Sunday book review – Horus the Peregrine Falcon by John Miles

220375This book is aimed at children but I’m just a big kid so I enjoyed it too.

Horus, a young Peregrine, lives in London and visits many well-known London landmarks. The point is made that he may be safer in the city than if he ventured onto a grouse moor (which did make me smile).

The Houses of Parliament, the Eye, Nelson’s column, St Pauls, the Tower of London and even the back garden of Buck House are illustrated.

The illustrations often made me smile – particularly the one with the slightly podgy corgis and the lady doing some gardening.

This is a pleasant book that gives parents and children a lot to look at and discuss in the story that is told and the scenes in London. Educational it is, dull it isn’t.

Horus the Peregrine Falcon: Catch the Pigeon by John Miles (artwork Barry Robson) is published by Langford Press.






Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill


Stephen Hawking warns that attempting to contact aliens could invite disaster.


Round up

Some stuff that caught my eye:


Not so Fine Shade (3)


This morning a group of about 20 concerned locals gathered in the Fineshade car park to meet the local MP, Andy Sawford. It was good to see Andy paying attention to this local rural case, though, as he said, he doesn’t have a vote, but if he did, he said he would vote against the proposal.

Fears were expressed about local traffic, increased risk of road accidents, loss of amenity value and impacts on wildlife.  Andy said that he didn’t see this as a modest development but as a major one which would clearly change the character of the area and affect its wildlife.

Yesterday, Andy (@AndySawfordMP) tweeted ‘seems to me that at Fineshade @forestholidays are involved in privatising woodlands by another means’.

It was good to meet the local butterfly expert from Butterfly Conservation, Martin Izzard (whose book I reviewed here ages ago) who confirmed to me that there are records of purple emperors from this wood.

Dormouse picI still think that a combination of local opinion bearing down on Tory councillors (I have written to mine) and the threat of legal action over ignoring the Dormice (which is entirely possible) might save this wood from the terrible damage planned for it by the Forestry Commission who own the land (on our behalf). The councillors don’t have to be brave – they just have to do the right thing!

You can object to this proposal if you wish (as usual, there is quite a lot of entering your details to be done) through this link.  The more objections the better – even if you just say that you object and nothing more.  The more this case becomes a hot potato the better, too!

If you are a local, then I might see you at a crowded Council Chamber at the planning committee meeting on Wednesday evening at the East Northants Council building at Thrapston , starting at 7pm.

But do remember, if you are a Woodland Trust member, that the Woodland Trust isn’t that fussed about this loss of wildlife-rich woodland to 70 holiday chalets with hot tubs, wi-fi and Sky TV.  The Woodland Trust has not objected to this loss of woodland and tried to justify their position in a comment on this blog yesterday (see here – click on comments). The Woodland Trust has a commercial link-up with Forest Holidays who have submitted the planning proposal.





I object, and so do the Dormice

Fineshade EN/14/01704/FUL

DSCF2971_2I object to the planning proposal to build 70 holidays cabins at Fineshade on the grounds that it would harm the conservation status of a European Protected Species (Dormouse). Also, that the proposed development would not pass either of the first two of the ‘three tests’ needed before such a damaging development could be approved. The information provided to the planning authority by the developer is clearly woefully inadequate.



Dormouse picThe Dormouse is a European Protected Species (EPS).  As such, it receives special protection which in the UK is transposed in to law by the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended).  Fineshade Wood has, according to the applicant’s ecologists a history of this species. In the completely inadequate single site visit on the 29/08/2014 they recorded a single nut, albeit outside the red-line boundary (development area), but contiguous with it; i.e. no ecological barrier.  Quite rightly, they concluded that dormice are present within Fineshade Wood and likely to be within the proposed development footprint.

I have checked the appropriate survey guidelines (attached) which are readily available online and the recommended survey methods have not been followed. The single visit in August does not remotely constitute sufficient survey although it confirmed the presence of Dormice, it doesn’t give any meaningful indication of distribution or population.  This is relevant to the application as the local planning authority needs to assess the application against the ‘three tests’.

Any plan or project which potentially affects the favourable conservation status (FCS) of any EPS, has to take into account obligations set out in the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora Directive 1992 (92/43/EEC) see The Habitats Directive – Environment – European Commission for more information on this Directive (see for a guidance document).

Any plan or project that would likely have a significant effect on the FCS of an EPS is required to pass the ‘three tests’ set out in Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.   The three tests are sequential and all three have to be met. The first two have to be met, before you consider the third.

The three tests are:

1) there must be no feasible alternative solutions to the plan or project which are less damaging to the affected European site(s); THIS TEST IS NOT MET
2) there must be imperative reasons of overriding public interest for the plan or project to proceed; THIS TEST IS NOT MET
3) all necessary compensatory measures must be secured to ensure that the overall coherence of the network of European sites is protected THIS TEST IS NOT RELEVANT
Given that the surveys undertaken failed to comply with the published guidelines and nor did they justify deviating away from them, in my view, the LPA cannot discharge their obligations under the 2010 Regulations.  How can they determine if there are no feasible alternative solutions (within the context of the woodland block) if they don’t know where the dormice are?  Do they use the woodland uniformly, or do they avoid certain areas?  If they avoid certain areas, would these not be alternative solutions?  Without the survey evidence (or at least a reasonable attempt to answer the question), they are not in a position to proceed beyond the first test – and remember, all three must be met.  How can the third test be met when they don’t know where and how many and what sub-habitat within the wood the dormice use?  Is the habitat management, which is proposed as a condition of planning permission in the officer’s report, appropriate/ sufficient?  The LPA are not in a position to answer this; and they need to be.  The law requires this (see the Woolley case (see a useful document here: – note that the Regulations have been updated but the case-law applies).

On this basis, in my view, the LPA cannot determine the application.


Have you seen Henry?




Not so Fine Shade


Fineshade Wood is not far from where I live, so I feel a bit guilty that I haven’t paid more attention to what is going on there.  It’s a place I know, and like, and visit now and again, but it’s c40 minute journey from where I live, so if I want to visit a wood there are closer options.  But what is happening there exemplifies much of the difficulty and complexity of protecting wildlife in the present day UK.

Fineshade is a really nice woodland, owned by the Forestry Commission (or us, in other words) and it’s pretty good for wildlife. It isn’t notified as an SSSI although arguably it could have been, and it isn’t quite a fully ancient woodland, but it’s certainly getting on a bit and, given time, it will be ancient.  The FC describe it as ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’.

And rich in nature it certainly is, with records of Dormice (I’ve never seen a Dormouse and I would like to), Badger, Adder, Nightjar (not on my Northants list), Slow Worm, Grass Snake, Great-crested Newt and Turtle Dove. Now those may all live in the woods down the road from you but they aren’t a common assemblage in east Northants. And, all the experts concur, the data are patchy and a decent survey would probably come up with more interesting stuff. By the way, there are invertebrates and plants in the wood too!

Now you might have guessed that this wood is under threat. A company called Forest Holidays want to remove large bits of this wood and replace them with 70 piles of wood called holiday cabins. Getting rid of large chunks of this forest will therefore give you the ‘ultimate forest experience’ – unless of course you are an Adder, Dormouse or Turtle Dove in which case you won’t get any forest experience (so I guess that is ‘ultimate’ in the sense of ‘last’ (last ever)).

The main thing standing in the way of this development in the heart of a semi-natural woodland in the heart of England are some local councillors (including my own councillor, Brian Northill, who will be getting a copy of this blog).

I hope the councillors reject this proposal – it’s an unwarranted destruction of my natural heritage.  Let’s hope they do at their meeting next week.


DSCF2985_2I see this case as being very similar to the Sanctuary case of this time last year which had a largely happy ending. It’s a local wildlife site which is cherished by local residents and which is irreplaceable.  As with the Sanctuary case, there is a good argument that this site ought to be notified as an SSSI and if it were it would receive far greater legal protection.  The wildlife NGOs ought, I think, and I’ve written this before, to be campaigning for far more sites to be notified as SSSI to prevent this type of issue arising.


Who is involved in this issue?:

The Forestry Commission (which I pay for through my taxes) – why did we bother telling government not to privatise some forests? Because, I believe, we thought that they would be safer in our, the public’s, the state’s, the FC’s hands. But FC are the landowners here and are, apparently, shareholders in Forest Holidays too. That’s all a bit rum, isn’t it?  Whether or not they (err, that’s we) have a stake in Forest Holidays, the FC should not be allowing this type of development in what they, themselves, describe as a ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’! For heaven’s sake!!  What do they think they are up to?

East Northants Council (I am a voter) – the planning authority, who pay the Wildlife Trusts to give them ecological advice on matters such as this.

Beds, Northants and Cambs Wildlife Trust (of which I am a member) – has lodged a very strong objection to this development. Good for them! I like that.  The Wildlife Trust will be in a difficult position if the councillors ignore the objection of their own, local, ecological advisors. Should they keep taking the money even if their advice is ignored? And I can’t find anything on the WT website on this issue. Certainly my local wildlife trust uses the site for events and walks to enjoy its wildlife, but doesn’t seem to be highlighting the issue very much.  I’m slightly surprised that I didn’t hear about this issue from my local wildlife trust.

RSPB (of which I am also a member) – has also lodged a very strong objection to this development. Good for them! I like that.

The Woodland Trust (which I have never been tempted to join) – has made weak comments on this application to destroy large areas of a ‘rich semi-natural native woodland’. That seems very odd to me, but then the Woodland Trust does have a financial relationship with Forest Holidays (although that cannot have influenced them at all, not at all).

CPRE (I sometimes toy with the idea of joining them) – object to the development.

Northants Bat Group – object.

North Northants Badger Group – object.

Northants Dormouse Group – object.

You can see the full list here, and if you do look at it you will see that the Woodland Trust really does stick out like a sore thumb – the NGO that you would expect to be fighting hardest for this woodland site, a site universally acknowledged to be wildlife-rich, is not sufficiently moved about this major development actually to object to it.

But your eyes may well pass lightly over the name Tom Purseglove.  Tom Purseglove is the Tory candidate for the marginal constituency of Corby, where I very much hope that my excellent local Labour MP, Andy Sawford, is re-elected in May. However, Mr Purseglove does seem to have chosen the right side in this debate so good for him!  I gather Andy Sawford is visiting the site tomorrow morning and I may well see him there then.

Most of the local councillors are Tories, and they will be undermining the position of their local candidate, one of whose priorities is to preserve ‘the rural character of East Northamptonshire’ and who believes that ‘local people should decide where development is, and isn’t acceptable, and their view should be respected’ if they were to approve this very unpopular proposal (just count the objections).

In summary:

  • Fineshade Wood is very good for wildlife (and there are many more like it and they should be made SSSIs).
  • wildlife conservation organisations object to the development (except the Woodland Trust, and the Woodland Trust has a close relationship with the developer, by coincidence).
  • it is mostly Tory councillors who will decide the planning application and the Tory candidate for the marginal parliamentary seat opposes the plan and has put great emphasis on protecting this area’s rural environment.
  • the FC facilitated this proposed development in the first place – how safe are our forests in the currently constituted FC?
  • is this what you want to happen to ‘your’ forests?

With ‘friends’ like the FC and the Woodland Trust then no wonder woodland wildlife is having a rough time of it!

Of the 1,256 woodland species studied, 60% have decreased and 34% have decreased strongly.State of Nature report, 2013.






Defra – what are you for? (4)

This government has been hopeless at doing things for nature. Almost completely hopeless.

The Marine and Coastal Access Act received Royal Assent in November 2009. Then there was a general election in May 2010 and everything ground to a halt.

Defra has dropped several proposed Marine Conservation Zones from the current consultation because of ‘economic cost’. It seems as though marine industries are wagging the Defra dog. And Defra does appear to be a bit of a cur, these days.

The Wildlife Trusts have always been active on this subject and I wish they would actually get a bit tougher on the government failure. The Marine Conservation Society has a useful ‘I want these sites designated and you shouldn’t have dropped the others’ email that you can sign too.  One thing I liked about this was that you could choose your own title for your email. I chose: Defra- you have done very little for nature in the last five years and you haven’t done enough in this area.

Marine Protected Areas work for fishermen as well as fish, cetaceans, seabirds and squidgy little marine things.  Why let the fishing industry – an industry that doesn’t operate on the basis of science or long term sustainability – veto marine protected areas that will benefit wildlife and benefit fishermen (in the long run) too?

The whole point of the environment department is to fight for the environment – not to cave in and compromise nature’s needs.  But Defra seems to have been captured by industry under this administration: farmers, shooters, fishermen and developers.





BASC wriggling, G(W)CT silent. How interesting.

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

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

BASC are wriggling on lead. Their previous Chief Exec appears to be in favour of a lead-free future, on the basis of the evidence. So BASC is preparing to disparage and demean their long-serving and much-respected former Chief Exec, it seems.

I cannot understand why BASC is so against a ban on lead ammunition – they would say that they are waiting for the evidence (but in practice, they are against change).  After all, most of their members, historically, are wildfowlers who aren’t allowed to use lead ammunition anyway. So what does it matter to them?

I would be surprised if the Game (and Wildlife) Conservation Trust will speak out against a lead ban – because that would completely destroy the remnants of its scientific reputation.  But, we’ll see.

In fact, thinking about it, it would be very interesting if the G(W)CT kept quiet on this subject and left it to the completely unscientific Countryside Alliance, and fairly unscientific BASC, to make the arguments for why wildlife and people should continue to take the consequences of using a poison as ammunition.

Will the G(W)CT complete its dive to the bottom and argue publicly against a ban on lead ammunition, or will it begin its long climb back to the sunlit uplands of scientific credibility (which it used to stride with pride), by agreeing that the science behind a ban is pretty much undeniable? Silence would be pathetic, given that G(W)CT are members of the LAG (unless their Chairman’s stomping out of a recent meeting really did mean that he had resigned).

Andrew Gilruth is apt to be quite quick to shoot from the hip – what will he say about lead ammunition? My guess, is nothing. But the G(W)CT is welcome to a Guest Blog on the subject of lead ammunition here. As is, almost anyone else actually. And that includes John Swift. The G(W)CT website seems strangely reticent on the matter.

For the shooting ‘community’ this seems to be a ‘we can’t argue the science so we’ll just rant and rave about it’ type of issue.  Expect lots of ranting in, and maybe from, the Shooting Times but no carefully argued case.  Watch this space…



Don’t leave them short


I won’t be buying any boardshorts, as surfing looks to me as easy as falling off a log and just as much fun (a bit like skiing really).  But if I were going to buy some smart cool shorts then I would like the idea of them being recycled from beach and ocean plastics. That sounds good to me.

Twenty plastic bottles will make a pair of shorts – it might need 25 to make me a pair of shorts (and I’d prefer they were longs).

It also sounds good to the Marine Conservation Society (and the Eden Project) who have supported Riz to crowdfund to develop such shorts. They seem to be doing quite well – but a little more help would move things along nicely.