Defra – what are you for? 2

Defra, do you have a solution to the problems in the uplands documented by the Leeds University EMBER report?

Remember? The report that established that the management of the uplands for driven grouse shooting leads to polluted water courses, probably increased flood risk downstream, loss of aquatic biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions?

This was the report that strengthened the case, with further evidence, that managing the uplands for private profit (grouse shooting) imposed costs on the rest of society.  Those costs are in the form of higher insurance costs (to pay for the impacts of flooding), higher water bills (because water has to be treated before it reaches the consumer), lower fish stocks (because of the impacts on river life) and higher impacts through a changing climate.

One solution to these ecological disservices delivered by driven grouse shooting would be to ban the practice entirely and there is, luckily enough, a very popular e-petition which has allowed over 20,000 of the public to express their support for just that.

Defra – you’ve just about run out of time to make any sort of positive impact on the environment before the official opening of the ‘open season’ on politicians, otherwise known as the general election campaign. Your record is dire – dire, egregious, failing, risible and adrift (as I wrote three years ago and you haven’t rescued the situation in the time that has followed).



Oscar Dewhurst – Red-breasted Merganser





Sunday book review – Penguins – close encounters by David Tipling

penguinsDid you like the John Lewis advert? That is what Christmas is all about after all – which retailer has the best advert to get you spending your money.

Which of the world’s 17 species of penguin was it?

I’ve never seen a penguin in the wild, only a few in zoos, but then very few of us have. But we ‘all’ know what penguins are don’t we? There was no danger that the John Lewis advert would get us all thinking ‘What is that mammal?’was there?

These birds captivate us. And one of the reasons is obviously that they are rather human-like – that’s why they work in adverts. They don’t fly, just like you don’t, and they walk everywhere, just like you do.  As a hard-bitten scientist and conservationist, and even as a man, I find it difficult not to go somewhat soppy over penguins. Aren’t they cute?!  Yes they are!

This book is a photographic celebration of penguins. It explores, in images, their cuteness but it is a very good record of their toughness too.   Living, many of them, in the coldest and driest and wildest places on Earth the penguins are as tough as they are cute.

The smooth lines and bold patterns, of mostly black and white, make the penguins very photogenic, and the fact that they can’t fly off and don’t sprint, and are in fact rather approachable and friendly in the wild (how cute is that?) makes them ideal subjects although the remoteness of their haunts is a bit of a drawback. Or, on the other hand, another great asset since the backdrops of snow and ice just add to the beauty of the images.

David Tipling says in the introduction ‘Never have I felt so alive in spirit or so vulnerable to death as the day I photographed Emperor Penguins during an Antarctic storm.‘.  I’m grateful that he took the risks so that he could take the photographs which I enjoyed so much, though I am a little envious that I can’t use such a brilliant line to introduce my own work.

The book contains words which tell you a lot of interesting things about penguins but you could easily enjoy this book very much without reading a word. Penguins really are amazing to look at, so feast your eyes.

There are some ugly penguins – the Royal Penguin wouldn’t win many prizes in a beauty contest. I can see why John Lewis chose an Adelie Penguin instead.

I think you should p-p-p-p-pick up this book as there is nothing wrong with cute.  Penguins are very beautiful and live in the most amazing places.

Penguins – close encounters by David Tipling is published by Bloomsbury.

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury.


More update

Every time I do an ‘update’ blog, as soon as it is posted, I remember all the other things that I meant to put in it, so here are a few more:


  • I’m sure there was something else too…

Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

children are the future

Mark writes: of course, children were the future in the past too, and the present isn’t so great.



Hare today and gone tomorrow?

Dead Mountain Hares in a gamekeeper's stink pit

Dead Mountain Hares in a gamekeeper’s stink pit

Just when the grouse shooters thought that things might get a bit quieter for them, another e-petition related to grouse shooting emerges that is bound to get a lot of support.

This one is directed at the SNH Director of Policy and Advice, Ron Macdonald, and asks SNH to protect Mountain Hares from widespread unregulated culls by the mis-managers of driven grouse moors. The e-petition is on the 38 Degrees site right here.

I’ll be signing it as soon as this post goes live and I’d ask you to do the same. As with other e-petitions, it is part of the background chatter that keeps nagging away at politicians and reminding them that although they may spend a lot of time talking to the people who own the countryside, there are a lot more people out here who pay for it, care about it and its wildlife (and, incidentally, its people) and who have votes to deploy in May and ever afterwards.

Links to previous coverage of this issue: by me (here), the Cairngorms National Park view, the SNH press release, the GWCT who see this species as ‘part of the sporting interest’, the GWCT again, and the story by Rob Edwards that helped to start things rolling.

Here is the link to the e-petition on Mountain Hares (in Scotland) and here is our e-petition on driven grouse shooting in England.


Game Conservancy research to save the Chaffinch – a nation rejoices!

Scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to say, the GWCT reach for an anecdote from their work rather than the major study. I am grateful for the GWCT’s own blog for highlighting how much in a spin the organisation is by drawing attention to their letter in the Daily Torygraph before Christmas.

Apparently the Chaffinch is a declining species (a real countryman says?) and needs a bit of ‘balance’ to survive the ravages of predators.  Let’s not rake over this old ground again. [As you can see, the Chaffinch has increased in numbers by about a third since 1970].

But let’s also not let the GWCT forget, as they appear to have done, that their very clever and talented (and principled) Nicholas Aebischer was involved as an author of the Songbird Survival-funded reanalysis of the BTO database which examined the issue of predators and songbird species like Chaffinches. It found precious little evidence for any impacts at all. Plucking an anecdote out of the air cannot trump a proper analysis.

Here’s the paper , authored by one of his own staff,which the GWCT Director of Research needs to revise.

And, remember this recent review doesn’t seem to give the GWCT view much support either.

Chart_Q1_150109Remember too, that the GWCT was, arguably, viewed less favourably than any other organisation by the readers of this blog (a wise but not entirely representative bunch of folk).

I used to admire the GWCT greatly, but I certainly don’t in this day and age, and their best days may all lie in the past, or some of them might, with a big change of tack, lie in the future, but I can’t feel that we are currently living through them.

One problem that I’m sure the GWCT has, is that their members, including the large shooting estates, want the GWCT to say things that GWCT’s scientific background and history (and past successes) make it very difficult to say.

The value of the GWCT to the shooting industry is partly that they do some useful research but also that in days gone by, their word would count for something with the rest of us. Now it counts for less and less.  It’s a sad decline, yes I am sad to see it, which has been driven by the shooting industry’s inability to embrace change and move with the times.

I’d like to see a revival in the GWCT’s image and reputation, but it doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.



Round up

Yesterday I was doing my tax return – no large numbers were involved. I had set aside two days to get it done so I felt pleased with my progress – but it meant that I didn’t think about blogging subjects very much.

A few things that have caught my eye recently:

  • a Scottish landowner has put up signs on his land attacking the RSPB – I do approve of people getting politically active, don’t you?
  • David Cameron says he won’t debate with small parties like the LibDems unless the Greens are included too – a nicely judged insult! This was an ‘I don’t agree with Nick moment’ – there will be more.
  • Please, nobody shoot ‘our’ cartoonist, Ralph Underhill.
  • the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust is recruiting a Chief Executive.
  • I enjoyed talking to my local county birders at the Northants Bird Club on Wednesday evening. They were a very friendly crowd and bought lots of my books!
  • I’ll be talking to the Reading RSPB Group next Tuesday evening.
  • Bring back the smell of aftershave to the Scottish countryside they cried – how would you like to know that there were Lynxes padding around the forests of Scotland?
  • the Wood Pigeons feeding on the ivy berries look very, very beautiful – but you do have to look at them to see the beauty. Thinking ‘It’s just a pigeon’ won’t quite do it.
  • Lead is a poison – get used to the idea. I wonder where the Lead Ammunition Group’s report is…?

My free lance

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Joust2  Uploaded by tm) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Joust2 Uploaded by tm) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m pretty much committed for the first half of this year but after that I’m not sure what I’ll be doing.

This is normal for freelancers like myself.

If you can see some work that I could do for you in the second half of 2015 then feel free to get in touch and we can talk about it.

I do like the term ‘freelance’ – I must get an actual lance with which to poke people some time.


Your reading

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