End wildlife crime – a messsage to all MPs

via wikimedia commons

via wikimedia commons

Tomorrow is the Rally for Nature organised by the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts and the League Against Cruel Sports working together – for the first time ever? The rally is also supported by Butterfly Conservation, the Mammal Society and The Ramblers.

If you have not yet done so, please contact your MP through this handy webpage and call on them to do more for wildlife and for their political party to give nature a better deal if they form part of the next government.

On 10 August this year, in pouring rain, hundreds of us protested against the illegal killing of Hen Harriers on Hen Harrier Day.

I say: ‘Hen Harriers don’t have MPs and don’t get to vote – they need us to call on politicians to do far more to end wildlife crime.

There is a very simple solution to the criminal killing of protected birds such as Hen Harriers by grouse shooting interests – let us ban driven grouse shooting. Tomorrow was chosen for this rally because it is the penultimate day of the grouse shooting season – we would have a better upland environment if grouse shooting never reopened.


My northernmost parakeet

A dreadfully dull photo of the Hayes conference centre

A dreadfully dull photo of the Hayes conference centre

It was a cold Saturday morning and there weren’t many other people setting off from my street at 0650.

Heading up the M1 I noticed that the trees, leafless, were pin sharp against the lightening blue sky. They looked as if they were drawn with a very fine pen.  It’s difficult to get all dreamy when you are doing 70 up the motorway but I almost did.

The nest of cooling towers near the River Trent also looked spectacular as I passed them in the distance on my right. Plumes of steam and those lovely curves against a pellucid blue sky. I guess it was about a minute, and about a mile, further on, that I gave them another glance and the orange of the sunrise was now behind them and they looked a different form of spectacular.

Two Pheasants, both males actually, flew across the motorway at lorry cab height and the lorry to which they were heading swerved into the next lane to avoid them. There wasn’t much traffic but under other circumstances it could have been nasty. A couple of telegraph poles onwards, a Buzzard was sitting, looking cold but resigned, and I almost thought I saw him shrug and say ‘Bloody Pheasants! I’m voting UKIP’.

I arrived at the Hayes conference centre for the BTO conference in time for breakfast and before the frost had stopped scrunching under foot. A Nuthatch called as though it didn’t feel the cold.

9781784270506My main reason for coming to Swanwick was to meet people – and there were plenty of people, and I met them.  One of those meetings was with Keith Betton and Nigel Massen to finalise a few things about this book that Keith and I have thrown together (very slowly!).

It will be out in the spring provided I do the things that I said I would do (so I’d better get on with them).

I had a chat with Findlay Wilde who looked very smart in his BTO sweatshirt, and Toby Carter, Ben Moyes and quite a few other young people – I mean seriously young, not just a few years younger than me.

I told Ian Newton something he didn’t know, and which he will find useful, and I haven’t done that very often in my life.

Chis Packham told me some gossip – which was nice of him.

I was told off, quite rightly, by one of the ‘Sodden 570′ for not wearing my Hen Harrier Day t-shirt so I went and got one from the car and wore it for the rest of the day.

I saw Keith Cowieson and we exchanged pleasantries. Always nice to see Songbird Survival.

I arranged to meet someone in London for lunch next week.

There were, of course, talks. Some were brilliant. Two of my favourite talks were Mark Thomas’s about the RSPB’s investigation work (simply because he is a very good speaker) and Dave Leech’s about the subject of his Guest Blog of last week (because, he too, is a very good speaker).

The conference hall is big and holds a lot of people, but that means the back row is quite a long way from the screens. And there are two screens (with the same images on them). There are some consequences of this – the speaker can’t point to both screens at once so some of their audience can’t see what the speaker is pointing out, and lots of ‘busy’ slides are pretty much worthless in that room – you just can’t see them well enough.

Some speakers conspire, through cleverness, to make it even more difficult to interpret what they are saying by superimposing their graphs or tables on amazing images of birds. This isn’t very clever when the bird is more interesting than the data – which is bound to happen now and again. Even worse when the background bird image is a similar colour to the points on your graph and the labels that tell you what they are.

And a slide (I know they aren’t slides really) with 26 tiny graphs on is pretty pointless under any circumstances but if you then say ‘you don’t have to read all these’ then it makes me wonder why on earth you are showing them to me then.

Am I sounding like a grumpy old man? Sorry – I really enjoyed the day and almost all of the talks. By the time I left I was wishing I was staying overnight for the Sunday morning too.

Christine Matthews [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Christine Matthews [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Did you see that woman’s bathroom with the swift nests behind the bathroom wall? Amazing! I want a bathroom from which I can watch nesting Swifts!

Someone told me something interesting about UKIP which will find its way onto this blog one day.

Someone got me to sign a copy of a Message from Martha for them.

I met a few ex-RSPB colleagues.

I saw several people with whom I wished to talk but didn’t get the chance.

Lunch was OK – the company was better than the food, and that is how I would always like it to be.

Slipping out of the hall a bit early, two of us heard and then saw a Ring-necked Parakeet which is my northernmost British record and it’s now on Birdtrack.

By the time I had to go, I really wanted to stay for more.  It was well worth the commute and it merely confirmed what I know to be true, that the BTO is in pretty good shape and I feel very fond of it.





A Message from Martha is Sunday Express bird book of 2014

MarthanewcoverI’m very happy to share the Sunday Express Bird Book of the year with Martin Garner’s Challenge Series Autumn. Martin is a great birder who is helping other birders by sharing his knowledge.

But following a mention in yesterday’s Guardian of A Message from Martha in the category of best nature literature of 2014 it is really thrilling to share the Sunday Express’s acclaim with Martin.

Of course, the Sunday Express’s ‘Tabloid Twitcher’, Stuart Winter, is not only the best birder in journalism, he is an author too.



Buy A Message from Martha here.


My books aren’t just for Christmas

Martha coverI know that quite a few people are hoping that they receive A Message from Martha as a Christmas present. Please don’t let them be disappointed…

It was nice (for me anyway) to see that A Message from Martha was listed by Stephen Moss in the Guardian as one of the best examples of nature literature in 2014.

And the Sunday Express made A Message from Martha their joint Bird Book of 2014.


The Sunday Times (Andrew Holgate): ‘in his often jaw-dropping book he sets out to tell the story of this remarkable animal, and discover the reasons for its seemingly inexplicable demise. Piecing together the evidence, extrapolating from hazy first-hand accounts and taking his cue from other birds that are still with us, his book reads at times like the most arresting of mystery stories.’ - full review here

The Daily Mail ‘He has charm and a sense of humour, and unlike some environmental activists, he doesn’t hector or guilt-trip you for not having a wind farm in your back garden. So when he tells you something, you pay attention. It’s a grim story, but oddly fascinating even so, for Avery has had to work hard to piece it together because facts are scarce.’ – full review here

The Independent (Michael McCarthy): ‘This book will be a wildlife classic’ – full review here

Buy A Message from Martha here.




Fighting-for-Birds--front-coverAnd sales of Fighting for Birds have also been surging ahead – I assume from people who read A Message from Martha, enjoyed it, and looked for other books by me.


Chris Packham in the book’s Foreword and on his website:  …if you have any real interest in the workings of saving species and their habitats then it’s a tremendously rewarding ‘must read’ Full review

BBC Wildlife (Bill Oddie): it should be read by RSPB members past, present and potential – which means anyone interested in British conservation.

Birdwatch (Stephen Moss): ‘great fun to read‘, ‘What also marks this book out is Avery’s eye for a telling phrase to describe a key moment‘ and ‘a must read for anyone who cares about the future of birds on this crowded island‘. Full review

British Wildlife (Peter Marren): It is wise, it is punchy, it is funny, it is thought-provoking, and best of all, it lives up to its title in showing how every inch of the way has, indeed, been a fight. Full review

Independent newspaper (Michael McCarthy): Dr Avery, now Britain’s premier wildlife blogger, was thus at the very heart of all the conservation and wildlife protection battles of recent times, from windfarms to persecution of birds of prey by landowners. Indeed, he was a prime mover in many of them, and his spiky and opinionated account – there are quite a few people he doesn’t like – is not only immensely instructive, but gripping.Full review


Buy Fighting for Birds here.


So, although these books aren’t just for Christmas – they still can be for Christmas if you order them very soon.




Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill




Just someone’s anecdote

By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

You remember that the NFU President was quoted by Farmers Weekly as saying that there are ‘10 times more ground-nesting birds in the Gloucestershire area since the cull started‘? Well, I ‘phoned up the NFU Press Office and what sounded like a nice young man told me that this was based on anecdotal evidence.

No, certainly not on a survey at all.

The NFU President had heard this from some farmers and it applied to some birds.

It’s good to have got that straight.

Meanwhile, the ASA tell me that they will consider a complaint against the Moorland Association and BASC over what I consider to be their misleading ‘misinfographic’.



Quiz results

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre at the end of my walk (c1015). If I had taken a photo at the beginning too (c0745) the grass and roof would both have been frosted. Home of an excellent bacon sandwich - but not for me today.

Stanwick Lakes visitor centre at the end of my walk (c1015). If I had taken a photo at the beginning too (c0745) the grass and roof would both have been frosted.
Home of an excellent bacon sandwich – but not for me today.

I set you a quiz and none of you won! But thank you for playing – I hope it was a bit of fun.

These were your commonest (very sensible) but incorrect selections, with some comments from me:

Coal Tit – I had to check that I hadn’t missed it off by accident! But no – not in the last decade. I have a strong feeling I have heard singing Coal Tit at Stanwick even longer ago than that but no records since Birdtrack came into my life.  What are the chances I see or hear one on my next visit?

Tawny Owl – another surprise. I don’t spend much time at Stanwick after dark, but I do occasionally. No records – I might try harder next year.

Osprey – one day! One day soon I hope.  They are seen regularly in the Nene Valley; up the valley and down the valley.  But I don’t remember a Stanwick record (though I expect there are some) and it is high on my wishlist.

Raven – must be soon, I guess. I’ve had them on my BBS square (or flying over just after I stopped recording) and over my house, but not yet at Stanwick Lakes. It must be soon.

Feral Pigeon – no I don’t count them (is that very bad of me (I’m never sure what does count as a Feral Pigeon really – do racing pigeons?)?) but that hasn’t affected the result so we can pretend that I’ll give you Feral Pigeon.

Caspian and Glaucous Gulls – both seen a little way down the road (and up the valley) but not yet here, by me, at my local patch.  I’d identify Glaucous OK but I’m not so sure about Caspian.

Grey Partridge and Corn Bunting – difficult enough to find in the county these days, let alone on my patch.

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch – not enough decent woodland for either I would guess.

All the others – I hope to see them one day. It shows there is something still to look out for. Except these four which you got between you all:

House Sparrow (it’s a rare bird though, only five records for me), Tree Sparrow (even rarer, one record for me, Ruddy Duck ( used to be regular, 14 records, but, you know….) and Marsh Tit (just three records).

And the one that none of you got was: Willow Tit (four records). [Note added later: Laurie Ison did get Willow Tit but I was travelling and unable to alter this post whilst on the move! Well done to him – and he did get closer than anyone else I think]

By Estormiz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Estormiz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons



Pheasant worship



I was sent this photo by a reader of this blog. It comes from ‘An Illustrated Manual of British Birds’ by Howard Saunders (1889) :-

As regards the British Islands, the epithet “common” is annually becoming less and less applicable to this species; but there are wild and wooded districts in England – especially on the western side – and in Wales, where the bird may still be seen circling high in air, and be heard uttering it’s plaintive mewing cry. Fifty years ago it used to breed in Norfolk and in other counties abounding with partridges and grouse-game, without being considered incompatible with their existence; but with the increase of Pheasant-worship the doom of the Buzzard sealed, for the larger the “Hawk” the worse it must necessarily be!

‘Pheasant worship’. We must use that more often.


BASC and Moorland Association are uncharitable

An ugly view in Scotland. Ripe for reform. Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns

An ugly view in Scotland. Ripe for reform. Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns

It is difficult to believe, and I don’t believe, that BASC and the Moorland Association aren’t putting out misleading information about grouse moors to MPs (see my analysis of their ‘misinfographic’ here). I contacted both BASC and the Moorland Association to ask them whether they stood by every word of their information the other day. A very nice man in the BASC press team told me that their scientists had been through the information and believed it to be correct. Well, I believe it to be seriously misleading.

Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association sent me a long text and says Moorland Association stands by every word too.

I notice that GWCT did not put their name to this, perhaps because they weren’t asked, or perhaps because they didn’t feel that they could. Or perhaps because they are a registered charity unlike BASC or the Moorland Association and so if they mislead the public then one could complain to the Charity Commission – which I would have done, gladly.

It has been suggested that this infographic falls under the remit of the Advertising Standards Authority but I’m not too sure about that. Is it advertsing?  I will follow it up though.

If there is anyone else out there who knows how one can make a formal complaint about what I believe to be the inaccuracy of the Moorland Association’s and BASC’s statements then please let me know, I ‘d be very grateful.

And, of course, many MPs use social media and their addresses are readily available so I may have a busy weekend contacting them.



Be there online

via wikimedia commons

via wikimedia commons

Next Tuesday’s Rally for Nature is just about full – physically full.  If you want to attend the speeches etc then you will have to get a move on and register very soon to avoid disappointment.

However, you can still email your MP and tell them and their political party to do more for wildlife. You might even suggest that your vote depends upon it.

Go to this website, set up by the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and the League Against Cruel Sports and make your views known.  It’s very easy to do and our MPs will certainly take notice if enough of us contact them.

Now is the time to do this to coincide with the Rally for Nature and this is the time when the political parties are deciding wht promises to make, and what carrots to dangle, before the general election in May.

Wildlife cannot raise its voice to politicians to ask for help – but we can do it on their behalf.

Please email your MP through this site now – it will only take you a few moments.  Thank you!