Manchester on Wednesday

I’ll be speaking at this seminar in Manchester (rainy Manchester?) on Wednesday.  Looks scary doesn’t it?

See you there?




Manifesto week

By the end of this week it will be manifest how poor is the grasp of environmental issues by our leading political parties.  I am not expecting that any of them will reach the standards of the Green Party’s environmental manifesto.

The Liberal Democrats: usually have some good things on the environment in their manifesto but are not going to have any hand in government this time around so it really doesn’t matter (here is the 2015 manifesto).

The SNP: what is the point of the SNP in Westminster? They do not engage with any English issues and therefore are no use at all in standing up to the Tories. Despite this, Nicola Sturgeon still says that the SNP is the ‘only real opposition to the Conservatives at Westminster’. If you send an SNP MP to Westminster you are making it all the more difficult to hold the Tories to account, or occasionally to vote them down on environmental matters affecting England.  I’m not against the SNP in Scotland (indeed, if I lived there I can imagine voting for them in Holyrood elections) but sending SNP MPs down here is not going to help my local environment so I’d rather you Scots sent Labour, LibDem or Greens to Westminster please.  The SNP manifesto will not say much about environmental issues except, possibly, something about fisheries and something about energy production (here is the 2015 manifesto).

Labour: despite the fact that the Labour manifesto has been leaked in advance, I haven’t heard of anything interesting about the environment in it.  Maybe there isn’t anything about the environment in it at all.  We are told that the Labour manifesto takes the party back to the 1970s and would take the country back there too – well, more farmland birds, Abba winning Eurovision, Brian Clough on TV and a referendum where we voted to stay in the EEC would all be things I’d like to see again! The Labour manifesto is usually very unconvincing about nature conservation (here is the 2015 version) as Labour tends to see the environment as being climate change and animals as synonymous with welfare issues. However, in 13 years when last in power, Labour delivered the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Climate Change Act and the Marine and Coastal Access Act – a record that is way beyond the achievements of the current Conservative administration.  The Labour Party seems clueless, and often is clueless, about rural issues including farming, forestry, and nature conservation, but at least Labour ministers tend to know that and consult widely before acting. Readers of this blog voted Hilary Benn the best Defra Secretary of State out of Beckett, Miliband, Benn, Spelman, Paterson and Truss and I’d be rather surprised if the inclusion of Leadsom would alter the winner in that race.

Conservative:  TM the PM said we wouldn’t be having a general election and now we are, so it is difficult to feel that the Conservative manifesto will be full of firm commitments that are honestly made. We know that a free vote of fox-hunting might be in there though. Defra has been a pathetic department for the past seven years and there can be no hope that things will be better post-election.  Might Defra even get the chop? Here is the 2015 Conservative election manifesto that forgot that the countryside existed except as a place overrun with badgers that had to be killed.


I’ll hope to be pointing out some good and bad things from the main party manifestos – which won’t include UKIP this time around unless it is full of amusing gaffs – soon after they are published.


Here is what I wrote about the Party manifestos in the 2015 general election: Conservative, Labour, UKIP, Green, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Plaid Cymru.



Tim Melling – White-headed Vulture

This is the White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) which is rare and declining throughout its range.  It has been classified as critically endangered by IUCN, which is the highest category before extinction in the wild.  Although it is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa it is always scarce and at low density. Being a vulture it feeds on animal carcases and has suffered from deliberate poisoning aimed at Jackals and Hyenas.  It is also susceptible to anti-inflammatory drugs given to cattle on their last legs, which decimated vulture populations in India.  A third problem is that poachers shoot them because they draw attention to illegal animal kills.  This adult was just coming into land in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley.  It was the only one we saw throughout the entire trip.

Taken with a Nikon D500 and a 300mm f4 lens with a 1.4x converter.  1/4000 second f8 ISO 1600  (19 February 2017)


Sunday book review – Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman

Some of my best friends over the years have been lawyers – although, come to think of it, not that many – but I have always had a mistrust of the role of the courts in conservation and environmental matters. But over the last few years, in a time when government has no intention of doing good, then I’ve thought that we should use the courts a lot more.

This book, written by the lawyer founder of the public interest law firm Client Earth (Thornton), and an author (Goodman), makes a strong case for the use of the law in protecting the planet.

The foreword by Brian Eno is an eye-opener in itself: well-written, well-argued and inspirational.

Client Earth, the law firm, has had success in recent months over air quality, or distinct and dangerous lack of quality, in the English courts.  Some of that story is told in Chapter 5 – An Air that Kills.

The case is made here, that the law is what holds human society together, not good will, or our wish to work together, or care for each other, but a set of rules that protect us all from us all.  And the authors argue that the environmental health of our air, land and water needs the same sort of approach, and that’s why the book, and the law firm, are called Client Earth.

Let’s just imagine that we continue to have the same ecologically destructive and uncaring bunch of politicians in Westminster after 8 June as we have had since 2010, and with an even bigger majority – our wildlife NGOs are going to look even more irrelevant than they do at the moment. Wildlife NGOs are still appealing to the common sense and better nature of our government to halt environmental degradation and destruction and it just hasn’t worked.  We will need tough bright people to take on the government when it fails, as it will, to do what it should. Maybe we should close down the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts, and a bunch of others, for the next five years and put the resources saved into legal action?  Perhaps we should go back to 1970, and the phrase of another US lawyer and environmentalist, Victor Yannacone, and ‘Sue the Bastards!’.

The law is a strange land – my experience of it has been that a lot of what happens there makes sense but some of it doesn’t at all.  And hiring lawyers is expensive and uncomfortable for normal people. Not only does it seem to cost an arm and a leg, but you also seem to do most of the work while the lawyers make ridiculous demands on your time (when you are paying them!).  My much-preferred route to save nature is through popular will, through a movement of like-minded people expressing their will and changing the system, but in these times, we may need to pay the equivalent of skilled hit-men to win battles for us.

This book is different from any I’ve read and was thus very stimulating. It is a good read and the messages are put across with true stories that are well told. I recommend it as a thoughtful read.  And it may be that it carries messages that are particularly pertinent to our times and our predicament.


Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman is published by Scribe.


Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson – for reviews see here.

Behind the Binoculars: interviews with acclaimed birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton is published by Pelagic – here’s a review and it’s now out in paperback.


Tim Melling – Yellowhammer

The song of the Yellowhammer is supposed to sound like “a little bit of bread and no cheese”.   It was Enid Blyton who popularised this rendition of the song in several of her books and poems (eg The Yellowhammer Bird in Enid Blyton’s Nature Lover’s Handbook 1944).  This is another seriously depleted farmland bird that has been on the red list since 2002 because of a more than 50% decline in population.  It needs arable (preferably spring-sown) and herb-rich pasture in close proximity.  But specialisation in farming means these two habitats don’t occur together as often as they used to.  I photographed this one near the village of Shepley in West Yorkshire.

Taken with a Nikon D500 and Nikkor 300mm f4 lens with a 1.4x converter.  1/1250 f5.6 ISO160 (Taken on 26 June 2016)