The going looks like it will be on the Irish side of soft for Cheltenham. More on this nearer the time.
The Environment Agency has faced some heavy going recently. It was briefly in a bit of a Pickles.
Applications for the post of Chair of EA have now closed. We don’t know the runners – but we do have some information on the recent form.
Previous winners have been (in descending order including at the end the Chairman of the predecessor body that fulfilled the same statutory flood defence functions – the National Rivers Authority):
- Chris Smith, Lord Smith of Finsbury (life peer), former cabinet minister in the Blair ‘Labour’ Government
- John Harman, Sir John Harman, former leader of Kirklees Council and Labour Party member
John Fellowes, Lord de Ramsey (hereditary peer), Cambridgeshire landowner, former President of the CLA, sat on the Tory benches when in the House of Lords
- Nicholas Edwards, Lord Crickhowell (life peer), former cabinet minister in the Thatcher Government
So the form might suggest a former Tory minister and/or a country landowner.
One of the past practices has been to place the next Chairman on to the Board to gain some experience before being promoted to the top job. So who are the current Board members? They are:
Robert Light (Deputy Chairman)
Dr Clive Elphick
Emma Howard Boyd
Note the preponderance of stallions and colts (we have no reason to believe that they are geldings – although that would be government’s preferred state) even though this race is open to fillies and mares too.
How would you price up the market? Here’s a go – though I am not taking bets on this race.
A non Board-member, male 15/8
Robert Light 9/4
Karen Burrows, Richard Macdonald 11/2
A non Board-member, female, 10/1
Peter Ainsworth, John Varley 12/1
Where is the clever money going, I wonder? Anne McIntosh or Tim Yeo?
Mark writes: I heard Bearded Tits at Cley last Sunday but I didn’t see them. And even if I had I wouldn’t have seen them as well as this.
Oscar photographed this female in Hyde Park in February 2013. There were two of them there – both had been ringed in 2012 at Rye Meads, Herts.
Although this is described as the 2nd edition of the book of 1993 it is much, much more than just a revamp. This edition includes data from the recent atlassing frenzy and so it is pretty much up to date (and was published in 2012).
Buckinghamshire is one of those mysterious counties as far as I am concerned. I never go there on purpose, but sometimes realise I am in it! I am always passing through and have only the vaguest notion of its geography. Milton Keynes is in Buckinghamshire – where else is? Princes Risborough, Winslow (with its boys), Chesham and Gerrards Cross. It’s completely my fault that I am so ignorant of Bucks – but I am.
There are lots of people, lots of birders and a few birds in Bucks. This book does a good job in telling you about the birds.
I was interested in the lists of breeding losses and gains: 10 species have been lost since 1900, eight of them in the second half of that period (Stone Curlew, 1964; Red-backed Shrike, 1971; Whinchat, 1983; Cirl Bunting, 1984; Wryneck, 1985; Wood Warbler, 1992; Redstart, 1997 and Stonechat, 2003) – I was surprised by how recent some of these losses were. On the other side, 21 species have been gained as breeding birds and six of those have been since 2000 (Oystercatcher, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Goosander and Peregrine). Three more species have come and gone – Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Ruddy Duck and Dartford Warbler. I predict the Dartford Warbler will be back.
There is an interesting bunch of graphs concerning arrival dates of migrants. Most are getting earlier, but the authors rightly point out that this might be due to increasing effort (more birders0 or better reporting (better behaved birders)). Either may play a part, perhaps the main part, but I’d doubt that the c3 weeks earlier arrival of the House Martin is due primarily to those factors. I’d guess, and the authors seem to agree, that climate change is partly involved. Of course, those species that are increasing in numbers (some are and some aren’t in those displayed) are likely to have slightly earlier arrival dates too – if you tell 5 people to arrive somewhere at noon and 50 people to arrive at noon, the earliest arriver is usually going to come from the 50.
Likewise, those species which are declining in numbers tend to show later arrival dates or at least not earlier ones. The Turtle Dove is now seen arriving in Bucks later in the year – I guess that is simply because there are very few of them around now.
There are other interesting synthetic analyses and essays in the book although most of its bulk comprises species accounts. These are exactly what you would want if you live in Bucks – and make interesting reading. For a non-resident they are also interesting and simply ram home the message, that we all have nationally, that some species are doing very badly and others, often non-native species, are doing very well.
Three successive species accounts partly summed this up for me: Turtle Dove (declined from c2500 pairs in the 1970s to c20 pairs now), Ring-necked Parakeet (absent in the 1970s and 50 pairs in the south of the county now (spreading north)) and Cuckoo (2000 pairs in the 1970s and only c250 now).
If you are plugged in to the birding news then the decline of birds such as Spotted Flycatcher and Corn Bunting, and the increase in Red Kites (thanks to reintroduction) and Egyptian Goose (an introduction), are not news. But they and other national trends are well-illustrated in this book.
David Ferguson edited this book – and he and his co-workers did a good job.
The Birds of Buckinghamshire, edited by David Ferguson, is published by the Buckinghamshire Bird Club.
Did you hear Nigel Lawson on the Today programme?
I gave a talk in Cheltenham on Monday evening and another in Gloucester on Tuesday evening – so I’ve been largely in Gloucestershire for a while. Here are a few rather random thoughts:
- It’s very wet out there! When I head back to Cheltenham in two and a half weeks time I’d be surprised if the going weren’t soft or tending to heavy. This has implications. Hurricane Fly will love it – surely?
- I drove past a large flooded area with big flocks of ducks overflying it – Walmore Common.
- As I sat in a hide at Slimbridge, with the sun shining, and thousands of waders (Golden Plover, godwits, Redshank, Dunlin, Lapwing etc) and wildfowl (mostly Wigeon, Teal and Mallard, but also Bewick’s Swans and a few White-fronted Geese) in the flooded field in front of me I thought that this was a fantastic sight. Along the bench from me, a man spoke too loudly on his mobile phone saying that it was very quiet out there and there wasn’t much around. Birders!
- I failed to see Hawfinches in the Forest of Dean but added three species to my year list there – Mistle Thrush (no, I don’t get out much!), Nuthatch and Raven.
- An11-year old boy was birdwatching with his mum at Slimbridge (half term!) and I was glad to point out a couple of lifers for him – Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin. Good luck to him!
- At Slimbridge I came across David Tipling whose photographs illustrate the terrific Birds and People (reviewed here) and we had a cup of coffee and a chat about people we know and how to make a freelance living.
- A man at the talk I gave at Cheltenham thought that the RSPB is losing the plot and should be doing more campaigning and less talking about nest boxes, hedgehog homes etc. Well, at least one man thought that.
- At Nagshead RSPB reserve I passed a bench on which there was a rucksack. I couldn’t see anyone else around. I looked up and down the path. I wondered whether to pick up the rucksack and take it back to the car park (although there were no staff or volunteers there to give it to), but decided to leave it be. A few minutes later I passed a mum and her son (half term!) and asked whether they had started their walk with a rucksack. The young man (c15?) looked shocked, smiled and then went pink – all in an instant. His mum said ‘#### – you are a numpty!’ – which I thought was a suitable rebuke which mixed exasperation and affection appropriately. I was glad I asked them – British reserve almost prevented me from doing so.
- I had a good cheap haircut in Tewkesbury – although not exactly Flagstaff!
- There was a Peregrine over Walmore Common – that would have been an unusual sighting the last time I was there a few decades ago.
- I paid a quick visit to Hereford – I haven’t been for four decades. There were quite a few people wandering around rather aimlessly – like me. I think that, like me, they were enjoying revisiting the feeling of walking about in sunshine. It felt so strange. On the rooftops Lesser Black-backed Gulls were in full cry – it must be spring.
- The Cotswolds are very beautiful, in places, even in the rain.
- Two Cranes flew past me at Slimbridge, their wing-beats perfectly coordinated, looking beautiful – a sight one couldn’t really have imagined were it not for the Crane reintroduction programme which started a few years ago. The evening before, a thoughtful lady had asked me whether I thought that Crane reintroductions were a good idea – I said yes, on balance, although since we decided to do them, the Cranes seemed to have got their acts together better and were spreading naturally. But that brief, but beautiful view of two in flight, was beyond price.
Natural England are in a bit of a mess over the uplands – you might say they have been bogged down.
NE had to dump their vision for the uplands of England because landowners – perhaps including their Minister at the time (Richard Benyon) – didn’t like it. They went back to basics and looked again at the evidence behind the impacts of management regimes on upland habitats. They are consulting on their draft guidance now.
The UK holds 9-15% of Europe’s peatland, and c15% of the world’s blanket bog, so we had better not harm it.
- considers that all blanket bogs and other peatlands have the potential to be restored
- concludes that burning on blanket bog has a range of impacts which are overall negative and should therefore be phased out
- recognises that there are a range of activities that have resulted in degradation of blanket bog and the process of eliminating the impacts will, in some circumstances be gradual. We will work with customers and partners to agree a process by which the activities, including burning on blanket bog, are reduced and ceased.
This sounds OK in a mealy-mouthed sort of a way. What it means is that NE should get back to telling land owners of SSSIs that they can’t burn blanket bogs on SSSIs.
If the Brazilian government came to the astounding conclusion that chopping down trees was bad for tropical rainforests and then said that it might take ages but that they would work with customers and partners (lumberjacks!) to agree a process by which rainforest destruction could cease (but it may take a while!) then we’d be tut-tutting at them.
Burning blanket bogs harms them. So let’s stop! If we stop burning blanket bogs then we can restore an internationally important carbon-storing habitat. If we carry on burning blanket bogs then who benefits? Only the Hen Harrier-destroying industry of driven grouse shooting.
It’s really not very complicated is it? Well done to the National Trust for moving in this direction in the Peak District. Well done to Natural England for coming full circle back to almost where it was a few years ago!
What is happening on Walshaw Moor?
The ‘Ban the Burn’ group is having a demonstration outside the head offices of Natural England tomorrow morning as NE staff arrive at work.
It’s not only lowland flat places that suffer flooding – Hebden Bridge has had more than its fair share over recent years. Many residents there feel that poor management on the grouse moors in the surrounding hills has contributed to these damaging floods. That’s why they seek to ban the burning of blanket bogs – amongst other reasons simply to keep their properties safe.
Armed with mops and buckets the message of the demonstration will be ‘Don’t fund flooding’.
‘Ban the Burn’ believe that burning heather on blanket bogs increases flood risk downstream, and therefore it should be banned not subsidised.
Jim Peterken, a Ban The Burn supporter, said, “The general public may be interested in the issue that our hard-earned public tax money is being paid to rich landowners to flood us. Grouse moor owners are being paid millions of pounds through the environmental stewardship scheme, to protect the uplands. But they are burning blanket bog and making flooding worse in areas like Hebden Bridge. Not to mention destroying biodiversity.”
Walshaw Moor sits above Hebden Bridge.
Farmland butterflies had a good year in 2013 – benefiting from the best summer weather for seven years. I bet you noticed more butterflies in your garden – I certainly did – and my (our?) garden observations were reflected in a much better year for butterflies across the fields of farmland Britain.
Common Blue, Small Copper, Small Skipper, Brimstone, Large Skipper and Small Tortoiseshell all bounced back in 2013 after experiencing a crash in numbers during 2012.
The Wider Countryside Butterfly Survey (WCBS) found that many farmland butterflies flourished as a result of long periods of warm, sunny weather last summer.
The annual survey, running since 2009, counts butterflies in more than 850 randomly selected 1km-squares across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to assess the health of butterfly populations in the wider countryside. Overall, most farmland species recovered in 2013 after suffering one of the worst years on record for butterflies in 2012.
Last year recorders saw an average of 85 butterflies of five species per survey made over July and August – almost double the numbers recorded in 2012.
The Small Tortoiseshell, which has suffered an ongoing decline, recorded its best summer since the start of WCBS. More than 6,833 individuals were counted with the butterfly seen in 80% of squares compared to just 40% in 2012.
Following an appalling 2012, the Common Blue had a good year with an average five-fold increase in abundance per square. The Small Copper and Brimstone were also both more widespread and abundant than in the previous year.
The Large White and Small White, were also recorded in profusion with more than twice the number of Large Whites counted per square and five times the number of Small Whites in 2013 than in 2012.
For the fifth year in succession the Meadow Brown was the most widespread and abundant species – recorded in more than 90% of squares with 8,000 more butterflies counted in 2013 than 2012.
The Holly Blue and Red Admiral were among the minority of species that didn’t have such a good year with numbers down for both compared to 2012.
Dr Zoë Randle from Butterfly Conservation, said: “Farmland butterflies really thrived last year primarily due to the fantastic summer weather which provided ideal conditions with several recording their best ever WCBS results.”
The WCBS is run by Butterfly Conservation, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) as part of the United Kingdom Butterfly Monitoring scheme (UKBMS).
May we please have another proper summer – we deserve it after this wet, wet, wet winter..
John is to be congratulated on this highly successful e-petition – few do this well.
This e-petition is open for another 160 hours or so – until next Wednesday morning, so if you are a UK resident and have not signed the e-petition yet, and you think that it would help (I do!), then please sign now.
More on this at a later date!
‘Our studies of the movements of satellite tagged birds are continuing, as they are yielding much useful information on the movements, habitat use, and ecology of Hen Harriers. But they are also raising questions about their ultimate fate. We have, for instance, been looking into the disappearance of six Hen Harriers at an autumn roost known to us in the northern uplands. The anecdotal evidence of deliberate persecution given to us in confidence by a local land manager correlates with the information provided by the last known location of a number of birds that were being radio-tracked by project staff.‘ from A Future for the Hen Harrier in England published by Natural England in 2008.
That was in 2008 – the satellite-tagging of Hen harriers started some time before that.
Simple question, NE – when are these results going to be published in full?