of a two-tier approach, given that it gives us confidence our red line would not be crossed, but we urge you to consider legal scrutiny of the new proposals. Once we see firmer proposals, we can offer our legal analysis but we would suggest, in particular, early consideration of a) Section 16 WCA licensing implications and b) the possible adverse effects of brood management on SPAs and whether the derogation tests can be met.
Mark had prepared a list of ’10 things we can all do to become activists’, and it had some inspiring sentences written into it. Perhaps not ‘Ask not what your country can do for you‘ inspiring, but practical, sensible, achievable suggestions that resonated with at least one member of the audience (me). He didn’t actually say, ‘Develop a campaign group that will consume your every waking hour as you start to appreciate just how little you know’, but the seed was planted.
So when one rain-lashed crow-black evening I could still hear guns pummeling the local Wood Pigeons and wondered how they could possibly be certain they weren’t shooting Stock Doves and what the law might have to say about that, Mark’s words came back to me.
I had a thought that if I and close colleagues didn’t know the law, probably many other birders/countryside users wouldn’t know it either. And we should, because laws are there to protect our wildlife and to stop criminals from harming it.
A few (long) phone-calls and much writing/deleting/rewriting later, a new team and a new campaign group was born.
Yes, if you’re one of those people that don’t like Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) you can add that to your very own list of ’10 things that p*ss me off about Mark Avery’…
Having said that, what’s not to like about BAWC (or the genial grand-provocateur Mark Avery come to that)? We’re really a rather nice bunch. Passionate, committed, just doing what we can to raise awareness of the illegal persecution and unlawful coursing, trapping, shooting, and destruction of protected wildlife.
Which is a good thing, right?
Though I guess if committing wildlife crime is your bag, and you’d rather a poorly-informed British public remains in the dark when it comes to Recognising, Recording, or Reporting wildlife crime, then we might be – how can I put this, an irritant perhaps. If you’re someone with a vested interest in keeping Hen Harrier numbers in England artificially (and criminally) low you may not like us for initiating Hen Harrier Day (and I suppose especially dislike Mark for taking the idea into the heart of the moorlands). Perhaps if you’re someone who doesn’t want us to set up and run our ‘Eyes in the Field’ wildlife crime conferences (the first is in March next year) where we aim to really inspire people to get involved with tackling wildlife crime then there’d be a reason to want to stuff us down a fox hole or to hope we’ll just disappear into thin air like harriers and their satellite-tags.
The truth is that wildlife crime is a festering sore. It reeks of disrespect and a lack of imagination. It’s a primitive response to modern problems, and its stench has been tolerated for far too long.
Like any severe infection it won’t be beaten with kind words and a spoonful of sugar. It needs to be attacked hard, and we can all be a part of the cure. We public don’t even need much in the way of specialist training. BAWC is already building an information hub to help. Many of us are out in the field anyway; we have the optics; we have camera phones; we have nothing to fear because the law is on our side.
At this point perhaps I should ask you to join BAWC.
While we do have a Donate page if you feel like supporting us, we don’t have members so there’s no pitch coming. Everything on our website is free to access and always will be. You can subscribe to a monthly newsletter if you’d like to, but that won’t cost you anything either. And if you do follow us we won’t bleat about how unfair things are and ask you to pay us because we’re the only people who really ‘gets’ the ways of the countryside. And we certainly won’t be trying to convince you that it’s the ‘Sparrowhawk what done it guv‘ or that killing things is the only conservation worth funding.
No, we’ll just try and help us all to tackle wildlife crime. Doing what we can to support charity investigation officers and the police. Meeting people, developing partnerships and initiatives like the one that has led to the recently-launched ‘Wildlife Crime Aware‘. Oh, and coming up with Star Trek-based t-shirt slogans like, ‘We are BAWC, resistance is futile‘. Because we wouldn’t want anyone to think that BAWC doesn’t have a playful side.
Anyone except – well, you know who you are. And where you’re concerned we are never anything but serious.
Natural England has just published some of its data (that I believe we paid for – as taxpayers) on satellite-tagged Hen Harriers. This is to be welcomed as what can possibly be gained by keeping secret data that in some cases are seven years old?
It’s not exactly data of the quality of those published by the RSPB a little while ago – but it’s a good start.
In 2014, nine Hen Harrier chicks were tagged in England and only three are still known to be alive. Two have died from what are thought to be natural causes and the remaining four have disappeared. Two of these, Sky and Hope, we have known a little about for a while because the RSPB told us about them. The other two missing birds (one from Langholm and the other from ‘somewhere in northern England’) disappeared on 1 September and 21 September – both in the Yorkshire Dales.
There are plenty of wise caveats about what the disappearance of these birds from the airwaves might mean – these are well worth reading.
Also, and these will repay careful examination, NE has published some information about the length of time that the satellite tags continued to transmit and the status of the birds. They don’t seem to last long do they?
I’ll be having a careful look at these data over the next few days and pondering over them.
I am a professor of Zoology at the University of Sheffield and a life-longer birder. I study reproduction – mainly infidelity in birds – and have kept a study of guillemots on Skomer Island going since the 1970s. I’m passionate about research and teaching undergraduates; I also enjoy communicating science to the public and have written a number of popular science books including The Wisdom of Birds (2008) and Bird Sense (2012). Together with three colleagues I founded New Networks for Nature in 2009, which runs an annual festival to celebrate the way nature inspires creativity among scientists, musicians, writers, poets and artists. I am married with three children and a dog.
It is almost a dirty word, but it needs to be done. Without monitoring we don’t know whether what we are trying to conserve is increasing, decreasing or stable. In many quarters, monitoring is held in such low esteem it is farmed out to poorly qualified personnel. Yet, this, the most fundamental feature of conservation.
Forty years ago there was concern about the UK’s seabird populations. Numbers were declining. Old photographs showed cliff tops covered in puffins where they no longer were, but there were no standardised census methods so it was difficult to assess the scale of a decline. What was known was that huge numbers of seabirds died in oiling incidents like the Torrey Canyon (1967); or in the more mysterious Irish Seabird Wreck (1969) which killed thousands of guillemots.
When I started my PhD on guillemots in 1973 we had virtually no idea how to count them or what the numbers meant if we could. We also had no idea how to measure breeding success or the timing of breeding. The first part of my PhD research was to rectify this, and fortunately it wasn’t too difficult. We now know that for every 100 guillemots on a cliff there is about 67 pairs; we also know the best time of day and of the breeding season to make counts.
We also know that there is more to monitoring than numbers. Measuring annual adult survival, by marking birds individually with colour rings and recording the proportion that return year on year, is a vital statistic of how the population is doing. It is a notch above counting individuals, because seabirds often behave in slightly mysterious ways. A repeated pattern following oiling incidents or wrecks in which we know from the body counts that huge numbers of birds have died, is that counts at the colony the following season show no decline or sometimes even an increase. How can that be? The answer is that the huge pool of non-breeding individuals, which for guillemots can be anywhere between 1 and 10 years of age – respond to that additional adult mortality by changing their behavior – and presumably spending more time at the colony.
For the last forty years my colleagues and I have monitored guillemots on Skomer Island, Wales, one of southern Britain’s most important seabird colonies. Our monitoring has allowed us to follow the guillemot’s fortunes. My aims have been: (i) to understand how the population works: it has taken forty years but we know that now, and (ii) to continue to monitor the population so that if there is an environmental disaster, such a huge oil spill we are in the best possible position to know what its effects are.
Since the late 1980s guillemot monitoring on Skomer has been funded, modestly, but adequately at £12K pa by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW). Sadly in 2013 that body was consumed by a new quango, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) who promptly terminated this funding. Their timing couldn’t have been worse for it coincided with one of the worst environmental seabird disasters for many years: a huge ‘wreck’ of 40,000 birds including many from Skomer. Ferocious and persistent storms – part of climate change – disrupted feeding and many birds starved to death.
I asked NRW to reconsider their decision. I organized a conference to demonstrate the value and necessity of robust monitoring, but NRW remained unmoved. Worse in way, they excused themselves by claiming that adequate monitoring of guillemots is already in place on Skomer. But in my opinion having seen it at first hand, this is rather like a faith-healer for guillemots, compared to the complete body scan they’ve thrown out.
Continuing the long-term study – the proper monitoring of guillemots on Skomer – is not about me, although of course I’d deeply committed to it. Rather, it is about a moral responsibility – surely the Welsh government’s responsibilty.
Monitoring is a not a tick-box exercise that than be performed by untrained and unsupervised volunteers or minimum-wage staff. If you really want to know how a population is performing you need to be confident about both the methodology and the results, otherwise it is a complete waste of everyone’s time.
With no official funding, I’m seeking unofficial support through crowdfunding, and the response so far has taken my breath away. If you feel like supporting this work you help will be greatly appreciated:
You might also consider reminding the Welsh Natural resources minister of his responsibilities. He is Carl Sargeant and he can be contacted by email: email@example.com
70 High Street Connahs Quay Flintshire CH5 4DD. Phone: 01244 823547. Fax: 01244 823547
This blog is not about birds, nature conservation, politics or any of the usual subjects.
The lady picture above died 96 years ago today and was named Lucy Jane Saint. She was my mum’s aunt – although she died eight years before my mother was born.
My Great Aunt, known to her family as ‘Jinny’, was born at Pontypool, on 18 August 1895, a daughter of Samuel and Lucy Saint of 4 Club Row, Tranch, Pontypool. She was a former pupil of George Street Council School, Pontypool (as was my mother years later).
The 1911 Census refers to her father Samuel, being a ‘Colliery Timberman below ground’ and her mother, also named Lucy (who I do remember as she lived into her 90s and stayed with us at times when I was a child), was aged 38. Other family members listed were, sons, Alonzo (my mother’s father, my grandfather – how did a miner get a name like that?), Reginald Henry, Samuel Rowland and daughters Kate Allwyn and Irene May (both of whom were Great Aunts I do remember).
Lucy enlisted in the army in 1917 at Bristol (where years later my mother and father met and where I grew up) on 1 October 1917 and was posted to Christchurch, attached to the 5th Reserve Battalion, Royal Engineers.
Lucy, aged 23, served as Assistant Waitress 5558 in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps during the First World War.
She was taken ill with influenza on 14 October 1918 and was admitted to The Royal Victoria Hospital, Boscombe where she died of pneumonia on 27th October. Her mother and other relations were at her bedside.
She was buried at Llanfihangel Pontymoel (St. Michael) Churchyard and that is where we headed this morning for a short memorial service and when my mother and a current pupil of George Street School placed a cross on the grave.
Lucy, having died ‘in Service’ during WW1 would have been entitled to her Grave being marked by a Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s formal Headstone; however, it appears her parents choose a ‘Family Memorial’ but the grave is still listed as a War Grave and is visited by the CWGC for maintenance and record purposes.
‘Lucy’s Grave lies in an area of the Churchyard that has proved difficult, with the limited resources we have, for us to maintain as we would like’ said Reverend Nicholas Taylor, Associate Priest ‘However, we are delighted that the CWGC have recently visited and created a pathway, through the overgrowth, to her memorial and we hope to enlist the support of community groups to keep it maintained in that way’.
The Mayor of Torfaen, Cllr. Amanda Owen, Torfaen’s MP Paul Murphy and veterans from the Royal Welsh Regimental Association, Torfaen Veterans Association along with Cwmbran and District Ex-Service Association attended a short graveside service conducted by the Rev Nicholas Taylor. The Last Post and Reveille were played.
‘They shall not grow old , as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.’
I’m grateful to all involved for this touching service which meant a lot to my mother (and, because of that, to me).