What the frack? West Pennine Moors

West Pennines-1Just in case any readers of this blog think that notification of SSSIs is mere paper-shifting that doesn’t mean anything on the ground have a look at this very helpful map of areas offered for fracking by the Oil and Gas Authority. The areas SD61 and SD62 on the West Pennine Moors have a bright green light as they do not contain notified sites.  The adjacent areas SD71 and SD72 are partly covered by SPA and SAC and SSSI designations/notifications (see MAGIC for details – not the easiest system to use, but worth the effort) and so are signalled as requiring appropriate assessment.

It is of no help to business and industry to delay notification of sites if the consequence is that they are misled into thinking that an area is open for development – whether it be wind farms, forestry, mineral extraction or supermarket development – when it should not be and when they will face fierce opposition from the nature conservation interest to protect sites.

The West Pennine Moors site qualifies as an SSSI – according to all who have spoken to me who have been told as much by NE staff – and was expected to have been notified early this year (after years of delay) but now seems to have been caught up in Natural England’s newly invented Gate Zero which appears to be a way of further delaying or excluding awkward sites from notification.

Natural England rarely objects to proposed developments these days and the task of protecting our natural heritage is passing from the statutory agencies and government itself to wildlife NGOs.  But only the statutory sector can designate and notify sites and in the case of the West Pennine Moors Defra and Natural England are falling down very badly on their responsibilities – their responsibilities to nature and to we taxpayers.

Is Natural England fit for purpose?


For more on the West Pennine Moors come back at 0830 today.


To find the history behind this post search for West Pennine Moors on this blog or have a look at these posts:

Natural England seem to have lost the West Pennine Moors, 2 April 2015

West Pennine Moors, 12 June 2015

West Pennine Moors again, 22 June 2015

Dear Natural England, 22 June 2015

Gate Zero and the West Pennine Moors, 21 September 2015


Oscar Dewhurst – Little Egrets


Oscar writes: This was taken in the same place as last week’s Little Egrets, but this time shows both both birds as one chases the other through the water.
Nikon D800, Nikon 600mm f/4 AF-S II lens, Nikon 1.4x TC

Sunny Saturday


The paths between rows of houses in this part of Northamptonshire are called jitties.  It’s not a phrase I had come across before I came to live in this part of the world and it does appear to be an East Midlands’ phrase.

As I headed down this jitty yesterday morning on my way to the Post Office I stopped to look at a beautiful Comma butterfly on the ivy growing in this jitty. There were clouds of small bees on the ivy too.

As I passed through the graveyard of the Methodist church a single Large White fluttered past.

On the buddleia in my garden a single Small Tortoiseshell was feeding on a flower.

The day was warm but there was no getting away from the fact that this was a sunny autumn day and summer has ended.


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill


imageNitrogen oxides kill people.  The revelation that a massive company would install software in its products to avoid being caught by regulations designed to reduce the products’ harmful impacts on human health is still a shocking one. It is deeply shocking.

But given big industry’s record in knuckling down to regulation (tobacco and cancer, pesticides and environmental impacts) maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. The difference of course in this case is that instead of fighting against regulation this case is trying to cheat that regulation once it is in place. But then maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised at that either.

A spokesperson for the Health and Oxygen Trust (H&OT) said ‘There’s no one who loves clean air more than we do – no-one.  Can’t get enough of it. But you have to realise that landowners, sorry, industry, is very important and it knows best. We can’t let the clean-air, high-health zealots actually implement the law. What we have to do is remove the reason for the crime and we suggest a scheme, just a trial scheme, where NOx emissions are allowed to let rip, giving industry what it wants, and we’re sure that will persuade them to stick to the law everywhere else. You see, it won’t be a crime if we legalise the bad thing – it’s very simple. Industry knows best and it must be helped to respect the laws by breaking them – there’s nothing so respectful of the law as finding a way round it you know! That shows you really know the law is there. I regret that so many people take such an adversarial approach to this NOx issue, why can’t we all kow-tow to a company that breaks the law – surely we can all see that it knows best.  This thing called progress, where bad things stop happening and good things happen more often, is all very well but industry is in charge and we’ve got to get along with it. And pay for it. Anyway, that’s what my mates say and they’ve all joined the Health and Oxygen Trust.’




Not interested in the rugby world cup?


Then go out and see some birds!  And while you’re at it – buy the October issue of Birdwatch.

This month there is a fascinating article about Scillonian pelagics (where I saw my first and only (so far) Wilson’s Petrels) and an interesting review of eastern rarities and when and where they occur these days. Maybe one day I’ll see a Red-throated Pipit – but not if I sit inside watching the rugby!

I noticed there were quite a lot of reds in this month’s issue. As well as that mythical pipit, there was Red-flanked Bluetail, Red-billed Tropicbird and Red-footed Booby. And talking of reds (and boobies?), my column, the political birder, compares straight-talking Jeremy Corbyn with the careful-talking wildlife NGOs.

Surely I can claim a first for Britain – the first article in a birding magazine with Jeremy Corbyn’s photograph in it? Will it get passed the rarities committee? Does this vagrant lefty signal a colonisation of the UK by his like? Is it down to political climate change? Will he survive or will he disappear soon? Is he a blocker for the fortunes of his party?  Do Burnham, Cooper and Kendall feel gripped off?

Have a good weekend whether you pick blackberries, watch rugby, see some birds or cut the lawn. Maybe you’ll do all four – that’s my plan!


Bobbing about


I like boat trips – I never have to drive.

Sunday was a lovely day, and there’s the rub – lovely weather often means not many seabirds!

What we needed on the Yorkshire Belle was a strong wind and heaving seas – but there’s a rub there too – if the weather’s too bad then the boat stays in Bridlington harbour.

But the sea was calm which meant that it was easier to spot any mammals breaking the water surface. We saw quite a few Harbour Porpoises – like black cartwheels.  Further up the coast at Whitby, there was talk of Humpback and Minke Whales the day before.

The birds weren’t bad but not very numerous: a single Sooty Shearwater, a single Manx Shearwater, a few Fulmars, an Arctic Skua, a few Red-throated Divers, an immature Mediterranean Gull and a few Puffins were the highlights.

But it’s always fun going to sea, and the 120 or so of us made a friendly boat full.


You get a new perspective on life from the sea.  The land looks rather small, and the people on it seem constrained in a way that we mariners weren’t!

The cliffs of Flamborough and Bempton looked quite small from the sea – but  it looks like a hell of a drop from the clifftop.

Many thanks to the East Yorkshire RSPB Local Group for organising these cruises – I think it’s the second or third I’ve been on. Why not try the last of the season on 4 October – a good time for Pom Skuas I’d have thought.

When we returned to Bridlington it was midday and a boat-load of birders dispersed to find fish and chips which we all felt that we deserved for all our hard work of bird watching for three hours or so.







Satellite tags

Photo: Jude Lane, RSPB

Photo: Jude Lane, RSPB

Defra doesn’t have a plan for Hen Harrier conservation – if it did then the deployment of satellite tags on a large scale by private individuals and wildlife NGOs would have to be part of it.

Of course, we taxpayers have paid for satellite (and radio) tags to be deployed on a moderate scale for the last 14 years – but we can’t tell what came out of our investment because it’s almost all secret. I can’t think of another publicly-funded study (of a hot topic too!) which has lasted for 14 years for which there have been so few outputs.

But in 2008 there was an output from Natural England, here are a few quotes:

  • The English Hen Harrier population remains perilously small, with no more than 23
    nesting attempts in any one year in the period 2002-2008.
  • Productivity from successful nests is high, but very few nesting attempts are successful
    on grouse moors.
  • There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season.
  • Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England.

What has changed since then?  Nothing except that the situation has worsened and we have twice elected a government that has done absolutely nothing about this widespread wildlife crime.

If Defra had a Hen Harrier conservation plan then widespread satellite tagging of Hen Harriers would form a major part of it because:

  • we would learn much about movements, habitat use etc (provided the data were anlysed and published)
  • the existence of satellite tags would be a deterrent to wildlife crime which Defra acknowledges (at least I think they do) as being the main problem
  • the existence of satellite tags would aid enforcement of the law in a way that no other approach can do – it will show where crimes occur and when they occur allowing speedier and more effective investigation

bathSo, it really is a no-brainer. And all those who care desperately, about Hen Harrier conservation will no doubt match Defra funding for this element of the Defra non-plan. The RSPB is already doing its bit. LUSH are selling bath bombs to raise more money for tags. ecotricity has promised to fund a tag or two.

No doubt the GWCT will pass the hat around their grouse shooting members, all of whom have a terrible crush on Hen Harriers, to raise a few hundred thousand pounds. The Hawk and Owl Trust will chip in thanks to their hugely enlarged membership. Tim Bonner will make a moving video – apologising to Chris Packham – and promising that the Countryside Alliance will fund several tags, the first three of which will be called Barney, White and Spunner.

Provided tagging is done under licence by qualified individuals then it carries little danger of harm to harriers (large numbers of smaller Montagu’s Harriers are whizzing around the world with similar tags right now) but it is important that standards are maintained in that respect.

The war against this wildlife crime will be won not in the corridors of Whitehall but on the moors of upland Britain when the ability to detect and investigate wildlife crime is greatly enhanced by the deployment of a non-secret weapon of mass detection.




I almost forgot

9781472906274The paperback edition of A Message from Martha is published today.

At less than a tenner (£10) it’s ridiculously cheap!


This absorbing book is an engaging and wistful, yet measured, chronicle about the tragic loss of one very special, iconic, species‘ – Guardian

An entertaining book … told with humour and disarming self deprecation‘ – Country Life

‘Riveting … a dark but fascinating chronicle of how human greed can have incalculable consequences in the natural world‘ – Independent

This hear-wrenching saga of extinctions old and new is as much about us as of disappearing doves‘ – Chris Packham

‘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.’ – Sunday Times

An unusual combination of history, travelogue, horror story of wanton slaughter, analysis of ecological disaster and intense passion — for Avery leaves us in no doubt what Martha’s moral message to the modern world must be.’ – Daily Mail

A compelling read … written by one of the most passionate conservationists of his generation‘ – BTO News

The annihalation of the passenger pigeon should be seen as one of the greatest crimes committed by mankind on nature‘ – Sunday Express




Our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 19,000 signatures inside 2 months (late July, Aug, some of Sept).

Last year, it took over 5 months to reach the same level (late May, June, July, August, September, October, early November).

Thank you to all who have signed already and promoted it- keep going please! We’re on a roll!

Please sign here to make the Westminster government listen – ban driven grouse shooting.


Our Hen Harrier Study

Yesterday I received this reply from NE to a request for information about our Hen Harrier study.


Dear Dr Avery,

Access to Information Request – Request Number RFI 3112

Thank you for your request for information relating the Hen Harrier study which we received on 01 September 2015.

Your request has been considered under the Environmental Information Regulations 2004.
Please find our response below

1. Is the study of Hen Harrier tagging completed?
No, our studies involving tagged Hen Harriers are ongoing. This year we worked closely with the RSPB-led EU Life project, landowners and other partners involved in Hen Harrier conservation. A further six nestlings were fitted with satellite tags by Natural England.

2. Has a PhD been submitted?
A PhD has not yet been submitted. As a result, we have no relevant responses in relation to your questions 3, 4 and 5.
3. If so, has the PhD thesis been examined?
4. If so, has the thesis been approved?
5. If so, in which library is the PhD lodged and where can members of the public gain access to it

6. What plans does NE have to publish the data and to publicise the results of the study?
As you may be aware, data from Hen Harriers satellite-tagged in the period 2007-2014 has already been published in summary form.

We have also published a summary report A future for the Hen Harrier in England? based on monitoring and radio-tracking data collected up to 2008. We intend to publish further reports based on a more comprehensive analysis of monitoring and tracking data collected during the course of the Hen Harrier Recovery Programme (HHRP). We have no plans to publish the raw data itself as this would compromise the locations of sensitive sites utilised by Hen Harriers including breeding sites and communal winter roosts.

7. What would be the process of obtaining copies of the data for personal scientific analysis? It has, unfortunately, taken longer than originally envisaged for data collected through the HHRP over recent years to be analysed and the results published. It remains our intention to carry out this work. However, we would be open to proposals from bona fide researchers to further utilise the large amounts of data that have been collected through the programme. Because of concerns over the sensitivity of the data (referred to above) any proposal would be considered on a case by case basis and we would require the appropriate assurances over data security. We would need to reach agreement on the nature and timing of subsequent publications to ensure that these did not compromise the data analysis that is already underway.

8. Were the locations of all Hen Harriers which ‘disappeared’ or whose satellite tags ‘failed’ given to the appropriate police authorities as information which would be relevant to possible crimes? Please supply details. Whenever data from tags fitted to Hen Harriers yielded information suggesting that a bird may have died at a particular location in the UK, this information was passed to the local Police or to staff at the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Natural England assisted with any follow-up searches on the ground. This applied to a relatively small number of birds, including two that were confirmed, through recovery and subsequent post mortem, to have been shot. The majority of the satellite-tagged birds ceased to provide data in circumstances that did not indicate a likely final resting location for the bird. This stems from the fact that the tags are solar-powered and require an average of around 48 hours to charge up between each series of locations transmitted. During this period we receive no information on the location of the bird which may travel a considerable distance from its last known location. This information has been shared with partners and has been published in summary form, but it was not always passed directly to the Police.

9. Does the £10k published cost of the study include the salary of the NE staff member most intimately involved with the work? No, this figure includes only the registration costs and university fees and does not include the costs of Natural England staff time or equipment and tags required for the study. The practical work to collect data for a PhD, including time spent locating nests, fitting tags and subsequent tracking, was undertaken as part of work on Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Programme (HHRP). The opportunity was taken to use some of this data for a PhD study, with the majority of the additional time required for this contributed voluntarily by the staff member.

10. Does the £10k published cost of the study include the accommodation and subsistence costs of the NE staff member most intimately involved with the work? No, as stated above, the £10k includes only the costs of registration and university fees.

11. What are the true costs of this study to the tax-payer once NE staff time, supervision, travel, accommodation and subsistence are included?
As stated above, fieldwork and data collection has been undertaken as part of Natural England’s HHRP. The data analysis for the PhD has been undertaken outside of work by the staff member working on it and so has not involved additional costs for Natural England.