The ibis has landed – almost…

Photo: @_Pallikkaranai via wikimedia commons

Photo: @_Pallikkaranai via wikimedia commons

This summer, a pair of Glossy Ibises built a nest at the RSPB nature reserve at Frampton Marsh – the first recorded nesting attempt by this species in the UK.

The pair did not go on to raise young but this is a sign of things to come.

RSPB Senior Sites Manager John Badley said: “We’ve done a lot of work at Frampton Marsh to bring the wildlife of the Wash closer for people to see and enjoy by creating lots of new wetland habitats. We’ve been pretty successful, but this wasn’t on our radar at all!

“The birds built up a nest platform out of the water in just a few days, but despite being seen courting and displaying they didn’t lay any eggs. This could be the behavior of immature birds practicing before they are mature enough to breed.”

The closest glossy ibis nesting site to the UK is in the south of France, with more in southern Spain and in south-east Europe. It’s believed that drier conditions in southern Spain may have pushed some birds further north this summer in the search for favourable nesting sites. Since 1997 several southern European heron species have nested in Britain for the first time, including the now firmly-established little egret, and the colonising great white egret.

Well done! to the RSPB and best wishes to John Badley.  Frampton is a really great nature reserve and this event (or, almost event) shows that nature reserves are going to be important in helping nature respond to climate change.


Only 362 days until the next Bird Fair.

Towards the end - the crowds thin and people begin to disperse

Towards the end – the crowds thin and people begin to disperse

Well, that’s another Bird Fair of sun, rain, ice-creams, beer, books, binoculars, holidays, talks, friends, colleagues, queues and friendship. But it’s also the first one where Hen Harrier Day t-shirts were almost everywhere except on a very scantily clad lady who strolled through the food area. What are things coming to?


I’ll miss this enormous harrier

Sunday was a quieter day and started with some rain. I managed a quick chat with Jessie Barry from Cornell (and best wishes to all friends there) and then a slightly longer one with the Wilde family. Do you know, I’m going to miss them and their enormous Hen Harrier next weekend!

I was stuck on 19 of the 20 ‘faces to spot’ – Richard Porter eluded me. How many of you saw 20 out of 20?

I did a couple of book signings, on the Birdwatch and Subbuteo stands, and then a well-attended talk and a mini book signing in the Authors Wildlife Forum.

I was wondering how many millionaires there were at the Bird Fair this weekend – I met a couple, maybe three, but there are probably quite a few.

I had a bit more time to chat to people and relax today and I enjoyed the day immensely.  I’m sure we will be told that this Bird Fair was the biggest ever, we usually are, and maybe it was, but it was certainly ‘up there’ in my list of most-enjoyable ones.

As always, I met people I know and met some people for the first time who will now be added to my list of people I know for next Bird Fair.

What a gorgeous bird - I quite fancy this one!

What a gorgeous bird – I quite fancy this one!

Yesterday I met a young man of 8 (I think it was) who came up to me (with Dad standing just a little way back) and engaged me in conversation about Hen Harriers. Crikey he was impressive in both his confidence and his cogency.  Seems to me that there are plenty of clever young people in the world (there always are) and they may be able to sort out the mess that we are leaving them.

Here’s another tale from yesterday. I saw Iolo Williams and we were talking Hen Harriers. And then we talked about Iolo being on the TV. He told me that he saw a local farmer in his part of Wales after he’d been on Springwatch and had asked his farmer friend whether he had sen Iolo on TV, to which the reply was ‘Yes’. ‘Did you enjoy it?’ asked Iolo, ‘Not really’ said the farmer, and drove off. It’s tough being a TV personality with critics like that, I guess.  I dare say that Chris Packham gets even worse reviews from the Countryside Alliance and some of their supporters after his stand against badger killing, the Maltese spring slaughter and Hen Harrier persecution.

I had a chat with Peter Cooper, of AFON, whom I am supposed to be mentoring, and I’m looking forward to seeing him and many others again at the AFON Conference in Cambridge on 5 September.

I spent time talking to lots of friends over the three days. One was missing – get well soon Derek Moore if you are reading this (and even if you aren’t!) – the Bird Fair isn’t quite the same without your accent, your stories and your overall massive presence.

I also met, in person for the first time, Guest Bloggers here, Matt Williams (here and here)  and Simon Phelps.

I chatted briefly, not enough, to Peter Jones (and thank you, Peter, for the article on Hen Harriers in Birds of Andalucia), chatted to the founder of British Wildlife (Andrew Branson) and its new editor (Malcolm Tait – who disclosed an excellent addition to the writing stable), a whole bunch of former colleagues at the RSPB, and just loads and loads of people.

I’ll write more about the future of the Bird Fair later in the week but I just have to say how much I enjoyed this one. A big thank you to Tim and Martin and a whole gang of other people for all their efforts to stage it every year.

There was an awful lot of talk about Hen Harriers this year and a bunch of people are going to have to think hard about what might be the next steps in the campaign. It’s only a week since hundreds of us assembled for the first ever Hen Harrier day but there is great appetite for more action.  Remember that, tomorrow, the RSPB Chair of Council has a Guest Blog here on the RSPB’s chosen way forward.

But, I have to admit, that part of my delight at this Bird Fair is that I seem to have sold a lot of books. I’ve certainly signed an awful lot – mostly of A Message from Martha but also quite a few Fighting for Birds too!  Thank you to all who bought, and to all who said nice things about both books.  there were very few copies of Martha left at the end of the Bird Fair – Wild Sounds sold out, Birdwatch had one copy, Subbuteo had very few and NHBS were down to their last two. Nicely judged guys and thank you for all your help!

A Message from Martha almost goes extinct on Bird Fair bookstands but the author regards this as perfectly sustainable harvesting.

A Message from Martha almost goes extinct on Bird Fair bookstands but the author regards this as perfectly sustainable harvesting.



Oscar Dewhurst – Red-bellied Macaws

Red-bellied Macaw
Oscar writes: Red-bellied Macaws were also common at Los Amigos Biological Research Station. These flew past the canopy tower at about head height every evening, sometimes very close to the tower!
Nikon D300s, Nikon 600mm f4 AFS-II

Bird Fair Day 2


Mike Dilger presents the award to farmer Graham Birch.

The winner of the Fair to Nature farming award was unveiled at breakfast at the Bird Fair today and it was…drumroll….Graham Birch.  Congratulations to him and to the two Highly Commended farmers (Ian Crabtree and Charles Porter)(click here for details).  Thank you to Fair to Nature (formerly known as Conservation Grade) for a free breakfast, for this award and for what they do to make our food be a little more sustainably produced.

As you can see from the photo above, Mike Dilger appears to be wearing the trousers he’s had since his teens – I’m very impressed he can still get into them but they are a bit short for him now. Never mind, he was one of my four missing people in the ‘Spot these 20′ just-for-fun competition. I am, now, after two days, on a tantalising 19 out of 20 having added Ian Wallace, David Lindo and Mike Dilger today.  I am only missing Richard Porter but he is easily overlooked in a crowd, especially if you are, as I am, 6ft 3in, as Richard is a bit shorter than that.  I have had reports of Richard being seen both yesterday and today but he has been as elusive as a Little Stint in a big flock of Dunlin as far as I am concerned.  And I bet he has flown already. How many have you seen at the Bird Fair so far out of: Chris Packham, Tim Appleton, Mike Clarke, Stephanie Hilborne, Mike Dilger, David Lindo, Bill Oddie, Martin Warren, Matt Shardlow, Martin Davies, Richard Porter, Findlay Wilde, Stephen Moss, Conor Jameson, Andy Clements, Ed Drewitt, Ieuan Evans, Debbie Pain, Ian Wallace, Ian Newton?

After breakfast it was off to an event in the Authors Wildlife Forum tent. This was about David Cobham’s book, The Sparrowhawk’s Lament, and consisted of David being interviewed by Chris Packham about the book.  I’ve reviewed David’s book for the September issue of Birdwatch and to sum it up  – it’s a lovely book, illustrated by Bruce Pearson, and full of interesting stories about Britain’s birds of prey.  The event was packed!

BvLMG-dIYAAfRICDavid Cobham is a Vice-president of the Hawk and Owl Trust, of which Chris Packham is the President.  And a car load of Hawk and Owl Trust staff accompanied their Chairman, Philip Merricks, up to the Hen Harrier day event last Sunday.

I then did some book signings on the Wild Sounds, Subbuteo and Birdwatch stands. I signed lots of books and am slightly surprised by how many copies of Fighting for Birds were sold alongside A Message from Martha. Stocks of Martha were running low in some places yesterday – no wonder my Bloomsbury editor, Jim Martin, looks quite pleased with the world.

By the way, I’m signing books on the Birdwatch stand tomorrow, Sunday morning, from 10-11am and on the Subbuteo stand from 11-12midday.

And then at 1330 I am doing a little talk, entitled Fighting for Birds, in the Authors Wildlife Forum if you’d be interested to come along and heckle or ask questions.

Lots of people have been seen wearing Hen Harrier Day t-shirts at the Bird Fair today too, and I’ll be wearing mine again tomorrow.

And lots of people have been asking what the next step in the Hen Harrier campaign is – it’s a good question and one which a group of us will be thinking hard about over the next few weeks. If you have any ideas you want to throw into the mix then leave them as suggestions here or email them to me – or just go ahead and get on with them!

There clearly is appetite amongst ‘ordinary’ birders to keep the fight going – and I’m sure we will.

Yesterday, in the Q&A session, after Tris and I talked about Passenger Pigeons and Turtle Doves,  a lady, in a Hen Harrier Day t-shirt, who had attended Hen Harrier Day last Sunday (was it only a week ago?), stood up and thanked me for helping to arrange it but, much more importantly, and very touchingly, thanked me and others for giving her a way to make her voice heard. And from the way she said it, you could tell  that she wasn’t just being polite but she really meant it.

maltaBeing part of a campaign, a group of people who believe the same thing, is an empowering feeling and I’m glad that a group of us, not just me, have given birders a chance to have that feeling. It’s actually what NGOs are for, I’ve always thought, to give people a feeling of being part of a movement but it seems as though quite a lot of that feeling is nowadays generated by others such as Chris Packham (over Malta, Hen Harriers and Badgers), Brian May (Badgers), George Monbiot (Rewilding and much more) and others.

Since the Hawk and Owl Trust, in one way or another, are doing such a lot for birds of prey I thought I ought to join – so I did! I filled in the form for a direct debit and am now a member but I also got a copy of the Collins Bird Guide so I’d rush round to the Hawk and Owl Trust in Marquee 1 and sign up as soon as the doors open tomorrow as stocks can’t last that long.

Just across the way from the H&OT are Birdlife Malta where I finished the day and the LACS stand which seemed to catch the mood of the Bird Fair to some extent.







Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill


Ralph writes: if we are going to succeed at tackling big problems like climate change and raptor persecution we need to understand that people are influenced by their emotions and values. Humans as a species are not fact-processing machines and we need to adapt our approaches with this in mind – for more information see





Bird Fair Day 1

Well, that just shot past.

I missed the opening ceremony.

I gave half a talk and Tristan Reid gave the other half – it seemed to add up to a proper talk in the end.

A lady was emotional about the fact that Turtle Doves had not turned up in her village this year – I wish the room (tent, actually) had been full of politicians to see how much it mattered to her.

Lots of people were wearing Hen Harrier Day t-shirts. Many of the sodden 570 were present and exchanging smiles as they passed each other. Many, many people talked about Hen Harrier Day and how please3d they had been that it had happened.  I saw three of the guys from Birders Against Wildlife Crime and we decided we’d have to talk properly about ‘what next?’.

I met Oscar Dewhurst and Jonnie Fisk.

I drank a beer – and very good beer it was too.

I had an ice-cream and that was pretty good as well.

I signed lots of copies of A Message from Martha and quite a few copies of Fighting for Birds too.

I saw Chris Packham, Tim Appleton, Mike Clarke, Stephanie Hilborne, Bill Oddie, Martin Warren, Matt Shardlow, Martin Davies, Findlay Wilde, Stephen Moss, Conor Jameson, Andy Clements, Ed Drewitt, Ieuan Evans, Debbie Pain, Ian Newton but not Mike Dilger, David Lindo, Ian Wallace or Richard Porter. Did anyone else spot these four yesterday?

I missed seeing Derek Moore – wishing him a quick and complete recovery.

Do you remember Hookpods? I learned more about them at their stand and their fundraising is going quite well.

A signed copy of Fighting for Birds and a 2XL Hen Harrier Day t-shirt are prizes in the Birding for All raffle.

Keith Betton and I talked to Nigel Massen about a book we have finished ‘writing’.

I had a quick word with Simon Barnes but I will see him next week for a proper chat.

I had a quick chat to the very nice people from the World Land Trust and talked briefly about their Controversial Conservation event on 2 September, and then I came home.  The day just flew past.

Tomorrow, Saturday, I will be joining in a discussion with Chris Packham, Bruce Pearson and author David Cobham in the Authors Wildlife Forum from 1030-1115 and doing book signings as follows:

1200-1300 on the Wildsounds stand.

1400-1500 on the Subbuteo stand.

1500-1600 on the Birdwatch stand.

Looks like another busy day and the weather forecast looks pretty good. See you there? I’ll try to take some photos tomorrow.


The book to buy at the Bird Fair

Martha ends

This morning I am talking about Passenger Pigeons in a  double act with Tristan Reid in the Main Event Marquee at 1100 (until 1145). Come and listen to the tale of the Passenger Pigeon and what it signifies for us today in a countryside which is losing its farmland birds – and another pigeon, the Turtle Dove, in particular.

From 1200-1300 I’ll be happy to sign copies of A Message from Martha on the Wild Sounds stand in Marquee 3.

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

Rare Bird Alert (Andrew Stoddart): ‘In his new freelance capacity, Mark Avery is one of the country’s most visible advocates for nature. To his already well-known skills as a scientist and a conservationist can now be added those of a writer. He is self-deprecating in his Preface about this new incarnation but these warnings are misplaced. Though much of the book is sombre in content, its tone is lively, enagaging and often humorous, some of it verging on the Brysonesque, full of telling anecdote and wry aside. Most impressive of all is the speech drafted for Barack Obama, setting out a vision and a set of actions which would place America on a brand new environmental course. Not only is it compelling in its content but it is beautifully and subtly crafted. It captures the cadences and rhythms of the forty-fourth President so astutely that one can be forgiven for thinking that it is he who is speaking. If only it were the case….’  - full review here

The Independent (James Attlee): ‘In its science, its history and its ecological insights, the book excels’full review here.

It’s only fair for me to point out that The Times and Telegraph weren’t any bit as keen on it, but why not find out yourself by buying a copy and reading it?


I will try to write a little review of my day at the Bird Fair each evening but its timing will be unpredictable!

And I can tantalise you with the fact that there will be a Guest Blog here early next week on the RSPB’s position on Hen Harriers and driven grouse shooting from their Chair, Professor Steve Ormerod.


Right arguments – northern, rocky maths

Photo: Tim Melling

Photo: Tim Melling

If there were any doubt about the fact that the establishment is mobilising to defend the indefensible – driven grouse shooting – then you only have to pick up the right wing press to have your doubts dismissed.

In the run-up to Hen Harrier Day and the Inglorious 12th the defenders of driven grouse shooting have been Robin Page in the Daily Telegraph, Matt Ridley in The Times, Charles Clover in the Sunday Times and Camilla Swift in the Spectator. Robin may feel a bit out of place with a Charles and Camilla, and a Viscount!

Charles Clover (whom I like and respect) doesn’t really seem to me to have his heart in what he was writing. It looked like a ‘job’ rather than his usual style but I may be wrong.  He has a go at me, which is fine by me (particularly as I may be ‘a clever person’) and on Twitter he suggests that in Fighting for Birds (still available to buy at the Bird Fair this weekend!) I say that banning driven grouse shooting won’t work. He should turn back to page 214 and see that, if anything, I could be criticised for being rather slower off the mark than I might have been.

But all these folk keep trotting out the question ‘Why aren’t there any Hen Harriers at the RSPB reserve at Geltsdale then? Eh? Answer me that?’. They should read this blog a little more often and then they would know.

There are only three pairs of Hen Harrier in England this year. They can’t live everywhere. Why does the Yorkshire Dales National Park not have a single pair of Hen Harriers this year – or in most other years? Why is the North York Moors NP a Hen Harrier no-go zone? Why aren’t the hills of the Peak District alive with Hen Harriers? Why haven’t the National Trust got lots of Hen Harriers? Why aren’t our National Nature Reserves full of them? And why are there only three pairs rather than the 330 pairs in England that the science says could exist? The answer is the same to all those questions. The answer is that they are killed off! We know that. Listen to Andrew Gilruth’s podcast again and the GWCT is honest enough to admit it, and that it has been well known and established for years and years.

Hen Harriers are rare, on RSPB nature reserves in England, just as they are in National Parks in England and NNRs in England, and indeed anywhere where they ought to nest in England because grouse shooting interests kill them. And because the Hen Harrier population dynamics is a bit like soup (rather than mashed potato) the whole population drains away under the impact of illegal persecution. We’ve done all this before – Robin, Matt, Charles and Camilla do please try to keep up with the argument!

But do note that these four, and others who comment here, are always very keen to drag the RSPB’s record into this ‘debate’.  I wonder why that is?  It could be to deflect the argument away from crime in the hills couldn’t it? I’ve taken to calling the hills of the north of England a gigantic wildlife crime scene.

Apparently some gamekeepers will lose their jobs if driven grouse shooting is banned. Yes, of course they will. That would be the price of working in an industry that has tolerated illegal elements in its midst for so long.  There aren’t so many fletchers in work these days, nor hangmen, nor manufacturers of gin-traps – the price of progress is that some jobs go, and others are created. Ask a coal miner about it. Or a shipyard worker.  Although there wasn’t anything criminal about their industries.

According to my old friend Viscount Ridley, grouse moor managers spend £50m a year on ‘conservation’ which is, apparently, twice as much as the RSPB spends. I’m not sure that either of those figures is accurate but let’s take them as though they are. According to the science (Redpath et al.  2010 quoted in the official statutory sector conservation framework, page 54), in 2008 there were only 5 successful pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in the UK on driven grouse moors when the expected number should have been around 500. On RSPB nature reserves, in recent years, there are about 50 pairs of nesting Hen Harriers (they may not all be successful – in fact they won’t be, because that’s life!).

Now, it might have escaped Matt’s notice that the RSPB has some nature reserves that aren’t grouse moors, and aren’t even moors, and aren’t even on hills, but leaving that aside, the RSPB seems to be able to produce 10 times as many Hen Harriers on half as much money, so are about 20 times better at it than grouse moor managers. It is a ridiculous argument, of course, but it looks like worthy of the Fields Medal for Maths (except I am over the age of 40, so not eligible) compared with the sums of Viscount Ridley either here or in his former role as the Chair of Northern Rock when it went under.

These are apparently the best arguments that the establishment can come up with for driven grouse shooting to continue.  I thought they’d do a bit better than that - let’s ban it now.








Guest poem – The Blood and the Purple (to mark Hen Harrier Day) by John Smart

HenHarrier3~I and a colleague, who does much work for the Essex Wildlife Trust, attended the ‘Hen Harrier Day’ protest event on Sunday, at Derwent Water in the Peak District. It was heartening to mingle with so many like-minded folk who are appalled at the persecution of raptors across the grouse moors. And even more dismayed that the hunting and shooting fraternity has not attempted to reach a compromise on the issue.

Bertha’s stair rods did not dampen our spirits but seemed to add emphasis to the resolve. In the face of adversity as it were!

I know I speak for a lot of us when I say,

Keep the pressure up!



The Blood and the Purple ~

[To Mark Hen Harrier Day]


In a habitat of raw elements

Squalls sweep by in chilled flurries

Across the ridges and carved valleys

All along the waving folds of Calluna

Thrives the bilberry and the sundew

And the upland ways of wild things


A theatre for a Circus turn

Soars adeptly in his cyaneus livery

The laws of physics surpassed!

Skydancing above the purple haze!

Crazy spirals and showy switchback!

Adorns the bright broad skies


On the killing ground of the driven

Trodden in and stamped upon

Lay crushed by whim and profit!

The budding dance troupe no more

In the blood and the purple

Do they not acknowledge our treasure?




The phrase ‘purple haze’ was first used by Charles Dickens in 1861 in ‘Great Expectations’.

And later re-penned by Jimi Hendrix.



20 things you must do at the Bird Fair


Recognise anyone?  Cartoon by Ralph Underhill @cartoonralph

Recognise anyone? Cartoon by Ralph Underhill @cartoonralph

  1. Buy a copy of A Message from Martha
  2. Miss the opening ceremony (it’s not exactly Danny Boyle) but if you find yourself waking up at the end of it then do stay for an interesting talk by Tristan Reid about running for Turtles Doves and some other bloke about a bird that’s been extinct for very nearly a century
  3. Buy a raffle ticket from Birding for All
  4. Visit some non-birdy stands – Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, LACS, British Dragonfly Society, Buglife and some others too
  5. Read the programme so that you don’t go ‘Damn, I’ve missed it
  6. Subscribe to Birdwatch – the magazine that supported Hen Harrier Day
  7. Drink some beer
  8. Have an ice-cream
  9. See a 6ft tall Hen Harrier
  10. See a 5ft 2in tall ginger-headed boy who made a 6ft tall Hen Harrier
  11. Tell Carry Akroyd that she is responsible for two of the very best book jackets of the year; A Message from Martha and Tweet of the Day
  12. Tell Martin Davies that it won’t be the same next year without him – after 26 years of co-organising the Bird Fair
  13. Look up occasionally and see how many birds of prey you can see over the three days
  14. Visit the BTO stand and tell them that the Atlas was wonderful, Birdtrack is wonderful, the Cuckoo project is wonderful and they are all rather wonderful
  15. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology stand – they may talk in a slightly odd accent but they know their birds, and actually, they know your birds too!
  16. See how many points you can get over the three days by spotting (one point each) the following: Chris Packham, Tim Appleton, Mike Clarke, Stephanie Hilborne, Mike Dilger, David Lindo, Bill Oddie, Martin Warren, Matt Shardlow, Martin Davies, Richard Porter, Findlay Wilde, Stephen Moss, Conor Jameson, Andy Clements, Ed Drewitt, Ieuan Evans, Debbie Pain, Ian Wallace, Ian Newton.
  17. Visit the Birdlife Malta stand and ask them how you can help
  18. Go to Bird Brain of Britain and pretend you knew all the answers (Saturday 3pm)
  19. Have another ice-cream?
  20. You did get that copy of A Message from Martha didn’t you?

Martha ends