Oscar Dewhurst – Red-capped Cardinal

Oscar writes: One of the commoner birds around the oxbow lakes in Peru was the Red-capped Cardinal. They would perch in the vegetation on the lake margins allowing for a fairly close approach in the boat. If I got too close the group would all take off and noisily fly across the lake.
Nikon D300s, Nikon 200-400mm f/4 VR lens

A few points to points-to-points


The car park at Dingley begins to fill up.


I went to the Woodland Pytchley point-to-point yesterday. I used to go to points-to-points regularly but this is the first I’ve attended for well over a decade.

Points-to-points are rather low key, low quality steeplechases organised by local hunts. All the horses and jockeys have to have ‘gone’ fox-hunting to be qualified – but this might just mean turning up and getting their card stamped and then going home.

We had a good time and I picked the winners of the first four races – the fourth race was a walk-over (only one horse entered) so you could have got that one too!

My single bet was on the second race – a horse called Sandpiper’s but it wasn’t the bird-related name that attracted me. There were seven bookmakers present and taking generally small bets of £2-£5 on the races. The market isn’t very strong. Sandpipers was the favourite of the four runners – the others being around 5/2, 4/1 and 4/1. One bookmaker had the favourite at 1/2 (you give him £1 and if you win you get £1.50 back, ie winnings of 50p) and was short on the favourite throughout, which I found interesting. He can hardly have taken a single bet on that horse (which suggested he was fairly sure that the other three couldn’t win). The other six bookies’ odds on the favourite changed between 8/11 and 4/7. I was prepared to have £60 at 4/6 but was waiting to see whether 8/11 would appear. When it did, a quicker investor bet £100 and the bookie wiped off the 8/11 and chalked up 8/13. When 8/11 appeared down the row then I was a bit quicker and invested £55 and therefore won £40 a few minutes later when the favourite won after the leader rather inexplicably lost its momentum before the last fence. It wasn’t the only race won by a horse who ran better than it jumped yesterday.

So one bet paid for the day out. Yippee!

There was a Red Kite over the course when we arrived too.

So was this a very political outing? Not for me. Although there is a connection with fox-hunting, it amounted to a picnic in a field, and a look at the betting and the racing for me. Given that you aren’t allowed to kill foxes with hounds these days then I don’t consider myself to be making a political statement by attending a point-to-point – so anyone using attendance at these events as support for a renewal of fox hunting – please remove ‘one’ from the numbers.

I should think that most of the attendees at this event probably are quite keen on fox-hunting but I’m only going by their Range Rovers, accents and general appearance so I may be completely wrong. For many it was clearly an opportunity to meet up with friends and their labradors, to have a drink (red or white? (although I was shocked by the numbers of foreign bottled beers being drunk)) and have a picnic and an ice-cream.

But for some it was quite political. There were announcements over the public address system entreating us to visit the Vote OK tent where we could learn which of our candidates on 7 May would be in favour of removing the ban on fox-hunting. When I looked toward the said tent it was empty apart from some disconsolate folk looking neglected and ignored. Apparently Peter Bone (the former Conservative MP, now candidate, for Wellingborough), and Philip Hollobone (the former  Conservative MP, now candidate, for Kettering) and   Tom Pursglove (Conservative candidate, who can rely on not getting my vote in Corby as I will be voting for Andy Sawford) had made brief appearances there.

There were bigger queues for ice-cream and beer than for political intelligence.

I know that some people who support my position on banning grouse shooting will be unhappy that I attend horse races, and I know that some who attend horse races will  be unhappy that I seek to ban driven grouse shooting. Well, both groups can fight it out between themselves on that but I will think for myself and go my own way, thanks very much. There is no organisation which I support, not the RSPB, the Labour Party, the BBC, the Wildlife Trusts, the Guardian or the World Land Trust, with which I agree completely (although, come to think of it, I can’t think there is anything with which I disagree with Butterfly Conservation – maybe I could find something if I looked very hard). Any political party or conservation organisation with which I agreed completely would have a membership of one – me!


Sunday book review – Honourable Friends by Caroline Lucas

9781846275937I was given this book as a birthday present and I’ve read it all now.

Caroline Lucas is a very admirable politician. I’m sure she has lots of faults, we all do, but if only we had a few more politicians like her then environmental matters would get a much fairer hearing in the Westminster parliament and the world would be a better place.

Caroline was voted environmental MP of the year on this website in 2013 and I suggested that Labour could court green votes if they pledged to make Caroline Lucas Secretary of State at Defra as part of an electoral pact. I’ve also written that I would be gutted if Caroline Lucas lost her seat of Brighton Pavilion to Labour on 7 May.

But what of this book?

If your politics are of the left then you may agree with much of the book, as I did, and that will help you to enjoy it all the more, but if you are not of the same political bent then you are still likely to find this a good read. What does a new MP make of the traditions and methods of working of the Houses of Parliament? How is a new, woman MP treated by the predominantly male sitting MPs?

There are plenty of home truths for Labour supporters – like me. Chapter 16 is a good place to start but throughout the book you may find yourself mentally ticking off the agreements with Lucas even when she is criticising Labour.

This isn’t a book just about environmental matters, but you’ll find more about badger culls, climate change, fracking and bees than in most books on politics.  Lucas knows her stuff and zips through the issues quickly, lightly but deftly. She covers a lot of ground in this book.

But the book covers all political issues and the last third or so suggests some solutions to our current problems too. A primary solution suggested in the book is to vote Green and if I lived in Lucas’s constituency then I most certainly would.

If you are going to vote on 7 May, and I do hope you do (however you cast your vote) then reading this book won’t do you any harm at all. It is a refreshing, wide-ranging commentary on our political system, its faults, the vested interests involved and the prospects for a more radical, fairer and better future. It’s not heavy – it’s quite fun actually. It’s obviously written from the heart but also from a wise head.

Quite often this book made me smile (usually at what Lucas writes about Tories) and sometimes it made me frown (usually at what she writes about the failings of Labour) but it never made me yawn.

An index would have helped!

Honourable friends: parliament and the fight for change by Caroline Lucas is published by Portobello Books.

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury.


Meat free week

Thank you to those people who helped me raise £150 for the World Land Trust by going meat-free for a week. It wasn’t difficult.

However, last Sunday was the last day of Meat Free Week, and also my birthday, and I was slightly wishing that I could have meat that day (probably just because I couldn’t!). However, we visited the Riverford Field Kitchen near Buckfastleigh in Devon for lunch, and the vegetarian food was superb – I mean it.

I’d certainly go there again for the friendly staff, the pleasant atmosphere and the terrific food.  There was quite a lot of garlic – which I like. I had courgette pancakes as a main course and beetroot as a starter. The aubergine with the starter was delicious.  I chose cheese as dessert and that was very good too.

One quite small comment, but which applies to many vegetarian meals in non-vegetarian restaurants – not wanting to eat meat doesn’t mean that one doesn’t like food! Small portions of vegetarian food are the norm – it really is as if saying ‘no’ to meat for a meal, a day or a lifetime,  is seen as saying ‘no’ to food as a whole. Let me tell you, in my case it isn’t! But I mention it here not because the excellent Riverford Field Kitchen was a shocking example of this issue, it wasn’t, but because I just wanted to get it off my chest.

I know that the World Land Trust will spend the £150 well – they always do. I’ve been enjoying reading the WLT news over the last few days; an excellent newsletter, cheaply produced but full of good information. If you’d like to support the work of the World Land Trust then here is a place where you can donate.


The general election

Have you noticed? There’s a general election coming?

Have you noticed? I’ve added some general election pages to this website? Over the next month these pages will be populated with more and more comment and analysis on what the political parties say about wildlife, nature conservation etc

If you have suggestions for reasons why we should or shouldn’t like the parties’ policies on the natural world then let me know and, if I agree, I’ll add them to the lists. Or, how about writing a blog about why you will, or won’t, vote for a particular political party’s policies on the natural world? That way I can publish your views whether I agree with them or not.

I may struggle to do a great job on the smaller parties and help and suggestions for them would be particularly welcome.

These pages might be particularly useful to wildlife NGOs who cannot take a party political line but may have strong views on the merits of the party manifestos.  Brief me, and your views can appear here.

Get in touch at mark@markavery.info


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill




Some things

  • bit of a hullabaloo over the RSPB being reasonably reasonable here
  • …and an amazing attack on the RSPB’s credibility by the Countryside Alliance who say they agree with everything the RSPB says and always have and always will and love them to bits and just want to give Martin Harper a really big hug and.. and.. but maybe I got that wrong and you should read it yourself.
  • Jonathan Franzen – good writer, bad analysis and a quote from me in the Guardian
  • if Mike Clarke were Prime Minister
  • Mike McCarthy – always worth reading – and the best thing the coalition government has done is…?
  • amazing journey of the Blackpoll Warbler – one of the last-arriving US warblers whose black cap presages the death of spring (unlike our own Blackcap warbler)
  • have you seen a High Brown Fritillary? I have, though it’s quite a while ago. Your chances are improving. Aren’t Butterfly Conservation great?!
  • this is interesting – I wonder how it’s getting on?
  • we’ll all be flocking to this no doubt!  Who would want to miss hearing Amanda Anderson, Keith Cowieson, Teresa Dent, Duncan Thomas, Tim Baynes, Lindsay Waddell and the Duke of Westminster all at the same event?  It was attending this event last year, and speaking at it, that persuaded me to stop dithering and launch an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting!
  • #HaveYouSeenHenry?
  • Penny Anderson and David Goode (whose book was reviewed here last Sunday) are the joint winners of the CIEEM Medal.
  • take a look at the Vote for Policies website – it may surprise you, which party you really support
  • As for many others, it was a surprise to find a leaflet asking me to join the Hawk and Owl Trust fall out of British Birds this month, with a plea from Chris Packham to join. Chris Packham is now the ex-President of the Hawk and Owl Trust having left for reasons of differences over policy.

Henry phones in…

Fri 3rd April Copy

Henry was ‘phoning the RSPB Hen Harrier hotline 0845-4600121 – he thinks it’s a dating service.





2020 biodiversity target

Lord de Mauley seems to think that we are a shoo-in to meet the 2020 biodiversity target of halting biodiversity loss.

This is what four of our leading wildlife NGOs think:

Martin Warren, Chief Executive of Butterfly Conservation says: ‘I think it is extremely unlikely that the UK will meet all the targets set out at the CBD conference at Aichi, and those set within the EU. Although the government has put in place many good initiatives such as agri-environment schemes and Nature Improvement Areas, the resources going in have either ceased or have been drastically reduced. NGOs are working hard to pick up the slack but they need more governmental support and stronger policies to protect key sites and halt the decline of threatened species.’

Matt Shardlow, Chief Executive of Buglife says: ‘Halting the loss of biodiversity is entirely achievable.  Although there are now only 5 years left until the 2020 deadline, if the new Government was serious about halting wildlife declines then quick action to bolster resources and efforts in the first year could see the corner turned by 2020, even if some biological responses would still take a while to take effect. 

The current trajectory is towards failure, 60% of UK species are in decline and species such as the Horrid ground weaver are under threat of global extinction.  Unfortunately the coalition failed to deliver the main plank of their commitment to wildlife  “We will introduce measures to….promote…..wildlife corridors in order to halt the loss of habitats and restore biodiversity”.  It has been left to Buglife to build local coalitions with the Wildlife Trusts, Natural England, Co-op and Local Authorities to develop a national network of wild flower grassland wildlife corridors – B-Lines.  A new Government would have to quickly increase funding for nature conservation from the current pittance to a realistic figure, introduce a Nature and Wellbeing Act, and enable partnerships of agencies, NGOs, companies and land owners to get a move on.  At the moment we have not seen sufficient commitment to such a gear change from any of the big political parties to have any confidence that the trajectory be corrected.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscapes of the Wildlife Trusts says: ‘Halting the loss, let alone securing recovery, of nature across the UK by 2020 was always going to be hugely challenging. The evidence outlined in the State of Nature report is a sobering reminder.  It suggests targets to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 are looking increasingly and worryingly ambitious. However, we’ve shown we can reverse declines with care and resources, the challenge is to do it at scale.  There are systemic and resource-related issues that are working against us meeting this challenge, hence our call for a Nature and Wellbeing Act and a coherent network of Marine Protected Areas.  We know now, more than ever, that it is critical for nature’s own sake, and our own, that we meet it.  Up and down the UK, The Wildlife Trusts are working incredibly hard to play our part – working at a landscape-scale with hundreds of farmers, businesses and tens of thousands of volunteers to manage and create habitats, restore ecosystems, and inspire all ages to connect with nature.  It will be hard but, we must believe, and have hope, we can get there.

Martin Harper, Conservation Director of the RSPB says: ‘The next occupants of Defra and Number Ten face a challenging task in hitting the 2020 targets as things currently stand but – who knows – with adequate resources, effective and properly enforced regulation and a determined political will to succeed, anything is theoretically possible. We are looking forward to the manifesto commitments with great interest and to working with the person who next occupies the hot seat, to help them tackle the challenge.


I get the impression that the NGOs think that the next government would have to pull its finger out to meet the 2020 target. Business as usual won’t do the job. But that’s just the view of the people who have been doing nature conservation for years – what would they know…?


Henry chats up the people

Thurs 2nd April - CopyHenry is quite a chatterbox. He is a people magnet – pity there aren’t more ringtails around for him …

This family, and many others, were keen to hear of the plight of Hen Harriers in the Upper Derwent Valley.

Just think of the stir when Henry wings in to centres of population. He might scare the pigeons though…