Sunday book review – The Complete Naturalist by Nick Baker


There is no such thing as the complete naturalist – that’s part of the fun of nature. There is always more to learn – more mysteries to unravel. And I doubt that Nick Baker would claim to be the complete naturalist.  But when you get past the title of the book, and stop harrumphing about it, this is a very good book.

Who is it for? Well, for me, for one, but I think the potential readership of this book is large. It includes those who know quite a lot about some wildlife and little about all the rest (most birders!) and absolute beginners.  It’s for those who go out and look at things, but is an interesting enough read for those who sit at home and want to learn.

If you need to know how to build, rather than buy, a moth trap then you’ll find the answers in here, but you’ll also find out how to make a moth mixture to entice moths to your garden overnight and some good stuff about the biology of moths too.  That’s what the book is like throughout – a mixture of ‘how to’ and interesting facts. I like it.

There are six main chapters, covering birds (first, actually!), mammals, herps, fish, inverts and last of all the mere plants whose existence supports everything else! The book has an introduction and then an introduction to the kit you might want. It suggests, at the end, that you might want to go further and join a bunch of wildlife NGOs.

The chapter on birds and birdwatching includes tips on how to identify birds, how to feed them in your garden and how to make a bird nestbox.  There wasn’t anything to disagree with and as I read it, I kept thinking ‘Good point, well put!’. I didn’t learn much about birds but the other chapters, particularly the invertebrate chapter (for me) were great.

The book is written in an engaging, informal style. The illustrations are clear and helpful. The photographs are quite wonderful in places; see the Blue Tit gathering nest material (p53 by Paul Sawer), Great Diving Beetle (p 167 by Nick Baker himself), a ladybird larva (p211, also by Nick Baker himself), wasp (p227, Andy Sands) and leaf litter (p291 also by Nick Baker himself).  The impression made when you open the book is that it is fun, informative and useful. I think that first impression is reinforced as you read and use the book.

The book has the RSPB’s logo on the front cover and it’s a clever move on the journey to persuade the world that the RSPB is a conservation organisation for all wildlife not a club for nerdy birders. Inside it says that buying this book will help contribute to the RSPB’s conservation work but I missed anything that might tell me how. No worries. A good present for Sir Ian Botham perhaps?

Oh yes, and if you like lots of photographs of Nick Baker looking handsome you will also like his book.

The Complete Naturalist by Nick Baker is published by Bloomsbury (they publish a lot these days don’t they?!).

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will also be published by Bloomsbury on 30th of July.


Seven weeks today

Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxIn seven weeks time, at 1930, an evening to celebrate the Hen Harrier will start in the Palace Hotel, Buxton.  The event will feature Chris Packham, Mark Cocker, Henry the Hen Harrier and myself, and a cast of a thousands (or a few anyway).  Tickets will go on sale in July and are likely to cost about a tenner (£10). This will be the perfect way to get prepared for Hen Harrier Day 2015 on the next day – Sunday 9 August.


To keep abreast of what’s happening, and to learn lots of other good things, then keep an eye on the BAWC website here.



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

PR through the ages




Occupy this naked butt!

Fri 19 June  Copy

Doesn’t this butt look just right for occupation?


A while ago someone tried to post a comment on this blog, and then followed up with another comment.  Both are reproduced below in edited versions.  I have edited the two comments to remove anything that might be libellous or offensive, and to protect the identity of the commenter.  I haven’t always indicated where I have removed or changed words but in one section below I took out quite a few words and have indicated where I have inserted my own which seem, to me, to be faithful to what the commenter was saying. I haven’t changed the spelling, punctuation or grammar.

I don’t know who posted this comment, and because he (I’d guess he, wouldn’t you?) did not provide a valid email address I have not been in communication with him.  Therefore, these might genuinely be the thoughts of an upland gamekeeper or they might not be.  You should read the following with those caveats in mind.

I would have liked to have worked with the person who provided these comments to ascertain that they are (or are not) a genuine gamekeeper, and to craft the words to make their points even more clearly and strongly – but I can understand why the person wishes to remain anonymous. If they wish to get in touch with me then I’d be happy to discuss things with them.  These edited and shortened versions of their views still make interesting reading.

Please don’t and you are probably sick of hearing this but please don’t sink us all in the same boat!

I am a grouse keeper myself and I am sick of hearing us all get a bashing because of a few people with such an influence on a whole shooting community. I remember the day when a gamekeeper was a highly respected person in the local community. Sadly those days have gone. The estate that I am employed on stresses to me that it’s not all about numbers but managing the wider conservation of moorland habitat for everything to benefit from. We have breeding goshawk, Merlin, buzzard and short eared owl that me and my team locate and then show our local BTO ringer where they have chosen as their home. Our estate is commercial and just about covers costs but this includes the government money we receive for managing the moor in good practice, not just grouse shooting. We spend most of this money on moorland management.i.e 30000 per annum is spent controlling bracken which me and my team carry out, using the money to give us more chemical to spray with, more staff to burn heather following good practice, managing smaller burns and keeping fire away from watercourses etc. believe me we are not the only ones with this attitude and a lot of us are very annoyed at YFTB saying its funded by the grouse industry when most of us can see all they are doing is making the situation much harder.

As far as I can see the grouse industry is [strongly influenced by – added by Mark in place of some other phrases] a few people, these people are responsible for the over intensification of moorland management, everything dies approach  …many a genuine keeper has lost his job due to these damaging people because they didn’t agree with what they were told to do. As far as I can see there is one answer and that is get rid of them and the moorland we look after and care for will be a much better place for everyone to enjoy.

So please don’t sink us all, sink them b..tar.s!


The comment I left is not a wind up, this is actually what most of the grousekeepers that don’t work for these influential men think however they won’t stand up for they fear of the power of those concerned, they have a funny way that they can manipulate land owners if they ever found out who said it, ending in job losses! Feel free to use any of the info provided but the reason you can’t contact me is that I wish to stay anonymous, I’m one of the above!



Keep in touch with Hen Harrier Day events through this website.



Not exactly the Pope

The recording of the ‘debate’ between myself, Robin Page and Jake Fiennes is now online. I don’t think it’s very interesting really – but here it is.


Access clarified?

imageFurther to my enquiries (see here and here) about how I, as a member of the public, find out about access to ‘open access’ land in the uplands I have received this email from the Peak District National Park:


Thank you for your email and for providing a link to your blog.

The restriction at Derwent Moors is a restriction at the landowners’ discretion provided for by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.  Section 22 of the Act sets out that this is available for one or more days up to a maximum of 28 days but not on a bank or public holiday, any Saturday from 1st June to 11th  August, any Sunday from 1st June to 30 September or on more than 4 Saturdays or Sundays in any calendar year.

The restriction does not apply to public rights of way nor, in this case with the landowner’s agreement, to the concession paths which run along the top of Derwent Edge and Stanage Edge.  We are currently mapping concession paths throughout the National Park, so we can look to show these paths on the site notice as and when we are notified of future restrictions.

I note from your previous enquiries on your blog, that it was not possible for confirmation to be given that there would be no further restrictions on this land.

To my knowledge, other than the annual discretionary restrictions during the months of May to June and the restrictions relating to the exclusion of dogs, there have been no formal restrictions on this land excluding the public since the introduction of open access land in September 2004. 

Furthermore, any applications to restrict access received under the Act would have to be considered necessary for the purposes of land management or in relation to public safety including having regard to the extent to which the 28 days already available under section 22 has been exercised.

As things stand, it therefore seems unlikely that any applications would be made or granted for further closures on this land over and above the discretionary 28 days noted above.


So that is quite helpful.  It seems to be possible, generally, that once a land manager has used up their 28 days discretionary closures they can still apply for further closures for the purposes of land management or in relation to public safety. In this particular case the Peak District NP couldn’t rule out that such an application might be made but on the basis of past experience thought it unlikely – and it might or might not be approved.

I wonder what experience others have had in getting access to ‘open access’ land in England – particularly in the uplands and particularly on driven grouse moors? And things are different in Scotland.



Pigeon plague on moorlands over Britain

Peak District 413

There has clearly been a plague of pigeons attacking this valuable heather crop on an SSSI in the Peak District  – that’s the only reason for employing bird-scaring devices such as this gas gun (and what are those white flags for?) in an SSSI during the breeding season. Obviously.

Since a gas gun doesn’t fall out of your pocket by accident when you are walking across the moor I guess someone put it there. And I guess they put it in this particular spot deliberately rather than choosing it with the aid of a random number table. And I guess they put it there for some purpose. No pigeons were seen during the taking of this photograph.

Plagues of pigeons may also be feared to be attacking the heather in grouse moors in southern Scotland according to this article on the excellent Raptor Persecution Scotland website.



And then there was the report in the Independent that a propane gas gun was being used near the RSPB nature reserve at Geltsdale too.

This plague of pigeons is really getting out of control, isn’t it? Seems to be a general problem on grouse moors this year.  Duncan Thomas of BASC usually has a lot (of nonsense) to say about disturbance of Hen Harriers and we wonder whether he, BASC, the Moorland Association, YFTB, Ian Botham, the Game (and Wildlife) Conservation Trust or anyone else would like to comment on this year’s pigeon plague.

Has anyone else seen lots of pigeons, or lots of pigeon-scaring devices, on a grouse moor near you? Please let me know, and photos would be welcome.

Just for the avoidance of doubt, here are some images with identification hints:

"Woodpigeoncloseup" by Nickfraser at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Woodpigeoncloseup” by Nickfraser at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Pigeon: note it looks like a pigeon.












Photo: Gordon Yates. Hen Harrier on Skye (not a pigeon)

Photo: Gordon Yates. Hen Harrier on Skye (not a pigeon)

Hen Harrier: note, it looks like a Hen Harrier











Thurs 11th June CopyHenry: note he looks lovely! And quite like a Hen Harrier.




Booming Bitterns


Photo: Oscar Dewhurst

Good news on Bitterns yesterday from the RSPB – 11 males in 1997, over 150 males in 2015 after years of conservation science, habitat management, habitat re-creation and partnership working.  And this was, no-one would deny, led by the RSPB. We await the congratulatory press release from YFTB.

At Ham Wall, there are apparently 17 booming males (no wonder we saw and heard a few on our recent visit) and Somerset holds around 40 males. When I was a lad, there were none. When I was Head of Conservation Science at the RSPB there were none, or maybe an occasional one. Now there are 40+ in Somerset. Wow!

At Lakenheath in Suffolk, which I remember well as a carrot field in 1995, there are now six booming males. Wow! And Common Cranes too! Wow Wow!

At Ouse Fen in Cambridgeshire – which I remember as a gravel working – the first booming male was in 2012 (a year after I left the RSPB) and this year there are 10 booming males. Wow Wow Wow!

Over 59% of the booming males are on sites protected by the EU Birds and Habitat’s Directives. Look at this site to tell the EU that the nature directives are working, please.

Martin Harper, the RSPB Conservation Director, said: “These sites have been vital to the conservation of the bittern and other key species in the UK. However, the European Union is consulting on the future of the Birds and Habitats Directives. And we fear this may lead to a weakening of the directives, with potentially disastrous consequences for many threatened species.”


This was not a fake review

IMG_2406When I criticised Rules restaurant on the site Tripadvisor it really was me, and I really meant it – even though some comments on similar sites are apparently fake ones.

I asked Rules, having been there as a customer, about the provenance of its game meat and whether it was completely up to date with the scientific information on lead in game meat (see here, here, here and here for the bizarre but not very illuminating tale of their lack of an informative reply).

My review of Rules was entitled ‘Uncommunicative and pricy‘ and I keep getting emails from Tripadvisor telling me that someone else has found it helpful – it now has 69 helpful votes. I’d still like to hear from Rules – and I am contacting other London restaurants on this matter too – and I will let you know what they say.


Ten reasons to take notice of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change

Isn’t ‘encyclical’ a nice word? [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The Pope has published his thoughts on climate change and they are well worth reading in full. But here is a good summary (taken from Time magazine).

Climate change is real and it’s getting worse

Human beings are a major contributor to climate change

Climate change disproportionately affects the poor

We can and must make things better

Individuals can help but politicians must lead the charge.

Now, I’ve been saying all those things for years but I have a feeling that the Pope saying them will have a rather bigger impact – thank God!

Here are ten reasons why the world will and should listen to the Pope on climate change:

  1. He doesn’t need to seek re-election – he can tell it as he sees it.
  2. He doesn’t have to deliver share-holder value – he can tell it as he sees it.
  3. He is a scientist by training – not that scientists all agree or are infallible.
  4. Popes are thought by some to be infallible
  5. He sounds like he means what he is saying.
  6. There are 1.2bn Catholics in the world – about one in six of the total population.
  7. The countries with the most Catholics are Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, USA and Italy – not bad places to start addressing rainforest loss and consumption.
  8. Jeb Bush doesn’t like it.
  9. Pope Francis is right…
  10. …no, really, he’s right!