The Messenger – good film






On Saturday afternoon – one of the first warm days of the spring – I headed into London to watch a film in the Barbican. The Messenger is about the threats faced by songbirds – not just in the US and Canada but also in Europe and elsewhere.

It’s a good film and non-birders will probably find it just as compelling as those who, like me, sat through it with a self-generated commentary in their heads of bird names as different species appeared in view or in song.

There are some beautiful, and pretty much unique, images of birds in flight (taken in wind tunnels) and a lot of them in the wild too.  It is a vivid reminder of the fact that birds really are simply stunning – visually, vocally and because of the feats of migration they accomplish.

But life is tough for birds. I was a bit worried when the film started with issues and impacts such as collisions with buildings – probably a bigger issue in the US than in Europe (?) – but it moved on through trapping to the bigger issues of pesticides, land use and climate change. A lot of ground to cover (just like a migratory bird) but the film brought it home.

In the Barbican we had a short panel discussion after the film with Carles Carboneres from RSPB, Dave Timms from FoE and Joanne Jackson who joined us by Skype from Canada who produced the film.

A few thoughts from me:

  • I’d been for a walk on Saturday morning and not heard a Cuckoo – I haven’t heard one at my local patch yet this year. Where are they?
  • there was a brief image of a Passenger Pigeon – is the Turtle Dove following it?
  • the images of Canadian prairie farmland growing canola (oil seed rape) showed basically single criops being grown on a massive scale – how could we expect not to have problems with pests and diseases?
  • footage of Mao’s war against birds – shocking!
  • American warblers are stunning!  I want to be in Ohio for The Big Week (here and here).

Hen Harrier Day – coming to Rainham Marshes

imageI visited Rainham Marshes RSPB nature reserve recently for a chat about the Hen Harrier Day event which will take place there on SATURDAY 6 August starting at 11am.

For new readers, Hen Harrier Day is a celebration of this marvellous bird to highlight the fact that its numbers are severely reduced by criminal activity by grouse shooting interests.  Hen Harriers are unsporting enough to eat Red Grouse that ‘sporting folk’ wish to shoot for fun.  Killing a Hen Harrier has been illegal since 1954 but it still goes on to such an extent that Hen Harriers are almost absent from UK grouse moors which ought to be hosting hundreds of pairs. The UK Hen Harrier population is c650 pairs (almost all of which live away from grouse shooting areas) whereas it ought to be c2600 pairs according to the science (see Chapter 1 of Inglorious for many more details).

Hen Harrier Day events have been held in England and Scotland for the last two years, with growing numbers of events, and growing numbers of attendees.

HH day Chris and Mark

A rather wet Hen Harrier Day rally in the Peak District in 2014 #sodden570

This year there will be several events as usual (see here for details as they emerge) but probably the biggest of them all is likely to be at Rainham Marshes RSPB nature reserve within easy reach by public transport of central and east London, Essex, Suffolk, Kent, Cambridgeshire and beyond. It’s going to be massive! Well it will if you come.

Chris Packham will be attending, and this year it is the only Hen Harrier Day event he can make so you can only catch him here.

A six foot Hen Harrier will also be present.


There will be speeches, camaraderie and this is your chance to voice your opposition to protected birds of prey being killed in the UK uplands and elsewhere. And if you live in or near London you don’t have so far to travel this year – thanks to the RSPB Rainham Marshes team we are bringing Hen Harrier Day to you.

I will say this only scores of times – parking is limited and the event is likely to be very well attended – please come by public transport if you possibly can (and it is quite easy – I’ve done it many times myself).  If you have to bring a car, then please fill it up with friends!

Further details of the event will appear on this blog, on the Birders Against Wildlife Crime website and on the Rainham Marshes RSPB page.  But you can start making your travel plans, start making your banners and placards, and start looking forward to sending a strong message to the criminal elements in the grouse shooting industry that they cannot keep breaking the law.

Photo: Gordon Yates

Photo: Gordon Yates



Mon 20 July CopyMarks and Sparks – are you going to attempt to sell Red Grouse stuffed full of lead in your stores this year?

Have you read this?

Have you seen these blogs (here, here, here, here) about lead levels in Red Grouse sold to the public in Iceland stores last year?

With the departure of Marc Bolland, shooter, and the arrival of Steve Rowe, Millwall fan, who has led the M&S food business, do you really want your customers to be saying ‘This isn’t just a Red Grouse with high lead levels, it’s an M&S Red Grouse with high lead levels’?

Maybe this year, under new management, you would like to promote this e-petition to your customers – 35,000 of whom have already signed it. It asks the government to ban driven grouse shooting because of the ecological damage it causes.

Pb shot grouse 1Red Grouse 1c fat arrows - Copy

Red Grouse carcasses 2- Copy-1


Oscar Dewhurst – Black-tailed Godwit


Oscar writes: This was taken on a very overcast day last month in Suffolk. I was watching this Black-tailed Godwit pulling worms out of the ground but it was in a very cluttered bit of the water so I couldn’t photograph it. Luckily for me it soon came out and started feeding in the open. Overexposing in-camera meant I was able to get this high-key effect.

Nikon D800 | Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR lens | Nikon 2c TC





And now we have a Labour London Mayor but Zac’s constituents have put him (at #1) way ahead of Sadiq (#41) in this list.

Across the UK, the average number of signatures on our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is 54 – only nine (of 73) London constituencies are above average. We know that as a whole, it is rural Conservative and SNP constituencies which have so far given greatest support to this e-petition.

The range in signatures is immense – a ten-fold difference between the top and the bottom.

I don’t know the capital that well, not well at all, but it rather looks to me (am I right?) that it is Labour constituencies north of the river, and Conservative constituencies south of the river, that are giving greatest support. If true – what does that tell us?

  1. Richmond Park 85 signatures – Zac Goldsmith MP, CON
  2. Holborn and St Pancras 76 signatures – Keir Starmer MP, LAB
  3. Islington North 73 signatures – Jeremy Corbyn MP, LAB
  4. Hornsea and Wood Green 72 signatures – Catherine West MP, LAB
  5. Lewisham West and Penge 66 signatures – Jim Dowd MP, LAB
  6. Twickenham 63 signatures – Tania Mathias MP, CON
  7. Walthamstow 60 signatures – Stella Creasy MP, LAB
  8. Wimbledon 58 signatures – Stephen Hammond MP, CON
  9. Orpington 57 signatures – Jo Johnson MP, CON
  10. Hampstead and Kilburn 54 signatures – Tulip Siddiq MP, LAB
  11. Islington South and Finsbury 54 signatures – Emily Thornberry MP, LAB
  12. Hackney North and Stoke Newington 54 signatures – Diane Abbott MP, LAB
  13. Kingston and Surbiton 53 signatures – James Berry MP, CON
  14. Dulwich and West Norwood 51 signatures – Helen Hayes MP, LAB
  15. Camberwell and Peckham 51 signatures – Harriet Harman MP, LAB
  16. Greenwich and Woolwich 51 signatures – Matthew Pennycook MP, LAB
  17. Brentford and Isleworth 49 signatures – Ruth Cadbury MP, LAB
  18. Lewisham Deptford 49 signatures – Vicky Foxcroft MP, LAB
  19. Croydon South 48 signatures – Chris Philp MP, CON
  20. Westminster North 47 signatures – Karen Buck MP, LAB
  21. Streatham 46 signatures – Chukka Umunna MP, LAB
  22. Romford 46 signatures – Andrew Rosindell MP, CON
  23. Leyton and Wanstead 43 signatures – John Cryer MP, LAB
  24. Putney 43 signatures – Justine Greening MP, CON
  25. Lewisham East 42 signatures – Heidi Alexander MP, LAB
  26. Chipping Barnet 41 signatures – Theresa Villiers MP, CON
  27. Bromley and Chislehurst 41 signatures – Bob Neill MP, CON
  28. Eltham 41 signatures – Clive Efford MP, LAB
  29. Sutton and Cheam 40 signatures – MP, Paul Scully MP, CON
  30. Ealing Central and Action 39 signatures – Rupa Huq MP, LAB
  31. Hammersmith 39 signatures – Andrew Slaughter MP, LAB
  32. Cities of London and Westminster 39 signatures – Mark Field MP, CON
  33. Ruislip Northwood and Pinner 39 signatures – Nick Hurd MP, CON
  34. Feltham and Heston 37 signatures – Seema Malhotra MP, LAB
  35. Hackney South and Shoreditch 37 signatures – Meg Hillier MP, LAB
  36. Kensington 37 signatures – Victoria Borthwick MP, CON
  37. Bermondsey and Old Southwark 36 signatures – Neil Coyle MP, CON
  38. Mitcham and Morden 36 signatures – Siobhainn McDonagh MP, LAB
  39. Chingford and Woodford Green 35 signatures – Iain Duncan-Smith MP, CON
  40. Finchley and Golders Green 35 signatures – Mike Freer MP, CON
  41. Tooting 35 signatures – Sadiq Khan MP, LAB
  42. Tottenham 34 signatures – David Lammy MP, LAB
  43. Ealing North 33 signatures – Steven Pound MP, LAB
  44. Croydon Central 33 signatures – Gavin Barwell MP, CON
  45. Carshalton and Wallingford 33 signatures – Tom Brake MP, LIB
  46. Hornchurch and Upminster 33 signatures – Angela Watkinson MP, CON
  47. Vauxhall 32 signatures – Kate Hoey MP, LAB
  48. Croydon North 32 signatures – Steve Reed MP, LAB
  49. Dagenham and Rainham 32 signatures – John Cruddas MP, LAB
  50. Enfield Southgate 32 signatures – David Burrowes MP, CON
  51. Beckenham 31 signatures – Bob Stewart MP, CON
  52. Old Bexley and Sidcup 29 signatures – James Brokenshire MP, CON
  53. Bethnal Green and Bow 28 signatures  – Rushanara Ali MP, LAB
  54. Ealing Southall 28 signatures – Virendra Sharma MP, LAB
  55. Erith and Thamesmead 28 signatures – Teresa Pearce MP, LAB
  56. Harrow West 28 signatures – Gareth Thomas MP, LAB
  57. Poplar and Limehouse 28 signatures – John Fitzpatrick MP, LAB
  58. Enfield North 26 signatures – Joan Ryan MP, LAB
  59. Uxbridge and South Ruislip 26 signatures – Boris Johnson MP, CON
  60. Chelsea and Fulham 25 signatures – Greg Hands MP, CON
  61. Hendon 25 signatures – Matthew Offord MP, CON
  62. Ilford North 25 signatures – Wes Streeting MP, LAB
  63. Bexleyheath and Crayford 23 signatures – David Evennett MP, CON
  64. Brent Central 23 signatures – Dawn Butler MP, LAB
  65. Ilford South 22 signatures – Mike Gapes MP, LAB
  66. Battersea 20 signatures – Jane Ellison MP, CON
  67. East Ham 19 signatures – Stephen Timms MP, LAB
  68. Hayes and Harlington 17 signatures – John McDonnell MP, LAB
  69. Barking 16 signatures – Margaret Hodge MP, LAB
  70. Harrow East 14 signatures – Bob Blackman MP, CON
  71. West Ham 13 signatures – Lyn Brown MP, LAB
  72. Brent North 13 signatures – Barry Gardner MP, LAB
  73. Edmonton 8 signatures – Kate Osamor MP, LAB

Our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting has reached 35,000 signatures in week 7 – we aim to get to 100,000 signatures by 20 September. Please, London, play a bigger part in this. Driven grouse shooting causes ecological damage which affects us all: increased greenhouse gas emissions, increased flood risk, increased water treatment costs and devastation of protected wildlife. London, please show you care about these things even if they are not on your doorstep.


Sunday book review – Rivers Run by Kevin Parr


Kevin Parr wrote the book that I selected as my favourite of 2014, The Twitch – that one was a black comedy, though very funny, I thought, about a murderous twitcher. This book is very different, and is about Parr’s greater love – fishing.

And it’s not a laddish tale of bonking, drinking and murder but a contemplative tale about fishing, nature and love of the countryside.  Now I am no fisherman, having last caught anything with a rod and line about 45 years ago, but I very much enjoyed this book. If all fishermen (and they mostly are men) were like Kevin Parr then there would be more chance for fisherfolk and birding folk to work together to address the problems of the aquatic environment (and yes, it would take more of ‘us’ to be like Kevin Parr too).

This book has a lot of sitting by water bodies wondering about the fish that are under the water; and that meniscus is what separates us from fishermen to some extent. The angler has to sit on the edge of the water (mostly) and read the water and guess where the fish are and act accordingly to catch them – although there is a lot more to it than guessing.  Reading this book I would gladly acknowledge that many anglers are pretty good ecologists, and are much closer to real hunters than the Pheasant-blasters of lowland Britain. Reading a river, an ever-changing river, and understanding what the different species of fish need and therefore where they will be and what type of bait will catch them, does, I can see, grab the imagination and sounds quite fun. You could say it is a greater skill than birding – you could.

And also, Parr is very convincing that it is not the catching of fish which is the be-all and end-all of fishing – in a way that no grouse shooter has even come close with me when trying to explain the thrill of driven grouse shooting.

It helps a bit, for me, that there are birds liberally scattered through the pages of this book, but that is partly the point: it is a believable tale of how enjoying a day’s fishing is about enjoying the river, with all its wildlife, as well as yanking some fish out of the water.

I learned quite a lot about fish from these pages but it is also an engaging story of fishing at different ages and in different places and at different stages of one’s private life – and how fishing can be a solace and great fun at different times. And the author comes across as a thoughtful and very nice man who thinks about things and is easy to like. And that is how he is in reality too, on the basis of me having met him just the once.

I recommend this book to you whether you have no interest in fishing or even if you dislike the idea of catching creatures with a hook in their mouths, because you will find the book thoughtful and interesting and you won’t be able to dislike its author. He might even get you hooked.

Rivers Run: an angler’s journey from source to sea by Kevin Parr is published by Penguin Random House.


Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – 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.

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.


Happy Birthday Sir David!

1985 with environmentMinister William Waldegrave and Badger supporters. How times change... Photo: the Wildlife Trusts

1985 with William Waldegrave MP (and Environment Minister of State, Housing) and Badger supporters. How times change… Photo: The Wildlife Trusts


Happy Birthday Sir David!  90 years young and an inspiration to so many of us.

Last week Sir David launched London Wildlife Trust’s Woodberry Wetlands nature reserve, where he said:  ‘Contact with the natural world isn’t a luxury… it is actually a necessity for all of us.  All we know about the natural world gives us pleasure, delight, expertise, continuous interest throughout the year – joy on many occasions and solace on sad ones.  Knowing about the natural world and being in contact with the natural world is the most precious inheritance that human beings can have.

We should be grateful indeed for all the work that The Wildlife Trusts have done for children to see the seasons as they pass, to see not just asphalt and concrete and brick – but reeds and willows; to see birds coming up from Africa; to hear above the hubbub of the traffic – birdsong; to catch a glimpse of a kingfisher, one of the most wonderful sights that Britain has to offer – that flash of blue as it flies up-river.‘.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ chief executive, said:  ‘Our archives are filled with photographs of Sir David Attenborough visiting or opening Wildlife Trust nature reserves and centres over the last 50 years.  He has travelled the length and breadth of the country to do so, and was in Hackney this Saturday last to open Woodberry Wetlands.  David has given brilliant lectures and talks and launched numerous campaigns including our British Wildlife Appeal in the 1980s.  He has honoured some of our greatest people – not least amongst them Ted Smith.  Like us, David cares passionately about the wildlife and countryside of this country and about the fundamental need for children to live close to the natural world.  We’re delighted to share some of our archive ahead of David’s 90th birthday so that we can all celebrate his dedication to UK wildlife as well as that of the wider world.‘.


Sir David last week Photo: Penny Dixie

Sir David last week Photo: Penny Dixie





Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill





I object!

Picture (Device Independent Bitmap) 1

Picture (Device Independent Bitmap) 2

butt track

I’m not the only one to have objected to this retrospective planning application for a ‘temporary’ track to a line of grouse butts.  You could object too, but comments have to be submitted by Monday so it is a job for this weekend.

At the time of writing this post, all 30 comments are objections but none is from a conservation organisation. In favour are the applicant and Natural England.

NEhouseYes, that’s right, Natural England, despite the fact that this application is made in the Peak District National Park, the Peak District Moors Special Protection Area for Birds, the South Pennine Moors Special Area of Conservation and the Dark Peak Site of Special Scientific Interest.

The application is made by Wakefield Farms Ltd who are based down the road from me here in Northants and it is reported that they are owned by Dan Richmond Watson, who has an interest in grouse shooting. Fair enough.

The reason for needing this track are ‘to facilitate plant access for moorland restoration and general management access. the material laid will not effect or alter the vegetation which is encouraged to grow through the matting to provide a stable platform to permit access.’ apparently. So it’s not just to provide access for shooters to the centre of a line of grouse butts, despite that being the thing that might immediately come to mind when seeing the location on the lowest of the three maps above?

Here are some images of the track – remember this is in a National Park, on an SSSI, SPA and SAC and that Natural England supports this retrospective application.




Photos (all three above): Bob Berzins

This is industrialisation of a National Park – and for what purpose? It couldn’t be for access to those grouse butts could it?

As an aid to moorland restoration it seems a bit of a failure.

This is my letter of objection:

I am not a local resident and I have never set foot on this part of the Peak District – though I do know the general area well and visit it frequently.  I have read the comments by others and support them all: I am particularly struck by the points made by Addy, Berzins, Besley, Clough, Grange, Hakes, Halstead, Minkovic and Wakeley.

National Parks exist to maintain and enhance natural beauty – this project is a failure at this as it is an eyesore and has caused habitat damage to an SSSI, SPA and SAC.

Others have suggested that this track appears to be used to provide access for shooters to a line of grouse butts, but this does not form part of the application unless grouse shooting is regarded as ‘general management access’.  I do not regard grouse shooting as ‘general management’.  Is it possible that the applicant has not fully disclosed the reasons for their need for this track? Any ongoing need for the track is unclear: the application should be refused and the applicant required to remove the track and make good the habitat damage.

Others have pointed out that this application is flawed in not fully describing the whole of the track and its impact on the environment. That, and the retrospective nature of the application do not increase one’s confidence that this scheme would be as described in the application into the future.

See images posted on my blog ‎which illustrate the damage caused to the habitat and the eyesore of the track.












35,000 – a good way to go into the weekend.


And there goes another milestone – 35,000 signatures. Thank you all.

The ‘200 Club’ numbers just one constituency:

  1. Calder Valley 228 signatures – Craig Whittaker MP, CON

But the ‘100 Club’ has swelled to :

  1. Ross, Skye, Lochaber 166 signatures – Ian Blackford MP, SNP
  2. Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 145 signatures –  Drew Hendry MP, SNP
  3. High Peak 142 signatures – Andrew Bingham MP, CON
  4. North Norfolk 139 signatures – Norman Lamb MP, LIB
  5. Brighton Pavilion 135 signatures – Caroline Lucas MP, GREEN
  6. Skipton and Ripon 132 signatures – Julian Smith MP, CON
  7. Argyll and Bute 125 signatures – Brendan O’Hara MP, SNP
  8. Isle of Wight 122 signatures – Andrew Turner MP, CON
  9. Bristol West 121 signatures – Thangan Debonnaire MP, LAB
  10. Derbyshire Dales 121 signatures – Patrick McLoughlin MP, CON
  11. Westmorland and Lonsdale 119 signatures – Tim Farron MP, LIB
  12. Penrith and The Border 119 signatures – Rory Stewart MP, CON
  13. Sheffield Central 114 signatures –  Paul Blomfield MP, LAB
  14. Central Devon 113 signatures – Mel Stride MP, CON
  15. Dumfries and Galloway 113 signatures – Richard Arkless MP, SNP
  16. Suffolk Coastal 113 signatures – Theresa Coffey MP, CON
  17. Torridge and West Devon 112 signatures – Geoffrey Cox MP, CON
  18. Totnes 112 signatures – Sarah Wollaston MP, CON
  19. Thirsk and Malton 112 signatures – Kevin Hollinrake MP, CON
  20. Norwich South 111 signatures – Clive Lewis MP, LAB
  21. Bridgwater and West Somerset 111 signatures – Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, CON
  22. Wells 109 signatures – James Heappey MP, CON
  23. Sheffield Hallam 109 signatures – Nick Clegg MP, LIB
  24. South Norfolk 108 signatures – Richard Bacon MP, CON
  25. West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 108 signatures – Stuart Blair Donaldson MP, SNP
  26. Dumfries and Galloway 108 signatures – Richard Arkless MP, SNP
  27. Scarborough and Whitby 107 signatures – Robert Goodwill MP, CON
  28. Stroud 102 signatures – Neil Carmichael MP, CON
  29. York Central 102 signatures –  Rachael Maskell MP, LAB
  30. Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale 101 signatures – David Mundell MP, CON
  31. St. Ives 101 signatures – Derek Thomas MP, CON
  32. South Cambridgeshire 101 signatures – Heidi Allen MP, CON
  33. Edinburgh North and Leith 101 signatures – Deidre Brock MP, SNP
  34. Arundel and South Downs 100 signatures – Nick Herbert MP, CON


Please spend a few minutes this weekend thinking about who else you could ask to sign up to our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. And go out and enjoy a warm spring weekend!