Read BBC Wildlife’s election special

If you are going to vote on 7 May – and I do hope you will – then your preparation should start by  reading the April issue of BBC Wildlife magazine (giraffe on cover).

The 6-page election special asks eight questions of the Conservatives, Greens, Labour, Lib Dems, Plaid, SNP and UKIP.


The questions are good ones:

  • how would you tackle bovine TB?
  • should development sometimes be stopped to protect wildlife?
  • should the neonic ban be made permanent?
  • should farmers be incentivised to protect rare species?
  • should some marine areas be fully protected?
  • should the hunting ban be repealed?
  • should wolves and lynx be reintroduced?
  • how would you reduce raptor persecution?

You must read for yourself, and decide for yourself, whether the answers are good or not.

This is what I did. First, I read the answers and rated them with a tick (I approve), a dash (hmm, not sure) and a cross (don’t like that!) for all parties. Then I went through again deciding whether I believed what they were saying or not! I did this based on the parties’ past performance, what they have said for the last five years, and their overall political philosophy. It’s quite a crude way to look at things, but I offer it to you as a way of separating what you are told and what you should believe.

I’m not going to tell you anything about the answers as I really do recommend that you go out and buy this issue and read it carefully.

photoBut I will say this, as a member of the Labour Party. Labour was near (very near) the foot of the list in my analysis. It pains me that the party I support for many reasons (rather a lot of them historical rather than current) is so poor on these issues that matter so much to me.

And it was worse than that. In these answers, published in a wildlife magazine, for a wildlife audience, Labour sits firmly on just about every fence on offer. The Labour answers are a case-study in avoiding answering the question. If you are looking for inspiration from Labour on these issues, then I suggest to you, you won’t find it here (though you should read it for yourself!).

I’ll be waiting to see the election manifestos of the parties and will share with you on this blog my views of them. My local Labour MP, Andy Sawford, is assured of my vote on 7 May and my active support in this Labour/Conservative marginal but I’ll be reviewing my membership of the party after the election.






Gideon (George) Osborne to make environmental announcement in tomorrow’s budget?

M. Holland [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, CC-BY-SA-2.5 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

M. Holland [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, CC-BY-SA-2.5 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Watch this space…

…or in fact the Budget speech which you may well hear before I do.


First Hedgehog conservation area

"Braunbrustigel Stacheln 050725" by BS Thurner Hof - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Braunbrustigel Stacheln 050725″ by BS Thurner Hof – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

A Hedgehog conservation area (of 90ha) has been established by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and Solihull Metropolitan Council, comprising the WWT’s Elmdon Manor nature reserve and the council’s Elmdon Park.  The project is funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.

Hedgehog Officer, Simon Thompson, extends an invitation to Solihull’s residents to participate in a large scale citizen-science project to map and monitor hedgehog distribution and abundance across the town.  He said:  “I’m really proud to be working on a project which has its feet so firmly grounded in grass-roots conservation. Local people and businesses have the opportunity to be involved with every level of the project.  Whether getting hands-on with habitat management or borrowing a remote camera to conduct a survey in a back garden, everyone can get involved, ultimately helping to secure a bright future for hedgehogs in their community.

Through engaging the community the project hopes to engage the Hedgehogs too! The project aims to improve the connectivity of this urban environment by ensuring that there are enough small gaps and holes in barriers such as fences that hedgehogs can shuffle and snuffle around without let or hindrance between good feeding areas and nesting sites.

Fay Vass, Chief Executive, British Hedgehog Preservation Society, said:  “We are delighted to be funding such an exciting and important project in Warwickshire that will hopefully benefit many hedgehogs. Simple measures such as ensuring there is a five inch square gap in boundary walls and fences make a massive difference to local hedgehog populations.  There are many ways people can assist this declining species and we hope this project will complement our work to highlight the plight of the hedgehog.”

Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England, said:  “The once common hedgehog is now under threat from development and habitat loss caused by loss of hedgerows and the intensification of our agricultural landscapes.  Across the UK individual Wildlife Trusts are working hard to restore habitat to benefit species like the hedgehog – and there’s much we can do in our own back yards to help.  Combined, our gardens provide a space for wildlife larger than all our National Nature Reserves, so by gardening in a wildlife-friendly way, we can all help our spiny companions to find a home and move safely between habitats to find mates and food.

When did you last see a Hedgehog – it’s been a while for me?  I haven’t seen one in my garden for a few years and yet they used to be fairly regular visitors.  And now I think about it, I don’t see nearly as many of them squashed on the road as I used to.

In the 1950s there were an estimated 30 million Hedgehogs in the UK whereas they were down to 1.5 million by 1995. The decline in the 1990s was thought to be about 40%, judged by falling numbers of road kills.  That is some decline and is likely to be caused by a combination of increased Badgers numbers (as they take the odd Hedgehog for sure), increased road traffic (as they squidge some Hedgehogs for sure), reduction in quality of the farmed landscape and possibly a decline in the quality of urban environments from the point of view of Hedgehogs.  It will be interesting to see whether thi9s project can engage enough people and enough Hedgehogs to make a difference.


Two weeks to go

Ban driven grouse shooting

Our e-petition passed 21,500 signatures yesterday, with two weeks to go (and after less than 10 months).

The e-petition is on the Westminster government website which means that it has political clout. Already it is one of the most successful e-petitions ever – being in the top 0.5% of all e-petitions on this site.  The e-petition applies to England, but any UK citizen is entitled to sign it.

Driven grouse shooting, where lines of beaters chase the Red Grouse across the hills to fly past lines of ‘guns’ who pay large amounts of money to shoot at them, is the source of wildlife crime (killing of birds of prey), damaged wildlife sites (burning of blanket bogs), increased carbon emissions (from heather burning and soil erosion), increased water bills (through water discolouration requiring water treatment) and increased home insurance (through increased flood risk caused by land management in the hills).  It is of trivial economic value to the economy but your taxes are helping to subsidise this field sport. We’d be better off without it.

All attempts to negotiate a more sustainable future with grouse shooting interests have failed through their intransigence. The only way forward for the wildlife enthusiast, the taxpayer and the many, is to ban this unsustainable practice of the few.

This e-petition has already sent a message to grouse shooters that they need to change and to politicians that they need to act.  Your signature will help strengthen that message.

I am grateful to Chris Packham, the Green Party of England and Wales, Birdwatch magazine, the League Against Cruel Sports, Rare Bird Alert and a host of raptor workers and wildlife enthusiasts for their support in getting this e-petition so far. One last push and surge of signatures before the 30 March will strengthen that message.

But it’s up to you!

Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Thank you for your help



Jilly Cooper needs your help


By Allan warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Jilly Cooper tries to persuade her cat not to catch Robins in the garden? By Allan warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

A Hen Harrier (ringtail) not normally seen in Cotswold streets chatting to Jilly Cooper. Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons












Jilly Cooper was talking about the vote for the national bird on the Today programme (at about 2hr 23 min into the programme) this morning and admitted to not knowing what a Hen Harrier was. This is despite her 1976 book being called ‘Harrier’ despite the misprint of its title on the cover (for which I blame the publisher).

Cooper said that ‘I’m not sure I’d recognise one in the street…‘ and that is so true – because they are too rare for the likes of Mrs Cooper to get to know them. The Hen Harrier is the most persecuted bird in Britain because it eats the Red Grouse that a bunch of Rutshire characters out of Mrs Cooper’s novels want to shoot.  And that’s why the Rutshire set send their gamekeepers out to bump off one of Britain’s most gorgeous birds.

So why not give Jilly Cooper some help and vote for the Hen Harrier so that she can get to know it. If we made the Hen Harrier our national bird then even the Rutshire set wouldn’t dare bump it orrff.

Vote for the national bird – vote Hen Harrier.


Vote Hen Harrier as national bird

Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxToday, the voting for Britain’s national bird starts in earnest.  The 10 shortlisted species, on the basis of 70,000 votes cast last autumn are (in alphabetical order):

  • Barn Owl
  • Blackbird
  • Blue Tit
  • Hen Harrier
  • Kingfisher
  • Mute Swan
  • Puffin
  • Red Kite
  • Robin
  • Wren

You can vote now and right up until after the polls close in the general election of 7 May.

Apart from any uncertainty over whether this is a bird for England, Britain or the UK it’s all pretty straight forward really, don’t you think? First, the Wren – the only European representative of a New World bunch of birds. I love Wrens to bits but we had better not vote for a Yank as our national bird.

Mute Swan – serene, peaceful, wet and loving – hardly appropriate for our national bird?

Puffin –  lovely bird, but spends most of its life at sea – perhaps a politician’s bird, but surely not one to represent us for ever.

Kingfisher – beautiful bird.  Bit of a screechy voice. Too gaudy, surely. Surely? And too political a choice in the run up to 7 May – all that blue!

Red Kite – save your votes for ‘reds’ for the Labour party on 7 May.

Barn Owl –  a gorgeous bird which eats rodents at night.  Pity it is found on every continent except Antarctica as far as a national bird is concerned.

Blue Tit – too twee for me – and too political a choice in the run up to a general election.  Again, all that blue!

Blackbird and Robin – excellent choices as familiar to all as garden birds with lovely songs.  I’d be very happy with either of these.  How did the Song Thrush not get onto this list? I guess that’s democracy for you.

Hen Harrier! Let’s show our British tolerance and acceptance for a bird that occupies these latitudes around the globe but is hated by a small proportion of British people – the grouse shooters. If there is a any bird that we should take to our hearts and vote for it to have a better future then it must be the Hen Harrier which is the most striking victim of wildlife crime amongst British birds. A species which should be common but is laid low because of the intolerance and criminal acts of a small number of our fellow Brits. It deserves the support of us all. The Hen Harrier needs the support of every reasonable, tolerant, caring British voter.  If we cannot vote for a more tolerant law-abiding and fairer society, then what are votes for? Vote for a better future. Vote for the Hen Harrier. And add your name to this e-petition whilst you are at it please.




Oscar Dewhurst – Red Deer

Richmond Park 06-10-13_0068-Red-Deer

Oscar writes: I only live 15 minute’s drive from Richmond Park, so find myself there fairly regularly each Autumn for the Red Deer rut. It’s not uncommon to come across over 100 photographers on a weekend, but on the morning this was taken it was considerably quieter. I found this stag strutting his stuff in an area of short grass just as the sun was coming up.
Nikon D800, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR lens

Sunday book review – Britain’s Habitats by Lake et al.

k10340Everybody loves a habitat don’t they?  Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

This book is subtitled ‘A Guide to the Wildlife Habitats of Britain and Ireland‘ and that’s very much what it is. There is a lot of good stuff in here but somehow it’s not a book that I can imagine being on anyone’s list of ‘most-loved’.

The authors write with authority about ten groupings of habitats: woodland, scrub, heathland, grassland, mountain, rocky, wetlands, freshwater, coastal and other. And, for example, the subdivisions of woodland are; lowland mixed oak and ash, lowland dry oak and birch, beech, yew, wet woodland, wood pasture, Atlantic oak wood, upland mixed ash, Caledonian forest, Atlantic hazel, upland birch and coniferous plantation. I will probably use this book a lot as a reference, but every time I pick it up I put it down quite quickly.

This book, according to the blurb on the rear cover, is lavishly illustrated  and has evocative colour photographs. Some of these work very well but the problem with 680 photographs in a 276-page book is that, by necessity, the images tend to be quite small. Lavish they really aren’t.  Too many of them are rather small, and too many of them are of a cute bird or mammal that is the interesting species found in the habitat. The views of landscapes are too small on the page to make me go ‘Wow!’ which is a shame.  The maps are often too small to be much use too.

There isn’t always that much really useful information here either. Read the sections on upland dry heath and wet heath and I don’t think you will find them packed with information of which you were unaware.

Maybe it’s just me! I’m more a species person that a habitat person – and that could be so variously misinterpreted that I had better explain it. I’m not saying that species are more important than habitats, I’m not saying that species conservation is more important than habitat conservation, I’m really not saying either of those things. But, tricky though they can be to identify, when I come home from holiday or a walk I never enthuse about habitats, I often enthuse about species I have seen.  It strikes me that habitats are so artificial a human categorisation that they verge on the ‘vaguely useful’ and often cross the line into the ‘not that useful at all’. Let’s be honest, habitats are the way that botanists try to make us all feel that they are ‘in charge’!

Habitats seem to me to be a bit like colours. If someone tells me they saw a white and gold dress (or maybe blue and black?) then that gives me a pretty useful idea of what they’ve seen but it’s just a useful starting point. Being told that you’ve been walking in a northern hay meadow does tell me something useful – it tells me that I want to know what plants, insects and birds you saw in it.

You will, I suspect, by now have decided that I’m just a bit grumpy about habitats, and you may well be right, but, and you have to trust me on this, I was hoping to find a way out of my grumpiness in this book. There were some occasional highlights of facts, or images, but on the whole I remained wedded to my grumpiness. Obviously it’s all my fault.

It looks to me as though the authors have done a good job in marshalling the information for this book. but it also seems to me that it’s quite a tricky task. And the book falls somewhat between two stools – a useful reference book and an attractive read.  You should have a look at it and it may tickle your fancy much more than it tickled mine. As I say, it’s probably my fault not theirs.

A Guide to the Wildlife Habitats of Britain and Ireland by Sophie Lake, Durwyn Liley, Robert Still and Andy Swash is published by Wildguides/Princeton University Press.

Mark Avery’s Fighting For Birds is published by Pelagic (as will be Behind the Binoculars (with Keith Betton) in June) and A Message from Martha is published by Bloomsbury (as will be Inglorious in July).





Things that caught my eye:

  • a Chiffchaff caught my eye at Stanwick Lakes this morning. It also caught my ear – but with a call not a song (despite everything else being in song) so I am putting it down as a late winter visitor rather than an early spring arrival – though, who knows?!
  • garbled Mail story – but still good news for Barn Owls – who had a good breeding season last year according to the BTO.  Good vole years are good Barn Owl years.
  • e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passes 21,250 with a bit of a spurt
  • someone who did a small, blue, act of kindness
  • still checking Green Woodpeckers for Weasels myself
  • this radio programme is about the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon




It’s World Sleep Day.

Swifts sleep on the wing, half their brain at a time, it is thought. I’m going to dream of doing that…