Suspended sentence for ‘worst bird of prey poisoner’, Allen Lambert

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

10 poisoned Buzzards =  10 weeks suspended sentence.

This is totally outrageous.

Media coverage – click here.



RSPB will come out fighting

Whoever is behind the ill-conceived attack on the RSPB fronted by a silent and absent ex-cricketer, a silent baronet and a silent ex-nature conservationist, and carried into the pages of the Mail on Sunday (did you know that the Daily Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, owns a grouse moor?), I believe they have miscalculated.

They have misconstrued the more conciliatory tone and approach of the current RSPB leadership as a sign of weakness and an invitation to bullying. This is a serious error. First, neither Mike Clarke nor Martin Harper is weak, and neither is likely to take well to being bullied by the likes of an absent Beefy and the Mail on Sunday on behalf of the shooting community as a whole.   This attack will bring out their inner steel.  Second, the personal nature of the attack on the RSPB, timed to bridge the gap between the RSPB AGM and yesterday’s Hen Harrier meeting, is bound to wake up those remaining RSPB Council members who are still under the misapprehension that nature conservation and shooting are like two peas in a pod they are so alike. Third, it is a sign of panic which will merely encourage those who believe that the RSPB should take a tougher line (as they should) on driven grouse shooting now that its wildlife and wider environmental damaging impacts are so well known. Fourth, it has demonstrated (as has the Lead Ammunition Group (don’t forget that)) that shooting’s self interest is blind to science and immune to reason. Fifth, as I understand it, the RSPB membership has remained unconcerned by a bunch of shooters having a tantrum except they await the RSPB’s robust and strategic response.

I could go on, and on, but the upshot is that the RSPB will harden its stance on driven grouse shooting.


To Quito with love

Photo: Goran Ekstron via wikimedia commons

Photo: Goran Ekstron via wikimedia commons

I blogged a while ago about the meeting in Quito which has implications for insecticide use on crops, veterinary use of diclofenac and the poisoning of wildlife with lead and other poisons.  That meeting is now underway.

I hear, from mates in other EU countries (isn’t it good to have contacts?) that things, at the moment, look good for a diclofenac ban (see here, here) which would be such a great decision by all the countries involved and I understand the UK is playing a good role in this.

One of the five poisons under discussion, lead, is close to my own heart as I lobbied to get the English ban on shooting wildfowl with lead in England (see Fighting for Birds pp 248-253)). I’ve watched with interest as various studies have shown the lack of compliance with these regulations – see my blogs here and here. The most recent study shows 70% non-compliance with the existing law and although the Lead Ammunition Group was established 4 years ago (I was a member at the time) there has been no action on the part of Defra, so far, to deal with this. At least the Food Standards Agency have been rather more active in publishing advice to frequent consumers of game (see here even to the extent of correcting misinformation by shooting organisations).

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

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

Having sat on the Lead Ammunition Group in the early days and seen the reams of evidence showing how significant this problem is in the UK, I hope that the UK governmental delegation, who will by now be aware of all of the results of the detailed risk assessments conducted over the last 4 years, will be taking a key role in pushing for a global ban on lead ammunition. They will also be aware of a consensus statement by 30 eminent scientists, largely from the EU and with expertise in wildlife health and human health, supporting the phase out and elimination of lead ammunition and its replacement with non-toxic alternatives. This statement was based upon the very powerful evidence for the toxic effects of lead in wildlife and humans and extensive and convincing data on the risks presented by the use of lead-based ammunition.

Will the UK government delegation be pushing for the ban though? Or will they rather be responding to pressure from some government ministers and their cronies? The disregard of shooting organisations to the risks presented both to wild birds and human health from lead has been shocking – see previous blogs here and here. Participants at the CMS COP include both members of shooting organisations, which is perhaps not surprising, but also ammunition manufacturers. Interesting that they have turned up at a global convention on conservation of migratory species. I’d like to imagine they’re taking an environmentally responsible stand and promoting sustainable hunting and wise use. But will they be? Do turkeys vote for Christmas?

Let’s hope that the UK’s contribution to the CMS isn’t a lot of money spent on getting to the other side of the world, very many tonnes of carbon released and a scuppering of an opportunity to prevent thousands of birds being poisoned to death… If so I doubt we’d ever be able to look some of our European neighbours in the eye and ask for the illegal killing of migratory birds to be stopped when we’re not even prepared to clean up our own act. Let’s hope that our ministers are instructing their delegation in favour of the public and environmental good – if so I’ll be the first to pat them on the back.

But, if there are any hitches with progress on this issue we should all ask Defra what their line has been on this matter after the Quito conference.  Wouldn’t it be embarrassing for the relatively new Secretary of State, Liz Truss, if it were found, perhaps through well-targetted EIR/FOI requests, or perhaps simply from word of mouth from other EU countries (or other enlightened countries) that the UK was not one of the good guys?

This is what I posted on this blog over three weeks ago:

‘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?’

If there is not progress in Quito then I can promise you that this blog, and others, will be seeking answers from Defra on what ‘our’ role has been in these negotiations.  Surely the UK cannot be on the side of the poisoners?



Yesterday, in London, I spent my time with an Indian conservationist, a former colleague from the RSPB, a former Labour Minister, a Turner Prize winner, an expert on marine conservation, a former Greenpeace director, a Hen Harrier enthusiast, a journalist, an employee of WWF-UK and a talented singer. Sounds like I had a busy day but these were only five people and two were brief, but most welcome, chance encounters.

I actually spent much of yesterday sitting in leather armchairs reading copies of Hansard and marvelling at the debates which led to the Protection of Birds Act 1954.  The identification of the Curlew and Whimbrel were discussed with some knowledge and more passion; the protection that should be given to the Lapwing and its delicious eggs; the difference between the ‘evil’ Carrion Crow and the rather admirable Hooded Crow (really?); whether egg-collecting should be regulated or banned (you see, we have been here before); the Brent Goose; the Little Owl; and the fact that the Green Woodpecker was apolitical because it laughed its yaffling call through Conservative and Labour governments alike.  Priceless stuff! And the names are redolent of a different age. The admirable Lady Tweedsmuir MP was a heroine but Major Tufton Beamish was a right star turn in his way.

As light relief, I dipped into what is becoming my favourite book, Who Owns Britain and Ireland, by Kevin Cahill, almost enough to make communists of us all.  I recommend it.

But as I toiled, and giggled, the Hen Harrier sub-group was meeting. No doubt the GWCT and Moorland Association were commiserating with the RSPB on the unfair press coverage it has received. No doubt, shamed by the tawdry behaviour of some shooters the grouse shooters rushed to pile concession after concession on the table?  No doubt, the GWCT repledged its undying love of the Hen Harrier, the RSPB and other vermin (I mean, other awkward but full protected life forms). No doubt.

And the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 19,000 signatures.

It was an enjoyable day.


SWLA exhibition

Artwork by Greg Poole

Artwork by Greg Poole

Last week I visited the annual SWLA exhibition. I enjoyed it as much as ever and I recommend it to you if you have a spare half an hour or more in central London over the next few days.

Of course, there were some works that I liked a lot more than others – the one above by Greg Poole was one of my favourites (but it doesn’t have to be one of yours – there are plenty to choose from).

Artists are incredibly clever aren’t they? There was a painting of Linnets that made the nasty little critters look rather wonderful (by Kim Atkinson).

I also noticed Nick Derry‘s work for the first time with Pagney in Spring and Summer Curlew Sandpiper being paintings in front of which I stood for quite a while.

I know Dafila Scott from ages ago, and I have always liked her work, but I didn’t realise that Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kalahari, Pair of Bat-eared Foxes foraging at sundown or Starlings in the garden, fleeting visit late summer were her work until I checked the labels. And best of all was the oil painting Wildebeest at dusk.

See here for a review of the book produced by the SWLA last year.



19000 signatures – thank you.

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddAnother milestone passed – our (for there are 18,999 of you and only one of me) e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting today passed the 19,000 signature mark.

I would like to thank all who have signed and all who have promoted this e-petition.

This latest 1000 has taken just under a month to achieve – it is the slowest of all 19 thousands [note added later – actually it is marginally quicker than the previous 1000 now i have checked again] .  That’s to be expected and there is no sign of the steam running out on this subject at all.

I believe (you can check if you like) that is about the 109th most successful e-petition ever on the government website out of a total of over 30,000 (and, of course, most of those 30,000 ran for a full 12 months whereas our e-petition has just started its sixth month of life.

There is a long way to go and many more unreached people to contact but no-one can doubt that the future of driven grouse shooting is a bigger issue this November than it was last November. Next November we may see a Westminster government with a completely different political make-up.

We know that one political party, The Green Party, would ban driven grouse shooting and other field sports.  It is surely not too much to ask that other political parties come clean on their position too.  We know what Defra says about this issue, under a Conservative and Liberal Democratic coalition government, as they have responded, in a way, to the e-petition.  But what of Labour? What might the Labour Party position be in its manifesto?

The more signatures we get, the more likely that the issue of wildlife crime will be addressed in the party manifestos next spring.  So please ask your friends and workmates to sign our e-petition too.

Twenty thousand by Christmas – is that possible? Or is it, perhaps, under-ambitious? Let’s find out.

Thank you again. And please sign here.


New Wildlife Trust report


Today a new reportSave Our Ocean Giants – the protected areas we need for dolphins, whales and basking sharks, identifies 17 important ‘megafauna hotspots’ around our shores for the first time and highlights the need to protect them.

  1. Farnes East, Coquet to St Marys – notable for white-beaked dolphin, harbour porpoise and minke whale.
  2. Mid St George’s Channel – notable for common dolphin.
  3. Bideford North to Foreland Point – notable for harbour porpoise.
  4. East of Celtic Deep – notable for common dolphin and fin whale.
  5. Celtic Deep – notable for common dolphin and fin whale.
  6. South of Celtic Deep – notable for common dolphin and fin whale.
  7. Western Channel – notable for common dolphin, humpback whale and fin whale.
  8. Manacles – notable for basking shark, harbour porpoise and (seasonally) minke whale.
  9. Lizard, Western channel – notable for common dolphin, harbour porpoise, bottlenose dolphin and basking shark.
  10. Lyme Bay – notable for harbour porpoise.
  11. North and west coasts of Anglesey – notable for harbour porpoise.
  12. Lleyn Peninsula and the Sarnau – notable for harbour porpoise and Risso’s dolphin.
  13. Cardigan Bay – notable for harbour porpoise.
  14. Pembrokeshire Marine – notable for harbour porpoise.
  15. North of Celtic Deep – notable for common dolphin.
  16. Eastern coastline including Silver Pit – notable for harbour porpoise.
  17. Dogger bank – notable for harbour porpoise and white-beaked dolphin.

The report explains why The Wildlife Trusts want to see these newly identified hotspots (special areas on which whales, dolphins and basking sharks most depend) protected by law. This would secure the missing link in marine protection for English and Welsh waters.

The UK Government is working towards achieving an ‘ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas’, however, there’s a glaring omission in this process: the absence of protection for the nutrient-rich and highly productive places on which marine megafauna most depend.


Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ Head of Living Seas, said:

Many people are surprised to discover that in the waters surrounding our shores you could encounter 29 different species of whale, dolphin and porpoise and the second largest shark in the world – the basking shark.  However, there’s an urgent need to create protected areas at sea for our ocean giants and ensure a network of sites to safeguard these species for generations to come. 

The UK has made huge advances in marine conservation in recent years but there is still a significant job to do.  Our marine megafauna – whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks – are still under threat.  Many are suffering from the impacts of fishing, whether direct or indirect, increased boat traffic, marine developments and the more persistent effects of pollution – many substances bioaccummulate and affect generations of animals and overall population health.

Not all of these impacts can be mitigated by spatial protection measures alone but, by designating areas of the sea which are known hotspots, we can provide safe havens for these species and some impacts can be limited or removed altogether.


The Wildlife Trusts are urging the public to sign an e-action which calls on the Government to protect the 17 megafauna hotspots around our shores to secure a brighter future for dolphins, whales and basking sharks.

Photo: Andrew Pearson

Photo: Andrew Pearson


Broadcast on Passenger Pigeons

Martha coverThis is a good science programme  – from Canada – Quirks and Quarks. I guess I was a quirk.

Have a listen to the last 10 minutes of the programme to hear me (although the whole show is interesting) talking about Passenger Pigeons, and remember, A Message from Martha would make a good Christmas present for someone – perhaps for you! Why not order it for your loved ones, friends, enemies, relatives,  casual acquaintances, postman, workmates and many other people right now? Or start dropping hints to your loved ones that you would like to be settling down to read it over Christmas – or sooner!


More vegetables please and less Beefy

A_selection_of_vegetables,_including_aubergine,_onion,_carrot,_and_potato_-_Album_Vilmorin_(1850),_plate_6_-_BLI’m vegetarian four days a week and so I get a bit annoyed if I have beefy rammed down my throat all the time.

It’s a bit unclear what the beef is that Ian Botham has with the RSPB except for the fact that they exist. He thinks they should tell the world that they shoot the occasional fox and deer (and they always have done that – shot them and told the world) but he really wants them to shoot even more, I think.  So he wants to persuade RSPB members that they have been misled because the RSPB shoots a few foxes (which they haven’t been – misled!) and to persuade the RSPB to shoot more of them (foxes!) because that’s what he approves of. It’s all a bit peculiar, really.

He has got a bit of a point on one thing – probably by accident!

But before we get to that, I suspect that quite a few RSPB staff are feeling a bit nervous about all this confused public attacking of the organisation.  For one thing, no one is perfect. Imagine that someone started having a go at you in public, would you feel completely happy about it even if their motives were base and their arguments chronically weak? I suspect you’d start feeling guilty almost despite yourself. Do you ever get that feeling when an HMRC envelope comes through the door, ‘I hope I haven’t done anything wrong’? I do, and I like paying taxes because I am left-wing!

And there might be that thing you did ages ago that you aren’t completely proud of – we all have them (or is it only me?) – and you hope that they don’t find out about that.

And then there is the fear that people will think ‘no smoke without fire’ and the fear that ‘mud sticks’.

I do remember feeling some of those fears for the RSPB several times when I worked there and someone had a go at us. That is why people do it – to see how much they can frighten you as an individual or you as an organisation. It’s what the Shooting Times and the rest of the shooting press have been doing for years and you’ll notice that it hasn’t had any impact on the RSPB’s reputation (or membership).  It’s what the climate change deniers have been doing for years too – and that hasn’t had any impact either.  In my recollection, the thing that had the biggest impact on the RSPB’s reputation over the years was the stance it took, and I agreed with it, on the control of Ruddy Duck.

By supporting a cull of the introduced Ruddy Duck (because of its threat to the threatened White-headed Duck) the RSPB angered some of its members and many animal rights supporters.  It was taking an unpopular but principled stand that cost the RSPB some support at that time but it was a principled stand (whether you agreed with it or not).  Funnily enough, I don’t remember Ian Botham praising the RSPB to the hilt at that time. The fact is, that if you do anything or say anything, you are likely to upset somebody, somewhere. The RSPB does a lot and used to say rather more than it does now, so it is unsurprising that it upsets people now and again.  It must be so galling to Beefy and others that the RSPB membership is at an all time high.

The test of the RSPB is whether it is at all cowed by this ranting in the wings. To be honest, it is difficult not to be just a little bit. When there is a small whirlwind, of unpredictable nature, swirling around your feet then it takes quite a lot of guts not to watch your step for a while.  Many would think, ‘The last thing I need is to start another storm, even a small one, running’. But that is what your critics want, so you do have to consider whether to give it to them.

I think the RSPB position on grouse shooting, which is probably what this is all about, is OK, but actually a bit weak and a bit inadequate and a bit feeble. I guess I should be trying to recruit David Gower, or Denis Lillee or Jonathan Agnew to my side of the argument. But I don’t think I’ll bother with that.

avatar2The thing that Beefy may have a point on is that the RSPB isn’t talking nearly enough about its conservation work – what it does and what it believes in.  If you keep talking about hedgehog homes and fluffy squirrels (I like fluffy squirrels and feel they should have our support) and less and less about your international work, the real work that you do on nature reserves, the fact that this government is rubbish for wildlife, the success of your own Hope Farm project, the failure of the farming community as a whole to do a good job for our money and how grouse shooting is so bad that it ought just to stop, then you can be accused of putting too much emphasis on recruiting new members and general fluffy PR. The greatest defence against the opposition spin is to suss out the bowling and then whip a few loose balls to the boundary – now Beefy could tell the RSPB that. You need a good eye, a solid technique and a brave heart to do it. But batting every ball carefully back to the bowler won’t win you any match.


I would recommend to RSPB Council and RSPB staff the words of Winston Churchill that appear on p237 of Fighting for Birds - and if you haven’t got a copy then I really do have a beef with you.


Also, I hadn’t heard of David Rose, who appears to be Ian Botham’s scribe for the Mail on Sunday although I noticed he has the same name as someone I do know so I thought I would check him out. David Rose (@DRoseMoS) is the Deputy News Editor of the Mail on Sunday.  He is not a person unfamiliar with sticks and stones being directed at him either – see here, here, here.


Sunday book review – 100 Things that Caught My Eye by Chris Packham

indexI’ve spent some time with Chris Packham this year. We both talked at the Hampshire Ornithological Society AGM on my birthday in March, and chatted about Hen Harriers on that day and wound each other up on the subject. We stood together as part of the ‘Sodden 570′ on Hen Harrier Day in the Peak District on 10 August and then spent time together at the Bird Fair the next weekend. We both spoke and agreed with each other at the World Land Trust Controversial Conservation event this year too.

So I can hardly be said to be unbiased about anything that Chris does but I can’t say that I know him well.  And so I thought I ought to buy his new book on photography and see what I could learn about him.

Now I am not that interested in photography – partly, I think, because my father was a keen amateur photographer of landscapes and buildings and that probably meant that I was bound to take another pathway.

When I see something amazing I want to look at it and see it, not look through the lens of a camera at it.  This is particularly true of nature where I don’t want some contraption getting between me and the nature.  I’ll always remember the sound of cameras clicking in Yellowstone NP as a Grizzly Bear with cubs came walking towards us. I could cut out the 200 people who were close to me but less easily the sound of 199 camera shutters whirring away. And I am getting tired of sitting in a bird hide and being deafened by the same noises – I’d vote for segregating hides, train style, into ‘quiet’ and ‘cameras and kids’ sections.

This book has 100 images from across the globe – all continents are represented except Australasia. Some are arresting images – a Monarch butterfly on a gun in Mexico, dead moths in a stream in Scotland and a grotty shack in Texas – and some didn’t do much for me. However, I am sure that your look through the book would find you stopping at different pages and for different reasons.

I found myself reading all of the accompanying text because where I liked an image the words made me like it even more and where it hadn’t done much for me, the words warmed me to the image and I understood more about why it had been taken.  Added to which, Chris tells a good story and has a great line in self-deprecation as far as photography is concerned.

The images contain more human nature than nature. And there is quite a lot of death in here too – the last resting places of people, moths, whales, prions, cows and trees as well as some dead buildings, dead cars and dead planes. But many of the people have smiles.

So, this isn’t a picture book. It’s an ideas book and a storybook – with pictures. At least that’s what it is to me. There’s a lot of Chris Packham in here – his views, his turn of phrase, too many photos of dogs, and a great eye for beauty.  And did I learn anything about Chris? I forgot to try to do that, because as with any good book, this one takes you somewhere and teaches you more about yourself.

Did I learn anything about photography? Definitely not – I am beyond that. One of the images I liked the best is apparently the worst in the book. Oh well! Not for me it wasn’t.

And I keep going back to that shack in Texas for the image and the story behind it.

100 things that Caught My Eye by Chris Packham is published by Blink Publishing.

Chris Packham said of A Message from Martha, by Mark Avery, ‘…this is a book that everyone who cares about the natural world must read now‘ which was very kind of him!