Chris Packham interviews me about our e-petition

 

We are in the last few days of our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. Every signature is valuable and you only have today, tomorrow and Tuesday to sign. How about signing now, please?

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A bit of a round up

Some things that caught my eye or ear:

  • the IUCN congress last week approved a resolution requesting countries to phase out use of lead ammunition in hunting which is a reminder that the UK as part of the EU delegation agreed a resolution to phase out lead ammunition by 2017 – another broken environmental promise by the UK government.
  • Hawk and Owl Trust fund two satellite tags for Hen Harriers – good for them. Noticeable by its absence is any celebratory quote from H&OT Chair Philip Merricks who seems to save his efforts for calling us all eco-zealots.
  • I voted for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership election (voting closes midday Wednesday) – I guess another losing vote. Last time around I voted Corbyn because I felt that the other three candidates were uninspiring and lacked passion, and in the hope that Corbyn would turn out to be a leader. He hasn’t.
  • this is an interesting WWF appeal – to protect the Coto Donana – I’d like to find out more.
  • Rob Yorke (so-called neutral) and I quoted in Countrfile magazine.
  • best conservation charity for family travelers?
  • stewed blackberries (picked last weekend) and apples (from garden) is an autumn delight…
  • …as is a glass of Hen Harrier bitter in the garden afterwards.
  • the planning decision on Catfield Fen should emerge on Monday – I’m expecting common sense will prevail and the inspector will uphold the EA decision to refuse the abstraction licences.
  • Caroline Lucas asks Therese Coffey about role of rewilding in flood alleviation – not much of an answer.
  • more filming is planned for the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting – starts tomorrow actually…
  • …and did you listen to this interview with me by the comedian Tiernan Douieb

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Driven grouse shooting campaign – a timeline and how you can help

We have entered the last three days of our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. Overnight we passed another mini-milestone: at 122,399.  Can you work it out? Answer at foot of page.

I must mention that the Ribble Valley constituency reached 500 signatures yesterday – a tremendous achievement of community engagement.  Thank you all!

The top five constituencies are now:

  • Calder Valley 867
  • High Peak  564
  • Bristol West  512
  • Ross, Skye and Lochaber  507
  • Ribble Valley 500

It would be satisfying to pass 123,000 signatures in the next couple of days but I will have a big smile on my face whether we do or not. And so should all of you who have helped so much to get us past the 100,000 barrier and heading for a parliamentary debate. Feel proud of what we have already achieved – but our success means that there is more to do over the next few weeks.

Although I know when it is, I cannot divulge the date of the oral evidence session of the Petitions Committee. However, the committee has called for expert evidence to be submitted by 5 October ahead of the oral evidence session. Anyone with expertise can submit written evidence to the committee and I will email many or all of the 400+ people who have told me that they have contacted their MPs through Firm Briefing to suggest lines of evidence that could be submitted. I undertake to do this ahead of the weekend of 1 and 2 October so that many of you could play a part in this next phase of the campaign.

Because, I believe, the date of the MPs debate will not be set until after the evidence session (Whose date I cannot reveal!) we are slightly, but only slightly hampered in Firm Briefing by not knowing which MPs intend to speak in the debate. Without a date being fixed then MPs can absolutely reasonably say that they cannot commit to attending until they know when it is. However, there is plenty of Firm Briefing to come and so just watch this space over the next few weeks.

I submitted a fairly long FoI/EIR request to Defra last week asking for clarification on many aspects of the current Defra position and setting them a date, ahead of the evidence session (whose date I cannot reveal) by which I required their reply. A failure to respond in time, or a failure to respond properly, will be reported to the Petitions Committee as part of my oral evidence to them (on a date which I cannot reveal).  The evidence session is a parliamentary select committee inquiry and if Defra does not respond they will be hampering a witness to that inquiry (as I pointed out to them).

I am in discussion with the RSPB and League Against Cruel Sports about how they each are taking this matter forward. You and I are making the running at the moment, as we have for several years, but remember that we are not alone in putting the case for changes in the uplands.

And, of course, the driven grouse shooting industry is rattled by this unaccustomed bright light being shone on its misdemeanours and unsustainable land use practices.  BASC is attempting to mobilise its members (and is very rude about you all) and the Countryside Alliance paid us all a great compliment by attempting to denigrate our campaign. They can’t get away from the fact that grouse shooting is having to pull out the stops as never, ever, before to attempt to justify its existence. We did that  -and we have weeks of activity ahead to keep on doing that.  At the State of Nature launch last week, every journalist in the room knew about the campaign, asked about what was happening and asked to be kept informed.  We’ve done that!

 

So here is a rough outline of some dates, some a bit vague (I know), that lie ahead:

Timeline:

Today, 18 September – the antepenultimate day of the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

19 September – the penultimate day of the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

20 September – the last day of the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

weekend of 1 and 2 October – I provide examples of evidence that you could send to the Petitions Committee inquiry

5 October – closing date for expert submissions to the Petitions Committee inquiry into driven grouse shooting

mid-October – Petitions Committee oral evidence session

late October or November – MPs debate the future of driven grouse shooting in Westminster Hall

Afterwards – firm briefing and thanks to MPs who attended the debate

 

And that figure of 122,399? In the first e-petition we reached 22,399 signatures in a bit under 11 months. In this third e-petition we have added 100,000 signatures to that total in just under 6 months. We have momentum!

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Sunday book review – Cat Wars by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella

k10809I’m not a cat person; I’m not a dog person either; I’m not really a pet person at all.  I prefer my animals wild and free, or cooked and on a plate. And so I enter this subject, the impacts of domesticated and feral cats on wildlife, with a slight preference for hearing that cats are a problem and that careless cat-owners are to blame, rather than hoping to read that cats have had no impacts on the natural world.

This book will be slightly uncomfortable reading for many cat-lovers – and so I recommend it very strongly to them, and pretty strongly to everyone else as it is a fascinating story and one that is well written to boot.

The book opens with the story of the extinction of the Stephens Island Wren (not a wren really, but, yes, it lived on Stephens Island, off New Zealand). The last of very few species of flightless passerines to have survived on Earth until a cat arrived on the island, it seems a pregnant cat, and then very soon there were lots of cats and no Stephens Island Wrens.

There are lots of such stories of avian extinctions and taken together they weigh heavily in the litany of evidence against introducing predators into places where they have never previously occurred.  Rats and cats have caused lots of problems – of course, it was we who took them to these places and we who released them (no rat or cat has ever sought out predator-free islands and sought deliberately to eat its way through a flightless endemic mammal, bird, reptile or amphibian).

But how about continental systems where there are plenty of predators already, or maybe there used to be before we bumped them off, how do cats perform in those circumstances?

We all have anecdotes on this subject, don’t we? Both my next door neighbours changed last year (was it something I said or didn’t say?). This led to a very noticeable change in cat visits to my garden. On one side I now have an active dog and two active children yapping away in the garden which must make it a less attractive route for passing cats, and on the other side the former cats’ home is now a cat-free and child-rich zone. I see far fewer cats in my garden and my strong impression is that I now see more birds, and the nesting Blackbirds of this year were a first. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

But we can do much better than anecdotes, and this book gathers together a large number of studies, many from North America and rather few from Europe or the UK.  This is something of a relief actually, I find it easier to read about the science of feral and domestic cats in Wisconsin in a moderately dispassionate way than I do to read about the issues here at home.  Clearly, although we all know that cats kill a lots of small vertebrates, and eat some of them, an awful lot of small vertebrates die every year anyway; if they didn’t then we would soon be knee-deep in frogs, lizards, voles and Great Tits and the world would be a very different place.  So the search for the impact of cat predation on wildlife has to tackle the issue of whether the deaths at the paws of cats are ‘additive’ or ‘compensatory’ in the inadequate jargon of science (‘compensatory’ is a particularly inadequate phrase but it’s the one used the most).  It’s not enough to say ‘cats kill lots of animals, therefore they must cause declines in animal populations’ because that doesn’t show that the mortality is extra mortality, nor does it, of itself, show that it is enough mortality to cause a population decline.

So ideally, we need lots of data and some clever modelling to assess the likelihood of measured losses of animals to cats being sufficient explanations for changes in animal abundance or more ideally we need experiments where we manipulate predation pressure by cats and see what happens. Introducing cats onto Stephens Island was like a badly designed and badly monitored experiment – but very convincing nonetheless. We know that the Stephens Island Wren was vulnerable to predation by being flightless, small and unevolved to cope with this new pressure; we know that the cats killed and ate the Wrens, and we know that, having survived there for thousands of years, the Stephens Island Wren disappeared from Stephens Island in a very few years after Tibbles the cat arrived. It’s not an experiment but it is convincing. Ideally we would have lots of islands where we introduced cats in different years and saw what happened but that would be rather unethical and practically difficult anyway since there is only one Stephens Island.

My observations in my back garden would be useful if they were more structured (like if I had some numbers to back up my impressions of cat abundance and bird abundance) and if they were replicated over many gardens, over longer time periods, and ideally (again) if cat numbers were experimentally increased after a period to see whether the impacts were reversed.

This book takes you through these areas and you are likely to come out the other side believing that cats can, and do, make a difference to the abundance of other species (their prey species) in a variety of places and situations; sometimes a big difference and sometimes a smaller difference, but often a difference. But if you are very keen on Tibbles then you may find room for quibbles.

We are then taken on a journey through potential routes to solve the problem of roaming cats and these range through keeping them indoors more, through fitting them with bells and bleepers to TNR (trap-neuter-release of feral cats) and on to killing the cuddly critters.  All of these approaches are evaluated.

The book ends with a series of passages that could be summarised with the question ‘Why bother?’, which is always asked about restoration of a more natural and usually richer ecology. The authors answer it well. In fact, the authors do everything well in this book. It is a contentious subject which is dealt with very sensibly, and it involves some quite challenging science which is explained well. And it is a good read and not the least bit dry (nor sensational). We move from place to place and we are introduced to  a variety of scientists and players in the story.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and rather more than I thought I might.

Cat Wars: the devastating consequences of a cuddly killer by Peter P. Marra and Chris Santella is published by Princeton University Press.

 

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.  Updated paperback edition now out.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson.

 

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Tim Melling – Leaping Rays

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Tim writes: I know they are “just” fish, but this was one of the most difficult things I have ever photographed.  They are Smooth-tailed Mobula Rays that are known for their habit of leaping clean out of the water.  But the problem is they give no warning so I had to react in a split second to catch one mid leap.  Getting one was hard enough but catching a second was pure luck.  Sometimes when one ray leaps it will be rapidly followed by hundreds of others over a big area, as they seemingly react to the splashes of others.  But it doesn’t make photographing them any easier as there is still no way of predicting exactly when and where one will appear.  This was taken from a boat in Mexico’s Sea of Cortez.

 

Taken with a Nikon D7000 and a 70-300mm Nikkor lens at 98mm 1/640 f7.1  ISO 800

 

 

 

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A wonderful Green Sandpiper

By J.M.Garg (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Green Sandpiper. Photo: J.M.Garg (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Modern technology is opening up the details of bird movements in a very exciting way.

A Green Sandpiper was fitted with a GPS tag at Lemsford Springs, near Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire in April this year and was recaptured there, enabling the tag to be removed, on 30 July. GPS tags collect information on their wearers’ positions on Earth but do not transmit that information (as do radio tags or satellite tags): you need to catch the bird, remove the tag and download the data.  But as we’ve seen with other species (eg Red-necked Phalarope, Nightingale, Swift) even the data from a few birds can tell us things that we never knew about species, just as a close encounter with an alien life form would unlock a whole new world for us.

This Green Sandpiper headed to Norway in an apparent non-stop flight of 900 miles across the North Sea starting on 26 April and arriving on 28 April. Aren’t birds just amazing?

Green Sandpipers, Lemsford Springs. Photo: Paul Thrush/Herts & Middx Wildlife Trust

Green Sandpipers, Lemsford Springs. Photo: Paul Thrush/Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust

Laura Baker, Lemsford Springs Reserves Officer, said: ‘Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve is a very special site in the UK for wintering green sandpipers. Last year we distributed 85 tonnes of gravel here, to improve the specialised habitat of the cress beds. This supports a large number of freshwater shrimps, welcome food for our green sandpipers and lots of other wildlife. We will be continuing this work and look forward to welcoming more people to the reserve so we can show them how special this place is for wildlife.‘.

Barry Trevis, Volunteer Warden at Lemsford Springs Nature Reserve, said: ‘From the end of April to mid-June the bird moved to North Norway, near Trondheim, to breed.  After being tracked to a small lake between Hatfield and St Albans on 21st June, it was next seen at Lemsford on 15th July. I was able to recapture the bird on 30th July, when the tag was removed and the sandpiper released. We have seen the sandpiper regularly on the lagoons since then.‘.

OK, here is the second-most interesting fact you will learn about Green Sandpipers today: where do you think they nest?

This wader doesn’t nest on the ground, as you might have imagined, and as do the rather similar Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper, but in the former nests of birds such as Mistle Thrushes and Fieldfares, often up in the trees. How about that? Aren’t birds amazing?

Green Sandpipers have been studied at Lemsford Springs by Barry Trevis, Ken Smith and Mike Reed, since 1983. I remember Ken asking me to look out for colour-ringed Green Sandpipers on a trip to East Africa! The birds are known to spend up to 10 months a year on the reserve and nearby wetlands, many returning year after year. Green Sandpipers usually migrate to Northern and Eastern Europe to breed, with just a few pairs recorded breeding in northern Scotland.

 

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Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

imageBrexit means Brexit, means…?

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Goyt Valley peregrine – an update

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A fluffy Peregrine chick reared, to great public joy, on the BT tower in Stoke-on-Trent this year.

The shooting of a young Peregrine Falcon in the Goyt Valley on the Derbyshire/Staffordshire border has been well-covered by our big brother blog, Raptor Persecution UK (see here). Again – they broke the news of a raptor killing – they do that a lot.

But there has been follow-up information on the BBC and in the local Stoke newspaper and on @RSPBbirders Twitter account (from which I have borrowed the images on this blog (hoping not to be sued by the RSPB for publicising this)). What hasn’t been reported (except in a comment on the RPUK blog – which I had missed until I checked with them – so much of the world may have missed it too) is that this young Peregrine was one of those fledged from the BT tower in Hanley, Stoke-on Trent.

BT towers in the West Midlands (Birmingham, Stafford and Stoke on Trent) had a hat-trick of successful nests this year and you can watch a video of the Stoke-on-Trent birds here – you’ll notice that the ‘BT staff have grown very fond of their feathered friends’.

To the best of my rather imperfect knowledge, this is the first occasion when we know that an urban-bred Peregrine has been killed on or very near a driven grouse moor. Wildlife crime involving birds of prey is not really news on grouse moors – birds of prey, protected though they have been in law since 1954, are not welcome on many grouse moors.

This young bird, raised in the city, wandered around, as they do, and found itself in what would have looked like a great place to set up territory, maybe even to raise its own brood of chicks in due course. How lucky, it might have thought, to have found such a good spot with no Peregrines already well-established as the owners.

If this young Peregrine had been able to read the signs it would have been reassured to learn that it was settling in a National Park in which there was a raptor forum established to look after birds of prey like itself.

And now it’s just another victim of illegal killing, directed deliberately and specifically against protected birds of prey, in an upland English National Park (and things are no better in Scotland by the way).  From fluffy feathered friend in Stoke to a victim of wildlife crime in a National Park.

Sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting which closes on Tuesday night and which will be debated in parliament later this autumn.

 

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The same Peregrine (or one of its siblings) shot in the Peak District National Park a few weeks later.

 

 

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Hedges – a good response

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That looks good to me. Thank you Mr Eustice.

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And, David, if you have a spare £10.5m…

The Headmaster, Mr Cameron via wikimedia commons

The Headmaster, Mr Cameron via wikimedia commons

And so we say farewell to David Cameron the former Prime Minister and now former MP for Witney – I wonder whether the constituents who wrote to him about grouse shooting will ever get a reply?

Mr Cameron will be remembered for accidentally getting us out of the EU when he himself wanted to stay in – that’s power for you! The PR PM did not appear to believe in anything very much and having diced with Scottish independence and proportional representation and won, he diced with Brexit and lost.

I wonder what he’ll do now? Is he picking up tips from Tony Blair on what ex Prime Ministers do?

Cameron can now go back to a spot of shooting without fear of being photographed in an embarrassing fashion and there was the rumour that he was interested in buying the house and grouse moors at Tillypronie some weeks back.

Tillypronie has everything you need to chillax as an ex PM; pheasant shooting, grouse shooting and a spot of fishing for salmon in the river Don and trout in the Lazywell lochs.

And all for just £10.5m!

But it seems unlikely that Cameron will buy the place from Philip Astor as this blog knows that a powerful consortium of conservationists is also interested in the property which has great potential, unrealised as far as we know, for flocks of nesting Hen Harriers.

Could this be where Henry finally finds a home and a ringtail?

He’s already had a look and likes some of what he sees. Here he is pictured at the gates of Tillypronie.  Shall we all chip in to buy Henry a new home on Donside – not far from Balmoral and Invercauld.

Henry says please sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Any suggestions for a caption for this image?

Henry at the gates of Tillypronie

Henry at the gates of Tillypronie

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