Join the online rally for nature

via wikimedia commons

via wikimedia commons

On 9 December, the day before the close of the grouse shooting season, some of us are going to gather together at a rally to ask politicians to do more for nature.

One of the things that I will be asking my MP is ‘What will the Labour Party do, if it forms part of the next government, to end the illegal killing of birds of prey, especially Hen Harriers by grouse moor interests? And what commitments will you make in your electi0n manifesto?’.  Actually, that’s two things isn’t it?  But I do have quite a long list actually.

If you can come along on 9 December that would be great – we’d all love to see you and that includes the RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, The League Against Cruel Sports, Butterfly Conservation, the Ramblers and the Mammal Society. There are still some places left – but not that many.

Many of you won’t be able to attend in person – it’s a working day and it’s in London! – that’s understandable. But you can play your part too – a really big part if enough people get involved.

Please contact your MP, of whatever political party, and tell them that you care about nature and you want them to act.

We’ve made it reasonably easy and there is a standard letter that you can add to or amend if you click here.

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddIf you want to mention Hen Harriers that would be great. if you want to tell your MP that you would like to see driven grouse shooting banned that’s great too! Why not mention the success of the e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting in case they haven’t noticed it. But you may have your own long list just like I do.

Please take five minutes to stand up for nature and use your voice to tell politicians to do more for nature.

Don’t think that someone else will contact your MP so you don’t have to bother – they may be thinking the same! The more emails go to our MPs, highlighting the importance of nature, the better.  If your MP gets half a dozen emails then that will seem like a lot. If your MP gets 20 emails then that will seem like an awful lot. If every MP in the UK got 20 emails they would all be talking about nature a great deal more.  You can send one email to your MP – that’s what you can do. Please do it. Make your voice heard.  And together we can make sure that nature’s needs are heard.


Vote – for your national bird

Robin, sitting pretty at No 1. Photo: Tim Melling

Robin, sitting pretty at No 1. Photo: Tim Melling

We are getting close to the end of the first round of voting in this poll for the National Bird- organised by David Lindo (The Urban Birder).

There have been over 60,000 votes so far – but things are quite tight at the top. You’ve got until the end of the month to influence the vote – the top 6 species at the end of this month will go into a play-off and the winner announced on general election day.

Registered voters will be eligible to be entered into a prize draw to win a week on Shetland courtesy of Shetland Wildlife, a pair of Leica Ultravid binoculars, Bird Watching Magazine subscriptions and Urban Birder Tee-shirts. Also, each voter (past, present and future) will be able to claim a free Bird Watching Magazine download.

I think the Robin is going to romp home – and good for it! But it would be quite a thing if a bird that most normal people have never heard of, now sitting at #14, were to pop into the top 6 for the final round.

Here is the current top 20 – but your vote counts, so vote here:

  1. Robin
  2. Kingfisher
  3. Barn Owl
  4. Blue Tit
  5. Wren
  6. Blackbird
  7. Puffin
  8. Mute Swan
  9. Red Kite
  10. Kestrel
  11. House Sparrow
  12. Peregrine
  13. Goldfinch
  14. Hen Harrier
  15. Tawny Owl
  16. Mallard
  17. Song Thrush
  18. Swallow
  19. Buzzard
  20. Golden Eagle
Kingfisher flies into No 2. Photo: Tim Melling

Kingfisher flies into #2. Photo: Tim Melling


I’ll be at the North West Birdwatching Festival on Saturday


I’ve never been to the North West Birdwatching Festival before and I’m looking forward to it. I’m giving a talk in the middle of the day which will start with Passenger Pigeons and end with Hen Harriers.

But I am also looking forward to seeing a few birds – there will be birds won’t there?

And I am sure to see a few friends too – I am expecting to see Findlay Wilde and family and maybe, if they have arrived, to buy some Christmas cards from him (see below).

I meant to wear my Birders Against Wildlife Crime badge (as pictured above) to the NERF meeting last Sunday, but I forgot. Will I remember this time around? I’ll tell you what – if you buy a copy of A Message from Martha and get me to sign it on Saturday, if I haven’t got the BAWC badge with me then I’ll give you 50p back!

harry card 2c


Rochester and Strood by election

Tomorrow’s Rochester and Strood by election will see a victory for UKIP and an absolute trouncing of the Labour candidate.

That’s a shame (for we Labour party members).

However, this result will signal a wake-up call for all politicians in the UK.

It is pretty tricky for David Cameron and the Conservative party. I’m not sure what it means really, except a rejection of politics as a whole (big factor) and a rejection of moderate Conservatism in particular (small factor).

photoFor Labour I don’t think it is a rejection of Ed Miliband in particular (although I may be wrong there) but a rejection of the fact that Labour doesn’t appear to stand for very much these days.  I rather like Ed Miliband, and I voted for him in the leadership contest (not so many people will admit that these days).  Yes, he is nerdy. No, he isn’t at all wildlife-aware. But I feel that not only is he a thoroughly good person (and no I don’t think beating his brother in a democratic election makes him bad), I also have a feeling he will make a much better Prime Minister than Leader of the Opposition.  I hope I get to find out, and I hope I’m right.

I’m sure that the Labour candidate in Rochester and Strood is a talented and gifted person but she clearly hasn’t won over the voters of Rochester and Strood, and she hasn’t won me over either.

By Noel Reynolds (Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Noel Reynolds (Common Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I contacted Naushabah Khan a while ago to ask for her position on the Lodge Hill development. She was quite quick to get back to me and sent me an email which I will not share with you but I didn’t find it very convincing. I suggested she posted her points on this blog but they have never appeared so you can’t judge them for yourselves.

There has been a persistent rumour that Ms Khan works for a company engaged by Land Securities who are the proposed developers for Lodge Hill. Ms Khan certainly works for Curtin&Co and Land Securities certainly have engaged Curtin&Co to work for them just down the road in Ebbsfleet. Looks a bit like the rumours could be true.

I want to believe in Labour – I’m finding it quite difficult right now (but I will still be delivering leaflets soon for my excellent local MP Andy Sawford who asked an excellent question of David Cameron – see below).

It doesn’t seem very long ago that I was spending a lot of time on the Hoo peninsular fighting the proposal to build an airport there. The Labour MP at the time was the character, the rebel, the thinker, Bob Marshall-Andrews who held onto the seat by the narrowest of margins in the 2005 general election.  He was a character who seemed to stand for things.


From Hansard:

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): Which Prime Minister showed up for the UK in the negotiations at the G20 on climate change—was it the Prime Minister who told the public that he wanted to hug a husky or the Prime Minister who tells his own right-wing Back Benchers that we ought to cut the “green crap”?

The Prime Minister: It was the Prime Minister who introduced the world’s first green investment bank, which is now being admired and potentially copied around the world; it was the Prime Minister who supported and helped to put on the table the legislation that made a big difference in this country and that is delivering cuts in carbon emission; and it was the Prime Minister who has restarted the nuclear programme, by going ahead with Hinkley Point C, after 13 years of a Labour Government who talked and talked about nuclear power but never did anything about it.




Merlin over the moors. Photo: Tim Melling

Merlin over the moors. Photo: Tim Melling

Sunday’s North of England Raptor Forum meeting was excellent.  There’s something considerably comforting about being surrounded by glum northerners with accents.

All the talks were good (even the one I missed by chatting outside, I was told) and it would take the length of the day for me to tell all of you all about all of them.

But here are some highlights:

  1. Alan Charles – Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner – I wish I had one like him where I live. Very enthusiastic and committed about tackling wildlife crime. And it’s clear that that is partly because it was the second most common subject on which he was contacted when being elected.  Did you contact your candidates for Police Commissioner? I know I didn’t, even though I meant to do so. But the same applies to MPs and all public servants.  This is a democracy – your voice counts – if you use it.
  2.  Jon Stewart – National Trust general manager for the Peak District – an excellent restatement of the NT’s High Peak vision which went down very well with the audience. Our only doubt is whether the NT will get on and implement their vision, which I share, quickly or with glacial slowness. Please put your foot on the accelerator.
  3. Trevor Grimshaw (South Peak Raptor Study Group) & Mike Price (Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group) – the gist of the message from these two local raptor workers and their colleagues is ‘White Peak good, Dark Peak bad’ in terms of raptor numbers and raptor persecution. The grouse moors are in the Dark Peak – just a coincidence of course.  There were hopes expressed that things might be slowly getting better but a dose of realism was that all the species for which targets were set under the raptor initiative will almost certainly miss their targets (and no-one even attempted to set targets for Hen Harrier).
  4. Andrew Dixon – this was amazing! I don’t know who this guy is, but he has a Welsh accent and a pile of data from Peregrine Falcons that have been satellite tagged from the Arctic, in Europe and Asia, to their wintering grounds.  Interesting stuff and very well delivered. And good to hear him say that tagging cannot possibly do the birds any good, and may do some harm (which, obviously researchers try to minimise) and that the balance is between the harm to individuals and the alue to the population. This always needs to be stressed. (Click here)
  5. Merlin chicks Photo:Tim Melling

    Merlin chicks Photo:Tim Melling

    Ron Downing – a delightful talk on Merlins in Angus.

  6. Mark Thomas – RSPB Investigations – the story behind tagging Montagu’s Harriers and how some of them disappear in Norfolk under mysterious circumstances.  Learning from the Dutch is often a good idea and that has paid off in this work. I wonder how many Montys get shot each year? Let’s get those satellite tags out there.
  7. David Walker – this talk was fascinating. It was about Golden Eagles but it was about life really. The take home message was that we don’t really know as much about birds as we think we do. Some of the methods and assumptions behind establishing Golden Eagle numbers are a bit dodgy, it seems. And this guy should know – I may buy his book because he grabbed my attention.  I would have loved to have talked to him more about it. I’m sure he knows what he is talking about. What I am not sure about is how much his points affect the value of national Golden Eagle surveys -and there is another one coming up.  It would be good if every survey were accurate – it gave you the right result. But it is more important really, that the surveys are repeatable – they give you comparable results. I’m more interested in whether Golden Eagle numbers are going up or going down, or staying the same, rather than whether there are 423 (or whatever) pairs in the country. It was the end of the day, and his talk was distractingly interesting, so it was difficult to think through which bits of potential error or bias would affect the survey results in each way.

And then we had a chat about life the universe and everything.

It was a really good conference. I don’t live in the north of England and I don’t study raptors. But I loved it. I had some great chats and if we had had more time I would have had many more.  It was well worth the conference fee and the long-ish return journey to Bakewell – I didn’t see any tarts (or puddings) just a bunch of inspiring taciturn northerners.


Bird flu is back

Ankskylt_Järlaladen_i_NackaWho would want to be Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs?  Foot and Mouth, Bird Flu, badgers moving the goalposts, Ash dieback, floods and now more Bird Flu.

The latest outbreak of bird flu in East Yorkshire is of a different strain from those of a few years ago (probably H5N8 rather than H5N1 although test results are awaited).  There are recent cases in the Netherlands and Germany which are of this strain.

I’ve heard on the radio that the most likely means that bird flu got here was through migratory birds.  That is quite possible although I noticed that the Defra statement doesn’t say anything like that so I ‘phoned the Defra Press Office to find out their view.  I was told that they are still investigating every possibility, which doesn’t sound very much like ‘it’s the migratory birds who brought it here’ to me.

Here is the statement made by Liz Truss in the House of Commons yesterday and the questions from Maria Eagle on the subject. David Davis regards his constituency of Haltemprice and Howden in East Yorkshire as being ‘subject to bird migration’ which is an interesting way of looking at it.

I ‘phoned the RSPB too, and their spokesperson told me a couple of interesting things.  First, that the Defra system set up years ago, and which worked well back in the old days, hasn’t worked so well this time. Defra vets told the world about the outbreak, and vets always blame wildlife for every disease (they must be taught this at vet school), long before the expert group on wild birds (involving I think RSPB, BTO, WWT and others). The RSPB first heard about the outbreak from the media and I guess that applied to other experts on wild birds. This isn’t very clever of Defra – they need all the expert help they can get, they’ve always had that help from wildlife NGOs, and that help has prevented them from making complete fools of themselves in the past.  Doesn’t Ian Botham live somewhere not a million miles away – Defra will be consulting him no doubt.

The other thing that the RSPB told me was that the general view of the experts on wild birds was that it seemed unlikely, but not by any means impossible, that wild birds were responsible. You may have seen on the TV that this facility is a duck breeding farm with lots of sheds full of ducks. How does a wild bird force its way into such an establishment? Just flying over isn’t going to transmit the disease. There are no signs, yet, of die-offs of wild birds locally either.

I would just point out that the outbreak at the Bernard Matthews plant in Suffolk in 2007 was blamed on migratory birds for many days before the truth came out that the site had been receiving lorry loads of tons of partly processed turkey meat every week from Hungary (where there had been outbreaks of bird flu).  See Fighting for Birds, pages 234-243, for that story.

No doubt, Defra is looking at what eggs and/or live birds have been imported into this site over the last couple of weeks, their country of origin and any possible links to other sites with outbreaks of disease.

Bird flu is back – and we’ll have to see how many of the lessons of the past have truly been learned by government.



Note: one paragraph has been deleted from this blog post because first, I got it a bit wrong, and then I got it a bit wrong again. So the simplest thing is just to take it out!  Apologies!


Catfield Fen – minded to be sensible


Swallowtail – a Catfield speciality. Photo: Tim Melling

This may be the end of a long story, provided the Environment Agency hold their nerve – you can help them, see below.

I have previously blogged about Catfield Fen on 30 May 2012, 22 August 2012, 10 September 2012, 30 September 2012, 6 August 2013 and 12 May 2014.

It’s all about abstraction licences and whether EA should renew them, or not renew them.  They shouldn’t renew them in this case, because the abstraction may well have affected the Special Area of Conservation which includes Catfield Fen next door.

The good news is that the EA are now ‘minded to’ (I hate that phrase) not renew the licences. Hooray!

The bad news is, in my humble opinion, that they should not have renewed them from 2012-2015 anyway. Boo!

Here are what I think are the relevant bits of garblespeak:


Updated conclusion under Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010

Based on the new information received from NE and the BA (summarised in Annex 1 of Environment Agency, 2014e), the potential for adverse effect on site integrity at The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Broadland Ramsar from the Plumsgate Road and Ludham Road abstractions both alone and in-combination with other abstractions has been re-assessed.

The evidence presented within the addendum to the Appropriate Assessment and supporting technical reports shows that the hydrological functioning of the Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI, as a component part of The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Broadland Ramsar is likely to be maintained when considering the alone impacts from both the Plumsgate Road abstraction and Ludham Road abstraction.

The hydrological functioning of the European conservation sites could however be compromised by the current fully licensed (in-combination) level of abstraction. This is specifically in relation to the predicted water level change at Snipe Marsh.

The Environment Agency cannot conclude beyond reasonable scientific doubt no adverse effect from abstraction licences AN/034/0009/008 Plumsgate Road and AN/034/0009/009 Ludham Road on the Ant Broads and Marshes SSSI – component of The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Broadland Ramsar.


And therefore:

The EA cannot conclude that the abstractions will have no adverse effect on the integrity of The Broads SAC, Broadland SPA and Ramsar, when considered in-combination with other permissions. The recommendation to refuse the applications is based on the Habitats Directive in-combination assessment test and the enshrined ‘precautionary principle’. The EA, as the competent authority assessing the impact of the permissions, cannot be certain there is no impact in-combination on the European designated sites.


This is good.  But in case the EA gets the jitters, we should tell them that it is good by emailing them on this address and saying something like this:


Dear Environment Agency

Catfield Fen abstraction renewals – public consultation.


I have read carefully the information that you have supplied on the EA’s ‘minded to’ decision not to renew the two abstraction licences near Catfield Fen. I very much approve of this change of position from the EA and only regret that you did not make it earlier.

These licences should never have been issued, and certainly should not have been approved for a further period of time, because of the high probability that such extraction is affecting the adjacent nature conservation sites of European importance.  I don’t think that the EA has handled this matter with sufficient rigour or speed but am glad that you have now come to the only sensible conclusion. Please do not dither over this any more.


Yours sincerely


Photo: Tim Melling

Photo: Tim Melling


This time it’s the Storygraph

I spent yesterday at the NERF conference in Derbyshire but a couple of people talked to me about the latest anti-RSPB article. This weekend it was the Sunday Telegraph’s turn (and I got a mention too).

It’s a very mixed-up piece. I’m not sure that the criticism of the relatively new, though not that new!, hide at Titchwell is real evidence of the RSPB losing its way. I think the hide is a bit ugly, a bit over the top, and I wonder when the windows will stop working (and was amused when I was in the said hide recently when two staff had to come round to clean the windows inside and outside (thus scaring a few birds away (but not many interestingly))). But an ugly hide (which was, by the way, partly externally funded I believe) doth not an evil organisation make, in my book anyway.

The piece then moves on down the road to the Lambert case where the writer clearly is on the same side as the RSPB because he states that Lambert got a 10-month suspended sentence whereas it was actually a paltry 10 weeks.  But who expects accuracy in this type of piece?

710px-Henry_Thomas_Alken_-_Grouse_Shooting_-_Google_Art_ProjectAnd speaking of the writer, I didn’t recognise the name William Langley so I thought I’d just Google his name (other search engines are available – though not so good in my opinion). Trying ‘william langley grouse shooting’ was just a shot in the dark really but seems to have hit the target with this article written in praise of the Glorious 12th in 2011.  I think we can see what side of the argument William Langley might be on from that article. If there is any doubt of Langley’s pro-shooting credentials then his article of last year about deer stalking will nail the fact.

By the way, I found that article very interesting and useful as it tells me that our beloved Prime Minister usually heads to Jura for a spot of deer stalking when he isn’t trying to take the Conservative Party to stand alongside UKIP’s politics. How interesting.

It seems as difficult for the Mail and Telegraph to find a shooting-neutral journalist as it is for Theresa May to find someone who isn’t mates with Lord Brittan to chair an enquiry in which he might be asked some questions.

‘Old hands in the birding world’ are bemused that Langley couldn’t find anyone more convincing than someone who earns a living from painting ‘sporting’ pictures (rather good ones I admit) to criticise the RSPB. Rodger McPhail is bemused.

And then the Countryside Alliance and the Game Conservancy are trotted out to criticise the RSPB. Well, we may have started with an irrelevant bird hide but we are on solid shooting ground now aren’t we? It’s so kind of Andrew Gilruth to come clean and criticise the RSPB for losing touch with its members and its mission. Let the mask slip a little there didn’t you Andrew? You’ve been so careful to appear as though GWCT and the RSPB were best mates all summer – sharing the same love of the Hen Harrier, sweating away together in the Defra group to find a way forward with shared enthusiasm and being the very best of friends. Ooops!

avatar2I talked to a long-standing acquaintance of mine, who would certainly rate as a long-standing friend of the RSPB, yesterday at the NERF conference.  She wasn’t the least bit bothered about a bit of Botham botheration. She had actually bought the Telegraph, as I suspect she does every Sunday, and I pointed her towards Langley’s piece and she wasn’t bothered about that either. She was more bothered about the RSPB going down market to the Vote for Bob people (which I really don’t mind at all – isn’t it funny?) and the name change of the magazine, especially to such a naff name, still rankles with her. An attack on the RSPB from a bunch of shooters who can’t even disguise where they are coming from, really doesn’t register with her except to make her jump to the RSPB’s defence when she was feeling a bit narked with them. Well done Beefy! Well done Langley! Well done GWCT! It takes a great knack to build up your enemy’s defences by attacking them. But you have done it!

And the other thing you have done is to show that you are the enemy. Shooting is gunning for the RSPB. ‘We’re all on the same side really’ has never sounded so thin and unconvincing – thanks to you all for the clarification.

And, by the way, the Conservation Director of the RSPB is called Martin Harper, not Mark Harper. It’s so difficult, it seems, to get the facts right. Even the simple ones, let alone the complicated ones.




Yesterday I NERFed at the North of England Raptor Forum in Bakewell (whence come the tarts, or maybe puddings).

I’ll tell you more about this excellent event later but the first, and, in a way, best, talk of the conference was that of Alan Fielding on the update of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework.

We should expect nothing much to change it seems. The overall estimates for potential population levels will fall, perhaps by quite a lot, but the population levels in the real world are so low that this won’t make much difference to how the conservation status of the Hen Harrier will be seen.  You might say, I wouldn’t, that there are still Llareggub Hen Harriers however many are predicted (in a very Dylan Thomas type of way).

Weather is important, overgrazing by sheep is important and forest restocks are important – it seems.  Things are changing all the time except that the role of illegal persecution, wildlife crime, is still as important as ever.  Plus ca change… etc etc

There may be too many sheep in Wales, except in SPAs, for there to be many more Hen Harriers, but there are too many grouse shooters in England for there to be many Hen Harriers. Personally, I prefer the sheep.

Photo: George Gastin via wikimedia commons

Photo: George Gastin via wikimedia commons




Oscar Dewhurst – Bittern


Oscar writes: While I was in Suffolk I wanted to photograph a Bittern against a backdrop of reed heads in nice light. On my third morning I was waiting for a female to pass by me on one of her feeding flights. I’d been standing there since dawn, and it was only an hour before she came past on her way to feed her young.

Nikon D800, Nikon 600mm f4 AFS-II lens, Nikon 1.4c TC