Henry in the Dales

Tues 12 May  Copy

Henry looks sad near the place where Bowland Betty, a young satellite-tagged Hen Harrier, was found dead in 2012.  ‘So, these are the Yorkshire Dales’ said Henry.

See here for more of the story.



Looking forward to …

Can anyone spot anything wrong with the following sentence?

‘I’m looking forward to a rational discussion with Robin Page at the ‘Tooth and Claw’ debate on Saturday in Norwich based on his well-argued and wholly accurate piece in the Daily Mail.’


Ex spinis uvas

By don cload (www.geograph.org.uk) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

By don cload (www.geograph.org.uk) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

The school motto of Bristol Grammar School is a Victorian, Latin, pun.  Ex spinis uvas, ‘from thorns to grapes’, is presumably supposed to describe the educational impact of years spent at the Grammar School but it also refers to the brothers Thorne, Robert and Nicholas, who were its founders in 1532. Geddit?

I spent a very pleasant weekend at a school reunion with a difference: in fact with two differences. First, although this was a group of people with whom I had learned Latin and Maths, and rugby and cricket, and something about growing up, the main thing we had in common was not academic or sporting but ornithological. The dozen or so of us were all members of the Bristol Grammar School Field Club (see Fighting for Birds pages 3-4); we had learned to identify birds together.

Second, although we did get together and enjoyed each others’ company (very much as far as I was concerned) the main purpose of our gathering was to thank, and to honour, one of the masters who had provided us with the opportunity to learn about birds at local sites such as Chew Valley Lake, Steart, the Somerset Levels and Slimbridge all those years ago. Two masters, Derek Lucas and Tony Warren, had been our main guides and mentors, and had driven a bunch of spotty teenage boys around in a minibus on alternate Sundays in term time.

A few years ago, Derek Lucas died and many of us, myself included, felt guilty that we hadn’t done much if anything to keep in touch since leaving school, and hadn’t made the effort to thank Derek (‘Mr Lucas’ still seems more appropriate) for the great start he had given us in our hobby of birding. So last weekend we gathered, a bunch of 50- and 60-year old grapes (or sultanas or raisins now) to say ‘thank you’ to Tony (‘Mr Warren’).

Appropriately enough we started at Chew Valley Lake on Saturday lunch time. There were a few people who I had never seen before, a few with whom I had kept in touch over the years but a majority whom I had not seen for between 40 and 35 years, since school or university. The plumage, in terms of hair length, coverage and/or colour may have changed but those subtle diagnostic features, the movement of the head or the extravagant waving of both hands, or the calls, were still very much the same. Identification was pretty easy. And it was striking that we had all aged, but none had changed very much.  The critical components of jizz were very much intact.

We slipped back into the same roles as 40 years ago and the conversations were adult (fairly adult) versions of those of our youth. As we walked around Chew Valley Lake we chatted and we birded. We talked about birds seen here decades ago, and on other Field Club outings.  How amazing it would have been to see a Little Egret or Hobby, or hear a Cetti’s Warbler, here in our youths, and how many more farmland birds there would have been.  And different people recalled different moments, but as they did, the memories came back.

Tony, Mr Warren, left us young ones (ha ha!) to have a boozy meal together in Jamie’s at the top of Park Street, which we mostly remembered from ‘our days’ as George’s bookshop, and then we reassembled for more birding on the Levels the next morning (about which, more later), and then we had lunch in a pub before heading off on our separate ways.

Over lunch, Tony talked to us all about his memories of those days, and of Derek, and of trips that some of us remembered.

It was fun. I’m glad we did it. It was good to see each other again, although the fact that we had managed without each other for decades was clearly true, but it felt important that we had done something to show our individual and collective appreciation for the opportunity that we had all been given to get to know birds all that time ago.

My years at BGS were incredibly important to me. I had an eduction that propelled me to Cambridge and onwards into a career in science and then nature conservation. For that I will always be grateful. In some ways my school days turned me from a grape into a thorn, I think, or at least equipped me with an intellect and character to be a bit prickly at times.

But those BGS days also fostered a love of both birds, and the camaraderie of birders.  I would not be able to tell the difference between a Garden Warbler and a Blackcap in song, were it not for those days. And I wouldn’t care to do so, if it weren’t for those days.  Some of my school friends have remained as keen birders and some have lapsed; I think I could easily have guessed which would be which, and I don’t think any the less of those whose interests have headed off into other directions. But I am immensely glad that the sparks of interest that were present when I entered the Grammar School gates as a nervous 11-year old were fanned into flame in those days, and that they still burn brightly now.

Are today’s spotty teenagers having the same experience, I wonder? If they aren’t then I’m not sure they themselves will be any the less happy, but I do feel that society will be a bit poorer for the loss of that perspective. So, in case you are reading this Tony, Mr Warren, thank you again for all that you did for us, and for many others too.

Tony Warren on the right - various grapes, sultana and raisins on the left. Photo: Hugh Brazier

Tony Warren on the right – various grapes, sultana and raisins on the left. Photo: Hugh Brazier




Henry in a hotspot

Monday 11 May  Copy

Were you driving past when Henry was standing by the side of the road the other day!

Henry kept saying that this looked perfect for ringtails but I told him he ought to stay in the car because it’s a bit dangerous for the likes of him in these parts.




Wildlife Power List


In May’s edition of BBC Wildlife magazine they publish a list of the 50 people most likely to make a difference to the natural world in the next decade. It’s a list of those considered to have the most potential influence for good. As such, it’s rather nice to find myself at #14.

You’d expect to find David Attenborough and Chris Packham near or at the top of the list, wouldn’t you?  And they are.

How many politicians would you expect to find? The answer is two. Which two?

Which wildlife NGOs are represented here? And which of their staff?  I am pleased to be nestling in the list between two of my NGO friends and only a few places behind another.  But some NGO big-wigs are missing from the list – that will get the tongues of their staff wagging.

How many women? The answer is fourteen – is that too few?  Well, have a look and then see who you would have added.

The list contains scientists, farmers, writers, royalty and ‘personalities’ – and some young people (really young people).

Such lists are fun, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Having said that, they also stimulate debate about the state of wildlife conservation and what, and who, really makes a difference. Have a look at the list (available in all good newsagents very soon, and coming through your letterbox anytime now if you are a subscriber) and see what you think. I’ll probably do the same and come back to it next week.



Please let me know…

Several people have told me (thank you all!) that when they look at the top of this page then one of the options is for Viagra in the USA!!

The thing is, I don’t see that on my PC or phone – how about you?
A new meaning for ‘Standing up for nature’?


Sunday book review – Undiscovered Owls by Magnus Robb and The Sound Approach.

undiscovered-owls-400x291What a hoot!

This is a book about owls and owl sounds – it’s a Sound Approach Guide after all.

It’s a very smart-looking and well-written book. And I found myself surprised by how much it gripped my interest.

The description of the discovery of the new species, the Omani Owl, is a very good read – and a testament to the industry and skill of the authors. There are tantalising suggestions that there are other undiscovered owls out there – maybe lots of them.

But for many of us, including me, most owls are rather mysterious creatures. I don’t know owl calls very well – every year I tell myself that I ought to get out at night more and listen for owls. The fact that it is ‘every year’ shows that I’m not very good at doing it!  But this book brings the calls and songs of relatively familiar and totally unfamiliar owls into our mind through our eyes (there are numerous sonograms in the book) and our ears (four CDs accompany the book).  The CDs are excellent.

There’s a lot in here about owl sounds, owl behaviour and the behaviour of those who track down owls to record their calls and try to watch their behaviour. Much of it is really fascinating.

I have one small complaint. Although the Introduction is engaging and charming, it doesn’t, and nothing else does either, actually tell you what this book is and what’s in it. But the time you get to the end then you know the answer, but  personally I’d have liked a bit more of it sign-posted upfront.

This book is different and good, and not just for those who like owls.


Undiscovered Owls by Magnus Robb and The Sound Approach is published by The Sound Approach.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will be published by Bloomsbury at the end of July.



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

electoral reform

Mark writes:

Bad things about the general election result:

  • lots of people voted UKIP
  • we are going to give ourselves the opportunity to leave the EU
  • the Greens didn’t make a great leap forward
  • none of the parties, except Caroline Lucas, looks as though they intend to take the environment or wildlife very seriously


Good things about the general election result:

  • UKIP has only one seat
  • the British people won’t vote to leave the EU
  • Caroline Lucas has an increased majority and is still an MP
  • although having a majority, the government has a tiny majority – it may be difficult to do too many bad things
  • I made several hundred quid betting on the result – the stand out offer was for Cameron to be Prime Minister after the general election at slight odds against – I should have piled on! And a 25% return on investment was ‘Conservatives to have the largest number of seats’ – considerably better than my ISA.





Stop meddling! says Henry


Henry used to be quite a fan of the Hawk and Owl Trust but when he heard they were siding with grouse shooters, and were in favour of meddling with any chicks he might produce, Henry went a bit cold on them.  He wasn’t the only one.

Henry says that the Hawk and Owl Trust are having an event at their chair’s place next weekend. Maybe they will all get together and revise their views on mucking about with the few Hen Harrier nests that we have in England.

One person who won’t be attending is the Hawk and Owl Trust’s former President, Chris Packham. Chris resigned, with a lot of regret he tells me, over policy differences over this brood meddling proposal. As far as I can see, there is no mention of this rather important event in the H&OT’s Spring/Summer magazine. How odd?

But this can’t be because the H&OT magazine was produced before Chris resigned because his name has disappeared from the list of officers etc on page 3 of the magazine. It’s a little odd that an organisation can lose its president under such circumstances and not mention it to its members in its magazine, don’t you think?

Henry’s search for a girlfriend isn’t going too well. He wishes there were a lot more ringtails around.

‘Stop meddling with my species!’ says Henry.




Catfield final decision

14383238916_1112e351c5_zNow that the general election is over, the EA has confirmed its decision not to issue abstraction licenses which might affect the conservation value of nearby wildlife sites.



See here, here, here, here, and here for some history.

This blog is on the winning side – a good way to end the day…