Get the big cats purrrrrring please

Photo: USF&WS via wikimedia commons

Photo: USF&WS via wikimedia commons

The World Land Trust, of which I am a Council member, is raising money for big cat conservation – including Bengal Tiger, Puma and Jaguar (I’d just love to see a Jaguar!).

Not only will the WLT be purrrrring with pleasure and gratitude if you hand over some dosh but they will be doubly purrrring as your money will be matched by that promised by other donors in the Big Cat Big Match.

The WLT has a very good reputation as a no-nonsense conservation organisation that gets in, gets things done and leaves the world a better place, with local people better enabled to carry on the good work.

The WLT Big Cat Big Match kitty is the purrrfect place for your conservation donation…

…don’t lose that loving feline…

…don’t paws to think about it…

Check them out and then donate here.



Our friends the gamekeepers – what should we call them?

Ansdell_Richard_The_GamekeeperGamekeepers – don’t you just love ‘em?  They are a profession – did you know?

What would be the right collective noun for a group of gamekeepers?

This started as a discussion on Twitter last week – so here are some ideas to get your imaginative juices running:

  • a ‘slaughter’ of gamekeepers
  • a ‘dropped the ball’ of ‘keepers
  • a ‘denial’ of gamekeepers
  • a ‘profession of raptor haters’

You may be able to do much better…


Have done badly, still doing badly

Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons

Photo: NASA via wikimedia commons

According to last week’s Living Planet report from WWF, we have lost half of the living individual vertebrates on the planet in the last years 45 years. Quite a lot of people wanted to quibble about this, and it is an eminently quibble-able claim, but the essence of the arresting claim must be true.

You can quibble because the data on which the claim is based come from studies of c10,000 vertebrates and there would be questions over how representative are those studies of all such species.  We probably know more about the status of the Black Rhino than of the Brown Rat.

However, quibble ye as much as ye like, it will only influence the time period over which the claim is true. Maybe you have to go back another 10 years before, strictly speaking, it is true. Or maybe we would have to go back to 1900. Let’s imagine that you must go back to 1850 rather than 1970 before you would find that there were twice as many living vertebrates on the planet than there are now.  This still means that one species has got rid of around half the back-boned life on the planet in just a few generations.

How ashamed should we feel about that?  Deeply, I say.

What a good job that governments all agreed to halt this loss by 2010 – except that they failed! So what a good job that they then agreed to halt this loss by 2020 – except that another study published last week showed that they are still failing.  A paper published in Science by a very large number of conservation scientists from across the world had the following abstract:

‘In 2010 the international community, under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed on 20 biodiversity-related “Aichi Targets” to be achieved within a decade. We provide a comprehensive mid-term assessment of progress toward these global targets using 55 indicator data sets. We projected indicator trends to 2020 using an adaptive statistical framework that incorporated the specific properties of individual time series. On current trajectories, results suggest that despite accelerating policy and management responses to the biodiversity crisis, the impacts of these efforts are unlikely to be reflected in improved trends in the state of biodiversity by 2020. We highlight areas of societal endeavor requiring additional efforts to achieve the Aichi Targets, and provide a baseline against which to assess future progress.’

So, we have done badly and are still doing badly at letting other species inhabit this precious, special, life-filled, corner of the universe.  We are a pest.

But Liz Truss is most worried about apple imports.

Photo: Hans-Jörg Hellwig via wikimedia commons

Photo: Hans-Jörg Hellwig via wikimedia commons




Oscar Dewhurst – Red Deer


Oscar writes: Red Deer in golden mist: Just before I headed off to Durham to start university last week, I paid a couple of visits to Richmond Park. On one of the mornings there was a thick layer of mist covering the ground and by shooting into the rising sun it gave it a lovely golden colour.

Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400mm f4 VR




Sunday book review – Dusk Until Dawn by Martin Bradley





This book is illustrated by, and written by, Martin Bradley, as was the book on the Peregrine also reviewed here (in April).

Colin Shawyer’s foreword includes this hope: ‘Martin has, without doubt, written and produced an outstanding book which now needs to find its way to our children’s hearts, through their parents, grandparents and schools.‘ and that is a hope which I share.

This is a book for children but I just find it delightful – full of delights. First, the poem that winds through the book is well-written and informative but, for me , every piece of artwork was a delight. The clean lines, good composition, colours and changes from close-up to more familiar view were just enchanting.  And, for children of all ages, there is a vole hidden (often very well-hidden (I can attest!)) in each picture.

This could become a child’s treasured book which would turn them on to nature. Do you know a child who should hold this book in their hands? Do you have a grandchild to whom you could read this book as a bedtime treat?

Dusk Until Dawn by Martin Bradley is published by Ceratopia Books and is fantastic value at £4.99 + £1.60 P&P.  All books can be signed by the author and can be bought direct from him by contacting















Selfridges will not stock Red Grouse this year.

turn-your-back-on-grouse-logo-webSelfridges have confirmed to their customers that they will not stock Red Grouse in their Food Hall.  Good for them!  Looks like I’ll have to get out my credit card.

This was in response to an excellent letter from a reader of this blog which quoted from the Ethical Consumer report ‘Turn your back on grouse‘ thus:

‘Grouse are shot with lead ammunition. Previous studies have shown that a proportion of red grouse sold for human consumption in supermarkets and game dealers have far higher lead levels than would be legal for human consumption if the meat were beef, pork, chicken etc. Game meat has escaped proper regulation. The FSA recommend pregnant women and children, particularly but not exclusively, should pay attention to their lead intake. There is also an issue about the drugs Flubendazole and Fenbendazole (banned for human consumption) which are used in medicated grit given to grouse against Strongyle worm infection. It is possible that some estates are direct dosing the medication as well, which is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. We have been told that the

Photo: Tim Melling

Photo: Tim Melling

effective farming of grouse goes on on high intensity moors, though gamekeepers would not admit it. There is currently no routine Veterinary Medicines Directive (VMD) testing of grouse prior to entry into the food chain.’

That was quick.

Well done to Selfridges! And well done to the reader of this blog who used the information from this blog and their own wit and intuition to gain this quick win for consumer action.

And, by the way, the next major milestone for our e-petition (18,000 signatures) is fewer than 100 signatures away. Please sign here and then get a friend to do the same, please.



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill





Really Jim?

640px-Chatsworth_from_Morris's_Seats_of_Noblemen_and_Gentlemen_(1880)Local knowledge is sincerely to be prized, and who could know a National Park better than its Chief Executive?

Jim Dixon, the outgoing Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park (famed for its raptors, like all our National Parks) took me to task, just a little, on what I wrote about the recently departed Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.

This was Jim’s comment on this post: ‘Jamie Horner sets the facts out on Chatsworth’s record on birds of prey which is exemplary. The dead Gos found earlier this year was unusual in many ways and was a bird that originated from a next (sic) well away from Chatsworth. In addition the estate has a good record protecting its SSSI deer park, woodland and moorland. There are bad guys out there but the people at Chatsworth aren’t amongst them. I’d be interested to know how many Gos were raised in Northamptonshire this year.’.

Jim was clearly wound up about this as he went on to Twitter (@PeakChief) and said that I had drawn a ‘sketchy conclusion about estate’s attitude and success with conservation from little data’ whereas, I think you can see, I failed completely to draw any conclusion at all.

It’s only because I am an ardent seeker after truth, and am keen to check my facts, that I thought I would look up the record of the Chatsworth Estate on their SSSIs.

Chatsworth Old Park SSSI is in Unfavourable recovering condition according to NE.

Here are the conditions of the SSSI units also managed by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees in the Eastern Peak District Moors SSSI  (all from the MAGIC system):

Unit 117, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering

Unit 118, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering

Unit 119, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering

Unit 120, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering

Unit 121, Upland bog – Unfavourable recovering

Unit 122, Upland bog – Unfavourable recovering

Unit 123, Acid Grassland – Favourable condition (although only for Merlin and Short-eared Owl)

Unit 124, dwarf shrub – Unfavourable recovering


In units 117, 119, 120, 121 & 122 overgrazing (historically) is implicated as the reason for the condition status, although it appears that this has been addressed in recent years hence the ‘unfavourable recovering’ status.

Those who know how the system works, as Jim certainly does, will realise that the ‘recovering’ tag attached to most of these units can mean simply that the land is benefitting from a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme payment (from you and me) to ensure that it gets into good condition. I have always been completely consistent in saying that I am a great fan of this form of public support for land owners.  Indeed, one of the last successes ‘I’ had at the RSPB was campaigning to protect HLS payments in the first round of cuts after the 2010 general election.

You’ll recall then, or maybe you really don’t give a fig, that this started with me telling a little story about a letter that the lately-departed Dowager Duchess of Devonshire had written to me, going out of her way to make her dislike of the RSPB clear, and basing this on the RSPB’s stance on birds of prey.  I imagine, and my imagination is based on quite a lot of experience, that her view was shared by many other Dukes and Duchesses, Lords and Ladies and even by mere Mrs and Mrss dotted around the large country houses of the UK.

The Peak District National Park’s Chief Executive then criticised me for drawing a ‘sketchy conclusion about estate ‘s attitude and success with conservation from little data’ but adduced no data himself to back up his claims. It’s so good that we can check on these things ourselves.

Just remember:

‘The Peak District National Park has a pioneering story as the first UK national park.  One of our country’s most precious assets, with outstanding natural beauty, the Peak District has the potential to lead the way and show how we can maximise the value of these assets financially as well as for the environment and for people.  It will take an inspirational, enabling leader to build on our legacy and realise our ambitions.’




Interesting from Yorkshire Water

Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns

Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns

Yorkshire Water supported the study released on Wednesday which looked at the impacts of heather burning on the wider environment.

I contacted Yorkshire Water and was impressed by their speed of reply.  My first contact was with a young lady called Brook with whom I was allowed to chat online – this was an excellent way to ask my questions about the Leeds University study. Not surprisingly, Brook , who I imagine is more often dealing with complaints about bills or supply, didn’t have all the answers to hand but she promised to pass on my details and that I would be contacted.

I find this is often the kiss of death to any enquiry to a large corporate, but Yorkshire Water got back to me quickly to say they couldn’t get back to me quickly with a full answer – I understood that.  But they did get back to me by the end of Wednesday afternoon with this and they are happy for me to share it with you:

‘As promised, below is an explanation of our position on peatlands and their effect on our reservoirs. Excuse the long response but I hope you appreciate it’s a complicated issue.

45% of Yorkshire Water’s supplies derive from internationally important peatland uplands that drain into our reservoirs. Over the last 30 years the colour in the water has increased, caused by degraded peat. Increased colour in the water costs more to remove in the treatment process so high quality drinking water can be produced for our customers.

We have commissioned extensive research into the cause of the increased colour, including work with Leeds and other  universities. The key factors are moorland drainage; overgrazing; historic atmospheric pollution and finally heather burning. All have increased colour but the impact of burning was less certain. The conclusions from EMBER add to the evidence base that current management by burning is having an adverse effect.

Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

Whilst banning heather burning may seem a logical step, it does not address the more fundamental issue; the need to conserve and enhance active blanket bog and meet the needs for biodiversity, farming, grouse management and water quality  management in terms of colour. We have been working closely over the last 6 months with Natural England, the Moorland Association, RSPB and the Heather Trust on a solution. Through reasoned and impartial debate, all parties are now agreed that active blanket bog with a reduction in heather coverage can deliver what we all need from the uplands; Biodiversity, Water, Carbon, Sheep and Grouse. Active blanket bog with an abundance of sphagnum and other peat forming mosses will sustain the heather needed for grouse, but it will not grow as vigorously, and will therefore require far less burning, if any. We believe this is a significant change in the future management of these incredibly important habitats and something that would not have happened if the call to ban heather burning immediately was implemented.

Over the last 4 years we have applied the research findings and invested in moorland restoration by blocking man made moorland drains and revegetating bare peat in the worst areas. Over the next six years we will be investing further to secure the quality of the water draining into our reservoirs by further moorland restoration.‘.


Sea otters and a rule

Photo: Mike Baird, Morro Bay, Ca, USA via wikimedia commons Mother with rare twins - extra cute!

Photo: Mike Baird, Morro Bay, Ca, USA via wikimedia commons Mother with rare twins – extra cute!

Last week was apparently Sea Otter Awareness Week – I wish I had noticed at the time.  I spent an unforgettable time watching a Sea Otter in June 2013 – he or she was sooooo cute!  I will never, ever forget those moments.

Almost all of those who comment on this blog are cute too – whether they agree with me or not. However, from now on, I may delete all comments by commenters who don’t submit a real email address when making a comment and/or who do not respond to emails from me.  I’m not going to go into details on this – it affects a tiny proportion of comments.

I’m very happy with the numbers and quality of comments on this blog – some comments are simply superb. Please keep them coming.