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.





Too late to be rescued this parliament

130px-Traffic_lights_red.svg130px-Traffic_lights_red.svgThe report of the highly-respected Environmental Audit Committee dishes out Red and Amber cards to this government over its environmental record. It is now largely too late to rescue its reputation before we vote in May.

Far from what David Cameron claimed, it is clear that this is the ‘Red-and-Amber-most’ government ever!

See for yourself here.


Birds and climate change in the USA

J. Hansen, R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, NASA - NASA, via wikimedia commons

J. Hansen, R. Ruedy, M. Sato, and K. Lo, NASA – NASA, via wikimedia commons

This Sunday will see a series of marches and rallies around the world to highlight the impacts of climate change ahead of a meeting of world ‘leaders’ in New York.  I’ll be at the march in London on Sunday so maybe we’ll meet there?

Last week National Audubon published an analysis of the potential fate of North American bird species in response to climate change.  This appears to be the equivalent, in a way, of the climate change atlas for birds for Europe.

The headline figure – that nearly half of North American bird species could suffer from climate change – is just what we’d expect.  If birds, and other wildlife, are to survive rapid changes in climate they will have to be able to move across the landscape and then find the right habitats in new areas of the continent.

We can expect birds to be quite good at shifting their ranges but time will tell whether they will adapt or not, but the big question is ‘will there be enough suitable habitat for species to shift their ranges successfully?’.

Photo: P199 via wikimedia commons.

Photo: P199 via wikimedia commons.

Because US states all have their own state birds it’s interesting to see that some states may be vacated by ‘their’ birds as they respond to climate change. Maryland may lose its Baltimore Orioles as they’ll be much more like Montreal Orioles by then. Minnesota will see its state bird, the Great Northern Diver (to us, Common Loon to them) much more frequently as a winter visitor but lose it as a breeding species.

And the national bird of the US, the Bald Eagle, may lose large chunks of its current range too (although the current range map was not too convincing for this species) although its overall range could well expand – but mostly in Canada not the US.

Just as in Europe, it’s a bit of a leap of faith to believe these new projected ranges. I’d like to hear more from US birders about how many of these changes that are predicted already look as though they might be happening.  Here in Europe the successful breeding of two pairs of Bee-eaters on the Isle of Wight this year is just the type of thing we would expect from their projected range in 2080 under projected climate scenarios. And the loss of Willow Tits from southern England also seems to fit quite well. But that’s hardly a proper analysis and there is always the danger of confirmation bias.

The models won’t be perfect models and even if they are then we have to wait quite a while to find out that they are right!  But the potential changes in the ranges of a large proportion of European and North American birds are of enormous magnitude.  Birdwatching will be so different in 2080 if these projections are correct. And they represent, through climate change alone, much bigger changes than we have experienced in the last 65 since 1950.

In my lifetime as a birder the main changes I have seen have been increases in numbers of some species thanks to the efforts of nature conservationists and wise legal protection of species and sites, and losses due to intensive resource exploitation of farming, fisheries and forestry.  Will the future be dominated by changes caused by climate change, or will our unsustainable land use still be the major factor causing losses of populations and range? Well, it does rather depend on whether world ‘leaders’ do any leading or not – that’s why I’ll be marching on Sunday.

Piccadilly_"The_Wave" ‎ via wikimedia commons

Piccadilly_”The_Wave” ‎ via wikimedia commons



Thank you BNSS

Photo: Ian Julian

Photo: Ian Julian

I’d just like to thank the Bournemouth Natural Science Society for being lovely to me. First, they were the first organisation who invited me to talk about Passenger Pigeons. Then they were understanding and allowed me to switch dates so that I could attend the Green Party Conference. Then they were understanding when I arrived 15 minutes late for my talk after a dreadful car journey. Then they laughed at my jokes, then they gave me a cake. And they bought several copies of A Message from Martha. And then they gave me tea and cakes in a room full of stuffed birds before I set off, on a far easier journey, home again.

They seemed a very well-informed bunch and asked lots of good questions.

Different groups give you very different welcomes and receptions as a guest speaker. If you are ever asked to speak to the BNSS then I would accept with alacrity.

Here is my speaking schedule.



More thoughts on a future BBS

I’m heading up to Scotland tomorrow to give a talk in Edinburgh, and I’ll be scurrying home on Wednesday before the independence vote on Thursday.

I’m an Englishman born of an English father and Welsh mother but I had my first job in nature conservation in Scotland (before university), met my wife in Scotland, changed the course of my university studies after doing fieldwork in Scotland in my first university vacation, have a PhD from a Scottish university (Aberdeen), joined the RSPB staff in 1986 to study moorland issues in Scotland and regard the closure of the Shetland sandeel fishery as one of my (shared) greatest ‘wins’ in nature conservation.  So I am not Scottish but not disinterested in the result of Thursday’s vote.

I’m pretty sure it will be a ‘No’ vote but that is on the basis of the betting. Betfair have the odds at 1.26 on a ‘No’ vote as I write this post – and that means that the current market opinion is that out of every 5 goes at this referendum it will be a ‘No’ four out of five times.  Since this view has been established by people risking their money, and it’s quite a lot of money overall, then it isn’t like an opinion poll where you can lie without consequences. Although, obviously, there is no ‘form’ on this particular issue, the betting odds prove over and over again to be reliable indicators of what will happen. We’ll see, very soon. I would be surprised by a ‘Yes’ vote, but not completely amazed.

I care about the result of the referendum because I care about quite a lot of people in Scotland (many of whom are also Scottish); family and friends alike.But I also care because the result will deeply affect how I, an Englishman, feel about my country and my future. And by ‘my’ country I mean, at different times, the UK (which surely will need a different name if there is a ‘Yes’ vote) and England. Because that is what it means to be part of a united kingdom – I can rightly feel English sometimes and British (or UK-ish) at other times (and yes, it would probably help if we English realised which were the right times for each more often than we do).

I completely understand why I have no say in this vote but I can’t help feeling a bit miffed that I have no say at all in something that has enormous implications for me. I can’t think how any government could give me a say, but it still feels very uncomfortable knowing that my country may be changed fundamentally without me having a voice in the decision.

If I put myself in the place of a Scottish voter then I know I would be tempted by change. I would be attracted to the possibility of living without right-wing politics for the foreseeable future and I would be attracted to independence. I know that every time I heard someone telling me not to vote for independence it would make me think , just a little, that I’d give it a go. It would be a little like the temptation to touch something as a child when you are told not to…or was that just me?!  But I don’t get a vote so I’ll just have to wait and see.

When I wrote last week about some of the results of the BBS in different UK countries several people opined (in various ways and places) that they hoped that the BBS would carry on unaltered after a ‘Yes’ vote. Well, it probably would for a while but I can’t see that it would exist in its current form in 20 years’ time as new generations of politicians, civil servants and NGO staff grew into power with less memory of the UK than the current generation.  Independence for Scotland does feel a bit like a divorce (and divorce is sometimes the best option for one or both partners) but it doesn’t leave everything the same (obviously!) – in fact it rarely leaves anything the same.  This would be true about something as tiny in importance as the BBS and its reporting.

An independent Scotland, and an independent WINE (Wales, Ireland (North) and England), would inevitably grow apart. They would have different priorities for nature conservation, different spending priorities, different timetables for decision-making and a whole host of other different differences.  We saw plenty of signs of it as devolution came into effect and the implications would be all the greater under independence.

Take the BBS cover – it has the logos of three organisations on it: BTO, JNCC and the RSPB. None would be unaffected by independence. My prediction is that JNCC would soon cease to exist, the RSPB would have to split (as a land-owning and campaigning organisation it couldn’t straddle two countries) and even though the BTO might maintain its identity for a while I imagine the SOC or something similar would eventually become the ‘Scottish BTO’. This might be done with great friendliness and cooperation (or not) but the world would have changed.  There would have to be six not three logos on the front of that report.

Take a look at the websites of the BirdLife International partners in the Czech Republic and Slovakia and see how many traces of Czechoslovakia (1918-1993) you can see in them. And while thinking about that, wonder how high BirdLife Scotland would be in the priorities of the WINE Birdlife partner.

Flick through the pages of the BBS report (which is always worth doing anyway) and try to spot what would be different if Scotland and WINE were to split.  Would there be a single report anyway – why in the more distant future, would future birders be more interested in Scotland than Ireland if they didn’t live in Scotland (a foreign country)(or, Scottish readers, swap England for Scotland in the sentence)? How would the funding be split?  In which order would the data be presented?

After the divorce things might be better – they might be much better. But little would, in time, be the same for either party.  So, voters in Scotland, think hard about what you want (and give a little bit of thought for the impact on we Welsh, Northern Irish and English too – for not to do so would simply be selfish) and we’ll all be living in a changed world whatever you vote on Thursday. But the biggest changes will inevitably follow a vote for ‘Yes’.



Small tortoiseshell makes a comeback

Small Tortoiseshell. Photo: Tim Melling

Small Tortoiseshell. Photo: Tim Melling

Butterfly Conservation say:

One of the UK’s favourite butterflies – the Small Tortoiseshell, continued its fight back this summer after years of decline, despite enduring the coldest August since 1993, results from the Big Butterfly Count have revealed.

The Small Tortoiseshell, whose population has declined by 78% since the 1970s, saw numbers rise by almost a quarter compared to last summer, making it the fourth most commonly seen Big Butterfly Count species.

This is the highest ever ranking for the Small Tortoiseshell in the Big Butterfly Count – the world’s largest annual insect citizen science survey and represents an amazing comeback for a species that had become scarce in parts of southern England.

Despite a warm July, August was the coldest for more than 20 years according to the Met Office. This drop in temperature had a knock-on effect on the majority of the UK’s common summer butterflies, curtailing the flight period of some species and hastening others into early hibernation.

The average number of individual butterflies seen per-count dropped from 23 in 2013 to 15 in 2014. In all, 15 out of 21 of the target species decreased compared with 2013, only six species increased year-on-year.

The big winners were the Common Blue (up 55%), Red Admiral (up 43%), Speckled Wood (up 28%) and Small Tortoiseshell (up 22%). The summer was also good for Peacock, which was the most abundant butterfly in this year’s Count – its highest ever placing.

The common white butterflies all recorded a disappointing summer. The Large White was down by 65%, the Small White by 60% and Green-veined White by 47%. The Count’s two migrant species – the Painted Lady and the Silver Y moth also had a lacklustre year.

Nearly 45,000 people took part in this year’s Big Butterfly Count, spotting almost 560,000 butterflies during the three-week recording period.

Although the majority of species declined compared with 2013, most were still well above levels recorded during the washout summer of 2012.

Butterfly Conservation Surveys Manager Richard Fox explains:

After a good summer in 2013, the big question this year was whether butterflies would continue to recover and build up even greater numbers or slip back again.

Thanks to another amazing turnout from the public, we know that the answer is a real mixture. The Small Tortoiseshell had a good year in 2013 and this seems to have acted as a springboard for the species, enabling it to increase massively again this summer. It’s fantastic news for a species that has lost three-quarters of its population since the 1970s.

Others such as the Gatekeeper held their ground this year, but sadly, many common butterflies appear to have sunk back from last year’s peak in numbers.”

For the fifth year running, the Big Butterfly Count took place in partnership with Marks & Spencer as part of its Plan A commitment to be the world’s most sustainable major retailer by 2015.

Mike Barry, M&S Director of Plan A said:

At M&S we’re always keen to ensure our business makes a positive contribution to the environment. Supporting the Big Butterfly Count is a great way to engage our customers, farmers and employees on the importance of butterflies and we’re pleased that so many of them took part in this year’s count. It’s great to see the Small Tortoiseshell stage such a successful comeback and we want to keep working hard to ensure that butterfly numbers overall pick up again in 2015.