Another Red Kite down in the Dales

Photo: Thomas Kraft via Wikimedia commons

POLICE are appealing for information after a Red Kite was found dead with gunshot wounds near Greenhow, Nidderdale on the afternoon of Saturday, March 11.  That’s just along the road from where Henry had a picnic last year.

PC David Mackay, a Wildlife Crime Officer of North Yorkshire Police Rural Taskforce, said: ‘It has taken many years to re-introduce red kites after their near-extinction from the UK, and these magnificent birds can now regularly be seen in the skies over North Yorkshire.‘ which is true, but they can also regularly be found illegally killed in this area of North Yorkshire. Depending on exactly where the Red Kite was found it was either in the Yorkshire Dales National Park or the Nidderdale AONB.  There are large areas of grouse moor to the North, South, East and West of Greenhow, I notice.

PC Mackay went on ‘I would ask anyone who has any information that could assist the investigation to get in touch with me.’

 The police are being supported in the investigation by Yorkshire Red Kites.
Anyone with information is asked to contact North Yorkshire Police on 101, select option 2 and ask for PC 1452 David Mackay, or email You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Please quote reference number 12170047155 when passing information.

Dinosaur vocalisations in Jurassic Park

By Jakub Hałun – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Guy Smith, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, said last week that farmers were at risk of being treated as “park keepers”, with Britain forced to increase its reliance on imported food. ‘If the only support mechanism that we get is for environmental delivery, we then become state paid park keepers,” he said. “My concern is where does that leave food?‘.

I quite often hear the ‘park-keeper’ phrase from farmers but it’s entirely inappropriate for the following reasons:



  • if British farmers were park keepers they’d be sacked – the State of Nature report showed that ‘the index of change in the abundance and occupancy of farmland species has fallen by 0.56% per year; a statistically significant drop of 20% in total, over the long term. Over our short-term period, the index declined by 0.69% per year; a statistically significant fall of 8% in total.’
  • farmers are supposed to get their income from selling stuff we want – not from the state – but if we decide post-Brexit to continue with income support for land owners then those payments should be for public goods, like carbon storage, flood alleviation, unpolluted water and wildlife rather than for being farmers.
  • if we want farmers to be park keepers (and this isn’t something that anyone other than farmers ever says) then the farming industry should be asking us for the details of what we want for our money and working out how to deliver it.  What other industry tells its customers what they are allowed to have and then demands it is paid for doing what it wants to do?

Let’s hope that Guy and his fellow dinosaurs find it difficult to pick up a pen or tap on a keyboard with those claws at the end of their short arms, otherwise we might their words embedded in the long-awaited Defra Farming Strategy.

The post-Brexit future of farming will be a big test of TM the PM, Andrea Leadsom and Defra. Hands up who is feeling confident that they will come up with the goods!  What – no-one?




National Trust turns Natural Trust?

The National Trust has a poor reputation amongst wildlife conservation organisations.  This stems from  a couple of things. First, the National Trust could do so much more to help nature, given its massive membership, large landholding and rich resources. This has been the case for many years.  Second, despite the low priority that the NT gives to nature conservation, it certainly makes the most in media terms of any nature conservation work with which it is involved (even if that involvement is rather low key).

It has always seemed that the NT prioritises buildings above landscape, and landscape above wildlife but there are occasional glimmers of hope that wildlife might get a better look-in. We are in one of those glimmers right now, given the headlines which appeared last week:

National Trust to help endangered species by creating acres of wildlife-friendly areas – Sunday Express
National Trust returns to roots to reverse decline of threatened wildlife – Daily Telegraph
Vole lot of love.  National Trust planning improved natural habitats to support struggling species like cuckoos and water voles – The Sun
National Trust to turn farmland into wildlife habitats – Farmers Weekly
National Trust to create and restore ‘priority’ wildlife habitats on its land – Horticulture Week
National Trust farms to produce less food – The Times

Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape and Nature, was widely quoted as saying ‘Nature has been squeezed out to the margins for far too long. We want to help bring it back to the heart of our countryside‘, ‘Our charity was founded to protect our natural heritage and we believe we should be playing an active role in reviving it by doing what we can on our own land‘ and ‘Birds such as the cuckoo, lapwing and curlew are part of the fabric of our rural heritage.  But they’ve virtually disappeared from the countryside. We want to see them return to the fields, woods and  meadows again, along with other wildlife which was once common and is now rare‘.

Lots of good newspaper coverage there then! The gist of what the NT plans to do is by 2025 is not entirely clear from reading the press coverage as the journalists don’t seem to have understood what’s happening very well. From the NT website it is clearer that NT plans to create wildlife-rich habitats on 10% of its own land –  c25,000 acres in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and to encourage its tenants to do more for wildlife on 50% of the tenanted farmed land.

In return for this rather vague statement the NT was rewarded with this approbation by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Andrea Leadsom; ‘The National Trust has always been synonymous with our beautiful countryside, and I welcome plans to create thousands of hectares of new habitat for some of our most important species.  It is my ambition that we become the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it, and we can only do this by working closely with farmers and landowners – growing hedgerows, restoring earth banks and creating wetlands.  I’m really pleased nature will be prioritised across the Trust’s farmland, supporting even more of our plants and wildlife and helping deliver our target to create 200,000 hectares of priority habitat by 2020.‘.

Is this the NT changing direction? Or is it keeping to its past track of talking big and acting small? We’ll see.

A few things that NT might want to do for wildlife:

  • tell the world more precisely what its wildlife ambitions are and how we will know if they are achieved
  • monitor farmland bird populations on its farm and publish the long-term trends in numbers each year (compared with national BBS figures)
  • find non-shooting tenants for its moorland in the Peak District
  • ban the use of lead ammunition on its land
  • speak out on nature conservation matters


What would you like to see the NT doing for wildlife?



Sunday book review – Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: a photographic guide by Frederic Jiguet and Aurelien Audevard


This is a photographic field guide which covers all European bird species including vagrants and some species which have not yet occurred but are quite likely to do so eventually. In one slimmish volume the reader has images (over 2200 of them) of every species of bird (860) they might see on the continent.

I warmed to this book the more I looked through it. At first glance I thought it fell badly between the two stools of appealing to the novice and the expert. And that is a criticism that can still be made. Those who need to be told that pipits, Crested and Thekla Larks are ‘confusion species’ with Woodlark may be a bit bamboozled in the section on gulls – but then, mightn’t we all?

If I had this book in my rucksack when out birding then a few times a year I would use it when I saw a bird that I hadn’t seen before and needed a clue as to what it was, and for those occasions when I thought that I was looking at a rare bird, and I thought I knew what it was likely to be, but wasn’t completely sure what I should be looking at and what would be the clinching field marks.  Here’s hoping that one day I see a strange wader at Stanwick Lakes and think ‘That’s odd. I bet that’s a Great Knot. I saw Great Knot in Australia 15 years ago but what should I be looking at now?’.  What is the chance that I would have left the book in the car when I really needed it?

If you already know what African and Indian Siverbill look like then you won’t need this book if you see a rather dull-looking exotic finch in the south of France.

This book has its pluses and minuses and many of them are inherent in its aim to have such wide coverage and being a photographic guide. To get all these species in one portable volume requires quite small photographs which in too many cases rather poorly illustrate the identification marks that are highlighted by the ‘Peterson-style’ annotations.  Flight images are lacking from many species (eg some ducks and waders) where they really are what the reader needs.  I thought some of the images were practically useless as identification aids. The images are often rather dark in my copy.  But 2000+ photographs of birds include some images that are very helpful too – I found the skuas, some of the gulls and many of the wader photos quite useful.

But is the day of the field guide almost over? Or actually over? I could carry this book with me wherever I go but I’m not going to. And I don’t need to carry a photo of a Blue Tit, Blackbird or Robin with me on my normal birding routine.  Nor do I need an image of the Greater Hoopoe Lark when birding in east Northants. We will surely move towards downloadable identification guides on our mobile phones increasingly over the years. Download the expert identification text and scores of images of potential species for a fiver right now as you are looking at the bird.

Quite useful. Not perfect. Not top of my list of useful field guides. Worth the price?


Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: a photographic guide by Frederic Jiguet and Aurelien Audevard is published by Princeton University Press.


Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson – for reviews see here.

Behind the Binoculars: interviews with acclaimed birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton is published by Pelagic – here’s a review and it’s now out in paperback.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.


Tim Melling – Hyacinth Macaw

Hyacinth Macaw is a species I have wanted to see since childhood.  They are the longest parrot in the world (though Kakapo is the heaviest), and have a breathtaking blue and yellow livery.  They usually hang around in pairs or small groups.  This one was foraging under some trees with its partner.  Most of the time it was concentrating on the job of finding food, but for one second it paused to look over its shoulder and squawked to its partner.  I managed to capture that moment.  This was in Brazil’s Pantanal.

Taken with Nikon D500 Nikkor 300mm f4 lens with 1.4 converter  f5.6        1/1250 ISO 640