In flight

Photo: Bob Embleton via wikimedia commons

Photo: Bob Embleton via wikimedia commons

I’m getting on a plane today for the first time since June 2013. I’m heading up to Aberdeen to give a talk about Passenger Pigeons (and a little bit about Hen Harriers) to the Aberdeen RSPB Group on their 40th anniversary.

I’m looking forward to seeing Aberdeen again. It must be almost exactly 34 years since I got off the sleeper in Aberdeen and walked to the Zoology Department to start my PhD on ‘The winter activity of pipistrelle bats’.  I remember the granite city looking very grey and not particularly welcoming.  The cold wind swirled around Union Street as I walked through the city to the Zoology Department.  But first impressions can be misleading (more often so, of places than people, I feel) and I found the welcome at Aberdeen was very warm.

I would rather have travelled by train on this trip too but the economics mitigate strongly against it.  I really don’t quite understand how it is so much cheaper to fly from Birmingham to Aberdeen than to get the train.  I put a reasonable amount of effort into trying to persuade myself that the price of train travel (and the associated parking and travel to the station) was just as cheap as the flight package but it isn’t.  Even parking at Peterborough station for the requisite amount of time is more expensive than its equivalent at Birmingham airport.

Given that planes look quite expensive to build (but I have no idea how much it costs to build a train), and pilots look more expensive than train drivers, and airports occupy a lot of ground, I am surprised by the relative costs. And, of course, the main reason I’d rather travel by train is that the carbon footprint is rather lower, and since carbon footprint is related to energy use then, again, I am surprised that flights work out so much cheaper. But they do.

Can anyone explain this to me?



Plenty of life in e-petition 65627

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddI just happened to make a note a couple of weeks ago of the number of signatures attached to our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and the e-petition for the non-joint non-plan. Ours stood at 17,608 signatures whereas the GWCT effort was at 10,414.

Now, we were off the mark a while before the GWCT, in fact, it looked very much as though their e-petition was a badly-judged response to ours, so we shouldn’t make too much of the manifest large gap in public support to date.  And we shouldn’t make too much of the fact that the GWCT e-petition has been ‘supported’ by the Countryside Alliance, BASC and the Moorland Association too – with their large memberships – whereas no large conservation organisation has yet supported the e-petition for a ban on driven grouse shooting. But I wouldn’t bet against at least one of them seeing the light eventually.

However, in the last two weeks the non-joint, non-plan, e-petition has remained in the shallows, becalmed, picking up a mere 64 more signatures – fewer than five a day.  Whereas our e-petition has the wind in its sails and is skimming along having picked up 707 extra signatures – more than 50 a day. So, a tenfold difference in signing rate at the moment.

There’s a long way to go, but our e-petition still has plenty of momentum and there are plenty of plays to come before it closes on 30 March.

Anybody like to hazard a guess at the number of signatures by Bonfire Night? Christmas? New Year’s Day? Valentine’s Day? The Cheltenham Festival? 30 March 2015?  When will it get to 20,000? Will it get to 30,000?

Oooh! There’s another signature just now. How lovely!


Lead and other poisons

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

In a couple of weeks time there will be a meeting in Quito of the Convention on Migratory Species.

Sounds terribly dull doesn’t it? Well maybe it will be – but maybe it won’t.

One of the areas to be discussed is poisoning.

I wonder what position our government will take on such issues that have been threaded through this blog over the years and will be discussed in Quito – issues such as neonicotinoid pesticides (see here, here, here), diclofenac as a veterinary drug (see here, here), poisoning of wildlife (see here, here and here) and the use of lead ammunition and its impacts on human health and wildlife populations (see here, here, here)?

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Will a British Minister be attending? What will the UK line be on the following:

  • Insecticides used on crops: 3.2. Substitute (remove from the market and replace with environmentally safe with alternatives) substances of high risk to birds and incentivise alternatives; introduce mandatory evaluation mechanisms for existing and new products,
  • Veterinary diclofenac: 3.1 Prohibit the use of veterinary diclofenac for the treatment of livestock and substitute with readily available safe alternatives, such as meloxicam ; Introduce mandatory safety-testing of NSAIDs; VICH/OECD to evaluate and provide guidance on wider risks,
  • Poison baits: Step 4: Create enforcement legislation with effective deterrent mechanisms and penalties,
  • Lead ammunition: 2.2.1. Phase-out the use of lead ammunition across all habitats (wetland and terrestrial) with non-toxic alternatives within the next three years?

I really do wonder what line the UK will take on these issues at this international meeting since it has failed almost completely to get a grip of them, or even be seen to be on the right side of the arguments, here at home.

When Dave Cameron goes off to Europe for a summit we hear lots of macho speak about how he is going to give those Europeans a piece of his mind but on, admittedly less important, matters like these we hear nothing. Why not? What is the position of ‘our’ government on these matters? Will Defra report back to the electorate in any way at all?  Will it admit to being one of the blocks to progress if, indeed, it takes its domestic position abroad? Will it give us all the chance to say ‘Well done!’ if it is one of the good guys?

I fear that Defra’s position might well be to follow the instructions of the NFU, BASC and Countryside Alliance.  How will we know? Would Ms Truss like to tell us, please?




Oscar Dewhurst – Hobby



Oscar writes:  I’d spent the earlier part of the morning at Richmond Park photographing the deer rut, and when the mist had cleared and the sun was too high I headed to the pen ponds where I heard that a couple of juvenile Hobbies were hunting low over the water and often flying right past people! I wasn’t disappointed, and spent the next couple of hours trying desperately to get them in focus as they shot past me!

Nikon D800, Nikon 600mm f4 AFS-II




Trains of thought

800px-Flickr_-_don_macauley_-_Red_KiteNo book review this week – I’ve had rather little time for reading, I’m afraid.

As I travelled down to London last week I kept an eye open for Red Kites on the stretch of line south of Luton station.  The man of the couple opposite me may have been doing the same as he spotted one that I didn’t see, and mentioned it to his wife. A few moments later, I pointed one out to him and the three of us got talking about first Red Kites and then birds in general.

This couple, retired I guess, came from Kettering and enjoy the Red Kites they now see above their home. The man thought that they were purely carrion eaters and I told him that was not completely right but pretty much so.  Red Kites are primarily scavengers but will take a wide variety of small prey – birds, rodents, amphibians.

And then we got onto the state of birds in general. These two pleasant folk feed birds in their garden, like so many of us do, and were pleased by the numbers they now saw, although (common remark at this point in the conversation) all that bird feeding costs them a fortune.

They were surprised to hear about the declines in many bird species of the wider countryside but immediately assumed, correctly, that an important cause of these declines was intensive farming.

The couple were off to London on one of their occasional visits to enjoy some exhibitions and events.

I enjoyed our 20 minute chat.   They were the type of folk with whom the conversation could have lasted for an hour or more very pleasantly. I’d guess that they vote Conservative but feel happier with the Ken Clarke end of the party than the George Osborne end of it.  I’d be surprised if they do not give to charity in a fairly generous way according to their modest comfortable means.  They may be in church this morning.

I mentioned that I had worked for the RSPB and they didn’t say that they were or weren’t members but I imagine they are, vaguely, supporters and could easily have been recruited to membership. I would hazard a guess that they have never seen a Red Grouse let alone a Hen Harrier but would be on the side of the Hen Harrier if someone talked to them about the crimes that occur in the hills.  They would also vote for Bob if asked because they enjoy nature and would want us to be a bit kinder to it. I guess there are a lot of people like them.


And now the video…



And here’s the video - click here!

And please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.





Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

boilingfrogThe boiling frog




Postcards for the Queen


20,132 postcards for the Queen!

Paul, me, Hilary Photo: Felicity Millward/LUSH

Paul, me, Hilary Photo: Felicity/LUSH

This morning, Paul and Hilary from LUSH, and myself (since Chris Packham is out of the country) delivered a couple of boxes of postcards (the rest will follow later) to the Queen. Well, no, not directly to HM The Queen but to her house. And no, not to the front door, wherever that is, but by the side entrance.

Photo: Felicity Millward/LUSH

Photo: Felicity/LUSH

After a long period of negotiation with the Palace the actual handover took less time than I believe it took me to shave this morning! Our identities were checked – I’m glad my Cambridge University Library reader’s card passed muster – and then we were escorted, by a nice Police Inspector, into the building where a man in livery, with braid, took our boxes of cards.  I can’t say he looked thrilled, but there you go! And then we were escorted back to the real world of the busy London pavement.

Photo: Felicity Millward/LUSH

Photo: Felicity/LUSH

We were told that Her Majesty might get to see a postcard or two, but she would certainly see mention of them on a list of correspondence received. I have a feeling that they may not get a mention in the Queen’s Christmas Message to the nation – but, we’ll see. Maybe Her Majesty will bring up the subject of Hen Harriers with David Cameron the next time he pops around for a chat.

The importance of this handover was that the views of more than 20,000 people from the High Streets and Shopping Centres of the UK have been delivered to the Head of State and the centre of the Establishment.

I think LUSH did a fantastic job in their shops, in just a week last August, to enthuse people to speak out for nature.  Those shoppers for bath bombs often came into the shops never having heard of a Hen Harrier and went out feeling angry that these birds are killed illegally by grouse shooting interests.

As we stood on the pavement outside Buckingham Palace I wondered how many of the people passing by would know of Hen Harriers – not very many, I guess. Many were tourists and the Americans would know of the bird as the Northern Harrier (but they would be more likely never to have heard of it), the Scandinavians might know the bird quite well if they were interested in birds and Russians, Chinese and Koreans all stood a chance of knowing the Hen Harrier from their countries. But none would know much about driven grouse shooting, that peculiarly British pastime.

One would be much more likely to find some grouse shooters inside Buckingham Palace than outside I would guess. I do hope that Earl Peel, Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, former owner of Gunnerside grouse moor and Vice-President of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust gets a chance to flick through the postcards signed by LUSH customers.

This e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is open to anyone, titled or untitled, rich or poor, LUSH customer or unwashed, to sign provided they are a British citizen – please sign here.

PS the nearest LUSH store to Buckingham Palace appears to be Victoria Station – just five minutes away.


The less glamorous side entrance

The less glamorous side entrance







RPA considering…

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Several readers of this blog contacted the Rural Payments Agency at the news of the conviction of a Norfolk gamekeeper for poisoning birds of prey.  They have received letters of this form:

Thank you for your recent e-mail concerning the Norfolk gamekeeper found guilty of killing protected species of birds.
I can confirm that RPA will consider what action can be taken under the cross compliance rules in respect of the offences for which the gamekeeper was convicted.
Thank you again for bringing this case to our attention.
Should you have any further queries please contact us again quoting reference number XXXXX
Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons


Two months on


Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock


It is only two months since 10 August and Hen Harrier day, when hundreds of hardy folk gathered together to protest at the illegal killing of Hen Harriers (and it has taken this long for some of them to dry out!).

It is now two months until the end of the grouse shooting season on 10 December.  For news of the next ‘event’ on this subject watch this space and other spaces – plans are being made involving several major NGOs.

On 10 August our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting stood at 13,000 signatures, it now stands at well over 18,000 signatures.


Photo: Jim Nettle

Photo: Jim Nettle